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splodefromcute, US/UK
Title: Armfuls of Daffodils
Author/Artist: halflight007 /lenarix_klinde 
Character(s) or Pairing(s): Canada, America + Italy, Japan, Germany, France, Russia, England
Rating: M
Warnings: Extremely sensitive subject matter, mentions of graphic past non-con, drunkenness, YMMV characterization, discussions and questioning of forgiveness and revenge, Prussia and Yao are left out. Seriously. Stay away from this if you’re easily triggered, because the last thing I want is anyone getting hurt.
Summary: Eight years ago, nine Nations came together to “teach” America a “lesson”. Now, they are all falling apart while the rest of the world moves forward, and when America starts seeking closure and resolution, England fears just what that will mean for him. Aftermath fic for the Financial Crisis fill on the Kink Meme.
Disclaimer: Himayura-sensei lets me play with them as long as I clean ‘em off before I give them back. The opening and end quotes come from the book Surviving a Borderline Parent by Kimberlee Roth and Freda B. Friedman, Ph.D.
Author’s Notes: I…was going to have more extensive notes, but I think it’d be best if I left them for the end. So I’m just going to thank puella_nerdii  and [info]tanya_tsuki for being awesome people and giving this a once-over before I posted.

Also, chiyann  did some beautiful fanart for this.  Seriously, go check it out.
___

Forgiveness is the big gun, called into play when you have been deeply harmed in some way. It may seem ironic, but it’s those that have hurt you the most who may be the best candidates for your forgiveness.

Being a Nation, by its very nature, is not a simple thing.

They are not Marianne and Britannia, they are not Lady Liberty or the Virgin Mary. On some days, they may be unworthy of their citizen’s allegiance.

They are made of mortals, of murderers and priests, of innocents and sociopaths. They are sinful creatures, as likely to shake each other’s hands as they are to try and cut each other’s throats.

But they are not humans. They are Nations. The only difference is that the consequences of their actions multiply, ripple, and spread throughout the entire world.

Declaring independence is rebellion, tears, and a muddy, rainy field.

Alliances are friendships.

Arguments become wars.

Depressions, recessions, and economic troubles transform into colds and illnesses.

Shared, seething resentment for one country can turn into tragedy.

And when the dust settles and the winds die down….

No, being a Nation isn’t simple at all.


: sowing the seeds :

It begins on the day of the G8 summit, about two years after the conference room and the scent of sex, sweat, and a sharpie marker. The air itself is made of thin wire pulled taut from wall to wall.

Arthur doesn’t let his gaze linger on Feliciano’s sunken eyes and lost weight, nor does he try to catch Francis’s level, hollow gaze. Ludwig’s shoulders look tighter than usual; Ivan looks as though is no longer toeing the edge of sanity, but walking on it, waiting for a breeze to blow him one way or another. Arthur can see past Kiku’s neutral gaze to the troubled emotions underneath. (He cannot help but wonder about the ones missing – Yao, Romano, Gilbert – before his mind catches itself and snarls his thoughts into tangles.)

He does not wonder why they are like this.

If he shuts his eyes, he thinks he can feel it on the air – those wires they set up themselves, slicing into their skin and making them bleed in neat, curved cuts.

They all jolt when the door hinges creak; Italy nearly falls out of his chair. Matthew walks into the room, folders in hand, and stands at the head of the table with a smile.

That smile is ice-thin and tight, and Arthur’s stomach churns.

“Everybody have a good trip over?” Matthew says, his voice clipped and cold. “I’m sure you all did. It’s not like you have anything heavy weighing on your minds, eh?”

“Mathieu, please,” Francis says, rubbing his forehead, “it is too early for –”

“Quiet, please,” Matthew chirps, and the churning in Arthur’s stomach blossoms into a sort of numb nausea. Matthew hands the manila folders to Ludwig. “Your names should be in alphabetical order – find yours and pass it down, please.”

Arthur frowns; his green eyes dart over Matthew’s face. “Wait, what? That’s not how we do things –”

“Hmm, fancy that.”

“Herr Williams, your brother isn’t here yet –”

“I wonder why.” Matthew’s smile and voice are sunshine and innocence, but Arthur sees something spark to life in those violet eyes. It’s the same look he wears when he’s playing hockey.

Arthur realizes in a rush that he’s afraid. “Matthew…Matthew, please, let’s just wait.”

