It should have been a nice Saturday morning. The sun had made an appearance today, giving the world outside England’s window a warm cheery look, despite the winter cold. England had made his favorite tea, and cuddled up beneath a warm fleece blanket in the design of a Union Jack. It had been a gift from America last Christmas. Beside him on the armrest of his white Edwardian sofa sat an adventure novel he’d picked up from an airport shop during his latest travels.
It really should have been a nice Saturday morning. However, the entire picturesque moment was marred by the inevitably of his own doom. So rather than getting to relax after a long week of annoying meetings, he gripped his mug of tea so tightly his knuckles were white as he continued to stare at the entrance to the living room, waiting for his older brother.
When Wales did find him, England managed to hold his position up until Wales sat next to him on the couch. At that point, England lurched to his feet, letting the blanket fall to the ground. He muttered something about Wales watching whatever he wanted on the telly, and made for the kitchen, or any other room not occupied by an angry brother out for revenge.
“Sit, back down, Wart,” Wales sighed.
The use of the affectionate nickname gave England pause. After a few seconds debate, he turned, expecting to face carefully controlled wrath. Instead, Wales had leaned back in a relaxed position between the back of the couch and the armrest, hands resting out where England could see them. It wasn’t a position he could attack from, physically or magically, without warning. England weighed the risks, and then sat on the opposite end from Wales, back straight, ready to bolt if he needed to.
Wales shook his head and sighed, expression more concerned than England would have expected.
“You’re making it very hard to enjoy the anticipation of my revenge,” he admonished.
England scowled. “Oh, I’m sorry, dear brother. What did you expect? Willing and cheerful acceptance?”
Wales’s expression darkened, but not enough that England felt the need to leave.
“I expected to be credited with a sense of proportion.”
“Excuse me?” England asked, leaning forward slightly with a look that might have intimidated other nations, but Wales only rolled his eyes.
“What you did two nights ago was go on a drunken, scathing tirade about my language and how utterly pointless it was, correct?
England turned away to stare at a spot on the wood floor, trying to ignore the burning in his cheeks and ears. “That was my general understanding based on what you and Scotland told me. I don’t- I don’t actually remember much.”
“Ok, I just wanted to be sure,” Wales answered. “Because the way you’ve been skulking about and eyeing me, it’s as though you expect to be drawn and quartered or have your head put on a pike, or-,”
England flinched at that pointed reference, but Wales recited the ancient history with no particular malice in his voice. Then again, it was Wales, and he could, and often did, hide his anger well.
“- so I just wanted to make sure you didn’t get drunk and sack Cardiff, or approve the destruction of any Welsh heritage sites or something I might actually need to legitimately be angry over, rather than a little annoyed. Honestly, it’s hard to stay mad over that rant; you couldn’t stand and made a huge spectacle out of yourself. It was sad more than anything else, and certainly no real threats were made.”
England looked over at his brother. He tried to think of his two sleepless nights and the anxiety of the last few days so he could manage to sound annoyed rather than hopeful. “So, you’re not going to do anything, you were just, what, having a go at me?”
Wales grinned and shook his head. “Oh no, no, you’re going to get what’s coming to you, but Jesus, England, it’s going to fit the “crime,” so to speak. I’m not going to try and castrate you because of a few slurred insults aimed at Welsh.”
Wales sat up a bit as he spoke, leaning forward probably trying to emphasis to his point. However, it took everything in England not to move further back against the opposite armrest. Wales must have seen something of his dread, though, because he frowned and leaned away again.
“Oh come now Wart, you know I spoke with France and America, and whatever you think of France, do you really think America would allow me to do something dreadful to you?”
England clenched is jaw, but try as he might he couldn’t fault that logic. Alfred and he may bicker and have major and minor spats, but if he thought England were in real danger, he’d be here now, being the “hero.”
“Fine,” England snapped. “Fine, it won’t be dreadful, but it will still be something, and pardon me for not wanting to sit back and allow you to do whatever it is you have in mind to do to me!”
