A/N – It's pretty long, sorry about that, but it sums up my feelings about this fic and what it's based on.
Okay, this fic was inspired by a newspaper article I caught in the Sun (which is an English newspaper) this week on the 7th of September. Basically, it was an article that had taken pictures of modern day streets and areas in England and had artistically melded these images with what the areas would have looked like during the Blitz- that started on September 7th 1940 and lasted until May 10th 1941.
The article, or the photos more specifically, were pretty shocking, considering that I'd walked down those streets and been to those places, and seeing a huge, gaping hole in the concrete where I had once walked was more surreal than I'd imagined.
What really inspired me to write this was one photo that was taken in a place called St George's Street in Birmingham – I'm from this city, I've walked this street more times than I can count, and the photo (at least the black and white part) showed it in ruins. It wasn't just a bit roughed up, entire rows of houses were crumbled to the ground and there's a soldier walking down this ruined row of houses like yeah, it's an everyday thing. And it shockingly upset me a little, because I don't know what I'd do if I walked that street tomorrow and saw it in complete ruins.
Also, it made me think of the anniversary of 9/11 in a strange way. I've never been to America, but the tragedy of what happened then and what happened seventy years ago just made me think, wow, in seventy years we can have what we see and know every day, destroyed by other people, to walk past what was there everyday (back then and now) and see ruins and watch things be rebuilt over time. It just put things in a sad kind of perspective for me.
ANYWAY, I'm sorry for the emotional rant.
Disclaimer – I don't own Hetalia, nor do I own the Sun newspaper (which is such a depressing read by the way).
Warnings – Nothing really, some bad language, and in terms of relationships, it's borderline friendship/romance, but it can be whatever you make it :D
Oh, and the title of this fic 'Blast and Present' was the title of the article which inspired this.
(Also, the date at the start of the story is how we write the dates in England – day/month/year)
Arthur yawned widely, reaching his arms up high in a luxurious stretch, idly kicking the covers away from his legs to swing them onto the floor. He perched on the side of his bed and blinked, raising a hand to his head to tangle in unruly blonde spikes – something didn't feel right. He narrowed his eyes at the bedside clock and all but gaped at the numbers – 17:00pm.
He sat back, shocked; it... it had been years, decades since he'd woken up that late! For others, this probably wasn't such a strange phenomenon, but Arthur regarded this with a touch of trepidation. Knowing he had gone to bed around ten last night, and knowing his body clock hadn't allowed him to sleep in past seven in... in... seven decades.
He was silent and still, face grimacing slightly as his head began to pound; of course it would be today they had a meeting as well, a meeting that began all of eight hours ago. England sighed slightly, disheartened as he curled his legs up to rest his chin on his knees miserably. Stewing in silence and his own thoughts, Arthur started a little violently when his mobile rattled on the bedside table. He swallowed heavily and answered.
"Iggy! Hey, where are you? Seriously, you've got like, a million missed calls from me!"
Arthur ran a hand through his hair and couldn't even muster up enough energy to sound snappy this morning – he swallowed; hoping the pure misery in his chest didn't leak into his voice.
"I'm not coming in today."
"What! Dude, Germany is freaking out, it's his turn to be a bossy dictator this week, remember? He was all blahhh punctuality and attendance when you didn't show up – he told me to call you to make sure you came tomorrow, not that I wasn't gonna anyway, cus like, you haven't missed a meeting since the seventies, an-"
His tone was low, dangerous.
"I'm not coming in today, I'm not coming in tomorrow, I'm not going to be there for however sodding long I feel like. Especially not for that fucking kraut."
A shocked silence followed at the end of the line. Arthur wasn't surprised; he'd been on pretty good terms with the majority of nations in the last few years, but he was beyond caring at this point.
"Iggy... Arthur, what the hell?"
"Woah! Wait! Wha-"
Arthur pressed the disconnect button, the American's shocked voice ringing in his ears, youthful and confused. Youth... feeling his bones become ancient, his heart pumping along in an age old toil, Arthur had never felt so old. So... ancient.
Arthur let out a sharp, shaky breath, discarding the phone on the bed, feeling his heart sink within his chest as he rose to his feet, not even bothering to change out of his ratty, worn band-tee and pyjama pants as he made his way down stairs and into the large kitchen. He stood in the doorway, reluctant beyond words to walk past his calendar to the newspaper waiting on his table. He knew what day it was – he would know better than anyone; he would feel it better than anyone.
