The 'Hug'

Chapter 13

Arthur walked down the hallway on the way back to Alfred's room when he met Francis as the other man came out of the elevator with bags in his hands. Spotting the other blond nation, Francis arched an eyebrow in confusion.

"I thought nothing would detach you from Alfred's side." Francis said as he handed one of the bags to Arthur, the other rolling his eyes but thanking the other nation. "You know you called him your brother to Kiku, don't you?" Francis said, chuckling at the blush that spread across the other man's face as he sputtered a denial.

"That's….ugh….I was not attached to Alfred's side. Merely helping him get situated with all that's been going on." Arthur said, avoiding the topic altogether. "And I cannot be everywhere at once Francis." He said as they walked back slowly.

"Not that you didn't try." Francis said with a smirk. "I do believe you were the one to come up with the phrase 'the sun never sets on the British Empire'…" Francis said, Arthur scoffing at the mention of his former status.

"Anyway, we should be getting back to the boys. In case you didn't notice, I gave Matthew his glasses back and I dread to think what might happen should he actually see anything." Arthur said, Francis nodding in agreement. "Did those two head back to the conference alright?" He asked, receiving another nod from the Frenchman.

"Oui. And I did my best to urge Feliciano to not go around telling everything that happened, although, who knows 'ow well he listened." Francis said with a bit of a sigh at how spacey the Italian man could be at times. Arthur sighed as well, knowing that if Ivan hadn't gleefully told the others about Alfred's state, then Feliciano would be more than happy to share with the others. "Still, he and Alfred can be very much like children at times. But I suppose, you don't seem to mind that Alfred prefers to remain like a child around you while at the same time trying to take charge. You seem to enjoy yourself with him when he's clinging to you like he did when he was little." Francis said, Arthur trying to work up something to say in response but finding that Francis was once again hitting close to the mark with his and Alfred's relationship.

"Like you enjoy playing 'Big Brother France' to Feliciano or Matthew, hmm?" Arthur asked in a tone attempting to sound mocking, but Francis laughed anyway as they entered Alfred's room. However, their much lighter banter than the shouting match they'd had earlier stopped at the sight of a shaking Matthew as he possessively held onto Alfred. The two of them bolted toward him, Francis calling out to Matthew in French when it seemed Arthur wasn't getting through to him. Following Matthew's gaze toward a spot on the wall, Arthur realized that he was seeing something and quickly snatched the glasses off the other's face to put them on. Turning to where Matthew had been gazing, he found himself facing a reaper that looked as though trying to get at something the three of them were now blocking.

"Matthew, don't let him go. Keep covering him like you're doing." Arthur said slowly, grabbing Francis hand to guide him over to stand behind him so that the three of them were on the same side of the bed as though to create a barrier of sorts. "I don't think he's able to get to him if there are other nations in the way." Arthur said, watching as the reaper seemed unable to glide properly, almost as though drunk or hungover. "Did Alfred fall asleep? "Arthur asked, receiving a whimper from Matthew. "Is Alfred asleep again? Matthew!" Arthur said, voice rising a little to snap the Canadian back to reality. But Francis answered for him.

"Oui. He's out." Francis said as he briefly glanced away from the directions the others were looking, shivering himself at the creepy atmosphere in the room even though he couldn't see what Matthew and Arthur had seen. Although, he wasn't certain if being able to see it would have made any difference or terrified him more. "I am trying to get him up." Francis said again, forcing his gaze to rest only on Alfred. He touched Matthew's shoulder, startling the other into looking at him. "Désolé Mathieu , aide-moi réveille votre frère." He said, prompting Matthew to look down and nod as he shook his brother with Francis. Alfred seemed to twitch a little, his hands clenching.

"Anytime now…" Arthur said, involuntarily taking a step back and bumping into Francis, the other nation figuring that the reaper was closer than it had been before. Arthur swiped at the air in front of him, but Francis didn't seem to see anything happen. His attention on Arthur, he whipped his head back around at the sound of a clear warning sound from the monitor to see Matthew looking panicked. The North American twin shook his brother a few more times while Arthur let out a shout and launched himself over the side of Alfred's bed at something, plopping on top of Alfred's legs. The bed shook from the impact and Alfred's eyes flew open, the monitor stopping its blaring and going back to normal. Arthur looked up and around while Matthew hugged his brother, Francis giving a heavy sigh as he ran his hand through his hair.

"Ugh…Iggy…what's going on? What're ya' doin'?" Alfred asked in confusion, trying to get his hand free from where it'd gotten stuck between him and Matthew. He'd been in the middle of another crazy dream and he knew he'd been clenching his hands tightly, worried he'd broken another piece of equipment. But he saw that while mangled, the clip he had on his finger looked to be back in place.

"I'm saving you, you twit!" Arthur said as he crawled off the bed, removing the glasses to hand back to Matthew. "A thank you would be nice." He said, straightening himself out in an effort to keep himself composed.

"Thank you?" Alfred said, still highly confused at what was going on. "Uh oh…I fell asleep, didn't I? Right in the middle of you talkin' to me, huh Mattie?" Alfred said, turning to his clingy brother. "Sorry bro. It's all good now. Can you, uh…stop squeezing so tight?" He asked, Matthew shaking his head and continuing to hold onto him.

