So. This is a sequel to my one-shot Grey Skies Over London – it's set in the same alternate history, so if you didn't read that one, you probably won't understand what's going on here. This started off as a one shot but quickly grew out of my control. Expect three chapters and an epilogue. I hope you all enjoy.
Disclaimer: I do not own Hetalia, and I'm pretty sure it's impossible to own any history but your own personal records. I'm just having fun. Sort've.
Part One: Beginning
The port-town was bitter cold at this time of year, as even its salty currents could not defend against the icy winds that buffeted the vast northern lands. Few people braved the frozen streets after dark, and those few who did moved only with great purpose, their bodies buried in coats and their eyes locked on their own feet.
Matthew used this to his advantage, hurrying unseen through the snow-covered streets with his hat pulled down and his coat turned up. He paused on the doorstep of a dockside tavern, glanced about like a nervous rabbit, and slipped inside.
A roaring fire and a dozen cheerful conversations waited within, a stark contrast to the dark, barren emptiness outside. Matthew shed his snow-laden coat and hat, depositing them on a waiting peg and allowing himself a small, satisfied sigh. His violet eyes scanned the packed room until he finally found his target – an unusually quite figure sitting alone, with a red feather protruding from the brim of his hat.
He'd barely reached the table before his contact stood, smiled and embraced him warmly. "Mathieu. It's so wonderful to see you."
"And you, Francis." Matthew returned his former colonizer's hug. "It's been too long."
"Oui. Come now, sit, you are practically frozen. We must get you warmed up."
"I can't stay long," Matthew murmured, though he sat anyway. "He might get suspicious if I'm gone for too long."
Francis conceded the point with a nod, sipping his mug of tea. Matthew wished wistfully for a cup of coffee, but most places in the colonies didn't carry the stuff anymore, afraid they might get caught under the sedition act that banned coffee shops. A waitress came by, but they waved her off and waited until she was far gone before they began to speak again.
"How long have you boys been home?"
"And he is still with you?"
"He's going home next week. He'd stay longer if he could – it's only because the King finally summoned him back himself."
"So the two of you will be on your own."
Matthew hummed noncommittally and chewed at the nail of his pinky finger. Francis reached across the table to coax the digit away from his mouth, taking Matthew's hand between both of his own. "This distresses you?"
"Mon cher, you would not have called for me if there was not something that concerned you." Matthew sighed, squeezing Francis's hand. The Frenchman offered a soft, understanding smile. "Your concern, it is for Alfred?"
The boy closed his eyes. "Yeah."
"You don't believe that you can care for him?"
"I shouldn't have to care for him," Matthew hissed. "He's Alfred, he's never needed anyone to care for him."
"Not even England?"
"Especially not England."
Matthew bit his lip. His hands trembled and he held onto Francis like a lifeline in a storm. Francis soothed his former charge as best he could. "Breathe, Mathieu, breathe."
"I just don't know what I'm supposed to do!" Matthew choked, muffling a dying, dry sob. "I'm trying, Francis, I'm really trying, but Al is so broken and he never acts like himself anymore and Arthur …it's like he can't even see!"
Francis clicked his tongue, massaging the hand he held. "He always was such a foolish boy."
Matthew blinked and, though his eyes were moist, no tears fell. "England?"
"Oui," Francis sighed, setting their hands on the table. "As uncouth as he can be, his heart is quite tendered beneath its shields. He becomes easily lost in his passions. They blind him to what is real and, when that reality asserts itself, he will fight to return to his happy dreams."
Matthew turned the information over in his head and bit his lip again. "That makes sense I guess, but…"
"But it excuses nothing," Francis supplied with a nod. "His actions now, they will do no one good, and America least of all."
"I'm scared," Matthew admitted. "For Al. If something doesn't change soon…Arthur's smothering him, Francis. He'll die like this."
"Then the question is simple: what will you do about it?"
Matthew fell silent and focused on a knothole in the table. Behind his violet irises, the gears of his mind were turning, working through all the possibilities and choosing his words very carefully. "I don't know yet," he admitted, "but I have an idea and I think…I think I'm going to need your help, Papa."
