Disclaimer: Untitled belongs to Simple Plan, Hetalia to Hidekaz Himaruya. All OCs are mine, however.
I open my eyes
I try to see but I'm blinded by the white light
I can't remember how
I can't remember why
I'm lying here tonight
The first clear memory England has is waking up sprawled on the floor in Rome's seaside villa. He remembers the mosaics on the ceiling spinning, remembers the pain in his head, and how suddenly his vision filled with a young, mischievous face. "Are you all right, mon ami?" This is how he meets France, a boy not much older than himself who moved easily from concern to teasing him mercilessly. As time goes on, England learns to retaliate, in the old days when it was just fun and mischief, not war. Even today he wonders if they really hate each other, or if they just can't bear to stop playing their childish games. It's how they survived Rome, and it's how they keep going now.
But he knows there was a time before that. He can remember bits of it now, called back by Germany's bombs, by the trauma of the Blitz. He remembers curling up next to a red-haired girl as small as he is, a soft melody from a flute lulling them to sleep. He can remember an auburn-haired boy and a black-haired one, both with the same blue eyes, showing him how to hold a sword. There's a blond-haired boy who looks like the face he sees when he looks into water coaxing him out of the forest and taking his hand. He was Albion then, and he remembers their names too when he thinks of the bad memories, the ones that haunt him. Eire sailing away as he stands on the shore with Cymru gripping his shoulder, Alba disappearing into the moors, Kernow leaving their room at Rome's and vanishing with Cymru. He remembers Rome finding them gone and throwing him into a wall – and he wakes up with France staring at him and no memories at all.
Albion comes home and becomes Wessex, and then, when Cornwall is defeated, he is the one who gets to become England. He remembers holding a sword to Ireland's throat, ordering Wales to be hanged alongside his rebels, and the countless bloody fights with Scotland as the centuries rolled on. He remembers the fury that drives him, the need for revenge that his fractured memory can give no reason for, but his broken heart needs anyway. They hate him and act like he's the betrayer, but England knows, even if he doesn't understand how, that they were the traitors first. They left him behind, and he can't forgive them that.
He remembers the terror of being left behind by those he loves, driving him to cling too hard, to be cruel when he doesn't want to but can't help it, and it all leads to falling to his knees in the rain as America walks away. Just like all the others, just like everyone does. And the Empire takes over, cold and indifferent, because if they all hate him from the start, the false hope that they'll stay will never exist and he won't be hurt again. But he cares anyway, and it never stops hurting. They've all left him now, and he doesn't know how to reach out, to try and tell the truth. So he won't tell his siblings he's sorry, he won't tell America he loves him, he won't try to connect with anyone, because, really, he doesn't believe they'll stay.
And I can't stand the pain
And I can't make it go away
No I can't stand the pain
Northern Ireland has always known about pain. He's the youngest of the family – or he was, before Sealand – but he's the only one they all trust. He's the only one England will actually show affection toward, the only one Cornwall really talks to anymore. He's the only one who can get Wales to admit to the secrets he keeps, and he's the only one Ireland's forgiven for letting her go. But one of his earliest memories is being half-asleep, while England and Ireland argue over his head. He remembers waking up and begging them to stop, and sometimes it feels like that's all he does. Try to make them stop.
He chose England over Ireland once, he thought and still thinks that his brother – his brothers – need him more than his sister does. She has the freedom she's always wanted, and she learned to stand on her own when Rome tore her family apart. But his brothers are different. Cornwall walks the halls at night and wonders if he's going to fade away. Scotland acts cocky but gets drunk every night and talks about the old days, when he was a country in his own right, when he was allowed to be in love with France; sometimes he admits his own responsibility in this mess. And Wales is quiet, listening to everyone else talk to him but keeping his own feelings locked away like that will make them go away. And England... England who pretends he has no feelings at all, whose cold Empire facade cracks now and then to prove that it's just a mask after all. North stays for them, because he wants to help, even if he doesn't know how.
These days they have the British-Irish Council, which if he ever has to explain it to other nations, is sort of like a World Meeting in miniature – complete with fighting. Scotland will be screaming at England about their wars, about Stuarts forced to die on English scaffolds. Ireland's sniping at Wales for helping in England's invasions, his coast being the usual place to leave from. Cornwall is mostly silent, pretending indifference, as North shouts himself to be heard over them, trying to keep the peace. All of this happened so long ago, why hold to it now?
