America tapped his foot against the floor, his fingers against the arm of his chair. He was bored. It seemed like all they ever did around here was talk about the war. Sure, it was important, he knew that, he felt it too, but that didn't have to mean they could never do anything fun. Meetings were over for the day, after all, and thinking about nothing but war all the time was the way people lost perspective and went as crazy as Russia.
England especially had never been much good at doing anything fun in the first place, but lately he'd been even more grim than usual. And he'd been having it rough, America knew that. But it seemed to him that was all the more reason to take time off, to relax once in a while.
America eyed the old-fashioned phonograph on the other side of the room, shoved back in a corner. He was still looking at it, thinking, when England came into the room and yanked the door to the library shut behind him, not quite slamming it. His shoulders slumped and he leaned back into the thick wood of the door for just a moment, until his eyes flicked over to America and he straightened up again like the door had been set on fire. "America," he said flatly. "I hadn't realized you were still here."
"Don't be too welcoming, England," America said cheerfully, and leaned back in the old (probably antique) armchair, stretching his arms out behind his head. "People might think you'd started to like me."
"I can't imagine where they'd get that impression," England replied, his voice clipped, snapping. "Don't you have someplace to be at the moment?"
"Nope," America said. "Besides, I'm staying with you."
England blinked. "No," he said. "No, you aren't."
"Sure am!" America corrected. "Nowhere else for me to stay at the moment, since Germany's been making himself at home in France's house, and I need to be over here for the planning, the invasion, all that stuff."
England just looked at him, his mouth flattening out into a line and his eyebrows knitting together as if he was profoundly unsettled by something. Probably, America thought, the fact that he was right.
Sure enough, after a very long moment, England shrugged. "Very well," he said. "I suppose you're right." America knew that meant I knew you were right all along and just didn't want to admit it and now I have to but I'm not happy about it. (Sometimes he wished that England could just say what he meant like a normal person, but then he wouldn't really be England anymore.)
"I always am," America said, and leaned back in the chair. England made a scoffing noise, but he just stood there and looked at America for a second, like he was waiting for something, or didn't know where to go or what to do with himself.
America wondered if he was going to actually say something if he waited long enough, and then let his mind drift off. He started humming a song he'd heard on the radio, his fingers starting to tap out the rhythm again.
"Stop that!" came England's voice after a minute or so, sounding harassed. He'd moved over to his desk and taken down a book, but hadn't made much more progress in doing anything.
"What?" America asked innocently.
"The least you can do, if you must sit here in my library while I'm trying to work, is sit still," England huffed.
"Aw, don't be so uptight, England." An idea struck him, and America jumped to his feet. "Hey," he said. "When was the last time you went out to a bar and had a drink?"
England blinked. "They're called pubs here, America," he said. "And I've been otherwise occupied. We've been under attack, if you hadn't noticed."
"Yeah, yeah, I know. But I'm here now, and I'm awesome, so you don't have to worry anymore. Come on, let's go now!"
England shifted uncomfortably, and his eyes slid away from America's. "I'm busy," he said.
America rolled his eyes. "You're always busy," he said. He'd been right, earlier. England never had any fun—he never even relaxed much. Even when he was drinking he didn't get much fun out of it. Instead he got loud and sad and angry, like he was letting everything out at once. America sighed and looked at the back of England's head, bent over a book, for a long moment.
America's gaze shifted to the phonograph.
"It'd be fun," he said. "Come on, let your people know that life goes on, wartime and all." He edged toward the phonograph.
"They know," England said, without turning around. "They don't need me to tell them how to behave. They're English, after all." America grinned at the back of his head. So proud and stuck-up and . . . well, just England. Everything else aside, it was sort of kind of nice to be all the w here, spending time with him again. It wasn't like he'd missed him, because he hadn't, not at all; it was just that there wasn't anyone else quite like England.
He flipped quickly through the records. Ha. He'd known, somehow, that even over here he'd find swing music sooner or later. God, this thing was ancient. He slid the record onto the table, wound it up, and lifted the needle. A second later, the sound of the Andrews Sisters' voices, bold brass and drums, filled the room.
England jumped, his head snapping around to stare at America. His eyes were wide. "What—" he started.
America shrugged. "If you're not gonna go anywhere, we might as well try having a little fun here." He looked at England's shocked, confused face and grinned. "Why have the thing if you aren't going to use it, huh?"
England's gaze shifted to the phonograph as if it had personally betrayed him. "I haven't used that old thing in years," he murmured.
Maybe not, but he'd thought about it. How else had that record gotten there?
