USUK-themed New Year's exchange with my bb Trumpet-Geek! Prompt was America and England watching the ball drop in Times Square, and…I got carried away. YEP. As is typical with me, this is set in modern day, but with flashbacks in italics. I hope everyone enjoys. :3
And to TG, you are a lovely writer, historical consultant, and friend, and I am glad that the internet and a shared passion for gay Anglophonic countries have brought us together. I hope you like! ^0^
"So what did you think, America?"
Alfred lifted his head from Arthur's chest, blinking up at him curiously, fisting one tiny hand into the rich brocade fabric of his waistcoat.
"Think of what, England?"
Arthur shifted him closer into the circle of his arms, running his fingers idly through his hair. "It's January first, silly, so I'm talking about the year," he murmured. "This was your first, no less. Was it any good?"
Alfred blinked again, tilting his head to the side so that the firelight cut strange lines from the round angles of his face.
"A year…" He spoke as if he were testing the word with the tip of his tongue, acquainting himself with its shape and weight. "I don't understand, England," he finally said, "what's a year?"
Arthur was silent for a long moment, unsure of how to reply to such a question, his fingers paused halfway through Alfred's bangs. Eventually he cleared his throat and even managed a chuckle.
"Well, it's three hundred and sixty five days, of course, and -"
"But England," interrupted Alfred, "what is it?"
He was almost glaring, and though the frustrated expression was somewhat comical considering his question, Arthur was too perplexed to be amused.
"I…I'm afraid I'm not sure what you mean, love."
Alfred shook his head from side to side impatiently, as if Arthur were being impossibly dense.
"What is a year, England?"
Arthur laughed somewhat shrilly, oddly unsettled by the child's demanding expression. Alfred had rarely been denied anything in his short existence and clearly this did not sit well with him.
"I suppose…I mean…what, would you like a definition?" He paused, suddenly feeling embarrassed. "I just…I can't quite understand what you're asking. I'm sorry, darling."
Alfred huffed and pressed his cheek back into Arthur's chest.
"Never mind," he mumbled into his shirtfront. "It's something I have to learn when I get older, isn't it?"
Well, Arthur wasn't sure, but he didn't want to be faced with that demanding stare again.
"Absolutely, love," he replied, resuming his leisurely rhythm through Alfred's hair, accompanying his fingers with the gentle back and forth movement of the rocking chair. "You'll understand so much more once you've grown."
Arthur stepped out of the shower to find Alfred bent over the sink with his shirt partly unbuttoned at his collarbone and his tie hanging from his neck, halfway through shaving, the foam dripping from his cheeks onto the countertop. Though Arthur looked somewhat surprised, he nonetheless managed to step neatly to the side to avoid the swipe Alfred attempted at him, muttering that there wasn't time for fooling around while he snatched a towel from a nearby hook and deftly tied it about his waist. Alfred pouted at him, but was forced to turn back to the mirror, drawing the razor past his chin and dipping his head to splash the rest of the foam from his face. By the time he had dried off, Arthur had already transitioned back into the hotel bedroom and was stepping into his slacks, cursing at the zipper. Alfred smiled and began to finish with the buttons of his shirt, every once in a while glancing up to steal a peek at Arthur as he fiddled with his waistcoat and fussed over which tie would match which jacket.
"You know," he drawled, sneaking up behind him and snagging him around the waist, interrupting what must have been an impassioned inner debate as to whether pale or royal blue silk would best complement a tweed blazer. "It's not like we're going to The Ritz or nothing." He pressed his lips to the back of Arthur's neck, tasting the shampoo on his still-damp hair, and Arthur hissed and twisted from his embrace.
"It's important to maintain appearances, Alfred," he said, still clutching both ties in one hand. "And what have I told you about double negatives?"
Alfred shrugged and took a step forwards, examining both ties and eventually reaching for the dark blue, holding it up against Arthur's face and garnering a very quizzical look in the process.
"This one," he said finally, flashing a grin. "Suits your eyes."
Arthur raised an eyebrow. "It most certainly does not."
"Details, details." Alfred looped the tie around his neck, carefully tucking it beneath the edges of his collar. "It's nice, anyways. Still too formal, though," he gestured to his own clean white oxford and battered jeans, "we're only going to Times Square."