“Arthur, shut up and take your goddamn folder,” Matthew chirps. But no, it’s not chirping; that quiet voice is warping and filling with snarls and fangs.

Ludwig swallows, takes the pile, and passes it down after taking his file. As the slow silence lumbers on, Arthur looks at his fellow Nations to find them shifting in their seats, trying to look at one another without letting their eyes meet. Feliciano has begun to tremble, though you’d have to look at his pale hand shaking against the table to know it.

Arthur is the last to take his folder; he puts it in front of him and glances up at Matthew for instruction, discussion – anything.

Instead, Matthew says, “I have to leave for another meeting in about twenty minutes, so we need to make this quick. Effective immediately, I’m no longer a member of the G8, the G20, or any international organization that includes any of the people in this room.”

Francis’s head whips up. “Mathieu, what –”

“Ask questions after you’ve read what’s in the folders, please,” Matthew says, the cheerful edge of his voice hardening.

They all look around the table, and they all wince as they drop their eyes to the files, unwilling to hold the gaze. Arthur sighs, opens his folder, and picks up the top sheet.

He scans the front page, frowning. He flips it over and reads it in further detail, his eyes grasping at the letters. By the time he’s reached the third page, the fear in his stomach has solidified into an ugly tumor of nausea.

Francis speaks first. “M-Mathieu…this is….”

Arthur looks up to find the smile gone from Matthew’s face; now it is all embers roaring to life. “If you’re surprised, you shouldn’t be,” he says. “As of June 13, 2010, all Nations that participated in the incident that happened a year ago have been ejected from the UN by unanimous vote. A list of countries that ratified the movement is on the back.”

Arthur flips to the last page – only to find a long list of handwritten signatures. The list goes on for another full page, and then another.

“Williams-san,” Kiku says, lifting his hand. “Williams-san, please, be reasonable –”

“Furthermore,” Matthew continues, his voice nailing down the dissenters, “you should all be receiving declarations and official statements from countries that have chosen to break economic and diplomatic ties with you, and as of right now, you are all barred from joining the new Federation of Industrialized and Developing Nations that will be assembling and organizing itself later this year.”

A dark and sinister kolkolkoling fills the silence. Matthew’s face stays the same as he looks up. “Do you have a question, Mister Braginski?

“You cannot do this, Mister Williams,” Ivan says, his voice a bit high and his face a mix of hysteria and fear. “We were not given a chance to join in the discussions or defend ourselves. It is not proper protocol.”

“Hmm, yeah, you’re right. Then again, gang raping someone as punishment for something that is all of our faults isn’t fucking protocol, either.”

Feliciano whimpers; Arthur’s hand goes to his mouth, and he fights the urge to throw up all over the table. The air grows thick with poison and static.

“Mathieu,” Francis says, in a voice somehow small and unfit for him. “Mathieu, you knew that Alfred –”

“–was going to get scolded for causing the crisis and told to do a better job,” Matthew interrupts, his eyes narrowing. “That’s what you told me, Francis Bonnefoy. You did not tell me that you would be hurting him in the most inhuman way possible.” Matthew’s eyes narrow. “I stayed away because I didn’t want to get involved in an international clusterfuck if it wasn’t an official meeting, especially if you were all just going to ignore me. I told Alfred as much as well.”

Matthew takes his glasses off and rubs the bridge of his nose, the raw rage fading for a moment of agony that wounds Arthur. “I should have been more insistent,” Matthew says, his voice beginning to shake. “If I’d just grabbed his wrist and spoken a little louder –”

“Williams-san,” Kiku says, and the serenity in that voice slips and slides a little. “Williams-san, please, let us negotiate –”

BAM.

They all jolt as Matthew’s fist hits the table. Those eyes are beyond his hockey rage, into something far more primal and angry.

“Ludwig.” he snaps. “End of World War II. Your country in ruins. Alfred gave you money through his Marshall Plan and dropped care packages to your Eastern Germans suffering under Ivan’s hands, even though he fought against you. He helped save your brother from complete obliteration – don’t you get that he’s the reason why Gilbert exists today, even if Prussia doesn’t?

“Feliciano Vargas. You and your brother have fought side by side with Alfred to combat terror, drug trafficking, and sex slavery.”

