Series: Axis Powers Hetalia
Characters: Arthur (England), Alfred (USA), major historical figures (and the occasional unnamed citizens and mentions of other nations)
Pairing: Eventual Arthur/Alfred
Rating: PG-13 overall (for language, violence, and war)
Warning: This is a WWII fic and deals with a lot of historical detail, most specifically the Blitz and the US build-up to entering the war. So general warnings for that. Note also that the opinions of characters are not necessarily those of the author's.
Summary: Before the victory of the allies, before the United States of America joined the war, before Lend-Lease, before everything — there were just two nations, two men, who just refused to meet halfway until it was forced upon them.
Summary for this chapter: Alfred breaks out into the world again.
Time stamp: March and April of 1941.
01 | 02 | 03 | 04 | 05 | 06 | 07 | 08 | 09 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15
“I don’t have any coffee,” the other nation said quietly as he opened a cupboard, stocked with rationed food and canned necessities. Alfred watched as England groped around, standing on the tips of his toes in order to reach the top shelf, pulling down a tin of tea. His hands were thinned, paled, and even from the distance of an entire room, Alfred could make out the blue veins spiderwebbing under his skin. He always looked so pale, so small.
“Do you ever?” Alfred asked, eyeing the tin of tea so he could avoid eyeing the other nation instead.
“It helps calm me at night,” England said, “since I don’t sleep anymore anyway.”
That would explain the bags under his eyes. But England soon grew visibly uncomfortable as the words settled between them, perhaps realizing he’d opened up too much, let vulnerable words fall away from him when he was doing his best to stay strong. He cleared his throat, a bit awkwardly, and fiddled with the tin, trying to pry the lid off and being unable to.
“Sure,” Alfred said, for lack of anything better to say. England shifted, finally managing to pry open the lid. The kitchen filled with the smell of earl grey. England stared moodily into the container, his brows furrowed. Then he grew reminded of his company and straightened. Alfred bit his tongue. The next few minutes were spent in a tensed silence as England collected some dirty, chipped teacups from the sink and cleaned them as best he could.
Alfred wandered towards the kitchen’s window, not boarded up, and looked outside. The rain was misting over London. Alfred watched the barrage balloons dotting the horizon, strung between the clouds. He didn’t turn away from the window until he heard the whistle of a teakettle. It startled him, a sudden sound piercing the thickened silence.
Alfred looked up in time to see England approach him, slowly, eyes out towards the horizon. He set down a cup of tea, steaming and a muddy color, on the windowsill beside him. Alfred looked down at it and when he looked up again, England was already moving away, head bowed, staring into the cup he held in his own hands as if it held all the mysteries of life.
“Why are you here?” England asked to his cup.
Alfred frowned and passed his thumb over the rim of his own teacup, not quite picking it up yet. He inhaled and then, slowly, swallowed his pride: “I wanted to talk.”
“So you said,” England muttered, still staring into the curling steam of earl grey. He said, softly, his voice heavy with venom, “You weren’t satisfied with our last meeting?”
Alfred wasn’t sure if England was being sarcastic or not. Alfred’s frown deepened, and he downed a long gulp of his tea. The tea burned his tongue, however, and he jerked his face away, lifting a hand to cup over his mouth as he shouted out a muffled, “Fuck!”
“Fool,” England spat and turned towards him, brow furrowed, eyes on Alfred—finally. “You fool, don’t just gulp it down like an animal.”
Alfred coughed a few times and straightened, rubbing his hand over his mouth and chin and wiping it on his pant leg, keeping his head bowed, his face burning. The room was thick with the smell of earl grey. His tongue was numb and when he took a sip of his drink again, he couldn’t taste it at all. He kept his eyes down, his cheeks red, feeling the anger, the shame pressing at the back of his throat.
He had to be calm. He couldn’t let anything shake him, couldn’t let anything break because of it. He took a steadying breath, ignored the way his glasses fogged up when he pressed the teacup to his lips again. He couldn’t taste the tea now, but it was probably better. It wasn’t coffee, which Alfred much preferred. But England hadn’t offered him any cream or sugar, which was also to be expected—England wouldn’t be so quick to waste his rationed food on someone like Alfred.
“You best not waste that tea,” England said, voice tight.
Alfred picked the teacup back up again. He watched England push the tin of tea back onto its shelf. He took a sip of his tea. “… Right.”
“Sit down,” England said, voice still tensed, back still to Alfred. Alfred stared after him as he slowly dragged the wooden chair across the floor and sat down. It squeaked under his weight. He didn’t take his eyes away from England.
He knew that England could feel Alfred’s eyes on him—he moved jerkily, as if made of wood. Well aware of the eyes on him, he tried to act naturally. Alfred chewed on his lip as he watched England, regretting once again coming here. He should have stayed away, he should have gone home. If England was so content to see him as nothing but a useless, foolish country whom he could only continually criticize for showing reserve when it came to sending his men to die, then he had no business being here. He had nothing to say to England, if that was the case. He told himself he should be angry. He told himself, again, that he should not care.
He swirled his thumb idly around the lip of the teacup, and knew that the should nots were too long clutching at his thoughts, and weren’t true anymore. But he’d be damned if he ever admitted it out loud. He’d be damned if he tried his hardest to divorce all concern from this situation.
“So what was it that you wished to speak on?” England said, once he could no longer find more dishes to distract himself with.
Alfred licked his dry lips and swallowed a few times, trying to work around the cold dryness of his throat. “I… um.”
He watched England shift, press his hands to the countertop and duck his head. He sighed, long and languid, and his shoulders slumped and tensed between shoulder blades. Alfred watched him try to relax, but it didn’t work. He watched, slowly, as England tensed up, his fists curling, his shoulders hunching up towards his ears. He heard him take a few steadying breaths, slumping out of his body in a hiss.
“This is ridiculous,” England muttered, and then he whipped around to face Alfred fully, his green eyes narrowed. “What are you doing here? You came here to talk? Well, you aren’t talking, America!”
Alfred reeled back, eyes widening in his surprise. The silence returned after England’s outburst, however. Alfred stared at him in surprise as England’s shoulders continued to wind up again into tension, growing ever closer to his ears. His jaw was set, his teeth grinding together as he stared at Alfred, undoubtedly trying to figure him out.
“Don’t,” England began, slowly, when Alfred did not speak, “Don’t tell me you’re here to gloat. Here to mock me.”
