America hated hospitals. He knew it was silly for someone like him to feel that way, but he could never so much as walk past one of the buildings without feeling a chill run through him. Stepping in the door, however, was a hundred times worse. The air was always so cold and the lights so harsh and bright with a strange almost stillness… He shuddered again and not for the first time he wanted to turn around and bolt for the door, but it was too late for that. England had already seen him and after the tongue lashing he'd given him over the phone, America doubted he'd let him get out of this without a fight.
"He's been laid up in the hospital for months, months!, and you haven't come visited him once!" England had all but screamed from his end of the line and America wanted to ring the neck of whatever jerk had patched him through after America had given strict instructions not to.
"England I'm busy," he had insisted. "There's a lot on my plate right now!" And really there was and it should have been a more than valid excuse because what more was he supposed to do? He had been at the liberation; France was alive because of him, wasn't that enough?
Not to England it wasn't and if anything America's almost indifferent response had set him off even more. "Of course you're busy! We're all busy! But the world keeps spinning even when you're busy America, so why don't you pull your head out of your arse and pay attention to other people for once."
America couldn't quite understand where all this was coming from. At the start of this war England and France had been just as tense and volatile with one another as ever, more so even, to the point where the allies had almost been worried that one of them would change sides just to get at the other. That had all changed when France had been occupied and suddenly England cared and was France's best friend and America just couldn't wrap his head around any of it.
He sighed, staring up at the numbers stuck to the other side of the door. He knew he had the right room, he knew it because England had stepped inside just a few minutes ago, but still America's feet stayed planted to the tiled floor just outside.
"Can I help you, sir?" a nurse asked him kindly and America was so startled by her voice that he nearly jumped out of his skin.
"No," he said quickly as he reluctantly grasped the knob in his sweaty palm. "No I'm fine."
The door creaked as he pushed it open and the heavy smell of bandage and chemicals smacked him in the face the second he stepped inside. There was only one bed, because nations always got private rooms, and America really didn't want to look at France, but there was really nothing else in the room to see.
France was just laying there, limp and weak and wrapped up from head to toe like a mummy. Only France wasn't a mummy, because he was breathing (although his eyes were closed and America couldn't tell if he were awake or asleep) and he wasn't completely wrapped up, because America could see the tips of his fingers and the lower half of his jaw and most of his hair, but that was it. The rest of him was either covered by bandage or bed sheets and America swore he could still smell blood in the air.
England was frowning at him from the moment he stepped in. He was sitting in a chair by France's bed and America could see that he wanted to hold France's hand, but every time his fingers got close France used what little strength he had to push them away. Instead England leaned in close to France's ear and whispered something to him and France's lids seemed to twitch as a weak smile pulled at the corners of his lips.
America watched from the doorway as one of France's bandaged arms lifted ever so slightly off of the bed, the tips of his fingers stretching in America's direction. "Alfred," he barely heard France rasp to him. "Alfred you came."
"Yeah," he greeted with a weak wave as he shifted from one foot to the other. "Hey."
"Is that all you can say?" England practically hissed as he got up from his chair and walked over to America's side and grabbed his arm. England's grip was surprisingly tight and America had to fight against the urge to yelp as he was practically dragged toward France's bedside. "I told you I'd get him here," England said to France, his voice shifting seamlessly into a gentle tone as he shoved America into the chair he'd been occupying. "One way or another-"
"Leave," France rasped with a dismissive twitch of his fingers and America saw England's eyes widen in a way that would have been funny if it didn't clearly hurt him so much.
England nodded, his eyes shifting from France to America before he began to move towards the door. "I'll be right outside," he said reluctantly before the door shut behind him with a heavy thud.
Just like that America was alone in the room with France and despite the fact that he was wearing his bomber jacket he still shivered at the chill in the air. The room was so small and France's hair was so oily and his skin was so pale and all America could smell was medicine and blood. He wanted to open a window, but there weren't any. He wanted to turn on a radio, but he couldn't find one. He wanted to walk out the door, but England was probably still standing there.
"I knew you would come," he heard France whisper. His fingers were twitching again and America wondered if it hurt him to do that. "Your brother came... A week ago I think… It's hard to remember."
