Title: The Dumbing Down of Love
Author: The DayDreaming
Summary: That feeling of emptiness that made him question why why why, the sensation of being alone in a crowded room, a wish that for once, there was some mutual strand of affection to be found for him and for someone else—America searches for the meaning of love, and Russia happily obliges, if only to see the one he hates the most fall into despair.
A/N: HAY U GUYZ. :D I'm sorry that this is so terrible. I feel super super super rusty on writing this way. Also had several existential writing crises. Forgive the terribleness. Shhh, it'll be over soon, my darlings. Plus, this is like, only half of a chapter, but I'll call it chapter 4 anyways.
STEP 4: glue it back together
"If I had known at this very moment in time that I would feel the breaking and the tearing of one-thousand things inside me, small words and even smaller promises, I would have shattered this strange idea forming within myself. Even if it meant remaining cold and broken, I would still prefer this cold to gaining the knowledge of what it's like to be glued back together, and then taken apart piece by scabbed-over piece.
"I, too, have become an Icarus, and plummet swiftly to the world below me."
The world, as it tends to do, comes into focus at a slow, unhurried pace, blurred in the swampy warmth of fever-sweat and an overhang of matted bangs. The blaze is an insistent fire, pure in its unadulterated bliss, and he at once thinks that maybe he's gone to a better place than the cold den of his hotel-room fort.
He grunts, tries to move, and finds the weight of half a dozen quilts lying on top of him, like a great sleeping bear. They're stifling and welcomed all at once, drowning his breath but warming his skin (though an ever insistent cold burns at the quick of his marrow), and he can't find the strength in his jellied arms to push them aside, though the burning need to move and walk and oh gods help me I need to run remains an itch in his useless fingers.
It's only after he stares dazedly at the slow rotation of a familiar (too too familiar, my goodness what an inch of dust) ceiling fan, that he remembers the long flight home, a car ride spent in the sun, and the lulling tones of maybe his best friend in the world.
And so the world comes into focus a bit more quickly and takes his breath away.
In the corner of his smoggy vision, clouded like an overcast day, he sees Tony patter into the room, tray in hand. The sight of the creature, smooth and gray, gleaming like a wet marble, releases the urge to speak within himself, pry open the sealing on his lips and whimper, like he'd do to the nursemaid that would come and take care of him as a child after a particularly terrible nightmare. It's difficult and tiring, the act and the face underused, and for once he thinks he'd rather not.
But it doesn't matter, because Tony sees him anyways, a look in his eyes that has Alfred believing he may have done something bad (and doesn't he always? What a bad bad bad child, so unlike the good twin), before the fervor subsides into something a little like happiness. Tony quickly clinks the tray atop the coffee table and squeezes through the tiny gap between table's edge and over-stuffed couch, pushed together for ease of use and otherwise a complete hindrance to all parties.
Alfred feels the other's tiny hand on his forehead, a far-off memory of cool stones thrown on hot sand, before the alien clicks his tongue and gropes around for a cloth, dipping it in the bowl of ice-water, the only other occupant of the resident tray, and brings it to Alfred's chapped lips. The moisture breaks the thin seal, and Alfred is blinded for a moment by how wonderful just a few drops of water are in this blinding desert.
He lets out a croak (it's not enough, he needs more more more), but Tony merely shakes his head and refreshes the cloth before placing the damp towel atop his forehead.
Everything is alright, Tony says. There is nothing to worry about; I've taken care of everything.
And Alfred is feverish enough to believe him.
The week of meetings ends, as always, with nothing getting done. If there were ever anything to rely on in this universe of ever-shifting values and shades, it's that the tri-annual Congregation of Nations (lovingly referred to by all as 'CON'), is as useless a procedure as, in America's own crude terminology, but with all the charm of the truth, 'wiping one's ass before one's morning constitutional.'
Russia can't quite bring himself to believe that it's over, almost crushed in the belief that he'll close his eyes and open them again only to find the sterility of a drab, white-washed wall and the shadow-lined skeletons of his peers, eternally pressing their faces towards the front of the room with unseeing eyes. It is an exercise in futility; a grind that, while not daily, surely encompasses the same scope.
But even as he thinks this, the same line of thought that he follows each time he steps out of another foreign meeting hall, there is the recognition that this time, something has fallen off or come undone. There is an itch at the back of his mind, an empty chair that burns in a corner, tucked away but still creating a noticeable bulge. Unused and cold, it flares in high contrast to a static background; the owner's voice trails out a slur of words, like whispers in the night, and Russia can't bring himself to remember their meaning, though it sounds like a song he used to know by heart.