Francis smiled and patted his hand. "Whatever you need, mon cher, I am here for you. All you need do is ask."
( - )
"Ah, Matthew, you're home."
Matthew smiled sheepishly, shaking the snow from his hat and setting his heavy grocery sack on the foyer floor. "Sorry I'm so late. The usual shop closed early for the storm."
"Nonsense, lad! I understand perfectly." Arthur chuckled and adjusted his cuffs. "I see you got what we needed in spite of it all. Are you sure you don't want some help preparing it all?"
"Yes!" Matthew squeaked, and hurriedly cleared his throat. "Yes, yes, I'm quite sure, Arthur, thank you. I'm fine, I like doing it. Really."
Arthur beamed and patted Matthew's shoulder. "You're a good lad, you are. I have told you how thankful I am for that, haven't I?"
Matthew forced a smile. "Quite often."
He shed his coat and made his way to the kitchen, but stopped just within the door. Alfred sat by the window in a dining room chair, the homemade quilt in his lap forming a swing for Flopsy. Alfred's eyes were on the window, watching the snow as it began to shift to a dreary sleet. He was wearing a new suit.
"I hope you don't mind," Arthur said from the door with the decency to look a bit ashamed. "I have a lot of paperwork to finish, and I thought he might be lonely."
"It's fine." Matthew let the groceries settle on the counter and reached for his brother. "Hey, Al."
Alfred started. His eyes were wide when he first spun around, but the gaze quickly dissolved into a shy, almost fearful smile. "Hi Mattie."
Matthew struggled to keep the bile in his stomach. He swallowed and knelt to adjust the blanket. "Are you warm enough? I know you don't like the cold."
"'M fine," Alfred muttered, holding Flopsy close.
Matthew's cheeks ached. "That's good."
Arthur smiled and retreated to his study, content that his charges were well-inclined together. Matthew held his breath until he heard the heavy study door close. Then he sighed and took his brother's hands. "Are you sure you're okay, Al?"
Alfred hesitated. It always took him a while to adjust between letting Arthur hear what he wanted and giving Matthew the truth. He shook his head.
"Too cold?" Matthew ventured, rubbing the hands he held. "You can move closer to the fire if you like."
Again, Alfred shook his head.
"Bored, then? I can get you something to read. I still have a few of the old pamphlets, the ones you always liked."
Another shake. Matthew turned his head. "Hungry?"
Alfred leaned forward until his forehead rested on his brother's shoulder. HE held Matthew's hand and, for a moment, sounded almost sane. "I just want to go home."
Matthew bit his lip. Alfred's home – the house in sunny Virginia where he grew up and the little farm he'd maintained with his own hands – has been ransacked during the southern colony's period of martial law. All but a few trinkets – childhood toys, portraits and albums that would be worthless to anyone else – were stolen, the house itself all but ruined and the fields scarred from battle. Arthur had abandoned the property long ago and proclaimed that they would never go back.
"I'm sorry, Al," Matthew said, hugging his brother. "But it'll be okay, you'll see. Arthur's going home soon, and then it'll be just the two of us, like it used to. Remember?"
Alfred smiled. "Yeah, I remember."
"It'll be better then," Matthew continued, and squeezed his brother's shoulders. "I'll make it better. I promise."
Alfred nuzzled him like a rabbit and, when he pulled away, his expression was thankful. Matthew matted his arm warmly and stood. "Better get dinner started. Once order of French cuisine coming up."
Alfred chuckled, snuggled under his blanket and leaned back in his chair. As Matthew returned to the groceries, his blue eyes wandered to the window. Once again, it was beginning to snow.
( - )
Matthew woke that night to muffled screams, which soaked through the thin ceiling like water from an overturned basin. Echoing thumps of wood-against-wood and flesh-against-wood accompanied the howls like a horrible symphony from hell.
Matthew leapt from his bed, accidentally throwing Kumajiro to the floor, and raced to the attic stairs. His fingers fumbled with the ring of heavy keys – curse Arthur and his paranoid fears! – until he finally found the right one and threw open the door to Alfred's room.
