The 'Hug'

Chapter 17

Francis, Arthur and Matthew had decided to split up to cover more ground, Francis heading to the meeting room on the off-chance that Alfred had made it that far. Matthew had decided to try the dining areas first in the hopes that his brother really was back to being perfectly fine and in search of his next meal, leaving Arthur to head off in whatever direction he had thought best. It hadn't escaped the Canadian's attention that Arthur looked as though he'd had other thoughts on his mind as well, but his concern over finding his brother was overwhelming that curiosity; especially since calling the other nation's cell phone got them nothing but his voicemail.

Arthur sprinted back to his room to grab his casting book, depositing it in one of his coat's inner pockets before taking off again in search of any possible location he might find Alfred. Knowing from experience that the other man loved the outdoors enough to not come in out of the rain unless it had started to thunder and lightning, he figured he might as well try the grounds of the hotel. There was supposed to be a garden courtyard and an upper level terrace with plenty of plants that might appeal to the rugged pioneer aspect of Alfred's personality. Having no luck with the terrace, Arthur quickly made his way to the courtyard, only to be disappointed again at not finding anyone but the Nordics sitting outside. He was about to head back inside when he doubled back at the thought of speaking with Norway for any possible brainstorming the two of them could come up with over the spell he'd tried to cast on Alfred. He'd not come across Romania who was much better at curses with his gypsy knowledge, but Arthur had never had a problem with picking other nations for resources. And Norway was a more suitable option than calling up one of his brothers and dealing with them and their egos.

"Norway, might I have a word with you for a moment?" Arthur called out, catching the lighter blonde's attention. Excusing himself from the others, Denmark calling after him to get another beer while he was up if he was gone too long. Norway shook his head at the usual request from the other nation to get a free drink whenever he could, Arthur thinking about how disastrous a night with him and Prussia at the same time might turn out.

"Ja, what can I do for you Britain?" Norway asked as the two walked a little further away from the group of Nordics. In reply, Arthur sighed and pulled out his book, flipping to the page with the particular curse he'd attempted to carry out.

"I was hoping to get your thoughts on a particular curse I came across." Arthur said, handing the book over to Norway, the other man looking questioningly at the other nation as he took the book, looking down to the page. "I know you've your own brand of magic, but your opinion on whether or not this curse might have unexpected consequences if not fully enacted would be appreciated." Arthur continued.

Norway shrugged as he flipped the page back and forth as though to see what was associated with it to try and figure it out. "Why come to me? Go ask Romania about his curses…" Norway said, receiving a sigh from Arthur. "Alright, alright…" Norway said, scrunching up his face in thought. "Look, you said you didn't complete it, right?" He said, Arthur nodding as he crossed his arms over his chest. He could see that their conversation was going to be difficult and the other Nordics kept glancing back over to them, making Arthur's attempt to remain calm and civil more difficult.

"Well, this little blurb on the page talks about…" Norway began pointing to some of the writing on the page that was partly in his country's older language of runes. The Vikings had been to Arthur's homeland for a period of time, but he'd never been an expert at their language either.

"Yes, yes…it's meant to keep the intended victim's voice from being able to heard, as though 'the crashes of waves drown it out until the tide's becalmed'". Arthur said as he read from the page. As a former pirate, that particular detail had made the curse all the more appealing. But Norway shook his head.

"Nei…that's only if read with this last section, which I'm guessing you didn't get to." Norway said, Arthur's brows furrowing in confusion. "The runes need to be read a certain way, otherwise it talks about the victim's voice – or mind as the runes can also be translated – in a sea of fog until cleared by the castor or the victim finds a way out himself. Otherwise, it is like dealing with a hug that's being projected outward…" Norway said, handing the book back to Arthur, the Englishman lost in thought.

"Oh, ah, thank you for your help." Arthur said with a nod of his head as he took the book back. But Norway looked curiously at him for another moment as though to say something, no doubt to ask if that curse had anything to do with what happened to America, but a yell from Iceland had him drooping his shoulders and saying a farewell to get back to the brood of nations that had been up to something in the other's absence. Still confused at what the other nation had meant by a 'hug', he ventured back into the hotel to try and continue his search for the missing American. If the two could just hug it out and get back to normal, then that would be both incredibly simple and extraordinarily difficult for the Englishman, but he had a feeling that 'hug' might be something different to the Scandinavian.

