Disclaimer: I do not own Hetalia. I am merely a fan who appreciates the ingenious glory of such masterful tomfoolery.
Warning: Strong Language, Graphic Scenes, Gore and Violence
Chapter One Characters:
-England/ Arthur Kirkland
-France/ Francis Bonnefoy
Time Frame: World War I
-Never Your Hero-
"It was never about doing right by you...in the beginning."
It had been a week of horrendous noise and thunderous aftershocks wracking the ground. The earth hadn't stopped shivering beneath the outbreak of man's power since the guns had begun their assault to destroy the German front line. Honestly, by the time the cannons had stopped firing and the shells ceased to explode the way one's body felt was comparable to having gotten off a small boat after months in rough seas. The smell of gunpowder was only overpowered by the smell of machine oil, and the heat from wandering among the armaments made the unbearable July sauna even worse. There was a buzz of excitement in the newfound silence, something he personally did not share even though his men held anticipation in spades. While their guts twisted with a nervous thrill, his was twisting for an entirely different reason...
He wasn't sure if it was foreboding or indigestion, yet.
The Empire had already been in this bloody war for two God-forsaken years, now. Already he was more than sick of it, having never wanted anything to do with it in the first place and now firmly stuck smack dab in the middle of this blasted mess. How had it come to this? Because a little European upstart just had to try and prove he was as big of an Imperialist as he elders, his betters. There was barely anything left of the world when Germany decided it wanted to join in the race for colonial supremacy, and what it did take of the remaining lands hadn't bothered the British Empire in the least. However, when the Kaiser's nation blocked France from fully taking Morocco...well, that had been a bit concerning. France wasn't his problem one way or the other, but for the youngster to have halted one of the forerunners in the competition for global superiority was unexpected. When the Germanic nation began to overtake his own in the race of steel and iron production, effectively taking the lead in amassing weapons and artillery - now that had gotten his attention.
When Germany decided to get cute and build a frightfully large Navy, that crossed the line.
A sweaty hand rose to his forehead and began to try massaging a growing headache away. The headache seemed ever present, just ebbing and flowing as the frustration of his people rose and fell with the war's lack of progress. Communication between British and French forces was terse at best, and even worse were the communications with their other powerful ally, Russia. From what could be gathered by way of radio, mouth, and the occasional telegram that made it through, things were not going well...
Germany...Austria-Hungary...The Ottoman Empire...Bulgaria...
How could the greatest nations in Europe be in such a state against countries like these?
The Battle of the Marne had been one of the first to open the theater. The battles in Africa had looked like skirmishes compared to that brutal episode. The Germans had converged like a great storm, sweeping in from the east like an unleashed stampede of hell hounds, armed with inhuman militaristic intelligence intent only upon conquest. They had beaten the French troops back at every turn, outflanking them, sending them running as mortar after mortar fell from the sky like metallic rain. The Germans were making a march for the Atlantic, their sights set on Paris in the process and the French were desperate to hold what ground they could rather than recover what they had lost. It came down to a joint French and British effort, the forces outnumbered by Germans more than seven to one. After eighteen days of hard fighting they had managed to pull off a miracle...
If one could really proclaim a miracle over the wounded and dead bodies of over a quarter of a million men.
The trenches to the north held, the German offensive there was essentially halted from further penetration into France from the north east. Celebration, however, wasn't something to be found on the Allied side. The ever tenacious Germans were far from deterred from their quest to take France.
Eventually...it would come down to Verdun...
"They cannot take Verdun, Angleterre! We must stop them before they reach Verdun or all is lost!"
