Chapter Twenty-One: Something Borrowed, Something Blue
In which there is a wedding, a pirate captain, and fireworks.
In the United Republic of Spades, the people elect the rulers. Or to be more precise, everyone over the age of 18 votes for the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, the Finance Minister and the Council of Representatives. The Royal Council, renamed the Council of Nobles, exercises only a small amount of power and is the continuous target of calls for reform. Arthur likes to describe it as the worst form of government, except for all those others that have been tried. He wonders sometimes what would have happened if he had chosen the other path, imagines the Spades-that-might-have-been, but he has never regretted his choice.
The entire ship was decorated with careful arrangements of red roses, white violets, and blue asters. Arthur felt immensely proud of how beautiful the Ogier looked docked in Ace's harbor thanks to his efforts. He had denuded the family greenhouse, but the visual effect was completely worth it. Unfortunately, now that he was finished directing people in where to place flowers on the ship, there was nothing to keep his mind off of his nervous jitters. Arthur wasn't worried about the marriage itself, but there were so many parts of the ceremony that could go wrong. He had offered to help with cooking the cake, but the chef had fought him off with a panicked look and a ladle. Arthur huffed. Honestly, he didn't understand why people failed to appreciate his delicious cuisine.
For lack of anything better to do, Arthur began to pace nervously in the ship's main cabin, picturing all of the worst case disaster scenarios in his head. His mind had already sped past the commonplace disasters—the musicians forgetting their sheet music, the cake falling into the harbor, Francis showing up uninvited—and had moved on to imagining a giant sea beast swallowing the ship whole when he heard the door open. He stopped and turned.
"Alfred, you're not supposed to be here, it's bad luck," Arthur chided.
"Pretty sure that only applies to brides, and I don't see any brides around, do you?" Alfred asked with a smile, before leaning in to give Arthur a quick kiss.
"You look magnificent in that suit," said Arthur as he gave Alfred an appraising look. It was true, Alfred normally looked good, but in the suit he was bloody gorgeous.
"Meh, personally, I can't wait to get out of it."
Arthur reached out to straighten Alfred's collar.
"You know, later tonight." Alfred smiled and winked.
"Mmm." Arthur refused to comment as he continued to fiddle with the collar.
"When you rip it off of me and toss it on the floor."
"Don't be ridiculous, I'll be sure to fold it carefully."
"Don't I know it," Alfred said with a laugh, remembering all of the times Arthur had made sure to properly fold his clothes, even in the throes of passion, despite Alfred's best efforts to convince him to just toss the clothes on the floor and worry about it in the morning. About the only time Arthur failed to care for his clothing was when he passed out drunk, which seemed to be a pretty rare occurrence any more.
Arthur checked his pocketwatch and a rather pleasant thought occurred to him. If they were going to ignore the tradition about not seeing each other before the wedding, there was no reason they couldn't ignore another tradition as well. "We still have an hour before the wedding starts and the cabin has a lock," he said casually.
"So, what do you want to do?" Alfred asked, perplexed.
"I want to get you out of that suit, Alfred."
"Ohhhhh." Alfred said in dawning realization, his smile growing steadily wider.
True to his word, Arthur did carefully fold the suits. No one would notice the messy hair, since Arthur always had messy hair, but he refused to suffer from wrinkles on his wedding day.
"Before I forget, there's something I wanted you to wear," said Arthur as he removed a jewelry case from his pocket. He lifted out a pair of spade-shaped sapphire cufflinks. "These belonged to my grandfather," he explained as he fastened them to Alfred's cuffs.
"Hey, they look awesome, but don't you want to wear them yourself?"
Arthur shook his head. "No, I want you to wear them so you have something old, borrowed, and blue. I know it's just a silly tradition, but humor me, alright?" They both wore new suits, taking care of that portion of the traditional saying.
"No prob, awesome cufflinks are the sort of tradition I can handle. So what did you borrow?"
