Darling, I'm Going Home

Author's Note:

What can I say? I was piecing together a new playlist when an image of Alfred standing on a mesa came waltzing by and hit me on the head—hard. With Gentle Worlds being such a complicated story to write, I cannot resist the temptation to set my pen onto the page. For this, I truly apologise.

Disclaimer: Himaruya owns Hetalia.

XXX

1: Who Was Never Here Or There

31 July, 0100 hours

At first, Ivan thought they were prostitutes, young and luscious, hanging off Alfred's arms and whoring for his attention. However, by the time Alfred had comfortably seated himself on the bar stool next to Ivan and ordered his drinks, Ivan realised that the vodka had to have started going into his head. Firstly, the ladies were nowhere near the legal age: the eldest looked to be around seventeen at most, the youngest roughly twelve or thirteen. Secondly, closer inspection revealed that the brightness of their hair, commonly associated with cheap dyes favoured by the neighbourhood's whores, was natural: they were striking yellow blondes, save for the youngest, whose fox orange hair could give a carrot a run for its money.

(Besides, Ivan had a striking, uncomfortable feeling in his gut that he knew the ladies, recognised them on a subconscious level. It was not the vodka acting up; he had been acquainted with vodka long enough to recognise its effects. It had nothing to do with the curious glances the eldest kept throwing at him, or the look of pure pity the middle gave him, or the fact that the youngest was staring at him with disdain and mistrust unabashedly. The sinking feeling in his stomach had everything to do with the fact that the girls' eyes were as blue as the summer sky, Alfred's blue; Alfred's blue was as sharp and bright under the noon sun as it was under the dim lighting of a shady bar in Washington D.C.—you could recognise it anywhere. At least, that was what Ivan thought. The youngest had turned her head to face the arrival of her beverage, and Ivan had no time to ascertain the colour of her eyes, but he had more than enough time to notice, with shock and dismay, that Alfred had ordered the girl vodka.)

"Hey, there!" Alfred called out, grinning from the rim of his beer mug. "You really came!"

Ivan gave him an amused look before downing the rest of his vodka. "Since I am here, of course, da?" he murmured. "Although I have not a clue of your reason for calling me here…at one o'clock in the morning, nonetheless."

Alfred pursed his lips. Taking a swig from his mug, he sighed, "Straight to the business as usual." He ran a hand through his unruly hair. "Want some drink before we begin?"

"Nyet," Ivan replied curtly. He had been sitting in the bar since ten o'clock, nursing shot after shot of vodka, perplexed and deathly curious of Alfred's intention of asking him to go out for a drink. At one in the morning. Not that he was going to volunteer this little information to Alfred. Knowing that the American was on the verge of insisting and that another shot of vodka would floor him for sure, he gestured at the girls. "Are they of legal age to consume liquor?"

At Ivan's words, the eldest looked up from her Bloody Mary and raised an eyebrow, a gesture that simply screamed amused incredulity. Ivan gulped unconsciously at the sight of her eyes. They were oh-so-blue that there was no way the girls and Alfred were not related…

Turning to look at the girls as if he had just remembered that they were there, Alfred laughed and said, "Oh, yeah. They are part of the reason why I wanted to meet you. Lemme do the introductions. Gals, this is Ivan Braginsky. He is Uncle Russia…"

…Ivan would have loved to cobble Alfred with his pipe (which was, as usual, conveniently kept within arm's reach—underneath his coat), if only he had not been slightly tipsy. His vodka-numbed brain was thinking of Alfred and illicit affairs and illegitimate children and poor, poor…

"Ivan, here are my daughters…"

…(oh-fuck-vodka-was-right-after-all) poor, poor England.

Pointing at the eldest, Alfred proudly said, "This is Equality. Mind you, she doesn't like it when people mince up her name, not even her own dad, so, yeah, you're kinda stuck with Equality." To this short speech, Equality frowned and went back to sipping her Bloody Mary. "This is my middle daughter, Union." He gave Union a fond smile, and Union flushed, before nodding her head politely towards Ivan. Ivan would have liked to smile back—Union seemed to be the most pleasant of the three—except the phrase 'illegitimate daughters' and the fact that she was holding a beer mug as large as Alfred's caused his smile to wither on the corners of his lips. Beaming from ear-to-ear, Alfred pointed at the last girl, the fox-carrot-orange. "That's my youngest," Alfred informed. "Name's Liberty."

