The 'Hug'

Chapter 21

Arthur had given in and let himself cry for as long as he felt he could get away with before someone should interrupt. He took a few deep breaths as he tried to stop, only to have a few more sobs escape his lips. Glancing at the clock to see that Francis would likely be gone for a while still, he let himself have as cathartic a moment as possible as he wiped his tears on his sleeve. He thought he was getting control again when he noticed that Alfred's eyes were moving around rapidly beneath his eyelids. Sniffling as he got up out of his chair, he leaned over to brush his hand along the side of the American's face as he whispered and cooed to the ill man in the hopes of easing whatever nightmare he'd sunk into. He felt dismayed at realizing that the nightmares were still continuing despite how he'd essentially poured everything he'd been thinking and feeling out to the other man as he'd watched over him.

"Alfred…Alfred, mate, come on…" Arthur said, switching to a more equal-sounding term in the hopes that the American personification would respond to that. But to Arthur's horror, the monitors starting to increase the frequency of their beeping as Alfred struggled with something and he watched as it looked like the other man forgot how to breathe like he had the first time he'd been caught in one of those nightmares. "Alfred! Alfred, you can breathe! Alfred, it's alright" He said as he attempted to wake the other man up like the first night terror, except that the first time he'd had no idea that the nightmares were caused by his curse affecting the other nation's 'hug' to the point where his body wasn't up to coping. As he debated on whether or not to remove the mask to accommodate Alfred in his distress, the noise woke Matthew as nurses ran into the room and urged Arthur to step aside. "America!" Arthur called out once more before coming to stand beside Matthew as the other nation looked to him.

"What's going on?" Matthew asked as he propped himself up on his elbow to see what was going on with his brother. "Is Alfred…Alfie! Alfie…" he began to ask only to be startled when his brother let out a yell that sounded more like a bellow of one of the mountain lions that inhabited his lands. "Alfie…" Matthew shouted out to his brother to try and reach through to him as he watched his brother shake on the bed as though trying to move. Arthur clung tightly to the other North American as a doctor gave Alfred what Arthur assumed was a sedative of some sort to calm him. Almost immediately, he saw the tension ease out of the superpower and the monitor's beeping start to slow back to the tempo it had been keeping.

"I-Iggy…" Alfred mumbled beneath the oxygen mask just loud enough for Arthur to make out what he was saying. Matthew immediately let go of Arthur, allowing the other personification to rush to Alfred's side once the nurses had backed away. "Help…M-Matt…"Alfred said before completely unconscious again.

""I am, love, I am. I'm trying to help." Arthur said as he let fall a few more tears as he leaned over Alfred, wetting the other man's face slightly as they fell on him. He gently wiped the other man's face, only half-listening to what the nurses were saying to him before they left. He kissed the other man's cheek before leaning more onto Alfred's bed to keep himself upright as he thought his legs felt like they couldn't hold him anymore. He closed his eyes as he leaned up against Alfred, surprised to find another's arm around him.

"Oh, Matthew…you shouldn't be out of bed, dear." Arthur said, sniffling as he composed himself for the sake of the Canadian who'd managed to drag himself over to embrace Arthur from behind. Matthew shook his head before letting go and walking around to the other side of Alfred's bed before he gently settled himself next to his brother. Carefully he wrapped an arm around Alfred's torso, making sure not to mess with any of the wires attached to his brother's chest before resting his head on Alfred's shoulder. "Matthew, I don't think…" Arthur started to say before shaking his head and leaving it up to the nurses or doctors to tell Matthew to keep away from his brother.

"He wanted me near him, so I'm not going anywhere." Matthew said as he snuggled beside his brother again for the third time over the past few days. "Oh, uh…unless I'm going to be sick. You'll help me then, eh?" Matthew said as he looked up at Arthur again briefly. Arthur nodded to Matthew with a sad smile on his face as he sat himself on what space was left on the bed on Alfred's right side, placing his arm on top of Matthew's as they sat there.

Once Matthew's breathing had even out to the point where Arthur was confident that the other boy was deeply asleep, Arthur fumbled around in his pocket for his phone. Finally finding it, he begrudgingly called Francis. At the quick response from the other, Arthur tried to rush out all that had happened in the span of a single breath, not sure if he could repeat himself.

"Slow down Arthur, I can barely understand you when you're speaking at your normal pace. All I heard was something about your book." Francis said with a sigh. "I am just leaving the 'otel now. I'll go back and get it and be there in a little less than twenty minutes. Is everything alright?" He asked, Arthur taking a deep breath before continuing in a determined voice.

"No, Francis. But it will be as soon as you get me that book." Arthur said with a finality that the other man didn't question. "I'll tell you more when you get here. Just please be quick before Alfred has another….just get here…" He said, ending the call to return to sitting beside Alfred. Even if he didn't have as firm a grasp on the brand of magic he'd used, he planned at the very least being able to provide some comfort to the twins with any form of healing he could come up with. Although at this point, taking Feliciano's advice didn't seem as ridiculous as anything else.