He doesn't blame Ireland and England for the Troubles, for the fighting over him from the 1920s until 1998, and that was so much more recent. Why can't they let it go? Why can't they try to fix what's broken, and come back to each other like they so obviously want to? He doesn't know, and so he's forced to watch as they tear each other apart and turn away from others who they love, who might love them back if they only had the courage to speak up. But how can you trust someone not to break your heart when those closest to you have already shattered it? North knows all the reasons why his siblings hurt, the only thing he doesn't know and wishes he did is how to fix it.
How could this happen to me
I made my mistakes
Got nowhere to run
The night goes on
As I'm fading away
Cornwall's the only one of them to clearly remember their mother, Britannia. Wales and Scotland have vague memories of a woman with blue-green eyes and silvery blonde hair, but Cornwall remembers his mother's voice, and the things she told him, the promises he made to her. She wanted him to protect his younger siblings, and he swore he would. It didn't take him long to break his word, did it?
He wasn't even the one with the best reason to want to escape Rome's clutches. That was Wales, mouthy and defiant, drawing punishments on himself that left him staring blankly into space or curling into a ball, hiding under his blanket. Cornwall still doesn't know, but he has his theories. He doesn't want to know if he's right, so he'll never ask. But it was his idea to run, not for his brother's sake, but because he was afraid for himself, afraid that he'd fade away like Ancient Egypt did, like Ancient Greece was starting to, and like his mother had already done, if he didn't get home again. So he talked Wales into leaving, and into leaving England behind. What came from that choice, to leave their baby brother behind... It's his fault, he knows it.
And where has it gotten him? Cornwall chokes on the irony of it all in the centuries that follow; he's the one who loses more of his identity than any of them, reduced to a mere county while even Wales manages to be more than that – though, admittedly, not always much more. He's still separate, though, and meanwhile Scotland and Ireland both fight tooth and nail for their identities no matter what England tries. Anglification of Ireland doesn't change her; it creates North instead. But Cornwall's people start to forget they're not just English but also Cornish, and his language all but disappears. When Scotland loses France, he loses Brittany, his cousin and his soulmate, the only one who understands what it's like to feel separate even when you lose that distinction.
Really, he doesn't know why he hasn't faded away. He should have, he'd expected it from the moment he realized he'd be reduced to nothing more than a damned county. But here he is, still clinging on even when he doesn't want to. Oh, he comes close, a few times, feeling weak and lethargic, like he wants to just... sleep forever, but something always tugs him back again. And now, now, in the beginning of the 21st century, he's reviving. He and Brittany are finding their way back to each other, and more than even that... His people are remembering themselves now, looking for the identity they used to let slip away, speaking his language again and calling for the same sort of semi-independence Scotland, Wales, and North have. Cornwall himself would like that, it's true, as opposed to his current role as England's assistant, but what matters most is that they want it. He should have faded long ago, but he didn't, he's still here, and he'll cling on as long as he's allowed to. Maybe one day he'll be able to make up for failing to keep his promises after all.
I'm sick of this life
I just wanna scream
How could this happen to me
The irony of her independence is that Ireland hates being alone. She likes her freedom, but she misses her family. Even though it's been a long time since they were much of a family, she misses them. It's the constant in her life, missing them. Ever since Rome, since the day Wales put her on a boat and he and England watched her sail away, back to the island that was hers, where she'd be safe, she has missed them. But even living in the big London house, it wasn't the same. How could it be, with the bitter resentment stewing between them?
All Ireland had wanted was to go back to her family, but to be dragged back by force? It wasn't supposed to be like that, and it breaks her heart. They break her heart, England who can't remember they're supposed to be twins and doesn't care anyway, Scotland who is ally one minute and faithless the next, Wales who actually helps England claim her, and Cornwall who is so damned indifferent that it makes her want to scream and shake him until he reacts. And later, much later, there's North, her little brother who is part of her in a way the others aren't, because they share a land. North who chooses England over her.
She's been alone for most of her existence, even when she wasn't physically, because who was there that she could really confide in, really trust? Sometimes she thinks about reaching out to little Sealand, to see if that brother will be different, but she changes her mind. Better that he has a chance to avoid being dragged into their mess, to the tangle of love and hate that will never really make any sense to anyone. So she's a sister without her brothers, because she can't forget being left behind, but she can't go back again if it means she'll be trapped.
