Actions

Work Header

Tales of a Feather

Chapter Text

I was in a deep slumber, till my older siblings slammed into me.

I gasped as Melissa Arora sat herself on my back and Johnny Hawkfeather held my legs down. "Guess what day it is Amy," she giggled.

"Crush Your Little Sister Day," I said through gritted teeth.

"No, it's your birthday!"

My eyes widened, "wait; wait!"

But they didn't listen; Johnny tightens his hold and Melissa brought her hand down on my bottom, "One!" Then she slapped it again, "two!"

This went on for another sixteen times, and finally she reached the last slap, "and one to grow!"

I cried, "Get off!"

Both of them laughed and jumped off the bed. I was rubbing my sore ass through my Wonder Woman pajama shorts. "Shit! I think you left a bruise."

"This is coming from a supernatural that can heal almost instantly." Melissa crossed her slim arms. Her dark hair was in soft curls and her dark eyes gleamed with mischief.

Johnny smirked, his long black hair was free and flowed pass his shoulders. He checked his watch, the leather brown strap blended well with his light copper skin, the same shade as Melissa's. "And that will be in," he shrugged his shoulders, "a minute?"

The word 'supernatural' didn't fit. I'm not vampire or werewolf or anything cool like that. I'm a nation, the nation of the United States of America.

I narrowed my eyes at them and they giggled. "Aw, look at her, she's so cute when she glares," Melissa pinched my cheek.

"If you two are done harassing your sister," Mom's voice ringed from the bottom of the stairs. "Come down and help me with breakfast."

"Food!" Johnny exclaimed and ran down the stairs.

"You're not eating anything! You're helping us cook." Melissa shook her head, "he's twenty-seven and he still acts like a teenager."

"And you're Ms. Mature," I lifted an eyebrow at her.

She ignored my statement and walked to the door, "Make sure you wear something nice for your party tonight."

"Yeah, yeah," I yawned and rose from my bed. Lady, my medium sized Cocker Spaniel was stretching at the foot of the bed. I scratched her behind her light brown floppy ears; this light brown circled around her dark eyes and scattered patches over her freshly cut white fur. It was longer, but with the weather reaching in the hundreds we knew it was best to have it short.

Dad called Lady down and she leaped off the bed and ran out the door. I stretched my arms and bent out my knees, trying to wake myself up. I took a quick shower and brushed my white teeth in the mirror. Once I was back in my room, I discarded the towel and slipped on my blue one piece swimsuit. Then I wore blue cut jean shorts and an indigo plaid button down shirt with no sleeves over the swimsuit. I slid my feet into a pair of flat, strap in brown sandals and sat myself in front of my vanity mirror.

I rubbed in some morocco oil into my blond curls and brushed through my hair with my fingers. The curls landed around the nape of my neck and touched the base of my shoulders. I grabbed a lock of hair and looked at it through the reflection of the mirror. I bit my bottom lip in annoyance; it grew this long in two months? Maybe it has something to do with being a nation, I wondered.

My eyes then glanced to the pictures around my mirror. Photos of family and friends, but three new faces have joined the party. These three people were young men, all blond and bright eyed. They're my blood relatives, well, now that I think about it; they're technically not, but we do share the same secret.

They're nations, just like me.

I stared at the pictures of Arthur Kirkland (Britain), Francis Bonnefoy (France) and Matthew Williams (Canada) at my brother's wedding. I'm sure most of you are confused, but to make a long story short. I was adopted by a human family, mostly because John Senior Hawkfeather knew the previous nation of America, Alfred F. Jones (my supposed father). The US government then concealed the fact that I was alive from the other nations and hid me away in my hometown of Summerland, California.

All my life I believed I was a normal teenage girl, till my spring break in New York City, where I met Arthur, Francis and Matthew. They took the liberty to tell me that I was a nation. It didn't go over well; I was in denial for a week, till my grandfather (John Senior Hawkfeather) left a video for me, explaining everything. Slowly, I got to know more about the nations I met in New York, but before I knew it I was thrown to the wolves in Austria. Figuratively and literally, all for the sake of protecting my family; but it didn't last long.

Ivan Braginski a.k.a Russia tracked me down and decided to inform all the other countries of my little secret. Everything kinda blew up after that. Luckily, thanks to Isabella Garcia (the president of the US) and the government, they were able to keep the nations away from my family and friends. They were also not to have any contact with me till my eighteenth birthday, which was today.

I sighed, a part of me hopes that they'll think I celebrate my birthday on the fourth of July rather than the first. I didn't think I was ready to deal with them just yet, I mean Arthur, Francis and Matthew were the exception of course, but the others were somewhat irritating.

When I was at the bottom of the stairs I was greeted by my adorable niece and nephew. They wrapped themselves around my waist; they're heads reaching my chest. They had grown.

"Happy birthday Aunt Amy," Blair Arora grinned, her permanent front teeth had grown into place and now had a winning smile. Her dark hair was in her natural waves down her back and her light brown skin mingled well with her simple pink summer dress.

Blake Arora was the quiet one of the twins, but he seemed to be growing out of it. "You're legal now, that means you're fair game for the nations."

I ruffled his dark short hair, "don't remind me."

He stared up at me with bright brown eyes, "If they ever hurt you, I'll make sure they pay for it."

My eyebrows rose, "You're eight-years-old, and you already think you can take on the world."

"Yes," he said without hesitation.

"Such a serious eight-year-old," their father, Sanjay Arora walked into the living room and wrapped his arm around his son's shoulders. "You're a kid, so act like one," he flicked his finger at Blake's forehead. Sanjay carried the same coloring as his children but the twins had the soft features of their mother. He pulled me into a hug, my head knocked against his shoulder, "happy birthday."

"Thanks," I smiled.

"My turn," Celine Hawkfeather, the most recent added member to our family wrapped me in another hug. Her light brown curls were in a ponytail and her pale green eyes shined lovingly.

Dad walked in from the kitchen, holding up a large plate of chocolate chip pancakes. "Breakfast is ready." His graying black hair was tied in a low ponytail and when he smiled his dark eyes gleamed and his copper skin winkled. But he was still quite handsome for his age.

We followed him to the kitchen table, where plates of eggs, sausage, and waffles were placed on the table. Pitchers of milk, water and orange juice stood at the center along with a vase filled with wild flowers.

We took our seats; Dad took the head of the table. Mom sat across from him, with Melissa on her right and Johnny on her left. Sanjay sat next to his wife as Blake took his seat next to him. Celine sat in the middle of Johnny and Blair as I sat on Dad's left and Aponi Hawkfeather, my grandmother sat across from me. The two month old baby, Raiden Arora sat in a high chair in between Melissa and Mom.

I'm sure if anyone looked through our window right now, I would stick out like a sore thumb. My family is filled with dark haired, dark eyed and natural tan skinned people, while I had blond hair and blue eyes. My fair skin on the other hand, had recently gotten a light tan, thanks to all the time I spent in the summer sun.

After we had our meal, they brought out the gifts. Sanjay and Melissa went first, "You're going to love it," Melissa grinned as Sanjay handed over a large white rectangle box with a blue bow tied around it.

I opened it up to find a stunning blue and violet sari. "Oh wow, Mel, thank you."

"Hey what about me," Sanjay said jokingly.

I gave him an apologetic smile, "Thank you Sanjay."

"Us next, us next, us next," Johnny chanted as he drummed his hands on the table. Celine handed over a bag filled with three graphic tees and two pairs of skinny jeans. One shirt was white with black fading sparrows flying across the shirt from the shoulder to the waist. The two other tees had written words on them. One was a purple tank with a quote written in white: 'Nobody is perfect until you fall in love with them.' The other was a black shirt with a phase written in bright blue: 'My death will probably be caused by being sarcastic at the wrong time.'

I laughed at the last shirt, "That most likely will happen."

Johnny raised his hand, "I picked that one."

"Of course," I beamed and turned to Dad, who was already pulling out two black boxes. "Remember your grandfather's ring?" he asked.

I nodded as I made a grab for the ring that was no longer around my neck. "I've been feeling naked ever since I lost it."

"Well," Mom bit her bottom lip nervously, "you didn't. I kinda borrowed it."

My eyes widened, "Mom! I've searched everywhere for my ring, how could you hide it from me?"

"Calm down," Dad placed a hand on my shoulder and handed me one of the gifts, "we just wanted this to be a surprised."

My ring was in the black box. It originally belonged to Grandpa; it was silver with a beautiful crafted hawk on it. The hawk's wings were extended out with its feathers large and sharply detailed. The beck was faced forward while small pieces of tiger's eye were placed to represent the eyes. Its tail was flat and its claws were curled into the tail.

"We decided to get the design re-crafted, seeing that it faded through the years," Dad explained, "but mostly we had it re-sized."

I slid it on my middle finger, "Wow, it fits," I grinned and hugged him. "Thanks Dad," then I quickly ran over to Mom and kissed her on the cheek.

"Hold on there's still one more," Dad held out the last box.

I opened it and pulled out silver chain necklace with a small simple cut aquamarine pendent attached to it. Mom came from behind and wrapped it around my neck, "when I first laid eyes on this stone it reminded me of your eyes. Those stunning, sweet blue eyes," she turned me around to face her. "They were the first thing I fell in love with the moment I met you."

I looked away, bashful, "Mom."

"Oh don't 'Mom' me," she brushed a lock of my hair over my ear, "I'm proud of you and whatever happens, you'll always have us."

I smiled and wrapped her in a tight hug, "I love you."

"I love you too," she whispered in my hair.

After a moment of silence Blair speaks up, "See this is why you guys should have gone last. I mean how can we present our gift after all that emotional feels."

I giggled, "She's got a point. You guys kinda stole the show." I sat back in my seat, "Whatcha got?"

Blair nodded to Blake and he ran back to the living room. "This is from us and G-Ma," she proclaimed.

Blake came back with a carryon bag and a rolling luggage. Everyone rushed to clear the table, so we could set the baggage on it. The roller was designed as an old fashion trunk; like something a traveler would have in the eighteen hundreds. The main color was a dark shade of tan while the straps were brown. It had gold colored clips, but still had a modern zipper and wheels. The carryon was in the same shade and style as the roller.

I grinned, "Are we going on a trip?"

Everyone shared nervous glances with one another till Johnny said, "maybe."

Before I could question their looks, Blair cuts in. "Look at the strap," she exclaimed and pushed the shoulder strap of the carryon into my face.

There were animals crafted into the leather. Each animal was detailed and imprinted with realistic features. They ran together across the strap, beginning with a hawk and ending with a mouse. "Oh cool. Grandma did you design this?"

She shook her head, "I just gave the materials, Blair drew it on paper and Blake crafted it on the leather."

I passed it around for everyone to see. Celine was in awe and Johnny whistled, "This is amazing." Then his eyes lit up, "hey you guys put a Great Dane on it."

Melissa took a look, "and a hummingbird."

"There's a deer," Dad grinned.

"We decided to use our family's spirit animals in the design," Blake proclaimed.

"Yup," Blair continued, "It starts off with G-Pa's hawk and G-Ma's butterfly, then it to Grandpa's deer-"

"A deer," Sanjay turns to Dad, "I figured your animal was a wolf."

Dad lifted a brow, "why do you say that?"

"You always wear that wolf charm around your neck."

"Ah, well this wolf charm is to honor a good friend of mine, he died when we were young and he was always like a brother to me," Dad explained.

"It's like me when I wear Grandpa's ring," I added.

"Is that what Natives do?" he asked in all due respect.

Dad shrugged his shoulders, "I don't know, but it's what we do."

"Can I continue please," Blair asked, annoyed.

Dad patted her head, "sorry Blair, yes you may."

"After the deer, we have Grandma's cougar-"

Johnny snorted, "Mom you're a cougar?"

She shook her head, "last I checked your father was older than me."

"No Grandma, the cougar is your spirit animal," said Blair.

"Cougar represents leadership, strength, balance and cleverness," Blake proclaimed.

Mom nodded, liking the idea and Blair moved on. "Then we have the hummingbird for Mom and the robin for Dad."

"Robin?" Sanjay questioned.

"It represents luck, hope, clarity and the strength to move forward," his son answered.

Blair continued, "Then there's Uncle Johnny's Great Dane and Aunt Celine's rabbit."

"I always did like bunnies," Celine added.

"Then we have Aunt Amy's bear-"

I raised my hand, "I'm a nation. I don't think I have a spirit animal."

"Well," Blair shrugged her shoulders, "G-Pa always called you Amy-bear, we just figured."

"And don't you remember, you went to live with them for a few days," Johnny smirked.

I made a face as Blair finished, "Then finally we have Blake's owl, my fox and Raiden's mouse."

We all turned to the baby in the high chair, who was still being fed green squash from a jar.

"Isn't a little early to tell," Celine asked, "he is just a baby and you are just basing this off on personalities."

Blake shook his head and stared at her with unwavering eyes. "I know his spirit animal is a mouse, like I know your spirit animal is a rabbit. I'm never wrong about this."

Johnny sighed and placed an arm around his wife, "Honey, Blake is special. I'm sure you can see that some things in this world are a pretty bizarre." He pointed at me and I stuck my tongue out at him.

"Blake has the Sight," Grandma followed, "he can see aura and be able to tell which people are human or nation."

"He also sees dead people," he made a scary voice.

"Johnny," Melissa gave a warning.

"I see spirits, if they happen to be human, then I guess that would make them dead." Blake shrugged his shoulders, like it was nothing.

Celine's eyebrows rose, "I've certainly joined a strange family."

"Hell, at least you know you'll never get bored," I grinned.


 

Later on I drove downtown to meet with my two best friends, Michel Russo and Jamie Chen at The Dragonfly. I spotted Michel combing through his brown curls with his fingers as he sat at a table by the cafe's window. He was wearing white knee length shorts and a purple t-shirt that brought out his green eyes. Jamie wore a loose light pink blouse tucked into a floral pattern skirt. Her silky black hair was pulled into a high ponytail and her dark almond shaped eyes were outlined with pink eyeliner.

Once I walked in they greeted me with smiles and hugs. We sat around the table as Noah brought over a plate of chocolate chip cookies, "here you guys go," he sat the plate. "The usually?" he asked.

We nodded and he walked back to the cashier. When he was out of hearing distance, Jamie turned to me, "hey didn't that guy give you his number?"

I knitted my brows in confusion, "I don't think so."

"Yeah he did," Michel proclaimed, "he gave it to you when you met Arthur and them here."

I slapped my forehead, "Oh right."

"You never called him did you," Jamie said in a monotone.

"Yeah," I shrugged my shoulders, "I kinda forgot."

Michel shook his head, "so cold, so cold."

"It doesn't matter any way," Jamie quickly added, "you have Heracles to worry about."

"And don't forget about Toris," he said.

I rolled my eyes; ever since I told them of my time in Austria they began to pick which nations would be my perfect boyfriend. They've made teams, kept points and even wrote short stories about it.

"Hey did you finish reading my latest story?" Michel asked Jamie.

"Yeah," she pulled out a journal from her pink purse, "I loved your sex scene. It was so sweet but yet so passionate."

Noah walked in at that moment; he gave us curious glances and sat down our drinks, a glass of cold milk for me, ice coffee for Jamie and a double chocolate cappuccino for Michel. He gave me a nod as a greeting and speed walked away. I had a half of mind to scream, wait! Take me with you!

I ignored my friends as they discussed the most recent Amy/Toris one-shot by Michel. I began to nibble on a cookie as my mind turned to a question that's been eating at me ever since I left the house. The whole situation of my band new luggage set and how everyone grew nervous by the mention of a trip. They must be hiding something.

"Hello, earth to Amy," Jamie's voice snapped me out of my trance.

"Huh?"

Michel lifted up colorful bags, "we have gifts!"

Jamie gave me a card, "but open the card first."

The birthday card was an average hallmark but inside was an international hundred dollar gift card. I smiled, "thanks guys, but I don't think I need an international card."

"Well, you never know," Michel added, "besides it uses all currencies, so no matter where you go, you got the cash."

I nodded and opened one of the bags. I removed the white tissue paper and found a green graphic tee that said 'Team Heracles' with a fierce golden lion under the words. I looked at the shirt and then at Jamie. "Really."

"What? It's adorable," she unbuttoned her blouse to display the same tee. "I got one made for me too, but it's a tank."

I set the shirt down and turned to Michel, "what do you got?"

"I have something you're absolutely going to love," he grinned.

"I don't believe you," I proclaimed but I still opened the gift. It was a blue graphic tee with 'Team Toris' written on the front and a gray and silver wolf howling underneath. "And I was right," I sighed.

Michel then took off his shirt; he was wearing the same Team Toris tee. "It's all about Team Toris!"

"It's official I'm gonna burn these," I held up the shirts.

"No," they both pleaded.

"Come on, every time you wear one of the shirts, one of us gets five points," Michel exclaimed.

"One of the many reasons why I should burn them," I said.

Jamie sighed re-buttoning up her blouse, "come on Amy, can't you take a joke?"

"Yes, but this is going too far," I shook the shirts at them.

"No, too far is when we start recruiting members and making tumblr accounts dedicated to our shipping pair," Michel proclaimed dramatically.

I sighed; I've learned there was no use in fighting them about this. "Just so you know I'm never going to wear these."

Neither of them said anything, only smiled at one another. Then they turned back to me with the same joyful grins on their faces. "We have good news," said Michel as slipped back on his purple shirt.

"What?"

They each held out a letter and I quickly scanned through them. They were acceptance letters from Rhode Island School of Design and Juilliard. I stared at the letters in astonishment, "when did these come in?"

Jamie mental counted off her fingers, "I think May."

"Why didn't you tell me sooner?"

Michel shrugged his shoulders, "you had a lot to deal with. A death of a family member, finding out you're a nation, discovering new relatives and fighting off advances from other countries. We figured college was the last thing on your mind."

I sighed, "but still-"

"Just leave it be, we still got our summer together." Jamie smiled, "so what's the plan?"

She was right, there was no use thinking about college or the fact that they will be moving across the country for school. I didn't even know if I was going to college. Will I simply start working as nation? If so, what exactly am I supposed to do? Go to meetings and talk about what's wrong with everything in the world. Then fight about it for hours and get nothing done in the end.

Yup, that's some career.

But I didn't have to think about that just yet.

The summer was mine and I planned to spend every day as I pleased.

"We're going to the rec center; my co-workers are holding a small party in my honor."

Morgan Hills Reaction Center stood in the center of town. The brick building was one story with a large gym, media room, a workout station, a kitchen and six extra rooms for classes. The soccer field was on the right while the playground was on the left; the pool was around back. During the six months when the community of Summerland had to live in one building together after the Quake of 2014. The soccer field became a crop field and the pool was drained and used for storage. Most of the families lived indoors, some outside in tents, and the injured were moved to the Emerald Bed & Breakfast. Half of the hospital was destroyed and any buildings left with minor damages were used for the sick and injured. Before the Quake, the rec center was called Bradfield, but it was renamed for Morgan Hills. He was the first to take action and assign jobs for everyone. He was currently our mayor.

I parked my blue jeep in front and speed walked to the doors. Michel and Jamie were right behind. We were met with Kurtis Watterson, Gabriel Perez, Isha Smith and Henry Anderson at the resources desk.

"Hey Amy, happy birthday," Kurtis greeted me a fist bump. He was a tall, skinny guy with dark black skin and a clean shaved head.

Gabriel gave me a hug, "glad you can make it." He was light skinned with hazel eyes and loved to wear graphic baseball caps.

"The kids are so excited," Isha was a light dark skinned girl with jaw length black hair. She and the rest of us were around the same age, I was the youngest though, so they made it a big deal that I was now legal.

Henry was a middle aged man with graying brown hair and dark eyes. He was also my boss and ran the rec center. "They're waiting at the gym for ya, so you better head over."

I grinned, "Thanks guys," we all shared a group hug.

Once we entered the gray and white colored gym, we were greeted by children of all ages with a hardy, "Happy birthday Miss Amy!"

I laughed as a group of small children tackled me into a hug. I was day camp counselor for the summer and I was instructed to teach dance. Isha was the arts and crafts miracle worker, Kurtis also taught dance and worked out the sports activities with Gabriel.

I was dragged to the center of the gym and Kurtis turned up the stereo. Miley Cyrus's 'Party in the USA' played and I groaned, "Why?" I stared daggers at Michel and Jamie; they had to be behind this.

Their evil smiles only proved my theory. But the kids clapped and cheered for me to dance. I turned to face the front, shook my hips to the beat and began a line dance. My friends and co-workers quickly joined me along with the kids. Our little party only lasted for two hours, but dear lord, it felt like five minutes.

"Bye everyone!" I waved both of my hands in the air as I was pulled back to my jeep. "I'll see you all on Monday!"

"Come on, we gotta go," Michel shoved me into the passenger seat as he took the wheel.

We arrived after three and we had to park a block away from the Melissa's beach house. "Where did all these cars come from?" I asked. "I mean we only invited family and close friends."

We walked up to the house and we went around back. I instantly came to halt. I clutched my fists to my sides and my eyes widened. I was pretty sure Jamie and Michel could see my shoulders shaking. Large pieces of plastic tile were pressed down on the ground to represent a dance floor and tables were set up around the yard. A long table was used as a buffet and a DJ turn table stood with the stereo system next to the tile floor. There was even a massive white screen set up in front of the dance floor.

But that's not the reason why I froze in place.

Feliciano Vargas the nation of Italy was the first to see me. His brown curl bounced with every step and his light auburn eyes shined as he came running to me. "Amy," he exclaimed as he wrapped his arms around my neck and planted a kiss on both of my cheeks.

"What are you doing here?" I asked as I took a step back.

"We came to celebrate your birthday," Ludwig Beilschmidt the nation of Germany proclaimed. He wore a causal suit and his blond hair was slicked back, like always. Kiku Honda a.k.a Japan stood right next to him. He bowed like a proper Japanese man and gave me congratulations for my birthday.

I scanned the area. There was Yao Wang (China) chatting with Sanjay and Melissa. The other Asian nations, such as Li Chun (Hong Kong), Mei Xiao (Taiwan) and Kim Lan (Vietnam) were hanging around with Mom's older brother, Alejandro Kama and his wife, Emily Kama. Yong Soo Im (South Korea), Klahan Hyusen (Thailand) and Akram Verma (India) were playing with my cousin's kids. Other nations soon joined, such as the Nordics, Peter Kirkland (Sealand) and Raivis Galante (Latvia).

Lovino Vargas (Southern Italy), Antonio Fernandez Carriedo (Spain), and Bella and Lars Vermeulen (Belgium and Netherlands) stood together with Mom and Dad. Heracles Karpusi (Greece), Sadik Adnan (Turkey) and Gupta Muhammad Hassan (Egypt) were talking with Johnny and Celine. I then caught Grandma and Mister James Reed sitting with Natalia Arlovskaya (Belarus) and Irunya Moroz (Ukraine). My eyes began to strain, there were too many to keep count. My best guess was that all the nations were here.

I was stunned, I was not expecting this. I figured the nations would send cards or something, but to show up at my sister's house for a party; while my extended family from Texas were here and had no idea that I was a country. I'm sure the nations wouldn't say anything. I mean they want to keep the number of humans that knew of me down to a minimum. But still, this was a huge invasion on my personal life.

At that thought, I slapped my forehead. You really thought they would respect your boundaries, my inner voice jeered. I mental groaned and looked up to Feliciano, Ludwig and Kiku, "Listen guys I'm . . . surprised that all of you came. Just promise me you'll be on your best behavior."

Ludwig crossed his arms, "You do not need to tell us this. We are not children."

"They have pasta!" Feliciano lost interest in our conversation and ran over to the buffet.

"He has an attention span of a three old," I said in a sarcastic tone, "yes, clearly none of you need to be reminded." I walked away before he could say anything. Michel and Jamie said quick apologies and rushed after me.

"I have to admit," Michel said, "you're handling this better than I thought."

"Where's Arthur?" I demanded.

"Don't look at us," he held his hands up in surrender, "we had no idea that all the nations would show up."

"Uh-huh," I searched the crowd and spotted a mop of messy blond hair, green eyes and bushy eyebrows. I took big steps as I called out, "Arthur."

He turned, along with Francis and Matthew. I noticed quickly that Kumajirou, Matthew's small, talking polar bear wasn't with him. Most likely Matthew had left him back in his hotel room. I stood in front of them with my arms crossed, "Why are the nations here?"

"We don't get a 'hello' before an interrogation," Arthur asked sarcastically.

"Do you want me to smack you," I narrowed my eyes at him.

"Amy," Francis sighed dramatically, "I thought we got over all these resentment issues."

"That's not it. Just answer my question."

Matthew cuts in, "It's your eighteenth birthday. The nations see that as a stepping stone towards being an official nation."

"Did my parents know about this?" I asked.

"We don't know, but it seems they prepared enough food for everyone," Arthur commented.

"I'll take that as a yes." I looked at all three of them, "Last question, is Ivan here?"

"No, and he would be a fool to show up," he proclaimed.

My shoulders relaxed. "Okay, that makes me feel a little better."

"So the nations are just here to party," Michel asked.

Francis smiled, "yes."

"Alright," he grinned, "It's time to get this party started. I'm gonna go talk to Johnny, see if he'll get some tunes on."

"I'll go with you," Jamie quickly ran after him.

"By the way Amy," Francis held out his arms, "happy birthday."

I gave a smile and hugged him tight, "thanks it's good to see you guys." I then moved on to Matthew and Arthur, giving them each long overdue hugs.

"Here," Arthur gave me an envelope, "congratulations."

"These are from us," Francis also handed me two envelopes.

I opened each card, all three contained money; but they were of foreign currency. British pounds from Arthur, Euros from Francis and Canadian dollars from Matthew; I lifted a brow in wonder but I was still polite. "Thanks guys."

"Amy!" my cousin, Sofia Garcia waved me over. I said my goodbyes to the countries and walked over to my extended family. My three older cousins, Sofia, Mia Herrera, and Josefina Johnson sucked me into a group hug.

"Oh you grew your hair out!" Mia smiled. Her almond shaped dark eyes gleamed as she twirled her fingers into my hair. A pink Hawaiian flower was pinned to her dirty blond locks and those strands were then pulled into a loose French braid over her shoulder.

"We can play with it again," Josefina giggled. Her dark hair was curled and had a deep red Hawaiian flower pinned in it. Her skin was a natural tan while her older sisters both took on Aunt Emily's fair skin.

"Like we always did when you were little," Sofia smirked.

I allowed them to dote on me as they lead me around the yard. I was greeted with hugs and kisses by family and friends. We were soon met with my tutors, Neill Shaw and Christopher and Laura Walker.

"Well look it here, it's our little lass, finally an adult," Neill sighed, his blond bangs fell over his dark eyes. "I still remember the day I met you. You were five and eating paste."

"I did that once," I hissed at him.

"That's not what Aunt Jessica said," Mia giggled.

"Don't you start," I exclaimed.

"Still," Christopher proclaimed, his British accent ringed with each word. "It's a bloody miracle you were able to graduate from Nightingale."

His wife, Laura gave him a soft slap on his arm. "Chris, be nice," her Belgian accent had faded but she still carried her exotic red hair and onyx eyes. "She's a smart girl; I didn't doubt her for a second."

I grinned and held Laura in a tight squeeze, "You were always my favorite."

"Hey," both Neill and Christopher carried wounded looks as my cousins laughed.

I moved on to my grandparents from my mother's side, Makani and Jessamine Kama. Also known to the grandchildren and great-grandchildren as Kupunakane and Kupunawahine; it means grandfather and grandmother in Hawaiian.

Kupunakane's hair was more gray than black but it was still long in its low ponytail. His skin was a natural dark tan, but he seemed to be darker, most likely he's been out surfing.

Kupunawahine was a shade lighter, but carried the same gray hair and dark eyes. She lit up like a Christmas tree the moment she saw me. "Amy, mi pequeña bonita," she used her native tongue to greet me. Mostly she just said that I was her little beautiful.

I grinned, wrapped my arms around her and answered her in Spanish. "Hello Kupunawahine how was the plane ride?"

She waved her hand in the air, "delayed planes, rude people and lousy service." She shook her head and switched to English. "We're taking a boat back home, you hear me," she said to Kupunakane.

"Yes dear," he rolled his dark almond shaped eyes and hugged me. "How's my little mo`opuna? Are you up for some surfing?"

I laughed, "Kupunakane it's been years since I've surfed."

"It's like riding a bike, you never forget."

"I don't have a surfboard."

He grinned, "Come with me."

I followed him and Kupunawahine to the shore where two colored surfboards were waiting. One was a tan colored hybrid with black tribal symbols designed over the corners. It was worn and the paint had faded; that one belonged to Kupunakane. The other was a blue shortboard with graphic waves drawn on the front.

"No way," I ran to the board, "I can't believe it, you got me a board!" I gave him a crushing hug, "Thank you, thank you, thank you," I repeated the phase several times.

"Thank me by catching a wave," he took off his shirt and grabbed his board. "Let's go!"

"Hell yeah!" I threw off my shoes, shorts and shirt, lifted up the board and ran after him.

"Uh," Sofia spoke up, "Kupunawahine shouldn't you say something? He could get hurt."

"I know, but he's stubborn," she shook her head.

"Aren't we all?" Josefina's comment earned her a few honest laughs.

"Go Amy!" Mia cried out, "Show that ocean whose boss!"

"Amy," Kupunawahine cried out after us, "watch out for him! He forgets he's eighty-five!"

He laughed, "I'm not nearly that old, woman!"

I giggled and tossed myself on top of my new board into the clear ocean. We stroked with our arms to open waters. I started out with small waves, focusing on regaining my balance on the board. I was nine when Kupunakane taught me how to surf, it wasn't easy. I'd fallen off on my fish board more times than I could count, but Kupunakane refused for me to quit. It took me a good month before I was able to catch a decent wave but it was worth it.

Fortunately it didn't take me that long to regain my skills. Don't get me wrong, I was still pretty rusty but I was able to keep up with my pro surfer grandfather.

After my last wave, Mom and Kupunawahine were yelling for me to return to shore. Once I was on the sand I slipped on my shorts and left my button down shirt open. I was hopping on one foot as I tried to get my sandals on.

"What's up?" I asked.

"We're about to bring out the cake, but before that we're gonna show a video," Mom answered.

"A video, oh no," I whined.

Mom gave me a look, "don't give me that tone, you're among family."

"The nations are here," I hissed in whisper.

"You need to learn how to laugh at yourself," Kupunawahine added.

I gave a soft groan as they walked back to the party. Kupunakane came up from behind and slapped his hand on my shoulder. "That's what she says, but when the jokes are about her," he shook his head and squeezed my shoulder. "She becomes a bit of a witch."

"I heard that," she exclaimed and we laughed.

Mom said that this whole video presentation would start in the next twenty minutes, so she pretty much told me not to wonder off. "I mean it, no running off towards the beach, no hiding. Stay here."

"Yes, yes," I nodded, it was best to keep my mouth shut and agree with her when she's like this. Once she was out of sight, I turned around and snatched a hot dog from the buffet table. My stomach was growling and I needed something to hold me over till cake time. I smeared on ketchup and mustard and stuffed half of it into my mouth.

"Amy," a voice sang as a hand turned me around. Feliks Łukasiewicz (Poland) stood before me, his bright blond hair was jaw length and his green eyes were brilliant emerald. His smile disappeared the moment he saw my face half stuffed with a hot dog. "I see you have the same table manners as your father."

I bit down and swallowed it whole, "yeah well, I was hungry, okay." I said to my defense.

"Please don't take what Feliks says to heart," Toris Laurinaitis (Lithuania) stood next to him. "Besides Alfred had," he took a moment, "decent table manners."

I rolled my eyes and looked them over. Feliks wore a pink t-shirt with floral designs around the collar and cuffs. His jeans were dark and skin tight and his sneakers were white, purple and pink. Toris wore a simple white button down shirt, loose khakis, sandals and a round rim fedora styled brown hat, with a gold star stitched at the side. I pointed at him, "I'm guessing he made you wear that hat."

"Hey," Feliks exclaimed, "I'll have you know I have incredible taste in fashion." He then pointed to Toris, "If I had left it to him, he would be wearing some ridiculous baseball cap."

Toris blushed in embarrassment, "I only wanted to protect my face from the sun."

"They invented sunscreen for a reason," Feliks proclaimed, "You of all people should know the possibilities that could come with having sunscreen." He wiggled his eyebrows and Toris turned a deeper shade of red.

"Should I leave you two alone?" I playfully bantered.

"No!" Toris exclaimed, "It's not like that."

"Uh-huh, sure," I smirked.

"There she is!" a young voice cried out, "charge!"

I knew that voice, "Crap! Hold this," I shoved my hot dog into Toris's hand and in the next second I was tackled to the ground by my second cousins and the twins.

"Target has been captured!" Roman Herrera cried. His slim tanned arms were wrapped around my waist as his legs pressed down on mine. I noticed that his hair had gotten longer, almost reaching his shoulders. He had the same eyes and hair as his mother Mia, but his shade of blond was lighter.

"You couldn't hide from us for long Aunt Amy." Alyce Garcia grinned mischievously, making her hazel eyes shine. Her fair skin was turning red, most likely she forgot to wear sunscreen. Her dirty blond hair was curled and bounced around her shoulders.

"Aunt Amy, Aunt Amy, Mister Yong Soo taught me how to say 'happy birthday' in Korean!" Valencia Garcia exclaimed. She was Alyce's younger sister by two years but they only shared their mother's soft features. Valencia was the darker version of Alyce, with dark hair and eyes and natural tan skin.

"I know how to say it Swedish!" Gael Garcia proclaimed proudly. He was the youngest of Sofia's children. He had almond shaped dark eyes, black hair and fair skin. "That totally beats Korean!"

"We know how to say it in Hindi," Blake and Blair said in sync.

"Mister Raivis told me how to say 'happy birthday' in his language," Lali Herrera was the youngest of the group. She had long dark hair, fair skin and beautiful green eyes, which she got from her grandmother on her father's side. She turned to Raivis, who was standing off to the side with Peter and the Nordics. "What was you're language again?" she asked with her head tilted to the side.

"Oh, Latvian," he answered.

"Right," she nodded and turned to face me, "Daaaaaa-udz lai-mes dzzzz," she struggled and her lip queried. She faced Raivis, "What was it again, I forgot."

"Daudz laimes dzimšanas dienā," he said softly.

"Daaa-uudz laaai-mes dziii-mša-nas die-nā," she looked at him, seeking approval.

Even though she butchered the phase, I didn't think Raivis had the heart to criticize a five-year-old. He smiled, "perfect."

She beamed and bounced on top of the dog pile, "Auntie Amy! I can speak Latvian, I can speak Latvian!" she said excitedly.

Every bounce she did caused the vibrations from the other kids to ram into my mid-section. I took a shaky breath, "That's nice Lali, I'm proud of you." I tried to crawl out of the dog pile but the kids held me in place.

"You're not getting away!" Roman squeezed.

"We still need to give you your birthday licks," Gael exclaimed.

"Johnny and Melissa already beat you to it," I smirked.

"Birthday licks," Peter raised a brow in question.

Valencia answered, "Every year on our birthdays, our family members hold us down and spank us on our butts. They keep spanking till they reach the number of age we have turned, it's mostly for the kids."

"That's why we need to get Aunt Amy," Alyce added, "this is the last year she'll get birthday licks."

"Then turn her around," Mikkel Densen (Denmark) rubbed his hands together, "I'll be happy to lend a hand."

"No, no," I gasped weakly; then an idea came to me. "Ribs . . .crushing . . . my lungs." I took another dramatic gasp, "I think. . . I see the light." I raised my hand in the air, "Grandpa. . .is that you?"

"What?!" Lali cried out in horror.

"Don't go into the light!" Blair exclaimed.

"Goodbye everyone," I whispered. "Remember me. . . as I was," with my final words, I dropped my hand, turned my head to the side and closed my eyes, all in an exaggerated sigh.

"No!" Alyce played along and told the others to get off.

The kids gathered around me as Gael shook me by the shoulders. "Aunt Amy! Wake up! Speak to us!"

I waited for another second till I snapped to attention and grabbed Gael. He yelped as I wrapped my arms around him. "You are now in the clutches of. . ." I paused, "The Tickle Monster!" I roamed my hands over his mid-section and he howled in laughter.

The children cried out in joy and scattered, hiding themselves among the nations. I gently placed Gael to the side and rose to my feet. "You can run but you can't hide!" I raised my arms over my head and screamed like a banshee. Alyce hid behind Feliks and Toris, "Come out, come out Alyce," I taunted her with a creepy voice.

She gave a playful scream and ran behind the Nordics. I chased after her as the other kids ran in various directions. I picked different routes so I'd have the chance to chase each kid. Valencia ducked behind Yong Soo and Klahan and I dived between them. I roared and she dashed to Roman, who was hiding behind Lukas Bondevik (Norway) and Erik Steilsson (Iceland).

Valencia stood behind Erik as Roman peeked behind Lukas. The nations shared curious glances with them and the children smiled. They were hesitant to respond but they too smiled back.

I spun in place and leaped after Blake as he tucked himself behind Akram. He faked going left and ran to his right. Then Lali came into my line of sight and I followed her to Peter and Raivis. "Mister Raivis!" She called out, "help me!" she hid behind his legs.

"Well Raivis," I grinned, "what are you gonna do?"

His violet eyes glanced to Lali and back at me. He then swiftly snatches a stick from the ground and wields it against me. Peter grinned and grabbed another stick, "back away Tickle Monster, Lady Lali is under our protection!"

Their faces were so serious, I couldn't help but giggle, "Okay, okay." I shook out my shoulders and exclaimed in a fierce tone. "You can't defeat me!"

Mikkel snorted, "Maybe they can't," I turned to face him, Yong Soo and the other Nordics, who were all wielding thick sticks. "But we can!"

Akram and Klahan stood off to side, watching with amused smiles on their faces. The children also joined the nations with their own sticks. I was surrounded.

"Mister Berwald! Mister Berwald!" Gael jumped up and down, "Pick me up! Pick me up!"

Berwald Oxenstierna (Sweden) nodded and lifted Gael over his head. Gael sat around his neck, with his legs dangling over Berwald's shoulders. He held up his stick to the sky, "I am a giant!" Berwald didn't seemed affected by Gael's antics, he almost looked happy to have crazy hyperactive kid on his shoulders.

Tino Väinämöinen (Finland) smiled up at Berwald and Gael as Mikkel shouted, "Attack!"

Shit!

I sprinted across the yard as they chased after me with battle cries and sticks waving in the air. I ducked and dodged from their jabs as I hopped from one foot to the next. My second cousins were grinning from ear to ear as they ran along with the nations. They seemed to be enjoying this a little too much. The countries' blows on me were gentle, but they made sure to add sound effects.

"Slash!" Mikkel tapped me on my arm with his stick, "I just cut off your arm!"

I grabbed my arm and gave a fake cry, "Ahhhhh! Damn you, Dane!"

"Such language in front of children," Tino tsked with his finger and tapped me on the head with his stick. "Naughty, naughty."

I hissed like a cat as Lukas came in with Roman at his side. "Surrender Tickle Monster," Lukas demanded.

I screamed, "Never!"

"This is taking too long," Feliks proclaimed and grabbed a stick, "I evoke the Poland rule!"

I knitted my brows together in confusion, "what's the Poland rule?"

He answered with a hard whack to my face.

I cried out in a silent moan and fell to my knees, clutching my forehead with my hands.

"I win!" he grinned.

"Feliks that was too hard!" Toris said in a whiny tone.

"What? She can handle it."

I took a deep breath to calm myself down. These past two months I've been working on keeping my temper in check, so I couldn't help but think this was a test from the universe. I mentally counted to twenty and rose to my feet, "I'm okay. I'm okay."

"Don't worry Amy, we'll avenge you!" Mikkel proclaimed.

Erik turned to him, "why would we avenge her? She was the monster."

"Things have changed, Feliks is now the enemy."

"But he was our hero!" Alyce added and walked to stand next to Feliks, "I'll fight along with him!"

Alliances were made; Alyce, Lukas, Erik, Blair, Valencia, Roman and Raivis stood on the side of Feliks. Tino, Berwald, Gael, Blake, Mikkel, Yong Soo and Peter fought for me. Lali wanted to fight with Raivis but he asked her politely to stay with Akram and Klahan.

"Hold it!" I ordered, "How about," I snatched Roman's soccer ball from a nearby table. "You guys settle this out with game of football."

"Aunt Amy that's a soccer ball," Roman proclaimed.

"I know but everyone around the world calls it a football. I figured these guys wouldn't understand if I said soccer."

"We know what soccer is," Lukas crossed his arms.

I nodded, "okay then. Now put down the sticks and play with the ball," I tossed it over to Roman.

"But the sticks are more fun," Gael pouted.

"They are now, till someone gets hurt. Now all of you put the sticks down," I said with all the authority I possessed.

Everyone glanced at one another curiously but they tossed aside their sticks into a pile. The nations surrendered first it was actually the kids that took their sweet time.

"Do you want me call your mothers?" I threatened.

Their eyes widened and they threw their sticks into the pile.

I smirked, "good, now go off and play."

Mikkel and Lukas grabbed four chairs, putting two chairs at each side of their section of the yard to represent the goals. More members were soon added into the game; Lali joined in with Raivis and Feliks while Akram and Klahan joined Mikkel's team. Toris and I watched from the side lines as Roman kicked the ball in the air, signifying the start of their game.

I observed with a critical eye, making sure that the nations didn't harm my kids in any way. But no one cried out in foul play, instead everyone was laughing. Cheering each other on and allowing the kids to make some goals. I wasn't sure if the nations played sports, but I was certain that they were holding themselves back for the kids.

"I haven't seen them have this much fun in quite a while," Toris said with a peaceful smile on his face.

I nodded, remaining silent. Erik had stolen the ball from Akram and was running towards the goal. I caught Lali waving her arms in the air, asking for the ball. Erik kicked it over and she immediately started jogging . . . to her team's goal.

"Lali! That's the wrong way!" Roman called out.

But she didn't hear him. Instead she placed all her attention on her foot work, the ball and the goal. Which was being guarded by Raivis; I already knew how this was going to end.

I looked to the goalie. He was torn between protecting his goal, or sparing the feelings of a little girl. In the end, he moved to guard his right even though it was plain as day that Lali was aiming for his left. She scored the goal and a big grin spread from ear to ear on her face. "I did it! I did it! I did it!"

Raivis sighed but patted her head, "yes you certainly did. Good job Lali," he smiled.

"Good job?!" Feliks exclaimed, "She kicked the ball into the wrong-" Lukas cut him off by pressing a hand over his mouth.

"Lali," Raivis kneeled before her, "next time, make sure to kick the ball into the other goal, okay?"

She nodded and ran back into the field. Raivis scooped up the ball and threw it in the air, the game had resumed. As I watched, my mind rewound back to Alfred's letter. He was the reason why the government hid me away and allowed a human family to raise me. All because Alfred believed it was best. He was right of course, but he also knew that one day I would take his place. He had mentioned that the nations were good people, but there was darkness in them.

I scanned the area; all of the countries were talking, dancing, playing and laughing with my family and friends. They seemed so normal at that moment, I could almost forget that they're centuries old. But I must remember Alfred's warning. Their darkness could overwhelm me. Yet, there were wishes he had for me. How he hoped that when I was older I would be just as beautiful on the inside as I was on the out. And, that I would give some of the happiness that he bestowed on me to them.

I racked my hands through my hair in frustration. The behavior that I displayed earlier to Feliciano and Ludwig was definitely not beautiful in any way. Nor was I willing to share my birthday celebrations with the countries. I wanted only my family and friends to be with me on my special day. I wouldn't mind Arthur, Francis and Matthew to have been added, but I desired for this day to belong to Amy not America.

Was that selfish of me?

"Are you okay?" Toris asked concerned.

His voice snapped me out of my train of thought. I needed to come up with a quick excuse. "Yeah, it's just my forehead." I touched the sore spot between my eyes, "is it noticeable?"

His eyes widened, taking on the shade of forest green. "No."

"You hesitated."

"Uh, well," his color changing eyes looked away till he said. "Oh, here's your hot dog."

"You think you can distract me with food?" I tried to sound confident but my stomach had a different idea. It growled angrily, the sound was strong enough to easily be heard by him. I blushed, "give me that," I hissed and snatched it from his hand.

He chuckled, "do you want another one?"

Before I could bite into my hot dog or even answer his question. Josefina grabbed my arm "Amy, we're ready!" She glanced at my dog, snatched it and set it on an empty table, "come on, we need to go."

"But my hot dog!" I cried.

Chapter Text

Josefina led me to an empty chair and sat me in front of the crowd that was seated around the white screen. She touched my forehead, "what happen?"

"The Poland rule," I said in monotone.

"What's that?"

"Don't ask."

The dance floor was cleared; mostly to make sure no one was blocking the video projector and to give Michel and Jamie the stage they so loved.

"Welcome everyone to Amy Felicita Hawkfeather's eighteenth birthday party!" Michel announced and everyone clapped and cheered.

Once the audience settled Jamie continued, "Now, you may be wondering, how could we possibly celebrate this most spectacular day?"

Michel didn't wait for anyone to answer. "It's actually quite simple, the only way we can truly celebrate this glorious day, is with a tribute video dedicated to Amy's entire life!"

"They can't be serious," I mumbled.

"Roll the clip!" they exclaimed in sync.

The first video that was displayed on the screen was a picture show mixed with clips from my childhood. Bruno Mars's song 'Just the Way You Are' played in the background as photos of me as baby engulfed the screen. The pictures didn't have an order, it was random. One moment it would be photo from when I was nine in Hawaii. Next it would be me as a two-year-old helping Dad build a sand castle.

Pictures of me dressed in bright colored dresses with matching sun hats scattered over the screen. Along with clips of me riding a horse for the first time when I was five. Photographs of me kicking in a goal at one of my every first soccer games; followed by images of my family's camping trips at Toro Canyon Park. Photos of my cousins, siblings and I came next; Sofia, Mia and Josefina as teenagers braiding, curling and straightening my blond locks. Melissa and I having girl nights in the living room, eating popcorn, watching chick flicks and painting our toe nails different colors. Johnny showing me how to dance to Michel Jackson's 'Thriller' and dressing up as horror movie serial killers for Halloween.

The video moves on to my tutors; Christopher drilling me in geography. He actually brought in a large world map and carried a ruler to point out countries to me. Laura rolled in next, instructing me on my French grammar. Next was not a photo, but a clip of Neill showing me how to make clay volcano erupt. Colored baking soda exploded into a sticky mess the moment I poured in the vinegar. I gave a girlishly scream as it splattered over me and Neill laughed, "It's baking soda and vinegar, it won't hurt ya."

The song was coming to its end and photos began to speed up, reveling moments I shared with family and friends. I was only able to catch a few. Michel and I sharing a massive bowl of pasta at his family's Italian restaurant; Jamie and I wearing matching red Chinese styled blouses for Chinese New Year. Then the last image was of me napping in Grandpa's arms.

The video continued with the song 'We Got the World' by Icona Pop playing in the background. This time, it only showed photographs and clips of my four years at Nightingale International Private School. Pictures of me with my hair cut to a boyish bob style and wearing the dark blue uniform with the raven crest on the breast pocket. Classmates from all over the world were in the photos along with me, but truthfully I only paid attention to the pictures of me and my closet friends.

Ella Chasse's smiling face blew up on the screen, her golden curls fell perfectly around her elbows and her makeup was flawless, like always. Daniela Aguero was right beside her in every photo. She was a beautiful Spanish girl with dark hair and eyes with amazing sewing skills. Their pictures were filled with clothes that they designed themselves. Usually I would end up being their model. I carried an irritated look through most of those pictures.

Sam Collins followed; his hair the shade of dark blond and done up in dreads. He was usually behind the camera, being video or photograph but during rare times he would allow us the permission to hold his precious camera. Next came Heisuke Sato, a Japanese boy with shaggy black hair and preferred to dress in bright colors. He enjoyed going to the beach and taking hiking trips with me at the national parks. Lastly Dimitri Maier was a tall Russian young man with groomed, clean cut dark brown hair and bright onyx eyes. He was a talented gymnast so most clips and images of him were at his gymnastics meets.

The video continued; pictures of our years together were squeezed in a three minute slide show. Our trips to the mall, the board walk and the beach were displayed in a series of crazy affects. Video clips of us going shopping, goofing off in our classes and showing off our greatest dance moves, whenever they decided to join me on my free period. Short snapshots of our tribute video to Glee's 'New York New York' rolled in next. The part where we were chased off by the police was also added, which earned us a few laughs from the audience.

After that, pictures of our camping trips, clips of me showing them how to ride my solid black Percheron horse Midnight and finally photos of our prom and graduation became the last images I saw as the music faded and the screen goes black.

Two seconds passed and the screen came back alive with Ella, Daniela, Sam, Heisuke and Dimitri. They were all standing together, short in front, which would be Ella, Daniela and Heisuke. Tall in the back: Sam and Dimitri. They all wore causal party clothes and their background looked familiar.

Ella was the first to speak, "Turn around!" she shouted in her native tongue of French.

I jumped to my feet and spun to find all of them waiting with huge happy grins on their faces. Ella, Daniela and Heisuke came running and wrapped their arms around me. Sam tackled into us, causing us to take step back on to the dance floor. Dimitri came from behind and wrapped his arms around Ella and Daniela. He squeezed and the girls were crushed into me. Michel and Jamie joined in, but their collision caused us to fall backwards.

I was laughing hysterically as we tried in failed attempts to climb off one another.

"Ella-chan, your elbow is jabbing into my ribs," Heisuke hissed painfully.

Daniela cried as she tried to crane her neck up, "My hair!"

"Michel," Sam exclaimed, "get off!"

"I'm king of the world!" Michel grinned, his ass sitting right on top of the pile.

"I think it's time we dethrone you!" Sam gathered his strength and pushed himself up, throwing Michel off.

"I personally like my position," Dimitri whispered low enough for only me to hear. I was lying on top of him, our chests were met and my nose was inches away from his lips. He slid a hand through my hair and brushed his thumb over my cheek. "You grew out your hair," he grinned, "I like it."

My face heated and I looked everywhere but his eyes. "Thanks," I shoved myself off and turned to help Ella up. "What are you guys doing here," I said in an thrilled tone.

"Where do I begin," she tapped her finger on her chin, "oh I know! Daniela and I have been accepted into the New York School of Interior Design!"

I beamed and hugged both her and Daniela, "congratulations!"

"We persuaded our parents to allow us to spend the rest of our summer here and then come August, fly to New York with Jamie," Daniela proclaimed.

Jamie jumped up and down excitedly, "We can get an apartment together!"

"And I'll be in Rhode Island, I can come visit!" Michel added.

"I have an announcement," Sam raised his hand, "I'm going to school here in California!"

Michel snorted, "Cali? Have you not been paying attention? Cali is out, New York is in."

"You're going to Rhode Island," Heisuke confirmed.

"Besides New York's overrated," Sam said.

"How did you get your parents to agree to it? I thought they wanted you to go to Oxford?" I questioned.

He crossed his arms, "I got a scholarship for the film school in LA, it also helped that they paid for my ticket."

"Way to go buddy," I slapped him on the back and turned to Dimitri and Heisuke. "How did you guys get your parents to agree to this?" They always planned to stay in their countries for school so I was curious on why they made the trip back to Summerland.

"We actually won a contest for a free round trip to any destination of our choice," Heisuke answered.

"It was a lucky coincidence that we won a week before your birthday," said Dimitri.

I knitted my brows, "yeah that's some coincidence."

"Where are you guys staying?" Jamie asked.

"At the Emerald," Ella answered, "We even have Madam Lope acting as our chaperone."

"Mrs. Lope, our homeroom teacher," my friends nodded as I searched the crowd for her plump figure. I found her standing off at the far side of the yard. Something tells me this wasn't a coincidence. I sneaked away from the group as my family came to greet my foreign friends.

I strolled over to the middle aged woman, "So they won a contest. You don't happen to know anything about this, do you?"

Shelly Lope smiled, "Are you implying that Isabella and I sent personal letters of recommendation to their choice of schools so they would be closer to the states. And designed a fake contest for Heisuke Sato and Dimitri Maier to travel with a round trip ticket, knowing perfectly well they would choose to visit you. You give us too much credit Amy."

I surprised her with a hug, "thank you Mrs. Lope."

She patted my head, "your welcome," she allowed the hug to last for another minute till she said. "Okay, that's enough. You can let go now."

I stepped back, grinning.

She sighed, "Run along now. You better enjoy them while you can."

"Wait, I just have one question, why?" I asked curiously.

She rolled her eyes, "Why? Well, there's your reason," she pointed to my friends. "Didn't you always wonder how your parents were able to pay for Nightingale? Simple, they didn't. The government did. The reason, the hope they had for you was that," she gestured to my friends again. "Isabella wanted you to meet, learn and communicate with people from all over the world, so that before you met the nations you wouldn't see them through American eyes, but through their eyes. The citizens of those nations," she placed a hand on my shoulder. "She has great faith in you; I suggest you don't screw it up."

"Inspiring words teach," I remarked in a sarcastic tone.

She shook her head, "off with you, this supposed to be my break from you children."

I turned to walk in the opposite direction but stopped and asked, "Are you going to work for the government again?"

"Hell no, it turns out teenagers are easier to deal with than congressmen."


 

Matthew roamed the yard, making small talk with the other guests but also keeping a cautious eye on Amy. She stayed glued to her friends throughout most of the afternoon. Swimming in the warm ocean waters, playing volleyball on the shore and taking pictures every moment they could.

He smiled to himself, he was happy to see her laughing; it helped ease his guilt.

"Hey Birdie," Gilbert Beilschmidt grinned as he walked over to Matthew.

"Hello Gil, enjoying the party?"

He shrugged his shoulders, "It's amusing that's for sure." He turned to face Amy, who was dancing on the plastic tile floor with her friends.

It was now evening, and the Hawkfeathers had hung Christmas lights over the tables and dance floor; creating a magnificent twinkling wonder land. Johnny was working as the DJ and was playing a playlist of Amy's favorite songs. A series of hip hop, alternative, electropop, rock and R&B filled the speakers. It was a good mix and Matthew personally liked it, but he couldn't speak for the older nations. They usually stood around and waited for songs that they knew to come on, unfortunately that wasn't often. Good thing the humans at the party were friendly and patient. The children on the other hand, had made it their personally mission to get all of the nations to join them on the floor.

The next song that blasted from the speakers was from Imagine Dragons called 'Tokyo'. Matthew watched as Amy and her friends started to jump to the beat and sing along to the lyrics. After a minute into the song, Amy ran into the crowd and dragged Kiku to the dance floor. She then began to show him how to shuffle his feet to the beat. Kiku tried to walk away but Amy would get in his way by spinning him in a circle. Feliciano joined in, forcing Kiku in the middle as he and Amy danced at his sides. Heisuke jumped in next and encouraged Kiku to dance.

Kiku seemed to have been won over for he began to move his feet in sync with Heisuke. They stomped their feet together with Feliciano and Amy as everyone created a circle around them, clapping and cheering them on.

"Have you guys told her yet?" Gilbert asked.

Matthew sighed, "No."

He snorted, "When you do, make sure to tell me. I'm just dying to see her face when you tell her of our little project," he smirked.


 

It was late, almost reaching one o'clock in the morning. The party had waned down, leaving my friends and I left standing on the dance floor. My cousins were driven to my house, Kupunakane and Kupunawahine had left with Grandma Aponi and Mr. James was picked up by a nurse from the nursing home. Family friends were long gone along with a few nations, but most had stayed, sitting around at the tables.

"Okay, it's about to be one a.m. and I'm tired. So here's the last song for you crazy kids," Johnny announced and clicked on a Lana Del Rey song.

"My feet are killing me," Ella whined as she sat in a nearby chair.

Daniela brushed through her sweat soaked hair, "I am dying for a hot bath."

"You're not the only one love," Sam yawned.

Everyone else followed, but I stayed behind. 'Once Upon a Dream' was my favorite song by Lana. She made this song so deliciously eerie that I couldn't help but find it beautiful. I kicked off my sandals and twirled with my arms stretched out at my sides. I quickly grew serious as I added ballet moves along with some interpretive dance. I did rapid a round of bourree followed by a pirouette. My arms were flowing freely to the music as my feet moved in a lone waltz.

At the corner of my eye, I caught Sam recording my performance as my friends watched in awe. I gave them a sly smile and continued to own the floor.


 

Michel loved to see Amy dance. She just had a way of transporting her audience to a mystical world that no one would dare leave. He took a rushed scan of the yard. The nations were observing with unwavering faces, their eyes never leaving Amy. Most of these nations were leering with such a fierce desire that it made Michel uneasy.

He craned his neck to find Toris seating at a table on the far right. He narrowed his eyes to focus on Toris's face. His eyes were dazed and he wore a small smile. His stare was different from the others; he looked at her like she was a graceful deer gazing in the fields. Simply enjoying the chance to watch her even if that means it would only be once.

Michel gave a silent approval; he was definitely boyfriend material for Amy. A mischievous grin spread from ear to ear, he had idea.

He jumped out of his seat and dashed to Johnny, "Play another song."

Johnny said, "No, I'm done. Besides Amy's the only one dancing."

"Please!" Michel begged, "One more song!"

He sighed, "Fine, any requests?"

"'Starry Eyed'."

"The one by the same artist?" he asked.

"Yes," Michel nodded.

"Okay, it'll come up right after."

Michel nodded and ran to Toris's table. "Toris buddy," he wrapped an arm around the nation's shoulders. "Listen, I need you to go and dance with Amy."

"W-what," he stuttered, "no, I can't besides she is doing just fine on her own and this song is about to end-"

"There's another one coming up, but you have to hurry."

"I knew you would cheat," a voice spoke from behind and Michel turned to find Jamie with her arms crossed.

"It's not what it looks like," he said defensively.

She narrowed her eyes at him and glanced to Heracles, "two can play at this game."

"No!" but she had already sprinted to the Greek's direction and Michel cursed. He pulled on Toris's arm, "come on the song's ending. You need to get up there."

He gripped the table, "no I don't want to."

"Stop being a baby and go," Feliks shoved his shoulder.

"If he won't," Mikkel raised his hand, "I'll be happy to take his place."

"Knowing you," Lukas added, "you'll do something to piss her off and we would have to scrap your brains off the floor. I don't know about all of you but I want to keep my clothes clean."

Michel spotted Heracles standing up from his table and he grew desperate. "Please Toris just dance with her! I know you like her!"

His eyes widened in shock and he quickly looked away, "no I don't."

"Dude it's written all over your face!"

The song ended and the next began. Amy was surprised for there to be another, but she recovered quickly and rocked herself to the music. Michel ground his teeth together, he was about to haul Toris over to the dance floor but someone beats him to it. Not Heracles, but a tall Russian young man with dark hair and a gymnast body.

Dimitri held out his hand and Amy took it. He spins her into him and draped his arms around her waist. Amy was hesitant at first but she ended up hooking her arms around his neck. She laid her head on his chest as he leaned his chin into her hair. They swayed together back and forth to the music, wrapped in a passionate embrace.

Michel's jaw dropped, "Dammit Dimitri."

"Dimitri? Is that what that boy's name is?" Feliks asked.

"Yeah," he answered.

"And is he Russian?"

Michel nodded and caught Toris slumping into his seat, with a defeated look on his face. "Did I say something wrong?"

"No, you just crushed all the confidence he had left," Feliks laughed.


 

I yawned and felt Dimitri's lips curl into a smile against my scalp. "Are you tired?"

"Yeah," I mumbled, "when I get home I'm just gonna curl up into my blankets and sleep."

"Do you wish to have company?" he bantered.

I blushed and gave him a soft smack on his arm, "no."

He grinned at first but his lips fell into a serious line. That's when I realized that I was staring at his lips. Stop it Amy!

The song was fading and Dimitri opened his mouth to say something but was interrupted by someone clearing his throat. We froze and turned to face Arthur, "Amy we have something to discuss with you."

"Okay, but-"

"Come along Mr. Maier," Mrs. Lope walked over and tapped Dimitri's shoulder. "We need to go."

"Can I-"

"No, it's pass curfew, we need to go," she turned to the others at the table, "That includes all of you, let's go."

They rose to their feet, said their goodbyes and walked to the concrete street. Dimitri spared one last glance to me and I gave a tiny wave, "you can tell me tomorrow."

He nodded, planted a chaste kiss on my forehead and followed the others to a dark minivan. When the van had driven out of the sight the countries took that as their cue to move forward. They formed a small circle around the dance floor right in front of the white screen. Michel, Jamie, my parents, siblings and their spouses stood on my far left, each of them giving me encouraging smiles.

I lifted a brow in question, "is there something going on? You guys going to perform a blood ritual that will orientate me into the UN, then sacrifice a goat and dance around a sacred fire, naked?"

Arthur's eye twitched, "no."

"Oh thank god! I was worried that I would have to kill a cute baby billy goat."

"Enough of your distasteful jokes Ms. America," Ludwig glared fiercely at me, "we have important business to discuss with you."

I rolled my eyes, "What else is new."

"Are we connected yet?" Ludwig asked Kiku.

Kiku was on a laptop, typing rapidly, "Just about; Sealand-kun how's the web cam?"

"Almost got it," Peter proclaimed as he climbed a latter to attach a web cam on the top of the screen. He climbed back down and walked backwards, "just tell me when to stop."

Kiku watched the computer and when Peter came into perfect view he exclaimed, "There."

Peter stopped and drew an 'X' on the spot between his legs. He walked over and pulled me to the letter, "stand right here," he instructed as he moved the latter to the side.

"Okay, seriously what's going on?" I asked.

"Hello Amy," I jumped at the sound of a new, slightly louder voice appeared.

I faced the screen and found Isabella Garcia sitting behind her desk in the presidential office. She wore a stylish pants suit with her brown hair curled and makeup professionally done. She beamed when she saw me, "I hope you enjoyed your little gift from me."

"Uh yeah," I exclaimed, "I had a lot fun with my friends today and it's all thanks to you."

"You're welcome," her smile vanished, replaced with a serious line. "I'm sure you are wondering what all this is about."

"What was your first clue? The question I asked? Or the puzzlement look on my face?"

"Amy," Mom hissed at me as a warning.

The president laughed, "Oh I just love your sarcasm." Then she sighed, "I just hope they don’t beat it out of you."

My brows knitted together in confusion, "What?!"

"Amy, like all nations you need to be trained as a soldier in the military," she proclaimed.

"M-military?! Like, wake up at four in the morning for ten mile runs in the rain military?!"

"Yes," she said with a straight face.

I snorted, "You're joking right."

She arched a brow and waited.

My grin fell, "You want me to join the army?!"

"You have to learn how to fight, and besides all the nations are part of their country's army. It only seemed natural that you should join the US army." Isabella said.

I sucked air through my teeth, "Uh, no offense but I don't want to."

She clapped her hands together, "well too bad. You don't have a choice."

"Yes I do. I'm an American citizen, I can choose if I want to join the army or not."

"Amy, you are not a citizen, you are a nation, big difference. And I'm the president that means I'm commander in chief of the armed forces. I can decide if you can join the army or not, and guess what, you are."

"But-but-"

"No buts. I'm your boss, meaning whatever I say goes."

"What about Congress?! Where the hell are they in this?!" I shouted.

She laughed, "First time they actually agreed on anything without a week long debate."

I spun to face my family, "aren't you guys gonna say anything?!"

"We can't," Dad sighed, "your eighteen, we no longer have a say."

"Turns out your grandfather had signed away your rights when you were two," Mom hissed through gritted teeth.

"And you didn't tell me this!"

"We didn't know till a few days ago!"

"Ladies, calm yourselves," Dad stepped between us.

Mom took a deep breath but I was shaking my head in disbelief. "Why would he do this?"

"He knew that one day you would have to serve your country," Isabella proclaimed. "Of course we discussed certain things I can control, such as your national duties, higher education and military training. As long as you give your all in your studies, duties and training, you can do whatever you please."

I glared but my anger quickly died. A part of me was relieved; I had no idea where I was heading earlier today. Now I had a plan, even though it was thrust upon me with no warning, it was better than nothing. But there had to be compromise, "Okay I get it. Studies, duties and training but I have the choice of school."

"As long as it's outside California," she crossed her arms.

"Fine, but I want a major in dance."

She nodded her head, "Very well, but you need to have a major in government economics and politics and a minor in US history."

"Okay but I want some courses in psychology, a fencing class and permission to join college clubs."

"Done, done and only if you keep your GPA at a 4.0 average," Isabella said.

"3.0!"

"3.5."

"Done," I agreed.

"You do realize that you graduated from Nightingale with a 2.7 GPA," Jamie added.

"Shut it," I narrowed my eyes at her.

Isabella giggled, "don't worry she'll have enough leverage for any college of her choice after her two year training with the nations."

I froze like a deer caught in the headlights, "huh?!"

"You didn't really think you would train with the US army."

"Uh, yeah."

"Amy, we can't afford any humans that haven't been cleared for high military status to know of you. Besides you get to travel the world and witness and take part in the meetings, its killing two birds with one stone."

"Madam President," Louis Catalano, an agent of the US Secret Service walked into the view of the camera, "We have to go, you have a campaign meeting."

She nodded and turned back to me, "talk to Germany, he'll be the first country you'll visit." She rose from her seat, "bye, bye Amy have fun," with those final words she walked out of the shot and the screen went black.

Then Ludwig placed his hand on my shoulder and handed me a plane ticket. "I suggest you pack your bags, our plane leaves at nine."

Chapter Text

"I've should have seen this coming," I said in a meek tone as I sat at my velvet window seat. "The new luggage, the international gift cards and the foreign money," I hid my face in my hands, "I'm so stupid."

"Sweetie you're not stupid," Mom sat herself beside me to rub my back. "You just don't seem to catch foreshadowing."

"That doesn't make me feel any better."

"What's going on?" Alyce mumbled as she rose from the air mattress. Valencia yawned beside her and Gael rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, "is it time to go home?" he asked.

"Nah," Roman yawned, "we're not leaving till the twentieth."

"I don't want to go," Lali whined.

"No, the only person leaving is Amy," Melissa proclaimed as she packed more of my clothes and toiletries into my trunk styled luggage. The kids had once again used my room as their sleep over hangout. Alyce, Valencia and Gael slept on the air mattress while Roman, Lali and the twins slept in my bed.

"Where is she going?" Blair asked.

"Germany, China, Australia, where ever the hell they want to send me; I have no say what's so ever." I mumbled.

"Watch your language," Mom said through gritted teeth.

"I wonder," Melissa looked at my recently cleaned bathing suit, "will you be swimming? What's the weather like in Europe during the summer?"

Mom checked her phone. "The highs are usually in the seventies or eighties."

"Wow that sounds absolutely amazing, we've been in the high nineties for weeks, almost the hundreds." Melissa tucked in my blue one piece bathing suit along with my new clothes from Johnny and Celine.

"Do I have to leave now?" I grumbled, "I mean what about my summer?"

"Yeah, you were going to let us ride some more," Gael proclaimed.

"You also promised to take us to the beach," said Valencia.

"And take us camping," Roman added.

I nodded, "yes, yes, I know. See," I turned to face Mom, "I have obligations."

She sighed, "We tried to persuade Isabella to let you stay till September but she said that her hands were tied."

I narrowed my eyes, "by that, does she mean they had something to do with it."

Mom and Melissa nodded.

Damn them, I thought to myself.

"I need to pack your sari, I found out you'll be visiting India," Melissa smiled as she walked out of the room.

"Oh that reminds me. I bought you some new underwear with matching bras," Mom announced as she followed Melissa.

The children giggled, "It must have been awhile," Alyce grinned.

"Cochina," Valencia exclaimed, and that comment earned her a couple of laughs from the others. The word means nasty in Spanish.

"Ha, ha, ha. I'll have you know I wear clean underwear very day."

She rolled her eyes, "sure you do."

I rose from my seat and packed in a pair of simple toe open sandals, along with my worn out tennis shoes and black converse. I opened up my carry on and slid in my makeup bag (I usually only wore lip gloss, but who knows when I needed to be dolled up.) I then added a few more t-shirts, two pairs of jeans and a brown cross the shoulder purse that carried all the international gift cards and foreign money from the party.

"Are you really leaving," Lali asked as she gave me the wounded puppy dog look.

I sighed, "Yeah."

"But why?" she whined.

I ruffled her hair, "Sweetie I have to."

"How long will you be gone?" Roman asked.

"Two years," I answered.

"Two years!" they exclaimed in sync.

"Will you be back on holidays?" Alyce asked.

I shook my head, "I don't think so."

"But what about our Christmas traditions?" she exclaimed.

"Whose gonna tell us stories about Santa Claus?" Lali whimpered.

"Most importantly, whose gonna bake us cookies?" Gael asked.

I laughed, "Guys you'll be fine, besides just think about all the cool presents I'll send you."

"You'll send us gifts! Really?" Valencia grinned.

"Of course," I handed Alyce my smartphone, "here, plug in your addresses and add your birthdays into the calendar, that way I won't forget."

"We're getting presents! We're getting presents!" Lali sang as she jumped on the bed.

"Not yet come on," Roman picked her up and carried her to the velvet seat where the kids had gathered around Alyce as she typed in their birthdays.

I placed my camera into a side pocket and packed in the cord that would connect the camera to a computer. I mentally crossed off items in my head; I had my tooth bush, hair bush, passport, IDs, phone charger, and a European wall plug so my electrics would work. I roamed through my nightstand drawer, searching for anything else I might need. I stumbled upon my grandfather's leather bound journal. This journal was filled with stories about Grandpa and Alfred, it sure came in handy when the nations came knocking on my door. I flipped through the pages; I haven't read any entries since April, mostly because I was too busy with prom, finals and graduation.

Still, I was curious. What was Alfred truly like? The only peak I had into his mind was his will (which was paper clipped into the pages of the journal.) I had made a plan to take a trip to Charlottesville, Virginia in the fall, but clearly that was put on hold. Before I could second guess myself, I dropped it into the carry on.

"Aunt Amy," I turned to face Blake.

"What is it kiddo?"

He held up the dream catcher from my window, "You have to take this."

"The dream catcher?" I lifted up and caressed the small wooden animals that daggled from leather strings, along with crystals and feathers. But new stones were recently added into the web of the catcher thanks to Blake. Two months ago he had cut out the old web and replaced it with new string. Which was first soaked in cactus juice, mixed with lavender scented water; he then threaded small pieces of stone into the string. 'Stones for protection' he had said. Amber, black onyx, blue chalcedony, topaz and peridot were scattered over the web and every time the dream catcher moved the stones would wiggle.

"Blake, you worked so hard on this, I don't want to lose it."

"But you have to take it with you."

"I want it here."

"But you have to admit you've been sleeping better ever since I fixed it."

"True but-"

He caught my hand that held the dream catcher and moved it to my chest. "Please Aunt Amy, take it with you. It will protect you," his dark pleading eyes made full contact to my blue. "Please," he begged in a soft tone as tears formed in the corner of his eyes, "please."

My heart squeezed. "Sweetie, don't cry I'll take it with me."

"You will?"

"Of course," I smiled.

He held up his pinky, "Promise?"

I curled my pinky around his; "promise." I then wrapped the dream catcher in tissue paper and placed it into the carry on.

He wiped his tears away with the back of his hand as Blair leaped onto the bed with a knowing grin on her face. "Told you crying would work."

Blake grinned back, "She's so easy."

My jaw dropped, "you little con artist, you faked it?!"

The twins answered with laughter as I narrowed my eyes at them.

"Aw, what a touching moment," I looked up to the door where Michel and Jamie stood.

"What do you want," I asked in a monotone.

"Don't be such a sourpuss," Jamie walked in and held up a worn out spiral notebook. "Remember this?"

My eyebrows rose, "No way," I took the notebook into my hands. "Where did you find this?"

"You don't remember, we buried this in the back yard and promised to dig it up when we were eighteen."

"This notebook symbolizes our faithful promise to travel the world together," Michel's voice grew emotional and dramatic. "After you made your remarkable recovery from the Recession, we stated that we would make your number one wish come true. The wish that gave you hope for tomorrow, the reason you kept clinging to life-"

I rolled my eyes, "Are we getting somewhere drama queen."

"What he means is," Jamie said, "this is your chance to fulfill the wish of your childhood self."

"But we were supposed to do this together," I proclaimed. "We were supposed to party in London, drink wine in Rome and shop for those funny little hats in Paris."

She simply smiled, "Amy, we were ten when we buried this. Plans change. We have school to think about."

"Right," I sighed gloomily.

Michel wrapped his arm around my shoulders, "Hey now, no need to be sad. Who says we can't reschedule."

I gave a small smile, "I'm gonna miss you guys." I hugged him tight.

"I got you a journal," Jamie placed a simple blue graphic notebook into my carry on. "Make sure you write about all your adventures."

"And all your sexy romances," Michel wiggled his brows seductively.

I shook my head, "is this so you guys can count up points when I come back," I asked this more as a statement than a question.

They both nodded happily and I sighed. "I'm gonna see if Mom still has her old Kindle." I walked out the door and left them alone with my carry on. I was going to regret that.


 

The airport was crowded as I was shuffled in through the check in line. I confirmed my ticket along with tagging and checking in my luggage. Once I was done, (forty minutes of my life I will never get back) I headed over to Security. I lingered behind the lines and turned to face my parents, who came to see me off.

I dropped my bag to the ground, "so any final words till I'm sent off to hell."

Dad shook his head but he still carried a smile on his lips. He slipped his hand into my hair and pulled me to his chest. He wrapped his arm around my back and kissed the side of my head, "be safe and if anything happens call us. No matter what Isabella has said, if you feel like your life is in danger, you can call us and we'll wire money to get yourself on a plane back home."

I smiled and tightened my hold on him, "thanks Dad."

"And I swear to God if Russia tries anything-"

"I'll kick his ass and come straight home," I grinned.

He smiled, "that's my girl."

When Dad released me, Mom pulled me into a rib-crushing embrace. "Be careful, I mean it."

"I know," I nodded.

"No mouthing off," she continued.

"Yeah," I nodded.

"Be respectful and clean up after yourself."

"Mom, I'm not a kid anymore."

She combed her fingers through my hair, "I know," she sighed as she blinked back tears, "I know."

I kissed her on the cheek, "I have to go, they'll be boarding in an hour."

She nodded but still she lingered. Dad came from behind, placed a gentle hand on her shoulder and pulled her back. She wiped her eyes and laid her head into the nook of his neck. "Go on Amy," Dad gestured to the line, "just remember, no matter what, you'll always have us. You'll always have a home to return to."

Mom nodded but carried a sad expression. I gave her a carefree smile, "Don't worry momma cougar your bear cub will be just fine." She smiled back and I walked through the Security line.

When I reached Boarding I met up with Ludwig and Gilbert.

"Morning," I greeted as I yawned.

Ludwig nodded as Gilbert grinned mischievously, "Well, well, it's about time you finally pulled yourself away from your mother's nipple."

"Ha. How long did it take you come up with that joke. Hold on I already know the answer, centuries."

"Centuries, yes the amount of time that will take you to reach my level of awesomeness."

"Dude, you can take your so called 'awesomeness' and shove it up your-"

Ludwig stepped between us, "Enough. Brother, please don't taunt her and Ms. Hawkfeather please show some self-restraint."

I rolled my eyes, "righty-o Captain," I gave a mock salute.

"I'm a Generalleutnant, a Major General," Ludwig narrowed his eyes at me.

I lifted an eyebrow, "What's the difference?"

The brothers shared a look till the elder grinned, "we're gonna have a lot of fun with this one."

"Attention, Flight 304 to Berlin, Germany is now boarding," a female voice announced over the intercom.


 

Its official, I hate flying.

The chairs are small with no elbow room what's so ever. They gave me nothing to eat besides cold chicken, some nasty stale peanuts and warm, gooey jello. You practically have to beg your flight attendant to get you a cup of water and the bathroom lines were dreadfully long. But the absolute worse was being crammed in the middle of Ludwig and Gilbert for nearly seventeen hours.

Ludwig sat in the aisle seat as he entertained himself with a book and didn't bother to make small talk. Gilbert had the window seat and amused himself with a game on his iPad.

"You actually know how to work one of those?" I asked.

He cracked a wicked smile, "I may be old but I'm not stupid."

"You could've fooled me."

His brows rose, "how about we settle this with a game of chess." He opened an app and brought forth a digital chess board with the usually white and black game pieces.

I smirked, "you're on."

Within the first hour, the score was thirty-six to zero. Clearly chess wasn't like checkers.

"Checkmate," Gilbert proclaimed as his knight took my king.

"But-but I took your pawns and your piece with the cross thing."

"My bishop, yeah you did. But you left your king open; the whole point of the game is to take the other's king."

I groaned, "And this game is popular why?"

He reloaded a new game, "such a childish thing to say." I glared as he gave a superior smile. "Are you done playing then?"

"No," I hissed, I wasn't about to give up, not until I wiped that smug grin off his face.

Surprisingly we played chess for another two hours. My score remained at zero and Gilbert was not about to let me forget it.

"Checkmate," he grinned as his bishop and knight cornered my king, "the score is seventy-four to, what was your score again?" He asked with an evil smile.

"Zero," I mumbled.

He chuckled. "You know, I'm going to be nice. Let's play something you might have chance at winning."

I bit my tongue back from saying a snappy comment as he brought out recent games. We played UNO, ZombieSmash, Clash of Clans, Candy Crush Saga and every version of Angry Birds we could find. This scenario of non-stop gaming lasted for hours. We only stopped for meals and bathroom breaks. The scores were pretty even but I totally crushed him in UNO, thank you family game night.

After dinner Ludwig suggested we take a break from the games, mostly because we were disturbing his reading. Mom allowed me to borrow her Kindle Fire HD; she even gave me money to purchase books and paid a year subscription to Netflix. My mom is so awesome. Gilbert got nothing on her.

I skimmed through the TV shows and movies, deciding wither to start something new or re-watch an old show. Gilbert looked over my shoulder, "anything good?"

I shrugged my shoulders, "I'm tempted to re-watch Once Upon a Time."

"That girly fairy tale show," he snorted, "I asked for something good not something that would drive me to claw my own eyes out."

"Then maybe I should watch it," I smirked.

He flicked his fingers over the tablet, "Let's see, do you have anything from Germany?"

I pulled the electronic away from him, "I don't know, check your iPad."

"The battery is dead."

"And whose fault is that?"

"Yours," he said, "you couldn't accept the fact that I was awesome in everything."

"Did you forget my UNO scores; fifty-nine wins baby," I grinned.

After twenty minutes of arguing we came to an agreement of watching zombie movies. We started with the classics, Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland. Then we found Detention of the Dead, which was about a group of random teenagers that would never hang out together outside of detention (you know, a geek, a goth, a cheerleader, a jock, and a happy go lucky drug user). The entire plot is about teenagers having to put aside their stereotypically high school roles and work together to survive as zombies attack their classmates and over run their school. It was as if the Breakfast Club and Shaun of the Dead came together for a dunked one night stand and this was their sloppy love making. Spoil alert; the geek and the goth lived. Well, somewhat, the cheerleader becomes a zombie and attacks the geek at the end of the movie. We don't even know if he lived or died, but it was hilarious.

Don't get me wrong the movie was horrible but it had its moments and some redeemable scenes. My all-time favorite quote would have to be by the goth girl Willow: 'Looks like Rob Zombie raped the entire cast of Gossip Girl and this is their angry love child.' Now I would like that on a t-shirt. Gilbert and I had more fun making jokes about the movie rather than watching it.

"Americans seem to make anything into a movie," he said as he shook his head.

I nodded, "sadly yes, but we do have our moments. You can't forget the Marvel franchise."

"The only good movies were the first Avengers and the second Captain America."

"What about Guardians of the Galaxy?? Those movies were epic."

"Can you two shut up and go to sleep," Ludwig hissed at us.

"Why bother, it's going to be like ten to eleven in the morning when we land," I remarked.

"Think about everyone else," he narrowed his blue eyes at us, "Now; turn off the tablet and go to sleep." He ended the conversation by turning his back to us and readjusting the blanket over his shoulder.

Gilbert gave me a side way glance, "are you tired?"

"Nope; want to watch The Notebook? That movie always seems to put me to sleep," I offered.

The longest I every stayed awake for The Notebook was an hour and twenty-six minutes. Jamie had gone as far as to time me. It's her favorite romance movie and she usually had to beg Michel and me to watch it with her. Michel was a good sport about it, but I was completely bored with the movie. No matter how many times we tried, I always fell asleep.

Ten minutes into the film, and I was already yawning. I laid my head back and curled the airline blanket around my shoulders. My eyelids were dropping and before long I was out cold.


 

Gilbert yawned, he was only thirty minutes into the movie but he no longer had the strength or desire to keep his eyes open. He stopped the film, logged out of the Netflix account and turned off the tablet. He tried to reach for Amy's carry on but it was completely under her seat, so he decided to store the tablet in the pocket of the airline seat that was in front of him.

He relaxed into his seat and draped the blanket over his lap. He was seconds away from an awkward positioned sleep until Amy's head fell onto his shoulder. He glanced over to find her kissable, petal colored lips inches away from his face. In an instant, energy surged through his body at the thought of her lips on his. He moved closer to tease himself with a simple brush of their lips. He froze when she stirred but her eyes remained close and her breathing was steady.

He brushed aside her hair to reveal her smooth cheek and at that moment a wicked idea came to thought. He reached into his back pack for a marker and began to write on her face.


 

"Attention everyone this is your pilot speaking," a deep male's voice awoke me from my rest. "We'll be landing in Berlin, Germany in fifteen minutes. Please secure your items and buckle yourselves in for landing."

I yawned as I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. I made sure the Kindle Fire HD was placed back into my carry on and slid it under the seat. I buckled myself in, folded the gray blanket and handed it to our flight attendant. When she turned to face me, her eyes widened slightly but she remained polite as she took our blankets and walked on.

Ludwig buckled himself to his chair and brushed his blond hair back. He glanced to me and his eyebrows rose. I frowned at him, "what?"

He was hesitant but he must've thought I wouldn't notice, "Nothing." He moved his arm around me to shove his brother, "Wake up!"

Gilbert jumped slightly and rubbed his face with his hands, "What?"

"Did you," he spared a look at me before he continued, "do something you shouldn't have done," he said through gritted teeth.

Gilbert grinned, "Maybe."

Ludwig said nothing else, merely groaned and massaged his temples.

"What did he do?" I asked.

The younger brother quickly said, "Nothing."


 

We landed at Berlin Tegel Airport at11:46 a.m. and the airport was just as crowded as it was in Santa Barbara. It sure was easier to get through Security but people were staring. I mean, Ella told me once that if a European man was interested in someone, they would make it known by staring at the person but I was pretty sure not every man, woman and child wanted to go on a date with me. I grew very self-conscious. I glanced to my clothes; I was wearing a pair of comfy jeans that I had cut to stop at the knees, a purple tank top and pair of worn out silver colored sneakers. I didn't seem to be violating any dress codes, but still, young men would chuckle as they walked passed me. Women shook their heads and mothers averted their children's eyes.

Okay, seriously what is up with everyone?

After we gathered our checked luggage; I followed Ludwig and Gilbert to the front of the airport where a cab was waiting. The cab driver grabbed our luggage first and when he moved to take my carry on, his eyes darted to my face and he smirked. I knitted my brows as I tightened my hold on my bag and he turned away quickly.

Ludwig ushered me to the backseat as Gilbert sat in the passenger seat next to the driver. "Take us to Inselstraße," Gilbert told the driver in German as he glanced at me through the rear view mirror. He smirked, his red eyes shining.

I rolled my eyes and turned to my window, I was about to plug myself into my iPod till I noticed something dark on my cheek. I focused in on my reflection and found 'I Suck Cock' written along my cheek bone with a penis drawn near the corner of my mouth.

I instantly connected the dots and leapt at Gilbert, "You son of a bitch!"

Before he could react I smashed my fist into his cheek. The blow caused him to crash against the window. He groaned and tried to unlock the door. I was climbing over the driver as Ludwig sprang into action.

He gripped me by my shirt and pulled me back. "Control yourself!"

I took deep calming breaths, "You're lucky your brother was here to save you. If not the cab driver would have to spend his entire day just to scrape your brains off the seats."

Gilbert opened the door to spit out blood and turned to the driver as he slammed the door shut. "Gehen wir," he gestured to the road but the driver didn't move. He was more concerned about Gilbert and me getting into another fight. Gilbert grew irritated, "Let's go old man!"

The driver nodded and drove us into traffic.

As we drove, I grabbed some wipes from my carry on and began to scrub harshly into my skin. I used the window to clean myself but it was hard to tell if I got all the ink off. I turned to Ludwig, "Hey did I get all of it?"

He nodded, "yes it's fading."

To be safe, I added some makeup remover to the wipe and cleansed my cheek with it. I was able to catch Gilbert rubbing his wounded cheek. I narrowed my eyes at him, asshole. I shoved my used wipe into my jean pocket and faced the window to do some sightseeing. The driver took us down south, along the edge of Berlin. He took us down swift roads with street signs and buildings scattered on both sides. We drove on, continuing straight onto highways 111 and 110.

Half way through our drive the buildings were soon replaced with tall trees. "Where are we?" I asked.

"We're in Grunewald," Ludwig answered, "it's a national park and quite a large one too."

"And where are we going? I thought we would stay in the city," I said.

"No, it's too crowded. We're going to Inselstraße, think of it as an island on a lake. We have few neighbors there and enough room for your training. You can even entertain yourself with the lake on your days off."

Finally, we reached Inselstraße and it's just like Ludwig described. An island on a lake filled with trees and few houses. Before we crossed the bridge, there was a boating dock for people to store and ride out their boats on the dark colored water. After crossing, some houses stood close, but as we drove further into Inselstraße the large houses were spread out with massive plots of land. There was only one road and it wrapped itself in a loop around the entire island.

The Beilschmidt brothers lived on the northern corner of the island, with the most trees covering the front of their estate. I could barely see this so called house. The cab driver parked the car in front a black iron gate with towering trees shading the entire sidewalk.

Gilbert paid the man as Ludwig climbed out of the car and I followed after him. He pulled out our luggage and headed to the gate. I slid my carry on strap over my shoulder and adjusted my luggage to roll behind me. Gilbert grabbed his bags as the cab drove away and he followed behind us. The sidewalk and street roads were made with worn out gray brick. The sky was clear and the sun was streaming light through small openings of branches. I had to take a moment to scan my surrounds. The branches were long and covered the land in an endless sea of shade. Further along, the trees scattered with more fields in between. The leaves were bright green, matching the fresh cut lawn. Colorful flower gardens complemented the yard and were planted around the front area of the house.

Now the house was three stories with six windows on the first two and four on the third. It was big, but more modest than Austria's house, almost like an old manor house you would see in an old mystery movie. The first floor was built with white brick, the second floor was red and the top floor was black with a slight spacing in between of gray. In the center of the manor was a small stone porch that outlined two windows on top of one another above the two white painted doors.

"This seems cozy," I remarked.

I was met with silence as Ludwig unlocked the door and walked in. The inside was old fashion yet mixed with modern items. Paintings framed the walls, along with wooden floors and tasteful furniture. The living room had a flat screen and lazy-boy leather seats. The kitchen was bright and had plenty of windows facing the left side of the yard.

"America," Ludwig called out to me, "follow me, I'll show you to your room."

I lifted my luggage by the handle and followed him up the stair case to the second floor. He leads me down the left side of the hall to the last door on the left, "I made sure to put a lock on the door, so no one would disturb you."

The room was filled with natural sunlight, thanks to the one window in the front and two on the side. The walls were covered with blue flowered wall paper and the floors were polished wood. There was a large chestnut colored wardrobe in the middle of the two windows and a matching set of night stands stood on each side of the bed. The bed was queen sized with the same wooden frame as the furniture and had light blue covers and pink pillows.

"Thanks," I nodded to him as I walked in.

"If you would, please leave your things and come with me for a moment."


 

I followed Ludwig and Gilbert to the basement. Every nerve in my being was practically screaming for me to run in the opposite direction, for if I reference every horror movie I've seen, nothing good ever goes on in the basement.

But through this old fashioned stone spiral stair case was a very modern looking gym. Complete with weights, mats, punching bags and dummies, and a climbing rope. The brothers head over to the stack of mats and set a few on the floor. Ludwig then removes his jacket and rolls up his sleeves. He turned to face me, "Are you ready?"

I knitted my brows in confusion, "For what?"

"Your training," he proclaimed, "I have to see where you are to estimate the level of endurance." He held up his fists, "attack me."

My eyes widened, "Really? Now?"

"Ja, come on," he gestured for me to move forward.

I hesitated, not really sure on what do to.

"Just see if you can land a hit."

I moved on to the mat and shuffled myself to the balls of my feet. I lifted my fists up to my face and shot out my right arm. Ludwig gripped his hand around my wrist to push my fist away from making contact. He then tripped me with his foot and shoved me to the floor, all in one swift move.

I was dazed, it happened so fast.

"Try again," he spoke as he prepared himself into his stance.

I sighed, "Can't we rest first?"

"No!" he barked, "now get up!"

I groaned as I rose to my feet and held my hands up. Ludwig wasn't going to make the first move; it was my skills he was analyzing. I decided to surprise him with a high kick aimed to the face, but he saw that coming. He grabbed my calf and tossed me to the floor without even moving from his spot.

Gilbert laughed, "She's as weak as a kitten."

My face heated in embarrassment and I snapped at him, "Did you forget what I can do to your face!"

"How about you show me America," Ludwig smiled smugly.

I ground my teeth together in frustration. Here I was in the outskirts of Berlin, barely had any sleep, learning how to fight in the military and yet not by the US army. But by the nations, who took me away from my last summer with my friends and forced me into a two year training boot camp.

The anger was finally coming to a boiling point and before I could even think. I jumped to my feet and charged head on. I threw a series of punches but Ludwig easily weaved around them. Dodging or blocking every move I made. As my fists began to slow that was when he went on the offense. He elbowed me in the gut, threw me over his back and slammed me into the mat.

Pain shot up my lower back to my rib cage and it hurt to breathe.

Ludwig sighed, "we have a long way to go."

Chapter Text

Ludwig pounded on my guestroom door, "America wake up!"

"I'm up, I'm up," I groaned as I rose from my bed at four in the morning. I rushed to the wardrobe and pulled out a green shirt and black jeggings. I tied on my tennis shoes and opened the door.

The day started with breakfast, usually eggs and sausage. After our meal, Ludwig and I ran laps around the island. Twenty laps had to be done in less an hour, which was torture.

"Pick up the pace," Ludwig exclaimed as he slowed his pace to match mine. "Move it or do fifty burpees, your choice."

I panted, out of breath but increased my jog into a sprint. Burpees were the last thing I needed.

When laps were done, we headed down to the basement. First, we stretched to increase our flexibility; I took some pride in that. Thanks to my dancing history I was able to reach certain lengths that neither Ludwig nor Gilbert could. We would then move on to weight training, building our muscles and increasing our strength. Followed by pushups, crunches and basic fighting skills; the dummies were brought out for that part.

"Aim for the gut and head," Ludwig instructed, "that will weaken your opponent."

I held my fists up near my chin and punched the dummy man in the stomach and face. I had some boxing experience thanks to Johnny. He taught me as a kid, hoping to build my strength back up after I recovered from my illness a.k.a the Recession.

"Don't lock your elbows," he called out.

"Practice your uppercuts and hooves," Gilbert added.

Uppercuts were punches aimed under the chin and hooves were hits that aim for the side of the head. The arm had to be horizontal as the fist strikes the cheek in a quick motion.

"Switch to your legs," Ludwig exclaimed.

I jumped back from the dummy and lifted my knees up to my chest one at a time. I repeated this till Ludwig told me to kick. I stepped towards the dummy and kicked forward. I practiced kicks to the side of the ribs, straight into the gut and then moved on to a high round kick to the face. This pattern continued as side kick, straight kick and round kick; this repeated till he told me to go back to punching. Then he would bark at me to switch to my kicks, then back to my punches, etc. etc. (Usually I would go on doing these routines for more than an hour each.)

Lunch came after; mostly I used that hour to rest. Then Ludwig and I would run more laps followed with combat training. I winced at the thought of my first day.

Gilbert and I stepped onto the mat. My whole body was twitching due to the recent day of actives. My limbs were on fire and that lunch was making its way back up.

"Time for you to hit something that will hit back," Ludwig said as he leaned on the wall across from us.

"Don't we get any patting?" I asked.

I was answered with a fist to the gut. I hissed in pain and swallowed back my lunch. "You don't get any patting in real life," Gilbert smirked.

Combat training lasted for the entire afternoon, ending with stretching. After dinner both Ludwig and Gilbert would instruct me in military studies. This course contained battle strategies, weapon and vehicle identification and gun safety.

I haven't used a gun yet, but Ludwig says that after I'm able to take a gun apart and put it back together in less than two to three minutes; I won't even touch a bullet. I wasn't complaining; I didn't like guns.

After my studies, I'm free till lights out; though I was too exhausted to do anything else but shower and sleep.

This routine had been going on for five days straight.

Thank God it was Saturday.

Training would only last from four a.m. to three p.m. with no class. The rest of the day and Sunday belonged to me.

"Work on your defense," Ludwig exclaimed as his fists made full contact to my forearms.

My forearms were protecting my face, "I thought I was."