America held out his hand. "Come on," he said. "You know how to jitterbug, don't'cha?"
"Know how to . . ." England blinked, staring at America's outstretched hand. "What are you talking about, America?"
America sighed. "It's a dance," he said. "You gotta be kidding me. Do you ever get out?"
"I get out," England said, his voice edged slightly, defensively.
"Not enough, you don't," America said. "Don't you at least know the Lindy Hop? The Charleston? The foxtrot?"
England stared, and, after a moment, crossed his arms across his chest. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said. "But I'm perfectly capable of dancing, though I can't imagine ever wanting to do it with you."
"Aw, come on," America said. "I'm not talking about the waltz and the gavotte, okay?" He grinned. "And who else are you gonna do it with?"
England frowned. "France would no doubt be amenable." He sounded doubtful.
America let out a crack of laughter. "France?" he burst out. "He'd have his hand on your ass inside of fifteen seconds. I'm at least a classy partner. You can ask any girl round these parts."
England's eyebrows were climbing up into his hairline. He flushed slightly, across his cheekbones. "You've been going around dancing with English girls?" he said, and managed to sound flustered, outraged, and lost all at the same time.
"Jeez, England," America said. "Just dancing. It's fun, that's all. It's not like I'm bringing 'em home with me for a roll in the hay."
"I should hope not," England said, his voice gone stiff the way it did when he was getting all difficult and stuffy.
"Don't be such an old man," America said, and, tired of waiting with one hand outstretched like he was posing for some kind of photograph, he took two long steps forward and caught the front of England's uniform jacket, dragging him forward. He was strong enough that it wasn't all that tough to yank England after him, and he got him off balance enough that England actually stumbled forward into his chest before he could regain his footing. America even got an arm around his waist for a second before England started sputtering and twisting and hit America with one hand half-curled into a fist, which stung enough and startled him enough that he let go. "Ow!" he exclaimed, hurt.
England's breath was uneven, and his cheeks were burning spots of color. "Just what do you think you're doing?" he demanded.
"I was thinking I'd show you how to dance," America said. "Come on. It'll be fun, I promise."
"I have no idea what constitutes your idea of fun," England started, looking warily from America's hands to his face, "but I assure you . . ."
"What're you so afraid of?" America asked, taking a step forward. England looked as if he'd very much like to back away, but refused to let himself do it. America stopped—he wasn't going to get close enough to actually try and intimidate England with his height, because that would be edging this over into something that wasn't fun at all. He really did just want to do something that was actually entertaining and include England in it, instead of thinking about the war, and people dying, and everything they had to do to stop it. "What," he said, teasing, purposefully provoking, "you'll stand up to Hitler but you're scared of little old me?"
"I am not scared of you, America," England said. "Of all the idiotic—"
"Then what's the problem?" America stripped his gloves off his hands and shrugged out of his jacket, tossing them over onto the armchair, then reached out and closed his hand around England's (it was a near thing, he grabbed it and held on just before England could whisk it away behind his back into correct military posture). England's hand was slenderer than his, bigger than he'd expected but smaller than he'd remembered, his own gloves still on. "Come on," America said. "I'll show you."
England tugged at his hand, but it was half-hearted. "No, thank you," he said. "There are plenty of acceptable dances—I believe I taught you some of them when you were a boy. This, whatever it may be, is not one of them."
"Old-fashioned and out of date," America pronounced with finality. "No one dances like that anymore. Don't you know anything? You're so behind the times, like always."
England's pale skin flooded with color. "I am not," he bit out, "behind the times."
"Sure you're not," America said, drawling, "old man. I get it, I get it. It must be hard for someone as old as you to keep up with a young hero like me—I understand, I really do."
England was gritting his teeth. "This is a bad idea," he said. "I'm going to regret this." But he offered America his other hand. "I am not," he said, "an old man."
America reached over and reset the record, then settled England's hand on his shoulder, letting his own hand rest on the olive drab fabric beneath the sharp line of England's shoulder-blade. "This dance moves fast, okay?" he said. "Try to keep up."
England just glared. "I'm not going to have any trouble keeping up with you."
America grinned. "Go ahead and try," he said. "Like I said, I'm good at this." And he spun England into a turn.
He hadn't been expecting it, that much was obvious. His feet slipped, and he almost fell, but America controlled the spin enough that his head just thudded back into America's shoulder, their hands still clasped together. America held him there and slid into a sidestep, and England stumbled again, his hand tightening on America's. America stopped. "Sorry," he said, even though he wasn't sorry at all. England smelled like old-fashioned bay rum cologne and tea, and his shoulders fit just under America's, a little awkwardly. He was wiry and too slender, skinnier than he remembered, little more than muscle under America's hand. Rationing, America thought. "Too fast?"
