A/N: Not much to say, part one of two. Hasn't been beta'd, though I've edited it, so sorry for any mistakes. Feel free to point them out. Part two will be up today or tomorrow.
Arthur Kirkland picked up his luggage from the carrousel and made his way towards the automatic doors of the airport and the shuttle that would take him to the car leasing agency. He gasped and almost dropped his bag as he walked into a solid wall of humidity.
After a moment of startled coughing, he recovered himself with a few controlled breaths and a string of colorful curses. The weather was just warming into spring, but already he was staggered by the heat of the sunny afternoon. With a huff, he strolled out onto the pavement to wait.
The shuttle swayed under Arthur as he glared at the hazy sky. Fields of soon-to-sprout soybeans and corn stretched off into the horizon, the soil dark and churned in neat rows. He ignored the few friendly attempts the driver made to make conversation, tipped and exited the bus without a word. Just leave it to his agent, a certain Francis Bonnefoy, to land him in the heartland of America, so far away form his own beloved London.
He threw his luggage in the back of a small car, attempted to plug in the address of the flat Francis had arranged for him into the GPS, and after failing several times, turned the damn thing off and pulled out the atlas from the back seat pocket. He located the town with little difficulty and with several more grumbled curses at the car, GPS, and smothering heat, made for the highway and his new accommodations.
He pulled off the highway and into the little town that would be his home for the next few months. As he had no knowledge of the town or where his flat might be, he pulled into a small coffee shop just a minute off the highway exit. He entered the shop, nose wrinkling at the smell. He'd never liked the stuff, preferring his tea.
The coffee house was empty except for the a single employee, who ignored the tinkling of the bell as he watched the television on the far wall with utmost attention. He was on the tall side, with bright blond hair, glasses, and a tuft of hair in the front that seemed to defy gravity. Arthur cleared his throat, but the man held up a single finger and continued to stare at the screen with a frown. Arthur glanced at the television, seeing only the weather report. The weatherman said that some of the humidity was moving out and the midwest was in for a few dry days. The man behind the counter's expression had turned to a full glare, though lightened considerably when the five day forecast appeared.
He finally turned to Arthur, wide smile on his face. "What can I get ya, Stranger?" he asked. His accent was definitely American, Arthur noted with resigned irritation. "We have an awesome house blend, though the French isn't bad either."
Arthur made a gagging sound at the mention of "French," much to the other man's amusement.
"Not the French then?"
"No, thank you. Do happen to have any tea?"
Arthur's accent was met with a curious glance. "Sure, black, green, herbal. I should warn you though, I hate them all," said the American.
Arthur shrugged. "Wouldn't expect an American to appreciate tea properly anyway. You don't happen to have loose leaf, do you?"
"Nope, just bags."
"Fine, green then."
"I'll bring that right out in just a second. Take a seat. Oh, and I'm Alfred. Alfred F. Jones," he said as he wandered behind the counter and started some water boiling.
Arthur stood awkwardly at the register. "Arthur Kirkland. But I need to pay," he said, reaching for his wallet and swearing when it wasn't in his slacks pockets. "Curse it all, it must be in the car. I'll just be a moment."
"Don't bother," Alfred said, laughing. "This one's on me."
Arthur raised a questioning eyebrow.
"What can I say," Alfred asked, "we don't get very many Brits out in the midwest." He placed a hand on the counter and levered himself over in what might have been a very smooth move if his back foot hadn't caught on the counter lip and almost sent him sprawling. He somehow managed to keep a straight face, however, and swung himself down rather too close to Arthur.
"Besides," he said with a smirk, "you're cute."
Arthur stared at the man, trying to stay expressionless, though the heat he felt spreading form the back of his neck was probably giving him away. He cleared his throat. "I might have been impressed if you hadn't almost tripped so fantastically," he said, summoning his best indifferent look. Arthur looked up and down Alfred, as if appraising him. He shone with far too much energy and Arthur figured any interactions with him would surely turn out to be both exasperating and exhausting. However, it did lend him a certain charm. One that was forcing the corners of Arthur's frown to twitch up against his better sensibilities.
"Like what you see?" Oh, and the flirting. That might have had something to do with it as well. Arthur's eyes flicked over Alfred again, landing on the rim of his apron. A rim edged in lace. White, frilly lace.
