ENTITLED: How Beautifully She Burns
FANDOM: Axis Powers: Hetalia
LENGTH: 2,357 words
DISCLAIMER: I don't own Axis Powers Hetalia or, you know, the world.
NOTES: I'll be lucky if I got even a tenth of her right.
DEDICATION: Sayabean, who has been very patient.
SUMMARY: I haven't the leisure of fear. — France, Jeanne d'Arc
"Well, you can't lie there all day," the girl's voice called, and pulled at his arm, leveled him up. France coughed, and it felt as though he lost some eyelashes when he at last dared retake his vision. A dirty girl squatted at his side, pale face plainly assessing.
"What is a little thing like you doing without your father to watch you?" France smiled, or at least, thought he did. There was a hard sting at the crease of one of his eyes. The girl—was she even old enough to bleed?—drew her gaze along the ground, and the ashy dirt building between her toes. Her mouth sat upon her face like a bruise. Her eyes turned shyly.
"Well, I didn't want to. I thought you might be dead, and dead people are quite awfully smelly. And if you weren't dead, then you must have been drunk, because I can't think of why else someone would lie in the middle of a burned field like you were."
"And if I was drunk, then I would have smelled then as well?"
"Perhaps worse. It does matter on how dead you are."
"Either way, quite rank."
"Well," France touched the edge of that grave little face, noting how his fingers blemished it with marks, "I am sorry if I have offended you, my dear. But I am glad it was your face I woke up to."
She smiled a little. "It's alright. You weren't drunk or dead, so it's alright."
"But I must still smell?"
"Yes, you do."
"Alas!" And he pressed his hand to his heart, though the seconds dwindled and his throat burned for the barren land, "But the innocent are cruel."
Her head tilted happily. There was something wonderful about that, about the clearness of her eyes, how fair her hair was. "But I had to come and help you, even if you smelled. I suppose I must, too. Do I smell?"
"Only of roses."
"Oh, I knew it. I knew you were good," she clapped her hands and scrambled away from him, backing away as a girl does, keeping a protective distance between herself and a man. The wind blew shifts of grey sand into the backs of her legs, and France stood to avoid catching it in his eyes. His skin felt scalded and raw, and where the sun touched him burned.
"No, no. That won't do at all. I'm really quite the scoundrel, please. Do say I am, won't you? I simply couldn't stand nobility."
When her lips broke into a smile he could spot a molar growing in. She was moving back, but kept looking straight at him, turning so that her body angled away, and back to the edges of a field. "You shouldn't be so sad, you know. He loves you very much. Just wait a little bit. I promise."
She threw herself into a run, sprinting towards the field and pushing her body through the tall grasses. France watched her bare feet flash at him, cracked and white and grey, as she plunged into the yellow stalks. He took a step, and then another, and another, though he had thought he would never walk again. But perhaps he could—perhaps...
The cloud cover slipped, and the sun burned through the long, yellow grass, setting the entire thing into a dying blaze, and the image of it seared into France's skin.
A girl racing towards fire.
"—but the main problem is with the land, if we could just have a moment to turn the soil, if the English would stop razing it for just a moment—"
France stopped. There was a rush of something cool and bright behind his eyelids, and a stream of something poured into his ears, pooled in his stomach and settled and he raised his eyes to meet his falsified king, ruling on the blood of the once-chosen.
He rushed over the lands and forests and rivers and villages and found a silhouette turned from him, slender-backed and with rigid shoulders. Older now, fit to hang upon a crucifix. His mouth felt full with the taste of dirty metal. A light hung about her, perhaps by the sun or something else, and she began to turn—
A hand jerked on his shoulder, and France rushed backwards and slammed into his skin, shaking and whitened.
"—been listening? Have you perhaps spied upon some bright thing?"
It took him too long to place the face staring upon him with such regal accusation. His king, indeed.
"If I had, would you believe me?" his gaze shifted, "What a pretty little chart you've made! Oh, but it's a picture of me. Magnificent. I'm flattered darling, you really shouldn't have. I think I'm looking rather slim these days, don't you agree?"
His king stared at him, and then threw his hands into the air with a nostalgic shout, "I give up!" He then began ordering a great manner of foodstuffs from the servant at the door. France rested his hip upon the table's edge, and drew lines across the map with his finger, lingering over a small, bare bit of land.
She would put it on the map, then.
She was different when she was alone. Much more of a frightened girl, much less the fearless man she forced herself to be. It made him uneasy, to think of what she did, a human playing the saint. It was the quickest way to die.
She didn't know how to fight. He'd watched her practice with a bow, missing the mark over and over again, and the armor she'd put on was too big, too heavy.
And now. And now it was this same little girl, who shook before him, his final option.
"Jeanne," he touched her shoulder, felt a million other hands within his own, turning her, "Are you perhaps afraid?"
