Character(s): America, plus lots of other and probably more savvy people
Warnings: Longish; contains strong language and occasional strong language-warranting foreign policy
Summary: Being in two or three or seven places at once doesn't come to you on the first try. America still gets a pretty impressive head start on that, somehow.
Note: Mostly vague and general stuff in this one, so you shouldn't need more than a vague knowledge of America's track record to get most of this. For a couple of specific-but-important things, here's the Monroe Doctrine and a different sort of national personification. Enjoy, kids.
"Ok, no, hold on a second here," America stutters through chattering teeth. "We have to figure this out; it's driving me crazy."
Beside him on the tree trunk, he feels someone shrug and pull a coarse woolen blanket tighter against winter wind's bitter onslaught. It reminds him all the more of his own, unhesitatingly given to one of Washington's boys before all these icicles started trying to stick to his ears, and he hunkers down miserably in his threadbare coat for protection. America's so busy working to get the feeling back into his arms that he almost doesn't hear when someone says: "I am uncertain as to what there remains to figure out."
An especially cruel gust steals the force from his laugh. "Shouldn't you be more worried about this than I am? I'm pretty sure that's the way it's supposed to go when you talk about this stuff."
What they are talking about is names (America's a fan of them lately), and what they have figured out so far is this: not a lot. Ok, so Holy Roman Empire isn't technically wrong, but it's also confusing since England's got some of that too, so America doesn't think that's it. It's sort of more complicated than that, too, since he didn't just show up from one spot and they think there might be some colonists too and really, Assorted-Regiments-and-Soldiers-Some-of-T
One thing's for sure, it's not Hessen. America's got the bruises to prove that much.
This would all be a lot less frustrating if America didn't feel like he was the only one here concerned about this. He exhales, following the fog his breath makes to see if it crystallizes. "So...you're here, sort of, 'cause I'm talking to you." It's hard to concentrate with those voices yelling over there and the weather trying its hardest to eat him alive. "But you're also somewhere at England's camp 'cause he's hiring you, too (oh and by the way I'm super sorry about punching you that one time, I think), and you're way the heck over across the sea not doing anything?"
"I am actually having a most enlightening conversation with Herr Goethe," he mumbles, a little pointedly.
America blows his bangs out of his face and scowls. "Hell with it, I still don't get it." He straightens as a thought occurs. "Hey, since you're everywhere and all why don't you make yourself useful and see if you can't find out for me what England's--"
"I'm not sure it works this way."
"Darn." The shouting in the distance has gotten louder. America seems to be the only one who notices. "Speaking of travel, I still don't totally get what he's doing here," he confides, jerking his head in the direction of the training field where von Steuben and guest are busy putting the fear of God into Washington's boys. "Doesn't he have more important stuff to worry about at home, at least?"
Another shrug. "Prussia is being thorough."
America strains to hear past wind and language barriers. "What's he calling them this time? I can't understand it."
Whoever-He-Is yawns into the blanket folds and listens. "'Addlebrained layabout sons of whores'," he translates, detached. America decides aloud that this is wicked cool, but by then he's already half asleep so he probably doesn't hear it.
Spain should have gotten the rest of his junk out of his old house here a long time ago and good riddance, and America knows he promised he wouldn't get into the whole crazy Old World side-taking thing, but what the hell, Florida's big enough for the two of them just this once if he gets to tell someone the news. He throws his arms over the banister at the top of the stairs and calls out, "You can't be here anymore."
"Really?" Spain drops his weapon. One of them. Spain brought a lot of weapons, not counting the ones he's pulling out of the hall closet. "It's been working fine so far. How do you figure that?"
"Since you're getting booted out anyway mostly, and I've got a doctrine," America shrugs. "That means you can't come back and try to take over again, and other people can't come and take those guys over either." He points off to where he's pretty sure Mexico's house is now, then wags a finger. "Be nice to new republics."
Spain smiles up at him, taps the axe he's carrying against his shoulder. "Says who?"
"Says me," America sniffs. He kinda likes the way it sounds. "Plus I'm not gonna mess with you guys' stuff, really, but if you guys mess with anyone's stuff over here, that's like war on me now, so then I can hit back. Basically."
For a second, Spain looks like he's thinking this over, really concentrating. He looks up again, frowning, and asks, "Which of us taught you that?"
America rocks back on his heels, clutching the banister. "Nobody! Well, I mean, Monroe and Adams did, sorta, but they're mine so that doesn't count!"
"Uh-huh. Well, good luck with that, but you know how hard ships are to stop with things like this." Spain twirls his axe around to have a look at the blade, tests it with his thumb. From the top of the stairs, America can still see the first bead of red. "One of 'em aaaaaaalways finds a way through."
