You know it's bad when you get a plot bunny when you're doing something completely different, like, say, writing an essay. But when it's the essay itself that gives the inspiration...
Well, that's what happened here. I'll spare everyone the "Oh, it's my first Hetalia fanfic, so be nice~" drivel, and just...put this out there, then. I do hope you like it, though. (Maybe that will help qualify how much my Arthur muse hates me right now. ._.)
Terrorism, my ass. Arthur spat blood, saw it collide with the dusty earth of the floor of his cell, and he sneered in disgust. He was a prisoner of his own government, and why? For the first time in years, in centuries, he'd thought about going against his boss. Something about this Sutler fellow hadn't struck him as entirely honest, truly, when he had been campaigning. He was too brutal, too single-minded. He didn't care at all for the usual workings of government, too old to be a rebellious revolutionary, to simply be the voice of change. It made Arthur queasy to think of, truly, filled him with bitter bile and hatred. He knew that something was wrong with the man, but he was almost in denial. After all, he'd never had a bad boss himself, despite whatever befell his fellow Nations with their own bosses. Well, alright, he hadn't had a bad boss since the crown became merely a figurehead. So he trusted his people to dependably elect the correct person for the job. But even still, he grew more and more sick at heart, weaker and weaker, as it became more abundantly obvious that despite all evidence that there was something not terribly trustworthy about Sutler, they were going to elect him anyway. And by the time he faced that git Sutler face to face, he had a few words to spare for him.
"What are you planning on doing to my people?" he asked, crossing his arms. He tried to ignore how tired he felt, how he had to adjust his posture to catch himself and stay upright, how pale he looked, putting on a strong front. Never let them see you sweat, Arthur. That's the way.
"It's simple," Sutler said, voice calm and level. "I plan to do whatever it takes to maintain my command over this country. And I trust that you won't attempt anything rash to try to prevent that. After all, you are obliged to keep the secrets of the state, are you not?"
"With all due respect, Sutler," he started, but was cut off by the watchdog.
"Chancellor Sutler," Creedy said, his voice oozing contempt. It was obvious he didn't want this moral tie to the people around, and Arthur frankly wished he didn't have to claim the rat bastard as a citizen of the country at all, for that matter. Creedy seemed even worse than Sutler, a snake in wolf's clothing, to amend the adage.
"Chancellor Sutler, then," he amended, voice dripping with 'this is idiocy,' and 'interrupt me again and I will punch you in the mouth, you impetuous little...' "With all due respect, I will not allow anyone to walk all over the great people of this country, whether they claim to be my leader or not. If it comes down to it, I will place the integrity of my people over my duty to any ruddy snake of a politician who tries to make me choose." Sutler met his eyes confidently, blue eyes malicious, boring into his own green eyes intently. He didn't need to see the grin on Creedy's face to know that he'd said the wrong thing.
"What did that sound like to you, Mr. Creedy?" Sutler asked, venom dripping from his icy tone, and Arthur's eyes widened.
"Treason, Chancellor Sutler," Mr. Creedy replied. Arthur could practically hear his grin, without even turning to face him. "It sounded to me like someone is looking to slander the good name of the party."
"That's what I thought as well. The rest of you may go," the high chancellor said, dismissing the rest of his cabinet with a wave of his hand. They filed out obediently, all except Creedy, who blocked the exit when Arthur turned. Well dammit. He didn't have a good feeling about this at all.
"This is absurd, you git! Accusing me of treason? And just what in the bloody hell does that mean?"
"It means that you've conspired against the British government, Mr. Kirkland," Sutler replied calmly, and Arthur knew that when his boss didn't call him England he was completely out of luck.
"I can't very well conspire against myself, now can I?" he snapped bitterly. "I am England, in case you've forgotten. I've fought alongside my countrymen for years now. I've seen regimes overthrown – hell, I witnessed the fall of the Third Reich – but never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that my own boss would be the one who needs overthrowing!"
"Creedy. Seize him," Sutler said. Arthur's eyes widened, and he turned to face Creedy, determined to fight, dammit. But he must have been weaker than he'd thought previously, because before he could raise his fists to defend himself the butt of Creedy's pistol knocked into his temple.
"Bloody fucking..." he murmured, or something along those lines, before his vision swam and his knees buckled and he collapsed at Creedy's feet. The Nation looked up at the Chancellor, betrayal in his green eyes, and Sutler looked impassively down at him.
