Heat swelled through his frame, flooding through limbs threaded into unyielding sheets. They had captured him as he twisted. The more he tried to escape, the more they twined around him, binding him, trapping him. Beads of cold sweat began to slick his brow, shoulder shuddering as the nightmare captured him, toyed with him.
The forest is dark, there is snow on the ground and it stretches as far as his vision can see.
The silence is un-natural; it fills him with uncertainty, with dread. Usually in a forest he would feel at home, between the trees the Fae folk would flit and giggle and dance. Familiar herbs would spring forth from a carpet of verdant green. Flowers would sway in a warm breeze.
It is cold he realises then, arms wrapping around himself to block out the biting cold.
Confusion melts into his mind before eyes trail down to see -it-. The uniform he detests so much, yet has kept secretly under lock and key. Tattered fabric flutters around his chest where the bayonet had plunged into him, slamming into his sternum. Tearing at him with all the fury and intent to kill that had poisoned his beloved America.
Alfred's attack had been unlucky, or perhaps he had been the unlucky one for he had not perished. The scar remains though, not faded like those Francis had inflicted on him, it burns an ugly crimson mark of ownership from above his heart in an inelegant line towards his stomach.
"I'm not that man anymore!" Violently his voice rises as hands tear away the fabric, no longer caring about the icy needles assaulting his flesh. Dark shapes flail through the branches as ravens take wing, their harsh cries seeming like accusations. Wrestling with the jacket he finally pulls it away from himself and throws it down into the snow.
Icy fingers trail down his spine, a shudder a sympathetic echo of how invasive the cold has become. Numbly he begins to trudge through the forest, minutes passing before the puddle of blood red fabric finally disappears from his vision. Wisps of his own inhalation begin to distract him, blurring his path.
It is then he realises he is not alone.
Beside him travels a small white rabbit. It is silent, constant and he realises it had been there from the start.
Hands bury into his arm pits, trying to keep himself warm. "It's a bloody cold night for a stroll." Frost dusts blonde lashes, the tilt of the rabbit's head revealing unusual amethyst eyes. "No, I bet you haven't got the foggiest where we are either."
The rabbit is silent. Together they continue to trudge through the forest, each footstep sinking England into the snow, trying to pull him down. Perhaps an hour passes and he is stood before the jacket again. Desperation tears at him as he sees the now stiff but familiar shape. Even though it has not snowed there are no tracks, he has travelled in a circle.
"I don't want to see this shit anymore!" It was all history, now, right? Slowly the rabbit gathers snow with its paws. It buries the jacket. Fingers dig into wheat-blonde strands, they pull. Even if he can no longer see it, he knows it's there.
They keep walking.
Black water beckons as they reach a lake he has not seen before.
He is afraid; he knows what his reflection will show.
Still the rabbit peers into the water and then looks back at him, as though to summon him forth. Slowly England looks into the darkness and sees himself. A him that is not him. Wreathed in red, in fire and in blood, a wicked smile upon his lips. The Empire. The sun will never set upon him, because all he knows is darkness. Magnificent wings furl, ivory feathers scattering.
The Empire looks back at him and reaches through the surface of the water. It wants to drag him down. Startled he tries to throw himself away but he is too late and he is pulled beneath the surface.
Frigid water infiltrates his body and he tries to scream, falling through the lake with desperate flails. Chains pull him. Is he going to die here? Eventually he reaches the bottom. Empire is there, he is smiling. They stand and face one another and then he approaches. "I'll blind you!" Fear runs through his veins, they are the same are they not? But England doesn't want to be blind anymore…
The Empire covers his eyes, the hands are warm and so he leans into them. It is comforting. Feathers surround him as they press their bodies in tight. The scent of gunpowder is strong in the air; reflexively England's abdomen becomes tight, with excitement and with terror. He knows the uniform Empire wears; it can't be long before…
A pained cry tears through his consciousness as they are torn apart.
Gloved fingers run through the feathers as Empire shivers. Involuntarily England swallows. He knows what is about to happen, he wants to reach out and stop it but sapphire eyes pin him. So softly America pets the quivering Empire, as though they are in love. But America is a demon and horns curl from his skull.
Seizing the ivory feathers he tears. It is slow, agonising but they pull from flesh with a spray of crimson. Tears dance in England's vision; he can't interrupt this intimate scene. Hands shake violently; he knows what is in the Empire's mind. 'Let him do it.' Sins had to be punished after all and he had sinned so much.
Being with America will make me a better person.
Someone to protect and cherish, to raise diligently and pour all the affection he had restrained in favour of dominance in to.
I will love America.
That is why he, they allow it, even as the sounds become frantic and roll up the angel's throat. Because if they can be with America, America will burn away all of their sins. Even if the pain is excruciating they will reform and become a gentleman, one who can hold America's hand tightly wand walk into the light. And suddenly it's his wings that are being torn out and he's the one sobbing.
Hot blood flows down his flanks and splatters against the floor. Bones creak and finally shatter, sharp spires that protrude from his shoulder blades all that is left. And suddenly he wonders when the lake had become Alfred's office.
He is kneeling and under the desk he sees sad amethyst eyes. The rabbit is here too.
America laughs at him and places his boot under his chin, forcing him to look up.
"Now you've suffered as I have. I was a child and you forced me to choose between the big brother I loved and my own freedom. How could you ever comprehend the pain I felt when I first realised I had to choose my people over you?"
England weeps weakly, this is more familiar territory, it has a certain sense of de ja vu for it lurks often in his fears.
'I'm sorry' he wants to say but he is buried face first into the carpet, surrounded by feathers stained with his blood.
"I could never love you." America looks at him with cold eyes and he feels his heart breaking.
Blindly he flees but he cannot get far before he runs into a body.
Fingers slide between his and loft his hand high, the scenery blurs and he realises he is being spun. As opulence rolls by he knows he is in the Palais Garnier Opera House, the hand about his waist steadying him is Francis's. Disorientated he clutches the taller man, perhaps relieved, perhaps dizzied by the swift pace of the waltz.
"Angletere…" Rich tones spill through him, a little shiver offered as France's vision settles on him. There is hunger. He knows the look and glances away flustered and embarrassed .Hands that create art, music, exquisite food and… love lift and grasp the stumps of his wings. A surge of fear seizes his chest as Francis leans in to claim him. The rabbit watches on with concern.
Suddenly the silence is overwhelming again and the dark forest swims back into his vision. There is a mound of snow, from it hangs the cuff of his jacket.
A scream tears at his vocal chords and echoes through the forest.
Pain. Anger. Torment.
England is going insane.
Snowflakes dance and ribbons of mist converge and slowly the rabbit grows, it takes human form.
Warm arms wrap around England, they are secure, they radiate power. England falls silent. Together they watch the snow fall and the rabbit wraps his long beige coat around the frozen and pained body of England.
With a jerk his body sits up, swift breaths and hammering heart making him seem like he's trembling – he probably is. Reaching up his places hands against wet cheeks where tears have freely flowed. Pupils are dilated with fear and it takes him a few minutes to realise he is safe, he is still in Ivan's house and it had only been a dream.
But if it had only been a dream why did his heart ache so much?