"Ah mon cher," Francis cooed breathlessly. "Once more we are in each other's arms. I know, it was a close call for a time. And though we had to separate for necessities sake, I knew you would come back to me, our love was just too strong to be separated. Ah, my dear… Come, let me smell you."
"Uncle, was that Pierre at the door? What did- oh for god's sake. Uncle, get rid of those pants!" Sey snapped, glaring at the Frenchman currently holding Arthur's pants.
"Never!" Francis wailed, clinging to the garments as he bounded away like a rabbit.
"Uncllllllle!" Sey shouted in frustration, immediately giving chase.
Eduard disliked hospitals. The smell, reminiscent of bleach hanging in the air, the unnerving silence only interrupted by pained coughing or other symbols of human suffering, even the sterile look to everything had an unnatural and artificial feel to it. And this was coming from the many that essentially lived with computers! Still, now that we know why Eduard hated hospitals it must be said that the reason he was there was, naturally, not entirely compulsive, but rather compelled.
The individual who had done so was currently lying on the bed before the Estonian. Ivan, eyes closed and breathing softly, lay beneath a thin white hospital sheet in repose. He almost looked peaceful, like a bear in the throes of hibernation.
These scene of peace and tranquility promptly shattered as Raivis threw the door to the hospital room open, wood banging against the plaster of the wall sharply. Through a combination of the raucous crack of the door and Raivis's shrill cry of, "Eduard!" Ivan found himself rising sharply to sit ramrod straight like an undead monster brought to life, purple eyes blinking as they tried to sort through that realm between reality and sleep he still partially inhabited.
Ivan's eyes darted to Raivis, their menacing look fading slightly when he noticed who it was. "Ah, Raivis. Good to see you again. Is something wrong? You're shaking again," The Russian asked with a slight frown.
"M-mister Ivan! Y-you're strangling Eduard!"
"Hm?" Ivan glanced to his left, noting in surprise that he was indeed, a single arm thrust out with fingers enwrapping the Estonians throat tightly.
"Oh, so I am. I do that sometimes. Sorry Eduard," Ivan said airily as he released his hold. Eduard fell back into his chair, sucking in greedy gulps of air.
"I…I'm okay. Just… Just give me a second," Ivan acknowledged Eduard's request with an incline of his head, waiting patiently for his minion to recover. At length the bespectacled blonde stopped wheezing, though his hand remained upon his chest to try and calm his beating heart. With a final deep breath Eduard looked up to meet his assailant/employers faintly smiling face.
"Good. Then, perhaps you could explain to me, Eduard, where I am and why I'm wearing a hospital gown? Though I am glad you managed to ensure I kept my scarf, I am still awfully curious." Eduard watched as the Russian tugged at his scarf meaningfully. The Estonian gulped; it had indeed been wise to make sure the scarf remained untouched.
"W-well, sir, after the… incident at the restaurant you began to feel ill. After throwing up into a trashcan I managed to bring you to the car. As I was driving you back to the hideout you, um, passed… out… sir. I took you to the hospital and we had your stomach pumped. I'm pretty sure it was because of the poisoned cake. Since then you have been asleep. For two days, and now you've woken up," Eduard finished, somewhat lamely.
Ivan was looking away, absorbing the information and turning it over in his mind. Fascinating. How could he have been so foolish as to let his guard down when he had been looking directly into the lion's maw? It must have been a ploy of that Mister Williams, a front to lure him into a false sense of security. He had been so cowed by the mask that he had neglected there being the demon hiding behind. A demon, who had somehow managed to psychologically trick Ivan into eating the cake! It all made sense now the Russian thought with a chuckle which reverberated in his chest like a drum. He had been beaten, face to face, with the battlefield being a cake of all things! His foe had taken refuge in audacity, and had escaped scot-free.
"I see, I see. I do indeed. Eduard," The Estonian jumped, gulping in fear at the summons. "It would seem we have been beaten. There is no shame in admitting that, for our foes were far beyond our own skills. It has been a long time since I have truly been defeated, as the case is, and they are no doubt long gone."
"You're… not mad, sir?"
Ivan chuckled aloud, the sound an eerie and grating kolkolkol. "No, there is no purpose in flying into a rage here Eduard. This was a contest of wits I have failed; clearly this Matthew and Yong-soo are more brilliant than I could have ever thought. They are in a league of their own, and I? I have been foolish enough to think I could match their skills. But one day, I will look at their faces with respect and glee as they either become one with me, or I grind them into dust. And then, I will smile." And Ivan did just that, a disturbing sight where his brow lowered and his eyes seemed to take on a more scarlet hue. Both Baltic men bearing witness shifted at the almost otherworldly menace Ivan radiated at that moment, his smiling face maintaining that certain childish glee that screamed in the subconscious that something was wrong, bleeding into the mind and tainting it with an inexplicable fear that made the temperature in the room seem to fall with early winter.
