A/N: Well, I did it again. I spent a whole month NOT WRITING and then finally banged this out when the shame was too much. But at least I had an excuse. I was doing science! That's right, science. I got a position at a lab and I'm spending my summer doing DNA analysis and growing yeast on gel plates and all that jazz. It's not most people's dream vacation, but I think I like it.
America had a bit of blood trailing down his cheek, mixing in with the tear streaks and sweat. His eyes were deadened, watching the others with hopeless denial, and his expression numb.
"Now we know what that shaking was, aru..." said China grimly, his words cutting through the grief-stricken silence. He looked at his feet. "I never would have guessed old Opium had it in him."
"Don't say that," said America thickly, refusing to look at them. "He was a hero."
Japan bowed his head. "Hai. He saved all our lives." The reticent nation looked more blank and composed than usual, except that every inch of him was trembling.
Hanging back behind the rest, Italy caught scent of the grief in the air and started to whimper noisily. Germany flinched at the sound, and half-turned, but then he halted himself and the faint flicker of distress in his eyes vanished.
Suddenly everyone started talking at once. "My country is dead?" Lolito burst out in disbelief. "But what... how...? It can't be!"
France was practically in hysterics. "Poor, poor Angleterre... how could zis happen to him? He did not deserve such a cruel fate..."
"But what are we supposed to do?" Italy was moaning. "We're all going to die anyway without him... I thought we needed him..."
"Everybody be qviet und listen!" Germany said angrily. "Ve can't allow anyzhing, no matter how tragic, to interfere vith our task! Ve have to be calm und collected und rational about zis-"
America's eyes narrowed and he jumped to his feet. "Oh, yeah, 'cuz that's totally your style when things go wrong for you, Germany, be calm and rational..."
"Don't fight..." Italy whispered, but no one heard him.
"... and you're sure it isn't just yelling at everything until you get your way or someone declares war on your ass?" America spat. "'Cuz you know what? I'm through with that! I'm not one of those EU countries you get to bully-"
China put his hands on his hips. "America, you don't really mean that. I know you're just grieving but you have to calm down, aru..."
"I don't want to calm down!" America shouted, stamping his boots on the floor like a petulant overgrown child. "I want my friend back! I want Britain!" He whirled around and punched the wall (which dented heavily under the blow), then sank to his knees, curling his body into a ball. "I want Britain..." he wept. "I want him to be alive again..."
Even Germany with his wounded pride fell silent. After a moment, France put his hand on America's shoulder and knelt down. "I know. I want zat too."
America lifted his head from his knees. "You do?" he asked in a tiny voice.
Solemnly, France nodded. "Oui. Of course I do." Then he leaned over and whispered something in America's ear.
Whatever it was France had said pushed America to tears once more. "So do I," America wailed. "And the worst part is... I didn't realize until now." The two nations clung to each other and wept, sharing in some sadness that none of the others could quite understand.
Russia sighed. "Everybody is doing the crying right now."
"Well, they would be!" said China, a bit affronted. "We have just lost one of our own!"
The northern nation looked like he was about to say something, but he paused when a thought seemed to occur to America, who shouldered France off and stood. The young nation looked a lot less sad in that moment and a lot more frightening. "You!" he said, pointing. "You... you can save him, can't you?"
The Doctor's eyes were red-rimmed and full of guilt. "America..." he breathed sadly. "I know how awful this must be..."
"No! No, don't give me that! Everyone's trying to comfort me but you know what? It doesn't have to be like this! You can change it! You've got a time machine! You can go back and warn him! He wouldn't have had to do what he did if his weapons hadn't been gone and he wouldn't have lost his weapons if he'd known the ship was moving..."
"I can't do that. America, I'm so sorry, but it doesn't work like that..."
