Ivan knew that one of the many things he would never get used to was the simple weight of Alfred's head on his shoulder. The younger nation drifted in a light slumber, his glasses perched low and precariously on the bridge of his nose. His mouth was slightly, innocently open and under his eyes were dark shadows. Ivan felt that he was witnessing some miracle of innocence, something fragile and precious that could never be reproduced. When he slept, Alfred looked much more like the child nation he was.
But Seward and Stoeckl were concluding their negotiations now, finalizing the document they had spent the last twelve hours, nearly, debating and negotiating. Once their signatures have been affixed, from what Ivan has heard, the treaty would be given to the Congress and the Congress would decide it, or something along those lines. Alfred had assured him they would, but Ivan was not an optimist - until the money (or debt) was in his hands, he would not believe that this peaceful transfer of territory could go on without a hitch.
As the men assembled around the table shook hands, congratulating each other on a night well spent, Ivan shifted, looking down at Alfred, wondering how would be best to wake him. He wondered if he should wake the younger nation, or if they could just sit here until the sun rose or Ivan fell asleep as well or Alfred awoke, yawning and rubbing at his eyes. That thought made Ivan yawn - it was nearly sunrise anyway, according to the clock on the desk in the corner of the room.
Hesitantly, carefully, he reached out a large hand, laying it down on Alfred's shoulder and shaking the nation back and forth a few times. He wants to go to bed; although the bench they were given has a wonderful padded seat, it was definitely not the most comfortable resting place.
Alfred's head lolled from side to side a little and then he blinked, straightening and arching his back in a stretch. Ivan, seeing his clumsy method of waking the other nation was more or less successful, looked around at the room. Their respective leaders had already made their way out of the building, now the room was populated by clerks and undersecretaries, organizing files, rolling up the large map of the territory, bustling here and there. They, too, wished to retire for the night and get what sleep they could before the sun rose again.
"What'd I miss?" Alfred said sleepily, yawning theatrically and removing his glasses to rub at his large blue eyes.
Ivan turned back around to look at him. "They signed the treaty," he said, his English as usual coming slow and slightly stilted to his lips. He knew the words in his head, always, but it seemed as though he could never pronounce them quite correctly. It was frustrating and oftentimes embarrassing, especially when treating with England himself, but Alfred had never seemed to mind too much, for which he was grateful. "You are buying the territory of Russian America."
Alfred whooped for joy, throwing both hands in the air in celebration and causing Ivan to wince automatically and lean away a little. "Yeah! Awesome!" He grinned at Ivan with that wide, infectious smile, all traces of sleepiness gone from his eyes. "I mean, I knew we were going to say yes, but it's still great news." He glanced at the table, and then deflated a little. "Ah, but I can't believe I slept through it..."
"I am sorry," Ivan told him. "Should I have woken you?" He didn't want to; if he had been sleeping at the time he would have preferred to remain asleep. He had seen a great deal of treaties be signed throughout his life; none of them were particularly exciting. The world did not shift on its axis when two countries agreed to something. But Alfred was newer at treaty making; treaties had not yet lost that magical luster in his eyes.
"Nah," Alfred said, waving a hand. He yawned again, tears springing out from the corners of his eyes. The yawn was contagious; Ivan found himself yawning behind his gloved hand in a matter of seconds. "It's all good. I mean..." He grinned widely. "Getting more territory is always great. Even if I'm sleeping when it happens. I mean, it's not official yet, we have to get the Senate to approve and the House to pay for it..." He stared at the floor, scuffing his shoe a little against the carpet, then fixed Ivan's eyes with his own once more. "But we'll do it! I'm not letting this opportunity get away. We'll have England surrounded on all sides, and soon he'll have to get out of America for real!" His grin widened a little.
"Ah," Ivan replied, for lack of anything else to say. Anything that will discomfit the British Empire was fine by his standards; he was glad America was also against the nation in sentiment. "And then the continent, it will be yours?" he added, curious. He wondered how far Alfred's expansionist policies would extend.
