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Nothing Virtuous

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September 3rd, 1783
Hôtel d'York, Paris

England will not let this be the greatest humiliation. Not the fact that there are scars on his back that are yet unhealed; nor the way that America stands across the room and won’t look at him, dressed in his finest, like the clothes he’d never wear for England but wears willingly, for himself- England doesn’t think America could have picked that outfit on his own, which means that France dressed him, America had France dress him. Of course France is here, standing with America close enough to touch; France is here to witness this- injustice, this perversion of the sequence of events (because it should be the boy signing himself away, signing himself back, or perhaps now the man). He will not think on the fact that he is here to solidify his betrayal in ink and wax and paper.

He’s quite aware of Hartley, his man Hartley or probably another traitor, aren’t they all treacherous dogs to be hanged by the neck until dead- Hartley’s talking to Franklin to his right, low and solemn, words England can make out but won’t listen to; he hears “an independent American revenue” and “under the dominion of the crown” and that steers his gaze again towards America- he recalls the phrase looking daggers, or maybe bayonets. (He knows he won’t go through with it in either case, now).

The canvas sky America’s standing under is as blue as that which he can perceive through the window- two decades earlier, he would have hoped for rain. Today he’d sooner burn. America’s smiling, smiling and England hopes to high heaven his hands are steady and not tight and shaking, at that. He shan’t take a seat; that is for the men, because they are tired and have exerted themselves. England is tired, and England will stand and feel every minute of this.

“In the name of the most holy and undivided Trinity.”

Holy and undivided, thinks England, holy and undivided, and undivided.

“It having pleased the divine providence-"

Has it, now? Perhaps God has abandoned him. God for all of this, and the King for agreeing to it and Hartley for being here to sign the blasted document and America, America-

“--The United States, to forget all past misunderstandings and differences-"

And he almost laughs. The sound doesn’t pass his lips but in his mind he shocks the assembly, a shock so violent they crumble and fall and blacken and nought remains but him and America and the melting walls of the room- he’s laughing and the boy is- America is not. To forget all past misunderstandings, England laughs, and his hands are tenting and clenching and stretching; he feels every sinew: there’s a fine jest.

“-that have unhappily interrupted the good correspondence and friendship which they mutually wish to restore-"

America is looking at him and, oh, that is not the face of one who wishes for friendship.

“-the ground of reciprocal advantages and mutual convenience-"

He takes in every word, and the implications behind it, and what it means for him now and in the future, and each syllable is like bright hot needles or tar, and England smoulders. France is smirking at him- he can feel it, or at least predict it, but he won’t look around.

America hasn’t shifted his gaze off England, more or less, for the last ten minutes. He’s standing, too, big strong America with one hand taught on the back of Franklin’s chair and England watches America’s forehead instead of his eyes, and wonders when the last time he touched it was.

“There shall be a firm and perpetual peace-"

England is sure some barbarous deity finds it funny that two hundred years and everything entailed within has boiled down to an article on fishing rights. Something’s stinging in his palms- he doesn’t realise his hands were curled into fists until he loosens them- perhaps not loosens, because although his fingers are outstretched they’re still tense and tingling, like elastic pulled back. England will not release this-

“-in their name and in virtue of their full powers, signed with our hands the present definitive treaty-"

-and he thinks: there is nothing virtuous about this act.

America’s smiling, almost, and England watches him watch the movement of their pens: Hartley then Adams then Franklin then Jay. The room’s so quiet he could probably hear the scratching of the nibs, if he allowed himself to listen. Franklin turns to America and England watches the back of his head- America nods, and his smile doesn’t grow but-

It takes him seven steps to cross the room, and he compares it to a walk to the gallows, a cliché. France’s smile makes him swallow, and hope it passed unseen.

He thinks the image must be almost too perfect as he sits, and America opposite him signs with a flourish but watches England: his gaze is the colour of the canvas, and England wants to swallow it all.

The pen in his hand is cold and his fingers smear the polished metal- tarnish and he writes with short sharp vicious strokes, in ink, he’d sooner tear his wrist open and bleed all over the page, cover America in himself. The United States.

He can’t resist comparing his seal, then, to a drop of blood- he can feel the heat clawing at his fingers from the wax as he stabs and pulls back, and the burn reminds him of a brand; at that thought he glances up and at America, and America won’t, hasn’t, doesn’t look away.

America is united and England is-

Holy and undivided, he thinks, and undivided.