Characters: America, England and some civilians.
Word Count: 3,346
Warnings: Some swearing on England's part.
Summary: To somewhat assuage England's stress from work, America presents him the most unusual of treats - a ride in a hot air balloon.
Notes: Written for strawberryburst over at usxuk 's Secret Santa exchange. I certainly hope that you enjoy this! Thank you so much for the prompts and happy holidays! :)
_ _ _
Today, much of England’s life was comparable to a bland, thick university textbook.
It had pages upon pages of experiences he could go on and talk about, but the words soon sound all the same upon the first few paragraphs, like a deadpanned litany. Patience was the ultimatum required just to get up the next day and grapple his usual crunches with numbers and other diplomatic matters. Everything he did was imperative to the welfare of his country, of course. He was the England, but that didn’t really matter in the grander scheme of things.
Every Nation knew that bittersweet truth about themselves.
That may have been the case, but it didn’t deter England in the slightest.
Willpower had been a constant pillar in this daily perfunctory role of his. If you’re poring over sheaves upon sheaves of paper as a rudimentary requirement, one can only handle so much. Sometimes, England even wondered if he already became color-blind without him noticing it, with all the black-and-white text shoved to him that he was supposed to know by heart already.
Nighttime probably served the little color and excitement England needed to add a dash of spice to his day. Running around in the London rain at stormy evenings was admittedly a good enough exercise that got the blood pumping. Eavesdropping on conversations and gossip of people riding the Tube did provide a nice little funnel of entertainment, much to the delight of England’s unorthodox sense of humor. Other than that, it’s him and his books again inside his miniature mansion after he gets home.
Splendid. More black and white.
And you would know that you already had it bad when you start dreaming of annual GDPs, tourism revenues and trade agreements in your sleep. Or some vapid shite like that that was supposed to be important to him.
And so he turned to his final reprieve – tea.
A cup of steaming, simmering Earl Grey always did allay the quivering of his nerves somewhat. Before that happened, his hands trembled ominously while raising the delicate china to his lips, making the beverage slosh and drip onto his brand new Persian carpet. Rust-colored dots and spots now peppered the erstwhile immaculate fluff. The additional scrubbing he had to do was just the perfect topping for the stress cake.
Jolly fucking good.
England took five deep consecutive breaths. Then, this would always be the time when the intervention that was Japan’s image would suddenly pop into his mind’s eye, mouthing the advice which said that he should “reconcile with his inner Zen and restore the balance that was lost”.
England knew that Japan had the noblest of intentions as expected of him, but there was one thing England wanted to raise. Couldn’t have Japan given him some more concrete advice? After all, Japan was the master of masking emotions, so why couldn’t he have –
With the slump of defeated shoulders, England flopped himself down onto his plush bed and turned off the nightlight on his bedside table with a final flick of the switch. Perhaps being surrounded by Stygian levels of darkness would somehow lull him to sleep.
“Willpower,” he chanted.
_ _ _
That night, England had the utmost pleasure of hearing the abomination that was the metallic chiming of his phone at two forty-seven in the morning. Knocking more than half of what must have been valuable antiques off his desk, England finally found the cool brass handle of his phone and put the receiver on his ear. He’d just have to sweep off the shattered remains of that ancient Chinese clay jar in the morning.
Priceless ancient Chinese clay jar, he reminded himself.
He even contemplated to punch and knock his face off into unconsciousness, just so he could render himself unable to answer. Knowing that it came after the brink of midnight, it couldn’t exactly be a social call. Pursing his lips in the sourest of grimaces, he braced and contained his annoyance with the crabbiest greeting a gentleman such as himself could get away with.
“Hullo. This is England spea - ”
Indubitably, England could always recognize that special brand of America’s shrill squawking in the morning even with the vestiges of sleep clogging his brain. It was soothing as the melodious sound of two sets of long fingernails scratching a chalkboard thrice over. Therefore, there was only one response he considered to be fitting.
England was about to slam the handle of his phone back onto its place when he heard what sounded like America shouting onto his end of the phone. He’s probably screaming at the top of his voice for England not to ignore him, or something similar to that extent. It’s hard to process snippets of fuzzy dialogue when your brain is just begging to be defibrillated.
