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Fic: The Movement of Language (2)

Title: The Movement of Language
Characters/Pairings: USUK(/US), ensemble (mentioned SuFin, NethCan, Frain, very mild GerIta, AusHun, DenNor, Romano->Belgium and past SpUK)
Rating: T – pissed-off English teachers armed with drama props, somewhat unethical (and even more so illegal) methods of dealing with said pissed-off English teachers without resorting to (much) physical violence, blasé responses to said unethical (/illegal) methods, bad language, the bashing of certain ‘genres’ of literature, crack and both Arthur and Alfred acting like little sulky children having a squabble. Events not necessarily in that order.

Summary: In a hypothetical experiment, a student takes reactant A (one grumpy English teacher) and mixes it with reactant B (one enthusiastic Physics teacher) in a glass beaker (life), stirring the mixture before adding substance C (updates and advice from strange friends, fed-up family, life, the universe and everything). The student witnesses a colourful reaction. Assuming all reactants are used up in the experiment, what would the end product be that is created from this reaction? (Answer: Two idiots, very slowly, very surely, just maybe realising that they might be falling in love.) Teacher!AU. KM de-anon.

Chapter: 2/?

i. - xiii.


*****

xiv. hail muse! et cetera.

“Alright,” Arthur offers to his fifth period group of year nines, class almost over and the students so very eager to be gone. Their teacher can’t blame them. It’s been a long day, a sleepy hour and the late afternoon sunshine is beckoning outside, glittering off the puddles recent rains have left on the pavement and roads – but there’s a certain vindictive pleasure in being able to make them give him their attention for just that little bit longer (and they know, oh they know, that if they don’t give Mr. Kirkland their attention before the bell goes he will keep them after it, and nobody – nobody – wants that).

“Since this a democratic society,” Arthur starts, leans back a little in his seat on the front-edge of his desk and tries not to think too much about the irony of that statement being said in a school, “I figured you can have some choice in which text we’re studying after half-term –” a slight perk from some of the students who are paying more attention than the others, “the two options, however, have already been chosen for you.” The perk deflates. “Yes, I know you don’t want to do it; you know I know you don’t want to do it, but the curriculum says Georgian literature so Georgian literature it is.”

The class, used to this, just sighs.

“The choices are these – we can study Great Expectations by Dickens, or Sense and Sensibility by Austen. You get one vote each, everyone votes, majority wins, and no complaints – got it?”

The class gets it.

“So,” Arthur says, “who wants Great Expectations?”





xv. discretion is not the same as lying

The school is a different place after the last bell of the day has rung, the students sweeping out the gates to their buses and bikes and best friends, a happy exodus of noise and colour. The teachers linger a while after that, of course – even on days when there are no meetings there are after-school clubs to attend and maintain, work to finish off for the following day, an unlucky few students in detention to watch over as the cleaners set to work and the lights in the empty classrooms slowly click off. There are dust motes drifting lazily in the air and the distant hum of vacuums at work, a bird twittering in a green-red-gold tree outside as the sound of quiet footsteps echoes on the floor near the general staffroom, the click of the opening door.

Arthur pauses in polite surprise just on the threshold, seeing the room before him already occupied. The door handle is cool under his hand and the late sunlight streaming into the room from the windows spreads warmth over the floor, over the furniture and the gleam-gold hair of Alfred F. Jones – who is sprawled out rather dispiritedly across one couch on his stomach, head on his folded arms.

“Don’t you have a home to go to?”

Jones jumps at that, of course, jolts up alarmingly quickly with his hands braced against the cushions beneath him and upper body raised so he can look at the door –

Arthur honours his display of athleticism by casually ignoring it, too busy going to the fridge and fetching out the last of the milk he’d brought in to use a little while ago. (It’ll spoil if he leaves it in there any longer, so he might as well take it home.) “Unless you’re planning on sleeping here tonight, that is.”

Jones, when Arthur turns around to glance at him again, leftover milk in hand, is sulking. And quite obviously so too, having flopped back down onto his stomach to balefully eye the sink beside the fridge, where his shoes are still dripping down the drain. Or perhaps he’s eying Arthur, beside the sink beside the fridge; Arthur himself doesn’t particularly care either way. “’M waiting for my shoes to dry.”

Dubious, Arthur eyes the sink. The shoes in question are still in there – at some point in the afternoon a kind bright soul had knocked the last of the ice out of the insides to clog up the plughole, but the lining of the shoes is still soaked through. “You’ll be here a while.”

Jones shrugs, and doesn’t move. Wonderful.

Arthur twitches. Jones’ nonchalant fatalism is annoying. (It’s quite, quite official now – everything about Jones is annoying; the man exudes irritants into the air around him and poisons personal space with his own special brand of Stupid.) It shouldn’t be so easy to kill the sunshine. “Why don’t you just put them in a carrier bag and carry them with you? Just make sure you use a bag with no holes, so you don’t drip water over yourself.”

Jones looks at him blankly.

“It’s not advanced geometry, Jones -” although the irony is Jones can probably do advanced geometry – he has to know something to have gotten his job at the school, right? Probably. Hopefully, at least, for the sake of the students. “Just put your spare set of shoes on and -”

“I don’t have a spare set.” Unusually pragmatic (though still armed with a pout), Jones pushes himself back up into a seated position again as Arthur takes a turn looking blank – what kind of idiot doesn’t bring a spare set of shoes when the British weather in autumn is so prone to turning suddenly and mysteriously foul? Especially when the idiot’s the sort of person who takes his class trekking outside for lessons so often, all grass and mud and large rainbow puddles that shouldn’t be brought back inside to the shiny school floors. “I’d’ve headed home already if I had.”

Despite himself, Arthur feels a prickle of guilt beginning to edge over his skin at his co-worker’s reply, a slow trickle that slides south down his spine and heads straight for his stomach. It’s the masochist within Arthur that voices the next question, words tumbling unwanted (but not quite unbidden) from his mouth. “How do you usually get home?”

(How is it, that after a year of working with the other man, he still has to ask that question to start with?)

“Walk a bit, and bus the rest.” The guilt finally settles like an uncomfortably cold rock low in Arthur’s belly with that answer, annoyingly there and refusing to be shifted even as Jones does his level best to unconsciously assuage the remorse by wiggling his socked toes with far more fascination than any grown man should display doing such a thing – the American stars and stripes, really?

