Hello, fellow Hetalia fans. Yes, I know what you're probably thinking: "Stream, why are you starting a new story when you haven't finished From the Ashes yet? Stop being a slacker and finish what you started!" Rest assured that I have every intention to see FoA through to the end, dear readers. While in the middle of writing, a plot for another story kept nagging me and would not leave me alone until I got it down.
Story: These will be a series of vignettes featuring the many times America visited the World Conference throughout the years. History will be included (with liberties taken), romance between personified nations (read: manxman love) will occur, and some potentially mature subject matters will happen during the course of these segments (maybe).
Please let me know if this seems like another worthwhile endeavor. Feedback is the fuel that feeds my muse.
World Conference - 1765
America had been excited when England had announced to him that he would – for the first time – accompany the nation across the sea to his homeland. There was some important meeting that England had to attend. Now that America was no longer a small child, England mentioned that it was time for him to make a proper debut as a British colony on the world's stage. He had not provided America with many details, though the teen could hardly be bothered to stay still long enough to listen. America became next to impossible the moment he had heard the news.
Then they had been out at sea and he had known nothing but sickness the entire way. England had been as dutiful a caretaker as ever. As the teen agonized over the illness, the man had soothed him with kind words and gentle touches. When America vomited, England's warm hand would smooth across his back without one word of complaint for the mess being made. At night, when the swaying of the ship caused America to toss and turn restlessly in the large bed he shared in England's cabin, England would lay upon the covers next to him, whispering the old legends and tales from his home, all while his hand traced small circles over America's sore belly.
During the daytime, England would leave America alone for hours on end as he handled the tasks associated with commanding the ship. Sometimes America would hear the sound of England's voice through the door – it was always sounded strange, harsh and commanding, with a low growl in its timbre that America had never heard before. England often raised his voice while outside of the cabin. He used colorful words that America barely knew, but sensed that he'd be punished for if he ever dared repeating them.
When England came into the cabin, everything was different. He would remove his hat and hang it on its hook near the door. A few occasions, he forgot about the patch over his eye, removing it with a blush and an apology whenever America pointed it out. These segments of time were reserved for lessons, more and more involved ones now that he was older. England would instruct or quiz him mercilessly. Commerce, economics, history, politics – America's brain was stuffed to the brim with all the information that England was determined to cram inside. It made his head dizzy. He discovered that if he behaved as though the sickness was affecting him, even when it wasn't, it would commonly cause England to retreat from his lessons for a while.
Sometimes, with no explanation, England would enter the cabin in a foul mood. He would be gruffer with America than usual. Those times were filled with lectures, with disapproving comments directed at the teen. England might pull his shoulders up straighter and accuse him of slouching, or correct how he held his cup of tea. The man was critical of every move made by America and had no qualms sharing his critique. One particular day, England had slapped his hands on his desk in frustration. "You're so vexing, America. What am I to do with you, when you simply refuse to learn how to conduct yourself in a proper manner?"
A few times England's words bit deep enough that America wanted to weep. His young pride would not allow it, so he braced his hands upon his lap and dug his fingernails into the heels of his palms. He was helpless to do anything but wait for this dark anger in England to pass. It always did, leading to the inevitable remorse from the older man, when he would shower the silent America with apologies and praises. Didn't America understand how important he was? How he had the distinction of being Britain's most cherished colony? England would sit down with him for tea, the sickness would creep up over America, and the pattern would repeat all over again.
They finally reached London. America had abandoned any notions he'd entertained about growing to become a merchant sea trader. The trip had proven to him that he was suited to land instead of sea. He'd let others more attuned to the water element keep the privilege of sailing without him. America would stay with his feet planted on solid ground.
Not that this land made him feel any better. As soon as he stepped off the aged wood of the piers, America understood what it felt like to be on soil that belonged to someone else. This dank patch of earth belonged to England. It did not invite him or welcome him. Instead, it greeted him with cold apathy, like uncaring stones underfoot. He didn't like the feeling. This foreign land seemed to whisper to him that it would tolerate him for now, but it would never accept him.
Was this how England felt whenever he visited America's home? The teen snuck a careful study of his caretaker when the man became absorbed in handling their arrival and other arrangements. England had never looked pained in all the times that he had come to America. His shoulders never appeared to weigh heavily with this sense of unwelcome. He was only ever happy while in America's house.
Perhaps this was because America was different than England. He was a separate entity from the Old World; America was the 'new world' - it appeared that the old one did not want him there where the history was already deep, the land was aged by battles and by time. America was from a place still rich with unexplored possibility. These grounds were old, tired, and bitter.
