Sorry about the late update! I spent a couple of weeks in Ireland, and that threw me way off even more than usual; Tyger had to very delicately remind me that we had a fic to be updated. Please thank her for being the one to actually get the ball rolling.

Ismael arrived home, showered, and then unpacked his things, of which he'd brought very little. After that he opened his computer, and within an hour had a call on Skype from Canada. He hoped that it was just him checking if his flight had gone well. "Hello, Matthew. You look... rested."

Even on the chat screen Matthew's blush was easy to spot. He smiled a little awkwardly. "I'm sorry I can't say the same for you. You look pretty tired. Um, there's something I need to tell you."

Cuba sighed and leaned back in his seat. That didn't sound good. He took out a cigar and lit up, knowing that he would need it. "Yeah? What is it?"

The camera almost didn't catch the short flick of Canada's eyes to the cigar, but after the brief twitch his expression became more resolute. "You've been very sweet to me, Ismael, and I appreciate it more than you know... but I can't continue in a relationship with a person that I'm not in love with." He worried his bottom lip for a split second before continuing. "The thing is, I probably would have stayed with you until I convinced myself that I actually had feelings for you that would seem stronger than they actually were, and I... I lectured Gilbert on that enough. I can't not learn the same lesson."

An even bigger sigh this time, and Cuba gave a bitter smile, pulling the cigar out of his mouth. "That sounds a lot like 'It's not you, it's me'. But I guess I saw it coming. My fault for asking out a guy who's so in love with someone else, eh?"

Matthew was an almost ungodly shade of pink and he smiled awkwardly. "I really didn't know it when I agreed to be your... partner. I thought I could love you. You're very kind to me, and I'm an idiot not to be with you. You're even understanding when I'm being unreasonable..."

"It's fine, Matthew. I just want you to be happy. I thought I would be better for you than Prussia, but not if you have to force yourself to be with me." Ismael put his head back, taking a long drag and letting it go. "Just... promise me you'll try. To be happy, I mean."

"Of course. And you, too. I know you'll be happy; you're a kind, warm man. I'm an idiot. If I could, I..." But he shook his head and simply smiled. "Thank you, Ismael. I... urgh." He winced and rubbed his stomach. "I've been having some pains since last night. I'm gonna go take something for this. Sleep well."

The dark nation nodded, then closed the window.

Matthew sighed and ran a hand through his hair. Though a weight had lifted off his chest in breaking a very brief affair with Cuba, he still felt terrible. Cuba had been so kind and thoughtful, ever cheerful and affectionate. Why couldn't he have loved him back? Canada worried his lower lip as he made his way down the hall, only coming out of his reverie when a short, loud curse cut through the silence. Blinking, Matthew peered through the door that the sound had emanated from, rather surprised to find that it was... the nursery.

"Goddamn sticky tape you're supposed to stick! Mein Gott..." some more German was mumbled before Matthew opened the door to find Prussia, on a ladder, putting up what looked like a baby blue trim around the room, with little yellow balls on it...

Gilbert turned around, and almost fell off the ladder. "Matt! Uh, hi! I thought you were... Well I found this stuff yesterday, and the birds looked like Gilbird, and I figured that the baby should get used to my awesome pet before he meets him," he explained, pointing to the yellow things on the trim.

Matthew looked around the room at the green and yellow flecks from Francis' and Alfred's paintjob and the adorable baby bird trim and he covered his mouth to hide the smile threatening to split his face in two. "I love it, Gilbert," he said honestly.

Trying to get the sticky tape from his hand onto the wall, Gilbert shrugged. "Doesn't matter if you like it really, not gonna be your room. But I guess you'll be spending a lot of time here and everything... When are we gonna get a crib, by the way?"

"Well, I think Alfred had his mind set on bribing Sweden or Denmark into making something special," he said. "I haven't heard anything back about that, though."

"Oh. Yeah, I guess that would be good. Although we might have to assemble it when it gets here!" Gilbert chuckled at his own joke, then groaned when the tape once again stuck to his arm. "Holy fu.. f... fur, who invented this stuff?"

"Here..." Matthew stepped closer and motioned Gilbert down from the ladder, pulling the tape from his arm and sticking it to the wastebasket in the corner of the room.

After a few more minutes, Gilbert finally finished, and he looked around at all the birds. "You don't think they look like ducks, do you? They had ducks there, but these were way more awesome than the ducks."

"Oh, definitely," Canada said with a grin. "Much better than ducks." He laughed and dodged when Gilbert swiped at him with a piece of tape. "No, really! Awesome little baby birds, haha!"

Prussia crossed his arms, dropping the tape. "Shut up, they are awesome. Just you wait, that baby is gonna love these baby birds. Those'll be his first words."

Matthew just laughed but ceased very suddenly when he felt another prod in his stomach. He cringed, touching his belly. "Ah..."

At once, Gilbert's entire attention was fixed on him, especially when Canada grabbed his belly. "What's wrong? Is something wrong? Are you in pain?" Maybe they could call West to come over. It would take a while, but they couldn't really take him to a real doctor, even if he dressed like a woman. They would want to searches and tests, and Matthew didn't have the right parts for that.

It wasn't exactly painful, but it was still there, something odd, almost like a...

He gasped, looking up at Gilbert. "The baby... it's the baby..." Canada looked down at his stomach for a long moment and then back up at Prussia, tears threatening to fall, a smile reaching from ear to ear. "Gil... the baby kicked...!"

"Oh! God you had me scared there! But hey, at least we know everything is fine, he just took a while, right?" As long as the baby and Matthew were fine. Prussia relaxed, and put his hand on the stomach. "... Do you think I'll be able to feel it?"

Canada's breath hitched and two fat tears fell, though he hastily wiped them away. "I... I don't know... here." He took Prussia's hand and lifted his shirt, pressing it to the spot where he felt the infant pressing against his insides. He looked up into those red, red eyes and tried to breathe normally. "Can you?"

A little disappointed, Gilbert shook his head. "No. Probably not strong enough yet to kick that hard. Oh well, I'll be able to feel him eventually, right? And then you can do that thing all pregnant ladies do, grabbing the hand of whoever's close and putting it on your belly, right?"

Canada laughed softly, his head falling forward onto Prussia's shoulder out of exhaustion. "Phew... Thank goodness. I was starting to worry that it would never happen."

"Why would you worry? That little baby is a growing land mass. We aren't easily killed, so I'm sure it would take a lot for something to go wrong," Gilbert decided firmly. Though, it was still delicate, so he wouldn't be chancing it.

Matthew pulled down his shirt and stood up straight, stepping back from the albino. It was a little disappointing that even after expressing worry, Gilbert still thought of the child as more of a thing than a person. But it did bring him back down to earth. "It's still scary when the little thing inside of you isn't doing what it's supposed to developmentally."

Gilbert smiled a bit, then patted Canada's belly. "He'll be fine. After all, you've done everything right, so what could go wrong? With my awesome genes in there, that baby will be perfect."

That was unexpected. Matthew felt heat crawl up the back of his neck from his chest and hastily turned and moved to the door before his cheeks could grow hot. "I-I'm going to go make some breakfast, if you'd like to join me when you're finished here."

Smirking at the quick retreat, Gilbert once again turned to the room. Now for the other three walls...

After informing Alfred about the baby's kick, the American had jumped up with full intentions on hopping the first flight to Canada, but Matthew insisted that he finish his work and come just for a weekend. After some futile arguing, the American grudgingly agreed.

