Chapter 22

"Hey Matthew." Toris called out to the Canadian.

Matthew looked up. He had spent the past two and a half hours trying to keep Alfred still so a doctor could examine him to make sure he was internally okay. Externally he was fine, but Matthew could not get through to him that what was going on inside that he couldn't see and most likely not even be aware off could kill him, where as a gapping hole in his side of which he would be able to see could be less of a threat.

Dense as lead.

"Just stay!" Matthew ordered. As soon as he had turned his back and left the room though, Alfred slyly removed himself and disappeared into the depths of the hospital. He had a deep mistrust of doctors despite the fact they tended to be right in what they said.

"What's up Toris?" Matthew greeted casually. Toris produced the file from a satchel balanced on his hips.

"I think there are answers in this file." He smiled. "I couldn't save the rest. Ivan saw me with them."

"Oh." Matthew commented, surprised.

"Well, not really. There are Russian's involved in the group who took Arthur, Feliciano, Alfred and Ludwig, and this I have on good authority, the Russian government had no knowledge of it. Pretty sure that if we do some snooping we'll find every government of the nationalities of these men involved would have no knowledge either. Terrorist base maybe. Regardless, these men have shown Russia up. Ivan and his boss will not be happy. If anyone can find these men and deal with them, it's those two."

"God help them."

"God help them indeed, though I'm not exactly sympathetic to their plight." Toris shrugged his shoulders. "How is everyone?"

"Recovering. Feliciano is awake and talking in complete sentences. He's even caused the canteen to run out of pasta. Arthur's operation was a success and is now sleeping the drugs off and Ludwig is fretting but otherwise okay. Alfred is right over … Oh! Maple! Alfred!" Matthew shouted. "I was getting him checked out to make sure he was fine. If he drops dead it's his own fault now."

"He won't." Toris laughed. "He's too damn lucky for that."

"Agreed; I know where to find him though."

"We all do." Toris shook his head and smiled. "Beautiful couple. Anyway, I better get off. Ivan was in a meeting when I left so he doesn't know that I've left at all. Keep that I was the one to give you that file silent if you act on anything in it. If anything, claim you found it yourself."

Matthew nodded. He understood completely. Ivan would not be too happy to find out Toris had hidden something from him.

"Thank you; and take care." Matthew told Toris before parting.

Despite knowing where Alfred was, Matthew had no intention of pursuing him. The new Matthew found that running after people, especially ungrateful ones, was a waste of his time. With this in mind, Matthew took off to the hospital canteen so he could sit over a cup of strong coffee and look the file that Toris had just given him.

:

Matthew sat down and started flicking through the file he had just been given. How many nationalities were these men from? There were some British, some German, some American, some Russian and some from the Latin American countries. They're even some French. Matthew wasn't looking forward to telling Francis that. With the current mental state of the Frenchman, Francis was likely to go on a rampage over it. Toris was right with what he said though; none of them were going to be sympathetic to their plight now. If the likes of Ivan or a pissed off Francis got their hands on those men, every one was likely to turn a blind eye to it.

On closer inspection of the profiles, Matthew spotted that each profile had bullet points concerning their opinions towards America. None were too pleasant to read. Knowing this; Matthew skimmed over them for the bare facts and nothing more. Some simple concepts that would allow him to piece together what caused everything to happen in the first place.

The American army crusading around in the Latin American countries like they owned the place; Americanization (the word McDonalds was in brackets); the French assailants were commenting on their worry for their language, cuisine and tradition during the onslaught of globalization; the British assailants were moaning about being treated like the 51st state among other things; the Russian assailants less than eloquently expressed their burning desire for revenge against the nation that vilified them and now tries to interfere in their source of solid income to gain more power over Europe; the list appeared to Matthew's eye to be endless.

Every nationality had not one, but several bones to pick with America. Matthew whistled at the sheer quantity of reasons for groups of people to look at America with hatred.

Matthew found convoluted amusement in the fact that they went for the Alfred instead of his bosses, past or present. Alfred had a hero complex; oppression never crossed his mind. In fact that was what he thought he was battling against! He couldn't control what his bosses got up to, and according to democracy it was up to the people to give them the boot, being at the next election or before if they did their job that badly.

