The 'Hug'

Chapter 15

The next morning was stressful for Arthur as he met up with Francis in the dining hall for breakfast, the two looking around for Matthew to show up. Francis had been consoling his longtime friend and enemy that Matthew would be back to talking with him again in no time when the subject of their conversation walked into the room. He'd had his head down and was carrying his bear again, making it difficult to see his face completely with the long hair falling into his face. But the white bandages on his nose were prominent enough to have Arthur's stomach twisting in guilt at the accidental hit to what had been one of his most faithful colonies – Canada did technically still share Britain's monarchy too.

Matthew filled up his plate at the buffet line, a towering mass that even Alfred might approve of before he walked over to sit beside Francis. Placing the plate on the table, he sat his bear next to him and piled a few things from his plate onto a napkin that he placed in front of the eagerly awaiting polar bear.

"Good morning…" Matthew mumbled, his voice sounding a bit nasally. "Kuma needed to get out and the meals the employees here have been giving him just aren't what he's accustomed to." Matthew said as his bear helped itself to a large mound of breakfast sweets offered by his owner.

"How are you this morning, love?" Arthur asked, concern in his voice. Matthew simply shrugged in response before picking up his fork and digging into his own breakfast. "I…er…don't suppose you got a call from Alfred at any point last evening or this morning?" He continued, having already asked Francis the same question. As he'd expected, Matthew shook his head in the negative, still not looking directly at Arthur.

"Well, mes amis…" Francis said, desperate to break the melancholy. "I'm sure he'll be calling later. Mon dieu, if I wanted such bleak breakfast companions, I'd have sat with the Baltic nations with Ivan hanging over them." The French personification said, motioning for the others to look over to where Ivan had sat himself at the trio's table. The three of them looked to barely be able to keep eating their breakfast with the smiling Russian man beside them, Ivan cheerily munching away with an occasional comment to the others.

"I guess we should just head over at lunchtime. He'll want us to bring him something other than hospital food." Matthew said, finally looking up at Arthur. "I forgive you Arthur. I know it was an accident." He said, seeing the other man's face take on a relieved expression at being forgiven.

"Thank you lad." Arthur said with a small smile, Matthew returning it with one of his own. The three finished up their breakfast, Kumajirou tagging along to the meeting room after everyone was done. Like the day before Arthur and Francis found themselves to be glancing at the clock more frequently than they should have, Arthur feeling particularly guilty since he was supposed to be around more as the host nation. But they could see Matthew having a difficult time too whenever they remembered that he was in the room with them. He'd been holding his bear like always, answering it whenever it would ask for his name, but they could see the bear was more of a security blanket than usual.

Arthur found his attention placed back on the actual discussion though at some of the more bolder comments that Russia was making. Spain had conveniently left out the change in atmosphere at the meetings with America's absence being noted and exploited by some nations. Clearing his throat, he had to voice his stance in opposition to a few of the comments. Francis and some of the other EU nations had also had to be more vocal, not all of them up to par at the sudden thrust to the floor that America usually took for them as the 'hero'. Arthur could tell that while there were some who liked speaking up more, they also appeared to have wished to have someone else other than Britain and France as their back up. This especially went for Ukraine as she twisted back and forth in her seat, looking from her newer friends to her beloved younger brother, Latvia wincing each time as it became more obvious that the more robust female was heading towards losing a button on her shirt again.

With relief, the second morning session ended as they all took a break for lunch. Arthur groaned as he leaned back in his seat, feeling as though the situation was rapidly spiraling out of his control. These conferences usually ended up being run by Germany anyway, and the personifications had come to just expect the uptight military man to naturally step in once America's attention had shifted to something else, particularly movies or games.

"Come now Britain. Don't let anyone other than your dear friend France see you drop those walls around you…unless of course, you wish to also drop those pants." Francis said, earning an undignified squeak from the Englishman as he felt the other nation's hand on his lower back.

"Keep those dirty hands off my person, you pervert." Arthur shouted as he shot out of his seat, Francis laughing at the red faced man in front of him. A few other lingering nations also snickered or rolled their eyes at the scene on their way out, China just shaking his head as he walked through the door with a mutter of 'Western nations…'. Arthur smacked Francis on the arm a couple of times before gathering his things and the two of them left the room.

"Guess they forgot about me again eh?" Matthew said in his seat, his bear held close to him. He could sense the predictable question at the tip of his bear's tongue and was about to answer when Francis looked back into the room.

"Oui…I knew we forgot something." He said, gesturing for Matthew to follow him. "Come along Mathieu, we are heading to visit your brother." He said, Matthew quickly walking over with Kuma still in his arms. He'd decided this morning that although Alfred and his bear sometimes were at odds, Alfred and himself would both benefit from the bear's presence. He wasn't so sure that the hospital would be thrilled with the idea, but he could always use that invisibility of his to get through, or make the claim of Kuma as a 'therapeutic animal'.

