The 'Hug'

Chapter 9

Alfred blearily opened his eyes as he slowly woke up, nose scrunched up at the smell that greeted him. It was nothing like the usual way he'd wake up in his room, and there wasn't the lingering smell of something he'd squirreled away in one of his pockets. Instead, he realized that he wasn't in his own bed, nor in his hotel room. Vague memories of his brother and Arthur, and even something to do with Francis dragging him along had him piecing together what he could recall from the previous day. Sighing, he tried to sit up some, succeeding in only pulling on the IV in his arm. Quickly moving, and regretting it for the dizziness that it caused, Alfred managed to keep things the way he thought they were supposed to be set up. He grimaced a little at the sight of what his super strength had done to the setup beside him as he'd gripped it a little too tightly in his inability to hold his strength back at the moment. Briefly considering calling in a nurse to deal with the damage done, he settled for just turning the equipment a little as though to hide the slight modifications he'd made. He figured that since everything still seemed to be connected and working, he could just let himself get some more sleep, seeing that the clock read that it was only seven forty-five in the morning. While he could get up early and often did to watch the sunrise, he wasn't opposed to sleeping in either, drifting back to sleep pretty quickly and unaware of the slight break in the IV line he'd made that had liquid dripping onto the floor.


Arthur, Francis and Matthew had all made their way back to the hospital, Francis complaining that there was no suitable breakfast to be found in Arthur's homeland. Predictably, this meant that the ride from the hotel to the hospital was more or less filled with their typical bickering, although Matthew could tell that it was a little more forced for the sake of normalcy. But since visiting hours didn't officially start for another ten minutes, they were still sitting in the car. "That's it. I've had enough of your pointless drivel. I'm heading up now and you gents can follow at your own leisure." Arthur said, getting out of the car and storming back inside.

"Oh hon hon hon." Francis laughed sarcastically in his frustration. "And when you are banned from your own hospital for being a punk, don't come complaining to me, mon ami. I'm only here to provide you all with the moral support and fortitude that…" Francis was saying, receiving nothing but a rude hand gesture from Arthur before the British personification disappeared inside the hospital.

"Why do you have to aggravate him Francis?" Matthew asked he too got out of the car, the older blonde turning back to linger with him to put some distance between him and Arthur. "He's just as worried as I am. Maybe even more…" Matthew said as the two of them grabbed the bag of things Matthew had gathered from Alfred's room the other night.

"I cannot help it." Francis said. "It is just how we communicate. We are no worse than, say, Feliciano and Romano when they're having a conversation." He said with a shrug. "But I do understand what you are meaning and I do hope for the best for Alfred as well. It is why I am here, after all." He said with a small smile to Matthew as they leisurely made their way to Alfred's room. But as they approached, they found Arthur standing in the hallway, looking distressed.

"What is it? What's happened?" Matthew asked, resisting the urge to just bolt into the room. Arthur seemed startled that the other two nations had joined him, clearing his throat and standing a little straighter.

"Nothing Matthew. Just a lot on my mind at the moment." Arthur said with his usual stance that Francis had long-since recognized as part of the 'carry on' mentality Arthur adhered to. "You can go in and put that down. He's still asleep." He said, Matthew eyeing him suspiciously before he entered the room, leaving Francis to deal with Arthur.

"What's wrong, mon lapin? You look whiter than when Alfred scares himself with those silly films of his." Francis asked with genuine concern. Arthur looked into the room to see Matthew taking out some of Alfred's clothes as the other still slept. Seeing the other occupied, he pulled Francis away from the door a little to confide in him.

"I heard the nurses talking about his condition before they realized I was here." Arthur said. Francis' eyes widened but he gestured for Arthur to continue. "Do you want me to tell you what they said exactly or what I gathered from it?" he asked, looking back to see if Matthew would be sufficiently busy long enough.

"No I want ze highlights of your dramatic recounting of such espionage." Francis sarcastically replied. "Of course I want to know what they said, imbecile." He said, earning a frustrated growl from the other man.

