The 'Hug'

Chapter 18

Not too long after, Francis was sitting in a waiting room by himself, Matthew being transferred to his own room to spend the night. The Canadian had required the doctors to give him a light sedative to let him rest once it became clear after he'd woken the first time, that he'd be on a mission to find his brother. Francis had felt relief at hearing that the northern twin had only caught a stomach bug that was going around and hadn't been at his top shape to be able to fight it off with the migraine draining his reserves – and the emotional up and down with concern over his brother. Francis had spoken with one of the doctors and was assured that he could rest just as easily at the hotel, but given everything that was going on, the French personification had thought it best to let his former colony rest a little longer at the hospital to make sure nothing worsened. But now that he was told to simply wait, he couldn't help but start to get angry at Arthur for not having followed up yet on Matthew, even if the other man was his own nation now.

Sighing for what felt like the hundredth time in the last twenty minutes, Francis reached for his phone when he felt it vibrate. Answering the call without bothering to see who had called him, desperate for any voice to talk to, he was comforted by the sound of a Spanish accent.

"Hola Francis…" Antonio greeted over the phone without the usual enthusiasm that accompanied the Spanish nation. "It's been quite a fiesta, huh amigo?" he asked, earning a humorless laugh from Francis.

"Oui…that is 'as mon ami….that is 'as." Francis said, rubbing his eyes. "I am glad you called. I needed someone to talk to since Angleterre hasn't shown up yet." He said, an insult at the tip of his tongue that he just managed to keep in, knowing deep down that Arthur was dealing with what was happening with Alfred.

"Si…I thought you might need some comforting." Antonio said with a knowing tone to his voice, although the usual undercurrent that characterized the two's perpetual infatuation with innuendo didn't have the same effect under the circumstances for Francis. "That is why I am waiting outside with Gilbert…and Ludwig….who's got Feliciano attached to him. Romano's here too." Antonio said with hesitance, unsure how well the group's presence would go over for the other personification.

"Ludwig's here?" Francis asked, confused over why the German personification would have visited when he could have handled the meeting. His rough relations with the man had eased up since the end of the second World War, but there was only so much of the other man's uptightness that Francis could handle and he wasn't sure he'd be in the best of spirits for when Matthew woke up.

"Si…he managed to find a way to postpone this evening's meeting to merge with the final one tomorrow. I doubt that much would have gotten done anyway…not that much ever really does, right?" Antonio said, Francis reading into his explanation as the other trying to subtly argue for letting them visit.

"Alright…I suppose it is kind of you all to come. I will meet you on the first floor and we can all meet Matthew in his room." Francis said, already almost to the point he'd mentioned as he walked. Coming into the first floor's larger lobby area, he was met with the sight of Antonio trying to find a quieter spot from the bickering Italian brothers who were on either side of the German man, Prussia poking his brother in the back as he laughed at the uncomfortableness on his brother's face. Thinking about the two sets of brothers only made things worse for Francis as his thoughts immediately went to the North American brothers and what might happen to them. Seeing the French personification, Antonio ended the call and pocketed his phone as he sprinted over to Francis.

"Can't you get them to calm down? This is a 'ospital after all." Francis snapped, immediately regretting it at the surprised look he received from Antonio. "Oh, desole Antonio, it's been a rough few days and it's only gotten worse." Francis said, the other man looking at him in sympathetic understanding.

"I know, Francis. Feliciano hasn't shut up about everything that's been happening." Antonio said, Francis sighing at that admission. "But do not blame me. I am not their babysitter – that time has passed for me and Romano. Although with how much more chaos has been going on, I have been seeing him more frequently and of his own choosing." Antonio said with a small smile, hoping to get a happier response from the Frenchman.

"Glad to know someone else's tragedy is another's good fortune." France said bitterly, but Antonio merely patted the other man on the shoulder before pulling the other man into a hug.

"Things have a way of working out Francis. Do not lose faith." Antonio said, Francis gratefully returning the embrace.

"Hey, you two lovers need to find another room with those wandering hands. This one's taken by Germany and Italy…" Gilbert said with a laugh as his brother's face turned a dark shade of red in both anger and at the implication of what his brother said. Feliciano didn't seem disturbed by the statement, questioning why Ludwig had started shaking so badly while Romano stopped leaning over Ludwig to reach his brother to instead turn and fling insults at Gilbert. The interaction was causing enough attention though to warrant Francis' urging for them to shut up and follow him if they really wanted to visit with at least Matthew. Piling painfully into one of the smaller elevators, Ludwig muttered under his breath the entirety of the short trip until he could burst his way through the crowd of men and into the open hallway with a sigh of relief.

