Francis was walking down the street at a leisurely manner, avoiding the bustling people around him with ease and a sense of familiarity. It had been a long time since he had been able to stroll about the city, his city, like this. The weather was relatively nice despite the ominous grey clouds in the sky and the world appeared to have finally calmed down from its last bout of turbulences and chaos.
All around him, he could hear faint murmurs, partial conversations of people who were finally able to pick up the bits and pieces and continue on with the life they had known and lived before. Humans were hardy creatures when they needed to be. After enduring harsh conditions and rough times, they were always able to carry on despite being such fragile things.
Smiling in appreciation for everything around him, he ran a hand through his hair and continued on his stroll home.
And he continued enjoying thoughts of peace and order until a person accidentally bumped into him and knocked them both to the ground. The other immediately got up and began apologizing profusely, "Ah, je suis vraiment désolé !"
Wincing slightly, he waved the other's worry off and pushed himself back onto his feet. Although he muttered "ça va…" rather begrudgingly, inwardly, he couldn't help but be annoyed about having his happy thoughts so rudely interrupted. But then he took a look at the other and all thoughts left his mind. "Tu…"
The blond in front of him with his large violet eyes blinked confusedly. "Oui?"
Then it began pouring.
Quickly getting soaked to the bone, he grabbed the other's hand and made a run for his place which was luckily, less than a block away. And too shocked to resist, the stranger meekly followed. Somehow, even though the person was right there, even though he was pulling him by the arm, he still couldn't believe any of it was real. Not after everything that had happened.
Once they reached his loft, he tried to calm his nerves as much as possible before asking politely, "Are you wet? I can get you a towel and clothes if you need."
Clearly confused at the chain of events and how it led to this, the blond shook his head and replied quietly in French, "Just a towel would be fine, thank you."
He nodded and fetched a towel for his guest, he made his way to his room. "Wait here. I'll be back after I change."
Seeing how flustered the boy was, he couldn't help but wink. "No peeking now, okay?"
The poor boy's face reddened even more. "I-I promise I won't!"
Francis let out a laugh before leaving the room. "Don't worry, I believe you. Besides, you wouldn't have to peek. All you have to do is ask and I'd be more than happy to show you everything."
The boy, already redder than a tomato, opened his mouth in protest but no sound came out.
Though he wanted to tease the young man more, he figured he shouldn't scare the poor boy off so he slipped away without another word.
Inside his room, while grabbing his clothes, he found himself unable to pay attention to the details of his appearance as he normally did. All he could think of was the young man in his living room. The sense of shock and sadness was overwhelming despite how he'd acted a moment ago.
In his living room was the spitting image of the country that was once known as Canada; the same Canada that was signed over to America a little less than two decades ago. The same Canada that ceased to be all those years ago.
The Frenchman frowned to himself in his mirror. "It can't be him. What were you thinking, Francis? Why are you bringing a complete stranger into your home? And one that pushed you over earlier nonetheless! There's no way it could be him!"
But that wasn't true.
He knew better than that.
There was a possibility.
They had all learnt that after Gilbert…after Prussia disappeared.
After the Berlin Wall was torn down in 1989, the representation of both Prussia and East Germany was nowhere to be found. No matter how long Ludwig looked for his brother, they all knew it was hopeless.
But the German kept looking anyways.
Then one day, many years later, a miracle occurred.
Ludwig stumbled across a teenage human who had the same name, personality and image as the brother he'd lost. At first, they were ecstatic about finding Gilbert. However, they soon realized that the boy had no recollection of his time as a country. And because of the unwritten rule they weren't supposed to disclose their roles as countries to humans, Ludwig was unable to tell him, unable to call him 'Bruder'. All he could do was keep the human as close to him as possible and watch over him.
And unlike them, humans were helpless victims to time. This became painstakingly clear as the human continued aging while they did not. Although the two of them became close, he couldn't imagine the emotions Ludwig must've felt, watching the one he'd known as his brother, human and aging. He couldn't imagine the suffering the German must've endured every time Gilbert called him 'Ludwig or Herr Ludwig', every time the other spoke politely to him because despite their closeness, they weren't brothers anymore.
