Character(s) or Pairing(s): Greece and quite a few others showing up to pester him.
Rating: R-ish, primarily for language.
Warnings: Length; rambling; implied violence and general nastiness. Germany as an antagonist.
Summary: Concerning Greek occupation by the Axis powers during World War Two. And a few other things, I suppose, but it all more or less comes back to the same place.
He hit the ground running and hated that he had been reduced to that much, but as another volley of bullets flew around him and he narrowly dodged (one grazed his arm, tearing at his jacket sleeve; his hat had flown off to be crushed underfoot in the dirt behind him long ago), he refused to let even that doubt cloud his racing mind. His breath tore and there was a stitch in his side, but he could ignore that, too, he could keep pressing on, just a little further and maybe even this hated retreat could be turned around somehow. There could still be a chance.
If he could just regroup, resupply, he could return and push back again and keep fighting. It was of utmost importance that he kept fighting, because somebody had to. They had expected another quick conquest with him, he knew; another Czechoslovakia, another Poland, another France. But he had seen where passivity was taking the world, and decided that the time for it was long past.
Greece had chosen action.
Defiant curses in his own language rose to his ringing ears from around him and spurred him on more. An enemy soldier blocked his path; he brought the heavy cross he still carried down on yet another skull with a nightmarish crack and did not waste even the breath it would have taken to snarl as he kept moving. He could atone for the bloodshed later, when circumstances allowed for such luxuries again.
There was still a chance; every part of his body screamed it to him. Yugoslavia had been taken, yes, and he should have known better than to count on any help from his other neighbors, but England, England was still there, or he had been just a minute ago, he was sure of it, if he could just meet up with England's forces again they could stand together and fight this to the end and all he had to do was just keep moving keep running just--
The black steel line of armored vehicles rose up on the horizon to catch his eye just as another explosion threw up a cloud of choking dust, and between the surprise and his sudden rattling coughs he lost his footing and stumbled forward, rolling a few times after slamming down to the hard, dry earth. The cross flew out of his hands and slid, spinning, out of his reach.
He scrabbled in the dirt and tried to push himself up, but it was hard to maneuver with adrenalin-shaky arms, and he had barely managed to get into a low crouch when a calm, commanding voice interrupted him.
Greece froze and glared hatefully up at Germany's easy, steady approach. He didn't even seem to be out of breath.
Germany cleared his throat and nodded towards the division waiting in the distance. "We've taken Ioannina. It's over."
"No, it's not!" he insisted, panting, still half-ready to pounce. "I haven't given up, I haven't stopped fighting--"
"You are no longer capable of carrying on a fight," Germany interrupted, frowning down at him. "Don't you understand that? You've lost your last supply route. You are surrounded. You and your army are out of options. It's over."
In lieu of any other answer, Greece spat; it fell woefully short of Germany's boots. He still expected some sort of retaliation, most likely involving losing a good majority of his teeth, so it was even more surprising when Germany's expression very nearly softened. That did not stop Greece from hissing under his breath when he took a step forward.
"I'll admit it," Germany said slowly, "I am impressed. You put up a skilled effort, and you should be proud of that." He crouched down now to look at Greece on a more even level, still studying him as one would some curious wild beast. One gloved hand reached out and flicked a bit of Greece's hair aside, exposing a stinging open cut etched into his forehead. "But now it's time to admit defeat. Don't you want to prevent further bloodshed?"
That's just what I was trying to do, thought Greece, but he swallowed the words and glared, teeth gritted, breath quickening furiously. The ringing in his ears had worsened and was now verging on unbearable. The stitch in his side had not abated. "Alright," he snapped, when Germany's eyes narrowed warningly. "Alright, I'll negotiate. But this isn't over."
"If you say so," said Germany wearily. Still he did not break eye contact with Greece. "So much trouble over all this," he mused. "I think you have taken more than enough precious time from me already."
"Wish I could have taken more," said Greece, glowering. Germany made no reply.
- - -
If losing at Kalamata and Crete had been painful, surrendering Athens was nothing short of utter humiliation. Lights out, windows shut, he stayed inside and burned a little more with every foot of ground unfairly gained on his streets. His hands shook, but not with fear; he hated the uselessness of it either way.
It was that damned flag at the Acropolis that grieved him the most. A few days later, he looked up to find that it had been torn down during the night and his chest ached for a different reason.
