Disclaimer: It is still not mine. Please enjoy the final chapter!

Awakening

Chapter Ten

October 1st, 1946 – one year after the end of the war, the Nuremburg-based Trial of Major War Criminals comes to an end.

Matthew had attended the last day of the proceedings, not because he wanted to, but because it only seemed appropriate for the allies to be there.

Ludwig had been understandably horrified to discover what the men he had trusted with his people and his government had been doing behind his back. He had apologized profusely to anyone and everyone who would listen to him, though the ones who accepted his words had never truly blamed him and the ones who truly needed the apology refused to accept it.

Though Alfred had accepted with his usual smile. Matthew as well, though it was doubtful that Ludwig knew the extent to which they had suffered personally. It was no secret that they had been taken prisoner along with the platoons they accompanied, but what happened after was kept so quiet that even China did not know. The ID numbers that stained their skin had been painstakingly removed, and only visible trace of their torture – the eye patch that Matthew wore for three weeks after his bandages were removed – had been easily explained as a battle wound.

Still, the remnants of their month in hell lingered on. In truth, observing the trials in Nuremburg was the last place on Earth that Matthew wanted to be, because the person who belonged on that stand more than anyone, the man who deserved to be locked away to rot until the end of eternity, the one who had butchered them and hundreds of other innocents, was nowhere to be found.

That night, Matthew burst awake with the sound of that man's condescending laughter echoing in his ears. In the shadows of his lonely hotel room, he could see the flickering form of a white lab coat, the wings of the angel of death, dictating who among the masses would live, who would die and who would suffer personally at his hands. Matthew was crying, as though his eyes wanted to prove that they could and that his tears ran clear, just as nature had intended.

He used the sheets to rub his face clean and sat there a moment, trying to slow his panicked breathing. Beside him, Kumajiro rolled over and sleepily rubbed at his face with his paws as though to say, "Oh, not this again."

There was a knock at the door. He knew it was Alfred before he even stepped out of bed.

His American brother stood barefoot on the plush carpet with a bed sheet wrapped around him, clinging to a pillow so tightly its feathers were sticking out. Others had seen him like this before, when a horror movie had driven him out of his own bed and into another's. But no one, except for Matthew, had ever seen the unadulterated terror now reflected in those sky-blue eyes.

Matthew sighed, his heart still racing in his chest. "Nightmare," he said. It wasn't a question.

"You too," said Alfred with equal confidence.

Matthew nodded and stepped back, rubbing a sore crick out of his neck. "C'mon."

Alfred did so, hovering beside Matthew while the northern brother locked the door. With shaking hands, America sealed the chain lock in the same moment that Canada's deadbolt slid into place. Night terrors made him paranoid. Matthew understood.

They went to bed, Matthew scooping Kumajiro into his arms to make room for Alfred. The polar bear squirmed a little in protest, but soon found a comforting bit of warm against his master's chest and drifted off once more. Matthew snuggled deep into the warm fur of his oldest friend and turned his back on his twin.

Alfred slid up behind Matthew, folded his arms around his twin's waist and pulled him flush against his chest. He was still shaking. A few muffled sobs ghosted over the shell of Matthew's ear. Matthew took his brother's hand and gave it a light, comforting squeezing.

Though they were twins, they had not been born as humans were and had thus never shared a womb. This was, at least in Matthew's mind, as close to the experience as they were ever likely to get. They were safe here, wrapped in the blankets an each other's warmth, secure and protected from the cold world outside and the dangerous memories lurking within the shadows. Even if it was only temporary, just for this moment, this night…it was what they needed to get through it all.

"Love you, Mattie," Alfred said softly, his voice full of protective brotherly affection.

Matthew smiled in the dark. "Love you too, Al."

Satisfied with the mutual affirmation, the two brothers fell asleep and did not wake again for the rest of the night.

( - )

Almost a decade later, the brothers were together again for a meeting of nations, this time at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

America was ridiculously proud of this building, and had been ever since it opened at the beginning of the decade. It was one of many crown jewels in what could only be called his most impressive city and, even though most nations had already seen them all twice, he was determined to show them all off as much as he possibly could. And, thanks to an argument with England earlier that day, Matthew was the only one willing to indulge him.

Matthew didn't really mind, though. It was nice to spend a little quality time with his twin. The night scares that had plagued them since their time in Auschwitz had gradually diminished over the years, to the point where it had been almost eighteen months since either had experienced one. They didn't speak of the incident anymore. It was behind them.

After the meeting, Alfred started off his "grand tour" with a stop by his favorite pizza restaurant, the place that made, in his words, "the best pizza in the world."

"The Italys would be heartbroken to hear you say that, you know," Matthew mentioned as they walked, side-by-side, down the glistening New York streets.

"Aw, Feliciano's cool with it," America said without even the slightest regard for the grumpy elder Italian brother. "'Sides, he knows I mean my kinda pizza, not his weird kind."

"He'd probably say that your kind's the weird one, Al…"

"Mister Alfred?"

