It was odd being on good terms with everyone again. Arthur wasn’t sure how to handle it. His empire was gone, though his former colonies were doing well for the most part on their own. India was growing in leaps and bounds a lot lately. Ludwig and he were getting along, though things were still quite cold between the two of them. There were just some things that would take longer to heal than others, though they were both trying.
They were sitting around in the common room of the hotel where the latest World Meeting was being held. Arthur hadn’t almost come this time but he had decided it would be foolish, and perhaps a little too obvious if he hadn’t come. Still, Arthur wasn’t liking the fact that this meeting was so close to the beginning of July and it was being held in New York this month…
Relax, Iggy. The meeting will well be over before then. He told himself as he listened to Feliciano trying to convince Ludwig to get out of the hotel and to take a tour around Central Park. It must be nice to want to do tourist-things, Arthur thought as he looked out the window at the bustling city beyond the glass.
He could remember this land when there had been only around twenty-thousand and the skyscrapers were in no one’s imagination because they wouldn’t exist for over a hundred more years. He could remember the forests and the sound of the birds that had covered the island of Manhattan back then. He could also recall the smell of burning wood as the city burned after Washington had abandoned it.
Arthur winced. He wasn’t going to think about that now. America, Alfred, hadn’t bothered to show himself yet (late as always) and Arthur wasn’t going to get caught thinking of the past whenever the Yank decided it was time to arrive.
He eventually left the common room, feigning a headache due to the bickering back and forth between Italy and Germany. Honestly, how those two could function together…
Arthur walked into the corridor and he arrived at the lift and hit the call button before he sighed, tension slowly seeping out of him as he waited for the contraption to arrive. Bloody good invention, a lift. He was proud of himself for having produced the wonderful men who had developed it.
It only took a few moments and the elevator arrived and Arthur stepped inside and hit the button for his floor. The hotel had given him the entire eighteenth floor for his personal use, not that he would need that much space. Still, America’s generosity with space and expansion shone through, and he had the entire floor. Arthur watched as the lights on the elevator began to light up as the lift climbed upwards near the top of the building. He resisted a sigh when he felt the lift slow and then stop a good seven floors from where he wanted to be and the solitude he thought.
He had his best glare prepared for the intruder when the doors slid open and Arthur’s heart stopped and his breath caught. Damn him for always having this reaction. Damn him, damn him, damn him.
Alfred’s eyes widened a little when he recognized Arthur in the lift and then his face broke out into an expression of joy, always unbridled joy that could so easily cross the young nation’s face. Arthur wondered if he had ever been that easily joyed whenever something had happened to him when he had been as young as America was. He doubted it. America hadn’t had to deal with the plague or France.
“Artie! So glad to see you.” Alfred said, and Arthur grit his teeth at the name. He covered his shock as quickly and feigned a cold demeanor that he had practiced for so long, for centuries before he even knew America existed. Those had been the days. His heart had been a lot less broken then. “Wasn’t sure you’d make it.”
Alfred paused and gave Arthur enough room to reply should he desired. He didn’t. The elevator began to climb. Absently, Arthur noticed that Alfred hadn’t selected another floor. He didn’t dare to get his hopes up.
“It is business,” Arthur finally replied with a casual shrug to Alfred’s expectant expression. “Nothing more.”
Alfred looked a bit disappointed, but also a bit accepting of what Arthur had just said. Arthur felt his insides twist. One day he was going to push the other nation too far, one day Alfred wouldn’t want to speak to him anymore. Distance was safer, though, he thought and he would risk it. Even now he wasn’t letting Alfred close because he didn’t want to be hurt again. He didn’t want to know the risk that opening himself up again would lead to. He had tried it once before, tried it with Alfred even, and that had been a disaster of revolutionary proportions.
The American leaned against the wall of the lift and regarded the older man with his honest, brutal gaze. Arthur didn’t look over at him; he knew what would happen if he did. He would see the blue of his eyes and surrender himself to them before he would get more than just a little spark of desire to explore across the plains of Alfred’s body, the depths of his soul all over again. He had never gotten that far, he had only briefly skimmed past the edges of the other nation before the War had separated them forever. Arthur cringed inwardly again. He was thinking about it again; he needed to stop.