England sucked in his breath. "No," he said. "I'm just . . . not familiar with that move."
He was obviously determined not to admit that he didn't have the slightest clue what America was doing, and that he'd never danced like this in his life. Well, that was all right, too. America spun him back out and caught both his hands above the wrists. "Okay," he said. "Let's start over and take it slow, this time."
England swallowed and didn't argue, and America grinned to himself in triumph.
"First," he said, "you've got to move your feet. In fact, you just keep movin'."
"I can see why you like this dance," England muttered.
"Like this," America said, and pushed England forward enough to catch him in a firm grip and dance sideways with him for a few steps, kicking his feet out and spinning England around at the end. "See?"
England was frowning down at their clasped hands, so America just caught him closer around the shoulders. "Aren't these dances usually danced with a man and a woman?" England said tightly, as if he hadn't noticed America tugging them closer together, though his shoulders had seized up at the movement.
America shrugged easily. "Sure," he said. "But there's not a man and a woman here, there's the two of us, and this's just as good. It's about the dance, kicking your feet up, having a good time, not about who's with who. You fit just fine, England."
England's frown darkened. "Why," he said, his voice black and forbidding, "do I have to be the woman here?"
"Because you're shorter'n me," America said, and added as an afterthought, sliding his hand down to hug tight around England's waist, "and you're awfully slim, and I bet I can lift you."
England's eyes flicked up to his face. "You could not," he said, and America could feel his muscles tense, his booted feet spread out to center himself against the floor.
"Sure I could," he said, and slid his own foot behind England's to tug his ankle forward, careful not to hit too hard with his boot and actually hurt him. He used the purchase he had on his waist to swing him up and caught England under his knees with the hand he'd been holding England's with, and in a second England's feet were off the floor and he was held firmly in America's arms, America's other arm moving up under England's shoulders. "See?" America said, a little breathless, because England was solid and heavy with muscle, not nearly as light as he looked. "Just like a girl."
"Put—me—down—!" England sounded breathless, too, but with outrage rather than effort.
Despite the work that was going into holding him up, America found himself unwilling to obey (even more than he usually was just on principle). England's hip was sharp and angular where it dug into America's stomach, his back and shoulders all slender, shifting muscle under America's hand, his angry breaths coming short and warmth in puffs of moist air against America's neck. America locked his arms around England and spun around in a circle in time to the music, then shifted his hands to grip under England's arms and slipped him back down to slide between his legs before he pulled him back up and set him on his feet, sliding one hand around his waist and bending him backwards before he finally actually let him back up.
"See?" he said, grinning, with his words gone even more breathless, a little lightheaded from the effort. "I didn't touch your ass, not once, did I?"
He expected England to hit him, again, he really did, and harder this time, maybe with intent to break his nose, so he was surprised when England just stood there and straightened his tie, his cheeks flushed. "That," he said, breathing a little unevenly, "was not particularly gentlemanly, all the same."
"Never said I was a gentleman," America replied, grinning even wider. So England really wasn't going to hit him? "Just that I'm not a pervert."
England sighed with exasperation the way he did in the meetings, shaking his head and his gaze going off to one side, propping his hand on his hip. "You are utterly hopeless," he said.
"Aw, I'm hurt," America said. The record had moved on to another song, but this one was just as good for dancing, so he reached out and took England's free hand again. "I promise not to do it again, if you'll actually dance with me," he said.
England looked down at their joined hands and took another deep breath that shook a little. "Oh, very well," he said. "I can see that you won't let me alone until I do."
"Got that right!" America replied brightly. "Everyone should know how to jitterbug. Here, I'll go slow." He laid his hand on England's waist again and started moving, shuffling back, slowly enough that England could probably keep up if he was really trying.
And he was, America could see the wrinkle between his eyebrows, his mouth twisted up in concentration and his forehead creased. He followed him pretty well, though his movements, the shifts of his feet, were clumsy with inexperience. His back was locked stiff and tense under America's fingers. America frowned. Dancing was supposed to be fun, and the whole point of this was to get England to relax, after all. He stepped them over to the side and around in a circle, slid back so they only touched where their fingers were linked together, then pulled England toward him to clasp his other hand. "Hey," he said, "relax, England, okay? This's supposed to be fun."
