[weirdAU] Under the Apricot Tree
Fandom: Latin Hetalia.
Characters: Perú (Miguel)/fem!Chile (Manuela).
Comments: .. I don't know what the hell is this, I've been working on this crap since forever. It's based on the novel "Never Let Me Go" but it's... idk different, I just played a lot with the universe, I guess. I hope you guys like it, it gave me a headache.
Summary: Miguel is the boy with the spark in his eyes and Manuela is the girl who wishes she hated him.
In the afternoon sun and despite the heat of the summer, Manuela takes a seat among the apricot trees, a well-kept fruit hidden underneath her clothes. She bites into the sugary fruit with growing hunger, frowning as soon as the juice runs through her fingers, most of it slipping and making its way down her arms. Her face is sticky and her lips are smeared with pulp, but as much as she’s displeased she can’t help but enjoy the sweetness, closing her eyes as the sugar lifts her mood.
She watches the landscape from her refuge under the apricot tree as the boys play soccer and roll around on the grass, shouting and running and breathing hard as if the heat hasn’t done a thing to their heads. Only one of them notices Manuela laying under the tree.
And he’s the only one who looks right back at her, as the boarding school’s building stands tall and high behind them, as kids run in sweaty uniforms and the breeze makes the leaves on the apricot trees dance.
That’s the boy with the spark on his eyes and the sweetest smile, you see, even sweeter than Manuela’s precious apricots. She has been watching him from afar since they were too small to know big words, since she didn’t even know how to put into words what kind of admiration she felt.
(She still doesn’t know how.)
And then, annoyance gets the best of her when Miguel kicks a ball that hits her head, making her drop her snack on the ground, interrupting her quiet session of pondering. She glares at him with a vengeance, so much, that if looks could kill, Miguel would be bleeding on the floor and begging for mercy already. He laughs it as a silly accident, lightly apologizes to her and goes back to playing after picking up the ball.
He’s so inconsiderate.
He doesn’t even notice her.
She’s not sure if he even knows her name.
(She wishes she could hate the spark in his eyes.)
It started in September when the leaves began to dress in bright, green colors again and the dust in the air made Manuela sneeze and sneeze-- again and again, so loud she would scare away the chirping birds and the working bees. She remembered very well that, at the middle of their class, Miguel barged into the classroom after returning from a trip to the bathroom, and gathered all of their classmates in a small circle around him, trying to tell them about what he saw while he was out of class. Everyone listened to him and his tale about giant butterflies and their vibrant colors. Everyone except for Manuela, who at that moment, was doing a presentation about how much she liked cats. She pouted, standing in front of the classroom while her teacher tried to put order among the kids, to no avail, because Miguel started doing weird noises and flailing as he tried to imitate the natural behavior of a butterfly.
“I was talking,” said Manuela, in the most polite way she knew. “If you would stay silent so I can finish my presentation, I’d be very grateful.”
But Miguel didn’t hear her or see her, nor did the other kids. And so, Manuela decided that she despised him greatly, with all of her young heart and spirit. She begun a campaign of ignoring him and belittling him through their childhood, a thing that Miguel didn’t understand even if his friends tried to explain it to him with pictures. He barely knew her name and she seemed to wrinkle her nose at the mere sight of his person. And it got worse as soon as they were assigned as table partners at art classes.
Rumors said it was because of her, the lady who collected art pieces. She came into the classroom one day, in the middle of them painting with their fingers. Her heels clicked against the floor and she had a kind, warm smile that soothed them enough to calm down their childish curiosity. With her sweet voice, she announced she would pick up the best artworks and take them to her art gallery, which would make them famous and recognized. The kids around the room stared at her in awe and quickly begun to craft the best things they could do, they put so much care and soul into their works that their teachers just stared at them with an approving smile and a small sense of satisfaction at seeing them work in silence.
At the end of the hour, everyone had finished something. But Manuela was the exception.
She did nothing.
She stared and stared, and stared some more at a blank piece of paper until she grew tired of trying to picture her thoughts, until she realized that lines and dots and colors would not convey the message she wished to share. And she held back tears of shame when the lady approached her and asked her why didn’t she paint something, why didn’t she produce something like the rest of her classmates. Manuela replied with a quiet voice, she said she didn’t know how to paint and the lady just smiled at her, patted her head and passed to the next kid, as Manuela felt the disappointment in her, the disappointment she planted on every person. She was dismissed because she couldn’t deliver her message and so, she was dismissed for being useless.
