A/N: Sorry this took so long guys! However, it is finally here! And apparently I was wrong... this chapter isn't twice as long as the prologue...
It's THREE TIMES as long, coming out at over 7500 words! Hope you guys like it!
And the big reveal! You shall all now learn what the Title as well as the title of this chapter means!
Anadl Einioes= Lifeblood
Marw Wreichionen: Dying Spark
Ludwig stood as a sentinel amidst the crowd of nations, intimidating form crowning the table's head. Spectacles precariously perched atop his nose's brim for sake of reading, a slender finger arose to adjust slowly slipping frames. "Now... if anyvone else has anything zhey vould like to say on zhe matter, please do so quickly so that ve may move on. Und please, raise your hand first if you vant to speak!"
The rustle of papers was drowned by murmuring attendees, documents habitually shifted beneath the German's careful hand. The man could not help but allow a sigh to escape usually pursed lips, the irritation of trying to organize chaos clearly wearing his patience thin. While eyes like glaciers pierced the crowd, one solitary hand arose in a sea of faces.
"Geirmany~!" A voice keyed far above what age and gender should permit, the name was said in a sing-song manner, accompanied by a hand waving incessantly back and forth. It's owner smiled brightly, expression that of one who's mind often wandered, eyes holding as much menace as a rose's petal.
"What about'a me? I have a question!" Feliciano bounced up and down eagerly, seat rocking dangerously as a ship in storm. "Can I ask'a my question? Please?" He looked very much like a schoolchild, begging the teacher to be called upon for answers. Yet that chance did not come as instead, Ludwig answered his query without further prompts.
"No Italy, ve vill not be serving pasta in zhe cafeteria after zhe meeting. If you vant some make it yourself, und stop asking ridiculous questions!" One could almost make out a vein pulsing unnaturally beneath a forehead tensed to its limit, eyebrows drawn in the effort to retain lost composure. It was clear that this questions had arisen often between the two, words unnecessary for Ludwig to know the Italian's thoughts.
In turn, Feliciano's cheerful demeanor sunk most visibly, apparently rather put-out as his hand lowered slowly. But a few moments passed in silence before the chaos erupted once more, arguments breaking out over the simplest of things between many a nation. No matter how many wars were fought, lives were lost, treaties were signed... no one could ever come to agreement in their jumble of countries.
Strangely enough, through all the shouts and bickering, one man stood out. Clad in colors of the forest's cloak, a cup of porcelain held daintily in gloved hands, the man did not throw himself into the quarrels of others as one would expect. No, he simply sat back and listened, unwilling to get involved.
This man remained the only focus of another. Francis did not hear any of the words thrown like daggers between nations and allies, instead turning all to white-noise, vision seeming to shrink it's parameters to that one individual. He watched intently as Arthur sipped at specially brewed English black tea, cream and sugar already added prior to the meeting's start. Sitting across from what would once have been his rival, the Frenchman breathed a sigh laden heavy with despair.
"What 'appened to your English pride mon Angleterre?" The thought spread poisonous as he stared at emerald eyes, actions unseen from across the table's wooden expanse. He watched the British gentleman shake a head as to a child who had wronged, some unknown attendee's arm coming precariously close to up-ending the fragile cup he held.
It was this very act of inaction that had led Francis to worry, his long time friend and verbal opponent usually in the deepest regions of the argument at hand. The self-proclaimed gentlemen had a tongue of fire and ice, words and insults flowing as from a newly dug spring. His cynical nature and wittiness hindered him not in the warring of voice. Before, Arthur would have forced him into a corner with such talk, deliberately asking for a quarrel to start simply for the sport of it. Of course, that was before...
Before the accident had happened.
"It was zhen wasn't it? You 'ad been just as feisty and deteirmined during zhe war, almost like your days as zhat pirate I'd come to love. So zhen why... why 'as zhat spark died from your eyes? Was it... because of me?"
It had been a month... already a whole month passing before him from that terrible night. Tragedy painted in blood and death, his country nearly slipping from failing clutches due to a single terrible mistake. War always took lives, but Francis had never imagined that it would claim his own as he allowed his glorious capital to fall in ruin.
That night, he had believed that his eyes would never again take in the warmth of sun, tear streaked emerald pools his last dying sight. He had not wanted Arthur's face, distorted in grief, to be ingrained into his memory for eternity's sleep... but it should have been so. Instead, death did not take it's iron hold over his body, claws of ice freezing the heart in it's final beat.
Instead, Francis had lived, yet Hell still greeted him day by day. He could not have imagined, at that time, that following the incident his Angleterre would change. It was Arthur in appearance only now, his soul seeming to have shattered and reassembled according to blueprints not his own. Though perhaps that very notion was not far off from truth...