To say that Alfred was having a nightmare would have been the understatement of the century. He tore at his writs with his own nails, soaked his pillow with tears and moaned helplessly through the dark night.
Matthew pounced, seized his brother's hands and forced them apart. "Alfred!" he shouted. "Alfred, wake up, please!"
Alfred jerked. Their foreheads collided with a crack and Matthew's head spun. He reeled back and Alfred scrambled away. When Matthew came to his senses, Alfred was pressed into the corner, his wide eyes dripping with tears.
Matthew sighed, let his hands fall and crawled to his brother's side. Alfred flinched away. "It's okay, Al. I'm not mad."
Alfred relaxed a fraction and allowed Matthew to touch him. "I'm sorry."
"It was an accident."
"I'm still sorry."
"I just said it was okay, didn't I?" Matthew soothed. "Now, are you all right?"
Alfred rubbed his forehead. "I'm fine."
"Not that. The dream."
Alfred let his hand fall and groped through the blankets until he found Flopsy. "I'm fine. Don't tell Arthur."
"I won't," Matthew promised. If Arthur knew that Alfred was still having nightmares of his failed Revolution and its bloody aftermath, he might extend his stay. Neither of them wanted that, not now.
Matthew crawled across the bed and nestled in alongside his brother so that their shadows were touching. Alfred hesitated a moment before leaning his head on Matthew's shoulder, then suddenly they were children again, hiding from a storm and their human caretakers beneath hand-stitched quilts in the secret nooks of their world.
Matthew shifted, wrapped an arm around Alfred and listened. There were not footsteps on the stairs, no movement from the lower floor, no sound of life beyond their own breathing. Arthur was no doubt still locked away in his thick-walled study on the first floor, blocking out the world with its heavy oaken doors and book-lined walls. If Matthew knew his guardian – and he knew him very well – he was asleep at his desk by now, blissfully unaware of his household's suffering, and they would not hear from him until morning.
Matthew's heart pounded in his chest and he licked his dry lips. "Hey, Al?"
"Tell me about Jefferson."
Alfred stiffened. He tried to pull away, but Matthew's hold remained strong. A pained whimper slipped from Alfred's throat. "T-Tom?"
"Yeah." Matthew smiled, trying to put his brother at ease. "He wrote for you, didn't he? I never really got to hear about him."
Alfred bit his lip, rubbing Flopsy's left ear between his fingers. "You…You really want to hear about Tom?"
"I really do."
"B-But Arthur –"
"Arthur can't hear us up here. It'll be our little secret." Matthew squeezed his brother's shoulders. "So tell me. What did Jefferson write?"
Alfred stared at the door as though he expected Arthur to burst in at any moments; still, he began to speak. He recited, word for word, the beautiful Declaration that Jefferson penned for him. When he finished, he went right into the great author's passionate pleas for freedom, his fierce arguments against the British regime and refined support of the colonists' ill-fated efforts. With each line, each passionate word, Alfred's eyes grew brighter and his voice grew stronger, wrapping around them like the warm surf of a southern coast rising to high tide.
Matthew sat and listened and held his brother until the words dribbled away into gentle snores. He sat for a while after and listened to Alfred sleep, lingering on the ghost of the passionate cries for freedom, which fell upon his heart as the snow fell across his silent lands.
( - )
A week later, Matthew saw Arthur off at the port. His empire smiled, clapped him on the shoulder and announced once more how very proud he was, this time for everyone to hear. He left behind a shipment of new clothes, custom-ordered from his homeland, and a written list of instructions on the care and keeping of his housebound brother.
Matthew accepted both with a smile and a wave, and he stood on the dock until the great ship disappeared into the sea. He chose a few of the clothes to take home and sold the rest to a shop, where he made another detour, to the abandoned apartment in the back of the store.
He returned home hours later with a new bag of food and a bronze pendant hidden beneath his shirt. He left the food in the kitchen and went to find his brother. Alfred was in the sitting room on the second floor – he reacted to Matthew's presence like a nervous rabbit, hovering in the far corners and glancing to the window anxiously.