"Just because you're a slob," muttered Arthur, but he began to fix the tie at his throat nevertheless, "does not mean that I should be asked to follow such an example."
Alfred blew a raspberry, dropped a sloppy kiss on Arthur's cheek, and went to fetch his jacket from the hall. He was fixing his hair in the mirror when Arthur emerged, shrugging into the sleeves of his blazer and smoothing the seams of his trousers as he went.
"I still don't understand why you're insisting on doing this, Alfred," he piped up, slipping his feet into his shoes and bending to lace them. "We could just as easily catch it on the telly."
"But that's not the point, Arthur," protested Alfred, turning from the mirror. "It wouldn't be the same if we didn't see it for real! We're already in New York for that stupid meeting, anyways, so might as well."
"Something tells me that you'd be willing to catch the meeting on television," muttered Arthur, unable to help himself, and Alfred rolled his eyes.
"That's totally different," he explained, slowly, as if he were speaking to a child. "For one thing, it's just so boring. Secondly, we have to deal with Ludwig shouting and nobody listening and Feli talking about his granddaddy's pasta recipes and Kiku blushing because Heracles mentioned that they have a single bed at home and Francis leering at you - " he paused, casting a glance over his shoulder. "…which I really hate, almost as much as you do, by the way…but anyways, most importantly…" He smirked and whirled on Arthur, bundling him into his arms before he could protest. "…I can't do this."
Arthur started to say that he couldn't do that anyway, seeing as he was about to be murdered, but then Alfred kissed him, gladly swallowing the rest of the sentence and lacing his fingers securely into Arthur's hair so that he couldn't pull away solely for the sake of being difficult. Arthur pretended to put up a fight for a long moment, pulling his lips into a thin line against Alfred's mouth and going rigid in his grasp, before he relaxed and returned the kiss, sighing gently as he reached up to cup his cheek.
Alfred pulled away after a long moment, dropping a last fleeting kiss on Arthur's forehead before he stepped out into the hallway, smirking as he ushered Arthur past and turned to lock the door behind them. When he offered his elbow to Arthur all he received was a smack on the shoulder, but he was allowed to lace their fingers together in the elevator, though the moment they stepped out into the lobby all physical contact was abruptly severed. It was Arthur's opinion that they were to stroll primly and properly down the streets of New York despite the throngs of people and the noise and general chaos of Times Square, primly and properly observe what he called the descent of that dreadful ball, and then return to the hotel and fall primly and properly asleep on opposite sides of the bed.
It was Alfred's opinion that a drop or two would take care of that resolution before the clock even had the chance to strike midnight.
"Do you know what he once asked me?"
In between kisses that tasted of stale red wine, Arthur managed to get a hold of Francis' hair and yank him away, anger lending an acrid edge to his voice.
"I said, do you know what he once asked me?"
Francis sighed and leaned back to rest his elbows on his knees, licking his lips and probably realizing just how drunk Arthur was. He ran a hand through his hair, eventually reaching back to unfasten Arthur's fingers from the nape of his neck and frowning when a few strands of gold came away clutched in his fist.
"Who, Arthur?" he said tiredly, "I don't suppose you could possibly be referring to -"
"America," Arthur hissed, fumbling around for his glass of wine without tearing his gaze from Francis. He would have tipped over the entire bottle had his wandering hand not been caught in the nick of time and returned to his lap with an exasperated chuckle. "Do…do you know what he once asked me?"
"Many things, I suppose," Francis replied mildly. "But I assume you are thinking more specifically."
Arthur nodded seriously, missing the sarcasm. "He once asked…" He brought his hand to his face, massaging his temples. "He once asked me what a year was."
Francis raised an eyebrow. "To which you replied..?"
"Three hundred and sixty five days." He completed the sentence with a burble of a laugh. "But he cut me off before I could finish. He just kept asking me what it was, like there was some better definition. Brat." He groaned, perhaps a trifle dramatically, but then again he was awfully drunk. "You really should've seen his face when I said I didn't understand what he was asking. Absolutely furious, he was. I really ought to have known…" He trailed off for a long moment, staring straight into his lap, before he grew abruptly cheerful. "Well, that's all water under the bridge now, eh?" His voice dropped and he leaned forwards to ghost his mouth against Francis' neck. "Let's finish what we've started, yes?"