"Yeah. You should probably sleep or something," America said, because that's what people did in hospitals, right? They slept a lot and doctors gave them medicine and then they woke up and were better. At least that's how he imagined it. He couldn't imagine what it would feel like for France to be awake for more than a few minutes when he was like this.
"I don't want to sleep," France insisted and his hand flopped over until his was touching America's. He shivered because France's fingers were so cold. "I want to see you."
America looked around the room for a clock, but couldn't find one. He looked at his wrist, but remembered that his watch was broken and he had left it in his sock drawer.
"For a while… I thought I was going to die," France went on and America was glad he hadn't noticed him look for the time. "And I thought about you… and Mathieu… And I wanted to tell you… so many things."
America frowned and realized from the way France's fingers stayed next to his that he had probably been trying to hold his hand. He reasoned that France couldn't pull anything funny from where he was now so he held his hand gently in his, hoping he could at least warm his fingers. "You don't have to worry about that stuff now," America assured him. "You're not gonna die. You're okay."
"I wanted to tell you," France continued, "about when you were born."
America's ears perked up at that and for a moment he found the thoughts of medicine and bandages and blood and cold leaving his head. "You… you were there when I was born?"
France was still as he took a deep breath and a smile spread across his chapped lips. "Yes."
"So… you knew my mother?"
The smile faded then and for the first time France opened his eyes and looked at him. His eyes were red, blood red, yet they didn't seem to be focused on anything as water slowly filled in them. America felt his insides grow cold and shame claw at his stomach as he turned his head away. "F-France, I-"
"I love you Alfred," France whispered. "So so much."
"I know France." America tried to laugh as he gave the back of France's hand a gentle pat. "I know you do. You should go to sleep. You need your rest."
That wasn't what France wanted to hear, but he seemed to accept the response as his eyes slipped shut and his breathing evened out. America waited until he was certain that France was deep asleep before releasing his hand and stepping out of the room.
"Okay, I don't get it. Why does my suit have to be purple?" America frowned at the material that looked almost red at times as he carefully turned the jacket over in his hands. He had to admit the fabric felt good against his grip and the cut of the jacket looked fine, but the idea of wearing a purple tuxedo just seemed strange to him. At least everything else was normal -- black shoes, slacks, and even a bow tie -- if only the jacket was a different color.
"It's not purple, it's burgundy," England corrected wearily and America had a feeling that a part of him was reliving a previous debate with the tailor over this exact issue. "And your suit is supposed to match Francis's and... well, this is what he wanted."
"It looks perfect!" France gushed and even though he hadn't bothered to take his own suit out of the garment bag it was currently wrapped in, America could still see that their tuxedos did indeed appear to be nearly identical. "You did a good job following my sketches." England's face slowly colored as France offered his cheek a condescending pat, yet even as his eyebrows furrowed America could tell he was feeling more embarrassed than annoyed by the gesture.
Nearly two weeks later and the four of them suddenly found themselves back where they had started: sitting in England's parlor going over the details about the wedding. There were only two days left until the actual ceremony and Alfred swore if he never had to visit another florist to look at flower arrangements or go over another seating chart or call another caterer to finalize a menu it would be far too soon. Of course, he did enjoy the samples. The cake tasting in particular had been his favorite, but sampling the different wine selections was definitely a close second. Although Alfred was still convinced that England and Canada had gotten the easier end of the deal, because listening to bands and scouting out boats had to be way more fun than listening to France give in detail exactly how many lilies he wanted at each table.
It was almost over now, the finish line was just in sight and by now Alfred was so numbed to all things wedding related that he didn't bother to even think of another argument against the purple-burgundy tuxedo jacket and just resigned himself to slipping it on over his t-shirt. He frowned, not at the fabric which felt nice against his skin or the color which didn't look so bad once it was on, but at the fact that the sleeves were a bit tight and he had to suck in his stomach a bit to get the buttons to close.
"Uh, it doesn't fit," he groaned and it was a genuine groan because he knew just as well as everyone else that there wouldn't be enough time to get the jacket altered, which meant that he was going to have to spend the evening wearing a suit that was half a size too small.
Sure enough his words were sufficient to cause an equally annoyed grunt to escape from Canada and the others who, like America, were less than thrilled at the prospect of yet another bump in the road.
"Well when you said you didn't know your measurements we just used mine," Canada explained wearily. "I could have sworn we were the same size."