England guided him into a carriage while he was absorbed in his thoughts. His heart began to hammer in his chest as he felt a slice of enthusiasm again. This was London – America knew that this was the heart of England. It would be his first time seeing a city so established, so full of life. The buildings here were old, looked old. They did not have the fresh shine and polish of the ones back home. England began the carriage ride on the opposite seat. When America's delighted gasps and admiration of these strange places won him over enough to sacrifice propriety, England swung himself into the seat beside the teen. He draped an arm across the teen's shoulders, speaking quietly in America's ear as he named each new, strange building that dazzled the young colony's eyes.
They arrived at England's home after a short trip. It was larger than America's house, far more elegant. England was eager to give him a tour of the entire manor. He took hold of the teen's hand and tugged him along to see each room, on all three floors, America catching glimpses of several unknown, fascinating objects that littered the sprawling expanse of England's home. There were gardens in the back that England promised to show him when it was daytime and the rain was not so dreary. He was also given some parameters – certain places in the house were strictly forbidden to America. England would not give him specifics (he undoubtedly anticipated that America's curiosity would lead him to investigate those same areas, which was a correct assumption), and instead just warned him that there would be dire consequences if he trespassed.
America was given his own room. England had presented it to him with a little flourish, in that subtle dramatic way he would always deny having. It was meticulously decorated down to the last detail. America could tell that this had not been treated as just any other room; England had poured considerable energy into every hue of wood, every strip of fabric, blending together pieces of his own culture with that of America's emerging tastes. There was a painting of stallions running free across wild lands here, a cluster of red roses in a little vase there that made the entire room smell sweet with the fragrance of England's beloved flower, the fresh paper on the walls was the pale blue of America's morning skies, the green of the coverlet matched his caretaker's eyes almost perfectly.
Something on the dresser caught his eye. America walked to it, plucking up a tiny redcoat soldier where it sat as if on guard. A few others dotted the surface; his own little unit of redcoats standing at attention. He lifted that one up in his palm with a questioning look at England.
The man laughed lightly, awkwardly rubbing a finger across the bottom of his nose. "Oh, yes. I'd meant to bring them over with me. It was always just a matter of time."
America put it back in its exact spot with a vague smile. "I see. Now I'll have enough for a proper army when I return home."
Over the next week, America spent plenty of time in his room. There seemed no end to the rain that fell in London. It had been raining when their ship arrived, and it had rained every day after. America had never seen such a persistent drizzle. How anyone could stand to live in such conditions was beyond his comprehension. He stared dully out the window as it tapped against the glass. England didn't mind the constant downpour, content with staying indoors as often as his schedule allowed. America could not tolerate the lack of freedom, unable to roam outside to see the sights that teased him beyond the windowpane.
He tried to appeal to England once or twice. His restless wandering would take him into England's study where the nation was constantly busy signing papers, reading documents, or sketching notes on an aged yellow map. The first time, he had just tried a casual approach. Standing on the opposite side of England's large desk, America stated his desire. "I thought that I might go out into the city today. It's been three days now; I haven't seen anything of London since we arrived. Can I?"
England had not missed a beat with his writing, black quill scratching over a piece of parchment without so much as an upward glance. "The correct way to ask is 'May I', and the answer is no. As you can undoubtedly see, I am far too busy to take you on a tour. Another day, perhaps."
America had returned to his room, dejected and heavy with disappointment. England did not take him the next day or the day after. The teen's desperation to get out of the house had peaked to a feverish pitch. He sought England out when he thought his mind was on the verge of rupturing. Again in his study, again occupied with work. America knew that an outright request would just be denied – he devised a better strategy.
England did not look up from his work, even when America let himself in with a knock on the door. That sandy blonde head was bowed like normal, a mess of hair shadowing those engrossed green eyes. America took some time pretending to peruse the selection of books that lined England's study, floor to ceiling stuffed with novels that America had never heard of, some in languages that he did not recognize. His feigned interest was all a ruse that he employed so that he had an excuse to inch closer to that desk without providing England any reason to question his intent.
Finally, America had cleared the path between the door and the desk. He stepped around it to shadow the space behind England's chair. Could he follow through with his plan? He'd not been too openly affectionate with the older man since the day England had returned to America, bewildered to see him grown so quickly. It felt so much more awkward now, as if his increased size and age made it inappropriate. Regardless, he needed to give it his best attempt if he had any hope of persuading England to let him out.
He leaned over the top of the chair, his arms sliding slowly forward to lock in a loose circle around the tops of England's shoulders. The older man had gone stiff, ink blotching on a corner of the parchment, as America enfolded him up into that easy embrace. England's lilting voice went an octave deeper in his surprise. "America? What are you doing?"