This did not stop him from excitedly phoning England about it, who in turn informed France, and on the Friday afternoon of the 23rd week, Matthew greeted two of the three blond brothers at the door. He ushered them in and sent them off to their rooms to unpack and relax. It was a beautiful day, and all of the windows were open, allowing a healthy, warm breeze to brush through the curtains. Canada stroked Kumajiro's ears in passing as he made his way to the kitchen, sneaking over to Gilbert's side and glancing over his shoulder. "Quick," he mumbled, holding out a hand toward the warm, steaming mug in Prussia's grip. "Let me have a sip before they come back down."

"If you didn't want them here, you shouldn't have invited them," Gilbert said, but still pushed over his cup of coffee. "I think you like the thrill of hiding it. You haven't had any coffee for three weeks, and now that they're here you want some."

"Exactly," Canada said, one little sip turning into downing half the mug while glancing fervently at the door. "And I just know that at some point I'm going to be very stressed out, but I won't actually be able to remedy it with caffeine until they're gone. I'm planning ahead. It's a tactical maneuver."

Gilbert laughed and took the mug back to refill it. "Yeah, sure. If you're going to be stressed out, then tell them to go home. It's bad for the baby if you're stressed." Well, it would be fine if only Francis stayed. But the other two were free to leave as far as he was concerned.

"You know I can't do that. They're my family and I love them, despite all the bloodshed," Canada answered, savoring the bitter, rich flavor that remained in his mouth. "... And Francis brought his recipe for chocolate creme cake."

It was a good thing he had stopped drinking the coffee, because Arthur came down soon after. "Matthew, did you have to put me in a room right next to the frog? I can hear him singing a horrible French song already."

"Sorry, Arthur," Matthew said with a little smile. "If you'd like, you can trade places with Alfred." Or, his mind supplied, you can share, and make enough noise yourselves to make even Francis uncomfortable. "If it helps, there's going to be chocolate cake."

"Oh, should you really be having that? There is so much sugar in that... We could make a fruit salad instead if you want." But the glare he got from Matthew clearly told him no, they would be having chocolate cake. "Oh, well. I'm sure it will be... satisfactory."

"Of course it will. I'm counting on it. In fact..." He stood, making a little noise when he felt a tiny foot press against the inside of his stomach. He rubbed it and pointed up. "I'm going to go see if he'll make it now. However, Arthur..." Canada took a deep breath. "I would love for you to make a fruit salad... but only if you promise not to actually cook anything. No heat involved. Okay?"

He gave a tiny glare at that, but since it was Matthew he let it go. "Alright, I won't use the oven at all. Just a knife - and don't think I'll cut myself! It's just like a sword, only shorter."

Matthew smiled and kissed him on the cheek before ascending the stairs.

Arthur turned to Gilbert after watching him go and caught the amused little smile on his face. "You're awfully quiet."

He shrugged, taking a sip of coffee. "It's just funny how protective you guys are." And it was good to see Matthew walking without any pain. The massage he had given him this morning had been a long one, and Gilbert was pretty sure he'd got out all the kinks.

Arthur began to dig through Canada's refrigerator in search of fruit. "Come now; you've seen that sweet face. How can you not want to coddle the boy?" He came up short with only apples. "Oh dear... I may have to go shopping. You two've only got apples."

Gilbert nodded with a little laugh. "Last week Matt had a craving for apples. We got a whole flat of them, and they were gone within three days."

England smiled. "At least he's eating healthy, then. I'd better crack on with that."

The Briton called up the stairs for Canada and the young nation poked his head over the banister. "Yes?"

"I'm going shopping. Would you make a list of all the things you'd like?"

"Sure. I'll come, too. I'd like to get out of the house for a bit, anyway."

England grabbed a piece of paper and a pen as Canada trotted down the stairs. "Here, dear; write down what you want while I go get my boots."

Canada took the paper with a smile and peeked around the kitchen door at Prussia. "Is there anything you can think of that we need?"

He opened the fridge and looked around. "Pickles, God knows how much you crave them. Some stuff to make pancakes with, sugar, milk, and cheese. Oh, get some massage oil too while you're in town."

Matthew rolled his eyes, but wrote them down. "Massage oil... Gil, you know it's not for recreation. If I didn't know better," he said with a teasing little grin, "I'd say you liiike rubbing my back."

"No, it's just awkward when your skin is dry. It would be easier to massage if there is oil." And hell, it was the closest he got to Matthew. To anyone, lately, because since the stripper incident he hadn't been out. But Canada just hummed and stuffed the list into the pocket of his jeans. "Text if you can think of anything else," he said with a wave as England descended the stairs behind him.

It was only a short while after they had gone that Francis strolled into the kitchen, squeezing Gilbert's butt on his way to the refrigerator. "I cannot find that loudmouth England or my adorable Mathieu anywhere."

"They went shopping. Probably to get away from you. Can't say I blame them." Gilbert went up behind him, snickering when Francis made little tutting noises at the food in there.

"I'm sorely disappointed," Francis said with a sigh, pulling out the milk and eggs. "Mathieu loved baking with me all through his childhood. We haven't done it in so long... I was hoping he would make the chocolate cake with me. Ah well. Where is the cocoa?"

Remembering where it was when Matthew had wanted hot chocolate and apple juice last week, he grabbed it and passed it to France. "They went to get fruit and stuff, because England wanted to make a fruit salad. Don't worry, Matt already made him promise to not use the stove."

"Smart boy," France replied gravely. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but I do hope Alfred arrives soon. He can keep an eye on rosbif. Heaven knows that even with a knife and fruit, that man could make something catch fire."

Prussia chuckled and waited until the batter looked thick enough to be done, then stuck his finger in it. "How do you think it would taste with some maple syrup? Not a lot, but I bet Matt would appreciate it. A lot."

Francis only shook his head and groaned, swatting at Gilbert's wrist. "Just because he is Canada doesn't mean he will like maple syrup in everything," he sniffed.

"He put maple syrup on his chocolate muffins, so I don't see why he wouldn't like it in chocolate cake. Besides, right now I think he would even put maple syrup in apple pie with all his cravings." The sad thing was that even Gilbert was getting used to the strange food - not just watching Canada consume it, but even eating some of it himself. France paused in his stirring to take the time to stare at his old friend for a few long seconds before he smiled and resumed the motion.

"You are paying attention to his wants and needs. That's fantastic, Gilbert. I knew you would come around!"

A little startled at the sudden... well he wasn't really sure what it was but it was sudden, Gilbert frowned. "What the hell are you talking about? I just know his cravings. It gets that way after living with him for... however long it's been. How long has it been, anyway?"

"Months and months," France said with a wink. "And don't you try to deny how attentive you've become. You just tried to lecture me on the importance of syrup in his desserts. You're becoming such a sweet young man." His grin was teasing, but his tone was warm.

Mumbling at little, Gilbert turned away. "Not all desserts. Just the chocolate ones." Dammit, he did know too much about what Matthew liked. But was that really a bad thing? After all, the more he knew, the more stress it would take off Canada's shoulders. In fact... "Hey, Francis, do you think you could teach me how to cook? Later on, it wouldn't make sense for Matt to continue cooking and shit."

"Yes... I don't imagine you know much more than how to prepare military rations, and they wouldn't exactly make for nutritious meals," he said with a nod and felt his heart lighten. It was such a relief to know that his friend was becoming so careful of the young nation. "Of course I will teach. Delicious, healthy foods to feed father and child."

Matthew and Arthur came back from shopping just in time for the cake to be finished. And when it was cool enough to eat, America came to the door, arms laden with a large wrapped present. "Come open it, Mattie! I'll give you a hint: it's for the baby."

Matthew looked over his shoulder from inside the pantry, shelving things from the shopping bags. "Hi, Alfred. Just set it on the table and I'll open it in a minute. Ah..." He pulled a sack from the plastic bag and poked his head out from the food closet into the kitchen. "Gil, here." The nation handed the birdseed over to his companion once he'd shuffled closer. "I saw Gilbird was running low earlier."

