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...
Calls came in throughout the night from all over the world. The news spread throughout the nations of the world like a living creature, fueled by the convenience of modern communication and the tingling uncertainty of their international bonds. Every country that lit up the phone lines in that quiet English night had the same question on their lips and all of them knew the same answer before it was inevitably spoken.
“Is England really…?”
“Yes. He’s gone.”
Canada took each call with quiet dedication, keeping his mind busy and off the pain of the loss. France had stayed for several hours to cook supper for the boys, but finally decided to make his way home around midnight. America remained in the window seat in England’s room, staring out at the ocean as though hypnotized, until the early hours of the morning, when he muttered that he would soon return and slipped out the back door.
Canada found him in the back yard several hours after the sun had risen, laboriously hauling a stone the size of his own head from the ocean shore up to the very edge of the cliff. As he watched, America deposited the stone on top of a dozen others, the same size and weight, carefully organized into a small pyramid. While he was absorbed in making sure all the stones were in a perfect, stable alignment, Canada approached his brother cautiously. “Alfred?”
America glanced back at him, sighed and straightened, shoving his glasses up his nose. He took a step back and stared at his handiwork, his expression distant and blank. “This is all we get.”
“This is all we get. An entire country dies, and this is all we get to remember him by,” America gripped his hands into tight fists, glaring at the pyramid as though the force of his sorrow could make it tumble back into the sea. “People get monuments and services, cities leave behind ruins and artifacts. But Arthur? We don’t even get a body to bury.”
Canada nibbled his lower lip, which was chapped from a night repeating the action over and over. He rested his hands on his brother’s arm, trying to come up with some small comfort. “That’s not entirely true. Francis said that nations leave behind their history, right? The history books will remember.”
“But that’s England’s history. England, the country. This rock. Not Arthur’s.”
“You really think they’re separate things?”
“Of course not,” America’s voice trembled a bit. “But they’re not the same.”
Canada hm’ed slightly, half to America, half to himself, and leaned his head against his brother’s shoulder. America was too tense for blatant displays of affection, so he offered what comfort he could, rubbing his hands against the worn, well-loved leather of his jacket. “Don’t go beating yourself up over this, okay? This isn’t your fault. None of it is.”
He was lying. Canada could tell, but he didn’t press the issue. He knew his brother well enough to know that he would make it through this. He also knew that America wouldn’t accept a hug, not now that he actually needed one, so he just patted the worn, well-loved leather of his jacket a few times before pulling away. “I’m gonna go inside and get breakfast started. Pancakes and syrup sound good to you?”
“Yeah, sure,” America muttered dismissively, stuffing his hands into his pockets. “Sounds great, Mattie. You just go on ahead, okay? I’ll…catch up in a bit.”
Canada retreated back to the safety of the old house and his maple syrup. Alfred stood there for a long while after his brother had left, staring at the hastily-crafted monument and wondering if Arthur would have approved. Probably not. He’d probably say that it was too ancient and simplistic, or that the shoddy craftsmanship was a sign of the inherent laziness of Americans.
“Couldn’t even be bothered to carve me a proper headstone, could you? That’s gratitude for you.”
The glimmer of imagination brought a smirk to America’s face, but it only lasted a few brief moments before his heart sank into his toes again. He sighed into the wind and leaned his head back as far as his neck would allow, forcing the tears back into their ducts before they were fully realized. He wouldn’t cry again. He couldn’t cry again. Heroes didn’t cry. They mourned, and then they moved on.
A yelp echoed over the wind, and America jumped. He turned after the sound and blinked in surprise, trying to figure out where it had come from. Across the yard, one of several carefully-tended blackberry hedges trembled and yelped again before depositing a rather scraped-up child onto the well-cut grass.
The little boy was quite small, no more than a toddler really. His pale skin was covered in scrapes from the thorny bushes and the white clothing he wore – it looked a bit like a baptismal gown – was splotched with blackberry juice. Though he was young, his hair was as white as Iceland’s and his eyes were the same deep blue-grey of the English sea far below. And above those eyes…
America’s eyes widened. Those eyebrows were unmistakable. “Arthur?”
The child, who had been blowing on the stinging scrapes to keep them from hurting too bad, froze. With a frightened yelp, he leapt to his feet and dashed away down the garden path.
“H-Hey!” America sputtered. “Wait a second!”
He followed after the child, stumbling a bit on the cobblestone path before breaking into an all-out run. By the time Alfred got there, the little boy had already climbed over the gate and was dashing down the country road. America followed him intently, a bit surprised that he couldn’t catch up even at full speed. This kid wasn’t normal.
Well, America had to admit, that much had been obvious from the start. There were no other houses around for miles, only abandoned farmlands, no normal toddler would have been able to make it all the way out to this point by himself, not to mention scrambling through the thorny blackberry bushes without shedding so much as a tear. What’s more, Alfred recognized the strange sensation that the boy gave off. It was the same feeling he’d gotten when he had met Canada for the first time, the feeling that had drawn him from his wild home to meet Finland and Sweden and Spain and finally England and France. It was the unmistakable feeling of Their Kind.
