Ghost of the Past
Alfred's eyes widened as he took a step towards the house, his mouth felt dry and he could hear his heart pounding like drums in his ears. So concentrated on forcing his feet to move and while never taking his eyes off his brother in case the other was to suddenly disappear like he so often did in his dreams, he never noticed the change in the house or himself. Once close enough, he found himself looking up the steps in amazement.
The boy was still there.
So, gathering what little courage he had left, he called out to the other, "…Mattie…is it really you?"
The blond at the door gave a jump and stared at him in disbelief for a moment before throwing himself at him, "Alf! It's you! It's you! You're really home!"
Having just been tackled onto the grass by a child, his brows furled in confusion briefly before he realized that he'd shrunk. He was a child again, back when life was still carefree and happy. Then the joy began overwhelming him as he hugged his brother back. There were so many things he wanted to say that it all got clogged in his throat and the only thing that came out was choked silence. So he just held onto his brother as tight as he could, in fear of him disappearing in his arms.
Mathieu blinked and loosened his grip in favour of pushing himself back onto his feet, "Alf?"
He sat up, dazed and still unable to speak.
His brother shot him a worried look, "A-Alf? Ça va ? Please talk to me, Alf…I-I'm sorry! I didn't mean to push you like that, you aren't hurt, are you?"
"Ma…Mattie…" Alfred sniffled and looked up at his brother before getting up and pulling the other back into a hug, all his words clumsily tumbling out without order or thought, "Mattie! It's really you! I've missed you so much! I don't like being by myself! I'm sorry I lied to you about your toy! I'm sorry for hiding it in the first place! I'm sorry I used your paint to color the walls! I miss talking to you! I went to America and saw all these really awesome things but I had no one to tell! No one stops me from getting into fights and I still can't cook and every time I say 'right, Mattie' no one answers!"
The other blond patted him on the back reassuringly, though violet eyes were starting to tear up as well, "I-I can answer you now, Alf! D-don't start crying or I will too… You're a hero, remember?"
Studying his brother for a moment, he was reminded of the feeling of guilt he felt whenever he walked past a mirror, knowing his brother would never be able to see his grown up self as he could. He couldn't help but blurt "I'm sorry Mattie, you could've been my age by now…I'm so sorry! Please don't hate me! That day, if I didn't…if I didn't break my promises…this could still be our home right now! We'd still be able to visit Lars and Bella and fight with Lovi! We'd still be able to go fishing with Sesel…I'm so sorry…if it wasn't for me, we'd be home and…and…"
Then an all too familiar voice called out, "Mon cher, what are you talking about? This will always be our home. Our time together here isn't something that can be erased so easily, you know? Now why all these tears? My brave-eyed Alfred's finally come home. I believe it's an occasion that calls for celebration, non?"
He turned to look at the Frenchman who was smiling gently at him, just like in the photos he'd burned into his memories. With his golden hair drawn back into a short ponytail, those shoes, that shirt, it was as though someone had pulled the man straight out of his memories and placed him there.
His throat felt dry as he tried his hardest to hold his tears back, "Papa…" running over and wrapping his arms around the man's waist, he felt himself get picked up, "papa! I'm really sorry, please don't be too mad at me! I know this was all my fault but-"
Francis shook his head and placed a kiss on the top of his son's head, "Don't be ridiculous, it was nobody's fault. Is this what you've been thinking this whole time? Mon pauvre Alfred, you mustn't think of it as anyone's fault, least of all yours."
"But I let you down, I didn't mean to but I did…"
"Non, you could never let me down. You've been trying so hard all these years, how could I ever be upset at you? What happened was an accident, Alfred. On that day, I was just glad you were safe. You must know, these things happen all the time, everywhere, even to the best of people."
After 11 years, he was finally able to ask someone the question that'd been weighing on his heart. With angry tears running down his cheeks, he asked his father, "But why you and Mattie? Of all the people in the world, why you and Mattie? Why were you taken away from me? It's not fair how the world expects me to just move on like nothing happened! How could I? We were so happy once! It's not fair!"