But America wouldn't listen to any shape or species of negation. He ran forward and grabbed the Doctor's shirt, yanking him off his feet. The Doctor didn't react, but simply gazed down at America with sharp, soulful eyes. "You listen to me, buster!" said America harshly. "I don't give a damn about what it works like! You've got a time machine! What else is it good for? You gotta go back and save him!"
"You don't understand, America," the Doctor said slowly, aware that every other nation was watching this all intently. "Time doesn't bend to my will. You can't change what's fixed in history..."
"I am history!" America shouted. "I'm the United States of America and I do what I want! So the laws of time can suck it!"
The Doctor just shook his head. There was a very dark look in his eyes, and even America was unnerved for a moment, despite his desperation. But then the madness of sorrow took hold of him again and he threw the Doctor towards the wall. "You fake!" he shouted advancing on the Time Lord. "You useless bag of crap! You're gonna do what I say!"
"America!" cried Japan, shocked. "Don't be so hasty! This man is not someone you would want as an enemy!"
"Very true," the Doctor interjected. "Just so you know."
"Oh, screw it," said America harshly. "I never lose."
"Except in Vietnam," China reminded him automatically, and then he scooted behind Russia for protection.
America hissed with rage. "I'll get you for that... but not right now." And he turned back to the Doctor, who raised an eyebrow. "Now, are you going to save your favorite country's life all by yourself or am I, the hero, going to have to make you?"
"Stop! Stop acting so childish!" Lolito marched between the Doctor and America and hefted her gun, cocking it with a harsh clack and pointing it straight at the nation's skull. "You overgrown ex-colony, if you take one more step, I'm going to blow your head off!"
Audacity had done its work. America skidded to a stop and stared at the woman like she had gone mad, which she might have. Then he glared. "Get outta my way, lady," he said dangerously.
"No! You listen to yourself! You know perfectly well why you're so angry, so don't you dare come any closer!"
"I'm angry because this stupid punk won't help me save my friend's life!"
Lolito could have banged her head against the nearest wall out of frustration. "You're getting your emotions messed with again! It's the bloody aliens!"
"No, just that one; that alien!" He started to step closer.
Lolito tightened her grip on the handle.
"Oh, for Time's sake, do we have to have all this nonsense?" the Doctor complained. "He threatens me, she threatens him, he threatens her... so who's threatening who next? Do I come into it at all or should I just... take a nap over here?"
"But... 'ey, I zhought you were out of bullets," said France unwisely. "Oh. Whoops."
"That's... well, all right, that's true," Lolito admitted, as America began advancing again. "The gun was empty..." Then she reached in her boot and held up a clip, which she jammed into the gun. "But I always I carry extras."
"Look, I appreciate this whole..." the Doctor gestured, "er, gesture, but can we just put down the gun and talk like reasonable people?"
"He's not being reasonable, sir, so I don't see why I should be!" Lolito inched backwards. America's expression was cold steel, and there was an unfocused look in his eyes. Lolito flicked her eyes to the other nations frantically. "Any of you chaps fancy helping?"
"Helping him?" asked Germany coldly, pointing at the Doctor. "Vhy should ve? Vhat do ve owe him?"
"Your existence?" Lolito suggested. "Oh, no, wait... was that not a good idea to bring that up..."
None of the nations moved as America kept coming closer, but France and Italy looked very worried. America's expression had almost become deranged.
"How about you give me that gun...?" said the nation, cracking his knuckles unpleasantly. "Second amendment rights, huh?"
"... bollocks," said Lolito, and she grabbed the Doctor's wrist. "Come along, sir, this is going to get ugly."
The Doctor nodded and jumped up. "Right-o. Tactical retreat it is?"
"Absolutely." Together they scrambled for the bay doors, with Lolito just managing to keep the gun out of America's hands as the nation lunged for it. The sonic screwdriver whined and then the doors began to close.
"Come back here!" America screamed. "I'm not finished with you!" He started to give chase but something rammed into his thighs and bore him to the ground. "What the hell?" he spluttered. "Italy? Get off me! Now!"
