Please note that due to policy changes, we have had to edit and/or omit parts of this story. If you would like to read it in full and without changes, please find them on our LJ or on our aff account.

Rebuilding Japan

It seemed he was always trying to forget things. Well, not forget, per se, because his people never forgot, but covering it over, storing it for the moment in the back of his closet so that it could be found later and remembered in all its glory. Somehow, though, all the glorious things he had done seemed so much less amazing after being stuffed in storage for a decade or two. Hell, even after just a year, all the sparkle had worn off of the memories of victory. Though, as he recalled, it hadn't been all that shiny when it had happened. More like bloody, and as much as a hero never wanted to say, admittedly guilty. He still remembered the awful, humid days of August, sun beating down on weary soldiers' backs as they fought even after Germany had surrendered. He knew he shouldn't have taken such drastic measures, but Japan had seemed so unstoppable. Not even the defeat of his allies could stop him from trying to rise above and beyond his formerly isolated island home.

America had been with a nervous-looking Lithuania at the time, if he recalled correctly, drinking coffee. He'd just dropped the second bomb the previous day, and though he felt uneasy, he just kept sipping on the bitter drink until all he could think about was the fact that it looked like Japan was finally going to surrender.

"You look a bit peaky, Toris," he commented offhandedly.

"Yes, well, Ivan has been rather overbearing lately, going on about how I must help others 'become one' with him," the other Nation replied timidly. Now that Alfred looked, he thought he saw Lithuania's hand shaking a little as he lifted his coffee mug to his lips.

"Don't worry about it; I'm sure he's just being a bit eccentric again." Alfred shrugged. He wasn't entirely sure of Lithuania's safety, but he couldn't voice that thought out loud without alarming the other Nation. "Can I warm your cup?" He added, noticing that Toris's cup was nearly empty.

"Yes, please."

Standing up, Alfred walked over to the little tray in the corner, on which a pot of coffee-half full, as they'd already consumed a good portion of it-stood. He picked it up, careful not to slosh the contents around too much, and proceeded to refill Toris's mug.

Abruptly, the door to his study opened, and Alfred jumped in surprise. The contents of the coffee pot spewed forth directly onto Lithuania's lap, and the Nation gasped as the burning hot liquid seeped through his coat and pants. Alfred didn't get a chance to apologize for the mess, though, as an irate Arthur, thick eyebrows nearly obscuring his eyes with a scowl that engaged his entire face, strode over next to him and poked him accusingly in the chest.

"Alfred, what the hell did you do to Japan?" He roared, and it was not for the first time that America felt his former colonizer's full might. The lightning in his eyes, green as the grass in Ireland, hinted at an anger the younger Nation had only seen a few times before.

"I told you I would get him to surrender," the younger Nation replied calmly. He didn't want to know. He didn't want to be seeing the accusation in his ally's eyes. He didn't want to have to face this just yet.

"Yes, you told us you'd get him surrender, not that you'd turn him into a bloody, mangled pulp!" The rage was clear in Arthur's features, reminding Alfred of his younger days, when they had been brothers and he had rebelled. That was another glory tarnished by time and truth.

"Sometimes a hero's choice is difficult," Alfred said, not letting the guilt he was feeling show at all in his eyes. He had done what he had to, even if that meant attacking someone in their sleep. Even if that meant betraying someone close to him.

"Well, Mister Hero, go clean up your mess. I have a feeling he was trying to get to you but didn't make it. I found him this morning, collapsed on my porch. Go be a hero, and maybe you'll be forgiven." With that, the older Nation walked out, not looking back at all, which was Arthur's style, complete with straight back and pressed uniform.

For a while, there was silence, during which Alfred could only blink. Then, he cleared his throat and turned to his astonished-looking guest.

"I'm sorry," he said, though it came out more like a meek mumble, "both for the mess and for spilling coffee on you. I have to go now." He ended his abrupt statement by trailing off into silence. Gathering his courage, he left his guest-Lithuania was more than at home at America's place-and went to search for the "mess" he had left behind.

He didn't have to look far. Kiku had apparently made it farther than Britain's house now. He was only a few yards from Alfred's front door, face-down in the ground and covered in horrible burns. There were places on his body where bone was visible. The air above him sizzled with radiation, and it was obvious the Eastern Nation had passed out again. Behind him was a trail of blood, a crimson parody of a snail's path.

Rushing over to the collapsed Nation, Alfred could only note a greater number of injuries. Each time he uncovered a new one, each time the blood began to flow just a little bit faster, his stomach lurched and it became very hard to keep his early lunch down.

He had done this. He, Alfred F. Jones, had done this, to another Nation no less. It was one thing to make war, but it was another to see, first-hand, what resulted from that decision. Yes, this act of violence was likely to secure a surrender from Japan, but at what cost? He knew he had killed many, many people-innocent people-but if he just kept telling himself it was a worthy sacrifice, maybe that churning feeling in his chest would go away.

