Drop a heart
And break a name
We're always sleeping in
And sleeping for the wrong team...
We're going down, down in an earlier round
And sugar we're going down swingin'
I'll be your number one with a bullet
A loaded god-complex
Cock it and pull it
Chapter One – Going Down In An Earlier Round: It wasn't a surprise, really, that it was easiest to start with Portugal. But as England walked up the path to the familiar house outside Lisbon, he still hesitated. It had been so long ago, the thing that had finally driven Portugal away from him; would it even matter to her if he apologized now? It might not and he realized that, but it didn't change the fact that he had to do it. It wasn't as long ago as most of the other things he'd be talking to people about, after all, and unlike the others Portugal didn't hold much of a grudge.
He still remembered her matter-of-fact explanation that, while she still intended to be his ally and friend, she could no longer be his lover. Not when his government sought to betray hers, even if it wasn't his doing. He didn't blame her, not really. England knew quite well that in her place he'd have felt the same way. It hadn't made it hurt less when she left him, and it hadn't softened the blow when she had taken up with America, but he clung to it regardless.
She answered the door, gray eyes going wide when she saw England there. "Inglaterra! What are you doing here?" He hated hearing his country name on her lips, even if the Portuguese version sounded as lovely from her as it had on their first meeting. But after so long of using their real names... He pushed the thought aside, smiling faintly.
"I wanted to talk to you, Portugal, if you're not terribly busy at the moment." He knew she'd been feeling unwell, her economy shaky like so many others right now. But he hoped she'd be willing to talk to him.
"Oh, all right. I'll put on some tea then. Come on in." She stepped aside to let him past, and he looked around despite himself as he followed her to the kitchen. He hadn't visited her house since the 1890s, over two hundred years ago. It was modernized, of course, right down to the television by one wall of the living room and the laptop resting on the couch. But the house still had the same vibrant, welcoming feel it had always had. It reflected the mistress of the house, he'd always thought.
They made small talk as she brewed tea, not letting him help because he was the guest. They talked about his siblings and her brother, the family spats they were both all too familiar with. Portugal also speculated on what drama they could expect from next month's world meeting, giving England the chance to make characteristically snarky comments.
But when they both had their cups of tea they fell silent, and England wondered if Portugal was remembering what he was. Their reunion after her breaking away from her brother's control, her lovely Princess Catherine of Braganza, come to marry his Charles II. Catherine and Portugal had brought tea with them, a drink that had become iconic for England, but a beverage he preferred as much for the memories of better days as for the taste.
They drank in silence for a moment, before Portugal set down her cup and gave him a long, intent look. He recognized that focus from sea battles and colonization, from the Treaty of Windsor when their alliance became official. "Inglaterra, why are you here? You seem... preoccupied."
England sighed. This was the difficult part. "M- Portugal," he corrected himself hurriedly, remembering that he hadn't had the right to use her first name in a long time, "I... It's complicated, and utterly ridiculous, but I suppose you could say that I'm sort of... I think the humans call it 'finding themselves', or perhaps a midlife crisis. If the latter, I'm having it quite late, but recently I've wanted to..."
"To what?" she asked gently, putting a hand over both of his where he'd been twisting his fingers together restlessly. "Artur, what are you here to say to me?"
She'd always preferred to say his name in her way, country or human. "Madalena, I... I know it doesn't matter anymore, but I wanted to apologize."
"For 1890? That was such a long time ago, and we are friends again – at least, I think so, though you never seem to want to talk to me so I don't actually know. Why would you apologize now? Is your government...?"
It wasn't the question he was hoping for, against his good sense. The question he'd promised he'd listen for, swearing he'd change his mind if he heard it. And a promise to the fae was one you had better keep. But he doubted he'd have to, if even Port... He shook off the thought, focusing on Portugal instead. "I know it's foolish," he said finally. "I do know that. And it's nothing to do with my bosses."
"If you know all that, then why bother? I don't need an apology from you now; I didn't really need one then, though I'd have appreciated a warning when you couldn't talk your bosses out of it. Maybe my government wouldn't have collapsed if I'd been better prepared."
"I know, and..."
"Like I said, I don't need an apology, Inglaterra. I always knew you regretted it and wished things were different. I just wonder, why bring it up now? It's a bit unkind of you, even if you didn't want it to be. I... don't like remembering that, and I didn't think you did either."