The man smiled softly and soothed back his hair, "mon petit is asking such complicated questions…perhaps this happened to you because whoever arranged all this knew you'd be able to get past it. You are the hero of the house, after all, non? And we all know heroes go through hard times every now and then."
There was a tug at his shirt and he looked down to see Mathieu standing there, "it's just like in the stories papa read to us before bed, Alf. Do you remember what you told me? The hero always comes back, always, always!"
Alfred shook his head and closed his eyes tightly, squeezing more tears out, "but you're wrong. I'm not a hero, I don't want to be one! I just want you and Mattie back! I can't save anyone and I can't get past this! I don't want this to end like I know it will, it's going to hurt too much! I wish the world would just stop turning! Can't you do something, papa?" He was pouting now but he couldn't help it.
The Frenchman merely laughed, "Stubborn to a fault as always, mon cher. We're with you now, aren't we? Now why are you keeping your eyes shut? Do you not want to see us anymore?"
"No, that's not it! It's because this is probably just a dream or something and when I open my eyes, you won't be there. And I've missed you so much, I don't think I'd be able to stand losing you guys again."
There was a shift in weight and then there were smaller hands on both his cheeks, "But Alf, we're really here. It's weird seeing you so quiet."
"Mathieu's right, quietness doesn't suit you very well. As I recall, you were the one who always ran into the house, yelling at the top of your lungs about your latest discovery…" a soft laugh, "that soufflé never stood a chance."
Wiping his hands on his apron, he turned to his son and raised a finger to his lips, "shhh, we have to be very, very quiet or it might deflate, oui? It should be almost done..."
Mathieu nodded and mimicked the gesture, "shhh." There was a large grin on his face as he stared at the stove expectantly, "it's going to be so puffy, papa."
Francis smiled, "c'est ça. And once Alfred gets back, we can take it out and start eating."
Suddenly, the front door flew open and footsteps made their way towards the kitchen, "papa! Mattie! Guess what? Guess what? I found the awesome-est thing ever! Look! Look! Look!" The two of them winced slightly as the boy entered the room, unable to contain his excitement. "Look! It's awesome, right, Mattie? Oh, what were you guys making? It smells really good!"
The Frenchman couldn't help but smile amusedly to himself as he took the deflated dish out of the oven, "it's soufflé."
"I thought they were supposed to be puffy, right, Mattie?" Then the other two began laughing and all he could do was furl his brows and shoot them a quizzical look, "what? What's so funny?"
"Ah…it seems we don't have much time left."
His eyes snapped open as he was set back onto the ground. He realized that his father was right as he slowly reverted back to his adult self. He began shaking his head and pleading, "Papa, Mattie, please don't leave, I'm begging you. I don't want to be alone again…"
The chef appeared unfazed with his change as he patted him on the head reassuringly, "Now, now, you're not alone; perhaps you should pay everyone a visit and see-"
Francis paused mid-sentence as Mathieu tugged at his shirt and spoke quietly, "excusez-moi, papa."
"Hm?" The Frenchman blinked and set the boy down.
The two watched him run into the house for a moment before returning with his crochet doll. The boy smiled and offered it to his brother, "h-here, Alf! To keep you safe! Me and papa will be fine so please take care of Kuma…Kuma…"
"Kumajiro, mon cher," the chef finished for him.
Mathieu nodded, "oui, Kumajiro," he repeated the name to himself. "Please take Kumajiro, Alf. This way, you won't ever be alone! So please don't be sad anymore, Alf."
Alfred accepted the toy with a grateful sniffle, "Thank you, Mattie. I'll take care of him. I promise." Then he turned to his father as the man picked his brother up, "do you really have to go?"
His father dipped his head before brushing the tears out of his eyes with a rueful smile, "come now, don't be like that…it won't be easy but you'll get through it, Alfred."
