|To The Dawn
Author: Zalia Chimera PM
Matthew arrives in England at the height of the Blitz to give his military support to the embattled country, and his personal support to Arthur.Rated: Fiction T - English - Hurt/Comfort - Canada & England/Britain - Words: 5,879 - Reviews: 8 - Favs: 56 - Follows: 6 - Published: 01-29-11 - Status: Complete - id: 6697529
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Title: To the Dawn
Author: Zalia Chimera
Characters: Canada, England (with appearances by Poland, Netherlands, Belgium and Australia)
Pairing: Potential Canada/England
Summary: Matthew arrives in England at the height of the Blitz to give his military support to the embattled country, and his personal support to Arthur.
It was agonising waiting for the ship to dock, almost as agonising as the weeks spent worrying as it crossed the Atlantic, waiting for every communication, dreading them in case their ship was one of the unlucky ones. But at least it was here now, and the worst that he could do was trip on the way down the gangplank. At least there would be no more sleepless nights, no more nightmares and wondering what Germany would do if he captured the personification of a Nation that he hadn't yet invaded. It didn't bear thinking about.
It took far far too long for people to start disembarking, but to his relief, Matthew was one of the first off the ship. He hefted his trunk onto his shoulder more securely and made his way through the crowd which parted like water before him. No-one seemed to notice him, but they moved all the same.
"Arthur!" he called, once he spotted the other Nation amongst the dock workers and military men who had come to greet the ship. He hurried towards him, dropping his duffel bag and pulling Arthur into a tight hug. Arthur winced but hugged back, and God, Arthur felt small these days. He didn't like it. The cane in Arthur's hand was new as well, and equally unwelcome.
Arthur stepped back finally, resting the hand not gripping the cane on Matthew's shoulders and looking him over carefully. "It is good to see you," he said genuinely, a smile curling the edges of his lips. "How was your trip?"
"We made good time," Matthew said. "Nothing to report, thankfully, no matter how many times I thought I heard things."
"Good," Arthur replied. "I'm glad for that." He glanced over towards one of the side streets, then back at Matthew. "I have a car waiting to take us to my house. Ah, if you don't have other accommodation prepared, of course," he added carefully, not looking at Matthew. It was a politeness that Matthew was certain he would never get used to from his former colonial master.
Matthew shook his head emphatically. "I would like to stay with you." That's why I'm here.
It made that smile return to Arthur's lips for a fleeting moment and he gestured to the street, starting to guide Matthew in that direction of the sleek official car that was waiting for them, complete with driver in dress uniform.
"You normally drive yourself," Matthew said quietly as they climbed into the vehicle, giving Arthur a concerned look. He was normally fiercely independent, even in the face of government decrees.
Arthur shrugged, giving a short, bitter bark of laughter as he set his cane to one side. He stretched out his leg, wincing at the movement. "They will not let me drive," he said sourly. "They think that if a single bomb drops anywhere in the country, I'll crash. They're loathe to let me leave the house." He huffed, kneading his knuckles against his thigh. "Defending the country is all well and good but I hadn't expected it to include an attempt to keep the country under virtual house arrest."
The car started up and Matthew grimaced at the news. "Have you spoken to them?" he asked hesitantly, still a little uncertain about questioning Arthur. It hadn't been so long since he had been granted independence, and he still fought under the British flag. Still, he worried. Arthur had always hated being cooped up. Matthew well remembered the winter when Arthur had been forced to winter in Canada after being caught with Matthew in a trapping lodge by a particularly violent snowstorm.
"Told 'em that I fought at Waterloo and in the trenches alongside my men and I wasn't about to let them go off to die for a cause I couldn't fight for myself. It shut them up a little, but they still have people on at me every time I look in less than perfect health." He gave a wry smile. "As you can imagine, that means they're always on at me when I feel like a crippled old man."
He pulled a silver cigarette case from inside a pocket and offered it to Matthew. Matthew ducked his head in thanks and took one, rolling it between his fingers before putting it to his lip. Arthur did the same, grinned at Matthew around it and held out the light. Matthew lit his and took a long drag, watching Arthur mirror him.
"Ah, that feels good," Arthur said, exhaling a plume of smoke and closing his eyes in near bliss. "Not as good quality as I'd prefer, but small pleasures are the best that I can hope for at the moment."
There was something fundamentally wrong about hearing Arthur speak like that, when Matthew could remember so clearly, Arthur draped in exotic silks and brocade, only the finest alcohol and tobacco passing his lips, every luxury accorded to him. This talk of making do and small pleasures was a throwback to the last war and something that Matthew had hoped never to hear again. Not that he would say it out loud to Arthur at least. Arthur's pride would never change.