"I'd watch that mouth of yours, Mr. Kirkland," Creedy remarked. "It's liable to get you into a real mess one of these days, you know." And then the Nation's eyes rolled back into his head, as he fell into unconsciousness.
With the Nation in custody, Sutler's victory was complete.
When Arthur had awoken, it had been in a subterranean cell. He could tell, because the air was cold and damp (he'd been stripped of his suit jacket and tie, apparently). The ties of a black bag were cinched tightly around his throat, and his hands were handcuffed behind his back. He could tell someone was standing next to him. Probably the person who'd thrown him in here in the first place. And of course, that suspicion was confirmed when the black bag was yanked off of his head. He looked up, ignoring the throbbing in his head at the onslaught of the dim light from outside the cell. And there stood Creedy. Well, of course. No one but the highest-ups should know that the Nation himself was under arrest. That made total sense, the part of Arthur's mind that wasn't really engaged in the current moment noted.
"Hello, Mr. Kirkland. How do you like your new accommodations?" Arthur spat on one pristine shoe, not seeming to care that there was a trace of blood in the sputum.
"Rot in hell, Creedy. Your whole bloody party can, for all I care." The butt of the pistol slammed into his cheekbone, this time, and he was sure it fractured, at least. He couldn't help the cry that escaped him as the force of the blow threw him to the stone.
"I hope for your sake that Nations don't need to eat," Creedy said, his level tone utterly and unsettlingly belying the force with which he'd walloped Arthur not a moment before. The man strode toward the door, pausing in the doorway and looking back at Arthur, who glared fiercely at him from the floor. "Do behave, Mr. Kirkland. This can be difficult, or it can be easy. And if I were in your position, I would choose to make things easy." And then the door was shut, and most of the light disappeared except for a small half-moon, divided into segments by bars, which dimly gleamed somewhere off to Arthur's left. Head throbbing, hot tears welled in his eyes, unable to be wiped away and unwilling to do more than simply slide hopelessly, despairingly down his cheeks. Well, he mused bitterly, his suspicion had been right about Sutler. He kicked himself for not seeing it sooner. And now the great people of his nation were vulnerable, and he couldn't even protect them now.
When the ache had started, just a line of pain as if his arm was in danger of coming off, he didn't think too much of it. After all, he'd been in shackles, and it was understandable, you know, that his arm would be sore just there from the muscle tension of his arms being behind his back. But it got worse. So much worse. He could feel tissue dying, and yet the pain remained just as fresh, and he could tell that the bruise was getting worse and worse. When it split open, and blood soaked through the shirt that he wore was when he couldn't stand it anymore.
"What in the fuck are you bastards doing!" he screamed, and somehow managed to get to his feet, he didn't know how, throwing his good shoulder against the door. "I demand to know, you bloody gits! There are people dying! Or are you too fucking blind to notice!" In time he howled himself out, slumping against the door, feeling hot and at the same time cold, like he was sick again. And when he looked at the wound on his shoulder, yellow pus was oozing from it, crusting into a scab. That location shouldn't even have anything there. It was rural. Away from...well, pretty much everything. There was a town nearby, but that would be a little closer to his clavicle...what was that place? Nightingale...no. Blackbird? Closer. Ah. Lark. Lark...Larkhill! That was it. But Larkhill was tiny. Safe, if mostly for the fact that it was almost completely off the radar, surrounded by forest. As far as he could remember, no one had even lived there for years. There was a general outcry, he could feel it. An almost imperceptible ache as though thousands – tens of thousands – were having loved ones ripped away from them again. And all the while, the infection near Larkhill raged untreated, festered, and Arthur screamed in outrage and pain, until exhaustion took hold and dragged him under.
Whether it was a fever dream or a sleeping one, he didn't know, but there was fire. Explosions rocked the earth, made it shudder and tremble, people ran screaming in terror. One man stood, with fire for eyes and a body made of ash, amidst the fire and smoke and putrid gases.
"The man from room five," Arthur whispered, breathlessly, as miles away an ambitious doctor whispered the same, and when he awoke gasping as if surfacing from a deep ocean, the arm of his shirt had been ripped off, a pool of blood was drying brownish crimson in the dusty earth of his cell, and his wound was cauterized together in a throbbing, angry red scar.
