How I Wonder What You Are, Part Two
Title: How I Wonder What You Are, Part Two
Fandom: Axis Powers Hetalia
Characters: America, England.
Rating: PG-13 for politics. Still the Cold War, now with intimations of what comes after.
The Year: 1979
Words: 4500, in this part, because England outtalked the other four participants combined.
Part One can be found here.
Summary: Emulation, hypocrisy, progress, hope, and the lawn outside the Pentagon.
How I Wonder What You Are – Part 2
axis powers hetalia
3 July, C.E. 1979
The Pentagon is an abomination of architecture, borne of necessity and jingoism and entitlement. No marble, for Italy was the enemy when it was constructed; instead, it’s built from silt dragged in from the river, frozen in place by chemistry and time. It is reassembly, scavenging, kross-mail and irreverence for the dead. England remembers mattress-and-cushion fortresses draped in old sheets, straw-threaded bows and cork-tipped arrows and the games America and Canada used to play. Watch, America would say, watch me, England, watch this, I’m you, I’m you against the Indians, and he’d lob an arrow right between poor little Canada’s eyes.
England should not be here.
The light is unnatural, this deep in—the building itself is a prison, a trench, thinks England, a ship without a deck, letters and numbers with meanings whose secrets are false—and the sounds are spinning, hollow, sucked into acoustic tile and the slick, acid panels of the walls. Pipes hum just beyond audible reach, conversations begin and end, papers are signed and war is as alien as the concept of America funding someone else’s revolution.
Then again, that is precisely what he’s doing. And precisely what he’s sucked England into doing as well.
Oh, England’s read the document that America’s boss just signed. England’s people helped draft the damned thing. And there’s reason at the heart of all of this, reason, an elaborate bait with a much less elaborate switch. What’s good for the gander is good for the goose, and once the bird’s cooked then it doesn’t much matter. So if America could get roped into a costly, pointless war-away-from-home, then so can Russia. And America has never cared about the cost of bringing his enemies down. Or the point.
But for England to find America in this Pentagon, for England to seek him out and—and what, remind him? Reinforce him? England will no doubt be funneling money along the same channels. Because that’s what’s done now, that’s what it means to be allied in a world connected, in a world where America is the righteous saviour of the oppressed, wallet in one hand and gun in the other. In a world where the colour of your ideology prescribes the colour of your sky. In a world opposed by this five-sided five-storied shelter (and five, ah, five, England remembers that number, and that the same ruddy hands that clutch at a hated hammer and sickle were once extended in friendship, in emergency). England was an explorer once, a walker of woods and mazes and seas and frontiers—and yet he strains, to find America in this—this distasteful place. Distasteful, the word, because of its design, function, construction, symbol.
For all the sand that makes it up, as concrete and limestone and dust, there’s nearly no glass. But England knows America—America could never even confine himself in bedclothes, let alone a room, let alone a house, let alone any massive cocoon of his own devising. Find a window, England thinks, find an escape and I will find him.
All roads lead in, and so England takes them backward, then, retraces his steps to the halls of the entrance he came from. It’s not the Mall Entrance, that’s blocked by protesters today—the River Entrance. When it’s not the entrance but the exit it has a view across the lagoon, to America’s capital, the spires and streets and misuse of Greek architecture. England’s hands are quavering as he grips the rails of the stairs, down again, down again and out.
Natural light at last, England thinks, and basks in it for a moment, closing his eyes to the sun. When he opens them the glare from the river is equally blinding, not mitigated at all by Mount Vernon Highway on an island through its centre, the water so saturated with white that the browns and blues are gone. This entrance is quiet—the guards do not acknowledge England—and faintly, somewhere, perhaps on one of the boats on the lagoon, someone’s got a record or a radio on. Mozart, England knows, K265. That one, he’d know anywhere. A harpsichord recording, not piano—better, so much better. It’s terrifying in its incongruity, its innocence. The rhyme surges through his head, As your bright and tiny spark lights the traveler in the dark, though I know not what you are—
“You looking for me or the music?” America calls—up from the base of the stairs, near the docks, it seems.