“I feel sick,” Feliciano whimpers, cradling his head in his hands. “I…I feel –”

“Try thinking about how my brother felt and then ask me if I care,” Matthew snarls. “Honda Kiku. You invaded Nanking and bombed Alfred’s harbor, and still he offered you a hand to help you back up on your feet after he bombed you. And Yao Wang – currently poised to take overtake the US as a world power, and one of Alfred’s Allies and a member of the UN Security Council. What reason did he have for robbing my brother of his dignity?

“Ivan Braginski,” Matthew continues, starting to pace. “Alfred supported you during the Crimean War – gave you nurses to heal your wounded out on the field, favored you over the two men who practically raised him.

“Francis Bonnefoy.” And here Matthew paused, curling his lip in disgust. “Alfred sacrificed his soldiers and people during World War I. Alfred gave you his writers, his culture. He was the one who generated the plan to set you free from the Nazis.” He snorts and shakes his head. “I will never call you my papa again after today. No father or brother figure does that to the boy they helped free.” Francis flinches.

Arthur’s entire body is numb by the time Matthew’s dagger-sharp gaze reaches him. “And you,” he says, his voice low and angry but also somehow sad and God, it hurts. “I’m most ashamed of you.”

“Matthew, my b –”

NO!”

This time, Feliciano really does fall out of his chair. The rest just stare in shock and something like horror when they hear that quiet voice tears them apart.

“You’ve lost that right,” Matthew says. “You have lost the fucking right to call me ‘your boy’, let alone Alfred. Let alone the man who snuck into your country to fight with you during the Luftwaffe, who gave you the ‘special treatment’ under the Marshall Plan that he didn’t give anyone else, who believed your bond with him would stand the test of time.”

Matthew stands straight; his eyes narrow into slits of violet. The silence hurts Arthur’s ears, and please, would somebody scratch their nose or say something -

“But his economy seems all right now,” Russia says, and that smile looks broken and splintered at the edges. “Surely…he is America. He can recover quickly from –”

“Were you there, Braginski?” Matthew counters. “Were you there to carry him home when he drank himself unconscious? Were you there to sing him to sleep when he woke up screaming from nightmares? Were you the one who had to tell your brother that he couldn’t come visit you because you were afraid he’d buy marijuana and kill himself doing something stupid when he got high to forget what happened? Were you the one who had to look into those broken, blank eyes every day and…and know he couldn’t trust…he couldn’t even trust me….”

Matthew swallows and squeezes his eyes shut; he gathers himself and goes on.

“I don’t care what reasons you had,” Matthew says, his voice tight with fury. “If you could have seen what you did to him, you’d understand what sick fucks you are.

“I – and several other Nations who found out about this – wanted nothing more than to take the nearest hockey stick, or frying pan, or flower – and beat that into every single one of you,” Matthew says. “But that would mean international conflict – and aside from the fact that I’ve never declared war, Alfred practically pleaded us to leave you all alone.”

Arthur’s eyes widen.

“That’s right,” Matthew continues. “The Nation you humiliated and raped for an insignificant recession, the only one who has any right to take revenge from you all, told us not to lay a finger on any of you. He says it’s mostly because he wants to focus on partnering up with developing Nations and creating stronger economic and diplomatic ties with them to help the world economy to recover. But I think part of it is he just wants to move on – without hurting any of you.”

A sob comes up from underneath the table near Feliciano’s empty chair.

“If we were human,” Matthew continues, “I’d ignore what Alfred wanted. I’d be in a police office right now, giving my testimony. I’d want you behind fucking bars - for life, if at all possible. Because what you did was wrong.”

Here Matthew pauses, looking as queasy as Arthur feels.

“But I can’t do that,” he continues, “because we are Nations. We have people to protect and jobs to do. There’s no proof to give to your bosses – have you told them all what you’ve done, by the way, or are you resting easy with the thought that no one can prove that you hurt Alfred? And anyway, you’d just get off the hook with nothing more than a pardon and a slap on the wrist. And we’ve never killed a Nation before for atrocities – even if they did deserve it.” His gaze tacks between Ludwig and Kiku. Arthur doesn’t look – doesn’t want to see them tremble in their seats.

He lifts his eyes. “But we can act politically and diplomatically to show those countries that what they did was not fucking okay.”

No one protests or tries to make excuses.

“None of you look well,” he says. “The guilt and the nightmares really get to you, eh? That must suck. Good luck finding a way to live with it.”

Matthew storms out of the room. Arthur winces as the door snaps shut, the sound tingling on his eardrums. Then more silence.

