Title: Avalon (part 1/4)
Character(s) or Pairing(s): US, UK, Canada, France, off-screen cameo of Japan and mentions of various others. Sort’ve US/UK, if you squint. Also kinda US/Canada, but not really. It's hard to tell between family love and romantic love sometimes, you know?
Warnings: Character death,but with a happy ending.
Summary: "The old world is dying, Alfred. Arthur is just the first." People, animals, governments and nations all pass away, but life and love will always find away to continue on...
People had called it the end of the world.
China had scoffed at that, rueful and pensive, with a strangely distant gleam in his eye. The world, he said, had come to an end many times before and it had always rebuilt itself in the end. History was a cycle that would continue on its course time and time again. People, animals, governments, even entire nations would one day disappear, but life would always find away to continue on.
His words were rational and heavy with the wisdom of the world’s oldest empire. But they didn’t make things any easier.
America was shaken from his brooding by England’s voice. He pushed a grin on his face and kept it there as he moved to England’s bedside. “What’s up, Arthur?”
England returned the smile, though his was weak and unsteady. America suppressed a wince. It hurt him to see his former mentor – his brother – like this. He looked so old. So tired. So small. His body was wasting away with his people, ravaged by the diseases that had taken so many.
“Do me a favor?” England asked softly, nodding to the window seat on the other side of the room. “I’d like to go over there.”
He couldn’t even move on his own now, but Alfred knew how important it must be for Arthur to actually ask him for help. So he put on a smile, piped up, “Sure thing!” and scooped the older nation into his arms. Despite the hard times, America was as strong as ever, easily sweeping England, a pillow and the island country’s favorite blanket across the room to the window.
America set him down gently, careful not to jostle him too much, and tucked the pillow behind his back. England shifted until he was comfortable, muttering a soft thanks. He fiddled with the latch, unsteady hands tripping over the old metal until America finally got the hint and opened the window for him.
A cool gust of crisp, salty air burst through the open panes, filling the room with the smell of the ocean. England closed his eyes and took a deep breath, holding it a moment to savor the tang of the brine. “It’s quite a lovely view from up here, wouldn’t you say?”
“Sure is,” America said, and grinned. England was always happier when the ocean was nearby. That was why they had moved him out here, to this summer house on the eastern coast of his island, after London…
Well, they didn’t really talk about London any more. Nobody did.
“That coastline used to be further out, you know,” England said, waving a hand at the rocky beach on the edge of his property. “You didn’t used to be able to see it. Smell it, sure, but not see it. Can’t really complain, though.”
America stuffed his hands into his pockets, nodding absently though he hadn’t a clue what England was talking about. Without turning his head, he gave the other country a quick glance. England’s green eyes were out of focus and there was a goofy smile on his worn features, as though he were remembering a joke he had heard a very, very long time ago.
“It’s rather funny, if you think about it: people always act like land is so permanent, while the ocean is always changing. It’s only when you live as long as us that you realize how wrong they are. The land is always changing. The coastlines. The mountains. The borders and boundaries. They all change. But the sea…she remains the same, always and forever.”
America rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. “If you say so.”
England didn’t say anything, but he wasn’t really listening now. He was smiling, sitting up straight and tall and gazing out at the sea as though he were greeting an old friend. His face glowed gold in the late afternoon sunlight and, for a moment, Alfred saw him as he must have looked hundreds of years ago, when Pirate Captain Arthur Kirkland had led the ruffians of the English fleet through victory after glorious victory on the high and mighty seas.
He chased the fleeting fancy away with a light shake of his head, turning away from the window and back to the nightstand he’d been working at before. There was a tea set on it, with two cups and a pot that still had the slightest bit of steam rising from its spout. “Ah, I almost forgot. How did you want that tea again? Two sugars?”
England grunted, never taking his eyes off the ocean. America took that as an assent and bustled over to prepare it. “Oh, but the way, I ought to tell you – Francis stopped by about noon to check up on Matthew and insisted on sticking around to cook dinner. I know you’re gonna bitch about his cooking and all, but there’s no way Mattie’s going to let you get away without eating this time. He keeps saying that you need to eat better to get you back to full health.”
Again, England said nothing. America assumed he was pouting and let silence reign between them, though he punctuated it with the clatter of sugar cubes into the empty china cup. Once the tea was added, he clanked the spoon against the side as loudly as he could, waiting in anticipation of reprimands that never came.
Instead, England heaved a heavy sigh and spoke again in the same tired, even, content tone that had come before. “Alfred?”
“I love you, you know.”
America stopped and did a quick double-take. England still wasn’t looking at him, still gazing at the ocean as though hypnotized by the waves. So America laughed, awkwardly, turned his attention back to stirring the tea, and said, “Nice of you to say that now, after all those times you called me a worthless git behind my back.”
“Heh. I suppose so,” England chuckled, shifted and sighed with content. “And Alfred?”
“Thank you. For everything.”