“I was going to invite some of the others to stay for the Party. You’re welcome to, if you want.” Alfred shrugged and Arthur’s jaw tightened even further. The nerve this colony had about himself! Arthur couldn’t help it, he looked over then and his eyes narrowed at the other man. Before he could speak, Alfred hit the stop button on the elevator and blocked it from Arthur so that he couldn’t move over to continue the ride upwards to his floor.
“God damn it, Alfred—” Arthur swore and tried to get to the button; he got as close as he dared, he wasn’t going to touch the American at all. That would be a road that would be perilous to travel down.
“Artie—Arthur—why can’t we just be friends again?” Alfred looked pleadingly at him. “I miss y—”
“Don’t!” Arthur interrupted before the other nation could say another word. He held up his hand to physically put a barrier between the words that Alfred was going to say and what Arthur was going to hear. He couldn’t do this. Not here, not in America’s own land, not so close to that day. He couldn’t do it at all. “Don’t say it. Please.”
A weariness had crept into his voice and for the first time in quite a long time, Arthur felt old. He felt the thousand years and counting that he was and just couldn’t do it anymore. He couldn’t listen to his former colony continue about the possibility of a fondness that could still linger between them. He couldn’t do it and remain with his sanity intact.
Alfred, typical American that he was, did not respect Arthur’s personal boundaries at all. The bigger man—when had he gotten so large? So strong?—moved across the few feet of space between them and pulled Arthur into his arms. The Brit resisted at first, quite strongly as well, but the smell of fresh air and fresher earth mixed well with the scent of something more freeing and he couldn’t resist. He never could resist when it came to Alfred. That was the problem. He held on too tightly and it hurt him every time. Arthur ignored that as he grasped the shirt that Alfred was wearing and clung to him, pressing his face into the other man’s chest.
He didn’t notice but he had sagged against the bigger country and it was Alfred’s impressive strength that held him the entire time. Perhaps breaking someone’s boundaries could be a good thing, when it meant this much support could come from it. Arthur wouldn’t cry though, it wasn’t manly and it surely wasn’t British. He wasn’t going to show that much emotion to anyone, least of all Alfred. This collapse was damaging to his image enough. If there were tears… Arthur shuddered to think of the consequences.
“I miss you, Artie.” Alfred spoke softly and his hand was moving along England’s back slowly, calmly.
Arthur swallowed hard, the lump in his throat was hard to get past, but he did, though there were tears in his eyes that remained unshed. He wasn’t going to cry; he wasn’t.
“Don’t call me that,” Arthur mumbled into Alfred’s chest as his strength slowly began to return to him. He wanted to hang on for longer, he wanted to stay there in his arms forever, but he couldn’t. It wasn’t proper. It wasn’t right. It was almost July for fuck’s sake. When Arthur stood straight, the other nation was grinning at him, though there was still concern in his eyes.
“Whatever you say, your lordship.” Alfred teased and hit the release button to get the elevator moving again. Arthur ignored the quip and he smoothed his shirt. He was looking anywhere but at Alfred.
He heard the American sigh and he glanced out of the corner of his eye. For a brief moment he could remember when he had been just a boy, running after him in a large field, what had been the Carolina colonies back then, before they had stopped at the coast and had rested in the warm sand and watched the waves crash against the shore. America had been strong even back then, before he had become larger than life the way he was now. Arthur was so proud, so very, very proud, of what Alfred had become. It hurt him that he had had no hand in it.
But, Arthur supposed, that was the beauty of it. Alfred hadn’t needed the backing or support of the British empire and had conquered his world by himself and had stretched beyond. Alfred hadn’t needed him at all, but how many times had Arthur ended up asking for help? How many times had he relied on Alfred to save him? Even once was too many times, but it had been more than just the once. Arthur sighed audibly.
To be friends with Alfred again, it was something he desperately wanted to do. But how could they? Too many years of fighting one another, too many insults had passed between them. The longings stirred within him and there was nothing more that Arthur wanted to do was sink into Alfred’s arms once again and just stay there, for the rest of this meeting period, for the rest of the upcoming month—even for that day—and for longer. He just wanted Alfred back in his life, to be the friends that they used to be, the brothers that they had once been. He may as well have wished on a falling star for the likeliness that it would be so easy to pass. His own temper would get in the way of it, if nothing else. His temper with America’s pride…it was an awful, horrid combination really. It was better this way, he told himself.
