The 'Hug'

Chapter 12

Alfred was settled back into the bed as comfortably as he could be with it having been damaged by him during his intense nightmare. He'd apologized to the nurses once he'd realized he was the cause of the damage, but they'd been patient with him.

"We've cleaned up that bandage but are you sure nothing is hurting other than the remaining headache?" One of the nurses asked after explaining things to him. Alfred was about to respond with the usual 'heroic' and 'tough guy' response of 'I'm fine', but the look the nurse was shooting him was eerily similar to the one Arthur would send him, minus the heavy-set eyebrows that only emphasized the intimidation.

"Ah, I'm dizzy and it kinda feels like I got a charlie horse in both my legs." He said, one of the nurses coming over to check his legs. The other was checking the monitor to see why it had been going off.

"No wonder you're like that – the IV's been damaged somehow. You're probably just dehydrated from the stuff we've been giving to counteract the effects of the other medication in your system." She said, Alfred doing his best to look completely clueless as to how the IV had been damaged. "We'll get you another one and you'll get some color back into those cheeks." She said with a smile. "But try not to fall back asleep just yet until you've had some water." She said, the other nurse handing him a cup and standing beside him until he'd finished it all. Once that was done, the two left him alone to return to where they had been originally working before Feliciano had a breakdown in front of them in order to get them to follow him.

Alfred tugged on the newly attached IV, frowning a little at having to stay still in the hospital for so long, especially after having seen one of those reapers. He'd been absolutely terrified coming out of his nightmare to find himself face-to-face with the man who'd been playing the main role in the final part and then finding a reaper standing beside his brother. It had made the panic and confusion over reopening the cut on his chest more heightened and the dream seem more real, as though he really was at his end. He sighed and had resolved to just waiting for the others to eventually wander back in if he hadn't scared them off when a movement in the corner of the room caught his eye.

"Ahh!" he shouted as he jumped a little in the bed at the sight of the reaper emerging from the shadows. It glided over to the stand beside the nightstand, leaning over the bed and causing Alfred to nearly forget to breathe as it got closer to him.

"Hello again" It said with a British accent, Alfred confused for a moment before vaguely recognizing the eerie and breathy voice as one he'd heard before. He hadn't made a habit of talking to the ghosts he'd seen in the hopes that they wouldn't bother him, but he'd made exceptions now and then.

"Oh, it's you." Alfred said, readjusting his position on the bed as he tried to recover whatever dignity he had as the reaper seemed to find his reaction amusing. "I…uh…didn't recognize you. Same face as…all the others after all…he,he.." Alfred said with a nervous laugh.

"That's all right. I tend to spend most of my time around here. But it's nice to get in a few words with someone not about to pass on." The reaper said, leaning back a little. "That's a rare treat indeed. As is this…." The reaper said, pointing with a bony hand to the bottle of vodka Matthew had set down.

"Oh, right…" Alfred said, running a hand across his face. "You need an invitation or somethin', right?" He asked, trying to recall the exact details of the deal he'd made with this reaper. He'd told him he'd share a drink with him if he won the bet that he could get Arthur to keep fighting his injuries from the panjandrum; and if he lost, he'd lose Arthur. But he'd been pretty confident the reaper was more inclined to throw the game at the prospect of an invitation to a drink and company and Alfred had been ready to comply, so long as nothing else was wagered.

"Um…go ahead." He said, the reaper grabbing the bottle and filling Alfred's empty cup halfway before taking long gulps. "Whoa, dude…you may not be as lightweight as the living with that stuff, but I'd ease up if I were you." He said, wondering how the reaper drank the liquid since he looked to be basically a floating skeleton with a black cloak. "By the way, I did not appreciate the whole peerin' over my brother's shoulder. I thought you were comin' for me…nearly gave me a heart attack man." Alfred said, watching as the reaper refilled his cup.

"But I knew you'd share a drink with me." The reaper said, sounding pleased with itself. "You weren't supposed to wake up anyway with that tear in the IV line. Just supposed to sleep until I came and got you'" the reaper said, Alfred's face going white at that admission.

"Well, ah, anytime you wanna share a drink when I'm in here, I'd be happy to help ya' out if I can…" Alfred said with a forced, tight smile.

"Cheers then, mate." The reaper said before taking another swig. Alfred looked over to the bottle to see that the reaper had downed about a third of the bottle.

"Oh, dude, seriously. That's a ton of vodka you've had." Alfred said, twisting to pick up the bottle in his curiosity to see where it might have come from, although all his guesses would be on Ivan. As he stretched he pulled again at the cut on his chest. He hissed as the tape holding the gauze pulled on his skin.

