Chapter 40: черный: Black

There were loud voices cascading around him, disembodied and jumbled, muffled and pitched. Matthew couldn't focus on the words, didn't understand what they were trying to say, but he recognized the tension within- every syllable was quick, sharp, and poisonous. Anger, fear, desperation, determination, warning, threats-

He was about to panic; where was he? What did the voices want? He tried to open his eyes, feeling a sharp stab of pain from the bright lights, straight through the iris to his cranium- he moaned, shutting them again with force to block out the piercing white. He wished the onslaught of aches and pains- the sounds, the feelings swelling in his chest- would stop.

A sense of warmth snaked across his shoulders then, and he dazedly realized that there was a body next to him. Hot breath brushed across his forehead and then a deep voice, smooth and calm; so very different from the others whispered to him. "All is fine, Matvey."

Comforting, warm, safe.

The warmth belonging to that voice surrounded him, encasing him in strong arms, pulled close to a heavy chest; he smelled of spice and winter, cold and fresh, something that Matthew couldn't identify but reminded him of home. And suddenly, the panicked and angry voices nearby did not matter; they didn't frighten him- nothing could when he was so safe here. So long as he stayed here; so long as that voice remained so close.

A part of him worried it would leave and he couldn't bring forth the words needed to voice this fear, so he brought a hand up, touching the body of heat against his side and clutching at the fabric there. Stay.

Those arms tightened around him, and lips softly caressed his forehead. The message had been received, and Matthew slipped back into unconsciousness.

"Hey!" Came a general shout, a call for attention, loud and demanding, and any whispered conversations around him paused in response. "Think you can be any louder? Some people are trying to sleep, you know!"

Matthew slowly opened his eyes, conscious of the fluorescent lights above him, the concussion he suffered from was mild but irritating, as it kept interfering with his concentration. This was the third time he woke up without even realizing he'd fallen asleep, although, he was sure the others were thankful for the rest he was taking (after assuring his head trauma was nothing to be worried about of course).

He had to smirk though, because he couldn't resist poking at the ironic comment his brother had just made. "Al," He spoke up, voice dry from salt water and disuse, but no less humorous and rich with sarcasm. "Thank you for proving that you're the loudest thing in this room."

A snickered chuckle sounded from Matthew's left, and he looked over to see Ivan grinning wide and mocking. He was leaning back comfortably in a thickly padded chair, looking curiously through a magazine he had found in the pocket of the seat in front of him. They were on a plane, heading back to Moscow now; they had left the mess in Magadan as soon as possible.

The military presence at the harbor would linger for a while, to make sure order was maintained, the fire from the fishing boat was put out, and the charred remains of a human body were discovered after the ship was pulled to drag along the shore. Matthew was told that the unrecognizable corpse would be taken to a facility until they either continued the cremation or set his remains seven feet under the ground.

He really didn't think Dmitri deserved either, but they didn't have the time to decide what to properly do with him at the time - after the explosion, it seemed like everyone's eyes were focused on them. There were news and media helicopters circling, people asking questions and taking pictures.

With the unraveling of their secrets, Matthew wouldn't be surprised if this got out of hand very quickly - it was already beyond their control. So, as soon as was possible, they left the panicking city behind, and (with a single call to Ivan's boss that left him pale and shaking) they were on their way to a different kind of warzone.

After the death of their enemy, Matthew had hoped to feel some kind of closure. A conclusion to the wild police chase they've been on for the past week. Unfortunately, he only felt a deep dread; Russia's very existence was compromised and it left everyone feeling vulnerable and open for a completely new reason. There was no way to predict how the public would react to this new idea of a representative encompassing all of their wants and needs.

It terrified Ivan to the core, Matthew could see that - despite his nonchalant attitude as he flipped through a magazine, periodically joining in with the conversation of the others around the cabin. There was stiffness in his shoulders, a twitch of his hand, as if he craved to make a fist or hold a bottle of vodka. His contribution to any conversation was cursory at best, remaining quick and simple. Obviously, he wasn't concentrating on much, but he did look over to Matthew, scrutinizing him with a critical eye for a good five minutes to convince himself that Canada was finally feeling better.

"We will be arriving soon," He informed the blond, turning another page and looking far too intently at a pair of blizzard goggles to be truly interested. Those dark colored eyes had yet to properly meet Matthew's own, and the Canadian frowned slightly, wondering at how he could cheer the man up.

The blond reached over, taking hold of the man's wrist, tugging weakly until the magazine fell to his lap and Ivan allowed his arm to be taken across the seat. Pale fingers laced together and Matthew's lips quirked in what should have been a smile if he wasn't so worried about what waited for them in Moscow. "Ivan, if you're going to do this - if there's no other way than to tell the truth of who you are... then I'll -"

The plane bounced in the air, hitting just a bit of turbulence and causing Ivan's intense gaze to look away. A second later and the intercom above the seats crackled to life. They had arrived without trouble, and the captain requested everyone to return to their seats and await landing.

The hand was pulled away from Canada's light grip and the blond tried not to frown. Ivan wasn't looking at him; he seemed indifferent, detached, cold. Matthew could see that he was pretending, and he knew that Russia was maybe embarrassed or private in how close they had become, especially with America in the seat before them. However, Matthew wanted to ensure the man that he wouldn't be going through this alone; Canada would be there, and he would stand next to Russia in front of the world and announce who he was with him.

There were a few minutes of tense silence as the plane landed, and Matthew tilted his head forward, trying to catch Ivan's gaze as their ride rolled across the tarmac and slowed to a stop at the boarding station. Ivan released the belt around his waist as soon as the plane stopped and stood, throwing the magazine into his empty seat. Matthew squeaked, looking surprised at the abrupt action and very confused.

Russia turned as if to stalk down the aisle, completely disregarding the confused Canadian and for a split second Matthew thought he was going to simply leave without looking back. The man took one jerky step before hesitating, his body seemed to deflate, and when Ivan turned back to Matthew, it was slowly, guardedly. Canada was so thrown by Ivan's behavior that he couldn't react much more than to just stare. "Can you walk?"

Matthew had to actually think about that, and he looked down at his lap to the seatbelt around him. His hands were shaky, and he fought with the clip for a second before it released. He held onto the seat in front of him for balance as he stood. "Um, my legs feel like noodles, so I don't know."

Alfred jumped up like he had been waiting for a secret cue. "I'll help, Mattie!"

Before anyone could get a word in protest, America was sliding around his row of seats to his brother. Ivan's eyebrows furrowed, like he didn't appreciate the blonde's interruption, but then his face smoothed into a blank mask and he turned to continue his departing. Matthew frowned over Alfred's shoulder, watching him go without comment.

Slinging his arm around his shoulder, Alfred maneuvered the Canadian to the aisle, watching him take a few unsteady steps before getting more balance. "At least you didn't pick me up bridal-style," Matthew murmured to his brother teasingly.

A huge grin answered him. "Aw, I could totally be your white knight, bro. Want me to go get a horse? We can ride in the sunset together."

"Let me go get my dress and tiara on." They shared a goofy smile and from a seat across from them Gilbert cackled.

"Glad to have you back, birdie." Prussia sat up from the three seats he had taken over and shut his laptop with a snap. Matthew threw a little grin his way, always happy to be in the chaotic man's presence; Gilbert was always there to offer cheerful distractions, and his chipper declaration covered in relief was a nice change. France and England stared at the Canadian with a concerned, almost pitying look, and while Matthew was glad to have their attention and support, he didn't want them to hover.

In fact, everyone's eyes focusing on him as he wobbled down the aisle only made him embarrassed and vulnerable. Even with his brother next to him, who Canada trusted, he still felt too raw and sensitive; his strength was still that of a baby, his reflexes sluggish, and his head still aching with the bright lights overhead. He wanted Kumajirou; the bear's warmth in his arms and a second pair of eyes to watch over him- he was part of his soul, and Matthew distinctly felt him missing.

Gilbert jumped up from his seats, following closely behind the North American brothers. "Update, since you've been out for a while, sleeping beauty," He said. "Kumajirou is being loaded up front in a special ambulance to take him to Ivan's safehouse, we'll follow close behind in the cars; he's fine- was awake for a little bit until the doctor put him under so he wouldn't move around. You don't have to worry about him, he's healing quickly, I'm sure the little guy will be running after us for the kill in another two days or so."

Canada sighed in relief, so very glad to hear that. "Thank you, Gil, really."