He threw his arm under and I jumped back to avoid a hit in the gut. I leaped into action when I saw an opening; I supported myself on my strong leg and waved my other leg up to reach his face. My kick would have been epic, unfortunately it didn't reach its mark; only left me open for Ludwig to grab my leg in motion. With a flick of his wrist he flipped me; a loud thud bounced off the walls as I collided into the mat.

I panted, "I yield. I yield."

Ludwig was out of breath, but sure looked better than me. His muscles were taut and defined. He wore a black tank, dark green cargo pants and combat boots; definitely soldier apparel.

Also, unlike him I was covered in bruises. My midsection was batted mess of blue and purple. My face carried purple and yellow marks and both of my eyes were red and violet. Gilbert said that my wounds would heal faster after a week or two of training. I hoped he was right, I was avoiding video skyping with my parents and they were starting to take notice.

I craned my neck up, even though every fiber of my being screamed at me not to move. I checked the wall clock; it was three. I grinned, "Freedom!"

I slowly rose to my feet, my muscles ached and my back was sore and twitching. Gilbert used that moment to slap me on the back, "way to go, you survived your first week."

I sucked in air through my teeth trying to control the urge to cry out in agony. He noticed and smirked, "Aw, did I hit you too hard?"

"Shut up."

He chuckled as his eyes glanced to my shirt, "Team Heracles? What's that about?"

My eyes widened as I looked down, it was the green Team Heracles tee that Jamie gave me for my birthday. I yelped; I didn't even pack this. Then I quickly remembered that I had left Michel and Jamie alone with my carry on. They must have packed their team t-shirts while I wasn't looking. Those sneaky bitches, they're so lucky they have an ocean protecting them from me.

"Um," I stuttered, "This is for," then an idea came to mind, "for the Heroes of Olympus series. It's the book series after the Percy Jackson series. This shirt is for Heracles, a character in the book." It wasn't an all-out lie, but there was no way I'd root for Heracles, I'm Team Leo all way.

Gilbert nodded, "Oh, I remember they tried to make those books into movies."

I groaned, "Don't even start, the movies were bad. Stick to the books, they're always better." Before he could ask any more questions, I found my second wind (more like fourth) and ran up the stairs.


 

I ran into my room and locked the door. I searched through the wardrobe and found the Team Toris shirt folded in a drawer. How could I miss this? I tried to think back to the day I unpacked, the day Ludwig had to analyze my skills as jet leg took its toll on my body. I remembered that I was too tried to even pay attention to my clothing. I slapped my forehead, I'm such an idiot. I even wore it.

At least it was the Heracles shirt, if it was the Toris shirt they would've known it was about Lithuania.

I took off the green shirt and grabbed the blue one and threw them both back into the carry on. I kicked the bag under the bed, hoping that no one would ever find them.

I grabbed the black shirt that Johnny gave me, along with skinny jeans and clean underwear. Ludwig and Gilbert each had rooms on the first floor, with their own bathrooms. Leaving the bathroom across from my room free for me; the room was simple, with white tile, white walls, white shower, sink and toilet. The shower was on the left with a clear glass door, and the sink and toilet were on the right. A large window was in between the shower and toilet, with an old fashion white bathtub raised on silver stands in front of it. I've only used the shower, so I figured I'll spoil myself with a bubble bath. I blasted the faucet with warm water and squeezed in some soap that Sofia got me from Bath & Body Works. It was called French Lavender and Honey and it smelled amazing; sweet, light and simple for everyday use. She gave me the whole set, lotion, body cream, shower gel, and body spray.

I discarded my work out clothes and slid into the tub. The warm water slipped into my sore muscles and I hissed and sighed in pleasure. The bubbles had formed quickly and completely covered my body. The sunlight streamed through the window and I was finally able to see what lies outside (it was always night when I showered). The field was open with a few scattered trees. The edge of the island was green with no sand. The lake was dark with light glittering off the surface.

I laid my head back on the rim and hummed a song from Lorde. This was the first time I was able to relax since I got here. Now I had the energy to think. The only downside to it was that I was homesick. I pondered on how my family and friends were doing as I twirled my sapphire pendent with my fingers. It was six in the morning in Summerland; Mom and Dad would be up by now, along with my second cousins. They would be planning a day of fun actives followed by a camping trip at the national park. Grandma would run the shop with Kupunawahine as Kupunakane surfed outside. Michel and Jamie wouldn't do anything till the afternoon, most likely hang with Ella, Daniela and Sam. Heisuke and Dimitri would have gone back to their countries by now too.

I wondered: what did Dimitri want to say to me back at the party?

I shook my thoughts away as I plunged myself underwater, pushing my nagging thoughts to the back of my mind.


 

After my bath, I got dressed and dried my hair with a towel. I headed down stairs for a glass of water. The front door ringed and I looked around for Gilbert or Ludwig, it wasn't my house, it would be rude to answer it. But whoever was behind that door kept ringing. I swallowed the rest of my water in one gulp, set the glass on a side table and opened the door, "Yes?"

A pair of arms wrapped themselves around me and pulled me in for a hug. "Amy! I'm so happy, you're still alive!" Feliciano squeezed as he nestled his face into the nook of my neck.

I winced at the soreness of my body and gently pushed him away, "And why wouldn't I be?"

"Well, don't take this the wrong way, I love Germany, but when he gets into his general mode he becomes a bit of a-"

"Hard ass," I finished.

"I heard that," Ludwig announced as he came up from behind. He was wearing casual clothes with a towel draped over his shoulders; he must have just gotten out of the shower.

"Speak of the devil," I grinned as I let Feliciano in, "you have a guest."

He sighed, "Italy what are you doing here?"

Feliciano gave him a big smile, "I came to visit you and Amy. This would be our chance to spend time together before the meeting."

"The G9 meeting won't take place for another week; it would be a waste for you to show up now." Ludwig lectured.

He glanced to his shoes, "I just thought it would be nice to spend some time with you."

"Feliciano, I'm busy training America."

"Technically, I'm free till Monday so if he wants to hang that's fine with me," I proclaimed.

"I actually want to stay till after the meeting," Feliciano added.

"Even better," I shrugged.

"No," Ludwig said firmly, "you can't stay for two weeks. Think about your work."

Feliciano gave a sad, pleading look, "please."

"Dear Lord it's like saying no to a puppy," I said.

Ludwig spared a warning look at me till he caved, "Fine, you can stay."

"Yay!" Feliciano squealed as he kissed Ludwig on both cheeks and moved to do the same with me. "I'll unpack my things and then we can go sightseeing."


 

Downtown Berlin was like no city I ever seen. Massive, unique buildings were scattered throughout the city, along with beautiful stone brick town homes aligning themselves beside the roads. It was architect's dream. Reichstag, the building for Parliament stood tall, with a large glass dome at the top where the German politicians work and so happens to be the place with the best view of the city.

Hundreds of people walked the streets, 'summer tourists' Ludwig said. Crowds ventured into the museums, the memorials, the flea and food markets, and the East Side Gallery. Which was the world's longest open air gallery; where over one hundred paintings were drawn on the Berlin Wall. It sat along the Spree River and was about a mile long. Feliciano pulled me along the wall, asking what my thoughts were about each painting.

I enjoyed art, but I wasn't an expert. Michel would be the one to be in awe. When new art pieces were being shown at our local museums, he would already have our tickets purchased and have the back story ready for each piece, prepared to be my personal tour guide. Feliciano was the same way, his auburn eyes gleamed and his smile was dazzling as he introduced me to every piece.

"This is the famous kiss of Erich Honecker and Leonid Brezhnev," he announced.

I looked up to see two middle aged men kissing. The men were extremely detailed, almost like someone took a photograph and pasted it on the wall.

"What do you think?" he asked.

I nodded my head in approval, "It's pretty cool, I bet it shocked some people to have two men kissing back then, which makes it even cooler. And I have to say, their kiss is pretty passionate." I took out my digital camera and asked Ludwig to take our picture.

He nodded as Feliciano, Gilbert and I took our place in front of the painting. Feliciano wrapped his arms round my waist in a friendly hug as Gilbert placed a hand on each of our shoulders and put on his most charming grin. I sighed and hooked an arm around Feliciano's neck and gave my brightest smile to Ludwig.

He took the shot with a flash and Feliciano ran over to take the camera, "Go stand with Amy," he exclaimed.

Ludwig was resistant to it but the Italian only kept pushing till he was standing beside me and his brother. Ludwig had his arms crossed, waiting for his picture to be taken.

"Ludwig," Feliciano cried, "you have to smile."

"Feli, I'm not really in the mood," he proclaimed.

I rolled my eyes, "shocker."

"Come on West, give us a smile," Gilbert put his fingers at the corners of Ludwig's mouth and perked them up.

I grinned, "Take the picture or else we're gonna be here all day." Feliciano nodded as the flash went off.

We walked back to the Spree River where the Museumsinsel stood, also known as Museum Island. The UNESCO World Heritage Site contained five museums, the Pergamon, Bode, Neues, Alte Nationalgalerie and Altes Museum.

We visited the Neues first where the bust of the Egyptian Queen of Nefertiti was on display. Several Egyptian artifacts were shown, like stone coffins and urns with the Egyptian gods faces crafted on the lids. Along with pieces of wall paintings with the iconic drawings and holographics, "I sure wish Gupta was here, he might be able to translate them," I said.

Gilbert scanned the room, making sure that we had a safe distance away from any humans that could listen in. He answered, "Probably, but don't expect him to know too much about it. He was just a kid when his mother's empire fell. After that he was taken in by Sadiq and was part of the Ottoman Empire."

I nodded, "Were you there when it happen?"

"Yes."

I lifted an eyebrow, "How old are you?"

He took a moment to think. "I was part of the Teutonic Knights and before that I was a nomad, wondering around till I was taken in by an orphanage run by some nuns. I'm thinking, somewhere between seven and eight hundred years."

"You were knight?" I asked skeptically of him.

"Most of us were back in ye olden days."

"Who was 'most of us'?"

"Let's see, Francis was one and Antonio, even though he used an axe most of the time. All of Europe really; even that bastard Lithuania." His face took on a sour look as the name passed through his lips.

"I'm guessing there's some bad blood between you two," I proclaimed.

He snorted, "You don't know the half of it."

"Then tell me, I want to know."

He mumbled under his breath and I narrowed my eyes at him, "fine, I'm in a museum, I can find it on my own."

After some twists and turns through the halls I was able to find the section assigned to the Teutonic Knights. The hall was empty, leaving Gilbert and me alone as I read every article that was displayed on the walls. These articles were placed beside polished armor, sturdy cross designed shields and sharp blades. I grinned when I came to a certain piece of written history. "You lost to Lithuania and Poland in 1410 stopping you from expanding east, ha. I'm really starting to like those two."

He rolled his eyes, "they might have been powerful back then, but now, heh. Poland would rather decorate than fight and Lithuania, he's pathetic; trembles every time someone even mentions Russia."

A cold chill washed over my spine. The memory of Toris and Ivan on the balcony came flooding back. The scene of Ivan holding Toris close as he forced an unwanted kiss on him. His blue-green eyes filled with horror and humiliation.

"Maybe for a good reason," I said, refusing to look at Gilbert, "How about you stop being a sore loser and shut up."

I practically heard him smirk, "I'm not being a sore loser. I'm merely speaking the truth."

Then the memory of Toris trembling in the secret passage way came next; how he refused to look at me as he gave me a vague description about his time at Russia's house. I didn't push for details back then, it seemed too painful and frankly I didn't want to know.

"Then just shut up, you don't know what went down," I glared.

His smile fell, "I actually do. At one point of my life I had to live with him. He was a sick fuck but I stayed strong. Lithuania on the other hand, did nothing. Just laid there and took it like a bitch."

I smacked my hand across his face. The echo of the hit bounced off the walls as he stepped back and rubbed his cheek. He took this as a cue to continue taunting me. "Aw, what's wrong did I crush your little fantasy about the mighty knight Lithuania?" He chuckled harshly, "sorry to disappoint you but the country was never the same after Russia had his way with him."

"At least he is a country," I hissed, "you are just some piece of shit left over from the Prussian Empire. Which doesn't even exist anymore, how about you get the memo and disappear already. You don't seem to offer anything but hurtful statements and stupid antics."

His blood red eyes took on a darker shade, "Listen little girl, you should learn to keep that mouth of yours shut."

"Oh, but I'm merely speaking the truth," I mocked him with his words. "You're an asshole and the world would be better off without you."

He laughed; it was filled with hate and anger. "Are you any better? America doesn't do much except sit on its big fat ass and expect everyone else to praise it. The only pride you can take, are the achievements of the past generations. What exactly can you offer?" He answered his own question, "Nothing."

I threw my fist, ready to land at his face but he grabbed it smoothly. I tried to pull away but his hold was strong. "Really, another face hit? I know it's been a week, but didn't you learn anything?"

I swung a fast kick to his side. He grunted and lost grip on my hand. "I didn't ask to be a nation!" I screamed. "All I wanted was to live my life; I didn't give a flying fuck about the government as long as I did what made me happy."

He sucker punched me and heat exploded through my cheek. The pain washed over my nose and forehead, causing my vision to blur. "Selfish, aren't you?" he said cruelly.

I cried out for him to shut up and tackled him to the floor.


 

"Would Ludwig Beilschmidt please come to the security office of the Neues Museum please," a male voice proclaimed over the intercom.

Ludwig knitted his eyebrows together in confusion and worry. Why would security need to see him? Then a thought came to mind, he hasn't seen America and his brother for over an hour; he prayed that this incident didn't have anything to do with them. But knowing his luck and his brother, his prayers would be wasted.

And he was right.

He and Feliciano walked to the head desk of security, where a man dressed in a formal navy blue uniform was lecturing two young adults. Both had bruises on their faces and their wrists were tied together with plastic cuffs. Gilbert's right eye was slightly swollen and his nose was once again broken. Amy's foundation was running, revealing her old wounds along with the new.

Ludwig sighed, rubbed the bridge of his nose and walked to the desk. "I'm Ludwig Beilschmidt."

The security guard turned to face him. He was middle aged with graying hair and hazel eyes. "Hello Mr. Beilschmidt," they shook hands as the guard gestured towards Amy and Gilbert. "They say they're with you."

"Yes, they are." Ludwig glared at them, but his look quickly softens when he faced the security guard. "What did they do?"

"They were fighting in the Teutonic Knight hall, luckily they didn't damage any of the artifacts but still," he side glanced to them. "I believe that it's best that you and your party leave."

Feliciano's mouth opened, about to protest, but Ludwig stopped him with a firm look. The German turned back to the guard, "I understand. I am terribly sorry for the trouble they have caused."

The guard pulled apart the plastic cuffs, "you're free to go, keep in mind you two are banned from our museums."

Gilbert snorted softly, "for how long?"

"First time offenders are banned for six months," the guard proclaimed.

Amy rolled her eyes, "whatever."


 

The car ride back was quiet. Ludwig was driving his silver BMW with a tight hold on the wheel. Gilbert sat in the passenger seat, his face at the window. Feliciano sat behind him, nervously glancing at everyone, as if second guessing himself if he should speak or not. I turned to my window and plugged myself into my iPod, listening to Adele's 'Skyfall'.

I tapped my forehead to the glass and bit my bottom lip to hold back my cry. My head was throbbing, my jaw and cheeks were marked with fresh welts and my midsection was on fire from the recent marks I received from Gilbert.

I mentally cursed myself; I made a promise to not get into any trouble. Now I've screwed it up and got myself thrown out of Museum Island. And for what, all because Gilbert was being an ass; I thought I had tougher skin than that. I even had the combat wounds to prove it. But deep down I knew it wasn't all about me. His comments about Toris hit a nerve.

Gilbert didn't see the fear in Toris's eyes when we were at Austria's house. He also didn't see how brave he was when he came to my rescue. If what Gilbert was implying was true, (and I've seen enough Law & Order SVU shows to figure out what he meant) then what Toris did took guts. I had to admire the guy for that, and I wasn't about to let a total jerk like Gilbert under mind that.

I smiled to myself, if only Michel could read my mind, he would be ranking in some points right now. I tried to laugh at my joke but my ribs ached every time I did.

Once we got to the manor, I leaped out of the car and speed walked to the doors. I still had to wait for Ludwig to unlock it, but I was ready to sprint up the stairs and lock myself in my room.

He slid the key into the lock and turned. I forced the door opened and headed for the stairs. I didn't get far. Ludwig grabbed my arm and pulled me back, "where do you think you're going?"

I sighed, defeated. "Listen, I know I screwed up. Just let me go to my room and I won't come out till Monday."

He shook his head, "That would be too easy."

I mumbled a curse and watched Gilbert as he tried to sneak away into the living room. Ludwig didn't even turn to face him, but he must've known his brother would try something. "Don't you even think about walking away," Ludwig pointed at Gilbert and he froze in place. He then turned to face his older brother, "What on earth possessed you to fight in the museum?"

Gilbert grumbled, "She started it."

"Is that your excuse?" Ludwig glared, "She's a child, you are hundreds of years old, act like it."

"Fat chance," I said under my breath.

"And you," he turned to face me. "What exactly we've you two fighting about?"

I exhaled through my nose, "He was being an ass so I slapped him."

He cursed in German as he rubbed the bridge of his nose. "America, you have to control your anger. For when you're angry, you're irrational. And when you're irrational, you will die on the battle field."

"Last I checked we're pretty durable," I remarked.

"Don't be a smart ass with me," he shouted.

His voice bounced off the walls causing Feliciano to flinch slightly. Ludwig continued, "Even though you're a nation, we can't have you dying then coming back to life every time you enter in a fire fight."

I shook my head, "Then how about we agree that I'm just not cut out for the military."

"You're a nation," he repeated harshly, "you're military is part of you, it is your strength, your will."

"Then why do I have to be part of it?"

He sighed, "Has anyone ever told you, a good soldier doesn't ask questions, simply follows orders."

"I don't know if you've noticed or listened but I'm not soldier material."

"Ain't that the truth," Gilbert commented.

"Shut up," Ludwig and I exclaimed in sync.

He turned back to me, "America, in times of war not only do your people fight; but you fight as well. Your people are a part of you, and what they do affects you. For a nation is nothing without its people."

"This is coming from the guy that represents the nation that killed thousands of his own citizens," I crossed my arms.

His brilliant blue eyes widened as the vein of his forehead throbbed. I've gone too far, but I was too irritated with his superior attitude towards me to even care.

"Maybe it's a good thing I question you," I should've kept my mouth shut, but like Gilbert said, I don't seem to have that alarm in my head that says 'shut up' when I needed it. "It proves that I have freaking mind of my own, unlike you. And maybe, just maybe if you bothered to question authority, you and this entire country wouldn't have been swept away by some charismatic psychopath-"

Ludwig slapped me across the face.

Feliciano gasped as the air grew silent. My cheek was once again on fire but I refused to show any reaction. I said nothing, only glared as he placed his hand to his side in a tight fist and walked away.

Chapter Text

I watched as the afternoon sky faded into twilight and washed away into dusk. Stars were beginning to shine through the violet and the air was beginning to chill. I had watched this scene through the windows of my room. I was on the bed with my legs curled to my chest as my chin rested on my knees. I haven't moved from that spot since the incident with Ludwig.

My mind quickly replayed our argument with the ending of his slap to my face. No matter how many times he or Gilbert punched or kicked my face that slap still stung.

I closed my eyes, hoping it would erase the memory and pain, but it didn't. I would be lying if I said I wasn't hiding. I couldn't bear to face Ludwig or anyone for that matter. My iPod was connected to my portable speaker and the song 'Born To Die' from Lana Del Rey played softly.

My eyes opened and glanced to my grandfather's journal on the nightstand. I needed a distraction and so far this was best I could get. (There wasn't a television in my room.) I grabbed it and skimmed through the pages. I stopped at the second entry, two years after his first meeting with Alfred.


 

June 29, 1957

The life I knew was gone.

In the past few days, I have dealt with more heartbreak and loss than anyone should be put through in their lifetime.

It all started two days ago, my family and I were crossing from Indiana to Illinois. Heavy rain was coming down as my brothers and I listened to the radio. Hurricane Audrey had touched Louisiana hours ago and was making its way through the south and east of the country. It even spawned two tornados further up Louisiana and multiple tornados were reported in Mississippi and Alabama. Flash flood warnings were in effect in the Midwest and it was advised for everyone to get off the roads.

"Father," I walked over to my parents who were sitting in the front seats of our worn RV. "The weather man says that there's a flash flood warning. We need to get off the road."

"That's what I am doing," he answered calmly. "Where's the closest town?" he asked Mother.

She shook out her map and squinted at the roads between the states. "We're on highway 150 right now; luckily we're close to Paris, Illinois. We'll be there in less than two hours."

I sat in the booth next to the window, the storm was howling and the rain was hitting the RV, making the impression that stones were being thrown at us. My brothers sat in front of me, Tristen was the oldest by four years, Clay by two. We all looked so alike. We all had long raven black hair, dark eyes and copper skin. We were long, lean and well-muscled. Only small differences gave us away. Clay was the tallest at 6'2 he received that height advantage from our mother's side. Tristen had the hard features of our father while Clay and I took our looks from our grandmother on Mother's side.

We were heading to Illinois for Tristen's wedding. The woman he was marrying was a childhood friend named Rose Shay. She was a decedent of the Illini tribe that mixed with the Miami. She and her parents had left a week earlier to meet their extended family in Chicago. The other members of our tribe stayed behind in Indiana and I'm glad they did. This storm was too dangerous.

For some stupid reason, we were trying to get to Chicago before July. But it can't be done. When it came to the safety of our family I would've-should've forced us to stop and wait it out. But I didn't and that decision will haunt me for the rest of my life.

After an hour, the rain only got worst. Father had a hard time seeing anything in the distance and Mother kept looking at the map like it would actually change anything. My anxiety grew, "Father, we need to stop, now-"

My words were cut off when Father crashed into a sign that said 'Bridge Closed'. Water overwhelmed the tires and we skidded into a overflowing river. Father tried to control the RV but he only made it worse by trying to turn. The added force of the water tipped us over on the RV's left side. The window my brothers and I were sitting at; shattered as we hit the bridge's pavement. Tristen had gripped on to Clay's shirt holding him in place as he used his other had to grip the table. I had hooked my arm around the booth as my legs dangled off towards the broken window. We didn't have long to catch our breath. The water came in quickly, filling the RV half way in under a minute.

Mother cried out to Father, but he didn't respond. Father's head had made full contact to his window. Blood mixed as Father disappeared into the dirty brown water. Mother cried and unbuckled herself from her seat. She dove for him and pulled him to the surface. She shook him by the shoulders but he wasn't breathing. Tristen called for Clay to help him with the door. I turned to Mother as she tried in failed attempts to revive Father.

I walked over and checked his pulse, I felt nothing. "Mother," I said, "he's gone. We have to go."

She cried 'no' several times as I pulled her away from Father. Once the door was opened, Clay lifted himself up, Tristen and I lifted Mother up next and we followed soon after. The wind howled causing the RV's door to shut and the rain to fall harder, piercing my skin like bullets.

Mother wept as Clay held her; she was so small at that moment she looked like a frighten child. But truthfully none of us had time to grieve. The water was rising and we were losing more of the RV's surface to stand on. At that moment, I remembered the CB radio we had on the dash board.

I tried to open the door, but Tristen stopped me. "What are you doing?!"

"There's a CB radio in there," I exclaimed, "we can try and call for help."

Tristen didn't argue with me for long, he told Clay to stay with Mother as we climbed back into the RV to get to the radio. We had to move fast, the water was rising and we had no idea how long the radio would last.

I swam to the dash board, avoiding my father's body and grabbed the radio from the dock. "Hello?! Anyone on?!" All I got was static, but I kept trying. "My family and I are trapped on some bridge near Paris. Our RV tipped over and we're taking in water." I stopped to listen if someone heard me, but no answer came. "Please, the water's rising and it's too dangerous to try and swim out of this." I stopped to listen; I was met with static once again. I became desperate. "We need help! Someone, please, send help-"

Mother screamed as a wave crashed against the RV and a large splash hit the water. Tristen and I abandoned the radio and climbed back out to find Mother and Clay gone. I rose to my feet to look for them but slipped and fell into the rushing rapids.

I caught my breath and swam back to the surface. I spotted Tristen driving in, swimming hastily to meet me. He caught me by the arm as the water pushed us off the bridge and sent us down the river. We struggled to keep our heads above the surface, the water was coming in too fast and we were using all our strength to keep from crashing against the rocks. During this, Tristen never once lost his grip on me.

This sequence of events lasted for another minute or so, till Tristen grabbed a tree root that had been ripped out of the ground. He pulled me by my shirt and instructed me to hold on. I wrapped my arms around the root that was closer to the tree trunk while Tristen took the thinner part of the root. The river pushed at us but we hanged on till the force of the rapids caused the root to snap in two and Tristen was swept away by the river.

It all happened so fast.

I wasn't quick enough to catch him and worse, I was too much of a coward to follow him, to save him.

I cried out for him, for Clay, for Mother till my voice became hoarse and the storm finally came to its end.

Later, the rain stopped, the river had settled, but my arms were numb. I couldn't hold on any longer, I was slipping and I knew that if I fell in I wouldn't have the strength to swim.

"Hello!" a voice called out, "Is anyone out there? Hello!"

Even though my voice was nearly gone, I forced myself to scream for help. A group of men rode over in a small orange life boat. A familiar voice exclaimed, "John?! John is that you?!"

I looked up to find a man with dirty blond hair and blue eyes. "Alfred. . ." My eyes closed as my limbs lost their remaining strength to hold on. All I remembered was sinking into the water and someone driving in to save me.

I was out cold till I woke up in a hospital room. Alfred was sitting next to me, reading an old hard cover book. "What are you doing here?" I asked in a weak tone.

"Long story," he proclaimed as he snapped the book closed. "Let's just say, I was in the right city at the right time."

I blinked and muttered, "Where are they?"

His brows knitted together in confusion and worry, "Who?"

"You know who," I hissed. "My mother, my brothers, where are they?!"

He sighed, "Johnny, we-we found them but," his looked away for a moment. Then he turned back to me with sympathetic eyes, "They didn't make it."

Silence filled the room as his words sunk in. I closed my eyes, "no," I mumbled. Alfred didn't answer only placed his hands on my shoulders to hold be me down as I tried to rise out of bed. "No," I exclaimed; then screamed, "No! Let me go! I need to see them! I need to see them with my own eyes!"

The nurses came in but Alfred told them to stay back. "They're gone Johnny, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

My body fell back, defeated. The sound I made was of a wounded animal. I wept with wet tears and a dry throat. Alfred stepped back and gestured the nurses out of the room; leaving me alone to mourn my lost.

Today was bright and sunny. It almost seemed like Hurricane Audrey had never happened, but the damages were there. Newspapers were sent quickly through the country, reporting the chaos. It tore up the boarder shores of Louisiana and Texas and a total number of twenty-three tornados were counted throughout Mississippi and Alabama. The flash flood here in Paris took ten lives, including my family's.

Clay had told me once, 'that nature was as beautiful as she was deadly.' In other words, nature was a bitch.

Alfred visited, even brought me breakfast. "Morning," he sang and sat down a small box of donuts. "I didn't know what you would like so I got one of each. Chocolate, glazed, jelly-filled, you're welcome," he grinned.

I pushed the box away, "I'm not hungry."

He nodded and pulled out a worn journal from his jumper jacket. "We found the RV and Tyee," he said sadly. "Everything was destroyed, not much could be scrounged, but I did find this." He placed the journal down, the leather had turned a darker shade of brown and the paper was yellowed. "It took three hours with the hair dryer but I was able to save it. No wrinkles even, good thing you kept it in a secret appointment inside a trunk. But really, if you're going to keep a journal about me, you gotta make sure it can't be found so easily."

I stayed silent, not bothering to answer him.

He continued, "I was also able to find these," he tossed some pictures on top of the journal. Three photographs, one of my parents, another of me and my brothers, and the last was a family portrait we took a year ago. "Keep them safe, they were the only ones I could find that weren't too damaged."

I looked away from the pictures. I couldn't bear to see their smiling faces, knowing I had lived and they didn't. The tears have finally dried; the only thing that was left was anger and guilt.

"You mean to tell me after all that, this survived. This is it?!" I exclaimed. "That RV was home, I grew up in it, my brothers grew up in it. My parents bought that RV together, years were spent there and more were to come. Tristen was gonna get married, Clay got accepted to Hampton and it was all taken from them."

"You should have left me there to riot," I hissed.

"Why do you say that?" Alfred asked with blank expression.

I glared, "I had nothing to offer. Tristen did. He saved me when I fell into the water, he didn't even hesitant. But when it was time to return the favor, I froze." I ground my teeth together, "I didn't even try to follow him; I just stayed there, like a damn coward." I inhaled and exhaled through my nose, "I should've forced Father to pull over, I should've tried to save Tristen, I should've-I should've died that night."

"Well, it's a good thing your human," before I could react, Alfred slammed me to the mattress and wrapped his hand around my throat. He squeezed, stopping the air flow. "You know what a real coward is?" he asked calmly, as if he wasn't crushing my jugular. "A real coward is someone that runs away from a life that could be more than this. This wasted self-pity, this self-loath, where will this get you?"

I crawled at his hand and face, but my attacks were useless. I choked out, "You. . . don't under-stand!" Gasp, "How could. . . a monster like-like you know how. . . I feel!" Gasp, "I lost. . . my entire family. . . in one night." Gasp. "You. . . will never. . . understand!"

He leaned down to touch his forehead to mine, "You weren't the only one to lose people that night. I lost over four hundred of my own," he tightened his grip. "I still hear their screams, their cries for help." He shook his head, "I tried to get there, but the storm flooded the only damn bridge out of Paris." His eyes glazed over, "but that's only an excuse. What good is an excuse? Nothing." He pushed himself off and removed his hand from my throat.

I sat up, coughing as I tried to breath. Alfred's face carried an old soul gaze, which was a phase I learned from Mister Two Crow. 'Old in the eyes,' he always said, 'some people carry wisdom far beyond their years.'

"Your brother sacrificed his life for you. Don't let his death be in vain." He turned away from me and walked to the door. He opened it and stopped at the frame. "Live." He said as he faced me, "Live for the people that cannot, or if you still prefer not to, I'll end it for you."

Chills ran down my spine as he slammed the door behind him.

For the last three hours, I've been writing; reliving the painful events that lead to my current situation. I had nothing to my name, no money, no proof of social security. What did I have to keep me here? Who did I have to keep me here? The tribe yes, but how could I face them. Every memory I had with them was always shared with a member of my family. I don't want them to pity me, to only take care of me because who my father was. For I don't deserve it; I took away Rose's life with Tristen. I took away Hampton from Clay and I took away my parent's lives.

As I see it, I didn't listen to my gut feeling to stop. If only I didn't ignore my instincts, I would have been able to save them.

I read the words that Alfred had said over and over again. He was right on one thing. Where was this self-loathing getting me? Was I going to take action on it or will I continue to sulk. The most ironic thing was, I didn't want to be pitied by the tribe, yet I pity myself.

What will I do?

What can I do?

I truly don't know.

Luckily I didn't have to think about this for long. Alfred came strolling in with a big smile on his face, as if we didn't have a big fight just a few hours ago.

"Get dress," he tossed me a backpack. "You're coming with me."

"Where are we going?" I asked.

"Chicago," he answered and then proclaimed, "You're coming to live with me for a few days."


 

 

The knocking at my door interrupted the flow of my reading. I sighed and rubbed my eyes; Grandpa never, and I mean never spoke about what happened to his family. Whenever we asked, he would clam up and say, 'I lost them.' He didn't even tell his own son about them and I'm beginning to see why; it pained him too much.

But what really interested me was that there was more to Grandpa and Alfred's friendship than I had thought. Did Grandpa really take his offer to go live with him? If so, for how long? Also, how did Alfred keep that secret hidden from the nations?

These thoughts still cycled in my head as I rose from my seat and opened the door. Gilbert was waiting and I groaned, "What do you want?"

"Walk with me," he grabbed my arm and tugged me down the hall.

I protested and tried to shove him away, but his grip on me was strong. He continued to pull me down the stairs, out the door and onto the dirt driveway. I was finally able to jerk my arm away when we crossed the gate onto the gray brick sidewalk.

"What the hell man?" I asked, irritated.

"We need to talk," he said calmly.

"And we couldn't have done this inside?"

He sighed, "Come on," he gestured to the sidewalk.

My shoulders slumped; I knew I couldn't avoid this for long.

We walked together side by side, in silence. The air was cool, around to fifty-six to fifty-four degrees. Growing up in a town with the lows only reached the sixties; I wasn't prepared for the wind to pick up. The chill sent shivers down my spine. I crossed my arms to rub them, good thing I was wearing jeans.

"Are you cold?" Gilbert asked.

I nodded as he took off his red hoodie and draped it over my shoulders. I tensed and glanced to him. He kept walking, his back to me. He now only wore a black t-shirt with dark jeans and white tennis shoes. I gave a muffed thank you and slipped my arms through the sleeves and zipped myself up.

I caught up with him and stayed by his side. I looked up to the sky; the stars were blazing against the darkness of the atmosphere. My thoughts went back to Grandpa's most recent entry; of the people he lost. I inhaled through my nose, he had once told me, when something dies their body would be consumed by the earth and their soul would be taken to the stars. So even when they weren't here physically; they would always be here, even when I can't see them. I looked down to Grandpa's ring and smiled.

"What's with the bird ring?" Gilbert asked as he looked over my shoulder.

"It isn't a bird, it's a hawk." I answered with a gentle tone. "It belonged to my grandfather."

"Why are you wearing it?"

"To honor his memory," I said.

"Now, your grandfather, was he the man that Alfred knew for over sixty years?"

I nodded, "yes, they met when he was sixteen, but Grandpa saw him for the first time when he was seven. Alfred was following his tribe for months after World War II."

His eyebrows knitted together in curiosity, "why?"

"He said that he discovered a different side of himself and that he needed guidance."

Gilbert nodded in understanding, "Ja, that war changed everything."

I sighed, "Gilbert, I'm-"

"Don't," he said, "I'm not the one you need to apologize to."

"Yeah, I do. I hit you-"

"But I taunted you; it's like mocking a wild animal. I brought it on myself. But I have to say," he smirked, "you have killer left hook."

I gave a soft laugh as I touched my face, "I can tell you the same thing."

He grinned and we continued along the sidewalk. He was quiet till: "tell me, what do you know of the war?"

I closed my eyes for a minute before answering. "It all started when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939. The war then lasted from 1939 to 1945, during these years he took control over most of Western Europe and even tried to take Russia, but because of bogus science the Germans invaded during winter. That pretty much screwed themselves over. Also with the added help with the Americans to the Allies, they took down Italy, Germany's longest and most trusted ally. Then the A-bomb came into play and destroyed Japan. Hitler comments suicide and Germany surrenders."

"That's a nice summary of the worst six years of our lives," Gilbert proclaimed sarcastically.

"If you want me to get into it, I can. Christopher made sure this was drilled into my brain since I was twelve."

"Christopher? Oh he was your British tutor, ja?"

"Yup, he's really passionate about history and it only increased when he discovered I was a nation."

"It's easy to be passionate about something you were never there to witness." The light in his eyes dimmed. We walked for another minute or two in silence till Gilbert said, "Did you know Hitler wanted to be an artist?"

I nodded, "yeah, but he was rejected by both the art school and the architecture school."

"How do you think he got so interested in politics?" He didn't expect me to answer. I remained quiet as he continued, "Around this time, West was living in my shadow. He wanted to prove that he was strong nation on his own. But no one really took him seriously and I will admit I still saw him as my kid brother." He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

"He would go out drinking and one night he met a defeated artist that was run down on his luck. They bonded over their shared love of good beer and dreams to leave their mark on the world. After both had served in the First World War, they had watched as their country was hit by a crushing economic system and was sunk in debt to France.

"One had ideas to better the country, to pull them out of their depression. The other said, 'prove it.'"

I connected the dots, "Ludwig encouraged Hitler to get into politics," I said slowly, letting the dreadful words sink in. Gilbert stood quiet, with a blank expression on his face. I leaned against a neighbor's wall, "Oh my god. And after what I said," I closed my eyes, "I'm an insensitive ass."

Gilbert didn't say a word to my statement, only finished his tale. "Ludwig and Adolf were friends. Both influenced one another; one more than the other. In the end, one betrayed the other." His eyes grew sad, "Ludwig trusted him, with everything and he continues to bear the scars."

"But it's not his fault," I remarked, "Hitler fooled everyone, he kept his hatred for the Jews a secret so he can have the chance to brainwash everyone into believing what he was doing was okay. Ludwig was played, Germany was played, it's-it's-"

"Yet Ludwig was the one that pushed him toward it."

I snorted, "Hitler didn't need anyone to tell him what to do. A man like that wanted power, it wouldn't have made a difference."

He sighed, "But Ludwig thinks so. He believes it's his fault that the war started, even to this day."

I blinked back frustrated tears, "but it wasn't."

"You think I haven't told him that," Gilbert said sadly. "He just won't let go of it, he will continue to carry the guilt. No matter how many times Feliciano, Kiku and I forgive him," he sighed. "He'll always blame himself."

"I have to apologize."

"He won't take it. As he sees it, you were right."

"Still, I need to say it."

He was quiet till he said, "Are you only doing it to lessen your guilt?"

I shook my head, "No. It's all for him, and if he won't take it. Then I'll work my ass off for him. As I see it, he's taking time out of his schedule to train me, the least I can do, is give him my all."

Gilbert gave a small smile and in one swift move, pulled me to his side with his arm around my shoulders. "You know, you're smarter than you look."

I shoved him playfully, "screw you."


 

During our walk around the island, we tried to lessen the tension of our previous discussion. We talked about random subjects; from favorite bands and genres of music to books and movies. When we reached the manor, Gilbert unlocked the door and I strolled in, heading straight to Ludwig's room. His room was on the first floor through a hall in between the kitchen and dining room. Gilbert had said that his room was on the left, while his brother's was on the right.

I heard muffed sounds as I got closer to Ludwig's room. His door was slightly ajar and the sounds were getting louder. My curiosity got the best of me and I peeked through the thin opening.

I found Ludwig and Feliciano on the bed, naked and kissing each other. Ludwig was on top and he seemed to be moving. Feliciano was under him with his arms hooked around Ludwig's neck. Both were sweaty with a light pink blush spreading from cheek to cheek. Feliciano's on the other hand had a darker blush than his partner's. They were panting, moaning, and mumbling soft words to each other.

My jaw dropped.

Before my voice could make a sound; I stepped back with my hand over my mouth and speed walked into the kitchen.

"That was quick," Gilbert said as he brought out raw sausage from the fringe and placed it on a frying pan. "How did it go?"

My cheeks and ears grew in heat. "Fine," I choked, my voice was unusually high and I cleared my throat before I spoke again. "He took it just fine."

"Why are you red?" he asked as he placed a hand on my forehead. "Are you sick?"

I stepped back, "Nah, I'm good, I'm good." I looked everywhere but his eyes.

"Amy, what's wrong?"

"Nothing," I snapped.

He crossed his arms and waited.

I sighed, "I-I," I took another deep breath, "I saw Ludwig and Feliciano together."

Gilbert lifted a brow, "and?"

"They were together, together," I whispered.

"Oh, you saw them fucking each other," he proclaimed. "That isn't anything new, liebe."

I was stunned, "but I thought Feliciano was into girls?"

"He is, so is West. All the nations roll both ways Fräulein. Let's just say when you live for couple of decades you forget the gender and focus on the person."

I nodded in understanding, "oh."

He grinned, "You should've seen your face," he pinched both of my cheeks. "You were blushing like a virgin."

I turned a deeper shade of red and Gilbert's eyes widened. "Oh don't tell me. Are you a virgin?" I stayed quiet and glanced to the floor, avoiding his analyzing gaze. My cheeks were on fire and I gripped the hem of the hoodie to control my nerves. "You are," he chuckled, "and you saw them-" he howled in laughter. "This is priceless, this is absolutely priceless."

"Can we just drop it, please," I exclaimed.

"Drop what?"

Gilbert and I turned to find Ludwig and Feliciano walking into the kitchen. Both were fully dressed in casual clothing and seemed to be perfectly normal. I couldn't look either of them in the eyes, "nothing," I mumbled.

Ludwig moved closer to look at my face, "why are you red? Do you have a fever?"

I jumped back, "no I don't."

"Oh, she's not sick," Gilbert smiled mischievously. "Little America just witnessed something that shook her to her core," he draped his arm around my shoulders and placed his cheek beside mine. "She's right now trying to process it."

"Gil, I swear to god I'm going to punch you."

Ludwig glanced between me and his brother, "what exactly is going on with you two?"

Gilbert answered, tired with his game. "She saw you two having sex."

Ludwig's eyes widened as his face burned with a bright red blush.

Feliciano frowned in disappointment, "you should've joined."

"Feli!" Ludwig exclaimed as I covered my face with my hands and Gilbert banged his fist on the counter, laughing his ass off.

Dinner was awkward that night but over time we found the situation hilarious. Feliciano had made pasta with tomato sauce and cuts of sausage in it. I couldn't help but notice the pun of Italian pasta being mixed together with German sausage. Of course Gil noticed and threw this fact at me and Ludwig, mostly because he wanted to see us blush. Feliciano on the other hand, didn't care, will to be honest he never really got the joke in the first place. Ludwig and I said our apologies and Gilbert continued to make jokes about my virginity. That usually ended with me slapping him over his head.

At the end of our meal, Gilbert brought out a large bottle of beer and poured me a glass. "To help you forget," he proclaimed.

"I think it's gonna take more than one glass," I swallowed a few gulps and the liquor burned as it went down my throat. I made a face of disgust as I slammed the glass back down on the table.

He chuckled, "Can't handle your beer little girl?"

I cleared my throat, "yes, it's just stronger than I thought it would be."

"It isn't American beer," Ludwig commented as he took a swing from his glass.

I took a deep breath before I drank the rest of my beer and pushed my glass towards Gilbert. "Give me another," I grinned and he happily obliged.

The night became a blur and I found myself walking up on the couch in the living room. My eyes were sensitive to the morning sun and it felt like jackhammer was pounding into my skull. I groaned as I rubbed my temples and tried not to think about throwing up.

Gilbert was passed out on the table beside me and I felt something warm behind me. I turned to find Feliciano sleeping in his birthday suit. I jumped off and checked if my clothes were on. I sighed in relief when I felt my pants and shirt on my skin.

My eyes subconsciously looked to Feliciano's body. His skin was a shade of light tannish brown and his body was smooth and scrawny. He was surprising thin for someone that can eat bowl after bowl of pasta. But was I really one to talk; I was addicted to chocolate and I never seem to gain a pound. You know, there's perks to being a nation.

I pulled a blanket off the arm of the couch and covered him from shoulder to toes.

"Sorry about him, he always does that," Ludwig said as he walked in.

"When he's drunk," I proclaimed.

"No, when he goes to bed," he sighed, "he sleeps in the nude."

I nodded, "okay, that's. . . interesting," I said uncertainly.

"Here," Ludwig gave me a cup filled with green fluid, "drink."

"What is it?"

"Just drink it; it will make you feel better."

I glanced to him and took the cup. I placed it to my lips and nearly spit it out. Ludwig then snatched the cup and pulled my hair down, forcing the foul liquid down my throat. After I swallowed every drop he stepped back as I coughed and made gagging noises.

"What the fuck was that?!"

"You don't want to know," he said, "but don't you feel better?"

I sat back on the couch, making sure I avoided hitting Feliciano. My eyes stopped stinging and the limbs of my body were beginning to relax. My head wasn't even splitting in two anymore, "yeah, is that some kind of miracle hangover cure?"

He nodded as he sat beside me, "you can say that."

I rubbed my eyes, "What happen last night?"

"We drank, we danced and I believe we had karaoke contest."

"Oh right now I remember." I giggled, "Gilbert and me totally killed it when we sang 'Fancy' by Iggy Azalea."

Ludwig shook his head, "if you say so."

"Oh shut up."

We shared a couple of laughs till I sighed, "Did I apologize for what I said yesterday."

"Yes, but what you said-"

"Don't," I warned. "Just shut up and take my apology. And if that's not enough for you then I'm gonna make you a promise. From now on when we train, I will give it my all and follow whatever you say."

His eyebrow lifted in humor, "and no complaining?"

I snorted, "yeah, no. Can't promise that, but I can promise you the rest."

He looked away to hide his smile, but I was able to catch it before he did. He rose to his feet, "Then I suggest you rest today, for tomorrow I will break your spirit."

I rolled my eyes, "good luck with that."

Chapter Text

Eight days passed and training continued as usual.

Laps were run every morning, weight and stance training was every mid-morning to noon, combat training was every afternoon and classes were held every evening. The very first week was definitely the hardest, but I quickly grew use to the routine and the bruises were fading at a faster rate. And I will say this, I'm getting pretty good at fighting; somewhat.

Ludwig flipped me over his back, sending me to the pat for the tenth time that Tuesday afternoon.

"Ow," I groaned.

He sighed, "Well at least you're lasting longer."

I sat up, "Are you saying I'm approving," I grinned.

He gave a small smile, "somewhat."

"I'll take it!"

"Hey West," Gilbert called as he came down the stairs, "maybe you should end the training for today. You two have to get up early for the meeting tomorrow; you might as well take the rest of the day to relax."

"No," Ludwig proclaimed, "The next four days will already be cut in half, today will be the only full day of training till next week."

"I know I promised to follow your orders and all," I said, "but I would really like today to be a half day."

"We can't, the next three days will be for the G9 meeting, then after that will be Saturday. We need today. We cannot break schedule," he lectured.

"Just this once," I bat my eyes at him, "please."

"No."

I didn't give up. "Pretty please, with sugar on top."

He wasn't fazed, "No. Now give me fifty burpees on the spot. That's what you get for wasting my time."

I groaned and rose to my feet. I dropped to do a push up, then rose again to jump in the air and repeated for fifty times. Truthfully I did more than that. Ludwig wouldn't count the ones I half assed at.


 

Evening came along with a fresh bowl of pasta for dinner.

I groaned, "spaghetti, again?" I looked to Feliciano.

He slurped down a few stands of pasta, "Pasta is good for the soul."

"Feli, I love you but I think you have a problem."

He stopped eating to stare at me, "did you just say you love me?"

"I guess."

He rose from his seat and ran around the table to hug me. "I love you too."

"Oh the feels," I patted him on the back.

"Give her a kiss, Feli," Gilbert smirked.

Feliciano passed me a hopeful look and I glared at him. "You know what happen the last time, do you want it to repeat?"

He stepped back and whispered, "No."

I nodded, "Good boy."

"Ah, come on now Amy," Gilbert chuckled, "Give the boy a kiss."

"How about you kiss him," I remarked.

"I already did, several times actually."

I gave him a look and turned to Ludwig, he was still eating. "Did you not hear him?"

"Yes," he nodded.

"You knew about it?"

"Yes."

"But, I thought," I glanced to Feliciano, to Gilbert and finally back to Ludwig. "You know what, I don't want to know."

"It's actually a wonderful tale," Gilbert proclaimed, "it all started-"

I slammed my hands over my ears. "La, la, la, I can't hear you! La, la, la, la."

"I swear, all of you gonna drive me to drink," Ludwig sighed.

"I think that ship has sailed, brother." Gilbert smirked and swallowed his beer.


 

Classes were quick and I was able to have time to use Ludwig's computer to skype with my parents. It was eight-thirty at night here, meaning it would be noon in Summerland. I had to download skype and it was one of the older models for Ludwig's computer hasn't been upgraded since 2011. Thank god, he at least had a web cam.

I login into my skype account and pressed the call button for our home computer. I was answered by Alyce, Roman, and Lali, "Aunt Amy!" They cried out happily as Roman ran out of the shot, calling out to everyone in the house.

Everyone gathered around the computer. My parents sat in chairs in front of the screen. Lali sat on Mom's lap while Blake sat on Dad's. Alyce and Gael squeezed in between them while Blair, Valencia and Roman stood by their sides. Melissa and Sanjay stood in the back with our cousins.

"How's Germany?" Sanjay asked.

"Did you see the Berlin Wall?" Alyce asked.

"Are you eating right?" Mom asked; worried.

"Where's my present?" Valencia asked.

I laughed, "The country is really mild, good weather. The Berlin Wall is epic and I have pictures, I sent them through my email. I'll give you the address and password to see them. And yes Mom I'm eating, a lot of sausage and pasta. And Valencia, I know your birthday passed, but I'm just waiting for you guys to get back home, so that way you'll be there to get it."

Valencia pouted as Mom questioned, "Sausage and pasta? That's all you've been eating?"

"Believe me Mom; I would give anything right now to have your enchiladas."

We talked for over an hour, answering questions and confirming when our cousins would arrive in Texas. I've told them about my so-called two year program. My second cousins only knew that I was traveling for college credit, which wasn't an all-out lie. They just didn't need to know that I was training to join the US army and that I was living with nations, to learn how to me a nation. It seemed a little too complicated.

Ludwig knocked on the door frame, "It's twenty minutes till lights out," he warned.

I nodded and turned back to the screen to say my goodbyes. Once I login out and turned off the computer, I ran up the stairs to take a quick shower and dress for bed. I fell into bed and wrapped myself in the blankets. Someone knocked at my door and I said, "Come in."

It was Ludwig, "Lights out America, you have busy day tomorrow."

"What? You not gonna tuck me in and read me a bed time story?" I teased.

He shook his head, "You are not a child."

"What are you saying? You've called me child several times. I mean if I had a dime every time you called me a child; I would have dollar. I think, I don't know. I'm not that good at math."

"I know, I've seen your test scores."

"Hey now that sounded insulting," I narrowed my eyes at him.

He forced himself not to smile, "Go to bed America."

"Why do you keep calling me that? Gil calls me Amy, so does Feliciano, why don't you?" I asked curiosity.

"You need to get used to it, and you have to start calling me Germany."

"It just seems weird. You're Ludwig, I'm Amy. It just clicks better with me than Germany and America."

"But Amy is not your real name; America is. We as nations must put our country above our personal ideals. Our human names are used for the public and only the public." His stare was unwavering, "We are nations before we are human."

I subconsciously glanced to Grandpa's journal on the nightstand before I turned to face him. "I would like to think it's the other way around. Like you said, the people are what make a nation and the people are human, so wouldn't we be at least a little bit human."

He took a moment before answering, "Maybe so." He turned off the lights, "goodnight," and paused before he said, "Amy."

I grinned, "Goodnight Germany."

Once he closed the door, I waited for his footsteps to fade till I grabbed Grandpa's journal and a flashlight and hid myself under the covers. I skimmed through till I found where I left off.


 

I protested but Alfred would only counter with, "you need to see Rose, you have to tell her about Tristen."

I knew he was right, but I didn't want to go and stay with the man. He believes he's over 200 years old and thinks himself as America. He's insane. But what was even worse, I'm starting to believe him. That monstrous strength, that faraway gaze, whatever he is, he certainly isn't human.

But as I looked at the urns of my former parents and brothers, I knew I had to put them to rest. Tristen would want his remains to be with the love of his life. I also didn't have any other way to get to Chicago, so I took Alfred on his offer.

We drove in silence, well I was quiet. Alfred kept trying to make small talk with me but I pretended to be asleep to ignore him. The drive was short, about three to four hours, and when we reached the city he took me north. He stopped the car in front of two story red-brown brick building.

"This seems pretty big for one person," I remarked.

"Did I hear the wind," Alfred looked around, trying to find the source of the voice. He faced me with a fake confused look, "oh were you talking to me?"

"Funny," I hissed and climbed out of the car.

He followed, "This isn't just me living here. There's Ms. Clare, she lives on the second floor while I live on the first. They're flats; both floors have two bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom and a small living room."

"It doesn't look that big," I said.

"It's just narrow, but believe me all the room is in the length not the width," he smiled and opened the door. It led to a small narrow hall with a small stair case that led to one door at the top. While on the bottom floor there were two doors, one on the far right and another on the left, under the stair case.

As Alfred closed the door, the top door opened and four cats came running. The cats mewed as they wrapped themselves around Alfred's legs. An old woman walked down the stairs but stopped when she saw us. "Alfred, you're home, its good see you," she smiled.

He bent down to scoop up a large brown tabby cat, "Thank you Ms. Clare, by the way, you look great, have you been doing something new with your hair?"

"Oh Alfred stop being such a charmer, save it for a nice young lady."

He nodded and made kissing noises to the cat in his arms, "yes ma'am."

The woman looked to me, "who is this?"

"A friend of mine," he stated, "he gonna stay with me for a bit."

She gave me an uncertain gaze, she was white and I was native. Of course, she must be scared to death for having a savage Indian living under the same roof. She must think I'll scalp her in her sleep. These thoughts were running through my head at that moment, but stopped when an old, long haired Main Coon began to rub up against my leg.

I slowly fell to one knee and scratched the cat under the chin. The cat purred and rubbed his nose and head into my palm for more.

"Wow, Walter likes you. He never likes strangers; he scratched me the first time we met." Alfred proclaimed.

I glanced up to Ms. Clare; her uncertain look had relaxed into one of general friendliness. "What's your name?"

"John," I said, "John Hawkfeather."

"Are you originally from Chicago?"

"No, I was born in New Mexico, but I've traveled around the country since I was small."

"Is it your first time in our city?"

"I've been here once, when I was eight."

She smiled, "well enjoy yourself." She turned to Alfred, "And you, stop eating out, it's unhealthy."

He nodded and sat the cat down, "Don't worry Ms. Clare, I'll start cooking at home."

"No, you should get yourself a wife."

"I know, I'll get right on that." He unlocked his door and gestured me to walk in. Once he closed the door, he sighed, "If only it was that simple."

"She seems nice," I said as I looked around. Like Alfred said, the flat was all in the length. The living room was in front with three windows wrapped around in a tower design. Farther down was the kitchen, it was small and quaint. Then there were two doors behind that and a door across from the kitchen.

"Yeah, she's a sweet old woman, tries to get me to date her granddaughter, but still sweet." He then gave me a short tour, mostly just informing me that my room will be on the right while his was on the left. The bathroom was across the kitchen and he'll make me a key later tomorrow. He then asked what I wanted for dinner, but I wasn't hungry. I only wanted to go to bed.

Alfred simply nodded and helped me with my family's urns from the car to my room. I sat them on the work desk; luckily they were labeled, for all four were the same small, gold painted vases.

I sat on the bed and stared at was once my family.


 

That was the end of the second entry. Soft tears fell down my cheek, my grandfather was never good with sharing his feelings and I wished just once that he told me about this. A journal can only do so much.

I wiped my tears and placed the journal back on the nightstand and switched off the flashlight. I laid in bed watching the view out my window. The moonlight had cut through, shadowing my dream catcher that was hanging in front. The net was in perfect alignment with the room, allowing the shadows of the tiny wooden animal sculptures to spread around the walls and floor. They no longer looked peaceful and stiff. They seemed to dance and looked almost, frightening.

The child within me wanted to bolt and crawl into either Gilbert or Ludwig's bed, to escape from the scary creatures. Then I realized that would be stupid and I would be pretty much asking for them to take advantage of me or hold this over my head for life. (Well mostly Gilbert, Ludwig would pretty much lecture me.)

Instead of running to them, I buried myself in the blankets and slept while clutching Grandpa's ring.


 

The next morning was bright and sunny. I had dressed in a new suit that was given to me by my parents. It was black with a white blouse underneath the jacket. I wore a matching pencil skirt, panty-hoes and a pair of simple half inch black heels. I combed my hair with styling oil, taming my curls to be at least presentable. My bruises had faded and my skin was smooth and unmarked. I applied some light eyeliner, two coats of mascara and Shea butter lip gloss.

I slipped my phone into my jacket's pocket and my ID into the other. I sighed and shook out my shoulders, "you can do this," I said to my reflection in the bathroom mirror. "Just observe, don't say anything unless spoken to and if you do please avoid using cuss words and insulting other people." I stared at myself, "yeah, I'm screwed."

"America," Ludwig called from the first floor, "come down for breakfast."

"Coming," I exclaimed and ran down the stairs.

"Where's your brief case?" he asked.

I blinked, "do I need one?"

"Well yes, how are you going to keep notes? I know you are only watching and not presenting anything, but you need to make notes on how we display our issues and how we speak to one another," he lectured.

"You mean like a speech?" I lifted an eyebrow at him, "Dude I took speech in school, I know how to talk to an audience and make a PowerPoint."

"There's more to it than that," Ludwig stated.

I rolled eyes, "I'll make sure to take notes on my phone Mr. Beilschmidt."

He snorted, "I wasn't born yesterday."

"Clearly," I mumbled.

"Here," he handed me a spiral notebook and pen.

"Yay," I said sarcastically.

After breakfast Ludwig, Feliciano and I climbed in the BMW. I buckled myself in and turned to find Gilbert waving goodbye. "Lucky bastard," I grumbled.

"What did you say?" Ludwig looked at me through the rear view mirror.

"Nothing," I sighed.

When we arrived at the Reichstag building, the roads were crowded and it seemed like we would never get a parking spot. We entered through the front door and showed our IDs to the security guards. Certain areas of the building were closed to public; obviously that was where the G9 meeting would be held. Only the bottom floor and dome was allowed for the public, the second floor belonged to us.

I followed Ludwig and Feliciano down a white tile hall with fancy, gothic designed podium walls and high ceilings. We walked up a flat of stairs to the second floor, the windows were smaller compared to ones downstairs but everything else was the same. When we arrived at a pair of large wooden doors, I was able to spot three blonds in the distance.

I perked up and ran down the hall to collide into Arthur, "Arthur!" He yelped as we fell to the floor. I sat up, sitting on his stomach and grinned, "Hi."

"Hi," he hissed in irritation, "would you mind getting off of me."

I giggled as Francis came from behind and helped to my feet, "well don't you know how to make an entrance."

I wrapped my arms around his neck and gave a quick peck on the cheek, "Francis it's good to see you."

He kissed my cheek in return, "The same to you ma chérie."

I moved along to the last blond, "Mattie," I cried happily as I held him tight, "I missed you." Matthew only nodded and patted my back.

Arthur picked himself off the floor and adjusted his suit jacket, "Well, that was un-lady like."

I lifted a brow at him, "do you not know me?"

Francis and Matthew laughed softly to my comment as I grinned and Arthur sighed, but his lips were tempted to smile.

"So how's your stay at Germany's house?" Francis asked.

"Ugh," I groaned, "its torture. He makes me run laps every day, in morning, noon and night. Then there are sit-ups, pushups, combat training where I'm left black and blue all over and he makes me do burpees! He's pure evil."

"Ahem," Ludwig stood behind me with his arms crossed.

"I mean," I turned around, "he's the greatest mentor anyone could ever ask for."

He narrowed his eyes at me and I sighed, "I'm doing burpees when we get back, aren't I?"

"Yes, yes you are."

"You westerners are so loud. I can hear you all from down the hall." Yao came walking from the hall on my right, beside him was Kiku.

"Hey Yao, hey Kiku," I greeted.

Yao knitted his brows together in annoyance while Kiku gave me an uncertain look. "America, we are alone, please use our country's name, not our human names."

Well, doesn't someone have a stick up their ass, I thought as I said, "sorry China, I'm still trying to get use to that." I nodded to Kiku, "Hello Japan."

"Good Morning America-san," he answered polity.

"It seems we're all here," that voice sent cold shivers down my spine. I looked back to the hall in front of me to find Ivan making his way towards us.

Everyone painted on a professional face as they official greeted one another. Ivan made sure to address me first, "Hello America," he held out his hand to me.

I swallowed my urge to kick him in the groin and shook his hand. "Hello Russia."

He gave an eerie smile and moved to kiss me on the cheek. I jumped back and opened the door the meeting room, "let's get started." I grabbed Arthur and Matthew and dragged them inside. I sat Arthur on my right and sat Matthew on my left. Francis followed and took his seat beside Arthur.

We sat at a round table, with Ludwig, Feliciano and Japan sitting next to one another as Yao and Ivan took the last seats.

"The first meeting of the G9 will now come to order," Ludwig announced.


 

For the last three hours we have discussed about economic drops, diseases that are in need of funding, a natural disaster that have caused a serve drought for farmers in east Europe and an escalation of crime.

I straightened myself up when Ludwig got to the topic of human trafficking. "It seems these child abductions have only gotten worse. Over three thousand children have been kidnapped and that's ones that have been reported. More street kids have been taken ranging in the ages of six to fifteen."

"You mean these kidnappings have all been done by the same group of people?" Yao asked.

Ludwig nodded, "seems so, we have tracked and busted over fifty other trafficking rings worldwide, but none of them seem to be connected this ring or the children that have been missing for the last five months."

"What makes this trafficking ring different from the others is that they are a worldwide organization and a perfectly functioning one at that." Arthur added, "They also seem to take a large amount of children in a short period of time."

"Aren't they using computers? Cell phones? Anything to stay in touch with one another?" Kiku questioned.

Matthew sighed, "Whatever they're using seems to avoid radio signals and phone towers. Somehow, they're taking kids but yet continue to stay off the grid. They use no credit cards, no rental cars, and no license boats. They avoid security cameras or for some strange reason cameras short circuit or shut off when a child is about to be taken."

We nodded in understanding; whoever these people are, they're technology was superior. They're devices blocked radio signals and satellites, no one can track them, not even the smartest, most experienced hackers. They are able to knock out power lines and cameras; one video even got on YouTube. It was a nanny cam that over looked a girl's room; she was seven years old and from the countryside of Britain. She was sleeping in her little princess bed when her camera shook and turned black. When the picture came into focus three hours later, the child was gone. Now of course there are devices that shut out radio signals, but only for a certain amount of time and cameras now days came with back up programs and second cameras hidden in the first, to capture what the first would miss. But whatever invention they used seems to shut down the program and the second camera.

They also can to hack into any security system, no matter how complicated the code was. They even took kids from different social classes; from the deepest depths of poverty to the highest ranks of society. When I meant the highest, I meant the top. Some of these kids came from families that have dinner parties and barbecues with NFL, NBA, and Major League players, politicians and billionaires too. These families could afford the most enhanced systems in the world, but yet this trafficking ring can break them like they were Intel software.

"This ring is twenty steps ahead us," Francis proclaimed. "Whenever we think we have a location, they find way to," he snapped his fingers, "disappear or send us on a wild goose chase."

"And they seem to take only children," Yao added, "no adults at all."

"Well, children are weaker and easier to manipulate," said Ivan.

This discussion brought forth images of my nephews, niece, young cousins and the kids from the rec center; to think that any of them could be abducted and forced into. . . God, I couldn't even think about that.

"What's the plan?" I heard myself saying.

The nations turned to face me, "What do you mean?" Ludwig asked.

"What are we gonna do? Are we gonna follow a lead? Locate and interrogate one of the ring members?"

I was met with silence till Arthur sighed, "America we can't get involved with police matters, it could lead to our discovery."

I gave him a look, "seriously."

He sighed, "It's just how it is."

"So what's the point of sitting here and talking about it when we're not gonna do anything about it!"

"Sit down America," Ludwig exclaimed.

I inhaled deeply, "I need air. Can I please be excused?"

He nodded and I speed walked out the door. I leaned against the wall and sighed, "Great, Amy you almost lost it. But at least you didn't flip the table."

Stomping of footsteps came echoing down the hall as a pair of men ran towards me and skidded around the corner into the hall in front of me. I knew one of them, "Neill?!"

He was too focused on the man he was chasing to spare me a glance. But still, what the hell was he doing here in Berlin? I ran after him. They were a several feet ahead of me but thanks to all those laps with Ludwig, I was able to stay on their tail.

It wasn't long till Neill clutched a fist into the man's shirt and threw him to the wall. I slid to a stop and hid behind a wall column. I peeked to find Neill shaking the man and whispering harshly at him.

They hissed at one another and the man must have said something insulting, for Neill had punched him in the face. "Stop screwing with me! Where's Klipto Thas!"

"I will tell you nothing," the man hissed and shoved him aside. He tried to stand but Neill tackled him and wrestled him to the ground.

They struggled with one another till the man got the upper hand and grabbed at Neill's leather wristband, the dark brown one he always wore. The man smashed the wristband against the floor and it sparked with colorful blue lights. Neill hissed in pain as the band continued to short circuit. The man tried to run but Neill flipped out a long metal rod that was glowing with electrical currents and shocked him with a simple touch. He fell to the ground, twitching.

Neill panted, trying to fix his wristband but it only got worse as sparks flew and his image began to shake. Like when the picture of a TV shook, causing the image to blur. That's what was happening to Neill's form as his hair, clothes and body structure wavered and became see-through. Underneath this was a short, skinny body with silver-gray skin. The creature had a bald round head, it wore no clothes but it didn't seem like it needed them. It had no privates like humans did and looked like it was used to no clothing. It dragged the man back to the wall and pushed him in a sitting position. I was able to see the side of its face; it had a pointed chin, a small nose, no mouth and had big bug eyes the color of scarlet.

It was an alien.

I gasped and the alien snapped his head to face me. I froze in place, totally dumbstruck of the creature in front of me. Its face didn't really hold much in emotion but its eyes did get bigger and he spoke with no mouth. "Amy?" it questioned, but the sound didn't ring with Neill's Scottish accent. Instead its voice was high, almost girlish and carried no accent what's so ever.

I flinched as it used my name. It noticed and lifted its hands in surrender, "Amy, please stay calm."

In rapid movements, I placed a vase to the floor and lifted the podium that held that vase over my head. "Where's Neill you alien freak!" I swung the podium at him but missed when he weaved around my blows.

"I am Neill!"

"Bullshit!" I slammed the podium into its chest and sent him flying to the wall, opposite of the man it had knocked out beforehand. "You have ten seconds to tell me where he is or I'm going to beat you with this!" I lifted the podium over my head.

"I am Neill Shaw," it exclaimed, its voice fearful.

I was about to smash the podium over its head till it screamed, "Remember how you couldn't understand fractions?"

I stopped and stared at the alien. "What?"

"Yes, you couldn't understand how to add and subtract fractions, so we spent the day backing cupcakes to help you. I would quiz you on how many fractions you needed to add for the vegetable oil and water to make twelve dozen cupcakes. Remember we burnt the first batch and frosted the other batches with vanilla and chocolate icing."

My eyes widened as it recited the memory I shared with Neill. It continued, "And-and, when Chris, Laura and I traveled with you to Hawaii. I took you out star gazing and told you which stars were which. We stayed up all night till the sun rose. I carried you in my arms as I walked back to your grandparent's house, singing a lullaby to you."

I stared at it with a shocked look but I was still stubborn to believe it, "what was the song you sang to me?"

It removed its arms away from its head and looked up to me, "'Dream Angus'."

I exhaled and threw the podium to the side. My arms fell to my sides and I shook my head, "who are you? What are you?"

It rose to its feet, "I'm Neill Shaw, well that's the name I used as your tutor. My real name is Mykrutyszoni; but you're father called me Tony."

"Are you talking about Alfred?" I asked.

"Yes," it nodded.

I messaged my temples, "Alfred was friends with an alien?"

"Yes," it answered.

"Why?"

"He helped hide me from his government when I crashed into New Mexico in the summer of 1947. Through the years we grew close, causing me to have an excuse to come visit Earth more. But luckily for me, most of the outlaws I hunt down choose Earth to settle in."

"Hold on, hunt? Outlaws? What are you?"

"I'm an Alien Bounty Hunter; I work with the Universal Police Force to track and capture outlaws. I'm pretty much the only alien in the galaxy that actually knows this planet and all its unique qualities. But of course I only learned so much thanks to Alfred."

"Wait, you're telling me that Alfred was an Alien Bounty Hunter?"

"When I came to Earth looking for an outlaw, then yes," it confirmed.

I slapped my cheeks, "Okay Amy wake up now. This might be the most creative dream you ever had, but you gotta wake up now!"

"You're not dreaming," it said in a monotone.

"No, I have to be dreaming because this is just too much! I mean, first there were nations, then spirits and now aliens! What's next a damn a zombie apocalypse?!"

The window shattered as the man, who we thought was unconscious, busted through the glass. He landed with a thud and rose to his feet shakily. The alien ran to the window and cursed, "Fuck!" It lifted his arm to its face, the one that held a metal arm band (Neill's wristband). "Activate Clocking Disguise!"

The device sparked as little drills popped out and started fixing the band. A robotic voice proclaimed, "Repairs must be made. Please stand by."

"Abort repairs! Abort repairs!"

"Cannot abort, cannot abort," the robotic voice repeated.

It groaned and turned to face me, "Amy go after him!"

"What?! No! How about you go after him, oh great alien hunter?!"

"I really can't go out looking like this can I?" It gestured to its odd form, "If they reacted anyway like you did, they would have me strapped down on a dissecting table faster than you can say Deutschmarks!"

"Why do I have to?" I countered.

"Because he knows where Klipto is!"

"Who the hell is Klipto?!"

"He's the alien that's behind the child abductions for the last five months!"

My eyes widened in disbelief, "what?"

"Klipto has been kidnapping children around the world, planning to sell them to aliens across the galaxies. That alien," it pointed to the man that was running through the tourists, "knows where he is and when we know where Klipto is, we will know where the children are."

My thoughts were slurring but still I asked, "Why should I trust you? You've lied to me the entire time I've known you."

"I'm not the only one; you've family did the same."

"Touché," I remarked coldly and turned to the man (hash-tag: alien) running around the building, most likely heading for the Spree River. He was getting away along with the knowledge of where those kids where. I mentally groaned and jumped out of the second story window. I landed with ease and began the chase.

Chapter Text

The man that was supposedly an alien ran down the road called Reichstagufer. I sprinted after him, weaving around tourists and locals and rolling up my skirt with each step. My jacket caused me to sweat more than needed and my shoes were killing me. As I was running, one question just kept nagging at me.

What happened to my life?

I'm in Berlin, chasing an alien outlaw because Neill, or Tony, or whatever his fucking name was; needed me to go after him. This supposed Alien Bounty Hunter was friends with Alfred and together they were a team, kicking alien ass and taking names.

I wanted to scream in frustration, but a deeper, darker side of me said, why scream when you can take your frustration out on him.

I looked straight ahead to the disguised alien. Its disguise was of a tall man with short chestnut brown hair. He was long and lean and wore causal clothes. Anger and irritation boiled inside of me and fueled me with the energy to quicken my pace. The man turns onto Bunsenstraße and I followed him like a bloodhound. I was closing in and he noticed. He yelped and tried losing me on the street of Dorotheenstraße, jumping into traffic.

Cars honked as they came to a skidding stop. The man crossed the road and I continued to follow, weaving around cars and vans. Several drivers shouted at me but I ignored them. Now that I think about it, I was crazy focused. It was like everything else faded away and the only thought, the only concern I had was capturing that guy.

He cuts into Schadowstraße and I cursed, "I'm really sick of chasing you."

Farther down this road, I kicked up my legs and tackled him to the ground. He hissed back a cry and punched me in the face. I barely felt it, it was nothing compared to a nation's punch. I threw down my elbow to the side of his temple, dazing him. I curled my fingers into his shirt and tossed him into an ally between two buildings. "Let's have a little chat, shall we?" I said as I cracked my knuckles.

"Are you with him?!" he shouted, "The bounty hunter?!"

I lifted him up and slammed him to the wall, "I'm asking the questions here. Where is this Klepo guy?"

He gave me a confused look, "who?"

I slapped him with the back of my hand, "I don't have time for your stupid games!"

"You pronounced his name wrong," a familiar Scottish voice resounded from behind.

I craned my neck to face Neill, well a silver-gray skinned alien that uses a human disguise he created as Neill Shaw. I narrowed my eyes at it, "Well then," I dropped the man, "you ask the questions."

It walked over and bent its knees to be at the same level as the man, "Now where is Klipto Thas."


 

Ludwig could not believe the impudence of Amy Hawkfeather.

She had asked for a break but instead she had run off.

It all started when the window broke, and all the nations came running down the hall. "What happen?" Ludwig asked.

A security guard answered, "Someone broke through the window."

"Who?" Ludwig followed with another question.

"We don't know," a second guard proclaimed, "our cameras have been malfunctioning since this morning."

The nations glanced at one another, giving a silent signal to head back into the meeting room. Once they were all accounted for, Yao was the first to say, "You don't think it was America? Do you?"

"Of course not," Arthur protested, "she may be ill tempered but she wouldn't break a window." His voice may have been confident but his eyes gave away his uncertainly.

"It could be something else," Feliciano added, "let's just wait for America."

An hour passed and when Ludwig called for security to check the grounds, they had eye witnesses of a blond girl in a suit, jumping out of a window and running from the building. Ludwig messaged the bridge of his nose, he could feel the vein of his forehead throbbing. America was not coming back.

Ludwig rose from his seat and pulled out his phone. "Franz, I need you and your men to find Amy Hawkfeather. We will join the search as well, remember keep Amy's name out of the public eye."

"Of course Mr. Beilschmidt," the young cadet proclaimed. Franz Burkhard had recently moved up in the ranks and had been given permission to know of Ludwig's true identity.

Ludwig and Franz said their goodbyes as he hanged up the phone and turned to the other nations. "Let's go, clearly America isn't coming back."


 

An hour of questioning brought nothing. The disguised alien was not talking and I was losing my patience. "We're not getting anywhere," I proclaimed.

Alien Neill turned to me, "you think I don't know that."

I sighed and glanced to the people that were walking by the alleyway. They didn't take any notice of us, for the bounty hunter had placed silver metal disks at the walls of the buildings. Creating a force field that hid us away from the public.

The man hissed as he tried to break his bandage. There was a collar around his neck, cuffs around his wrists and shackles at his ankles. All these bands were made of metal and each were connected by bright yellow electrical currents.

Also these devices seemed to pop out of the alien hunter's wristband (a.k.a. metal band) with simple voice commands. I watched as he lifted his arm to his mouth, "Locate Cloaking Device." A tiny video projector leaped out of the band and began to scan the man. The projector locked in on the collarbone and a necklace of cross. Neill smirked and pulled the necklace from the man and just like Neill's malfunction of his wristband earlier that day; the man's form flickered and disappeared, leaving behind a five foot tall snail in its place. It was green with yellow eyes that sat at the tip of its antennas. It had no shell, fat little stubs for arms and had razor sharp teeth.

"A Salken," Neill proclaimed, "a C.D. can only do so much. How could you ever run so fast?"

The snail creature hissed and Neill reached down to the tail and pulled off a blue, round disk. "A hover board should've known."

"A hover board," I exclaimed, "like a hover board that flies through the air hover board?"

"Yes," he answered, "it's an X39-Pyixas, can convert any type of energy to fuel and communicates with its rider's brain waves." He tossed it to me and I caught it like a frisbee.

"Wow," I placed my hands over the futuristic like disk.

"Keep your grubby hands off my board Earthling!" the Salken snapped.

"Oh look it speaks," I said.

"That's my board; I paid over 30,000 roptons for it! Its mine!"

"Roptons?" I questioned.

"It's a currency used all over the galaxies," Neill answered.

I nodded, "okay." I paid more attention to the blue disk, I moved to place my entire palm on it, to weigh it but it began to glow. "Um, Neill it's glowing."

"Relax; it's just recording your DNA."

"Why?" I asked, almost scared.

"So you can fly it."

The disk pushed off my hand and floated an inch above the ground. The disk grew, enlarging itself into a small surfboard. "Oh, wow. This is so cool."

"You filthy Earthling!" The Salken shouted. "You primitive beings have no respect!"

"I should respect five foot snail, yeah I'll get right on that," I rolled my eyes.

"You humans believe that you are the center of the universe, that nothing could touch you," it glared, but then smiled a sharp toothy grin. "But yet no matter what you Earthlings do, you can't protect your own offspring."

I glared, "what do you want with those kids?"

It smirked, "slave labor is always in demand on other planets."

"You monster, they're just kids," I hissed.

"Yet over 100,000 children get forced into your own version of slave labor very year. How does this make you any different from us?"

I smashed my fist into its face, busting it into the building's wall. It moaned, but I just kept punching, denting the wall as I squashed its face.

Neill pulled me off, "Amy stop! We need him alive!"

I shoved him off, panting, "we're not getting anywhere him!" I faced the Salken, it was bruised but it seemed fine.

"Physical attacks won't work on their kind," Neill answered as if reading my mind. "Their bodies absorb hits."

I kicked at the building's wall, leaving a hole. The pain shot up my leg but it helped cool my anger. Allowing me to come up with an idea, "Is his kind anything like a snail on Earth?" I asked.

Neill lifted an eyebrow, mostly wondering how I could pass on my anger so quickly. "Yes, their anatomy is same."

"Even their weaknesses?"

He nodded and I walked back to the hover board. I took a deep breath, pushed it down to the ground and stepped on. It was like riding a skateboard except it had no wheels, it was wider and it kept rising off the ground. I squealed as it tried to go up.

"Amy, relax, you won't fall, the X39 creates its own gravity pull, it will keep you on and if by some slim chance you do fall; it will create a force field to catch you," Neill explained.

"Really?" I asked, skeptically of him.

"Fall off," he gestured to the ground, which was five feet below me. I gave him a wide eyed look and he smiled, "trust me."

'Trust me', how could two little words hold so much power? Maybe it was because the alien was wearing Neill's face. Well, technically it was Neill. The same Neill that stayed up several nights with me till I understood my math homework; that helped me with science projects and study guides for school district testing. He was my teacher, my mentor and as I got older, he became my friend.

I turned my back to him, inhaled through my nose and leaned back. A wall caught me and pushed be back onto the board. When I turned around there was purple tinted force field that covered in a perfect circle all around me and the board.

"Wow, just," I shook my head, "wow."

"Now just focus on where you want to go."

"Oh, right," I pulled out my phone, ignoring all the messages and calls from the nations and headed directly to Google Maps. I typed for food markets and found one called Penny Market; it was about fifteen to seventeen minutes away from where I was. "Um, Neill how fast can a hover board go?"

"To explain it would be complicated," he proclaimed. "I'll just say it can be as fast as any car on Earth."

I nodded, "Got it, also can I borrow some cash?"

He lifted a brow in question but clicked at his wristband. Transparent keys glowed under his fingertips as a credit card popped out. "Here," he handed it to me.

"A Discover Card?" I gave him a look.

He shrugged, "Hey, an alien's gotta eat."

I smiled, "Alright, I'll be back."

"Hold on," he threw the silver cross necklace at me. "Wear it; I reprogrammed it to make you look like a bird. We don't want videos of a flying girl over Berlin going viral on YouTube."

"Right," I slipped the necklace over my head, "how do I-"

"There's a button on top of the cross, press it."

I did and nothing happen, "I don't feel any different."

"It's a Cloaking Device. It puts up a shield that displays a picture, think of it as a hologram that you can touch and feel. Everyone else will see a common pigeon, while you will remain the same."

"Awesome. Wait what about the hover board?"

"The X39 has a camouflage mode; it will constantly change color to match its environment."

"How do I-"

"It listens to your thoughts and analyzes your habits, but if you still don't understand just say 'Camouflage Mode'."

"Camouflage Mode," I said to the board and it disappeared. The blue faded away and became the shade of the concrete ground. "Cool," I squealed. The board slowly floated higher and I yelped as it stopped.

"Don't think too much into it," Neill shouted, "just think of it as surfing, except riding waves, you're riding the air."

"Riding air; got it." I took another deep breath and flew forward. Unfortunately I flew into traffic. I worked the hover board as a skateboard and leaned right, dodging a car. I placed a foot back and exclaimed, "Up!" The board rocketed into the sky, sending me high into the air. "Stop!" I screamed and it slowed, coming to a halt.

I panted, my heart beat was pounding and my body was twitching with adrenaline. I looked down, the view was amazing, like a more accurate version of Google Maps. I shook out my shoulders and tested the reins. I leaned right and the board turned but didn't move. I moved left and the board slightly hovered left. I glanced to my phone for directions and the board started heading straight on Dorotheenstraße, following the map that was on my phone. Just like Neill said, it seemed to read my mind and understood my feelings on where I wanted to go and how fast I wanted it to go. "Okay, I need to go fast-" I didn't have to finish my sentence. It accelerated, passing cars at a rapid speed.

I shouted excitedly and shifted my weight left onto Friedrichstraße. I soared up and weaved right and left, practicing skateboard tricks that I haven't done since I was fourteen. It was simple. Riding air was effortless and I totally loved it.

"You have arrived at your destination," I almost missed the voice of my phone but my mind and the hover board seem to work faster than my body. The board slowed and settled above a road called Reinickendorfer Straße. My phone said I needed to make a U-turn. I smirked, "I don't have to."

I guided the board to a pizza joint that was at the corner of the opposite street. It was only a short walk away from Penny Market and it was the only place with a covered area to dismount from the hover board. The pizza shop was called Call a Pizza, and it seemed legit. The aroma of melted cheese and pepperoni was beginning to make my stomach growl. I shook away the thought; I had a job to do.

I landed behind the pizza joint and jumped off the board. "Okay, now how do I get you back into that disk-" Again, I didn't have to finish my sentence. It folded itself into the disk and I bent down to pick it up. "This is so badass," I tried to stick it inside my pocket but it was too big. "Ugh," I sighed, "if only you could turn into something smaller, like a keychain or make yourself-" It changed form, taking on the shape of a cell phone case.

"No way," my eyes widened and I took out my phone. I snapped my phone into the case with ease and I grinned like the Cheshire Cat. "This is officially the coolest, most epic thing I ever saw."

I slipped my phone into my pocket, switched off the Cloaking Device and walked through the appointment buildings. It led to a field where a group of kids were playing soccer. I walked over and called out in German, "Excuse me, I'm lost, is there any way for me to get out of this lot?"

The group of children turned to me but they hesitated, clearly cautious of me. They're parents must've been warning them about stranger danger for months now. I gave a smile, "Just point where I have to go and I'll get out of your hair."

A little boy, about six or seven, walked over and pulled me by the hand. He was about the height Gael was and he had blond hair and blue eyes. He guided me to a concrete tunnel with an iron gate at the end, where the side walk met. He pointed to the tunnel's gate, "You can get to the street from here."

I grinned and ruffled his hair, "danke." He blushed slightly and I giggled. I walked down the tunnel and headed to the market that was straight ahead. Once I was inside I asked a worker for the aisle that held the spices and grabbed four bags of salt, each weighing about three pounds. Though my shopping basket was light, like I was carrying bottles of lotion instead of pounds of salt. I really didn't understand it, but I didn't have the time to think about it. I bought the salt, carrying two bags in each hand by the handles of the plastic bags.

I walked out and a man in a simple black suit stopped me. "Amy Hawkfeather."

"Yes," I answered.

"I'm Franz Burkhard," he proclaimed, "I'm here to bring you back to the meeting."

My eyes widened, "You know of us?"

"Yes, now please come with me, Mr. Beilschmidt is waiting."

I scanned the area, a man; slightly older, was watching us from across the street. A woman that stood several feet behind Franz was leaning against the wall and I could feel a pair of eyes on my back.

"As you can see, there's nowhere to run. Please come with us," said Franz.

My mind ran a mile. Of course the nations would come looking for me and obviously Ludwig would send out his government agents to come get me. I sighed, what should I do? Go along with these suits and head back to the meeting.

And do what? I thought to myself, sit your ass in a chair and do nothing.

My fingers curled at the plastic handles, no. I needed to do something; I needed to help Neill catch Klipto. Those kids weren't going to be saved by human means. They needed Neill. The least I could do was get him the information he needs and then I would return to the meeting; but first I had to lose the suits.

I nodded, "okay."

Franz smiled, "thank you for being civilized about this." The woman and man walked over as another man came up from behind.

Quickly, I threw my hand up; colliding the plastic bag filled with six pounds of salt into the man's face. I spun and kicked the same man into his knee cap. I heard a bone crack as he fell to the ground. He cried out in pain and I ran across the street.

Franz instructed the woman to stay with the injured as he and his last man chased after me. I picked up the pace and turned back into the tunnel I came out from. I stopped mid-way and switched on the Cloaking Device. The two men followed and ran right by me. Franz shouted, "Search the lot," he looked at his phone. "She has to be here."

They must be using a tracker. I pulled out my phone and took out the battery.

"Shit! I lost her signal," he exclaimed.

I smirked and walked back to the side walk. No doubt he will call for reinforcements, and I was sick of running in a skirt. I sprinted down Reinickendorfer Straße, where a clothing store stood at the corner. It was called AsMo, an alternative boutique. I ran in and a woman squealed, "A bird! Get it out!"

I cursed softly and ran into the racks of clothing. I switched off my disguise and the woman pulled apart the hangers. Her eyes widened, "why are you hiding in here?"

"I'm terrified of birds," I pretended to be embarrassed.

"Oh, well don't worry ma'am we will get that thing out of here," she said.

I nodded, "thank you."

She walked away and I sighed; now, time to get some pants.

I changed into a pair of dark jeans, a purple tank top with brown combat boots and a matching crop jacket. It was made of light material and the collar was popped up to cover my neck. It even came with a hood hidden inside. I pulled it out, covered my head, slipped on a new pair of fashionable shades and walked out of the changing room. I stuffed my suit into one of the plastic bags as I headed to the door. I had already paid for the new outfit so I wasn't met with questions or delays.

I felt more like myself in jeans, like I was ready to take on the world. I strolled back to the tunnel and turned on my disguise. Franz and his men were nowhere to be seen. I ran to the back of the pizza joint and pulled off the hover board phone case. I threw it to the ground and it grew to its full size. I stepped on, activated the camouflage mode and soared into the air.


 

"I'm back," I announced as I landed the board in the ally.

"You left to do a wardrobe change?" Neill asked, slightly annoyed.

"I needed pants, but there was something else that we needed," I smiled as I jumped off the board and it changed back into a phone case. "By the way, I love this!"

"That's mine, you Earthling bitch," the Salken cursed.

I narrowed my eyes at it, "Neill, let's play good cop, bad cop." I crutched in front of the cuffed alien and gave an uncaring smile. "Tell me, have you ever been to France?"

It hissed in irritation, "I will never understand this world; these different countries, languages, religion and culture. It's too damn confusing! Why can't you all just unify under one order like everyone else."

I shrugged, "People have tried, never works out." I pulled out a bag of salt and ripped it open. "I'm going to assume that you never been to France, which is a shame, it's a beautiful country." It glared and I continued, "There's a delicacy among the French, it's called escargot. Do you want to know what the main ingredient is?" I didn't want for him to answer, "Snails," I smiled.

It gave me a confused and slightly frightened look, and I moved along to the bag. I lifted a palm full of salt, "do you know what this is?" It stayed silent, "its salt. It's the only rock humans can digest. Humans are even made of it, we cry salty tears and our sweat even tastes like salt."

"Are we getting anywhere with this?" It snapped.

I ignored it, "Salt can be found underground, in our oceans, there's an endless supply." I dropped the salt back into the bag. "It tastes pretty good too," I licked off some left over grains from my hand. "Salt is used in cooking, to give a dish that special kick. Especially in escargot; why do you think we do that? Simple, it softens the snail and makes it gooey, some people like it like that. You see, salt can melt certain things," I grabbed another palm full of salt, "like ice, snow," I blew the salt off my hand and right into its face. "And snails."

It screamed bloody murder. Its face was leaking green liquid as the grains of salt burned into its skin. I whistled, "That looks painful."

"You," it panted, "bitch."

I smirked, "Instead of all those useless insults, how about you use that mouth of yours to tell me where those kids are."

It blinked back tears and hissed, "I won't talk."

"Fine," I picked up the bag and dumped all of the grain over its body. It cried out in agony as the salt sunk into its skin, burning holes and causing its wounds to smoke. It shook, trying to shake off the salt, but the grain stood on, dissolving into its flesh.

"S-stop," it whimpered.

"Tell me where Klipto and the kids are and might think about it."

"Amy," Neill pulled me back, "let me talk to him." He bent down, "listen pal, I want to help you, really I do, but you gotta help us first."

"I can't."

Neill sighed, "You're not helping yourself. I like you, I want to help you, she on the other hand," he gestured to me, "won't."

"He'll kill me."

"So would she."

I flinched, would I?

"Why do you care?!" It cried, "Humans can have more children, what's the point if we take a few thousand?!"

I snapped and I kicked the snail's face into wall. "You think a human life is that easy to replace!" I grabbed it and forced its mouth open, "I think it's time for bag two." I snatched the bag and ripped it open with my teeth. I shoved the bag into its mouth and shook the salt down its throat. It gagged as lime green liquid formed at the corners of its mouth. I stepped back as it fell to the ground, vomiting green fluids. "I bet your insides are burning," I said in calm voice and yanked it up by the collar.

"I won't ask again, where's Klipto," I ordered.

It gasped like a fish out of water and I threatened, "do you want bag three?"

"You," it gasped, "need," its voice was hoarse, "me alive."

"We can find someone else." I ripped open the last bags, "Besides, if by some miracle you survive after this. We'll just dump you into the ocean, and I'm sure you remember that it's filled with salt."

Its eyes widened in fear, tears were even falling, but I didn't care. "You know humans might not want to admit it, but they do love to see a good spread of blood and gore. I wonder, how many hits do think you'll get when the video of you liquefying into the ocean hits the internet?"

"You won't do it," it whispered.

I grinned evilly, "I would; because, personally I want to see that. I think, it will be entertaining to watch you die."

Tears fell faster as its voice rose higher in fear. I lost my smile, grabbed the last two bags, and held them over its head. "Last chance, where's Klipto?"

It continued to cry and I teased it be tipping the bags over. Its eyes widened and it screamed, "I don't know where he is right now! But, but I know where the kids are gonna be! I know when the auction is!"

"Where?" Neill chimed in.

"In London, Britain, at the Turks Shipyard, Klipto will be holding them in ship cargos-"

Its head exploded, green blood splattered over the wall as its body fell to the ground. Neill and I turned to a group of men. One held a silver gun with wires interlacing around the staff and handle. That man was the first to speak, "Damn Salken. Those idiots can never keep a secret."

"Amy, run-" Neill ran to grab my hand but he was shot in the back.

He fell to the ground and I exclaimed, "Neill!" I leaped for him but a sharp needle stabbed my arm. I hissed and pulled the needle out, it was dart. "Oh fuck," I fell to the ground as my world turned black.

Chapter Text

I found myself in a forest, the trees towered over me, and the grass was a luscious shade of green and soft to lie on. I yawned and tried to go back to sleep, but nimble footsteps stirred me to rise myself onto my forearms. I looked up to a figure of white fur, gold eyes and canine teeth.

It was the wolf.

I gulped, glanced to the ground and slowly crawled backwards. The wolf noticed and growled, "Stop."

I froze and looked back to find a woman with copper skin, long black raven hair and dark eyes. "Why do you run from me?"

I tried to speak, but the dream was beginning to blur. I was about to wake up.

Before I could, she gripped her hand to my chin and whispered, "Stop ignoring me."


 

I gasped and sat up, I tried to rub my face but my hands were tired. Thick rope was wrapped around my wrists, mid-section, arms and ankles. I scanned the area; it was a plain gray room with dimmed lighting. It had no furniture except for a table and two chairs.

"What the-" then the memory of being shot with a dart came rushing back. "Oh, that's right, I've been kidnapped by aliens," I sighed, this is my life now.

"Hey, she's awake," a screechy voice proclaimed.

I turned to the door and found a humanoid structured being, but only the shape was where the similarities stop. It was about six feet tall with dark gray skin; its skin was tight over its bones and small, taut muscles. It had no hair, just a round bald head with small lizard-like, green eyes and a bird-like beck mouth. Its arms and legs were long and lean with a defined, popped out rib cage and narrowed waist. Its fingers were long, bony and had pointed finger nails.

I swallowed back the urge to scream as it took wide strides to place itself in front of me. Its fingers brushed through my hair and I flinched. "Oh don't be scared," it cooed, "you're a pretty girl, you might be able to end up as someone's pet. Wouldn't that be nice?"

I bit its finger and it pulled back with a hiss, "you little-" it was about to slap me till a red tentacle wrapped around its wrist.

"Calm yourself Nyla, don't harm the merchandise," a deep voice proclaimed from behind.

Nyla and I turned to face a floating head. It had no body, with red, scaly skin and several tentacles all around it. Some tentacles were stubs but most had extra eyes at the ends. One large eye sat at the center of its head, just below was an enormous mouth filled with long sharp teeth; each about the length of a Subway foot long.

"What the-" I barely yelped till Nyla shoved the red tentacle off.

"She bit me Kakwatt!"

"Then don't touch her," the floating head remarked.

"Who-what are you?!" I choked out.

The floating head turned, with all its eyes on me, "oh how rude. I'm Kakwatt, I'm from the Netrot Galaxy and my people are known as the Aberrations. Nyla here is from the same galaxy and she is a Duplin."

I blinked, "okay."

"Stop toying with her," Nyla hissed and typed on her metal wristband. (Does every alien have one?) "Now give me details."

The Aberration rolled his eyes and wrapped two tentacles around my mid-section to lift me up. His eyes began to scan me, searching all over my body. "Good bone structure," he commented as Nyla typed what he said. "Curly blond hair and bright blue eyes," he nodded in approval, "colored eyes are very popular."

"Let go of me-" Kakwatt stuck his tentacle into my mouth and stretched open to see my teeth.

"Good teeth and looks healthy and well-muscled."

"What about race?" Nyla asked.

"To the untrained eye, anyone would just mark her off as an American of European descent, but there's much more to her. Her lips are smooth and full, must be a French trait. She's also has Spanish cheek bones and German blue eyes. She has a long, lean body of a Scandinavian. Fingers of Native American characteristics and her curls are definitely from Native Mexican descent. Her skin tone is English and her delicate eye lashes are Russian." His eyes grew closer to me, "Fascinating."

