Title: Being a Dreamcatcher
Genre: Fluff/ Slice of Life
Characters: Canada, America, and cameos from England, Australia, and Italy.
Summary: When America feels just a bit under the weather, Canada makes it a personal mission to find out what's wrong. It's time to play the part of the stronger brother.
Notes: This piece is written for aph_fluffathon in LiveJournal , the original prompt being "two nations making dreamcatchers together".
Being a Dreamcatcher
"America, you don't look so good."
"What are you talking about, Canada?"
Right now, I want to say "everything about you". He's been a total wreck. America may be a slob when it comes to most things, but he doesn't let his appearance go astray. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case right now. His usually crisp uniform is frayed in all sorts of places. Even his beloved bomber jacket seems to be losing its original shiny luster. There are dark circles under his eyes, too. Obviously, he hasn't been getting a lot of sleep these past few nights.
His behavior during meetings was kind of erratic lately, now that I think about it. Usually, he'd be up and about and asking questions like it was nobody's business. It's a quirky habit of his – everybody's used to it. You can just imagine the whole room's puzzlement – England's, in particular – when America has stopped raising his hand and commanding attention to himself. Normally, he glows at the stares and the raised eyebrows, and continues to ask the unnecessary questions (whose answers are already too familiar to everyone) without hesitation.
Being the proponent of free speech, the world has to indulge him in his charade. Nobody seems to mind already; in fact, people kind of egged the nosy and bungling America; just a perverse form of entertainment, I suppose.
By this afternoon, everyone has noticed that something is wrong. America hasn't elicited as much as a little peep from his seat, his expression grim and unfocused. Germany even tried to rouse an objection from America by asking for his opinion. America just shook his head, throwing his hair into an even messier heap, and responded with a curt grunt.
Whispers spread like a contagious forest fire the following luncheon. With partly mystified faces, people speculated the reasons for America's unusual behavior, each theory more laughably outrageous than the last.
Italy says that America might have just eaten one hamburger too many, resulting in a debilitating case of stomach cramps. With a bubbly, innocent face, Italy claims that he does the same scrunched up expression when eating too much gelato. A likely theory, given America's gluttonous appetite.
According to Australia, America only needs to get spectacularly laid. Or to have some special private time with his own right hand and a tall stack of "specially designed" magazines. Australia kindly even volunteered to share his own stash if the need arises. Now, I don't know much about America's sexual misadventures (There are some things that should be left unsaid between siblings.), but that will just have an undesirable backlash. We need to revert America back to his usual peppy self, not to tire and lull him to sleep with the afterglow of a mind-blowing orgasm, as Australia fervently said.
England, being the most sensible of us all, relayed a different suggestion.
"Just talk to him, Canada. Find out what's wrong."
Of course, I wasn't used to being the one in the spotlight. I sigh. There's always a first time for everything, I guess.
England raised an eyebrow, as if I'd just asked him what two plus two was equal to.
"This is a brotherly matter. I'd love to ask myself; but knowing America, he would just shrug me off."
Count on England for coming up with roundabout tactics.
"Why don't you send Australia, then?" I stammer. They should send someone who America will actually listen to – someone who is gutsy and pushy as he is. Australia's eyebrows wiggle mischievously - hopeful, like a giddy child's. Puffing his broad chest, he licks his upper lip in the most suggestive of manners.
England frowns. "I highly doubt that copious amounts of beer and pornography would be the keys for America's recovery."
Which leads me back to my very first statement.
America lifts his buried head from crossed arms and looks at me with half-lidded eyes. Jesus, he really doesn't look good – though I don't really see any traces of life-threatening stomachaches or severely underdeveloped libidos. Something is just … off. It looks like he just needs an ample amount of rest.
Sighing a shuddering breath of air, America props his chin with an open palm. "There's nothing wrong, man."
I put on my bravest face, complete with reprimanding eyes and a scowl that England would be proud of. America is one of the kindest people I know, but it does take something more than seething words and a steely glare to get a point across to him. "Do you expect me to actually believe that?"
