Claddagh Twist

It was probably the most feminine thing he owned. That list included his embroidery hoop, stuffed unicorn, show tune collection, and extended edition of the A&E special on Pride and Prejudice. That didn't mean that he still didn't adore his Claddagh ring.

It had been a birthday gift from Ireland several centuries past - a fad among her people, she assured him with a smothered grin - and he tried it on and it fit his right index finger and that had been that. The hands holding the crowned heart slowly became yet another fixture of his appearance, until even he could barely remember the origins. He did, however, keep track of meaning. He never told anyone after Ireland informed him on a bored autumn day, but his mind always informed him of the secret plea he wore on his finger every time he looked at the ring.

Right Hand, Crown In

The subtle declaration on his finger never made its mark on anyone. This was supposed to say that he was looking for love, but he may as well have been taking potshots at the moon for all of the luck he was getting. The only regular visitor he had was France, and the Lord himself knew how that could never, ever happen. All of his other friends, acquaintances, tense rivals, or foes were too afraid to approach; they smiled nervously and sidled along their way. He sighed and twisted the ring around his finger.

He came into his life like a sunset over open ocean. Each minute spent in America's company filled his heart with the gold his men failed to find, holding it within when he was away like the words of a favorite song. The boy himself couldn't get enough, either; England was his big brother, his god. But he was, above all things, a child, and the one thing children could be guaranteed to do was grow up.

It tore him up to see him rebel. A lot of sleepless nights were spent staring at military maps, wondering where he had gone wrong and twisting the ring around his finger. Much to his chagrin, however, he was an important country, with a thousand other worries beyond his pet colony and a thousand issues on his plate to prevent him from devoting all of his attentions to curbing revolution. The boy probably thought he was ignoring him, but he was never too far from his mind. The ring twisted nervously.

In that rain-drenched battlefield, he knew he had the power to destroy. Destroy America forever, crush his rebellion, turn him back into the sunrise child he so desperately loved. As they stared at each other, though, he was suddenly struck with the notion that if he did so, they would never be equals, but stuck in this master/servant dilemma and they would never be equal. Suddenly, he wanted to have him as an equal, a country over a colony, because England loved him and wanted his success. He believed that all men should be created equal.

In the end, he didn't shoot, and neither did America. As he watched him walk away, his left hand dropped the gun and twisted the ring, slipping it off for a second and flipping it.

In his mind, his heart was officially taken.

Right Hand, Crown Out

If the revolution was torture, the following centuries were the outer rings of hell. He watched his child, his secret love, fumble under the guidance of demigods, explore himself and fight himself, experience all of the riotous trials and emotions that Europe had gone through, but condensed to hyperspeed. He could do nothing but watch and wait, helping and hinting and prodding and twisting, always twisting, wanting to shelter him and coddle him so badly but pushing the idea away, knowing it wouldn't help in the long run and America wouldn't thank him anyway. That didn't mean the urge still didn't present itself.

It would be almost a hundred years before they truly felt they could start anew. They started with trade, commerce, ambassadors, like they were impersonal, but their histories and their personalities wouldn't let that stay for long. Before two score had passed, they were talking again, tentatively, with a lot more arguments and yelling than ever before, dialogue thick with allusions and insults and tumult but still there. This was both the same and a completely different America than the one he had known, in ways he couldn't pin down but still loved, and probably loved more than before. He kept it to himself, but his ring stayed crown out. Maybe one day he would learn.

The world moved at the reckless pace of industry and enlightenment, and before he even realized a century had passed and they were quickly passing the level of intimacy that had existed in his adolescence but different, better, because now they were equals and no punches had to be pulled, and they loved it. The bickering took on a level of fondness that caused notice, and it wasn't long before they started brushing together when walking, a minute more than accidental and a second longer than friendly, and eye contact made them both blush and stammer. Time alone was overbearingly awkward and yet not, until one day it overflowed.