The nation now clinging to America's legs squawked, "Veh, you have to listen to me! They're playing around in your mind just like they did before! I can hel-" He cut off with a gasp as America managed to land a kick in his stomach. "Ow..." Italy coughed. "Ribs. That was mean-"
"Let me go!" America shouted, as tears started to flow down his cheeks again in desperation. "Italy, I don't want to hurt you! But I will!"
"Go ahead, then!" Italy wailed. "I'm not letting you hurt the Doctor!"
America twisted on the floor and raised a fist to strike Italy down, but suddenly a shadow fell over him and something grabbed his wrist, slamming his arm back down to the floor.
"Don't. You. Dare. Touch. Italy," Germany growled, forcing America's arm back. He had to use both hands and one knee to keep the fist from rising again, but eventually he had America pinned. But it wasn't going to last much longer than a few seconds. With his superpower strength, America could break Germany's arm clean off if he kept struggling.
France looked back and forth and then yelled, "Zhere's only one zhing to do! Everyone dogpile America! Now!"
And they did.
After a few seconds of panicked struggle, the pile of nations grew still. A few of them shifted around to find a more comfortable position. Then there was a little spurt of conversation from the lump.
"Who stepped on mein hand?" grumped a voice.
"Veh... could have been me... so that's you who's all squashed up against me?"
The first voice paused. "Oh. Vell, zat's okay, zen."
Someone giggled. "Heeheehee... this is kind of fun, da?"
"No, aru! No, it isn't!"
"Respectfully, I must agree with onii-san," concurred a quiet voice from near the very bottom of the heap. "This is most uncomfortable."
A gasp. "Did you just call me your big brother? You're so cute, aru!" One of the figures squirmed and managed to get a tight grip on another. "Japan! Little brother!"
"Mein gott! Is zis really zer time? Und whoever you are, stop elbowing my stomach!"
"France! Be qviet, vill you? You're not supposed to be enjoying zis!"
And then, finally, the last voice piped up, first coughing, and then in a pitiful whine saying, "Jeez, you guys... ow... was that really necessary?"
"He eez not squashed flat!" France cried triumphantly. "Très bien! Ze plan has worked! America, mon cher, how are you feeling?"
America groaned. "Uhh... like a bunch of big fat countries jumped on top of me and squashed me flat... not that it hurt, because I'm obviously stronger than that, but still..."
"Everyone off the nation, aru!" ordered China, pushing upwards. "Off, off, off! Shoo!" One by one the nations peeled off the stack, starting from the large top layer of Russia. There was much straightening and dusting of uniforms as the nations got to their feet. Only America stayed sitting on the ground.
Italy and Germany rolled away in a not-so-unwilling tangle (at least not on Italy's part). "Germany saved me!" he was saying, happily nuzzling into the other nation's lap. "Veh, didn't you, Germany? You saved me from getting whomped on the head!" He lifted his arms to hug the other.
Germany caught his wrists. "Stop zat," he said firmly. "Don't do it."
"Don't do... what... Germany?" Italy looked hurt, and, dejected, he tried to pull away, but Germany didn't let go.
"Don't act zer fool," he said seriously. "I know you aren't vone." He pulled Italy to his feet and patted imaginary dust off the startled nation's shoulders. "Zat vas... very brave, vhat you did zhere."
"Was it really?" asked Italy shyly. "Veh. Wow."
Japan caught sight of this out of the corner of his eyes and sighed. As if those two could stay angry at each other for long.
America was being helped to his unsteady feet by France and China, both of whom were scolding him. Of the two, France was trying to be a little more considerate.
"Do not worry too much over eet, America..." he was saying. "Eet could have happened to any one of us. Eet can be hard to tell apart what eez natural grief and what eez constructed by ze aliens..."
"You must be more cautious when your emotions are running high," China said bluntly. "We can't afford to watch over you like you were some kind of invalid. Just regulate yourself for once in your life, aru!"
