Hello again~ Pirate here, but you already knew that. ^^ I want to send a BIG thank you to everyone who is still reading as well as a super-awesome thanks to everyone who reviewed. You guys are so nice to me, and I really, really appreciate it. Once again, I was so busy with school stuff that I totally forgot to get into contact with potential betas, so this one is also unbetaed. I'll do my best stop being lazy and write the chapter early enough to be betaed this week. :P Anyway, I hope that you're all still enjoying this, so… here you go~

Yeah… the disclaimer should be pretty obvious by now: I have no claims to Hetalia.

...:...Festivals and Midnight Meetings...:...

Unfortunately for Alfred, waking up after one of Gilbert's "awesome" training sessions happened in slow stages. The first thing he was actually aware of was the fact that his side was defiantly bruised if the dull pang near his ribs was any indication. The next thing he noticed was the sore stiffness in his limbs that came as a result of two straight hours of trying to dodge the Joker's onslaught of attacks. It was—to use the Joker's own term—totally "unawesome."

After six days of waking up in the same manner, Alfred was beginning to get used to a lack of sleep combined with the strain of relentless exercise. If there was one thing that could be said about Gilbert, it was that he certainly knew what he was talking about. Alfred grudgingly admitted that it almost seemed like the man was born and bred for fighting even if he was a total slave driver. During the past few days, Alfred felt like he'd picked up more than he had in a whole year's worth of the classes that Yao had arranged for him when he was a scrawny—but no less dashing—teenager. Still… after three days of increasing frustration on the albino Joker's part, it seemed like there was something missing that Gilbert hadn't quite been able to teach…

Knock, knock.

Alfred blinked and looked toward the door—the source of the noise. "Uh… Yeah?" he answered unceremoniously.

"Alfred, sir," Toris's muffled voice called through the door, "I have a letter for you."

Alfred blinked a few times at the wooden door before he climbed out of bed with a low groan, silently cursing Gilbert and his crazy training. He managed to slip on his glasses along the way. His trip to the door was fairly slow, but he eventually made it and turned the knob to face Toris with a yawn. "Awesome!" the blonde chirped before mentally cringing at his use of the word, "Er… Sweet. Who's it from?"

Toris smiled and handed the crisp white parchment out to the Spade King, "I do not know, but it much be from one of your fellow royals: the seal is from the house of Spades."

Alfred's smile widened, and his complaints were quieted as he took the letter, "Thanks, dude. You rule."

Toris chuckled, "I wouldn't say that… Just give me your response, and I will have it sent when you are done. Ah. And King Ivan asks that you be prepared for the festival at dusk. He will meet you here then and um… politely requires that you not make him late for his own speech."

Alfred wondered for a moment if Ivan sent that message just so that Alfred would disobey. He pushed the thought aside in favor of the letter. "As if I care if that guy's late to his big speech," he laughed before beginning to close the door as a warning that Toris should back up, "See ya later, Toris."

The brunette looked like he was going to protest, but he took the hint, sighed and left before the door closed completely.

Alfred, on the other hand, rushed over to his desk, refusing to admit that his training "wounds" probably weren't that bad if he could still move that fast. The minute he was seated, he slipped his thumb under the wax seal, admiring its familiar look of the dark blue wax and spade-shaped impression for the faintest of seconds before he broke it and opened the letter. His eyes scanned the letter, and he smiled warmly at the sight of Arthur's loopy, curled script. With a care he wouldn't be caught dead using, he smoothed the letter out on his desk.

Dear git,

I assume that—if you are reading this—you have arrived at Clubs relatively safely. I send my regards to—

Ignore that previous bit… For some reason, I cannot bring myself to write to you as though this is a proper letter to a king. I imagine that might have something to do with the fact that there would be far too many large words for you to grasp, and I'd rather not give you a headache—not that I care, of course.

