Title: By the Might of Your Skin

Fandom: Hetalia: Axis Powers

Author: Me, Vinnie2757~!

Genre: hurt/comfort? Romance

Pairing: USUK

Rating: K+

Warnings: Major fluff, some angst. Some language. Major historical inaccuracies in some areas, and greying in others. Interpretations and liberties taken throughout, though I've tried to keep to historical accuracy where possible.

Summary: For all that Britain looks like a ragdoll, he isn't likely to fall apart at the seams. America learns that lesson and learns that he doesn't need to be there to pick up the pieces, Britain can do that himself. USUK

A/N: Have a crash-course in English history disguised as USUK. As ever, notes at the end, guys. Enjoy, my lovelies!

By the Might of Your Skin

"It is my own firm belief that the strength of the soul grows in proportion as you subdue the flesh."

Mohandas Gandhi

Arthur is still asleep when America wakes up, so he lets Britain be and slips out of bed, showers in the guest en-suite and dresses quickly before stealing downstairs. His cooking skills are limited, admittedly, but they are nowhere near as lethal as Arthur's, so he sets about breakfast with a hesitant kind of enthusiasm reserved solely for when he's trying to make his Britain happy. Not the Britain that's presented to the world, the Britain reserved solely for him, the one he's had wrapped around his little finger bending it back and cowing him to whims both logical and fanciful even when he was fighting for his Independence, the one that's England.

Bacon and eggs, sausages and toast, and he doesn't find any beans, so he throws a tin of spaghetti hoops in a saucepan to heat on the stove whilst he tries to work out just what the hell is in black pudding. Whatever it is, it looks like Arthur made it, so it stays in the fridge.

"Two sugars," he mumbles to himself as he roots in the cupboards, looking for the PGTips Arthur won't admit to drinking, everyone too convinced he drinks Darjeeling and Earl Grey for anything less to be seen on the counter in his kitchen.

To be honest, America doesn't know why he gives a damn about what the rest of the world thinks of him, he's got America and Canada and Belgium and Portugal and Germany and the rest of the Commonwealth and Japan at his back, so it's not like anyone – Russia, or France, or Spain, or Denmark, or China or Cuba or whoever – would try anything. But Arthur had instilled nothing in him if not the importance of presentation and appearance and reputation. Or something along those lines anyway, because damn if America had been able to focus back then, too interested in everything else going on around him, too interested in low long Arthur's fingers were, and in later days, wondering what those fingers could do to him.

He's drying the excess fat off the bacon when Britain finally stumbles down the stairs, looking much more of a wreck than strictly necessary. His socks are odd and his boxers have the Danger Mouse logo on them, and Alfred's NYC hooded sweatshirt is at least two sizes too big, but Arthur's a skinny bitch these days, and he's rubbing at his eyes as though they've personally offended him, so it's okay that he looks like a wreck, because it's completely adorable.

"Mornin'," America announces around a mouthful of toast because he'd burnt half of that slice and had hoped he could wolf it down before Arthur appeared and noticed the odd number, because he's completely anal about things like that.

He doesn't seem to notice at all, attention focused on the plates on the island.

"You what?" His voice is rough, low, catching in the back of the throat and his accent is climbing steadily north, accompanied by his eyebrows, which seem to be threatening the Hadrian's Wall of his hairline.

"Breakfast," Alfred grins, scraping the bacon onto the eggs like an utter pro, and okay, so he got them in the spaghetti, so his presentation wasn't Michelin Star or whatever, but it's the thought that counts. "It was going to be 'in bed', but you got –"

He's interrupted by a loud grumble from Arthur's stomach, and the Briton just shrugs, a slight smile playing on his lips. "'S morning," he says, and it sounded a little like an apology, but mostly like an excuse, so it's not like it matters.

Alfred chooses to laugh, and spreads his hands invitingly. "Breakfast," he repeats, and they eat in a comfortable silence.

Loathe though he is to break it – it's still tentative, this thing between them, even though they've done the rounds and been through every ounce of protocol and routine and everything in between to make sure the relationship is viable or whatever shit Arthur is wont to come out with when he's trying to be a cock-blocking bastard, so Alfred doesn't want to overstep his boundaries – he eventually does, saying, "You should smile more often."

Arthur nearly inhales a forkful of egg, but Alfred takes it in stride and presses on.

"I mean it; you've got a nice smile. I remember it when I was little. You were always smiling."

Arthur gives him a sharp look over his piece of kitchen roll that's acting as a makeshift napkin because Jesus Christ the boy's a lunatic, but the look's softened a little by the fleck of spaghetti sauce on the corner of his mouth and Alfred stamps on the urge to just lean over and kiss it off. "I smile plenty," he protests, even though it's a blatant deflection.

"I don't mean your 'I will smite thee' smirks and your little half-smiles," Alfred says, breakfast momentarily forgotten, because he knows exactly why England's deflecting and doesn't see why it matters. "I mean your proper smiles, the big grins and the twinkly-teeth face-splitters."

To which Arthur scoffs. "It may have escaped your notice, love, but I happen to have two rather large scars on my face courtesy of my brother that start at my lips and end at my ears that – funnily enough – is known as a Glasgow Smile."

"Don't be so mean," Alfred chides hopelessly, because England will be how he wants and America can't – and won't, not in any serious capacity anyway – change that. "You've always had one, for as long as I can remember."