Fixing a good stare on the girl, Ivan muttered gloomily, "To be frank, America…, she looks like you and England's love child."

"Wha—," Alfred swirled around to look at Liberty, who frowned and shrugged. "Are you drunk?" Alfred queried, leaning in to take a whiff of Ivan's breath, who leaned back in reflex. "Where the hell did you get the idea, man?"

Letting out a long-suffering sigh, Ivan tapped his finger onto the skin below one lavender eye. "Her eyes, Alfred. She has one blue eye and one green eye. One for you and one for Arthur, da?"

The girls chortled at this remark. "Yes," Liberty piped aridly, as if she could not find more disdain than in stating the fact aloud. Meanwhile, Alfred groaned, "No…no…"

Pinned down by the stares of his wards and Ivan, Alfred relented. "Oh, all right. Maybe you can put it that way. She did come around during my war for independence…, though she had her growth spurt around the time Union and Equality came around…. Now she's the smallest of them all…."

"Let me guess," Ivan interjected, leaning on the bar and shooting random glares at curious on-lookers. Not that there were many; the establishment was deserted save for several stragglers, who looked too drunk to be looking straight. The vodka was making him feel slightly giddy. He blearily pointed at Union. "Civil War." To Equality, he said, "Martin…I can't remember his name, but it is he, da?"

"Uh, yeah," Alfred said, rubbing the back of his neck. He took a long, deep swig of his beer before continuing, with remarkable nervousness, "Look, Rus—Ivan, I didn't call you here just to introduce you to my girls, though you have to know that not a lot of people have seen them, not even nations. Look, I…kinda need your help."

That took the vodka slightly out of Ivan's head. He perked up immediately. "At one in the morning, America?"

Ivan had expected Alfred to pout and get defensive, but Alfred simply gave a bitter grin and said, "Well, it's one of those things that can't be said in broad daylight."

The fact that he was on the verge of being full-blown drunk helped to let Alfred's illogical logic pass. Ivan sighed. "Oh," he mumbled, almost miserably. "One of those things."

"Yes," Alfred said with much conviction. The two countries fell into a brief, companionable silence, while the girls occupied themselves with their drinks.

Alfred chugged down the rest of his beer, the mug clinking as it touched the surface of the table. He pushed the empty vessel towards the bartender, who took it without batting an eyelid. The bar was quiet, and when Alfred spoke up again, languidly, as if without a care in the world, the quietness had become overwhelming, almost crushing.

(Alfred's melancholic, bitter smile seemed to have something to do with it, too.)

"What do you think," he said slowly, drawling out each syllable, his smirk in place, "of having all of the United States of America to yourself?"

XXX

1 August, morning

There was something off.

First of all, he had woken up feeling uncharacteristically cheery and in tip-top condition, despite the fact that he had slept in and currently had little time left before the start of the World Summit.

He had to catch himself from beaming at his own reflection as he fixed his tie in the mirror.

Secondly, there was that dream he had last night, in which stood a young man that, aside from looking delectably handsome, was achingly familiar to Arthur. (Arthur could not remember his name, though. Lovers come and go. Arthur guessed that he was a shadow of a memory, of a past love long gone.)

He had never felt so robust before, as if all these years he had been convalescing from an illness, and today he had woken up and broken out of his cocoon of ennui, rejoicing in his regained health.

Padding across the carpeted floor of the hotel room, he approached the desk to retrieve his briefcase. He noticed a folder lying on the wooden surface, and picked it up. It contained the outline of the topics they were going to cover in the Summit. Remembering that Ivan promised to send the outline through the room service, Arthur was about to stuff the folder into his briefcase when the address in which the meeting was to be held caught his eyes.

Printed neatly on the first page was: 'World Summit. White House, Washington D.C., North America, Russian Federation.'

There was something off, but whatever it was, it had passed, and Arthur tried his best to overlook the slight tremor in his hands as he placed the folder inside his briefcase.

(Never mind that he had suddenly remembered the name of the young man in his dream. He tested it on his tongue, "Alfred." The name rolled off his mouth easily, with the unexpected ease of familiarity. Frowning, he tried to remember the Alfreds in his life, but it was a common name, and he had given up by the time he stepped out of the hotel, nodding politely at the doorman. Heck, one of his past kings was even named Alfred.)

He hit the warm streets of Washington D.C.'s summer with haste in his steps. Just across the street was a Starbucks kiosk, and he made a particularly courageous mad dash across the traffic, replying car honks and drivers' curses with his middle finger and his own curses, his personal hoard from his pirating days.

