Title: Nuclear Food Chain
Pairing: Russia/America… I guess?
Disclaimer: I don't own Hetalia.
Summary: It was only a matter of time before Russia got the bomb… but still, it was great to be first.
Alfred could feel himself sweating in the brutal New Mexico heat, in a small obscure American town that hugged the border between himself and his dear Latino friends down south. He tugged at the collar of his shirt as he searched out the nation he'd heard was here – here, in his country, can you imagine? What did the USSR need here anyway, other than quite important, valuable state secrets?
He suppressed a noise of frustration as he roughly shouldered past several giggling women (probably illegals, twittering in Spanish about something or other) and finally spotted him: too tall and too pale for the south central United States. Double-checking the pocket of his aviator jacket for the .22 magnum mini revolver – safe, easy to use, small and secretive in case of a sudden attack – Alfred worked to even out his shaky breathing as he approached.
Never would he have pulled his weapon first; it was a crucial lesson he had learned in his war with Japan. As long as Ivan made the first move, then Alfred could say he wasn't at fault, no, he was attacked first, Mr. President… So no, he didn't remove the weapon from his pocket even if he so desperately wanted to; instead he just worked his way between Ivan and the woman he was currently speaking to (a war widow with curly blond hair and vivid nails, devil-red lipstick, flashy and enamored with the strange foreign man, had been prattling on about the precautions she took against the Reds… and more far too revealing topics about the work her husband had done, and what her new boyfriend was doing for the government-)
"Really?" Ivan was saying, smiling sweetly, innocently egging her on, "Isn't that… boss."
The woman gave Alfred a look as he stepped between them with a smile of his own. "Would you excuse me for just a moment, ma'am." It wasn't a question and she seemed to know it – glanced at the down-to-business look about him as she, startled, stepped aside with a mutter, leaving him free to turn and give a cold, businesslike smile to his… friend. "Having fun chatting up my people, Soviet?"
Ivan had seen him approaching, that much was very obvious, trying to look calm and oblivious to it – didn't budge when Alfred had stepped in, not a twitch or anything like that, instead just casually transformed his smile into a tighter and lax smirk. The air between them was riddled with volts and watts and tension, each breath seeming much too loud. Alfred thought he could hear the bat of Ivan's long lashes. Neither made a move until Ivan replied, his voice neutral.
"Oh, I suppose you could say that. I'm rather fascinated by how openly and enthusiastically your people accept some… advice." Alfred's throat tightened as Ivan lightly shrugged, raising an eyebrow just a bit as he turned his head a fraction. "As long as labels aren't branded, your people seem to eat up the idea of communism just like those disgusting foods you're pumping out."
Here, Ivan gave Alfred's body a once over, lingering just a moment too long. Alfred knew that the sudden increase in weight gain was starting to affect him some – his hands twitched to pull down the hem of his shirt, but he didn't, no, wouldn't move first.
"It's… hot, here. In the desert," Ivan said idly, his eyes that same steely gunmetal color.
"Mm," Alfred agreed. "Supposed to be a heat wave coming in… they say it could be a record. Funny how the heat meddles with people's heads." None of my people would ever like that disgusting society of yours. "Did you just come here in your attempt to brainwash my citizens? Or were you, ah, looking for something specific?"
His smile was tight, tense, his eyes sharp for any sudden movements. Look at him. Sticking his oversized nose in my business.
Ivan shook his head lightly. Knowing Russian climate quite well – Alfred had made many trips to St. Petersburg during the Tsarist reign – the sun must have been unbearably hot for him. Still, neither moved, even just out of reach from the shade of a tree and a bench. They were both drawn almost magnetically to the spot. "I've found what I was looking for, yes. But it isn't so specific-"
"I'm sure whomever you were talking to was, yes, quite enthusiastic to have everything handed to her. That's what communism is all about, isn't it? Sitting back and having your life handed to you. No hard-working citizens… tsk. That's a shame."
"-I'm just not sure what it is yet," Ivan continued as if uninterrupted. His head was tilted, glancing along the curve of Alfred's neck. Then he sighed, and in a normal tone, as if scolding a child, "Ah, of course – 'sitting back and having life handed to you.' No, these housewives of yours seem like slaves. They know that already. And they hate it. Women in my Union are true comrades. They can do as they like – for their country."
Alfred had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from lashing out as Ivan began to walk, moving in a slowly paced circle around him, pressing on.