He hummed in reply, continuing on, "I think all the news channels of Russia as well as some from the other countries are outside his place, so he's setting everything up elsewhere. Italy, Ukraine, and some others have already sneaked away and are meeting us at the new place. The traitor guy is being held in the cargo-bay, he's all set to go to prison-"

"You talking about Alec?" Matthew interrupted, looking surprised as he tried to look over his shoulder at him. "You caught him?"

"Ja, why? Want some revenge, birdie?"

"Non, non, he actually helped me. Can I talk to him?"

Alfred made a sound of protest, leading his brother down the steps of the plan and to the concrete ground. "I don't think you should, Mattie."

"Doesn't mean I won't."

"He's been shot and drugged up and locked up- Belarus is watching him anyway, she'll get him to talk when they interrogate him, no need to worry."

"I'm not worried about that, I want to talk to him, I think there's a misunderstanding in Alec and Dmitri's relationship. Alec didn't seem to know anything. Gilbert," Matthew looked back to Prussia when he could stand on his own, addressing him with intent. "Bring him with us to Ivan's new safehouse. He can remain a prisoner, but I doubt he'll try anything now that Dmitri's dead. I need to speak with him."

"Sure thing, birdie, but you owe me. Belarus is not my favorite person."

"I do owe you, Gilbert, for a lot of things." Matthew grinned. "Thank you."

America grumbled unhappily. "Sure, lets invite the enemy to the safehouse. Emphasis on safe, cause it's supposed to be just that- which it won't be now, funnily enough, cause the enemy will be with us."

"Oh, hush, he's the least of our problems now, Alfred, trust me." Matthew whispered.


"Look, it doesn't even matter; you think they'll assume Russia is the only country to have a representative? If you go out there and confirm who and what you are, they'll start asking about others. We should let our bosses create their cover stories and go into hiding-"

"What kind of cover story can possibly be used? There's visual evidence-"

"Hollywood can do that with graphic effects, come-on, just say it was a hoax or something!"

"What about the IDs, the records, forged birth certificates-"

"Those were made by the government, they are, in all forms, legal and true; but there will be paper-trails, I'm sure they haven't covered all their tracks, nobody ever thought it would come under suspicion."

"Why would they? Nobody cared-"

"You're forgetting about our own situations! Even if Russia takes the fall, it won't be long until they start looking at us."

"We should call for a world meeting, I'm sure they've seen the news by now anyway, someone call Yao, please."

"He's just going to panic, why inform everyone when we don't even know if it's serious enough to warrant a world meeting, we can do damage control-"

"Yes, you certainly did enough of that when you sent helicopters and special forces into a-"

The bickering continued, voices getting louder with each sentence and interruption, and Matthew, who had been sitting on the soft couch quietly since their arrival blew out a frustrated breath. He tried to get everyone to stop yelling, but nobody heard and as soon as they considered him recovered enough to get down to business, he was promptly ignored and forgotten. Figures.

He would be offended, and perhaps he probably should, but this was normal to him. Even if the attention and concern everyone showed toward him was a nice and welcome change, he would be lying if he said he wanted to be in the spotlight all the time.

However, what bothered him was the fact that his family argued like this was another world-wide intervention- like their conferences where everyone had an opinion to share and nobody could agree on anything.

He untangled the two blankets that America had smothered him with and threw them to the side, standing up with a slight huff of indignation, holding onto the armrest for balance. His legs were still a little unstable but in the few hours since they landed on the plane, feeling had returned to them and his head stopped swimming. Unfortunately, his temples now ached for a completely different reason than his concussion, and the steady increasing pulse of pain only grew with each sentence yelled across the room. Did they really think yelling their opinions any louder would get the point across? He always wondered about this logic...

His steps around the couch were increasingly stable as he sneaked around the group of Nations, desperately trying not to roll his eyes as they paid him absolutely no attention. He even had to lightly push at England's back to get past him and the Brit did nothing but gesture angrily at France for something he had said.

Matthew took one last glance around the room, noticing Italy and Ukraine in the corner fidgeting helplessly. Germany was holding the Italian against his side protectively and was one of the few Nations who was not yelling. However, the twitch of his eyebrow suggested his breaking point was not far away.

Prussia and Belarus were the only Nations not present, and Matthew glanced behind him to the small hallway that would lead to the garage, mostly likely where they were with Alec. Canada was hoping to sneak in there and talk to the man, but was distracted by the other two humans sitting on the other couch.

He had met Viktor and Vera when they arrived with Italy and Ukraine- the college student hugged Matthew tightly, whining in her language sympathetically, and Canada apologized for her involvement as much as he could. Viktor was respectfully concerned and had asked him about his injuries and their recovery.

It was a shame that they were so involved in this mess; Vera was young, a student, and Viktor was retired. Instead of living their lives how they should, they were here, watching what they knew to be the personification of Countries squabbling like children.

He wondered if they thought any less of them for this, and realized that he himself was ashamed of their actions. He was embarrassed that he had been put in such a compromising situation in the first place, that he couldn't handle it on his own. And now, even with all the power he had, he wasn't sure if he could fix this.

There was truth in the fact that Nation-Representatives were failing in their duties; they lost sight of their own people sometimes; they were selfish and stubborn, focused on the past and hating others for agressions not of their own doing. And now, those civilians, while only knowing the barest of facts about Nation-representatives, looked at the mess of arguing leaders with shell-shocked expressions.

This; this mass of arguing children was all they were now, and maybe- just maybe, Dmitri was right. The people, the ones they were supposed to protect and embody... if they saw this, wouldn't they be so disappointed?

They were so selfish, stubborn, ignorant. With all the power they had, the insight of knowledge into their own people and land; they did nothing. All because they refused to compromise and cooperate with others; all because their idea was not the favored one.

With tears welling in his eyes he looked around once more, chest heavy with disappointment- in himself mostly, because Dmitri's words, while tinted with insanity, rang with truth he couldn't deny.

Shades of mauve caught glances across the room and Matthew paused, studying Ivan's expression. The man had been involved in all discussions, mostly because the others worried about how he planned to handle the situation. Otherwise, Russia had been particularly silent and removed from the proceedings, especially regarding Matthew, which only confused the Canadian. He seemed to be avoiding the blonde, and he didn't know why or how to correct it, not to say they were alone for any length of time in order to do so in the first place.

However much he'd been distancing himself, Matthew spied a little emotion passed through Ivan's eyes as they locked onto each other. Concern; probably because Matthew's expressions were always so easily seen, and so his thoughts earlier were broadcasted for all those who looked. A soft fondness then; because Ivan now knew that Canada focused on the little things like feelings and kindness, and perhaps he realized that those things were not weaknesses like he once believed.

His face as a whole remained expressionless, but Ivan's eyes were easy for Matthew to read, and for all those little glimpses of Ivan's compassions, Canada could see the exact moment he shut down.

There was a twitch of his hand, like he wanted to reach out to Matthew, but it had been aborted quickly, and those dark shades of amethyst irises broke away to glance at the others. His eyebrows drew together, and the hand clenched into a fist. Broad shoulders lifted and fell with a sigh, and that was it...

Russia's gaze stayed on the group of Nations, and didn't return to Matthew- like he forgot he was there.

Matthew was invisible.

Well, if that's how Ivan wanted to play it... A sense of quiet rage settled in Canada's belly, quickly overcoming the shock. So Ivan was angry, so he had more important things to worry about- Canada could understand. What he couldn't and wouldn't put up with were purposefully ignoring situations and discussions. Russia wanted to pretend nothing had happened in regards to their relationship (friendship, at least could be acknowledged) then whatever; he was a grown-ass man, Matthew could leave him and his choices to their own consequences.

His flame of fury steadied him as he stomped forward, just enough to block the gazes of the two humans sitting on the couch. Vera's eyes lit up in a more cheerful expression and Viktor smiled kindly at him. "Both of you, come with me please," He said.

They stood, following him as he gestured their direction, and he didn't look at the Nations once, passing them with not a single notice.

The garage was cold when he stepped out to the slab of concrete in nothing but socks, thankful that the metal doors were shut and the cars moved to give them plenty of room. Immediately spotting Prussia leaning against the wall by the entrance, Matthew's smile was a little more compassionate when the man greeted him, feeling a lot less invisible just for the simple act. Belarus was across the room, sitting in a chair daintily, legs crossed and eyes sharp- she could be twirling a blade in her hand and Matthew doubted she could look any more menacing.

