Title: International Relations
Fandom: Hetalia Axis Powers
Genre: Romance/Friendship
Pairings: Prussia/Austria, Russia/Canada, US/UK, France/UK, Germany/N. Italy, Spain/S. Italy
Rating: T
Disclaimer: I don't own Hetalia. If I did, Francis would actually have a French name.

Summary: Companion piece to "Crimson Skies", focusing on the other nations and their relationships. Starts in Waghington, when Arthur and Francis arrive to clean up after their misbehaving children once more and then loosely follows the storyline of "Crimson Skies".

Arthur was by no means as superstitious as the other nations claimed he was (after all, magic was real, never mind the opinion of those who were too blind to see it). He knew a bad omen when he saw it, though, and Ludwig waiting for him in the hospital's lobby and wearing an expression as if he was about to confess to the second rise of Adolf Hitler was definitely a bad, bad sign.

"Ludwig." Francis rushed past him and towards the German, stopping abruptly right in front of him and briefly taking both his hands, squeezing them. An awkward gesture, since Francis was a very tactile person, while Ludwig was reserved and uncomfortable with physical contact. "How are they?"

It was the very question that was burning on Arthur's lips, too.

"Worse than they should be," Ludwig replied. "I still don't know or understand what really happened, but it is just… wrong. We don't do such things to each other. Not anymore. And they are brothers and allies." He drew a deep breath, apparently staling himself to their reaction to his next statement. "Ivan is with Matthew."

Arthur gasped, a startled yelp escaping him, and he rapidly moved closer. "Are you insane?!" He hissed.

"Arthur, there is no power in the world that could have stopped Ivan from entering that room," Ludwig said in a resigned tone of voice. "I had the choice between letting him see Matthew and watching him kill Alfred and I thought you might prefer the former."

"I know I do," Francis murmured. "What's he doing, Ludwig?"

"I'm not entirely sure, since he more or less kicked me out, but Ivan usually keeps his word, so my educated guess would be that he's trying to heal Matthew."

Arthur exhaled sharply and he caught a soft hiss from Francis, too.

"I'm not sure I like the sound of that," Francis said.

"Well, what would you have me do?" Ludwig asked, sounding somewhat exasperated. "I had two severely injured nations on my hands and it would have been irresponsible to leave them in that state. I had to think of their populations, too. Ivan was more than willing to take one of them off my hands, and if you had seen his face when he stepped into that room and saw Matthew, you would not doubt him. He doesn't intend to hurt Matthew; he was earnestly upset and worried about him. I wouldn't advise coming anywhere near him at this point, though, because he is also livid with rage. He obviously blames Alfred."

"Justly?" Francis asked, raising his brows.

Ludwig shrugged. "I suppose that depends on your point of perspective. Matthew almost certainly initiated the fight, but knowing him, he would have had to be sufficiently provoked to take such drastic actions. I suggest we ask Alfred about that, once he is better. I'm sure there is an interesting story behind all this."

Oh God, Alfred…! Arthur thought, what did you do now…?

"I want to see him," he said.

"Both of them," Francis corrected him, sending him a look laced with disapproval. Arthur shrugged it off impatiently.

"As I said – I do not think that disturbing Ivan right now is a very good idea. Let him do his work, and once he has calmed down sufficiently to be safe to approach, we can deal with him," Ludwig said. "Alfred's room is down the hall. I'll show you."

Arthur followed him rather apprehensively. He dreaded the sight of a severely injured Alfred confined to a hospital bed. Francis, despite his obvious misgivings regarding Arthur's more intimate relationship with Alfred, seemed to sense his uneasiness and put a comforting hand on his arm. Though never entirely comfortable with close bodily contact with his former lover, Arthur appreciated the gesture.

Ludwig pushed an impersonal white door open and stepped into the room in front of them. The room was rather large, sparsely furnished and currently occupied by two people. One was a slender nurse, neatly dressed in pale blue hospital garb, sitting next to the bed. The second was none other than the human impersonation of the United States of America, looking pale, still and decidedly too sick.

"Alfred," Arthur muttered, shaken by the sight. He hesitated, then gave in to the urge to rush to Alfred's side.

"How is he?" Ludwig asked the nurse.