What made Matthew feel immensely saddened though was that actual Americans were in on it, making sure to note that they saw the floors in their own nation. For people to turn against their own nation was terrible.

Deciding that he didn't want to read any more in one sitting, the entire situation leaving his head spinning, Matthew decided that it would be best if he did go and find Alfred and make him sit the examination. Standing up, he left and took the shortest route he knew towards Arthur room. However, that wasn't how it played out and Matthew wound up walking around the entire hospital before realizing he had seen some of the places he was passing before.

With his natural calm attitude firmly in place, Matthew politely asked a passing nurse for directions before setting off again. Taking an elevator up two floors, Matthew spied Gilbert looking into a hospital room through a window. Matthew didn't need to be told that the Prussian's brother was in there with a recovering Feliciano. He would put money on Romano and Antonio being in there as well.

Matthew walked up to him. "Why aren't you in there with them? It looks like there having fun." Matthew said to the Prussian without actually looking into the room. Gilbert looked round at him.

"I wouldn't be welcome. I'm not his friend."

"But you helped save him. You were one of the main forces that made what happened happen. So why do you undermine yourself so?" Matthew felt his heart tug with the sight of the down hearted Prussian.

"What do you care, Mattie?" Gilbert finally replied. His nation had been dissolved, he no longer had an army that made others tremble and weep in their wake and he was no where near as strong as he used to be. In short, he felt completely worthless and alone. The thought was always there, he just never showed it, until now.

"I care because I love you." Matthew replied before leaning in and kissing the Prussian. Gilbert looked like he had been slapped, and slapped hard. As Matthew pulled back, a smirk pulling at the corners of his mouth, Gilbert watched him carefully through narrowed crimson eyes. "Don't tell me that all that hitting on me you did was just for show." Matthew chuckled. His confidence put Gilbert on unsure footing, but that didn't mean he didn't like it though. Damn! It made Matthew all the more appealing to him.

Gilbert started to smirk while a strange look crossed his face. "Knew you couldn't resist the awesome me forever Mattie."

"Just kiss me already."

Antonio looked at Romano as he tried to act as though he was completely oblivious to anything that had happened in the past week. He was well known though for his fear of showing any emotions that he believed that others would view as a weakness. Antonio had pondered long and hard about how Romano was still like that despite growing up in his home where he was incredibly affectionate towards him. He would have thought that some of the affection would have worn off somewhere along the line on the S. Italian nation.

Apparently not.

"I wasn't worried." Romano commented with a wave of his hand.

"That's not what I was told." Ludwig commented dryly. He had been told about Romano's entrance into the conference room and how he looked at Matthew's. Also with all the times that he had tried to convince Feliciano to leave him along side how he tried and failed to one up the German added up to one caring brother who had little to no skills in showing it.

"Shut it potato bastard!" Romano snapped. "Ah! What! Let go of me you bastard." He shrieked as Antonio wrapped his arms around him and hugged him. Romano's arms were flailing around in the air as he tried to clout Antonio on the back of the head. "You bastard! Get the fuck off me!"

"You are always so cute when you are angry." Antonio cooed and tightened his hold, causing Romano to go into complete melt down.

Their relationship was still going to take some developing.

Ignoring the foul mouthed Romano and the affectionate Spaniard, Ludwig turned his full attention onto Feliciano. Feliciano's chocolate orbs were focused on his brother and Antonio before sensing he was being watched. Turning his gaze upon the German, he noticed sorrow contained within his blue eyes.

"Doitsu?" Feliciano asked, his face full of concern.

Ludwig was lost for words. How could he tell Feliciano that he wanted to leave him? He still loved him, it was simply a matter of protection. Feliciano had gotten nothing but hurt since they had become friends. Ludwig simply couldn't live with seeing the too trusting Italian getting hurt again and again because of him.

Feliciano could see that something serious was passing through Ludwig's mind. It was written across his face. Facial expression only became blatantly obvious when the German was deep in thought. Normally it was vacant of all emotions.