A few soldiers littered the rest of the room, all surrounding the hospital-borrowed gurney Alex Zaytsev was still handcuffed to. He was awake now, blinking at the ceiling in a way that suggested he'd taken too many painkillers.

Gilbert snickered. "He's as high as a kite."

"Think he could still answer some questions?" He seemed lucid, as Alec had turned to him as he spoke, watching and understanding.

Belarus hummed. "Brother is coming to interrogate him soon."

"I have more important questions."

She looked on indifferently, making a small gesture with her hand to show she did not care. Matthew stepped toward the gurney, leaning over the injured man who stared at him warily. Alec's skin was pale and clammy with nervous perspiration and pain, but he looked resigned to his fate. "Hey, kid," He murmured in a light way, as if to raise some tension.

It only cemented Matthew's theory however, and the blond sighed. There were protocols to follow if a Nation's representative wanted to speak of their true heritage. Like any secret confidential information, their mouths were to remain closed until given permission from their respective superiors. It is obvious, however, that those laws have been broken very recently with the other humans involved- Vera being a prime example.

Knowing Matthew had limited time to ask his questions, he steamrolled over the certain parameters they were given, threw out caution and simply skipped to the point; "You have no idea who we are, do you?"

Despite the expected shocked and remonstrative reactions from those behind him, Matthew continued, watching Alec's brows furrow in honest confusion. "You wouldn't have called me kid if you did. You probably wouldn't have helped me- or even helped him."

Alec swallowed thickly, face pinched in an expression of concentration, "I had my reasons." His voice was dull, practiced- he already had his excuses, probably thought out an entire script for when he was finally caught, not that it would help him get out of anything. This poor guy probably wouldn't be getting a trial...

Matthew's lips curled in a dry, sympathetic and humorless smile. "You don't know what you've done, Alec- the repercussions."

"I'm going to prison, right? S'ok, I have some friends in there-"

Belarus chuckled, "That's not where you're headed, boy. You've committed high treason, you'll be lucky if you're executed."

There was a solid five seconds before that kind of information processed, and it put such a terrified look on the man; wide brown eyes and slack jaw; it was almost comical. "Wait- what? Treason?!"

His surprise caused a chain reaction among the others in the room. Natalia's sneer fell from her face as she recognized his true ignorance, and Gilbert cursed. Canada sighed again, knowing he had been right. "Alec, I'm not just a dignitary of Canada, I am Canada. And the man who Dmitiri was going after, Ivan- he's Russia."

"Huh? Like, you're a president?" At Canada's head-shake he gulped. "Like a whole Country? Like Russia-Russia. The Russia."


"...I don't understand."

Matthew took that extra step forward, laying a hand on top of the criminal's chest and fisting the ripped fabric of his shirt tightly, not quite threatening, but serious. "Listen, Alec, I know Dmitri didn't tell you everything, and you helped me- maybe because you were told to- but you certainly didn't have to be so gentle or respectful about it." He caught the man's hazy eyes, showing his sincerity. "I was vulnerable, and a lesser person would have taken advantage of that. Thank you. I promise I will do what I can to lighten your punishment… There's something I need from you though, Alec."

The man's hazel eyes began to mist over with emotion and he turned away, gazing at the ceiling, blinking rapidly. "I never expected you to forgive me or anything...I don't know what I can do for you though, I didn't want to know who he was in contact with or why he was doing these things, and he never told me."

"No, no, that's not what I care about. Dmitri- I think he lied about his book." Alec's gaze jumped back to Canada's face in a way that only meant he knew, and the blonde leaned even closer, face opening up in surprise. "He was?! Alec, please, it's important, did he really have it with him? Was there really no plan for it?"

"He had me take him to this place. They specialize in old books. I-he did something- I don't know…"

There were footsteps in the house, the gathered Nations from the living room coming closer, to interrogate the criminal next. "Please, Alec!"

"He made a copy; digital, put it on a flash drive."

"Do you know what he did with it?"

"I don't- I think we stopped at a bank or something, but I have no idea…" His eyes widened in sudden thought, and he fumbled his free hand around in the cuff connected to the bed. "Pocket-my key."

Belarus stood up from her seat, jingling a set of keys on a finger, "These?"

"Yes! It's to a locker, he could have put the flash drive in the same place?"


Alec's lips pursed, and Matthew wanted to scream in frustration, because he was so close, and for Alec to clam up on information now was unacceptable! "Come on, Alec!"

"It's just… my money, it's for my sister-"

"Your sister will get her money," Belarus interrupted. "Tell us where this locker is."

The garage door opened and Ivan stepped through, the others not far behind him. Canada took a deep breath and threw himself over the man, simultaneously pulling on him with his gripped shirt and pushing himself up to press their cheeks together. Matthew's lips scarcely pressed against Alec's ear when he whispered, "I promise, whatever we find in there will be given to whoever you've done this for, but please tell me where?"

When Alec finally gave him the answer after a moment of tense waiting, Matthew grinned, relieved and grateful, pulling back to look at the man. "Matt?" Someone called from behind and Canada turned to see the group of those who had ignored him so easily not ten minutes ago.

Ivan in particular seemed to narrow his eyes in worried confusion at his proximity to Alec. He looked up with a questioning brow at Matthew, but the blonde huffed and glanced back to the man still in his grasp. "Nobody is to use any harm when questioning him," He called out.

"What?" Ivan scowled.

"He helped me, I'm returning the favor." Canada gave the man a firm nod, finally releasing him. "Gilbert and Belarus…" He looked at Natalia, accessing her mood and casting his eyes meaningfully to the keys in her hand. "We should go."

"No," Russia interrupted.

England frowned, "Why were you talking to him, Matthew? It was dangerous to do this alone, without us."

America did a little flail with his arms. "Dude, Mattie, we have a flight to catch, I'm taking you home."

The blonde froze, looking to the group, really wondering what was seriously wrong with all of them… "Are you all listening to yourselves right now?" He started. "It's funny how you ignore me just as it's convenient for you, then think you can come in, disregard my choices and actions, and start to order me about. It's like none of you learned a damn thing," Ivan's expression twitched as if momentarily pained, his gaze evened out to the typical indifference afterwards, however, and at that, Canada was done.

He stepped menacingly toward the group, "Who said I was getting on a plane out of here?" The question was rhetorical, and his raised voice (well, loud for him) made his brother and two father figures step back cautiously. "Stop treating me like a child," He turned his violet eyes on Ivan and let that anger he felt earlier rise to the surface. He didn't even know where to begin with this man; his attitude, the betrayal of his sudden avoidance, he jerked his gaze away looking towards Alec. "You do whatever the hell you want, but Alec is not to be harmed. I owe him that much."

"He was the one to kidnap you in the first place!"

"He was also the one who saved me from even more humiliation!" Alec winced, a look of recollection, as they both remembered the man's timely arrival back at the house. "Or at least stalled the inevitable."

"I'm sorry," Alec murmured, understanding what that had meant; that Dimitri was only delayed in his intentions toward the blonde.

Matthew's shoulders lifted unevenly in a poor attempt at casualness. "At least there are those who know better. You've proved that, and I have no doubt that you would have done something if you'd had the chance."

"It wasn't my place-"

"I saw your face, Alec." Matthew smiled. "No matter your relationship with Dmitri, there were morals you've kept intact; I'm saving your life here, shut up and take it."

Belarus came to Matthew's side, placing a thin hand on Alec's cuffed wrist. "I made a promise to you, I will keep it." The man nodded, eyes misting over with tears again.

"Yeah. Thanks Natalia- or… Belarus. Holy shit! I kissed a country."

Natalia's eyes narrowed and her dainty little hand was suddenly pointing threateningly at his nose. "I kissed you, only because you demanded it- on the cheek, so it does not even count. Also, do not forget that I will castrate you at any moment!"

She looked scary, even Matthew shivered at the cold glare she was sending the man, though the Canadian noticed she had not taken out a knife yet. Perhaps she was beginning to like the criminal? Alec simply stared at the woman in awe. Matthew questioned his sanity, especially when he whispered something along the lines of, "You're beautiful when you're threatening my life and manhood. So very scary- but that could work for me, maybe we could explore these options."

Dark blue eyes widened in surprise and Matthew snorted with barely contained laughter. "Wow, maybe you could."

"Quiet, Canada."

"Oui, I'm not saying anything." Matthew threw the woman a short grin, highly amused, and perhaps Belarus didn't hate him as much as he thought because, while she didn't smile, her unimpressed eye-roll was almost fond. With a tilt of his head, Matthew gestured their parture, Gilbert and Natalia falling behind him. "Al, I'm trusting you and Ludwig to watch over Kumajirou; keep him asleep if possible until I get back, I don't want him to wake up and worry when I'm gone."

