"…and welcome back to our special live coverage of the New Year's festivities! It is going to be absolutely amazing this year, citizens of New York! The brand new ceremonial ball, which is twice the size of the old one and twice as bright, will be christened this evening by Governor Juañita Alejandra Dominatorio, New York's first female governor as well as its first female quarterback. What an arm, leading the Jets to six Super Bowl victories during her professional career before switching to politics. She has plans within a few years to run for the presidential office, which she will no doubt claim with high percentages. We will switch to live coverage within the half hour.
Now, we are going to switch to a live feed from one of our sister stations in the chilly state of Wisconsin. Dennis?"
"Thank you Sally. As most of you can see, I am not standing in the middle of a party, surrounded by thousands of people. Here, behind me, it is a quiet night at St. Gabriel's International Hospital, with a few workers on staff and patients settling in with friends and families for a night of remembrance. However, in one wing of this hospital lies one solitary woman who is a legend in her own time, who is probably celebrating what will be her very last new year…"
The noise from the news channel faded into the background as a pair of emerald eyes watched the snow fall gently outside the large picture windows next to her bed. Settled around her were several machines, most which she barely had any idea what they really did for her anymore. All she knew is that they were keeping her body as healthy as it could be…well, healthy as any one hundred and fourteen year old woman could be. She lifted her right arm, a projected image suddenly materializing from the side of the bed. She tapped one of the simulated buttons a few times, the sound of the reporter becoming softer and softer. "Too much nonsense, not enough hard facts," she complained to herself.
"Are you finally becoming old, or am I hearing someone complaining in here?" a young male voice called out playfully as a blonde head of hair was stuck through the automatic sliding door.
The woman turned her head, a wide smile filling her entire face, causing her wrinkles to crease even further. "Alfred! You came," she cried out to him, holding out her arms.
"It's been a while, hasn't it?" Alfred F. Jones replied, walking into the room and accepting the frail woman's hug. He squeezed her back gently, pulling away to study her. "You've gotten more wrinkles since the last time I saw you," he told her while wagging a finger at her.
"I'm old, so sue me," she retorted quickly back at him, crossing her arms in fake annoyance. She laughed, grinning at him. "I'm glad you came Alfred."
"I wouldn't miss it!" he told her, bringing up a bag and pulling a few items out of it to set on her bed. "I've brought your favorite champagne – the real stuff, a gift from Francis. Here's some maple candy from Matthew! Oh, and Earl Grey from Arthur as well – he says two cups each day will keep you even healthier than the so called health food they give you here." He placed the items next to her on the bed, watching as she placed a hand on each one and smiled. "And from me –" he said with dramatic flair, keeping his hand inside of the bag for extra emphasis, "– a bouquet of irises, your favorite," he told her with a gentle smile, bending down and placing them in front of her.
"Alfred, they're beautiful," she breathed softly, taking them from his hands and putting them up to her face, inhaling the scent deeply. "Wherever did you find them this time of year? Even for you," she added, giving him a sideways glance.
"Ivan," he explained. "They're Siberian Irises."
"Ah," she said, inhaling their scent once more. "Could you put them in the vase for me?"
"Of course," he told her, grabbing the bouquet and turning to face the small round table near the flat television screen on the wall. As he did, he saw the pictures and images from the past year scrolling across the screen. He smiled satisfactorily to himself, knowing he had done a good job.
"There, all set," he called as the irises sat gaily in a purple glass vase. "Now, how shall we –" he began to say, but paused as he turned around. The woman was leaning back in the bed, trying to take in deeper breaths, her hand clutching the front of her robe. Alfred walked calmly up to her, grabbing a mask from behind her bed and flipping on the oxygen. He placed it in front of her face and she took several greedy breaths, looking up at him with grateful eyes as he helped her hold it over her nose and mouth. "It's getting worse, isn't it?" he asked her quietly.
The old woman nodded, her gasping slowing as the oxygen did its job.
"…I guess you were right then…" he said, remembering her words from over eighty years ago.
"I've lived a good and wonderful life Alfred," she said finally, placing her wrinkled and aged hand over his as she pulled the oxygen mask away. "I've lived to be one hundred and fourteen…much older than anyone in my family, for that matter."
