The Price I Must Pay
How long has it been now? Two years…twenty years…two hundred years? I can't remember how long it's been since England died. The only things that even register in my mind are the rising and sinking sun every day. The cold moon as it slowly crawls across the dead sky. The open range of my ruined lands.
England...what would you say to me if you saw what had become of our world? If you saw what I had become without you. When you died I... I lost something more important than I could ever have realized. And now…
It was that war. It all started with that damned war. Our last war...
The world we had created with the first war had caught fire with the first spark of self-interest. Resources were growing slim with every passing day, and on bad days allies to my nation would refuse us what we mostly needed through trade. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t want to cooperate with me. Allies were supposed to help one another, right?
In due time, my ties to my allies grew thin until one day, I realized I was alone. I had no allies. Those closest to me: Japan, England and Canada… they would betray me in the end. However, I never thought England would turn on me the way he did…
Simply known as The Endless War... it consumed everything. Lands, governments, people. Nothing could escape its destructive touch. Like a wildfire consuming a forest until the last leaf was eaten away, the war eventually evaporated into nothing. Without warning, it was over.
The nations that barely survived the apocalypse were quick to point their fingers at the main culprit.
I cannot deny my role in this war. Or rather, part of the wars. It wasn’t just one war. It was many. When one simmered down, another began to rage in a different area of the world and half of the time, we didn't even know who we were fighting or who was our current enemy. No matter who won or who lost, another battle would quickly ensue after the victor.
With no allies or friends to protect or to call for back-up in dire situation there was no one else I could rely on but myself. And as much as I hated this war, wanted nothing to do with it, my people pushed for a stronger army. Called for more devastating weapons. What else could I do but stand with my country and face my opponents?
The last weapon my nation used was the most destructive the world had seen…
It was not nuclear but biological. A disease that could even bring a personified nation to his knees and choke the life out of them. Of all the casualties that came with it, England was amongst the dead…
The news I received from the others sent me reeling. I tried to defend myself and reason that this must have been a mistake. England wasn’t dead. We had already created a cure and were applying it to everyone affected. England was fine. He had to be.
He… he died.
He really was gone.
But I couldn’t bare this news. I refused to accept it. I felt something snap inside my chest. And from there on, I felt nothing. Not happiness, not sadness, not anger. I was numb. I remained that way for years to come until the final conclusion of the war. When survivors tried to pick up what remained of the Earth, that’s when the world came after me.
They needed someone to hold accountable for all the atrocities that occurred within the past few decades and I was their best scapegoat. Maybe their only scapegoat.
Nations like Russia and China sneered at me when the remaining UN members got a hold of me. Others like Italy, Greece, and France only held hate in their dull eyes.
As the last nations brought me before a court, a court that held every surviving nation as the jury, I can never forget the words they spat out towards me.
"Alfred F. Jones, representative of the United States of America, you are hereby charged with crimes against humanity. What do you have to say in your defense?"
I remained silent, unable to speak a single word of defense for the eyes of my jury had already decided I was guilty the minute they dragged me in the building. The crack of the gavel on wood still echoes in my head, my fate permanently sealed with that sound.
Found guilty on all charges, I was to be put to death the following day, but I found a tiny crack around my fate, through my own brother.
He knew I deserved to die. He knew it. But he still came for me, the night before I was to be executed, and helped me escape. After that, I did everything in my remaining power to help hide him. The world would be sure to hunt him down and execute him as well for aiding in my escape.
We did well for a while. But Matthew was getting tired of it. Tired of life. Yet, only the deaths of our people and our lands would one possibly find release from the mortal world. Canada was lucky in escaping a brunt of the wars that seared most of the lands bare, but he felt like it was a curse the longer the days crawled on.
I did my best to hold Matthew back. I really tried. But eventually I let him go… Before he left, he promised not to tell the others where I was hiding.
After that I never saw him again.
The lands everywhere were torn. People could barely make a living from them, regardless of the country. But…they managed to start somewhere. With abated breath I desperately waited for news to arrive that the United Kingdom was being rebuilt. Repopulated. Perhaps then, England would come back.
Instead, they told me that the former nation was deemed uninhabitable and would never sustain human life again.
