The 'Hug'

Chapter 23

Alfred continued to sit still as he strained to hear the voices that occasionally drifted over him. For a while he could make out some of what Matthew was saying and he clung to that with all his will until Matthew's voice disappeared. He'd panicked at that and desperately tried to hear him again before thinking that his brother might not be talking to him anymore. He tried not to dwell on the lingering fear that Matthew had given up on him or that his previous nightmares about his brother turning away from him were coming true. He gathered up the courage to go back out into the corridor to continue to try and find something that might lead him to getting himself back together again. He'd been walking for a while and was wondering if it was possible to sleep within a dream when he heard the creature following him. Out of habit, he took off again in a sprint until he heard another voice. He fitted himself into a tight-fit area to hide to try and concentrate on finding that voice over the alarm. After a few moments, his face lit up as he realized Arthur was talking to him.

"Arthur! Iggy!" Alfred whispered with a smile on his face as he listened to the kind words the other was directing to him. Well, with the occasional slight or reprimand, but he'd come to expect that from his former caretaker. He'd been so caught up in listening to the voice that he completely forgot about the creature following him, especially once he felt a warmth surrounding him. "I found it, reaper. I found the warmth." He said, closing his eyes as he reveled in the comfort of the warmth that was enveloping him until he felt the creature's talons scrape over his jacket.

His eyes flew open and he scrambled back as far as he could, breathing heavily as he struggled through the narrow space to get away. The creature followed his movements, prompting Alfred to let out a few of his favorite swear words as he took off again, hearing the creature following his every move. He raced as fast as he could to find some safe haven, the alarm blaring around him as he ran terrified. Figuring out that the creature was some thought tormenting Arthur was one thing, and facing off against him was another. He tried to catch his breath but as he stopped, the creature surprised him from the side and tackled him to the ground again.

Alfred struggled as the creature held him, trying to run through any possibilities of how to handle the situation. He thought about kicking it again, but that would only be a temporary fix to a problem that needed to be solved permanently and quickly. He could hear Arthur's voice faintly calling to him before he had an idea. "Okay, lizard-Arthur, you didn't want to hide. So don't." He said, the creature stilling a little as it focused on him. "This…This isn't some claustrophobic's nightmare spaceship….it's….it's set up like my treehouse I built with you over that once summer. I made it special for you to come sit in with me, but I was still smaller than you at the time and that's….that's why you don't fit in here. And it's outside…so…it's not so cold. Nothing has to be cold, dude." Alfred said as he felt the grip on him loosen and saw how the dark metal surroundings become hazy as they became the wooden floors and walls of his old treehouse he'd spent an entire summer building for when his caretaker would return to put the finishing touches on. Things became brighter as if outside on a summer day. And although he was still frightened and could feel his heart pounding, he continued to talk.

"And…I know lizards are cold-blooded and all so since I found some warmth, I'll share. C'mon, Arthur and I used to be so close and with everything that's happened since then, I can share some of that warmth." He said, overcoming his reluctance to wrap his arms around the lizard. He felt the creature embrace him back and Alfred briefly reconsidered this as a very bad idea as he struggled to keep from having a panic attack. He shut his eyes and bit his lip to keep from whimpering, only opening them once he felt a very human hand on the back of his head. Pulling back he saw Arthur looking back at him with a kind smile and eyes that held an enormous amount of warmth in them. Alfred sighed and pulled this pseudo-Arthur to him as the other gently rocked him. Alfred felt himself relaxing into the embrace and feeling as though he could finally take a real rest.

With that sense of ease, he found that this pseudo-Arthur was incredibly soft like an actual pillow, and then he could hear voices again. He thought about what had just happened, only to have a hard time recalling anything as he just felt tired. He could hear beeping again, but in his semi-conscious state, he opted to try and ignore it and go back to sleep.

"I'm sorry sir, but there's nothing more we can do at this point. Since he's had another attack, it's a sign that his body is shutting down and treatments are only palliative. Even with dialysis, he's still going to deteriorate unless he somehow comes into consciousness within the next twenty-four hours." He heard a British-sounding voice say, wondering if he'd left the television on to some soap opera. He'd be so ashamed if one of the other personifications came to visit and found him passed out on the couch with a cheesy chick-flick type show on.