"Maybe," Alfred said with a shrug and a careless half grin. "I mean, e pluribus unum, right? Just livin' up to my motto." He looked rather inordinately pleased with himself, Ivan thought, perhaps because he knew that much Latin on his own. Ivan's lips twitched upward slightly at the thought, but he did not smile.
There was a slight silence between the two of them, neither wishing to stand up and leave, but having nothing to say. Ivan watched the clerks finish filing and begin clearing the room. Soon he and Alfred would be the only ones left. They should have been going to sleep, Ivan in the quarters of the Russian embassy, Alfred back where he always slept (his house? or near the president's suite? Ivan didn't know). Alfred was still leaning against him slightly, his shoulder warm even through the heavy fabric of Ivan's greatcoat.
"Hey," Alfred said softly when the room had emptied, and Ivan turned back to look at him again. The younger nation was staring at his feet, looking awkward for one of the first times Ivan could remember. "I've been thinking... I, uh, can't remember whether I thanked you for your help, during the, you know, a few years ago..."
"Your civil war?" Ivan asked, though he knew he was probably being tactless at some level. "It was nothing. England and France -"
Alfred cut him off. "England and France are idiots and they need to stay out of my business!" For a moment his blue eyes flashed with something darker, a hidden anger that Ivan recalled seeing more clearly during the American Civil War (deranged grin and glinting blue eyes and blood dripping across the grass of a freshly plowed field and the shouting and the pleading help me no don't stop I can't I'll hurt you stop -) when he had come with his ships. But then the flash of buried madness was gone and Alfred was looking at the floor again, a faint flush high on his cheekbones. Embarrassment? "But seriously, you, um, really helped and it was... Yeah." He swallowed, visibly nervous. "I really appreciated - appreciate it. I'm still grateful. Yeah." He wouldn't meet Ivan's eyes.
"Oh," Ivan said, wondering why Alfred was behaving so strangely. "You are welcome?" The courtesy came out with the inflection of a question; he wasn't sure whether that was the right response. He wasn't sure if Alfred was even expecting a response. Alfred wasn't replying and so he added, "The ships, they were not a, a problem." He was fairly sure that wasn't the right word. "It was nothing?" That came out as more of a question than anything too, unintentionally. He shifted awkwardly.
"Yeah..." Alfred replied, sighing a little, staring at the ground. "I'm just, y'know, glad that's all... over. Mostly. It still..." He put a hand to his temples, finally straightening and looking Alfred in the eye again. "It still hurts, here, and I don't know why. I'm trying to get everything worked out, but..."
Ivan knew something about civil discord. "It does," he agreed. "Hurt, I mean, it..."
"And Lincoln," Alfred added with a painful twist of his mouth. "When he died I felt it... Just last year..." He put a hand over his heart. "Here. Like someone had -"
"A stab, da?" Ivan finished. He thought of his own heart. "Ripping, pain..."
Alfred nodded, looking miserable. "Just last year," he repeated. "It had never happened before! I didn't think it could, that people would... He was good! He was a good man and he, he worked so hard! Why would someone want to... Want..." Alfred removed his glasses and wiped his eyes quickly. He shot Ivan a shaky smile. "Sorry. It's just... I mean, you're the first person I can talk to about this, really, the first nation I've seen in a while besides Matthew and he doesn't know. He..." Alfred put a hand on his heart again.
Ivan watched Alfred, his gloved hands clasped motionlessly in his lap. He wondered what to do - should he offer comfort, commiserate with the young nation? The words, the English words, the right words, seemed to stick in his throat, to lose their way in the labyrinth between heart and mind and mouth, and so everything he intended, all the graceful words of comfort he had ever heard anyone use, died before they reached his lips. He watched Alfred hurt in silence.
After a few seconds, Alfred straightened and shot Ivan a slightly tremulous - forced - smile. "It's hard, talking about it. I hate it when I get like this; I know I'm being a wimp and I'm young... I'm sorry."