Alfred did not smile, only replaced the oxygen mask back on the rack next to the large tank behind her bed. "I know," he told her, pulling the chair that was next to the bed even closer to it so he could wrap his large, wrinkle-free hands around hers.
"You know…" she said, trailing off momentarily as she stared into his face. "You truly haven't aged a day since I first met you." And he hadn't. Alfred was still the young, handsome, mid-twenties looking man with bright blue eyes and wavy blonde hair, and that stubborn curl in the middle of it all. Texas still sat upon the bridge of his nose, as unbroken as the day it had been repaired. However, he was no longer in his military uniform; Alfred was wearing his casual clothes – a pair of khaki pants, a navy blue sweater with two large lines going across the chest in red and white, and his favorite pair of sneakers that she had given him long ago as a birthday present. They were well worn, but the blue and red stars all over them still shown proudly, the laces having tiny American flags to boot.
"And you have gotten…more mature," Alfred told her. She pinched the skin on his hand gently. "What! You have matured well, like a fine wine," he told her, "wrinkles and all."
"You're so kind," she said back to him, but there was no bite in her words. Oh, how she had changed since her youth! Her long, thick, curly brown hair had been reduced to a thinning head of silver curls. Her once penetrating emerald green eyes had slowly dulled until they were a hunter green, and smooth skin was now marred by wrinkles and age spots. "I look old."
"You look beautiful," he told her, reaching up and cupping her cheek in his hand.
"Now you're turning into Francis," she responded with a laugh.
"Heaven forbid!" Alfred said, mocking a faint.
"How are they, your brothers?" she asked him honestly. "Are they well? How is Arthur's leg?"
"They are all doing well. Arthur is using a walking cast now, so he's as grumpy as ever. Leave it to him to be the only Nation to actually hurt himself walking out his own front door." The two of them laughed before Alfred continued. "Matthew is doing very well – he's been at the forefront of the meetings lately, especially with his new organic fuel sources being number one on the rest of the Nation's lists."
"Aren't your farmers helping with that too? To grow all that corn?" she interrupted him.
Alfred nodded. "It has definitely helped, figuring out that this bio-engineered fuel is five times as productive as oil was. Anyway…Francis is busy reconstructing his Eiffel Tower, after the old one grew so rusty that it was becoming a danger to the area around it. His new one is going to be twice as big and twice as flashy, or so I've heard."
"I wouldn't doubt it for a moment," she told him, completely serious.
"How is your family? I've heard that your great-granddaughter is following in your footsteps," he asked her.
"Grace? Oh yes – only five and practically a master of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," the woman said with a laugh, only to begin coughing roughly. Alfred leaned up and rubbed gentle circles on her back until she finished. "Hmm, as I was saying, yes she is indeed. It seems like the music genes in my family skip a generation or so."
"Your little brother was a great violin player," Alfred pointed out.
"Yes, yes he was," the woman replied wistfully.
"Fifteen years last September, wasn't it?" he asked her softly.
"Right in his sleep, bless him – never felt any pain whatsoever." Her green eyes closed momentarily. "You know, I can feel it. Right here," she told him, placing a hand over her heart. "Tonight is going to be the night Alfred."
The United States of America looked down, studying a stray fiber on her blanket. "How do you know?"
"Alfred, goodness – I'm one hundred and fourteen! I've got to go sometime – tonight's a good a night as any to do so." She paused, squeezing his hand. "I made sure to live through your three hundredth official birthday, and now I'm living out seeing a new century. I've lived long enough to see cars fly off the ground, and have even taken a trip into space. Computers are so small but so powerful that they can fit onto the tip of your finger. Everything is so different from when I was younger; everything has evolved so much since we first met."
Alfred looked up at the woman. "I know it has. And in only ninety years too."
"Thanks to you," she told him gratefully. "If you hadn't been the one to start pushing the government in the right direction, to focus all of the countries resources on the children and their education, we wouldn't be here now."
He blushed slightly. "I really didn't do all that much."
"Nonsense. Arthur, Francis, and Matthew would all agree with me too."
Since that year, Alfred and President Obama had begun a complete reconstruction of the entire public education system in America. They had put higher expectations to the students, as well as making sure each grade level had a well rounded education that included a larger emphasis on the arts and physical education. Teachers were also taught differently – only those with an actual passion for teaching and for their students were allowed into the classrooms. Those teachers who had been in the system, or were lackluster at best, were either re-taught or taken out altogether and set up as aides in the schools instead. Since then, standardized test scores had risen exponentially and the United States of America had gone from 38th place amongst the countries in rank to 7th.