Spades is… doing well, I suppose—as well as it can without its king, anyway. I wouldn't want to inflate your already enormous ego by relaying to you exactly how many cries of outrage were heard at the council several days ago. It is… different now that you aren't around to toss about your stupid, ludicrous ideas (and I, for one, am not missing them a bit). However, Yao and I are in control of the situation. It seems that Spades will prosper so… I suppose I would thank you for that if I wasn't so angry with you. I hope that you're happy with this decision, Alfred, because you certainly cannot change your mind now.

Ah, anyway… There is a meeting in half an hour, and I must prepare. I simply wanted to know if I should rally the troops or if you managed to survive the trip to Clubs. If anyone could be thrown overboard for being a nuisance, it would be you. Do write back soon, Alfred. I… really do hope that you are doing well.


Arthur, Queen of Spades

PS Yao sends his regards and tells me that the scones I intended to send would not survive the journey, but that is your loss, lad.

Alfred sighed somewhat wearily before he carefully folded up the letter and set it aside. After practically growing up with Arthur, it was fairly easy to spot the attempts at covering concern. The blonde almost frowned as he gathered writing material and began to compose his reply. Somehow, he had to warn Arthur about the Jokers… without sounding insane. With a small shrug, Alfred dipped his quill in the ink bottle. Subtle was never really his style anyway.

The rest of the day was oddly quiet for Alfred. He watched the busy work of the townsfolk putting up colorful banners, signs, and booths along the streets from his window with a strange mixture of tranquility and anticipation. Despite the cold, he opened his window a few hours past lunch, and let the smell of baking food drift up to his room. He used up several pages of scratch parchment and a decent portion of a stick of charcoal doodling little figures and familiar things from Spades along with several of the interesting designs of the banners in the streets. He would never admit to anyone that he was dressed and ready to leave for the festival an hour before dusk actually arrived.

At the sound of a knock, the blonde was on his feet and heading to the door. By the time the knocks died away, the door was open, and amethyst colored eyes met sapphire. The taller raised a platinum brow, "Ready so soon?"

Alfred found it hard to force a pout, so he didn't bother to try, "No way you're gonna ruin this dude. Show me to the food!"

Ivan appeared to be on the verge of a chuckle. He motioned with one hand to one of the halls, allowing Alfred to slip out of his room and close the door before he took the lead through the Clubs castle. "I will make speech first," Ivan instructed, "And then you may eat your weight in sweets."

Alfred brushed off the comment without a second thought, "Yeah, yeah. But you're payin'." Ivan's amusement increased just a fraction, and the rest of the walk was surprisingly non-violent.

They stopped in front of a pair of large glass doors that opened to a large, elaborated balcony. Toris was stationed near one of the doors with a piece of parchment in his hands. He offered the page up to Ivan who shook his head and walked out onto the balcony. Alfred blinked and glanced towards Toris, "Uh…"

"Go, go," Toris urged quietly, pointing to the balcony, "It will tell the people that there will be peace between Spades and Clubs."

Alfred didn't need any more urging. He hurried through the door and stopped somewhere towards the back. Down below, in the streets, a massive crowd had gathered to look up at the balcony. Elizabeta stood off to the right of Ivan, her large broadsword strapped to her hip. Roderich was at the left of the Club king, but the space between the two of them was almost twice that between the king and queen. The brunette's shoulders were so tense that Alfred was pretty sure they were almost shaking, and his fists were clinched tight at his side.

Alfred frowned and stepped in, taking up some a portion of the expansive space between the Jack of Clubs and the King as though it was made for him. Honestly, he was almost certain that he'd just broken some unwritten taboo, but Alfred wasn't ever one to really care much about being sensitive to traditions. Two sets of violet eyes and one set of green snapped in his direction, and the Spade King laughed sheepishly. Ivan was the first to return his attention to the crowd, quickly followed by Elizabeta. Roderich, however, shot Alfred a stern stare for several tense seconds before turning his gaze back to the crowd with a motion that was somehow aristocratic and disapproving.

