My first Hetalia fic! Uses human names instead of country names. Arthur learns how to let go.
I Give you the Sky
Arthur thinks back to the time when Alfred was his. He means really, really his; unable to go more than a week without him, always clinging to the bottom of his shirt wherever he went, begging him to stay just one more day.
Arthur remembers watching the young Alfred chasing rabbits in the fields. They had been such bright days back then. The sky was an unending blue that you could almost drift upon, painted with lazy cotton clouds that cast thin shadows. Fields full of wildflowers. Hold it up to your chin and watch it glow.
'Do you like butter or don't you?'
Buttercups to tickle his chin, sending Alfred into fits of childish snorts.
'Do you like butter or don't you?'
Daisy chains with white petals and sunshine heads, crowns of clover to reward Alfred's latest victory over the swinging shadows made by trees; Arthur made sandwiches for their outings which did not taste all that bad.
Yet bright days were not the only ones in his memory. There were storms too. And rain. Oh how Arthur hates the rain. It reminds him of that day they first pointed guns at each other. It reminds him of how pathetic he looked in the mud, soaked to the bone by pouring rain as he cried and in his mind he screamed and begged the man standing above him to stay.
'Don't leave me. Don't leave me please!'
He had been too proud to say it aloud. Would it have made a difference if he did?
That day, had Alfred been crying too? The rain made it so hard to tell.
Now that Alfred has his independence there will be no more picnics in fields or battles in the rain with muskets pointed to almost kill. Now they meet up at world meetings and other world social events where all the other countries gather and eat up their time.
People say that they have a special relationship and Arthur's heart foolishly flutters at the term, though he knows that it means nothing at all.
Even so, his heart will still stop every time their shoulders bump into each other or their hands brush as they walk past. Even though Arthur knows that this is all in his mind, that he is the only one who thinks about it this way, sometimes he will let his brain be deluded into thinking that these accidents mean something.
It is ridiculous. Like someone putting their hands over your eyes...
'Guess who, Arthur.'
...and suddenly, when they take them away, no one is there. A ridiculous waste of risen hopes.
Arthur sits on his couch, one leg crossed, the foot tucked firmly against the thigh of his other leg as he flicks the tab of an empty soda can. He hates soda; it is far too sweet for his tastes but he pretends to enjoy it anyway. Soda tastes like Alfred. Soda and milkshake and ridiculously fatty burgers.
He thinks of that rhyme. What was it? Sugar and spice and all things nice.
Alfred is not nice at all.
Alfred is always cruel to him, always so clueless cruel. He cannot take much more of it. He wants to do something drastic, something really stupid that will cut his ties from Alfred once and for all with no turning back, but he knows that he is too much of a coward to fully separate from him.
Instead Arthur flicks the tab and thinks Siberia is a nice place at this time of year, and Francis silently watches without saying a thing. They are the worst of enemies but the best of drinking buddies. Francis nurses his wine glass thoughtfully, though they have not said anything to be thoughtful about.
Of course, Arthur will never tell Francis about his desperate love for his once-upon-a-time little brother, but he thinks Francis knows already so it does not really matter either way.
'I hate you,' he tells Francis plainly. It is obvious that he is referring to America's Independence, and Francis takes a sip, his eyes still trained on Arthur and Arthur's thumb against the metal tab of the soda can and says; 'I know, mon ami.'
It is a lie. Arthur does not really hate Francis, not anymore at least. He did at the time but the feeling has waned into something he can bring up during arguments to guilt trip Francis into submission. Arthur knows that, with or without Francis' intervention, he would never have been able to keep Alfred forever; the birdcage had become too tight and Alfred is the sort of person who feels that nothing short of the whole sky would be enough for his wings.
Thinking about it, that was probably why Alfred chose the eagle as his national symbol. Arthur likes it too. It fits Alfred's image; proud and large, a presence one cannot simply ignore.
He cannot tell Alfred these things not matter what.
How would Alfred feel anyway? Would he be disgusted?
Did you know?
Would he hate him? That would be the worst because, as much as it hurts to be with him, he is sure that it would hurt much more to not be able to be close to Alfred. If even those causal touches and the odd word exchanged in bickering with each other were to disappear, that would be the worst. He wants to stay close to Alfred and the last thing Arthur wants is to be hated.
Did you know?
Maybe he would think it was all a joke. Alfred is cruel like that after all.
Did you know how I always, always...
Arthur flicks the tab again. It makes the sound of a metallic spring against the mouth of the can. A hollow and empty echo.
Since it is spring and the days are gorgeous they have a world picnic instead of a world meeting. Arthur grudgingly agrees only because his protests would be outnumbered anyway.
So here they are, sitting in the middle of a bright green field whose grass bends and waves like the tides of a rolling sea. Here they are, all gathered around, sharing food and talking about everything and anything other than politics.
The memory of his picnics with Alfred when he was young suddenly reels up and attacks him, making him feel dizzy. Even in the shade the sun burns his skin. Alfred sits right next to him, almost leaning against him since there is so little room on the blanket for all the nations, which does no wonders to his temperature. In order to hide his embarrassment, Arthur brings out cucumber sandwiches and everyone abruptly turns away.
