"I understand," the Asian man cut in dismissively midsentence, raising his gloved hand with his palm facing the blond man standing few feet away from him.

Arthur opened and closed his mouth a few times before sighing quietly and falling back. He had practiced his little speech, too. How to break it to him in the best way possible. How to make the news as painless as possible. Maybe the customary "It's not you- it's me," was not the appropriate way to begin.

But Kiku seemed to have known that something was amiss and that something was about to happen from the moment their eyes met as Arthur walked into the room. But he always seemed to know- when Arthur was upset, when he was angry, when he needed a quiet shoulder to rest a little on (though definitely not wetting it!).

He was extremely good at reading people. Arthur, on the other hand, was not.

"Kiku… We don't have to end like this, you know…," he stammered slightly uncomfortable. If Kiku was difficult to read in normal circumstances, he was impossible now. "You and I…"

There was a moment of silence, broken only by the soft cracklings of wood in the fireplace in the far side of the room.

"Please," Kiku finally broke the silence, his voice a slow, calm whisper. "Do not call me by my name anymore. It's… better that way."

Arthur stood stunned, staring at the man half a head shorter than himself, unable to speak for a few moments. Calling a nation by his or her name was a sign of familiarity- a sign that they had personal connections with each other. And in such few words, this man, whom he had spent every available moment thinking about and every possible moment being with for the past few decades, had ended that special bond.

"… I understand…," Arthur replied slowly. "I should… get going now. A lot is going on right now, as you can imagine."

"Yes," Kiku nodded, cracking a small smile. "Have a pleasant evening… England san."

What kind of a smile is that? Arthur could feel something breaking inside. How he longed to touch the side of the other man's face and tell him everything was okay, and that it was all a complete misunderstanding… somehow.

"You too… Japan." He turned on his heels and walked swiftly out of the room, closing the door gently behind him.

Drops of water spotted the small bundle of paper that Kiku held in his trembling hand. He covered his face with his gloved hands, ignoring the sound of papers crumpling in his grip, pushing down audible sobs.

Leaning on the other side of the closed door, Arthur stood staring up at the tiled ceiling, allowing his bangs to cover his damp eyes. A single tear streaked down his cheek, but he allowed no more.

In the room, Kiku walked solemnly to the fireplace and fed the white sheets of paper, one by one, into the fire. The flames lapped up the stiff documents gleefully, and Kiku stared at the dancing red and orange, his dark eyes reflecting the flames. He knew that right about now, a copy of the same typed document was being read and signed by his and Arthur's superiors elsewhere.

You gave me everything.

Now I am going to show you what I can do with it.

August 17th, 1923