Pairing: Alfred Jones/ Arthur Kirkland (USUK)
Keep smiling through, just like you always do,
'til the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away!
Mini-sequel to "We'll Meet Again."
In the few months since the ocean liner RMS Queen Elizabeth steamed into New York City Harbour, carrying Mr. Arthur Kirkland and the recently promoted Captain Alfred Jones with it, Arthur could honestly say he had never been so confused, so surprised, or so completely and utterly bewildered in all his life.
If there was one word Arthur could use to describe America, it was big. It was also loud. And confusing. And oddly marvellous. In fact, it was very much like Alfred himself. The American seemed positively ecstatic to return to his country of birth. He had been back once before, just after the war, but that had been without Arthur, and neither had handled the separation very well. Being alone again in the Emerald Lion, with his fears and his worries and his memories, was almost more than Arthur could bear. When Alfred finally returned to London Arthur had been so overjoyed he'd jumped on him in the train station, causing quite a few raised eyebrows and stunned stares and outright cries of outrage. So this time, when Alfred had to return to America for military reasons, Arthur accepted immediately when asked if he wanted to accompany his lovely, charming, bloody frustrating Yank.
Of course the trip turned into more of a sightseeing adventure than anything else. They travelled through more states than Arthur could name in their shiny red Chevrolet, stopping at more diners and lookout points and roadside oddities than he ever wished to see again. Alfred simply bubbled with excitement at showing Arthur everything he possibly could of the great United States of America, all of which had been somewhat bearable so far – until Nebraska. More specifically, until this airfield in Nebraska. Even more specifically, until this tiny, metal, claustrophobic, inescapable plane cockpit sitting on this runway in the middle of this wide, flat, golden field in Nebraska.
It did not take long for Alfred to convince the airfield staff to let him take up one of their planes. Not once they realised who Alfred was; the young trainees gathering in awed respect, the pilots telling their own stories of service during the war, the older engineers shaking Alfred's hand and sharing their memories of Alfred's father when he was a delivery pilot in the twenties. Alfred seemed far more comfortable with these men than the decorated, uniformed, highly-ranked military personnel who usually clamoured to shake his hand.
And now, Arthur wondered how in the bloody hell he had allowed himself to be talked into this. He tried to breathe past the anxiety choking his throat, struggling to suppress the growing fear in his chest. He took another look out the small side window at the long shadow of the wing on the runway. The sound of the roaring engine was almost enough to drown out the sound of his own heartbeat pounding in his ears. "I can't…" Arthur squeezed his eyes shut and took a deep, shaking breath. "Alfred, I don't think I can do this…"
"Sure you can, Arthur!" Alfred spoke cheerfully over the clacking of the control keys. He slipped his free hand into Arthur's and gave it a soft squeeze. "Come on, look at me."
Arthur nodded, breathed out, and blinked open his eyes. He could really use a stiff drink right now - maybe he should have bought a few more of those jars of moonshine from that bloke in Ohio.
"You're okay." Alfred grinned at him from the pilot seat, his worn old bomber jacket slung over his shoulders, his bright blond hair poking through his flight cap and his radio speaker slung around his neck. "This baby's a breeze." Alfred patted the dashboard. "A good ol' Aeronca Chief - I used to fly one just like her before the war. Y'ain't got nothin' to worry about."
Arthur nodded again, tugged at his tight suit collar, and tried to remind himself that Alfred knew what he was doing. He'd been flying for years, of course he knew what he was doing. "I know, Alfred, I do, but…" But the rational part of Arthur's mind was completely overwhelmed by this instinctive, primal fear. How could he be sitting here in a plane, sitting here about to take off, about to fly into the air for the first time in his life… Arthur suddenly tugged on the belt strapping him into the seat. "I apologise for being a nuisance, but… but perhaps we could just wait…"
"Arthur, listen." Alfred spoke firmly this time, his blue, bespectacled eyes holding Arthur's gaze intently. "You're with the guy that once shot down seven planes, completely alone and with no radio contact, while running low on fuel and surrounded by an entire enemy squad. You're with the guy that's spent over three years training the best pilots the British military has to offer. And you're with the guy that loves you more than anything else in this whole damn world and would die before letting anything happen to you. Now, come on darlin.'" Alfred winked and Arthur's heart stuttered. "Let me take you to the clouds."
Arthur felt thrilled and giddy and frustrated and proud and bloody terrified all at once. He let out a low, groaning sigh. "That's utterly unfair."
Alfred beamed innocently as he pressed even more of the buttons and tapped the gauges and reached for the strange-looking little wheel. Arthur was rather amazed at how easily Alfred pressed and pushed and pulled what looked like a dozen controls at once with only his seven remaining fingers. "What's unfair?"
Those words, that wink, that blasted grin… "You know what, you bloody fool."
Alfred just laughed as the plane started moving along the runway. "All right, now, I'm getting her into takeoff position…"
Arthur's stomach twisted uncomfortably. "Don't tell me what you're doing, good God man, just do it!"
Alfred shrugged. "All-righty then, if you say so." The plane continued steadily for a few moments before Alfred shouted, "Here we go!" The roar of the engine filled the cockpit and Arthur very nearly dived for the door. Instead he forced himself to control his panic, to focus on Alfred's confident motions and his bright, cheerful smile. But as the plane reached impossible levels of speed and noise, the runway blurring beneath them, Arthur could not help but close his eyes. Alfred cheered as the plane tilted and lifted from the ground. "WOO HOO HOOO!"
An invisible force seemed to attack Arthur. His stomach sunk through his legs, his chest compressed, and his ears felt full as blood rushed to his head. He wanted to scream, but all he could do was grip onto the seat and grit his teeth and pray that this shaking, soaring plane would not fall from the sky. The aircraft seemed to drop slightly and Arthur almost choked as he gasped, his hand flying to his chest.