Then, as quickly as it had come, it was gone, and Ivan was merely happily smiling, as he always did. "So, did anything else happen while I was asleep? Eduard? Raivis?"
"Um. I, uh, just saw Natalia downstairs at the information desk," Raivis ventured meekly, explaining his initial entrance sheepishly.
Ivan's smile fell into a look of horror, his formerly menacing appearance fleeing in the wake of the news to be replaced with bowel crushing terror. "D… Did you say Na… Na… Natalia?" Ivan demanded shakily.
They say speak of the devil and he shall appear. All eyes travelled to the doorknob of the room as it rattled, the lock quivering in fear of failing and unleashing what was on the other side. Mouths fell agape and the trio recoiled slightly, their arms already rising to their faces with terror as a dull, agonizing scraping of wood replaced the metallic rattle of the doorknob, a chilling voice following suit.
"Broooother, broooother. Are you in there brother? Why did you not call me? I was looking for you for so long. Do you know how much I was worried when I found out you were in the hospital? You didn't have to go so far. I would gladly take care of you, nurse you back to health. Why is the door locked? Don't worry brother, I'm coming in. You'll be good as new after I nurse you back to health. Then we can be together forever.
Ivan jerked away from his stupefaction, grabbing at the latch of the window. He yanked, muscles bulging from fear as he pulled on the small clasp. "I-Ivan's not heeeeere, you have wrong room!" He fairly screamed in a falsetto tone as he continued his desperate work. Then, with a crack of eulogy the handle he had been trying to force broke off. Ivan stared at the broken scrap of metal, his face blank for a moment. What is this? What's in my hand? His mind had fallen short, and when it caught up his violet eyes widened in fear once more. A second crack, far louder than the first sounded as the door was kicked open. Edaurd and Raivis stared in horror at the woman in the blue and white dress on the other side, her chest heaving at the exertion of forcing her entrance upon them, but her lips were lit with a smile, a sickening one that did not come from joy but from some more primal, dark recess of the soul. All three men could only stare, terror gagging them.
Natalia looked up, her eyes sharp as knives and her fingers twitching in expectancy to grab, to throttle, to hold and never let go.
Then the screaming started.
Arthur smiled lightly as he leaned against his seat in the airport, the muffled voice over the intercom sounding out incomprehensible gibberish, which joined the general noise from the hubbub of conversation filling the building. Though Arthur had failed his mission, such as it were, he nevertheless couldn't help but feel happy. A strange thing he supposed, but at the same time it was only natural. He had seen his son, yet it wasn't his little Willy anymore. No, no, Willy had grown, far more than Arthur had honestly expected. The Englishman was unsure if he regretted ignoring the boy as he had, yet at the same time he wondered if Matthew would be as he was if Arthur hadn't. Who knew what trouble his Willy would have gotten into if he had taken a firmer hand, or any hand at all? Still, the boy had survived Ivan, Gilbert, Alfred and whoever else had come after him. So maybe, just maybe, Arthur hadn't handled his Willy too badly after all. Nevertheless, he should probably pay more attention to his son from now on. Maybe he'd play some cricket with the boy when he got back.
A thrumming feeling in his back pocket drew the Englishman's attention. Curious, he reached behind himself and pulled forth a small device from his back pocket, its long form vibrating in his palm expectantly. Arthur flipped open the cellphone, drawing it next to his ear.
"Arthur Kirkland speaking."
"Agent 006. You're country needs you," A voice, far too deep to come from the throat of a human being, declared.
"Willing and able," Arthur answered instantly, smiling confidently. Oh well, he supposed he'd have to play with his Willy another time.
"We were very glad you agreed to assist us. We had been hoping to hire your services for some time, but had quite the difficulty even finding you," So said the suited man walking alongside Ludwig.
The German, for his part, merely rolled his shoulders experimentally, his blue eyes flicking over the depressingly plain cement walls illuminated by the crackling fluorescent lights hanging over head, committing to memory every corner as he habitually did. "I was busy with another job. It required my full attention. It's over now, so I supposed I should get back in the game," Ludwig replied crisply.
This was a lie, of course. But the German knew that to tell the man that he was in dire need of funding would only be inviting disaster. His house was in shambles; his bank account drained just paying for the damages, as his insurance merely covered acts of God, not Gilbert. Not to mention that, unsurprisingly, he had been kicked out of the apartment complex. With every fibre of his being, Ludwig cursed Gilbert. They say you can choose your friends but not your family. The German could only wonder why, why by the grace of God he was cursed to both be a follower of that golden rule, and at the same time the exception. But Ludwig did not complain, save for his musings within the pages of his journal (which was also destroyed alongside the rest of his home, somewhat ironically).