“What? No!” Alfred shouted. He felt the alarm rise in his gut.
“For fuck’s sake,” England hissed to himself and yanked the empty teacup away from Alfred, his brows furrowed. “Leave.”
“I’m not here to gloat, god damn it! Listen to me!” Alfred snapped, standing up and letting his chair grind against the ground again with a loud scrape. England sent him a withering look and Alfred felt his hands ball into fists. “I’m not! I just wanted to talk to you! Fuck, can’t a guy do that without it being a crime?”
“Not when it’s you,” England barked, flaring up. His shoulders looked far too tensed, and his shirt hung on him limply, making him look far too skinny, far too starving. “What could you possibly have to say to me that you haven’t already said? What have I to say to you that I haven’t already suffered for twice over?”
“England, listen,” Alfred insisted, taking a step towards England.
England turned his nose up a little and walked away from Alfred, walking around the table and shoving Alfred’s chair back into its place. He left his hands there, gripping the chair like a lifeline.
“I’m listening,” England said through clenched teeth, his eyes slanted angrily away.
Alfred swallowed thickly. “I’m not here to gloat, okay? I’m not here to mock you or laugh at you or belittle you, got it? Stop making me out to be a bad guy, okay? Shit.”
England stayed silent. Alfred could see another scar along the back of his neck when England tilted his head like that.
Alfred’s throat felt too dry. “I… I’m here because I… I don’t like the way our last conversation ended. Shit, are you going to make me spell it out for you?”
“So, what? Are you here to talk about joining the war, finally, and can’t even deign to tell me?” England snapped. Alfred could recognize it for the avoidance it was, could recognize that England was trying to rile him up, trying to get him away, trying to banish him from where he felt most vulnerable. But even if Alfred could recognize it, it didn’t stop him from throwing up his own walls, couldn’t stop him from getting angry.
“I’m not joining the war!” Alfred shouted.
“Get out,” England barked, and pointed towards the door—as if Alfred could forget how to get out of such a small home. Alfred shook his head and England crinkled his nose in his anger. He marched forward and grabbed Alfred by his shirt collar. Alfred squawked, but despite England’s apparent weakness and smallness, Alfred couldn’t shake himself from England’s hold.
“I’m not here to gloat at you or to mock you but I’m also not here to grovel to you or join your war,” Alfred said firmly. He jerked his head back, trying to wrench England’s hand from his shirt collar. “I just… wanna talk to you. Jesus Christ!”
England stared at him for a long moment, his face twisted in frustration. His eyes slanted up to Alfred’s face and then flickered away, surveying his messy house, the forgotten teacups back in the kitchen. Alfred stared at him, breathing hard, his jaw quivering before he set it straight. Finally, England’s hold on his collar slackened. Alfred lifted his hand and shoved England’s hand away.
“Jesus,” he said again.
England gave him a fierce look and turned his face away, walking away from the front door and back into his home. He stooped, picking up some scattered papers—mostly newspapers—and collected them in his arm, straightening them out as he went, keeping his eyes downcast. Alfred couldn’t tell if the movements were for distraction or for hiding embarrassment at his own actions. Alfred followed him.
“So,” Alfred began, and trailed off as he followed England, who bustled around his house with creaking expertise. His dirty hair fell into his eyes as he worked, and Alfred just followed him. It’d probably been a long time since England cleaned. Probably a long time since he had a visitor, too, from the looks of it. England passed by his bookshelf and straightened a few bookends haphazardly, his face strategically turned away from Alfred.
Finally, though, England looked up at Alfred. He paused. Alfred stared at him.
And then England walked close to him. Alfred stiffened up, almost expecting England to hit him. Instead, though, England lifted his hand and straightened Alfred’s collar he’d knocked askew from dragging him. He stepped back, still gripping a large pile of newspapers.
Alfred lifted his hand, touching at the collar in stilted silence, and knew his eyes were widened a little in surprise. It was hardly any kind of gesture, and yet it struck Alfred.
“You wanted to talk,” England said, frowning. “You aren’t talking.”
“Um,” Alfred said. “I guess I hadn’t… really thought so far ahead. Just to the ‘need to talk’ part and not actually… what to say.”
England snorted, and turned his face away. Alfred couldn’t tell if it was a snort of amusement or resentment. England walked over towards an armchair and collected the scattered papers there. Once he’d finished, he looked back to Alfred and gestured his hand towards the chair, offering it to him.
Alfred swallowed and walked over to it, slowly sitting down.
England cleared off the papers on the other chair and sat down as well, setting the newspapers and documents on his table with careful ease. His hands lingered there before he straightened his back and deposited his hands into his lap.
And they continued to sit in silence.
The silence stretched on, all the while with their faces turned away from one another. England, undoubtedly, finally waiting, finally being patient. Alfred trying to figure out why he was there, why he wouldn’t just leave. Why he cared. Why he couldn’t find any words to say anything, why he couldn’t sort out his thoughts when it came to England.
But it soon became clear that the silence had gone on too long. Alfred heard England sigh, long and exhausted.
“Well then,” England said. Alfred turned to look at him, but England was staring at one of his boarded up windows. “As pleasant as this visit has been, America, I do have things to take care of, so if you’ll excuse me…”
“Wait,” Alfred said, and sat up a bit straighter. “Wait, I—”
“I haven’t time to waste,” England said tersely, “unlike you.”
Alfred felt his face flare up. “Damn it, England, I—”
“Some of us are fighting a war here,” England said with thinly veiled disdain.
“I knew coming here was a mistake—”
“No one is keeping you here!” England barked. “I am tired of this, America.”
“I am growing tired of your ambassador and my prime minister constantly insisting I contact you. I am growing tired of hearing about you and your people and your struggles. And above all else, I am tired of hearing your people—your ambassador—tell me that I am strong and capable and can withstand all of this.”
“I don’t care to hear I can win. I want to know how I can win this. I don’t want to watch my people crumble.” England inhaled sharply, and let it sink out of him in a tired sigh. In the dim lighting, Alfred could see the heavy bags under his eyes, the paleness to his skin, the veins criss-crossing. “I’m tired of it.”
Alfred stared at him, stunned by the sudden onslaught of words. He blinked, bewildered, up at the other nation as he stood up, leaning over Alfred with as much rage and fortitude as he could manage.
“You and your people have made their stances quite clear on all matters, so discussing it further is merely an insult to my pride and an insult to your very busy schedule. I’m sure.”