"Oh, thanks." Prussia looked at the seed. He hadn't even noticed it was getting low. Gilbert took the bag up to his room and put it in the jar, and sure enough it had only held enough for a few more feedings. He didn't notice the sound of footsteps in the hall and the second he stepped out of his room, a large solid body collided with his.

"Oof- watch out, Gilly," America said with a grin before disappearing into Matthew's bedroom.

Gilbert rolled his eyes and went downstairs for some cake. Arthur had said that they got some strawberries for on top. Of course France would want to make a sauce for them, but he could have a piece before that.

"... But Francis," Matthew said when he entered, his voice very nearly a whine, "I'm telling you, I know this fantastic recipe for maple chocolate icing. It would go so well with this!"

The albino let himself have a smug grin. "Told ya so." He looked at Francis, who was actually getting a little red in the face.

"Hah," the Frenchman said with a sniff. "Lucky guess."

"Eh?" Canada looked from Gilbert to France. "You thought so too? Side with me, Gilbert. Wouldn't maple chocolate taste fantastic with this chocolate creme cake? Ooh! Or I could whip up some maple strawberry cream and... Stop laughing!"

Gilbert patted Matthew on the shoulder. "We'll give you your own piece, and you can put as much maple syrup on it as you want. But if you talk about it much more, I think Frenchie is gonna blow a gasket. You know how much he hates making his food taste weird."

Matthew frowned. "You guys always patronize me, but you don't even try the things I make. They're all delicious and you shouldn't talk like you know." Francis opened his mouth to object, but Matthew beat him to it. "The nutmeg crepes notwithstanding!"

"But Matt, you gotta admit that when you had coleslaw on poutine, it was a little weird." Gilbert decided that since no one else was doing it, he would cut the cake, so he took one of the last knives that Arthur wasn't using, because apparently it took twelve knives to cut up fruit.

"I don't have to admit to anything because you didn't even try it," he said with a little glare.

"Poutine in general is a little weird," France chuckled, smudging a bit of chocolate across Canada's nose when he became irate.

Alfred came down to hear that, and he paused. "Poutine? Are you guys speaking French again? And wasn't that the name of one of your bosses, Mattie?" He looked over to England, who was concentrating too much on cutting the fruit to even be paying attention to the conversation, so he went up behind him and quickly slid his arms around the Brit.

England was startled and very nearly cut his finger. "Don't sneak up on me like that, damn yank," he said, turning a bit pink when the American kissed his cheek. "I've got sharp implements here. You'd be a fool not to be nervous."

"It's true," Francis said over his shoulder. "I'm shaking all the way over here."

"But you looked so cute, bent over the cutting board like that!" Alfred laughed and refusing to detach from Arthur even as he started cutting again.

"I'd be careful if I were you," Francis called again with a chuckle even as England started spitting insults at him. Matthew shook his head and pulled a strawberry from the colander in the sink and took a bite. "They've already started," he sighed, shaking his head.

The French nation grabbed things for the sauce and tutted at the shape of the two nations pressed against each other. "It is just disgusting. They shouldn't be doing that in the kitchen!" Which was probably the only place in a house that Francis would refuse to have sex in.

Canada eyed him warily. "I was talking about you and Arthur," he muttered. "It doesn't bother me if two of you are getting along in my house."

"We don't fight as much as Amerique and Gilbert; you should be more worried about them. Gilbert! You can't eat half the cake!" Francis waked his friend over the head with a spoon, and made him take a smaller piece.

Matthew just shook his head and grabbed another strawberry. He took in the sight of the room and smiled a bit in faint amusement. "So there's lots of dessert, but no dinner, huh?"

That made everyone pause. Then Alfred put up his hand as if in class. "We could order burgers!" Then that got everyone arguing about what they wanted to eat. Gilbert noticed that Matthew was trying to say what he wanted, but his tiny voice was getting drowned out in the noise. So, to get everyone's attention, he practically yelled, "Hey Matt! What do you want?"

Matthew felt the sudden silence and attention on him rather embarrassing and he cleared his throat, rubbing his red cheek awkwardly. "Uh, I... I was just going to say that Arthur and I got some really fresh produce, and Francis is really good at making stew, and there's a bit of a cold front tonight... b-but I'll be happy with anything..."

Very quickly, everyone agreed on that, not wanting to have something that Matthew might not like. Besides, they decided that a stew would be really healthy and good for the baby. Gilbert smirked to himself and decided to leave the cooking to the others. He got out of the kitchen and went to sit down in the living room.

Matthew moved over to the table with Alfred and Arthur, slicing cucumbers as he was told, and proffering them to Francis once he was finished. "Is there anything else I can do?"

Francis smiled at him, and shook his head. "No, I think we'll be fine, you can go rest if you want. Maybe take a nap? Or... I think I saw Gilbert going to the living room, maybe you could ask him for a massage." After the talk earlier with Gilbert, France had realized how much he had matured in the past months. He also noticed just how Matthew acted around him, and decided that it would be best for everyone if they realized the sweet aura they were emitting with each other. And, who better to get them together than the master of love?

"Massage?" Alfred said curiously, looking over his shoulder. Matthew waved him away. "It's nothing, Al. Go back to wooing Arthur."

The Briton spluttered in protest as Canada walked into the living room, smiling at the image of Gilbert staring down the white bear on the sofa beside him. "Kuma could probably use some fresh air, and I've been shunned from the kitchen... wanna take a walk?"

Gilbert gave a snort, looking up. "You walk your bear? Bet that gets a few strange looks. Yeah, sure. Ha, good thing it isn't snowing or we wouldn't find him!" He stood up suddenly, making the white ball of fur look up at him. Damn, that thing still scared him sometimes.

Matthew stepped into the hall closet and pulled out a big sweater, buttoning it up in the front. "I don't put a leash on him or anything. He doesn't really wander off." Canada tossed a sweater to Prussia before bending over to pick out a pair of shoes.

"Well, as long as he doesn't attack anybody. But I mean, it's not like anyone comes up this hill anyway." The air outside had a cold nip, and when Matthew inhaled deeply it stung just a bit, but it felt wonderful. The sun was just beginning to touch the treetops in the distance, casting shadows along the path. "It's gonna be a cold winter," he said, sliding his hands down deep into his pockets.

Gilbert hummed his agreement, looking at all the wonderful colours in the sky over the mountains. "Is it bad for the baby to be born when it's cold? I guess if we keep him inside it'll be fine. After all, there are tons of babies born in the winter, right?"

"Well, in the mountains the chilly season comes early and stays late, so the baby will be used to it in no time," Matthew said with a little nod. It was beautiful in the mountains, color pouring over the leaves of the trees and across the sky. He sighed, rubbing the underside of his belly lightly. There was a tiny kick from within. "I'm so glad I moved up here. I can't imagine a more beautiful place to raise a child." But then he blinked and smiled over at his companion. "Although what I've seen of Germany is very lovely, too."

"Yeah, it is. But you still need to be here, I don't need to be in Germany since I don't... exist anymore." But he had been feeling much better about leaving Germany lately, had hardly thought about it at all the past few weeks.

Matthew caught sight of his frown and lightly bumped into his side. "When you say it like that, it sounds like you just aren't there. But you very much are."

"I am as a person, but not as a nation." Gilbert stopped and turned to him, a fairly serious look on his face. "What if one day I disappear completely? I mean sure, I became East Germany, but Ludwig only did that to save me. He doesn't really need me. What if I disappear and I can't take care of the baby?" Or even worse, what if the baby was old enough to remember him and understand what happened? He didn't want to put a child through that.