At first, the Frenchman was not so sure of this. He believed himself to be depressed in the beginning, confused, tired, and disbelieving of his own rescued life. But no... Francis was still his frivolous, carefree, and terribly perverted self, that could not so easily be changed. That left the other option: Something was terribly wrong with his British friend.
Nothing had appeared to differ at first... Arthur had seemed less than jovial, but surely not overly depressed either. Though, when consideration was taken to the state his ally had been in upon their fateful meeting, one had to expect that. If their roles had been reversed and Francis had found the other man lying amidst such ruin dying, bleeding, broken... he was sure that he'd never want to see blood on his precious person ever again, no matter what it took. Events like that could have terrible effects on a person.
But it did not stop after a few weeks... Francis was let out of the hospital only days after waking up, and he'd never felt so good! It was as though he'd been rejuvenated, all the pain and suffering he had once felt throughout the war disappearing like magic. Surely his obvious good health should have cheered up his companion? If that could not suffice, then what of the economy? Every country the world over had begun to selflessly pool resources in the restoration effort. His people were alive, every man and woman still on earth was giving their best into retuning the globe to how it had once been!
This alone should have improved the Englishman's mood.
When hours turned to days and time had passed, it wasn't the depression or sorrow any longer. Arthur was not upset in the slightest, in fact he appeared to be going out of his way to stay outwardly cheerful. This was the direct cause for concern to any who knew the man well enough. He had turned his sharp tongue to greetings in kind words, no longer complaining of another's ideas or lack of thought. Amongst the people whom he now spoke most cordially with was Alfred, the conversations carrying on without Arthur insulting the other's economic status, lack of proper tact, or often vulgar eating habits. Not days ago Francis had heard the two laughing over a joke the American had told, one that should have only caused the usually cynical man irritation.
Yet it did not stop there... after Alfred came others. With anyone from Feliks to Ivan, Arthur had appeared to be trying to turn his current status with the other countries to that of friendship. Be it during a meeting, or passing on the street, he always kept his speech quite cordial, manner cheerful, and possibly insulting opinion in close check. Francis had clearly been spending too much time himself with the American when briefly he wondered if aliens had stolen the man's brain...
Keeping the peace during meetings, trying to make friends, chatting with the son who had claimed independence after one bitter war and had come far too late to another, the terror of which had nearly crushed both parents... for Arthur, this was nothing slight of unnatural! Never had his attitude reflected such things, gentleman or not. Even France, his rival long before any others had come, could not rise that English spirit, no matter how he blew upon the slowly dying embers of old.
Daily quarrels were dessicated to nonexistence, only smalltalk and niceties seeming to flow from the other's lips like venom to the Frenchman who missed his once so outspoken partner-in-crime. Thoughts bursting to life as water from a shattered vase, flooding Francis's mind, he remembered the events of a few days past... just prior to a small conference in northern Europe.
"Bonjour mon cher!" The Frenchman's gait nearly bordered on a sashay as he strode towards the room's other side, newest prey in sight. Arthur's gaze shifted at the tinkling voice, moving from the well-worn book in hand. Upon locking vision on he who had spoken, the Englishman's face turned up into a small smile.
"Ah Francis, I see you're most upbeat today. Do you think the meeting will turn out well?" the questions was delivered with an almost carefree way, the man's tone light as though referring to the weather on a day without clouds. "Take a seat, won't you?" he generously offered, a hand gently patting the chair sitting beside his own.
Francis smiled back warmly, taking the proffered seat. His own appearance gave nothing away, yet he alone could not be fooled by the seemingly cheerful air that Arthur had posed. He'd known this man since they were both very small... no facade would deceive the master of falsities. Keen eyes slowly tracing across every detail, immediately many points asserted themselves in his mind.
Arthur's tea sat to the side, near enough for him to reach easily when needed, small porcelain saucer below. Biscuit crumbs pointed to a newly finished snack, yet the man's most favorite and prized beverage lay cold and untouched. Few papers adorned the table, English writing clear, though now somehow once slender and neat penmanship had turned unruly. Such subtle signs, but to one who knew where to look, unmistakable. It was not just Arthur's actions either, there were subtle changes in appearance as well.
The once bright and livid green eyes his friend bore may have been situated above a smile meant to convey happiness, but beneath the surface... those jewels were cracked. Inside, something was terribly wrong, troubling his old friend in ways that could not be conveyed through those paling eyes. But, Francis would play the game, acting his part as Arthur wished. He would deny knowing such things, pretend nothing had changed while allowing the facade to remain in tact. Then hopefully... hopefully he would find something.