The twins stopped and turned back in mid-step. The one who had called to them was a young woman with dark skin, dark eyes and long, dark hair, who had been leaning against the wall of a little boutique as they passed by. She wore long sleeves despite the hot weather and was staring at them as though she'd just seen a ghost.

"Mister…Mister Matthew?" she ventured again, as though she couldn't believe she was saying these words. "Is it really you?"

Al and Matt exchanged a confused glance. Matthew cleared his throat. "Well…yes. That's our names. Why?"

"Oh my god. It really is you!" the woman practically squealed out loud. Before they could say anything more, she yanked open the door to the boutique and shouted inside. "Sister! Sister, come here, you're not going to believe this!"

"What? Anna…! What the hell?!" yelped her sister as she was dragged out by the arm. The two young ladies were practically mirror images of one another, all except for their hair – the second girl's was cut short – and the eye patch that covered the second sister's left eye.

Alfred and Matthew recognized them in the same moment. "Anastasia!"

"Alyshea!"

Anastasia, the first sister, squealed happily and launched herself at Alfred. She threw her arms around his shoulders with so much force that he spun all the way around on the momentum of her hug. Alyshea, always the calmer and more refined of the sisters, approached Matthew with a smile on her face.

"The managed to fix yours, I see," she said, brushing a hand over her eye patch.

Subconsciously, Matthew ran a hand along his eyebrow, remembering the pain, the weeks of darkness, the dye-filled tears…He shook himself. "I…yes."

Alyshea's smile held neither jealous nor animosity as she reached out to take Matthew's hand in both of her own. "I'm glad."

In Alfred's arms, Anastasia giggled. Her sleeve slid up a bit to reveal part of the number tattoo on her arm, but she paid it very little mind. "I just can't believe it," she sighed, holding on tightly. "After all this time…We never thought we'd see you again. We thought you were dead for sure."

"Well," Alfred trailed off, thinking up and excuse, and patted her back. "We might have been. It was a close call."

He lowered Anastasia to her feet and took a good look at the little girls who were smiling up at them like long-lost cousins. They had filled out significantly and looked sturdier and stronger than those weeks in captivity – probably because they were actually healthy now. And happy.

"You girls look great," he said honestly. "Are you living here now?"

"Yes!" Anastasia piped, grabbing her sister's arm. "We got adopted by some really nice people right after the war ended. They're the ones who run this boutique. Isn't that right, sis?"

"Mother runs it," Alyshea agreed calmly, spreading her arms to show off the hand-sewn shirt she wore. "She made these clothes, too. They've been quite good to us."

"That's great," Matthew said, glad that at least some of the children who had suffered so horribly had been allowed to live happily after their pains.

"Yeah, totally awesome," Alfred echoed, clapping his brother on the shoulder enthusiastically. "And hey, Mattie and I are gonna be in town for a couple more days. We ought to get together sometime, have some lunch, catch up, the whole nine yards."

Anastasia's eyes sparkled and her grin widened. "Sounds perfect!"

Alyshea nodded her own quiet assent, but made a thoughtful humming noise in the back of her throat. "It seems strange to me, though."

"What's that?"

"I could have sworn that you two were much older than us."

Alfred and Matthew froze, exchanging a quick, secret and slightly panicked glance.

"Well, we were little," Anastasia reasoned with a shrug. "Everybody was scared, and there weren't any adults around. It kinda makes sense that we'd remember them being slightly older than they actually were. They – I mean, you guys – kinda acted like big brothers for everybody else in the bunk, after all."

Matthew winced at that, thinking of poor little Philippe and all the other children who died under their 'protection.' They really hadn't been able to save anyone, in the end. All they could do was watch as the mad doctor wrecked havoc on everyone and everything…

"You know, we never got to thank you," Anastasia continued, her expression suddenly shy and withdrawn. "For being there, I mean. You're the reason we got out of there alive."

Matthew blinked in surprise. He glanced at Alfred again, but found his brother was as baffled as he. "I don't understand."

"We'd just about given up hope," Anastasia started, taking her sister's hand.

"We thought we'd never get out of there," Alyshea continued, giving it a squeeze. "We were ready to die."

"But then you two came," they said together, and their smiles beamed.

"You weren't like everybody else."

"Yeah, you still had hope. And that made all the difference in the end, you know?"

"We figured, if our 'big brothers' could keep fighting like that, then…well, we could too. And that's the only reason we survived."

They paused then, took a deep breath , bowed and finished together. "So…thank you. For everything."

Matthew stared at them, shocked into silence. The picture was starting to become blurry on the edges, and he realized that he was tearing up again, on the verge of tears. Quickly, he wiped them on his sleeve and glanced to his brother.

Alfred was smiling the honest, breathtaking smile of a hero. His arms were shaking in anticipation. He wanted to give the girls another hug.

A few seconds later, that's exactly what he did.

Final Notes: Of the 3,000 twins who were pulled from the lines in Auschwitz, only about 200 survived long enough to be liberated. Those who managed to continue living afterwards mostly made their way to Israel or the United States.

Thank you everyone for your support in writing this story. I apologize if the very end seemed a little sudden, but, really…I think it worked. I hope that everyone else is satisfied as well – the most I can hope for is doing this history justice.