Alfred felt his face flush even more so, but only because he was happy. He knew he had been working hard lately, and it was all due to her. He turned around, looking at the muted television, only to notice her on it. "Hey, you're on television!" he cried, waving his hand over the side bar of her bed until the projection of the buttons popped up. He pressed one several times, and the news anchor's voice suddenly grew much louder.
"…as well as her many achievements throughout the years, here now is our special dedicated to the only teacher to receive the annual Teacher of the Year award not once, not twice, but five times in her forty year career in the public school system."
The screen faded momentarily, before a picture of a young woman with a mess of curly brown hair appeared, smiling. "Hope Richardson was born in 1985 in the state of Wisconsin to a loving family, which was one of her greatest influences in her teaching career. Her parents allowed her to try everything, until she found she had a musical talent unlike any in her family. Beginning with the piano, she soon moved on to learning the cello – which would be her lifelong forte. Throughout her schooling years she participated in orchestras in the area as well as within her school, playing at every opportunity she could. Upon entering college, she knew she wanted to spread this joy with children of all ages, and so entered into the once diminishing field of music education. After four plus long years, she finally graduated and began teaching at one of the local Milwaukee high schools.
However, only one year into her bright career tragedy struck. Hope was hit by a car and suffered severe physical trauma, which would limit her range of movement for years to come as well as give her a permanent limp on her right side, forcing her to use a cane for the rest of her life. However, this period in her life is seen as the true beginning of her career.
After returning to her position, Hope was endowed with a renewed sense of duty towards her students and to the music she loved. She began with a small group of only thirty-five students in the string program at her high school, and developed it over a fifteen year period into a group of over one hundred and fifty students that toured the globe. You see, Hope knew the value of the melting pot of her students; the second year she was there she instated the semiannual fundraising concerts that she held twice a year, every year, which was themed according to the cultural background of her students. Later of course she would broaden her themes, but that year she did something completely unexpected in this city: she had a concert completely dedicated to her African American students tracing their roots from native percussive pieces straight from Africa to the southern gospel trailing from the slaves to jazz and even hip hop and rap as it was in the late twentieth century.
Even though she was discriminated against, and support from parents and administrators alike fell through, she continued onto the next largest culture in her classroom: those of Hispanic origin, and only six months later. This performance too was criticized, and almost cost Hope her position had someone of great political importance not taken note in her efforts. President Barack Obama personally flew out to Wisconsin and walked right into her classroom to shake her hand. Obviously stunned, public opinion of Hope's program grew, and supporters began emerging from the woodwork to supply her with the money for new sheet music, new instruments, and new uniforms.
However, this was just the beginning of her endeavors. Hope began touring with her orchestra around the southeastern part of the state and promoting her multicultural views with students in the area. By digging into history and her students, Hope created a trend that would last for years with her students: not only the love of music, but of being proud of who you are and where you came from – not only in your past, but of the here and now, a sense of nationalism. Three years into the expansion of her program was the first time that Hope received the Teacher of the Year award – her and her orchestra of now fifty students were invited to the White House to meet with President Barack Obama and celebrate his re-election as president…"
"Oh, Alfred, shut that off," Hope told him with a smile. "I don't need to hear my praises sung in my ear when I know them all already."
"But how often do you get to be on television? This is epic!" he told her.
"Oh, alright…" she sighed, shaking her head. How could she deny Alfred? He was just too cute when he was excited about something.
"…that summer, when she married her husband…"
Hope laughed. "Bless him, he was a saint for how patient he was with me."
Alfred turned towards her. "Eddie was a great guy," he admitted with a smile. "Had one heck of a spiral!"
"Do you remember when I first introduced you to him?" Hope asked him. "You were worse than my father!"
"What? All I was doing was cleaning my musket," he said innocently, "with the bayonet attached yet."
"I think he got the idea," she replied dryly. "I'm just glad the two of you were able to become friends," she added in a soft voice.
Alfred reached over a grabbed her hand, squeezing it gently. "You couldn't have done any better."
She looked up, seeing a sincere face. "Thank you."
