You call this a fucking army?
Genre: Drama, where America kind of gets his ass kicked. But there's some unexpected heart-to-heart there, too.
1778. R for violence.
Emergency pinch hit for the aph_rarexchange! That makes three fills total. Am I indie yet?
Philadelphia. March, 1778.
America hit the ground with a mouthful of blood. The shock sang through his skeleton.
America shut his eyes and jerked his knees in against his chest, because there it was: a snap as a sharp black boot toe flew into his side, and again, a few seconds later: snap.
"Jesus Christ, get up, you whiny fucking dirt farmer. What, are you waiting for somebody to come around and breast-feed you until you're ready to move on? 'Cause you're the only one who looks likely to sprout tits around here, so that's not gonna happen unless you're really goddamn flexible."
America felt his side, pushed in against his ribs. Hissed a breath between his teeth. Squeezed back the red behind his eyes.
Prussia grabbed him by the back of his collar and hauled him to his feet. America went up choking. He hung about five inches from Prussia's face.
"Do I have to do this for you, too, you shit-eating peasant?"
America shook his head, or tried. He was turning purple.
"I show you where to eat, I tell you where to piss--I explain how to stand in a straight line, how hard is that, you fucking idiot?--"
America shook his head again, frantic, and clawed at the front of his collar.
"Now I've got to show you how to get on your feet?" Prussia finished. Waited. He rattled America for emphasis.
"No," America rasped, because let go, you crazy son of a bitch, I can't breathe was too long for how much air he had left in him.
"No," Prussia drawled. A second passed. "You sure?"
America shoved at Prussia's arm and spat a wad of bloody foam. It didn't even hit him, but Prussia let him go--threw him back on the ground, more like. The impact jammed in America's shoulder.
America massaged his throat and coughed for breath, and dragged himself back to his feet before Prussia could put a boot heel in his kidneys.
"So!" Prussia clapped his hands together, eyes wide, big smile. "What have we learned?"
"You're a fucking bastard," America wheezed, and wiped his hair out of his face with the back of his arm. Cold seeped up from the ground through his boots, and icy night air slipped down the back of his collar.
"No, you already knew that. What you were supposed to learn," Prussia hefted his musket and slapped the stock. America flinched at the sight of it. "Is that this big, heavy bit of the musket is a weapon, too. Especially when you smash it into some unsuspecting smartmouth's face. How you doing with that, by the way?"
"You almost broke my fucking jaw!" Dull red throbbed all the way to his temple.
"'Almost' is a great word, isn't it? Almost. It's got a nice ring to it. It's like how it's almost been worth it for me to spend months in this freezing muddy backwater, trying to teach some barely-literate shit-herder how to use a fucking musket. Speaking of muskets."
America watched, wary, swallowing down his anger and the rank taste of copper, as Prussia turned his musket around and screwed in the bayonet.
"The pointy end," Prussia declared.
America didn't like that gleam in his eyes.
"What's it for."
"Well it's kinda like a sword, so I guess it's for stabbing people," America snapped.
"So you want to explain to me," Prussia slung the musket over his shoulder and strolled in a tight circle around America, "Why you've been using it as a goddamned cooking utensil?"
America set his jaw. All his teeth on the left side ached. "Muskets also fire shot," he ground out. "That seems kinda more helpful to me than a sword."
"Oh, do they!" Prussia jammed the stock into America's gut, but it was just for punctuation: America's air flew out of him, but his ribs didn't break. "Let's have a little demonstration, then, what do you say? Grab your musket."
America limped to the fire and hoisted up his gun.
"Now, walk out to…I don't know, walk out to that last line of tents." Prussia gestured without looking.
"Then what?" America eyed the tents: about a hundred yards away.
"Then," A smile: glinting eyes and teeth. "You try to load up Bess there and shoot me before I stab you through the leg."
America stared at him, the musket held loose in his hands. Prussia grinned. A lurched breath later, "Are you fucking crazy? I'm not gonna try and shoot you!"
"Really?" Prussia started striding backwards. His boots struck loud on the frozen ground. "Not even when I start running at you with a fixed bayonet?"