But still…Jones really can’t get home. Not without inconveniencing someone – Arthur doesn’t even know whether the idiot can call someone to beg a lift, and if the silly fool tries to walk without shoes he’ll probably end up putting some glass through his foot and spending the rest of the night in Accident and Emergency as a result. Even though it is and it would be Jones’ own stupid fault for not wearing his shoes around the school in the first place and –

What sort of idiot doesn’t bring spare shoes?!

(Stupid bloody Alfred Jones. Whatever sodding mould the idiot had sprung from at his ill-fated conception had better have been a one-time only thing. The world can’t handle another one like him.)

Inwardly Arthur curses, hates himself for not managing to not hate himself for his prank on his idiot co-worker – the stupid twat had been breaching God knows how many health and safety rules by prancing about his labs and the school shoeless and they’d all warned him. It had been a good idea at the time, too; it isn’t like Arthur had expected Jones to be so woefully unprepared and, truth be told, a bit of ice in your shoes is getting off lightly (he’s done a hell of a lot worse to Francis over the years, and his break-up with Antonio had been just short of open warfare on both sides). Jones’ face when he’d found them in the fridge had been nothing short of priceless (You’ve Been Framed material, right there, all kicked puppy incarnate) -, but there are consequences for every action, and apparently for every moment of fun.

“Oi,” Arthur says, catching Jones’ attention from where the Physics teacher is still watching his feet (they let this man teach children? Really? He’s a child teaching children; no wonder he’ popular) and calling ever-blue eyes up to Arthur’s face, the glint of evening sunlight on wire-rimmed glasses. “Do you want a lift home?”

The results are instantaneous.

Al- Jones beams – a brief burst of blindness as he flings himself to his feet and at Arthur with a laugh that’s sudden only due to being preceded by such fatalistic despondency, latching himself around the slightly shorter (somewhat stunned) man’s shoulders with heavy happiness. “Hell yes!” his sunshine’s back again, infectious and bubbling even as he leans all his weight down into the hug – vice-hold? Death-grip? – he’s taken on Arthur’s torso. (God, he weighs a tonne.) “Please?”

“Ah -” Arthur goes red, tries vainly to pry Jones’ arms off of him with the hand he isn’t using to clutch his milk. “Don’t misunderstand; this offer isn’t for your sakeI’m just doing this to get your lazy behind off the school premises sometime today. We can’t just let you sprawl out here wherever you like; you make the place look horribly untidy and -”

Jones ignores him (again!) and his attempts to get free, holding on even more tightly, if it’s at all possible. “Artie, you’re a lifesaver – just let me grab my jacket from the office and we can go, right? I’ll be right back!” And with that Jones is just suddenly…gone, having vanished out of the staffroom door leaving nothing but a vague lingering of warmth from his hold and Arthur blinking rather dumbly behind him.

And –

Three.

Two.

One.

The bewilderment Jones brings with him abruptly (finally) fades and Arthur jolts into movement, flinging open the door himself and diving out, yelling along the corridor where Jones is just vanishing out of sight. Don’t call me Artie!!”

Nothing but laughter floats back.

Arthur’s still huffing when Jones eventually returns, the idiot decked out in a brown bomber jacket and whistling, a bag of what has to be paperwork slung over his shoulder. Arthur just shoves the soggy shoes he’d retrieved from the sink and dumped in a plastic carrier bag while the other had been gone at Jones, taking a quiet vicious stab of pleasure watching from the corner of his eye as the twit fumbles to grab the bag and not drop the rest of his load in the process.

Arthur breezes past him, his milk also bagged and swinging at his side, not bothering to wait for the other man to catch up. Which Jones does, of course; shoeless or not Jones has an irritatingly long stride, all model-long legs and arms (below the neck; above the neck makes far too many of the students squeal/sigh in lovesick adoration and doodle lovehearts over their (eventually confiscated) notes with ‘AFJ’ scribbled inside them. God help the young and their easily-distracted minds. The next generation is doomed) that hide – as Arthur and his ribs can now testify after the crushing hug in the staffroom – a rather alarming strength.

The two teachers walk along the corridor like that together – right up until they reach the exit, and Jones stops just short of setting foot outside, eying the ground with all the distrust of one who has just been told the ground is due to open up and swallow them whole for their general misbehaviour. 

Arthur stops, four steps outside and ahead, to look back over his shoulder and let his impatience show.

Jones just looks at him and - for lack of a better word – wibbles. “I’ll get my socks dirty.”

“You can’t manage until we get to the car park?!” Why, oh why, does Arthur feel so much like he’s babysitting? “For Christ’s sake – Jones, you’ve been sliding about the floors all day in those socks. A little bit of mud from outside isn’t going to wreck them any more than they are already; just watch where you put your feet so you don’t step on anything sharp.”

Jones finally steps outside at that – logic triumphs, at last – but the look on his face is vaguely sulky as he minces after Arthur, skirting the puddles on the ground and anything that looks vaguely like it might jab his oh-so-abused precious socks. Arthur just snorts and stalks ahead, leading the way to the car park and his car, leaning on its side as he waits for his pet prat to catch up.

Said prat decides to take his sweet time about it, and actually stops dead when he sees the car Arthur’s leaning against, eyes widening behind the frames of his glasses. “…It’s a mini.”

“You can use your eyes; I’m impressed.”

Jones just continues to stare. “You drive. A mini.”

Arthur dearly wishes he hadn’t already opened the car and dumped his bags in the backseat – Jones’ gormless expression really makes Arthur want to throw something at him. A heavy something. (Arthur likes his mini. It’s a nice red colour, very practical, and doesn’t seem to break down as often as his last work car had done, touch wood.) “To work, yes.”

“It’s a tin-can on wheels.”

Arthur glares. “You can still walk home, you know.”

“Shutting up now.” Jones obediently shuts up – wonders will never cease -, edging the last few steps to the car and sliding in on the passenger’s side, dropping his bags at his feet. He immediately goes to poke the air freshener dangling from the mirror at the front – a small squishy unicorn that smells of strawberries, courtesy of Francis and his inane idea of what works as a Christmas stocking filler – “Hey -” - but he’s stopped by a quick (slight) slap on his fingers and the return of the glare.