America would just call back, anyway, so England just opted to get this hullabaloo over and done with. With cold dread, he slipped the receiver back onto his ear.
“Yes, I’m still listening. You should be grateful. To what do I owe the displeasure?”
Knowing America’s very diverse and adept conversational skills, they could only talk about three things – a new invention of his (which, England had to admit, had captivated his interest on several occasions); an awesome thing he saw, did, or was about to do (‘awesome’, too, had varying degrees in its definition); and finally, a combination of both.
If this continued, the wrinkles on England’s forehead might just become permanent.
“Erm, is this a bad time?” he meekly quipped. America sounded apologetic enough. England almost felt bad for mentally berating him.
The comeback was instantaneous and nasty, nonetheless. “I find phone conversations at three in the morning to be most scintillating and mind-numbing.”
There was a moment of silence on the other end. After a few garbles of static, America answered; “So, is it a good time?”
England needed to remember that America wasn’t the brightest crayon in the box when it came to sarcasm. Resisting the urge to punch himself into blissful unconsciousness had never looked so unappealing.
“No, it’s most certainly not a good time,” hissed England. “Time zones, America.”
England could just imagine that curious look on America’s face when the dawn of realization hits him. His eyebrows would be raised so high that it nearly disappeared into that fringe of his caramel blond hair; his mouth would be slightly agape, curved in that delicate ‘o’ of surprise; and then –
“Oh, shit!” America muttered. “Sorry, man!”
It was a little bit too late for that, unfortunately. Still, England couldn’t help but let his irritation dwindle down a bit. America was lucky that he had that kind of effect on him. England couldn’t find the gall to remain mad at him for long periods of time – it had been that way since England could remember. This phenomenon – England couldn’t quite put a finger on it – was a different kind of magic altogether.
“Anyway,” America prattled on. “I’d just like you to know that I’ll be staying there for a few days or so. You got the whole next week off, right? Let’s do something together!”
America was coming? England wasn’t sure if he was even hearing things right. The sound of his brain clamoring for some rest took precedence over anything else. That insane throbbing of his temples must have affected the quality of his hearing, too.
He was nodding his head in agreement, eyes half-mast, even though America couldn’t see him. “Mhmm, yes, yes,” he grumbled. America mentioned something about flying, but England didn’t probe with questions anymore. He was probably boarding his plane or some trivial shite like that. England wasn’t exactly in the correct mental state to process the conversation. Or to engage in senseless chatter, for that matter.
Arguments with America could probably last for hours. It was best to yield to what America wanted for now, so he would just clam up and bugger off, and England could finally get back to sleepi -
“Great! See you! And let’s eat out, okay?” America chirped.
The line went dead after one last electronic ping. And there he was again at that special place, about to be roped into one of America’s shenanigans – where they would stop, nobody knows. Just like one of America’s shows. Wheel of Fortune, was it now? He could have laughed at the irony.
Great. He was now thinking about the intricacies of American television. He must be utterly delirious right now. There was an infinite spectrum of things he could think about that wasn’t nearly as trite as those travesties America dubbed as entertainment.
Whatever. He could probably deal with anything America had to dish out in the morning with a full eight hours of sleep.
Probably, being the key word.
He pulled the phone’s plug off the wall socket. Still, he tucked his mobile phone beside him for good measure.
_ _ _
The next day, England had the most gratifying experience of feasting on greasy hamburgers in quick succession.
He lost count after the second one.
Three McDonalds meals could never comprise England’s ideal breakfast, but as his guest insisted that “it will provide the required calories for today’s festivities”, England practically had no say in the matter.
Maybe if he poured enough catsup on it, some of the vile things that were oozing out of them might disappear, thus making it digestible by default.
There was no such luck, to England’s dismay. He should have learned his lesson on false hopes already. As a consequence, his intestines would never be the same again.
The same couldn’t be said for America, however.
The lad had a cast iron stomach, if England ever saw one. Every damn thing on the menu must have landed on their table at least once. America gobbled most of them in a flash. A molehill of crumpled wax paper soon accumulated on the side. How America ate that much and maintained his rather attractive figure mystified England. Hyper-metabolism, he supposed.
