Ever since ’72, that wondrous year chock-full of Canadian-Soviet hockey, the two nations have tried to make some sort of tradition of it. Not only as an attempt to keep up their skills in the off season, but because ever since then, it’s never been the same.
No other nation is as at home on the ice; save perhaps Sweden and Finland, but they can never quite match the level of sheer ruthlessness that the other two bring to the ice. Sweden will occasionally request a match with Russia, often following many glowers and the unintelligible phrase “f’r m’ w’f”. But aside from those all too infrequent instances, the Baltics seem to be the only other nations ‘willing’ to play against Russia.
Canada unfortunately has even worse luck finding a nation to play against. In the past he could usually convince America to play with him, but ever since Vancouver (2010 started it and 2011 only made it worse) America has developed a habit of disappearing whenever his brother starts talking about hockey. That, in combination with the other nations continuously forgetting about him and their matches makes it rather difficult to find a partner.
Russia though. More often than not, Russia will remember. He doesn’t know why, but Canada is happy not asking about it if it means he’s actually remembered and has someone to play against.
And this is how he knows that something is up.
“That was a good one!” A voice rings around the now empty rink as the two companions gather their equipment. “Do you want to get something to eat? There’s a Tim’s down the road.” He waits, and when it’s obvious there’s no response, the smaller man’s voice gains a tone of uncertainty. “Ivan?”
“Oh! Ah, no. I have a, uh, a meeting. With my boss. We must talk. ... About the weather. I must go.” The other man, chin now comfortably hidden in the folds of a long beige scarf, hoists his hastily packed gear and rushes off, not even meeting Canada’s eyes as he leaves the other behind in a confused silence.
“What the hell?”
5 months later:
“I’m sorry, Matvey. Vanya hasn’t said anything. Are you sure he’s avoiding you? I’m sure he has a good reason.” Katyusha gives him a one-armed hug as she slides a plate of perogies in front of him.
Matthew doesn’t even see it, too preoccupied with either pulling his hair out or hiding his sigh of exasperation somewhere near his elbows. “I don’t know, Kat. Every time I try to say hi, he’s busy, or he doesn’t see me. Or he makes another weird excuse to be somewhere else. And I’ve tried calling his office, and he’s never there when he says he is.”
“I don’t know.” She pauses, a faint frown marring her face when he doesn’t move. “Matvey. Eat. You are too thin. And don’t tell me you’re not hungry. I know how much you like them.”
He laughs quietly, hand already reaching for a fork. “You know that’s only because I have so many of your people.” His eyes slide to half mast, a faint violet shining through the lashes as he bites through the first piece. “Mmmmm, you do make them best though.”
A light, earthy laugh fills the small country kitchen. “They are still mine, Little Matvey, even if they live with you.”
“Sister, you left your door open again. You really shouldn’t –“ Ivan stops in the archway, eyes falling on the two blondes sitting comfortably at the table. In particular, trying to avoid the gaze so similar to his own.
Matthew’s chair squeals, almost toppling over before he catches the back of it. “Ah! Ivan! Can I –“
“Ah, I will return later. Good luck in the next game, Sister.” And with that, Ivan disappears almost as suddenly as he arrived, leaving Matthew to fall heavily back into his seat.
“See what I mean?” He groans, resisting the urge to rub at the incoming headache.
3 months Later:
“And this time he said he had to deal with a blizzard. In SIBERIA! Who ... Who fucking cares! There’s always a blizzard in Siberia! ” The blonde staggers, stumbling against the suddenly too-high back of his couch as he swipes at the encroaching hand of an alcohol thief.
“Kesesesese. That bastard’s never made sense, Birdie. C’mon, you never share the good stuff!” Prussia pounces, knocking the slighter Canadian backwards onto the couch. Once he’s good and pinned, the bottle of Everclear laced with maple syrup quickly changes hands.
Prussia though, is too busy gloating and drinking down half the bottle to notice Canada squirming into a better position. The bottle changes hands again, this time with Gilbert landing on the floor and Matthew halfway lounging across his stomach, legs still partially up on the couch as he finishes the last half of the bottle.
“Fucking hoser. You drank it all.” He considers getting up to grab another bottle, but there’s a reason he only ever gets two when he knows Gilbert is coming over to drink. He learned that lesson the first time around. Never. Again.
Matthew shudders and pushes the memory away, head hitting the not-as-soft-as-it-looks carpet when Gilbert pushes him off so he can search for more beer. He hears the albino’s return more than he sees it, and an empty hand held up in the air is filled with another ... something. He doesn’t much care what it is at this point.
A few minutes pass in a tense silence, red eyes glinting in suspicion and half formed guesses at what’s really going on. He hides his own staring behind his bottle When Matt’s head pops up like a spring to stare at him.