But this was Kiku. Maybe that's why the feeling wouldn't go away when he tried to console himself. His body was disgusted with itself. He had hurt Kiku and that was unforgivable in his mind, and no amount of denial was going to relieve him of this all-encompassing loathing of his actions. Picking up the feeble Nation, careful not to jar as many injuries as possible, Alfred carried the bleeding Nation back to his home.

He bathed and bandaged Japan and lay him down on his guest bed, taking care that Kiku was as comfortable as his burned back would allow. Then he waited, leaving only once to have Kiku's leader surrender at the formal ceremony a few days later.

It was there, on the USS Missouri, moored in Tokyo Bay, that Alfred decided to survey the damages his decision had wrought, though just one look at Kiku had been more than enough. Disembarking, he traveled down to the south of the country. He slipped into Hiroshima. The city was flattened, an even layer of debris coating the ground. Some structures remained, especially farther out of the city, but for the most part, nothing existed. As Alfred got closer to the drop site, he started noticing people-shaped shadows on the ground. They were grotesque in that life had quite literally been obliterated in these places.

Alfred wanted to resolve that he would never use such a treacherous device ever again, but he knew that his leaders would ultimately make that decision, not him. Just like the idea to bomb Kiku. Still, as the hero, he had had to go through with it.

He did not want to even look at Nagasaki, couldn't stand the knowledge that he had destroyed so much, but he forced himself to go on. It was his punishment. He could not atone for what he had done, not like this, but he deserved to see the horrors he had brought to this fragile Earth.

It had been after his visit to the country that housed Kiku Honda that America decided that there was only one way to atone for this unforgivable sin. Just like Europe was rebuilding Germany, he would rebuild Japan.

Now, a year later, Alfred could not say that he had fully atoned, but where Kiku had once been despondent, he now clung to the white sheets of the bed in America's guest room. He talked of things other than the dead and the pain, and he expressed interest in standing on his own again. Kiku was finally healing, Alfred thought, running a hand gently through the Eastern Nation's short hair. It had fallen out way back at the beginning of his stay at the younger Nation's house, but though it was thin, it was beginning to regrow. Just like his body, still burned and aching but no longer bleeding, Japan was moving on.

A small hand came up to grasp at the loose fabric of Alfred's sleeve.

"Why?" He asked, not for the first time, but just like always, Alfred shook his head and looked down fondly at his guest.

"Now is not the time to hear an answer you already know," he said simply. "Just concentrate on healing, okay?"

"I've healed enough. Tell me, will you play baseball with me?" Though he looked groggy, Kiku was firm in his request.

Alfred smiled and ruffled Japan's bangs. "Of course," he said. "I'll build you huge stadiums, and we can play with your people as well."

"Good." And then the Nation smiled. It was the first time since before the bombing that Kiku had smiled at him. With the autumn sunlight playing off his skin and shining through is hair, he almost looked healthy, slightly less haunted, as if he didn't still have the nightmares to which Alfred was always witness. His screaming pleas of "why" and "help" echoing through the solid night air. It hurt to see that smile, because the blond Nation knew that it was genuine, and that he didn't deserve it. He didn't deserve the other Nation's forgiveness.

Even though that was the one thing Alfred wanted the most.

"Geez, Kiku, you don't have to try to pelt me with the ball!" Alfred exclaimed jokingly, even though he didn't care. Penance, penance. Anything to make the slightly older Nation feel better. For his part, Kiku was very calculating on the diamond. Though the pitch was smaller than he was used to, Alfred would give anything to just let Japan have fun for the first time in so long. The long-term effects of the bombs were still taking effect on the other Nation's already weakened body-so many of his people were still dying, a great majority of them caused by cancer-but Japan seemed keen on not letting it get to him.

"Of course I do. We are competing, you and I," Kiku explained, the ghost of a smile haunting his lips. It was good to see it there again, but it still hurt, more so than the first had. Like a hot metal rod against his feeble hero's heart, each expression of anything other than pain or misery reminded Alfred of why it was necessary to take such extremes just to see them.

"Well, yes, but that doesn't mean you have to try and kill me!"

"You and I both know that it takes much, much more to kill a Nation, Alfred," Japan said in a hushed tone. His dark eyes were haunted and far away as the Nation relived what had happened on that hot August day. He stumbled a little bit before regaining his bearings again, but Alfred had already crossed the diamond at a run to catch him should he fall.

"Do you want to stop?" The blond Nation asked, worried. Japan shook his head.

"We're here to play a game." With a determined grimace, he tossed the ball the few feet between them and gestured for America to go back to his original position. "So let's play."