Shortly afterward, Francis arrived with a duffel bag of clothes he'd taken from Alfred's and Matthew's rooms, although it also looked like the Frenchman had added a few of his own alterations to their wardrobes. But Arthur wasn't about to comment on that so long as he could start looking through the book that Francis had handed to him with a scowl on his face and a warning to just leave the magic alone long enough for Alfred to get some recovery. Sitting down closer to the bed that should have contained the sleeping Canadian personification, Francis shot Arthur a look that demanded an explanation for the brief and hasty phone call to him earlier. When it seemed Arthur was going to just ignore the other man in favor of skimming through his book for anything to alleviate the nightmares he'd induced in Alfred, Francis got up and grabbed the book out of the Englishman's hands.

"What do you think you are doing, frog?!" Arthur nearly shouted, aware of the fact that he might wake up Matthew.

"Non, that it what I should be asking you black sheep of Europe!" Francis retorted back with his usual insult, seeing the predictable irritation on the other man's face. "You call me practically in tears and tell me that things are not alright. I deserve to know what 'as 'appened and I'm not about to wake poor Mathieu to get the answers I'm looking for." Francis said, holding the book out of the British personification's reach. "You do not get to bury yourself in something else to avoid talking to me. I know that is 'ow you prefer to deal with your emotional issues but not today." He said, Arthur jumping and successfully grabbing his book back from the half-hearted attempt by Francis to keep it away.

"Fine…I intended to tell you, just after I did a little search for answers of my own." Arthur said, huffing and holding his book protectively to himself. Sighing, he sat back down in his chair and Francis mirrored his actions. "Alfred had another bad nightmare after you left. It was bad enough to warrant a sedative and it scared Matthew pretty bad too; hence why he's stuck to his brother's side." Arthur said with a gesture over to the overcrowded bed. He'd luckily been able to dissuade the nurse that had stopped back in to check on Alfred from insisting that Matthew be moved to his own bed. So long as Matthew didn't mess with the wires connected to the EKG machine, then they couldn't really find a reason to move the other ill nation. Seeing Francis looking for more details than that, Arthur continued. "He called out for Matthew. I think he thought his brother was in some sort of trouble, not just that he knew his brother was ill also, but in his panic he'd asked me to help Matthew." Arthur said, Francis surprisingly nodding at that information.

"It is not so surprising, mon ami. He's feverish and that curse is making him even more disoriented." Francis said as he pulled out some drinks he'd stashed in the bag in his haste to get back to the hospital. "His mind would easily jump to what's most comforting at the same time playing out something he fears – he's afraid he can't get to help those he desperately cares for, namely his twin and he apparently trusts you enough to handle that for him." Francis said, taking a swig of his drink and making a face at the taste, mumbling about nothing comparing to French versions of the drink.

"I suppose that makes some sense. Although I don't remember you ever getting your degree in psychology…" Arthur said with a mocking look to the other European, but Francis just waved him off.

"Mon cher, it is crucial to be able to read into what people are saying to know what they truly feel and want, even if they don't understand those desires themselves. The French are the experts at that, hon hon hon…" He said with a smirk while Arthur rolled his eyes.

"Do you use that line to justify making a grab at everything and anything you see?" Arthur retorted, growing frustrated when Francis only continued with his laugh that the Englishman found more and more grating as it continued.

"Love needs no justification, mon lapin. I 'ave tried to tell you that for years…" Francis said, Arthur scoffing and standing up to look over the twins again.

"Uh oh…Matthew's messing with the wires again." Arthur said, trying to gently shift the Canadian from his insistence on wrapping his arm around his brother's chest and trying to rest his head more on his chest rather than Alfred's shoulder. "He keeps trying to cuddle with him like they were at the hotel. Help me try and shift him a little so the nurses don't make a fuss." He said to Francis, the other man coming over to assist Arthur. But as soon as Francis gently touched Matthew's leg to keep him from getting too tangled up with his brother in their sleep, the Canadian sleepily yawned and made to stretch like normal. Arthur caught his arms before he managed to do anything, jarring Matthew into full awareness at the unexpected hold on him. He mumbled out a small 'take off, eh' before realizing where he was and who was holding him back.

"Sorry love, but you need to be careful with how you lay next to him. We didn't mean to wake you." Arthur said as Matthew looked over to him. The Canadian nodded and shifted over to sit up, leaning against Arthur as he steadied himself. He mumbled something in his half-asleep state that only Francis understood, the other man asking for Arthur to step back so he could get closer to Matthew. Arthur backed up and watched as Francis gently spoke to Matthew about something before the Frenchman looked to Arthur.

"He needs to get to the bathroom again. He's a little nauseous still and didn't think you'd want to leave Alfred." Francis explained as Matthew stood up and let Francis walk beside him to the bathroom, but he stopped at the door before giving Francis a look that Arthur snickered at. Even though Matthew was once his colony and was always polite to him, there were times when Francis was reminded how even the Canadian knew to keep a healthy wariness up around his former caretaker. Francis held his hands up in mock surrender as Matthew shut the door.

