Stitch By Stitch
Summary: Every Christmas, America receives a new handmade item from England—a new sweater, or perhaps a set of towels for the guest bathroom. He treasures every single one. England topped himself this year with a memory quilt. But what's this? Everyone else got one, too? Suddenly, America doesn't feel so special anymore…
A/N: I hope you guys enjoy my USUK Christmas Special! Haha. Just another short one-shot to practice writing (really, to practice writing America's POV) and take a break from working on editing Siren/writing new chapters.
Shameless plug: A friend of mine on DeviantArt has done some awesome work. It isn't Hetalia-related, but her style's developing into something really interesting that I find really inspiring. Her username there is X-xJoKeRx-X, check her out!
America wasn't sure when the tradition started, exactly. He remembered England doing it before, when he has still been a colony in the British Empire. But England had given him tons of stuff back then. Looking back, America realized that the older nation had actually kind of spoiled him. He'd almost always been given everything he asked for, and often more besides. England had simply told him that he wanted to make sure that he had everything he needed to be happy—and since England wasn't there to ensure it himself, he sent the gifts in his stead, to let America know that he still cared, that he still thought about him. They had been poor replacements for the nation himself, but they had done the trick for a time. America had preferred the letters that he received when he grew older, which had always been written by England's flowing hand, rather than that of his secretary (who had penmanship that was even worse than America's, surprisingly).
But after the Revolution, anything like that had stopped. No more letters or gifts had arrived after that; there were no more visits, kind words, or pleasant smiles. But there were no more new unjust taxes, laws, or scolding sessions from his senior, either. America had told himself back then that it was better that way—that he could take care of himself, that he didn't need England anymore, and that he never wanted him around in the first place. And for almost a hundred years, he had believed it.
But then, a few letters had started to come in the mail. They were small, at first—simply business letters, with a generic "I hope that you have been well, America. Write back to me this time, if you would." tacked on at the end. And it was another twenty before America did write back. From then on, every so often, America would be surprised once every month or two with a letter in his mail box from across the pond that was, while not friendly in tone, never entirely based around business, either. This continued for quite a while—little letters and notes, occasional meetings where neither of them talked about anything deeper than what they had been up to in the few months prior. There was an unspoken agreement to not mention the Revolution, or the War of 1812.
It was somewhere around the end of the first world war that America received a proper Christmas gift from England again. It wasn't anything extravagant (because honestly, who could afford something like that in the middle of a war?), but the thought really had counted there. America had worn that sweater down to bare threads in the trenches, grateful for the extra layer of warmth it had offered him against the cold. Now, the patched-up piece of clothing was packed away in his storage closet somewhere (probably with his suit, or perhaps blocking his old musket from view).
Somewhere between the first and second World Wars, the gifts had become common again. America had received one every year, and given one in return. America's gifts were almost always joke gifts, or were still thought of as such even when he had honestly tried to be thoughtful that year. England's gifts were usually practical in nature—towels for America's guest bathroom when he had remodeled, which had been embroidered with bald eagles on the corners (an awesome choice, if America did say so himself), more sweaters that America still wore even though they were "old-man-ish" because England would always smile when he wore them. Everything was always hand-made, too, and that made it doubly awesome—because having your super-special-awesome British boyfriend make you something was better than just getting a random present bought from the store (come to think of it, America couldn't really figure out when they had started dating, really, either—the sexual tension between them had probably started right around the time as the gift-giving, so maybe that had a part in it?).
But this year, England had gone above and beyond. America had never expected something like this to arrive for him on December 19th (and who was England trying to fool—the note of "do not open until December 21st" be damned, America would open his present from his boyfriend as soon as he got his paws on it). It was more thoughtful than anything England had made for him before, in an slightly sappy way that America wasn't entirely sure fit his lifestyle to a T, but he could care less.
After all, who cared how well the quilt fit in with the décor of his place. The quilt was them, literally. America had no idea how England had done it. All of the stitching was tiny and perfect, just like everything that England made. On some of the squares, there were photographs put into the fabric—and upon closer inspection, America realized that England had embroidered each of them. But he recognized them instantly, from photographs the two of them had taken together over the course of their relationship, and even a bit before.
Up on the right corner, there was a picture of them in the trenches of World War II. England looked exhausted, and was smiling ever so slightly. America's own smile was wider, and he was flashing the V-for-Victory sign. That had been V-E Day. A few minutes after that picture had been taken, the two had shared their first kiss. America had been so caught up in the moment that he had practically tackled England and kissed the living daylights out of him.
