You sit there in your heartache,
You enter the room, take a seat – they're all free, you're the first one to the meeting – and surrender yourself to the thoughts buzzing around your head.
Waiting on some beautiful boy,
You know exactly why you're here so early, even if you won't admit to yourself that you're hoping he'll be early too, that maybe you'll be the only two in the room for a while and you can pretend you'll be brave enough to tell him.
To save you from your old ways.
But you know you won't, though, or even if you do, he won't believe you – you flirt and joke and play around too much for him to take you seriously, and the reputation you once thought of as harmless has now turned into shackles that chafe.
You play forgiveness,
There are footsteps in the corridor and it feels like someone's hit an overdrive button in your brain; you straighten your spine, pull your expression into something approaching serious, ignore the quiet voice at the back of your head that tells you it's pointless.
Watch it now, here he comes!
As cliché as it sounds, it feels like world stops turning the moment he enters the room; your centre of gravity shifts, the world tilts, and there is nothing but him.
He doesn't look a thing like Jesus.
There are shadows under his eyes and ink stains on his hands, and he smells faintly of alcohol and hotel soap, but he's still the most beautiful thing you've ever seen.
But he talks like a gentleman,
"Good morning, Francis," says Arthur coolly, pausing and inclining his head in your direction, and your heart skips a beat.
Like you imagined when you were young.
The words are on the tip of your tongue, it would be so easy to grab his arm and blurt, "Je t'adore," into his ear and pray he believed you, but you don't, and he moves and the moment passes and you're left again with nothing but your dreams.
I lose my way,
You can't find your way to the building where the meeting's being held, and burst in five minutes late, panting apologies; no one even sees you.
And it's not too long before you point it out.
You slide into the only seat still free, next to your father, and he looks down at you, one eyebrow raised in disappointment and amusement at your decidedly inelegant entry.
I cannot cry,
You fight back the blush that rushes to your cheeks and the tears that rush to your eyes, swallowing hard and bending your head to stare at the twisting grain of the wooden table.
Because I know that's weakness in your eyes
You refuse to cry, refuse to look weak (because you know he'll only laugh and tell you that it will make your eyes all puffy and red), so instead you simply murmur, "Desolé, papa," and bite your lip.
I'm forced to fake a smile, a laugh,
You become aware there's someone on your other side, someone laughing and poking your arm and saying something – and you laugh back, because it seems the right thing to do.
Every day of my life.
You go through the motions, offering suggestions no one listens to and opinions no one cares about, the same old routine you play again and again, day after day, and marvel at the mockery of a life your existence has become.
My heart can't possibly break,
The sixth time you catch Francis staring at Arthur with undisguised longing, you feel the knife twisting in your chest shatter something, and you choke quietly.
When it wasn't even whole to start with
You take a deep breath, feel the air fill your lungs (you're mildly surprised when you find the shards of your heart haven't pierced them and that they aren't filling with blood), and feel numbness spread through you, dulling the pain and leaving only emptiness.
Oh, we're halfway there,
The meeting's dragging on and on, and you're beginning to wonder if it will ever end – and then you look up and see him sitting next to you, an absently concentrated expression on his face, and you think that maybe things aren't so bad.
Whoa, livin' on a prayer!
"Jeez, please let this be over soon, it's taking, like, foreeeeever," you whine under your breath, and he shushes you, but there's a smile on his face.
Take my hand,
You let your arm drop to your side and then slide your hand sideways, seeking out Arthur's fingertips and clutching them tightly when you find them, relishing in the simple contact between the two of you.
We'll make it, I swear.
His expression doesn't change, but he twines his fingers with yours and runs his thumb over the back of your hand, and you don't need to see his face to understand that he'll never let you go.
Oh, livin' on a prayer!
You lean towards him ever so slightly, and breathe, "I love you," into his ear.
Livin' on a prayer!
The fingers in yours tighten ever so slightly, and the whispered, "I love you too," in return makes your heart soar.
Livin' on a prayer!
And then he adds, "git," and kicks you lightly under the table, and you can't help laughing even though everyone stops and turns to stare at you.
Walking on a dream.
You wonder why you're even here, at this god-awful boring meeting, squirming in your seat and tugging at the sleeves of your now antiquated military uniform and being glared at by West – it's not like you're even a nation any more, after all, just a left-over that hasn't realised he's dead yet.