Matthew pushed down the car window, tapping the ash from the end of his cigarette, turning his face aside to hide his discomfort. "How have things been since I was here last?" he asks, a little hesitant because nothing Arthur can say will be good. He had read the reports from his boss, of course, and he talked as often as he could to Arthur, but he had been preoccupied. War money didn't just raise itself.
"As well as can be expected," Arthur said, and Matthew might have thought that his tone was jovial had he not recognised the bitterness beneath the seemingly light tone. "We're keeping them at bay. Germany won't beat my air force."
Matthew stifled a grimace at the depersonalisation of his words. Germany was just a country now, a landmass. Germany's people just 'the enemy' and nothing more. They couldn't afford to think of them as more than that, but it still made something twist in the pit of his stomach when he thought about it. "But the bombs still fall," Matthew murmured.
Arthur's hands were shaking. It wasn't difficult to tell.
"Aye, lad, that they do," Arthur replied, raising the cigarette to his lips, the cherry of the tip flaring brightly for a second as he took a drag. "They're trying to break me, but my people are standing fast."
"Of course," Matthew agreed, not wanting to contemplate what would happen if they did manage to shatter England's indomitable spirit. "And mine are standing right next to you," he added, before flushing slightly at his own forwardness. "Metaphorically speaking of course." There was a limited amount that he could do when he was so far across the ocean and the U-boats were prowling the Atlantic.
He started when a hand touched his knee lightly, and when he turned, Arthur was looking at him with a sad, fond expression. "You are always standing next to me, Matthew... Canada. Your support means the world to me."
Matthew flushed brightly, looking down at his knees as though they were the most interesting thing in the world. Arthur was still touching him. He wasn't used to hearing his other name, his real name said like that, like it mattered. "I know that I'm not Alfred," he said, his voice hoarse. "I can only do so much. I can only give so much. I'm not the powerhouse that he is." Oh, but he wishes that he were, that he could win this war for Arthur and for England.
"I won't deny that I do wish he would join us,"Arthur admitted grudgingly. "He has the resources as the strength and I..." Arthur looked away as though ashamed. "I lack both these days. I'm not what I once was." He was silent for a moment before looking back at Matthew and tilting his chin up, forcing him to meet Arthur's intent gaze. "But you are here," he said firmly, "you have always been here for me, giving me your support, even when I haven't deserved it. And you have come, even though you didn't have to. I know that this is a distant war for you, and yet you have been here, defending me while I rebuild my forces. You and yours have braved the oceans to supply me. Don't put yourself down my boy."
He sounded so earnest, so certain, that for that moment at least, Matthew couldn't help but believe him, and even if he would probably be forgotten again when (if) his brother joined the war, those words were enough to make him think that fighting for England all those years was something that he could be proud of. He smiled, hoping that it conveyed the confidence and strength that he often doubted he possessed.
Arthur nodded approvingly and then stubbed out his cigarette against the silver tip of his cane. He pinched out the little bit of remaining tobacco at the end of it to add to his pouch, before he sprawled out on the seat, legs stretched out in front of him. He looked tired to Matthew. He looked old.
Looking out of the window at the ruined buildings, the shells of bombed out houses, Matthew found himself unsurprised at Arthur's appearance. He couldn't help but be glad that his own people were safe across the ocean and would probably never have to experience this. It make him feel terribly selfish when Arthur looked so worn, but what Nation didn't want to protect its people above all else? Bosses might go mad or just not care, but a Nation was every one of it's people, and Matthew thought that wanting to protect their people was something that was hard-wired into them.
"Are we going to London?" Matthew asked after a few moments of uncomfortable silence.
Arthur shook his head, his gaze fixed on the passing landscape outside the window. "No. My country house. It's deemed safer that I stay outside London as much as possible. Me and those staying with me." He scowled, the familiar hint of fire burning in his eyes. "As though I need to be coddled like a child."
Matthew perked up at the mention of house-guests, giving Arthur a hopeful look. "Guests? Have you fo-"
"No." Arthur cut him off before he could even say the name. Matthew felt his heart sink to somewhere near his feet. His face fell. Arthur sighed, running a hand through his choppy hair. "No-one has seen hide nor hair of Francis since his country capitulated officially." He could deny it all he wanted, but Matthew could hear the worry over their missing ally in his voice.
