AS OF APRIL 9TH, 2014, this story is an updated version: cleaned up (FINALLY) and hopefully typo-free and with additional content! This fic was originally written over a week-long period in 2012 and I had to seriously rush to get a lot of the chapters done in time for their midnight deadline - so this time around I'm hoping to expand a little more on certains scenes, etc. ADDITIONALLY, this run correlates to my tumblr, which has pictures/videos/etc of the RMS Titanic (something which I did not utilise during the 2012 run).
Original 2012 notes: Before we begin, I would just like come right out and say that this is NOT a Hetalia-retelling of James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster Titanic, so please don't be disappointed if that's what you were expecting. That has been done several times already in this fandom - I mean, really, I do see the appeal, particularly with USUK, given that Jack is American and Rose is English, but I didn't want to go down that route myself with this. Instead this is a canon-verse story in which England/Arthur and America/Alfred are on the Titanic during her ill-fated maiden voyage. I thought this might be an interesting way to go since the ship was travelling from Southampton, England to New York, USA, carrying the cream of British and American high society; with, of course, the intriguing factor that nations are often regarded in fan works to be immortal (the approach taken here).
This fic follows what I have oh-so-cleverly dubbed a "Real Time release schedule", meaning that starting today, this will be updated daily until the date of the sinking, with the dates coinciding exactly one hundred years to the day. It's actually unfortunate that the days of the week the dates fall on are a day out (we're a day behind in 2012 - so close to being exact!) but I suppose a century of leap years will do that, right?
So, without further ado, here we go!
Tuesday 9th April, 1912
Whenever the people of Great Britain wanted to impress their national embodiment (one Arthur Kirkland, who had once been a privateer - not a pirate, thank you very much), they went straight for his weak point:
They gave him a ship as a present.
Warships, to be precise, for they were very much a country of war and he did so revel in the spark of battle, their Arthur Kirkland - and none so much as the crash of combat upon tossing seas. It was an easy way of curbing his boredom and sweetening his disposition, making a show of putting a blindfold on him and leading him to the dry dock to show off the newest Hell-hearted monstrosity built in his name.
He recalled three very vividly, two because they had been revolutionary and one because it had saved him from France. This latter was, in fact, the earliest of the three - and the latest in a long line of ships named HMS Victory.
She had been launched in 1765, first-rate and full-rigged with a copper-plated hull and over one hundred gleaming bronze cannons. He had liked her well enough, perhaps not as much as some of Drake's ships - but she had been Admiral Nelson's flagship at Trafalgar, he had died upon her deck and she had carried him home afterwards. Arthur, meanwhile, had been in her rigging with a first-class view when she sank Francis' Redoutable. She had been his favourite after all that.
The second had been HMS Warrior, launched in 1860. Stepping down from the carriage, steered by admirals in his velvet blindfold, he had blithely listened their excited chatter as he trotted alongside them towards this bright new creature. With the blindfold removed, he had actually pressed his palms together in childish glee upon seeing her. She had been iron-clad - the first iron-clad in the Royal Navy's fleet, in fact, though France had had the idea first - and her belly filled with machinery (two hundred and forty tonnes, to be exact). Fitted with a tweaked Armstrong gun which could propel shells over two and half miles (making her tremble delightfully underfoot), her steel walls had themselves been impregnable by any other weapon of the time. The fact alone that she had been one and half times larger than Francis' La Gloire had made Arthur fall in love with her - though the tragic fact was that, being the most powerful ship in the world, her creation had triggered an arms race which ousted her a mere ten years later. Whenever he was in Portsmouth, Arthur always made a point of going to visit her all the same; the old girl was like a beloved aunt.
The third had been a beast called HMS Dreadnought. She was still in use - in fact, she hadn't really seen any action as of yet, first off the production line in 1906 and with many following in the years creeping after. Named for another Dreadnought (Elizabeth's against the Spanish Armada), this hulking leviathan boasted over five thousand tonnes of armour and a crown composed of firsts: a uniform battery of ten guns and steam-powered engines. She was the fastest and most powerful ship ever made, rendering every other the world over utterly obsolete.
By that point, of course, they'd made no pretence about no longer allowing Arthur aboard warships. It had been years since he had last seen battle, carrying Victoria's colours upon his chest in the humid crush of India. She had been easier with him, letting him choose his adventures; he came back with his pockets full of glory and she adored him, that was their agreement. Since her death, however, he had been branded a more precious commodity than a treasure-seeker (not that they considered there was much more treasure left to seek). With Edward it had been much more of a stay-at-home empire and Arthur (if not a diplomat) then certainly some sort of housekeeper, kept to carefully dust their spoils. He'd never had much of a head for business, though; nor for commercialism. He was a thief, a trailblazer, a soldier.
Setting ships to sail just for the hell of it (with ballrooms and chandeliers and croquet courts) baffled him; and needless to say, when they proudly presented him with the RMS Titanic, he wasn't remotely impressed.
"Didn't you say Alfred was going to be here?" Arthur asked irritably, batting the officer's hand away; he pulled the plate back towards himself, taking up the knife again.