He'd reached closer to the dining area with the intent to possibly meet up with Matthew and continue their search together when he heard the tell-tale shout of the Canadian when being pursued. Following the shouts, he found Matthew pressed up against the wall with Natalya pressing a blade against his throat.

"Tell me where you and my big brother were going to hide away, America." She threatened, not listening to Matthew's protest that he was Canada, not his brother. "I must find Ivan. I must!" she continued to shout, Matthew whimpering in his uncertainty of what to do.

"Belarus, what is the meaning of this?" Arthur said, stepping up beside the two of them and wrenching the unsuspecting woman away from her aggressive hold on Matthew. "I'll have you know that this is not very becoming behavior at all whilst you are a guest in my country. Calm yourself woman, lest you force my hand." Arthur said, his tone not leaving room for her to argue, although the dark look she sent him as she practically slunk back into the shadows was more than enough than actual words. Sighing at his slip into other forms of speaking, he returned his focus to Matthew. "Are you alright, lad? Nothing hurt?" He asked, Matthew shaking his head as he caught his breath.

"What would set her off like that on you – well, Alfred?" Arthur asked as he handed over to Matthew the other nation's glasses that had been knocked to the floor. It seemed Matthew had been having a hard time with keeping people from messing with his glasses, receiving more attention than usual and not in the way he would have liked.

Matthew shrugged as he placed his glasses back onto his head, wincing at the bruise on his nose. He looked confused still until he suddenly gasped and reached out to Arthur. "She must think Ivan's with Alfred for some reason. Do you think Ivan would kidnap him if Alfred wasn't up to fighting back?" Matthew asked in alarm, the other nation sighing heavily at the idea.

"I wouldn't put it past him. Come on." Arthur said, urging Matthew to follow him. "We'll see if we can find…" He started to say, only to run into Francis and Latvia. Francis and Arthur briefly scuffled with each other before realizing who they were manhandling, although that usually didn't stop their fights.

"Mon ami, Latvia has some news." Francis said as he brushed off the Englishman's grip from his collar. Motioning to the smaller nation who looked unsure of what to do, Latvia spotted Matthew and his eyes widened.

"Mr. America? How did you get here when you weren't able to get up before?" Latvia asked to Matthew, the Canadian's own expression becoming alarmed.

"Latvia, this is Canada. America's brother." Francis said, patting the boy gently on the top of his head. "You said you were looking for Britain. Now that you've found him, will you please tell us all what message Lithuania gave you?" Francis said, Latvia still looking over at Matthew disbelievingly.

"Oh, well…" Latvia said, breaking his inquisitive stare to look over to Britain. "I was supposed to tell you to come to Lithuania's room on the fourth floor. He's looking after America." Latvia said, motioning for Arthur to follow him. "Russia and I were…um….talking in the hallway…." Latvia began, but the other nations could tell there wasn't much 'talking' going on for the poor boy, "Then all of a sudden, America ran into Russia and they talked for a minute. He was looking for the meeting room. But then he fell onto Russia and they both were on the floor…." The boy said, mirth in his voice that reached to his eyes. "It was actually kind of funny to watch Russia react to that."

"I can imagine." Arthur said, having had experience with the unexpected full weight of the American man flung onto him without a chance to brace for it. "But what happened to America?" He asked, the boy's smile slipping.

"Toris…er…Lithuania brought America back to his room and was going to look him over while I brought you to him. I don't think America was looking too well." Latvia said, guiding them to Toris' door and knocking a couple of times. They waited a moment before the door was opened by a worried-looking Toris.

"Sveiki, Britain…oh, and France. Sveiki Canada" Toris said, holding the door open for the others to come in, Matthew pleased that the other had remembered who he was. Then again, with Alfred already on his bed, process of elimination had probably made that easier. Still, the two had met when he'd dragged Alfred back home from Wall Street after his brother collapsed and it seemed the other man had remembered him.

"Thank you Lithuania. You too Latvia." Arthur said, walking over to see Alfred asleep again on the bed. The other nations each tried to find a spot to sit or stand in some semblance of normalcy, but the awkwardness in the room at the unusual meeting between these nations only continued.

