Chapter 23…it's a small one, just a separate moment in time I thought needed its own space.

As Ludwig, joined by Elizaveta, continued to lean out of the car, their bullets flying back toward the police in quick pursuit, Gilbert reached the third floor of the hospital, the back of his hand clearing chilled tears from his cheeks.

He strode toward Mathew's room, his footsteps sounding abnormally loud to his ears. The officers standing guard recognized him at once. Why was his heart suddenly racing? They had no reason to suspect him of anything...

All the same, Gilbert only realized he had been holding his breath after they let him pass.

The light was on; his sweet Canadian professor was awake. The pale German's chest was tight in apprehension. How could such a kind man love him now, after what he'd become?

It had been necessary.


Even though he continued to tell himself this, Gilbert still knew he'd murdered a man; he had never been a murderer before - sure, he'd been a lot of things, but not a killer.

No sooner had he crossed the threshold and closed the door behind him than Mathew's blue violet eyes found his. Part concern, part relief flashed across the blonde's face as he pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, tossed his book aside and scooted up in bed.

"Gil!" The exclamation was fast to his tongue, the rest of the sentence coming slower, "The Roost – what…happened" The young professor's expression grew determined as he pressed on, "Al and…Ivan" an exhausted pause broke his flow, "to… Gold Star."

God, what was he going to say? Gilbert hurried to Mathew's side but still no words came to him. The German bent to pull his Canadian lover in a tight embrace.

He couldn't stay silent forever, he would have to tell Mathew just what had happened eventually, he may as well force it out now before his man's warm blue eyes undid him and ruined his nerve.

"Mathew, listen…" Gilbert sat in the chair beside the bed. He focused on those disarming eyes, no matter how his heart broke at the thought of what he had to admit. He'd had the ride back to think on exactly what had happened and while he couldn't say he regretted his actions, Gilbert wasn't proud of himself either.

Again, his thoughts spiraled inward.

He'd done a lot, he'd skirted the law, no, flouted the law, he'd turned a blind eye, but he'd never killed a man in cold blood like that before, and certainly not one he had once called 'friend'. Regardless of the tension that had woven through their interactions like a thread, Romano had been his friend before he had made himself an enemy.

Forcing himself to go on, the words tumbled out in a rush; "Mathew, I went to the Gold Star before Al and Ivan found out vhat was happening – a call came, it had been meant for your brother but I knew I had to go first. It had to be me who confronted my brother and my old …friends…" breath left his chest in a slow exhale before he went on, his courage returning with each sentence. It needed to be said; even if Mathew would never see him the same again, he didn't want to lie and he'd not sugar coat the truth of what he'd done.

He wanted to be honest with Mathew, and Gilbert knew he had to speak fast; he would have to leave in a hurry. Not only did he have to get out of Chicago before the mafia could retalitate, he couldn't be sure Alfred wouldn't arrest him - he had, afterall, committed murder.

He didn't quite relish the idea of jail time.

Focusing on the deep pools that were his sweetheart's eyes, Gilbert went on, "I got to the Gold Star. Romano vas there." Sentences clipped, the pale man felt the blood drain from his face, sure it was taking every bit of color he had with it, as images of the night flashed across his mind's eye. "He vould never have let us live in peace, never stopped trying to…to.." faltering, a lump rose in his throat; Gilbert forced himself to continue. "to kill you. Und your brother."

The room was colder, Mathew could hear his heartbeat in his ears. What had Gilbert done? The question wasn't coming to his tongue, so the young professor reached for his pale German's hand, eyes drawn to the mess of wind-blown white hair as Gilbert lowered his head.

"I knew vhat had to be done." Voice muffled slightly, Gilbert spoke into the scarf hanging around his neck. "Both of us shot, but I moved faster to the side, my aim vas better."

Gilbert felt the floor fall away as the night came rushing fully back to him. Images, like a moving picture flashed through his mind. "Und now I vill be…Ludwig vas clear…" He spoke into his chest, "If I am found, I vill be as dead as Romano."

The German held the Canadian's hand tight as he looked back up; silent, he waited for the reaction that would come.

Would Mathew be disappointed in his taking of the law into his own hands? Would he be angry, or would he be scared that this was now an even greater target on all their lives? Or worse of all, would he even be able to look at him the same way – knowing now he was no better than any of the others, no more than a murderer…that he had given in to pride and fear?

Crimson eyes roved over blonde curls that hung over and around the bandaged forehead, the soft, kind lips pursed in thought, almost unreadable, a far cry from how he was sure his face showed each emotion.

"…You should…" Mathew began, the words harder to form as the adrenaline pumped through his body, heart racing, his head began to swim, "go…"

Leaden, Gilbert's heart dropped as he stood instantly. "I know," contrary to Mathew's struggles, Gilbert's words flew from his tongue faster than his mind could catch them, "natürlich you cannot love me. Nicht jetzt…" half in English, half in German he babbled as he backed toward the door, not even noticing the chick that stood chirping in agitation at the foot of Mathew's bed.

