Disclaimer: Axis Powers Hetalia and all related characters therein do not belong to me. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: On the eve of Civil War, America has a reason for being terrified of ghosts.
Author's Note: First fic for APH. I hope you all enjoy it! No warnings except perhaps for America losing his mind a little
"The slaveholding South is now the controlling power of the world…Would any sane nation make war on us? Without firing a gun,…we could bring the whole world to our feet…No, you dare not make war on cotton…Cotton is king!"
--James H. Hammond, 1858
"There exists a great mistake…in supposing that the people of the United States are, or ever have been, one people. On the contrary; never did the sun shine on two peoples as thoroughly distinct as the people of the North and…South…Like all great nations of antiquity we are slaveholders and understand free governments. The North does not."
--Robert Barnwell Rhett November 10, 1860
April 12, 1861.
Charleston, South Carolina
America didn't dare sleep.
Whenever the urge came and blackness curled at the edges of his vision, he would go for a walk instead and let the salty air of the harbor refresh him.
The tactic had worked well enough for the past several months. There certainly had been enough adrenaline to keep him up and busy through the election and both the celebrations and outrage that followed it. On the occasions he did rest, he allowed himself no more than two hours at a time.
That way, he would wake before the nightmares came.
However, the walks were becoming less and less effective as latent fatigue caught up with him, and America found himself staying out longer each time—as of midnight, he had been walking Charleston for two days, endlessly tracing his own footsteps back and forth along the promenade of the High Battery. At his feet, the Cooper River made for good company. It was calm, and quiet, and smelled vaguely of the sea whenever the tidewaters pushed it back. At the very least, the river offered some sense of clarity amidst a riot of emotions that so muddled his head that he couldn't even think properly.
But America didn't know how much longer he could keep this up. Not only weary, he hurt, everywhere, with a pain that centered just below his left ribs and spread like roots. Deep enough that it reached even down into his bones, the ache was so pervasive that America was beginning to forget ever not suffering it. In some ways, that helped. Because the pain burned like a poker had been driven through his belly, made his teeth chatter, sent him reeling with vertigo, it kept him up at night, and he liked that.
Pain he could deal with. The ghosts were what terrified him.
Ghosts had always frightened him, ever since he had been little more than a foundling colony. They were strange, fluttery things that liked to sit in the corners of his room and wait until he closed his eyes for sleep before they would start whispering things to him. More often than not when he was young, their presence had sent him running to England, who would grumble about being awakened in the middle of the night but would nevertheless let America in and under the covers. England would hold America close as he told stories of lands both real and fantastical, and he would murmur soft words in old languages that he promised would help keep the ghosts away. Those were the only times in his entire life that America had ever slept soundly.
You must not think about them, Alfred. Your belief helps make them real.
Despite finally being his own free and independent nation, some small part of America couldn't help but still desire that promise of security, wanting warm arms that would hold him so he could just get some rest.
Especially since now the ghosts were no longer waiting for him to fall asleep.
America had filled his house with candles, with lamps, to drive away the shadows—he would light up the entire world if he could—and he had had all of the mirrors removed or covered quite some time ago, but still the ghosts came. Though little more than bits of light in his periphery, and they were not always there, the ghosts made America restless, uneasy, and sent him running out into the narrow streets of Charleston, scrambling for his sanity.
So far, America had been able to outpace them, but finally, here, at the corner of Water Street, where East Bay became the Battery, not even America's fear of ghosts was enough to keep him moving. He stopped along the seawall, reaching out to brace against the roughshorn stone to keep from succumbing to dizziness.
Everything was quiet. Terribly so.
Taking a deep breath, America lifted his head—the first time he had looked up from his feet in hours—gaze automatically scanning the horizon. Far out on the dark harbor, its silhouette barely visible against the night sky, stood Fort Sumter, its high brick walls sealed and barricaded and preparing its defenses as well as any cornered wild animal. To its right, the lights from Fort Johnson were brighter, and from its left, America could almost hear the voices of stationed soldiers at Fort Moultrie.
