A/N: Insecure!America is one of my favorite things. And I know a lot of us feel strongly about our weight, one way or another, so on some level this story's pretty personal. It's never fun to for anyone to be called too fat or too skinny, too short, too pale- but it's really nice when someone's there to assure us we're not.
Also I should mention that this is a college story, rather than a high school one; that way, all the nations are their appropriate human ages.
Francis hadn't said it to be cruel. The class teased Alfred about his weight quite a bit, Arthur himself was guilty of doing so, and the idiot usually took it in stride.
But he'd come to school late today, as he had the last couple days, looking a tad pale and his smile was nothing if not lackluster. He was sticking closely to Matthew, his twin brother and closest friend; Matthew led him to his seat, and leaned over to talk quietly in his ear. Whatever he said, Alfred nodded a few times, tightly.
Arthur stood then, closing his book, and made his way over. "Alfred," he said, letting his eyes sink into what might've been a glare if Alfred wanted one. "You made it just in time."
It shouldn't have been such a relief to see those pretty eyes brighten with his smile. "Hey, a hero always comes just in- "
"Oh don't start that again," Arthur interrupted fussily, for nothing but the sake of hearing the American laugh. The instructor called everyone to their seats then, and Alfred shooed both Matthew and Arthur away with a winning smile.
Maybe I'm over-thinking it, the British student thought when several lessons went by without any more suspicious behavior. Maybe he just had a rough night. He's acting normal enough, anyway.
With that, he resolved to put it out of his mind- the sight of Alfred, looking shaken and unhappy.
And maybe he might have done so, if, upon the professor snapping his book shut and waving them all off, an unmistakable French drawl hadn't curled across the room; "Ah, Alfred- I do hope you'll watch what you eat for lunch, vous petit cochon, surely fast food every day doesn't do your rond figure any good."
He had no idea what that French bit was, but Alfred obviously did. Halfway to the door, he flinched, and looked up with wide, hurting eyes for just an instant- meeting Francis' gaze, and then, unexpectedly, snapping over to Arthur's.
Everyone was still, silent; uncomfortable. Because this was when Alfred would crack a joke, something about a hero's appetite, he would smile, right now, and this tenseness in Arthur's every breath would go away.
But he didn't.
Instead he ducked his head and clenched his jaw, bangs dropping to cover eyes that were simply too sincere, and ran for the door, throwing it open and sprinting from the room.
Somewhere behind him, Arthur heard Matthew shouting and Francis stumbling over apologies and questions and the entire class was standing and coming to join them, murmuring in confusion and concern and
no one was going after that poor boy.
So Arthur went, abandoning his books and his bag at his desk, running from the room and down the hall in the direction Alfred had gone, knowing without knowing how that he'd find him.
He hesitated at the next corner, unsure of which hallway to pursue, when he heard the sharp crack of a door slamming shut and spun around; of course, the storage room. Breathless, Arthur bent over his knees for a moment, in relief as well as a quick attempt to regain composure. Straightening, he moved swiftly to the door, reaching for the handle and- hesitating, as soon as his fingers curled around the knob.
He and Alfred weren't close, really. He had a thing for the blue-eyed American, not that he'd ever tell, and Alfred always managed to swing by a few times every day to say hi, tease, or otherwise harass him, riling Arthur up even on days he was determined not to get flustered or shout at that laughing face; how Alfred made time for him every day, when everyone else in the world wanted to be his friend, Arthur had no clue, but it seemed like he had a special place in Alfred's daily routine, and that...
He shook those thoughts away. Alfred hadn't been himself lately, and the whole scene in the classroom with Francis- who coddled both Alfred and Matthew rather shamelessly, and had never given Alfred any trouble other than the occasional lewd remark- just proved that whatever was wrong wasn't getting any better. Alfred needed someone.
What if he doesn't want to see me... what if he wants Matthew...
And then memory shoved those wounded blue eyes to the forefront of his mind and he opened the door without another thought.