It was not that he hated his brother and Feliciano, it was simply that – at times – he needed a break from their very trying demands.
Still, he supposed babysitting Feliciano was not all bad. The German instantly shook his head before he could continue along that train of thought, garnering a curious look from the man at his side.
"I'm fine." Ludwig answered; perhaps a tad too quickly judging by the way the other man's eyes remained on him for a long moment afterwards. Fortunate then that the hall ended in a door moments later, Ludwig's companion clasping the brass doorknob before hesitating, glancing to the German standing expectantly at his side. "You should know, we hired some additional assistance for this job. We felt it prudent, considering its value to our organization. Would you have any problems with that?"
"No, I can't see why," Ludwig answered with a shrug of his shoulders. Who knows, it might even be a pleasant experience. The men from this particular organization that the blonde had worked alongside before had all been professional, upright individuals to whom he could easily function alongside and relate to. Ludwig felt himself smile slightly, how ironic that it was a mission that likely put his life in jeopardy that he would find relaxation, as opposed to a day at home. It seemed things were finally looking up for him.
"That's good to hear, they're just inside," His employer declared happily as he opened the door to the next room.
"Hey West! You got a job here too? Awesome!"
"Ve! Ludwig, Ludwig! I'm a contact!"
Ludwig had always known God hated him.
You can tell much from a person by those innocuous things they do, observances and actions they themselves put little stock in, yet betray volumes in their innocence. Let us take the folding of clothes, for instance. Perhaps by the practiced motions one falls back upon the subconscious, that murky depth from which the inner realities of people are drawn forth, secrets hidden perhaps even from themselves.
Then there are people like Alfred, where there is no mystery to be gleaned from the haphazard and chaotic way he goes about throwing his clothes into a suitcase, packing as if the plane he is to catch leaves in five minutes rather than five hours. After all, Alfred is a man in constant motion, always moving forward and rarely, if ever, looking back.
Kiku, on the other hand, stood on the other end of the spectrum. His packing was meticulous and slow. Each article in his bag had its proper place, folded so acutely the edges appeared sharp enough to dice vegetables. Looking into the Japanese man's bag, you would think he had first drawn a blueprint for its placement. For such opposites, it was a mystery how they had not killed each other long ago.
"Come ooooon Kiku, hurry up!"
"Alfred-san, the plane does not leave for some time. We have no need to rush," Kiku admonished calmly, folding a shirt into a neat square with a few practiced motions.
"But you're just going sooo slow. It's like, you're moving like molasses, or honey or… or… something really slow! I only took about five minutes and you're… Just… why?" Alfred asked, moving his arms about frantically in a lifting and carrying motion, trying vainly to impart the impact of his incredulity at the Japanese man's process.
"It is a very precise process Alfred-san. I will not be much longer." Kiku informed his companion stonily.
"…This is payback isn't it?"
"Whatever do you mean?"
Alfred eyed Kiku suspiciously. "You remember, for that groping thing."
"I have no idea what you are speaking of, Alfred-san," Kiku answered with the speed of honesty, or the rehearsed lie. Alfred peered at the other man suspiciously for a moment, wondering if it had been a trace of smugness he had heard in that ever polite voice.
At length the American sighed and fell backwards onto the bead, arms thrown out at his sides carelessly as he sank into the downy mattress. "Whatever. Still, kinda cool that we actually got to meet those guys, considering what happened the last time we did. Hey, hey Kiku." Alfred began with a trace of humour in his tone, propping himself upon his side to gaze at his partner. "Didn't that Matthew guy look a lot like me?"
"There was a resemblance, yes," Kiku readily agreed.
"I know right." Alfred sighed regretfully as he lay back down. "I should have tried to recruit him. He would have been the perfect double." Kiku made an agreeing hum to the statement, depositing another shirt into his suitcase. Both were silent for a long moment after that, Alfred lost within the labyrinth that was his mind while Kiku, who had come to terms long ago that the American had lost his mind, focused on his folding.
"I wonder… if I kissed him would it be like, kissing myself?"
Tino had always liked heights, and it was hard to get much higher than upon a plane, flying across the sky like a shooting star, off to shores unknown. Perhaps it had something to do with his former/current career as a sniper. Heights were his friend during those days that he plied that particular trade, and after the whole debacle involving that briefcase in which he had been bereft of the need to do so, it was nice to be high again. The Finn felt himself melt into his seat, faint smile playing on his lips as he glanced out the window at the rolling skyline. Tino's smile widened a little more when he spotted a cloud that, in its white fluff, resembled his dog, Hana-Tamago. He wondered how he was doing; it had been some time since he had seen him.
