Title: Burn a candle at Dover to show a light in Calais
Author: Zalia Chimera
Warnings: France and England talk. A lot. Politics, I guess.
The ceremony had been rather underwhelming, if England was honest with himself, uncomfortably stiff and formal, even for him, and you could tell that they'd been embarrassed about it, the way the French and English sailors eyed each other with some trepidation, even when they'd been talking jovially enough just before the ceremony had begun.
"They don't like this, you realise," England muttered glumly as he looked out over the railing of the ship. Even the swell and rock of the ocean, usually so reassuring, wasn't doing anything to soothe him this time.
"Mmm?" France looked over at him from where he'd been leaning, letting out a breath of curling smoke. He tapped the ash from the end of his cigarette before taking another drag. The smoke drifted over to England, acrid and pungent and damn, England felt his fingers itch. He'd given up for the most part, but there were times when he craved nothing more than a packet of fags and a lighter. France used it to taunt him, he was certain.
"This!" England said, gesturing widely to encompass the ship and the people and the whole situation. He still couldn't quite come to terms with it which was ridiculous. It wasn't entirely unheard of, but his people were clamouring and confused and whenever it was brought up it gave him a raging headache.
"Your people have deep misgivings about aircraft carriers?" France asked, eyebrows raising. "I knew that they were backwards but really, Angleterre, you should think about joining the rest of us in the twenty-first century."
England just scowled for a moment, giving France a sour look. "You're being deliberately obtuse." He didn't know why he expected differently.
France shrugged, a smile playing about his lips. He stubbed out the cigarette, dropping the stub over the side for some poor unsuspecting fish to eat and suffer a slow lingering death from nicotine addiction. "Oui."
"I don't know why I bother even trying to speak to you. You're as intolerable as always."
"Because you would be very bored without me, I am certain."
England snorted. "I don't know. I might enjoy a bit of peace and quiet. None of this European hysteria that you seem so fond of."
"Ah, of course," France said, smile widening into a smirk. "Like your idreadful/i tabloids and their obsession with which minor celebrity has been having misguided relations with another. You are just as hysterical as the rest of us, I am quite certain."
"The point is..." England said, firmly shifting the conversation back on track and pointedly ignoring France's comments about his supposed hysteria, "the point is that they're uncomfortable with this. It doesn't feel right. They worry that you'll renege on everything as soon as it doesn't benefit you."
France blinked, perhaps in surprise, perhaps just that England was speaking so bluntly about it and then shrugged. "It is possible," he said, his smile fading, and he actually sounded a little uncomfortable about the admission. "I am not my bosses and fifty years is such a long time nowadays. Things change so quickly."
A wry look appeared on England's face at that, and he nodded. "It's strange," he said thoughtfully. "Fifty years used to be nothing. Maybe the reign of a single monarch and you knew at the end of the fifty years you'd be using pretty much the same weapon as you were using at the start, communicating in the same way. And now? Heh, for all I know in fifty years we'll be fighting over colonies on Mars."
France made a noise of agreement. "Or everything will have collapsed and we'll have returned to hitting each other with sharpened pieces of metal."
That made England give a short laugh, shaking his head. "And here I thought you were the optimist."
France looked genuinely surprised at the very notion. "Me? You make me think that you do not know me very well at all! And then... who is to say that that is not the optimistic option, hm? It was a simpler time. Not ieasier/i but simpler."
"I'm not sure I can believe that," England replied. "Court intrigues and binding us together through thoroughly unsuitable marriages and spending your days wondering whether God was going to smite you for this or that."
"I never worried about that," France said sniffily. "I was not some little heathen jumping on the first alternative that came along just to spite the rest of the world." His shoulders slumped and if England looked hard enough, he could see the faint lines around his eyes, the dark rings which weren't quite concealed by make up. England hadn't even bothered to hide the signs of his own exhaustion before coming out on deck, although he'd probably have to do something before the press conference. "Non..." France continued quietly, "even with that, we never had to worry about..." he paused, running a hand through his hair in a familiar gesture of frustration, "about rising sea levels and complete economic collapse and whether someone is going to be mad enough to push the big red button and we find out whether God considers our kind irredeemably tainted."
"If there is a god," England couldn't resist adding.
France gave him a sour look. "I like to think that there is," he replied, although it lacked some of the burning conviction that it had once had, back when such things were inalienable truth. "A creator and a Plan and a heaven after all of this ends." There was an almost wistful smile on his lips.
England shrugged, staring down at the water far below, reflecting the gunmetal grey of the ship itself. "I think after whatever event manages to kill us, nothingness would be a relief. I can think of worse fates than being consigned to the history books. Just look at Prussia. He's living it up pretty well for something non-existent."