"You were also barely five years old, you didn't know any different." When Alfred opens his mouth, Arthur says, "You grew up seeing me with these scars, you're desensitised to them, don't deny it. I might not have had them the first thirty years I was with you, but they were there for well over a hundred years and every time you saw me, I had them. You were young enough, hadn't known me for long enough, to just stop noticing. But older nations aren't like you. Humans aren't like you. They would be – and are – terrified of the shadows the scars cast, terrified of the idea that they might stumble into the insane bastard that did it to me. It's exactly what my brother intended."

For a long several minutes, they sit in silence, Arthur picking at the remains of his breakfast, appetite apparently lost, and Alfred picks at his nails awkwardly, lacking anything to do with his hands.

Again, he is the one to break the silence.

"But you have other scars," he says, and wiggles his fingers. "On your hands, and on your left forearm. On your back." He frowns a little. "Where did they come from?" he asks then. "You never told me, even when I was a colony."

Arthur lifts his hands to look, and then looks through his fingers at Alfred. Slowly, he rises to his feet and gestures with a single toss of his head. "Come on."

"What, where are we going?" And Alfred follows him anyway, despite his hesitancy, because damn if he's not so besotted.

"I know you, Alfred; you're going to ask me to label every single scar, so I'm beating you to the punch. I'll give you the story of every single one, all of them, all thirty-seven, in one fell swoop and then you might leave it alone."

It's then that the thought hits him.

Britain isn't as delicate as people think he is.

He's a tiny bloke, sure, compared to the Commonwealth and all of his non-family allies. To the best of Alfred's knowledge, the only Commonwealth nation shorter than Britain is India, and that's because all the female nations are small. But just because he's two inches shorter than America, it doesn't mean Arthur's a weak guy.

Far from it. Arthur's one of the strongest guys he knows. Ever since they first met, Arthur has rarely let his composed, marble exterior crack. Except, that marble exterior, it's not marble anymore. It's thinned to porcelain. He's like a doll now, so easily broken, but so resilient to heat and sun and age.

Because, of course, for all his grousing about it, Britain is getting old. He's already well over two thousand years old. He might even be older, but the first thing he really remembers, he tells America as Alfred settles between his legs about ten minutes later, tracing the oft-ugly, oft-old scars over Arthur's body, is Rome's invasion in 41ad, and how it changed him. How it forced him to accept that he wasn't alone on his island. Not anymore.

"These scars," Arthur says, wiggling his left hand. There are rings between the base and first knuckle of each and every one, scars made only obvious by a subtle whiteness around the join between old flesh and new. "Come from the Archbishop of Canterbury." He gives a pointed look. "I'm left-handed, Alfred," he says when there's no comprehension on his face. "To be left-handed is a sign of the devil."

Alfred grins at him. "You do practice black magic, Artie."

"Don't call me that." But he doesn't deny it.

"So the Archbishop of Canterbury – William Laud, I believe it was, the prick. He was already in the shit, what with the Prayer Book – I mean really, forcing it on Scotland wasn't the best of ideas in the first place, but Church Uniformity at my place is never going to happen – and then when Civil War breaks out, he blames the Devil, and cuts my fingers off as though it'll stop me being left-handed." He takes a snarling breath.

Alfred laces his fingers into those ones, and squeezes a little. "Well, that explains why I'm ambidextrous."

"I didn't know you knew the word," Arthur gripes without feeling. He clenches his right fist, leaves his index and middle fingers straight, looking at the rings to be found there. "These came from 1066 and France." He grins at the shadow in Alfred's eyes, and combs the boy's hair for a moment. "It was common, back in the day, to cut the fingers from English longbow men. Without these two fingers, we can't use our bows. France took a great delight in taking them from me after he gained victory."

Alfred shudders a little, because there were no anaesthetics back then, and England could only have been ten at the most. The pain he must have endured…

To take his mind off it, though really, looking at the mass of scar tissue in front of him, it's hard, he curls his hand around a similar ring on Arthur's left forearm and ignores the way the skin is cool beneath his palm, the freshness of new rain, the way his fingers meet his thumb and overlap.

"What about this one?"

Arthur twists his arm in Alfred's grip, not agitatedly, but not content either. "Prussia," he says simply, and then expands, because clearly America is an idiot. "We both fought in the Crusades; I as part of the Templar armies, he as a knight in the Teutonic forces. I do dread to think what our men must have thought of us, we were barely in double figures at the time. You have seen how trigger-happy he can be, he was just as bad, if not worse, with a sword. Whilst in the middle of a battle with the ferocity of the Crusades, it is hard to keep track of who and what are where. He took my arm off."

Involuntarily, Alfred winces, but he did ask, so he deserved it. Above that scar is a long, uneven line, a raised scratch in his flesh, still marked with the pull of uneven stitches. It is a scar Alfred knows.

"Bombs," he whispers, putting his lips to it.

"Bombs," Arthur repeats, just as quiet.

The scar came, so Alfred recalls, from shrapnel tearing through his bicep in World War One. It tore his arm to shreds and they barely had the supplies to patch him up. With his leading arm rendered useless, Arthur was relegated to the sniper's role, taking one of his youngest conscripts under his wing to steady the gun and reload for him. Part of Alfred, when he'd finally entered the war and fished Captain Kirkland from his rat-hole of a hiding place, wanted to keep Arthur in that tiny space, keep him armed with the sniper rifle and keep him out of danger, but Arthur wouldn't have it, and still wouldn't have it thirty years later as they squabbled in the middle of the white stone streets, the sun bleaching their hair and burning their skin, and if it wasn't the middle of war, Alfred thought it might make a nice place for a vacation.

