Title: Common Ground from Which We are Sprung
Genre: some hurt/comfort, beginnings of romance, little angst
Pairing(s): hinted beginnings of USUK
Summary: England was old but he could still remember where he came from...maybe it's time he reminded America, before his role in the world becomes too much to bear.
Note: This odd little story wouldn't leave me alone so I'm sharing it with all of you! Kind of also explores some of my head-canon of where nations come from. Would love feedback on what you think!
Common Ground from Which We are Sprung
Memory is a tricky thing, my own. You'll keep that, and me, in your heart, won't you?
England was old, old enough to have seen more than one millennia pass into the next, to see Nations rise and fall in their tumultuous fashion, old enough to feel it when he remembered. He was old enough to know the necessity of sifting through memories and determining which ones were needed and which he could do without. Old enough to wish otherwise at times, or to wish for his youth as he had watched so many old men before him do.
Generally, as he got older he pushed aside thought of his age. It certainly wasn't necessary in times of war, in times where his strength was demanded, when he was needed. Memories of how old his bones were did him no good when he was barraged by bombs and fire nightly by Germany, when he was the only one left to stand up against the Axis, when new pains reminded him of old ones and kept him shaking awake until dawn. His age could almost be a handicap when facing so many younger nations, bursting with vitality and vigor, ready to show the world that they were the new forces to be reckoned with. Who was he to them, besides a former Empire who had once held the world in his palm, but who had lost nearly everything? If you asked America, he was just a bitter old man lost in the past…England never liked thinking about that.
No, his age was a burden most days and the times it wasn't it certainly wasn't what garnered him respect nowadays, save from the others who knew just what a burden it was.
However, there were moments that were different, moments that his age was perhaps his greatest attribute, where the experience and memories he had within his soul proved they were worth their salt. Moments like now, moments when after another frustrating conference England was stomping about in rare form, practically itching to run into France, the bastard, or Spain just to have a physical body he didn't have to feel bad about insulting. Venting was healthy, it cleared the mind, and if the frog or that tomato-bastard got knocked down a few pegs, all the better really.
England stomped around until his feet led him outside of the pristine government buildings of Geneva and through the green yards until he came upon a small, secluded garden that could probably do with a bit of trimming. He frowned and huffed as he collapsed onto an old stone bench, his admittedly large eyebrows furrowing in a manner that would warn most off, green eyes bright and glinted with his frustration.
He hated these conferences. They accomplished nothing and spent up his valuable time with needless arguments and headache inducing solutions…and why did they have to have them so damn much? It couldn't have been long ago that they had all sat around a table in Copenhagen or Paris or Prague and talked about the same topics! England tipped his head back and sucked in a deep breath, letting his arms relax for a time and the tension seep out steadily. It would no doubt return with just as much force the moment he returned to the 'talks' but for this brief moment, in this small sanctuary where only England existed once more, he could breathe easy again…
…that is until he heard an all too familiar voice boom into his brain accompanied by a tell-tale sound of a fast food bag crinkling. Arthur rolled his eyes towards the heavens, silently asking what he had done today to deserve this. America did not notice him already sitting here and barged on in, plopping down on another stone bench through some hedges and munching a hamburger angrily and messily. England could already taste the harsh words on his tongue, aching to be unleashed, but he swallowed them when he saw just how haggard America looked. Granted, they all were a bit worse for wear (Lord knows England was developing permanent bags under his eyes), but, up close, without the usual, mindless smile, England saw just how much the world was weighing on America's shoulders.
It was hard to see because, outwardly, America still looked quite like himself, tall, strong, attractive…England halted that thought pattern, not wanting to open that can of worms on top of everything else. Yes, to the untrained eye, America was barely showing the strain of his role in the world…but England was old and much better at spotting the frays than most. It was in the eyes, how they drooped, dulled, and glinted in bitterness as opposed to cheer that told him more than anything else, more than the slight slouch to America's shoulders, more than the sniffle of sickness. It was how different those bluer-than-blue eyes looked.