- - -
"See? It's not so bad, is it?" Italy chirped, still bustling about with the last of the boxes he was moving in. Greece leaned against the wall and made no move to help. "You'll hardly know I'm here, seriously! And isn't it so nice to stop all that fighting, finally?"
"You had nothing to do with that," snapped Greece. When Italy looked up with a puzzled smile, he continued, "I beat you months ago, when you started this. Don't you dare expect me to congratulate you on his coming in to save you."
"Oh!" Italy laughed, making the bandage on his face wrinkle oddly. "Yeeeahh, I guess that's right, huh? But Germany and I always work together, Greece!" He leaned forward and clapped Greece on the shoulder companionably. "Hey, and now we're working together, too! Isn't that neat?"
"No." Greece shoved the hand away and made to walk off, but Italy followed in his wake, humming tunelessly and periodically insisting that Greece just cheer up for once. After all, he kept insisting, it was always so much better to get along with people you lived with, and they'd all get over their little differences soon enough and hey, it wasn't like Greece was even really using all those little Ionian islands, right? Right?
"Oh, oh!" exclaimed Italy, still trailing a half-step behind him. "Maybe you could come visit Rome sometime in exchange! Wouldn't that be cool?"
But Greece didn't want to hear any more about Rome.
- - -
He shouldn't have been so surprised, he told himself as he stood in the doorway. It was hardly out of place, especially not after all that had happened in the past few decades, but still the sight set his teeth on edge.
Bulgaria kept rifling artlessly through Greece's desk drawers, unconcerned. He held up a small volume of poetry for examination. "That's me."
Solomos, Greece recognized, and his hands clenched into idle fists. "What are you doing here?"
"Ah, y'know, just cleaning out some junk"--he tore a random page from the book--"so the place'll look a little nicer when I move in. Something wrong with that?"
Greece watched as he crumpled the paper into a ball. "You're not staying here," he said lowly. "None of you are. I can promise you that."
Bulgaria tossed the ruined page lazily into the wastebasket. "You take things way too seriously," he scoffed. "Germany's had his stuff at my place for ages and you don't see me pissing and moaning about it, do you? I heard you beat the shit out of Italy," he added, sounding amused.
"Italy underestimated me," warned Greece. "He actually thought I would give up that easily."
"'Cause you let people think that," chided Bulgaria, ruining another leaf of poetry. "Always acting so weird and spacey. That way they don't expect it when you really turn out to be such an obnoxious, backstabbing, greedy little--"
He was cut off as Greece sprang without further warning, only narrowly dodging a fist to the jaw when he snapped back reflexively. There was a brief struggle, which ended just as abruptly when Bulgaria succeeded in making Greece lose his footing; they both fell to the ground and before Greece could strike again, Bulgaria grabbed his arm and twisted it roughly behind his back.
"Watch it there," he cautioned. "See, man, stuff like this. This is why nobody likes you."
"Whatever"--Greece tried another wriggling escape and winced--"whatever happened to staying on the sidelines? That's what you wanted to do, wasn't it?"
"Well, yeah," said Bulgaria offhandedly. "But then I changed my mind." His elbows dug deeper into Greece's back as he leaned forward. "Just so you know, I'm taking back Thrace. And as much of Macedonia as I can get. Sound good?"
Greece pressed his forehead to the carpet and snarled. "Go to hell."
"Sorry, what was that? I didn't quite catch it. Maybe you should try saying it in Bulgarian, yeah?"
- - -
But while Bulgaria knew far too much about him and Italy didn't seem to know him at all, Germany's air of hard indifference was even more infuriating. He was preoccupied, that much was obvious--the same back-and-forth with the Allies and now something about Russia which Greece only caught brief snatches of, but which clearly had gotten under his skin and therefore spelled trouble for both of them.
War loan, Germany had said, and it was all Greece could do to hold his tongue. But this--
"What did you just say?" he repeated, disbelieving.
"I'm going to need to requisition more supplies," said Germany, and it was not a request. "This is a costly operation, after all."
"But I don't have anything left to give you," Greece protested, terse. He clapped an arm around his stomach to stifle the angry rumbling there. "No one does. There's nothing growing, nothing coming in."
"It's the blockade," Germany insisted, tapping the pen in his hand against the desk distractedly. "England's being stubborn again, he refuses to take it down--"
"I don't care whose fault it is!" he cried, hating the shrill edge to his voice. "All I know is that it can't keep going on like this." His stomach twisted again and he inhaled sharply. "There's practically nothing left, and people can't even afford what there is. This has to stop, Germany."
