Dro: It's here! I've been working on this in secret for a few days to get myself a chapter ahead, but I thought it was finally time to post this! And here it is! The long awaited sequel to A Crack in the Looking Glass! Please, do enjoy! I hope it's just as good (if not better) than the first installment.
Chapter Summary: Flashback prologue, aka, where we left off last time.
Disclaimer: It is very unlikely Dro will ever own APH. I would have to become incredibly rich, and currently, I am incredibly poor.
A raindrop splattered on the brick next to his hand, and he glanced up at the overcast sky. Faint rays of sunlight broke through the dreary blanket occasionally, highlighting the finer of parts of London for the briefest moments. He leaned against the smooth, old brick, eyes roaming the skyline of his city but not really seeing anything that was in front of him. His mind was occupied with other thoughts, other considerations, other fears. He wondered not for the first time—but for the hundredth, if not thousandth—why that man had sent him to this place. He'd gotten no true explanation from the boy himself, nothing except the cryptic message:
'Because there was nothing for me there.'
What did that mean in reference to the state of that other world, the world that existed somewhere far beyond his own and yet so close that he could almost touch it with his fingers? Another drop landed on the brick. Had he lowered his head further, placed his eye just above the red, faded brick, he could've seen the way the water distorted the reality around it. But he chose not to, just as he chose not to question the motives of that boy. After he had come upon the boy, standing dazed in his own home, he'd known this situation was bound to become more complicated.
But the boy had said nothing of his world other than that single sentence, and he had been forced to let the boy go. He certainly couldn't have forced him to stay. The boy had proved he was much stronger than himself, and he hadn't been willing to risk harm, especially when he knew so little. So he had watched from his window as the boy walked solemnly down the street and disappeared around the corner.
And he had not seen the boy since.
Not until this very moment.
He did not dare look the boy in the eye, and he did not need to make eye contact or acknowledgement whatsoever for the boy to stop walking, turn to his right, and take a position right to him. He stared out at the open water, dull and listless as the sky. And then he spoke.
"I apologize if I have caused you trouble, Arthur."
"You have not. Thankfully, I was still shocked enough by Alfred's return to feign ignorance to your presence here."
"I did not forbid you from telling them."
"It's best that way. They've all relaxed with the knowledge that their involvement with your world is over." From his periphery, he spotted a shallow, dry smile caress Italy's lips.
"My world, you say? That is, regrettably, not what I would call it. It has ceased to want me as a part of it."
"Do you plan to stay here forever?"
"I do. But don't be alarmed. I will make sure my presence here is not an obvious one. I only wish to fade into obscurity in a place where I may still have a chance to live some semblance of a life. Something that is impossible to me in the place you call 'my world.'"
"Alfred still hasn't told me everything that happened."
"And I expect he may never."
"I suppose that means you won't either."
Feliciano shook his head. "No, Arthur. I'm afraid it is not my story to tell. I was but a pawn in the hands of a black king. Alfred was the earthly savior that toppled him. If it is anyone's story to tell, it is his."
Arthur sighed, forcing the air sharply from his nose. "I understand." Three more drops cascaded downward, one landing on his glove.
Feliciano flipped around the umbrella in his hand, popping it open over both their heads just as the downpour began. Arthur didn't budge. "Why are you here? In London still?"
He smiled wryly. "I had to check on someone before I left. He arrived a bit after me."
"I see." Arthur considered that information carefully, as it was liable to reveal a great many things. "You will leave now then?"
"Yes. I doubt we will meet again in any near decade."
"I hope you find what you're looking for then."
"And I wish the same to you."
Arthur let his lips tug upward. "I already have."
"Then I wish you never lose it."
"Thank you." He tapped his gloved fingers on the dampened bricks. "But…" Feliciano stilled, the brief flicker of graceful movement in his shoulders abruptly stopping. "I must ask you…your very presence here…does it leave any possibility of interference from the other side? Of any kind? I know enough to know that your very existence in our world leaves a lingering link between the two. Can you give me your word that your presence does not threaten us?"
Feliciano's wise eyes seemed to consider this. Arthur found it strange to describe the other man that way. But yet there it was, a calm, collected, wise, and irreparably emotionally damaged Feliciano Vargas, standing tall and proud right next to him. He let out a shallow breath. "The only assurance that I can give you is that the biggest threat from my world was defeated by your hero. There is no other threat—not when I left—that was big enough to breach your world. But my knowledge is now limited to what I experience here, so I can give you no guarantee of eternal safety from otherworldly threats."