"Mm. Yes, that lacy edge really suits you. Really manly, that," Arthur said, trying to stifle his amusement.
Alfred laughed, though a flush spilled over his cheeks. He picked at the fringe. "I inherited it from the last employee. She loved this kind of crafty stuff." His tone was fond and a small smile played across his lips.
"What happened to her?" asked Arthur.
Alfred looked up startled then smiled again. "Nothing. She just went to college out west. I should know, I helped her with her essays. But anyways, I haven't had the heart to rip it off, and it usually doesn't show behind the counter anyway."
The water whistled in the back and Alfred scrambled behind the counter again, though he didn't vault over it this time. He returned in a flash with a steaming cup and a few packets of sugar. Arthur found himself a table and sat down, stirring in the sugars as he let the tea steep. He brought out some papers from his pocket and glared as he uncreased them. He tossed aside his flight itinerary and car lease arrangements and smoothed out a piece covered in overly ornamental cursive. The paper contained directions and information about the flat handwritten by his agent, Francis (Arthur had misplaced his official copy a while ago).
A sudden thud from across the table jolted Arthur back to the present. Alfred, still in his apron, had crashed into the seat across from Arthur and stared at him over the rim of his own coffee mug.
Arthur could only look back, letting the silence hang as he searched for something to say.
"Aren't you a little old for this job?" Oh, that wasn't quite what he had wanted. But it was true, Alfred seemed only just younger than Arthur, mid- to late twenties at the youngest, and not someone who should be stuck with a college student job.
Alfred shrugged. "I guess."
"Well why isn't a nice American heartland boy like you out living your 'American Dream' or whatever you call it?"
"Heartland? You've got it all wrong, Artie," Alfred said. "I'm not from the midwest. Upstate New York, born and raised. And I am living out my 'American Dream.'"
"Arthur," the other corrected automatically. "So how is working for near minimum wage at a coffee shop in the midwest the American Dream?"
"This gig is just some extra spending money," said Alfred, pointing to the apron. "Wanna see my real work?"
Arthur swirled his tea some more. A bit more steeping wouldn't hurt, he supposed. He rose to follow Alfred out through the glass door and into the heavy heat of the afternoon.
Parked behind the dumpster was the most astonishing and hideous vehicle Arthur had ever laid eyes on. It had six wheels, long metal sheets plating all sides, and some kind of turret on top. It was as if a station wagon and a tank had gotten together and had some god-awful bastard child. Arthur stood gaping in stunned silence at the monster before him.
"Isn't she something?" Alfred asked. "I designed and built her myself. I call her 'TIV.'"
"This is your real job? You build and design the world's more revolting vehicles?"
Alfred clutched his chest in mock offense. "Hey now, it's not all about physical appearances, is it?" he asked, poking one of Arthur's rather distinctive eyebrows. He smirked at the blush flooded Arthur's face. "She may not be a looker, but she's the best our profession has ever seen, isn't that right, TIV-y?"
"And what exactly might that be?" Arthur asked.
"Officially, I'm a field researcher in Washington U's meteorology department who tracks, measures, and films meteorological phenomena around this area. I'm part of a team that deals with the analysis of data from our nearby stations. Unofficially," he paused for dramatic effect, "I'm an aeronautical engineer turned storm-chaser."
Arthur raised his eyebrows skeptically. "You chase storms in that thing?"
"You bet," Alfred said, eyes shining. "'TIV' stands for 'Tornado Interception Vehicle.'"
With a final bemused look at the monstrosity, Arthur turned and reentered the coffee shop, Alfred following close on his heels.
"So what brings a Brit like you to the States?"
"Francis, my agent shipped me off here. Said it would be 'good for inspiration' or some shite like that. I don't know why I agreed. Must 'a been drunk."
Arthur sat back down at the table and took sip of his tea. His eyes widened and he just managed to swallow the hot drink before breaking down in a coughing fit.
"That bad, huh?" Alfred asked. Arthur could only nod. "Maybe you'll listen to me next time when I tell you to just go with the coffee."
"Who says there'll be a next time, with this vile experience?" Said Arthur, glaring at the tea cup as if it was personally at fault for his bad tea.
Alfred's eyes widened as he jumped to his feet.