"I still think I'll feel bad if I plug your chest with shot!"
"You're not gonna win too many wars with that attitude, kid!"
America grabbed his powder horn and his bag of musket balls, and he stomped off towards the tents, snarling under his breath. He gave a dispirited wave when he made it.
Prussia roared and charged.
And America realized--
Motherfucker, Prussia was serious--
America planted his musket between his feet and dumped gunpowder into the muzzle, spilled it across his fingers. Fuck, Prussia was closing in fast. Then the ball went in, and America shoved the iron rod down after it to tamp down the shot, crack, crack, oh, fuck, fuck, fuck, crack crack crack the rod rattled in the barrel and he--
Whipped it out and--
Prussia smashed the musket out of his hands before America could even raise it to his shoulder. He cried out, hit the side of the tent as he went down, and
--then he started screaming, both fists clenched against his thigh. Blood warmed his fingers.
Prussia pulled the bayonet out of America's leg and stood over him, his face cast in deep night grey. "What have we learned?"
"Fuck! Fuck fuck fuck fuck!"
"No. What we have learned is that the pointy end can provide an invaluable tactical advantage when the terrain allows for the distance between you and the enemy forces to be closed at a charge." Prussia whipped out a cloth from inside his coat and cleaned the bayonet.
America groaned and tipped onto his side. "I need a medic, God damn it!"
"It's not that deep," Prussia dismissed. "Actually, now might be a good opportunity for another lesson."
He crouched by America's head and grinned down at him.
"Do you know how to give yourself stitches?"
America hunched under a blanket by the fire. He glowered as Prussia dropped down on the log beside him with a satisfied sigh, two biscuits in his hand.
"Here." Prussia struck one in front of America's face.
"No thanks," America muttered. He winched the blanket tighter around his shoulders and ducked his head down.
"Don't be a horse's asshole, eat something."
America hesitated--a what?--but gingerly took the biscuit, and winced at a twinge from his thigh.
"So," Prussia munched. "Do you hate me yet?"
America wanted to say I'm working on it. Instead he dropped his head and grumbled, "No."
"No kidding?" Prussia braced his elbow on his knee, eyed America from wilted hair to muddy boots. "Why not?"
America shrugged, sullen, and stared at his biscuit.
"I'd fuckin' hate me, in your position. You're supposed to hate your drill instructor," Prussia reflected, and flicked his hair out of his face. "I mean, if there's one son of a bitch in the whole world you should want to corner in a dark alley and beat into summer preserves with a strip of old oak planking, it should be the guy who taught you how to be a soldier."
"You're just trying to help," America muttered, and felt himself blush. At this point, it was embarrassing not to hate Prussia.
"And fuck me, but do you need the help. I mean, when I first showed up in your camp, you know the first thing I thought?" Prussia wiped a mess of crumbs from the corner of his mouth, and chomped off another quarter of biscuit.
"That I was a dumb hick farmer with no dress code and a bad attitude?" America broke off a piece of biscuit and tossed it into the fire.
"I thought to myself, 'fuck, this kid was raised by England?' --And then I thought all the stuff about how you're a worthless hick with shit for brains," Prussia allowed. "But I mean, you didn't know which side of the hill to piss on, kid. What the hell happened? I know England's got a left hook that'll loosen up your teeth, and he's probably not pissing in his biscuits, either."
America shrugged and nibbled at his food. "England always did my fighting for me."
"Pansy," Prussia smirked.
He shot a glare up at the older nation. "Fuck you, what do you expect? We don't all start out as military states."
"All states are military states, kid. Some of us are just better at it." Prussia stretched his legs out in front of him and picked at his teeth with his pinky nail. "But you don't hate me, fine. Do you hate England?"
America opened his mouth, closed it. Looked at the fire. Looked at his biscuit. Looked back at the fire, as his eyebrows drew sharply together. "No, I don't hate England. I mean, maybe he hates me, now, but I don't--I mean, he raised me, you know? And he...and it's not like this changes--"
Prussia held up a hand to stop him. "I don't need to hear the whole fucking melodrama," he warned. "Family shit, really complicated, there's feelings involved, I get the picture. You gonna be able to shoot him?"