The scones were the most interesting thing in the room and he wasn't about to be cheated out of them.
The officer frowned at his hand.
"Not tonight," he replied, deeming to withdraw it. "He is completing the final leg of his journey from London with his party this evening. He will join us in Southampton for the boarding tomorrow."
Arthur coughed out a sigh, making an architectural masterpiece of the precisely-balanced mountain of clotted cream and jam on his half-scone. Some spilled over provocatively onto his thumb, which he licked clean in a swift and merciless manner.
The officer, a naval man in his mid-thirties called Sherman, cleared his throat and folded his arms on the tabletop. Arthur did not spare him a glance, taking a bite out of his scone and letting his eyes run over the huge blueprints of the Titanic once more before looking at the clock. They had been here all evening, the White Star top brass putting on a bit of a show for him, as was the way of these things. He had seen the ship afloat at her mooring in the drawstring dusk of Southampton Harbour, all of her lights on and her staff swarming on her decks as she was prepared for her maiden voyage. He hadn't been dreadfully enamoured of her, of course, and they had blustered and been apologetic, saying that she wasn't quite catching the light, he would change his mind when he boarded her tomorrow and they set off for New York. He and his companion, Captain Sherman, had then been ushered into the lavish White Star offices for a thorough run-down of everything that was new and wonderful and innovative about the Titanic and her two sisters (accompanied, of course, by a generous fix of high tea - iced cakes and little triangle cucumber sandwiches and cream éclairs and the aforementioned scones served with sweet smoky gunpowder tea shipped straight from China).
"You'll have a parlour suite, of course," one of the top-brassers said briskly; he had been talking the entire time but Arthur had well and truly zoned him out at this point. "One of the very best. Serving staff, too. Anything you want, really - just snap your fingers, Mr Kirkland."
"I'm well aware." Arthur took another bite, chewing thoughtfully for a moment. "…It's Major General, actually."
The top-brasser blinked, his hand faltering on his own teacup.
"I beg your pardon?"
"It's Major General Kirkland," Arthur repeated blithely. "Or Commodore - actually, yes, Commodore would be more appropriate. I'm not Mr - I've been around much too long for that."
"I apologise." The top-brasser looked embarrassed. "You'll forgive my impertinence."
"Of course." Arthur glanced sidelong at Captain Sherman, disappointed when he didn't get much of a reaction. "Naturally, I too am being rather obtuse. That's about right, isn't it, Sherman, old boy?"
"A little bit," he muttered.
He wouldn't meet Arthur's gaze, which Arthur took as a childish victory as he reached for the other half of his scone.
"Is Alfred having a suite?" he went on; he tapped the plans with the blunt end of his jam knife.
"No, he didn't want one," another of the top-brassers said crisply, reaching out and inching the plans away. "He's just having a single room - second-class, I believe."
"These Americans," laughed a third. "They're such simple people. I rather think Alfred Jones would be happy sleeping in a crate."
"Yes, he probably would be - with a newspaper for a blanket, I shouldn't wonder." Arthur leaned back in his seat, munching the rest of his scone. "Well, this has been lovely - however, I'm sorry to say that I don't have any questions, gentlemen."
The first top-brasser wilted a bit.
"None at all?" he asked weakly.
Arthur rolled his eyes.
"I've already been through all this once before," he said, "when RMS Olympic was launched last year. Titanic is virtually identical to her, is she not?"
"Not quite, sir, there are a few design changes, betterments, if you will; Titanic is the more luxurious by far and we have improved upon some flaws which alighted themselves through trial and error with Olympic."
"Yes." Arthur frowned. "Yes, I had heard that Olympic has been almost more trouble than she's worth…"
"That's why Mr Andrews has worked so hard upon improving his design for Titanic," the top brasser said firmly. "Well, we have explained everything to you down to the finest of details - quite simply, sir, there is no better ship in the world than Titanic-"
"Dreadnought," Arthur said lightly.
"No better luxury liner, to be precise," amended the second man.
"I don't like luxury liners." Arthur's tone was petulant. "I like warships. Luxury liners are a waste of good sea space."
"W-well, be that as it may, she is nonetheless the largest and most elaborately-furnished ever built and has been designed with state-of-the-art technology. Why, the newspapers have been calling her 'practically unsinkable by God himself'. She is a masterpiece, truly she is."
"And be that as it may," Arthur said gently, "I cannot rouse my interest much more than inquiring what is on her lunch menu tomorrow." His eyes gleamed curiously at this admission.
"A-ah, well, that is, sir…" The first top-brasser cleared his throat. "You will of course have the option of devising your own menus. I was informed months ago that that is one of your requirements."
"It's a perk, certainly." Arthur shrugged. "Well done, you've passed one test, at the very least."
Sherman cleared his throat again.
"You're not being very nice, Commodore," he said in a low voice. "After the gentlemen went to such effort for you, too."
"Oh, don't be a bore, Sherman," Arthur replied gloomily; he picked up the last sandwich from the tray and took a dainty bite of it. "And don't tattle to His Majesty or I'll have your head."