"Doitsu?" Feliciano asked again.

"This is good bye Italy."

Everybody in the room froze. All eyes turned to Ludwig. Feliciano welled up.

"D…D…Doitsu?" He stuttered as his vision blurred.

"It's for the best." Ludwig said to no one in particular as he rose to his feet with the intention of leaving.

"Doitsu!" Feliciano wailed in grief and anguish as he sat up in bed, his chocolate orbs wide and following Ludwig's progress towards the door. Ludwig couldn't deny that the Italian had affected him during their friendship. Hearing the Italian howl in emotional pain not only stopped him where as before he could have carried on and ignored everything going on around him, but he also turned back to comfort him.

Sitting down on the side of the bed, Ludwig awkwardly brought Feliciano to him so that he wept in his arms. "Don't cry, Italy."

Romano and Antonio could not believe what they were seeing. An affectionate Ludwig? Both never thought they would see the day.

"I can change. I can be stronger." Feliciano wept uncontrollably into the German's shirt. "Please just don't leave me." His speech was broken up by his sobs and gasps for breath.

"What?" Ludwig was stunned. "No Italy, it's not you."

"You lie. You have gotten fed up of protecting me because I'm weak. I'm a bad ally!" Feliciano's words horrified Ludwig so much that he was lost for words to comfort his beloved. He had even gone as far as to forget Romano and Antonio stood on the corner still watching.

"That's not it. I swear. It's because you always get hurt around me because of me. I'm leaving you not because I don't love you any more, or for the reasons you think; I'm leaving you because I'm protecting you."

"W… what?" Feliciano sniffled.

"If you had nothing to do with me, nothing of the past week would have happened to you." Ludwig confessed. "It was your association with me that made them go after you. Not you yourself, but me! I … I just want to keep you safe."

Antonio stood staring, completely gob smacked. Emotional development! If he had not seen it for himself he would never have believed it. Before him was a Ludwig who was better in touch with his emotions than ever before. Antonio wasn't the only one staring. Romano was stunned into forgetting the fact that Antonio still had his arms around his waist. As a matter of fact, Antonio had forgotten as well.

"That's why you're leaving me?" Feliciano asked, his tears having stopped and his breathing leveling out.

"Ja." Ludwig nodded. "Ich liebe dich."

"Ti amo." Feliciano whispered back. "

Their lips met but only briefly as Feliciano was over whelmed once more by the onset of tears.

"That's a terrible reason to leave me." Feliciano sobbed into the German's shoulder. "Remember what Arthur said. 'Don't ever let go of him! Ever!' Are you going to go against the advice of someone who has generally suffered in love?"

"You heard that?" Ludwig asked stunned.

"Si." Feliciano whispered and nodded his head gently. "If you left I don't know what I would do with myself. Please, I beg you, don't leave."

Ludwig raised a hand and caressed Feliciano's cheek, feeling the smooth skin beneath his thumb as he ran it across the Italian's cheek bone. "I won't leave you."

"Grazie." Feliciano smiled before their lips met again.

Antonio had found everything so beautiful and touching that he promptly burst into tears and buried his head into the crook of Romano's neck. The feeling of hot tears making contact with his skin and running down his neck to saturate his shirt did not sit well the S. Italian nation.

"Oh way to go potato freak!" Romano huffed. "Now this bastard is making my top all wet!" However, he never tried to push Antonio away, (but he did utter a few ill chosen words that would have made a nun blush).

Ludwig wasn't listening or even taking any notice of them at all. All he could see that mattered to him in that room and in life now was Feliciano, and that was it.

All else fell into irrelevance.

Arthur, when he was asleep, didn't look as though he had aged a single day since Francis saw him that fateful evening before the ball all those centuries ago.

The very night that he fell in love with him.

Before he saw what a stunning young man Arthur had grown into, Francis just considered Arthur a friend, though a foul mouthed and unaffectionate friend a lot of the time. That night was the turning point. Arthur was still foul mouthed an unaffectionate, but he had grown, matured, there was more to him than there had been before. He remembered as though it were a photograph the way the tips of Arthur's cheeks and ears had burned when he said he looked stunning. At night when he slept, the memory played itself over and over in his mind. He could still feel the touch of Arthur's lips against his forehead.