A few squares away was another clip, taken ten years later to the day. England looked thinner than in the first one. The rationing had really taken a toll on him, America supposed, now that he looked back on it. But he was smiling more easily in this picture, and he was even returning the embrace that America was giving him in the clumsily-taken photograph. That had been right after they had finally voiced their feelings for one another and said those three little words that had never been easy to say, at least in the beginning.
Dozens of other photographs-turned-embroidered-artwork littered the quilt. The one time America had convinced England to go to Coney Island for him, and England had gotten sick on one of the rides; when America had been dragged to the middle of God-knows-where to some place called Dover to see the seaside; when America had given England that promise ring in the 80s in some fit of overly-cheesy-teenager-romantic fit (England still wore it, even if he always said that it was juvenile). The middle block was a simple heart, with their initials—their human initials, and God how America loved it when England called him Alfred—set into the middle in a display of England's somewhat sappy tendencies when it came to their romantic moments.
America wasn't exactly a sentimental person, like England was, but even he had to smile and feel a little warm and fuzzy at the memories he saw represented on it. He didn't even want to use it, like he did with all of England's other gifts, for fear of ruining it. England always seemed to know just what to do for romantic gifts like this—always. Birthdays, Valentine's Day, Christmas, it didn't matter. America knew he was almost always beat in that department. He couldn't write sonnets like England could, or make something as amazing as the quilt he held in his hands, and it made America wonder just what England saw in him. But at the time, he couldn't really dwell on it—not when he wanted to do was take the next flight over to England and crush his boyfriend in the biggest hug he'd ever gotten and thank him a million times for such an awesome gift (because even if America wasn't sentimental, he did like being reminded of all the happy times he'd had with England over the years).
But first thing was first. He had to call Japan, and move that pesky meeting they had set for the next day until after Christmas or something. He'd take an extra two days of vacation, and spent them in England. He knew he was supposed to be going over there on the 21st,but suddenly, that seemed too far away. His phone was ringing before he had really registered taking it out, and it only rang a few times before it clicked, and he heard the quiet answer from the soft-spoken Asian nation, who was likely still suffering from jet lag after flying in from Tokyo a few hours earlier. America would apologize for that sometime later. If he remembered, that is. "America-san? What is it?" he yawned.
"Yo, Japan, homie!" he greeted exuberantly. "Good to know you're awake!" he chirruped.
"Well, actually, I was sleep—"
"So anyways," America continued, as if the quieter nation had never spoken at all, "I totally need you to do me a huge favor, ya know? Like, a super-awesome-best-friend favor! You can move that silly little meeting we had back till like New Year's or something, right? Right! 'Cause I totally gotta get over to the United Kingdom and thank Artie, 'cause he totally gave me what has to be The Abso-freaking-lutely Most Fucking Awesome British Boyfriend Christmas Present Ever!" he declared loudly. "So, you know. I gotta head over to London and give him hugs and all that shit. You know, make sure he realizes that the Hero loves his gift, and loves him even more."
There was a slight pause on the line as Japan seemed to process what had just been said to him. His sleep-addled brain probably was not helping in this situation, and America talking about moving a meeting that had already been postponed twice was probably not the most welcome thing for him—especially after a horrible flight over filled with more turbulence and rough patches than he had ever experienced before. But then, this was America they were talking about—it wasn't like anything would change his mind at this point. But, he was curious, considering that he had received a gift from England the week before for the Holiday season, about just what had made America so fanatically excited. "I suppose we can move the meeting," he relented. "But you are paying my extra hotel and re-booking fees," he insisted. If America was going to insist upon rescheduling, then let him pay the price—literally. "May I ask what it is that has you so excited, America-san? England-san must have truly done something wonderful this year."
"Oh, totally," America replied eagerly, his smile growing widely. "He's the best boyfriend ever! He musta spent ages on it! He made me a quilt this year! Like, a totally awesome memory quilt! There are a buncha pictures of the two of us on it, and it's totally all fancy and shit, but it's just—you know, so damn cute that he would go through all that trouble, ya know?"
There was a slight pause on the line, during which America was sure Japan was reflecting on just how awesome of a boyfriend America had. He was probably seething in jealousy. But then the Asian nation cleared his throat, and spoke: "Ah, England-san made one for me, as well. I was quite surprised that he found enough photographs of the two of us to do one, but I must say, it really is a work of art, I must agree."
