Author's Note: So yes, an update. I don't really know what to say. This fic is still really special to me, and I have every intention of finishing it. I hope that you'll follow me to the end of this journey, and I hope that won't be too much longer. *laugh*
You Can't Take the Sky From Me
By Everything is Magic
Canada didn't have that many belongings with him at the base. Most of his free time was spent on his mechanics hobby, and all of those items were bits and bobs he'd collected here and there that he kept in his workshop at the base. Much of that technically belonged to the military anyway. He was able to cram all of his stuff into two duffel bags, and he carried them with ease to Cuba's apartment above La Bayamesa. He'd contacted the barkeeper the day before, and he'd agreed with the only stipulation being that Canada pay for his own food. Of course he would, Canada had replied.
So here he was, moving out of the dorm that had been his home for almost three years, and for a reason that he would have found unfathomable just a few weeks before. His chest clenched as he recalled his last conversation with America. It had been a horrible, aggressive conversation, the likes of which he'd only had a few of his entire life with America. Previously they could cool down and make up, but this time that wasn't an option. America was as close as a brother and was his very best friend, and he was gone, an outlaw aboard a pirate ship (no doubt that's where he was hiding) with little chance for redemption. He wasn't trying to be cynical, but if the Kosmider had their fingers that deep within the military, what chance did they really have to clear his name? He would try, they would try, but he didn't have high hopes.
The door clicked open and Cuba greeted him, holding back his white and chocolate brown cat, Ice Cream, with one hairy leg as he did so. "Yo Canada, come on inside. The futon is all yours so you can just set your stuff beside it."
Canada nodded, and his cheeks flushed slightly when Cuba slapped a hand on his shoulder. "Thanks so much, eh. You're a lifesaver. I don't know what I would have done without you…"
Cuba shrugged. "It's no big deal. Just as long as you pay for your own food." He let out a bark of a laugh.
Sliding his duffel bag straps off his shoulders and onto the ground, Canada responded with a wan smile.
There was an awkward silence, neither of them wanting to bring up the reason Canada was there in the first place.
Canada knew that Cuba didn't like his cousin. It wasn't a genuine, fierce hate or even really a hatred at all. He found him irritating and America played right into that, realizing how much he frustrated Cuba and getting a kick out of it. The first encounter between the two, years before, had been antagonistic, and it had only cemented and escalated from there. It was just a fact of life that Cuba and America didn't get along, and Canada had just treated it with exasperation and resignation before now. He was sure that Cuba didn't wish any genuine ill will upon his cousin, but that didn't mean this situation wasn't still awkward.
Finally Cuba cleared his throat. "Uh, sorry about your cousin."
"Yeah, thanks," replied Canada, sitting down on the futon as he did so. He sighed.
Cuba scratched the side of his head, nervous. "I didn't really like him, but it still seems… kinda weird."
Ice Cream had trotted up to the futon, mewing and requesting pets from Canada. He obliged. "Y-yeah it…" Gosh this was uncomfortable. He'd always found conversing with Cuba to be easy and relaxing, but that couldn't be further from the truth at the moment. "I'm sure he'll get his name cleared," Canada responded.
Cuba nodded. He had no idea how deep this went. "He doesn't really seem like the treasonous type, that's for sure. Those hotshots never are."
"Y-you know," Canada began, and he gulped down a lump in his throat, "I always thought I knew America better than anyone else, but lately it's like he's been a completely different person."
"…Do you think he's guilty?"
"Eh? No way!" He shook his head vehemently. "I just think that maybe if he hadn't started acting differently, none of this would have happened. France says he changed for the better, and I don't know… he could be right, but maybe sometimes it's better to stay who you are. Even if changing makes you braver or more heroic or… whatever, you were safe before, happy before, so why risk that?"
Cuba crinkled his nose and sat down next to Canada, smacking him on the back as he did so. "Y'know I really don't have much of any idea what you're talking about."
"Oh yeah, sorry about that…" He exhaled, the curly strand of hair that fell into his face flying up as he did so. "I guess someone has to try and save the world, but I have no idea why he thinks it has to be him."
Cuba let out a short laugh. "That kid has always wanted to save the world, what's new about that?"
"Ah no you don't understand." Canada frowned. "I guess I could… how long before you open the bar for the evening?"
"Two hours, why?"
"If you don't mind, can I tell you what's happened? Some of it is sort of… private and top secret, so maybe not all of it, but I just need to vent. "
Cuba shot him a half smile. "Sure thing. Do you wanna drink before you get started? I can go down to the bar and grab you something."
Canada pursed his lips and let out a sputter. "God, yes."