America shuddered, unsure of what to do and feeling all the more ill for it. Perhaps coming to Charleston had been a bad idea, as he had been warned, but America didn't think that he could be anywhere else if he tried.
Trembling with an anxiety made worse by exhaustion, America reached for his pocketwatch and tilted it to catch the dim light from the streetlamps so he could read it.
America stilled. All at once, the air was too hot to breathe, his mouth too dry, the night too dark for comfort. There was a rustle of cloth as the ghost stepped up beside him and bent at the waist to fold his arms over the top of the seawall. He leaned against it with casual ease. America refused to look directly at him, but out of the corner of his eye there were glimpses of blond hair, roughly cut and wild with a cowlick that curled back over his head, as well as sharp splinters of orange light as glasses glinted under the glare of the streetlamps.
No, America thought desperately. Not again.
His first instinct was to run, but all the energy felt leached from his body, and America doubted he could make it five steps before he would finally break apart. He couldn't even manage the power to flinch as intangible fingers grazed the soft bit of skin at his wrist and reached to run an invisble trail across the glass of the timepiece in his hand.
With a heavy swallow, America turned his head, stomach sinking at the sight of a sardonic smirk that lifted the corner of the ghost's mouth. The ghost was almost transparent, the columns of the house porches just barely outlined behind his body, but what was worse was when the ghost spoke, it was with America's own voice, decorated with a distinct drawl.
"Runnin' outta time."
While too tired to do anything about it, America could still summon up hatred, and, judging by the way the skin around the ghost's eyes tightened and how revulsion reverberated in America's own head like an echo, the feeling was mutual.
"Shouldn't be like this," America said. He couldn't be sure of whom he was accusing, but he could at least resent the way the words stuck like blackstrap molasses in his mouth.
"On the other hand, this ain't doin' no good," the ghost replied. "Bein' scared. I'm tired a' bein' scared. No one had any harm done to 'im by sittin' around talkin' to himself. Best way to work things out sometimes."
America looked away, turning his gaze back to Fort Sumter and the small storm flag flying above its walls. He could not quiet the sudden swell of offense at the sight of it, and beside him, the ghost clenched his hands into fists.
By God, he didn't want to do this, but the ghost was waiting and had far more patience than he.
America inhaled, exhaled. Once, and again, then closed his eyes and forced himself to relax.
Something that was not quite pain threaded through him, latching like thousands of tiny hooks into the deepest parts of himself. Though he had done this before—once, in December—America could never be ready for the way that the hooks snagged and pulled at the fibers of his body and mind, carving him out as they emptied him of something vital, and warm, and left him as no more of a shade than the one beside him. There was a warm breath of displaced air as the other ghost shifted, testing out his new weight.
When the Union opened his eyes, the Confederate States of America was staring back at him, eyes bright and blue behind tortoiseshell glasses, with the deep furrow between his brows the only indication that the Union was not alone in his discomfort. For the most part, they were identical, though the Confederacy's hair was neater—the cowlick gone—and the Union keenly missed the weight of the glasses on his own face.
Your belief makes them real.
"This is a mistake," the Union said.
The Confederacy made a small movement—perhaps a reach—that was quickly aborted in favor of taking a step backwards. His scowl smoothed out into a perfectly polite, neutral expression as he leaned back against the seawall.
"I agree, a' course," he replied. "Though I think we might be talkin' 'bout different things. I'd say you go first, but that might be jus' a little too existential for me. How 'bout jus' sayin' whatever comes to mind first?" He paused, and his fingers twitched. "Four o'clock."
"Fort Sumter is federal property," the Union began, straightening himself up to his full height and glaring at the Confederacy with all the disdain he could muster.
"This was all British property too, at one point," came the immediate response. "Din't stop us from firin' then. Not when my people knew it was their right to defen' themselves against a foreign power. South Carolina is an independen' republic now jus' as it was then."
"South Carolina is too small to be a republic."
"But too large to be an insane asylum." A laugh. "Always did like that one. But then, South Carolina isn't alone, is it? Seven states is makin' me stand just fine. And they won't be the only ones, if you fire on me."