"That has your friends and family worried. They too think I'm here to take you based on that injury." The reaper said, Alfred thinking that if there was more than a monotone to the reaper's voice, it might almost sound both amused and curious at the same time.

"Huh? Oh, yeah…I was helpin' out on one of the ranches back home when some of the farming equipment had a bit of a malfunction. There was metal flyin' here, there and everywhere" Alfred admitted, internally thinking that maybe that memory and that of being in war may have clashed and created those images from his nightmare. "But hey, hero's gotta save the day, right? And it barely got me – this cut's just in a bad spot on my chest and I keep openin' the stupid thing before the scab's been healed up." He shrugged, the reaper taking more to drink. "But since it's a chest wound, I suppose they're probably worried about it being my old scar from when my capital was burned. That's all." Alfred said with a shrug, yawning at the end.

"Hey, if you're gonna keep drinkin' all that, aren't people gonna, you know, be able to see you? Drunk kinda does that to ya', right?" He asked, the reaper waving his hand dismissively. "Alright, I warned ya'. But could you hand me the water pitcher?" Alfred asked, the reaper reaching for the pitcher as Alfred requested for him to do. Except that since he'd already had plenty to drink, Alfred wasn't too surprised when the pitcher was nearly pushed off the table. "Never mind, dude, I don't feel like takin' a bath right now. Just leave it there." He said with a laugh.

"Yes. Perhaps you are right and I have had, possibly, a little much." The reaper said, replacing the lid for the vodka bottle. He turned back around to face Alfred, the other yawning again in his sleepiness. "I will leave you now. Don't fall back asleep for a few hours. As much as I enjoy a good drink, I do not think you would like for me to wish you a speedy return here." The reaper said, Alfred smiling at the attempt at humor from the reaper. He looked back up at the skeleton face, holding back the shiver that was crawling down his spine. "Yeah, but I get the point. Take care dude." Alfred said, the reaper extending a hand to him. Alfred was about to shake it in farewell when the reaper disappeared at the loud cry of "Alfred!" that came from the doorway.

Looking through where the reaper had been, Alfred wasn't sure if he'd drifted off back to sleep at the sight of Arthur in what were clearly Matthew's glasses. He let his hand drop to the bed in exhaustion at the simple conversation he'd had and closed his eyes in experimentation to see if when he'd opened them, Arthur would still be there looking as he did.

"Oh no, no, no, no, no…." Arthur said as he rushed over to him. "Wait, the heart monitor's still going." Arthur said, a mix of relief and frustration at what had happened. "You git! Playing dead just to mess with me! How stupid are you to take the hand of a reaper?!" he said, cuffing Alfred's head gently as he fussed.

"Wha?" Alfred said as he opened his eyes, Arthur still with Matthew's glasses on his face. "Why ya wearin' Mattie's glasses?" He asked as he looked at Arthur. "And I'm tired. I wanna sleep….wait, you saw the reaper?" Alfred asked, eyes going from drooping to being wide awake at that. He knew the reaper had been on his way to completely wasted, but he thought it would've taken a little longer before he'd have been visible to anyone else – it would seem there wouldn't be any deaths for at least the rest of the day with the amount of alcohol consumed.

"Yes, I did, and we are going to have a talk about that later." Arthur said, Alfred still bewildered at the mention of Arthur seeing the reaper. He was pretty sure the other man hadn't the time he'd been mortally wounded.

"How'd you see it? How'd you even know to look?" Alfred asked, trying to sit up straighter only to have Arthur fuss over him again. As much as he really wanted answers, he didn't want to actually stop the caring ministrations Arthur was performing as he gently helped him sit comfortably and was petting his hair.

"I enchanted Matthew's glasses." Arthur said, Alfred making a face at that. "You're not gonna give 'em back to him like that, are you?" Alfred asked, earning an amused laugh from Arthur.

"No. It's not supposed to be for very long either." Arthur said, Alfred nodding along in acceptance of that plan. He would hate to have his brother deal with that, even if it did make for a good Halloween prank. "And as for why I knew to do that, you mentioned a reaper when you first woke up. And Kiku filled in the rest of the details." Arthur explained.

"Oh, man….that traitor." Alfred whined, Arthur smiling at Alfred's typical behavior. At that point, said traitor came into the room hesitantly, spotting Arthur sitting on Alfred's bed beside him. "Hey, you spilled the beans. Not cool dude." Alfred said, Kiku looking sheepish.

