It took the boy nine deep breaths, four almost-steps, and a good minute of clenching the curtain that trimmed the door so neatly to finally push himself out into the open air that was pleasantly chilling. It was silly, he knew, because he only took such deep breaths when the other boy was chasing him and he was running so fast and laughing so hard he felt as though his legs would slip off and leave him behind. It was ridiculous because he only took such hesitant steps when they found a new path or new land that intrigued and frightened them both as they cautiously felt their way around the new territory. It hurt because those were the same curtains that they had ripped when their roughhousing got the better of them and England's well patterned cloth tore as it was being substituted for support of a falling child.
"Is that… is that what you want me to call you?"
But as he observed the back of his brother's form, sitting in the tall grass behind their childhood home, with a blanket wrapped around him (something England would not be happy about, considering it was another one of his masterpieces that was exposed to the muddy grass) he found he was nervous.
"America?" The meek voice barely reached the ears of the other, who turned around at the noise and smiled so bright, it lit the night sky.
"Canada! Hey, come sit here with me, there's enough room for both of us."
He didn't know if he could get used to this familiarity. He didn't know if this was just the personality that poured from his brother like sunlight poured into dawn.
"Of course. What else would I want you to call me?"
No. It was definitely not familiarity.
He sighed and shook his head and sat down next to him, wrapping part of the blanket and feeling discomfort crawl under his skin when his shoulder bumped his brother's. They sat together in silence for a moment, something neither of them were used to.
But America, usually the one to break the silence, was too focused on the stars that seemed to be dangling by fragile pieces of strings above them. Every now and then the deep blue eyes would shift to the path at the bottom of the hill that led to a house that was too big for two boys with such a young age etched onto their features.
A breeze fluttered around the two boys and Canada could feel his brother shifting into him even more. In a way, it made him almost angry. As if his warmth was being taken advantage of, as if he was being taken advantage of. He looked over at the face that resembled his so closely and opened his mouth to tell him just that, but his bright eyes weren't deterred by the late night air, they were glowing almost as bright as his smile, so eager and hopeful, and instead the Canadian found himself saying something completely different.
"Have you slept at all?"
"How can I, Canada? I showed you the letter, right?"
"Of course I saw it; it was addressed to both of us—"
"But, I mean, how can you sleep? England'll be here any day now! I don't want to be asleep when he gets here, you know? How long has it been since he was last here, do you remember? Boy, it must have been ages ago!" The voice of the young colony broke through the night sky as if a rock had shattered a piece of glass. But the rapid speech and the enthusiasm that pent up inside his brother made him smile. He remembered when he had been that excited when Francis would visit him.
"Canada?" Said boy blinked his way back to reality and looked into the questioning eyes of his brother. "Are you okay?"
"F-fine." He muttered quietly to himself, a bit bewildered by his own thoughts, as he brought his knees up to meet his chin.
"What? Are you not excited about England coming over? I thought you were finally starting to like him, too!"
"No, no, it's not that, I promise!" He sunk his face into his knees even further, letting one eye poke out and peer through his hair up at his brother.
"Sorry," he muttered, his voice getting lost and tangled in the light nighttime breeze. "Just thinking, I guess." The look in America's eyes immediately melted into worry and Canada felt bad for being the one to rid him of his enthusiasm. "I'm excited England's coming too." He said with a smile and relief washed over him when America's smiled returned. "He tells us the best stories."
"I knew you were warming up to him!" America said, flinging an arm around the boy. Canada chuckled softly and awkwardly hugged his brother from the side. "And I know he's bad at showing it, but England likes you too, you know."
There it was again. And this time it took physical effort not to say anything. But it burned in his throat like fire and weighed on his mind like led to just ask the question he had been wondering since the day he had met the boy.
"A-America?" He said it so softly that a part of him hoped that the words were lost before even reaching the ears of his brother. But he heard, and he turned his head and let his eyes melt into a curious look, urging the boy to continue. "I, u-um. How close are we?"
"What?" The American tilted his head and gave a smile of disbelief, as if he had been asked what color the sky was.
"H-how close are we? W-would you consider me a friend? O-or family?"
America looked at him, stared him down with an intense look that made Canada's stomach drop down to his knees which he had pulled back up to cover the bottom half of his face. But then America smiled. That same warm smile he saw every time that England became the topic of conversation, or when England came back to America and he would drop all his belongings and scoop the colony in his arms, or when England would offer him any sort of praise.
"Canada, I kind of feel bad saying this, but I'm really glad that you became England's colony. Now I can officially say you're my brother! And you're the best brother a man could have, 'cause of you I'm not as lonely when England leaves, either." America replied easily. "Actually, there are times when I think I'm closer to you than I am to England, but don't tell him I said that."
His eyes widened and the burning in his throat consumed him until it danced on his tongue and out of his mouth. And he couldn't stop it.
"Then do you not call England by his name either?"