That did not however, mean he couldn't take the crystal ball of fate and tip it on it's side, forcing the fluttering contents to spill and swirl. Pulling the chair which he'd been offered closer to his companion, Francis slowly wrapped a slender arm delicately around Arthur's shoulder, leaning dangerously close. For the briefest of moments, the man tensed at his light touch before seeming to force himself to relax, serene mask of calm remaining.
"So, mon ami... are you going to be busy this next Friday night?" A devilish grin creeping across delicate French features, he ladled all the usual seductive charm into every syllable. This alone would normally cause his companion to slap his arm away, look of disgust most apparent. If this were not enough to rise a flame from those sparks, delicate fingers began to stroll along Arthur's arm, taking a little 'walk' up to his shoulder.
There should have been fury, verbal insults galore from any tongue known to man while the island nation dismissed himself in a huff after slapping the frog silly. Instead, nothing more than a near imperceptible sigh escaped Arthur's lips and Francis found his heart slowly sinking lower and lower...
"I don't think my schedule is busy that night, why do you ask?" The Briton looked straight into the other's blue eyes without the slightest sign of fluster. Where embarrassment should have been quite clear at the Frenchman's advances, no such expression appeared, nor did anger arise at the suggestion of possible frivolities.
It wasn't enough, Francis realized. He hadn't pushed things far enough...
"My my, so willing today! You 'aven't gone soft 'ave you now?" His words teased, hands leaving the other's arm and finding a new target. Light fingers danced across Arthur's thick eyebrows, pulling gently at a few golden hairs. "Zhen peir'aps now you'll be willing to pluck away zhese catteirpillars for me, non?" He had to keep pushing, chipping away at the emotional dam until water forced its way through. So long as he continued to press button after button, eventually Arthur would have to snap... then, his old Angleterre would come back.
But even as he forced his way forward, the Englishman only brushed the pesky hand aside with utmost nonchalance. "For one, I've told you before that I do trim them, and it is much harder than it looks." He actually chuckled! "Second of all, you still haven't told me why you wanted to know." Still calm, collected... again anger's presence appeared not at the taunting, irritation but a shadow of the past. The slightest annoyance his voice held was overshadowed by a distracted air, as though asking a question of someone focused on another task.
Almost ready to give in, Francis permitted a sigh of his own escape. "Well, I was wondeiring if you'd like to spend some time togezher? I know a lovely litt'el coffee shop just outside of Paris, and it would be much betteir zhen zhat awful stuff you try and make. We could 'ave a date!"As these words left his lips, something finally happened.
In a moment so fleeting, the tiniest of sparks leapt into the other's eyes. Faded green had lit once more, coal thrown onto Arthur's hidden fiery spirit. Francis finally dared to hope that he'd pushed the barrier far enough and the line had been crossed.
"Go on a date with you?" Yes, it was coming! Never before had the man been so excited for a rejection. He would finally succeed in this grueling task...
Arthur smiled, that same broken look shattering through his entire face with a single motion. It took only seconds before Francis's mind began to collapse, all hope crumbling upon the shaken ground. "Yes, I'd love to go. Do you suppose 4 o'clock would suffice? That way we shall beat the dinner crowd but the stragglers from lunch will almost have gone as well. Should be quite peaceful."
Gone... all in one moment, it had disappeared. He had tried so hard, so carefully, to no avail. Francis remembered vaguely of Arthur continuing to speak, discussion of their plans for that following Friday appearing quite jovial to any who may have passed. Yet reality told another tale as the Frenchman had barely listened to the conversation, his heart no longer in it. There lay only the faintest of silver linings in the fact that their date meant he would have more time with Arthur, completely alone. Perhaps with more time, he could somehow try again...
"Arthur..." The name slipped past his lips almost before realization occurred to him. "Did I really scare you zhat much?" His tone had dropped to that even below a normal whisper, heart feeling heavy with the burden such memories brought. As his subject of focus stood, collecting the papers before him on the table, the ruckus around them finally lowered to what could be described as regular speech. It appeared that the meeting had ceased as nations began to file out at last. Francis had barely listened to any of the day's talk, simply focused on his Angleterre.
Germany would probably scold him later for it, but he did not care.
Even as others left, France made no move to stand, keen eyes still watching the person across from him packing up, taking in every detail; the way Arthur stood and moved, gently sliding his chair back into it's place most properly as he looked once more through the documents in hand, probably relating to some new building plan for the war effort... he watched as the man's mouth moved in words yet no emotion show on his face, how he raised a solitary hand to point at some object across the room when asked a question...
All it took was that tiniest of movements, and instantly everything swiveled focus as Francis's mind was involuntarily flooded with an image he had not believed to exist in memory, one mimicking that of Arthur before him. It felt as though someone had back-handed him without cause, neck snapping around while eyes tried to focus...