He forces a dry, hacking sound that sounds more akin to a painful wheeze than a laugh. Just seeing him like that makes me cringe a little – America 's been always steadfast, somehow always omnipresent in our lives. The whole situation dawns an ominous sense of foreboding, as if the world would implode in the next two minutes. Maybe the second coming of another Great Depression, even.
You know, I should have expected the typical America behavior - so self-assured and proud in that charming way of his, sometimes exaggeratingly so. Like any good and despicable sibling, I know exactly how to wear that barrier down. England's right about one thing – perhaps this is a skill only I possess out of all of us.
Let's do this, then.
Step one: Praise him. America's psyche always hungers for every sliver of a compliment, no matter how petty or trivial. It lowers his guard down and makes him feel at ease. Besides, he was always friendly to people who hold him in high regard. Well, scratch that - pretty much with almost everyone, really.
"You're always strong and near unbeatable, America. I acknowledge that." His lips twitch in the tiniest shadows of a humble smile.
… I kind of feel guilty, picking on America's weaknesses just for some conniving ruse. But it's for his own good. Yes. As misguided as my words might be, I mean them wholeheartedly. He is all that. And more. I'll give him that.
Step two: Fish for it. Play around with the possibilities and test them one by one. " … but I can really tell if something's bothering you."
That's one-hundred percent truth, I'll have you know. Maybe it's a brotherly instinct, a supernatural twin telepathy of sorts. I don't know. I just have a radar for such an occasion. Maybe lurking in the background so much for all these years gave me a special sense of observation.
America's eyes furtively glance left and right, eyeing for any signs of eavesdroppers. There isn't any need to worry. We're alone in the conference room. "Well, I guess it's safe to tell you …"
It actually worked. I can't believe it.
"Don't laugh, okay?" he mumbles. He cups his hands around his mouth, lowering his voice into the tiniest of whispers. His cheeks look even more wilted at this angle. "I'm having loads of trouble sleeping these past few nights."
Well, even I can see that. But it doesn't look like he's finished speaking.
"I'm having really weird nightmares, Canada. And I can't stop them no matter what I do."
The natural curiosity in me begs to ask America what the subjects of his dreams actually are, but it's best not to aggravate the problem. We'll set that aside for now.
"Is that so? Then, I have the perfect solution."
Apparently, America has gone through every home remedy for nightmares. I guess the Internet really is a powerful thing nowadays. Chamomile tea, warm milk, not eating before you sleep - America says he has already tried them all.
This is the time to take it a notch higher. Or lower, whichever you prefer.
Since most conventional methods have proved themselves to be ineffective, it's time to think out of the box.
What most people don't know about America is that he can be a creative thinker when he wants to be – he managed to invent all sorts of stuff throughout the years, after all; the band – aid, hamburgers, airplanes. The works. But when he suggested that we make a dreamcatcher, even I was stumped.
England's influence in America was far more encompassing than I thought. So, America is still into these magic hijinks. Well, you know something new everyday, right? Besides, I don't think it could hurt – America will always know what's good for himself.
That's how we ended up at the craft store, picking up laces, feathers, balls of yarn and a rattan wooden hoop. America has also sneaked a sachet of gold glitter in for good measure.
Perhaps it's been a while since we've last spent some time together as brothers; but it's always a nice sight to see America get so jumpy over small things like this. His eyes sparkle at every turn and aisle, gawking at the garish assortment of materials. Even if he's already over two hundred years old, his looks and attitude certainly don't show it.
He really seemed better. Almost.
Despite his apparent light-headedness, America still insists to make the dreamcatcher with his own hands. Goodness, he's still as stubborn as ever. Still, admittedly, I find that wanton determination to be one of his more endearing traits.
With a look of intense concentration, America begins to loop the string onto the ring slowly, carefully. I know he's all about being independent and self-sufficient as a Nation, but he really doesn't have to apply it to everything he does. It makes him look lonelier than he actually is.