After the chaos near Lark Hill subsided, it appeared that Sutler and his crew was being rather inconspicuous. Perhaps fearing that, you know, whatever it was they were doing wouldn't actually succeed in killing Arthur again. People were still being taken from their homes, of course. He could tell that. The ache had subsided into a dull numbness, a sense as if most of his body was asleep, so to speak. He had a lot of time to think, then. In the calm. He knew he was under the houses of Parliament, because he could hear Big Ben chiming the hours. That was how he kept track of the days, for the most part. He lost track of the month, however, and the day. But he could keep track of what time of day it was, dammit, and he was clinging to that like a lifeline.
Creedy was apparently keeping true to his word. No one had come along with any sort of food or sustenance for him, and his stomach roared with hunger even as his body ached and the very thought of eating anything made him ill. The scar near Lark Hill, as hours ticked on into days, into weeks, slowly stopped throbbing. The scar didn't heal, but it faded, a jagged white line to remind him of the atrocity that had happened there, of the loss of human life. That was all he knew about it. What had Sutler ordered done there? And who was the man with the body of ash who stood so defiant in the midst of the flames?
He barely noticed when he became ill, other than the fact that his stomach was queasier than usual, until he felt hot and cold, and he would tremble and shake when he tried to lie still. There were times when he felt like he was going to die, and other times when he wished that he would. It felt like there was poison spreading hot and thick through his veins like a toxic serum, from two pinpricks that he couldn't place. He felt numb, he lost sensation in his hands, and he wanted nothing more than to curl up into a pathetic, quivering ball and waste away in the foetal position. He threw up, nothing but thin, acidic bile at first. There was nothing in his stomach to lose, just sputum and the clear yellow acids of his liver. He was horrified but unsurprised, when he began throwing up blood, but every part of his body ached, every civilian he could tell cried out in outrage and the death toll, he knew, was high. Unbelievably high, he was certain. And the way that his heart ached, the core of his government quivering as if there were people involved who wanted nothing to do with the sickness, or whatever it was that was killing off his people, the way that suddenly that feeling disappeared like the questioners were wiped from the face of the earth, Arthur knew that Sutler was involved, that the Norsefire party was elbows-deep in this mess. When it was all over, when his body slowly began to recover and he curled himself into as small of a ball as he could, lying there just shivering, lacking even the will to rage and scream into the dim light outside of his cell like he had with Larkhill, grieving for the prodigious loss of civilian life.
He must be really deep underground, he realized after a while, when it sank in just how muffled Big Ben's booming voice was. He didn't like that. He was by no means claustrophobic, necessarily, but he felt terribly vulnerable, trapped this far below ground. And he realized that it wasn't apathy that caused no one to come when he had been screaming. No one could hear him. Oh, that bastard Creedy was a genius. He wondered bitterly what he'd told the citizens had happened to him. Then again, he wondered if anyone even knew he was missing at all. Surely someone was aware of the Nation's absence. The primary voice of the people, the embodiment of fierce patriotism and loyalty to self and state surely couldn't merely completely vanish without any notice and everyone be fine with it. Then again, Sutler had the country eating out of the palm of his hand, sickeningly enough. After all, Arthur had been down here for how long? He wondered that himself sometimes.
He also wondered if he himself was starting to go a little mad. He didn't know the difference between sleeping and waking anymore. It was all the same drab earthen walls, even in his dreams. He had no idea if it had been weeks, months, years he'd been down here. He'd lost all track of time while he was half out of his mind with fever, when first Larkhill and then...whatever that catastrophic plague was had ravaged his body. All he had was Big Ben's gentle, dependable toll, on the hour every hour, to keep him company even as it slowly drove him insane. The sound of the deep, resonant bell was comforting, like the soothing voice of a long-lost friend, and it lulled him to sleep, stirred him to wakefulness, and guided him through his waking hours.
He woke up to darkness once and thought he'd gone blind. Then, he noticed the soft shift of cloth against his cheekbones, and realized that someone must have blindfolded him as he slept. Probably that dirtbag Creedy, he decided with a curl of his lip. He kicked himself mentally, too, for being so unguarded that someone had actually snuck up on him as he slept and managed to add insult to injury. As if there was anything to look at, really.
