The 'Hug'

Chapter 14

As it turned out, Alfred was given the all-clear by the doctor the nurse had called in and said nation promptly pulled the covers up more to get comfortable. Within seconds of telling the others to head back to the conference and not wait up for him, Alfred was sound asleep again. Instead of leaving, Arthur insisted on staying for a little longer, scanning the room with Matthew's glasses a few times more for his own sense of security than having Matthew or Francis suggest it.

Heading back to the conference, the three of them were able to make it back in time to hear the end of the day recounting of the progress – or lack thereof – between the nations present. Arthur took stock of how things were going, taking the minutes recorded and submitted proposals to go over in his room. Ludwig had made the offer to just continue handling the paperwork like he had been, since he usually couldn't help his obsessive compulsive nature anyway. But Arthur had waved off his concern and taken the paperwork, confessing he'd need the work to help get him back on track.

The next day, Arthur was awoken by Francis at his door. He'd been ready to argue with the other man for waking him up earlier than necessary when he realized that the next round of meeting was scheduled to start within the next half hour. The two of them forced themselves to sit through the morning discussions, Matthew noticeably absent this time rather than when he typically was overlooked at the meetings. But the other two nations who'd been spending the past couple of days with him and Alfred figured that Canada would report back to them if anything happened that took a turn for the worse with the American personification. Arthur had been given Matthew's papers and had done his best to keep composed, but the day was catching up to him and he found himself not minding so much the usually irritating and annoying quirks of Francis. The Frenchman had suggested that they visit with Alfred and Matthew and bring the boys dinner, prodding Arthur to let Ludwig take charge like he'd offered for the remaining meetings. Only marginally reluctantly, Arthur approached the German personification with his instructions and he left with Francis.

Arriving at the hospital to a much more awake Alfred than the one they had left, the offered ice cream and soda went over as well as the previous day. Matthew informed them of the progress Alfred had made, his quick healing helping him to convince the doctors to let him leave in the next couple of days.

"So I'll be back to amaze you all with my awesomely cool plans and stuff in no time." Alfred said as he poured some soda into a styrofoam cup, lifting a spoonful of ice cream to plop into it. "I might even be able to go to the last meeting. And stay awake…." Alfred said, taking a drink and giving himself a foamy mustache that Matthew rolled his eyes at.

"Don't overdo it like usual Alfred." Matthew said, handing his brother a napkin. "You haven't managed to keep awake for the whole day yet. Not to mention the trip you took to the bathroom on your own was more of an event than it needed to be."

"Only 'cuz you're a worry-wuss. I was doin' just fine until you…" Alfred was saying but Matthew wasn't having any part of his brother's attempts to talk himself out of things. "Until I broke the door down to find you on the bathroom floor. Dizzy still?" Matthew asked, earning a pout from Alfred.

"Mon cher, take things one step at a time. Like your brozer says, don't overdo it and wind up right back where you started." Francis said, Alfred groaning and leaning back in the bed. The Frenchman laughed at the American's impatience to get back out and be active again, guessing that sitting in bed was incredibly difficult for the North American.

"Alfred, please…" Arthur said with an exasperated tone. "…For once, just listen to your brother. Unless you enjoy making him this agitated?" He said as he shook his head, Alfred looking a little sheepish as he considered what he said. "But you were difficult with illnesses as a child too and I found myself nearly having to sit on your legs once to make sure you rested. And this time, I will sh….." Arthur continued but Alfred's eyes went wide as he stared ahead.

"What's the matter Alfred?" Matthew said, reaching out for his brother, only to have Alfred flinch and pull away when the other's hand connected with his arm.

"N-nothing. I'm…I'm gonna take another nap." Alfred said , not looking at any of the other men in the room. "I…you should just go back to the hotel. I'll talk to you later. You…you don't need to come see me tomorrow." Alfred said, Matthew's face taking on expression of disbelief and confusion, reaching out again only to pull back himself when Alfred refused to look at him. He couldn't be sure of what had caused such a sudden mood swing, but thought that it might be best if they did as his brother asked, confident that the other would be asking for company soon enough.