Francis pressed his palm to his chest to avoid his attempt at a kiss, wrinkling his nose at the reek of alcohol and gripping him by the shoulders to keep him at a safe distance.
"Not tonight, I think, mon cher," he said, though he briefly allowed his lips to linger on Arthur's forehead. "After all, we would hate to have you face the new year without a proper sleep."
Arthur frowned but allowed Francis to stand up, didn't complain when he rearranged the pillows of the couch to create a comfortable bed, and with the docility of a sickly child accepted the blanket he was offered. In fact, it was only when Francis was finally getting set to leave, blowing out the candles and gathering the half-emptied glasses, that he reached out and caught the tail of his shirt in his fist, pausing a moment to formulate his words.
"Eighteen sixty-one," he finally muttered, "sees us as empires. And yet, it seems like only yesterday that we were two hopeless brats fighting tooth and nail over a scrap of land that couldn't feed five hundred."
Francis unlatched his hand from his shirt but nonetheless turned to meet his gaze, the candlelight casting rich shadows along the curve of his sad smile.
"And in the same instant it would seem an age…" His palm ghosted over Arthur's forehead, smoothing back his hair with a tenderness that did not belong to a lover. "Hush now, England." A kiss on his forehead, lighter than a shadow. "May your sleep go untroubled by dreams."
Alfred watched Arthur cautiously, trying to judge what his absolute silence implied. Eventually he arrived at the conclusion that either he was growing steadily angrier, or was simply too stunned by the screaming crowds and the thudding music and the garish lights to speak. In whichever case, even Alfred understood that it would be best to continue pushing their way through the throngs of people without beginning an interrogation; he would get some alcohol and soon Arthur would loosen up and everything would go smoothly from there. Perhaps he could even wheedle out a kiss after the ball dropped.
After another long interval of pushing and shoving and apologizing for stepping on toes, they found a comfortable niche where they could stand abreast without being constantly jostled, at which point Arthur's shoulders relaxed visibly and he finally glanced up at Alfred with something that could have resembled a smile.
"Get us some beer, would you, love?"
Alfred swallowed a laugh and took off again through the crowd.
They only realized that 1941 had gone and 1942 had come when the dawn broke, filtering ashen grey but clear through the drapes, and they heard the thud of the morning paper at the door. Rubbing his eyes, Alfred set down the map and stumbled up from the desk, mumbling something about making coffee. Arthur glanced down at the glass that he himself had finally emptied something like several hours ago and nodded, reluctantly reminding the boy to make the stuff extra strong despite his aversion to the bitter flavor.
He listened to Alfred stumble about in the kitchen for a while, heard the stove crackle to life, the whine of the kettle, the clank of the coffee maker – a French press, if he remembered correctly – and finally lifted himself from the desk with no small amount of difficulty, wincing as his bones cracked and dully realizing that he was still wearing the suit from several nights ago, when he had first arrived in the United States.
Alfred had his back turned away from him when he stepped into the kitchen, watching the coffee drip, two mugs set out on the counter. He turned when Arthur entered, and the light that filtered through the small window above the sink highlighted his matted hair, smudged glasses, the lines pain and sleepless nights had cut through his handsome face. Arthur swallowed. Though he was glad that Alfred no longer had any choice but to join the war at long last, he certainly did not enjoy seeing the result, the exhaustion evident in his smile, the wrinkles in his shirt, the fresh gauntness to his cheekbones.
"Happy New Year, Arthur," he said with a shadow of a grin, offering him a mug. Arthur took it with a quiet thank you, wrapping his fingers snugly around the fat base. "Got any resolutions?"
Arthur laughed unhappily and sat down at the small kitchen table, muttering that he might like to win the damn war sometime soon. Alfred echoed his laugh and likewise pulled out a chair, tracing his index finger along the rim of his mug.
"That would be nice," he said softly. "But even so, I don't regret a thing."
Arthur tilted his head to the side questioningly. "What do you mean?"
Alfred shrugged. "Joining the war. I'm not sad I did it. It's better…" He glanced down, biting at his lower lip. "I mean, at least we're together."