"Of course. What else would I want you to call me?"
The Englishman could feel the light breeze trailing through his locks of scruffy hair. The wind that danced over the sea had always been his favorite. And with land in sight, he hated to admit how content he felt in that moment. The corners of his mouth turned up slightly as he watched the horizon fill with the bright picture of docks, soil, and colonists. He didn't even notice when another presence leaned on the railing next to him, giving him a slight smirk before turning his attention to the shoreline.
"Growing fond of the young boy, are we?" His smile instantly faded at the heavily accented voice.
"I don't know what you're talking about, dirty frog." England pushed himself off the rail and turned around to lean on the rail again, his back facing the oncoming land.
"You just seem excited, Angleterre. It has been awhile since you've seen your… brother? Perhaps now he has become a so—"
"Colony. He is just a colony." His voice was cold, but his hands clenched tightly as he stared into the eyes of his rival, the only person who could tell he was lying, but he accepted the staring contest anyway. France shrugged and looked away, causing the Englishman to let out an inaudible sigh of relief.
"Whatever you say, Angleterre. I know I am excited to see young Mathieu, though. I would not pass judgment on you if you showed a bit of enthusiasm in seeing your own growing ward, hm?"
"How on earth did you convince me to take you along? If I knew you were going to be this irritating I would have slit your throat the moment you approached me." England growled the words through his teeth, causing a small chill to run down France's spine, though he refused to acknowledge it.
"You almost did, don't you recall? Ah! But that is not what you are wondering, non? You are wondering why it is you allowed me on your prized ship, to see a boy that you so cruelly took from me so many years ago."
Arthur looked at Francis from the corner of his eye and glared with a curious glint. "What are you blubbering on about?"
"Nothing, my dear man. I just wonder why it is that, the most feared delinquent in all of Europe, the growing power of the West, the man who laughs at mortal death, would allow me, his most hated enemy, such a sensitive request."
"You hardly left me with a choice." The Frenchman turned around to lean against the railing as well and gave a smug look out into the bright blue sky, the sound of crewmen working around them in preparation of the oncoming port.
"It's hard to believe how innocent they can be, non? That smile that seems so separated from the trials that the rest of the world seems to be facing. They are of our kind and yet they are still just children. And not even the great Arthur Kirkland can be that cruel to a child."
Arthur turned to look sharply at the blonde man, staring at him with fierce challenging eyes as he opened his mouth as if to say something. Silence passed between them, and in that time the smirk never managed to leave the older man's face.
He needed to get away from him. He didn't need this. Not from him, especially not from him.
"Do you feel that, Angleterre?"
"I have to help my crew," he said quickly walking away.
"That is the sound of a melting heart, my friend!" He called after him. "That is what empathy feels like!"
Arthur locked himself in his quarters until the ship had reached the docks.
As much as he hated the Frenchman (he really, truly loathed that man), he couldn't help but smile to himself when his eyes softened and his breathing quickened as if trying to stop himself from crying when he saw the young boy. Canada's reaction had been just as heartwarming.
He had stopped dead in his tracks and dropped the tray filled with dirty dishes he had been carrying. Tears streamed down his face as he rushed toward his former caretaker, leaping into his arms and rambling in rapid, almost forgotten, French. The only words England could even begin to make out were the broken cries of "Papa."
France held him tightly, squeezing him as the child sobbed in his arms, and refused to let go. England rubbed the back of his neck, as if wondering if he should be allowed to witness such a sentimental scene, something that seemed so private. But instead he watched and waited for his own colony to come leaping through the doors with similar excitement.
That's how it had always been. Sometimes Arthur would still be a mile away from the house when America would come running down the hill, tripping and sliding half the way, a ridiculously wide smile plastered on his face as he would leap down the rest of the distance into England's arms. It wouldn't matter if the man was holding something or not, or if he wasn't looking.
All that mattered to America was the fact that the Englishman was back. He was back! And it didn't matter how long he was staying because he was back! And he loved him so much, and he didn't want to break from the embrace because he had missed him so much.
And England had missed him to. And he would carry him the rest of the way home, and America would giggle and sputter with childish delight.
But he didn't this time. Instead he watched as his newest colony reunited with his former brother, watched as they cried into each other's arms and spoke a language as if it were the only thing connecting him. Dammit, perhaps he had turned a bit soft.
He waited another moment until the two had turned quiet and settled in each other's embrace, and Arthur cleared his throat to get the younger boy's attention.
"Canada. Where is your brother?"
"A-America? O-Oh, h-he… uhh…" Canada pulled away from the embrace with France and reluctantly looked up at England.
"Is something wrong?"
"N-No! Of course not. He's just not been feeling well lately. He hasn't really left his bed for the past couple of days..." He looked everywhere but England's eyes.
"He hasn't?" The concern that splattered across his tone was apparent and the blonde man found he didn't even care. "Thank you, lad. I better go tend to him now." He said waving as he ran into the manor, letting his shoes clack against the hardwood floors to America's room.