His mind's-eye saw the man standing before him as before, arm outstretched and grasping something tightly. This time however, there were no ordinary papers, but a small book in his clutches. Slender index finger pointing across the expanse no longer, palm instead spread towards the ground below.
There were flashes of light, wind blowing curled blond locks to-and-fro, obscuring already failing vision... This only proved that such scenes could not be from any other's memories but Francis's own. Sounds of destruction filled his ears and clouded his mind, the likes of which he'd only ever found in war; metal shrieking as it was split by some great force, rocks or debris crashing to the ground and pummeling all in their way, high winds whistling as they tore though anything and everything touched, brutally scattering the surrounding dust...
Chaos lay everywhere! The images were so vivid that Francis felt his head spin, visualizing everything as though he were, in that moment, truly there. Then, through all the destruction and storm-like bolts of light being released from their heavenly prison, he miraculously heard a heart-wrenching sound above all else.
Someone had gasped, releasing a terrible cry from pain Francis imagined to be too sever to possibly handle... As though ordered by some heavenly being, the harsh light and wind began to slightly disperse, revealing the image of a man clad in tattered green. Blond hair had turned to ever more persistent unruliness by the ferocious typhoon whipping it about and emerald eyes were drawn wide in agony. Long strands of curling shadows, like tentacles of the cursed Kraken itself, tore into his beloved's chest, taking their prey and drinking in the crimson streaks which fell to earth.
Terror gripped Francis's very heart... no matter how he tried to block the images or close his eyes, the atrocities continued to plague his mind. Terrible screams reverberated in his ears, the red of blood seeming to entwine his attention as if in some nightmarish world! He wished to call out, to run to Arthur and tear those terrible tentacles from his precious form before further damage could be done... It tortured him to know that there was nothing to do, he could not move nor hardly dare to breath, body unwilling to follow his orders and reach out a hand, trying to save England...
But even as some strange spectral form, silvery and glowing like strands of moonlight itself, began to emerge and obscure his view of the other man, his grip on that reality faded. Pain seemed to boil through his every vein, surrounding him and sending his mind and will spiraling back into sleep's deepest abyss...
"France...? Hey, France say something man... Yo Francis!" And in that second, everything had snapped back to how it once was, no more destruction or blood to be seen in light of a darkened sky... now it was just Alfred, shaking the elder man's shoulder roughly and calling out in a worried manner whilst making bizarre gestures and waving his hands around.
The extreme moment of déjà vu had come to an end, leaving Francis feeling cold and ill inside, head pounding. Eyes focusing once more, he tiredly turned to address the American, raising a slender eyebrow in question.
"Yo dude, the meeting's over! Hey pervert, you ok? Kinda freaked out for a second there, Ludwig thought you were having some kinda attack, crazy right?" Snapping a finger in front of the Frenchman's face to make sure he had his bearings, Alfred laughed. "It was totally freaky, you spaced out for a second then everybody was like 'what's the matter with him?' and you suddenly screamed! It was so lame!"
He spoke as though this were all wonderfully amusing and in no way a matter to be worried over. Whacking his 'papa' on the back, the boy grinned widely. "So, what's up?" He prodded once more, never managing to be silent for any reasonable length of time.
Francis's expression changed in record time as he leaned back in his chair, a twinkle coming to glorious blue eyes. Better not to alarm the lad, or so he decided. "Ohn? Must 'ave allowed my mind to wandeir I suppose. Too busy thinking of... things..." Grinning like the devil himself, Francis was. Alfred could recognize that perverted look in the man's eyes any day. The boy backed up nervously, rubbing his head as Francis let slip a low chuckle, smile only widening.
"Uh yeah... you do that. But whatever dirty things you're thinking of, keep me out of it 'kay dude? Later!" Disappearing in a flash, Alfred was gone. He knew well enough not to ask what exactly was on the Frenchman's mind when he was looking at you like that. Francis had used this tactic too many times before for it to have failed now.
As soon as the American was out of sight, he allowed his head to drop into opened palms. Trying to subdue the throbbing in his temple, Francis allowed a small groan to escape. "Mon Dieu...what was zhat?" Everything had been so real... too real.
So painfully familiar... neither dream nor delusion, but some hidden memory forced to the surface involuntarily. Had he been there...? Left in that desolate clearing amongst rubble and ruin, blood and death consuming all in sight? He remembered seeing Arthur crying, telling him of his love in final words before falling into frozen darkness. Francis believed those to be his last moments in life, prior to waking up in the hospital, sheets beneath his fingers and blinding light overhead...
But was that truly all he could recall when mind and body had been blanketed in pain? It could have not been so... a singular moment and everything witnessed could have been real! Perhaps a delusion mentally created in half consciousness... perhaps more. Yet if such tragedy had truly occurred then why... why wasn't Arthur laying beside him in a lifeless and baron expanse, stained with red and dying as had he? Could he truly believe his own memories or eyes...?