"Visiting you. Or do I require an appointment now to do so?" America teased. He pressed a kiss to England's cheek, feeling the skin heat up under his lips right before he pulled back. His chin nestled in the juncture of the older man's shoulder as he blinked down at the documents on England's desk. It wasn't hard to read the neat, cramped script of the words. There was something about problems with France, a trade embargo of some kind that would be imposed on the neighboring nation. America knew, from his extensive lessons from England, that the document was nothing more than the flowery verbal prequel to yet another war.
"You're smothering me." England shrugged the teen's arms off his shoulders with a frown. He would not turn to look at America, flushed with his exasperation.
America withdrew his arms, feeling a pang of hurt at the easy dismissal. "It never bothered you before."
"That was then, this is now. You are not a child any longer, America. There are certain types of behavior to expect from an older boy like yourself that are different from those allowed to a small one."
"'Older boy'?" America frowned at the description. He clasped his hands tightly at his back, fingers lacing together in an unhappy fidget. "Don't you mean 'young man'?"
"You should know by now, America: I say precisely what I mean and mean precisely what I say." England's face turned, a sliver of green peeking at the teen. "Now what is your purpose? Or did you simply come in here to interrupt me?"
"I want to go out." America's plea was impassioned. "I can't take this enclosure any longer. It has been an entire week since you brought me here and I have not been outside even once. Please, England, may I go out?"
That lone emerald eye regarded him in silence, and then narrowed. It turned back out of his line of sight as England uttered the same flat response as usual. "No."
America was floored with shock then riled by anger. He marched around to the front of England's desk so that he could see the man's face. England had his jaw clenched, eyes offering America nothing but apathy. The teen slammed his palms on the top of the desk, his unnatural strength causing the entire thing to quake, as he shouted. "Why? Why not? Why, England, did you ever go to the trouble of bringing me here? All that you have done is brought me to a land that doesn't want me, into a house that only chokes me, while you do nothing except ignore me at all hours! It is as if you aren't even here! If it was your intention to be so close but maintain such a distance, then I would have been better off if you had left me across the ocean!"
"America, please…" The teen's words left England troubled. It served him right – precisely what he deserved.
Throwing a hand up, America dismissed his plea in the same callous manner that England himself had done. "No. Forget it. I will stay locked in here if that is your wish. I will attend your important meeting. When this is done, however, never consider inviting me again." He stomped his foot to emphasize his declaration and pivoted smoothly to stalk out of the study.
Returning to the room that was his sanctuary and his prison, America slammed the door shut behind him. He threw himself onto the bed with a frustrated growl, his legs stretching clear to the foot of the bed, though the teen had not even bothered to remove his boots. America roughly took hold of his pillows as he lay on his stomach, crumpling them into his arms with a clasp of his arms similar to the one he'd tried to hold England in. These pillows were softer, more yielding, and less full of protests. America sullenly buried his face into their softness as he made up his mind that he would never set foot out of his room again.
He heard the door to his room open minutes later. England's steps caused the floorboards to creak as a signal of his hesitation as he lingered in the threshold. America did not bother to look up or remove his face from the pillows. He would prove to the man that he was just as capable at ignoring another so cruelly. The teen waited, holding his breath, to see what England was going to do.
The mattress dipped on the left side as England sat down. America slid his cheek across the softness of his pillow so that he could peek at the man without notice. He need not have worried, because England had sat on the edge of the mattress with his back to the teen. The older man's shoulders were bowed as if some great weight rested upon them. Though America could not see his face from this angle, England's posture alone spoke of weariness, the man's spine curled as he clasped his hands in his lap, face pointed towards the floor. America felt a sudden urge to rise up and embrace him. He was supposed to be sulking over the mistreatment of the nation, though, so the teen managed to push that aside.
England spoke to him without looking back. His words were underscored by that pleading lilt, the one he always used when he wanted America to comprehend something important. "You must understand, America, that it was not my intention to put you in this circumstance. I did not anticipate that things would turn out this way when I invited you here. The timing of all of this was terrible; had it been nothing but the conference to fret over, then I would have had more time to entertain you like a proper host. Now I am saddled with this nonsense from France, and the King has decided to invoke new policies on our colonies to balance the cost of war. I am working for my land just as I am working for yours – the work has overwhelmed me for the moment."
"I can handle the affairs of my own land – just tell me what needs to be done." America murmured quietly. Hearing England unload these troubles upon him had made him forget to be angry towards the man. "You know that I am capable. The burden doesn't have to be yours."
"Ah, but it does." England twisted around now with a tiny smile. "I don't generally mind it. I am an empire now, by my own making, and I will accept the responsibilities that come with the obligation of ruling the world." His hand settled on America's head, fingers sinking into the teen's hair. The tips of them tingled where they brushed against America's scalp. "For you, I will see it through. I am working for the both of us, to spare you from these burdens a while longer, because I want to see your carefree smile for as long as I can keep it." He dropped his hand down to the mattress beside him.