He knew it was raining in London, he knew he was supposed to be in Germany (which in hindsight, was a cruel irony that only served to make his blood boil), he knew Alfred was visiting next week, he knew it was late afternoon and he was still in his bed clothes.
He also knew the newspaper, which his fairies had lovingly (somehow) collected, would be acknowledging something he still had nightmares about –
He woke, agonised, redredred everywhere. He looked round, clock said 5 o'clock. 5? Why – he felt the bed, the house shake, it felt like the whole world was shaking and oh god, there was so much blood –
"No. Come on you stupid old man. Don't even try that."
He ensnared his hands into his hair, eyes screwing shut as he willed himself out of his memories. Taking a deep breath, he straightened, his military posture looking distinctly less imposing when clad in a tee and pyjama pants. His steps were determined as he walked to the table, seating himself and beginning to tear his way through the newspaper with shaking hands.
And there it was. The Sun, page 30-31, big and bold in black and white –
BLITZ STARTED 70 YEARS AGO TODAY
He sighed deeply, ancient and exhausted, slumping miserably.
"Bloody fucking brilliant..."
Alfred stepped out of the taxi, tugging his duffle bag alone with him and watched as it drove away into the night. He looked down at his watch; 20:10pm. In the last three hours since England had answered his phone, he'd probably called Arthur about another twenty or so times, or at least enough to times to warrant a plan of action.
In his heart of hearts, Alfred knew something was up, and so cunningly developed a master plan to get to Arthur as soon as he could, meetings be damned! First, get Francis to provide a distraction! Which, now he thought on it, wasn't as difficult as he thought it would be. There had been a look in Francis' eyes as Alfred explained where he wanted to go and why, and the Frenchman had readily agreed (and honestly, Alfred had been expecting outlandish requests for sexual favours or something).
He dreaded to think what France had been about to do as he'd crawled, yes, crawled out of the meeting room with the stealth of a ninja – but the way the man had arrogantly stood from his chair in the middle of Germany's speech and started proclaiming something that sounded provocative in French... well, Alfred was not for the first time glad Arthur had point blank refused to teach him French as a child.
And so, after booking out of the hotel and an hour's wait at the airport, he had finally arrived to stand in Arthur's drive and look at the large, dark house. Was Arthur even in?
Alfred took a deep breath and started towards the door, hoping to hell that Arthur hadn't been miserable enough to go off on a drinking jaunt. But then, after hearing the raw misery in Arthur's voice over the phone... he could only guess exactly why he was so much more miserable than usual.
He slipped the spare keys out of his pocket (which Arthur continuously forgot Alfred even had – not that the Englishman knew he'd stolen his house keys about a decade or so ago to have them copied... purely for innocent situations such as this.)
Carefully, he looked round the door, dropping his bag in the hallway as he shut the door behind him. Alfred gulped, back pressed against the door, there were no lights on, save for the one in the kitchen, which looked really creepy as the light kind of leaked out into the hall way. He took a deep breath, prepared to open the door and see Arthur drunk or passed out or – or – or something equally as bad but hopefully not worse. He crept forwards towards the door so as not to startle Arthur if he wasn't in his right mind.
"Arthur –" he said cautiously, poking his head round the door, only to blink in a kind of shocked fascination as a sight he had never seen met his wondering gaze.
Arthur was in the kitchen alright, but there was not a drop of liquor in sight, just Arthur, sat at his table.
Well, slumped seemed more appropriate, he was sat in a posture Alfred didn't even think he was capable of having after experiencing a lifetime of Arthur's straight back and strong shoulders. Clad in a worn band tee and a pair of sweats and socks along with his dishevelled blonde spikes, Arthur didn't look a day over seventeen, which was ridiculous because Alfred had only ever pictured Arthur as someone who was aged and mature, despite his outward physical age. He had never seen Arthur as someone who looked, well, young. Which sounded terrible even in his own mind.
Arthur was sat cross-legged in his chair, slumped over the table to lean his chin on his crossed arms, eyes half-mast and dull with his mouth set in a despondent frown. He glanced up uncaringly,
"You don't have to just stand there and stare."
Flustered, Alfred moved into the kitchen, confused and feeling out of his depth.
"Oh I, I just wanted to see if you were okay, y'know. You kinda freaked me out on the phone and I guess, I wasn't worried, just, yeah."
He finished lamely, dragging a chair out to sit opposite Arthur, who had straightened up slightly to lean on his elbow. A shadow passed over his tired face, and all of a sudden he looked both angry and moody (looking more and more like a moody youth Alfred had never seen).