Had it been reality?
Something had been clawing his insides and daring to engulf his mind from the very moment he had been permitted to open his eyes... something that no one had spoken of...
"You know... ve do have to lock zhis door before ve leave. Zhat means I need you to go." Senses forcefully returning as his head snapped to attention, Francis could see Ludwig standing behind his chair. The German loomed with a near ominous aura, shaking one shoulder in a manner determined yet gentle nonetheless, hoping to pull such a distant mind back into the current time.
Yet even in his seemingly military-style lack of compassion, Ludwig could tell that something was wrong. "Er, France... I saw zhat you vere staring at England earlier. Assuming it vasn't somezhing along your usual lines of thought, you actually looked razher... upset." He still could not resist a roll of those glacier blue eyes, circumstances be damned. "If somezhing is wrong, just go und ask him or at zhe least talk to him. If you keep zhis up, you're going to interrupt zhe meetings, especially after your little 'outburst' earlier. Now, if you please...?"
Gesturing vaguely to the open door beyond, Ludwig stepped aside to permit movement of Francis's chair. Nodding, the Frenchman did as ordered solemnly, noting that no matter how Germany tried to be sincere, he still would allow no slacking off when it concerned business. Let people deal with their own problems and don't interfere directly unless it involves you... that was Ludwig.
Mumbling an apology which notably ended up in French due to his scattered mind, Francis hurriedly exited the meeting room, choosing instead to stand in the hall outside for a moment of greatly needed silence. His back leaned heavily against the wall, shoulders slumped in clear dismay. Perhaps Ludwig was right... should he really just go and ask Arthur straightforward...?
"So... looks like we're not the only ones who think that somethin's wrong with the dude, huh?" Francis froze, back straightening near instinctively as his ears registered both the voice, and unfamiliar tone which accompanied it. Alfred now stood in the hallway but a few feet away, his brother like a shadow silently at his heels.
"Mes enfants, what are you talking about?" He tried to looks casual, brushing a strand of hair from a smiling face as he leaned against the wall once more, this time his manner gentile. "I 'ave to admeet I'm surprised to see you two still 'ere, normally Alfred is busy tormenting our dear Japanese friend, non?" Voice laced with all the expected charm, his words swirled with the accent which so bizarrely mangled vowels. A low chuckle passed pristine lips, this time in honesty at the thought of poor, shy, and proper Kiku spending time with his brash son.
But neither of his children so much as smiled at the prodding. "Papa... we need to talk." Most unusual for the Canadian to actually speak up, yet his face was set in a strange determination as he stepped towards his parent and grabbed onto an arm. Hands lay gentle where they held, yet Francis could tell there would be no escaping as the the twins took their father, one on each side, and guided him into a nearby room.
The area lay empty but for sparse seating and a low desk, this particular room clearly lying empty for quite sometime if dust was any indicator. Half the windows bearing pre-drawn curtains, dark shadows cast a morbid atmosphere around all. As the three entered, Alfred left his father's side, instead turning back to lock the door behind them.
"Ohn... going to 'ave some fun are we?" Francis grinned mischievously in hopes of deterring the children's efforts of captivity. Regardless of their purpose, the boys would not so easily be dissuaded and moved not to allow him leave. The elder man waited for one to speak, the silence almost suffocating as the faces of his son's turned from determination to worry with each passing stroke of the clock's hand.
"Sorry about bringing you here like this, eh. You see, we're all worried about Arthur. He's been acting... very strange." Ever polite, Matthew had barely begun to speak before apologizing for any rudeness that had been construed. Shaking his head, he carefully sat upon one of the room's few chairs before continuing, his brow delicately furrowed. "I know he isn't usually like this. It wasn't until after..." His voice cracked, dying to less than the normal whisper before the final words came.
"... After the accident."
Seeing his often over looked brother delving into despair, Alfred chipped in now, preferring to stand as he crossed his arms. "He's either lost his mind or is crazy depressed, because I don't know 'bout you, but he's been totally cheery and we ALL know that's just freaky for him." A step was taken closer, almost appearing to be interrogating France behind pristine spectacles as the gap separating both narrowed. "Spill it, what's goin' on? I didn't say anything when you screamed back at the conference, but now I wanna know."
Francis felt trapped, eyes frantically avoiding the American's gaze. What was he supposed to tell them? Two very frightful options presented themselves in his mind before he truly had enough time to think things through...
'Ohn hohn, you silly boys! Zhere's nothing wrong at all! Must not be spending enough time with your fazher, 'e's always zhis cheerful, or hadn't you noticed?'
Somehow... that didn't seem like the best idea. If he continued to lie would this terrible masquerade go on forever? Then what option was he left with?
