Dro: Embarrassingly enough, I honestly forgot to post this here. I wrote it last week and posted it to LJ...Oops. Anyway, with A Crack in the Looking Glass drawing to a close and Solemnity finished, it's time for a new story! And here it is, the promised World War II AU fic!

Chapter Summary: Fighter Pilot Alfred F. Jones' life spirals out of control as his plane is shot down in a failed German air raid.

Warnings: Somewhat explicit description of burning

Disclaimer: Don't own now. Won't own later. Dro owns nothing, peoples!

The world burned.

"Al, promise me you'll be careful."

"What're you worrying about, Mattie? I'm like an ace, remember? In a few months, I'll probably officially be one!" He took another gulp of beer. "You worry to much. Calm down and have a drink!"

Matthew sighed. "Please don't be too cocky, Alfred. You're a pilot. You could die at any time."

Alfred clicked his tongue. "This is me you're talking about. No matter what happens, I'll always come back to you."

A soft smile tugged on Matthew's lips. "I hope so, Al. I really hope so."

Alfred let his smile drop and gently rubbed his brother's back, ignoring the clamor of their fellow soldiers in the background. "We're going to win this war, you know. We're going to win, we're going to go home, and we're going to spend the rest of our lives as war heroes!"

"Tch, foolish notions. You're much more likely to die."

The world burned. And so did he. It had happened in an instant. One moment he'd been trailing a Me 109(1), guns blazing, smoke churning, sparks flying. And the next, he burned. The world had become hell right before his eyes. Flames roared in the cockpit, and he lost control of the plane. Now he spiraled downward, dropping like a tangled bird, crying and screaming and twisting and turning as he dived toward his fate at a breakneck speed.

In the briefest second, he saw the face of Mattie and Arthur flash by him. The photograph they'd taken last week at a soldier's birthday party. It was blackened and charred and burned, and it crumbled away. Just like his body. The air whipped by his face, the flames snaking after it, taking the picture away with them. His burning blue eyes watched it listlessly as it floated away into oblivion.

Then his world went dark. But the flames still burned on, eating away at his skin like acid. He felt the flames lick their way up his arms, his legs, and he heard the steaming sound of a high-pitched of a scream, vaguely acknowledging it as his own. He was trapped in Milton's dream just like Milton himself, dark and bleak and painful and endless(2). Surely, he thought, this earthly hell could not be eternal. He knew the moment he hit the ground, his world would end, and he would descend into the true hell beneath the Earth. Or perhaps he would just float right through the soil and down below. Perhaps there would be no impact at all. Or perhaps he already had, and his punishment was to be stuck in this immortal torment, reliving his terrifying moment of death until his soul disintegrated.

He hoped his soul was fragile.

Alfred whipped around to face the familiar British face. "God, what's with you, Kirkland?" His cousin was such a pessimist. "Do you want your soldiers to give up without a fight? If you tell them they're going to die anyway—"

"I tell them the truth, Alfred." He adjusted his coat. Alfred realized the man was in full uniform.

"You're leaving?" Matthew's nervous voice rang out.

"Yes. Tomorrow morning. I just came from a meeting."

"Where are you going?" Alfred asked. As much as his distant relative got on his nerves, Alfred couldn't deny he cared about the man.

Arthur sighed. "North Africa."

He hit the ground. The impact tore the plane apart, and Alfred found himself flying through the air once again, his body no longer a skillful pilot controlling his motions but a torn and charred ragdoll being flung through the air as if by the hand of a careless child. Or perhaps the hand of a contemptuous God. This too was eternity. There was no sight. The sky was dark to him. The earth was black instead of green. The colors had drained away and were replaced with infinite night.

The grass met him like a million razors, shearing away the inflamed skin of his face and shoulders. He bounced and rolled and tumbled, wishing, praying, begging with every single instance of sensation that God would be merciful and take his life now. Or at least his consciousness. But God had no ear turned toward his plight. His momentum slowed to a crawl and then to a stop, and he body teetered limply on the edge of a hill. Or perhaps it was a cliff. Perhaps his torment was not yet over. Perhaps God truly hated him.

But he did not fall.

"Be careful." Matthew whispered.

Arthur's gaze softened. "You too, boys. I've heard…" He swallowed as he looked at Alfred. "I've heard you're going to be involved in bombings next week."

"That's right." Alfred beamed.

"Alfred, please…"

"I know! Be careful! I get it. I'll be as safe as I can. I'll take precautions. Trust me, Arthur." He could always bait the man by using his first name. "I can do this."

Arthur sighed. "I know you can. I just wish I knew you could be safe."

He lost his senses one by one. His already forgotten sight was merely the first in a long list. The flames that had tarnished his body slowly fizzled out, and with the dying nerves of his flame-flayed skin and muscles, Alfred realized it was raining. Finally, he thought, finally God has shown mercy. His clothing was burned into his skin, flesh and molten metal and seared fabric molded together like a tormented human mosaic. But then that feeling left him too, and he was left a senseless hull.

His nose continued to smell the sickening scent of his burning flesh until finally, that released its hold on him as well. He was left with only hearing at the end, his eardrums miraculously spared from the onslaught. It was through them he heard the fate of his comrades. They fell one by one, he knew, surprised by a Nazi ambush that appeared in the night. Fires erupted in the sky with grotesquely loud bangs, lighting up the night with the extinguishing lives of his comrades. He wondered if they all experienced this, this pathetically lingering life that he had. He could only hope not.

When his hearing finally faded along with the rest of his consciousness, he was aware of only one other thing, a dull, repetitive beat that paused just as it neared him. A beat that was so familiar to him, from training, from marching, from simple strolls with Mattie in the park. So utterly mundane and simple that it was something he had never before focused on in his entire life. But not the beat rippled through him, the focus of his world. The beat that would change his life forever.


Dro: Vague, ominous prologue is vague and ominous. Anyway, you all know the drill. Tell Dro what you think, sweeties, and click that review button!

Next Chapter: Alfred wakes up alone and in pain...and blind...in a seemingly abandoned house. Or is it?