England felt a pang in his chest at the sight…America was still so very young despite how often he tried to convince the others differently, little more than a child really. He shouldn't have had to face this responsibility yet; but England shook his head ruefully at the thought. Hadn't America been the one who insisted on growing up so fast, in shouldering the world, in taking it away from England…? England banished the thought from his head and fixed his eyes across the way. America didn't need to hear that old pain of England's right now, not when it still made them both uncomfortable despite how much they might have wished otherwise.
No…what he needed right now was a story. A story that could maybe give him back some of the hope he had lost.
England rose from his bench and walked across the garden to where America was sitting, fast food eaten and the bag crumpled up in a ball on the ground. America had his head tipped back and his eyes closed, the few beams of sun that broke through the surrounding trees seemed to get caught in his hair, glinting gold and making England's heart lurch uncomfortably. America still did not notice him and was mumbling and complaining to himself about the conferences, echoing England's thoughts from earlier. England felt his mouth tug upwards a bit.
"You know, sulking is most certainly not becoming of a hero, even an idiotic one like you." England's words lacked most of their usual bite and had what sounded like a hint of concern. It was hard for him to drop his defenses, even when America gave a flash of annoyance tinged with hurt at his words as he tilted his head down and gave a half-hearted glare; they were all he had to protect his heart anymore.
"I am NOT sulking. Just, you know, thinking is all. Is it impolite to think by myself now?" America had that smug smile on and a mocking tease in his voice, but England knew the nation much too well to be fooled by it.
England shook his head and sat beside America, ignoring the momentarily perplexed expression to cross the bespectacled face. "No, but one could confuse thinking for sulking when you do it in a secluded garden and grumble obscenities under your breath."
"You do it all the time!"
"I brood, much more sophisticated than sulking." England smirked at the dumbfounded expression that overtook America's face.
"Did-did you just make a joke?? Ha, who knew that you had it in you, England! I guess even old men like you got a sense of humor somewhere, buried deep!" America was laughing, a genuine smile on his face, making him look much younger, more like England liked to remember.
"I'll have you know that British humor is very entertaining …just because your thick skull can't comprehend…" England frowned but it didn't last long; America's laughter, increasingly rare nowadays, was contagious and he felt his lips settle into a small smile.
They sat in silence for only a few moments more before America leaned back on his hands and smiled at England, head canted to the side and some of the playfulness back in his eyes. "So…why are you out here brooding?"
England arched his eyebrows. "Why are you?"
America's smiled faded into more of a sheepish grin and he looked upwards into the sky. "Just wanted to be alone for a minute, you know? Not have to hear Israel and Palestine fight for the bazillionth time, China nag me about those dumb loans, or half of the other nations ask when my economy will be better and what I'm doing to fix it. Just…think I guess, about anything else. Anything but how the heck I'm gonna fix everything or whose fight I'm gonna have to stop tomorrow."
England felt something in his chest swell at the honest and straightforward answer, felt something akin to sympathy for his America who had taken on too much too fast. His hands itched to do something comforting, even if comforting wasn't exactly England's strong suit anymore, but he resisted, clenching them into fists on his legs. America quirked his eyes downwards at England, eyes clearly expecting either the reason why England was 'brooding' or a stern scolding about responsibility. England clasped his hands in his lap and stared forward, the words and memories coming to him before his head even caught on, words that he knew without doubt that America needed to hear.
"I don't remember a lot of my early childhood. What I do remember is scattered and fragmented, mostly held together by what modern historians have pieced together and from the things I do remember." He paused, but ignored the look on America's face; he didn't want to see the wonder and surprise on the younger nation's face, didn't want to be reminded too much that America was still young enough to remember nearly everything. He had never talked about his childhood with America, but at this moment, when America was learning just how hard it was to lead, he could use an old man's words. He could feel the memories wash over them both; they washed over his words, transporting them both into a different place and time.
"However…there is something clear I do remember, something from before Rome, before my brothers and sister found me, without any help from others…"
He was not very sure where he was or what he was doing there, but it was nice and cool and quiet. He could hear all kinds of scary noises outside, screaming and ripping…he clapped his tiny hands over his equally tiny ears and tried not to cry. Please, please, don't find me, he kept thinking, just leave me be, leave me here. But even that wasn't right because he felt terribly alone all by himself, nothing in the secluded and hidden alcove of trees but himself and the occasional beetle. He buried his heads in his knees and tried to imagine another place, another time, that he was stronger and wasn't afraid to leave the cove of trees.