Although he managed to avoid being hit by a car, ultimately, he failed to see a young man and his companion, stepping out of the kiosk, and he ran smack into the young man, who had enough sense and reflex to grab Arthur by the shoulders to steady him. "Whoa!" the young man chuckled, slowly releasing Arthur from his grip. He had to be at least a head taller than Arthur, and Arthur craned his neck, squinting against the sunlight to look at the stranger's face. "That was one hell of a run, man!"

Flushing, Arthur took a step back. "I apologise," he said, "I was—I am in a hurry."

"Yeah, guess I can see that," the young man said genially. He stepped aside, clearing the way for Arthur. "Just be careful that you don't get hit, 'kay?"

Slightly stunned, it took some time for Arthur to gather his words. "Yes—of course, thank you."

The man's smile lit up, crinkling the corners of his blue, blue eyes. Unable to hold himself from assessing the young man, Arthur found him rather good-looking, someone who fell in the comfortable spectrum between cute and handsome. He was not particularly memorable, simply one of the brighter, sunnier faces around, save for the striking hue of his eyes. His hair, however, was another matter altogether. A honey blond strand jutted up stubbornly from his parting, like some kind of personal trademark.

"Well, if you are in a hurry, you better get going!" the man stated, giving Arthur a cheerful wave. "See ya around!"

The man's companion, a girl with hair resembling copper or probably carrot, raised her mismatched eyes to give Arthur a bright smile. Arthur gave her a smile of his own, before finally waving the pair goodbye and stepping into the kiosk, definitely late for World Summit by then.

The grandfather clock in the corner of the meeting room showed that it was a quarter past ten when Arthur stepped in, desperately struggling to swallow his last bite of scone, his hair windswept and uncombed. "I do apologise," he rasped, hastening to fix his appearance. "I somehow slept in."

He paused, thinking that there was something off, except for the fact that there was nothing off at all. Ivan was standing in front of the room, powering on his notebook, which rested on a small coffee table before him. The room had the cottony air of respective silence: nations were either reviewing their briefs or fidgeting, eyes trained on the clock.

Arthur's feet refused to budge, rebelling against the impulse of taking his body to his seat. Perhaps the fact that he was having difficulties breathing had something to do with it. Perhaps. Licking his dry lips, Arthur gave out a sharp, bark-like laughter, before saying, "Glad to know that I am not the last to arrive."

This time, several nations actually paid attention, heads whipping up as they sent Arthur pointed looks of bafflement. Ivan practically tensed, the muscles of his shoulders tightening under his coat.

(What was he doing? Not that Arthur himself knew. The seats were all filled, save for two: one for Arthur and one for Ivan. Inwardly, Arthur began counting the number of chairs.)

"Comrade…," Ivan's voice was as tense as his shoulders, teetering on the verge of breaking. "Comrade, you are the last one to arrive. Please, do take a seat."

His steps rang almost indecently loud, the soles of his loafers making contact with the marble floor. It rang just a tad too loud, and it cut through the cottony silence with too much ease for it to be comfortable for anyone.

(There. Finally, Arthur spotted it. There was a fault in the seating arrangement. His seat lay between Francis and Kiku, and Arthur knew himself well enough to realise he would never, ever sit next to Francis voluntarily. A seat was missing between his and Francis'.

Arthur had an inkling that Ivan knew about it, too.)

"Where is…" he rasped, stopping a foot away from his own seat, his gaze directed at the space between his chair and Francis', at the empty creamy marble tile. However, he looked up straight into Ivan's eyes to say his next word: "…America?"

XXX

It was all coming down on him, crashing and rolling and it was going to destroy him for sure—

Ivan stiffened, bracing his body for the impact, never mind that words could not touch him. He knew, though, that they could very well break his mind. Had he been a lesser man, he would have accused Alfred of going to him for assistance because of their past enmity and the fact that, by helping Alfred, Ivan was helping his own destruction. However, Ivan was Ivan, and he knew too well why Alfred went to him. Knew the reason well enough to actually promise his help.

Can't anybody understand me but you. Can't anybody understand me but you. Hadn't Alfred sung that song as they staggered out of the bar, with Alfred being propped up by his girls, his ideologies, and Ivan leaning on his pipe as if it had been a cane? Each to his or her own taste. Use whatever kind of strength you prefer to prop yourself up. All that matters is that you will still be standing at the end of everything.

