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Vulnerable

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They stumbled into the flat. Their heads buzzed with a happy lethargy, their feet with tiredness. Coherent thought had been numbed by hours of carefree conversation by the Thames that had tapered off into leaning into each other's warmth, worries forgotten, led around the streets of London by their feet and a desire to get lost. England groped his coat off and threw it on the floor. India heaped hers onto it. England collapsed onto the sofa. India sank down next to him and England pulled her closer.

They stayed like that on the sofa, held in each other's arms until they drifted off to sleep.

****
India woke up in the early hours of the morning. Outside the window was a wall of black but the lamp in the corner still cast a cosy glow over the quiet room.

Very much aware that she was lying on top of the still sleeping England, she pushed herself onto her forearms gingerly and found herself centimetres away from his lips. Her hair rose and fell gently with the cadence of England's chest.

With a clumsy jolt she realised that this was the most intimate - the most vulnerable - they had probably ever been with each other. Over four thousand years of battle-weary experience poured out of her mind on instinct. His lack of consciousness. His unprotected chest. His bare neck. One quick choke-hold was nothing most countries hadn't faced over their long years, but that was all it would take. He was completely at her mercy.

She tried to tell herself that it was simply her wearied attitude to violence that stayed her hand. But her eyes slowly passed over his face. She thought about how his dark-gold hair splaying messily over the arm of the sofa made him look no older than a teenager. She thought about how the pale skin on his face was soft for once, its knots undone by sleep, and only the deepest wrinkles around his eyes remained, visible only when she was close. And she thought about the way his hands clasped at the small of her back perfectly. And India felt a tender ache in the bones of her spine at the timid thump of England's heart against her collarbone.

She swallowed. Her arms wrapped themselves gently around his neck. She found herself buried in his chest, inhaling his muted scent. Inhaling England, England, England. This man that sobbed quietly at his memories of the Roman Empire when he thought no-one was looking. This man that had held the world in the palm of hand from nothing but a small, rainswept island. This man that held her close to him and fell asleep with blind trust in her.

Sleep came quickly.