They continued for the next hour or so before Kiku started to sway with fatigue. Gathering the other Nation up before he fell to the ground, Alfred carried him back home. Once Japan was back in bed, he went off to grab a tea set. It was a ritual they had followed meticulously over the past several months-every afternoon at around four, the two of them would have tea together. It reminded America a little bit of his early days with England, back when they used to take their afternoon tea together. Only this was very different.

They sat on pillows on the floor next to a low-level table. They would kneel and prepare tea from Japan's home, and then they would drink it. Always, without exception, this would occur, as ingrained in their schedule as brushing teeth in the morning, as eating hamburgers.

This time was different. This time, as he looked at Kiku's smaller form, Alfred saw something different than the once-enemy he was helping to heal; this time, he saw something beneath the vulnerability and weakness that had been forced to show. Alfred saw a man, a proud, intelligent man who took his tea without any sugar or milk at all. But he saw something else, as well, something inexplicably soft under all the layers of seeming indifference.

For the first time in his short three-and-a-half centuries of life, Alfred's heart moved.

Kiku Honda-Japan-was kind of cute. In a manly way, yes, but attractive nonetheless. Soft eyes, dark, silken hair, and a lean body all housed an inspiring personality. Alfred realized, probably for the first time, that he had more to be sorry for than he had previously imagined. The near-destruction of such an august individual, Nation or a member of said Nation's populace, was more of a sin than he could fully comprehend. Immediately, his guilt and regret renewed themselves, and with a twisted smile, Alfred left the table.

"America-san!" Kiku called after him, sounding alarmed. Alfred didn't listen, though. He just needed to get away, needed to run from that gut-wrenching smile that was now soldered to his retinas like metal.

The sound of padding feet came from behind him, but the blond Nation continued to ignore Japan's apparent distress.

"America-san!" Kiku called again. His voice sounded rough and strained, like just making a sound was causing him undue stress. Alfred turned around. He was feeling horrible, but if he ignored Japan when he was in pain, would that not further his debt to the other Nation?

He turned in time to see Kiku hit the floor, fragile hair floating above him before sinking to the ground next to the still injured Nation. The day had really worn Kiku out, America knew that, but for some reason, he had gotten into his big, pig head that he could be selfish.

Running over to Japan so that he could tend to the Nation, Alfred felt his chest become heavy. Once again, this was entirely his fault. If only he hadn't run away, if only he could have stopped his government from ordering the bomb to be dropped...

He remembered telling Kiku who had done it when he'd first become aware, remembered the revulsion in the smaller Nation's face and then the look of helplessness as he realized he could not move away. That expression had long since passed, but its memory was always there, burned into America's mind right next to the never-ending mantra of I must rebuild Japan...

Selfishness, putting himself before his guest, was unacceptable.

Once again, he carried Japan back to the guest bed. The cup of tea was shattered on the floor next to the table, obviously having been dropped in Kiku's haste to follow him. Alfred would have to sweep it up later. Perhaps he would take that time to understand why his emotions seemed to be so strange lately. But first, he would tuck his guest into bed, make him as comfortable as his still weak body would allow.

He could ignore the slight increase in heart rate as he watched Kiku's chest rise and fall in rhythmic intervals. So, too, could he ignore the sweet, curveless line of Kiku's torso and the barest hint of nipples poking at the light fabric of the sheets. A blush set slowly into Alfred's cheeks, coloring him rose. He sat down on the edge of the bed and began to card his hand through Kiku's thin hair. Several strands still came out at each touch, but the effect was much diminished from when it had first started falling out. Kiku sighed and turned into the touch, still asleep.

"I am so sorry for what I've done to you, Japan. I promise you I will make up for it in any way possible," he breathed, so quiet that it was but a whisper among the movement of sheets and the late-afternoon songs of the birds, so quiet that only Alfred could hear it uttered. Unable to resist, he leaned down and pressed a tender, gentle kiss to the Eastern Nation's forehead. It was sweet and soft, like the smile Kiku had worn earlier that afternoon, while they had played baseball together. Smoothing Japan's hair once more, Alfred looked away. He would do something far worse to the other Nation if he let himself be this selfish.

Instead, he decided to look out the West-facing window. The afternoon sun's glare had fallen below the bottom of the glass, so it was tolerable to look at again, and instead of mopping up the mess of tea and porcelain on the dark, hardwood floor, America just continued to look straight out at the freedom and wonder in the world. And in this moment, this frozen moment of complete awe and thunderstriking beauty, Alfred thought.

Japan was important to him, his smile the highlight of America's day. His earnestness to remember the fun in life, to drink tea and play baseball and enjoy that he was still alive struck a chord deep within Alfred's heart. Every expression the older Nation made, every sigh, every intonation of "America-san", made Alfred feel warm in a way he never had before. And loathe though he was to admit it, he enjoyed that feeling immensely and only wanted to bask in it some more. Maybe for eternity. Just him-and Kiku, of course-and that overflowing feeling of warmth. And of safety.