“Actually, that’s exactly what I propose you do. “
England snorted, and rose to leave.
“Hear me out, little brother,” Wales said, holding up a hand. “I don’t care whether I get this spell on you because you allowed it or because I have infinite patience and waited until you dropped your guard 200 years from now. You, on the other hand, I’d wager, would object to people knowing you’d slipped up and got bested by one of your brothers.”
England huffed, not wanting to admit out loud just how much of his pride was entangled in this.
But Wales knew him and nodded. “Right then, so if you allow me to enchant you, then I’m happy and your less upset than you could be because your won’t suffer the injury of defeat.”
“Oh, that’s fine solution, dear brother,” England snarled sounding to his own hears more like a cornered Fox then he felt comfortable with. “Except even if I allow you to enchant me, no one will know that and everyone will assume I lost to you. So what do I truly gain in this idiotic bargain?”
Wales grinned. “You give me far too little credit, as usual. I’ve told everyone that if you had the spell on you from tonight through you next world meeting this Monday, then it meant you’d admitted you acted like a fool and had accepted the agreed upon punishment. If not, you can enjoy three days of knowing I won’t enchant you, and then a long bout of severe paranoia.” Wales brushed some of his dark brown hair from his eyes before continuing. “And if you accept now, then I promise to remove the enchantment by the end of the day on Monday. If you don’t, then whenever I get it on you, I make no promises as to how long I will keep it there, and you know my enchantments are strong once in place, England.”
England swore at his brother on old English, which only earned him a laugh.
“Its good deal and you know it,” Wales pressed. “If I were America or Australia you could wait a few days and know it would blow over. If I were Ireland or Scotland, there’d at least be a chance it will blow over. But I’m like you, England, in these matters at least, aren’t I?” Wales gave a smile which barred his teeth. “And how long do you hold onto something once you get it in your head it will be done?”
England swore again, but a familiar pat on his shoulder, melted some of the anger instantly. He turned to see Mint Bunny smiling up at him. He started a bit, having been so focused on Wales, he hadn’t notice her entrance. She patted his shoulder again, then nuzzled close.
“It’s ok,” she whispered. “I heard what he planned, its funny and good play. I won’t let him hurt friend England.”
“So, you think its fine too,” England murmured, holding out his hand for her. She flew down and sat in his palm, taking a second to preen her wings. Beyond her soft green glow, he could see Wales watching them. Wales’s expression softened and his gaze seemed to drift inward. England noticed the expression every time Wales saw him talk to fey, but he’d never asked his older brother what thoughts provoked the look.
“Its fine, its fine.” Mint Bunny chirped, drawing England’s attention back to her. “You should say yes. It will be like long ago times. I would like that.”
England gave her a quizzical look, but knew better than to ask her to explain. Most likely, as far as she was concerned, her comment had been perfectly clear, and England’s confusion would only vex the temperamental fairy.
England looked from Mint Bunny’s sweet smile, to Wales’s damnably gentle gaze, and then remembered America’s playful grin when he’d let on that he knew. None of it justified the curling anxiety within England’s chest.
England sighed like a deflating balloon. "Fine” he snapped. “Fine, fine, what do you want me to do?”
Wales beamed at him and sat up fully, arms outstretched.
“Come get a cwtch.”
If England had needed any more proof that whatever Wales had planned, he considered it ultimately harmless, that offer was it. Not hug, but his people’s slang, one that carried the connotation of “safe space,” Never, not once in all their time on earth, had he offered that as a trick or cheat. They all had lines they did not cross when fighting or warring, and that was one of Wales’s deepest. He did not fake affection to hurt his brothers.
Before he could change his mind, England slid across the couch and let his brother hug him.
Wales murmured something in Welsh that England couldn’t quite catch, but it sounded affectionate and came with a gentle pat on his back. England relaxed slightly even as he noticed Wales had begun to weave the spell.