How can I explain?
Though you know you're being irrational, that no one is acting in any way that could possibly make you feel unwelcome, you still have an inexplicable sense of not belonging.
Talking to myself.
In a half-hearted attempt to entertain yourself you poke the nation next to you and introduce yourself as The Most Awesome One, laughing; he laughs back, but it's half hearted and the kid looks like he's close to tears, so you stop and lean back in your seat, sighing.
Will I see again?
Throughout the meeting you find your gaze drawn again and again to the small, blonde nation next to you, the sunlight glinting off his hair and giving him a golden halo, and you find yourself wondering if he's an angel.
Thought I'd never see,
Eventually you decide to try a different tactic, and bend your head towards him and ask if he's okay, expecting a mumbled answer – instead, you receive a small, hopeful smile that lights up his whole face, so beautiful you feel blinded.
Getting him to say more than a few words is difficult, but by the time West notices your inattention and kicks your shin under the table you know his name is Matthew Williams, he represents Canada, and he loves ice hockey and maple syrup.
The love you found in me.
You wonder, as he smiles shyly up at you and the whole world glows again, if this is what falling in love feels like.
Your fingers touch as you reach for a pen and he reaches for his glass of water, and after the sudden, addictive jolt that runs through your entire body, you stop wondering.
Now it's changing all the time,
When you see the way Matthew looks at Francis, your heart sinks.
As soon as a break is called you stand up and make some excuse about needing to speak to Antonio and run away with your tail between your legs, choking on disappointment.
Now it's changing all the time...
And then you see the way Francis barely even glances back at Matthew, the way he looks at Arthur, and a part of you feel treacherously hopeful, even while another part aches for the miserable look on Matthew's face.
You're at the very end of one of the long tables, and the single person sitting next you has edged their chair as far away from you as possible.
This ship is taking me far away,
You can almost smell their terror, despite the distance; you're not stupid, you know the others all fear and hate you, you know you've gone too far, you just... don't know how to take it all back.
Far away from the memories,
The speaker bores you, and the sight of that one nation cowering away from you is irritating, so you stare into the middle distance and relinquish your grip on reality.
Of the people who care if I live or die.
You spend the next half hour floating in memories of happier times (times when your house was full of others and you weren't alone and he still visited sometimes, even if it was just to shout at you and call you a commie bastard) until a break is called and everyone starts talking at once, breaking your concentration.
The meeting's running on late, and the winter sun has already slumped below the horizon, revealing handfuls of glittering stars scattered across the sky.
I will be chasing a starlight,
You stand by the window, hand pressed against the cold glass, staring out at the pinpoints of light and wishing.
Until the end of my life.
"We'll get there one day, you'll see," says a voice by your shoulder, and you jump and turn, and... there he is, staring at the stars with a slightly awed expression on his face (an expression you think is probably echoed on his own).
I don't know if it's worth it anymore.
Except you, you're not staring at the stars any more, you're staring at Alfred, and you're wondering if kissing the starlight off his skin would be worth the price you'd pay for it afterwards.
We've gotta hold on,
You're not overly fond of the Russian – old wounds run deep and heal slowly – but you stand with him for a while by the window anyway (after all, keeping enemies close has never been so important).
To what we've got.
And, more than that, you're all nations – you've got to stick together, if only because there's no one else for you, and as you think no one else, your gaze drifts to Arthur and you smile.
It doesn't make a difference if we make it or not.
You walk over to him, reach his side, slip your hand into his (an almost automatic gesture by now), and are both surprised and elated when he raises your hand to his mouth and lightly kisses your knuckles.
We've got each other,
You stand together in companionable silence for a while, fingers twining together, you watching his eyes dart about the room, and a sudden jealousy of those his gaze lingers on prompts you to ask him, "You'll stay with me forever, right?"
And that's a lot,
"Come here, you idiot," he says with a light laugh, opening his arms for a hug, a rare, honest smile on his face and his eyes dancing with happiness.
As you fall into his arms, press your lips lightly against his neck and breath him in, you can't help whispering, "I love you," into his ear again, can't help tasting the words on your tongue and wanting the rush of pleasure you get when he says, "I love you too."
I watched you die,
You, and only you, see the expression of pain that flits across Francis's face as Arthur brings Alfred's fingers up to his lips and kisses them gently, and it gives you a sort of vindictive pleasure to see another share your pain.