"…which did not become as famous as it is now until her seventh year when she began touring nationally. With the funds raised by her two semiannual concerts each year at the school, Hope now had enough money to take her students across the country and visit different historical places that coincided with the music her students would play. Due to this emphasis on not only music history but history in general, and the appreciation and admiration Hope had which she passed onto her students, diplomats and foreign visitors would flock to her performances no matter what city or state they happened to be in.
In her tenth year, it finally happened. Hope received an invitation from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to play a special private concert for Parliament as well as at the historical Globe Theater in which William Shakespeare had staged many of his works. To say that this was an amazing achievement for such a young teacher was an understatement. Her high school orchestra, which now ranged in the eighty student plus mark, was sent over on one of Her Majesty's private planes with their instruments to England and performed for her people, as well as were given the opportunity of a weeklong historical tour of the country as well.
This however, would not be her last overseas trip with her students. In the months following…"
Hope yawned. "Really Alfred, do we have to watch this? Isn't the ball going to be dropping in New York soon?"
"Yes, it is," Alfred said with a bit of surprise in his voice. "It's already 10:12 here – in another forty-eight minutes it will be 2100 in New York."
"The year two thousand and one hundred…" Hope said with a bit of awe in her voice. "It still amazes me that I've been on this earth for that long."
Alfred looked at Hope as she watched the television. She was no longer young, by any means – although maybe at heart. Her body was slowly failing her, especially after that partial stroke she suffered from five years ago. It had weakened the left side of her body, but not completely – she still retained all of her movement. Considering her age and her physical ailments, she had astounded all of her doctors by continuing to press on. Until two months ago, however, when Hope had suddenly taken a turn for the worse.
She had been found collapsed in her apartment by one of her daughters, and rushed to the hospital. Her old injuries had been bothering her again, and her hip had finally given out. Even so, the doctors now found that her internal organs were entering the beginning stages of shutting down – they told her she hadn't had more than several more months to live.
As hard as it was, Hope knew she had to contact her best friend and tell him the news: that she was dying. Alfred had taken it hard; he had left her hospital room and made no contact with her for three days straight. When he returned, however, he was not alone: Matthew, Francis, and Arthur all accompanied him to the fragile woman's bedside in what would be the last room she would ever occupy. Matthew, the poor boy, was nearly in tears at finding out the one human whom the Nations had been allowed to get close to was finally nearing the end of her mortal life. Francis was the romantic, as always, bringing her flowers and chocolates and sweet nonsensical French words to lighten her mood. Arthur and Alfred were the two quietest, sitting next to her bed and not offering much to say.
Hope had come to terms with her mortality years ago, but knew it would be the hardest to leave behind the men she had come to love as her own immortal family. She started to receive calls from the other Nations too – others who had invited her and her students to their countries, others who had fostered relations with her that went much farther, up to the political members of the United States who followed her lead and began to foster good tidings towards all countries and not just their allies. The Nations had been those to support her in her teaching endeavors – they knew that they only way to change the world was truly through their youth. If Hope was the one to lead that first wave, they knew it would take time but couldn't possibly fail.
Alfred smiled, remembering that first trip that Arthur had sent her students on. He had tagged along as a chaperone, one of "Ms. Richardson's teaching friends." Those students were now well into the time of having their own grandchildren. Many of her first students grew to be famous themselves; politicians, teachers, movie stars, singers – you name it, they became it. And each and every one of them owed it to the teacher who opened their eyes to their history; that in order to move forward they had to learn from whence they came.
Suddenly, another cacophonous wave of coughing brought Alfred out of his musings. He quickly stood up and grabbed the oxygen mask from behind Hope once again and held it up to her face, rubbing her back to ease the pained look she had. However…this fit did not cease. "Al…Alfred…" Hope coughed out.
He knew. He suddenly knew that something else was wrong. "Hold on – I'll get them. Just keep trying to breathe," he told her, bringing up her hand to hold the mask. She nodded, her wrinkled hand shaking as they tried to hold the mask in place. Alfred ran from the room, calling for the doctors.
Thirty minutes later, Hope lay still on her bed, her chest barely moving up and down. A tube was placed down her throat to send oxygen directly into her lungs, but it wouldn't matter for much longer. She was dying.
"…and you're sure it will work?"
"Well, it has only been tried once before. Alfred, are you sure about this? What if –"
"I have thought about this every day for the last five years. And you know I wouldn't ask if I already knew it wasn't possible or if I wasn't sure that she would do it. Please Arthur…help me."
