Excuse me, did I say updates should be faster in February? That was a slip of the tongue. Did I say I'd be less busy? That was a downright lie. Ahaha but really, I have to admit, the free time I've had this month was taken up by roleplaying things like France and England. With me as France. I love France. Did I mention he's my favorite Hetalia character? And one of the few I'm good at. I do Russia too, but I always make him too creepy and then Russia/America gets all kinky and sadomasochistic, which might not be a bad thing but... yeah. I'm all for l'amour.

Chapter Four
America: General Winter

His dreams were filled with howling wind and swirling snow. The blizzard wrapped itself around him like tendrils of fog or the bloody, hazy smoke that hovered across the land after a battle, caressing his arms, wrapping around his waist, stroking through his hair and invading his lungs through his open mouth. He was suspended in a net of fear and cold, and everything was white. He was numb. His mind - his mind felt frozen, coated by ice, ready to shatter at the slightest thought like icicles falling, diamond hard and yet so brittle.

This was not him. This was something else.

Beneath the snow, there were dead things, and they were calling.

Alfred jolted and came awake with a shudder and a gasp, fingers scrabbling and digging themselves into - snow? Iced-over dirt? ...Sheets? His mind whirled for several moments in a dizzying flurry of memory and sensation - snow, ice, warmth, blankets - and then snapped back into focus. More or less. He was on a bed, he was warm, and his glasses were missing.

The ceiling was a smudgy, white blur. Reluctantly, Alfred snaked a hand out from underneath all-too-warm blankets, patting the pillows and looking for the nightstand on the right side of his bed, where he always left Texas during the night. For some reason, it seemed to have vanished. He swallowed, tasting leftover fear in the back of his throat, and said, "My glasses?" His voice came out slightly querulously, like an old man's, and so he tried again. "I can't find my glasses."

That was usually the cue for Tony, silently present as usual, to place the cool frames into his hand. But this time, a slightly childish voice replied, "They are here," and he felt a tiny thump as the frames dropped carelessly onto his chest.

Well. That was weird. But it couldn't be...

He unfolded the glasses carefully and put them back on. He always felt better - more American - when Texas was with him like that. Then he blinked, the ceiling finally coming into focus and with it, the rest of the room.

"Now that you are awake," the same childish and frostily pleasant voice said from the side of his bed, "I wish you to clean up the mess you made in my kitchen. Vodka is not for spilling, da? It is for drinking. And I did tell you to stay away from -"

"So it wasn't a dream," Alfred said slowly, almost musingly, as he turned his head and fixed vague blue eyes on Ivan's stocky form. "The cold, and the snow..." His voice was soft and sounded entirely like the brash, laughter-filled tone he usually adopted. Ivan looked a bit shock. Even Alfred himself was slightly surprised.

"It was not a dream..." Ivan agreed after several moments, his voice slow, the chilly tone replaced by one resembling bewilderment. Then his mask was back in place as he adopted his patently fake smile. "But it is four o'clock in the morning, is it not?" He paused, tilting his head to the side, still with that absurd pleasantness. "Perhaps I will reconsider having you clean up the vodka tonight. Tomorrow, then."

Alfred blinked. The... oh. The liquor he had spilled; he remembered that. "Oh," he said out loud. "So... I can sleep?" He hated how he sounded like a frightened child.

Ivan looked at him, the cold gaze undiluted by his smile. "On the floor," he said. "This is my bed." And then he caught Alfred's look of disgust - he was to sleep on that dirty floor? This was Ivan's bed? Ivan had slept here? - and his smile, if anything, widened. "I joke," he continued, and stood from the rickety wooden chair placed at the side of Alfred's bed. "I will -"

"What was it?" Alfred asked suddenly, almost desperately, suddenly terrified at the thought of being here, in this house, alone, with that... "In the room? What was it?" he repeated when Ivan looked down at him blankly.

Ivan's face remained blank as he processed the question. "General Winter," he said. "An..." His gaze grew faintly troubled, and Alfred noticed that, somewhere along the way, he had lost his pleasant smile. "An ally of mine."

"You..." have terrifying allies, Alfred wanted to say. "You keep him in your house?" he said instead, incredulously. That - General Winter - was dangerous. Dangerous and terrifying and - Alfred didn't like thinking about it.