'Arthur, upset? Of ceirse he is, you stupid boys! Can't you sees 'e's slowly losing 'is mind from somezhing I am completely in zhe dark about?' Again... the notion was not in the least bit inviting to him. His mind was clouded so much that in a fruitless effort, Francis gave in, simply saying the only thing he could:
"I... I don't know what's wrong." The silence eased for but a moment with these spoken words, before it seemed to flood once more, both boys going into shock. After what seemed an eternity, Francis found voice to continue. "At feirst, I though it was because Arthur was afraid for my well being and trying to cheer me up, but zhen... 'e was acting so cheery, talking with everyone, 'e wasn't even trying to argue with you Alfred, nor did 'e ignore Mathieu..." He shook his head, splaying luscious blond locks from the motion.
"So... y-you don't know why either?" Matthew seemed to sink lower in his chair, physical demeanor matching that which his emotional side inwardly conveyed. "It's really scaring me..." Something more was mumbled in French, though more to himself; Matthew tried very hard to speak solely English whilst in his monolingual brother's presence. "C-can you see it, eh? I mean he's... he doesn't look the same..."
Both French speaking countries watched as Alfred displayed subtle movements; a moment of rapid blinking, head tilting ever so slightly... clearly the lad was lost in confusion at the term his twin had used. Momentarily, his usual self managed to break through the grim settings. "Whadda ya mean? His eyebrows aren't any smaller, and he's still blond and stuff right...? So why's he look any different ta you? Holy crap! He didn't get taller than me while I wasn't looking did he? Duuuude!" Spazzing for a second, it looked as though he was going to dash out of the room in desperate search of measuring tape! Luckily Canada's hand landed on his brother's arm gently, forcing America to stop.
Matthew shook his head as if ordering his sibling to stay, turning instead to his guardian for the answer. "No Alfred..." Francis chided, lightly chuckling at his son's absurd conclusion. "It's not 'is 'eight or eyebrows. It's... 'is eyes. Zhey looks as though somezhing is missing, like part of 'im 'as disappeared I suppose..." Why was he bothering with explaining such utter nonsense? He had no proof to back up any claim made, and it wasn't as though they could understand...
"Oh..." Yet strangely, Alfred's complexion seemed to darken, eyes hidden behind the reflection of carefully adjusted spectacles. "I know what ya mean." The tone of once eccentric words had quieted as well, boisterous spirit which he so often held seeming to disappear. "He acts all cheery n' stuff, but the dude looks at you like he's dead."
Such harsh words to use, but nothing could have better described it. Amazement temporarily stunned Francis into silence. It appeared as though his son wasn't as much of a space-cadet as most people believed... he could see things as well, even if his strange logic had to comprehend it in as simple a term.
There was no hiding it any longer; they knew... all of them. This left him with but one option, something he had hoped to avoid...
He had to ask.
"Alfred mon cher... I-I need to know... what 'appened." His voice was low, eyes burrowing holes into the floor with their intensity, refusing even to face his children. It destroyed his French pride, allowing himself to stumble over the words, unable to keep his own voice under control. His eyes had witnessed many things in the line of war; pain, death, despair... nothing that any other country hadn't seen before. But earlier, when he'd fallen victim to such terrible images of Arthur standing before him, amidst many a thousand lines of white, tainted by streams of red as they dripped from spears of shadow... it honestly scared him to know the truth. Yet, there wasn't any other option open to him now.
"Please boys, no one 'as told me what really 'appened when you found Arthur and myself." He begged when not a word was spoken in answer to the desperate question. Still the North American countries did nothing to ease the suffering of his mind, their vocal chords unused. "I should have died, don't you understand? If something 'appened while I was dying... maybe I-I missed somezhing important!"
Francis couldn't take being in the dark any longer! Once awakened from the incident, no one would pass on to him the events which transpired, most as in the dark as he himself. What if something had happened to Arthur as well? Could the man have been attacked?... injured somehow?
His eyes now met both those of his sons, pleading for answers in hope they would provide. For a moment, Alfred and Matthew only looked at one another, silently exchanging something in that sidelong glance. Finally, the shy Canadian gave a short nod, deeming it appropriate for his brother to speak.
"You gotta know, we didn't really know where you were when the war ended." His eyes seemed unfamiliarly distant, lost in thought as he mentally wound back time. "Arthur came running to my place and I had ta tell him... that your men came back without you. W-we didn't know what had happened." Alfred hated remembering the weakness he had shown the Brit that day, allowing tears to fall... even now great effort lay in his attempt to steady a slowly faltering voice.
"Al told me that dad ran off to find you, eh." Matthew piped up in his soft voice, clutching his polar bear close as if for comfort. "He sort of just, left before we could do anything. So much was going on, so many people hurt... It took a while before we could get a medical team free to go look for you two."