"…A-Alright. The first thing we need to do then is…"
"Mr. Jones, I am afraid that she doesn't have much time left," the young doctor told him as they stood out in the hallway outside of her room.
"I know," he answered, looking through the glass as the nurses made Hope comfortable. "Will…will it be soon?"
"Within the hour, most likely, at the rate her organ functions are ceasing. She already cannot to breathe on her own, and her cardiovascular muscles are weakening as her pulse slows. All we can do now is make her comfortable and be with her. Is there anyone else we can contact?" he asked him in a kind voice.
Alfred shook his head. "Her family will be here soon enough. I just want to be with her when she…you know…"
"Of course sir. She has asked not to be resuscitated, as stated in her will. The nurses will come in to turn off the machines when…well, you know when. Do you need anything?"
"No, but thank you," Alfred said just as the nurse emerged from the room.
"She is conscious, but the medicine we gave her will help ease the pain," she told the doctor and Alfred.
"Thank you," Alfred told her, then turned and walked back into the room. Hope was lying down now, a small tube inserted down her throat and directly into her lungs to feed her oxygen. Her eyes were slightly glazed over, giving her a spacey look, but she stared hard at Alfred as he walked up next to her. "Hey, how are you feeling?" he asked her, smiling.
She nodded, her lips curling up in a smile around the tube trailing out the side of her mouth.
"I bet," he answered with a short laugh. Alfred sat down, and took her hand in his. "They say you don't have much time left," he told her in quiet voice.
She rolled her eyes at him as if to say no duh.
"You don't know how heroic you look right now, facing death head first," he told her. "I…can't die. I have no idea what it feels like to die, or will ever know what it feels like. Nations fade away, disappear…to where or even why we don't know. If our countries and people do not exist anymore, neither do we."
The room was silent, save for the small slow beeping noise tracking the rhythm of Hope's slowing heartbeat. She reached out her hand towards him, and Alfred grasped it as the noise from the television slowly murmured in the background…
"In a few moments, we will be switching to the live coverage of what will probably be this year's biggest announcement. As the ball in New York drops, United States Madame President Eleanor Schulte and Vice President Neil Ararang as well as several diplomats and foreign politicians will be gathering to sign into effect the documentation that will declare the beginning of a new country here in the western hemisphere. For too long has it been under American protection, and now is gaining its own independence from this point forward…"
"At the same time?"
"Yes…this is why it barely even worked the last time. You must make sure both events happen at the exact same moment, otherwise it will be someone else, someone new."
"The President I know can stall the ceremonies for me…but how…how do you tell someone to hurry up and die?" There was a small sniffle.
A hand was placed on his shoulder. "Are you still sure you want to do this Alfred? If it does or does not work…no one will think any less of you for at least trying."
Alfred looked up at Arthur, placing a hand over his. "I want to do this. She's done so much for me, that doing this is the least I can do for her."
"Beyond sentimental reasons," Arthur told him, rolling his eyes. "We all know that you never stopped loving her, even after she got married and had children of her own."
Alfred looked down. Even so…he had been the first person Hope had run to after Edward had suddenly died of a fatal heart attack. He still remembers that night she spent with him at his home, curled up in his arms and sobbing after their fifty-two year marriage together. Edward knew that Hope and Alfred had a special relationship, something deeper than even he had shared with his wife. Although he never questioned it, he knew that there were some things in life he just wasn't going to understand.
Hope never remarried, never was interested in any other men, although she started spending more time with her children and their children, as well as her extended family around the globe.
"Alfred…are you doing this because you want another chance with her, or are you doing this just to save a friend's life?"
Fifteen minutes…Alfred thought to himself as he looked at the small clock on the bottom right corner of the television screen. He turned to face Hope, watching the tubes pump oxygen into her lungs as she closed her eyes and rested. She looked so peaceful now, that he began doubting his decision. What if…what if she doesn't want this? Should I ask her after all? What if Arthur was right, and I'm only doing this to be selfish? What if…? his thought trailed off as he saw Hope open her eyes.
"Hey," he told her, leaning over, "are you ready? The ball in New York is going to be dropping soon."
Hope blinked sleepily at him, nodding. She made an upwards motion with her hand.
"You want me to raise the bed so you can see?"