He couldn't imagine what it must've felt like to stand by his brother's deathbed after time had finally began gnawing away at his last string of life. Although Gilbert had lived a long and fulfilling life, human standard-wise, it still felt wrong for him to go.
It still felt wrong to see him age.
It still felt wrong to know that he was capable of dying.
The only ones in that hospital room that day were the countries that'd loved him when he was one of their own. Every single of them still couldn't grasp the concept of morality and the truth. Ludwig had taken his place beside the man, sitting as vigilantly as he had for the past few weeks.
By then, Gilbert had been bedridden and slept for most of the day. He looked ready to depart from the work at any given hour.
He remembered looking at the old man in the bed and his feelings of disbelief. That couldn't have been the same man who'd fought with and against him for centuries. That couldn't have been the same man who'd been lucky enough to be the first person in history to grope Erzsébet. That couldn't have been the same man who he and Antonio had considered part of their trio. That couldn't have been the same proud Prussian soldier who had a little bird on his head and his heraldic standard trailing behind him as he rode off to battle.
Ludwig was speaking silently to the man who'd finally woken up. "Look Gilbert, everyone's here to see you…"
Red eyes looked around silently for a moment before another miracle occurred. The man grinned at the German, eyes holding so much youth and vigour that for a moment, he looked like the Gilbert they all knew again. "Thanks for everything, West. It was fun while it lasted."
The blonde's eyes widened. "Bruder!"
But the other had already passed on.
It was at that moment they all realized that they'd really never get to see Gilbert Beilschmidt again.
Still frowning at his reflection, he shook his head. He'd come to understand the process of a nation dying through Gilbert's departure. After a nation ceased to be, they'd disappear and be reborn as a human being; as the last human to have been born in the country they once represented. As a result, they themselves would become the last piece of history of the country they once represented. A cruel yet fitting end as far as he was concerned.
If that really was Canada in his living room, he'd find out and …he paused. And what? What would he do? Tell him everything? Handle it professionally as Ludwig had? Running a hand through his hair in frustration, he finished dressing and returned with the decision to simply wing it. After all, it was too complicated and his mind was too frizzled to come up with a complex tactic to manoeuvre through this situation with.
"Sorry to have kept you waiting, mon cher."
The blond gave a start and turned away from the art he had been admiring on the wall. "I-it's no problem! I was just admiring everything here. You have a really nice place here, sir. You must be a really important person in this country and worldwide to have pictures with the prime minister and all these other politicians. I actually recognize quite a few of these people."
He smiled lightly at how soft-spoken the other was. Some things never change. "I suppose you could say I'm an important figure, at least I like to think of myself as one. What's your name, mon petit?"
A blush crept onto the human's face at being addressed in such a manner. "Matthew Williams. And I'm already 19…sir."
Nineteen was the age Canada disappeared at, he remembered rather reluctantly. "Now, now, there's no need to call me 'sir'. That makes me sound too old. My name's Francis Bonnefoy." There was no reaction from the other. "And where are you from, Mathieu?"
Perking up like he knew an answer to a math problem, he smiled proudly. "I-I'm from Canada, but I suppose most people know it as America now, eh?"
There was no doubt in his mind that the boy in front of him was the same little nation he found sleeping in that faraway land. The same little nation who had called him papa and had affectionately crafted him wreathes of flowers when spring came around. "No, I know exactly what you're talking about. Canada was a beautiful country, both the land and its people. It's a shame that it's no longer there."
"Thank you, Monsieur Bonnefoy."
He blinked in surprise at the words. "For what?"
The Canadian twiddled his thumbs with a timid smile. "Not very many people speak like that about my country. Actually, not very many people remember it nowadays, eh? So to hear you say that…well, it made me happy. So thank you."
"If that's the case then you're very welcome. Now Mathieu, I have a serious question to ask you. Would you grant me the pleasure of having you join me for lunch?" The other looked hesitant so he added, "it's not a problem for me. I'm feeling a little lonely at the moment and I was about to go make myself something anyways. I believe I was going to have pancakes with maple syrup imported from Quebec, I have a wonderful recipe from a close friend of mine who was actually Canadian, just like you."