“You,” England answers, descending.
“Good, ‘cause I was getting sick of the music.” America had been sprawled on the parking lot side, his jacket tied around his hips. England doesn’t watch him tighten that knot as he stands. “Bet they’re playing it to drown something else out.” The demonstrators, of course, but does America grasp that?
England has to wonder, and aloud, “How much do you know about Austria’s composers?”
“Only that he fights with Germany about them a lot.”
The track is starting the fifth—no, the sixth variation now. “But I assume you’ve heard of Mozart?”
“You keep art in your moats?”
England halts, a few steps above where America is. “No, not “Moat’s art”, Mozart— ”
—and he really should have known that America would just be standing there smirking. “You like to think I’m stupid,” he says, peering up at England over the rim of his spectacles and grinning, grinning as ever.
England sighs and makes his way down the rest of the necessary stairs. “He lived around the time we—” and he declines to finish that sentence, internally as well. Too many answers and all of them are wrong. And the seventh variation starts, wherever that’s coming from—the parking lot, then. So they’ll be walking away from it. “He was a genius—we almost owe the idea of genius to him. The modern idea, at least.”
And America chooses the direction, the one England predicted he would, away from the docks but still along the shore. East. “You’re comparing me to him? Awesome. You haven’t complimented me for years.”
Not if you’re not listening, England says, not if you never knew him, not if you don’t let me go on, and as they get even closer to the river they do to the island and the highway as well, and the red hindlights of stalled cars swerve by in the distance, bright even in this midday. “When he was a child,” England explains, “his father took him to see all of us on the Continent, and he performed for us. He was very proud—the father, I mean. Mozart was a fabulous violinist and violist, and piano player, and he became a composer at a very young age. But he hated his father for parading him around like a dancing bear—“
“He was a celebrity?”
So America is listening. “Yes. Yes, he was a celebrity.” There’s still a way of concrete to go before they actually get to the waterside, but the smell of it is near, and the sound, and the music is dying out with distance and distraction. “Mozart never really forgave his father for never letting him be a child. And so when Mozart was old enough to be free of his father, he decided he’d be as much of a child as he could be. So that’s how he behaved, demanding, irreverent—frightening in his irreverence, but it led to him creating so many beautiful things. He lived life so brightly—like a cannon instead of a candle, loud and sudden and tearing down whatever he hit on the way. And the world respected him, and went along with him, and they wanted him. We all wanted him. And then he died, far too young, leaving far too much unfinished, and they buried him in a mass grave like garbage.”
“You’re really worried about me, aren’t you,” America says, and only then does England realize that he’s two, three, four steps ahead.
England turns back to face him. It’s easier to now, with his back to the light, with the façade of the Pentagon merely limestone walls and shadow. America stands out against that sort of background, not as part of it. He’s dressed for the weather and the era, for summer—the pant legs are wider, the shoes more expensive, the hair gleaming golden and the collar undone and the jacket looped and slipping down over his hips, matted brown leather shining slick. And he’s looking at England like he’s a nuisance, not an obstacle but a circus curiosity, get with the times, old man.
“You took a quarter of the time I did to become like me,” England answers, question or none.
…The last time he saw that expression on America’s face was across the strategy table in 1941—walking in for the first time, that flash of what are you doing here followed by look who’s taller now—and then, and now, the reflection of the river in his lenses is drowning out his eyes and England can’t quite tell what’s changed.
“We fall,” England says. “We fall, it’s what we do. We have our times, and the faster we rise, the faster and harder we fall. It’s what happened to me, and what happened to Rome, and what happened to countless other Nations that I can’t even remember. And some of us recover from it, keep flowering in some cosmic perennial garden on the planet’s face. The rest of us don’t.”
“I’m going to,” America says, as honest as the godforsaken sun.
England turns away and scoffs. “Not at the rate you rose, and not at the rate you’ll fall.”
America’s still on the concrete when England makes it to the cut grass of the shore—only two steps behind, if the sound of his footprints attests. “So I just won’t fall.”