He thought of the handful of times he’d allowed Wales to enchant him before. Usually they were just times when he was sick or overworked and the offer of a sleep spell had been a godsend. The other, fewer times though, those had been moments he’d been most desperate for comfort. During the Blitz, when he lay shaking in pain, Wales had lulled him to sleep with song and magic. Another time he’d collapsed against his brother, heartsick over his lost colony beyond shame or dignity, and pleading for anything to help him rest.
And then there was the first time. He’d been trapped in nightmares, aching with the pain of an invasion, and terrified of the changes that the invaders brought with them. His older brother had found him hidden beneath the lee of a giant stone. He’d been held close, his fears soothed with gentle words and his aches with magic.
England had repaid him centuries later by being the cause of his brother’s own nightmares and pain.
The soft spoken word jerked England back to the present. Blinking, he felt for the spell and found its threads hovering just over him. The spell was fragile, surprisingly so. England could easily rip it to shreds before it touched him, which made no sense as Wales needed a stronger-
“You’re trembling. England, if I’m truly scaring you-“
He’d stop, England realized. And not just for now. All he had to do was ask Wales to stop, and that would be the end of this, not for tonight, but for good.
England sighed. “Oh go on,” he grumbled, trying to relax against Wales’s shoulder. “I already said it was fine, didn’t I?”
“Aye, you did,” Wales agreed, and began to truly work his spell.
The first thing England thought as he woke to the smell of damp earth and the feeling of fey tugging at his hair was that he’d passed out drunk in his garden again. He winced and prayed he still had on his pants. But then his sleepy brain processed that he felt too warm and too dry to be in the garden, nor did his garden ever smell of coal or animals. Then, he realized that what he’d taken for fey playing with his hair was actual the strong fingers.
England bolted upright and felt himself from top to button, searching for anything overtly wrong, like an asses head for example. He felt slightly off, like a headache might be coming on, and certainly he could tell there was a spell on him, but so far he couldn’t find any outward sign of the nature of Wales’s enchantment.
“Good evening,” Wales chuckled, watching with undisguised mirth as England went though his inspections.
“Evening?” England looked toward the window and saw the sun setting. “Christ how long did your spell take?” The feeling of something being off grew slightly, but then faded back to just a minor background irritation.
Wales shrugged. “Less than 15 minutes I think. But you’d fallen asleep, so I let you sleep the day, given how badly you’d slept the last few nights.” Wales didn’t apologize for being the cause of the sleepless nights, but he did point to a damp spot on his shirt. “Even though you drooled on me.”
England scowled. “So did your spell work then?”
Wales’s expression brightened; his green eyes practically shown with pride. “Oh yes. It worked perfectly. I’m very proud of it, I am.”
England doubled his inspection, and then, upon finding nothing, went over to the large hallway mirror and studied himself for several long minutes. But nothing seemed different. Nothing.
He whirled back around and stormed over to his brother with all the fury of an oncoming hurricane. “What,” he hissed. “What did you do?”
“You won’t notice until someone points it out.” Wales laughed. “I thought of that at the last minute. A fun little addition, don’t you think.”
It took everything England had not to launch himself, fist drawn, at his brother. “That is NOT, what we agreed on!” he shouted.
Wales shook his had. “Actually we didn’t agree on any specifics for the spell, just when and how long I’d cast it for.”
England clenched his jaw so tight his teeth hurt. Then he turned and made for the kitchen, the next room most likely to be occupied.
“‘Scotland!” England bellowed
And sure enough, Scotland sat on his usual stool at the wooden kitchen table, a mug of warm cider in his hand. He was not, however, alone. Beside him sat Northern Ireland on his left, who was often around, but not often in the social spots. Even more surprising, though, was that to Scotland’s right sat Ireland and over by the stove, helping herself to more cider, was Cornwall.
“What is this,” England snapped. “A family reunion and no one told me?”