For a moment she only looked at him, pale eyes flicking, then her head turned, and her hands clasped rigidly behind her back. She took great, circling paces away from him, so she faced the wall of her tent. "Why are you trying to make me second-guess myself? Do you want me to fail?" she asked, voice flat. "Have I perhaps offended you? Have I embarrassed the men with my presence? Did—no, don't answer. I know the answers though I ask. I—" her breath caught, "Am I wrong for this?"
France bit his tongue as she wiped angrily at her eyes, still turned from him. Her fingers tore through her cropped hair, thick as it was with sweat. He waited for her to gather herself, rather than pull her close. But some part of him wondered if she'd wished he had.
"Fear?" she repeated with a breathless, uncontrollable laugh, so that she caught it in her hands and brought it back up to her mouth. She kept them there for a moment, until her shoulders stilled. "I haven't the leisure of fear."
He helped her into her armor, lingering over the slightness of her shoulders. She needed a bit of a running start to mount her horse.
He felt the arrow. Not her first fight by a long shot but the angels only kept you for so long, after all, and she'd been damn lucky. Witch luck or holy luck, whichever the gossips preferred, but it had kept her safe and he...he hadn't.
She didn't fall at first. The impact of it sent her whole body rocking forward, and the fingers attached to her injured shoulder collapsed, so that the horse was free to run madly through the battlefield, yet another agent of chaos. The men behind her were shouting, and trying to pull her off the horse, and he was at her side in a second, as he always was, and reaching up to catch her by the good arm and pull. She had enough wits about her to kick free of the stirrups, and then she was bleeding in his arms, eyes wide open and wet and she was going to die now, this was the end for her, and she knew it.
"Go," she told him, wet fingers pressing against his chest. "Please. Please, you have to go. Leave me."
There were men running at her from all sides. The French and the English men. Her horse was still running, still mad, and the thing coming from his girl's shoulder must have been as long as her arm. She tried to look at it and turned pale. He touched her face to make her turn away, to pretend that it wasn't there, that none of this was happening.
"You are so brave," France whispered, and bent to kiss her shining, golden eyelashes. They were wet against his lips. "My brave Jeanne."
Still, she pushed him, "Go!" she cried, "It doesn't matter, I'll be fine! Just go!"
She slid from his arms then, as the men pulled back. They ran. They left her, and France was dragged back with them as they gave ground. He watched, heart in his mouth, as she turned to look at him, snarled yellow curls hanging short around her chin. She smiled without teeth or eyes, and reached for her sword.
The cell England has put her in is not so bad as he had expected. She is worse.
"Why should you cry, my Jeanne?"
She looked up, lip caught between her teeth. There was something terrified about her ragged nails. She laughed from her throat.
"I should like not to," she began in clever hysteria, "I should like to die without fear, and it takes a bit of concentration, if you don't mind." She stared fixedly at the wall, hands now fisted in her short yellow hair. France slid down the wall, and rubbed a rough thumb down her clammy cheek.
"Are you mad, dear?"
"Mad as they say?" she whispered, and pressed her eyes shut, then giggled helplessly, "I can't think of a reason why not to be."
"Well, then," he trailed his hand to cradle the base of her neck, "It is fortunate you have such redeeming qualities."
Her head lolled to the side, resting upon his shoulder briefly, eyes half closed and thick with color. "This isn't the best time."
"No?" he settled an arm around her shoulders, forced it to be light, to not claw into her skin until she couldn't leave, "When would you suggest?
She didn't say anything for a long while, nor did she pull away from him. Her skin was burning, and when she looked at him, he knew exactly how she would die. Without miracles.
"Don't let them win," she said, all order and demand. "I don't matter anymore. I've gotten you this far but the rest is up to you. All of you. Or just you, I mean, I don't—I don't really get it. And—and I'm sorry. I'm sorry I couldn't, you know, finish it off. I tried. I really did think I could do it, you know," she licked her lips, eyes wide and feverish, "I can't hear them anymore. The angels. I think they left me."
"They wouldn't come here," France dismissed, glancing around her dim cell, "How would they get in? The windows are too small."
She smiled weakly.
She was quiet when they tied her to the stake. Quiet, but crying the valiant tears of one who is truly afraid, but too brave to do anything other than face it.
They'd put her in a dress, and pulled back her hair. Most fascinating were her feet, small and bare and dainty, the toes clenched inwards and shaking.
He went to her, to the front of the crowd, and she saw him and looked into his eyes and tried to smile, and he could not think of a single thing to say. She stayed like that, looking at him, as they brought out the torch. They orange flames licked against her skin and hair, turning her to gold, to light, to a bright and shining thing.
"How beautifully she burns," England whispered, and France looked into the fire, and the dark shape wavering beneath it, and his face was wet, and it was difficult to see, and she was so very gone. Lost to the ending he had always known was coming, his girl that ran towards fire.