"It's not the most ideal situation," England said. "Mobility is limited here and the deck is bloody covered in ice, but it will have to do." He adjusted the harness around his waist, which attached to the middle of the ship. Finland had advised they wear them when they were on deck doing anything that required a lot of effort or dangerous movement. The slick ice of the deck made it too dangerous otherwise, and although the cleats they'd been given to wear on the deck helped, it was still worth taking the extra safety precaution. The furs they wore were still cumbersome as well. The Ukko crew had no such difficulty, and their mobility was not at all hindered by the presence of the thick clothing. They were quite obviously very much used to it.
America laughed. "On the bright side, if you accidentally stab me it probably won't even penetrate all these layers."
England huffed, crossing his arms over his chest, his sword in hand and sticking outward to his left. "I'm not going to stab you. It's true that normally you'd be learning with a dull practice sword instead of the real thing, but we don't have that option."
"Easy England, I was kidding." America held up his arms, his gloved hand clutching a long small sword that he'd borrowed from Denmark's 'weapons workshop'. "I trust you, you know that."
England's frown melted into a small smile. "Right then, have you had any training at all with a blade?"
"They had some optional fencing lessons back in school, and I went to a few of them, but that was years ago and it was pretty basic," America responded.
England nodded. He had initially been worried about there not being enough light, but the unusually vivid aurora combined with the lights of the ship gave them more than enough. "Well at the very least we're not starting from scratch then." He hilted his rapier.
"I've got to teach you how to hold the damn thing before we go forward," England let out a puff of air and shook his head at America's dismal stance. He walked over and stepped to America's side, hesitating a moment before placing his hand atop his sword arm, his left arm.
It seemed that he couldn't stop touching him, like fate or coincidence or whatever was forcing them to come into physical contact almost constantly, England thought as he moved his hand down, placing it atop America's fingers. There were thick gloves preventing their skin from touching, but nonetheless, the thought wouldn't leave England's mind. He felt as if the world was teasing him. How much more could he take of touching America, sleeping with him, sitting on his lap, instructing him, and holding him until he couldn't handle it any longer? It was all quite unfair.
Relieved that the cold would hide his blush, England cleared his throat. "R-right so what you've got here is a small sword. I know it's not actually small, but that's the name. You're going to need to take your thumb and your index finger and pinch the hilt between the two." He shifted America's fingers into the correct position, and America allowed him to do so, too intent at listening to England to protest. "Good now. You can actually hold the sword either supplanted, with the palms up and the knuckles down, or pronated, with the palm down and the knuckles up. It makes for a very versatile weapon."
He exhaled as he pulled away, his hot breath tickling America's cheek and causing them both to flush. "Got it?"
"Yeah, I've got it," America replied. "Now let's get to the actual fighting!" He grinned.
England chuckled. "Honestly, ever the impatient aren't you?" America stuck his tongue out, which England deigned to ignore. "Right so, sparring." He cleared his throat and began to instruct America on the ways of the blade.
America was a fast learner when he wanted to be, England discovered. He had a feeling that he was the type to have to be really interested in something to take it in, and luckily he appeared to be legitimately fascinated by what England was teaching him. He had extremely fast reflexes, no surprise, and his natural athleticism was apparent in his every move. England was simultaneously jealous of this and attracted to it. Of course, England reminded himself, it took years upon years to hone one's skills with a sword, and America would walk away from today's lessons with only the basics.
England had just parried an attack from America when Finland's heavy cleats and his cheerful 'hello!' interrupted their practice. America jerked up and smiled, waving at the captain.
England nodded and greeted him as well. "Good afternoon, Finland."
"Good afternoon!" He smiled. "I have something important to tell you."
Both America and England hilted their blades. "Huh?"
"You may have noticed how bright the aurora is today, or at the very least, I'm sure someone has mentioned it to you." His smile turned into a small frown, and he glanced up at the sky, taking in the lights, which were now flashing green and yellow and undulating across the horizon.
"Yes Norway mentioned he found it unusual," England replied.
"Well…" A nervous laugh, and Finland scratched his cheek, "it turns out we're in the middle of a geomagnetic storm! It's happened before, but usually we're at much lower latitude so it doesn't affect us as much."
"A geomagnetic storm?" America said. "Can't really intense ones interrupt radar and navigation and radio and all of that?"
"Our radio isn't working at all, and the compasses are going crazy, much to Norway's irritation," Finland replied.
"Should we head back down below the polar circle?" England inquired. This wasn't something he was familiar with at all, having never taken Victoria to high latitudes.