"I hardly think that I'm the one spoiling for a fight," the Union countered. He forced himself to keep still and his voice in undertone; he'd be damned if the slightest movement didn't throw him in bodily, and, for the moment, he refused to be the aggressor. "You're the one opening fire on peaceful supply ships."
"Act of war for act of war, and God help you if you din't start this in earnest."
"Federal occupation of federal property is hardly—"
"See, now you're jus' talkin' in circles. Jus' like always," the Confederacy said, shaking his head. "Need I point out that Sumter ain't federal property no more?"
Oh, but the Union had never felt anger like this. His head spun with it, made him dizzy.
"If you think that you have any right—"
And there was a room, close set in dark red cloths and woods, and America in the middle, on the floor, pinned by at least seven men as he ranted and snarled at this new boss who was trying to calm him, to hold him and comfort him but America hated this boss who wasn't even his…
"No right? I have every right!"
"Alfred, please, I beg of you, just listen to me. I want to help. Just tell me how."
"You will let me go!"
Never in his life had America seen such sad eyes.
"You know I can't do that, Alfred."
"A sedative," Secretary of War Seward, this time, who had America's arms behind his back. America probably could have gotten free; it was only luck for the Cabinet that America could not quite focus his strength. "We should tranquilize him."
Lincoln stared back at America, having pulled back in fear of losing a limb. America writhed, trying to free himself.
"No. I can't do that, either."
The Union stuttered, the memory flashing like lightning behind his eyes, the skin of his hand scraping against the wall as he sought balance. Faring no better, the Confederacy had covered his eyes, his teeth gritted so hard that the Union could hear them grinding.
"I think I'm losing my mind," the Union murmured. A ache had blossomed in the back of his head.
"That makes two of us," was the answer, accompanied by a bitter chuckle.
While the Union could remember his argument, he did not want to risk such a convergence again when neither were ready for it. He took a step backwards, and the Confederacy seemed to relax a little, grateful for the added distance.
And the Union couldn't help but glance back at Fort Sumter, and there was a bead of hope that maybe the continued quiet meant something, but when he looked back at the Confederacy, who was still hunched and staring so resolutely at him, he knew it was only borrowed time. The Confederacy was easily offended and much too proud to go back on a promise, much less an ultimatum.
There was perhaps little point in talking, now, but talking was what the Confederacy enjoyed most and did best.
"You know what I hate most about you?" he asked. "The way you and your people keep tryin' to tell mine how to live and what's best for 'em just because you know better."
It was nothing more than baiting for the sheer hell of wanting a fight, but provoking the Union was another thing at which the Confederacy specialized. The Union snorted.
"I've told you before. This isn't about slavery. You can keep your slaves; do with them what you like for all I care. This is about you thinking you can be on your own with nothing to found your claim of independence but delusions of grandeur. The union between us is no mere contractual association. This is about the both of us being a part of something bigger than ourselves and you cannot, by any law or ethic, renege on our solidarity. You want to exist? Fine. But you cannot do so independently."
A big laugh tore itself from the Confederacy's throat, its sound echoing oddly across the river.
"Well, now, if this ain't the end of all irony!" the Confederacy exclaimed, a malicious delight sparking in his eyes. "Do you even hear yourself? Or do you like the fact that your government is one a' tyranny?"
The breath seemed to suck itself from the Union's lungs as he gaped, his blood thinning in his veins.
"You dare to call me tyrant?"
"Well, let's see, now, shall we? My people got their livelihoods in the cotton and tobacco, but who's exportin' it? All the ships is up north. My Southerners gotta import all their manufacturin' goods and through all this they're seein' none of the profits but all of the expense. Then, there's a new boss that they didn't even elect and nothing my representatives say in Congress even matters—stop me when this starts soundin' familiar.
"This is hardly the same—"
"My people will die before they suffer any longer as a goddamn colony," the Confederacy spat. His earlier, momentary quiescence had faded, his body instead shaking with barely restrained anger and his hands clenching so tightly that his knuckles turned white. "Especially to the likes of a nation that claims to love freedom while following his master's bidding like a dog."
