"You remember." England found his voice somewhere in the babble, reaching up to touch the dear face. He shouldn't hope- but he couldn't help it, and it was America's fault. "You remember- what exactly?"
"I remember you." America's head turned slightly to press lips against the hand. "Loving you. The- revolution-separation. Things are … not all there. I have some gaps, but I remember the first time I saw you, and you were so … "
"Foolish." England pushed himself up on an elbow, the tug of stitches reminding him of his still healing wound. "To think I could keep you-"
"I was going to say 'Lonely'."
"You were lonely too, and I ignored it."
"I'm not lonely now." The smile was more sunshine than he ever deserved, ever hoped to bask in again.
It had been less than a week, and the few medical staff who were completely aware of their individual cases were either sworn to secrecy, or had been transferred to another rescue camp. There was no sense in advertising their identities- not with America still recovering.
One of those who had stayed was Rae, to England's relief.
"To be honest, I'm a little disappointed." Rae confided to him, only a day later, "To realise that we were right in believing that Alain was something special, but that it wasn't because he was the best and youngest- and that he'll probably leave medicine now."
"I don't know what he'll do now," England had told her, "America has always done precisely what he wanted. I wouldn't be at all surprised if he continued to practise in some form or another."
But for all the guesses of what the future would hold, one of the things that England and America needed to patch together was in the past. Specifically with North Korea.
To that end, they found themselves sitting in the bare room that had been hastily constructed, a pair of guards obvious at the door, and their allies close at hand. Al's hand slipped quietly into England's, disregarding the guarded smiles of the others in the room. America looked much healthier than he had when they had both awakened the morning after the shooting- and even if he didn't have all of the memory-
"It will be all right." Al- America gave him a faint tight smile, interrupted by the sound of the doorlatch.
England could only squeeze his hand, and try to stay calm.
North Korea had seen better days.
Not that there were signs of recent mistreatment- a few old scars from the war were visible beyond the hems of his garments, a faded bruise or two from where the soldiers had been forced to tackle him to take him into custody. It was his eyes that told the cliched rest of the story.
It had always seemed odd to see South Korea's face set into a stony frown; Where Yong Soo was all smiles and good temper (Or at least he had been before the war, now he was a bit more resolute, a bit more sober) Kil Dong had always appeared cross, foul tempered, and slightly unstable. It had been one of the main ways of telling them apart.
Where once there had been anger, now there lay fear, pain, and sorrow.
North Korea's eyes flitting from face to face momentarily, freezing on America, then directing his gaze to the floor.
"Why renew the conflict that ended a decade ago?" America's voice was calmer than England felt.
"I do not know." Far from the confident tones of the past. "My leader-"
North Korea stopped abruptly, and England frowned.
"He died in the counterattack, did he not?" England asked, not really wanting to recall those hours, those days when all he could do is look at the information coming to him from far away.
"No." The small voice said, "He died less than a week ago, in the remains of the hospital where I was confined."
There was a murmuring of nations around them, and a brief glance towards China showed the eldest country barely concealing surprise.
"I was unaware that he survived." China said flatly.
"Most weren't." The tired prisoner rattled the token handcuffs that symbolized his current status. "He was very good at hiding things."
"Like warheads and plans for attack?" America now chimed in.
"His own insanity, his jealousy of you, the way he treated his people- but you saw the last from the outside." North Korea frowned, "You saw evidence of the camps, of the conditions- and did nothing."
"What would you have me do?" America held that serious expression that was so rarely shown to the world. And so little hesitation despite what England knew to be spottiness in his memories. "We tried to help you once, and it ended with the 38th parallel- I couldn't force you into something that you didn't want and sacrifice more people, more resources. We hoped that one day maybe you would break free of those particular influences-"
England could see both China and Russia shifting a bit uncomfortably at that.
