Disclaimer: I do not own Hetalia.
Meetings are awful, especially when they pertain to something as horrible as war.
The words that exit the mouths of the officers around him are sharp-and occasionally too crude for Arthur's taste. He doesn't enjoy discussing plans that will only lead to the deaths of his people; he would rather end this pointless conflict and toss his gun to the ground. There was a time when Arthur enjoyed the heat of battle, reveled in the bloodshed, thirsted for the pride that victories brought him-that time has passed.
He's seen enough death in his life, he's killed enough men, he's been in enough battles.
War no longer makes him feel alive, the excitement and the thrill it brought him have long faded. Arthur no longer awaits a skirmish with a sense of trepidation. Now it sickens him; it makes him wonder if the humans will ever learn. They seem to focus on the most insignificant things and are all too eager to send their loved ones to die on foreign fields; they're always fighting, and when they aren't they're searching for reasons to do so.
Arthur wants to tell them to stop, wants to inform them that they are sacrificing their relatives, friends, and lovers-but he can't. He cannot speak up because they certainly wouldn't listen, but also because it is his duty as a nation to remain strong and support the causes that his citizens have rallied behind.
He loves them, he really does, but his people can be such idiots. Perhaps this war can be justified by the horrible things that the Germans are doing. Arthur contemplates that point for a moment, mouth setting in a firm line as he reconfirms that nothing could validate such destruction: this war is still wasteful and he will make no excuses for his people.
Dust particles drift into Arthur's line of vision, green eyes tracking their journey through the air while he feigns interest in the ongoing proceedings. He makes a comment or two when his input is needed, but does not involve himself more than that; why bother, when they are so stubborn and foolhardy? His efforts would be in vain.
"Captain Kirkland." Arthur's eyes lock onto the face of one of his men, "Do you think we should take the risk?"
And that shocks him, because Arthur doesn't expect his people to ask questions like that, not when they love to quarrel amongst themselves so much. They hardly ever inquire after his feelings, so he's come to expect their lack of interest in his opinion, but this man has proven him wrong.
He hesitates for a moment, still taken aback by the question, but manages to recover before his lack of response can be seen as anything other than pensive, "I believe that it's a feasible route of action." The attention of the other men is focused on him now, encouraging his elaboration, "Our forces have increased greatly now that the Americans have joined us, meaning that we would easily outnumber the troops believed to be stationed there."
This launches a heated discussion about whether or not the Germans would be able to transport more of their men there, and whether or not those reinforcements would match the Allied forces that would be dispatched (if they are even going to carry out the attack). Seeing that he is no longer needed, Arthur smiles softly at the naval officer who addressed him, leans back in his seat, and makes himself look busy with the files before him.
The meeting ends with a general agreement: seeing as Captain Kirkland made a valid point and there seemed to be no issues with German reinforcements, they will execute the plan, deciding that the odds are in their favor. Arthur gathers his documents at a leisurely pace because he is not needed elsewhere (for once), tucking them into his briefcase and clasping the buckles. He rises slowly, feeling the strain on his weakened body.
Arthur slings the bag over his shoulder, remembering the bombings and the pain and the toll that this war has taken on him. He recalls the helplessness he felt only months ago, writhing in agony as the world burned, and the fear that Germany would take him just as he took France (but not Francis, never Francis). The relief when it ended still lingers, along with a sense of disbelief: Germany couldn't be done with him, he often thinks, waiting for more foreign planes to soar overhead and rain destruction down on him.
Arthur remembers being alone.
Being the only one fighting (besides Russia, busy in the East), watching as his allies were taken by Germany, wondering when the Nazis would come for him. Francis was there for him, having been evacuated during Operation Dynamo, but in the end he was just as powerless as Arthur. And Arthur was sure that they were going to die together, captured and executed by that fucking Kraut after his air force had completely decimated England.
He collapsed into Francis's arms when he heard that Alfred had joined the war, both overjoyed and distraught. True, the Americans are much needed, but this is Alfred who is being put at risk, and Arthur feels as if he has failed his former charge. If only he had been stronger, if only he had managed to persuade his people not to fight, if only he hadn't needed him so badly.
Apologizing quietly whenever he brushes against someone, Arthur makes his way out of the room, walking down the mostly empty corridor and shoving those thoughts to the back of his mind.
Hearing familiar voices around the corner, Arthur pauses, pressing his back against the wall to listen to what seems to be a hushed conversation between Francis (he would recognize that voice anywhere) and someone else. He imagines their expressions as they speak, bemusement blooming on his face as he wonders what they could possibly be talking about.