And he still felt guilty for nearly killing Japan, for destroying two of his cities and for wanting the Nation around.

The sound of sheets moving preceded the twining of arms around Alfred's middle. He gasped in surprise, for he had barely been present in the moment, introspecting as he was. Looking down, he noticed that Kiku's arms were really rather small when compared with his. Without thinking, he placed his hands over Kiku's. It spread that same warmth he had just been thinking about all over him, like he'd just been submerged in a hot bath. His heart beat rapidly, especially when Japan moved his fingers so that they could weave through his.

Kiku's head was next to his right thigh, his face flushed from what little sleep he had just had after passing out. Alfred thought he looked rather like a painting, especially as the dimming sun still lit his pale golden skin enough that it nearly sparkled in its brilliance. They looked at each other for a long while, neither speaking, neither moving, except for the play of fingers against fingers.

And then, slowly, Kiku smiled. It was thin and wavering, but it stayed on his face for another eternal moment, and then he uttered "America-san," like it was something perfect, like Alfred was wanted.

He wanted to respond, maybe to dip down and let their lips find each other, but that was a forbidden thought, a horrible, wrong thought that must never be thought of again.

The blond Nation looked away, unable to keep the gaze without doing something unspeakable to Kiku. He wouldn't, would never, give in to whatever notions had set into his mind over the year that Japan had been with him.

He was not looking at Japan's face in order to see the slight expression of disappointment.

He had been expecting this day to come, probably for a very, very long time. In the seven years since he had taken Japan to his home, he had come to enjoy the other Nation's presence. But now, Kiku was growing strong again. Almost all of his hair stayed in its rightful place-he even had to shave again, so America had had to run off to the nearest store to buy him a razor. It wasn't surprising when the statement came. Still, America was stunned to hear it.

"What?" He asked.

"I think it's time I go home, America-san," Kiku repeated, his tone determined. Japan had become a lot more sure of himself lately, especially in the last six months.

"Oh." He would not give away his disappointment. "I understand. Yes, you probably should..." Oh, great, now he was rambling. Japan smirked a little and let him continue on saying nonsensical things for the next minute or so before finally, timidly, interrupting him.

"Anou, America-san, I feel like I should be back in my own home. I need to be nearer my people. Perhaps it will expedite my healing."

"Yes, of course..." Anything that would make the other Nation heal faster was fine by him. Really, it was.

"After all, it is your fault I'm like this, and I think you've done all you can."

Japan's words were like an arrow through his heart, but Alfred took them regardless.

"I am sorry," he said again, trying to convey just how much he meant that. Japan looked up at him with those deep, dark eyes, and America shuddered. He was not allowed to enjoy that gaze, no, he was not.

"Yes, I know. Thank you for letting me stay here while I recuperated." And then he bowed shallowly, turned, and left, leaving Alfred to understand just how much he loved having the Eastern Nation around.

"Always," he whispered, long after Japan had left. He still stood there, the empty hallway seeming more dull and barren than it had just a few minutes before, back when Kiku had been standing there. He didn't know what to do. His strange fascination with the other Nation was starting to become debilitating. Having just one Nation on his mind was getting in the way of him being a hero. It was very hard to concentrate on the new-ish existence of the United Nations and the beginnings of a great deal of tension between him and Ivan.

And so the days went along, same as always. Out of sheer force of habit, Alfred sat next to the low table and took his tea-four sugar cubes and a good portion of milk-every afternoon at four o'clock. The only difference was the lack of company. Lithuania had long been banned from staying at his place by Russia's orders, and with Japan no longer around, the house seemed so very, very empty. In the mornings, America went to the United Nations building to meet with all his allies. Unfortunately, he happened to meet with his new enemies, too. Ivan, and now Wang Yao, were against him, against all the other Western Nations, with their strange, communist ways. He was glared at as he always was as he met up with Taiwan to enter the Security Council chamber. Somehow, coming here and doing work with the other Nations seemed less rewarding and exciting when he knew that when he returned to his home, he'd have no one to complain to about how mean Ivan was being to him, or to laugh with him with his tales of how Francis would flirt with Arthur and how the green-eyed Nation would stutter angrily and then shout at everyone to stop staring and get back to work.

That was probably when Alfred realized how lonely it was being the hero, because when you were the hero, your enemies would always be out to get you and you could never afford to be close to anyone. Alfred had never had anyone, at least since he was brothers with Arthur. So it was that little taste of companionship with the Eastern Nation that had become like that first long draught of good whiskey to an alcoholic after trying to quit, or that first cigarette in the morning. It was addicting, it was life altering. He needed it, but he was too proud to ask for it. After all, he still didn't deserve the other Nation's sympathy, his friendship. So he would suffer heroically alone.

