Well, to be honest, I kind of had the urge to write a more serious fic while I was working on the more humorous Hamburger Crises, so this one was born. Hopefully it's not too bad. Enjoy!

Oh, yeah, I don't own Hetalia or I wouldn't be writing on this site.

Prologue: Beginnings Start at the End

Eyes as blue as the clear sky, hidden above the thick gray clouds, looked up at cool, gray metal that had been twisted, heated, and shaped to form the pistol with a hint of defiance hidden in their depths. Those eyes followed the trail up the arm of the man who stood before him to his aged features that showed no emotion, no remorse, no joy, nothing at all. General Winter was as cold as the season of his namesake, and nothing escaped him, not a target, not even a wayward pupil (if that's really what you would label his "students").

The sky blue eyes flicked to the man standing offset to Winter's right side. A smile was plastered on his face that never really made it to those amethyst eyes. The owner of the blue eyes whimsically wondered what Ivan would do when Winter pulled the trigger. He knew the answer before the question even finished in his mind: that smile that was just too innocent would still be there long after his body cooled for the last time.

"I warned you, Jones," Winter stated simply, his accented voice a harsh, coarse whisper like the chill of a snowy breeze. He did not repeat the warning he'd given years before. That wasn't the way the man worked; there was only one warning, and if it was not heeded, well… you ended up in Jones' shoes.

A tired smirk tugged at Alfred F. Jones' lips, his wheat colored hair plastered to his face by the heavy rainfall, "Yeah. Funny thing… I just don't listen. Figured you'd know that by now."

He spotted the ghost of a frown on Ivan's lips before they picked right back up into the same smile he despised so much. Winter didn't change at all. Winter never changed. That was the only constant in their world. He'd long ago begin to suspect that he and Ivan would be long dead before the older man aged a single year. At least he'd gotten it half right, so far.

He watched the aged man's finger slowly begin to squeeze the trigger, always precise and patient. Blue eyes remained open, the phantom smile lingering on his lips even as the rain pounded against his head and fell into his eyes, past his glasses' lenses. He glanced back at Ivan and laughter began to pour past his throat. It started slowly as snickers that quickly built into a loud, full laugh. He let his head tilt back just a bit, looking up at the sky.

Winter's finger paused, "What is so funny?"

Slowly, Alfred looked back at the old man, a full smile back on his face for the first time in weeks. Still, he kept his mouth shut for one of the first times in his life. No, he would take his secrets to his grave. Let it puzzle this man, haunt him for the rest of his cursed life.

With a low growl, the finger on the trigger resumed its achingly slow progress.

'For you, Mattie,' the kneeling blonde mused, 'Good luck.'

It was the strangest thing, reliving some of the major events that brought someone to the doorstep of the Reaper. He remembered losing mother and father. He remembered taking care of Matthew while simply trying to survive on the streets of a foreign land. He could remember meeting Winter and the training he instilled in the teens' minds and the threats that kept them from openly rebelling, meeting Ivan and beginning the rivalry that was occasionally the only thing that reminded him that he was still breathing. He could remember watching his brother desperately trying to clean the blood from his hands, unshed tears in his eyes. He could remember the younger twin's refusal to continue shedding blood and the fear that tore at his heart for his brother's safety.

"No more," was the simple sentence that would seal Matthew's fate if Winter were to hear it.

A tired smile tugged at the other blonde's lips, "You've said that, like, how many times?"

Matthew shook his head slowly, "I'm done, Al. No more."

The smiled turned into a frown and the older twin sat up from the couch, "So you're just gonna lay down and die, huh, Mattie? You're a quitter now?"

"What happened to the hero, eh?" Matthew shot back, "Or did you shoot him, too?"

Matthew would be long gone, probably close to arriving at his destination in Canada. He would be safe soon, hidden by the only man who'd ever successfully escaped Winter's grasp. Everything would be fine. Only… it wouldn't be. Still, he just kept laughing.