"Une surprise après l'autre , si dramatique . Il est définitivement votre frère en Angleterre ..." [One surprise after another, so dramatic. He is definitely your brother England] Francis said, picking up the bags he'd dropped into one of the chairs to place on the table. "Vous êtes presque terne Amérique, mais nous pouvons au moins déjeuner avant une autre peur ?" [You are hardly dull America, but may we at least eat lunch before another scare?] He said as he sat down heavily into his chair, Alfred trying to translate what he was saying based on what French he knew from either Louisiana or Maine. But Matthew beat him to it, laughing at Francis apparently reaching the limit for Alfred's drama that day and requesting to focus on food.

"Let's eat." Matthew said, prying himself off of Alfred to sit in another chair while taking the bag Francis offered to him. Arthur looked into the remaining bags, handing one to Alfred, who smiled as he took it and yawned again.

"Sorry guys. I really didn't mean to do that to ya'." He said, pumping his fist triumphantly at the individual-sized half-pint of French vanilla ice cream – not his favorite but better than jello he supposed. "Thanks Francis. This is perfect." He said, happily diving into the container. The Frenchman laughed at the childish response, responding with a jovial "bien sûr" as he and the others began to eat their lunches.

"But seriously guys, what had you all so worked up? What'd I miss?" Alfred said around mouthfuls of the frozen treat, his face scrunching up as he ate it too fast and experienced some brain freeze from it, his brother laughing at the recognizable look on his brother's face.

"A bloody lot!" Arthur said as he sat in the chair beside the window. Alfred winced at the tone in the other man's voice.

"Hey! Not my fault." Alfred said in his defense, "'Sides, I tried to stay awake. I'm just exhausted. It's no fun when you haven't at least done something worthwhile to feel like this." He said, shoving another spoonful of ice cream into his mouth.

"You don't have to tell me how unpleasant illness is Alfred, I did have to deal with the Plague you know." Arthur said, taking a swig of his water that Francis had provided. The French personification rolled his eyes and huffed. "You have something to add, frog?" Arthur asked, looking over to Francis.

"You make it sound like nobody else 'ad to experience that atrocious nightmare. I went through it too, mon ami." Francis said, the two looking as though ready to launch into another squabble. Matthew tugged on Francis' sleeve to get his attention, the tension in the other man's body leaving as he looked over to the Canadian's pleading face.

"Well, still….Alfred can't compare. He never had to deal with something like that." Arthur said, leaning back in his seat.

"Yes I have!" Alfred said, finishing up his ice cream to the amazement of the others, not sure if they should be worried about the meal making a comeback with how quickly the American personification had scarfed it down. "It may not have been 'The Black Death' but there were plenty of other nasty things that ran through my home – Mattie probably shared a few of them." Alfred said, gesturing to his brother. "And dude, cholera epidemics are ugly. Caught that one not that long before I got scarlet fever…thought I was gonna die and I had nobody around at the time." He said with a shiver, aiming to toss his ice cream container in the bin. He shot it, making a disappointed noise when it hit the side of the trash bin and fell to the floor.

"You caught scarlet fever when you were still a child. You weren't alone through that." Arthur said, confusion on his face at why Alfred would remember it differently.

"No, it was just after the Civil War…oh, right…that was yellow fever that was going around then. Isn't that supposed to be the same?" Alfred asked, but didn't seem to really bother with an answer. "Either way, it was a fever with some color label and it knocked me on my back for a while after I was still recovering from puttin' myself back together again. I was gonna' try mailing a letter to you Mattie, but I couldn't even sit up." Alfred said, looking to his brother. "Figured you'd have commented about the Black Death again and sat back to watch me…." He started to say to Arthur, but the other man looked as though he wanted to strangle the bedridden man.

"I would have come, Alfred. I wouldn't have let you just…I didn't let you get taken by that reaper now, did I?" Arthur asked, his voice much softer than anyone had expected.

"No…But that was a different world then. Pretty sure you would've done squat at that point." Alfred said with a disbelieving look at the other man's claim to have been ready to assist him if he'd just asked. "But I handled it good."

"You handled it well, Alfred." Arthur said, Alfred shooting him another confused look.

"I know, I just said that." Alfred said, Francis and Matthew snickering at the usual level of success Arthur had with trying to help his former colony to 'speak properly'. "But like I was sayin', I was able to make do with what I had. I probably could've avoided catchin' in in the first place if I'd listened to your advice and stayed put when I wasn't feelin' a hundred percent yet, but I'm not you – I've always had to take a hands-on approach with my citizens. Oh well…" Alfred said with a shrug, grabbing for the water pitcher. "Hey, Francis, can you hand me that cup? I can't quite reach it." He said, not willing to use the styrofoam cup that had been used by the reaper.

