Soluble Chapter One: A Tense Farewell
"To think I might not see those eyes
Makes it so hard not to cry
And as we say our long goodbyes
I nearly do."
- Run, Snow Patrol
"Brother…" The word escaped Ludwig's mouth as he stared across the field. His hands were still held firmly – though not painfully – behind his back by Alfred. Arthur, standing just beside him, had one hand on his shoulder – Ludwig wasn't sure if it was meant to be restraining or sympathetic. It was too light to be the former, and he refused to accept the latter. He didn't need sympathy. He could see Francis out of the corner of his eyes; the normally boisterous, flamboyant nation was standing by quietly. His head was bowed slightly, hair shadowing his face. Like most of the men standing with Ludwig, his eyes were trained firmly on the ground.
Standing across from them, a faint smile on his face, was Ivan. The huge nation was looking none the worse for wear for all that he had just gone through the same war the rest of them had. By contrast, the slight, pale man standing just in front of him was a wreck.
It was this man that Ludwig's eyes were fixed on with a burning determination, trying to make him raise his head by sheer, silent willpower alone. The silence surrounding all of them was so thick that Ludwig was finding it difficult to breathe – though that might have been the bandages that he had wrapped around his ribs with such ferocity this morning.
"Do we –" The words sounded like a shotgun, so long had the silence remained unbroken, and Germany wasn't the only one who flinched. He felt Alfred's grip tighten slightly.
"Yes, Francis." Arthur's voice was tight, though with what Ludwig couldn't tell. "There isn't another way."
Those words broke the paralysis that had seized Ludwig at the beginning of the gathering. "There is another way!" he snarled, twisting in Alfred's grasp with a sudden burst of energy. "You don't have to give him to that fucking Russian psychopath!"
America's grip tightened like a vise, though the younger nation said nothing. He hadn't spoken much since they had decided. There was, however, little need for the additional force – the sudden movement had upset the balance of pain in Ludwig's body and his ability to ignore it. The German nation let out a hissing breath, sweat beading on his forehead. He sagged, and then only the two grips that Alfred and Arthur had on him were holding him up.
But his outburst had, at long last, procured a reaction from the man standing silently with Russia. He lifted his head slowly, and stared silently at Ludwig for a long moment. Bandages covered much of his face, including one of his brilliant red eyes. They made his already pale skin even more washed out. A slightly pained smile appeared on Prussia's face as he regarded his younger brother across the distance that now separated them.
"Calm… down, West," Gilbert said in a raspy, halting voice. He had bandages around his neck as well – and Germany knew for a fact that they continued down under his tattered uniform. He had patched his brother up the best he could – and the way that Gilbert was standing there made Ludwig think that perhaps the bandages were the only thing really holding him together. "Worrying about… me… is so… not awesome." The smile widened a bit, despite the flash of pain in Gilbert's visible eye.
"Brother, you can't let them just –" Germany's words sputtered to a half as Prussia raised on hand – and this, too, was wrapped in white bandages. Only the tips of his fingers were visible, like a wordless accusation. Ludwig knew that wound had been his fault – a desperate attempt by Prussia to spare him from the blade of an enemy soldier had resulted in the older nation catching the weapon with his hand. His gloves hadn't stood a chance. Germany could still see the blood, if he closed his eyes and concentrated.
"I… can, West," Prussia said, a flare of his usual fire back. "I'm… the older brother. I can do… whatever the hell… I want." His head tilted to the side, glancing back at the Russian behind him from under his white bangs. "Besides… I've had him… on my back for years… I'll be fine."
But Ludwig didn't miss the flash of terror in his brother's eyes – and he knew that none of the other nations had either. Prussia hated Ivan with a passion – and that hate was eclipsed only by the same fear that all of the nations held for him. Only Ludwig knew the depths that it truly reached to. After all, Gilbert's words were true – he had been geographically close to Russia for much longer than most all of them. He knew better than most just what Ivan was capable of.
"Da. It will be nice to have you around my house." Russia spoke for the first time, reaching out a hand and placing it on Gilbert's shoulder in a friendly manner.
"Ivan… if you hurt him," Ludwig hissed, eyes like chips of ice, "If you touch a hair on his head, no place in your frozen wasteland will be far enough for you to run when I come looking for you. And when I get my hands on you –"
"The divide will stand." Russia smiled a little wider. "And you will throw yourself uselessly against it until your bones break and the wire peels the flesh from your bones." Those dead violet eyes glittered, and deliberately, he raised a hand to ruffle Gilbert's ragged white hair. "I am not afraid of you, Germany. Your power it broken, and your country is defeated a second time. Look at you. You can barely stand."
"You –" Ludwig's words degenerated into a growl of wordless rage.
