This chapter probably needs more of an introduction than the others. The venerable IrishGleeFanatic made a request for a one-shot about the Troubles, so that's what this is. A one-shot about the Troubles in Northern Ireland. For those unaware of what the Troubles are, I'll give you a quick explanation. As you might remember from way back in Stormclouds Over Ireland, when the Republic of Ireland declared her independence from the UK, Northern Ireland decided not to go with her. But the Republic of Ireland wanted a unified Eire and what was basically a guerilla war erupted. The UK supplied troops to defend it and everything went to hell. It all just became shootouts and bombings around Belfast and Derry/Londonderry and eventually various places in England. It all stopped officially in 1998 and the IRA is pretty much nonfunctional now, but splinter groups still cause trouble occasionally.
Needless to say, 'divisive' is an understatement. While the majority of Northern Ireland still votes to stay in the UK, the ratio of UK-supporters to Ireland-supporters fluctuates quite a bit.
The reason I was hesitant to write a Troubles-themed one-shot for a while was because I didn't want to upset anyone. Personally, I have no opinion on the issue as long as it remains peaceful and any major changes are made with the agreement of the majority of Northern Irish voters. I'll tell you guys what I've told countless people before: English does not necessarily equal imperialist. I've tried my best to be as neutral as possible and I hope you guys are all okay with it. Both sides of the conflict had justified causes and both did some very regrettable things in the names of those causes, so that's what I've tried to portray here.
Anyway, I'll stop stalling now. It's a bit short, but actually longer than the first chapter. In fact, now that I look at it, they've been getting progressively longer as I go along. Weird... Anyway, hope you like it!
In the household of the United Kingdom, the dining table was usually a forum of heated debate. Almost every night, they would sit down with their Indian takeaways or their fish and chips or, occasionally, a home-cooked meal, and talk. Sometimes they would discuss recent events, reminisce about shared memories or even gossip mercilessly about other nations, but more often than not the conversation would descend quickly into argument. England would argue with Scotland, Wales would argue with Northern Ireland, and sometimes they'd switch partners and argue with each other. Occasionally three would gang up against one, or four would gang up against no-one in particular and shout until they realised that they were doing nothing more than vehemently agreeing with each other. They had found virtually every topic ever dreamt up to argue about and had tried and tested all possible different ways of going about it.
But the fact was – although none of them would admit it – they enjoyed it. Dinner table conversations involving nothing but quaintly making small talk bored them to tears and the fact that they could be as mean as they liked to each other and still be guaranteed forgiveness in the morning was just an added bonus. As much as they complained of headaches and being sick of all the bloody shouting, the truth was that they really wouldn't have it any other way.
Which was why, as they sat around the table with a full roast, mashed potato and vegetables, the silence was so out of place.
It had been like this for a while now. All that could be heard was the sounds of cutlery on china and slow chewing as they each picked their way through their food, their appetites curbed by the uncomfortable atmosphere.
"This... is nice, Ireland," said Scotland, his voice more than a little strained. "Did ye... did ye make this all yerself?"
It was a stupid question and they all knew it. If anything was to be cooked in this house it was always Ireland's job to do it. He was the only one that could be left unsupervised around hot cookers and sharp knives and come back with something both devoid of leeks and sheep's guts and non-lethal. The question was just an attempt to break the silence, to kick-start the conversation this room so desperately lacked.
"Yeah," he said, and that put an end to that.
It was not, thought Ireland, that he didn't want to talk. He was fine. He just had other things to be getting on with and preferred to finish his meal as quickly as possible. That was it. Other things far more important than this.
Like cleaning up the aftermath of today's events, for example. Today's events. Those 'events' had left him with a black eye and more cuts and bruises than he liked to admit. He could sense their thoughts on him, almost feel the effort they were going to not to look at him. He stared into his dinner, trying to hide his injuries from view. No-one had commented, of course – concerned looks and a hug from Wales was all he got and all he wanted. He was lucky to have escaped a bullet wound this time. Being a country, they didn't kill him, but they were awfully painful to remove and uncomfortable for months afterwards. They were worse even than shrapnel. But he was fine. All in a day's work, after all. Best I can do is put up with it and not make a fuss.
"Wales?" The younger nation almost dropped his fork in surprise at the noise. "Could... you pass me the gravy, please?"
Wales nodded and handed it over. Ireland poured it over his plate; the liquid was the same colour as his hair. His hair, and the girl's hair.
The girl. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, trying to push the memories away, but they swam back into his mind as clear as ever. The girl. He'd seen her on the side of the road in the middle of the chaos, crouched amongst the wreckage strewn from the remains of a bombed-out car. She had been wearing one of their uniforms and cradling a gun in her arms. The black mask she wore obscured her face, but he would've sworn to whoever would listen to him that she was crying. Not just crying, but hanging her head and sobbing until her eyes burst as guns chattered nearby and bullets buried themselves in houses and pinged off cars. The shoulder-length brown hair visible under her mask was the same colour as his. Exactly the same colour.