England stepped away, and made to show Alfred to the door. But Alfred wasn’t about to let England get the last word in. He stood up, too—jumped up, rather. “Quit acting like everyone in my country hates yours!”
“Don’t they?” England snapped. “Haven’t you made it quite clear that you do not care what happens to me?”
“Just because I won’t join the war doesn’t mean I hate you!” Alfred shouted before he could stop the words from coming. He reeled back a little, his face turning even redder. He jerked his face away and kicked at the newspapers on the table. They scattered across the room, fluttering innocently to the floor.
“Oh, that’s very nice,” England sneered. “That’s certainly productive. Look at the big, independent nation—acting nothing but a spoilt child!”
Alfred opened his mouth to say something, but England ignored him, bending over to pick up the scattered newspapers again. He muttered out curses under his breath, and the air around Alfred seemed to grow colder—cold enough that he shivered just a little. He looked away, face flushed with shame at losing control. But his slip—he wasn’t sure if England had even noticed it.
He was supposed to hate England. It went beyond not caring for him. England was the reason for all his grievances, his old tyrant, his constant annoyance during the younger years of his new nationhood, and the manipulator that forced him into the Great War. Even if his nation was neutral when it came to this war, Alfred himself hated him. He had to. Having it be any other way just didn’t make sense at all.
England finished retrieving the last of the newspapers, again, and deposited them back onto the table. He kept his hand pressed on top of the pile, however, and flickered his eyes up towards Alfred—as if testing to see if the other nation would attempt to knock them down again.
“There are a lot of my people,” Alfred said cautiously, once their eyes locked, “who do not hate your country, England.”
“Is that so?” England sneered, his voice dripping with venom. “And pray tell, boy, where are they now?”
Alfred bristled a little, his shoulders tensing up. “They—they’re all listening. To Murrow. About the Blitz. They know what’s going on. They want to help.”
“And what damned good it does me,” England snapped.
“You aren’t listening to me!” Alfred shouted.
“Give me one good reason why I should care one bit what you have to say,” England shouted back. “Give me one reason, America, as to why I should care one way or the other what you think about me and my war efforts. You, who stays here despite knowing your cold heart cannot be swayed. You, who can look upon my country, my cities, and my people with barely contained scorn. You, who sees fit to watch me fall. Why should I give a damn about what you have to say to me?”
Alfred resisted the urge to step away, to back down. He felt the flare in his chest, felt his eyes narrow and his jaw set. “I’m just saying you should stop acting like everybody on my side hates you and we aren’t lifting a damn finger to help you. Fuck you, you’re getting weapons and food from us! So we aren’t packing in our boys to follow along. I get it. You hate that. But I don’t want my people to die for a cause that doesn’t affect them. You all shouldn’t hate us cause we refuse to take that last step into war!”
“Of course it affe—!” England cut himself off abruptly, slamming his eyes shut and hissing out a few muttered curses. Again, the air around Alfred seemed to grow colder and he crossed his arms over his chest, a defensive gesture. “Is that what you’re so concerned about?”
“How my people see you? You aren’t concerned about our efforts, our pains, our sacrifices—you just don’t want us to hate you?” England shouted. “You want to set the record straight that not everyone hates me?” He rolled his eyes, a bit over dramatically—in the back of his head, Alfred remembered to blame Shakespeare for the theatrical side in England—“Rest assured that I have seen the error of my ways, America. I am so pacified now.”
“You should be happy that they care at all! That they’re doing anything at all!”
“Happy!” England repeated, and almost laughed. He turned his face away and spoke, as if speaking to someone else, his voice soft, “Happy, he says.”
“Haven’t you ever been happy?” Alfred shouted. “Haven’t the efforts been beneficial at all? Are you honestly not going to be satisfied until I’m lying there, bleeding, beside you?”
England flared up. “I’ve found happiness to be like a bullet in my back.” England drew his lips down into a deeper frown. “Especially if this is the means you attempt to make me happy and satisfied.”
“I don’t care any longer, America,” England said quietly, his voice losing some of its edge, though the venom remained. “Why are you still here? Why are you so content to aggravate me? Can’t you tell my nerves are flustered enough as it is?”
This wasn’t how it was meant to be going at all. This wasn’t how he’d intended for it to happen.
England turned away. Alfred felt the dread pooling in his stomach, the little voice in the back of his head chastising him for letting things fall apart again. He rushed forward, wrapping his hand around England’s wrist.
England recoiled. “Unhand me!”
“There are lots of Americans who care about you, okay?”
England stared at him for a moment, and then tried to jerk his hand back. “And what good does that do me when they leave my city but the thousands at the first sign of war?”
“They want to stay safe? Can you blame them? Their lives are short!”
England was still struggling, but Alfred refused to relinquish his grip. Eventually, England gave up, his lip curled back in distaste.
“No,” England said quietly, his body shuddering as if feeling a pain down the entire length of his body. His freed arm shifted and his hand touched at his shoulder, rubbing slightly. Alfred knew there were scars there. “No,” he said again, quieter, and seemed to extinguish himself right before Alfred’s eyes. He didn’t quite slump, but the acceptance was there. “No,” he said a third time, and continued, “I cannot blame them for wanting to leave—not when my home is like this. It used to be beautiful, it used to be vibrant. Now everything is bombed out. Now everything is falling apart. It’s a shame… it’s a shame that those who stayed and those who come now have to see my country in such a state.”
“Winant cares,” Alfred said quietly. “That’s one, at least.”
England was quiet for a long moment. And then he inhaled.
He tugged at his wrist. “There’s a particularly nasty wound on this arm, boy. Let me go.”
Alfred, suppressing the spark of guilt in his gut, released England. England rubbed at his wrist silently, keeping his eyes down. Ashamed to reveal his weaknesses to someone like Alfred. Alfred couldn’t quite blame him for the shame. It was not as if Alfred had ever give him reason to expect sympathy or compassion.
“He believes you’ll make it through. He believes that you’ll live through this, England,” Alfred continued. England did not lift his hand, but continued instead to rub at his wrist. When he rolled up his sleeve, Alfred saw the cut running up his arm, as if he’d been caught in razor wire. The bandages were falling loose. Alfred’s breath caught. But he kept speaking, because he could not stand to fall away into silence again, to hear nothing else but the sound of rustling bandages and knitting skin: “He does not think this is the end of you.”
