The 'Hug'

Chapter 7

Arthur found himself facing an irate France who had somehow beaten him to his room, despite his head start. He furrowed his eyebrows at the other nation, shooing him away from the lock on the door, prolonging any conversation for as long as he could as the two entered his room. Picking up the book, he flipped through it to carefully read as much information he could about the details of that particular spell.

"Just ask one of your brothers for..." France began to say but was silenced by a glare that fit the description of 'if looks could kill'. Sighing, France brushed off imaginary dust from his clothes while Arthur continued to remain silent. "It would be much quicker if you could just ask for their assistance. There are other things I could be getting to, you know?" France said, seeming to return to his usual attitude now that immediate danger seemed to have passed. Arthur merely lifted the book up to hide his face as he read, continuing to give Francis the silent treatment. "Seriously Arthur…." Francis said with a scolding tone, "…you are the one who told me about your involvement in all of zis. The least you could do is keep me updated. I might be able to help ze poor boy you decided to strike down after being so close for so long."

"Excuse me? He and I are nothing but…" Arthur finally started to say, stopping his speech as he saw the smirk on Francis' face that he considered to be a part of his arrogant personality.

"You are nothing but brozers. Alfred may have distanced himself at one point but in case you are forgetting mon ami, it's been a while and the world has changed since ze late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries." Francis said as he relaxed in his chair. "Zere is a reason he came to visit you when you were injured that badly during World War II."

"Yes, well, for someone who was supposed to be my ally at the time, why didn't you show up?" Arthur retorted back as he attempted to ignore the other train of thought France was pushing. France scoffed at his question. "I was a little bit busy being a prisoner at ze time, Arthur. Besides, I have more than made up for it every July when you come crawling to me when you are ill." Francis said.

"I do not come crawling to you" Arthur denied, although internally he had to admit that Francis was always there even if he hadn't called for him. "I just happen to not agree with the weather at the time is all."

"Oh hon hon hon, I think you mean you do not agree with your alcohol, no?" Francis teased, earning another glare from Arthur. "But you are avoiding what I was saying. You know Alfred is still attached to you in some way. With how global economies and everything else is today, it cannot be helped. It is why he was so hurt last night when he thought you put Ivan up to mocking him."

Arthur pointed accusingly at Francis. "I knew you must've heard our conversation. It is very ungentlemanly of you to eavesdrop on such a private matter. Shame on you Francis." He said, but Francis only rolled his eyes, prompting Arthur to return to trying to focus on his book.

"This coming from the personification who prides himself on being the world's most excellent spy? You are being a little hypocritical there, mon cher…" France said with an amused chuckle. "And it is hardly private when Alfred speaks so loudly. I was only concerned for you two, as was Matthew and it seems there was good reason."

"I know, I know." Arthur said, sitting back in his chair and rubbing his hands across his face. "But there's nothing in here for a counter to a spell that's not supposed to last more than a full day. And I didn't even finish so I've no idea where I would start the counter-spell anyway."

Francis looked troubled too at Arthur's lack of success. "And that is why I suggest you just leave all your dabbling in such blasphemous works behind. But you never seem to listen to me anymore." He said, taking on a faux disheartened tone that Arthur was used to dealing with more often than he would like with Francis.

"Anyway, I think the best we can do is hope that Alfred sleeps this off. It should be wearing off soon…I think." Arthur said. "Why is it either Alfred or Matthew that continues to barge in on me in the middle of my casting? Is it something only those North Americans seem to be able to sense when I'm in the middle of that?" He asked, Francis shaking his head.

"In any case, I highly doubt my Mathieu would 'barge in' on anything unless there was a very good reason." Francis said, standing up with Arthur as they headed back to Matthew's room, taking the book with them regardless of its apparent uselessness.

"He is not your Matthew, frog. If anything, you're the one who abandoned him." Arthur said as they got onto the elevator.

"Only because you…." Francis said before shaking his head. "Let's not start zis again. It will get us talking in circles because you insist on not accepting I am just superior." Francis said as he ran a hand through his hair.

"Well then, sir, do you have a way to get into Matthew's room if they're both asleep?" Arthur asked grumpily. "It's been about an hour since we got nothing from this book and as much of a lump as Alfred can be, I think you can remember that Matthew enjoys his beauty sleep too."