The two watched him disappear into the home and France made a movement to embrace Canada once more when tears suddenly streamed from the younger boy's face as he blubbered out his words.
"P-Papa! I-I think I did something really bad!" The boy made a whining noise from the back of his throat as if he were in pain, or frightened, and he dug his hands deep into his hair as he shifted.
"Mon amour, what is it? What is wrong? You can tell Papa." Francis said, placing his hands on the boy's shoulder in an attempt to calm him down.
"I-I didn't mean to Papa, and I know I shouldn't have but I-I… I thought he didn't like me o-or that he didn't want to be my brother anymore! Oh Papa, what am I going to do? England's going to be so mad at me! A-And America is so sad, I don't know what to do!"
"Mathieu, Mathieu, shhh. It's okay." He said bringing the hysterical boy into his arms and rubbing his back comfortingly. "Just calm down, mon cher, okay? It's all right. Just calm down and tell Papa what is wrong." Canada nodded into the hug, squeezed him tight around the neck before pulling back.
"I-I was talking with America the other day a-and I kept wondering why he kept calling me Canada. A-And I remember, Papa, that you said that our names are special, and that we should use them when we talk to the ones we love, right?"
"Of course, Mathieu. You should not feel guilty about wanting to know your brother's name."
"B-But I asked him, a-and…" He trailed off and shifted slightly, tears threatening to flow down from his deep violet eyes once more.
"What is it? Was he cruel to you?" Canada shook his head.
"When I asked him why he didn't call me by name he—he just stared at me like I was crazy!" The hysterical tone rose from his voice again and Francis gave him a confused look. "S-So I had to tell him all about it! I had to tell him that we all had names and that I had one and that I wanted to know his, but-!" Matthew felt his tears fall, and his breath quicken once more. "Papa… America doesn't have a name."
Francis stared at the boy, his eyes wide and disbelieving. "What? Are you sure?" Matthew nodded forlornly as he stared at his feet.
"Y-Yeah. Because…" He sniffled a bit before looking back up to Francis' bright blue eyes. "He asked me where I got my name… and I told him… I told him that you gave it to me." France exhaled as he slumped a little, looking back toward the manor with concern.
"And what did he say?"
"He asked why England hadn't given him a name." Matthew felt his throat close up and he rubbed his tear-filled eyes. "I-I didn't know what to tell him. He hasn't left his room since. He only lets me in when I have food. I-I don't know what to do, Papa! I don't know how to fix it!"
"Oh my dear, this is not something you can fix." The boy looked at him with a look of devastation as his tears blurred his vision, but France shook his head solemnly and stared the boy in the eye. "But it is not something you have broken." He wiped the boy's tears away with his thumb and watched the younger nod hesitantly, his head weighed down with grief and guilt.
"Oh, cheer up, my boy. This is supposed to be a happy occasion!" With that he scooped him up in his arms and began to walk toward the house, Canada sniffled but buried his head into the man's shoulder with a small smile.
But something weighed on his heart that felt as though it was only becoming heavier.
America could swear that the moment he would see England come home, all of his senses would melt and slide away from his body. He could swear that he would go blind. His excitement and his shattered loneliness would be too much for his body as he would fling his arms open to the only person in the world that could possibly be of any importance in that exact moment. Nothing could be more important, because England was home. Their home. And that was all that really mattered.
But this time he was acutely aware of the door that opened and closed with a slight creak that sounded similar to the mice that skittered around the cellar.
When he opened his eyes, he could tell from the way the slivers of sunlight poured in from the crack of his curtain that the sun had faded from its bright morning glow into a late and slightly overcast afternoon.
He licked his lips and could still partly taste the meal that his brother had brought him just this morning combined with the chapped skin of his lips.
He breathed in through his nose and let his face harden when the wafting scent of sea salt and tobacco joined together with a smell that he couldn't describe as anything else other than England.
And then he could feel the cool part of the untouched sheets chafe against his skin, he could feel his body dipping as the mattress pooled around the weight of the Englishman. He could feel his caretaker's hand gently stroke the hairs that covered his tightly clenched eyelids. He could feel his heart start to burn.
"Are you doing all right up here, my boy?" His voice was soft and carried the tone of something far more graceful than a whisper. "Your brother said you weren't feeling well. I hope it's nothing serious, boy-o."
America tried to hide his face in the covers that were already up to his nose as he shifted in his bed to face the man that was still petting his head as soothingly as he could. He looked up at the man, the tall and invincibly strong nation, his eyes darting from the deep emerald eyes to the cuffs on the sleeve of the arm that sunk its way into his blonde locks in a rhythmic and melodic manner.
And he lied to him. Just as England had lied to him.
"I'm fine, England. Canada's just overreacting."