Finland shook his head vehemently. "That would be a terrible idea." He grinned, and there was something in his expression, something almost predatory; a glint in his eye and a clench of his fist added to the effect. "This is the perfect time to go for the Kosmider base. They'll never know we're coming. We've been handed a huge advantage."
America blinked, still taken aback by the small, baby-faced captain's occasionally fierce attitude. "Um, how are we going to get there with none of the nav working though?"
Finland held his hands up and shrugged. "Thanks to your directions and all the landmarks you provided, it shouldn't be a problem. Norway is the best of the best, and we're close to land already. It shouldn't be too difficult." America puffed up his chest slightly, feeling proud that his info had been that helpful, despite what it had cost him to acquire.
England bit his lip and tapped his chin. With any other crew, he'd be thinking this a disaster. But the Ukko had the skills to back up their confidence, and he wasn't too concerned about arriving at the Kosmider base. That being said… he was worried about not being able to contact the Victoria. He'd sent them a brief radio upon arriving the previous night, but vanishing into the polar circle for days without any more contact was sure to cause them to fear the worst. He sighed. It's not as if there was anything he could do about it. "Still about a day left before we arrive, even with these circumstances?"
Finland nodded. "Yes, give or take some time."
Touching the sword at his side, America let out a short laugh. "I don't think I'll be an expert with this by then."
England glanced at him and, as much as he didn't want to boost his ego, attempted to force out a "you're doing very well, actually."
But Finland interrupted him. "If what England has told me about you in that plane is true, you're going to be fine." England blushed. "Speaking of we'll get your plane all loaded up with firepower before we arrive, no worry!"
"And also… you mentioned during lunch that you wanted to paint your plane and were wondering if we had anything for that?"
"Yeah. I mean it's not that big a deal if you don't. I was just wonder-"
"Oh no we do. Come with me." He held out his hand and gestured for America to follow him. "It's better if you start doing it while it's still warm out."
"Warm out?" America snorted.
"It will be much colder tonight," England said. "Once you bring the paint up, I'll be more than happy to help you out."
America patted him on the shoulder and smiled. "Thanks England, you're the best."
England buried his red cheeks and his smitten smile into the collar of his fur coat as America departed with Finland down below deck.
The door to the ship's storage room groaned loudly as Finland opened it. He pulled a string hanging from the ceiling in the center of the room, and lit it up, illuminating piles and piles of weapons and possessions and trunks and cabinets.
America walked in behind him, the wood creaking below his feet as he did so. Finland was already rummaging in a few cabinets at the back of the room, and he let out an 'aha!' after a few moments.
"This isn't actually paint made for planes, so it might not stay forever, but we've used it on our ship and weapons before, and even with the temperature here and the wear and tear, it's very sturdy," Finland explained as he placed some paint buckets on the floor.
Nodding, America joined Finland by his side. "Wow, thanks a lot, seriously."
Finland gestured dismissively. "It's no big deal." He smiled. "Now what are you planning on painting?"
America let out a short laugh and scratched the side of his head. "About that… at first I thought of just doing something cool with my name, but that would be a stupid idea since I'm, y'know… a fugitive."
Eyes widening, Finland leaned forward, more interested than ever in England's mysterious military friend. "Eh? A fugitive?"
He flinched and grimaced, hoping the dim light of the room would hide his reaction, but knowing it wouldn't. Taking a deep breath and calming himself, don't get worked up over this, America nodded. "I told you I was thrown out of the military," he sighed, noticing that he spoke his words a bit shakily. "I was suspected of…" the word was hard to say, "treason," he paused, trying his best to keep his voice steady, "of being a spy for the Kosmider… so I…" He rubbed the back of his head, and a nervous, sheepish smile crossed his lips. "I stole my own plane and ran away to England's ship."
Maybe it was the fact that America had been around so many pirates the past few days, god forbid, but the last part… when he said it again, actually made him sound kind of cool. He tried to berate himself for the thought, but it was a weak attempt.
Finland smiled at him, and there was something warm and knowing in his expression, genuine empathy, as if he was capable of reading far more of America's inner emotions than he'd wanted to display.
"Ahhh that's so cool," he replied. "Not the treason. That's awful of course. But taking what's yours and leaving them behind?" His smile grew.
"Well the Kosmider framed me… and…"
"That's smart then. If the Kosmider framed you, there's no way you'd be judged to be innocent." Finland tapped his chin.
"Y-yeah. I thought the same thing."
Finland reached up and ruffled America's hair. "You're a smart kid."
America blushed, distinctly embarrassed. "I'm not a kid…"
"Compared to me, both you and England are." He chuckled and winked. "But don't tell England I said that. He'd have my head."
