Title: The Heroic Pursuit
Author: Demand Truth
Summary: America's been feeling a little down lately, but the promise of a fun afternoon spent with England livens his spirits. Poor, England, though...will America ever realize how strongly he feels about him? USUK, FranCan
Genre/Rating: Romance/Humor, Mature readers only, please.
Chapter One: In Which Our Hero is Strangely Dispirited
He couldn't tell you where he was exactly, probably somewhere in Nebraska, judging on the humidity and the smell of the corn. The view was neither spectacular nor uncommon—just miles and miles of corn, from sea to shining sea. He lay in a field that had been partially sheared like a bleating sheep, barefoot and clad in frayed jean shorts with his broad chest bared to the sun like a sacrifice.
Beneath him, the dirt was damp and hot at the same time, and a few flies hovered in the air above him, like fat black UFOs. His bluebonnet eyes stared into the perfectly cloudless sky, obscured only by the flight patterns of the insects—his own, private air show. He thought about narrating it ("Fly Doolittle goes for the outside loop, diving at 300 mph!") but he was too lazy at the moment to even speak.
'I should go to the moon again,' America thought wistfully, his mind lovingly recalling the cylindrical contours of Apollo 17. There was something fantastic about outer space. He could get away from everything up there—wars and poverty and education reform and politics and people that didn't even call themselves Americans but rather said things like "my mother's side is French, and my father's side is German." He wanted to escape from himself, sometimes, when they said things like that.
There was no money for vacations to the moon these days, though. It was bad enough he was hiding from the World Nations Meeting in a cornfield in the middle of nowhere, feeling all mopey, knowing he wouldn't be found because, quite frankly, most of the world forgot these fields existed. They saw him as Washington D.C., where he built big monuments that he never got around to painting, or New York, or Los Angeles, or even as Vegas when he was a little tipsy.
But there was more to him, so very much more, than his big cities and his bustling capital. In fact, they were really only a very small part of him. The majority was this. Acres and acres and acres of empty space, and not even that was big enough to contain him, because he needed the sky above him as well.
He wondered, sometimes, if any of the other nations ever spent entire days just lying in fields... and not because they were trying to kill each other, but because fields were nice places to spend time. He liked to lie in the grass just like he was and build models in his head. Sometimes they were as detailed as blueprints, and sometimes he just thought of big sheets of metal and crisply fluttering swathes of cloth. The other nations, with the possible exception of England, thought he was stupid, and by their definition of the word, he probably was.
But he knew he was lying in a field of Dent corn, named such because of the shape of the kernels, and he knew that a storm was coming soon, because scents carried better on the wind when moisture collecting in the air acted as a conduit. He knew his land, and the weather, and (for the most part) he knew the culture of his people, which was no easy feat since they were all over the place in every possible way conceivable. Oh, and he also knew that he worked hard, harder than he was given credit for usually. So, he didn't feel too bad for skipping the meeting today to lie in his fields, because he didn't get any time off these days unless he stole it like a thief.
He wondered, though, what they would say about him when he wasn't there. He imagined China would take over the meeting, because China had been changing lately, becoming a little pushier and a little more demanding. India, too, was chomping at the bit to be heard and America...America just wanted to spend the day baking in a corn field. Let them have their meeting of the minds without him. After all, he only contributed nonsense anyway.
He didn't really take any of it seriously, not anymore.
America dropped his forearm over his pretty blue eyes and exhaled forcibly, pushing dust and debt and decay out of himself for just a moment, like expelling great lung-fulls of cigarette smoke. The need to breathe again forced him to suck it all back in, where it weighted down his chest and made him feel old. No wonder England was grouchy all the time. America suddenly felt weary, and annoyed, and overworked and overstretched and...hungry.
They'd be having catered food at the world meeting. Though America had once given the job to McDonalds just to piss everyone off, today they nations were likely munching on mini-Subway sandwiches with sides of fruit salad and bags of baked chips. America alternated between loving the health craze and being utterly sick of it. But right now he was not thinking of working out, nor of delicate little sandwiches. He'd skipped breakfast and he wanted something satisfying and hearty. He began walking through the rows of corn, until his blackened, bare feet pressed against little rocks and slivers of concrete. A highway stretched before him, seeming to go nowhere. America stood on the shoulder a bit, stretching his legs in long, limber movements before beginning a light jog.