Arthur opened his mouth to say something, but the words died as he was interrupted by a rasping, sandpapery sound. All of the m jumped, except Russia, and stared at Gilbert. The dissolved nation was laughing, despite the pain it was evidently causing him.
"If… you two…. Are going to have… a pissing contest over me… can you at least wait… until I'm not standing right here?" For one moment, it was almost as if they weren't standing here tensely; as if Gilbert wasn't struggling to exert the energy to simply stand there without falling over. Despite his hatred of the northern nation, he was glad that Russia had a hand on his shoulder – that firm, if painful grip was keeping him on his feet right now.
"Gil, I –" Ludwig was conscious of England fidgeting uncomfortably beside him as he spoke. The hand dropped off of his shoulder.
"You'll see me again." The words were soft, but for a moment Prussia's face crinkled with mischief, and he managed to speak without pauses for breath. "Someone needs to make sure you have fun sometimes – and who better than the awesome me? You owe me beer when I get back, West. I want to get so drunk that I forget my own name."
Ludwig's smile was just as painful as the Prussian's, though for different reasons. "You can drink whatever the hell you want when you get back, East," he said, voice rough with emotion. "I'll even pay for it."
"Then you'd better… pull your people up… off the ground," Gilbert said firmly, "Because I plan… on driving you into another… depression just to pay for… it all." He laughed again. It didn't last long, as the action upset the tenacious balance within his body, and the pale nation was suddenly bent almost double, coughing, cheeks turning red as he struggled for air that wouldn't come.
"Brother!" Ludwig found some crumb of strength in his battered frame, and surged forward. The sudden spurt of adrenaline caught Alfred by surprise, and the young man let go of him out of sheer surprise. England let out a startled shout, but he was too slow to jump forward and grab Germany as he lunged past.
Ludwig made it to his brother just as the strength in Prussia's legs left him and he collapsed. In his arms, Germany realized just how light Gilbert was – he was little more than skin and bones, and it was like cradling a small child. He was barely conscious of the dark shadow that Russia, who had not moved, was casting over them.
"Gil…" There was a flood of emotion in the nickname that Ludwig whispered into the wild white hair; emotion that he couldn't express in any other way.
"Get… strong again… West," Gilbert murmured into his collar, the arms that were around Germany's shoulders tightening weakly. "Fix… yourself… before you start… worrying about me."
"I won't forget you, brother." The words were a fierce declaration. "I'll come get you."
"Don't be… silly…" Prussia muttered. "I'm not… even a nation…anymore. And Ivan… was right. The wire… the barrier… still stands."
"Fuck the barrier," Ludwig hissed, drawing his older brother into a bone crushing hug that made the Prussian gasp in pain. "It's just wire… it doesn't mean anything to us." Through the flyaway white hair, Germany could see Ivan watching them with that frighteningly empty expression – and then those violet eyes flickered to look behind the two brothers. A tiny crease appeared in his brow, and Germany had no time to consider what it might mean before the Russian was moving with a swiftness that did not match his size.
But it was not the motion that Ludwig had been expecting. Rather than trying to wrench the two brothers apart, Ivan moved past them – in front of them. Blocking England and America from grabbing Germany away. He didn't dare let go of Gilbert to see what was happening, but he could hear perfectly.
"You will leave them," Ivan was saying in that childish voice of his – so innocent, yet so threatening.
"Get out of the way, Russia," England replied shortly, though Germany could hear the slight tremor in his voice. He felt Gilbert clutch at him tighter, and buried his nose in his brother's hair, as if he could take Prussia and pull him into himself, make them one; spare him the pain and terror that he was feeling right now. As if by the physical contact alone, he could imprint Gilbert's memory on himself, so that the spunky, sometimes downright annoying man would not fade from his memory.
"You will let them share this." He caught the telltale sound of Ivan's voice dropping; becoming deeper and more menacing. Ludwig didn't want to think about why the Russian was suddenly taking their side on this matter.
"I… have to go… West…" Gilbert's voice was stronger now, and he pulled away from the tight embrace. He put his hands on Germany's shoulders, staring with his visible red eye into his brother's pair of blue, trying to communicate everything he was thinking in a wordless look. His fingers tightened, though Germany wasn't sure if that was a reaction to pain or something else.
"Germany…" America's voice this time, a soft warning in it, though it was rather a nicer rebuke than he had expected. Of course, America had his own younger brother, and likely knew exactly what was running through Ludwig's mind at this moment.
"Are you ready to leave, Gil?" Ivan, this time, turning to look over his shoulder. The innocent voice and expression was back – no sign that he had just been angry with England.
"Don't call me that." Gilbert's voice was stronger now, and his eye narrowed in a glare at the Russian. "Don't ever call… me that."
