Alfred had never ridden for so long at such a high speed in his life. The closer he got to Spades the closer he got to the colder weather. It pierced through his cloak. The brown grass crunched under Ace's hooves as they galloped over mile after mile. They would stop to rest only when Ace began to stumble.
But it wasn't long before Alfred saddled up and took off again. He couldn't focus. All he could think of was his home in flames. Matthew, the head archer, going into battle. How could he have been so careless? People were dying and it was all his fault. His throat began to close up at the thought.
"Y'know it was kinda all your fault."
Alfred nearly fell off of his horse. There was a voice right in his ear. Worse, it sounded like a Spaden accent. He shifted in the saddle to see who had managed to appear behind him and actually fell off of his horse.
Arthur had been sitting right in the saddle! Ace stopped the moment he felt his rider's weight disappear. Alfred hit the ground with a thump that was far too light for the speed he had been going. His shoulder didn't ache at all when it impacted with the dry ground.
The blonde man looked up from the dead grass. Arthur wasn't on the horse anymore, but standing right above him with a mildly displeased expression on his face.
Wait. That's not Arthur.
Indeed it wasn't. The person in front of Alfred was far too petite and short. Arthur, in his later years, had grown tall and thickened out. He had maturity to him. The person in front of Alfred was only a boy. He did, however, have thick eyebrows that had such a resemblance to the Spaden Queen's that they were the main reason Alfred fell off the horse. He had the same nose. His blue eyes were shaped in the almonds Arthur's were.
With a shock Alfred realized how well he knew Arthur's body.
This little boy looked like someone peeled the Arthur from Alfred's past and gave him only minor variations. Alfred's heart clenched. He missed that Arthur more than anything in the world.
"Well are you just gonna stare at me or what? At least sit up, you're creeping me out."
Alfred did as he was told, feeling a hand close around his heart at the sound of that voice. There were too many forgotten memories being dug up as he stared at the boy.
"Who are you?" Alfred asked. His voice was unsure. Ace was beginning to wander off, but at the moment, Alfred didn't care.
The little boy had his hands on his hips with his little pointed chin tilted up. He was smiling like he owned the place. "A better question would probably be 'what' am I. 'Cause I don't exist yet."
This conversation was beginning to be far too familiar. Alfred's eyes widened. "You're a joker."
"Bingo!" The little kid smiled, his nose crinkling just like Arthur's would have. Despite the child's attitude, Alfred placed his hands in his lap. He knew about jokers, or at least he liked to think so. Gilbert told him a bit about his kind. "I'm sorry," Alfred said.
The little kid stopped smiling. His eyes widened. He froze in his place in the middle of the dried out field. He looked very cold, and very alone.
"Jokers have to die. You're only a kid. So that means you died before...before you had a chance to really do anything."
The joker looked at the ground. His whole body shook. (Though whether it was from the cold or emotion Alfred would never know.)
"Y'know, I knew you were gonna say that. But it still gets me."
It was silent for a moment. Then the little kid ran right at Alfred. He plopped into his lap and looped his arms around his neck. He didn't cry, but Alfred thought he was going to. He wasn't sure why he had such a strong reaction to this. But he realized that this kid was probably a lot like Arthur in more ways than one. He didn't just look like him. He also closed up all his emotions until he exploded. Alfred would have recognized it sooner, but Arthur hid behind false anger. This kid hid behind happiness.
Alfred returned the sudden hug and they stayed like that for a while. The kid had his head pressed right against Alfred's neck, and a chill ran up the future King's spine as he felt a strange sort of deja vu.
"My name is Peter."
Alfred smiled softly and patted the little joker's back. "It's nice to meet you, Peter. My name is Alfred."
Ace wandered back to his master and the strange little boy. Time seemed to be slithering by, like it was caught in thick mud. Alfred wasn't concerned with getting back to Spades, for some reason. It could have been the joker's magic changing his thoughts. But he didn't think it was.
"Listen, da—uh, I mean Alfred. You need to go back to Spades. There's gonna be some stuff you don't wanna see. But you have to be strong. 'Cause someone once told me that the strength magic gives you really isn't strength at all. It's the stuff in your heart that counts."
Alfred hugged the kid a little tighter. Those words really cut deep. Everything Gilbert had been telling him about his heart came crashing down in one instant. For some reason, he suddenly understood what the whole "mind vs. heart" thing was about. He just needed it explained with something he understood—muscles.
Peter wiggled until Alfred let go of him. He stood up, to his whole three and a half feet of height. He stared at him with eyes so hurt and knowing they looked out of place on a child so young. "After you save the day, go back to Arthur. Tell him that you're sorry. Mean it. 'Cause he hates it when people say things they don't mean."
Alfred found himself nodding. He felt like he had been totally purged of any doubts. Like he had been blasted to the past. He was ten again, and there was Arthur staring at him with the most serious expression a child can manage.
He felt something inside himself snap. Every memory from his childhood. Every day he could skip work, there was Arthur. Then later, he was kissing Arthur and he felt the memory of happiness. He missed happiness.
It was like he was falling in love with Arthur all over again.
Alfred looked up again, but Peter was gone. Alfred began to wonder if he had even been there in the first place.
Arthur was done waiting around in the castle like a damsel in distress. Matthew's words had cut deeper than anything he had ever experienced. Arthur washed, combed his hair, and dressed for battle. He had a plan, and he was ready to use it. He pulled open his chamber door and began to stride to Yao's office.
On his way, he caught Francis in the hallway. He was carrying a silver tray piled high with food. He had probably been on his way to try to force Arthur to eat when the Queen himself marched toward him. "Arthur? You're up?" He asked, startled.
The Queen noticed the silver tray laden with food Francis was carrying. He paused, snatched the tray out of the Diamond King's hands and continued on his fast pace down the hall. He shoveled the food in his mouth. It felt like he hadn't eaten in weeks.
He probably hadn't.
Francis trotted after him. "Where are you going? What's happened?"
Arthur turned sharply, chewing through some sort of sweet bread. He threw open Yao's door with magic (his hands were rather busy) causing both Francis and Yao to jump.
The Jack was at his desk, staring at Arthur with wide eyes.
"Yao," Arthur said, swallowing thickly. "I've woken up."
Francis and the Jack exchanged glances. Slowly, a smile spread across the older man's face.
*I've edited this chapter a bit
And here we are. PETER IS SO EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. His reactions may seem a bit odd now, but they do have reason. If you have any guesses, leave them in a review! I'd love to hear about them.
Alfred's spell did not break suddenly. It was wearing away on the whole journey. That's why Gil even let him go into Diamonds. It helped break Eliza's spell. Alfred will go into more detail about his feelings later, but right now he's concerned about Spades. He doesn't really have time to think about Arthur, who probably hates him.
Thanks for reading, and sorry for any mistakes! I'm American!
A few people have been offended about the whole "I'm American" thing. I just want to explain that I don't mean that Americans are not good Authors—I've read brilliant American books. It's actually a reference to one of my first fanfics, which was a crackfic. (Because when there is no talent, use humor.) In this particular story, Alfred was a complete idiot that couldn't spell. (Keep in mind it was my first fanfic so I used all the hetalia stereotypes)
I mean no offense, I'm actually quite patriotic.