"That's normal, sweetheart. It's just the plane gaining height."
Arthur was too overwhelmed to even object to the nauseating term of endearment. He just kept his eyes squeezed shut, felt his knuckles turn white. This was the oddest feeling he had ever experienced: both heavy and weightless, his head tight with pressure and his stomach empty and unsettled. It felt wrong, it felt strange, it felt completely mad, and how could Alfred be laughing and cheering like he was having the time of his life? Didn't he realise Arthur couldn't breathe here?
"Isn't this amazing, Arthur?" Alfred shouted loudly.
Arthur tried to reply but all he could manage was, "Oh bugger oh bollocks oh Christ blast shit bloody hell STOP LAUGHING!"
"Aw come on now, takeoff's the best part! See how everything just falls away below… hey look, there's our Chevy! I tell ya, these old controls sure bring back memories. Sure is different from all those Spitfires and Hurricanes they've got me showing off these days. Hey, Arthur, in a few minutes, I'll be able to show you the farm I grew up on! Hang on a minute… Arthur, why are your eyes closed?"
"Because I'm bloody terrified! Please, just tell me when this is over!"
Alfred's laughter quieted and he sighed instead. "Oh. All right. I'll just get her level and do a quick fly-round."
The disappointment in Alfred's voice sent a painful stab of guilt through Arthur's chest. What was he saying – that he did not trust Alfred? Yes, this was new and different and scary – but this was important to Alfred. This was his home, his past, his life - and Arthur was letting fear get in the way of Alfred showing it to him. Alfred was not even able to fly for long these days, not with the strain it placed on his damaged eyes. Arthur breathed through the cloud of fear, and told himself he could do this. For Alfred. "No, I'm fine, I'm just... Blimey, this is very odd, isn't it?"
Once again, Arthur felt Alfred's hand slip into his. "It's also amazing. Just look at the view below us. Isn't it terrific?"
All right. Just look. Arthur could do this. He gripped Alfred's hand, forced himself to open his eyes, and immediately gasped in shock. "Blimey," he said again.
An infinite blue sky stretched out around them. Green and yellow striped fields spread out below, dotted with dark houses and streaked with criss-crossed dirt roads, like a labyrinthine maze. The high, brilliant sun blazed down and drenched the endless, flat, open expanse of land in unfiltered, golden light. Arthur shook his head as he took it all in; he couldn't imagine any place in the world more different from London. Alfred's home was sunny, bright, enormous; awe-inspiring. And it was beautiful. Arthur turned to see Alfred grinning wildly, ecstatically happy once again. That same grin that Arthur still loved, as always bringing the blue sky and driving away the dark clouds of Arthur's fear and doubt.
Alfred laughed, overjoyed. "I knew you'd love it! I tell ya, Arthur, the times I've dreamed of soaring through the sky together - and here in my own home..." Alfred winked. "It's magic."
Arthur's heart sped up, and it wasn't from fear anymore. The three years since the war ended had been more than Arthur had ever dreamt of. Every day with Alfred was bright and new and fun, every moment an adventure, and Arthur didn't know how it was possible but it seemed he loved the mad American more with every passing hour. Loved him enough to cross the world; enough to fly into the bloody sky for him. Arthur gently nudged Alfred's arm. "It is, Alfred. Magic."
Alfred's eyes sparkled behind his glasses, bluer than the endless sky. "Now keep your eyes peeled for one of them flying saucers like what crashed in New Mexico last year!"
Arthur groaned in exasperation. "That was a weather balloon, Alfred."
"That's what they want you to think."
Arthur rolled his eyes and gritted his teeth. If he heard one more word about this blasted 'cover-up in Roswell...' "I am not having this conversation again."
"You'll see the truth one day, Arthur. Ooh, look, look!" The plane tilted slightly and Arthur gripped the seat as Alfred pointed past him. "Right down there - that wide dirt track, do you see it? That's the first runway I ever took off from! And I don't know if you can make it out, but there's my old house, on the edge of that little hill there, do you see?"
Arthur didn't, but he nodded anyway. "Yes, yes, it's lovely. Now put the plane back in that nice straight position, please."
Alfred giggled as he did so.
As the flight drew on, Arthur asked about the land they were flying over, and about the confusing plane controls, and he couldn't help but smile at Alfred's joyful enthusiasm as he answered. All anxiety was forgotten. Arthur was just sitting here with Alfred, a thousand miles in the sky, and it was as magical and strange as every other moment they had shared together; as all the beautiful madness these three years had brought.
"It's amazing you can remember it all," said Arthur when Alfred finished explaining the difference in turning speed between the Aeronca Chief and the Mustang.
"Nah, Arthur, it ain't that hard. I could teach you to do it easy, I reckon, what with how smart you are and all."
Arthur scoffed doubtfully. "You flatter me. Up here, you're the smart one, Alfred."
Alfred attempted a nonchalant shrug, but his expression was proudly delighted. He looked out again at the vast blue sky and the endless country below. "Let's take her higher. You trust me now, right?"
Of course Arthur trusted the blasted Yank. He always had; he always would. And that's why he was doing this. Why he was sitting in this winged metal box a thousand miles in the sky; why he was here in this strange, wild country a million miles from home. Because it made Alfred's face light up, made him laugh with joy. Because this was what Alfred loved, and who he was, and this was what had brought him to London and into Arthur's life almost five years earlier. Because it was still, and always would be, magic.
Alfred flashed Arthur a tiny, sideways grin. "Enough to let me put her into a spin?"
Arthur narrowed his eyes warningly. "Maybe next time. For now…" Arthur pushed himself up in his seat, leant towards Alfred, and followed his gaze into the sky. "Take me through the clouds."
The End. (?)