He shook his head, "but I told you, papa, I'm not brave and I'm not a hero. I can't be! Heroes don't cry!"
The Frenchman pursed him lips thoughtfully for a moment. "Hm…it seems I've put too many stories in your head. Heroes are human too, Alfred, they face loss and sadness like everyone else, but writers just tend to leave those parts out in storybooks. Besides, how many tears have you actually shed for yourself?"
He blinked though his vision remained blurred, "what do you mean?"
"I remember the first time I saw you, you pushed Roderich over and took the bread to feed Mathieu…you looked so scared but you did it anyways. And when I found you, you were crying but it wasn't for yourself…you just looked at me and asked me to help your brother, I wouldn't have been able to say no even if I wanted to. And even now, every year, when you come back, you cry for us. I think I'd actually feel a little better if you cried for yourself and your losses every now and then, there's no need to be hold it back. Crying won't make you any less of a hero, at least not to us, c'est ça, Mathieu?"
His brother nodded in agreement, "Yea, you'll always be a hero to me, Alf."
They began fading and he was shaking his head and desperately clinging onto his father's sleeve. "No, papa, Mattie…please don't go…"
"Je suis dèsolè, mon cher…this isn't something we get to decide…" His chin was tilted upwards as the Frenchman studied him for a moment. It was then that he realized that they'd become about the same height. The man smiled a little sadly at him, "mon dieu, you've grown up so much already…" He leaned in and placed a kiss on his head, "I'm sure you'll be fine, and I know you'll do a lot in the future, so just be brave for a little while longer, mon petit heroe. Things will get better. I promise you."
Mathieu was waving at him now though he was barely visible now, "bye-bye, Alf."
And just before the pair disappeared, he could hear his father telling him:
"Come tell us your stories, mon cher, we'll listen."
Then he was alone again.
Arthur watched from afar as the young man stood there in silence with his brother's toy clutched tightly to his chest, shoulders shaking as he cried silently to himself. Not wanting to disrupt the other, he merely stood on the sidewalk and waited until the other moved. Letting out a loud sniffle and wiping his eyes with his sleeves, Alfred turned around and stared at him as though to ask 'now what?' He made his way past the other and into his house, muttering along the way, "come along lad, let's get you inside. You can freshen up and I'll get you a cup of tea. You've been through a lot today."
Once they rendezvoused in the kitchen, he could see the other marvelling at the renovations, "this is completely different from when I used to live here…"
"Are you alright with, you know, with being in here?" He asked a cautiously as he turned off the stove and prepared the tea, still a little amazed at how well the American was faring.
Alfred nodded, "I'll be fine, I mean…I'm still the hero of this house after all-even if it's just this one house. Besides, I don't want them to worry anymore…" a brave smile, "so I guess I'll just have to do my best. This way, papa and Mattie will be able to rest in peace, right?"
He was touched…not that he'd admit it out loud. Throwing a plate of scones onto the table along with a cup of tea, he hastily blurted, "Y-you do realize I didn't do any of this for you, right? It was actually for me but since you happened to be involved and I felt bad for you, I decided to help you out, that's all! Consider it payback for that one time way back when, okay? I definitely didn't do it for you or anyone else!"
There was a pause before the blond burst into laughter, "papa thanked you, you know?"
Arthur raised a brow, "Me? What for?"
"For bringing me home, I guess. You really helped us out, so thanks."
His face began reddening as he waved his hands and shook his head frantically, "w-w-what on earth are you talking about? I just told you I didn't do it for you, didn't I? I didn't do it for the ghosts either, I mean sure, I might've been caught up in the moment and made promises I wasn't sure I could keep but that doesn't mean I did it for their sake! Really, of all things to misunderstand…"
After his ranting and the two of them finished their scones, Alfred looked over, "Hey Artie?"
Taking a sip of his tea, he raised a brow, "Yes?"