Sometimes, I just wish that America would stop taking the center stage all the time. Of course, I know that he's more than capable of handling everything the world throws at him, but I'm beginning to get scared for him. Everyone does have their limits, and America is no exception to the rule.
I can tell that he's losing every considerable ounce of energy he has by the minute. The focus in his eyes droops with every blink of his eyelids. His hands are trembling, as if they are frozen in the cold of the moonlight. Why he's so all gung ho about keeping this all to himself – I don't know.
Without really thinking about it – I have no idea what came over me. I just did it -, I try to clasp his hand within my own, trying to stop that horrible shaking of his. America stares at me with blank eyes, trying to curtain that little bit of frustration they hid. Being his brother, I knew him inside out. It's easier to spot these things when your counterpart is practically a mirror image of yourself.
"Let me help you, okay?"
He scratches the back of his neck and pulls off a sad and defeated smile. Perhaps he's hoping that the forced burst of optimism can somehow resuscitate his adrenaline back into existence. Not likely, in my opinion.
"Yeah, I'd appreciate that, bro."
A silent understanding forms between us, I can tell. Beneath the tremors that rack his body, his eyes speak a radical kind of desperation. A half-hearted admittance of weakness. It's something that only brothers can understand. I'm quite surprised, myself. It doesn't take a drop of effort for me to sympathize with him. After all, his pain is my pain, too.
Once again, England's wisdom proves to be impeccable.
Locking my fingers with his, I help him place the knots together by pinching and clamping down on the looser areas. Another loop here, a twist here, another turn there. The dreamcatcher is slowly taking shape, the wooden eye beginning to be laced with spidery strands.
I look at him intently as he continues to work.
… It's been a while since we've done such a thing. I can't remember exactly when; we might have been kids back then, living still in England's home. It's been buried in the most far-flung areas of my memories, but the moment is familiar. Welcomed. It's like we're sharing something again. Like siblings are supposed to do.
"Whew. And that's a wrap!"
America dusts the excess gold glitter from his hands, admiring the fruits of his labor for the past two hours.
The finished product he made looks good, actually. It doesn't have the delicate finesse of a craftsman's work, like, say Sweden's or Germany's, but it's passable. The glitter does endow it with the American charm, though. He does come up with the wackiest ideas. What's scarier is that they actually work to his advantage.
With a joint-popping stretch, he yawns a big one. His posture slackens as he rubs his eyes out of their glazed look.
It's time to test this thing out, then.
"Canada, can I ask for another favor?" Judging from that tone he used, America looks and feels even more deflated than before. I can't believe he managed to stay up all this time.
I'm pretty positive that it's not going to be a big thing. America always had second thoughts about asking for favors from fellow Nations, after all. He'd frequently accept them, but not ask for them. It's the hero's motto, he always says. You can't be a hero if you always rely on others.
"Sure, what is it?"
America bites his lower lip in hesitation. He makes an unusual effort to avert his eyes from my gaze, as if to hide his shame. I almost blurted out that he doesn't need to worry – that I won't laugh no matter how silly or childish it may seem.
"Can you sleep beside me tonight? I'm still scared."
It must have taken a huge amount of guts, admitting that to my face. America dangles his next words in mid-air, waiting. He's waiting for my reaction. Probably expecting me to snigger at him or to tease him. Nothing of that sort crossed my mind; I perfectly knew that America doesn't handle rejection as well as he is supposed to, let alone laughter at his expense.
I put on my most impassive face so he won't be upset. You have to be careful when you tread around America; both being too aloof and being too inappropriately kind can raise his heckles.
"No problem." There wasn't a shred of doubt that crossed my voice. It came out instantly, like a reflex.
Don't get my intentions wrong, though. The automatic response wasn't made out of obligation of one sibling to another. I genuinely wanted to help him get by whatever was bothering him by my own volition. With that last thought in mind, I hook the dreamcatcher along the grooves on the headboard of America's bed.
I just hope it works.
Turning his ever-trusty nightlight (the most fascinating yet gaudiest rendition of a cheeseburger I have ever seen) on, America slinks inside his thick cerulean blue quilt, tucking himself in. He motions me to the same.
