Dro: Hey, look! I'm not dead. Yay! Now read and review while I attempt to fall asleep with my awful headache. Please?

Chapter Summary: Alfred talks.

Warnings: Language

Disclaimer: Despite my extended absence, I still have not acquired the rights to APH.

A white world that was bright and flickering was a world that one could feel safe in, could get up, feeling refreshed, and move spritely about in without another care in that shining white world. But a white world that was dull and lifeless had the opposite effect. With each step that Alfred took down that lifeless white hallway, he felt another piece of himself begin to slip away. There wasn't a single smiling face. There wasn't a single laugh. There wasn't a single shred of hope to be found in the entire building. Most of the rooms were filled with pained patients, the most seriously injured of the Berlin bombing who'd been spirited away for care that the city they'd called their home could no longer provide them. The only others there were the nations.

Or what was left of them.

He'd gotten the news just minutes ago. First Denmark. Now Sweden. The Nordic countries had been torn apart, and it was only bound to get worse from here. The doctors had been unable to save Netherland's right arm, and he was currently in a medically induced coma to recover from his failed surgery. Switzerland was in an even worse condition. His heart and lungs had been heavily damaged, and they weren't sure he'd make it to the end of day. Germany was still unconscious, though he'd been stabilized, and there'd been no change in Gilbert's condition. Most of the others were either still unconscious, undergoing additional surgery, or beginning to attempt to deal with the major blow they'd all been dealt. In a world that had already lost so many nations, they just…they couldn't afford to lose anymore. And yet they were still.

And if they couldn't stop Ivan, then they would inevitably lose them all.

Mattie had excused himself earlier and gone to get himself something to eat and rest. Though he wasn't badly injured, this incident had sapped his strength. And Alfred knew the feeling well. Though they had him on more medications than he could name, his head was still pounding and his body still throbbing. He stopped several times along his path down the hallway, trying to regain his bearings. The world seemed to waver around him, and it only made the situation all that more surreal. When he finally made it to his first destination, he rested against the edge of the open doorway, peering in at his counterpart for several seconds as he attempted to steady his sight.

Al was staring blankly out the window, his shoulder and side bandaged up with more of that soul-sucking white that Alfred was coming to hate more and more by the second. He made no motion to acknowledge Alfred's presence, and for a moment Alfred doubted the man knew he was there. Until he spoke.

"What do you want?" It was brusque and cold.

"Um…I just…I just wanted to see how you were feeling." He certainly hadn't expected this kind of reaction, especially considering he'd been the one to keep his double alive until they'd arrived at the hospital.

"Like shit." His counterpart answered, refusing to break his eyes away from the window. "Anything else you need?"

Alfred snorted. "The hell is wrong with you?"

"A lot of shit is wrong with me, Alfred, okay? And I seriously don't feel like talking about it right now. Especially with you."

Alfred stared, confused. "And what the hell did I do to you to piss you off?"

"You really want to know?" He finally dared to glance at Alfred, his eyes narrow and angry. "Well, for starters, you presence in my world has done nothing but cause problems. Secondly, you and Artie have been consistently lying to me about something, and despite the fact that I have yet to figure out just what it is, I was highly intrigued by what the doctors told me earlier. And mighty suspicious too." He spat out every word.

Shit. Alfred felt a cold chill travel though his body. He knows. This is exactly what he'd been afraid of. The bond between himself and Artie had always been at risk of becoming obvious, but he'd hoped that in the confusion of the attack, no one would notice. But he should've known that Al would pick up on it. Al was him after all.

"Look, I don't know what you think you've discovered, but you really need to get your act together. The last thing we need is to fall apart. We lose our ability to work together, and you might as well just walk up to Ivan with a white flag." He hoped his counterpart would buy it, at least for now. But he was just out of luck today.

"Don't pull that bullshit on me. I know my tricks, and you can't use them on me. Now I'm going to ask you this, and I want you to answer me truthfully. What is going on between you and Artie?"

Alfred stared at his double, feeling more tired than he had in his entire life. And for the first time in that extended, nation life, he truly felt a sense of hopelessness overcome him. And so instead of standing his ground and facing off again his enemy like he'd never failed to do in the past, he turned around and walked away without another word.

By the time he made his way to Arthur's room, he was sure he would pass out any second. His head was throbbing with each beat of his heart, and his body was nearing its breaking point. He knew he should have sat down and rested, but he just couldn't bring himself to give up. He'd already destroyed a huge part of himself by leaving his "fight" with Al unfinished. The last thing he needed was to completely surrender. He had a mission, and he was intent on finishing it.

Arthur looked happier than Alfred could ever remember. Well, it wasn't joy, of course but the relieved smile that lit up his gorgeous green eyes made Alfred's dull white world feel just a little brighter. He approached Arthur without hesitation and sat down at his bedside. Wordlessly, they brought their hands together and intertwined their fingers.

"How are you feeling?" He asked softly.