"But it was short-lived. He seemed to recover almost as soon as I spoke to him." Alfred heard another British voice say, although that one sounded far more familiar. "Please, doctor…there's got to be something." He heard the second voice say only to get a mumbled response returned. Alfred figured that his cat must've stepped on the remote at that point to have lowered the volume and decided to let his mind drift off again. At least that was the plan until he felt someone embracing him.

"Wake up Alfred." He heard the second voice say, getting that odd feeling that he might not be listening to a television show. Then again, Alfred was a common enough name and he did like to wrap himself up in enough blankets to make it seem like he was snuggling with a buddy.

"Arthur, is everything alright?" Alfred heard another voice ask, this one definitely not British and making him think of hockey and pancakes. "Francis and I saw some doctors leaving and…and…" He heard this voice say, feeling a tingle running down his spine at the names being tossed around.

"No…Matthew, I'm so sorry." He heard the British voice say, sounding more emotional than he would've thought. "He had another and this time…the doctors don't think he's going to pull through." He heard the British man say, feeling the hold around him tighten and another weight reach his left hand as someone else seemed to come to him.

"No…that…that's not right." The not-British voice said as Alfred felt his hand being squeezed. "That's not like Alfred to go down without a fight. He always finds a way to bounce back." He heard the voice say, listening as someone else spoke in French on his other side as though talking to the last voice's owner. With that, Alfred felt as though reality literally crashed into him and he jerked to try and get some feeling into his lead-like limbs. He heard the alarm, or as he belatedly realized it was a monitor, going off as he struggled to let the others know to not give up on him as well.

"Alfie! Oh, Alfie…" He heard Matthew say as his brother continued to hold his hand. "Please…not now." He heard his brother say as he tried to get in a deep breath through his nose only to find that there was something stuck in it. In a panic he tried to turn his head to the side despite the exhaustion, feeling the pressure on his hand disappear and the hold around his shoulders leave him.

"He waited for you to come back, mon cher. He waited for you to be here." He heard Francis trying to whisper to Matthew as it sounded like his brother was crying. He tried to open his mouth to call out but the voices became mumbles as he realized that his makeshift 'family' was being ushered out by nurses. For one final action as he felt his energy diminishing, he managed to pry open his eyes and found that the nurses were still in the doorway arguing with his brother as the three men tried to come back into the room. He attempted to sit up, only for the room to tilt and he desperately pulled at whatever was on him as though that would help. Instead, he was only rewarded with an irritatingly shrill monotone as he flopped back onto the bed exhausted.

"Alfred!" He heard Arthur call out before he heard what must've been the door slamming shut to keep his brother and other two personifications out. He began to doze and felt rather than heard anything else as hands moved over him. He figured that they'd figure out what had happened and explain everything so that he could rest up and have a do-over for his dramatic awakening. But for now, he just felt too tired physically, and surprisingly, emotionally. Eventually he could feel his body relax more and he could finally take breaths comfortably now that he wasn't panicking, listening for when Matthew at least would be allowed back in to see him. He opened his eyes a fraction to try and get some bearing on things, watching as the nurse and doctor in the room grumbled over some damage he'd apparently caused. The monotone noise from the monitor was shut off as they rearranged things and he suddenly felt like laughing at the embarrassment he felt at having broken something else. At this rate, he thought he wouldn't be able to set foot in this hospital for a while. He hadn't realized he'd shut his eyes until he felt gentle yet nimble hands reattaching something on his chest and the monitor was turned back on to work properly. One of the two people in the room said something as Alfred heard the monitor's tone not sounding quite right. Apparently they'd had enough of him breaking things since Alfred heard it not making any more noise before he felt a blanket pulled up more on his chest. He cracked open his eyes again, determined to last longer this time, but there wasn't anyone in the room. He sighed and let his eyes drift shut as he waited for someone to come back in, although he guessed the staff probably were trying to keep their path clear between Alfred's room and wherever they'd gone. He smiled at the humor in his situation even though he wasn't feeling great at the time.