"Alfred…" Arthur started, but seeing that the other had effectively dismissed them as he curled up in the bed again, he halted his speech and simply nodded. "Well, it is getting on in the evening. I suppose we should let you get some rest." He said, awkwardly patting the bed next to Alfred in lieu of actually being able to say a proper farewell. He stood there for another moment, Alfred choosing to keep his eyes shut as he ignored the other nations as best he could. Francis' hand on his shoulder, softly speaking with him to leave, was the only thing that broke his concentration on the American personification.

The ride back with Francis was more subdued than Arthur would have expected. "What did I say Francis? Did I miss something again? I…I just don't know why he'd do that – I mean, he's often decided to pretend to ignore me when he was being difficult, no matter how childish that can be – but all I was saying was that this time I will show him the proper way to relax so he might learn a thing or two to stay healthy." Arthur ranted, Francis trying to get a word in edgewise but the English personification had kept speaking over the Frenchman.

"Mon lapin, do you want me to answer or are you planning on just, talking to yourself some more? Or are there fairies in the backseat you're addressing?" Francis said, receiving a sigh from the other blonde.

"Francis, I'm being serious. Now is not the time for you to mock the fay – they're bound to get angry enough with you one day to take it out on you, or your hair…" Arthur said, feeling slightly better at being able to insult the other nation.

"If something should 'appen to my 'air, I will know who to blame first. You are just jealous…" Francis said with a snicker. "But you worry too much about your dear Alfred. He said he was 'aving nightmares and that they 'ad something to do with you, no? Maybe something triggered an old memory or something from the nightmare…I don't know, mon ami." He said with a shrug, sighing as he looked out the window to see that it was thundering and lightening out. "Alfred is going to be 'aving more nightmares with this storm too. Mathieu says he's still a little jumpy when there's a storm like this." Francis said, Arthur moaning in realization that the Frenchman was right.

"I could call him later I suppose." Arthur said, more to himself than Francis. But the other man heard the mumbled idea and shook his head. "No, let him call you. He will, Arthur. Or Mathieu when he's over this awkwardness. Just wait." Francis said as they pulled up into the hotel parking lot, Matthew arriving shortly after them and meeting them in the lobby.

"Matthew, you don't know what he was so worried about, do you?" Arthur asked as the three of them shook out their wet clothes as best they could before trudging back to their room. The Canadian's expression fell further than it had before, giving a slight nod. "Go on then…" Arthur said, becoming irritated with information being withheld from him again.

"Arthur, not in the 'allway…" Francis said, Arthur being drawn back into awareness of their surroundings, spying Spain talking with Prussia, who had his arm around Hungary while Austria was smacking the albino man on the arm to get him to release Hungary. Although the group looked plenty occupied with their own issues, Prussia did have a way of unfortunately hearing everything and then sharing it with at least his brother and therefore, Feliciano or Romano would also hear of it and then the news would never be private again.

Climbing the stairs, they reached Francis' room first and entered, Arthur about to start in on Matthew again when he quickly covered his and Matthew's eyes. As soon as the door was shut, Francis had immediately begun disrobing and flinging his wet clothes out to dry. " My God!" Arthur said, his face a bright red at the actions of the other. But Matthew, although blushing a little as well, didn't seem to be as taken aback as the British man.

"Non, you may just call me France…I am angelic though, am I not?" Francis said as he laughed at the other man. "You are such a prude sometimes Arthur. 'onestly, you are in my room at the moment, why should I not make myself comfortable?" Francis said, Arthur meanwhile grumbling for the other to hurry up and put some clothes on before he scarred Matthew any further.

"I'm used to it Arthur." Matthew said, but his comment didn't seem to have been heard. But Francis pronounced that it was safe for them to 'gaze upon his magnificent self again' and Arthur dropped his hand from Matthew's face.