“Don’t poke the unicorn.”

Now pouting, Jones – thankfully – drops his hand again, and they both buckle up as Arthur starts the car.





xvi. two peas in a pod

Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaattie!” Alfred calls out the moment he steps over the threshold of the house he shares with his brother, keeps the door open with his hip as he drops his house-keys in the bowl on the table by the door (bags beside the table) with one hand, and keeps his grip on an unwilling (and loudly protesting – Arthur really has a set of lungs on him, huh) Arthur’s wrist with the other so the English teacher can’t dive away.

Arthur hadn’t (immediately) said ‘no’ when they’d pulled up outside the house and Alfred had offered him something to drink and the opportunity to meet his brother, Matthew,  before he drove off home, so that totally counts as permission in Alfred’s book.

“Mattie, I’m back!”

Arthur just continues trying to claw at the hand on his wrist, hissy as a cat. “Idiot, I’m coming; I said I’d come in for a little while - will you let me go already?! I still have to lock my car!”

Alfred ignores him some more and yells out to the so-far-silent house again; Arthur gets a kick out of complaining and, really, why spoil the habit of a lifetime for the Brit? The grumpiness is even vaguely sorta cute s’long as you remember to duck the claws. (And the feet. Alfred’d seen Arthur bring down Beilschmidt that way once when the Germ-Prus-albino guy had tried feeling up Artie as part of a joke. All male witnesses to the event had winced as a collective (Elizabeta had whooped; Alfred had noted many times not to piss off that lovely lady) and Arthur had stalked off into the sunset, Lone Ranger 4eva.) “I brought company!”

“Jones -”

“Al, have you kidnapped someone again?” A wonderfully familiar curly blond head sticks itself out of one of the hallway’s nearby doors and cuts one of Arthur’s incoming rants short – the study door, so Matt’s been working on his accounts -, a pair of headphones slung around the newcomer’s neck with the wire clearly just-yanked from the CPU and trailing around his feet. (Man, Arthur had managed to make his yelling heard through headphones?) “Because we discussed that, and it’s technically illegal over here -”

“Matt~!” Alfred drops his grip on Arthur to lunge and hug-tackle his twin – only to belatedly recall that he doesn’t really want Arthur to do a runner halfway through the lunge and stopping, awkwardly, to lean back and grab at Arthur again (before the English teacher can dart out of the still-open front door back to his car) before stumbling forwards to Mattie again, new (old new) acquisition in tow, into what becomes an exceedingly squirmy, squawking, flustered not-quite-hug-but-not-quite-a-smack-in-the-face-because-Arthur-can’t-get-his-hands-free-enough-to-punch-Alfred-yet.  

Arthur smacks Alfred smartly on the back of the head and curses out his host as soon as he’s free – again with the head-shots – and Mattie starts apologising profusely for everything up to and including Alfred’s general existence (it’s a little scary, sometimes, how Mattie’s got that down to a memorised spiel) before finally extending one hand to Arthur, graciously, slightly shy, and introducing himself.

“I’m Matthew – Matthew Williams. Al’s my twin. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

And Arthur is charmed.

It’s a visible reaction – Alfred watches, too shocked for those first few minutes to sulk, as Arthur actually smiles at Mattie, ever the polite ‘gentleman’, taking Matt’s hand and returning the greeting and introduction and cracks a joke at Alfred’s expense about being related to such a prat and Mattie laughs and – and –

Well, damn it. That’s not fair.

(They’re not supposed to get along that well.)

Alfred comes out of his thoughts to find Arthur making excuses about needing to go outside again – honestly, Alfred had never pegged Arthur as one of the outdoors types – and quickly moves to put himself between the English teacher and the door, not budging even when both Arthur and Mattie give him exasperated looks.

Alfred pouts back at them both, but focuses most of his attentions on his guest. “You just got here!”

“Jones,” Arthur says – and that’s look number 105 he’s using (‘Alfred F. Jones, you’re being an idiot, now move’), “I need to go lock my car.”

“I can do that for you!” It’s an easy suggestion to make and, in Alfred’s humble opinion, quite a good idea, because Arthur Kirkland can be mean and is definitely sneaky, the Lex Luthor to Al’s Superman, and if he gets outside and to his car Alfred just knows for certain Arthur’ll drive off and away and never once look back. And that won’t do. At all. Because Arthur has actually opened up some for once and offered to drive him home (even if he had been exceptionally jerky heading towards the car) and Alfred is determined he’s taking full advantage of the situation so they can do some bonding.

Call it a hero’s civic duty, great power, great responsibility, yadda yadda et al.

Arthur just clutches his car keys to his chest more firmly and looks as though he’d rather face a rampaging bull-elephant than willingly hand them – and thus his car (seriously, it’s just a mini)into Alfred’s loving care. What the hell does he think Alfred’s gonna do, drive the tin-can off a cliff? (There aren’t even any cliffs nearby.)

Mattie touches Arthur’s elbow gently, drawing the Brit’s attention and causing him to momentarily drop his distrustful expression. (Mattie is awesome.) “Would you like a cup of coffee while he locks up for you? Tea? If you want something colder, we’ve-”

“Tea,” Arthur tells him, and he’s smiling again as he does so (Matt is sneaky), “would be wonderful, thank you.”

Alfred just snatches up Arthur’s keys and stomps back outside as the other two move off to the kitchen, his mood suddenly somewhat soured. Matt has accounts he should be doing, not abducting Alfred’s hapless guests and – and – well, he shouldn’t be doing it. It’s Alfred who works with Sir Arthur Grumpalot – how is it that Arthur acts like such an old man most of the time, anyway? He can’t be that much older than Alfred surely, gotta still be the younger side of thirty otherwise he looks good for his age (though, he is kinda short even though you’re not allowed to tell him that because his retort is that it’s not his fault Alfred is so freakishly tall, and Alfred is not freakish in the slightest, thanks very much) and –

And Alfred realises he’s been standing glaring into thin air on the curb beside Arthur’s mini for at least a good five minutes while his thoughts have been wandering, so he hurriedly locks the car like he’d originally set out to do and rushes back into the house.