"Ah, w-well, Mr. America is my friend too." Toris said, shifting a little in his nervousness. "B-but…I think you should take him back to the hospital right away. He's protested going back and I'd take him myself but…" Toris was saying but Francis held up a hand to halt his ramblings.

"S'il vous plaît, tell us what you think is wrong." Francis requested, Matthew nodding in agreement as he stood alongside him. That seemed to snap Toris out of his nervousness and into his professionalism.

"From what I can tell, he's still severely dehydrated despite his assurances that he has been drinking regularly." Toris began, the others nodding along as he confirmed their suspicions. "If that is the case, there might be something wrong with his kidneys. I've examined him and there are indicators that it might be that, but I can't tell for certain with what I have here." He said, Matthew's curl bouncing as his head whipped around to look at his brother after hearing his condition might have worsened. "And he admitted he hasn't actually slept since a nap mid-afternoon yesterday before he asked you to let him sleep. Apparently nightmares are keeping him from resting. If this keeps up, even with our fast healing, his body may start to fail him. His blood pressure is already low and he needs to get some help." He concluded, wringing his hands in worry at the end of his assessment.

"He's refused any more treatment and has probably made it difficult for us to readmit him with all sorts of legal jargon" Arthur said as he brushed a lock of hair out of Alfred's face. "If we watch him and keep him drinking, do you think a trip to the hospital can be avoided?" He asked, but Toris sighed. In answer, he lifted Arthur's hand to Alfred's forehead and then took the other to grasp onto Alfred's wrist. Francis and Matthew watched as Arthur's eyes widened marginally at something before he nodded to Toris.

"His body is fighting still, but that fever's only putting more stress on him. I think you've got maybe a day to make some progress before it's vital for him to be brought back to the hospital." Toris said. "I…I'll offer you my room and I can check in on him, but I really think he needs proper care." He said, Latvia coming to stand closer to him as he looked over to see Alfred on the bed. Even though the other nation hadn't been enthusiastic to the idea of them being brothers when he'd mentioned how nice siblings could be, Latvia still stuck close to Lithuania and Toris found that he appreciated that gesture at that moment.

"No, I'll bring him back to my room." Matthew said, surprising the others as he took charge. Turning to Francis and mumbling something to the other man in French-Canadian, the French personification sighed but nodded along with the other had to say. Toris also seemed reluctant but let his friend's brother decide what to do for Alfred, making room for Matthew to yet again lift his brother up into his arms. Once more saying their thanks to the Lithuanian personification and Latvian nation, they made their way back to Matthew's room like they had the first time Alfred had needed to be carried.

In the elevator, Matthew gasped, gaining the other two nations' attention. "I left Kuma in Alfred's room with the stuff we bought. Francis, you better go get him or he'll start eating your things if he's hungry enough." He said, Francis' face taking on a look of horror at the idea that the food he put so much effort into would be devoured by a hungry polar bear.

"Very well. I will go get your bear. But if the thing has done anything, I make no promises…" Francis said, Matthew rolling his eyes as he thought of how successful his former caretaker would be against his polar bear. Getting out of the elevator, Francis broke away from the group to head back to Alfred's room while Arthur followed Matthew to aid him in setting Alfred up in the bed.

"Hmmm?" Alfred said as he woke up as his brother carried him. "Wha's goin' on? Why can't I…" he started to say, wincing as his headache rebounded. Taking a deep breath, Alfred tried to get out of his brother's hold. "No…No…" Alfred muttered as he struggled, his distress apparent.

"Easy you idiot, you're alright." Arthur said as he helped Matthew keep his grip so that Alfred wasn't on the floor again. "Your brother's got you. He won't drop you." Arthur said as he calmed the other nation down, Matthew grimacing as he struggled under the weight of his squirming brother. Alfred looked at Arthur through a fever haze, but he stopped moving long enough for them to reach Matthew's room. His brother quickly carried him over to the bed while Arthur made to grab the water bottles the Canadian always brought with him in order to get some water into the ailing nation.

"No, s'too much water. Too hot…" Alfred said as he pushed the offered water away. "Don' wanna." Alfred said, trying to turn his face into the pillow.

"It's not an offer Alfred. Drink or it's back to the hospital." Arthur said with finality in his voice, gaining enough attention from Alfred for him to grab the other's chin and pour water into the other man's mouth, forcing Alfred to drink. With half the bottle gone, Alfred sputtered and coughed as Arthur tried to get him to drink more. Seeing the difficulty, Arthur eased up and let Alfred take a break.