At that, America froze. Japan had gotten one, too? What? He frowned. "You got a memory quilt, too?" Wait. That was totally not cool. Why would England go through the trouble of making one for someone else, too? Wasn't America special? America thought that he was the only one who got super-special presents like that. Did Arthur make them for just anyone, then?
"Yes… I must admit, England-san's workmanship is astounding. I was very pleased to get something so lovely for Christmas, even though I am not Christian," Japan said. America could tell that he meant it, too. Had the quilt really been that gorgeous? That wasn't fair. England was supposed to put a lot of work in America's present, right? Why was he putting so much thought into a memory quilt with Japan?
"I believe that Russia and China said that they received similar ones, as well, though I don't think they were memory quilts, exactly," Japan added thoughtfully. "England-san really went all out this year. He must have been working non-stop since July, at the very least. I'm assuming that he made something along these lines for just about everyone. Except, perhaps, for France-san, but..."
Woah, woah, woah. Russia? Russia got one? Russia got a quilt made by America's Super-Specially-Awesome-British-Boyfriend? That was so not cool. Not cool at all. America would not stand for Russia getting something from his boyfriend. At least, not something like that. Not something that England worked so hard on and spent so much time on! "Yeah… So yeah—the meeting… I'll talk to ya later, then, 'kay homey? I totally got go see England and stuff. Hoping the next plane I can. Thanks again!" he said, his voice falsely syrup-sweet. Before Japan could even say a farewell himself, he had hung up the phone and was off to pack a duffel bag for the weekend. England had some explaining to do.
Of course, America had always been horrible when it came to realizing that there were time differences between one area of the world and another. He arrived in London past eleven o' clock, and the train ride out to the train station by England's little town house in the city, where he spent Christmas each year, was at least an hour. He dozed a little on the train, occasionally woken by the jostling of the car as it made its way through late-night London.
Arriving on England's doorstep in the middle night was, in hindsight, probably not the best mood. But what was probably the worst idea he got was entering the house quietly, leaving his back in the living room to take care of later, and trying to surprise his lover by sneaking into bed with him. After all, wouldn't it be heroically awesome of him to just be there when England awoke the next morning? Like, the best freaking (early) Christmas present ever! A whole two days early, and England would totally love it. Right?
Wrong. As soon as he slipped in and touched England's leg, the island nation was awake and, for lack of a better description, flipping the fuck out. He said something about France and breaking in, and more than once America felt England's small (yet surprisingly strong) fist smack him in the face. It was times like this he was glad that he was a hero and couldn't be hurt by something like that. But still, England kicked hard, and he had never been so glad to be hit in Louisiana instead of Florida before. "Ow, ow, Artie! Artie, babe, it's me! Calm down!"
"Alfred—?!" Instantly, the bedside lamp was on, and England's small room came into focus. The bed was a mess from England's short-lived struggle (during which a few slight bruises had been placed on America's person, though he should be lucky none of it was on his face or a more tender area), but the rest of the room was as pristine as always. England stared at him in disbelief for a few moments, clearly shocked. "What the blasted hell are you doing here?" he asked, glancing over at the clock on the table quickly. It was just after one in the morning, but the date was all wrong.
"Surprise?" America smiled widely and leaned forward, pressing a kiss to his boyfriend's lips. England didn't return it at first, but finally grudgingly pressed his lips back against the other's for a brief moment before shoving him off. "Awe, come on, babe, I wanted to surprise you," America pouted.
"You're two days early!" England scolded. "I've hardly even begun the preparations… The baking is nowhere near done, the tree is still only half done—don't give me that look, we don't all put up a Christmas tree in November so it can dry out and shed needles all over our carpets…" England shook his head, and glanced down over the damage he had done. He took the other's palm, and kissed it apologetically. "Couldn't you have called, at the very least? You gave me a bleeding heart attack!"
"I didn't mean to, promise, Artie," America replied. "I got your present, ya know? And I got so excited…"
"You—you opened it already? You were supposed to wait until the day you were leaving!"
America scoffed. "You really thought I would?"
"Well, I suppose not, but—"
"Well, then." America merely wrapped his arms around his boyfriend and brought him to his chest, holding him tightly as the two fell back on the bed. He smiled up at him, both playful and loving, and pressed a kiss to the other's lips again. "I love it, Artie," he said softly, sweetly. "I really do… It's perfect."
England's cheeks colored, but he couldn't help but give into his once-charge's mood and just relax. He laid his head against America's chest, sighing softly, and just listening to the soft beating of the other's heart. It was one of the most comforting sounds England had ever heard. America always felt much the same, and as he leaned his head against England's, he closed his eyes and just enjoyed the sound of his lover's breathing. "I'm glad you like it," he said quietly.
