Notes: This was written awhile back for the 2012 USxUK Short Story Anthology, in which this story is accompanied by an amazing piece of artwork by socialholic. I'm posting it up now because I'm trying to get inspired on my Secret Santa fic (which is due in like...a week? Oops) and I figured sharing this might help.
"The thing about cryptic messages is that they aren't always quite as cryptic as people think they are. Scholars might spend weeks or months or even years trying to find the true meaning, but the answer has been right there in front of them all along! They've been tied up trying to find the true headwaters of the Nile River for ages, yet the inscription never said anything about the true headwaters. It just said where the Nile begins its journey. Which I'm pretty sure, is right here."
"I think if you're counting on that, you'll need a good deal of luck."
The warm sun beamed down on America, his hair shifting slightly in the light breeze. His eyes lit up as he grinned, offering a hand out to the other country. "Are you feeling lucky, England?"
England sighed and grasped the offered hand with the smallest of smiles pulling at the corner of his lips. "Not very, but you tend to have it in spades, America."
America laughed, pulling England over to his side and tossing his arm up over his shoulder. "Look at it this way, if I'm right we can be back home in time for all the fun politics and craziness that our bosses are dealing with right now."
He let out a chuckle at that. "Please tell me you're not taking us on a wild goose chase until November passes. I know that elections always stress you out, but if you need to come visit, I'm sure I could arrange something so you…"
England's words were cut off as America pecked a firm kiss to his lips. "Really? I can come stay when I'm stressed out and it won't drive you nuts?"
"America," England said, giving him a fond pat on the cheek, "No matter what the circumstances, you always manage to drive me nuts. So let's get this adventure on its way, and if need be, you can come stay awhile, all right?"
"Awesome," America replied, his eyes shifting back out to the churning waters before them.
He'd been researching it in his spare time for a few months, all the details adding up to one wild chance. What if the Nile's beginning was where the Blue Nile met the White Nile? What if something was lurking down in the depths of the water, where the two parts joined to form the Nile itself, an entrance hidden from view by the ever changing course of the river? This was his chance to discover something beyond anything he'd ever found before (many of his previous finds with England were preserved in museums or given back to the native peoples they belonged to). A lost temple so big it was rumored to be a city of crocodiles, the greatest honor to the Egyptian god Sobek ever built.
"England, I need you to cast the bubble-head charm on us so we can dive."
England balked. "Are you barmy? There's no such thing as a bubble-head charm. Look, I know you respect Mrs. Rowling as much as I, but just because it's a spell in Harry Potter does not mean I can use my magic to create it."
America pouted, his blue eyes locking onto England's gaze. "Come on England, I know you can figure something out. Or are you telling me magic isn't real?"
Although quite used to America's not-real ploy to rattle him, England only huffed lightly before retorting. "It's just a bubble incantation. Whether you choose to encase your head it in is up to the bloody idiot who decided to rely on me over actual scuba gear."
The older nation started rummaging through his satchel of magical tomes, something America had requested he bring. And as much as he might have huffed and put up a front, America could see the smile in his eyes that he and his "hocus pocus" was favored this time over inventions and science.
The charm, no- sorry, incantation worked well in providing them air; but swimming against the current of two rivers meeting was not so easy. Thankfully for England, America had been training in the whitewaters of Colorado for this very stunt. And given the look on England's face when he spotted the slight dark spot on one of the banks that turned out to be something more- America knew his stunt was well worth it.
The tunnel, which to most probably looked like nothing more than an entrance to a crocodile den, opened up into a pocket of air and England drew his incantation to a close.
"You twit! How did you know this would be here?" He queried. "Did you come before and then just strung me along now as a ploy?"
America shook his head and placed a gentle hand on England's shoulder. "No, I wouldn't risk something like this just for a joke. I really truly thought there would be something here and that with your help, we could find it. And…" He glanced to the way the tunnel began to widen up ahead in the light of their waterproof flashlights. "Well, we've definitely found something."
"Git," England muttered, his head leaning over into America's hand as it cupped his cheek. "You're insufferable with your luck sometimes, you know that?"
America just leaned his forehead down against England's. "That's why I want to share it with you."