"Ma- Mr. Canada!" Russia called, sliding his bulk forward to block his way out the door and to the waiting vehicle they arrived in still parked outside. Matthew narrowed his eyes, wondering at the formal sound of his name. "As a guest in my house, going outside could make matters worse, perhaps going home would be best for you. I cannot guarantee your protection out-"

"Whatever belief you have that I can't protect myself- shelve it, because I certainly do not need a lecture from you, Mr. Russia." He stated bitterly, stepping right into the man's space. "Now, I'm trying to help you, though at the moment you make it very tempting to simply stand back and watch you try miserably to straighten this all out on your own, because that's what you do right? Am I in your way? Or may I interject and tell you that this situation can possibly become ten times more likely to blow up in your face?"

Ivan looked frozen in place, staring down at Matthew with wavering intent; the spark of anger the Russian could have so easily come to as the blonde yelled at him never came, instead was a high degree of concern, guilt, and stubbornness. "Where?"

"I'll keep you posted if we need your help. More than the three of us will attract attention and they don't know our faces. You stay here and continue being the big infallible Russia, it's working great for you." He patted the man on the arm, pushing him away at the shoulder and waist to leave, not quite looking at him as his last hurtful barb left his mouth.

Ivan did not protest and the others were perhaps too shocked at the scene before them to say anything as the three nations left the building, Gilbert ruffling his hair once before jogging around to the driver's seat.

Belarus claimed the passenger side and Matthew slid in behind, buckling his seatbelt and sighing in mortification, leaning his forehead on the cold window of the car door. It felt good on his heated face.

"You are angry with him," Natalia stated in that indifferent tone of hers. "Is it because he is ignoring your presence?"

She was so blunt, Matthew almost thought it was refreshing. "I wish I wasn't shallow enough to say yes, that is part of the reason. But mostly, I can't stand how he can pretend nothing happened. Since we got off the plane he's been cold, he doesn't look at me, not because he's ignoring me, but because he's avoiding me. There's a difference."

She hums uncaringly and turns to turn on the radio- that was the end of the conversation. Canada couldn't help but smirk to himself; Natalia had a certain personality that you had to get accustomed to, perhaps she was growing on him as well.

"We will still be getting married."

Maybe not quite yet.


"- waiting outside for the man named Ivan Braginski, who, if the reports from six highly respected councillors and several government officials who ask to not be named are to be believed; could be a man so deep in our Nation's workings that his identity was changed multiple times over the past to protect him. Only through leaked information to the public and the sudden confession by the councillors to the press allows us to be here, demanding the truth regarding these strange acclamations."

"Yes, may we talk about these statements for a short moment? Many of the papers were sent to our head chairman through email by a man named Dmitri Mihailov- who is not answering any form of communication; no one even knows where this man is, and he's very influential in his business regarding aircraft manufacturing and maintenance. These include forged birth certificates, video surveillance regarding barbaric fighting, hospital visits and records, from dates that far out-span a normal man's lifetime; all with the same name, same face, in every picture and video. Now, this is not a hoax, yes?"

"The chairman, the six councillors, the few others we've spoken to; they all say this is one man; he's a secret that has been protected for centuries."

"Is it like, a scientific creation? Made by the government?"

"No, and this is the strange part, they say this man is Russia; there has been attempts at explaining what this means. It's not just a patriotic statement but an answer. More of our interviews with these men willing to show themselves to the public can be found on our site, top news. But back to your question, sir, unless our superiors have suddenly started spewing nonsense, this could be something that can change our country's views forever. Going by how these men have reacted and the overwhelming reaction of our government's actions we can assume that whatever this means, the information leaked was in fact, very important, to the point that these men could possibly be called for treason."

"Treason! That serious? Would they have had such a reaction over a harmless joke?"

"That's the idea; so many highly respected persons coming forward with statements foretelling this story's authenticity- what else could it be?"

"And will our president be giving a comment?"

"He has not answered any of our questions and has so far refused to see us, we have been looking for Ivan Braginski as well, with little luck."

"Do you think this man exists?"

"If he does he can't hide forever, his photo is out for everyone to see. People will recognize him."

Ivan's jaw tightened as his photo displayed on his television, taken who-knows-where, showing his eyes clearly despite his indirect gaze towards the camera. Alfred groaned from his seat on the sofa, "You're so fucked."

"Language, America," England chided, though his tone was more defeated than usual as even he understood the chances they had at controlling the situation plummeted even further into the dirt with every word from the press.

Gritting his teeth so hard his jaw began to ache, Ivan spun around from his position in the doorway of the house and garage, looking at the prisoner on the gurney with a glare. Stomping down to the man, barely acknowledging Germany's warning, he fisted a hand in the criminal's shirt, jerking him up to stare in his face. "I want to know how he got these things, all this information, why my government is turning on its people." Again, he finished to himself.

"I literally know nothing; none, zilch, nada; what other languages can I say it in? Please don't hit me, those fists are deadly, come on, Matthew said-"

"Do not hide behind his words! Do not even speak his name! You will pay for the part you've played, coward, whether I kill you later or let you rot in the siberian prison."

Alec whimpered, from fear of Ivan's intimidating form, from the pain in his stretched arm, from the prospect of going to the worst prison imaginable for life. "I didn't know."

"Where has my sister and Canada gone?"

"... St Petersburg, but I promise I will take any and all punishment if you let them keep their promise, I just-"

"Do not make demands! You are in no position for it!" Ivan's fist shook, wanting so badly to swing, knowing it would give him a sense of justice, allow his stress to ease if only slightly. Canada's words stayed his hand and it frustrated him even more so because he didn't understand and he was trying so hard to keep his composure. His reputation may be the only thing he has now, and Matthew was turning out to be the only cause for his wavering emotions.

Ivan had learned a lot over the past few weeks, for a moment there in the hotel room with Matthew in his arms, he had felt like a completely different man; one with hope. A sense of security and safety- the knowledge that he could be vulnerable, with his past broken open in front of someone and they accepting of that truth. The way Matthew had touched his hands so delicately, kissed him sweetly, that trust was returned, earned, given so willingly.

Soaring from the feeling, Ivan had felt empowered in a way he never had before; this strength didn't come from muscle, or even the taking of territory, or a healthy economy and government… it was love, wasn't it? Something he had wanted so badly before from China or Lithuania, even Finland; hoping the other Nations could look at him like they did Sweden, Poland, and Japan. Even had he been successful, Ivan had never felt like this, this was something special, and he was absolutely petrified at the thought that it would disappear.

It had to, because Matthew-Canada was not his, they could not have a union, and despite the whisper in his head that said he could take, the larger part of Ivan knew he could never break that trust he had just founded. What would he offer in the first place? His identity was compromised, the people of Russia would soon know- and the only thing he could do was stand tall so that when they did finally see who and what he was, they saw strength, confidence, and fortitude. Not a hopelessly desperate man warring with the new feelings that came with longing after someone you've suddenly fallen in love with.

He was losing that battle already though; his poor attempt at distancing himself from Canada, making sure his desires were completely hidden from himself and (more importantly), the Nations of America, England, and France. Alfred had sent more than a few suspicious stares his way, proving that he wasn't completely oblivious, but unsure exactly of what Ivan's intentions were. Gilbert, however unfortunately, continued to wink flirtatiously at him and at one point asked quietly to himself and Ivan if Matthew was "one of those kinky food-sex guys who would love to try his maple syrup on Ivan's vital regions."

"It's a valid question!" Was the only thing the others heard as Russia shoved his face into the glass window next to his seat and threatened to throw him out the emergency hatch of the plane.

So Gilbert was a lost cause, as he already knew from simple observation of both parties, that something was indeed happening between the two. Ivan couldn't help but withdrawl into himself at the thought of being with Matthew though. He didn't know what was expected of him, and he didn't want Matthew or his Country hurt; this type of situation, the fact that Matthew was with Russia, with his reputation- it could seriously hurt him.

Pulling back before it got too far was a wise decision, Ivan thought- until he saw Matthew's expression of betrayal and anger. Too late he wondered if perhaps he should have told Matthew this; let him know that Ivan wanted and craved, but was afraid of the repercussions. Maybe they could wait, if that wasn't selfish, if Matthew would wait- and Ivan wouldn't blame him if he didn't, told himself there were plenty of better candidates for the blonde, reminded himself that Canada had been attracted to others. Would Gilbert slide in and make a move? Would he ask his sister to be with him?