"There was little you could do without starting a conflict with one of them." That broken gaze, and a chin lifting in some remnants of pride. "His forebearer's mental instability affected his people. I am the people- I have been whipped with the most rebellious, and starved with the least. I have carried out the duties required of me of my leader, and I have, once again, lost. I am leader-less, and for that loss, which has freed me from his madness, I am glad."
"He heard the rumors then, and sent you to kill me."
"He did." A faint smile crossed North Korea's face. "And he died believing that I had fulfilled his last wish- not realising that, even weakened, we are hardier than man. And that we die as the Phoenix, not as men."
Complete silence fell over the room.
"You have won, America. There will be no more war from my defeated people. I surrender to you unconditionally."
The world exploded into sound. Questions, denials, acceptance, laughter- and through it all, England watched America remain quiet, as stared disbelievingly at North Korea.
The implications of North Korea's words hit France at the same time as it had hit every single other nation within the structure.
He remained quiet, however, while China kept repeating 'Not good, not good' in one of his people's oldest dialects. Russia's eyes were wide, and he looked, to be frank, a bit terrified.
"France?" Canada had been laughing softly. "Is there something wrong?"
"Non," France said with a frown, "It is complicated. This changes much-"
"He surrendered. That means Al's safe."
"It means that there will be no more hostilities, oui, however it also means that America is responsible for North Korea now. He can dissolve him, and absorb him- which would make sense, considering that America has been weakened-" France watched China clearly in some sort of quiet debate with Russia, who was mostly nodding. "Or he can rebuild- like was done with Japan."
"He remembers who he is. He won't-"
"America is still rebuilding himself. He can't afford- his people can't afford- financially to be responsible for another nation. He will have to absorb the lands- Dissolve-"
"North Korea..." America's voice came over the crowds. "You-"
"My fate is in your hands," The jingle of the token cuffs punctuated the words. "You may dissolve me, if you wish. I will not fight it. I only ask that you take care of my people when I am gone."
"Those who wish to shelter upon my shores, I will take care of." America had risen, shaking off England's hand. "But you-"
North Korea had his eyes closed and head bowed.
"You will have to take care of your own people." America reached out and snapped the metal cuffs. France could see the effort it had taken- not as easily as he would have accomplished it before- but what was America doing? Was he mad? "Your brother and other nations can help you- if you'll listen to them."
The chaos was turned to stunned silence.
"South Korea is hardly in a position-" England reminded the room.
"But I am willing to take the responsibility." The young voice came from a corner of the room that had been overlooked. Yong Soo stepped forward into the spotlight. "He is my brother, after all."
South Korea had not come out of the war unscathed, however he looked much healthier than his brother- their eyes met across the room. North Korea's face fell out of the neutral mask that he'd been wearing to hide obvious fear. There was a spark of something resembling hope now. And more-
"If America can forgive you, so can I."
"There are conditions." America spoke quietly, "I want you and your people to be as free as you should be- but if your military takes over again, everything will slide towards what was. Japan may have some advice to give on avoiding that. He's done a good job so far. And even though both China and Russia are changing- "
Both of the mentioned countries flinched visibly, China with an annoyed look, Russia with that same disturbing smile.
"-You need to learn how to rely on yourself and make your people happy without trying to make yourself into a copy of one of them- or me. It doesn't work like that. I mean, the freedom thing does for most of them, but we all have flaws. We're all different- there are ideas that are so rooted within us that it takes decades to change. The best thing you can do right now is learn from all of us, and improve as you go."
"America-" France couldn't remain quiet any longer, "You are in a position to gain restitution from North Korea for his leader's actions. It is within your rights as a Nation to ask anything-"
"There's only one thing I want- for him to be free." America's smile was different than France remembered. It was not the manic forced happiness, it wasn't the guileless disguise. Sincerity shone through like never before. "He's been a prisoner. He deserves to be with his brother, and get a second chance."
"And your restitution?" China squirmed uncomfortably as he asked with an obvious reluctance. "You are hardly in a position to be as generous as you have been in the past."