“You look tired, England,” chirped America, handing him a caramel sundae. He had smears of chocolate on the corners of his mouth. “Eat some more!”
“If I have to eat one more of those sludge balls, I think I’m going to have perpetual indigestion.”
It came out more aggressively than England intended, but the damage was already dealt. America pouted and looked down at the morsels of food remaining. Even that persistent upright cowlick of his seemed to wilt with disappointment.
England was going to have to allot multiple trips to the loo next morning for this feat, so it better be worth it. He sighed and braced himself.
“Give it here,” he said flatly, motioning for the proffered dessert. “But clean yourself up first.”
“Aye aye, Mommy!” America took a spare napkin and wiped the excess chocolate off his lips. He winked and offered England the treat again. “Now it’s your turn to hold your end of the bargain.”
Without wasting any time dilly-dallying, England dug a spoon into the creamy concoction and ate some of it. America was waiting for his reaction, complete with that goofy, expectant grin on his face.
While England had a lot to speak about the nutritional and dietary aspects of these heart attacks in buns, he decided to let America hear what he wanted to hear for both of their sakes.
It was all for the adherence to the proper mannerisms and the just treatment of guests, of course, and for nothing else. This was the United States of America, after all – the world’s leading superpower and the current holder of sufficient military armaments to level entire countries.
Then again, England had enough faith and trust in America that he wouldn’t dabble with that kind of folly.
“It’s too disgustingly sweet for my tastes; but I somewhat like it, nonetheless. It’s nothing that I would chalk up the effort to eat every single day, though,” mumbled England.
Judging by the way America smiled as if it was Christmas, he was satisfied with England’s response, no matter how twisted and wicked it seemed. England was no less than frank when it came to his opinions; he spoke what was on his mind and no adulterated version would be acceptable.
America was no exception, but he seemed to take everything in stride. Either he was completely moronic and oblivious or he was understanding and compassionate enough to play along with England’s attitude. Or both.
Suddenly, the sundae soon tasted a lot better than it initially did.
_ _ _
That afternoon, America had the brazen temerity to tell England that he was going to give him a full view of his country that he had never seen before. England didn’t have the slightest idea how America was going to pull that off, since it was his country and all, though he had a sneaking suspicion that it had something to do with heights, judging how they were far off in the countryside.
A long time had passed since England last saw these rolling knolls of pure viridian. Such pristine places assured him some peace of mind, even in times of dire crisis. The mere sight of these remnants of the past beauty of nature in the olden days assuaged his stress somewhat. He remembered that things were less complicated back then.
Now, it was always the concrete jungle and endless papers to read and analyze. All grays, blacks, and whites.
“We’re almost there now,” said America. Truthfully, England wouldn’t have minded if they drove a little longer like this. It was just him, America, and the rest of the world behind them. As pesky as America may come across sometimes, he always did have his heart in the right place. Seeing as he put a lot of effort into organizing today’s agenda, England would say that this side of him made up for every transgression he did for the past few months.
Yes, strictly for the past few months only. Let’s not get carried away here.
The grubby screech of gravel against rubber told England that they had already arrived at their destination, wherever this was. England assumed that it was an off-site base for something, seeing as it was the only infrastructure for miles as far as the eye could see.
A lone young man was guarding the iron wire fence that led inside. Small bouts of acne on his reddened cheeks, a simpering grin – those were the telltale signs of a teenager in his prime. A part-timer, perhaps. He could pass off as any one of the Nations, really. The lad looked right about America’s human age.
“Identification, please,” he commanded. His voice trembled for a bit, seeing as America towered over him considerably and England openly scowled at the words.
America pulled something out of his wallet and handed it over to the boy. His eyes widened in what England might call shock, since his hands started trembling with tension, as if he was holding something of the most sacred value.
“Y-you’re Alfred Jones, the internationally acclaimed balloonist?” he stammered.
The what now?
America scratched his nape sheepishly, cheeks tinged with a light crimson. “Yeah, that’s me.”
The young lad scampered on his feet and opened the gate immediately. “We’ve been expecting you, Sir. Your vehicle is at the far end of this causeway. All ready for flight.”
Once they were well far from earshot, England bore down on America. “Internationally. Acclaimed. Balloonist?”