Someone opened fire nearby; Ireland had operated on instincts now superbly well developed, hurling himself behind the corner of a building as bullets whizzed past him. Whether they were loyalist or nationalist or aiming for him or the girl he never found out, and a small part of him wondered if it even mattered. But after a few moments of deafening noise, the bullets stopped. Ireland leant out from around the building, his eyes going straight to the wreckage of the car, half-expecting to see the brunette girl lying riddled with bullets. But, although he scanned the street without a thought for any stray bullets, she had disappeared.
Across the table, a trickle of blood began to run from England's nose. He swore under his breath and wiped it on his napkin. "Sorry. I thought I'd already... It's probably just aftermath. Nothing to worry about."
England tipped his head back and pinched the bridge of his nose, waiting for the blood to stop. Bloody hell. It can't be another... no. I'd have felt it. He tucked the napkin into his sleeve – it wouldn't be polite to leave a blood-soaked tissue on the table now, would it? – and, ignoring the way his brothers were trying their best to look as though they weren't staring at him, picked up his knife and fork again as though nothing had happened.
It had been a pub this time, in Birmingham. They hadn't given any warning, no time to consider demands or evacuate innocents. No-one had claimed responsibility but he knew who it was. Since he'd maintained his refusal to give them Northern Ireland, they'd taken the bombings to his country in an attempt to change his mind. It's not going to work, he thought, attacking a piece of meat a little more violently than was necessary. Germany did worse than they could ever hope to and I survived that, didn't I? They're wasting their time.
He looked across the table at Wales and Scotland; they quickly dropped their eyes, pretending they hadn't been staring at him, trying to gauge how serious the damage was. To tell the truth, he felt almost sorry for them. The house had been so tense recently, it couldn't have been pleasant for them. And there was that unspoken rule, the one that said that no matter how many injuries Northern Ireland comes home with, no matter how stressed England looks, there were to be no questions asked. Wales and Scotland couldn't know what it was like, of course - South liked them, and that meant the world these days. She liked Northern Ireland a bit too much, and him... well, the bombs said all they needed to about how much she liked him.
It would be so easy to just hand Northern Ireland over. To say here, here's your brother, take him and leave us alone. But he couldn't. Northern Ireland had chosen to stay and it was his duty to protect him. He might not have been the best at showing affection, but he loved all of his siblings and the idea of losing yet another one made him feel sick. Besides, if he gave him up now then this would not be the glorious battle for freedom he knew South had been aiming for. That battle had ended the day he'd accepted her independence and let her go. It would just be a brutal war, a series of terrorist attacks, and a small, scared, battered nation abandoned by his own brother. If he let South win this, she would be as bad as he used to be. And he couldn't let her sink that low.
The clinking of china and the scraping of cutlery echoed through the silent dining room.
Wales swallowed a mouthful of mashed potato, bit his lip, then seemed to make his mind up to speak. "Are... are you okay?"
Northern Ireland looked up from his plate. "Yeah, I'm fine."
"Me too," said England. "Why do you ask?"
For a moment, Wales looked as though he was going to say something else. He teetered precariously on the edge of speech, but then his courage seemed to drain away and he stared back down at the table. "No reason."
Back in the subdued, frightened city of Belfast, a girl with gravy-coloured hair looked at all the bullets and the bodies and the debris littering the streets through the tear-soaked eyeholes of her mask. She made a move to pull it off, then hesitated and dropped her hand. No. The mask stays. She struggled to her feet, doing her best to support herself on shaking knees, and surveyed the street. Her people – her friends, her brothers, her children, however you wanted to put it – caught sight of her and waved her over, calling something about leaving. Yes. Leave. That's the best thing to do. We should... get out of here. She stepped over the body of a man – a loyalist? Or just someone caught in the crossfire? – and picked her way over to them.
It's necessary. That was the phrase she lived by these days; she repeated it over and over to herself while she helped plan attacks, looked at the ruined aftermath or woke up shaking and sweating from increasingly frequent nightmares. It was killing her inside, but it was necessary. England didn't care about her brother any more than he had cared about her. He was only holding onto him to soothe the pride she'd hurt by declaring her own independence. But he was holding tight, and it was up to her to shake her brother loose. North would thank her later, even if she had to drag him kicking and screaming from the ruins of his own country. Blowing up his city, shooting his people... it felt so terribly wrong it made her sick, but it was the only way to save him from himself.
They would be back. That much she was certain of. They would be back again and again, day after day, until her brother was back where she knew he should be.
No matter what it took.
Please leave a review if you liked it. But I do have something to ask you guys: please try not to post any offensive comments about your views on this subject. There are people with some extremely conflicting opinions out there and I'd rather keep the reviews section as light-hearted as the rest of this story. Let's keep the political debate where it belongs, okay? ^_^