"'onestly Germany, what are you doing 'ere in the first place if you cannot stand being in the same room with us for too long? And what are you really doing here Prussia?" Francis asked he led the way slowly to the room Matthew was supposed to have been set up in, a small smile spreading on his face at seeing the sleeping Canadian all set up for the night.

"I dragged West here to see Canada, obviously. Because I am awesome like that and he clearly needs some of my awesomeness to rub off on him to get better." Prussia said as he grabbed one of the chairs. Francis sighed at the response, but Antonio pulled him aside as the others made themselves comfortable in the room, Ludwig smacking both Feliciano and Romano to remind them to keep quiet.

"As I told Britain, Canada was kind to Prussia recently and so Gilbert is trying to repay him somehow. I'm guessing he feels a little guilty, but Prussians never did go about expressing their gratitude the same way as those who speak a Romantic language." Antonio said with a smirk, Francis giving a short laugh. "He only wanted to check in on how things were and I'm sure he'll be ready to head out in no time. But I thought the company would do you good. Especially considering Britain's emotions are clammed up tighter than a crab's buttocks, if you get my meaning." He said, Francis bursting out laughing at the humor that Spain effortlessly employed, his laughter sounding slightly hysterical as he clung to that feeling. Antonio gave a small laugh of his own before Francis pulled the other man into another hug.

"Merci, Antonio…merci…I needed a good laugh." Francis said as Antonio patted him on the back. "And Angleterre would most definitely fit the description of a crab…" He said with a few more laughs as they entered the room a little more.

"Will you-a keep away you crazy perverted bastard?" Romano said, getting up to move away from Francis as he stood behind the chair he was sitting in, swatting away his brother's hand as Feliciano tried to keep his older brother close to him. "You're acting creepier than-a usual and I'm not afraid to have to…" Romano was saying but a look from Antonio had him reconsidering his words and pausing long enough for Feliciano to launch out of the chair and onto his brother for a hug. As those two bickered over the merits of Feliciano's hug therapy, Antonio dragged Francis into one of the chairs.

"But Romano, I only want to be close to you! I love you fratello!" Feliciano said as he held tight to Romano's middle as the other man tried to pry him off, Gilbert snickering as he leaned on his own brother with an arm around Ludwig's shoulders. "I don't wanna think about what would-a happen if I thought I was-a losing you like Matteo with Alfredo…" He said, Francis' head snapping back up to pay attention to the two brothers. Romano had stopped struggling and let his brother cuddle up against him without comment for a moment or two before he gingerly placed his arms around his brother. Ludwig looked over to his brother to find Prussia looking back at him, both of them not saying a word to one another before they looked away with a blush on their face and cleared their throats.

"Ja, that's girly." Prussia said, Ludwig muttering in agreement as he removed his brother's arm from his shoulders as the two fidgeted beside one another. Francis and Antonio watched with an amused smile at the Germanic brothers attempted to not see the brotherly display between Romano and Feliciano, but the silence was broken by a soft moan from the bed. Francis swore as he realized the sedatives were wearing off quicker than the doctors had anticipated, Matthew fidgeting in the bed as he woke up.

"Ah! Buona sera Matteo." Feliciano said, Romano taking the distraction to detach his brother from his side with an embarrassed blush on his face. "Ve~, we came-a to visit you so you'd be feeling better in no time!" He continued, Francis too slow to shut him up to keep Matthew from fully waking up.

The Canadian personification blinked open his eyes, his expression becoming confused at the sight of a full room of visitors. He took a moment to try and recall the last thing he could remember, running a hand across his face as he woke up. "Little birdie of mine told me you'd gotten a trip here and thought you could use some awesomeness to heal you." Gilbert said, startling Matthew as he looked over to his side where Gilbert and Ludwig were standing out of his immediate field of vision. He took a moment, muttering sleepily a few words in French-Canadian before his eyes widened and he shot up into a sitting position, nearly bumping heads with Gilbert. Francis shot forward to place his hands on Matthew's shoulders, easing him back into the bed as the other nation looked a little green at the quick movement. Romano backed up with a look of disgust on his face as Matthew gagged a couple of times before being able to take a few breaths, the older Italian brother relieved he'd been spared getting vomited on.

"Wha…Where's Alfred?" Matthew asked after he caught his breath, Francis comfortingly whispering in French to his former colony.