In all the time I had spent simply existing, I endlessly questioned my purpose. I debated with myself whether life or death was my answer. Did I even have a purpose anymore? The war was over, but all my loved ones were gone. I was alone. And the thought of living an immortal life in this state…
No, I had to fix this. But how?
One day, while looking up at the blue sky and wondering what my life could have been if the wars never came, I saw a new beginning.
Somewhere…far away from the pain and suffering. Away from all the hatred and dying.
I saw…the past.
And with what technology I could muster from all around my ravaged lands and what I was able to amass from places where people would not find me, I built my own future. I knew I had to see England again. He wasn't dead. He couldn't be. He was still alive. Just...not in this future.
Because my future only lies in one last place.
It lies in the past…
Year - ?
Inside a grungy shack of what could have once been called a pretty house a young man rummaged around pieces and parts of various mechanics and unknown technology. America glanced at some random part in his hand, its metallic surface cold to the touch. He carelessly tossed it to the side of a grand table that covered a majority of his make shift house, hidden deep in a dying forest. It was a mystery how no one had managed to find him yet. He didn't know the year or the date, and he wasn't even sure if the nations were still looking for him. It didn't bother him too much though. He would be alright.
Tapping a tinkering watch that lay innocently in the middle of the table, America allowed something similar to a smile fall on his lips. Any living creature within his vicinity however would have thought it was more crooked if anything.
With a clicking sound, Alfred opened the pocket watch that held a dear spot in his dead heart. Teeth peeked out from behind his lips although it still couldn't be called a smile.
The American grabbed a few tools that littered his home and began to mess with the watch, adding a petite chip to the back of the devise. A few more adjustments and America clipped the case back onto the clock and watched with amazement, how the thing emitted a soft glow before a solid click echoed from the watch.
America stared at the little memento; his eyes wide as the precious object grew dull and settled to its usual color of bright gold with silver linings.
Is it...done? He turned the object around in his hand, examining it for any rejected reaction but found none.
"I…Its done? I -I…I did it? I did it." Realization soon took over his initial reaction of surprise as America began to tremble.
"I did it England." The blue eyed nation called out to no one. He had completed the necessary technology that would give him the ability to time travel. And he gave the beautiful honor of time travel to a dear pocket watch that he had been gifted with long ago, by a reluctant Briton.
"I really did it England…" At that moment, something wet fell down his face. Wiping the substance away, the American thought it was a tear until he felt another plop on his head, this time on his forehead. The roof was leaking again...No matter to him. He would soon leave this workshop anyways, despite the countless years it supported him and his experiments regarding time travel.
He clutched the beloved item to his trembling chest. Were these emotions that he was feeling, he could not tell. The war had done well in reaping what little emotion he had left to spare after forcing himself to become stone cold to the world around him. Was he happy…sad…angry…or scared?
What lies beyond my time? The future has already been written but is it really possible to rewrite it…And to a time where I don’t belong.
He pulled the watch away from his chest and looked at it with tired hope embedded in his eyes. "If only you knew how hard I worked to make this come true…" He spoke to the object. It was the last link he had to England. Everything else he had was destroyed during the wars and if not from that, then from all the times the other nations raided his broken home. They made sure to leave nothing behind, going as far as to burn the place down to ashes. But at least he had saved his most precious gift from destruction.
The lovely pocket watch twinkled under the light that came through the shattered windows and revealed the intricate designs that decorated it, as a faint rainfall pattered against the decaying building.
Carved into the golden watch were the delicate shapes of the sun and the moon, connected together by a wheel that covered the front of the watch. Popping the watch open, Alfred gazed at the inside cover, lifting a petite photo that he had also saved, and read what the inscription said on the rim of the cloak.
"To the bloody idiot who gave me hell from the very beginning"
"From England, With Love"
America quietly squeezed the device as the clock ticked away. He silently rubbed the decorations of the watch, an unreadable expression settling on his face. “England…why did you ever put up with me?” No answer would ever be received but at least he could turn back to the happy memories that barely survived all the trauma of the future world he inhabited. To a better time period.