Now that the arms are dealt with, he decides that he will start at the top and work his way down. So his fingers trace a hairline scar over Arthur's right temple. Arthur shivers a little, not a good shiver, not a bad shiver, just a shiver that runs through his entire body and Alfred feels in the arches of the feet he has pressed against the sole of Arthur's own.

"Jack the Ripper," Britain whispers. "I met him, once. The interrupted case, that was my fault. I tried to save her. But he gave me a reminder not to interfere. I couldn't track him down, not with him in disguise the way he was. He met his end soon enough though." And he says no more about it.

Alfred touches the Glasgow Smile, traces the dents and follows them with his lips, taking a moment to linger against England's own, feel the curl of a smile made of flesh and blood and dare he say it, love, against his own smile, rather than the pain and dead skin that make the permanent one etched across him.

There's a slight scar that runs down Arthur's throat, along the line of his jugular till it hits the bony 'V' of his collarbones, and Alfred knows if he were human it would have killed him. Arthur tilts his head to allow Alfred to trace the white line, and bury his face in his neck, to inhale the smell of smoke and rain and magic and earth on his skin and just breathe, and tells him that it came as a result of the Viking invasion. It was intended to slit his throat, if he hadn't wiggled free first, and there is a darkness in his eyes that Alfred absolutely loathes. He remembers the animosity between Arthur and Berwald that runs thicker than it does with France – with France, the hatred is now mostly for show, but with Sweden, it is honest and deep and entirely personal, and Berwald, as much as he can, looks apologetic for it – and shudders himself, a little.

From his collarbone, he goes to a rose tattooed, elegant and tribal, in the indent beneath his left clavicle, in the dip of his shoulder, and traces it in wonder, and he can almost feel the screech of tires, the splatter of blood and the agony of a whole nation in mourning. He glances up, and Arthur's hand covers his, over the tattoo.

"Diana," he says, and looks away.

Next, Alfred goes to the opposite shoulder, where an obvious weapon scar curves across his shoulder as though it's attempted to cleave him in two. He follows it as far down Arthur's back as he can, the skin cold and clammy.

"War of Austrian succession," Arthur tells him with an idle shrug. "Got into a fight with Spain. He was a little too axe-happy if you catch my drift."

"What about this one?"

Alfred is touching a small scar on Arthur's shoulder; it has a twin, on the other side, like someone's run him through. He hates his scars, as surely as any might hate their scars, but he wears them with pride, because they are a symbol of his strength, they are a symbol of all that he has won and lost and kept close. They are the lion, the dragon and the unicorn.

"France," Arthur replies, wincing a little, as though remembering. "During the 100 Years War, when Jeanne d'Arc – " For all his bullshitting about it, Arthur can speak fluent French, though he rarely does, preferring to rile France with deliberately mangled insults " – Was leading her troops. I shot her through the shoulder. France paid me back with his rapier. I was left pinned to a wall for a good hour or so before I could peel myself off and return to the fray."

Alfred frowns a little, pokes at the red, angry flesh as though imagining his finger is a razor-sharp rapier. "When was this?"

Arthur thinks about it for a minute, distracting them both by running his fingers through America's hair, curling it round his knuckles and tickling behind his ears. "1429," he guesses eventually. "I forget the exact date, love. It doesn't really matter anymore."

England has a bloody history (because America knows a lot of those scars are inflicted on England alone, the most obvious of which curls into a smile even now), and not for the first time, Alfred feels extraordinarily self-conscious about his lack of scars. He has a nominal amount – Britain explained, once, that most scars nations had come from before they reached adulthood, and England had done all he could to keep Alfred safe during those early years, his favourite of the colonies, his heart and soul and reason to be, romantic that he was – compared to the cross-hatching covering England's pale, gaunt flesh.

He traces a line down Arthur's left side that runs from his collar to the rose on his hip, to Bosworth Field. He's seen it before, can't not have; it's at least an inch wide and just as deep, tearing his very being in two. America remembers when he got this scar, but not why, and mumbles his question against it.

Arthur glances down at where Alfred's touching; scars are dead skin, Arthur says, he can't feel it when Alfred touches them, sometimes.

"Oh that," he says helpfully, and traces it himself. "That's from the Battle of Britain. I got clobbered by a plane that exploded." He watches Alfred's expression for a minute. "You didn't know that, did you? About the Battle."

"I knew there was a big-ass fight over you at the start of the war," Alfred says. "But I didn't realise it was quite so… yeah."

Britain chuckles a little, a low, heady little sound that sends a chill down Alfred's spine that pools into warmth in his gut. "I remember you punching your brother," he says idly, his hand going from Alfred's hair to his neck, fingers curling to run his knuckles down the Rocky Mountains of his spine. "You were so jealous over it, even though I clearly didn't give a shit who was helping me so long as I had the help." He catches himself. "I'm grateful for it, obviously, I wouldn't have survived if it hadn't been for Matthew, but it didn't matter to me who helped. Why should it have mattered to you?"