"I don't," England said quietly. "I didn't mean to upset you, I'm sorry. I suppose you could say I've been trying to... make amends for things, somehow, in whatever ways I can. But you're right, this was a bad idea."
"Wait, Artur, don't-" But he stood and left with a quiet good-bye, cutting her off. He didn't hear her call his name again – Arthur, this time, his way of saying it that she almost never used – or see her worried expression. It wasn't that she wasn't going to ask what he'd been waiting for, it was that he'd assumed she wouldn't, and hadn't given her the chance.
"Austria? Are you in?" Austria glanced up from his sheet music at the sound of the familiar, lilting voice – he hadn't heard the door open. Was he in? Honestly, the sound of Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty Waltz should have rendered that question moot.
"I'm in the piano room, Wales," he called with just a hint of exasperation in his voice. "Did you not hear me playing?"
"Touchy today, are we?" Wales was leaning in the doorway, smirking just a little. "And yeah, I heard, but it's still polite to ask."
Austria ended the song and looked over his shoulder, raising an eyebrow. "I believe it's actually polite to ring a doorbell instead of simply walking into another person's house." He sounded huffy, but there was a hint of amusement in his eyes even though he had done his best to not be amused at all. "That aside, what are you doing here? I thought you said you had that... What was it? British-Irish Council?"
"I did, but we broke up early. England and Scotland got into a fistfight again. I did make twenty pounds by getting Cornwall, Ireland, and the Channel Islands twins to bet on the outcome, but otherwise I can't say the day was all that productive." The Celtic nation was sitting in one of the room's chairs by this point, ever-present black jacket draped over the back. "What about you? Usually you're playing Mozart this time of day." Or, really, any day, went unspoken.
Austria sighed, picking out random chords absently. "Oh, it's nothing in particular. Merely..." He fell silent, trying to put it into words. It was more an instinct really, and an old, rarely noticed instinct at that.
"You know, leaving me hanging like that's hardly fair."
"It's my little brother, Kugelmugel. I am certain that he's up to something – your young brother Sealand came by to fetch him today, and Kugelmugel happened to be here when the boy came... I don't know Sealand all that well, but from the stories you've told me about his and North Ireland's pranks I'm sure you can understand my concern."
"It's probably just another micronations club meeting, or whatever it is that they call themselves. Although..."
"Although what?" Austria did not like the sound of that, or the sudden hint of concern in Wales' eyes.
"Nothing, just remembering Canada-"
"I'm sorry, who are you- Oh, wait... America's brother, the... one with the bear that Prussia rambles about now and again?"
"Right. He said that he noticed Kugelmugel and Sealand chatting with North and Hong Kong at New Year's. Now, they could have just been talking, or there could be something up again."
"Again? What do you mean, again?"
"Er, well... The last time Hong, North, and Sealand got together, they got their hands on England's spellbook and he was physically five for a month. You might remember the world meeting where Scotland insisted on coming along when England was indisposed and I was to cover for him?"
Austria winced. Yes, he remembered; the incident had been rather difficult to forget. A drunk Scotland was a sight he would not have wished to see under any circumstances; a drunk Scotland in a kilt, armed with bagpipes and handcuffs stolen from Japan (of all people) was far beyond something he simply had never wished to see. "So that was why England wasn't there. I trust that you aren't telling me I'm likely to wake up one morning to find myself returned to childhood?"
"Er, no, probably not, but I am admitting there's a chance they're up to something." Wales shook his head. "Best thing to do is keep an eye out and otherwise not worry about it. I'd have thought you knew that; you had a couple of kids running 'round underfoot years back, didn't you?"
"Italy and Holy Rome, yes, but they... weren't like Kugelmugel, really."
"Well, kids are all different; England and Ireland were a different experience than North or Sealand, and they were all different from each other." Wales shrugged. "Anyway, what else has been going on with you? I haven't really seen you since New Year's."
"As usual, not very much. I've been a bit under the weather due to my economy, but that is no worse than much of the world, and certainly less than, for example, Greece. But, in all honesty, I have not had much to do lately. I have my presentation for the world meeting finished-"
"Already? It's not until the middle of next month, and you're done?"
"I prefer to have such things out of the way," Austria replied in his most lofty tone. Wales rolled his eyes.
"Oh, don't go all imperial on me, you know I'm just teasing you."
"Be that as it may, you don't have to interrupt me. Especially as I was answering your question."
"That's fair enough."
There was something about the way Wales said that; Austria looked over at him again, to find blue eyes watching him with a very strange expression. Almost as though... "Wales? Is something wrong?"