"Didn't the kraut kick off when you left?"
"Dude, kraut? Isn't that a little outdated and, y'know, offensive nowadays?"
Arthur scowled and leaned back in his chair with a heavy huff, pushing something across the table to him before crossing his arms, shoulders slumped.
"He's the reason for my fucking headache, so I don't give a rats arse."
Alfred, however was preoccupied with what Arthur had pushed towards him. Staring up at him in black and white was a two page spread, photos of areas around England, Birmingham, London, Coventry – but, no, the pictures weren't quite right, parts of the pictures were coloured, but parts were in black and white and... oh.
BLITZ STARTED 70 YEARS AGO TODAY
BLAST AND PRESENT
'...70 years today since Hitler began his campaign to bomb Britain into submission – and these amazing images have been created to convey the true horror of the Blitz to a new generation..'
The article then went on to talk about the eight month attack that had tortured Britain... Had tortured Arthur. The photos were a blend of modern day streets with what the area had looked like during the German onslaught. The road outside the Bank of England in London was completely caved in; a giant, wrecked hole in the ground. Entire buildings in rubble, right outside Buckingham Palace was a gaping hole in the ground where the gate had been destroyed. Alfred took a deep breath and looked up at the fuming, miserable Brit.
Arthur's jaw tightened,
They sat in silence, Arthur stewing in his own contempt, Alfred in his own concern. He swallowed painfully.
"I'm sorry, I didn't – I forgot."
Arthur's gaze met his and it softened, though he still looked moody, he at least looked calm. He sighed heavily in defeat.
"It's okay Alfred. I don't – even I don't remember the day very well. Just one big, bloody blur really," He snorted humourlessly, "Really bloody."
Alfred shuddered a little, recalling the day with clarity now that it had been practically shoved in his face. Getting a call in the early hours from Francis of all people; the Frenchman's accent was heavy with worry as he informed him of Arthur's... condition.
"Wait! Francis what the fuck's going on?"
"Angleterre – he, he is so – I have not seen him this hurt in, so many years. I – I – He won't make the night, he won't, not when, not like –"
"Francis! What's happened? Arthur – what's wrong with him!"
He swallowed heavily, not liking the memory, not being able to remember a time when he had been so frightened; stuck on the other side of the ocean when it sounded like Arthur was going to die.
"Alfred. I'm still here."
The voice was coaxing, gentle almost, and Arthur looked and sounded like an old man in a teens body.
"Heh, sorry Iggy, yeah. I get why you don't want to go to Germany now at least. I don't think I want to go anymore to be honest."
Arthur looked off, frowning despondently.
"I know I sound childish. I look it as well I suppose..." He said, looking down at his youthful looking attire. Alfred grinning, back in a sort of comfort zone and tugged his chair round to be closer to the Brit.
"Nah, I understand and ya don't look childish! You er, look kind of cool, like that I mean. Like your age, well, not your real age obviously, but yeah, you look... young."
He flushed slightly, not really used to dealing out compliments, especially ones regarding how Iggy looked in certain clothing ... which sounded weird now he thought about it. Arthur blinked at him, looking as though he really didn't know how to take that, until his face faded into a look that was so tired and old that Alfred was terrified he'd offended him in some weird way.
Arthur huffed heavily, seeming to sink into himself miserably, looking to the tabletop with a look was so despairingly sad that Alfred tugged himself closer, concern written all over his features.
"Artie, I , I'm sorry, I'm just not really used to seeing you dressing so chilled out y'know? So young?"
Arthur sighed, world-weary with his tone low and tired.
"Well, maybe for once in my stupid ancient existence, I don't want to be old."
"Man Artie! I never said that! I know I call you an old man and stuff but you're not that old, not for us anyway right? You... you know I don't think that right?"
He looked truly worried at the thought; sure he called Arthur old, but it was only to mess with him, he couldn't help that he liked it when Arthur flushed and pouted all cross and angry. But the thought that he had just been making Arthur feel as old as he thought he was, was disheartening in a way Alfred had never experienced.
Arthur regarded him carefully, before looking at the tabletop again.
"I know Alfred. Just some days... maybe I just get sick to death of looking in the mirror and seeing the face of a twenty-three year old when inside- my heart, my lungs, my bones are ancient."
The American gaped; had Arthur always felt this way?
"I – Artie, you aren't – not to me, I-"
England heaved a great breath, tension draining out of his body to leave him slumped once more. His face dropping into a look that made Alfred's heart ache slightly.