"And I intend to stop it," Germany muttered, but it seemed that he was talking about something else. Greece stormed out, frustrated and unheeded. On the way home, he set his jaw and tried hard not to think of how long it had been since he'd last seen a stray cat wandering his streets.
- - -
Warm, white light; a whispering breeze on his skin. If he concentrated enough, the faintest scent of olive blossoms.
He was tired.
And then there was something else, something he couldn't quite see that defied taking formal shape even as he watched. He sank to his knees, unaware he had been standing in the first place.
"What," he breathed, dizzy, disoriented. "What's, is that--are you...?"
I am. I was.
His hands clutched at the ground beneath them, and when he tried to speak again all that came were apologies, a broken disjointed stream welling up into one great fathomless I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm
"I couldn't stop them," he whispered, to white folds of cloth draped just at the edge of his vision. "I couldn't stop them and it wasn't enough and they took it from me, I lost everything--"
Not everything, came the reply, in words neither thought nor spoken that simply were. Never everything.
He shook his head. "But too much," he insisted. A dull pain struck at his ribcage and he flinched. "Way, way too much."
Bare arms wrapped soothingly around him, and there was nothing he would not have given to be able to hold back.
But you are still here. You are not forgotten.
He could still see individual features in his mind: here a nose, there the lips, all perfect angles and thoughtful sloping curves; but try as he might he could not bring them together into one clear picture, so he buried his face in dark wavy hair and breathed in.
"What now?" he pleaded. His ribs ached again. "What am I supposed to do?"
The only thing you have ever needed to do, he heard in echoes--
Another pain, sharper this time--)
He came to on the cold floor with a sharp gasp as the boot nudged him a final time. Something moved in the room around him, but it was too dark to see, and anyway he lacked the strength to raise his head.
He couldn't smell olive blossoms anymore, either. Instead there was a different scent, something almost as familiar, thick smoke and ambition and salt--
--sea salt from ships, because someone had crossed the sea to get to him and now there were ships at the beaches, he was here again and his ships were at the beaches and--
"Easy," someone admonished him, and two powerful hands pushed his shoulders back against the wall when Greece surged up into a sitting position to attack. "I'm pretty sure you don't wanna try that."
Greece's lip cracked and reopened with his growl. "Ottom--"
"--Turkey," the other corrected. "Remember? What, your brain gone soft now too or somethin'?"
"What the hell are you doing here?" said Greece, exhausted.
"Anyone asks? Bein' neutral." Turkey removed his hands from Greece's shoulders and crossed his arms over his knees where he crouched in front of him. His eyes flicked up and down, sizing him up, and Greece realized for the first time that the mask was missing. "Shit," he announced. "They're starving you, brat."
"Sorry," Greece snapped. "That's your job, isn't it?"
"Actually," drawled Turkey, turning to dig through a bag on the floor at his side, "This is." He pulled out a small parcel and pressed it into Greece's hands gently (or gently by his standards, which was to say not very).
"Wha...?" Greece glared at the offering, mistrustful. "What's this?"
"Food," said Turkey, and when Greece looked up at him in surprise he made an irritated noise under his breath and glanced aside. "Yeah, yeah, I'm right next door and I've got ships, right? Makes sense that the others'd wanna go through me to get you some help. 'S'not much," he added, looking back. "I hear more's coming from somewhere else. Sweden or someone, hell if I know."
"That's...that's good to hear," Greece managed, turning the package over in his hands almost reverently. "That could help a lot of people."
"Maybe." Turkey rose to his feet, picking up the bag as he turned to leave. "Making a few more trips," he explained. "I'll be back later." The last words he added from the doorway. "Try not to choke on it."
Sitting on the floor in the dark, Greece blinked a few times and reflected that the world was becoming a very strange place indeed.
- - -
He was still thinking something along the same lines several months later as he waited alone at the beach, perched on a rock with his knees drawn up to his chest. But strangeness had its place in life, too, so he kept a careful eye on the waves, watching expectantly.
Presently, he became aware of a faint noise and approaching splashes. He leaned forward for a better view through the morning mist and made out a figure stalking angrily out of the water towards him, muttering a string of bitter curses under its breath.
"...fucking goddamn motherfucking son of a bitch, mına koyiim..."