"Don't tell me just two weeks of France's cooking made you double in size," England scoffed as America, with a bit of difficulty, pulled the jacket off his shoulders.
Canada was quick to take the garment in his own hands, turning it over a few times before finally attempting to put it on himself. He had only managed to slide his left arm in before stopping and America could tell that the fabric was giving some resistance to him as well. "You're right, Alfred," he said regretfully. "It is too small."
"The tailor must have gotten the measurements mixed up," France concluded with a sigh as he fully unzipped the garment bag for his own tuxedo and pulled out the top half. He handed the jacket to Canada, who held the two side by side and sure enough there was a noticeable difference in size.
"That careless bastard!" England practically seethed as America went about trying on the new jacket for himself. "He assured me that he could handle this sort of job!"
"To be fair Eng... uh, Dad," Canada fumbled, "custom making four suits in a week and a half is a tall order to fill. He did a pretty good job given the circumstances."
England huffed, shaking his head wearily at Canada's forgiving attitude. "'Pretty good' isn't good enough! Its two days before the wedding and already everything's been derailed!"
"Oh, stop overreacting!" France chided as he pulled on the jacket that had originally been intended for America to wear. "You see? It is not such a big deal. Alfred can just wear my jacket and I will wear his."
"It is a big deal because your jacket is different from his!" England argued and it was only on closer inspection that America realized that England was right. France's tuxedo had a few extra pockets hidden within the jacket and the buttons were much finer than those on the other suit. They were minor details that no one would catch unless they were studying the two from up close.
Yet despite the fact that France was likely well aware of this he easily dismissed it with a wave of his hand. "You are making potholes into caverns," he sniffed. "I will still be wearing my boutonniere and tie. That is more than good enough."
"Well I don't want 'good enough!'" England spat.
"But you just said-"
"I know what I said!" They watched as England's cheeks went red as his hands grasped uselessly at the air before finally balling into fists at his side. "I want perfect. I just want everything to be perfect and... I need air." Without another word England spun on his heels and marched out of the parlor and France didn't even bother to wait a minute before following him outside.
America and Canada, however, did wait. They waited until they heard footsteps disappearing and doors slamming before relaxing enough to begin speaking again. "Wow," America almost chuckled, because he had seen England blow up plenty of times before, but usually it was over something bigger than a few mismatched buttons. "What the heck was that about?"
Canada shook his head as America took off his suit and put it back on the hanger. They didn't bother to straighten out anything else, because the parlor was a mess of strewn about bits of paper and notes and calendars with dates scribbled over and crossed out. Instead, once America had put the garment bags aside, Canada stepped into the hall and motioned for America to follow. They walked into the kitchen where Canada grabbed a kettle and began preparing some tea. More hungry than thirsty, America dug through the cupboards and grabbed a plate and some bread in order to make himself a sandwich.
"He's been like this on and off," Canada told him as America gathered meat and cheese from the refrigerator. "Sometimes he'll shrug things off, others he'll explode. You should have heard the way he screamed at one of the bands when the lead singer said she didn't know the words to 'La Vie en Rose.'"
America turned to look at Canada then, studying his brother's face to see whether or not he had been joking, but he saw the tired gleam in his eyes, America knew right away that Canada wasn't kidding. "Geez," he muttered before going back to assembling his snack. "He didn't seem tense last week."
Or the night before, for that matter. America and France had taken a ferry over to England's house, because they had all agreed that the "wedding ship," as they were calling it, would be departing from a dock near England's house. The plan was for everyone to gather the day before at a nearby hotel where they would hold a brief rehearsal dinner that night before setting sail around noon the next day. When they had met up with England and Canada, the two had seemed tired and a bit stressed, but no worse than could be expected. If anything England had seemed practically chipper as they recounted all the last minute saves they each had to pull in order to get this ceremony together.
"Well, that's probably because France was around," Canada sighed just as the pot began to whistle. He pulled it off the burner before pouring the hot water into his mug. "He wants everything to be perfect for him. What with his condition and everything they've been through... in a way, I guess Dad's still trying to win him back and trying to show just how much he loves him."
"That's sad," America said and he really meant it. It wasn't the first time during their vacation America wished he and England had swapped places, but it was different now. He knew that if England had been with France, had gone with him to see all the vendors and finalized their details he would have seen just how happy France was and how excited he looked whenever he talked about marrying England. It was funny how two people could love each other the way England and France did and yet still manage to be so clueless.