Cornwall turned to him, and brushed some stray brown hairs from her face. When she smiled at him, she looked remarkably similar to Wales. “Scotland did call everyone, but I was the only one who could get here.”
“I’ve been here since yesterday,” Ireland said. “But you’ve been too busy being terrified of an angry red dragon to notice me.” He shared an over loud laugh with Scotland, while Northern Ireland and Cornwall chuckled more softly, but just as long.
England rubbed at the bridge of his nose. “Will someone please tell me what Wales has done?” he hissed out through clenched teeth.
“Tell you and risk Wales’s wrath? Or even worse, ruining the fun?” Cornwall answered. “Sorry, England, not going to happen. Besides, Scotland bet Ireland a good bottle of whiskey you wouldn’t agree, so Scotland’s sore at you for not letting your pride drive you into another stupid decision.”
“Aye, I am. So I’m certainly not doing you any favors,” Scotland said with a gesture to an unopened bottle near Ireland. “It was expensive whiskey too.”
England turned to look pleadingly at Northern Ireland. “You like me better than they do,” he implored, “give me a hint maybe?”
“Don’t you dare help him, Northern Ireland,” Cornwall said, brandishing the cider label at him like a sword.
“Sorry England,” Northern Ireland answered with a rueful shake of his head. “They threatened to feed my gaming system to Nessie if I broke ranks, and I care about my gaming system more than your ego.” Then with a laugh, the rueful smile became an impish smirk, “Besides, this is really funny.”
“That it is,” Ireland agreed, holding up his mug. “Well done, Walsey, Well done.”
England turned to see Wales behind him pulling on a coat.
“Thank you, Ireland,” Wales said with a small bow. Then he turned to England. “‘Get your coat, we’re going out.”
England snorted. “Oh no. No! I am not setting one damned foot out this door until someone tells me what has been done to me.”
He looked at each one of them, and each in turn, only smirked and shook their head.
“No one here is going to tell you, England.” Cornwall answered.
“Face it laddie,“ Scotland laughed. “You’re doomed. Either leave the house with Wales, or spend the rest of your days living here under a curse.”
“Only three days,” England retorted smugly. “Wales promised.”
“True, I promised I did,” Wales answered, “but how will you stand never knowing what the spell did to you?”
England bristled, trying to tell himself this could become one more of life’s mysteries. What the bloody hell had they used Stonehenge for, how could America eat so much at once, and now, what had Wales done to him. But already the thought of never knowing clawed at his mind and threatened unending torment.
Wales had bet on his curiosity.
“Damn it,” England snarled, wishing someone were close enough to swing his arm into and still pass it off as an accident.
“Fine, fine, let’s just make this worse and worse shall we,” he ranted as he went to get his coat and hat.
He was just past the kitchen door, far enough to be gone from sight, when he heard Scotland call out to Wales in what his older brother probably thought was a whisper.
“Wales, come here a second.”
“Yes?” Wales answered back. England crept closer in case they did lower their voices, but took care to remain beyond sight.
“Where are you taking him?” Scotland asked.
“I was thinking walk for a bit and then a nice spot for dinner is all. Figured someone will say something about-.” England held his breath, hoping Wales would slip, but instead Scotland cut into the sentence.
“But not one of those pubs he likes.”
“Wasn’t planning to, but why the concern?”
England pictured Scotland fidgeting with the cuff of his sleeve. He did that at times when he was caught expressing actual concern for one of his brother’s, especially England.
“Well just, some of the people there might . . . given his condition and how drunk some might be, they could.-“
Wales sighed and England could just picture the shoulder slump that went with it.
“Aye, Scotland,” Wales’s voice tightened, as though Scotland had poked an old injury. “You don’t need to tell me how some people might react.”