Francis shot him a cocky smirk as he pulled out a room card from his pocket that he'd obviously swiped from the pile of goodies Matthew had deposited on the table, earning a frustrated scoff from Arthur. "Why yes, my little underling, I do. I suppose I could share it with you if you were perhaps to…"

"Don't even start with any of your perverted ideas Francis." Arthur said, glad that the elevator had stopped so that he could put some distance between the two of them. Francis merely laughed as he followed Arthur.

"You keep running away, mon lapin, but you know you can't deny forever…." He started to say before Arthur turned to smack him on the back of his head, unsatisfied at the weak reaction the other nation gave him. "So rough, Arthur…." He teased as he unlocked the door, finding both boys asleep on the bed.

Setting his book on the table, Arthur took one of the seats and made himself comfortable. Francis did similarly, turning on the television to a low volume on the off chance that he woke either of the two sleeping boys. They both knew that the boys were capable of taking care of themselves, but old habits were easy to fall back into, and neither really wanted to face the other curious nations just yet. As the time wore on, the other two had nodded off themselves only to be awoken another couple of hours later by Matthew's voice.

"Alfred…Alfred….come on Alfie, you've gotta wake up, eh?" Matthew was saying, shaking his brother to try and wake him. "Alfred….America!" Matthew shouted, startling Francis awake. Seeing Francis awake, Matthew looked over to him. "He won't wake up." He said, returning to less gentle methods of waking his brother.

"Arthur, wake up." Francis said, shaking the other's leg to get him to wake up, wincing in sympathy at the sore neck Arthur was going to have from his position on the chair. "Something's not right." He said, getting Arthur's attention as he too saw Matthew trying to get his brother awake, resorting to bribes of ice cream or his special maple pancakes to threats of pulling his cowlick or having Kuma sit on him again. When that didn't seem to work, he rolled him onto his back and leaned over him. With wide eyes, Matthew reached over to the nightstand to fumble for the telephone.

"Matthew, what's wrong?" Arthur asked, getting up from his seat and to join Francis at the bedside. He reached over to halt the Canadian's movements to try and get him to explain.

"Alfred's breathing isn't right. Listen for yourself." Matthew said. "What's the number I'm supposed to call here for emergencies?" He asked, continuing on in French-Canadian with rapid mutterings that Francis was having a hard time keeping up with while Arthur looked over Alfred.

"He's right." Arthur said as he took the phone from Matthew. "His pulse is slower than it should be." He said, calling the private line for help for the visiting nations.

"Oui. America's pulse is, well, as strong as his super strength." Francis said, Matthew muttering something else quickly to him. "Mathieu, I cannot keep up with that version of French. Slow down and take a deep breath. Help is on the way." Francis said.

"Actually, it'd be quicker to take him ourselves." Arthur said, hanging up the phone. "I've made the calls but with the traffic heading in this direction this time of day, we'd be faster in one of our cars if you can carry him out again Matthew." He said, the other nodding his head in agreement as he seemed to snap out of his panic. "Okay. Grab some things to take with us and we'll head out." Arthur said to Francis as the three of them hurried to take Alfred to Arthur's car. Matthew asked something else to Arthur in French Canadian, and he was forced to look to Francis for some sort of translation.

"He asked about Alfred's things. Should we take something of his?" Francis said as he held open the door for Matthew, his arms full of his brother. But before Arthur could come up with a response, Francis had already answered in French, leaving Arthur feeling a little left out.

The group piled into Arthur's car, passing a surprised China and Japan. "What is wrong with America-san?" Japan asked with concern evident in his voice for his friend's well-being. "I thought he just needed to sleep off his cold?"

"Yes, well, now he's having difficulty waking up." Arthur said, the two Asian nations letting out exclamations of worry. "We're heading to the hospital now. Please inform Germany that I will be unable to begin tomorrow's round of discussions and that I would be most grateful if he could handle that for me." Arthur said with as much composure as he could, putting on the famous 'stiff upper lip' that he was known for.

"Aiya…" China said in surprise. "Of course Britain, aru. If there's anything you need, just let us know." The older man said, receiving an appreciative look from Arthur before he got in and began to drive. As he had warned, traffic in the opposite direction they were going in had built up, their own commute a little slower than Arthur would have liked. A pothole that Arthur was unable to swiftly avoid had them all bounce a little in their seats.

"Mon dieu. I thought you were supposed to have been an expert at navigation, former pirate." Francis said, looking to the backseat to check on Matthew and Alfred. "With the way those two had to stuff themselves in your tiny car, you'll be giving Mathieu a concussion too."