“This is absurd,” Ivan says, but his smile is gone and his cheerful tone shakes. “They – they cannot do that to –”

“Shut up, Ivan,” Arthur mutters. “Just. Just shut the bloody fuck up.”

Francis cups his face in his hands. Feliciano’s whimpers and sniffles cut up the silence.
___

Arthur comes to breakfast yawning and staggering, feeling more like a zombie than anything. So many calls and e-mails last night – so many Nations who have issued international condemnations against his actions, who have sanctioned and raised tariffs against his goods to the point that he might as well not trade with them at all.

He finds that no one else got any sleep, either.

Francis eats nothing; he stares at the table’s surface and blinks every now and then. Arthur wonders if his shirt has always been that loose on him.

Kiku sits at a corner table; his back is turned to the rest of them as he sips his tea.

Ivan sits alone at the table, and his hand curls around his pipe with the same, sunny smile. Arthur tries to approach, but hears the beginning of the dreaded “kol” and thinks better of it.

Ludwig looks the most normal, but his spoon shakes as he eats his oatmeal.

Feliciano is nowhere in sight.

Arthur looks around the room, wondering if he’ll meet their eyes. His gaze locks with Francis, who smiles and chuckles, like a broken music box.

“I cannot feel her anymore when I pray,” Francis says, gripping his saint medallion tighter.

He drops his blue eyes, but they seem to whisper to Arthur in those few seconds.

Dear God, they say. Dear God, what have we done?

:sprout one: italy:
Seven Years Later

Lovino has never felt so alone in his own home. In happier days, he’d at least have that jerk Antonio to keep him company, or that kraut bastard, or his idiot brother.

But Antonio has not spoken to him since he called seven years ago, after Feliciano got back from his G8 meeting, and told Lovino to go fuck himself. Ludwig does not call anymore to talk to Feliciano.

And that’s okay, because Feliciano has been missing for three of those seven years.

Lovino shuts his eyes against the rage he feels. It’s not tears. No. It’s anger; anger towards whatever it was that drove his brother’s annoying laughter and Antonio’s chatter from his home.

The lights are not on; the street lamps wallpaper the kitchen paint with the drips and drops of rainwater.

Fucking rain, he thinks. Fucking Feliciano. If you weren’t such an idiot, you’d have known to take your raincoat, at least.

If you hadn’t…done what you did to Alfred, you’d still be here.

If…if you had only told Francis no…if I’d been a responsible older brother and pulled you away….

The phone rings; his head snaps up, giving him whiplash. He storms over to the phone and yanks it out of the cradle.
“Pronto?”

“Lovino Vargas?”

The voice gives him pause. It’s familiar – but it’s too tame, too calm and collected. It sounds like him, but it can’t be….

“This is Alfred Jones. Do you have a moment? It’s important.”

Lovino freezes.

“…Hello? This is the Vargas home, right?”

“What is it?” he breathes, beginning to tremble. “What do you want?”

“Mister Vargas, your brother is here with me.”

Oh god. Oh god. “S-so? Beat him up if you want! Go ahead and do whatever you want to him! I-i-it’s not like I’ll pay…pay anything to…” his voice cracks, “o-or ask my hit men to find you and –”

“Lovino, Feliciano is safe,” Alfred says, and Lovino knows he’s imagining that tone – Alfred can’t be kind or compassionate to him at all. Not after –

“He’s malnourished and weak, and I think a few of his cuts are infected, but I found him before it got too bad and treated them as best I could. He’s asleep now.”

Lovino’s shaking increases. He forces his breath to stay even.

“I could give you the directions to the hostel I’m staying at, and you can come and get him yourself – that might be best, because he should get looked at by a doctor. Or you can give me the directions to your house, and I’ll drive him over there. Either way…I’d like to talk with you and Feliciano. Just for a little while. Is that okay?”

Lovino gulps; his hand scrambles for pen and paper.

“G-give me the damn directions.”
_

It’s warm, but his fingertips still tingle. This isn’t the alleyway he collapsed in – he’s dry now.

“…and then go right…yeah, that’s the right street.”

Feliciano opens his eyes.

“The place I’m staying at is the third building to your – yeah, that’s the one. …I’ll be waiting, Lovino.”

Everything’s blurry – blurry and muted and muddy-looking. He looks to the right, and through his fever and falling apart he sees – someone. Someone familiar, someone he thinks he should be scared of. Maybe an angel. Or Death. To take him to hell for what he’s done.

