Character(s) or Pairing(s): America, Russia, Russia/America
Warnings: Talk about serfdom and slavery. Some mild mood whiplash.
Summary: America and Russia visit an exhibit about an episode of their shared history and remember the past.
“I'm kind of disappointed that you didn't wear your old imperial uniform. Like those guards up front.”
“They are here as part of the exhibit. I am just a member of the public today. It would look silly if I wore my uniform too, da?”
“If by 'silly' you mean 'totally hot,' then yes. You know I dig your old uniforms. Even your stupid sexy commie ones.”
“...I do not even know where it is. It is probably lost in the back of my closet-”
“Buried under a mountain of those ear-flappy hats-”
“It is called an ushanka and I do not have that many-”
“You have at least twenty. At least. Oh dude, do you still have that one that looks like you've got a whole beaver on your head? That thing is hilarious. Or what about the one with those cute widdle bear ears on top-”
“I am ignoring you now.”
America rolled his eyes (purely for his own benefit, as Russia really was ignoring him in favor of reading a placard in front of an assortment of old rifles) and shuffled over to examine a large portrait of Lincoln. He had the original back home, but it felt weird to see good old Honest Abe on a wall in Moscow. Next to it was a portrait of Tsar Alexander II (or so said the plaque. America couldn't tell all those tsars apart.) The guy who freed the slaves next to the guy who freed the serfs. It was a nice idea for an exhibit. 'The Tsar & The President, Alexander II & Abraham Lincoln: Liberator & Emancipator.'
“Come here,” Russia whispered loudly, waving his hand for America to join him at the next display. It was a pair of glass cases, holding a quill and a pen. “This is the quill Alexander used to sign the Emancipation Manifesto, and the pen-”
“Is the one Lincoln used to sign the Emancipation Proclamation?”
“Da! It is funny to see them side by side.”
“Ah, I mean interesting funny, not 'tee hee' funny.”
“I got that, but...why interesting funny?”
“They are two different objects, and yet they are so similar. Just like the men they belonged to, da?”
“Kinda like the countries the men belonged to too, yeah?” America added, and caught sight of a crooked little grin from Russia before he could hurry away to the next display.
“And here are the clothes Alexander wore when he was assassinated...”
Russia continued to narrate as America allowed his mind to wander, fingers tap-dancing against the plaque.
“Doesn't really feel like it's been 150 years since all this happened, does it?” he muttered to himself.
“Really? It sometimes feels like another lifetime to me. But so much has happened between then and now. All the wars and troubles, and I have changed my name twice...but I do know what you mean too. In many ways it is not so far away at all.”
“Well, it's been a little longer for you than me, since you did it first. 1861 for the emancipation of the serfs at your place, and 1863 for emancipation of the slaves at my place.”
“Two years is nothing.”
“Two years can be a lot! Loads can happen in two years. And I think...” America paused, picked restlessly at his fingernails.
“You think what?” Russia prompted, navigating them to a less populated area in the exhibit to avoid eavesdroppers.
“I think...you had to do it first. I don't know if it could have gone the other way around.”
Russia's eyebrows wrinkled. “I do not understand what you mean.”
“I mean that I needed...I don't know, a model or whatever. An example. I knew slavery was wrong, but it's not like you can just snap your fingers and end it. There's so much more that goes into it, and I didn't know what I was doing...and then bam, you guys free the serfs! And suddenly it felt like I could do it too. I guess what I'm trying to say is-”
“'If Russia can do it, anyone can?'” Steel and acid were slipping in behind Russia's smile.
“Okay, that isn't even close to what I said and you know it. I was trying to say that...I...oh hell. Fine, I'll just say it. I admired you. Happy?”
“You did?” Was it just the light, or was Russia's face turning pink? “Since when?”
“I don't know,” America grumped, feeling his own face heat up. “A long time, alright? And I felt like you understood me better than just about anybody. And the way you had serfs wasn't too different from how I had slaves. So when you guys freed the serfs...it felt like it wasn't so impossible for us to free the slaves. It gave me hope, y'know?”
The color in Russia's cheeks couldn't be blamed on the lighting any more. “I was not aware. You never told me about this.”
“It's not like I could just spill my guts that easily at the time. The civil war was stressful as hell. And I was...” He bit his lip, stomach clenching at the memory. “I was just scared. I was so afraid of being...ripped right in half. I mean, I was kind of young then, so-”
“Age has nothing to do with it,” Russia said firmly. “Civil wars are always painful and terrifying, no matter how old you are.” I would know hung unsaid at the end of the sentence. “Anyone who says they can get used to the feeling of being torn apart from the inside is either lying or heartless.” He sighed and gave himself a little shake. “And freeing the serfs was not such a simple thing for me either, da? I may have done it before your slaves were freed, but...it was difficult. Very much so.”
“I know,” America said, and he did. Russia had sent him a hastily written letter in 1861 to tell him about the liberation. He had been too excited to translate his thoughts properly and the result had been severely broken English and scribbled out lines where he had started to write in the Cyrillic alphabet before catching the mistake. His next letter, months later, was much calmer and less enthusiastic.
'I think I have been foolish,' it read. 'I really did believe that everyone would be happy now. But the former serfs are still so angry and miserable, and now the land owners are angry too. It seems impossible to make anyone happy.'
He had been preaching to the choir, really. America knew how that felt all too well. He too could remember the joy of the moment that faded when he realized how much work there still was to do, how many scars were left to tend to...
“But we still did pretty good, didn't we?” he said after a long, thoughtful moment. “All things considered. Yeah, we've still got problems today 'cause of all this stuff, but...you gotta start somewhere, right? All this...I think we did okay.”
“Da.” Russia's smile was full and warm. “We have done well. All things considered.”
There's an exhibit in Moscow that just opened recently about Abraham Lincoln and Tsar Alexander II, highlighting the similarities between them and focusing on the liberation of the serfs in 1861 and the emancipation of the slaves in 1863. For more on that, check out this article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/23/AR2011022302110.html?hpid=moreheadlines
The title refers to a line from one of Pushkin's poems, which was sung at the opening of the exhibit.