Alfred was sitting against the wall under a dusty window, legs drawn up and arms tucked around his stomach, sobbing into his knees. Light was barely filtering through, but it was enough to highlight his hair, and the tears dripping off his glasses; and Arthur stood in the doorway, heart breaking with every second he didn't move.
He stepped inside, closing the door firmly behind him, and Alfred's head snapped up.
"Artie?" Confusion was bright in those ocean eyes, and then shame colored them a shade darker as he looked away, bringing up an arm to wipe his face roughly with the sleeve of that starred jacket he was never without. "What are you doing here." It wasn't a question, but an accusation. And the boy wouldn't look at him, even as he came closer.
I was worried about you, git. "That was quite an exit you made."
"Ah, god." He dug the heels of his hands into his eyes, glasses pushed up to his forehead, and groaned- attractively, Arthur couldn't help but think. "Don't worry about it, man. I just. It's nothing okay?" And he thought he was being convincing when he looked back up, didn't he, the way he hitched a sideways smile into place. "Seriously, I'm- it's fine. Just one of those days."
Arthur came the last few feet forward and crouched in front of him, leaving plenty of space between them. "Just one of those days, when you leave the classroom in tears?" There was something waiting to be said here, and Arthur wanted so desperately to coax the words out.
His question, rhetorical as it was, was met with a sharp head-shake and a firmly set mouth. "I mean it, Artie, I'm fine."
"You know that frog didn't mean anything by it," Arthur said gently. "He cares about you."
"Yeah, I know, I- "
"He's said things like that before and you've never reacted so strongly. A lot of people in our class have- "
And then he clamped his mouth shut tightly, because tears were rolling down Alfred's face again and his sleeve was back in business, scrubbing them away- but half-heartedly so, because he was sobbing now, muttering something Arthur couldn't make out, and god, it didn't matter at this point, all that mattered was making this better.
He reached out, leaning forward, and wrapped his arms around the taller boy's shoulders, pulling him in close. "Shhh, love, don't cry, please don't cry- whatever's wrong, we'll right it."
Alfred shook his head, crying harder if anything, leaning into Arthur's arms. Arthur wished the embrace was one he could enjoy, but how could he when such a precious heart was breaking. And Alfred, for all that he didn't pull away, didn't unwrap his arms from around his middle to hug back.
"Alfred F. Jones," Arthur whispered into his hair, eyes widening as he finally understood, "all this fuss over your weight?"
Sure enough, the blond hiccupped miserably and nodded without lifting his head off Arthur's shoulder, shuffling closer to hide and tightening his grip around himself with what the British man was certain now was stubbornness born of self-loathing. Arthur tightened his grip as well.
"There's absolutely nothing wrong with the way you look, pet. It doesn't matter what people say, there's nothing wrong with you."
His voice when Alfred spoke was tiny and deeply unhappy. "I'm fat, Artie."
"Alfred you are not- "
The younger boy's fingers curled into fists in his jacket, arms still locked in place. "Everyone says so, all the time, every day." Arthur's heart constricted painfully as he recalled all the 'harmless' jokes he'd never thought anything of, never defended Alfred from. "And, I dunno what to do, I... I tried exercising at home but Mattie got mad- "
"And for good reason, idiot, you're in every bloody club the school has to offer; you don't need more exercise- "
"So, I tried not eating as much but I'm always so hungry when I skip meals, I can't do it."
Panic was replacing concern as Arthur leaned back enough to look at him. "Don't skip meals."
"I don't know what's wrong with me!" He was crying heavily again, and Arthur stroked his hair, wishing there was some magic words he could use to make everything better, like there always were in fairytales. "I mean I saw in this movie once, uh, it was at a high school, and girls would go to the bathroom during lunch and p...purge? Maybe- "
Arthur shoved him bodily against the wall and took his chin in hand, forcing those startled blue eyes to meet his own. "You are not going to hurt yourself," he said, voice low and dangerous. "If I have to move into your house and follow you to all your classes to make sure of that, I will."