He blinks, and it clicks. This…thing, person. It looks like –

“Feliciano?”

“You look like him. Like…like Alfred, I mean.” He laughs the laugh of trees creaking in the wind. “I guess that fits, right? Contrapasso. Punishment for my sin.”

“Shoot, you’re burning up…definitely delirium,” the person says, feeling his forehead with the back of his hand. “Feliciano, go back to sleep. You’re fine.”

And the world blurs even more, like when he swam in Ludwig’s pool that one time, and that was a lot of fun, but he can’t do that anymore.

“Little Maria must be so angry with me,” he murmurs. Warmth like blood spills from the corners of his eyes. “But…she always was so kind and sweet, praying…praying for the bastard who tried to rape her…always too forgiving…when she shouldn’t be…to bad people like him…like me.”

Time implodes into a warped second, and Feliciano falls apart and out of himself.

He thinks he feels warm arms encircle him, and he laughs a bitter laugh through his tears. Little Maria, he thinks, here you are again, hugging the sinner. Always too forgiving for your own good, always praying for the irredeemable.


There are no windows in the conference room. Arthur feels restless, like electricity is dancing the tango through his blood.

Maybe it’s less that there’s no natural light, and more that they’re just trying to hold themselves together at the same time they’re trying to forget their last “unofficial meeting”.

And as the door opens, Arthur readies himself for what is to come.

Lovino walks in first. But Arthur’s focus goes to Feliciano; his eyes widen, first at the sight of the younger brother, and then at the sight of scars and bandages on his face and arms, the tired, defeated look in those eyes.

Ludwig starts up, his eyes wide. “Felici –” he starts, but one glare from Lovino has him sitting back down in his chair, eyes still fixed on Feliciano.

“U…thanks for coming and all,” Lovino starts. He pauses, frowning, unsure of how to continue on.

Feliciano takes up the slack. “I’m sorry for running away,” he says, “and for worrying all of you. Especially you, Ludwig.”

Ludwig looks like he wants to reach out and take Feliciano and hold onto him, keep him near. “I’m just glad you’re safe, Feliciano – who did this to you?”

“I did this to myself.”

Feliciano’s eyes go dark and sad, and Ludwig stops speaking. There is something about Feliciano that keeps them from asking for details.

Lovino’s breath rattles in his throat. “About a week ago, Alfred F. Jones found my brother drunk and unconscious behind a wine shop.”

Arthur’s struck dumb, even as the rest of the room explodes.

“You’re surely mistaken –”

“Jones-san? Are you sure it was Jones-san?”

“He must have done that to –”

Feliciano bows his head and lifts a hand, waiting for the room to fall silent.

Signore Jones bandaged my wounds and gave me a place to rest in his room,” Feliciano continues, his voice almost a whisper. “He called my brother to come and take me home.”

“We talked,” Lovino says, his voice a little louder, but still ashamed. “And…and we decided on some things.” Lovino swallows and shuts his eyes; Arthur imagines that he’s gathering the courage to speak his next words behind those quivering lids.

“Effective within the next month, Italy will no longer be a part of the G8.”

All of Arthur’s deadened neurons rush back into functioning in a surge of shocks. “You can’t possibly mean you’re –”

“I’m going to confess to my boss,” Lovino says, his voice hardening, “and I’ll accept whatever punishment I get for my crime, whether that be prison time or helping my own people in need.”

“And I’m going to go abroad to Africa for a while,” Feliciano says. “I’m going to work with my humanitarian organizations to try and improve life over there the best I can – to make up for the promise of aid I made to them that I never followed through on. And when I come back, I’m going to ask for Italy to be admitted to the Federation.”

Arthur blinks once, twice. “Feliciano,” he says, almost pronouncing each letter. “Feliciano, if Alfred blackmailed you….”

Feliciano looks pained. “Please, Arthur,” he murmurs, shaking his head. “Please don’t say that.”

“Did he?” Francis asks. “Because if he was the one who really gave you those cuts….”

“I won’t stand for it,” Ludwig finishes, growling. “I’ll –”

“God, shut up!” Lovino snaps, as Feliciano shuts his eyes and wipes away his beading tears. “You don’t fucking get it, do you? We would have deserved whatever he wanted to do to us…but….” And here Lovino just looks lost and pathetic, his line of reasoning broken off.

