Guess what folks? I'm writing another mind fuck! If you're surprised, you don't know me well enough. This time, the recipe is simple: take one part Inception, one part post-disaster movie and a pinch of my weird imagination, and you get this fic.
I promise the above statement will make sense by the end of this. Really.
Disclaimer: I don't own Hetalia or any of the prompts and themes I'm borrowing from the movie "Inception." I'm just walking proof that an idea is the most intrepid parasite. Enjoy.
Chapter One: The Beginnings of a Dream
England swore under his breath, rubbed his gloved hands together and hunkered further into the warmth of his thermal-insulated coat. He kicked a few inches of snow from the toes of his boots and glared up at the swirling, dark gray mass of sky above him. According to all the clocks, it was almost noon. If it hadn't been for the electric lamps illuminating their camp, he wouldn't have been able to see his own hands.
A silver canister broke into his view, held by a hand wrapped in the warmest, most fashionable blue gloves that money could buy. England knew that they belonged to France before the man's voice even reached his ears. "Your morning tea, mon cher."
England accepted the offering with a gruff thanks, unscrewing the top and taking a long gulp. It warmed him all the way down and he allowed himself a small sigh of satisfaction before getting down to business. "Did the scouts find…anything last night?"
"I see. How far in are we at this point?"
Francis dug a hand-held computer from his coat pocket and tapped through the GPS that tracked their course. The connection was slow now, due to the ash, but it did work in time. "We're almost through this part of Alberta. We'll reach British Columbia soon."
"Good, good," England muttered, doing the calculations in his head. "As long as we stay south, we'll find them soon enough. Those boys know this land too well to go north in such ridiculous weather."
France put the pocket computer away, but his motions were slower than before, and there was a distinct air of anxiety in his features. "It's been three months," he said, pain lacing his tone.
England closed his eyes. "I know. We'll find them."
Neither of them voiced the very real possibility that what he was saying was lie.
England finished off his tea, dumped the remaining leaves into the snow and turned away with a sigh. "If we've covered this area, we'll have to pack up and move on."
"Oui," said France with a nod, already turning towards the main tent of their basecamp. "I'll inform the captain and we'll begin organizing the equipment for transfer."
"Right, right." England blew on his hands and rubbed them together, spreading some small bit of warmth across his aching joints. "They all know the drill. I'll start plotting a new course east, and then…"
A whistle blared from the edge of the camp, bringing both nations to apt attention. That was the signal for approaching figures not of their camp – survivors!
England and France moved practically as one, racing to the black hummer that served as a guard post on this side of the camp. England reached the ladder first and swung up to the roof, bounding to the look-out's side. "What is it, man?"
"See for yourself, sir," said the volunteer, handing England his binoculars and pointing. England brought the field glasses to his eyes and peered out into the darkness and snow. There was indeed a figure stumbling towards them in the gloom, without a light or supplies; but even from this distance, England recognized iconic brown leather and patches of a very distinctive and familiar flight jacket.
England's heart leapt and, in the next motion, he was snatching a torch and leaping from the Hummer and rolling into the thick snow absorb the shock of his fall.
"Mon Dieu!" France yelped, darting around the car. "England, what on earth are you –"
"It's America!" England said, rolling to his feet and shooting across the field without any further attempt at explanation. A second later, France was on his tail, so they were just about even when they finally reached America.
The boy was a mess. His precious jacket was bloodstained, and he didn't wear it so much as he had it wrapped around both shoulders like a blanket. His shirt and pants were both worn and ripped, showing the emaciated form beneath. His hair had been allowed to grow almost to his shoulders and his glasses were cracked. He stumbled across the snow as though he couldn't feel his own feet. Perhaps he couldn't – the weather was still dreadfully cold.
When he finally laid eyes on England, the last bit of his resolve seemed to die and he collapsed. He would have tumbled into the snow had England and France not leapt forward to catch him, their arms forming a net that snagged him as easily as a fish in a steam.
"America!" England gasped, clutching a form that was much, much smaller than the strong young man he remembered. "America, don't you dare go to sleep."
America's eyes hung heavy, but still open – at least a crack. He struggled and failed to lift his head, mumbling so low that the others could barely hear, "C'nada…"
France shifted to increase his share of the support and scanned the surrounding snow, but there was no sign of anyone beyond their camp. "Where is Canada? I don't see him anywhere."
England slung America's arm over his shoulder and knelt to cup the younger nation's face in his hands. The cheeks were so cold and brittle he was afraid they might crumble in his grasp. "America, look at me. Don't go sleep! Listen, you have to tell us. Where is your brother? Tell us, America!"
"Mm," America groaned, eyes falling and strength failing. "'M…Can…Canada…"
"Yes," England said, giving his cheek a few quick taps. "You have to tell us. Where is Canada?"
But that was a question that would never be answered.
America watched the memory from a distance, unseen by the shades of his past like Scrooge within the grasp of his first Christmas ghost. It was amazing how completely his subconscious had preserved this memory when he himself had been barely aware at the time. Sure, some of it had been pieced together through the group Dreams, fitting in the views of England and France like a four-dimensional puzzle; but the rest – the cold, the pain, the muddled confusion – that was all his own.