"Stuart lent me our father's old golden pocketwatch and chain," he said, pulling the watch out of his pocket. Arthur and Stuart weren't exactly friendly brothers (certainly nothing like Alfred and Matthew), but ever since their father's death, Arthur had learned to recognize the undercurrent of affection in their relationship. He began to realize that he had allowed the memories of childhood teasing and bullying to color his interpretation of his brother's actions even as an adult. He doubted that his eldest brother liked him, but he no longer questioned that Stuart loved him.
"And blue?" Alfred asked, pulling Arthur back to the present.
Instead of replying, Arthur lifted a piece of paper out of pocket and opened it to show Alfred the pressed blue flower inside.
"A flower?" Alfred asked.
"It was the flower you gave me on your coronation day," Arthur explained.
"You kept that? Aw, Arthur, I always knew you were a secret sap."
"I'd have to be, to put up with you." Arthur huffed, but his face quickly relaxed into a smile as his fingers gently brushed the flower, remembering the last time he and Alfred had walked through a public ceremony together. They had pledged themselves to their country then, and Arthur believed they had fulfilled that promise. Now they could promise their lives to each other.
Alfred and Arthur walked arm-in-arm between the filled rows of chairs on deck and towards the make-shift altar near the ship's forecastle. The chairs were overflowing with Alfred's family and their mutual friends. Most of Arthur's family had declined to attend (still miffed that he was marrying a commoner who no longer even had the distinction of being king), but he could see Peter sitting next to Wy and casually holding her hand. Standing at the altar was a tall woman in a thick red coat with an impressive pirate hat and an eyepatch. She was even carrying a parrot on her shoulder.
Arthur groaned. "Alfred, I told you to find a captain to officiate!" he hissed in a low whisper.
"She is a captain! That's Juliana, João's sister. I asked her to dress up like a pirate captain because those are the captain-iest captains of them all," Alfred whispered back, although his idea of a 'quiet' whisper was anything but.
"I can't believe I'm getting married to an idiot by a pirate."
"A pirate captain," Alfred corrected.
They arrived at the front and Juliana took that as her cue to start the ceremony. "Ahoy me mateys, we be gathered here today fer the grub and the grog, and ta watch these two walk the matrimonial plank, yarr."
Arthur resisted the urge to bury his head in his hands. He was never going to let Alfred choose the marriage officiant ever again.
"Are ye wantin' the pirate vows or ye own vows?" she asked.
"Ooh, our own vows!" Alfred said excitedly.
"What are the pirate vows?" Arthur asked.
"I, blank, hereby claim this here booty. Yar." Juliana said with a wink, clearly enjoying her pirate role far too much.
Arthur winced. "We'll go with our own vows."
"Me first!" Alfred exclaimed excitedly. He took Arthur's hand and they both turned so that they were facing each other. Alfred smiled happily and looked at Arthur like he was the only person in the world. "Arthur, you're so awesome and you always make me smile, even when you frown. In fact, especially when you frown. But I still like your smiles best. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. No matter what happens, I will always be by your side. Also, I promise I will never push you off a ship again."
"You'd better not!" Arthur retorted. He realized it was his turn for vows and fidgeted slightly, unsure where to start. "Alfred, you're bullocks at wedding vows and I can't believe you thought a pirate ceremony was a good idea, but…"
Arthur sighed and then began to smile. "But I wouldn't marry anyone else. I want to wake up by your side every morning. Always and forever."
"By the power vested in me as a pirate captain, I declare ye to be wed. Ye may now claim yer booty," said Juliana.
They leaned forward and kissed (their kisses now perfected thanks to years of practice) and Arthur thought that even with the silly pirate ceremony, it was simply sublime.
Next came congratulations and the cake, and there was plenty of both. Alfred's parents were the first to greet the newlyweds, quickly grabbing their son in a big hug and then pulling Arthur in as well. It was no surprise where Alfred learned his easy affection.