In his head, it sounded more like: I have a wonderful recipe from a close friend of mine who was actually you.
At the mention of pancakes and maple syrup, Matthew's resistance shattered. "I-I suppose if you'll have me then…"
Smiling at his little victory, he made his way to the kitchen. "Oh, I absolutely insist, mon cher."
"I'd hate to be rude by turning down such an offer…" the young man muttered to himself as an excuse as he followed the Frenchman into the other room.
In the kitchen, the blond was sitting in one of the stools and admiring him as he cooked. "If you don't mind my saying, I'm surprised you cook. I thought you'd have servants around or something."
Inwardly, he wondered where or who the boy learnt such bluntness from. "Hm? Well, I take great pleasure in cooking so I've never thought of it as a chore. Besides, as a professional chef on the side, it's more rewarding when people tell me how absolutely scrumptious my meals are." He winked at the other.
Matthew continued sitting there, kicking his legs idly with a smile. "Monsieur Bonnefoy…"
There it was again.
He didn't like being called that, not by the one who used to call him 'papa'.
Was this how Ludwig felt?
Personally, he had never understood what the German had gone through since Gilbert had insisted on calling him 'Fran' even without his memories.
But now…everything was different.
"You're not human, are you?"
Francis froze for a moment before stiffly continuing his task at hand. "I'm afraid I don't understand what you mean by that."
Those curious violet eyes were staring straight at him as the Canadian went on almost casually, "I didn't mean 'not human' like a monster or anything, but, you're not like us, like me, like all those people out there. Your eyes…I can tell there's a lot of history in them. Too much for the age you look. Am I wrong?"
And suddenly, not only was he caught off guard by the other's perceptiveness but he was faced with a choice he didn't want to make. When Gilbert was human, he never brought up the issue even though it was obvious he had noticed. "Well…"
Taking his hesitation as concurrence, the young man quickly reassured him, "I won't tell anyone, I promise! I don't even know exactly what you are yet. I mean, the only reason I noticed was because of my roommate, Alfred. He's kind of the same as you. Do you know him?"
He couldn't help but gape. Now he understood why America had gone and become such an isolationist again. Thinking back, he realized that he hadn't seen the rowdy young man in a long while. The American had refused to leave his country except for business and then always returned home the second he could. Not to mention he'd stopped throwing parties for decades now. It was very out of character for him but now it all made sense. Was he trying to spend as much time with his brother as he could before the other disappeared from the world like Gilbert did?
"Oui, I know Alfred." Although he had spoken nonchalantly, he was seething with rage at the other nation for keeping something so big and personal a secret. "In fact, I'm going have to call him later and discuss something with him."
Clearly not fully understanding the meaning or venom behind his statement, the blond merely smiled. "I knew it! Actually, Al wanted to come but he was called to work suddenly so he couldn't make it. That's too bad, eh?"
Francis sighed and decided to save his outburst of surprise and outrage for the American. "I've known Alfred for a long time now, a very long time actually…I doubt he's changed very much since the last time I saw him. But how is he treating you? He hasn't been force feeding you his greasy fast foods, has he?"
The boy smiled easily at him, clearly pleased at his findings. "Oh, so you really do know Al! No, Alfred spoils me. He lets me make whatever I want and he always lets me choose where to eat at when we go out. He's like the big brother I never had. It's like how I accidentally broke my arm the first time we played baseball, and ever since then, he's been going easy on me but I still can't seem to win. I'm definitely more of a hockey person." The Canadian laughed quietly to himself.
How would Alfred react to being called 'the big brother I never had' by the other? How horrified he must've been when he watched the blond injure himself so easily. It was obvious that even though the nation was trying to recreate memories of his time together with Canada, it wasn't the same. Humans were more fragile and they only had one life. Broken bones, illnesses, humans were susceptible to them all. No doubt Alfred had to learn to adjust and hold back in fear of really losing his brother once and for all.
"That sounds just like something Alfred would do," he muttered while musing on the things he would've done if he'd been the one to find the boy.