"That wing," Ivan said, waving vaguely towards the direction of the terrifying room. "That is all his. It has been his from the beginning." His eyes met Alfred's wide and slightly horrified ones, and his pleasant - sadistically pleasant - smile returned. "I am not so weak to succumb to him." He said that in a way that clearly insinuated that Alfred, by succumbing to General Winter, had proved himself a weak nation.

Alfred sent him a glare, but he was still feeling a dull chill throughout his body and his mind was rather too numb to make it really effective. "So you have snow. In your house," he said, rather idiotically.

"Da," Ivan agreed, and that tone in his voice couldn't be anything but condescendingly mocking. "In my house." He leaned forward slightly and Alfred involuntarily pressed himself back against the pillows, because something in his face had changed and it was now pleasantly... terrifying. "And," he continued, his voice low, "during the winter he slides through the crack under the door and walks through the house, and if he touches you, you freeze until the -"

"Stop it!" Alfred said, his face white. It took him a moment to realize that he had scrambled all the way to the other sideo f the bed, and then he was rather embarrassed. "I mean," he said, striving for a more manly tone where his voice wouldn't crack and he wouldn't sound like a frightened child, "that's ridiculous. That can't happen." It was painfully obvious that he was mostly trying to convince himself.

Ivan - almost - chuckled. "Da," he said again, "and now I am leaving you to your sleep." He turned to leave again. Alfred watched his broad back until he was nearly at the door, his hand on the light switch, and then he couldn't hold back any longer.

"Wait!" he said, and he still sounded like a child. He bit his lip as Ivan stopped. "Will you - I mean - with me -" he said haltingly, unable to get the words out. He couldn't ask Ivan for this. It was too embarrassing, too weak, and Ivan had been his enemy for nearly fifty years and this wasn't something your biggest rival was supposed to see, or know about.

Ivan looked at him blankly.

"I mean -" Alfred said again, then swallowed. "Please..." He looked away, anywhere but at Ivan. "Stay," he said, scooting to the side so that there was room for two in the bed. "Because..." I'm scared. "I don't like being alone. Now. At... night." He was babbling.

Ivan gave him a considering look, and for a moment Alfred was terrified that he would say "Niet" and keep walking out the door, leaving Alfred to huddle in the blankets that smelled like vodka and dust, trying to keep himself warm, shivering, in the dark...

The light went off and Alfred had to clamp his mouth shut so as not to scream. "So -" he said, pretending his voice wasn't shaking slightly, "so, you're not going to stay, that's fine, I was just kidding, really..."

In the dark Ivan was suddenly beside the bed again, looming like a ghost, but a familiar one, pale and smiling that childish smile. "You do not want me after all, America?" he asked. Somehow, when Alfred had been determinedly not looking at him leaving, he had shed his coat and his boots. His scarf was still wrapped around his neck like some absurd sort of snake.

Alfred was surprised, but gratefully so. "No," he said, "no, you can..." He pulled back the covers, realizing - belatedly - that Ivan must have taken off his bomber jacket and his shoes. Which was... weird to think about, so he didn't dwell on it. "Um. Thank you."

"Is nothing," Ivan replied, climbing into bed. He kept himself to the side of the bed - they were as far away as possible. "I would do the same for any child." He drew the covers up to his chin and then removed his scarf, folding it carefully and placing it on the floor.

Alfred bristled, probably blushing. He opened his mouth to object - I am not a child! - and then clamped it shut again. It was nearly completely dark in the room, and with just Ivan's silhouette showing, he could pretend that he was Arthur or Toris or someone else. Anyone else. And at least there was someone with him, someone who would protect him against that room - the blowing snow, the -

There were several moments of silence, then Alfred, curled on his side and nearly falling off the bed with his desire to avoid touching Ivan at all, whispered, "What does it feel like? When he comes out? General Winter."

For another few moments after he spoke, there was no response, and Alfred began to worry that Ivan had fallen asleep. Then, out of the darkness, came an answering whisper. "It feels... like death."

"Oh," Alfred replied in a small voice. He suddenly wanted to reach out, across the insurmountable gap between them, and maybe take touch Ivan's shoulder or something, comfort him. But his hand seemed crushed by the weight of a hundred years of history, and so he didn't move, instead listening to Ivan's soft breathing until he fell asleep.

(Did anyone else think that was terribly, fluffily cute?) Um. So yeah. My New Year's resolution was to update something twice a month and I've already broken it - but don't worry, I'll just have to make that up in March. Thanks to all my readers and reviewers, and please tell me what you think of this chapter! Next chapter: Ivan's thoughts on this (not quite) unexpected turn of events.