It's a funny feeling in his chest, not unlike a pitcher tipping over and all its water spilling out; fall slosh gone, and a shivering mess left in the afterglow.
The first time he cracked open a book by Shakespeare, he remembers distinctly the impression that this guy couldn't write love for the life of him.
Alfred still holds that impression, but that fact has expanded to the entire idea that no one can write love. For all that he's lived, he has never once had the notion that someone ever will.
Russia returns to the hotel, misted in its usual shroud of fog from a recent drizzle, and dreads the packing of his belongings, as boring and timeless as it will turn out to be once again. He'll trade this home for another, and then another; different and yet the same. It's another exercise in futility, and he wonders why he bothers to unpack at all, everything in its proper place, top drawer for undergarments, third for pants, suit in the closet, and shoes paired and lined up in a row under the bed.
He feels empty as he tucks away the edge of an unused shirt, its collar squashed in an unappealing smear as it's shoved into his old, water-stained suitcase, seeming to take up more space than it should (oh how does he ever fit all of these things in, in the first place; it seems there's never a suitcase big enough to accommodate all his belongings). The methodic repetition is mind-numbing and dull, and while he would usually hum or sing to fill the silence of his room, he can't quite dredge up the will.
He hasn't been able to for a while now. He wonders when it became too much effort to fill his life with something other than vodka and paperwork.
He hasn't wanted to see a sunflower for a very, very long time.
The zipper sticks on the protruding hem of a pair of pants, and Russia hastily realizes he's attempted to close his battered luggage with the inside only half-full.
But it was maybe a bit unfair of him. People couldn't write love, and certainly not Shakespeare, but romance. That was an entirely different definition.
And he couldn't stand it, really. Because every book he read, lathered and slick with intrinsic meaning and purple prose and the oily skin of optimistic pessimism, seemed painful and hard to swallow. They painted ugly things for him, knowledge without experience, and it was enough to say that he didn't want it.
Of everything he's seen, death and war, tears of lamentation, romance is the most hideous creature to slink across the threshold of paper.
He trudges down the stairs, suitcase thunking along the steps like an erratic drum behind him. The elevators are operable, but there is an urgent need in him to move, and he won't deny himself (he's never denied himself).
At the bottom, he opens the stairwell door and causes a moon-eyed couple to stumble back in surprise (fear). He pulls his too-heavy burden behind him, wheels clattering on the sandy tile of the hotel lobby, one nuisance traded for another.
As he checks out, eyeing the world beyond a pair of gold-plated door-frames, saturated in rain and fog, wondering if it would be too troublesome to hail a taxi, the shadow of a memory flashes in his mind's eye.
The fluid figure slamming a car door shut and driving away.
With a smile only pleasant to look at in photographs, he turns his attention to the clerk, asking, "Miss, have you happened to check out a loud, obnoxious blond man yet today?"
The girl blinks, and steps away from the giant leaning over her desk. She tries to hide her trembling, "N-no, sir."
"Oh," he lowers his eyebrows in disappointment, but keeps the smile (appearances, appearances, always so important). "Then have you perhaps seen someone by the name of Alfred Jones come through here?"
At this, the clerk perks up and tries to hide a smile of recognition. She bites her lip and subtly checks the records, "Yes. He checked out about four days ago, give or take."
Russia swallows the information and doesn't let his reaction show on his face. He can't, because he doesn't quite know what he's feeling himself; the smile feels like a pasty mass on his face. He maintains an air of warm apathy, neither here nor there on the matter, just the way they want to hear it, "Oh? That's odd. He and I scheduled to have a meeting, and he never showed up the day before last to attend. Did he give any reason why he would leave so early?"
The clerk frowns, still a little put out by the other's intimidating presence, a cold shadow even in the slightly chilly walls of the lobby, "Mr. Jones didn't say much when he left (I was the one who saw him out, sir), but he looked terribly under the weather. It's a shame, too. He seemed so much more cheery when he arrived; smiling all over the place. He even gave me a flower from that lovely bouquet he was toting around…"
Russia allows his mind to mull over the fact that this woman, barely out of girlhood, has also been offered flowers by 'Mr. Jones,' practically charmed; his eye catches sight of a slightly withered daylily poking up from an otherwise drab vase off in a lonely corner of the counter. The clerk shivers as the man's eyes spear through her.
"Sick, you say?"
"Uh, ah, yes…!" The clerk shifts around her papers and quickly hands the stranger his receipt. She smiles as amicably and false as she can, "Have a nice day, sir."
Russia smiles a fraction wider at the entirely blatant brush-off, tempted to chuckle darkly, but then allows his eyes to wander back to that singular, browning husk of a flower. And he realizes he wishes to remain in her presence about as much he'd wish to associate himself with an ill-tempered rattler.
He gathers his things and leaves, the click-click-click of wheels on tile-crevices as much of a definitive ending as anything else.
Romance is a quick thing. Errant and relentless in its one-mindedness to consume everything. It destroys kings and empires, lives and the will to live them.
Every romance would and will end in a tragedy.
The candle, short and scented in the chemical throes of ecstasy and foolishness, flickers out.
He thinks he's heard an analogy for that before, somewhere. Perhaps related to something entirely different.
But that doesn't matter. Two tragedies with the same end; there's no point in distinguishing them.
Outside, the world is cold and lonely, and claws around his face with brittle fingers. He steps out from under the hotel's awning and hails a cab about to pass by.
The car sloshes to a stop, water skimming off the tires and rippling along the street as it disperses. He steps off the curb, keen to keep from the rain as much as possible. Half-way to the idling vehicle, a thought catches him and almost makes him stumble, before he whips back around and kneels on the ground.
His trailing scarf soaking in a puddle, he pulls from the gutter transparent, rumpled beasts, queer and lacking a good majority of petals. Small and dainty, thin and lackluster.
He tucks the sunflowers, seveneightnine, under his arm, and doesn't mind the bloom of cold, dirty water on his coat.
And though he has despaired over the omnipresent trend of romances, their lacy edges smooth pills for everyone else to follow, but nothing but an acrid worm squirming its way down his own throat, he has never stopped what he might call a little seed of hope from nestling into the wheezing, frail chambers of his heart, folded deep and narrow among the pulsing waves of realism and heat and blood.
It's a tiny thing, crumpled and folded over, like a piece of paper to be passed around by fumbling children in a quiet classroom.
Love in novel-format.
Because, though novel-format romance, hot red and slick, with smooth cover pages and ready-to-curve spines, are so easily drawn out in the human mind and left to spill out in murky, unappetizing spittled overtures, a novel-format love will be…
Well, he's not quite sure yet. But he thinks that maybe he can reminisce in a time where he might have known, a time that he's long locked away behind heavy, wooden doors.
A time where he used to just—be.
It is slow and painstaking, though more than anything the recovery is in his mind. Six days out of commission, seven more for staring listlessly at the ceiling.
In all that time, he has yet to receive one phone call—from anyone.
He doesn't linger on it, this silent longing, and instead ruminates on how—nice it feels, to finally have some time to himself. No shouting, no yelling, no smiling when he doesn't want to (he hasn't wanted to smile in such a long time), no angry bosses, no angry countries, just—
And it is perhaps the most beautiful feeling in the world.
And the hardest to cope with.
It falls on him, a deadened, cold weight, pressing into him, through him, like a sheet of ice. He feels numb and useless; all twisted words and slurred thoughts.
He speaks with Tony about simple things, nice things; what to plant for the spring, the new neighbor two houses down, in a house painted a ridiculous shade of royal purple, how many shooting stars Tony has seen during Alfred's absence.
He asks Tony if he wants to go outside tonight, even if it'll be cold, and star-gaze. The sky looks so much bigger through the eyes of a shivering, frost-wracked body.
Now though, Alfred has dredged up the will, the strength at last, to sit out on the porch, a pad of paper in his hands and pen fallen into the trench of his thighs pressed together, nestled snuggly in the pillow-lined confines of a whicker loveseat. He looks out on his yard, unkempt (so much to do, too little too late), and revels in the crisp breeze spilling over his chain-link fence.
This is home, he thinks. Comfortable and familiar. Sun dapples across his neck, an odd heat, filtering down from a shedding oak tree. He could stay like this forever, sitting and taking in the scent of grass and a deep blue sky wrapped in the radiance of a golden afternoon.
But even as he's filled with the sight, the smell, he is acutely aware of his loneliness. It wraps its arms around him, an embrace he can't shake, and one he's not so sure he wants to let go.
He feels cold. So indescribably cold, but not an icy penetration of his outer-self more so than an imminent seeping of something inward, something that he's sure used to be as sleek and bold as he tries to appear nowadays to the others, despite the fact that his glory days seem long-gone and dead.
He ponders the idea of heartbreak, and whether or not it would feel like this, but…who does he have? To feel sad over losing? Who?
Because he hasn't lost anyone. He would have known if he had. Heartbreak only comes to those who are left behind.
Then what? If something is leaking inside, but no-one is missing (no-one is missing because he never had anyone to begin with), can it simply be that he's…
"Tony!" he calls out, hoping the little alien is near-by. He doesn't really have to hope; Tony has been acting like the proverbial mother hen ever since he got back from Lon—…
The sliding glass door barring the patio from his backroom glides open with a low shriek (another thing to fix too much to do too much), and Tony patters out, a glass of water and bottle of pills in hand (though if the pills were any sort of earthly drug cocktail he wouldn't be able to tell you what it might be).
Even as Alfred tries to speak, his friend is attempting to stuff two tiny pills into his mouth, "Tony—hey wait, not yet!—have you ever—c'mon Tony, I don't feel bad anymore—hold it, please—ggguuurggh!"
Tony tips the glass of water in his other hand to Alfred's mouth, and his companion, choking on foul medicine, chugs like a man dying of thirst. After breathing roughly through his nose for a minute, willing his stomach to remain in his abdomen and not crawl up his throat, Alfred returns to his earlier question.
"Tony, have you ever felt really cold inside, like you'd never feel warm again—ever?"
Tony stares at him for a few seconds before he quickly tries to twist the cap from his bottle of pills again, attempting to dump about ten into his palm. Alfred grabs his wrist and stops him, laughing.
It's been a long time since Alfred has laughed like that.
Tony returns the pills to their bottle, a place to stay once he perceives they have no use, and focuses all of his attention upon the other, whom he realizes has just asked a question in one of his sillier human metaphors for feeling.
Alfred continues, "Why does something leak, if nothing has been lost or gained?"
Because things fall apart with age and use, is Tony's reply.
(And even without age, he'd like to say, or, more pointedly, use; but he is a creature of few words, and this, Alfred understands—their language goes beyond more than sounds, to the looks seen in eyes and the feeling of a hand on another's knee.)
"So, how do ya fix it?"
You fill it back in.
Odds and ends, caulk and concrete, iron, or steel—anything.
The softness in the question hides its weight and value. Tony places his hand, warm and smooth, over the other's sternum, the bone thrumming with the strength of an unbreakable heart (or so he likes to think).
You bring it close—close enough to staunch the blood, keep it all from falling out. And maybe—maybe, over time, it will heal all on its own.
"Like a bandage?"
Yes. But more so a tourniquet.
"And where…where can I find something like that?"
Surely not in any store. But, I think anyone has it, if you're willing to ask.
Alfred smiles, and there's something a little watery in the way it wavers that makes Tony think he's done something terrible. But then Alfred is taking him in his arms, and the force of it all (not physically; because Alfred has learned over many years that things shatter much more easily in his hands than others'), smothers him, a hot, heady wind saturated in the scent of apple and wood and fresh-cut grass.
It will hurt, though, Tony warns, almost wishing not to speak when it may break whatever peace his friend has found. Beyond belief. Beyond imagination. If it goes wrong.
And if there is a smear of wetness where Alfred's chin rests upon his shoulder, and a tremble that shudders through him but is not his own, Tony doesn't ruminate on it.
A novel-format love, he thinks, will be rough and hard. With thick edges and heavy beads of glue to hold all of the many, many pages together; but not enough, never enough.
The paper will be smeared, the ink watery and thin, and not all set in stone; enough leeway for memory to stumble through and soften the thick scars lacerating the leather-bound covers, but not strong enough to reach into whatever lies inside.
And every edge is dog-eared and well-thumbed, looked-through a million times without meaning quite rising to the surface, but there all the same, murky and quiet. Some chapters are burned, the soot and ash staining their allotted places black, and the heat threatens to curl and consume the rest, but it never does move beyond that place in time.
And the words. Oh, the words. There won't be nearly as many as everyone thinks, nor will they paint red roses and purple skies. They'll pave ugly paths through thorn trees and black bogenvelia's, fall off cliffs and huddle like roaches at the spine.
They will tell a story, though, and it will be one worth reading.
-"Wipe one's ass before one's morning constitutional." Essentially a redone version of the much more crude "Wiping your ass before you shit." Meaning, to do something ineffectual, that will ultimately have no consequence.
-Why DOES it seem like clothes take up so much more space than they should? A mystery. Thank goodness for mothers who know how to warp the space-time continuum and fit your closet into a single rucksack.
-Look up the definitions for 'romance' and 'love.' Even the Dictionaries practically state Romance novels as ridiculous and flowery. In this fic, there will be a distinct line drawn between the terms 'romance' and 'love.' Go with the flow, my friends.
-"A candle…flickers out." You'll notice that the first italics section begins with Shakespeare. Well, here's a vague reference for all you Macbeth fans out there (I disliked that play, but it's awesome to laugh at the sheer weeberish-ness of Macbeth, and his ball-crunching wife). The reference, and this is a jump, is to one of Macbeth's famous lines: "Out, out, brief candle!" The soliloquy talking about how short and meaningless life is. Terms like 'summer romance' and 'burning romance' came to mind to facilitate the candle metaphor. Romance that's passionate, often burns out quickly. By the end of that romance, often-times, people find they don't 'love' each other anymore, and part ways. Like life, it's quick and meaningless.
-I keep going back and forth on how to make Tony talk. It's difficult to distinguish sometimes between what he's saying, and what are actually actions in a paragraph. But I'm hoping you guys are perceptive enough to catch the drift. ;)
-Thorn trees and black bogenvelia's: Thorn trees = trees with big-ass thorns. Some of them have monstrous thorns. Bogenvelia's = really pretty vines/trees/whatever (depends on how big they are; some I've seen are towering, and really do seem to resemble trees, but I'm pretty sure are just vines), with thorns! Pretty sure there's no such thing as a 'black' bogenvelia, though it's more for the impact of the statement than anything. Either way, my parents sometimes have to work in crossboxes engulfed in bogenvelia branches, and the entire vine is just saturated in big thorns! They come home all scratched up. ;-; So, bogenvelia's can really be the bane of some people's existences.
A wild AUTHOR appeared!
What will READER do? -FIGHT -[Throw Stones]
The wild AUTHOR used Prostration! READER's defense sharply fell!
READER used Throw Stones!
What will READER do? -FIGHT -[Secret Weapon]
The wild AUTHOR used Hiatus! It's super effective!
READER used Secret Weapon! READER sent out a Flame!
One-hit K.O.! The wild AUTHOR fainted!
READER gained 2 Exp. Points!
The wild AUTHOR tries to crawl away…READER catches the wild AUTHOR and proceeds to use Rape!
The wild AUTHOR cries.
This presentation brought to you by Pokemon SoulSilver! :D (Just so you guys know, nothing was meant by the wild AUTHOR using Hiatus. It's just a fun joke for people who have been reading my journals lately.)
Uh. I have…an excuse? ;-; I told you guys I wouldn't have the soul to update again when school started for me. But would anyone listen? Of course not. But, alas, here I am. Crawling out of my hole to squirm and dry up in the radiant heat of one thousand evil glares.
This isn't particularly good. I don't feel good about writing it. I feel sticky. I bet you guys feel sticky, too. STICKY WITH DISAPPOINTMENT. DDDDDDD: I'm sorry about the terrible quality. I feel all rusty. I know it's not my usual standard, and even then, my usual standard is pretty crappy. I had to look through my previous chapters, and that was painful. In my eyes, Love a Lover looks like I wrote it while drunk, and the previous chapters are just gross with—with—with something that I cannot name, but is—gross. ;-; Forgive me for spamming you guys with crap.
This chapter was supposed to be much longer, and actually include a bit more in the last scene, along with a meeting with Russia. That did not happen. Obvious. THIS DID NOT COME OUT AS I HAD PLANNED. (What planning?) Fuck. Anyways. Fun times for you guys. Not for me. Doing this chapter was almost physically painful. Slow, sloooow progress, each word extracted like a tooth without Novocain.
There normally wouldn't be so much trouble but…:/ Writer's block, and a lack of true inspiration to continue. It was with the insistent whining nagging death-threats coaxing of Ceralennox that this chapter began, and the inspiring words of Ahmerst that got me to finish it. So, go thank them, if you feel that this chapter was worth it. Just please keep in mind that this is really only part one of the true chapter I want. Only half the events occur. :/ Annoying, yes. But I don't have the heart to continue right now, and I don't have the heart to keep it unfinished. So, a compromise. Post this, get my Christmas prompt done, and then go from there. If I spent any more time on this, I wouldn't have enough time to get my secret santa finished, or any prompts I may get as a pinch hitter. Sadness. Exams are pressing in, and family is insistent that I stop acting like a cockroach and get the hell out of my room. Moo. ;-;
BALLS TO THE WALL, GUYS. SPRINT TO CHRISTMAS BREAK! I'LL MEET YOU THERE, WITH A MAYBE-SORTA-KIND CHAPTER FIVE. OR THE SEQUEL TO 'AS SWEET AS ICE-CREAM.'