Title: A Day in Time
Characters/Pairings: America, Russia, and England makes a cameo
Summary: In exchange for their immortality, they must spend one day every 100 years as a human. Today is that day.
Notes: unbeta'd. very insecure. i hope it's not too bad.
America stared at the numbers displayed on his digital clock.
Abruptly, he could feel the change take place in his body. It wasn’t a dramatic change, barely noticeable to the naked eye, but to Alfred it felt as if the world had suddenly taken a big step to the left. His room was exactly as it was a minute ago, but everything was different; a parallel universe solely within his head.
Alfred stood up and stretched his body. He reached for the ceiling, straining as far as his hands would go. He reached for the floor, first touching his toes, then lower, and finally pressing his palm against the cool hardwood floor. Standing straight up again, he rolled his shoulders and cracked his neck. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the monthly calendar that he kept on his wall.
For a moment, he seemed to lose his determination as he eyed the date. The only indication that it was special was the light tracing of pencil circled around the square. As if the unobtrusiveness of the marking made its importance any less significant. Alfred felt his confidence waver and he wondered if he could just hide in bed, then England’s voice intruded upon his thoughts:
It is because a balance must be struck or the universe will run itself down, like a pocket watch that is in want of winding. Our immortality is an aberration, and if there is one thing that nature cannot stand for, it’s a deviation from the norm. Either we must be destroyed, or the universe will cease to move. For this reason, an exchange was struck for our kind. Every hundred years which we exist, a day must be given back. In other words, for the span of 24 hours, we will be merely human.
With England’s words echoing in his head, Alfred, just Alfred, nodded and flung open the door to his closet. He pulled on his jeans and yanked a t-shirt over his head; he dressed without much thought because if he started thinking again, then his doubts would overwhelm him. The uncustomary silence in his head was so loud without the constant murmur of his people and the hum of his land. And yet it couldn’t smother the bit of guilt and self-loathing he felt for being just a little relieved.
For a day, he was a human.
For a day, time had returned to him.
Moving ever faster as if the onslaught of time was propelling him forward, Alfred grabbed his car keys and his bomber jacket. As he shoved his arms through the sleeves, he glanced in the foyer mirror to check his reflection. He stopped for a second and regarded the white 50 emblazoned on the back. Alfred rubbed the worn leather between his fingertips before sliding the jacket off his shoulders.
He laid it on the back of the living room sofa and gave it a fond pat. Tomorrow, old friend. Giving a wild whoop, Alfred pulled a jacket from the coat rack and ran out the door.
As he drove to his destination, he wondered who had made it so that nations would give up one day of their lives to live as a human. What did he feel when he made the exchange? Was that person a nation too? If so, did that nation still exist? Alfred could feel his body aging with each breath he took. After years of not living within the movement of time, he could feel its passing so acutely from the tips of his toes to the top of his not-Nantucket cowlick. He marveled that humans lived with this their whole lives; they raced it, squandered it, cherished it, feared it.
Alfred wondered what he would be like if he were human all the time. What he would do? Where would he go?
Who would he love?
Alfred pulled into the parking lot of the International House of Pancakes. A sleepy hostess met him at the door. The whole encounter was surreal, made even more so by the early hour and the empty restaurant. The tables were all set and poised to receive customers that wouldn’t be coming for several more hours. To Alfred, the tables looked extremely lonely.
As the hostess led Alfred to his table, he saw there was another person in the restaurant, someone so familiar and yet so unfamiliar at that very moment. Somehow Alfred had known he would be here. Russia smiled at Alfred from across the room. No, not Russia. Today he was Ivan, a Russian man. Today would not be about the relationship between Russia and the United States of America, but the relationship between Ivan and Alfred.
Alfred politely told the hostess that he would be dining with his friend. She nodded flatly and seated him without a question. Handing him a menu, she stated that the waiter would be by shortly and walked away. Suddenly alone with Ivan, Alfred was struck by a sudden wave of panic. He buried his face in his menu. “S-so, um, how are you?”
“I am well, Alfred.” Ivan reached across and turned the menu over so that it was no longer upside down. “And you?”
“Fantastic! Woke up this morning feeling like I could run a marathon or two.”
“Indeed? That sounds like something you would do. Maybe we can both run one someday.”Ivan slouched in his chair and nudged Alfred’s knee under the table. “But you would be needing to lay off the burgers, da?”