There was a long pause and then the sound of Scotland exhaling. “Well, ok.” His voice lightened. “I just wanted to make sure you bring our baby brother back in one piece, little brother”
England didn’t need to see them to know Wales’s was getting his hair tousled. With Scotland, hair tousling always accompanied declarations of “little” and “baby” brother. He heard Wales laugh, and he could also almost recite what Wales would respond with. He ran to get his coat, knowing the conversation would merely retread old jokes now.
“Little brother?” Wales asked in a normal volume, voiced dripping with feigned insult.
“Seeing as how I’m older than you-.”
Wales snorted, “In your dreams, highlander, you’re-“
“You’re both wankers is what you are,” England cut in, pulling on his coat and going to stand by Wales. He watched as Scotland and Wales exchanged sheepish looks. They both were most likely trying to calculate how much he may have heard. England gave them a passive smile. Let them wonder.
“Well come one, then. Let’s get my public humiliation over with Wales, so you can be happy again.”
“Oh don’t look so grumpy, Wart.” Wales laughed. “If it’s any consolation, my thousands are” he paused. “Well I won’t say are in the same condition, because they have a choice, but still many go into public somewhat as you are now.”
“Many thousands of people piss themselves in public ever day too,” England growled as he stomped toward the front door. “Doesn’t make me want to do it.”
He ignored Scotland’s “And yet you’ve done that all on your own.”
As crossed the threshold into the cold night, he heard Wales shout out a “Ta Ra” behind him and then the front door closed and it was just him, his brother, and whatever in all hell had been done to him.
One nice thing England had to admit about the last century- and this current one even more so- was it had given him and his brothers a surprising abundance of common interests.
If someone had told him even as late as the 18th century, that in less than two hundred years he’d be leisurely walking the streets of London discussing the merits of fantasy novels with Wales, he’d have told that someone to go sober up.
“You can argue academic superiority, all you want, Gwydion, but I still prefer Lewis’s stories to Tolkien’s”
Wales laughed. Whether at England’s literary choices or the use of the Welsh trickster god’s name rather than the one Wales had chosen recently, England didn’t know.
Wales slung and arm around England and tugged him closer. “Of course you do, Arthur, you vain twat. He based one of the children a bit on you after seeing you argue all the time with Alasdair. That the universe timed things so you two were at Oxford for him to see, it was brilliant.”
England flushed at that and ducked his head. “I don’t see why that should matter. It wasn’t exactly flattering,” he mumbled into the collar of his coat.
Wales responded in a merry voice, but England missed it, concentrating instead on the minor but irritating ache that persisted behind his eyes. It reminded him of something but he couldn’t put his finger on it.
He felt Wales squeeze his shoulder.
“All right there?” His brother asked.
England looked up and rolled his eyes. “Oh perfectly fine, except of course, you know.” He trailed off, not wanting to say “Your curse” out loud on a crowded street.
Granted it would only add to the off looks he’d been getting. He tried not to let it get to him, but as people passed he’d noticed looks that ran from surprise to confusion, and once or twice outright hostility. Some people didn’t react at all though, and a few even smiled at him, which only increased his confusion. What on earth would confuse some, anger others, while still not bothering, and even seeming to please others still?
As he puzzled over the question, he noticed they were passing a pub he’d never been inside. Then he thought back on Scotland’s words and what he’d asked Wales not to do.
England grinned and stopped walking.
“I want to go there!” he demanded, pointing at the pub.
“I have somewhere else in mind,” Wales answered and tried to push England forward.
England used all his strength as a nation and held his ground against his brother. “Well, I want to go here. Come on.”
Wales hesitated, “England, I think maybe somewhere else-“
“Why?” England asked. “I’ve never been to this pub, you and I have both agreed before that pub’s are more fun, so why not? I let you curse me, Wales; the least you could do is let me choose where we eat. What could go wrong?”
Wales opened and closed his mouth, then looked up as though God might write out a helpful rebuttal in the sky.
England crossed his arms and looked up at his brother smirking. “You can’t convince me it’s a bad idea without telling me what you’ve done, can you?” England felt an inordinate amount of triumph at the frustrated sound Wales made.