England glanced up at him, back down at their hands, then down at their feet. "Fun," he said, somewhat faintly. "Right."
"The basic step is with our hands together like this—"
"Somehow," England said, his voice dry, "I'd already grasped that. Though this kind of dancing doesn't seem to spend much time on basic steps."
"Well," America admitted, "true. That's why it's fun." He stepped them over sideways once, twice, then slid backward, turned to the side, kicked one leg up under their linked arms. "Just do whatever," he said, swinging back into step with England and starting to pick up the pace. "You don't have to worry about it much. Just start from the basics and move with the music."
England's expression didn't relax, but he did loosen up a bit, losing some of the tension and with it, some of his earlier clumsiness, as they started to move faster. America grinned and looked down at their hands, England's leather-covered fingers cool under his, their palms where they fit together. He'd known it'd work sooner or later. It didn't look like England was having fun, exactly, but he wasn't as tightly wound and rigid as he had been.
"See?" America said, moving their hands forward, back, as he shifted them around in a circle. "You're getting the hang of this." England didn't say anything, just shrugged. He closed his eyes for a moment, and America thought his hands tightened in his, but he'd probably just imagined it, because England's eyes were open again in a minute and looking up at him, that same appraising look in his eyes that America felt like he got from him so often.
"You were right," England said grudgingly, his voice gone low and gruff. "You are good at this."
America hadn't been expecting that, and he could feel his cheeks flush a little with pleasure. England never gave him compliments, not anymore, or at least he did so rarely that it started a feeling of warmth blooming in America's chest and flooding through his veins even when it was over something as trivial as dancing. He suddenly felt feet taller, strong and brave and even more awesome than normal. "Hey," he said. "Thanks, England." He puffed out his chest a little and stood up straight. "Though, you know, it's only to be expected, me being . . ."
"A hero," England cut him off, sounding long-suffering, but he leaned into America's grip a little as America sped up the dance still further. "This . . . swing dancing is part of the heroic image, now, is it?"
"Sure is!" America said, and spun them around. "Victory parties afterwards, and all that jazz."
"Let's worry about the war before we worry about the victory," England said, his voice reproachful, but he didn't sound actually annoyed, just maybe a little tired, so America didn't feel too insulted.
"I told you, you don't have to worry," he said. "Just forget about it for now. I'm here, remember?"
England rolled his eyes—just barely—and clipped his fist across America's chest as he drew back for another sequence of steps, hard enough for America to feel it but not hard enough to hurt. "Took you long enough," he muttered.
"Hey," America said, and tried to grab for England's hand again, but England evaded his grip. "I was only listening to my people. That's how it works. I didn't want another European war, you know? I'm not even European. But I'm here now, aren't I?"
England sighed and pulled back even further, so they weren't even touching anymore. "I didn't want another war, either," he said very softly, and then shook his head, as if banishing the thought, but it sank into America's stomach, cold and hard, and the quiet, stoic exhaustion in England's voice wrenched at something in his chest. England straightened up after that, though, as if he'd never said a word about it. "Oh, very well," he said instead, as if starting over. "You are here, I suppose."
That was kind of a concession, America knew it was, but that didn't make it any easier to take. "Stop it!" he said, abruptly frustrated, that England had pulled back out of his arms, that he was always doing that, talking like that, and took a step forward to grab hold of England's hand again. He stared down into his face. "I'm sorry, all right?" he said, and it came out sounding almost angry, but he couldn't figure out how else to say it. He tightened his grip on his hand and wished he knew how to say what he was thinking. Feeling. But it was all mixed-up, and the words wouldn't come. "I'm sorry."
England's eyes widened. "Oh," he said. "I—I—see. I—" he broke off. "Are we going to finish this dance or not?" he demanded, then, looking straight ahead, at the knot of America's tie.
The music was still playing, America thought, after all. Might as well. "Sure," he said, slid his other hand around England again, and moved back into the dance. It wasn't quite the same—his rhythm had been thrown off a little—but this time England had asked. Which was something else. After a moment America started humming along with the tune as they stepped through the movements together. He felt more than saw England smile, half-exasperated, and duck his head.
"Yeah," America said, "just can't get enough of me, can you?"
England seized up, stiffening under his hands again, and stumbled, then tugged his hand free of America's. "I got enough of you long ago," he snapped.
America felt a sudden hot wave of anger roll up into his face, flushing it hot. "Oh yeah?" he shot back, using the hand still on England's back to pull him into another turn rather than let him pull away again. "Well, you didn't seem to remember that when you were begging me to come save you!"