"Not on my watch," America sulks. Spain leaves the door swinging wide open when he leaves. Shouldn't he be worrying about his own house, anyway?
"This is moronic," England says, arms crossed. America ignores him and tugs on the other glove. "And impossible."
"Says you," chirps America. He checks his boots again, straightens and stretches, taking a good long look at the cloudless blue sky overhead. Beautiful.
"Says common bloody sense, you dolt." Guess England doesn't think much of the view, even from the same sunny hilltop America's standing on. Maybe just to prove the point he taps his foot into the grass and glares at the small crowd gathered below, but especially at the newest glider model they're all gathered around. Probably making bets on how long it'll stay up before falling apart this time, America realizes. That's alright, he made a wager of his own on this one. He's got a good feeling about it for some reason. "Though you've never felt especially inclined to listen to that, have you," England concludes.
Behind them both on the picnic blanket, France sighs heavily. It makes about as much sense for him to be here as it does for England, which is to say he's probably waiting around for a crash too. Europe. "Really, Angleterre," he chides, reclining with chin in hand, "must you henpeck us all to death over everything? Ah, but don't answer this. Would anyone care for a grape?"
They're almost ready down below. America takes his goggles out of his pocket, tosses them deftly. "Come on, what's the worst that could happen?"
"Icarus," England spits. ("Some cheese perhaps, or a bit of bread? You are missing out," France continues, unheeded.) "Foolish people with foolish notions and the damn fool things that happen to them when they take it all a step too far, America. My god, haven't you read the myth?"
"You know, I never actually finished that one," America grins, and pulls the goggles down over his eyes.
"Allow me to spoil the ending for you."
He doesn't mean to laugh in England's face like that, only he kind of really does. "Aw, don't worry, England, I'll leave you the sea like a proper gentleman, yeah?" He starts down the hill, nearly jogging backwards. "'Cause this time tomorrow, my name's all over the sky, I'm telling you."
Arms still crossed, England sits at the very edge of France's picnic blanket and looks supremely unimpressed. "This time tomorrow," he predicts, "your arm will be broken in seven places and every bird that lands on your hospital windowsill will stop to tweet a merry little tune about minding your own blasted business." France accompanies this with an elegant fluttering hand gesture, for which England smacks him. America snickers, waves, and trots down to the bottom of the hill to meet his destiny.
Okay, so maybe destiny's a little cruel now and then.
"I'm tellin' you," he sputters, almost as soon as he comes to. England throws one arm over his own shoulder and France the other before they both pull up to help haul him out of the bushes. "I'm telling you, the next one is totally, totally going to fly. Just wait, you'll see." They stumble together, making him bite his tongue. "Jus' needs a little reworking, that's all. I'll get it one of these days."
"It certainly looks like you will," says England, terse. Before everything goes gray again, America thinks that he will not to invite him to the next test flight.
America leans over the desk and stares at the telegram, hard. Not because he can't read it; it's not even coded. Not because he's really surprised by what it says, either, but...
"He answered my question about those ships really fast," says America, still staring. The clerk who delivered the message shifts a little behind him.
"It's possible he started writing it before we initiated contact, sir," he suggests. "He must have anticipated your inquiries."
If he stops and assesses the damage, it doesn't hurt anything like the way, say, 1812 did yet: that was a lot more personal. But this went past irritating a couple of months ago and it's definitely edging up on obnoxious as hell. He taps at the paper in front of him. "Says here he was on board the sub that did it."
"We, uh, we have no way of confirming that, sir."
Somebody else must have just come in from the same door, since America hears two people jump when he slams his fist on the desktop. "How the hell do they do that?"
"I-I wouldn't know," says clerk number one, and he's kind of got a point there, but that's not the point. "There's something else, sir, from the same sender." Paper rustles, America bristles. "He says if you like, he can tell you exactly what England is up to now. Perhaps better than England himself could. Er."
Oh, that's pretty low, alright. America runs his fingers through his hair and laughs shortly. "Yeah, well, tell him he can go--"
"There's also a list of prepared responses to anything you might want to say," the clerk continues, sounding weary. "He says he is a busy man, sir."
"Monster," breathes America.
"'Machine'," answers the clerk, reading off the second telegram. Privately, America decides this might be a good time to have another quick chat with Wilson.