England glanced out the nearby window. Standing, he debated with himself, before murmuring. "The rain has subsided a little. If you… if you promise not to get too dirty, or to track anything into the house, then I suppose there is no harm in you exploring the gardens – only the gardens, though! I don't want you wandering beyond the gates, do you hear me?" His eyes searched piercingly beyond the glass, his next words spoken mostly to himself. "It's not safe out there for you, not this close to those other predators, not beyond this sanctuary…"
America was thrilled to receive permission to venture outside. At last! Even if it were only to explore the grounds around the manor, it was a welcome change to these four walls that suffocated him. He dropped the pillows and scooted quickly over to throw his arms around England's waist. This time, he was not rebuked, as the older man just laughed and ruffled his hair. "Yes, well. My furniture is quite old and I would not want your temper to cause anything to be broken. Just be sure that you are back inside by nightfall."
"I promise!" The teen vowed. He released England when the man took a step away, face spread into a beaming smile that erased some of the weariness from England's own expression. America sat on his bed as the other nation went to return to his study, calling after him before the man disappeared out the door. "England? What did you mean when you said that it wasn't safe?"
England stopped in the doorway. He seemed surprised by the question, an enigmatic smile forming. "Ah. Did I say that? My apologies – I must have been wondering aloud. It's nothing for you to concern yourself over, America. Nothing at all." The man changed the subject as his smile dropped into a frown, shaking his finger at the teen. "And America? Don't wear your boots in bed. You'll stain the coverlet. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to return to work."
The gardens behind England's home were impressive. Everything seemed designed in an intricate pattern, and all of the hedges were flawlessly trimmed. With the constant rain to nurture the soil, everything smelled of clean, living earth. America was immersed in the scent of flowers as he walked the pebble trails that wound through the greenery. Roses were everywhere in a range of vibrant colors, though England clearly preferred them in a brilliant crimson hue. There was an aged gazebo that America discovered around a particularly tall row of hedges. He took shelter beneath it when a downpour threatened to spill. The teen watched thick droplets of rain slip through a slim crack in the gazebo's crown, splashing the wood boards below.
America had discovered that everything beyond the gazebo was in a state of neglect. The statuaries were pale shapes almost swallowed up by dark green vines. A few of them had been crushed by the force of nature, shattered limbs lay half-buried in a mass of lush greenery. It seemed that England had given up on this section of gardens several years in the past. The trees overhead drooped mournfully over the entire thing, casting it in shadows.
After a couple of days of exploring, America made up his mind that he was going to make fixing it his project. Naturally, he made no mention of his plan to England. The older man probably would have disapproved of him toiling on the land, getting dirty, or else might have just berated him for taking up such a pointless endeavor. No, it became something that America did all on his own, since his caretaker left him alone for hours. He would make it a gift for England. It would be something to remind the older man of his presence here when America returned to his homeland.
One morning, as he was laboring to extract a majestic stone lion statue from under a particularly stubborn clutch of vines, America heard someone call out to him from the back gate of the property.
"Bonjouuuuur, England! It is your dear friend—oh!"
America had straightened from his squatted position, peering at the gate from the opposite side of the statue. He was as surprised to see a man at the gate just as the man was astonished to see him. There was something familiar about the fellow that America could not place. He brushed his hands together to shake off some dirt, ambling a few strides over to the towering black wrought iron that half-obscured the man outside. "Um, I'm sorry. He's working inside the house."
The newcomer was dressed flashily. His pale blue jacket was trimmed in silver, rows of lace jutting out from the cuffs of his sleeves as well as billowing out at his throat. A large amethyst was pinned to the cravat on his neck, jewels glinting from the rings worn on his fingers. He reminded America of some exotic bird with bright plumage. The man's hair was curled in gold ringlets, overshadowed by the white powdered wig balanced atop his head. His blue eyes made a slow passage over America from top to bottom and back, before he smiled. "My, my. I hardly recognized you – would you be America, by chance?"
"Yes. You… know me?"
"We have met before." His accent was thick, a different music than England's. It played well on the ears. The man lifted an upturned wrist in a flamboyant gesture, fingers curling in towards his chest. "I would not blame you for not remembering your big brother France. You were such a little tyke at the time."
America stared at him for a while to try and place his face with a memory. Then he snapped his fingers, pointing at the man. "That's right! You were the woman with the food."
France laughed, though it sounded forced. "Oh ho ho. Of course you were just an infant at the time, so naturally it would have been an easy mistake to make. Oui, America, I was that same nation." His hand lowered from his chest, long fingers tapping upon the massive lock that held the gate closed. "We have so much to catch up on, don't we? Oh, you must have so many interesting stories to share from back home. This gate here is rather a nuisance, non? Why don't you open it for dear France so that I may come in and speak with you?"