"I think there are a couple people I should pay a visit to…would you mind coming with me?" Because despite his renewed bravery, he still couldn't imagine doing it alone.
He shrugged, "sure, I don't see why not-don't get me wrong though. It's definitely not for you!"
Alfred shot him an amused grin, "uh huh, got it. You'll be there until the end, right?"
The Englishman paused and set his cup down with a nod, "Of course."
Finished! Also, unwritten in the story is how Francis rolled in his grave when Alfred commented that Arthur's scones were 'sweet and tasty, just like papa's cooking'. Yes, anyways, another fanfic done! I hope you found it an interesting read! And hopefully this ending's satisfactory! So I've been thinking about this beta reader thing, I mean, finding one, but yea...maybe I'll try it for my next fic to see how it goes since it's probably going to be a oneshot. I guess I'll see how it goes. Anyways, thank you for reading! And thank you, thank you, thank you for all those who reviewed! Your encouragements were much appreciated! Here's the epilogue and enjoy!
He was walking down the street towards a familiar cemetery as the sun began setting. Though he wasn't sure why, he felt obligated to visit the graves of the ex-ghostly residents at least once a year. Checking his pocket watch, he breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that he still had plenty of time. He'd promised to join Bella and them for dinner at night as he'd had a meeting with his publisher earlier that day and couldn't join them for their yearly commemoration.
Opening the gate to step inside, he couldn't help but wonder if he'd meet Alfred again. He hadn't heard from the younger man ever since he accompanied him while he visited everyone he once knew to let them know that he was alive. Though their brief but happy reunion was cut short when the young man had to return to America, Alfred had promised to return to catch up with them one time or another.
Just as he neared the graves, he could hear someone talking. Blinking, he looked up to see a familiar blond standing there, making wild gestures as he told his stories to the graves. Immediately coming to a halt, he stood there and watched the young man who had tears in his eyes but a smile on his face as he told his tales. "I wish you guys could've seen how I much I won by! I mean, it was huge! It probably stretched from the far end of this place to where I'm standing right now! And then…"
After he finished his story, the young man turned around and gave a slight jump, "oh, hey Artie." He quickly wiped his eyes with a laugh, "why is it that you always seem to show up when I'm crying?"
He couldn't help but chuckle, "Call it a gift. Are you telling them your adventures?"
A nod, "Yea, I bet I look like an idiot."
"Not really…I'm sure they were there, listening to you."
The younger man shot him a grateful smile, "Anyways, it's been awhile, hasn't it? How've you been?"
"I've been fine, I guess. I'll be having dinner with Mr. Edelstein and company tonight, I trust that you'll be attending as well?"
Alfred raised a brow, "so they invited you too? Yea, I'll be there, actually I was just about to head over. I can't wait to hug Bella and Lars and them, Lovi's going to get so, so jealous," he turned to his brother's grave and asked, "right, Mattie?"
He laughed, "I see, well, let me set these flowers down and I'll join you." Removing his hat and walking over to the graves, he placed the bouquets gently next to the bouquet of tulips, from Lars and Bella no doubt. Then he turned and headed back to the other, "so when will you be leaving this time?"
The American looked amused as his lips curled into a grin, "are you that eager for me to leave?"
Arthur shrugged, "don't you have a cat to feed?"
"If you must know, I brought my cat over from America."
He blinked a couple times, trying to grasp what the other was trying to imply with his statement, "Does that mean…?"
"See, I was talking to Rodney and he was mentioning how Bonnefoy's wouldn't be very a fitting name if there wasn't actually a Bonnefoy there…besides, papa loved the place and so did we so I decided to take him up on his offer."
He couldn't help but gape, "wait, so you're moving here? To London?"
Alfred nodded, "Yea! This way, if your brothers ever come around, I'll make they stop bugging you! I mean, I made you a promise, didn't I?" A grin, "get used to seeing me around, Artie, I have a feeling that I'll be here for awhile."