“Hey Gil. You know how to play! Do you wanna –“
“I’ll go easy on you.” Matthew’s expression turns sweet and innocent, pleading him to say yes. But Gilbert also learned his lesson the first time.
“No fucking way, Birdie. I’ve seen you ‘holding back’. Nein. Not happening.”
The blonde slumps forward, but almost as quickly as Gilbert said no, he’s back up. His eyes gleam wickedly the empty bottle they’d previously been fighting over is held in the air. “I’ll share. A month’s worth.”
“Pffft. Not worth it.”
That wicked gleam turns downright evil. “Two months worth.” He’s fast to intercept what’s sure to be another refusal. “And I’ll ship it to you. To Germany. And I’ll send the good stuff. The 190 proof.”
A pause. “Kesesesese.” Oh, the trouble he could raise with that. Prussia is sorely tempted, but then he remembers the other half of the trade. “No. Not fucking doing it.”
Matthew falls backward against the side of the couch with a desperate whine. “I just want to play hockey. Fucking Russia.” He glowers, first at nothing, then focusing on Prussia. “If you won’t play, go get me another ...” Matthew pauses, eyes squinting to read the dancing letters on the last bottle he’d been drinking from.
“FUCK. Fucking Russia.” It degenerates from there into a mass rant of English and French cursing, all aimed at the innocent bottle of maple-flavoured vodka.
Gilbert’s cackles can be heard throughout the house.
2 months Later:
“Ivan, when are you free for another game? Let me know, eh?”
1 week later:
“Ivan, I got your last message, so I know you haven’t forgotten my number. Can you stop avoiding me and just pick up?”
2 weeks later:
“Really, Ivan? Tracking caribou and checking on another blizzard? Really? You cancelled a game for that? Fine. Okay. I’ll bite. Call me when you know when you can play.”
1 month later:
“Fuck, Russia. If you don’t want to play hockey with me anymore, fine. Just fucking say it to my face. Stop pussy-footing around and getting assistants to call me back.”
2 months later:
"Russia, I swear on Trudeau and my oil sands. If you don't pull whatever small rodent crawled up your ass out of there, and man up and pick up the phone, I will give this number to Belarus. I know she doesn't have this number. Don’t think I won’t do it.”
1 week later:
“Brother! When did you change your number? Why did you give it to America? You’re hiding from me. You shouldn’t hide from your bride! Brother, when can we get married?”
1 week later:
“Brother! I know you’re there! Open the door! America said you were planning to propose! Don’t be shy! Let’s get married! Open the door!”
1 month later:
“Matvey, that was not funny. I’ve now had to move again. Twice. And change my number. Again. My bosses have asked why I keep moving.”
“Oh! I’m sorry, Russia. How absolutely terrible that must have been for you.”
“Matvey, I -“
“Here, let me roll over like a good Canadian and let you ignore me again.” Matthews voice is just short of shouting (for him), and dripping with sarcasm. “Maybe you’ll be able to make it two years without me bothering you this time.”
“That’s not – “
“Oh, but I suppose about now is when your boss will need to talk to you. Or there’ll be some sort of animal infestation or freak weather that just can’t survive without your personal attention.”
“Matvey! Can I –“
“No? Terribly sorry, then.” He hisses into the phone, and Ivan can so clearly imagine those eyes narrowing in anger, this time directed solely at him. “I must have the wrong number again. Silly me. You’d think I could get the right one after all these years. I’m sorry. I’ll leave you alone now.”
“Matvey, I “ –click.
“Hello. You have reached a doormat. Unfortunately, the doormat does not apparently exist, but if you do want to talk to someone else, please call 1-800-FUCK-YOU.” –click.
The next day:
“Mathew Williams’ office. Can I help you?”
“Canada. Shut up and let me talk this time.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I exist now?”
“Matvey ....” A heavy sigh echoes through the phone. “I ... I’m sorry. Uh, I shouldn’t have, I shouldn’t have ignored you like that.” He ignores the muttering about avoidance and ‘about time’. “I – Would you?” Another sigh, and what Matthew is certain is a ‘dammit’ in Russian. “When are you free?”
Matthew’s too surprised by Russia’s willingness to talk to continue the snarky attitude and anger that he’d been hold onto so fiercely. “I don’t have anything planned for tomorrow.”
“Ah, good. ... Da. That is good. I will find you tomorrow then. Will you be home?”
“.... This isn’t a trick, is it? You aren’t going to suddenly have a meeting tomorrow, are you?”
“Nyet. I will be there.”
Matthew’s sigh sounds like a mix between a groan and something hitting a wall. “Come for breakfast. I’ll make pancakes.” As he hangs up, Matthew reassures himself that if Russia doesn’t actually show again, he’ll at least have his pancakes and maple syrup.
When he gets a phone call just as he’s getting ready to turn in for the night, he expects it to be Alfred screaming about some videogame or noise outside his window. He doesn’t expect Ukraine to be on the other line.