His tiniest of smiles is as brittle and frail as a fine piece of china. I can tell that it's unnatural.
"Thanks for everything, Canada. Night." There's a chirp-like undulation in his voice. Relief, probably? Fear? I can't tell right away.
He turns his back on me before I could answer right back.
I still say it, anyway. "Good night, America."
Even though he may not notice it, I squeeze myself closer to him, so that our skins touched. A gentle heat rushes down my spine; I can feel it pool in the small of my back. I know America feels it, too, despite his stony silence.
It's comforting. Nothing feels better than the assurance that somebody you trust with your life is right beside you. It makes you feel inseparable, unbeatable.
America nudges himself closer bit by bit. And then, silence.
I can feel the tremors under his skin before they've risen to the surface. Brotherly instinct yet again, perhaps. The comforting heat we've shared earlier vanishes in a series of electric jolts from his limbs, his arms. My back is still turned from him, but I can sense him twisting and turning under the covers. Small squeaks gurgle from his throat, like muffled cries of pain.
With a half-expected pang of disappointment, I realize that the dreamcatcher didn't work.
I'll have to do this myself, then. Bracing myself for what I might see, I rolled myself over to wake America up from his nightmare.
Nothing could have prepared me for this. As soon as I flipped myself to view America's side of the bed, I was greeted by America's gaunt face right away. Shadows created by the nightlight curtailed over most his features, but I can tell right away that he's crying.
His teeth are gritted in the most torturous form of anguish I never thought possible. Tears stream from his right eye, right across the bridge of his nose, across his other eye, to stain his pillowcase.
I couldn't move, at first. I was stricken into paralysis because of what I saw – it's downright terrible, agonizing. I've never seen my brother in such a vulnerable state. He's always happy; strong; clumsy. He's America, and my heart just stopped right there.
The next moments are instantaneous. I try to jerk him awake with both of my hands. Knowing that I still have to be careful, I put only the slightest of pressures on my grip; I don't want America to think that I'm a threat to him. He can still knock my head clean off my shoulders if he wanted to.
"America, wake up! You're dreaming again!"
Hot, searing panic melts the icy feeling in my chest. I keep shaking him, and shaking, but he just can't wake up. My hands, too, begin to tremble in fear. I remembered several snippets of stories of people dying because of nightmares. They happen. They're real.
But I won't let it happen to my brother. With a burst of strength that's uncharacteristic of me, I seize America by shoulders and begin to rock him back and forth uncontrollably. I don't know when it started, but I was already crying, too, at this point.
Finally, after what seemed to be a whole eternity, America finally cracks his eyelids open. Seconds pass. He must have taken notice of the disastrous state we're both in, because he smiles sheepishly, of all the things to do, and says, "Guess the dreamcatcher didn't work, huh?"
Damn well, it didn't. In the spur of the moment, I just hugged him real tight, roping my hands and arms around his body. I'm just glad that I didn't let him go, glad that I stayed with him all night, glad that I spent all this time with him, with whatever we've been through.
"You can let go now, Canada," he says, complete with that tiny crackle in his voice.
I can't believe that he still has the audacity to remain calm after everything that happened. I thought he was going to die. Things like these don't usually happen everyday.
He continues, "Sorry, I -"
"No, don't apologize." He doesn't need to, really. It isn't his fault.
America wipes the wetness from his eyes surreptitiously. After he decided that he already looked halfway decent, he puts on his spectacles to hide the raw state of his eyes. "I dreamed it again. And it's England this time."
Finally, I'll be able to get an inkling on what these nightmares are made of. It's daunting, in a sense; I'd be getting a little sneak peek of America's greatest fears. Sure, I pretty much know that he's scared stiff of ghosts and the paranormal, but whatever he dreamed seemed to be more dangerous.
"They all said they hated me. Wanted to see me dead. They tried to kill me. They keep saying that I've screwed them all over, that I'm an ungrateful bastard, that they've wanted to stab me in the back for a while now but couldn't get the chance, that -"
"America, stop." The nightmare's clutches are still pulling him into a downward spiral, even if he's awake. He's a babbling mess. No wonder he can't pull himself together. It must have been beyond traumatizing for him. "Who are 'they'"?