Oh hell, not this again. You'd think after a couple of decades of mostly shutting up they'd at least have the common courtesy to leave everyone else out of their same old stupid business, but no, of course they can't keep that in mind, of course that never even--
God almighty, Japan is going down. He has no idea. And yeah, alright, so maybe there was some stuff with England on the sly, and maybe the sanctions weren't the most neutral freaking thing in the world, but Japan really, seriously has no idea what he just got himself into. Hell with the stitches, they'll get pulled a few times, but America can work past that, he can work with that, even, as long as he never forgets it, and you can bet your bottom dollar that he won't.
Only the front's over there and Japan's over there, and even after he figures out a way to make that whole deal work out he's still gotta make sure everything runs right along here. It's not impossible, nothing's impossible for him. Everybody needs him, so he just has to be everywhere, right? He can do that. He can totally do that.
And then one day he punches in at the factory to get some welding or something done before another flight out ('cause everybody needs planes now too, suck on that, England), and there's someone else at his usual station. Someone shorter than him, with...huh. Well, with nice arms, that's a start.
"Hey," he calls, making his way across to floor towards him, "you're kind of in my spot there, fella. Think you could--" She stops riveting long enough to turn, and that makes him stop too. Really nice arms, he'll give her that. He's not so sure about some of the, uh, other things she's got.
The girl doesn't wait for him to finish his sentence, just thumbs some grease away from her nose and says, "Well, honey, I'd arm-wrestle you for it, but we've both got more important things to settle, don't we?" She reaches out to clap him on the shoulder and smiles, bold as anything. "Besides, I think I've got this covered."
...And then he gets it. It takes a minute, but he's pretty sure he gets it. "They need me," he says, and realizes for the first time how badly he means it. "I've gotta be out there, I've gotta get back to them in the Pacific--"
"So go." She cups his jaw in one hand (calloused, is that alright for a lady?), looks him square in the eye. "I'm right here for you." She nods down the rest of the line. "So are they. You just do what you need to do and come back in one piece, alright?"
Haha, in one piece. That's a good one. America grabs at her hand (sees her name then, plain as day, brother that's a pretty name) and kisses the back of it once, and then he high-tails it out of there and doesn't look back because there isn't any looking back now, not for a whole lotta people.
The next time he sees her she's waiting for him at the airfield, still in her work clothes and lugging around a toolbox for a few last little repairs. She drops it the same moment his bag falls in the dust by his feet, but it's him who does the running again now, towards her this time but just as fast, past row after row of the planes that made it back and he doesn't stop when he reaches her, just throws his arms around her waist and spins her like anything else but a doll (dolls don't have hands like hers), laughing with everything he's got.
It all comes to him then the moment he touches her, like slipping back into an old set of clothes. The hours, the aches, the scrimping and saving and hovering around the radio waiting for anything and everything, but then also the news and screaming, rushing out to the streets just to find someone else and share it, celebrate, which is exactly what they're doing now. It's slow motion around them and it's all his again just like it always was, and man he can see the confetti falling, he can hear the music playing, so loud he doesn't even know how he knows he's yelling, We did it, over and over until he's hoarse, and just the same way he doesn't hear but sees her answer, I told you so.
The spinning stops but not the laughing, that part keeps right on going. And somewhere along the line it's not just laughing anymore, 'cause there are things he brought back for her too and not all of them are things he left with. Not all the things he left with came back, either, and alright maybe he's not laughing at all just this second. He buries his face in her shoulder and remembers, buckles at the weight of it. She's strong, god, she's so strong, she could hold both of them up probably, but they sink together anyway, grabbing and holding and being, that's all.
She tells him something, some things, things that'll be there still when he snaps out of this...but after a while he pulls back and it's just him there now, kneeling on the earth, just his jacket collar that's damp on one side. He holds onto that a few minutes longer, takes a deep breath. And another. And he...he's not sure he gets it, but he gets that it's done now, just this second, and just this second it feels right, even if there's no way in blue hell he's walking up to Truman again before someone hands him a tissue.
It's good to be home, in every sense.
"Does it hurt?"
England looks up briefly from the last sheet of the stack of papers he's signing, twitches his nose like the surliest little rabbit America ever did see and says, "Why should it?"
Shrugging, America slides down the wall to crouch on the office floor. He didn't take a seat when he came in, he's got places to go. England didn't ask a second time. "Dunno, I guess I just figure hey, I'm a big old tea-drinking empire, sun never sets on me, blah blah blah, it's gotta sting a little cutting off all the bits I left lying around everywhere." He picks at his bootlaces idly. "That's basically what this is, isn't it?"
"What I lose with this was me in name more than in substance," says England, in as much of an admission as America thinks either of them has ever heard from him. "And I've much more important things to concern myself with at the moment." (Like being poor, America thinks, but that's kind of an off-limits phrase just now. Most of the other ones involve Africa.) England leans back, looks at the pen in his hand through hooded eyes. "I'm an island, America. I sometimes forget."