Arthur made an irritated noise at the complaining from the passenger seat. "Well a ship is highly different from a car, Francis. And I'm doing my best, you know. It's not as though your cars are any better." He said, the two launching into one of their typical debates over comparing one's versions of things to another.

Matthew sighed as he realized the two of them likely would bicker for the rest of the ride, but he did have to admit that head-butting with Alfred was not the best feeling in the world. The two taller nations had crammed themselves in the back, and Matthew had propped Alfred into a sitting position, holding him steady for the ride. Running a hand on his head to try and ease the ache, he looked down to see Alfred sleepily looking back at him.

"Hey! Alfred! Hey there, bro!" Matthew said in his whisper-shout, although not loud enough to cut into the Europeans' conversation. "Keep your eyes open, eh? We're going to get you some better medicine to help, okay?" He said with a shaky smile, smacking Alfred gently on the face when his eyelids started to droop.

"No…" Alfred mumbled, Matthew straining to hear. "No medicine. No…No more." Alfred said, Matthew readjusting his grip on his brother to try and get him to look at him more directly.

"You need medicine Alfred. It's the only way to fix whatever is wrong with you." Matthew said, trying to reason with his brother. Alfred mumbled something again, but Matthew couldn't make it out. He kicked the back of Francis' seat to get their attention so they could shut up long enough for him to maybe make out some words. Feeling the jolt, Francis looked back as though ready to start arguing with Matthew when he noticed Alfred semi-awake.

"Arthur, he's awake." Francis said, ending Arthur's rant mid-word as the Englishman looked into the rear-view mirror to see for himself. "What is he saying Mathieu?" Francis asked, Matthew leaning closer and continuously shifting his brother to try and keep him awake. But the more soft-spoken twin shook his head as he looked to Francis.

"I can't tell. All I got before was the usual refusal to take medicine – he said 'no more'." Matthew repeated, turning back when Francis indicated it looked like Alfred was falling back asleep again. "Hey bro, come on. No more sleeping. Come on….stay awake and we can do some of the stuff you like. Um….you wanted to go on the London Eye again, right? We can do that and I'll even buy you an ice cream. Or we can check out….." Matthew began to ramble, continuing to talk to keep his brother's attention.

Alfred was feeling a little more discouraged at the inability to have even his brother pick up on what he was trying to say, vaguely wondering if this was how the other felt when the other nations considered him invisible during their meetings. He knew what was wrong with him, and he was frustrated at their apparent assumption that he wouldn't have known to take care of himself. Put a burger on someone's head as 'medicine' for a cold one time, and they automatically assume he's a dunce about his health. Although, he was starting to regret not actually reading all the information on the side of the pill bottle and taking a little extra into the meeting room. He figured he'd need a little more than the usual dose anyway – it was why he'd had to ask Arthur for a sip of his tea since he found he couldn't quite dry swallow the pills. But waking up to find they'd given him even more after he'd been practically comatose before left him anxious and grabbing his brother to try and somehow convey what he needed to say. Except that he'd fallen right back to sleep and it seemed that was the case this time too, his thoughts wandering from one thing his brother said to the next as he tried to keep awake. In his foggy state, the one thing he latched onto was the usual food-related topic of ice cream. Trying to muster up the reserves to talk again, he found himself trying to asking his brother to buy him that promised ice cream.

"Matt….I….b-buy…" He started to say about buying the promised ice cream, but he couldn't keep his eyes open any more, letting them drift shut and his head to fall onto his brother's shoulder while still trying to keep a hold on his brother's voice to avoid slipping into deep sleep again.

"Bye?! Bye?! No 'bye'! Keep your eyes open Alfred!" Matthew said in a highly panicked voice with wide, terrified eyes. He slapped his brother on the cheek harder than he had before. "No goodbyes. Please Alfie!" He said, switching into French Canadian again that Alfred didn't even try to follow, feeling his brother running his hands through his hair as he tried to get him to open his eyes again. He heard Francis saying something in French and Arthur yelling something back, a situation Alfred would normally boisterously laugh at. However, he instead forced his eyes open a fraction to look at Matthew.

"Oh dieu merci." Matthew said, hugging Alfred close. Francis also seemed a little relieved from what Alfred could see. Alfred sleepily reached for Matthew's hand as a sort of 'sorry for freaking you out' gesture since he couldn't form much of a coherent sentence at the moment.

"We're almost there lad." Alfred heard Arthur's voice from the front, sounding much like how he spoke to him when he was little. "Keep awake alright? Show us that 'go-getter' spirit of yours." He said, pushing the limit for speed on his car to get to the hospital.

As promised, they arrived within the next five minutes, Alfred doing his best to stay awake. His efforts to always be the hero apparently kicking in as he worked to keep his brother from another panic attack. Arthur rushed inside to get help while Francis worked with Matthew to help Alfred inside. Without protest, unusual in itself, Alfred was whisked away by hospital personnel. The other three were then left to wait until a nurse or doctor came back with information, Matthew his typical quiet self with only a few French mutterings that Arthur left Francis to answer. Not too long after, a short woman in a nurse's outfit approached them, although a little warily seeing how tense the three were. Knowing that they were also personifications also left her to be cautious, especially since it seemed justified with the look she was receiving from a certain long-haired blonde Frenchman.

"I have information about the man you brought in." She began, Matthew standing up from his seat to speak with the nurse. "However, pulling up the records as we've been instructed, sir…." She said, turning to Arthur who knew the procedures he and his boss had put in place like so many other countries had in regards to dealing with any medical issues with personifications. "Well, it doesn't look like he's updated the paperwork in a while so…." She tried again, but Arthur shook his head.

"Yes, that does sound like him. Let me guess, it's been at least a few decades since he filled out the paperwork. Bloody fool thinks he's damn invincible simply because he doesn't get ill that often. Gets hurt often enough with his antics…" Arthur grumbled, silenced by Francis' hand on his shoulder. "Yes, yes, get to the point." He said, returning to looking at the nurse who seemed used to dealing with frustrated family and friends.

"As I was saying, it's been a while so we must comply with the forms we do have." She said, looking at the papers on her clipboard. "In this case, those authorized to visit with him while still in this state are only those he had filled under 'requested' under the terminology of the older forms." She said, Arthur sighing at the news.

"Alright Matthew, you head back and we'll meet you when he's a little better." Arthur said, running a hand through his hair. "Can we at least hear what you think has him in here in the first place?" he asked.

"Yes. We took some blood work and as soon as the results are known we can treat him better, but it looks like he may have overdosed on something. We're working on flushing it out of his system but it's still a concern for the doctors at the moment." She said, Matthew's eyes widening.

"That's what he was saying in the car." Matthew said, hugging himself more as realization dawned on him. But he refrained from saying anything else to keep the nurse from explaining anything else, although his soft voice wouldn't have drowned her out.

"So good news then? He will be better soon?" Francis asked, the nurse answering that the doctors were optimistic but that Alfred would need constant supervision in case he regressed. While not the good news the three wanted to hear, it was better than being told all was lost.

"But I do have to ask about something else that was concerning the doctors." She said, putting the three back on edge. "They know that as personifications, scars aren't that uncommon from attacks on the land…"

"Yes, like how the economy can occasionally make us sick. But what does that have to do with…" Arthur started to ask but the nurse cut him off as though sensing another rant.

"Well, we don't know what all of them symbolize but one of them apparently was bleeding. Not much, but…" she began, Francis and Arthur looking to each other with a silent exchange "…it was quickly taken care of so it doesn't appear to be of much concern. Just was hoping one of you could elaborate on it in case there was anything to be looking for. Either way, he's resting right now." She said with a small smile meant to be encouraging.

"Alright Mathieu, we'll see you soon." Francis said as Matthew walked over beside the nurse, the Frenchman sitting back down in one of the chairs.

"Oh, but he has authorized visits from a brother. He's listed a Matthew Williams and an Arthur Kirkland sir. It's the terminology on the older form – only immediate family could be allowed, but as personifications, I wasn't sure if…but…you're listed as someone he'd allow back to visit." She said, Arthur looking bewildered at the news. He looked like he wanted to reach for the form to see for himself but caught himself in time. A distinct laugh behind him had him turning around to face the other nation.

"You see mon ami, I told you he still cared. You should listen to me more. I am more than just a gorgeous face and figure, you know." Francis said as he laughed. "It is no wonder that he did that. Go. I will be here and possibly get us some proper food if I can find it." He said, Matthew's tug on Arthur's sleeve the only thing that broke him out of his internal musings on why Alfred would have listed him as such on the form. Following the nurse, the two of them walked to where Alfred was set up in a private room.

"I'd advise only twenty minutes at most in here. I highly doubt he'll wake up yet, but just in case, don't agitate him." She said, Matthew already by his brother's side with a worried look on his face. The nurse spoke with Arthur briefly before leaving them alone.

"Why would one of his old scars be bleeding?" Matthew said, looking up to see Arthur seemingly reluctant to admit what he and Francis were thinking earlier. "That's only supposed to happen if there's another event at the same spot and of a similar amount of significance, right? Or if the memory of it is particularly prominent at the time? That's what you told me when I was younger…" he said, biting his bottom lip as he thought back on one of his former caretaker's various lessons. Alfred hadn't been as studious as him, but Arthur could tell that Matthew hadn't remembered everything either.

"True, and that's very rare for it to cause bleeding." Arthur said, grabbing a chair to sit down, still working through his surprise that Alfred would have him listed as someone to contact if he was hospitalized. "And while there's always some segment of a country that likes to bring up things from the past, I don't think it would affect him enough for an old wound to bleed." He said, his face taking on a thoughtful expression. "Maybe if we can see which one…."

"No!" Matthew interrupted, an embarrassed blush covering his cheeks. "I mean, that's private, eh? A-And the nurse said not to agitate him." he said, fidgeting a little.

"Matthew, I wasn't suggesting we disrobe him completely." Arthur said with an amused smile to the Canadian who was ever trying to be polite. "And if it's for his own good, wouldn't you want to do anything to help him out?" he tried again, getting up to see if he could tell which scar the nurse was talking about.

"Okay. Yes, of course I would." Matthew said, still a blush tinting his face. "But, then, why were you and Francis worried? Is there something else?" he asked, Arthur's movements stilling as he gently looked over Alfred. "I'm not an idiot. All that whispering means something. Tell me Arthur, please?" Matthew said, hoping his request wouldn't require more prodding than the simple 'please' he'd added.

Arthur looked directly to Matthew's face before sighing. "Well…Roman Empire had a lot of scars and if you ask Feliciano or Romano, they could tell you how when he started to fade….they…." he started to say, Matthew gasping as he caught on. "Now I don't know how accurate that is myself, only having their word and Francis' brief snippets to go off of since I never personally lived in Roman Empire's house, but it's just a rumor that we should think about. Just to be safe." Arthur rushed to say, Matthew taking a seat.

"But that happened because as a nation, there wasn't a complete Roman Empire anymore, right? America isn't in that state – just some of the usual intense weather that Alfie can plow right through with a few migraines here and there." Matthew said. "Something else had to have caused that." He said, running a hand across his face as he tried to come up with some possibilities.

"Well…." Arthur began, not sure if he should spill the secret Francis hadn't managed to divulge to Matthew yet. But seeing the other's gaze snap back to him, he tried to confess his potential involvement in a casual manner. "I…may have… been a little hasty in my dealings with him the other night. He he he…" he began, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly while he nervously laughed. "And you know…well….ah, the thing is…" he rambled, attempting to find a way to cast himself in a better light to his former colony who hadn't been as critical or difficult with him as some of the others. Seeing Matthew getting less and less patient, he slumped his shoulders a little, a melancholy aura surrounding him. "I tried to curse him the other night." He outright admitted, Matthew's mouth dropping open in shock. "I know, I know….I could have handled that better, but I didn't finish. You interrupted me before I could and I never attempted it again. I spent the better portion of the past few hours trying to find a possible fix to a curse that clearly was defective." He continued on as though Matthew hadn't been trying to interject. "And it's not like Alfred hasn't had a good curse or two coming to him after all this time. I mean, really…." He said with a little more conviction, giving a tiny laugh to try and sound confident.

"What did you do to Alfred?!" Matthew asked with his voice raised to the same level he'd used with his brother those few times he'd had enough and snapped at him with his passive aggressiveness that Alfred couldn't handle. "What was the curse supposed to do?" he asked, making Arthur cringe a little.

"Ah, it was just a bit of an ailment spell. Nothing more than a desire for him to be quiet for a little while." Arthur said, attempting a lighter tone to ease the other's growing frustration. "I do regret it, but it shouldn't have affected him like this." He said, letting his remorse seep into his tone that Matthew was able to pick up on.

"Well he's certainly quiet now isn't he?" Matthew snapped at Arthur before seeming to be worried about how the other might react to his forcefulness. "Can you…can you just fix him? Some other magic?" Matthew asked with a sigh of his own as he tried to deal with this information, ashamed at how easily he felt himself backing down from the argument. However, when Arthur just shrugged, he huffed and decided to subject the other nation to his own perfected brand of silent treatment. When the nurse came back in to let them know that they should come back later, Arthur found himself actually grateful for Francis' involvement as he whisked them off to the cafeteria.

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