Wishing there had been time to say a quick prayer, Ivan closed his eyes—

"Where is America?"

—and never got past the word 'God'.

XXX

The silence was so thick that it was tangible. Arthur inhaled it along with air, and very nearly choked on it.

Every nation's eyes were trained on them by then, and—was it a glimmer of recognition, of realisation, that Arthur saw in Kiku and Matthew's eyes? However, it was of Ivan's stare that Arthur was most aware. The intensity of Ivan's gaze alone could have levelled a whole town. Had Arthur not been an entire nation—

"It belongs to me," Ivan spoke up, his tone surprisingly raw but firmer than an iceberg. "North America, that is. It belongs to no one else."

The last comment sidetracked Arthur. Momentarily, he forgot of the United States of America, the wisps of memories that never happened scattering into thin air, and let his protectiveness over his territories flare up. "Bloody hell," he spat, flopping down onto his chair and scowling at Ivan. "Don't forget that New England is mine, you sod."

On Arthur's word, something snapped in the taut string of tension that had wound itself around the room. Nations visibly sunk into their chairs, releasing unconsciously held breath. On his spot, Ivan looked positively relieved and had returned to smiling his customary eerie smile. Arthur frowned.

New England was his.

(By the way, he had remembered that his dream was of a world, a parallel universe, where North America belonged to neither him nor Ivan, but to another nation called the United States of America. It was a free, powerful, and relatively cheery nation, until disaster struck.

Hatred, after all, was a powerful tool.)

America. Who was America? A figment of his imagination? A side effect of drinking three glasses of whiskey before going to bed?

The magic had passed.

XXX

1 August, morning

"…By Jove."

His knife clattered onto his plate, missing his half eaten quiche by an inch. Liberty winced upon the piercing clang the steel and china produced, biting her straw as she waited for the unpleasant noise to reverberate into silence. Alfred threw her a look of silent apology before hurrying onto his feet, taking his jacket off the back of his chair and swiftly shrugging it onto his shoulders. Liberty simply watched him, slurping the last of her frappuccino.

"C'mon," he said, eyes repeatedly straying to the traffic outside the transparent glass walls of the Starbucks kiosk. Half ranting, he pulled Liberty through arrays of chairs and coffee tables. "He's here… He's—fuck! Did he just jump over that car?"

Liberty turned her head just in time to see Arthur Kirkland sliding off the bonnet of a cab gracefully and onto the pavement, before flipping his middle finger at the cursing driver. "I don't remember ever seeing him that feisty," she commented casually, lengthening her steps to match Alfred's stride.

"Yeah, well, he had turned into an uptight old man by the time you came around," Alfred sighed, steering Liberty towards the door of the establishment.

Liberty was tempted to ask, "Oh? On bed, too?"

"Remember, Libby, we must act as if we don't know him, as if we have never seen him before. Nuh-uh. Got it?"

Sighing, Liberty pulled the door open. "You should give me more credit," she grumbled. "After all, Daddy, I did help in planning this whole thing out and…"

And nobody would have been able to forget that you ever existed without me, especially England. Especially, especially poor, poor England. However, she did not say it out loud, for it was at this moment that Arthur Kirkland decided to run straight into Alfred F. Jones. Liberty knew that she was not imagining it. Alfred's feet were firmly planted on the ground, shoulder-width apart, as if he had known beforehand that an impact was coming, and he had prepared himself to receive it full and square.

(As if he had positioned himself just so that Arthur would surely run into him—

—or his embrace.)

After all, Alfred could not resist but open his arms slightly, for the better to welcome Arthur with, and for the better to envelope Arthur with.

Never mind that the impact knocked almost all the breath out of him. He would accept everything Arthur could give. Wheezing and happy beyond reason for being able to hold him, able to touch him, Alfred laughed and whooped. "Whoa!" He looked down to gaze straight into Arthur's eyes. "That was one hell of a run, man!"

Yesterday, the comment would have earned him a scowl and a fond "What are you trying to imply with that, wanker?" Then again, yesterday, Arthur was a gentleman with the skeleton of a repressed privateer in his closet. Yesterday, Arthur did not possess the vigour and newfound brashness New England had injected into him. Yesterday, Arthur would have used the zebra cross.

Today's Arthur took a shy step back before starting to talk hastily, desperate to give a belated impression of politeness. "I apologise. I was—I am in a hurry."