Alfred shifted slightly to get more comfortable and was back to dozing when he heard the door open slowly as though the person was afraid of either waking him or getting caught. He only knew of two people who could manage that level of stealth and the scent of tea was the final clue that it was not Matthew.

"America…" He heard Arthur say, wondering what the other was going to say that was so important that he decided to put to use those spy skills of which he was so proud. "Alfred…I…I tried to do something, anything for you. And now…bloody hell, I don't know what's supposed to happen now." Arthur said, Alfred starting to get concerned for the man he at least thought could call a friend if not have the other call him his family. He may have been caught in a bit of an issue when he'd filled him out as 'brother' on his old medical forms because of terminology, but he had been fantasizing about the idea that they could be 'brotherly' again, this time on a level with which Alfred was more comfortable and agreeable as nations; it had been one of his crazier ideas since the end of the world wars when he saw more of Arthur than he previously had and although he made a point to emphasize how very much he was not like Arthur, he had thought the fact that his people were so receptive to the 'British Invasion' had shown to the other personification that he was trying to be brotherly again. He'd continued to act that way even if Arthur had been less enthused about the familiarity that Alfred employed, grumbling but letting Alfred visit or spend the day doing what Arthur would inevitably call a waste of time. "I'm sorry Alfred. I didn't want this to happen. I know your lands are strong enough to carry on until there's another soul of the country that has coalesced…I'll do my best but I know he or she just won't be you. So, as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, I…I'll…Until we meet again America." Arthur said, Alfred too stunned to move as he listened to what sounded like a farewell. The fact that it was for him was even more unsettling and he thought that he needed to say something but the next admission would have left him speechless even if he had responded. "And as Arthur Kirkland, goodbye Alfred…I love you brother." Arthur said, and Alfred heard him rushing away.

Alfred opened his eyes and made to call out, but Arthur was already gone and the door was swinging shut on its own. Alfred shook his head, trying to determine if all of that was part of his imagination as he contemplated what to do next. Thinking about how the monitor wasn't really doing much at this point, he pulled the remaining wires attached to him without worrying about anyone hearing his attempt to follow Arthur. He shakily stood and attempted to walk forward until he painfully realized the IV was still attached. Quickly pulling it out with a gasp he'd deny sounded girly, he slowly proceeded to head out into the hallway. Pulling open the door, he blinked as his eyes adjusted to the light as he looked around. Spying Matthew in Francis' arms over by the lounge area at the end of the hall, he figured that Arthur would look for a more private room and so he pushed his body to move down the other direction quickly and without drawing any attention. Making it to the elevator, he tried to think about where Arthur might go if he was going to have a meltdown. Leaning against the wall, he knew that Arthur wouldn't leave Matthew and Francis completely and so must still be in the building. He looked to the panel that listed what was on each floor, noticing that this hospital also had a chapel and figured Arthur would hope to find solitude there. Especially since it was likely an Anglican chapel and Francis wouldn't force himself in there unless absolutely necessary in his perpetual irritation with Arthur's church.

He was panting by the time he reached the chapel, the elevator ride only a short reprieve. But luckily he'd only gotten a few odd looks from other visitors but no nurses yet as they must've assumed he was taking a walk. He took a deep breath as he found the chapel, barely larger than one of the larger rooms in the hospital. Sure enough, he found Arthur sitting in one of the chairs with his head bowed. Alfred imagined himself dramatically approaching him like the chapter in Tom Sawyer when Tom and Huck walk in on their own funeral mass. He imagined himself sitting confidently beside the other and having Arthur's eyes go wide as he pronounced how much he really did love Alfred before they would embrace and call each other brother again.

Unfortunately, Alfred found few things were as easy as they were in the movies as he tried to walk over to Arthur by using the chairs as support. His strength cracked the wooden back and he fell to the floor in a heap, Arthur's head whipping around in surprise and his face showing tear streaks on his cheeks.