Ivan met Alfred's eyes, swallowed, looked at his hands, his large, clumsy hands, and then, with great effort (sometimes it seemed like he was moving against the accumulated weight of centuries, that he was fighting through ice-cold water with sluggish and torpid limbs turning blue from the cold) placed one of them on Alfred's shoulders. "It does become easier," he said, choosing his words carefully, "but we must... we must pray that there will not be a second time for it to become less painful." The words, he knew, were mangled; the sentiment, he hoped, was clear.
"... Yeah," Alfred replied after a few moments. He took a breath. "Yeah, that's... that's really good advice." And his smile - the bright one, the one that seemed to Ivan like a slice of sunshine itself - was back. "Sometimes I forget how much older you are, y'know. It's weird to think about."
"Da?" Ivan asked, this time yawning without any prompting. He never forgot that Alfred, that America was much, much younger than he; it was obvious in everything, from the swift, birdlike way he flitted from one thought to another, to the unbroken strength with which he faced the world. Ivan found himself thinking, not for the first time, that Alfred had not yet truly hurt. But that was wrong, wasn't it now, after the Civil War. There had been pain there, pain and still the same unshakeable strength. "You grow now," he mused aloud. "It will not be long -" it was already happening "- until Europe fears you."
"You think?" Alfred asked brightly and in his eyes again there was that gleam, that hint of danger. But once again, it was gone before Ivan could really see it for sure. "But I don't want them to fear me, I mean, yeah, that's cool and all and it means respect, but... I want to be better than that. If they're afraid, it means I'm a bully, and I don't want to be a bully."
If the nations of Europe are afraid, Ivan thought, than they are in line, they behave, they do as they are supposed to and it all works for the best. He did not voice his thoughts aloud; did not know the words with which to speak them. "You are very," he said, searching for the correct term, "ambitious, is that how you say?"
"Yeah," Alfred replied, his grin softening a little when he met Ivan's eyes. "Ambitious." He clapped Ivan on the shoulder (on an old wound - it hurt). "It's nearly sunrise, isn't it?"
"Da," Ivan answered automatically, glancing at the clock on the other side of the room. Alfred's hand was still a heavy weight on his shoulder, heavier than his head had been, and as the young nation stood up, he used Ivan as a sort of crutch, leaning all his weight on that one (wound) side. Ivan's expression did not change, though inside he was shrinking away from the sick feeling of (the heavy sound of artillery, cannons, a stray shot grazing his shoulder, ruining his coat, blood welling up from a gash that was deeper than it had looked at first, the numb tingling feeling and the warmth of blood like a song with a quiet harmony and then the pain but he was used to that) of poorly healed flesh.
Alfred ran a hand through his permanently tousled hair. With his other hand, he gave Ivan's shoulder a friendly squeeze (hasty stitches by a battlefield doctor who had more pressing injuries to attend to -) "I had better try and at least get some sleep," he said, yawning widely for a third time. He smiled at Ivan. "Thanks for, you know, listening. And being here." He began walking toward the door as he spoke, almost facing backwards the whole way to talk to Ivan. "I just, really appreciate it. And then, for your territory..." He was at the door, his hand on the knob. "I'm just glad it all worked out."
Ivan nodded, his shoulder aching. "I too," he said, and then, remembering his courtesies, "Good night."
"Not good night," Alfred corrected him, halfway out the door. He leaned his head back through the opening, grinning. "Good morning."
And then the door shut, and Ivan rubbed absentmindedly at his shoulder, remembering the soft and undemanding feel of Alfred sleeping, resting his weight on it, and the sharper, more immediate way that Alfred had gripped it as he stood. And he thought that perhaps it was a good thing he would never be used to Alfred's touch
The next time they met in regard to the transfer of the territory - the next time Alfred and Ivan met at all, really - was at the ceremony in the territory itself, where Russian-America officially became Alaska, the newest territory of the United States of America. Alfred found Ivan after the formal ceremony, nearly tripped over him, actually, where he was sitting on a bench on the side of the governor's house.