America grinned honestly at that, clanking the spoon against the side of the teacup merrily to knock the last droplets back into the pool. “Auw, c’mon Iggy, you know you don’t have to thank me. After all, what’re friends –?”
Something – he couldn’t really explain what, but it was an odd tingling feeling that struck from behind with the force of an air cannon – knocked the last cliché words out of America’s mouth. A gust of wind rushed passed, rattling the curtains and the teacups and the bed sheets. With a growing sense of dread gnawing at his gut, America turned back to the window.
The teacup tumbled from his hands and spilt across the carpet.
England was gone.
“…Arthur?” America called, moving to the window. The pillow had tumbled to the floor, but the hand-embroidered blanket remained on the seat. It was still warm.
Cold fear gripped America by the heart. He gripped the window frame hard enough to pull the wood paneling out of the wall, leaning out to search the ground below. There was no sign of England. “Arthur? Arthur! Arthur, where are you? Answer me! Arthur!”
The wind continued to blow around him, strong and heavy with the scent of the sea, but there was still no sign of the missing country. Panicking, America ran out the bedroom door and straight into Canada, who had been coming up the stairs to investigate the noise.
“Gah! Alfred, what the hell?” Canada yelped, grabbing the banister with both hands. Only the fact that he was just as strong as his brother kept him from being hurled back down the stairs from whence he’d come. “What’s the matter with you? How on earth do you expect Arthur to –”
Canada blinked. “What?”
“He’s gone, Mattie, Arthur’s gone!” America grabbed his brother by the shoulders and shook him, trying to drive home the importance of his words. “I took my eyes off him for two minutes and then he was gone! He must’ve fallen out the window, but he’s not answering! He’s gotta be hurt or unconscious or abducted or –”
“That is quite enough.”
France seemed to appear from nowhere, bounding up the stairs to grasp America’s hands and pull a fairly rattled Canada from his grip. The Freshman’s expression was oddly serious, keeping the frazzled America in place even though the hand on his wrist would never have held him back on its own.
“Now slow down, Alfred, and tell us calmly,” he said, punctuating each word with the utmost importance. “What happened to Arthur?”
“I don’t know!” America insisted, sucking in a deep breath before he continued. “One minute he was there, in his room, talking about the ocean; next minute he was just…gone!”
France’s expression grew darker. His grip, both the one supporting Canada and the one holding America steady, loosened until the twins were standing on their own. He bit his lip and lowered his head, his face hiding for a moment behind his hair. “Tu stupid Angleterre…”
“Francis!” snapped America, who didn’t really understand French but recognized an insult when he heard it. “This is no time for one of your stupid fights! We have to find Arthur, he could be hurt!”
“Non, mon frère,” France muttered from behind his bangs. “England is not hurt. There isn’t anything that could hurt him now.”
The words hit like a bomb and left fallout of tension in its wake. Canada gasped quietly and cupped a hand over his mouth. “Francis, you don’t mean…”
“What the hell do you mean by that?” America pulled his hand from France’s grip, stumbling two steps up towards the landing without looking. “Of course he can still get hurt! Jesus Christ, just because he’s been sick doesn’t mean it’s not going to hurt him to fall out of a blasted window!”
“Alfred,” France said slowly, choosing his words with care. “I can’t say I’m surprised that you don’t know. You are young, and you have been much sheltered, isolated on your continent of promise and new life. Never before have you witnessed a nation – a true nation – pass from this world.”
Canada closed his eyes at that, biting down on the knuckle of his thumb. America stiffened, gripping the railing with trembling hands.
Slowly, kindly, France reached out to the elder twin, placing a hand on his shoulder to steady him. “You must realize, both of you, that our kind do not grow old and die as humans do. It is not in our nature to leave a shell behind to rot. When our time comes, we go, and leave nothing but the history of what we once were. I believe it was one of your men, Alfred, who said it best – ‘Great soldiers never die. They just fade away.’”
“No…” America stumbled back again, his steps more and more erratic. “No, no, you’re wrong. You’re wrong. You have to be wrong. Arthur’s not…he can’t be…”
“It was inevitable,” said France, and Alfred suddenly realized how old he looked now. As old as England had looked, though not as tired, not yet, there were still strength in his limbs, but not enough, never enough… “The old world is dying, Alfred. Arthur is just the first. You must accept this.”
“Arthur is dead. England is dead.”
“No! No, no, no!”
“He’s gone, Alfred!”
America tripped on the very top step and finally lost his balance. Canada yelped, “Alfred!”
France moved just in time to catch America as he fell, the young nation sagging into his grip with a sob. His glasses clattered down the stairs, but Alfred paid them no mind, hiding his eyes in Francis’s shoulder. He clung to the Frenchman like a child, crying and crying, and then he looked up and saw the tears in France’s eyes and that made him cry harder. And then Canada, who was sniffling and rubbing at his eyes, came up the stairs and put his arms around both of them, and the three nations mourned the world’s loss together for the first and final time.