Arthur's eyes narrowed and he glared at the frantic Frenchman, as the firelight in the tent burned low. The tattered and dirtied topographies of France, every ridge and river bleeding with red ink as more and more of the land was viciously ripped from Allied fingers, was spread over the desk between them. Both of them looked horrid; uniforms were covered in dust, mud, and torn from having suffered through barbed wire lined trenches where they weren't burned from ejected rifle casings. The British avatar's hair was uncharacteristically flatted beneath his helmet, having rarely taken the thing off since hitting the ground running in this war-torn country, and Francis's usual golden waves were snarled and dull for similar reasons...but unlike Arthur at the moment, Francis wasn't wearing his helmet. As far as the Briton was concerned, it was a part of his bloody anatomy now and he'd be damned if he took it off just because Francis decided he needed a breeze due to the bloody panic he was having.
Neither of them had slept in God knew how long, and frankly neither of them could really afford to considering how close the Germans were to retaking the front. The supply routes of the Central Powers out of Belgium had reopened and every attempt to close them had been thwarted...not that there had been much of an attempt made; there had just been no success in getting behind the German lines. Now that the Germans were restocking, refueling, and rearming...it was only a matter of time.
"I fail to see what you expect me to do about it. Its not like I can spare anyone to go rushing down there when I'm having a hard enough time keeping ground from being lost here," The British man growled, getting increasingly annoyed with the Frenchman's tone and even more so with the entire situation. Since the start of this damn war neither of them could agree on anything - not strategy, not tactics, not even what the hell was on the dinner menu. French rations included canned beef, some kind of greasy stringed slop masquerading as vegetables, and red wine. Wine! On the battlefield! What cylinders was this man functioning on?
That said, Francis looked like he could use a drink...or five, considering how impossibly pale and shaken he was. He hadn't faired well since the Germans first took Belgium and broke into his territory in August. In just one month Francis had lost weight, color, and with each passing day it seemed he was loosing his faith as well. England could remember a time when the man and country he represented were as brazen and overconfident as several of their belligerent enemies were now, but Arthur could never remember a time when he had seen Francis this terrified about loosing.
While neither of them were strangers to being on the failing side of war, neither of them had encountered one of this magnitude. It seemed few countries in this world weren't involved in this war in some way, and those who had been the clear favorites to win were barely hanging on by the threads of sheer determination and chance. The ways in which war had been waged for centuries had changed, and it seemed it was continuing to do so day by day. Just when the oldest of veteran nations were getting the hang of this new rifle or that new battle tactic, their enemies introduced something else and it sent them reeling. Yesterday it had been hi-powered machine guns, today it had been mustard gas...they all dreaded what tomorrow would bring.
Neither of them would admit it, especially not to each other...but the feeling of terrible inadequacy with these modern times had dawned more than once. How could they beat an enemy that was light years ahead of them in technology and strategy? This was no longer a "gentleman's war"...this was fucking chaos.
A moan of despair from Francis snapped Arthur from his thoughts, the Englishman looking up in time to see the other man stumble and barely catch himself on the edge of the table. His blond head hung, blue eyes clamping shut as his arms wrapped around his middle and a look of utter agony crossed his features. A spasm shook his body, a straggled breath made it sound like his lungs were ready to give at any moment, and his knees appeared seconds from folding. It was a tense few minutes, but the Brit never moved as he apathetically watched his counterpart try to keep from falling apart. Arthur knew that the sudden episode was a reflection of something happening elsewhere; a battle between French forces and the armies of the Central Powers was not going well, and Francis was suffering for it.
Arthur knew what the pain of battle on one's home soil felt like; ironically enough, Francis had been one of the many enemies he'd had over his incalculable life who had caused him such wretchedness. In his younger days the loss of a single village had caused him intense pain, a large town...pure agony. Invasions were the worst sort of physical torment any nation could endure, and the economical after effects of war were the worst illnesses. Right now, France was enduring both simultaneously...
Arthur would have had sympathy for the Frenchman...if he weren't bleeding all over his freshly laid maps.