It's a scare tactic, he realizes later (as his thoughts become more frenzied, slipping, slipping), to make him hear things that aren't there and think that there could actually be other bodies in the cell with him. A plan to make him paranoid and desperate, like a caged animal, but he wouldn't let them win. They must be ignoring him pointedly now, he thinks, because if he had died a new Nation would rise in his place but they call their dystopia England and so he still lives. The numbness is still there, and he sometimes wakes up with cramps now, and he thinks he's actually shrinking, which amazes him because he wasn't too tall to begin with. Over time he's found a position and stayed there, slumped against the wall with his hands bound behind his back and his legs sprawled in front of him. Nothing like Lark Hill has happened since then, though the scar sometimes tingles and throbs and when it does fire explodes behind his eyelids and in his benumbed limbs, cold with dank subterranean permanence (since being blindfolded, his other senses have improved dramatically), he can almost feel the shudders of the earth like the day Lark Hill was healed. And he can still see the man made of ash, the man from room five, can still hear the inhuman howl and he wonders what happened to him.
He wonders, sometimes, if that man is still alive. If he was caught, if he was imprisoned or killed, or if he's still out there somewhere. He wonders if that man will wreak his revenge for the atrocities inflicted on him. He wonders if that man knows that he exists, as well as he knows that the man exists. His answer comes in what must be the middle of the night, or the middle of the day one, but Ben has tolled eleven strokes and must be getting close to tolling twelve. "...to Madame Justice that I dedicate this concerto, in honor of the holiday she seems to have taken from these parts, and in recognition of the impostor that stands in her stead." Behind the blindfold, Arthur's eyes widen, and he knows somehow that this is the Man. The Man from room five. And indirectly, he also knows (or else he's going insane) that the man's words mean that he knows him, as well. The Man's words make it clear that Arthur hasn't yet been gone so long as to be forgotten.
And then Ben tolls twelve, and with a series of booming explosions that cause the stones around him to shudder and quake, his heart, the center of government, flutters erratically and for a moment he actually fears that he's going to die, that whatever the man is doing is going to stop his heart and kill him and a Nation will rise in his place who hasn't seen enough to know that Norsefire is corrupt, that Norsefire is evil. He doesn't hear the 1812 Overture playing in his actual ears, like he didn't hear the Man's voice, but somehow he knows it's there, and he wonders dryly if this is really suitable music to die to. As the tremors stop, his heart stills, and he wonders with a brief panicked moment how long it takes to die after one's heart stops, before with a soft 'thump' it starts up again, good as new, as if nothing had ever happened. Time suddenly decides to clarify itself for him, and Arthur knows, because he knows his own history, what the man is doing, what he plans to do. And for the first time in years, Arthur smiles, laughs, because he knows something that Sutler and his men don't.
Remember, remember the fifth of November.
It occurs to him later that if the Man really does blow up Parliament, then he's pretty much doomed. Being practically interred alive in a secret cell deep beneath the building means that either his cell will collapse in the explosion, or the way out will collapse and he'll just...waste away down here. Presuming that the sheer fact that Parliament just got blown up doesn't make him drop dead right then. He doesn't know how that's going to work, still, since he might've nearly died when the Man blew up the Bailey (obviously, that was what was blown up, with the dedication to Justice, and all).
If he were perhaps a bit saner he might ponder what exactly blowing up Parliament would accomplish. But it made perfect sense, at the moment. After all, Parliament was a symbol, as much as he was a symbol, symbols that had been cast aside. It might be poetic for him to die, in fact, with Parliament. The two symbols of a government pushed aside and a time bygone, ending in a fiery explosion to symbolize the end of the Norsefire regime. Yes, the end of Sutler's reign. He doesn't even know all that's gone on since he's been imprisoned, but he knows that if his death will actually help Sutler's downfall, then he'll be first in line for the crematoriums.
That might be a bit of a bad joke, and he mentally apologizes to Germany for it, not as if the other Nation can hear him or anything. But from time to time he wonders if Germany, if Austria have scars from their internment camps, like he has from Lark Hill (he's deduced by now that that's what it was, that something horrible was done to people taken there, like Auschwitz, and he remembers when he and Alfred liberated the concentration camps). He doesn't think about the other Nations often, because it makes him mourn the bygone times when they used to all get together. Alfred was in bad shape before Arthur was made prisoner. He's in worse shape now, Arthur would venture to guess, because even with all of his hero posturing he was pretty useless without some backing and Arthur wasn't there to back him up like he usually did. Would Alfred play the hero now, if he had the chance? Sometimes, and Arthur laughs imagining it, he thinks that Alfred might be trying to save him at this very moment, with one of those ridiculous machines he designs.