Thinking about it now, he'd probably cook for the blond every day, and pamper him, and show him off to everyone, something he hadn't done when Canada still existed. Most of all, he wouldn't hand the blond over to anyone, especially not Arthur. And after a little more contemplation, he decided that he couldn't blame Alfred for keeping the ex-nation a secret, not while knowing that he would've done the same thing.
Matthew sighed and twiddled with his fork. "It's strange though…Alfred…there are times when he just hugs me and cries. All he does is apologize to me over and over again. Do you know why he gets like that? Did something happen before? Did I do something before? Because I really hate seeing him upset like that."
Turning off the stove, he walked over and placed the plate of pancakes down before running a hand through the other's hair. It was still the same soft, silky French hair. "Non, it's nothing you did, it's just something that…happened. No one was to blame for that. Alfred just…remembers better times sometimes, I suppose. Here you are, bon appetit, mon cher."
Immediately drizzling his food with maple syrup, he took a bite and smiled brightly. "This is delicious! I don't think I've ever tasted anything so good before! Monsieur Bonnefoy, you make the best meals!"
There was growling.
"Mathieu, are you hungry? Haven't you eaten yet?"
"Non, I was waiting for papa to come back."
"Now why would you do something silly like that? I told you the expedition would go on until late. You could've at least eaten some bread or something."
"B-but I wanted to eat papa's meal! I like papa's meals the best!"
He smiled a little sadly and watched the blond eat. "Merci, mon cher. It means a lot to hear you say that."
Matthew leaned in to observe him a little closer, catching him off guard. "You're acting the same way Al does sometime…you're acting as though you've known me for years now even though we've just met. Did you know me from before or something?"
At a loss for words, he merely stared at the other. He shouldn't have been surprised though. The boy always had been observant…
"Papa? Is something bad going to happen?"
"Hm? What makes you say that, mon cher?"
"You've been acting strange ever since you came back…does it have something to do with the war you were in? Are your wounds hurting again?"
"Ah, for such a little thing, you're very attentive. How expected of my colony. I was hoping to spend this last day with you without you noticing…I guess I should've known better, non? Mon cher, I'm afraid we'll have to spend some time apart after today…"
"B-but we'll see each other again someday, right?"
"Of course we will. And the next time we meet, please give papa a big hug, alright?"
Much to his relief, the teenager didn't press the question and moved on to ask another one while taking a bite of his pancakes. "So what exactly are you guys anyways?"
For some reason, he decided to be honest. He rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. "I know how this will sound and I'm not sure whether you'll believe me or not, but we're…I suppose you could say we're the human representatives of countries as a whole, including both the land and its people. I am France and it's not hard to guess that Alfred's America."
He waited for a sign of disbelief or scepticism to appear but none came. Instead, violet eyes shone in realization and understanding. "Well, that'd explain a lot of things like your photos outside and Alfred's sudden business meetings all around the world. I suppose you guys don't age the same as we do, or do you just not age at all?"
"We age; just very slowly."
"But isn't that sad though? Watching everyone come and go? I can't imagine what that must be like…what'll happen to Al after I die?"
Letting out a rueful sigh, he nodded in agreement. "It's hard at times but it's something all countries have to go through. For me, I find it sad thinking back on the golden days as well… Ah, I remember when I was about half the height I am now, all those dresses and frills were still in fashion. They looked wonderful on me, you know? You probably can't imagine it but they were so colourful and charming, all the other countries always copied your pa-" he cut himself off just in time and stared at the other apprehensively, willing him not to ask questions.
There was a tense pause between them.
"Um, Monsieur Bonnefoy?"
A little nervously, he asked, "Oui?"
The Canadian fidgeted shyly. "If you're France, then did you know my country? Was Canada human-ish like you once…you know, before everything happened?"
Of course it was only natural for the last citizen of a vanished country to want to know about their nation. He remembered debating Prussian history with Gilbert back in the day; the man had been so fervent and confident in his replies that it felt like he'd actually lived through it all. He nodded. "Oui, I knew Canada. I've known him since he was the tiniest thing. He was my colony first…here, let me show you something."
Leaving the kitchen, he made his way to his bedroom and opened one of the drawers to reveal an assortment of ribbons.
