Pairing: Alfred Jones/Arthur Kirkland (US/UK)
Summary: Human AU. 1777. The American Revolutionary War. Three times, American rebel Alfred Jones meets British soldier Arthur Kirkland. One blue; one white; one red.
The first time, Alfred is washing his feet. He whistles as he does so, happily splashing his ankles in the cool, blue water of the cool, blue lake. His boots, jacket and rifle sit unheeded beside him, a crumpled heap of brown and blue, a forgotten bundle of discipline and duty. Alfred throws back his head and smiles at the warm sunlight on his face; laughs up at the clear, blue sky. It is a beautiful day, and a beautiful sky, and a beautiful place to be lost.
It has been one whole night and one whole day. But Alfred has been lost for longer, and he knows he will find his regiment again. This is many miles north from his farm in Virginia, but Alfred still knows this country. He knows the wild yellow fields behind him and the hanging black willow trees beside him. He knows the warm, clean scent of the sweeping breeze and the endless blue sky above; knows the fresh touch of the green grass against his fingers and the cool stroke of the depthless blue water at his feet. Alfred knows this country, and here he can never truly be lost. This country is why he will fight. This country is the reason for the rifle at his side.
Alfred is not used to the discipline of the army. But when his country cried for liberty, he did as any patriot should: he enlisted, and he pledged to fight for its freedom. Seventeen years spent running through forests and fields and rivers, Alfred has never known anything but freedom. But he thinks, as he splashes his feet and laughs at the sky, that if this is war, it's not so bad.
The intruding presence shudders down his spine before it sounds in his ears. A rustle in the grass behind; a faint shift of the wind. Alfred's shoulders stiffen and his gut tightens. Tensing excitement floods his veins. Slowly, carefully, he stretches his hand behind him: past the rough fabric of his discarded jacket, the newly-cobbled tread of his boots, until the cool, hard butt of his rifle brushes his knuckles. Swiftly, he grasps it, hauls it to his shoulder; swiftly, he turns.
The warm breeze gusts broadly; a flock of birds fly from a nearby willow. The enemy soldier's body is straight, his rifle pointed down at Alfred with an expert grip and aim. "Lower your weapon, rebel." The British voice seems to carry on the wind. His uniform is red, white, blue - the right colours in the wrong arrangement.
Alfred's eyes are wide, his skin tingling. Sight, scent, sound - his senses overwhelm him. His breath is thunder in his ears. He stares from where he crouches on the ground, his hands surprisingly steady on the rifle. "Lower yours."
The enemy raises his chin, stares down his nose. "I won't."
Alfred does not know how to respond to that. His heart is pounding against his chest, pounding so hard it feels it is trying to beat through his skin. Alfred has not seen battle. He has never seen a British soldier so close. A few times he has passed them, lying dead: broken bodies on broken carts or uneven corpses contorted on fences. Some of the men laugh - Alfred looks away, and those unseeing eyes haunt him for days. But this close, this real, this alive… Alfred swallows heavily, the countryside turning vivid and clear around him. He tightens his grip. "Neither will I."
The soldier's lips turn, startlingly, into a smirk. "Well. I suppose we are at rather an impasse, aren't we, rebel?"
The world changes. The war becomes real. Everything Alfred has been told to hate is now before him: before him, and aiming a rifle at his heart. Not a monster but a man, speaking words he understands. Alfred's very universe spins, and it spins right back to his rifle. It is all he has now.
It takes perhaps an hour, and a fair bit of manoeuvring, but eventually Alfred settles his back against a willow tree. His rifle is still pointed towards the enemy soldier, sitting against the tree opposite, his own weapon still aimed at Alfred. The slowly descending sky sends a golden gleam across the clear blue lake, and the evening birds are already starting to sing. Alfred rests his arm against his knee, refusing to let his rifle droop. He takes a moment to inspect the British soldier. He is older than Alfred, with a worn pack and tattered boots, and his red jacket is embroidered with gold lace. He looks tired, but he is oddly handsome, and his intense stare has not wavered once. Finally Alfred takes an accepting breath and speaks. "Alfred."
The Brit looks briefly thrown. "I beg your pardon?"
"Well, I ain't lowering this rifle anytime soon, and I'm gonna make a guess you ain't lowering yours neither. So I figured that if we're gonna be sittin' here like this 'till doomsday, we may as well be civil like and introduce ourselves. Alfred." Alfred nods. "The name's Alfred."
The Brit pauses as though stunned. He seems to think about answering, then steadies his rifle on his knee before he does. "Captain Kirkland of the Royal Fusiliers. London Regiment."
"Captain?" Alfred whistles. "Fancy. I'm only a private. At least, that's what they're always yellin' at me. You must've been in the army a long time. Captain's real high, ain't it? Ye're a long way from your regiment out here, though. You get lost or somethin'?"