But the best part, Alfred decided right before the trigger finished its journey, was the fact that, despite everything, it felt so good to be the hero instead of the villain. It was just like he imagined as a child. Well… except the part about dying. That was a bit of a bum—


Two o'clock and the phone was ringing.

Two in the bloody morning and the stupid phone was going on and on with its racket.

If they were important, they'd call back, Detective Arthur Kirkland decided, shoving a soft pillow over his head to muffle the infernal noise. He'd just wait to see if the phone rang again. If he fell asleep while he was waiting, well, that wasn't his problem, now was it?

Just as he began to slip back into the veil of dreams, the blasted contraption started up again. With a small growl of frustration, he threw the pillow against the headboard and slowly groped the nightstand for his phone without opening his eyes. His thumb found the talk button without much effort. "This had best be important," he snapped.

A chuckle came across the line, "Of course, mon cher! Would I 'ave called you otherwise?"

Arthur was sure his eye was twitching in annoyance, "It wouldn't be the first time and something tells me that it would not be the last."

Another chuckle, "You wound me, mon ami. At least I am not a little punk who—"

"Get to the point or I'm going back to bed," Arthur cut in.

There was an over dramatic sigh, "Fine, fine. As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted; I received a most interesting call from Antonio a few minutes ago."

After a pause that was clearly meant for suspense, Arthur let out a hiss, "Francis." He shouldn't have expected any better from the journalist who'd been called in to act on behalf of Arthur's department far too many times than the Brit would have liked.

"You are no fun, mon cher. To put this simply, a local jogger found one of Winter's men laying in a ditch several hours ago, shot through the chest," Francis relayed.

Arthur's emerald eyes shot open as he sat up in bed, flipping the blankets off as he began the process of stumbling around in the dark, trying to find the light switch. "Are you sure it's one of Winter's?" he demanded, finally flicking the switch and shielding his eyes.

"Oui," Francis answered, "I sent Gilbert a picture to be certain."

The man known as General Winter had been the focus of Arthur's career as a detective. He and his small group of assassins were notorious, the best in the business. Despite being well known among in the higher classes of groups like the mafia, there was virtually no information on either Winter or his underlings. That is, until they found Gilbert. The self-proclaimed "awesome" albino somehow knew things about Winter than no one else did. If anyone knew if the person the jogger found was one of Winters, it was the German. Arthur never questioned how he had such information. He knew the likely answer, but hearing it from Gilbert would legally oblige him to act and Gilbert's information was just too valuable. That and… well… he had a way of growing on people, especially with that strange little bird that seemed to be attached to his head.

"Where is he?" Arthur asked, referring to the man in the ditch.

"'e 'as been taken to a critical care unit 'ere in my country," Francis answered.

Arthur frowned, "Should I get my hopes up, then?" If this man was, indeed, one of Winter's Arthur knew how difficult it would be to make him talk. Still, it could be his only chance at catching the infamous gun-for-hire and he was willing to put up with any resistance.

"I do not know, mon cher," Francis sighed, "But I imagine you should come see, non? If it falls through, then I suppose I could 'ave a bit of pity on you and take you to dinner. You 'ave not put work down long enough to 'ave a bit of fun is a long time, oui?"

Arthur narrowed his eyes at the wall, as though it were Francis, "I'd rather die than go to dinner with a frog."

He tuned Francis out for the resulting rant about "ungrateful English punks" and focused his thoughts back to the man that was obviously fighting for his life from a bullet wound to the chest. Winter's men were never caught and they certainly never failed, as far as Arthur had been told. They were almost inhumanly good at their line of work.

Why, then, was one of them in a critical care unit in France?

Well, there you have it, the prologue. Hopefully that wasn't too painful. ^.^

I think I'll have the next chapter up fairly soon (maybe even this morning), so, if you're still interested in reading after this, feel free to keep an eye out.