Thankfully for Alfred, Elizabeta began to speak. Unfortunately for Alfred, he couldn't comprehend a word she was saying. So, doing what he did best, the blonde disconnected his mind from his situation and merely grinned. After a few minutes, Roderich added in his speech. Somehow, Alfred was almost certain he'd heard several of the words the Jack was using. He dropped that idea, figuring that he'd probably heard the language at a boring meeting somewhere.

When Ivan began to speak, the Spade King glanced his way. While he'd actually been studying (not that he'd ever admit), he had a hard time catching up with the seemingly elaborate sentences full of long words that Alfred nearly cringed at the idea of trying to pronounce himself. Still, the cadences of the speech and the tone in which the monarch spoke was enough to catch and hold his attention, even if he only managed to catch a few words out of the entire thing.

When Ivan concluded, there was silence before the crowd erupted in applause. Alfred tore his eyes off of Ivan to look down at the distant crowd. A hint of a smile touched his lips when he spotted smiles. They seemed to be genuinely pleased with whatever their court had just told them.

A warm hand on his shoulder snapped Alfred's attention up to violet eyes. "Now I show you to the food," Ivan offered. Alfred glanced around the balcony. He managed to catch the sight of Roderich's green coattail vanishing down the hall as the Jack rushed away from the scene. Elizabeta wasn't far behind, leaving the two blondes alone on the balcony.

Alfred nodded eagerly, "I'm freakin' stravin', man."

The festival, as it turned out, was just as fun as Alfred had been imaging all day. The booths were full of a combination of crafts and foods, and the sound of music added a new layer to the activities. Within the first six booths, Alfred had picked out a fairly large sampling of food. One of the booth-keepers had been curious enough to give him a basket to carry about his small culinary collection in, and the blonde cheerfully worked on cleaning it out and refilling it while Ivan followed, usually only speaking when it came time to pay. While Alfred wasn't exactly sure what the exchange rate for Spades and Clubs money was, he was fairly sure that the taller blonde was paying rather generously. Oddly enough, the Club King had only purchased one bottle of what Alfred assumed was alcohol, which the taller blonde turned up occasionally to take quick shots from.

Alfred turned his attention from his companion to one of the many street performance going on near them. He grinned and grabbed hold of Ivan's sleeve with his free hand in order to tug the taller man along with him as he joined the crowd watching. A small group of musicians sat off to the side of the group while another group of people were dancing to the music. Alfred's grin widen as he watched the impressive acrobatic stunts preformed simultaneously to the beat of the music.

He whipped his eyes over to Ivan who stood at his right. A pleasant half-smile was present on the taller blonde's lips as he watched. Alfred could feet the warmth from Ivan against his arm from the small distance between them, and the stark contrast of the cool weather only emphasized it. Alfred's comment died on his lips as he watched the Club King for a moment.

When the dance was finished, Ivan finally seemed to catch the shorter monarch's stare and returned it. "It is a fun dance," he commented, gently leading Alfred away with the dissipating crowd via a hand on his shoulder. One more long drink from the bottle; it was almost empty now.

"You can dance?" was the first thing to fly out of Alfred's mouth before he could stop it. The idea of the tall man being agile on his feet was an interesting picture, and Alfred momentarily recalled the surprising speed with which he'd been thrown against the wall during their spat a week ago. For a minute, he almost wondered if the rumors regarding the Club King's supposed brutal efficiency on the battlefield was just a rumor or not. Looking up at the seemingly tranquil man, Alfred had a rough time fitting the two pictures together.

Ivan nodded before finishing off the bottle, "Da. I used to a long time ago." He glanced down at the shorter monarch who had taken to staring. "What? Is so surprising?"

Alfred shook his head, not bothering to point out that Ivan's accent was getting thicker after a bottle full of alcohol. "What else happens during this weirdo festival of yours?" he asked, changing the subject.

Ivan looked at his empty bottle with a frown before heading towards another booth. Alfred followed behind. After all, nothing separated Alfred from his meal ticket. "Fireworks will begin soon," Ivan answered after he picked up another bottle, "Best view is in the gardens. Come along, немного подсолнечного."