"Oui." And France was smiling, a familiar little twist of his lips. Not a happy expression, but confident and arrogant and England liked it so much better than the uncertain looks or public faces that he wore. Sometimes England cursed cameras for making those so much more commonplace. "And how will this be recorded in the history books, do you think, mon cher?" he asked, gesturing expansively across the deck of the ship.
"Depends if you hold up your side of the bargain," England replied quickly, baring his teeth in a not-quite-smile before settling down, a more thoughtful expression overtaking his face. "Greatest bloody military mistake in history if it doesn't work," he muttered. "Half the papers already think so."
"We have been allies before."
"During wartime," England replied, "time of greatest need, we will fight them on the beaches and all that." His words came out in a rush of cramped syllables, far from his usual measured eloquence and betraying his unease with the situation. He turned sharply, fixing France with an intent glare. "And now there's no war on our shores, no evil empire, no heroics, just economic necessity." There was something unrelentingly bitter in his voice.
France just looked at him for a long moment, until England huffed and turned away again, his fingers clenching in his pockets, obviously dying for a smoke, the poor fool, but denying himself. France would never understand the point of the English restraint, as though denying himself was somehow a virtue. He sighed, shaking his head, although his lips were curved up in an amused expression. "You have been watching too many of America's movies, I think. You sound like him, talking of heroes and villains like this."
That at least made England smile, just a little, a self-depreciating expression. "I suppose I do, yes," he agreed. "I just... perhaps I just feel a little obsolete now, or resent that I can be bought so easily. I used to be a power."
"We all did," France agreed, running a hand through his hair tiredly. "We great and ancient powers of Europe who ruled the globe and are now reduced to squabbling amongst ourselves."
"We always squabbled," England said, giving a soft snort and looking sideways at him. "The EU is just more organised squabbling."
"But it is hardly as grand and glorious, is it, to be squabbling over tariffs and agricultural subsidies, than it was to war over the lands that we craved."
"You shouldn't talk like that, France," England muttered, turning so that he could stare up at the sky. "You know the bosses don't like it when we talk about those things. It makes them uncomfortable." He smirked nastily. "Really derails their speeches about equality and world peace and helping the developing world and all."
France gave a soft little laugh, shaking his head so that his hair covered his face for a moment. It always made England want to touch it, to push it away out of his eyes. "They are silly. Humans, I mean. My history is my own. I am not always proud of it, but it is mine, and ignoring the things which are unpalatable now does not mean that it never happened. iI/i will remember."
"They don't bother to ask us though," England replied with a wry look. "I don't get many academics and political pundits knocking at my door asking for how this compares with the days of Victoria or Cromwell."
"Better sanitation, same bullshit," France replied, grinning.
"You just can't take things seriously, can you?" England asked, giving France a wry, sideways glance.
"I try not to as much as possible. I find it gets in the way of things." His slow smile turned sharp, an expression that England remembered well from past conflicts. Once it had sent a shiver of fear down his spine, now it made him shiver for very different reasons. France caught on, he always did, and trailed his fingers down the length of England's spine. It would have been more effective had his uniform not been so thick, but the intent was clear.
"Gerroff," England said, glaring at France and shifting a foot along the railing. France, predictably, followed him, hand resting against the small of his back, a patch of pleasant heat. "You are incorrigible!"
"You say that as though surprised. Are you perhaps becoming senile in your advanced age?"
"You're older than me..." he paused, frowning, "probably."
"It is a matter of how old you feel in spirit!" France replied with a soft laugh.
"And you're obviously feeling much like a five year old from how you're acting," England grumbled.
"Ah, you do say the sweetest things! Should you not be rejoicing on such a day as this. How many times have we tried to form a bond such as this?"
"Too many," England said, turning to look steadfastly over the side of the ship at the roiling ocean.
France sighed softly, running a hand through his hair, tugging lightly at it. "It is only a military venture," he said, a touch sulkily, trying to ignore the fact that he had hoped for a little more enthusiasm from England. "You do not need to consider it anything more if you do not wish to. It is purely economics."
England was silent for several very long moments, long enough that France was considering going back to his woefully small cabin by the time England finally spoke. "We've tried this too many times and had it fail," he said quietly, the bitterness in his voice barely restrained. "Why should I believe that this will be any different?"
"As I recall," France replied coolly, "you were the one to refuse me last time."
"Oh yes," England said with a humourless smile, "because I so relish being the last resort of a dying man."
"And if I had not been dying? I am not dying now."
England gave him a sharp, scrutinising look, searching his face before looking away once more. He folded his arms across his chest and leaned against the railing, back to France. "We're not doing this because we want to though, are we? Economic necessity is hardly the stuff of high romance and Hollywood."