Already his heart hurt with these thoughts and he wanted to brace his hand against his chest just in case, because he couldn't stand the ache with every beat. Canada; even if he couldn't have him, would be safely out of the public's eyesight- he could go home, hide, forget that this entire situation ever happened, because why would he want to remember this?

Even still, even with Matthew so obviously hurt and angry by his indifferent actions toward him, his wishes for this criminal in his hold rang loud and clear. If Canada did not want him hurt, for whatever reason, Russia would keep his promise, he just wanted to know why, "What did you do for Canada? Why does he defend you?"

"I just- Dmitri wanted him cleaned up, c-cause he was wounded and his clothes were basically ruined and… so I bathed him-" A violent shake from Ivan caused him to stutter, head pounding and vertigo making him nauseated. "T-that's it! I just cleaned him up, no-nothing bad, and he said thank you because I was nice. I s-swear."

A strangled growl passed Ivan's throat and for a long minute Alec thought his life was going to be over; the Russian's eyes burned, fists raised like he was moments away from punching Alec's face in. Then, so very slowly, the fists lowered. "You respected his body? You did not take advantage?"

"No. I cleaned his wounds, bandaged them, dressed him, and put him back in bed. T-there was also a time that, I just thought Dmitri was being creepy, y-ya know? So I got him out of the room; it didn't stop anything, really, it was just once, but I g-guess it earned me, what you call, brownie points? I'm not complain-"

"Shut up now." Russia snapped. Alec obeyed. Violet eyes assessed the criminal intently, and Ivan's hand slowly released Alec's wrinkled shirt until the hulking Russian finally took a step back, huffing sharply, he took a phone out of his pocket. "I'm calling Matvey, if there is anything dangerous there…"

"It's just a bank safe-box; it's supposed to have my money in it, but… I don't know if he added anything else, that's what they went for."


America coughed from the doorway, earning everyone's attention. "By the way, I don't give a shit what you did for Mattie, if you were or ever are in my jurisdiction, I won't hesitate to riddle your body full of holes, comprende?"

"Ja," Germany spoke up from his corner. "Alec Zaytsev, you are hereby banned from the Federal Republic of Germany until further notice."

"Step foot on United Kingdom soil and you will be killed without question."

"French Republic aussi!"

Alec pouted, for the sake of the mood. "I doubt I would have ever gone to these places, but thanks for killing that dream."

Ivan muttered a "Prison," under his breath as he tapped on his phone. "For life." And then he frowned, angry, worried, and shamed, because his call to Canada went unanswered after a single ring. Gilbert was was one who called him back a minute later and Ivan accepted the call mulishly.

"Gilbert, why is Canada ignoring me?"

"Why do you think? Something about payback, you're gonna have to watch for this kid, he's a spiteful little firecracker, you may want to stop being such a dick to him." There was a bit of a threat in his sentence that suggested Matthew is not the only one who will dish out revenge if Ivan doesn't watch his step, but the Russian didn't know what to do; continuing his indifference seemed the most logical in the situation.

"Da, listen, this bank you're going to, there is no guarantee that there is money in there, Dmitri could have done anything to it. Do not let Ma-Canada open it, da? Or my sister."

"Ja, whatever, make me open the could-be-a-bomb safe; though, you know that they look over and record everything that's put in there, right, they wouldn't allow a bomb? And you do know, as I don't have a fucking Country anymore, that either of them would survive that blast more than I would anyway?"

"...Da. Maybe that is the kill-two-birds-with-one-stone saying, yes?"

"I'm hanging up now, asshole."



"I'm going in, you two can stay here if you want," Matthew said. He hadn't even finished the sentence before Belarus and Prussia were following him out of the car.

"No way, birdie."

A little less than an hour away from the safehouse, the bank was located in the middle of a busy intersection, commercial cafes and restaurants surrounding. It was a nice place, calm with a fountain to the right of the red brick building. Stone steps took customers to the entrance and decorative concrete columns held up the romanesque architecture, giving it a light and open feel. Matthew felt a tremendous amount of relief standing outside in the sun, however forecast the sky was at the moment, and it looked to be ready to snow later; he'd been cooped up too long, on beds, on planes, indoors, hovered over.

He took a deep breath, stretching out his legs; they were still sore, but it was more of a muscle ache that came with sitting still too long. Falling into step with the other two, he wondered if he could stay here for a while longer; just to avoid the others for a few more hours. It was a passing thought- he felt too involved and needed to simply walk away from the situation, no matter what the others said. He couldn't nor would he pack up and go home after all this, leaving it to Russia to clean up and fight the accusations himself. Matthew felt responsible, definitely, but there was also a sense of morals that told him Ivan facing all this alone would be a terrible idea.

Despite what the others thought, this was a situation that the world could be affected by. That certainly didn't mean they had to get everyone involved at once and possibly blow the entire thing out of proportion. At some point though, with the technology available, the open mindedness or straight-up belief people had in modern heroes and miracles, and the likelihood of dedicated persons just looking for this kind of opportunity, wasn't it only a matter of time? Would their existence remain unknown for all eternity?

Matthew didn't think so little of his people; the only thing that made him so panicked was how everything was brought up. If people knew their Countries represented themselves as anthropic figures, the introduction to the people should have been more sedate; with time for discussion and a way to tell the truth about where the "Nation" stopped and the "Person" began; their reputation and purpose.

If Dmitri's book was released and the people's first view of Ivan as Russia was a cold, repressed, angry, and terrifying figure straight out of a horror movie, then it would set the precedent for everything. Matthew wanted nothing more than to give the people the truth, but to start it off with that; nobody would understand, it would defeat the purpose. If the world was going to see them, he wanted them to see the human side first; that they had feelings, apart from their Nation's. They loved, hated, and most of all, made mistakes (that some could blame as the beginnings of wars). They were not weapons or warriors (though they fought right alongside their military) they were not politicians (though they were hidden in their leaders pockets as guides and advisors)- they were the land, the voice of the people; but they were also their own person, capable of individual thought.

As he climbed the steps, Matthew hoped above all, that the world would see Ivan Braginski first.

A shoulder bumped into his own, and his still weakened legs wobbled for a second before he straightened with a breath of relief. "Sorry man, I was looking down the whole time-"

"No problem." The short man said, using one hand not holding his leather briefcase to straighten his suit at the lapels. The buttons were already straining against the plump belly and he seemed to be sweating- from the stairs most likely. A balding head of blond hair swept to the side to reveal an aging face with crows feet at the edges of blue eyes. "Have a good day."

The man was kind enough, smiling good naturedly with the charm of a businessman who spoke to people often, but for some reason Matthew paused on his next step, hesitant; he turned to watch the man walk away, wondering if he recognized him. He certainly spoke good English, maybe that was what caught him off guard, as he was obviously Russian with his accent.

"Belarus," He said, "Go check the bank, I'm going to wait outside."

She nodded, having watched the exchange with narrowed eyes. "That was Goscheke, one of the chairmen, the President's advisors. Very important man… who is not usually seen here, and definitely not seen alone."

Nobody replied to the new information, but Matthew started to make his way back down the staircase as Belarus climbed up, her pace quicker now. Gilbert followed the Canadian, closely watching and tailing the political businessman all the way to his car a block away.

There were quite a few people around, it was a mall, and this helped Matthew and Gilbert stay hidden, but as soon as they rounded a more isolated corner the suspect jerked his head to the side. He most definitely heard their footsteps, and unlike a regular inconspicuous person, this old man, in a truly paranoid fashion began to look around wildly. His eyes met Matthew's for a split second, widened in recognition, and then he turned and ran, feet pumping in quick, short steps.

Gilbert let out a giddy laugh, placing a hand on Matthew's shoulder. "He won't get far, look at him, he sits behind a desk all day; I'll get him."

A few yards away, he wrestled with his keys, unlocking the door to his red sports car with the fob, Gilbert was less than a few feet away. When the man turned to see face those footsteps from behind, he was faced instead with a barrel of a gun pointing at his chest, just low enough to be hidden by the cars on either side of them. Shakingly, his hands rose in the air, one holding his keys, the other a brief case. "What do you think you're doing pointing that thing at me?"

Matthew smiled dryly, catching up easily, "Sorry Mr Goscheke, I know this may look bad, but in five minutes we'll know if you're a suspect in the act of treason against Russia or not. Does Dmitri Mihailov sound familiar?"