And the lump in her throat grew as Miguel was praised behind her, praised and admired for the beautiful sunset he painted. A beautiful sunset in warm orange, with a big sun that seemed to come out from the picture and apricot trees that seemed to shake with the wind. He put so much life into his art, so much of himself, that the sun he painted seemed to share the spark he had on his eyes.
Manuela looked at him out of the corner of her eye and felt how envy rose up from her throat. She kept her tears for herself, that one time.
She decided she hated art as well.
There are things that keep Manuela awake at night. She wonders about the existence of her parents, of everyone’s parents. She wonders why, if they are all orphaned, live in such a prestigious school that looks so very expensive. She wonders why they aren’t allowed out of the school’s property at least once, why can’t they see the rest of the world? Why can’t they venture into the forest, why aren’t they taken into excursions? But, most of the time, she wonders about what will happen in the future, about what kind of person she will be when she grows up and gets out from the boarding school. If her assumptions are correct, she will be inexperienced and sheltered and she’ll probably get lost in the big city. She’ll be awkward around strangers and ignorant of so many things she could have learned have not she lived in such a closed environment during her whole life.
She wonders and she feels scared of what awaits her, the chance of experiencing mockery and ridicule making her skin crawl. And, what about college?
People at the school don’t talk about college. They don’t talk about careers or jobs or families, they don’t talk about the future. It’s like everyone lives an eternal present and Manuela is standing outside of it. She doesn’t want to get stuck with them, she doesn’t want to live in the present forever.
Sometimes she’s so scared of being the only one who feels like that, she hides under her blankets at night and whispers all the things she wants to live and see and touch and hear and taste once she gets out of there. And then she writes them, so she can keep them in her memory and never forget about them.
(She wants to dance a valse, maybe, and she wants to eat mangoes and avocados and she wants to listen to a clarinet, and she wants to read poems from all over the world, and she wants to see the ocean and feel the breeze hitting her face and for the sea foam to make her breath salt and water. She wants so many things.)
And it all dies, all her dreams, all of her hopes. It all dies the day the new teacher steps up in classes, breaks down in a mass of tears and tells them the truth.
They’re just copies.
All of them.
Copies of someone else’s DNA, they are a bunch of lies that the scientific community decided to harvest, raise and educate for the greater purpose of curing the illnesses ‘real people’ suffer. Their teacher was one of the few people involved in the project that couldn’t stand such truth and she breaks and lets every single detail of it slip from her lips, at the middle of a grammar lesson, as every single kid in the classroom stares at her in silent horror.
When she finishes, the silence continues and some of them are actually crying. Not Miguel, though.
He takes off one of his shoes, calls their teacher a liar, and throws it at the writing board with a kind of rage that Manuela has never seen in him before. The feeling is so raw that Miguel actually feels as if he were burning inside. And Manuela is scared of him, she’s scared for him. She doesn’t want to see him explode, not as long as the spark in his eyes exists.
So she leaves her chair and stands up close to him and holds one of his fists in his hand, her heart pounding behind her ribs and her throat sore from the lump that has taken over it. She presses her fingers against Miguel’s fist and steps away after a few minutes when he bats her away and runs away from the classroom.
She doesn’t go after him.
They weren’t born, they were made. They own their very existence to scientifics all over the world.
Their life has one purpose, and that purpose is to grow healthy until the time they are considered ready to donate. Until they reach the age in which they are apt to give all of them to real people, people who have been waiting for a chance to recover a healthy life through them.
They are not human.
Miguel watches as quiet resignation settles on Manuela’s eyes, as if she always knew they were trapped in an alleyway with no way out. He watches her exist, her presence always so silent, a pen always in her hand, lips always sealed.
She angers him.
She doesn’t cry like the other girls.
She doesn’t fear the future like the other kids.
She doesn’t retaliate against their caretakers like everybody else.
She stands still and writes, and pays attention to their lessons, and continues to do her homework, and eats apricots under the trees. She doesn’t fight, she doesn’t scream, she doesn’t kick and bite.
Her graceless surrender makes him feel sick.
As soon as they are seventeen they get sent to a farm and Manuela knows she won’t be seeing her classmates again, with the sole exception of Miguel who has been assigned as his housemate. They receive specific instructions and a set of rules that applies the same for both of them.
They can’t leave the farm.