Tino laughed softly at the directions his mind was moving along, earning him a glance from Berwald at his side. It had been quite a while since such mundane thoughts had danced gaily through his mind. Yet he found he couldn't help it. At that moment, seated comfortably as he soared through heavens, everything was just so peaceful, so quiet, so… so…
Tino shot up in his seat.
"Holy crap we forgot Matthias!"
It was a strange feeling not to be the source of a great many people attention, Matthew had begun to realize. Not odd in the sense that it was a necessarily missed like an old friend. More as in an illness one has suffered beneath for a long time, grinding them down day after day with its annoying and insistent presence. Then, out of the blue, it is gone, and though relieved, one cannot help but notice its absence, and fear it may one day return. Such was the sort of mind Matthew found himself of, standing in the Berlin airport and waiting for Yong-soo to return from a nearby Starbucks. The Canadian sighed, shifting his weight upon the rigid plastic seat bolted to the floor in an attempt to find comfort, vain effort though it was. Ever since they had first set out for the airport Yong-soo had been acting at odds with his normal demeanour. Normally enthusiastic and clingy, the Korean had been oddly distant and quiet. The only time he had seemed enthused was when he had offered to get something from the Starbucks, and proclaiming it was his 'treat' no less! It was, to be utterly frank, disquieting.
"I'm back!" Matthew was shaken from his thoughts by the cry. Looking up he instantly spotted his Korean compatriot jogging towards him, a pair of steaming cups in hand with that telltale green and white label from Starbucks barely visible between his fingers. "I know it's not Tim Horton's but you'll get over it."
Matthew smiled slightly, accepting the cup. "I'm sure. Thanks." The Korean simply smiled faintly and took a seat next to his friend, a silence falling over them like a veil. Once again the Canadian found himself fidgeting, index fingers drumming upon the thick paper of the cup as he considered. He wanted to ask if anything was the matter with his friend, yet at the same time did not wish to appear to be forcing the Korean to talk if he didn't want to.
Matthew sighed and steeled himself. If it must be done then let it be done quickly. "Hey, Yong-soo…"
"This wasn't much of a vacation, was it?" The Korean interrupted, his tone abnormally subdued.
"I mean, it sort of started off okay, then we got into all this mess. It just… I don't know, got out of hand, I suppose. What I'm trying to say Matthew is that, I'm sorry… I guess." Matthew could only stare at his friend in awe. Yong-soo never apologized. Never! It was as if he had some sort of grudge against it, avoiding having to do so in the most roundabout ways imaginable.
"I..." Matthew lapsed into a silence, unsure what to do. Finally he sighed, kicking back and staring at the ceiling as if searching the heavens for the right thing to say.
After several tense minutes of organizing his thoughts, the Canadian tilted his head towards Yong-soo. "Well, it's not all your fault, I guess. I wasn't exactly helping when I had that thing slapped onto my wrist." He finally admitted.
"I guess, but still…"
"Yong-soo, its fine. It's over and done with, whatever. Let's just move on. It's not like I really blame you, it was just becoming a big thing and I kind of became snappish. So, just forget about."
"Really?" Yong-soo asked tentatively, his head bowed slightly forward as if in prayer that it was true.
The Canadian smiled. "Really."
"Great! No take backs," Yong-soo cheered as if he had just won the lottery, suddenly jumping up and shoving a finger in a shocked Matthew's face. Surely, that hadn't all been but an act? "But still, I do feel kind of bad." The Korean continued carelessly, a fiendish smile painting his lips. "Tell you what, how about we have a do over."
"A… A do over? What, uh… What would that mean, exactly?"
"Just that, a do over vacation da-zee! We go somewhere else to have the vacation we missed out on here. I have some family in China that we can visit, they probably know some great places to go see. Come on, it'll be fun."
Matthew was silent for a moment. To be sure he would appreciate having an actual moment of downtime, a period of grace to be enjoyed after the torture he had suffered through. Something that would serve to take his mind off of recent events would be well received.
Matthew smiled slightly, his mind made up. "Sure, what the hell."
"Yeah, why not. I mean, what's the worst that could happen?" The Canadian asked, smiling obliviously to his friend.
And as we have said before, such statements are what make famous last words.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is truly the end of this story. A sequel? Who knows, I'm certainly not telling.
I learned a lot from this sordid tale, improved significantly in writing since the beginning and also in my ideas in terms of plot. Seriously, looking back at the earliest chapters I don't know whether to laugh or bang my head on my desk. But I would like to know your thoughts, not only of this chapter but of the story at large. So please, leave a review, I appreciate every one sent and cannot put into words how it inspires me to know people read my work and feel like commenting on it.
Thank you all one last time for reading this story. I hope to see you next time.