"Well hell, you coulda asked me. I'd remind you."
"Astute as always, aren't you," hums England. He throws an arm over the back of his chair, raises an eyebrow heavily. "But America," he says, in mock earnestness, "if I didn't know better I'd say you were concerned about me."
The noise America makes could best be described as lying somewhere between 'no way' and 'if you repeat that I am going to deck you', but for some reason he finds he can't quite bring himself to look up. Instead he traces patterns in England's carpet and says, "It's weird, is all." Then he does look and England's wearing his best snooty skeptical look, so America sighs and scratches at the back of his ear, frustrated. "Look, all I'm saying is this whole Empire thing, it sucked, but it was kind of you," he explains, or tries to. "Far back as I remember, anyway."
England rises from his chair. "Mm, yes, but you missed the really fun par--not fun," he corrects himself, head shaking furiously, "nasty and exploitative and opportunistic, that is the part I'm talking about, and that's well over and done with." He pants, like he's waiting to be struck by lightning or something, then relaxes a tiny bit. America cocks his head to one side.
"So what happens now?"
It wasn't supposed to be that strange a question, honestly, but the way England walks to the other side of the room you'd think he just made a joke about Churchill's mom or something. He plants himself in front of an old mirror on the wall to adjust his collar a few dozen times. "Do you know what Rome drinks Sunday evenings?" England asks, sounding far away.
"You shouldn't drink on Sunday," America cautions, practically a reflex. They've had the drinking conversation before. He blinks. "And isn't Rome dead?"
"There is a pub in Somerset," England says slowly, and America can tell he's watching his reflection no matter how big a show he makes of fixing his cuffs. "Not the one you and I usually go to, mind, a different one, one the war most assuredly did not touch. You've never been. Many of us have."
America crosses his arms tight over his knees, looks away darkly, and mutters, "Gee, so glad to hear you value my company that much." When England doesn't answer he peers back. "Does Russia come along, too?" he asks, sounding almost half casual about it.
"I've seen him there," England admits, after a beat. "Never on Fridays, though. He's never there Fridays because that's the Mongols' night out."
America stares blankly. "Russia's scared of Mongolia?"
"I didn't say that. But that is where I'm going tonight, (the pub, not Mongolia, England sighs, at America's questioning look), and there'll be a spot for me right near the window, with any luck, and..." He's speaking softly now, so much that America rocks forward a little to hear. "I suspect at the end of the night I shall have to help drag France's worthless carcass back to Paris before getting to bed myself, and then"--he turns now, straight-backed and dignified, in a voice that carries differently but not exactly strangely--"and then tomorrow morning will happen. This old island hasn't yet sunk."
"Sounds fun," America offers, since it looks like England's expecting something after all that. "Why Somerset?" he adds.
England takes a last quick look over his shoulder at his image in the mirror and smiles in a not quite happy way. "Mecca was not properly zoned, I suspect." And then he grabs his hat off the hook on the wall, twirls it once, and puts it on with a flourish that's really kind of lame but hey, whatever works, right?
"Oh." America twists to follow England's footsteps leaving the room, still crouched on the floor where he has been for the past few minutes. "Hey, England?" England stops in the doorway, raises both eyebrows. "What does Rome drink Sunday evenings?"
He's not quite sure he likes the way England looks at him then, but then he's not quite sure what that look is anyway. "America," England says, "it is my fondest hope that you never become privy to this information." He knocks a couple of times at the wooden doorframe, smiles wearily, and leaves. America's left watching his own boots again for a few seconds before suddenly he hears footsteps returning, faster, and England's head pops back around the door one more time. "Incidentally, I hope you intend to replace my carpet after tracking dirt all across it like that. Common decency, lad." And wouldn't you know it, he tips his stupid hat and winks, actually winks before disappearing down the hallway for good this time.
America just shakes his head. Europe.
Japan's doors are always a lot more fragile than he remembers so he's trying to be careful about it, but man, sometimes it just feels right to bust into a room like that, to really make an entrance, you know? He doesn't actually bust anything, of course, it's a figure of speech, (which by the way also took a really long time to explain to the little guy, sheesh); he just slides that sucker aside like it's a different kind of swinging saloon door and walks on in like--well, no, not like he owns the place, that'd be weird, but with feeling anyway.
Inside, Japan moves in exactly the opposite way, rising smoothly to his feet without a sound, not even a clank when he sets the teacup on the table. It's old furniture, too small to make any real sense, but Japan's clothes are new and they do make sense to him so America guesses it's one step at a time with stuff like this. Japan bows his head and says, without a trace of irony, "Good morning, General MacArthur."