They must complete all of the task assigned to them by the farm’s owner and obey their schedule.
They aren’t allowed to go out on their own until after the procedures begin.
And that’s the part where Manuela closes her brochure and stares at the window, as she sits on the back of a van and Miguel sleeps at her side, tired from the car trip that doesn’t seem to finish. She thinks about the reason she’s going to another place, about the different kind of life they are going to lead. She thinks about the procedures and how they were carefully explained to them.
They will go under three different procedures, in order to donate three different organs. After being done with them, they are free to go wherever they go. But, because of the way their organisms work and without some of their vital organs, they aren’t expected to live a long life.
It makes her want to puke, thinking about empty spaces inside her body.
Little black holes.
(And when they arrive to the farm and she’s alone in her bed, she pictures this: a little piece of her being ripped from her womb, a little piece of her being ripped from her chest, a little piece of her being ripped from her head, a little bit of everything and then she dies.)
In the farm, they get up at five o'clock in the morning from Monday to Friday and with loud sighs and some tears, they work up some willpower to get their respective tasks done. Once they are finished, the owner of the farm lets them do as they please and that’s when they finally, finally meet for real. It’s in the afternoon, when the sun hovers so lazy over them and they lie on the grass between the bushes, watching as a family of ducks crosses a little lake near them.
“You don’t talk a lot, don’t you?” Manuela hears him say and turns around to see him, as they are eye to eye with their back on the grass.
“No, I don’t, I don’t have anything to say, so I don’t”
He makes a little gesture and then he yawns.
“You were always so boring and stuck up”
Manuela blinks and sits with a brusque movement, surprised.
“You heard me” Miguel says as he also sits. “I know you hated me, back in school. And I thought you were boring and stuck up and you don’t even talk so I still think that.”
As the words leave Miguel’s mouth, Manuela feels a sudden burst of anger, strong as a wave, strong as she hasn’t feel in a long time. Few things make her so angry, but Miguel is the top one.
(He always make her stomach coil with silent rage.)
“And you are a stupid twat” Manuela snaps right back at him. “You are a stupid boy with nothing but air on his head and I’m so fucking tired of watching you being all so carefree and dumb.”
“Oh, so, how should I behave, uh?” Miguel feels his fists tremble and bites his lips with anger, staring into Manuela’s firm eyes. “Should I be bitter like you? Should I give up like you?”
“You should give up.”
And there’s silence. Miguel holds back a breath as she stands up in front of him.
“There’s no way out, you stupid little shit” Manuela says and her voice hurts and her head hurts and her body hurts. “Our only way out is fucking death and we are heading straight into that. We are going to die and no one is going to give a fuck about us because we are not even real people. Why do you think they dressed us and feed us and educated us? Why do you think?”
Miguel, who can’t rip his eyes off from Manuela’s face, and the little quiet tears that hide in her eyes, shakes his head.
“It’s because we look like them but we are not like them. And they feel guilty.”
She laughs and it’s such a sad noise and Miguel knows everything she says it’s true, but he has been denying it for so long now, he can’t go back and surrender.
“That’s a bunch of crap, but you shouldn’t give up because of it” Miguel stands on his own two feet, carefully walks towards her and grabs her hands with a shaky pulse and her eyes find his and they are back to the place with the apricot trees and the sun and maybe, just maybe, a little smile and a little whisper and fingers that touched by accident under the table more than once.
“Okay, so we’re stuck” Miguel touches her cheeks and they feel warm against his skin, and she closes her eyes and lets him do as he pleases, because she can’t remember the last time someone touched her with so much care. “You make me mad and I annoy you but the truth is, we are in this together so we should take what little we have and make it into something way more cooler than this.”
To his surprise, she smiles.
(And it’s one of the prettiest things he has seen, even if he hasn’t seen a lot of things.)
(Her nose touches his and she feels the warm of his breath.)
“Where do we start?”
They go to the crop fields and run and Miguel shouts and scares the birds away as Manuela dances around the tall grass until she falls on her back while Miguel laughs at her. They wait until their curfew is over and go to the little lake in their tip toes and their smile at their own secrets as they swim while the ducks sleep. Miguel climbs a tree and throws at orange at her, a prize Manuela does not catch because it hits her in the head and leaves a big, purple mark on her skin.
(Afterwards, Miguel apologizes at her and kisses her forehead and Manuela calls him stupid but her face is all red, red, red.)