"Fine." Arthur huffed. "The intern you wouldn't stop talking about was speaking with another nurse who had asked her if she'd 'told the family yet'. She replied that she hadn't, and wasn't sure she was up to it, mumbling something about 'it not being as easy to address the inevitable with them'." Arthur said, looking back into the room to see Matthew sitting down beside Alfred now. "After that it was more hushed, but she said something about an old wound that had apparently been reopened and that 'the cut on his chest' was a bit of an issue." He said, looking more agitated.

"Oh dear." Francis whispered, hand covering his mouth. "But are you sure they were most definitely talking about Alfred and not something or someone else. You know how carried away you can get with rumors." He said, Arthur crossing his arms over his chest.

"You're the one who likes to spread rumors when bored, or have you forgotten all the times you thought it would be worthwhile to spread rumors about Germany?" Arthur said in his usual irritated style. "I only went with you that one time because I thought psychological warfare was a good thing at the time." He said, eyebrows raised as he argued.

"True, true…" Francis said, hands up in a surrender position to calm Arthur down. "But I was just saying you can be a little dramatic at times. Take a deep breath, oui?" Francis said, awkwardly patting Arthur on the shoulder.

"And you aren't?! You're the one who…who…ooooh, don't touch me, twit!" Arthur said, shoving France's hand off his shoulder and taking a few steps away from him. Francis sighed, knowing how bottled up Arthur could keep his emotions until there was an explosion like the one he was facing right now. He didn't understand why Arthur hadn't picked up on all the advice he'd given him over the centuries about embracing being passionate, but he felt compelled to try again to comfort his friend, enemy, or whatever the two of them considered themselves to be today. He walked back over to Arthur, slinging an arm over his shoulders.

"Come, talk to big brother France, hmmm? I will know how to unblock that emotional constipation you chronically suffer from…" He said in a lighthearted tone, receiving another angry growl from the other. "You deny it, but you are deeply worried about Alfred. Once this is over, you two should talk – even if I need to lock you both in a room together; the bedroom, perhaps?" he said with a smirk, Arthur's face getting even redder as Francis teased him. "No, that would not be good. But neither would the kitchen…" he said with a false sigh of hopelessness. "I suppose I'll come up with something…" he said, Arthur wrenching himself from Francis' hold. "…because I do not think that getting drunk with you is a good idea right now." He said, Arthur apparently having enough of Francis' comments.

"Stop it. Just stop it. Shut up Francis." Arthur said, the two of them gaining some attention from the nurses. Francis just stood in the hallway laughing as Arthur apologized to the various nurses for the disturbance before begrudgingly walking back over to Francis. "If you'll calm down with all your ridiculous notions, you should be able to figure out why I am…cautiously alarmed at the prospect of what I overheard being correct." He said, Francis giving him a nod despite the still amused look on his face. With an eye roll, Arthur continued to speak, "A scar over a nation's heart isn't all that rare as we both painfully know – and they can fade to practically nothing too. But for an old wound like that to open up again without any damage to the physical land means it's something as Alfred that's wrong, not just as America…although I'm sure there's always something happening in Washington D.C." Arthur said, looking deep in thought.

"Ah, I see…you feel guilty." Francis said, Arthur looking like Francis had made another move on him. He sputtered for his words, settling on the eloquent, "I do not!", before crossing his arms again and refusing to look at Francis.

"Oui. You do." Francis said, steering Arthur into the room where Matthew had been standing in the doorway, curiously looking at them. "After all, it was you who gave that particular scar to him, was it not?" Francis said, seeing the hurt flash across Arthur's face briefly to let him know that he'd hit the mark on his evaluation.

"I…it…it was justly deserved at the time since we were at war." Arthur defended himself. "But I'm not guilty about it! Why should I feel guilty? Matthew's got a share in the blame too!" he said, clasping a hand over his mouth as he realized what he'd said, immediately looking over to Matthew. The other looked as though Arthur had just accused him of single-handedly delivering a fatal blow to his brother, grief on his face.