It was after they had become allies. There were in a makeshift bomb shelter a field away from Flanders, and America was wrapping his hand in dirty gauze where it had been grazed by a bullet across his palm. He tucked the end under and kissed the heel of his thumb - 'for luck', he said - but didn't let his hand go. He twisted and leaned against the dirty wall next to England, pulling him close and wrapping his arm around the outside of his torso. He was in too much nauseating pain, too tired to complain or scold, and could only simply let his head fall back into the shoulder hollow and closed his eyes. America examined his limp fingers like he had never touched them before, careful not to disturb the holes in his hand enough to cause pain. He twisted the ring around his finger.

"England, what is this?" America asked him, waking him up from his drowsy exhaustion.

"Mmm?" He looked up to see America's too close too blue eyes, curious, trained on his ring. "Oh, it's my Claddagh ring," he mumbled, staring down at his hand. He reached over with his other hand to touch it. America took the chance and seized hold of it instead, his fingers pressing down in his palm to make the fingers dance.

"What's it mean?" he asked him, frowning as he ran a finger over the heart.

"Eh?" England was so exhausted that he barely registered the question he had been waiting almost seven score to hear.

"Everything about you has a purpose," America elaborated, leaning his cheek onto the top of his head. "What's this one?"

England hummed as he considered. "The symbol itself's supposed to mean 'with my hands I give you my love, crowned with my loyalty.' Besides that, it can be put like this-" he flipped the ring over crown in - "on your right hand, it means you're looking for love. If the crown's out-" flip- "it means your heart is taken, or captured by the crown. If it's like this-" flip and switch hands- "you're engaged, and like this-" flip again- "you're married." He slid it back to its usual position and relinquished his hands back to America's control. They stared at the ring.

"Sounds kind of girly to me," he mumbled. England was too tired to do anything but ignore him. "So you're saying your heart's taken?" he said a little louder, and the situation finally hit him and England jolted. America's outside arm held him in place, and he blushed furiously.

"Maybe."

America laughed, low and sweet. England nuzzled closer unconsciously, and the laugh turned into a sigh. His outside arm pulled in closer, and his injuries cried but he ignored them with the practice of a thousand year old soldier.

"Come on, England. Don't be shy."

The cockiness and undertones of anxiety in his tone told him everything. "Oh, stop it, you fool," he scolded without heart, elbowing him lightly and looking up to see soft eyes already gazing steadily.

Both of America's hands brought up both of his and he kissed the knuckles as he stared, mouth slightly open and eyes slightly wide.

England had loved him longer, maybe, but America loved him more, and the sudden jerk up and the crushing presence endeavored to tell him so in so many words, and his hands didn't have far to go to clutch at the nape of his neck and generations of tension poured into poured into that mouth, and it was more important than air for several wonderful minutes.

They pulled away incompletely, continuing to touch lips, addicted. Between small kisses, America asked, "How long has your ring been sitting like that?"

"Since your revolution," he replied, twisting to face him and slipping onto his lap for better leverage. America's thumbs rubbed over his cheeks, which he realized were wet. He reached up to wipe them away, but America grabbed his hand, causing a wince and a sharp gasp. He kissed it in apology.

"You know," he said softly, sliding the ring off his finger, "I think I like it this way better." Flip, change hands. England stared at his left hand, crown in, and he stopped breathing.

"Are-" his mouth was dry, he swallowed- "Are you sure?"

"As sure as I've ever been." He lifted his chin with a bent finger and gazed, looked away, chuckled. He was vulnerable.

"Dammit, England." He kissed his fingers, his cheeks, lips, eyes, nose, lips again. "I love you."

He pounced, fingers pulling on America's collar to try to get him deeper, closer, desperate. His waiting had reaped the reward at last, and he was going to suck everything from this moment for future use. America responded; oh, how he responded, hands sliding everywhere and tongue twisting around, his legs twitching underneath him in agitation.

They slid slowly to the floor and it was perfect, they were perfect, they didn't need anything else, the war outside fell away, and they twisted.


{A/N: Another two shot. Second part will be up sometime this week.}