Alfred frowned as he followed behind, munching occasionally on something from his basket. The pair made their way back to the castle and entered through the main hall. Alfred wasn't quite sure if he should trust a partially drunk Ivan to know where he was going, but he really had no idea how to get to the gardens, either. Several minutes and two familiar halls later, Alfred was ready to comment on how freakin' lost they were when Ivan took a quick right without warning. Alfred's sigh died on his lips when he stepped out into an enclosed area full of the scent of flowering life and full of cream-colored blooms. The sky above them was full of tiny, twinkling stars, and Alfred's face lit up when he spotted them.

A small thud snapped Alfred's attention to the ground where the Club King had seen fit to unceremoniously fall into a seat on the ground. Grinning, Ivan patted the grass next to him. Alfred shook his head, but sat down anyway. "What is that, anyway?" Alfred asked, pointing to the bottle of alcohol.

Ivan lifted it up and swirled the liquid inside with almost curious eyes. After a moment's inspection, offered it to Alfred with a mischievous smile, "You may try if you like. Is usually too strong for Spades people."

Alfred frowned and snatched the bottle away. He didn't even bother to inspect it before he turned it up and took a quick drink. Without warning, his esophagus decided to work against him and his penchant for proving Ivan wrong, and he coughed violently against his hand as he grimaced at the bottle. "That stuff's freakin' terrible!" he complained, "Are you tryin' to kill me or somethin'?"

To Alfred's surprise, Ivan chuckled, took the bottle back, and took a long drink as though it was just water, "Oh, no. You have figured out my evil plan. Would have been too easy to hire professional assassin. I thought it much more fun to kill you myself with vodka and hide body in the garden."

Alfred tried to gape—and managed to for a few seconds—before he frowned and snatched the bottle back. If the weirdo Club King could drink it, the King of Spades could, too. He tilted the bottle back, slightly more prepared for the burn this time. With a sigh that was a sad attempt at covering up another line of coughs, Alfred handed the bottle back with a proud grin (and maybe just a little wince), "Dude, you suck at this whole assassination thing, don't you?"

Ivan took his drink before handing it back to Alfred. He shrugged pleasantly, "Is what an assassin is for, da?"

Alfred rolled his eyes before he took his sip.

By the time the first crack of the fireworks sounded, they pair of them had gone through the bottle. When Alfred told himself that he wasn't slightly tipsy, a treacherous voice in the back of his mind told him that that was probably exactly what Arthur told himself after a couple of drinks. No matter how tipsy the weirdo Clubs drink made him, he couldn't tear his eyes off of the blooms of light the fireworks created. It was like watching the creation of another universe expand and burn out all in a matter of seconds.

He was so distracted by the lights flashing in the sky that he didn't realize that Ivan had moved until warm arms curled around his shoulders and a chin rested on his shoulder. Tensing up, the shorter blonde glanced to the side to find half-hooded violet eyes a little too close for comfort. "Uh…?" he started, but found himself unable to continue.

Those violet eyes slowly rolled back to the fireworks, and a softer version of his usual smile rested on his lips. "Is nice… having company," Ivan commented as though that explained everything.

Alfred made a small "meh" noise before turning back to the fireworks. Apparently heavy alcohol made him even less articulate than usual. "Just don't mess up my coat," he muttered, trying to brush off the fact that he was more comfortable than he would have liked to admit.

Ivan chuckled, and a dark pink tinted he Spade King's cheeks at the feel of warm breath so close to his neck, "Wouldn't want that, would we?" The pair fell silent as they watched the grand succession of explosions that signaled the eminent conclusion of the fireworks. Alfred did his best to stifle a yawn, but failed miserably. Between Gilbert's training taking up several hours of his precious sleep time, the alcohol, and the warmth, Alfred was practically asleep by the time the last explosion echoed through the night.

Ivan chuckled again and reached out to flick the stubborn cowlick that never failed to get some reaction from the shorter monarch. Sure enough, blue eyes snapped open, and the blush of red was back.