"Oh, there you are! I was beginning to worry; one of my own has never been that difficult for me to find before!"
He looked up and wiped his arm across his tear-streaked face, green eyes blinking up in confusion and a bit of wariness at the tall woman he saw before him. She was kindly looking, her long, dark brown hair braided and pulled back from her face, her face a rich earthy color, a shade or so lighter than her hair. She had all kinds of things woven into her hair, feathers and moss, what looked like quartz and twigs, clumps of sand and a whole assortment of different leaves that had to be from over a hundred different kind of trees. Her dress looked to be made of the trees and dirt itself, constantly shifting and turning different colors of brown and green to even black and the palest of white. She crouched down and blinked her dark green eyes at him, a smile twinkling on her face.
"Well, are you just going to sit there, my own? Why don't you try a hello, you're not too new, not with all that hiding and wandering you did! Took me nigh thirty years to find you, naughty boy!"
He blinked and pushed himself to his feet, already feeling somewhat sheepish by how dirty he must have looked. He scowled at her laugh and when she called him a 'ragamuffin,' but it faded as she, still kneeling down, began to brush him off. When she was finished, she tilted his head this way and that, her smile widening when she stared into his eyes and reflected green back and forth, before she began feeling her way down his arms and legs, obviously testing how he was built and his strength. He blushed a bit and looked down…he was so small and thin, she'd be disappointed for sure. However, when she tilted his head back up and held nothing but love for him in her eyes, he knew his worries were meaningless…she knew he'd grow stronger one day.
"Well, looks like everything's in order! Can you speak for me?"
He nodded. "Y's mum."
"Good, that's a start! Goodness knows that's more than I've gotten from some of your siblings on their first tries."
He stared at her, still feeling somewhat wary of this strange woman who had found him in his sanctuary, but he could not find it within him to fight her hold when she hooked her hands under his small arms and hefted him up into her hold. She smiled at him and brushed her lips across his cheek. "You don't know who you are, my own, not yet. But oh, I do, I know who you are and what you will become and I can promise you that even though you are small now, and even though you will have hardships and suffering, oh you will be strong!"
He stared at her, at the way her eyes glittered feverishly, at the shapes her mouth formed, at the wrinkles he could see at the corners of her eyes. "Wh're you, mum?"
She laughed and twirled him about before setting him down. She stayed kneeling on the ground and bumped her nose against his before she spoke, her voice low and whispering, as if she was imparting very secret words to him and him alone. "I have many names, depending on who I'm talking to, but you can simple call me Gaia."
He nodded and looked up as colors swirled around him. Upon closer inspection, he saw that the colors were wee people with wings, fluttering about Gaia before they inspected him, playing with his hair, tickling his skin. She gave him a look, arching her eyebrow in silent question, asking him if he could see the little people; he nodded his head back vigorously in response. He smiled and laughed with them and held his hand for them, letting them land on his hand for a moment before they fluttered back into the air. He looked up at Gaia and smiled.
"Yes, I'm sure they'd agree with you." She placed her hands on his shoulder and turned him around so that he faced a path, a path that he knew led him out of his sanctuary and out into all the noise. Her voice whispered into his ear like a warm breeze, pooling around and keeping him steady. "You must face this world, my own, must face it and discover for yourself who you are and your name. I have many children, some you hear around you, some are far but will one day touch your shores and perhaps even threaten you…I wish this wasn't so. Some have yet to become but I know you will be there to help, because you, my own, you are one of mine."
"Yes, mine. You are born of land, like all the others, my land, my breath and body was given to each of you. But…you are special. You will unite this great land, you will have a little bit of me with you always to help you do this, and when this corner of the world will have all but forgotten me, you will not. Can you promise me this, my own?"
He looked back into the dark green eyes studying him intently, almost predatory in their intensity, and nodded.