"Mornin'!" America grins, pulling him into a warm but careful embrace. Wouldn't want to go jostling anything that doesn't need to be jostled, after all.
Japan's hands wave at his sides a little before deciding where to go, just barely there on either of America's shoulder blades. "Your mood is pleasant this day," he deduces, muffled against America's chest. It tickles a bit.
"I'm feeling great, yeah!" says America. He breaks the hug and takes a step back, rests his hands on Japan's shoulders and gives him a friendly once-over. "What about you, huh? How'd you sleep? How's your mood?" Maybe it's his imagination, but Japan seems to follow his gaze with his own when it flickers across the bandages peeking out from under the crisp white collar. "How's, uh, everything?"
"It no longer causes discomfort for me to turn my head to the left," Japan announces, demonstrating. There is absolutely nothing angry about it.
America nods, smiles, swallows. "That's good. That's great! You're doing great, Japan, seriously." It's almost tempting to ruffle his hair, only America remembers how much Japan hates that so he doesn't. "And I know you're only gonna get better from here on out, so..." He withdraws his hands, opens them wide in a giddy ta-daaa gesture, "So I'm heading out."
Japan doesn't stare; Japan's too reserved for that. Japan definitely watches, though, and this is maybe the watchiest America's ever seen him. "When?" he asks, finally. America laughs sheepishly.
"Tell you the truth, my plane's waiting right now," he admits, then coughs into his hand. "I mean, don't get me wrong, I was always gonna say goodbye and all that, and there's probably going to be some guys here for a little while longer tying up some loose ends, but me personally, I'm out." He gives a thumbs-up; Japan doesn't stare at that that, either. "Things to do, places to be, you know, and..."
"Peninsulas," says Japan, still not staring. America decides maybe it's best for both of them if he doesn't pick up where he trailed off a moment ago. With infinite grace, Japan speaks again and gently remonstrates, "This does not grant the time for a proper parting gift to be prepared, I am afraid."
What a weirdo, right? But sweet, in a way. "Ah, Japan, I don't need a souvenir or anything like that," America laughs, going in for one more quick hug.
"I am sufficient evidence of your presence here," Japan murmurs. He returns the embrace one-handed this time, and America wonders if he'll ever decide on the proper etiquette or whatever for that. Japan stays standing while America backs out the door a last but definitely not the last time, even though his tea has gotta be wicked cold by now. America notices the little things like that.
"Remember!" he calls from the door, waving. "Just keep working at it day by day and you'll get better, I promise! And take good care of that constitution, hear, it's an awesome one!" Japan lifts a hand in solemn acknowledgment. America salutes and dashes off, already readying his apology for the pilot waiting on him.
It's not until he can just barely see Korea's place coming up on them across the waves that America realizes he forgot to take his shoes off before coming into Japan's house. Shoot. Next time he'll remember that part for sure.
"So that isolationism of yours is total bullshit." Cuba throws his cigar butt down in the sand and grinds the embers flat with his heel. He's not wearing sandals today. "Just so you know."
America doesn't back down, but he doesn't go charging in just yet, either. The rules have changed too much for that now. "Look, Cuba, neither of us wants any trouble," he starts, inching forward.
"That's funny, from here it sure as hell looks like that's what you're after," snaps Cuba. "Get out before I kick you out." Pause. Spit. "Again."
Okay, there's maybe the tiniest chance he deserves that, if nothing else than as payback for President Pierce or something, but that was ages ago. Times are different now and Russia sure as hell isn't doing any better about keeping his big nose out of everyone's business everywhere he goes. Everywhere ever. Sometimes maybe even places he doesn't have to go in person so you can't even tell he's there but he is anyway and--whatever. Anyway this is a free hemisphere, by God, and just because things aren't going so hot right here that doesn't mean Russia can come in and do whatever he wants.
(Cuba would say that America would say that that's his job.
America doesn't have to listen to Cuba.)
"I know he's here, Cuba. Just tell me where he is already so I can deal with him, okay?"
Cuba appears to very seriously consider this. And then he scoops a starfish out of the incoming tide and throws it at America, Frisbee-style. "Tell you what, how about I don't tell you shit, and you can go fuck yourself?"
America dodges, jumps back to reconsider his options. This isn't what Washington was talking about, is it? This is barely even what Monroe had in mind.
Teddy might not have minded it so much, though, he considers, before Russia starts trotting up the beach like he owns the damned place. Yeah, not on his watch.