"I am sorry, America-san" Kiku said very formally, disappointed with himself and hoping to put things back to where they'd been as close friends. "I refrained from discussing it for as rong as I possibre, but I thought it best for you…"

"Oh, don't blame him." Arthur said, still sitting beside Alfred, unaware he'd still had his arm protectively around the other man's shoulders as though expecting to see another reaper at any moment. "I'd asked him to tell me when it was clear he knew something we didn't. And you should be grateful he did." Arthur said, Alfred throwing his hands up at the barrage of insults that had already started with the other man.

"What are you yellin' at me for? I'm the sick one here." Alfred said, expecting another harsh word or cuff to his head. "Least you could do is cut me a little slack….I did just wake up." He said with a yawn, his cowlick waving back and forth as he looked between Alfred and Kiku. But Arthur simply ruffled his hair a little roughly before pulling away slightly.

"Yes, well, I suppose this was a bit of an overwhelming wake up." Arthur said, Alfred yawning again and letting his head rest against his former caretaker's shoulder. "Hey, now, you should probably stay awake. We've been watching you sleep now for nearly a full day." Arthur said, shaking the other man gently.

"What?! A full day?" Alfred said, lifting his head up to look to Kiku for confirmation. When the Asian nation gave a nod in response, Alfred groaned. "That's not sleeping, that a mini-coma!" Alfred said, the usual enthusiasm with which he spoke dampened by still being groggy. Arthur rolled his eyes at the very Alfred-like response, but snapped back to attention with the next thing Alfred said. "Man, it's no wonder the reaper said I wasn't supposed to wake up. Geez, what's everybody at the conference gonna think about…." He was saying, but Kiku interrupted before Arthur could.

"What do you mean about the reaper?" Kiku asked as he made room for Matthew, Feliciano and Francis as they re-entered the room.

"Oh, America! We are so glad to see you awake!" Feliciano said as he bounded inside, Matthew being guided by Francis. Alfred chuckled at the image, knowing that his brother only needed his glasses at certain times in the day based on the time of year, and it appeared that Arthur had borrowed them at the most unfortunate time for his brother.

"America-san…" Kiku prodded, only barely gaining the American's attention. "Huh? Oh, we're cool Kiku, I get why you blabbed. You don't need to be so worried and talk all formal and stuff. You can still call me Alfred." Alfred said, giggling at Matthew as he held his hand out in front of him, mumbling his displeasure at Arthur's antics in the soft-spoken manner only he could produce.

"Alfred, answer the man." Arthur said, readjusting his position on the bed to allow Francis to pull a chair up for himself and Matthew, Feliciano already having taken a seat beside the window.

"Oh, right." Alfred said, turning back to look at Kiku. "Dude said the IV line was messed up and I wasn't supposed to have woken up, so that's why he showed up. Said I shouldn't fall back asleep for a while or he'll be visiting me again for a…" Alfred was saying, but was cut off by a worried exclamation from Matthew.

"W-w-what?! What's that supposed to mean?" Matthew asked as he leaned forward in his seat. But Feliciano felt the need to contribute, waving his hand around in the air as if back in the meeting room and trying to get Ludwig's attention.

"I know, I know. America's not supposed to fall asleep or we get to see the reaper." He said with his usual smile before realizing what he'd said. "Ahh! I don't want to see it. Keep it away, keep it away!" He said, beginning to panic, reaching for his white flag.

"Relax, Feli, it ain't coming back and Artie's the only one with the special glasses." Alfred said, not eager to have the Italian nation glomp onto him as he usually did when scared, since he didn't have Ludwig to do that to. "You should probably give them back at some point, you know." He said, Arthur rolling his eyes.

"Eventually. But in the meantime we better make sure you don't fall asleep anytime soon. It is almost lunchtime after all." Arthur said, biting his cheek to refrain from commenting about the ridiculous nickname Alfred had called him.

"Alright, why don't we get you something to drink Alfred? We can start with that." Francis said, picking up the pitcher that the reaper had nearly knocked over.

"I've already had some water to drink." Alfred said, Arthur looking around until he spotted the opened bottle of vodka.

"This is not appropriate for convalescing Alfred. What made you think this was a good idea?" Arthur asked, grabbing the bottle. "It's a good thing you're lying down already. How did you manage to drink all that? Mistake it for a bottle of water?" Arthur asked, frustrated yet amused at the idea of Alfred's first action upon waking was to down a third of a bottle of vodka.

"Hey! I didn't have it. It….evaporated. You know, aren't you supposed to let alcohol breathe or somethin' like that?" Alfred tried, not willing to go over every detail of his drinking buddy's conversation.

