Disclaimer: No, it's not mine.
A/N: This is for the "blackmail" square on my hc_bingo card over on LiveJournal. Also, my odd choice of pairing for Wales? It's all because of an RP I'm doing, I know it's random.
England and Ireland have this... arrangement. It's a very simple arrangement, one which keeps them both... Well, happy isn't the word, but it keeps them both feeling safe.
The terms are these: England won't tell Scotland that Ireland is still in love with him if Ireland doesn't tell America that England fell in love with him during World War One.
What's a little mutual blackmail between 'twins'?
Oh, and Wales got tangled in it too for a while, but that came later.
It starts like this. 1997, England's office in his London home, Ireland pacing in front of his desk. They're trying to come to some kind of truce so that they can stop fighting over their little brother. Northern Ireland's had enough of being caught in their tug-of-war, and has asked them to talk things out once and for all. Neither England nor Ireland is particularly good at refusing North – he's got a talent for puppy-dog eyes – so here they are.
Ireland's trying, really, she is. But there's no talking to England, not reasonably anyway. "To hell with this," she says, turning on her heel and striding toward the door. "Fuck you, Albion."
There's really no excuse for what England says next, and he'd admit that if asked, but they bring out the best and worst in each other, he and Ireland. "Is that an offer, Eire? Because really, I don't see how you could confuse me for Scotland."
Ireland goes very still, before spinning around, her eyes glinting with a cold fury. "Strange, but I can't see why you'd want it to be an offer, seeing as I'm not America."
The silence after that is loud, the two of them staring at each other. "You little..." England starts, only to be cut off.
"Don't start it if you can't take it, Arthur."
"Don't act as though you know anything about it, Brigid."
Ireland laughs, sharp and mocking. "What don't I know? How it feels to have someone you loved, someone you trusted, turn on you? How it feels to be hopelessly in love with them but terrified of ever speaking up because that gives them a chance to break you all over again? Don't kid yourself, Arthur, I know exactly how you feel when you're watching America covertly at all the World Meetings. It's just how I feel every time I see Cal."
"I don't want to talk about this," England protests. "We should be talking about North, about..."
"We need to stop fighting over him, so I'll accept he's under your flag until such time as he doesn't want to be," Ireland says briskly. "I'd also say we need some kind of inter-governmental thing between all of us here – you, me, North, Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall. Maybe the Channel Islands too. But we can discuss that later. You started this, now let's have it out."
"You'll really accept it?"
"He made his choice, even though I always wonder a bit why. I can't take away from him the very thing I fought you so long to have – the right to choose whether to go or stay." Ireland drops back down into the chair. "But you and I... We need to stop this fighting, right now. Even if we're not fighting over him, we need to fix this."
"And you think talking about our mutual unrequited love issues will do that?"
"If nothing else it should forge some trust. After all... You can't tell Scotland about this."
"What's to stop me?" England says, eyes narrowing.
"I'll tell America."
"Ireland, that's not trust, that's blackmail."
"After all we've done to each other through the centuries? We've got to start somewhere."
Everyone knows the story of America and England, the rain and the muskets and the mud, how even now they can't be in the same room for ten minutes without arguing.
Fewer know about Ireland and Scotland, how she was separated from her family for so long that when they were all forced to live in England's house the boys hardly felt like her brothers anymore, except for England himself, forever her other half. They don't know how she and Scotland decided to work together to free themselves from England. True, Ireland would still be ruled by Scotland's royal Stuarts, but it would be a partnership, not a domination.
And then Scotland decided France was a more useful ally than she was. When he lost anyway, she took a vindictive satisfaction in seeing the defeated look in his eyes, and in harshly rebuffing all his attempts at apologies.
He kissed her the night before he turned on her. She can't forget that.
Fourth of July, 2002, and to everyone's shock England actually shows up to America's birthday party without protest. It doesn't take long to guess why, though; America might have regained his equilibrium from 9/11, but he's still a bit... off. Enough that when he sends England a note with the party invitation saying to please come, England can't ignore it. Unfortunately, his health is still an issue during this particular week, even though he's refrained from drinking. He doesn't want to embarrass himself. Again.
"You're looking a bit under the weather," Ireland comments, sliding into the seat next to his. England glances at her, scowling.
