An APH US/UK story by Diane Long
Damp and cold and dirty and congested.
That was America's impression of London as he peered out of the grimy windows of his carriage. Even the torrents of rain didn't seem to help clean the glass. Outside, the gutters ran over-full, flooding into the street carrying detritus and filth. Mud splashed everywhere, kicked up by humans and horses alike.
Alfred glanced down at his fingers, encased with pristine white gloves and clenched into fists. How in the world would they stay that way when he exited the carriage? He shouldn't have dressed up – his normal work clothes would better stand up to these conditions. He winced, thinking of the cost of the fine linen shirtwaist and woolen waistcoat, jacket, and breeches. The silk stockings and kid leather shoes would be destroyed the moment he stepped out into that soup. What a waste, and such a shame given the state of his economy.
England had never shared just how dismal London could be in November. Not that he had ever shared much about the world beyond Colonial America's borders. Though he had endlessly complained about Virginia's wet, cold winters, and he had sworn that London fared much better.
Alfred snorted. So England had lied – so surprising.
He cradled his head in his gloved hand. No, that wasn't helpful. The Treaty of London was signed. Jay's Treaty was official. After 20 years, he and England were... were... what? Friends was way too strong a term. Allies...no. Perhaps business partners was better? Yes, perhaps so.
He sighed, not sure how to feel about it all. It was great that the last of the Lobsters were finally leaving the North Western Territories and that his merchants were finally being reimbursed by England. Getting a clear and agreed upon border with Canada would be good for all involved. It was just that getting to these agreements had been so sterile. He had hoped that maybe enough time had passed that he and England could try and rebuild something resembling a friendly relationship. That they could just talk a little. They had once been close. Despite the war, and harsh words from both of them, Alfred had missed him.
During the recent negotiations England had been frostily polite. Always entering a fraction after the talks had formally begun and exiting just before the meetings concluded. America hadn't gotten in a signal casual or personal word. At all. He was lucky to catch the older nation's frozen green eyes, which had looked through him, never once focusing on his face or betraying a single thought.
These negotiations were far less acrimonious than the treaty of Paris had been, but it hadn't felt any better. In fact it had felt worse, given how calm and dead the whole affair had been. Then, England had actually tried to punch him, now he just stared and stared with those empty eyes.
So what was Alfred to make of an unexpected invitation to come to England's home for dinner the night before he sailed for home? He could see the letter in his mind's eye, full of perfect, formal language and oh-so proper phrases. It had informed him of the tradition of nations offering hospitality to each other during momentous occasions, and would he do the Empire the honor of dining with him at his home?
Even as his eyebrow twitched at the word 'empire', Alfred's chest puffed out under his greatcoat. England thought of him as a NATION. A peer, not a subordinate. That alone was reason to accept. To acknowledge the acknowledgment. That, and the fact he had never been to England's home before, despite uncounted years of desperate curiosity. It was located in Mayfair, England's letter had said. Not knowing so much about London, that didn't mean anything to Alfred, though he suspected England, the Empire, was bragging.
The carriage rattled along and swerved sharply to the right, rolling up a sharp incline where more regular cobbles made the ride instantly smoother. The homes were larger here and made of elegant grey blocks, with lanterns hanging above their gates and doors. They were all terraced like the common homes Alfred had seen earlier, still sharing walls despite their grander scale and materials.
It was raining just as hard here, but it didn't seem as filthy. While the other streets were filled with people milling about in the muck, this street was empty. This must be Mayfair.
He leaned back against the upholstery and took a steadying breath. They were almost there and he was going to attempt to have a casual conversation with England. How would that go? Would they talk or would England just stare coldly at him for the entire visit? If England spoke, what would he say? Would it be kind words or polite insults?
If it was the latter, Alfred hoped he could keep his temper, something he was having increasing problems with lately.
But it was important – even if England baited him, Alfred knew it would be harmful for him to lose control. How could he expect England to treat him with respect if he didn't earn it? This was an important chance at reconciliation and he couldn't blow it by acting like a kid.