Matthew felt a sudden fear at that. He hadn't thought of it before... but it certainly wasn't the time to start now. He shook his head and offered Prussia his determination. "No way. You can't just fade away. "Look at you. You haven't even begun to fade, and your nation was disassembled over seventy years ago. As long as you don't lose the will, I don't think you'll ever disappear."

Gilbert looked at him for a few more seconds, before giving a small smile. "If I have something to live for? Alright."

"Oy, pass me the bread, would you?" Arthur said to Francis, who seemed to be ignoring him spectacularly. Matthew sighed and reached across the table to hand it to the Briton on the other side of Alfred. "Thank you, Matthew," he said before glaring at the Frenchman. "He obviously didn't learn manners from you."

"Children, children," America said, draping an arm over the back of England's chair. "Let us not fight, and instead gorge ourselves wholeheartedly on this bountiful feast."

Matthew laughed and Arthur rolled his eyes, poking Alfred in the side. "Shut up and stuff your face."

When they started eating, Matthew looked around the table, so Gilbert passed him the salt without a word. He was always putting salt on everything now. West said it had something to do with keeping his electrolytes in balance.

Smiling in wordless thanks, Matthew sprinkled it over the cucumber stew and took a sip. "This is wonderful, Francis."

"Mm. Cold cucumber soup is really the best, though," England said with a sniff. He noticed that Gilbert was being rather quiet and looked over to find him glancing at Matthew every so often. It was nothing too unusual, though, so he turned back to his own food. Just a moment later he looked back and blinked in surprise. A little wrinkle creased over the bridge of Matthew's nose and he quickly pulled the spoon from his mouth. Prussia's reaction time was astonishing: immediately he pushed his own glass over to Canada and instantly, Matthew drank, his expression one of fleeting pain. The albino muttered something too him, but all England was able to catch was "too hasty" and "suck on the ice" before Gilbert stood and disappeared into the kitchen.

"... Are you alright, Matthew?" he asked, peering around Alfred to do so.

Gilbert came back into the room, a bottle of tums in his hand. "He ate too quick and has heartburn. Here you go." When they were in Germany, he had asked West about that, and he just explained that since the baby is pressing against the stomach and intestines, it makes it much easier for the acid to splash up, or something like that.

Matthew chewed and swallowed the pills quickly and downed the rest of the water. "Thanks," he said, rubbing at his collar. When Canada looked up he saw concern from three pairs of eyes and smiled a little sheepishly. "It was just so good... I couldn't help myself."

Francis gave a small smile and patted him on the arm. "I'll make sure to make foods that hopefully will not aggravate it." He would have to look that up, because the only thing he could think of was foods that weren't spicy.

The rest of dinner was fairly pleasant, though Matthew had to endure four attentions making sure he wasn't eating too quickly. He was rather tired, though, and found himself in bed quite early, bidding everyone goodnight. Alfred promised to be up to bed as soon as he finished the dishes, but Matthew waved him off, glancing pointedly at Arthur who was wrapping up the half-eaten fruit salad. "Don't force yourself, Al."

The American seemed torn, wanting to sleep with his brother, but also thinking that it had been a long time since he had seen Arthur.

Canada found Gilbert in his room, making sure Gilbird's food tray was completely full, and knocked on the partially open door. His mind was still fresh with the sudden fear of losing him to some unseen, unfathomable force. "Goodnight, Gilbert. Sleep well."

"Oh. Uh yeah, night Matt." Gilbert took the bird out of the cage, and he flew on top of his head almost immediately. He missed the days when the awesome Gilbird could fly around freely, but near the end of the twentieth century people kept trying to catch him for some reason.

Canada smiled and watched as Prussia spoke openly with his bird, rummaging through something in his chest of drawers. The little bird hopped from his head onto his shoulder and looked about ready to fly off, but Gilbert absentmindedly scooped it back up and returned it to his head where it seemed to complacently nestle. Canada knew that he was attentive, even if no one really gave him credit for it. He yawned and retreated to his bedroom for some much needed sleep.

As soon as Gilbert got into bed, he knew something was off. He had been thinking of what Francis had said, about him paying more attention to Canada. While that was true, it didn't mean he was going to be a good father - it just meant that he knew about Matthew's cravings. That got him thinking about the baby. How was he going to raise a kid? He didn't know anything about kids! Ludwig had practically raised himself after Holy Roman Empire had disappeared, and even when he had first met Italy, he hadn't had any idea what to do! How could he take care of a little tiny baby that couldn't even hold its own head up?

After two hours of tossing and turning, Gilbert figured he might as well get a book, because that usually got him to fall asleep. But all he could find were either pregnancy or parenting books.

Ah well. Beggars couldn't be choosers.

In one of the books, it said that the best way to lie when you're pregnant is on the side; if you lay on your back the baby couldn't get enough blood or something like that. He was sure he had seen Matthew laying on his back once or twice... Usually when he fell asleep on the couch or something... but it still happened! What if he slept on his back all the time?

Quietly, he crept to Matthew's door and opened it a little. The moonlight from the window showed two figures in the bed, so that idiotic American had gone to bed with him again. It was difficult to see, but he was pretty sure that Matthew was on his side. Well, that was good at least. Gilbert closed the door, and decided to once again try to get to sleep, maybe after just a few pages more...

That night, Prussia got a total of two hours of sleep.

Matthew woke rather early, as he was prone to doing whenever the baby got restless, and when he walked into the kitchen just as the sky was turning the light blue of pre-dawn, he was surprised to find that Gilbert was already up, sitting at the table with a cup of coffee in one hand and one of the thicker baby books in the other. He settled himself in the chair beside Prussia's and let out a little exhale, rubbing his abused belly. "You're up awfully early."

Gilbert looked up, glad to have someone else awake. "Morning. Hey, what kind of prenatal vitamins are you taking? This book was talking about some, and one of these isn't good for the baby's eyesight."

"Uh... Well, Arthur's put me on quite a few. But I know what you're talking about." He grimaced. "That's the scariest chapter in the book. It's just everything that could possibly go wrong and what you might be doing that's hurting the baby and... wait. Why are you reading that book?" Better yet, why did it look like he was nearly done with it? There were only approximately thirty pages left in the 600-page manual. "Are you feeling alright?"

Quickly, Gilbert closed the book and shrugged. "There wasn't anything else to read. You gonna make pancakes today?"

Matthew yawned and nodded, brushing some of the mussed hair out of his face. "Sure. Regular pancakes, or do you want bananas or blueberries or..?"

"Uh, whatever. Want me to help?" Gilbert stood up to get some more coffee. He was going to need a lot of it today with only having slept two hours.

"I would appreciate that," Matthew answered and hefted himself to his feet. Another little kick touched the top of his belly and he made a noise before laughing and reaching into the cabinet for flour. "I was right, by the way. Your kid really doesn't stop moving."

Gilbert waited for instruction, having no idea what to do. "Well, you should take a long walk, because the sway usually puts the baby to sleep. Uh, well I mean that's what the book says, not that I believe everything it says. Not that I'm interested in the book or anything."

"I had forgotten about that," Canada mused, instructing Prussia to grab some milk and blueberries as he poured the flour in a bowl. "I'll do that after I get you some pancakes. Is there anything else I should know, Dr. Weilschmidt?" He grinned.

The albino frowned and lightly pushed Matthew's shoulder. "Shut up." Just because he read one freaking book didn't mean he was suddenly an expert. And the book was stupid anyway, didn't really tell him anything important. Well, besides the lying on the side thing. And the prenatal vitamins. That was pretty important.

Canada just laughed, turning the skillet on and rotating a bit of vegetable oil inside. "But really, I think that'll be very helpful. I kept dreaming last night that there was a little octopus in my stomach crawling around and trying to get out." He made a face. "... A nation hasn't ever given birth to anything but a child, right?"