Francis would sell his soul to go back to that fateful night.

He truly would. He would give anything to go back, to grab Arthur's wrist as he moved back from him and to drag him close, to press the Englishman up against him and to wrap his arms around his lithe waist. He would give anything to have Arthur look up at him with sweet confusion swirling and clouding his emerald eyes; to see his breathing hitch as he leant in close and kissed him breathless.

Even if nothing came of it other than a broken nose, a black eye and a bruised ego, it would have been worth it just to know.

Now Francis was left with only the memory and his regret for company.

However, when Alfred slid into the room and dropped his bag into the corner, Francis felt his temper spike. Matthew had told him it was completely rational, but there was still a side of him that truly hated the American and now always would. However, he couldn't let it get the best of him.

He needed to have a word with the said American. Lay down some ground rules.

Francis stood up and walked towards Alfred who was still stood in the door way. He was unsure of what to do with himself considering Arthur was still asleep and looked like he wouldn't wake up any time soon. The operation had taken a lot out of him and the drugs were still wearing off.

"I need to speak to you." Francis told him as he grabbed Alfred's arm and dragged him backwards back out the room. Alfred found it strange. Usually Francis had a romantic, smooth tone to his voice that had been known to grind on some nations nerves, predominantly those who knew him well enough not to fall for it, but this time the Frenchman's voice didn't hold any of the metaphorical roses or fine perfume that it usually did. His voice this time was hard and saturated with bitterness.

"What this about?" Alfred asked. His innocence, though genuine, was like a cheese grater against Francis's frayed nerves.

"We need to talk about Arthur." Francis spoke clearly and dryly.

"Oh." Again, Alfred had a genuine innocence about him.

"You hurt him in any way, I will murder you myself." Francis eyes burned at the very thought that Alfred would do Arthur wrong. His blood was already at boiling point, but the thought that Alfred would do wrong to Arthur caused his blood to boil over.

Alfred was shocked. Francis's words seemed to come out the blue at him. What? What was he going on about? Of course he wouldn't hurt Arthur. Not intentionally of course. Alfred, because of his confusion, decided to hide behind his usual laid back attitude. It had worked before. "Don't wor …"

"Don't act so flippant with me boy!" Francis snarled. "If Arthur arrives on my door step one rainy night, his heart broken because you've cheated on him, I … will … get … you. Put a single foot out of line and I will hunt you down. This is not a warning. This is a threat!"

Alfred watched the Frenchman stunned and more than a little scared. He had never seen Francis turn on someone like that. Also, he never spoke that way. When did he ever call someone, or anyone for that matter, 'boy'? The answer was never.

It suddenly clicked why Francis was acting differently..

"You love him." He breathed, kicking himself for not seeing it sooner. The little, though sometimes not very discreet touches; the teasing; the fact that there were days when Francis practically moved in to Arthur's house without invitation; it all came together like a jigsaw and made sense.

Francis's eyes hardened. "Oui. But his heart belongs to you. This is why I'm giving you this warning, and it's only going to be the once. Slip up, I will teach you what real, true pain feels like."

Alfred swallowed hard. "Yes sir." He nodded violently. He had never thought it was possible for Francis to strike such fear into a person. He stood corrected.

"Well then? Go! He's waking up!" Francis had seen Arthur raise a single hand to his face in his peripheral vision.

"Yes, yes." Alfred practically fell over his own feet to get away from him.

"Breathe a word about our little discussion to him …"

"I won't! I won't!" Alfred practically fell backwards through the door. The door closed and Francis remained stagnant. He closed his eyes and pressed his lips firmly together. He felt dead inside. From where he was stood, he could see into the room through a little window. He saw Alfred by Arthur's side. He saw how Arthur's face lit up with him simply being there. The anger had now gone. He just felt empty.