They feed a lamb with a bottle of milk and tuck him into bed in a pile of hay, moved by the way the little animal seems to follow them around with an endless amount of love. They steal a loaf of bread and hide behind the bushes as they eat it with butter.
Manuela receives a flask of jam and her lips and her nose and her fingers get so sweet, with red jam all over her and the sweet smell of berries, and the red covering her face and making her skin look strangely beautiful, and----
Miguel kisses her and tastes raspberries on her mouth and doesn’t even mind the sticky fingers on his nape.
He pictures this:
A little home in a nice street, surrounded by other little houses. It has a pretty garden, with all kind of flowers and trees and even a swing the same color as the baby carriage located next to the entrance door. And the walls are blue, just like Manuela’s favorite dress, because blue looks beautiful on her and she looks beautiful in blue.
A little home with big open windows and cream coloured curtains, and a little girl sitting on the porch as Manuela writes in her little notebook and he bakes a big cake for them, dancing around the kitchen.
(And when he paints it, it feels real.)
He sneaks into Manuela’s bedroom on a stormy night and feels his heart race when he sees she’s already waiting for him, sitting on her bed. Her eyes are dark with her rich brown, as dark as the soil and her camisole is like a ghost against her skin. He hovers over there and kisses her fully on the lips as she rubs his back, her hand going up and down on his skin. She feels cold against his fingertips, as cold as glass but strong as metal.
His lips are soft and she’s even softer and he feels butterflies inside of him, when he kisses her breasts and she moans so low, so softly. She asks him to stay and he seeps into her, and the warmth of her walls closes around him and he thinks he’ll go mad. His forehead rests against her as they kiss, open mouthed and messy and maybe just a little bit sloppy.
And he surrounds her with his arms and promises her he’ll stay, promises he’ll never let her go, promises to chase her around whenever she wants to go. Promises, and promises as he comes inside of her and nestles his nose on her neck, as she kisses the top of his head and whispers a quiet you promised.
As the cold comes back, slowly, calmly, and the leaves dress in brown again, Miguel rests a hand on Manuela’s waist and kisses the blue of her dress just above her chest, just above her beating heart.
(She smiles at him and runs a hand through his hair and he knows he’s already lost.)
Autumn is Miguel least favorite season. And he sadly confirms it when he gets called for his first procedure and Manuela hides his face from him because she doesn’t want to cry. He kisses her hand as they prepare him for surgery and promises her to come back.
“I’ll hate you again if you don’t come back.”
Miguel laughs and later, when the anaesthesia takes over him as he closes his eyes, when they cut him open and take away a perfectly healthy kidney from him, when he wakes up in a cold room, surrounded by machines and numb because of the pain meds, he has a realization.
She never hated him.
Manuela nurses him back to health and he recovers enough to be in time for her first procedure. He holds her hand as they take him away and then holds her hand as he waits for her to wake up. And his heart stops when she looks at him, so lost and so tired and so fucking weak she can’t even keep her eyes open, with her skin devoid of all color, with her fingers lazily clinging to his hand.
It scares him how weak she is, as the days pass and she doesn’t seem to regain her health like he did. She barely talks, she doesn’t write anymore and she wants to look at him but her eyelids betray her every time.
In the night, he rests his head against her side, on the bed, and prays for a miracle.
And it comes in the shape of the sad girl who shares the room with Manuela, a tiny lady that looks at them with pity even as she agonizes, and calls Miguel to his side one morning while Manuela is fast asleep.
“You are in love.”
Miguel is quiet as she starts to speak, the delicate tremor of her voice showing how far away she already is.
“We went to school together, remember?” She asks and Miguel feels a tingle of shame, because he doesn’t remember her, but nods at her anyway. “Do you remember the woman who came to our art classes?”
Miguel ponders a while, scratching his neck as he thinks.
“The one who owned an art gallery?”
“That one” She smiles and nods with approval. “Go to her, show her your art, prove to her that you and your girl are in love. If you do that, you and your girl will be given freedom for the rest of what little you both have left.”
There are birds chirping outside and the beeping noises of different kind of machines, but all Miguel can hear is the violent sound of his heart trying to get out of his chest with excitement and, for the first time since the night Manuela and him went to bed together, he feels hopeful and full of energy.