"Well, I don't think we could really say that Holy Roman Empire was ever a child, way too serious. But I promise there has never been an octopus."

"Don't laugh! Can you even imagine how much trouble an octopus baby would be?" He rolled his eyes. "It might make sense, though. You're awfully handsy, so I can see why your DNA might be confused..."

"Hey! That's not fair! But anyway, we can't have an octopus baby. Where would the diaper go? And we would have to have a huge tank, and just imagine the fortune we would spend on mittens. Because kids always lose their mittens, and he would need eight at a time."

"Would you cut up some bananas for me? Arthur would feel so needed and useful if he had to keep making them to replace the old ones, though," Matthew said thoughtfully, stirring the batter.

Gilbert got out the banana and started cutting it up. "It's sad how he was once such a powerful nation, and now he knits. Course, I guess he got off better than Rome... at least England is still around." Empires always fell, it was the same all the time.

"That's not very nice," Canada replied, scooping up a handful of pieces of chopped banana and stirring them into th bowl. "He taugh me how to knit as a child. It's served me well over the years; I keep very warm during the winter."

Gilbert just rolled his eyes. "You could just go and buy a sweater. Or mittens or whatever you make out of it. Knitting is stupid anyway."

"That's understandable: You're just not secure enough in your masculinity to appreciate the art," Canada said with a shrug as he poured the batter into the pan.

Gilbert sputtered a bit at that. "My masculinity is fu... Just awesome! My masculinity is the most masculine thing in the world! And how can you be secure in your masculinity- you're pregnant!" He crossed his arms, but still passed the spatula when asked.

"So I am!" he exclaimed in mock surprise. "Funny how a pregnant nation who knits is more secure in his masculinity than a former kingdom, huh?" He laughed when Gilbert caught him in a chokehold and tossed a blueberry at his face.

Prussia rubbed his knuckles in Matthew's hair, messing it up. "Whatever! I'm awesome and you're pregnant. So I guess that stuff doesn't really matter, huh?" He let him go and wiped the blueberry off his shoulder.

Canada continued to chuckle, picking one of the dark berries from Prussia's collar and popping it into his mouth. He flipped the two pancakes in the wide skillet and glanced out the window at the slowly brightening, violet sky. "It's going to be a beautiful day. Only a bit cloudy, I think. Did you have anything you'd like to do today?" He turned a little smile to his companion. "You may want to tell me now. I'll speak in your favor, or else they'll run all over you. Unless you want to leave the weekend up to Alfred."

"Oh god no. But I can't really think of anything. Can't we just stay here? Have Francis make us a picnic or something." As long as he wouldn't have to go to a burger convention or whatever America would want to do.

"He'd really enjoy that," Matthew said thoughtfully, and with a flick of his wrist sent the pancakes flying from the skillet onto a plate. "And you know, you don't have to stick around if Al comes up with anything too outlandish."

He nodded slowly. "Yeah I guess." Gilbert saw as Matthew paused on his way back to the oven. "Your back hurts again. Want a massage?"

Chuckling quietly, Canada poured more batter into the skillet. "It's uncanny how you can know that," he said lightheartedly and nodded. "I would really appreciate it, yes. But could you maybe do it while I'm standing? I want to finish these."

"It probably won't be as good but I'll try." Gilbert went behind him, sliding his hands under Matthew's shirt to get at the small of his back, where it usually hurt the most. Like this he mainly used his thumbs, not wanting to push Canada into the oven.

The young nation did his best to focus on the pancakes and even went so far as to flip them before his breath hitched and his eyelids fluttered. It felt way too good, the firm, steady pressure in his sensitive lower back. Prussia's thumbs pressed into his spine and he groaned, low and appreciative, as the ache began to relax. "Right there," he murmured, his shoulders losing every ounce of pained tension that he didn't even know he had accrued.

Which, unfortunately, was right when Alfred walked in with the morning paper. It fell on the floor as his eyes went wide. "What the hell are you doing? Get your hands off of him!"

Matthew's eyes flew wide open and he snapped to attention, peering over his shoulder. He hoped to deflect what sounded a lot like irate anger from Prussia. "Good morning, Al. You're up pretty early..."

Now that he could see that all that was happening was with clothes on at least, Alfred bent down and picked up his paper. It sure had looked (and sounded) like there had been something else going on though. "Yeah, good thing too. Holy shit, you guys really shouldn't do that."

"It was just a massage, calm down." Gilbert leaned against the counter, not wanting to be seen touching Matthew too much while America was there.

"My back was hurting and Gilbert was just helping me out," Canada piped up, flipping the pancakes onto a plate and pouring more batter into the skillet. "I'm gonna have to make more... Al, do you want bananas or blueberries in your pancakes?"

"Bananas," he grunted, sitting down and opening the paper. Then he went to make some coffee since the pot was empty. "You know Matt, I can give you massages too. I'm probably better than him anyway."

Canada sighed. "I'm not about to engage in this battle of ego between you two. The earth might implode. Just drop the issue, Al. Gil, would you please chop up another banana for me?" He flipped a golden pancake.

Gilbert huffed, but still went in the fridge for a banana. He was still tired from having almost no sleep, and he really didn't want to deal with the asshole. "Yeah, because he's so busy reading his paper that he definitely couldn't do it."

"He's making more coffee," Canada amended before Alfred could kick up a fuss and sent the albino a pointed look. "He's going to make enough for everyone who wants some. Aren't you, Alfred?"

The blond grunted. "Fine, whatever. Good thing Arthur and Francis don't drink it, and you're not allowed." How much coffee could two people drink? Although, by the look of Prussia's bloodshot eyes, maybe he would be drinking quite a lot.

Canada mumbled something out the side of his mouth that sounded an awful lot like "We'll see about that" and shot a glare at Gilbert when he started to snicker. Then Matthew started, his going wide. He rubbed a hand along the underside of his belly. "Oof... this kid..."

"Is he kicking? That's so cute! I wonder if we can feel it yet?" Alfred put his hand on the growing belly, moving it around to try and see if he could feel anything yet.

Matthew sighed. "I can't feel it on the outside yet, but trust me, this octopus just loves to roll."

Gilbert chuckled at that. "How can it feel like an octopus? It still only has two legs and two arms." So really he should only be able to feel four points, shouldn't he?

"But they're all hands and legs. Ohh..." He cringed. "And that was a kick to my bladder. Someone take over." Canada dropped his spatula on the counter and shuffled out of the room faster than anyone six months pregnant should go.

The two men looked to each other, then Gilbert grabbed the spatula, not wanting to risk handing breakfast over to America's... iconic cooking style. They were both silent, but he took the mug of coffee when it was offered. Luckily Matthew returned just shortly thereafter and was a bit surprised to find them in an unstrained silence. He decided not to rock the boat and took the spatula from Gilbert. "You don't look so good," he muttered to the albino when Alfred became engrossed in the paper. "Maybe you should go back to bed."

He huffed, knowing just what would happen if he tried to go back to sleep. "No, I'm fine. After breakfast, do you want me to continue the massage? You only got a few minutes." And he knew that it didn't get out all the pain.

Though he wasn't sure he felt right about Gilbert's refusal to sleep though he was clearly exhausted, Matthew nodded. Maybe he could convince Prussia to sleep if they were alone.

No matter what Gilbert did, for the next few days he got no more than three hours of sleep a night. He could tell that Matthew was getting worried about him, but it was too embarrassing to tell him that he couldn't sleep because he was worried about being a father, and had almost read through all the baby books in trying to get some shut eye.