"Alright." Alfred waved his hand at the side of the bed until the projected buttons appeared, and he pressed and held one for a few seconds. The back of Hope's bed tilted upwards to a forty-five degree angle, allowing her to rest comfortably and see the screen at the same time. "Better?"
Hope nodded once again, her eyes watching the images of millions of people in Times Square in New York cheering and blowing party favors. Alfred pulled his eyes to the screen as well, but was interrupted by a buzzing feeling in his pocket. He pulled out his cell phone, seeing a text message sent to him. It was from Eleanor – probably one of the hippest and up-to-date Presidents he had ever worked with. Smiling, he flipped it open.
How are you doing? Do you need more time? she asked him.
Alfred used his thumb to quickly send her another message back. Not sure – how long until the announcement and signing of the documents? He sent the message and waited a minute until he received another message.
The ball drops in 12 minutes, so the signing will begin as soon as the ball hits the bottom, and the announcement will come after that has been completed. Altogether the entire process will take about 2-3 minutes.
Alfred thought this over. It won't be long, so keep going for now. If something comes up, I'll call.
Silence. Then a buzz. Roger that – good luck Alfred. Neil says we'll be waiting for good news.
He smiled. Tell him thanks – talk soon. He flipped the small device closed and shoved it back in his pocket. Looking over, he saw Hope staring at him through half lidded eyes. "What?" he asked her.
She motioned her eyes from his face to his pocket.
"Oh, that was nothing. Just some well wishing from Eleanor and Neil."
Hope narrowed her eyes at him. As if Alfred. Now what's going on? I might be dying, but I'm not blind, she seemed to say to him.
Alfred looked away from her. "Let's just watch some television, alright?"
Hope squeezed his hand. Hard. "Al…fred…" she managed to cough out around the tube. "What's…wr-rong?"
He looked back at her, staring into those green eyes. "Hope…what if…what if you could live forever…like me? Like Arthur, and Matthew, and Francis? You couldn't see your family, or contact them, but you wouldn't die…"
She blinked, confused.
He turned around, his confidence suddenly renewed. "Hope, listen to me. There is a way to save your life tonight, but you have to want to do it. You have to want not to die, but to live. Do you want to live?" he pleaded with her, holding her hand tightly between his.
Hope blinked again, confusion etched across her face. The painkillers had dulled her senses, but not her mind. "Wh…at?" she whispered around the breathing tube. Suddenly, her face scrunched up in pain, and her body stiffened as the machines began to beep wildly around her. Her hand clenched into a fist within Alfred's.
"Hope? Hope!" Alfred cried, watching her fight the pain in her body. He darted his glance to the television. 10:57. Three minutes until it began. "Hope, listen to me. You hang on for five minutes for me. Please?" he begged her.
She looked up at him, tears in her eyes. The sudden pain disappeared, as well as almost every other feeling she did have. Hope was rapidly losing feeling in her outer extremities, and felt herself becoming colder. Knowing that this was probably it, she smiled up at Alfred. "Tube," she managed to cough out.
Alfred nodded, and gently grabbed the plastic tube coming out of her mouth and pulled. Hope barely gagged, and it slid out near painlessly. The machines began to beep louder, now that the oxygen wasn't going anywhere, but Alfred paid them no heed as he laid it down behind her head. "Hope?" he whispered to her.
"Alfred," she said quietly. "You've…always been there…for me…" she told him, smiling once more.
"And here we go ladies and gentlemen! Let's begin the countdown! Ten…nine…eight…seven…"
"I…I've always wanted to tell you…"
"What is it?" Alfred asked her as he saw that she was beginning to slip away from him.
"Two…one…happy New Year, New York! And there you have it – Madame President Eleanor has just begun the signing the Independence Treaty. Once the rest of the delegates sign it as well, it will be official!"
"Wanted to…tell you that I…I…" Hope's eyes began to close as her breathing became extremely labored.
No! Not yet! Alfred screamed in his head. "Hope? What were you going to tell me Hope?" he implored her. "Don't leave me Hope. Please don't leave me," he told her, tears rolling down his face.
"And there goes Vice President Ararang! Four more signatures to go!"
"Won't…Alfred…" Hope said in the barest of whispers. "Promised…"
"You did, didn't you?" Alfred replied in a cracked voice. "So did I…I promised to be there for you, no matter what. I want to keep that promise."