"Alfred? Oh my…Alfred!" Arthur said as he got up and went to help the other personification up as Alfred groaned from the unexpected face-plant without having anyone break his fall this time. "How are you…you bastard!" Arthur shouted, smacking him on the head a few times.

"Ow, ow, ow…" Alfred complained, trying to fend off the assault. But Arthur continued to rant as he smacked Alfred. "You bloody, bloody, imbecilic, bastard. Twat. You git…" He continued with a few more terms Alfred wasn't sure of but could guess were more insults.

"Ugh….are you allowed to say all that in a chapel?" Alfred said during one of the pauses in Arthur's swings. "Dude, I was worried about you. I wake up and I don't know what's goin' on but there you are cryin' and I know something's up. And dude, you would not believe how hard it was to get here." Alfred said as he sat on the floor with Arthur, the British man panting almost as hard as Alfred. "I dunno where I was gonna go if you weren't here 'cuz I'm beat…." Alfred said with a sigh as he leaned against the seat of a chair. Arthur continued to look at him with tears in his eyes, although Alfred wasn't sure if they were from rage or sadness or whatever else Arthur kept bottled up. He was about to comment on it when he was surprised by Arthur pulling him to him and holding him.

"I should've known America would be the only one to find a way to pull a Lazarus stunt." Arthur said with a laugh, Alfred smiling as he returned the hug. Alfred didn't say anything as he let Arthur decide how long they were going to hug, not minding at all that it was much longer than usual. "C'mon then, Alfred. You probably still need to sleep and keep hydrated." Arthur said, Alfred nodding against the other's shoulder.

"I'm thinkin' the floor's lookin' like a good option." Alfred said as he felt himself sagging more in Arthur's hold.

"No. You can't sleep there." Arthur said with an exasperated yet fond tone as he urged the other personification to his feet. Holding onto him as Alfred swayed, he waited a moment for the taller nation to get his bearings.

"I can sleep pretty much anywhere dude." Alfred said, surprised when it earned a chuckle from Arthur. The British man continued to guide Alfred back out into the hall and towards the elevators.

"I am aware of that Alfred, I did raise you." Arthur said. "But I think getting you back to bed and with an IV strapped to you is a better option." He continued, Alfred wincing occasionally as they went too fast for him.

"Nah, I might have broken a few more things in that room. I kinda panicked at first." Alfred said as he sheepishly looked to Arthur, only to receive a fond smile as Arthur looked back at him. Alfred tightened his hold as the elevator bounced a little once they arrived, feeling a little dizzy. But Arthur held him upright, and the two slowly made their way back over to the room with Arthur muttering things for Alfred to do to help keep him upright or to tell him if he needed to stop again. They were almost back to his room when Matthew was suddenly holding onto Alfred.

"Oh, Al…" Matthew said as he hugged his brother tightly. "You were gone and then you were gone. And Francis and I didn't know where Arthur went and it was chaos and….oh, you're in big trouble!" Matthew said, Alfred lightly laughing a little as his brother scolded him while checking him over himself as Francis came running down the hall.

"Mon dieu…what sort of magic did you perform this time Angletterre? Necromancy is hardly…" Francis started to say as he stared in wonder at Alfred.

"Relax. No voodoo zombies here." Alfred said as he shot what he hoped was his usual Hollywood smile toward Francis in an attempt to have the other ease up on both him and Arthur. "I just, may have, possibly, overreacted a little earlier and pulled on all the wires attached to me. I mean, it was like the Matrix or somethin'." He tried to joke but Francis only rolled his eyes, making room when Arthur barked to him to move, mentioning how heavy America was compared to some. Alfred sighed at the jab to his weight again, but he was maneuvered back into his bed and was more than happy at how comfortable the hospital bed felt after that mini-excursion.

"Thanks for being there you guys." Alfred said, sighing as he reclined back into the bed. "I really appreciate everything you know." He said, getting looks of understanding from the three other blondes in the room.