"I am only trying to help mon petit Mathieu." Francis said through the door. Arthur shook his head as Matthew called back out to Francis that he was plenty capable of finding everything on his own, with a thank you attached to the end that may or may not have been sarcastic. Francis rolled his eyes as he turned back to face Arthur.

"I blame you for spoiling that open spirit of his when he was my colony." Francis said as he pretended to be insulted by Matthew's attitude, Arthur smiling in humor.

"Yes, well, I didn't force him to make those remarks after the revolution in your home that the French in your land were no longer true French. That was all Matthew in his gloriously brief outspoken years when he wanted to make sure I knew he was sticking by my side." Arthur said, Francis scoffing at that. "Thank Heavens he never went as far as Alfred did to make a point." He continued, Francis smirking at him at the implied notion of how Alfred had come to him when he'd been rebellious. But before they could delve further into reminiscing on heavily-weighted issues, Matthew reemerged from the bathroom and headed over toward his bed, crawling into it and pulling the blankets up to his chin.

"Are you alright Matthew? Do you need anything?" Francis asked as they watched the Canadian look gloomily back over to them, answering with a shake of his head. "What is wrong, mon cher?" Francis asked, sitting on the bed despite Matthew's earlier request for some space as he gently pet the top of Matthew's head.

"I'm worried about Al…" Matthew said, the others shooting sympathetic smiles to the ill man. "I just…I'm used to it being the other way around, eh? I always catch something because of the tough winters, but Al comes to at least cheer me up and does a good job of taking care of me….sort of, you know, in his own way." Matthew finished with a small smile as he thought about his brother trying to be 'gentle'. There were times when Matthew had to remind his brother that treating a cold wasn't the same thing as trying to simply dominate it and that he could stand to be a little more patient.

"Does he still put food on your head?" Arthur asked with a smirk, gaining a laugh from Matthew as he nodded in answer.

"Every time, but in addition to actual medicine. Says he learned that from you." Matthew said with a yawn, Arthur looking confused at the idea that somehow the American had reinterpreted one of his lessons to get the idea of treating an illness with food on one's head. "Said, you told him laughter was the best medicine and he only wants to keep people smiling and happy." Matthew clarified to Arthur, the other man looking overwhelmed at the notion.

"So he would take care of you with a biscuit on your head?" Francis asked with a chuckle, his mirth only growing when Matthew shot him a confused look. "You said something about that back at the hotel after you were sick." Francis said, Matthew looking as though trying to recall that memory. His mouth made an 'o' as he remembered before smiling again. "Yeah. That was the very first time we were reintroduced and Arthur left me alone with Alfred." He said, Francis looking over to Arthur with an unamused, scolding look.

"If that was how you planned on taking care of him, why did you want to take him from me in the first place?" He all but growled at Arthur before shaking his head and holding up a hand to stop any further argument on that long-since passed matter.

"He had work to do, right Arthur? " Matthew said as he looked over in defense of his other former caretaker. "And Al took good care of me, even if he did knock half the house down." He said with a laugh at the state of things when Arthur had returned.

"Oh, yes…I do remember that." Arthur said from his seat. "Little bugger nearly ripped my study to bits by the time I returned. I was only gone a couple of days yet he managed to do so much damage." He said with a shake of his head. "And if I remember correctly, he wasn't at the house when I first returned – off gathering more medicine he'd concocted for you from one of my books." He said, Matthew nodding his head with his eyes closed. Francis whispered to him that they could talk later if the other personification wanted to sleep. But Matthew forced his eyes open and shook his head, although his body answered otherwise with another yawn. He shifted around a little on the bed, but shortly afterward fell asleep again as the other men remained quiet for him.

"He is asleep again Arthur. He needs it." Francis said as he tucked the blankets up around Matthew. "He is doing much better but still not quite back to himself again. And his bear knows it too. The monstrosity had nearly clawed his way through the hotel door by the time I had gotten there." He said as he returned to the chair he had been sitting in. Arthur grimaced at the thought of the extent of the damage that had been done, but refrained from commenting.

"Yes, I'm sure his bear is just worried, just like he is with his brother." Arthur said as he opened up the book again. "If only there was a recipe for a medicine in this book like that the one Alfred used when he was in a panic." He said, idly flipping through pages he'd read and re-read several times already.

"Continue with that story, mon ami, it might help you clear your mind and see whatever it is you've been overlooking." Francis suggested, earning a small smile from Arthur.

"As Matthew said, I'd returned back home to find the house looking as though one of Alfred's tornadoes had torn through it. Matthew was curled up in bed with a wet rag on his forehead and Alfred was nowhere to be found." He said, Francis chuckling at the image of what clearly had been a panicked Arthur. "I checked on Matthew and he told me that Alfred had gone 'out' to get more ingredients to make more medicine. Naturally I was terrified not only that Alfred was missing but that he'd possibly poisoned Matthew with whatever he'd given to him. That is until Matthew pointed out the book from which Alfred had gotten the list of ingredients and remedies and I realized the lad was handling things as well as could be expected from one so young and small." Arthur said as he rubbed his face with his hand at the memory.