"No-one at all?" he asked. He wasn't expecting much, but surely there must have been someone who had heard from him!
"Probably Germany, but he's hardly about to telephone me and tell me where he's holding Francis." He paused, shaking his head. "If my fears are right though, then he'd been taken to berline. Or worse."
Matthew winced at the implication. "Don't say that."
"I have to," Arthur said firmly. "I have to think the worst so I can prepare for it."
There was a pregnant pause, and when he spoke again, it was quieter, almost hesitant. It wasn't anything that Matthew was used to hearing from him. "You'll take care of them, won't you Matthew?" he asked, and Matthew gave him a confused look. "My boss, I mean," Arthur explained. "My boss and the royal family and whichever of my people manage to escape if I fall." He sounded so vulnerable and Matthew hated it.
"You're talking as though you're preparing to admit defeat already," Matthew replied, a touch of reproach in his voice, something that he had never dared to display before, certainly not towards Arthur.
Arthur looked grim, his earlier dismissive confidence evaporated. "They're training a second army here, you know? In case of an invasion. Training civilians to sabotage and assassinate. There are evacuation plans in place so that we can keep fighting from overseas. I have to think about it."
Matthew sighed and curled up a little in his seat, wishing that he had Kumajirou with him to hold onto and hide his face against. "Of course I'll take care of them," he said, barely above a whisper.
Arthur squeezed his shoulder in thanks, an the rest of the journey passed in silence.
They reached Arthur's house a little after dark. It wasn't the sweeping country estate that he had once claimed, but a handsome stone house on the outskirts of a small village. It looked like everyone who had ever lived there had added some extension or addition, all without bothering to match styles or materials. Matthew thought that it rather suited Arthur.
There was a tall figure standing outside the front door when they pulled up. He was leaned against the porch support, smoking a long pipe. He looked up as the car approached, and tapped out his pipe against the door-jamb.
"Netherlands," Arthur murmured, and Canada nodded in response. He was still feeling his way through the minefield of international relations, and Europe was so fragmented that it was difficult to keep track of at times. Even though he was raised by Arthur and Francis, he couldn't help but find Europeans a little strange. "He's here with his Queen and government-in-exile," Arthur added.
"I guessed," Matthew said, a sad little smile curving his lips. "Your house is full now," he added as the car drew to a stop.
Arthur gripped the head of his cane hard, enough to make his knuckles turn white. He didn't turn to face Matthew as he turned to climb out of the car. "I never wanted it to happen this way."
It felt a little like a punch to the gut, and Canada instantly felt bad for saying it.
Arthur was already conversing quietly with Netherlands when Matthew stepped out onto the gravel. Netherlands gave him a cursory look, while Arthur just smiled and gestured for him to go inside.
The light that streamed out of the house was welcome after the darkness of the blackout. It was a little eerie seeing so many houses with completely dark windows. The driver dropped his trunk just inside the front door, and Matthew thanked him before heading towards the kitchen, from where he could hear voices. The kitchen had always been his favourite room in any of Arthur's houses. They were always warm and cosy and practically the only place where Arthur had let down his guard a little around his young colonies. Eating a few of Arthur's scones was a small price to pay in Matthew's opinion.
It looked cosy and comfortable right now, filled with life and light, but Matthew had only a moment to appreciate it before he was tackled into a hug from behind. He only just managed to keep his balance.
"Took your time, Mattie," James said, as he tried his best to manoeuvre Matthew into a headlock.
Matthew managed to struggle free, gasping and laughing as he extricated himself from the Australian's grip. "Some of us had work to do," he said primly, earning himself a punch on the shoulder that might have been painful if he hadn't been so used to his brother's strength.
James slung an arm around his shoulder and dragged him towards the kitchen and the table where several other Nations were gathered. Marie he recognised easily enough. He'd met her during the previous war, the fields of Belgium torn up with trenches. She swept him up into a hug and kissed both of his cheeks, speaking in rapid French. "Mathieu! It is good to see you safe!"
"Ah, thank you! It is good to see you again," Matthew replied, hugging her close for a moment and pretending that he couldn't feel how her clothes hung off her body far more than they should have. "I'm glad that you're..." He trailed off, because really, what could he possibly say? She was here because her country had been invaded by Germany.
She gave a weak smile and squeezed him tightly for a moment. "I know."
She released him and stepped back, leaving him to look over the others who were gathered. He'd known that there were several governments-in-exile operating from London, but it was one thing to know it, and another thing entirely to be faced with some of the displaced Nations sat around a kitchen table.