America’s heart leapt at the thought and gave him an extra boost of speed. Those eyebrows, that face, that feeling…it couldn’t really be, could it? He had to know for sure. And to do that, he had to catch the kid.
The chase lead him into an old, overgrown apple orchard that had been allowed to grow wild since its farmer had succumbed to whatever terrible fate had been in store for him. It had grown over the path so thickly that the twisting branches blocked out the sun, all except for a few bright patches that broke through here and there. Though it was only a decade old at the most, the darkness made the grove feel ancient, like the forests that had once grown across America’s lands, back when they been all but untouched by human hands.
America shivered a bit in the chill of the shade, pulling his jacket around him a bit more. The child had disappeared from his sight, but he knew that the boy was still around. He could feel him. He just had to find him.
“Hey,” he called, keeping his voice soft enough to be unthreatening, but projecting it far enough to be heard. “I know you’re here. C’mon out. You don’t have to hide from me, you know, I’m not scary.”
There was no response. America’s face fell slightly, and his next words were a bit more desperate. “Please come out. Please…Arthur…”
High above, a branch snapped with a sickening crack. America shot his head up to find the little boy clinging to the trunk like a squirrel, climbing higher and higher with each passing moment.
“H-Hey! Be careful up there!” America shouted. The little boy glanced back him with scared eyes, climbing faster than before. “No, stop! It’s dangerous!”
If the boy heard him, it only spurred him on. America could only watch in horror as he climbed deeper and deeper into the old, twisted, untended branches. He could hear the way they creaked and groaned under the child’s weight, each uncertain sway striking fear deeper and deeper into his heart.
“Please, please come down from there!” he begged. “You’re gonna fall…!”
The branch directly below the boy’s foot gave way. He dropped out of the tree with a cry and plummeted like a stone. America dove after him, arms outstretched, almost choking on the strangled “No!” that burst from his throat.
Seconds later, it was all over.
America lay on the ground, a slight skid mark left in the grass behind him. His glasses had been thrown clear, his jacket was stained with mud and his breathing was unsteady as he tried to get his pounding heart back under control. He lay on his back with his eyes closed, focusing on the strange new weight that rested half on his chest and half in his arms. For a long while, the only sound he heard was his own heart pounding in his ears. Then, a new voice, young and uncertain, spoke from above.
“Hey…Hey, mister. Are you okay?”
America forced his eyes opened and blinked at the blurry white and peach blob above him. The little boy’s unmistakable white eyebrows were knitted together in concern, his little hands fisted around the cloth of America’s t-shirt. He was visibly shaken and still bore scratches from his encounter with the blackberry bush, but was otherwise unharmed.
His face was so familiar. Oh, Arthur…
America smiled at the thought and sat up, shifting the boy into his lap. “I’m fine. What about you?”
“I’m okay,” the boy muttered, and blushed. He scrambled out of America’s lap and crawled barely a foot away, scooping up America’s glasses from where they had fallen. “Um, I think these are yours.”
“Thanks,” America said, slipping them on.
Up close and in focus, he could see now that the boy didn’t look nearly as much like Arthur as he had first appeared, though that wasn’t to say he looked dissimilar. His face had the same shape, if a bit softer around edges, his hair was in a similarly unruly style, though significantly less coarse, and the eyebrows remained as obvious as ever, even if they looked more like a pair of little white mice than the famous black caterpillars.
He peaked up at America through his hair, his blue-grey eyes gleaming with uncertainty. “Hey, mister,” he said quietly. “Who are you, anyway?”
America’s heart thumped painfully, but he grinned in spite of it. “My name’s Alfred. Alfred F. Jones. But you know, most folks just call me America.”
“Ah-mare-ee-kah,” the boy said, trying out the name slowly, and giggled. “Mister America.”
America patted the boy on the head, marveling a bit at just how soft his hair was. He hesitated a bit before he asked. “And what about you, kiddo? You got a name?”
“Avalon,” said the child, and blushed again. “Thanks for catchin’ me, Mister America.”
“Aw, you don’t have to thank me. I’m a hero! That’s what heroes do.”
Avalon looked spell-bound at that. “A real hero?”
“Well, I don’t know if I can say that, exactly,” America said, rubbing his neck. He sure didn’t feel like a hero right now. More like a jerk for scaring the heck out of and now leading on the kid who was looking up at him so reverently. “But I do try.”
America sighed. Avalon was still staring at him as though he had hung the moon, and the boy’s similarity to Arthur was enough to make it a little unnerving. But Alfred had to admit, the kid was very cute. And, even though it wasn’t the person he had hoped for, America found that he really didn’t want to leave just yet.
“Hey, Mister America?” Avalon asked shyly, tugging at America’s coat. “You wanna play with me?”
America grinned. “Sure. Sounds like fun.”