"Oh hon, hon, hon…you let wine breathe, mon ami, not vodka." Francis said, enjoying the way Alfred worked to defend himself.

"Wine goes best with pasta. Ve~, when you get out, we can have a lovely meal. Ci?" Feliciano suggested, Alfred's attention shifting over to the Italian. "Oh, and look at-a what I found! I've been-a reading to you all morning." He said, Alfred looking at the book the other man was holding out to him. Alfred smiled and reached out to grab it, before seeing the way his hands were shaking from being dehydrated. Based on the way Feliciano had tilted his head, he realized that the others had noticed it too, Arthur grabbing his outstretched hand in his own.

"Why don't you keep reading for him Feliciano?" Arthur suggested, Alfred sighing but relaxing into Arthur's hold. The Italian did as suggested for a little while until it was time for lunch.

"You guys can go get something other than cafeteria food. I'll be in the same spot as when ya' left." Alfred said, urging the others to take a break, even if he really didn't want to be alone.

"I'll stay with you, eh?" Matthew suggested, Alfred shooting him a grateful smile as his brother took his hand. "If Arthur ever gives me back my glasses." He said with a small chuckle, Alfred laughing too.

"We can both stay with you if one of the others would be so kind as to possibly bring us all back something to eat." Arthur said, the food the hospital had brought for Alfred not substantial enough for the American's appetite.

"Well then, it is a good thing you 'appen to know a culinary expert. I will grab something for you three and make sure these two head back without interruptions from someone like, say, Ivan." Francis said, gesturing for Feliciano and Kiku to come with him. "I will be back as soon as I can." He said after the others had wished Alfred the best. "Is there anything in particular you two might want?" He asked from the doorway.

"Scones wouldn't be remiss if you can manage it." Arthur said, Francis rolling his eyes at the reply. "I should 'ave known. I know what you like Mathieu. Alfred? I don't think the nurses would appreciate if I brought your usual giant 'amburger and milkshake, although I could probably convince them…"Francis was saying, his face morphing into his typical look as he thought up some questionable thoughts.

"Scones work." Alfred mumbled, eyes drooping in his tired state. "Just no burnt ones." He said, Francis standing in the doorway in surprise at the disregard for food. "Maybe some ice cream later?" He asked, Francis chuckling at the more Alfred-like remark.

"Oui. I'll see what I can manage." Francis said with a wave as he left the room. The three sat in silence for a while, broken only by the occasional remark tossed between Arthur and Matthew. After a few minutes, Arthur took off Matthew's glasses and handed them to the other nation. At the questioning look from Matthew as the other put his glasses back on hesitantly, Arthur gently moved from his seat on the bed where he'd been letting Alfred lean up against him. Alfred involuntarily let out a whine at the loss of someone comfortingly cuddling with him, immediately blushing at what he'd done.

"Sorry lad, but I'll be right back." Arthur said to Alfred before turning back to Matthew. "I need to use the toilet. Someone should keep a lookout and they are your glasses." He said, Matthew nodding at the unspoken request from Arthur to look after his brother. Matthew got up and took Arthur's position, inwardly grateful that the other man had needed to get up so that he could hug Alfred the way he'd been craving since the panic at seeing how distressed his brother's night terror had caused him to be.

"Thanks for sittin' with me Mattie." Alfred said, snuggling up to his brother's side with less wariness than he had with Arthur. "I'm really glad to see you. I had such a horrible dream." Alfred said, reaching with his arm to latch onto his brother as he shook to keep in the sobs.

"You want to talk about it?" Matthew asked, incredibly curious to know what Alfred had been thinking about. Alfred shook his head in answer, burying his face into his brother's chest, taking deep breaths. Matthew knew that Alfred could be stubborn, but he almost always couldn't keep quiet about things for too long and Matthew relied on his own patience to wait for his brother to open up.

"I was back during the big crash in 1929 and then in 1863 during the Civil War…and then I was in Vietnam again, only I was actually out west in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s….and then…and then…I was burnin' again Mattie." Alfred said, Matthew holding tighter to his brother in his own thoughts about those events. While very American, these events impacted him as well, remembering the Canadian prairies being tossed about too and his own economy being impacted by Alfred's as he watched his brother collapse to his knees as though he'd taken a hit to the stomach.

"There was so much smoke and I heard shouts, and I thought for a moment I'd gotten back to New York City on that day…but then I saw Arthur." Alfred continued, not looking at his brother as he spoke. "He…he said some nasty things. Things I know he always meant to say but never did for some reason…" He said, breaking off with a thick laugh. "Hey, at least he didn't call me fat this time." He said, Matthew running a hand through his brother's hair.