"Yes, well... If I could get over this ridiculous side effect I would. I believe the term for it is psychosomatic."
Ireland leans back in her seat, watching America chase Prussia around – apparently among other things, one could not hit on the hero's brother on said hero's birthday. "What do you even see in him, anyway?"
They're speaking in Gaelic, Ireland's variant on it, because someone overhearing a conversation that Ireland started, well, that would be in violation of their agreement, wouldn't it? So England doesn't mind answering, his eyes on the still-fuming America.
"He's an idiot, but he means well more than he doesn't, and... He's not like us, Ireland. All of us with our wars and our tangled ties."
"He's as much of a young fool now as he was after World War Two," Ireland says bluntly. "Well... Maybe not quite as much, but he hasn't grown up nearly as much as I'd have liked, and I still think he's too damn young to be a superpower."
"Would you have preferred Russia? I know he's an old friend of yours." Russia had been the first to recognize her as her own country, so her fondness for him made a kind of sense.
"Russia's a half-mad fool, and we've had this conversation before." After World War Two, when Ireland's dreams about the war ending in nightmare fire made sense in the wake of two nuclear bombs. "No, between the two America is... preferable. But you never really did answer my question."
They get up and walk along the edge of America's property – here at this house in Virginia he has a lot of land, surrounding the house he grew up in, where England used to visit him. The two of them walk in silence as darkness falls, but when the first fireworks light up the sky England finally answers.
"I don't know why, Ireland. I just do. I didn't, he was my little brother and I loved him like that, and then he left and I tried so damn hard to hate him. You remember, I avoided him for so long, and then..."
"Then came World War One, and he wouldn't speak to Cornwall, only you. I remember," Ireland says quietly.
"Yes, exactly. And it... It wasn't immediate, but I... I just... Suddenly he wasn't that boy anymore, and my feelings weren't the same either. If I knew why I loved him, Ireland, I'd have tried to get over him by now."
Their bond is not repaired enough to allow for hugs, but the frustrated pain in England's voice has Ireland putting a comforting hand on his shoulder and squeezing once, because she does understand, after all.
Talking about the arrangement is forbidden after the incident with Wales. England and Ireland are both ramblers when they drink, but Wales is a quiet drunk who somehow manages to remember everything that happens when he's been drinking.
So he remembers when they tell him all about their little deal, and he's horrified. Wales would put an end to it right there, would speak to Scotland and America, but he can't.
After all, England knows Wales' secret, which is uncomfortably similar. And he's not afraid to extend the arrangement. Once Ireland hears the story, she agrees with England.
The British-Irish Council meetings are a good idea, and Ireland would never say otherwise. But sometimes it's hard, sitting across the table from Scotland, having to work with him once again. She'd made a point of avoiding him since she got independence and left England's house.
Unlike England, she doesn't hide her feelings with hostility. Instead, Ireland is unfailingly polite and cooperative. Whenever she and Scotland have to work together, she gives it her full focus and attention. But it's never any more than that. Irelnad gives Scotland empty smiles and distantly friendly words. She never lets him in, not again.
But that doesn't mean part of her doesn't feel like it withers every time she hears him talking in a mixture of his Gaelic and French, and she knows he's talking to France again. Or when he flirts with the Channel Island sisters during Council meetings. She clenches her fists under the table and turns to talk to Cornwall or North, because England and Wales know too much and she sees it in their eyes. So she talks to those who don't know instead.
"I don't see why you don't just talk to him about it," England says one day after a meeting. They're working on their latest joint venture together – it's something that they eventually want to bring to a World Meeting, actually – so they're at Ireland's house, in her study. She hosted the Council this time around, so it was more convenient.
It's 2005 and their relations are getting steadily better. Ireland and England still have tension between them, but they're working out the kinks. Slowly but surely. Enough so that by now they've mostly given up on working, they both have cups of tea, and Arthur is sprawled on a couch by the fire while Ireland herself curls like a cat in her favorite armchair.
She stares down into her cup, trying to find the words. "I don't see why you don't talk to America."
England sighs. "It's different."
"Scotland still loves you," he tells her. "I know he dallies with France and flirts with the Channel girls, but the one he loves is you. And you know him well enough that I suspect you know that."