Francis passed it to Alfred who made to pour himself a cup, but Matthew grabbed the pitcher from him before he could do anything. "Your hands are still shaking, Al, you're going to spill water everywhere." Matthew said at the frustrated look his brother leveled at him for taking over for him. "Stop frowning. I know you like to be pampered when you're sick anyway." The Canadian said with a smirk, Alfred crossing his arms as best he could with the IV still attached.

"I'm not sick. Just tired." Alfred denied. "Not the same thing 'cuz I don't get random colds like this like Arthur. I can take care of myself." He said, but he let Matthew help him, taking the cup from his brother and sipping the water. "By the way, did you curse me again Iggy?" Alfred said randomly, taking the other nation by surprise as he tried to fathom how Alfred would have known of his attempt. He looked to Francis and Matthew for any guilty look that would've signaled who'd told the American, but they looked just as surprised as the British personification.

"What makes you think that Alfred?" Arthur stuttered out, laughing nervously as he tried to appear innocent to the other.

"I dunno. Just really bad dreams and they all seem to have you in them." Alfred said, not making eye contact with Arthur. "I asked the nurses if they'd given me anything that might cause that, but they said it was probably just something on my mind. Thought I might as well ask you if it was anything you did – easier to blame you than myself." Alfred said, the other nation's emotion's bouncing from guilt at being the center of Alfred's nightmares even though he'd tried to do that to the other man several times, to irritation at Alfred wanting to blame him for his problems.

"S-stop trying pass blame off onto me, git." Arthur said, Alfred looking at the other in confusion as he thought it looked like Arthur was overreacting like usual. "I'm not the cause of all your bloody problems!" He shouted out, Alfred leaning back.

"Dude, I was just tryin' to figure it out to get the nightmares to go away! Chill out!" Alfred said, turning to look at Francis. "You sure he didn't have any of that vodka himself? He only gets this bad with me when he's hammered." Alfred said, Arthur looking ready to deny his supposed inability to hold his liquor as Francis burst out laughing.

"Non, he is just being himself. An imbecile…" Francis said as he laughed, Arthur sputtering out insults to the Frenchman. As the two European nations bickered, Alfred leaned back in the bed with a sigh. He turned to look at his twin when he felt a hand grasp his, seeing the unspoken question in the other's eyes.

"Hey Matt…" He said, fighting off another yawn. "I'm okay…but…" Alfred started, wanting nothing more than to take a nap even though he was irritated that all he'd been doing was sleeping. He was positive that he'd passed the point the reaper had warned him about to not fall back asleep at that point.

"Yeah Al?" Matthew said, furrowing his brows, waiting for the usual odd request that often came from his brother's mouth. He was not in the mood for a request for some obscure thing or to do any of some of the more dangerous things his brother found to be exciting. They'd tried something he'd rather not repeat at Niagara Falls and he'd be reminding his brother of the outcome of that particular excursion each time Alfred mentioned something ridiculous.

"Um…think you can, without setting off those two, go get a nurse for me?" Alfred asked, needing to know if he had to keep struggling to stay awake. He'd put in a lot of effort in confiding with his brother and then trying to keep things upbeat with Arthur, and he was feeling the downside of that.

"Why? What's wrong?" Matthew asked, eyes widening at the completely unexpected question. Although thinking about it, for most people in Alfred's situation, it would have been completely normal of a question. Matthew stood up and leaned forward onto the bed, Alfred sighing as Arthur caught onto the movement. "I just…I can't stay awake anymore." Alfred admitting as he leaned back further into the pillow to get comfortable.

"Non, that is pas bon." Francis said, Alfred finding himself with Arthur on the other side of him looking concerned again. "You mustn't fall asleep. You said so yourself." Francis said, coming to stand behind Matthew.

"Give me your glasses again Matthew." Arthur said, the younger nation not hesitating to hand them over, having seen enough ghosts for the day. "The charm may still be holding…" Arthur said, looking around the room through the glasses.

"No…it's not here. It was probably only here for a drink anyway." Alfred said, eyes drooping. Arthur shared a look with Francis, not following what the other was saying.

"Alfred, you're not making sense anymore." Arthur said, patting Alfred's hands to get him to look at him. But Alfred whined sleepily. "I just need you to ask a nurse if I can take a nap yet…" Alfred whined, his eyes closed. In a panic, Matthew reached out and tugged on Nantucket, knowing that would at least wake him up momentarily. Alfred's eyes widened dramatically and the others could see him bit his lip.

"M-Mattie…"Alfred stuttered out accusatorily, but his brother only looked slightly apologetic. He hadn't pulled too hard, but enough to get his brother's attention.

"No. No falling asleep, eh?" Matthew said. "We'll talk to the nurse for you, but don't sleep yet." The Canadian said, his brother glowering at him for having tugged on his hair. Matthew could tell that he'd probably have to watch himself for a little while in case Alfred decided to retaliate with a yank on his curl, but he was satisfied that his brother wasn't in any danger of passing out on them again. He laughed at the attempt to intimidate him that Alfred was putting up, but it seemed that things were looking up as his brother huffed in frustration. Matthew smiled at Alfred as his twin made no effort to get Arthur off the bed, cozying up against the other man unconsciously while Arthur absent-mindedly pet the other's hair.

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