Francis's breaths were still coming fast and hard, but his body seemed to relax, indicating that the moment had passed. His face smoothed for only a moment before retaking a sorrowful expression, as a scene played for him that Arthur could not see. But that was fine...Arthur didn't need the details...Death, destruction, mass slaughter, he knew what those things looked like - he didn't need to see it through Francis's eyes to understand.
"Mon Dieu, Angleterre...Fort Douaumont has fallen..."
Arthur said nothing. His eyes remained on the blood drops splattered over a greater portion of north east France on the table-laid map. Thin trails of crimson spilled from Francis's mouth onto the parchment, covering the landscape, before the Frenchman used his sleeve to wipe his stained lips. The action was testament enough to just how incredibly off the man was at the moment...he never would have willingly soiled his own clothes (already filthy or not) in any prior situation of war or peacetime.
"...I am sorry, Angleterre...the decision is out of my hands. I...we...must protect Verdun. You will have to take Somme alone."
Arthur's eyes suddenly flew open; his face paling beneath sweat glued bangs, and his hands on the desk suddenly became fists. Take...Somme alone?
Francis closed his eyes as another wave of pain passed, intense guilt interlaced with the acute flashes of fluctuating heat and daggerish frost. People being consumed by fire fights - people dying seconds after. "...Fort Douaumont...it was the last stronghold between the Germans and V-Verdun..." The Frenchman's remained down, bangs obscuring his face, as he felt as though he could have wept. "I am sorry my friend...but I cannot give you full support in Somme when Verdun is so vulnerable."
A tense silence passed between them, and for a while Francis didn't think Arthur was breathing.
"You..." Arthur's voice began starting shocked and breathless, suddenly rose to a hysterical pitch as he slammed his fist down on the desk, unintentionally right overtop of Paris. "YOU BLOODY FROG! YOU INCONCEIVABLE BASTARD! This offensive has been planned for months, you can't just back out! COWARD!"
Francis winced at the sudden outburst, but he didn't retreat as he looked back up at the enraged Briton with firm, but apologetic eyes. It hadn't been his decision to pull the majority of his joint support with Britain in the highly anticipated offensive, but Verdun was a critical point that stood between the Germans and Paris...his heart. He had to protect it, his leaders knew that as well. With the Fort accosted and now lost he had no choice. He had been hoping to persuade the British to switch their focus from Somme to Verdun before coming to this meeting, but now with Douaumont gone...there wasn't enough time to change the British high command or Arthur's mind.
"...Forgive me, Angleterre...I will leave what forces I can to aid you, but I must protect Verdun-"
He never got to finish before the Frenchman found a gun leveled to his face. His blue eyes widened, stunned to see the barrel of a Webley Mk VI service revolver aimed at him, as it had an untold number of enemy combatants in this war. He wanted to look at Arthur and ask what on earth he was thinking, but he couldn't peel his stare way from the gun.
"My people...my whole country has been in this war for two years now, fighting to save your bloody arse," He began, his voice very low and very dangerous. His eyes were locked on his target, fiery green orbs now as cold and hard as the bullets waiting to fire from the revolver in his hand. "My people are dying. Nearly my entire army has been wiped out, and what I've got left are volunteers who, as brave as they are, aren't nearly as well trained and equipped as their enemies. Now, we're on the verge of one of the greatest offensives of this war, the first real offensive we've managed to pull off, and you're backing out and leaving me and my men to hang." The hammer drew back on the revolver, and Arthur's aim never wavered. "...If there's a reason I shouldn't pull this trigger, now is the time."
Francis was very quiet. He was finally able to move his gaze from the gun to the man holding it, and what he saw at first in indignation and anger turned swiftly to horror and dismay. This war had done terrible things to them all, there was no denying how it had irreversibly changed everyone involved on both sides...but Arthur...he looked so...
The landscape was barren. Where there had once been lush fields and forests along the banks now lay a blackened and ash covered lunar surface. It looked like some alien beach smelling of dead fire, smoke, and cooked metal. The water of the once clean river looked brackish and oily, nearly a solid thing until boots broke through its surface and trudged through to the other side. Everything was eerily quiet. Desolation could not have been pictured more perfectly.