"They're all hard-working citizens... there are no people at the top 'having everything handed to them' as thousands more grovel in terrible jobs, for miserable wages, and are discriminated from the smiled-upon, doted, and more affluent top of the pyramid. No, everyone works as a family – Mrs. Velasquez certainly liked that – and they trust each other." He said the work with a ringing chill to it, directed just specially at him. Ivan stopped moving right there, voice going cold as he paused, shoulder to shoulder almost… both of them looked in opposite directions as Ivan froze there, voice creeping out from the lethargic tone he'd been using, a darker vibe crawling in.
"The desert… I chose it too. Atomic bombs have to be handled carefully, my, my. The damage a test can set off… Good thing I have back-ups… many, many identically strong… explosive… devices…"
Alfred's heart just about stopped. No, no, no, please, fuck, god, no – and a cold sort of prickle of panic set in – He can turn around and strangle me if he wanted to – and he bit his tongue to keep from drawing that weapon just for comfort, no… Heart beating so fast under his ribs that he was positive Ivan could hear it. Instead he just pushed out a close breath, fidgeting slightly.
"Dangerous things, atoms," he said as he tried to suppress the twinge of fear to his voice. "Then again, you know that, don't you? I'm sure you saw the news when I tested mine… not as fun as seeing it firsthand for the first time, but… mm. Well, better late than never." Shit. Shit, shit, shit. Braginski with atomic weapons… not good at all, not good, not if he decided to test it on a nation like Alfred had, just to see the damage for himself. Alfred imagined himself thrumming with radiation sickness just like that fucking slant-eye bastard and had to calm himself, feeling even his sweat go cold in the desert heat.
"Yes…" Ivan all but purred the word and stayed just as he was. Alfred wondered if Ivan was comparing his tension to a body gone into instant rigor mortis. But no, Ivan just prodded on, the voice dark but not too different from his usual pleasant tone as he spoke quietly, collectedly, but with a nervous twitch to his hand, just over the lip of his scarf.
I bet he has a gun on him, too.
"Yes, yes… the Manhattan Project started it. It made your hands grow from soiled to a new level of filth, blood-covered for eternity… a barbaric kind – oh, I've already told you this, though. We had our tiff. You set us back to year one. As if we've just discovered fire, or that stones with sharp edges can make red slipperiness pulse out of our veins. So much power… I can understand it now. Because I'm challenging that authority – that Godliness that's quelled the other once-strong nations…"
He gripped Alfred's shoulder like he had a million times before. But this time, it was a show of strength as he squeezed in a seemingly friendly manner – a friendly squeeze, bruising him. "You're not alone anymore, comrade…" Painfully tight in that grip, enough to make Alfred have to bite at himself harder, before he suddenly let go. He started encircling slowly, oh so slowly, like a shark with chum in the water.
"And the first time was impressive… but to think that all of my Union, we're all working together to make these weapons…" he whispered. "They're only getting more and more accurate… farther ranges… bigger puffs of smoke… tress being ripped from the ground like toothpicks… and if you do want to play, make more little toys, I have my people here, thriving in your blood, going back to the nervous system, my intelligence… I know your every move. The little shrieks your children have at night, the Red Terror imbibing your citizens, how the world's getting sick of you and your ignorance and someone who isn't lying about equality, how your people want me and not you, and the fervor just begins here…"
Alfred's breath was heavy; he felt Ivan tap down on the little indent of Alfred's head, two fingertips like a gun-barrel… "Bam!" Tense, tense, tense, jumped at that noise like he'd actually been shot, hand flying to his pocket but no – stopped himself just in time, didn't grab it out, wasn't being threatened, just… just mocked. And that was fine. A few words… stick and stones and all that, which, if this escalated the way he hoped it wouldn't, that's what they'd be fighting World War 3 with.
"Here. In the head. And it works down, down…" Ivan thought a moment, bringing his face over one of Alfred's shoulders… When did he get so tall? "'The fish rots from the head down.' That's a proverb of mine. And you've been slipping since '45, comrade Jones."
"It's…" Alfred's throat was dry. He cleared it, embarrassed, that tremble in his hands worse now after that cryptic speech. "It's not filthy to strike back when attacked first." Just a civil conversation about power and its abuse, about weapons, about… Get your fucking paws of me, you Soviet creep – god, okay, calm down, Alfred just… just calm down. "So the stupid Jap decides to fuck with the United States. You push me, I push back twice as hard. Like… like interest, you see. You give back more than you took in the first place."