A sister without brothers and in love without a lover. Thinking about India makes her laugh because she's cried far too often and no one, absolutely no one, is getting any more tears from her. She doesn't know if he never realized she loved him or didn't care. Ireland wishes she had the nerve to find out, to risk the friendship forged by a mutual need to be free again, but she doesn't. Even though she's haunted by the memory of a kiss on one drunken New Year's Eve, a kiss that tasted like ashes and smoke, everything they had been before England took them down burned to nothing. She won't tell India, and she won't forgive her family, so as much as she hates it, alone is all that's left for her. It's simpler anyway, and she tells herself that simplicity might teach her to enjoy it one day.
I try to make a sound but no one hears me
Canada wasn't always so much part of the family that's become his. He belonged to France once, who is still father figure/older brother in his head, but then, so are England, Wales, and Scotland now. England whose attention he always hoped for, attention that, on the rare occasions it was actually given, seemed all the more precious. Scotland taught him to use a sword and tried to teach him to speak up and be noticed; Wales was and still is the confidante he needs from time to time.
But Canada's like North; above all else he hates to see his loved ones fighting. England and France he accepts; they fought over him for a while and as time goes on he gets the very strong impression that it's actually kind of fun for them at least half of the time. But the other fights... Well, America's Revolution is the worst of them, his brother leaving all of them behind, including Canada. Oh, America tries to convince him to come along, but when he won't? He's rejected as firmly as England, if not so violently.
He's still not sure how England talks him into helping torch the White House in 1814, but the look in America's eyes when he sees it, when he looks to the shadows and sees Canada standing at England's left hand... Canada thinks of visits to the big house in London, thinks of Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Cornwall and England shouting at each other. He thinks of little Northern Ireland begging them to stop, his own ignored attempts to mediate, of Hong Kong and New Zealand and Australia watching with bewildered eyes. He thinks how those fights change languages every few moments – Irish Gaelic, Welsh, Cornish, Scots Gaelic, Old Celt, flickering back and forth – but the tone always stays. Bitter and betrayed, like the look in America's eyes when they meet Canada's. And he knows he's become part of the tangle, even if he gets away he'll always be a part of it.
He gets his own independence eventually, in his own time and without fighting with England for it. He gets it after years of standing beside England, sometimes beside Scotland or Cornwall, Wales or even Ireland. But it's just a piece of paper in some ways. Because he still has the ties formed over centuries, he's still the only one who understands Hong Kong's feeling of being caught between two families and two worlds, he's the only one who can relate to North's desperate need for the fighting to stop. The world doesn't see him, even most of his family can forget him, but he's still a part of it. Just like he's always known, he'll never leave, and he'll never be able to help.
I'm slipping off the edge
I'm hanging by a thread
I wanna start this over again
There are times when Wales wonders if it might be easier just to let go. To give up, give in, and fade away. After all, for centuries, there wasn't anyone who'd really miss him. But he can't. He's held fast by the Welsh spoken proudly in the modern day, that was whispered during the time when England made it illegal. He's held by the dragon flag that still means something to people, and by the fact that to the English, even the non-English British will never really be the same as them. It doesn't change the fact that he doesn't seem to have a purpose. He doesn't need to struggle just to hang on like Cornwall, or the drive to be free again that Ireland shows from the start. So what's there for him? It seems, it's to be England's lackey; his accomplice in subjugating Ireland and fighting off Scotland. He doesn't fight; he can't win, so what's the point?
The Tudors are his kings, even if they're English kings they have the blood of his nearly-vanished royal line as well. This is when he finds himself becoming England's... Right-hand man implies a trust they don't share, but left-hand man is accurate enough. More than a lackey, but far less than a partner. It's far from ideal, but he clings to it because it's all he has. Even when their time ends, he keeps that role; Scotland and Ireland are too volatile, Cornwall too apathetic, and a little later, North is too young. So Wales finds himself dragged along to the wars England gets involved with, usually blending in with the humans. He goes by his human name of Bran Llywelyn more than not, and no one asks any questions. No one thinks to ask if England's backup is another nation.