There is no sound here but the water, now, or no sound but the water and them—the music is gone, the highway too far, the passing planes and boats uninterested. America’s breathing is slight, lower than England’s but faster. His heart is probably the same—
“Would you keep endeavouring to fly if you knew someone was going to shoot you down?” England asks, stalling, but without turning back again.
America is beside him now. “Of course!”
“Of course.” Again, England sighs, though without hanging his head, this time. “Even if you’re taking the rest of us down with you.” Because he knows—to what causes America contributes, England shall do the same—to what markets, to what wars, what reliefs, what arts—to what future—
“Then do you want me to let go?”
Yes, England thinks, and never, and everything between. “I thought you already had,” he says instead.
America laughs, missing the nuance, the unsaid—but if he’s missing the unsaid, is he missing anything at all, really? “Not like that. This is me being the hero, not being your colony.”
Everything, England, decides, he’s missing everything. “Of course. Of course not.”
America exhales, crosses in front of England now, and when England glances he can see behind the spectacles for half a second. “So someone’s gonna try and shoot me down,” he says, dismissing it just as he passes England’s side. “So I’ll dodge it. Or block it. Or something. And we’ll all come out of it okay. We’ve done it before, haven’t we? There’s nothing we can’t do!”
“Except choose to fall,” England reminds him.
“Why would I want to do that anyway?”
“So you have a better chance of getting back up than when someone shoots you.”
“If someone shoots me. “
“When, America.” England extends a hand out to—no. No, it retreats, into shadows and cloth. “When.”
When these weapons that you—that we are supplying them are aimed at us instead.
A good thing England lowered his hand—America waves his own backward into the space it had just occupied, a flinch, a gesture of diminution. “But it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ll get stronger. I’ll expand.”
On that highway, that island, one car is speeding—blue, and square, convertible, heedless of even the road. “The maps don’t have edges anymore,” England tells America, coming up as much to warily watch that car as to stand beside him. “Everything’s marked, everything’s bound, there’s no more here there be dragons, no place for you to expand to.”
If America is actually looking at him when he answers that, England doesn’t feel it. That car on the highway is gone, now, though England still stares at its lack of a wake. “What if there’s not a top, or a bottom?” America asks for an answer, and that he does is a shock enough to England that his shoulders run cold, even under this sky. “What if there’s not a summit or whatever you’re talking about and we can just keep going up? And maybe we slip sometimes and maybe we have to walk backwards for a while but—we don’t have to fall.”
“And you’ll what,” England snaps at him, “walk on the sky?”
“We’ve done it before,” he says.
And Russia did first. “That you have. Even if the design was atrocious.”
“There you go.”
“And we won’t weigh you down if you start to fly?”
“That’s why I have a rocketship.”
That smile hasn’t changed since he was young— That’s why I have a boat that runs on fire, it used to be, or a cart without a horse, a road that crosses the whole country, wings like a dragon, guns that don’t need reloading— and far too recently, that’s why I have something that can end this once and for all. That smile has not changed.
Will it? Should it?
But America is still laughing, cocking his head at England and grinning, joking,, “Ha, and that means Russia can’t come with us. He’s too big.”
“He’ll have something of his own by then, I’m sure,” England offers.
“Yeah,” America says, pointing up, “but it’s gonna suck.”
England tries his damnedest to catch America’s eyes. “Yes. Earth will definitely ‘suck’ by then.”
It doesn’t work.
“Or I could grow wings,” America is saying instead. “Like dragons.”
Before England can protest that statement at all, and oh, did he intend to, America’s flopped down to the grass, leaning back on his hands, looking up at England—up, face turned wrongside, hair slipping down the slopes of his face and his sweat-dappled forehead. This close, England can see that the nosepiece of America’s spectacles is stained yellow, almost as bright as his hair.
Resignedly, England sits beside him. The grass is cool through his suit, prodding in at the cuffs. The scent and the texture are wrong, so wrong, this grass is mowed and manicured and chemically enhanced, to evoke a past that never has been, the semblance of sanctity in this commuter age. “Of course,” England sighs. “There are definitely dragons in your head. I’m glad of that at least.”