"Sure, I—" America had been stepping forward to comply when an abrupt thought crossed his mind. He recalled what England had said about trouble with France. The man probably wouldn't approve of him letting the other nation onto the property without permission. Chewing on his bottom lip, the teen looked apologetic. "Sorry. I probably shouldn't. England might become unhappy with me if I let you in. He hasn't had any visitors since we arrived. You should probably walk around to the front and speak to him first."
"Hm. I understand." France shook his head, exaggerating his disappointment as he clucked his tongue. "It was entirely my mistake. You are just a boy, after all. I had forgotten that it is England who makes the decisions. We will just have to have our conversation another day, then." He waved mournfully. "Au revoir, America. Until next time."
"W-wait!" The teen said hurriedly. France had been turning away from the gate until America spoke. Wavering between decisions, the teen finally reached into the pocket of his waistcoat. England had provided him with a key in the event that he was called away on business matters, though America doubted that it had been intended for this use. The cold metal of the key dug into his palm as the teen squeezed it.
His eyes locked with France's. The older man smiled impishly. "What England doesn't know won't hurt him, oui? I will be gone before he can even catch on that I am here."
America exhaled slowly. He went to the gate, fitting the key into the lock. It was rusty, so the teen had to fight to turn it. The lock came open with a click and America began to unwind the chain from around the bars of the gate. "Okay. Let's just keep it a short visit. It will be time for tea soon and he will come to fetch me."
France smiled broadly as the teen pressed open the gate for him. With that unspoken invitation, he slipped through the gap and onto the property. The man looked curiously around the overgrowth of the garden, stroking the stubble on his chin. "England has really let this go."
"He's been busy." America shrugged as he stood near the other man. France was examining the area with a critical eye, picking his way delicately amongst the brush. "I've actually tried to get it cleaned up for him. You can see where I stopped." The teen gestured towards the lion statue that he had begun to unearth.
"Oui. Being that you are America, it does not surprise me that you have skill with taming such wild growth." France remarked pleasantly as he leaned in to examine that indicated statuary. "This is in disrepair too! Mon Dieu!" He shook his head disapprovingly. "England doesn't know how to take care of his possessions well, does he?"
His eyes appraised America as he asked the question. The teen tried to puzzle out what he meant. "Well, he does have a lot of responsibilities. I don't think he meant to neglect his garden. The hedges close to the house are all very well maintained. This is the only part that has grown wild."
"How appropriately metaphorical." France chuckled.
"What do you mean?"
"Presentable and well-groomed on the surface; dark, wild and uncontrolled further in. It reminds me of your England in a way." The man shrugged as he stepped away from the statue. France shot a quick look up to the sky, a distant roll of thunder heralded yet another downpour as a few raindrops pelted down on his wig. "Despicable rain – shall we retreat to the gazebo?"
They hurried together to the covered shelter, France placing a hand on his wig to keep it from blowing off his head as the breeze picked up. It had been calm, dreary skies just a bit ago and now it seemed that a storm was rolling in. America eyed the darkened clouds before following France inside the gazebo. He had left his jacket hanging inside, slipping it on now that it had turned colder. There wasn't much more work that he was going to get done in this bad weather anyway. They had made it just in time, as the clouds opened up a torrent around the gazebo.
France stuck his tongue out in displeasure at this turn of events. "I am surprised that this entire island hasn't drowned in the tides, as often as it's flooded."
"I noticed that myself." America smiled wryly. He hopped up onto the rail of the gazebo, aged paint flaking off the wood beneath him. The teen's legs dangled lazily over the edge as he watched France pace around the gazebo. "It doesn't rain nearly this much back home. Is it like this in France, too?"
"Some parts, I suppose. It makes the land more fertile, so in a way it is a blessing. There are places in the world where the rain never falls." France was unable to speak without gestures. America was fascinated with watching the man's hands flutter through the air. "I have seen desert lands further east, where the air is dry and arid. Nothing grows in those conditions. It is only sand stretching as far as the eye can see."
"Really? I'd love to see it someday." America tried to imagine what such a place would be like. It excited him to hear about something so exotic. England never provided him any details on what other parts of the world were like. Had England never seen a desert?
"There isn't much to see."
"I haven't seen anything outside of my home, so I'd be happy just to lay eyes on something new." America shrugged. "I have only caught a few glimpses of Canada's territory, and this is the first that I've visited England. Not that I have seen much of London…"
"Not seen London? It is all around you." France made a slow spin, smirking. "It is not as beautiful as Paris by far, but it has a certain rough charm."
"Um, well…" America scratched at the nape of his neck, not sure if he should explain himself to the man or not. "England hasn't really let me out of the house to see it. The only things I've seen of it were from the carriage ride here and the view from the windows upstairs."