He seemed to shake himself, and it was as though a wall came down. Austria considered pressing the point – for a moment he'd thought he recognized the look as one he himself sometimes directed at Wales, and wondered if he'd missed it from Wales before – but decided against it for now. He likely would get nowhere, and really, he had enough trouble and stress at the moment between the economy and what his little brother may or may not be plotting to risk a fight with his... friend.
North's nerves were still more than a little frayed from the British-Irish Council meeting, but then, that was about par for the course with his temperamental family and he knew it. Unfortunately, Wales never let him join the betting pool because he was still physically under eighteen. He'd been right about England winning that particular fight, after all... But he wasn't allowed, and it's not something worth brooding over. So instead he looked around his kitchen table, wondering all of a sudden where he misplaced his sanity.
Kugelmugel was talking to Sealand in an undertone, but judging from the way violet eyes were fixed on his walls with a disapproving look, North was pretty sure that his decorating skills were being criticized. He would have gotten angry if it wasn't for Kugelmugel being so small. He was physically only a couple of years younger than Sealand – maybe ten to his twelve – but he was really rather short for his age.
"I think we should get started." Thank God for Hong Kong. He mostly just looked bored at the antics, but a hint of a smile flickered across his face when North looked his way. "I'm used to silly nations the way you are used to bickering ones." North snickered, but got serious again when the two micronations turned their attention to him.
"So, all right," he said. "We're basically meeting to discuss the fact that our siblings can't manage their lives by themselves, and have somehow ended up miserable. And we're going to have to fix that."
"Why are you in charge? It was my idea," Sealand said, frowning. North rolled his eyes.
"Because I'm older than you?"
"But Hong Kong's older than you!"
"I did not want to like, be in charge," Hong Kong cut in. Kugelmugel, meanwhile, was looking irritated.
"Arguing is not art," he said, a faintly lofty tone to his voice that sounded very much like he was trying to mimic his older brother. "So we should stop arguing now. We have to fix our siblings' love lives, and we won't do that unless we can get along ourselves."
Well. The quirky kid apparently had no problem with being direct. "Right then," he said, getting down to business. "So, who do you think is the easiest to work with?"
"Ireland and India, perhaps?" Hong Kong suggested. "Or my own little side plot... Easiest to do, though not particularly easy on my peace of mind."
"Why?" Sealand asked.
"Because, Russia is in love with China, and I know quite well that my brother feels the same. However... Russia has no idea of how to court someone properly. I think I'm going to have to give him advice. And hope that Belarus doesn't find out about it."
"You're a very brave man," North said, shaking his head. "How on earth do you plan to get Russia to learn proper wooing methods anyway?"
"I'm hoping he's desperate enough by now to just listen to me?" Hong Kong suggested.
"I'm not very familiar with mischief," Kugelmugel said quietly, "or at least, not committing it. But I was hoping you might have some advice for how I can use tricks to make Austria and your brother Wales stop dancing around each other."
"Wait, what?" Hong Kong, Sealand, and North all said this together – Austria and Wales? They hadn't seen this... Kugelmugel rolled his eyes.
"You don't see them together very often, do you? I have, enough to know they're dancing around each other as much as America and England were said to do before America and Portugal got together, only more quietly. We have them, and then Ireland and India, right?"
"And England. I'm not sure what to do about him," Sealand said. "He's been acting funny, hasn't he, North? At Christmas, he didn't even grumble at me when I told him I was going to try to be recognized again. He just shrugged and said 'Good luck with that' like he wasn't even paying attention!"
"I know, Sealand," North said, drumming his fingers on the table. "But he won't say what's wrong, just says he's being a bit of an old man. I can't get anything else out of him. As for our targets... There's also Canada and Prussia, though I'm not sure how much interference they actually need. I'm thinking they're the ones I might trap in the lift, actually; I feel like they just need to be thrown together."
"Well, the world meeting's next month, and if Prussia decides to come, you should be able to do it. He's been coming again lately, hasn't he? Something about Germany pressing him into helping out more because of the EU mess?" Hong Kong asked, resting his chin on his hand.
"Yeah, but he doesn't always come – from what I heard, he's doing most of Germany's domestic work while Germany handles international. Kind of like how Cornwall does domestic while England does international and the rest of us help out where needed. Although I think England's avoiding the EU meetings and just sending Wales right now, after the PM ticked everyone off. Wales plays nicer with the EU." North had been mostly keeping an eye on the British-Irish Council affairs, personally; Scotland was helping but with all the squabbling over independence in his Parliament, he was understandably distracted.
