A/N: If you haven't seen my apologies on my profile page or tumblr let me just say again I'm sorry this update is so late. It's just a short little epilogue, I know, but it really was just a crazy week between moving states, getting sick, traveling back to my old state for a funeral, and having no internet in my new apartment until next week (Thanks to Ratsister for letting me mooch her wifi so I could post this tonight!)

So anyway, this is the final chapter! There is a lot I wish I would've done differently (I would've edited better as I went along, I would've scaled back some of Alfred's comedic antics out of consideration for his character, I would've phrased some of Matthew's sentiments differently to make his feelings for Al more clear, etc) but over all I'm pleased with it for a first attempt. Thank you to everyone who has read through this to the end! I know it has its flaws but if you enjoyed yourself and consider having read this time well spent then I will consider it a success. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Chapter 24: Epilogue

The Christmas ski trip was a success. Granted, it took a few days for Matthew to convince Alfred that winter was useful for more than hibernating but eventually Alfred's natural love for the athletic won out over his hatred of the season and they had fun hitting the slopes. Somewhere between the relaxing hot cocoa and the adrenaline fueled races down the mountain the stress of the past months was washed away.

Matthew hadn't thought he would enjoy New Year's at Disney World. His mind had been full of images of long, twisting lines and hours spent waiting for rides that would be over too quickly. In reality, however, he'd really enjoyed himself. The warmer weather in Florida was a nice break from the harsher conditions up north. He loved the fireworks and the day trip he and Alfred had taken to the ocean. Their hotel room was lavish and Alfred had made a habit of going out to forage for odd sweets and snacks to bring back to Matthew when his brother was resting. Alfred's enthusiasm was infectious and had Matthew letting loose in ways he hadn't expected.

The holidays illuminated all the beautiful things they'd forgotten about each other. Matthew relaxed Alfred by reminding him to take things slower sometimes, to get out and enjoy nature and that winter wasn't such a bad season after all. Alfred brought Matthew to life reminding him not to worry so much, to lose his composure a little, and to have fun more readily.

Of course, the holidays had to end and with the return of real life came stress, dysfunction, and discord but the memory of their previous fight remained fresh in their minds and they were careful not to let history repeat itself. Alfred was still as dedicated to his work as always but remembered to put aside time for Matthew and to pay attention to his needs. Matthew, in turn, remembered not to internalize his issues and tried not to lash out when angry. They still fought. They would always fight, but they never let themselves lose sight of the fact that they loved one another even in their most heated arguments and that made all the difference.

They set a visitation schedule that alternated weekends in Ottawa and Washington. Matthew would make pancakes in the morning and Alfred often took them out in the evening. The only one who wasn't pleased with Alfred's frequent visits was Kumajiro who had begrudgingly taken to sleeping on the couch because, according to him, Alfred kicked in his sleep. He had, however, been placated by Alfred's peace offering of fish in exchange for giving up his spot at the foot of the bed a few nights a week.

Tony had added "Fucking Canuck" to his expansive English vocabulary but whether or not he meant this as a term of endearment or otherwise remained to be determined.

One year had passed this way in relative peace and routine.

Alfred and Matthew had decided to celebrate their second Christmas as a couple quietly at home in Alfred's D.C apartment overlooking the Jefferson Memorial. Alfred had finally gotten his hands on the coveted jersey and as Matthew watched him in it, reaching up on tip toes to put the star on top of the rather large tree he'd insisted on buying, he realized the sight really was gratifying.

He stepped forward and wrapped his arms around Alfred's waist kissing him softly on the neck.

Alfred squirmed in his arms and laughed. "That tickles, dammit! You're getting all stubbly like Francis!"

Matthew shrugged. "It's Christmas. Can't a man skip a shave every now and again?"

Alfred sniffed the air. "If that's a cake I smell baking then you can do whatever you want."

"Chocolate." Matthew whispered and Alfred let out a yelp and turned in his arms to kiss him.