"Stable," she replied with what was likely intended to be a comforting smile. It did not comfort Arthur.

"Could you leave us alone with him for a moment?" Ludwig asked politely.

The nurse looked doubtful. "I shouldn't…"

"I do think you should," Ludwig said, his voice not unkind but quite firm.

The nurse visibly shrank, nodded meekly and retreated.

"Impressive," Francis said. "Though she is one of Alfred's, so you really should have asked permission before influencing her."

"She has dual citizenship," Ludwig replied, "she is one of mine, too, which is why it worked." He frowned briefly. "That still doesn't feel right. How can you be loyal to two countries, sometimes even three or four? It's not possible. You cannot divide your allegiance like that."

"Modern times, Ludwig. You need to discard your old-fashioned view of nationality. People move around a lot, they marry across borders, live in one country, then in another – it's not that easy to tell who belongs to whom anymore. We all have to learn to share, I believe." *

"Hush," Arthur said, gently taking one of Alfred's hands into his. It felt cold, but the calm, steady throb of Alfred's pulse was reassuring. Injured he might be, but he was strong and he would soon recover.

"You're right," Francis said, his face assuming an unusually earnest and sober expression as he stepped to the other side of the bed. "It's been a while since I have seen him in such bad shape," he noted. "Beaten up by Canada, my, my… and here I was thinking that I had Mathieu all figured out."

"This has to be Ivan's doing," Arthur said, shaking his head in dismay. "Matthew on his own would never do such a thing. He's not capable of it."

"Ah… I don't know, Arthur. I tend to agree with Ludwig on this one. If sufficiently provoked, I do think Mathieu would be capable of attacking his brother. And even you have to admit that Alfred has a real talent for provoking others."

Arthur gazed at Alfred's still form, his pale face and closed eyes, and a feeling of panic took grip of his heart and constricted his throat. He had seen Alfred sick or injured plenty of times, but that did not mean that he would ever get used to it or ever stop worrying. "We should have been there," he said at last, his voice very quiet. "We should have prevented this from happening."

Francis, to whom the words had chiefly been addressed, remained silent for a long moment. "They are all grown up now, Arthur," he finally said, his voice gentle and colored by a trace of melancholy. "All our children are."

"I will go and check on Ivan and Matthew," Ludwig announced from somewhere near the door. "Carefully."

"That does seem prudent," Francis agreed, but he made no move to join him. When the door had shut with a soft thump behind the German, he stepped around to Arthur's side of the bed.

"Francis," Arthur said, looking up, "we have to take action against Ivan. Even if it does mean war. We cannot allow this to happen, not to Matthew. Grown up he may be, but he is still family."

Francis frowned. "No," he disagreed, violently shaking his head. "I mean – yes, of course Mathieu is family, but fighting Ivan is out of the question."

"Are you scared?" Arthur asked, his lip curling depreciatively.

"Yes," Francis replied sharply, "of losing one of my dearest friends and allies whom I still regard as a son, and also of starting a war that will devastate the entire northern hemisphere. And let me ask you a question, Arthur – what do you think Ivan is doing right now? Is he sitting somewhere, smoking a pipe and plotting the downfall of the western world or devising elaborate ways to harm Mathieu? No. He is in a room much like this one, holding Mathieu's hand like you are holding Alfred's right now. Because he cares about our little boy. As much as you care about Alfred… or at least as much as he's able to. And what's more; the feeling is mutual."

"I refuse to believe that," Arthur said. "Matthew is not stupid, and he knows history as well as we do. Ivan's attentions may have flattered him, since he is so scared of being forgotten, and yes, maybe he developed a schoolboy crush on him, but it is inconceivable that it could be more than that. There is nothing remotely lovable about Ivan. He is neither affectionate, nor caring, nor particularly refined. On the contrary, he is an insufferable egomaniac, a brute and at times quite insane. He's probably amused by Matthew's childish affection, and he's toying with him. There's a pattern to Ivan's relationships with other nations, and Matthew fits right into it. You're a fool not to see that."