Francis sat down after retrieving a huge cup, though more like a bucket (because let's face it, he needed it), of coffee and started to think about how he would piece back together his own life. He had settled for only seeing Arthur for centuries. There was nothing to stop him from getting close; he simply couldn't touch.

To his surprise, Matthew sat down next to him and pulled him into a warm hug, though he was careful about the placement of the bucket of coffee. "Be strong papa, time is a good healer." Matthew whispered to him.

"I shall be fine in time." Francis muttered, his voice flat and unemotional. "But only in time. I can but only hope that my love fades, though after centuries of the feeling only intensifying, I can not see how that will happen."

"Like I said, they may break up yet. Remember; Arthur's a demented Englishman and Alfred is a dense American. Now what do you think their compatibility rating is?"

"I remember you calling me a 'mad Frenchman' if my memory serves me correctly." Francis replied.

"Mad and demented are in the same league as one another. Oh Maple! They are so similar that they are nearly the same. Dense is just being dense. Like I said, you never know."

"Is this hypothetical talk meant to give me hope?"

"I'm trying to show you not everything is black and white." Matthew rubbed Francis's arm affectionately before standing up. He remembered the file and how some of the men were French. He had to tell Francis, but not now. He would chose a better time which would come later, when emotions had calmed down once more and the news would not spark and immediate witch hunt.

"I'll phone you later to check on you. You going home?"

"Yes. I thought about booking myself into a hotel so I could watch over Arthur till he was well enough to travel. I even thought about travelling with him just to make sure he got there alright. There is no point though." Francis blonde hair fell forward from his shoulders and shrouded his face.

"You should stay. I know for a fact that no matter how much Alfred complains, he won't be able to accompany Arthur back to England. His boss won't allow it. You will be heading that direction anyway. Arthur will want the company, no matter how much he denies it." Matthew told him before bidding a quick farewell and departing. He wasn't controlling what Francis did; he just told him the facts of the matter and let him decide for himself. If he was honest with himself though, he wanted Francis to stay with Arthur. It would hurt with Alfred around, but when Alfred would be forced to depart back to the states, Francis would feel a lot better with his absence. Besides, Francis would never forgive himself if Arthur travelled alone and something happened.

Sighing, Matthew pulled out his own phone to arrange his flight back. There was a catch to his plan though … a pesky Prussian was accompanying him back to Canada.

He was trying to think of a way to get beer onto this flight.

"Arthur." Alfred breathed in relief as he saw Arthur look at him. He raced to the Englishman's side, desperate to see him, to make sure for himself that he was alive, to hold his hand and to prove to himself that he wasn't dreaming.

"You look like you've seen a ghost." Arthur whispered, his throat still hurting.

"What? Oh, it's nothing. Just worried about you is all." Alfred gave him a smile. Arthur smiled back and squeezed the American's hand, though only gently. He couldn't muster much energy at all. He could already feel sleep tugging at him once more.

"When can I go home?" He asked, feeling a deep longing to see his house again. To sit and have tea in his kitchen or out in the back yard seemed like bliss to him at that time. Just to sit and relax in the privacy of his own home called out to him as a peaceful and tranquil way to recover. He would have to get the locked changed though and the security updated.

"Soon." Alfred told him. "They haven't put a time on it yet. They want to see how you recover from the operation first."

"Oh, I was looking forward to going home." Arthur looked down heartened.

Alfred felt terrible with those words. Sitting down on the side of the bed, he placed a surprisingly comforting and gentle hand on Arthur's cheek. Arthur turned his face into it and kissed the palm lightly. "I thought you were dead." Alfred whispered.

"I thought you were." Arthur spoke quietly.

Alfred leaned in, his lips meeting Arthur's gently. "I'll get them to allow you to go back home." Alfred vowed. Pulling back, Alfred dived into his bag and brought out a wooden solider. He handed it to Arthur. Arthur's face was a mixture of surprise and shock.

"You still have that?" Arthur's bandaged fingers traced the painted outline of the wooden figure. He still remembered making the collection of wooden soldiers. He still remembered how Alfred's face had lit up when he gave them to him. "Why is this one so special?"

"It's always reminded me of you." Alfred replied. "I keep it on me as a good luck

charm."