"C'mon, dude, that's not cool!" Alfred complained with a light slur, "What've you got against Nantucket?"

"Actually, I like it," Ivan corrected, "Is stubborn and strange. Very much like you."

Alfred blinked a few times before frowning, "Dude… I donno if that was supposed to be nice or mean, so gimme a minute to figure out if I should hit you or not." Reasoning was beginning to be a bit more difficult.

Ivan stood up, and Alfred very nearly complained about the sudden lack of warmth. A pale hand was extended to the shorter blonde who merely looked up at it for a minute. "Wouldn't want you to catch a cold and die before the Jokers arrive, da?" Ivan explained cheerfully.

Still, Alfred hesitated to stare. Against the backlighting of the partial moon, Ivan's platinum hair took on a shine almost as if it was glowing in places. Alfred had never noticed quite how well that pale hair went with violet eyes. If he'd been in a state to philosophize (Arthur would have snorted at the very thought), he would have guessed that there was something guarded but decidedly content in those violets along with something surprisingly lonely. Okay, so maybe—he made a note to delete the observation the moment he was sober—Ivan was a little bit handsome.

The smile dropped just a hint, and Alfred's suspicions about the lonely look were all but confirmed, "I do not bite like rabid dog."

Alfred rolled his eyes with a grin slowly taking root on his face before he grabbed the offered hand. With a quick tug, he was on his feet (and, no, he did not stumble just a little). He reached out and gently tugged at the pale scarf that never seemed to be absent from the Club King, "Know what? You're way too freakin' paranoid, dude. Loosen up a little, ya know. It's like I always tell Artie, if you still all stressed out and stuff, you'll probably end up havin' a heart attack of something in a couple of years. And, dude, let me just that you that I'm freakin' goin' home if you have a heart attack or somethin', so you oughta find a hobby or something 'cause—"

Well that was weird… Alfred's voice seemed to be muffled. He paused in his speech, his muddled brain trying to process what exactly the problem was. Blinking a few times, he first noticed that there was a pair of violet eyes way too close for casual conversation. The next realization was that his lips were oddly warm and that there was a large hand on either of his shoulders.

Oh, he was being kissed. Wait… He was being kissed? Did that even count as a hobby? Well… wouldn't want the King of Clubs to die of a heart attack, he excused himself. Sapphire eyes closed, and sun-kissed hands made their way up to curl in the soft fabric of a pale scarf. That seemed to be all the encouragement that taller monarch needed. A pair of arms wrapped around Alfred's waste, and neither party bothered to care if someone happened to walk out into that particular section of the gardens. One thing was for sure, though: Alfred was not telling Arthur about it in his letter.

Gilbert frowned deeply from his place at Alfred's window. The little brat must have gone to the festival if he hadn't returned on time. Making a harsh 'tch' sound, he stood up and shook his head. They didn't have time for the kid to slack off. Still…

The last festival he'd been to was almost five years ago. He grinned at the memory of a night of drunken revelry, convincing the King of Diamonds to dress a commoner to accompany himself and Antonio, and several well-executed pranks on one Jack of Clubs (although he almost cringed at the memory of the Queen's fryingpan flying at his face). Ah, the good days. In the spirit of nostalgia, he summoned up the Joker magic and vanished from the empty room only to reappear in a field full of marble stones and mounds of dirt. His feet lead him without much thought being in the action, and he almost wondered if there was something to the idea of a Joker being somehow tied to their own graves. He certainly had never seen where his was.

Sure enough, though, he eventually found himself staring down at his own name engraved in pale marble. He grinned as he looked up at the rather extravagant headstone. At least they got one thing right.

He was nearly to the point of commenting when he heard footsteps. Frowning, he stepped behind the marble, curious to see who would be in a graveyard during a time of festivities. He flipped his dark hood over his white hair to make sure that it wouldn't be seen and peaked carefully around the stone. The flash of glasses reflecting moonlight was his first hint, quickly followed by the outline of a brunette man. Pale brows knitted closer together. Why would the little aristocrat be out in the grave yard…? Surely Liz hadn't… No, Antonio had told him that none of the Clubs royalty had changed. So why…? That's when Gilbert caught sight of the little yellow blob perched inside a rather large yet still easily portable birdcage. A grin spread across Gilbert's features for a fraction of a second before it turned somewhat bitter. It was his grave Roderich was visiting, he deduced with an almost morbid curiosity.