Matthew took his brother by the arm, sat him down and asked to hear about John Adams.
That became their routine, during those long months without their guardian. Alfred was not allowed out of the house, and there were British spies watching to make sure he obeyed that rule, so Matthew went out into the world for them both. He took many detours and spoke to many people in town, slowing building friendships and tapping into hidden networks throughout the continent. Then he would return home and ask his brother about the men he had known, the dreams they had shared and the visions that were never realized. Alfred never looked happier than when he relived those old memories. Just thinking of those times made Matthew's heart soar.
Arthur returned the next summer, and the next, and the Christmas in between, but after that the old rhythm of yearly visits and lengthy letters resumed. Alfred remained confined to the house and Matthew always saw their guardian off with a smile before attending to that secret business of his own.
The years went by slowly but surely. As the century changed, Matthew began to slip out of the house at night, to meet in barns and farmhouses under the cover of darkness. Alfred knew, of course, but he kept this brother's secret and Arthur was never the wiser. Matthew would always return with the rising sun, dirt-covered and world-weary, and he would sit at his brother's bedside until Alfred woke; then, he would ask again to hear of Franklin, Hancock, Adams, Lee or any one of a hundred others.
Then, one night in 1812, he didn't come home at all.
Alfred woke alone that day. The house was empty – not even Kumajiro could be found. There was fresh bread on the table along with dried meat and fruit and a small pitcher of milk on ice – enough to satisfy even his appetite. But the silence was oppressive, and soon he could not bare it. He retreated to his attic room and say by the window where he could see the road.
He stayed there for hours, until the sky turned red and the sun was swallowed by the horizon. But his brother never came.
( - )
"Al. Alfred, wake up!"
Alfred jerked awake and nearly fell from his stool. Matthew caught him at the last moment and set him on his feet with a sigh. "Easy, Al, easy. Don't hurt yourself."
Alfred gasped. His bottom lip quivered. "M-Mattie."
Mathew smiled a guilty little smile. "Yeah, it's me."
"Where have you been?"
"I'll explain later, I promise." Matthew's tone and expression were sincere. He was bathed in the shimmering light of the full moon, and it was only then that Alfred realized how strangely he was dressed. He wore a long, heavy tan coat lined with white fur and red thread that was unmistakably tailored for the black slacks and boots beneath. There was a russet patch sewn onto the left breast, in the shape of a maple leaf with a while star set in its center.
Something in Alfred's chest leapt with fear. "Mattie…what are you wearing?"
"I promise I'll explain," Matthew soothed, cupping his brother's cheek. "But we don't have time now. We need to pack."
"Pack?" Alfred parroted. He clutched Flopsy to his chest and watched his brother move around the room. "Why pack?"
"We're leaving, Al. Both of us. Tonight."
From Matthew's heel, Kumajiro made a noise halfway between a mewl and a growl. Alfred shrank back. "L-Leaving?"
"Yeah," Matthew was practically buzzing with excitement, stuffing warm clothes into a rucksack along with a set of wooden soldiers and a few other trinkets that Alfred held dear. "I know it's been a while since you went out. Hell, it's been years, and it might be a bit scary at first, but you shouldn't be locked up like this anymore. So we're leaving."
"…To get Arthur?"
Matthew tied up the sack and pushed it into his brother's arms. "No, Al. We'll never have to deal with Arthur again."
Alfred backed away at that, the back of his legs bumping against his bed. He glanced about in fear and nibbled his lip. "Y-You shouldn't say things like that, Mattie. Arthur's gonna –"
"Arthur's not here!"
Alfred dropped the bag and fell onto the bed, clutching Flopsy to his chest. He'd never heard Matthew raise his voice before, not in all their lives. Matthew seemed equally shocked at his own actions, cupping a hand to his own throat before reaching for his brother hesitantly. "Oh, Alfred, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to yell at you."
He came to the bed, and Alfred didn't try to move away. They were quiet as Matthew helped him slip the rucksack over his shoulders, hands lingering even once the strap was stable.