"No!" he shouted and grabbed one of Arthur's hands across the table, "You have to come back. Come on, Artie, you just got here, and hey, have a scone or some coffee cake, still on me."
Arthur stared at the man across from him, bemused. Alfred's eyes sparkled behind his glasses and he stared at Arthur with such an intensity that Arthur had to look down. His eyes found his hand still in the grasp of Alfred's. He extracted it and donned as much of a put upon expression as he could muster.
"A scone it is, then."
Alfred let out a whoop and proceeded to grab a scone for Arthur and a slice of cake for himself. He returned to the table and, as no one entered the shop, sat and chatted with Arthur. Eventually, the topic returned to work.
"So you said your agent set you here. What are you, and actor or something?" asked Alfred.
Arthur scoffed. "Hardly. Novelist."
"Oh, I guess that explains the inspiration thing then." Alfred paused. "Inspiration in small town Midwest? Huh."
"My thoughts exactly."
"Well, uh, there are plenty of heated discussions to get into here?" Alfred offered, showing something that was a half smile, half grimace. "Pick a topic, any topic: politics, weather, sports — especially sports — and off you go. Great for… dialogue inspiration?"
The sun was shining red through the hazy sky when Alfred offered to help Arthur find his flat. After too long of driving around trying to follow Alfred's muddled directions, they arrived and hauled Arthur's luggage up to the second floor where he would be staying.
"Are you always this nice to people?" Arthur asked.
"Sure. Well, usually not quite to this extent," Alfred said. He gestured around the now much more home-like flat. "It's a nicer apartment than I expected. I thought you were an author."
"My books sell. But I haven't had any new ideas for months, and that is why I'm here. Though honestly I think Francis just wanted to make me miserable rather than inspire me."
"Why would he want that?"
"A variety of idiotic reasons, I presume. He often seems under the delusion that the all good literature comes from misery." Arthur grimaced, "Though the fact that I still refuse to sleep with him might have something to do with it."
Alfred's grip on a suitcase slipped and he cursed as it crashed to the floor. "So… you're really — you know…" he stuttered, his expression indiscernible, "into that kind of thing?"
Something in Arthur's chest fell. Did he really misread the boy that badly? He fought to remain calm. He couldn't tell the implications of Alfred's question. He decided honesty would the best course of action. He couldn't really backtrack out of it now.
"I suppose," he said, examining Alfred's reaction. "Not that it would matter if I were or not to Francis."
Alfred stared at the floor and the fallen suitcase, a bright red flush covered his face and he fidgeted with his hands.
"I know that one's… preferences are not so openly discussed in the countryside," Arthur continued, dismayed by the boy's reaction, "So I apologize for my forwardness. But I have to say, I was under the impression that you were of the same persuasion." He tried to ignore the way Alfred's wide eyed face shot up at this and opened his mouth to continue. An almost manic giggle cut him off. Arthur scowled.
"Hold up there Artie—"
"Fine, Arthur," he said and reached out to squeeze Arthur's shoulder. "You're right, on both counts, it's not really something discussed in a small town like this but I wasn't messing with you. I am, uh, of that persuasion. We have been flirting the entire afternoon, haven't we?"
"Flirting?" asked Arthur, suddenly flustered. Of course that was what they had been doing, but naming it sent blood flooding into Arthur's face and he found he was uncomfortable with the fact now that it was acknowledged. "I don't— that is to say— I mean—"
"You were flirting. Come on, you can't accept three free scones from a dashingly handsome coffeehouse worker and not call it flirting."
"I only accepted because you were being pushy—"
Alfred only chuckled and waved off Arthur's protestations.
"See you tomorrow then, Artie?" he said as he walked out of the door.
"Fine, but—" Arthur was cut off by the door slamming. He stared at the door for a few moments and managed to calm down. He sank onto the couch her and Alfred had dragged up the stairs together, suddenly exhausted. Well, he had certainly called it. Alfred had left him worn out, though he was more excited than he would ever admit to meet with him again.
The following Monday found Arthur walking into the coffee shop again, as had become routine over the past week. The bell chimed as he entered and he was surprised when the usual enthusiastic greeting didn't come. He glanced over to the counter and saw an unfamiliar man standing behind it watching the weather.
"You must be the writer Alfred's been talking about," he said. "What can I get you?"