"Because it's my job," Alfred mumbles into Arthur's chest. "I'm the hero, I'm the one meant to protect you." He crosses to a small, perfectly circular burn on Arthur's right pectoral, an inch or so above his nipple, and huffs against it, "You're mine. Not Europe's, not Mattie's. Mine."

He remembers this scar; it's a poker burn, from World War Two. Commander Kirkland had been compromised by the Germans on a mission with his boys to gather intelligence, and Commander Jones had been tearing his hair out by the time said boys got back to Allied territory and found him, because of course Arthur had decided it would be wiser to contact America than it was his own people. Alfred remembers the stench of death in that house, when he'd eventually found his way to where Arthur lay in a heap, tortured and raped and choking on smoke from the Blitz that was tearing him apart from the inside out even as Alfred stood there and watched. He remembers the anger of seeing Arthur so hurt, of seeing England at the lowest he'd ever been, remembers the hurt when Arthur flinched at his touch, unfocused eyes not recognising him. He remembers how badly he'd beaten Germany when he'd finally gotten his hands on him, how badly he'd wanted to beat Prussia but had been unable to find him, the albino too good at his job, the Axis parallel of Arthur's own.

"Such innocence," the Englishman hums idly, eyes ceiling-ward and shaking his head a little. "Or is it stupidity?" He sighs a laugh, and taps a staccato rhythm on Alfred's back. The tune is vaguely familiar, something that fits Britain, something about how he used to be, before the Wars brought him to heel, taught him that he wasn't invincible. "Well, walk on, mighty defender, and ask your next question." He catches his breath, as if to say something else, but decides against it. Alfred beats him to it anyway, and asks about the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow.

Arthur punches him, but he's laughing, so America doesn't read too much into it.

The laughter soon dies as he reaches the dead centre of Arthur's chest and he sees the too-familiar wishbone scar there. He swallows, a little thickly, and spreads his hand over it.

"I remember this one," he whispers, and feels the chill of rain on his back, mud between his toes and the violent screaming of the heat of battle. He can remember the sound of Britain sobbing into his hands as he surrendered the fight, let America be free.

"We've come a long way since then," Arthur whispers back, putting his hand over America's and Alfred can feel the throb of Britain's heart under his fingertips, the thrum of his own blood slowing to match it, cooling the rush of arousal into the steady ebb of love. There would be time for arousal later, but it wasn't necessary.

Alfred nods and shifts his hand, tracing a line that runs alongside the wishbone. "What's this one?" he asks, trying to keep his voice level. It doesn't work.

Arthur scratches his nose for a moment and then says, "Crimea," as though that explains everything. When Alfred gives him a Look, Arthur relents and says, "Russia," in a strained voice because though the Cold War's over and done with, it's not like Alfred and Ivan get on, or see eye to eye, and Arthur clearly doesn't want to add more fuel to the fire, if the way he hastens to add, "It was over one-hundred-and-fifty years ago, love, it's not anything to pick a fight over. It was my own fault," means anything. He shrugs idly. "Lord Cardigan was not the, ah, most intelligent of commanders I could have chosen." After a moment's passed, he puts on an accent Alfred recognises as his own (vaguely, he wonders how Britain got so good at copying his accent, but he's too busy laughing) and says, "Britain goes in suicidal! It's your Charge the Light Brigade routine!"

Instead of caring about it, Alfred replies with, "I can't believe you remember that."

"I've never been so insulted in my life," Arthur sniffs, but there's laughter in his eyes, mirth on his tongue, and Alfred falls a little bit deeper into that too-deep pool he's found himself in, sinking into the very essence of what made England England, what made him fall in love in the first place. It's these moments that define them, define who Arthur wants to be and who he is, and it kind of saddens America that the rest of the world can't see it, can't see this Britain that is solely his, but it's better this way, it gives Alfred something to call his in a world where he belongs to nought but that very world. It's something private, something theirs, and he wouldn't exchange it for anything.

"Oh, shove off," Alfred laughs back, burying his face in Arthur's chest and inhaling the smell of rain and earth and wood in an attempt to stifle them. "You puff up like an angry little bird every time somebody brings up Tony Blair."

For which Arthur hits him again, and all it does is make Alfred laugh even more.

Eventually, after some kisses have been exchanged and Arthur's ears are red, he's calmed down, and Alfred's stopped laughing, so he goes back to the task at hand. From the Charge of the Light Brigade, he crosses to a little scar under his right pectoral that cuts vertically down his ribs. It's only the length of Alfred's thumb, a thin white line. It looks like nothing.

Arthur's got this expression on his face, though, as though Alfred should know what it is. He thinks, and thinks, and thinks some more, and comes up with nothing.

"I feel like I should know this," he says, because he doesn't want to look like an idiot, even though he's fairly sure he does so anyway.

But Arthur smiles, pets Alfred's hair, and hums, "That's the scar from the Panjandrum."


Oh. Of course it is. There had been blood on the sheets, from his ribs, his hands clutching at them as Arthur choked his words out, and Alfred had tried to deny that Arthur was going to die, because it was impossible, but there was no colour on his face, nothing to suggest that, yes Arthur was okay, he was going to make it through. But this isn't the time to dwell on that. There are other things to learn; more memories for Arthur to impart with that America might make a better lover.