He pressed his hands against the glass of the carriage's window and peered at the homes he rolled past. Some of them even had little front gardens. He bet that England's place was covered in rose bushes. After all, he had planted them everywhere they would fit around their first home in Virginia.
America cracked his knuckles and shifted around on the seat, crossing and uncrossing his legs at the knee. What would they talk about? Not tea, or coffee, or France, or colonies, or politics, or religion, or family, or food... that left...?
Rubbing at his stomach, America took another deep breath as the carriage pulled up to a handsome townhouse that was even bigger than its neighbors. Several extravagant lanterns softly illuminated nooks of a spacious front yard covered, as expected, in rose bushes, orange rose hips showing where the blooms had been in the summer.
This was it. He was here.
The large wooden double doors at the home's front burst open and spilled out golden light and a mob of female servants armed with umbrellas. Their black skirts and white aprons blew about in the wind revealing white petticoats and black wool stockings as they formed a line from the front door to the door of the carriage. Umbrellas were popped open and held up and forward at an angle, creating a covered walkway for the carriage's passenger. They all stood, faces down and averted, getting soaked in the icy downpour.
Alfred frowned. He didn't want anyone to get wet, or maybe sick, on his account.
A long roll of carpet was unfurled down the walk, clearly expensive, and just as clearly soon to be ruined. Empire, indeed. Alfred looked down at his shoes. At least they would be spared.
The carriage door rattled open and Alfred sprung to his feet and hurried down the steps. The faster he moved, the faster they could all get inside. He hurried beneath the row of umbrellas whispering a litany of 'thank you's' and 'sorry's' to each person as he passed
He dashed through the front door, the heels of his shoes clicking on the marble of the foyer floor. He half turned to check on the status of the servants behind him, frowning as the door swung shut on them.
He was about to reach to open the door when a stoic butler cleared his throat and reached for his greatcoat, hat, and scarf. Alfred made an effort to relax his limbs and allow his outerwear to be removed and bundled away. He had his own servants now, of course, but was still getting comfortable with relative strangers either dressing him or removing his clothing. This fellow seemed alright with his role, if not very friendly.
Still the girls had not come in.
"I beg your pardon, but may the young ladies come in now?" Alfred asked, his words revealing the remains of his soft British accent. He made an effort to use extra formal language, just like he had been practicing.
The butler looked impassive. "They have come in through the scullery, Sir."
"Oh. I see," Alfred laughed nervously. "If they came in the front, they would just have more work to do mopping up the foyer, I guess." The formal language was already receding from him without his notice.
The butler just stared at him, expressionless. He could have been a part of the décor for all of the life he showed. The dark grays of his livery were a perfect counterpoint to the mauve tones of the entryway's wallpaper and upholstered chairs.
Alfred flushed and shuffled his feet. "It's a pleasure to meet you. My name is Alfred."
More staring. The flickering light of the oil lamps served to better hide any sort of expression on the butler's face.
"And you, Sir, your name is?" Alfred tried again, smoothing his jacket's tails.
"Thomas, you may go now," drawled a cool voice. "That is all."
Alfred's head snapped back and he saw England standing regally at the foot of the stairs. He was dressed in the same style as Alfred but in much richer materials. The knee length britches were made from a dense silk of forrest green, his waist coat and jacket a heavily brocaded golden satin that glimmered in the lamp light. The collar of his snowy cotton shirt was tied off with a complex cravat fixed in place with a gold and pearl broach.
Alfred clasped his hands behind his back and stood tall. He might be in cotton and wools but the indigo blue dyes of his britches and waist coat and black dye of his jacket were expertly done, if sober. His shirt was a creamy natural linen and his own cravat was a simple, but elegant knot. His hair was neatly clubbed in the back with a red ribbon. He was refined, but not ostentatious. He met those cold green eyes with his earnest blue ones and smiled.
England met his gaze. His expression, framed by controlled shocks of pale blond hair, was serene and patient, communicating he could wait.
Alfred's smile tightened. He could wait too. Only a colony was obligated to give the first greeting to his Lord. That was not America... not any more and never would be again
The oil lamps wavered in a slight draft as the silence grew heavier.