"You aren't – you aren't old enough to get that Alfred, not really. I'm glad you're not. But with me, with any of the old nations, sometimes... sometimes it just hurts to not have anything to show for what we've lived through, for how many years we've lived through."
His verdant eyes regarded the news paper on the opposite side of the table and he uncrossed his legs and arms, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees, looking to the end of the kitchen, into years, decades, memories Alfred had never lived through.
"I'm not upset about the date, or the newspaper, or even with Germany. What's done is done, what's past is past. But looking at those pictures... knowing I was looking at that wreckage in person, that I could feel my bones breaking and my blood..."
He took a deep breath,
"And to still look like nothing happened... I was dying, my people were dying, the cities were crumbling and – and it's a two page spread on page 30 seventy years on."
Arthur put his head in his hands, the pounding was doing his head in!
"I don't even know why, but this upsets me. It upsets me knowing that on that night alone 436 were killed, 1666 were injured, I had a gaping, bloody hole in my chest... "
He cut off at the feel on something on his head – fingers weaving through his blonde spikes almost tenderly. He straightened and the hand fell to the back of his neck, pulling the Englishman forward with little resistance into a tight embrace.
Alfred wrapped his arms tight around his friend's back, loyal and unmoving, voice firm as he spoke next to the stunned Brit's ear.
Arthur was tense and solid in his embrace – warm, physical proof that the Englishman wasn't ancient or dying or fading away in his arms. England wasn't weak or breakable, he was lithe muscle and bravery, courage the likes of which Alfred had never seen.
Arthur was stubborn as a mule; stubborn enough not to die, stubborn enough to live and get old and cranky, stubborn enough just to spite his enemies by living.
"Alfred, I –"
He held tighter, his chin resting firmly on the strong shoulder as Arthur stayed in his hold, weary and warm.
"I don't know what it's like to be as old as you, and I'm not old enough to say 'yeah, I understand' cus I don't. But just the fact that you're here and you're stubborn as fuck makes me not give a shit about how old you are, or how old you think you are."
Alfred pulled away slightly, grasping the strong shoulders tightly as he looked into the stunned verdant eyes with a seriousness that belied his usually boisterous nature.
" I know that your past is a huge part of you, but seriously, you don't have to talk like some nostalgic old war veteran when I know you're nowhere near finished. And even if that makes you feel tired as shit, just, I just –"
He was ashamed to look back on this moment and realise that his voice had cracked slightly under the weight of emotion he was unused to expressing. And for a moment, he felt tired as well. But as he looked into the wide, verdant eyes, set in a young, world weary face, he knew that even though he was looking at Arthur's physical youth (and god, if he didn't look like a kid; looking at him all confused and wide eyed) there was an underlying exhaustion that he had never bothered to notice.
He blinked hastily; moving without thought to rest his forehead against Arthur's shakily, watching the Englishman watch him.
"Just, please, can't you live in the present now? For me? With me?"
Alfred, had he been a lesser man, probably would have flushed a little at how out of character he sounded – but to keep Arthur here, with him, that seemed so much more important than his pride.
Arthur breathed in sharply, looking to Alfred's eyes intensely, like he was searching for something. He must have found it, because within the next moment, he had almost slumped against the American; the tension drained from his body and his eyes closed, looking exhausted still, but almost in a good way this time. As though he had been tense throughout his entire life and now he was just letting go.
They stayed there for moments, and Alfred waited for Arthur's eyes to open, to see if the Englishman was still here with him, and not trapped within the memories of one of many horrific events.
Arthur leaned away from Alfred slightly and opened his eyes, and honestly, Alfred could have shed a tear at the awareness and almost solemnly amused expression in the verdant eyes. Arthur pursed his lips and raised his hands to tightly hold onto the hands resting on his shoulders.
And in the darkness of his kitchen, seventy years on from what seemed like an event to trigger the beginning of the end for him, Arthur had never felt so... so... light. Like his ancient, heavy bones had hollowed out like a bird's, his heart lifted at the thought of someone needing him in the present with them; even his ancient, rare and to-be-treasured smile felt effortless, like he had smiled like that every day of his life.
He looked at Alfred, and Alfred looked back, and the American could see beyond doubt, that Arthur, for now, was planted firmly, happily, back in the present with him. And as he tugged Arthur back into his arms in sheer relief, he knew he'd do his utmost from now until the future, into forever, to keep him here where he belonged.
Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed it and that I did the characters and subject matter justice, and I'd appreciate any feedback you're willing to give me xxx