Except for the War of Austrian Succession, because he was playing his old flute, the one he's managed to keep intact since the pre-Rome days, with care and the occasional bit of magic. Everyone knows Austria's the musician of the nations, so of course he'd have to know about an instrument he wasn't familiar with. They talked a lot back then, and three hundred years later, England left Wales in Vienna to oversee the Allied occupation. Eventually, he and Austria started talking again, and now they're rather good friends.
Wales isn't entirely sure when that changed on his side of things and became more, but it's irrelevant. It's like everything else, the uselessness of the old days, the lingering bitterness; he doesn't talk about it, and no one knows about it. It's like what happened with Rome, the memories he won't discuss. It's like the guilt he feels about leaving England behind, and later helping him to invade Ireland. Sometimes Wales wonders what it would be like to let go of the secrets, or how it would be if they were different and none of the mess had ever happened. Going back, or being able to let go, would be nice, and he wishes he could do just that, but he knows it's not going to happen. One way or another, it's impossible.
So I try to hold onto a time when nothing mattered
And I can't explain what happened
And I can't erase the things that I've done
No I can't
As far as everyone knows, Scotland regrets nothing. That's how he acts, after all; he smirks when Ireland brushes him off and acts proud of the times he's cursed England. He mocks Wales for his romance denial, tells Cornwall he's a downer and drags him out to pubs, and tells North he must have hallucinated the drunken ramblings Scotland won't admit to. Scotland doesn't apologize, he doesn't explain, and he is very good at making people think he doesn't care. It's easier that way.
Oh, he gets angry, sure, he'll yell at England for their centuries of rivalry, so on and so forth, but he doesn't put all that much effort into it. It's not hard to act angry and resentful when he is. But, well, here's the thing. He left them. When Rome came, he left his brothers to face the invader alone, running to his moors where even Rome was never able to find him. He remembers when Cornwall came back – Wales got lost somewhere in Central Europe, where the Germanic countries are today – and said they had to leave England, that they couldn't afford to only have one of them free to fight if they didn't get away clean. And Scotland wonders even now, should he have stayed? Should he have let himself be captured too, so there'd be one more fighter for the escape? Maybe then they could have taken England with them, and things would be different.
Maybe, if England hadn't been driven to get back at them and they'd never turned on each other, they'd still be united today, but in a more equal fashion. Maybe Ireland would still be with them, maybe Scotland's true Stuarts, trying to take back their crown from the German cousins who had stolen it, wouldn't have rejected her in favor of France, back in the 1700s. Scotland still laughs bitterly at the irony when he's drunk, or alone where no one can hear him; for a time he had his lover back, but he had to give up his sister for it. He knows, when he looks into her eyes, that she still hasn't forgiven him. France didn't understand, then or now; he knows Scotland and his siblings better than any other nation, but he's never understood how their bitter hate can coexist with a desperate love, and Scotland doesn't have the words to explain it.
He asks Wales one time, would things have been different if he'd gone with them, and the only answer he gets is a raised eyebrow and the comment that even if it would have, it hardly matters now. It's no answer at all, of course. So Scotland doesn't bring it, or any of the other things that haunt him, up ever again. He keeps it to himself, and denies it to the world. Stubbornly, he keeps demanding that England let him go, let him be his own nation again. Why? Well, he does want his independence back, that's true, but really? He doesn't intend to break his ties with the others, but if he can loosen them a little by being his own nation again, well, he'll have to face his guilt and his questions just a little less often.
How could this happen to me
I made my mistakes
Got nowhere to run
The night goes on
As I'm fading away
Hong Kong wasn't originally part of this family, any more than Canada was. He had a family before England adopted him as a little brother, and when he's let go in 1997, he goes back to them. Not that he knows what to do with them. The way China looks at Japan when he's not looking, it's like England looking at America, or any of the older UK siblings looking at each other, and all Hong Kong can think is that betrayal must be universal. He's too Western now, too used to coping in a culture radically different than the one of his birth that he's not entirely sure how to be home again. His city is one thing, it's as much a child of two worlds as he is, but with his Asian family... He wants to understand them, wants them to understand him, but it's been too long.
He remembers when he was first handed over to England, a forfeit when China lost the Opium Wars. He remembers his older brother's tears and the cold green eyes of the Empire who took his hand and led him onto the ship. Those eyes softened for a moment, Hong Kong thinks now, when he ran to the rail of the ship, clinging to it desperately as all he'd ever known vanished from sight. Then it was the London house, faced with a green-eyed, tousle-haired boy who dragged him to a playroom. North Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand were all far wilder in their play than he had ever been, but behind his stoic mask he laughed at their antics, and so found a place as their straight man, and the one who could get away with the most audacious pranks because no one suspected him. Until they realized that fireworks were his trademark.