"Well, with all of this to think about," he said finally, "we'd best get to work with whatever plans we actually have."
Canada winced at the sound of his door crashing open, followed by a call of "Mattie!" but he didn't let it distract him from flipping the last of his batch of pancakes. It was a good thing he'd known his brother was coming by; he'd been able to make twice as much as he usually did.
"I'm in the kitchen, Al," he said, raising his voice as high as he could manage.
"Oh, cool, pancakes!" America said as he came into the kitchen, all but flinging himself into a chair. "I can have some, right?"
"You're not going to complain that they're not hamburgers?" Canada teased. "And of course you can have some; look at how many I made! Kumachiri and I couldn't eat that many all by ourselves."
"No, man, I make my own burgers – no one does it better than me. But no one makes pancakes like yours. Not even IHOP!"
Canada shook his head. American just had to compare him to a chain restaurant, didn't he? "It's the maple syrup," he said, blushing a little. He might find the comparison annoying, but he knew it was meant as a high compliment, so he was flattered anyway. Besides, it reminded him of Prussia saying something similar. Seemingly oblivious, America chattered on about various topics as Canada moved around the kitchen – he'd told America not to help because he was a guest, and made occasional replies to his brother's rambles as he went. Finally, everything was on the table and they both were sitting down to eat.
Not even looking up from slathering his pancakes in butter and maple syrup, America asked, "So, Matt, what's the story with you and Prussia?"
It was a good thing that Canada had already swallowed his bite of pancake, or else he might have choked. "I... I mean, I'm sorry, what are you talking about?" he managed to say, eyes wide.
"Dude, come on. I saw him kissing you on New Year's, and North Ireland says he hangs out here all the time."
Patrick, I am going to strangle you, Canada thought grimly. To America he said uncomfortably, "Eh, that was nothing. Just New Year's tradition."
"Yeah, OK, and I'm secretly in love with Russia."
"I hope not; China will kill you, if Portugal doesn't get there first."
"Hey, Madalena's my girl, watch it." America looked up, blue eyes unusually sharp. Canada sighed inwardly. His brother wasn't nearly as dumb as he acted a lot of the time, and while he couldn't read the general atmosphere, he could be quite perceptive at the most inconvenient times. Like right now. "You like him, don't you?" he asked.
Canada shrugged, looking down at his plate. "I don't know, Alfred," he admitted. "I mean... he never forgets me, or thinks I'm you. I'm not sure if I really have a crush on him or if I just... appreciate that."
America gave him another searching look, and Canada wished for his brother's clueless side to return. "Nah, you like him," America decided after a moment. "You just keep second-guessing yourself, like you always do. And he probably likes you too; he kissed you, and besides, he comes around often enough."
"He comes for pancakes and maple syrup. Kind of like you." Canada was half-teasing his brother, trying to distract him, but as far as Prussia was concerned... Sometimes he was afraid that his comment really was the truth.
"You really think that's all? Maybe you should ask him."
"You mean the way you and Portugal should really sit down and have a long talk with England?" It was a low blow and Canada knew it, mentioning the fact that as much as America and Portugal loved each other, there was someone else they both wanted in the mix.
"That's not fair," America said, looking a bit hurt. "England hates me, and Madalena says he barely talks to her these days. Mostly he has North do it."
If America really thought that... But then, of course he did. That was the hallmark of America and England's relationship, mutual blindness and bad assumptions. Because he knew England thought America hated him, as well. As for Portugal... It was probably something similar, if he knew his former guardian. And he did. He considered trying to intervene, but as he usually did, he decided against it. He didn't want to make it worse – he remembered back when it was worse, and never wanted to go back to that again.
Besides, he had enough of his own problems. What was he going to do about Prussia? He'd vowed to find out just what it was between them, however evasive he'd been with his brother, but... He didn't quite have the nerve to just ask Prussia. So he'd have to figure something else out.
There was a downside to her plan, Ireland reflected as she hung up the phone. She'd just told India that no, she didn't want to visit, and he'd noticed there was something off in her tone of voice. Dhiraj was a sharp one, and he knew her too well, picked up on almost everything – except, she reflected bitterly, what mattered most. She didn't understand how someone so perceptive could be so damned dense unless he wanted to be.