(FLASHBACK) Fifth of July – Midnight – Year? (FLASHBACK)
At the front of his house, America tiredly waved goodbye to the last nation that left his party, a pleasant smile plastered on his face. A lot had actually come this time, surprisingly. He had so much fun but…it seemed like England didn't come to his birthday party. Again…
Closing the door with little energy, America groaned at the mess that was his house. Like it wasn't bad enough that England didn't come to his birthday party, but now he had to clean up this mess. All by himself. Maybe he SHOULD have taken Japan's offer to aid in the clean up. Shaking his head in denial, Alfred went into his slippery kitchen, the floor covered in some kind of alcoholic mixture, hoping to locate the broom when he heard a shy knock at the door.
"Hmmm? Who's here now? Did Canada forget something?" He abandoned his search for the missing broom and went to answer the door. Upon opening it, he was met with a surprise.
No one was there.
"What the hell?” He slowly closed the door, positive that he was just hearing things and returned to his kitchen when the shy knocking sound came again.
Spinning around on his heels he returned to the door, this time a bit faster and opened it.
There was still no one there.
"What? No…I’m probably just hearing things." He reasoned with himself. He grumbled lightly, closing the door behind him. About to turn back into the kitchen, a sudden thought struck America.
“What if it's a ghost?”
He released a not so well muffled scream and was about to run for cover in his room when his door jerked open. Immediately, a hand grabbed his shoulder, causing America’s heart to skip a beat.
"America!? Are you ok?! Calm down, you git!" Trying his best to hold onto the American without getting whacked on the face by his waving arms, England chose against releasing the boy despite his screams of ‘ghost’. If anything, this daft fool will make a run for it and will not be seen for about a month. England had learned once before, not to scare the American with ghosts or spirit related pranks. That had succeeded in causing the nation to disappear for a whole month, one time during a Halloween joke. No one in the world could locate the idiot. Not even his own people!
"Ahhh! Noo! Leave me a-!" America halted his flailing, as the familiar voice clicked into his memory. “-lone?” He cautiously turned around and met the scowling face of an irritated Briton.
“England? What…what are you doing here?”
“You git! What other reason would I have for coming here if…!” The island nation trailed off by the end of his words, as if refusing to admit aloud his purpose for coming to America’s house. Alfred’s eyes widened, his smile growing rapidly when he concluded what England’s intention were.
“You came to my birthday, didn’t you?” Smiled America. It was more of a rhetorical question but it didn’t prevent England from answering with an angry stutter.
“Y-you wanker! Like I’d come here for your birth-!”
He was cut off with a bone crushing hug, America laughing all the while in pure joy. "You remembered England! You REMEMBERED!" He exclaimed. For now, he didn't care that tears laced the corner of his eyes. All that mattered was that England came. He came!
"You idiot. Let go of me!" The British man angrily struggled in America's tight embrace, hiding the blush that covered his face by looking anywhere else besides Alfred's face.
"Ahaha! I'm sorry! I'm just so happy!" He tightened the hug until he felt England twitching in his hold. Whoops… He promptly released him.
"Ah…America… watch your bloody strength!"
Alfred grinned in return; deciding to avoid the angry comment with a curious question. "How come I couldn't find you every time I answered the door? It WAS you who was knocking, right?"
Arthur choked on his breathe, and turned his face away. "I wasn’t knocking on your door. I just barely got here…"
"Oh really? Well those knocks did sound pretty weak so-.
"WEAK? I am NOT weak, you bloody wanker!"
"So it WAS you!" Alfred laughed at England's red face.
"Well! So what if it was me?" He stammered.
"Ahaha…ha. Why were you hiding from me then?"
"Hiding?! I wasn’t hiding! The bushes! I…I fell into them! That's what happened!" Retorted Arthur.
America didn't do much to hide the amused smile on his face.
"Stop that you daft moron! I'm telling the truth!"
"Hahaha! I see someone’s nose growing.” He teased playfully.
The British nation shook his head in frustration and swiftly started stepping back out the doorway. "I don't need to bloody take this from you! I'm leaving!"
"Wait! I'm sorry! Don't leave…" Pleaded Alfred.
England looked back to America, took a second to think and then sighed in annoyance. There was a reason why he came all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to see this idiot after all.