“And what of you?” England said, calmly, leaning down over the back of a chair and retrieving a first aid kit he must leave out at all times, just in case. He did not look up at Alfred, though Alfred did feel his blood freeze in his veins. “What do you believe will become of me?”
England set the first aid kit on the table and unraveled a few fresh bandages, curling it around his injured arm. The hand of the injured arm did its best to pin the bandage there, though the bandaging remained loose. Alfred did not dare step forward to offer his help. England worked in silence, streamlined into a bandage-wrapping expert. He finished his work quickly and closed the kit with a dismissive snap. He rolled down the fabric of his shirt and redid the buttons on the cuff. He still did not look up once he’d finished, however. Alfred realized he was still waiting for Alfred’s answer.
“I…” he began, hushed. His heart thundered.
At the pause, however, England looked up and their eyes locked. England stared at him, with those haunting eyes of his—widely green in a starkly bleak, grey world. His expression held, for once, no resentment, only pained curiosity. His face was slack, his lips quirked into a neutral frown. His face was so paled, so thin.
Alfred swallowed, his throat feeling constricted, thickened with the emotions he kept swallowing back. He didn’t dare close his eyes, though the urge was there.
“What do you believe will become of me?” England repeated, startling calm now as he stared at Alfred. “What do you think will become of this foolish island? Of me? I’d once thought I’d remain untouched. I’d once thought that if I avoided it all, I would be able to keep my people safe. And now I am alone. After those years of preparation… I was completely unprepared. And now I am falling apart.”
“Don’t you dare mock me for that,” England muttered, expression still calm but the slightest moment of insecurity coiling in his eyes. He did not take his eyes away from Alfred.
“I don’t—I don’t think you’ll fall,” Alfred said quietly, refusing to rise to England’s bait for fighting again—he refused to give into that easy out. Not this time.
There was a flicker in England’s eyes again. He traced the lines of Alfred’s own face. And then, just as slowly as before, England slanted his eyes up to him again, and Alfred looked away.
He licked his dry lips. “I think you’re too strong to let that happen. If you do fall, it’ll be after they cut your legs out from under you and force you to stay down even after that. You won’t go down without a fight.”
“Hm,” England said, and Alfred wasn’t sure if that was a good response or not. England turned away, collecting the first aid kit off from the table and walking back to set it back into its original position, behind one of the armchairs. He kept his back to Alfred for a long moment, his hand resting on the chair’s back. “Do you really believe that?”
Alfred paused at that, and tried to focus his coiling thoughts long enough to pinpoint if that was the truth or if he was simply parroting Winant’s words to England—just saying what England wanted to hear to avoid conflict. But when had that ever stopped him before?
England sighed, and the tension seemed to weave itself away from his shoulders again. He curled his fingers briefly around the chair before stepping back and letting his arms fall back to his sides. He stayed like that for a long moment, his face tilted away, as if listening to something far away—or waiting. Alfred himself was always horrible at waiting.
“Look,” Alfred said quietly. “They brought me here not so I would fight with you all the time, but so that I could get to know you—and Winant wants us to work through our misunderstandings and stuff. So you’re… you’re stuck with me for a little while, okay? I know you probably hate it, but you’ll just have to deal with it for now.”
“… Do you have anything to smoke?” England asked instead of quite responding to Alfred’s words, still not turning to face Alfred.
Alfred lifted his hand and felt at his chest, at the pocket of his jacket where he usually kept his cigarettes. “Uh, no. I ran out a few weeks ago.”
“Ah,” England said, and turned to face him then, his expression a practiced neutrality. He sighed after a moment, and spoke, with more weight befitting a lack of cigarettes: “Alright.”
“Alright?” Alfred parroted.
“Alright,” England repeated, “I’ll put up with you for now. If I must.” England closed his eyes. “But don’t misunderstand—I’m doing this for my people and for your ambassador. My people are quite taken with him. And it’s too much effort to have to fight with you all the time.”
Alfred’s eyebrow twitched and he sighed, feeling a little angry—and possibly hurt. “Okay. Good.”
“Quite,” England said, tersely, and walked past Alfred—back towards his kitchen. He set the kettle down on the stove again and began preparing another cup of tea for himself. He didn’t fill the second cup with the tea, but Alfred was thankful for that. The way England scooped at the bottom of the tin for the last dregs of loose leaf left Alfred feeling a little empty and scraped himself.
He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his pants, leaning against the doorframe.
“I… should probably leave,” he said at last, watching England’s back, unable to think of a reason to stay—unable to think of a reason why he wanted to stay.
England paused, and looked at him over his shoulder. His eyes drifted over Alfred’s face, and then away, focusing on something in the middle distance just above Alfred’s head. Alfred looked up to see what it could be, but all he saw was the ceiling. England’s lips twitched after a moment and he turned his attention back to Alfred: “Oh, stay. I’m about to eat.”
Alfred blinked in surprise, and England’s cheeks turned red before he turned his face away again, filling the kettle with water. He bent his head, and even from that distance, Alfred could trace the line of England’s spine over the back of his neck and down beneath his threadbare clothing. It would be good, once the weather became more suited for spring and moved away from the devastating winter the country had faced, if this was the kind of clothing England was left to wear.
“But…” Alfred began, feeling he had to protest staying.
“Even if you came here to declare war against my empire,” England said calmly, “there’s no sense in letting food go to waste.” What food? Alfred wanted to ask, but bit his tongue. “The faeries seem to think so, at least.”
Alfred’s eyes widened a little and he looked around wildly. He remembered England’s talks from so long ago—the stories about the fae and their powers. He couldn’t see any of the forms, and in the end England was probably just going crazy from being bombed so often, he reasoned, so he left it alone.
“Your cooking might make me declare war,” Alfred said instead. England gave him a sharp look.
The minutes ticked away, and the kitchen soon filled with the familiar black smoke that Alfred remembered quite well from his youth—and from those sad days out in the trenches during the Great War.
“So, um,” Alfred began, not overly concerned by the strange substance stuck to England’s cooking pot. He lifted his voice over the sounds of England’s continual cursing of all things culinary. “Tell me, um. How have you been these last few years?”
If Winant wanted him to resolve their differences and misunderstandings, what better way to start, right?
England, however, paused, and gave him a slightly strained look. His eyes narrowed. “Are you honestly asking me?”
Alfred feared the food catching on fire some more with England’s attention turned away from the stove, so he said, quickly, “Sure?”