"As anyone ever told you of personal space," I hissed.

"Her accent is American, but she has sight twang of the south west."

Nyla typed as she shook her head, "How do you know all this? I can barely keep track of humans that are Chinese and Japanese. Have you ever tried separating them? They look so much alike."

Kakwatt laughed, "I've been on Earth for years, studying these creatures." He smiled, "I know all of you think of them as lowly beings but they are actually quite interesting."

"I'll show you 'lowly being'," I shouted as I lifted my knees to kick Kakwatt. Though, before I could land a hit, he dropped me and floated back.

"She's not afraid, shocked at first but seems to adapt quickly."

"Maybe she can be used as a sparring partner for some aliens at the arenas," Nyla commented.

"They don't last very long," he added, "It would be a waste of money and waste of her good looks."

The Duplin snorted, "She isn't that pretty."

The Aberration chuckled, "on this planet she would be considered a beauty."

"You heard him," I smirked, "you're just jealous because you're some fucked up love child between a lizard and a bird."

She slapped me across the face, "watch your mouth Earthling."

The pain faded as I glared at her, Nyla narrowed her lizard eyes at me. "She healed. Kakwatt, humans don't heal that fast do they?"

Kakwatt's eyes widened, "no, could it be. . ."

"Nyla," another alien opened the door, it had two fingers on each hand, and two toes on each foot. Long black nails were connected to its hands and feet. It had piercing teeth with long canine fangs at the ends. Three pairs beady bug eyes lined from its forehead to its mouth while two large spider eyes lined on the sides of the six smaller ones. It had long tan and purple fur on top of its shoulders and looked like a gigantic flea.

"What do you want?" Nyla asked, annoyed.

"Klipto's holding a meeting," it said in a series of hisses. A small creature crawled off its arm and scurried towards me.

It was a spider.

I screamed, "Get that thing away from me!" I tried to stomp on it with my tied feet.

"No!" the flea creature screeched, "don't hurt Luna!" The over-sized flea crawled over and gently lifted the bug to give it a kiss. (I think.)

"She's not afraid of us," Nyla proclaimed, "but she's afraid of a bug that's native to her world."

"Like I said, humans are interesting creatures," Kakwatt said.

"Come on you two we have to go," the spider-loving flea exclaimed.

"Go on without me, I'll be there soon," Kakwatt proclaimed.

Nyla sighed, "Fine, but don't take too long, Klipto doesn't like to wait." She and the flea walked out of the room, leaving me alone with the floating head.

He looked at me with a whole new interest. "You're not human," he wrapped a tentacle to lift my face up. "I've heard rumors but I never thought I would be able to see one with my own eyes. A nation, telling of your accent, you must be America," his tentacle brushed through my hair, "just imagine what you have seen, such history behind your eyes."

I glared, "sorry to disappoint you but I've only lived for eighteen years. I wouldn't know much."

He snorted, "You don't give yourself much credit." His tentacle stub brushed under my eye, "your eyes say it all." His tentacles continued to wrap themselves around me once again, lifting me up in the air. "Do you want to know how Aberrations gather knowledge? We don't need to waste our time learning the material, we simply find a being that knows it," his head was the length and width of eight feet. He moved me closer so I would be mere inches away from his teeth, "and we eat them."

My eyes widened as he held me up and opened his mouth. "No," I choked, and then shouted, "No! No!"

"Relax," he hissed, "believe me, I'm saving you, at least this death will be quick." He pulled me closer to his massive mouth. I tore my arms apart, breaking the rope and slammed my fist into his large eye. He cried out in pain as he squeezed his tentacle around my neck. "You little-" I snapped the rope from my ankles apart and kicked him in the teeth. Red blood splattered over my clothes and the floor as his teeth dangled from his gums.

I moved swiftly as I grabbed one of his loose teeth and cut off the tentacle that was around my neck. Then I snatched the other tentacle as it was about to let me go and leaped onto the alien, gouging his tooth into his center eye. Everything blurred after that, all I saw was red as I continued to stab him over and over again. Kakwatt screamed in agony and begged for me to stop but I didn't. I just wailed like a banshee as I stabbed, punched and kicked him.

The floating head fell to the ground, but I didn't stop. Not when blood began to pool below him, not when he stopped screaming nor stopped moving. I just kept slicing off tentacles and leaving deep gashes over his body till I gave out.

I panted and pushed myself off him. I glanced to my hands; one was still clutching the foot long razor-sharp tooth while the other held itself in a tight fist. Both were covered in blood.

"Such strength," he whispered and I snapped my head up to meet him at his last remaining tentacle eye. "Such grace," he panted, "and yet such brutality. Humans have seen my kind as monsters and have worshiped creatures like you like gods. But who are truly gods? And who are truly monsters? Or could we be both?"

I slashed off his eye and stabbed him one last time, "shut up," I whispered and rose to my feet. Still holding on to his tooth as a weapon, I walked to the door and stepped out into the hall.

"Freeze!" I turned to face a group of aliens that varied in size, color and species. Some looked like over grown worms with toad faces. Most were bug like with multiple arms and legs, others had lizard traits. Scaly skin, slitting eyes and long claws; exoskeleton skinned creatures with wide eyes and web like hands and feet. Few had humanoid bodies but they had different skin tones of blues, reds, greens and purples. Most of these humanoid beings had multiple limbs and eyes, and long body structures with coarse, scaly and insect-like skin. All of these creatures held future-like weapons; laser guns of different sizes ranging from hand-held pistols to massive blasters that needed to be held with both hands. Or in some cases four.

"Stay where you are!" an alien exclaimed.

I tightened my hold on the Aberration's tooth and grabbed my phone from my pocket.

"Don't move!"

I ignored them as I tore off the phone's case. A blast like shot resounded and I felt a shrill, intense pain up my arm. I glanced to the tip of my shoulder; a piece of flesh was ripped off.

"I said, don't move!"

The pain grew numb as any thoughts I had fell silent. Instincts took over as I yanked out the phone case and tossed it out to the floor. Laser blasts ringed out but the hover board blocked and re-directed every blast as I ducked behind it. When the series of shots were over, I jumped onto the board and flew straight into the crowd.

The aliens didn't expect that. They were caught off guard as I slit throats and gutted stomachs. I flipped of the board while kicking an alien in the face and slicing a hand off another. The hover board read my thoughts as it circled around me, protecting me from laser blasts as I took down one alien after the other.

I don't remember how I did it, I simply did.

I walked through the halls and stair cases, screaming battle cries as I punched, kicked, and stabbed any creature that crossed my path. Several aliens moved to strike me down, their laser blasts had ripped off chucks flesh from my shoulder blades, outer thighs, inner arms and rib cage but I felt nothing. I would just rise to my feet and hit them back a hundred times fold.

I sent aliens twice my size flying out of windows and smashed others through walls. I had snatched laser guns from fallen aliens and zipped around on the board shooting off limbs and heads of terrestrial beings.

Once I reached the fifth floor, a bright light blinded me as it destroyed the hover board and threw me to a wall.

"Why haven't you killed her yet! She's just a human!" a male Duplin shouted to a lizard creature that walked on its back legs.

"She's not like any human I've seen!"

I stood up and glanced to the board, it sparked with blue light and smoke was rising from the wound it took from the laser blast. I narrowed my eyes at the pair of aliens, "I really loved that board." I ran towards them as the Duplin shouted at the lizard to shoot but I had slit the throat of the gun wielding lizard before it could even pull the trigger. I grabbed the gun and aimed it at the Duplin. He tried to speak but I shot him in the head before he could.

A door opened from behind, "what the-" it was Nyla's voice. I spun and pointed the gun at her head, "where's Neill?"

"Fray!" Nyla screeched and the flea creature from before attacked. Its teeth sunk into my arm and I hissed a curse as I knifed it in the face with the Aberration's tooth. I kicked off the body and placed the gun closer to Nyla.

"How are you still alive?" She questioned, "An Ettercap's bite is venomous! It paralyzes its victims! An average human wouldn't be able to move by now!"

"As you can see I'm not an average human. Now, where's the bounty hunter? Tell me or I'll be painting the walls with your blood." I threatened.

Nyla gestured to her right, "he's down the hall, first door on your left."

I pulled the laser gun away from her head, "thanks." I blasted her in the knee. Nyla fell to the floor, clutching her limb and hissing out in pain. "Stay," I commanded as I walked on.

I came to the door and stepped inside. I found Neill in his alien form trapped inside some kind of force field. He was sitting cross legged on the floor and seemed unharmed. I sighed in relief, "Neill," I smiled.

He looked up, his eyes widened, "Amy!"

A blast resounded from behind and I looked down to find a large hole, which had pierced through my mid-section. Blood pooled in my mouth as I turned to face the shooter. It was a seven foot tall yellow insect; it stood upright on two segmented legs. Its head looked like an ant with massive yellow eyes, long antennas on the top of its head and severe mandibles from its mouth. It was muscular, had four arms with two fingered claws at the end of each limb and wore a long black cloak.

It lifted the laser gun to my forehead, "Watch bounty hunter, I'm going to give you a display on why you shouldn't involve these primitive beings into our business."


 

Tony watched in horror as Klipto Thas exploded pieces of Amy's brain matter across the floor. He screamed Amy's name as she fell backwards and the light vanished from her eyes.

Klipto glanced to Amy's body with a blank expression, "too bad, she would've got me a lot of money."

"You bastard!" Tony screamed.

Klipto chuckled, "you seem to grow too close to humans, remember they don't live as long as we do."

Tony took deep breaths, he knew Amy would be fine, but he couldn't afford Klipto to figure that out. "I'll make you pay for this!"

He snorted, "Good luck with that." Klipto slapped the wall, leaving an object behind. It was about the size of a shoe box and it had a timer, starting at three hours. He pressed a button and the numbers began to count down.

Tony froze; a bomb.

Klipto walked out of the room, "we're moving out! Pack and seal our records to my base in London! Leave no evidence behind!"

As he closed the door, aliens that were still alive ran through the building; packing up weapons, hover boards and computers. They continued by destroying bodies of fallen terrestrials, bleaching rooms and hallways that were covered in various colors of blood, and setting up explosives throughout the building.

Tony could do nothing but wait for Amy to heal, his only wish was for her to wake up before the clock hit zero.

Two hours passed and Tony was pacing around the force field, he couldn't do much without his metal wristband. He looked to the clock, they only had hour left. He glanced to Amy; her blood had dried and turned a shade of deep brown. Tony had seen this before with Alfred. When his blood or a piece of flesh had been torn from his body, the pieces would turn brown and become dirt.

The bits of Amy's brain matter were losing its pink color along with the white scalp and blond hair. The flesh transformed into a dark shade of earthly brown and crumbled into a pile of soil. Thirty minutes passed and Amy's body began to heal; regenerating bones and organs, rebuilding muscle and skin tissue, and growing new locks of hair. The hole in her gut had completely sealed and her skull was back to its originally state.

Twenty minutes passed and Tony grew desperate. "Amy, wake up! I know you can survive an explosion but I can't!" He banged his fists on the force field, "Wake up! Wake up!"

She blinked and moved on to her side, "five more minutes," she grumbled sleepily.

"I've waited for you for over two fucking hours! Get up!"

She moaned as she sat up, "why are you yelling?" She messaged her temples.

"Sorry for yelling," he said in a sweet tone before his voice rose in harshness. "But we only have ten minutes before this place goes ka-boom!"

She looked at him with worried eyes, "What?!" She rose to her feet and looked to the clock, "why is that counting down?"

"Oh, it's the count down to the big summer blow out sale at Macy's." He gave her a thumb's up, and then a thumb's down, "it's a bomb! Now get me out of here!"

"How?!"

"The control panel; right on the wall," Tony pointed to the computer. It was half the size of a smart phone and it displayed its screen as a hologram.

Amy tapped her fingers over the screen. "I can't understand this."

"Come on! You've worked with holograms before!"

"They're still a new thing; only skype and my Galaxy Infinity hold the programs. They're too new to work smoothly. I still have to update the programs every month!"

Tony sighed, he knew yelling at her wouldn't work. "Amy, calm down! Just think of this as a math question."

"Math?! How does math have anything to do with this?!"

"Okay, wrong choice of words," he sighed once again, "type in the code to let me go."

"How?! This thing's written in some alien language!"

"Just listen to me and do what I say," Tony exclaimed as he instructed Amy to type certain holographic keys.

When she pressed enter, nothing happened. "What the-" before Amy could curse the bomb beeped and the time was cut in half, they had less than five minutes.

"Oh fuck," Tony and Amy swore in sync.

"Maybe I did something wrong," she turned back to the screen.

Tony shook his head, "you didn't; it must be another code."

"Then tell me!"

"Amy there could be millions of codes and if that clock is programed to cut the time in half every time you mess up. Then we don't have that many chances."

Amy cursed and rubbed her eyes. She started panting and Tony noticed that her eyes were beginning to water. He inhaled through his nose, "go."

"What?"

"You heard me, go! Go back to the nations, tell them what you know! You all might be the only chance those kids have!"

"But would they believe me?!"

Tony tensed, remembering his time with two other nations. No matter how many times Alfred told Arthur that Tony was an alien, he never believed him. Toris may have played along with him but he never really took him seriously. Tony punched the force field in frustration, "You have to try."

"But-"

"Don't argue with me! Get out now!"

"I'm not leaving you!"

"You have to!"

Amy clutched her fists and turned to the computer.

"No, Amy, don't-"

She slammed her fist through the computer. The screen and the force field disappeared as the bomb beeped and the time was once again cut in half. They had two minutes and thirty seconds.

Tony stared at Amy in awe as she grabbed his hand and pulled him out of the room. They ran through the halls only to find more bombs counting down. They were on the fifth floor of the building and no matter how fast they ran; they wouldn't be able to make it out in less than two minutes.

They reached the fourth floor and Amy stopped to watch the clock hit to its last minute. "We're not gonna make it like this."

"Use the hover board," Tony exclaimed.

"Yeah about that," she sighed, "it kinda exploded."

The clock had reached forty seconds and Amy lifted Tony to her chest. "What are you doing?!" he exclaimed.

"The only way out of here is through that window," she took a few steps back and prepared herself to sprint towards the window.

"But we're on the fourth floor!"

"Yeah, I figured you can use me as a pillow." She pushed herself off the wall as Tony screamed like girl and she leaped out of window. Glass shattered as they fell through the air and the bombs exploded behind them.

The force of the explosion sent them flying. Amy covered her arms protectively over Tony's head and held him close. Like she said, she used her back as a cushion. They crashed to the ground and bounced twice till they stopped.

Tony pushed himself up and rubbed his head, he may not have ears but he could still hear the ringing. He groaned and looked to Amy; she was covered in cuts, bruises and her shoulder was dislocated. "Oh Amy, stay with me," he gently lifted her head and felt something warm dripping from his hand.

"We're alive," she asked in a hoarse tone, "how is that possible?"

"You're a nation and you used your body as a shield for me, it does wonders," Tony said as he brushed through her hair lovingly. No matter how old Amy will get, he will always see her as that sweet little girl he met over thirteen years ago.

"Where are we?" Amy said weakly.

Tony scanned the area and found the faint outline of the Eiffel Tower. It was night and the city was alive with twinkling lights, "we're in Paris."

"Crap. . . Ludwig's gonna kill me, then the president and then my parents."

Tony chuckled, "who are you more afraid of?"

"D. all of the above," she gave a bloody smile.

Sirens roared in the distance and he asked, "Amy, are you wearing your grandfather's ring?"

She knitted her brows together in confusion, lifted her hand up and hissed in pain as she did. Tony held it softly and carefully pulled the hawk ring off her finger. Her parents were afraid that Amy would flip the house upside down searching for that piece of jewelry, and they were correct. She tore through each room and John had to give the ring to Tony (as Neill), for safe keeping.

During that short period of time, he had placed a small homing clip inside the ring. "Contact ship," he commanded the clip and after a pause a robotic voice said.

"Connection made."

"Lock in on our location," Tony ordered.

"Location, locked. Please stand by."

Barely a second passed as his space craft flew over them, sending down a beam of light to float them into the frisbee shaped craft. Once they were inside, the space craft blended with the sky and zipped away to the island off the coast of France.

Chapter Text

I was laid out beside a crystal blue pond in the same forest I had been in my last dream. I was wearing a violet dress that came to mid-thigh and nothing else. I sat up and groaned as I rubbed the throbbing pain in my forehead.

Why did my forehead hurt in the first place?

Then my ears ringed as a blaze exploded inside my head. The memory of the large cockroach alien blasting my skull open came flooding back and I winced.

I died. . . .

The moment I woke up, I was too busy rescuing Neill to really think about it. Then I jumped out of that window. . . A piercing sting spread from my back, arms and skull. I remembered Neill holding me, then asking for Grandpa's ring and then. . . I saw the light.

I gulped and wrapped my arms around myself, "am I truly dead this time?" I whispered.

A soft laugh resounded and I looked up to see the same dark haired beauty from my last dream. "You're not dead, simply resting," she bent down and brushed her hand gently over me cheek. "Oh, you look so much like him, but you really do remind me move of myself than him."

"Who are you?" I asked in a small voice.

She smiled, "I'm only a concerned grandmother, that's all."

"G-grandmother? Are you-"

"I am North, well that is what the empires and the tribes of the Central and the South called me before some European man named our continents the Americas."

"You're America before the Europeans came?"

"I was still America after the Europeans, not for very long, but still."

"Wow. So that makes you Alfred's mother right?"

She nodded.

"And that makes you my grandmother."

Her smile widened, "yes."

I gave her a tiny smile in return and we were silent for a minute till I asked: "So why are you here?"

"I'm sorry for how I acted the last time," her voice was filled with genuine apology. "I was just frustrated; I've been trying to contact you for months now."

"Why?"

Her dark eyes grew sad, "To warn you; a powerful spirit is after you."

I knitted my brows together in confusion, "For what? I didn't do anything!"

"You're America. America has always been desirable land to humans, nations and spirits alike. This spirit is gathering an army of vapors to find you."

"Vapors?"

"Beings that live in the Abyss of the Spirit World, they thrive off hate and anger and devour any light they can find."

"They sound pleasant," I said sarcastically.

She chuckled lightly as she shook her head, "Oh Amy, they are not. They eat and eat and they are never filled. They want; they take and give nothing back but hate."

"You guys sure like to rhyme don't you?"

She hooked her arms around me and pulled me into a motherly embrace. "I know that you're scared, but I am here."

She skin smelled like the earth and wildflowers and her hair carried the texture of silk. She rubbed my back and the tension in my shoulders released.

"Amy you must be careful, spirits are tricksters by nature," she lifted my chin up to face her. "We take any form we desire being man," in a blink of an eye, light surrounded her as her features hardened and her body became lean and muscular. "Child," her voice was deep but it quickly lowered as she turned herself into a small boy. "Elder," she rapidly grew into an old woman, and finally into the form of a white wolf, "or animal."

I leaned back, "you're the wolf from Austria's house."

She nodded again and turned back into her female form, "as you can see, spirits are shapeshifters. You can't trust anyone."

"Well, I got my family, friends and the nations-"

Her eyes narrowed in annoyance, "Amy, they look at you like they looked at me. They want to possess you. Yes, they'll protect you from this spirit but only so they can have you. You cannot trust them," her dark eyes turned gold, "You can't trust anyone."


 

My eyes shot opened as a massive light shined above me. I groaned and sat up, I was sitting on a metal table and I was wearing a new set of clothes. My white shirt had a round neckline, had no sleeves, and was styled like a Greek tunic. The thing was it wouldn't be counted as a dress for the length stopped right under my ass. Well I couldn't say that, most girls would wear this as a dress. I wore a new pair of skinny jeans and a small brown woven belt around my waist, which matched the combat boots I had brought from that boutique earlier that day.

I messaged my temples; it's been months since I experienced a dream like that. I had just met Alfred's mother and that was cool but supposedly there was a whole new threat to deal with and I had no idea how to handle it. Except for the warning; don't trust anyone. Why was it that whenever I discover something new, it only adds on to the pile of drama I called a life?

I sighed heavily as images of aliens being killed by my hand engulfed my thoughts. I panted as I covered my face with my hands and placed my elbows in my lap. The memories wouldn't stop. Aliens of different shapes and sizes flashed through my mind one after the other, each one a bloody moment where I took their lives. I tried to shut away the thoughts by forcing my eyes closed but it only increased the intensity of the images.

The blood of various colors splattering over my clothes, the walls and the floors.

The bodies of terrestrials falling to the ground as their lives vanished from their eyes.

And me, above them with the Aberration's tooth in one hand and laser gun in the other. My eyes cold and my body numb.

I swallowed back a sob, I took life so easily, it wasn't like me, or was it? The nations didn't seem to be fazed by taking life. Arthur had cut off Francis's head. Ivan tortured Toris and several other nations and Gilbert had waged war against Toris and Feliks so of course they must have killed people.

Was this natural for me?

Was this what nations do?

Kill?!

A hand brushed over my head and I jumped. Neill stepped back, his hands up in surrender, "whoa, it's okay, it's okay." He was back in his human form and he looked worried. "Are you alright?" he asked uncertainly.

I shook my head, "Neill," I inhaled, "am I a monster?"

"What?!" he knitted his eyebrows together in confusion. "No. Why would you ask a question like that?"

"Because I-because I," my vision blurred with tears, "I killed without a second thought," I choked out. "I don't know how I could! It just started when that floating alien head wanted to eat me and I just lost it. But it wasn't like any other time I lost my temper, I just kept stabbing him." I sobbed, "over and over again, I didn't stop, even when he begged. I just kept stabbing," my voice was high and tears were flowing down my cheeks. "Then when I went into that hall way and saw those aliens, it was like I-I turned off and became something entirely different."

Neill sat beside me and pulled me into the nook of his shoulder. I continued in a whimper, "I know I threatened that snail man but I would never have gone through with it! I was still me! I mean I wasn't turned off-" I cried out in frustration and guilt. "God, I just don't know how to explain it."

He remained quiet and rubbed my back, "I know, I know." He sighed, "Alfred told me about this once."

I rose and wiped my cheeks, giving him my full attention. He squeezed my shoulder before he pulled his hand away and stared ahead. "It was about a year or two after I first came to Earth; I was hunting down an alien that was eating human prostitutes. Turns out humans are a delicacy in some galaxies." I winced and he continued, "Alfred had cornered the alien before I did, but I was able to make it in right after the alien tried to take a bite out of him. I just stood there, in fear as he tore that alien apart. He beat it till his hands were covered in its blood and the alien laid dead at his feet.

"He had such a rage, but yet his eyes were cold, he neither enjoyed it nor hated it. He simply fought. It surprised me, before then he was always so happy." He paused for a moment, with a faraway look in his eyes. "But he told me when a nation felt like their life was threatened they can push aside their human emotions to fight. He described it the way you did; a switch would go off in his head and he would fight and kill without any hesitance. It's a survivor's instinct that all nations possess."

We were silent till I snorted, "I'm just like them, aren't I," I said bitterly.

"Amy," he squeezed my hand gently, "you fought to save my life. This warrior mode you have is made to protect you and the people you care about. But you can't rely on it. That's why you need to train with the nations; you need to know how to fight. For if you place all your faith on that instinct you could lose yourself in the process."

I nodded as he released my hand and walked over to panel of buttons and a hologram screen. I scanned the area; it was a futuristic room with computer panels around the walls, and a pod that seemed to be used for sleeping. "Where are we?"

"My space craft," Neill answered as he typed on the screen. "It may be small but it's fast."

"I thought you lost your wristband."

"Spares," he tapped at his arm, "I got tons of these."

"Why are you in your human form? We're in your space ship, why do you need to hide?"

Neill turned away from the screen to look at me, "You don't seem to like my alien form."

"That was only because I was surprised to find that my tutor was an alien and I should have realized, it explains so much." He gave a small laugh and I proclaimed, "I don't want you to hide from me."

He smiled and typed on his wristband, his disguise flickered as his alien form appeared. I hopped off the table and sat beside him in the passenger seat. I stared at him, "You know, you're actually kinda cute, like a little anime chibi thing."

He laughed, it was high and girly but he was still Neill.

"So what's the plan?" I asked, "We do have a plan right?"

He sighed, "I sent out a message for back-up but they won't be able to reach Earth in time."

"What do you mean? You're aliens! You mastered space travel; don't you have warp speed or something?"

He blinked, "you've been watching too much Star Trek."

I narrowed my eyes at him, "okay then, we need to gather the nations. They might want to bite my head off but once we explain about you and the kidnapping aliens they'll help us."

"They might not believe you."

"How could they not! I have you and a space ship to prove it."

He sighed, "Amy I've met two other nations before and they didn't believe that I was an alien."

I gave him a look, "Who?"

"The countries of Britain and Lithuania; no matter how much Alfred told Arthur I was an alien, he never believed us."

"What did he think you were?"

"Some kind of mythical creature," he proclaimed.

"He believes in fairies and unicorns, but he doesn't believe in aliens?!"

Neill shrugged his shoulders, "go figure right."

"What about Toris?"

"He played along but he never took us seriously."

"But-but we have this space ship, your wristband and laser guns, this has to be enough to prove that you're real."

"Do you really want to go back and try to explain this to them? Amy, they'll either going to argue with you or argue with each other about believing you; and we don't have the time. The auction is being held tonight at midnight." He tapped at the hologram clock, "it's after noon; we have less than twelve hours to rescue those kids. Do you think that's enough time to gather the nations and try and convince them that aliens exist?"

My thoughts went back to the chaos of the meeting we had back at my school's auditorium. I groaned, "We're screwed."

"Not entirely," he typed his screen away to reveal a scene of the English country side. Massive gray boulders stood in a broken circle; some were vertical with horizontal stones lying on top of them. Other large rocks were scattered around the area.

"Are we at Stonehenge?" I asked.

"Yes, it's the perfect place for you to contact the spirits."

My eyes widened, "you know about the spirits?"

He nodded, "I've met several through my years but they don't like me."

"Why?"

"Because I'm an alien; half of them want me off this planet while the other half wants to kill me. Same goes for any other alien they meet. Spirits are protectors of this planet and they can't stand us."

"And you want me to talk to them? I don't know how to contact them, they usually find me. Besides, what if they try to kill you?"

"It's a risk I'm willing to take," he said, "I also believe you can persuade them not to kill me."

I leaned against my seat, "we're so screwed."


 

Dusk came as the last tour bus of the day drove down the dirt road, Neill and I climbed out of the recently cloaked space ship. "So what do we do? Set up torches around the area? Chant in an ancient language?"

"I was thinking you would just call out to them."

"Fine, take all the fun out of it." I walked to the center of Stonehenge. Neill was in his human form as he followed and sat on one of the rocks. I took a deep breath and spoke to the violet sky as the sun sets. "Um hi, spirits, um this is Amy Hawkfeather a.k.a. America. Uh, listen we're in a bit of a jam and we need your help. If you could, I don't know send some people to fight along with us that would be nice." I was met with the sound of crickets, "please?"

"Don't you know any spirits?" Neill asked.

"Don't you?" I snapped.

"Like I said, most wanted to kill me," he exclaimed, "but there is Alfred."

"Wait, you know about the whole cycle of nations and spirits?"

He nodded, "Alfred told me about it after I spent a year looking for him after 9/11."

"Hold on, you mean he took time out of his busy spirit schedule to talk to you but not the nations. Does he not realize how fucked up they were when he so-called died."

"I think it's a rule, none of the former nations can speak to the current."

"Bullshit." Irritation was growing as I shouted at the sky, "Alfred, get your ass down here!" I was met with crickets once again and I screamed, "Don't ignore me you asshole!"

"Amy, be respectful, that's your father-"

"He's not my father! Technically the sky is my father and a star is my mother."

He gave me a confused look, "huh?"

"Oh he didn't tell you about the birds and the bees; well for us it's called the stars and the sky. And Alfred didn't tell me about it, oh no he left that job for a shaman chief with a magickal campfire. That reminds me, where are you old man! The least you can do is talk to me! Oh, wait and there's Nina but she seems to be ignoring me as will! What the hell do I have to do to get your attention?!"

"Well for one you can shut up and turn around," a new male voice spoke from behind.

"Clovis, be nice," a female voice said as a smack of an arm resounded in the air.

I spun to find two young adults sitting on top of a vertical standing boulder. The young man looked like he was about the age of nineteen or twenty. He had light aqua eyes and blond hair that was cut up in layers; the longest layer was tied in a low ponytail. He was dressed in a black graphic t-shirt that displayed a French band's logo, a pair of tight red skinny jeans and black converses.

The young woman was about a year or two older, she had long brown hair and green eyes. She wore a bright green peasant skirt with a tanned tank top and brown sandals. She had a dazzling smile and wore silver Celtic knot rings around her pinky and index fingers on her left hand. A radiant emerald ring on her right hand and a gold necklace with a tree pendant laid at the center of her collar bone.

"I'm gonna take a wild guess here and say you two are spirits," I proclaimed.

The man clapped slowly, "and you would correct," he said sarcastically; his accent seemed to be a mix of French, German, and Latin.

The woman rolled her eyes, "don't mind him; he's in a foul mood." Her accent was English but it sounded old.

"'Foul mood', that doesn't even scratch at the surface. Here she is, practically ordering us to help her when the last spirit that decided to lend a hand got dragged in to the Abyss."

"The last spirit," I whispered to myself till I figured out what he meant. "You mean Nina?"

"Oh look she remembers her name. Didn't you ever wonder what happened to your dear friend Nina? Of course you didn't, you were too busy with shopping and boys to give a damn. Like every other typical teenage girl."

I narrowed my eyes at him, "I have a half of mind to throw one of these boulders at you."

"Bring it on Blondie," his voice became eerily as his eyes turned from aqua to gold, "I'll show you the true power of a spirit."

The woman shoved him off the rock and fell to the ground with a hard thud. "What was that for?!" he shouted at her.

She jumped off and landed with grace, "you were being an ass." She turned to me and smiled, "I'm sorry for Clovis," she offered her hand, "I'm Kaelee."

"Amy," I took her hand and shook it.

She smiled but that smile faded when she glanced to Neill.

Clovis followed her eyes and glared at him, "you have some nerve to show your face, alien."

"I come in peace," Neill gave a cheerful smile.

In a blink of an eye Clovis rose to his feet and tackled Neill to the ground. I grabbed the spirit by the shoulder and threw him so his back would collide into a boulder. "Touch him again and you'll have my foot up your ass," I threatened.

Clovis growled as Kaelee lifted a hand at him, "enough."

"But-"

"I said enough," she commanded.

He grumbled as he sat down with his arms cross. Kaelee turned her attention back to us, "I'm terribly sorry Amy but their kind is not welcomed here."

"Well he's with me so deal with it," I remarked.

Kaelee's eyebrows rose slightly but then she gave a knowing smile, "You are so much like him. So why have you called us?"

"We need your help," I said quickly, "children are being kidnapped by alien outlaws and are going to be sold to other aliens across the galaxies. Neill here is a bounty hunter and I'm a nation but we can't go up against all of them by ourselves."

Kaelee and Clovis remained quiet as they glanced to one another, Kaelee carried a look filled with worry and Clovis carried one of contained rage.

"Nina told me once that spirits like to be friends with kids and Neill said that spirits are protectors so it would make sense that you all would join us right?"

"How the hell did we not hear about this?!" Clovis shouted at Kaelee.

"Have you forgotten what is happening?" Kaelee narrowed her eyes at him. "The Spirit World is in trouble, all of our man power has been put into keeping the balance. Not many of us could venture out into the earth plane and read the newspaper."

I lifted a brow at her, "you must've been away for long time because no one reads the paper anymore."

Clovis snapped, "Can't you see we're having a conversation."

Kaelee smacked him behind the head, "Clovis, focus. If aliens have been able to get under our radar then clearly they think we have been declawed."

"Not entirely," Neill proclaimed, "the stories of your kind nearly destroying the Daevlaions have stuck fear in the hearts of aliens for thousands of years."

"Yet we have outlaws on Earth," Clovis narrowed his eye at him in annoyance.

"Because they're desperate they know that the police force wouldn't follow them. That's why they send out bounty hunters, the less number of aliens that show up in a group the less likely chance you all will explode our planets."

"Okay back up," I exclaimed, "Are you guys saying aliens have been showing up since ancient times?" My eyes widened, "Did they build the pyramids?"

"Of course not," Kaelee proclaimed, "we are the ones that helped the humans."

"Amy, how familiar are you with the Bible?" Neill asked.

"Uh, not much," I admitted

"You do know the tale of Lucifer's fall?"

"From Supernatural."

Neill sighed but said, "Okay I guess that works. You see the battle between angles and demons are true but not the way you think. The demons were actually an alien race known as the Daevlaions. They tried to colonized Earth and kill off the humans but the spirits," he gestured to Kaelee and Clovis, "fought back. They took the form of humans but added wings so humans would see them as celestial beings. They then waged a war with the aliens and won by threatening the home planet."

"So angels and demons were actually spirits and aliens. The Christians ain't gonna like that. Wait, how can spirits even threaten another planet?"

"We are star children," Kaelee said as her eyes shined gold for a slight second before fading back to green. "We can harness power from our mother star and set off an explosion of energy from our bodies."

"Also known as a super nova," Clovis explained, "stars exist all over the universe, we can easily track their home planet and make it go boom."

"Of course that power is dangerous, for if we use it when we are weak we could cause our mother star to go super nova before it's time. A child cannot live without its mother," Kaelee added.

"But stars would be next to those planets, wouldn't they fight back?" I asked.

"All stars throughout the universe give birth to spirits and the Spirit World is our home and our home cannot exist without the earth plane. We live in a continuous cycle; the Spirit World and Earth are forever entertained, meaning spirits and humans need each other to survive. Humans give off emotions such as faith, hope, love; these emotions feed the Spirit World and so feed us. The Spirit World in turn gives life to nature."

"Can't say that all humans follow the code of hippies," I proclaimed.

She nodded, "of course humans also give off anger, rage, and hate and all that is thrown into the Abyss. All worlds have a dark side, even ours."

"And we have to keep the balance in our world in check, if not Earth will suffer," Clovis added.

"From what? Earthquakes? Floods? The dead rising and eating the living?" I joked.

"Yes, yes and possibly," he said seriously.

Neill chuckled, "Looks like a zombie apocalypse is in your future."

"Shut up Neill," I said through gritted teeth.

Kaelee clapped her hands, "I believe we have a more pressing manner at hand." With a flick of her wrist a bright glowing sparrow was formed, she whispered into its ear and threw it up into the air. It flapped straight up into the sky and disappeared into the stars.

"You said you couldn't go up against them by yourselves," she smiled as fairies appeared behind her and flew in all directions. Large black bears and massive gray wolves stepped out from behind boulders. Dragons, griffins, and birds soared from above as trolls and goblins jumped from stone to stone. People of different ages that ranged from the elderly to children walked over the hill, gathering around with the animals and mythical creatures.

"Will this be enough," Kaelee asked with a mischievous smile.

Chapter Text

The Turks Shipyard was completely deserted. The boatyard was stretched along the River Medway and it contained four other white buildings attached to the main. This massive shipyard had high ceilings and held cargo crates and small boats. The street lights gave a soft glow and all the buildings were lit with fluorescent lightening. The parking lot was filled with space crafts of different sizes and colors. Terrestrial creatures stepped out of the platforms of their ships and walked towards the main structure. Some species I knew, Salkens, Duplins, Aberrations and Ettercaps. While most were aliens that I only caught split second glances of when I was in that building in Paris.

I stood on the roof, watching the aliens walk in. The plan was for some spirits to venture and blend into the crowd while the rest stood behind me. A small blue skinned fairy flew from the crowd and soared to Kaelee, "the children are locked in the cargo boxes; they are separated by country."

"How do you know this?" she asked.

"They were labeled," the fairy answered.

I dug my nails into my palms, labeled like cattle.

Neill flew over on a hover board; he decided to stay in his human form so the spirits wouldn't mistake him with the others. "I've set up the dome," he threw a metal device to Clovis. "When they try to escape, press the button and a force field will cover this entire area."

Clovis grinned evilly, "They're gonna be sitting ducks for us."

"Yes, but please, control yourselves; I need them alive for arrest."

The spirits grew silent and Kaelee proclaimed, "We'll try but we can't keep any promises."

"At least keep Klipto Thas alive."

"The ugly cockroach creature," the blue fairy exclaimed.

"Yes, he's the ring leader of this entire project."

Kaelee agreed, "We won't kill him."

"It's five minutes till midnight," Clovis proclaimed.

Kaelee nodded and placed her hand on my shoulder and the other on Neill's. "You two ready?"

We told her yes and she spoke in an ancient language, this spell made our bodies see-through and floated us down through the ceiling. We were like ghosts as we lowered down into the crowd of aliens. No one could see us or hear us.

Kaelee stopped us in the center of the crowd about six or seven feet away from the stage. I took deep breaths as I clutched the metal rod to my chest. This rod was the length and width of a cane and with a press of a button, it sparked with electrical currents. It was like pole taser. I asked Neill if there were lightsabers, he said no and that it was invention of the human imagination. I was pretty disappointed; I could've been real live Jedi.

Five minutes seemed to drag on for hours, till Neill checked his wristband, "it's time."

Klipto Thas stepped onto the stage, "Welcome, welcome fellow terrestrials. I'm so happy that all of you could make in for our auction. We have a wonderful section of human children, some with the darkest of skin tones that can blend into the emptiness of space. Others with bright colored eyes and hair, a rare section of twins that are mirror images of each other and of course there's a selection of children with amazing talents." With flick of his fingers, a crane clutched on to a cargo crate and placed it slowly behind him. "Shall we begin?"

The crowd clapped and cheered as Kaelee recited a spell and called forth tree roots to spring from the ground. The roots wrapped themselves around the necks of five aliens, hauled them into the air, snapped their necks and tossed their bodies aside. That was the cue for the spirits to come out of hiding.

Spirits took the forms of aliens while others were invisible by the side lines. The ones that were aliens gave a soft glow of golden light so other spirits wouldn't attack them. The invisible ones took forms ranging from massive predatory animals to mythical creatures. Some we're human and battled against aliens either with magick or their bare hands.

The extraterrestrials were taken by surprised but they were ready to hit with a counter attack. They shot back with laser guns and had blasted heads and limbs off, but it was no use. The spirits would regenerate instantly after being shot. These terrestrial beings were no match against them. The spirits defied the laws of nature; they could become an animal, making them as big as giants. As trolls, goblins and ogres they would summon weapons out of thin air and crush skulls with a single collision. Most cast spells of the elements to kill aliens or trap them under ground; keeping their promise to leave some alive for Neill.

I tasered an alien in the gut and caught a side-way view of a group running out of the building. I grinned to myself; they were in for quite a surprise.

Clovis perked up when he heard the cries of battle rumbling from the building. He smiled like a child on Christmas morning. "Here they come," he shouted to his small army and turned to face the ground as aliens ran out the door. He pressed the button and just as the bounty hunter said, the force field went up like a dome. No one could get in, no one could get out.

Clovis summoned a claymore and lifted it up into the air, "Charge!"

Spirits leaped off the roof, most of the fairies changed into massive dragons and landed on the space ships. They spat out fire to keep the fleeing aliens away from their ships. Two that were in the shape of average humans grew into twenty foot giants. Their skin took on the color of silver as their hair turned light blue. They were now frost giants, a popular giant in folk lore. They stomped on terrestrials and blew cold air to freeze any survivors.

Clovis jumped to stand on a giant's shoulder, "hey now, leave some for the rest of us." He slid down the giant's arm and slit the throat of an over-sized gecko. It's been too long since he had tasted the air of battle. He almost wished that these aliens were more of a challenge to allow the battle to rage on.

As if the fates answered his prayer, an eight foot tall humanoid being stepped out to face him. It was male with six arms, pointed ears, green skin and glowing red eyes with no pupils. The alien roared and Clovis smirked, "I'll make it a fair fight. I won't grow myself to your height and I won't use any magick."

The creature threw three fists at him but he dodged each one and stepped towards the alien. He swung his blade and sliced off its head, red blood rained as the body fell to its knees and collapsed to the ground.

Clovis sighed, "I give you a handicap and you still lost." He spun to face a group of frightened aliens, "whose next?"


 

Aliens had tried to form a protective circle, shooting at us from behind their hover boards. Trolls and ogres ran towards them, trying to break the formation but the laser blasts would overwhelm them. Their limbs, torsos and heads would be made into Swiss cheese. They flew back and landed at Kaelee's feet. They were healing rapidly but they were hesitant on jumping back into the fight.

"We need to break their formation," a ten foot tall, brown skinned ogre exclaimed.

"We can go head on again, have more guys in the back this time," I proclaimed.

The ogre glowed, "We're not your shields! We may heal instantly but it still hurts!"

"Thomas," Kaelee said, "if you would be a dear and grab one of those boats?"

The ogre's eyes glanced to one of the blue and orange ships. It was about twenty feet long and fifteen feet wide. Thomas gave a yellowed toothy grin, "Of course." He stomped with his massive feet and used his defined muscles to lift the boat over his head and aimed. "Heads up!"

I covered my head with my arms and watched with amazement as Thomas flung the ship effortlessly through the air. The boat crushed into the hover boards, even squashed a Salken. Kaelee waved her hands as the wind swirled around her and blew the aliens into the air. With flicks of her fingers, she forced the aliens to collide into one another and then finally scattered them throughout the room.

I should've been paying attention to my surroundings instead of watching the show. It left me open for an attack. A creature clawed me in the face, sending me to the ground. Once my vision cleared, I looked up to find Nyla standing over me. She screeched a battle cry and threw another punch. I dodged it by rolling onto my side and jumping to my feet, "someone woke up on the wrong side of the bird's nest."

"You don't seem to heal as quickly as the others," she remarked.

I touched my cheek, the claw marks were slowly fading away. "Yeah, but still it helps when I have to deal with ugly bitches like you."

She slammed another punch into my gut, "you made a mistake of living me alive."

I gritted my teeth together, "Don't worry; I won't make the same mistake again." I bent down and tripped her with a sweep of my leg. She caught herself and swung her foot. I snatched it in mid-air and swung her over my head and slammed her against the floor.

She groaned, "W-what are you?"

"Hm, good question," I jerked her up by the arm and smashed my fist into her face. I repeated this till she was dazed and lost the will to fight back. I dropped her, "I'll get back to you on that."

I snatched the taser rod from the floor and aimed it at a lizard creature, "care to dance?"

It dropped its gun, "I surrender."

"Smart." I tasered it in the chest and it shook violently as it fell. "Now just you wait, Neill will be making his rounds to slap on a new pair of handcuffs on ya."

I scanned the area, there may be more aliens but the spirits had the upper hand. Most were being killed but some were captured in cages made out of stone and metal. Neill rode around on his board and placed metal collars, cuffs and shackles on each apprehended terrestrial, but he was missing the most important one. I craned my neck up to find Klipto making his escape through the cargo crates. I ground my teeth together in rage and chased him through the maze.

He cuts around the corner and I sprinted after him, he slid to a stop when he was met with a dead end. "Nowhere to run," I proclaimed as I took a step towards him.

His eyes widened as he hissed, "How are you alive?! I killed you!"

I shrugged my shoulders as I set the taser rod at full charge, "clearly you didn't."

He looked wildly to his surroundings and forced opened a crate. He pulled out a small Asian boy and used him as a shield. "Come any closer and I'll blast this boy's head off," the boy was about nine or ten years old. He had black hair, dark eyes and pale skin; he wore a white shirt and dark pants, clearly slave apparel. He looked healthy and clean, but he was scared out of his mind.

"Drop your weapon," Klipto ordered and I tossed aside the rod. He smiled (I think.), "Now call off the force field! You want the kids alive right? I'll leave them and be on my way."

I glanced to the boy in his arms, he was weeping in what I thought was Japanese. I sighed and tried to remember the few words that Heisuke had taught me. "Ī nda yo," this phase meant 'it's okay', well I hoped that's what it meant. "Ī nda yo," I repeated.

The boy stared at me and swallowed back his cries. Klipto glanced to the boy and back to me, "what the hell did you say to him?!"

He doesn't know Japanese, this could be our chance. I bit my inner cheek and found Clovis on top of a crate on my right side. He held a finger to his lips and an idea came to mind. "Kare o kamu! Kare o kamu!" I shouted.

The boy nodded and bit Klipto. I was trying to say you kick him, but that works too. Klipto hissed in pain as I shouted, "Clovis!"

He leaped off the crate, shifted into a tiger and tackled him to the floor. Klipto freed the boy and I dashed to grab him. "You okay? You okay?" I asked as I snatched the laser gun from the floor. The boy nodded as I pushed him behind me and aimed the gun at Klipto's face.

Clovis growled and slowly backed off him. I wielded the gun closer to his face, "on your knees," I exclaimed. Klipto hissed but followed my orders. I took a deep breath as the boy curled his fists into the fabric of my shirt. I glanced to him; he was trembling and hiding his face into the small of my back. He may have had no physical wounds but it didn't mean he wasn't in pain. I glared at Klipto; this bastard had put innocent children through hell and I wasn't about to let him get away with it.

I pistol whipped him in the face, "did you enjoy taking kids from their homes in the dead of night?" I smacked him again, "Did you enjoy labeling them and locking them away like damn animals?!" I kicked him in the gut, my anger was rising, "did you enjoy shooting my brains out?!" I blasted one of his four hands off. He howled in agony and lifted the gun to his head, "let's see how you like it!"

"Amy, stop!" Neill yelled from behind.

I didn't bother to face him; I just held the gun closer to Klipto's forehead. "Amy please," Neill begged, "I need him alive. This isn't the first time he has done this! He has taken and sold thousands of extraterrestrial children across the universe, I need to know where they are and he's my only source!"

I inhaled through my nose as my hand began to shake. Neill placed his hand on my shoulder, "just put the gun down," he whispered.

"You head him," Klipto chuckled, "besides you don't have guts to do it."

I gritted my teeth and shot off an arm, he screamed as I handed the gun to Neill. "Hurry up and arrest him before I shoot his goddamned brains out."

Neill sighed in relief, "you got it." He spoke into his wristband and the metal collar popped out. It wrapped around his neck as cuffs followed and locked on his now three arms. Shackles were placed on his ankles as the metal bands were then connected by bright yellow electrical currents. "Klipto Thas, you are under arrest for selling of intelligent live, hosting an illegal auction, possession of firearms without proper paper work, and child endangerment." He took Klipto away and I turned to the boy who was still hanging on by my shirt.

"Ī nda yo," I said as I ruffled his hair and lifted him up. He wrapped his arms around my neck and I carried him from out of the maze. "What about the other kids?" I asked Clovis as he turned back to his human form.

"It would be a zoo, don't worry we're erasing their memories as we speak," he gestured to the fairies as they glided into each crate. "It's for the best," he proclaimed.

"Agreed," I sighed as a radiant purple fairy fluttered over to the boy. He flinched and I soothed him, "Ī nda yo." He nodded and allowed the fairy to touch his forehead. A minute passed as his eyes closed and he collapsed into my arms. He was breathing softly and he looked peaceful.

Clovis and I walked out of the building where the spirits were separating aliens. The dead were thrown into a pile as the others were cuffed and lined up in front of Neill. He lifted his band to his face, "contact headquarters in the Ophelia district." After a minute a humanoid female was displayed on a hologram screen. She had a cat head with brown fur all over her human-like body, her eyes were bright green and she had a pixie cut hair style that blended into her fur. She even wore a spandex uniform.

"Oh Mykrutyszoni," the cat woman smiled, "haven't heard from you in a while."

"Hey there Kitty," he greeted with a smile.

"Don't call me that," she hissed.

"Yes, yes," he grew serious, "I've captured Klipto Thas and several other outlaws, prepare for transport."

She nodded as she typed on a computer, "Transport ready."

Neill held up his wristband and a blue light beamed out and scanned the cuffed aliens. The scan lasted for two minutes till in the light shined even brighter and the aliens were gone in a flash. Neill then moved along to the space crafts and transported them to headquarters.

I laid the boy down in front the Turks Boatyard sign as Kaelee created a blanket out of thin air and covered the boy. "Thanks," I said as I glanced to the pile of dead aliens, "what are we gonna do about them?"

Her hands burst into flames, "I got an idea." She stepped forward and shot out her flames into the pile. Other spirits followed her lead and summoned a blaze to torch the terrestrials. The inferno soared into the sky, frying the bodies till nothing was left but ashes. As the blaze died, Kaelee called out for a gust of wind and scattered the remains into the river.

"Alright, I've called the police, they're on their way," Clovis proclaimed. "Let's move out!"

The spirits transformed into birds and leaped into the air. They dispersed and flew into different directions. I was hesitant to leave the boy and the other children behind till Neill patted my back. "We can wait on the roof."

I nodded as Kaelee fixed the broken windows and moved the shattered ship back to its place in one piece. Once everything was back to normal, I hopped on the hover board behind Neill and we soared to the roof. Clovis and Kaelee followed and waited with us till the lights of the sirens could be seen in the distance.

"Come on Kaelee, we need to go," Clovis said as he helped Kaelee to her feet.

"Wait," I called out and they turned to face me. "Thank you, for everything."

"Yeah, yeah," Clovis exclaimed, "you wouldn't have been able to pull this off without us. We already knew that."

Kaelee smacked him and faced me with a concerned look, "Take care of yourself, okay."

I gave her a carefree smile, "I'll be fine."

Kaelee sighed but smiled as she and Clovis vanished.


 

I yawned and I bit into my English crumpet. Neill and I sat in a quaint little café in downtown London, watching the seven o'clock morning news. The anchorwoman announced, "Over three to four thousand children have been discovered at the Turks Shipyard early this morning." The screen cuts to a clip of the boatyard. "The children were stored into shipping crates and we're locked inside for over twelve hours." The police propped open the crate doors and carried each kid one after the other into ambulances or tent areas that was filled with medical supplies.

"So far no injuries or signs of abuse have been reported," The anchorwoman was back on the screen. "But what really has officers baffled is that the children have no memory of being kidnapped. No sign of drugs have been used and no evidence has been found in linking anyone to the crime."

"Because they were aliens," I whispered as I sipped my tea.

Neill chuckled and looked out the window into the cloudy sky. I turned back to TV as children were checked by paramedics and the older children were questioned by police. "Scotland Yard has informed us that they will be working with other government officials from the UN to find the culprits of this world wide trafficking ring."

"Not even Sherlock can solve this mystery," I smirked.

"Sherlock is a fictional character," Neill proclaimed.

"Shut up, you know what I mean."

Summer rain was beginning to fall as we sat in our seats and merely observed as the locals opened their umbrellas and continued on with their day. Neill sighed, "I have to get you back to the nations."

I sighed along with him, "I know; I'm in so much trouble."

"I have you plugged in the battery back into your phone?"

"Yeah," I mumbled as glanced to my smart phone, which remarkably had survived laser blasts, major fights with terrestrials and a pesky little goblin that thought my phone was a snack. I have to admit when a spirit commits to a role they stick to it till the end. "There are tons of messages from the nations, my parents and from the president."

"Oh my," Neill said as he sipped his tea.

I laid my head on the table, "I'm in a deep pile of shit here."

"But you have to go back."

"I know, I know," I sighed again. "How did Alfred keep all these secrets? Did he just come up with really good excuses?"

"No, he simply played the role of the fool."

I looked at him, "he played the fool?"

"Don't get me wrong he had his blond moments as you would say, but he was able to keep everyone in the dark by making them believe what they already thought they knew."

I raised an eyebrow, "get to the point."

"When people already believe you act a certain way it's hard to change their opinion of you; and Alfred used this to his advantage. He acted like the fool everyone believed he was."

"Oh," I laughed, "The Fool fooled everyone."

"Now," Neill proclaimed, "what role will you play?"


 

Neill was able to transform his space craft into a car, which was pretty cool and helpful for when he had to drive me back to the manor on Inselstraße Island. He stopped the car and I took a deep breath, "Wish me luck," I said as I climbed out of the car.

"You'll be fine, you may not believe me Amy, but you're a lot like him." Neill smiled and drove down the road, in a blink of an eye it morphed into his space ship and shot up into the morning sky.

I adjusted my clothes, which were recently cleaned and pressed. I had added a new brown crop jacket to the outfit replacing the one that was damaged on Wednesday. I opened the iron gate and walked down the dirt road, rental cars were parked along the driveway and I shook out my jacket nervously. I knocked on the door and smiled big and wide when Gilbert opened the door, "hey Gil, what's up?"

His red eyes widened as he quickly checked behind him, stepped out of the house and closed the door. "Where the fuck have you been?!" he whispered harshly. "West is about to explode!"

"I figured," I opened the door and walked past him. "Are all the G9 nations here?"

Gilbert sighed, "yes and they're pissed."

I grinned, "I'm sure they're not that mad." I sauntered over to the living room where the nations were arguing.

"She hasn't answered any of my calls," Arthur proclaimed, "not even from her parents or the president."

"Even Germany's so-called government agent lost her," Yao remarked. "If we were in my country she would have been captured, gagged and delivered after the first hour she pulls her little disappearing act."

"Oh, Yao I knew you cared," I said sweetly as I stepped into the room.

Eight pairs of eyes snapped up to meet me and I smiled, "Sorry about not answering my phone." I strolled in and sat on a leather chair, "so, what I miss?"

Ludwig rose from his seat, "Is that all you have to say?! You've been gone for nearly forty-eight hours and all you have to say is what I miss!" He paced around the room, "You broke and jumped out of a window, lead my agents through a wild goose chase and shattered a man's knee cap. He'll never be able to work in the field again!"

Guilt crept under my skin, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to kick that hard."

"You didn't mean it; that seems to be your catch phrase." He massaged the bridge of his nose, "All I'm going to ask is why; why did you run off?"

I was silent till: "You want the truth?"

"Yes," he hissed.

"After I lost my temper, I realized," I paused, "I realized that's what I'm going to be doing for the rest of my so-called immortal life. Sitting in a chair, behind a desk, doing paperwork that won't change anything what's so ever. My life will be filled with boring meetings, talking about the world's problems and doing nothing about it.

"You could say that I had early mid-life crisis. I just needed to get out, I needed to release some steam. Granted I over did it with jumping out of that window, and I'm really sorry about that."

Ludwig's forehead throbbed but I continued. "I know you all are trying to make me into this, business woman but that just isn't me. I can accept being a nation but all this," I gestured to them, "is just ridicules. My country may be hundreds of years old but I'm eighteen and before all this I wanted to be a dancer. I know most of you think it's silly but I was really serious about it. I was gonna audition for dance schools all over the country, maybe some around the world. It was my dream.

"Then all of sudden, I'm support to wear a suit, seat behind a desk and be happy about it. I needed a break, I called up some classmates from school that live here and went out on the town. We went to some of the night clubs, checked out that open air movie theater I've been hearing about, we drank, we danced and just had fun."

I made eye contact with Ludwig and held my head up high. "And, I don't regret a single moment of it."

His eye twitched as his hand tightened into a fist. I mentally prepared myself for a slap to the face but he only lectured. His voice was low and mean, "You insolent little girl. You may think what we do means nothing, but you refuse to understand it. I have a half of mind to pack your bags and send you back to America, but I know the last thing you need is to be alone with average people." He grabbed my chin and forced me to look up at him, "If I have to tie you down in that chair for the rest of your life, then so be it." With a final irritated look, he released my chin and stomped out of the room.

Feliciano spared me a glance before he ran after Ludwig. Arthur rose from his seat and stood before me.

"Arthur-"

"Don't," he cut me off, "I'm deeply disappointed in you." That was all he said as he walked out the room and slammed the front door behind him.

Francis sighed, brushed a hand through his hair and squeezed my shoulder, "I'm glad you're okay." He gave me a smile that didn't reach his eyes and headed for the door. Matthew spared me a worried look as he followed Francis.

"We are wasting our time with you," Yao narrowed his amber eyes at me and struts to the door. Kiku walked beside him, leaving me alone with Ivan and Gilbert.

Ivan smirked and moved to touch my cheek, "such a rebellious girl you are."

Gilbert grabbed his forearm, "should I show you to the door Russia?"

"That is not necessary," Ivan smiled but it was cold and the air seemed to chill between those two. The Russian shoved the albino off and walked out of the manor.

If being lectured by Ludwig wasn't enough, I had to be screamed at by my mom and threatened by the president.

"You are so lucky I'm not there to smack you! You had me worried! Haven't you been paying attention to the news, there are sick people out there kidnapping pretty girls like you! Amy you have no idea how angry I am at you right now." said Mom.

"If you pull another stunt like this again, I will put a tracking chip inside your skull." said the President.

I sighed and stared out into the evening sky. "This sucks," I mumbled. My phone ringed and I winced, "oh fuck, what did I do now?" I glanced to the screen and found it was a news notification. I clicked on the link and found that it was a video about one of the kidnapped kids.

She was about seven years old and was running out of the police station in London to collide into the arms of her parents. The mother lifted the girl to her chest and rocked her back and forth, whispering loving words into her ear. The father wrapped his arms around both of them and kissed the top of the girl's head; all three of them were smiling and wiping away tears of joy as they continued to hold each other.

My heart squeezed as a smile spread from ear to ear. "I don't regret a single moment of it."


 

A week passed and we were in our final days of July. Ludwig has been running me into the ground, with more hours of training. My Saturdays were now full days and Sundays became half days. I was also on lock down; I wasn't even allowed to be off the island without someone supervising me and that someone had to be Ludwig. He didn't trust Gilbert to watch me.

Chores were even added; I swept, mopped, and dusted nearly every other day. At that moment I was finishing up the dishes from our dinner of three. Feliciano had left the day after I had returned to the manor and I couldn't help but feel a little sad. He had grown on me and his cheerful attitude would have helped with Ludwig's irritated mood.

The doorbell ringed and Gilbert answered the door. I was drying up the plates and putting them away in the cabinets.

"Amy, I got a surprise for you," Gilbert announced as he stepped into the kitchen.

"What is it?" I turned and found Peter and Raivis standing behind him. I beamed, "Peter! Raivis! Oh my god," I wrapped my arms around them both, "It's so good to see you!" Peter returned my hug while Raivis was too anxious to move. I stepped back, "what are you guys doing here?"

"We just wanted to visit, check up on ya," Peter proclaimed. "Heard about what you pulled at the meeting and I have to say, Britain is being an ass about the whole thing."

I knitted my brows together in confusion, "how did you even know about that?"

"Nations love to gossip."

I sighed, "of course they do."

Ludwig called for Gilbert from his room and he flinched, "if he asks, these two are my guests not yours, got it."

"Got it," I nodded as he walked out of the room. I turned back to the boys, "I'm guessing you're staying."

"Only for a week or so," Raivis said nervously as looked to his duffle bag.

"Uh-huh, I don't know how much fun we can have though. I'm grounded till, well forever." I continued to set the plates away as Peter forced Raivis to speak.

"T-there is one other r-reason why we came."

I lifted a brow at them as he continued, "y-you remember how Peter saved you back at Mr. Austria's house?"

"Yeah."

"A-and you said that you o-owed us one."

"Yeah."

"Well," he glanced to the ceiling as his cheeks flushed and Peter exclaimed, "Can you help us talk to girls."

I blinked, "huh?"

Chapter Text

"Come on, pick up the pace!" Ludwig yelled at Raivis and Peter, who were running behind me.

The boys were panting as they tried in failed attempts to catch up with me. I fell back into a jog and ran between them. "You guys doing okay?" I asked.

Peter glanced to me, "Why," gasp, "yes," gasp, "we're," gasp, "fine."

I nodded and turned to Raivis, his hair was drenched in sweat, his cheeks were red and his eyes were glazed over. This was only their second day at the Beilschmidt's manor and they looked like they were a lap away from collapsing.

"Ludwig," I called out, "they need a break!"

"No, if they want to stay, they have to train! That was the deal," he exclaimed.

I sighed, "Come on, a ten minute break won't hurt us."

He glared, "Fine. Ten minutes."

"Thanks," I came to stop as the boys fell to their knees and laid themselves out on their backs.

"I'm never getting up again," Peter panted.

I smirked, we were on our twelfth lap and I was barely out of breath. I felt like I could do another ten more. Two days ago, Peter and Raivis agreed to this endurance training so I could help them talk to girls.


 

"Help us talk to girls," Peter repeated after I was rendered speechless.

"Um, you do realize I'm a girl," I proclaimed.

"Not like that," he mumbled as his face flushed. "I mean like-like-"

"Flirting?" I almost giggled. "You want me to help you flirt with girls? Do I look like Will Smith to you?"

The boys knitted their brows together in confusion. "Well no, you're a girl and white," Peter answered.

"Not that," I said annoyed, "I meant, Hitch."

"Oh, yeah, good movie," Peter said as Raivis nodded.

"Well at least you understand the culture reference. Toris didn't even understand when I tried to fist pump with him."

Peter laughed, "You tried to fist pump with Toris? Bloke doesn't even know how to high five."

"He does," Raivis came to his friend's defense.

"Okay back to topic," I proclaimed, "so you want me to help you flirt with girls. Why?"

Raivis said, "We look old enough now."

I lifted a brow in puzzlement and Peter proclaimed. "He means we finally aged to look like older teenagers."

I nodded, remembering Grandpa's journal, the story of Raivis being hundreds of years old but had the appearance of a thirteen year old boy. I narrowed my eyes at them, really taking in their looks. Their features were hard and mature, taking on the ages of seventeen or eighteen. They had a few inches over me. Raivis was the taller of the two; he had light chestnut hair and a pair pretty violet eyes. Peter on the other hand, had shaggy, dirty blond hair and bright blue eyes; both were cute, in that awkward sort of way.

"How old are you two?"

Peter shrugged his shoulders, "I'm seventy-six."

I glanced to Raivis, "What about you? Are you and the other Baltic States around the same age?"

"I believe so, we're always known of each other's presence."

"Toris told me he was over seven hundred that means you could be around the same age right?"

He snorted, "That's a good guess, but Eduard has been doing research on us," he rubbed his forehead, "we possibly could be older."

"What's your earliest memory?"

He thought about it as he messaged his temple, "Being attacked by Vikings."

"Lovely," I sighed and pointed to Peter, "I can hook you up with the nice old lady down the street." I gestured to Raivis, "You on the other hand, we're have to dig through a grave."

Peter glared, "Are you messing with us?"

I placed my index finger and thumb an inch apart, "a little bit."

"Amy," Raivis's cheeks burned with a slight blush, "please, help us."

I bit my bottom lip, "I just don't know how much help I could be."

"We're prepared to beg," he said seriously.

I laughed, "I'll like to see that."

They dropped to their knees and spoke in sync, "please!"

Before I could tell them to get up, Gilbert and Ludwig walked into the room. "Well isn't this interesting," Gilbert chuckled.

I pulled the boys to their feet, "Hey Ludwig, look who's staying."

"Nein," he growled. "I know what you two are doing and they are not staying here."

"But they're my guests," Gilbert proclaimed.

"You never even spoke to these two unless you were threatening that one," he pointed to Raivis who began to tremble.

"Come on, Luddy," I tested out the new nickname. "They just want to stay-"

"Nein!" he yelled, "Nein, nein, nein, nein!"

I flinched as Raivis hid behind me and Peter moved closer to my side. I gulped and spoke the first thing that came to my head. "But they want to train with you!" Peter gave me a confused side-way glance, but I ignored him. "They want to be stronger and-and they know you're the man for the job."

His nostrils flared, "do you think I'm stupid?"

"No," I gave my sweetest smile.

"They're leaving, now." He turned away to leave.

"But they just got here." I stopped him by his arm, "please, please, they just want to learn from you."

"Do you not understand?" he glared, "you are being punished."

"I know, but don't punish them for my mistake."

He inhaled and exhaled from his nose, "they train, they stay, but if they waste my time I will kick them out of this house and make the rest of your stay here a living hell."

"They're homeless, I'll live in hell, gotcha," I nodded as he stomped out of the room.

Everyone was silent till Gilbert said, "That went better than expected."


 

 

"Come on guys," I pulled them by their arms, "get up."

Petered looked up to me, "Go on, leave us to die," he said weakly.

"Speak for yourself," Raivis mumbled.

I sighed, "You know what girls like?"

They turned to me with curious looks, "they like guys that are healthy and confident and all this," I gestured to them and our laps, "will get you both." I clapped my hands together, "Come on! Come on!"

I caught Ludwig watching me as I hauled the boys up and wrapped their arms around my shoulders. "We leave no man behind!" I began jogging as the boys dragged at my sides.

He covered his mouth with his hand, mostly to conceal his chuckle.

I narrowed my eyes at him, "how about instead of giggling like a school girl, you help me out here."

"They're your problem," he proclaimed as he continued with his run.

"Funny that's what the President said about you," I mumbled.


 

Ludwig observed with a critical eye as the three teenagers did their pushups, crunches and burpees. They continued on to the dummies, practicing their punches, elbow jabs, knee hits and kicks, and during all this it was Amy and Raivis that were clearly in their domain. Amy might have been in this routine for over a month but Raivis had experience. He may not show it, but Ludwig knew that he was skilled. Peter on the other hand was struggling, but determined to stay in pace with the others.

He clapped his hands, "on the mats, let's go." They moved on to the blue mats, "Sealand and America, you're up first."

Gilbert leaned against the wall, rubbing his hands together, "this is gonna be fun."

Amy and Peter stepped onto the mat as Raivis stood off to the side. Ludwig waited for the teens to roll their shoulders and hold up their fists to their chins. "Begin!"

Peter threw the first punch, but Amy ducked. She moved like lightening and slammed an upper cut under his chin. Peter fell back and collapsed to the mat, he was rendered unconscious.

Amy's eyes widened, "Oh my god! Peter! Are you okay?!" She bent down and lightly tapped him on the cheek repeatedly.

Raivis knelt beside them, "Peter," he shook him by the shoulder, "Peter, wake up!"

Gilbert howled in laughter as Ludwig walked over to check on the smaller boy. He pressed his fingers to Peter's wrist, "there's a pulse; he's fine. Move him aside, next up Latvia and America."

The American glared at him, "You have no heart."

"Does it look like I care," he proclaimed as he effortlessly tossed Peter over his shoulder and laid him outside the mat.

The last remaining teens moved along and took their stances. "Begin!" Ludwig exclaimed and Amy swept a kick under Raivis's feet. He caught himself, pushed up and slammed a fist into her gut.

She gritted her teeth and punched him in the face. The Latvian shook it off, wrapped his hand around Amy's arm and threw her over his shoulders. She fell to the mat with a hard thump and sighed, "You're good."

"I had to be."

"Yeah, when dealing with Vikings, you have two choices," she rose to her feet, "fight or die."

He nodded, "I learned that the hard way."

"Respect," she grinned.

They continued with their sparing, throwing hits and swinging kicks. They blocked each other's attacks, but most were taken. Raivis flung his leg to Amy's hip as she snatched it with one hand and tossed him to the floor. He caught himself again and flipped out another kick. Amy jumped back and stomped down his toes.

Ludwig stared at Raivis in wonder; he had known the Latvian for over a hundred years. The only times he ever saw the boy; he was either hiding behind the other two Baltics or Russia was ordering him around. The boy has certainly grown since his release from the Soviet Union, Ludwig thought to himself.

"He's strong isn't he," Gilbert slapped his hand on his younger brother's shoulder. "Don't think it's a new trait, he's always been strong. The kid may not show it but he has a one hell of a back bone."

He nodded and turned his gaze onto Amy, she has been wearing the same serious expression ever since her return from her mini-vacation. It wasn't just her features, the way she carried herself had changed. She was quick to react and was no longer hesitant to strike. She continued her training with such focus and determination, at first he believed it was an act to please him but he quickly realized it was not the case.

"She seems different," Gilbert said as if reading his mind. "It's in the eyes," he proclaimed as he continued to look at the young American. "She has experience in the battlefield."

"The question is," Ludwig narrowed his eyes at her, "how?"


 

Raivis and I were covered in bruises; neither of us broke skin but Raivis did have a split lip. I'd admit that was a little harsh, but hey he smashed his fist so hard into my cheek I spat out two molars. We were also exhausted and stubborn; neither of us would yield. I wobbled as I forced myself to stand.

"You're a little unstable," Raivis panted, "maybe you should surrender."

I tackled him to the ground for the fifth time that day. We fell to the mat in a pile of painful groans and weak punches. I sat on his stomach and we shared an understanding glance, "truce?" Raivis asked.

"Truce," I agreed and collapsed beside him. "By the way, you look like a battered mess."

"You don't look that great either."

"Fuck you."

"Fuck you too."

We shared another gaze and laughed.

"Oh, the joys of male bonding," Gilbert smirked.

I flipped him off as I rose to my feet and walked over to Peter, he was still unconscious. "I'm beginning to worry about him."

Ludwig walked over with a bucket, "Move aside."

We stepped back as he dumped the water over Peter's body. He sat up in a gasp and wiped his eyes, "what happen?" he mumbled.

"I kinda knocked you out," I gave an apologetic smile, "sorry."

He moaned as he rubbed his chin, "I lost to a girl; this is the lowest point of my life."

"Stop being a drama queen," I said as I helped him up.

After dinner and evening classes, it was time for me to take a shower. I grabbed my Batman pajamas and headed for the bathroom across the hall; it was locked. I groaned, "Who's in the restroom?"

"Queen Victoria," a sarcastic voice exclaimed, "who do you bloody think?"

"Peter! This is my bathroom; use the one in your hallway." I stayed on the left side of the second floor, while the boys were on the right.

"Raivis is using it."

I groaned, "You better not use any of my body wash!"

"Why would I? I don't want to smell like a girl."

"Just hurry up! We got an hour before curfew."

"Don't get your knickers in a twist," he said, "I'll be out in a sec."

Once he was done I was able to take my shower and brush my teeth in fifteen minutes. I swiftly got dressed and walked back into my room while tower drying my hair.

"About time," Peter said annoyed.

I jumped as I spotted the boys dressed in shorts and t-shirts, "What the- have you two ever heard of knocking?"

Raivis fidgeted with his hands, "sorry Amy, but Peter said this couldn't wait."

I turned to him, "what?"

"When are you gonna teach us about girls?"

"Seriously?" I sighed, "Here's something, treat girls like human beings instead of sex objects." I clapped my hands, "Words of wisdom right there, think about it while you two lay in bed. Now get out."

He crossed his arms, "anything else?"

I sighed and sat beside them on the bed, "just talk to them, show confidence, girls like that."

Raivis glanced to his shoes, "I don't think I could do that."

"Look at me," I gently pushed his chin up, forcing him to look me in the eye. "Always make eye contact and talk about your interests or hobbies. What you're favorite music?"

"Uh, well I do like Beethoven."

"Classical, good, but let's stick to this decade."

"I like Opeth," Peter added.

"Who?" I asked.

"You don't know who Opeth is?! They're the most wicked heavy metal band ever!"

"Oh, that's cool."

"You don't like heavy metal?"

"Not really."

"I agree," Raivis jumped in, "they pull off yelling as singing, that doesn't make any sense to me."

Peter narrowed his eyes at him, "do you want to get into this again? Cause we can and we will."

"Okay Mr. Heavy Metal calm down. People like what they like, being from classical to metal to Justin Bieber," I proclaimed.

They both looked at me, "You like Justin Bieber?" Peter asked.

"I was eleven, I didn't know any better." I decided to get back to topic, "now, if you guys can't think of anything to say just ask questions. Girls love to talk and you can gather more info on them so you can keep talking to them. Remember, when in doubt ask questions."

"What if they don't answer?" Raivis asked.

I sighed, irritated, "Then keep asking questions, come up with a witty joke, I don't know." I fell back onto the mattress and covered my eyes with my arm. "I really don't see what the big deal is. You guys can only have one night stands or short little flings, I mean, you can't get serious with anyone."

Peter rose to his feet, "That's only if they're human."

I sat up, "You want to get with female nations. No offense guys, but there's not that many to go around, and if you guys can't even talk to human girls, then I can't help you."

"You're a nation," he proclaimed.

"Yes, but I've been a human girl for seventeen years, being a nation is still pretty new to me. I'm still getting over the fact that most nations are bisexual."

"Is that a problem? I know Americans are little-"

"It's not like that, it's just I found this out in the most graphic way possible. It's like finding your parents having intercourse and they explain to you about sex right after. It's embarrassing," I could feel my cheeks and ears spark in heat.

"Amy," I turned to Raivis, he looked up to me with sad eyes. "We have to try."

I sighed dramatically and pinched his cheek, "you're so lucky you got that baby face." He blushed and I smirked, "so are we going after any nation or is there someone special?"

The boys flushed as Peter said, "Victoria Lambert."

Raivis stuttered, "E-Erika Zw-ingli."

I knitted my eyebrows together in thought, "those names sound familiar."

Peter groaned in annoyance, "You met them, back at Austria's house."

I finally remembered, "Oh that explains it."

"Explains what?"

I rolled my eyes, "You two were practically drooling over them."

Raivis stared at the floor; his cheeks were bright pink, "was it that obvious?"

"Yes."

The boys blushed even harder and I channeled my inner Michel, "So, what's the story?"

Peter lightly shoved Raivis by the shoulder, "you go first."

He whined, "Why me?"

"Just do it."

He grumbled as he adjusted himself to face me, "back," he took a moment, "When I was living with Mr. Russia I didn't have that many friends."

"Hey, you had me," Peter proclaimed.

"You couldn't come over, Mr. Russia didn't like you."

"He doesn't like anybody."

"Anyway," I dragged out the word as I gestured for Raivis, "continue."

"I had Toris and Eduard, but they were older and I was always the odd man out." He sighed, "There were times that Mr. Russia took a small vacation to Switzerland and he would drag us along with him. During these times he would talk with Mr. Switzerland, this gave us the opportunity to have time for ourselves. I usually wondered around the garden or the house, anywhere as long as I was out of sight.

"One day I stumbled upon the library and found Erika."

"Was it love at first sight?" I smiled.

"Not really, I was so surprised that she was there I screamed and tripped over my own feet."

I failed to hold in my laughter, "that's so cute."

"It wasn't cute, it was embarrassing," he muttered.

"Okay, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," I sighed, "go on."

He bit his lip nervously, "If you think I'm bad with girls, you should have seen me with her. I couldn't even speak or look her in the eye. My only replies to her were head shakes or nods, but she didn't seem bothered with it. Our first encounter was quick, she asked if I was okay, I nodded and I walked swiftly out of the room," he smiled at the memory. "Like me she didn't have that many friends, for her brother was very protective of her. She passed the time by reading, she loves books. Everywhere she went she carried one with her.

"Over time, we met occasionally, she would invite me to sit with her or have tea and cake when she decided to have a picnic in the garden. We would talk, mostly it was one-sided or we would read together. It may have not been much, but those moments were precious to me."

I laid myself on my stomach, supported my face in my hands and kicked up my legs. "Aww, this is so adorable but long. Can you skip to the part when you discover you're madly in love with her?"

Raivis shook his head, "it wasn't like that, this type of affection started as companionship, then friendship and it slowly became love."

"But when was the moment you knew, come on, you have to know."

His eyes became painful, "when I was in the hospital, being held as a war prisoner."

My face became serious, "During the Vietnam War."

He nodded. "I spent most of my time in my room; I was only allowed to leave if I had a guard escort. I didn't mind it, being held as a war prisoner by the US army was better than being with Mr. Russia. While I was there, I had a few visitors," he looked at me, "you're father mostly but I also had Erika."

"No way," Peter interrupted, "Switzerland would never, in a million years bring his little sister into a country at war."

"True, but Mr. America got him to bring Erika; whatever he said to him worked."

"That's surprising," I added, "Switzerland didn't seem to think highly of Alfred."

Raivis agreed and continued, "She was only allowed to visit me once and we only talked about little things, to others it may have not been much but when she held my hand and smiled at me." He grinned at the memory, "I knew that I needed her in my life."

I sucked air through my teeth, "oh the feels," I turned to Peter, "your story better be good."

"It is," he said to his defense.

"Well what are you waiting for? Dish," I grinned and swung my legs in mid-air.

"I've known Victoria pretty much all my life. She might have been the only one that believed that I could become a real nation."

"Toris believed you could," Raivis proclaimed.

"No he didn't. He only lectured me about bigger countries trying to take over me."

"Anyway," I repeated, "we're on a short clock here, move along please."

Peter sighed, "I met Vicky when I snuck into a meeting of the United Kingdom and the colonies. I was trying to get some of the countries to accept me as a nation, it wasn't going well. Before long I was kicked out of the building by Britain. I tried sneaking back in and while I was scheming, I found Victoria hiding in the women's restroom."

"What were you doing in the women's restroom?" Raivis asked.

"That's how I got back in, by climbing through the window."

I sat up, "You could've used the men's restroom," I added.

"I was outside the bloody building, how was I supposed to know which was the men's or which was the women's."

I shook my head, "Excuses, excuses."

He rolled his eyes, "She was surprised at first to see a small boy creeping through the window but when she found out my reason for doing so, she laughed in my face."

"If that's not love, what is?" I shrugged my shoulders.

"Are you done?" he asked peeved.

I nodded, "yes."

"She told me that I was stupid for wanting to be a nation. That I should enjoy the freedom I had for not being noticed by the other countries." He chuckled lightly, "we started bickering about it," his smile fell, "till she showed me the collar that she had to wear."

"Was it like a choker or something?" I asked.

"No it was collar, the kind you put on a dog. Britain made her wear it so all the countries would know who she belonged to."

My jaw dropped, "he put a dog collar on her; that asshole."

"Agreed." Peter sighed, "Victoria always found a way to take them off but this one was made of leather and the ends were sewed together. Then she told me that the moment a nation sees me as one of them is the moment I'll lose my freedom." He paused, "It gave me a lot to think about later on that day, but before then, I pulled out a pocket knife. Heh, you should have seen her face, she giggled and said it was cute. She sure knows how to knock down a bloke.

"I told her to turn around and I cut her free. We spent the day touring around the city and tossing that stupid collar off the London Bridge. After that we became as thick as thieves; visiting each other's countries, mostly her's than mine. Sneaking me into world meetings, and pulling pranks on Britain," he grinned at the last part.

"Did this whole relationship start as friendship too?" I asked.

"To her it was friendship, but to me, I admired her; her strength, her beauty and her wit." He flushed as he rubbed his hands together nervously, "But she only saw me as a kid, a little brother. This only drove me even harder to be seen as a nation, hoping that could speed up my aging. My plan didn't go as expected, but I aged. It took years, but I finally look the same age as her; though she still sees me as kid." He gazed at me with determined eyes, "I just want a chance for her to see me as her equal."

I turned to Raivis, "I still like your story better."

"Hey!" Peter exclaimed.

"So what am I supposed to do? Sounds like you guys have everything figured out, just tell them how you feel."

Raivis gave me a frightened look. "Mr. Switzerland would kill me, did you not see how trigger happy he is?"

I remembered he carried a gun in his suit jacket, at a party, "okay I see your point."

"And I can't tell Victoria now, she would only see it as kid with a crush," Peter complained.

"Isn't it," I said.

He glared, "no, it isn't."

I sighed, "Guys, I don't know anything about them, how am I supposed to give you advice?"

"I was hoping you would ask," he grabbed an envelope from the nightstand. "This is from Ms. Hungary."

I opened the letter.

You are cordially invited to

Elizabeta Héderváry's Slumber Party

"You have to be kidding me."

Peter smiled, "Ms. Hungary has a slumber party every year and all the female nations are invited. I know Victoria is friends with Ms. Hungary and Erika will be there because Switzerland trusts the host. You can go there and-"

"Spy on them," I interrupted.

"I was gonna say gather intel, but that works too."

"She won't be able go, the party is in Budapest and West is still pissed at her."

We jumped at the sound of the new voice. I turned to Gilbert who was leaning against the door frame. "How long have you been there?" I asked.

He took a moment, "I came at the part where these two," he pointed at the boys, "were confessing their pathetic, unrequited love."

Peter glared and I said, "What do you want?"

"I wish to help you," Gilbert grinned evilly as moved to stand in front of us, "of course for a price."

I raised a brow, "and what is this price?"

"I still want my kiss."

I smiled, "Ha, ha, you're funny," and then my smile fell, "now get to stepping."

He crossed his arms, "How are you going to get Ludwig to let you go to that party huh?"

"I just won't go, problem solved."

"Amy," Peter exclaimed, "you have to go."

"No, I don't."

"You said you owed us," he said, "This is our chance."

"Guys we'll figure something else out." I pointed at Gil, "We don't need to make a deal with the devil."

"I resent that," he remarked.

"Shut up."

"Amy please," Raivis spoke up, "let us at least hear what Mr. Prussia has to say."

I groaned and glared at Gilbert, "Ludwig will never let me go. He can barely stand these two and that was when I begged."

"What if I brought the party to you," he proclaimed.

"Ha! I would like to see that."

A dark grin grew from ear to ear, "as you wish," with those final words he walked out of the room.

"Did anyone else feel that chill in air," I turned to the boys and they nodded in agreement.


 

Gilbert was gone the next day.

Ludwig said he traveled to visit a friend, he didn't think much of it. The boys and I on the other hand, were worried that he was up to no good. He came back from his trip on Thursday night and our worries would be answered the following afternoon.

The day's routine was like any other till-

"Gilbert!" a female voice screamed.

Peter and Raivis stopped sparing as I looked up to Ludwig, "who was that?"

Ludwig cursed in German and faced his brother, "What did you do?!"

"Why do you think it was me?" he said innocently.

The door to the basement was kicked down. It flew off its hedges as it slid down the stairs, stopping at the wall across the room. Footsteps echoed as a person slowly walked down; she was a young beautiful woman with chestnut hair that curled around her waist and bright green eyes. She was Elizabeta Héderváry the nation of Hungary and she was pissed.

She looked at Ludwig, her eyes blazed with anger, "where's Gilbert," she hissed. Ludwig didn't have to answer, for she saw him backing into the wall on my left side. "You conniving little bastard!" she exclaimed as she walked over to him, wielding a frying pan.

"Liz, Liz, what is the problem?" he tried to sound calm but his fear showed in his eyes.

"You're my problem!" she shouted as she swung the pan to his head.

He ducked, "What do you mean? How could the Awesome Prussia be any trouble to you?"

"There are termites in my house!" She swung again and Gilbert ran to the mat.

"Then you should get an exterminator," he said and Elizabeta finally got a hit. The collision of the pan to his face resounded with a hard whack.

Peter and Raivis had moved to stand beside me on the sidelines and the three of us winced in sync.

"Ooo," I said as Raivis sucked air through his teeth.

"That's gonna hurt," Peter commented.

"My house was free of bugs and vermin before you came over and when you left, there they were eating away at the wood and drywall." She leveled the pan at his face, "Now, do you think it was an unfortunate coincidence?"

"Ja," he whispered.

"Hell no it wasn't!" she slammed the pan down but Gilbert jumped back. "You did it! Now I have to wait a week before I could go back into my house!"

"Ms. Hungary," Ludwig stepped between them, "you can stay here with us."

She laughed, "of course I'm staying here, and I've also moved my party to this address."

"What?" Ludwig's eyes widened, "Can't you just reschedule?"

"No," she hissed, "I've already sent the email."

"You can't just drop in on us-"

She wielded the pan to his cheek, "I will use this."

Gilbert leaped in, "you are right, we owe you. Use our house for your little slumber party and of course we know your rule, no boys allowed." He begins to shove Ludwig to the staircase, "the guys and I will pack our bags and head to the flat we have in the city."

"But-but the house, it isn't ready for guests," Ludwig exclaimed.

Gilbert paused, "oh that's right," then he snapped his fingers, "Amy you can stay and watch the house."

"She can't-"

"Why not? She knows where all the cleaning supplies are and you wouldn't want Liz's guests to believe we are filthy, do you?"

"Well no, but she can't miss any more days!"

Gilbert pushed him up the steps, "it's only two, calm your ass down." He looked back to me and the boys, "Amy the house is under your care. Raivis, Peter, pack your bags. We're leaving in twenty minutes." They disappeared up the stairs with Elizabeta right behind them.

The boys and I stared in disbelief.

"He did it," Peter whispered.

"He brought the party to you," Raivis added.

I groaned, "This means I have to kiss him."

Once the guys were packed and ready to go, I walked over to the passenger window where Ludwig was mumbling curses in his native tongue. "I'll take good care of the house, Luddy."

"Don't call me that," he glared at me. "You and my brother planned this didn't you?"

I sighed, "Germany it was all-"

"Stop," he hissed and opened his mouth to say something else, but he stopped, waved his hand to shoo me away and rolled up the window.

"Goodbye to you too," I grumbled and turned to Peter as he rolled his window down. He and Raivis both gave me a look that said, good luck, like I was going on a dangerous mission. I mentally sighed, maybe I was. "Don't worry guys, I got this," I gave a thumbs up.

The boys smiled, said their goodbyes and rolled up the window. I walked to the back of the BMW, where Gilbert was finishing up the arrangement of the bags, "Where the hell did you get termites?"

He grinned, "I know a guy," he closed the trunk door and leaned against it. "I'm waiting."

"I know," I said through gritted teeth, "just make it quick-"

He yanked me by the arms and slammed his mouth onto mine. I instantly froze and tried to resist the urge to beat him. He caressed my lips with his, trying in failed attempts to coast me into kissing him back. My only response was grounding my teeth together, shutting my eyes tight and digging my nails into my palms. But a plan slowly formed in my head and I used this chance to take action.

Gilbert gave up and stepped back, "how about you kiss back next time."

"How about you drive away before I slam your head through the rear view window," I threatened.

He laughed nervously and walked towards the driver's seat, "I'm off." He climbed in, started the engine and drove away.

Once I believe he's a good guy, he goes and does something stupid. I walked back to the manor to find Elizabeta pushing back the living room furniture to the walls. "Need any help?"

"No, I got it," she pushed the last leather recliner to the wall. "Where's the broom and mop?"

"In the hallway closet, it's a neat freak's dream," I proclaimed. "So who's coming?"

"Well, not many could show up because of the change of location, but we have a good number." She checked her smart phone, "Belgium is coming, also Brazil, Taiwan, Vietnam, Seychelles, and Liechtenstein." I mentally did a fist pump at the last two names. "Oh and Belarus and Ukraine will be joining us as well."

"Cool, is there anything else you need?"

"I need pizza, snacks and ice cream, but all the food I had prepared is now being pumped with poison," she said irritated.

"Well good thing we have this," I pulled out a wallet from my pocket.

Her eyes widened but a smile quickly lit up her face, "is that Gilbert's wallet."

"Of course it is," I grinned, "now let's go shopping."

Chapter Text

Elizabeta and I borrowed the spare black BMW and drove into the city. We walked to Mauer Park; the largest flea market in Berlin. It not only sold fruit, vegetables, and grains. It also gave me the chance to check out some cute vintage clothes and souvenirs. I even heard that there were bargains on Sundays, too bad it was Friday, but that didn't stop me from buying stuff. Ludwig was never going to let me go shopping for fun as long as I lived with him.

Elizabeta needed fresh ingredients to make pizza, we were able to gather everything from the market; tomatoes, onions, olives, herbs, and flour.

"What about pepperoni? We gotta have pepperoni," I proclaimed.

"We'll get some at a super mart; we can also pick up some ice cream and snacks while we're there." Elizabeta was placing another package of flour into her portable metal cart. "By the way, do you know how to make a pizza from scratch?"

I grinned proudly, "I lived in an Italian restaurant for a quarter of my life." I kissed my fingers in a common gesture used by Italians, "I can I make a pizza," I said this in an Italian accent.

Elizabeta covered her mouth to conceal her laughter.

We walked over to a table filled with stylish, vintage clothes. I lifted a baggy denim shirt with colorful patches of diamond cut patterns sewed onto the back. "This is pretty cool."

"You should get it."

I turned to her, "I should, I mean we do have this," I pulled out Gil's wallet, we were using the cards for food but he had tons of cash. "And you are going to need a whole new wardrobe. After their done with your house, you gonna need some clothes that doesn't smell like poison."

She nodded, "you are so right and you must get something for yourself," she gave a wicked grin.

"I must," my grin slowly turned into an evil laugh and Elizabeta joined.

Elizabeta got new button down blouses, denim and graphic printed jeans, sexy high heeled boots that stopped around the ankles and massive rings with green stones. She also brought earrings, hair barrettes, green and white peasant skirts, sleeveless tunic blouses and mini shorts.

I brought some rings as well, some with turquoise stones, tiger eye, amber, and a stone that took on a crystal/peal effect. I made sure to get matching necklaces. I also purchased a gray wool cardigan and high waisted shorts in the shades of aqua, white and light denim. Graphic tank tops, brown gladiator sandals and I never really cared for dresses but I couldn't pass up on this one. It was a slimming, mini dress with a back opening design that had three pieces of cloth tied together in bows. It was dark blue with inch length pink roses scattered over the surface.

Elizabeta clapped as I strutted out of the changing room, which was just a tall, narrow tent. "It's perfect!" she exclaimed.

I grinned and admired myself in the full length mirror; the dress hugged my toned body perfectly and the hem stropped at mid-thigh. The dark color of the dress bright out my long tanned legs and made me look slimmer. "I don't usually go for dresses, but I look good."

"Try this on," she said as she held up a bra top, it was aqua blue with a red and white floral design.

"I don't really wear anything that shows off my stomach."

"But you have a beautiful figure, try it on."

"But-"

"Try it on," she handed me the top and shoved me back into the tent.

I sighed, slipped back on my worn out high waisted jean shorts and removed the dress. I unhooked my bra and slid on the top. The spaghetti straps wrapped around my shoulders as the top came to the middle of my rib cage. I felt like I was walking out without a shirt on but I swallowed the uncomfortable lump in my throat and stepped out of tent.

"I knew it would look amazing on you," Elizabeta grinned.

I turned to the mirror, the top defined my hourglass figure and the reveal of mid-section was actually kinda sexy. Thanks to all my training with Ludwig, my stomach was taut and my shorts were slightly loose. I must have lost some inches.

I was never blessed with C-cup breasts like all the women in my family were, but this top did make my A-cup chest pop. I nodded at the reflection, "I like this, I'm gonna wear this out." I also ended up buying two more, one that was gold with a purple floral pattern and the other was denim with a zipper in front.

We placed our clothes on the table as the sells woman said, "Will that be cash or card?"

"Cash," Elizabeta pulled out a large amount of bills from Gilbert's wallet.

Once we reversed our change, we moved along to the next table. "They sell records!" I said excitedly as I lifted a record that displayed a picture of Louis Armstrong. "Mr. James would love this," I handed the sells man Gilbert's credit card.

"Who's Mr. James?" Elizabeta asked.

"He's a friend of the family," I answered, "we hanged together when I was younger, he taught me a little bit about the piano and opened me up to wonderful world of jazz." I smiled at the memory, "I think his birthday is next month, oh that reminds me I gotta get Valencia her gift."

The man gave me back the card with a smile and I waved goodbye as we walked along. Three tables down, I spotted an old fashion instant film camera. Valencia loves to take pictures so it would definitely be-in Gilbert's words an awesome gift. Hey, he was paying for it.

"We need to get to a post office and mail this out," I proclaimed as I placed the camera on top of our over piled cart.

"The shipping fees will be expensive," said Elizabeta.

We both looked at each other and laughed again.

After I packed the gifts and had them shipped to their addresses; we loaded up the BMW and headed to a super mart. We purchased three rolls of pepperoni, six bags of chips and over twenty ice cream pints-all in different flavors. I was practically jumping like an excited five year old when I saw that they had my favorite flavor, "they have cappuccino chunky chocolate chip! They have cappuccino chunky chocolate chip!" I repeated this phase as a song till we skipped out of the store. Well I skipped, Elizabeta walked.

Once we were back at the manor, we began to prepare the pizza dough, figuring it was best to have it ready for tomorrow. I watched Elizabeta from the corner of my eye as she worked on her pizza dough; I was on my second.

Her hair was tied back in a ponytail and her sleeves were pushed to her elbows as she beats the dough with her fingers. The silence was relaxing but I was curious about this nation. "So, who taught you how to make pizza?"

She glanced to me, "I learned from Feliciano and Lovino."

I nodded, "cool, I know Feli but who's Lovino again?"

"He's Feliciano's brother, you met him back at your house."

"There were a lot of nations at my house, can you be more specific?"

"He looks like Feliciano, just tanner, with darker hair."

I must have taken too long to think for Elizabeta continued, "Remember Antonio?"

"The green eyes, dark hair and Spanish accent," I proclaimed.

"Yes, he was the one that introduced you to him."

The memory came flooding back, "oh right, what nation is he again?"

"He's the south of Italy, Feliciano is the north."

I gave her a look, "there's a difference?"

She smiled sweetly, like a motherly smile someone would give to a misguided child. "Northern Italy is the main focus for industry; they are also closer to Germany and France meaning they're open to the markets and communication, making the north richer. South Italy is mostly used for farming but they're farther away from the markets so they don't have anyone to sell it to, making them," she sighed, "not as rich."

"How do you know this?"

"Well for one, I've known the Vergas brothers for years and two there's this invention called the internet."

"Ha, good one," I narrowed my eyes at her playfully.

"Amy if I may say; you can't be so ignorant of other countries. It only leaves you open for defeat, to beat your enemy, you have to think like your enemy."

"Think like Feliciano," I proclaimed. "That won't be hard."

Once we had the dough prepared and ate a light dinner, we separated our new clothes and did our nightly routines. Elizabeta was staying in the room next to me and was right now taking a shower down the hall. I had recently taken my bath and was drying off back in my room. I was deciding wither to wear my Batman pajamas or my Captain America ones for tomorrow's slumber party. I glanced down to the Batman top I was wearing, I shrugged, "can't go wrong with Batman."