"Cinnamon Scone and a cup of hot water," said Arthur. He settle into the table closest to the counter and began working. After the first couple days of preoccupied flirting with Alfred, Arthur had managed to establish something of a routine. He'd come in around nine, his own tea in hand, have a scone with Alfred and then the two of them would settle into their own tasks. Alfred spent most of his time going through stacks of data print-offs from the stations, alternating between them, a calculator and a computer spreadsheet. He would jump up every once in a while to serve the couple of customers who came in for a drink or bite to eat. Arthur was surrounded by notebooks and various colored pens. His laptop sat to the side, closed until a worthy idea arose.
Arthur dove into this routine, making notes, crossing out ideas and working himself into a frustrated mess. Usually Alfred was there to sort him out when he got like this, but the different man behind the counter seemed completely indifferent to Arthur's presence.
"Sorry," Arthur said after awhile, grabbing the man's attention, "But where is Alfred?"
The man pointed to the television screen. "Chance of tornados today. And by the look of things," he said, face dark, "we're in for one."
Arthur glanced outside to see a black mass of clouds was approaching over the horizon. He gulped. It looked dangerous.
He returned to his writing, but got little accomplished. The storm hit not long after. Arthur watched in wonder and a bit of terror as the wind and torrential rain slammed into the windows, shaking the entire building. Sirens began to wail out in the storm.
"Tornado, hurry, grab you're stuff and we'll get in the cellar," the employee said, his face tight with fear that Arthur was sure his own mirrored.
Arthur snatched up his papers and followed the man back behind the counter and down into a storm shelter. A naked bulb hung in the middle and the concrete walls were lined with provisions. However the thick walls couldn't block out the roaring of the storm.
Arthur huddled as far away from the cellar door as he could manage. He was used to rain, God knew London had plenty of it, but this kind of ferocity was foreign. However, underneath the fear that pounded through him was also a sense of awe. Arthur had never known anything so wild before, and though it made him feel small and fragile, he couldn't help but wonder at the sheer power that hummed through the concrete wall.
He clutched his notebooks to his chest and gnawed on the inside of his cheek. Alfred was out there, in a home-made monstrosity of a vehicle. Arthur tried to distract himself, but he couldn't rid himself of the concern that was growing in him.
After what seemed to be hours, though it was undoubtably much less, the sirens finally quieted. Arthur extracted himself from his corner and walked out of the cellar. Notebooks slipped from his hold.
The coffeehouse was a wreck. The windows had completely blown in, shards of glass sprinkled across the floor glittering like crystal fragments. The entire shop front was soaked. After the cacophony of the storm, the water dripping from the corners of tables echoed eerily.
The employee gave a heavy sigh and righted everything as best as he could. Arthur gave his help wherever it could be used. Finally the store was returned to its original state, save the lack of windows and the still-soaked furniture. They packed the cash register into the employee's car for safekeeping and left the shop.
Arthur stopped by the coffee shop the next morning, expecting it to be closed. To his surprise, the slightly bent neon sign flashed, "open," despite entire panes of window glass missing. Arthur entered, the bell above the door making a hollow noise in the openness. Near the back of the shop, much to Arthur's relief, was Alfred, who was replacing the window glass.
Shifting from side to side, Arthur waited to be noticed. Finally Alfred looked up and smiled.
"Hello," Arthur paused, searching for something to say. "I'm sorry about the damages. I didn't expect you to be open today, in all honesty."
Alfred shrugged his concern off. "It could be worse. We're insured, so all of this will be reimbursed. I'm afraid we don't have anything but coffee. Everything else is drying out."
"That's all right."
Alfred's eyes lit up. A smirk played across his face, far too devious for Arthur's liking. Alfred sauntered up close to Arthur, who despite feeling his face warm, faced Alfred with a calm expression of his own.
"Were you worried about me?" Alfred asked, eyes laughing.
Arthur summoned his best scoff. "Why would I worry about the likes of you?"
His own actions betrayed him as he reached out and traced a light bruise along Alfred's jaw line. "What did you do to yourself?"
"Funny story. I was hit with half a grain silo," said Alfred, nuzzling into Arthur's hand while his eyes begged for pity.
"She's just fine. But the impact sent me face first into the computer."
"Computer?" Arthur asked, lowering his hand.