Alfred searched Arthur's eyes, and found not even a speck or a glimmer of recognition, only the detached aloofness and slight embarrassment commonly found in interactions between strangers. Alfred was torn between satisfaction and the urge to crawl to a corner and sulk. It had worked; Liberty had been successful in the task. Alfred was not too fond with the fact that it had worked well, too well, on Arthur, though.

Adopting his friendliest tone and repressing his urge to provoke Arthur—something that always rose whenever he lay his sight on his old mentor—Alfred grinned and said, "Yeah, guess I can see that." Reluctantly, he stepped aside to make way for Arthur. He thought of Arthur's nimble leaps and heart-stopping misses while crossing the street, and could not hold back himself from blurting out, "Just be careful that you don't get hit, 'kay?"

(He nearly facepalmed himself then and there. What he was doing, Alfred himself did not know. Not that he was going to remember this incident and Arthur for much longer. Just like Liberty had liberated the nations from memories of the United States of America, Alfred too…)

"Uh…" Arthur's tone had certainly steered into wariness. Alfred feared Arthur would back away and distance himself altogether, but the flush that tinged the British man's cheeks and his next words quickly dispelled Alfred's worries. "Yes—of course, thank you."

If he let Arthur roam his body with his eyes, it was not due to his insensitivity, but due to the fact that he noticed it very well and allowed it to occur. After all, if everything was to go well, Arthur would not have another chance to do it, and Alfred would never watch Arthur doing it again.

Alfred's next words came out sounding too much like a pained sigh than what he would have liked. "Well, if you are in a hurry, you better get going!" He decided to throw in a cheesy wave to distract Arthur from any possible wavering in his voice. He could not help if Arthur decided to note that he nearly choked on his last words, lying from between his teeth. "See ya around!"

He turned around, walking slowly to let Liberty catch up with him, resisting the urge to turn around and steal another glance of Arthur. He deserved a pat on his back for succeeding, he decided, and patted his own shoulder, pretending to massage away a muscle ache.

"How did I do?" he asked Liberty the moment they hit another street around the corner.

She gave him a nonchalant shrug. "Fucked up and disguised it well."

Alfred groaned, coming to a halt before a red light. He took Liberty's hand into his own, and there they stood, the ex-country and his ideology, amidst people rushing to and back from lunch, waiting for their chance to cross.

"Let's just hope," Alfred murmured, "that the magic will pass quickly."

The light turned green.

XXX

1 August, 0100 hours

Alfred should probably start feeling guilty now, and probably merciful, but his desire said otherwise. Besides, he had promised to let it run unchecked tonight before entering Arthur's room two hours ago.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, he had Arthur on his lap, riding him, or at least trying to. It had been half an hour since the older man gave in and went against his own pride, begging Alfred to "get your hand away from my cock, you git! I need—ah!" and pleading ("Please…no! Alfred! I—I fucking need to—ah—cum! Fuck—now!). Now Arthur was positively struggling against Alfred's vice-like grip around his middle, fingernails scratching and fingers desperately trying to pry off the hand wrapped painfully tight around his manhood.

Alfred's next thrust, aimed straight at Arthur's prostate, hit home hard, probably too hard. Arthur screamed, his back arching, every fibre in his body tensing, his cock quivering in Alfred's hand. However, the young man's grip was relentless, and Arthur let out a shrill screech of despair and frustration, a sob wracking his lean frame as he collapsed back onto Alfred's lap, gasping as he felt his body sheathing Alfred back within him.

"No…no…no!" Arthur wailed, arms flailing and snagging Alfred's hair. As if possessed, he craned his neck and pulled Alfred's head towards his, stealing a wet, sloppy kiss, all open mouths and twisting tongues and pleas of mercy (oh-God-oh-Alfred-please-please-damn-it-please). Still the steel grip did not loosen, and Arthur groaned and flailed around like a blind man, looking for release.

"I." Alfred's breathless whispers ghosted over the shell of his ear, driving him mad and so hard it had surpassed the term 'painful'. "Want." Each word was punctuated by a thrust, and Arthur gasped and oh-ed and screamed at every one of them. "This." The tip of Alfred's cock rammed straight onto his prostate and Arthur saw stars, but he was still marble hard and he very nearly broke down and cried when he realised this. "To." Another one struck too true, and Arthur did cry, sobbing and tears staining his cheeks. "Last." Alfred leaned down and kissed Arthur's cheeks, lapping the tears away. "As." The hand splayed across Arthur's abdomen was warm and comforting in its strength, but the hand further south was cruel and hot in its mercilessness. "Long." Alfred suddenly gave Arthur's cock a tug, and Arthur whimpered, hands roaming the body behind him for support, for reassurance, for comfort and shelter from a pleasure too great that he was so sure it was going to burst right out of his veins— "As." Alfred's hand had begun to move (finally), and Arthur's sight went white and black and white again from lust and basal pleasure, losing himself in it and further more. "It." He was so close he could see the edge and peer down the abyss below. "Could."