France's face lost all its mirth. His blue eyes grew somber as he regarded the teen. "He is keeping you imprisoned here?"
"What? No!" America laughed nervously at the nation's serious tone. Both hands waved back and forth in the air in front of his chest to dissuade it. "No, it's nothing like that. He's just been very busy with work and hasn't had the time to take me out into the city. That's all."
"Are you certain, America?" France approached him slowly. America found the European getting very close. France's hands settled on the railing on either side of the teen, the warmth of the man's chest pushed up lightly against his knees as he gave America a measuring look. "You are his colony, that's very true, and I suppose he is within his rights to treat you as he desires, but it pains your big brother France to imagine that brutish pirate making you a prisoner."
America's blue eyes had widened. England maintained a better distance than this, so the teen was a little lost on how to take France's intimate proximity. "It… isn't like that."
France tilted his head slowly, the coils of his wig spilling across his shoulders with the motion. "Non? Then you are free to go out into the city whenever you wish? You seem old enough to be trusted on your own."
"England doesn't think that it's safe for me. I could get lost in a city this large."
"What about back at your home? Are you free to go wherever you like there?" France raised an eyebrow.
"Well…" America had to think about that one. Sure, he had a lot less restrictions when England wasn't around. He was able to broaden his horizons without having his caretaker to fret over him. Yet it occurred to him that he wasn't entirely alone during those excursions, was he? There was always someone with him, an escort of some type that stayed with him whenever he ventured off the property. And if he did anything too extraordinary or dangerous during those adventures, England always had a way of finding out about it somehow. "I get around enough. Really, France – I am grateful that you're concerned about me, but I assure you that there is no reason for it. England has given me every kindness; I owe him so much. He has given me everything that I have ever asked for."
"What about freedom?"
"Freedom?" The teen blinked.
France nodded soberly. His face came in closer to America's until the teen could actually feel the man's breaths on his face, contrasting with the chill of the air around them. France's breath smelled like bitter wine. "What about giving you the right to walk out of this gate without his permission? Has he given you that? Are you free to make your own path, or are you following his?"
"I've never… thought to ask, honestly." America admitted. His mind was still echoing with that word from before. Freedom. It rang through his mind like the church bells in the city that just now had begun to dutifully ring out the time, four clanging chimes that carried through the garden. Could he ask England for that? Was such a thing even possible? Something made his heart come alive in his chest as he spoke the word again, tasting it on his tongue. "Freedom."
He was distracted with his thoughts, so he didn't think to flinch back when France took his hands off the railing and placed them on his face instead, cupping his cheeks. America recovered from his thoughts as his body tensed with alarm. France's intentions become clear to him too late to prevent the man's warm mouth from dipping in as he found himself being kissed. America froze, as if the act had paralyzed him.
Out of everything he'd hoped to take back home with him, getting his first kiss from France had not made the list. Not that it was unpleasant. France seemed to know what he was doing. The way that his lips brushed against America's mouth actually felt nice. It was a feeling that he could get used to; he finally knew why so many people enjoyed doing this. Maybe one day he would even learn how to return one properly – all that he could do right now was sit there, his mouth not knowing what to do, his entire head feeling like a fire was cooking it from under the collar of his shirt.
France eased back with a little purr in his throat. He'd taken hold of the teen's bottom lip between his teeth, plucking it in a teasing way. America could see the pleasure written clear on his face. Though that pleasure melted into alarm followed by fear, as France took a step back from America. He hunched down, ducking just in time as a sharp crack split the air. America saw something tear through France's wig with enough force to send it flying off his head.
Mortified. He was mortified to the bone. Because as France scrambled to retrieve his fallen wig while simultaneously attempting to make a run for it, America caught a glimpse of red out of the corner of his eye. His head turned slowly to the foot of the gazebo to see the very man that he'd hoped would not have discovered them.
England's pistol was still smoking where he had it pointed at France. His hair was matted from the rain, crimson jacket a darker shade from all the moisture that had seeped in. He looked nothing at all like his usual self; his cheeks were flushed with anger, expression marked with a dangerous tension. Those gentle green eyes blazed with murderous intent. Without taking his eyes off of France's retreating figure, England reloaded the pistol. It was if America were not even there in that moment. He gave chase after the other nation, voice wrenching out of him thick with rage. "Get the hell back here, France! Accept your death like an honorable gentleman!"
France had already made it to the iron bars of the gate. His gold curls were flattened from the wig, bouncing wildly as he twirled around to sing victoriously back at the nation intent on his death. "You plundered my merchant vessels from me, England. Now I have plundered your precious colony's virgin kiss." France blew a kiss to the air between them, his laughter ringing loudly through the garden. "Viva la France! Au Revoir!"
