This wasn't supposed to happen.

Not to me.

Terror welled up inside of him. Absolute agony screamed in his veins.

Crumbled buildings, sliding off their blackened skeletons. Repugnant black smoke billowing into the air, cloaking the sky as it worked its way into his lungs. Voracious flames, clawing their way from their embers, sampling anything and everything within their deadly reach.

And the blood.

The blood.

The world was crimson. It ran into his eyes and out of his ears. It swirled in pools around grotesque mounds of rotten corpses.

Scarlet. Roseate. Burgundy. Vermillion. They all ran together, tainting the pavement, the trees, the water. They were one and the same. The only color to ever exist, stretching across the canvas of time as one ugly stroke of a paintbrush, one deafening discord in history. A tiger, dripping red, stalking, hunting, pouncing, coming to call.

And now it was his turn.

Oh, God, not me, please not me.

The pain.

Make it stop. Make it stop.

Look around, he thought.

Look at the ruins. The ruins of all things past, present, and future. Every bark of laughter. Every salty tear sliding down a child's soft cheek. Every triumph, crippled.

Hot tears surged like tiny tidal waves behind his eyes, burning him, blinding him.

Oh- don't-

The ruins of this country he'd protected, fought for, and loved.

The ruins of him.

And no one cares.

Every shaky breath burned him with acid, but still he screamed for help, howling until his throat was raw and angry.

Screaming and crying and hurting and... And nothing.

There was nothing. Nothing but agony. Nothing but time, time which was inching by and sliding through his fingers like his own blood , leering out at him in shades of red-

red like your own flag, Mattie boy

at the same time.

Nothing but despair. Despair and disrepair-


Is that-?

Yes. Yes.

Thank you, God!

Five nations, standing tall, inky silhouettes against the horizon. Five allies. Here for him. Here to help.

"Help! Help me, please!"

They're standing so close… why don't they hear me?

Soaring hopes began to plummet.

He screamed. Again. And again.

And again.

He's screaming but they're not doing anything, not moving, not speaking, just staring at him, expressions blasé and apathetic.

Don't they notice the blood? The desolation and horror? Do they even see me?

He fell.

There wasn't enough breath in his frail body to scream again. All he could do was turn shimmering cerulean lakes of eyes up towards Them, those who were supposed to save him but saw nothing to save, in one final, desperate plea.

Ten glassy eyes met his. There was nothing, absolutely nothing in those vacant expressions. They looked like dolls. Evil, stupid dolls. Even Alfred, his own brother.

Matthew feels his heart break. The ground was callous and unforgiving, and he knew that soon he'd be buried in it. A chill snaked down his spine, and slowly, his eyes misted over.

"It's a shame, really," Alfred was saying. "Who was that guy, anyway? I never knew him. It's a shame all the same, though, a shame all the same."


Matthew Williams bolted upright, the scream flying from his throat like a banshee's howl. Cold sweat beaded on his forehead, and his heart was pounding like a trip hammer. He gave a little gasp and sucked in a shaky breath as if his burning lungs couldn't get enough air. He ran a clammy hand across his forehead. His hair clung damply to his face, and for some reason his eyes were stinging and his cheeks were wet.

"MATT? What the hell are you doing?" Someone turned on a switch and yellowy light streamed in from the hallway. Alfred stood in the doorway, scowling and disheveled, arms crossed across his chest. The Canadian shakily twisted his sheets around in his hand- oh, good, he was in a normal bed in a normal apartment. There was no blood, no death, no doom. Oh good. Oh good. Oh good.

"Seriously, that's the last time you're ever sharing an apart- OW, oh… fu…" Alfred was stumbling to his brother's side in the half-light from the hall, rubbing a stubbed toe and muttering to himself. "Dude, I don't know how they do it in Canada, but here in America we do not scream bloody murder in the middle of the night…" He trailed off, sitting on the mattress next to his brother. Matthew was still shaking, trying to come out of the nightmare, trying to collect himself. Suddenly, he felt a strong, warm hand on his shoulder. Slowly, he turned to where Alfred was staring at him, concern shining in his eyes for a rare moment.

"Dude? I was kidding about the whole you're-banned-from-my-apartment thing. Um… so… you can stop crying now… and stuff…" Matthew swiped his eyes with the blanket. A giggle escaped his lips, and before long he was laughing so hard he could hardly breathe. Alfred's eyes widened and he forced a weak chuckle.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Matthew gasped, clamping a hand over his mouth. "No… it's just… not about… the apartment thing." He dissolved into another fit of hysterical giggles, and for a moment he feared he wouldn't be able to stop. When he finally did, however, the weight of the dream came rushing back, and it felt as if an elephant sat on his chest.

"Matt…?" Alfred poked the Canadian's shoulder, frowning. "What happened?"

"I… I had a nightmare," Matthew admitted, staring sheepishly at his pillow. When Alfred didn't answer, he grudgingly continued, "Well… I know what you're thinking. It's dumb. But it really scared me. I was hurt… and…" His voice cracked, and he coughed, feeling stupid. "And no one… no one noticed or cared and you just stood there staring at me as I died and you didn't recognize me and what if that ever happens in real life? What if… what if I get hurt and you're not there to help?" He broke off, suppressing a sob that threatened to overwhelm him. He stared in silence at the shadows cast by the bed, expecting his brother to roll his eyes and say, "Dude. Come on. I've seen pathetic, but seriously? Bro, I'm the hero and that's just a load of B.S. So stop crying like a little girl and go the frick to sleep!" But no. When he looks over at Alfred, he sees something different. The American's face is pale and his grip on Matthew's shoulder has tightened so it hurts.

"That would never happen," he mumbled. "I don't know what bastard would try to hurt you, but if they did I'd help you, man. I promise. And then I'd make whoever hurt you sorry."

Matthew tried to thank his brother, but Alfred wasn't done yet. "That was a horrible dream, Matt, but it wasn't stupid. If… If someone… or me… if I… said something… that maybe, like, made you dream that or think like that… well… I promise I won't forget you."

Another surprise. "And I'm sorry."

Matthew knows his brother- he's happy-go-lucky, devil-may-care. Sometimes clueless. Barging forward to get what he wants. Leave all that sappy feeling stuff behind. Most of his apologies are light and insincere. And he's fiercely proud.

But those… those last three words, those small, simple words, those words that everyone throws around deftly, those words that are almost taboo to Alfred- those three words were completely heartfelt. And Matthew knows that in the worst of times, he'll always have his brother.

Matthew smiles, wiping the last of his tears from his eyes, and hugs his brother.

"Thanks, Al."

Back to grinning boyishly, Alfred shrugs. "No prob, dude. Cheering you up is what a bro is for."