"Shh…get some more rest and then I'll tell you. Deal?" Francis asked, but Matthew sighed at that refusal to have his question answered. "Non…I promise I will tell you as soon as you're a little better." Francis said again, Matthew relaxing as Francis began to pet Matthew's hair as he'd done on the floor of his hotel room. Shortly afterwards, Matthew had fallen back asleep again and Francis let out a relieved sigh as he sat back in his seat.

"Why didn't you just-a tell him?" Feliciano asked, head cocked to the side as he looked to Francis. Ludwig sighed and shook his head at his friend's inability to read the atmosphere, walking out of the room. "Oh, Germany, where are you going?" Feliciano called after him but Antonio's gesture to stop had him returning to focusing on Francis.

"I didn't tell him Feliciano, because I am not certain myself." Francis admitted, slumping a little in the chair. "Arthur is, I am assuming, with him right now. But…" He started to say before glancing at Matthew once more to be sure he was really still asleep before continuing, "…Alfred looked to be gone before the paramedics arrived." Francis said, the others in the room gasping. Feliciano immediately sprung over to his brother and held tightly to him, Romano not doing anything other than stand still. "I have not seen Arthur look so desperate – he'd held Alfred to him after he'd finished telling him a story like Alfred had asked of him. I am 'oping that since Angleterre has not come to check on Matthew that I was wrong or that Alfred was revived in the ambulance and is with doctors at the moment." Francis said, Antonio soothingly running a hand up and down the Frenchman's back.

"I didn't think he was that bad off…" Gilbert said from where he was leaning against the wall. His conversation with Feliciano a few days ago now seemed to be coming back to haunt him. Grabbing the remote for the television in the room, he disregarded Francis' protest to turn the news on to see if there was anything overwhelming going on in the United States that might give them a clue to the personification's state of being. Seeing wild weather and various reports of disquiet, Prussia looked over to Francis to gage his and the others' reactions.

Out in the hallway, Ludwig took a moment to compose himself, expecting Feliciano to come running after him any second. But when it seemed like the northern Italian had been placated by some response, he took the chance to take a quick walk up and down the hallway to clear his head – there were only so many suggestions in sympathy books that provided any idea on how to go about comforting an ill or anxious person, let alone one that might be grieving soon. He was internally debating on whether or not Feliciano could catch up to him before he made it to the gift shop to check out their selection of books when he felt someone bump into his arm as he walked past. He turned with a comment about diligence threatening to fall out of his mouth when he saw that it was Arthur. The British man only mumbled an apology as he kept walking ahead, not bothering to look at who he had bumped into. Sighing but determined that he could pull off everything he'd read about being soft and caring for others in their time of need, he grabbed Arthur's arm to get him to face him. Arthur blinked rapidly at the sudden movement before realizing it was Ludwig who'd nearly assaulted him in his attempt to be gentle.

"Ludwig! What are you doing here?!" Arthur said, eyebrows shooting up in surprise and alarm. Like with Francis, Ludwig had to build up a professional relationship with Arthur after his attacks in both world wars had done heavy damage to the other personification – not that Arthur hadn't found ways to remind Ludwig now and then such as during their game during the Christmas truce when he'd hit Ludwig with his 'Blitzkreig Bounceback' throw. But Ludwig growled in frustration at the other man's reluctance to accept his help.

"Listen, I am going to help you and you have no choice but to like it." Ludwig said, Arthur's eyes going wide as he tried to ask what the other man was going on about. Before he had a chance to say anything, Ludwig had pulled him into the most awkward hug Arthur had ever experienced, the other man's reluctance to be 'soft' making it so that he had more or less just encased the other man within his arms without actually touching Arthur more than a graze. Arthur stood ramrod straight as his thoughts went a mile a minute as he tried to determine if he needed to try and flee. "Zhere, zhere…" Ludwig said, resorting to a few pats on the Arthur's back that reminded him of Alfred's less than gentle nature in the way they made him wince. Opting to just try and get the 'help' from Ludwig over with, Arthur sighed and let his forehead rest on the taller man's shoulder. "Thank you Ludwig." Arthur said with practiced patience before lifting his arms up to try and remove the other's man's arms as subtly as he could from around him.

"Waahh?! Britain's hugging Germany!" Feliciano's voice rang out, Arthur using that moment to use as an excuse to push the other man away. Ludwig released Arthur from the prison he'd made with his arms to take a step back, a slight blush on his face as he looked back at the smaller man. By this point, the others in Matthew's room had peeked out into the hallway, Arthur dropping his head as he realized that Francis would be given more fodder for ridiculing him later on.

"Arthur?" Francis asked in a smaller voice than the other man had expected, undoubtedly worried that such an action from the British personification might mean something else. "'as something 'appened?" He asked, causing Arthur to look up and straighten himself out as best he could despite the awkwardness of everything.