Alfred threw a sugar packet at Ivan’s head. “That’s low. Really low.”
“I am only stating what is obvious.” Ivan stifled a laugh.
“And here is my response.” Alfred flipped Ivan the bird and went back to perusing the specials.
Back and forth they bantered, falling into a rhythm that felt comfortable. Even after the plates had been taken away and the bill had been placed on their table, they sat there talking until the sky brightened and the stars winked out of sight. One by one, the early risers trickled into the restaurant, puffy eyed and still yawning. As if by an unspoken agreement, Ivan and Alfred watched the sun peek over the trees and houses in silence, honoring the moment when night turned into day.
Taking one last sip of his coffee, Alfred pushed back from his seat. “Shall we go?”
The air was cool, but Alfred could smell the heat. It was going to be another warm day. Alfred noticed that he didn’t see a rental car in the parking lot as they walked to his car. “How did you get here?”
Alfred nodded absentmindedly as he strapped himself into the car. He moved as if he were following the stage directions of a play he didn’t know. The Life of Alfred the Human or something. Moving through this delicate universe of illusion and reality where he could live a life that was different and yet was still him.
They didn’t have any plans in particular nor anything that they really wanted to do. So they just drove around until something caught their eye, which is how Alfred and Ivan ended up at the park throwing bread crusts at ducks and seagulls. The lure of finding ducklings wading in the water was too strong for the two of them. Alfred always had a sneaking suspicion that Ivan was obsessed with cute animals and it was confirmed that morning as Ivan fed the ducks from his fingers.
Alfred threw his bread as far as he could, watching the seagulls fall over themselves fighting over it. Not to be outdone, Ivan did the same. Competitive spirit roused, Alfred wadded pieces of bread into a ball, raised his arm, and accidentally beaned a duck in the head. Ivan laughed and followed suit. Soon it degenerated into a contest of who could hit the most ducks on the head, much to the amusement of the people walking around them. Neither of Alfred or Ivan won in the end though because the ducks wised up and swam out of hitting distance, paddling closer only to grab a piece of water soaked bread.
The rest of their day passed in similar fashion. They did whatever they wanted to do, letting chance and serendipity dictate their day. It was quite possibly the best day Alfred had had in a long time. And Ivan’s deep laughter made it all the more better. Dinnertime was just as wonderful; Alfred refused to let the sinking, bittersweet feeling overtake his cheer.
When the employees finally kicked them out at 10, they sat in the car in silence as Alfred drove them to his house. They could both feel it; the end was coming and soon tomorrow would overtake them. Alfred jolted as Ivan’s hand touched his, dispelling the melancholy that was slowly dropping over him. Alfred smiled and sighed contentedly. Pulling Ivan’s hand to his thigh, he laced their fingers together. “We need to do this again.”
Alfred invited Ivan inside and they sat on the couch drinking coffee with the TV muted. Scooting closer, Alfred leaned his body against Ivan’s and sipped from his mug. Ivan smelled sweet and of flowers in the sun. He tucked his nose behind Ivan’s ear and took a deep breath; the silvery locks of hair tickled his face. Ivan shivered and turned his head, bumping their noses in an Eskimo kiss before bringing their lips together for an entirely different kind of kiss.
And they stayed like that for several minutes, kissing lazily and tasting the coffee on each other’s breath. Reaching out blindly, Ivan placed his mug on the table and took Alfred’s face in his warm hands, stilling his lover’s movements. He brushed a chaste kiss on Alfred’s lips followed by another on the nose, and finally one on his forehead. Pressing their foreheads together, Ivan smiled. “Good night, Alfred.”
Alfred closed his eyes and took one last deep breath of Ivan’s scent. “Good night.”
Ivan fondly ran his hand through Alfred’s hair and walked out of the room. Alfred listened to the soft susurrus of Ivan shrugging on his jacket and slipping on his boots. A gust of wind accompanied the sound of the door opening and with a loud bang, the house went silent. Suddenly very cold, Alfred tugged the afghan that was lying on the sofa over his shoulders and tucked his knees under his chin. His glasses flashed silver and white as the images on TV moved and changed. The display on the DVD player caught his eye and almost with a morbid fascination, he watched the day come to an end.
And the world took a step back to the right.
At first this was supposed to be a America/England fic. But somehow, Russia just felt much better for this. Anyway. Thank you for reading.