It's then that it catches America's attention; they're faint now, faded against the sickly, milky pale skin of Arthur's inner arm. But though they're faint, they're there, scarred and too dark and obvious. He puts his fingers to them, feels the roughness of the skin at the crease of his elbow, traces the lines down towards his wrist where they eventually fade to reappear in a natural, though far too obvious blue.

"Track marks," he says, a little unnecessarily.

Arthur's arm twitches, but he doesn't move it from Alfred's scrutiny. He doesn't meet the American teen's eyes though, so Alfred shoves himself to his elbows, caging Britain in by his hips and Arthur has no choice but to look at him.

"Artie," he says, and there might be a little disappointment in there. "Why didn't you say anything?"

"About what? The fact that I spent centuries off my face? That I went to war with China over Opium?" Arthur shook his head in disbelief, in disgust at himself. "I'm not proud of it, love. I let it get completely out of hand, and now look at me."

"I didn't know," Alfred admits. "That you had a problem with this kind of thing."

"Worst in Europe," Arthur tells him, and his grin's a little lopsided, a lot depressed. "It's no wonder the Frog calls me a thug, really. Look at me. Opium and heroin, cigarettes and alcohol, hooliganism and bar fights, scars and tattoos and temper. I am a thug, and it's not attractive."

Alfred looks at him, puts his weight on his hands by Arthur's ribs, and he leans in close enough that they are nose to nose. "Hey," he smiles, when Arthur eventually looks him in the eye. "What's this? You're admitting France is right? I'm not going to say it is attractive, because watching you get so pissed you hurl your guts out is in no way attractive, especially when it's me that's got to cart you home. But you're you, Artie, you've always been you. You're a knight, a pirate, a soldier. I'd be lying if I said I expected you to be a perfect gentleman all the time. You'd be boring as hell then, and you're old enough. Ow! Don't hit me! I'm not saying it's an excuse for how you act, because it's not – you shouldn't be a thug, but you are – and I guess what I'm trying to say is… that's okay. It's okay because it's you. You're a nation of contradictions. Everybody expects the best and worst of you, so you give them the best and worst of you. And we're used to it; we're used to you being the thug and the gentleman." His own grin is a little crooked as he brushes it against England's lips. "And I'd be lying if I said I didn't look to you for inspiration on my films. You're the West-End gangster, Artie, you always have been. And that's okay."

"I'm going to pretend you did not just call me a gangster," Arthur says, and lifts his chin a little so that he can kiss Alfred properly.

And it's nice, it's always nice to kiss Arthur like this, to taste the rain and earth on his tongue, and maybe there's a little bit of breakfast in there too, but mostly, he tastes of England; smoke and rain and earth, magic and wood and paper and ink. There's time for arousal later, because this kiss is slow and languid and utterly lovely in the way Arthur usually is. There's no point in hurrying, he always says when he does something utterly wicked that makes Alfred's toes curl, because they have all the time in the world. They don't need to make up for lost time, because they haven't lost any.

When he pulls away, Alfred is left to grin dopily and maybe just a little mournfully, and a part of him forgets what he was doing before Arthur kissed him, but he soon remembers and scoots back down to continue his journey.

The slice across his gut is obviously the Civil War, Alfred should know, he has his own, so he doesn't bother to ask about that. Nor does he bother to ask about the rose-shaped scar at the edge of it, a join between the Civil War and the Battle of Britain, because Arthur explained that to him centuries ago, when Alfred was curious and unable to keep his hands to himself. Should he voice this thought to Arthur, he would be told that he hasn't changed.

He plants a kiss against Arthur's navel, rakes his nails through the thin trail of dark hair beneath it, and casts a curious little look up to where Arthur watches him.

"Why are you dark here?" Alfred asks, palms flat in the cradle of Arthur's hips, and the Englishman runs a hand through his hair.

"I'm naturally dark-haired," he supplies, tugging at his hair a little, "But French and Viking invasions changed that. Blond is a dying gene, so I'm starting to return to my natural colouring. I imagine if I shaved all of my hair off, it would grow back dark. I believe I may have made a bet with Francis over who would return to dark hair first."

Alfred tries to imagine Arthur with dark hair, but can only imagine him with the same dirty-blond he's had for centuries. So he tells him not to shave it off, makes a quip about his eyebrows that gets him a slap upside the head, and rests his palm on the burning skin of the Burn.

It has a capital letter because he remembers what happened when Arthur got it. He remembers the screaming and the blood and he remembers the rage that rushed through him. It is the scar of the Blitzkrieg Germany laid upon England, retaliation, Britain shrugs, for the bombs he fired upon Germany. They can't remember who started it, can't remember who ended it. But America remembers stumbling across Arthur choking on smoke he hadn't inhaled, clutching at his leg as the skin sizzled beneath his uniform and melted his trouser leg and how he begged for help from the Fae that had apparently deserted him if the way he sank against the wall was any indication. Alfred has never hated Arthur's imaginary friends more than in that moment.

"The Blitz," Arthur whispers, and touches the scar himself. "But also the Great Fire of London."

It runs from the crease of his hip to halfway down his thigh, curls around the inside and outside of his leg, a series of angry red puckers and curls, white in places, black in others. It is rough against America's palm, burning hot even now, but the expression on Britain's face says that he can't feel it; the heat or Alfred's touch, and it saddens him in ways he never thought he could saddened.