I collapsed into bed and pulled out my journal from under the mattress. I scanned through the recently written pages of my adventure with Neill the Alien Bounty Hunter and the spirits along with the pages of me playing match maker. I could just imagine how Jamie and Michel would react to the journal. They'll believe that Neill was an alien (we always speculated) but me playing match maker, they would howl in laughter.

I quickly wrote my entry of today and hid the book back under the mattress. Next to it was Grandpa's journal; I tugged it out and opened it to the next entry.


 

July 1, 1957

I spent all day yesterday locked in the guestroom, only coming out for bathroom breaks. The only time I ate was when Alfred would knock on my door and leave a tray with my meal on it. I never saw the so-called nation yesterday, he must have left me alone to grieve and I appreciated it.

Today on the other hand, he didn't leave me be.

He knocked on my door, I ignored him at first, but then he began banging his fists on the wood. Beating along to Elvis Presley's version of 'Hound Dog' that was currently being played on the radio; he also began to sing along with the lyrics.

"You ain't nothing but a hound dog,

"Crying all the time;

"You ain't nothing but a hound dog,

"Crying all the time,

"You ain't never caught a rabbit,

"And you ain't no friend of mine."

Because of him, I still have that song stuck in my head.

He continued to sing and bang his fists on the door. I was going crazy. I swung the door open and shouted, "what do you want?!"

"We have an engagement party to get to, did you forget?"

I shook my head, "No, we'll visit Rose tomorrow." Before I could close the door, Alfred gripped it and pushed his way through.

"No, we'll see her today. We are not going to let the bride think the groom has left her before the wedding, that's too cruel."

"And going to the engagement party, holding up the urn that was once my brother and saying 'here's the groom' is any better?!"

"We wouldn't say it like that."

I crossed my arms, "I'm not going."

He sighed, "The hard way it is." He grabbed my arm and pulled me into the bathroom. I clawed and punched, but just like on the first day I met him, he showed no sign of my attacks harming him. He tossed me into the bathroom and closed the door. "There are clothes for you on the counter."

I twisted at the knob but he held it down with an iron grip on the other side. I slammed my shoulder against the door, "Let me out!"

"Not until you take a shower and get dress," Alfred exclaimed.

"I am not a child! You can't tell me what to do!"

He ignored me as he continued to sing along with the King.

I banged my fists on the door for a few more minutes till I gave up and placed my forehead on the wood. He has no idea how the tribe will react to the death of my family. He's insensitive bastard that doesn't care about the feelings of Rose or myself; I mean, to tell Rose and everyone at the party that my family died and to announce this at a ceremony that was supposed to be a wonderful occasion. Does he not see the indecency in this?!

I'm really starting to hate this man.

Then I caught my reflection in the mirror. My hair was greased with natural oils, dark bags were under my eyes and I had sweat stands under my armpits. I took whiff and winkled my nose in disgust. A shower didn't sound like a bad idea at that moment.

After I took my shower and got dressed in a clean white button down shirt, khaki slacks and a pair brown dress shoes. I walked out of the no longer guarded door to find Alfred dancing to Big Joe Turner's song, 'Shake, Rattle And Roll'.

He moved his hips, legs and arms to the rhythm as he snapped his fingers with the beat. I lifted a brow as he spun and when he spotted me, he beamed, "you clean up nicely."

I rolled my eyes and stride to my bedroom door, but he snatched my arm and hauled me out the door. "I've already packed up the urns, let's go."

I yanked my arm away when we were on the side walk and heading towards his car. "We can't tell them like this! It isn't right!"

"Then what is!" he exclaimed, "the newspapers didn't release your family's names, they have no idea what happen to you and your family. Rose must be worried sick about Tristen, how long are you going to make her wait? How long are you going to make your tribe wait? How long are you going to hide in that damned room?" He narrowed his eyes at me, "Well?"

I hate to admit it, but he was right.

But I would rather die than tell him that.

I climbed into the car and slammed the door shut, "let's go," I mumbled.

Alfred sighed, sat himself behind the wheel and waited.

"Ain't we going?"

He shrugged, "You're the only one that knows where it is."

I rubbed the temple of my forehead, "You are so frustrating."

He laughed, "I heard worse."

The hall Rose's family had rented was surprising close. It was called the Armitage Hall and it was decent place, a little run down but the inside was large enough for Rose's family and my tribe. Familiar RVs, cars and vans lined the streets; the only space Alfred could find was three blocks away. I decided it was best to leave the urns in the car for now.

When we got close to the hall, a part of me wanted to run back to the car but Alfred stopped me by gripping my shoulder and shoved me forward. We were met with Mister Two Crow at the door; he was an elderly man with white hair and a slight hunched back. I almost didn't recognize him without his eagle feathered head dress. He was one of the medicine men of the tribe and a member of our council. He was also my mentor.

"John," he greeted with a relieved smile as he patted me from my shoulders to my arms. "Where's Tristen? Rose has been asking, and where's your father? The other members are upset that he hasn't answered the CV radio. . ." he trailed off when his eyes fell on Alfred. "Achak," he muttered. That name was another word for spirit.

Alfred grinned like a happy fool, "Hello Kai, it's been a while."

I stood between them as they gazed at each other. Both wore a serious expression, almost like they shared an unspoken agreement with one another.

"Why are you here?" Kai Two Crow asked curiously.

Alfred gestured to me, "I came to drop him off."

Kai knitted his brows at me worriedly, "John, what happen?"

I sighed, "Can you bring the council members and Rose to a private room, please."

Kai moved quickly to gather the members, along with Rose and her parents. Counting my father and Mister Two Crow there are six members in the council. Dakota Nozedar, a tall, muscular man. Ray Stone, the youngest member at the age of twenty-seven. Ayleen Smith, the oldest member and the only woman on the council and Len Silverwolf the second in command and my father's closest friend.

We met in a back room, away from the guests that were cerebrating in the main hall. When Rose saw me, she came running with scowl. She demanded to know where Tristen was and I had to beg her to meet with us in the room. Alfred had followed us, which had the council on their toes; expect for Ray, he wasn't on the council during their meeting with the strange man.

Once everyone was gathered, I had to take a big breath (more than once) and tell them of what happen to my family.

Rose cried out in a heavy sob as she lost the will to stand. Her mother coddled her in arms as she continued to weep. The council grew silent and waited for Rose's cries to soften.

Dakota was the first to speak, "where are their bodies?"

"They were cremated, the ashes are in my car," Alfred informed.

Dakota narrowed his eyes at him in annoyance, "I didn't ask you."

"Well he's right, they'll in the back," I rose to my feet and turned to Rose's father. "I came to give Tristen to your daughter; he would have wanted it that way."

Ayleen, Rose and her mother were left behind as we traveled to the car. Alfred opened the truck and I handed the urn with Tristen's name on it to Rose's father. He accepted it with a grim face and gave his condolences. A moment of silence passed till Len proclaimed, "Alright, gather their ashes we'll hold a ceremony for them."

"Wait," the word came out by surprise and I grew tense when the council members turned to me with confused looks. I swallowed the lump in my throat and remembered of parent's wishes. "They wouldn't want their deaths to be a big deal."

"Our chief has passed John," Len said, "the tribe must be informed."

"Yes, I know but-"

"There is no buts," Dakota exclaimed, "Bring them in and we can scatter their ashes along the Chicago Bay."

My body trembled, "No. I lost them in a river; I refuse for them to be given back to the earth through water."

"It's alright John," Ray added, "We'll scatter them somewhere else."

The council members moved for the urns.

I have no idea what came over me. Maybe it was pride, I didn't want be dragged into the hall where the engagement party would be turned into a wake. I didn't want the tribe to look at me with pity filled eyes. I didn't want them to coddle me like I was something fragile. All I wanted was to put my family to rest.

I jumped in front of the trunk and screamed for at them to get back. They tried to move forward, calming me with soothing words, but I heard nothing.

Kai stepped towards me, "Calm yourself John."

"Stay back, just stay back!"

In a blink of an eye, Alfred wrapped his arms around me, holding me in a warm embrace. I froze as he said "It's okay, you're among people that care about you Johnny." He stroked his fingers into the back of my hair, "Everything's gonna be okay."

I tried to shove him away but his grip was unbreakable. "Let go! Let me go!" I continued to scream at first, but my voice began to lower. "I just-I just-" I thought I was done crying but for some odd reason, I ended up weeping on Alfred's shoulder. Maybe it was because I had retold the story, or maybe the sight of seeing the council gathering my family's ashes just made it all too real. Whatever the reason, Alfred said nothing as he hugged me and waited for me to stop.

The council had left us be, expect for Kai, who stood aside and waited patiently to talk to me. When I calmly pushed Alfred away, he patted my back one last time and smiled. He didn't say anything, just leaned against the car as Kai moved to my side.

"I'm sorry for my outburst," I whispered as I wiped my eyes.

"It's understandable," he nodded as he placed a comforting hand on my shoulder. He stared into my eyes, searching for answers in my soul. Kai was always met to be a spiritual man, for he had the gift of reading souls. He was the first to approach Alfred on that day twelve years ago. I remembered when I had asked him about it he would only say, "He was a misguided spirit."

Did he know that Alfred wasn't human?

He sighed, "I knew this day would come, you have an adventurous spirit. You are a person that needs to stride out on your own, to create your own world. When you're father brought you to me, he and I knew you wouldn't be satisfied here with us." He glanced to the urns and back to me, "You're brothers, Tristen and Clay were led by Wolf and Goose, they are strong pack animals, they stay with the family while Hawk soars and creates her own family."

He smiled sadly, "Now the time has come."

"No, Kai I-"

"Are you happy here John? Tell me, are you?"

I froze, I had nothing to say.

"Go. And if by some slim chance you come back, then we will rejoice, if not we will hope that you had found happiness." He gave me a final embrace, "The Great Spirit has an amazing path for you." He said as he released me and walked to Alfred.

Kai's face grew serious, "It is because of you, he has the chance to decide now. Thank you Achak."

Alfred nodded to him in respect.

He began to walk back to the hall, "wait," I exclaimed, "ain't you even going to say goodbye?"

He gave me a knowing smile, "We'll see each other again." He waved to me, "till then," his smile grew wider as he continued along the side walk.

I gazed after him, watching as his figure grew smaller and smaller. He said it wasn't a goodbye, but why did my gut say it was.

Later on I would discover that Kai Two Crow passed in his sleep that night. His granddaughter was able to find me and tell me the news. When I asked her how she had found me, for I had left no address or phone number for the tribe to reach me. She said that a raven stole a picture of Kai and me and had taunted her with it; which ending up with her being led by the bird to me.

The tale made us smile, Raven was Kai's spirit animal.

I sat myself on the bumper of the car as Alfred moved to stand by my side. "So what are you going to do now?"

I glanced to my family's urns, "I need to put them to rest, but not here. Clay would want his ashes to be spread in New Orleans and my parents would want theirs in Hoopa, California."

"You're going to need a car," Alfred proclaimed.

"I know."

"You're also going to need some food for traveling."

"I know."

"And you need money for, well pretty much everything. Gas, clothes, hotels, or camping grounds, more food-"

"I know," I hissed. "I'll figure something out."

"Or you could work for me."

I whipped my head to face him, "what?" I said dumbfounded.

"Be my assistant," he proclaimed.

"What could you possibly do that would need an assistant?"

"I'm America," he said proudly, "I'm pretty busy with meetings and I don't have Toris around to help me cook and clean anymore, so I would like to have a helping hand."

"Cook? Clean? Like a servant?"

"I said help; all I would really need for you to do is house sit and make sure it's not in a complete mess."

"Like a servant," I proclaimed. Then shouted, "Hell no."

"You won't be a servant," he repeated. "You'll help me out with chores and I would also like your input in national politics."

I snorted, "My input? I'm Indian. We don't even vote in your elections."

"I know," Alfred eyes glazed over with a sad tint in them. "But I want them to know that their concerns matter to us."

"As you can see, they don't. You treat us, the colored, the Mexicans and everyone else that's not an American born white man like second class citizens."

"And I want to change that," he exclaimed, "and I need someone that has lived it. I need to see it through your eyes."

I stayed quiet as he continued with a sigh, "We won't stay in Chicago for long, we'll drive through the country and visit New Orleans and California. Of course it will be a long road but all I ask is one year. One year to travel with me through the Midwest and then through the south to California; when we lay your parents to rest, we can go our separate ways. Till then, all I ask is for you to be my companion."

He's completely insane.

Why would I travel through the country with a complete stranger? A stranger that I had first met when I was seven then took me out to dinner ten years after (without aging) and then saved my life just a few days ago. He's not dangerous at least I hoped not, but he sure is loud, obnoxious and seems to have a screw loose.

But I must be missing two for I agreed.


 

I was dozing off as the entry came to its end, causing me to drop the journal to the floor. I rose to sit up and rubbed my eyes tiredly. I moved to grab the journal and noticed the inside of the cover was torn open. I cursed and patted the yellowed paper in place. There was a bulge under the cover. I struck my fingers in and found photographs.

Pictures of my grandfather and his family, "Wow Gramps, you look so young," I said to myself. I skimmed through the old sepia colored photos. I gazed at each one, memorizing each face of Grandpa's family. The last photo was of an elderly man and a young boy. They seemed to be sitting in the middle of a forest as the elderly man showed the boy different plants. I turned it over; it read Kai Two Crow, age sixty-five and John Hawkfeather, age six.

I smiled but then I realized that the elderly man was wearing a familiar eagle head dress. I squinted at the image; he was the old man I had met in the forest back home. "It can't be," I mumbled, but my mind only countered with my statement on how I was wrong. Kai was the old man I had met months before hand. Kai was the one that told me about Alfred and my birth as a nation; then set me on a quest for an eagle that ended up with me finding this journal.

All this couldn't be just a coincidence.

I rubbed my eyes and placed the photos back into the cover. Go to bed Amy, go to bed. Everything will make sense in the morning, hopefully. I guess I was more tired than freaked out because once my head hit the pillow, I was out cold.

When morning came, I was awoken by the sun's rays hitting my face. It was the first morning since I arrived in Berlin that I was able to sleep in. I yawned, stretched and got dressed at a leisurely pace. I decided to temporarily forget of my little discover last night, and focus on my match making mission for Peter and Raivis. I got dressed in my new white shorts and the denim button down shirt with the diamond patches on the back. I folded the sleeves to my elbows and left the first two buttons undone.

I ran down stairs as I bushed my fingers through my hair and leaped over the last three steps. I slid into the kitchen where Elizabeta was making breakfast.

"Morning," I greeted, "Whatcha making?"

"Pancakes," she proclaimed, "what some?"

"Yes please, with chocolate chip?"

"Sure thing," she smiled.

She served me a pile of pancakes with orange juice as she took her seat in front of me. We ate for several minutes till I said, "I'll start cleaning the house after this and if we want to use the guest rooms-"

"No need, I found the air mattresses. We can set them up in the living room, there's not that many of us, so we can stay in same room together."

"Cool, less cleaning for me."

She said, "I'll help."

"Thanks," I grinned.

"Oh before I forget," she grabbed a rectangle board from the seat beside her. "I found this in my room," she placed an Ouija board on the table.

My eyebrows rose, "why would this be in your room?"

"It must belong to Gilbert; he has a fascination with the supernatural. Do you think the girls would want to play with it at the sleepover?"

"Yeah it will be the perfect addition to our Truth or Dare and Never Have I Ever drinking games." I took a slip of my orange juice, "You know in horror movies, this kind of combination is just asking for trouble."

"Don't tell me you're scared of ghosts."

I took a moment; technically I've talked with Kai's ghost twice and fought with spirits that took on the forms of mythical creatures to fight aliens. So why should I be afraid of ghosts? I faced scarier things. I shrugged, "nah, it will be fun."

We finished our meal and I cracked up my portable speaker as an old Beyoncé song blasted through. Elizabeta snapped her fingers to beat as she grabbed the broom and I started washing the dishes. Ludwig didn't allow me to listen to music as I cleaned, which was just whole new degree of evil.


 

If that was evil to our dear heroine what would she possible think of the dark figure lurking in the trees, watching her through the window?

The figure only observed, analyzing its prey, waiting for the perfect moment to strike.

A vapor materialized beside this figure, "what do you wish for us to do Iya?" it whispered in hisses.

"Bring her to me."

Chapter Text

The female nations started arriving at six in the evening. The first to knock on the manor's door was Vash and Erika Zwingli.

Vash wasn't pleased when I was the one to answer the door.

"Where's Ms. Hungary? I believed she was the host of this party, if not we're leaving," he proclaimed.

"Chill Vash, she's here," I rolled my eyes.

"Seems you still have that habit of calling nations you barely know by their-"

"Yeah, yeah, human-nation names all that." I waved my hand at him and smiled at Erika, "Welcome, come in, come in," I snatched the duffle bag from Vash and pulled his sister inside.

"Hey!" he called out as I sat the bag by the living room and guided Erika into the kitchen. Where Elizabeta was spreading tomato sauce and cheese over a disk of pizza dough, "Ah, Erika," they hugged and Elizabeta formally greeted Vash.

"Here's a list of numbers to call if anything happens," he handed her a paper list.

"Yes," she nodded.

"Remember, no sweets after nine," he continued.

"Yes, I know," Elizabeta was gently pushing him towards the door.

"No horror movies, she won't be able to sleep."

"Yes, Vash, I know. You have nothing to worry about, she's in good hands."

"Goodbye Erika, be safe, remember stranger danger-" Elizabeta waved farewell and closed the door to cut him off.

She sighed, "finally," she walked back to the kitchen and handed the list to Erika, "would you like to do the honors," she grinned.

Erika smiled mischievously and tore the list into pieces. She threw the pieces in the air and they scattered like confetti as Elizabeta and Erika screamed out excitedly, "Freedom!"

I smiled and turned up the song from Avril Lavigne, 'Here's To Never Growing Up'. We started jumping to the beat and singing at the top of our lungs. It turns out that every year Vash would give a list of numbers and rules for Erika to follow and it was tradition to tear them up.

As the song was ending the doorbell ringed and I answered it to find Victoria Lambert. "Hey," she greeted and craned her neck up to find Erika dancing with Elizabeta. "You guys tore up the list without me?"

I shrugged my shoulders, "Vash was early."

Later, Bella Vermeulen arrived along with a sun kissed-tanned woman. Elizabeta greeted them with hugs and introduced them to me. "Amy you remember Bella and Raquel?"

"I know Bella from Arthur's pictures," I said.

"Oh Arthur has pictures of me," Bella giggled, "such a naughty boy." She was at average height with blond shoulder length hair and green eyes.

"So you don't know me then," the flawlessly tanned woman smiled with a perfect set of white teeth. The woman was tall, with dark hair and eyes. She had a curvy figure, with a full chest, firm bottom and long legs. Her hair was waist long and it was curled in natural waves, she also had a Latin accent. She reminded me of those women that danced in Carnival in Brazil.

I mentally slapped myself, "You're Brazil," I held out my hand, "It's nice to meet you."

"Please call me Raquel," she pulled me close for a tight embrace and kissed me on both cheeks. One of her kisses was dangerously close to the corner of my mouth.

I laughed it off, "well, aren't you friendly."

She smiled sweetly and grabbed my hand, "yes I am and so much more." She brushed her lips sensually over my fingers as she gazed into my eyes.

Goosebumps spread over my arm as my ears grew in heat. "I-I'm straight," was the only thing I stuttered out at that moment.

Raquel grinned, "That sounds like a challenge," she winked at me.

Elizabeta pulled her off, "Now, now, Raquel no flirting. She has enough of that with the boys."

"But I would give her the most fantastic orgasm."

I flushed, "I'm sure you would, but no thank you."

After the pizzas were ready, the last four girls arrived. Mei Xiao, Kim Lan, Natalia Arlovskaya and Irunya Moroz; we greeted each other with hugs as Victoria and I took their bags and sat them down in the living room beside the walls.

"All right ladies, get dressed." Elizabeta announced. "It's time to get this party started!" She glanced to me and I grinned.

I had connected my iPod to the radio entertainment system that was under the flat screen TV. I turned up the volume and Beyoncé's song 'Run the World (Girls)' boomed through the speakers. I swayed my hips to the rhythm as I sang along with the lyrics. Victoria and Raquel joined my sides as we answered Beyoncé when she would ask, "Who run the world?"

"Girls," we screamed.

Victoria pulled Erika into our circle of dancing as Bella and Mei jumped in. Elizabeta then got Kim and Irunya to join as I worked on Natalia, who was leaning against the wall.

I grabbed her hand, "come on Nat; dance with us."

"I don't really dance," she said coolly.

I rolled my eyes, "okay, then," I bowed to her like a gentleman and gave her my hand, "dance with me," I smiled.

She lifted a brow at me in bewilderment, which I took as my chance to yank her into the dance floor. I held her by the arms and made her twirl with the beat. Natalia humored me but her heart wasn't into it.

As the evening continued, the girls changed into their pajamas and sat around the living room table with two freshly baked pizzas.

"We brought vodka," Natalia said as she pulled out two bottles of iced vodka from a mini cooler. She was wearing a blue, ruffled night gown that stopped around her mid-thigh.

"From Russia?" Elizabeta asked. She wore green sweat pants with a tight gray tank top.

Natalia rolled her eyes, "Is there anywhere else."

Raquel grinned, "How many bottles?" She wore the most revealing pajamas, it was a bright red gown that hanged low from her breast and stopped right under her ass.

"We could only bring five," Irunya said apologetically. She was the complete opposite of Raquel. Irunya wore baggy, plaid sweats with a matching long sleeved, button down shirt.

"That's fine," Bella gestured to her own cooler, "I've brought beer." She wore a cute set of lacy shorts with a matching sleeveless blouse.

"I got sake," Mei pushed forward her cooler. She and Kim were dressed in Asian style clothing. Mei wore a black night gown that came to her knees. The collar was designed as a Japanese kimono and it was made of silk. Kim wore a green Chinese blouse with sleeves that stopped at the elbows and matching pants that came to her knees.

"I brought champagne!" Victoria added. She was wearing a blue tank top with white shorts. Erika sat next to her, wearing a pink, vintage night gown with lace straps around the shoulders, a lace bow tied under the chest and the hem was ruffled and came above the knees.

"And Amy and I have found Gilbert's stash of beer," Elizabeta and I laughed wickedly.

Bella passed a beer to each of us, "Then let us eat, drink and merry and drink some more," she announced as we clicked our bottles together. After we ate through five pizzas, four chip bags and half of the ice cream pints. We sat around the table, talking, drinking and grooming each other. It seems that Mei has an obsession with nail art, she brought a kit filled hundreds of shades, stickers and pop out art. She was currently working on Erika's finger nails as Victoria painted Bella's toe nails.

Irunya came at me with a brush, "can I braid your hair?"

"Uh, sure, but I don't have a lot of hair to work with."

"I can do a milkmaid braid."

"Okay," I shrugged as the girls carried on with their Truth and Dare game.

Kim was wearing a lamp shade for the entire night, Elizabeta had pranked called Arthur and said, "Seven days," in a creepy voice and Raquel had danced on the kitchen table as I played 'Krazy' by Pitbull. Victoria and Erika kept it safe with truths while Natalia was dared to sit on my lap for thirty minutes.

"Nat, don't take this the wrong way, but my legs are going numb," I said as she gave me a glare.

"Are you saying I'm heavy," she narrowed her eyes at me.

"No, no, of course not," I reassured her. "It's just over a period of time the pressure gets to you and something's poking me."

"It must be her daggers," Mei commented as she blew at Erika's nails and then used a quick dry spray.

"Daggers?" I questioned with wide eyes.

Natalia pulled up the hem of her skirt to reveal brown leather straps wrapped around her upper thighs. Each strap held about six to seven knives, "I never leave home without them."

"But you're at a slumber party," I proclaimed.

She lifted a brow at me, "so?"

"Never mind, I'm just gonna play with your hair kay? Kay." I combed my fingers through her stands and began to do a simple braid.

It was Irunya's turn as she was finishing up with my hair. She had parted it through the middle and had French braided from each side, wrapping them around the sides of my head and ending them at the nap of my neck. Remarkably, it was all held together with seven bobby pins.

"Truth or dare," Raquel asked her.

"Well. . ."

"Pick dare," Victoria giggled.

"Yeah, dare," I grinned and began a chant among the girls, "Dare! Dare! Dare!"

Irunya gave in, "very well, dare."

Raquel grinned wickedly, "I dare you to give us a strip tease; you can stop when your bra comes off."

The girls and I dissolved into laughter as Irunya's face turned bright red, "no, no, no, I can't."

"It's either that or you drink," Raquel held up a shot glass. It was the rule, if you didn't tell the truth nor did the dare, you drank.

"I'd rather drink," she took the vodka shot, "thank you."

"Boo! You're no fun."

Elizabeta shook her head, "what did you expect?" She turned to me, "truth or dare?"

"Dare," I grinned.

"I dare you to go skinny dipping in the lake."

I snorted, "You call that a dare?" I finished Natalia's braid and we rose to our feet. I bent my legs and once I felt the blood circulating, I was off. I ran out through the back door of the kitchen. The girls followed as I stopped at the edge and tore off my Batman pajamas and underwear. It was pitch black outside, so I didn't feel too self-conscious when I stripped. Also, the alcohol helped.

The girls were laughing, cat-calling and cheering me on as I walked down the dock. I gave them a salute as I jumped into the lake, screaming, "cannon ball!"

The water chilled me to the bone as I sunk deeper and deeper to the bottom of the lake. A disturbing reminder burned in the back of my skull. This entire scenario looked too much like the dreams that had haunted me for more than two months straight back during the spring of my senior year. The dreams would start out differently but all of them ended the same. The darkness would pull me in, taking me deeper and deeper into the unknown. I would scream for help but no one could hear me. I was all alone. . .

Fear kicked in as I frantically moved my limbs to swim myself to the surface. Once I had air, I was greeted by the female nations on the dock. I took deep breaths and tried to relax, "care to join?"

Raquel grinned flirtatiously, "I thought you would never ask." She ran back to land, tore off her clothes and sprinted through as the girls parted for her and she drove in with a splash.

Everyone quickly followed as they took off their pajamas, while underwear was optional and leaped in. We spent an hour in the water, dunking and splashing one another.

We dried off back in the living room, with towels wrapped around our mid-sections. My Batman pj's were cool against my wet skin, but it didn't bother me that much, at least there wasn't any sand. Amazingly the milkmaid braid was still intact.

"Okay, next game, Never Have I Ever." Elizabeta brought out the last three remaining vodka bottles. She gave us each a shot glass and poured the cool liquid into each glass.

"Oh, I got one," Bella raised her hand. "Never have I ever slept with both Prussia and Germany."

Elizabeta narrowed her eyes at her, "You bitch," she swallowed her drink in one gulp.

Irunya followed suit and I stared at her with wide eyes. "You slept with them?"

She blushed, "yes, they both have an attraction to large breast."

"Good thing you have more than enough for both of them," Kim smiled slyly.

"My turn, never have I ever slept with Britain just to make Spain jealous," Elizabeta gestured this mostly to Bella.

She was the only one to drink as she flipped Elizabeta off.

I tried to shake that thought away. "Okay, I got something. Never have I ever been caught making out with anyone?"

Everyone expect Erika took a swing.

"What about you Ms. America," Mei lifted a brow at me, "you must've been caught at least once."

"No, I'm the master of stealth."

Kim carried on with the game. "Never have I ever. . ." she glanced to Mei, "Slept with either of the Italian brothers."

Mei pouted and swallowed her liquor along with Raquel, Bella, Elizabeta, and Victoria. The girls shared a look, "Romano?" Mei questioned.

They nodded as Bella giggled, "Boss taught him well."

Mei turned back to Kim, "Never have I ever slept with the previous America," it was clearly revenge for the previous question.

Kim narrowed her eyes and swallowed, along with Bella and Raquel.

I perked up and looked to each of the nations, could either of them have married Alfred? I acted fast, "Never have I ever married another nation."

Elizabeta was the only one to take a swing, that plan went south fast.

"I have one," Erika proclaimed, "Never have I ever killed someone."

Natalia shook her head, "Really is that the best you could come up with." She drank her vodka along with everyone else around the table. Well, expect me and Erika. I couldn't drink to this one, even when it was true. The girls would ask for details and I couldn't tell them I killed aliens, for obvious reasons.

"Never have I ever tried to marry a sibling," Victoria proclaimed.

Natalia glared at her, "really? We're playing that card?"

"That's what you get for being rude," Victoria stuck her tongue out and said, "Now drink."

"You tried to marry Irunya?" I asked confused.

The girls laughed as Irunya said, "no, no." Then she gazed at me with wide set eyes, "did anyone tell you?"

"Tell me what?"

"I wanted to marry my brother," Natalia proclaimed.

"Who's you're brother?"

She gave me an indifferent smile, "Ivan Braginski also known as Russia."

I went pale, "he's you're brother and you wanted to marry him?!"

Natalia chuckled, "it was different back then, he was different," her smiled died, "Things change," she swallowed another glass of vodka.

I wanted to ask more on the subject but with the tension growing around the table. I decided it was best to leave it be.

The game continued. "Never have I ever. . ." Raquel gazed at me, "had sex with a woman." She then drank as everyone but me, Erika and Victoria followed. "Oh America I was hoping you would have joined us for that round."

I laughed nervously, "I told you I'm straight."

"Not till I have my way with you," she winked at me.

Irritation was building but I kept my cool, "listen Raquel, I'm flattered but no."

"Oh don't be like that. How do you know you don't like it if you don't try it?"

"Do you want me to kick your ass?" I playfully threatened (somewhat).

She grinned, "I do like it rough."

"You are one sick puppy."

She threw up her arms in frustration, "Merda! Well, it would be better losing your virginity to me rather than to one of the men, just think about it. Their egos crushed as they realized that they had lost their bet to a woman."

"Raquel." Elizabeta growled at her.

My jaw dropped, "what bet?"

"Amy it's nothing-" Elizabeta tried to change the subject but I screamed.

"What bet?!"

Bella sighed, "Some of the male nations have made a bet with one another, to see which country will have you-"

"To claim, as they say 'bragging rights' of having you first," Raquel added.

"What the fuck!" I cursed, "Why?!"

Natalia laughed cruelly, "You ask 'why?'. I can give you a list; you are a new toy, clean and untouched by others. You have been placed on a pedestal and everyone is trying desperately to have you."

"You're a girl," Bella added, "we are rare among our kind and it only places a bigger target on your back."

"You're also a huge resent button," Raquel proclaimed. "When our continents were discovered we became free game for anyone to have. No questions asked, no protests granted, whoever found you, kept you." Her dark eyes lowered to her glass as she poured herself another drink. "The Portuguese, the Spanish, the French, the English, the Dutch," she laughed, "they all had claim or so they said." She swallowed her liquor in one gulp and smirked, "don't you see? You're the second chance for any nation that couldn't claim your father back in the fifteenth century. They can't have your land of course, but they can have you."

I slammed my fists against the table, leaving dents. "Do I look like a damned trophy to you?!" The girls grew silent as I continued to rant, "I'm a person! I have feelings! Does that not mean anything to you people?!"

No one answered till Elizabeta said, "I suggest you keep your feelings close America. Because the ones you need to watch out for are the ones that try to be your friend. The ones that take you out to dinner or dancing, they take it slow, make you believe that you're special, that they're different from the others. They slowly creep into your heart and once they have you," she shook her head, "it's over."

My anger was reaching to its boiling point. "I won't fall," I hissed. "I refuse to be part of their game and you can go ahead and spread this little piece of gossip. No one will have me! I belong to no one but myself!"

Raquel sneered, "You sure you want us to spread that message around? It would only encourage them." She played with the rim of her glass, "you should be happy that you were born in this day and age. Back when we were fresh little flowers, they would just take it. I mean there is a reason why Hungary dressed as a boy for most of her early years besides the fact that she thought she was boy."

She laughed, "Go ahead Hungary, tell her what happened when Turkey found out you were a girl."

Elizabeta glared at her but told the tale, "He made me into one his concubines and on the first night he tried to have me," she swallowed down her vodka. "I slit his throat and stabbed him in the eye. He made sure to check me for knifes after that, but he thought twice before he laid a finger on me again."

"And Belarus, I believe you have an interesting story for us," Raquel gestured to Natalia.

Natalia shook her head, "is there a point to this."

"Of course there is, Little America doesn't see how good she has it, continue please."

The Belarusian girl breathed through her nose, "Prussia tried to have his way with me but I killed him."

"But how? Give us the details."

Natalia glanced to me and back to Raquel, "I cut off his penis and forced it down his throat. I then watched as he bleed out and choked on his own dick."

I paled and stared at her with a whole new set of eyes as Raquel laughed, "Marvelous." Her face sobered up when she placed her attention back to me, "See. Aren't you lucky you live in a time where consent matters?"

I glared at her, "well it certainly didn't stop Ivan," I hissed.

She shrugged, "if he had raped you it wouldn't have counted; besides you got away didn't you?"

I dug my finger nails into my palms controlling the urge to bust her head against the table. "I need air." I said through gritted teeth and walked out of the room. I sprinted up the stairs, locked myself in the bathroom and threw my fist into the wall. I took deep breaths to keep my anger in check as I tore my hand out of the hole I made in the wall.

Deciding to rub salt in the wound, my mind set me back to the event of Ivan forcing me to the floor as he tore my dress and forced his hand up my leg. The memory sent chills down my spine as I fell against the door and slid myself to the floor. I brought my knees to my chest and tried to block out any thought of Russia from my mind.

Once those thoughts were successfully barricaded I was left open for my imagination to go wild; images of Elizabeta and Natalia killing Sadiq and Gilbert engulfed my thoughts. Each girl had cold eyes as they slayed the men, striking them down, simply to protect their virtue. But what morals were they protecting when they didn't even seem fazed that they were covered in their attacker's blood.

I shook my head, I sounded like a hypocrite.

When Ivan threatened me I was too terrified to even think. All I wanted was to run, to get away and if killing him meant safety. . . God, I don't know. I've killed aliens yes, but it helped that they looked like monsters. I guess it's easier to kill something that doesn't look like a person.

But still, I had no right to judge Elizabeta and Natalia.

I sighed; I almost believed that I was hanging out with average, everyday girls, but here comes reality, slapping me in the face once again. These girls were centuries older than me and if I remembered anything from my world history class most of them went through war, famine, disease and any other crap that rolled their way and survived.

To think they would be undamaged by those events and be totally normal for one night was naive of me. And the booze definitely didn't help.

But the thought that continued to haunt me, that continued to remain me, was that one day I could be just like them.

A knock came from the door, "Amy?"

I flinched, "yes?"

"Are you okay?" asked Victoria.

"I-I'm fine," I breathed in deeply one last time. "I'm fine."


 

When I returned to the living room all eyes were on me.

"Are you alright?" Bella asked.

"Yeah," I reassured.

Elizabeta slapped Raquel's arm, "You better apologize to her."

She rubbed her stinging limb, "What for?"

"For scaring her."

"I was warning her."

I cut in, "It's fine Elizabeta. I'm glad she told me, now I can make sure to be on my guard."

Irunya's eyes grew sad but knowing, "America, come, sit beside me."

I gave her puzzled look but did what she asked.

"What Brazil and Hungary have said is true, most nations will only want you for ulterior motives but there are good ones out there." She proclaimed, "Some that actually want a decent, human connection."

Raquel snorted, "Name one."

A cunning smile grew on Irunya's lips, "Argentina."

Raquel instantly twitched as she continued, "he cares about you and you care about him, you just been hurt too much by Uruguay to actually let him in. You know it hurts him, but you refuse to see it. Frankly, sometimes I wonder why he puts up with you, but I know it's because he l-"

"Don't even say that word." Raquel warned, "That word doesn't exist for us."

Mei rolled her eyes, "someone's in denial."

Irunya turned back to me, "What I mean to say is, one day America you will find someone that will care for you and actually wish to have a relationship with you, being a nation or human."

I blinked, "you've had a relationship with a human?"

Bella laughed, "Amy we all have, at least once or twice in our lifetime."

"I know that Victoria prefers to chase after humans," Elizabeta teased her.

"Hey, I can't help it. They're just so handsome and with half of the drama."

"Very true," Kim nodded.

Irunya carried on, "Now that you know that the nations are after you for a silly bet, don't be so quick to put up your walls. Keep yourself open to love even when you fall for someone that will hurt you in end. Don't let one mistake-"

"Or hundreds," Elizabeta added.

"Keep you from finding someone special. Also, there's no such thing as a soul mate, yes one person will be more precious to you than another. But I believe that there are countless of people for everyone to have at least two or three loves in their lives. And with our life rate I figured we can have at least twenty."

The girls giggled as Irunya caressed my cheek, "I will not sugar coat it. Love is a double edged sword; it can heal just as it can break hearts. But hearts do mend over time, no matter the scar it will fade. What won't fade will be the affection for that person, no matter how the relationship has ended, if they will good and kind, you will be able to look back on your time together with fondness.

"Do not close yourself from love; it will only leave you bitter and hateful. Fall in love whenever you can and when you find a person to cherish, to love; don't let go. Enjoy your time together no matter how short."

I smiled, "you sound a lot like my mom; she would've told me something like this."

She beamed and Elizabeta announced, "Alright, I think we're done drinking for tonight."

"Psh," Raquel mumbled as she drank another glass of liquor.

Elizabeta and Bella cleared the table to make room for the Ouija board. Natalia cursed in Russian, "you are not serious."

"What? It's just a game," said Elizabeta.

"That is not a game," she warned.

"Oh come on, are you scared of ghosts?"

"I am simply cautious."

Bella handed her a notebook and pencil, "then you can watch and keep track of the answers."

"I'll keep you company," I sat myself next to Natalia on the leather couch. Raquel and Irunya joined us mostly because Raquel wanted to drink and Irunya didn't care for the board.

The rest of the girls circled the table and placed their hands on the planchette. Elizabeta became the medium, "Welcome all dear spirits," she and the girls moved the pointer around the board. "If one is among us, reveal yourself to us."

Nothing happened.

Elizabeta smirked at Natalia, "see, there's nothing to be scared of."

The game continued with nothing to report; mostly a lot of random letters and Bella moving the piece around to screw with Elizabeta. After ten minutes, Mei and Kim lost interest and joined us as we watched the 1996 film Scream. Thirty minutes into the movie Victoria called out, "Uh, guys the board is asking for you all to come here."

Raquel laughed, "For what? Is it going to tell us when we've going to die?"

"Just get over here."

I paused the movie, "It must be a prank." I whispered low, "just pretend to be scared and they'll leave us alone."

We gathered around the table as Elizabeta said, "We are all here, now who are we speaking to?"

"Yoda," I said as a joke.

Bella gave me a look, "don't make fun of them."

The planchette moved to spell-

K. . . A. . . I . . .

My eyes widened.

"Who's Kai," Erika asked the most obvious question.

Victoria looked to Mei and Kim, "Name ringing any bells?"

They shook their heads and I mentally shook myself. Kai was a common name and Elizabeta was just messing with us. They continued to move the pointer.

T. . . W. . .O. . . C. . .R. . .O. . .W. . .

"Two Crow?" Raquel knitted her brows together, "what kind of name is that?"

A chill traveled down my spine and I tried to laugh it off, "Okay, Elizabeta have you been in my room?"

"No."

"Yes, yes you have." I proclaimed. "Who else would know this?! Admit it, you read my grandfather's journal!"

"What journal?!" she exclaimed as she rose to her feet, "I have no idea what you are talking about!"

My breathing was rapid and I had to swallow the lump in my throat to try and calm myself down. I glanced to the Ouija board and I snapped, "Seriously, an Ouija board! Seriously?!" I shouted at the ceiling, "I've seen you twice old man, twice! I've seen you in your stupid shirt, in your stupid khakis and in your stupid feathered, Indian head dress! Guess what you're not scary!"

"Ms. America calm down," said Irunya.

"No! No! This old man is messing with us! Get out here, right now!"

Erika screamed and we turned to find her pointing to the board, "t-the planchette moved on its own."

We stepped closer to find that the planchette pointed to the answer: No.

Kim lifted a brow, "Well, things sure have gotten interesting."

I ignored her. "No? What the hell do you mean no?!" I exclaimed at the board.

"America is it really a smart idea to yell at the spirit," Bella remarked.

"I know this spirit," I hissed, "this spirit won't do shit!" I turned back to the board. "Who are you hiding from old man?!"

The planchette wiggled and slid to-

I. . . Y. . . . A. . . .

Before any of us could even question what those letters meant, the planchette shook and slid rapidly to three corners of the board over and over again.

"What is he spelling?" Victoria trembled as she moved closer to Erika's side.

Mei stood over the table, "it seems to only point at three letters." She focused on the board, "R. . .U. . .N," she blinked, "Run?"

At that moment the lights went out, sending us into complete darkness.

Chapter Text

The girls screamed and I will admit, I screamed along with them.

Once we took a moment to breath, we had the chance to hear someone laughing.

"Ha," Raquel gasped for breath, "Liz, I gotta say, you got us good this year."

"Raquel, I didn't do this," Elizabeta proclaimed.

Everyone was silent as I blinked to adjust my eyes to the darkness. The girls were accounted for, Kim and Mei stood at attention as Erika and Victoria held each other. Irunya was crying as Natalia comforted her and Bella was leaning against a wall, wrapping her arms around herself. I glanced to Elizabeta as she walked over to the light switch; she flicked it once, twice; nothing.

She sighed, "The fuse box must have short-circuited." She walked over to a hallway table and pulled out four flashlights. "Amy, you're with me, everyone wait here."

"Where are we going?" I asked.

"Outside, that's where the fuse box is," she answered as she passed flashlights around.

"That's a bad idea," I proclaimed, "have you not seen horror movies?"

"Amy, this is real life not a movie, we'll be fine."

"Besides she's just screwing with us," Raquel added.

"I'm not-" she rolled her eyes, "whatever, come on." Elizabeta gestured for me to walk out the door. I purposely took my time to put on my sneakers, hesitating to follow her. When she noticed, she shook her head and pulled me along by the arm.

It was a cool, moonlit night. Owls were hooting, crickets were chirping and the leaves were wrestling. I was jumping and yelping at ever sound, "what was that?!" I asked turning my head from the left to the right.

"That was a stick, you stepped on it," Elizabeta said as she pointed the flashlight at my feet.

I looked down to find a twig under my sneaker, "Oh." I flushed, embarrassed, "hehehe."

She walked on and I followed, not being able to shake the feeling that someone was watching us. We rounded the manor to the left side to where the gray fuse box was. The older girl lifted the light to the box to find it completely wrecked.

"What the hell?" Elizabeta cursed as she ran a hand over the box. Three deep gashes had dug into the metal and wires. Some electrical currents sparked and hissed and the cover of the box was twisted off. Literally, it was lying on the ground in the form of a bow tie.

"It looks like something clawed into it," I remarked.

At that moment a flock of birds screeched and scattered in the wind. We spun around as Elizabeta flashed the light into the trees and to the ground. The air suddenly stiffens and the animal life grew eerily silent.

"We should go back into the house," I proclaimed.

"It's alright; it must've been a cat."

A ghostly sigh echoed and I flinched, "did you hear that?"

She groaned, "Can you stop!" She waved the light around, "There's nothing out here!"

I followed the light and I yelped when a flash of figure appeared and disappeared in a blink of an eye. "Go back!" I exclaimed, "To the tree!" I snatched the flashlight from her and guided the light back to the tree, the figure was gone.

She sighed, "You're as bad as your father, let's go," she headed back to the front door.

That hit a nerve. I grumbled a string of curses as I followed behind her, but the feeling of someone watching would not go away. My gut told me to keep walking but I ignored it and turned around. I pointed the light to a tree that was about ten feet away. A freakishly tall man, dressed in a black suit stood next to that tree. I narrowed my eyes, he looked oddly familiar.

The man lifted his head and I froze. He had no face.

My heart sunk into my stomach as I grabbed Elizabeta's hand and made a mad dash back to the house. I shoved her in and locked the front door. I was gasping, trying to wrap my head around the idea that my pre-teen nightmare had come to life.

The girls came running with their lights flashing, "What's wrong?" Erika asked.

"I don't know," Elizabeta said, irritated. "America got scared and dragged me back in."

"I got scared for a reason! I saw Slender man!" I exclaimed.

The nations gave me confused looks, "who?" Natalia asked.

My eyes widened, "You don't know who Slender man is?! Have you been living under a rock?!"

"No," she said through gritted teeth, "but I would prefer it that you wouldn't shout in my face."

"Okay, settle down," Elizabeta stepped between us and looked at me, "Amy I didn't see anything."

"Of course you didn't see anything," I exclaimed. "But it explains everything, the birds flying away, the insects going quiet and the fuse box being torn apart! Slender man's behind it all-"

Elizabeta slapped me and I cursed, "what the fuck was that for?!"

"To slap some sense into you," she exclaimed.

"But-" then the memory of Nina came rolling back; how some spirits love to scare humans. I released a short laugh and stomped back outside. "Ha! Kai, you got us! You got us good old man!"

"Amy, get back inside!"

"No!" I shouted. "Show yourself Kai!"

"Wasn't that the spirit that told us to run," Mei proclaimed.

I snorted, "Don't bother. He's just screwing with us!"

The air chilled and I glanced to my left to find Slender man. I mentally pushed aside the fear and remembered that it was just Kai. "You're still using that bit!"

The nations were leaning against the door, each of them staring in a mix of horror and wonder. "What is that?" Kim asked.

I rolled my eyes, "it's Slender man, but relax it's a guy in a costume." I figured that it would be too confusing to explain that spirits are shape shifters. "You better drop your act old man. It ain't funny no more!"

"Amy, get back in the house!" Elizabeta exclaimed.

Raquel laughed, "Liz you really went all out this year. Who's that? Germany? Prussia?"

"Raquel, do me a favor, shut up!"

I ignored them and stepped towards the internet mythical creature. "Seriously Kai, enough already." The faceless creature tilted his head and reached for me with his long, boney fingers. He had no mouth but yet there was a voice, it was unisex and it sounded like hundreds of voices were speaking at once.

"Iya is waiting," he proclaimed as he wrapped his hand around my neck and lifted me up into the air.

Some of the girls screamed as Elizabeta and Natalia came running. Elizabeta kicked this creature in the gut as Natalia pulled a knife and sliced his arm off. He screeched in a series of pained hisses as I fell to the ground, his discarded hand evaporating into dark smoke. The creature held its wounded arm as black vapor leaked out slowly.

I knitted my brows in confusion, when spirits are attacked they heal instantly by regenerating. Nothing about black smoke was ever part of the equation. "What the-" I murmured as Elizabeta forced me to my feet and shoved be back into the manor.

"Whatever that thing is we can all agree it isn't human," Elizabeta proclaimed as she locked the door.

"America," Natalia said as I turned to face her. She smacked me, "what were you thinking?! You could have gotten yourself killed!"

I rubbed my wounded cheek, "I thought it was just a prank," I mumbled.

"By who? This Kai person? By the way, who is he? Is he another one of your friends?"

The way she said the word, I figured she meant did Kai know about us. "Somewhat," I sighed, "My grandfather left me a journal and he mention someone named Kai Two Crow. But he died over sixty years ago."

"So is he the one haunting us?" Bella asked.

"He's the one that warned us," Mei remarked.

"Oh stop!" Raquel exclaimed, "This is all a joke. I give you props Liz, but don't you think this is enough? I mean look at Erika, she's about to cry."

We all glanced to Erika and she seemed fine, frightened but fine. The small blond girl narrowed her eyes at Raquel, "I'm not crying."

"I did say 'about to'."

"Brazil," Elizabeta hissed, "For the last time, I didn't plan this!"

Raquel rolled her eyes and spun to face the darkness of the main hallway. She grew silent as she focused, "Hey, Bell can you point the flashlight here."

Bella did what she asked and once the light hit the hall, Slender man was there. Everyone jumped as Raquel cursed, "Shit!" She smashed the vodka bottle she was holding against the wall and wielded the sharp, broken bottle at the faceless creature. "Get out of here you freak!"

When Slender man didn't respond, Brazil strutted forward and knifed him in the chest. Slender man moaned as black smoke leaked and circled around him. This black smoke quickly formed and hardened into tentacles. They wrapped themselves around Raquel and hauled her out the front window. Glass shattered as her body crashed through it and fell into the yard.

Elizabeta was the first to react, "Scatter!"

The nations ran in different directions; Kim, Erika and Victoria headed into the living room. Natalia and Irunya made a break for the front door as Bella, Mei and Elizabeta rounded into the kitchen. I was alone as I sprinted upstairs and of course Slender man followed me.

I leaped into my bedroom and locked the door. I frantically searched through the room, looking for anything to defend myself with. I found my phone and discovered it had no signal, for all the times T-Mobile had to fail, this was definitely not it.

That's when I heard something tapping at my window; I looked up to find a black bird. I ignored it and continued to search but that bird would not stop.

"Shut up," I threw a shoe at it.

The bird cried, "Amy, let me in!"

My jaw dropped; mostly to the thought of a talking bird, which I had to mentally slap myself right after. I've met talking animals before, this was nothing new, but what made me stare at the bird was that I knew that voice. I walked over, slowly, "Kai?"

"Yes, now let me in!"

I slid open the window as the bird flew in. He circled around the room and in a blink of an eye; he took his human form as he landed to the floor. He brushed off some dirt that was on his shirt, "thank you, those things were right on my tail."

So many questions spun in my head, but I was able to keep the number low. "What are the spirits doing?! Why have they taken the form of Slender man?! And why are they coming to get us?!"

"Those things are not spirits."

I froze as the realization hits me, "then Slender man is real?!"

"No," Kai sighed. "Amy, Slender man is not a new idea. The concept of a faceless creature is as old as time itself. The Duenne from the Trinidad, the Chi lobos from Mexico, the Noppera-bō from Japan, and the Allu from the Sumerians; all are different in shape and size but they have no face. Then there's Skuld, one of the Norse fates, she represents the future and has no face. Then there is Leinth, the faceless goddess of death in Etruscan mythology. Tell me, throughout all these years and throughout all these countries, why would a faceless creature myth be made into each culture?"

I remembered what Grandpa always said, "Because all myths are born from truth."

He smiled, "I told that to your grandfather, he taught you well." Then his smile disappeared replaced with a serious expression. "Do you know of the vapors?"

"Yeah, they're dark, evil spirits that survive on hate and anger, right?"

He sighed again, "There is more to them. It is true; they thrive on hate, anger, fear, everything that is negative about humanity. But a vapor is born in two ways. When there is chaos in the world and there always is, they can use that energy to multiply, to split themselves in two, over and over again. The second way is when a human soul is beyond saving, when they choose to hate and hurt people. They are tempted by the Abyss and are led into the darkness, where the vapors are waiting to devour them." His eyes grew sad, as if taking a moment of silence for the lost souls. "From those pieces of discarded souls, they lose their light and become vapors themselves."

I nodded, "okay so there is a hell, good to know, but that doesn't answer the most important question. What the fuck is behind that door?!" I exclaimed as we took a moment to hear something moan as it scratched at the door.

Then the faceless creature sank his fingers into the wood like claws and tore the door apart. I cursed as Kai took the form of the black bird and flew at his head. He pecked at him as the creature swung its long arms at Kai. I grabbed the chair from the work desk, kicked off a leg and used it as a bat.

"Kai move!" I swung as he flew away and I smacked Slender man upside his head. "Batter up bitch!" I swung again, landing a hit under his chin. He fell back and I exclaimed, "Is that the best you got!"

Kai, still in his bird form, soared to land on the headboard of my bed, "Amy, don't underestimate them, this is the vapors' most powerful form. In their weakest stage, they can only survive on the earth plane when there is enough negative energy and even with that they can only tempt a person into evil, whispering in their ears, promising them their deepest desires."

"I guess Christianity is on the right track there when they say the devil is on your shoulder."

Slender man stretched his arm and sank his fingers into my shoulder. With a simple flick of his wrist, he tossed me into the desk. The wood snapped and collapsed into pieces. I groaned as I moved myself on my side, "fuck," I cursed. Slender man crept forward and Kai flew with his talons out, slashing and pecking at him rapidly. I ignored the stinging pain in my back and pushed myself to my feet.

Kai screeched, "Out the window!"

I nodded as I grabbed a table leg and climbed out the window. Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that the manor only had a slim rim separating the first and second floors. I lost my only weapon as I had to use both hands to grip the window frame.

Kai followed me, "jump for the attic!"

I leaped for the roof of the third floor but missed. I tripped over the rim and fell back. I protected my head as I crashed to the ground. Pain surged through my hip and ribs, "Ow," I cried in a soft voice as Kai landed beside, "are you okay?"

"Do I look okay to you old man," I hissed.

He didn't have time to say anything else as Slender man crawled out of the window with his legs on backwards and his arms crouched forward. It found us by tilting his head in a full 180.

I scrambled back, "okay, that thing ain't Slender man." I grabbed the wooden leg and held it front of me.

Kai nodded, "in their second stage, when there's more than enough negative energy for them, like having a power source or opening a door into the Abyss," he narrowed his dark bird eyes at me.

"Why are you looking at me for?"

"The Ouija board doesn't just open a door into the Spirit World it also opens a door into the Abyss. Didn't anyone warn you about those things? Ouija boards are dangerous if you don't know how to use them," he lectured.

"I get it old man I screwed up. But again, what does any of this have to do with that?!" I pointed to the faceless, suit-wearing, spider-man wannabe.

"Knowledge is power," he proclaimed. "In times of war, there is enough hate and despair for them to come together and create a human form so everyone can see them. But what gives them away is that they have no face, no identity, no soul. They want what you all have."

My eyes widened, "A soul."

The creature leaped for me and I rolled away, jumping to my feet. It hissed at me as he twisted his mid-section around to a line with his legs. It moved like it had no bones, bending himself back into place.

I slammed the leg into its skull again, sending his head completely backwards. I watched in horror as he twisted his head back into place, "this thing's a demon!"

Kai soared onto the branch above me. "Well I guess you can call them demons, but we call them nunasishs."

I dodged as the demon moved to grab me. "And what does that mean?"

"It means a misshapen dark spirit."

I snapped and beat the nunasish in the head, crushing its skull and leaving it twitching on the ground. "So they are spirits!"

He tilted his head, "Not entirely-"

I threw the table leg at him, "you crazy old man! Why the hell didn't you say all this sooner?! Instead of showing off how much you know everything and that you can turn into a stupid crow!"

"I'm a raven," he remarked.

"Does it look like I care?!"

He snapped his head up, "Amy behind you!"

Before I could prepare myself for a behind attack from the nunasish, a black BMW zoomed pass me and crashed the faceless demon into a far off tree. The vehicle's hood had wrapped itself around the tree, pinning the demon against the bark. The wind shield was shattered, the air bag was activated and the engine spat out smoke as it died. A tan skinned woman kicked open the driver's door. That same door fell off its hedges with a thud as Raquel climbed out and leaned against the destroyed car.

"That is what you get for throwing me out the window and ruining my favorite night gown," she gestured to her pj's that were covered in rips and tears. She lifted her hand to her mouth and took a long drag from her cigarette.

I recognized the car; it was the BMW that we were borrowing from Gilbert. "How did you-"

She turned to me, "I hot-wired the car, found a pack of cigarettes in the glove department and decided to show this faceless bastard how we drive in Brazil."

"But that's not even our car!" I exclaimed.

"Relax, I'll pay for the damages, but more importantly, did I kill it?" she inhaled her cigarette again.

I shook my head as I walked to the front of the car. The nunasish was slammed by its side, restrained against the tree and impaled by the bumper. Its long spider limbs were limp and its upper body was spread over the hood.

"I think you did-"

The nunasish's hand twitched and started to move. "What the hell is this thing?!" Raquel glared at it.

"It's gonna be a pissed off demon if we don't get out of here!" I exclaimed. We headed straight to the manor but I missed the front door as something wrapped around my ankle and rammed me against the front step. I spat out blood as I was dragged back to the nunasish.

I dug my nails into the dirt, kicking at the black tentacle with my free foot. Raquel grabbed my forearms and I became the rope in their tug-a-war struggle. Unfortunately, Raquel was losing.

"Do something," she hissed.

"I'm kicking as hard as I can, dammit!"

We dropped to the ground as the tentacle around my leg disappeared. I looked back to find Natalia with a dagger in hand. The nunasish hissed as the wounded black tentacle sank back into its body. It then began to twist and dig its way out between the BMW and the tree.

Irunya came out of nowhere and in one swift move, stabbed the demon with a pitch fork. Raquel and I stared as the nunasish convulsed and cracks began to spread throughout its body. Bright yellow light peeked out through those cracks, causing the demon to scream in agony. Its blank face actually creating an expression; its gray skin stretched giving it a nose as three black holes formed where the mouth and eye sockets would be.

The bright fractures and splits covered the nunasish's body and like a vase, it shattered. The pieces disappearing into smoke.

"Irunya!" I tackled her into a hug, "You're amazing!"

She scratched herself behind her head, "thank you," she said nervously.

"I don't get it," said Raquel, "I crashed a car into it but it was killed with a pitch fork?"

"It seems its weakness is metal," Natalia proclaimed as she caressed the dagger in her hand.

I nodded, "okay, but where did you get the pitch fork?"

"From your next door neighbor's shed," Irunya smiled.

"Raquel committed grand thief auto and you broke into a shed and stole a gardening tool. We're certainly building up a record."

Raquel snickered, "she thinks that's a record," she inhaled her cigarette.

I ignored her, "So their weakness is metal," I clapped my hands together. "Let's gather the girls, give them some knifes and pray we live to see the sunrise."

"Their weakness is not metal," Kai called out as he flew to land on my shoulder. "Their weakness is your aura."

"Are you the spirit that had warned us?" Natalia asked the bird, unfazed that it had spoken.

"Yes, and I'm sorry I could not have warn you sooner."

"No need good spirit," Irunya added, "we should've taken your warning more seriously."

Raquel said nothing as she pulled the cigarette pack from the middle of her boobs and took out another fig. She burned out the last one and lit the new one with a lighter, also from her cleavage.

"Aren't any of you fazed that this animal is talking?" I wondered.

"America we are very old, we have seen many things." Natalia proclaimed as she glanced to Kai, "he is old magick."

Kai nodded to her as Raquel continued, "So, what is this aura you speak of? Is it like life energy?"

"Yes, Aura is your life essence that leaks from your soul and spreads over your bodies."

"Wait a minute," I interrupted, "isn't that what they want? Our souls?"

"Yes, but think of your soul as a blow fish, if prepared right, it is delicious but when eaten without being properly cut, it is poisonous. The only way a nunasish can eat your soul is when they drain it from your mouth or eyes." He continued, "The only way to destroy a nunasish is to stab it with your aura."

"How do we do that?" I asked.

"You already did it," he gestured to the Natalia and Irunya. "Why do you think humans have believed for centuries that the only way to kill a dragon or a monster is with swords, stacks or silver? What humans don't understand is that weapons become an extension of one's self. When you bond with a weapon your aura expands over the blade."

Natalia nodded in understanding, "so the metal of the weapon does not matter as long as we can stab it through."

"Precisely," Kai nodded.

Screams and gunshots echoed as bright lights flashed from the manor's windows. The three older girls took off and I followed behind as Kai flew above. Raquel kicked open the door and found Erika, Victoria and Kim cornered by another faceless demon. It was dressed the same way as the last, as Slender man.

"I'm guessing these things are not that creative." I remarked.

"Creativity comes from the soul," Kai answered me; "they have none."

Kim used a coat rack to flip herself up and spun kicked the demon across the face. She landed with ease, crossed the coat rack between her arms and smacked it over the head. The nunasish collapsed as Kim continued to beat it and didn't stop till the head was reduced to puddle of black ooze.

Kim panted as she stepped back, "you think that did it?"

Victoria's eyes widened, "His head's growing back! Erika, shoot him!"

Erika aimed her pistol but Natalia jumped in and stabbed a knife into the back of the demon. It died just as the last, breaking into tiny pieces like fragile glass.

Everyone was quiet for a minute till Kim proclaimed, "Erika shot three bullets at him and I crushed his skull but the only way to kill him is to stab him with a little dagger."

"It's because people bond with guns not the bullets and crushing them is useless," Kai answered.

"Wish we knew that before Raquel totaled the car," I mumbled.

"Oh merda, I said I will pay for it," Brazil hissed.

"Enough with your petty quarreling," Natalia exclaimed. "What I would like to know if that was the last of them."

A loud crash came from the kitchen and I just had to say, "I believe that answers your question."

She ignored me as we chased after her into the kitchen. Three nunasishs had surrounded Bella, Mei and Elizabeta, all three nations were wielding skillets and large knifes. The faceless demons leaped at them and the girls didn't even bat an eye. Bella bent low and stabbed a nunasish in the gut as Mei high kicked her demon to the floor and knifed him in the chest. Elizabeta smacked her's over with a skillet and stabbed it in the neck.

All three demons screeched in sync as they broke and shattered into pieces.

During the brief moment of silence I looked to each girl. Their clothes were ripped, their hair was knotted and they were covered in dried blood.

"Is it over?" Bella sighed, exhausted.

"Far from it," Kai proclaimed, "the only way to end this is to close the gate."

"What gate?" I asked.

"The Ouija board, also known as the door or the gate others would call them," he said sarcastically.

"Don't be smart," I narrowed my eyes at him.

"Amy, you do realize that bird is talking right?" Victoria asked.

"Thank you, at least somebody is questioning this," I pointed to the raven on my shoulder.

Elizabeta hurried into the living room, "Fuck!"

"What is it?!" Bella exclaimed as we ran into the room.

"The Ouija board is gone," she sighed as she rubbed the bridge of her nose.

"Seriously?!" Victoria whined, "Where would it go?"

"It's a magickal board that opens the door to the Spirit World. It does whatever the fuck it wants," Raquel pointed out.

"Like release faceless, soul eating demons," Natalia remarked.

"And give us the aid of a talking bird," Kim added.

"I'm a raven," Kai proclaimed.

"So why wouldn't it want to play hide and seek with us," Mei shrugged.

"Okay, before we do anything else, we need weapons," said Elizabeta.

"Why," I said sarcastically, "we seem to be doing fine with skillets and knives."

"Are you done," her eye twitched in irritation.

"Yes I am," I smiled.

Elizabeta led the way to the third floor, by walking into a spare room on the right side of the second floor. There was a doorway with a flat of stairs that led to the attic. It was filled with typical junk you would find at any garage sale. Old bicycles, a vintage type writer, worn out trunks and a wooden rocking horse; there were even photo albums scattered everywhere. I opened one to find Gilbert holding up a small blond haired boy, it was an old black and white photograph and they seemed to be wearing clothes from a Jane Austen novel.

"That's Mr. Germany when he was child," Erika said over my shoulder.

I jumped a little, "Holy crap, don't scare me like that," I whispered harshly.

"Found it!" Elizabeta exclaimed as she opened a massive black trunk. We walked over and my eyes popped out of their sockets as Elizabeta pulled out swords, knives, bows and arrows.

I blinked, "What the heck is this? The Lord of the Rings?"

"Not your everyday skillets and kitchen knives," Elizabeta smirked and held up a sword with a very sharp point. It had a basket handle, almost like a fencing blade. "Victoria, are you any good at fencing?"

She gave a prideful smile, "I've beaten Britain and France; they were no match to my skills."

"Then you get the rapier," Elizabeta handed the blade over and turned to Kim and Mei. "Are you two familiar with short swords?"

Mei nodded, "It's like the wakizashi."

"The waki-what?" I questioned.

"It's the Japanese version of a short sword," Kim answered. "Think of it as a smaller katana."

"But this one is European styled," Elizabeta added, "the width of the blade is several inches wide and its handle makes it look like a smaller claymore." She hands each one to Kim and Mei.

"There are three claymores," she continued, giving a sword that looked like it was a prop from the Narnia movies to Bella. "Irunya do you want one?"

"I'm fine, I'll stick to the pitch fork," she said.

"Here, take a knife," Elizabeta handed her one as she gave a leather harness filled with knives to Natalia, who nodded in thanks and wrapped them around her shoulder. Strapping it across her chest and tying it around her waist. "Erika, you got the best aim," she hands her a bow and a quiver filled with modern archery arrows.

I analyzed the arrows, "those seem pretty new, does Gilbert update these?"

"He must," she gestured to the cover and I read, "For Last Resorts," this was written in red letters.

"At least he sharpens them, Boss forgets," Bella commented as she practiced with the claymore.

Elizabeta grins, "Yeah, the last thing we need is dull weapons." She then held up a curved blade, it looked like a pirate sword. "Raquel, I found you a cutlass."

"Finally," she snatched the sword and unsheathed it. The blade was clean, sharp and shined when the moonlight hit it.

Elizabeta turned to me, "here," she shoved a sword's handle into my hands. "Take a claymore." She unsheathed her claymore, "let's go," she proclaimed as they headed out the door.

"Wait, I have no idea how to use a sword," I exclaimed but they ignored me as they walked down the stairs.

"You did play with them when you were a kid," Kai added.

I gave him a look, "they were Nerf swords; they were made of foam."

"Amy, stop arguing with the bird and come on," Victoria called.

I sighed and turned to the door as it slammed in my face. The nations on the other side cried out for me as I tried to break open the door. A chill ran down my spine as I side-glanced to a dark corner. A gray hand with long fingers bolted out and slammed me against the floor. My head collided against the wood as my vision blurred and I gasped for air.

I was so disoriented that I didn't even notice that this hand was pulling me into the dark corner. The nunasish fully formed, bringing its blank-less face an inch away from mine. "Iya is waiting," it whispered.

Kai transformed into his human form as bright purple light sparked in his hands. He shot this colored fire at the nunasish. It shrieked in agony and shot out a tentacle, wrapping around his neck and banging him against trunks, bikes and finally the wall. Once Kai was held down it continued to drag me towards the darkness, repeating, "Iya is waiting."

My vision finally cleared and I began to kick and punch the faceless demon. My hits were useless as it gave no sign of weakening. I stretched my hand over my head, trying to reach for the sword. My calves dipped into cold water and I instantly froze, this felt terrifyingly familiar. I grew desperate, kneeing the nunasish in the gut and sinking my nails into its face.

Again, it felt nothing as it tightened its hold on me and pulled along as it sank deeper into the pit of darkness. Tears formed in the corner of my eyes as my heart rammed against my chest.

"Amy, don't be afraid!" Kai exclaimed, "That's what feeds them!"

I heard nothing as I struggled for freedom, kicking, scratching and screaming frantically. I was only able to catch blurs of purple light as this light sliced off the tentacle and the arm of the nunasish. I scrabbled away as Kai tackled the demon into the black vortex.

"Kai!" I shrieked as all I could do was watch as the old man sank into the tar of darkness. Before he was truly gone, he parted one final look to me. He beamed as the tar swallowed him whole.

Fear disappeared as I leaped for the black hole but I was only met with wooden floors and discarded trunks. I ignored the pain from my shoulders and arms and patted the floor; the vortex was gone. "No," I whispered, "no, no, no! Kai!" I slammed my fists on the floor, "Kai!"

Elizabeta was finally able to force the door open. She cried out for me as she kneeled beside me, "What happen?"

"They took him," I said, "The nunasish took him!"

Elizabeta noticed that Kai was no longer in the room and sighed. "Amy, we don't have time to grieve."

"But I could've done something," I said through gritted teeth as I placed my forehead to the wood. "I should've done something," I punched the floor again, "dammit."

She was quiet as she pushed the fallen claymore into my hand, "sometimes fear grabs a hold of you but you must learn to overcome it."

We shared an understanding gaze and I pushed back my grief and allowed my frustration to take charge. I gripped the handle of the sword, rose to my feet and followed her out of the attic.

Everyone was silent as we moved through the second floor. The air carried an unnervingly atmosphere and I could feel the muscles of my shoulders tense with each step we took.

"Is just me or does it seem too quiet," Bella said.

Mei pointed her flashlight up to the ceiling, "it's not just you."

We looked up to find nunasishs scattered over the ceiling, looking down at us with their faceless heads on backwards along with the lower half of their bodies. They attacked and the nations struck back with slashes and arrows.

Kim made sure to carry the coat rack as she continued to use it as a bow staff. She slammed an end into the gut of a demon, with the force of her weight; the coat rack trapped the creature under its hold, allowing her the chance to stab it with the short sword. Then Mei swung herself off the same coat rack, kicking a nunasish in the chest and knifing another in the neck.

Erika and Victoria were back to back as one girl shot out arrows with perfect precision. The other thrusting her sharp blade into anything that dared to come too close to her and her friend. Raquel sliced off limbs till she drove in for the kill. The face she made was of pure bliss, almost as if she enjoyed the blood, gore and excitement of battle.

Irunya waved her stolen pitch fork with experience as she impaled nunasishs with ease and reeled them off rail, sending them crashing to the first floor. Natalia moved like a fierce lynx, dancing around demons as she flung daggers into their heads and backs. She aimed low to strike and jumped to slit throats. She would then run up walls, throw her knives like kunais (hitting her targets every time, I might add.) and land on her feet like an agile cat.

It was like watching a Kill Bill movie come to life. You know, instead of fighting Yakuza we were fighting demons. Yeah, my life makes total sense.

I wielded the claymore with both hands as I swung the blade around; I was blessed with lucky hits but I had no skill and it showed. The nunasishs had their focus on me, trying to snatch me with their boney hands. The nations realized this and moved to circle around me. Raquel took my back as Elizabeta and Bella guarded our sides.

I tried to mimic the moves of the claymore wielding girls as they clashed, blocked and jabbed at the nunasishs. They were ferocious as they slashed and pierced the faceless demons effortlessly. Shouting battle cries in different tongues and using quick two person strategy to take on three or five demons at a time. Their true nature as warriors revealed as they attacked in perfect sync, reading each other's subtle expressions and movement.

The battle raged on, and the nunasishs seemed to only multiply as we continued to rip and stab. Mei called out as she knifed a demon in the chest, "does anyone have a plan?"

"I got one," Raquel kicked her opponent in the knee and pierced him in the side of the head. "Shut up and keep fighting."

"We can't go on like this!" Natalia exclaimed as she flipped a demon over her shoulder and speared it with a dagger.

"I'm running low on arrows-" Erika screeched as demon seized her by the shoulder and yanked her up to face him.

The world seemed to slow as Erika's arms were held in an iron grip above her head. The demon wrapped his hand around her neck and stared into her eyes. His face stretched, displaying the three dark holes we had seen before; when we had killed them. This time was different. The gaping hole that was the mouth grew larger than the eye sockets; engulfing warm air like a powerful vacuum.

Erika struggled against his hold, but nothing helped. The nunasish thrusts his fingers into her mouth and yanked her jaw open. He drew her close, inhaling her air and scent. Erika soon began to glow. A golden light poured out of her body as it was sucked in by the nunasish. Her body trembled as her face grew pale and the light from her eyes began to dull.

Victoria jumped into action and sliced off the head of the demon. Erika dropped to the floor, shaking like a leaf. Victoria then, jabbed her sword into his mid-section and slit him in half. He shattered into pieces as Victoria slid to her knees and embraced her friend.

"Erika, Erika!" Victoria placed her head on her shoulder, rubbing her hands over the smaller nation. "Oh mon dieu, she's so cold," she whispered.

Irunya stepped in front of the younger girls, protecting them from the faceless demons. Natalia joined her as the nunasish focused in on the wounded nation. It was the perfect chance for the other girls to strike back. Elizabeta, Bella and Raquel charged, slicing apart any monster that crossed their path. Kim and Mei worked as a team to flip themselves off each other's backs and shoulders to kick and stab their opponents.

I adapted quickly, just as I did back in London. I swung my borrowed claymore like I was a character from a fantasy novel; thrusting and slashing at the nunasishs without hesitation. Then a boney hand grabbed hold of my shirt and threw me over the rail. I landed painfully on my back, "fuck," I hissed.

A nunasish dove for me and clawed his hand into my flesh. I bit back a cry of pain as the dark spirit pulled me into the kitchen. I grabbed my sword and slit his cheek, he showed no sign of pain as his raspy voice repeated, “Iya is waiting.”

I stabbed him in the chest, "heard you the first time!" I tore the blade through his body.

Two more demons jumped from the ceiling, stepping forward with claws ready. I wielded my blade in front of me, "You want me! Come and get me!" They hissed and moved forward as light broke through the windows and the dark spirits screeched in sync. They stepped away from the sunlight and disappeared into the shadows.

I spun around and found the sun rising in the sky.

Chapter Text

The next sequence of us meeting up in the living room and discussing what we do next ran in a blur. The nations and I separated into two groups; Mei, Raquel, Irunya and Victoria stayed in the living room, watching over Erika, who was coddled in blankets on the couch. The rest of us stayed together as we searched the house. Still carrying our weapons, we tore each room apart; digging around in closets and drawers, finding things I wished I never saw. Such as questionable porn in both Ludwig and Gilbert's rooms, and Elizabeta's revealing lingerie in her drawers.

The basement and the attic gave no clues to the Ouija board's whereabouts and throughout the entire manor we discovered that the nunasishs were gone along with the board.

We walked back into the living room.

"Did you find it?" Mei asked.

"What do you think," I asked sarcastically.

The girls took their seats around Erika as Elizabeta asked, "Are you okay?"

"Yes," she nodded.

"Are you sure?" Victoria added, "You were freezing."

"The tea helps," she said softly as she took another sip of her hot chamomile tea.

We all gave a silent agreement to take a well needed break, to simply rest and absorb the events that had taken place.

"So," Kim checked her nails, "what are you going to tell Germany and Prussia?"

Elizabeta sighed, "I have no idea."

"I suggest we keep all this supernatural stuff on the down low," I proclaimed.

Everyone nodded, "agreed."

"But we still need to come up with an excuse for," I counted off my fingers, "the window, the fuse box, the car, my door, my work desk and chair is there anything else I'm missing?"

"There are claw marks in the walls on the second floor," Natalia remarked.

"And there are bullet holes along this wall," Mei added.

I hid my face in my hands, "I'm so dead."

"Not yet!" Elizabeta rose to her feet, determination burned in her green eyes. "We clean this place up! Cover up those holes and claw marks and come up with a good enough excuse to use on Germany and Prussia."

"Blame it on the alcohol?" Raquel asked.

"Blame it on the alcohol." Elizabeta agreed.

We worked tirelessly for the next four hours; sweeping up debris, fixing up rooms, and covering up holes and claw marks with plaster paste Elizabeta found in the attic along with paint to re-paint the walls. Kim boarded up the broken window, Mei gathered the shards of glass and Erika and Victoria collected the arrows and weapons. They cleaned them and placed the back into their trunk. Natalia helped me toss out the broken work desk and chair into a neighbor's trash can. It took an hour to chop it into pieces but we were able to squeeze it in there.

I hoped that my missing door would be more of a distraction for Ludwig than the missing furniture. We also hanged a curtain along the top of the door frame so I could have privacy.

When everything in the manor was put back into their rightful place (somewhat) we all took a moment to stare at the BMW that was wrapped around a tree. I moaned to myself as Raquel smoked another cigarette, "Yeah, we can't fix this in time."

I glared at her, "You're the one who did this in the first place!"

"Do you have to yell," she rubbed her temple, "just send me the bill goddammit."

Another hour passed and the girls were packing up to catch their trains and flights back home. The doorbell ringed and Elizabeta opened the door. "What happen to the car?" Vash said as greeting.

"Oh that," she said, "Raquel crashed it."

"Shouldn't drive while drunk, now we know," Raquel proclaimed as she walked out of the house. She was dressed in a tight top and slimming jeans; her hair was brushed and wild, but in a cool, sexy way and her make-up was flawless.

Bella followed along; she was wearing a deep dark red mini dress with a ruffled skirt, a crop black jacket, black tights and inch heels. "See ya Liz," she smiled and walked to the waiting cab.

Vash shook his head and noticed the window, "What happen?"

"We were dared to have a dance off," I gestured to Mei. "I was going all b-boy with break dancing and stuff."

Mei cuts in, "And I decided to try to be cool and add some of my kung fu moves."

"Long story short, she kicked a vase through the window," Kim said as a car honked in the distance. Both of the Asian girls were wearing causal western clothing. "That's us, let's go Mei."

Mei hugged Elizabeta and me goodbye, and followed Kim to the car. Vash didn't say anything else as he collected Erika and Victoria and headed back to the door.

"What do you say," he gestured to Erika.

"Oh, thank you for having me over," she nodded to us.

"Always a pleasure," Elizabeta hugged her.

She turned to me, "It was good to see you again Ms. America."

"Ditto," I grinned as we hugged, "Are you really okay," I whispered in her ear, when I felt that she was still cold.

"Yes, I'm fine, don't worry," she whispered back.

Elizabeta and I watched as Vash, Erika and Victoria loaded themselves into their cab and drove down the street. At that moment, I realized that I didn't gather a single piece of information for Raivis and Peter. I failed them, like I failed Kai.

"I don't see how everyone is so relaxed about this," Natalia's voice broke me from my thoughts as I turned to find her leaning against the door. She was wearing her usually dark purple dress. "That cursed board is still missing."

"Nat leave it be," I proclaimed, "It's gone, I say rejoice."

"Unless you want part two of this night filled terror to make an appearance later on tonight, I suggest you look for that board and burn it." Those were her final words as she and Irunya left the manor.

Another hour passed as Elizabeta and I ate our breakfast, it was peaceful till-

"Elizabeta!" Gilbert cried out as he slammed the doors open. "Liz?! Liz where are you?!" He ran into the living room, searching till he stepped into the kitchen and laid eyes on the young Hungarian woman. He didn't hesitant to embrace her and pat her down for injuries. "I saw the car outside, are you okay? Are you hurt?"

Elizabeta shoved his hands away, "I'm fine Gilbert, now let me eat my breakfast," she shooed him away as she drank her tea.

Gilbert blinked and raised his brow at me slightly, as if I appeared out of nowhere. "Oh Amy, West is looking for you."

I gave him a look, "thanks, I figured."

"America," Ludwig called, his voice was tight and mean.

I sighed, "I'm here."

He entered as Peter and Raivis walked behind him. He crossed his arms, "may I speak with you privately."

I nodded and rose to my feet. He gestured to the backyard and I followed him as we walked along the dock. He brushed a hand through his blond locks, massaged the bridge of his nose and glanced to me. "What happen?" he tried to sound calm but he sure didn't fool me.

I took a deep breath, "Well, we were drinking and Mei and I were dancing and she ended up kicking a vase through the window-"

"Stop!" he shouted, "I refuse for you to lie to me, I demand the truth."

"I am telling you the truth!"

"No, you really think I wouldn't notice your lying habits? Like how your voice instantly lowers or how you fidget with your hands?"

At the mention of this, I pulled my hands apart and placed them at my sides. Ludwig narrowed his eyes at me, giving me a dirty look but his look soon disappeared. "That's it. I am tired of your insolence. If you believe being a nation is beneath you than you are too young and immature to understand. I am merely wasting my time with you."

I tried to defend myself but he raised his hand to silence me. "Clearly you need a few more decades to truly gasp your situation here, you still believe yourself to be like them. You're family, your friends they're all still young, maybe the only way you'll understand is if you watch them age and die before your eyes." He turned away from me, "Till then, I am done with you."

He strides back to the house, leaving me alone on the dock. My emotions swirled as I paced back and forth, having no idea on which emotion to focus on first. Anger was the strongest; I hated the way Ludwig assumed I didn't understand, I mean I am here right? I am trying right? Confusion sets in as I tried to read his speech and body language. He was furious; I was sure, but yet he seemed disappointed. Irritation rolled in next; I was so frustrated of the fact that he had to bring up the aging factor on me. A day doesn't go by that I don't think about it but I preferred to focus on the present.

Anxiety engulfed my body, causing me to come to a halt and rub my eyes with my hands. Dread followed as the events of last night came flooding back; the images of nunasishs materializing out of the shadows and striking out with their bony, claw like hands came to life when I closed my eyes. Their blank faces forming dark ghostly masks, repeating one phase in a series of whispers, 'Iya is waiting.'

Those words chilled me to the bone. Who was Iya? And wait, wasn't that the name that Kai spelled?

Once that name crossed my mind, my knees quivered and I had to support myself on one of the legs of the dock to keep from falling over. Grief and guilt swarmed in, fusing together as the image of the wise man came into full focus. From all the incidents that took place last night, the memory of Kai being sucked into a dark vortex was the sharpest. He didn't blame me, that last smile he spared me was filled with fondness. A stinging pain sparked in the back of my eyes but no tears came. This only increased my guilt, for what type of person am I if can't even cry for someone that sacrificed himself for me. My heart squeezed and I could feel my throat tighten as the air thinned.

Before any other thought could be created, I sprinted back into the manor. I ignored Elizabeta and the others as I ran up the stairs and closed myself off in my room. I racked my hands through my hair and tried to settle my nerves. I stepped towards the bed, desiring nothing more than to sleep.

Though, instead of collapsing into the comforter, I found the Ouija board waiting for me. I yelped in surprise and terror and jumped back. I was gasping, trembling and my heart was ramming against my rib cage.

Before I could do anything the planchette began to slide across the board.

    I. . . . M . . . . C. . . . O . . . . M. . . . I. . . . N. . . . G. . . . F. . . . O. . . . R. . . . Y. . . . O. . . .U. . . .

I smacked the board off the bed, smashing it into wall. Anger drowned the other emotions as I snatched the dented board and stomped into the kitchen. I continued to ignore Elizabeta and the guys as I grabbed a container of cooking gas and a pack of matches. I stormed into the office that sat across from the living room. I slammed opened the Victorian style sliding doors, it was like stepping back in time. The floor was covered in deep red carpet, polished wood walls and ceiling to floor book shelves.

A brown desk sat on the far left, where all of Ludwig's paperwork and computer laid on the smooth surface. Book filled shelves covered all the walls expect for the wall on my right, which held three windows. In the center of the office, there was a small coffee table in between two, matching vintage couches. But what I really needed was the room's fire place. It was built with brown brick and was a lined in the middle of the book shelves in front of me.

I added wood into the mouth of the chimney and threw the Ouija board on top. I squirted a large dose of gasoline, lit a match and watched as the board was engulfed by flames.

Elizabeta stood beside me, "You found it."

I nodded, "Yeah."

Gilbert walked to stand on my other side, "Where did you find that."

The way he said this, it was more of a demand and less of a question. "It was in Elizabeta's room at first; then it ended up in my room."

Elizabeta glanced to him, "It is yours," she said slowly, "right?"

He gave us a confused and slightly worried look, "It is, but I got rid of it because it scared Ludwig."

"I don't blame him," I proclaimed.

"No," he quickly added, "I got rid of it when he was just a kid; nearly two hundred years ago."

Elizabeta and I gave him wide-eyed looks, "it can't be the same one," I asked, desperately wanting him to be joking.

"Yes, it is," he said seriously.

Fear and rage bubbled under my skin and I attacked with another dose of gasoline. The fire rose, the blaze licking at my hands and forearms. Amber flew and landed on my collar bone and shoulders.

Gilbert pulled me back from the flames and I shoved him away, "don't touch me!"

He stepped back, hands raised in mock surrender. Elizabeta walked forward and gently touched me, "Amy, your arm."

I looked down to find harsh burn marks across my hands and forearms. I blinked and turned back to face the fire, "It's fine. I don't feel it."

And it was true.


 

Gilbert and Elizabeta peeked from the door way.

"She hasn't moved from that spot for over two hours," Elizabeta said worriedly.

Gilbert glanced to her, still feeling the relief that had surged through him. The dread of losing Liz, his Liz was long gone from earlier that day. He knew that a car crash couldn't kill them (not for very long anyway) and he knows that Elizabeta was strong but it still pained him to see her hurt. He took a moment to simply view her, alive and unharmed.

"Someone needs to talk to her," Raivis snapped Gilbert from his thoughts. He and Peter were on the other side of the door frame opposite from him and Elizabeta.

Before anyone can do or say anything, Raivis walked in as Peter followed, which happen to be the first time Gilbert saw their roles reverse.

When the Latvian was only five feet away from Amy, she spoke for the first time in two hours. "Go away, I don't want to talk," she continued to watch the fire.

Raivis flinched at the tone of her voice, it was cold and robotic, but he shook out his shoulders and asked, "Are you sure?" He stepped closer, "I don't mean to pry but you seem upset-"

"No shit Sherlock," Amy snapped, her voice filled with venom. "I still don't want to talk about it."

Raivis anxiety was coming to its boiling point, Gilbert could tell, he was sure that the Baltic State would make a break for it, but he did something that surprised everyone.

"There's no need to be rude," he snapped back.

Gilbert blinked at his boldness and even Peter was taken back. Amy didn't even flinch, she just sat there.

He continued, "I'm worried about you, is it that such an inconvenience for you?" He inhaled through his nose, to calm his nerves no doubt. "I-I," he stuttered, "I thought," he paused to look at his shoes; "we were friends."

Amy snorted, "Friends? The only reason you two even bothered to come here, bothered to befriend me, was so I could help you with Erika and Victoria. Oh you know what, I have another piece of advice for you both," she turned to face them, "grow a damn pair, tell them how you feel and leave me alone."

Raivis flushed in embarrassment and speed walked out of the room. Peter glared at her, "He was just trying to help, you stupid cow!" The blond quickly left to chase after his friend.

Amy's face was empty of emotion as she turned away to face the blaze.

Three hours passed and Amy still sat in her spot in front of the fire place. The Ouija board had burned away by now, the cursed board was nothing but ash; but she didn't move. Amy would do nothing but add another log into the flames and watch as those flames danced.

She didn't move for anything, not for food or for water and when lunch came around Elizabeta decided to bring the meal to her. Gilbert watched this attempt to feed her by the door.

"Hey, I brought you some currywurst," Liz proclaimed.

Amy didn't react.

"It's really good," she said.

The American girl simply nodded.

"Amy did Ludwig say something to you?"

"I don't want to talk about it," she said in a monotone, "please, just leave me alone."

Elizabeta sighed, "Okay, I'll just leave the food on the table if you get hungry."

Amy nodded, never taking her eyes off the blaze.

Elizabeta strides out of the room, leaving Amy alone as she wished.

Night rolled in and the house seemed to be drained of life. Dinner was silent as everyone but Amy met at the kitchen table. Candles were lit around the house and Ludwig had called a technician company. They had informed him that someone would check on their fuse box in the morning.

Gilbert tried on multiple occasions to carry on a conversation but everyone seemed to be in their own worlds. Peter and Raivis looked at no one but their dinner plates, pushing around their food with their forks. Elizabeta was worrying over Amy, replacing the cold, untouched currywurst with a warm bowl of soup.

Ludwig didn't seem to care about Amy, he didn't ask any questions nor did he try to force her out of his office. He simply ate his dinner and once he was finished, he announced, "America's going back home."

That was the snap everyone needed to come back to reality. Gilbert knitted his brows in confusion, "what? But she's scheduled to stay here for another two months and then head to Denmark in November."

"She's not ready," he rose from his seat.

"But-"

"I've already told her, she'll be leaving the day after tomorrow."

"West-"

"Brother, don't even try to argue about this, she has caused us nothing but trouble. She got herself kicked out of Museum Island, broke two windows, destroyed your car-"

"She made mistakes," Gilbert exclaimed, "You of all people should understand that." He knew he was hitting below the belt but he couldn't allow Amy to leave just yet.

Ludwig's eyes widened slightly but they quickly grew cold, "And you have made your own mistakes brother."

He sighed, "West please-"

Ludwig slammed his fist against the table, "you will not question me Prussia. America is leaving, end of story." He placed his dishes in the sink and stomped into his room.

Gilbert glanced to the dirty plates and then to the direction of his younger brother. He didn't even wash his dishes; that's not like him.

Once the others were done with dinner, the teenage boys had separated from the group to hide in their rooms as Gilbert and Elizabeta picked up the kitchen and had their tea at the table. Elizabeta would check on Amy every hour or so and her anxiety was starting to rub off on him.

"Liz what happen last night?" he finally asked.

She sighed and sat herself back in her seat, "you can't tell this to Ludwig, he doesn't understand the supernatural."

Gilbert nodded, completely understanding. Ludwig may act mature but he will never be as old as Gilbert. In all his years he has seen war, disease, and things that could not be logically explained. The feeling of being watched when no one was around, the unusual chill that sank into your bones and the monsters that lurked in the night.

"We were attacked last night," Elizabeta began, "by faceless demons of some kind, they came through the board."

"Which you decided it would be fun to play with," Gilbert jeered.

She rolled her eyes, "yes, yes, I know, I messed up." She sighed, "I just forgot, in this day and age you forget of the old legends, myths, and warnings."

"That's dangerous for us Liz," he smirked, "those who do not know of the past are doomed to repeat it or in our case, forget."

She nodded, "we started playing with it and a spirit talked to us, someone named Kai and Amy knew him. Soon after he gave us his warning to run we were attacked. During the night we headed up to the attic to borrow your weapons, guns did not work on them."

"You fought with a claymore?" he grinned, "That sure brings back memories."

Elizabeta gave a soft smile, but it didn't last for long. "Amy was locked in the attic alone, she was only in there for a few minutes but that was enough time for this spirit, Kai to be taken."

"We're they after Kai?"

"No, they we're after Amy. Kai was in the way." Her eyes grew sad, "we found her beating on the floor, screaming for Kai. I told her to put aside her grief and fight."

He nodded, "like a true warrior."

"But Gilbert, I think I broke her. I mean, you've seen her," she gestured down the hall, "she won't talk, she won't eat. She won't even cry."

Gilbert rose from his chair, "I'm going to talk her; unlike all of you she and I have a bond."

She rubbed her temple, "she knows about the bet."

His eyebrow rose, "you told her?"

"Raquel did."

He shook his head, "that bitch."

"She's a bitch for warning Amy of nations like you."

"Hey, I didn't start it."

"But you certainly ran with it." She narrowed her eyes at him, "I saw you kiss her."

He wasn't surprised that she knew, but he was surprised that she almost sounded jealous. Their relationship was a complicated one, but they both knew that they cared for one another, in their own ways.

Gilbert placed his hand on her's, "Liz, you know she'll never mean as much to me as you do."

She tore her hand away, "You really are stupid." She rose to her feet, "She needs a friend Gil, not a hook up; and I swear if I hear her scream I will come back down here and kill you." Those were her final words as she left the kitchen and walked up the stairs.

Gilbert gulped, she was deadly serious.

After a few minutes passed, he stepped into the office. Amy was still sitting in the same spot, still adding more logs into the fire. He closed the sliding door behind him as he entered the room. The young American woman did not react nor greet him. Gilbert wasn't bothered by this and sat next to her, taking in the view. The soft glow of the fire caused the shadows to dance around the room and made Amy's milky skin glow. Her blond, curly locks fell over her face as she kept herself covered in her knees.

He took a moment to admire her long, taut legs and dancer body. She was wearing shorts with a graphic tank top and a wool cardigan, her outfit was so simple but she didn't need much. She was very much a beauty as her father was. Hair the color of gold and eyes as bright as the sky; her skin untouched by scars and was as smooth as silk.

But something was off about her. This wasn't just grief taking its toll on her; something else was playing a role. She had her arms locked around her legs as if protecting herself from a blow or trying to hold herself together.

"I know you said you wanted to be alone but don't you think you've had enough alone time," he said lightly.

She ignored him, only watching the flames.

"You should go to bed, it's late," he added.

Again, she ignored him.

A wicked grin spreads across his face as he moved closer to her, brushing his lips over the shell of her ear. "You're scared aren't you?"

She gave no reaction to his antics. This only encouraged him to go farther, "afraid that the boogeyman will come and get you?" He planted butterfly kisses over her cheek and along her jaw. "Don't be Liebling, I'll protect you," he had kissed the corner of her mouth and was about to deepen the kiss till Amy tackled him to the floor and slammed her fist into his cheek.

Teeth rattled as blood filled his mouth; he spat it out and gazed into her eyes. They were filled with rage and sadness. "Don't you dare make moves on me for a stupid bet. Especially when Elizabeta is here," she rose off him and sat herself back in her spot. "You really think I wouldn't notice," she hissed.

Gilbert gave her a bloody smile, "notice what?"

"Don't play stupid with me," she narrowed her eyes at him. "When you saw your car, the broken window, you only called one name." She looked at him with piercing eyes, "I'm nothing to you."

"That's not true."

"Yes it is." she snapped. "You called out for one person and it definitely wasn't me." She snorted, "I was practically invisible."

He tried to laugh this off, "come on don't be jealous-"

"I'm not jealous," she exclaimed, "I'm pissed."

He blinked as the mask she had tried to keep in place began to crack. "I'm pissed," she repeated, "and tired, so tired." She shook her head as if shaking a thought away and turned to him with firm eyes, "I will not play your game. Now go and beg for her forgiveness."

Gilbert rolled his eyes, "why? She knows its all part of a wager-"

"It still hurts," she hissed. "I see the way you look at her and I've even caught her glances towards you, there's history between you two."

His eyes widened, she said the exact same words Alfred had told him when he tried to claim the nation.

She continued, "I'm not a prize to be won Gil, don't waste your time on me when you already have her."

He gave genuine, friendly smile, "clearly you're a lot smarter than Alfred-"

"When are you people going to realize I'm nothing like Alfred."

"Let me finish," he said, "I meant to say was that you pick up on things quicker than he did, but he read people, better than most." He leaned back onto his hands, watching the fire, "Did you know I trained him to fight for his war of independence?"