"I rather think that you would despise me if I attempted to woo you in the manner of Hollywood," France replied dryly, a smile tugging at the corner of his lips. He stepped forward, pressing himself up against England's back and relishing the shiver which ran down the other Nation's spine as breath brushed his neck. "Would you really prefer bouquets and mix-tapes and platitudes over steel and swords and ships?"
"Steel and swords and ships sounds so much more romantic than offering to share aircraft carriers and have our troops train together," England replied, amusement clear in his voice.
France lets out a huff of breath in a soft chuckle. "I cannot be blamed if modern weaponry is entirely inelegant, even in name. A semi-automatic rifle will never match a rapier for beauty and it is also a rather hard name to work it into poetry."
"My love for you is like the semi-automatic rifle, that I gave to you beneath the Eiffel... I can't believe that I just said that," England groaned, leaning down to rest his forehead against the metal railing. France patted his back consolingly. "I suppose at least this time there's time for poetry and wondering how to fit 'weapons of mass destruction' into a sonnet. We got precious little of that during the Suez or..." He trailed off, mouth going suddenly dry, France tense behind him.
"Yes, well," France said after a moment of silence drawn taut and painful between them, "I'm rather savouring doing this while not being devastated by war." The forced cheerfulness was painful to hear.
England sighed heavily. "I resent that I understand what 'this' is even without you saying it. It's the kind of 'This' which deserves a capital letter." It was well on its way to following the Entente in that regard, which had gained the capital in normal speech somewhere around nineteen thirty-six.
"Trying to call it anything else would require pages of legal documentation and I don't think we're quite there yet."
"Maybe we're not far from it though," England said quietly, giving a significant glance to the two flags at equal height on the mast; the Union Jack and the Tricolore, flying as equals, flaring in the breeze. "I mean, it isn't as though I want to end up in bed with the entire EU," he added hastily, bringing a sneer to his lips.
France snorted softly. "Ah yes, because you have not already engaged in carnal pleasure with the majority of them at some point."
England opened his mouth to protest and then closed it, pursing his lips into a hard line. "I wouldn't say the majority of them," he said. "Just some of the West."
"All of the West," France replied easily, smirking as England spluttered and growled. "And a few others besides."
"Your mind is filthy," England muttered, giving him an irritated glare which France summarily ignored.
"I have said nothing filthy. If you find it filthy then there must be something wrong with your mind indeed, Angleterre."
"I hate you," England growled and his hand slid into France's, squeezing his fingers a little too hard to be entirely affectionate.
France's eyes widened a little in surprise before his expression twisted back to the habitual smirk. He squeezed back. "The feeling is entirely mutual," he said, voice husky and hungry and he leaned close, his lips brushing England's ear for a moment.
England tilted his head slightly, permission and agreement all in one. It made France purr low in his throat, drinking in the clean-rain scent of England. "Just imagine what we could have been if we were one," England said quietly. "An empire to last a thousand years."
A short laugh from France against the back of his neck. "I never wanted to be another Rome," he said, "and it would have been so very boring. So very ilonely/i."
England made a soft noise of agreement, although he looked slightly wistful. "Once you become a power, you can never stop being that power, even for a moment, or they'll tear you down."
"Splendid isolation was never so splendid, was it, Angleterre?"
England's hands clenched on the railing and he stared down into the waters below. Once he had thought them depthless, thought the oceans vast, and now they seemed so much smaller. "It was necessary," he said quietly. "We always bow to necessity," he added, lips curling into a sneer.
France laughed, a bitter note to it. "Oh, how we do." His arms wrapped tight around England's waist as though afraid that he might climb the railings and dive off into his beloved ocean. "Is this only necessity, Angleterre?" he asked quietly. He could feel the way that England's shoulder tensed at the question.
There was the peal of a horn from the ship. They were close to harbour, their first, short voyage almost done.
"It is necessity," England replied, "but perhaps it is not such an unpleasant one."
France's grip tightened for a moment, finger digging in hard to his sides and England sucked in a breath, staring out over the side.
"I can see land," he said. "I can see Dover."
France peered over his shoulder. "The white cliffs of Albion in the sun. Such a nostalgic sight."
"For you maybe," England said dryly. "They always meant that I was soon to be bound by policy again, back when I was a pirate."
"Most of your people would claim that they represented home."
"Most people can't feel them crumble slowly into the seas in their very bones," England grumbled softly. He straightened up, smoothing out his uniform. A quick nudge to the ribcage prompted France to do the same.
"What do you see in them now?" France asked warily, as they turned away from the cliffs of Dover as they approached. "Policy extends everywhere. Binds us ever more tightly. Everything must remind you of it now, not just chalk and sand."
England was silent for a moment as they walked, heels clicking on the steel floor.
"I see Europe."