"This isn't your place anymore," Alfred said, adopting a mock-harsh tone although his smile gave him away. "I don't think General Davis would appreciate you being here. At least, when he moves in he won't; they're all still down by the flagpole, celebrating." He jerked a thumb in the direction from which he came.
Ivan didn't much care what General Davis thought, as he was officially pulling out of this territory... well, now, as soon as the ships were loaded and everyone who wanted to go had been loaded with their luggage. "Vodka?" he asked Alfred, offering him the bottle and thus changing the subject in the most effective way he knew.
Alfred took it - of course he did; Ivan had noticed that the young nation tended never to refuse free liquor when it was offered - and also took a large gulp, tossing his head back to swallow. He hissed, baring his teeth in a fierce grin as the alcohol burnt its way down his throat. "I dunno how you always drink this stuff," he told Ivan, handing the bottle back as he took a seat beside him on the bench. "It's so strong."
"The second sip, it is better," Ivan told him, taking another drink himself. The alcohol was good to warm you inside, thus making vodka a perfect drink for the Alaskan wilderness. He felt the liquor burn down his throat to settle in his mostly empty stomach. It sloshed when he moved - a strange sensation to which he had become accustomed over years of winter famine.
"I know, I know," Alfred said, taking the bottle from Ivan and treating himself to another large swallow. "The second swig is better, and then the third and the fourth, and by then you're drunk so it doesn't matter." He passed the bottle back. "It's a great way to break the ice, though."
Ivan gestured at the snowy ground. "Da," he said, the passage of words eased and somehow aided by the liquor. "That is why I brought it with me."
Alfred looked at him blankly for a moment, his eyes cornflower blue and mimicking the bright blue sky above them, before blinking, grinning, and then bursting out with laughter. "You just," he said, doubling over with merriment. "You just made a joke."
Ivan's mouth twitched and, unable to help himself, he gave a genuine smile, the first in a very, very long time. His lips were slightly chapped and it hurt. "I did," he agreed, taking another drink of the vodka. If he squinted, he could see the American flag flying by the Sitka harbor, where before was the flag of his own empire. It matched the blue of the ocean and the white of the snow. The only thing missing was the red (blood of otters blood of seals blood of walruses and blubber splashed steaming on the snow, blood of dogs blood of men, blood and bones and cannon fire).
Alfred's laughter died down soon enough, probably would have stopped sooner were he not (Ivan assumed) already slightly drunk. Most other countries did not have his tolerance for strong alcohol. "It's funny to think about, huh?" he mused, leaving Ivan totally lost.
"Think about what?" he asked, turning to glance at Alfred, whose mood seemed to have changed completely. He, too, was gazing at the American flag flying high above the newest addition to the United States.
"This!" Alfred replied, gesturing at their surroundings. "I mean, it's weird to think... You're practically in my backyard, now!" He laughed. "And I suppose, if I got a boat or something here, I could just canoe on over to Russia and say hi!"
"You would be in Siberia," Ivan pointed out. "And I am in Moscow. You do not want to go to Siberia." No one did. But some went anyway.
"Well, I know that," Alfred said. "But... It's just weird. To have territory so... close to another continent. I mean, I'm used to being between Canada and Mexico, but that's them. I mean, Europe... Asia," he corrected himself swiftly at Ivan's look. "I know it's in Asia. But you're in Europe too and..." He nodded decisively. "It's weird. But..." He looked away from Ivan and back at the American flag - and beyond it, the blue ocean stretching to infinity, or to Russia. "I sort of like it."
If Ivan's country could be surrounded by seas on two sides, two less powerful neighbors on the other sides, he would take it in a heartbeat and never let anyone close for invasions or spheres of influence or colonization or any other interference. "Why?" he asked.
Alfred's smile was slow in coming, spreading across his face like the sun rising. Ivan watched it and wondered why Alfred, and no one else, could smile like that. "Because it's you," he said, glancing across at Ivan. "And I mean, you're my friend. And I like you."
