Disclaimer: Nothing but the OCs are mine
A/N: So, after my last, depressing UK family fic, I decided to try my hand at a more inspiring one.
When I am down
And oh, my soul, so weary
When troubles come
And my heart burdened be
Then I am still and waiting in the silence
Until you come
And sit a while with me
You raise me up
So I can stand on mountains
You raise me up
To walk on stormy seas
I am strong
When I am on your shoulders
You raise me up
To more than I can be – You Raise Me Up, Celtic Woman
Cornwall doesn't sleep much these days, which is why he's to be found prowling the halls of the London house at half past two in the morning. He's not sure exactly what it is that keeps him up – or rather, he can take his pick of nightmares to point the blame at. It's odd, because he's always tired these days. But then, of course he is; he's slowly fading, like so many before him have done. He can see it when he looks in the mirror, at his skin growing ever-paler and his hair slowly turning from dark blond to white.
Normally the house is silent when he goes for his walks. Oh, some nights Wales is outside playing that damned flute of his, or Scotland stumbles in completely blitzed, or England's up all night in his study, buried in work, or Ireland... But Ireland won't be there anymore, he reminds himself. Generally there's nothing, and even when someone else is up and about, they leave him be. But tonight... Tonight he passes by North's room, and he hears the stifled sobs. "North, what's wrong?" he asks when he comes inside, kneeling by the bed to look into reddened green eyes.
He knows already, though. North made a choice today, to stay with them and to let Ireland leave the UK on her own, without him. So he knows what his littlest brother means when he whispers, "Did I do right? Did I make the right choice?"
Cornwall can't really say yes or no to that question, not honestly. He's never been comfortable with the older brother job anyway. But he's the one here right now, and... "'Course you did, North. You stayed because you believed it was the right choice, and that makes it right. And we're glad you stayed with us." The boy curls against him, and Cornwall hopes he's done some good.
North doesn't always live in the London house anymore. He can't, not when the Troubles are wreaking so much havoc on him. So he has his little flat in Belfast, and he thinks good thoughts and tries to figure out how to calm everyone down. He talks to England, he talks to Ireland. He says flat-out that they need to stop fighting over him, or they're going to destroy him. They're talking now, and he's waiting to hear the results.
He heads to the kitchen to make some tea, and he finds Cornwall standing at the window, staring out into the night. "Cornwall? Is everything all right?"
"He's going to give you some sort of home rule, you know that," Cornwall says softly. "Scotland and Wales too, I think. But not me. I'm still just another county, and even with people remembering my language and that they're Cornish and not just English again..." He runs a hand through his hair. "How long can I go, North? I've been fading for centuries; is that bit of memory enough to keep me here?"
North is a teenager, only about fifteen physically, but he's tall – a legacy that, like the hints of blue in his eyes, comes from Scotland, who formed him as much as England and Ireland, really. He's taller than Cornwall, the smallest of them, and for once he's not awkward with his too-long limbs as he hugs his oldest brother from behind. "They remember you," he says softly. "And I remember you. We'll keep you here, we won't let you go." He doesn't know if it helps, really, but he feels some of the tension leave Cornwall's body, and that is at least something.
Alba wraps Eire's tiny hands around the hilt of the sword, and then lifts her chin with one hand. "Head up. You can't see the enemy if you're looking down, hen," he says, tugging at the end of her braid. Eire sticks her tongue out at him and he tugs a bit harder. "Hey now, none of that, I'm just trying to help." Eire tilts her head at him and asks why; he doesn't know how to tell her about this Rome, or even about the tribes that he, Kernow, and Cymru have managed to keep her and Albion safe from. So he tells her it's just something good to know, and moves on to showing her how to take her stance.
She's good at it, but she also thinks it's a game, swordplay, and even if Alba knows differently he can't quite bear to destroy her innocence. Which is why he's terrified to see her in the middle of a fight, eyes wide and face pale, a smear of blood on her cheek. She's holding her own, a tiny thing fighting with the greater strength all their kind seem to have, but she's outnumbered and he's running to help her before he even decides to do it.
