i. Tu ne comprendre pas
"I'm not leaving my crops again just because you're that bastard's bitch."
Matthew is sore and exhausted from helping bring in the harvest, and he bristles at the insinuation.
"This has nothing to do with Britain," he replies, his Quebecois as fresh as if he'd never stopped speaking it.
"Excuse me, I forgot," Quebec scoffed, flicking his cigarette at the ground as he looked over his fields. "No one will touch you unless you go grovelling for it." He crushed the butt out with the toe of his muddy work boot. "Don't tell me it's for France. Even you're not that much of a whore."
"Don't be crude, Jéan," Matthew scolds sharply. "They need us right now, Germany's-"
"Where were they when we needed them, huh?" Jéan interupts hotly, face red. "France abandoned us, and he abandoned you too. Not to mention how quick your precious Britain," he spat the name out like a dirty word. "dropped you once you started getting a bit expensive, just like that fucking liar did." He took out another cigarette and started to light it. "Those Europeans don't give a piss about any of us, just what they can get their greedy hands on."
"It's not like tha-"
"Why don't you go over again then, huh?" Jéan let out a long stream of smoke before turning to stare Matthew in the eyes. "Why don't you go over and fight in those fucking graves and watch your boys die? Go and give everything and come back to see that your house is gone, or your fucking livelihood." He gave a bitter laugh. "Oh no, that's right Mathieu. You have a fucking cozy place in Ottawa with the rest of those anglophones. You don't care how many Canadiens die just so that you can suck Britain's dick. It doesn't even matter that he doesn't give a shit about you, does it?"
"You just don't understand," Matthew replies quietly. In the corner of his brain he can feel the mounting casualties, and it makes him as sore as the harvesting. "They're not perfect, they're not. But they've done so much for us, and now it's our turn."
"Again? You're the one who doesn't fucking understand it. They're using you as cannon fodder again." The province puts the cig to his lips again, and turns to look over his shorn crops. "Before them it was just us. No fucking English. Just us and Acadia and the Mennonites and the Iroquois," he exhales, and his expression turns dark again. "Tabernac. I fucking hate them all."
"I don't think there's ever been a time you haven't hated everyone."
"I loved you once, didn't I?"
(And Matthew wonders if he could forgive Francis as easily as he forgives Jéan. He doubts it, because he still kind of hates him, too.)
iii.Tha Blas na Gaihlig
It's dark now, much darker inside then it should be because of the black-out shutters, but Matthew doesn't turn on the light. Two nights ago he'd over heard the Mercers getting yelled at by Mrs. MacPherson for having the lights on during the air raid drill, or at least for having the light escape through gaps in the cheap, thick black paper they had fixed to their windows. They hadn't gotten fined for it, but Matthew thinks his aren't much better, just black pitchtar painted on stretched canvas nailed to the window frames, black paper taped to the door windows. And the fine's there for a reason, same with the raid sirens. He's only paranoid right now, he knows, but sometimes waiting paranoid at home with a lighted bulls-eye on you is almost as bad as waiting blind in the trenches.
(And he hates those so fucking much, doesn't want to go back to the trenches. He doesn't want to turn into trenches.)
So he keeps his lights off, and sits in the dark as the fierce Nova Scotian wind howls and tries to steal the shingles away. It's already bitten off most of the first half of the red ensign he had flew from the post sticking out from the front of Duncan's veranda. He's pressed up against a windowed wall, so that the hungry wailing is sharp in his ear, and the draft freezes the back of his neck. In their shared guest bed Kinnon doesn't stir, as used to the terrifying weather as his brother, and Matthew would of curled up close enough for his snoring to drown out the storm if the smell of seaweed and salt water, coal dust and mermaids, didn't seem so overpowering tonight (plus both of the Scotian brothers reminded the nation too much of Alistair, whether it was Duncan's looks or Kinnon's smell, and part of the reason for Matthew's insomnia was the worry worming through his gut of whether or not something had happened to Scotland and England and Wales in those goddamn foxholes).
With a frightening roar, the gale seizes the house and shakes it violently, like a furious, misbehaving toddler demanding his attention. From next door Matthew can hear the Laurence's shed crash to it's side, and he feels a spark of annoyance. The Laurences were Duncan's nearest neighbours and always woefully unprepared for life on his east-coast, and the irritated province was recently explaining to him exactly how much he was fucking sick of helping them upright their goddamn shed, or fixing their stupidly made blown way porch, or giving them coal and firewood that he couldn't spare and that they couldn't of been fucked to stock up on in the first place for the third year in a fucking row. Matthew honestly wondered why they hadn't just gone back to Ontario yet. He would of gone home himself two weeks ago, if his boys hadn't needed him.
The wind smacks a shingle against his window in it's apathetic tantrum, and Matthew jumps out of his skin in the irrational thought that it's something entirely different and dangerous and explosive. He's surprised that the raid siren down the road hasn't gone off yet. He thinks he'll scream if it goes off again.
He still doesn't put on the light.