"My people have survived, and they are rebuilding." Again with the subdued smile, "It's not like we haven't had to start over under less than ideal circumstances before. It's part of my history- and part of my people. I was founded, in part, by those who left a more comfortable place for my shores."
England, to his credit, didn't even twitch.
"And your debt..."
"Will be paid in full. It's just going to take a while longer. I hope you and the others will be patient with me."
"And don't even think about invading his lands again, or you'll have more to deal with than you can handle." France couldn't help but smile as he saw England's hand slipping into America's for a gentle squeeze despite the fierce expression on the shorter Nation's face. "I will not tolerate any more incursions, nor will my people."
"Nor will my people." Canada's voice was very audible. "While America is rebuilding, we will stand with him."
Russia's laugh was quiet, and China's look of surprise near comedic.
"I was not thinking of that- not again. It would be far too problematic to conquer your lands while the people are as tenacious as they are."
"And as well armed." Japan did not even smile. "There was a reason that I did not attempt that, so many years ago."
"That as well." China shuddered delicately. "No, the proposition I am thinking of- your people have made advances despite the war."
"Advances?" America tilted his head at China. "I'm not as up on all the technological developments that have happened. I just spent the last few years at the hospital."
"You have the knowledge that I need. I believe we can come to an understanding, and perhaps an arrangement of peaceful sorts." China nodded to some internal thought. "We have much to discuss, both on setting the terms of North Korea's new direction, and a way to ease your debt."
The gathered Nations paused their side conversations, and listened.
The cool of the evening was peaceful and calm, with only a few faeries buzzing about, chattering to England about the way the orchids in the hothouse were blooming, and how much his almond tree had blossomed while he was gone. All in all, one of the quietest times he'd had for years, even with the babbling of the faeries, and the rustle of the breeze through the often mentioned tree.
A cup of tea, a favourite book, and the peace of knowing that he would see America soon.
The lingering uncertainty ghosted about England, however, remembering that he had been sitting thus on the day he'd nearly lost the boy, the man who had meant the world to him.
The fae seemed to sense the faint uneasiness about him, and scattered to find little things to amuse him- a daisy. A leaf of an herb that he had been meaning to pick. A stone with a vein of blue running through it that matched the colour of America's eyes-
The sun was setting by the time he heard the sound of a car door shutting at the front of his house. The sound of heavy footsteps on the gravel path that led around to his little haven told him exactly who it was. Others might ring the buzzer at the front, or knock- but only one person truly knew where to find him at this hour, on a day that was not raining.
"Hey, England," America looked happy, and tired, but brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.
England couldn't do anything but leave the teacup and the book behind (Nearly knocking them off the little table in his haste) in order to step into the wide open arms, and the warm embrace of his lover, his friend.
"Missed you too, England." America said against his shoulder.
"Shush, you." England grumbled halfheartedly. "I know six months is not as long as eleven years, but it's still an awfully long time."
"I know," America didn't even move to break the tight embrace, "But things are in place to pay off the debts, my people are gathering together to inaugurate the first president since the attacks, and Tony's back and all healed up now. He's promised to help fix my house, and that leaves me free to come here."
"Cheeky bugger that he is. It's because he wants to live with you again, isn't it?"
"Yeah, but it's not like I spend a lot of time there these days- with the travelling physician gig- He's welcome to it."
"You're free for a while then?" England finally pulled away to look up at those eyes, that newly matured face. "You can stay with me?"
"They might need me at home sometimes, and I do have to go earn my keep with the kids once in a while, but I'm yours for as long as you'll have me."
"I believe I'll take you up on that offer," England felt his lips quirk into a crooked smile, and he lurched up the inch or so to kiss America full on.
Faintly he heard giggling from the faeries, but ignored it in favour of kissing the breath out of America.
And in the quiet of the sunset, England felt the hole in his heart mending itself once and for all.