"Is that…is that why he's in here?" Matthew shakily asked, tears forming at the edge of his eyes. "That's why the nurse asked us about one of his scars?" He asked, looking over to Alfred as he slept as though expecting him to start disappearing at any moment. "Oh…m-maple…" he said, backing out of the room.

"Oh, now you did it Arthur." Francis said, the teasing tone leaving his voice that he'd been using to prod the true feelings out of the British man. "No, you stay here…" He said as he stopped Arthur from dashing out after the younger nation, "I will go talk to him. Wait here in case Alfred wakes up." Francis said, Arthur numbly nodding in agreement with Francis' plan as the other man left.

Arthur walked over to the chair that Matthew had been sitting in, leaning forward and letting his head fall into his hands as he tried to compose himself. He sat in silence, the only noise coming from the monitors attached to Alfred. But that silence was interrupted shortly after by a knock to the door and a cheerful-sounding greeting of "доброе утро Англия", prompting him to look up and see Ivan standing with an anxious-looking Toris.

"Oh, um…good morning Russia, Lithuania. What brings you here? Doesn't the meeting begin shortly?" Arthur asked as he stood up to shake hands with the other nations. He checked the clock, sure that the next round of meetings had been scheduled to begin at nine and realized that the other two would be late returning.

"Da, but Germany announced that ve should be postponing the morning meetings for the afternoon sessions. Something about not being able to handle a hungover Италия and his brother that early in the day." Ivan said with a shrug. "I suppose Feliciano was worried enough about you slaughtering him for vhat happened to Amerika to hide behind his brother and Prussia in the hotel's bar most of the day yesterday." He said with a cheery smile in place before reaching into one of his large pockets on his coat. Arthur's eyes widened at the bottle of root beer-flavored vodka that he pulled out, looking to Lithuania for any possible cues. But the other nation made a motion behind Ivan's back to encourage Arthur to take the offered bottle, prompting Arthur to reach out with a smile and grab a hold of the bottle.

"Oh, well, that's ah, very thoughtful of you Russia. I'm sure America will appreciate knowing you stopped by while he was ill." Arthur said, placing the bottle on the tiny window ledge. "How did you know we would be here, if you don't mind my prying? I was certain the only ones who were informed were China, Japan, and Germany…" Arthur said, seeing Toris looking at Alfred with concern as well.

"Oh, da. But I vas very persuasive vith China." Russia said, smile still in place as he ignored the shiver that Arthur and Toris shared at the thought of how Ivan persuaded China to divulge that information to him. "I was curious to know vhat had become of our товарищ after vhat happened at the meeting yesterday. And Литва here, I remember, used to live vith Amerika for some time and I knew how much he'd like to visit with me." He said, placing a hand on Toris' shoulder, prompting the other man to wince a little as Ivan intimidated him. "Is he dying?" Ivan abruptly and bluntly asked, Arthur unable to catch himself in time to prevent the stunned look from crossing his face. "I do not think the nation vould be vithout a personification for too long. Ve may be rivals sometimes, but still, it vould be a shame." Ivan said as though talking about losing a favorite hat or something rather than the loss of life.

"N-no, I mean, well, he's…" Arthur tried to respond, but Ivan seemed to not be paying attention anymore to the other blond. Instead he just walked closer to Alfred, letting go of Toris who quickly walked over to the other side of the bed to speak with Arthur. As the two of them talked, Ivan tuned them out as he thought about the possibility of dealing with a different entity to act in Alfred's place. "Da, a shame." He said a little quieter.


Ivan was not pleased as the growing sense of things shifting around in his house became more and more prevalent over the past decade. Many of those with whom he shared with his house were either doing their best to hide the fact that they'd been packing up their things or were brazenly open about their own countries' plans once they could move out. Ivan had been easing up a little due to his boss' request, but he still managed to keep a sense of control over his household when provoked enough. He had been planning on taking a quiet stroll down to the meadow where he knew sunflowers were regularly grown when his plans had been interrupted by a series of loud bangs on the door.

