Ladies and gentlemen, it is the 24th December (...or technically the 25th here in the UK) and we have reached the end of this little collection of mine. With the Top Five votes done and dusted, all that is left is for me to present you with a "secret" prompt, one which didn't appear on the poll, to round us off nicely. To sum it up briefly, I would describe it as 'Christmas Eve in a newly-liberated French town'. I hope you all enjoy it!
Thanks to: Pandora of Ithilien, Isa-chan, callinthetides, Random Fangirl Number 37, rein hitomi, This Could Theoretically Be Sparta, IrisWill, Laurelleaves, nadrixam, sabacat, Fleur de Londres, bleach-otaku and Ellenthefox (and Haku again for your FB squeeing, haha).
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas: This seasonal favourite first appeared in the 1944 MGM musical Meet Me In St Louis, sung by Judy Garland's character Esther. Though the film is set in St Louis, Missouri, in 1904, the song was written with the war in mind, with lines like 'Someday soon we all will be together' and 'Faithful friends who are dear to us/will be near to us once more' making it extremely popular with both soldiers fighting a long way from home and their families waiting for them.
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
The church was filled to the brim with soldiers. It was ancient – crooked and quaint with the antiquity of its design – and the old stone walls and brilliant stained glass windows spoke of a great many things, knew so much more than this war even if those it held within its safe embrace did not. The men huddled in silence and prayed for peace but they did not know famine or plague, nor indeed the toil of medieval life, of hard unforgiving earth and less water than could be spared.
All they knew was this war – and that they wanted it to be over.
1944; and it was Christmas Eve – or, more precisely, Christmas Day, the early hours of. For six long, hard, crippling months they had fought their way through France, taking it back bit by bit starting with a scattering of beaches, the closest ones to the edge of Britain. By late December, they had Paris – and more than Paris, they had tiny medieval towns like this one with which to fill their victorious pockets.
Tonight everything had halted; they had stopped pushing forward, coming to rest wherever they landed. Even those soldiers who were not particularly devout or even religious gravitated towards the churches on this night, seeking the silence and the calm and the safety that they offered so that the midnight masses were crowded with France's saviours. Here, too, were the four of them: America, Canada, France himself and England, lined up on the back bench in the midst of their jumbled, exhausted men.
The mass was in French, of course, though the priest was aware of the vast numbers of English-speaking soldiers in his congregation and was making allowances and edits where he could, repeating things in English and noting that some of the carols to accompany the service would be sung in English, too. The sound of O Little Town of Bethlehem arched towards the small church's high ceiling, sounded lustily by the voices of young men who wanted to go home and curling like smoke in every tiny nook – this was in English, a little clumsy, and England looked at the two of his companions he was sitting between.
On his right was France, who sat in silence with his head so deeply bowed that his blonde hair fell forward and curtained his face from view; he had a string of battered wooden rosary beads threaded between his worn fingers, his thumb followed the shape of them in an absent-minded chase. France was such a lecherous piece of work that England often forgot that he was also a deeply religious man, Catholic through to the bone even if he was quiet about it.
On his left was America, sitting bolt upright with his back straight, his hands clasped together and his eyes intent on the priest. America was not a Catholic, though he had never quite decided which other sect of Christianity to belong to, but he was listening to the service, to the hymns, with rapt interest. He was so enthralled that he had quite forgotten, it seemed, to take off his overseas hat, which was still perched at its precise angle atop his blonde head.
England, who had a church named after him and hadn't been a Catholic since Henry VIII had fallen out with the Pope in 1534, tried his best to sit still and not be bored. He spared a glance at Canada on France's right, finding him to even be singing the hymn, and rolled his eyes. He'd never had much patience for Catholic services himself and was surprised, quite frankly, that America was sitting so still.
He took another look at America, who didn't appear to notice his attention; the lad, though not singing, was listening to his men sing instead, his head a little to one side as though hearing the lyrics for the first time. He looked unspeakably lovely in the dancing light of the advent candles lining the church walls, handsome and perfected by a sense of duty – and sad, too, so so sad, his hands locked together in what was perhaps prayer, perhaps pain. England had never seen him quite like this before and wanted to reach for him and touch him, to brush his cheek, to stroke his hair, to slip his hand into his, just to say that he was there, that it was okay, but he didn't dare. He felt, almost, that America would shatter if he so much as nudged him, perhaps burst into bubbles and be gone on the night air.
So he clenched his fists on his lap and listened himself to O Little Town of Bethlehem. He noticed that some of the men – more than some – were in tears, young boys in army uniforms bedecked with medals crying in silence.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight—
And he understood.
"It was written by an American," France said as they all crowded out of the church.
"What was?" England asked idly, pulling his thick wool army-issue coat around himself to shut out the bitter December cold.
"O Little Town of Bethlehem." France grinned at England's expression. "You truly did not know?"
England cleared his throat.
"I did not," he admitted. He glanced at America himself, who was several feet ahead of them swinging off Canada's arm. "One of his, hmm?"
"It would appear so, mon cher." France shivered. "Come, we should return to the Jeep and go back to the camp. It is growing very cold."
"What, aren't we even going for a sodding drink?" England asked incredulously.
France shot him an irritated look.
"It is past one in the morning at Christmas," he said dryly. "Nowhere is open, I am afraid. You will have to go without."