"Arthur," Francis said, sounding exasperated and faintly amused, "don't try to teach me anything about romance. I already know everything, and you may believe me when I'm telling you that there really is something between Ivan and Mathieu. Something other than misled admiration and a game to amuse a villain. I won't deny that Ivan is one – a villain. But even the worst of us are capable of love."

"That may be true, but if Ivan's idea of love is oppressing and hurting his loved ones, then I don't want him to love my son."

"He won't hurt Matthew."

"How can you be so sure?"

"Because I spoke to him. On the way to Tokyo. And you know what he said to me? 'I can't risk hurting him. There's nothing noble about shielding a loved one from harm, when you yourself are the greatest threat to his safety.' He knows, Arthur. And he is so afraid of losing control around Mathieu that he has been on tiptoes for months, maybe even years."

Arthur considered this for a moment, then shook his head dubiously. "I find that hard to believe. I've known Ivan for a long time and I don't think he has changed all that much…"

Francis sighed heavily and suddenly reached out, wrapping an arm lightly about Arthur's waist and stroking his cheek with the other hand. "You are so stubborn, mon amour. Always have been. Why do you insist on thinking the worst of Ivan when I have told you that I believe in his sincerity?"

"Maybe I'm careful?" Arthur countered, once he had recovered from the shock of Francis' sudden closeness.

"Being careful is good, but I think you're overreacting."

"It is Ivan we are talking about. Russia…"

"Arthur," Francis asked, blue eyes staring into his with a frightening intensity, "do you trust me?"

"Ridiculous," Arthur huffed, trying to ignore the fact that Francis still had an arm wrapped around him and that the Frenchman's other hand was now resting on his shoulder. He was definitely too close for comfort. "I trust you about as far as I could throw you!"

Francis chuckled, and it was that merry, bubbly sound that had intoxicated so many of his hapless victims. "We shall try that another time," he said. "For now, though, I'm asking you to have some faith, please… in me, and in our son. Do you really think that I would allow Mathieu to follow this path if I believed that I might lead him to his own ruin?"

Arthur sighed. "I don't know." Francis' presence, the warmth of his body, the smell of his cologne, that hand on his shoulder… all those things were distracting him. It was hard to think straight

"You do not have a very high opinion of me," Francis pouted.

Arthur snorted. "I know you too well!"

"Alas… I do believe you're right."

"Hum. So what if I decided to believe you about Ivan and Matthew? Where would that leave us?"

"Us, Arthur? Well, I don't know… considering the fact that you are in my arms now rather than in Alfred's, I'd say that we are getting back on track…"

"Idiot." Arthur rolled his eyes. "You know that that was not what I meant." He was not entirely comfortable with the turn their conversation had taken but tried to hide his apprehension.

"You miss me Arthur, don't you?" Francis laughed delightedly.

Arthur swallowed hard. "I… er…", he faltered.

Long fingers affectionately stroked his cheek. "Come on… you can admit it. There need to be no secrets between us."

Arthur jerked his head away, his cheeks burning. "Yes," he replied gruffly, "yes, maybe I miss you. Sometimes. As I am sure you miss me sometimes. That is quite normal for estranged couples, but it does not mean that I will ever let you manipulate me."

Francis smiled. "But you already have, mon amour. You just didn't realize it." He bent forward, his lips brushing Arthur's in the briefest of kisses that gave him no time to react. "As long as you still love me, I will always be able to manipulate you, and you do still love me."

Arthur tried to protest that statement, denial already on the tip of his tongue, but the words escaped his grasp. He had never been a good liar.

Francis chuckled, observing his inner struggle.

Neither of them noticed Alfred watching them from beneath half closed lids.

* Germany maintains a rather strict policy on dual citizenship. Generally speaking, if you are German and apply for the citizenship of another country, say South Africa, you automatically lose your German citizenship. It is possible to obtain a permit to keep your German citizenship, but you have to prove that you would incur severe disadvantages if you were not allowed to have both nationalities. Also, a foreigner wishing to obtain the German citizenship usually has to drop his other citizenship (there are exceptions to this rule, for example regarding Moroccans, since it is not possible to get rid of your Moroccan nationality, it sticks to you no matter what you do). Although legislation has changed in the past few years, especially regarding the nationalities of other EU-states, the principle of avoiding dual citizenship is still upheld.