"I could have done it," she pipes up when their side's won, when he's carrying her from the battlefield on his back – he doesn't want to lose her again.
"I know, but I wanted to protect you. We're family, and that's what we do."
Technically, she should not be here. She fought to be free of England, to no longer be a part of the "United Kingdom" and yet now she's back. Dressing as a man, calling herself Liam O'Malley and acting as one of the North Irish pilots, it's ridiculous. But, well, a fair amount of her citizens are doing this, even if she and her government are neutral in this fight. She's here for them.
But no matter how much she tells herself that, she knows it isn't entirely true. She's here for her boys as well, her brothers who she loves as much as she resents them, a confusing tangle even she can make no sense of. Ireland's here because she can't quite bear not to be, when she knows her brothers are fighting, hurting. Just like this flight – she knows who Cal Stuart is, knows which plane is his and there's no way she's letting the Germans shoot her brother down.
After, when they've gotten back to base, he comes over to thank Liam, and when she takes off her helmet he just stares at her, blue eyes wide and shocked. "I... What...? Why are you here?" Ireland gives him a long, considering look before she shrugs and just tells the truth.
"We're family, aren't we? We protect each other."
It's happened again. England doesn't mistake him for America out loud anymore, but when Canada comes to the London house to visit, he sees it in England's eyes for that moment. He sees the thought that he's America, come to... To what? Apologize? The last thing America would ever apologize for is his independence. And, well, Canada knows that England doesn't mean to do it. He doesn't, but... It still hurts, that England went to all that trouble to take him away from France, and now he barely remembers that he exists. And as for France, well... He mostly just tuts and says that Canada's becoming too Anglais.
Normally, he'd play with North and Hong Kong – he can't keep up with Australia and New Zealand – but he feels too moody to smile for them today, so he goes up to the roof instead. Sitting on the roof of a house might be frowned on, but he's done it ever since he was brought up there on his first day by Wales, who... Who is sitting up there himself, watching the sunset and turning his old flute in his hands.
"Hi there, bychan. You're up here, so what's wrong?" he says, and Canada suddenly feels just a bit better. Bychan means little one in Welsh, but he's the only one Wales calls that, it's a name that's just for him, which means that the one Wales sees is him.
Canada sits down next to him and sighs, telling him all about England and France, not admitting that a little endearment turned his day around, but he doesn't have to either.
Wales knows it's ridiculous to be angry, but... God, he fucking hates having to cover for England at the world meetings sometimes. It happens so rarely that between times, they forget which one he is again, and he always has to remind them. "Are you Cornwall?" Germany had asked, frowning at him. Even the ones who do know him, like France and Austria, always seem surprised when he's there, like he doesn't belong. Granted, France is rather mocking about it while Austria will usually take the time to chat a little and see when they'll next have a chance to visit with each other. And of course Ireland always smiles at him, but...
He hates it. They're all the damned U.K., every last one of them has the right to be here if they want to be. Really, he could come with England every bloody time if he wanted, and so could North and Cornwall. Not Scotland, who is banned for different reasons entirely, but at least they remember which one he is! Wales leans against the rail and reaches for a cigarette and his lighter. He needs a smoke right about now.
"Wales? Is everything all right?" says a quiet voice from behind him. Canada looks worried, holding onto that bear of his, and Wales sighs, shrugging.
"Ah, I'm just being a grouchy old man," he says dismissively, but Canada gives him a skeptical look, and then puts an arm around his shoulders and asks if he wants to come over for pancakes. And, well... The kid's pancakes are pretty good.
England knows a little bit about being an older brother. He's not so good with children on first meeting them, or with defiant teenagers – America being the most obvious example, though not the only one – but in the time between, with young children who don't mind having a hovering older sibling... He can handle that. He's fairly good at that.
China had warned him about Hong Kong's nightmares. "He's scared of the dark, ahen," China had said coldly. "I know you won't care, but you should know, ahen. I try to help him and let him stay with me. He'll miss that." England doesn't expect to see the small boy pushing his door open and peering around it, but he tries the gentle smile he learned with America and perfected with North, Australia, and New Zealand. "Come here, then, Hong," he says, as kindly as he can manage.