Matthew blinked. "Ribbons?"
"These were the ribbons I used to tie my hair with; each of these is associated with a particular time or event. Little memento of sorts, you see. I would've kept other things but once you've moved around as much as I have, you'd realize how difficult it is to move around large artefacts. And unlike Antonio, I decided to find my own place and not live in one of the state mansions and whatnot, so all of my other mementos, like the swords I used, are kept safe elsewhere."
Looking at all the bands of ribbons in awe, the boy noted, "These must be precious to you."
"They mean the world to me, I can't imagine ever parting with them. Everyone needs reminders and evidence of the past and these are mine." He took out a red ribbon with a fond smile. "This was the ribbon I had when I found Canada. Shall I tell you his story? Here," he sat down on the edge of his bed and patted the space next to him, "sit with me. It's a long story. It was winter in Nouveau France, we'd just set up the second settlement when…"
And he continued his story until the sun finally retired.
Glancing at the clock, he gave a start. "Well, would you look at that? It's almost dinner time. Come, let's continue with this in the kitchen. I'll make you a genuine French meal."
Matthew immediately shook his head. "Oh no, I couldn't! I've already imposed on you enough for one day. I was just too caught up in your story; I should've noticed the time. I'm sorry."
"Please, it'd mean the world to me if you stay. I'd very much like to tell someone this story and I have reason to believe you're the only person in the world who'd listen. You'd be doing me a favour by staying, mon cher, honest."
Never one to turn down a request, the Canadian nodded. "Well, I was hoping to hear the entire story…"
He smiled. "Then it's decided. I'll prepare dinner for two, and I can promise you that it'll be better than any meal you can find in restaurants-especially in America. Now where were we? Ah oui, unfortunately, after England took him away, and ever since then, I had very little contact with him until…"
They went well into the night until he finally finished, "The last time I saw him was at the signing…he was injured like the rest of us but there was something in his eyes…it may sound cliché, but he looked like he knew. He'd always been observant so I should've suspected something, but the way he said goodbye to us, or those of us that noticed him that day, it was so normal, I didn't think anything of it until the next day; until he was gone."
"Monsieur Bonnefoy, where do countries go after they disappear?"
He shook his head. "I wish I knew, mon cher. Perhaps they'll go to the same place as humans. Perhaps there's a place reserved only for countries, maybe I'll find out one day. And maybe I'll see Canada there."
"I think that can wait, I hope you don't go anywhere anytime soon," the boy smiled, "thank you for telling me all of this."
"It was my pleasure, Mathieu. It's been awhile since I've had someone to tell a story to…oh, it's gotten quite late, hasn't it?"
The Canadian nodded in agreement and got up. "I should probably get out of your hair now. Thank you for today, Monsieur Bonnefoy."
"I should be the one thanking you. Here," he pulled the ribbon out of his hair, silently wonder when he'd tied it up. "To show my appreciation for keeping an old country like me company, mon cher."
Matthew gaped and shook his head. "I can't accept this, this has so much sentimental value to you! You said so yourself, they mean the world to you! How can you just give it away to a stranger like that? Not to mention you've already sheltered me from the rain, cooked for me and told me that wonderful story, I can't…"
"But I insist." Inside, he wished he'd spoilt the nation like this when he had the chance to. "Think of it as something to remember me by. I'd hate to be forgotten by you…" Again.
The teenager pulled his lips tight in thought for a moment before taking the ribbon and running behind him. Carefully, the boy tied his hair back up. "Pl-please keep it safe for me then? I tend to lose things very easily, and I doubt I'd forget about you in this lifetime so you don't have to worry about that. Besides, I think it looks nicer in your hair, Monsieur Bonnefoy. I suppose it's time to say goodbye now. I hope we'll get to meet again someday, I'll be the host next time though, eh?"
Touching the ribbon lightly, he couldn't help but laugh softly. "I'd like that very much, mon cher. Au revoir."
As the Canadian was leaving, he turned around one last time with a smile. "Merci de me retrouver. Adieu, papa."
And then he was gone.
Blue eyes immediately widened as he took off after the other only to find that he'd disappeared.