"Oh, Arthur honey, it's so good to have you as part of the family!" Alfred's mother said as soon as she let go. "And you have to call me Mom now, I won't accept any excuses!"
"Alright… Mom," Arthur said before he had the breath completely knocked out of him by another bone-crushing hug. He could tell where Alfred got his strength.
"Mom, Mom, let him have some air!" said Alfred with a laugh. Arthur gasped for breath when he was finally released.
Matthew gave him a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. "You'll get used to it, eh." He added in a whisper, "Just watch out for when she starts talking about wanting grandbabies."
"Congrats, mate!" said Logan in his booming voice, slapping Alfred on the back. Arthur quickly stepped out of the way to avoid receiving a congratulatory slap himself. He nodded at Riley, who smiled back. Even Angelique smiled and handed Arthur a small present.
"A hairpin?" he asked, surprised. There was also a small, folded map showing a course to an island he didn't recognize.
"It's a good luck charm to get you out of tight places, eyebrows," she explained. "And let's face it, your messy hair needs all the help it can get."
"I'm overwhelmed by your generosity, pigtails," Arthur teased back.
She laughed. "That's why I also included the map to an island that my family owns. It's a very beautiful place for a honeymoon, if you're still in need of a destination."
"Thank you, Angelique."
"You're welcome, Arthur."
Meanwhile, the guests quickly stacked the chairs out of the way to make room for dancing. An orchestral quartet played softly in the background as the guests mingled. Arthur and Alfred waltzed for their first dance, since Arthur had finally, finally, succeeded in teaching the dance to Arthur. Following the first waltz, the quartet switched to playing music for folk dances, which Arthur and Alfred joined as well. After a few more dances, Arthur took a break to drink some cider, making certain that it wasn't applejack this time.
He spotted Kiku standing quietly along the side of the ship and walked over to greet his friend. "Kiku, I'm glad you could come."
Kiku smiled and nodded. "Thank you for inviting me, Arthur-san. Although I notice that Elizabeta-san isn't here?"
Arthur shrugged. "Her invitation must have been lost." It had been lost. Lost to the depths of the sea. Arthur had made sure of that. He liked Elizabeta, but he knew that she would try to spy on them in the Captain's quarters. She simply didn't understand the concept of personal privacy.
Mei soon joined them, smiling at Kiku as she slipped her arm into his. "Congratulations! Remember to toss the bouquet, I know someone people who would like to catch it," she said with a wink.
"What bouquet?" Arthur asked. He and Alfred had pinned flowers to their labels, but neither had carried a bouquet down the aisle.
"Oh." She frowned in disappointment.
"So, how are Chun-Yan and Hong doing?" Arthur asked.
Mei smiled again. "Quite well. They both come to visit me often and Hong has a job making fireworks now. He's even started calling me āyí lately, it's so cute. Unfortunately, Yong Soo has copied him. I wish someone had never taught that boy about family titles and honorifics." She smiled at Kiku playfully, apparently it was a topic of longstanding dispute.
"Mei, if you put together a bouquet from the decorations, I'm positive Alfred would be happy to toss it for you," Arthur suggested. She did and he was. The first bouquet flew into the harbor (Alfred didn't realize his own strength sometimes), but Mei successfully caught the second. She waved at Kiku with the flowers in her hand and he smiled back slightly. From anyone else, the smile would look half-hearted, but Arthur could tell it was the Kiku equivalent of Alfred's broadest grin.
The night ended in fireworks, Alfred had insisted. They watched from the ship's rail, Arthur resting his head on Alfred's shoulder as Alfred curled his arm around Arthur's waist. The sight of green, blue, red, and white sparks lit up the harbor and drew appreciative oohs and ahs from the guests. Arthur didn't know how he managed it, but Alfred even found a firework that created a heart-shaped explosion. Arthur thought the fireworks were nice, but he decided the best part was the shining grin on Alfred's face and the sparkling lights reflected in his eyes.