During the weekend when the the three visitors had stayed over, Ludwig had called Gilbert and brought up the question of the baby's health. When he learned that they had not yet gone in for an ultrasound, Prussia could practically hear his twitch. "You must have one right away," Germany stressed over and over until finally Prussia passed the phone to Canada. In no time, Germany had convinced the bespectacled blond that it was absolutely necessary to check for health-related problems. They planned for Ludwig to fly over and perform it himself, everyone understanding the complications that would be involved with visiting a human doctor.

The doorbell rang midweek and Matthew ushered Ludwig in, who had a car full of strange equipment behind him. Matthew was terribly glad that his older brothers weren't around, lest they be underfoot of Germany's brisk operation. Within an hour, everything had been hooked up in the living room, and Matt was instructed to lay down on the couch.

Kumajiro was laying right in front of the sofa, ever watchful, but Ludwig insisted that he shouldn't be there for this. Gilbert was forced to pick him up and take him to another room as Germany started putting gel on Matthew's stomach. "This is a little cold."

Matthew flinched at the sudden chill on his stomach and looked up at the focused German. "Um... Germany?" Ice-blue eyes peered up at him in acknowledgment and he continued, glancing over to make sure Gilbert was out of sight. "Thanks to Prussia and America's egos this is going to trouble me more than you can imagine, but I just love surprises too much. Would you please keep the baby's gender a secret?"

Ludwig gave a nod. "Of course. And do not worry, Gilbert doesn't know how to read an ultrasound, so he won't know either."

"Thought as much. I really appreciate it," Canada said with a little smile as Ludwig turned the machine on. It came to life and the screen seemed to be loading, and by the time Gilbert returned from putting Kumajiro away, Matthew's toes were already curling in anticipation.

He walked around the couch, leaning on the back rest over Matthew. "So I don't get how this tells us the baby is alright. Just making sure he has all his arms and legs?" And to find out if it was a boy or a girl, of course, but West was all about the medical reasons.

"It's important to make sure there are no physical issues that should be addressed so immediate action can be taken. It's very important," Ludwig answered as he fiddled with the machine. Matthew craned his neck a bit, making a face at the smeared blue goo leaking over the round sides of his belly.

Finally, Ludwig was ready and put the wand on Matthew's stomach, moving it around for a few seconds before he got a good picture. "There it is. It looks like the fetus is sucking it's thumb." He was careful to not say a gender either way, even though it was fairly obvious to him already.

Matthew's breath caught in his throat. The little figure on the dark screen moved a bit when Ludwig circled his stomach with the little machine. Its little arm was bent and if he squinted, he could make out a few tiny fingers. His heart beat just a little faster and as soon as one folded limb shifted, he felt a kick to the inside of his stomach. "I see the little nose," he said softly, his lips curving into a smile.

Ludwig pointed out a few more features, and also said that it seemed healthy. "Can you see the heart beating? It is a good speed, exactly what it should be. No anomalies, very healthy."

Matthew's face had darkened with a happy flush and he rubbed his stomach, though it was slick with fluid. "Can your machine amplify the sound of the heartbeat, like in the movies?" he asked.

Germany nodded and flipped a switch, and strange gushing sounds came out. "We can hear both your heart beat and the baby's, so the baby's is the faster of the two."

The warm metal slid over Matthew's stomach to find the smaller heartbeat and once the little noise grew louder Ludwig held the device over the curve of Canada's belly. Matthew's heartbeat pounded out of time with the baby's but that... that was exactly what he had been so enthralled with in the very beginning. He could finally hear the soft, steady thump that had begun just weeks after the little child had been conceived.

Prussia had been so cold at the time, but over the months he had begun to show obvious interest in the child, and Matthew looked up to see what his reaction might be to hearing the sweet sound of the life they had created. His breath caught in his throat.

The Prussian's face was contorted with surprise, delight, and something almost to painfully raw to see. Two glistening tears crawled down Prussia's cheeks, but once he saw that Matthew was looking at him, he turned away and wiped furiously at them. "The air... is really dry in here..." Damn, just seeing it, hearing the heartbeats... he wasn't sure why, but it got to him. And, not that he really needed to admit it to himself by now, but it wasn't about pride or anything he had thought it was about before. How could he ever think it was about pride? It was never about a nation making way for another nation, a sense of nationalism or superiority.

Ludwig could only stare at his brother in stunned silence and Matthew's expression shifted. Before he could stop himself, tears of his own welled and dripped between his eyelashes and down his cheeks. "Gilbert," he sniffed, rubbing at his wet cheeks and smiling uncontrollably.

Trying to change the subject, Gilbert pointed to the screen. "He... his head looks big." Dammit, he wasn't going to continue crying like a fucking woman. It was even worse that his brother was here as well.

"The skull develops quicker than the rest of the body," Ludwig confirmed, finally dragging his eyes away from his flushed brother to the screen. "Development seems normal. As far as I can tell, this is a perfectly healthy child."

Gilbert nodded, rubbing his nose. "So, what is it? I can't really tell, it looks weird. Does that look like a penis?" He pointed to some blob, keeping away any emotional things he could. But he let out a noise of protest when Ludwig reached over and shut the machine off. "Hey! That wasn't very long!"

Matthew, too, was a bit disappointed. He could watch that screen for hours if left to his own devices. But Ludwig shook his head. "I only have so much film. Securing this for the ultrasound was expensive." And at that, Matthew brightened.

"You recorded it?"

Germany nodded. "Yes. It will only take me a few days to develop the results, since I'll be doing it on my own. I'll send it through the mail as soon as I've finished."

Gilbert pouted a bit, but not too much. "Well? What is it? A boy or a girl? Come on West, I know you could tell."

He shook his head, taking a towel and handing it to Matthew. "I know what it is," he said simply, figuring that it would be easier to not say anything he didn't need to.

Pushing himself up, Matt wiped the blue goo from his stomach. "Does it matter?" he asked Prussia when the albino started to protest. "You're already convinced that the baby is a boy."

"Well, I think it's a boy, but we have to be sure, right? Come on West, what is it?" He was getting frustrated, because his brother just kept on packing up the machine, taking the film out of it and putting that in his pocket.

Ludwig turned a stern eye on his brother when the pestering didn't stop. "Matthew asked me to keep it to myself, and I'm going to honor that request."

It took Gilbert a moment to let that sink in, looking from Matthew to West. "But... why? Come on, fine, if Matt wants to be surprised then fine, but you can still tell me! I mean we could get clothes for the right gender and stuff!"

Germany gave Canada an exasperated look and the shorter blond sat up, pulling his shirt down over the bump. "Can we please just save it as a surprise?" he asked the albino. "We can get clothes that are gender neutral in colour."

"But I mean come on, aren't you curious? You have to want to know!" He crouched down in front of the couch, looking Matthew in the eye.

Canada met his gaze and offered a little lopsided grin, though he knew that if Gilbert pressed the issue for much longer, he would likely give in.

"... Please?"

Gilbert hesitated for a few seconds, still wanting to know, but he couldn't bring himself to insist anymore. "...Fine. We'll spend the next however many weeks having no idea what it is, you getting annoyed at me for always calling it a he." Unable to stop himself, Prussia rubbed Matthew's belly, picturing the baby inside as it had looked on screen.

Turning warm from the inside out, Matthew barely dared to breathe, just watching Gilbert as he slid his hands under the too-large t-shirt, cupping the swollen stomach as best he could. "It's sticky," Canada warned softly, lifting his shirt again so Prussia could see.

Germany quietly disassembled his gear, keeping his eyes turned respectfully away from the intimate scene. He worked as quickly and effeciently as possibly to get the machinery in safe, portable pieces.

Once he was done, Ludwig stood up straight and looked over to them. "I'll leave now. If you have any questions or concerns, just call." Then he held his hand out for both of them to shake.