He thought again of the meeting he was missing, and picked up his pace. His feet slapped hard against the hot cement and his own heartbeat thudded in his ears. Sweat beaded on his lightly tanned skin and began to stream in small rivers (the Rio Grande, the Mississippi, and the Platte) over the shining planes of his chest and back. He pumped his legs harder, really feeling the burn now, noticing but not seeing the scenery of Nebraska slip past him in a blur of corn husk green. After running hard for about twenty minutes, he found himself standing in the shadow of a metal sign that read: Welcome to Thedford, Population: 211.
As he walked into town, he stopped at pickup truck parked along the highway, the back of it full of produce that was wilting slightly under the rays of the sun: grilled sugar and butter corn, as well as some cucumbers and potatoes in dusty cardboard boxes. America decided to have his appetizer there, and fished some cash out of his jean pocket. The farmer's son manning the truck took the money and gave him his change, as well as two ears of grilled corn and the assurance it was fresh—just cut the day before. America thanked him and left before it occurred to the boy start asking questions. After all, it wasn't everyday that a strange man came running up the highway on a hot day seemingly desperate to buy some sweet corn.
America left the dusty truck, munching happily on his grilled corn, idly wishing he had butter to accompany it. He tossed the empty husks in the waste bin outside a small eatery called the Arrowhead, nodding in a satisfied way to the two old men sitting on the porch of the restaurant in their rocking chairs. Unsurprisingly, he was the only customer in the place. The waitress, a sweet looking lady in her mid-forties, came bustling out of the back kitchen and took in his appearance without qualms.
"You look hot. Let me start you off with some ice water, sugar," she said. America nodded eagerly, plopping into a seat under a slow-moving fan.
"Thank you, mam. I apologize for not having much on," he replied. The other nations would have gaped to see him so respectful—hell, England probably didn't think he was even capable, but America knew and appreciated the friendly ways of his country folk and took on different mannerisms when he was out of the big cities.
"Don't you worry about it. It's too darn hot out there to keep much on. This place is a humid mess before a storm rolls in," she replied from the depths of the small restaurant. She returned briskly, though, with a tall glass of sweating ice water. America thought longingly of sweet tea and vowed to spend his next day playing hooky in some little Texan town where he could nap in the shade of a big old barn after feasting on barbecue and drinking sweet tea till his gut burst.
"Thank you," America said again, accepting the glass and pressing it to his forehead first before taking a big, deep swallow.
"Do you need a menu?"
"Do you serve cheeseburgers?" America replied. She smiled at him.
"The best in Thedford, honey. It'll be out in just a minute. I'll make it a big one to put some meat on your bones."
America grinned into his ice water, happy at least that in his own country he was considered skinny, even if all the willowy, thin Europeans made him feel like a fat ass. Maybe he should take after Russia and start calling himself big-boned.
Perhaps curious, though slow to move, the two old-timers finally made their way inside and took a table nearby.
"Where you coming from?" one asked, adding after a moment, "I haven't seen you around here, but I feel like I recognize you." America gave all his people that niggling feeling that they somehow knew him, if he or she could just strain their brain hard enough.
"I'm just passing through. I hitchhiked for most of the way here."
"You travel light," the other man observed. He had a grizzled beard, and he wore a stained, white T-shirt under his suspenders. America took a sip of water to delay having to respond a moment, and finally replied.
"I didn't part on good terms with the trucker. Lost my pack."
"That's a shame. Sorry to hear it. You look young, boy, too young to be hiking across the country with not even a shirt on your back. It's this damned recession, though. Young people can't find work these days," the man without the beard said. Despite the heat, he was lighting a cigarette. The waitress returned, bringing the two old men drinks, already knowing their preferences.
She kissed the one with the beard on the top of his hat before she breezed away and said, "Glad you finally came inside, dad. It's too hot to sit out on that porch." The old man turned his head after her, allowing America to glimpse the POW pin shining proudly from the side of his battered baseball cap.
"Thanks for your service, sir," America said, waving towards the man's hat. He hesitated for a fraction of a second and then added, "I just got back not too long ago from a deployment in Iraq."
Instantly, any distrust eased from the old men's faces and they smiled at him, one of their own. Perhaps they thought they could understand him better. They looked at him and decided his story: back from the battlefield to find a country with few jobs, especially in the little cities and villages like this one. Nothing to do but roam the highways, searching for that unidentifiable something that all young men search for, in various ways, until they learned to ignore the itch or grew too old to scratch it.
But America did not grow old, and he'd been searching for that something for what felt like forever. He'd thought after the second World War that he was searching for England, because things had never been the same since the Revolution and it was one of the few painful memories he had that he could not gloss over in his mind. He'd tried to make good with England, and flushed with their joint success after WWII, it hadn't been that hard to rekindle the friendship, but even with a strong ally America still felt a little...empty.