There was food laid out, meagre even considering the rationing, because what Nation would feast while their people starved, even if they had doubtless been assigned far more than was normal? Matthew suddenly felt rather bad for having hoped there would be food. His people, the majority of them, were safe across the ocean, well fed and content.
He found himself pushed insistently into a seat with a plate in front of him anyway. Feliks looked gaunt, with dark rings around his eyes, but he grinned at Matthew who soon found his plate full of bread and some dumpling things that he didn't recognise, but that smelled really good. "Eat up! You look like you totally need it."
Matthew looked unhappily at the food. "I know that things are sca-"
"Like, we don't care," Feliks said, rolling his eyes. He leaned down, elbows on the table, to peer into Matthew's eyes. "You're hungry, you're going to eat. Polish hospitality. I'm like, honour bound to feed you."
"Speak for yourself," an amused voice said from the doorway, "but if there isn't anything left for me then I really will care and fuck Polish hospitality." Matthew glanced over to see Netherlands (he thought that he remembered someone calling him William at one of the interminable meetings he had to attend now) stepping inside, followed by a rather harried looking Arthur. He sat down at the head of the table and Matthew could almost see Arthur seethe, but he remained silent and standing, leaning back against the oak dresser, even as Feliks pressed a plate into his hands. That seemed to be some kind of signal to start, everyone filling their plates with what there was. There wasn't a lot, nothing like the grand spreads that Matthew was used to from Arthur, but it was filling, hearty food and was finished far too soon.
"I brought some things with me," Matthew said shyly once they were all done, not even a crumb remaining.
"Oooh? Like, go and fetch them!" Feliks said, peering over at him with some interest. The others too were looking at him curiously. He supposed that any change from the norm was something of a relief.
Matthew nodded quickly, flashing a smile as he headed out into the hallway to root around in his trunk. He drew out a tin box from the depths beneath his spare dress shirt and headed back into the kitchen.
"I know that some things are hard to get hold of right now," he said as he set the box down on the kitchen table, "so I brought them with me."
There was chocolate and cocoa in there, and coffee, all heavily rationed items, when they weren't altogether impossible to get hold of in the first place. The soft gasp from Marie, William's low whistle and the way that James clapped him on the shoulder told him that it was appreciated. There was a soft smile on Arthur's lips, and it warmed him to the core.
It was Feliks who moved first though, grabbing the box and moving over to the counter, grabbing milk and cream and the cocoa, a look of determination in his eyes. "We are totally having hot chocolate, like right now."
"We should save it," William said, giving Feliks a disapproving look. "We might want it more later."
Feliks rolled his eyes and leaned back against the counter, folding his arms across his chest, one hip cocked to the side. It looked so strange in an airman's uniform, but no-one chose to comment upon it. "No way! We take your advice and we'll be waiting forever. It's been ages since I last had chocolate."
William just raised an eyebrow and leaned back in his seat. "Save it for a rainy say, isn't that the phrase, Arthur?" He glanced over at the other nation, who didn't respond. There was a long suffering expression on Arthur's face and after a moment, he looked away, turning his attention to a sheaf of papers that he had brought in with him.
"Yeah well, it's raining now, isn't it?" Feliks snapped, "only instead of water it's raining bombs and Nazis right across Europe!" He stalked around the table, one hand on his hip, one going to poke at William's chest. "I was strong when you lot were just vassals. You learn to take your pleasures where you can get them. So you're going to shut up and drink hot chocolate and you'll damn well enjoy it!"
His tirade over, Feliks went back to the counter, a little flushed and letting his hair hide his face, leaving a rather shocked looking William in his wake. With rather more violent motions than was strictly necessary, he grabbed a pan and set it onto the stove to boil the milk.
Marie hid a laugh behind her hand, and James was openly grinning. Matthew ducked his head to hide his own smile, feeling a little guilty, but unable to stop it. Even Arthur looked faintly amused and it was good to see him look like that. At least, Matthew thought so.
"Well, that told you mate," James said, and the sour look on William's face just made James grin more.
He couldn't sleep. He'd been staring at the ceiling (old dark-wood beams and plaster) for what felt like hours, and he wasn't getting any closer to sleep than he had been when he'd climbed into bed, not when he was still so in tune with his own lands. It would barely be getting dark yet on the east coast, and the day would be in full flow on the west.