The way to a man's heart might not always have been his stomach but for Alfred it was very true.

The living room of Alfred's apartment in which they stood was spacious. Unmarred hard wood floors stretched from wall to wall and the giant Christmas tree was set up next to the broad, clear windows that overlooked the monument. All the lights of the city were aglow as it was approaching midnight on Christmas eve. The lights inside rivaled the lights outside as the lovers stood back to admire their handiwork. Over the past few hours they'd decorated the gigantic fir with a string of electric lights and ornaments they'd both collected over the years. Each ornament was unique. Many of them were priceless antiques that the brothers had managed to keep safe in their respective storage rooms over the decades that slowly turned into centuries.

Alfred's eyes fell upon one familiar ornament and for the moment he forgot the chocolate cake baking in the oven. "You remember this Mattie?" His fingers traced the familiar rough edges of the wooden bear. The craftsmanship was shoddy. Anyone could've guessed that it was made by a child. Few, and probably none who weren't currently in the room, could've guessed that it was carved by a young country with a pair of dust covered cowboy boots and a pocket knife who was just starting to expand westward and extend his land as he grew into maturity.

Matthew chuckled and let his own fingertips brush across the sharp curves of the bear and come to rest on top of Alfred's own. "Expertly carved, honey, expertly carved." Matthew teased, his breath tingling Alfred's ear as he stood so close behind him.

"Shut up." Alfred didn't even blush, just smiled a little lopsided smile. "I can wittle amazingly now!"

Matthew didn't reply, he just easily pulled them out of their nostalgia and back into the present by wordlessly taking Alfred's hand and dragging him towards the kitchen.

"Chocolate cake, chocolate cake, chocolate fucking cake!" Alfred chanted as he followed Matthew.

"Less than 5 minutes and it should be done." Matthew commented. "Will you help me ice it?"

"Pfft." Alfred snorted. "Give me 5 minutes with the icing and there won't be any left."

"Hey! I made that icing from scratch!"

Matthew's protest only excited Alfred further. "Oh sweet! Seriously? Is it the kind you make with the melted chocolate and the butter?"

Matthew nodded and smiled. He loved having Alfred to cook for. There was something really fulfilling about having someone who appreciated his food so much. It made it all feel so much more worthwhile.

Alfred sat on the kitchen counter and Matthew leaned against it. Alfred alternated between playing with Matthew's fingers and twining them with his own, and staring wistfully at the timer.

When the timer finally went off Alfred huffed and whined at the meticulous way Matthew went about removing the cake from the pan, waiting for it to cool a little, and carefully icing each side.

"Dude, just throw some icing on top of it and let's eat!" There was a place for meticulous attention to detail, Alfred knew, and doing it at work was about as much as he could stand. He didn't know how Matthew could wait when a hot, fresh, delicious cake was at his immediate disposal.

"Hey, settle down, eh," Matthew laughed. "hold your horses cowboy."

Alfred's glare in return was fierce and brooding but he forced himself to wait patiently at the table and was rewarded with a large slice of chocolate cake perfectly iced and garnished with red berries and solid chocolate shavings.

"The way you put things together," Alfred mumbled around a forkful of moist chocolate cake "it's almost too pretty to eat. Almost."

"Thanks." Matt smiled and sat down with his own slice of cake. Alfred's kitchen table was small and set in a cozy nook just beside his kitchen. It was perfect for two people. It helped the brothers, whose jobs demanded they constantly be aware of and navigate the vastness of the world, to feel for a little while as if the world was small and focused on just the two of them.

Just as they were setting down their forks Mathew glanced up at the clock hanging above the kitchen sink. "It's midnight!" He grinned. "Merry Christmas!"

Alfred pouted. "Dammit. I wanted to be the first to say it!"

"Too bad!" Matthew teased as he stood to collect their plates and take them to the sink. "You want to pop open a bottle of wine?"

Alfred shrugged and smirked. "Hell why not. I've still got the bottle France gave me when I told him I'd successfully bagged you. It's been gathering dust."