He willed the scene to stop and slipped closer to observe himself as he had once been. A small part of him still cringed with the memory of the pain – the black eye that had blinded him, the cracked rib, the sensitive bone in the center of his hand that had been snapped completely in twain – coupled with the haunting ache of starvation from weeks alone in the wilderness. He focused on each one, trying to force his memory of the violence to the surface. They wouldn't come.
"Tch," he muttered to himself, stepping away from the scene. He willed time to flow in reverse and it did, this time focusing on his former self as he stumbled through the barren waste. America floated along with him, panning across the ice, snow and time as far as he could go.
But the result was always the same. All too soon, reality flickered around him, flickering like a broken video tape before starting up again from the beginning. America swore under his breath and tried to push it further, but all that earned him was a searing pain between his temples and ears.
A soft sound reached his ears from nowhere: extended single tones, all the same note and sound, with long stretches of silence between each. It was disorienting, unnerving. That was, of course, the point. It was an alarm.
It was to wake up.
( - )
America opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling.
It was a very familiar motion. All of his memories began with waking now. Literally; waking was the first thing he'd done after England and France had gotten him to a decent hospital after dragging him from the wild so long ago. Everything before that moment, all of his memories, his experiences, his life, were left as a shapeless blur with the occasional glimpse of clarity, like driving in a fog.
It had taken him thirty years to piece his mind back together, one memory at a time. It still wasn't complete. Not yet. And especially not if he kept getting stuck in that one.
America rolled his head to the side. England was sitting in the cheap hotel armchair beside his bed with his legs crossed at the knee, flipping through a newspaper with one hand and sipping tea with the other. Behind him, the curtains were slightly drawn, giving them a lovely view of Rome covered, as most of the world now was, in snow.
"Morning," America said with a yawn, sitting up and pulling the PASIV's IV from his arm. The machine, which rested in a silver briefcase on the bed beside him, silenced its beeps and began to run through its shut-down sequence.
Arthur frowned at the device over his tea cup. "You've reached the point where you can't dream without it, haven't you?"
America did not respond. It was true; the long you used the miracle of the Portable Automated Somnacin IntraVenous Device, the less you were capable of conjuring dreams on your own. Even nations were not immune to its lasting effects.
"I'm starting to worry about you," England said softly, placing his newspaper and tea cup on the bed stand. "You have no idea what you could be doing to yourself, to your subconscious, to your mind."
America laughed humorlessly, folding the PASIV's wires back into their proper compartments. "It can't be any worse than what my mind has already done to me."
England bit his lip and averted his gaze. Nobody knew how or why America's memories had suddenly decided to bury themselves within the depths of his subconscious. Not even the greatest doctors and psychologists in the world could uncover them. If it hadn't been for the Dreams, they would have been written off as gone long, long ago.
"It's been thirty years, Alfred," the Englishman said in a tone barely above a whisper. "If you haven't been able to fix it in this time, then maybe…wouldn't it be best to just stay the way you are now?"
"You know I can't do that," America said, closing the PASIV's case with a definitive click. "I still haven't found him."
England closed his eyes.
It had been thirty years since the eruption of the Yellowstone Caldara had devastated the North American continent, torn apart their western regions, scattered their governments and plunged the world into a new Ice Age. Even though they'd been half-expecting the event for the last century – every scientist in the world knew that the super-volcano of Yellowstone was well overdue– it had taken the world by surprise.
What's more, it had the poor luck to blow while America and Canada were in the northern brother's western regions for their yearly "brotherly bonding" fishing trip. America had stumbled from the wilderness three months later, broken, blood-stained and alone, with only passing recollection of the centuries that had come before. Canada had not been seen since.
"Lad," England said, as though every word were laced with poison. "You have to accept this. Canada's gone."
"There's been no sign of him in three decades. The only possible answer is that he's –"
America whirled around, eyes flashing angrily in the hotel's pale light. "He's not dead."
The sound echoed even within the thick plaster. England gripped his tea cup a bit more tightly.
America took a deep breath and forced his frazzled nerves to calm. He kept his gaze focused on his former guardian, keeping the intensity and determination, but not the accusation. "Canada...Matt's not dead. He can't be. I know if he was. You know I would know. He has to be alive. He's just…lost."
England sighed, setting his tea cup and saucer on the bedside table. "I understand. But Alfred, we've tried to reach those memories so many times. What if they're not even there?"
"They're there," America insisted, with the same unyielding certainty that guaranteed his brother's continued existence. "We can dig them out. We just need to go deeper."
England's large brows knotted together in confusion. "But we've already tried layering the dreams."
"We've gone to layer two," America said, musing out loud. Just thinking of the technique, of how deeply reality and dreams could be blurred, brought a tinge of doubt into his mind. He drew his talisman – an extra-large double-headed coin weighted to favor Washington over the portrait of Lincoln that lay opposite – and flipped it. The weight was just as he remembered. "We've tried the Dream within the Dream. So we need to go further – a dream, within a dream, within a dream."