But did he even still deserve to be called the hero? There had been many times over the years that Alfred had wondered about this. Maybe he was more like Batman than he was Superman. Crazy like Captain America, driven mad because of the Reds.

Yeah, he was that, paranoid and alone.

In the intervening years after Japan had left his house, America was forced in and out of other diplomatic situations. Korea, his failure in Vietnam, the Suez Crisis, the communist takeover of Cuba, the Bay of Pigs fiasco, his leaders resigning and being killed, they all played its part in demoralizing an already fading glory. It felt like the whole world was against him. And perhaps it was, seeing as throughout all these conflicts, he had managed to offend almost all of his previous allies.

Sitting in his office looking over paperwork for the United Nations Security Council admission of the People's Republic of China, the silence of his house was so much more apparent. He'd been the one to inform Taiwan of her loss of Security Council membership. He'd been her biggest supporter, so it had seemed appropriate that he tell her himself that he was betraying her for her communist brother. It was simple politics: China was enemies with Russia, so America was China's ally. This kind of politics made him feel dirty, unheroic, and deceitful.

His phone rang.

Thinking it was either France or England with another issue over Israel, he answered immediately.

"Alfred," he said, trying to sound busy, even though he wasn't for the first time in weeks.

"America-san? It's Japan." Alfred's heart skipped uncomfortably. Japan? Calling him? Why? Yes, they were allies, but he hadn't had direct contact with him since the Olympics in '64, despite spending so much time in Korea and Vietnam.

"Am I interrupting something?" The Eastern Nation sounded concerned.

"Ah, no, what can I do for you?" He tried not to sound too relieved to be talking with Kiku, even though it was such a comfort to hear the other Nation's quiet voice on the other end.

"Well, I've created a really interesting invention, and I was going to get some other Nations together to try it out. It's called karaoke, and I believe it would be a good way to reaffirm out ties with one another. Are you free?"

"Ah, well, yes, actually," Alfred said, flustered. His cheeks were already lighting up in a blush. Even now, he could imagine the insecure look, hidden behind so many schooled layers of indifference: the slight pinch of eyebrows, the tightening of lips, just the barest hint of emotion in Japan's dark, endless eyes. America was greedy; he wanted to see that look in person, wanted to gaze upon the one Nation who made him so irrevocably flustered. "I-I'd love to join in! Who else would be... well, with us?" And no, he did not care that he wouldn't be alone with Kiku.

"I was planning on asking England, France, North Italy, West Germany, and Australia. Is that alright?" Once again, the small island Nation sounded insecure, though he had come well into his own since the days of the Second World War.

"O-of course!" Invited out by Japan; it was something America had wanted for quite a while. There was a tinny sigh over the phone, one that sounded very relieved. Once again, Alfred could imagine the vulnerability in Kiku's face, and he became firm in his determination to see the other Nation in person once more.

"Please come to my place around seven, then."


It was just a simple agreement, but it felt like a silken promise to Alfred. He would honor it like the hero he once was. Silence but for the static background of the phone fell on both sides of the conversation, and after a long pause, the older Nation finally spoke.

"I should inform the others," he said quietly.

"Yes, that'd be, well, yes, um, I suppose." Damn his tongue for not working, even now, when all he really wanted to do was just keep talking. The others could wait, could go to hell, really, as long as he could hear that soft, smooth voice again. Soft, like the gentle play of sheets over Kiku's body as he slept off the pain. Smooth, like each delicate strand of the older Nation's hair. Kiku's voice was all the bittersweet memories that floated through Alfred's mind, unbidden, at any given point of the day. Kiku's voice reminded him of being the hero, of being kind and strong and trustworthy. All of the things he had not been to Kiku himself.

And suddenly, he had to speak.

" now. I wish you a pleasant-" The smaller Nation was saying, but Alfred cut right through.

"Wait. How-how have you been?" He sounded desperate, felt like it too, like he was going to be left alone again and that the comfort was never going to come back because he didn't deserve it. It felt the same as when he had been a little Colony, when England had gone to his home and had left him alone for all those years.

"I've been well, and you?" Alfred hoped it wasn't his imagination that Kiki sounded relieved.

"Fine, fine, busy as usual, but healthy," the blond Nation replied, realizing a few seconds later that he had nothing else to say.

"That's good to hear," Kiku said.

There was a long pause, neither knowing what to say and obviously not wanting to hang up (at least on Alfred's end).

"I-I should be going, then," Japan continued suddenly, "See you later, America-san."