"Iggy…" Alfred said, eyes closed as he reached out. "I-Iggy…" He said again, Arthur feeling his heart clench at the tone of the other nation. It was too much like when he and Alfred were inseparable and it was difficult for him to remember not to see him only as a child. Even after all their interactions with one another after all this time, points in time when Alfred had definitively proven himself immensely capable and powerful, there were still times when Arthur found him childish in an endearing way.

"I'm here, Alfred." Arthur said as he ran a hand across the feverish forehead of the other nation. But Alfred kept repeating his name a few more times before quieting again. Matthew groaned and rubbed his face with his hands before nearly falling into one of the chairs in his room.

"Matthew?" Arthur asked, quickly moving from Alfred's side to get to Matthew's. Now that he'd noticed it, the Canadian was paler than he normally was, which made the bruise on his nose all the more vivid. Gently laying a hand on the Canadian's shoulder, Matthew was prompted to look up by Arthur. He shook his head and took a deep breath. "I'm fine. Just a headache. I was able to overlook it for a while – plenty of distraction." Matthew said with a humorless laugh, his curl looking like it was wilting too. "I couldn't sleep last night either and now this headache Al and I were sharing on the way here is back again." Matthew said, sliding down in his chair some.

"Alright…it's alright." Arthur said as he helped Matthew keep from falling out of his chair, internally panicking at the rapid downturn of his other former colony within the span of an hour. "You can take a rest too. I'll look after you both." Arthur said, using what strength he had to help guide Matthew to the bed. Luckily for him, Francis chose that moment to open the door with the spare key card he still had, carrying Matthew's polar bear.

"I was not quick enough to stop your bear from helping himself to...Mon dieu!" Francis said as he dropped the bear and raced over to help Arthur support Matthew. "What 'appened to dear Mathieu while I was gone?" Francis asked as he and Arthur guided Matthew over to the bed, he and Alfred squeezing together to fit. It was a large enough bed, but it just barely held both boys. Matthew snuggled up to Alfred's side as he quickly fell asleep.

Francis breathed out a sigh of disbelief at the turn of events, swearing under his breath in French. "I didn't think he was feeling so bad himself. He hid it well." Francis said, Arthur nodding along as he gently checked over both North Americans.

"Matthew never did want to make a fuss over himself." Arthur said, his eyes betraying his worry over the two of them. "But what was affecting Alfred had been bothering Matthew too, but I'm guessing not to the same extent. It just caught up with him I suppose." Arthur said as he dragged a chair over to sit closer to the bed. "I got Alfred to drink half a bottle of water but that's not nearly enough. I think we'll need to take them both to the hospital soon if things don't look better soon." He said, dropping his head into his hands as he leaned forward in his seat.

"They will be alright. They are stubborn to a fault and will pull through." Francis said with a hand on the other European's back, rubbing up and down comfortingly.

"But Alfred's…." Arthur looked up, tears at the corner of his eyes. "Francis I went to Norway to see if he knew anything about this curse, just in case there was anything I was missing. He said if I'd finished, it would've been a physical outcome, but with the way I left it, he's dealing with a psychological attack and I don't know how to fix it." Arthur admitted, not particularly enthused with the idea of sharing that information with the other nation, but needing someone to talk to. "I was going to ask Matthew for help, but that's not an option now." He said, voice becoming thicker as he spoke, looking over to the two sleeping nations.

"Well, mon cher, I am not leaving. Tell me what you need and I will do it for Mathieu and Alfred." Francis said. "I may not be doing it for you, but those two need someone capable of helping them." He said, earning a half-hearted laugh from the British man, Arthur running a hand across his face to compose himself.

"Alright then. Norway said something about a hug being the answer." Arthur said, watching as Francis' face lit up. "No, I don't think he meant it quite that way. I think hug is a Norwegian word for something, and there were runes as part of this curse…the Vikings came to your lands too, right? Normandy was one of their favorite spots for a while." Arthur said, Francis nodding as he was lost in thought.