"Turkey?" Greece unfolded from his huddled position and half-made to rise. "What happened to you?"
"--Has'siktir!" Turkey spat, ripping a bit of seaweed from his shoulder and throwing it down onto the beach. "The fuckin' thing hit some fuckin' rocks, alright?" He shook his head violently, sending a spray of droplets flying up around him. "Fuckin' wind, man."
"The ship sank," said Greece, as his stomach did the same.
"Yeah, yeah, stop whining, everyone's fine," Turkey groused, wringing the bottom of his jacket out savagely. "Washed up on Marmara Island, lucky bastards."
"Marmara?" Greece's eyebrows shot up. "Then why would you come all this way just to tell me?"
"Because," he snapped, glaring at Greece and shaking one index finger menacingly, "I'm here to tell you that this doesn't change a goddamn thing, so don't you fucking dare say I'm too chicken to keep going after a stupid little setback like this. I've got more than one ship, damn it!" he slammed a hand to his own chest demonstratively and a small crab that had been clinging to the edge of his sleeve went flying. "And I can sure as hell keep doing this without the Kurtuluş, you wait and see. I'll be back with your stupid aid if I have to shove it down your goddamn throat."
Greece opened his mouth to reply, but Turkey had already turned and begun storming off into the sea again, more curses trailing in his wake.
- - -
"What I don't get," complained Greece, head cradled in his arms on the table as they waited for England to arrive, "is why it was him who showed up."
"His was the most convenient vantage point from which to send you the supplies your people needed," Egypt reminded him serenely.
"I didn't mean that," he said. "I knew that already. I meant why he's still him at all. Shouldn't it be someone new now? After the last war I thought he would have just kind of...gone away, you know, like Rome or--like Rome."
Egypt shrugged. "China has seen many eras come and go and stayed himself. As have I."
"Yeah, but you always kept the same names," Greece muttered. "Besides," he insisted, looking up, "he fell. I'm sure of it. We both saw it, didn't we?"
"I cannot say why some nations endure differently than others," said Egypt.
He snorted. "Maybe it just means he hasn't changed."
"Perhaps it means he is capable of change. Adaptation is a powerful tool, Greece. These are trying times to be unseasoned."
Greece buried his chin in his arms again, sulking. "I'm not unseasoned."
Egypt watched him silently. "These are trying times," he amended.
- - -
In the end England did relent and the blockade was lifted just enough to allow the first breaths of life back in, but Greece found himself less and less invested in the business on Egypt's soil. He was more than his government, than either of them, feeble and exiled abroad or coldly manipulated at home, and his loyalties lay in a place neither of them could hope to reach. Greece did know himself, and he knew when mere endurance was not sufficient.
He also knew his own terrain, particularly his mountains. And as something that Italy did not have, this was knowledge Greece found very useful indeed.
"Playing hide and seek again, are we?" Turkey grinned one day upon finding him, hastily restocking and checking his weapons in the living room before another campaign. "You're a sneaky bastard."
"At least I'm doing something," said Greece shortly, not bothering to look up at the unexpected visit. "That's more than I can say about you."
"Yeah, yeah. 'Scuse me for not wanting to stick my nose into the same shit a second time." Turkey scoffed, reclining lazily on Greece's couch and examining his fingernails. "So hey, you hear about what's going down with Russia? Bulgaria's gotta be flippin' out right about now. Bet you he turns around and switches sides if Germany fucks it all up." He paused, considering. "But Germany's probably pissed at him anyway. Him and that Tsar of his going on 'bout broken trains and oh gee whiz, guess we can't transport anyone like this, sorry." He snickered. "Almost more of a sneaky bastard than you, isn't he?"
Greece stopped midway through examining his rifle. "They're still deporting people from Macedonia," he said quietly.
Grimly, he slung the weapon over his shoulder and turned to face Turkey. "And don't act like you're completely uninvolved in all of this, either. I've heard about that tax law of yours, and it's sick."
"Unpopular as fuck, too," protested Turkey, but he seemed to sink down into the couch cushions a bit. "It's not gonna stick."
Greece stared at him, hard, contemplative. "Aristotle says that the mean between cowardice and foolhardiness is courage," he said, clutching at the rifle strap. "And that's what we have to aim for to achieve honor."
"Aristotle," repeated Turkey, unimpressed. "That the one they made drink poison?"
"No, that was Socrates. He taught by asking questions."
"Must've been some pretty fucking annoying questions, then."