I heard you cry,
You remember when you were small, sitting in the hallway outside your papa's bedroom and listening to the muffled sobs, and feel suddenly angry at both of them – one for being the one you love, one for taking the one you love, and both for never seeing your pain.
Every night in your sleep.
That one memory launches a cascade of others; nights spent dreaming and wishing that Francis might one day notice you, nights spent comforting him as he cried over Arthur and you resisted the urge to tilt his chin up and bring his lips to yours and make him realise that all he could want, all he could need, was sitting right in front of him.
I was so young,
You remember the day you realised that he still saw you as a child, and your shoulders hunch involuntarily as the echoes of pain make your heart ache.
You should have known,
Even now, you still wonder if he knows, somehow – he is, after all, the nation of love – and then hope to god he doesn't, because the idea of him knowing and playing with you is a hundred times more painful than the idea of him simply being clueless.
Better than to lean on me.
You look up, see Francis moving towards you, mouth set in a tight, drawn line, and you know what is going to happen and you can't cope with it, not now; won't be able to hug him and tell him it's okay without screaming at him.
You never thought,
Heedless of the fact that the nations are reconvening and the break is finishing, you run from the room, stumbling down corridors until you find a bathroom and fall to your knees, slumped against the wall.
Of anyone else,
You don't know how long you sit there, curled up against the bathroom wall and gulping down your sobs as the tears spill over your eyelashes and run in trails down your cheeks, but at some point a quiet voice says, "Matthew?" and you look up.
You just saw your pain.
"Go away," you snap as soon as you see who it is, the loud, self-confident nation you were talking to before, the one you rather liked but now just want to go and leave you in peace.
And now I cry,
He doesn't seem to get the message, and instead of leaving he simply kneels down next to you and hesitantly, awkwardly, wraps his arms around your shoulders and pulls you forward into a tight hug.
In the middle of the night,
Rather than pulling away and fighting, you bury your head in his shoulder and press your forehead against his neck, gripping the front of his shirt with both hands, and a small part of you wonders at the fact that this person you met less than three hours ago is willing to kneel on the dirty floor of a dark bathroom for you and let you soak his shirt in tears.
Over the same damn thing!
Another part of you realises, unpleasantly, that you're doing exactly what Francis did, those nights he cried over Arthur, and as soon as the thought crosses your mind you hate yourself for what you're doing (not that you can stop, the flood gates have opened and the breakdown is well over due, they're not closing any time soon).
Hold you in my arms...
You watch him bound around the room, talking and smiling, his energy and enthusiasm seemingly unending; you wonder (if you pulled him close and wrapped your arms around him and never let go, if you sealed your lips to his and wound your fingers in his hair and breathed in his smiles and laughter, swallowed them whole) whether there's any way you might be able to have just a tiny part of his endless warmth for yourself.
I just wanted to,
For a moment you feel a sudden urge to act on your thoughts, to put them to the test and mind the consequences later; but before you can even take a step he's moved, crossed the room to Arthur's side.
Hold you in my arms...
And then you watch him fall into Arthur's arms, bury his head in Arthur's neck with that soft, crooked smile, and if you had a heart it'd be breaking.
Like you imagined when you were young...
You feel the hopes, the fantasies and dreams, the illusions, slide through your fingers and shatter on the floor along with your heart, and wonder detachedly how so simple an action (a hug, a touch, a smile, Arthur's smile) can destroy so much.
I learned the hard way...
"He doesn't love me," you whisper into the side of his neck when the tears finally slow, "he doesn't love me at all."
(It's hard enough.)
("...Francis," you murmur, and it's not a question, but a statement, and it's difficult to force the word through the lump in your throat, born of the realisation that this tiny spec of golden light who has made your world glow so brightly belongs to another.)
Because of you...
You nod, still not looking up, hands tightening into Gilbert's shirt at the name and the rush of twisted, confused emotion it calls up in you, waiting for him to laugh and say you're an idiot.
(Just to move around.)
(Slowly, hesitantly, you raise a hand to the back of his head and stroke that long, golden hair – it feels like sunlight under your fingers, and you rest your chin on the top of his head and dare to whisper, "I would," into the sun.)
I will not break...
You hold your breath, not daring to think, to move, to hope (you've been broken so many times you're sure the pieces will be too small to pick up if you're shattered again), still waiting for him to laugh, but it never happens – and eventually you say, words muffled by the fabric of his shirt, "I... I don't know how to forget him."