He knew that his voice was not at the usual decibel that England was used to and that the bright fire in his eyes had died slightly, and that his uncharacteristically pale skin was a concerning sight, so he let his smile grow to the size that the Englishman was used to seeing and he cursed himself when he was glad to see relief in the other man's eyes. A part of him wanted him to worry. A part of him wanted England to care.
"I missed you a lot."
England smiled and this time America's senses did not fade.
"I missed you too, lad."
And that terrified him.
The cutlery made soft irritating noises against the porcelain as the four scratched and clinked their way to their food. No other noises or conversations were offered to drown out the sound of knives and forks and chewing and gulping. If anything, silence seemed to be the only thing that was being willingly presented as it curled around the dinner table like a wool blanket in July.
France and Canada exchanged looks of sorrow and tension, while England would occasionally look up from his plate with confusion and worry at his oddly silent colony—the only thing he focused on was his slowly disappearing meal.
Attempts to lighten a mood that no one would admit had been darkened faded and fell from the air like acorns from a tree and they settled into the stifling silence, letting the clunks and chinks speak their conversations for them.
England watched as America slowly chewed his food, refusing to lift his head or flutter his eyes anywhere other than what was on his plate. The older sighed softly as he turned to look at Canada who immediately turned away and focused on his food as well, his face distraught and filled with guilt-spiced sorrow. The Canadian looked up at his former brother with big eyes and a slightly quivering lip; almost about to let what his mind was screaming explode through his body. France felt his heart ache at the look the younger was giving him and gave him a weak smile and a wink before attempting once more to spark some livelihood into the dying evening.
"Well, boys! I am sure you are eager to hear about our voyage!" Canada smiled meekly and nodded at the Frenchman's bright tone. Arthur stared at him with teetering interest while America continued to consume his meal.
"Was it a long journey?" The Canadian asked, flickering his gaze between France and England.
"Mmm, it is quite the trip from Europe. But luckily we were with England's finest crew!" The Englishman just rolled his eyes, not noticing that America had stopped eating altogether.
"You went on England's ship?" Canada tried, urging the conversation forward.
"He would not permit me to go on my own! The great Captain of the seas must always be in control of his ship, is that not so, England?" Francis chuckled and England glared at the teasing tone in the man's voice.
"Don't start with me, you—"
"You have your own crew?" America asked suddenly, causing England to stop and look at the boy, a soft sigh of relief at his brother's curiosity.
"Yes, I do." England said smiling softly at the boy.
"O-Of…" America finally looked up at the Englishman and then back at his plate. "Of humans?"
England stopped cutting his food and placed his silverware down, crossing his hands under his chin. "Yes…"
Canada stared at his brother, his face paling and he felt his throat close as he went to stare at France who watched the unfolding conversation with rapt attention.
"What do they call you?"
"…They call me Captain."
"They don't call you by name?" England stared at the boy who now looked at him dead in the eye. His gaze unwavering from the pained expression that pleaded for answers. And England couldn't help it. His eyes narrowed.
"England, what's your name?"
There was no oxygen in the room, Matthew was sure of it. He felt his throat tighten up and a cold sweat break from his forehead. He turned his head slightly, unable to watch the scene that happened before him, the scene that he knew he was the cause of. He watched as France gripped his fork tightly, watching the two carefully with a mix of disbelief, concern, and spiteful amusement sunken into his glance. He looked to England who was completely focused on his young colony, his eyes widened, but his hands still covering his mouth. And then Canada looked to his brother.
And America was scared. He would tell by the way his breathing increased, and his face was flushed. He could tell by the food he had abandoned and the way his hands would fidget with his hair and with shirt. And Canada became scared too. He was scared because his brother was scared, which meant there was a reason to be.
But that was the difference between them. While Canada would have easily fled the table if it weren't for the awful pressure in the room forcing him into his chair, his brother still stared straight ahead. He didn't try to take his words back, he didn't try and backtrack and stumble over a poorly formed explanation. No. Instead, he repeated the question.
"England, what's your name—?"
"I heard you." England snapped back, his voice lower and his accent deeper. He sighed and ran a hand through his blonde locks as his eyes formed into a firm glare. "Why do you do this, America? Eh? Nothing is ever good enough unless you're stepping on toes, or making others troubled! Why can't you be happy with what I've provided you? You ungrateful child!" His voice grew frantic with every word and he blinked rapidly, his breath growing heavier and more ragged. America glared right back, confusion steeping into his eyes at the reaction, his fear fading and being replaced by indignation.
"I-I'm not a child anymore, England! I-I should have a right to know your name!"
"What makes you think you have such a right?" England said standing, the legs of his chair scraping against the wood floors. Canada heard a similar screech from the other end of the table as America stood as well.
"Because Canada has a name! France gave it to him!"
"Ah, young Amerique, please do not bring us into this—"
"Shut up, you godforsaken Wino!" England snapped at the other man who shook his head but remained silent. England snapped his gaze back to America. "What France did or did not give to Canada is none of your concern! I don't understand why you have to make everything such a big deal!"