England stood so suddenly that his tea cup was nearly thrown from the bed stand, but he caught it at the last moment. "You can't be serious! You know how dangerous that is!"
"It's a high-risk gamble," America agreed, pocketing the coin. "But that's why it will work, especially if we use the earlier levels as triggers on the way down. We just have to do it right."
England narrowed his eyes. "And you think you have an Architect who can pull something like that off?"
America was quiet. He turned the coin over and over within his pocket. Then he sighed and let it drop. "Not yet. But I'll find somebody. The best damn Architect there ever was. And then…then we'll get him back."
England sighed, his muscles dropping slack with relief. He straightened his posture and adjusted his tie. "If you say so. Come along now. If you want to get breakfast before the meeting, you'll have to hurry."
"Yeah, I know. Thanks." America smiled, though it was tired and worn, and waved the Brit off. "Gimmie a minute for a quick shower and I'll be right down."
England nodded curtly and stepped out of the room. America entered the bathroom, turned on the hot water and looked at himself in the mirror. As the reflection became more and more clouded with steam, marring the minute difference between them that no one else seemed to notice, he could convince himself that it was Canada gazing back at him from the glass. He wondered if, after all this time, his brother would look as tired as he felt now.
He brushed a hand along the glass, tracing a path as though stroking his brother's cheek. Then he leaned forward and rested his forehead against the mirror, imagining cool skin beneath rather than wet glass.
"I'll find you," he promised, not for the first time. "Whatever it takes, Canada. I will find you."
( - )
The Meetings of the World were not, as many people had assumed, a modern invention. Indeed, they were nearly as old as the concept of nations itself, though admittedly the definition of "World" had a habit of changing from century to century. In the old days they had been infrequent but regular, a once-a-decade chance for the great nations of each continent, particularly Europe, to break their endless torrent of isolation and combat in order to actually connect with their own kind.
Now that modern technology and travel developments had effectively connected the entire world without exception, the meetings were generally annual. It was a relief to most. World Meetings were constant, the one thing in the chaos of their tremulous existence that would remain the same, no matter what economic crises, world wars or natural disasters may be thrown their way. Without such a rock of stability, there was no doubt in anyone's mind that most of the world would have eventually descended into personal insanity.
Not too long ago, America would have been in control here, outlining the latest of his elaborate plans for-the-sake-of-all at the front of the room and making some small effort to keep order, usually without success. But now, though the North American Union was steadily recovering, he was nowhere near his former level of strength and vitality and therefore tended to refrain from the proceedings.
America tried to pay attention, tried to take notes and keep track of what Germany was going on and on about, but when the lunch break was called and he looked at his legal pad, any notes were obscured by the doodles of an elaborate maze. He crumpled it up before England could see. Last thing he needed was for the Brit to add more fuel to his argument against the continued Dream.
The crumpled ball of paper landed in the trash as he dodged France's grope. Once, he would have clipped the Frenchman up the side of the head for that, but at this point he recognized it as a gesture of friendly concern.
He chatted with Japan and Greece during lunch, keeping the small talk mostly on the topic of video games, though during the lulls that were to be expected when eating with these two, he contemplated the possibilities. Japan was his go-to tech guy for PASIV equipment, and Greece wasn't a half-bad Architect, but his designs tended to be lazy and hadn't connected with America well enough to break into the lower levels of memory. Greece was a nice guy, but he needed someone more precise.
When lunch was over, most of the nations headed back into the meeting room, but America lingered outside. His excuse was taking a smoke. In truth, he hadn't smoked since the Second World War; he just needed a bit of quiet time to himself.
He wandered the hotel, flipping his Token coin restlessly. Part of him wished that there were more countries in his neck of the woods capable of hosting these Meeting; ever since the eruption, he got nervous whenever he was away from his continent for too long. The rational side of his mind knew that there was nothing to worry about. The part of him born in dreams begged to differ.
As he turned to head back to the meeting room, his foot thumped against something dense and heavy sitting on the ground. It was a sketchbook, covered in fine brown leather and stamped with a remarkably elaborate coat of arms. He didn't recognize it, but it didn't look particularly Italian, so he figured it must belong to one of the nations. He picked it up and flipped through it until he found a signature.
"Lili Zwingli," he said slowly, pronouncing each syllable with care. "So it's Lichtenstein's. She must have dropped it…"
Out of curiosity, his eyes trailed up to the sketch. They widened and he drew in a gasp.
The meeting was already underway once more when he burst in, the door bouncing off the wall with a bang. Italy, who had been giving a presentation, squeaked and dropped his pointer. A few other easily-startled or half-asleep nations fell out of their chairs. Germany leapt up. "America, what is the meaning of this?"
America ignored him, scanning the gathered nations with frantic sweeps of his eyes. "Liechtenstein?"
The girl lifted her head, blinking in confusion. "Y-Yes, Mister America?"
America crossed the room in a few long strides until he reached the girl, holding her sketchbook outstretched. The leather-bound volume hit the floor and America followed, going down on his knees. He grasped Liechtenstein's hands in both of his own and gazed up at her with wide, almost pleading eyes.
"Please," he begged. "I need you to be my Architect."