He sighed and spread some mayonnaise and mustard on his bread as Canada added some milk and sugar to his tea. (He noticed the almost wistful sigh that escaped from his twin and knew right away that Canada wanted desperately to add some maple to his drink.) America put away the rest of his ingredients as Canada put a few crackers on a plate. They gathered their food and drink before making their way over to the kitchen table.
"So are you ready for tomorrow?" America asked. "There's gonna be a lot of people there."
"The guest list isn't that big," Canada pointed out just as America took a bite of his sandwich.
"Not those kinds of people," he said between his mouth full of bread. "I mean the other kind of people. People like us people."
Canada paled at that thought and only a weak "oh" managed to escape him. This was going to be the first time they saw the other nations since their last world meeting two months ago and it would be the first time that they would be meeting them all as a family. There weren't very many nations that America (or Canada for that matter) kept in touch with on an informal basis so no one he was close to knew about England and France being their parents. Yet given the way France had been treating them lately and the fact that even England was now being open about their relationship, he had a feeling that every nation at the wedding would already been well aware of their connection.
"Well, I guess I'm ready for it," Canada shrugged as he nibbled on the tip of a cracker. "I mean, I met England's brothers. That has to be the worst of it, eh?"
"What about France's friends?" he reminded him. "Spain and that Prussia guy? Those guys are weird. And loud! And they drink a lot. They might make a scene."
If possible Canada's face actually got whiter and he seemed to shrink into himself a bit. "I didn't think about those two," he mumbled. "And then there's Italy. He'll be there too. He's so emotional he might cry."
"Don't forget Australia and New Zealand. They'll be there, too."
"And Seychelles and Monaco."
A shuddering groan escaped the twins as a slight twinge began to build behind America's eyes. Suddenly the idea of brewing a cup of tea to calm his nerves sounded oddly appealing.
"So this is where you two disappeared," France noted as he came around the corner and entered the kitchen. America jolted slightly at the sound of his sudden appearance, but quickly regretted looking in his direction when he noticed that France's hair was slightly frizzed and a few of the buttons were missing on his shirt. Clearly something had happened with England and America knew in his gut that it wasn't a fight. America blushed and looked away just as France grabbed the kettle off of the stove and began filling it with water. "Your father is feeling much better now," he informed them, "but I think it would be best if we let him rest for now.
"And that means this is the perfect opportunity for me to cook for my boys!"A sad, distant look settled on France's features as he twisted a few knobs before placing the kettle back on top of the stove. "It has been so long since the three of us had a meal together."
America certainly couldn't remember the last time the three of them had shared a meal together, not that France hadn't tried. After his independence, France had sent America several invitations to come to his house for a meal or to spend a holiday with him. His boss at the time had tried to make him go, but back then America had still thought France was kind of weird and (being still very young) was a bit afraid of him, so he made up excuses not to go. Over the years making up excuses to avoid France became the norm for him, but that didn't stop the invitations from pouring in. Somehow America knew that two weeks and a few meals together didn't quite make up for all of the time lost between them.
As France began to gather ingredients on the counter, Canada pushed aside the last few crackers on his plate while America finished the rest of his sandwich. The tea kettle was already starting to whistle by the time France had begun washing vegetables. Canada tapped the table thoughtfully, before rising from his seat to grab the pot and set the tea that was likely meant for England.
France glanced at Canada from the corner of his eyes, a warm smile brightening his features as he put aside the carrots he had been peeling. When Canada was finished pouring the water, France cupped his face and gently turned it. America snickered slightly when his brother's face flushed as France pressed affectionate pecks to both of his cheeks before offering his forehead a loving kiss. "I just wanted you to know Mathieu, just because Alfred is my best man, does not mean I love you any less. You are both my babies and I love you just the same."
It was funny to see Canada, a good inch taller than France, ducking his head and darting his eyes around the room as France's wet hands continued to hold his pink cheeks. "I... I know Papa," Canada said, his blush growing deeper as he spoke. "And, I, uh, I love you too."
The love was practically glowing in France's eyes as he pulled Canada towards him, pressing him against him so tight that America thought for sure his brother would pop. It was a funny sight, but it was one that made America feel oddly lonely.