Thinking of the other Nations makes him sad, because he hasn't seen another human being in so long, let alone another Nation like himself (Hell, he'd even be happy to see that wine bastard France right now), and he wonders if Sutler has declared war on anyone. He wonders what could have happened, if he had kept his big mouth shut and not gotten himself imprisoned the first day he met the tyrant (he'd probably have put off the inevitable by a few months, maybe a year, however long Lark Hill was from when Sutler took hold).
He doesn't hear the proclamation, but he knows what it said. One year to the day, on November the fifth, this man – the Man – wanted the citizens all to rise up and stand up for themselves and their freedom. Arthur starts counting the days in earnest, then. Three-hundred and sixty-four days. Eight-thousand, seven-hundred thirty-six hours until he's either free or dead, and Arthur's realized by now that he doesn't really care anymore which way the cards fall. As long as the Man, V ("V for Victory!" he remembers the cry from one of his old bosses – Churchill – and laughs, because to him the letter stands for the same thing now), wins, it doesn't matter if Arthur lives or dies, because the Nation to rise up in his place won't be under Sutler's thumb! Ben tolls again, and Arthur smirks. Eight-thousand, seven-hundred thirty-five...
He doesn't know, honestly, what's going on outside. He doesn't know what Inspector Finch is doing, or who Evey Hammond is, or about the deaths of Prothero, Lilliman, and Surridge. He knows that people are still being taken, but V has fallen for the most part under the radar, so no insights have been offered that salvage Arthur, however briefly, from the loneliness. But at night, he thinks he hears V speaking, and he believes it's to him. The tone is reassuring, even if he can't make out the words, which doesn't help Arthur to know whether or not V plans to rescue him before Parliament is blown to hell because he could be saying "don't worry, I'll make sure that Sutler's reign ends here" and it would sound reassuring to Arthur.
Dryly, he thinks, and for the first time in years, that Sutler really does in all likelihood beat out Hitler for the 'worst boss ever' award. The death toll isn't as high, certainly, but Germany would attest to the fact that at least Hitler didn't keep his own Nation blindfolded and handcuffed under lock and key (Arthur has learned the subtle art of keeping his hands and arms completely immobile, because handcuffs bite and he's been wearing them for ten years, more or less). Lark Hill doesn't throb anymore, and when he sees the Man with a body of ash he sees him with a face now, eyes of fire reduced to black holes in a plaster face, all Harlequin cheeks, wide grin, and exaggerated goatee. Guy Fawkes, he remembers, and he remembers that the man fought for what he believed in, and died for it. But something ineffable lived on, even though the flesh perished, and he can't believe how far he's come. A young Nation, when he was among the party who caught Guy Fawkes under the House of Lords, he'd felt no pity for the treasonous man. But now that he's a prisoner himself, under suspect of treason, even, the very same plan to blow up Parliament thrills him with hope and makes him feel alive.
It would be sickening, frankly, if he hadn't been down here for so goddamn long.
Big Ben tolls eleven, on November the fourth. At night, he's sure this time, because he knows how to mark the time now. No one has come for him, and it's almost the fifth. Whether or not the explosives have been planted, whether or not everything is all done and ready, Arthur's given up hope that they're going to bother saving him. So he sits there, his head tilted back against the coarse stone wall, waiting for what he knows will come in an hour's time. He's accepted now that he's going to die. That whatever V has planned must not include rescuing him, or else he intends to rescue him through the freedom of death. Whichever is the case, he's decided that he's ready. It's been far too long. Far too long, trapped in this miniscule hell, and he isn't even sure if he's alive anymore, let alone worth saving.
"Remember, remember the fifth of November," he murmurs aloud to himself, his voice sounding strange and foreign because even though he knows he's probably insane, even though he knows that the other Nations would probably smack him around a bit, bring him to his senses if they were here, he's been strong enough to keep his inner turmoil inside. "The gunpowder treason and plot. I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot." It's a few minutes later that his heart wrenches, and the blindfold over his eyes grows damp with tears, and he knows, somehow knows, that V is dead. The man he imagined championing his cause, the Man with a body of ash who appeared as a modern-day Guy Fawkes to be England's salvation is dead. But even though he sobs for the death of the man, he knows that the idea is far from gone. And somehow he knows, tonight, Sutler's regime will still end – if it hasn't, already – and Parliament will go up in flame.