"Of course I do. I don't even want to use it," America replied. "I mean, those sweaters and stuff you give me are awesome, don't get be wrong—but something like this… It feels like it would be wrong to use it until it's all ratty and stuff, you know?"
"If you ever wear it out, I'll just make another one," England said simply. "Though I made it strong so that you could use it, you know. I like to think I know how hard you can be on items, and so I took that into account when I chose the materials to make it."
"Did you think about that when you made stuff for everyone else?" America asked. He was pouting a bit, and sent England his best kicked-puppy look. If England had put so much thought into everyone else, how did that make America's gift special? How did that make America himself special? He knew it was a bit selfish, but he wanted to be the first and last thing on England's mind every minute of every day.
England shrugged a shoulder. "I certainly kept some things in mind—such as how sensitive Japan's skin is, so I was sure to use natural fibers for the threads and fabrics used in his... Things such as that." England raised an eyebrow. "But that isn't what you're getting at, is it, love? Why the long face?"
America rolled his eyes a bit. "You should know," he murmured. Admittedly, his voice sounded a little childish and almost whiny (not that it was! Heroes didn't whine, and England really should just know!).
"I'm afraid I don't," England replied. "Whatever could be bothering you? The fact that I made something for the others on my Christmas list? I almost always hand-make any gifts I make," he explained. "Be they quilts or home-baked scones. People never appreciate the latter, so this year, I opted for the former," he scoffed.
"But you gave one to Russia," America murmured. "Why does Russia get one? Why should he get anything?"
"Because I would rather give him something and not have to deal with him creeping around my house when I don't," England replied in a rather growly tone. "Alfred, why does this matter so much to you? You aren't the only person I give Christmas presents to."
"But mine were always special, 'cause you put so much work into them!"
England gave America what had to be the most bewildered look that the American had ever seen. "Alfred, of course I put so much work into yours! Do you have any idea how long it takes to hand-quilt?" he asked, bewildered. "I worked on it for six months!"
"Six months?" That was a long time, right? What took him so long.
"Well, a year and a half, if you want to include the embroidery," England replied, blushing slightly. "Making a Queen-sized quilt is enough work on its own… I wanted this to be special for you, so… Everything was hand-embroidered… I sewed together all of the squares by hand. I put every ounce of work and love into that I could manage," he declared, almost sounding affronted. "Why would you ever think that I wouldn't do something for you? Didn't you read the note that came with it?"
"Th—there was a note?" America asked sheepishly. Now that he thought about it, there had been a piece of paper in the box somewhere, but… "Artie… But—you did the same thing for everyone, right?"
"Yes, there was a note! And of course not," England replied, shuddering a bit. "If it took almost a year of embroidery to get the blocks for yours done, it would take the same amount of time for anyone else," he reasoned. "I had fabric printed for everyone else, Alfred; and I machine-quilted them, before you ask. Yours—yours was the only one I did by hand." He was blushing now, and America could have sworn that he muttered another British insult along the lines of "brainless git" under his breath.
America looked suitably cowed, and apologetically kissed his boyfriend's cheek. "Awe, babe… I'm so sorry. I didn't realize you'd done that much work… I should have paid attention to the note, but—I was just so excited about the gift, you know? I mean… It's just—you know—awesome and stuff, and it's like… Dude, you put us into the stitches, and I didn't even know you could do that…!"
"I didn't when I started out, either," England replied sheepishly. "Look, Alfred—I'm not angry with you or anything. But…" He kissed Alfred's nose, smiling down at him with that adorable blush of his that America always adored. "Keep in mind that every year, even when I make everyone else's gifts, yours is the only one I make without a machine. Every part of making it, stitch by stitch, is done by hand, with you in my heart."
America wasn't sure if he was turning into a softie because of how he melted at that, but he couldn't help it! England was too cute, and saying stuff like that had to be some kind of cheating. His stuff was hand-done. It was way more special than anything anyone else could get. England may put days into the work for others—but he had put months into America's. If that wasn't special, he didn't know what was.
America hummed softly, and pulled England in for a tight embrace, smiling widely. "Keep it coming, Babe—someday, I'll top all that work." Hopefully, his Christmas present this year would have just as much love as England's had put into them over the years. With the other snugly in his arms—their legs tangled together, their lips occasionally meeting—and the thought of the little box in his jacket pocket downstairs, America drifted off.
Christmas was going to be awesome this year.