Manuela is barely able to walk and her side hurts like hell, but she lets Miguel take her to a cab and nestles her head on his shoulder as they sit together in there, while Miguel holds a canvas covered in brown paper and chatters with the driver, the endless sound of his voice making her feel sleepy. They bid their goodbyes to the man and arrive to a big colonial house, where they see an old lady watering the plants in the garden.
“Is it here?” Manuela asks, as Miguel puts an arm around her shoulders to keep her warm, as they both try to take shelter against the strong wind. He nods and shows her the page he ripped from the phonebook.
“Come on, trust me, I know what I’m doing” Miguel smiles charmingly at her and pats the canvas under his arm. “This one is going to blow up her mind, really. You’ve got your poems with you, right?”
She looks down and search for her little notebook in her bag. When she finds it, she hands it to Miguel and smiles softly when he kisses her forehead. “Good girl, let’s go.”
He holds her hand and pulls her around as they cross the street, reaching the front gate of the house in a couple of minutes. The old lady in the garden squints at them and, after a few seconds, she recognizes at least him.
“You are Miguel Prado” She smiles at them as she tends to her flowers. “I remember your paintings. Very vivid, very realistic. As soft as Monet’s.”
Miguel blushes a little, scratching his ear, and Manuela rolls her eyes with moderate jealousy. He clears his throat and hands the painting and the notebook to the lady. She stares at them, visibly confused, waiting for them to explain themselves.
“We know” Manuela breaks the silence, her voice shaking with nervousness. “Someone told us why did you collect our artworks at school. We are here to prove to you that we are in love.”
Miguel nods enthusiastically as he uncovers the canvas and as soon as Manuela sees the painting, her breath catches with surprise. There she sees a blue house with a beautiful garden, her sitting in the porch with a little girl at her side and Miguel inside the house, visible through the window. The colors are so vivid and every little detail shows so much care, Manuela’s eyes water up a little--- and when she raises her head and sees the expression in the lady’s eyes, she knows that the beautiful beautiful scenario of that painting will never be true.
“I’m sorry” She says, her eyes sad. “I’m sorry, the program was shut down so many years ago... I needed your art to prove to the scientific community that you had souls--- but nobody wanted to know.”
(Her back feels cold.)
Miguel screams and kicks a garbage can and shouts and almost gets run over by a car in the middle of the street.
Manuela stares at the sky with a lump in her throat.
And then she faints.
“I want to go to the beach” Manuela whispers, cheeks red with fever, as pale as milk. “Take me to the beach, don’t be lazy.”
“There aren’t any beaches near here” Miguel sighs, as he puts another wet cloth on Manuela’s forehead and rubs her hands, trying to warm her up. “And you are way too sick, you dumbass.”
“Don’t be stupid, we’ll take the train” Manuel says, her voice raspy and low, as she raises a hand to caress Miguel’s cheek. “Take me to Valparaiso.”
“Come on” She laughs. “I know you want to see the murals.”
He can’t say no that.
Valparaiso is colorful and rich, filled with music and life and completely different to everything they have seen growing up. There are paintings and colors and stories everywhere, as Miguel touches the lines on the walls and Manuela whispers poem after poem.
They rent a little room in the center of the city and go to bed early in the night, so they can visit the beach the day after.
In the darkness, Miguel holds Manuela by the waist and she hides her nose in his neck. He laughs when she says she misses having sex and stays silent when she proposes they should do it again.
“I didn’t count the times” She says, softly, as Miguel kisses her belly and runs his hands over her legs.
“You are not supposed to” He jokes and then he is inside of her, so close and so warm. And his lips finds hers and he knows that’s the best feeling in the world, being inside of her, being so close to her.
She whispers a thank you that night.
This is what he pictures:
Manuela in blue, beautiful in her blue dress, a white cardigan covering her back and shoulders. Manuela, with her short hair messy thanks to the wind, a soft smile in her pale lips, her arms wide open as she stands in front of the ocean.
And so, each time he closes his eyes, he pictures that girl.
(And not the one closed her eyes in a room in Valparaiso, not the girl who went to sleep in his arms and never woke up.)
Miguel stands under the apricot tree and kills time until his appointment for his second procedure. He kills time, and hopes, and dreams and little blue houses---- but he keeps the girl in the blue dress.
Because one day, he’ll see her again.
He’ll see her under that same apricot tree, with juice dripping through her fingers and a scowl on her face.
And he’ll take her to Valparaiso again.
And he’ll give her their little girl.
(And he’ll paint her words with a smile and she’ll wear her white cardigan and walk on the sand.)