Disclaimer: I don't own Axis Powers Hetalia or any of its characters.
All The World's A Stage
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts
~ William Shakespeare's As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 7
Chapter 1 - Prologue
Most the girls her age teased her on the first day of school after discovering her name. " What kind of name is Matthew for a girl?" they sneered.
She went home in tears that day.
Her brother also went home unhappy for a different reason.
" I'm not apologizing to them," he scowled, even as his father severely punished him for such disruptive and savage behavior that was unworthy of a gentleman to have and his mother wordlessly cleaned the dirt off his bruised cheeks. " They had no right to laugh at Mattie like that!"
Later that night, as he curled up next to her, Brother fiercely whispered in her ear. " I won't let anyone hurt you, Mattie. Not father. Not mother. No one. "
Matthew gave a quivering sniff and wiped the tears from her eyes. " Thank you."
The shattering of glass made Brother wince and clamp his hands around Matthew's ears, ignoring her protests. The fights at night between their parents were steadily getting worse. Before, they had muffled arguments that were hushed up by the walls of their room. But now, their confrontations led to the kitchen, the living room and to the hallways, where listening ears from their bedrooms could easily hear the shouting and threats and the occasional sound of flesh bruising skin.
Gritting his teeth, he closed his eyes from the second cracking of another plate, followed by more screaming and a few cuss words that made him flush. He only released his hold on the squirming Matthew when their parents had taken their bitter quarrel to the dining room, where it was thankfully more smothered by the distance set between them.
Matthew rubbed her ears, which had turned slightly pink under her brother's grip. " How come they keep fighting?" she asked him in a tiny whisper.
" Because that's what all adults do," he shortly replied.
" But not all adults fight. Like Mister Cyprus down the street," she contradicted. " He told me lots of cool stories about the people he sees back home."
He huffed. " All right. Every adult except for Mister Cyprus then."
" And that teacher from Vietnam from school is really nice too. Though she does carry a rice paddle around ..."
" All right. All right. Not all adults fight." Brother threw his hands up in the air, scowling at his giggling sister. It was times like these that he felt like things were normal, that their parents never fought, that he and Mattie had the whole world to themselves.
But the peace didn't last for long. The thundering of footsteps on the stairway made Brother clamp over Matthew's ears once again, silencing her objections with a stern look. Then, he heard his mother's hate-filled voice spitting resentful names at their father, who presumably stood at the top of the stairs and also returned a rally of malign and unpleasant words back at her.
" Shut up. Just shut up, you whore!"
" Everybody in the neighborhood heard your damn voice already! What's the point?"
They both collectively flinched at the sharp slap hitting against flesh, their mother's violent shrieks, more swearing, the slamming of doors and the hammering of a fist against wood. Neither of them moved until their father stormed back down the stairs, knocking everything in his path down, even kicking what appeared to be the table, smashing the chairs against walls, finishing with empty, frustrated screaming at no one in particular.
Then, dead silence.
Matthew was awoken from her dreams of running in the nearby fields of wheat and barley with her brother, being shaken by their mother.
" Come along, Matthew," she whispered, already tugging a coat over Matthew's flimsy arms. " Quickly and quietly now."
" Are we going somewhere, Mommy?" Matthew yawned, rubbing her eyes as she was shepherded by her mother out of the bed. In her sleepy disorientation, she didn't realize her mother was opening the drawers and haphazardly shoving clothes into a suitcase.
" Yes, darling. We'll be going somewhere faraway and safe," her mother particularly emphasized in a cheerfully sweet voice. Grabbing a few scattered toys, not bothering to decipher whether they belonged to Brother or Matthew, she scooped them up and roughly crammed them into the disagreeing swollen bag.
" B-But what about Brother?" Matthew suddenly realized that her still sleeping brother had remained in bed, as her mother hurriedly ushered her to the door. "Is he coming too?"
Her mother paused briefly before harshly pushing her outside. " No. He won't be."
Eyes widening, she stared up at her mother in innocent disbelief. " How come?" she demanded.
" Because he can't come with us," her mother replied with a sigh, trying to drag her daughter away from this forsaken place. " Now, let's go, Matthew. We mustn't stay here."
" I'm not going without Brother!" Lips drawn up in a scowl, Matthew stood at the porch, arms crossed, glaring up at her mother. At the moment, it appeared that she was the adult and her mother was the child.
The blow nearly knocked little Matthew to the ground. Her head painfully snapped back and she let out a tearful cry as she staggered back. " Don't ask questions, Matthew!" her mother venomously hissed, her nails suddenly digging deep into Matthew's arm.
Tears welled up in her eyes as she cradled her cheek, too stunned to speak. Who was this stranger that took the place of her quiet mother? Who was it that hit her, when her mother never would have laid a hand on her? Who was this monster that wanted to separate her from Brother?
She began screaming, calling and begging for Brother, trying to run back inside the place she called home. People stared after her and her mother made a few casual remarks and they indifferently went on their merry way, ignoring the choked cries of a little girl.
Finally, her mother clamped a tight hand over her mouth, as she dragged Matthew away and into the busy streets.
After ten long, bitter years, Matthew's mother at last succumbed to disease and declining health, nearly taking Matthew with her, just as she had done those fateful years ago.
She laid in bed, breathing harsh, rasped sounds through her throat, blackened and ruined by smoke and alcohol. Pale, yellowed skin stretched across her once pretty face, causing her to resemble nothing more than a skeletal being. Her eyes feverishly darted as she mumbled of forgotten or nonexistent things.