Grudgingly, England lingered long enough to shove a neatly wrapped gift into America's hand. Wrapped in a bright green paper and adorned with a vibrant red ribbon on top England began to make his way to the door. "It’s your present, stupid…"
"Oh my gosh! I get a present too?" Unable to contain his renewed energy any longer, America rushed towards England and yanked him back inside the house. "Let’s open it together!"
"What? No! I'm going home! I already gave you the damn present! Isn't that enough?"
America held on tight to England, further dragging him into the house until they stopped at his kitchen table where the finely wrapped gift was carefully placed.
"England…You didn't have to get me a present. All I wanted was for you to come to my party." Smiled America sadly.
Ok…now England felt heartless for being so mean earlier. But even so…
"Can't you open the stupid thing later? Like, when I'm gone, perhaps?" Bargained England. He didn't want to see what America's reaction would be once he opened it.
"Naw! It's no big deal England. Really! Come on!" With one hand holding onto an irritated England and the other clumsily trying to open the wrapped gift, England huffed in annoyance and yanked the gift from Alfred's hand.
"Give me that! I'll open it." He grumbled. One swift tug of the ribbon and the gift came undone neatly. Like it was all planned perfectly.
"A box? You got me a box?"
"No, you idiot! Look INSIDE the damn thing!" England could feel a migraine coming quickly.
Like a child on Christmas day, Alfred eagerly opened the small box and pulled out a pristine pocket watch. His blue eyes widened and his mouth hung open.
Damn it! He doesn't like it! England lowered his head, hoping that America wouldn't tease him too much about the boring gift.
"ITS AWESOME ENGLAND!" He cheered! England couldn't help but do a double take.
"Wha-? I thought you…"
"Psh! You worry too much England. So long as you don't get me scones for a present I'm good to go with anything else." This response earned America a curt smack to the back of his head. "OW! I'm just playing England! Gosh, no need to resort to violence!"
"If you can't appreciate my cooking than you don't deserve this gift!" He scolded making a grab for the pretty watch.
"No way, man! This is mines now!" He laughed as England proceeded to chase after him throughout the house, trying to snatch the gift away from him. Ten tiring minutes later, both America and England collapsed onto the cluttered living room floor, both panting loudly. And America still had the watch in his possession.
"Hahah! That was fun! I thought anything fun died with your humor long ago England!"
"Shut up, git!" Replied England although no malice laced his tone.
"Hehe…Hey. I was just wondering but…why is there a sun and moon design on my watch?" America glanced at England's resting form.
With a small blush England mumbled something incoherent.
"What's that? I didn't hear you."
"I said! It’s not important. Just some symbolism. Something you’ll never understand.”
"Symbolism huh? OK, how bout I add some meaning to them." Pushed America further.
Stupid idiot can't let something rest…He sighed. "And what symbols are you going to give the damn watch exactly? Something stupid like, the moon is something you “conquered,” and the sun is your next objective?” The green eyed man grinned, trying to prevent a chuckle from escaping.
“Ha-ha, very funny England. No. I like the idea that…maybe….” He paused, and then smiled. “I’ll be the sun and you’ll be the moon! And this line that links the two is the link that we share!”
The British nation gaped at the ludicrous idea. “Are you serious? No! I refuse to accept such a ridiculous idea!” His anger seemed to build when America chuckled heartily as his comment.
With one hand resting on his heaving chest, Alfred lifted the watch towards his ceiling and pressed the top. A sturdy click came from the watch and America saw how some writing lined the inside of the watch.
"What's this?" He asked.
England hesitantly glanced in Alfred's direction and noticed that he had opened the watch.
"NO! You’re not supposed to read it now! Give me that!" Screeched England, reaching for the clock.
"Yeah right!" America jumped from the floor and dodged England's frantic hand. He ran away from the nation, into a bathroom and hurriedly locked the door behind him.
"ALFRED! OPEN THIS DOOR! NOW!"
Ignoring the Britons demand, Alfred glanced at the cloak again and decided to read the writing out loud. "To the bloody idiot that gave me hell from the very beginning! From England with…Love?" America had slowed and lowered his voice as he reached the end of the message, shock taking him over. The incessant slamming sounds that came from the door also halted into silence.