Alfred's lips pursed a little and a muscle in England's jaw twitched.
Deeper in the house a clock chimed the hour, the hushed footsteps of the servants hurried along, and somewhere a door slammed.
"People don't smile much around here, do they?" Alfred inquired, rather than greeting.
England's eyes ran over Alfred. "You look like a Quaker," he also didn't greet.
Alfred's smile stayed steady through sheer will power. "Does that makes you a Macaroni?"
"Oh dear," England said delicately. "I suppose you didn't know that song was meant to be unkind."
Alfred's expression became feral as he detected the polite derision. "We liked it." He mimed sticking a feather in an imaginary hat. "Yankee. Doodle. Dandy." Each word was deliberate, just shy of being three discrete challenges.
England ignored the jibe. "Come here and let me look at you." He imperiously waved Alfred towards him with a white gloved hand.
Choosing to comply, America strode forward until he was close by and looking up at England, noting that the nation was standing three steps up from the bottom of the staircase to achieve the height.
"You look well. Still growing I see," England conceded, his eyes thawing a little.
A cautious sort of happiness leapt up in Alfred's chest. "Thank you." He gazed up at that familiar and once loved face. "You remain just as I recall."
England clucked his tongue. "Just listen to those R's. I worked so hard to break you of that."
"I know." Alfred ducked his head. "But they just feel correct as they are. I think they are meant to be there for me."
England's brows pinched together. "Regrettable. You sound like a farmer."
Alfred shrugged, looking boyish for a moment. "I am a farmer. You know that."
England nodded. "Too true. I half expected to you to show up in home spun and muddy boots. I am pleased, however, with your choice of attire."
America grinned full out. England still knew him so well. That was exactly what this weather demanded any practical person to wear – but he had known better and bowed to convention. England had noticed and approved. That really shouldn't make him as happy as it did.
As he was trying to find words to complement England on his ostentatious costume without sounding moronic or offensive, Thomas appeared silently at an open door further down the hall. "Dinner is served."
"Thank you, Thomas!" Alfred beamed in relief, pivoting neatly on the ball of his foot. He moved quickly towards the butler while his mind churned with trying to come up with topics for dinner conversation.
England made a displeased sound as he came down the remaining stairs and followed Alfred into the dining room, and Alfred wondered what he had already done wrong.
By 1794, the industrial revolution was in full swing in England. It was getting quite polluted and crowded.
Jays Treaty- finalized some outrageous loose ends left by the revolutionary war. Also lead to a short period of reconciliation between America and England.
Mayfair- a fashionable residential area in central London during this time period.
Yankee Doodle- this song has a neat history. The British sang it to make fun of just how stupid and home spun the rebels were. A Macaroni was a term for someone who was a foppish dandy in Europe, most of them wore very outlandish and extravagant styles. In this song, the British meant that the colonists were so fashion backward that they thought sticking a feather in their hats was enough to be stylish. Doodle is derived from a word that means simpleton. Fun huh?
I need to acknowledge Otoshigo's Jay's Treaty comic as the source of my inspiration. I didn't remember anything about this treaty before that comic and found the whole concept very intriguing. I live in the US in the state of Ohio, which was part of the North West territory and it is hard to imagine there were still Red Coats running around here and impressing American citizens into the British army some 20 years after the treaty of Paris.
I also want to acknowledge that Stardropdream's Lying in That Sound Tonight has been giving me fits, even though I love it. It is a story of reconciliation too, and I live in fear of accidentally copying anything from it! I've been trying not to read it until I get this fic done, but am just too weak. If you see something sneaky - please tell me.
But speaking of reconciliations, my head cannon for this is different I think. This is only 20 years since Arthur and Alfred have parted and both their wounds and their prior good times are not so far behind and both weigh on our boys. I see Alfred as a bit more timid since he has not yet become a world power and is still figuring out his way. I think that makes him a little more polite and careful, and why he was the first to break down and speak in this chapter. As you will see later, he still has his flavors of brashness and the ability to be a jerk. He just isn't over the top yet. :-)