Startled out of his fixation just a bit, Matthew offered Ludwig a smile and took his hand. "Thank you so much. I can't thank you enough. How much do I owe you?"

"You took my brother out of my house and made him a respectable adult. That's more than enough."

Gilbert made a noise of protest. "I was an adult way before you, so shut up!"

Matthew laughed and stood, stumbling back a little when Gilbert joined him. He grabbed onto the albino's steadying hands to right himself before picking up a couple of the many cases Ludwig had tucked the machines and following him to the door. "If you say so. But once we start draining the maple trees, you can look for a big package in the mail."

"Well thank you. I appreciate that." Not that he would use it most of the time, but he was sure that Feliciano would love it.

Matthew and Gilbert saw him off and once he was gone, they retreated back into the house. Canada wanted so badly to mention the tears, to receive an answer to the questions poking and prodding him. He worried his lip, and decided in the end not to say anything at all. Whatever change had come over Prussia was striking and powerful, and there was no way Canada was about to sabotage that to sate his own curiosity.

Gilbert cleared his throat to get rid of the slightly awkward silence. "Well, good thing the baby is healthy, hey? You know, apparently if it was born this early, it would still have a chance of surviving." Damn his late night baby book readings.

"Don't jinx it," Canada replied softly as he settled back onto the sofa. The baby kicked and he made a noise. "Oh, before I forget, would you please get the mail? Alfred said Arthur was sending something over, but 'it wouldn't do well in the wilderness.'" He ended the remark by making quotations with his fingers.

He chuckled and nodded. "Sure. I'll be back in a few minutes. Maybe you could start lunch." He grabbed his jacket and started the walk down the hill to get the mail. Once he got there, however, he saw that the mail box had a few boxes on the ground because they couldn't fit inside. Did England really send that much? He was going to have trouble carrying all that up the hill!

Somehow he made it and tossed the boxes on the couch after two trips down the hill, huffing and puffing. "You back yet?" came Canada's call from the kitchen. The blond poked his head around the doorway. "It took you fore- wow."

"Yeah. Man, some of those are heavy!" Prussia sat down on the chair, leaning back and closing his eyes. "If they're all from England, I'm going to kill him. He probably sent rocks because he knew I would be sent to get the mail today."

"You're such a pessimist," Canada chided. He disappeared back into the kitchen for a moment and then came out, wiping a bit of flour from his chest. "Are these all from Arthur?" Going through the boxes, Matthew tilted his head to the side curiously. "Uh... this one's from Finland... and this one's from Ukraine... but the rest are from England."

Gilbert groaned, grabbing a pillow. "I'm going to kill him. And what's Finland sending you? Don't tell me they're sending the whole crib over in bits in the mail. That would be just like something those two would do."

"No, it's pretty small..." Matthew went to retreieve a box cutter and opened the package, pulling out an adorable, intricate stuffed animal. It looked sort of like a hippo with wide eyes, and it was almost silken in its softness. Matthew laughed and settled it in his lap as he went for the others.

Over the course of the next few days, several packages arrived, including a few cute little baby books from Ukraine; many, many knit clothes from England; a gourmet baby food book from Italy; and a special pair of headphones that would fit snugly around Matthew's tummy, including a few CDs of Mozart and Beethoven from Austria, accompanied by a long letter explaining the positive effects of the music on the child's developing brain.

Which is why Gilbert found himself with a CD player in hand, kneeling in front of the couch, trying to figure how to put the headphones on Matthew's belly so they would stay on. "Well, if I put them like this..." But it was too low and they slipped off. Finally they seemed to stay, so he stuck the music into the CD player and turned it on. He looked up at Matthew who had a small smile on his face. "You don't think it'll be too loud do you? We don't want to hurt his ears..."

"It shouldn't," Canada answered, looking down at his exposed stomach. "The noise is muffled by... well, me." Chuckling, Matthew looked out the window. It was dark, as the evenings had grown long for the upcoming winter, and Kumajiro still hadn't returned from his walk. "Do you think it's too loud?"

Gilbert looked at the volume on the player. It was only at about half, but he didn't really know what was bad for the baby. He put his ear to Matthew's belly, and could faintly hear the music. "Well I can't hear it much, so it'll probably be fine." He spent a few seconds trying to figure out if he knew that song when he felt... Something. Prussia pulled back and stared wide eyed at Matthew. "I think I just felt him move!"

Canada's attention, which had become rivetted on the man before him, turned to feeling for the kick with his own hands as they slipped besided Gilbert's enthusiastic pair. He felt the baby kick from within and laughed, taking the pale hand and pressing it right below the headphones on the curve of the underside of his belly. "I think that's a 'hi, Daddy,'" Matthew chuckled, readjusting the headphones.

"Oh my god..." Gilbert could still feel the small movements, amazed by them. He looked up at Matthew, who was practically glowing with happiness. And it wasn't really an epiphany, at least he didn't think it was, but suddenly things made more sense. The jealousy he got when America slept with Matthew. Wanting to give him massages, not to touch him, but simply to make Matthew more comfortable. The late nights worrying and the calmness he was finally instilling in his life, all for Matthew's sake. He had changed. Everything had changed.

He loved this man, and the baby inside him.

Gilbert wasn't exactly sure how long the feeling had taken to cultivate, but he knew it hadn't just happened. He looked at Canada, who was still smiling like everything was good in the world. The baby moved against his palm again, which spurred the Prussian into motion, sitting up on his knees, taking Matthew's face in his hands, and pressing their lips together.

Stunned, Canada's thoughts were numbed for a few long seconds as Prussia kissed him. When they did start to trickle back, every little thing that crossed his mind was pleasant: Gilbert had been so kind the past few months; he had cooked and cleaned and touched without expecting anything in return. He had soothed Matthew's aches and respected his wishes. He had nursed him when he was sick, and still he was the only person to care for Matthew and still treat him like adult instead of a helpless child. And Matthew loved him more than he could say.

But it could not be all as it seemed, said the little angry doubt in Matthew's heart. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to push that awful feeling away, but it persisted. Nothing so good could ever last. Nothing ever did. As soon as he allowed himself to be overrun by his traitorous emotions, everything would go to hell. He would get boring and Gilbert would fall back into his old ways but try to keep them secret. The imagery behind his eyes was so real that Matthew felt his stomach turn.

Anything but that.

So though his heart raced and ached for the sweetness Gilbert's kiss promised, he pulled himself away.

Gilbert still had his eyes closed for a second before opening them and looking at Matthew's seemingly annoyed face. "Sorry, I guess that was a little sudden." He glanced away, trying to figure out how he could say that he loved him and wanted to be together and not just be together, without sounding like a complete fruitcake.

While the little irrational part of Matthew wanted to drag him back in for another kiss to prove that it definitely wasn't sudden, that Matthew had always wanted it, but that part was sadly crushed by his ever-present fear. "What the hell are you thinking?" Matthew murmured, his brows knit in a tight frown.

Gilbert pulled back a bit, looking at Matthew. "Well, um, I think we should try and date. I mean, we work well together, and the baby..." The manly side of Prussia refused to be the first one to say the L word, so he didn't.

Canada's eyes softened in a silent plea. Every word that Gilbert spoke was painful. Matthew wanted to believe it, and while he was sure that Gilbert did mean it for now, there was no doubt in his mind that it wouldn't last. "I can't. We can't. I told you before..."

"But it was different before! 'Cause before, you were thinking that I would still be living in Germany, but now I'm here, and I'm... going to birthing classes, and I'm giving you massages and stuff." He tried to explain, why it was a much better idea now than months before. "And besides, I... like you."