“Matthew was right. What we did was wrong,” Feliciano says. “Alfred hurting us – that’s what we deserve.” Feliciano lifts his head; those eyes are wet and shining. “But he showed me mercy. He was the one who hugged me while I cried and waited for my brother. And just as I do penance to God for my sins, the least I can do for my atrocity is this pathetic attempt at atonement.”

And here Feliciano falls silent, turning his back to the table, his shoulders hitching in silence. Lovino places his fingertips in the center of Feliciano’s back, and together they walk out the door, shutting it with a gentle click behind them.

They are stone-still and pitch-black silence. Russia is the first to break that, leaning forward on the table. “Do you believe them?” he asks to the group. “Do you really think that Alfred Jones would do that for those who have hurt him?”

“It’s certainly not how he used to act,” Francis says, and Arthur wonders how even Francis’s voice can sound thinner.

“I know Feliciano,” Ludwig interrupts, his voice wound tight and clipped in stress. “He was not lying…at least I think he wasn’t. Perhaps he’s just gotten very, very good at acting.”

“Kirkland-san,” Kiku says, and Arthur almost misses that whispering voice. “What do you think? You were the closest to Jones-san, after all.”

And Arthur’s mind is even worse now. Thoughts are whirling through his brain, his bloodstream, getting caught in his throat. There is so much he wants to say, but he cannot say anything at all. He cannot say that he does not deserve the right to be called close to Alfred any longer

“I don’t know,” he whispers, when he can speak at all. “I’m sorry.”

: sprout two – japan :

Hands in his pockets against the early spring chill, Kiku walks, his eyes focused on the pavement. He lets his mind be empty and anxious; he lets that trapped moth flit about in his skull, every now and then hitting upon something.

He remembers Alfred’s invitation to come watch Sasebo’s
Toro Nagashi with him, and his request to extend the invitation to Yao.

He remembers the e-mail he crafted to Yao in response, every word melded and hammered into a precise, easy request.

He remembers how Yao never answered that e-mail…or any of his letters or calls. And Kiku’s heart stings as he remembers the one event that they ever agreed upon, in a room that haunts him in his dreams with blood and shadows and his own perverse reflection.

But above all, he remembers his Nagasaki and Hiroshima flattened. He remembers lying in the ruins, mouthing his ‘I surrender’ to a man in a bomber jacket.

And he remembers what happened after.

He feels the tension of the year building up within him. He thinks it will burst through his skin as he comes to the bridge.

He does not see Alfred. Well…that’s not quite right. He chooses to look out over the river, rather than down the bridge. Candles flicker in their rice-paper lanterns, and he leans against the railing to get a better look.

“They’re beautiful, Kiku. Your people did a good job.”

Kiku prides himself on how he does not jump or show nervousness as he turns to look at Alfred’s profile. “Thank you…though it’s not really much,” he says.

Alfred doesn’t respond to that. Kiku finds his muscles loosening, relaxing. He thinks that should be surprising. But it isn’t, and maybe that’s okay.

“I could not get in contact with Yao-san. I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right. Yao never responded to me, either,” Alfred says. “I think…he’ll come to me when he’s ready. I won’t stop waiting for him. But what’s important is that
you came tonight, Kiku.”

Kiku’s back stiffens. “Alfred….”

A second passes; Kiku looks from the river to Alfred, but Alfred just looks up at him from beneath his glasses. Waiting.

“Alfred,” he starts again. “I…I remember Hiroshima. And Nagasaki. And I remember the punishment that woke me and made me face my own atrocities.”

He licks his lips. “And – and I remember looking up at you, and surrendering, and I was at your mercy, but instead of slaying me –”

He squeaks as something firm and warm grips his hand.

“I reached down,” he says, “and I helped you stand up again.”

Kiku’s mouth parts a little; nothing comes out but breath. Alfred smiles, and together they watch the light-washed river.


Arthur is not sure what to expect when Kiku invites him to their room the night before their next meeting. He almost doesn’t go; his head feels foggy as of late, he’s had the sniffles for so long he can’t remember when they started, and he’s always so sleepy.

Arthur reflects on that irony as he shuts the door. So it’s just the same as it was before the incident with Alfred, he thinks, turning to face Kiku. Maybe worse, for us.

And as Kiku looks up at him, Arthur doesn’t even bother to quiet the nasty whisper that says he deserves this.

“Thank you for coming.” Kiku motions for Arthur to sit next to him on the bed. “Are you feeling well?”