Before England could reply, a low rumbling sound came from further down the tunnel. He narrowed his gaze. "Let's hope we have enough luck to go around this time then."
He pecked a quick kiss to America's lips, adjusted his satchel and began making his way through the sloping tunnel towards the noise. America, momentarily stunned by the kiss, grinned widely then raced after him.
"Hold up, England!"
The something was definitely looking like more than just a plain old tunnel. Buried under the riverbank and perhaps part of the city of Khartoum itself, there was a door. It was not just any old door, as the Egyptians never thought a plank of wood would suffice for their pharaohs and deities, but a work of art.
"If this isn't the entrance to something related to Sobek then I'm not sure what it could be," England murmured.
"Crocodile-headed god, crocodile-head entrance," America quipped. His eyes were sparkling with excitement and England couldn't help but chuckle.
"Go on, explore before you combust of anticipation."
America gave England a sheepish smile before approaching the ornate doorway. It was as tall as he was, perhaps a bit taller in some places. He ran his fingers over the inscription to the left of the crocodile mouth opening, his lips moving as he muttered the words under his breath.
"It's beautiful," England noted, his eyes taking in the detailed carving of the scales and the pillars and hieroglyphs surrounding it.
"Are you checking me out again?" America asked, pointedly crouching so his damp khaki shorts were in view.
England coughed, his face warming up. "The ancient doorway, you git. I can look at you anytime I want."
"Damn right," America replied with a wink.
Not about to let America get the best of him, England huffed and walked up to the entrance. "The door has an old inscription on it telling the clerics of the temple how to open it. "
"Then what are we waiting for!?"
America bounded up and rushed over to England's side, his eyes skimming the old writing for the details. "Looks like it's the fourth tooth from the left, near the trim around the base."
They both stepped into the stone mouth, a sudden chill going down England's spine. Would the ancient peoples that built this shrine think the location enough to keep out grave robbers or was this instruction yet another way to rid them of intruders?
"America, I'm not certain we should…"
Before the words could fully leave his tongue, America had pressed the small indention near the tooth. The stone floor of the mouth they stood on shook and as the doors withdrew they both realized too late what trouble they'd gotten themselves into.
"England, watch out!"
America cried out, shoving England out of the way as the stone mouth came snapping closed. England felt the tooth graze his arm, the fabric of his sleeve getting caught and trapping him in place. But such things were not his concern, his green eyes wide as the shaky light of flashlight dangling from his wrist illuminated the true trap.
The mouth, although stone, was sloping downward as if it meant to swallow them.
"America, grab onto me!"
England reached out his hand as far as he could, his fingertips just brushing America's as he desperately tried to take hold. His sleeve was ripping, he could hear the fabric's threads giving way, but that was no matter now. "America, hurry!"
Fighting against the incline, America struggled to reach out, his fingers close but still not close enough. Finally, paying no heed to his sleeve, England stretched out and grabbed hold.
"Hang on!" He called down.
"Planning on it!" America called back, his face smeared with mud and dirt and his glasses askew.
"We have to hurry, this sleeve is ripping," England explained. "So see if you can pull yourself up and grab onto something else."
"Okay I wi—"
America's words turned into gasp and a scream as something down in the depths grabbed his ankle and pulled him down into the darkness.
But England's cry was met with nothing but an eerie echoing silence.
While America might have his action films and over-the-top strength, England could muster up quite the fight when the situation called for it. And when America disappeared before his eyes and didn't return, England immediately tore his sleeve off and went after him.
Arm bleeding, brows furrowed in concentration and eyes keenly keeping check of all that surrounded him, England dropped into the catacombs of the temple. The floor showed a watery trail smeared against it, some of America's damp handprints dotting the wall as if he'd put up a fight as best he could.
England dropped to his knees, placing a hand in alignment with an imprint America had left. "Hold on, love. I'm coming for you."
Onward he trekked, encountering water-filled shafts that he had to swim across and ancient rooms so cluttered with algae-covered debris it made it difficult to navigate without slipping and falling into the shards of broken pottery.
By the time he reached the final chamber, he was wielding a magical torch, covered in cuts and mud and looking as if he was about to single-handedly take on an army. The intricate carvings around the circular chamber were but backdrop, his eyes focusing dead ahead on what he'd come for.