"You're a bloody wanker, you perverted frog!" Arthur said as he took a seat, Francis laughing at the other man's predictable outburst. "In front of nation less than a full two centuries old…" He mumbled.

"Not really, eh? I'm not that young – I was just your guys' colony before…" Matthew defended himself, Arthur and Francis reminded of how much he and Alfred could be similar as the North American practically pouted at being called a child.

"Yes, yes…sorry about that Matthew. Do tell us what you were going to say out in the hall before this twat here decided to try and blind us." Arthur said, Francis huffing at the insult to himself.

"Well…" Matthew began, scooting away from the offered seat on the bed beside Francis. He may have gotten used to Francis' ways as a younger personification, but that didn't mean he didn't have any sense of boundaries when it came to the other personification's reach. Choosing instead to remain standing, he paced as he spoke. "Al wore himself down yesterday when he was talking about that night terror he'd had…I was too busy trying to talk with him to notice he'd fallen back asleep until I saw that g-ghost thing again…." Matthew said with a shiver, readjusting his glasses in his anxiousness. "He was going through some of his memories without any real connection I guess. He was scared though, saying there was smoke of some sort in almost every memory until he got to the last one we woke him out of…" He said, stopping his movements to look at Arthur. The British man seemed to pick up on what the other man was getting at, but didn't interrupt. "He said…he said I tried to strangle him and then…you told him how he'd be alone forever, no friends or family, and then….Alfred wouldn't tell me all the details, but I'm guessing you must've decided to shoot him in the dream." Matthew said, plopping onto the bed next to Francis anyway in the hope that the other nation wouldn't try anything at a time like this.

"That explains the way he looked at me when he woke up…." Arthur said, arms crossed over his chest as he thought about what Matthew had said. "I couldn't do it though. You know that, Francis knows that, and Alfred certainly knows that…I may have tried to get him into Busby's chair, but….oh, this is ridiculous!" Arthur said, springing to his feet. "You're telling me I'm his boogeyman? Hah. I tried to be for a while after he broke away from me but he's too cocky to have that be possible." Arthur said, beginning to pace like Matthew had, Francis seeing where his former colony had picked up that trait.

"If you keep wagging those caterpillars on your face like that, you might succeed in doing just that. Who would have thought – the mighty British Empire could've simply just furrowed that monstrosity on his face and everyone might have cowered before him." Francis said mockingly. He was unprepared for the other man to lunge at him and knock him off the other side of the bed, Matthew crying out in surprise.

"I have had enough of those remarks for today, you bloody fool!" He said, shouting out several other things in his frustration as Francis fought back with his own sneak attacks to the other personification, getting in a hit to Arthur's stomach that had the other man doubling over. Francis tried to then swing again, but Arthur saw it coming and used the momentum to swing the other European around to the wall.

"Stop it you two!" Matthew shouted, yanking on the two men's arms to try and pry them apart. "You hosers! Listen to me for once! This isn't helping anybody for you two to continue with your….oomfph…" Matthew was saying, his comments cut off as one of Arthur's swings to Francis missed and hit him in the face. He grasped his nose as the pain spread, stumbling back a few steps. Pulling his hand away, he saw that Arthur had gotten in a good enough hit to cause it to bleed, but he could feel it wasn't broken. Still, it hurt enough for him to moan again and clutch his face.

"Oh, Matthew…." Arthur said, letting go of Francis to come over beside his former colony, placing a hand on his back. "I am so, so very sorry poppet. I didn't mean to hit you. Let me see." Arthur said, trying to gently coax the other into moving his hands away from his face. Matthew did as he asked, Arthur and Francis wincing at the bruise already forming and the blood running down across his lips. "I'm sorry, love. I really am…" Arthur said, but Matthew pulled away.

"I know Arthur. You always are after, but not during…" Matthew said, heading for the door with a confidence he tried to keep up as he'd seen his brother do. "I'm…I'm f-fine. I'll see you tomorrow." He said as he yanked the door open, leaving Arthur staring after him with a desperate look on his face.