"Give me a moment. It has been some time since I recall anything of their language on my lands." Francis said. Matthew sighed in his sleep and rolled over, prompting Francis to reach out to make sure he didn't fall off the bed. He gently readjusted his former colony with a wistful smile on his face at how long it had been since he'd been allowed to even see Matthew for a while. But Matthew opened his eyes at the movement, Francis softly apologizing for waking him when Matthew suddenly jumped off the bed and sprinted to the bathroom. Arthur stood up to follow, but Francis was closer and quicker, holding Matthew's hair back as the other was ill. Sitting back down in his chair, Arthur almost missed the fact that Alfred was staring at him.

"Oh, Alfred…" Arthur said, reaching for the water bottle. "You need to keep drinking Alfred. Not to sound dramatic, but it could very well be drink or die at this point love." He said, pouring water into Alfred's mouth. But the other nation let the water run out of his mouth rather than drinking, earning a huff from the British personification. "Alfred, please, it's for your own good."

"No. You tax too much…" Alfred said with a slur to his words. "I jus' wanna be like, brotherly again Iggy…" he said, tears starting to form in his eyes. "Why ya' gotta be so cold? I sent out the olive branch once and you didn't take it."

Arthur sat next to the other with panic on his face at the realization that Alfred was stuck in a fever-induced dream – or another nightmare from his curse. He bit his cheek to keep himself from breaking down too; not with Matthew ill and Alfred dependent on him again almost like he'd used to be. The American had sat with Arthur on a number of occasions when the older nation had been ill, and Alfred had called him a few times for company too. Now though, Arthur regretted not providing more than just the occasional visit that always came with another purported reason rather than just friendliness.

"Alfred…Alfred, it's over. I was loathe to admit it, but you won. I'm not suggesting you were right, but it's long since passed and we've both moved on." Arthur said as he gently petted the other's hair. Francis helped Matthew out of the bathroom, the North American sagging a little as he leaned onto Francis mumbling in French-Canadian about something that Arthur had no idea about. Seeing his brother crying, Matthew reached out as he was sat back onto the bed. Alfred's sobs lessened as Matthew held onto him, the twins looking like they did when they were younger without their glasses on and so close to one another.

"It's okay Alfie…I'm here." Matthew said as he rested his head on his brother's chest. "I don't have a biscuit for your head but maybe you could use one of Francis' croissants, eh?" Matthew said, earning a small and tired laugh from Alfred through his tears. Francis looked up at Arthur for an answer to the apparent inside joke, but Arthur shrugged in response. Alfred held Matthew tighter as his brother drifted off to sleep against him.

"S'okay…s'okay Mattie. I'm the hero…" Alfred mumbled, Arthur laughing at the usual statement from the younger nation. "And Iggy's gonna tell us 'nother story. He promised." Alfred said, back in that memory as he looked over to Arthur. The British personification took a second to catch on, Francis encouraging him to play along.

"Oh, yes…I did, didn't I lads?" Arthur said, clearing his throat as he launched into one of the stories he remembered Alfred used to enjoy. He tried to toss out several cues for Francis to pick up on to call for help for the two boys, but he had to resort to outright saying, "And then the wizard turned to the talking frog to command him to summon a mystical vessel to aid him called an ambulance…". Francis had snapped to attention at that, grabbing his phone and stepping outside the room to do as Arthur had 'commanded'. But Alfred seemed so engrossed in the story that Arthur didn't think his mind would've registered what he'd said if he'd been more blunt about it.

"I'd save the day too from all the monsters…" Alfred said with a sigh that Arthur took to be him falling asleep again, the older blonde smiling fondly at the statement. "And the ghosts that…" Alfred said, looking over Arthur's shoulder as Francis came back inside the room and the door shut with a bang.

"My God, you made me jump!" Arthur said to Francis, the other man rolling his eyes at having startled the other nation. Turning back to face Alfred, he was about to continue when he saw Alfred still looking over at Francis.

"It's just the old frog again, come to ruin our story. Relax Alfred." Arthur said, patting Alfred's hand. Francis caught the expression on Alfred's face as the other boy seemed to keep looking at him. "Arthur…" Francis said slowly, urging the other man to look at Alfred's face more closely. Waving a hand in front of Alfred's face, he found him to keep staring.