"No," It was said way too quickly to be the truth, and Gilbert laughed in his cruelly amused way.

"Really? His name is all over the news, why wouldn't someone like you not hear about it?"

"Oh, yes, I've heard of course- but the man, I know nothing about him, nobody does, I thought you meant-"

Gilbert waved the gun more threateningly in the man's face, shutting him up with a squeak that sounded similar to a mouse. "What's in the case, fatty? Damn that sounded mafia-ish, we should have Romano here, right birdie? He'd want this on video at least."

"Not the time, Gil."

"Ah, maybe later, he'd definitely enjoy it. Open the case!"

The man whimpered, hesitant. He dropped the keys in a fit of shaking hands as he fumbled with the leather, clumsily unlatching the case and slowly pulling it open. "It's mine, I swear- I just came out of a bank, so naturally I'd have it…"

It was cash; thousands of bills neatly tied and stacked.

"Bet you that's a lie," Canada muttered. His phone began to ring and he took it out of his pocket, wondering briefly how Belarus got his number before answering. "So I'm guessing there's nothing in the safe of Alec's."

"Cleared out ten minutes ago. Money and all."

"It's here." Matthew wanted to continue- ask her what she wanted him to do; take this man to her, simply kick his ass and tow him back to the safehouse, call the police- when the phone clicked and Matthew was left with a dial tone. It was apparently heard all around, for Gilbert glanced quizzically at him and Matthew blushed. "She hung up…" The Prussian laughed. "Whatever, just give the case to me."

Putting his phone away, making sure Gilbert had the gun trained on the man, he took the still opened case from the quivering man, holding it in the crook of his arm, he began to search along the inside. He flipped up wads of cash, felt along the liner, the sides, the little pocket in the lid- when his search failed, he closed the case, set it down and advanced upon the man once more. "There's something else, wasn't there? A drive, usb- what?" Matthew took hold of the guys arm even as he started protesting, denying and lying. He patted the man's pockets at the waist, the pants. Pulling the suit away from the man's chest, he ran his nimble fingers down the buttoned lining, looking for a breast pocket. Almost immediately on the right side, he could feel a small lump of weight; making sure it wasn't a button, he pulled at the suit until he found a small pen-pocket.

A small flash drive. Matthew smiled. "Was this in the safe too?"

"No! It's my work, just paperwork, files and statistics from my department."

"Your department of which is not doing so well financially, I hear, Mr Goscheke." Belarus said, high heels taking her ever closer. "It is not too surprising that you would take money, even if it is soiled in blood. Now, I have called my brother. Officers will be here to escort you in five minutes. Then we must go," She cast a short look at Matthew. "We wait by our car. Gilbert, please bring him along."

Matthew and Natalia kept behind the man during the short walk back, Gilbert holding his arm tightly and gun barrel pressed close between them to hide from civilians. "What did Ivan say?"

Dark blue eyes glanced at him, uncomfortably blank. "He is glad we retrieved the data-storage device, and he wants us home as soon as possible."

"A few minutes later, it would have been too late…"

"He asked of you first." The Canadian looked at her surprised. "My brother… he does not understand affection, you know. There is no person on earth that is more harsh to him than himself. He thinks differently, and sometimes you must give him other views he would otherwise not see. It is sad to see, and he would never admit, but he is largely alone and unkind because he choses to be so."

Canada nodded faintly, understanding her words, but confounded on their source; this is the most he had heard from the woman without insults thrown in and he definitely was not expecting to have this conversation with her in the first place. "He pushes people away because he thinks it's weak, which is ridiculous, caring about someone makes you stronger. Still, he seemed different, like he cared and wanted to… but now, he's ignoring me, and it makes me so angry because it's like, everything we went through didn't change anything at all!"

"Perhaps, it truly did." Natalia replied. "For all Ivan's attempts to push people away, he is a selfish child on the inside. He takes what he wants, though he ends up destroying it with his ideas of love. However, in this case, the thing that he wants is something he is afraid to have and so he is at a standstill."

"Y-you think… he's afraid. Of the implications, the fact that he could destroy me as you say, other's opinions-"

"All of those, yes."

Canada gulped, suddenly overwhelmed. "Ok-ok, now things are making sense from a twisted point of view… it's preposterous, but understandable with his character so far, and he told me he didn't trust himself with me before; I just thought we had moved on-"

"Perhaps, you should speak clearly to him."

"Oui, I will, thank you… um, yeah, really. Thank you."

Natalia flipped her hair opening the passenger door for herself when they arrived at their parked vehicle. "I still do not like you, I believe you cannot give him what he needs; but my brother was happy, and his actions to ensure your safety speaks loudly of your importance to him. Should he wish to pursue a relationship with you, I will hesitantly give my blessing. Although, for your information, I will be watching the proceedings closely. The moment this affair turns unhealthy, I will end it. Do you understand?"

"Yes, I do… thank you."

"You've said that already," She scowled, shutting the door after she settled daintily in her chair, effectively cutting off the conversation. Matthew was not offended though, quite happy with the short civil conversation they had. Gilbert caught his eye and grinned devilishly.

"You and Ivan… that's going to be the center of all gossip next conference. Alfred's not gonna be happy, ja?"

Just the face Matthew imagined America would make made him laugh.


It was just passed sundown when they got back to the safehouse and Ivan crept along the edges of the room when Canada returned. Something had changed though, and Matthew smiled easier for some reason, not even frowning when Ivan avoided his eyes. There were short talks around them; what to do now, what Ivan planned for the press tomorrow when he confronted them (his boss was adamant that he lie and deny all accusations, but there was no way it would work to completely cover up all the evidence).

"Ivan wants us gone by afternoon tomorrow, so we're staying the night here and leaving first thing in the morning. I… got you a ticket- I know you said you didn't want to leave just yet but I thought, just in case, ya know, whatever you want…"

"Thank you Al. Can I borrow your computer alone, please?"

Russia slipped away when Italy brought out the food he had cooked, seeing that everything was fine for the night. Windows and doors were checked, the guards outside given their orders, and the arrangements for the other's sleeping were decided, he fell back into his room. He spent time taking a shower, fixing the bed, opening and then closing the drapes on the windows, fiddling with his replacement scarf. Sitting on the bed, staring into space, he listened to the house for another two hours. The guests slowly fell asleep and the settlement of silence gave him a foreboding feeling.

At some point he laid down under the covers, watching the ceiling, trying to keep his brain from going in circles with its thoughts. His head ached, and he knew he should try and sleep but there was no way he'd be able to like this; there wasn't enough time for sleep when it felt like there was so much to be done. And yet he was exhausted down to the bone, unable to move from his bed and unwilling to rest.

It must have been another hour or two later, deep in the middle of the night, most probably into next morning, when he heard a quiet knock on his door. At first, Ivan wondered if he was beginning to imagine things, sitting up in bed with a cautionary expression, but the door opened, slowly and silently to reveal a familiar blonde curl, waves of hair, violet eyes within a soft face.

The boy stepped into the room meekly, leaning back onto the door to close it behind him. He wore grey cotton pajama pants and a white henley, soft and casual; it made Ivan look for perhaps a little longer than necessary. Matthew glanced up from his stare at the carpet, catching his eye, and Ivan turned his gaze away, just over the Canadian's shoulder. "What do you want?"

"To talk."

Unfortunately, that was almost the last thing Ivan wanted to do. "We can do that later, it's late, and I have-"

"Ivan, please don't lie or make excuses to avoid me."

"I'm not," Russia replied, but he shut his mouth without another word, knowing there was hardly a chance of winning against that battle. Standing up from the bed, he left the sheets where they were turned down for him, hardly wrinkled as he lay paralyzed in thought before. He felt more undressed than the blonde at the door; thin grey muscle shirt and black boxers, white scarf around his neck. Feeling vulnerable, he crossed his arms, waiting for a fallout that would leave him even more destroyed.

Matthew didn't have the stance he was expecting though, and when he stepped forward it was hesitant, as if he were approaching a frightened animal. His face was kind, eyes bright and a small smile on his lips; it worked to disarm the Russian, and by the time they stood chest to chest, Ivan was more shy than defensive.

Soft hands grasped at his folded arms, not pulling or tugging, just letting the thumb caress there for a moment. Those bright eyes looked down at the contact, and his words were always quiet, but this time they were filled with emotion. "So I may have been more than cruel in my actions today," He started. "You pulled away from me, ignored me; I started to assume… That this was a mistake to you, that you wanted nothing more to do with me, that maybe all of this trust I had placed in you- hoping you would see me, had been unfounded. I was insecure; perhaps spoiled with the amount of attention you had given me."