Not waiting further, England pushed past his brother and through the doors. Never one to let unknown danger deter him, he approached the bar with all the cockiness of his pirate days, not bothering to see if Wales followed.
He held out is money and when the barmaid came over to him, he asked for two Whiskeys. The barmaid though, rather than going to get the drink, blinked at him in confusion.
“I’m sorry sir, what was that?” She asked.
“I’d like two whiskeys,” England repeated,
The barmaid continued to stare, and this time a bit of frustration began to mix with her confusion.
”Sir, I- “ she paused as though considering what to say, but the man next to England spared her the trouble.
“If you want to get a drink in England,” he emphasized the country with a shake of his pint, “Try ordering in English!” The man turned back to his beer muttering something that to England sounded suspiciously like “ruddy sheep shagger.”
“I am speaking-“ England stopped, eyes going wide as for the first time that night he actually heard the words he was saying. And they were not English at all.
“I’m sorry for my brother,” Wales answered putting each of his hands on England’s shoulders to help him stay still. “He isn’t having a go at you, miss. Arthur took a nasty fall a few months back, and cracked his skull. He’s fine, thank the lord, except he hasn’t been able to speak anything but Welsh since.” Wales patted England’s left shoulder “He still understand English, though, and can write in it.”
The man who had previously snapped at England turned back around and gave him a pitying look. “What? Is he serious?”
England took up Wales’s lie with a shrug and nod. “Seems like,” he muttered, willing himself to say the words in English, but again hearing only Welsh.
The man pulled out some of his own cash and held it to the barmaid, “An ale for the poor suffering man,” he ordered. England felt Wales grip on his shoulder tighten just a bit, but Wales said nothing to the implied insult.
After a few drinks, a few rounds exchanged, and a few kicks at Wales every time he intentionally mistranslated something England had said, they both retreated to a table for a bit more solitude to talk as nations.
“You’re an ass, you know that,” England grumbled into his ale.
Wales just chuckled.
“What am I going to do at the meeting Monday?”
“Write a lot and be silent I suspect. You should thank me though. France kept suggesting I make the language French, but even I felt that would be too cruel.”
“Your brotherly love overwhelms me,” England answered dryly. But at the mentioned of French, he finally placed the ache behind his eyes.
“Well, me speaking Welsh all this time explains the damned, twinge behind my eyes, happened when I had to speak French too, or any language not my-“
He paused as he thought of something that, to his shame, he’d never considered before.
“Does it . . . does it twinge when you speak English?” England asked in a soft voice, gaze cast down at the drink in his hand.
“No, not anymore,” Wales answered. “I suppose enough of my people speak it as their language that it doesn’t feel foreign anymore when I do,”
England gripped the glass in his hand harder.
“Don’t,” Wales muttered. “I'm fine being bilingual, and besides, what’s done is done, and it wasn’t done by your will. I remember that, Arthur.”
England closed his eyes trying not to remember the cold of stone beneath his knees as he held his conquered brother and begged him to fight somehow, some way. Begged him not to disappear as others had.
“All right, we need to find actual food,” Wales said, rising to his feet as though he’d announced a plan of attack. “You are a pint away from sobbing into your drink and that is not the night I want to have.”
England managed to pull himself together and stood as well. Then he paused and lifted his drink up. “Before we leave though a toast,” he suggested, a thought coming to mind that helped him to drag up some cheer again.
Wales raised an eyebrow as England raised his glass.
“To a revenge so fitting I can’t argue against it,” England said, lips twitching just a moment before he managed a smile.
Chuckling Wales raised his own glass. “To a fitting revenge.”
“And to the inevitability that I will get you back for this,” England added, smirking as his brother looked suddenly less comfortable then he had a few seconds before.
Then Wales rallied and held his own drink up again, “To that as well then, Wart,” he answered with a resigned smiled. “To that as well.”