His release, too long denied and too long yearned for, came in a torrent of pure bliss wracking over his body. He convulsed, barely noticing Alfred's arm steadying him even as one hand kept stroking him. "Alfred," he breathed, or screamed, or sighed; everything was a blur and his innards clenched deliciously around Alfred's erection, and then warmth filled him and it was all that he knew: warmth, or, more specifically, Alfred's warmth. It swept him away and he nearly drowned in it, had it not been for Alfred's hand on his stomach, calloused fingers drawing soothing circles over the taut skin.

He collapsed into Alfred's awaiting embrace, bones and muscles not much better than liquid (at least it was warm liquid and it was so warm and he thought he was burning—but, no, it was just Alfred, Alfred holding him safe and tight and warm).

Still inside him, Alfred pulled him down, hand tangling in his hair and the other splayed across the small of his back. Arthur fell atop him, body surrendering into the other man's movements. His head came to rest in the crook between Alfred's neck and shoulder. He was asleep before he was aware of it.

"Sleep tight, babe," Alfred whispered, lips trailing the delicate shell of Arthur's ear. "Sweet dreams."

Then, because he was selfish, and because it would not matter anymore in the morning, he pressed a kiss onto Arthur's forehead and murmured against the sweaty skin there: "Dream of me."

Untangling limbs from limbs, he stepped out of the bed and cleaned himself, liberally slathering Arthur's soap onto his skin. He had no legacy to be handed to Arthur save for a dream. (How pitiful, he thought, he was leaving UK with nothing but a shadow of an American dream.) Not that it was going to matter. However, on Alfred's part, it would indeed matter, though only for a day, before the magic was completed and Liberty would liberate him—

—until then, he would empty all of Arthur's bath gel and pray that the scent would stay on his skin for the rest of tomorrow. He needed it, Arthur's unconscious legacy.

He took his time arranging Arthur's sleeping form, making sure that the old man was covered up to his chin and that his pillow was comfortable beneath his neck and head. When he was satisfied, he rested one hand Arthur's forehead and the other beneath his chin, before leaning in and kissing him on the lips, the Prince sending his Beauty to Sleep.

("Dream of me," said the man in Beauty's dream, "because I love you and I will dream of you.")

"Darling?" he dared himself to call out. Arthur stirred, but did not awaken. Alfred's eyes softened, and he ran his hand through Arthur's hair as a last caress. "Darling, I'm going home."

Alfred slipped out of Arthur's room quietly. The sound of him closing the door was so quiet it was almost inaudible. His steps, too, were silent, and he returned to his own room with enough stealth that Liberty did not even realise that he had returned.

"Tomorrow," he spoke up, causing Liberty to jump and turn around in shock, "tonight will never have happened."

Liberty stood up, her backpack already slung over one shoulder. She handed Alfred his own backpack. "The magic will be completed," she replied, walking over to give Alfred a hug. He looked like he needed it.

He needed it. He sighed, dropping a kiss on Liberty's crown. "Where are your sisters?"

"They said they didn't want to see the unfolding of a tragedy."

Alfred shrugged. "The Tragedy of Alfred F. Jones and Arthur Kirkland's Love Life," he mused. "Think somebody will ever make a play outta it?"

Nuzzling Alfred's chest, she murmured, "Well, there is always Uncle Russia."

XXX

02 August, dawn

"I would call you up every Saturday night…"

—to ask me to pick you up and drive you to Grand Canyon, Ivan completed the line inwardly, gritting his teeth even as he kept his eyes on the road. 'Saturday night, indeed,' he added wearily. Sunday dawn was more like it.

"And we'd both stay up 'til the morning light and we'd sigh…"

Liberty's voice was surprisingly flat and sweet, slightly toneless and not made for singing. It contrasted horribly with Alfred's tenor, which bobbed up and down the notes with languid, mocking ease.

"…Here we go again."