"…sollte nicht, ich weiß..." One hand over his face, the other reaching back toward the door, Gilbert continued to speak brokenly, "vergib mir, bitte…Matt, please."

He didn't know what he would do and he didn't care, maybe he'd just get back on the bike, find Feliciano and take what was coming to him, maybe he'd just go back to Berlin, maybe he'd just disappear, ride until he was out of gas and see what happened…

Whatever happened to him it didn't matter. So what that he was a killer now and his sweet man could never look at him again? The thoughts continued to rush through Gilbert's mind; at least Matt would be safer – Feliciano would have more to deal with now, and if Al wasn't back that could only mean he was out there chasing his former friend and his brother down…it was entirely possible the energetic agent would be making the arrests of his career tonight.

There was no happy ending for him.

There never could have been.

Hand on the knob, he turned, still covering his eyes and the hated tears that were stinging exhausted lids.

That was when the book hit his shoulder.

With a thud it landed on the cold tile floor.

The book he'd given Mathew for Christmas.

And behind it on the floor Gilbert could see two socked feet.

"You. Idiot."

Mathew stood, one hand back, bracing himself against the bed, the other, clearly having just thrown the book, came to rest on his right hip. Blue eyes locked on to crimson as he spoke, punctuating each word with force as he paused between them,

"You. Should. Go. - Go. Into. Hiding." Seeing his love's red eyes widen in shock, Mathew went on, determined to leave no room for misunderstanding. "Take. The. Key. I. Gave. You. Go. To. My. House. Stay there." He paused, sighing. "I know why you did," the words were coming smoother now as he got his heart rate under control, "what you did."

Suddenly Mathew was enveloped in his lover's arms again, arms clad in a jacket still chilly from the ride. He breathed deeply, inhaling the scent of his man's clothes, which smelled particularly strongly of alcohol, soot, and gunpowder. "You are as stupid," he found the striking red irises he loved again, "as…my brother... sometimes."

"Ja, I guess so…" Gilbert felt the smile crack across his face despite his weariness.

"You have. The address?" Mathew asked, "It. was. with. the key."

"Ja." Patting his jacket, Gilbert nodded. He had put the key and the paper with Matt's address in his inner pocket on Christmas and there it had stayed since.

The Canadian sat back against the bed behind him, pulling with both hands on the lapels of his German love's jacket till Gilbert's face was an inch from his own. He wanted to say that he knew what Gilbert had done tonight would weigh on his shoulders forever, that he'd lose sleep over it, that what he had done couldn't have been easy, that he knew it meant Gilbert would never see Ludwig again. Mathew had had his own fears of losing his only brother; he shuddered to imagine it again. He also knew Gilbert had surely just gone from the one Feliciano wanted kept alive to being his most hated enemy. He wanted to tell him how silly he'd been for thinking he wouldn't understand.

To express all he wanted would take too long; it was simply too much to say. The reality was, Gilbert did have to leave, and leave now; the sooner the better.

He would have to settle for the shortened version. "I love you."

Mathew's lips parted slightly as he pulled Gilbert in lower for a kiss before the other could answer. Soft warm lips met those chapped by the wind, comforting them with each second that passed. Gilbert's lips parted as well to let in the tongue that curled around his own as their kiss deepened.

Mathew's hands released the lapels of Gilbert's jacket to move up into the scarf and meet behind his neck as the German's hands on the mattress moved behind his seated love to grasp each side of the Canadian's hips.

The minutes seemed to last less than a second, and whether they wanted to or not, both knew they would have to part.

Gilbert's body rebelled against the voice that commanded him to stand, to break the kiss; it was with a sense of both relief and despair that he rose at last, Mathew having made the decision for him when he pulled his hands back from beneath Gilbert's scarf.

Their fingers locked together, each man looked to the other to act.

"Ich liebe dich auch." Gilbert stood fully and squeezed his love's hand before letting go. "Danke."

His chest expanded as he took a large breath of air. His smile returning, the pale German took on a commanding tone and looked to the chick that had settled happily in his Canadian's lap. "Gilbird, I expect you to protect Matt in my absence und to see to his safety until he brings you to me again."

Standing over the little bird as a general inspecting the troops, Gilbert spoke again, "Do you accept this order?"

Buoyed by the rolled eyes of his love as Mathew chuckled and Gilbird fluffed his feathers, the slightest of cheeps issuing from his beak, Gilbert smiled wider. "Sehr gut." He nodded once before looking around the room and starting again for the door - his heart, and steps, lighter than when he'd entered.

"I vill see you soon, mein Kuschelbär."

End of Chapter 23! Stay tuned for Chapter 24 when we catch up with Ludwig and Feliciano, find out how Kiku and Katyusha are doing and what's in store for the future! I've already written half of it so hopefully you won't have to wait so long for the update! Again, I adore you all, I wait with baited breathe for your thoughts. Thanks, Grazie, Danke, Spasiba for reading my lovelies!