Arthur sighed. "Better than I was earlier, but my legs are still hurting. What about you?" He used his free hand to brush the stray hairs out of Alfred's eyes. "You look dreadful, love."

Alfred snorted. "Thanks, Arthur. I appreciate the compliment."

Arthur smiled sadly. "So, have you heard the latest news? Denmark and Sweden now?"

He nodded. "Yeah. Unfortunately, I have."

"Alfred, we have to do something. Ivan is too far ahead of us. If he regains control of Russia, there's no way we can stop him. He's not playing any of the mind games you spoke of before. He's just…He's just defaulted to all out assault and destruction."

Alfred shook his head. "That's where you're wrong, Arthur." He'd been thinking about it for several hours now, and though he'd originally avoided this exact conclusion, he could no longer deny the truth. "He hasn't stopped the mind games at all. He's just brought them up to the next level. Raping Mattie, bombing Berlin, attacking us like this. These aren't just random violent incidents. Every step—even the tiniest movement—is being meticulously planned. He hurt Mattie to throw us—Matt, Al, Artie, you, and me—off our game. He knew it would crack us in a way that nothing else could. All his banter about all out war and mercilessness? That's just another part of the strategy. Berlin was bombed because he knew we'd be coming there, and he knew he could drive us away from the anonymity of the city by destroying all the places we would dare to hide there. He purposefully got us sent to the safe house, just so he could freely attack us uninhibited. And of course, the attack itself was never designed to kill us all. Not by a long shot. If it had been, we'd all be dead right now. He could have dropped a much more powerful bomb on the house, but he didn't. He dropped one just powerful enough to kill a few and hurt us all. Just so we would all be forced to sit back helplessly and watch him regain his power. The mind games never stopped, Arthur. In fact, I think they're just beginning."

Arthur had grown quiet after his comments, and Alfred couldn't make him speak anymore. He wasn't sure just what he'd triggered, but it was scaring him to death. By the time he'd stumbled his way to Artie's room—courtesy of Arthur's silent dismissal—he was on the verge of falling out on the floor. He was tired. He was confused. He felt defeated.

Which was exactly how Ivan wanted him to feel.

He knew at this point that he would have to make his visit with Artie his last. Despite the nagging feeling that he was neglecting Matt, he knew his body just wasn't up for it yet. Yet another defeat to his name. He shook his head and approached the partially opened door, peeking inside just in case he was interrupting something. He wasn't.

He slipped silently into the room, but Artie sensed his presence immediately. And he knew exactly why. It was the whole problem with this whole situation. And while this damned bond of theirs did not—by any degree—supersede the Ivan problem, it was still throwing one wrench too many into their plans. He'd known from the beginning that they'd never be able to keep this a secret forever. Someone had been bound to notice eventually. But now, Al had at least caught on to the very basics of the problem, and he knew they would be eventually be driven into a corner they could never escape from.



Their eyes met.

"Someone knows." Artie said simply, and it made Alfred wonder just how far this bond had developed.

"Al. He, uh, well…apparently the doctors described each of our injuries and, uh…he picked up on…it." He sank into the chair next to Artie's bed. Artie looked exactly like he felt, and he wondered if he had the same exact haggard appearance.

"I see. Did you tell him?"

He shook his head. "I couldn't. I thought about it for exactly one point five seconds, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. If we tell, it'll ruin things even further."

"And if we don't, we will just steadily erode the emotional bonds each of us have with our lovers. So where does that leave us, Alfred?" Arthur looked wistfully out of the window, and Alfred suddenly saw the specter of Al on the other side of it, looking back in from his own hospital bed.

"I don't know where that leaves us. I don't know at all. Either way, we're doomed to some degree. If we tell, everything has a high probability of falling apart on the spot. But it we wait, things will get worse slowly, degrading to a point where our relationships can no longer be maintained. We're damned either way, Artie."

Artie nodded silently along with his words. "I know. I just…I just don't know if I'm ready yet. I waited for so long to get Al to notice me, to notice my feelings. And I'm afraid of even risking letting that go. It's one thing to die with our relationship intact. I would have been happy sacrificing myself for you, knowing that the two of you would have gone on to save this world. But it's another thing to watch everything I worked so hard to build fall apart right in front of my eyes. Especially as a result of me attempting to something worthwhile."

"Artie…" Their hands brushed, and they froze, shocked into immobility by the spark of electricity that seemed to emanate from their connected skin. Artie's eyes took on that same look they'd held that night at the lake, that night that Alfred had pretended had never happened, had banished from all his troubled thoughts. But he couldn't pretend this wasn't happening, couldn't deny what the bond had changed between them. They had already crossed into forbidden territory long ago. And this, this was just the logical next step. They were bound in way that was destined to dismantle the lives they'd had before.

Now there was only the after.

They kissed.

Dro: Such a simple sounding chapter, but it sets up so many important things.

Next Chapter: News reaches the allied Italy brothers about the attack on the nations, and Feliciano is forced to make a difficult choice.