Matthew, now sixteen, sat beside her mother, occasionally dabbing her mother's forehead with a cool cloth. The doctor she paid with the little money she had saved up had told her that her mother wouldn't last the night. And privately, she hoped that her mother would end her misery that night.
They lived a cold, relentless life, traveling from city to city, eating scraps of food wherever they could find it, sleeping on the hard ground of shacks, desperately trying to avoid her mother's debtors. No matter how hard Matthew tried to salvage her money earned from the honest living she had done, somehow, her mother would get a hold of it and ruthlessly squander it in drugs and drink.
As much as she hated and despised her mother, Matthew couldn't leave her mother. There were several times when she had tried to leave, tried to save herself from the dregs of her mother's life, only to come back and reluctantly pick up her drunken mother from the bars and clubs.
A blessing that came in disguise over the years was Matthew's uncanny ability to stay hidden and quiet. The men at the bars barely noticed her night after night when she came to pick up her mother. And for that, she was grateful. She had enough troubles on her plate than to worry about lecherous eyes and hands coming after her.
" Matthew?" her mother whispered, snapping her from her light doze. She leapt to her feet and hovered at her mother's side.
" Yes, mother?" she wearily asked.
" I - I have something of yours. A little thing. Such a little thing." Her mother's voice was frail and ragged. Matthew wasn't even sure if she knew what she was saying. Reaching to the collar of her neck, she brought out a thin, silvery chain, something that Matthew never noticed before. Her mother's neck was always carefully bound with scarves or heavy frills and she never questioned her mother about it before.
She gasped when her mother weakly tugged the chain off her neck, realizing what it was. It was the necklace that had been carelessly left on the bedside table that morning, forgotten and sorely missed by a little girl. It was the necklace that her brother gave her on her birthday, proudly pointing out the miniature picture of the two of them to her (the only picture she ever had of them together) snugged between the inside of the oval-shaped frame.
Immediately, she snatched it out of her mother's trembling hands. Its gleam had long been dulled and some of its edges were scratched and chipped. But the picture was still there and it was real and very much the same necklace. " How did you get this?" she exclaimed, cradling the necklace to her chest.
The next two words appeared to cost her mother an enormous effort. " Your brother."
A hitch rose in her throat. After some time, she managed to speak.
" He found us?"
The implication that her brother was so close, yet too faraway, almost made her collapse in blinding frustration. What was worse was that she had never known. Until now. With a glare that could rival the frostiness of the colder towns up north, she leaned forward, facing her mother, who for the first time in years, looked squarely back at her daughter. " How?" she asked, her voice only slightly shaking.
" Four years ago." A mortified sob nearly choked Matthew. Four years ago and she could have been reunited with her brother. " He found me at the back of our old apartment when I was throwing out the trash. It was at night. You were working."
She gritted her teeth and forced her rapidly beating heart to calm down. If only she didn't work her shift that night. " He wanted to see you," her mother continued listlessly, flatly speaking as if droning to a statue. " He wanted to bring you home with him. He never stopped talking about you."
A hysterical laugh rose in her chest. She was beginning to see the whole picture, the image of her brother and mother arguing and bickering in the night, fighting about her, while she obliviously worked at the restaurant, serving food to several men who suggestively watched her and tried to offer her drinks. She had a grim feeling that she knew what happened next with her brother. " So what did you tell him to drive him away?" she bitterly asked.
" I told him that for years, you spoke of nothing but hate towards him, despising him, wanting him dead, never wanting to see him again. I told him that even a mere mention of him made you cry and fly into a rage. And it frightened him."
Matthew could barely breath. Prickling tears jabbed sharply at the corners of her eyes. How could her brother believe such lies and deceit? And from their mother, nonetheless! Didn't he know that for many nights she cried herself to sleep, only whispering his name in comfort? Didn't he know that she kept thinking about him during the darkest and coldest times to keep herself going, just to return to him?
But another question burned in the back of her name. If her brother truly did loved her, why did he so easily abandoned her without even trying to see her one last time?
" So he just left then?"
" Before he left, he gave me the necklace. Told me to give it to you and you could do whatever you want to it. Keep it. Throw it. Toss it in the fireplace. He didn't care anymore."
Slowly, she shook her head in dismay, biting her lip. How could he have given up without a fight? There was something that nagged in her mind. She knew her own mother long enough to know that there was something that she wasn't telling Matthew. But right now, it didn't matter anymore.
" Why did you do it?" she finally demanded, unable to stop the tears from flowing down her cheeks. She was sick and tired of this abuse and injustice forced upon her, day after day, lasting for years on end, until Matthew didn't know what was right from wrong anymore. This secret hidden from her was the last straw that snapped something in her. " Why?!" she half-screamed.
" Because - because I love you."
The words stung, just as a slap would. During all those years, Matthew never heard any words of comfort from her mother, nothing but empty ones.
" Do you even mean it?" she contemptuously asked, silently wondering if these words were just as empty.
Her mother didn't answer.
And she never will.
I decided to keep Matthew's name because "Mattie" could also used for a girl's nickname. And it creates interesting situations later on.
Cyprus (who is known for tourism) and Vietnam (who always carries a rice paddle) are two characters who haven't shown up in the actual strips, though they showed up in sketches and stuff.
There is a reason why I continually didn't name Matthew's brother, leaving you to wonder if her brother is Alfred or someone else ...