Even when Alfred forces himself to eat the food Arthur makes, he knows that there is no special meaning behind it at all. He is just being a hero after all, saving everyone from assured food poisoning. Everyone looks relieved and Arthur tries not to look too upset.
France touches his shoulder, taunting him about his lack of culinary skills. For a moment, he is so caught up in the argument that he forgets about Alfred.
Yet the day waxes on and the nations starts to drift away. Some retire early while others spread themselves throughout the field in smaller groups. Arthur would like to stay lying against the chequered blanket with Kiku and discuss folklore but something is nagging the back of his mind.
After a while he gets up, grumbling under his breath that he should probably make sure that Alfred has not got lost or something. They all know what an idiot he is after all, and he excuses himself
Surprisingly, Arthur finds Alfred alone in a little clearing, his hand against his hip, the other shielding his eyes as he stares up at the bright sky.
Arthur does not announce his presence right away. He remains and stares at Alfred, at his enraptured face and thinks about how his eyes are like the sky to the power of two; the sky reflected in the sky, a double sky. He tries to look at the real sky as well but it is too bright for him. The sky is so big and blindingly bright that, for a moment, Arthur cannot see, he cannot breathe.
'Do you like butter or don't you?'
Alfred notices Arthur now and grins at him. 'Come over here. I've found something awesome!' and something in Arthur wells up and chokes him.
'Do you like butter or don't you?'
Don't leave me, he wants to shout again but his words stop in his throat. It is too bright here. Alfred is too bright. He cannot keep up.
He cannot breathe. It hurts. He cannot breathe at all and white light consumes his vision.
When he wakes up, Arthur finds himself in the middle of the field, lying underneath the sheltering branches of a great wide oak. He blinks once, twice and Francis pokes his head into his field of vision, staring down at him with worry.
'Are you alright, mon ami? You fainted. The heat is getting to you.' His voice swims in Arthur's ears.
Arthur smiles, cheeks flushed with shame as misery pierces him and leaves him for dead. The branches shift in the breeze, painting him in a kaleidoscope of light. Though the light that pierces the leaves is thin, he covers his eyes with his arms and laughs.
'Am I stupid? I must look pitiful like this. I bet you're loving it.'
With his eyes covered by his arms, he cannot see Francis' face. He cannot see the arch in his back as he leans over, almost touches his warm skin but retracts his hand and lets it fall onto the soft grass.
'Alfred went to get a wet cloth,' he says but it is not the thing he wanted to say.
Arthur neither moves nor speaks. He will not take his arms away from his eyes because, like this, without seeing a thing, he can pretend that there is nothing in the world. No Arthur, no Alfred, no love or memories of pain or hope; just blissful nothingness.
Then, as if on cue, Alfred comes back with a wet cloth in his triumphant hands and slaps it against Arthur's forehead. Arthur touches the cloth Alfred gave him and his face burns even more. He hates himself for that most of all.
Francis and Alfred gently help him to sit leaning against the trunk of the tree and hand him a bottle of water. It really is very hot, they agree. Only once it is asserted that he is fine do they tease him for being a wuss.
In a stunning display of generosity, Alfred gives him a piggy back ride home. Even though Arthur stutters and protests as loudly and avidly as possible, he finds himself hauled off of his feet and slung into correct position for a piggy back ride. Francis slaps his butt to send them off and Arthur bellows back that he will really kill the wino git one day.
This is so embarrassing that Arthur would rather that the ground swallows him up right then and there. It is embarrassing. Arthur is afraid Alfred can hear his heart thumping, he is afraid that if he tightens his grip around Alfred's shoulders and neck it would be suspicious or if he presses his head against his back Alfred will tease him for it.
Alfred does have a broad back, he realises. Arthur watches the back of his head the whole way back to the hotel. When Alfred tries to make conversation, he pretends to be ill and sleepy so that he can stare at the back of Alfred without interruption.
Once he has successfully deposited Arthur onto his bed, Alfred feels his forehead, which is a really bad idea because it makes Arthur's temperature skyrocket even though he is not really that sick. Yet it must be his good fortune that Alfred decides that Arthur needs the awesomeness of a hero to look after him and places a hamburger on his head.
When Arthur wakes up in the middle of the night the hamburger had fallen on the floor. He manages to prop himself up with his elbows and sees Alfred sitting on the floor by his bed, sound asleep.
Just the sight alone makes butterflies flutter through his stomach.
Arthur leans forward to touch his cheek but pulls back at the last moment, smiling a bittersweet smile.
The room smells like Alfred, and Arthur's forehead feels greasy.
Before Arthur is even able to 'recover' Francis comes again to bless them with his glorious presence, and drags Matthew along for no discernable reason. Alfred is happy only because this means that they can eat Francis' cooking instead of Arthur's. Arthur insults both of them while Matthew sits in a corner and tries not to get involved.
This is nice, Arthur thinks as they all sit around the table to eat and Matthew keeps demanding why Alfred is always stealing his lamb without avail. They feel like a family, he thinks, honing his ears to the sound of clinking cutlery. This is nice. But it is merely nice. As soon as they are gone Arthur knows that the warmth will wash away.