Alfred picks awkwardly at the scars dotting the back of his arm, a polka-dot pattern of old prick marks, and Arthur's eyes narrow, an arm reaching for the bedside table, but Alfred waves him off. Arthur continues to watch him with narrowed eyes, but Alfred's fine, he can feel it, he's not in any danger of collapsing any time soon, so there's no point worrying.

He catches a scar on Arthur's other thigh; a couple of inches long on one side, an inch on the other. He remembers, vaguely, the smell of blood in the air, the sense of panic, the sound of Arthur snarling against pain, the tang of wood and rain and sea on his tongue as he ran through the corridors of his too-big house, looking for his big brother, looking for Britain as he fought to tuck himself away before America found him, before Alfred saw the blood. His hand is big enough now that the base covers the bigger of the scars and his fingers the smaller.

"Pirate," he says affectionately, hand still on the Burn as he gives Arthur's nose an equally affectionate rub with his own.

"Spain's an arse," Arthur breathes against his lips. "But I showed him what-for."

"What's four got to do with it?" And then has to bite his tongue against Arthur's laugh, against the what's love got to do with it that threatens to bubble out of him.

"Armada, love," he says, tilting his head just so to the words aren't so much said as mouthed against Alfred's tongue. Another chuckle that Alfred swallows down, and Arthur adds, "I sank his battleship."

"You're not funny," Alfred tells him in all seriousness, teeth scraping lightly across Arthur's lip as he draws away.

"You love it really."

Which really just prompts another kiss and a mouthed, "I love you," across the pond between them.

Alfred is suitably distracted again for the next several minutes, and really, this was supposed to be a history lesson, not a make-out session. Not that America's complaining, not at all, he just wants to finish the former so he can focus on the latter.

Britain has knobbly knees. It shouldn't be amusing as it is, and it nearly gets him one of those knees to the eyeball, so he drops it and carries on. Besides, there's just boyish grazes on them that don't, apparently, have any stories. His shins, likewise, are scarred with the scrapes Alfred has; they're the scars of childhood, of tripping over and landing on stones, of wading through knee-deep mud and nearly getting your leg bitten off by a crocodile, of getting stung by jellyfish, of kicking other nations' teeth down their throats because they're threatening the ones you love. Alfred's been there, done that, and most definitely, he's got the scars to show for it.

There is a scar on Arthur's foot, one that goes straight through it, like it's been cut in half. The attached leg jerks when Alfred touches it, an awkward looking grimace spreading across Britain's face. For a second, Alfred things that he's hurt him, but he twitches his fingers and Arthur chokes on a laugh. It's something he tucks away for later use, but lets go of his foot all the same.

"Did you step on something?" he asks, because that's what it looks like.

"It was during the siege of Badajoz," Arthur grumbles a little, drawing his feet away from Alfred, but it has the opposite effect of protecting him. "Francis," he adds with another little grumble. "I… Alright, I tripped over and sliced my foot open on a bayonet. It wasn't my fault." He sounds petulant so Alfred tries not to laugh too much at him and puts a kiss on the bridge of that foot and goes to the other one sharpish because he doesn't doubt for a second that Arthur might kick him in the teeth.

"That's twenty-nine," Alfred says, and he hasn't been counting, not at all. "You said thirty-seven."

Arthur's smile is silent, ambivalent almost, and for a minute, he stays perfectly still, his knees bent at awkward angles to keep his feet away from Alfred's wandering fingers and it looks as silly as it does erotic, but Alfred's not that interested really. This has become something like a game, a treasure hunt. He's determined, now, to see it to the end. Arthur is the map, his scars the clues, and he's curious as to where the x might mark the spot.

"Mind your nose," he says, and abruptly shifts, flips himself to sprawl prone across the bed, and oh, Alfred remembers these scars, remembers them well.

They were some of the few he had glimpsed when he had been young enough to be impressed by such things without realising the importance of what they meant. They had be few enough at that point, he supposes as he reaches out a hand to spread his fingers across the spider's web of canes and whips that decorate Arthur's back, that England hadn't cared to hide them. America was safe from such things for the moment, so he would not understand what they meant. As Alfred grew though, so Arthur became more and more reluctant to strip in the heat of Columbia's sun, began stressing the importance of dressing well and maintaining dignity and lots of other things Alfred couldn't care for, distracted in the way his father-brother-mentor-friend's collar hung open, exposed the delicate arch of his collarbones, his shirt sometimes clinging close enough to reveal bloodied bandages.

He can feel the curve of Arthur's shoulder blades under his fingers, see the bumps of his spine between the webbing of his fingers, follow the tensing and relaxing of the muscles in Britain's back as the man beneath his hand fights against two warring instincts born of the cause of the scars. Alfred has his own, but they are twelve canes, Arthur's are twenty whips and canes both.

"Rome," Arthur says, and his accent is thick, lost in the Newcastle high street, but his tone was bitter, hurt. "He didn't like resistance, and he stamped on it hard. You learn by seeing and copying, love, and it was from him that I learnt that rebellions are not to be tolerated."

Alfred is given pause at that, because it is the closest Arthur has come to admitting he was wrong at any point in raising Alfred. Though he acknowledges the Revolution these days, brushes it aside instead of wallowing in his grief over what happened, he has never once given Alfred an apology for what he did and failed to do. So Alfred stares at his shifting back for a minute, jaw slack and eyes wide, before gathering himself and pressing a hot, open-mouthed kiss to the perfect centre of those scars, revelling in Arthur's shocked little gasp, and hoping that he reads the poetic meaning of the gesture, knows that he has long since been forgiven for what he did.