As if on cue, he sensed there was someone in the room with him, silent footfalls moving towards him. He felt a hand on his face, could smell and feel the warm leather gloves, and he knew as his face was turned up to his invisible visitor's that there was a wide smile being bestowed upon him. His handcuffs fell open and he flexed his fingers for the first time in years. He smiled.
"I've waited to meet you," he said, and ghostly-soft fingers traced over the scar on Lark Hill, as a shudder ran down his spine. "I wondered if you knew of me." For a moment, nothing but silence met his ears, and the fingers stopped before drawing back from the scar.
"A bigger victim of the High Chancellor's oppressive regime couldn't be found," the voice replied after a pause, low and smooth, yet sounding soothing, sympathetic to the Nation's plight, and to be honest Arthur couldn't tell if he even heard it. "The people will need you," the man added suddenly, as if remembering his original purpose for seeking out Arthur in his cellar hell, and then his hands were on the knot of the blindfold around Arthur's head. But as it fell away, and he thought he would look up to see the Man he'd imagined so vividly, the Man who had given him hope, carried the standard, for the first time in years...but there was no one there. No man with a body of ash, no man with the face of a revolutionary, no harlequin cheeks or amicable grin, no man at all for that matter, and for a moment Arthur is stunned. Green eyes blinked, squinting, and unused muscles flexed as he shakily, like a newborn foal, got to his feet. A black cloak lay on the ground a few feet away from him, and when he moved to it, holding it in his hands, one word ran through his mind, in the voice of the Man with the body of ash.
And who the hell was Arthur to argue? Intuiting somehow that the cloak would protect him, he slung it over his shoulders and prepared to ram the door – only to find that it already was ajar. This was good for him for a multitude of reasons – chief among which being that in his current weakened, atrophied state, he was in no condition to be trying to break down anything, let alone a door that he couldn't even break down in a frenzied panic near the beginning of his incarceration. He could almost hear the ticking down of minutes, an invisible timer as he stumbled down the hall, through the door, and up from the stone prison towards freedom.
The invisible timer had faded as the air got fresher and less stagnant, like the last vestiges of stir-crazy insanity fading away as his atrophied muscles struggled to bear him up a seemingly neverending spiral staircase. Staggering into the crisp, November air, he nearly collapsed then and there, feeling weaker than a kitten. From the New Palace Yard, he looked out and balked. Literally thousands of people, in cloaks, proudly wearing Guy Fawkes masks and cloaks much like the one which wrapped securely around his own shoulders, were bearing down towards them, pushing the Fingermen soldiers out of the way. Big Ben started to strike twelve. The fifth of November. His heart swelled with pride, and he noticed the music. V's music, the 1812 Overture. The crescendo swelled, as the crowd came to a stop, and Arthur was frozen in place for a moment, staring at the sea of frozen, identical faces. A chill ran down his spine. This was V's plan all along, then, was it? A massive movement of the people, a people who would not be ignored any longer. Bravo. Before he could reflect further, the explosions started. He turned and stared, in dumbstruck awe, as the houses of Parliament went up in spectacular flame, burning quickly and splendidly in time with the music, an intense percussive crescendo that thrilled Arthur to his core (and Arthur didn't even feel like his heart was going to stop, which he wasn't sure was good or bad, now that he thought about it). Big Ben didn't even finish his twelve hollow rings before the explosives reached it and it let out a skewed, dissonant cry that was heard still over the music and the explosions. The clock face burst outward in a shower of fire and glass that rained down toward Arthur, onto Arthur, and the Nation flinched, certain he was going to get skewered by some piece of the clock's face and die rather anticlimactically on the lawn of the ruined building.
But when he opened his eyes a moment later, the ground around him was littered with smoldering debris and molten glass, in an almost perfect circle around him. He blinked, and then the screech of rockets leaping high into the sky drew his attention back to the light show, where the finale erupted, a scarlet V setting the night sky ablaze. V for Victory, he mused wryly.