"Ah," Ivan said, and wondered how long a nation would last if it based its foreign policy on friendship. That was usually one of the first things you learned to give up. "I believe you are..." He looked at America, head tilted slightly sideways. "What is it you say in English? 'Tipsy.' Yes. You are tipsy."
"I am -" Alfred began indignantly, then stopped and clamped his mouth shut before smiling. "Yeah, maybe, a little," he admitted, grinning shamefacedly. "It's really strong vodka. But truly, I think it's sorta nice, being close to you like that."
This time it was Ivan's turn to look away. "I... thank you," he said, slowly and laboriously, and decided it was time for another drink of vodka because the words had begun to stall again on their way to his mouth. Alfred laughed a little, awkwardly, in reply, but their conversation was soon swallowed up by silence, broken only by the wind and the sound of celebration by the harbor.
"They're putting the artillery back," Alfred said. "At least, they were when I left." He looked at the flag, the sky, the ground, before taking Ivan's bottle of vodka and having another drink.
Ivan didn't like artillery - not in peacetime (which was a relative term) - and he had flinched a little as the cannons fired. It brought him back to smoky battlefields and the smell of blood and death and excrement, battlefield smells, and the screams of the wounded and the dying amid the shouts of combatants. "That is good," he said, taking the bottle when Alfred handed it back, having a drink himself. Although it was a good-sized bottle they would be running low soon, he could tell.
"Yeah," Alfred agreed absently, playing with a piece of string hanging from the hem of his jacket. There was a pause in which Ivan contemplated the flag and Alfred wound the thread around his finger, cutting off the circulation before letting go. "The days are shorter up here," he said after a few moments.
"Da," Ivan agreed. "As in my country, in the north. And," he added, "sometimes here, sometimes further north, you can see..." He frowned, grasping at words. "Curtains." He ignored the strange look Alfred was giving him. "In the sky, curtains, sheets of light. Which are green, pink, sometimes white. And they fall and..." He frowned. "They fall and they move. In the sky."
It was obvious that Alfred was torn between utter skepticism and guarded awe - because Ivan didn't lie for fun, nor did he tell tall tales, but such a thing was too strange to be believed. "One day," he said, after glancing up at the sky, "I'm going to explore up here. Up, further. And then I'll see them."
Ivan nodded. "Though the mainland, it is... snow. And ice. For much of the year." Howling winds and fierce mountains, cliffs, polar bears and seals and long journeys across empty land with no other person in sight.
Alfred was grinning. "That's really neat," he said. "I mean, snow. And nothing. Just... all that nothing." His expression was almost beatific as he looked around. "Wilderness. That's... I'm going to come explore here soon. Real soon. It'll be great."
Ivan was not so sure. "But," he said, watching Alfred, whose eyes were shining with the prospect of adventure, "it is just more empty to add here." He placed a hand on his chest, not over his heart. "Spaces of nothing, no children. Empty space. Wild." Like his lands in the far north and east, his mountains. Space and more space (and the wind howling with snow through tall trees where the law is to kill or be killed and the dead lie in the snow, they freeze, they stay, the vicious land, the end of the world).
"But wilderness, I mean," Alfred began, looking at Ivan as though willing him to understand. "It's big. It's huge, it's bigger than all of us, and when you see all that empty stretched out in front of you - it's empty but it's full, there's so much there - it's..." He stretched out his arms. "You could expand to fill it. Just... You could be the whole world."
"The whole world," Ivan echoed, and he didn't believe a word or at least he knew that he would never be able to think that way, and perhaps it was for the best, because he imagined (if he were the whole world) a slow, creeping winter frost covering everything, all the countries, the dominion of General Winter, and the steaming red of blood on the snow.
"Yeah," Alfred said, and it was obvious that he had something very different in mind - Ivan could not imagine what. "The whole world."
The American flag flew over the territory, blue like the ocean and white like the snow. Ivan imagined the red.