He takes that kiss up Arthur's spine, feels the bump of each vertebra and somehow it still surprises Alfred, even after two hundred years of independence, another two of being under colonial wings and learning the motions, that they have bones at all, that for all intents and purposes, they're human. He forgets, sometimes, that they're not, and sometimes forgets that they are.

At the back of his neck, there is a little burn, low enough that it's nearly always hidden by a collar, shirt, jacket, it doesn't matter. It's only small, a twist of skin. It's not even a burn of heat, it's a burn of friction. It's a rope burn.

"What's this?" Alfred asks, and is vaguely aware of how he's plastered across Arthur's back, and even more vaguely aware of how England doesn't seem to mind.

"Walsingham," Arthur tells him, and his tone is fond. As he speaks, Alfred shifts from his back to tuck himself under Arthur's arm, into the niche between his body and the mattress, and Arthur lets him, raises his chin to allow Alfred to tuck his head into the space, and pulls him close. "The first time he met me, I was playing somewhat… inappropriate games with Elizabeth. She may have been called the 'Virgin Queen' but she was not so by any means, and she was, in every sense, married to her country, and I have no shame in that, and even less regret because I am grateful every day that we as nations are infertile. But he was a funny bugger and took a dislike to me, dragged me, half-naked, to the gallows despite Elizabeth's nigh-on constant threats to have his head. I was laughing all the way, because I knew I could not be harmed by him." He laughs a little, and the vibration of his throat sends a thrill down Alfred's body. "Being hanged is an interesting experience, little more than mild discomfort, but it does prove inconvenient after some time. I still get a crick in my neck. Elizabeth wasn't amused in the least, but she loved Walsingham all the same. Thank God for Cecil staying her hand. God, I was a cocky arse back then. She brought out the worst in me."

Most of the speech goes over Alfred's head, because he doesn't much like the fondness Arthur has in his voice, because it is the same fondness he has for Alfred, and part of him still thinks he might be in love with Elizabeth, but he has packed away his pirate and privateer clothing for good, stopped swashing buckles for a living and stopped taking the Queen to his bed. Part of Alfred is thankful for that because England might be old, but doesn't look it, and that's just weird, but he wonders how close he is to the Royal family now.

"I love the Princes," Arthur says, as if reading his thoughts. Maybe he'd been thinking aloud. "Even if William's in a foul mood at the moment. I've told him to get his arse into gear, and Harry's made some, uh, less than polite remarks about the matter. But he'll do things at his own pace." He sighs. "I do wish the press would shut their faces though."

Alfred laughs at it, even though it's not particularly funny because it seems, even with Arthur sprawled naked in his bed with Alfred all over him, he can't stop moaning for even a minute. It's part of who Arthur is, he just wouldn't be Britain if he didn't moan, so Alfred lets him be and distracts him into other activities instead. He doesn't speak of his monarchy, or of another person, for the rest of the day and well into the night.



Title comes from David Gray's song Falling Free. This is one of my favourite David Gray songs and his favourite off the album Flesh. Anybody who's read LSN knows I'm a complete David Gray whore, so here, have the link (Falling free is hard to find, and trust me when I say, this is better than the version on the album. Remember, youtube dot com it first I mean, really lovelies) /watch?v=v8Ic2keL4ys

You'll find, now, that most of my fics will follow in the same timeline, so this takes place about a year after Let Your Dreams Flood In,which took place late 2007, and not long after Scar Material.

So far as I know, the Brits don't have anything against Russia and Cuba. That's all America.

If you're interested, black pudding is made from animal blood – usually pig – with meat and onions and other such fillers, like suet and potato and such, put in a skin. Apparently, it's quite nice. Personally, I've never tried it.

It's not that America can't read the atmosphere, it's just he doesn't understand why it matters.

Himaruya has their heights at 2cm apart, in the 177-179 gap I think, I forget. The amusing thing about it all is an average male height survey actually puts England as the taller one at 5'10" whilst America's 5'9.5". GO FIGURE. I'm sticking with England as 5'7-8" which is what I always thought he was, and America as 5'10"

I see India as a female nation. And Portugal. Deal with it. Coincidentally (these notes are probably going to be longer than the fic at this rate LMFAO) UK/Port is one of my fave het pairings even if (s)he's not canon – to my limited knowledge anyway. It stems, of course, from the Napoleonic Wars. Oh, and UK/Belgium too. Put UK with pretty much any female nation that isn't otherwise accounted for and I'll probably love you.

I've got a book that has the history of every king and queen of Britain, and according to it the first king was in 1160BC. The author says that the guy who first labelled him as king loved a good story as much as loved historical accuracy, but if he was real, it means Arthur's 3171 years old in 2011. That would make him 3168, roughly, when this is set. Interestingly, apparently America's only 235 years old as of 2011. I always thought he was older than that, but apparently I can't do maths, and apparently pre-independence doesn't count.

37 visible scars. There are some that fade completely, come and go depending on your tan and your weight and all that. This discounts mental and emotional scars.

I don't know whether it's true, I'm not that big on Joan of Arc, but in the Leelee Sobieski TV mini-series, Jeanne gets shot through the shoulder by an English archer. I couldn't find any mention of it on her Wikipedia page. I wanted to say that Francis got his own-back at Agincourt. But Jeanne was 3 at the time so there's no way in hell she was leading an army. So you know.