Ivan shrugged, but didn't respond. Instead, he moved to the side and gave England an abrupt nod.
Arthur moved forward, and put a hand on Germany's shoulder, pushing Prussia's off in the process. "Let him go, Ludwig," he said, voice low and warning. "You've said your goodbyes. Let's not make this any more difficult than it needs to be."
Germany looked back at his older brother, feeling for a moment like a lost child again, not sure what to do or what to say.
Prussia nodded slowly, and let his other hand drop off of Ludwig's shoulder. "Go, West." His smile was back. "Though… I suppose I'm not… you're…" He hesitated for a moment, and then reached up to his throat. Gilbert felt his fingers close around the metal cross that he wore around his neck – the one that mirrored Ludwig's. The grip tightened, and then he pulled. The black fabric that kept it tied under his collar came undone faster than he had expected, the frayed edges unraveling with the tug. Gilbert considered the metal symbol in his hand for only a short moment, before grabbing for Ludwig's hand, which was limp with surprise.
"Here," he whispered roughly, willing himself not to cry. He wasn't allowed to cry. Gilbert let his features scrunch up into his usual confident smirk, though it pained the bandaged portion of his face to do so. "You're all… of Germany now, West." He closed Ludwig's fingers over the metal object that was probably older than he was. "Take care of it."
"Gil, you can't give this –" Germany was hardly resisting Arthur's insistent tugging on his shoulder. "I can't take this –"
"Yes you can," Gilbert replied, even as Ivan came to stand beside him, one firm hand on his shoulder to steer him in the correct direction – away from his brother, and the smoking ruins of his home. "It's yours now… Germany."
And then Ivan's hand became more forceful, the Russian having expended his yearly allotment of charity and becoming impatient with the waiting. Gilbert didn't resist – he knew Ivan would probably happily drag him – and followed the larger nation, trailing in his wake like a second, paler shadow. He glanced back over his shoulder once, raising a hand again in a farewell wave.
Ludwig stared after the retreating shape of his brother long after he could barely make out the two men. He was aware that England hadn't bothered trying to force him to move; that America had backed off, standing awkwardly to the side. Surprisingly, it was Francis who came to stand beside the German in the suddenly silent clearing. Then again, perhaps it was not so surprising – France and his brother had always been close. The only one missing from their chaos causing trio was Spain, who hadn't been able to bring himself to come.
"We'll get him back," Francis said firmly, in a no-nonsense voice. "I won't leave him with Braginski." He placed a hand on Ludwig's shoulder and squeezed it tightly, and the German couldn't find the energy to shrug it off.
And with that, Francis turned on one heel and left. His steps were short and clipped, and had they been on stone and not grass, they would have sounded angry. Then it was just the three nations left in the field – though Germany got the sense America was staying only to help England if he needed it, not out of any particular desire to be there.
"Ludwig… it's time to go home." Arthur was at his side now, looking at him with guarded green eyes, as if expecting Germany to lash out.
Truth be told, he wanted to. He sorely wanted to punch something… but that wouldn't solve anything. That wouldn't save his people. It wouldn't bring Gilbert back. "Yes," he whispered hoarsely, eyes still fixed on that last point on the horizon where he had seen Gilbert disappear. "Home."
He allowed England and America to gently steer him from the clearing, back in the direction of his house. His empty, echoing house that would no longer see the visits of a man with too large an ego for his slight body, a man who could drink the entire contents of his beer cellar and still be looking for more. Ludwig uncurled his fingers, looking at the cross that Gilbert had given him. There was a slash in the metal, from a blade or a dodged bullet, Germany wasn't sure. It cut the metal nearly in half, keeping with the symmetry.
You're all of Germany now.
"But I don't know what to do…" the words were inaudible, but neither Alfred or Arthur pressed him to repeat himself as they left the clearing behind, as grass turned to rough gravel and pavement. "I need you, East…"
His hand clenched spasmodically on the cross, the sharp points digging through his gloves and into his skin. Ludwig didn't notice his hand start to bleed – he merely clutched the symbol tighter, oblivious to the pain it was causing him.
I can't protect you, Gil…
Ludwig was not a religious man – he hadn't ever been, even when Gilbert had been going through a phase of it. But now, he felt his lips moving through some silent prayer – to someone, to anyone who would listen to a disgraced nation incapable of protecting even his own brother.
Hold out, East. I'll come and find you.
A/N: So, I just got into Hetalia - well, ok, I got into Hetalia over a month ago, and that's when I started writing this thing too. I just haven't posted it until now. ^^; Anyway, I can't promise entirely regular updates, seeing as how packed my summer schedule is turning out to be, but I certainly won't leave you hanging for months on end with no updates.
Please review, if you'd read! :D