The coffee maker rescued Arthur from having to formulate a reply, and he sat staring at the pattern of the wood grain on the table while Alfred got up and filled both their mugs to the brim. He only dared to look up when Alfred was once again seated safely across the table, watching the steam waft from his mug to melt into the strips of early morning sunlight that stretched across the ceiling.
"Alfred," he murmured, lifting his mug to take a brief sip before he continued, grimacing at the taste. "Do you know what you once asked me?"
Alfred lowered his coffee to shoot him a questioning look.
"You once asked me what a year was," Arthur sighed. "And when I answered three hundred and sixty five days, you interrupted and asked me what it was again, as if there was a better definition to be had. You were really quite put out, as if I were depriving you of information on purpose." He chuckled. "But then you asked me if it was something you had to learn when you were older, and I was so flustered that I just agreed. But…" He dropped his gaze to his coffee. "I still don't know what you meant."
Alfred furrowed his brow. "That really happened?"
Arthur nodded and took a long sip of his coffee, watching Alfred pondering over the rim of his mug.
"I guess…" he said eventually. "I guess I was just being a kid. You know, asking funny questions. Kids are that way. I…wouldn't think much of it, Arthur."
Arthur sighed, shutting his eyes for a long moment.
"No," he said softly. "I wouldn't, either."
Arthur thanked Alfred heartily and immediately set to nursing his mug, the foam clinging to his upper lip every so often before he seemed to remember himself and promptly licked it away. Alfred took occasional sips and watched Arthur drink with unabashed admiration, unable to tear his gaze away from orderly bob of his Adams apple as he swallowed mechanically, each time seeming to take the exact same amount of beer.
When nothing remained at the bottom of his glass but a golden film of alcohol, Arthur sighed and wiped his mouth one last time before he turned to Alfred with a considerably warmer expression.
"Your people are ridiculous," he said, gesturing to the stage, the crowds that seemed to throb along with the pulse of the music. Alfred chuckled, swirling his mug so that the foam lapped up and clung against the sides.
"I like them," he said. "They know how to have a good time."
Arthur snorted. "Oh, I do beg to differ. This hardly qualifies as a good time, after all…" He glanced at the half-empty mug in Alfred's hand. "I say, are you going to finish that or aren't you?"
Alfred promptly handed over the rest of his beer and Arthur sighed in gratitude, patting him distractedly on the shoulder before he tipped back the mug and swallowed deeply.
"Well, I suppose you're alright," he said with a rueful smirk. "Generous, at least."
Alfred chuckled; he wanted to take Arthur's hand, but doubted he would be allowed.
"I wouldn't come between you and another drink for the world, Artie."
Arthur made a disapproving noise in the back of his throat and said that wasn't his name. Alfred grinned, genuinely having to fight the urge to snatch his hand, and turned back to the stage. After a long interval of silence he realized that Arthur was fidgeting with his empty mug, drumming his fingers up and down the sides in an erratic rhythm, shifting from one foot to the other as he did so. He raised an eyebrow.
Arthur glared and said of course, what a ridiculous question. He then proceeded to drum on his mug a little longer before he lunged to the side and thrust his hand into Alfred's pocket, nearly yanking his arm off his shoulder in the process, though he compensated for this by winding their fingers together and drawing closer so that their elbows brushed.
"Dear god," he said. "I hate your country."
Alfred smiled and pressed his palm.
The new millennium found them once again in Arthur's living room, nestled on his couch in front of the television. In a rare moment of affection, Arthur had allowed Alfred to loop his arms loosely around his stomach and draw him up against his chest, almost into his lap, the top of his head tucked neatly beneath his chin so that his breath ruffled his hair.
"How old we've grown," murmured Arthur after some time, running one palm absentmindedly along Alfred's thigh. "To think I spent the last turn of the millennium getting positively smashed with Francis…worse still, that was back before I could properly hold my liquor. Though I suppose this was not entirely unjustified; I had scarcely really existed for half a century, you know."
"I know," replied Alfred, reaching for the hand that was still resting on his knee and twining their fingers. "You were officially seventy-three then, weren't you?"
Arthur turned in his arms to look up at him sharply.