He is, though—more than he means to let on, so much more.
They are far enough outside the scope of sound, here—the wind and the lagoon too still, the traffic too far gone—that England forgets that this is a pause, a silence, until America fills it.
He folds his arms behind his head, lies back. The grass is too green for him, washes out his eyes. “You know, the whole world could be a dragon.”
England stays seated, mostly upright, staring out at the water, not the sky. “How? You yourself went out to space and took photographs of it. Did you see any dragons? No.”
“Who says dragons can’t look like planets? Maybe he’s using a cloaking mechanism or something.”
England doubles forward and hangs his head in his hands.
“Wasn’t my idea though,” he’s still going on, “I’ve heard that people used to say that the world was a really big turtle. A really big turtle’s like just like a dragon, right?”
“Again—you took the photographs,” England says from under his hands. “Did you see a turtle from space?”
“Cloaking mechanism,” America replies, as if it’s the answer to every question England ever had.
“Believe that,” England tells him, and doesn’t let on that it’s a plea.
Something of America’s—an elbow, perhaps—strikes England in the thigh. “Watch me,” he says, and his smile and glasses are white. Watch me, I’m you, I’m you against the world.
Watch me, England, I’m you against time.
England drives the nightmare off with a violent toss of his head. “You always could make anything you believed real.”
“Yeah!” America cheers, proud, oblivious. “It’s what I do. I take dreams and I turn them into…um, not dreams.”
“But not reality either,” not this, not what I believe will—
“Reality’s for people like you,” America says.
“Well you obviously need a dose of it.”
“You’re getting weaker, America. Not—not weak, not yet, but weaker. You’re—damaged,” England chooses, decides, it’s a careful word and he picked it for a reason and America had better understand, America needs to understand, “you’ve fought, and you’ve lost, and you’re showing your scars.”
“I don’t lose,” America bites back, gathering grass in his hands as he pulls himself up. “And I don’t have any scars—”
America’s skin is rougher than the last time but—soft, as soft as his hair, and England’s fingers glide across both, taking those spectacles off and away.
Another car flies down the Mount Vernon Highway, faster and louder than it ought. England does not watch it this time, or listen to it—he hears it, like music without a source.
America’s eyes are blue and level—assessing, processing, protesting—trying. But the words pour out of England too fast and too sure for America to have any answer but the one he is given.
“I did this to you,” England can’t stop himself from saying, “I—when we fought, I did this to you. And there are others, inside you—from when your land was divided, and they’ve healed but not well, they’re the aches you get in the rain—and from the weapons you’ve built, from building them, every time you breathe you breathe some of them in and it changes you inside, it—it becomes part of you—and from the years you’ve spent growing and shrinking and stretching too far...scars in your mind, just not on your skin.”
“I can’t see them,” America says, simply, perplexedly—
“Of course,” England assures him, gently, handing the spectacles back, “You can’t see inside yourself—”
“No, no I—”
England you—used to be so big.
“—I can’t see them.”
This would be silence, if America’s breathing hadn’t quickened, if his pulse hadn’t surged up under England’s fingertips—
England threads his hands through America’s hair, curls his lower fingers just a touch. Perspiration is beading at the nape of America’s neck, and England presses his knuckles into the tightness of the skull behind it. The grass beneath them sinks, skewed toward the water—the spectacles, still in England’s hand, shudder with a gentle impatient chill.
He spreads the heel of his palm where the—where he—where the scar should show and doesn’t.
And America’s blood is still racing, his sweat still surfacing, when he tilts his head back—
“Let go,” America says, wrenching away—defensive, not angry, assertive, not afraid, he’d insist that he isn’t afraid but England knows better, England knows best, “Let go. I’ll—I’ll find them, I’ll fix them, I’ll fix everything—” and his eyes aren’t the same, even without the spectacles his eyes aren’t what they were, it’s the face of the creature that grew out of what England should have known he could never keep.
