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ragtime hearts

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early summer, 1940, somewhere outside London

"Teach me to play ragtime," he says, so quiet England barely hears him.


"Ragtime, you know. Like that chap in the bar." The word is foreign on his tongue, he swallows the sound like he swallows protest and swallows his pride.

"You mean- Now?"

The living room is suddenly very, very quiet. They are both aware of how late it is. Hours since Poland was invited downstairs for tea.
The tea is gone cold.

"Yeah. If you want." Poland is suddenly a little too hesitant, too shy, not like himself. England wonders if it's his fault for sounding so incredulous. "Yes. Alright. Alright, let's," he stammers out, trying to sort the jumble of thought in his head, to straighten it out so he can clearly see what he is doing. Where he is going. How this will end.

Poland stands without a word and heads for England's piano. In civvies, hair down; God he looks so young. He's just a boy, half prince. Pale, thin, hollow-cheeked with that little white bandage peeking from his shirtsleeve, he elegantly walks the line between wretched and charming.


Startled, England nods again, yes yes of course, he can play teacher for a foreign man who barely knows his language yet drinks tea like an Oxford man and flies like a devil. He recalls with startling clarity the sound of his voice over radio, shouting another victory, defying God himself in every breath.
They take their seats on the piano stool, knees barely touching. "Alright, like this," he starts, setting his hands on the keys, playing a simple tune, tapping the rhythm with one foot, trying to ignore the discordance of his loud heartbeat in his ears. Poland listens aptly, and is silent, unusual for him.

"I think I got it," he mutters, in that soft drawl of his.

Poland plays ragtime and almost gets it right.

England takes his hands before he can think, and maybe he really should've thought.
"No, not quite. Here-"

They are both very silent, the clock ticks, there is still an echo in the piano, he hears a bird in the distance. It's late summer. The smell of apple blossoms fills the room.

"I- um." Poland is quiet again. Halting.

"Awfully sorry about- old reflex, you know, and all that," tries England, anything, anything to distract from the way his chest constricts like he's wearing a shirt that is too tight, to make him forget about all the times he's caught himself watching Poland like this, when the guard comes down and he's open, vulnerable, innocent in ways England hasn't known before.

"Don't worry. I like it." Poland twists his wrists around and oh, now they are holding hands, there's no going back, a breeze carries away the smell of gunpowder and metal that lingers in their clothes and rustles Poland's thin golden hair. How it manages to be golden in silvery moonlight England can never fathom.

He realizes he should say something when Poland looks worried and shy again.

"Yes. Quite. Indeed. I see, yes, Poland," he laughs, headless, where did all his cleverness go?

"Yeah. Quite indeed very much," says Poland.

England finds that his cleverness doesn't quite matter when Poland leans closer, all smile and green eyes that lazily close - his kiss is just as fragile and magnificent as England had anticipated.