Slowly, America unlocked the door and opened it to find a quiet England in front of him.
"You arse. Why couldn’t you read it when I left…?" He mumbled.
Grinning from ear to ear and placing the pocket watch inside his bomber jacket, America pulled England into a gentle embrace. "I love you too, England."
The watch in America's hand ticked meticulously reminding the silent nation that there was still hope
"Hmmm... Heh." He hummed in thought before he felt his lips lift up. Despite being 99% sure that this would take him back in time there was still a slim chance he would fail. Yet again. But if he succeeded? "England…please don’t be mad at me for wanting to see you again. Even if I have to break the laws of time…even if I don’t deserve to ever see your face…just one last time. I need to see you." He tightened his grip around the watch protectively. “Maybe then, I'll finally be able to fix all of this. I promise not to stay long." He looked around at his crumbling home with a small frown. “Just a warning. That's all you need...”
He was positive now. He knew that he could make it to the past. He had practiced with numerous trials on various items using similar technology and now, he had achieved the impossible. He was going back in time. Slipping on his dusty bomber jacket and looking himself over, America thought how ironic it was that he would go back to the past dressed in his WW2 clothing. It was basically the only durable clothing he had left that had managed to survive the end of the world…
Walking slowly outside his ruined shack, Alfred glanced one last time towards the house before lighting a fuse that led back towards the building that had served as his home for so many years. Might as well signal to any prowling nations in my lands that I was here. Maybe if they see my house on fire they'll finally give up looking for me and just accept the idea that I died along in the fire.
"…Here I go…" He flipped the watch open, set a certain time to it and clicked the button that rested at the top of the pocket watch. Surrounded in a force field that allowed him to view the house explode within its safe barrier, America felt himself drift away. His body felt…separate from his mind as it seemed to be getting foggier by the second and his surroundings started to get dark. Soon, the environment he had occupied earlier, in his country, disappeared along with all light.
Shrouded in obscurity America could barely make out a voice that started to get louder as he stumbled along in the dense shadows.
"Immortal one…You have defied the laws and order of time..." Whispered an unknown voice. "For your audacity in breaking such a law, I shall send you to a place where you shall never emerge from again.”
“Huh? Wait!” America shouted. “I-I don’t know who you are but please! Don’t…don’t send me away! Do you even realize how many years it took me just to reach this point? There's nothing left for me back where I came from!”
“By what reasons do you believe that you deserve the privilege to use time travel? And not be sent to oblivion. You aim to go back to the past, do you not? Why should an immortal one, such as yourself, be allowed this chance?”
At this question, America stayed silent, considering his reasons for being allowed such a second chance. “I-I…don’t have a good reason actually. But, if I can just tell you this…I don’t plan on staying in the past long. I just want to see if there’s any way I can fix-.”
“It only takes a mere second for all of history and time to be changed or altered.” Cut off the unknown voice.
America paused, his teeth biting down harshly on his lips until blood could be tasted. “Oh. Well… I’m sorry if this is too much to ask but, could I possibly have this chance to just go back in time…and see someone one last time then? I won’t interact with them if that’s your order but please…let me see someone important one last time. After that, you can do whatever you want with me.”
“Is this truly all you wish to do?”
“As of now, yes. Just…please.” Whispered America.
“...Do you wish for this gift because of the tragedies you have witnessed in your own period?” Asked the curious voice. The booming command it held earlier had dwindled, giving America the impression that at least he wasn’t going to be punished right away for challenging this being.
“What? How did you-?”
“I am the guardian of time. I see all of history’s greatest moments and tragedies. I merely waited for the moment that you would appear here and challenge the authority that I hold on keeping time from being tainted. Immortal one, have you come here for the reason that you have awaken to all the sins you have committed? Or are you still unsure of your purpose?”
“My purpose? I don’t understand. I just wanted to go back and fix what I messed up but now…I see that I was asking too much. I just want to see England now. And my brother.”
Silence dominated the nation’s surroundings, deafening in a disturbing way that made America feel uneasy. Finally, a reply came.
“As the guardian of time, I oversea all of history. The gears of time are always protected by me from anyone that dares to interfere with their functions. But alas, I am also limited to my powers and cannot interfere directly with any time periods, unless someone should directly pose a threat to time. Such as yourself.”