"-him." Who? "You saved him when I could not, when he was so close to falling to that German con." Francis laughs bitterly, continuing in a self-deprecating tone, and Arthur has a sinking feeling that he knows who he is speaking to and whom they are discussing, "I can't give him that, can I? My country has been occupied, I have no army, and I have almost no power to speak of." Francis takes a deep breath, most likely running a hand through his hair, and continues, "I love him-" Arthur temporarily forgets how to breathe, this being the first time Francis has said anything of the sort, "-but that love will not protect him, will it? You have come to his aid twice already, so…merci. Thank you for protecting him."
This is undoubtedly the sweetest thing that Francis has ever said, and to hear him thank Alfred (who is undoubtedly the other person) in such a sincere manner causes a fond smile to settle onto his face. Arthur had no idea before this that the Frenchman's feelings towards him were so deeply-rooted; he didn't know that his feelings were returned on the same level. This revelation is definitely one of the best moments of his life: the man he has loved for the majority of his existence returns his feelings. Francis doesn't want him as a friend and occasional lover-he wants more than that.
His happiness feels so out of place at such a time, and he isn't sure that the circumstances would allow for their relationship to begin at the moment, so Arthur refrains from stepping into sight and confessing. There is no place for romance in war: their feelings would only complicate things.
Alfred speaks up now, his expression most likely rather shocked as he manages to reply, "Um, yeah, you're welcome. Don't worry about it, really; I'm just trying to help." He pauses, regaining some composure before he goes on, "Arthur's one of my closest friends-I had to help him out." His voice is heavy with a bit of guilt and troubling amounts of resentment as he adds, "But, you know I probably wouldn't have joined when I did if it wasn't for that damn Jap-he forced me into this."
Prominent brows furrow as Arthur takes note of the catch in Alfred's voice. Alfred is obviously taking Japan's actions personally, rather than interpreting them as Japan following orders. He hopes that Alfred can let go of this rage. He has never before heard Alfred speak in such a way, and it is worrying: the war is changing Alfred, tarnishing his sunny demeanor and turning him into a very dangerous man.
The thought is disconcerting.
Perhaps Francis (who loves him, as Arthur cannot stop reminding himself) sees this as well. He responds carefully, "I am sure that you would have declared war on Germany at some point-perhaps when he was at your shores." It's a joke, but neither laugh because there is a chance that such a thing could have happened (could still happen), "How you came to be here does not matter; you are giving Arthur the aid that he needs. You are going to help drive the Germans out of those conquered territories, including my own lands, and bring this war to an end." He's silent for a moment, probably leveling Alfred with an intense gaze, "You are our hero."
It's a bit romantic and unrealistic, but Francis has been known to dabble in those things, so it's very like him to dub the American a hero, and Arthur supposes he is: Alfred really has come to deliver them from evil, to ward off those who wish to do them harm, to protect the innocents (sometimes whilst killing the other innocents, but Arthur has never thought of war as black and white).
"Your hero, huh?" Alfred mutters in return, that worrying hysteria absent.
When Francis speaks next his haughtiness has returned, "In a way, but be sure not to think too much of yourself for it, mon cher Américain. When this is over, no one will forget how delayed your arrival was." That's certainly true. "I'm sure that they will be quick to remind you, in fact."
Arthur cannot deny that, knowing that he himself half-wishes that the Americans would have joined the fray earlier on. He feels a bit of sympathy for Alfred: he had been attempting to remain in isolation following his involvement in the Great War, only to be dragged into another conflict. But Alfred needs to understand that what happens in Europe (and Asia, for that matter) will eventually affect him. The United States has become a very important player on the world stage, with power and influence that cannot be ignored-regardless of Alfred's attempts to do just that.
Alfred makes a disgruntled noise, "Why would I be obligated to take part in a European war? I have nothing to do with this."
'Repeating it doesn't make it any truer.' Arthur wants to say, 'You're well aware that this war is not being waged only in Europe.'
"You are obligated to take part in a world war, Alfred." Francis corrects him, completely in line with Arthur's thoughts on the topic, "You should know this, seeing as you are the most familiar with the Asian side of this conflict. Germany could have attacked you just as Japan did." Arthur winces, the statement reminding him that Francis has always been less hesitant to deliver low blows. He imagines Alfred's expression darkening. "You are still young, true, but intervening is your burden now."