Ireland's smile is bitter. "Of course I know that, England. But you see, the trouble is that I can't trust him. Love is nothing without trust, and he's already broken mine once. I won't give him another chance."
It hurts to say, but the sympathy in England's eyes soothes the pain a little.
When Britain allied with Austria in the War of Austrian Succession, England went to fight and so did Wales. And, to his embarrassment, Wales found himself with a crush, not just on Austria, but on Hungary as well. No, it didn't make sense to him either, but that was just how it was. It didn't feel right to be interested in only one of them.
Unfortunately, England noticed, and he has no compunctions about bringing this up in a completely different century, with the comment that it would be so easy to make a phone call if Wales even thinks about speaking with America or Scotland. Ireland goes along with this very quickly.
It was a long time ago, and really Wales is over it, but he shuts up anyway. It's just easier.
"So what about Japan then? Or Portugal? I know how you felt about them – God knows I watched you look at your Queen Elizabeth Tudor that way, I should know how you look in love," Ireland tells England, her voice a bit slurred. They've been drinking, never the brightest move for the two of them. "Why don't you try dating one of them again?"
"First, Japan is quite happy with Greece now, and I don't want to intervene in that. Kiku is still my friend, after all. As for Manuel... Why don't you try and rekindle things with him? As I recall, he flirted with you as much as with me." England shakes his head. "Silly Ireland, you know these things."
"Yes, but that was in fun. It was you he liked, and we both know it. It was just that I liked ships as much as you two boys did."
"Hmm," is all she gets from England in response. It's Christmas, 2009, and they're at the annual World Holiday Party, avoiding the crowd. Or, rather, England had slipped off to the sidelines once America got there, as it was that or fight with him. Ireland had followed, because Scotland was trying to get her attention.
"Say, Brigid, take a look at that," England says, gesturing with one hand. Ireland looks, raising an eyebrow at the sight of Wales talking to Austria and Hungary. It looks like he's reintroducing himself or something similar.
"Apparently Bran didn't like us blackmailing him, did he?" she muses.
"I don't see why, this blackmail thing... It works, doesn't it?" England says, his face scrunched up as he tried to think through the alcoholic haze. "We can talk to each other about it but we can't meddle, and that way neither of us gets hurt." He leans against her and she rests her head on his shoulder. She knows he's trying not to look at America talking so intently with Israel, just like she's trying to ignore France draping himself all over Scotland.
"I guess it does, Arthur," she says quietly, draining her latest glass of eggnog.
The trouble with blackmailing someone is that you have to have information that they don't want anyone to know. When the things you're using against each other are things that, deep down, you want shared, eventually it just doesn't work anymore.
Wales figures that out first, because a latent crush is nothing like centuries of repressed heartache. He would say he's also just more sensible than the twins, but there are two European nations who would possibly argue with that.
The Council meeting for 2011 is in Cardiff, and Wales is in a particularly cheerful mood. It sets England's teeth on edge for all of five minutes, but then he remembers that Bran's sex life is probably going to end up on the Internet – or at least shared with Kiku – and that thought keeps him amused for the rest of the meeting. One look shared with Ireland and he knows she's thinking the same thing.
Scotland goes home a day early, and Ireland and England linger an extra day. Wales actually left home after the meeting, which only amuses the twins all the more. They decide to share a cab to the airport, but neither of them admit that they're not taking the expected routes.
The next flight for Edinburgh is boarding, and Ireland stands up. England frowns at her.
She gives him a wry smile. "Tell me, Arthur, where are you going?"
Instead of speaking, he holds up his ticket, with Washington D.C. written on it.
They don't have any other blackmail material. Well, actually, they do, but they won't be using it now. Not when Ireland throws her arms around him and whispers, "Good luck, Arthur," into his ear, not when he wishes her luck as well and watches her walk off to her gate.
England's own flight is called not twenty minutes later, and as the plane takes off, he lets out a long breath. Trust has to start somewhere, and if his newfound faith in his bond with Ireland could begin with blackmail...
Well. Maybe the odds against America even still liking him, much less feeling the same way he does, aren't as high as he'd thought they were. Even if it does turn out like he fears... He's dealt with it this long, hasn't he? And he's willing to bet Ireland's thinking the same way.
If it all goes wrong, they have each other at least.