Technically he's not actually sure where exactly he is this time and technically he probably should know this, but technically it also doesn't matter since one godforsaken patch of muggy farmland looks pretty much the same as any other godforsaken patch of muggy farmland anyway. America blinks sweat from stinging eyes and blows fruitlessly at the insects nagging away at his head with their buzz buzz buzzing. He'd brush them away with his hands, only they're sort of busy now, being up in the air over his head and all. He tries a smile, hoping that nothing decides to fly right into it.
"Easy there," he says, nicely 'cause a gentleman always treats a lady like a lady even when she's got the business end of a rifle pointed straight at his dogtags. Well, that's part of what she's doing, at least. "Wouldn't wanna make any fool moves, right?"
She's behind him, too, except there she's still on one knee trying to catch a breath and, hey, great, unarmed. The her in front of him sneers but lowers the barrel, gives him a total same to you look to go with it. For some reason he imagines that in England's voice; wait, no, England's more like the flies, isn't he, buzz buzz buzz, whine whine whine. Lord almighty, where'd he put his canteen?
Gun. The gun's away from his head now, can he move his hands from there too? She might still hit him, you never know. She'll definitely hit him if she thinks he's staring at how the rifle strap cuts across some of the parts he doesn't have on her, but he's not looking there, nice guys don't. He just wants the thing attached to it out of her hands, so he keeps on smiling and presses his luck.
"See, that wasn't so bad. Told ya, you're not bad guys, just hanging out with the wrong guys kinda. But don't worry 'cause I can totally fix that--"
And that's when Vietnam punches him. One of her, anyway.
Only here's the crazy thing: he feels it, no doubt about that, he can probably count the teeth she makes rattle when her knuckles bust his jaw outta freaking nowhere, but he sees it too, and that freaks him right the heck out. Minus the flies, minus the jungle, minus the grime and stink and more timezone changes than he counted on the flight over, he's watching himself here, on a million little screens from a million little couches. It's like slow motion, over and over and over all at once. Technicolor. Better than the real thing, practically. He oughta know, after all; he is the real thing and he'd definitely rather be on a couch than out here with the flies getting wailed on. Besides, it's not nice hitting girls, even the ones who hit back.
(Is that really what he looks like?
Oh, now he's marching in his streets somewhere too. To hell with this, he can catch the rest on the evening report when he gets home.
Egypt's is more of a dry heat, so that's kind of an improvement, but his roads sure as hell aren't, especially not when Turkey's in the driver's seat. The next pothole they hit jerks all three of them around, but America's the only one so unprepared that his head smacks against the ceiling. Turkey twists the rear-view mirror so they can look each other in the eye and says, very diplomatically, "So what the fuck do you want this time?"
"Nothing!" America protests, holding his frayed seatbelt for dear life. "I'm seriously here 'cause I thought it might be nice"--another lurch--"to come down and spend some time with two of my best buddies"--Turkey definitely just ran something over, no joke--"in the area. What's so weird about that?"
Turkey mutters something that sounds like only buddies, but he keeps driving at the same level of totally crazy as before, which means things are pretty much normal. In the passenger seat, Egypt messes with the radio knobs for a while but apparently there's nothing good on, so they all get to listen to clanking and car horns instead. America looks out the window and wonders if anyone's ever tried to fit a car down one of those crowded little side streets. He doesn't doubt it.
"How's Israel?" he asks. Turkey groans.
Quickly but evenly, Egypt cuts in. "We are, as before, eager for all parties to reach a peaceful accord with one another," he says, like he's been practicing it.
"Right, right." America nods, twiddling his thumbs in his lap. Oh, hey, there's some more camels outside. Wacky. "'Cause, you know, I just like to make sure people are laying off him, is all, 'specially after everything that's gone down around here..."
Turkey's hands bounce impatiently on the steering wheel, right next to the tear in the leather that's been driving America crazy for the last five minutes. "Look, can we just drop this for now?" he says, through gritted teeth. "Least until we're all a little calmer and a lot drunker and a lot less in the middle of fucking traffic, goddamn it Egypt what is this shit."
"I am calm," says Egypt.
"I'm calm!" Turkey slams on the horn, then keeps right on driving and practically scrapes the paint off the car in front of them when he passes. "I am so fucking calm a flock of fucking cranes could mistake me for a fucking reflecting pool."
"You are also poetic," says Egypt.
Pedestrians dive out of the way before them; America waves apologetically. "I am also gettin' real sick of everyone askin' me what Israel's up to every other second," Turkey grouses. "Hell, don't even get me started on the neighbors." He catches America's gaze in the mirror again, frowning. "No offense, bud, but you're stretching yourself damn thin all the way out here and they know it."