“You can’t fix what you can’t see,” England tells him—tells him firmly, even as his hold is slipping, as America wrings himself out of his grasp, grass breaking beneath them, tearing—
“Yes I can,” he insists, ragged and wrong, “I can do anything. I can fix anything, I can change anything, I can make it all better, it’s what I do and who I am and—“
“Then fix your eyes!” England—shouts, truly shouts, his fist curled around the spectacles enough to bend or break or worse, “Fix your godforsaken eyes, if you want to fix anything else at all!”
“But everything else is more important than that!”
“Not if you can’t see where you’re taking us all.”
“But you don’t know what’s there—“
“Here there be dragons,” America says with a mocking twinge of imitation.
“—and you don’t know what’s going to happen if you don’t look back and learn!”
“You didn’t know either you when you found me!”
“And now look where we are!”
America looks him in the eye, leans in, and says, “You didn’t fall,” as if it’s obvious.
“Oh yes I did,” England snarls back precisely the same way. “I just haven’t hit the bottom yet. And maybe there isn’t a bottom for me, just like there isn’t a summit for you. Perhaps that’s it. Because loving you is like falling forever and fearing the end every centimetre of the way—but wanting it, wanting it to be over, waiting for it, waiting for the end to come if just to stop the falling. And wanting it to come for me, not you, because I’m not supposed to be there when you hit the ground, I’m not—”
he should let go of those spectacles, he should put them down in the grass before he destroys them, before the frames warp and snap and the glass cuts into his hand,
“—I’m not supposed to—survive you—“
—America heard that. He must have. He ought have. He needed to. He looks it, he looks it, those vast blue eyes are widened and too close not to see, too close even for him.
So England looks away. He casts the spectacles to the ground and digs his nails into his palm instead, and suppresses whatever would have come after that. His eyes close, his head bows. Perhaps even his blood stills. It would be time.
“Hey.” America is—is protesting, is nearing him, is touching him, “Hey. Look at me. Look at me, England,” he commands, so firmly, as firm as his hands are, tight on England’s face. He forces England to turn to him, this way, forces their faces to align.
England complies. He always has. He does not move anything else.
“I’m not going to die,” America says, his fingertips pressing hard, uncompromising, into the hollows beside England’s eyes.
“You can’t make me stop believing it,” England whispers, and corrects it in his head and only in his head, can’t make me stop fearing it, stop knowing that you’ll try and hoping that you can but hating that you won’t.
America grins. The same smile, the same eyes. “That’s because you’re a stubborn bastard.”
England exhales one uneasy, laden laugh. “That’s true.”
“Also, you don’t trust me.”
“I tried to, once,” England says. The spectacles are nearby, and they don’t seem to have bent or broken—he leans forward enough to pluck them out of the torn, flattened grass. “And I managed. But now look where that got us.”
America rolls his eyes. But he does look to England when England shifts enough, when he unfolds the spectacles, wipes them clean on his lapel, and perches them on America’s ears and nose. America bows his head, so they wind up sloped too far down—after a moment he relinquishes England enough to slide them into place on his own and rearrange his hair that had been trapped behind them. He smiles, thinking he’s won, and it is the brightest, most invasive and captivating thing in this world of concrete and engines and grass-stains and stifled sound.
But it’s not that you win, England knows, England knows from knowing America, from knowing all the things America has been. It’s that you always find new games to play.
In Arlington, Virginia, on 3 July 1979, American President Carter, under the advice of the Central Intelligence Agency, allocated what would amount to as much as $20 billion to the training of the Afghani resistance during the Soviet-Afghan War, in order to prevent the spread of communism. The United Kingdom contributed as well, for similar reasons. Eventually, both the United States Army Special Forces and the British Special Air Service were also engaged in the support of the Afghani resistance, though neither country deployed troops inside Afghanistan itself during the conflict. While this joint effort solidified the Anglo-American “special relationship” and their stance in opposition of communism, the consequences of this series of contributions continue to complicate America’s relationship with the rest of the world.
Mozart, Variations in C K265 was written based on a French nursery-rhyme from the mid-1700s. It is more commonly known in England and America as Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.