Kirkland tilts his head, framed by the leaves that fall from the willow tree behind him. His face is bewildered, casting that same stare Alfred has received his entire life, from family and farmhands to soldiers and slaves. Alfred is always told he does not know his place. But this British captain's bewildered stare is also curious, and strangely amused. "What do you know of my regiment's movements, rebel?"
Alfred raises a free hand, lets his rifle slip slightly. "Hey, I know nothin' but that I ain't seen a live Brit since… well, ever, to be truthful. I only left home a few weeks ago. I ain't seen no… er… Royal Fusleers 'round anywhere. So I wondered if ye'd got lost."
The corner of Kirkland's lip rises in a sneer. "I am not lost. I am a veteran of twelve campaigns. I do not get lost."
"Ah. Right." Alfred nods, looks at the blue lake and the green trees and the violet sky. "If ye're not lost then, do you mind telling me where we are? Because I, well… I sort of am."
Kirkland stares for a moment more before letting out a brief breath of laughter. It only lasts a short moment, however, and he forces himself to stare evenly at Alfred once again. "Is your militia so unorganised? Were you not given a map, American?"
Alfred feels his forehead furrow angrily. "Sure I was. I probably left it in my pack, give me a minute…" It isn't until he places his rifle on the ground that Alfred realises what he has done. The skin burns on his neck, the muscles in his back tense painfully. His hand trembles above his foolishly abandoned weapon and he looks up slowly, warily, at the smugly triumphant British soldier.
"There." The soldier manages to look superior and sympathetic at the same time. To Alfred's incredulous surprise, the captain deliberately places his own rifle down beside him. "That was not so difficult, was it?"
Alfred's blood thrums wildly to his head. "Y'ain't gonna shoot me?"
The Brit pauses, his large eyebrows drawing together. "Who would shoot an unarmed man?"
Alfred raises his chin and replies with all the certainty of rebellion. "An Englishman!"
Kirkland raises one great, bushy eyebrow. "Do you believe that not a single Englishman would have the slightest hesitation in shooting an unarmed American?"
"Well…" Alfred trails into the uncertainty of reason. "Well, why else are we fightin' this war?"
Kirkland gives a tiny shrug. "Why are you fighting this war?"
This annoys Alfred. He folds his arms huffily and kicks out his feet. "Don't go gettin' smart, English."
"Arthur." His lips turn upwards slightly. "The name's Arthur."
Arthur joined the redcoats because his father did. Arthur fights the Americans because he believes in loyalty, tradition, and duty. Arthur has oranges in his pack, and tobacco, and a thick, torn book from which he draws lines of poetry.
Minutes pass like seconds. Alfred savours the taste of fresh fruit after weeks of dry bread. Arthur offers Alfred dried leaf for his pipe, but Alfred does not have one. "But when the blast of war blows in our ears," Arthur reads, "Then imitate the action of the tiger: stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood."
Alfred does not understand that. All he understands is that Arthur is noble and proud, with golden hair and a coat of red, more a lion than this tiger he speaks of. He has paper white skin and eyes as green as willow trees. Arthur is one real, good thing in these few hard, blood-tinged weeks. Arthur is an enemy, but he is the first man to give his words to Alfred, and he is nothing like the evil royalists Alfred is told are choking this country. It is as the sun is finally dipping below the horizon, the last of its golden light spreading over the water, that Alfred realises. In fact… "I like you, Arthur."
Arthur's lips might turn into a smile, or he might just look away and place his hand over his mouth. Either way, his words come in a sarcastic monotone when he replies. "I am so very delighted."
"D'you think we'll ever see each other again?" It is the first either has spoken of departure, and Arthur lowers his head at the words.
"It is highly doubtful."
Alfred believes insistently. "If we do, it'll be fate, won't it?"
Arthur sneers at that. "No. If anything, it would be a coincidence."
Alfred leans forward earnestly. Maybe they believe things differently in England. But the kind ladies on the nearby plantations always speak of fate, and to Alfred it always makes sense. "Don't you believe in destiny, Arthur?"
Arthur only scoffs as he places the yellow book in his pack, brushes the orange peel and tobacco aside. "No, Alfred. If we see each other again, we will be trying to kill each other."
Alfred lowers his eyes, brushes his own orange peel into the scrub. "Ah, we'll see."
"Yes." Arthur sounds uncertain, yet oddly hopeful. "I suppose we will."
Arthur turns to look behind as he leaves: straight, hard and proud in a uniform of red, white and blue. His eyes meet Alfred's, not dead and unseeing as the British eyes Alfred used to know, but curious and confused and darkened with something warm and unfamiliar. Alfred's heart aches to see him go, an ache he has never felt, one which brightens his world and darkens it at the same time.
In the growing darkness, the red, white and blue of Arthur's uniform blend with his golden hair and white skin and blazing green eyes. Colours indistinguishable.
And then white...
The famous line, "But when the blast of war blows in our ears, Then imitate the action of the tiger: stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood," is from the great play 'Henry V.' The book of 'poetry' Arthur reads from is, of course, Shakespeare.