Here we go again. I'm driving you to your death and come the sun nobody will remember that you exist save for me and it is my curse, my curse, because not even you will remember.

Will you?

Ivan rolled down his window, sighing in relief when the voice of James Blunt got whipped by the dry highway wind, the cool air singing in his ears and dulling the beat of the music.

"…Here we go again…"

Slamming his foot on the accelerator in the hope that he would be able to travel fast enough to leave the twinkling stars and the night behind, Ivan prayed that Alfred and Liberty would not see the tears gathering in the corners of his eyes.

"Here we go again," he finally joined in, voice harsh and cracking.

He thought the wind would drown out his voice, but then Alfred turned and smiled and Liberty glanced at him and he knew that with those two, it would never be the case.

XXX

"Goodbye, America," he said monotonously, and he had turned his car around and gone well on his way before Alfred could reply.

XXX

2 August, noon

The sun was terrible. Even Alfred would admit that much. And he loved the sun, loved its warm kisses and honeyed warmth and its golden colour. But his love had limits, especially for such a fickle thing like the sun.

A splash of water landed on his face, greedily sucking out the heat of whatever patches of skin the liquid could touch and sending his brain working once more. Alfred breathed a sigh of relief, running one hand through his matted blond locks. A pair of cool hands touched the sides of his face, sliding off his glasses and replacing them with something else.

When he opened his eyes, the world was tinted a soothing blue. Liberty was leaning over his spread-eagled form, mismatched eyes looking into his solid blue ones. "Don't look straight into the sun," she said, tapping the tinted glasses that had replaced Alfred's usual ones. "Gee, don't you ever learn, Dad?"

"Thanks, Libby," he grinned weakly from his spot on the ground. His hand gripped the soil, and when he raised it to look at his palm, the skin had adopted a copper red hue. He looked at the shade, before squinting to look at the colour of Liberty's locks.

"The Grand Canyon," he breathed in realisation. "Its soil is the colour of your hair."

XXX

Arthur was having quiche as his lunch in a Starbucks kiosk. He thought it was just a quiche. While it was true, it was also true that it was the same quiche that the man from yesterday was eating yesterday. The plurality of truth is indeed a thing to behold.

Yesterday was a long, long time ago.

("Dream of me," the Prince whispered to him in his dream, or probably half dream. He was half asleep, or probably three quarters. But he could still hear and understand. "Because I love you and I will dream of you.")

XXX

Liberty's smile was warm and loving, almost pitying. Alfred chose to ignore the last part of it.

"If you want to be set free," Liberty murmured, leaning in to press her forehead against Alfred, "then this is the place, Dad. This is the place, Alfred."

It was a challenge. ("So, tell me, are you going to complete the magic, Alfred? Do you dare to?")

It was a plea. ("There is still a way back. The circle has not been closed; it is not yet a circle. Think of poor, poor England, Dad.")

The plurality of truth. The tinted glasses would help him, Alfred realised, from being blinded by the sun.

"Help me up, Libby."

XXX

Arthur was sitting and having his lunch in a Starbucks kiosk. He thought he was just sitting. It was true. It was also true that the seat he was sitting on was the very same seat the man from yesterday occupied. It was also true that he had no way of knowing it.

The plurality of truth.

The United States of America existed. The United States of America did not exist. It existed in his dream and in a yesterday that never happened. It did not exist in the present and a yesterday that did not really happen yesterday.

(The man in his dreams had the warmest body Arthur had ever tasted. And the softest lips. And the most beautiful smile to die for.

And the most spine-chilling whisper.

"Darling…")

XXX

Peering over the edge of the mesa, Alfred could only see red. That, and the steep cliff leading to more red below.

"I climbed up that?" he whistled, not without humour. "Damn, I'm more heroic than what I thought."

The canyon rested below them. At the top of the world, at the edge of the reality below, Liberty spread out her arms as if they were wings, and probably they were, because she held the lack of fear commonly found in birds preparing to take flight. The wind was blowing their way, and her hair whipped wildly in its force when she tilted her head to look at Alfred.

"Come."

The choice had been made.

XXX

Arthur was trying to remember. His quiche was left to cool on the plate, momentarily forgotten. He began to hum to the tune playing in the café, almost unconsciously and so quietly you would never hear him.

"I love you."

"Dream of me."

"Darling…"

Puzzel-pieces-left-scattered-unorganised-broken-forgotten-discarded-not-to-be-remembered.

They were puzzle pieces. They were memories. The plurality of truth.