She blinked, "really?"

"Ja, we trained for hours on end, along with his sorry lot of farmers he called an army." He chuckled at the memory, "and once he was free from Britain, it was our chance to see who would have the boy first."

"Oh dear lord, please tell me you weren't his first, cause seriously, I don't need to hear this," Amy groaned, a bit of herself peeking through.

Gilbert laughed, "I tried but your father saw right through me, he told me the exact same thing you did." He paused, "We were at a ball at Austria's house and that was the first time he met Hungary." He sighed, "Liz and me couldn't really act on our feelings back then."

"Why?"

"She was married to Austria."

Amy shook her head, "but you loved her, and you still do."

He gave her a side-way glance, "damn, you're just as much as a romantic as Alfred was."

She laughed and this time it was genuine. "So you tried to hook up with Alfred but he ended up trying to get you with Elizabeta."

"No, he first punched me so hard in the face that it broke my jaw and then he told me to follow my heart. I swear to god he spent too much time with France."

"Then why are you doing the same mistake?"

He closed his eyes for a moment, "Amy do have any idea what its like to be me? I used to be a powerful country, an empire." He massaged the bridge of his nose, "and for it to be taken from me, to have my land taken apart and absorbed by other nations. It was. . . heart breaking." He sighed, "And Alfred was the one to disband me."

Her eyes widened in shock and he continued, "He didn't want to but he knew it needed to be done. I thought that it would be the end of me; I thought I would disappear just as the others, my name becoming nothing more than words in a history book.

"But I didn't vanish. Everyone figured I would disappear soon or later, but that day never came. The nations had no way of understanding me and the human leaders found my existence disturbing, believing that my nation would make a comeback, that didn't happen either.

"The nations treated me differently after that, I wasn't like them anymore and they were just waiting, watching to see what would become of me. Even my own brother couldn't look me in the eye. This was after World War II and he believed that it was his fault that I became like this." He paused for moment as a smile slowly grew, "But Alfred didn't change; he still treated me as I was. Heh, everyone thought it was disrespectful and rude but it wasn't, not to me at least. He saw me as Prussia, his ally, his mentor and his friend."

They were silent as they sat there in front of the fire, simply gazing at the flames till Gilbert said, "What happen with West?"

Amy snorted, "Isn't obvious, I screwed up."

"He's just mad; I'll talk to him tomorrow-"

"No Gil, he means it," she curled herself back into her ball, retreating from the world once again. "I knew this sleepover was a bad idea."

She was done talking, Gilbert cursed to himself; he had driven her back into hiding. He tried to coax her back into a conversation but she was gone, back to staring at the blaze. He rubbed his eyes and did all he could do; grab a blanket from the hallway closet and place it over her shoulders. "Try and get some sleep, okay?"

She nodded, saying nothing else.

Gilbert sighed and walked out of the room. Asking himself, where did he mess up? Then he remembered that Amy tensed at the mention of Germany. He tightened his fist and stormed to Ludwig's door, he pounded on the wood. "West open up!"

He answered the door, wearing an exhausted expression, "what is it?"

"What do you think?" he rolled his eyes, "what the hell did you say to Amy?"

Ludwig sighed, "Does it really need to be discussed at this hour?" He tried to close the door but Gilbert pushed himself in.

He had no idea why he was acting like this, why he cared so much. In truth, he only wanted Amy to stay so he could win the bet, but that thought was long gone. The Amy he witnessed tonight was not the Amy he knew, granted he didn't know her long but she sure as hell didn't act like some kind of psych ward patient. It had something to do with the Ouija board and this spirit Kai; something had broken in her and he was pretty sure his brother only made it worse.

"What did you say to her." he demanded.

Ludwig blinked at him but did what he was told, "I told her she was too immature to deal with being a nation. She still thought herself as human, I told her to come back when she has witnessed her family and friends age and die without her. That is the only way for her to truly grasp all this."

Gilbert held his fists to his sides; that's it. After she had to watch someone she knew be taken away, Ludwig tells her to go home and watch the people she loves die, now that was just too cruel. "You're an ass," he proclaimed with pure venom in his voice and stormed out of the room.

But did he have any right to say that?

He was just as much of an ass as Ludwig was, even more so; for his intentions of getting close to the American were deceitful and selfish. The feeling of guilt swarmed and he desperately needed an escape, to have one good thing out of all this. Before he could second guess himself, he climbed up the stairs and knocked on Elizabeta's door.

It didn't take long for her to answer, for she never went to bed. They shared only one gaze and through that one look, all questions were answered and all was forgiven. Through the years they have mastered this art of reading one another; mostly through trial and error but they did it.

Gilbert stepped forward and wrapped his arms around Elizabeta, muttering sweet words to her in his native tongue. The woman smiled and shook her head, most likely thinking of how much of an idiot he was but still she hugged him back.


 

Ludwig stared at the ceiling as his mind replayed the scene he just had with his brother moments ago. His words repeating in his head, 'You're an ass.' Ludwig didn't understand how Gilbert could be so upset about this. Yes he would lose that idiotic bet, but he could have other chances, it wasn't the end of the world.

But yet, Gilbert was concerned for that incompetent American.

He massaged his forehead as he pushed back his hair. How could this, this girl get his brother wrapped around her finger? Ludwig snorted at the thought; she seems to have won over anyone that crossed her path. Being human or nation, frankly Ludwig didn't see it. She was naïve, impulsive and irresponsible; she was also a smart-aleck, sarcastic little girl, that doesn't seem to know how to keep her mouth shut.

Just like Alfred, he thought irritated.

He sat up and raked his hands through his hair in frustration. Amy was so much like Alfred and yet so different. They had the same attitude towards life and the same ridiculous quirks. But she was quicker to pick up on other people's emotions and was cautious when needed; and obviously she had a vicious temper.

Why would any of the nations bother with her?

Yes, she was new to their circle, a sense of excitement; and there was a sense of loyalty to one another but that will fade. Before long, she will be just like them, give or take a hundred years.

He sighed and rose to his feet, his mouth was unusually dry and he needed a moment away from his stuffy room. He walked out into the kitchen, cursing when the light switch wouldn't work. Dammit America.

He drank a quick glass of water and turned back to his room, till he saw that the office's door window was glowing. Meaning the fire place was still lit, that would explain the uncomfortable heat he had been experiencing for the last few hours. He strides in to find Amy, sitting in front of the blaze with a blanket wrapped around her. He checked the clock; it was five minutes passed midnight.

Ludwig was swiftly reminded of everyone's worries about America; how she sat there all day, not moving for anything besides to add a log into the flames. Ludwig shook his head, she was just being dramatic.

"I know you don't have any training in the morning but don't you think it's time to go to bed." He was expecting for her to ignore him, like she had done with everyone else but she surprised him.

"I can't."

"And why is that?"

She shook her head, "I just can't." She changed the subject, "why do you even care? It's not like I'm bothering you."

"Well, yes you are," he stepped towards her, "this is an old house, the heat that you create spreads to every room and makes them uncomfortably warm."

"That's strange," she said in a monotone, "I'm still cold."

"How could you possibly be-" Ludwig stopped, not even bothering to ask the question. He made a grab for her, trying to force her to her feet but winced once his hand made connect. She was ice cold.

Ludwig dropped her hand and Amy said, "no matter how long I've sat at this fire or cuddled this blanket I can't get warm." She finally turned to face him, her teeth clutched as her eyebrows twitched forward. "I don't know what's wrong with me, it's like I've turned off but yet I'm conscious, if that makes any sense. I can't feel anything but I want to, but then I don't. And I'm so tired but I can't close my eyes."

He knew what she was talking about; sometimes when nations bottled up their feelings or blocked out their people's emotions, their bodies take a toll. They lose a sense of awareness and become an image of their formal selves. He had experienced this himself during the war, the lack of empathy and sleep, the emptiness of warmth. Most nations believe this was a tool their bodies used when it was time to open up. Pushing the sensations and thoughts away only makes it worse. He should know, for when the war was over and everything came tumbling down, he finally broke. The cries and agony of his people, his Jewish people had finally reached him, causing his entire body to quake and his head to throb.

This agony, this excruciating pain only increased in intensely as their cries mixed with his soldiers, his citizens and of the teenage youth who were sent to camps just for their love of swing music. Many more followed as grief and guilt engulfed his entire being. Ludwig could barely keep his sanity back then.

He looked back to Amy; she was shaking as she cocooned herself into the blanket. She brought her knees to her chest and was staring into the fire again. He kneeled beside her and said, "America, whatever that is eating at you, it won't go away if you bottle it up." She glanced up to him, "What's wrong?" he asked with genuine concern.

Her lip quivered as she blinked away tears, but they seem to only spill faster. "I-" her voice broke, "I let everyone down." Amy breathed through her mouth, trembling as she did. "I let Peter and Raivis down. I let you do-" she had pushed her face into her knees causing whatever she was about to say to muffle. She shook, causing the blanket to fall as she looked back to Ludwig. "I'm sorry Ludwig," she whimpered, "I'm so sorry." Her words once again mumbled together as she dropped her knees and curled to touch the floor with her forehead; apologizing over and over again as she bawled.

Ludwig hesitated to react, clearly there was more to this than just him but for some strange reason Amy wouldn't say a word about it. He decided it was best not to snoop and placed a comforting hand on her back.

She tensed, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry," she repeated those two words as Ludwig gently pulled her into his arms. He guided her head to his chest and held her in place as she sobbed. He slipped a hand into her hair and softly sang a lullaby he remembered from his childhood.

He never liked to sing, it was embarrassing and he thought that his deep voice was not suited for the soft melody. Though, it was the only thing that came to mind of how to comfort Amy. She loves music and she never seemed to go anywhere without that iPod of her's.

Amy didn't question or criticize his singing, only lowered her cries, reducing them to hiccups and wiped her face with her hands. Ludwig noticed that she had folded her arms into herself, conserving warmth. He grabbed the blanket and wrapped her in the sheet. He then carried her to the couch and laid her on the cushion.

He whispered, "Go to sleep," and was about to make his exist when something tugged on his boxers.

"Please," her voice sounded small and scared, "can you stay."

Ludwig sighed through his nose and rubbed the back off his neck. He didn't say a word as he pulled back the blanket and slid in beside Amy. She placed her head on his chest as he covered themselves with the sheet. "Now, go to sleep."

She nodded as her eyes fluttered to a close, whispering goodnight.

Ludwig mumbled back the same word as exhaustion finally claimed him and he fell into a deep slumber.


 

Ludwig and I awoke to the sound of a doorbell. He muttered a curse as he sat up and went to go answer it. I fell back onto the couch taking advantage of the extra room and lingering warmth. I tried to go back to sleep, but my mind would not let me. It just had to recap me on everything I did yesterday, the frightening message I received from the Ouija board, burning the board soon after, Ludwig saying he was done with me. Yelling at Peter and Raivis, ignoring Elizabeta and punching Gilbert. It was like I was me and yet not me; it was strange, like I was watching myself through a haze.

But what really drove me insane was the fact that I cried in front of Ludwig. I cursed; I made a promise to myself that the nations would never see me cry. That was now out the window, but what had really shocked me was that Ludwig comforted me. He actually held me, sang a lullaby to me and slept beside me on the couch; and you think you know a person. His behavior was surprising, especially when he had said that I was a waste of his time and he didn't want to bother with me anymore.

Ludwig walked back in and sat on the other couch across from me. He sighed, "the electrician says that it will take two weeks to repair the fuse box."

I slumped in my seat, "I'm sorry."

"For what? Did you purposely destroy the fuse box?"

"No."

"Then you have nothing to be sorry for."

I nodded and remained quiet as he scratched the back of his head, "I guess this is a good as time as any to take a vacation."

I blinked, "vacation?"

"Yes, you've worked hard and all of us are due for a break. Feli has been begging for you to come to his house, so this works out for all of us." He rose to his feet, "pack your bags, we're leaving for Rome in five hours." He then walked out of the room and I followed him.

"But-but you said that I was going home," I questioned him.

He turned to me, "I've changed my mind. I might have been too quick to pass judgment and I know you wouldn't purposely try and destroy my house. So no, you are not going home, you will continue with your training and meetings."

I breathed a sigh of relief, I was staying, which was weird for all I wanted was to be with my family. But I didn't want to leave, I wanted to see how far I could go. "Ludwig," I called out to him as he was about to enter the kitchen. He looked over his shoulder and I beamed, "thanks for not giving up on me."

He nodded and turned away before I could see his smile.

Chapter Text

Ludwig was the master of grabbing deals on traveling prices. He also had plenty of travel miles and discounts, allowing us to take a train to Rome for sixty-three euros each. The only down side was that the train was leaving at three, it was two.

"I told you we should take a plane," Gilbert exclaimed packing in his passport into a duffle bag. "It's faster, and I'm sure we can find a flight at a cheap price."

"It was good deal and I've already paid for them," Ludwig proclaimed as he was checking his smartphone.

I skipped down the stairs, swinging my carryon's strap over my shoulder as stuffed in clothes, shoes and my wallet. Peter and Raivis followed both wielding duffle bags. I was surprised that Ludwig asked them to join us and I was a little taken back that they agreed. I've been avoiding all eye contact with them the entire morning; feeling guilty for saying such harsh statements to them the day before.

They weren't looking at me either; well Peter was the one officially ignoring me. Raivis seemed to only have his attention to his shoes and the floor. I sighed; I need to apologize to them.

Elizabeta fell into step behind us, with her travel bags ready, "come on, the taxi is waiting."

We followed her lead but I lingered behind when Ludwig was locking the doors. He glanced to the broken window and sighed. I bit my bottom lip before I asked, "does the electrician have a spare key?"

"Yes," he said in a monotone as he placed his keys into his khakis and stepped down to the dirt road.

"I'm really sorry Ludwig."

He took a moment to pat my head and ruffle my hair before moving on. I spun around watching as Ludwig walked towards the taxi van, but he was not the Ludwig I knew a month ago. This one was almost compassionate, kind. It was kinda scary like someone took the real Ludwig and replaced him with a stranger; like in the Body Snatchers.

He turned back with a familiar irritated look on his face, "What are you standing there for? Let's go!"

I released a short laugh, "There's the Ludwig I know and love."

"What did you say?"

"Nothing," I sang as I sat next to Elizabeta and Gilbert.

Traffic was hectic but we were able to reach our train with a minute to spare. Literally, a minute; we had to make a mad dash from the taxi to the train, shouting at one another as we rushed through security, which were much more laid back than American airport security. The train conductor was announcing the dispatch as we hopped on and the train began to pull out of the station. Ludwig led us to our private cabins, which was pretty awesome for nearly four hundred euros. (The cost of the tickets also covered the cabins.) I did the math on my phone, each euro was worth a dollar and thirty-six cents and then when I multiplied the number of euros with the dollar and thirty-six cents, it came out to five hundred. I'm not entirely sure if it's right but if it was, it would be totally mind blowing. I mean, now a days a one-way plane ticket was worth that much and only if you'd traveled within the area you lived in. Oh, and that plane ticket was only used for one person, while that amount of money was used for six train tickets.

I definitely needed to keep track of my travel miles.

The cabins were right next to each other, covered with blue carpet and simple brown leather booth seats on both sides of the room. Both rooms had white walls, black cage designed cubicles high over the seats, drawers filled with spare blankets and pillows under the seats and there was a window across from the sliding door.

"Elizabeta, my brother and I will have the first cabin," Ludwig said as he handed me a key, "you three can have the one next to us."

"This is so cool," I opened the door and peeked in, "are we in first class?"

Gilbert snickered, "she thinks this is first class."

Elizabeta pulled him in by his ear and tossed him to his seat. "Amy, this is more like a mix of coach and second class, first class cabins are more glamorous."

"And expensive," Ludwig added as he turned to me. "Is this not enough for you?"

"No, no, this is totally amazing. I've never been on a train before," I said excitedly. "I really want to check this out."

"Well, please don't cause any trouble, that's all I ask."

I batted my eyes to him, "I'll be a perfect little angel."

He lifted a brow at me, skeptically and walked into his cabin. I unlocked my cabin's door as Peter and Raivis walked in, set their luggage in the cubicles above them and sat themselves on the left side booth. The boys did all this in silence, completely ignoring me as Peter played a video game console and Raivis read a battered, old book with a title written in another language.

I closed the door and threw myself onto the booth seat across from them. "So, whatcha playing?" I asked Peter.

He ignored me as he pressed his thumbs over the game device.

"Okay," I whispered to myself and turned to Raivis, "Whatcha reading?"

He flinched nervously as he glanced to Peter, noticed that the Brit refused to acknowledge me and he decided to follow his lead and turned back to his book.

"Are you guys really going to ignore me? I mean why would you even bother coming along? Wouldn't you want to go back home?" I proclaimed.

Raivis was breaking first so I worked on him. I flopped beside him and began to poke him in the cheek.

After a minute Raivis whispered, "Can you stop please."

I gasped dramatically, "Did I hear a voice?"

Raivis answered by sinking his face further into the book. I grew annoyed with his attitude and slapped the book from his hands to the floor. Raivis yelped, "That's the first edition of Aleksandrs Čaks's Seši!"

I blinked, "what?"

He jumped to his feet and grabbed the book, smoothing out pages and dusting off imaginary dirt. "This is Seši a poetry book written by Aleksandrs Čaks, it is a classic and should be treated as such."

"It's a poetry book written about poverty and prostitutes, how is it a classic?" Peter countered, never taking his eyes off the game's screen.

Raivis flushed with anger, "because it was never done before," he remarked.

"I think Greece beat you to it," I added.

He narrowed his eyes at me, "well this is certainly better than any vampire nonsense that you call literature."

Peter snorted, "don't be a hypocrite old chap, you've read all of the twilight books and even the Vampire Academy novels."

I laughed as Raivis turned bright red and exclaimed, "Whose side are you on?"

"Right now on Zelda's," he proclaimed, still playing his game.

I tried to swallow my laughter, "it's okay Raivis. I liked twilight when I was like twelve."

He turned a deeper shade of red, "but-but I only read it because Erika was reading it at the time-"

"Excuses, excuses," I countered.

"Shut up!" he shouted.

Both Peter and I stared at him; the Latvian never raises his voice. Raivis finally noticed what he did, blinked, looked to the floor and sat himself in the seat across from me. He clutched his book to his lap and spoke in a wounded tone. "Don't make fun like we're friends because you made it clear yesterday that we're not."

My shoulders slumped and I turned to face the window as the scenery outside passed us at a smooth pace. Everyone was silent the only sound that could be heard was the music and action sounds of Peter's game.

I racked a hand through my hair, "I didn't mean it-"

"Yes you did," Peter remarked as he sat aside his game.

"Okay yeah I did, and I'm sor-"

Peter knitted his thick eyes brows together in annoyance, "are you really going to apologize?"

"And what if I do? Is it wrong to say you're sorry for saying mean things?"

"No, it's just stupid. What you said was true, we only came here to use you." He crossed his arms over his chest, as if protecting himself, "Friends don't use each other."

I inhaled through my nose before I said. "Friends also do stupid things when it comes to their crushes and totally mess up everything. Yeah, you'll piss off most of your friends, but real friends will be there no matter what, even when you screw everything over. Real friends will give it to you straight and then pull you back up and shove you into the direction that you're meant to go." I smiled to myself as the image of Michel and Jamie appeared in my mind, "they will annoy you, even embarrass you, hell they will end up being more like siblings than friends but that's when you know you have good ones. They'll not afraid to tell you when you're being stupid and to tell you that they're sorry when the drama has passed."

Both boys have turned to face me and I took my chance to look to Raivis. "I'm sorry I snapped at you but you gotta admit my advice was dead on."

Raivis gave a small chuckle as he shook his head.

I turned to Peter, "and if you ever call me a stupid cow again, I will bend you backwards and shove your head up your own ass."

He gave me a look as he gestured to Raivis, "he gets an apology and I get a threat?"

Raivis raised his hand, "mine was more like a back-handed apology."

"And you didn't even want an apology," I countered.

"But it would've been nice to have one," Peter proclaimed.

"You didn't deserve it," Raivis mumbled loud enough for us to hear.

"Neither did you!" he exclaimed.

We were once again silent, looking at each other as what we just said circulated around in our heads. We glanced to one another once more and a smile slowly began to form on each of our faces. Then we quickly began to laugh, I have no idea why we were laughing. Maybe we realized how petty our argument was or maybe what we all said to one another could've came from an old eighties movie about teenage self-discovery. Whatever the case, the laughter definitely helped smooth the edges that had grown around us in the past day.

Peter rubbed his hands over his face, "we're so stupid."

I shrugged, "We're young; we do stupid things."

The boys each gave me a look and I remarked, "Okay, I'm young but let's face it you two still do stupid things."

Peter nodded, "like sending you to the Coventry."

"What?" I asked.

He rolled his eyes, "freezing you out."

"Oh, then why," I shook my head, "never mind."

"And I followed along," Raivis groaned, "I'm the oldest; I'm supposed to be the mature one."

"How's that working out for you," I said sarcastically.

He narrowed his eyes at me, "fuck you."

"Fuck you too."

"Fuck you both," Peter added.

Before any of us could react, Gilbert slammed open the door, "Shut the fuck up all of you! Hurry up and tell each other you'll be besties for life cause seriously this is being dragged out more than it needs to be." After he said his piece, he closed the door and walked on.

We burst out into another fit of laughter as Peter tried to breathe out words, "If Prussia has to come in here and give us friendship counseling clearly we are totally pathetic."

Raivis and I agreed and I quickly directed our conversation elsewhere, "back to a more important issue, Raivis you like twilight?"

He flushed, "it's not like that! I only read them because Erika was reading them at the time and that's how we spent time together-"

"He also made me go see the movies," Peter added.

I howled in laughter, holding my gut, "I can't breathe, I can't breathe."

Raivis blushed and threw a spare pillow at Peter's face. I covered my mouth to keep my giggles under control. Peter looked to the light tannish pillow and then to Raivis, "I see you have declared war." He picked up the pillow, "I will show no mercy!"

He tackled Raivis, bombarding him with multiply pillow attacks. I snatched a pillow from a drawer and smacked it over Peter's head. Raivis then followed with a whack to my face, it became a free for all as we hit and slapped one another with pillows. The force of our strikes finally took its toll as our pillows ripped and white feathers scattered through the air.

I grinned like a little kid, "Oh my god, feathers! I've only seen this in movies."

"Well consider this movie magic," Peter proclaimed as he and Raivis smacked me with their cushions, causing even more feathers to fly.


 

Gilbert could hear muffled laughter from the cabin next door and he was glad to hear that Amy was having fun.

His brother on the other hand was peeved, "Gilbert could you check on them," he asked as he placed his book to his lap.

The albino rolled his eyes; seriously my brother has to learn to relax. He rose from his seat next to Elizabeta and walked out into the narrow hallway. He quickly reminded himself of the group's little heart to heart moment only a few minutes ago.

I really hope that they got through that awkward conversation, he thought to himself.

He looked through the square window of the door to find Amy, Peter and Raivis seating on the floor of the cabin, laughing hysterically. White feathers were everywhere, scattered over the seats and floor. They even stuck to the teens' clothes and hair. The empty sacks that were once pillows were tossed aside as Amy threw move feathers into the air.

Gilbert chuckled lightly and walked back to his cabin.

"Well, what are they doing?" Ludwig asked.

"Hmm, do you want the truth?"

"Yes."

"They had a pillow fight, now all the feathers are out and have covered the entire room."

Gilbert noticed the vein throbbing in his younger brother's forehead as he forced himself to look back at his book, "I'm on vacation, I'm on vacation," he muttered to himself.


 

We had scoped the feathers back into the ripped open pillow cases and hid them in one of the drawers. We were able to gather most of the white fluffy feathers but there were a few stays floating around. I sat back into my seat as Raivis brushed away feathers from his book.

"Is it a good book?" I asked.

He nodded, "yes."

"He only reads the bloody thing because it was a gift from Erika," Peter teased lightly.

He blushed and I smiled, "that's so sweet."

Peter continued, "He also likes teen vampire novels, long walks on the beach-"

"Stop," Raivis begged as hid his face in his hands, his ears turning bright pink.

I tried not to laugh, but I couldn't help it, these two kinda reminded me of my friends Heisuke and Sam. Those two had the same kind of relationship as this country and port; they would tease each other like brothers, usually more than the other but they were the closest of friends brought together by the fate of two girls with a love for fashion.

"You two are so much like them," I giggled to myself.

Peter heard me, "like who?"

I smiled, "you remember Sam and Heisuke right?"

He nodded, "The Japanese and British blokes."

"Yeah, you guys act the same way they do; always messing with each other and hanging out, you know the usually bro-mance."

"Bro-mance?" Raivis questioned.

"Its American slang for male bonding," I said, "but in truth we did more bonding as a group than anything else."

"How did any of you become friends? You all seem so different from one another," Peter proclaimed.

I grinned as a flash of the memory of our group's meeting came into focus. "Jamie was accepted to Nightingale thanks to a scholarship, my parents were able to pay for the tuition but I had recently found out it was the government but hey I'm not complaining. Jamie and I were so excited to go to an international private school and Michel was always able to get a ride from Carpinteria High." I smirked, "a lot of public school kids came to visit the foreign boys and girls.

"At the end of September Jamie had joined the drama club and stayed after school every Friday for meetings. I would wait outside or wonder the halls; Michel usually had to work so he wasn't able to keep me company." I snickered, "I remembered, on that day I was complaining of how bored I was and how I wished something interesting would happen. I got my wish."

Four years ago. . .

I skipped around a corner passing the drama club's door for the fourth time that afternoon. I checked my phone's screen it was only twenty passed three, I had more than an half an hour to wait till Jamie was finished. I groaned, brushed a hand through my boy cut hair and leaned against the wall. "I'm so bored," I moaned.

I jumped off the wall and continued to walk down the hall; I wish something interesting would happen. As if god wanted to be ironic he threw Ella Chasse into my life. We bumped into each other, our heads made a full collision with a loud smack. We both groaned and hissed out curses in English and French.

"I'm sorry, I wasn't looking where I was going," I mumbled.

The teenage girl had long honey curls and dark eyes, she was about the same height as me but she was curvier; with perky breasts and a narrow waist. She was one of those girls that could make any outfit look good, even our plain white button down shirt, dark blue plaid skirt, matching tie and blazer uniform. She blinked at me with eyelashes that were long and coated in mascara; her makeup was flawless and her hair shined like a shampoo ad. A smile spreads over her glossed lips, "You are perfect!"

"Huh?" I gave her a look, was she messing with me? She was the perfect one from the two of us. I never wore makeup no matter how much Jamie tried to slap some on me every morning. I was tall with a thin, stick-like body, flat chest and long bird legs. My hair was lifeless, dull and a simple shade of blond.

She wrapped her hand around my wrist and dragged me to the main commons area where most of the students would hang out in the mornings, during passing periods or lunch. It was deserted now, for most of the student body was back in their dorm rooms preparing for a night on the town either here in Summerland or in Santa Barbra.

"I have found her!" the honey haired girl proclaimed.

Three pairs of eyes turned to look at me. A girl with dark wavy hair and dark eyes, her features were striking and beautiful. She was curvy just as the blond with slightly bigger breasts and an equally slim waist. The other two pairs belonged to a pair of boys; one was a scrawny Asian boy about an inch or so taller than me. The other had dirty blond hair that was twisted together in dreads, I never thought white boys could pull off the hairstyle but this one could. His dreads were tied in a low pony tail and he had a big black camera hanging from his neck.

The dark haired girl walked forward, circling me with a critical eye. The blond soon followed her lead as I nervously fidgeted with my fingers. Both of these stunning girls were analyzing every part of me and I couldn't help but feel self-conscious.

Then the dark haired girl took out a measuring tape and began to measure the length of my legs, arms, waist, hips, and breast. "Oh thank god she has a small chest; she can be able to wear the backless dress designs."

"I know," the blond smiled excitedly as she pulled me along to the white boy. "Here take her picture."

"What?" I exclaimed as flash went off and I went blind for split second, "What the hell! Get that camera out of my face," I was about to smack him and his camera but he jumped back.

"Watch it you cow this camera is my life!" he snarled.

"Then I suggest you back the fuck off!" I hissed.

"Don't harass my model," the blond shoos away Dreads.

"Model?! What's going on?!" I exclaimed.

"You're going to be their fashion model," the Asian boy proclaimed.

"But I didn't agree to this, I was dragged here!"

Dreads rolled his eyes, "welcome to the club love," he snapped another photo.

I covered my face, "stop! I don't want to be a model."

"Who doesn't want to be a model," Blondie giggled as she and the dark haired girl walked off to talk with one another.

"Who are they?" I grumbled.

Dreads heard me, "The brunette is Daniela Aguero, a math genius."

"A math genius? Really?"

"The girl is brilliant; she has the top scores in the third-former section."

"Third-former?"

"Oh right you Americans call your first year of secondary schooling freshmen year." He shook his head, "you're school system is so strange."

"Yeah, clearly we're strange," I said sarcastically.

Dreads ignored my comment and continued, "The blond girl is Ella Chasse, the granddaughter of Charles Chasse, a well famous artist."

"How do you know this?"

"He is a huge donor to the school and her father is on the school counsel board in Europe. Did you ever read the student handbook, it's all in there."

I gave him a look, "you actually read it?"

"The teachers said we had to," the Asian boy added softly.

"They say so but it's not really a big deal, just read the rules and you'll all good," I shrugged. "What are you in for? I get that Dreads here is the photographer, what are you?"

"Oh, uh, they want me to be a model too," he said nervously as he rubbed the back of his neck.

I nodded, "well you are a pretty."

He blushed and looked to the floor as Dreads snickered, "maybe they plan to dress him up as a girl."

The Asian boy stared at him with horror filled eyes and I slapped him on his arm. "That was rude."

"You called him pretty."

"That's a compliment," I proclaimed.

"No it isn't what boy wants to be called pretty?"

"Oh look at this," Ella's voice squealed from across the commons area. The boys and I shared a curious look as we walked over to the windows that faced out over the school's gym. Daniela and Ella were watching a young brunet boy as he swung himself off beams and poles. The boy was wide chested and well-muscled. His gymnastic skills were amazing; he flipped through the air with grace, taking himself from one side of the room to the other.

The Asian boy stared at him in awe whispering something in another language.

"He's incredible," I proclaimed.

"That's Dimitri Maier; he's a gymnast trying to join the Olympic Gymnastics Team for his country," Dreads added.

"Do you know everybody?"

He gave me a look, "I don't know you or the Japanese boy."

"I have a name," the Asian boy narrowed his dark eyes at him.

"Well what is it?"

"I'm Sato Heisuke," he gave a small head nod.

"I'm Amy Hawkfeather," I gave him my hand, "it's nice to meet you."

He hesitated but shook my hand. I smiled and turned to the blond boy, "So what's your name? Or should I just call you Dreads."

He wrinkled his nose at me, "Dear Lord no; my name's Samuel Collins."

"Can I call you Sammy?"

"No."

"I'll just call you Sam."

Heisuke spoke, "What are those two doing?" The sound of his voice brought our attention back to the gymnast.

Ella and Daniela were running down the stairs and surrounded Dimitri. After a few exchanges of words between the girls they grabbed his hands and guided him to the commons area.

"Look at this beautiful physic!" Ella announced as she squeezed his muscled arms and chest.

Daniela was measuring him, grinning from ear to ear, "such a defined chest and so tall."

The brunet didn't seem fazed about having two girls groping him. But what boy would complain if they looked like gorgeous movie stars. He was definitely tall, nearly towering over all of us. He was about the height of my brother at six foot six inches.

Ella turned to me and Heisuke, "you, and you, come and meet our last model isn't he just marvelous."

Heisuke and I shared a glance before we turned back to Dimitri; he was carrying the same confused look as we did.

"You," Ella gestured to Sam, "take his picture."

"You do realize I have a name," he said.

"Oui, oui, you are Samuel Collins a film artist, at the age of thirteen you won a national award for your photos in London and at fourteen your short film was accepted into the Sundance festival. Why do you think I asked you to take pictures, I am not stupid I know when someone has talent, even when they look like they're homeless."

Sam looked like he was about to rip into her till a new voice was added to our group. "Amy where are you?"

It was Jamie, "Help Jamie! I'm being held against my will by some crazy French girl!"

She walked around the corner, carrying both of our backpacks, "what?"

Ella and Daniela both gasped, "Who did your makeup?" Ella asked as she snatched Jamie's hand and yanked her towards us. "Daniela, look at this." She waved her hand over her face as both girls invaded Jamie's personal space, examining her eye makeup. "Who did your makeup?" Ella asked again.

"I did," she answered.

"Such straight lines, and so natural," said Daniela.

"You just have to be our makeup artist for our photo shoot," Ella proclaimed.

"Photo shoot?"

"Yes, your friend is going to be our model-"

"No, I'm not," I exclaimed, "I'm out of here, come on Jamie."

Ella brought out a sketch book from her bag and showed the contexts to Jamie, "what do you think?"

"Oh wow, Amy did you see these?" She asked me before she turned back to the pages, "Yeah I can totally work with these designs."

"No, no, no, no," I exclaimed, jerking her away from them.

Ella jumped in front of me, "please we need you."

"Find someone else, I don't play dress up," I continued to walk down the hall.

"We'll pay you!" she cried.

I stopped and spun on my heel, "how much?"

"If we win; a hundred dollars."

"If we win?" Sam questioned.

"The Los Angeles art community is having a competition for young artists," Daniela proclaimed, holding up a flyer. "The first prize is an exhibit opening in a local art museum for our piece and a five hundred dollar award."

Jamie and I shared a look, already thinking about all the clothes we could get at our favorite boutique.

Sam quickly added, "Um that only leaves sixty for the rest of us, that doesn't seem fair."

"Technically, sixty-six," Daniela remarked.

Ella laughed, "We don't care for the money; all we care about is getting our names out there. So each of you can be paid a hundred each for your services," she countered.

The boys glanced to one another, also liking the idea of little extra cash.

The French girl smiled and offered her perfect manicured hand to me, "Do we have a deal?"

I shook her hand, "deal."

Her smile grew wider, "we'll be in contact."

"How? You don't have our numbers."

"We do now," Daniela said as she typed over her tablet and then back to her smartphone.

My phone instantly ringed along with Jamie's, Sam's and Heisuke's. We checked our phones to find a message from the same number. "That's my number," she said, "make sure to save it."

"How did you get our numbers?" Heisuke asked, almost frightened.

"Oh, the school's security system code is so simple to break; I really need to inform them about it." She grinned at us mischievously.

"Like we said we will be in touch," Ella shared the same playful smile as they waved their fingers at us in farewell and strutted out the front door.

Dimitri crossed his arms, "Why does it feel like we made a deal with the devil."


 

Peter smirked, "that was the first thing he said to all of you?"

"Yeah and he was right we did make a deal with a devil. I love Ella, I really do but she's crazy. She and Daniela were able to track our every movement, it was kinda scary," I proclaimed.

"Did you win the contest?" Raivis asked.

I sighed, "No; turns out fashion wasn't included in the 'acceptable material'" I said those two words with air quotes, "to be used in the art contest." I breathed in through my nose, "The boys and I spent over two months being fitted into Daniela and Ella's clothes. Sam spent over a hundred dollars for film, just to take our pictures and Jamie had used her entire beauty kit. I sat in a chair for hours for hair and makeup and I wore high heels that left my feet sore and blistered and I didn't see a penny." I took a deep breath, "I was so mad about it but Ella was crushed, mostly I was angry for her. She put everything into her clothes and for them to say that her clothes wouldn't be included in the contest, I snapped.

"I began screaming at the judges, telling them that they we're pricks that couldn't see real talent even if it was shoved up their asses."

Peter laughed, "It's so like you."

"Thank you."

"What happen next?" Raivis asked.

"I was then escorted out of the building, along with everyone else." I continued the tale, "When we told Michel about it he came up with the idea to have Ella and Daniela's best designs and paint them on a wall so the whole city would see. He was able to make stencils from the paper designs and used spray cans to paint them on a brick wall." I grinned at the memory of the painted image, which was still on that wall in Los Angeles to this day. "I remember sneaking out, taking my mom's keys and driving to pick up everyone in the middle of the night.

"It took about two hours to get to Los Angeles but it was worth it to able to see Ella and Daniela's art pieces on the wall for everyone to see. Then we packed ourselves into the car and drove back home." I sighed, "We were so close with getting away with it too, but I got caught driving without a permit and we had to spend the rest of the night in a jail cell. Luckily they didn't call the school for if they did, Ella, Daniela and everyone would have been sent back home. Instead they sent someone worse, my mother.

"You should have seen it, my mom came storming in with Dad right behind her along with Michel's mom and Jamie's dad," I smiled at the memory. "You should have seen it, they were yelling at us in Italian, Chinese, Spanish and English and my dad was just standing there, with his arms crossed and his eyes narrowed at us disapprovingly. And then Gemma saw our friends and said they were too thin and they needed to eat.

"We ended up back at the restaurant had an early morning Italian meal and we were grounded for three weeks."

"Did they know about the street art?" Raivis asked.

"Hell no, if they knew that they would have grounded us for a year."

"You and your friends seemed to get yourselves into a lot of trouble," he proclaimed.

"You call it trouble, I call it fun," I grinned.

The train ride would last for another seventeen hours, and the boys and I were discussing how we should spend it. Raivis suggested reading but Peter and I groaned; we didn't want to read to each other or huddle together to read over one another's shoulders. Peter offered the idea of movies and I was quick to agree for I had a kindle and a Netflix account.

"It would be perfect if we had snacks," I said as I set the device on a kick stand.

Peter brought out his duffle and pulled out bagged chips and candy. I grinned and high fived him, "you are awesome!"

"So what should we watch?" Peter asked.

"Well what do you guys like, action? Romance? Horror? Comedy? Zombies?"

He groaned, "No, anything but zombies."

I turned to Raivis, "we can watch Vampire Dairies or Teen Wolf."

He flushed in embarrassment but he didn't object. Peter groaned even louder, "No! I refuse to watch anything to do with romance involving vampires or werewolves, it is overdone to death."

"We can watch Once Upon A Time, it's filled with badass princesses, evil queens and magical fairies-"

"Let's watch something good, like Doctor Who."

I lifted an eyebrow at him, "what's that?"

He grinned, "something that's gonna blow your mind."

We spent the next three hours watching the first season of this science-fiction, time-traveling doctor. I was pulled in by this series after the first episode but I completely fell in love when they added in zombies with Charles Dickens.

"Okay, I'm totally hooked," I proclaimed as I side glanced to Raivis, who was nodding off about to lean his head into my shoulder. "Raivis, how could you sleep through this?"

He moaned sleepily, "Peter has already made me watch this."

Peter snorted, "You made me watch twilight; you owe me."

He blushed and I laughed, "Hey, don't be ashamed, a lot of guys like vampire romances."

"Name one," said Peter.

"My friend Michel," I said proudly.

"No offense but someone that isn't gay."

I smacked him over his head, "Heisuke does and Sam and Dimitri even if they don't admit it they do. And you must like them at least to some degree because I highly doubt Raivis can make you do anything."

Peter narrowed his eyes at me and I smirked, "You like vampires don't deny it."

"Shut up."

After we had dinner with Ludwig and the others in the dinning cart, we watched one more episode of Doctor Who and then started the first season of Teen Wolf; I figured that it was the best show for both genders. Raivis enjoyed it; he found the main character very ordinary (in a good way) and seemed like a very relatable guy. Well expect for the whole werewolf thing. I had joked that Scott must remind him of himself.

He blushed, "no."

"Well, I like Stiles," Peter proclaimed.

"Same, he's just so sarcastic and funny," I added. "I love those kinds of characters."

"I see, so that's your type then," he wiggled his over-sized eyebrows at me.

I laughed, "Yes, you can keep all those bad boys. I'll take a funny, quirky guy any day."

At one o'clock in the morning we decided it was best to get some sleep. We still had three more pillows that weren't totally damaged and plenty of blankets to spare. I took the booth seat on the right and Peter and Raivis played a round of paper-scissors-rock to see who would get the floor.

Raivis won the booth with a smile, "sleep tight."

"Don't let the bed bugs bite," I finished.

Peter mumbled a few choice words and laid out two blankets as a comforter. Once the boys were settled I switched off the light and curled up on the cushion of the long seat. An hour passed as all I did was watch the stars pass by from the window. This made me think of Neill and how he must be traveling through the galaxies, saving other extraterrestrial children from slave owners.

"I hope he's okay," I mumbled.

Thinking of Neill only brought forth questions about his time with Alfred and the possibility that he could've met Grandpa. I sat up feeling a surge of energy coursing through my veins as I quickly did the math in my head.

Neill said he met Alfred in 1947. . . .

Grandpa began traveling with Alfred in 1957. . . .

Could Grandpa have met Neill? Did he know that he was an alien? I have to know.

"Hey," I whispered to the boys, "are you awake?"

Peter muttered in his sleep and turned on his side. Raivis was out cold, his back to me. I took this as my cue to reach for my bag and grab a flashlight and Grandpa's journal.

Chapter Text

July 15, 1957

It's been about two weeks since Alfred and I left Chicago and during those days we were able to cross Indiana and Kentucky. We were now in Tennessee, it was official; I just saw the sign pass.

"Do you also have house here?" I didn't mean to ask this nor did I mean it to sound rude, but I can't seem to control my tone of voice when I'm around Alfred. I doubt this man ever had to work a serious day in his life. He seems to be well off, he was able to travel the country without batting an eye to the prices of gas and hotel rooms. He has a house prepared for him in every state, and what really gets under my skin was that he leaves for three to four days at a time, saying he was at a 'meeting'.

We would have gotten to New Orleans sooner but we just had to stay in Indiana for week, for a 'meeting' he said he had in DC. Then another week in Kentucky for another 'meeting' he said that was in Canada. What did he possibly do that's so damn important?

He wasn't offended by my question or by my tone; he never seemed to get offended by anything. If anyone said anything rude or insulting to him, all he did was smile and walk on. Kai told me once that it takes a bigger man to walk away. I glanced to Alfred, smiling to himself as he tapped his fingers to the song on the radio.

I still think he's an idiot.

"No, I don't usually stay in the south for long, but we can have a hotel room," he proclaimed.

"What hotel would take me?"

"Not a very nice one but hey, a bed's a bed."

From these past few days I've only discovered a few things about this so called personification of America. He was annoyingly optimistic about everything, always looking on the bright side of life. I'm not saying it's a bad trait but he takes it to whole new level, like the time we had to sleep in the car because none of the hotels in Louisville, Kentucky would have me. He said, 'well at least we get to see the stars.' It started raining soon after, he then said, 'I do like the sound of rain; it's soothing.' Then as if the Great Spirit wanted to mock him, the rain quickly turned into a storm with lightning and thunder rolled in. He then tried to make that situation better by saying, 'well I'm sure tomorrow will be better.'

I told him to be quiet.

Alfred seems to defy logic; he can eat more than three times an average man but yet doesn't seem to gain any weight. He would say, 'I have a big appetite,' or 'I have a healthy metabolism.' He doesn't have the best habits, preferring to drink coke and eat hamburgers. He doesn't like to talk much about himself. He avoids any questions I ask about his past. I've played along to his delusion about being 'America', but I think this proves that he's just an ordinary man, a sick, delusional man, but ordinary none the less.

We stopped by a rundown motel, a motel that was desperate enough to take Alfred's money and give us a room, even if I was an Indian. The room was dusty and it smelled, but like Alfred said, a bed's a bed.

Alfred fell backwards into his bed, "we're making good time; we'll be in New Orleans by the end of this month."

"Maybe I don't have to spend a year with you," I said.

Alfred grew quiet and he rose from the bed, "I have to make a call." He walked out the door without looking back.

I sat up, could it be that I have hurt his feelings?

After an hour passed, I was starting to feel guilty. I was about to walk out to look for him but the second I moved for the door, Alfred came storming through. He ignored me as he locked himself in the bathroom. When he came out, his face was blank of emotion and his voice was strained.

"Get some sleep; we need to get to Birmingham, Alabama by Wednesday."

My jaw dropped, "Birmingham?!" Fear coursed through my body, I've been to that city once in my life and that city wasn't at all kind to me or my tribe. We tried to hold a small festival like we always did but the white men made it perfectly clear they didn't want any of us around. They set our cars and trailers on fire as they wore white robes and hoods. I was only ten as they dragged me, my family and the rest of our tribe to kneel in front of them, saying that we were savages and that no one would give a damn if we all ended up dead.

They would have killed us if the sirens didn't scare them off. My father wanted to press charges but the police said it would be best to leave town. Later I would find out that the police knew about this round-up and that they allowed those men to have their time with us.

We avoided the town ever since.

"I'm not going," I said firmly.

Alfred sighed, "I understand but we had a deal-"

"No, I'll stay here and you can come back and get me or just leave me, I don't care, I'm not going."

He removed his glasses and massaged the bridge of his nose. "Believe me, I don't like this anymore than you do, but they decided to have the meeting there and it's already too late to change it."

"Why would they even have this so called meeting there? And who are these people your meeting; doesn't your government hold meetings in DC?"

He sighed again, "they wish to talk about the growing violence here but I know he just wants to be there to lecture me."

I gave him a look, "who?"

"My brother," he said crossly as he brushed a hand through his hair and collapsed into bed. He turned away from me and kicked off his shoes, he was done talking to me.

I fell back into my bed and pulled up the covers to my chest. I stared out the window, watching as the street lights flickered and shadows walked passed by.

I couldn't sleep.

I know I had a promise to keep to Alfred and he was paying me, but was it really worth it? I could be killed in Birmingham just by looking at a white man the wrong way or for the simple reason that I was Indian.

But that tone of voice that Alfred carried reminded me of how I was with Tristen. The resentment I held for him and his superior attitude. The wasted moments we shared by arguing and fighting with one another. All of the moments we could've made better, but I was too stubborn to do so. Guilt instantly crept in, shutting down my emotions, leaving nothing but regret.

. . .

July 16, 1957

I've decided to go with Alfred to Birmingham.

I had to take a moment to read what I just wrote, I truly am insane. But I just can't seem to leave Alfred, not like this. He's not smiling as much, he doesn't even try to make small talk anymore, he doesn't sing along to his favorite songs and he stares off into space for long periods of time. It's as if he's been drained of his blissful, youthful energy and was left with anxiety and uncertainty.

The ride to Birmingham was a slow and quiet one; Alfred didn't say a word to me as he drove down the southwest of the city to section named Titusville. He parked in front of a small one-story house that recently had a 'for sale' sign but now was sold. Movers were bringing in furniture: stylish couches, a high-end stove and refrigerator, large king sized beds, polished nightstands, a dining room table with matching chairs and a new box television.

I turned to Alfred, "how did you-"

"Dwight got this place ready for us; he figured that this house would be better than a hotel."

"Dwight? As in the President Dwight D. Eisenhower?"

"Yes," he nodded and walked in.

The movers gave him questionable side-way glances, they were all white and this area was a black dominated neighborhood and it seems we were causing a stir. The children had run back into their homes to inform their mothers of spectacle. They came out, completely stunned to the fact that a white man  was moving in. Then they would look at me with worried expressions. I tried to be friendly and waved to them with a smile, "Hello."

They didn't return the greeting.

I sighed and walked into the house, ignoring all the dirty looks I was receiving from the movers. Once I was inside I found Alfred sitting at the kitchen table massaging his temples. I leaned against the wall across from him, "are you alright?"

"I have a screaming headache; please tell me they put a coffee maker in here?"

I nodded and pointed to the device across the room, "yes."

"Thank god," he mumbled and stood to make some, but quickly realized that we didn't have any food or coffee beans. He sighed, "I need to go shopping."

"I'll do it for you," I said.

He gave me a grateful smile; it was the first smile he displayed that entire day. "Thank you. I'll make you a list and leave you some money."

"Mr. Jones," one of the movers called and he sighed.

"Yes?"

The mover walked forward and gestured to a pile of boxes in the living room, "that there holds your dishes, some books and here's your keys."

"Thank you," he took the keys and pulled out his wallet, he handed him a bundle of bills. I think they were twenties.

The mover grinned but his smile didn't last, "Sir if you don't mind me asking, why would a respectable man like yourself, live in place filled with niggers."

Alfred glared; his blue eyes had darkened, filling with a dangerous rage that I have never seen anyone possess. "Because I can and I will, now get the hell out of my house!"

He flinched and didn't move it only made Alfred even more furious. He curled his fist into the mover's collar and dragged him to the front door. He then tossed him like a rag doll down the porch steps and slammed the door behind him.

Alfred was panting like he ran marathon, his fists were shaking and he was staring at the floor. A moment of silence passed and when he looked up, his eyes still carried that rage.

I couldn't help but step back.

He didn't make a move towards me, just threw his wallet and keys to the couch, "get whatever you think we need." He walked into the hall on my right, heading straight into the bathroom.

It was just like on that day at the hospital, he completely changed.

I will admit he terrified me.

And I will also admit that a tiny piece of me hoped that he would return to normal when I got back to the house.

He didn't.

I found him sitting at the kitchen table, in the dark, just staring at the wood.

"Are you hungry?" I asked, trying to sound normal myself. "I can make you something-"

"I'm not hungry," he said in monotone and rose to his feet, "I'm going to bed, goodnight."

After I put away the groceries, I pulled out a pack of cigarettes from my pocket. I never cared for smoking but I needed some kind of release from my aching nerves. I walked out to the front porch and sat myself on the steps. It was late afternoon, the children were out playing and the men were returning home.

The children greeted their fathers with hugs and smiles. I took a long drag from my cigarette and wore a sad smile to the image of these happy families. I tried to ignore the hostile looks I got from the fathers. I decided to look to the sky, trying to calm my racing thoughts.

Then I heard a rustle of movement. I glanced to my left and found four children peeking through the bars of the porch. Three of them were boys, roughly around the ages from eight to ten. The girl was the smallest and possibly the youngest. They saw me look at them and they ducked down, hoping to hide from me.

I chuckled, "I saw you."

The children didn't move and I continued, "don't worry, I ain't gonna do anything. But, I gotta question your manners," I smirked, "didn't your mothers teach you how to introduce yourselves?"

The oldest boy stood up, "yes." The other children followed his lead as he walked over to the front of the house, but they still kept a good distance from me. "I'm Walter, this is James," he pointed the boy next to him. "This is Devin," he pointed to the smallest boy and then to the girl, "this is Audrey."

The young girl had hid behind Walter and I nodded to them, "I'm John."

The children were quiet for moment till Devin asked, "What are you?"

My brows rose and I laughed, "I'm human."

"No," James proclaimed, "he's asking what color you are."

"Hm, I don't know," I smiled and lifted my arm to face and brushed my hand over it. "I think I'm copper, like a penny. What do you think?" I held out my arm to them.

The boys glanced to one another but it was the girl that took the first step. She slowly placed her fingers on my arm and caressed them over my forearm. She stared at my skin with childlike wonder and I grinned at her. She giggled and moved to touch my hair; I had untied it from its braid and allowed the locks to fall past my shoulders. She brushed her fingers through the stands, "why do you have hair like a girl?"

I chuckled, "we believe that our hair holds magickal properties because it has unbreakable link to us. We also believe that if our hair ever fell into our enemy's hands then they would be able to curse us."

"Then wouldn't it make sense to keep it short?" Walter questioned.

"True but we take great pride in our hair, to cut it would make us weaker."

"That's really strange," James proclaimed.

Then several women cried out for them to return home for dinner. Walter gestured for Audrey to follow him as the other boys ran off into different directions. Audrey waved goodbye and I waved back.

They seemed like good kids.

. . .

July 17, 1957

Alfred woke up early and was already at the table, eating breakfast when I entered the kitchen. "Morning," he nodded to me as he drank his coffee.

"Good morning," I paused at first, "are you feeling any better?" I asked.

"Yes." he said crossly.

I inhaled through my nose and decided to stay quiet as I ate my breakfast, which he had prepared on the table. After another minute or so, I said, "So, you're going to meet your brother today, what's he like?"

Alfred snorted, "A disapproving, believes he's right about everything ass."

I chuckled, "he sounds delightful."

A smile crept over his face, "very."

After breakfast Alfred was rushing around the house, searching for his paperwork. He then tore opened the boxes, scanning through reference books. Several of these books were the subject of racial studies, racial political views and educational essays about the segregation in American society.

I picked up a thick book that was on a stack, "you have a lot of reading to do."

He groaned, "That's the problem, I was supposed to read these yesterday but," he sighed.

I scanned through the pages, "I'm sure we can make some notes."

Alfred rubbed his hand over his face, "not much but it will be better than nothing."

I quickly got dressed, wearing khakis, a white button down shirt and a borrowed tan suit jacket from Alfred. The jacket hanged off my body in a floppy mess, and I had to pin up the sleeves to my elbows. I tied my hair in a low pony tail as Alfred handed me book after book, stacking them into my arms. We climbed into the car and as Alfred drove, I sped read through the pages, writing down quick notes for him.

Books and research were my biggest strengths, note-taking, writing and knowledge seeking came easy to me.

Alfred side-glanced to me, "well aren't you a scholar."

"Clay was more of the scholar; I just imitated him."

He rolled his eyes, "just take the damn compliment."

I ignored him and continued to make notes.

When we got to city hall, both of us carried a stack of books as Alfred made his way into the building and I followed. Security guards had tried to stop me but all Alfred had to do was wave his ID around and everyone left me be. Whatever this man was, he was important.

When we got to the meeting room, Alfred sighed in relief, "thank god no one's here yet."

We laid out the books as I placed sticky notes into pages.

A voice spoke from behind, "I see you are not prepared as usual."

Alfred cursed under his breath and turned around with a weak smile, "Artie, it's good to see you, it's been so long."

"Arthur," the British man hissed, "my name is Arthur, Alfred."

Alfred nodded and whispered to me, "Don't look directly at the eyebrows."

I gave him a look and subconsciously glanced to the blonde's brows, they were massive and thick. I turned away, quickly. Arthur then noticed my existence, he analyzed me with a critical eye, "who are you?"

"Uh, I'm John Hawkfeather, Alfred's assistant," I introduced myself as I gave him my hand.

He shook it, "Arthur Kirkland, a pleasure." He didn't at all sound like he was having a pleasurable time.

"Johnny," Alfred cuts in, "this is my brother."

"Older brother," Arthur added.

That tone in his voice reminded me too much like Tristen and Clay when they wished to point out who was youngest. At that moment, a spark of sibling rivalry and rebellion thrived within me. "Well, it's clear who the  biggest brother is," I jeered.

Arthur's massive eyebrows fell forward and Alfred held his lips together, trying to conceal his laughter.

"Bonjour!" another voice sang from the doorway.

Both Arthur and Alfred groaned in annoyance.

A tall man with shoulder length blond hair and blue eyes strolled in. He wore a stylish suit that was most likely made with expensive fabric and shoes that looked like they were Italian made. He gave everyone in the room a dazzling smile, "Alfred! It's been so long," he greeted as he kissed him on both cheeks.

Alfred stepped back, "Please don't do that."

"Do what? Greet you," the French man asked, insulted.

"The kissing, men here don't do that and most will take it the wrong way."

He waved Alfred off, "you Americans are so uncultured." His bright blue eyes slid to my direction and he smiled. "Now, who is this," he asked as his eyes flickered over my body.

The look he was giving me made me uncomfortable but I tried to be polite and introduced myself. "I'm John Hawkfeather."

He held my hand and kissed my knuckles, "I'm Francis Bonnefoy, tell me are you free later on tonight," he winked.

I froze; I had no idea how to react to his . . . advances. Luckily I had Alfred to help me. He yanked Francis's hand away from mine, "Francis, I mean it. This is neither the place nor the time." He turned to me, "Johnny, you can go, wait outside okay."

He didn't have to tell me twice, I speed walked out of the doors and sat myself at the bench beside the door. As I sat there, two more men in suits entered the room. One was tall with combed back blond hair and blue eyes. The other was a thin, young man with auburn hair and eyes. The thinner man was jumping around the bigger one, saying excitedly how he never came to the southern part of America before. The blond would only nod but clearly he was too distracted to pay any attention to the Italian.

Then Alfred came walking down the hall and I blinked at him; wasn't he already in the room. "Alfred, what are you doing here? I thought you were already inside?"

The blond blinked, "uh, I'm not, eh-"

I took a moment, this man wasn't Alfred. He was about the same height, had the same blond hair and blue eyes but he's hair was longer and he was leaner, more like me. I took a step back, "I'm sorry, I thought you were someone else."

The man scratched his head, "yeah, I get that a lot."

"Matthew," Arthur called for him from the doors, "come in," he gestured to the room.

Matthew nodded to me as a farewell and left me alone in the hall.

An hour passed, then another, then another.

Then a loud crash echoed from the room and I jumped to my feet. I got close to the door and heard bits and pieces of their conversation.

"America, the violence between your people have caused quite the stir," a smooth voice proclaimed, most likely Arthur. "Several of our companies such as automobiles and stock holders wish to branch out to America but with these segregation laws and most being different in each state, this causes a bit of uncertainty. Plenty of these employees would be moving themselves and their families to the states but they won't bother if the violence doesn't settle down."

"We dropped segregation from public schools," Alfred said to his defense.

"Not all of your schools though."

"And what is with these white and colored sections?" Francis questioned. "What is the point of these?"

"It's for everyone's safety, if their too close together it will only make them angry."

"Who? The blacks or the whites?"

"Both."

"I highly doubt that," Arthur added. "This type of behavior will only grow if you don't handle this now."

"We're changing the laws," Alfred proclaimed.

"You can change the law as many times as you want but it won't change the people."

"And I'm sure you understand that, especially with all your kings and queens of drama."

Arthur's voice grew hostile, "you will not speak ill of the royal family."

"Royal family," Alfred snickered, "they're puppets being pulled by the strings of Parliament."

"Why you ignorant little-"

"Now, now, England, don't get so upset," Francis cuts in.

"You stay out of this frog!"

"Enough," a new voice rolled in, it was deep and commanding and it sounded German. The rustling of chairs echoed as this voice said. "America, this type of violence and anger is not good for your people."

"And you're the perfect example," Alfred remarked.

The German's voice continued, "Yes, I am, for I have experience in these types of situations."

"Oh, so I should take advice from a Nazi."

An eerily silence followed, causing the air to thicken and my muscles to tense.

I stepped back as someone said that they should break for lunch. I rushed to my seat and tried to act normal.

The men walked out and my existence was completely ignored. But Alfred wasn't among the group. I rose and found him still in his seat with the books scattered around him. His face was in his hands and his shoulders were slumped forward.

"Alfred," I called to him and he instantly straightened.

"Johnny hey," his voice sounded strained and frustrated.

I knelt down to pick up the books; I couldn't stand the thought of books being thrown to the floor so carelessly. I stayed quiet as I stacked the books, cover to cover.

Alfred spoke up, "You don't have to do that."

"It's not for you, it's for the books," I countered.

He didn't say anything as he rose from his seat and aided me in the task. Once the books were settled on the table, Alfred turned to me. "Tell them I'm not coming back," he said this as he handed me the keys.

"What?!" I exclaimed, "But you can't just leave-"

"I have to," he tried to say this calmly as he rubbed his head, "I'm not," he paused, "I'm not well."

"You call yourself America, I figured you weren't all there," I pointed to his head.

He gave me a sad smile, "you still believe I'm delusional." He handed me a list, "make sure to tell them this when they return and don't mention the America thing."

Before I could make a comment, Alfred walked out of the room. "Alfred you can't leave me here!" I called after him but he started to run and slammed opened the front doors. "Alfred!" I yelled, ran to the doors and stopped at the steps.

He was gone, no trace of him was left, not even a figure in the distance. I groaned to myself and walked back inside. I sat in Alfred's seat and read his list.

This is what it said.

Tell them to stay out of trouble.

Tell Feliciano (the happy one) to not be so affectionate, that means no kissing or hugging Ludwig (the large blond man).

Also tell Francis to not kiss, hug or flirt with any men.  I mean this .

Tell Arthur if he decides to go drinking make sure he has Matthew (our other brother) with him.

Tell Francis and Arthur if they plan to be  together ,  make sure they get a room before they do  anything .

I had no words for this.

When the men returned to the room, most were not happy to find out that Alfred left early.

"That brat," Arthur hissed.

Francis sighed, "Maybe it's for the best; we can pick this up tomorrow." Then a grin spreads over his face as he took two long strides to stand beside me. "Do you care to join me for a drink Monsieur Hawkfeather?"

I stepped back, "That also reminds me," I pulled out Alfred's list and read out his rules: Ludwig and Feliciano didn't seem too insulted with his demands; it was Francis and Arthur who got annoyed. "Also tell Francis to not kiss, hug or flirt with men."

"He does not mean that," Francis waved this off.

"He said: I mean this. Bolded and underlined," I remarked.

Then after I told them of the last rule, everyone looked to Arthur and Francis as the British man flushed in anger and embarrassment. "What the bloody hell does he mean by that?!"

"I don't know," I exclaimed.

"Of course you don't," he sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Leave us."

I will agree with Alfred on one thing, Arthur was dramatic.

When I got home, I found Alfred sleeping on the couch. Is this why he left the meeting? So he could take a nap.

I carried the first stack of books and dropped them on his mid-section. He awoke with a groan and I stomped to my room, not saying a word.


 

July 18, 1957

Last night was. . .

I have no words. . .

I don't know how to write this, the events of last night will forever haunt me.

It all started with a bang at the door, I was avoiding Alfred, hiding in my room. But I couldn't ignore this banging at ten in the evening.

I stormed over and slammed open the door, "what?"

It was a white man, he was middle age with graying hair and I recognized him as the security guard earlier that day. He asked for Alfred, saying it was an emergency and he came storming in. Before I could say anything Alfred ran out of his room. His suit was wrinkled, like he slept in it.

He rubbed his eyes and removed his jacket, "What's wrong?"

"You told me to keep watch over them but," he paused, "I couldn't stop them."

"Stop who?"

"The Klan, they found your brother and the Frenchie," his cheeks turned red, "in the alleyway."

Alfred cursed and ran back to his room to grab his shoes. "Get the police-"

The security guard snorted, "Bull ain't going to lift a finger for those faggots-"

Alfred moved like lightning, curling his fist into his shirt and slamming him against the wall. "Never call them that again."

The man nodded slowly and Alfred tossed him aside. "Tell Bull that they're foreign ambassadors and if anything happens to them we'll have an international crisis on our hands. So if he wants to keep his job, he'll send the police."

"What if he doesn't," the man asked.

Alfred's eyes burned with rage, "then it's his own damn fault if he has to bury some Klan members."

He grabbed his car keys and I followed him out the door. He turned around, "get back in the house John."

"You can't go up against the Klan by yourself!" I exclaimed.

"Watch me," he hissed. "Get back inside."

"No!"

I don't know why I cared so much. I was terrified of the Klan but that fear was overrun by my concern for Alfred. He wasn't himself, he was acting reckless and he didn't seem to care if he got hurt.

"At least wait for the police, or get help from the other men from the meeting-"

"I'm not dragging them into this," he stated as he climbed into the car.

I continued to follow, climbing in and shutting the door. Alfred gripped the wheel, "Get out of the car."

"Make me."

He leaped over me, forced opened the door and tried to push me out. I shoved him back, "You're not going there alone!"

"Goddammit! he screamed and banged his head on the wheel. He took a deep breath and steadied his voice, "I'm not well John; I can't control my actions." He turned to me, his blue eyes glistening with unshed tears, "I don't even know if I can save Arthur and Francis. I can't put your life in danger for us."

I should have left the car, gone back into the house. I would get in the way, I knew this and it would later be proven but right at that moment, I couldn't stand the thought of leaving Alfred to go up against a group of hateful, angry men while I hid in the house like some kind of coward.

I refused to be a coward again.

"I'm. Not. Leaving."

Alfred took another deep breath, "fine."

The blond drove like a maniac. He ran red lights, weaved around cars, sped twice over the speed limit and took quick turns that almost felt like the car would tip over every time. I clinged to my door handle and prayed for our lives.

Alfred finally slowed down and came to a stop in a middle of an empty field, miles away from the city. "Where are we?"

"The meeting place of the Klan," he answered, gesturing to the flickering lights in the distance.

They looked like fire torches, my eyes widened. "Are they going to burn them?"

"Most likely," he didn't seem fazed by the thought.

That made me angry, "You're brother is about to be burned alive, don't you care?"

He snorted. "It's already happen to him twice."

I tried to ask what he meant but he handcuffed me to the wheel. He smirked, "stay here." He climbed out the car and walked to the trunk. He pulled out a white sheet, but I soon realized that sheet was a hood and a robe.

"Why do you have that?!"

"It's called a disguise," he remarked as he slipped on the robe. He walked off towards the lights as I yanked myself from the wheel, screaming at him to free me.

Ten minutes passed and I gave up on yanking my arm out and began to search for the key. "It has to be in here," I mumbled.

"Well look what we have here," a thick southern voice proclaimed.

I froze and turned to face two white hooded figures. "We got ourselves a little Indian all nice and hogged tied for us."

I tried to lock the door but I wasn't quick enough.

They opened the door and I started to kick at them. They held my legs down and one of them broke the chain of the handcuffs by snapping the link with a knife. He used the same knife to place under my chin, "step out slowly, boy," he threatens.

I did what he said as they brought me to my knees and slid the blade across my face, slicing skin. I bit back a cry as the men laughed. "I guess you're right he is a man."

"Could've fooled me, with all this hair," the other pulled at my dark locks as he shoved me to the ground.

One held me down as the other with the knife brought the blade close to the side of head and ripped off a lock of hair. I cried out in pain as they continued chop away my hair in chucks. Warm liquid ran down my face and neck. Anger surged and I took my chance to slam the back of my head into the Klan member's face.

He yelled out a curse as the knife slipped out his hand and sliced my ear. I ignored the pain and grabbed the knife. I cut the other Klan member in the face ripping the hood apart.

A moment passed just with me standing against them with the knife in my hand. They came at me and I defended myself as best as I could, but it was two against one.

One had surprised me with a punch to the face as the other tackled me to the ground. The knife flew from my hand and I struggled to kick him off. Once I did, I tried to search for the knife it in the dark but I found a tree branch instead. I swung the branch, making full contact at his head.

He fell back, out cold.

The other came charging, howling some type of battle cry. I lost track of what actually happen, all I do remember was that I was towering over the fallen Klan member beating him with the branch till he stopped moving.

I was panting and when I looked up to my reflection, my heart stopped. My hair was chopped in uneven lengths, only a few thin stands contained the original length. Blood was clotting around my scalp and lines of red had dripped down my face and neck.

Rage rumbled inside of me as one thought engulfed me. That thought was to find the knife and scalp the Klan members like the savage they thought I was. As I was wielding the man's head and holding the blade to his forehead, a raven's cry echoed from a distance.

It was as if Kai was calling out to me, telling me to be the bigger person, to prove that they were wrong. I dropped the man's head and walked away, but not before I stripped them from their robes and hoods. I ripped one apart and used them as bandages, wrapping them around my head to stop the bleeding. I slipped on my own disguise and ran towards the flickering lights.

What I saw was a nightmare.

Dozens of men, dressed in their white robes and hoods, celebrating like it was party; that they weren't here to kill two people. It disgusted me.

I scanned for Alfred, till I realized I couldn't tell any of the members apart unless they had their hoods up, most didn't.

Others held up torches, chanting, "Burn the faggots! Burn the faggots!"

Soon everyone joined as they parted for a group of men that wielded the  Confederate flag and snare drum. Someone called them the colored guard; behind them were four to five men that were half carrying half dragging two men in suits. Their clothes had been torn apart with rips and slashes and their bodies were covered in bruises. The Klan was dragging them to two wooden crosses that were standing over piles of wood, just waiting to be set on fire.

Terror filled my gut as I realized that the men they were carrying were Arthur and Francis.

The only thought that crossed my mind was where was Alfred?

I pushed myself to the front of the crowd as the Klan brought down the crosses and tied Arthur and Francis to them.

"Is this really necessary," Arthur shouted, "all we did was snog! And I didn't even like it!"

The French man snorted, "I wasn't the one trying to get my shirt off."

"Shut up, frog!"

"That's his pet name for me," Francis smiled to a Klan member, earning himself a sucker punch in the face.

As they rose a man walked out,  his robes looked different and I had a sick feeling that he was the leader. "Man shall not lay with man!" he roared over the crowd, commanding them to be silent.

Once nothing could be heard but the crackling of the torches, he continued. "The men that stand in front of us tonight are poison. Poison that is leaking into our country, into our fellow man, and into our pure white blood." The crowd roared in anger and when they settled down, their leader proclaimed, "These two are just the beginning, only if we let it!"

The crowd cheered.

"I plan to nip this in bud! I plan to end this here!"

The cheering rose in volume and I was getting nervous of the people that held the torches. They were itching to set them on fire.

Arthur must have been thinking the same thing because he began to mumble, "they'll gonna set us on fire, they'll gonna set us on fire. . ."

Francis said something in French and Arthur glared at him, "it still hurts dammit!"

"Shut up faggot!" someone grabbed a rock and threw it at him; it made its mark on his forehead. This started a frenzy among the Klan cheering and hauling in excitement.

The leader lowered his hands and the crowd settled, but I could feel the men around me twitch. They wanted this to happen, and they wanted it now.

"Who wishes to cleanse us of this poison? Who wishes to send these  abominations into the burning depths of hell?!"

"I do."

My knees wobbled but I caught myself from falling. I knew that voice. I spun to my right, Alfred was walking forward, his hood was up so I could his face and he was carrying a torch. For a second I was glad, but as I studied his face I realized that something was off.

His blue eyes were dark and glazed over. His face was pale against the glow of the fire and he was wearing the most disturbing smile I had ever seen. It was cruel, sadistic and hateful.

Whoever this was, it wasn't Alfred.

He strolled over as the other members parted for him, chanting, "Burn the faggots! Burn the faggots!"

"Alfred!" Arthur exclaimed, "thank god, tell them to stop this."

Alfred ignored him and walked closer to the pile of the wood. The men flinched as Francis tried to laugh it off, "oh, come now Alfred, no need to tease."

He waved the torch over the wood, slightly brushing the two elements together.

"Alfred?" Arthur questioned, his voice rising in fear.

A part of me hoped this was all a ruse that Alfred will slowly reach out to set them on fire and then turn around and strike the Klan's leader in the head. But the fear and panic that was growing on Arthur and Francis's faces killed that hope.

"Mon dieu, he's not himself!"

"Really? I didn't notice," Arthur exclaimed sarcastically.

Alfred finally looked up to them, "Burn. They wish for you to burn," he paused, "and so do I."

"Alfred, snap out of it!" Arthur screamed, "This isn't you, fight it!"

He ignored him and was about the plunge the torch in till I did the most idiotic thing in the history of the world.

I tore off my hood and yelled, "Stop!"

Alfred's head snapped back to me, blinking away the fog in his eyes. "John?" he whispered.

The Klan surrounded me, tackling me to the ground and holding me up on my knees. The members shouted, demanding for my head. The leader stepped forward and looked to me then to Alfred. "Do you know this Indian?"

Alfred shook his head, trying to shake away the confusion. The leader grew impatient and pulled out the gun that was holstered around his waist.

He shot him, point blank in the face.

Alfred's body fell to its knees and collapsed into the dirt. The torch rolled away, its flames dangerously close to the wood.

I released a silent cry as the leader proclaimed, "Did you see my brothers; how he hesitated. There is no such thing as hesitation when it comes to our right to cleanse our country, to keep the Negros in their place and to," he slid the barrel of the gun under my chin and forced me to look at him, "kill off a dying race."

I saw my death and it was him.

The only reason, the only miracle that I'm able to write this today was because of one man; Alfred F. Jones.

I was about to close my eyes, to wait for the bang, to be united with my family. But a slight twitch from a hand that wasn't supposed to move, received my attention. I stared in horror and disbelief as Alfred slowly pushed himself up.

When the Klan noticed that my look wasn't towards them but something behind them, they turned back. Members cried out curses, shouts of the devil and the color guard that was recently beside Arthur and Francis ran to stand beside their leader.

As Alfred rose to his feet, the bullet wound was closing, healing rapidly, not even leaving a scar. He chuckled, it was dark but it sounded more like him. "I have to thank you that blast in the head finally got those voices to shut up."

Everyone was stunned but the leader was the only one able to stutter out one phase, "What are you?"

Alfred grinned, "I'm a monster and I'm afraid that your bullets can't help you now."

Two of the Klan members rose and charged at him but in a flash, Alfred snatched them by their necks and smashed them together; the back of their heads colliding in a loud, sickening crack. Alfred dropped them, stepped over their lifeless bodies and gazed to me and to the white robed men. "Let him go," he ordered.

Instead of listening, another group of men came running and Alfred grabbed a torch from a Klan member and kicked him off. He slammed the flame into a Klan member's face, setting the hood and robe on fire. He then moved to whack another member in the face setting that one on fire as well. This routine continued, Alfred throwing around the torch, setting these men on fire.

Till someone was able to knock it out of his hand but that didn't stop him. He punched and kicked men with ease, tossing them aside with monstrous strength. He then came charging, freeing me from my captors by yanking them up into the air and throwing them half-way across the field.

The leader moved fast, pulling the gun to my head, "Stop or I'll-"

He didn't finish, Alfred had gripped his wrist and snapped his elbow backwards. The leader screamed in agony and Alfred squeezed his mouth shut, forcing the Klan leader to look at him. "It's not your job to take out the trash," he lifted him over his head. "It's mine!" He sent him flying across the field, crashing back first into a truck.

"Get the guns! Get the guns!" someone shouted.

Alfred moved quickly to cover me, "stay behind me; don't move."

"But-"

My voice couldn't be heard as the Klan moved fast to grab their shotguns and aimed for Alfred. A series of gunshots exploded, blazing past me, leaving me unharmed. Alfred on the other hand was taking the full hit, but no matter the number of bullets he kept me covered.

I still got hit, but they were grazes, nothing that couldn't be fixed with a few stitches.

Alfred was covered in bullet wounds, but as quickly as he received them his wounds disappeared. He whispered to me, "Pretend to faint."

"What-" I barely choked out the word.

"Just do it, I'll explain later. Trust me."

This man saved my life twice, why would I hesitate. I closed my eyes and fell back; I crashed to the ground, biting back my whimper of pain. I watched the scene through the slits of my eyelids. The scene of Alfred standing tall, with his head up high, "is that the best ya'll got?"

The Klan members were shifting backwards, preparing to run.

Alfred stepped forward with ease and the men screamed and ran to their trucks. They climbed into their vehicles in a panic, not looking back for anything, not even for their leader who was probably dead beside that same truck.

Once they drove away leaving behind bodies of fallen Klan members, guns, and flamed torches that were licking at the dry grass. Alfred ran to the torches, setting most up right and smothering others out.

I heard Francis speak up, "Um, Alfred could you-"

Alfred spun around and he cursed. I found out afterwards that the torch that had fallen out Alfred's hand when he got shot by the Klan leader, made its way to the pile of wood below Francis and it was starting to burn. He tried to put it out with the robe he was wearing but in the words of Francis-

"Stop! You're making it worse!"

Then Alfred pushed the cross down, shoving it away from the flames. I heard Francis yelp in pain and Alfred sighed, "Don't be a baby; it's better than being cooked alive."

He moved to break Arthur's cross and gently placed him down to the ground. He then untied them from their wooden crosses, and poked fun at them as he did. "Ah, doesn't this bring back memories? Well, mostly for you two."

"Ha, ha, well aren't you funny America," Arthur hissed.

"Are the police on their way? Did you call them?" Francis asked.

Alfred sighed, "They're not coming; Bull most likely thinks he can brush this under the rug like he's done for so many."

"This has happen before?!" Arthur exclaimed.

"Yes."

"And you haven't done anything about it?!"

"See!" Francis exclaimed, "America you have a huge crisis on your hands! Your government needs to handle this."

Alfred sighed again, "Is this the thanks I get for saving you."

"You were about to set us on fire," Francis remarked.

"Alfred, are you hearing voices again?" Arthur asked, concerned. "Are you splitting in two?"

He was quiet till, "No."

"Don't lie to me-"

"I got a handle on this Artie."

"Don't call me that."

"Besides, this is all your fault!"

"My fault?" Arthur said.

"Yours and his, I told you two to not do anything in public."

Francis jumped in, "It's not our fault that your citizens are uncultured-"

"Uncultured," Alfred laughed harshly. "This is not a burlesque club in Paris or the back alleyways of London. This is Birmingham, Alabama and they will kill you if you act like this. You are lucky I had someone tailing you for if I didn't you two would've been killed and come complaining to me about it the next day."

A moment of silence passed between them and Alfred took a deep breath. "I'm glad you two are okay," he said calmly.

The crackling of the fire roared and Alfred would tell me afterwards that he took that chance to pick up the fallen Confederate flag and toss it into the flames.

Chapter Text

I felt someone shaking me, "Amy, wake up."

I jumped, shouting, "Fire!"

"Fire?" Peter gave me a questionable look, "where?"

I blinked and rubbed my eyes and face. I looked down to my lap, with my grandfather's journal laid out on my legs. It finally came to me; I was reading the journal last night, about Alfred and his . . . problem. "Nothing. I just stood up late, reading."

"What were you reading?" he made a grab for the book and I snatched it away.

"It's nothing, just," I paused, "history."

"O-kay," Peter dragged out the word. "Everyone's waiting for us in the dinning cart, we're about to hit the train station in about an hour."

I nodded, "yeah, I'll catch up."

He gave me another questionable glance but shrugged and walked out of the cabin. I was left alone with my nagging thoughts. The idea of Grandpa and Alfred facing off with the Ku Klux Klan was so unreal but yet there was evidence. When I was a little girl maybe five years old, I had a fascination with my family's dark hair, mostly because mine was the complete opposite. I was combing my fingers through Grandpa's hair, just as Audrey was doing, and when the tips brushed against his scalp I felt tender skin.

Before I could explore further, Grandpa gently pushed me away and tried to change the subject when I asked what was wrong. He would only smile and say, "It was long time ago Amy-bear, nothing you need to worry about just yet."

I subconsciously touched my head; I tried to imagine the pain my grandfather endured. That a knife would slice through my locks, taking shards of flesh with them. I shivered.

I now understood why Grandpa preferred to keep me in California. He was so worried when I went to visit our extended family in Texas. Maybe for the exact same reason Alfred avoided the south in the late 1950's and early 1960's. The supposed voices in his head; was Grandpa afraid I would hear them too?

The only voices I heard were screams, but that was only when a national disaster hit the country; being natural, a mass shootings or a fast spreading disease. I figured I was just emotional or I played them off as white noise. But there was an incident. I was thirteen and it was 2014; I thought people were okay with homosexuals, well at least in California, but I was wrong. When the Quake hit, we had a lot of church groups come out to help us.

Most were nice but there was this one group, they were deeply religious. When they found out Michel was gay, along with most of the members in our community. They disapproved but were tolerate but their younger members were cruel, especially two boys; Jose Lopez and Oliver Taylor. My blood boiled when I recalled their ugly, hateful faces. Even after five years, they were still able to get under my skin. Most of our gay citizens were older so the only victim they could have was Michel. They tortured him for weeks. He had bruises, black eyes, split lips and he made an excuse for each one. Carlo and Gemma were so worried, they had no idea what was going on for Michel only told me and Jamie that he was gay. One day Jamie and I followed him and found him cornered by Jose and Oliver.

They were pushing him to the ground, calling him every cruel gay slur they could think of. I wanted to crush them, but I hesitated. Voices echoed, shouting, 'Faggots are running this country!' 'Man shall not lay with man!' 'Abominations! All of them!'

I thought it was the boys but now I realized those phases were in my head. I was frozen; I didn't know what to do. I was scared, frustrated but mostly I was angry. But there was also fear and guilt mixed in. I was tempted to join Jose and Oliver.

Then I heard Michel cry, silencing everything else, leaving the only sound of me screaming like a banshee and tackling Jose to the ground. I received bruises all over my mid-section and face but I was the one that came out on top. I gave Jose a bloody nose and broke his hand while I kicked Oliver in the groin and choked him till he passed out. Jamie cried out for our parents and Dad had to pry me off as I bit and clawed at the boys.

The church group was not happy and my parents kept asking why I did it. I made a promise not to tell them about Michel, so no one was talking, till Oliver woke up. He said that Michel was gay in front of everyone and Carlo stood for his son's defense, claiming that he wasn't. Then Michel exclaimed, "Dad, I am gay!"

It was awkward as everyone watched him run out of the rec-center. Jamie and I immediately ran after him as the adults fought over who would pay for Jose and Oliver's hospital bills. The whole ordeal ended with Grandpa threatening the pastor with a call to abc news, "I'm sure they would be interested to learn about two sixteen year old boys beating on a thirteen year old, just because he was gay."

"Then getting their asses kicked by a thirteen year old girl," Christopher added with a smirk, "who would be the pansies then?"

The church group left without another word. Jamie and I never left Michel's side earning the nick names: 'guard dogs' or 'pitbull' in my case. Michel and his parents had a long talk soon after. I was nearby, watching and standing by for support. Grandpa sat with me and ruffled my hair, "I personally don't approve of violence but when it's used to protect someone in need, I can overlook it. You stood up for what was right, I'm very proud of you Amy."

My heart squeezed at the image of Grandpa smiling at me with fondness and pride.


 

Everyone met in the dinning cart; luckily the booths were large enough for all of us to sit at one table. Ludwig, Elizabeta and Gilbert sat on the left side and I sat between Peter and Raivis on the right. We ordered our breakfast as the boys and I shared inside jokes with our TV shows.

I pulled out my phone and login into my tumblr account, "I just followed Doctor Who, and I gotta say I'm so far behind."

"Yeah you just started on the reboot season with the ninth doctor," Peter informed.

"How many doctors are there?"

"Thirteen, they are all the same person, don't worry you'll find out about the regenerating cycle at the last episode of season one and the first show of season two."

I nodded, "okay, but you guys are gonna have a ball with Teen Wolf, just wait till you find out who the monster is, oh and Kate, o-oh Kate."

"Hey!" Raivis proclaimed, "No spoilers."

"Okay, okay," I rolled my eyes, "tell me when you guys are on part two of the third season, it's my favorite."

"When Stiles is possessed by the Japanese demon," Gilbert rolled in, "That was a pretty good season."

I gasped and the boys stared at him with shocked wide-eyed expressions. "No spoilers!" they warned as I clapped my hands, "you like Teen Wolf!"

He nodded, "it's a good show."

I reached for his hand, "Gilbert, I never thought I would say this but I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship."

Ludwig rolled his eyes in annoyance, "I have no idea why this generation of people prefers to be brain washed by television."

"You're just jealous because I connect with our young people and that I'm awesome," Gilbert smirked.

"Sure you are," Elizabeta said sarcastically.

He whispered loud enough for us to hear, "you certainly weren't complaining about how awesome I was a night ago."

A sight blush dusted over her cheeks as everyone turned away, embarrassed for her. She clutched her glass, "Die." She said in a low voice as she shoved her glass to his lips, trying to drown him with the cup of water and she was succeeding.


 

Arthur was in his parlor room, sitting by the wrap around windows and drinking his gray earl tea. He relaxed into his seat's green cushion and watched as the rain tapped against the window pane. Its days like these his thoughts wonder back to the time he and his friends would have parties for tea and cakes. Now when he said friends, he didn't mean the nations or the human kind.

He has known these friends since he was child. They were bright, colorful and magickal. Humans would call them the fiction of folklore, but he knew better. During their parties, unicorns would graze in the fields as rabbits hopped to the table, pleading with big brown eyes for small tokens of food. Fairies of every color would flutter around the table, snatching chucks of pastry treats and giggling in their high-vocal tones. A mint shaded bunny with wings would join them, till he would land on Arthur's shoulder and nuzzle his face into his cheek.

Arthur sighed; it's been ages since he has seen his mythical friends. They haven't revealed themselves for almost twenty years. He may never admit it to anyone, but he feared that he had lost the ability to see his friends. The thought saddened him, without them he had to face the fact that he was absolutely, completely, alone.

A knock came from the front door and he blinked, bringing him out of his thoughts. He rose from his seat and answered the door with a polite, "yes?"

"Bonjour my little Angleterre," an all too familiar voice announced.

Arthur slammed the door in Francis' face and spun around to walk away.

Francis called out from behind the door, "Arthur, open the door."

"Go away frog!" he exclaimed.

"Oh but I come bearing wonderful news."

"I don't care."

"It's about our delightful little niece Amy."

Arthur sighed once again and reluctantly opened the door. "Did she decide to run away with the circus?"

Francis cracked an eyebrow, amused, "no, she's visiting Italy. It seems Germany has decided to take a vacation and cancelled this month's meeting."

"Germany cancelled the meeting," Arthur blinked, slightly shocked. He had received the email alert earlier that day but didn't really question it; he figured other more important issues came up. Now that he had found out that the person that called off the meeting was Germany and that he did it for a holiday, Arthur felt like he had entered an alternate universe.

He quickly reclaimed his posture, "well, good for them. If that is all you wish to inform, then this is goodbye." He tried to close the door again but Francis pushed his way through.

"Not yet mon ami," Francis removed his rain coat and brushed through his wet locks. "Ugh, I don't know how you can stand all this rain."

"It's relaxing, unlike you."

He ignored the Brit as he tied his locks with a spare hair tie, "Arthur I would like to invite you to come along with me to Italy."

Arthur snorted, "No," but Francis ignored his rejection and sat himself at the table in the parlor room. Arthur slacked his shoulders in defeat and stomped into the kitchen to grab another tea cup. He came back to the table and placed the cup in front the irritating Frenchman, "tea?" he asked with narrowed eyes.

"Oh Arthur so much the gentlemen," Francis smiled.

"Shut it."

He chuckled and slipped his tea, "So Angleterre will you come away with me for a romantic trip to Italy?"

"You do realize I'm holding a pot filled with scorching hot liquid."

Francis quivered, "so violent, we see where Amy gets it."

Arthur's eye twitched and sat himself back in his seat. "I don't want to go anywhere with you frog."

"But Feliciano invited me to stay at his villa in Rome, and he said that I could invite anyone to come along."

"I doubt he would want me there," Arthur recalled for years how the Italian man would run for the hills, literally every time he spotted the Brit.

"I'm sure you won't scare him, you've mellowed over the years."

He rolled his eyes, "still, the answer is no."

Francis leaned forward, "But Matthieu is coming, and the tourists are leaving. This is our perfect chance to spend some time with Amy and I'm sure she would want to see you."

"I highly doubt it," Arthur turned to face the window, "I haven't spoken with her since Berlin."

Francis raised his brows, "you two haven't patch things up?" Then he sighed, "Oh Arthur is this why you have locked yourself away, drinking tea and letting your ill feelings bottle up inside of you."

Arthur didn't answer him and he continued, "Tell me, did Amy try to contact you?"

Arthur winched, remembering that the young girl had called him three times after the incident in Berlin. She stopped after the third call, leaving one voice message: "Hey Arthur… um I'm sorry if it's late or too early but I just… want to say I'm sorry, for everything…. See you at the next meeting." He can still recall her words and tone; she was nervous and sounded, almost wounded.

Francis narrowed his eyes, knowingly, "she called you and you ignored her. Bravo mon ami."

"Sarcasm is not your color, frog."

"And clearly compassion is not yours." Francis sighed, "Are you going to do the same thing with Amy as you did to Alfred? You two had your falling out and then when Alfred tries to reach out, you slap his hand away. And, yet you were shocked when the roles were reversed."

Arthur opened his mouth and Francis raises his hand, "Let me finish." Arthur crossed his arms and glared at him as he continued. "You two carried this on for decades and what have you gotten out of it? Regret," he let the word hang for a moment. "Regret for all those years you two could've been brothers but instead fought.

"Are you really going to treat Amy the same way? When she makes you mad or does something you disapprove of, you will shut her out?" Francis shook his head, "I know where this leads Arthur, she will give up trying to reach you just as Alfred did and when you finally decide to come to her, she will snap at you and you will run back into your rabbit hole and never come out."

Arthur breathed in deeply through his nose, hating the fact that Francis could read him like a book. The Frenchman always saw through him, his joys, his quirks, his insecurities, it was all mapped out for the bloody frog. Oh, how Arthur loathed it.

They allowed a few moments of silence to pass between them, the only sounds that could be heard were their breathing and the ticking of the grandfather clock across the room.

Then Francis pulled out a plane ticket from his pocket, "My plane will be leaving in three hours," he placed it in front of the Brit. "If you don't want history to repeat, I suggest you come with me." His eyes flickered over to his homemade scones, "or you can stay and eat whatever you call that. At least in Rome you can actually have some good cuisine."

Arthur snapped; insulting his cooking had pushed him too far. He rose from his seat and slammed his hands on the table, "Get out!"

Francis raised his hands in surrender and moved to grab his coat and opened the front door. "I'll be waiting," he winked at him and closed the door behind him.

Arthur flushed in anger, "what makes you think I would follow you!" He flopped back into his seat and muttered a curse. His eyes glanced to the ceiling as his thoughts were once again his only company.

He closed his eyes and found images of Alfred waiting for him. The moments they shared before their war; the time they built a snowman during a winter in Virginia, giving him piggy back rides through the fields, and crafting him toys, which would lead to him beaming his bright, dazzling smile. That smile always contented Arthur, but as the years passed and Alfred gained his independence, that smile became bittersweet.

Arthur's breathing hitched slightly, the war had passed and his wounds were nothing but fading scars. But his heart was a different story; the hurt was always fresh when he replayed the memory of that night. That blasted night, the night that broke his heart.

He rubbed his eyes, trying to snuffle out the stinging in the back of them. His relationship with Alfred was never the same afterwards, all those years of avoiding each other (when they could) and when they finally were on speaking terms, they did nothing but argue. It was true what Arthur had told Amy, that Alfred wished to stop their fighting, saying that, "Brothers shouldn't fight." And he tried on more than one occasion to rebuild their bridge, but it was Arthur that turned his back on him each time. He was still hurting and for the once colony to come offering his friendship like history can be wiped away, it angered Arthur.

It angered him that Alfred could move on so easily from the war, could move on so easily…from him. It wasn't fair to Arthur that he had suffered while Alfred thrived. The growth of his nation increasing by the decade, all without Arthur; and the harsh truth he realized, was that he held Alfred back. But still, he wanted to inflict a small fraction of the pain and rejection he had felt on that night. He wanted Alfred to be crushed, defeated, just as he was.

Arthur had got his wish, after several attempts from Alfred, the young country gave up. More years passed and when Arthur finally realized his mistake, he offered his hand to Alfred. Arthur shouldn't have felt so distraught when the young boy rejected him, shouting that he didn't have the time to entertain his whims of brotherly affection. That was just before America's Civil War.

He cursed, all those wasted years.

His eyes subconsciously slid across the room, finding his most recent pictures on the narrow tables. Alfred was in a few, most of his photos were taken in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Anything older had to be hidden, in case of curious of eyes. After the first Great War, the brothers were finally able to rebuild their relationship, granted, it was a slow process but they had time.

Well, Arthur thought they had time.

Next to one of Alfred's pictures was an image of Amy, beaming the same brilliant smile he carried. Arthur and she were at Johnny and Celine's wedding, sitting together with Francis and Matthew at their table. All three of the older nations were smiling and it had been a long time since their smiles were genuine.

Francis' words echoed in his ears, if you don't want history to repeat, I suggest you come with me.

Arthur groaned loudly, almost admitting that Francis was right. Before doubt and uncertainly could sink in, he sprinted upstairs and packed a duffle bag filled with clothes and the necessary toiletries. He grabbed his passport and the plane ticket, slipped on his rain coat and opened the front door.

Francis was leaning against the column of the porch, "about time, do you realize how much that taxi will cost now?"


 

When we finally reached Civitavecchia, the air was warm and humid with the sun blazing overhead. I stretched out my arms and craned my face up so I could feel the tingle of the sun's rays on my skin. For a split second, I almost believed I was back in Summerland. I breathed in the familiar scent of saltwater and scanned the area, "is there a beach nearby?"

"Yes," Ludwig answered as he pointed off into the distance. "The beach is just across the street."

"Amy!" a familiar, high-spirited voice called out.

I spun, "Feliciano!" I ran and jumped into his arms.

Greetings and introductions were exchanged as we followed Feliciano to his blue van. We loaded our luggage into the trunk and climbed into our seats. Ludwig persuaded for Feliciano to sit in the passenger seat but he complained, saying he wished to drive. Gilbert and Elizabeta sat in the next seat behind them and I sat between Peter and Raivis in the back.

Once we were settled, Feliciano grinned, "everyone ready!" I noticed that Ludwig, Elizabeta and Gilbert had tightened their seatbelts and were clutching their door handles. The boys and I shared a look as the excited Italian slammed his foot on the gas and sped out of the parking lot.

I now know why Ludwig wanted to drive.

Feliciano was a reckless driver, pushing well pass the speed limits and weaving around cars with swift lane changes. He took wide and fast turns, almost hitting incoming traffic three times now but that was when I decided to open my eyes. After about five minutes, Ludwig started shouting for Feliciano to pull over. Feliciano refused, saying that the German drove too slow. His eyes were off the road for moment, but that was a long enough moment for him to run a street light.

Cars and trucks came to a streaking halt as we passed in full throttle. Everyone but the Italian screamed. Gilbert and Elizabeta were holding hands, Raivis was praying and Peter was whimpering, "we're gonna die, we're gonna die."

Ludwig yelled "Italy stop the car, now!"