As they set sail for Angelique's island in the morning, Arthur noticed a new flag flying from the ship's mast. It looked vaguely familiar, but he couldn't remember where he had seen it before. It consisted of three horizontal bands of color, azure on top, a gentle red in the middle, and fern green on the bottom. As the flag flapped in the breeze, he spotted the white spade symbol in the middle and remembered where he had seen it before. It was one of the alternate designs Alfred's mother had sewn for the Republic. He recalled that the blue was supposed to stand for the Prime Minister, while the Red represented the Foreign Minister, and the Green the Finance Minister.
"Do you like it?" Alfred asked, still yawning as he approached Arthur at the ship's wheel. "I asked Mom to give it to me because it was always my favorite."
Arthur shrugged. "I'm glad they chose the one they did, I don't think Hearts or Clubs would be too pleased if we started using their colors in our flag."
"Nah, I mean, it's an okay flag for Spades, but it's my favorite because it reminds me of us. Don't you think?" He leaned against the rail and smiled at Arthur, clearly challenging him to identify the flag's meaning.
Arthur frowned, it was always a little difficult to understand the workings of Alfred's mind (it moved from too simple to too complex with no middle gears), but he had built up a great deal of experience in deciphering the young man's thoughts over the past few years and he was never one to turn back from a challenge. He gave the flag another cursory glance, before turning to gaze at the sea from his position behind the steering wheel. His first thought was that blue meant loyalty, red meant love, and green meant happiness. But that was the way he would think, not the way Alfred thought. Alfred tended to be a more concrete thinker.
He looked at the flag again. The shade of blue on the flag was the same color as a clear summer sky. The same color as Alfred's eyes. And Alfred always loved to compliment Arthur's beautiful green eyes. Arthur smiled. "The blue represents you, the green is me, and the red is the love in-between."
"Got it in one!" Alfred exclaimed. "And the white spade is for honesty," he added cheerfully.
"I understand white, but I think you're stretching with the spade."
Alfred stuck out his tongue. "Nope! It's a spade because we call a spade a spade."
Arthur groaned at the too clever wordplay. "If I wasn't steering this ship, I would go over there and push you off this ship. It is my turn."
"Ah, Artie, I thought we promised no more ship pushing at the wedding."
"You promised. I made no such vow," Arthur reminded with a smirk.
"I love you, you meanie."
"I love you too, idiot."
The flag flapped merrily in the breeze as they continued to bicker happily, sailing together once again into the wide blue yonder.
Juliana = Brazil. No wonder she has a parrot. Someone mentioned this in a review, so I want to explain that Juliana is a captain, which is why she's able to officiate the ceremony. She's just dressing up as a pirate for the fun of it. What can I say, Alfred has a thing for pirates ;)
Remember how Arthur carefully stored the blue flower in a book in Chapter 10? Well, it's back! I bet everyone was waiting on the edge of their seats for the past 11 chapters to find out what happened to it. You're welcome.
If you want a visual approximation of the flag Alfred and Arthur discussing, it looks something like the Flag of Azerbaijan, but with a white spade instead of a crescent moon. If you've ever heard of Azerbaijan before, give yourself a cookie :)
Finally, in the very opening section Arthur is channeling his inner Churchill: "Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." – Winston Churchill (November 1947)
Āyí (阿姨) = aunt / auntie (mother's sister). It also means an older woman, so Yong Soo's usage is correct, if annoying.
Thanks for the Feedback!
Thank you so much to everyone who read and reviewed the story! Special thanks to tinturnabby, for your magnificent reviews of every single chapter. Your reviews were definitely an inspiration to keep updating so regularly.
This fic is the longest thing I've ever written (a 50k words it's even long enough to count as a novel for National Novel Writing Month, although I chose to write it in the wrong month). There are a lot of things I like about the story, but also definitely some areas where I can see the need for improvement (particularly the slow beginning). I would love to receive feedback on the things that you think worked well and the areas that could be improved. All constructive criticism is welcome and appreciated.