"I'm not making it a bit deal! I didn't even know you had a name! Shouldn't I get one too? Aren't I your little brother?" America hated how he had to look up at England, even thought he was across the table. He hated how his hands clammed and shook slightly. He hated arguing with him.
Silence again, and America felt his heart drop into his stomach as his eyes welled up, but he refused to let it show.
"No, you are not my brother." England's voice was scarily low, the volume dropped to that of a loud whisper. The tone stung through the colony more than England's shouts and yells ever could. "You are my colony. And you have no right to demand anything of me."
England's eyes were downcast, though the anger had yet to fade, and he looked down at his food before sitting down and resuming his meal.
The only sound left in the room was the crash the chair made when it fell to the floor, and America's shoes clacking on the wood as he ran out of the house.
America hated arguing with England. He hated fighting with him. He hated it when those green eyes held the look that scared America down to his core, a look that was filled with ice and rage. He hated it when his voice was raised because it didn't sound like the voice that was filled with glee when he embraced him for the first time in months. It didn't sound like the voice that told him stories of pirates and monsters in a hushed whisper when he simply could not fall asleep. He hated it when England was mad.
But his stomach stirred unpleasantly as he ran out onto the path and out of sight of anyone who might be watching.
Because at that moment, he knew that he hated England too.
Canada felt a tear fall from his eyes as France pushed the covers up to his chin and brushed the bangs away from his face.
"P-Papa? Is it my fault that they're so angry with each other? M-Maybe I shouldn't have said anything! You told me that names were something to be careful with and maybe if I didn't say anything to America—"
"Non, non. Do not worry about it, my boy. This is something that those two need to work out on their own. You should not fret, little one." Canada opened his mouth to say something but closed it just as quickly and nodded his head, bringing his hand up to rub away his tears. France smiled and leaned down to give him a quick kiss on his forehead. "Ah, it is so good to see you again. I have missed you so much." He whispered as he kneeled down by the boy's bed.
"Y-You have? Y-You haven't… forgotten about me?"
"Mon petit, how could I ever forget you! I have spent all these years trying to convince that awful man to let me see you again!" He laughed but Canada just smiled brightly, as he snuggled deeper into his covers.
"He's not all bad, England I mean."
"I do not know if your brother would agree." France said jokingly but a frown broke out onto the boy's face as he looked away from his former brother. The blonde man sighed and placed a bent finger under the Canadian's chin, forcing him to look back up. "I am glad you are adjusting to your new home. I was so worried that they would be cruel to you."
"Oh no, Papa!" He said frantically, shaking his head as best as he could. "England is really nice to me and he always tells us stories and plays with us outside." France smirked at the image. "A-And America! He… he really is a great brother."
A moment of silence passed between them as France continued to brush the boy's bangs to the side. Canada sighed in contentment before looking around the room, as if to check if there was someone watching them. He motioned for France to come closer and tentatively, in his smallest voice whispered something in French.
"I've missed you, Francis."
France swallowed the lump that formed in his throat and laid his forehead on the space next to the younger boy, who had curled back into his bed and closed his eyes, ready for slumber. "Sleep, mon amour. You have had a tiring day." France stood, placed one more kiss on the boy's forehead and turned for the door before turning back and smiling.
"I have missed you too, Mathieu."
He didn't know where he was. But that was okay. Anywhere further than a thrown stone from his house and he wouldn't know where he was. So he was okay. He wondered if he was scared, but a part of him knew he wasn't. He felt comfortable, more comfortable than he had in that house for the past few days, and he watched as the lingering sunlight clung to the sky. He had always loved the colors that summer had provided.
The orange sky blurred in and out of his sight as tears fell from his deep blue eyes. He watched, truly unaware of whatever was around him, as the clouds moved and danced slowly against the fading daylight.
If he just stayed here, would England come looking for him? Would England care? Canada would. He knew he would. He was his brother. He never lied to him, and he worried about him like a brother should. Like England should.
His eyes snapped open and he felt fear fill his body like heat as he stared at the little girl in front of him.
"Hey mister? What's wrong?" America barely registered the tears that fell from his face or the fact that, perhaps, he should be embarrassed. He looked around and found… people. He was crying on the grass in a town… amidst people. He snapped up at the realization and stared at the girl, not quite knowing what to do.
"What do you use them for?"
"N-Names? I mean… France told me that you're supposed to use them with the people you care about. A-And when you talk to humans."
"Humans?" America asked, as if the concept was foreign to him. Canada let out a nervous chuckle.
"S-Sure, haven't you ever talked to a human before?"
"You have your own crew? Of humans?"
"Mister, why are you crying?"
"Molly! Hurry up!"
"Hush your mouth, Samuel!"