America snorts at that. "Oh, come on, man, you live on two continents."
"Yeah, and which one of 'em's yours?"
It's at this point that Egypt loudly clears his throat and mumbles something about the effects and dangers of heatstroke. "Sometimes it is difficult at first to reach across certain divides and forge lasting friendships," he reminds them both, now rummaging in a knapsack by his feet.
"I made friends with whales once," offers America.
Egypt twists the cap off a bottle of water and hands it back, blank-faced. "And how did you get on with the whalers?"
Everyone shifts three inches to the left at Turkey's sudden turn. "Screw this, we're getting hammered right now," he growls. "Egypt, just point me somewhere where people ain't gonna stare too much. Oh, by the way," he adds, when Egypt wordlessly does so, "guest of honor always buys the first round. Ancient tradition, yanno?"
"He's lying, America."
"Egypt, don't be a dick."
Red Square is big. Yeah, ok, no duh it is, but seriously? Seriously. Huge. How does a guy keep something like that behind the curtains so well for so long? Gotta be one sneaky son of a gun if you wanna pull that off. America spins on his feet a little to take it all in, but he knows exactly where he's pointing his back wherever he turns.
He's getting used to the sound of his own voice in this place. Everything echoes here, everything echoes. "Neat."
"It has a certain charm to it," says Russia, his usual careful three and a half feet away. Too far for fighting, too close for comfort. He tucks the edge of his scarf a little tighter under his chin, but it still isn't as cold as the weather reports all said. "I have always felt--"
"So the McDonald's is going right over there?" America asks, pointing. He doesn't need panoramic vision to picture Russia's smile at that one. Echo, echo, olly olly oxen-free. There's no more hiding here.
But Russia says nothing, so nothing's what bounces off the buildings and the marketplace straight back to them in the middle of the square while they keep walking. America watches the people, and they don't move like clockwork bits after all. That's a victory too, somehow, he'll have to look into that.
The Cathedral looms like everything tries to loom around here, only in this case it actually kind of really works. America looks up, up, up to the temple top and wonders how many times Russia's had to repaint that sucker by now. He'd need a steady hand for some parts of it.
"St. Basil's," Russia murmurs, after they both come to a halt for some proper gawking. "You remember, yes?"
America nods emphatically. "'Course I do! Look like onions. And that," he adds, pointing away again, "is the Kremlin." And there aren't any gremlins in it after all, he doesn't say, or at least he's pretty sure there aren't. That's what his boss says, anyhow.
Russia's still looking at the chapels. In profile, his nose is more weird than creepy. "It is older than you," he says. "I watched it grow from the ground up. Six years it took the architect."
"Takes a lot less time to build a restaurant these days," America reminds him, and at some point in all this they've broken the three and a half feet rule so he goes ahead and nudges him with his elbow. "If you catch my drift."
"Do you remember the legends about the eye-gouging, too, I wonder?" says Russia. America just laughs and claps him on the back. That echoes, too.
"A gentleman never asks and a lady never tells," England mutters, and moves his little Scottie dog ahead three places.
"That's a yes, then," says America brightly. He tosses the car aimlessly up and down in the palm of his hand while he waits for his turn. "Plus you landed on Boardwalk, so come on, pay up, stingybritches. How 'bout France?"
England practically shudders when he forks over the money. "Absolutely not, never, and I ought to disown you a second time for even suggesting it."
"That's not what he told me," says Canada, coughing discreetly. England and America exchange a look across the table. England mouths, shut it. "Is it my turn yet?"
They nod and England tosses the dice in Canada's direction, but he still looks kinda sick. His expression turns curious while Canada rolls. "Japan?" he questions, expression neutral.
America shrugs. "It's complicated. China?"
"Likewise." Canada's landed on Chance this time; he reaches between them to take a card. England's still got his eye on America. "Russia," he decides, with just a hint of triumph.
"Ha, oh man," America laughs, leaning back. He swipes his soda off the carpet and takes a sip while Canada sighs and moves his top hat into the jail space again. Tough break. "So, alright, you know in winter when it's really friggin' cold and someone dares you to lick a lamppost, only it's like really cold so your tongue just--"
England's horrified gurgle doesn't quite drown out Canada's snort of "That's not true," but it's even louder the second time around after this.
"Knew it!," crows America, pointing at Canada's now-gaping expression. "I even flat-out asked Russia and he wouldn't own up to a damn thing, but oh my God I totally knew you guys..." He's still pointing, but now he stops to think for a second and, well. "Oh. Oh my God."
They're both saved by England deliberately rising to his feet, knees cracking. "Right, and on that note," he declares, "I believe I am going to get something stronger to drink. Much stronger. Back in a few."