(It's hard enough.)
(Though the words aren't exactly a yes, they're not a no, either, and you feel a tentative, fragile hope rise in your throat, and you continue to stroke his hair as you smile and say, "I'll teach you.")
At your side, Arthur seems restless, eyes darting around the room (resting on Matthew's empty chair, the unusually flat expression on Francis's face, the way Ivan's fingers are twisting and knotting together and his nails are digging into his palms), and refuses to calm even when you touch his shoulder and smile reassuringly at him.
Always pushing up that hill,
You hesitate, simply watching his face as he blinks delicately and wipes the tears from his cheeks with the sleeve of his hoodie, violet eyes trained on the ground, and you wonder whether pushing the moment that bit further is worth risking this tiny, fragile hope you're holding in your hands.
Searching for the thrill of it.
When he looks up at you, wide eyes still slightly damp and pink lips parted slightly as he breaths, you damn the consequences and lean forward to seal your mouth to his, heart hammering in your chest and mind screaming and every inch of skin alight with the contact.
Higher now than ever before...
The meeting restarts, Arthur and Alfred holding hands as they retake their seat, and you feel like you're floating on disbelief, walking a tightrope high above the room, waiting for your footing to slip and the fall to begin.
Never looking down,
You keep your eyes closed as your lips leave his, terrified of opening them and seeing him angry or disappointed – or, worse still, upset.
I'm just in awe of what's in front of me.
Eventually your will breaks and you open your eyes, and the sight of the nation before you, cheeks tear-stained and lips flushed and a smile with enough hope in it to rewrite the universe on his face, is so beautiful that you're lost for words.
Let's take it easy now-
You force yourself to take a deep breath as you sit down again, fighting to slow things down – the world feels like it's moving too fast, the room feels like its spinning, and Arthur is still at the centre, but now Alfred's there with him and everything is off balance and wrong.
Easy now, watch it go!
The second the meeting ends you stand, fumbling to push your seat back and knocking it over in the process, and stride out the room; you can feel Arthur's eyes on the back of your neck as you leave, and wonder if he knows.
I hear Jerusalem bells a-ringing,
The church bells ring as you walk with Alfred, down the snowy winter street towards his house – Christmas is coming and the church is packed, the stain glass windows glowing welcomingly as they're lit by the thousands of candles within.
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing.
There's music coming from within, audible through the gap left by the open door, the opening strains to The Holly and the Ivy played on an organ spilling out into the street, and you find yourself humming along quietly.
Be my mirror, my sword and shield,
Alfred has one arm slung across your shoulders, pulling you close to him in a curious gesture that is both protective and possessive; a gesture that, you've found to your surprise, is strangely comforting.
My missionaries in a foreign field.
As you pass the towering old building, its sandy-brown spires stretching towards the dark, cloud-heavy sky, the first snowflakes fall and Alfred glances longingly towards the warmth and singing and his people, and you smile and tug him forwards with a soft, "Come on, then."
For some reason I can't explain,
As you take a step towards the church you feel a prickle on the back of your neck and, although you're not entirely sure why, you slip out of Alfred's hold and turn to look behind you; and there he is, lurking in the shadows of a small alleyway across the road, and the look of pain on his face makes your stomach lurch.
I know St. Peter won't call my name.
You know he loves you (of course you know, how could you not, all the sideways glances and pauses and smiles, the same as you see the way Ivan looks at Alfred and Matthew looks at Francis, the same wistful longing), but you've never had the heart to tell him how you feel, that you see him only as a brother, a friend – you though it was kinder that way, but now, seeing him like this, empty and hollow and broken, you think that there was no kind way.
Never an honest word...
"Who was that?" Alfred asks, turning too and peering towards the now empty alley as you enter the church, quietly stamping the snow off your boots on the doormat, and you find yourself answering, "No idea," automatically, the lie rolling off your tongue as if it's nothing at all.
But that was when I ruled the world.
Alfred sings, voice rising deep and loud and mingling with the hundred other voices lifted in worship – you join him, though your voice is softer and your thoughts racing, longing for a time long past when you stood astride the world, self confident and proud and invincible, and things were simpler; and as the last few notes die away you sit, screaming silent apologies into the dark night outside and hoping that, somehow, the world hears you.