"But you don't have a license to drive in Italy."

"I don't care, pull over!"

I looked up to find another red light and people crossing the street. "People! People!" I shouted, frantically pointing to the road.

The arguing nations turned to face the street; Ludwig cursed as Feliciano honked his horn and shouted for people to get out of his way. The people dodged the van, shouting at us as we passed. Then as another intersection came into view, we noticed a large, white transportation truck about to get the green.

"Oh god," I whispered and screamed, "Feli, stop!"

"I can make it," he smiled.

"No you can't!" Ludwig and Gilbert shouted in sync.

Gilbert wrapped an arm around Feliciano's neck as Ludwig leaped over him, took the wheel and stomped on the breaks. We jerked to a stop and the white truck sped by. Everyone was panting and unclutching their hands from their door handles. I was holding onto the boys, my nails had dug into their shoulders almost drawing blood. I released them, apologizing for their marks.

Ludwig moved quickly, unbuckling Feliciano's seatbelt and forced him out of his seat. Much to Feliciano's complaints and whines, he and Ludwig switched places. I instantly relaxed and leaned against cushion of the seat.

The hour long car ride was filled with the beautiful landscape of the beach coast and old fashion brick buildings with tiled roofs. Further down the highway we took, the scenery became ordinary, where we mostly saw flat plains of glassy fields and small towns off in the distance. We entered Rome through the outskirts by a freeway with the number code A91. Ludwig drove us up into the city, I almost thought we would be able to see the heart of it, but Feliciano quickly advised him to get on a road called Viale Erminio Spalla.

This road lead us into a neighborhood with large houses, narrowed roads and towering trees aligned with the streets and surrounding most of the houses. Ludwig slowed to a stop beside a black iron gate with fifteen foot tall dark brown brick walls surrounding the property. Once Feliciano opened the gate, we drove in and parked the car in front of the house, or villa as Feliciano called it.

It was built with the same colored brick as the walls, it had two floors and a large square shape tower attached on the left side of the house. The yard was wide and had countless space as olive trees colonized the landscape. Planted flower beds and pots of herbs were spread along the villa while patches of wild flowers were scattered through the yard. Large, square shape concrete tiles were placed on the ground, being used as sidewalks and my best guess was that they were used throughout the property.

I had grabbed my carryon and walked along the sidewalk. The villa was massive and the yard seemed to be of equal value, possibly more. I discovered two stone brick stair cases, one that went down and wrapped around the villa. That flat of stairs lead to a side door that connected to a level of the house below the ground floor. So the villa was three stories, four if the tower was a floor.

The second stair case lead up to a brick patio that was built beside the ground floor, most likely this area was the backyard. The patio was widespread with pots of plants outlining against the walls and at the corners. Stylish, ivory wired patio furniture was causally placed around area. They were black with white cushions and had matching tables with clear, glass tops. Across from me was an outdoor chimney that was built into the wall of the patio. Then there was another flat of stairs, they were diagonal from the ones I entered from. I stepped closer and found that these steps lead to a pool.

"Yes," I whispered excitedly.

"Who's there?"

I jumped to the sound of a new voice. I spun to face a boy with tan skin, dark hair and golden eyes. He was dressed in khaki shorts with a loose maroon tank top and his hair was in disarray, as if he just woke up from a nap.

"Hey," I said awkwardly.

The boy blinked, "Oh, America you're here already." He looked around, "where's my brother?"

"Uh," I stuttered as I raked my brain for his name. "He's just down that way," I gestured to the area I just came from. "You're Lovino right? Or was it Romano?"

"Both; Romano is like my country title and Lovino is my human name. You can call me whatever you wish," the boy said as he walked down the steps, leaving me behind.

When I started to hear shouting, I ran back to the van.

"I only agreed that America could stay with us, but you went and invited that ass and the potato bastard!"

"But Lovino, their house needs to be fixed and they wished to go on vacation, so-"

"It doesn't matter!" Lovino hissed, "I don't want them here!"

Gilbert cuts in, "Lovino-"

He glared, "Its Romano to you!"

"Lovi, please, we came a long way," Elizabeta added.

His eyes soften, "You can stay Liz but these two," he went back to glaring at the Beilschmidt brothers, "I forbid."

Ludwig sighed, "Can we at least spend the night-"

"No!" Then Lovino found Raivis and Peter. "And who are these two?"

Raivis flinched and stepped back but Peter was the braver of the two. "I'm Sealand and this is Latvia."

Lovino lifted a brow in question, "Sealand? What is a Sealand?"

Peter glared but continued in calm voice, "I'm the nation of Sealand, Peter Kirkland."

"Kirkland?" Lovino cursed, "You're related to that damned, know-it-all Britain."

"I was once, but the only thing we share is the last name, nothing else."

Lovino snorted, "You got the eyebrows."

Before Peter could defend himself, Lovino narrowed his eyes at Raivis. "And then we got the Baltic, I don't like you either."

"Y-you don't e-even know me," Raivis stuttered.

"I know you have ties to Russia and I don't like Russia."

"And who does," I proclaimed as I stood protectively in front of my friend. "Feliciano invited all of us to come and stay so deal with it."

Lovino gave me a challenging look and I met his gaze with equal intensity, neither of us backing down.

Gilbert snickered and whispered to Elizabeta, "how much you bet they'll gonna kiss?"

Both Lovino and I blushed and turned away from each other to shout at the albino in sync, "shut up."

After several minutes of arguing and begging (on Feliciano's part), Lovino reluctantly agreed.

Peter and Raivis would take the room in the basement. This floor also had a storage room and a bathroom. The rest of the floor was a comfy den, with a fashionable couch, two recliners, a flat screen and a pool table.

The ground floor held the living room; it was painted white with ivory green furniture. They were part of a set, all of them styled with polished wood trim and legs. They were vintage but, most likely the Italian brothers must've had these couches and love seats for years. The kitchen had wrap around windows and was fashioned out of the Renaissance age but yet it was modern. Brown wooden cabinets were laid out on the wall beside an elegant strove, there was multicolored marble counter tops and silver sinks. There was even a table in the center used for chopping and dicing vegetables, like most kitchens I've seen in movies. The dining room was styled just as the kitchen and was next door, on the right. Further down, there was a small bathroom, a spare bedroom and the master bedroom. Lovino and Feliciano were already using the rooms so we moved on to the next level

The second floor had a small parlor room beside a large window. Two love seats sat across from each other with a table in between. Three bedrooms were on the floor along with another bathroom. Two of the bedrooms were on the right side of the parlor room while the last room and the bathroom were on the left. Two of the remaining four would have to share a room unless someone wanted to have the last room in the tower.

My curiosity peaked, "What does it look like?"

Feliciano gestured me to follow him and we walked up a flat of stairs beside the bathroom. The stair case was narrow and spiraled upwards into an office. The walls on my left and in front held windows but above them, right under the ceiling were bookshelves. They connected along the ceiling till they hit the wall on my right, where everything was covered, from floor to ceiling with shelves of books, art profolios, and photo albums. In the center was a small work desk with sketch paper, pencils and paint scattered over the surface.

"I'm sorry about the mess," Feliciano said embarrassed.

"Its fine, Michel is the same way."

He smiled and gestured to a door behind the stairs. The room was tiny, only having enough room for a twin sized bed against the wall on the right and a dresser beside the door. Feliciano quickly displayed the bathroom, which was behind the door on the left. The bathroom was just as small, but it didn't look cramped. It was cozy just as the bedroom and I was happy to notice that there where small rectangle shaped windows surrounding the entire room and bathroom; letting in a lot of natural light.

"The reason why no one wants the room is because it's small and the air conditioning doesn't reach up here," Feli explained.

"I like it," I reassured him, "can the windows open?"

He nodded, "si."

"Then I'll stay here, besides I get my own bathroom," I grinned wickedly.

"Feliciano!" Lovino yelled his voice almost a whisper in the tower.

We ran back down stairs to the ground floor; where Lovino was glaring at us through the embrace of a dark haired, tan skinned man. "You invited the tomato bastard too," he hissed as he tried to pry the man off.

"But Lovino it's been so long since we spent time together," the man, that I now recognized was Antonio proclaimed.

"Get off!" he shouted and shoved him away.

"Lovino calm down," Feliciano stepped between them. "We haven't been with our brothers in such a long time, so I figured-"

"Wait, did you say brothers," Lovino groaned, "you invited France!"

Feliciano laughed nervously, "yes."

Lovino pulled his hair in frustration, "why?" he whined.

"Because they're our brothers-"

"Our adopted brothers," he said harshly.

"Oh Lovi, why do you have to be so cruel," Antonio leaned against Gilbert and the Prussian patted his head, "he didn't mean it buddy."

He rolled his eyes and turned to Feliciano, "call France, tell him we don't have the room."

"But we do Lovino, you and I can share the master room and Antonio and Francis could have the spare, or Ludwig and Gilbert could share a room and they could have the other."

"Okay, then just tell him not to come!"

"It's too late; he should be on his plane by now."

Lovino groaned as Antonio proclaimed, "I guess this is a bad time to tell you that Francis invited Britain and Canada along."

The Italian boy snapped, "He can't just invite other people into our home, especially Britain!"

"Um," Feliciano was fidgeting with his hands, "I told him he could."

Lovino's eyes blazed, "You're making it really hard for me not to slap you."

After more arguing and pleading (this time done by Antonio, Elizabeta and Feliciano) Lovino gave up. It was decided that the Italian brothers would share the master room so Antonio could have the spare. Then Ludwig and Gilbert would share one of the rooms on the second floor, leaving one open for our incoming guests.

The entire situation was exhausting to watch so I snuck back into the tower. I opened the windows; the air was warm but the gust of wind made it pleasant. I stretched, breathing in the air and absorbing the sun's rays. I lay back onto the bed and yawned, I didn't even realize that I was tired till now. The late-night reading and the near-death experience was taking its toll. I closed my eyes; a nap wouldn't hurt.


 

Lovino sat outside, sitting on the wall and mumbling a string of curses. Excited shouts and laughter could be heard from the kitchen. He glanced back to find his younger brother in the center of everyone's attention. A spark of jealously tingled in his fingertips as he spun back to face the sky and tried to ignore Feliciano and his guests. Anxiety rippled through him, he wasn't a social person and to have so many nations over at the same time agitated him. He had no idea how to act or what to do. Feliciano was always the friendlier one; he seemed to have an affinity for people, being nation or human.

He groaned, angry with himself, even after hundreds of years he still carried a tiny sliver of jealously towards his younger brother. Wasn't he over all this, he thought. He knew he shouldn't focus too much on their differences but he couldn't help it, especially when all of Feliciano's traits were thrown into his face. Veneziano was kind, friendly and creative while Lovino was rude, hostile and couldn't draw a single picture to save his life.

The kitchen door opened, "why so down Lovino?"

"Go away bastard." He may be lonely but he certainly didn't want the annoying Spaniard's company.

"Oh, cheer up Lovi," Antonio walked over and sat beside him, "come and join us, we're making zuppa Toscana, you're favorite."

"Are you trying to bribe me?"

"That depends, is it working?" he grinned.

"No, now leave me alone."

A moment of silence passed till Antonio asked, "What's wrong?"

Lovino mentally groaned. It irritated him when Antonio didn't get his hints; even when they were spelled out for him. People that didn't know the Spanish man would mistake this as stubbornness but Lovino knew it was just stupidity. "Nothing," he hissed.

Antonio sighed, "Lovi, I may not be your boss anymore but you know you can come to me when you have a problem."

"I don't have a problem," he said.

Antonio smiled knowingly and waited.

Lovino sighed, "You are an irritating man."

He ignored his comment, "I know you're not entirely happy about all this."

Lovino gave him a look, "what was your first clue?" He shook his head and mumbled, "Dumbass."

Antonio chuckled lightly, "you're not use to so many people here, and its making you nervous isn't it."

The Italian grumbled and turned away from him to hide his flush of embarrassment. Antonio continued, "You already knew that America was coming, so why are you so upset?"

"Because that one person turned into seven, soon to be ten," Lovino sighed. "It would've been fine if it was just you and Liz."

"Oh Lovi-"

"Before you get emotional, realize I only said that because I can tolerate you."

"I'll take it," he smiled.

Lovino rolled his eyes but continued, "But I can't stand that potato bastard and his asshole of a brother. Then there is that Sealand boy," he shook his head, "I don't trust anyone that's related to that bastard England."

"He doesn't go by England anymore, mostly Britain," Antonio informed.

"England, Britain, it doesn't matter it's the same damn thing." Lovino turned to him, "and why are you so calm about this, don't you hate him too?"

Antonio shrugged, "we've had our problems but I wouldn't call it hatred."

"He burned down your navy fleet and made you the laughing stack of Europe."

"Rubbing salt into the wound, Lovino, rubbing salt into the wound," Antonio mumbled till he proclaimed. "You must learn to let go; besides it's just for two weeks-"

"Yes, two weeks! Two weeks with them," he pointed to the kitchen. "At least with America, she would've spent all of her time with Feliciano, going to the museums and sightseeing. But everyone here has been to Rome countless of times, they'll just spend their time here."

"Not all the time, Rome has some amazing night clubs," Antonio smiled.

Lovino cursed under his breath, he needed to find new clubs so he could make sure to avoid them.

"So you weren't planning to get to know America?" Antonio asked.

"Veneziano likes her and she seems to like him," he said. "I was just gonna leave them be."

"Lovino don't be like this, you have some amazing qualities. You are funny; when you want to be. Kind; when you want to be."

"I get it, I have the potential."

Antonio gave a mischievous smile. "Si, you must, to have such a way with the señoritas," he winked.

Lovino gave a soft huff of air that could almost be counted as a laugh. "I did learn from the country of passion."

Antonio beamed as Feliciano opened the door, "fratello, the soup's ready."

Everyone took their seats at the dining table and they were about to eat till Elizabeta proclaimed, "Where is Amy?"

"She must've gone to her room to hide from us," Gilbert said as he took a spoon full of his soup.

"I would too," Ludwig added.

"I'll go get her," Feliciano moved to walk out of the room but Antonio spoke up.

"Wait, Feli you have been on your feet all day, let Lovino go."

Lovino gave him a quick shake of his head but he ignored him and nudged the boy out of his seat. "Go, go, go," he said excitedly.

Lovino tried to object but Antonio wouldn't hear it. The other nations swiftly grew annoyed with their petty fight and also agreed for him to fetch her. He was ushered out of the room and guided to the stair case. He couldn't really call her down for it would use all of his volume just for a whisper to get through and if she was asleep she would never hear. Lovino sighed once again and headed to the tower.

His nerves were bundling deep inside of him and with every step he took these knots would tighten. Relax, Lovino she's just a girl. When he reached the American's room, he knocked and was answered with silence. "America?" he opened the door and found the girl on the bed, fast asleep just as he assumed.

He stepped closer, "America?"

She didn't stir and Lovino moved closer, his eyes subconsciously glancing to her naked legs. She was wearing a pair of shorts that came to her mid-thigh and a baggy graphic tank top. The straps were thin with deep, hanging openings that revealed her bra and rib cage. His eyes continued to roam over her body till they settled on her face. Her curly locks surrounded her head like a halo, her eyes flickered under her lids and her mouth was slightly open.

He finally realized he was staring and he cursed at himself. He was watching her as she slept, what was he? France? When that thought crossed his mind, he winced.

America mumbled and Lovino jumped, she didn't wake up only continued to murmur. Curiously builds as he moved closer to make out her string of words.

"No…" she whispered. "No… Kai…"

Lovino knitted his brows together in wonder but he put aside his questions and shook her by the shoulder. "America, wake up."

Her eyes shot open as she sucked in a quick intake of air. Lovino flinched back and she sat up, covering her face in her hands and brushing her fingers through her sweat soaked hair. She uttered a curse and rubbed her eyes before she turned to face him. "Lovino, what's going on? Why are you here?"

"Um," Lovino stuttered for a moment. "I came to get you for lunch."

She nodded, "right, I'll be down soon."

Lovino knew he should leave but his curiously could not be ignored, he had been like this ever since he was a kid. "You had a bad dream?" he asked, but when the phase left his lips he wanted to slap himself. Of course she had a bad dream, stupid.

But the question didn't seem to bother her, "yeah," she sighed, "I thought I was over them." Then her blue eyes widened as if she remembered something. She grabbed her bag and dug through, pulling out an item that was carefully wrapped in tissue paper.

Lovino observed as she unraveled the paper to reveal a brown circle with a tied web in the center. The string used for the web was decorated with colorful stones. Clear crystals hanged by the thin leather stings under the circle, along with beads, brown and white feathers and small wooden carvings of wild animals. It was a dream catcher.

She stepped back onto the bed and hanged the object in front of the window, right above her bed. "I guess this thing works better than I thought," she mumbled.

"Do you always have nightmares when you sleep without it?" Lovino asked.

She looked to him, surprised. She probably thought that he didn't hear her mumbling. "Well no, it's just," she sighed, "it's comforting."

They were quiet for a while till America changed the subject. It seems her dreams are a touchy subject, Lovino thought.

"Have you ever had a dream catcher?"

"Once," he recalled, "Spain brought one back to me when he came back from the New World."

A spark of interest shined in her eyes, "Really?"

"Yes, Spain was one of the first countries to visit. Didn't you take history in school?" Lovino asked rudely.

America snorted, "I know that, I'm just surprised that Antonio went."

"Of course he did, he was one of the armada's captains."

She nodded, absorbing the information, "could he have met-"

She didn't bother to finish her question. She leaped off the bed and sprinted out of the room, leaving him behind.


 

I jumped the stairs taking two at a time, using my sudden burst of energy to see Antonio. When I reached the dining room, they were all sitting around the table having a soup of some kind.

"Oh Amy, did you have a nice siesta?" Feliciano greeted as I entered the room.

Siesta meant sleep or nap in Italian and I nodded, slowly. In truth, I didn't have a nice siesta. It was peaceful and dreamless at first till I found myself in Ludwig's attic and had a pair nunasishs haul me away into a dark corner, after they had pulled in Kai. Throughout all of these dreams, there was a connection. No matter the scenery, the concept was always the same. I would be kicking and screaming as I was dragged into a pit of never ending darkness.

Yeah, I'm never sleeping without that dream catcher again.

During lunch I never had the chance to bring up my question for the Spaniard. Too many other questions were being answered, such as 'where should we go first?' 'What do we see first?' and 'which restaurant severs the best gelato?'

Afterwards, I was helping Feliciano and Lovino clean up. Feliciano tried to stop me, saying I was guest, along with Ludwig who just had to do the dishes, but we didn't mind. Besides everyone was in the kitchen enjoying themselves. Elizabeta, Peter and Raivis were looking through travel books, highlighting which places we should visit. Gilbert and Antonio were catching up as they also added their suggestions for sightseeing.

It reminded me of home, of how my family would sit at the table in our kitchen, talking and laughing with one other. Our friends, being my parents', my siblings' or my own would drop by to join us. Some didn't even have to knock, they would just stroll right in and we didn't mind it. Mostly we would greet them with a hug and ask them if they wanted anything to drink or eat, but some of our better known friends, such as Michel and Jamie didn't have to ask. They knew where all the food was.

Any moment the doorbell would ring and Francis and Matthew would walk right in. I was excited to see them, mapping out a great vacation in my head to make up for my disappearance in Berlin. The only one I was nervous about seeing was Arthur. He never returned my calls and he was pretty pissed at me the last time we spoke, but it had to be a good sign that he was coming, right?

I sighed and focused on my sweeping till I realized this could be my chance to ask. "Hey Antonio," he looked to me with a smile and I jumped to my question with no hesitation. "Did you ever meet the America before Alfred? You know before colonization?"

His eyes widened and his face grew pale, "you want to know about North?"

Everyone grew silent and turned to glance to us but I ignored them and continued. "Yeah, did you know this nation?"

He sighed and brushed a hand through his hair, "Yes. Did-did Francis or Britain speak to you about her?"

"No I just figured that Alfred was the colonized America so there would have to be an America before him."

Antonio nodded and spoke awkwardly, "si, si, there was."

"What was she like?" I asked.

He took a moment, "well she was beautiful. She had long dark hair with matching eyes and her skin was deep shade of copper just as the people we met when we crossed into, what is now known as Texas." Everyone in the room was leaning in, listening to Antonio's story. "She lived in the wildness of the land, along with the animals."

"She sounds like Snow White with all her little animal friends," Peter remarked.

Antonio chuckled, "She was nothing like the fairytale princess. She was strong, mystical and terrifying, a warrior of her people."

"I like her already," Elizabeta smirked.

"Some of the tribes even called her a goddess," Antonio added.

Gilbert sighed, "Ja, all the ancients were treated like gods, what happened?"

"Christianity was founded," Lovino countered.

"Oh, right."

"Go on," I nudged Antonio.

"Well there's not much-"

"Not much," Gilbert gave him a look, "she scalped you."

"Why?" Raivis asked with wide eyes.

"He was moving in on her land, she told him to leave, he didn't," he made a hissing noise that was meant to be a cut. "Slice went his scalp."

Antonio shrugged, "it wouldn't matter what she did. Her time was over."

"Did you ever talk to her?" I asked.

He shook his head, "She hated me; besides most of her time was spent with Francis and Britain in the east. If you want to know more, you're going to have to ask them."

Chapter Text

It turned out that Arthur, Francis and Matthew wouldn't be arriving till dinner. I spent that time checking out the pool. It was a simple rectangle shape, massive in length and had only one stair entrance on its right. It was surrounded by brown multicolored tile and light tan lounge chairs. The depth started at three feet, to five and finally to nine; the only down side, was that it didn't have a driving board.

I was wearing a strapless bathing suit that hooked in at the back. It was a one piece and white around the breast area but it was styled to fade into blue at the bottom. It was my favorite of my bathing suits. I dived into the deepest part of the pool, performing underwater back flips and swimming down to see if I could touch the floor.

When I came up for air, Elizabeta said, "You're like fish."

I leaned against the edge, "when I was kid I went to the beach nearly every day, and most times I pretended I was a mermaid." I grinned at the memory and she smiled back. She was wearing a green bikini and a pair of large stylish sunglasses. Her hair was tied into a messy bun, a few strands slipping out but she made it work.

"I'm guessing that The Little Mermaid was your favorite Disney movie while growing up," Peter commented. He and Raivis had joined us and were swimming along with me.

"Nope, Lady and the Tramp, I'm a huge animal lover, so anything that had dogs, cats or horses; I couldn't get enough of."

"Did you like the Lion King?" Raivis asked.

"Hells yes; guys, I had siblings that grew up in the 90's and our parents brought us every Disney movie there was and we still have them as VHS tapes. I may have been born in 2001 but Melissa and Johnny made sure I understood their references."

"It sounds like you had a pair of wonderful siblings," Elizabeta proclaimed.

I snorted, "I was Melissa's doll; she dressed me up in frilly outfits and put make up on me. Johnny played pranks on me and would pop out of my closet wearing a scary mask."

Raivis smiled sadly, "I wish I had siblings."

"Aw," I swam over to him, "I can make you wear dresses and put make up on you."

"And I can wear a scary mask and pop out of places to scare you," Peter added.

Raivis gave us a look, "thank you, I certainly feel your love."

"You would make a pretty girl Latvia," Feliciano said as he walked down the steps to join us. He was wearing a very short, very tight speedo.

"Oh my god," I turned away, trying to hold in my laughter.

"My eyes," Peter hissed, "they burn."

"Please tell me he's the only one to wear that," I whispered.

"Do you want me to lie?" Raivis asked.

I peeked through my fingers to find Lovino and Antonio wearing their own pair. Both Feliciano and Lovino were scrawny but now that I actually paid attention, they were toned. Their limbs were thin but there was some muscle, they had flat stomachs and their waists were slim and slightly narrow. The difference between the two was that Lovino was tanner than his brother. Antonio had a soccer player's physic; his legs and core were taut and muscular. His arms and chest were defined and had four pack abs.

Peter whispered in my ear, "You're drooling love."

I splashed him, "I am not!"

He jumped back but didn't hide his smile, "I see the truth now, the quirky, funny guy isn't your type," he pointed to Antonio, "that's your type."

"I have to admit, the way you were staring at Mr. Spain was somewhat shallow," Raivis commented.

I flushed in embarrassment, "I was just looking; there is no harm in that." I narrowed my eyes at them, "besides I wouldn't ask a guy out just based on his looks."

"Uh-huh, sure you wouldn't," said Peter.

I smacked him on his arm, "you guys are just hating because you two are scrawny and pale."

A gloom came over as Raivis's shoulders slumped and Peter crossed his arms and mumbled a string of curses. I realized I hit them below the belt and apologized, "I'm sorry guys." I placed myself in the middle and rubbed their naked backs, reassuring them. "Peter, you are funny guy. Raivis, you are adorable and if any girl says otherwise, I will smack them."

"But you're right, I mean dear god, you have bigger biceps than we do," Peter remarked.

I flexed, revealing a palm size muscle, I glanced to their noodle arms. "Well you guys have a point," I stood in front of them and held up my arms up, "Can't stop this gun show."

The boys shared a look and both splashed me in the face in sync. I wiped the water from eyes, glared playfully and shot out my hands, splashing water rapidly.


 

Lovino watched from the sidelines as Amy, Raivis and Peter rough-housed in the water; splashing and dunking one another. They were laughing and calling each other names in a joking matter. His eyes slid to Elizabeta as she applied sun lotion on her arms and legs. Her body was just as curvy and tone as he remembered. The Germans were beside her both dressed in loose swim trunks, they too were applying sunscreen. He glared at them till he turned his attention back to Liz. Her silky hair was twisted together in a bun on the top of her head and her white milky skin shined against the sunlight. He took a moment to admire the curve of her back and bottom. The strings of her bikini top were so thin that with one little tug would undo the knot and allow her breasts to be free.

Lovino smiled as the memory of Elizabeta in his bed came rushing back. The two entangled in each other, their arms draped around their necks and backs as their legs hooked around their waists. Elizabeta was aggressive and dominating, but Lovino didn't complain. It was refreshing and an incredible surge of confidence when he was able to dominate her.

His smile quickly faded when she turned to Gilbert asking for him to cover her back. The albino grinned and was more than eager to apply. Lovino observed their movements with an envious eye. Gilbert roamed his hands over her shoulders, massaging her and tickling her behind the ears. She giggled like a school girl and blushed just like one as his hands traveled to her waist.

Lovino sighed; it seems they're back together, again. He knew that he and Liz were a causally fling from time to time, but still he cared about her.

He removed his eyes from the couple and glanced to his brother and the potato bastard. Both were talking and lounging under the large umbrella. He muttered a curse at their behavior and decided to turn back to the three teenage nations in the pool. Their water fight was over and the three were showing off at the edge of the pool.

Peter cannoned balled in, splashing him and Antonio. "Hey! Watch it," Lovino hissed as Antonio shrugged it off and jumped in at the shallow end, cheering along with the trio. The Baltic was next, diving in with a spin in mid-air.

"Is that the best you guys got?" Amy smirked and climbed out. She was all leg; the limbs were long and firm. Her waist was slim and her shoulders and arms were thin but muscular; definitely a dancer's body. Her training was going well, her neck and jawline was thinner and her thighs were strong and tight. When his eyes found her face, she was looking at him.

He was caught red handed.

Amy covered her arms defensively over her chest and speed walked to the deep end. He cursed under his breath; I was gawking at her like a damn preteen. His face flushed in embarrassment as he turned the ground, self-conscious that everyone was looking at him. They weren't of course; all eyes were on Amy as she turned her back to the pool and flipped herself in, feet first.

The boys cheered and Antonio clapped, "Fantástico!"

Amy swam over and gave quick bows, "thank you; thank you."

Gilbert snorted, "We can do better! Come on Liz!"

"Wha-" she yelped as Gilbert carried her bridal style and leaped in. The water rose like tiny waves, crashing against the edges of the pool.

"Gilbert!" Elizabeta smacked him over his head as she tried to gather her hair that fell out its bun.

She flipped her hair back as he smirked and she slapped water at him. Feliciano pulled at Ludwig's arm trying to get him to the pool. The blond shook his head and when he tried to walk back to the villa, Lovino's brother jumped into action. He launched onto Ludwig, wrapping himself on the blond like a monkey.

Ludwig stumbled and together they fell in with a splat. Everyone laughed as Ludwig swam up for air and tried to strangle the Italian. Feliciano dodged him, "let's play Marco Polo! Ludwig's it! Polo!"

"I'm not playing-"

"Polo!" Feliciano continued, swimming away.

"Feli-"

"Polo!" Everyone chanted along.

He groaned and Lovino smirked.

Ludwig once again, tried to get close to Feliciano but he ducked. The blond moved on to his brother but he too backed away. "I'm not playing this game," he sighed.

"Fine, kill joy," Amy proclaimed and closed her eyes, "I'm it," she held up her hands. "Marco."

Everyone but Ludwig chimed in "Polo."

Lovino shook his head and leaned back in his chair. They continued with this game for what he guessed was twenty minutes. His eyes glanced to the cool, inviting water. The need to relieve his burning skin grew. He plunged into the deep end to avoid the others, instantly his skin was cooled causing goose bumps to form over his entire body. When he came back for air, he found that Amy was it again and was swimming after Antonio and Raivis.

"You are looking Amy," Antonio called out.

"I'm not," she said tip-toeing towards them, losing the surface of the floor as she moved into the deep end; she dog-paddled, searching for them with her hands, "Marco."

Antonio and Raivis separated leaving Lovino in her way. Before he could react, Amy lunged, grasping her hand out at the open air. She collided into him as her hand, by some godly fate was able to clutch onto his curl. Her arm fell, pulling the curl; hard.

His jaw dropped in a silent cry as every nerve in his body burned and yet trembled at the same time. The lower half of his body immediately twitched. "Cazzo!" he hissed through gritted teeth as he tried to force his legs to move.

Amy kicked away from him, "Are you okay? What's wrong?"

He trended water till his back hit the wall and his hands were able to grip the edge. "It's nothing," he looked away from her, trying to control his breathing.

Antonio chuckled, "you touched his curl."

"More like tried to yank it out of his head," Gilbert added with a chuckle.

"What's the big deal, it's just hair," Amy proclaimed.

Everyone glanced to one another, waiting for someone to explain; well everyone besides Peter and Raivis for both carried the same confused looks as Amy. Lovino quickly noticed that the Prussian was more than happy to answer but he beat him to it. He didn't want to be even more humiliated than he already was.

"M-my curl is sensitive," he said.

"It's just a strand of hair," she countered.

Lovino ground his teeth together in annoyance but kept his cool, "it's connected to a certain amount of nerves that-"

"For god's sake," Gilbert exclaimed, "he gets aroused when his curl is touched."

That son of a bitch, Lovino glared at him.

"What?" Amy gave a soft laugh, "Are you serious?" she asked in a joking matter.

Gilbert nodded; his face stern.

Feliciano stepped forward, "It's true Amy, both of us have the same-" he paused for a moment, "trait."

She stared at him, "really?"

Feliciano, Gilbert, Ludwig, Antonio and Liz nodded their heads.

Her eyes widened in shock as she slowly turned to face Lovino again. Her cheeks instantly flushed and he covered his face with one hand. "I'm so sorry Lovino, I-I didn't know," she fumbled with her words.

"Should we just leave you two alone then," Gilbert smirked.

Both of them stared at him in embarrassment and irritation but they didn't need to say anything for Elizabeta came to their rescue. She slammed her hand onto his head, "I think you need to cool off." She plunged him into the water, bubbles quickly formed but Elizabeta still kept him under.


 

Later after a shower and a change of clothes, the boys and I decided to watch a movie on cable in the den. All the channels were in Italian but we were able to set the subtitles on for English. My Italian was a little rusty but just like riding a bike, the words and phrases came rushing back. I didn't even need to look at the subtitles anymore.

The afternoon of swimming had taken its toll on the boys; they were lying on the couch on either side of each other. They had recently bathed and their clothes clinged to them like second skin. Peter had his bath towel over his head and Raivis was groaning slightly as he moved his limbs.

They were also badly sunburned on their cheeks, chests and arms. I had spent the last ten minutes applying after-sun on their backs and shoulders as well.

"Why aren't you burned?" Peter asked, lifting his towel to glare at me.

"I wore sunscreen like you’re supposed to. Also, I’m a badass that don’t get burned."

Raivis laughed and Peter narrowed his eyes, "yes you were certainly a badass when you tackled Romano and pulled on his sensitive curl." He slurred 'sensitive', like it was dirty word.

I flushed in embarrassment as the memory replayed. I didn't mean to yank on his curl, my eyes were shut tight and when I made the leap I thought I would grab either Raivis or Antonio but instead I caught Lovino. "It was all an accident."

"Uh-huh, sure it was," he wiggled his eyebrows at me.

"Don't make me smack you where the sunburn hurts," I threatened.

The doorbell ringed and I perked up; I heard Feliciano open the door, "Big brother France!" he squealed happily.

I jumped out of my seat and ran up the steps to the ground floor. When I slid into the living room I found Francis hugging Feliciano at the front entrance.

"Oh Feli, it's been too long."

"You just saw him a few weeks ago, frog," a familiar British voice said behind him.

Francis ignored him and looked up to me; he smiled and opened his arms.

Feliciano stepped out of the way so I could hop into the blonde's arms. "I missed you."

Arthur sighed, "It hasn't been that long."

"Ignore him, he doesn't understand feelings," I whispered in Francis's ear.

"I already do," he whispered back and I giggled.

"Can someone help me here," Matthew was dragging two massive suitcases, "please."

"Hold on," I grabbed one of the cases and lifted it with ease. "This is not so heavy."

He gave me a look, "don't rub it in."

Kumajirou, Matthew's small, adorable polar bear came waddling in on all fours. He patted a paw on my ankle, asking to be carried. I bent down and scoped him up, "you are so cute." He nuzzled his snout into my neck and grumbled sickly.

I turned to Matthew, "what's wrong with him? He doesn't look good."

"He's not used to the heat," he said as carried his suitcase with both hands.

"Why didn't you leave him in Canada?"

"I can't," he gazed to the bear, "we've always been together."

I nodded and then suggested, "We have a pool in the back; he can use it."

"That sounds good," he smiled but that smile didn't last as he continued to have trouble with the suitcase.

I noticed that he had a duffle bag draped over his shoulder, "why did you bring all this? You're only going to be here for two weeks."

He stopped, panting against the case, "the duffle bag is mine; the suitcases belong to Francis."

I turned to Frenchman, "what the hell do you have in these?"

Francis counted off his fingers, "clothes, hairdryer, body lotions, colognes, hair care," he stopped when he noticed us gazing at him with cocked eyebrows. "You think all this just happens," he gestures to himself.

Arthur shook his head, "you are unbelievable."

"Francis!" Antonio exclaimed as he walked in from the kitchen, "I knew I heard the sound of dragged, overstuffed suitcases." They shared a hug as Gilbert cuts in, side-hugging the Frenchman.

Arthur turned to me, "where are we staying?"

"Well you guys have a choice; there is one room left and another one that can take one person in. You can either share a room with Antonio or share the empty room with Francis or Matt-"

"Matthew," Arthur looked to him, "come along we're going to be staying in the empty room."

He nodded, "I'll be there in a sec; I'm gonna cool down Kumajirou in the pool." Feliciano gestured for Matthew to follow him to the back.

"Oh Angleterre, why not share a room with me?" Francis winked.

"In your dreams," he hissed and strides to the stairs. A moment passed, till he asked, "which one is it?"

I ran up the stairs, "the one next to the bathroom."

He nodded and I followed him into his room. He begins to unpack and I sat on one of the twin beds, observing him, waiting for the right moment to ask him about North.

He glanced to me and lifted a thick brow in confusion, "why are you staring at me?"

I pulled my knees into my body, "no reason, just, um-"

Arthur massaged the bridge of his nose, "what is it?"

Now or never, "What was North like?"

He froze and slowly turned to look at me, his face pale. "How do you know about North?"

I disregarded his features and rolled my eyes, "Arthur, I've taken history. Everyone knows there was life before the Europeans arrived. But if you must know, it was Antonio."

Arthur cursed and avoided looking directly at me. "What did he tell you?"

I shrugged, "that she was beautiful, lived in the woods and she scalped him."

He snorted, "That was her."

"But I want to know more," I proclaimed, "you and Francis would have known her better right?"

He continued to sort his clothes, "Not really."

My nerves tensed and my gut twisted, he was hiding something. "Come on Arthur, I want to know."

"There's not much."

"What was her human name?"

"She never told me."

"Did you ever spend time with her?"

"No."

"Did she ever live with any of the tribes? She must've right?"

He shrugged his shoulders, "I wasn't really paying attention. I was too preoccupied with trying to save my settlers from dying of starvation."

I groaned, "Why are you being so frustrating? North is part of my culture, part of Alfred's-"

Arthur shoved the drawer with a loud slam, "She led her people to raid my settlements and killed dozens of my settlers. She was a dangerous, spiteful woman that I would prefer not to speak of."

"But-"

"Enough! I refuse to talk about that damn savage!"

Air-suffocating silence formed between us as I stared at him with shocked eyes and he blinked, realizing what he just said. That word sparked a fiery pit of heat that rapidly surged through my body.

"Did you forget who my dad is or my grandparents?" I hissed, through a controlled voice.

Arthur tensed at my tone, "Amy I didn't mean them, I meant her."

"But she represents their ancestors, so you pretty much meant them." I was breathing heavily through my nose and my hands were clutched into tight fists. Afraid of what I might do, I rose off the bed and stride to the door.

"Wait-"

"Don't." I warned him with piercing eyes and walked out of the room.

I sprinted out of the villa, trying to find somewhere to be alone. I dashed around on to the right side of the yard, which was scattered with more olive trees. I was panting, my nerves were bundling into a tight ball and my hands were burning and swelling, begging to hit something. I stumbled onto a rock and kicked it. It soared across the yard and landed in the distance. When that wasn't enough I began stomping on the bark of a tree.

After a couple of hits, I stumbled back and leaned against another tree. My nerves unwound, and I released a clam breath.

"Are you done with your little tantrum?"

I looked up to Lovino, who was glaring at me disapprovingly. He then glanced to the tree I was just kicking; the bark was completely torn away and the soft tan wood under that bark was covered with red lines like it was bleeding. "Next time, would you mind not going on a rampage on my trees," he snapped.

I sighed, not really having the strength to fight. "I'm sorry; it was either the tree or Arthur's face."

"Well unlike my tree, I'm sure he deserved it." He stepped forward and placed a soothing hand on the wound.

I gathered my knees under my chin and closed my eyes, "I'm sorry."

A moment of silence passed till Lovino asked in a softer tone, "What did that jerk Britain say?"

I gazed to him, his eyes held no anger or irritation just simple curiously and concern. I bit my inner cheek, "he called North a savage, and I just," I sighed. "They thought just because Native Americans lived off the land and had different customs than the Europeans that it made them less human." I shook my head, sadly, "People have called my grandfather the same thing and it just . . . hurts you know."

He nodded as he lowered himself to sit across from me. The sun was low in the sky, revealing the vivid colors of twilight. The bright orange rays shined through the open patches of the branches compelling me to see everything in a yellowed red haze. I breathed in the crisp earth scent and said, "My family is so proud of their heritage and I remembered when I was younger I used to be so jealous of them because their heritage was not mine to claim." I smiled slightly, "Now that I know I'm America, it is."

My smile faded, "and when Arthur called North that, I felt like he was disrespecting me and my family, both human and nation."

Lovino was silent for a few minutes till he decided to change the subject. "Aren't there legends of her or records of some kind?" he asked.

I shook my head, "the tribes passed along history and myths through storytelling. I've listened to every story my grandparents told me and I don't remember them ever talking about an immortal woman. And the whole idea of North being worshiped is confusing for different tribes believed in different spirits."

"Maybe she went by another name," he suggested. "My grandfather was sometimes referred to as the incarnate of the war god Mars."

I blinked, "who was your grandfather?"

"Rome."

My eyes widened, "The Rome?"

"Yes."

"Wait, you remember him? How old are you?"

He shrugged, "I lost count but I would be over two-thousand years old."

My jaw dropped and he snorted, "it's nothing compared to China he's over four-thousand."

"Wow."

He nodded, "I know, I was found in the late BC era, so was my brother and France and Antonio were just a little bit older."

"So did you guys see the birth of Jesus Christ?"

He laughed, "No I'm afraid not."

"Did you meet him?"

"We were children, we only heard rumors. Grandpa Rome would know but," he sighed, his golden eyes losing their light, "he's gone."

I took a moment to look at Lovino, his head titled to the side and his eyes glazed over, he seemed wounded. "I lost my grandpa a few months ago," I said. "Sometimes when I'm alone I expect him to walk through the door and greet me with a hug and smile, like he always did."

He gazed at me for a few minutes before he said, "When I walk through this city, sometimes I think I see him in the crowd. Sometimes I chase after that figure but it's never him."

I gave a sad, knowing smile, "But you still hang onto that hope to that sliver of chance that you can see him again."

He nodded, remaining quiet.

"Lovino! Amy!" Feliciano's voice echoed from the front door. "Dinner's ready!"

We looked towards the villa and rose to stand. We walked side by side, very much aware of each other's presence.


 

The next morning Feliciano announced that we would take the Hop On-Hop Off Rome Bus Tour. The first tour was at seven and Feli said that we would want to beat the massive crowds of the afternoon. The tour bus was like the double decker buses they had in Britain but the enormous vehicle was red with colorful graphics. Feliciano had gotten us all reserved tickets, which made wonder, did he plan to have so many people staying at his house?

Even though it was a Tuesday morning, the bus was filled with Japanese and French tourists and American back-packers. Our group sat together on the upper level of the bus; Feli said it was the best way to see the landscape. He was right; we were able to see every nook and corner and get a quick lay out of the city. The tour had eight stops and during these stops we were able to see the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine, mostly just passing by them. But we were able to spend some time at some of the sites like the Vatican City, St. Peters Square, Vittorio Emanuele II Monument and the Fountain of the Four Rivers. Each of these places had a stop and we were able take a swift ten minute walk around the area. This allowed me to take tons of pictures; most of these photos had me and the other nations standing in front of these ancient buildings. I also took plenty of video, recording some of what Feliciano had said about the sites and our group walking around and interacting with the locals and each other.

During all these free moments from the bus, Feliciano became our tour guide, spatting out facts about the buildings and locations. Before we knew it, even the tour groups and the back-packers were joining us to listen in on our enthusiastic guide.

After we had lunch we took the tour bus back to the Colosseum, (the buses ran all day and they would let you back on as long you had your ticket) Feli wanted us to take a closer look at the Colosseum, the Arch of Constantine and the Roman Forum.

The Colosseum was just like what I've seen in movies but grander. No matter how many times you see it in a photo or in a film, it never really lives up to the real thing.

It was amazingly well persevered. The outside of the building features several arches some of which led inside corridors from the base of the stadium. The arches around the upper floors were each filled with sculptures of gladiators. The interior contained wood floors that covered a complex set of rooms and passages where the elaborate show scenery, the gladiators, and the animals were housed. Doors in the floor allowed the men and animals to get to the 'stage' on a counter-weighted elevator of some kind.

I remembered from all the gladiator movies I've seen that spectators sat in sections within the Colosseum according to their class with the least important citizens at the top and the Senators and the rich near the bottom.

The Arch of Constantine sat right outside the main entrance of the Colosseum. Flocks of photographers and wedding couples were surrounding the area, taking their photos in front of the beautiful arch.

I must have carried a questionable look on my face for Lovino said, "It's a custom for the bride and groom to take their picture in front of the arch and Colosseum and give them out as wedding favors."

"That's cool, all I got from Johnny's wedding was candy and a candle well at least it was better than what Melissa gave out."

"What did she give?" he asked.

"Little jars of dirt." I allowed that statement to sink in.

"A jar of dirt?" he cocked an eyebrow.

"Yes, I know, I had the same look on my face when Mel told us about the favors but she explained that it was supposed to symbolize our families coming together. Each vile contained soil from Spain, Mexico, Hawaii, Oklahoma and India, it represented that no matter where we were from we were all the same, for the earth was the same."

"Isn't the earth made up of different minerals in different locations across the world," he proclaimed.

I nodded, "that's what Johnny said and Melissa told him to shut up and smacked him."

He chuckled, "that sounds like your family."

"Yeah, sometimes I think we're a sitcom but," I smiled, "I wouldn't change them for the world."

Lovino glanced to Feliciano and nodded.

Later on, we headed to the Roman Forum. "It was once the heart of ancient Roman civilization, the place where the central government of the Roman Empire was seated and was the central hub for economic and commercial activities." Raivis said as he read from his recently brought book called Rome Past and Present with Reconstructions.

It was a small red book that a vendor was selling outside of the forum. The book had detailed pictures of what the ruins looked like two thousand years ago. Amongst the ruins were countless temples and sanctuaries; rows of columns and arches commemorating people and battle victories, and Senate buildings. All this of course was according to the book in the Latvian's hands.

"Is this your first time in Rome?" I asked him.

He flushed, embarrassed. "Yes, I never had the chance to visit for my country was never on good terms with Italy and then when I was part of the USSR, it only got worse." He looked up to the ruins in awe, "but now I can go where ever I wish."

I smiled and Peter wrapped his arms around our shoulders, "Hey guys Feliciano just said that the temple over there," he gestured to a crumbling temple in the far-off distance. "It's called Casa delle Vestali, House of the Vestal Virgins."

"Maybe you should join them," I proclaimed as Raivis chuckled.

Peter ignored me and continued, "The six priestesses that were selected, were from patrician families, the girls would be between the ages of six and ten and they would have to serve in the temple for thirty years. If the flame in the temple went out, the priestess responsible would be flogged, and if she lost her virginity she would be buried alive, since her blood couldn't be spilled. The offending man would then be flogged to death."

"Well at least the men also got punished; most times it's just the ladies." I said the next part with pure sarcasm, "now that is true equality."

Raivis sighed, "There are seven billion people in this world and I'm friends with you two," he mumbled.

"Doesn't that question your character more than ours?" Peter smirked as I laughed.

We spent the rest of the day in the ruins, poising together as we took pictures. Gilbert, Peter, Raivis and I did our best gladiator battle cries as Matthew recorded it on my phone. The next round of pictures and video was filled with me, the nations and the ruins. Antonio, the Italian brothers and I took our picture in front the Temple of Saturn. Francis, Matthew and Arthur stood behind me as another photo was taken in front of a crumbling arch and I surprised Ludwig in a selfie. The final image was of me and Elizabeta with our arms draped around each other in front of the Casa delle Vestali, home of the virgins who tended the sacred flame to the goddess Vesta. Gilbert then commented, loudly that Elizabeta should step away from the temple before the goddess smites her.

That earned him a good punch in the jaw.

Francis shook his head, "when is he ever going to learn."

"How are they together again?" I asked.

Matthew sighed, "It's a long, dragged out story."

Kumajirou moaned in his arms, "hot. . ."

I flinched, checking if anyone had heard our talking bear but the tourists were too preoccupied with the site. Matthew quickly pulled out an ice cold water bottle from the small cooler he had swung over his shoulder. He poured half of the liquid over the bear's head and offered Kumajirou the rest to drink.

"How's the little fella holding up?" I gave him some of my water and scratched him under his chin.

Matthew's eyes filled with worry, "he needs an AC."

"Then we should go back to the villa," Arthur suggested, "besides we've seen plenty of Rome for the first day."

I stepped away and avoided making eye contact with him. I haven't forgiven him for the savage comment and I wasn't planning on doing it anytime soon.

"No we can't leave just yet, I've saved the best event for last," Feliciano exclaimed.

"Feli, we've been out all day." Ludwig added, "It can wait tomorrow."

"No it can't, the newbies," he gestured to me, Peter and Raivis, "need to see the Seven Hills."

We had taken two cars, the van and a red convertible that belonged to Lovino; our group splits up and followed Feliciano's directions to the outskirts of the city. We parked and continued to follow the excited Italian up a flight of stone steps that were aligned to curve with the earth. Busts of people were scattered along the pathways, Feliciano said they were national heroes. At the very top of this hill, looming over everything was a gigantic statue of the great bearded hero Giuseppe Garibaldi on horseback. He was charismatic figure in the Italian Risorgimento, the 19th-century movement that unified modern Italy.

But what was truly stunning and breath taking was the view. Gianicolo, also known as Janiculum or the city of seven hills, was completely enchanting; the rooftops of the domes and spires overwhelmed the landscape. The city was a wave of brown, tan and red buildings aligning perfectly along the distant mountains and the blue skyline.

I glanced to Peter and Raivis, both were just as captivated as I was. I turned to each nation; they were gazing at the scenery, enjoying the breeze of the late afternoon and the silence away from the city.


 

The next day we visited the Galleria Borghese, the gallery was in a magnificent seventeenth century villa. It was gigantic and sat in Borghese Garden Park, one of the few green places in Rome. The mansion contained twenty rooms and each room held antiquities, sculptures and paintings. The villa was divided into two parts: the ground floor maintained fantastic sculptures, sophisticated Roman floor mosaics and over-the-top frescoes; and the upstairs carried the picture gallery.

As we entered the building, we were greeted with floor assortments of fighting gladiators and a gravity defying 3D pop out of a horse and rider falling into the void. It was called the Marco Curzio a Cavallo by Pietro Bernini and it was like a sculpture built into the wall and it looked like it would fall on top of us, it was definitely cool.

"The Galleria Borghese is said to house the queen of all private art collections, and I personally agree. The gallery carries paintings by Caravaggio, Botticelli and Raphael, as well as some spectacular sculptures by Gian Lorenzo Bernini." Feliciano announced.

I nodded as we strolled behind him, eying each life-like, white marble statue that passed our way. These sculptures were vivid and mesmerizing; some portrayed images of Greek myths. The Apollo e Dafne was beautifully detailed and captured the scene of Daphne transforming into a tree in order to get away from the Greek god Apollo. She was lifted in mid-air as one of her legs became bark and the other dangled, still in flesh. Her hands and hair were morphing into branches and leaves and her face perfectly displayed the fear of the god behind her. Another one showed Pluto with his hands gripped around Persephone as she tried, desperately to get away. The lord of the underworld had his hand pressing into the flesh of Persephone's thigh, it looked so real. The fingers sinking into her seemingly soft skin, leaving dents under his fingertips; it was called the Ratto di Proserpina, the Rape of Persephone.

Then Feliciano led us to a half-naked woman laying out a cushion with a silk wrap around her lower half. "This is Antonio Canova's depiction of Napoleon's sister, Paolina Bonaparte as Venus Victorious."

Gilbert slapped Francis on the shoulder, "doesn't this bring back fine memories."

Francis gave a faraway smile, "oh yes Pauline was quite the little minx."

Antonio chuckled, "she had such stamina, rivaled even against ours."

I lifted an eyebrow at them, and Lovino answered my silent question in my ear. "Those three were once Pauline's lovers."

"Really? Did she know about," I didn't need to finish, he knew what I meant.

"Yes, she was Napoleon's favorite sister and part of the court. She knew of the secret and was interested in our kind, mostly because we were young and beautiful. Paulina had a hobby of collecting pretty things and lovers; Francis was one of her favorites."

I blinked, "how many did she-"

He snorted, "I lost count."

We continued to the second level, which was where all the paintings were stored. Snapshots of extraordinary European Renaissance art covered the walls. Several art pieces I recognized from art appreciation class; Bernini's self-portraits, Raphael's The Deposition and his Lady with a Unicorn, the Adoration of the Christ Child by Fra Bartolomeo and Perugino's Madonna and Child.

There was even Correggio's Danae; the painting displayed a fair skinned woman leaning on a stack of pillows with only a thin sheet barely covering her lower regions. She wore nothing else as her hand was stretched out to a naked boy with brown angel wings. Then there was Titian's early masterpiece known as Sacred and Profane Love; it showed two women across one another, one naked except for the slip of cloth across her hips and another one draped over her arm. While the other woman was fully dressed in a pale blue dress and had baby beside her.

I stood in front of the painting, taking in the colorful image. I inhaled through my nose, feeling completely at peace till Arthur stepped forward to stand beside me. My attitude instantly soured. He twitched, sensing my mood but he swallowed his nerves and said, "Lovely isn't it?"

I ground my teeth together and glared at him with a side-way glance, "yes it is, but I'm sure a savage like me doesn't appreciate it as much as you do."

He blinked as his face fell and his green eyes revealed his hurt but I ignored his features as I turned my back to him and walked away.


 

Thursday was a shopping day.

We strolled along the street called Via del Governo Vecchio, which holds most of the best-known Italian designers. These towering stores stood along a narrow dark gray brick road, each of these buildings had four to five levels filled with clothes, jewelry, bathing suits, and even fur. These items were being sold by designers like Prada and Gucci, meaning I couldn't afford any of it.

I mostly stood at the sidelines, watching as Francis, Antonio, Gilbert, Elizabeta and Feliciano browsed around the stores. Everyone else was back at the villa, avoiding a hot morning outside. Later on at the other side of town, we were able to find stores that were more in my price range. I used this chance to purchase birthday gifts for Gael and Lali, they were both August babies. Gael was my little warrior and he has been begging for an archery set. I was able to find him a bow that would last him for years. The handle was long and black with matching child safe arrows. Lali was a girly-girl, she loved stuff animals, tea parties and dresses, so when I spotted an eighteen inch doll wearing a Renaissance dress, I couldn't pass it up.

"Aw," Gilbert smirked, "look at little Amy, playing with her little doll."

I narrowed my eyes at him, "you do realize I'm holding bow right."

He snorted, "It's not like you know how-"

I gently placed the doll down and stretched an arrow across the bow, "finish that sentence I dare you."

He held his hands up, "okay, put down the bow before you hurt yourself." When I didn't move, he turned to Elizabeta, "can you please talk some sense into her."

She glanced to me, "Aim for his big fat head, you'll never miss."

I grinned as he exclaimed, "Hey!"

After we had the gifts wrapped up and packaged in the post office, we returned to the villa, to spend the afternoon in blissful air conditioning. Feliciano announced that we should rest for he planned to take us out to Trastevere, a neighborhood in the south of Vatican City. He said that the neighborhood offered a more authentic look to the life of a Roman.

I decided to wear my new mini dress that I brought in Berlin. The dress allowed my back and legs to be naked against the hot Italian air. My hair was returning to its natural string curly form, giving me enough hair and ease to fix a small French braid to run over my head, creating a headband design. I pulled some strands out to land against my face, giving me a messy, fun look. I applied some makeup, simple stuff like eye-liner, mascara and a light shade of pink lipstick.

I was strapping on my brown gladiator sandals when a knock came from my door. Elizabeta was leaning against the door frame. She wore a tight, strapless green top with fashionable black capris and sexy, high heeled sandals the color of iron. Her makeup was flawless, and her hair fell free in soft waves around her curvy waist.

I whistled, "You're going to have to beat the men away with a bat."

She laughed, "I think these heels would be a better weapon." She glanced to my dress, "that looks amazing on you, especially showing off those long legs."

We walked down stairs to find the guys waiting for us. Most were dressed in casual dress shirts and jeans, like Arthur, Ludwig, Feliciano and Lovino. While others were flashier; Francis wore a pair of white pants with a purple dress shirt, over that was a vest in a deeper shade of violet. His tie was white with light purple stripes and was purposely loosen. His hair was combed in a low pony tail and his dress shoes were light tan.

Antonio was in a pair of graphic dark green plaid pants and a light pink dress shirt, over that was a slimming black jacket that he kept buttoned. He also wore a trendy fedora hat with a single strip of cloth that matched his pants. Gilbert was the simplest of the three, wearing black jeans, a white shirt and a black jacket.

All eyes were on Elizabeta and me as we reached the bottom of the steps. Gilbert couldn't keep his eyes off Elizabeta. I bumped her arm, gestured to him and we both giggled under our breaths. Then, at the corner of my eye, I was able to catch both of the Italian brothers and Antonio gawking at my legs.

Francis was the first to speak, "All eyes of Rome will look to us in envy tonight, for we are in the company of two beautiful ladies." He kissed both of our hands, "You both look absolutely beautiful,” he finished in French.

I blushed as Elizabeta beamed, "Oh Francis, you know how to make a girl feel special, unlike someone."

Gilbert winced and I bit my lips together to keep from laughing.

We all piled into the cars and headed straight to Trastevere. The streets were paved between stunning apartment homes, fantastic restaurants and affordable shops. Some roads were wide enough for cars, but if we wanted to get to any of the bars or dance clubs, we would have to walk. I didn't mind so much, the air was humid but the sun was down, allowing us to keep our cool. The neighborhood was full of life; all of the lights from the streets, stores, restaurants and clubs were bright. People were walking by; having a good time with friends and family, and music could be heard in every direction.

"This place sure is lively," Raivis proclaimed as he walked closer to me, trying to control his nerves. His violet eyes were flickering to every direction as if something would pop out and attack.

"Yeah," Peter sighed also stepping closer. The boys didn't have 'club clothes' so they settled with something casual. But their term of 'casual' wasn't the same as the others. Peter was dressed in a t-shirt with his flag plastered on it, jeans and sneakers; while Raivis only wore a red t-shirt and jeans. Both thought they were underdressed, even though I had told them that Matthew was wearing the same thing; they still felt out of place.

I scanned the area, all the men were wearing gaudy clothes with fancy labels and the women were thin, wearing short, sexy designer dresses. But I also noticed that some of the local young girls were looking at Peter and Raivis; their eyes gazing at them with interest.

I smiled, "guys, it doesn't matter what clothes you wear, all that matters is the attitude." I gestured to the girls, "see, they don't seem to mind."

When we stopped, the girls stunt forward; all of them were thin, dark haired and extremely gorgeous. "Are you three foreigners?" one of them asked.

"Yup we sure are, this is Raivis and this is Peter. Aren't they just the cutest," I grinned.

Another girl took a step towards Raivis, slipping her fingers through his hair, "Sì, sì, very." The Latvian flushed as her hands traveled down to his arm and squeezed.

Peter was also caught in the net of girls as two played with his hair and kept asking him to speak so they could hear his British accent.

I gave them a little push as I stepped back, "Ladies, I would like you to take them out, show them a good time."

"Wha-"

"Am-"

"Sì, sì, we will show them a good time," one of the girls giggled.

The girl that held Raivis' arm smiled to him, "I take you dancing."

"I-I-I'm not a-a good d-dancer," he stuttered, embarrassed.

She stood on the tips of her toes to whisper in his ear, "I will teach you."

He turned even redder and I grinned, "I'll call you guys when we're leaving."

The girls began to pull them away as both Peter and Raivis gave me anxious looks. I gave them a thumb's up and mouthed, "You'll be fine."

The rest of us bar hopped till we found one with excellent alcohol and amazing music. I immediately hit the dance floor, swaying with the melody. Several young men approached, calling me 'bella' and 'blondie' and asking to dance with me. It seems Italian guys were not afraid to flirt so openly, most guys I knew back home would take their time, play games. This was refreshing.

I agreed but before I could take any of their hands, Antonio slapped his hands on my shoulders. "Sorry, I get the first dance," he smiled and pulled me deeper into the crowd.

He held my hand as he twirled me and shuffled our feet to the up-beat tune. He moved to place his hand on the small of my back, guiding my hips to sway with his. I caught on quick, moving in time with the rhythm.

"Having fun, señorita," he grinned.

"Yes, very," I smiled back as he spun me, wrapped his arm around my waist and dipped me.

"Good." he winked and I laughed.

When he pulled me back up the music changed to an old Ke$ha song. It was pop and I figured Antonio would leave the floor but he stayed. He shook his limbs to the beat and bobbed his head to the music. I smiled and joined him, crisscrossing my feet and waving my arms in the air. What I liked about Antonio was that he was silly and fun; he, Francis, Matthew and Gilbert were definitely the easiest nations to get along with. Well, scratch that Gilbert was rarely easy.

Antonio also reminded me of Johnny. When the next song came on, I knew it instantly. It was Katy Perry's 'Roar', my feet picked up the pace as I whispered the lyrics under my breath. He heard me and started singing along, but louder. I grinned and followed his lead as we danced and sang together. Johnny and I always did this, whenever he was home or when we were in the car, we would sing along to the radio, sometimes badly. But we didn't care if people stared, we were having fun. It was the same with Antonio; we sang, clapped our hands and wiggled our bodies to the rhythm.

The next song was slower and he tugged me into an embrace, swaying me to the soft pulse of the music. We were laughing from a natural high, trying to bring down the throbbing of hearts.

Someone tapped Antonio on the shoulder, "May I cut in," Francis asked.

"Sure," he gave a tired smile and kissed my cheek, "till we meet again señorita."

Francis stepped in, grabbed my hand and placed his free hand on my back. We waltzed in sync, but it felt awkward. I looked up to him and found that his eyes were on someone else. I turned back to Arthur, who was at the bar. He was drinking heavily, slouching over the counter and asking for more.

Francis glanced to me, "why are you being cold to Arthur?"

I sighed, "He called North a savage," I whispered.

He closed his eyes and shook his head. "What am I going to do with you two?"

"Hey, all I wanted to know was what North was like. Antonio didn't give me much, so I asked Arthur and he went all crazy," I exaggerated.

He leaned his cheek against my head, "you two are exhausting me; this is supposed to be a vacation, not a war zone." He held me closer and whispered in my ear, "I know how you feel, Karen was your grandmother, she is your heritage, and for him to call her that was uncalled for."

I jerked away to look up at him, "You knew her name?" I asked this question more in curiosity than anything else.

He smiled, "Oui, she and I were close."

I lifted a brow, "how close?"

He chuckled, "she saved my life. Amy it was true what they said about her, starting the raids and killing people, but that came after we betrayed her."

I twitched slightly, "what do you mean?"

His shoulders slumped, "our people, most didn't understand the natives and they didn't bother to. Violence quickly followed and the colonies were so large that neither Arthur nor I could be there, but it wouldn't have mattered. Karen saw this as our doing, no matter how many times we told her otherwise."

I remained quiet as the music changed, it was some fast paced song in Italian but we didn't bother to keep up with the fast beat. We continued to sway at our own pace till Francis spoke, "When she disappeared, Arthur chose to forget her, to erase her from his heart and soul for the pain was too much."

I gave him a confused look, "did he love her?"

"We both did."

"But why would he call her a savage?"

"To hurt her," Francis sighed, "I'm sure you've noticed Amy, when Arthur is hurt by someone he loves, he tries to take that pain and throw it back."

My heart squeezed and I felt an uncomfortable lump form in the back of my throat. Francis dipped his head low to say, "Arthur can't handle this right now. He's had a rough couple of years, losing Alfred, his most treasured little brother nearly destroyed him."

I bit my inner cheek as he slid his hand over the outside; caressing the bone with his thumb, "please, forgive him." He was looking at me with big, pleading eyes.

Before I could say anything else a loud crash of glass collided against the floor, causing me, Francis and the crowd of dancers to look towards the bar.

"I'll tell you when I'm bloody done! Now give me another damn pint!" Arthur shouted at the bartender.

The bartender shook his head, "no, you've had enough."

"Why you-"

"Arthur calm down," Matthew held him by the shoulder, trying to pull him away from the bar.

Arthur didn't budge. "Do you know who I am?! I'm the bloody Unit-"

Matthew covered his mouth, "I'm so sorry, we'll leave now."

Francis swiftly moved to stand at Arthur's free side, "now, now mon ami, come on we can have wine back at the villa. That would be nice oui?" He was smiling trying to settle the drunk.

"It's not just the wine!" Arthur slurred, pointing at the bartender. "It's his assumption that I can't hold my liquor!"

Gilbert cuts in, "You can't."

Francis glared at him, "Gil, you are not helping."

Francis, Matthew and I were trying to yank the Brit out the door as our party followed us. Arthur fought against us every second of the way, "Let me go you damn wankers! I'm the UK I deserve to be treated with respect."

"You're making a fool of yourself, now shut up!" Lovino exclaimed.

"What do we do now?" Elizabeta proclaimed.

Francis sighed, "We'll take him to the villa in the convertible."

"Oh no not in my car," said Lovino.

"But they still need to find Peter and Raivis," I proclaimed. "The van has more room for them."

Lovino crossed his arms and glared at the wasted nation. He grumbled a curse, pulled out his keys and gestured for us to follow him. We climbed into the car with Francis, Matthew and Arthur in the back while Lovino and I sat in the front.

Lovino started the car and sped out of the neighborhood, the older Vargas brother was the better driver but still he had a heavy foot. "If he pukes in my car, I'm sending you the bill," he snapped at me.

I rolled my eyes, "chill Lovino." I turned back, my hair whipping around my head. "Arthur, how are you feeling?"

"Oh now you care?" he slurred as his eyes blazed with anger and pain.

I bit my lip and sat back into my seat as Arthur exclaimed, "I want another!" He forgot where he was and tried to stand.

"Arthur!" Francis shouted as Lovino swerved slightly and cursed.

"Get that bastard under control!"

Matthew and Francis yanked him back down and Arthur shouted, "I want another!"

"You've had enough," Francis forced the seat belt over his waist.

"Don't act like you care," he glared.

"Angleterre-"

"Don't call me that," he hissed, "I'm not your angel; you've lost any claim to me after you slept with them!"

Francis gave him a look, "Whose them?"

"Everyone! You pounce on anything that moves!"

"I am the country of love; I express this love in any way possible."

Arthur dropped his head low to face his lap, mumbling, "But it's all meaningless, it's never special."

"Ang-" he was cut off with a kiss. I stared wide-eyed and mouth opened as Arthur smothered Francis with his lips. Francis was frozen, completely in shock of the Brit's move. Arthur took that chance to drive in deeper. Intertwining his fingers into Francis's hair and flickering out his tongue against blue-eyed man's lips. It wasn't long before that said Frenchman closed his eyes and kissed back.

I looked to Matthew but he was avoiding everyone's gazes to look at the sky. I turned to Lovino and he waved his hand at me, as if to say, 'don't get me involved.' I turned back to the front as my cheeks and ears rose in heat. After a minute or so, I heard someone shifting away, "now that is special." Arthur proclaimed, proud with himself.

I spun back; Arthur had his arms crossed over his chest and Francis was gawking at him in astonishment. He blinked, regaining his composure, "he is very drunk."

Matthew gave him a look, "You think."

When we arrived at the villa, Arthur had calmed down a bit, mostly just mumbling under his breath about how Italian beer wasn't as good as his beer and such. I followed Lovino as he walked to the front door and unlocked it. Matthew and Francis were on both sides of Arthur, half carrying half dragging him to the house.

I quickly gave a hand when they started to have trouble trying to get the Brit up the stairs to the second level. Once we reached his room, we tossed Arthur onto his bed and he grumbled about us being wankers and nuzzled his face into the pillow.

"I'll get the aspirin," Matthew proclaimed, leaving the room.

Francis undid his pony tail and brushed his hand through his hair. "I'm going to bed," he placed a kiss on the top of my head, "goodnight."

"Night," I sighed and glanced to Arthur; he was face first into his pillow and looked like he was sleeping. Well that's what I thought till he mumbled something I didn't understand. "Arthur? Did you say something?"

He sat up slowly and I found to my surprise that tears were streaking down his face. "Why do you treat me like the bad guy?"

I blinked, completely speechless.

His tears pooled in his emerald eyes, glaring at me, "answer me!"

I shook my head, "Arthur I don't mean to-"

"Yes you did," he hissed, "I see you with Matthew, the frog, the others, you like them, while you tolerate me." His jaw quivered, trying to hold back his whimpers but it didn't stop his voice from breaking. "You don't know what they have done! You only know mine! I may have done terrible things but so have they!"

I flinched at his tone, it sounded like someone that was about to break.

He looked at me and when I remained silent, more tears fell. "If they did tell you, what would you do? What would you say?"

I swallowed the lump in my throat, trying to find my voice but couldn't.

Arthur gave a sad, twisted smile, "Would you hold it over their heads? Like you do with me?"

I felt a stinging pain in the back of my eyes as his shoulders slumped and his eyes glanced to his hands in his lap. "I don't think you would, not to them." Small drops of tears landed on the back of his hands as his shoulders shook. "Why?"

"Arthur-"

"Why?!" he screamed, "Why can you forgive them but not me?!"

His words bounced off the walls, repeating in my ears. I tried to speak but he cuts me off by sucking air through his gritted teeth and muttered. "Heh, but if you knew what I've done just to hurt Karen, you would hate me just as Alfred did."

I gazed to him, so many questions swarmed in my head but I could ask one. "What did you do?"

He winced, "I," he whispered before he cleared his throat. "I murdered your natives; most was in self-defense but other times I did it just to smite her."

I took a shaky breath and he continued, "I even came up with an idea to give a tribe blankets infected with smallpox." He curled his fingers into the sheets, "so many infants died and it was all my doing."

My eyes widened but he didn't notice, for he kept his face down. "I'm a monster," he said, then repeated in a whimper as he covered his face with his hands, "I'm a monster."

Silence followed, only the sound of Arthur's choked back sobs and my soft breathing could be heard. My body felt heavy and my mind completely shut down, refusing to think, but it did come up with one final question. "Do you regret it?"

His entire body trembled, "yes . . . yes," he sobbed. "I regret so much . . . so much."

As I stared at him, I'm gravely reminded of the darkness that lurked inside of him, of each nation. The truth behind it was that this darkness doesn't go away; it only hides, waiting for when we are weak, waiting for its chance to plunge us into our guilt and self-destruction.

I stride through the room and slid my arms around Arthur's shoulders, pulling him close. He released a tiny gasp, taken by total surprise at my actions. He hesitated at first but soon, he too returned my embrace, clutching on to me like a life line. He cried harder and I too felt my own share of tears fall as he wept on my shoulder.

Chapter Text

I was dreaming through Alfred's eyes again.

It was just like the dream I had back in New York, expect it was in another time and place. Alfred was in a relaxed manner, well more like relieved. We were in some type of bar and everyone was drinking and dancing as a jazz band played on a stage. We spotted Arthur, Francis and Matthew at a far off table; all them were drinking but neither of the three looked at one another. Each nation was simply staring out into the crowd, their minds everywhere but here.

Alfred strides forward and sat in the empty seat in front of them. He lifted a cup to his lips, which was recently filled with French wine.

At that moment Francis glanced to his direction, "How do you like my wine?"

He held the cup up, "its amazing Francis, perfect for the hero," he grinned.

Francis gave him a nod, "you certainly are," he smiled at the rest of the table, "you all are; thank you."

Arthur narrowed his eyes at the Frenchman, "don't confuse things frog. The only reason I saved you is because I will be the one to kill you."

Matthew, Alfred and I as well rolled our eyes on cue.

Francis simply nodded and petted Arthur on his head, "of course you will."

Before Arthur could say anything else, Matthew spoke up, rising his glass, "Vive la France!"

Alfred quickly followed, "Vive la France!"

Francis smiled even wider, "Vive la France!"

Arthur sighed, but he too raised his glass and mumbled, "Vive la France."

The voices in the bar exclaimed next, "Vive la France!"

They sat at their table and watched as French citizens and Allied soldiers danced and cheered together in celebration.

That's when it hit me; I was witnessing the Liberation of Paris. Well the after party most likely.

I tried to control my body (that was also Alfred's body) to at least take in more of the sights of this event but Alfred wouldn't move. It was very strange, like I was viewing everything with my own eyes but yet not. No matter what I did or said, nothing changed Alfred's actions. His mind was also active, creating thoughts along with mine.

He took in no notice of me; I was invisible, merely observing the events through his eyes.

I continued to watch as Alfred was pried away from his family to dance with a beautiful French girl. He waltzed with this girl for two to three songs, but his mind was only on one thought: that he had to get to Berlin before the Russians did.

Russia and his army were on the march to Germany and Alfred was here, dancing like the war was over. His commander had told him to relax and enjoy the night, maybe with a pretty girl but Alfred couldn't untangle the nerves and tension that was burning in his gut to appreciate the night of celebration.

Then the scene blurred as if Alfred had spun himself with the speed of a carnival ride. Lights and vibrant colors smeared together like a splattered painting till they finally settled to a meeting room which was filled with uneasy nations.

Alfred was seated at a round table along with the Allies; Britain, France, Canada, China and Russia. They had won. Hitler was dead and Germany had no choice but to surrender. That said nation and his brother Prussia were currently locked in a holding cell.

"I wish to tear that boy limb from limb," commented Russia. His voice was childlike but yet cold, "He has taken much from me and I wish to return the favor."

The others were silent; they knew that this nation suffered with great lost. Over twenty million Russians were killed and he wished for retribution but Alfred knew that it was nothing but hellish revenge.

Everyone has heard of the Red Army's acts of justice, I realized that when Alfred thought of this, he was filled with anger and rage.

I quickly recalled that Russian soldiers had raped at least fifteen million German women during the last months of the war and even afterward, till the years of 1947 to 1948. They even had raped girls as young as ten and even Russian and Polish women, who were held in the concentration camps.

I shivered as Alfred proclaimed in a strong voice, "you've done enough."

Ivan narrowed his violet eyes; a fierce tint glowed within them. "Do not tell me when I've had enough. You, Mr. America have no right to. My men have suffered, most lost their homes, wives and children; they need this."

"They're raping elderly women and little girls!" he exclaimed. "I've heard the rumors Russia; your men have even raped Polish and Russian women who were held as prisoners in German work camps! It's not just some sick revenge against Germany anymore, especially when your Russian army is raping Russian women."

Ivan rose from his seat, "you will not drag my army's name through the mud," he threatened.

Alfred followed suit, staring at him with unwavering eyes. "You're men are nothing but animals."

"Enough!" Arthur's voice rose in volume, taking command of the room. "America it is called spoils of war, it happens. We must move on and discuss what we need to do about Germany and Prussia."

Alfred's rage cooled but still a part of him couldn't agree with Arthur's comment about 'spoils of war'. The Russians were hurting women and young girls. What could girls do to deserve that? Was the reason just for being German? No, it was just pure evil. The soldiers no longer looked human to Alfred; all he saw was the immoral darkness that lay underneath the skin. He always believed that the monsters that had scared him as a child would look like devils, with horns, fangs and claws. But he was wrong.

The true monsters were not clawed or horned. They lay hidden, lurking behind an angelical face.

At that moment the transmitter radio sparked to life and a human answered the call. He wore a US uniform and his skin was the tone of a penny. He had dark eyes and his hair was cut to a buzz cut, but his dark hair had grown fast, giving him a small pony tail and long bangs that slapped his forehead. He looked up and I was stunned.

Just as Alfred said, Grandpa was a splitting image of his uncle; the very first John Hawkfeather.

"The world leaders have come to a decision," he announced. "German generals and soldiers were be trailed for their crimes and the country would be kept under a watchful eye by the Allies. Germany would also pay retribution to the Allied nations and . . ." John paused catching the last bit of intel.

He blinked, his brows arching up as he turned to face the nations. "They said that they wish to dissolve the nation of Prussia."

My heart sank along with Alfred's.

My vision blurred again and settled into a hall. It had tall ceilings, red carpet, long windows with silk curtains. The Allied world leaders and ambassadors stood along the right side of the room with their nations beside them. While the Axis stood on the left; Italy and Germany stood side by side, Alfred caught the Italian holding the large blonde's wrist. Hungary and Austria were there as well, both covered in bandages and dirty clothes, which was unusual for the aristocrat. Hungary didn't bother about her looks; she was a warrior first and foremost, but that didn't hide the fear and uncertainly she had for the white haired man.

Prussia stepped forward, his walk was confident and his smile was cocky but his eyes betrayed those traits.

Alfred instantly felt everyone's eyes on him. It was decided that the nation that would dissolve Prussia would be America. Alfred closed his eyes and stepped out from the line.

The albino held his chin up, "so it's you, heh," he shook his head. "It must be fate; the nation I personally trained will be the one to end me."

Alfred gritted his teeth, "it was either me or Russia and knowing him, he would beat you till you couldn't walk."

Gilbert glanced to the Russian and was met with a glare. His red eyes slid back to Alfred's blue, "I promise to be quick," Alfred continued.

The Prussian gave him a sad expression, "You have no idea how this works, do you?"

Alfred blinked and Gilbert continued, "This is all just a formality, but I can feel it." He looked to the Allied world leaders, "they're cutting up my land as we speak."

"Gil-"

He held up his hand, "do it." He rolled his shoulders back and lifted his head up.

Alfred's anxiety flooded my senses; he was terrified of what would become of Prussia. How does a country truly disappear? Was it slow? Fast? Agony filled? Painless?

Alfred curled his hands into fists, trying to keep his voice even. "Most of the east will be given to Poland and the west will be given to the German states."

Gilbert let out a shaky breath as his shoulders fell.

Alfred inhaled through his nose, "With that said, I hereby announce," he pushed aside his stress and painted on a blank, stern face. "That the Königreich Preußen is officially dissolved."

The former kingdom fell to his knees, taking in deep breaths as his fists shook. The room chilled and a shudder streamed down Alfred's spine. Everyone inhaled in sync, waiting for something, anything to happen.

Nothing did.

The papers were signed and the Second World War was over. Alfred watched Gilbert from across the room, checking for any sign of strain. Aside from the anxiety filled look on his face, the albino was fine.

But this uneasy peace didn't last.

"Prussia will come live with me," Russia proclaimed.

Alfred spoke up, "you can't take him-"

Everything happened so fast.

The Russian wrapped a large hand around the blonde's neck and slammed him to the wall. "You have no say in this, he is mine now."

Alfred shoved him off, "he's not something you can own!" Alfred knew he was being irrational, well for a nation. Their kind were always meant to be own, either by their government or by another country. But he owed Gilbert; he helped him earn his independence and his freedom.

He needed to at least fight for Prussia's.

"America," Gilbert gave him warning look, "It's been decided." His voice was controlled and steady, "I'm a spoil of war after all."

Again the world blurred and I found myself outside. Alfred was staring up into the night sky, taking in the bright stars and warm atmosphere. Berlin was silent, nobody was celebrating.

A hand slapped him on his shoulder and he turned around to face John. For a slight second, I mistaken him for Grandpa but I quickly remembered that Grandpa was only a little kid during the 40's.

"How did it go?" he asked concerned.

"He didn't disappear," Alfred sighed, but his relief didn't last. "But Russia took him," he slid a hand through his hair, "for he's a spoil of war," he hissed those words that he hated so much.

"War is hell," John said.

Alfred flinched, "don't say those words." He hated that phase even more.

They were silent for what felt like an eternity but in truth it only lasted a few minutes.

"They said I could go home," John proclaimed. "I'm going to be shipped out tomorrow."

Alfred gave a small smile, finally some good news, he thought. "That's great John."

"You should come visit," he smiled, "I'm sure my brother and my nephews would want to meet you."

America sighed once again, "I don't think that's a good idea. I've done so much to your people-"

"Alfred, we are your people, you know that."

The nation shook his head, "but all my life Arthur told me you weren't till the First World War, when I finally connected the dots." He rubbed his face, "I'm so stupid."

"You're not," John said softly, "you just believed what your brother said."

Alfred snickered harshly, "I remembered the day I confronted him, asking about the natives of my land and how he could hide it from me.

"He became defensive and refused to answer me," he took a deep breath. "I don't remember much of what we said, but I do remember the rage I felt, the betrayal." He looked to his tightly fisted hand, "I wanted so badly to smash his face in and I almost did, but I redirected my arm and hit the wall instead."

"I've seen your strength," John proclaimed, "I bet you destroyed the wall."

He chuckled, this time it was genuine, "I did." Then he closed his eyes, "Arthur was so scared."

"You two seem to be on better terms-"

"Ha! As long as I don't ask questions about my origins, he's his perfect gentlemen self." Alfred sighed, "I have so many questions."

"Then you need to visit my tribe, there's this man, his name is Kai Two Crow and he's-how do I say. He has a way with people, he and Tyee could help you."

The world spun once again but this time I was in my own body. I was wearing the same white summer dress and I was lying in the same forest with the same towering trees and crystal clear pond. The only difference was that I was alone.

"Hello? . . . Karen? . . . Alfred?"

"Amy . . ." a voice whispered.

I spun around to the pond; the water was no longer clear blue but thick and murky. I almost thought it was tar but I quickly released it was hair. Then a claw like hand sprang out and attached itself to my face.

 


 

I gasped for air and glided a hand through my sweat soaked hair, instantly getting my fingers tangled in my curls. I sat up as I pulled my hand free, undoing the braid. I silently moaned as I massaged my scalp and glanced to a large lump that was under the covers. I peeked under the blanket and found a messy mop of blond hair attached to a slim body.

The figure was Arthur, softly snoring and mumbling under his breath. I blinked and rubbed my eyes, which were sore and red from crying. I quickly recalled last night's events; Arthur getting drunk, arguing with everyone, and bawling in my arms. But the only thing that really surprised me was that Arthur kissed Francis.

I crawled out of bed, grabbed my shoes and tip-toed out of the room, making sure not to wake up either Arthur or Matthew. The house was quiet as I strode to the kitchen for a glass of water. It was early morning and the sun hadn't yet risen, but the soft glow can be seen through the horizon.

I snatched the small battery powered radio from the window shelf and stepped out onto the patio. I skimmed through the radio channels, trying to find any songs that I would recognize. After a couple of morning talk shows and opera stations, I discovered a radio station that was hosted by a group of students from Trinity College. The hosts were a mixed of Italian, French and American. Most were men, but there was one girl in the mix, she was one of the Americans. Together they put in an amazing mix of bands from all over Europe and North America.

I sipped my water as I sat on the wall of the patio and made a mental list of bands that I needed to look into. I breathed in the warm morning air as the scenery and music engulfed my senses. Pulling me away from the night terrors and allowing my mind to go peacefully blank.

Then a song from one of my all-time favorite bands came booming through the speakers, it was 'Counting Stars' by OneRepublic. I grinned to myself and tapped my fingers to the slow beat as my legs dangled and swayed to the rhythm. It wasn't long till I cranked up the volume and jumped down to a free patch of land that was in between the pool and the small cluster of olive trees. The grass was wet with dew and soft under my toes.

As the melody picked up tempo, I kicked up my leg, lifting my knee to touch my shoulder and quickly dropped it to spin into a perfect pirouette. I swayed my hips and arms along with the rhythm, acting out a story as I listened to the lyrics and lost myself in the music.


 

Lovino was an early raiser; the habit was drilled into him when he lived with Antonio. He untangled himself from his brother, who was very much a cuddler and rose to get dressed. Once he was in pair of worn out jeans and a faded t-shirt, he walked out the front door.

He rounded the house, towards his small vegetable garden that was placed right along the brick wall. Lovino got straight to work, pulling out weeds and checked if the leaves were being eaten by bugs or parasites. He was pleased to find that his plants were healthy and growing. He grabbed the hose and moved around the villa, watering his garden and herb and flower pots as he passed.

He muttered in irritation when he discovered that most of his plants were writhing due to the extreme heat of the summer. He sighed and decided to move these pots closer to the porch, allowing them to have some shade when the afternoon sun sets in. He wiped the sweat from his forehead, the mud streaked across his skin and he didn't care. He loved the crusty feel of dirt on his fingers, the natural smell of the soil and the sweet taste of a perfectly grown tomato or herb. This gave him the reassurance that he wasn't completely useless and that he was actually good at something.

When the sun's glow was just a sliver in the morning sky, he began to hear a faint whisper. This was not just one voice, but a series whispers, talking and then singing. The singing grew louder and Lovino cocked a brow, he knew of the song. He followed the sound, circling around the patio and stumbled upon Amy, dancing.

The young blond spun herself in a series of twirls and waved her limbs with the grace and strength of a ballerina. Chasseing her feet to the tempo and shifting to the balls of her feet when the pace slowed. Then as the rhythm increased again, she would move her hips to the beat and shuffle her feet with a quickstep. She added to these ballet moves were a mix of contemporary. Lovino always found interpretive dance a bit foolish, not many people could really pull it off, but Amy was a different story.

She glided her arms and legs with elegance and swayed her waist with passion. She whirled, twisted and stepped her body in sync with the music. When the beat was slow, she twirled and became a lithe ballerina but when the tempo rose to life, she would append a tiny dash of hip-hop into the choreography, creating her own style.

During her dance the sun was rising in the distance, just above the horizon. The sky was fading from pink to orange as the light became her spotlight. The scenery only increased the beauty of Amy's movements. The sun beamed through the branches, revealing small rays that scattered around the blond. The grass shined with dew and the wild flowers seemed to sway along with her. She was like a nymph from an old Greek myth, dancing with and becoming one with nature. Amy was successfully telling a story through her movements and Lovino couldn't keep his eyes off her.

At one point of the song, when the artist repeated a line for four times, Amy would twirl into fast pirouettes, lifting her left leg every time she did. As the tempo rose, so did she and when the song once again slowed, she collapsed to her knees. Amy slid her hands over her neck and shoulders as she leaned backwards. Her shoulder blades were able to touch the ground as her feet laid by her sides. Then the music jumped back to a fast pace and Amy spun on her knees in a quick fashion to leap to her feet.

She then combined all of her ballet, contemporary and hip-hop steps into the last sequence of the melody. She continued to move with grace, speed and style till the song came to its end.

Amy panted softly as she looked up to find Lovino watching her. She straightened, "Hey, um, how long have you been there?"

"Uh," he stuttered for a moment, trying to form words. "Not long," he scratched the back of his head, nervously.

"Ah, okay," she grinned, amused. "What did you think?"

He blinked, "of what?"

"My dancing," Lovino could see that she had to control herself not to roll her eyes. "What did you think? Any advice?"

It was his turn to give her puzzled look. "None; you are an amazing dancer."

She blushed, and then beamed, proud of herself, "thank you, it's nice to know I still got it." She strides back to the patio to drink the rest of her water and to turn the volume of the radio down.

He followed as his curiosity grew, "what made you think that you didn't?"

Amy's eyebrows rose, slightly taken back at his question. "Well, it's . . . the only thing I'm good at." She dropped into a patio chair and tucked her legs under herself.

When she noticed his confused expression, she explained. "I mean when it comes to life goals, my counselor was not happy with me. I mean, I was good at actives that involved survival skills and horseback riding. Those skills weren't counted as 'accepted work skills'," she made air quotes. "I wasn't a genius; I scraped through school with a B to C average and let's not even get into my SAT scores." She sighed, "I hate math but science was fun till I almost exploded the chemistry lab."

Lovino's eyes widened and Amy gave a crooked smile, "it also didn't help that I was acting like a witch from Hamlet."

He chuckled as he took a seat beside her, "you think?"

She stuck her tongue out, "hey the liquid was glowing green with smoke, it was practically begging for it."

He covered his mouth to stop his laughter. Once he was sure that he would be able to speak, he said. "Didn't your family worry?"

"Nah, my family supported my dream," she smiled, possibly to the image of her beloved parents and siblings.

"What makes you think that dancing is all? There must be other things?"

"Yeah," she shrugged, "but dancing is different. It always made me feel special, you know?"

He nodded, for that was same feeling he experienced when he nurtured his garden. He gave a side-way glance and found Amy resting her head back, the sun hitting her white skin as she breathed in deeply. Lovino quickly noticed that she was wearing the same mini dress from the night before; revealing those legs that seem to drive him crazy.

Last night, when Amy had strolled down the steps he was completely captivated by the smooth skin. The dress didn't help that it was loose on her slim frame, making it so easy for the garment to be removed.

Lovino turned away, hiding his flushed face in his hand.


 

I decided to make breakfast after Lovino hurried to the bathroom, saying he needed to shower. I thought nothing of it as I brought in the radio and turned up the music. The station was playing an old Beyoncé song and I rocked my body to the beat. I worked as the melody blasted in the background.

After several attempts I was finally able to find the toaster. I tied an apron around my waist and pulled out two skillets. I gathered herbs from the pots outside and placed them beside the stove. I chopped up mushrooms, onions and tomatoes to have them ready for the omelets. I broke the eggs and whisked them in a bowl as I waited for the pan to heat up.

It wasn't long till the house began to stir. Raivis and Peter were the first to enter the kitchen. They were both sleepy as they tried to rub the sleep from their eyes.

Peter sniffed the air, probably catching the bacon and sausage. "Please tell me that's for us."

"Of course, what do you want on your omelet?"

He didn't hesitate, "mushrooms, plenty of cheese and onions."

"Do you need any help?" Raivis asked.

"Can you make coffee and tea?"

"Yes."

I gestured to the coffee maker and kettle pot, "it's all yours."

He nodded and strides forward to brew beside me as Peter sat at the table.

"So guys, how was last night?" I winked.

The Baltic instantly blushed and Peter smirked, "Raivis was snogging with Isabella."

"I didn't mean to," Raivis mumbled. "She was all over me."

I laughed, "Way to go Raivis," I slapped him on the back.

He knitted his brows together in confusion, "but I don't want to be with Isabella, I wanttobewithErika." His words ran together as he muttered.

"I know but you needed a confidence boost. Did you have fun?"

"Before or after the kissing?" he asked.

"All of it."

He flushed a deeper shade of red, "yes."

"Then don't be ashamed, if it felt good, it felt good. No need to read too much into it."

Then the radio played another Beyoncé song and I practically squealed. It was favorite, 'Love On Top', "I'm official in love with this station."

I started to sing along and Raivis raised his brows when I started to use the spatula as a microphone. I narrowed my eyes suspiciously, "you know who Beyoncé is right."

He quickly said, "Yes, everyone does."

"Good, cause if you didn't know who the queen was, I was gonna smack you with this." I wielded the spatula to his cheek.

He took my comment in offense, "I may be over six hundred years old but I'm not stupid."

Peter cuts in, "You didn't know who Beyoncé was till 2014."

My jaw dropped, "You seriously need to borrow my iPod."

Later on, when the tea and coffee was ready the nations started to gather around the dining room table. Most were happy and grateful that I made breakfast but Gilbert just had to make a comment. "I hope you have better taste buds than Alfred did."

I cocked a brow and shoved his plate to him, "eat it."

He took a bite and everyone could read his face straightaway. He enjoyed it but he was trying hard not to show, "it's not bad."

"It's delicious and you know it," I exclaimed.

"Why do you all have to be so loud," Arthur was the last to arrive. He was still in the same clothes from last night, his blond hair was messier than usual and his eyes were red.

"He didn't die from alcohol poisoning," Lovino cursed and turned to Antonio. "I owe you forty euros."

The Spanish man grinned, "Let's all give England a round of applause for making through the night. We knew you could do it." He clapped and we quickly followed his example.

Arthur moaned and massaged his temples, "you all are bloody pricks."


 

Once the nations were finished with breakfast, Feliciano hurried them out the door for he planned another day of sightseeing. They were to see the Pantheon and the Piazza Navona.

Arthur was deeply ill. He wished to stay behind but immediately regretted it when Francis volunteered to watch him.

"Don't leave me alone with him," he begged Matthew as he was rubbing sunscreen on his face and arms.

"Why? You looked like you wanted some alone time last night," the Canadian gave a sly smile.

Arthur roughly remembered the kiss he gave Francis and groaned. "I was drunk."

Matthew rolled his eyes, "how many times are you gonna use that excuse?"

The Brit threw a pillow at him but Matthew closed the door before it could make a direct hit.

Arthur watched from his window as everyone climbed into the van and spare car. He noticed that Amy decided to join Lovino and Antonio in the convertible. He knitted his thick brows forward; if either of the two laid a hand on his niece he would release his most powerful, hell born curse on their asses. At least she wasn't wearing that blasted dress, it was too revealing but if he had said something, it would only encourage the girl to wear it.

The thought made Arthur smile, just like Alfred.

"Angleterre," a voice sang from behind the door.

"Go away," he threatened.

Francis opened the door, "but I brought water and aspirin."

Arthur mumbled a string of curses but took his offerings.

"How are you feeling?"

"I'm fine. You can leave now."

The Frenchman ignored him and sat on Matthew's bed. A moment of silence passed between them, Francis's face becoming serious. "I overheard what you told Ami last night."

Arthur's eyes widened slightly and he turned away, "was I that pathetic?"

Francis snorted, "You don't need me to answer, I'm absolutely sure you remember."

Arthur sighed, "Yes I do."

"You really think that was the worst thing you did," Francis hissed through gritted teeth.

"You were no saint either," Arthur glared.

Francis's blue eyes blazed, "you're the reason why she died."

Arthur's voice cracked, "It wasn't just me! We all played a part in it. Don't place all the blame on me, just to lessen your guilt."

Francis closed his eyes, allowing his anger to cool but another flame quickly sparked. He rose and moved in close, his face mere few inches away from Arthur's. "Did you already forget that day; what she told us."

Arthur ground his teeth together and glanced to his hands; they were clutched and shaking. Francis slipped his hands over Arthur's cheeks and curled his fingers through his dirty blond hair. He caressed his thumb over the cheek bone, "look at me."

He and Francis gazed into each other's eyes; both were filled with anger for the other but there was something deeper. Familiarity of one another, compassion for each other's pain and lust for the other's touch. Francis placed a soft kiss on Arthur's lips, a test to see if he would respond.

Arthur did; desperately wishing to leave the subject of Karen alone.

Chapter Text

We spent the next day at the San Luigi dei Francesi; a church that featured more art by Caravaggio. Feliciano said that once we had a taste of the Galleria Borghese, we couldn't leave Rome without seeing this building; saying that it contained the artist's most powerful works.

Such as the Calling of Saint Matthew, this image displayed a group of men sitting around the table. Again, just as Caravaggio's other pieces, this painting's design was realistic like a photograph. It hanged in the Contarelli Chapel of the church. Along with this piece, were two other works; the St. Matthew and the Angel, and the Martyrdom of St. Matthew, these two pieces were just round the triptych.