Alfred looked confused, upset, concerned. "Artie I'm sorry, I didn't know you- "
Sorry for the wrong reason then. Arthur grabbed his wrists and forced his arms away from his stomach. Alfred let him, as if to make up for upsetting him just then, but when he slid a hand up Alfred's shirt, the latter reacted instantly, pushing at him and glaring unimpressively through tears.
"Stop, what are you doing Arthur, don't- "
Sure, Alfred's stomach was soft and a little round- not firm like an athlete's should have been, obviously all the McDonald's had to come into play somewhere- but he wasn't fat. He wasn't ugly or disgusting, he was perfection in every ounce.
A loud, sweet, irritating, sunshiney, perfect boy.
He was still attempting to push Arthur away, and the longer his stomach was exposed the closer his face came to crumpling into tears again. So Arthur pushed up his shirt even more, leaned over, and kissed him.
And wasn't this new expression on the Alfred's face a delight to watch. He blushed bright red almost at once, and his mouth worked soundlessly as soon as Arthur freed it. The Englishman watched, trying hard not to smirk, and leaned into him, letting his hand wander slowly up to his chest and down to his belt again under his shirt.
"I like you," he said, and it was so much easier than he always feared- maybe because of the position he'd put the two of them in- but his heart still did a backflip at the confession because there was so much room for rejection. "And I know you're not going to stop worrying about your weight over night, but I don't want you to think so self-destructively. Despite what you eat, you're a very active, very healthy young man. A little extra weight isn't as much of a turn-off as you fear." Said much too much if the widening of Alfred's eyes was any indication; Arthur rushed on, feeling his own face start to heat up. "And- and don't worry about the teasing, either. I'm putting an end to that today."
He rose, and offered the shaken American his hand; and didn't Alfred look simply edible, on the floor with his hair and eyes and shirt pushed up and not the time, Arthur.
"Artie- Arthur!" Alfred took his hand, just to hold it, and blurted, "I've had a crush on you since freshman year! But you're such an idiot you never noticed, I mean, I came by to bug you all the time, and you never thought anything of it! I had to like stalk you for a week to figure out where you'd be and- "
The door opened then, just as Arthur thought his heart might burst with something so wonderful and the two of them turned to find Matthew and Francis in the doorway. Matthew rushed to Alfred immediately as the latter let Arthur help him to his feet, with a sigh of "Oh, Al," and then Francis was everywhere.
"Oh mon cher, I am so sorry, s'il vous plaît pardonnez-moi, I never intended to hurt you!" Matthew glared at him, obviously not in a forgiving mood, but stepped out of the way just enough for Francis to throw his arms around Alfred's shoulders and kiss both his cheeks twice. "You are pairfait, my dear, have I not told you enough? Big Brother would love to see you eat healthier, cela est vrai, but never would I change a single hair on your precious head!"
Alfred was laughing and looking on the verge of tears again at the same time as he gently patted the man's shoulders. "I know man I know, I shouldn't have taken it so hard. I just..."
"Non non, cheri, the fault is mine. I simply cannot believe I was so insensitive." The French man tossed his hair back with a look of utter conviction. "I am taking you to lunch, all of you. We will go to the best restaurant this town has to offer, and Alfred shall order whatever his heart desires, and we will throw food at whoever dares look his way except be it in adoration or lust, et qui est finale! Come my comrades!"
He led them out the door and into the hall gallantly, gaining them confused stares and a few laughs from the people passing by, but Matthew and Alfred were laughing now, and Arthur had to give rationality one more fighting chance.
"What about class you incredible buffoon- "
"Class means nothing! This is a matter of the heart! Now we must go, tout de suite!"
"I don't have time for this," he groused, knowing it didn't matter. He would've liked nothing better at the moment than to get Alfred alone somewhere, pin him against something and kiss him senseless, the way he might have done if they hadn't been so rudely interrupted, but of course not-
He felt a hand slip into his and looked up into an uncertain and still-so-beautiful smile. "You'll stick around, right?"
So much to that question.
He gave in to the world with grace, and a smile of his own.