Matthew glanced back up. "It hurt when I was suddenly invisible to you again. I felt like things were just going to go back to this; me being… a ghost, a nobody, and you- going back to being this impression of a cruel ruler. So soon after hearing what Dmitri said, it made me sick to think you would willingly give in to that."

"Of course not!" Ivan protested, a deep frown on his features. "I just…"

There was a lengthy pause. "You what Ivan? I can't read your mind, please tell me! Were you just shoving me away because you didn't want me-"

"Don't say that," The man interrupted. There was color rising on his cheeks, but a determined frown still on his face. "You say that like you believe it; that I don't want you. I do!" He seemed to swallow thickly, eyes flickering away and back again. "I do want you," He repeated, quieter. "I thought I had made that clear before. But, Matvey, this thing with the media, and the questions, it may ruin me… I do not want it to do the same to you."

"You keep saying that; I will ruin you, this relationship will ruin you, this situation will ruin you," His tone imitated a deep voice like Ivan's, and the light-hearted grin made it easier to tell the Canadian was teasing. "That's what love is about, Ivan; taking that risk. Ya know?"

"... love?" Ivan stumbled over the word, eyes gazing in wonder. "You-"

"I know we never spoke about what this is," That happy grin fell into an unsure smile. "I don't know what you are expecting, Ivan, but I want you. I want to try this. We can make it work; I can feel it, if you try."

Beginning to quiver, Ivan uncrossed his arms, dislodging the light hold on them, he thought frantically; this was his chance, and yet, that logical, cynical voice in his head whispered that he didn't deserve it. Saying yes would bring more harm than good; for purely selfish reasons-

Hands were suddenly cupping his cheeks, fingers running behind into his hair and lips brushed against his own. It was so sudden, and yet Matthew kissed him with confidence, capturing his lips and pulling him down to a more even height. Ivan pressed back instinctively, breathing in the smell and taste of the blonde with fervor, his hands attached to hips and all at once they were completely connected, pressed flush, entrapped in each other's hold.

The heated kiss was the center of their focus, and it was less of a battle and more of a passionate show; who could hold on tighter, who needed this more. With such an amazingly sweet taste on his lips, Ivan had to remember to breathe, had to pull away from the warm mouth he had thoroughly explored only to gravitate to the blonde's jaw, waves of wheat-colored hair tickling his cheek as he kissed down his neck, tasting the soft skin. His name was whispered into his ear at his administrations, and his breathing hitched at the amount of emotion within; the way Matthew sounded when he keened. The soft body against him, the smell, taste, and sound- he hardly noticed being pushed, but falling back against the bed pulled him out of his daze enough to watch Matthew climb on over him.

Strong lean thighs settled to the side of Ivan's hips and the weight that settled on his groin made him stir in arousal, sure the boy could feel it against him. His wide palms attached themselves back at the hips, feeling the abdomen shift sensuously as Matthew leaned over him. "Tell me now, if you still want to ignore this…"

Ivan barely swallowed back his groan, both from the breathless way Matthew spoke to the friction against his awakening body. Those bright amethyst eyes above him were wide with excitement and the golden halo of his hair fell down, framing his face and casting shadows.

"I'm selfish too, Ivan. I'm naive, careless, soft-spoken, passive-aggressive. I'm petty in my revenge, I bottle things up until I explode, and I'm competitive in every sport; I'm a pretty sore loser most of the time too. I eat more maple than is healthy and I experiment with it in every dish- it usually doesn't work but I'll make you eat it anyway." His hands slid up Ivan's torso, taking the edge of his muscle shirt with him, heated palms caressing a hot trail up his chest. When he got to his shoulders, nimble fingers softly took hold of the scarf, slowly unwinding the material, watching Ivan's face for any protest.

"Kumajirou and I are a packaged deal; he sleeps and eats with me, and he makes messes, takes every single pillow on the bed, and purposefully chews up your boots if you make him mad." Ivan had to prop himself up on his elbows to help get the scarf off, then settled back down, feeling uncomfortable but trusting as Matthew's hand lightly cups the side of his neck. "I push too hard sometimes, because I will try so hard to know you, to try and understand- and I know its not always about trust. Sometimes, you just need time, and I will do my best to understand that. I'm sorry in advance for all the ignorant ways I will hurt you, but if you do this-"

"I have many faults, Matvey," Ivan said shyly, bringing one hand up to the one on his neck, holding it there to show him it was okay. "If I hurt you- or when, because I know there are these times, I don't know when or why, that I just… wish to break things. I say bad things too- I know they will hurt, and I'm a coward when it comes to facing my judgement; I avoid problems like they will just disappear. But Matvey, I don't mean them; I feel so much guilt when I see you disappointed in me- even before this. I'm ashamed sometimes, and I drink vodka until I'm incoherent…" He stopped, color flushing his cheeks with embarrassment.

An encouraging smile above him lessened the feeling, and Matthew leaned down to kiss him slowly, as if he were grateful. "Neither of us are perfect, but we could do this, Ivan. All of these things; I'm prepared to deal with them as they come, because I think, above everything, Ivan, that this is worth it."

"Da," Ivan agreed with a whisper, looking at the boy above him with wonder. "It is worth it."

They returned to kissing, feeling each other through clothes, less erratic in their movements as they knew there would be plenty of time to explore. Ivan felt like he was more or less worshiping the body next to him; he had never taken so much time simply touching his bed partners, they had only been there for release. This, he wanted to do right, and with the rest of the Nations as guests in his home, it didn't feel the time to take Matthew here.

His hands continued to touch though, checking the blonde's chest for recovering wounds (they were gone now; only one or two of the deepest lacerations still seen) Ivan kissed where they had been, unable to stop himself from biting the area where Dmitri's crude name was signed.

Matthew only squeaked in surprise before giggling, "I'm kinda ticklish. Don't." He stated firmly when Ivan threw him a dirty smirk. "I will reflexively kick you in your smug face."

"Maybe later then, da."

"Uh huh, sure." His fingers wind through white strands of Ivan's, humming in a quiet contented way when Ivan places a softer kiss on his belly, melting back into the covers as Ivan moved over him. "I'm going with you to the meeting tomorrow- er, today."

Pausing, Ivan looked up at the Canadian, frowning in concern, "Why would you do that?"

"Because we're going to prove Dmitri wrong. If people are going to know we exist, they need to know that we are human too- we're not just an extension of the Country, only able to serve that one specific purpose. This, is Matthew and Ivan, and I want them to know that; where Ivan and Russia begin and end."

Resting his cheek on the blonde's abdomen, closing his eyes at the feeling of fingers scratching his scalp, he wondered. "Is that really going to work?"

"I think it's the best option. I don't want the first impression the world has of you being a perfectly strong, unfailable robot servant. I want them to see us like we are- with feelings and personal goals and relationships. If the people know that, combined with the compassion we have for them, they could feel safer; maybe they will eventually accept us."

"You make us sound like heroes; like your and America's comics."


Ivan sighed in exasperation, feeling the muscles shift under his cheek at the feeling of his breath against the blonde's skin. He smiled, eyes still closed in peaceful surrender. "Maybe your idea is crazy enough to work."

"Oui, of course it is."

"Go to sleep, Matvey."

Canada let out a huff of laughter, as if he were too tired to properly giggle, and those digits in his hair loosened slightly. "Yeah, sounds good."

Reaching blindly around for the comforter and sheets, he pulled them over their still forms, too snug to move, Ivan tucked his hands slightly underneath the Canadian's thigh and waist, practically nuzzling into the soft skin underneath his head. Slowly, the fingers in his hair stopped their caressing as Matthew fell into sleep, but Ivan didn't notice, as he was out the moment he settled, assured that the body beneath him was his and would remain.


"So how long have you been alive?"

"Um, I cannot remember, really. In years; before BC, when the land specified as Russia or Kiev was first inhabited."

"And you, Mr Williams, or should we call you Canada?"

"Either is fine, it depends on what questions you ask; I was found by the aboriginals, I lived with them for who knows how long before I officially became a colony."


"We've got a special interview with the man in question; the man everyone is talking about since the information went public two days ago, Ivan Braginski… and a guest.

"What does it mean to be a Nation?"