He pulled the covers over his head, tossing and turning for a while before giving up on the endeavour. He clambered out of bed and pulled on his dressing gown and slippers, before padding out into the hallway and down the stairs, trying his best not to wake anyone. William had been in a black mood even by the time they'd gone to bed, and the last thing Matthew wanted was to cause a scene. Everyone needed all the rest that they could get.
There was a light still burning in Arthur's study, and Matthew paused uncertainly outside for a moment before knocking lightly. If he didn't answer, then Matthew would just go and get a glass of water and head back to bed. But Arthur really should be asleep when he probably had meetings the next day.
Matthew gulped and stepped inside, closing the door carefully behind himself, making sure that it didn't slam.
Arthur was stood by the window, jacket and waistcoat discarded to leave him in just his shirt-sleeves, hands clasped behind his back. He should have looked the picture of authority, but Matthew could see the way his form trembled, the whiteness of his knuckles where he was gripping too hard. He turned as Matthew approached, giving him a wan smile. "Matthew. You're up late."
"I couldn't sleep," Matthew replied. He couldn't help but smile a little at the situation; he was certain that he had said the same thing so many times as a child-colony under Arthur's care. He wished that bedtime stories could cure him of the nightmares that he had had since the Great War.
He wished that bedtime stories could solve Arthur's problems.
"Ah, nor me," Arthur replied.
"You haven't even tried." It shocked Matthew that he could say it so bluntly to his former Imperial master, but Arthur just gave a harsh bark of laughter.
"It's difficult to sleep when everyone in the country is on edge," he replied, but Matthew had to wonder how much of Arthur's insomnia was the Nation and how much was just Arthur.
Arthur turned and reached for a glass of some dark alcohol from the side-table, but he knocked it instead, sending liquid surging up and over the side and onto the floor. "Damn it all!" Arthur growled, grabbing his handkerchief and stooped to mop up the worst of the mess before it reached the fine rug. "That was good brandy that wa-" He stopped suddenly, a violent shudder running through his body. His fingers twisted in the soaked cloth.
Matthew moved up to his side, resting a hand against Arthur's shoulder, lips drawn into a frown of concern. "Arthur, what is it?"
Arthur seemed to shake himself, blinking furiously for a moment before he replied. "They're bombing again," he said hoarsely. "I know to expect it by now, but it never diminishes the initial shock."
Arthur nodded. "London most nights. Liverpool, Sheffield, anywhere industrial. They're striking further afield, now that they can take off from France." There was a pained note to his voice at the mention of the other Nation, and Matthew knew that he wasn't picturing the coastline or Paris, but the familiar face and voice.
It hurt dealing with Vichy, turned Matthew's stomach every time he had to.
Arthur downed what remained of the brandy in one gulp, as though it were cheap grog instead of the fine stuff he had claimed it to be. "The bastard had better be being held in chains somewhere," he snarled, "because if I find out that he's there helping Germany bomb my cities and prepare his invasion, then I swear I'll wring his scrawny neck, even if I have to come back from the grave to do so. Might do it anyway next time I see him for causing all this trouble."
It was such a typical thing for Arthur to say that Matthew couldn't help but chuckle softly, "Things can't be all that bad if fighting with Francis is still foremost in your mind."
Arthur just looked at him for a moment (looked up at him; Matthew thought he might never get used to being taller), before a smile tugged at the corners of his lips. "I suppose not," he said wryly. "The thought of a world where I don't want to cause the frog physical harm is a rather disturbing one."
His tone was jovial, but Matthew had learned to read between the lines, back when he was just a colony. France was England's enemy again and he knew that it had to hurt Arthur to go back to that situation, even if he would never care to admit it.
Another shudder racked Arthur's body and the older nation wrapped his arms across his chest defensively. Matthew could see the way that he was trembling.
"Do you need a doctor?" he asked quietly.
Arthur waved him off. "No, no. I'll be fine. If I cannot endure this, what hope is there? Not when others have gone through much worse." There was steel beneath the hurt in his voice, indomitable will, but his gaze was distant, hands still shaking.
"You don't have to bear everything alone," Matthew said, and oh, he want to reach out, he really did, but this was Arthur, and even if he was no longer a colony, he couldn't quite make himself do it. Perhaps because he was no longer a colony. He was supposed to stand alone as his own country, to be proper and not make a fuss.
Arthur shook his head and laughed bitterly. "There is no-one else." He turned away too quickly to see Matthew's eyes widen, his lips twist, a hurt expression appearing on his face.
"No," he whispered, and then more loudly, "No! That's not true." He grabbed Arthur's shoulder and wrenched him around. Perhaps anger made him strong, because Arthur did turn and Matthew didn't think that he'd ever seen him look so shocked.