The old men were talking to him.
"I got shot down over Yugoslavia...or maybe it was Czechoslovakia? Hell, I can't remember. But you know the funniest thing? As soon as I landed those villagers all came out and stole my damned parachute—wanted it for the silk. I busted up my leg in the landing pretty bad. Got disability for it when I got home, but it ached something awful in that German POW camp in the winter. Nearly froze to death and all we ate for six months was potatoes. Heh, leaving Nebraska I thought I'd never want to eat corn again in my life. Coming back, you'd never seen a man so grateful that we didn't grow potatoes!"
The old man's friend smiled wryly, suggesting to America that he had heard this story many, many times before. America grinned indulgently and twirled his thumbs through the moisture on the outside of his glass. He thought of Germany, who was in his country at that very moment, likely demanding order in the meeting. Or maybe he didn't need to without America there to make it loud and chaotic and ultimately pointless.
It was strange that America dealt so regularly with nations that his own people would be very glad to never see hide nor hair of again. If he offered the man next to him an all expense paid vacation to Germany right there on the spot, he'd probably laugh him out of the restaurant. The Europeans wondered why Americans cared so little for the rest of the world, and America thought this was partly the reason: the only time most of the older generation of Americans had visited Europe was when their planes were shot out of the sky.
"What about you, boy? You give those Muslims hell?"
America's heart spasmed painfully for a moment and he drained the rest of his water. Sometimes the blind prejudices of his own people made him breathless with disappointment.
"No. Just a lot of poor, dirty kids that didn't know why we were bombing them to hell and back. War has changed since your time. It's not as simple as it used to be. I love this country, I love it more than anything, but sometimes I don't understand it," America said hollowly.
The old men were quiet for a long moment, and the waitress brought his burger. America looked at it hungrily, but his appetite was strangely gone. He chewed reluctantly on a fry. The fans whirled overhead and the sun beat down on the grungy glass windows.
"You know, son, there's nothing wrong in this country that can't be cured by what's right about it. Just be brave and keep your chin up. We've survived worse, and we'll survive this."
America saw the truth in the man's wisdom because he did remember sometimes (though it was a difficult; as he liked to keep history buried away beneath layers of blueprints and superheroes in his mind) but he did, every great once in awhile, take a mental trip into the past, like Indiana Jones cautiously creeping into some looming black cave.
And when he did, he'd remember the Revolution, or the dust bowl, the Great Depression, and the hell of Vietnam. The memories would come like clips from Hollywood, and sometimes he was the lead actor and sometimes he wasn't. It was painful, and he never gained any wisdom that lasted more than a few hours, and so America tried not to do it overly much. He lived in the present and he daydreamed about the future and he had no use for the past because he didn't play a very big role in it, in the grand scheme of things, as the Europeans were always pointing out.
But the old man was right. Things had been worse before, much worse, and they had only gotten better because America and his people bounced back from whatever was thrown at them, determined to be free and happy or die trying.
America stood rather suddenly, slamming his hands on the table in determination and tossing all the cash in his pocket onto the table.
"I really needed to hear that, so thanks, but there's some place I need to be right now!"
America pushed away from the table, but on second thought, doubled back and grabbed the burger. He'd eat it on the road.
"Bye, guys!" America called to a confused waitress and the two startled, old men before leaving the Arrowhead in Thedford, Nebraska, sprinting with the speed of a Looney Toon all the way to the capital.
AN: Honestly, I know this chapter was kinda boring. Sorry! I just wanted to establish that America has been feeling a little down lately, and I wanted to go inside his head a bit to show that he's not a total idiot...since he will return to his usual plucky idiocy in the next chapter at the meeting and I don't want to portray him as a total airhead, though he kinda is, lolz.
When America is watching the flies buzzing about him, he references the pilot James DoLittle, who is famous for (among many other things) pulling off the first Outside Loop in a plane, previously thought to be fatal, and for bombing Tokyo in the beginning of America's involvement in WWII.
"China and India were getting pushier" - It's believed by some that they'll be the next world Superpowers.
The old man in the diner's quote is adapted from something Bill Clinton once said.
Thedford, NE is a real town in Nebraska. I've never been there. If you're one of the 200-something people that live there and wish to correct me in any of my purely imagined descriptors of the Arrowhead, which is also a real place, feel free.
I love reviews, like most writers, and they do encourage me to churn out chapters faster. England makes his appearance next! :)