America smiled at the small exchange between the children and watched as a group of boys came into sight with a small beat up ball. He watched carefully as they interacted with each other, sneaking a glance at the people who walked on the path surrounding him as well. Watched as they talked and laughed, watched as the children would giggle and fight, watched as the men would tip their hats and the woman would cover their mouths with their hands.
And he was intrigued.
"Mister, you still didn't answer my question."
"Who is this man, Molly?" The boy with the ball said, huffing up and pouting. The girl named Molly shrugged.
"He was crying." She said pointing, and America immediately looked down at the grass he was sitting on. The boys circled around him. These children had to be young, that was the first thought that crossed America's mind. They were shorter than him, and their faces hadn't thinned out as much as his. If he stood, he knew he would be a good head and a half taller, but he still watched with naïve eyes as they circled him.
"I haven't seen you around here before, where ya from?" One asked.
"How old are you?"
"Yeah, and why were you crying?"
"Boys, leave him alone!" Molly cried when she saw the frantic look that crossed over the blonde boy's features. He watched silently as the boys gave him incredulous stares and backed away as the girl stood right in front of him once more.
"Don't pay attention to them, mister. They're just silly boys."
"Hey!" She ignored them.
"My name's Molly, and that's Samuel, Jacob, and Richard." She said pointing to each of them. America nodded and let the names burn into his mind as he switched his gaze between the four of them. "What's your name?" She asked extending a hand.
He felt tears form in his eyes once again as he looked around. He barely registered how they fell into the grass and onto his knees until the human girl let worry flash in her eyes.
"M-Mister? Are you okay?"
"I-I don't have a name." He said quietly as he bent his head. "Th-that's why I'm crying." He looked around at the boys who had become decidedly uncomfortable and were shuffling their feet and looking at each other as they bit their lip. Molly still didn't move. "I don't have a name."
"Th-that's silly!" One of the boys said. "Everyone has a name!" America shook his head sadly.
"Did you forget it? Because mama said that that nice locksmith man hit his head really hard and now he can't remember anything. Maybe you hit your head, mister!" He couldn't help but smile at the comment but shook his head again.
"No, ma'am." She blushed at that. "I didn't hit my head. I don't have a name."
The four children looked at each other with sad expressions until a smile broke out on the face of one of the young boys.
"Hey, mister! What if we gave you a name?" All the boys nodded enthusiastically and Molly clapped.
"Oh that's a wonderful idea! I'm sure we could come up with a great name for you, mister!" He looked stunned between them and didn't even process that he had nodded.
"Of course! Okay, boys!" They all huddled around him. "What does he look like?"
"Hmmmm…" They all said, scratching their chins and squinting.
"Boys, Molly. Time to go home, it's getting dark out. Come on, Jacob, we have to get going."
"Oh, not yet, Mrs. Lee!" Molly exclaimed. "We're trying to help out this mister!"
"Yeah, mama! We can't leave yet!"
"Oh?" The woman said with a string of amusement in her voice. "And how exactly are you helping this young man?"
"We're naming him!"
"Yeah, mama! He doesn't have a name!" The woman chuckled at the response until spying the solemn nod that came from the boy with his red eyes and sad smile.
"P-Please, ma'am?" America asked quietly.
The woman stared at him and then back at the children who had all clasped their hands together and pleading her for just a moment longer. She nodded and all their faces lit up at once. Again, they had huddled around America eyeing him carefully.
"What about Moses?"
"Hmmm… Yeah, that would be okay."
"Oh dear," the woman said chuckling. "Children, he looks nothing like a Moses."
France watched carefully as England downed another shot of alcohol before standing up to pace around the room again. He wondered for a moment if the Englishman even knew he was standing there, watching him in one of his weaker moments.
He wondered if he even cared.
France crossed his arms as he leaned against the banister of the study. Watched as England clenched and unclenched his fist around the paper that left ink marks on the other man's hand.
"What do you want, frog?" There was a slur in his voice but his feet didn't sway and his pacing wasn't hindered by the alcohol that marred his voice.
"You're drunk, go to bed." England shot him a glare as he continued to pace around the room.
"Pity doesn't flatter you."
"I don't pity you. Far from it. Go to bed."
England walked to the desk and poured himself another glass. France sighed as he watched the liquid spill down the man's throat, but made no move to stop him. The paper in England's hand was clenched tighter and tighter. The figure of the Englishman was shadowed by the night sky that spilled into the room, but the light from a few candles and the fireplace giving France all the light he needed to see England's firm scowl.
He paced again, this time toward the Frenchman, and looked him dead in the eye, before turning away toward the fireplace.
"I know what you're thinking." His words were shaken by the alcohol as he stood and watched the fire crackle and the firewood nip away bit by bit. "You're thinking about what an awful man I am. Hehe."
"I am always thinking that, Angleterre."