"What are yo-"
"You said it today, just today!" Matthew said sharply, before Arthur was able to say anything else, because he'll be put back in his place if he does, silenced with Imperial chill, and he doesn't want to see Arthur crumble. "You have us! Your colonies and Commonwealth. Australia and New Zealand and Nepal. Me. We're fighting for you, dying for you so-" he clenched his hands into fists, raising his chin and giving Arthur a fiery look, "so don't you dare say that you're alone!"
Arthur looked a little as though he'd been slapped , and amidst the guilt that Matthew felt for putting that expression on his face, was a surge of angry determination. He stepped closer, and while Arthur did not baulk or flinch or pull away, he did square his shoulders as though he was readying himself for a fight.
"I know that we aren't emerging powers like America," Matthew said, wishing that he could will Arthur to understand, "and you think of us as colonies or occupied nations, as children to be protected, but we are here, fighting with you, so don't just pretend that we aren't. I want to be able to respect you." And he wanted Arthur's respect, the respect that he had earned in the trenches of the Great War. "I can protect your Royal Family, your boss and your parliament," he said, and his voice sounded much more confident than he felt, "so please accept that I will support you, even if I am unable to stop them bombing or storm the beaches alone to bring Germany to its knees."
There was a moment of stillness, drawn out taut and tense. Arthur raised a hand and Matthew half expected to be slapped for his impertinence, or to have his head patted like a child, but it came to rest against his shoulder instead. Arthur scrutinised him for a long moment, long enough to make Matthew shift uncomfortably. "You grew up into a very fine Nation," he said genuinely, and Matthew could feel the blush work its way across his face. "I am an island," Arthur continued, "so used to standing alone and having to order people to support me, or waiting for the knife in my back, that I forget that the world is changing." He paused thoughtfully for a moment before continuing. "Assuming that they do change, otherwise we are surely in for a very long century," he added wryly.
It made Matthew chuckle softly despite the morbidity of the joke, and that made Arthur smile in turn. For once there was no bitter twist at the corners of his lips. This time he did ruffle Matthew's hair, but without any condescension. There was a fond smile on Arthur's face. "I know that I have not always been the best of masters, but oh, I am thankful for you, all of you, and grateful to you. I never expected to have allies rather than possessions. I just hope that that can remain even if I lose my empire. When I lose my empire."
"You're too stubborn to fall," Matthew said, "too strong."
Arthur snorted softly. "I would have clouted you for saying that once." There was amusement in his voice however. "But ah... you're too big for me to do that now, and besides, I truly hope that you are correct."
Arthur moved to step past Matthew, patting his shoulder in a friendly manner. "But enough of the ramblings of an old man. I'm going to try to sleep. You should do the same. We have another long day ahead. They've all been long days recently."
Matthew swallowed thickly and then without thinking, he reached out to grasp Arthur's hand. "Arthur!"
Arthur stopped in his tracks and gave Matthew a startled look. "Matthew? What is it?"
"I..." he began, his tongue feeling suddenly clumsy in his mouth. He went on regardless. "I'm here now," he said quickly, hating the tremble in his voice. He continued quickly before Arthur could start to see him as a child again. "I'm here and... I know I'm not Alfred. I can't be the hero like he is. But... but when you need it, don't just lock yourself away like this. Let me be strong and stubborn for you."
There was a stricken look on Arthur's face. Stricken and shocked, as though he couldn't believe that anyone would care to help him. Not the country and the millions that made it up, not England, but Arthur. His eyes were very green, and it felt like Matthew was noticing it for a first time. For a moment, Arthur looked as though he might bolt from the room, but then his expression softened, a sweet, grateful smile on his lips.
"Thank you," he said quietly. "You are quite extraordinary, Matthew. And more than I deserve." He stepped forward and took Matthew's face in his hands, then kissed his forehead. And perhaps it was just Matthew's imagination, or perhaps it truly was more than fatherly or brotherly, but in any case, his cheeks flushed brightly and it refused to fade even when Arthur let him go.
"Sleep well Matthew," Arthur said, and he was smiling still as he left the room.
Matthew turned to watch him leave, and once Arthur was gone, he touched his fingers lightly to his forehead, a smile blooming on his lips. He could still feel Arthur's lips there, and it felt good.
Just in case it wasn't clear:
James = Australia (names after Captain James Cook)
Marie = Belgium (no reason XD)
William = Netherlands (So many of his rulers were named William. it just stuck)