Arthur couldn't help but think that this wasn't one of Dante's famed levels of hell; he half expected Virgil to appear and welcome him to the Inner Circle of Violence. Arthur was pretty sure that if there was an afterlife and Alighieri cantos held merit, the Seventh Circle was where he'd end up.
Somme, once a beautiful river and fertile land, was now a monotone desert of raining ash. After a week of Allied artillery raining down on it like a Biblical plague, the region looked more surreal than an actual piece of northeast France. Zero-Hour was upon them, with the largest and most powerful bombs having gone off moments before and the greatest cannons ceasing fire as the infantry advanced.
Arthur walked with his men in the silent line leading out from the trenches, the smaller French divisions following after.
He hadn't killed Francis that night, but God he had wanted to. The French high command could not be deterred from protecting Verdun, even at the cost of leaving the British virtually alone in the beginning offensive in the northern and eastern parts of Somme. Promises had been made for reinforcements once Verdun was secure, but Arthur wasn't counting on it. The British Empire was going to be taking the bulk of the soldiers into this fight: British, Canadian, Australian, and several other Dominion groups. It made Arthur feel better that Canada had pledged the most support of his current and former colonies...unlike its southern neighbor who still refused to even-
No. He wasn't going to think about that right now. He needed to focus.
The sound of boots clomping over the dust caked ground was muffled and unsettling, like walking over mute snow. The sounds of belts clinking, leather creaking, and nervous hands clutching sweat slick rifles was just as bad. There was seemingly nothing around for miles, yet everything felt claustrophobic with the thick tension - just one man coughing had sent spikes of palpable fear exploding from the man next to him. Arthur tried to ignore it all as he and his men made their slow and silent march towards the smoking German trenches ahead. According to his commanders, they should be able to just "walk right through"; considering how much firepower they had dropped on the Germans' heads over the past week, most believed them. But...something about this just didn't feel right; for that matter, nothing about this war felt right.
Nothing about being in France felt right.
Each step was careful and tense; some men had their rifles up and at the ready, while others were surveying the damage around them in awe with their weapons held lax before them. Arthur's SMLE Mk III was up with the stock against his shoulder, his left hand on the bottom of the rifle's grip and his right index finger hovering just outside the trigger guard. He had been in this war since the start. He didn't like nor trust Germans and he certainly knew better than to underestimate them now. Some of his commanders begged to differ with him...but after what he had seen he'd sooner shoot the shadows than take any chances.
The barbed wire of the German line was ahead of them. What remained of the razor barrier was tangled and rose up in some places like a great hedge of fangs while nothing more than nasty shrubberies remained in others. The smoke was still dense, too dense to make much out visually, but one didn't need eyes to sense the mounting realization of what was happening, or hear the clicking of machine gun rounds being chambered and magazines.
Oh God. What had they done?
Arthur's command never finished before the hail of machine gun fire ripped through the air and straight into the advancing British line. Blood exploded all around him, hot fluid and clumps of human flesh poured down on him in an instant, as the silence was as history as the monochromatic world around him.
Red. Everything was red now. Saturated with God forsaken red!
A few soldiers managed to discharge a round or two before being struck down, several luckier ones managed a few more and even took out a German through the blinding barrage. It was an all out slaughter, and Arthur couldn't believe that he had lead his men right into it. The Germans had known of the attack; British intelligence had been aware of the bunkers built and the fortified trenches well ahead of the offensive, but they had hit them with artillery to counter all of that! It should have destroyed everything!