Arthur and Mattie are still in the kitchen, drinking tea and deep in a discussion about polar bears (Mattie’s fault, totally) and international conservation efforts in the Arctic Circle as they lean against the counters. Arthur looks interested by the discussion so Mattie is never going to let him go now; most people tune Mattie out when he starts on polar bears and public apathy so an open ear is generally grabbed, nailed down to the nearest flat surface and written off by the sensible guys as an unusual BDSM experiment. (Mattie is awful – Alfred’s never inviting friends over again. His brother looks two seconds shy of grabbing (clueless) Arthur and eloping to Vegas or – or – where is it Brits elope to these days, anyway? Barbados? Spain – Spain’s closer, and they have the clacky hand-instruments, but all the adverts Alfred’s seen seem to arm the dancers with said instruments with some awfully deadly-looking heels and isn’t there a saying about the potent tempers of Spanish women? Or…maybe it’s Italian women, either/or. Both Italy and Spain seem like rather dangerous places to run away to.)

“Hey,” Alfred announces his return with an artful slouch in the kitchen doorway, dangling the car keys to call Arthur away to grab ‘em. (It actually works, too; Arthur actually sets down his tea on the bench to come across and get them, sticking them in his jacket pocket.) And then, because he’s curious, and Mattie’s talk has given him the idea, “You like animals?”

“Arthur was just saying,” Mattie speaks up from his spot against the countertop, when Arthur doesn’t immediately reply – Arthur’s giving Alfred that look again. What is it about him that sets Arthur off so much? What?! “He has two cats at home.”

“Yeah?”

“Only one is mine, technically,” Arthur finally deigns to reply. “The other one belongs to Francis, my flatmate.”

Alfred quirks an eyebrow at that little snippet of information. “You have a boyfr-”

“Flatmate.”

“Hey, whatever you want to call it is fine by m–ow!” Alfred rubs his arm where his brother had just stridden forward and punched him, pouting all the while. (He’d never even seen Mattie move – had he been taking ninja lessons from Kiku again? Kiku totally needs to stop giving people ninja lessons. They use them for Forces of Evil and generally gang up on and smack Alfred where it hurts.) “What was that for?!”

Mattie just flicks him – abuse! “You were being a jerk.”

“I was being supportive!”

“Don’t go into student counselling.”

“I happen to think I’d make a great counsellor – hey, Artie,” Alfred ignores the twitch that ripples down Arthur’s back at the nickname, the other teacher having gone to pick up his tea once more, “d’you wanna see my fish?”

Arthur glares at him again, all poison green. “How many times do I have to tell you that my name is not Artie?”

“He’s a goldfish, but he’s not terribly gold – more white with a few black spots, really -”

“Are you listening to me?”

“We had another one that was proper orangey-gold to keep him company not so long back – but that one died, so we put it in a cardboard box and buried it in the back garden since Mattie said it was undignified to flush it down the toilet -”

“You’re not listening to me.”

“I think Mattie named that one – can’t remember what it was called -”

Arthur turns to look at Matthew, apparently despairing. “Is he always like this?”

Alfred drags Arthur to see his goldfish in its (his!) tank in the living room, the sole pet of the household, white with black spots and apparently called ‘Whale.’ It’s a noble title for so ignoble a fish, but Whale himself doesn’t seem too bothered by the scrutiny he’s placed under through his tank walls, swimming in and out of a crashed toy aeroplane at the bottom and ignoring the bickering Alfred and Arthur immediately seem to fall into (fish, in Arthur’s mind, don’t seem to count as pets, only catfood or dinner) as they get distracted from the fish and instead pick faults with each other.

Matthew just gives Whale his daily dinner of fish flakes, and lets his brother and Arthur squabble for a good half hour before Arthur eventually gets free and goes home.

When the front door shuts behind his guest Alfred turns to his twin – who is trying to sneak back off into the abandoned study again – and grins. “That went well, right?”

Matthew just rolls his eyes at him, and shuts the study door as well.





xvii. secret joys and secret smiles

“To recount – a scalar quantity has…what? Li.”

“Magnitude only.”

“And a vector quantity?”

“Magnitude and direction.”

“That’s right~! Vicky, an example of a scalar quantity?”

“Time.”

“Measured in?”

“Seconds, minutes, hours.”

Alfred Jones’ bright questions, and the somewhat more hesitant replies of his GCSE students, echo through the walls of his lab, out to the corridor outside where Arthur stands, leaning against the wall and waiting for the bell for the end of the first period. The school ought to look into sound-proofing if they will insist on hiring such loud teachers (it’s already a given that the students will be noisy) – perhaps, then, Arthur could get through the thrice-fortnightly horror of being scheduled into a classroom next door to a one in which Gilbert Beilschmidt is teaching (the verb usage is dubious – Arthur, and the students themselves, is more inclined to use ‘terrifying’) History. Not that the Vargas boy is much better, but at least he isn’t usually armed with noisy films. (And he responds to glaring by cowering suitably, anyway. It does wonders for the ego.)

“Fridrik, a vector quantity?”

“Force, measured in Newtons.”

“Correct! Lauren.”

“Yes, sir?”

“What type of quantity is speed?”

“V-scalar.”

“Yup~!” Arthur can almost hear Jones’ idiot smile. “And velocity is a vector because…?”

“…It’s speed in a given direction?”

Speed equals distance moved over time taken: where speed is represented by the variable ‘v’ in either metres per second or kilometres per hour, distance ‘s’ and time ‘t.’ Speed is represented by the gradient of a line on a distance-time graph and – Christ, had it really been so long ago that Arthur had sat at a desk and rattled off the same old facts himself? It feels like eons, facts and formulae bringing home how long it’s been since Arthur had been a student himself. Literature…literature is kinder; there’s something timeless in old tales that are content to simply be, the flow of time outside of time kept forever in the flow of words.

The bell finally rings and Arthur enters the lab as Jones dismisses his class and wishes them a happy vacation (‘remember, bring me your candy!’), some of the students (laughing) echoing the sentiment.

“Hey!” Jones is too easy to brighten up, perking when he sees Arthur just inside the lab’s doorway, a trained puppy awaiting treats. It’s almost a shame – Arthur’s a cat person. “Arthur, what can I do for you?”