But brooding on this wasn't helping with her master plan to be over him, she decided as she flopped into her worn armchair, curling up in it like a cat. After a moment, she took out her cell phone, sending a text to a particular number. Resolution's not going as well as planned. What about you? You confess yet?
A few minutes later she had her response. I didn't tell you that's what I was doing!
No, but it was obvious once I thought about it. So, you go through with it yet?
Er, no, lost my nerve. But it's only January, I've got time.
Good luck with that one, Bran.
Thanks ever so, Brigid.
Ireland turned her phone off, tipping her head back to look up at her ceiling. Next month was the world meeting, and she'd have to face India in person. She wasn't sure how that was going to go over, if he could tell from just a brief phone conversation that something was up. And he was a lot harder to fob off in person.
Damn it all to hell. This was supposed to make her life easier. But she couldn't help remembering something that Wales had said to her, later on New Year's when the fireworks were don and everyone was heading home. It was their curse and their blessing, in a way, his and hers, that neither of them ever fell out of love. Both of them had lost their hearts to humans far more than other nations, and this was true. She knew Wales remembered them all, lit candles as she did. Visited Mary Tudor's tomb the way she visited churches named for St. Patrick. England wasn't much better than they were, though he'd never admit it.
The thing was, that humans died. And nations who loved them could memorialize them but the fact remained that it was safe to lose your heart to someone whose existence was much shorter than yours. It didn't matter, in the long run, if you never got that little piece of yourself back. You just carried on, and it was easier when all you had to face were ghosts of a long-vanished time.
But when you fell in love with another nation... She'd told herself that she could break the pattern; after all, she'd never really tried. But her brother had, in the 1800s when he'd found out that the Austrian soldier he'd fallen for had actually been Austria, he'd tried to get over him. And had failed miserably – she remembered the fallout of that.
Ireland had never meant to love India. It was just that... They'd been in the same position. Under England's control and resenting it. She'd been betrayed by her whole family, even by the equally bitter Scotland, looking for someone she could confide in. India had been looking for someone who understood, and while she couldn't relate to losing an empire as he had, she understood enough. They'd taught each other to dance in the ways of their own cultures – and that made her heart clench, remembering him coming in with Prussia to a Bollywood dance back at Halloween. Oh, she knew there was nothing there, or was pretty sure of it anyway, but... She'd still been painfully, ridiculously jealous. Dancing was supposed to be something shared between them, whatever kind it was. She'd decided that night that she had to do this.
She'd been absolutely convinced she could, even if she'd watched two brothers try and fail to stop loving people who they thought couldn't have. Cut all non-professional ties with India, and finally move on. But what if she couldn't? What if he, not realizing that this was best for both of them, didn't let her? He didn't love her, she knew that. What would she do if she couldn't get away?
A/N: Some headcanon here; I figure that with everything as much of a mess in the world as it is, no nation-tan with others to share the work is going to fail to take advantage of that help. Admittedly, putting Prussia back to work was something I picked up from another fic, but it slotted in nicely with my UK division of labor. Scotland's distracted by the clamor for an independence referendum, so he's busy with that. Wales and the EU came out of a BBC article I read involving the head of the Welsh government trying to do damage control on their ties with the EU after a UK veto basically had everyone else in the EU pissed at them. The constituent countries of the UK have some level of independent representation in the EU, which is why the Welsh could make that move on their own.
India's name means 'emperor'. His name used to be Chirayu, meaning 'immortal', but he changed it to Dhiraj after becoming part of the British Empire, as a memory of his own lost glory days. I haven't picked a last name for him yet, I probably should get to that. Portugal's name is Madalena Almeida, not for any particular reason except I like the name. In my head, she's based on one of the female concept sketches – the one with the old-fashioned military coat and the sword here.
And, finally, England and Portugal. Catherine of Braganza did indeed introduce tea drinking to the UK – it was popular with Portuguese nobles, who'd picked it up thanks to trade with Asia. She is also apparently responsible for bringing use of the fork, but that isn't relevant to the chapter, just a fun bit of trivia. 1890 refers to the British Ultimatum of 1890, which to put it simply involved a land dispute in Africa and was a serious breach by the British of the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance, first ratified in 1386 by the Treaty of Windsor. Anglo-Portuguese friendly ties go back to the 1100s, but this is the official start of the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance, which, barring the period of Spanish rule in Portugal in the late 1500s/early 1600s, is unbroken even to this day.