And it's not like he's being irrationally paranoid, either. Matthew's not stupid, and he's certainly not numb. He knows the Germans are already here. Not in great numbers, only a few, but both Duncan and Kinnon have seen the U-Boats off their coasts. Hell, Kinnon's even been to the theatre and found some there, dressed in civilian clothes. That's why Anna's curled up in a tiny ball in Nova Scotia's bed, why the other island's stuck sharing this ridiculously tiny spare room with him, and why Mary's travelling down by day to join them from Saint John. Duncan's just as paranoid as he is, terrified that some German James Wolfe will take Louisburg, storm through to Charlotte Town and Fredericton and leave nothing but empty, bombed out houses. Matthew wishes that Seamus could be here as well, but he's refused to speak to Matt since before the war, and the large nation tries to remind himself that the dominion just isn't his responsibility (he's still not consoled).
Suddenly, a new, familiar, frustrating wail starts up outside, amazingly audible over the shrill roar of the tempest. Kinnon's good eye flies open, as if he wasn't snoring away a moment ago, and there's a terrified look on the boy's face as he swears in an indecipherable mixture of Mi'kmaq, Gaelic, and Acadian that Matthew finds hard not to scold him for. He looks up wildly, and catches Matthew's eyes through the pitch dark.
"Are they here?" the island asks desperately in his odd, mismatched accent. "Have they come?"
Matthew doesn't scream like he thought he would, but he doesn't trust his voice so he just shakes his head quickly. Kinnon gets up and reaches to turn on the lamp, but Matt's there first, and he grabs the young man's hand before he can turn on the light. Because there's definitely cracks in where the canvas is supposed to meet the window frame, as he wouldn't be able to see the large bandage covering where a falling mast had gashed open the side of Kinnon's face so brightly if there wasn't light seeping in through the window.
(And when they meet Duncan in the hallway, the redhead pulling a scared little province behind him with his good hand and cussing out the wind like a true sailor, Matthew wonders if Alistair had ever looked so young and scarred and frightened).
(He can't imagine it. He doesn't want to.)
It takes them a while longer to get down to the shelter then it should, mostly because his boys' lungs still hurt from all of the salt water they had swallowed, and Duncan's cast keeps finding all of the doorways. Anna trips on her night gown a few times before Matthew sweeps her up in his arms, and carries her the rest of the way. The wind is just as harsh and ferocious as it sounded inside behind the tar, and now it's raining to boot, and as they're almost blown away he hopes his arms give his girl some amount of warmth.
Even though it's just a hole in the ground covered with tin and earth, it's a relief to be in the shelter and out of the wind. It's incredibly cold, though, and while Matthew minds the cold as much as Sedna and her huskies up north do, dear Anna is shaking in his lap and he can hear his Nova Scotia's teeth chattering. Muffled, the raid siren still wails mournfully outside amongst the wind, as if asking what it's been left to.
Duncan manages some quiet shushes and 'it's alright's around his shivering and his pants, but Matthew's ears are still ringing from the wind and he's more concerned on getting them warm, especially Anna. Provinces can't die (well, not always), but they can get sick, and they don't heal half as quickly as he does.
The shelter is very small, just enough to fit them all. There are two large cardboard boxes to just to his left, and a smaller, wide wooden one that Matthew suspects was a fine cigar box in a former life, before Nova Scotia and his pocket knife and whittling addiction got to it. Now there was a rather impressive gander carved in relief on the lid, and when Matthew opens it he finds the wax candles Duncan stored there, along with a newish box of matches. He lights one of the white tapers and sticks it in the neck of the closest of the empty beer bottles littered on the floor (they were Alistair's sons, you know, to a tee).
In the flickering, bright light, Matt can see one of the large boxes is marked 'FOOD' in bold black letters, and in the unmarked box are the blankets. Two thick green army-grades and two large quilts, and several pillows. Quickly, he wraps up Anna, making sure to tuck in her cold little feet. Her red curls contrast with the deep olive, and she covers her ears and snuggles into Canada's chest, sniffling.
He covers her in the quilt as well, and hopes the boys won't fuss over sharing the two left as he turns to pass them on.
Duncan is gripping Kinnon to him with his good arm as they both shake, the island's face buried in his brother's shoulder as he mutters "I's not fuckin' alrigh', I's not. I's fuckin' not," over and over,and Matthew's worried that they've both might've snapped, because of either the constant sirens and sleepless nights in the shelter, or from the stress of drowning together when their merchant marine vessel was torpedoed by those goddamn u-boats.
Anna lets out a miserable little sob, and Duncan hides his face.
Matthew wouldn't be here, if his boys didn't need him.
ii . Ich Nicht Geist
"The White Queen," Matthew read quietly, "only looked at her in a helpless, frightened sort of way and kept repeating to herself in a whisper something that sounded like 'Bread and butter, bread and butter,' and Alice felt that if there was to be any conversation at all, she would have to manage it herself-"
The scream of a shell ripped through the air, and Matthew and Alex swear simultaneously.
A Private further down the trench starts crying and praying, quietly and hysterically. Matthew tries to read more of Through the Looking Glass over the frantic Hail Marys (not appropriate, not even, why isn't anyone praying to Jude because God dammit this entire war was a—), but he's cut off by another shell landing close to the trench. Too close.
Ontario shudders and curls up on himself and the Private goes silent. Matthew can feel the sharp pinpricks in his skull.
Nobody says anything. Nobody says a Goddamn thing. Matthew wanted to scream.
"The White Queen," Matthew read quietly, shaking, "only looked at her in a helpless, frightened sort of way..."
Keep repeating it to yourself. Bread and butter, bread and butter.
iv. And in the End
There aren't enough poppies for everyone.