They'd made a quick stop to pick up some food and had gotten to the hospital, only to find that the room Alfred had been staying in was empty save for the cleaned bed. All of Alfred's things were gone and there wasn't any sign that the American had been there at all. "Don't panic Matthew. I'll go find someone to talk to and we'll have this all figured out in no time." Arthur said to the Canadian with a pat on his shoulder, handing his bag of food to the younger nation. Matthew mutely nodded, Arthur and Francis aware that the other man might fear the worst at the sight of an empty bed when his brother was still only barely awake yesterday. The three of them walked back out into the hall, Arthur jogging over to the nurse's station while Francis held Matthew off to the side.

"Hello miss. If I could just ask you a quick question…" Arthur said, getting one of the nurses' attention. Seeing that it was the nurse that they'd spoken with when they'd brought Alfred into the hospital, he felt a little relieved that she might be able to quickly provide them with answers. "Yes, hello again. The man we brought in, Alfred Jones…ah, America…" He said a little softer, the woman nodding in understanding at the desire to not broadcast that to everyone else.

"Yes sir, I recall." The woman said, putting down the clipboard she'd been filling something out on to direct her complete attention to her nation's personification.

"Well, we went to his room and he's not there." Arthur said bluntly, not sure how else to ask where Alfred had disappeared to overnight.

The woman turned to her computer to pull up information, taking a moment to type things in correctly to be able to have access to the records. "Oh, yes…he's been gone since around ten this morning." She said, Matthew bolting out of Francis hold to stand beside Arthur. The nurse kept looking at the computer as she scrolled through the information.

"What do you mean?" Matthew asked, his bear squirming and trying to climb onto the counter that created a barrier between the nurses' station and the hallway. Looking back up the woman looked surprised that the others hadn't been informed. "The records here indicate that he was released at ten this morning. He requested to leave and legally we cannot force him to remain here and be treated so long as he's not in a critical condition. I thought one of you might have been informed." She said, Arthur thanking her for her time and pulling Matthew away from the desk.

"Where is he? Where did he go? Why would he leave? Where should we look? What are we…" Matthew started rambling, slipping into French Canadian so that both Arthur and Francis tried to respond at the same time as they headed back to their car.

"Mon cher, I'm sure he's gone back to the hotel. We must have just passed by each other." Francis said as they got back in the car, Matthew burying his face in the back of his polar bear and Kuma squirming from the tight grip. "We're going to head there and check to see if he's gone to his room or to the meeting like he said he would, alright?" Arthur said, trying not to speed on the road in his own haste to go after the stubborn American.

They arrived back at the hotel in record time, Matthew leading the way to where he knew Alfred's room to be located. Fumbling for his wallet, he was forced to hand Francis his polar bear to be able to get out the second key card that he'd gotten from the front desk to be able to get some of his brother's things while he'd been in the hospital. France held the bear out from him, Arthur snickering at the image as Francis struggled to hold the bear aloft. Kumajirou turned his head to the side as he looked at the person holding him. "Who are you?" the bear asked, Francis blinking in surprise at the bear addressing him before replying, "France". Kumajirou blinked in response to the other man's answer as though not satisfied with the name he'd been given, Arthur holding a hand to his mouth to keep from bursting out laughing. But thankfully Matthew had managed to get the card to be read and he burst into the room, the other two following inside as the Canadian switched on the lights. They were disappointed to be met with an empty room, although Matthew could see that a few things had been moved around.

"Well, now what?" Francis asked, placing the polar bear on the floor only for Kuma to walk over and climb onto the bed, circling a few times almost like a cat before becoming comfortable and laying on the bed. "Should we head back to the meeting room and see if he is there?" He asked, Matthew sitting in one of the chairs in Alfred's room.

"I'm not sure. Nations are not supposed to just go in and out once the meeting starts." Arthur said as he raised a hand to his chin in thought. "I don't think anyone would be in the meeting room right now. But even if there was an impromptu meeting, we could probably get in to check if he's there. But if he's not there, we might not be able to leave until the meeting is over without alerting the other nations that something is not right." The British personification said sarcastically as the Frenchman rolled his eyes.

"Oui, but I think they might have figured it out if America is there and we are not." Francis said as he glanced over the papers strewn about on the table. "It looks like Alfred was at the very least, preparing for the meeting, but with the amount of time he's been sleeping in the hospital, he might have lost track of what day it is." France said, holding out a piece of paper to Arthur. "I think he was trying to review everything but it doesn't seem like he's taken very much with him."

Arthur took the piece of paper that had pencil marks in Alfred's handwriting all over it from the first meeting. Francis looked to be right in his conclusion that Alfred had looked over those notes and then proceeded to try and recall what topic today's afternoon meeting was supposed to be. In his confusion, he had apparently forgotten that the afternoon meeting was scheduled later than the others due to it being the last day of the conference. The meeting tomorrow was more or less an informal gathering with a quick summary of points addressed and proposals approved before moving on to the announcement of the next conference's location and planned goals and topics to be addressed at that conference. If anything, it was merely an hour and a half at best and Arthur knew that Alfred would try his hardest to get in more than that from the conference. But in his eagerness, he'd not taken anything to be able to rush to the conference room.

"We need to find him quick." Arthur said. "He's probably only slightly better than yesterday and in that state, who knows what kind of international incident he might inadvertently cause." He said, urging Matthew back to his feet. "At the very least, he's probably running on caffeine and whatever he managed to snack on." The British man said in worry, the three of them leaving the room and the polar bear that remained sleeping on the bed.

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