The boy is clinging to his soft toy, a panda bear, and his dark eyes are wide as he climbs in next to England, stiff like he's not sure he really should be there. Carefully, England runs long fingers through the boy's soft hair, soothingly. He starts to tell a story – it's one of his favorites, a Camelot story, and slowly Hong curls up closer to him, even as he nods off.
England falls asleep not long after, once again with a child to protect, though some part of him wonders how long it'll be before he loses this one as well.
Hong Kong looks between them. China and England, staring at each other resentfully. He loves them both, as he loves all of his family, both Asian and British. But these two... They're the ones who chased away his nightmares, who taught him and guided him. They've made him who he is. And now England thinks he's being left behind again, and China thinks that he's lost a brother to Western influence forever.
He is not a demonstrative sort of person. He's taken Asian inscrutability and British composure and combined them, to the point where he's not sure he could display more than a hint of emotion even if he tried. But he knows he must do something, because this day's supposed to be happy and it isn't. So he steps forward, and hesitantly, he puts a hand on each of his brothers' shoulders. He is taller than them both – like his city with its many skyscrapers.
"Neither of you are ever going to lose me," he says firmly. "I am who I am because of you both, I carry you both inside. And that means you will both always be my elder brothers, and I will never truly abandon either of you. I can't."
One pair of brown eyes and one pair of green fix on him, and Hong Kong can see that his words have had some effect. It isn't perfect, understandably, but he's at least made a start. They believe him, at least a little, and are hurting a little less.
What the living nations don't know is that none of them ever really die. They live on in some form or another. Rome comes down from the afterlife as a ghost to see his grandsons – he watches Romano too, even if it's only Veneziano that he approaches. As for Britannia, she walks in dreams. Her children don't know she's there, she does not speak to them, but she watches, and tries to guide them.
But now, she must speak. To this youngest of her children, born long after she faded away but still of her. The boy who lives in the middle of the ocean, on his tiny island of metal, sitting on the edge of his home with his legs swinging, looking up at the stars. He's dreaming but does not know it, and she sits next to him. Sealand leans into her, some instinct telling him she is safe.
"Oh, my dear child. They will accept you; they think you're happier away from them."
"England hates me, and the others don't care either way," Sealand says sadly. "The Nordics like me, but I don't really belong there."
"To the Nordics you do; they want you there or they would have said something by now. And England and the others... They're lost themselves, my child, and they don't really understand that they're hurting you. But it will be all right one day, I promise you that." She kisses his temple and thinks that it's time for him to wake up now, his hope restored.
Sealand knows he's dreaming, because he's never seen this place before. This green field, with a bonfire and symbols drawn in the cleared ground surrounding it. He knows the woman, though, with her silvery-blonde hair and her blue-green eyes. She comes to his dreams and sings him lullabies in languages he doesn't know, she smiles and talks to him more kindly than anyone he's ever known besides the humans on his fort.
But she looks sad tonight, staring into the flames. He comes up alongside her and sees what she sees; his older siblings living their lives, but never being happy. Denying their love for others, their longing for their family to be whole again. He watches, and fidgets a little; she watches and tears begin to spill down her cheeks. "I only wanted all of you to be happy," she murmurs.
Impulsively, Sealand takes her hand, and she looks over at him, startled. "We will be happy," he says, with a conviction he doesn't really understand himself. "We'll work it out, somehow. I don't know how, but we can do it!"
Britannia – he doesn't know how he knows that's who she is, he just does – smiles warmly at him, her hand cupping his cheek. "You might be the purest of them, my dear boy," she says gently. "And I think you might be right, in the end. I certainly hope so. Now wake up, little one."
Sealand wakes up in his room with the bright blue walls to find sun streaming in through his window. Another day of trying to be recognized, of trying to be accepted. But for once, he wonders if maybe the way to be accepted as a brother is to act like one, and try to help. Because at least he's happy most of the time; he doesn't think the others are. Something should be done about that.