France dashed out into the crowd, a few drably dressed Londoners darting curious glances at the colorful man that went running by them. England stopped at the gate. Firing off his pistol into the crowd risked both harming his subjects and raising questions from the authorities. He growled, tucking the gun into his belt. England took hold of both sides of the gate, shutting it with enough force that the entire metal contraption shook. With angry gestures, the man looped the chain back through the bars, stooping to pick up the lock from where it lay on the ground.
He held it up to examine it. Then, clarity dawned on his face, as England turned back at America. The teen was fumbling with his jacket, wiping at his mouth with his sleeves. The look on his face made America lower that arm as his body went numb all over. England finally relinquished that stare long enough to secure the lock in place. Every step that the man took towards the gazebo made America's heart feel heavier and heavier.
England stepped into the gazebo. He watched the rain drizzle down, soaked with it now. Stray locks of hair were weighted down by it, drips falling onto his shoulders as he stood there in silence. England seemed on the verge of some major emotion. He breathed in steadily, forcing the patterns of it to even out in an effort to collect his temper. Finally, he spoke, and America could hear the tension in his voice. "The lock wasn't broken."
"No." America said softly, his head hanging forward, eyes viewing England from behind a few stray wisps of hair.
"So France didn't break in, as I had initially thought."
"Which could only mean that he was allowed inside."
"And you're the one who let France into my home?"
America nodded remorsefully. He started to speak, desperately. "I didn't think that he would ever—"
England held a hand up, effectively silencing anything the teen had to say in his defense. He turned his palm over with beckoning fingers. "Give me your key."
"I swear that I won't—"
"America!" England snapped harshly. His anger was barely tethered. The teen had never seen it directed at him before. He could tell the struggle it took for England not to unleash it. "Your key. Hand it over."
America did not want to argue with a voice like that. His fingers shook as he grabbed the key out of his waistcoat, holding his breath as he deposited it into England's waiting palm. The man jammed it into his own pocket. Then his hand clamped down around America's forearm hard enough to bruise, as England pulled the teen towards the manor. America stumbled along behind him, his lanky legs unable to keep a steady pace as he was forced inside. He was stammering breathlessly, horrified with himself and with England's response. "I didn't mean to. He just said he wanted to talk. I had no idea it would come to that, England. England?"
The man refused to answer him or respond to his pleas. America was unable to suppress a flinch when England's grip tightened further as they reached the door to America's room. It felt like the bones in his wrist were grinding under the strength of that grasp. England must have forgotten how strong he was – America could not fathom that his caretaker would be hurting him deliberately. His door was kicked open by England, America finding himself being swung into the room so fast that his feet actually left the ground. He landed hard on the floor, grunting as he caught himself on his hands and his rear end.
England's eyes were full of accusation. "You are not to leave this room until permitted. I will have your meals brought into you by one of the servants and you will take tea alone in here."
"Don't do this, please." America breathed out. "England – brother – you're frightening me."
"Let it be a lesson to you, then." England said coldly in response. "I have been lenient with you; the fault is entirely mine that you believe you are allowed to do as you please. Make no mistake that there are acts that go beyond my level of tolerance, America, and today you have succeeded in one that will not earn my forgiveness anytime soon. I will fetch you when it comes time for the meeting, but until then do not expect to see me."
"England!" America tried to scramble forward to the door before the other nation forced it shut. He slapped a palm against the wood as he heard the sound of the lock being turned. "England, don't do this! I'm sorry! England?" His only answer was to hear booted steps fading away down the hallway outside. America slapped the door again in frustration. He put his back to it, sliding to sit on the floor. Panting, the teen winced as he inched up the sleeve of his jacket to examine the blossom of bruises that ringed his wrist, standing out against the backdrop of his flesh like some ugly rose.
America was standing in front of the window when the door to his room opened. One of the servants had brought a suit in for him to put on earlier. He'd taken it out of the box, leaving the paper scattered across his bed. The teen had dressed without enthusiasm. He still hadn't bothered securing any of the buttons of the jacket, or lacing his necktie. It fit him perfectly. America just couldn't get comfortable with wearing the outfit. He sighed as he heard the paper rustle, speaking dully to the valet. "It'll be just another minute."
"Another minute is about all the time we have." England said lightly from behind him.
The teen spun around. England was folding all the paper back up into the box, sealing it shut. He had dressed in his best attire. His red coat was neatly pressed, and all the gold that embroidered it looked mended, every frayed thread having been patched. The buttons had been polished enough that they were shining. His cravat was new, linen tucked in rippling folds into his black waistcoat. A blood red ruby was pinned at his throat. America never knew that England even owned such riches – it didn't seem suited to his normal humble garments. Clearly, he was dressed to impress.