“I,” England said, resolutely, “have been simply horrid.”
“Oh,” Alfred said, staring down at the table. Of course that’d be the answer.
After a moment, though, England set down a plate in front of Alfred—charred food Alfred wasn’t quite sure how to identify.
“But,” England said, slowly, frowning. “I’ve been worse, before.” Then his lips quirked up into a sad little smile, fleetingly. It disappeared soon enough, so quickly that Alfred wondered if it’d just been an illusion. “At least I’m not bombed as much as before. At least my people aren’t starving as much as before.”
Alfred stared down at the charred piece of food, and then back up at England. England stared back, looking taken aback. Alfred couldn’t be sure what his expression looked like, but if the uncertainty, the frustration, and the unhappiness bubbling in his gut was anything to go by—he probably looked completely ridiculous. But England did not glare at him. Instead, he sighed, and shook his head.
“Don’t give me that look,” England said, quietly. “It doesn’t suit you.”
And then he turned to get another plate for himself.
Alfred could tell that the ambassador was pleased, following Alfred’s last meeting with England. Winant never actually said it, but it was written all over his face. He patted Alfred on the shoulder, once, and smiled at him before continued to his work when Alfred came back, after a burnt dinner at England’s—and Alfred had only blushed and retreated to the couch, sitting down and reading the newspaper to hide his red face.
And he knew the fact that he and England spent a few more times together down at parliament or at the embassy was much to the delight of Winant, and to England’s Prime Minister as well. That wasn’t to say the meetings with England weren’t horribly tensed and awkward, but at least they could manage to say three words to each other without shouting one another down. Alfred supposed, sardonically, that for the two of them that could be considered as successful meeting.
So much so that, after another awkward meeting with England at the embassy, Winant announced, “The Prime Minister wants to meet you, Alfred.”
Alfred started in surprise, and almost subconsciously his hand reached for a cigarette, as a means to keep his nerves calm. But he, still, had none. So he just blinked owlishly at Winant and shoved his glasses back up the bridge of his nose.
“You’ve been here for almost five weeks now—”
“It hasn’t been that long,” Alfred protested. And then did the math in his head, counting the days spent in London.
As he was doing this, Winant reminded him, gently, “It’s the start of April now. You’ve been here since the start of March.”
“Well fuck,” Alfred said, his breath whooshing out of him in a soft whistle. “I guess you’re right.”
The ambassador cracked a small smile and shook his head. “The Prime Minister and I have been working together, and he has expressed interest in knowing you. Of course, before, you hadn’t wanted to. But now… if you’d want…”
Alfred frowned, and chewed on the inside of his cheek. He couldn’t really think of a reason to say no without it being a problem for Winant (and a problem for him, once England found out). How bad could it be?
“I guess… it’d be okay.”
Winant perked up a bit. “It seems your mood really has improved since coming here?”
Blushing again, Alfred shrugged his shoulders and crossed his arms. “Yeah, well. It is what it is, I guess.”
The corners of Winant’s eyes crinkled when he smiled. “Yes, of course. I’ll let the Prime Minister know at once.”
“Okay,” Alfred said, and retreated to the window, leaning against the windowsill and looking out the glass. It was a clearer day. He thought, absently, that perhaps he’d spent too long at one place, too long staring out this window. “So,” he said, “Is he in London or what?”
“The visit will be at Chequers, actually,” the ambassador said. “For the weekend.”
“Ch… Where?” Alfred asked, blinking. Winant looked amused, and Alfred realized, distantly, that he’d heard of the place before—Winant often went there during weekend visits.
“The Prime Minister’s country estate,” Winant said. “It might do you well to leave the city for a while.”
It was Alfred’s turn to perk up instantly. “Outside the city? In the country?”
“Yes,” Winant said, and seemed amused that Alfred had no idea where this place was. “It’s in Buckinghamshire.”
Alfred had no idea what those words meant, but he felt himself growing excited—not for Churchill or England or anything like that, but because of the prospect of being out in nature again, away from a bombed city. “Are there any mountains? Trees?”
“There are the Chiltern Hills…” Winant said. He must have seen Alfred’s excitement. “And there are, of course, the estate gardens.”
Alfred nodded, only half-hearing what Winant had to say. Maybe he wasn’t so excited for the company—England and his boss? God!—but the idea of being able to walk in gardens and up hills was something he’d longed for the entire month he’d been in London, straying between the embassy, Hyde Park, and Whitehall.
“Whoa,” Alfred said softly as he caught sight of the house they were heading towards, and the hills behind it.
“Stop pressing your face against the glass, it’s unbecoming,” England said with a disdainful snort from where he sat beside Alfred. Alfred peeled his face away from where he’d pressed it up against the glass and curled his lip up.
“Well, excuse me! I thought you’d be all stuffy and superior about me liking something of yours, but I guess I was wrong!” Alfred said, refusing to back down from England’s constant attempts to make him feel young and stupid. He’d press his face to the glass if he damned well pleased!
England bristled and his hands balled into fists. “I am never stuffy and superior.”
“Yeah right, and I’m the King of England!”
England opened his mouth to shoot back a witty retort.
“Gentlemen,” Winant interrupted softly, and the two nations stopped immediately, both adopting a similar deer-in-the-headlights look. They both leaned back against their seats, Alfred in particular feeling guilty for acting so childish in front of his ambassador. Winant said nothing more on the matter other than a quiet, “We’re almost there.”
The words were inconsequential, as it was obvious they were almost there, but the ambassador’s words brought the two back into one accord of tentative peace, and they both sat back, staring moodily at each other for a few moments before both turning away at the same time, brows furrowed. The ambassador sighed as they pulled up to the expansive country house.
As they left the governmental car, a woman was there to greet them.
“Arthur, Gil,” she said warmly as she stepped down the steps, smiling at them. She was all charm. She took England’s hand warmly and squeezed it, and then gave a warm nod and smile to Winant. And then she turned towards Alfred, and her smile seemed to soften. “And this must be Mister Alfred Jones.”
“Hello,” Alfred said, politely, and took the woman’s hand when she extended it.
“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you,” she said. “My name is Clementine Churchill and I am so happy to see you finally come for a visit. Both Arthur and Gil have told me so much about you.”
Arthur cleared his throat. “Madam, we should get inside.”
Clementine, still smiling, released Alfred’s hand and swept the three men up into Chequers. “Everyone is in the back. I daresay we’ve been blessed with lovely weather, haven’t we, Arthur?”