"Ah, yes, okay, good-bye." The line had gone dead before the whole sentence had made it out. Alfred felt his chest grow a little heavier. He put down the receiver with a frown and then went down to the kitchen to prepare some kind of gift for Japan. He was no good at cooking, but perhaps if he took out some of the aged wine...? Back when he'd been living in America's home, Japan had expressed an interest in foreign liquor and had started going through his cabinets for anything that looked remotely tasty. Besides, France and Italy would be there, too, and if he knew anything about those frivolous two, it was that they liked themselves some proper alcohol-none of that beer crap of which Germany was so fond, nor the other spirits that England enjoyed so much.

Alfred approached Kiku's door with some trepidation. The sounds of festivity were loud from the sidewalk in front of the house. It was a relief that he wasn't the first to arrive. As he knocked to be let in, he heard the bass being turned up, and he recognized the song that was being belted out by who could only be Italy, to be the new hit, "Sweet Home, Alabama". Kiku answered the door a few seconds after the song had started. The Eastern Nation looked a bit flustered, but pleased.

"Welcome, America-san!" Japan greeted, smiling at his guest. Alfred nodded and returned the smile, the expression hardly touching the surface of his true happiness at seeing the dark-haired Nation.

He was ushered into the house and was soon absorbed in the activities. England took his turn after Italy, singing "Black Magic Woman," getting a warm round of applause and a lewd remark or two from France. After a quick argument between the two of them, Francis took his turn with "She's a Lady." A very gloomy-faced Australia went next, scowling as he half-sang, half-yelled the kookaburra song. Every few seconds, he'd let out a large hiccup, indicating that he, at least, had been well into the nearly empty bottle of whiskey next to Arthur.

"You next, Alfred, come on!" Shouted France from across the room, where he was nuzzling into the bottle of wine the younger Nation had brought. At least ten red roses surrounded Francis, and Alfred spied more than three empty glasses on the table next to him.

"All right, all right!" He conceded, glancing furtively at Kiku, which he had been doing all evening-hopefully the smaller Nation hadn't noticed. Japan looked the most sober of all the guests, which made it easier for Alfred to get rid of those nasty little thoughts that told him to go over to the other Nation and do something unforgivable. So he sang instead, reminding himself that he could never be forgiven enough to be let that close to Kiku. And even if Kiku did forgive him, he could never allow himself the same luxury. Yes, years had passed, decades had flown by, but the shadow of World War Two remained with them all. In this room alone, West Germany was a prime example. He hadn't been the same since his brother had been taken to Russia's home. Italy had scarcely left the Nation alone since the end of the war.

He sang a rousing rendition of "American Woman." France booed because he apparently didn't move his hips enough.

Germany refused to sing, despite the roaring chorus of jeers that followed his statement, so they collectively decided to move onto the next person before heckling Germany a bit more. Japan stood, his legs shaking a little bit, much to America's distress, and then walked over to the karaoke machine and selected a song. The opening statement to "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me" blasted from the speakers. In a thin almost-alto, Kiku began to sing.

"When I said I needed you..."

And then Alfred was somewhere else entirely. Kiku swayed back and forth, not entirely to the beat, but close, showcasing his slim hips. The fabric of his light, cotton slacks seemed to nearly bury his small figure. Even the royal blue t-shirt Japan was wearing seemed like elephant's skin when it was hanging off those small shoulders. No, Kiku did not look like a boy, but he did seem unearthly thin at the moment. He was kind of pale, too, now that Alfred looked. He had been trying to just admire how beautiful the island Nation was, but this...well, Japan looked unhealthy, not to mention malnourished.

That shouldn't have been the case, all things considered. The recent economic boom should have left Japan in a much better state. He should have been glowing. Instead, there was this-this horrible, pasty, almost ashen look about Kiku's features. He should have been a fine shade of pale gold, but instead he looked halfway between paper and moss. His eyes looked dull, too, and a little bit jaundiced.

Was Japan feeling unwell? Why host a party if he was? And hadn't he been fine only a few minutes ago?

Alfred's thoughts snapped away as he watched Kiku sway too far to the right and then fall to the tatami mats on the floor. His heart froze as Kiku's eyes closed. Without realizing it, his feet were moving him forward. He felt like he was floating, like he was removed from the situation entirely, just existing, just watching...

He was glad for his height advantage over the island Nation, as well as for the accompanying strength. With little effort, he was able to pick Kiku up and carry him upstairs, calling for the others to leave since Japan was ill. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Italy twine his fingers through Germany's and edge them toward the door. France, England, and Australia hadn't seemed to notice the commotion at all, instead participating in a merry dance that consisted of much chicken squawking and a lot of lewd movements on Francis's part. And then Alfred was past the sliding door and turning so that he could use the stairs to get to Kiku's room. He still heard the sounds drifting from below, but his attention was so far from it all that it scarcely mattered.

"A-America-san?" Questioned a tiny voice. Alfred looked down and saw Kiku looking groggily back up. His gaze was unfocused but still direct somehow. "Did I pass out?"