The elevator doors opened on his floor but Arthur didn’t move to get out. He was finally free, able to walk out of Alfred’s presence which is what he had wanted only a few moments ago. It was still what he wanted, wasn’t it?
Alfred raised an eyebrow as he watched the other man when he noticed Arthur wasn’t moving to leave. His expression softened when he saw the conflicted emotions running through the Brit’s eyes. He could still read the other man even if he hadn’t had to do so for a long while. Maybe this had been a bad idea. New York so close to the Fourth. At least it’s not Boston… Alfred thought absently with his own personal amusement. And at least he wasn’t throwing tea into any bodies of water this year. Still, Arthur didn’t move from the elevator, he appeared to be lost in thought and Alfred sighed while he rubbed the back of his neck.
“Look, man, I’m sorry. I just…was so happy to see you again. I didn’t mean to—”
“Alfred, shut it.” Arthur used his name, causing the American to feel his heart lighten at the use of it. Arthur came out of his stupor and started for the door. Alfred felt his heart sinking again when it appeared as though Arthur was going to walk out of his company again. How many times had he seen that back leave him when he was still the other country’s colony? Too many times to count.
Before Arthur exited the metal box, he grabbed Alfred’s hand without looking back and pulled the bigger man out into the hallway. Alfred was his usual graceful self as he stumbled after Arthur. At least he wasn’t bumbling, England thought as he led the way towards the posh room he’d been given. Alfred regained his senses and pulled up before Arthur could get to the door of his suite. He pulled the other man closer to him and tilted Arthur’s head.
“Kiss me.” Alfred commanded quietly before he lowered his head over Arthur’s. He didn’t close the gap, though he was close enough to do so. Arthur took a deep breath, Alfred could feel it against his face, before he closed the distance and sealed their lips together. Alfred groaned softly and pulled Britain closer to him and held him tighter.
Arthur suddenly didn’t care about the Fourth, the others downstairs, any meetings, or anything else except for Alfred. His favorite guilty pleasure thought pattern was here, holding him and kissing him. Alfred groaned into the kiss and Arthur felt himself responding, not that he needed much encouragement in that regard. He pulled Alfred closer and kissed him deeper. Sweet land of liberty indeed; Arthur had never tasted anything sweeter than Alfred’s lips.
Alfred broke the kiss, but kept Arthur close, resting their foreheads together. They were both breathing heavily and their chests were pressing against one another as they tried to recover oxygen to their starved systems. Arthur could feel Alfred’s smile against his cheek and he felt himself easing into the other’s hold. He wanted this more than he wanted to be away from the other country. He had always wanted this peacefulness, this closeness. He had always wanted this. It’s what he had been fighting to save.
“Let me stay with you for a while?” Alfred whispered and Arthur nodded. Alfred’s smile seemed to get bigger if that was even possible.
Arthur let his hand slide into the American’s warm grip as Alfred slowly led both of them towards Arthur’s room. For a while, Arthur thought, he could let himself enjoy the company of Alfred. He could soak in these few moments that he hadn’t had since ’76 and that would last him a while, long enough so that when he went home to the British Isles he could use the American’s sunshine to keep him warm even when the winter chill returned to his home. He could let himself believe for a while.
Once the door shut behind them both, Arthur leaned close to Alfred. America slid his arm around Arthur’s shoulders and guided him towards the sofa that overlooked the city and the giant buildings outside. New York was insanity and delightfulness, much like Alfred was. Arthur settled against Alfred’s body once they were both seated and comfortable and he closed his eyes in contentment. Alfred held him close by his side and as Arthur slowly drifted towards an afternoon nap, he swore he heard ‘God Save the Queen’ coming from the American’s lips as he hummed the song.
Arthur was sound asleep before Alfred whispered the correct lyrics to the room.
“My country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing…”
He smiled and leaned back into the sofa as he turned the television on and flipped it to the Yankees baseball game going on in the Bronx right now. It was a shame he was missing the game, but he would get over it. He had Arthur exactly where he wanted him and that was a start. Somehow he was going to convince him to stay for his birthday. It would be the first time ever that Britain would be there and it meant all the things in the world for Alfred to have Arthur there. He would find a way.
Happy, Alfred watched the ball game as he continued to hum the song about himself while Arthur dozed in his arms.