I didn't go to church often, maybe once or twice for weddings or funerals. I also wasn't religious; I guess it was because my family was mixed with Catholicism, Native American spirituality and the newly added Hinduism that neither side wished to enforce their views on me. Mom and Dad pretty much told me that I was free to choose any religion I wanted, for most carried their own concept of the golden rule: treat others as you would like to be treated.

I jumped to the chance to be part of my father's culture, just as Melissa and Johnny had but I was teased constantly by the other kids in the local tribe. Mostly to the fact that I was white and was trying to take part in their dances and traditions; the teasing didn't last long, especially when I gave that same group of kids' black eyes and split lips. Once everything was cleared up, my family decided we would create our own traditions.

Mom always said, "You don't need a building or a large group meeting to worship your god."

This sort of attitude and ease with the subject left me very open minded but not being religious didn't stop me from appreciating the beauty of the church. I sat in the pew, taking a moment to stare at the ceilings. A large painting was in the center, filled with vivid colors and was surrounded by gray marble and gold designs. I was so enchanted by view that I didn't notice Francis sitting beside me till he asked.

"Enjoying yourself?"

I nodded, "yeah, but if we're visiting churches, I would really like to see the Notre Dame."

He grinned, "Maybe for the holidays."

"Not possible," Gilbert took his seat beside him, "she'll be heading to Denmark in the fall and soon after to Sweden."

That snapped me out of my trance, "why?"

"The Nordic's are fierce snipers, especially Tino."

"But Matthieu is better," Francis remarked.

"Ja but Amy will head to Greece in the spring, she'll be closer if she stayed in Sweden."

"How many nations am I visiting?" I asked.

"That's all I know so far."

"But those countries only cover the military training," Ludwig cuts in as he sat in the pew in front of us and turned to face me. "There will be some countries you'll visit for cultural and volunteering purposes."

I lifted a brow in question and he answered, "For your college applications."

"Si, like now," Feliciano smiled, "it's true I wanted you to visit but your boss said you needed some cultural material to write your essays on."

"In the next year, you'll visit London, Paris, Barcelona and Kyoto for the same reasons," Arthur added.

"And that's not even counting the world meetings," Elizabeta proclaimed, "I believe the next one will be held in India."

I looked back to the ceiling, tuning out everyone's chatter as I tried to lose myself in the painting again. It didn't work.

Later we moved along to the Sala One gallery, this gallery was filled with contemporary art; hosting shows such as an exhibition of South African art from 1993, and projects from Iraq and Bangladesh from the years 2011 to 2014. Truthfully, I wasn't paying any attention to the art; my mind was far off, thinking about the countries and cities I would soon visit.

When I thought of Denmark, I thought of Mikkel and how easy-going he was. While Berwald, the nation of Sweden was a quiet fellow and had a serious face but deep down I could tell he was a good person. I quickly recalled how he picked up Gael with care and gave the most affectionate smile towards the boy. Then I remembered Mikkel, Berwald and the other Nordics having drinks with Grandma, Johnny and Celine telling them stories about their Viking days.

I smiled, they seem like good people.

On Sunday we visited the Monti's market. The market was a blend of modern creativity and vintage fashion: from handicrafts to cutting-edge designers and retro clothing, furniture and home ware items. Sales were always active on the weekends, and it was the perfect excuse to explore the other independent stores and galleries that dotted around the area's small streets.

Now, the next three days became a huge crash course of museums and sightseeing.

We visited the San Clemente Basilica; built in 1100 on the ruins of a fourth century Christian church which was also built over the ruins of a first century pagan temple. Again this church was filled with color, paintings over the ceilings along with gray marble and gold accents. The golden Triumph of the Cross was placed in the dome area and it was unbelievably stunning. The entire thing was constructed with little square pieces of mosaic.

Underground was where the ruins of the two other churches remained. The catacombs were made of dark stone and the air was filled with the scent of the earth. The pagan temple intrigued me most of all. The carved out stone altar of the old god sat at the end and the carving of a warrior was on a small column in the center, both were made with the same white stone. The soldier was standing over some kind of beast, possibly a bull.

My fingers caressed over the column, the stone was cold and smooth. I could feel the centuries radiated off the rock. Even the atmosphere felt ancient and magickal.

Next we took a tour at the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument and the infamous Glass Elevator. The big white marble building was completed in 1935 as a monument to Vittorio Emanuele II. The massive monument sat on a hill right next to the ancient Roman Forum and Capitoline Hill. The location and architecture have left a severe distaste in the mouths of the Roman citizens. Even Feliciano and Lovino didn't care for it; Feli said that the only good thing about the monument was the glass elevator that took us to the top observation deck. This deck held the perfect view for some amazing snapshots of Rome and the ancient ruins.

Then Feliciano lead us to a studio home that was converted into another museum, like they didn't have enough already.

This art-nouveau villa between the river and via Flaminia was filled with two hundred sculptures, two hundred paintings and three hundred graphic works. But everyone came for the works of the sculptor Hendrik Christian Andersen.

"He was a Norwegian-American artist that moved to Rome at the end of the nineteenth century where he lived for over forty years. When he died he left all his works to the Italian state, where some are now displayed here." Feliciano announced.

Next was the Burcardo Theatre, another freaking museum that was filled with costumes and artifacts from the history of Italian theater. It opened to the public in 1932; the collection included a number of beautifully crafted sculptures, plaster busts depicting writers and actors from the past two centuries and a photography archive with thousands of dramatic black and white images of thespians in action.

We finally took a break at the Spanish Steps, one of the timeless, classic sites in Rome. These steps rose into a steep slope from the Piazza di Spagna to the church of Trinità dei Monti at the top of the hill. The site was always filled with people so all we could do was grab a section of steps for our group to sit at and eat a cup of gelato.

The day was waning down, the sun was sitting and the sky was fading into a darker shade of blue. The street lights and the fountain at the bottom of the steps were beginning to glow. I sat in between Peter and Raivis and savored my double chocolate gelato.

Peter was reading Raivis' travel book, "Hey did you know there are one hundred and thirty-eight steps here in total."

I cocked a brow, "People actually counted? Talk about having no life."

Feliciano perked up and was about to make another speech about the subject, till I groaned, "Feli, enough. My brain is running on fumes here."

He pouted and Ludwig proclaimed, "Feli, you did all you could but there was no possible way you could pack in everything in two weeks."

I gave the German a wide-eyed look, "we didn't even see everything?"

Antonio laughed, "We only scratched the surface."

"There's a saying among the locals," Elizabeta said, "You can spend a lifetime here and still wouldn't have seen everything Rome has to offer."

"Good thing we're immortal," Lovino muttered bitterly but then said, "well sort of."

Everyone was silent as I glanced to Alfred's family. Matthew was holding on to Kumajirou a little too tight. Arthur was scowling; his green eyes alive with a rage filled blaze. Even Francis had his jaw clutched, and carried an intense glare in his usual calm blue eyes. All three nations looked ready to shove Lovino down the stairs.

I forced out a laugh to ease the tension, I had enough practice to make it sound real; I really should thank Jamie for dragging me to her drama club meetings. "Lovi," I shoved his arm with my foot, "I'm supposed to be the funny, sarcastic one. Stop stealing my material," I flashed a dazzling smile and changed the subject by leaning against Raivis, looking over his shoulder to see the iPod's screen.

He's been borrowing my device for the last few days, allowing him to listen to the many genres of music that I had to offer. "You've been making your playlist?"

He removed my bright blue beats headphones from his ears and turned to me with a questionable look. Clearly he wasn't paying attention to our group's recent conversation, "Hmm?"

"Have you been making your playlist," I asked again.

He nodded, "but you have a lot of music; it's going to be a while for me to finish."

"What do you have so far?"

He clicked back to his playlist, "I really like American Authors, Coldplay, Chemical Romance, and OneRepublic."

"Have you listened to Of Monsters and Men?" I asked, "You would like them."

"Oh, they sing 'Little Talks' right," when I nodded, he said, "Yeah I got them."

"If you like those guys try The Fray, Maroon 5 and Imagine Dragons."

"Okay," he began the search and I continued.

"But you need some girl power," I counted off my fingers, "Beyoncé is a given."

He nodded, "I got her."

"Good. You also need to hear Lorde, Adele-"

"Adele is brilliant," Arthur added as he ate a spoon full of his dessert.

I grinned, "Up top Arthur." We shared a quick high five as Elizabeta said, "Raivis should try Ingrid Michaelson, her music runs along with those artists."

"Make sure to try Nickelback," Matthew spoke up.

I giggled, "You are so Canadian."

"But you need some pop," Antonio exclaimed, "try Katy Perry."

"Lame," Gilbert snickered.

The Spaniard narrowed his green eyes at his friend, "Don't even start Gil, you listen to Taylor Swift."

Everyone burst into gut wrenching laughter; it took us a good minute before anyone to make a comment. "What are you? A teenage girl?" Peter chuckled.

Gilbert's cheeks were red but he still carried himself with his usual cocky attitude. "Hey, it doesn't matter what I listen to, I can make anything awesome."

Peter shrugged, "Well that's still better than Amy, the Justin Bieber fan."

Every nation whipped their heads around to face me with a disturbed expression. I could feel my face turn into a million different shades of crimson. "I was eleven!" I smacked Peter over his head, but that didn't wipe away his smirk.

Francis carried on with the music discussion, "have you tried Ellie Goulding, I like her."

Raivis smiled, "I like her song 'Ritual'."

The older nation smiled back, "that one is my favorite too."

"'Burn' is good," Feliciano added, "techno is very popular right now." He turned to his brother, "What was that singer you like? I think he's British."

Lovino gave him a dirty look, almost like this singer was supposed to be a secret but he got over it. "Ed Sheeran," he grumbled.

Arthur nodded in agreement, "he's-"

"Shut up."

During this, I had grabbed my iPod and added these artists to the playlist all with a few clicks. "Alright, anything else?"

"West hasn't suggested anything," said Gilbert.

Ludwig avoided everyone's eyes, "leave me out of this."

"You must know at least one artist," Francis proclaimed.

Ludwig pulled his cap down to hide his face, but we could tell he was embarrassed by the bright pink that was forming on his ears. "I like Christina Aguilera."

Everyone was quiet as a wicked grin spread over my lips and I pulled out my portable speaker from my backpack. I connected the devices together and cracked up the song, 'Candyman'. I leaped to my feet, "sing along Ludwig it's your song!"

The blond hid his face in his hands as Feliciano patted his shoulder, giggling but comforting him at the same time.

I grabbed his hand and pulled him to the bottom of the steps. He tried to jerk his arm away but I was stronger, which made me smile even wider. I tapped my feet to the beat, and swayed my hips with a swing flare. Well I was trying to do swing, but Ludwig was shaking his head and covering his mouth to hide his laughter.

"That is not how you swing."

I smiled, "then show me."

His embarrassment was gone and replaced with a confidence that could only be gained from experience. He pulled me into a twirl and held me at arm's length to show me how to move my feet. It was almost like the quickstep, but I had to twist my waist and hips as my feet crisscrossed rapidly to the rhythm. Through the song, Ludwig was able to teach me the basics of swing dancing, which included touch-stepping, triple-stepping and kick ball changes.

"You learn fast," I almost thought he would give me a full blown compliment but it was back-handed. "If only you could be like this during your training."

"I can kick your ass if you want me to," I smirked playfully.

He laughed as he twirled me again. I beamed, I was glad to see that he was finally having some fun.


 

Lovino watched with a frown as Amy danced with the large German. He grumbled a string of curses at the sight of their smiling faces. It also didn't help that everyone was cheering them on. It only worsened his mood, but in retrospect he had no one to blame but himself. He was one that made the immortal comment, which lead Amy to a hasty subject change.

He groaned at the quick memory flashback of his statement. He wasn't thinking, he was trying to be humorous but it only came out bitter and the 'sort of' added to the end did not help his case. A shiver ran down his spine as the thought of Britain's and France's glares replayed in his head. Even sweet-temped Canada looked like he would rip the Italian apart.

Caught up in his own frustration and regret Lovino didn't notice Feliciano taking a seat next to him till he asked. "Lovi, why the long face? Everyone seems to be having fun why not you?"

He groaned, "Veneziano, I'm not in the mood."

The younger brother sighed, "What else is new."

Lovino narrowed his eyes but his attention was reverted back to the pair of blondes, dancing in the street. At one point, Amy asked if Ludwig knew any of the more advanced steps of swing. The German was more than happy to display as he wrapped an arm around the girl's waist and leaned her back. Amy read his moves perfectly and hooked her leg around his spare arm as Ludwig held her up in a horizontal line across his chest.

Amy squealed but continued to kick her other leg up as Ludwig flipped her back to her feet. They're group, along with a crowd of tourists and locals clapped and cheered. The whole scene was making Lovino nauseous.

Feliciano noticed his irritated expression towards the pair, "Lovi are you jealous?"

"No," he hissed defensively.

"That look says you are."

"Shut it."

Feliciano glanced back to Amy and Ludwig and smiled knowingly. "You like her don't you?"

Lovino clutched his jaw as Feliciano said, "I see why, she is alluring, fun and very pretty."

"Are you going somewhere with this?"

Feliciano's smile fell, "I know you're very lonely Lovi; especially with Liz and Gilbert back together."

He groaned, louder this time, "We don't need to discuss this."

Feliciano arched his brows up in distress, "but I don't like to see that look on your face fratello. Whenever Elizabeta, Bella or any other nation come to you, seeking comfort you give it to them and never ask for them to love in return. But I could see that gleam in your eyes every time Lovi, the hope that this time would be different. That they would stay and not go back to the men they love, but it never happens."

Lovino massaged his temples, hating the fact that his brother was right. He and like so many of the other nations always continue to forget that Feliciano wasn't as imprudent as they believed. The younger nation continued, "This seems to be your slot in life, always being the man they run to when the other is missing from their beds."

Lovino inhaled through his nose, "All the nations do this not just me-"

"But they always have that one nation to go back to," Feliciano proclaimed. "I mean if you allowed yourself to open up to the male nations-"

"I don't like men." Lovino hissed. "I prefer women, Feli."

"I know but there are already such slim pickings," his eyes slid back to Amy. "But this could be your chance."

Lovino followed his brother's gaze, "don't you like her?"

"If she wants me, she can have me but Lovi you need all the help you can get." Feliciano smiled.

He narrowed eyes at him, "are you applying that if you were trying, I wouldn't have a chance."

Feliciano grinned, "Maybe." He then turned back to the top of the stairs, where he noticed a small band. His grin grew wider, "time to work some magic." He jumped to his feet and ran to the band.

Lovino watched his brother with an irritated but slightly amazed expression. In less than five minutes, Feliciano was able to persuade the band to loan him their mandolin and join him for a song. The band followed the nation to the bottom of the stairs, each of them carrying an instrument; a guitar, two violins, a drum, a tambourine and an accordion. Feliciano streams the small instrument and with a steady beat of drum, he and his temporary band began the melody called, 'Sott'er Celo de Roma' or in English, 'On an Evening in Roma'.

Lovino shook his head in disbelief as the nations and crowd of humans began to clap to the rhythm. Veneziano's voice was suave as he sang with smile and caressed the mandolin as if it was made of glass. The band was quick to harmonize with the cheerful nation and when the song called for backup singers, the locals were more than willing to join.

Room was made for dancers and Amy and Ludwig was in the center of it. Lovino could no longer watch as the potato bastard swayed happily with Amy. The German had already taken his brother, he did not need Amy. He struts forward and cuts in front of Ludwig when he wasn't looking.

Lovino moved in fast, pulling Amy close and whirled away from the confused blond.

"That was kinda rude," the girl raised a brow but she was smiling, so Lovino didn't think much of it.

He smirked, "he'll get over it."

Amy laughed and turned her attention back to the music, swinging her body with the beat. Lovino gently tugged her closer, coaxing her to lean herself against him. She didn't object and placed her head into the nook of his neck. Goosebumps formed every time she breathed, causing Lovino to twitch and his toes to curl. His heart was pounding against his rib cage and he was praying to God that Amy wouldn't hear, or at the very least not comment on the subject.

She did nothing but closed her eyes and hummed along with the song. He relaxed and tilted his head together with her's. She sighed peacefully and Lovino smiled content for the moment.


 

On our last day in Italy, Feliciano took us to the Casa Del Cinema, also known as a movie theater. This theater was the most modern cinema in the city. They take pride in screening classic original language films, but there were some movies from that came from that year's Venice film festival. There was even a film library and a café, practically a dreamland for movie fans.

But truthfully the only thing that I was really excited to see was the cat sanctuary. These cat homes were set among the ruins of the Torre Argentina. This area contains the remains of four Republican temples as well as Pompey's Theater: the site where Julius Caesar was believed to have been assassinated.

Feliciano explained, that cats began hanging around when the archaeological site was first opened in 1929, making themselves right at home in the below street level ruins. These felines may have come for the shelter but they stayed for the friendly gattare or cat ladies, for most of the cats were fat. They weren't missing any meals. The sanctuary was short on land but the cats didn't seem to mind for most would lie about on the ruins, taking in the sun. Others would rub up against the tourists, knowing perfectly well that they would at least get some sort of affection for their troubles.

The sanctuary has been run by generation after generation of locals from the neighborhood and they take care of the cats through their own pockets. Luckily tourists have always spared some money for the donation box. I made sure to add a twenty. I knew from personal experience that raising money for animal shelters was frustrating and besides, just imagine all the good karma I'll receive later down the road.

The moment I saw the fluffy felines, I started jumping excitedly and squealing like a little kid. It only got worse when Feli announced that several of the mother cats had kittens and the women were trying to find homes for them.

I squealed again and tried to move in a calmly fashion towards one of the mother cats. A sweet looking elderly woman had given me a feathered toy. I thanked her as I waved the colorful feathers over the small adorable kittens.

I was overdue on some kitten love. I scratched them on their heads, behind their ears, and under their chins. I even played with some the older, active cats as some would jump on my shoulders or leap into my lap to lounge.

It wasn't long till I started using my baby talk, saying phrases in a sweet voice. "Hi there," I scratched a solid black kitten under his chin. "You're so beautiful, yes you are," I cooed as the tiny creature mewed and I melted, "Aww."

"Amy we have to go," Arthur called out.

"But we just got here!" I whined.

"It's been an hour," he proclaimed.

I continued to complain, "But, why?"

"Our tour guide wants to take us to another museum." By 'tour guide' I'm sure he meant Feliciano.

"But, but," I held the kitten closer, "I don't want to go."

He sighed, "Amy, come along, the cats aren't going anywhere."

"Can we stay a little longer? Please." I begged sweetly as I batted my eyes and tilted my head.

He blinked, completely speechless. "Uh, well-"

"Please Arthur," I said in a young tone and brought out the Bambi eyes, "please."

He brushed a hand through his hair nervously, "I'll uh, go ask."

I beamed, "thank you."

He stuttered but no words came out as he walked back to the group.


 

Arthur was still in a daze when he came face to face with the nations.

"Why isn't Amy following you," Ludwig asked this more as a statement than a question.

"Well," Arthur rubbed the back of his neck nervously, "uh-"

"She used the Bambi eyes on you didn't she," Matthew proclaimed.

"Bambi eyes," Gilbert asked with interest.

The Canadian nodded, "Alfred had the same trick. Whenever it came to Arthur all he had to do was bat his big blue eyes and Arthur would melt."

Before Arthur could defend himself Francis proclaimed, "Don't deny it, you know it's true."

The Brit sighed, defeated. "She just looked so much like Alfred when he was child," he flushed. "I couldn't say no."

Ludwig rolled his eyes, a habit he seemed to have picked up from Amy. "Clearly I need to handle this."

Arthur and the others watched as Ludwig struts forward. Amy was preoccupied by a litter of kittens and didn't notice the large blond till he spoke.

The group was too far to hear but they were still able to follow their conversation by sight and expression. The chat was short and it seemed Amy had won, for Ludwig walked back with his head hanging slightly to the side.

Antonio gasped dramatically as he said in a mocking tone, "what happened?"

"I thought you said you would handle it," Francis jeered.

Gilbert shook his head in disappointed, "That was so not awesome."

Ludwig tried to defend himself, "she had the help of a small cat." He cursed, "I swear it meowed on cue."

"Sure it did, potato bastard." Lovino smirked.

Feliciano grinned as he hugged Ludwig, "you're just a big softie, admit it."

Elizabeta giggled, "I guess we're gonna be here a while. I'm going shopping, anyone care to join?"

The awesome trio followed Elizabeta as Ludwig and Feliciano sat at a bench, simply enjoying the warm afternoon. Peter and Raivis were captivated by the kittens and played with them beside Amy. Arthur and Matthew couldn't stand the heat for much longer and ventured into a book shop with a relaxing café attached to it.


 

I continued to play with the cats, petting them, holding them and loving them with all the affection I could give. The felines ranged from black to white, brown to gray and multicolored with the texture of stripes and splattered spots.

I waved the toy around the kittens causing them to jump and snatch the feathers in between their claws. I cooed and giggled at their antics, falling even more in love with them.

"I thought you were a dog person."

I glanced to Lovino as he sat himself beside me and lifted a mild tempered kitten into his arms. He scratched the brown stripped kitten under her chin and she purred.

"Why do you say that?"

"Well, you have that cocker spaniel," he stated. "What was her name again?"

"Lady and she's the most beautiful dog in the world."

He grinned, "See, that's why I think you're a dog person."

"I'm an animal person; I love all types of animals."

He cocked a brow, "even pigs?"

"Yes, have you ever watched Babe or Charlotte's Web? The pigs they used were adorable."

"Rats?"

I made a face, "some rats but mice are cute."

He chuckled, "tu sei pazzo."

He called me crazy and I exclaimed, "thank you, I take great pride in that."

His chuckle turned into a laugh and I placed my attention back to the kittens. He was silent as I fussed over the felines.

"Why don't you have a cat?"

"Hmm?"

"You have a dog and three horses but you don't have a cat."

"My mom's allergic, so are my brother and sister it kinda runs in the family. I couldn't go anywhere near cats because they were super sensitive to their hair. If they got close to it, their eyes would water and turn red and their faces would puff, believe me it's not a pretty sight."

Another cat meowed, asking for attention and I was happy to apply. "When the Quake hit, a lot of animals were left to roam the streets and the animal shelter was destroyed. The library was the only place left that wasn't completely damaged or occupied by large groups of people.

"The dogs were kept at the bottom floor while the cats were on the second level. Any dogs that were friendly moved to the hospital or rec-center mostly to entertain the kids and comfort the elderly. Summerland had so many homeless dogs we were putting all our efforts into finding them homes. The cats on the other hand, we didn't have as many so most ended up becoming library cats."

I smiled at the memory of the calm felines that kept me company in between the rows of bookshelves. "At first I was a volunteer, I would feed them, groom them and play with them. Dad would come along to keep an eye on me and he also likes cats." I chuckled, "Every time we came back to the rec-center our family wouldn't come near us till we took a shower.

"Then when I got older, I continued to visit the cats and Mom was so annoyed by it but she didn't complain; much. She only asked that when I came back, I would have to stand out in the front yard as she hosed me down."

He gave me a confused look, "with water right?"

"No with Kool-Aid," I said sarcastically.

Lovino narrowed his eyes at me and I laughed even harder, "don't be mad, you open yourself up to that one."

He continued to glare and I smirked, "you're like Mel, so sensitive." I lifted a multicolored kitten to my face as it rubbed its head against my cheek. The mention of my family brought back the home sickness that I thought I had gotten over with. This only revealed that I must've been keeping it dormant to focus on other issues.

I wondered what my parents were doing at that moment; it would be morning in Summerland by now. They would be rising for the day and I was pretty sure school had started so Melissa and Sanjay would be up too. Blair and Blake were fourth graders now and little Raiden would join his mother at the shop so he would be adored by all the costumers. A small lump began to form in my throat and I tried in failed attempts to swallow it.

"Are you alright?"

I looked up to Lovino, his eyes held such genuine concern that I didn't have the heart to brush off the subject. I inhaled a long breath and turned my focus back to the cats, avoiding his eyes. "I'm just . . . home sick. I really miss my family and talking about them is only making it worse."

He didn't say anything as I picked up another kitten and held it close to my chest for comfort. "I can't even handle two months without them." I snorted bitterly, "what the hell am I gonna do when they're gone."

Lovino was silent till he said, "you really love them."

I cocked a brow, "well that's new. The advice I usually get is pretty blunt. Such as, 'get over it' or 'don't think about it.' Oh, and my personally favorite, 'you will live forever, they won't. It's best to sever your ties now.'"

"Well, you've been talking to a bunch of assholes," he proclaimed.

I smirked slightly but the flutter of this new found amusement didn't last. "But is that all you have to say? You're not going to tell me to get use to the idea of them being gone?"

He shrugged, "there would be no point. It won't stop you from being with them; frankly I think it only encourages you."

I blinked, completely taken by surprise as he continued. "It would also be hypocritical for us to keep telling you to stay away from them even though we don't follow our own rules." He sighed, "Maybe, they're hoping it will lessen the pain but it is fool's dream. Your family; the people that raised you will always be a part of you. It doesn't matter how many times we tell you to forget them, it won't stop you." He looked to me with unwavering eyes, "it just won't."

"We all had people we cared about at one point of our lives," he continued, "men and women that have stayed with us through the years. We knew how it would end, we always knew but we never seem to learn." He sighed once again, "and when that fateful moment comes, we turn to each other. That's when most realize the truth; in this life we only have each other, unfortunately."

His last sentence made me smile, granted it was sad but a smile none the less. "It's nice to know I'm not alone."

"Amy!" Peter called out, "there's this kitten you have to see." In one swift move, he snatched my hand, hauled me to my feet and yanked me across the yard.

When I found there was no kitten waiting for me but Raivis. I became very annoyed. "What's the deal Peter? There's no kitty."

"Sorry, but I had to make up something to get you away from Romano."

I gave him a confused look, "why?"

Peter cocked a thick eyebrow as Raivis shifted his eyes to me and back to Peter. The blond was the first to speak, "seriously, you don't notice?"

"Notice what?"

Raivis fiddled with his fingers, "we may not have the skill but we can see it in action."

"See what?" I asked irritated.

"Flirting," Peter exclaimed as my eyes widened in surprise and he sighed. "Wow, you're just as oblivious as Alfred."

I shook my head, "nah, not Lovino, I mean he's just being nice."

The boys gave me the 'really-you're-denying-it' look.

My mind quickly recapped me on Lovino's behavior from the past two weeks; how sweet he's been acting, how he preferred to stay near me when we visited the museums and then our very intimate dance at the Spanish Steps. "Oh my god," it finally hits me.

"It really flew over your head," Peter jeered.

I glared, "shut up." But my death glare didn't last as I rubbed my temples. "Ugh, I don't need this."

"I'm still confused," Raivis jumped in, "how could you not notice?"

I groaned, "I just thought he was being a good host you know, being in his country and all." I sighed, "I never notice people flirting unless Jamie and Michel tell me." I looked up to the boys, "I guess you guys are they're replacements."

"I call being Jamie," Peter raised his hand and then pointed to Raivis, "you will be the flamboyant one."

Raivis glared, "well at least I'm not a girl."

"Well, at least I don't like boys and have to take it up the ass," Peter smirked.

Raivis shoved him and Peter almost tripped but caught himself. I shook my head, "guys, stop, please." I sighed once again. "Do you think he's doing it for the bet?"

Peter and Raivis froze, "what?"

"Don't play stupid," I snapped, "you guys must've heard."

Raivis sighed, "Yes."

"Nations love to see who's on top just as much as they love to gossip," Peter noted.

I sat on massive stone block, "great; just great."

Another older cat leaped into my lap and rubbed its face into my arm. I scratched it behind the ears and held the feline close. Raivis took his seat beside me, "that's why we warned you. Mr. Romano is very popular with the female nations. He's dated Ms. Hungary, Ms. Taiwan. . ."

"Raquel," I added, remembering the drinking game.

"Ms. Belgium," Raivis proclaimed.

"And Victoria. . ."

"What?!" Both Raivis and I looked up to Peter, whose eyes carried a wounded look.

I slapped a hand over my mouth, "I'm sorry, I-"

Peter clutched his jaw and crossed his arms, "forget it. She's got a past." He turned his glare on Lovino, "but if he thinks he can have you for a bet he's got another thing coming."

Raivis spared a cautious look towards the Italian before he turned to me. "We got your back Amy."

I smiled, "Look at you two, my own personal bodyguards."

Both of them flushed, embarrassed and I leaned against Raivis, "thanks guys."

We were silent till Raivis began to hum the song 'Time Machine' by Ingrid Michaelson.

Peter grinned, "you gonna give us a performance?"

His eyes widened like a scared deer caught in the headlights. "No, no, I don't like to sing in front of people."

"Yeah, I know. The only time I can hear you, is when you take a shower."

Raivis grew pale, "you've been spying on me."

"Hey, I didn't have to go far. You got a pair of lungs on you."

I rose off his shoulder, "you can sing?"

"Uh-uh, um, uh," he stuttered.

"Dad always said that Estonia and the other Baltics were amazing," Peter proclaimed. "Estonia was the boastful one but Dad said the real gem was Raivis."

Raivis turned red, "I'm not-"

"I want to hear, please Raivis," I plead.

He shook his head, "I don't like singing in front of people." he repeated. "I mean, it was bearable when I had Eduard and Toris with me but," he swallowed a lump in his throat. "When it came to singing in front Mr. Russia," he was beginning to tremble and I held his hand to comfort him.

Peter closed his mouth, losing his teasing nature when the topic came to Russia.

"He made you guys sing for him?" I asked in disbelief.

"And dance," Raivis added. "He forced us to learn ballet so we could perform Swan Lake and the Nutcracker for him." he said bitterly.

I tried to find the good in this, "hey male ballet dancers are pretty fit, I mean have you seen their legs?" I whistled, "They're sexy beasts."

Peter laughed, "Raivis? A sexy beast?" he laughed harder.

He sighed, "I don't know if you could call me that when I'm dressed in a tutu."

Peter stopped laughing as I asked, "what?"

"He-" Raivis glanced to his shoes, "Mr. Russia would dress us in tutus when we performed the female roles, and those were his favorite."

I was pretty sure Peter and I thought the exact same thing: of Raivis twirling on stage in a white tutu and a sparkling crown on his head. We both shared one look and started to laugh. And it wasn't a chuckle; it was a full on, gut-wrenching laugh.

Peter fell to his knees, holding his gut, "I can't," he choked out between gasps. "I can't."

I tried to stop but then my mind decided to show Raivis curtseying to me and asking if he looked pretty. I laughed harder, "I-" gasp, "can't-" gasp, "breathe."

Raivis rose to his feet, face flushed and eyes filled with embarrassment, "it isn't funny!"

When I finally caught my breath, I coughed, "I'm sorry, I just, I just," I dissolved into giggles.

"I have to ask," Peter chuckled, "are there pictures?"

Raivis didn't have to answer; his bright red cheeks said it all.

We howled like a pair of hyenas.


 

At early evening Feliciano takes us to Ristorante Al Presidente. This restaurant was one of the best in Rome; with the nicest terraces. This building was in the center of town, under the shadow of the Quirinale presidential palace. We sat outside at one of the long tables; I took my seat at the end. Raivis and Peter were quick to take their seats at my side as Matthew, Elizabeta and Gilbert sat in front of me. Arthur sat by Raivis as Francis was in front of him and by Mattie. Feliciano and Lovino sat at the head with Antonio and Ludwig by their sides.

I figured the Italian brothers came here often, for when we entered waiters were on their feet ready to serve. One had called in a middle aged man dressed in a three piece suit; he walked out from a back room and beamed in our direction. He and the brothers took a moment to greet and hug each other as the smiling owner ushered us to our table.

Plates and silverware shined against the streetlights as they were set while one waiter was instructed to bring forth the finest bottle of wine they had.

The head waiter was quick to bring us water and hand us our menus. Then another waiter stepped forward showing the wine to Feli and Lovino, seeking their approval. They smiled and gestured for them to serve. The wine was poured and a glass was passed to each of us as we ordered our food. I asked for pasta with fresh sardines and pecorino cheese.

Once the waiter wrote down the orders, they were off to inform the cooks.

The owner turned to his favorite costumers, "Is everything to your liking?"

"There's no need to ask, Luca," Feli smiled, "you never disappoint."

Luca grinned, pleased and turned to set his eyes on me. "They tell me it's you're first time in Italy."

I flushed but gave a small smile, "yes it is."

His grin widened, "well there is no need to worry. You are in Rome and in good hands," he slapped Lovino on his shoulder, lifted a wine glass and announced, "Cin, cin!"

Everyone followed his example, glancing to one another as we clicked our glasses together and repeated, "Cin, cin!" Then we all took a sip of the red liquid.

From what Carlo and Gemma told me, when Italians gathered for dinner, they thank for the meal by saying "Cin, cin," which was supposed to mean the chime of the wine glass. You gave thanks with all your five senses, you have to look at your guests in the eye, touch the glass as you toast, hearing the click and say 'cin, cin.' Then you complete the toast by tasting the wine.

I smiled to myself when I remembered Jin Chen, Jamie's grandfather explaining that the Italians got this tradition from the Chinese. Carlo didn't argue, he grinned and said, "Well, that only brings us closer together no?"


 

After dinner, we took one final drive through the city, stopping two blocks away from the Trevi Fountain. In truth, you can't turn a street corner in Rome without seeing a gorgeous fountain. But the Trevi Fountain was the largest baroque fountain in the city and Feli said we could not; under any circumstance miss out on this breathtaking sight.

The massive fountain was in alignment with a towering building, everything made with aging white marble. In the center was Neptune and at his sides were two fully clothed women and below him were men and horses. Water gushed from the center and flowed down in a stunning waterfall. The sculptures, like every other sculpture I've seen in Rome were crafted in amazing detail and so life-like.

It was late so all underwater lights were on, this feature only enhanced the beauty of this once Roman aqueduct.

"The Trevi Fountain was completed in 1762 as a collaborative effort between many artists," Feliciano announced. The tourists were gone; leaving couples seeking alone time, but Feli kept his voice low so he wouldn't disturb them. "Including Salvi, Bracci, and Pannini. It was also built on the site of an original fountain fed by the Roman Aqueducts just like most of the fountains in the city."

Ludwig placed a gentle hand on his shoulder, "Feli that's enough, Amy please tell him you've learn something."

"Oh yeah," I nodded, "tons."

Feliciano grinned, "What did you learn?"

"Uhhhhh," I nibbled on my bottom lip nervously. "I learned. . ." I stepped backwards, "about the San Luigi dei Francesi, the pagan temple and art and culture and stuff."

Everyone was quiet; giving me either amused or annoyed looks. Ludwig sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose.

There was a silent agreement to spend our last few minutes at the fountain. I made sure to take plenty of photos with the nations, using this structure as the background setting. Once my camera was half-way filled, I sat on the rim of the fountain right at the center, allowing myself to absorb every curve and flex of the sculptures into memory. Because truthfully no matter how many pictures I took, they would never catch the astounding beauty of the Trevi Fountain.

"Legend says if a visitor tosses a coin into the fountain over their shoulder, they are assured to return to Rome someday."

I flinched at Lovino's voice but I kept my cool as I craned my neck up, "neat." Neat? Really, that's all you have to say? I mentally groaned; a part of me was annoyed that Peter and Raivis informed me about Lovino's intentions. It was making me nervous and second guessing everything I was thinking.

Lovino dropped himself beside me, "did you enjoy your time here?" He sounded just as anxious as I felt. I think he believed that he had done something wrong and was trying to maneuver through landmine field.

I instantly hated myself, why should I change how I act with someone over what my friends had said. I didn't feel like I was being pursued by Lovino, not then and certainly not now. Besides, he's Italian; he might not even realize he was flirting.

Clearly, I was making excuses. I should have realized that when Peter and Raivis bothered to warn to me, it was made with genuine concern for my well-being not to play mind games. Unfortunately, I discovered this all too late.

"Yes," I beamed, "I had an amazing time Lovi and I can't wait to see every part of Italy. Venice, Tuscany, Florence and I would really like to see the Island of Sicily." I narrowed my eyes at him playfully, "you better be my tour guide, because if I end up kidnapped I'll make sure to leave a detailed letter for everyone to blame you."

He snorted, "you're kidnapper would have to kill me first."

"I'll still leave the letter. You'll come back to life after a day or so."

He shook his head, "I can't win with you."

"Best to face the truth now," I said.

He gave me a happy, childlike smile as he caressed his thumb over my knuckles.

My insides immediately twisted into a knot. Peter and Raivis's warnings began to echo in my head and I couldn't help but wonder was I flirting back.

That was the last thing I needed.

I jumped to my feet and changed the subject. "Let's see if this legend is true," I dug into my short pockets, searching for a coin.

Lovino beats me to it and hands me a new, shiny euro. I thanked him and tried to act normal but my body didn't want to listen to me. The instant his fingers touched my palm, my nerve endings were on fire as I sucked in a rapid breath for air. I side stepped away from him and tossed the coin over my shoulder.

I was about to suggest that we head back to the villa for we all had planes to catch in the afternoon. His hand on my shoulder stopped my train of thought as he bent low allowing his lips to be mere inches away from my ear.

"This fountain also goes by another name, do you wish to hear?" he whispered. He didn't give me the chance to answer only said in the same soft tone, "la fontana dell'amore."

A shiver ran down my back as his spare hand slid to my cheek and gently titled my head up to face him. He was so close, that our foreheads were touching and our noses were brushing against each other. My mind drew a blank on what to do, I was completely frozen. My hands were sweating, my legs wobbled and I'd forgotten how my lungs worked.

Lovino leaned in and it was like time slowed, allowing my brain to scream at me: do you want to end up on his list of conquests?!

The memory of the sleepover's drinking game came flooding back into view as Kim carried on with the game.

"Never have I ever. . ." she glanced to Mei, "Slept with either of the Italian brothers."

Mei pouted and swallowed her liquor along with Raquel, Bella, Elizabeta, and Victoria. The girls shared a look, "Romano?" Mei questioned.

They nodded as Bella giggled, "Boss taught him well."

"No!" I shoved him, hard.

All in a blink of an eye, he tripped over the rim and fell backwards into the Trevi Fountain with a splash.

For one dreadful second, everything was quiet. No one said anything as I stood there like a statue with a terrified expression. It took me a minute to gather my wits, "Lovino," I choked, "I'm so, so sorry. I just-just," I stuttered.

His head was low, so all I could see was his wet hair and shaking shoulders. I almost thought he was cold but I quickly realized that he wasn't cold but angry. He jumped to his feet, cursing, "What the fuck! Why?! Why would you-" he groaned as he racked his hands through his hair in frustration. "I thought-I thought-" he groaned again and then glared at me with his fierce golden eyes. "All you had to say was stop not push me into the damn fountain!"

I winced at his harsh tone, "I just freaked, I'm so-"

"I heard you the first time," he hissed. "All you had to say was stop. I would have stopped. . ." his face fell. "Did you think I wouldn't?" I wasn't quick enough to answer and he shouted, "what kind of person do you think I am?! I'm not like that bastard France!"

"Um, I have an objection," Francis tried to defend himself as my eyes shifted around the area, the nations and a few of the couples were watching and I flushed; we were making a scene. I closed my eyes, begging to be anywhere but here.

Lovino cursed at Francis in a mix of Italian and English, "Fatti i fatti tuoi! This has nothing to do with you, idiota!"

I snapped my eyes open, feeling a protective flare burn inside of me. "Well at least he owns up to being a player!" I shouted, "Oh by the way, don't get mad at him because I wouldn't kiss you, that's just sad and pathetic. Oh wait you're Italian, that's pretty much everything you have to offer; that and being a huge man-whore!"

Everyone was dead silent as Lovino's jaw dropped and Gilbert laughed, "This is awesome."

I turned to him, along with everyone else to see him holding up a phone. Antonio narrowed his eyes at him, "are you recording this?"

"Ja," he nodded, "this is YouTube gold right here."

The Spaniard nodded, "oh, really, can I see?" He asked sweetly at first and then snatched the phone from Gilbert's hand and chucked it into the fountain.


 

The ride back to the villa was quiet and uncomfortable.

When we arrived at the house, Lovino had beaten us; disappearing through the front door the instant Ludwig pulled up into the driveway. Antonio, Matthew, Arthur and Elizabeta were climbing out of the convertible as my group stepped out of the van.

"Lovino!" Feliciano ran after him.

As if on cue the other nations turned to look at me. I flushed in embarrassment and speed walked around the corner, planning to enter through the backyard.

Elizabeta chased after me, "Amy wait!"

"I don't want to talk about it!" I exclaimed.

"Then just listen. Lovi is not what you think."

I snorted, "I remember the drinking game Liz, he's been with you, Mei, Raquel, Bella, Victoria and who knows how many humans-"

"Only because we came to him," she snapped.

I arched an eyebrow, "is there a difference?"

"Yes, there is." she sighed, "Our relationships . . . they're not stable. Some can make it work but others are like roller coasters, you have your ups and downs and sometimes the ride rails off the tracks to crash and burn.

"Lovino was always the one we ran to when we needed a warm body to sleep with at night." She laughed sullenly to herself, "I was one of those regulars. After a nasty breakup I always ran to him. Lovino never turns any of us away," she paused to look at a flower pot filled with bright purple violets; it must've belonged to Lovino. "He is too sweet to say no. But what makes him truly a catch is that he is loyal."

She turned back to me, "he is faithful to any girl he's with being nation or human. He would comfort a crying woman but he would never betray the one he is with."

"Then why does he have so many? I mean are your relationships that bad?" I asked, with sincere curiously.

She snorted, "Yes. Relationships between nations are already complicated as it is. Then once you add the wars, the years, it drains you."

"But yet you're still with Gilbert."

She shakes her head, her green eyes filled with sadness and knowledge. "I could never shake him off. No matter how many times we curse at one another, fight one another or kill one another. We just can't let the other go."

"That doesn't sound healthy," I proclaimed.

Elizabeta smirked, "that's pretty much all we have."

We stayed quiet for moment, allowing Liz to sort through her thoughts. "Believe me, if I could love Lovi the way he wants me to, I would but-"

"You just don't feel it."

She nodded, "right."

"Does he still love you?" I asked.

"Yes and no. He loves me but he loves the idea of being with me or any other nation. It all boils down to what Feliciano has."

"Ludwig," I connected the dots, "he wants what Feli and Ludwig have."

She nods, "and you've noticed Amy, there are not that many women to go around."

"There are plenty of male nations."

"You've seen how he treats them."

"True." I crossed my arms, "but he seems to like Antonio."

Liz giggled, "Lovi loves Antonio like a brother; he just won't admit it."

I smiled, "sounds like him." Then I inhaled through my nose, "is he chasing me because of the bet?"

"No," she proclaimed, "Lovi would never pursue a girl for something so petty."

"Then what does he want from me?"

She was silent, taking a moment to think. "It is because you're new."

I moaned, "Seriously? We're gonna get back to that nonsense?"

"Now hear me out," she said, "think of the nations as students in a high school."

I gave her a look, "a high school scenario, really?"

Elizabeta narrowed her eyes, giving me a warning. "Could you save your comments for when I am done," her voice was soft but a threatening nature was laced with the tone.

I gulped and nodded.

"Thank you," she smiled smugly and continued. "Well like I said, think of the nations as students in a high school. Everyone has known everyone for years, ever since they were kids. During these years cliques have been made, couples have come and gone while others continue to come running back to each other over and over again.

"Now think of Lovino as a the odd ball-"

"Odd ball? Really?"

"Did I not say to save all comments after I was done," she glared.

"Right, right, sorry," I muttered.

She huffed but continued, "Picture yourself as Lovino, you don't have that many friends and you don't talk much because you are afraid people won't accept you. You may have friends but they're mostly your brother's friends. You may have two friends that like you but deep down you know that they would be fine without you. You have girlfriends but they never stay, always preferring to go back to the assholes that hurt them in the first place." Elizabeta made a face, as if she was mentally kicking her own ass for loving Gilbert.

"Then this new person, being you," she points to me, "transfers to Lovino's school. You have no idea who Lovino is and you certainly don't have any connections to the other students. This would be a fresh start for Lovi. It would be his chance to have someone like him, not tolerate him."

I processed her words and I understood. Lovino was lonely and he sees me as his chance to be his companion. I brushed a hand through my curls; this was all seriously screwed up. Why should all this pressure be thrust upon my shoulders? I have other more important issues to deal with and besides, Lovi sounded like he needed a friend.

Which, I would be more than happy to be but he wanted more. "Liz, what should I do?"

She shrugged, "I can't give you an answer; it's all up you."

I shook my head, "What makes you think I can fix it?"

She glanced to the violets, "because, you have that spark; the kind that brings the dead back to life." She turned back to me, smiled and walked away, leaving me alone with my thoughts.

Elizabeta entrusted me to fix this but she doesn't realized that I'm stubborn. I didn't want think about the situation anymore. I was done; physically and mentally. I dragged myself to the top of the patio and dropped onto the patio couch, staring up into the starlet night sky.

"Alfred if you have any advice, I'm all ears," I whispered to the sky.

I was meant with silence.


 

Lovino took a quick shower, cursing through the process of bathing, drying and dressing. The same sequence of events continued to plague him. The connection he believed he had made with Amy at the cat sanctuary. Then that damn Baltic and meddling port got in way, causing the American to act differently around him, avoiding him at dinner.

Shockingly Feliciano noticed which boggled Lovino even more than Amy's distance. After he got over the fact that his brother was able to read the atmosphere, for what could've called been a damn miracle. Lovino decided to listen to Feli's advice; taking a huge, massive risk to be romantic.

Unsurprisingly it back-fired; now Amy thought he was a complete asshole or in her words a man-whore, far from being romantic as he could possibly be.

Lovino fell back onto his bed and groaned.

Feliciano sat beside him, "don't beat yourself up Lovi, everyone makes mistakes."

"I should've never listened to you!" he glared.

"Lovi!" an irritating voice sang from the bedroom door.

"Go away!" Lovino threw a pillow at Antonio.

The Spaniard ducked and smiled, "Is that anyway to treat your amazing best friend?"

He shouted, "Mannaggia a te!"

"There's no need to use such language," Antonio tsked his finger.

Lovino sighed; he did owe the tomato bastard. He was the reason that his embarrassment wouldn't be shared with the entire world. "What do you want?"

"There's some freshly picked tomatoes waiting for you in the kitchen." he grinned. "There nice and juicy, just the way you like them."

He turned to walk out of the room but Lovino stopped him, "Wait Antonio." The older nation stopped and turned to him with a shocked expression. Lovino barely ever called Spain by his human name. "For today," Lovino looked away as he blushed, "grazie."

He beamed and tackled Lovino into a hug, "Oh Lovi, you know I would do anything for you!"

"Get off of me!" He tried to shove him away but the Spaniard took his chance to pull Lovino out the bedroom and towards the kitchen.

Where Lovino found no tomatoes, "Spain, what the hell is going on?"

"Oh, nothing much," in one quick move, he opened the door and tossed Lovino outside.

Lovino spun around as the door was slammed close.

"What's going on?" He then turned to his right to find Amy rising from the couch.

Lovino instantly winced and tried to open the door but it was locked. "Bastard! Open this door!"

"Not until you make up with Amy," he smiled through the window.

"What?! No! Open the door, now!"

He stepped back, "nope."

Lovino cursed and sprinted to the front door, it was also locked. He began to slam himself against the wood, but the door would not budge. "What the fuck?!" He ran back to the back door and continued to kick that the entrance.

"Once I get in there," he hissed in Italian and then exclaimed, "I'll break your fucking legs!"

Amy pulled at his arm, dragging him away from the door, "What's happening?!"

"They locked us out," Lovino panted.

"What? Why?!"

"They want us to make up."

"Oh god," she groaned and banged her fist on the wood. "Let. Me. In!" When no one answered she turned to Lovino, "Do you like this door?"

He knew what she was asking, "not really."

She gave a wicked grin that made his heart flutter and kicked the door with all her strength. The attack did nothing; the wood wasn't even marked with a scruff. Amy kicked again but still the door would not give. She then began to body slam herself against the entrance, "I'm," slam, "going," slam, "to," slam, "kill," slam, "them!" Slam.

She placed her hands on her knees, gasping for air, "okay that door should've been in pieces by now."

"We knew this, that's why there's enchantment on the house," Arthur explained from the window. "The spell will break once Ms. Hungary believes you've learn your lesson."

"This was all Liz's idea?" Lovino exclaimed.

He nodded, "yes."

Amy's eyebrows fell forward, "and you went along with it?"

"She is very persuasive."

"She threatened you didn't see," Lovino stated.

Arthur ignored him and focused his attention to Amy, "the only way you can come back inside is to patch things up."

"Fine," she grumbled and turned to the Italian, "I'm sorry. There, Liz, are you happy now?"

Elizabeta stepped forward, "that didn't sound like you mean it."

She groaned, "What do you want from me!"

"You already know," the older girl smiled as she and Arthur walked out of the kitchen.

Amy tried for the door again, twisting at the knob, "Elizabeta! Arthur!" When they ignored her, she glanced to one of the patio chairs and back at the window. "Do you like that window?" she asked Lovino.

"No," he answered bluntly.

"Good," she lifted the chair over her head, "move."

Lovino stepped back as she threw the chair against the glass. The chair bounced back and Lovino jumped to cover Amy as they both ducked. The chair flew over their heads and crashed against the brick patio wall.

He stared at the window, glanced to the chair and then to Amy. He muttered "that damn British bastard."


 

Twenty minutes passed and Lovino and I were still locked out of the house. This enchantment had completely covered the villa, being doors and windows. I grumbled a long string of curses as I hoped, no prayed for Arthur's spell to bite him in the ass; locking him and everyone else inside. Then the villa should screw with them like the mansion did back in Vienna.

I was sitting by the pool, soaking my legs in the cool water and staring at the glowing liquid. The pool lights were on, allowing us to see through the darkness. The villa was quiet, no movement or sound was made. Lovino was on the steps, with his back against the wall and his face hidden in his hand. We haven't spoken to each other since my failed attempt to break the window.

He also hasn't spoke to me or even looked in my general direction. The entire situation was awkward and I didn't think either of us knew what to do or say. My mind was quick to remind me about Elizabeta and her nation/high school analogy; which only brought forth the thought of the nations at school, wearing uniforms, taking exams and playing sports or taking drama. Then I'm reminded of their personality traits and antics and instantly shook my head; sounded like a failed Fox TV show.

I looked back to Lovino, only to catch him gazing at me. He jumped, mumbled something that could have been an apology and rose to walk up the stairs.

I tried to chase after him, "Lovi, wait-" the moment I pulled my legs out of the pool. I ended up tripping and falling back in with a squeal.

When I came up coughing for air, Lovino was standing over me, laughing. "Ha, I get wet, you get wet. It's karma no?"

I glared but I quickly forgot his jeers, "Okay, okay, now help me up." I held out my hand and he immediately grabbed it. I grinned and yanked him in. He yelped like a girl.

Now it was my turn to laugh, "I can't believe you fell for that. I mean that's like the oldest trick in the book."

He narrowed his eyes and splashed me, "shut up."

I held my arms up to cover myself but I was still grinning. "Don't be mad old man."

"Old man?" He gave me a look.

"Do you need me to repeat?" I smirked, "the hearing is the first to go, you know."

He slapped his hands over the water to splash me but I jumped back. "Are you tired Mr. Vargas? You really shouldn't stay up so late, it's bad for your health."

His left eye twitched, "call me old one more time, see what happens."

"I ain't afraid of you, grandpa."

Lovino leaped at me and I dived into the deep end. He chased after me but I was too fast for him. I tread circles around him, "oh what's this? Can't keep up? I'm too quick for ya huh?" I mocked.

My taunting didn't last long. Lovino snatched my arm and jerked me close so my back would collide into his chest. He leaned in low, his lips finding my ear again, "you talk too much."

The tone of his voice was smooth and soft as he loosened his grip and turned me around to face him. My arms tingled as if every nerve ending was on fire and his hand on my elbow wasn't helping. I avoided his eyes, deciding to look everywhere but him. My anxiety was building; my thoughts were running a mile a minute. Mostly, my head was filled with questions on what I should do and how I should handle this situation without hurting him. Before I could take any sort of action, Lovino brushed aside a stand from my face and tucked it behind the ear. I stiffen, taking in slow and steady breaths. My heart on the other hand was ramming against my rib cage.

Then he caressed my jaw with his thumb, lifting my chin up so I would have no choice but to look at him. His gold eyes found my blue as he bent down, allowing our foreheads to touch. "You're blushing," he grinned.

I shoved him away, treading water till my back hit the wall, putting at least four feet of distance between us. "You're an ass." I growled and crossed my arms over my chest.

Lovino's grin fell, his face taking on the resemblance of a wounded puppy. I bit my bottom lip, feeling guilty. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that; and for pushing you into the fountain and then calling you a man-whore that was uncalled for."

He sighed, "No, I'm sorry." he whispered loud enough for me to hear. "I should have never forced myself on you."

"I wouldn't say force," I stated.

"But you acted like I did."

"I was caught off guard," I exclaimed. "I just," I paused, taking a deep breath, "I don't know what to do."

"You never kissed anyone before?" he asked this with an amused smirk.

I narrowed my eyes at him, "I have kissed other people, but I'm not talking about that." I sighed, "What do you want from me Lovino? Because, if you're only interested in me just to prove a point to the other nations. You can just-"

"I would never do that," he said calmly. "I've been used by people before," he looked at me with an unwavering gaze. "It hurts, and I made a promise to myself that I would never put a person through that kind of pain."

"But you still love them," I said, remembering what Elizabeta said, "Even when they hurt you."

He sighed deeply, "It's complicated."

It was now Lovino's turn to avoid eye contact with me as it was mine to gaze at him. Water was dripping from his brunette locks, down his cheek to his tanned torso. His shirt was tight over his chest, revealing his slim but yet muscular build.

I flushed when Lovino caught me checking him out. He gave a confident smile as I said the first thing that came to my mind. "Why me? Is it because I'm the new student?"

"Student?" his brows dropped forward in puzzlement.

I slapped my forehead, "I mean the new nation, technically, somewhat-uhhhhh! You like me because I'm new right? But is that the only reason? Because if it is; it's shallow."

His face fell as his shoulders slumped, "you're right, it is shallow and also very selfish." He closed his eyes for a moment, "but just as Britain said, you don't know what we have done."

"You were listening?"

"Si," he sighed, "and if you think that what he did to your natives was bad." He shook his head as a sad smile spread over his face. "He's done much worse . . . but we all have done things, things that left us in our own personal hell."

He looked up to me, his gaze filled with pain. "Sometimes it's difficult to pull yourself out of the abyss and if you can it still wouldn't matter, it lingers. Even in the light, the darkness just becomes your shadow."

"Lovi, I'm not innocent," I proclaimed.

"Compared to us, you are."

I remained quiet as he continued, "You have not experienced hardship, you have only lived in the sunlight and I think that's the reason why I want to be close to you." His eyes soften, "I also like the way you think and how easy it is for you to smile."

Lovino brushed a hand through his locks, "I just wish that I could join you, to be with you in that light." He rubbed his eyes, taking in a deep breath, "stupid I know-"

"It's not stupid," I swam forward and pulled him into a hug. I nuzzled my face into the nook of his neck, "I get it."

Lovino inhaled through his nose deeply, second guessing himself if he should even hold me. I squeezed him, granting him permission to do so. He wrapped his arms around my waist and leaned his cheek against my head. I turned and gave a friendly peck on his cheek. He froze and looked at me with a surprised expression.

Though, his expression didn't last as he moved in to brush his lips against the corner of my mouth. "Please," Lovino whispered, "please, just one kiss."

I took in a rapid breath of air and nodded, not trusting my own voice. I closed my eyes as he held my face and caressed his lips against mine. His kiss was sensual and chaste, coaxing me to relax. I curled my fingers into the back of his shirt as he teased my bottom lip with the tip of his tongue. The newly discovered sensation caused me to flinch back. Lovino noticed, eased back to lean our foreheads together and soothed me with sweet words in his native language. My flushed cheeks burned as I hid my face into his shoulder, taking comfort in his presence.

Chapter Text

I was following a young girl dressed in black. She was small and slim with brown hair tucked under a white cap.

We were running, she had to keep hiking up her long skirt just to sprint but still she was faster than me. She pulled me by the hand, hissing at me to keep up. I was shorter than her, my height only came to her chest but I had the advantage of pants.

But deep down I knew that no matter where we go, she would find us.

The brunette yanked me towards a tree with a gaping hole in the trunk. She shoved me inside and instructed, "Stay here!"

"But-"

She pushed me back down, "She's after you, not me." Her brown eyes softened, "please just stay here, I'll be right back." With those final words, she turned and ran in the opposite direction.

My knees buckled due to exhaustion as I collapsed into the mud. My small hands were trembling and tears were threatening to spill from my eyes. I curled myself into a ball, raking my hands through my hair, trying to make sense of this world that I have entered.

A girl screamed in the distance, breaking me from my thoughts. I leaped to my feet and shouted, "Sarah!"

I chased after her screams, desperately yelling for her as I weaved around trees. When I came into the clearing along the cliff's edge. I scanned the area and found Sarah on the ground. I slid to her side and shook her by the shoulders, "Sarah! Sarah are you okay?"

"Get away from her!" I whipped my head around to find Sarah shouting, "It's a trap!"

Before I could process the situation, the mystery girl clutched my throat and shoved me to the ground. She pressed her knee into my hip and tightened her hold on me. This young girl had pale skin with black hair and eyes. Her hair was freed from her cap and bun, allowing the locks to cascade down in wild waves.

She smiled as her dark eyes glowed red, "are you ready to have some fun?"

I tried to push her off but she summoned her specters. These dark mist like creatures wrapped themselves around my wrists and ankles, leaving me defenseless under her. She pulled out a knife from her white apron pocket and started to chant in a foreign language I couldn't place.

Sarah tackled her to the ground, gripping her hands together. The specters hissed as one released my ankles and hooked itself as a noose around Sarah's shoulder. The specter threw her aside and circled around its mistress protectively.

The dark haired girl narrowed her still glowing red eyes, "that one, you can eat."

The specters dive for her as I cried, "No!"

Sarah threw up her hands, creating a violet shield around herself. "You're not the only one that knows magick, Abigail."

She cursed, "Tituba taught you?"

"She was more than happy to," Sarah proclaimed. "You did throw her to the council when she refused to teach you stronger spells."

"But she taught you?! A farmer's daughter?!"

Sarah glared, "Tituba saw in me what you didn't have." Her hands sparked with purple flames as she hauled this colorful fire at the specter around my wrists.

The phantom hissed in agony as it was absorbed by the fire; but this heat never once burned my hands. "I have compassion for others, unlike you."

Abigail laughed, "Compassion? I prefer power."

"Yet my magick is stronger," Sarah smirked, "Well, isn't this quite a predicament?"

Abigail's eyes blazed a darker shade of crimson as she screeched, "Die!" A bright scarlet flame formed in her palm as she shoots it towards Sarah.

She tried to dodge but the fire grazed her midsection, burning away her clothes and flesh. In an instant, a specter following Abigail's command rises and stabs itself clean through Sarah's chest.

I screamed out for her as she fell back. Blood leaked from her mouth and chest, staining her own white apron with drops of scarlet.

Abigail moves towards me, "come here," she beckons me.

I tried to crawl away but she yanks me back, using the invisible power of her mind. The same power that sent nineteen innocent people to the gallows. Abigail narrowed her power hungry eyes at me, analyzing me, "is this all you can do? I thought your kind would be more of a challenge."

She sighed, dismissing the thought and placed the blade of her knife against my throat. "Now, where were we?"

Before Abigail could recite her spell, Sarah came from behind and whacked Abigail with a fallen branch. The red eyed girl yelped and turned her focus on Sarah, but Sarah was too quick. She thrusts her hands out, sending her own blast of invisible waves at Abigail.

She flies across the field landing only mere inches away from the cliff's edge.

Sarah falls to her knees, breathing heavily as I supported her. "Are you alright," I asked in a meek tone.

She nodded as she held her chest. In the distance we heard the treading of men; church men searching for Abigail. Sarah turned to that said girl, "they're coming Abigail, they're coming for you."

She clutched her jaw as her eyes shifted from side to side, seeking an escape.

Sarah raised her red stained hand to the eleven year old girl, "It's not too late. You can come back, just confess."

"No!" she yelled, "You may be happy with living under their thumbs, living under their whims but I refuse! I've tasted power and I. Want. More." She took a step back and disappeared over the edge.

Sarah and I gasped. All we heard was the whistling of the wind and the thrashing of the waves below. There were no screams or cracking of bones, just the cry of seagulls in the distance.

Before I could even process these events, my eyes immediately turned to Sarah, who was bleeding heavily from her chest wound. "Sarah!" I held her closer, "hang on they're coming." I craned my neck up for the men, "Over here! Hurry! Please!"

Sarah slowly lifted her bloody hand and caressed my cheek, wiping away my tears. I hadn't even realized I was crying. "There, there," she whispered. "You're safe now . . ."

"Don't speak," I begged, "save your strength."

She coughed, choking on her own blood till she spat it out. "Alfred . . ." She whimpered.

"Don't speak!" I hissed, "You'll live from this! I know you will, you have to. Please Sarah," I sobbed, "I cannot lose you. Please live . . . if not for me then for Elizabeth. Think of your sister!"

Her mouth trembled as she said, "I'm sorry. . ." Her eyes grew dull as the light vanished and her breathing finally ceased.

"Sarah?" I shook her, gently at first. "Sarah?!" I yanked at her sleeves, "Sarah! No!" I sobbed even harder, "Wake up! Sarah, wake up!"

"Sarah!"


 

I jumped, panting as I subconsciously touched my chest, dreading a discovery of a stab wound. When I found nothing but my soggy, wrinkled shirt and cold, sweaty skin I sighed and tried to stop my hands from shaking.

Lovino stirred and propped himself up, "Amy," he whispered uncertainly. He gently placed a hand on my shoulder and I flinched at the contact. He pulled back his hand slightly, "What's wrong?"

I glanced to him, his hair was in disarray but yet adorable, which was not fair. My curls were a frizzy wild mess and I was pretty sure it looked like a bird's nest and the humidity was not helping. At least his clothes were just as wrinkled and soggy as mine; due to the fact that we slept outside on the patio couch. Surprisingly, the enchantment hadn't worn off; note the sarcasm.

I sighed, "It's nothing Lovi."

"Nothing?" he cocked a brow at me, skeptically, "You were moaning in your sleep and it wasn't the good kind."

I gave a short laugh at his small joke but it didn't last. "Don't worry Lovi it was just a bad dream. They don't mean anything."

I didn't notice that my hands were still shaking till Lovino wrapped his around mine and kissed my fingers. "They look like they mean something." He intertwined his fingers with mine as he looked up, "it helps to talk."

I closed my eyes and pulled my hands away, "I don't remember." It wasn't like I was lying. Every time I tried to picture the scene of the cliffs or the faces of Abigail or Sarah, they blurred. The longer I was awake, the harder it was to remember.

I heard him sigh but he didn't push the subject any further. I side glanced to him, he was scratching the back of his head, carrying a look of annoyance but his eyes were filled with concern.

"Lovino," I placed a hand on his to comfort him. "I really don't remember. If I did, I would tell you," now that was a lie.

He sighed once again and leaned himself against me. I swallowed my nerves as I felt his breath on my neck and his nose on my cheek. His closeness brought back the events from last night; our intimate time in the pool, the embrace we shared and the kiss.

I felt my ears and cheeks burn at the thought. What was I supposed to do now? Was I ready for this relationship? If I had to be honest, no.

My mind was a whirlwind of emotions. I was happy that I was special to Lovino and excited to know that he was attracted to me and that he wasn't pursuing me for bragging rights. But I was also anxious and stressed, anxious to the idea of having a relationship where clearly, I had issues to work out. Stressed, because Elizabeta expected me to save him from his loneliness.

Was that a reason to be with someone, just because their lonely? That didn't seem fair to Lovino or to anyone for that matter.

Mom's words of advice came in like a flood.

"You should date someone because you want to, not because you feel obliged to."

"Amy, you don't owe a boy anything, never feel like you do."

"Don't let anyone try and pressure you into doing something you don't want to do."

Her advice always ended up at the same conclusion.

I inhaled a calming breath, I needed make myself clear. "Lovi, about last night-"

"Nothing good comes after that." He said this in a playful tone but I could tell he was preparing himself.

I decided it was best not to stall, "Lovino, I like you but I'm just not ready for a relationship. I'm going through some changes and I still need get my bearings. I know, it's been months, I should be used to it already but I just-sometimes-I still need to wrap my head around a situation. And it's not like this happened once or twice, this happens every fucking week-" At this point I was running my words together and forgetting to breathe.

I was light headed but I continued to rant till Lovino grabbed my shoulders and said in a calm voice. "Amy, breathe."

I inhaled deeply through my nose, "thanks, I needed that."

He gave an amused smile, "where did all this pressure come from?"

"Liz," I confessed, "she wants me to be what she couldn't be for you."

He sighed, "Oh Liz."

"She really cares about you," I proclaimed.

He didn't say anything, instead he gently lifted my chin up to meet his eyes. "If Liz didn't lock us out of the villa, would you have forgiven me?"

I nodded, "yes," and it was the truth. I cared about Lovino but having a relationship with him means letting him in. He had already opened himself up to me about his insecurities. I, on the other hand barely scratched the surface and truthfully, I didn't see myself going any deeper. I mean, if I wasn't comfortable enough to share my nightmares; how was I supposed to explain everything else. The night of the sleepover, the girls and I agreed not to speak of it ever again and I was thankful. The nations assumed that the whole nunasish business began and ended with the Ouija board but I had a feeling it started way before that and it wasn't over, not by a long shot.

I was getting a headache just thinking about it, but one thing was certain, I couldn't drag him into this. Hell, I don't think I could drag anyone into this fucked up mess I called a life. Was that the reason why I haven't told anyone about this? I haven't even confided to my family or friends. Maybe it was because they were half way across the world or I was afraid that they would get hurt or maybe I thought I could fix it on my own. Whatever the reason, I wasn't comfortable enough to let anyone know what was going on with me.

After I answered, Lovino did something I did not expect. He grinned, "Then that gives me a chance."

I blinked in surprise, "Huh?"

His grin widens, "we live a long time Amy, sooner or later you will fall for my charms."

I laughed, "Can we try and be friends first?"

He smirked, "it all depends on you." He gestured to himself, "Can you resist this?"

I laughed harder, "Oh, someone's self-centered. Just so you know I've resisted several foreign fellas and they were hot. I've turned down French guys, Italian guys and even the sexy Brazilians."

He narrowed his eyes at me, playfully, "are you saying that I'm not hot or sexy?"

"Oh no sweetie you're cute," I used the word to mock him. "I'm just saying you need to bring you're A-game."

In one swift move, he grabbed my face and kissed me. He pulled back and grinned, "How was that for an A-game?"

I blushed but still gave him a look, "you've won this round."

"Aww," we both jumped to sound of a new voice. It was Antonio and he was watching us with a happy grin on his face. "Does this mean we have a new couple?"

Lovino rose to his feet and cracked his knuckles, "you're a dead man."

Antonio inched back, "Lovi why do you look so angry?"

"You locked me out of my own house!"

"I see, well, I'll give you a few minutes to calm down," he looked to the door but Lovino slammed it shut.

"Oh I'll calm down by beating on your stupid face!"

Antonio figured that talking was no longer an option for him and jumped the wall. He sprinted across the yard as Lovino chased after him, shouting, "Get back here you fucking coward!"

"How can they be this lively in the morning," Arthur yawned and I glared at him. "What?"

"Your spell didn't wear off," I hissed. "We had to sleep outside while the mosquitoes ate us alive."

He crossed his arms, "the enchantment should've worn off after a few hours."

I scratched my arms and legs, bringing up the mosquito bites only reminded me of the annoying inch. "Well it didn't."

He sighed and whispered, "I'm sorry."

"Hm," I had heard him but I wanted him to say it again.

He glared, "you heard me." He threw a tube at me and exclaimed, "Now go take shower, you smell like a wet dog."

He walked back into the house as I glanced to the tube, it was ointment. I smiled in spite of myself. He's a jerk, but he's my jerk. "Love you too Arthur," I whispered.


 

The rest of the morning was spent with packing and arranging our plane flights. Elizabeta had found out that her house was termite free and was able to go back home. The nations also needed to return back to work, for a world meeting was just around the corner. Ludwig was determined to get be back on my training schedule before then. Peter on the other hand, had family waiting for him.

"Papa and Dad really want me home, they said I've been gone for too long," said Peter.

We were at the airport now, waiting for our flights to board. I gave him a wide-eyed look, "Papa and Dad? You were raised by a gay couple?"

He nodded, "And I'm not gay; shocking right."

"Give it time," Gilbert sang as he sat behind us with his back in front.

I smacked him over his head and I turned back to Peter, "who are your parents if you don't mind me asking."

Peter cocked a brow, "You met them, Berwald Oxenstierna and Tino Väinämöinen." Then he lowered his voice, "Sweden and Finland."

"They raised you? But I thought you were Arthur's port?"

"I was till he forgot about me and my people and just left us in the middle of the ocean without any supplies."

"Damn, that's a dick move."

He nodded in agreement, "anyway some time passed and I decided to sell myself on eBay."

I arched an eyebrow, "okay, that could've gone bad in so many ways."

"But it didn't," he grinned, "Papa bought me, Berwald I mean. He took me in and Tino was more than happy to play house. Even though around that time I was almost fifty, I had the appearance of a twelve year old." His blue eyes dulled as he stared off towards Arthur who was chatting with Francis and Matthew. "Arthur wasn't keen on affection so to be around those two that had so much love to give was at first strange."

He turned back to me with a small smile on his face, "Then add Mikkel, Lucas and Erik into the equation and it just became even stranger. They were so open with their emotions and unlike the Kirkland family they displayed their affection to one another. It was all so bizarre to me and sad that I didn't even understand the emotion."

We were silent till he grinned, "Actually the Nordics are a lot like your family."

"Crazy?" I joked.

He laughed, "I don't know about that, your family is pretty normal."

"Really? My family took me in the nation of America and didn't bat an eye to what I was. My grandpa saw Alfred's ghost as he gave me to him and didn't question it. My parents, siblings, their spouses and their children accepted the fact that I was some kind of immortal being without complaint. My friends never cared and they along with my family would've fight against the world, literally to have me in their lives. Then there is Blake the miracle child. Yeah, they're all there." I pointed to my head, "totally sane."

He grinned as the intercom announced, "Flight thirty-eight now boarding."

"That's us," Raivis said as he handed my iPod and headphones to me.

"You finished?" I asked.

"No," he sighed, "you have a lot of music."

I gave a proud smile, "This amazing collection took me years and I hope you realize that me letting you borrow my iPod is a great honor." I cuddled the device close to my face, "It's my baby."

He smiled sweetly and we hug each other goodbye. "Remember make your iTunes account so I could send you the playlist."

"I know, can you also send me some of your jazz collection."

I smirked, "ah, we got a cool cat here."

"I think I'm the opposite of a cool cat, especially when I need you to catch me up on current music."

"You know the twenties slang?"

"Toris told us some of the meanings when he came back from America."

"Wait he lived with Alfred during the twenties?"

Before he could answer, Peter grabbed his arm, "Raivis we gotta go."

He nodded as the boys waved goodbye and ran towards the boarding deck.


 

Later when I was in the restroom stall, a woman walked in talking on her phone. I know that this wasn't so uncommon but what caused me to freeze and hold my breath at the same time was the fact that the woman behind the stall door was Elizabeta.

"So they are not together?" a voice from the other line asked. A voice that I recognized was Bella.

"No," Elizabeta sighed, "I really thought last night would've worked. Even Antonio believes that we had a new couple, but it's Amy. She backed out before it even started."

"We still have the world meeting to look forward to, Lovi will be there and India is beautiful. With the right timing and atmosphere, we will have her saying, yes."

"Right."

I slammed the door open, "ahem."

She jumped and spun to face me with a nervous smile on her face. "Amy, how long have you been there?"

"Long enough," I strutted forward and grabbed her phone. "She'll call you back." I pressed the end call button and shoved the phone back to her.

"You really shouldn't glare, it leaves wrinkles."

"We're immortal," I said in a harsh tone. "I believe I can glare as much as I want." I inhaled calmly, trying to lessen my temper. "What the hell Liz? Last night was all planned?!"

"To be fair, last night was an impulse," she proclaimed.

I rolled my eyes, "How long were you playing match maker?"

She shrugged, "I wouldn't say that. I was more like a record keeper."

"Till last night," I proclaimed.

"Till last night," she agreed.

I massaged my temple, "okay, I already have two match makers in my life, I do not need a third. So back off."

"I'm only trying to help-"

"Help who? Me? Lovino? News flash you ain't helping anyone but yourself."

Her eyes widened in shock but she quickly reclaimed her composure. "I'm afraid you're mistaken."

"No, I'm not. The only reason you want me and Lovino to be together is so it can lessen your guilt." I stepped forward, holding my head high. "I'm not a puppet Liz, you can't make me be Lovino's girlfriend just because you couldn't be his."

She stayed quiet, which I took as my chance to continue. "It's not fair to Lovi, like you said he needs someone that likes him."

"Are you saying you don't?"

"I do, but not like this. I'm not ready for a relationship, I need some time for myself."

"Still-"

"Yes, still! I need to know myself before I could get involved with someone else."

She arched a brow, "what exactly do you need to figure out? You've spent eighteen years with yourself."

"As a human!" I exclaimed. "How long will that take to sink into your fucking skulls. I identified myself as a human, I planned my life as a human." I took in a deep breath, "I know it's been six months, I should just drink the Kool-Aid and join ya'll, but I need time to figure out who I am as America. Can you understand that?"

She closed her eyes and leaned against the sink, "Yes." She raised her chin up, "I think I might be one of the few people that can understand what you are going through."

"You mean about being raised as a boy," I sat myself on the counter beside her.

Elizabeta smiled and I said, "It must've been quite a shock. But didn't you notice the differences?"

"I was pretty gullible. I believed what my leaders told me, that my penis would grow in."

I laughed, "Seriously?"

"I was young, I didn't know any better." She shrugged, "I didn't really question it till I grew these," she held her breasts out.

I chuckled, "I'm sure that raised plenty of questions."

She nodded, "I understand why they did it. They were afraid because I was a woman, the other nations would see me as an easy target."

"Easy target?" I blinked in disbelief, "I've seen you fight Liz, you are a badass."

She grinned, "All those years of my people treating me like a boy really did pay off. They made me into a warrior, a nation that wouldn't be so easily underestimated." Her smile faded as she stared off in the distance, probably reminiscing in a time much different from mine.

"That's the thing Liz, you know who you are as a nation," I pulled her attention back to me. "I don't."

"Well, how are you going to know who America is when you cling to Amy," her voice was steady and wise.

I chewed on my lip, "aren't they the same?"

Her eyes grew sad, "yes and no. There are moments when you need to shed your humanity to be a country, but humanity is what makes you a nation." She laughed bitterly, "this has been the eternal debate for us, but there is one thing we can agree on, both are needed but at moments it's best to keep them separate."


 

Elizabeta's words continued to haunt me as I said my goodbyes to the others and boarded my plane back to Berlin. The weeks of training that followed didn't push away the thoughts, it seemed to only make my brain work over time. As Elizabeta's words repeated the phrases of humanity and nation, it brought forth the memories of Paris and my transformation into a killing machine. The sensation of numbness spreading through my body, allowing me to feel nothing.

Was that what it felt like to strip yourself of humanity?

It wasn't long till Elizabeta's speech was mixed in with Lovino's. The light and the dark in every nation. The light I supposedly live in while his darkness became a shadow that hovers over him. Then to Elizabeta's claim of me saving him from his darkness.

How can that be done? What was the first step?

Again, this reminded me of Alfred's comment about the darkness that lingers in every nation and how he wished for me to share my happiness; was that my light?

The image of Arthur enters next, his face shedding tears as he confessed to me about his past. Yet, according to Lovino, it was only a sliver that he had done much worse. That all the nations have done much worse.

"Even in the light, the darkness only becomes your shadow."

"I'm a monster."

"But who are truly gods? And who are truly monsters? Or could we be both?"

The memory of the Aberration named Kakwatt completely stunned me. Stopping my fist from making contact to the punching bag. His battered head/body took form in my mind, showing me my handy work. His blood was splattered over his tattered figure that I had personally tore, stabbed and ripped to pieces.

My knees buckled and collapsed to the ground. I curled my fingers into the thick fabric of the bag as the red skinned alien continued to taunt me with his words. Followed by what Lovi said about his grandfather being treated as a god, just as Karen was.

Monsters or gods . . . what were we?

I found my shadow through the limelight of the basement. I stared at it, seeking clues to myself.

"Did I say you can take a break?"

I snapped my head up to meet with Ludwig's glare. "Sorry," I mumbled as I rose to my feet and slammed my tightly clutched fist into the sand filled bag.


 

I was quiet at dinner, mostly listening to Ludwig's plans of how we would travel to Delhi, India. He explained which plane we will take, which hotel we were be staying at, etc. I nodded along and pushed my food around with my fork.

My behavior must've worried them, for Gilbert asked, "Amy, are you okay?"

His question snapped me back to reality but only for a few minutes. "Yeah," I proclaimed in a monotone. "I'm just tired, can I go to bed?"

Ludwig frowned, I could tell he was concern about me but he just couldn't understand why and I think that's what bothered him the most. None the less, he excused me and I walked out of the room. He didn't even complain that I had left my dirty plate on the table.

Before I climbed the stair case I was able to catch Gilbert hissing at Ludwig, "What did you do now?"

"What makes you think it was me?"

Their voices died out as I entered my room, which was recently installed with a brand new door. Once I was inside I collapsed into my comforter. I didn't have the energy to change out of work out attire, all I wanted to do was curl up and disappear into the world of dreams. But my mind would not rest, continuing to plague me with the same thoughts as if on repeat.

I groaned and sat up, rubbing my eyes in frustration. I looked up to the ceiling, "any advice Alfred?"

Again, I was met with silence.

I cursed, "Asshole."

I fell back onto my pillows and flipped onto my side, coming face to face with Grandpa's journal.


 

Later on, July 18, 1957

I don't know when I fell asleep, all I remembered was Alfred lifting me into his arms and sliding me into the back seat. I tried to stay aware of Alfred and his companions but my exhaustion won in the end and before long I was out cold.

I woke up in my bed in our rented house in Titusville. My head was pounding and my body was drained of energy. I touched my newly bandaged scalp. It was wrapped with clean white lines and under those wraps were taped pads that were pressed against my cuts.

I avoided looking at any mirrors as I walked through the house, calling out to Alfred. All I found was a note, stating that he was in a meeting and was planning on seeing the others off afterwards. He will be back later in the afternoon and instructed me to redress my wounds.

The first aid kit was in the bathroom and I was then forced to see my reflection. I had a dark shadow around my left eye, with a fresh cut above the lid, most likely Alfred bleed me to ease the swelling. My lip was split, bruises were forming on my shoulders and by the sore, stiffness of my body I was pretty sure I was covered in them. Along with deep graze cuts that slid across my rib cage, arms and legs. I peeled back these patches to find clean black stitches.

But that didn't bother me.

I've been in my fair share of fights and I was no stranger to stitches.

What really bothered me was my hair, or lack of hair.

Someone, obviously Alfred, had shaved my head leaving nothing but black peach fuzz. Angry scarlet sores and slashes were scattered across my scalp, they were disorganize and chaotic.

The images of those Klan men blinded my sight with red-hot anger and hatred to match.

I found myself hissing at the mirror, repeating one phrase. "Those bastards. . ." at first it started as a whisper as I brushed a hand over my head and hissed in pain when the wounds screeched. "Those bastards," I stated as my reflection bore into me. Every second that passed the image of my old self faded as this new one told the truth.

They humiliated me.

They took away what made me Hupa and Miwok.

They took away a connection I had to my past, my family and my tribe.

"Those bastards!"

The next thing I knew my fist was slammed into the glass, leaving it cracked and broken. I looked to my reflection again; my eyes were dark and crazed, my teeth were beard as I panted and fresh blood was dripping from my knuckles.

At that moment I wanted to kill those men; make them less as a man as they made me. I began to wish that I had scalped them, that I shouldn't have listened to some stupid mating call that could been a damn crow for all I knew.

A knock from the front door interrupted the flow of my thoughts. I chose to ignore it and wait for them to leave but the knocking would not stop.

I stride towards the door, swung it open and screamed, "What?!"

I was met with four startled expressions. It was the group of children that I had met two days ago.

I froze; I literally didn't move or say anything. I just stood there with my jaw hanging and my eyes wide.

Walter was the first to act, "James get my mom."

James tore his gaze from me to him and sprinted across the street, crying out, "Mrs. Landry! Mrs. Landry!"

A tall, slim woman ran out of a house as James pulled on her wrist and pointed to me. This woman turned to him and then to me. She struts forward, taking on the image of a female lynx that found an intruder crossing into her territory and threatening her cubs.

In one swift, professional move she grabbed my chin and turned my head to the side. She analyzed my wounds and asked, "You don't need any stitches but it's best to cover these. Do you have a first aid kit?"

"Uh-uh-uh," I blinked, clearing my vision and my mind. "The bathroom."

She gestured to her son to fetch the kit as she guided me to the kitchen and bended me over the sink. I was able to catch the children in the corner of my eye, standing around nervously as they took in their surroundings.

Before I could question anything on what she was doing. She twisted the knob and water blasted out of the faucet. I hissed as the cold water made contact.

"Keep your eyes closed," she instructed.

I did what I was told as she poured alcohol peroxide over my head. I gripped the counter and gritted my teeth, "fuck."

She smacked my shoulder, "watch your mouth, there are children here."

"Sorry," I muttered.

She then draped a towel over my head and sat me in a chair. She patted my scalp and face dry with gentle hands as Walter set out bandages for her. She began to place pads against the sores and wrap them in tight and firm. I stayed quiet and avoided eye contact with everyone in the room.

Audrey came forward and held my wounded hand, "does it still hurt?"

I looked into this small girl's eyes, they were big, brown and doe like. Those innocent eyes bore into me with such concern I was defenseless against it. I curled my fingers around her palm, "I'm okay," I gave a tiny ghost of a smile.

"Did he do it? The white man?" Devin asked.

"Devin." Mrs. Landry tsked her finger at him and I spoke up, "no, it wasn't." My shoulders slumped slightly as the relief I felt coaxed me to relax. "Alfred saved me."

"Is that his name?" James asked.

"Yes."

"And you live with him?" Devin questioned, "Are you his slave?"

"Boy, do you want me to call your mamma?" Mrs. Landry snapped and pointed to the phone on the wall. "Because I will."

Devin shook his head and hid behind the wall to escape her wrath.

"No, I'm his assistant, he works for the government," I explained.

Mrs. Landry finished my head and moved on to my hand. "This looks fresh," she stated.

"I punched the mirror in the bathroom," she narrowed her eyes at me and I looked away.

"You know that's seven years bad luck right?" said Walter.

I smirked, "yes, I know."

Mrs. Landry stretched my fingers up and I ground my teeth together in annoyance. She then bended them down, "seeming that you ain't screaming in agony, your hand isn't broken, just bruised."

"Good to know," I watched as she patted a peroxide-soaked towel over my split knuckles.

Once she done, she crossed her arms, "Now, how did this, Alfred save you?"

The truth didn't seem practical, especially when I witnessed Alfred rising to his feet after a gunshot to the head. Besides, the best lie always carried some truth. "I was attacked by two Klansmen."

Mrs. Landry flinched as the children paled, as if I told them that I met the boogeyman.

"I was gonna be dragged to their meeting till Alfred stopped them." I stared at the floor, "he saved my life."

"Aw shucks, Johnny you making me blush."

I snapped my head up to find Alfred in the door way. Devin and James immediately ran to hide behind Mrs. Landry as Walter placed an arm in front of Audrey protectively.

Alfred was either oblivious to their fear or chose to ignore it. He grinned, it was the same childlike smile he always wore. "Ya'll gonna stay for dinner? I make a mean gumbo."

Mrs. Landry squared her shoulders, "No sir, I already have dinner ready for my family."

"Then tomorrow, that's the last day we're gonna be here." His blue eyes shined with a playful tint. "We can have a barbeque and invite the neighborhood while we're at it."

She blinked, completely taken back. "We'll think about it." She gestured the children out the door and gave us a polite goodbye.

Alfred looked at the closed door for a long time till he turned back to me. His smile was gone and his eyes lost their shine. "Are you alright?"

I nodded, arguing with myself on what to say to him. The question was, where do I start? I decided to thank him. "Alfred." He looked to me with dull eyes, "thank-"

"Don't thank me," he sat himself on the couch, "not until you know the full story."

"What do I need to know? You saved me, Arthur-"

He snorted, "Did you forget the part where I almost set them on fire?"

I did remember and I didn't understand what had happen to Alfred. "What was that? It was like you were a different person."

He removed his glasses, rubbing his face, "I was." I moved to a chair in the living room, waiting for him to continue. "When I'm around a large group of people that think alike, they begin to influence me. Sometimes I can ignore it, other times I can't. It also doesn't help that I have history with the Klan."

"What kind of history?" I asked.

He looked to me with unwavering eyes, "I was once part of the Ku Klux Klan."

My eyes widened as my jaw dropped to the floor. I was too stunned to say anything and Alfred took that as his chance to explain. "Now please don't think of me like those men. When I was part of the Klan, it was charity."

"A charity?" I remarked.

"People forget." He sighed, "When the Klan was founded it was just a club for Confederate soldiers to come, to drink and to share stories. It helped them to remember and honor their fallen friends. They even raised money for families that lost someone in the war. But when they got involved in politics, that's when everything changed."

"So you fought for the south," I stated, "you fought for slavery."

"No. I couldn't fight for anyone."

"Because you were America?"

He snorted, "Because I wasn't all there," he tapped his forehead. "During the Civil War Abraham had to keep me locked inside my room for fear that I might act out. And there were times that I sided with the south. I would usually just shout out of turn, favoring the Confederates. Other times I would act out in congress, I even threw a chair at Nathaniel Banks." He smirked at the memory, but it didn't last. "One day, I woke up in my room, chained to the bed as Union soldiers stood outside my door, telling me that I had tried to kill the president."

Alfred slipped his hands together, gripping them tight. "I had no memory of this but again, no one was taking any chances. Well, everyone except Abe. He continued to visit me, and some days were good. . . Others not so much." He leaned his forehead against his hands with his elbows on his knees. He kept his eyes closed, squeezing them tight.

He was silent for so long, I almost thought he was done. But deep down I knew he had more to say, so I waited.

"When the south lost, they lost everything. Their homes, their buildings, their culture . . . wives lost their husbands . . . children lost their fathers . . . sisters lost their brothers . . . and mothers lost their sons." He blinked, keeping his tears back. "Their economy was completely destroyed, they relied on agriculture . . . without the slaves and the crops being burned," he shook his head. "They were devastated."

He sighed again. "We should have handled it better, we should have found another way to end slavery. But it only got worse after the war was over, and the radicals pushing to punish the south. If Abe had lived . . . if I was only . . . there," he hissed to himself. "Things would have been different."

When he spoke of Lincoln, the south and the radicals, it revealed his true age. He was old. In his speech, his eyes and the way he held himself now, it was truly something to marvel at. What kind of beings are these nations? How could they live for so long without falling apart?

He continued, "I joined the Klan to help the south. I figured it was the least I could do after I did nothing during those four years."

All my sympathy disappeared when he mentioned the Klan. "But the Klan is filled with hateful, cruel men."

"Not back then," he said defensively.

"They are now! Are you saying that the only reason they became a bunch of racist assholes, was because of politics? That's just ridiculous!"

He rose to his feet, "you were not there. It was the Democrats, they focused on the white population. Johnson sided with them and didn't push for equal rights. The radicals fucking lost it. Johnson, the Democrats, the radicals-ruined everything Abe had planned. He wanted to heal the south but with him gone and Johnson's betrayal; radicals stepped in and took the south over, keeping them pinned under their boots."

"The south deserved it! Those bastards should be treated like dirt!"

"All it did was increase the south's resentment for the north, giving Democrats fuel to run the south."

"The south had to change, even if it had to be done with them kicking and screaming-"

"You think the north was any better?" he laughed bitterly, "They were just as racist as the south. They would fight for the slaves’ freedom but they would never treat them like their equals. Respect them as a people but not as an individual."

He didn't give me chance to speak as he remarked, "And yes there's a difference. If you think the north was the golden city for the Freedmen, then you are wrong. The Freedmen were treated unfairly in the north and were hated by Irish, riots always broke out between the groups constantly." He brushed a hand through his hair in frustration, "here's a brief history lesson about the past, everyone hated each other. Being rich, poor, a Republican or a Democrat. Being black. Indian. Irish. Italian. German. Polish. Russian. Chinese. Japanese-there was always a reason, petty as it was but a reason none the less."

He panted, allowing his words to sink in. "Hate . . . is a strong emotion, but we gotta be better. I got to be better." He paused, "that's why I went west," he smiled. "Now the west was a place that you could prove and earn your respect. I joined the Union Pacific to work on the railroads, my strength certainly came in handy."

Alfred took a deep breath, "To see the Freedmen and Irish work side by side was," his smile grew wider, "was something to see. Granted they had their problems but they pushed that aside, thinking of their families that were back north. The Chinese were added and it was difficult at times; the Irish always made it difficult." he sighed, "But when you work with mountains and explosives, you have to put that ignorance aside. Some days were better than others but I never gave up. I was kind and respectful to everyone, hoping it would catch."

"It worked with some," his eyes watered, "they were my friends." He had a faraway look in his eyes as he spoke, "and I watched at least half of them die. Due to Indian raids and mountain cave-ins." He ground his teeth together in angry, "no one kept track of how many died, because they were Freedmen, Irish and Chinese; no one cared, but I cared. I wrote their names in journals, and most times the entries were just lists. I didn't get every name, but what I got was more than the company ever did." Angry tears fell then but he continued.

"I wanted to build a memorial for them in Utah, but no one listened, not even the government. Back then, all of the politicians were owned by the elite, by the industries and the Union and the Central Pacific. They did not care.

"Before long everyone forgot, but I didn't. I never plan to forget about the Civil War, the Klan or the people that built those railroads. I need to remember those moments, it helps me understand them . . . and it gives me hope that it will get better. They're all I have to keep me sane, but there are times when I slip."

His gaze was now focused on me, "I didn't save you last night. You saved me."

I stared at him, again processing his words and replaying the events of last night. He says that anger and hate was what influenced him; what had turned him into them. I remembered his struggle during our time here. His distance from me and his brother, the long hours he kept himself locked in his room, was he fighting all this time? "How?" I found myself asking, "How can I be any help? I hate them." I exclaimed, "I hate what they do and I hate what they did to me!"

"And I feel it," Alfred stated, "I feel your hate, I feel their fear," he nods towards the front door, gesturing our neighbors. "I know you're angry, but there must have been a reason why you didn't kill those men."

"How did you-"

"They were still passed out beside my car, you were wearing one of their robes and I found a bloody knife. I'm not that stupid. If you hated them so much why didn't you kill them? After everything they did to you, why?"

I took deep, calming breaths, "I heard a raven. I took it as a sign from Kai," my eyes began to water as I tried to hold back the tears. "That I needed to prove to them that I was more than what they thought of me."

"And you are," Alfred proclaimed.

The tears flowed freely as he continued, "Every day is a struggle against your inner demons and every day you fight them. Now they never go away but you have to keep fighting, for when you give up is when you lose."

I wiped my eyes and inhaled shaky breaths, nodding my head because I couldn't trust my voice.

We spent dinner in silence at first, but when I had to explain the broken mirror in the bathroom. It broke the tension as Alfred smiled, "that explains the hand."

He became his old self, chatting about his brother and the other nations. I didn't want this Alfred to leave, I may never admit this to him but I liked him better when he was an optimistic fool. I moved the conversation along and asked about my stitches and he said that Arthur took care of that, "his sewing does come in handy."

He then quickly discussed that if Arthur or Francis talk to me about last night, that I'm supposed to say that I don't remember anything.

"Why?" I asked.

"It's to keep you safe," he said.

Later, when he started to make a list of food to buy for tomorrow's cook out. I gave him a worried look, "are you really serious about the barbeque? I don't think they will come Alfred, and it would be waste to buy all that meat."

He returned my gaze with a care free grin, "They'll come, they won't let their fear win."


 

July 19, 1957

Surprisingly, Alfred was right.

They did come; Mr. and Mrs. Landry along with their children Walter and Audrey were at our house at six that evening. Once they crossed our lawn, the others slowly followed. James and Devin's families joined us, bringing with them small offerings of stream vegetables and corn bread.

Alfred set out tables and chairs, inviting them in with a smile as he offered each woman a seat and a man a beer. He was a generous host, always asking his guests if they were comfortable or not. He also cooked and served all the food, always finding a topic to discuss with all his guests, being man, woman or child. He acted so familiar with them as if they were family.

When the front yard was filled, he opened his house to them. Always giving his seats away, insisting that he would eat while standing.

After everyone was finished, Alfred continued to make small talk with everyone. Our neighbors grew bold and began to ask him questions. Mostly to his reasons for holding this barbeque and what his situation was with me. He didn't bat an eye, he was quick with his answers.

"I thought this would be the best way to say goodbye. Johnny and I are heading down to New Orleans, were reporters and we follow where ever our stories take us."