Arthur waves three small leaflets of lab ‘dos and don’ts’ at him as he approaches the teacher’s counter at the front – two painstakingly handmade, one computer-crafted, but all three with the names of students at the bottom. “I found these in my car last night; they must have slipped out of your bag.”

“The missing homework!” Jones takes the leaflets happily, flicking them over to see the names on them and nodding his head, as if checking off a list in his head. “Thanks for bringing ‘em. I knew the kids had all handed them in, so I was worried I’d lost them all someplace.”

“You had. In my car.”

“Mini.”

“A mini is a car, Jones.”

Jones mutters something that sounds suspiciously likes ‘says you’ and Arthur’s all set to launch into a heated defence of his vehicle – but he’s derailed, artfully, by Jones setting the leaflets to one side and changing the subject instead. “Don’t you have a class now?”

And Arthur blinks at him. “…How the hell do you know my class schedule?”

“Lucky guess?”

Arthur eyes his companion doubtfully, but Jones is wearing a sunny smile again and it’s hard to look past, if there’s anything beyond it at all. “…It’s my A Level class; they know to continue reading through their text until I get there.” Not that that it’s terribly likely most of them will actually do that – they’re (mostly) a bunch of seventeen year-olds eagerly awaiting the half-term holidays, after all.

“Reading anything good with them?” Jones looks mildly interested in the question, leaning against his counter and making no effort whatsoever to clean up his mess spread out across it, files and papers and post-it notes shaped like stars all over the place. His scrawled handwriting might as well be in another language, for all its comprehensibility to Arthur. “I see some of ‘em sometimes staggering under book-piles almost larger than they are, and they still insist it ain’t enough.”

Tess of the D’Urbervilles.” The science labs almost are another country, another world – the walls are covered in posters and diagrams of nuclear fission, another section devoted entirely to a large periodic table, the bench at the side holding a few discarded beakers someone has forgotten to put away and a model of the solar system, glittering planets slowly turning around a very worn-looking sun.

Jones, as a perfect alien to Arthur, fits well into his environment. “…That’s the one where the kid hangs himself, right? By Hardy.” And he constantly surprises.

Arthur pauses, looking away from his perusal of the room and back to Jones, meeting blue eyes where the other man’s glasses slip irrepressibly down his nose. “…It’s by Hardy, yes – but I think you’re thinking of Jude the Obscure. They’ve got similar themes, but Tess has a female protagonist.” About which some of his students vocally complain. It’s part of the reason Arthur had originally chosen to give them that text to work with – the novel provokes discussion, if nothing else, and where literature is concerned complaint is infinitely better than apathy. (Also, it’s a good way to deal with some of the ruder students who grate on his nerves.) “But…how do you-?”

“Dude, just because I’m American and a scientist doesn’t mean I don’t read any.” There’s a crooked edge to Jones’ smile – part amused, part reproachful. “That was what you were thinking, right?” Arthur bows his head slightly, caught out but not quite conceding the point, and wills his cheeks not to darken. Thankfully, Jones is easily distractible and too whimsical to hold a true grudge against the generalisations, rambling on in his merry way. “I should read more, tho’ – Mattie’s always saying so. You should rec me some stuff sometime.”

“…Perhaps, alth- good God.” Arthur cuts himself off, astonished, his attention thoroughly diverted at what he’s seen at floor-height. “You’re actually wearing your shoes.” New shiny shoes, even, not the ice-doomed pair of the day before; the trick seems to have done some good. Wonders will never cease – Jones is apparently capable of getting a clue, even if it does take whacking him around the head with it to get anywhere.

“Figured it would be harder to run off with ‘em if they were on my feet.”

Arthur isn’t inclined to be impressed for long. “Did it take you a long time to come up with that hypothesis by yourself, or did you ask for a second opinion along the way?”

Jones’ glasses slip down his nose some more and Arthur restrains himself from shoving them back up again when the Physics teacher makes no move to, too busy puffing up his cheeks and pouting. “Do you insult all your friends? Or do you just freeze their footwear?”

“You -” Arthur catches himself. “You have absolutely no basis for that accusation.”

“You’re not denying it.”

“Have you any proof?”

Jones grins, Hollywood smugness. (Damn him.) “You’re still not denying it.”

“I didn’t take your shoes.”

“And your other car’s the Batmobile.”

“What is your fascination with poking fun at my car?” Arthur glares, but his companion only shrugs fluidly, comments bouncing off of him like water off a duck’s back. “I didn’t take your bloody shoes, Jones – and if you touch any of my stuff in some form of misguided revenge, I’ll kill you.”

Jones waves him off. “Don’t you have class now? If the punctual Mr. Arthur Kirkland is late the kids are gonna think the world’s ending.”

He – irritatingly – has a point.

“Jones, I mean it -”

The twat only waves again, turning back to the mess on his counter and, deeply dissatisfied and somewhat paranoid, Arthur leaves.





xviii. mischief of one kind or another

Angeline arrives in the English office late on at morning break, having held her previous class back a while and then been further detained by Lovino Vargas in the corridor afterwards. She’d never quite gotten what it was the History teacher had wanted with her; he’d been stammering somewhat and had only blushed further when she’d brought the matter up (has he been getting enough sleep recently? It won’t do poor Lovi’s disposition any good if he’s tired whilst he’s supposed to be teaching) – is red really the young man’s natural colour? At least it’s a good colour for him. Angeline had quite candidly said as much (compliments should be shared) – and then Lovi had flared crimson and fled. Perhaps he really is sick?

It’s a worrying thought to contemplate – Gilbert does all their heads in enough as it is without the added complaining he would do if they have to call in a substitute teacher to cover Lovino going off sick (Gilbert’s good at delegating, but bad at cooperating with others and delegating responsibly).

The office is empty when she gets there – Arthur’s on break duty in the cafeteria (the students need supervising and the assistant head needs thwarting when he attempts to thieve pizza) and the others rarely hang around the office anyway - so Angeline sinks down into her seat with a happy sigh, letting her head loll back against the rest behind her, relishing the quiet. The windmill poster she’d blu-tacked on the ceiling at the start of the year – a gift from her brother – can only hold her interest for so long however, so Angeline sits up straight once more and scoots her chair (God bless the genius who had first thought of putting wheels on the things) over to the large bookshelf in the office’s corner, reaching for that week’s light novel she’d brought in to occupy herself in her free time.