"Merde…" Francis said, running a hand through his hair. "You've done well with them today, haven't you?" He said, straightening out his clothes while Arthur hung his head. "What? No apology for me?" He said with a lighter tone, not actually expecting to ever receive one.

"Not on your life frog…" Arthur said with a similarly softer tone, a slight uplift to his mouth at having Francis there, even if he often couldn't stand being too close to the other. He knew that both he and Francis would be hit hard if either of them had something happen to the other, despite their differences. Not that Arthur would've resorted to ever taking Francis up on that marriage proposal that still haunted his nightmares from time to time.

"Mon lapin, as much as I'm all for sharing the comfort of another's presence, perhaps we should all just take the night to sort things out alone, hmm?" Francis said, Arthur nodding in agreement with the other man.

"Ugh…when did you get some wisdom in that perfumed brain of yours?" Arthur said with a laugh as he headed for the door.

"Oh, did it hurt for you to compliment me? Such pain could be a pleasure for you if you tried it more often…" Francis said with a smirk, Arthur rolling his eyes as he left. He debated on giving in and going after Matthew, but opted to give the other some space. He made his way to his own room, unaware of the eyes that followed his movements as Spain walked after him.

"Hola! Britain!" Antonio's called out, his voice halting the other's steps. "It seems like you could use a late night excursion to help that sour mood of yours." The other said with a sympathetic smile.

"Ah, I appreciate the offer, Spain, but I'll have to decline." Arthur said, not up for dealing with another nation he'd been at odds with for a large portion of their history. "I've had a…trying day and would really like to get some rest if you don't mind." He said, attempting to take his leave. The other nation nodded, the British personification sighing in gratitude.

"Another time them amigo…" Antionio said. "But from one man to another, I'd be more careful with Prussia lingering around." He said, Arthur's eyes widening. Antonio rushed to continue. "I do not mean to imply he overheard anything tonight, just that…well…he's been trying to befriend Canada since Canada offered to watch his bird for him when he'd been in one of his lows and even invited him over to his house." Antonio said, Arthur thinking that such a polite gesture had every bit of his former colony's touch to it, even if he didn't know the other nation very well. "Gilbert may never admit that he feels nostalgic at times, but when people cater to his 'awesomeness' without him having to get them drunk first, he's always pleasant rather than obnoxious." Antonio shrugged as he spoke, walking beside Arthur. "Anyway, he might make things more difficult if he sees the bloody nose Canada had. I just thought a friendly warning might be in order."

Arthur sighed in frustration, very much not needing a nosey Russian and an irate and intrusive Prussian following after him while he dealt with an ill and difficult American. "Thank you Spain. I appreciate the warning." Arthur said as they approached his room.

"Si. I thought Gilbert would be one too many things for you at the moment." Antonio said, Arthur nodding his head emphatically at the idea. "If it is any consolation, Romano often claims to hate me…but even if we cannot be like family like you and Alfred were, he does still come to me on his own. At the very least, as Romano and Antonio, we are good friends. Alfred seems to be doing the same for you. And I'm sure the same goes for Canada – sorry, but I do not remember his human name." Spain said, Arthur unsure how to respond to the apparent realization of the other nations' awareness of the tensions between him and Alfred.

"Thank you Spain, I'll think about your advice." Arthur said, settling on the diplomatic approach. Spain sighed at the lack of an emotional response that he was hoping for, but the other nation didn't seem to really expect much more from the other personification. With that, the dark-haired nation said goodnight, leaving Arthur to actually think about what he said. Aside from keeping up a lookout for Prussia like he normally had to do, wondering why he followed his brother to these conferences when he was no longer technically a nation, Arthur contemplated the efforts of both North Americans in up-keeping their relationship with him in their own peculiar ways. With a heavy sigh as he got ready for bed, his mind wandered over how to go about trying to make peace with both of his former colonies.

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