"Oui. Of course you would enjoy being in these hands." Francis said, holding up his hands and making a gesture accompanied by an eyebrow wiggle that had Arthur squabbling with him in seconds.

"You sure you're not…um…." Matthew started to ask as Arthur and Francis tossed arguments back and forth as usual. Alfred laughed as he turned his head to face his brother directly.

"What? About to buy the farm?" Alfred asked in the hopes of making things more lighthearted. But at Matthew's grief-stricken expression at the thought after experiencing what had happened, Alfred reached out to hold his brother's hand. "Matt, I'll be fine in no time. I…I think I figured out whatever was causing those nightmares and they should be done now. All I need to do is get myself something to drink and some pills for this headache that just won't go away." He said as he rubbed his forehead. "Yours go away yet? I thought I heard that you were sick too." Alfred said, Matthew nodding to him.

"Yeah, it's mostly gone. I think the pressure system for that particular storm has moved on." Matthew said with a shrug. "I caught one of those stomach bugs though and ended up in here with you. I didn't move from that bed." Matthew said as he gestured to the now vacant bed. "That way I was nearby for you. Although it was probably your fault I caught it in the first place with having to drag you out of that bathroom." Matthew said with a smirk.

"Ugh…sure, blame America. Everybody loves to blame America." Alfred said with an eye roll as he and brother shared a laugh before Matthew crawled into the bed beside his brother. "I'm not sure I say it enough, but I love ya Mattie." Alfred said as he hugged his twin.

"I know Alfred. I love you too." Matthew said, chuckling again as his brother yawned. "I'm so glad you've made such a recovery. The doctors told us your body was just shutting down." Matthew said as they watched Arthur and Francis scuffle as Francis attempted to show Arthur the proper way to hold another person. Arthur flailed as he tried to get Francis away, Alfred briefly wondering if he needed to say something soon.

"Yeah…I think I was dyin', Matt." Alfred said as his eyes glazed over in thought. "I…wow…I was. I think I saw that reaper again. It…it reached out and touched me. Like this." Alfred said, demonstrating on his brother. Matthew's eyes widened and Alfred could feel his brother's pulse quicken. "I thought I was a goner for sure that time, but he told me I wasn't taking care of this or, no…what was it…" Alfred said as he was lost in thought, Matthew gently pulling his brother's hand off of his chest.

"Well…don't worry about that. I'll help." Matthew said, earning a loving smile from Alfred who squeezed his brother's hand as Matthew hadn't let go. "Must be all those hamburgers." Matthew said after a moment, a teasing smile on his face.

"Dude! Seriously? Not you too. There's nothing wrong with my all-American food." Alfred said as he defended himself, swatting playfully at his brother's curl.

"Didn't hamburgers start off in Germany?" Matthew teased right back, slapping away his brother's hands.

"No. Not the way I make 'em. And not just the McDonald version either." Alfred said, feeling the exhaustion catching up with him as he wasn't able to block one of Matthew's soft swings and got a smack to his cheek.

"Oh, sorry aboot that, eh?" Matthew said as he stopped his movements to let Alfred rub his cheek. "Want us to go?" He asked, but Alfred shook his head and instead reached out for his twin. Matthew was more than happy to comply, mindful of the IV while it seemed Francis and Arthur were coming down from their usual scuffles.

"Hey." Alfred mumbled when the two Europeans put their attention back on Alfred, the American leaning his face on his brother's shoulder. "Ugh…I feel awful…" Alfred said as he nuzzled his brother.

"Perhaps you shouldn't have tried climbing up to the chapel as soon as you woke up, hmm?" Arthur reminded the other man, but Alfred just waved him off lethargically. "Yeah, yeah…love you too bro…" He said as his eyes shut and he gave out a soft snore from his sleeping position.

Arthur's eyes went wide as he registered what Alfred had said before a small smile spread along his face. But seeing that Matthew and Francis were shooting him knowing smiles of their own he quickly replaced that look with one he hoped was more like his typical neutral face. Seeing how Francis kept smirking at him, Arthur scoffed before muttering under his breath and walking out of the room.

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