"Hey commie bastard!" Alfred's loud voice filtered through the house as he yelled to Ivan, spurring some of the nations more hopeful to be leaving soon to pay attention at America's intrusion. "C'mon man, don't leave me hangin' out here, dude. I don't wanna be here either, man, but my boss is meetin' with your boss today and it seemed like a good idea to just drop by….." Alfred continued to talk through the door, only briefly pausing to acknowledge that Ivan had reluctantly opened to door. "Hey, uh… До свидания…"He said with a wide grin.

Ivan sighed again, although slightly amused. "Zhat is goodbye. I vill be shutting door now then, da?" He said, making to slam the door in America's face.

"Hey, hey, hey! Wait!" Alfred said, using his foot to block the door being shut on him. "Hey, I tried. You could all just learn English, well, American English…." Alfred said as he pushed his way into the foyer despite Ivan's best efforts. "And I was tryin' to tell ya that I'm here to…" he was saying, sighing a little as he looked like a child being forced to make friends with someone that someone else had told him to say 'hi' to – and he probably had been told just that, except had learned how to say 'goodbye' instead through either ignorance or a subconscious desire to leave the situation as soon as possible. "….well, take in the sights, I guess. Figured you'd know what's best – and I'm supposed to bring you back for the final photo op. Didn't Gorbachev tell ya' that?" Alfred finished up as he looked around Russia's house. Spying Lithuania, a genuine smile lit up Alfred's face.

"Toris! Hey, dude! Long time no see!" Alfred said as he walked over to the other nation who was now shaking as Ivan watched with a stony expression as America greeted the more timid man with a one-armed hug. "Man, it's been a while. How ya' been here with Ivan?" Alfred asked, slipping into using human names as he dropped any pretense of being formal with Russia.

Toris looked over to Ivan with fear in his eyes as he tried to think up a suitable response that wouldn't result in Ivan being a little rough with him later. "I-I've been well, Mr. America…" He mumbled, standing a little closer to the superpower that claimed to be the hero, just in case he felt he might actually need one in the immediate future. He could tell that Ivan wasn't satisfied with such a short, vague answer, but couldn't seem to call him out on anything just yet; especially with Alfred still in the room and so close to him. But Alfred, as usual, didn't seem to have read the atmosphere and just patted Toris friendly on the back.

"Glad to hear it, dude. You should totally call me more often. I miss hangin' around with you sometimes." Alfred was saying, walking down the hallway without an invitation. "Gonna show me around or what Ivan?" Alfred said, spinning around to cockily smirk at Ivan as he made his way further into his house.

"Da, or vhat…" Ivan muttered, a dark aura surrounding him that had Lithuania cowering as he passed by him. Ivan shot a look toward Toris before catching up with Alfred as he entered the kitchen. "Amerika, it is rude to just help oneself to another's possessions." Ivan said, the other nations still lingering nearby unsure if he meant the paska bread on the counter or the other nations Alfred had become familiar with himself.

"Sorry dude, but it takes forever to get here from where I live. I'm starving and there wasn't much to eat on the way here." Alfred said, finishing up the slice of bread he'd cut for himself. "I'll pay ya' back with a movie or somethin' while I'm here. Ya gotta have some good films, right? They're not still in black and white are they?" He asked, earning another cold look from Ivan.

"No. Films in my country are just as good as your greedy Hollywood. Ve even pioneered several advances in filmmaking." Ivan said, but Alfred just shrugged. "Whatever. But we gotta hit one of the McDonalds you have here now. Or grab a real pizza or somethin'. You know the saying, 'Man cannot live by bread alone' and that's seriously all I've had so far to eat since I got here." Alfred said, Ivan just shaking his head.

"No. I vould not be vanting to eat any of that if I must also be spending the day with you." Ivan said, plastering his smile onto his face. "Would you not rather have genuine Russian dishes that you could brag to the other nations that you have tried? Britain would be most jealous to learn you had beaten him to it…" He goaded, receiving the usual childish response from competitive Alfred.

"No way could anybody beat me…I didn't even know we were playin' that game. I'm in! Iggy's gonna be so jealous…" Alfred said with a laugh at the thought, making Ivan wonder if he'd possibly gotten himself into something even more troublesome and time-consuming than he'd have hoped. "But you gotta lighten up with me dude. I mean, you're supposed to have had that whole 'glassy nose' thing goin' on that's making everybody over here be able to, you know, get to be more like America." He said with his typical exuberant smile, not at all aware that Ivan was not enthused to hear what he had to say.

"What you mean by 'glassy nose'? That is not a comment about my people and our vodka, is it?" He asked, sounding only curious like a young child, but the other nations could tell that there was another meaning to his question and backed away. But Alfred only shrugged in response, not intimidated by the other superpower.

"What is vodka supposed to do to your nose? Does it make it turn blue or somethin' cool like that?" Alfred asked in the same tone, although his was more genuine. Ivan looked as though extremely confused and not sure where to go with that question. But before he could respond, Alfred continued talking. "But I was talkin' about that thing with your boss, that dude with the birthmark, right? That whole 'glass' somethin'" He said, Ivan recognizing what he was trying to say.

"Ah, you mean 'glasnost'. Da, da…is something we are working with here." Ivan said, unwilling to be too talkative about that with his rival. "But I was unaware that I was supposed to have met with you. I apologize for any rudeness of my behalf." Ivan said, attempting to get back on topic.

"Yeah….well…I might've just convinced my boss to let me come along at the last minute." Alfred admitted, not looking too guilty about it. "I mean, it's been a while since I visited and I thought it'd be a good idea to hang around with my boss…but he had other plans. Must've had somethin' to do that was real important with his guys. Oh, well." Alfred said with a shrug. "Bush will definitely talk to me later about what's up."

"Da, vell, I did have a few plans of my own, but I am happy to accommodate you America." Ivan said through his frustration at the other nation apparently doing what he wanted. "Russians are very hospitable and I vill share with you a few things while you are here." Ivan said, a bit of an ominous cloud forming around him.

"Awesome. I love sharin' stuff. I've even been sharing some of my stuff here with you." Alfred said, shooting Ivan a happy look. Ivan chuckled at that, Alfred continuing to remain oblivious to the potential situation that he was building as he acted like he normally would around anyone. "I do it all the time. Since you brought up Britain, I even shared the Beatles with him." Alfred said with a smirk.

"I do not think that is the case. They are a group of British musicians, America, not your own." Ivan said, his dark cloud dissipating at the sincere childishness of the other nation.

"Yeah, technically, they're British. But they had to come to me to get big." Alfred said, pointing to himself with his thumbs. "I mean, doesn't anyone who wants to hit the bigtime come to me? Plenty of your guys' athletes and scientists did the same thing." He said, Ivan rolling his eyes as he stood up from the seat he'd taken across from Alfred as the other had continued to munch on the bread while they talked.

"Do you vant me to show you around, or not? I understand if you're possibly still tired from your trip and vould like to rest in one of the many rooms in my house, da?" Ivan said, Alfred immediately picking up on what the other was implying and sensing the danger.

"Yeah….no thanks dude." Alfred said, standing up as well as he brushed crumbs off of himself. "But if you had plans already, I can come back later…" Alfred said, sounding as though he really was trying to just be nice with Ivan simply for the sake that he had nothing else to do with his time and didn't want to have the other superpower ignore him.

"Nyet…I vas just going to visit the meadow about a mile down the road." Ivan said, smiling cheerfully despite feeling disappointed that he'd have to put off his indulgence for another day.

"Well, hey, that sounds pretty awesome. I love spending time outdoors." Alfred said, face taking on an eager expression. "Can I come too? Please, please, please, please, please, please…." He said, bouncing on his feet in excitement. Ivan leaned back a little as Alfred inadvertently invaded his space.

"Da, sure. If you vant to go." Ivan said, not entirely confident he wanted to share with his rival his favorite place that was a private and personal spot for him. But Alfred beamed at him, grabbing his arm and heading for the door.