She pauses, though, over by the shelves, caught by a…a change in scenery on the shelf below hers – Arthur’s shelf. Arthur’s precious, beloved shelf, usually cram-packed with his even more beloved books kept rigidly in place with a bookend shaped like a green dragon. (Angeline had made the thing an origami pirate hat once – Arthur had told her it looked stupid at the time, but he’d left the hat on for a good month or so until a gust of wind from the then open window had blown it off.)

Angeline withdraws, tactfully – some things are safer left alone -, though she can’t help but smother a giggle or two as she tries to get back into her light reading, imagining Arthur’s face when he comes into the office again after break. Only…Arthur doesn’t come in when the bell rings for the end of break, and by the time the bell for third period is ringing Angeline’s already left the office and in her class.

Lunch, however, is much more satisfying.

Angeline deliberately hangs around the office rather than heading straight over to the main staffroom to chat and eat, organising her files there until the door swings open and Arthur finally comes in, dumping down a far-too-tall stack of To Kill a Mockingbird texts over by his computer.

And Angeline smiles. “Your class forgot their books again?”

“Enough of them. I swear – the day they all remember to bring their books in is the day Hell freezes over. They can remember their trashy magazines, but not their schoolbooks. ” Somewhat grumpily Arthur takes his own seat – only to balefully eye Angeline when he sees her watching him over the top of her novel’s pages. “What?”

“I was wondering,” says Angeline.

“Oh?”

“I was wondering,” and here Angeline carefully slips her bookmark into place before closing her book, setting the novel down on the desk beside her so she can pay full attention to the minute movements of her co-worker’s expression, “about how you can call the students’ magazines trash when your own tastes in literature seem to have taken somewhat of a downturn just recently?”

Arthur just looks back at her, utterly blank. “…I beg your pardon?”

Angeline just nods her head at the bookshelf in the corner – and takes great, great pleasure in watching as Arthur follows the line of her gaze, notes what he’s seeing, registers what he’s seeing, and then baulks.

Where once Arthur kept part of his pride and joy (Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, annotated copies of most of Shakespeare’s major works, Tolkien, Austen, Dickens, Yeats’ poetry, The Chronicles of Narnia, Byron, and a dash of Milner, Cummings and Poe – all organised by some method known only to Arthur and God help the misguided soul who dared to touch one of the ‘precious’ without his permission) there is, instead a shelf-full of mediocrity passing as the written word – Z-list ‘celebrity’ autobiographies, a hefty dose of Mills and Boons’ Medical series, some of the magazines Arthur has only so recently condemned detailing the latest fashion tips (lipgloss: for the lushest lips ever), a few books from the ill-fated Twilight Saga, The Complete Idiot’s Guide For Dummies

“I found them there at break,” Angeline says, quite pleasantly, as Arthur turns his horrified gaze on her. He’s started to twitch. The twitch usually isn’t a good sign. “You should have told me you were into that sort of stuff before you organised everything; I could’ve saved you some of the books I usually donate to the charity store.”

Arthur goes through a range of colours – first it’s white, then green, then white, then red, before he goes back to white and finally settles on a dull, rising red that creeps up his neck and stains his cheeks a mottled scarlet.

And he smiles.

Angeline edges her chair back some. “Arthur -”

“Excuse me,” Arthur says, rising rather abruptly from his seat and striding for the door. He almost slammed the handle into the wall when he yanked the poor thing open, stalking outside without waiting for a reply from his companion.

Angeline rises to her feet as well, and hurries off to warn the staffroom.





xix. somebody’s done for

“We should totally take over the world.”

“Excuse me?”

“We should totally take over the world. Clearly nobody wants, like, huge chunks of it, and for no good reason. Like…like here. What’s wrong with here?”

“…Mr. Łukasiewicz, the area you’re pointing to is the Sahara Desert.”

“…Huh.”

It’s lunchtime in the Music and Drama office and – as per usual – Feliks Łukasiewicz has deigned to remain aloof from the general staffroom (it’s way too noisy in there; how is Feliks supposed to get the right mood?) and sprawl out on the room’s sole couch. Also as usual – he’s hauled Toris away from the Geography classrooms along with him, liberating the brown-haired teacher of his class notes so he can poke at relatively interesting-looking maps and data. (Bright colours.) Today the offering is maps on population density for the year eights in Toris’ fourth period – and Roderich’s snark, as Elizabeta has failed to be as suavely cool as usual and come to relieve Feliks of the Music teacher’s wittering by dragging Roderich away. (There is nothing wrong with the Sahara Desert. Feliks would probably get a gorgeous suntan if he conquered there.)

“…Alright, then.” Feliks sits up straight on the couch, swinging his feet around to the floor and ignoring the vaguely woebegone look Liet’s taken on his cushion on the ground. “We’ll take Canada. People like Canada, right? But there’s not too many there – like, 3.4 people per kilometre squared ‘cording to this stuff. That’s, like – nobody.

Toris looks up at him. “Canada’s cold.”

Pshaw,” Feliks flaps a hand. “Russia is cold, too – and you totally lived in Russia for ages. Liet, you should obvs get Canada; it’s made for you.”

“…Because it’s cold?”

“By that reasoning,” Roderich interrupts from where he’s been idly studying some of the essays his students have left him, “you might as well give him Antarctica as well.”

Feliks looks horrified. “I can’t give him Antarctica! Like, penguins live in Antarctica! The Canadian polar bears would eat them at conservation meetings and stuff – can you imagine how that would look for international relations?”

Roderich stares at him. “…Mr. Łukasiewicz, you’re planning how to take over the world. Don’t you think international relations would be ruined enough by that alone?”

While Feliks ponders that, there’s a rap at the door.

“Mr. Arthur -” Toris smiles in greeting – and then falters, catching sight of the strange look on the English teacher’s face. “Are you alr-?”

“I’m sorry to trouble you all,” Arthur speaks like he hasn’t heard Toris at all, prompting a raised eyebrow from Roderich and a vague pout from Feliks, “but have any of you seen Mr. Jones? He appears to have vanished into thin air and I need to speak with him rather urgently.”