"He left the book behind? How did he know what to get?" Francis said, wondering if the American's occasional forgetfulness had been a characteristic he'd always had.

"Like I said, little bugger tore my study apart. He ripped the pages he needed out of that book to run back and forth – tore the binding on the book too." Arthur said with a bit of frustration at how easily the other man could tear apart his things without even trying, a trait he still carried with him.

"Hon, hon, hon….that sounds very much like our Alfred, oui?" Francis said, laughing at the story Arthur recounted. "I supposed he came back carrying a load of ingredients he'd gathered from who knows where. But I'm sure he helped to clean things up."

Arthur nodded as he looked over to the sleeping full-grown version of his former colony. "He did. He wasn't usually so forthcoming with offers like that, but he said he wanted to be a good brother. I guess he meant myself and Matthew at the time." Arthur said with a small shrug. "That was an easier episode of dealing with Alfred and 'medicine'. He nearly gave me heart attack one time with his antics." Arthur said, shaking his head. Francis could tell the other was about to launch into another story. The British man always loved the chance to tell a good story and with the topic, Francis thought it might be better to let Arthur continue.

Arthur sat in his study in his American colony's house, wearily looking over the parchments that covered the entirety of his desk. He had only just returned from his supervision of other matters in other areas of what was turning out to be the development of becoming an empire, a status that Arthur was finding more appealing now that Spain and France looked to be backing off. But he'd had a headache and was sore from spending so much time at sea, no matter how much he enjoyed sailing. He'd gone straight to sleep after a quick dinner with the always excitable Alfred who'd been talking incessantly since he'd arrived. He felt a little ashamed that he'd been so short with the tiny colony, although Alfred had grown up some since he'd last visited and resembled more of a six or seven-year-old child. He'd even gone so far as to meet Arthur at the docks in one of the dressier clothes that Arthur had gifted to him in the anticipation of when he would need newer clothes, although that had been sooner than expected for Arthur. Alfred had beamed up at his 'big brother' in his joy at having him visit with him again, Arthur fondly ruffling up the boy's hair as they headed back to Alfred's house. Arthur had urged the other boy to calm down as he waited for his things to be unloaded, but Alfred had scooped up the majority of heavy cases and started off in the direction of their house before Arthur had time to argue. The usual conversation over dinner seemed more forced on Arthur's part as Alfred continued to go off about how great things in America were and how he'd be great like Britain, although he wasn't sure he'd like to stick 'Great' in front of America like Great Britain. Arthur had lasted as long as he could before picking up his plate and heading to his study with a call over his shoulder for Alfred to not stay up late. Arthur had sat on the couch in his study and fallen asleep almost immediately, waking to find a blanket over him that undoubtedly had been put there by Alfred.

Now he was trying to finish up quick enough to be able to free up his afternoon as much as possible to make it up to Alfred. Although the attempts at violin playing coming from down the hall were making it hard for the older personification to concentrate, even though he knew Alfred was actually doing like he'd asked. He stood up from his desk and walked down to the room Alfred was playing in, peeking in to find Alfred taking a short break and giving Arthur a short reprieve. Peeking inside, he saw Alfred sniffling a couple of times before sneezing three times in a row, snapping the bow he'd been holding by accident.

"Aww…." Alfred whined at having broken another of his playthings. Arthur walked into the room, eyeing the damage to the bow that Alfred tried to hide behind his back to keep Arthur from noticing. "Hey Iggy!" Alfred said with a large smile to look innocent, but Arthur shook his head and reached behind him to grab the bow out of the child's hands. Alfred's face fell at that and Arthur sighed, knowing it might be a little while before he could replace the bow if he couldn't finish his work.

"Why don't you go outside and play for a bit? I'll….see what I can do for you, alright Alfred?" Arthur said, Alfred glumly nodding at the idea that Arthur was pushing him aside as punishment for not watching what he was doing again.

"Alright, but you promised to let me show you the new stuff 'round town and we got a lotta new…" Alfred was saying but was cut off by Arthur's gesturing with his hands to get his attention.

"Tell me later Alfred. And only when you remember how to speak like a proper Englishman." He said, earning a pout from Alfred who crossed his arms and stormed out through the door at having been blown off again in his efforts to spend time with Arthur. Arthur sighed and went back to his desk, dropping the bow onto the couch for later with the idea of possibly applying something to the wood to hold it in place long enough for Alfred to use as a replacement until another was crafted.