Matthew had to force himself to look away from the piercing red eyes and hold his warring emotions behind a poorly constructed mask. "I like you, too," he said slowly, his voice breaking. "But we just... can't."

Now Prussia was getting a little frustrated. He thought it would be easier than this. He was so awesome, why wouldn't Matthew want to date him? But it was understandable. After all, until now he had tried to stay away from relationships. "Alright, I get it. You're confused, you don't know what you feel, right? But it won't be like before, it'll be more than sex!"

Standing abruptly, Matthew removed the headphones from his stomach and pulled his shirt down. "I won't. I... Gilbert, it just..." He shook his head, rubbing his eyes. "I need to take a walk."

He left so quickly that Gilbert only had time to get out a few half sentences. But when he was gone, the albino sat down and looked around the room. Alright, Matthew must need romance or something. He needed to be wooed. And who was the self-proclaimed master of love? He picked up a phone and dialed the familiar number.

"Oui, mon petit Mathieu?" came the low, rich voice on the other line. "You never call. Shame on you."

Gilbert cleared his throat. "Hey, it's me, bastard. I live here too, remember? The whole I'm gonna be a father thing?"

"I seem to remember something to that effect," France replied with a sigh. "But you only call me when you want to cause a ruckus or need help, and since you've become so domestic with my boy, I'm going to assume it's the latter. What can I do for you?"

Damn, France knew him too well. "I need to romance the shit out of Matt so that he'll be swept off his feet and love me." Something flashy and bold would probably work, or at least that was what France would come up with.

The other line was dead silent for a long minute before a clatter of motion crackled through the line. "Oh, that's... Gilbert, that's fantastic! Ahh, Antonio, Antonio, our little boy is all grown up! Of course I'll help you."

"Antonio is there? Good maybe he can have some ideas. Matt will probably be back in like half an hour, but I could probably get him out of the house tomorrow so I can do something. Problem is, the only romantic things I can think of would be wine! But he can't have wine!"

"Oh, my dear heartless friend," Francis said, sounding physically pained.

"That's really bad, Gilbert," came a cheerfully sympathetic voice. "You've got to know how to romance your partner or they'll be upset and cry and everything and then you'll have to work twice as hard to get back into their good graces."

"Yes, but you mustn't think of it as a chore; romance should be pleasant for both parties."

"Gosh, Gilbert, I didn't know you'd fallen in love!"

He sat back in his chair, head hitting the back. "Francis, you know how much I hate speakerphone. And hey, it's not my fault I'm not romantic! That's what I have you two for. Now tell me what I have to do. I could get him flowers or something. Do guys even like flowers? What if he's allergic or something?"

"You've got to think outside the box," Antonio chirped. "What does Ca... Ca... Canada?"


"Ah, I remembered! Yes, what does Canada like? Do something he enjoys doing, even if you don't like it so much. And give him chocolate. Everyone loves chocolate."

Gilbert tried to think about that. After a pause, he opened his mouth and closed it before opening it again. "He likes... massages. Uh, and hockey." What else did he like? He liked talking about the baby...

There was an audible thunk and a muffled, "Ah, Francis, doesn't it hurt your head when you do that?" before the heavily accented French voice came back on the line.

"I thought you said you want to romance the boy."

"I do! But he asked me what Matt likes, and he likes hockey! Fuck, you know him better, why don't you tell me what he likes and I'll have a whole romantic night of things that Matt likes. A maple fountain made up of hockey pucks for all I know!" Now that he thought about that, it might not be a bad idea...

"You are hurting me every time you open your mouth. I advise you to write this down so you will remember. A few romantic gestures that have almost always worked for me would be of course the tried and true covering the floor with rose petals - and once you properly woo him, make sure to do the same in the bathtub and make beautiful, passionate love to him; then, of course, take him to the beach just as the sun begins to set. Take off your shoes and walk barefoot, hand in hand. Offer him your jacket."


"Oh yes: our Mathieu is a cuddly one. Make sure to hold him, and... hmm. Knowing how prideful you are, I can't help but wonder... have you told him how you feel?"

Gilbert pursed his lips. Dammit, how did the Frenchman know him so well? "I... told him I liked him. And he said he liked me too." That was fucking close enough. When they actually started to date, then he could say his feelings. If Matthew said it first.

"Oh, Gilbert," came Antonio's despairing cry, and there was the thumping sound again. "Gilbert, Francis is going to get a concussion if you don't stop saying dumb things!"

"I am hanging up," came France's growl. "I will offer no help to a coward."

"Wait! Don't hang up! I'm not a fucking coward, I just don't want to be all pansy-assed! Come on Francis, I'm asking for help here, how often do I do that? When was the last time I ever asked for help?" He knew how long it had been, because he considered asking help a sign of weakness, but desperate times called for desperate measures.

"Absolutely not. Of course I had been congratulatory under the assumption that you had made your feelings clear to the boy, but obviously that is not the case. If you cannot tell him, then tell me, and if you think to lie or underplay anything, both Antonio and I will offer no assistance. What are your feelings for Matthieu?"

He paused, and frowned. Yeah, he realized today that he had feelings for Canada, and they seemed pretty strong, but was it really love? He didn't even know what that felt like. "I feel... like I want to make him happy. Like I want to raise this kid with him, like I want to see his face light up every day like it did today when I felt the baby move. I don't know guys, you tell me what my feelings are! How am I supposed to know?"

"Uh oh," Antonio said gravely. "He's got it bad."

"... You've never said anything more beautiful," Francis agreed, sniffling. Then his emotional voice became more stern. "You are a fool, Gilbert. If you would just tell him all of that, he would fall right into your arms."

A long groan was heard, and Gilbert slouched down on the chair. "I can't tell him that! God, I only told you two that because I've known you for so long! But sappy shit like that, it just isn't me, I feel weirded out just feeling like that, never mind telling him that's how I feel!"

"You're an idiot."

"You're really an idiot," Antonio agreed.

"But you're our idiot, and I suppose it cannot be helped. But really, you'd just make it easier on yourself if you simply opened your mouth."

"He won't."

"I know. So let me think... rose petals, walk on the beach..."



"Why don't you bake something for him? Lovi loves that."

"Food is a wonderful idea. Something chocolaty and sweet that melts on his tongue."

"But Gilbert can't cook..."

"Ah, yes. Such a shame."

"Why don't you serenade him?"

"Hmm... he doesn't have a half-bad voice when he puts his heart into it..."

Gilbert was on the verge of hanging up. "I'm not singing to him! Look, whatever, I'll get him some chocolates and do that rose petal thing, and maybe do a walk on the beach. Do you think that'll work?"

"Of course it will. I am a genius when it comes to love."

"But Gil..." Antonio's voice was concerned. "Really... it was very sweet. I don't know Canaboo personally, but I definitely think that the thing that would make him feel happy and loved is if you told him that you want to be there for him and keep his child and make him smile. I know your pride is a big roadblock, but isn't he worth it?"

Gilbert hardly paused before answering, "Don't worry, I'll tell him when we're together. And it's Canada. Honestly, he's the second largest country in the world. I don't know how you people forget him so easily..."

"Well, alright..." Spain sounded unsure and France stepped in.

"Just be aware," the blond warned, "it was you who said that I know my boy better than you, and I can assure you that he will never be happy now that you've done this to him until you let him know how you feel. He will carry on as if nothing happened, and I imagine that everything you do (outside of our advice, of course) will only distress him."

But Gilbert just shrugged. "He'll come around. And like I said, when we're together I'll tell him how I feel. For now he knows I like him and it would be more than sex, I'm sure that'll be enough for him to accept me." He heard two groans from the other end of the line but didn't want to hear it. "Well I'll call you to tell you how it went. Thanks." And he hung up.