America, who was bravely wrestling with the largest Nile crocodile England had ever seen, was atop a large altar in the middle of the room. An altar surrounded by a moat filled with water and, not surprisingly given everything else, crocodiles so thick you would think them floor if they weren't breathing.
"America!" England called out, the eyes of every crocodile in the room turning to face him. "I'll be there in a moment, so hang tough."
The other country was about to reply, but the crocodile wrestled him into a pin-hold and his voice was muffled by the body of the creature.
England took a step forward, his magical torch extinguishing the moment he stepped inside the carved circle outlining the room. "No magic then, is that it?" He murmured, tossing the stick aside. "Then we'll have to do this the old fashioned way."
And so, armed with nothing more than a satchel full of now-useless tomes, England walked up to the edge of the moat and looked down at the crocodiles waiting there.
"All right you foul beasts, you may either let me pass or I shall vanquish you like the dragons of old I slayed when but a child."
Perhaps it was the steely glint in his eyes, or maybe it was the truth that rang in his tone, but whatever the reason, the crocodiles heeded his request. They slunk into the water, just their eyes hovering above the surface, and slowly backed away from a small row of stones that crossed the water to where America was. England cared not if this was some trick or trap, his legs carrying him forward as fast as he could will them to. His fingers grabbed at the risen stone slab where the largest crocodile still wrestled with its prey, and he gave it nothing more than a look before it too backed away.
America, wet and bruised but not hurt, grinned awkwardly up at him.
"Wow, the Thebans were right."
England knelt beside him, cupping his face as he glanced over him checking for injuries. "Are you hurt? What are you blathering on about?"
"The Thebans said that 'Only for the lover is the crocodile as harmless as a mouse when he enters the waters to hurry to his beloved.'"
He gave England a sappy grin at that and England couldn't help but press a searing kiss to his lips in reply.
"Scared me half to death. Wrestling crocodiles and leaving me to think you gone," England began, the adrenaline in his system finally dying down.
"Apparently it's a traditional intruder welcome," America explained as he sat up and straightened his glasses. "Wad-wr told me as much amidst our fight."
England glanced over to the large crocodile who seemed to incline his head upwards at the name. "Great Green, an apt name for him. So you've been down here having a chat with him while I've been risking my bloody life to save you?"
America stood up, took England's hands from where he'd put them on his hips and gave them a squeeze. "You saved me, okay? I was holding up pretty well but even I couldn't part the waters like you did. Got that, hero?"
England flushed. "R-right, just as long as you know it!"
His response was a peck to England's nose. "And I'll never forget it. But I don't think we're going to be the great discoverers like we'd hoped…"
America looked around at all the crocodiles. "We've earned their respect in our battles, which means they would willingly give their home to us. But England, this is their home. Their families have been living here for centuries and it just doesn't feel heroic to kick them out over what- a few new bits of history?"
England glanced around at the walls, finally taking in the intricate designs and the vaulted ceiling. It was beautiful, but all of it was in homage to the crocodiles.
"Wad-wr told me that the army stationed here built this to honor the strongest of Sobek's kin, the Nile crocodile. Instead of sacrificing them like other temples of Sobek, they made it a home for them so they could thrive like they wished the army would."
"Then that is what they shall continue to do," England said locking his eyes with America. "Please tell Wad-wr that as champions we wish for them to stay."
America smiled. "As if I couldn't love you any more, England."
England looked once more at the room. "If he and his family permit, could we perchance take but two trinkets home as a memory of our adventure?"
America threw an arm around his shoulders and hugged him close, his hand gently coming to rest on the cut on England's arm. "You old sap."
"Oi, shut it or I won't save you next time."
Laughter echoed off the walls as America told their new crocodile friends that their home was theirs to keep. England, though he would deny it later, swore he even saw a few of the crocodiles smiling. The world, outside a few close friends, continued to be unaware that this lost temple had ever been found. And the crocodiles, as America said every time he told the story, lived happily ever after.
And so it was. All that left the temple that day was two adventurers, their belongings and two trinkets- solid gold crocodiles no bigger than a paperweight but beautiful in their make. That was all they needed, for the memories of the day would last them forever.