The year is 1922. Mathieu Williams is lost. Not physically: he knows exactly where he is. But he is lost in the sense that he does not know why he is there. The war is over, so why is he back at France's house? Hadn't he left all this behind when he returned to Canada after their victory? He can't help but feel happy here, though. This is where he spent his childhood. In this house, he had been raised to be a respectable nation, and in this land he had learned, for all the horrors he had witnessed, how truly wonderful victory felt.
So when he reaches up to knock on the familiar blue door of the familiar old house, a smile tugs at the corners of his lips. He doesn't care what he has been called here for, because whether it is good or bad, he feels so overjoyed to be back in the country where his fondest memories reside. And when the door flies open and he is swept into France's arms, he laughs brightly and embraces him tightly. This is where he feels best, here in France's arms. Greetings are exchanged, they hug again and again –Canada suddenly remembers how long it's been since he saw the older nation – and he is taken inside through a colourfully sophisticated home (that yellow wallpaper he remembers scorching a corner of when he knocked over a candle, and the sturdy oak coffee table he remembers cutting his head open on) and sat down for tea.
France returns and hands him a steaming mug, and Canada feels gleeful laughter bubble up in his chest when he detects the faint scent of maple syrup in it. They sit in silence for a few moments before France finally speaks, "You must be wondering what I summoned you for."
Canada nods politely, setting down his drink.
"Oh, Mathieu, I have the most wonderful surprise for you. I'd like to take you to see it tonight, if that's okay. Of course, I would also love for you to stay here with me for a while. At least a week. It's been too long, we must catch up." He flashes a brilliant smile as he speaks, looking almost child-like in his obvious excitement.
Canada straightens up a bit. Of course he'd already known that France would want him to stay for a while. But this surprise seems completely out of the blue. "Really? I-I mean, the surprise? You….oh, France, thank you so much. I'm already sure that I'll love it."
"We can leave right now, if you'd like." France laughs, that charming, genuine laugh that Canada didn't realize he had missed so desperately, and he is so drawn in by it that he nearly forgets to question France's wording.
"Yes." An empty tea cup finds its place on the coffee table and France stands, extending a hand to him. "It's a bit of a walk, I hope you don't mind."
"Not at all." Canada stands as well, accepting the offered hand. Curiosity gnaws at him, and even while he pulls his jacket on and follows France onto the street, his mind is elsewhere, wondering what France could possibly want to give him that he couldn't keep at home. It occurs to him that perhaps he should have brought a gift, too, but then again, he hadn't expected this from France at all.
The sun is setting behind them, casting a fiery glow over everything and everyone, and as Canada watches, still deep in thought, shop windows erupt in the dazzling flames of late afternoon, and all at once the whole street is ablaze with its colours. He spares a glance at the sky to see streaks of red and vibrant pink fading quickly to shades of orange and purple, and then at France, who looks away from him quickly, though his lips twitch with the hint of a sheepish grin. Canada smiles at him and takes his hand again.
Apparently he has perfect timing, because France asks him to close his eyes a few seconds later, and he finds himself being led blindly to God knows where, so that the only thing keeping him from veering off their seemingly erratic course is their joined hands. He wracks his brain to try to find some clue as to where he is going and what this gift is, but throughout their entire walk he still can think of nothing.
So when they finally stop in what must be the middle of nowhere and France drops his hand, he does not know what he should expect. And once told to open his eyes, he does so somewhat hesitantly. The last strains of the sun assault him from behind and a cool breeze blows his hair across his face and he is in the middle of nowhere, but he can also tell that he is not, and it is only when he turns to give France an inquisitive look, one eyebrow raised bemusedly that he sees the trench and everything falls into place.
"Vimy Ridge," he whispers, and the wind carries his voice away. It's different now, much different, without the bodies and the barbed wire and the mud and the fear. It's almost peaceful. His eyes light up suddenly and he jumps slightly with excitement. "Vimy Ridge!" he cries out.
"Yes, Vimy Ridge," France repeats, watching him carefully, seeming almost amused. "My land, that you fought for and took back despite the odds. So now it's yours."
The wind stutters to a stop and Canada becomes still with it. Far off, the citizens of the town they left behind are going about their end of day routines, oblivious to the significance of the events taking place just a few kilometres away. "Mine?"
"The whole ridge?"
"And then some."
"And then some…" echoes Canada, finally turning to face France. He becomes radiant as the sun waves its final farewells and dips below the horizon, casting a faint golden glow over his face. Deep purple eyes glisten with excitement and disbelief and he can't believe something like this is happening, because when had he ever thought about owning the land where he had learned that he could be important and special and needed by someone else?
Without warning he flings himself at France, curling his fingers desperately into the back of his jacket and pressing his face to the crook of his neck, so that he smells cinnamon and chocolate and Francis. He doesn't know why he begins to cry, only that he does and it's quite stupid really but he's sure France must understand, because why else would he give Canada exactly what he had wanted most in life without even knowing it? France's hands have found their way to his hair, his chest vibrates with gentle laughter, Canada cries for what seems like years but what must only be a few minutes.
"Thank you, France. Thank you so much. I….thank you…" He trails off and just stands there, clinging helplessly to France. No words can express his gratitude in this moment. Everything has become suddenly brighter than he has seen it since the war, and he understands, because he is at home like this.
They stay there for a while, Canada thanking France over and over, reminiscing about the war and the Battle of Vimy Ridge and how he had been there, had witnessed firsthand the death and destruction and fear, but had later felt the joy and relief of victory. France holds him close, smiling into the soft golden hair on top of his head, telling him what a wonderful soldier he made. And when it becomes so dark that they can barely see, he takes his hand again and leads him back to that familiar old house in the quaint little town, back to where he belongs.
The year is 1922. Mathieu Williams has found his way home again.