"I do not beg," England replied, soft and dangerous, every word distinct, a world of threat in itself, not drawing back but instead stepping forward into America's space, and America winced, hating that England still had the power to intimidate him just with that clipped, menacing tone, hating that he wanted to take a step back this time.
"Well, fine," America blustered, knowing it sounded a little pathetic, and his hand clenched into a fist in the back of England's jacket, "whatever. But admit it, England—I came in and saved your ass."
"I didn't need your help!" England retorted, his voice turning hot, angry. He pulled America back into a sideways turn. "I'm fine. I was fine without it."
"You were getting pounded!" America burst out, remembering how England had looked, pale and bleeding and ashen, and how scared America'd been, to see him look like that, England, looking like that—
England shoved him away—he was a lot stronger than he looked. Like he'd always been. "And maybe if you'd come in a little earlier we wouldn't be in this mess," England snapped, and he opened his mouth to say something else, but America never found out what it was, because England had shoved him back hard enough for him to lose his balance entirely. He stumbled, the back of his left boot caught on the edge of the sliding ladder for the library, which slid along with him, he flailed for purchase and found none except for England's slim, sturdy frame right in front of him, he grabbed for England—and they both went down together in a heap on the floor, America landing hard on his back and England collapsing roughly on top of him with a stream of startled curse words and a painful sounding crack of his knee against the parquet flooring.
"Ow," America groaned, a moment later. His head had cracked against the floor at least as hard as England's knee, skewing his glasses badly over his nose. He looked up at England but couldn't see his face, even blurrily, because he'd pressed it close against America's chest—close enough that he could feel his breathing, warm and irregular and fast, and hear his quick, muttered "bloody hell." England didn't make so much as an equivalent grunt of pain, though, which was pretty frustrating. Instead he reached up and slid one hand under America's head, leather-gloved fingers ruffling gently through his hair and along the skin, straightening the glasses as he did so without even looking.
America grinned and rested his head back against England's hand. So he did still care, after all.
The grin faded a second later. England's shoulders had started to shake. "Hey," he said. "Hey, England, are you all right?" No answer. "Hey, hey, England—"
"Oh, do shut up, you bleeding wanker," England gasped into his chest, and America realized with a jolt that he was laughing, the laughs hoarse and rusty and deep and breathless and a little hysterical.
And, now that he thought back on it, the whole thing had been pretty funny. Plus, he'd succeeded in his original goal, because England was lying on top of him and laughing helplessly, laughing so hard there were tears in his eyes, and if that wasn't the most relaxed England had been in months—in years, even, probably—America didn't know what was. Well, yeah. Heck, yeah! Heroes always succeeded in their missions.
After a second, laughter welled up in his own chest and spilled out of him, and he curled his arms up over England's back and left them there, like England had left his hand under America's head. "So," he said, finally, when his laughter had died down some. "How'd you like swing dancing?"
"Next time I'll take my chances with France," England managed between laughs, but his other arm came around America, uncertainly, and pressed into his side, just a little. "No," he said then, sobering a bit. "It was . . . fun." He hesitated. "I suppose. Not that I particularly enjoyed it, and I'd rather have danced something properly, mind you, and you're still a barbaric colonial who—"
"Yeah, yeah," America said. "I get it." He grinned. "You had fun."
England shrugged. "You could call it that," he said, turning his head to rest it against America's chest.
America smiled up at the worked, elaborately carved ceiling of the library. "Awesome," he said.
They'd have to get up in a second or this would just be awkward—and he knew England would start struggling up and straightening his uniform and huffing about how he had to get back to work and what had he been thinking to let America distract him this long in just a second—but for that second, lying there on the floor of England's stuffy library with his head starting to ache and England sprawled on top of him, one warm arm pressed to his side and his legs flung out over his and the other hand pillowing the back of his skull, and the Andrews Sisters belting out "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" over their heads, he was pretty much good with the whole world, for once especially with his current ally and former colonial ruler. Sometimes, he thought, even England wasn't all that bad.
Sometimes he was even pretty fun to be around.
American soldiers stationed in Britain and Europe during WWII were largely responsible for spreading the popularity of swing dance there, and throughout the rest of Europe.
The title comes from the 1937 film Shall We Dance starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
Phonographs were electric by then--I think--but, then, England's is old.
Of course America is a good swing dancer XD. All the dances he names are variants of swing, though what they end up doing is probably closest to a form of shag. ;) It's a kind of dance, don't look at me like that!
England is being a little stuffy and old-fashioned here, even for him. America just brings out the empire in him. XD