America dropped his head in a silent apology.
“However…if an offer was to be presented to you…an offer to work in changing the future for the better, then perhaps…the gift of time travel can be presented to you after all.”
The surprise and utter shock that overtook America was so great, he could only reply with a simple, “What?”
“Become an agent for time, and you shall be gifted with this ability. The ability to travel to the past… But I should warn you…you must pay a price for such a gift…"
A price? Alfred stumbled further into the darkness, unable to get a clear understanding as to where he was. It felt like he was…nowhere. Nothing around him and not a single sound except for the hushed voice from before and his own. "…What…What price do I have to pay?"
"By breaking the laws of time and then asking to use its powers to go back to the past…you must pay a price…" Repeated the voice.
"I know that. What price do I have to pay?" Asked Alfred, a little impatience in his tone.
"To travel back in time…you must sacrifice your existence…for time does not tolerate paradoxes…"
"My…existence?" Whispered Alfred. Just as he considered the thought and brought a hand up to his face he faltered in his movements as he could have sworn he felt nothing.
"Yesss…To gain this ability…you will…be erased… from time's design…"
"Does that mean that I'll be…dead?"
"In the timeline you will enter…No…you will simply never have existed from the start of time…and no one will remember or know who you are…this is the price you must pay in order to travel through time…Do you accept this exchange…?" Asked the voice.
“Why…Why are you trusting me to go back in time? I mean, I’ll gladly take these terms but…why? Aren’t you worried that I might mess something up in the past? I...”
“Yes…it would seem that allowing you to travel back in time would seem foolish to one who guards time but should you accept these terms, there will be limits to what you can do…”
As if reading his mind the voice continued. "By erasing you from time’s design… you will no longer have a connection to any time period. You’re only connection will be weaved to time itself. And should you stray too far…from your main purpose…I shall immediately…pull you back here…and erase you permanently. Only then, may time revert back to its previous state. A state where you did not interfere. That watch that you carry shall be your connection to me…and to the world itself.”
America tightened his hold on the watch, assuring himself that it was still with him. In the strange void that he wandered around, it seemed best to make sure he didn’t lose it in any way. “And if I choose to be an agent for time, why am I only changing my future, but not any other time periods? History has many tragedies, so why is ours any different?” His question ended in a whisper as remorse laced his voice.
"You are the only one to have broken such a law that ordains your world. And your future…it does not completely follow what history would have foretold of. Somewhere along the lines of time…something occurred, that should not have happened. In order to correct such a mistake, I give you this opportunity to change your future. Do you accept these terms…your sacrifice…?"
“You say I won't exist anymore?”
“But England... How will he...?” Added the American with worry.
“That is a dilemma that you must solve on your own, immortal one. Do you accept this offer?” There was little hesitation once the question was repeated.
“Yes. I accept these terms." Any sacrifice was worth seeing Arthur and Matthew alive again.
"Then…so be it…You will be allowed to travel back to calmer times…but be warned…should you allow your ability to fall into the wrong hands…or should you mistreat them…the consequences will fall strongly on you…and you alone."
Alfred held back a nervous gulp. "I'll protect this watch with my life..." He started to feel himself swaying a bit, his mind getting groggier by the second.
"Be warned…you have already violated the laws of time…do not tamper with anymore time periods or events that were meant to occur…you may only interfere in the period that started your whole…ordeal…"
Alfred nodded despite feeling himself slip away into further shadows, if that was even possible. "Ok. I can still see Arthur and Matthew right?"
"As long as you do not stray from your task, then you may. Achieve a brighter future…immortal one... for you shall no longer be known to the world as…America..."
"Fine…I'll be…Alfred…F…Jones…" Alfred answered as he slipped father away from the voice.
"Be careful…young one…although you are still immortal…Your body will not regenerate as quickly as it previous could…Protect your secret…Your secret of time travel…" At last, the voice ended with a hushed tone. Alfred F. Jones was finally alone.
Falling into unconsciousness, Alfred could have sworn that he heard another voice in the distance, but could not make it out as he blacked out in the void that consumed him.
"You bloody git…”