“Ah! Matvey! Did Vanya call you?”
“Uh, hi Kat. Yeah, he did.”
“He did? Good. What did he say?”
“Errr, he wants to come over tomorrow. He didn’t say why.” Even half asleep, the way he says it lets her know that he doesn’t actually expect Ivan to show up.
“Vanya will be there, Matvey.” And she says it with absolute certainty, sounding like nothing more than a mother who knows her child will do something. Or else. “And Matvey? Do not ignore him.”
And Matthew’s slightly creeped out that she so easily saw through his half formed plan to just not be home in the morning. “Uh, Kat? What’s going on?”
“Vanya will tell you.” She chirps into the phone, all seriousness disappearing. “Oh! I will let you sleep. Good night Matvey!” She doesn’t even wait for Matthew to say good bye before the line goes dead in his hand.
The day after:
Breakfast is a subdued affair. Matthew tries to pretend he isn’t still angry, but fails miserably by tossing around his pan more than necessary and being overly rough with the dough, all while being sickeningly polite and sweet towards Russia. And Ivan, on the other hand, is going out of his way not antagonize his host. Most glaringly though, is the complete absence of any sort of vodka on Ivan’s person. That in particular tells Matthew that his gut is right. Something is definitely going down.
Pancakes though, especially fresh pancakes with maple syrup, will sweeten anyone’s mood and by the time the two of them are washing up, the cold shoulders have thawed and they’re both ranting about the Alfred’s newest idea.
“And now he’s trying to get me to make it for him!”
“How would you even ...?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think I want to know. Not if it’s anything like the last one.”
“What did he do?”
“He wanted me to steal Arthur’s eyebrows.”
Ivan has to smother his laugh when he sees that Matthew is actually serious. “Really?”
“I think he was drunk. That’s the only way it’d sound like a good idea.” Ivan’s speechless. For as much as he enjoys baiting and antagonizing the other countries, even he knows not to go after England’s eyebrows.
The dishes get finished among more complaints of different things their siblings have done. But it comes to a stop when Matthew sits on the now clean counter and starts staring at Ivan. “So. Do you want to tell me what’s going on now?”
And suddenly, part of the wall behind him is very interesting. Ivan’s lips start moving, but without any sound. Matthew figures that if he’s waited this long already, he can wait a bit longer for Ivan to figure out what he wants to say.
Only, a couple minutes turn into a few, which turns into five, and then ten, and that number continues to grow. And while Ivan is growing more and more agitated, now speaking to himself in Russian as if there’s no one else in the room, Matthew is starting to lose his patience. Another few minutes pass and then, that’s it. He’s done.
Ivan jumps in surprise when Matthew slides off the counter and starts walking past him. “Ah, Matvey, -“
He doesn’t even turn around, voice barely at his usual whisper but harder than Ivan’s ever heard it before. “No. First you feed me the most ridiculous excuses, worse even than Alfred’s, and then you outright ignore me for a year. And now, at a meeting YOU asked for, you spend it muttering to yourself and forget I’m even in the room. No. I’m done, Russia. Find another doormat. You know the way out.”
“Matvey! I ... I’m not good at this. But I –“
“You know where the door is.” Matthew snarls before stalking out of the room. He doesn’t see Ivan’s broken face or the item in one of his large hands, held out towards the now empty doorway.
1 month later, after the World Meeting:
A door opens into a darkened hotel room, letting light in hours before it has any right to be seen. There’s only one bed in the room, occupant fast asleep and clutching a small white bear. The visitor tries to be as silent as he can, but some ears are still too attentive to the surroundings. “Who?”
“It’s me, Kumajirou.”
“Oh.” That’s apparently enough for the bear, since it lays its head back onto the second pillow and to all appearances, goes back to sleep.
A small box with a note carefully taped to the lid is set on the bed side table, next to a pair of lightweight wire frames. He knows that it will be seen in the morning and as much as he doesn’t want to wait, he doesn’t know if the owner of those glasses will even talk to him anymore.
The door closes softly, a small click of the latch leaving the room once more in the dark.
The bear rouses just enough to reposition himself across both the pillows now that his owner is awake.
Matthew picks the box up gingerly, feeling something shift inside. Curiosity picks at him like a gnat, winning him over when he finds a small note camouflaged with the top of the box.
It is yours, even if you do not want it.
There’s no signature, but a feeling of dread pools in his stomach. He’ll open it. He’s too curious now not to. But what’s inside isn’t anything like what he was expecting. “Maple!”
“Oh. That. From the sunflower man.” The bear pipes up as his owner lifts the macabre gift from its box.
Matthew stares at the heart in his hand, unsure what to think and unaware that its owner now knows the gift has been received.
Both are unaware of how much things have just changed.