When he looked back to the throng of people, the thousands of upturned faces looking on in awe, something wrenched his heart and he knew that some of the faces in that crowd, who had all pulled off their masks and hats to watch the show, were dead. As the music began to fade, something fell free of the cloak and landed at his feet, and Arthur looked down, before stooping to pick it up. A single blood red rose. A Scarlet Carson, if he recalled his botany, and somehow he knew: it was V's calling card. And the man who had saved him from a fate worse than death, who died in restoring power to its proper hands, left this calling card not in remembrance of his own death, or a promise of Arthur's, but for the hope of a new world dawning. He smiled, running his finger over the soft petals, and when he looked up at the crowd again there were a few holes where people had once stood amongst the mob but stood no more, able to be at peace. Keeping the cloak on, because he was hardly presentable with one shirtsleeve ripped off and shirt and pants stained with years, if not decades worth of mud and blood and grime, he walked toward the crowd, the hand not holding the rose attempting to make sense of his matted gold hair.
Among the crowd, a few recognized him as soon as they saw him, emerging like a phoenix from the fiery ruins of Parliament. He had been gone for years, since the Norsefire rise to power. Sutler had told the masses that he had been relocated "for his own protection," much as Sutler himself had taken to hiding. But with England, they hadn't even had the broadcasts to tell them that he was alive. And to look at the gaunt, unshaven, disheveled Nation now, it was easy to tell that Sutler had lied to them, had secretly been putting England through unspeakable torment – or at least an unforgivable neglect, in the years of the Nation's absence. It seemed to be a miracle that the voice and face of the people was even alive. A cloak like the one they all wore hung over him as well, as if he was hiding the changes to the rest of his appearance from them. Those closest to the front were the first to recognize him, however, from the determined look in his intense green eyes, and the set of his jaw.
"That's England," they murmured excitedly, "England, our Nation, alive!" He seemed surprised as the mob of people spread the word, but he froze in his tracks, flabbergasted, when they burst out into raucous applause and cheers.
Then again, he mused lightly, he must look like quite the Christ figure, rising seemingly from the dead after having deserted his people for years. He didn't even have the foggiest what all had happened in his absence, what kind of suffering and oppression Sutler had inflicted upon the great people of England. But he knew, as they recognized him on sight and responded so warmly to his appearance, that V had been right all along. The people did need him. And he would lead them to a new day, a brighter day. With a confidence in his stride and the carriage of a gentleman, he walked over to one of the commanders of the military units (stunned to see him, apparently, but not joining the applause) who had a bullhorn.
"I'm not in the mood to make this a formal order," he began bluntly, meeting the commander's eyes boldly with his own vivid green, "but if you let me have that bullhorn now I'll remember it when I'm cleaning out Sutler's chain of command," he said, holding out his hand, and was rather surprised with himself that he didn't actually swear at the poor, shocked-looking man. But he was handed the bullhorn without too much of a fuss, and he nodded his thanks before turning to the mob and raising the bullhorn to his mouth.
"Tonight," he said, "you came here to stand up for yourselves. You came here to show the government that you would be oppressed no longer, and by god you've done that splendidly," he remarked, and looked over his shoulder to the smoldering ruins of the Parliament building, the embers of which still provided an orange halo behind him. The response was mixed. A few cheered, some laughed, most just stood there expectantly hanging on his every word. "I don't want any credit for anything that's happened," Arthur said honestly, looking back out over them. "That was all V's doing. All your doing. As was proven tonight, V as an idea is in each and every one of you, and so it is our job – yours and mine – to carry on and take the next step that V made available to us! Together, we can set the Norsefire regime behind us, and move on to a brighter day, as a people and as a nation!" He'd picked up some eloquence over the years, if he did say so himself. But now was the time to set them to work. And he could let himself get a little...saltier here.
"First things first, let's get all this damn propaganda down!" he barked, as he reached out with his still-sleeved arm from under the cloak to tear down a "Strength through Unity, Unity through Faith" poster, as he shot the military commanders a glance that said 'yes, you too.'
And no one went against the order of their Nation that night. The citizens were more than happy to know that there was a ruler in power with their interests in mind, and the military? Well, Arthur could easily pull rank on them. And besides that, he had a mob at his beck and call. Yeah, with Sutler and Creedy not responding, and it slowly becoming increasingly obvious that they were dead, they weren't going to do something as stupid as to blatantly oppose the Nation's direct orders. Not even those who had been members of the party.
So as dawn broke on November the Fifth, hope too dawned for the first time in years, and a revolution was put peacefully to rest, as the face of the people rose to lead them. And, Arthur mused thoughtfully as he watched the dispersed mob part and return to their homes; he just might experiment a little in self-government. For a while, at least.