America felt horribly underdressed for the occasion. "Ah. I should, um…" He buttoned his waistcoat and jacket over the starched white of his shirt. The solid black of his suit complimented England's attire well, like some extension of the man's clothes – a living accessory. America had not seen the man for two days now. Having him in here, dressed so out of the ordinary, was leaving him at a loss. The teen fussed with his necktie but couldn't get it right.
His hands were pushed aside with gentle swipes as England took over the task for him since America was unable to manage. He stood in front of the teen as he carefully worked the laces together, securing them into a bow with efficient motions. England tugged it straight, looking the teen over with a nod. "There. It'll do. Is your jacket clean?"
"Good, grab it. And make sure you bring your umbrella."
"Of course." America sighed. He had been holding out for some word of apology from England. The man apparently wanted to pretend like nothing had happened instead. Following England out of his room in obedient silence, America took his jacket off its hook in order to slide it on over his suit. He brought his umbrella with him as directed as they went out to the carriage. The teen could not even get excited about seeing London again.
The silence they shared in the carriage on their ride deeper into the city was uncomfortable. America's eyes flitted over the rain-slicked streets outside. England would open his mouth as if to speak then decide against it, stubbornly staring out the opposite window. The trip must have only lasted for a few minutes. To America, it felt like it had stretched on for a lifetime.
They stepped out of the carriage together. England settled his broad hat upon his head, the feathers having been replaced so that every delicate edge floated gracefully. He pulled a pair of gloves out of his pocket in order to tug them on, coaxing the leather until it molded to his hands. His hat tilted as he glanced up at America with a murmur. "Stay at my side. Do not stray even for a moment. These other nations are a calculating bunch – let me do all the talking. If you must speak, try not to say anything silly. And be on your best behavior. Remember that this is your debut as a colony, America. These nations intend to take measure of you and judge what you are worth. Do not disappoint me."
"That's funny. I was under the impression that I already had." America said with false sweetness. He went ahead of England in order to open the door to the large palatial building that was their destination and the scene of this meeting. England stared after the teen with a blink then moved to walk inside ahead of him.
America regretted ever coming to London. England had not given him any instructions on what to expect out of this meeting. It wasn't difficult to puzzle out early on. He stood at England's side with a polite smile. The nations would come up and speak to England, exchanging words in a mockery of conversation while they measured each other's weaknesses and strengths. A few of them actually tried to start speaking to America on occasion though it took them a while to even notice that we was there. Finland, for example, had greeted the colony with considerable warmth. He'd been lured away by Sweden before he could get too wrapped up in speaking. France caught America's gaze from across the room and winked knowingly at the teen, causing him to blush as he recalled the nation's actions a few days ago. France remembered them just as vividly; the man made it a point to avoid coming anywhere near England the entire time.
There were many others who avoided England. America had seen quite a number of hostile glances at his caretaker amongst the many faces. He had not known how many enemies England really had until now – nor had he known how hard the nation had worked to earn their hatred. Other nations were curious about him. A brown-haired man with a bright smile and an odd curl in his hair came over to shake America's hand. He began to talk rapidly about cuisine and art, something that America was very much interested in. When he started to contribute to the subject, England's hand landed on his shoulder. England smiled mildly at the other nation. "Feliciano – your brother appears to be looking for you. He seems angry."
That caused the brown-haired man to start looking around him fearfully. He stammered a vague excuse and hurried away. America watched him go before sullenly speaking to the man beside him. "What was wrong with him talking about his homeland? I wanted to learn more about him."
"You're not here to learn. There is nothing for you to take away from these nations. You are merely a colony – my colony." England told him. His hand remained on America's shoulder. When a rather loud man with pale hair and red eyes drifted close to their location, England's touch shifted. A gloved hand ran across the length of the teen's shoulders in a covetous manner, fingers curling possessively on the opposite side as England drew America tighter to his side. The teen witnessed the silent exchange, able to read what radiated from England's penetrating stare to anyone that dared look at America too long. Mine. Back off.
America felt a hollow pit open up in his stomach. England's purpose for bringing him here crashed through his mind with a sudden tumult. He was not here because of who he was. He was not here to represent his homeland. England had brought him here because America was a trophy, a worthwhile possession to flaunt before his enemies and allies. It had crossed his mind back at the house and now he knew it to be true – he was another lovely decoration for England to sport, another feather in his hat. America felt himself drowning in the heady revelation, the teen swaying unsteadily.
England spared him a sidelong look. He was absorbed in a conversation with a tall, severe looking blond. England's eyebrows drew together. "Is something wrong, America?"
"No." America felt his heart coming apart in his chest. He wanted to cry. He wanted to scream in England's face. He wanted to run. He wanted to go home.
All that he could was smile. "Nothing. Nothing at all."