Alfred stormed off into the woods, sniffling again before giving off another round of sneezes. He wiped his nose on his sleeve before he decided to head off in the direction he knew to be the path to the closest Native American settlement. He didn't often hang around with them, but considering the townspeople might tattle to Arthur if Alfred did anything too 'ungentlemanly', he thought a visit might not be too bad. Especially since they seemed so familiar yet unfamiliar at the same time, they captured his imagination and fascination. They also had games that Alfred loved to play and there were always one or two boys or girls who'd be able to play with him for a little while, even if those games actually involved doing chores too. He'd just have to remember not to return back home with feathers or any paint on him that would surely make Arthur furious. He followed the path until he saw smoke from one of the fires, gleefully laughing as he then raced toward the settlement. He heard voices coming down by the river and made his way that way, arriving in time to see one of the men lose his hold on one of the nets as the rope snapped. He laughed as the man fell back in his canoe, but raced forward to grab a hold of the net filled with fish as it drifted closer to him, easily dragging it over to shore.

A few shouts were heard as the others saw a little white boy on their settlement, prompting Alfred to look up and smile as he recognized one of the boys from the group. Seeing that the little boy had come to play and spend time with them, their uneasiness was abated as the group recognized that Alfred wasn't quite the same as any other normal child. Alfred spent the day playing and running around the settlement, only stopping now and then to snack on something offered to him and when he needed to stop and catch his breath when the sniffles caught up with him. One of the boys noticed and motioned for Alfred to follow him, Alfred curiously following after the boy who was a couple of feet taller than him but still shorter than Arthur. Alfred's eyes widened as he was introduced to the spiritual leader and healer of the group who smiled kindly to Alfred as she looked him over. She had feathers on her head that caused Alfred to laugh when she leaned her head against his chest as they tickled under his chin. She mentioned something about some medicines that Alfred could take and rest there if he wished. Alfred felt a little sad that he had to decline her offer, especially since he really was tempted to sleep on the pile of blankets and furs that she'd offered. She smiled in understanding before another woman called her out for something, urgency in her voice that had the other woman not wasting any time. Alfred looked around her things with the other boy, the taller boy pointing out what each was and what they were supposed to do as Alfred held things up.

It became like a game after a while, Alfred learning that the other boy was training to take over the older woman's position. The American personification was particularly interested in one concoction that the boy told him was used as medicine for spirit journeys and would cleanse the body with the smoke produced from burning it, that the person going on such a journey was supposed to breathe in deeply. Alfred had stared in awe at the root he held with the bundle of other things wrapped around it. It was one of several that had been stored in a basket and he was about to ask more questions when the older woman returned and ushered the boys out as another woman grabbing her enlarged abdomen was brought inside. Alfred had made a face at realizing that women who looked like that were about to start screaming and have a baby come out, having been stuck inside one of the churches during a rough thunderstorm and seeing that happen before – he'd recounted it all in graphic detail to Arthur who told him to try not to worry about that sort of thing with an indecipherable look on his face.

As he and the other boy were ushered out, Alfred realized that it had gotten much later than he'd thought and hurriedly thanked the other boy for spending the day with him and took off. He was halfway home when he realized that he still had the small medicine bundle in his hands and he stopped to think about whether or not to head back and return it. Alfred scrunched up his face in thought before deciding that medicine was medicine and since Arthur was apparently really busy, he might as well use the medicine bundle on himself so that he could be better for tomorrow when hopefully Arthur would be able to do things with him. He grabbed a few rocks and made a tiny campfire, working to light it with sticks like he'd learned how to do. Getting a small flame, he dropped the medicine bundle into the tiny fire and waited for smoke to start billowing, taking in deep breaths like the other boy had mentioned. He started to feel a little light-headed and his chest felt tight as he breathed in the smoke. He took a few more deep breaths before he thought that maybe the medicine was defective and he should just return to Arthur before it got any later in the day. He tried to run back but found it harder to keep his balance and instead decided to just walk back into the house.

"Arthur…." He called out as he stumbled around in the house as he made his way to Arthur's study. He expected to be reprimanded as soon as he arrived but as he walked into Arthur's study without a knock to the door, he found Arthur still with quill in hand. "Arthur…" He called out again, succeeding in getting his caretaker's attention.

"Alfred, I told you to go play. I'll be with you as soon as I'm done." Arthur said with an exasperated tone. "A few more things have been brought to my attention. But I'll play with you later." He said, looking back down to his papers as he spoke, Alfred feeling panic as his head continued to spin and Arthur hadn't realized how much time had passed since he'd sent Alfred outside to play.

"But Arthur, my chest feels funny…" He started to say, running a hand across his chest to make his point, but Arthur still had his head down.

"Please Alfred. Just do as I say." Arthur said, Alfred hearing the plea to be left alone and grabbing the doorknob as he shut the door again. It was nearing dinnertime and although Alfred was always hungry, he wanted to crawl into bed as his tiredness was getting the best of him. But as he passed by the room Arthur used when he visited, he instead decided to just crawl into his caretaker's bed. He was on the bed and in moments he was feeling better as he lay on his back, arms flung out to the sides as he closed his eyes and felt his breathing slow as he fell asleep.