America half-twists to watch him cross the living room floor. "You say that every family game night," he pouts. "I mean, come on, it's not that shocking. Just globalization, that's all."
"Is that what we're calling it these days?" sighs England, and he's out the door before either of them can think of anything clever to say. America turns around, props his elbows in the middle of the bank, and promises to slip Canada a few extra blue $50s if he tells France's version of the story for a change.
America squirms impatiently in his seat and sorta hopes it won't wrinkle his suit since it's new and really sharp-looking and he wants to keep it that way for as long as he darn well can, but not even spiffy tailoring is enough to keep him still when there's nothing to do. He grins, fingers drumming madly on the hard blue seat, and says, "Okay, no, seriously. Where am I right now, at this moment, as we speak?"
"You are in Berlin, on a train, riding in the sixth compartment from the back on your way to a very important environmental conference and sitting quietly," replies Germany, across from him. His head's leaning against the window and his eyes are closed, but the lines on his forehead are too deep for it to look anything like sleep. America kicks out at his ankle and grins.
"Nuh-uh, now I'm on a plane to China's place, first class," he pauses, "and the flight attendant is super cute." Germany cracks an eye open, maybe specifically to look disapproving. "And I'm back home doing stuff in Washington, and I'm in Africa doing lotsa helpful stuff and I'm, uh..." His vision fills briefly with sand and spiders and scarier things. "And I'm..."
"Elsewhere," Germany concludes, watching carefully now. "But not indefinitely."
"Yeah." America turns to the window and checks his tie in his reflection. "You've got graffiti here, too," he pipes up after a minute, watching the passing cityscape with interest.
Germany looks unimpressed. Big shocker. "Of course we do."
"What d'you call it?"
"Graffiti." Germany pulls his briefcase onto his lap and stifles a yawn very professionally. "It's not an English word, remember."
"Oh yeah, that's right," America hums, holding in a very non-professional snicker. "It's Italian, yeah? From Italy." (Once he and France had this crazy bet going over who could work that name the most into a conversation with him, 'cause the reaction's priceless every time. They sort of gave up on it, though. Not a lotta words that sound like Italy, believe it or not.) "Speaking of," he says, glancing at his watch, "was he gonna meet us there, or...?"
Germany's head hits the window again. "Ostensibly. The conference schedule I left him was some three hours earlier than the real one." America's about to make some joke about pinning notes to Italy's jacket when Germany gives him a Look. "This, of course, is assuming that he has the presence of mind to arrive of his own accord and not, like certain other people, simply thanks to someone tracking him down and reminding him for the seventh time this week--"
America waves a hand dismissively. "Sheesh, lighten up, will you? Know what you need, you need a vacation."
"I need for a single gathering of more than four of us to end in anything other than mass hysteria," Germany insists. He holds his briefcase up and shakes it. "I have charts this time, America. I want people to read them." There's a desperate note in his voice now. "Charts."
America crosses his arms behind his head and his ankles on the opposite seat (before Germany elbows them off, that is), and reasons, "Well, we'll never get that far if you come in dragging this whole negative attitude, you know?" He twirls a finger and smiles winningly. "It's not about the schedule, buddy. Say, oh, I dunno, we missed a stop and had to go for another run around the city. What's the worst that could--?"
"Eternal damnation," Germany promises.
"I'm kidding," America drawls, rolling his eyes. He pats at his front pocket, frowning. "'Sides, I'm pretty sure I'm pushing my luck as it is, I didn't even buy a ticket for this trip."
"Eternal damnation plus a forty Euro fine," Germany corrects. America makes a face at him.
"Like I said, kidding. Come on, I'm psyched for this." America scoots to the edge of his seat to demonstrate just how psyched he really is. "I just wanna, just wanna get in there and learn about windmills and stuff," he says, punching into his other hand, "hell yeah. That's like, dude, that's like crazy world-saving stuff, no joke."
"Earth-friendly," says Germany. It's his turn to look out the window. "One hopes."
The train slows, slides to a halt as it nears the platform. Germany waits until it has come to a full stop before standing and gathering his briefcase, but America stays seated a moment longer, cocking his head to listen to whatever's being announced over the intercom. Part of it doesn't sound like any German he's ever heard, shouted or not. "Whoa, wait, what was that? Didn't understand a word of it."
Germany tugs on America's sleeve until he gets up too and follows him to the exit. "'Thank you for traveling Deutsche Bahn'," he translates, uninterested. America half-seriously demands to know if that was supposed to be English the conductor thought he was speaking, but by then the train is moving on so Germany probably doesn't hear it.