He donned a dark look, recalling the thrill of power he'd felt as seeing that… beautifully ugly mushroom cloud, that chilling moment when he'd realized he could destroy the world if he wanted to. He could end human life here on Earth if he so wished… could if he wanted… he could… he could.
"So you send your people here, infiltrating, thinking they can slip past the security measures we've taken – funny. You never know, if the threat escalates, I may be forced to… do something about it." He turned to face the other nation properly so he wasn't at his back like that. It made him feel vulnerable, and he needed the upper hand like he needed oxygen.
Ivan faltered. For the first time in their conversation, Ivan faltered. Alfred saw him lick his dry lips, glance up briefly at the sky… could imagine him forming an excuse to this little stumble in their 'talk' – "It was the sun, Leader Stalin. That was why…" – No. It wouldn't fly at all. For this short, brief moment, Alfred had that upper hand. And it felt good.
"Aren't you catty," Ivan said finally, shooting him a glare, a smirk on his face. "I like this McCarthy guy. I think England will, too. The world. Oh, they've yet to see how delightful their little trigger-happy teenage God is." He drew back in a mechanical movement as if on auto-pilot. "And… no, no – why would I send spies? We have better things to do. I'm talking about Americans lending a helping hand to my side. You do understand, don't you? It isn't a difficult concept… Americans buying communist literature, readings… the American Communist Party was founded in 1919… and it still exists, though you may crush it. Your 'roaches' will flee from house to house and keep breeding."
"Like my people would ever love something as disgusting as you!" Okay, he didn't mean to shout quite that loud… attracting attention, but couldn't care, couldn't care for the Spanish whispers around him that he could only partially understand, couldn't care for the women tugging their children away. His fingers itched for his gun; finally he slipped his hand into his pocket just to thumb it, comforting, a safety blanket in his feverish time. His eyes flashed cold and hard and he stood straighter like a cat trying to look intimidating. Fur brustled, tail like a bottle brush.
"Look at you. Smug, lazy son of a bitch… worse than the fascists, worse than the socialists, no, you just had to go all out like the fucking drama queen you are, have to do everything times a million, don't you?" He hissed the words out, angry enough to spit, the fury making him tremble. His fingertips drummed against the gun in his pocket, other hand clenched hard at his side, hard enough to make little crescent indentations on his palm. "An 'equal line,' a 'fair share' for everyone… no! All you're doing is killing yourself! And I sit back, and I watch, and I'm going to laugh in your fucking face when it's all over, you know why?"
Alfred's breath was heavy as he worked it down to a regular pace, answering his own question, "Because you'll look at me and realize just how fucking wrong you were, and how right I was – how right I am right now. I'm right, Braginski. I'm the United States of fucking America. I'm the top of the goddamn food chain. And you- you're nothing. Or you will be, soon. At the bottom… where bottom-feeding scum like you belong."
And Ivan sighed. He had the actual tenacity to sigh at him. "Ah, turn a blind eye then… don't listen to me." He raised his hands gently with the palms supine, looking innocent to the bystanders. But as he spoke, Alfred could almost hear how fast his heart was beating, almost hear the fear breathing in with every word. "It's all very flattering, what you're saying… very entertaining, actually. I wonder how long you can keep up like this. Because, Jones…"
Alfred remembered a time when they were on a first-name basis. It had only been a decade ago that they'd fought side by side as best friends.
"You are wrong. But I'm kind – Marxist ideals include that we reach out to grab others when they fall… involve them in the family. The world will be Communist soon. And those who are on shaky legs become part of my group of friends – they all have that choice now, you know. It's not just you anymore with a shiny button. And there's more than me in the Union. Where are your friends, Alfred? Are they standing by you? Well… I will be, when you crash and burn, when you fall from the 'top' into your corroding, sugarcoated madness. I'm your only friend – you said so, didn't you, once. It must be sad to watch me grow so strong and defy all the odds you conjure."
Alfred opened his mouth to argue, No, I have plenty of friends, I have France and England and Canada – but Ivan interrupted.
"This is only the beginning, Alfred."
Ivan had a sad look to his eyes then as he stared at him solemnly. Alfred could see him, suddenly, in that famine again – in 1922, when Alfred had come to find him at the bottom of his stairs and half-dead, how terrified he'd been that Ivan… could have died. And now they were both tense, angry, armed and sleep-deprived, two sides of the same coin just like always and yet… more complicated than that. Far more complicated. Estranged…
"Do svidanya," Ivan whispered to him with a half-hearted wave as he walked away.
And Alfred blinked. It stung his eyes to do so.