"Self-regulate?" America squawked. "But that's socialism! Gross! I need my... my frickin' freedom, man!"
The People's Republic of China gave America a very disgruntled look.
"Well, it is!" whined America. "I don't like that commy crap!"
"Zat 'commy crap', as you so incorrectly labelled eet, eez just being a responsible adult," said France. He sighed; his melancholy over Britain's death was returning. "Please do not be so difficult in such a delicate situation."
America slumped down again. "Sorry," he said, in a meek voice. "I really screwed up, didn't I? I always... screw everything up..." And to the other nations' embarrassment, the tears started flowing again.
"Veh, he's going through the stages of grief pretty quickly, isn't he?" whispered Italy.
Japan shushed him. "Don't be insensitive."
Of all nations, Russia was the one who pushed his way out of the clump and put an arm around America's shoulders. "There, there, comrade," he said kindly. "Don't be crying so much. It could be a lot worse, couldn't it?"
America looked at Russia with accusing, puffy eyes. "How could it be worse than this, you nut?" he said stickily. "My... f-friend is dead..."
Japan, France, and China, the genre-savvy ones of the bunch, all looked around hastily in case things were indeed about to get worse. "Did he really have to say that, aru?" China hissed.
Russia nodded. "Da, but it is not so irreparable. We may have lost Britain, but we can always grow a new one, can't we?"
America froze. "The hell was that you said?"
"There's no need to be so rude," said Russia, stepping back and crossing his arms. There was a chilly smile on his face that was almost up to par with the ones he used to give. "This should be the good happy news for you."
"Grow a new one? What the fudge is that supposed to mean?"
It dawned on the other nations that America was the only one left of them who didn't know the truth.
"Oh... er... how do ve explain..." Germany began uncomfortably. He rubbed the back of his ear and cleared his throat. "It's-"
"Allow me," interrupted France, waving a hand to silence him. "I believe zis will require a delicate social touch, which, I am afraid to say..." he looked Germany up and down critically. "... you lack."
"Vhat are you tryingk to imply, Herr France?" growled Germany, highly offended.
"What eez wiz zis 'Air France?" the nation retorted shrilly. "Why do you always have to call me zat when you're trying to be a-"
"Enough," said Japan, in a level voice that cut through the bickering like a scythe through grass. "I will tell him." He stepped up to America and bowed. "Would you please walk with me?"
"Just freakin' tell me already!" America whined. "Cut the crap, you guys! What the heck was Russia talking about?"
"I will explain," Japan repeated. "Walk with me."
As everyone marveled at Japan's sudden assertiveness, the slim Asian nation took America by the crook of his arm and steered him away from the others through the rows of empty, dark birthing pods. The others followed at a safe distance, wondering just how America was going to take this.
China recognized where they were now. Weren't those pods over there the ones that he had set up, under the Doctor's instructions? Canada, Poland, Greece... but they weren't for transporting, he now knew, but for growing. Because Canada, Poland, Greece; those people didn't exist. They were just false memories implanted in his mind. And the pods would have brought those memories to life.
Up ahead, America had stopped in his tracks. The anvil must have been dropped, or perhaps it had been dropped long before and he had only understood it just now. China couldn't help but hope that America took it very badly, with much hysteria, because it would be shameful if America's reaction ended up as more mature than China's own had been.
But America didn't even stay to hear the rest of what Japan had said. He wheeled right around, marched up to Russia. and prodded him on the chest.
"So you wanna grow another one o-of my Britain, huh?" he said fiercely, his voice stumbling a little as he tried to contain his emotions. "That's y-your idea? Just... start everything over? Copy and paste? S-system r-restore?"
"Well... da." Russia spread his hands. "In essentials, that is correct."
"That's sick," spat America, his breath catching in his throat. "That is just sick."