"Alfred," Matthew finally ventured again. "Before, when you left the first time, you asked me to come with you. Do you remember? You probably do. I wouldn't go. I was too scared, too comfortable. I let you go out there alone and…"
And you lost.
Those last horrible words were unspoken, but the truth hung over them like a stifling veil. Matthew squeezed Alfred's shoulder and took a deep breath to empower his voice once more. "I won't make that mistake again. I promise."
Alfred stared at his brother, confusion slowly giving way to a new-found admiration. When Matthew finally met his eye once more, he smiled. His brother smiled back. "Ready to go?"
"Good." Matthew pointed out the window to the road, where a chestnut brown horse was tethered to the fence. "I've got old Bess loaded up. You wait with her, okay? I'll be right there."
Alfred turned his head to the side. "But why?"
"Don't worry. I've just got one last thing to take care of before we go…"
( - )
The 'boys' were not allowed in Arthur's study, especially not while Arthur was away. The last thing that he always did before he set off for the dock was lock the door and cover it with a wax seal, in which he inscribed a set of magic runes.
Matthew did not really believe in magic – at least, not Arthur's magic – but he knew that the runes were only an alarm. Breaking the seal would alert Arthur that something was happening in his colonies.
Exactly as Matthew wanted.
He brought the butt of his musket down hard, shattering the old knob on impact. A solid kick was all it took to destroy the remaining bonds, and the door swung open.
The room was filled with books, ancient tomes and new releases alike filling the towering shelves. They lined all the walls except the one opposite the door, which was made of windows. A set of wine-red curtains were pulled tight across the glass now, so only the pale light of Matthew's candle illuminated the grand oaken desk that rested in the center of the room.
Matthew lifted the rug with his foot. There was a circle of white paint hidden beneath, the remnants of chalk runes scribbled along the edge. Matthew's stomach squirmed a bit with disgust. He let the rug fall, set the candle on the desk and moved behind it, to the liquor cabinet.
It was locked as well, but the musket once again did away with that. It was almost full. Matthew seized a bottle in each hand, pulled off their tops and dumped the contents onto the floor, then grasped two more and did it again, moving away to soak a new part of the carpet. Two by two, he emptied the liquor across every surface of the room, then tore down the bookcases and anointed their snatched up the candle and emptied the last bottle – a fine French bourbon – over the desk.
He paused by the door and observed his handiwork. The ruined room, Arthur's tarnished glory, hung heavy with the fumes of his greatest vice. It seemed fitting, in its own way. Matthew smiled at the thought.
He let the candle fall.
By the time he reached the front door, with the musket in one hand and a rucksack of his own in the other, the study was ablaze. As the flames burst through the window panes, old Bess reared back with a fearful whinny. Alfred, standing by the fence as he promised, was staring in horror.
"Mattie," he gasped. "What have you done, Mattie?"
"What I had to," Matthew said without regret. He pulled Bess down by her reigns, soothed her and swung his bag onto her back with their other cargo. "Come on, Al. We have to go."
Alfred hesitated, but obeyed as Matthew climbed into the saddle. The sound of their house's beams breaking under the assault of the flames made Alfred wince, and gripped Matthew's wait with one arm.
Matthew never looked back or spoke. He steered Bess onto the road and urged her into a gallop. As the night consumed them, he felt the impact of a dozen blows, across his lands and those that waited to the south. His comrades in the militia had done their parts, making their moves in the same night, just as they planned. In a single night of fire and surprise, a new revolution had begun.
Random Historical Fact and Author's Note: In 1700, coffee houses were considered hotbeds of revolution, so much so that King Charles II of England banned them. The ban lasted a grand total of 11 days. With all the hubbub made over the tea tax and the fact that the American Revolution/Rebellion did initially spread through meeting houses such a coffee shops, I wouldn't have put it past the British to instigate such a ban again in an attempt to keep the colonies under control.
Also, the title of this piece comes from a Thomas Jefferson quote – "Every generation needs a new revolution." I hope you can see why.