Arthur sniffles, massaging his temples. “I’ve a bit of a headache, I fear. You look well, though.”

Kiku does not respond, and Arthur frowns, but waits for him to speak.

“Kirkland-san,” Kiku says, “I wanted you to hear this first, because you are a dear friend of mine.” Kiku takes a breath, lets it out, and Arthur guesses the words about a second before Kiku speaks again.

“This is my last G8 meeting,” Kiku says, and Arthur’s skin fires with shock before going numb. “I will not be returning.”

“Why?” Arthur’s tongue is a stone in his mouth, flat and grainy.

“Because I have some affairs that I must settle before I’m eligible for admission to the Federation,” Kiku answers. “I need to at least try and start making amends with Yongsoo, among other things.”

“…what did he do?”

Kiku blinks. “Kirkland-san?”

“What did he do to you?” Arthur asks, and he wishes his tone sounded more angry than scared. “What did he – why are you –”

“Alfred came to watch the Taro Nagashi with me this spring,” Kiku says, his eyes fixed on the bedside table, “and we just…talked. About our pasts and our futures.”

Arthur’s breath starts to speed up. “Really,” he says, “if he coerced you, or tortured –”

“Kirkland-san…please.”

And Arthur focuses on Kiku’s face to see honest, raw sadness and despair.

“This is twice that Jones-san has forgiven me when he had every right not to,” Kiku says, his voice dropping in volume. “He defeated me, and then helped me back to my feet when I attacked his harbor – when I went to war with him and killed his citizens. He is offering his hand to me again – and last time he did that, he kept me from destroying myself. I must trust that it will be the same – I have nothing else to lose.”

Arthur’s mind feels blank and confused; dazed and trying to puzzle things out, he looks around the room.

His eyes land on two silk daffodils in a single glass vase.

“Jones-san gave them to me,” Kiku murmurs. “One for me. And one for Yao, if I ever happen upon him.”

Arthur opens his mouth, but the silence of the room eats whatever he was going to say.

: sprout three – germany:

Ludwig looks like a soldier with his brisk walk and his stern face. In his heart, he is everything but.

He isn’t thinking. He hasn’t been thinking for a while. Otherwise, he would have remembered not to leave Blackie outside, because she knows how to open the gate. He wouldn’t have left the window open for Gilbert’s bird to fly through –

The bird –

Gilbert

He remembers his brother dreaming at night. Listening to him scream and swear and sob in languages lost to Ludwig. He remembers how the screams – and Gilbert’s lost, blank expression – stopped him from asking what the dreams were about.

He should have. Should have asked.

Should have told his brother that he, too, is visited in his sleep by terror – dreams of empty faces and empty eyes and too-skinny limbs, dreams of their skin melting and forming into Alfred’s crying face, Alfred’s begging them to stop, please,
stop -

Ludwig shudders and swallows back the bile churning in his gullet, feeling very tired and dazed. The dogs helped with his nightmares – they’d flop onto Ludwig with their warm, furry bodies and lick his face. But Ludwig has lost Aster and Berlitz to time; Blackie, his dear, sweet girl who loves her master in spite of his sins, is all he has left now.

And Gilbert’s bird. Ludwig stops, swears, and tries to collect himself.

The house is empty – too damn
empty

And then he hears it; a dear, sweet bark he knows far too well.

Followed by familiar laughter – laughter Ludwig hasn’t heard in years, laughter that belongs to blue eyes behind glasses and –

Ludwig takes off, straining his ears to listen. He rounds a corner and bolts down the street, towards the park; his stomach twists and prickles with thoughts of what cruel things people do to animals – what Blackie might…be suffering….

Ludwig’s footsteps slow to a stop as his feet meet the grass of the park.

Blackie bolts across the grass, her black fur glossy and shining in the evening sun. As Ludwig watches, she jumps up into the air and catches a tennis ball in her mouth; she flops down, ungraceful and joyous.

“Good girl!”

Ludwig’s stomach tightens at that voice.

His feet are rooted to the ground as Blackie runs back across the grass, towards a blond man in a bomber jacket sitting on the grass. Blackie bowls him over, dropping the ball to plant sloppy kisses on his face.

Ludwig walks forward, numb and speechless, as the man stands and makes a fist with his hand. Blackie sits, tail wagging, eyes shining.

Ludwig almost feels his heart stop when a small yellow bird looks up at him and chirrups, once.