And now, as a thank you for your reviews, an omake!
Humorous Recap Theater Presents…
The Shades of Spades: Highly Abridged
Arthur: I'm the Queen? SHOCK.
Alfred (waves): Hey, I'll be showing up in 3 chapters!
Chun-Yan: Oh god, I'm stuck in a USUK fic, aren't I? *sigh*
Arthur: I'm diplomatic until someone mentions the eyebrows. Then it's personal.
Chun-Yan: You are going to get Spades into so many wars, aru.
Arthur: Watch out world, here comes pirate!Iggy.
João: This is going to be my only scene, isn't it?
Alfred: I haven't shown up yet, or have I? *wink*
Alfred: Look at me, here I am! Let's get this story started!
Arthur: You want to be brothers? But this is a USUK fic!
Alfred: What does that mean?
Kiku: Sorry, Elizabeta, I'm not gay in this fic.
Feliciano: Neither am I!
Monika: I am.
Feliciano: And that's why I crossdress, ve~!
Arthur: Holy shit, I actually got Alfred drunk for once?
Chun-Yan: ARGH. I want to have some role in the plot!
Clockwright: Excuse me, one plot delivery for Mr. Kirkland
Arthur: Ah! The plot is trying to kill me.
Lord Kirkland: Hong, I am your father!
Hong: You're a terrible father!
Arthur: I like this kid.
Arthur: Ah! The plot is trying to kill me. Again.
Alfred: Don't worry, the hero will save you!
Arthur: Alfred is King. SHOCK.
Alfred: Stupid glasses *pouts*
Arthur: Actually, I have a glasses fetish.
Alfred: Really? Sweet :)
Yong Soo: Glasses were invented in Korea!
Alfred: My family is wonderful!
Arthur: My family is terrible!
Chun-Yan: Am I even in this story anymore?
Alfred & Arthur: *kiss* and then *slap*
Kiku: And this is what happens when a tsundere loves a tsundere.
Alfred & Arthur: We're not in love!
Kiku: Of course not. *smiles*
Chun-Yan: Screw it, I'm going on vacation.
Alfred (sings): Popular, you're gonna be popular~!
Arthur: You mean I'm "going to" be popular.
Alfred: Not with that attitude, you ain't!
Arthur: Hey Alfred, want to hear a ghost story?
Alfred (leaps into bed with Arthur): Eep!
Arthur: This is too easy... *evil grin*
Alfred (to Arthur): I love you!
Elizabeta (to Arthur): I love yaoi!
Alfred: I gave you the roses, but Matt delivered them.
Stuart: Stop screwing around and get back to the plot!
Arthur: No one kills my brother, but me!
Chun-Yan: I take back everything I said about wanting to be involved in the plot. I think this plot is trying to kill us.
Arthur: Welcome to my life *sigh*
Seamus (captures Arthur): Surprise!
Alfred (pushes Arthur off the ship): Surprise!
Matthew (punches Alfred): Surprise!
Everyone else (hugs Arthur)
João: I did not see that coming.
Sven: Alfred tricking the Clockwrights with scones?
João: No, I didn't think I'd show up in this story again.
Arthur: The Lady of the Lake held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by divine providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. THAT is why I am your Queen.
Alfred: Listen, strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.
Arthur: Huh. I think we may have wandered into the wrong story by mistake.
Arthur: Crap! It's the last chapter and we still haven't explained the colors.
Alfred: It's cool, leave this to me. I wrote a poem:
Red is for the love I have for you,
Blue to prove I'll be forever true,
White to guarantee my sincerity,
Green for the joy you give to me.
Arthur: I love you *kiss* but you're a terrible poet *pushes Alfred off the ship*
Narrator: And they lived tsunderily ever after. The End.