It was a testament to Russia's newfound self-control that he didn't even show a flicker of anger. Instead he drew back, a wounded look in his violet eyes. "I only mean to... to help..."
America put his hand against the glass of one of the dark pods. In a hoarse voice he whispered, "So, do you think we could do it?"
"Sorry?" asked Russia bemusedly. "What was that?"
"I said..." America sighed, leaning his head against his fist. "D'you think we could do it? Grow another... I mean, without that tardy-whatsit..."
"TARDIS," said France after deciphering what the other nation was trying to say. He cast his head down glumly. "Britain," he added forlornly, "would have been ze one to say zat... he would have said, 'eet's called a TARDIS, you bloody geet'... zat eez, eef he had been here..."
Italy passed one of his white flags to France, who blew his nose with it loudly.
America took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "Yeah, well... maybe I shouldn't have been so quick to chase that stupid space nerd away, huh?"
"You mean zer Doctor?" asked Germany stiffly. "I zhink personally zat you did us a favor in getting rid of him."
"Okay, so why'd you stop me from catching him, then?" America challenged.
"To protect me," said Italy smugly. "Of course."
"Of course..." Germany agreed, uncertain. Wait... smugly? "You planned zat all along, didn't you?" he said to Italy suspiciously. "You knew I vould save you! Zat's vhy you did it in zer first place! To get me to help!"
"Si, grazie," said Italy proudly, delivering a sweeping salute (with the wrong hand, as usual). "Not so bad with the strategy, eh, Captain?"
Germany's eyes were sparkling and starstruck, and he seemed to be oddly short of breath. "Mein cunning little general," he breathed, cupping Italy's cheek in one hand. The two had locked eyes and were gazing at each other like the rest of the world had conveniently stopped existing.
Japan covered his face and shuffled away, murmuring to himself, "Oh my goodness..."
"Normally I would be more of the mad and less of the happy if someone did that to me but... okay," Russia shrugged. "I am not everyone."
"Well, excuse me while I puke," America huffed.
The word 'hypocrite' was on the tip of France's tongue but he bit it back, knowing it would come in poor taste now. And he was too busy enjoying the show.
China looked decidedly awkward about these new developments. "You'd think this sort of thing would come with a warning label," he complained. "I would probably censor you two right now if it was possible, aru."
Germany finally seemed to notice all the attention he was getting. "Vhat are you all looking at?" he demanded guiltily. "It's... it's nozzing to do viz any of you." He folded his arms over his chest crossly and glared at them. "So just... go about your business. Don't mind us."
"Oh, non, we don't," said France eagerly. "We're very open-minded. Please, continue."
"Yeah, whatever," muttered America, who had become mysteriously angry all of a sudden. "Rub it in." He kicked the base of one of the birthing pods.
And then a loud hum filled the air. The lights in the birthing pod flickered on and the mist inside started to swirl.
"Whoa! What the hell just happened there?" America squared up, ready to fight.
"What did you do, aru?" China demanded in horror. "Was that you?"
"No way, man!" America yelled. "Not this time!"
Italy jumped back with a yelp, flinging his hands over his eyes. The pod just next to him had come blazing to life. "Veh! What's happening?"
The lights of the pods were coming on one by one, up and down the room. The screens next to each one glowed with symbols racing along at uncommon speed. Circles split with white wedges that grew until they ate up the original shape and closed over the last shred of color. Bars flashed through progress and timers spun down to zero.
"It's like they're all on express or... or something!" America's head looked very loose on his neck as he whipped it back and forth, trying to gauge how many pods had suddenly self-activated.
Then the door of that very first pod unlatched itself and swung open. A huge shape stepped through the mist.
It could get worse, after all. The first of the drones had awakened.
A/N: Lolito and the Doctor are going to be the focus of the next chapter. Wow... I never thought my OC would become so involved in the story. Really, I planned her just to come in at the end. But it's turned out well so far like this, so allons-y!