“Indeed,” England said quietly, keeping his face forward and walking beside the woman and refusing to look back at the two Americans. It was a cooler day in April, but threatening a rise in temperature. The sun had come out for the first time in weeks, however.
Alfred let a few paces fall between himself and the two in front of him. Winant noticed and slowed his pace as well, looking down at his country. “Churchill,” Alfred said quietly. “So she’s…?”
“The Prime Minister’s wife, and our hostess for the weekend,” Winant told him, equally as quietly.
Clementine up ahead was opening the double doors onto a wide veranda. Alfred watched England walk through and a booming voice greet him. And that was the first Alfred ever saw of the prime minister outside of the public eye. He grasped England firmly by the hand and shook it vigorously, and then was quickly distracted by a secretary, flitting by to ask for his opinion on something she held in her hands. Alfred found his pace slowing, and the ambassador walked ahead of him and into the open light. He was greeted by Churchill as well.
Alfred hesitated. It wasn’t that he was unsure or uncertain. He just wanted to go home. He didn’t want to be here. He knew that, as badly as England was trying to use him, Churchill would undoubtedly be much worse and use him for his own ends and means. And Alfred did not take kindly to the thought of being used. But even if Winant was using him, too, there was nothing he could do about it.
“So where is this country of yours?” Churchill demanded to know, his rounded face crinkling into an expectant smile. He puffed on his cigar for a moment, and then caught sight of Alfred. His face lit up. “Aaah, there he is.”
Alfred emerged from Chequers and onto the veranda. It was a breathtaking sight—Alfred could see the hills even closer than before, the long expanse of lawn and gardens. Some people were playing croquet, others were walking in the garden, and others still were sitting at a table Churchill had risen from.
He didn’t have much time to admire the scenery, however, before the prime minister was grasping his hand in an iron-grip. “You’re a very hard man to get hold of,” Churchill said with only a hint towards the prime minister’s well-known frustrations at the United States’ lack of involvement in the war, something Alfred was already well aware of in England’s attitude and did not wish to repeat, “But here you are, at last. Welcome, welcome to my home.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” Alfred said politely, and when Winant gave him a slight nod Alfred remembered to add, “Mister Prime Minister.”
It seemed that Churchill was in a conciliatory mood instead of befitting the bulldog belligerence for which he was famed. Alfred was thankful for that, at least.
“You’re a shy one. Arthur! You never told me the man was shy,” Churchill boomed, releasing Alfred’s hand and puffing on his cigar as he turned to the other country. England straightened up, eyes widened in his surprise at being addressed so suddenly.
“I’m not shy,” Alfred protested, shooting a glance at England, who was frowning so spectacularly it was a wonder his face hadn’t frozen that way yet.
“Mister Prime Minister…” England began.
“And now we must talk policy,” Churchill said with such sure diligence that Alfred found himself rather overwhelmed.
“This weekend is meant for relaxation,” Clementine Churchill said. “And he hasn’t met with everyone yet, and—”
“Give the poor man a chance to adapt, he looks petrified,” Averell Harriman said with a loud laugh from where he was sitting at the table.
Churchill was only half-listening, his entire attention on Alfred now: “Never mind, never mind. Alfred, do you play bezique? Come play a round with me.”
Before Alfred could protest and say he had no idea what bezique was, Alfred found himself being dragged towards the table. Before Alfred quite knew what was happening, he was given a chair. Alfred stared hopelessly down at his cards, but the game didn’t become more illuminating, even as he began to play and realized it was just one-on-one with himself and Churchill. He hoped to God that Churchill wouldn’t really start to talk policy with him.
“You’ll get it eventually,” Harriman said after a few minutes of Alfred hopelessly floundering about, with a smile and tone that really suggested that Alfred wouldn’t.
Churchill flipped a seven of diamonds. “Diamonds trump. And ten points for me.”
Alfred didn’t have any idea what he was doing, but it seemed Churchill enjoyed this. Alfred placed down another diamonds card, as this seemed the most logical way to go. Churchill swept in with a king of diamonds and named off gleefully the points he got to Clementine, who Alfred now saw was recording the scores down. The game only descended from there and all the while Alfred looked longingly towards the towering hills in the backdrop or towards the gardens.
“So, tell me, Mister United States,” Churchill said as he flipped over another card and won yet another trick. Alfred felt his back stiffen a little and he stared down at his cards to prevent himself from staring at Winant for help. The Prime Minister continued, “Why do you think the Anglo-American relationship is so stilted?”
“Um,” Alfred said, and then remembered to put his own card down. Churchill frowned to his own cards and put down a card with a lesser value than Alfred—and thus Alfred won his first trick. “It’s,” he said, slowly, “complicated. I think.”
“I have a word or two I want to say about those naval ships—”
“Papa,” interrupted one of Churchill’s children—Alfred wasn’t sure of her name—“This weekend is meant for relaxation, Mama says.”
Churchill puffed on his cigar for a moment, looking up at the woman and only tearing his eyes away to flip down a card and win a trick again. Alfred really was never going to understand any of these games.
“Very well,” he said. Alfred breathed a quiet sigh of relief and an even quieter thank you to the unknown Churchill child, who smiled at him and walked away to speak to her mother.
Once Alfred was thoroughly destroyed at the game he never really did pick up, Alfred was free to leave the table. Or, more like he waited until a secretary scurried up to the prime minister to request some kind of signature or reaction to something or another, and Alfred got up to hurry away before anyone could stop him.
He heaved a sigh and rested a short ways away, sitting on a bench and watching a few members of Churchill’s family play croquet on the manicured lawn. Soon after he saw Harriman walk down to pick up his own in the game, smiling at the woman almost fondly as they played. Alfred watched them in silence for some time, taking in all the sights of Chequers. He watched the woman ask him a series of questions, or at least talk to Harriman in rapid fire, listened raptly to the man’s responses, and laughed appropriately.
“It’s like a mating dance,” Alfred said to himself.
“I beg your pardon,” a voice said behind him and Alfred whipped his head around to see England approaching him, arms crossed. “You’d better not be speaking ill of Pamela.”
“Nothing, no way,” Alfred said, turning his back on the croquet game. He grinned. “What are you doing over here?”