Roderich, Feliks and Toris all shake their heads.

Arthur shrugs. “…I’ll catch up with him. Feliks, may I borrow the key to the drama store-cupboard?”

Feliks eyes him, but gets up to fetch the key from where he keeps it in a nearby desk’s drawer, passing it over to Arthur. “…You need some stuff for class?”

“That’s right.” Arthur hand closes around the key, dropping it into his pocket. “I’ll be sure to return it before the end of the day.” And then…he’s gone.

Toris glances to Feliks again, asking the futile. “…Are you sure that was a good idea?”

“Course!” Feliks just grins at him, bouncing over to retake his seat on he couch, knees drawn up to his chest. “What’s the worst anyone’s gonna do with some fancy panto-gowns?”

Roderich regards the two flatly. “And there was me thinking you were going to use them to take over Canada.”

“…Roderich, you totally need to get out more.”





xx. let loose the dogs of war

“I thought the pantomime season wasn’t until after Halloween.”

“Ve?” Feliciano looks up from where he’s doodling Italian landscapes on some of the worksheets he’s supposed to be handing out to the class he has fourth period, blinking inquiringly at his companion and co-worker.

“Pantomime season,” Gabriel repeats for him patiently, so much nicer than others are when he does so. “It’s after Halloween.”

“Sì,” Feliciano nods, emphatic, and puts down his pen. “And Bonfire Night!” Even though the British autumns are pretty Feliciano likes it when the students take down the scary October decorations and get ready for Christmas instead; the winter garlands glitter so much more brightly in the lights and don’t leave spiders in his hair and sometimes when it gets very, very cold Ludwig and fratello and Gilbert will play in the snow with him and fratello doesn’t yell at Ludwig so much because it’s slippy outside and Ludwig stops him sliding into walls and that one time Ludwig had saved the pasta Feliciano had been carrying for dinner so –

“Maybe he’s getting some early practice in then,” Gabriel – rather cryptically – says, looking off to the side and out of the window of their office, diverting Feliciano’s attention once more.   

“Ve?” Feliciano asks again, rising slightly from his seat to peer out of the window as well – and then baulks, flails, and instinctively dives for cover behind Gabriel as Arthur Kirkland goes storming past outside in some kind of red brocade and with something shiny and sharp in-hand (that’s not real, right?) like a proverbial death-dealing thundercloud on a warpath of pain, and Feliciano isn’t ever going out there again, no, no, no, not unless Ludwig says he can hide under his coat. (Arthur would make a pretty picture as he is, gold, red, white and green, but Feliciano wouldn’t dare ask to sketch it. He hasn’t got any white flags ready at all and Gabriel has hidden all the spare aprons the students use in class ever since the last time Feliciano had used them as a substitute.) 

Gabriel just pets him on the head.





xxi. family is just accident

Halfway through lunch, the class of year eights of whom Peter Kirkland is most reluctantly part of notice a commotion in the hallway outside their registration classroom – their room, as it is. Being the naturally curious, open-minded next generation that they are (‘nosy, noisy brats’ to quote more than one adult) the class hurries to peer out at just what’s making such a racket – and see their assistant head-teacher, Mr. Vargas, whistling jauntily as he strides down the corridor, a kicking, yelling, head-smacking blond figure in red flung oh-so-casually over one of his shoulders spewing a charming series of insults that the listening students – who aren’t too busy gaping – hurry to write down for future use.

“Kirkland,” one of the boys asks of Peter, looking between the person Vargas is cheerily abducting to his office and Peter himself, “isn’t that-?”

“No idea,” Peter says, and hurries back to his desk to look engrossed in a book. (Brothers.)





xxii. if you go down to the woods today

“Comrade, are you going to be hiding in my cupboards all day?”

“Yes,” Alfred says emphatically to the purple-eyed face that seems hellbent on peering in to his hiding-space every five minutes. What if Arthur comes in while Ivan is talking to his cupboards? Oh God. If Arthur comes in while Ivan’s talking to his cupboards Alfred’s dead. “Go away!”

Ivan – oh, what the fuck? Ivan pouts. “You should be kinder, I think, to people whose cupboards you’re residing in, Mr. Jones. Especially when those people had to take everything out of the cupboards to make you a hiding space, yes?”

“Go away please?” Hiding in the Biology labs – hiding in Braginski’s Biology lab in particular (nobody would ever look for Al there, right?) – feels like dying a few times over, again and again. But there are fates worse than death, and the few glimpses that Alfred had caught of Arthur before he’d (eeped) ducked down behind a nearby wall, plant or even, in one case, a bemused student, had assured him that Arthur knows all of those fates, and would be quite prepared to use them on the tormented soul who’d taken – and hidden – his books. (Alfred had already returned them all before he’d ran off to hide, sticking them in a carrier bag and leaving it outside the English office while all the while resolving never to cross a bibliophile again.)

Ivan doesn’t budge. (May he watch all his vodka burn.) “Do you not have class?”

Alfred tries to reach for the cupboard door, so he can shut it in the other’s face. “Yao’s covering it.”

Ivan holds tight to it. “Again?”

“Yes, again.” Though he’d looked even more pissy about it than the last time, and said he was going to charge interest. (Interest! How did you charge interest on a favour?) Alfred tries to yank on the door again. “It’s sorted; it’s fine; everybody’s happy -”

“You are happy in a cupboard?”

Delirious.” Oh God, Arthur’s rubbing off on him – he’s doomed. Can Arthur track sarcasm? Alfred sincerely hopes Arthur can’t track sarcasm. Even though Arthur’s terribly sarcastic. There is absolutely no way to track sarcasm; sarcasm is not a wave of any sort, but it can be measured (albeit imperfectly), and therefore is finite and –

“I hope you continue to be happy, then,” Ivan says, and releases the door so he can go back to…doing biology stuff. (Alfred hopes there won’t be bits of dead things. Alfred really hopes there won’t be bits of dead things. Nobody wants a whimpering cupboard.)