"Sure. I have to have some way to know what's going on out there. But I'll admit, it's near impossible to man the camera and watch the readings at the same time," he sighed.
The two lapsed into a companionable silence. Alfred hopped up onto the counter and brought out a thermos of coffee. He watched Arthur, who was staring out past the windows with a frown.
"Arthur? Arthur? You there?"
"Yes, I am. I don't suppose you'd want help out there, would you?" Arthur asked. He didn't meet Alfred's eyes, just kept staring out the glassless windows.
Alfred stood there, trying to process the quiet words. "From you?"
"I don't see anyone else here."
Alfred laughed. Arthur's head snapped around towards him, frown sliding into a pout.
"If it's that humorous to you—"
Alfred shook his head. "Naw, it'd be awesome! But what can you do? You don't really know anything about meteorology, do you?"
"No, but I took a couple of film classes in university."
"Really? I thought you were a writer," said Alfred, eyebrows raised.
Arthur shrugged. "I knew I wanted to be either an author or a screenwriter. So I took classes on both sides, including a bit of cinematography. I dropped it after some of my short stories were published."
Alfred positively leapt from the counter. He grabbed Arthur by the wrists and spun him around.
"This is so awesome!" he shouted. "Come on, I'll give you the formal tour of TIV."
And so Arthur found himself in the cramped, equipment filled belly of the beast for the first time. He half listened to Alfred's babble about the meteorology equipment. Most of his attention was focused on the quality film camera that was positioned in the turret. He played around with it, his skills rusty from disuse, but they were there all the same.
The weather was pleasant for the next several weeks, dry for this time of year. Alfred grew ever more fidgety in the coffee shop, and he often spent far too long gazing out wistfully at the friendly sky.
The shop was fully repaired in no time, thanks to Alfred. He leaned back in his chair, feet on the table he shared with Arthur and waist covered by his lacy apron. The author sat across from him, making notes to himself and looking just as frustrated as usual.
Alfred glanced up at the muted television screen. The weather channel was playing, as normal, and he found what he had been waiting for. He turned the volume on.
"— Warm from the gulf. It'll be on it's way up here tonight, and that with the arctic front moving in from the north means that there will be tornado warnings all across the midwest."
The screen changed to the radar. Sure enough, Alfred saw the fronts converging right over them. He let out a little whoop and turned to Arthur.
"What do you say, Artie? Wanna chase down some storms tomorrow?"
Arthur's nodded looking at the screen. He felt excitement well up in him, though there was anxiety as well. "I believe I do. Mad as it is."
Alfred reached over and gave Arthur's hand a gentle squeeze.
"No need to be nervous. Nothing bad's gonna happen, I mean, I'll be there won't I?" he said with a cheeky grin.
Arthur just chuckled and shook his head, though he returned the squeeze.
The rain woke Arthur. Torrents, sheets of it pounded against the windows in his room. He glanced over at his clock, only to be met with flashing red numbers. They power had flickered sometime in the night. With a sigh, he turned on his bedside lamp, which worked, to his relief, and found his watch said 4:30. He lifted himself from the bed and got dressed. Alfred would be arriving soon.
Sure enough, Arthur was just through his second cup of tea when he heard a pounding on the door. He opened it to find a thoroughly soaked Alfred outside his door.
"Come on!" he said. "We have to get going, I've been tracking the storm all night, and there are several likely spots just outside of town."
Alfred dragged him from his flat, barely letting him lock it behind him, and out into the downpour. They raced into the relative dryness that was TIV. Alfred jumped into the drivers seat and turned his key in the ignition. Arthur crawled into the front beside Alfred, who looked out through a thick windshield. He strapped himself in and they set off down the highway.
It was lucky the road was empty. The windshield wipers could hardly keep up with the sheets of rain and thus visibility was terrible. On several occasions the wheels migrated off the road and onto the muddy shoulder, causing Arthur to swear and Alfred to yelp and swerve TIV back onto the road.
"Hey, Artie, do you mind taking over?" Alfred asked as they approached the heart of the storm.
They stopped, unbuckled, and Arthur took the wheel as Alfred climbed in the back to the computer screens.
"Awesome!" said Alfred. "There's a hook sweeping back not too far from here. Gun it, Artie, we should be able to make it."