"Great! Let's go!" He said, Ivan letting Alfred drag him out down the hall. Alfred shouted out a goodbye to Toris as the two of them passed, Belarus standing beside the door with a murderous expression on her face. But Alfred passed her by with only a fleeting glance, Ivan shooting her a wary look as the two of them headed down the front steps and towards the dirt road Ivan had indicated. "Straight in this direction?" Alfred asked, letting go of Ivan's arm. Receiving a nod, Alfred laughed. "Race ya' there!" He said, taking off in a run to beat Ivan to the meadow. Ivan briefly toyed with the idea of letting the other man run away on his own before giving in and taking off after him, catching up so that the two of them reached the end of the road at the same time.

"W-where's this…meadow…dude?" Alfred asked between pants as the two caught their breath. "And I think I beat you…by a hair….literally…" He said with a breathless laugh as he indicated Nantucket.

"Not likely Amerika…but it is this vay." Ivan said as he led the way through the dense bush. A few steps in, Alfred found himself stumbling into the other man's back, the two of them stumbling a bit. "Vhat are you up to, capitalist…." Ivan turned to say, insult ready to be flung at Alfred but Alfred was ready for it.

"Me? I keep getting smacked in the face with the branches you don't hold back for me!" Alfred said, running his hands through his hair to get the leaves from the branches out of his hair. "Your scarf must be coverin' your eyes if you think I'm trying to pull a sneak attack on ya'" He said as he stood closer to Ivan. He reached out to grab an end of the scarf, but Ivan was quicker and caught his hand.

"My scarf is my scarf, America, and I do not share it with just anyone. Do not touch." Ivan said, voice dropping a little. But Alfred's own temper was ignited as Ivan gripped his hand tightly, the American roughly pulling to release the other's hold.

"Dude, if you don't let go…" Alfred said, but Ivan chuckled at the threat left hanging by the other. Alfred let out a frustrated growl before yanking on the scarf with his free hand. Before either of them knew it, they were wrestling with one another as they stumbled through the brush. However, at one point, Alfred concluded that Ivan's scarf was as cursed as some of Arthur's ancient things as it seemed to attack him on its own. Struggling against the binding the scarf created on his arms and blocking the blows from Ivan, the two of them hadn't realized they'd reached the edge of the brush and the top of the hill that marked the beginning of the meadow. Finally breaking free of the scarf, Alfred felt himself lose his balance, tugging Ivan down with him as he'd reached for his scarf back and been thrown off balance as well. The two rolled down the hill, bouncing and landing in the patch of sunflowers that Ivan had intended on seeing. They lay on their backs a moment to catch their breath, Ivan tensing and getting ready to continue when he realized that Alfred was laughing.

"Ha, ha ,ha…oh, man….that was fun…ha, ha,ha….and so stupid…" He said, looking over to Ivan as he laughed. "But hey, we're here!" He said, throwing his hands wide. Ivan took a moment to realize that Alfred was right, feeling the urge to fight receding as he looked around, letting himself fall back onto his back. "It's pretty here." Alfred said as they gazed upward.

"Da. I think so too." Ivan said, sounding content. "You may not look for it, but there is plenty of beauty to be found in my lands too America. It is not all wastelands as you think of Siberia, and not always winter." Ivan said, closing his eyes as a breeze drifted over them.

"Yeah, I guess that's true." Alfred said. "Hey, if you like sunflowers so much, next time you're over my place, there's a bunch of sunflower fields I could show ya'. It'll be fun and we can snack on sunflower seeds too." He said, cushioning his head with his arms. "You usually spend the whole day here?" Alfred asked, Ivan still focusing on the offer to visit America that Alfred had willingly extended.

"Nyet….vell…da. Sometimes I lose track of time here, but Ukraine usually comes and finds me." Ivan said. "And I may take you up on your offer, if you can be quiet for a little while." Ivan said, Alfred laughing a couple of times again before complying. The two spent the rest of the day out there, Ivan surprised to find that Alfred had drifted off in the sunflower field and finding it easy to do so himself.


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