Alfred shuts the door quickly, and sits and worries in the dim.





xxiii. much wine had passed, with grave discourse

It’s a widely accepted fact that both the students and the teachers at Hetalia High School and Sixth Form College are…peculiar, at the very least – the teachers generally being the most peculiar, and some of them much more so than others. The Vargas trio – Roma, Lovino and Feliciano – like pretty girls (women), pasta, pizza, wine, surrender and tomatoes. The Beilschmidt trio, on the other hand – the headmaster of the unknowable first name (many have asked of it, but few have been told), Gilbert and Ludwig – also like pretty girls, only they’re generally a lot worse at dealing with them and prefer beer to wine. And potatoes. And either annoying or being annoyed by one of the Vargas’.

It’s Roma’s office currently under invasion by hostile Germans – the Beilschmidts had watched an extremely hazy Arthur half-stumble out of the place only five minutes previously, after Roma had quite publicly kidnapped the English teacher for a good half hour and plied him with something that apparently had him seeing double to calm him down from his murderous rage. (Possibly triple. Arthur hadn’t been too clear when he’d come to a bemused stop in front of Gilbert just outside the door. His ‘one of you was bad enough’ was remarkably clear though, slight slur notwithstanding.)

The head-teacher opens the interrogations, arms folded across his chest as he eyes his immediate subordinate across Roma’s desk and refuses to quail under the feigned innocence the other has adopted as a defence. “What did you put in his drink?”

Ludwig, on the other hand, is too busy poking at the now-empty cups on the sideboard, still warm from whatever liquid had recently been in them. “What did you give him to drink in the first place?”

Gilbert ignores both his uncle and his younger brother, digging around in Roma’s cupboards for the prize. Not finding anything of particular note, he looks up at the assistant head. “Can I have some?”

Ludwig clips his brother on the head.

The conversation descends into squabbling – the headmaster objects to Roma’s methods; Gilbert objects to not being used as guinea-pig for those methods first, and Ludwig…generally objects to the insanity and his relatives in general, hitting what he feels is the most important point on the head as he confronts his uncle and Vargas – the two who are supposed to be leading the school by good example.

On Arthur:

“You’re going to let him teach like that?”

Gilbert, who has long-since given up hunting out Roma’s stash (the man knows how to hide things too well; better to sweet-talk him for results) and taken a seat at the side of the room, shrugs. “Why shouldn’t he teach? People can come up with some seriously genius shit while off their face – pissed, stoned, whatever. The kids’ll be enlightened.”

Ludwig stares at him. “…Bruder, please tell me you’re not speaking from experience.”

The room descends back into arguing again.

(Elsewhere on the school premises, Angeline helpfully tries to clear Arthur of his double (triple) vision by dunking her co-worker’s head in a sink-full of cold water.

It’s appreciated.

Later.)







Notes:

- ‘Twat’ is often used over here in Britain in the same sense as ‘ass’ (as in the donkey, not the behind) and ‘idiot’ – it’s really quite a mild insult, whereas I’ve heard it’s…somewhat more vulgar over the other end of the pond.

- You’ve Been Framed is a long-running TV show (seriously, it’s (just) older than I am) aired on ITV where viewers send in humorous home videos, and receive £250 for ones that are shown.

- For those who aren’t acquainted with the literature mentioned: Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure are both novels by Thomas Hardy – who can be, at times, (and this is putting it mildly) ‘somewhat depressing’ with his writing. Tess is actually the lighter of the two texts in terms of mood, and in it the heroine of the tale (and title) goes from low to new lows, hitting rock bottom and tunnelling under. Every good thing she has is casually ruined by Fate, and at the end you come out of it feeling that all her suffering was utterly pointless – suffering, it seems, for the sake of suffering, with poverty, violence, accident, death and murder along the way. With that, I’ll leave it up to you to imagine what the even more depressing Jude (referred to by some contemporary critics as Jude the Obscene) reads like.

- To Kill a Mockingbird - by Harper Lee, and studied (sometimes) about year nine/early GCSEs.

- Mills and Boon are a British-based company who publish about three-quarters of romance-genre paperbacks in the UK. I’m sure you’ll know the type – great drama, gorgeous men, women in peril who find themselves utterly ravished by said gorgeous men whether they truly wanted it at the start of the book or not, all within about 200-odd pages and with a picture of the young, beautiful couple clutching each other in a dramatic/sensual manner before a blazing sunset on the front. As my mother and I fondly refer to them as ‘books you can switch your brain off for,’ or ‘popular trash.’
Mills and Boon are the British version of Harlequin, and were indeed bought by the Canadian company early in the 1970s.

- Feliks plotting world domination of one form or another with Toris as his (most reluctant) assistant at lunchtime really is quite a typical occurrence. Roderich bears witness to about half of their discussions, but only half because most lunchtimes Elizabeta comes to drag him away to the general staffroom and doesn’t listen to Roderich’s worried protests, because ‘honestly, Roderich dear, Feliks is only having a bit of fun and besides, you need to talk to people more; don’t you think it’ll be more inspiring for your music?’ And Feliks doesn’t go to the general staffroom terribly often (so Toris doesn’t either). Roderich fully expects to wake up one day and find everywhere has become Warsaw overnight, a few penguins being eaten notwithstanding.


Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
ubermidget
Feb. 2nd, 2012 12:31 am (UTC)
I'm so glad you updated this, Chapter 2 is even funnier for me! (kudos for mentioning "You've been framed!" by the way) I adore the characters' thought processes that you write, epsecially Alfred's thoughts! This especially had me rolling in the aisles: "Kiku totally needs to stop giving people ninja lessons. They use them for Forces of Evil and generally gang up on and smack Alfred where it hurts."
I can't wait for your next update, please keep up the brilliant work!
dusmarais
Feb. 2nd, 2012 12:35 am (UTC)
So good to see this again! Which book did Arthur's class end up choosing? Great Exceptations or Sense and Sensibility? Although I wouldn't call myself an Austen fan, I'm personally tied between both.
kalariona
Feb. 3rd, 2012 06:40 pm (UTC)
Yay update!
I use the word twat a lot and I was amused when I found out it was an unpleasant word
I used to love you've been framed. I think it's still going!

Loved the 'kidnap' of Arthur. His skittish reactions was hilarious. The book thievery and Arthur's rampage was brill.

Please write more. I'm loving every bit of this story
Rie
(Deleted comment)
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )