It was not as if he had not heard the nicknames.
'The hermit of Europe' was the first one Vash heard which made him finally realize they were talking about him. He was not certain why he equivocated it to himself just then, but the application made sense. It was not as if he did not know what the other Nations thought of him. He had never tried to be popular with them. All he had ever wanted was the ability to cooperate with them, a peaceful survival.
Sitting out at a shop, reading an endangered newspaper, and watching his people had become a pastime he did not question. If his schedule did not remind him otherwise, he could forget about the world and just sit there. For hours he would watch his people.
It gave him an odd sense of peace, one which had nothing to do with anything else, with war, with conflict, with anyone. This was all him and in watching the tiny pieces move together as they were supposed to Vash knew exactly who he was and was happy with it, if just for that moment. As if all of these people were just figures, no troubles beneath the exterior, and the aches and pains of the constant fluctuations were simply part of his heartbeat and did not hurt.
If he watched long enough he was just another Human being. So close. All alone. Occasionally his sight would drift skyward, where a lone bird would be travelling.
National interactions were in the schedule. The only Nation he broke that for was Heidi. She never asked him to, but he would.
The hermit of Europe, was he? Vash supposed he was. It was not something he was ashamed of. He did not want more then that. Not like this, not without keeping the distance he was so comfortable with.
After all, it did not belong in his schedule. He had things to get done before he could want more. More than anything, he had his priorities straight, unlike so many other Nations. They suffered because of these whims and Vash did his best to avoid them.
Them. Them. Either, actually. He avoided all of it. He was best at being neutral, even in the middle of a continent which always bounced back toward conflict.
Sometimes he would fall asleep at the table he sat at, because here was where those worries were supposed to leave him and therefore he might forget himself for a moment. One instant in which his body would take over and relax, his senses weakening, his caution gone, and sleep overcoming him to remind him (whether Nation or Human) there was no living constantly with precision.
That voice would enter his dreams. It seemed to always, as of late. Distressing him, worrying him, making his heart race and mind ramble as he tried to realize a solution to something which was improbable in life. Because it was improbable Vash did not even realize it was a dream. It fit the voice so well.
"Heidi said I would find you here."
Vash's eyes flicked open, peering up in the direction of the sun to see the face of the Nation which had found him. He was not certain why he bothered, it was the same as it always was. "Did you need something?"
"No," Maddox admitted. "But you do."
Vash waited for the punchline. Slowly, Maddox extracted something from his sleeve and dropped it on the newspaper.
Shoelaces. Vash did not even have to look at his own feet to know they were from his boots. He grabbed them instantly, fixing Maddox with a stare which he knew would make the non-confrontational Asian feel uncomfortable. "Anything else?"
"I entered a contest," Maddox said, sounding as always like he did not care. Vash nodded curtly toward a chair and Maddox slowly began to sink into it. "If I win I want you to have the prize with me."
"What is it?" Oh, he knew well by now never to simply accept something from Maddox, whether it was made with good intent or not. What was 'good' to this man was not what was good to Vash. Or anyone else for that matter.
Vash went to threading his laces back through his boots. Maddox rested his intertwined hands on the table. "If you do, I will stop coming in through your chimney."
"No." Not good enough. Vash had already taken precautions against that. He was actually anticipating the next time that Maddox tried that particular entrance. Reaching for his other lace, Vash stopped moving when he realized it was no longer on the table.
Maddox was on his feet and then kneeling in front of him, holding the lace between two fingers. It dangled back and forth between their noses, breath knocking it toward each other, but mostly against Maddox as he had been the one to lean forward. Maddox tasted like 大排檔奶茶.
"It will be fun. Are you scared of heights? I will protect you."
Vash snorted and took his lace back. "No."
It would be silly to be scared of heights. He had his mountains. Always scaling them, Vash was very comfortable with heights. Another level of ground was all it was. He almost loved it more than being on flat ground. Jungfrau nosed at his pocket and he absently took some alfalfa from it, not doing anything more than holding it as she nibbled at his fingers for more.
Vash loved heights. He felt so close to the sky from here, which was silly. The sky was a generalization. The space in which was just air and atmosphere and the realms beyond the world. The sky was not an actually place.
He felt so close.
He felt so far.
No one would bother him here because no one could find him here. His phone stayed on for his sister's sake. But here he was so out of reach.
Eiger bleated and the sound would echo. Vash would stare up at the sky and scream for the sake of screaming. He would surprise the bovidae and they would leave him alone as he forced whatever the feeling was out of his system. His eyes would fix on a bird, far in the distance, travelling onward.
Vash felt so close to nothing at that point. Something so different it was not him. It was not the peace of being among his people, but the chaos of being left to himself with a concept of a goal which was the last priority he would ever look at even though he needed it so much.
He had no idea what it was and it ravaged him in a way he could never explain. So he did not allow himself to think about that here.
Sometimes, instead, he would sing. Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau would not leave if he did that and he felt less like nothing when he did so.
Head to chest to head to chest. Only seconds for each change. With lungs so powerful he might have had to cover his own ears if he were Human.
The echo of his yodel was the only remnant that he had said anything and that vanished almost as soon as he heard it.
So far away was the sky, his voice would never reach a concept, just like his mind.
"I did not know you could sing."
Biting back a retort Vash turned to see Maddox. Eiger and Jungfrau were pushing at him, hoping for treats, and Maddox was trying to get away from them without actually touching them. It was rather amusing. "I do not."
Maddox was so quiet, compared to Vash. Not that Vash considered himself noisy by any means. But he spoke clearly, succinctly. People did not have to work to hear him, he was simply heard. Maddox also spoke clearly, succinctly. People could not always hear him though, not unless they were making the effort.
Yet it was out here where Vash would scream, sing, call.
"I could hear you," Maddox went on to say, obviously thinking that trying to avoid the subject would be more offensive than speaking of it. "Though I tracked your phone first. I think you are trying to avoid me. Was it because of the eggs?"
It was almost tempting to say yes, but he did not. There were several reasons for that. One because it would not be the truth. Second... the eggs was not what Maddox really thought he was trying to avoid him because.
"No, I am not trying to avoid you."
"Will you go skydiving with me?"
Vash almost let out a 'no' before he thought about it. "You have not won the contest yet, do not get ahead of yourself."
"I could not do that. I keep up with myself rather well. Despite myself, I have yet to have lost myself. I am my own stalker."
He had made his way to Vash's side as if that would stave off the goat's attentions. Vash could not feel Maddox's breath, but he could taste the Horlick the Nation must have just drank within the past half hour.
"I was about to say you better watch yourself," Vash began, "but you seem to have that covered."
He wondered if he still tasted like the bittersweet chocolate he had been unable to help himself from consuming before coming up here. He might have asked Maddox, as he could have answered that question, but it did not quite seem appropriate.
"I know you want some of this." That was not really what Maddox wanted to say, because he asked a legitimate question after it, unable to wait for a response to his random statement. "What was that for?" If Vash had not known better, he would not have been able to tell that Maddox was intrigued. True enough, neither of them usually instigated touch. Not without other influences.
"Will you stop asking me about the skydiving?"
"If you say yes." Vash turned away from him. "It is not that difficult. It is a three letter word, in English. It is a two letter word in one of your languages, is it not?"
"Two of them," Vash corrected. "Ja. Si." Oui. Gea.
Maddox considered it. "I will make a bet with you. It involves slugs, microwaves, and camera phones. If I win, you will go skydiving with me."
"How about... if you win the contest, we will go. If not, just stop talking about it."
Maddox agreed to that. Vash was relieved if just for the poor slugs.
He went home and Maddox followed after him even though he told him not to. No reason other than Vash was never certain what to do when Maddox was around. It was not that he did not want him there, it was just that he could never follow schedule when he was around.
It only took ten minutes – coats off, shoes scattered, his back on the comforter – for Vash to forget about his schedule. Heidi was out today, she would not be back until late. That had really been his only reservation.
Maddox skillfully set aside all of his guns and Vash could only be struck by how well the other had learned to disarm him.
I am rather fond of you.
As always, Vash woke up at six in the morning. Maddox was halfway on top of him, curled up around him as he usually was when this happened. Fighting the impulse to doze off again he managed to extricate himself from Maddox's grip. The other Nation barely budged, not due to wake up until eleven. A constant occurrence when he was not in his own house.
A sharp intake of breath caught Vash's attention as he was about to gather yesterday's clothes off the ground for the laundry, new clothes to take with him to the shower, and his guns counted to make certain they were all there and Maddox had not dared do anything strange to them. Turning, he watched Maddox in his deep sleep. One of the few times Maddox did not have his expressions in check. Leaning over, Vash trailed the palm of his hand up Maddox's bare arm to his shoulder, leaving it there. He considered moving Maddox, but did not.
Maddox tasted like him.
Vash withdrew his hand and placed the blankets over the other before he got cold and went to clean up. Everything on the bed would have to be laundered too.
Heidi accompanied him for breakfast. He listened to all what she had done yesterday, not allowing himself to think of other things while she was talking, all attention devoted to her.
This was normality. There was nothing to complain about here, with her. He had to be to work in over an hour, he wanted to get down to the barn before that. Twice he stopped in his room, first to replace his guns where they belonged, the second to check on Maddox before he left. Maddox had replaced him with a pillow, his face pressed into it and arms hugging it close. The other Nation would know where he was, so Vash did not bother to write a note.
There was something about going to work after being taken off of his schedule. There was no exact word to describe the feeling, but Vash was not certain he wanted to define it. Once he caught himself staring out the window.
Some of these feelings were following him into his schedule.
He did not know what to make of it.
It was the next day in his shooting range that Maddox came to him again. He had decided to wait to give the surprise after Vash had put down his shotgun, dropping down from the ceiling with a very short bungee cord.
Vash still nearly pistol whipped him with another gun. Maddox had the gall to not even flinch.
"I am victorious."
"You are letting the blood rush to your head," Vash corrected, deciding not to state the obvious that his blood had been about to be all over the floor.
"Your Saturday is free, yes?" It was then that Vash knew Maddox was talking about something specific, though the reason did not immediately come to mind. "You do, I called your boss and he confirmed it. Actually, I asked him if he'd let you go for the rest of the week."
"I told him you pulled a muscle and you needed to rest it."
Vash found himself at an immediate loss, knowing that asking which muscle Maddox said he pulled would end with regret on his part. He was better off not knowing. "Thankfully I just found the miracle cure. I will have to call to assure him I am coming in tomorrow."
Maddox stayed quiet for a moment, head slowly cocking to the side. "Your Saturday will still be free though, correct?"
Picking up his SG 553, Vash weighed the possibilities that Maddox had staged this exactly so his Saturday would be the single free day he gave himself. And while again 'no' was a tempting offer, he had promised earlier if the man had won he would go. "I will be there. Now get out of here before I accidentally shoot you."
Vash would never shoot him, but Maddox would still wince when he heard gunfire. Vash would not even wear acoustic earmuffs if it did not give his people the wrong idea. When had gunfire become his lullaby?
He hated war, loathed death, despised the pain and torture of those ravaged by bullets. His enjoyment of the sound of gunfire, of the touch of metal in his hand, of carrying all of these weapons with him strangely had nothing to do with violence or power. Which was hypocritical, because that was what guns were. Power.
He, like any other Nation, did enjoy power. But this had nothing to do with it.
What must Maddox think of him when Vash would put all else aside to come here to feel this power under his fingertips?
Aiming, he let loose a round. The building empty of all but him echoed the sound so much more quietly than the mountains had echoed his voice. There had been a day when the guns were louder than he was. Now was no longer the case.
It was dark before he knew it, the hours between then and now filled simply with his hitting the targets with every single gun he had brought with him. Dissembling, cleaning, and putting each of them away he came across his ticket, which Maddox must have left for him. Taking off his glove, he picked it up. He took his time to read the information. The paper smelled as if the ticket had not been printed too long ago.
Also, Maddox had come from a harbor before he had come here.
He placed it in his pocket and returned to his house. The way Heidi tip toed around the subject of Maddox let Vash knew that Maddox had let her in on the skydiving event, which he was not certain if he minded or not.
Vash fell asleep that night the same as he always had lately, whether alone or not. That voice still drifting in his thoughts.
I am rather fond of you.
I thought you'd like to know."
Saturday morning was spent amongst his people. A cup of Ovolmatine sat in front of him, nearly forgotten. In four hours he was to meet Maddox. Vash let his mind wander as he would never allow during the rest of his day, anywhere else.
He heard a cry in the back of his mind.
A murmur from the few people who had noticed and stopped.
The large bird stared directly at him and let out another low cry, golden bluff crown reflecting into his eyes. Bellinzona could never have seen her like.
With his eyes drawn, she took off north, likely to return to the Alps. Vash stood up and watched her go, a single figure in a clear sky. Fair enough, it was strange she was here in the first place, time for her to return home in the mountains.
Vash felt so close to nothing, something so different he was not him. The chaos on the brink of peace, the concept of a goal which was something he needed to look at though he had no idea what it was and why it was ravaging him in a way he could not explain.
She was an adult. Where was...?
The hermit of Europe.
Vash sat down and sipped at his chocolate, still lukewarm.
He did not feel lonely.
He did feel, however, like singing.
Maddox did not often tend toward pushing him at a single action or event. The former English colony was sporadic and random and never appeared to enjoy a facet of doing so. By now Vash knew better. Suited up with a parachute, he waited for the time when they would jump out. Falling so fast, so hard, then floating to safety.
It almost seemed like an analogy for something, but Vash was not the type to think about it like so. He stared out the window, trying to ignore the fact he had been made to remove his guns.
Maddox shifted uncomfortably, catching his attention immediately.
"Is everything all right?"
"I hope so, this would be a disappointing trip otherwise," Maddox responded, voice nearly drowned out by the noise of the engines. Vash nodded and looked back to the window. Why was he still tired? Not too tired, but there was the fatigue that had been following him around for too long.
Finally, Vash thought back to the beginning of the month, when his dreams had begun.
"I am rather fond of you. I thought you'd like to know."
Maddox had been nervous when he had said that. It was easy to tell, though his face had stayed consistent. There had been that flush on his cheeks. His eyes could not meet Vash's like he had learned to. A contraction entered his English. Maddox almost never spoke with contractions. Vash knew what he meant immediately. The unspoken depth which Maddox would not say because of his own fears which he never showed.
"You are not scared of heights, are you?" Vash asked him.
"Of course not," Maddox said. "I just tend to have a preference for the ground. We are often attached to each other. I do not want the dirt to think I am having an affair."
"Gravity will understand."
"Gravity is very nice like that," Maddox nodded. Vash looked over toward the Humans, who seemed about ready to come back and tell them they could go.
"You did not really want to do this, did you?" Vash asked.
"Your sentence structure is wrong," Maddox said bluntly. Vash blinked at him. Maddox fidgeted some more, looking away from him.
Maybe he was not scared of heights. Maybe he was scared of falling. Vash was too. Just not physically. There was the concept of a sky, space without ground, and there was nothing for him to catch himself with.
He had not responded correctly, had he?
"Vash... I am rather fond of you. Just saying. I thought you'd like to know."
Vash could not even be angry that Maddox had tried so hard to get him to do this when Vash had clearly not wanted it. "You will miss your date with the dirt," Vash tried. Maddox did not move. Standing up, he extended his hand toward him, leaning in so he could hear Maddox's next words.
"I probably should not have tried dating two people at once," Maddox admitted. Vash pursed his lips together.
"Well... if the earth will give you up, I might take you back."
"The earth might be a little angry."
"I suppose it is about time I had something someone was jealous of then."
Maddox looked up at him, then over toward the door. He tasted like salt.
One minute later they were falling.
This was the space which was just air, just atmosphere. It was a place and the sky was continuously above them.
He felt so far.
He felt so far.
It was still a concept high above. Out of reach, so close to nothing, to something, to peace, to chaos, the sound of air rushing past him. His mind wandered as he watched the world below become larger in his vision. Maddox was somewhere next to him, parachute coming out.
Maddox knew what he was. So... why?
"I am rather fond of you."
Why had he not responded? Vash did not feel lonely. Not anymore. A part of him he had never realized he had neglected could breathe once more.
The hermit of Europe, letting another person in. Vash had not responded, but he had not stopped anything. Where had he been trying to go? Back to normal, despite everything. Vash had not known what else to do. Trying to put the distance between them that had been there from the start when things had changed. He had seen change and had not panicked, but tried to fit it into a schedule, because that way Vash would know how to deal with him.
Fit him into a schedule?
He could see a shape if he looked up, not a bird, but in the sky. Vash was not in the sky, but Maddox was, far above him.
Vash remembered to pull his bridle and the entire world slowed down.
Nothing had changed, not really. Vash was fine with that. Though he did feel quite stupid for having left someone in limbo for so long. Was he an idiot?
Vash felt almost like singing.
Instead, he laughed.
If it was possible, Maddox looked up miserably at him without changing his face at all. Vash had not seen him, but he knew that Maddox had thrown up as soon as he had gotten out of view. Apparently hurtling toward the earth had not agreed with him. Vash sat down on the other side of the couch, glancing at what Maddox had on the television.
Surprise, surprise. A second-rate kung fu movie.
They watched the rest of it, Vash easily becoming irritated by the terrible quality of everything. Halfway through Maddox went to pushing for his commentary and he did so without qualm, as he had learned was pointless to have when it came to this.
The second one did not keep their interest. Maddox had started eating something and Vash found chocolate melting on his tongue. It kept him from giving more critiques. So did Maddox's tongue.
Maddox tasted like Maddox, as he always had. There was also popcorn and 煎堆 and chocolate.
"I am rather fond of you too."
The both of them froze. Maddox turned his face away. There was the stain of red again. This time however, this time there was the quirk of his mouth. A smile.
They could not continue this, not on the couch, not when Heidi would be home any minute. But Vash found himself simply glad that he was home.
"There's no place like home," they say
You're my home, so I guess I'll stay
Inspired by Alexander Rybak's 'Europe Skies'.
大排檔奶茶= Dai pai dong milk tea
煎堆 = Jin deui
The golden eagle has been on the protected list in Switzerland since 1953.
The skydiving was supposed to be a lesson, but as Nations they get special treatment. Like they know what they are doing.
A friend of mine spoke with someone from Switzerland. They said that they have classes there to show Switz how to have hobbies after they have retired. I find it amazing that is even necessary.
Apparently there was a German article telling how to deal with their Switz lover/partner/whatever and to not be offended if they do not say they love you, it is a very rare occurrence for them to do so, regardless of their feelings.
Special thanks to DF, my Hong Kong. Which is not always a compliment, remember that.
Resubmitted, because for some reason the link broke.