Because of the fingers being cut off it resulted in a unique insult being created by longbow archers to demonstrate their contempt and smugness to their enemy, by giving them the Vs.

Their squabbling is a reference to Operation Torch, the first Anglo-American battle of World War 2 and the first of the American battles on the European-African front. It involved invading French North Africa and beating the shit out of the Axis and the Vichy French forces stationed there. America wanted to land in Europe with all guns blazing ASAP to help. Britain told him to stop being a twat and help out in Africa instead. America went and helped out in Africa. He is, to quote Apollo Pomano, "WHIPPED."

You can't not have heard of Jack the Ripper. If you haven't, I'll punch you in the throat only without the punching. Anyway, head!canon states London is England's brain, the Cotswolds his heart, Dover his gut (you can see France from Dover on a good day, and it was where he'd be able to see any invaders, hence a feeling in his gut, see I've thought about this) and then the rest of it is just vague. And no, Cornwall has no significance really, why would it be his vital regions? It's totally Blackpool Pleasure Beach heh. So as Jack the Ripper worked in Whitechapel, London, of course that would be the location of his scar. Either that or he got smacked in the face, which is just as likely.

Though Diana was the Princess of Wales, she was part of the English Royal Family, and the Brits were all hit hard by her death, even now. There's so many conspiracies around it; she died in a car accident in a French tunnel I can't remember the name of in 1997.

I nicked the location of the Battle of Bosworth field but not the idea of it being a rose from RobinRocks UKUS fic, United. It's one of my favourite fics for UKUS out there, seriously. Go read it, like, right now. After you've finished here, of course aha.

The song Arthur's tapping is Coldplay's Viva La Vida.

The idea of Arthur being compromised is something I will probably later revisit in another one-shot. Also; Prussia is home to the Gestapo, the Nazi German secret police. I like to imagine Prussia's role in WW2 was the same as Britain's; spies and intelligence-gathering. Who in their right mind trusts Gilbert on the battle-field, other than when he's in his SS Panzer uniform, but they were nasty bastards so that doesn't really count.

Yes, America is quoting Monty Python. I joined the crowd.

"Britain goes in suicidal! It's your Charge of the Light Brigade routine!" It is not Britain's proudest moment. But it's a bloody funny one. If you discount the amount of death, it just goes to show how stupid we can be at times. Miscommunication my arse, Lord Cardigan was an utter prat who had no clue what he was doing. A sensible general would have asked for clarification of his orders before leading a blind charge head-first into Russian artillery. But not Cardigan, whose military career was marked by several stupid blunders.

Tony Blair was pretty cool in retrospect, but he has forever turned us into America's lapdog by getting us involved in the Iraq War. To quote my BFF, "we're the doting dad who's now in a care home and is trying to live through his son who just doesn't visit." Or we are now, but we were heading that way from 2008 on really.

As he's not human, Arthur's veins wouldn't collapse and his arm wouldn't scar in the same way. America might have the highest level of illegal drug users across the world, but Britain's the worst offender in Europe.

I know I said London was Arthur's brain, but geographically, it's in the South-East. Therefore, his left thigh.

Because it probably isn't obvious, America's diabetic. The scars come from the number of tests he's done over the years. It can scar, I babysit a diabetic lad, who has scars from the pinpricks. It's not as bad as it sounds really. I like the idea that there are testing kits just floating around all over the place. I also like the idea that Taurys has one and Arthur keeps throwing the one he has in his briefcase at Alfred's head during meetings. Ludwig is never amused by their antics, but accepts it because the last thing they need is Alfred having a Hypo (again).

Oh Alfred, singing Tina Turner isn't attractive. Seriously, though, whenever anybody says "What's [insert word/phrase here] got to do with it?" my automatic reaction is to reply with "What's love got to do with it?" because apparently I am incapable of being sensible.

The Siege of Badajoz is a British victory in the Napoleonic wars. I don't know all that much about it, to be honest, I haven't done that much research into Napoleon, but from what I gather, at one point in the siege, British troops were climbing the corpses of the poor sods that tried to breach the fortress before them. We still managed it and claimed it for the 'good guys'.

Francis Walsingham is my hero. Or something. I don't know, he's AWESOME. No, seriously. He set up England's spy network. He's the reason England's so freaking awesome. I've long since lost the plot. But anyway. Walsingham was Lizzie I's right hand man and just generally kicked arse spying on people and torturing people and getting in the way of the Scots and making Lizzie's life generally awesome. I like to think that he and Arthur were at odds at times, and at others were stupidly cooperative with each other. Depends on how Elizabeth was playing them off against each other that day, because she did. She was a manipulative little bugger and damn good at it, and it makes me proud of be English and even prouder to have been given her name as one of mine.

I'm a royalist shut up. Anyway, in 2007, William and Kate apparently had a several month break-up. I like the idea that William sat there moping somewhat until Arthur and Harry had enough and kicked him out. Or something. Harry'd do that, I love Harry, he's a cheeky little sod.

Cheesy ending is cheesy.

SO YEAH. LONG FIC IS LONG. But hopefully it wasn't THAT boring that you managed to get to the end, and yeah. I'm not too impressed with it to be honest, but I could have done worse. Hope you enjoyed my lovelies! ++Vince++