He is surprised when Francis apprehends him after a meeting one morning.
'Why don't you pretend it's him?' his breath tickles his ear.
Arthur hits him, seriously hits him for the first time in months.
They meet a grudging ceasefire later that evening but Arthur makes it explicit that he definitely hates him.
Then they get drunk together.
And Arthur dreams of Alfred again standing in the sunlight.
It is a full week since fainting and getting sick that Arthur decides that it is high time he goes to see Alfred. It has been a while since he has been to his house. Normally Alfred is the one who comes to him. Arthur is too much of a coward to actively go out seeking him.
Toris welcomes him with a smile and lets him wait in the living room while he announces his arrival to Alfred who is somewhere upstairs wrestling with his shirt.
After a few loud thumps, Toris leaves in order to check on Alfred and Arthur's eyes wander over the room. It is much cleaner since Toris began living here too, it smells much nicer too; something floral and much too feminine for Alfred.
Arthur begins to chuckle but then his breath stops when he sees the re-painted toy soldiers on the mantle. Alfred must have forgotten to remove them before his visit because he cannot imagine him ever letting him see this sort of foolish sentimentality.
Arthur is grateful that Toris lets him have their privacy. They sit on the veranda drinking tea – coffee for Alfred – and slices of strawberry cake.
They spend a pleasant day like this, pleasant by their standards at least. Arthur complains about the mess that he makes Toris clean up and Alfred insults his cooking. Always the cooking. Arthur inhales the smell of tea and thinks how small the person sitting across from him used to be.
You don't understand anything
Arthur gazes at the garden, at the roses and giant poppy heads. Purple wisteria climbs up the side of the veranda, entwined with the wood.
Alfred talks – he always talks – and Arthur does not listen to his words as much as he does the sound; the way he pronounces his 'a' a little differently and those times he slips and drawls out the vowels. Alfred tells him about his plans with Kiku and Matthew, speaking about them so enthusiastically one would think that he was still a child. Arthur realises that he is smiling and quickly hides it.
'The sky is very big,'he says.
Alfred is confused but Arthur smiles. Looking at him, as how big he has become, how very much alive and independent, he decides that it was better to let him have his wings than keeping him in a cage all this time. He realises that, even now, he has been tying Alfred down, chaining him to him with his feelings.
'I give you the sky'
Alfred does not understand but that's okay. Maybe one day he will, or maybe he never will, either way Arthur thinks that that is okay
That will be his last gift to Alfred. Arthur leans back against the chair, tilting his face up to the ceiling and smiles as he feels Alfred's puzzled gaze on him.
In Arthur's mind, he has an axe in his hand. He hacks off the chain with it and watches an eagle fly.
For once, Arthur feels at peace with himself. Almost at peace. What was once a searing pain has diminished into a dull ache which he hopes will die down soon.
'You look happy.' Francis is wary because a happy Arthur is so rare these days.
Arthur does not say anything. They drink together as they usually do after insulting each other to the blue moon, and for some reason it is Francis who wants to talk about the past this time.
They mention Alfred and Matthew and Arthur's old pirate days. Francis brings up Jeanne d'Arc and Arthur stiffens because Jeanne is something Francis only mentions when he is particularly angry with him. He thinks that conversation will sour now but instead Francis starts talking about the Middle Ages and whatever happened to that wooden sword Arthur had for defeating dragons and rescuing damsels?
'Those were bright days, mon ami,' he sighs into the rim of his glass.
Yes, bright, Arthur agrees but he is not thinking of Charlemagne or Elizabeth or knights riding to court. He is thinking about fields of buttercups and daisies for daisy chains, rabbit tails like cotton clouds and sugar and spice and everything nice. Do you really like butter or don't you?
'What happened?' Francis asks, sipping his wine with grace.
Arthur smiles at his amber reflection. The island of rock ice in his gin and tonic is slowly melting.
'It's cruel to keep birds in cages.'
Francis is silent. Arthur nurses his drink. After a time, Francis clears his throat and speaks up.
'Then you are free too,' he says.
Arthur pauses to look at him. He had never thought about it that way but he supposes that Francis is right. He smiles.
'Yes, I suppose so.'
They knock their glasses together in a mock toast and down their alcohol in one.
The next time Francis and Arthur meet for Entente Cordial, Francis, the git, forgets to bring his usual present of fine wine and French bread.
The annoyance plainly shows on everyone's face, even Francis's boss, who apologises to Arthur and his boss while glaring at Francis. His boss takes Arthur's prime minister away and they go for a walk where he can grumble about Francis more openly.
Arthur remains behind with Francis. He thinks about keeping the blue china tea cups, but that would be petty, and he does not really care about the present but for the fact that it could be misinterpreted as ill-will so when they step outside the celebration hall, he shoves them in his arms and tells him not to forget the present next time.
Laughing, Francis takes Arthur's hands and drags him down the stone steps onto the clean streets where the sun shines brightly. He points to the clouds; white and fluffy as if pregnant with summer.
'You can have the sky, mon cher. I give you the sky.'
And Arthur understands.