"Vulgar!" Matthew tsk'd. "I can't believe you discussed our sex life with him. The man was like a father to me!"

Alfred laughed. "Yeah, well, what can you say bro? Our relationships are complicated."

The twins exchanged a pointed, meaningful look.

Matthew sighed. "I hate it when we go out and humans give us funny stares."

"Yeah," Alfred retrieved the corkscrew while Matthew fetched the bottle. "You remember that bartender in Vegas? I can't believe he asked me if you were my brother or my boyfriend and then clearly didn't care if the answer was both."

"Well, it is isn't it?" Matthew laughed.

Alfred blushed in return. "Yeah but it's not the fucking same! We're countries! Not that he knew that."

Matthew snickered and poured them two glasses of wine.

Matthew enjoyed the sweet, white dessert wine and began eyeballing the cake debating getting another slice. Alfred, for once, wasn't the one with food on his mind.

"It is technically Christmas morning." He informed Matthew. "Presents!"

"No," Matthew protested. "if we open them all now you'll just be disappointed when we wake up!"

His only response was a stubborn pout.

"Okay," Matt relented. "let's compromise. We can each open one tonight!"

"YES!" Alfred cheered and rushed around the bar and into the living room. He surveyed the pile of perfectly wrapped packages that bore his name. Matthew's presents had been wrapped with love but less finesse and bore creative wrapping papers such as Alfred's favorite strips from the Sunday comics.

"Which one should I pick?" Alfred asked as Matthew came to stand behind him. The Canadian lazily traced his fingers along the lettering on the back of the jersey Alfred was wearing. Yeah, he liked seeing him in it all right. He loved the way it fit his broad shouldered, strapping brother like a glove. He loved seeing his name on the back and he loved how he could catch Alfred sniffing the sleeve when he thought he wasn't looking.

Shopping for Alfred was always hard because he usually bought himself whatever he wanted. Japan kept him supplied with the latest games and technology and Alfred really had everything he could ever want or need. Still, Matt always tried his best to find things that would make him happy and would be useful or emotionally significant.

"I won't give you any hints! You have to pick for yourself!"

Alfred huffed but finally settled on a medium sized package wrapped in shiny red paper. He began to tear into it but Matthew stopped him. "Hey , wait! Let me pick and we'll open them together, okay?"

"Kay!" Alfred plopped onto the sofa to wait while Matthew chose.

Matthew picked the smallest and least assuming of his presents. It was small and square and wrapped in paper that Alfred had decorated himself in sharpie by drawing fighter jets and tiny little pilots with goggles three sizes too big.

He took his seat next to Alfred who ripped the paper off his gift and laughed happily at the sight of the electronic picture frame that Matthew had filled with fresh batteries and left on scrolling through hundreds of photos he'd uploaded from his computer showing scenes of their time together.

Matthew opened his gift and was surprised to find a velvet box containing a men's jewelry set. There was a set of white gold maple leaf cufflinks, a tie clip engraved with the inscription "From Sea to Sea"

and a pocket watch bearing the Canadian coat of arms.

"Alfred these are gorgeous!" Matthew gasped. "Where did you get these?"

"I had them made." Alfred smiled and scooted closer to Matthew. "Open the pocket watch."

There, engraved in tiny scrawling script, it said:

Geography has made us neighbours. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners. And necessity has made us allies. Those whom nature hath so joined together, let no man put asunder.

~ John F. Kennedy

"I remember that quote." Matthew smiled and squeezed Alfred's hand. "I always loved it."

"Me too." Alfred's eyes fell back to the picture frame showing scenes both old and new. "It's been a good year, Mattie, It's been a really good year. Why didn't we do this sooner?"

"I dunno," Matthew set his presents aside carefully and picked up their glasses. He handed Alfred his and offered a toast. "but let's be sure to make more years like this one in future, eh?"

"Hell yes!" Alfred replied.

Their glasses clinked and they sealed the pact with a kiss.