Once again, the enemy was one step ahead. They had thrown everything the Empire had at them, and still-
A scream ripped through the air, drowning out the countless others around him as flaring pain exploded in his side and straight down to his hip. He felt like his nerve endings had been bashed apart with a blazing hot mallet fit for a giant, and his eyes screwed shut before he felt the melting heat of the wet earth against his back. So great was the pain in his side that he hadn't even felt the impact of the fall, but he knew from smell and feel alone than he was now prone on a ground soaked in blood. He was struggling to breathe; a shaking left hand reaching up to his side and tore a shriek from his throat the moment his chilled fingers went through cloth of his uniform and his touched shredded flesh, now gushing with thick fluid.
It wasn't that he hadn't been shot before, but dear God, he had never felt pain like this from bullet wounds in his life! Machine guns...oh God, he'd been hit with machine gun fire!
Arthur tried to control his breathing, tried to let his mind take control over his frantic emotions and even worse physical anguish, as he focused on the rifle still clutched in his right hand. All around him he could still hear men screaming, though there were considerably less now than seconds before, and he tried to sit up in the din of the smoky atmosphere, taking aim in the direction of the German lines.
The bastards had been playing dead, waiting for the British to get just close enough to where they couldn't retreat in time and then jumped up and opened fire. Bastards! Bloody bastards!
Arthur fired, unable to really see through the haze of bullets and smoke, but it didn't stop him from pulling back on the bolt and chambering another round in record time. He was trying to focus on something other than the incredible pain down his side and in his hip, and killing Germans felt like an excellent distraction.
Arthur fired again and again, even getting the satisfaction of noticing a slight reduction in the amount of return fire from the German trench.
However, when the ten round magazine was spent, his chambered bullets gone, and the rifle clicked empty, a terrible realization came over him...
No one else was firing back...and no one else was firing from his side.
Had it been...had it been hours? Just one? Minutes, since the silence had been shattered by the German ambush? It felt like an eternity and the blink of an eye all rolled into one. Arthur couldn't make heads or tails of the phenomenon. He was shaking, that he understood...shock, blood loss...fear. Yes, he was a nation, the British Empire, for Christ's sake, but he had never felt more human or more vulnerable since this damn war had started to slip through his fingers. His men were bleeding, dying...dead...His country was bleeding, here in France and back home...
He looked down and stared at what was once his left side with macabre wonder...He was bleeding, and he felt...incredible nothingness.
He didn't have to look around to know that nothingness was exactly what he would find left of his men.
Considering the direction they were coming from the sounds of footsteps should have worried him, but right now he couldn't bring himself to look away from the ravaged remains of his side. His left arm shook in its effort to hold him up, his right was limp and still gripping the empty rifle. He couldn't feel his left leg that lay sprawled in the bloody ash before him, and his right wasn't much better off...it looked like he'd been clipped in the thigh as well...Funny, he hadn't felt that one.
The muffled footsteps drew closer and then stopped in front of him. A large shadow drew across him in the early morning light...or at least it eclipsed what little penetrated the thick cloud of dying flames and gun-smoke.
The shadow's maker said nothing, and after a time Arthur finally lifted his unfocused gaze to behold the day's victor. His vision was blurry, but the figure before him in the German officer's attire was unmistakably the same man who he had declared war on...two year ago? ...Two centuries ago? ...He lost count...
"...That was a foolish thing to do, Britain. Your men have paid dearly for your mistake."
"..." Arthur had nothing to say at first, and then he felt a bitter irony come over him. "You know, kraut, you're starting to sound a lot like a frog."
The German's expression did not change, nor did he care to understand or comment on the Englishman's response. Instead, he pulled a Luger pistol from his side and aimed it down at the wounded man's head...again, the irony was not lost on Arthur.
But as he had not been able to kill Francis, he had every confidence that the German would kill him...or at least, kill him in the sense that he'd be as close to dead as one of their kind could be.