Arthur had finished up with the last paper in one pile before he accidentally knocked over the candle he had sitting on his desk. He jumped as it hit the floor, thankful that it hadn't been lit. That thought had him looking out his window to realize that he'd worked until nearly dusk. He sighed as he stood up and ran a hand through his hair in regret at the realization that he'd ignored Alfred's pleas yet again.

"Alfred?" Arthur called out as he walked out into the quiet hall, wondering what could possibly be keeping the boy's attention so much that it was so quiet. Heading towards the kitchen in the suspicion that Alfred had helped himself or was attempting to cook for them both, Arthur called out a few more times. When he didn't get any response and didn't find the American personification anywhere, he decided to check the bedrooms. He breathed a sigh of relief to find Alfred on his bed, smiling fondly at the boy before thinking about how the colony never seemed to slow down willingly. Walking over to the bed in concern, he sat down beside the boy. "Alfred, wake up lad. I'll make you something delicious for supper as an apology for leaving you on your own so much. I don't mean to, poppet." He said, running a hand through the boy's hair and smiling at how his cowlick never seemed to move. "Alfred?" He said, shaking his colony when he didn't get a response. "Oh, Alfred, this is ridiculous. Don't ignore me as some game, because I don't appreciate your stubbornness young man." Arthur said, hurt that Alfred was deliberately ignoring him. "Alright you troublemaker." Arthur said, picking up Alfred and standing him upright as he held onto him. "I'm going to let go now. I suggest you stop playing possum and be a big boy." Arthur said with a warning in his voice before letting go as he threatened. Alfred wobbled a bit before falling backwards onto the floor before Arthur could catch him.

"Goodness lad!" Arthur said as he picked Alfred up, running a hand over the back of his head to check to see if he'd had a lump forming. "Alfred?" He asked again as he cradled the boy to him, a little more difficult for Arthur now that he was larger than toddler size. When Alfred continued to be unresponsive, Arthur began to feel panic welling up in his gut as he shook Alfred again until he remembered something from earlier. "You said your chest felt funny. Oh, and your skin feels clammy, lad. Alright, let's get you back on the bed and I'll get you settled." Arthur said, picking Alfred up again to place back onto the bed. Laying Alfred out, he gently rested his head on Alfred's chest. He waited and felt the panic turn to fear at not hearing anything for a moment until a faint thump-thump…..thump-thump reached his ears. He let out the breath he didn't know he was holding as he began to undress Alfred out of the layers of clothes he'd had on. "It's alright lad. I've got you. You'll be fine in no time." Arthur said as he took care of Alfred, the smaller personification occasionally twitching in response to Arthur's touches. It was when Alfred stopped twitching that Arthur felt the irrational need to check every other minute on his colony's breathing and heartbeat. Arthur lay beside him all night, holding him to himself as he eventually fell into a restless sleep.

"Arthur! Arthur!" Alfred's voice rang out, pulling Arthur from sleep as he noticed that it was morning. The older man immediately looked to the little body in his arms that he'd covered in numerous blankets and been keeping warm with his own body heat once he noticed how cold Alfred seemed to be. But his face fell at seeing Alfred still asleep and he let his head drop back to the pillow in disappointment. "Arthur, come on! You promised you'd do things with me!" He heard Alfred say again, turning his head to look curiously at the other in case Alfred had somehow learned to throw his voice while Arthur was away. But Alfred remained just as still, Arthur letting go and sitting up in confusion. "Arthur…" An impatient voice said that sounded exactly like Alfred's said from the doorway, Arthur looking over to see another version of Alfred standing there with a smile on his face before giggling at the surprised look on the other personification's face.

"A-Alfred?" Arthur asked with fear in his voice as he looked back over to the boy in the bed beside him. Another giggle drew his attention back over to the one by the doorway.

"Of course it's me, silly Britain!" Alfred said, walking into the room to head over to Arthur. "Who else would it be? Oh, I've been travelling everywhere and all I have to do is think real hard on it – I visited with Mattie but I think I may have scared him. So I thought I'd better come and spend some time with you and we can do what we we're gonna do yesterday now that you must've finished all your work. And my chest doesn't bother me anymore and neither does my head after all that sneezing." He said with a beaming smile to Arthur as he rambled, bouncing around in front of the other man. "I'll meet you in the kitchen Arthur!" He said before taking off and disappearing before reaching the doorway, leaving Arthur to gape after him before he looked over to Alfred in the bed next to him. With shaking hands at the thought that he'd seen a ghost like his brother claimed to see, he slowly pulled the covers off of Alfred and gently rested his head against the small chest. He felt tears welling up as he was met with silence for a moment before hearing a slow beat that encouraged Arthur to hold Alfred tightly. He replaced the blankets and headed to the kitchen slowly, unsure of what to do with the unexpected situation. Walking into the room he saw Alfred sitting on the floor in the middle of the room.

"There you are Iggy! It took ya' forever to catch up with me…" He said, standing up. "I kept fallin' off the chairs so I figured I'd just sit on the floor until you came. Can you make something? You promised you would…" Alfred said before shrugging. "I mean, you don't have to 'cuz I'm not really hungry but you probably are – I must've had too much to eat yesterday. Was it yesterday? I kinda lost track of time…" He said as he looked up to his caretaker, Arthur kneeling to be eye-level with his colony.