"You and I both know that's not true," America said with a snort. "Anyway, the other thing I considered was… and you'll probably think this is dorky, but I thought it was an amazing idea for a moment. My favorite comic book character, the Aquila Avenger? But then I realized that maybe that's a bad idea because- "
Finland's jaw dropped and he practically jumped in excitement. "The Aquila Avenger? That's a great idea!"
America shot him a confused look. "I-I decided it was a bad idea because… well I'm not really representing Aquila any longer. Treason against the military is considered," he lowered his voice, sounding ashamed, "treason against your country. You're no longer a citizen." Something wet prickled at the corner of his eye, and he willed it to stop. "Didn't I give that up when I ran away?" his voice cracked, and he sniffled. He'd been able to hold it in this entire conversation, but this was something he hadn't considered yet, and it was… breaking him down once more. "I'm not even Aquilan now, am I?" He half choked on his words. "All I wanted was justice, and look where it got me…"
Finland reached over and rubbed his shoulder. "When I was growing up, I lived in a very small village. But we went into the city a few times a year, and I would buy as many magazines and comics as I could!" He smiled. "The village never changed much, but those stories gave me visions of a world beyond it. Adventurers and superheroes and…" he let out a short laugh, "pirates of course. I still collect them; pulp magazines and comic books, and I can tell Sweden thinks it's a bit silly, but he'd never admit it."
America frowned. "Umm…"
"I love the Aquila Avenger!" he exclaimed. "I have almost his entire run." He grabbed America by the arm, and with surprising strength, pulled him out of the storage room.
"So maybe the Aquila Avenger wouldn't be the best idea for your plane, but what about the Wanderer?"
"No way!" America protested. "From those Man without a Country issues? That storyline was terrible! Everyone hated it, and hell I remember writing in to complain about it. My letter didn't get published, but that's probably because so many other people wrote in saying the same thing. I almost cancelled my subscription." The tension in his body loosened, just a bit, as he was guided to Finland's room. Talking about something he loved, something so normal, even if it was an aspect of it that irritated him, was reassuring in its normalcy.
"Are you kidding me? It's the best one!" Finland pulled America into his room and reached under his bed, yanking out several boxes in quick order. "The Aquila Avenger finally stopped being just a symbol and started being his own person. Sure it took his own government turning against him, but…" He flipped through the boxes, which were, unlike America's comic boxes, not in perfect order. "'I can't fight for a government that goes against everything I believe in!'" Finland recited mock dramatically, finally pulling out the stack of comic issues in question. "'So I'll strike out on my own. No longer, the Aquila Avenger…'"
"'I'll represent no country and just fight for the world, as the Wanderer,'' America finished, in nary a whisper. Finland shot him a knowing look. "J-just because I don't like it doesn't mean I don't own it. I'm a completionist!"
Finland handed him the issues and America took them, sitting on the large bed (no doubt big enough for two) and flipping through them. "Maybe you should reread it," Finland said.
America ran his fingers over the pages and nodded, recalling when he'd first read them as a child, when things were simple and what was good and what was evil was as clear as the sky he adored, and there was no way a good man would be charged with treason, and there was no way that an organization he believed in could be corrupted to the point that a superhero would disown it. No wonder the Wanderer's story had angered him. "He went back to being the Aquila Avenger in the end though…"
"Once he realized that he wasn't ever supposed to be fighting for the government, or the military, and what they did had no bearing on who he was…"
"Or on his morals, how good he was. He was fighting for his ideals," America finished. He idly fiddled with the comics on his lap. "I-I can be-paint the Wanderer for now."
"And in the future maybe you can paint over it with the Aquila Avenger?" Finland cocked an eyebrow.
America let out a short, nervous laugh. "Maybe. One step at a time though, I guess."
"That sounds like a plan!" Finland stood up, and gestured for America to do the same. "If you want the paint to dry before we get to that base tomorrow, we need to get started."
Grinning, America followed him. "Y-yeah." He bit his lip. "Although now that I think about it, I've never really done much painting, and I'm not sure if England can draw comic book characters."
Finland laughed. "No problem. Sweden can help with that. You should see what he can do! That door to our meeting room? He carved it."
"That's amazing!" America replied. He helped Finland carry the paint up to the deck, and his heart felt light, lighter than it had in a while, and he couldn't wait to share that lightness with England. But first, they had a plane to paint.
Note- The Aquila Avenger/Wanderer storyline is vaguely based on an old 1970s Captain America arc. I always saw the AA as a combination between Cap and Iron Man. He's very much like Cap in personality, but he's a bit more technology based like Iron Man or Batman.