XXX

The glasses helped by a mile. With the world tinted a soft, glazed blue, it was easier to detach himself from reality and from the important memories. It eased his way into freedom.

("Since when did you start hating yourself, Dad?"

"Since them people started hating me, Libby. Since them people.")

"It's a good day for a flight," he managed to slip in a comment, arms outstretched to reach for Liberty, muscles tensing in anticipation, back flexing, wings—

—spreading out, stretching the fabric of his T-shirt until it was torn apart, opening, unfolding, released…

…at last.

("Come."

"Where to?"

"Anywhere you want."

"Iggy will be worried."

"Say your last words."

He wished he could turn around so that he could be facing Iggy as he said those words. So that Iggy could see his smile and probably, one day, understand.

"Darling?" he asked, softly, with all his love and affection and years of knowing that he was loved back. "Darling? Darling, I'm going home.")

XXX

He thought he remembered the name of the lad in his dreams, and he did. The name was Alfred.

Puzzle-pieces-assembled-picture-displayed-understanding-realisation-oh-God-no-not-Alfred-not-him-oh-God-these-are-my-pleas-for-mercy.

His head bloody hurt.

"Darling, I'm going home."

The plurality of truth. He wished he could ask, "Where is home if not in my arms, you bleeping git?"

"Where is home if not in your arms?"

The world had split apart, and Arthur Kirkland was straddling the separating line. It would rip in two. It would rip him along, also in two.

He did not even realise that he had started screaming.

XXX

2 August, noon

It was a hot day in the Grand Canyon, with the desert parched and the soil red and the sky blue, oh-so-blue. The sun would blind you.

It was a hot day in Washington D.C., in a Starbucks kiosk where lounge music was playing and a quiche was getting cold and a man was screaming.

Plurality, it seemed, extended to reality.

XXX

31 July, 0500 hours

The dawn was cracking in Washington D.C. Both Ivan and Alfred lay wasted on the hotel carpet, in Alfred's room. The bed, Ivan noted sadly, had been claimed by Equality and Union, who were sleeping, seemingly unperturbed by whatever had transpired earlier.

Liberty was on her knees, next to Alfred. She was spreading maps, fifty of them, one for each state.

The room lights, thankfully, were off, but Liberty had left the bathroom door open, a rectangle of light igniting the colour of Alfred's bright, bright hair. Ivan nudged Alfred on the shoulder with the toe of his boot carefully. Somewhere in the cottony silence, he thought he heard Liberty snort.

"Commie bastard."

"I am the commie bastard whom you are giving your country to," he reminded Alfred, one arm draped over his eyes, effectively blocking out sight. Out of sight and out of mind. It made everything more bearable. "Are you sure, America? The whole lot—fifty of them?"

There was a short silence. When America spoke up again, his voice did not sound as drunk as he had been the whole night. "Oh, haven't I told you?" he sighed, tone lilting and infuriatingly light and casual. "I am returning New England to its namesake. Iggy will have that one." Suddenly, his voice dipped and adopted an ominous tone. "Lay your hands off my old man, commie. Get it?"

Alfred had no idea how relieved Ivan was. (And how tempted. If he attacked New England, would America cancel their deal and come back to claim his land? But help was requested, agreed to, and was not going to be denied.) Because receiving fifty of them would feel too wrong, but how were you supposed to reject an unwanted gift? Turning his head to look at Liberty instead, Ivan chuckled.

"What's it, fucker?"

"Really, America," he noted breathlessly, revelling in the sight of Liberty, who was yawning and starting to rub her eyes. "She does look like you and England's love child."

You and poor, poor England.

XXX

That was….the longest piece of writing I have ever produced. Apparently, one month after starting this chapter and writing the Author's Note above, I now realise that 'Darling, I'm Going Home' is an exhausting story as well. Talk about redundancy. I intended to use this as an escape from 'Gentle Worlds' convoluted plot, but noooo….it had to go and twist itself 'round and 'round until it became more confusing than 'Gentle Worlds' *glares at story*

IMPORTANT

This is a story I will not continue unless there is a sufficient number of people reading it and actually liking it. Which means, yes, there is a minimum review quota that I am setting. I apologise, but I am nearing my GCE 'O' Level examinations and my schedule is so tight. I am actually tempted to just put this story on hold… If you want this story to be continued, please R&R! Incentives are always good.

Signing off,

Ilsa S.H.

Lost Duck Inc.