Arthur complied, driving as fast as he dared. Debris flew everywhere, mostly harmless shrubs and plants, but he had to swerve occasionally to dodge the occasional siding ripped from nearby homes.
Arthur jumped when a sudden barrage hit the windshield.
"What's going on?" called Alfred from the back.
"I'm not sure," said Arthur. "I think it might be hail? But this late in the year—"
"Damn it! Pull over, now!"
Arthur pulled over. Alfred hurdled over the equipment in the back and shoved Arthur out of the driver's seat.
"Sorry, but this is bad," he said, the thwacking of the hail grew louder as now golf ball-sized chunks pelted the vehicle. "Wind, rain, most debris even, TIV can handle. But hail…" he trailed off.
"Isn't it too warm for ice?" Arthur asked.
"Not really. Hail's not all that uncommon in tornadoes."
A smash. A palm sized dent appeared in the glass.
"Really," Alfred agreed. "We're getting out of here. Hold on."
TIV struggled to turn around on the small highway, but the tank-like body was too long for the narrow road. One wheel, followed quickly by the rest slipped off the shoulder and sent the vehicle sliding into an irrigation ditch that ran beside the road.
"Come on, baby!" said Alfred as he shoved his glasses up his nose. He threw it into reverse, but the mud just slipped out from under the wheels. Hailstones smashed along the body, some denting or tearing the metal sheets that lined the vehicle. TIV slipped all the way into the ditch, mud squishing up under, coating the wheels and sides.
More circles of nearly-cracked glass appeared as the hail grew heavier. Alfred desperately tried to get traction, but TIV had already sunk deep into the mud. She wasn't going anywhere.
Flinching as another hailstone smashed against the windshield, Arthur grabbed Alfred and hauled him away from the window.
"You're just getting us more stuck," he shouted over the storm. "We'll have to wait it out."
With a resounding crack, a hole was punched through the glass. A chunk of ice fell onto the driver's seat, right where Alfred had been sitting.
Arthur pulled them back behind the computers as more ice smashed into the front cabin. Alfred looked in shock as the windshield was destroyed. He finally snapped himself out of his shock. Turning to his computer screen, he watched the radar. Hail was the most deadly thing a storm could hurl at them, as TIV's broken windshield proved. He stared at the screen, blocking everything else out. He lost his fear in calculating and recalculating the directions and timetables of the storm, switching from radar screen to readouts and back again.
Arthur was frightened himself, though his unfamiliarity with the situation dulled the sensation. He pulled himself up into the turret, where the glass seemed to be holding up adequately, and ran the camera, hoping to get something out of the experience. He faced the camera ahead and ducked back down to Alfred, out of the roaring of the storm.
He crouched close to Alfred, not quite touching. Alfred hadn't seemed to register his presence and so Arthur was surprised when Alfred's arm found its way around his waist, pulling him close. Arthur's cheeks flushed, though he did not pull away.
Eventually the pounding subsided and faded into rain. Alfred relaxed and only then noticed his proximity to Arthur. He blushed and let go.
"Sorry," he mumbled.
"Quite alright," Arthur said, not meeting his eyes.
"This wasn't quite how things were supposed to go."
Arthur let out a sarcastic chuckle. "I assumed so. What do we do now?"
"Once the storm lets up, we go out and try to wave someone down."
"Why not call the emergency services?"
Alfred sighed, his face was tired. "They'll have enough to deal with. Injuries, stuff like that. We're fine, just shaken up, no need to take their attention away from someone who really needs it."
Arthur nodded. That was a new side of Alfred, one he decided he liked very much. "That's rather… noble of you."
Alfred laughed. "Yeah, that's me. A hero. Well, that is the point of all this," he said, waving at all the computers and equipment. "The more we know, the better we can be prepared and the fewer people get hurt."
"And the fact that it's an adrenaline trip has nothing to do with it?"
Alfred chuckled and found Arthur's hand again. He locked their fingers together.
"You got me there. Really nothing like it, is there?" he said, sighing and leaning into Arthur's shoulder before adding, "Though I wouldn't mind skipping the windshield-bashing-in next time."
A/N: That was fun~
This was inspired by the IMAX film Tornado Alley, which is awesome. Yes, TIV exists, and she's awesome.
Reviews make my life, just sayin'