"Alfred…Alfred, look at me, poppet. Look at me." Arthur said desperately, Francis racing over to Matthew to gently pry him off his brother. Matthew groaned a little but otherwise was more or less pliable for Francis and was quickly picked up in the other man's arms. Francis held Matthew as he sat on the floor against the wall with the sleeping Canadian.

"Alfred?" Arthur asked as he leaned over the other, feeling for a pulse. He felt the soft throb in the man's neck before resting his head on the other's chest to check his breathing. He heard the shallow intake of air and realized he'd have to do something soon if Alfred was stuck in some sort of waking nightmare.

"Arthur, he's not…" Francis said as he cradled Matthew close to him as though afraid the twin in his arms might start to deteriorate to the state of his brother. Matthew's face twitched as Francis rocked him, his polar bear getting up from his seat on top of the refrigerator to walk over and paw gently at his owner. "Arthur…." Francis tried again as Arthur lifted his head from Alfred's chest to look at the other nation. Deciding to just face the taunts that were sure to be coming, he lifted Alfred up and held him close to him. He knew that the 'hug' Norway had mentioned had something to do with mind-related magic, but he figured that doing anything at this point would be better than nothing. He closed his eyes as he held Alfred to him, ignoring the distressed Francis on the floor as the other man assumed the worst.

"Wake up Alfred. Whatever you're dreaming, you can beat it. You're the hero after all." Arthur whispered as he held Alfred close, Francis' mumblings in French to Matthew going over his head as he concentrated on the other sleeping twin. "I'm sorry I've been difficult now and then. But we've helped each other out; been there for one another. We are friends. I know we are – and maybe in our own strange way, we're still a little like brothers, hmm? We can be independent of one another and still be like brothers…" Arthur continued to whisper into Alfred's ear. "China and Japan acknowledge one another as being related even if Japan makes it a point to talk about how different he is…we're sort of like that, aren't we? C'mon Alfred, I'm trying, lad…" Arthur said, dropping his head into the crook of Alfred's neck and taking a deep breath to try and continue with whatever would help them both to clear that fog between them that Norway had told him about. He could hear the sirens getting closer and he lifted his head up to run his hand through Alfred's hair. "It's alright now Alfred. It's alright." He said at a normal volume, finally taking a brief glance over to Francis. The Frenchman had always been more open about expressing his emotions, and there were tears in the other man's eyes as he held Matthew tightly to him. Looking back to Alfred he saw that at some point, Alfred had closed his eyes again, but that he'd become more relaxed than the state he'd been in when he'd asked for a story. He gently laid Alfred down on the bed to answer the knocks on the door from the paramedics, wiping a tear off his face he'd not been able to hold back and sniffling a little. Francis tried to copy his movements, only succeeding in jarring Matthew semi-awake while he wiped the tears from his face.

"Francis?" Matthew said, looking up to the other man's reddened face. Francis sniffled and looked down, running a hand through the boy's hair. "Oui Mathieu? Go back to sleep mon petit…" He said, Matthew snuggling up against him again and fisting some of the other man's shirt in his hand as he fell back asleep. A couple of medics came over to help carry Matthew out to one of the ambulances, Francis following close by. He saw that they had garnered the attention of several passing nations who'd come to see what the flashing lights and sirens were all about. Matthew blearily opened his eyes again as he was placed on a stretcher and rolled down the hall. "Where's Alfie?" Matthew said, beginning to struggle with the medics to look around for his brother, a wince on his face as the movement hurt his head. "Alfred?! Francis where's Alfred?" Matthew continued to ask, the Frenchman rushing to his side to replace one of the medics that had stepped back when it seemed like the Canadian personification was going to do some damage of his own to the stretcher.

"Mathieu, relax…" Francis said, but Matthew denied needing to get any medical attention as he yet again called out for his brother, halting the progress of the medics as they tried to roll him down the hallway. "Mathieu, focus on yourself. Alfred would want you to do that." Francis said, successfully stopping any more struggles from the other North American nation. At the pitiful look that begged for Francis to tell him where his brother was, Francis felt himself crack. "Desole, mon petit…he's just…sleeping." He said, Matthew letting out a noise that sounded like he was being chocked as he heard what Francis said yet watched as his brother was rolled past him without the same urgency as the medics had given to him. Making the same conclusion as Francis, Matthew gave up the fight to get off the stretcher, instead opting to bury his face in the pillow as he was rolled away carefully.

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