Summary: Gilbert Beilschmidt will never get a girlfriend. He works more jobs than he can count on one hand, he raises his kid brother, and he talks constantly to people no one else can see. Then, one day, an old friend comes back to town on a break from college and manages to turn his life on its ear. Maybe romance isn't so far off after all...
A quick note: the age gap between Gilbert and Ludwig is slightly greater than it is in the canon and in the majority of this sort of "Gilbert raising Ludwig as a teenager" story.
Contains PruHun (as seen in the story info).
Disclaimer: Do I really need to tell you that I don't own Hetalia? I would have thought that to be obvious by now...
Chapter 1: Who He Saw
There were many explanations as to why he saw them: some people reckoned it had to do with his albinism, others believed it to be a side effect of having nearly died as a child, the majority simply agreed that he was lying or insane and left it at that. However, the majority was wrong. Gilbert Beilschmidt saw ghosts; he'd seen them for as long as he could remember.
Unfortunately, perceived madness was not the only burden shouldered by the young man.
Ever since he'd turned eighteen, Gilbert had been saddled with the responsibility of raising his brother, nine years his junior. Promptly following his graduation from high school (he'd been held back a year), he had gone job hunting and been rewarded with one nightshift and several odd jobs around the city just east of the middle of nowhere.
Now, replacing the mop in the custodian's closet at the hospital, he sighed. Working as the graveyard shift janitor hadn't exactly been his lifelong dream and he hated the cold, sterilized building. Only in a hospital would he see as many of them as he did. Ghosts, that is.
Tonight, an almost-skeletal old man trailed behind a small crowd of mourners as they left the hospital in tears, clearly having just lost a member of the family. The halls rang with the collection of cries from the infants who had never been born and the children who had never left, rewarding the young man with a pounding headache that would follow him home where he would collapse into bed for an hour or so until Ludwig had to be woken up for school.
"Hey, Beilschmidt, you're looking like hell today." Antonio Fernandez-Carriedo, a nurse practitioner only a few years older than Gilbert, came up and clapped him on the shoulder. "Working overtime again?"
"What, to clean it up when you make some poor little kid puke again? No thanks."
"You know that was an accident – I just needed some practice using the tongue depressors."
"And you used me as your practice dummy," he grunted, drawing a hand across tired eyes. "So what's up, Tony?"
"Nothing much. Lost that old guy up in room 201, though. He was barely holding on as it was."
Gilbert grimaced. "Yeah, I saw his family coming through. Shame."
They stood awkwardly in the lobby, both sneaking simultaneous glances at the clock behind the front desk. Death was almost a formality to them, something that happened much more than any person would have liked but was entirely unavoidable either way.
"Five o'clock," Antonio said eventually, stretching his arms up over his head with a yawn. "Time to start heading out."
"Yeah, I've gotta wake up Lutz in two hours."
The Spaniard waved as he retreated in the direction of the staff parking. "'Morning, Gil."
The bike ride home was cool and refreshing at the early hour – the sun was just beginning to peer over the horizon in a brilliant display of pale yellow – however, Gilbert found that he couldn't exactly enjoy it this morning. It was a Wednesday, the day he had to run to the middle school to work as a handyman for a shift before running out to the pawnshop in town where he would hopefully make some sales to pay for a new pair of shoes for Ludwig. When the hell had kid's sneakers gotten to be so expensive?
"Hey! Watch out!"
Attention snapping back to the road a fraction of a second too late, Gilbert found himself being flung over the handlebars and onto the hood of a car. Winded and in a state of utter confusion, he rolled away and landed ungracefully with the back of his head to the asphalt.
"Oh my god, Gilbert?" The vehicle was shifted into park, and the driver sprang out and dashed around to the injured cyclist. "Is that you?"
"Fuck…" he groaned, staring up at the sky from his position flat on his back.
A familiar silhouette cut into the nearly colorless sky, fixing the man with a particularly accusatory, green glare. "Ever heard of a helmet, moron?"
Now he knew exactly who it was. Indeed, she was practically impossible for him to forget. "Sorry, Liz, I didn't think I was gonna get into a hit and run this morning."
"Oh shut up." Even as the young brunette snorted at him, he could sense her guilt. "You were the one who wasn't watching where you were going."
"Sorry. Coming home from a graveyard shift isn't exactly the best time to be paying attention, you know?" Fingers exploring the bloody mess he'd once called his elbow, Gilbert cast a curious look up at his longtime friend. Elizabeta Héderváry, Hungarian (Magyar, she called it) and beautiful, had been his next door neighbor when they were growing up. However, like all of his other friends (well, maybe former friends now – the dicks never called), she had chosen to attend a college beyond the reaches of their hometown.
"Still working at the hospital?"
"Still seeing…" She paused, glancing away briefly. "You know."
She'd known his secret since tenth grade, but it would be a lie to say that she hadn't heard before then. The rumors were like a stench, always gusting around the hallways at school and soiling the conversations. Gilbert had been used to it by then – the accusations, the fear, the distrust. If people asked, he told them the truth, then the rumors would swell and poison his reputation all over again. Elizabeta had been different.
"Nah, just a bunch of stiffs." It was a weak joke, but it managed to bring a hint of a smirk to her pink lips. He almost chuckled himself, but found his head swimming with both fatigue and the possible onset of a concussion. The numbness from the scrape on his arm was beginning to wear off in favor of a sharp, burning pain.
"Sleeping, like I wanna be." Gilbert glanced at his watch, not missing the disappointed look on the other's face. "Hey, look, I gotta work until two… three… seven tonight, but if you're free…"
He let it hang, the invitation like a baited line cast into the sea. Finally, she nodded.
"Cool." Standing a tad too quickly, the albino almost tripped over the crumpled ruin of his bicycle (a garage sale find that had lasted him almost two years). He righted himself, then added, "You owe me a new bike."