"You're thinking why I didn't name the boy, hmm?" He chuckled again, dark and low as he stumbled backwards and landed on the plush chair that faced the fire. He watched the flames intently. France rolled his eyes at the man's behavior and walked toward him, stopping behind the chair and leaning against it, trying to find what was so fascinating about the burning wood.
"Well what?" He snapped, crinkling the paper even tighter.
"Well, why didn't you give the poor boy a name?"
The room stilled for a moment, the only sound coming from the flames as they popped against the brick. France looked down to see the man breathing deeply, his chest rising and falling with some concealed emotion that tugged so desperately at the man's heart. He opened his mouth once to speak, and closed it again before finally saying, "get me a drink, won't you?"
"I think you've had enough—"
"It is my house, I let you come here on my ship, to see my boys, and the least you can very well do for me is get me another drink." The man snapped and held the glass in front of France's face, almost hitting him in the nose.
He snatched the glass from the gloved hands, eyes narrowed as he walked toward the desk to pour him another round, tempted to take the bottle and throw it into the fire and see how England would react. Instead he walked back toward the man and dangled the glass right in front of him, pulling it out of reach when the man went to grab it.
"Answer my question first."
"Give me the glass."
"Why didn't you give him a name?"
"Why does it matter to you?" He reached for it once more and France pulled it away.
To be honest, he didn't care. He couldn't care. He was curious, that was all. And he was angry and tired. And he wanted to make England mad. He wanted to make him admit something. He could care less of what it meant or what significance it held. The fact that Canada had a name was good enough for him, and he was glad to give the boy something that would never truly be England's. It practically made him giddy.
England snarled and shot his hand out to grab France's wrist, bending it in a painful way so that the man let out a hiss. The drink spilled and sunk into the carpet of the study but England held on strong until he finally snaked his hand down to grab his drink, bending his head back to devour whatever tiny bit was left.
"Nothing was bloody good enough."
"Pardon?" Francis asked irritated, rubbing his injured wrist.
England unclenched his hand around the paper and let it fall to the ground next to him.
"Nothing seemed to fit."
Francis bent down slowly and picked up the document England had been holding on to so vigorously and carefully unfolded the kinks that permanently bent and contorted the paper.
It was a list of nothing but names.
Some had been crossed out, some had question marks next to them, some had been circled once, twice, three times.
Nothing seemed to fit.
"It's better this way, anyway." England's words sounded like an out of tune song, the notes clashed with each other and ran together like water and paint. "He doesn't need a name. He's not a bloody country. He's my colony. Mine. And I'll do whatever the hell I want."
France stared at the list and then looked down at the man, his face glowing in the light of the fire, his emotions flashing across his face with the help of the liquor in his system.
"You're drunk. Go to bed."
France rolled his eyes but turned and headed toward the stairs, ready to retire in his own quarters. Not really caring if England went to bed or not, not caring if he drank himself to death.
He's still such a child.
England sighed and rubbed his forehead as his breath hitched slightly.
He wouldn't go to bed until he came home.
"How about Nathaniel?"
"Don't be ridiculous, that doesn't fit him at all!"
"Oh, but I kind of like it!"
"I still think Daniel would suit him quite nicely!"
"We already discussed that one!"
America felt his heartbeat thump in his chest as he looked around the crowd of people. It had started with the parents of the four children he had run into, but now…
Now it was half the village. The children had attracted even more children, who attracted their guardians as well, until a small crowd had formed and everyone was curious as to what had shaped such a mob.
The little ones crawled all over America's lap and shoulders. The bigger kids sat next to him or jumped around in excitement. The adults huddled in a refined way, and he watched. Unsure of what to do with himself at first.
Not sure whether to speak, whether to stay silent, what to do.
He had never interacted so directly with so many humans before. But he found he enjoyed the attention, he was so grateful for a purpose he was sure sounded so silly to so many of them. But they were still here. Helping him. Watching as he reacted to the names that were thrown out, shouted, yelled, one by one.
And soon he was laughing along with everyone in the crowd. He was allowing his face to contort at the bitter sound of an unfit name. He watched and smiled as the village worked so hard for a stranger.
No. He wasn't a stranger. He knew these people. He didn't know how, but he did. He felt a connection with them. Each and every one. He felt as if he was being reunited, not as if he were being introduced.
He felt comfortable. And that surprised him.
"Joshua! I love the name Joshua!"
"That just reminds me of that mean boy who likes to tug on my hair!" One of the children shouted and some people in the crowd let out a boisterous laugh, America joined in as well.
"I don't quite fancy that name, myself!" America added and he heard disappointment flutter through some of the women.
"Look at this boy," one of the men said pushing himself forward, "he needs a name that's as tough as he will grow to be! He'll fill out nicely, I'm sure of it!"
"Oh hush with your nonsense, darling!" The woman, America assumed was the man's wife, called out. "His face is so sweet and as innocent as a newborn. He needs something that suits him in that way."
The crowd continued to call out in an incoherent babble that America could barely decipher. He laughed at the countless arguments and shook his head as some of the children threw out a few more names.