"Yes, now hush, we're almost to your bed, and then you can lie down." After setting his burden on the mattress, he smoothed back Kiku's hair-he was a bit disturbed when a few strands of hair fell to the ground at the movement-and pushed back the bedclothes so that the Nation could sleep.

"Sorry. It's been so long since this last happened," Kiku admitted, looking away.

"You're still... feeling the effects?" Alfred asked. The guilt ran down well-worn channels, renewed and strengthened.

"Not often, but every once in a while, yes," the other Nation replied. His dark gaze was still facing the wall.

"Oh." America's face fell a little bit. "Is there anything I can do?" After all, he'd promised both himself and Japan that he would always, always help the Nation out.

Japan blushed and shook his head. "I-I couldn't ask for that," he mumbled.

"For what? If it's in my power-hell, even if it's not-I'll do it for you, Kiku." Alfred spoke earnestly, not regretting for an instant what could very well turn out to be a very constricting promise.

"It-it's definitely in your power." Kiku looked like the sunset-or perhaps the sunrise would be more appropriate. His golden skin mixed seamlessly with the vivid, crimson blush, resplendent against the midnight color of his hair. Alfred could not rid himself of this image, this perfect homage to the sun, even as he blinked and shook his head.

"What is it?"

"America-san, I want you to make me feel good." The words came out hesitantly but with resolve.

"How?" Even surrendering to Russia was an option. Quite frankly, Alfred knew that he would even become Japan's colony. As long as it made up for the horrors he'd done to the other Nation, he would do anything. He didn't deserve forgiveness. Already, Japan was being too kind; if anything, Alfred knew he deserved to have the same done to him, perhaps on a grander scale so that it would do the same damage to him as he had done to Kiku.

"You are... being obtuse," Kiku half-mumbled, half-whispered. He was still looking away. "I want... what America-san wants."

That did not exactly register in Alfred's guilt-ridden brain. He looked the other Nation directly in the eye and blinked absently. "What-what I want?"

Japan's hair rippled through the air as the Nation nodded several times, his eyes closed.

That could not be possible. If Kiku was hinting at what Alfred thought he was... but no. It couldn't be.

But to be sure...

He scooted closer to the middle of the bed, turning to face Kiku, who sat up against the pillows. "A-are you sure?" There was no way Kiku would really ask for that, not after everything Alfred had done not to deserve it. He didn't even belong in this room at all. Someone else should have carried Japan up instead-perhaps West or Italy. They had been allies all those years ago, after all. They would be the best company.

But Japan nodded again, so America scooted closer still. At this point, he and the dark-haired Nation were scarcely a foot apart. "Are you sure?" He asked again. He had to be positive this was what the smaller Nation wanted. But what if this wasn't what Kiku had been referring to? What if Kiku wanted to be a hero, or eat cheeseburgers, or learn to play hockey better than Canada?

Again, Kiku nodded, blushing so hard that Alfred was starting to fear a blood vessel would pop and the smaller Nation would end up with a nosebleed. So he leaned in, catching Kiku's chin between his thumb and forefinger, and looking deeply into the smaller Nation's eyes, he asked his question once more.

"Yes," Kiku breathed. The little puff of air swirled over Alfred's lips, warming them, pulling them closer like he was being lassoed in, just like in those Western films. The moment fizzled, crackled, and then his mouth was on Kiku's, their lips sliding together with a sigh, like two adjoining pieces of a puzzle.

Thin arms reached behind him and latched on to his neck and back, pulling him closer until their chests were nearly touching. How dare he defile Japan like this? But the other Nation didn't seem to care, pulling back only for a quick breath of air before moving right back in again, and Alfred couldn't help but gather Kiku into his arms, adjusting them so that the dark-haired Nation was on his lap. Gently, tentatively, Alfred moved his hands farther down Kiku's sides until they were resting on his slim hips.

He trailed his lips down the Eastern Nation's thin, delicate throat, nibbling lightly on his collarbone before his hands found the hem of the dark t-shirt Kiku was wearing. The blue material was gone without another moment's thought or hesitation. Alfred admired the way the soft incandescent light highlighted the mellow honey tone of Kiku's skin as his hands caressed the Nation's strong back and sides. America ran his fingers along the mottled burn scars that were so numerous. It was almost sacrilegious that such perfect skin had been blemished to such a horrid extent. It made Alfred all the more aware of the guilt that had been festering in his chest for all these years. If it had been sacrilege to harm Kiku back then, what was it now?

He hadn't noticed that his hands had stopped moving, or that he had stopped moving at all, but Kiku did, and it wasn't until the Asian Nation had taken Alfred's face in his hands and had turned it so that their eyes were locked did America come back from his world of self-hatred.

"You are feeling guilty," Kiku stated, as if it hadn't been the most obvious thing in the entire universe, at least to Alfred, anyway. He'd done well in hiding it, then.