“The Prime Minister thought you looked too unoccupied,” England said, not looking at Alfred, his hands clasped firmly behind his back. He stood, stiff as a rod, and looking so overwhelmingly militaristic and determined, Alfred was reminded of all those times England stood tall in the face of battle. It was almost depressing, considering the weekend visit was meant to relax people, according to Winant and everyone who wasn’t Churchill—but then again, it seemed England never relaxed.
“Oh,” Alfred said. “He wants to renew the Anglo-American relationship right here and now, huh?”
England didn’t seem to find this funny and Alfred shifted a bit uncomfortably. He stood up, feeling too small just sitting there and staring up at England. The height difference wasn’t that horrible between them, but the war had its toll on England—he looked much smaller, much thinner, much paler than he ever had before. At least, Alfred thought so.
They stood in silence, and once England refused to say anything more on the subject, Alfred turned his face away, returning his attention to the croquet game, where Pamela Churchill was still laughing at something Harriman had said.
“Renew,” England said with a snort. “As if there is anything to renew.”
England walked past Alfred, standing at the railing overlooking the lawn below, watching the croquet game as if it was the most exciting thing he’d ever seen in the world, so exciting he couldn’t possibly tear his eyes away. Alfred sniffed, his frown deepening, and walking up to stand beside England. He wasn’t sure what to say to that, but it made the will to disagree boil in his gut, the urge to just start shouting at him or telling him off. But he didn’t. He bit his tongue. The last thing he wanted was to start fighting in front of everyone—it was worse enough when he did it in front of Winant. He didn’t want to think what would happen if he fought with England in front of Churchill.
And so he laughed, loudly, three loud guffaws. “Sure there is! Just probably not what he wants renewed!”
England gave him a withering look, his expression darkening. Alfred continued to laugh, for lack of anything better to do.
“Why you little—!” England said, and looked about ready to throw aside any attempts by Alfred to avoid a confrontation.
“It wouldn’t do for you to beat up on our guest, Arthur,” a distinctly woman’s voice said behind the two. The two countries whipped around to see Pamela Churchill standing there, laughing.
Arthur tipped his chin up, regal. “Mrs. Churchill.”
“Oh come now,” Pamela said with a laugh. “How many times will it take before you call me Pamela? A woman as young as me shouldn’t be called ‘Mrs.’ so often.” She turned her attention towards Alfred and smiled, stepping forward and extending her hand. “You’re Mister Alfred Jones.”
“Hello,” Alfred said, stepping away happily from England and focusing on the much prettier and pleasanter of company.
“Do you mind terribly if I steal him away from you, Arthur?” Pamela asked, laughing still. “I want to show him the gardens.”
“He’s hardly something you can ‘steal’ from me,” England muttered, face twisting up in distaste as he turned away and walked towards the bench Alfred had previously vacated. He sat himself down. “I couldn’t care less what you do with him.”
“So haughty!” she said with a laugh, and then smiled up at Alfred. “Shall we?”
Alfred was more than happy to leave the grumpy nation, and the impending argument, behind.
The two of them walked through the gardens in relative peace. Pamela was incredibly interested in people, it appeared, as she continually pumped him for information on the embassy, on life in the United States, on Alfred himself. He answered as best he could, omitting things he felt weren’t necessary for her to know, or he might get in trouble for relaying. He wasn’t sure just how involved Pamela was, and took great pains not to betray anything too secretive.
“Tell me,” Pamela said once their conversational politics melted away, “How do you enjoy England so far?”
“Um,” Alfred said. He started to blush.
“And London,” she added.
So she’d meant the country, not the man. Alfred shrugged one shoulder.
Pamela was insistent. “Go on, tell me.”
“… It seems kind of dull,” Alfred said at last, not knowing how to hedge his words and not wanting to lie, either. But she didn’t seem insulted by his honesty.
Pamela smiled, and then laughed as if Alfred had said something particularly funny. “You just aren’t looking in the right places, Mister Jones.”
Alfred shrugged one shoulder, unsure what she could mean and sincerely doubting that any part of London could not be dull and dreary to look at, and make him have to wrestle with guilt he shouldn’t have to feel at all.
“There is a diffused gallantry in the air in London. An unmarriedness,” Pamela said with a quiet smile. She walked around a corner of a rose bush and Alfred followed her, moving through the gardens and the trees. “It can be rumored about the country that everybody in London is in love.”
“What?” Alfred asked, and almost started to laugh until he realized that Pamela was serious.
“Perhaps you’ll think it only romantic fatalism and hedonism,” she said, and did laugh this time, though a certain gravity did not leave her eyes. “But it is intoxicating all the same. You just haven’t found the hotels and nightclubs, pubs and palaces, situation rooms and bedrooms.”
“I’m not really…” Alfred began weakly, feeling his cheeks heat up.
“Once you find it,” Pamela interrupted with a wave of her hand. “You’ll become intoxicated as well.” She brushed her hair back away from her face and glanced up towards Chequers, where the rest of the party was still going on. Alfred turned his head to see her looking somewhere between Churchill, Harriman, and Winant. “And once you find it,” she repeated, softer this time, her eyes glittering, “perhaps you Americans will never leave.”
Alfred’s eyes looked over at the other Americans on the property—Winant was speaking with Clementine, and Harriman to Churchill. Alfred watched them for a long moment, contemplating Pamela’s words. And then his gaze shifted. His eyes found England, sitting alone now where he’d left him. Alfred quickly turned his eyes away and back to Pamela. He couldn’t think of what to say, so he said nothing.
Pamela smiled and tilted her head after a moment, regarding Alfred with more scrutiny than he particularly liked.
“What do you think of them?” Pamela asked, undoubtedly seeing where Alfred’s eyes had been before. “You spend most of your time with Gil, don’t you?”
“I stay at the embassy, yeah,” Alfred agreed, feeling much like an insect under inspection again. He swallowed and adjusted his collar after a moment. “He’s… a good guy.”
Pamela snorted. “What a shining endorsement, Mister Jones!”
“Well…” Alfred trailed off, blushing.
“You shouldn’t say it with such lackluster benevolence. You should say the truth, say what you feel from the depth of your heart. Be honest.”
Alfred gave her a hopeless look and she simply raised her eyebrows.
“Well, I think Gil really has such an ability to make everyone he meets feel like the most important individual on the earth,” Pamela said, and Alfred nodded, not from politeness but from genuine agreement. Pamela smiled. “He’s a quiet man with intensely concentrated charm. Occasionally awkward and shy, though.”