America winced. "I-I've shot at his troops, I mean, what--"
"That's not what I'm talking about."
America stared down at his boots. His hands were cold. "Yeah, I guess," he mumbled.
Prussia sat up and touched America's elbow. "Hey. Look at me."
America blinked, and did as he was told. Prussia's hand didn't feel cold.
Prussia watched him for long, slow seconds. He wet his lips. Quiet, firm, then: "Tell me you're going to be able to shoot England. If you have to."
"What do you care?" America's voice came out softer than he'd expected.
Prussia rolled his eyes and jerked his thumb in the direction of the camp. "What the fuck am I doing here if you don't have the balls to finish your own goddamned war?"
America flinched around the corners of his eyes. The line of his mouth trembled and hardened. "I don't really know what you're doing here in the first place, to be honest."
Prussia snorted. "Trust me, you don't want me to leave. England would tear you apart."
That was true. America didn't want him to leave. In spite of the bruised ribs, and the sutures.
"Listen. Just--listen." Prussia's hand was still on America's forearm. He watched his eyes. "You don't have to hate who you're fighting to win a war. It can make it easier, even, if it's just business, if you keep it all business."
America took a second to work the wet back into his mouth. "I'm fighting for something I believe in."
"Sure, whatever you say. But listen."
There was a silence. The fire crackled.
Prussia went on slowly. "You're a fucking amateur, all right? And you threw sand in the face of the most powerful empire in the world, and you put your dick on the chopping block to make it stick, and I can respect that. You're a suicidal dirt-herder, but you're not scared of a fight, even if that's just because you're too pig-ignorant to be scared. That's why I'm here. I want to see what you can make of yourself, kid."
America watched, listened, his fingers trembling in fists. He didn't know why.
"But no matter how much training you get, no matter how many friends you've got, you will lose this war if you're not ready to fight harder than he is." Prussia was serious. America had never seen him so serious. "If you're not willing to do what he won't do. Are you listening to me? Tell me something--do you think England would shoot you? Not clip you, not thrash you, not rip the gun out of your hands and break every insolent bone in your body for what you put him through; do you think he'd stand in front of you, level his musket, and deliberately shoot you to win this war?"
America stared at Prussia, transfixed, and heard himself say, "I don't know."
Prussia tapped his sleeve. "But would you shoot him?"
America's lips parted.
"To win the war?"
"Yeah," he said, quiet. "I would. I guess I really would."
Prussia nodded, and let him go. "Then you'll win. Sooner or later. That's just how this works."
He shoved off the log, slapped the grit off his hands onto his thighs, and moved off past the fire towards the tents. America watched him go.
"Just finish your fucking training, Jesus. Do what I tell you! Bayonets! Drill and discipline!"
Bayonets, drill and discipline.
"And quit fucking whining about everything! How fucking hard is it to cauterize a wound, you leaky-eyed mama's girl, you'd think I'd asked you to cut off an arm..." Prussia's voice faded into the camp.
America felt himself smile, tiny and inexplicable.
He'd be laid up for a day, maybe two or three days. Limping around on a crutch. But then it'd be back to training. More bruised ribs, new scars, and getting shouted at in two or three different languages, like Prussia was looking for one that would finally stick.
Thank God he was here. That was all America could think, as he eased himself closer to the fire. Thank Christ Prussia was here.
--Baron von Steuben was a Prussian aristocrat who served as Inspector General of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, and more or less taught them how to be a, you know, an army. Military drill, discipline, conduct, camp layout, bayonet training--the works. And the Americans needed it. He was famous for shouting to his interpreter, "Here! Curse at them in their own language!"
Perhaps unsurprisingly, he isn't remembered as warmly by modern Americans as say, Lafayette, for whom we retain an enormous boner (despite our frequent ambivalence towards the French), but he was a big help, and he taught the Continental Army how to not urinate in the middle of their own camp, so give him some love.