Merci de me retrouver...
Those words just continued ringing in his ears.
Dashing back into his apartment, he went and called up Alfred without a second thought.
"Alfred F. Jones, you have some explaining to do."
"W-what Francis? Why are you and Artie calling me now? Can't you pick a better time?"
Was the boy crying?
"Wait, Alfred, is this a three way call now? I don't want to talk with the frog listening…never mind, I suppose this pertains to him too."
He raised a brow in confusion, "Oh? And what might 'this' be?"
"Stuff it, frog. Alfred, are you still crying? Why on earth are you crying?"
"Oui, he was here a moment ago."
"What are you talking about? The lad was over here!"
"What are the two of you going on about? Mattie's gone! He was in an accident yesterday a-and then…"
The elder pair stopped and shared a moment of mutual understanding. "We'll catch the next flight over Alfred, just wait there."
Standing amidst the crowd of friends the Canadian had made throughout both his life times, the Frenchman stood there, peering into the casket. Next to him Alfred stood motionlessly, eyes glued onto the nation that was once his brother. "Why did I let him go out that night? Mattie didn't even get to live a full human life! It's not fair! You know what he said before he left? 'It wasn't your fault, thanks for everything, bro.' And then just like that, he was gone!"
Arthur sighed and wrapped a supportive arm around the younger nation's shoulder. "It's alright, lad. It's just like Matthew said, it wasn't you fault. None of it was. These things just happen. He talked about you a lot when I saw him. He must've visited everyone…"
He nodded idly as he listened to the two talk for awhile longer before the Englishman led the American away. Knowing Mathieu, the ex-nation must've wanted to do nothing more than to see all those he loved one last time. And he couldn't help but wonder if Gilbert would've done the same had they not all been standing around his bed that day. Looking around what used to be Canadian territory, the trees stood tall and proud all around them, creating a tranquil atmosphere all around them.
It felt as though Canada hadn't disappeared.
Francis sighed and ran his fingers through the boy's still silky hair. "Mon cher, I wasn't just spewing words when I told you that Canada was a beautiful country. I hope you're proud of everything you'd accomplished both as Mathieu and as Canada. Papa's going to miss you a lot…perhaps we'll see each other again but I'm afraid that probably won't be for awhile. So be good as always and the next time we meet, please give papa a big hug and I'll make you the best meal you've ever tasted, alright?"
From behind, someone softly tapped on his shoulder. "It's almost time…"
Reluctantly, he dipped his head in understanding and placed a final kiss on the boy's forehead. "Thank you for letting me see you one last time, mon cher. Sleep well…" And then he stepped back to let others have their last words.
A few days after the funeral, he was taking a stroll around the forest in which the Canadian had been buried, it was something he hadn't done for centuries now. As he took in the fresh air and natural beauty of the land, in the distance, he could've sworn he saw a little white bear. It turned its head curiously to watch him for a few moments before disappearing back into the forest with a carefree gait. And feeling his spirits lift a little at what he saw, he couldn't help but smile up towards the sky. "Merci beaucoup, mon cher, ça va bien. Et toi ?"
The only response he received was a gentle breeze and the rustling of the leaves in the trees.
But that was the only answer he needed.
Smiling, he continued on his way.
This is one of my ideas on what happens after nations die. Sorry I can't seem to write short one-shots. This is also the first Hetalia fic I've written that didn't require me to make a timeline for it. Hopefully I'll be able to write more while I'm here but I can't make any promises since I'll be busy with school and travelling and whatnot, but I'll definitely try! I wonder if it's a sign that all my ideas for stories seem to be...well not the happiest of plots..but that's okay! It's super weird, I always thought I'd grow up and move to Europe but slowly, I'm realizing how much I take Canada for granted now that I'm overseas. I really miss the people, the water and the maple syrup...mmm maple syrup... that's not to say the people here aren't amazing as well of course. And the coffee here is love. Oh well, I suppose until I find my ideal country, I'll probably just end up living in Canada in the future! Anyways, enough of my random ranting! Thanks for reading and enjoy!
Merci de me retrouver. - Thank you for finding me again.