America raised an eyebrow in satisfaction. “Didn’t you know?”
Well, sure, England knew America had a penchant for many activities – information technology, archaeology, the science of pestering, and being innocently obnoxious without meaning to – but he didn’t know that America was able to fully navigate using a hot air balloon.
America laughed nervously. “So, uhm. Surprise?”
England tried his damnedest to keep his voice clipped and controlled. In actuality, he was rather excited to ride in a hot air balloon. He could very much handle airplanes - every Nation was subject to hundreds of flights annually – but a hot air balloon was unconventional, to say the least.
England always felt that he was being boxed in during plane flights, each ivory wall on all four sides bearing down on him inconspicuously. Hot air balloons had none of those blasted boundaries. It gave the rider a full, three-hundred-sixty degree view of everything, compared to the dingy rectangular windows the airplanes had.
America had certainly outdone himself this time.
Taking a deep breath, England focused on making his voice as flat as possible. As enthralled as he might be, he didn’t want to give America the satisfaction of his success.
“Well, the boy back there did kind of spoil the moment, but I appreciate your efforts.”
America smiled anyway. Strangely enough, it was as if he was immune to England’s grouchiness. “You’re welcome. Just wait until we’re actually up in the air!”
The balloon itself was a spectacle on its own. A colossal piece of art, if England were to size it up. It was adorned with blue and white stripes, with a scarlet band running across the middle horizontally. Even the color scheme had America’s name all over it.
And speaking of the devil, he was already making the initial preparations for flight. He heaved some of the ballasts out of the basket. Cream-colored sacks of sand, from the looks of it.
“C’mon!” called America. He waved for England to hop aboard.
It was a cramped little thing, compared to the giant balloon that loomed above them. A bright vermillion flame was already blossoming from the metal casket. America twiddled some of the knobs here and there, adjusting the size of the fire. He looked very much at home. Obviously, America knew what he was doing, but England couldn’t help but tease him a little.
“Are you sure you can handle this infernal contraption? We’re unusually vulnerable in the air . . .” England’s voice trailed off to add a little effect onto it.
They were already afloat.
America stuck his tongue out and blew England a raspberry. “Of course. What part of ‘internationally acclaimed balloonist’ did you have trouble understanding?”
“Fine, but if we crash, don’t attend my funeral.”
“Uhm, if we crash, and I’m not saying we will, we’d be pushing daisies together. We can’t go to each other’s funerals.”
“America, I still have unfulfilled dreams. If we spiral out of control - ”
“What unfulfilled dreams? Like getting laid?”
“Really now? Maybe you’d prefer it the other way around, seeing as you - ”
“Do you ever shut up?”
America raised his open palms in mock defeat and chuckled. “Fine, you win, Captain Cranky. Just enjoy the scenery, why don’t you?”
Without England noticing, they’d already elevated at what must’ve looked like at least a thousand feet in the air. The bird’s eye view was beyond magnificent. Lonely patches of trees on the plains here and there seemed like dark green dots the size of nickels. Endless ribbons of gray roads trailed off into the yonder to God knows where. Everything was like an exquisite patchwork of quilt.
England was speechless.
“And we arrive at our final destination for today!” bellowed America. “Look down there!” He was pointing at something on the ground.
With trepidation surging through his head, England spared a long glance at the grassy fields below. Much to his surprise, there was a message on them. The strokes were formed from what looked like giant bands of white cloth cleverly arranged to simulate letters.
The message was succinct, simple, and to the point.
Love you, England!
England’s heart practically melted upon the sight of it.
“Come here, you bugger.” His voice came out all hoarse and hollow, but he couldn't care less, pride be damned.
England pulled America’s collar toward himself and kissed America fiercely for the first time in months. His mouth tasted faintly of cheeseburgers and cherry cola from earlier, but nothing had tasted as divine. It was just them, them, and only the balloon’s soundless wings beneath their feet.
And England wouldn’t have it in any other way.
- fin -
A/N: Thanks so much for reading this through the end, everyone. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I think my love for this pairing grew tenfold after I wrote this. <3 Here's me wishing you guys a happy holiday! :)
If you liked what you've just read, you can find a master list of all my fics over here!