“…please,” Ludwig says, because he cannot think of anything else to say as he staggers towards the figure. “Don’t…don’t hurt them. I’ll do anything….”

Alfred looks up and into Ludwig’s eyes. He does not smile, but his eyes shine as Blackie bounds over to her master and jumps up, pawing his knees.

“She’s really cute,” Alfred says, bending to retrieve the tennis ball. “You did a good job training her with the hand signals.” The bird nibbles Alfred’s ear; he offers his pointer finger in return.

Ludwig opens his mouth. Shuts it. Tries to think of something to say, and then realizes he can’t say anything at all.

Because he is granted the memory of the morning when he woke up to find his brother’s bed untouched, that loud voice silenced. He remembers his rising panic, the way he ran through the streets and screamed that name –

“Ludwig?”

He blinks, shakes his head, and looks into that face, so changed from the unbridled joy it used to have.

“Alfred,” he says, and watches Alfred frown at the quake in his voice.

“Ludwig, are you okay? I – do you want me to walk home with you? I…actually, I kind of wanted to speak with you and your brother, anyway.”

Brüder.

Ludwig shakes and sobs.

“Gilbert – Gilbert is gone.”

“…Gone? …Oh, God, Ludwig, don’t tell me he offed hims –”

“Nein!” he barks out. “…nein…never…I do not know where he is. He’s just…
gone. And I don’t know if he’s alive, or if he exists, or….”

“Ludwig.”

Ludwig’s eyes widen as Alfred offers his finger to the bird; it hops on with a tweet, and Alfred lifts it to Ludwig’s face. Ludwig’s shaking increases when it leans forward to nibble his nose.

Ludwig breaks.

Alfred catches him as he falls, as he gives into the screams and sobs he has no right to cry, because Ludwig is broken and Gilbert broke long before he vanished, and they have no one but themselves to blame.


“You can’t be serious.”

They are seated around a table, the four of them; Francis is picking at a stray thread on his sleeve, while Ivan is leaning forward on the table, elbows propped up on the wood.

“I am,” Ludwig says, looking up from the grains on the table and tracing them with his fingertip. “There are only a few of us left, anyway – we are not even a Group of Eight anymore, though we continue to call ourselves that out of convenience. If things continue as they have been…it won’t exist anymore at all.”

“But completely dissolving it? What good could come of it?” Ivan asks, and Arthur watches a large hand tighten in the ever-present scarf. And Arthur wonders if that same scarf is enough to keep the loneliness Ivan feels away at night, ever since his sisters left his home and refused to speak to him.

“It will allow us to try and rebuild our image with the other Nations. If we’re still together, we’ll be seen as co-conspirators.”

Silence. Francis speaks, and his voice is spider-silk. “It was Alfred, oui?”

Ludwig presses his lips together and nods.

Arthur feels his lip curl and he has to swallow a snarl. “What the merry fuck is wrong with you all?” he asks, his fingers curling into the wood.

Three other pairs of eyes fix on his, and Arthur knows he’s made a mistake.

“What’s wrong with us, he asks,” Francis murmurs, and chuckles like breaking glass.

Ludwig’s voice steadies itself. “Arthur, let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, America was hit with what is now known as the Great Depression. We were panicked and scared – and it drove some of us to atrocities.” Ludwig swallows. “But when we met to discuss it, we conducted ourselves as ladies and gentlemen. We lectured, but nothing more. And despite the hardships, we pressed through and above the economic hardship and tried to get along.

“In 2008, the recession happened. And we acted like barbarians.” Ludwig’s fingers curl into a fist. “We forgot the way we overcame problems like this in the past and did something inexcusable. And now look at us. We are weaker than ever; we are fallen, decaying beings. I watched my older brother break. I watched him disappear from my life in the blink of an eye. I saw what our actions that day are doing to us.”

And here Ludwig puts his head in his hands. Arthur drops his eyes and gives him a moment of privacy.

“…At any rate,” Ludwig says after clearing his throat, “whether you three remain a group or not, I will be resigning. Alfred encouraged me to try and find my brother. And that is what I’m going to devote my resources to from this point on, after I sort things out with my government.”

“We might as well put it to a vote,” Francis says, his voice as smooth as an ice rink that hadn’t been smoothed over for years. “All in favor of disbanding?”

Arthur, unthinking, raises his hand, too busy looking at the yellow flower tucked into Ludwig’s lapel.

On to part ii

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