"Is Matthew alright?" Arthur asked instead of a response. "I…I'm sorry I hadn't come by before. Is he awake yet? I do need to speak with him." Arthur asked in his typical proper fashion. Francis' mouth dropped open and he looked ready to start shouting at the other man for a lack of emotion, but instead settled on asking another question. "What about Alfred?" He asked, Arthur swallowing before answering.

"I can't help Alfred. Now please just…ooh….bugger off!" Arthur said, shoving his way past the group of nations that had gathered outside of Matthew's doorway before shutting the door in their faces. Arthur sighed as it was just him and Matthew, leaning up against the door to take a moment to catch his breath after all that had happened.

"Why can't you help Alfred?" Matthew's voice asked, startling him into looking up and over to the bed to see Matthew sitting up and looking at him expectantly.

"Hello Matthew" Arthur said as he walked over to the boy's bedside, sitting on the bed beside him. He drew Matthew closer to him as he wrapped an arm around his shoulders. "I'm glad to see you looking alright. I'm sorry not to have been here when you woke up but I…I was with your brother." Arthur said, Matthew's worry growing as he began to panic, his distress showing up clearly on his face. Brushing some of Matthew's hair out of his face as he held him, reminding the Canadian of when Arthur had broken to the news to him as his newest colony that he had a brother he hadn't remembered. "I'm sorry Matthew…" Arthur began again, Matthew clinging to the British personification as he feared the other was going to tell him this time that he would be meeting another new brother – only he'd be waiting a decade or so to meet another soul of America. "I did my best to…"

"He's gone, isn't he? Alfred's gone…." Matthew said, breaking down and crying as Arthur held him, shushing him a few times before being able to get in any words. He gently cupped the other's face as he used to when Canada had been in need of reassurance that he wasn't being left behind by Arthur too.

"No, Matthew. Not yet. Alfred's still putting up a fight. Just like he always does." Arthur said as he looked directly at Matthew. While he'd never outright said it to the other nation, in a sense, he'd considered all his colonies to be some extension of family. Alfred's case had been the most unique not just because he'd been significantly successful in his revolution to become his own country outside of the British Empire, but that Arthur had been completely blindsided by it because of the fact that he had considered Alfred very much to be his brother. Alfred's suggestion at their first meeting that he call his colonizer 'big brother' had never been forgotten and on some level, Arthur had hoped that Matthew would come to think of Arthur like that too – and Matthew had remained by his side for a very long time. "I've done all I can think of and now…now it's up to him." Arthur said while Matthew sniffled a few more times.

"Where is he? I don't really need to be here and maybe I can do something, eh?" Matthew said, working to pull his blanket off of him. But Arthur was quicker, halting his movements and wrestling with him to stay in the bed.

"Matthew, please!" Arthur finally said, tears in the corners of his eyes again. "I can help you so let me! I…" Arthur said, Matthew stilling in his half-hearted attempts to push the other man away in his usual attempt to remain polite in his protests. He could hear the plea in the British personification's voice.

"I couldn't help Alfred very much but please…let me help you." Arthur asked, Matthew staring at the other man as he sat partly off the bed. "I…you wouldn't have collapsed like that if I could tell that you weren't taking care of yourself in your worry for your brother. I should've known what was making Alfred ill in the first place might have affected you – you even said you'd been suffering headaches like his…" Arthur said as he stood up and took a step away from the bed, turning his back to Matthew. Looking back over to the Canadian, he paused and blinked in surprise to see Matthew with his arms out in a plea to be embraced again. Feeling overwhelmed, he rushed back over to the other nation and held him close, neither needing to say anything as Arthur felt himself be comforted by the one he was trying to comfort.

Outside the room, Feliciano and Romano were up against the door trying to listen to what was being said. But aside from hearing Matthew's shout, the rest was too mumbled for them to be able to understand what was being said.

"Italy, get away from the door." Antonio said, Romano jumping up out of habit from hearing such things from his Spanish boss for so long. But he immediately shot a glare over to the other man, although his brother pulled him away from the door before he could finish getting out a single long-winded insult. As expected of the two, this resulted in a scuffle between the two as they swatted at each other, Antonio shaking his head yet fondly watching his former underling. Gilbert snickered at the show before returning to trying to convince his brother to head back for drinks.

"I told you no Gilbert. You are not permitted back there anyvay after setting one of the chairs on fire…" Ludwig said with his arms crossed over his chest. "How did you…" he began to ask but his brother waved him off.