"A-Alfred, what's the last thing you remember?" Arthur asked carefully as he tried not to alarm the younger personification. "Can you tell me what happened after you came to me?"

Alfred shrugged as he bit his bottom lip in thought. "Well, my chest felt really funny and everything was spinnin' around. I thought I wasn't gonna make it back home to you but you were busy so I thought maybe I should go to sleep to feel better." Alfred said, guilt eating away at Arthur as his colony described what happened to him. "Then I woke up in my field where I met you and nothing hurt anymore, but I wanted to still see you so I waited for a little while. But I got bored since I didn't actually tell you where I'd gone and so you wouldn't know to come for me, so I decided to explore for a little bit and then I thought of Mattie when I was running past some maple trees and then poof!" He said with a dramatic gesture of his arms as he threw them out to his sides and his eyes were wide. "I was standing next to Mattie as he was washing his polar bear. Boy did he jump when I said his name…"He said, holding his middle as he laughed in remembrance. "We did some stuff together, but Iggy…I can't touch anything no more. I'm…I'm a little scared and I told Mattie and he said I should ask you for help. Can you?" Alfred said, head cocked to the side and cowlick waving a little from the motion. Before Arthur could answer, Alfred tried to hug him and passed right through him, making Arthur shiver as he did. "I-Iggy…." Alfred said, warning signs going off in Arthur's mind that the little boy was about to burst into tears. Sure enough, as he turned around he saw this other version of Alfred sitting on the floor bawling his eyes out.

"Alright, lad, it's alright." Arthur said, reaching out before remembering that he wouldn't be able to physically comfort Alfred. "We'll figure out what's going on."

"Am I dying?" Alfred timidly asked around a sniffle, Arthur's eyes going wide as he tried not to voice his own fears over that being exactly the case. Instead he simply shook his head to encourage Alfred to calm down. "Are you sure? I felt great when I woke up in the meadow and I don't hurt anymore, but I just wanna rest. But I can't remember where I went to sleep and I'm a little cold." Alfred said, Arthur gasping as he listened.

"Come with me America." Arthur said firmly, hoping to get the other to snap to attention and not drift off to wherever his mind decided to take him. "Be quick but don't let me out of your sight. As long as you can see me, you'll be back where you need to be, alright?" He said, Alfred nodding and getting to his feet. Arthur stood as well, the two of them slowly making their way back to Arthur's bedroom so that Arthur could be sure this other Alfred could be sure to follow him. He guided Alfred's other self over to the bedside before remembering that he wouldn't be able to climb onto the bed. Instructing him to wait, he grabbed the bundled up body on the bed, checking once more for breath in the boy's body as he lowered Alfred off his slightly higher bed than the American personification's own bed. The other Alfred gasped and his eyes went wide as he looked at himself in Arthur's arms.

"You are cold Alfred, but I'm here. I'm here for you, but you need to…to go back to sleep." Arthur said, not entirely sure how to help the split personification become one again, but he knew that making sure Alfred felt safe would be the first step. "Come here America. Reach out…" He said, but he could see the fear in the other Alfred's eyes as he continued to look at himself.

"I-I'm a ghost!" Alfred exclaimed, jumping back a little before more tears made their way down his face. Arthur made several shushing noises to calm Alfred, desperate for the other Alfred to not dart off in a blind panic.

"No. No you're not. You've just…did you try to do any of my magic spells? I won't be mad if you just tell me." He said, knowing he'd definitely be mad after he was done being worried. But Alfred shook his head before gasping.

"I took some medicine from the tribe down the river. It was supposed to cleanse everything out of my body so I could feel better." Alfred practically shouted. "I didn't think it would cleanse me out of my body!" He said, panic welling up on his face.

"Alright. We'll figure this out but you need to try and go back to sleep. And you'll wake up in my arms. I promise, I'm not letting go until you do." Arthur said, holding Alfred's body close to him. "But you need to be quick. Try reaching out and close your eyes. Just focus on my voice, alright love? I'll keep talking and it'll be just like I'm telling you a bedtime story. I left off in the middle of one last time, didn't I? How about I keep going, hmm?" Arthur said as Alfred came back over to him and did as he said, continuing to talk softly as his colony tried to pull himself back together. Arthur hadn't said very much before he watched the other Alfred appear to fall forward only to disappear.

"Alfred?" Arthur called out, wondering if he'd gone somewhere else as his mind wandered. He picked up the little body in his arms, noticing how Alfred seemed warmer than before. He continued to sit on the floor with Alfred in his arms until he heard a groan. Looking down, he saw Alfred's eyes flutter until those sky-blue eyes of his locked onto his emerald green ones. Arthur felt a smile stretch across his face as he pulled Alfred to his chest, the little boy wrapping his arms around his caretaker as best he could as they hugged.