"Then you must realize the selfishness of being here?"
"I do. And so be it. For I have lost any sense of caring for things such as selfishness and selflessness. I will do only what I want, only what my few remaining desires tell me to do."
"You have been hurt."
Arthur let his sympathy get the best of them. "You should go now. Wherever your want."
"Very well. I suppose 'goodbye' or 'farewell' is more appropriate than 'see you again'?"
"Then 'farewell,' Arthur."
And then he was off. The rain soaked Arthur's hair, his trench, his pants, his shoes, but he didn't bother running for cover. Instead, he turned his head for the very first time in their entire exchange, watching the retreating form of the dark-clothed Feliciano with his black umbrella as he stepped off the bridge and swept down the water-logged London street, leaving shallow splashes and endless ripples in his wake. Endless distortions. Endless warps of reality.
When the boy disappeared from view, Arthur turned back toward the river, staring down at the disturbed water, its former calm broken by a countless number of individual drops, ripples crashing into one another, overlapping, fighting to the death for dominance. A million ripples. A million possibilities. Arthur cursed at the water, within it a waving, trembling reflection of himself. Why did you send him here? What on Earth made you think it was okay to send him here? What were you thinking, you fool? He whispered it out loud, echoing the inner complaints of his mind. He whispered it lowly to the dancing, distressed water.
But it didn't answer back.
He froze, the sound of a hushed insult filling his ears. He frantically looked around for its source in the pounding rain but found no one of consequence or blame. Some compulsion of unknown origin made him trail his eyes downward toward the quaking puddle at his feet. But the only thing that stared back up at was himself. Then he dared to peek from underneath his umbrella, eyes honing on the dim light filtering through the light gray clouds. Back under the safety of his shield a few moments later, he shook the rainwater out of his hair, simultaneously shaking his head and chastising himself for hearing voices. Fairies were one thing. They were real. And usually harmless. Disembodied voices, on the other hand, were always a bad sign.
He continued his trek down the newly laid street, his path just happening to coincide with the direction of the newly built Parliament building. It's bright red brick, slightly darkened in the rain, jutted out above several of the buildings still under construction. As he sauntered down the street, eyes focused on the fresh, revitalized world around him, he honed in on every single sign of new life and recovery. Even in the rain, people were still working on houses, on stores, on skyscrapers even. From the ashes of a city older than he could place, a new civilization and a new generation was rising.
And Arthur could only hope and pray it would never have to witness the horrors of its ancestors, the pain and suffering of its past. His foot hit the first step of the Parliament building, and he paused, turning around briefly to face the new incarnation of a street he'd walked a billion times, on grass, on dirt, on cobblestone, on blacktop and bright paint, Along its sides were a hundred houses and fifty shops, some half-finished, some barely more than foundations. But they were there, and that was all that mattered.
London was coming back to life.
And with it, so was he.
He clutched the box containing the book he'd gone to pick up, smiling thoughtfully at its contents. Finally, he could dwell on magic that wasn't of immediate need. Finally, he could use his knowledge to do what he wanted to do and not what was required of him. The more and more things recovered, the more alive and free he felt. He'd been chained to the label of "savior" and "leader" for too long. He couldn't wait for the day that he could sink back into obscurity, back into the nameless, faceless nation behind a great country, where he could drink tea and watch the telly and snicker at clever little spells on his own time.
At the end of the street, he could see that world slowly creeping nearer and nearer, returning to him at last.
And he couldn't help but laugh.
Laugh at the world.
Laugh at himself.
Because the world was free. And so was he.
And he was, without any shadow of a doubt, assured that it would stay that way for at least a century or more. The world would not soon forget what the threat of tyranny could bring upon it. The world would work together now. It would smile and shake hands and nod politely. It would talk and whisper and murmur instead of yell and scream. One day, it would likely regain its darker emotions.
But that day was far, far off.
And until then, Arthur would enjoy every last shred of his freedom.
So he turned around and stomped, both undeniably determined and completely carefree, up the steps to his brand new Parliament building, through its gorgeous new white doors, and down the marble-floored hall to his gleaming and pristine new office, where he swung open a new door, stepped inside, sat down at his new oak desk, picked up his blinking mobile, pressed two buttons, listened to it ring, smiled as a happy, familiar, loving voice picked up, and started a brand new day.
And a brand new life.
Dro: Questions answered? I hope so. Well, some of them.
Next Chapter: Four years have passed since the end of the war with Russia. England spends his time contemplating the state of the world, optimistic. Until he gets a very rude awakening.