"Memory is a tricky thing, my own. You will live long, longer than others and not as long as others and it will be hard to hold onto, you must keep me here!" She placed a hand over his beating heart. "You'll keep that, and me, in your heart, won't you?"
"Good." She hugged him close to her before rising and stepping back. "Now, go and experience this land of yours, Britannia, my own."
England blinked his eyes as he finished, the smile lingering on his face, still almost able to feel Gaia around him, even though he hadn't seen her for so long, before he turned in America. Wide, blue eyes were staring at him, his entire face alive with excitement and curiosity; England was reminded of when America was a boy, just a colony starting out, and would listen with rapt attention to the stories England hadn't felt too old to tell then.
"Wow…that's so awesome! You totally talked to Mother Earth, Iggy! Did you ever see her again? Or does she just show up when nations do, I wonder why I can't remember her…"
England smirked a bit at America's question. "Because she only chooses one nation in each area to hold the memory of her role in our birth, at least that's what China implies. Considering his age though, I'm inclined to believe him." His smirk turned more playful. "She chose Mexico from this region."
"Mexcio?! Aw man, I'm way more awesome then her…" America pouted a bit but his smile belayed any notion that he was really upset by this. He smiled wider and leaned in close, drawing a blush to England's cheeks but he didn't seem to notice. "Well, have you seen her again? Or is it a onetime thing?"
England's smile dropped and he looked away from the earnest blue eyes. "Yes, I've seen her since then, she's not really hard to find if you know where to look. She's the world after all."
"No, I mean seen her like you did when you were little?"
England nodded. "She cried to us when we dug trenches and blew holes during the first World War. France didn't know who she was, but I did, and I knew why she was there, all bloodied up and tears. The frog thought she was a ghost, bloody moron, walking across No Man's Land with barb wire clinging to her dress. She didn't yell or scream at us though, she just smiled sadly and walked off…I haven't seen her since, not in that form at least."
America had a stricken look on his face when England turned back to meet his gaze. "Then, everything in the Middle East, all these battles, pollution, she feels that?"
"Of course she does. She feels just like we do." England placed his hand on America's shoulder and made those troubled eyes meet his. "We are all hers, you know, and she loves us, even when we hurt her, even when we bomb her, even when we forget her, she loves us. She knows that we try our hardest everyday and she knows that it's never going to be easy and she knows that sometimes her children just can't get along."
America's eyes were clearing as England's words reached him. Words that weren't empty or criticizing, words that knew because they had lived their meaning already. "So, what we have to do is persevere, right? Can't just give up when she sacrificed so much for us to be here!"
"I think she would be happy to see that," England agreed. He got off the bench and straightened his clothing, careful to not meet America's face and to keep his voice as nonchalant as possible. "She'd be happy to see someone fighting so hard to reunite all her own once more, happy that someone remembers that as different as we all are, we all came from the same place, that we all have some sort of common ground."
England gave America a nod before he left their small sanctuary, letting a small smile grace his face at America's enthusiastic nod and air punch. He felt something warm him knowing that America would be back to his usual, obnoxious, hair-pulling-inducing, but brilliant and necessary self when he stepped back into that conference room. He felt that warmth blossom further at knowing it was his words, his old, stodgy words that had seen so much, that had done it. He supposed being an old man wasn't so bad in the end...even if it was still a right pain in the arse most of the time.
Later, when he saw America tackle each issue, both of his doing and of others, with renewed vigor and passion, he hoped he had done as Gaia would have wished. It took him many years to understand all that she said to him in that small alcove so long ago, but with each year he gained, it made a little more sense. Watching America during that conference, watching him talking to Mexico animatedly afterwards, catching the bright smile he sent England's way, a smile that made England's spine shiver and avert his face so no one, especially France, would see his blush, made her words make a little more sense still.
And when America sought him out that night, held him close in a way he hadn't done so since he was a boy, and whispered his thanks, thanks for today and every day, he knew that should he meet her again, meet her in the wind, the earth, or simply as she had been, she'd be proud of him. He may not be ready to bare anymore of himself to America just yet, but for once, felt the hope that soon he just might be.
"You must face this world, my own… experience this land of yours…
"My own, my own, my own."