"Better a dog than a backwards barbarian."
"You arrogant son of a bitch," the Confederacy snarled, and the Union was unprepared for the sharp snap of a fist across his jaw. He stumbled, his feet easily swept out from underneath him as the Confederacy tackled him and bore him to the ground. Pinned and smarting, the Union glared up at the Confederacy.
"You're going to regret this."
But the Confederacy only smiled as he leaned down, and the Union could hardly keep from shuddering in revulsion as he felt warm lips graze the outside shell of his ear. This close together, the Union could smell the other, and it was magnolias and honey.
"The world hasn't yet seen a civil war as the likes of ours," the Confederacy whispered. "May God continue to favor the free."
A hot, humid pause.
And then there was a shout, an explosion, and America startled back into himself, gasping for breath as he pulled himself to his feet. For a moment, he had thought he lost his glasses, with the world blurred around him. However, he could see Fort Sumter, and a red rain of sparks falling like so many shooting stars above it. There was only the barest moments of quiet before the artillery of Fort Moultrie responded, in turn answered by the guns of Sumter. It was deafening, but not even the cannons could drawn out the Charlestonians as they rushed from their houses, out onto the streets and rooftops, cheering on the attack in a sudden, heady rush of jubilation.
America was jostled between them as they crowded the Battery, each new wave of people louder, wilder, and America felt his own blood quicken with a vicious pride in them.
Freedom. All of you, show that you're free.
But through the fire and thrill, America trembled. Dread pebbled in his stomach, and there was fear—
So much of it—
The only part of him that did not feel divided—
America pushed his way back through the crowd, away from the river and back towards the houses, where there was room to breathe. He stepped into the side garden, where he could still see, still iwatch/i…
And, suddenly, America knew he was dying.
iI hadn't thought it would feel like this/i.
But, at least he could promise himself, all of himself, that if he did have to die, it would not be without a fight.
1.) The American Civil War lasted from 1861-1865.
2.) Election. Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th president on November 6, 1860, without winning a single electoral vote from the Southern states. On December 20, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union, and by February, 1861, six other states had joined the Confederacy. After the attack on Fort Sumter, four other states also seceded.
3.) Fort Sumter was built to work in connection with Fort Moultrie, Fort Johnson, and Castle Pinckney in order to defend Charleston harbor. Fort Sumter became a very powerful symbol to both the North and South: to the North, it was a symbol of retaining federal control over federal property. To the South, federal occupation threatened their sovereignty and freedom to control a major shipping port.
4.) Escalation. Major Robert Anderson, head of federal forces in Fort Moultrie, had only a third of the men needed to defend Fort Moultrie, which was already in disrepair. In the middle of the night on December 26, 1860, Anderson quietly and secretly moved his troops to Fort Sumter, which was much more defensible. The next morning, Francis Pickens, the governor of South Carolina, ordered state troops, under Commander Pierre G.T. Beauregard, to occupy Fort Moultrie, Fort Johnson, and Castle Pinckney. Over the next few months, federal forces tried to continue to bring Anderson supplies, but attacks from Moultrie and Johnson forced several ships to turn back.
5.) Countdown. South Carolina routinely ordered Anderson to evacuate the fort, but, despite running out of supplies, Anderson refused. A final ultimatum was issued at 12:45 AM on April 12, 1861, which Anderson flatly refused at 3:15 AM—he was then issued a warning that the Southern soldiers would open fire in about an hour. At 4:00 AM, Beauregard's men arrived at Fort Johnson and told Captain George James that his artillery was to fire the signal shot to begin the bombardment of Fort Sumter. At 4:30 AM, a ten-inch mortar was fired and exploded above Fort Sumter, and in response, cannons from Moultrie, Johnson, and Mount Pleasant opened fire, thus starting the Civil War. Anderson finally surrendered 38 hours and 3,000 shells later, and though Sumter had been leveled, there were only two casualties.