"Have you really no questions at all?" the third top-brasser pressed anxiously, heading Sherman off. "After all, we are deeply honoured that you accepted our invitation to sail on Titanic for her maiden voyage, sir. She will make history tomorrow, you know - and we are very glad that our nation will be there to witness her glory."
"I accepted on the promise of dictating my own menus, a library full of first editions and Alfred F. Jones."
"Has it been that long, sir?"
"Eleven years. I haven't seen him since Victoria's funeral." Arthur gave a sour smile. "He's been so busy this past decade, inventing aeroplanes and the like, he hasn't had a moment to spare for me."
"We're very honoured by his acceptance, too," the second top-brasser said hurriedly, backtracking too late to renege the comment about Alfred's cheerfully-low standards. "To have you both on board-"
"Yes, yes." Arthur waved his hand dismissively and finished his sandwich. "Spare me - I daresay I'll hear enough of all that during the crossing." He pressed his hands together thoughtfully, looking over the blueprints again; giving them his fullest attention now that all the little offerings had been devoured, for he had no better distraction. "...Are they really calling it unsinkable?"
The top brass perked up at his inquiry, though it was barely coloured with any real interest.
"Practically unsinkable, I believe it was," the first of them said. "I have to say I'd be inclined to agree. She's designed, you see, to allow four of the bulkheads to fill completely with water and for her to remain afloat despite it."
"Yes, so you said," Arthur said absently. He sighed again. "The press knows nothing of sailing etiquette. They oughtn't tempt fate like that. I've seen some of the best ships in the navy be lost - the Mary Rose is a fine example."
The second top-brasser scoffed.
"Titanic is built upon those failures," he said. "Truly, leave God out of it - nothing on this earth could sink her."
"Ha." Arthur smirked, resting his chin on his hands. "I bet Dreadnought could."
Alfred flopped into the balding chair at the bedside, lighting his cigarette with a sigh. By the glow of the green glass lamp - dull, smoky - he held up the postcard, turning it this way and that. It was the glossy photographic sort, a black-and-white scene of the grand ship he would tomorrow embark.
RMS Titanic was, of course, the largest and most luxurious liner in the world, beating out the Cunard competition of Mauretania and Lusitania. First Class aboard the Olympic class was touted as having the grandeur of a palace and even the Second and Third cabins were a cut above the competition. Alfred, who had been in Europe with his diplomatic party, drifting from hotel to damp hotel, was looking forward to a nice new clean room he could call his own for a week.
He turned the postcard over, exhaling on his cigarette. 'With compliments' was scrawled across the back, accompanied by the White Star Line stamp. The postcard had been in the envelope with his invitation letter, sent to the American Embassy in Germany three weeks before. Alfred admittedly hadn't given much thought to the journey home before then and had accepted the generous offer of a paid passage on the Titanic's maiden voyage on two conditions.
One of these had been met. No complaints there, he reasoned, glancing at the crisp Second Class ticket folded inside the letter.
As to the second condition, well...
He tapped off his cigarette and opened the letter, skimming over it.
We are delighted to hear that you have accepted our invitation to sail aboard RMS Titanic for her maiden voyage to New York. As the national representative of the United States of America, your presence on board will be considered a great honour for White Star Line. In response to your query, we can confirm that Commodore Kirkland has also accepted our invitation to sail on Titanic.
Alfred hadn't seen Arthur for eleven years. Business had kept them from the pleasure of each other's company - and, well, Alfred had found Arthur's letters to be less frequent, less immersive, than they had been before Victoria's death. Indeed, her funeral had been the last time Alfred had seen him, white-faced, shrouded in his black velvet.
Alfred preferred to remember him at the height of his imperial splendour - when all he touched turned to gold and his mouth was as inviting as his bed. He remembered him smelling of silk and spices, remembered the power in his lithe body, knowing even in the feather-touch of his fingers just what he was capable of.
Well. This. He looked at RMS Titanic again, a beautiful beast in grey, and knew that this was the very height of Arthur's glory, this floating jewel. Now they were setting whole empires to sea, grand and glowing. Now Arthur was surely back where he belonged; and Alfred allowed himself a smile as he finished his cigarette.
He couldn't wait to see him.
Look at that - a new scene! Alfred makes his first appearance here instead of in Ch 2 (which was in my original plan but it didn't work out...).
Unlike RMS Titanic, which, to visit, requires all kinds of ridiculous technology only James Cameron seems to be able to afford, and HMS Dreadnought, which was scrapped in 1923, you can still visit HMS Victory and HMS Warrior if you like! Both are fully restored museum ships berthed in Portsmouth, England. You can even hire out Warrior for your wedding if you really want! Btw, I really should credit the wonderful Dan Snow (a presenter/historian for the BBC) for his very informative and interesting four-part series on the Royal Navy, Empire of the Seas, which is where I got all my information on the battleships. Thanks, Dan! You're the best! :D
Please check out my tumblr (linked on my profile) if you're interested in photos, menus, deckplans, videos and the like about RMS Titanic!