"Yes…yes, exactly. How the hell did you know that?"
Alfred shrugged and gathered Arthur against his chest again, pressing a kiss to the top of his head.
"I think you told me when I was a kid." He smirked when Arthur cast him a dubious glance over his shoulder. "I did listen once or twice, you know. And when you repeat something literally a thousand times, it just kinda tends to sink in."
Arthur sniffed. "I don't think I could have possibly repeated it a thousand times."
Alfred merely chuckled and dipped his chin to press his lips to the back of Arthur's neck, immediately earning himself a hiss and a sharp elbowing in the ribs. On the television, the countdown had begun, the announcer screaming into the microphone along with the throngs of people as the ball in Times Square gradually descended. Arthur sighed audibly when the last second slipped away and the crowd seemed to swell and shatter at once, explosions of confetti and shouting and flashes of light filling the screen.
"Alfred," he murmured after a moment, "what's a year?"
Alfred was silent for a time, breathing steadily and twiddling his thumbs, and Arthur stiffened, fearing that he would remember.
"Well, I guess anyone can say it's three hundred and sixty-five days," he finally replied, and Arthur relaxed back against his chest. "But…well, there's that song, from that one musical, the one everybody likes…is that what you were talking about?"
Arthur shot him a curious look and he chuckled.
"Of course not; you hate Broadway. Well… I gotta say, what a weird question. Are you trying to be philosophical or something? No, don't answer that. But anyways…I guess…if you're not looking for the scientific definition, a year is just a matter of opinion," he shrugged. "What do you think it is, Arthur?"
Arthur stared at him for a long moment, moderately stunned.
"This…" he stuttered, "this isn't the first time you've asked me that, fool."
To his surprise, Alfred merely grinned.
"What's a year?"
"You're making fun of me."
"I swear I'm not, Arthur."
"I don't know, Alfred."
"It depends on how you see the world, I suppose."
"But if I had to say, I guess it would be -"
And the crowd erupted, roaring as a heavy snow of confetti fluttered downwards to stick in their hair and fountains of light splashed wildly off the windows of the skyscrapers, cameras winking frantically and people blowing cheap party favors and waving ridiculous foam fingers and kissing as if their lives depended on it.
Alfred heard Arthur sigh heavily and glanced down at him briefly as he turned his face upwards, reluctantly but expectantly. After a long moment, he could hear Arthur let out his breath sharply between his teeth as he shifted from one foot to the other. Another moment passed and he began to outright fidget, grappling with the edge of his sleeve and biting down on one nail. Finally, he made a small grumbling noise and dropped his gaze to his feet, at which point Alfred sprung forwards and grabbed his chin, wrestling him into his arms before he kissed him soundly.
To his surprise, Arthur neither twisted about nor attempted to pull away once he had recovered from the surprise, simply wrapped his arms around Alfred's neck, threading his fingers into his hair, and parted his lips with a gentle sigh. He tasted slightly of beer but mostly of peppermint toothpaste, and Alfred chuckled against his mouth, breaking away to kiss his forehead, the tip of his nose, his cheek, then his mouth again. They finally stepped apart and Arthur gave him a small smile, keeping their fingers entwined.
Alfred breathlessly wished him a happy New Year and he smirked.
"Bah, what does it really mean, anyways?" he said dryly.
A long moment passed before they both dissolved into helpless laughter.
AN – Hey I think I see actual syrup dripping from this thing. Oh well, some clichés exist for a reason. XD
What is a year I'm pretty sure it's three hundred and sixty-five days (er, and a quarter) please ignore my attempt at being philosophical I'm so sorry TG.
Also, I don't think it would be a canon story of mine without some scene set just after Pearl Harbor. I can't help myself.
Of Interest: England first became a unified state in 927 CE.
Uh yeah Alfred did just make a Rent reference. I believe the musical premiered in the late 90s, so it's okay for him to talk about it in 2000. And no, the idea for this fic did not come from Seasons of Love; it came from my writing too late at night orz.
Lastly, go check out Trumpet-Geek's side of the exchange when she posts it; she's a first-rate writer and I'm sure she's done a (much better) wonderful job!
As always, thanks so much for reading, and a very happy New Year to everyone!