"I'm sorry Iggy. I thought it was good medicine." Alfred mumbled into Arthur's chest as they continued to sit on the floor. Arthur rubbed a hand up and down Alfred's back, murmuring comforting words to the boy before he felt like he was strong enough to pick him up. Carrying Alfred into their sitting room, he continued to hold onto Alfred as the other boy clung to him.

"It's alright Alfred. It's all over and I'm here. I'm here." Arthur said, hugging the boy once more. "I'm sorry I was so busy I couldn't listen to you. And I'll make it up to you once you've rested up nicely." He said, Alfred pulling away to look up at him. The smile he'd given Arthur was one of pure adoration as Arthur comforted him and made all sorts of promises in return for Alfred making sure to always voice to Arthur his concerns. It was that request that Alfred would adhere to and use later on in his development to voice where he believed his caretaker to be ignoring his concerns again.

Arthur sighed as he finished recounting that troublesome encounter to Francis, the other nation sitting quietly as he listened. He leaned back in his chair and expected to hear something from Francis when a voice from behind him startled him.

"So that's what that was all about." Matthew said as he lay on his side. At some point he must've clued into the conversation and Arthur and Francis hadn't been aware. Not that Matthew was surprised that they wouldn't have noticed him like usual, but they were certain he'd been asleep. But apparently he'd only been dozing and had followed Arthur's story. "I was wondering about that for a while. I thought I'd just had some spoiled food or something. Alfred had just popped up while I was trying to get some sap out of Kuma's coat and we talked for a couple of hours before he was just gone again." Matthew said with a laugh.

"Why didn't you ever tell me?" Arthur asked as he turned to face the Canadian. Matthew shrugged in response. "You never brought it up and I wasn't going to make myself sound that lonely, eh?" Matthew said, looking up from behind the bangs that had fallen into his face. Arthur sighed at that and got up to sit beside Matthew as he gently placed a hand on the North American's shoulder.

"You can always call us if you're looking for some company Matthew. Francis is almost always willing to make himself available – you just need to be careful with how available." He teased, Francis winking at Matthew and gaining a snicker as though he was a tiny boy again. "Goodness knows we wouldn't want you to become like Ivan in your Great White North." Arthur said, Matthew shifting a little to face the two other awake nations.

"Mes amis, that sounds an awful lot like what is happening right now." Francis said, gaining the others' attention. "Perhaps all you need do is what you did then. You cannot see the journey this time, and who knows why you could the last time, but perhaps you and Matthew can call him back again." Francis suggested. "It's probably safer than more of your hocus pocus there." He finished with a wave of his hand as he gestured to the spell book in Arthur's lap.

Arthur scowled at Francis but Matthew tugged on Arthur's sleeve to get his attention. "Maybe you should hold him like I was holding him earlier, eh? Maybe just on the other side so there's no worry. America's drifting and needs something or someone to find his footing." Matthew said, causing Arthur to sigh again as he looked to Matthew. Seeing the genuine desire to help, he gave him a tight smile before getting up and walking over to Alfred. He looked over how covered the other man was and gingerly sat beside him like he'd done before, hesitant to be so open and feeling vulnerable and exposed as Matthew and Francis watched his movements.

"Mon dieu mon ami…" Francis said with a huff. "Doesn't that look awkward? You look like that's hurting you. Just hug the boy." Francis said getting up and demonstrating with Matthew, who stiffened under the unexpected embrace before just giving up and letting Francis hold him. Although, he did keep an eye on where the other placed his notoriously wandering hands.

"Yes, thank you Francis. But I do know how to embrace another person." Arthur said, shooting a sympathetic look to Matthew as Francis continued to hold him. "Despite what you may think, the British are just as loving and tender as the French – we simply prefer to leave that for more appropriate settings." He said, earning another eye roll from Francis as the Frenchman hugged Matthew tighter and buried his face in the boy's hair as he gently tickled him, aware that he could make the other feel queasy again if he went too far. Matthew yawned and Francis let him lay back down, whispering in French to him until it seemed like Matthew was dozing again.

"As much as I hate to admit it, you have your moments where you're almost paternalistic Francis." Arthur said, Francis shooting him a genuine smile at the compliment. "But the other moments ruin it I'm afraid. Only Feliciano doesn't seem to notice." He said, Francis shaking his head with the smile still plastered to his face.

"Feliciano just understands better than you, that is all there is to that conundrum puzzling you." Francis said as he continued to sit beside Matthew with a hand on the other boy's back continuing to rub up and down in a soothing manner. Matthew sighed in his sleep, looking at ease.

"You're good with Matthew." Arthur mumbled aloud before he could stop himself, looking over to Francis with a rare apology on his face and no desire to start another argument. But Francis gave a tiny nod without saying anything as he looked at Matthew. Before Arthur knew it, there was silence filled only by the television in the background and the continuous beeping in time with Alfred's heartbeat. Arthur shifted a little to be more comfortable and to be able to whisper into Alfred's ear without fear of Francis overhearing what he needed to say to the American.

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