As if he knew Gilbert was there, the Jack of Clubs held his face so that the reflected moonlight was the only thing Gilbert could see through his glasses. The frown on the brunette's lips, though, seemed a bit more sunken than usual. Sure enough, Roderich stopped in front of the marble tombstone that acted as shield for the Joker.

For a tense moment, everything was silent. Eventually, Roderich broke the silence, "This is your fault, you know."

Gilbert tilted his head from his hiding spot and frowned. What exactly was his fault…? Surely not the whole being-falsely-accused-of-betraying-the-country-and-dying thing.

"Elizabeta very nearly convinced me not to return here this year," Roderich commented as though clarifying Gilbert's question to some extent. So Roderich was mad about coming back. That didn't make much sense to Gilbert. How exactly was that his fault? "I have been taking care of your precious bird, though I am not sure if it is normal for them to last this long." Gilbert glanced at the small yellow bird perched on a small swing in its birdcage and couldn't stop his grin from returning.

For the most part, Roderich was fairly quiet after that. The bird chirped occasionally as if to cheer the Jack up, but he mostly ignored it. Roderich eventually sighed and pushed up his glasses before turning gracefully on heel as he started his way back. Gilbert frowned and acted on impulse (some of his finest moments had been based on an impulse after all—his instincts were that awesome). He tugged at the Joker magic and prepared it.

Seconds later, he reappeared just behind the Jack and wrapped his arms around his shoulders. The brunette immediately tensed up as though preparing for a fight. "Hey, specs," Gilbert started, nearly laughing when Roderich's movements came to a completely halt. He could see the rapid pulse beating the aristocrat's pale neck. "Depressed und sad is a bad look for you. Did I ever tell you that?" He hadn't been expected the slender fingers of Roderich's free hand to reach up and curl in the fabric of Gilbert's sleeve as if to prove that it was real nor the faintest of tremors in the aristocrat's shoulders. Oddly enough, Roderich didn't move otherwise as though he seemed to think looking at Gilbert would dispel the phantom. "Tch. Poor specs. You really can't do anything vithout me, can you?" Gilbert sighed dramatically, "Guess I'll have to watch over you since you can't do it yourself. Oh! Und Gilbird shouldn't be in a cage, specs; that's just mean. Anyvay, I've got to go; important ghost stuff to do, you know. See you around, little aristocrat."

With one more tug of magic, Gilbert vanished from Roderich to return to his previous hiding stop with a muffled snicker. He peaked back around the marble see Roderich whip around, wide violet eyes desperately searching through the darkness and moonlight. The albino's smile fell just a fraction. It wasn't quite as funny a sight as he thought it would be. His smile falling into a full frown, he summoned the Joker magic one more time with Antonio's ship in mind.

Later that night, he would silently curse Roderich for looking pathetic enough for Gilbert to take the extra time to pull of the ever present necklace he'd received from his Vati—and never really bothered to ask how he still had it as a Joker—and silently lay it in front of the marble slab where (if the aristocrat really wasn't blind as Gilbert often accused him of being) it would easily be found.

Meh… It's a little shorter than last time, but I'm going through a pretty busy school week. Besides, I kind of felt like that was a good place to cut this chapter off. I really enjoyed writing the last scene, but the festival was almost torturous. :P Anyway, along the way, I really wanted to do a PruAus oneshot that's connected with this story, but I also was thinking about doing a Finfem!Sweden oneshot that more than likely wouldn't have any connection to the cardverse. So… feel free to let me know if anybody would be interested in reading either of those. I'll probably put up a pole on my profile, so please do check it out if you're interested. ^^ Anyway, that you all for reading, and I hope that you enjoyed~