"You sentimental twit." Arthur smiled as he tried to hand the wooden figurine back.

"No, keep it." Alfred told him. "It's yours."

Arthur stared in wide eyed disbelief at the American, a lone tear rolling down his ashen cheek. "Thank you."

Alfred took Arthur's hand carefully in his own before raising them to kiss the back of Arthur's. His lips met smooth, cool skin. "I'm going to sit here till you wake up again." Alfred squeezed Arthur's hand very gently. "You look tired.

"Observant." Arthur yawned. "You will stay?"

"Yes." Alfred nodded. "Of course I will. Then I'll work on getting you discharged and off home again."

"Thank you." Arthur muttered over and over as sleep claimed him again. Alfred continued to keep the Englishman's hand in his own while in Arthur's second hand rested the wooden toy solider. Arthur's light breathing was a relief to Alfred, especially with the hospital surroundings.

Arthur's fingers still looked terrible, but they looked a lot better than they did. All of his nails had been removed to reduce the risk of infection setting in underneath them. Arthur ran the risk of loosing his fingers if he kept the nails and an infection set in. Each of his fingers hand been individually tended to and bandaged meaning that he couldn't bend them far, but some movement was still possible. Movement was seen as being good.

It wasn't the first time that he had thought to himself that he could have lost the man sleeping next to him. Now after "talking" to Francis, he realized that Arthur had admirers other than himself, and if he had not said a word, if what had happened had not happened, chances were that one of those admires would have swooped down and swept Arthur off his feet. Alfred already knew that Arthur was very lonely; the mere thought of company who showed an interest in wanting to be around him would have attracted his eye immediately.

"You'll never be lonely again. I promise." Alfred whispered before pressing his face into the crook of Arthur's neck. It was Arthur's good shoulder he was leaning on as he wept, thinking Arthur wouldn't wake up if he did it quietly. He felt so terrible, he simply had to touch Arthur to make sure that he was still there. It was also linked back to when he was a child and he ran to Arthur for comfort. For some reason, he found Arthur soothing when he was upset.

"Don't cry." Arthur's voice made Alfred's breath hitch.

"But …"

Arthur wrapped his arm around Alfred, dragging him closer. "What's passed is passed. There is no reason to weep over yesterday when today is the day that matters." Alfred nodded and sniffed. "Come, lay down."

"What?" Alfred asked confused.

"When you used to be upset, sleeping with me always calmed you." Arthur smiled. "Some habits die hard." Alfred complied and laid down next to him, thinking about what the nurses were going to say about this when they found them. Arthur didn't seem to care. "Get some sleep. You look like you need it."

Alfred slid his hand under Arthur's, causing them both to smile at one another.

Outside the room, Francis had moved on long ago, not wanting to stick around and torture his heart any more than he had too. However, Matthew had appeared and had witnessed Alfred's display of affection for Arthur. Looking down on the file again only one thought came to his mind.

"They got the wrong America."

End.

A/N: END! Well, maybe a sequel is one the cards. I don't know at this stage. What I do know though is that I'm going to finish my other story 'Moonlight Shadow' which is hurt/comfort/angst and is Alfred/Arthur for all you die hard fans of the special relationship who have followed this one. When one gets 27 reviews for one chapter, each demanding an update, then I think it's a safe bet to say, 'I think I ought to update this.' ^o^ Also, if anyone wants to see the alternative outcome to Francis dear treasured memory, go onto my profile and look for 'Still Alive'. Many (including myself) feel very bad for Francis so if you want to see him have a happy ending, that's the story to read, mainly because it links to this one.

Also, Wolf of Infinity, I still owe you a story to be dedicated to you. Sorry. I have a brilliant idea, its just taking its sweet time when it comes to getting it out my head and onto a word document.

If you actually want to see a sequel and would actually read it, drop me a line. I don't mind if it's in the review or personal message. I'll do a tally in the back of my note book to see how many would be interested. ^o^

Niki! Thank you for the delightful emails! I hope this chapter has lived up to everything you were expecting.

Till next time my dear readers!

Annalise