Francis knew some of this already as he had ordered his men to go to America, the nearest safe house from their battlegrounds. Of course, by then he'd yet to realize that their enemy had finally surrendered... stumbling through near-darkness, the soldier was not even aware of the grounds that had come to be his resting place before darkness swept through. "Go on..." He urged. "Is zhere anything zhat 'appened, right when you found us...?"
Now his children looked even more worried, a terrible expression crossing mirrored faces as he knew each was recalling what must have been a dreadful scene. "There was blood... everywhere." Alfred breathed, fists clenching. "Not even in a city... we found you guys in the middle of freakin' nowhere. Arthur, he was lying almost on top of you like he'd collapsed, both of you were drenched in blood and completely knocked out." To Francis's horror, the American actually shuddered, his body visibly trembling.
"We thought-" There was a strangled like sound as though the boy were trying to hold back a sob. Yet when he raised his head once more, breaths taken in subtly shaken gasps, no tears could be seen. "We thought you were both dead. Everythin' around you, like a bunch of metal debris and stuff, it looked like some damn bomb had gone off!"
Matthew put his hand in his brother's for comfort. He knew how his brother felt... to imagine dying, nearly alone and cut off from the world... how could they forgive themselves if the men who had raised them died without their friends or family at their side as it should have been?
Taking his turn to speak in hopes of allowing Alfred time to calm, Matthew did not break the grip he held with his sibling. "There was almost a crater beneath you guys... all we could see was tiny debris, and some white stuff here and there. It was... truly awful." He sniffled slightly as well. "The doctors started checking you to see if- if everything w-was okay eh..."
"Oui..." Francis nodded, speaking almost to himself. "Of ceirse. But zhe blood... was it, I mean... Arthur wasn't 'urt was 'e? It was just mine... wasn't it?" Such sordid, mournful words he spoke... a heart pounding as drums beneath his chest, the same scene played over and over again within his mind. Time seemed to crawl by and allow for every second of those terrible images to be embedded to his thoughts. In reality, it did in fact take Alfred many minutes before speech would come.
"That's the thing... as much blood as there was, you barely had a scratch on you." Had drink been pressed to his lips, Francis would surely have choked. As it were, he still managed to sputter, eyes going wide in the entirety of such shock.
"Mon Dieu... you must be joking!" he gasped, hoping to whatever divine entity lay beyond that his dearest children could not see the trembling which insisted to overcome his once stable hands. "But I was, and he-" No words could come, his mind beyond level comprehension just then.
Alfred shook his own head as though in similar disbelief, hair swishing lightly across a creased brow from the gentle motion. "I didn't believe it either man. The way he ran off... it was like you were already dead. You had a few bruises and scrapes, and the docs said something about a bit of internal bleeding, but they said you'd be fine, nothin' serious."
"And Arthur?" A simple question, no more than two words... yet this question brought about the longest silence yet, spanning nearly an age as even a breath's soft hiss seemed not to break into the realm of sound.
"He was dying." Matthew had dared to breathe those treacherous words, voice somehow steady in reminder of such a morbid thought. Eyes rendered as dark pools of almost violet blue, he stared ahead at nothing, no longer willing to take the faces of his family into sight. "Large puncture wounds in his abdomen, internal b-bleeding, excessive blood loss, pulse... f-failing..." He listed each one off, impeccable memory quoting the words of their medical squad with utmost accuracy even as his voice finally faltered.
"But, zhat isn't right! I saw 'im, 'e was fine... I was zhe one who..." Francis felt himself falling, slipping into the abyss of doubt as he succumbed to confusion. Nothing made sense, as though in some twisted dream... How could he live, practically untarnished when the reaper had once been clawing at his side, while Arthur suddenly spiraled downwards, taking his place?
"I didn't get it either- Arthur looked fine when he was at my place! But Mattie's right. He had these big holes and blood was gettin' everywhere..." America let out a strange chuckle, and for a moment Francis knew the look which crossed his features; the boy wore upon his face a slight smile, as though reliving that moment when he saw his guardian moving towards death's realm. He knew the sight would have made Alfred laugh, somehow funny as the poor lad failed to comprehend that which he saw as reality, mind spiraling into some momentary fit of delirium.
"The doctors said... that it'd be close. They did everything they could and for a while, it was working. You were doin' great, even if you were still totally conked out and stuff. But dad..." He cut off for a moment, swallowing hard at the term. " But Arthur... they tried to fix him up, and he should have been fine after surgery, but he... he wouldn't wake up..." There was a sad look in the American's eyes, the drowning fear of a child lost in the woods, crying out for their missing parent. Hardly ever had Alfred referred to Arthur as his 'father'... to do so now only proved how worried and hurt he must be feeling.