"You did," she told him, opening her eyes to look up at him. "Thank you."
"Anytime," he said, bringing her hand up to give it a gentle kiss.
Hope smiled, and found the strength to move her hand to brush it against the side of his face. "No tears," she reprimanded him softly.
"Can't help it," Alfred whispered, closing his eyes and leaning into her cool touch. He could feel the warmth leaving her as he held her hand in place, the muscles shaking at what used to be such a simple task.
"And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen! Let's listen in closely!" The camera panned in to show at least a dozen middle-aged politicians standing across the stage, smiling. One woman with coppery red hair stepped forward, holding the hand of the Governor of Puerto Rico.
The two women raised their entwined left and right hands, and shouted as one…
"We now declare the independent country of –"
"– the Nation of Puerto Rico!"
"Alfred, listen to me – I have one more thing to tell you. When someone becomes a Nation, if they were previously human or even a different Nation, for that matter, they…may not always remember their previous life."
"Holy Roman Empire…" Alfred mused out loud. "When he became Germany, you mean."
Arthur nodded. "Exactly. If this does work, and I mean it is a billion-to-one shot – timing Hope's death with the announcement of Puerto Rico becoming an independent country…I just don't want you to be disappointed if nothing happens."
"It will work," Alfred said, with a fierce look of determination in his eyes…of someone who doesn't know the meaning of failure.
"Alfred! Alfred, wait for me!" a quiet voice called.
The large Nation turned around, surprise on his face. "Matthew! What's the rush? The meeting doesn't start for another five minutes."
"I know!" he said, panting but with a large smile on his face as he ran up to join him. "I just forgot a few documents in my room – Kumajirou is saving my seat for me. But…I wanted to know…how are you doing? You know, with all of the changes lately."
Alfred sighed, turning to look down the hallway. "It's been difficult, I'll be blunt. The new independent government is still toddling, although the governor turned Madame President is handling it well. Eleanor and Neil have been back and forth a lot in the last two months since the treaty was signed for independence."
"Brings back memories, doesn't it?" Matthew asked him, tilting his head to the side. "Of our own independence."
"It does," Alfred agreed. "I'm just glad this went smoother than mine did."
"No war is a good thing," Matthew said. He then grinned, bumping his twin in the shoulder. "How is the…other thing?"
Alfred flushed. "What other thing?"
"You know," Matthew said slyly, winking at him. "With –"
"Alfred!" a female voice called out happily, a pair of high-heeled feet walking quickly towards them.
The twin North American countries turned as one, both smiling at the Nation. It was a woman with a slightly darker complexion, like a nice tan, wearing a female military uniform of a green knee length skirt and military blazer. Her country's flag was proudly emblazoned across the shoulders, as well as on a small pin on her lapel. It was made up of a blue triangle with a single white star on the left side, and a series of alternating white and red stripes on the other. "Canada! America!" she greeted them warmly, embracing Canada first.
"Puerto Rico! I haven't seen you lately – is everything alright?" Matthew asked her, addressing her with her official title.
"Busy, but nothing I can't handle," she told him, the slight Hispanic accent trailing cleanly off her lips. She then turned and literally jumped into America's eagerly awaiting arms. "I've missed you the most," she told him, wrapping her arms around his neck and placing a kiss on his cheek.
Alfred twirled her around once, inhaling the fresh tropical breezes. "So have I – it's been a full week, hasn't it?" he asked her, setting her down. He shook his head in amazement. "You look…wonderful. Are you ready for your first meeting as an official Nation?" he asked her, smiling.
"Nervous, but nothing I can't handle," she told him with a wink. She linked her arms, one with Canada and one with America. "Ready boys?"
"Of course!" they replied as one, and all three of them laughed as they walked down the hallway towards the wooden set of double doors. As they arrived, Alfred and Matthew let go of her and each took a handle. Opening the doors, immediately there was the loud sound of clapping and giving of congratulations.
Alfred took up his place by her side, sliding his hand into hers. "Ready?" he whispered to her. She looked up at him with piercing emerald green eyes, her wild chocolate curls pulled back neatly with a barrette. Standing up straight, Alfred pronounced his next words with a great joy swelling in his chest.
"Now entering the summit of Nations, the Nation of Puerto Rico…Hope Jones."