"Relax West. The hotel had those candles too close to one another for beer pong anyway." Gilbert said, Ludwig looking to Antonio for answers but received only a shrug in response. "But there are pubs for us to try and they might even serve good German beer and not that loser beer only Britain could get drunk off of. We can even get something while we're out for Canada and America because I'm just awesome like that." Gilbert said, his brother closing his eyes as his patience was tried, Francis and Antonio waiting for the explosion that usually accompanied the German personification's confrontation with too much disorder.

"That wouldn't be too bad of an idea Germany." Francis said. "So long as you can beat Russia and his apparently endless supply of vodka." He said, Gilbert scoffing at the mention of any other alcoholic beverage other than his beloved beer.

"Do you think everything will work out?" Feliciano asked as he and his brother took a temporary reprieve from smacking one another. Francis sighed but shrugged as he answered the other nation's question.

"We can only 'ope that whatever Arthur did before the ambulance arrived will help." Francis said, gaining curious looks from the others. "He went to Norway about a curse he might have tried to cast on Alfred after the opening dinner for the conference. He never finished casting it, but it had something to do with a 'hug' and he was asking me if I remembered anything from when the Vikings…visited….my lands but I cannot." Francis said with a disappointed tone, looking down.

Ludwig brought his hand to his chin as he thought about what Francis was talking about, his people having had a fascination with Norse things for a while. As he was in thought, Feliciano bounced on his feet as he reached for his brother again, Romano yelling at his brother for being clingier than usual. "Ve~, that's because hugs make-a everybody feel better. Even Japan doesn't mind…I don't think…." Feliciano said, letting go of Romano as he thought about some of the more peculiar responses his friend and fellow former axis power had given him when he'd not given enough advanced warning of an incoming hug.

"Feliciano, be quiet for a minute." Ludwig said, Feliciano giving out a small squeak but did as his friend requested, Romano sighing in relief as his brother calmed down. "I think I might be able to answer zhat question about what Norway was saying." He said, Francis perking up and giving his full attention to Ludwig. Clearing his throat, Ludwig continued. "Well, from what research that was done, ahem, back during the second world war…" He started with a brief look to Francis, but not seeing the other rising to his usual barbs about him from that time, he kept going. "A hug, or hugr, is a complicated thing – a mind but not quite a soul. It represents qualities like thoughts, desires, or wishes. It sometimes could be separated from a person or altered with magic." He said, looking to the others for their response to the new information.

"Did you memorize all that from a book?" Gilbert asked his brother with a disbelieving look. "Lame. You have no life, West. I thought I raised you better than that." He teased, ruffling his brother's hair. "I know I did a good job with military prowess but come on…" He said, Ludwig shoving his brother away from him with several shouts of "Verdammit" as Gilbert laughed at his brother, although there was a fondness to it.

"Wait, wait…Gilbert leave your brother alone for a minute…" Antonio said as he stepped forward to intercept the next playful assault. "Let Ludwig finish. We need to hear if there's anything to know. Fiestas later amigo." He said, Gilbert scoffing but releasing his brother.

"There's not much more that I know." Ludwig said as he smoothed his hair back into place again, Feliciano handing him a comb he apparently carried with him at all times. "The most I can tell you is that it can be turned toward or against another person through magic – make them friends or enemies. But if left drifting, it can die and if the hug dies, so eventually does the person it's attached to unless…well, called back somehow." He said with a shrug as he pulled himself up in a military stance he was more comfortable with as the others looked to him. "I don't know anything else about all that magic. I don't follow it. I just memorized what the book I read that in said." He said, ignoring the way Gilbert was making goofy faces at him while he spoke.

"Merci Ludwig…" Francis said with his hand partly covering his mouth as he tried to process what that information could mean for Alfred and Arthur. "I will pass that information along to Arthur. Perhaps he might still be able to do something with it." He said with a grateful look.

"Alright. Well, why don't we follow through with Gilbert's plan and come back tomorrow. Si?" Antonio said, Francis nodding in agreement. "Alright, we'll head out now. Buenas noches Francis. Send our regards to Matthew and Arthur..."

"And America once he's awake." Feliciano said with his usual smile, curl bouncing as he grabbed Romano to follow after the others. Francis smiled at the optimistic tone the other used, chuckling to himself as he could hear Romano's obscenities even after the elevator doors closed.

With some hesitance, Francis walked over to the door and knocked a couple of times. Not hearing a response, he pushed the door open and walked inside to find Arthur asleep on the bed with Matthew clinging to him. Grabbing one of the blankets that had fallen to the floor, he gently covered both men before settling into one of the seats.

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