"You're both cowards."
"Maybe." Turkey shrugged. "But whatever we are," he said, teeth flashing brightly, "I'm better at it."
- - -
Pushing back against Italy did not stop the problem; then again, Italy had never really been the problem to begin with. As the stakes rose ever higher and 1943 drew to a close, Greece became most emphatically aware of this.
He was huddled in the windowsill, measuring the pain and trying to regroup, but most importantly trying to ignore the sounds coming from outside. They did not stop, so he curled more tightly in on himself and smelled smoke on his own jacket; Kommeno, burnt to ashes. The soot would not wash out easily. Maybe it never would.
Everything was unraveling, he realized, with merciless lucidity. There was nobody to trust anymore, not even England, fighting for influence, not even all the parts of himself, pulling him in too many directions and spreading him too thinly over too, too much.
Perhaps he could have taken some comfort in knowing that his was not the only crisis, were his sympathy by now not likewise depleted.
The sounds outside stopped.
He did not look up when the door opened and closed quietly, nor when Germany spoke.
"I will be assuming full responsibility for these territories now," he heard, in perfectly level tones. "I expect you to cooperate. And then again I don't."
Without waiting for any signs of acknowledgment, the footsteps continued on down the hallway. Another door opened and closed, this time followed by the gentle click of a lock.
After a moment Greece stirred, then chanced to look out the window with half-lidded eyes.
There was smoke coming from Kefalonia now, he noted, while Germany threw up in the bathroom.
That would linger for a long time, too.
- - -
And it really was unraveling now, he thought, outside and in, and now the months were flying in a thick intoxicating haze of clash and subterfuge and the growing, worrying splintering of something inside him. Now, years later, he could almost feel an end in sight, and more and more the question was becoming just which end that would be. Greece wasn't entirely sure himself, but as long as there was something to resist he could push the nagging concern to the back of his mind just a little longer.
Bulgaria did turn, near the end. Something to do with Russia. A lot of things were to do with Russia these days, it seemed. Germany grew daily less concerned with almost everything else, and inevitability had never looked at once so glorious and so monstrous to Greece.
When word reached him of Turkey's war declaration, bold and daring and unabashedly last-minute, he had to laugh. But only shortly, harshly, because when he thought about it it really wasn't funny, so he tried not to and returned to the underbrush.
One day he woke and there was nobody left to fight, but the fighting continued all the same.
- - -
He hadn't taken the time to appreciate it much lately; probably still wouldn't for a while longer. But the Parthenon was still standing (or parts of it, at least), and the sun was warm when he climbed those cracked, time-worn steps. Slowly, one by one.
There was still gunfire, but his own rifle had already been set aside. He leaned on his cross for support today.
Greece collapsed at the top of the steps and sat, bone weary, clutching the makeshift staff over his knees in both hands. He took in his surroundings, torn grass and bruised earth and deceptively clear sky, and tried to remind himself of everything that was and could be again.
England would want to talk to him, later, steer him in the proper direction like the upstanding gentlemen he was. Maybe America would want a word with him sometime, too. But this wasn't about them.
Greece sat up straighter and closed his eyes, breathing in even as gunfire erupted again in the distance.
Alright, he thought, willing the words into every part of himself he could reach. It's alright. I'm here. And I'm yours again. Now tell me what you want me to be.
And that was precisely what he did, there on the dead stone steps, to the tuneless swell of clashing ideals and half-whispered dreams and the rat-a-tat-tat of yet more questions as answers.
NOTES: From 1941 to 1944, Greece was held under Triple occupation by Italy, Germany, and Bulgaria. Following the Italian armistice in 1943, Germany absorbed their former zone with extreme prejudice.
The Greek resistance was one of the most active and well-organized during the war, prompting admiration even from the invading forces. Later, in the absence of a common enemy, these guerrilla groups faced ideological fallings-out and turned on each other in the Greek Civil War.
Neutral Turkey was the first to deliver aid to a famine-stricken Greece during this period, and it did in fact join the Allied forces in early 1945, just in time to gain some leverage in attaining United Nations membership. (This is the tax law Greece mentions, by the way. And no, it didn't stick.)
As for Bulgaria, there's not much to go off of for him characterization-wise, being in two panels of one strip, but historically speaking I hope it's not that much of a stretch to think of him as the contradictory opportunist I wrote him as here. No country is ever entirely one-dimensional.