His eyes darken and widen with a deranged insanity, reliving everything again in sordid color. "At first, it was France; I was pretty shaken when I woke up. But more people did … it, as the dream popped up; Lithuania, Australia, Japan." He pauses for a few moments, as if he's taking the enormity of the last one, still. "… England."
I'm seeing a pattern here. All of these people – they had some history to share with America, one way or another. These are the guys that America trusted the most out of everyone he knew. Soon enough, the pieces of the puzzle arranged themselves together.
So that's America's greatest fear.
It doesn't register as a surprise at all for me, really. America's pretty much the strongest of us all, both figuratively and literally. Power? Money? That's not a big deal for him, I'm sure. Now, trust and faith; those are different stories. It's fragile, like life – hard to create and easy to lose. And you can't buy or force anyone to trust you.
Losing those few precious bonds he has – even if it was just in a dream – hit him pretty close to home. I think I mentioned before that America still thinks like a child in one way or another; this is such a case. He likes to believe in the best of people. The words from the ghosts of his mind must have stung him badly – struck him at his very core.
But that's just it; it's all a dream. Even if I didn't know those people like America did, I'm sure that they're not cold-blooded back stabbers. America wouldn't have trusted them if they were.
"Let's go back to sleep now. It's just a dream, America."
Doubt settles itself on America's face. He's still afraid. Crippling fear is visible behind his glasses, lurking.
He's being an idiot again. "Of course you have to sleep. Don't be silly."
"What if you're up next, Canada? What will I do, then?"
I don't let America notice it, but I was absolutely stunned by his choice of words. He doesn't probably know it, but they carried an entire world of implications for me. My hands ball into fists upon my realization.
So. I mean a lot to him, too. He trusts me with his life, even. Like all the others he mentioned.
Damn it, I almost cried again.
Moving sentimentality aside, I have to be strong now. It's a rare occurrence, but he does need me now. What can I say to comfort him? To answer him? I can't control his subconscious, of course. If he dreams me trying to kill him, I'd never hear the end of it. And the worst part? I'd blame myself, too.
Suddenly, inspiration strikes like a flash of lightning.
I know the perfect answer. I could have laughed right then and there. I'm pretty pleased with it, myself. It's just brilliant. America will find it satisfying, too, probably.
I begin to find my voice again. Here goes.
"If I say those things about you in your dream, then I'm giving you the explicit permission to punch the dream me in the face. Punch me real hard. Retaliate."
Obviously, America didn't expect such crude words to come from me. After a few uneasy seconds later, a nasal snort from America confirms my success. He giggled at first, and then burst into a fit of hysterics. It's the most genuine happiness I've felt from him since forever. The very sound of him chuckling does a great job of dispelling the gloom in the air.
"Seriously, dude? I can?"
It isn't addressing the problem per se, but it's certainly a huge step up from him being powerless over the emotions that wracked him. Now, I'm sure he knows that I can never hate him that way. Never.
"Yeah, sure you can. Now can we go back to sleep now? Germany is going to kick us out of the conference if you doze off again."
"Fat chance, Canada. They'd never kick us out!"
"Well, it's not like they have a choice in the matter now, don't they?"
The playful badinage slowly worms its way back into our conversation. From what I can tell, America is pretty close to being back to normal. He just needed a little reassurance from someone he trusts. To think that I'm a suitable candidate for that position … touches me.
Being a Nation is important. You have a role to play for your country, your people, and your own identity. It has its own form of fulfillment. But having a personal role in someone else's life, to be able to touch their lives as they touch yours, the reward is infinite.
… I'm pretty sure England has foreseen all this from the start. I guess I'll just have to thank him.
Maybe being America's personal dreamcatcher isn't so bad, after all.
A/N: Canada's first-person voice is so much fun to write, I don't even know where to begin. I hope you enjoyed reading, everyone!