“Yeah,” Alfred said, and felt his lips quirk into a soft smile.
“His optimism has done a lot for our country,” Pamela said. “Already, in so short a time. It’s remarkable.”
“Yeah,” Alfred said again, still feeling awkward walking with the prime minister’s daughter-in-law as if they were old friends. “When he enters the room… everyone somehow feels better.”
“Yes,” Pamela agreed, and laughed. “So you can say more than two words. You really are shy.”
“I’m just…” Alfred began to protest, and frowned. He wasn’t shy. Back home, it took a lot of pains to shut him up, usually. But here—he was still feeling too uncertain, too morose to really step into himself. He found that he was still counting down the moments until he could go home.
“Perhaps you’ve been spending too much time with Gil,” Pamela said with a laugh. “Not even the United States of America can resist the ambassador’s charms, it seems.”
“Er,” Alfred said, and then laughed. “I guess not.”
“There’s one person, though,” Pamela said, the gravity returning to her eyes, “who can.”
“Who?” Alfred asked, surprised. He’d been under the impression that everyone loved his ambassador and enjoyed his company.
Pamela nodded her head up, looking towards the party of people up on the veranda. Alfred followed her gaze, frowning.
“The Prime Minister?” Alfred asked at last, hardly believing it. Churchill was still in a lively talk with Harriman, gesturing madly to some papers he held in his hands, cigar smoking and balanced between his teeth as he spoke in rapid fire to the Lend-Lease representative.
“That isn’t to say he doesn’t like Gil,” Pamela said. “He admires and respects him, and adores his optimism and what he’s doing for the country. But… I daresay Gil makes him uncomfortable.”
Alfred stared in surprise at the prime minister for a moment before turning his attention back to the woman. She was smiling at him, a soft, mysterious smile that Alfred found made him a little weak in the knees.
“He much prefers Averell’s company,” she said. “While Gil may be very charming, he is not a bounder, is he? He lacks a certain tart cleverness and quick wit.”
Alfred didn’t say anything. Pamela’s eyes had shifted to Harriman now, watching the two men speak together.
“There’s something to be said about such things, I suppose,” Pamela continued when Alfred did not say anything. “Being clever is very important. But so is genuine intelligence. Sympathy and strength of mind. Perhaps a bit of stubbornness.”
Alfred nodded absently. His eyes glanced up towards England, who was still sitting in the same spot, back to Alfred. Pamela followed his eyes. She stepped up beside him, and when Alfred looked to her, he saw her smiling—almost fondly. Alfred felt his face flush red and he looked away from her—and back up towards England.
“Ah,” she said, knowingly, and Alfred felt his face heat up further at the implications in so simple an exhalation, “but I’ve kept you long enough, haven’t I? Please excuse me.”
Before Alfred could protest, Pamela had taken her leave, walking away and leaving Alfred alone.
England sat with his back straight, hands in his lap, and looking off somewhere away from the rest of the Chequers’ guests. Alfred realized, distantly, that his face was turned southeast, back towards London. There was no change in England’s posture, and he did not turn his face away, the entire time Alfred found himself looking up at England from the garden. His suit hung off him as if he was a hanger, and Alfred felt himself frown, despite himself. England’s eyes, pointed towards London, a city in pain, and never letting on to any of it. But even from that distance, Alfred could see a deep scar bending its way out of England’s collar and into his hair.
Alfred looked up at England for a long moment. He was still looking towards the direct of London.
“England,” Alfred shouted out, and watched as the said country jumped in surprise and twisted around.
“What in blazes do you want?” he asked, miffed at the interruption and his startled reaction to it.
“Walk with me,” Alfred commanded.
“Don’t tell me what to do!” England snapped.
“I want to walk up the hills, but if I get lost it’ll be really bad, so you gotta walk with me to show me the way,” Alfred protested.
England’s brow furrowed and he looked as if he would protest. Then he closed his eyes, sighed out through his teeth, and hissed out a loud, “Fine. If I must.”
Alfred beamed and waited for England to walk down the steps of the veranda to meet him.
- Rationing during wartime.
- Barrage balloons and sandbags and barbed wire shielding Parliament, 10 Downing Street, and other government buildings showed the trappings of war everywhere.
- “And what good does that do me when they leave my city but the thousands at the first sign of war?” After Britain’s reluctant declaration of war more than a million people, rich and poor alike, were evacuated from their homes or left voluntarily, marking the largest migrating in Britain since the Great Plague of 1665. Houses were shut up, families separated, careers abandoned, schools and businesses closed. Ambassador Kennedy advised all USAmericans in England to leave the country as soon as possible. More than ten thousand US citizens departed as fast as ships could carry them—half of them within forty-eight hours of the declaration of war.
- Chequers is the country estate to the Prime Minister of Great Britain. During nights of clear full moons, however, instead of visiting Chequers which would have been a horrible target for bombs, the Churchills would spend their weekends in Ditchley.
- People mentioned in this chapter: Winston Churchill, Clementine Churchill (Churchill’s wife), Pamela Churchill (Churchill’s daughter-in-law), and Averell Harriman (American Lend-Lease representative).
- Life was always very hectic at Chequers, despite the fact that Clementine Churchill wishes. Everything centered around Churchill.
- Churchill’s frustrations with the US were well known in his inner circles, but despite that he was often conciliatory towards the Americans he kept in his confidence—namely Harriman, Winant, and Hopkins—and didn’t often portray his famous “bulldog belligerence”.
- Bezique was Churchill’s favorite card game and often played it with guests.
- “There is a diffused gallantry in the air in London. An unmarriedness. It can be rumored about the country that everybody in London is in love.” During wartime, there was a kind of freedom among the British people. Knowing that demise could be right around the corner meant all rules of decorum and propriety were often neglected, leading to many one-night stands, affairs, and loosened sexual morality. Not even the Churchills could avoid such frivolity. Harriman and Pamela Churchill had a long-standing affair. And Winant and Churchill’s second daughter Sarah Churchill had an affair.
- Pamela’s words on Winant are all from letters and journals. Winant was a charming man. One person who remained untouched by Winant’s charms, however, was the prime minister. It wasn’t that Churchill dislike Winant—he just preferred others more, and found Winant’s awkwardness uncomfortable. Churchill found more confidence in Harriman, and often left Winant out of British policies and ideas. This isolation from both the prime minister and the lack of communication from the US often left Winant feeling lost and directionless.