"The doctors said t-that he would be fine once he regained consciousness." Matthew seemed to have regained his bearings for the moment, trying to reassure all who inhabited the small dark room. "Actually, you woke up a few days before he did, eh. No one wanted you to worry so, w-we didn't say anything." He looked terrible guilty the moment the words left him, eyes downcast and cheeks flushed slightly pink.
"You mean..." Francis suddenly flashed back, easily remembering how Arthur had not come to visit him until two days after he'd initially awoken. Held at the hospital longer than should have been necessary due to the doctor's precaution, it was another few days before he would be released... yet Francis was still mildly upset that his British companion had not come to visit sooner. Slowly but surely, memories resurfaced as they spoke a tale far different than that of before.
Arthur had appeared tired that day, distant almost as he refused to sit, nor give Francis the hug and kiss which had been requested. Any other time he'd have been distraught, chastising the 'frog' for allowing such things to happen with reckless actions. The knitting of those large eyebrows, a frown seemingly ever present throughout their meeting... perhaps it had not been in irritation, but in pain all along...?
Ripped from his reverie, Francis heard a sudden and very loud bang on the door, small golden handle jiggling impatiently back and forth. "America! I know you vere zhe one who put zhat vhoopie cushion on mein chair! Get out here now!!" Germany's howl could be heard even through the door's wooden body, his irritation present as the doorknob rattled viciously once more beneath his hand. "I vill not stand for such foolishness, even outside zhe meeting room! Look, I know you're in zhere!"
Alfred noticeably cringed at the look his twin flashed. "Aw come on, it was just a little joke dude! Besides, I bet Spain got the whole thing on tape! This'll totally rock the interneeet~!" Everything seemed to have returned to normal as the boy dashed to the door, flashing Francis a wave. Their moment of understanding was washed away, disappearing as though it had never even come to pass.
"Hey, don't worry, we'll figure somethin' out, 'kay?"
The door was unlocked and before Ludwig could sick his wrath upon the room's other, innocent inhabitants, Alfred slammed it shut behind himself, the sound of loud footsteps implicating his apparent flee for safety. As soon as Germany's shouts died down, all was quiet once more. Only Matthew remained with Francis now, the two both looking to the other for some form of comfort.
"Listen, I'm sorry to 'ave brought you two into zhis... maybe I'm just being paranoid..." Yet the gentle hand upon Francis's shoulder prodded him to cease. Canada shook his head slowly, before turning to face his father.
"I should be telling you not to worry eh?" He said, the tiniest of smile cracking through his features. "I better go help out Al, but I don't want you to be upset... ok? Talk to Arthur, alone and somewhere quiet, he'll probably listen to you. Promise you will?" Shy or not, those violet blue eyes held a deep concern, heard even behind the whisper of his soft voice.
Francis allowed himself a smile as well. "Oui..." He said gently, rising to stand beside his quiet son for their dual departure. "I believe I shall."
Breathing raggedly as he continued to dash through hallways, feet running at their top speed so as to elude the frightfully angry German, Alfred frowned deeply. Downcast eyes seemed to pass over anything that came within sight, not paying the slightest attention. As tirelessly as he ran, skirting other nations and nearly upending passerby, his mind lay elsewhere.
He had been interrupted by Ludwig... there wasn't any time to tell Francis about what he had seen... nor about his fears...
No. He told himself. Stupid thought. Heroes didn't have fears!
"There's... no way it'd... be true... right?" This was spoken aloud, regardless of difficulty, as it gave him the feel of having someone to converse with even when one did not exist. "All the blood... the... ground..." He murmured whilst still panting, the cruel memory engraved into his mind, not likely to disappear in any near amount of time.
When they had first found England and France, one thing had caught his eye immediately; there had been lines... nearly erased, yet a skeleton of etchings still remaining in white chalk on the ground.
He believed in aliens, in purple lava people coming to eat his brains, even in zombies for Pete's sake! Still, America had never believed in England's supposed 'black magic' which they'd all heard so much about. Yet the moment he had spotted the ancient leather-bound book, grasped in his former caretaker's hands amidst a maze of half-drawn lines, and undamaged when chaos surrounded them... only one idea had grown in his mind, no matter how he tried to blot it out with foolish meanderings or ludicrous amounts of junk food.
"He wouldn't do something stupid..." Of course not! This was Arthur he was talking about. Sure Francis looked like he'd been dying, and everyone knew they both had a thing for each other but... the guy had practically invented the word 'cautious'! He wouldn't risk anything big by doing something reckless...
Hope I've caught your interrest now! Next Chapter we'll get to meet Arthur's three older brothers, and the tale will really get rolling. Pleas review! Favprites are nice, but writers want your opinion!