"Typical," he groused. "Well, it's my own fault, I suppose. I don't know what I was expecting in this backwater cesspool."
France merely smirked, allowing England to dig his own grave and bury himself with that one. A tiny village though it may have been, it was one of France's very oldest and finest, beautiful in everything it had to offer; it looked rather like something out of a fairytale, all winding cobbled streets and old buildings with wooden frames warped by age. It was a clear night, moonlit and still, and the old wrought-iron street lamps flared against the silver-lit sky with a certain Gothic splendour. It had been taken by the Nazis in 1941 and had been liberated at long last – in December, 1944 – by the Allies not three days before. In spite of its ordeal, it had little mark to show for it, forever a small and sleepy jewel in the heart of France.
"Alright, then," England went on crossly. "Where did America park the bloody Jeep? Let's just go back to the camp and I'll get drunk there instead."
"That is what I suspected."
"Shut up, frog." England looked ahead towards America, who was with Canada still, one arm slung boisterously around his twin's neck. "...America seems rather preoccupied with Canada tonight, don't you think?"
"Ah." France smirked. "Are you jealous that he has for once directed his attention elsewhere?"
"Not at all," he retorted waspishly. "It's nice to see him pay attention to poor Canada now and then. It's just..." He gave a little sigh. "...I don't know, he seems... different tonight. He's... he's been a little odd recently, don't you think?"
France gave a knowing smile.
"He is growing up at long last," he said gently. "Or, rather, this war has made him grow up very quickly." He, too, glanced at the twins. "It is not a bad thing. He has been very afraid for a long time but I do believe that he is finally learning to cope with it. You will see, Angleterre – he will emerge very strong from this. You will be proud of him."
"It was a nice service, wasn't it?"
England, who had been smoking (leaning against the Jeep back at the camp), turned towards America in surprise.
"You frightened the life out of me," he coughed irritably. "What are you doing out here? I thought you were going to bed after that third sherry."
"Thought I'd come keep you company first. It is Christmas, after all. I feel bad leaving you out here to rot all by yourself."
"It's only just Christmas," England corrected, tossing his cigarette to the ground and stamping it out. "Besides, I'm finished."
"Then you keep me company for a bit," America insisted, propping himself against the Jeep's robust body and sticking his hands in his pockets. He was silent for a long moment, then nudged England with his elbow and nodded towards the small town, the lit church still bright like a flame in the distance. "Swell view, isn't it?"
"It is," England agreed, sighing. His breath clouded in front his face as he spoke. "...America, are you... alright?"
America blinked at him, looking surprised.
"Of course," he replied. "Why do you ask?"
"Well, it's just that you seem a bit... preoccupied."
"Sure I am!" America exclaimed. "There's a lot of stuff going on around here, after all."
"I... I suppose—"
"But this," America went on. He nodded again towards the tiny town they had liberated. "This is just something for me – so that I can remember, you know?"
"Remember what?" England asked, frowning.
"Remember that there is still good in the world," America said, smiling at him. He reached for England's hand and wound their chilled fingers together. "Because some of the stuff I've seen out here... I forget. I forget that there is still kindness and love and hope. Even when I look at you, sometimes I forget."
England smiled weakly, unhappily, and laid his head on America's shoulder.
"That's because you're growing up," he said softly. "Sometimes we forget, the older we get, how to be kind to one another. That is why there are so many wars." He gave a deep sigh. "It's just an endless cycle of wars because we don't how to be kind or to be happy."
"That's why I need to remind myself," America replied. "I need to know that it's still there in human hearts, however slight. Seeing the men altogether in that church, with some of them in tears... It made me realise that they're good men and that this needs to end. I don't want there to be any more fighting, any more killing. I want everyone to go home safe to their family and friends and for there to be nothing like this ever again."
"My," England said dryly, rolling his eyes, "you are optimistic."
"I don't need to be," America said, squeezing England's hand. "One of my fellas, Phillip Brookes, already put the words right in my mouth: Where Charity stands watching and Faith holds wide the door; the dark night wakes, the glory breaks—"
England smiled against America's broad shoulder, watching Christmas Day dawn behind the tiny church in France's freed heart.
"—And Christmas comes once more."
I did it. I got them all done. I don't know HOW I did it but I did it. Yaaaaaaaaaaay~!
...I'm sure as hell suffering for it now, though. I only got four hours sleep last night before traipsing back into work again and now it's past 3am once more; seriously, I couldn't give two hoots about presents at the moment, I am having a fucking lie-in tomorrow, I can tell you that now. XD
HOWEVER, despite this having – as I predicted – near killed me, I feel that it was worth it. You have all been wonderfully supportive and very very kind and I would just like to thank each and every one of you, be you a reviewer or simply a silent reader, for your time this week. I am very happy that people have enjoyed this so much and I assure you that every single one of your comments has been very deeply appreciated. Thanks also to everyone who voted on the poll initially – I couldn't have done it without you, obviously! :3
Please do all have a very Merry Christmas tomorrow – or, if you don't celebrate, simply have a very lovely 25th December! Thank you so much!
(O Little Town of Bethlehem was indeed written by an American pastor by the name of Phillip Brookes. He was from Philadelphia and wrote the song as a poem in 1858 after a visit to Bethlehem three years before. Ikr? I had no idea either!)