America shook his head and some of the younger children mimicked him.
"I don't like that one at all!"
"Be gentle boy, that's my name!" The crowd was laughing again and America couldn't stop the wide smile that split his face in two. He wondered why he had never interacted with these people before, why it took him so long to wander so far from his house.
He had to stop himself from frowning when he realized it was because he was always waiting for England. He was always lonely because he was always watching, and waiting, and hoping he would come back. But everyone here was so kind, and surrounded by so many of them, the last thing he felt was lonely.
He felt warm, and safe. He loved it here.
"Wait!" The crowd stopped along with America as he was mulling something over in his mind. "I-I like that one."
"Samson?" He shook his head.
"Alfred?" America felt himself blush as he nodded and smiled, his eyes turned toward the grass. "Does… Does everyone else like it?" He wanted everybody to like it, he couldn't possibly consider a name that these people, these humans, so kind and generous, standing outside with him in the middle of the night under the chilling summer breeze, didn't like.
"Well, I like it!" One of the children called.
"I think it's a name he could grow into." One of the men laughed.
"I think it's sweet, it suits him very well."
One of the children snuggled up closer and asked "and we can call you Al!"
The crowd roared in approval and America's chest went tight as he watched the celebration of finally finding the perfect name for the strange boy that had entered their village not even three hours ago.
"What do you think, Alfred?"
Something warm flushed through his chest at the calling, he felt giddy, as if he were flying and stood up from where he had been sitting for so long and tried to take in each face, each feature, and burn it into his memory.
"I like it!"
And the mob cheered and clapped and whistled and called his name. One of the men came over and ruffled his hair and a woman came by and wrapped a blanket around him, saying it was for his walk back home.
"All right children, time for bed now!" The mothers gathered their children and one by one they left the boy's side, each calling over their shoulders as they clutched their mother's hands, "Goodbye, Alfred!"
"Good night, Al!"
"Stay safe going home, okay, Alfred?"
And Alfred nodded and smiled and waved and raced through the town, hearing various calls after him.
"Be sure to visit us again soon, Alfred!"
"Looks like it might rain so you better hurry home, Alfred!"
"Alfred, be careful where you're going!"
It felt so right. It felt like it fit. And on his way home, with the village behind him and the house coming into view, he cried and wept because he couldn't contain all his joy in a single smile.
He was so happy.
He couldn't think of England right now, he couldn't think of their argument, he couldn't think of the fact that he was even back.
He had a name. And he would cherish it until the day he died.
Matthew woke when he felt himself being shaken so vigorously through his covers. He let his eyes flutter open and the beginning of the morning spilled into his eyes as the dull room barely filled the room with light.
He looked up to see his brother, eyes red, and smile wide, hovering right above him.
But something was different. It didn't look like his brother in a way, he was… older. As if he had aged another decade in one night, and his sleep-deprived mind wondered how long he had been sleeping.
He shook his head and his smile seemed impossibly wide.
"Canada, I have a name!"
"W-What? That's great! Did England—"
"No." America said simply as he held up a finger and walked toward the door of their room before turning around and mocking surprise when he saw Canada lying in his bed.
"Oh hello, sir. It's nice to meet you." Canada tilted his head and stared at his brother through incredulous eyes. But America extended his hand for Canada to shake, whispering "introduce yourself."
He laughed at his brother's odd request but sat up straighter in his bed and took the hand.
"Hello, sir. My name is Matthew. It's lovely to meet you. What might your name be?"
And America beamed as he shook the hand more firmly, "my name is Alfred. And it's a pleasure to meet you! Might I also say what a handsome man you are." Matthew rolled his eyes at the comment but laughed when Alfred crawled into bed next to him.
"How did you come up with that?" He whispered laying back down with his brother beside him.
Alfred's eyes drooped, the long walk and the events from that evening finally draining him as he snuggled into his brother's bed and let sleep consume him.
"They did. They named me. And it's the best name in the world."
Alfred let his eyes flicker open one last time that night as he stared at his brother who was about ready to fall asleep as well. His smile, never really leaving his face, widened as he stared at his brother.
England watched as his two colonies fell asleep side by side, the door creaking a bit when he closed it all the way.
His head hurt and his clothes stuck to him from the summer heat. He rubbed his forehead and sat against the wall next to the door of his two boys and stared at the pale blue color of the walls. Stared at the window a little further down the hall next to where France was sleeping. He watched as the sun slowly rose and sunlight bounced through the house.
He felt like vomiting. And his head pulsed loudly in his ear.
He pushed himself up and walked slowly down to his study, taking in the empty bottles and the forgotten document that France had left behind. He bent down and tried to smooth the paper to the best of his ability, staring at the list with darkened and hung-over eyes.
And without a second thought, threw it into the fading fire.
Arthur turned his back as the list turned to ash, and left to retire for the night.