A sergeant (one of his own, thankfully) exits the room immediately to his left, his stony gaze landing on Arthur, who admittedly looks very suspicious. They stare at each other for a moment, Arthur shaking his head as a plea for the man not to reveal his location and the officer craning his neck to look around the corner, retracting his head before the men spot him. He lifts a brow slightly, saying in a low voice, "I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and leave you be, Captain."
Arthur nods to show his thanks, listening to the brief greetings that are exchanged while the sergeant walks past. To be honest, he isn't sure why he's still eavesdropping; there probably isn't much more to be heard.
Of course, he's proven wrong.
The nations don't say anything more for several moments, presumably waiting for the human to leave their line of sight, and Arthur is just about to turn the corner when Alfred breaks the silence.
"How long have you loved him?" He's unusually somber, Arthur notes, "How long have you loved Arthur?"
The seconds tick by and Arthur is frozen in place, straining his ears to hear the response. He hadn't expected them to return to this topic, but now that they have he can't bring himself to interrupt with a staged entrance.
Francis speaks wistfully, his voice soft and full of warmth, and Arthur envisions the loving, unguarded expression that he has only seen a handful of times, "Since the day I was old enough to understand what love was. I realized my love for him on a summer day in a meadow that no longer exists, under a tree that was torn down centuries ago." Arthur remembers those times, and wonders if he loved Francis even then, when they were so young and not as world-weary, "I have loved him for so long that I am confident I will never love another, even if he does not return my feelings." His tone becomes sharper, "Long enough to know that he will never be yours."
Arthur's throat clenches up painfully at that, and he wishes that he hadn't heard. Alfred is the little boy who smiled so widely and made Arthur feel appreciated, his friend whom he cannot help but look after. Alfred is one of the only people he trusts, one of his only friends; Arthur feels nothing romantic towards him.
Alfred should not have feelings for him.
"What do you mean?" Alfred asks confusedly, and if it hadn't been for the tremor in his voice Arthur would have fallen for his act, "Why would I ever want to be with him?"
And that's when Arthur realizes that Alfred is in love with him. It's not a pleasant feeling, because this means that every interaction they have from this point on is going to be different: Arthur will never be able to spend time with Alfred without over-analyzing his thoughts and intentions. This changes things, and Arthur knows that he won't be comfortable around Alfred until he has gotten over his feelings for him.
'If he ever does.' Arthur grimaces at the thought, hoping fervently that Alfred will not ruin their friendship, 'I hope he'll keep it to himself now that he knows about Francis's feelings.'
"Alfred." Francis interrupts his ramblings, "I am the country of amour. I know more about love than anyone else, which means that I see through your teasing and your penchant for wrapping an arm around Arthur's shoulders." Memories involving such events flood his mind. Arthur's stomach churns. "I know that you are in love with him."
The silence stretches on for almost a minute, and Arthur begins to think about how Alfred interacts with him. The lingering touches and protectiveness do not seem so innocent now that he knows how Alfred views him. He had thought that Alfred was so familiar with him because he still viewed him as an older brother, that their relationship was familial.
He was wrong.
"Why wouldn't I stand a chance?" Alfred inquires softly, resignation seeping into his voice, and Arthur feels a stab of guilt, "Does he love you?"
Not a word is said.
One of them, Arthur is not sure which, begins to head towards the hallway Arthur is in. He panics, slipping quietly into the room the sergeant exited and hiding behind a filing cabinet. Closing the door would draw attention to himself.
Arthur counts to three before exiting the room, pretending that he has only just completed his work. Alfred's retreating form is almost at the end of the hall, his shoulders slightly slumped as he walks, and more guilt flares up in his chest; it seems that his efforts to keep Alfred safe were in vain.
Arthur turns the corner, walking quietly so as not to startle Francis, who stands with his back to him. Francis's wavy locks are a bit mussed, probably due to him carding his fingers through his hair, and he is noticeably subdued. Arthur really doesn't know why he hasn't said anything yet; perhaps he's waiting for Francis to say something else.
He isn't disappointed.
Francis finally responds to Alfred's question, remarking to himself, "I should hope so."
Arthur manages to turn his smile into a smirk, deciding that now is the time to reveal himself, "You should hope what, Frog?"
Francis, his azure eyes a bit gentler than usual as he replies, "I was just waiting for you to exit your meeting, mon lapin."
It takes all Arthur has not to make a declaration of love.
A/N:Until next time!