"It means that we feel differently, for one; the economy has an effect on us, like a cold, sometimes we feel an overwhelming sense of emotion from the people, or get an injury related to the land. It's like… our bodies are part of the bordered Country we represent and our people make up our personalities. But that's where the similarities end, really."

"And that's why you have your own opinions."

"Yes, I do. I'm a democrat, I like Hockey more than football or baseball, I would rather hike a mountain that swim at the beach, I have friends, those I call family, relationships- that's an individual's preference, not something that's part of Canada. That's Matthew."


"What do you usually do, and Ivan, why do we see you in so many of these violent fights; these videos have been leaked all over the internet and there are so many…"

"Well, it's more of a habit, da. And I admit, not a very good one. As you know of Russian history; fighting, wrestling, boxing; it has been popular for centuries. It is what I am good at, and on the off seasons I do not teach military personnel, I would perhaps go into more entertainment fighting- but the publicity is no good. It is obvious that my existence has been painfully hidden for so very long, it is an accident that the people have found out-"

"But we decided that it could be good- Russia and I can only speak for ourselves, of course, but… well, maybe the public could benefit knowing that we are here."

"What is the relationship between you two? Between Nations?"

"We are not always friendly, da. Some we like more than others, some are more cooperative with military relations, economic relations, etcetera. Matvey and I are together as people, and it helps that our Nations make it easy to get along."


"What is this you have here?"

"This is Kumajirou, a Polar Bear from the Arctics and… is also part of Canada and me. He is just as old, and just as affected by a Nation's circumstances as I am. He can also speak…"

"Wha- really?"

"Oui, Kumajirou, you want to say hello, to the people, right?"

"Not really, I'm hungry."

"Oh, wow, so yes, he can in fact speak! His mouth moved to form the words and everything, how?!"


"So I'm wondering if you are prepared for this, but, obviously, can you give some kind of proof that you are who you say you are?"

"Not in immediate ways; but I can show you with our bodies how a superficial injury heals when unattached to the land's state."

"Which means, you can only be 'hurt' if a disaster hurt the landscape."

"In a way, da."

"How extensive and quickly does this work?"

"Small cuts and bruises almost instantly, bones can take up to twenty-four hours, extensive damage perhaps a week at most. If our Nation is strong, then the healing is quicker."


"You have no reason to fear us, really. It's like a statistical chart, our bodies; you want to know how the economy is doing? I've got a cough, so maybe we need to trade a bit more. There was a landslide here, was it bad? Eh, I have a small scrape on my shin; it's nothing horrible. What's the weather like at your place? My whole right hand is freezing, so I bet you there is a blizzard without even looking out my window."

"Ha, ha, you can tell things like that?"

"Oh yes, just know that we love our homes and our people. We're the most patriotic fools you'll ever meet, but harmless."


Alec fiddled with his sleeves, stretching the elastic of his windbreaker jacket, wondering how long it had been since he hadn't worn plain cotton prison garb. A month? He sat dutifully in his chair, watching the standard officers walk around the desks, finishing paperwork. He only had to sign one paper and then he would be out of there- he thought about what he would do; see his sister, make sure she had everything he promised her… how would he even get there without a car and no money for a cab, he didn't know, but at least he would be free, out of a prison cell.

A wall mounted television above the waiting area showed the news, something the entire prison had been looking at since he arrived. It showed a dark blond Englishman standing with the Queen, waving slightly as flashes from photographers lit up the shot. He couldn't hear the news caster but the closed caption at the bottom told Alec that another Nation representative came out to the public; Russia, Canada, America, France, England, Spain, Italy (North and South), Australia, Finland, and Sweden. Others still in hiding were encouraged to step forward, and a month after the event of Ivan and Matthew's press conference, the people (while still slightly ignorant and uncertain) were beginning to accept them.

"Zaytsev," An officer called out, and Alec stood with a grin to the desk. "Sign here, take your stuff, and you're free to leave. Don't forget you're on a probation, if you go anywhere, do anything, tell your officer, his number is here. You also have therapy and a prescription for your shoulder, that's here."


His possessions ended up being just a watch and sunglasses, which was fine by him, and he strut out of that building with a cocky smile.

"What took you so long?"

He stumbled down a step, grin falling away into awe as he looked at the figure standing beside the sleek black vehicle in front of the stairs. Knee-high navy dress, black flats, long white cascading hair, piercing blue eyes. "N-Natalia?!"

"Yes, open the door for me, I have been waiting for ten minutes."

He stuttered for a second, totally confused and a little scared- he just got free of prison, damnit! But the command in her voice and the way she lifted her eyebrow made him jump into action, leaning forward to open the car door for her. The handle was no more than three feet from her person, but like hell was he going to refuse her. She huffed, like he took too long or didn't do it correctly, then she slid into the seat, smoothing her dress under her thighs.

"Get in on the other side."

Shutting her door after checking he wouldn't get her with it, he hesitated slightly before stumbling around the vehicle, opening the other door and crawling in. A driver in the front completely ignored them started the car and began to pull away from the court-house. "Um, so Belarus-"

"I have not made my announcement to the world yet on who I am- you will call me Natalia."

"D-da. Um, who was the one that paid to get me out of there? I thought I would get life, or something, but the case was super quick and in my favor…"

"It was a combination of Canada and I. Mr Williams did it because he felt he owed you, or had some kind of compassion for your character- I did so because I could use you."

"Use me? You'll have to be more clear, because my mind just went to the gutter at that, and I don't think that's what you meant."

She turned to glare at him. "Your words are so crasse. You are a bodyguard, are you not? If I am to be known to the public, I will need a protector; those who have already introduced themselves have one. The exception being my brother and Matthew who has his bear, ironically."

"So, you want me to be your bodyguard- really? You've got one I thought," He looked to the driver.

She shook her head, "I need someone not hired by my government. You would work directly under me, which means you would take orders only from me."

"Yeah, that sounds nice, under you, orders, that whole thing. But I'm banned from four countries, I'm on probation, and I have to take care of my sister, who did get her money, right?"

"You are no longer a fugitive, and so far Germany is the only one who has not released your ban- I believe it will be only a matter of time, however. If you work for me, you will have to follow me everywhere, naturally that includes his home. Your probation will be continued under my jurisdiction, which means I will be your officer. You need more military specific training, so I will be taking you to the station for another month where you will be drilled in more high-stressed situations than you would in your previous employment- your shoulder will also be looked at and worked on.

"This station is ten miles away from a rehab center where your sister is currently staying; I took the liberty of enrolling her myself. Her money is in a bank account you both will have access too, however, until she is clean, she is not able to touch it. I call it motivation or incentive. It has worked rather well so far."

Alec's jaw hinged open, his eyes wide and staring fixatedly on the woman next to him. "You did all of that?"

Natalia looked down into her lap, brows furrowed. "Canada suggested it," She stated, voice soft. "He told me you were a good person, if handed bad luck, and combined with when we had talked before, when you told me about your sister, I believed him. It is a good idea to have a protector now, after Dmitri Mihailov. Someone not connected to our bosses, but those we can trust."

"And you trust me?"

"Mr WIlliams does, and I am seeing that his judgment of character is not poor. Perhaps it is time for me to find others to call friends. I have only known my brother and sister for so long…"

Fingers trembling, he reached for her hand, lightly grasping it, half watching for a knife. "It's a hell of a second chance you're giving me, all because I had morals… but I promise not to waste it. I'll do my best- and trust me, my best is pretty bad-ass."

"If you will accompany me to meetings, you should refrain from making such poor tasted jokes." She pulled her hand away with a huff, turning to look out the window- Alec could swore he saw a smile.

He grinned back, protesting that his jokes weren't "tasteless" before relaxing into the seat, letting a more calming atmosphere take over the vehicle. "How is that kid by the way?"

"He is fine, I believe. My brother has never been as happy, and they do not stop smiling, it is rather sickening."

"Da, I'm sure it is," Their eyes met, and Natalia's lips curled into a small secret smile that Alec shared with his own.

...The End...



Disclaimer: I do not own nor make money off of Axis Powers Hetalia or this story, so I'm still poor. :)

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Thank you for reading everyone, those who have been there from the beginning and stuck around. I needed it, ya know. Not many people were there when I called. Giving In group; you are all amazing people, and I know that even after this is over, we're still going to talk. I call you my friends. Hopefully, the past is behind us and I can move on and bring some new things to you! I'll definitely continue writing, as it's a passion of mine, certainly, whether it'll be Hetalia related, I'm not sure, but this fandom isn't completely done with me yet.

Giving In - Artificial Starlight

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