In his life, Arthur had suffered through every possible method of death possible. He had suffered daggers, spears, swords, and even been leveled by an axe. He had been shot, suffered falls from incredible heights, been drowned and even left imprisoned and forgotten under a tyrannical invader's rule for decades. He had been burned alive, executed, even ripped in half by his own country in a civil war...still, he had survived...he always did...they all always did. So long as the heart of the nation still lived, so to would its embodiment - its avatar. But each mortal wound brought upon the avatar dealt a terrible blow to the people they represented; each wound and 'death' endured in war was a battle and conflict lost. Every time they stopped breathing was the end of an era, each time they bled their last drop, literal and metaphorical famines desecrated their people. It was the worst kind of checkmate imaginable...the stakes were always amounted in lives, and the losses always catastrophic in nature.
Still, regardless of the pain he was in and the bitterness of his defeat, the terrible irony of the situation and his struggle to remain conscious...Arthur gave the German a blank stare in return for the promise of execution. He could take the bullet, but he wouldn't give Ludwig the satisfaction of seeing him cower. Today, this battle was lost and there was nothing he could do about it. More than just the men present with him this morning would die...the only respite he would have would be that he'd never see the vast number of deaths before he recovered from whatever the German did to him. These modern day weapons...the damage took so much longer to heal.
"You should have never come here, Empire," The German began as he started to depress the trigger. "You should never have tried to be a hero."
Arthur's eyes widened a fraction.
To Be Continued...
Notes from the Author:
Hello, everyone! First off, I thank you greatly for reading the first chapter of my WWI fanfiction. :) If you're a returning reader, thank you kindly for giving me a second chance to share my work with you-if this is your first time, I hope I've made this worth your time and you've enjoyed the piece! I've been a lover of history all my life, and being American the majority of my expertise lie in aspects of history with American involvement...but recently (especially since becoming introduced to and falling in love with Hetalia) I've been trying to expand on my historical resume`. SO! Without further ado, the notes:
1.) My first Hetalia fanfiction, "You Were So Small", was an American Revolutionary fanfic that focused on the period just after America won its fight for independence. The style I used for the piece involved cutting back and forth between the story's "present" (being approximately early December 1783) to significant points of conflict during America's Revolutionary War. I interlaced the characters of Alfred, Arthur, and Francis (as these countries were the most significant during the war) throughout the actual historical events and tried to explain my view of how war effects a "country's avatar" (what I call the "nations" of Hetalia) physically and emotionally. I tried to use the same style and idea here in this fic with Arthur, Francis, and Ludwig (YAY FOR EUROPEANS! XD). I hope this style and this creative ideology doesn't offend anyone, :) its just kind of how I think it would happen as the events of war played out.
2.) The battles/conflicts referenced here are: The Battle of the Marne (also known as "The Miracle of Marne", which concluded in an Allied victory), FortDouaumont (a victory for the Central Powers), The Battle of Verdun (which, while a French/Allied victory, was an extremely bloody battle that had a combined total of nearly a million casualties; this was also the main reason France had to reroute many of its forces from the planned offensive at Somme in order to defend Verdun. However, the forces France left to aid in Somme were some, if not the, most effective in gaining and securing ground on the large area mapped out for the offensive), and, of course, The Battle of Somme (Sadly, Somme is considered Britain's "Verdun" of the war...in that the Allied troops there lost over 600,000 men, making it one of the most horrific and deadliest offensives in history). Since my text books I have here at home aren't as detailed as many books I could access if I could still get on campus (its winter break, so the library is closed), I had to rely mostly on the internet for information which makes me kind of cringe. If there are ANY inaccuracies, PLEASE point them out to me and I will make amends as soon as I am able! I know I have many international readers and I do not want to offend anyone with any inaccuracies in my historical referencing, so please let me know and I shall do my best to correct any mistakes. :) Thank you!
3.) THIS IS A CHAPTER PROJECT (albeit I do not anticipate it to be a long one), SO THERE IS MORE TO THE STORY! XD Check back later for more details. =^.^=
THANK YOU ALL AGAIN FOR READING! :D Best to all, and Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!