"He doesn't call you fat. Nobody does Alfred." Matthew said, trying to be comforting to his brother as he briefly glanced back over to the doorway in the hopes that Arthur might show up and back up his statement. "So no more of those diet pills. You get plenty of exercise, I know you do. Those diet pills are part of what put you in here." He continued, but Alfred didn't seem to be listening.

"You were there too." Alfred said in a quieter voice that had Matthew holding his brother a little tighter. "I know as America, I've been a little bit of a brute to you in our history, but I'm not so bad as Alfred your brother, right? You don't hate me, do you?" Alfred asked, looking up finally to Matthew with tears at the corners of his eyes.

"Nah, you can be a hoser, but I still love you bro." Matthew said with a smile. "Besides, we haven't fought each other in a long time and you're not so bad. Even if Cuba keeps coming after me because he thinks I'm you – but hey, your boss recently just tried to open things up with Cuba, right? Maybe he won't be so hard on me…" Matthew said with a forced chuckle. "Why would you think that Alfred? Where's that confidence that is America?" he asked, Alfred shifting a little on the bed.

"I'm always confident…but it never hurts to ask. Except when you're brutally honest with me, but that's just how you are." Alfred said, flashing his brother as big a smile as he could in his physical and emotional exhaustion. "Especially since….never mind…" Alfred said, but he'd caught Matthew's curiosity.

"What? What did I do in your dream?" He asked, Alfred sighing as he thought over whether or not to tell his brother. But since he'd told him as much he did already, he took a deep breath to continue.

"Well…Arthur was saying how much I'd ruined any chance at any semblance of family. He was saying I'd always be alone and stuff like that and how everybody would only ever have anger towards me, including you. He said you'd never really think of me as your brother…and then you were suddenly there and strangling me. I couldn't breathe…" Alfred said, hugging his brother.

Matthew felt terrible, connecting what Alfred was telling him about his dream with the way he'd been acting it out. To know his brother had been struggling with some version of himself to the point of not being able to breathe properly was a thought that had him tightening his grip to the point of his knuckles turning white. "I'm sorry Alfred. I wouldn't ever want to do something like that. Not for real." He said, Alfred hugging him back tightly as the two of them sat quietly for a few moments. "But what about Arthur? You woke up screaming for Arthur not to fire…"

Alfred looked down, reluctant to admit how afraid of the other nation he'd been at the time, both during the dream and while they'd actually been fighting. He'd been so new to the concept of being his own nation, later calling it his 'Second War of Independence', he'd struggled with the thoughts of what might happen should the worst happen and he succumb to Arthur. One of his bosses had thought it a great idea to reduce the navy to next to nothing and the army wasn't exactly up to Prussia's standards after the albino man had left Alfred to his own devices after his revolution. Everything that had been said in the dream had been in nightmares he'd had at the time as he'd worried about possible futures, although he'd always worked to be optimistic for his sake and that of keeping up the optimism of his people. "Matthew…Arthur…he wanted to end me. Not just reclaim me as his brother under his holdings or household or whatever. If he'd won- and actually won, not that stalemate we agreed to- he was going to shoot me like he regretted not doing in my revolution. He wanted Alfred gone so that there wouldn't be any personification for the land for a long time; enough for him to do whatever he'd wanted." Alfred said, speaking with such certainty in his voice that had Matthew worried.

"No. I doubt that Alfred." Matthew said, feeling Alfred relaxing a little in his hold. "Arthur…well, Arthur's Arthur. He gets into arguments with Francis every five minutes and he's always mentioning his difficulties with his brothers closer to his home, but he's not going to be rash about those fights. And he's…fond of you as Alfred. And America and the UK are good partners right now." Matthew said, resting his head on top of Alfred's as he spoke. "Whatever worries you're still thinking about, whether about those early wars or the way Britain handled being 'neutral' in your Civil War…you know he's attached to you. He would hate to have you just disappear, even if he likes to try and hit you with a curse now and then or a good scare on Halloween. Don't tell him I told you, but I'm sure he still thinks of you as like family. And you'll always have me." He finished his speech, amazed he'd gotten through it without Alfred interrupting. Looking back up to the doorway his breath caught at the sight of a reaper drifting closer than he would have wanted. He shook at the sight, his brother's tendency to get scared all the more reasonable now. He looked down, gasping to find his brother had fallen asleep against him while he'd talked.

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