These days, he often finds himself in Belfast or Ontario, or sometimes he's the host in his downtown apartment, green tea, pancakes, and soda bread shared between him, North Ireland, and Canada. The three of them, the lost boys as Canada says once, a bleak joke. All of them know how it feels to be pulled in different directions, all of them know the conflict of opposing loyalties. North, caught between England and Ireland, Protestant and Catholic, is he British or Irish, or can he always be both. Canada the invisible, France's little brother as much as England's and America's twin; who slips into French sometimes without realizing it, his pale indigo eyes going more blue than violet when it happens. And him, Hong Kong, a boy China loved but had to let go of and the young man England raised, straddling two very different worlds; too Western for the East and too Eastern for the West.
To the humans his name is James Kirkland, except when it's Wang Jiang. He's tried different combinations of his human name, every logical one he can think of, but none of them seem to fit him the way others' human names fit them, falling easily from the lips of those close to them. His Asian family calls him Jiang when they're being affectionate; the UK brothers and Ireland call him James. Canada and North call him Frere and Deartháir, brother in French and Irish Gaelic. They don't use his human names, and he calls them both Xiōngdì in return. They spent years teaching their languages to each other and now they shift easily between them, Gaelic and French and Chinese, and even English, since it's what binds them in the first place, that language and all it stands for. It's the only time he feels right anymore, everything he's born to and all he's learned to be mixing together. Because that's what he is, neither and both, and only with others who are the same can he be at home.
I'm sick of this life
I just wanna scream
How could this happen to me
Sealand is born in war, a World War II fort that really shouldn't have a personification at all but somehow does. His first memory is of England staring at him in bewilderment as he tugged at the older nation's trouser leg, demanding to be picked up. Later, he remembers that Cornwall was there, and so were Scotland and Wales – their eyes are bright blue, like his own, but they don't seem to understand him any more than Cornwall or England do. Cornwall patted him absently on the shoulder, Wales played a song on his strange flute for him but said little, Scotland ruffled his hair like he was some sort of puppy, and England looked at him like he couldn't decide if he wanted to hug him tight or push him away.
He decided to push him away, and though both of them would act furious if told, Sealand is more like his older brother than either of them know. If England won't be his older brother, if he's willing to leave him behind, Sealand won't let himself be let down again. So he calls England 'Jerk' and demands recognition as a country, when all he really wants is to be recognized as a brother. When all he wants is to be part of a family that he should belong to, but somehow never quite does. Even though he looks in a mirror and sees a face like Cornwall's and England's, eyes identical to Wales and Scotland. North's the only one who is anything like family; when he met Sealand he let him ride on his shoulders, and played with him for hours, but these days he spends more time with Canada and Hong Kong. He can't see that Sealand's as lost as they are; the youngest of the family is very like Scotland in that way, pain hidden by being obnoxiously energetic.
Sweden doesn't understand why Sealand's so happy when he sort-of adopts him over the Internet. He expected loud complaining at the very least, Finland tells Sealand, because of course Sweden himself won't say anything unnecessary. What Sealand wants to say but can't – because he's Sealand, he's a country and he doesn't need England or anyone else – is that he doesn't fight because maybe, just maybe, he can actually find a family this time. And he likes the Nordics, he really does. He likes how Sweden isn't really scary at all, he just comes off that way and doesn't know it, how Finland always manages to be cheery and level-headed. He likes it the time Norway takes him to meet the trolls and is surprised that he can actually see them, and Denmark encourages his prankster side, which he then turns on Iceland to see if anything can break his stoic mask. Really, he's as poker-faced as Hong Kong, and that's saying a lot.
Sealand likes the Nordics, he likes that they accept him with very little question. It's the closest thing he's had to knowing a real family, but it's still never quite right. As much as he wishes it wasn't, it only feels right when North shows up on his fort to drag him to a UK family holiday, because even with all the fighting and insanity, deep down he knows he should have been there all along. He just doesn't know how to say it, doesn't know how to ask for a chance, and so he stays as he is, belonging nowhere, someone who shouldn't exist but he does anyway, and trying to find a place to fit.