"Why wouldn't I? I-I almost killed you. That's not something easily forgiven." Alfred let his hands fall to the soft sheets at his sides, his eyes still locked with those infinitely dark ones. Like he was a star trapped in a black hole, all the light disappearing into those unknown depths, never to return.

"You and I both know that it takes more to kill a Nation than some bomb. I've told you before that I forgive you, America-san." Even though Kiku said those words, it still didn't make the guilt any less. But he had nothing else to say in response, so he let a short silence pass between them.

Kiku sighed, letting his hands fall away from Alfred's face, releasing the Western Nation from the pull of his dark eyes.

"I... have tried being indirect, as is my way, but it would seem that more direct means are required for you to understand. Perhaps if I say exactly what I mean, as you are apt to do, your guilt will be lessened." The blush had returned to Japan's cheeks, though Alfred was unsure if it had ever actually left.

Kiku stood up, removing himself from Alfred's lap, and walked over to the door. He slid it shut, clicking the light off as he did so. The uproar from the party had long since died away, and they were left only with the heavy noise of cicadas in the trees outside.

The moon was bright in the sky, so even though he was temporarily blind, the silhouette of the other Nation was quite clear to America.

The bed shifted, and he felt Japan's presence very, very close to him.

"Direct, you say?" Alfred gulped out, trying not to let on just how much he wanted to run his hands through Kiku's hair, or kiss those scars, or... it was almost unbearable to even imagine.

"Yes, direct. They say the best way to get something you really want is to be direct, especially in cases such as these." Warm breath in his ear sent a stream of goosebumps down his spine.

"Who are... they?" He asked, trying to think of things not having to do with Japan, or guilt, or just how turned on he was at that moment.

"France and Italy. They are Romance cultures, after all." The last part was added almost off-handedly, hurried almost, as if Kiku had not wanted to think about adding it, but had added it as some sort of hint. Alfred might be oblivious at times, but now was not one of those times. He got the hint, he just couldn't believe it.

"How can you... want me? After everything I did to you, how can you even want to look at me? I killed hundreds of thousands of your people and yet you still... why?" It just didn't make sense. He was the hero and he had done something so wrong that no one should forgive him. It was like if Captain America had actually been a spy for the Reds, or if Batman had killed the Chief, or if Superman had let Lois Lane die. It was blasphemous, it was unthinkable, and he had done it.

"Because you are my hero, Alfred. Even though you were the cause of my pain, you still took care of me and rebuilt me into something better. That is why I want you." Before America could do anything but flap his lips in a useless attempt to make words, Kiku launched himself forward, pulling them both into a searing kiss. The smaller Nation nibbled at Alfred's lower lip almost tenderly, as if beneath the passion, he just wanted acceptance and, perhaps, love.

America let himself be pushed back onto the bed so that his head was near the footboard. Kiku gasped as Alfred put his hands on the smaller Nation's hips, nudging his fingers under the waistband of the slacks, and America used that opportunity to lightly brush his tongue along the inside of the smaller Nation's lip. He caught Japan by surprise with the action, just enough to reverse their positions. Now he was holding Kiku down, the Nation looking like a silver shadow in the moonlight. He rather liked that image. He moved in to kiss that shadow.

Hands tangled in his hair, removed his glasses when they kept getting in the way, tugged at the collar of his shirt insistently. Alfred leaned back a bit.

"What is it?" He asked breathlessly, his voice a bit coarse.

Japan just shook his head and pulled again at the shirt. Alfred smiled lightly.

"Would you like me to take it off?" He asked. Kiku nodded, and the garment was removed. The other Nation brought his hands up to Alfred's newly exposed chest and began to explore, like he had never done such a thing before, like he was in awe of what he was seeing. Gradually, the Nation's hands moved lower and lower until they were tentatively placed on his ass.


As their breathing evened, Alfred pushed himself off of the smaller Nation and sat up. When he lay down again, this time on the proper side of the bed, he pulled Japan in with him and covered them both with the bedclothes.

"Thank you, America-san," Japan breathed, pressing a kiss to the blond Nation's neck, unable to reach any higher. Alfred tightened his arms around Kiku.

"Always," he responded, mirroring that one black day, back when Japan had left him alone in his large house. This time, the other Nation heard him.

"We will... do this again?" Kiku sounded hopeful.

"Anytime you want," he promised, bowing his head so that he could kiss the top of Japan's. The Nation shivered a bit in his arms.

They lay in silence for a while, drifting, drifting...

Right before sleep washed over him, Alfred could have sworn he heard Kiku mumble something else.

"I love America-san..."

"For what it's worth," he replied, not entirely sure if it was in his mind or out loud, "I think I love you, too."

The last thing Alfred felt was Kiku tightening his grip, nuzzling lightly into his neck.