Everyone believed him.

Alfred truly amazes me. He was able to gather his neighbors under one roof, when only a few days ago they wouldn't even dare look at us. Unless it was with worried or cautious looks.

It wasn't long till they turned their questions on to me. They asked which Indian I was or if there were any differences between the Indians. I didn't mind these questions, all my life I educated people about my culture, and this was no different. Now when they moved on to my hat and injured head, I proudly said, "Alfred saved me from the Klan. We were following a lead and we wondered in on a small meeting." I took on the role as a storyteller, describing our daring fight and barely escaping with our lives.

Devin and the other children asked for other stories. I told them the legends of the Miwok and the Hupa. I also told them others from different tribes, such as Raven's Great Adventure, The Girl Who Married the Moon, and the Origin of the Buffalo. But the last story was the one that received everyone's attention: the Tale of the Two Wolves.

I had left the tale open, waiting for someone to ask which wolf wins. Audrey raised her hand, and I smiled, "Yes, Audrey?"

"Which wolf wins?" she asked.

"Ah, well that's what the boy asked and do you want to know what the old Cherokee said?"

Audrey and the children nodded their heads as the adults waited.

"'The one you feed,'" I answered.

Our guests left shortly after, saying their thanks and wishing us a safe night. I waved to Audrey and her friends as they walked back home, watching as their smiles and laughs faded into the night.

Alfred placed his hands on his hips and grinned, "I told you their fear wouldn't win."

We remained silent, enjoying the comforting sounds of the night. Who knows what tomorrow has for us but at least we can say we won today.


 

I closed the journal and cuddled it close to my chest as I stared at the ceiling. My thoughts randomly jumping to my memories to Grandpa's entries. Everyone had problems, being darkness, demons or wolves. What mattered was that you overcome them. Some vanish as others don't, but you prepare yourself for the next battle. Being if it's the next day, the week after or a decade. The main concept was not to give up.

But, what was I fighting?

And for what purpose?

Grandpa's question repeated: "What kind of beings are these nations?"

I wish I knew.

Chapter Text

"Where is he?" Ludwig tapped his foot, impatiently.

Gilbert sighed, "He must be glued to that damn piano of his."

I yawned, "He still has time."

Ludwig shook his head, "he doesn't understand the process of security, who knows how long the line will be or if his paper work is in order. That's why you always need to show up at least two hours before your flight, remember that Amy."

I rolled my eyes, "oh yes wise airport guru, I shall take your advice to heart." He didn't bother to glare at me for my sarcastic tone. Instead he looked to his phone and stood aside to make a call. I plugged in my headphones and curled my knees into my chest, trying to drown out the bustle of the airport.

It was five o'clock in the morning when we caught our first flight from Berlin to Vienna. It was short flight, about an hour and half long but we had to stop for two reasons. One, there were rarely any non-stop flights to Delhi and two, Roderich Edelstein (a.k.a the nation of Austria) wished to travel with us. We were in the boarding lobby, waiting for our flight to India.

I glanced to my phone, it was eight-thirty. I made a face at the screen, two hours down, two more to go.

I spent those next hour watching videos on YouTube, mostly cat videos, which pretty much rule the site.

Gilbert looked over my shoulder, "what are you watching?"

I giggled, "This kitty is cuddling up with this huge Swiss mountain dog. Aww, look he just licked the little kitty, so adorable."

He covered his mouth, trying to hold in his laughter. I cocked a brow, "what?"

"Nothing, it's just you remind me of Ludwig when he was kid, all bright eyed and giggling."

"Ludwig giggled?" I glanced to the large man in question. "Yeah, sure."

Gilbert shrugged his shoulders, "he may look all tough but really deep down, he's all mushy. You must've seen it, when you won him over at the cat sanctuary."

I grinned, "It was the Bambi eyes," I batted my eyes for good measure. "No one can resist."

He smirked but that cocky grin didn't last. "You know ever since you came around, he's gotten better. Granted we got off on a rocky start, but he's smiling more and you make him laugh."

I blinked, "I do?"

He nodded, "remember that day you were playing football with the neighborhood children?"

"You guys were watching?"

"You were gone for over an hour, we thought you had escaped."

"Once. God, are you guys ever going to let that go?"

"Never," he grinned. "You didn't go far, we only had to follow the sound of your terrible bat screeching you called German."

I shoved him, "my German is just fine, thank you very much."

Gilbert caught himself and swung his arm around my shoulders, pulling me towards him. "We didn't even know there were even kids nearby but you found them. You attract people towards you, even our citizens." He breathed in through his nose, taking a moment. "It had recently rained but that didn't stop them from playing and you happily joined. You were slipping and tripping over your feet, and every time you fell, West and I couldn't help but laugh."

"Oh, so Ludwig only laughs when I'm falling on my face." I stated.

"It wasn't just that. It was because you had this big grin on your face, you looked so happy at that moment, you looked like your usual self. Not this," he shook my shoulder and moved his hand to my head, brushing his fingers through my hair. "This little Ms. Gloom and Doom here."

I gently pulled away, "what do you mean?"

"Don't try and play this off Amy, you haven't been acting like yourself ever since we got back from Rome." He shifted in his seat, looking straight at me with a serious expression. "What happen? Did," he paused, "did Romano try anything?"

My eyes widened, "No! No, Lovi didn't do anything like that."

Gilbert narrowed his scarlet eyes, analyzing my features. "If it's not Romano, then what?"

I looked away from him, "it's nothing; I'm just worried about the meeting. I messed up in Berlin so I just want this meeting to go smoothly." It wasn't a total lie, I was stressing over the world meeting but I was still having an inner conflict with myself and my nation-self. If that made any sense.

Gilbert didn't push, he only held my hand and squeezed it affectionately. "You'll be fine, just don't run away."

That earned him a smile but it only lasted a second. "I won't."

He sighed, "God, you may have never met Alfred but you are so much like him, it's almost scary."

I turned to him, "did he run away from his meetings?"

"Sometimes, usually he skipped with me," he smirked. "But what I mean is that you try and boarder all your problems, whatever they are, on your own. He was just like that, never relying on anyone." He shook his head, "don't push away the people that care about you. No matter how strong you are, you always need someone." He squeezed my hand again, "You have that; you have people that you can trust."

"Don't trust anyone."

I flinched at the sound of Karen's voice. It was so close; as if she was right beside me. I turned to my left, but no one was there.


 

The work day was coming to its end in Summerland, California. Aponi Hawkfeather was watering her herbs in the back of her shop, Spiritual Path. The name still made her grin, whatever possessed her late husband to name their shop with that ridiculous name was beyond her. He was so proud of himself when he presented her the sign, she didn't have the heart to tell him how she felt.

The thought of John's smiling face only brought forth the harsh reality that he was no longer with her. Aponi blinked back the tears, no use crying, she thought to herself.

Once she turned off the hose, she walked back inside to find her granddaughter, Melissa Arora updating the books. "Grandma, I know how much you love paper but it would be easier to go digital."

Aponi wrinkled her nose at the thought of some cold machine taking the place of her record books. "I'd rather die. These records have character, they've been with us since the very beginning."

Melissa gave her a hopeless smile, "I know Grams, but-"

"No buts. We will use these books till the day I die."

"That won't be long," Melissa said in a joking matter.

Aponi narrowed her eyes at her, "watch it girl, words have power."

She nodded, "yes, I know." She returned to the accounting books as James Reed walked in.

"Hello ladies," James tipped his fedora hat to them. "I've come to pick up my medicine."

"Mister James," Melissa greeted with a smile, "it's good to see you."

"Oh Mel, you're as pretty as ever," he grinned. "But you can't beat that Grandmother of yours."

"Still the same old flirt," Aponi moved to her drawers along the wall, gathering dried marijuana leaves and juniper berries. She then squeezed the juice into the weed and grounded them together, chanting a prayer for health and youthful life.

"Doing some that hocus pocus Aponi? You know you don't need to cast a spell for me to love ya," he winked.

"Don't make me call your daughter, she doesn't like it when you replace your pills with our natural remedies." She playfully threatened.

James groaned, "Don't do that to me doll. You know I can't afford that overpriced pharmacy stuff."

"Doesn't your Medicare cover it?" Melissa asked.

He shook his head, "We may have free health care now, but that doesn't stop those damn companies from finding ways out of it."

"That's why you need to vote for Isabella again, she'll take care of them."

He nodded in agreement, "she's a god send."

Aponi packed the plant into a plastic bag, zipped it up and handed it to James, "that will be twenty-five, ninety-five."

James pulled out his wallet, "by the way, where has Spitfire run off to? The package I got from her says she's in Germany."

Spitfire was his nickname for Aponi's youngest granddaughter, Amy. "She's doing some traveling, earning credit for school and such."

"She'll be coming back for the holidays, ain't she?"

"No," Melissa sighed, "she won't be back till 2021."

James shook his head, "that's too long, I miss my little Spitfire."

"Yeah, I do too."

Aponi watched as the gloom formed over their heads. It's been a rough couple of months not being able to see Amy's smiling face every day. The girl was a spirited creature, free in more ways than one. She was as bright as the sun and for her to be so far away, only caused an invisible cloud to hover over the family she left behind. "She'll be back, she couldn't stay away if she tried." Aponi gave them both her bravest smile, the one that was created when she had lost John. "Amy will be back."

He grinned, "Then I better make sure to stay alive, I don't want her to return to only find my grave stone."

"You're not that old Mister James," Melissa proclaimed as she made change and said her farewells.

James was their last costumer of the day. Melissa began to dust and straighten the shelves as Aponi took the record books to the office. Once everything was in order, Melissa offered to drive Aponi home.

The old woman declined, wishing to organize the herbs and restock them. Her granddaughter then offered to stay behind and help but Aponi would not hear of this.

"Raiden needs you, I'm sure Sanjay is this close at pulling out his hair," she placed her index finger thumb a centimeter apart.

Melissa left, leaving Aponi to her work. This was what aided her through the months, diving herself into her plants and stones were what kept her thoughts of John alive. She was the one that taught him of their properties when they had met. Back when she was living in Oklahoma and engaged to another man.

Their story was complicated at first and her parents never approved, but she couldn't deny their bond. Even at the tender age of eighteen, she knew that John was her soul mate. Even when six years of separation passed between them, they still found their way to each other.

Restocking the drawers took longer than usual. She blamed Melissa's mislabeling, but truly, it was just an excuse for reminiscing about John. She missed him dearly and every day was a struggle to not dwell on him. Aponi had to remind herself to eat, luckily the Russos delivered. The hours ticked away as she wrote in her journals. Most were a collection of remedies that had been passed down from her family, others were from friends and experimentations that she had made into a success.

There was one that contained far more, this journal was massive, almost the size of an encyclopedia. It had been passed down from her great-grandfather, who was the first to write his experiences as a shaman. It was then given to her grandmother, then to her father and now it was her's; till she deemed Blake ready. It accounted the mystical and unexplained anomalies of the world. The teachings of the ancients and the stories of old magick have been written into its pages, keeping the secrets of the shamans safe and hidden from prying eyes.

The journal was almost completed, it only had around twenty pages left. It saddened Aponi, it was like saying goodbye to her family all over again but she knew that was time for the new generation to take over.

She looked to the clock, it was ten minutes pass midnight. She yawned and rose from her seat to turn the hot plate on. She left the office for her kettle pot and when she returned, she found a figure in the shadow of her lamp light. Aponi dropped the kettle and stepped back, towards the door.

"Wait! My daughter, I'm not here to hurt you," a calm, soothing voice proclaimed.

Aponi blinked, focusing in on the young, mysterious woman. Her hair was long and the color of onyx, with the same skin tone as her's, if not darker. She was also bare foot and only wore a deer skinned dress that dropped to her ankles.

"Who are you?" Aponi asked, cautiously.

The beautiful woman lifted her head high, "I am a simple spirit but I was once the protector of this land and of all the tribes that lived here. I've had many forms and many names." As she spoke, her features and clothes began to glow; her dress became white buffalo pelts as a white shell headdress took shape around her forehead. "The Navajo knew me as Estsánatlehi, the Changing Woman." Then the pelts were replaced with a short deer skinned dress, with a gold like design scattered over her. It took a moment for Aponi to realize that it was corn. "While the Cherokee knew me a Selu, the Corn Mother." Once again, she changed, morphing into a large fox the color of silver. "And your husband's people of the Miwok called me Silver Fox."

Aponi leaned back on the door, covering her mouth in shock. "Why are you here Great Mother?"

She sighed as she shifted back to her original form. "It is Amy, she's in great danger and I can no longer reach her. Iya has grown too powerful and is able to keep me and my son at by."

"Monster-Slayer?" Aponi questioned.

Estsánatlehi giggled, "He would like the name but he prefers Alfred." She tapped her finger to her chin, thinking to herself. "That would mean Matthew is Born for Water," she smiled, "it does make sense, both are twins and each are quite heroic." She flicked her wrist, dismissing the thought, "but that's beside the point. Amy needs our help." She waved her hand, summoning a bracelet with multiple brown leather strands, braiding together along with turquoise beads. "Here, I need you to take this to her."

"But she's in Europe."

"No, she is in the air, heading east."

"I don't understand," said Aponi, "why can't you give it to her."

"Iya," she whispered. "She has blocked me and Alfred from her, creating a barrier. Iya's using the nations to string a web around her. Amy may not realize but she's placing her trust in the people that will be her undoing."

"Arthur and the others would never hurt her."

"They wouldn't even know. The darkness of their past is what gives Iya strength, allowing her opportunities to get close to Amy in any shape or form. I've tried my best to warn her but Iya has grown so strong," she shakes her head, sadly. "She is able to corrupt our fellow spirits. It won't be long till she can use humans and nations as her puppets."

Aponi bits her thumb nervously, "I can mail the bracelet to her-"

"No, I need you to give it to her now. She is in the air, the element you were born under and she is heading east, the natural direction of wind."

Aponi's eyes widened in realization, "you wish for me to astral project." She brushed back her graying hair, "I haven't done that in years."

"I know daughter," Estsánatlehi stepped forward and caressed Aponi's cheek lovingly. "But our granddaughter needs you. The bracelet will protect you till you reach her and once you hand the bracelet over, I will pull you back."

"Let me gather some protective herbs-"

"There is no time, the farther she goes the harder it will be to reach her."

Aponi saw the desperation in the woman's eyes, she was terrified for Amy. The old woman nodded and reassured the spirit with soothing hand. Estsánatlehi exhaled a breath she didn't even realize she was holding and guided Aponi to sit in John's chair. Aponi leaned back, clutched the bracelet tight and closed her eyes.

She channeled her aura, gathering the indigo shade to spread over her body. Evoking her element to pull and lift her out of her body.


 

I was dreaming.

I knew that, but somehow deep down, this felt real.

I was in Grandma's shop. The sun was blazing, casting its golden rays throughout the store; highlighting the carvings of animals and allowing the crystals that hang beside the windows to shine their rainbow shades. The air smelled like lavender and the atmosphere was warm and inviting.

It felt like home.

"So, you understand this is more than just a dream."

I knew that voice all too well. "Grandma!" I instantly leaped into her arms, holding her in a tight embrace. "I missed you so much."

"So have I, and everyone else back in Summerland." She pulled back, "they miss you terribly. Your parents are doing everything they can to distract themselves. James is wondering when his Spitfire will come back and Midnight and Lady haven't been themselves."

A guilty lump formed in the back of my throat, "I should come over for the holidays, if I have to sink over on a cargo ship, so be it."

Grandma smiled, "No, no, you can't make any trouble for yourself. Don't worry about them, Blair and Blake have been visiting them every day. They're content. What really bothers everyone is the time zones. Jamie and Michel always have to think before they call you, wondering if you're sleeping or not."

"Call me any time, I don't care."

She snorted, "That's what you say now, but the moment we wake you from your sleep, you will whine about it."

I laughed, "True."

Our moment of peace was broken by the front door being slammed open. The sun was disappearing, fading away as the night rolled in.

Grandma cursed, "They followed me."

"Who?!"

"The vapors. Quickly, take this," she thrusts a leather bracelet into my palm. "It will protect you."

I looked to the bracelet and back at her, "Grams this isn't real, it's just a dream."

"That's what you think," she pushed me into the back and exclaimed. "Now wake up."

"But Grandma-"

She grabbed me by the shoulders, "please realize what I do now, I do because I love you."

Before I could question anything, she slapped me across the face.


 

I snapped my eyes open, awaking back into reality. I was on a plane, sitting at the window with Gilbert napping beside me. Ludwig and Roderich were quietly reading in front of me and the light was still beaming in through the window; proving that it was still daylight.

I rubbed my cheek, which oddly enough felt like it was stinging. "Freaky," I mumbled. At that moment, my eyes slid to my clutched fist. I released my grasp to find a brown leather bracelet twined with turquoise beads. The same bracelet that Grandma had given to me in my dream.

I stared at the piece of jewelry and whispered, "Too freaky."


 

Once we arrived at Indira Gandhi International Airport, I called Grandma. It was five minutes till six in the afternoon in Delhi, meaning it would be close to six-thirty or six-forty in the morning in Summerland.

She answered after the first ring, "Good morning Amy or should I say good afternoon?"

"Grams what was that all about?" I asked as I glanced to the bracelet. "Seriously Grandma what did you do?"

She took a deep breath, "Have you ever heard of astral projection?"

"Yeah . . . what a minute you can do that?"

"Yes. Granted has been a couple of years but your grandma still has some skills," she chuckled.

I leaned against the restroom stall, "Grandma, how do you know about the vapors?"

"Well for one I didn't know they were called that, my people always referred to them as dark spirits, but they seem to be one of the same. Estsánatlehi said they were targeting you."

"Wait, who's Estsánatlehi? It sounds familiar."

"It should," her voice grew defensive. "She is Changing Woman, gosh child have I taught you nothing?"

"Changing Woman?" I blinked, "are you saying you were visited by a goddess?"

"Yes, but she said you were granddaughter and that Alfred was her son-"

I connected the dots, "Karen; her name's Karen."

"Karen? Who gave her such a boring name?"

"I have feeling it's because Francis and Arthur didn't know how to pronounce Estsánatlehi."

"So she was nation?"

"Yeah, she represented North America before Alfred and Matthew took over."

Grandma was silent for a moment. "Can other nations change their appearances? Or shift into animals?"

"No. It seems the body we have is what we're stuck with; but she's a spirit now and they can change whenever they want."

She paused again, "She must've been a powerful nation. To have so many tribes believing her as their goddess, even when they had a human or animal form."

"Lovi did say that the ancient nations were treated differently than we are now."

"Who's Lovi?" she asked curiously.

"He's a nation of Italy."

"I thought that Feliciano fellow was Italy."

"He represents the north while his brother, Lovino represents the south," I explained.

"Hmm . . ."

"What?"

"Do you like him?"

I blushed, "Grams, he's just a friend."

"Just be careful," a bell ringed, which I guessed was the shop's door. "I have to go, please Amy, wear it. It will protect you."

She hanged up as I looked back to the bracelet and tied it around my wrist with my teeth and spare hand.


 

Aponi slid her phone into her pocket as Hayden Miller walked through the front door. Hayden was tall teenage girl, with short pixie cut black hair and green eyes. She usually dressed in colorful net skirts, graphic design tights and vintage band t-shirts. She also painted her nails black, wore heavy makeup and a leather jacket. Most adults would not hire this young girl, for her multiple tattoos and piercings, but as others saw a 'rebel' or 'troubled teen'. Aponi saw a girl with a heart of gold.

"Good morning Ms. Aponi," she greeted.

"Good morning," Aponi smiled.

The young girl grabbed a stall from the wall and moved to the front desk. "So is there a special reason why you called on my day off?" She smirked, reassuring Aponi that she was joking.

She apologized again, "Sorry about that, it was urgent."

"No worries, seniors don't have to show up till noon. Underclassmen are taking some exam."

Aponi wasn't one to bet around the bush. "I need to ask you about your grandmother, the one that's Sioux."

"She prefers to be called Lakota," she added before she continued. "What about?"

"Did she tell you stories about the tribe's gods?"

She nodded, "yeah, I think there was like twelve? I think." she shrugged.

"Does Iya mean anything to you?"

She nodded again, "yeah he's like made out of pure evil, that's what Grandma always said anyway."

Aponi frowned, confused. "Iya is male?"

"Well . . ." Hayden bit her lip nervously. "There is an older story, one that you can't find in any book or website. But if you want me to continue, you need to burn sage. That was the promise I made with Grandma if I ever told the story to anybody."

Aponi did as she was instructed and set the burning sage beside them. They waited as the smoke covered the room with a gray haze before Hayden spoke. "Inyan was the primary source of life, he created the earth from himself; creating the rock from his body and the water from his blood. He then named Earth Maka, creating another goddess. Inyan is the Lakota's version of Wakan Tanka."

"The Great Spirit," Aponi remarked.

"Yeah . . . Anyway, he had a son named Iya. Iya is the source of all evil and he desires nothing but destruction and woe. That much people know."

"What do you know?" Aponi asked.

Hayden took in a deep breath, "Long ago Iya was jealous of Inyan's power; Inyan was the source of life and there by worshiped by all. He was Iya's exact opposite, for he thrived in chaos and no one wished for his presence. Iya had no place to call his home so Maka, taking pity on him, created an abyss for him in the ocean. There he could be the ruler of the creatures that lived in the dark, but that wasn't enough for him.

"He then gathered an army, drawing darkness from human's hearts and actions and morphing them into mist-like creatures he could use under his command. As his army grew, so did his power. Before long he was able to corrupt humans and other spirits. Iya was even able to turn Maka against mankind, causing earthquakes, hurricanes and volcano eruptions.

"The lines between the Spirit World and Earth were blurred, causing the use of magick to go rampant and the creatures of darkness to roam freely. They could become as light as air, but when there is enough negative power, they could shift into animal or human form. The only difference between them and the spirits that were turned was that they had no face, no identity.

"The Lakota called them soul-eaters, for they were born from envy, hate and anger. All they knew was how to eat and that's all they wanted. Humans were easier to kill but spirits were the main targets."

"But weren't the spirits turned so Iya could use them?" Aponi asked.

Hayden sighed, "That was the cruel fate of it. Once Iya's minions turned a spirit, they use that spirit for all its magick and energy. Slowly eating away at them till it either dies or tries to fight back. But fighting them off only encourages them to eat the spirit faster."

"How was Iya defeated?"

"Inyan knew the only way he could save his creations, was to kill his own son. It brought much sorrow to him but it had to be done to save the lives of his fellow spirits and humans. He gathered his army, calling forth spirits, humans and animals alike to fight against Iya. After three nights of countless battle, Inyan won and tore his son apart. Scattering his remains into the abyss and commanding Maka to seal him away."

"Was that the end of him?"

"No, merely the beginning. The pieces of Iya were eaten by his creations, fusing together with them. Slowly but surely they gathered their numbers again, taking bits and pieces of darkness from mankind but they are only truly powerful when they have someone to sit on the thrown."

Aponi's eyebrow arched, "I don't understand."

"The soul-eaters, they whisper in your ear, luring you to them. They would promise to make all your wishes come true, give you power, wealth, fame, love, anything to get you close to them. Most times, they just eat you but there are some they choose to keep. Whoever they keep, being spirit or human would make a deal with them, promising the soul-eaters anything they wanted. In return, they would lend that person their power so he or she could grant their wish. The soul-eaters would then give them the title of Iya, Chief of all Dark Spirits."

Hayden stretched and yawned, "I think this story was to teach kids not to be jealous or something like that. You know, because envy and hate will eat away at you, leaving nothing left but pieces."

Aponi nodded in agreement, remembering what Estsánatlehi had said.

"Iya has grown too powerful and is able to keep me and my son at by."

This worried Aponi deeply, if this new Iya could block Estsánatlehi and Alfred already; how much time did they have before their own war begins.

Chapter Text

Water droplets splattered against the surface of our white cab as the humid air fogged our windows. The heavy rain fall came in quickly, tapping against the roof of the car like bullets. The roads were crowded with cars, people, and animals, but yet traffic kept moving; even when the wheels of cars and bikes fell into water filled pot holes. Other drivers would just go around, even ride on the sidewalk to get to their destination.

"Does it always rain like this?" I asked the driver. I was crammed between Ludwig and Roderich in the back while Gilbert sat in the passenger seat.

"It's slowing down," he smiled, "you all came during the last week of monsoon season. The rain will last for about ten minutes if not, no more than an hour."

Roderich grumbled, "Doesn't change the fact that my shores are ruined."

As we drove to our hotel, I leaned over Ludwig, taking in the sights of the city. The clouds and the rain left everything in a gray haze, so all I could see were the outlines of buildings in the distance. I did witness the hustle and bustle of the downtown market, the street vendors sold everything from clothes to pottery to meat; which I guess was anything else but cow. Even on the account of the rain, people continued to shop. The weather only seemed to enhance the cheeriness of the public; children were playing as women were walking without umbrellas, some, mostly younger girls were twirling around and jumping into puddles, along with the children. I even spotted a group of young men dancing beside their car with the radio blasting.

I never liked rain. Whenever it did, it would mean a day spent inside, which would only remind me of my days being confined to my bed. I loved being outside, hanging by the beach, riding my horse, walking around town and along the boardwalk; I could never get enough.

Yet, watching as the locals seemed to celebrate and rejoice in the downpour made me smile.

We arrived at the Leela Palace in under twenty minutes and even through the gray atmosphere, the hotel still radiated light and elegance. The building was massive but yet, compacted. It's as if the architects put more space into the width besides length. The colors of white, light brown and gold completely covered the building, along with dozens of windows.

Inside was just as spectacular; high ceilings with hanging crystal chandlers and stylish furniture were the first to be seen in the main lobby. Polished tile floor shined against the lighting, barely showing any ware or tear. While dozens of plants were placed everywhere. Yellow roses were in the center of the round tables while red lilies were aligned with the vanity mirrors against the walls. Small potted trees were in every corner, while some were placed beside the huge white pillars. Hotel staff dressed in black, greeted us with smiles as they offered towels and bottled water at the entrance.

This hotel screamed luxury and it left me stunned. The only function I seemed to have at that moment was to gawk at every detail.

"Here you are miss," a young man in a black uniform stepped forward and gave me a hot pressed towel.

"Thank you," I smiled as I dried my hair.

"Is it your first time here in the Leela Palace?"

"More like first time in India."

"Oh," his grin grew wider, "Are you here for vacation?"

"No, business."

"You seem really young."

"I age well."

"What do you mean there is only two?" Ludwig's voice pulled me away from the man to the front desk. "I've reserved three rooms on the same floor."

"I'm terribly sorry sir, but I can only found two rooms under your name," the woman behind the desk proclaimed.

"But that's impossible, I know I called for three," Ludwig argued.

I stood beside Gilbert, "what's up?"

He sighed, "It seems West forgot to rent you a room."

"I didn't forget," Ludwig remarked and turned back to the woman. "Check my credit card, did I pay for two or three?"

The woman named Nami, which I read from her name tag, clicked her fingers over the computer keys. "You only paid for two sir," she said politely.

"May I have another room then?" he asked calmly.

She glanced to the screen, "I'm sorry, there are no other rooms left."

Ludwig sighed and I proclaimed, "It's not a big deal, I can just stay with one of you. Or I can stay in one room and you two can share."

"Sure, but it would be troublesome," Gilbert pulled me aside to whisper in my ear. "You see, the world meeting isn't just for the nations to discuss their issues, it's also a time for the nations to build more on their relations." He wiggled his brows, "if you know what I mean."

I rolled my eyes, "Yes, I know what you mean."

"So it would be difficult for you," he continued. "Feli would come over and stay with West while I would have Liz or possibly some other join me in bed."

"You do realize I can't un-hear this."

"But I'm sure Romano would be more than happy to share his room-"

Roderich cuts in, "enough of your vulgar remarks. It's clear now that she can't stay with either of you. Ms. Hawkfeather, you can stay with me."

"At least I'm honest, you always put up that facade of being a fancy-pants aristocrat but we all know you're cheap. You're also the kind to restrain your sexual urges, so you would be the most likely person to wiggle yourself into Amy's bed."

Roderich's face flushed in anger and embarrassment while I pulled away from Gil's arm. "Again, cannot un-hear this." I turned towards the door to find Arthur, Francis and Matthew walking inside. "Oh thank god," I smiled and greeted them with tight hugs.

"Mattie can I stay with you?" I asked.

He knitted his brows together in confusion, "don't you have your own room?"

"Ludwig forgot to get me one-"

"I didn't forget," he hissed.

"And now there's no other rooms and I need to stay with someone, so can I stay with you, please."

"Well, uh-"

"Oh what's this Birdie, you're blushing. Don't tell me, you were actually planning on bringing someone to your room later this week?" Gilbert smirked.

Matthew blushed harder, "n-no."

I sighed and glanced to Francis, "I won't even bother to ask."

He was about to object, till he shrugged, "Heh, true."

Arthur shook his head at the Frenchman's answer and proclaimed. "You can stay with me."

"And babysit him when he opens himself to the hotel's bar," Francis commented.

Arthur curled his fist into the collar of Francis's shirt, "watch it frog."

"Stop it," I yanked Arthur's hand back.

"If you need a place to stay, you can stay with me."

I and everyone else turned to face the nation of India as he placed his hands together and bowed slightly, "Namaste."

I quickly copied his greeting, "Namaste." When I realized that no one else had joined me, I was worried that I had done something wrong.

Akram Verma beamed, reassuring me that I had caused no offense. "I couldn't help but over hear. I'm so sorry Ms. Hawkfeather, I was certain that we had enough rooms for everyone."

"It's cool, I'll just stay with Arthur-"

"No, you should have your own room like everyone else. Please let me make this right, come and stay with me."

"You have a room here?"

"No, I have a house in Sainik Farms, near the Neb Valley. It's not far from here," he said.

"Uh, well," I wasn't trying to be rude. It just didn't seem like a smart decision to stay at house with a person I barely even knew. Then of course it wasn't like that thought didn't cross my mind when I went to stay with the Beilschmidt brothers.

Arthur must've been able to read my mind, for he proclaimed: "There's no need to worry Amy, Akram is a fine gentlemen. He'll treat you well."

It was settled, "okay."

"Perfect," Akram smiled even wider and took my carry-on from the bell hop. "Come along Ms. Hawkfeather," he gestured me out of the hotel as I waved goodbye.


 

Akram's car was small and compacted, it was the color of blue with simple gray interior. The radio was tuned in to a station where everyone spoke in a language I didn't understand. There were times they would speak in English, but it usually ran along with the foreign dialect. The rain stopped, allowing the sun to peek through the clouds. I pulled down my visor to shield me and found a beautiful woman with eight arms taped inside.

Akram noticed my fascination with the picture, "That's Durga, the Mother Goddess."

"Why does she have eight arms?" I asked.

"She was created when evil forces threatened the existence of the gods. Each god offered their radiance to her creation, each taking on a different part of her body. It is also to represent the eight quadrants in Hinduism. This suggests that she protects her devotees from all directions."

I nodded, "Why does she have a weapon in each hand?"

He was more than happy to explain, "Durga was a combination of the gods and a symbol of the gods united against evil. Each hand wields a weapon to fight against that evil, Durga had done just that, defeating the demon known as Mahishasur. Durga's name actually means 'Durgatinashini,' which translates to 'the one who eliminates sufferings.'"

I glanced back to the picture of Durga, "so in summary she's just a kick-ass goddess."

He chuckled, "there's more to it, but yes."

The car ride wasn't so awkward after that. I asked questions about Delhi, figuring it would be easier for him to talk while I listened. He stated that poverty had gone down, thanks to alternative fuel opening up more jobs in the work force. Education was taken to the next level, opening more schools for children and trade schools for adults. A reformed act had taken place a few years ago in India, as their economy grew, thanks to their success in space travel and exporting more goods to the world. They were putting that money towards the city slums and the villages out in the country side. The Indian government focused on manufacturing better plumbing systems and repairing old apartment complexes and buildings.

"It's been a slow process," Akram stated, "it took close to a decade to get things moving but I can feel it. My people are happier and it's all thanks to you."

I blinked, "it is?"

"Well your president, she was the one that enforced the expansion of alternative fuel, giving people jobs and reducing pollution."

I think I read an article about that. I tried to remember the magazine but the memory was blurred with a night spent at a bonfire with my friends. It was clear that I didn't pay much attention to world affairs. I mean my motto was if it didn't involve me than I didn't care. I mentally groaned and banged my head against the window, I suck as a nation.

Once we arrived to Akram's home, the humidity was at its all-time high. The air was thick and warm, giving me the sensation of needles pricking at my skin. The mosquitoes were out and about, biting at my legs and arms as I tried in a sad attempt to swat them away. The house was small, almost like a cottage. It was one level, made of aging stone with dark tinted windows. The plot of land was in the middle of a neighborhood, which Akram called a block.

The cottage was surrounded by gray wall-gates, which were meant to take on the role of fences. The walls were covered in vines from neighboring trees and plants. Flowers aligned themselves around the house as bright green grass completely covered the yard. The house was modest and simple and made me feel less nervous; till a flock of chickens ran past me, causing me to jump back. "You have chickens?"

"No, they belong to the neighbors. They sometimes jump the wall, don't worry they always go back to them."

"Do you have any pets?" I asked curiously.

"Well I do have a dog-"

Once he mentioned the animal, a scruffy, pointed ear mix leaped around from the back of the house and collided into me. The tan colored dog lifted himself on his hind legs, having the perfect angle to lick my face.

"Hani, down," Akram pulled him off, "I'm sorry he gets excited when he meets strangers."

I bent down and scratched the hyperactive dog behind his ears, "it's cool. You're just happy to see us, aren't you boy?" I grinned as Hani moved forward to lick my face once again.

The inside of Akram's house was painted white with dark wood window blinds that could be folded out to let in more light. The den, kitchen and the dining table were all in one room. It may have sounded like it was cramped but that wasn't the case. Unlike the manor and the villa, the cottage was only meant to have two, maybe three people leaving here. When you think in that retrospect then the size was perfect. The den had one coffee table with a couch and two chairs. Behind the coach was the kitchen and beside that was a round dining table with another pair of chairs. Wooden floors covered every inch as Akram led me to the hall on our right, which quickly revealed three doors.

He pointed to the first door, "this will be your room."

The room, again was painted white while maroon veils hanged above the queen sized bed. The covers were white with detailed lily patterns scattered over the surface. A window sat right beside the headboard as a small dark brown nightstand stood on the other side. Aside from the bed, the nightstand, a full-length mirror and a door at the opposite wall, which I guessed was a closet, there was nothing else.

He continued, "The bathroom is right down the hall and my room is next door. If you have any problems, please don't hesitate to ask."

"Okay." I eyed the bed; I hadn't realized till now, but I was exhausted. The plane ride drained me of my energy and all I wanted to do was sleep.

"Are you hungry?" Akram asked, "I could fix you something."

"No, thank you. I'm just really tired."

He nodded, understanding. "Goodnight then, Ms. America. Come Hani," he ushered the dog out and closed the door behind him.

I kicked off my shoes and crawled under the sheets, allowing my muscles to rest as my eyes drift to a close.


 

I woke up to the sound of a knock on my door, "Ms. America, breakfast is ready."

When he mentioned the subject, my stomach growled and my nose tickled at the aroma. I followed the mouthwatering scent straight to kitchen table. Where I found two bowls of warm soup and a plate filled with round, thin bread. They looked like biscuits but they were so thin, that they kinda reminded me of sopapillas.

I figured my way around the exotic food, picking up the biscuit and dipping it into the soup. I never shied away from new food, or from anything really. Being from music to going on the Superman ride at Six Flags, I was willing to give anything a try; which was my family's motto: 'you never know if you don't try.' Again, this implied to anything.

The soup was rich in spice, causing the tips of my fingers to tingle and my toes to curl. I grabbed the spoon and swirled it around to find tiny pieces of potatoes that were sinking to the bottom.

Akram sat in the empty chair in front of me, "Do you like it?"

"Yeah, it's really good." I looked up and froze when I realized he was wearing a suit. "Shit!" I jumped from my seat and ran back to my room, frantically searching through my carry-on for my own suit. But I was greeted with t-shirts, tank tops, jeans and shorts instead. "Where is it? When was the last time-" Then I remembered the shopping bag, the one that held my one and only suit; the one that was left behind in the ally way when I was abducted by aliens. "Fuck. How could I forget? Stupid, stupid, stupid."

"What's wrong?" I spun around to face Akram at the door frame.

I sighed, "I don't have a suit. . ."

"Didn't you wear one at your school?"

"Yeah, but I'm sure you know about my little disappearing act at the G9 meeting. Long story short, I lost it. I had planned to get another but things kept happening." I raked a hand through my hair in frustration, "Maybe I can wear a pair of jeans with a blazer . . . but I didn't bring any good-looking jeans . . . then of course I don't have a blazer." I tore through my bag again, tossing one t-shirt after the other. "This is bad. This is so bad. Ludwig is going to kill me."

As I was desperately searching for anything to wear, Akram stepped forward to pick up the sari that Melissa and Sanjay had given to me for my birthday. "You can wear this."

"Uh, no." I set the cloth aside, "All I want is to wear something decent and then fade into the background. After the last two meetings, all I want is to say hello, sit, listen and get the hell out. I don't want to do anything that will cause too much attention."

"That's never going to happen," he said bluntly. "No matter what you do or what you wear, you will always be in the center of attention."

I sighed through my teeth in irritation. "Why? Because I'm America. News flash America isn't the center of the world."

"But you are," Akram stated, "America is always on the news, when anything happens in the US, everyone around the world hears about it."

"I'm sure it's the same way with other countries."

"Oh really? Did you know Hong Kong protested against the Chinese, resisting the influence of the communist government in 2014?"

I blinked, "No."

"What about Scotland voting for his independence in the same year?"

"I know that, they voted to stay with the UK," I beamed at the thought of proving him wrong.

"Good, then you would also know of the riots that took place afterwards."

My smile fell, "no. . ."

"Hmm," he tilted his head to side, "well at least everyone around the world will always know who won the latest season of American Idol."

I wanted defend myself; I wanted to shout at him that that was the year the Quake hit Summerland. That my family, friends and community had bigger problems to deal with than Hong Kong and Scotland. But I held back my tongue, because that sounded like a pitiful excuse. The ugly truth was, I was ignorant.

I didn't even know about Delhi's progress or the fact that Isabella was one of the reasons behind it. Also, I've been living in Germany for about three months, and I had no idea what was going on. I never watched their news, I always figured that if anything did happen either Ludwig or Gilbert would tell me; but it wasn't their job. Shouldn't I keep myself informed, I mean what was the fucking point of being on social media? Cat videos? Memes? Zombie pranks?

Yeah, I definitely suck as a nation.

"Do you think I can call in sick?" I asked, inching towards the bed.

"I'm afraid not," he gestured back to the sari. "I'm sorry if I was harsh, I was only trying to prove a point. You will always be in the spotlight America wither you like it or not." He lifted the garment, revealing the brilliant blue and elegant violet accents, "Why not give them something to look at?"

I was reluctant, but I didn't have a lot of choices and it wasn't the time to be picky. He left the room shortly after, so I could change into the blue pleasant skirt and bright purple blouse. The sleeves of the blouse came to my elbows while the hem stopped an inch away from the skirt, revealing a sliver of skin. The neckline circled around my shoulders, giving a small peek of cleavage.

I looked to the mirror, smoothing out the skirt and tugging the blouse down, which only resulted with me yanking it back up to cover my chest. I glanced to the sari and began to wrap it around my waist.

"What are you doing?"

I jumped when Akram reentered the room, "goddammit, do all the nations have to sneak up on me?"

He smiled apologetically, "forgive me." He walked forward and gently took the cloth from my hands. "Let me," he insisted. He unwrapped me and began to measure the cloth with his fingers, pulling one section out and folding it in between his fingers. He then grabbed the first section and held it right under my breasts. "Stand straight," he instructed.

I did what I was told as he adjusted the bottom of the sari to simply brush against the floor and tucked a portion of the cloth into the skirt. "If you don't mind me asking, haven't you worn a saree before? With your sister being married to an Indian man, you should have worn this for family gatherings."

"I don't really take part in Sanjay's family, his parents . . . don't like me." I confessed.

Akram arched a brow, "why?"

"Well I shouldn't say that, they just don't understand the idea of me. They believe in blood and for my parents and siblings to dote on me, someone that isn't related by blood, just doesn't make any sense to them. They see me as an outsider. If I wasn't born from my mother's womb, they didn't count me as a member of the Hawkfeather family." I sighed, "To them, blood is family."

"I see, they are older, more traditional," he proclaimed.

I nodded, "but it was harder for Mel, always trying to prove to them that she would be a good wife to Sanjay."

"Did your parents have any problems with him?"

"They only asked two questions," I said, "'Does he respect you?' and 'Is he good to you?' If you can say yes to both of those questions then that's it. My parents came from mixed heritage themselves so they felt like they didn't have the right to discriminate against who we married. My mom even told me that she didn't care if the person I loved was male, female, black or white. She wouldn't give a damn if they were purple as long as they treated me right."

Akram continued to work at my sari; wrapping it around my waist, smoothing it out, making it tight against my back side and then tucking it in once again. "Your mother and father are good people." I smiled and he asked, "What finally got those two married?"

"Melissa got pregnant with the twins." He blinked in surprise and I grinned, "That's when Sanjay grew a pair and told his parents he would marry Mel with or without their consent. We had a very classy shotgun wedding. It was held at the family beach house, which became Melissa's so she could move out of her apartment. We almost thought that Sanjay's family wouldn't come but they did, turned out his cousins were more open-minded than his parents."

I paused for a moment, "Around this time, I was just getting over my illness. I could feel myself getting stronger and I wanted nothing more but to be part of the celebration. One of Sanjay's cousins, Jasmine was putting together a dance for the reception. She and most of the women began to practice their dance routine at the beach house and I would show up every Thursday just to watch them. One day, Jasmine came up to me and asked if I wanted to join." I smiled at the memory, "you should've seen me; I got all excited and said yes over and over again.

"Jasmine took me under her wing and made extra time for me, so I would know all the moves. She even got this especially made sari for me. It was pink with gold designs with matching shoes. It was so beautiful and it made me feel like a . . ." I blushed, "like a princess."

Akram chuckled, "Every girl should feel like that at least once in their lifetime."

My cheeks increased in heat as I faced the mirror, but I was only able to catch a glimpse as he turned me back to him, "no peeking."

I watched as he gathered the cloth, measuring them again as he reached the outer corner. He swung this portion around me and piled the corner edge together. He drapes this piece over my shoulder, adjusting it so it reached pass my bottom. He was then left with a lope of excess cloth; he smoothed out one side, pinning it to my waist. The other half was folded together; he made sure that each fold was the same length. He shook these ruffles, measuring once again with his fingers as he tucked the top of this portion into my skirt. This time, his hands traveled lower as he spread the cloth out evenly.

I flinched when his fingers brushed against the lower half of my belly. I instantly stepped away to avoid his touch and Akram gently pulled me back, "don't more, I'm almost done."

He grabbed the remaining piece and pinned it to the back of my shoulder, allowing the rest of the cloth to cover my chest, waist and left arm. He then gestured for me to hold my arm up, so he can tuck the rest of the sari into the nook of my elbow. "There," he led me by the fingers and presented me in front of the mirror. "What do you think?"

The sari ruffled in the front creating these graceful waves of blue and violet to dance and merge together. The print of the cloth was displayed as white spirals twirled along the cloth in carefree motions. The colors made my skin lighter and my eyes brighter, while the skirt made me lean and slightly curvy. It was just like on that day. Jasmine dressing me in that pink sari as Mom braided my hair. It didn't annoy me like when my cousins would force me into dresses. Yes, the sari did make me feel pretty but also proud in some strange way. It was like, not just Melissa was being accepted into their family but me as well.

Then I grimly remembered how it all came crashing down.

"This won't work," I said as I tried to unpin the safety pin from my shoulder. "Thank you Akram, really, but this is too inappropriate."

"How is this inappropriate? Plenty of Indian women wear sarees to meetings-"

"Indian women. I'm white," I bit my bottom lip to stop it from trembling, "it's just doesn't look right."

"That doesn't matter."

"Yeah, it does. I can't wear a sari; it only causes..." I stumbled for the right word, "problems."

"Then why bring it if you weren't going to wear it?"

"I was going to wear it in the privacy of my hotel room. That way I can say I wore it and not hurt Mel's feelings and I wouldn't have to worry about offending anybody."

"How would you offend anyone by wearing a saree?" Akram asked.

His brown eyes held nothing but compassion, urging me to explain so he could understand. I didn't want to tell him, it was too personal. Yet, the words seemed to only spill out of me, "When my mom told me that I was going to enter public school as a fifth grader, I was so excited. I was even going to be in the same school as Michel and Jamie. I had already pictured all of the field trips we would take and all the games we would play at recess. But . . . I just didn't stop to think about the other kids.

"On my first day, I told Mom I wanted to wear my sari." I exhaled through my nose, "I really loved that sari and it made sense to me, I mean you're supposed to wear a sari for special occasions." I felt the need to explain myself, hoping that Akram would understand that even at the tender age of ten I held nothing but love and respect for my sari. "It was my very first day of school . . . it was something that I was excited for and happy. . ." my gut cringed at the memory.

I continued the story, "At the time, I didn't notice how Mom got all quiet but she said it would be okay. She thought it would be a pretty outfit for my first day at school and if Mom was okay with it, I thought everyone else would be too.

"Everything was fine when my parents ushered me to class; kids and their parents were looking at me but I was used to that. Being a white girl with a Native American father and a Hispanic mother, you tend to get a few questionable stares. Once I entered my classroom, I immediately circled the room . . . admiring the colorful posters on the walls, the tiny desks that were pushed into groups and the cute pure white bunny that was placed beside the window. I was too busy taking in my surroundings that I hadn't notice my teacher pulling my parents aside and commenting on my clothes.

"All I do remember was my mom hissing at her, saying that I could wear what I wanted. Adding several swear words in Spanish before my dad gently persuaded her to calm down. The moment my parents left, an Indian girl in my class walked up to me and said, "Western girls shouldn't wear saris. It's part of my culture, stop trying to take what isn't yours."

"I was stunned, I had no idea what to do or what to say. Before I could do anything, my teacher came in and told us to sit at our desks. And of course, I just had to be seated with that same Indian girl, which I learned was named Sasha. I was also grouped in with a Latino boy and an African American girl, both were giving me strange looks as Sasha stared daggers at me."

I tried to laugh, but it came out as a tired sigh, "It only got worse when we had to go up to the front of the class and talk about ourselves. When it was my turn, my teacher was the first to ask me to explain my sari. I was happy to tell them till Sasha shouted, "And it better not me because it's pretty, thief!" The class went wide-eyed as the teacher threatened Sasha with a phone call to her parents. Mrs. Ruth told me to continue but I was too embarrassed to say anything else.

"But it didn't stop the kids from asking questions later on. They asked why I wore a sari and why I didn't look like my parents. And they only got confused when I said that my dad was Native and my mom was Hispanic. They would say that I didn't look Hispanic or Native so I had to explain that I was adopted. Then the Latino boy that was seated next to me said, "then you're not really Hispanic because you're not really their daughter.""

I clutched my teeth and dug my nails into my palms, the memory still made me angry. "At that moment I wanted to slam his head against the table and force him to take back what he just said. But I had made a promise with Dad not to lose my temper, so I stayed quiet." I breathed in deeply, "Later at lunch, I had gotten a hamburger, keep in mind that public schools don't give you variety. You eat what they give you or bring your own lunch. Anyway, the moment I picked up the burger, a girl, one of Sasha's friends slapped it out of my hands and told me, "If you're going to steal a culture at least know about it. Indians don't eat cows, weirdo." Again, I wanted so badly to punch her in the face, but I kept my cool and walked back to the line to see if I could get more food. The lunch lady said I couldn't have seconds.

"I tried to find Michel and Jamie during recess but it turned out that the fifth grade was too big that year, so they had to cut the classes in half. We wouldn't be able to have the same lunch or recess, so I was on my own. I tried to keep to myself but Sasha and her friends wouldn't leave me alone. They continued to provoke me, calling me a thief and saying that because I was white, I thought I had the right to take anything I wanted.

"I told them they were wrong but they didn't listen. They began tugging and yanking at my clothes. I begged them to stop but that only encouraged them. Once they got the sari off, Sasha ripped it. Her and her friends tore it apart right in front of me." I inhaled through my nose, "that's when I broke my promise and broke Sasha's nose in the process. It had to take three teachers to pry me off of her. The school called my parents to meet with Sasha's parents and it was decided that I would be suspended for a week while Sasha got two days."

Akram finally spoke, "Why did she get a shorter time?"

"Because I hit her and her parents said I provoked her by wearing a sari. The school wanted to keep this private, so they did everything they could to please them. On the other hand, my parents were blindsided; my principle said they should have known better, that a girl with my heritage should have worn clothes that were suitable for me." I sighed, "Later my parents sat me down and told me that people like Sasha, when they wear clothes from their homeland; it's seen as old fashion and foreign... like an outsider. All of sudden, if a white person wears it, it's trendy and fashionable or at worse a costume.

"After that I always wore t-shits and jeans, those don't offend anybody." I took a moment to close my eyes, trying to keep the tears back. "That's when I realized that I had to be more mindful of what I do or what I say. Even when it felt good to wear that sari, people would see me as being ridiculous or just another 'white girl nonsense' you know?"

Akram nodded, "yes, but if your parents had only explained-"

My frustration and angry poured out of me, I couldn't stop. "It doesn't matter! The wedding was the only appropriate time to wear it."

"Why?"

"Because I had permission."

He titled his head, "do you need permission to wear a saree?"

"Yes, cause if you have to see it from their point of view. When a culture is all you have claim to, you get pretty mad when some air-head white girl decides to wear a sari to her first day of public school and for everyone to say she looks cute."

I groaned as middle school came trotting in to ruin my mood even more, "You know, one time I wanted to join my middle school's step team. I thought they were so cool and I thought it would be fun." I sucked in air through my teeth to calm me, but it didn't work. "Nobody told me that stepping was for black people. I mean, most if not all step teams I saw were black but I did see some white members once so I thought why not? I took tap and I thought stepping was another version of tap so I tried out when they had a spot open."

I tried to laugh at myself but it came out forced, "I didn't get in and I thought it was because I wasn't good enough, till I overheard the team talk about me; saying that I was some white bitch trying to steal their style, trying to be something I wasn't. I went to the coach and told her this and do you want to know what she said to me?

""You were the best stepper out of all the girls that auditioned but the team was the one that voted and they wanted someone that was more like them. Besides Amy, a girl with your up-bringing should participate in events that are suited for you. I would suggest you'd try out for the cheer squad.""

I shook my head, "At that moment, I completely forgot what my parents told me and I told her to screw it. That I wouldn't even bother, because clearly my skin tone had a limit on what I can or cannot do. . . I also told her to go and fuck herself with a dildo." A red-hot flush rose to back of my neck, I tried to rub the embarrassment away but it remained, "that earned me a week and half of suspension. My temper always did get the better of me."

"What really makes me frustrated, even now was the fact that I was told that I should or shouldn't wear this because I'm white or I should or shouldn't do this because I'm white. People put me in a box, told me how I should act or who I should be. It confused me but I stayed quiet, cause I don't have a right to call out on it. Because I look like the race of people that colonized those very countries. That almost killed off a race of people while enslaving another. Whatever we have to say is irrelevant, yet a part of me wants to speak out-like I have the right to, but I know I don't." I ground my teeth together, "it's like I understand but I don't-it's something I blocked, and-am I making any sense?"

Akram simply smiled, "yes."

I blinked, "really?"

"You are multi-cultural nation, you are bond to have clashes within yourself. Many nations are going through this in this day and age, even me. Granted, it's mostly about religion. You have to find a balance within yourself, find what is purely you and not the voices of your people or at least try to focus on the ones you value more. That's what your father did."

I remembered Grandpa's journal, "note to self, avoid the deep south."

"What?"

"Nothing. Trying to make myself laugh, but it's not working." I sighed and thought for moment, "But Akram, who am I? For the longest time I thought was just some white girl adopted by a multi-cultured family. Yes I was raised by them, but I had my place. I had people judge me, told me as a joke that I should act whiter and I'm-just-I don't know." I threw up my hands in frustration, "What is white? I don't know, should I just be obsessed with cheese? I mean I already love cheese but that's because my mom loves it and puts it on everything. Most Americans love cheese but...but what is American? The First Nation? White? Black? Hispanic? Muslim? Asian? It's all of them, everyone under the fucking rainbow, but am I white? Black? Hispanic? Asian? Muslim? It sounds right, it feels right but-aaaaaggghhhh!"

I yanked my hands through my hair, the stress finally hitting a breaking point, "just who am I?!"

"Amy, calm down-"

I ignored him and kept going, "I should have been raised as a nation. At least I would know how to deal with my identity. How to avoid being influenced by the wrong people. I would know how to present myself as a nation. How to talk with proper nation etiquette and probably remember that I need a godforsaken suit for the godforsaken world meeting!"

The tears flowed freely now, "Why am I here? I can't even remember to bring a suit to a meeting. How am I gonna handle everything else?" I dropped my head into my hands, "I'm so stupid."

Akram offers his handkerchief and I mumbled, "Thanks." I wiped my eyes and dabbed my nose, "it's really something huh? How one little cloth and one missing suit can lead to you having an identity crisis."

"But you're not alone," Akram stated, "we all have gone through this and for better or for worse, we get through it." He sighed and almost sadly added, "unfortunately, it doesn't get any easier. Most times it gets worse before it gets better."

"That's not what I want to hear."

"But its the truth."

He was silent for a moment, "You said that when you wore the saree it made you proud, why?"

"I don't know," I shrugged, "it just did."

"It's because your Indian American people were taking pride in their culture but still embracing their nation. That's why you wanted to join that step team because it's not what black people take part in, it's what American people take part in."

"Black American," I reminded.

"Still American."

"But-"

"What your people seem to forget is that yes, they came from different countries and cultures but they had created something else. In America, you all have different holidays that aren't celebrated back in their original countries. Holidays like Thanksgiving, Labor Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and the Fourth of July; do you see anyone, being white, black, Asian, Native, Indian, or Latin backing out of those holidays? Maybe they don't celebrate it at the same level as another but they'll take the days off, they'll spend time with their families and they'll go and watch the fireworks. Your people are diverse but they are still Americans. No matter what they are or where they're from, they're all a part of you and you are a part of them."

I snorted and looked away; he then lifted my head, gently forcing me to look at him, "do you hear voices?"

My eyes grew wide and I was about to lie till he said, "Amy, we all do. It's rather strange but we can hear our people, mostly during great crisis or change but it's normal for us. You may hear your people say awful things about their own neighbors, how they couldn't possibly be true Americans," he sighed through his nose and added, "or true Indians."

He gave me a knowing smile and continued, "But deep down you know that they're wrong that anyone that was born within your boarders or wished to be part of your nation is American." He held my hand, giving me a reassuring squeeze, "you say you should've been raised a nation but remarkably you learned a nation skill all on your own."

I cocked a brow, "And what is that?"

"Blocking out the voices; now all you need to do is focus on the ones you prefer."

"But what happens if I'm surrounded by a group of people I don't agree with, will their views affect me?"

"Yes," he admitted honestly, "but you just need to be stronger. It's not about who you are but what you wish to be."

I gave a slight nod and he smiled, "and if you ask me maybe this Sasha was jealous. You do look stunning in a saree."

I smiled even wider as he continued, "And if the nation of India is perfectly fine with you wearing one, then you should wear it." He clapped his hands together, "now let's see what I can do with that hair."

Akram worked quickly on my makeup and hair, going for a natural look as he braided from the sides of my head and pulled them together in the center. The rest of my hair was left loose, cascading down an inch past my shoulders. The braids were held in place with a butterfly designed clip as he tugged out a few strands to land gently against my face. That's when I noticed that my bangs were longer, the ends were now touching my cheek bones. Akram also created a subtle butterfly effect around my eyes, using beige and light tan-brown eye shadow. He finished by coaxing my lips with shimmer pink lip gloss.

"Wow, you're really good with makeup," I stated.

He thanked me and then realized, "Oh, one more thing." He sprinted out of the room and when he came back five minutes after, he was wearing a long bright blue tunic shirt with deep violet detailing around the collar and ends of the sleeves. He also wore a pair of white pants, simple ivory green shoes and a long radiant blue-green scarf draped over his shoulders. "I thought we could match," he grinned.

"You look amazing," I said.

"Also," he lifted up a pair of gorgeous blue slippers. They were flat, closed toed shoes, with exhaustive flowers and swirls embroidered in gold. He bent down in front of me and gestured for me to give him my foot.

"I can put on my own shoes," I blushed, embarrassed. He nodded, not fazed by my reaction and left the slippers beside my feet. They fit like a glove, "okay, you can do makeup, fix hair and have women's shoes in your closet. I'm starting to think that you actually do cross dress."

He laughed, "No, no, I keep a pair or two around whenever I have guests."

I cocked a brow, "are these guests usually women?" I teased.

His smile was confidant, "I do have some charm." He offered me his arm, "shall we?"

I beamed and hooked my arm around his as he escorted me to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the official home of the President of India.

Chapter Text

The Rashtrapati Bhavan was a massive brick building with round arch windows and passage ways. The building stretched in length and had two elevated sections on each side pulled out in front with thin pillars. A long dirt driveway was paved on one side of the building while a huge grand garden stood on the other. I couldn't see much from my point of view, but what I could see was that the Rashtrapati Bhavan sat on a large plot of land, filled with green lawns, elegant fountains and flowers ranging in various colors and styles.

"Does the president of India live here?" I asked.

"No, he lives on Race Course Road, and by the way, Narendra Mobi is my prime minister not a president." Akram answered.

I nodded, "noted."

The streets were once again filled with cars, vans, cabs, animals and people. Turns out that this was an everyday occurrence in India. Vehicles drove side by side in close quarters; barely missing each other by mere inches as they drove past one another. I almost had three freaking heart attacks when any of the drivers got too close. They didn't even use turn singles, they communicated through their car horns, beeping at each other as they turned and switched lanes.

Akram parked the car a block away from the building. We climbed out as I glanced to the intimating structure. I bit my lip nervously, "is it too late to go back and change?"

"Yes," Akram stood at my side, looking to the Bhavan with affection and pride. His brown eyes slid to me and he smiled. "Now chin up," he placed his fingers under my chin. "Back straight," he adjusted my shoulders and lower back, "and walk as if you are goddess."

I chuckled, "can I be a warrior goddess?"

"Even better," he smiled as I followed him inside.

The interior was magnificent; with stunning hallways, detailed paintings and high ceilings, it looked more like palace than an office building. Different names were given to separate halls; the Marble Hall was a room filled with massive oil portraits of what I guessed was royalty. Two statues stood at each side, one was a king the other was a queen, while the center of the room held a crown. The Ashoka Hall was again massive, with red floors, exquisite windows and crystal chandeliers. The Banquet Hall was pretty self-explanatory; filled with one large table and dozens of chairs but again quite luxurious. Half of the building was even a museum for tourists, seriously this place was enormous.

"This is insane," I muttered to myself.

As we grew closer to the Durbar Hall, familiar voices were beginning to bounce off the walls. I clutched my fists and began to chew on my bottom lip. Akram noticed my anxiety and whispered in my ear, "Remember, you are warrior goddess."

I couldn't help but grin, "And what are you?"

"Isn't it obvious? I'm your consort."

I laughed, "Okay, take it down a notch."

"But laughter is the best way to get rid of nerves."

I nodded, feeling relaxed till Arthur said, "What are you wearing?"

The tension in my shoulders returned but I hid this fact with a smile. "It's a sari," I gave a quick twirl and winked, "don't I look pretty?"

"Yes, you do," Francis proclaimed and narrowed his eyes at the Englishman, "what happen to being a gentleman Britain?"

Arthur spared Francis a glare before explaining, "She looks lovely. I am only stating that she should wear clothing suitable for a meeting."

"I think she looks nice," Matthew added, "besides a lot of women back at my place wear saris for business meetings."

"But this is India not Canada, she should wear suits like the rest of us."

"I'm right here folks," I waved my hands in the air, "right here."

"What are you wearing?!"

I sighed and turned to face Ludwig and Gilbert, "It is clothing, Mr. Germany."

"Don't be coy," Ludwig hissed, "why aren't you wearing your suit?"

"I lost it," I said innocently.

"What? When?"

"Around the time of my little detour from the G9 meeting."

Ludwig inhaled and exhaled through his nose, forming a rumbling sound in the back of his throat that he didn't even realize he was making. He rubbed the bridge of his nose for a moment and looked at me with a piercing glare. "The moment we get back to Berlin, we are heading straight to the Mauer Park."

I saluted him, "yes sir, we'll go shopping, sir," I remarked sarcastically.

The vein in his forehead throbbed but he decided to leave me be and walked into the Durbar Hall.

Francis said, "He is the only man I know that can make shopping sound threatening."


 

Toris Laurinaitis loosen his tie to shake out his collar, trying to cool himself off. The humidity was uncomfortably high that day, causing the heat to increase and the air to thicken. Being inside only made these problems worse, especially when the air conditioner was broken.

"Ugh, why does this like, have to happen today?" Feliks Łukasiewicz complained, leaning back on his chair. "God, why does India have to be so hot?" He fanned himself with his folder, "I mean, like seriously, why can't we have our meeting at the hotel? It's only ten minutes away and the A/C works."

Toris pulls out a hair tie from his pocket, "It's not that hot Poland."

"Says the guy that's putting his hair up in a ponytail," the blond mumbled.

He ignored his friend, arranging and rearranging his papers.

Feliks pouted and then smirked, "well look who just walked in."

He raised an eyebrow curiously and turned around to find a group of nations entering, which wasn't surprising or interesting, but the center of that group was an entirely different topic. Amy Hawkfeather, the successor to the United States of America. Once again, this young girl reminded Toris of how remarkably similar she was to the late America. Not just in her looks but in her character; being surrounded by the nations as she was now, laughing and poking fun at each of them. Her smile continuing to dazzle them and attract more to her light.

He smiled fondly, just like Alfred.

"What's this?" Feliks wiggled his brows, "are you checking her out?"

"What! No," he snapped.

"Uh-huh, sure," the blond smirked, "You'll looking at her like you used to look at Belarus. Oh god, please tell me you are finally over her, cause with America you," he took a moment to think. "May, somewhat have a chance."

Toris blushed in embarrassment, "It's not like that! She reminds me of Alfred, that's all. And what do you mean by 'somewhat'?"

"Have you seen the competition?" Feliks gestured the brunet to look back at the group. It had grown larger, adding the nations of Hungary, Austria, Spain and Italy. "You got Romano," the elder of the Italian brothers was making his way towards Amy, greeting her with a hug and a kiss on both cheeks. "Then we have Turkey, practically undressing her with his eyes," Feliks guides Toris to the masked nation.

"How can you tell? He's wearing a mask."

"I just can," the Polish man exclaimed and continued. "Then we got Denmark, being the huge flirt that he is. Norway will try and get in the way, just to one up him. Even some of the girls want a chance with her," he pointed to Brazil.

Toris looked to each one of these nations; all were creative and intriguing in their own ways. They were exciting and adventurous while he was shy and nervous. His stomach twisted into a knot as he held himself by the sides. "I get it Poland, I'm not like them and that's fine. I only wish to watch out for Ms. America. Look after her like Alfred did for me."

"And denial isn't just a river in Egypt."

Before Toris could counter back with his own snarky comment, Feliks exclaimed, "She's coming this way!" Toris tried to turn around but Feliks stopped him. "Don't look. Don't look. Be cool, be cool."

"Calm down Poland, this is not a big deal-"

"Of course it is," Feliks hissed, "I mean, hello, she's not here to see me, but you."

Amy sprinted through the aisle of desks to wrap her arms around Raivis who was sitting in the desk in front of them.

"Or I could be wrong."

Toris sighed and hid his face in his hand. No matter how many years pass, he will never understand what goes through the Polish man's head.

"So what's the main topic of the day?" Amy asked Raivis as she sat beside him.

The boy shrugged, "mostly small economy issues in East Europe. Everything else is more like a checkup."

"That sounds exciting," her voice was filled with sarcastic venom.

Feliks cleared his throat loudly, making sure both nations would hear. Toris looked away, feeling once again embarrassed by his friend's actions. "Are you like, not even going to bother saying hello to us?"

"I don't know, why don't you just whack me with a stick? That's usually how you get your way," Amy grinned and Toris couldn't help but smile.

Feliks leaned against Toris and asked in Polish, "What do you see in her?"

"Clearly the question I need to ask myself is, what do I see in you?" he snapped back in his native tongue.

"Are these two always like this?" Amy looked to Raivis as he said, "yeah, pretty much."

"I guess I'm the only gentleman here. Hello Ms. America," Estonia stood from his chair beside Raivis and offered her his hand.

"Hey," she dragged out the word as she smiled nervously. Toris could see the wheels in her head turning, searching for a name. "Edward."

Feliks giggled and Estonia corrected her, "My name's Eduard."

"Well at least I was close," she smiled awkwardly.

"That was actually his nickname for five years," Raivis added.

Eduard groaned, "Do not bring that up. We are over twilight."

"Speak for yourself!" Feliks hissed, "I mean the way it ended was too rushed and then that kid?! Like what the fuck. That kid was just thrown in, like, oh, look kids see what happens when you have sex for the first time, you become pregnant and die. Like that coach said from Mean Girls."

Toris stood and whispered to Amy, "whatever you do, don't bring up Harry Potter."

She nodded, "done."

As Eduard comforted Feliks over the twilight series and movie industry. Raivis changed the subject and asked Amy, "So, do you have your report?"

"Huh?"

"Everyone has to give a report, you know like current events."

Amy's eyes widened and hissed, "fuck."

"And isn't like, America one of the first to go," Feliks added, completely discarding twilight.

She pulled out her smart phone from her small clutch purse. "Phone, don't fail me now!" She pressed the on button and her smile fell, "No signal?! How the fuck could there be no signal?!"

"Everyone, please take your seats, the world meeting will begin shortly," Germany announced.

"I'm so dead. . . Raivis hold me," she leaned against the brunette.

He patted her on the back, "you're gonna be okay."

"That's what you think. You don't have to go home with him."

Feliks glanced back to Toris, "they sure are friendly, huh."

Toris rolled his eyes; Feliks was being incredibly persistent on the subject and it was beginning to annoy the Lithuanian. But still, he couldn't deny that these two did seem to be at ease with one another. Amy was confiding to Raivis, treating him like he had known him for years, when in truth it was only a couple of weeks. Toris had heard from Eduard that the Latvian had spent some time with the American. First joining her on her training sessions with Germany and later, taking a trip to Rome.

In this short period of time Raivis seemed to be a completely different person. Usually the boy would get flushed around members of the opposite sex. He would fumble with his words and stare at the floor. Belarus was one of the worse for he was terrified of the nation. He wouldn't be able to say a single word while desperately looking for an escape route. That was not the Raivis Toris was seeing now. He wasn't stuttering or trembling with nerves. This Raivis was relaxed and confident in what he said. He stood tall, made full eye contact and even cracked a few of his own jokes towards Amy.

Toris smiled; Raivis was no longer that shy little boy he knew. He was maturing, becoming a strong, respectful nation.

Gosh, I sound like a mother. He rubbed the back of his neck, hoping to ease the blush that was forming.


 

I sat there, literally freaking out. What was I going to do? Oh god, why did no one tell me about this. . . . Then I remembered what Ludwig had said to me weeks ago.

"Make sure to have a report ready. It doesn't have to be big, something small like economy updates or changes to politics would be fine."

"Uh-huh, yeah," I mumbled as I texted Michel.

Oh fuck.

I leaned forward to press my head to the desk, mentally chanting, stupid . . . stupid . . . stupid.

After twenty minutes of panicking, hiding my phone under the desk, and frantically waving it around for signal. I decided it was time to take my chances outside of this dome shaped room. I had plenty of exits, they were all around me but I couldn't just run out. Each nation had around eight to ten minutes for their speeches. If they had bigger issues and questions were tossed around, they would talk longer. Luckily the nation of Korea didn't have much to say except for the new video game program that would be taking virtual-reality to a whole another level.

In the next five years we might be able to have home game stations like from the animes of .hack and Sword Art Online. I nodded, liking the idea, but then I remembered how the plots went. Especially the part where when you die in the game, you die in real life. No thanks.

I raised my hand, "Um, Mr. Germany, can I go to the restroom?"

"No. Who's next?" he brushed me aside and looked to the room, searching for another volunteer. If no one volunteered, he would pick someone; this reminded me too much like high school.

"Seriously? Ludwig, come on."

"No." he said sternly, "You are not running off again."

"Running off to where? We're in Delhi, I have no idea where anything is."

"That's what we thought about Berlin," Gilbert proclaimed.

I gave him a look, "I had friends in Berlin. I don't know anyone here." I turned back to his brother, "Germany, please I need to go."

"Fine," Ludwig sighed, "but you will have an escort."

"An escort? To the restroom? Really?"

"It's either that or you stay."

I groaned, "Fine."

"Hey Potato Bastard," Lovino rose from his seat, "I'll go."

"We want America to come back, right," Gilbert smirked, his eyes shining with a mischievous glint.

His suggestive tone made me blush; I knew what he was hinting at. My ears burned as several nations chuckled and grinned at my embarrassment. "Wouldn't it make more sense for my escort to be a girl," I stated calmly.

Raquel raised her hand, "I'll take her." She turned to me and winked.

"Anyone but her."

Ludwig groaned and pointed to Feliks, "Poland, take her."

The blond cocked a brow, "why me? I'm not a girl."

"You act like one," said Gilbert.

"Well, at least I'm not an asshole."

"Enough," Ludwig exclaimed, "just make sure she doesn't run off."

I whined, "I won't," as Feliks flicked a hand to Toris, "you take her."

"What? No I-"

"Screw it," I jumped to my feet and walked out through an exit on my left. After a minute of hesitation, Toris fell into step beside me. "This is so stupid. I don't need a babysitter to go to the restroom. I mean seriously, I'm not going anywhere."

Toris gave an apologetic smile, "they're just worried."

"Controlling is more like it," I muttered.

"They don't want anything to happen to you," he persisted. "You were off the grid for nearly two days, they were afraid something had happen."

Oh, they had no idea.

The restroom wasn't far, I mean it was just around the corner. I leaned against the wall and began to search for signal. Toris didn't ask any questions, he figured that my excuse was a ruse. I scrolled through the search engines, looking for articles or facts that would save my ass. After passing through the photo-shoot of Kim Kardashian and her now seven year old daughter North, Jennifer Lawrence's latest movie trailer, and a release date for the Chain of Thorns movie. I was able to find Isabella Garcia's address to Congress about the pharmacy companies and their unlawful loopholes that were undermining the health care act and charging people with unusual shipping taxes.

I continued scrolling, not finding much else. Then an email alert from Michel took my attention. The subject of the email was written in capital letters: YOU NEED TO SEE THIS. I opened it up to find an article about Alabama and how they had elected their first gay man governor.

I blinked, "Holy shit."

"What is it?" Toris asked.

"Alabama elected a gay man as their governor."

"Isn't that a good thing?"

"Yeah, but its Alabama. Have you ever been to that state?"

"No," he said, "but I do know the history. Did you know Alfred marched with Martin Luther King in 1965?"

"He did?" but it didn't make any sense, Grandpa wrote that Alfred left for Vietnam after his wedding day, which was in 1964. He didn't come back till 1968. "Wasn't that also around the time of the Vietnam war?"

"After a year on the field he came back to speak with his president. I remember him telling me how irritated he was of the fact that he had to leave his men behind and all for a meeting he had no interest in. Then when he returned to his capital he saw the television broadcast of Bloody Sunday."

"Did he know about Civil Rights Movement?"

"Yes, and he was a big part of it, he also protested in Birmingham in 1963."

"Wasn't that the children's march?"

"He had a young face, it was easy for him to play the role of a seventeen year old. But his involvement was one of the reasons his Congress sent him away. He was all over the newspapers and television broadcasts, he was becoming too well known."

"But if people had known that he was America, it would have brought them together."

Toris sighed sadly, "Unfortunately the people in his Congress saw the activists as a disturbance of the peace."

"Bullshit."

"That's what Alfred said, and some were worried that they were losing their control over him. He was siding with King, so they decided to send him away, let him focus on the war instead."

"Did it work?" I asked.

"Yes, you see Amy when . . . we enter into a war and take part in that war, we lose sight on what is happening at home. We enter this . . . battle mode, you could say. We forget those things so we could protect our men that are fighting beside us. It's not like Alfred didn't care, it's that he had to take care of his men. Being white or black, he wished for all to go back home to their families."

"Why did they bring him back after a year?"

"A report, but that was all a ruse. They just wanted to prove that Alfred was back on their side."

I smiled knowingly, "But it didn't work. He ran straight to Selma after he saw the broadcast."

He nodded, "he joined King and the activists in March but he was followed. Members of his Congress sent agents to bring him back to Washington, they even tried to charge him of desertion if he didn't return. But Alfred was a rebel at heart and didn't back down. His Congress tried to play at his heart, proclaiming that he was letting his men down." He gave a half smile, "And he told them that he didn't have the right to fight for democracy in another country when members of his own people were treated like second class citizens."

"But still he was sent back to Vietnam for another three years."

"A punishment for making some of his members of Congress look like fools."

We were silent for a moment, till I asked, "Why was Raivis sent to Vietnam?"

Toris, didn't ask how I knew. He simply inhaled a calming breath, "He foolishly assumed that Russia would allow us to have friends and then asked if he could be friends with Alfred. I'm sure you could imagine how angry Russia was."

"What happened to him?" This question was meant for the large country, but I didn't have to explain. It was like Toris could read my mind, for he spoke of Ivan not Raivis.

"He had difficult leaders and the revolution didn't help." He closed his eyes, "I stopped trying to understand him a long time ago."

When he said this, I couldn't help but think about Alfred. How he seemed to split within himself and become a different person. No matter how many enemies he had to face, he had to fight against himself most of all. Overcoming the racism of the Klan and the prejudices of certain members of Congress. Alfred fought against all that and sometimes he was on his own but most times he had someone to bear his problems to, being Grandpa or great uncle John or . . . "Did Martin Luther King know about Alfred?"

"Yes, and he was a dear friend to him," he said.

Friend.

That was powerful word and from the pages of Grandpa's journal I had realized that people could only do so much on their own. Sometimes, another person was needed in order to save someone from their own despair.

My phone vibrated, shaking me out of my thoughts. It was a text from Michel, "A GAY governor?! Damn Alabama, who knew you could be so progressive! To honor you, I shall marry in your state and you'll be my best man. No backing out! It is my day of course. :P"

I grinned at the screen and Toris asked, "What's so funny?"

"Michel just invited me to his future wedding in Alabama. Do you want to be my date?" I asked playfully. "I cannot show up to a gay wedding by myself, none of the guys will pay for my drinks."

He laughed, "Is that all?"

"Well, can you dance?"

He clutched his hands into fists and started to spin them around each other in front of his mid-section. It was a move that I've usually saw in disco. I laughed harder, "oh god, never mind. I'm taking Antonio."

"Well it is a gay wedding, you would have a hard time keeping him to yourself."

I snorted as Lovino popped in from around the corner, "Hey, what's taking you so long?" He took a moment to glare at Toris before turning back to me with a smile. "We've been waiting."

"Right, right, I'm done." I looked to Toris, "We were just working on our dance moves." I spun my fists just as he had done and began to hum the song 'Shake It Off'.

Toris covered his mouth to hide his smile as I continued to sing in a high pitch tone, "Shake it off, I shake it off. Whoa-ho, whooo."

Toris and I laughed as Lovino frowned, "come on, everyone's waiting." He turned and began to walk back into the meeting room.

"What crawled up his butt," I mumbled.

Toris shrugged as we followed behind him. Nothing changed at the meeting, I and several other nations said their piece. I ended mine with the statement: "Alabama has elected a gay man as governor! Yay!" I borrowed a small rainbow flag from Matthew and waved it in the air. Some nations, I won't name names, glared at me. The number of countries that had outlawed homosexuality had gone through some major changes over recent years; India and Egypt being a few. Twenty-fourteen was a huge year for protests, fighting against the oppressive laws and governments; it was an emotional time for everyone around the world. Slowly but surely things got better, justice was served, apologies were made and memorials were built. There's more work to be done, as Michel always stated after a win for the LGBTQA but we're making steps in the right direction and that's what counts.

The day ended with Akram announcing that there would be a dinner for us the day after tomorrow. It will be held here, for this place was massive enough for everyone to eat and dance.

"Great, another ball," I mumbled as I stared out the car window. It was raining, again. The droplets came down at average speed, tapping at our windows softly.

"You do not like balls?" Akram asked with a smile.

"I'm more causal. Give me a baroque with a radio on the beach any day."


 

It was pouring the moment we arrived at the cottage. I sprinted to the door, waiting for Akram to open it. Instead he stood out there with his palms out, allowing the water to splash against his skin.

"Seriously?! Come on, open the door." I screeched.

"It's just a little water," he grinned, "it won't bite."

Music began to play next door; the sound of drums and bells started the beat as small string instruments and exotic flutes brought out the melody. Someone, a man, began to sing and Akram grinned and moved his feet to the beat.

I looked out to the street, finding a group of women and small children dancing together. They waved their arms in the air as their feet splashed water. For a moment, I forgot about the rain and tapped my foot to the rhythm. One dancer, around my age made eye contact with me and gestured for me to join her. I shook my head but Akram grabbed me by the hand and pulled me towards the girl. I squealed when the rain touched my skin but I ignored the urge to yank my hand away.

The girl lifted up her skirt, showing me her feet as they shuffled to the beat. She stopped and looked at me, waiting. Realizing that she wanted me to mimic her, I retraced her steps in my head and moved my feet to the song in perfect sync.

She beamed and swayed her body to the beat, shaking her hips and twirling a long scarf around her. I mimicked her moves to the dot; shuffling my feet as I swayed my arms and torso to the rhythm. I lost myself in the music and dancers. All of my nerves and anxiety from today were completely washed away. My mind went blank, falling under the song's enchantment. That's what I loved about music and dance. They silenced everything, blocking out the problems of the past and worries of the future. Allowing a person to only focus on the present and to enjoy it.

When the rain stopped, the dancers and musicians packed up their things and scattered to their homes.

I raised a brow, "okay when it rains they dance, but when it doesn't they stay home?"

"It's because of the mosquitoes," Akram proclaimed as he swatted the bugs away.

Now that he had mentioned them, I began to notice black, buzzing dots flying around. We ran back into the house, both of us soaked to the bone. Hani greeted Akram by jumping on him and licking his face. He grinned and scratched the mix behind his ears. The scene reminded me of Lady and my heart squeezed at the thought.

Akram pulled out some towels from a drawer and draped one over my head. "I'll run a bath, give me a few minutes."

He turned the corner and I glanced to Hani, "he's a nice guy, you're a lucky dog."

Hani panted through his mouth, with his tongue out. He almost looked like he was smiling.

"The bath's ready," Akram called and I followed his voice to the bathroom. The scent of jasmine hit me like truck, overwhelming my senses. He watched me as I blinked my eyes and rubbed my nose, "Too much jasmine, let me add some vanilla. It will calm the scent."

He added three drops and instantly the aroma settled. He stood, pointed to the silk robe and an empty hamper beside me and walked out the door. I unwrapped the sari, unfolding the tucks and nicks that Akram had made. The cloth was wet, cold and beginning to smell. I placed it carefully inside the hamper, along with the top and skirt and practically dove for the tub.

When I got out twenty minutes later, I found Akram in the living room, sitting on the floor and burning incenses. He sat cross legged, with his back straight and eyes closed. He was breathing calmly through his nose and Hani was lying beside him.

"I'm done," I said softly.

He looked up and nodded, "good, I left some clothes for you in your room. And before you ask, no I didn't have them already in my closet. I borrowed them from my neighbor."

I cracked a smile, "it's okay if you're a cross dresser, I won't judge."

"I may believe that all life is sacred but if you call me a cross dresser one more time, I will smack you," he said this with a smile, so it was hard to tell if he was joking or being serious. I decided it was half and half.

"Okay, okay, no need to be violent." I joked as I entered my room.

I changed into a bright teal tunic with a V-neckline that was festooned with white lace around the collar. It came to my mid-thigh and the sleeves were loose around my wrists. The matching pants were too short, leaving my calves exposed but I didn't really care. It was too humid to be fully clothed and it was nice to have my legs breathe after wearing a skirt all day.

Once I jumped into bed my phone ringed, it was a video call from Michel. I answered with a huge grin, "you saved my ass this morning!"

"Tell me something I don't know," he smiled.

"What did you do to your hair?" His head was shaved at the sides, leaving the remaining curls flow freely at the top.

"You like?" he brushed a hand through his hair, "my roommate Aiden talked me into it, nice right?"

I nodded, "you look fierce," I snapped my fingers.

"Don't do that. How you've been? How was Rome? Come on don't be holding out on me!"

"What time is it over there? Don't you have class?" I asked.

"Nah, got all of my classes scheduled for the afternoon. God, I love college." Then he redirected the subject back to me, "now tell me what's been going on?"

"Running laps, eating sausage, learning how to kill a man in a hundred different ways." I shrugged my shoulders, "the usual."

He narrowed his eyes, "now you know that is not what I am asking. How did the trip go? What did you see? What did you do . . . or who did you do?"

I rolled my eyes, "no one. I'm not you."

"You know you want to be," he winked. "But I'm serious, you told me about Berlin and your little detour with your friends." He said this word with a cocked brow, making a look that said: I know you're hiding something. "I just want to know what went down in Rome."

"I stayed at Feliciano and Lovino's villa, swam in their pool, ate their food and went to nearly every museum that Rome had to offer."

"Yawn," he placed his palm over his mouth.

I sighed and summed up the whole story about hanging out with Raivis and Peter, venturing through the city and dancing at bars with Antonio. Then I told Michel of Karen, the America before Alfred. I also added that when Arthur was drunk he told me of his sins towards Karen and her people.

"Holy shit," Michel whispered. "Well I don't want to rub salt into the wound but the English did more than that."

"I know Michel," I hissed, "But one demon at a time okay. Arthur isn't really the sharing type."

"Yeah but I'm taking a world history class and oh my god, there is a ton of shit nobody teaches you in public school."

"History? Aren't you in an art school?"

"Yeah, but the government has required us to have at least two semesters of the cores. So I'm getting it all done in my freshmen year, all that math, science, and English junk but history has been interesting. I mean, I just keep picturing the nations being part of that history and its just mind blowing, you know. It's even inspired some of my art, check it out."

I checked my email to find three sketches; one was of Francis with shorter hair and dressed in armor with a long red cape. His hand was over a young girl's face; this girl was also wearing armor and wielding a sword in front of her chest. This girl was Joan of Arc. The background was colored blue and white with red splattered over it.

The other two were drawings of Toris; his hair was tied back in both sketches but he wielded different weapons. One sketch had no background, showing Toris at his front, kneeling on the ground and holding himself up by a staff. He wore a chest plate with a yellow tunic underneath and a green cape draped over his shoulders. He was covered in splattered blood and his blue-green eyes were in a fierce warrior trance.

The second picture had a black background with tiny red embers sparking at the corner. There was no fire in the drawing but Michel had brought the shadows alive by shading the light against Toris. The nation was drawn by the side with three wolves next to him. He was wearing full body armor with gray gloves and a matching cape. The wolves were black with sharp white teeth and bright gold eyes. They were all snarling, bearing their fangs as Toris stringed an arrow through a bow and gave a smile that sent cold shivers down my spine.

I slid back to Michel, "I see you had Toris on your mind. Seriously man if you have a crush on him, just tell me."

"That ain't it, we just finished learning about the medieval era. You know with knights and princesses and stuff; did you know that Lithuania and Poland were once part of a commonwealth and had defeated the Teutonic Knights."

"Dude, I live with the former Teutonic Knights, so yeah I know."

"Well sorry, Miss Know It All. Anyway I saw your reaction to the second picture of Toris, you had that face that said: Oh Toris, take me now!"

I laughed, "You're delusional. I was just surprised by his smile, it just didn't look like him."

"Oh," he wiggled his eyebrows, "so you two are close?"

I sighed in annoyance, "No Michel."

He groaned, "Come on, there had to be some flirting."

"The only flirting that really went on was Lovino and I didn't even notice till Peter pointed it out."

"Wait," his eyes widened, "Lovino? When? Where? Tell me now!"

I continued the story of my vacation in Rome but added the parts with Lovi. My mistake on pulling his curl, our little inside jokes during the tours of the city and the night we drove Arthur home and he kissed Francis.

"Wait, Arthur kissed Francis?! You know I'm not that surprised, those two, they have something," Michel proclaimed.

"I'm not gonna try and understand that, there are things people should leave alone." I recalled the morning Lovino found me dancing in the yard and then both of dancing at the Spanish Steps while Feliciano singed.

He chuckled, "seriously, that sounded like a movie scene."

"Well it happened and later on when Peter told me he was flirting with me-"

"Girl, it took you that long?" He moaned, "you poor thing, I didn't realize how much you needed me!"

I rolled my eyes again and finished the story, "Anyway, I got nervous cause I'm not ready for a relationship and there's a bet going on-"

"He's doing it for the bet!" Michel exclaimed, "Oh hell no, where's this bastard? I'm gonna punch him in the face."

"Dude chill, he's not, but I thought he was. So when he tried to make a move, I pushed him into a fountain."

"Yes! Team Toris for life!"

"That's not the end," I stated, "the end is with me and Lovino making up and then . . ."

"And then, what?"

"He asked me to kiss him, so I did-"

"No way?!"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Things got emotional, and Lovi is a sweet guy and he's just lonely-"

"Then tell him to go on a dating site, like normal people."

I gave him a look, "you do realize he's a nation and over two thousand years old right?"

"Okay, okay, I see your point but Amy do you even like him?"

"I don't know. I told him we should start out as friends and see where it leads."

"In other words 'no'."

"It's not. He's been with other nations and they don't stick around for long. He needs a friend not a girlfriend."

"How do you know what he needs?"

"Elizabeta thinks I know what he needs," I sighed, "Michel, it's all very confusing and I can't get involved with that kind of drama. Besides I'm perfectly fine with being single."

"You've been single you're entirely life. Come on be free. As James would say, 'let your freak fab fly'."

I shook my head, "no."

"Well, whoever you end up with, I just want this guy to be good to you. And if its girl," he wiggled his brows once again, "you know this is around the time girls experiment with their sexuality, maybe you should take Brazil on her offer. You know, now that I think about it, you two would make a cute couple."

"How about you go fuck yourself," I snarled.

He held up a dildo and winked, "I already got that covered."

I covered my eyes, "I did not need to see that."

"Hey Michel you home?"

"Who's that?" I asked.

Michel grinned, "That's Ethan we're kinda, seeing each other. Do you want to meet him?"

"Sure," I smiled.

Michel jumped to his door and opened to reveal a very handsome young man. This guy had short auburn hair, dark eyes and had the physic of a swimmer. Michel jerked him over to the computer and proclaimed proudly, "Ethan meet Amy, my best friend; Amy meet Ethan, my soon to be boyfriend."

Ethan flushed but smiled, "it's nice to finally meet you. Michel talks about you non-stop, if you were a guy I would be kinda jealous."

"Well no need to worry, I got a vagina," I gave a thumbs-up, "you're okay."

Ethan laughed and asked awkwardly, "Where are you going to school?"

"I'm traveling, school can wait you know."

"Really? Where are you now?"

"Delhi, India," I answered.

"Oh wow that's so cool, what's it like?"

"Humid, crowded and traffic is insane but the people are nice."

"Have you tried some of the food?" he asked, "You gotta have some Kati rolls and momos; they're amazing."

"I'll make sure to ask Akram where we can get some."

Michel jumped in, "who's Akram?"

"You don't remember? He came with Arthur to my house," when he continued to give the same puzzled expression I said, "the Indian guy."

"Oh, right," he winked. "You see Ethan Amy's a little vixen, gathering the hearts of men and putting them in her little jar."

"Michel!"

"I have a feeling you're talking about yourself more than her," Ethan smirked.

"Do you wish to find out?" he smiled playfully.

"Okay," I dragged out the word, "I'm just gonna leave you two alone."

"Wait Amy," Michel waved out his hand for me to stop and then blew me a kiss. "I miss you."

I smiled, "I miss you too."

"Make sure to call Jamie, she'll get off from her classes at three and if I do the math correctly it will be eleven for you."

"Try twelve-thirty."

"Don't be smart!" he grinned, "love you."

"Love you too."

With those final words we ended the call.


 

I killed time by spending it with Akram, playing with Hani, watching TV and learning how to cook these Kati rolls and momos and I gotta say they were pretty amazing. I was starting to like this Ethan. Akram even got me to meditate with him, he said it would help relax me and improve my focus. The meditation was definitely relaxing but I couldn't help but think about Aang and Korra from the Avatar series. I had to keep stopping myself from putting my fists together.

When twelve-thirty came around, I made the call to Jamie. She answered on the first ring, "Amy!" she squealed happily and called out, "Ella! Dani! It's Amy!"

The girls came running and I gasped, "what the heck, is everyone getting makeovers?" Ella was no longer a honey-blond but a chestnut-brunette. Her hair was still curled to perfection and cascaded over shoulders like a princess. Daniela chopped off her long locks, now her hair fell around her jaw in a smart, elegant style.

"You are one to talk," Daniela remarked, "you're growing out your hair."

"If you ask me-"

Daniela rolled her eyes at Ella, "no one did."

She ignored her, "I think the pixie hair style fits her, not," she gestured to my head, "this."

"I think she looks cute," Jamie stated.

"Thank you," I proclaimed.

"I am only saying," said Ella.

Daniela changed the subject, "how are you? Last time we heard you were in Rome."

"I was, now I'm in Delhi."

"What's it like?"

"Crowded but friendly," I smiled, "the food's good, there are a lot of animals and people don't seem to care that I wear a sari.

"You wore your sari!" Jamie exclaimed, "Send me a picture."

I was prepared for this and had taken a few pictures before I had left for the meeting. Jamie opened my text and showed them to the others.

"You look so pretty," Daniela smiled.

"Let me see that," Ella yanked Jamie's phone away from her and analyzed the photos, the wheels in her head turning. "The colors. The patterns. The style . . . Yes, yes, yes, yes! I need my sketch pad," she jumped from her chair and ran out of the room.

"There she goes," Daniela sighed.

"I guess it will be awhile before I get my phone back," Jamie muttered.

"How's school?" I asked.

Jamie grinned, "It's amazing! Julliard is just awesome and oh my god Amy you would love my US history professor! I mean, it sucks that I have to take these classes, but he really knows his stuff and he's so interesting you know. Makes history come alive with stories and fun facts."

I nodded, "that's cool."

"Tell her about the dance program," said Daniela.

"Oh yeah, Amy, the dancers are epic. The dance department practice every form of dance and they hold a performance every semester for the students and I've been seeing some of their routines and it's just wow."

"Oh well let me show you guys what I just learn," I placed my phone on the night stand, stepped back and began to tap my feet and move my arms like the street dancers.

Jamie played a song from her computer, giving me a beat to follow as her and Daniela clapped along. A knock from the door jolted me from my dancing and I turned to find Akram poking his head in.

"Ms. America, what are you doing? It's nearly one in the morning."

"Sorry Akram," I whispered.

"Why did he call you Ms. America?" Daniela questioned.

Akram froze as Jamie's eyes widened and I exclaimed, "it's my nickname, because you know, I'm white, blond, blue eyed: practically what everyone around the world believes we Americans look like. It's a joke."

"Right, a joke," Akram smiled.

She raised a brow in suspicion, "okay."

"Are these your friends," Akram asked, hoping to change the subject.

"Yeah, Akram you met Jamie before and the girl beside her is Daniela," I proclaimed.

The girls said their 'hellos' as Akram bowed to them, "good evening ladies." Then he looked up to me and with a single gaze, he sends a silent message to end this quickly. "Well, I'm sorry I had interrupted you," he said to my friends. "Good night."

Once he was out of the room Daniela asked, "Who is that man? Is he friend of Sanjay's?"

"No, he's a friend of Arthur's and we're staying with him while we're visiting Delhi."

Daniela nodded, "I see . . . he's kinda cute."

"That's kinda random," said Jamie.

She shrugged, "I call it as I see it."

"Oh that reminds me," Jamie glared at me, "what the heck is going on with you and Lovino?"

"Oh god," I groaned. "Michel told you?"

"Yes he did, now talk. What's your deal with him?"

"It's complicated," I decided to use the very common phrase among the nations.

"This is not facebook. It's bullshit and you know it," Daniela proclaimed.

I sighed, "I'm taking it slow, trying to be friends with him-"

"He doesn't want to be your friend he wants to fuck you," Ella remarked as she struts back to the computer to reveal her new drawings.

"Great, you told her too," I mumbled.

Jamie shrugged, "hey they were curious."

"Amy, don't beat around the bush, if you don't like him like that, then don't string him along," Daniela said.

"I'm not stringing him along. I told him about how I felt and he's the one not giving up."

"Then just have sex with him, he'll lose interest," Ella proclaimed calmly. "All men care for is the hunt."

"I'm not sleeping with him," I said sternly.

"Well then, get used to him cause he sounds like the kind of man that won't give up."

I rubbed my face and yawned.

Jamie gave me a worried expression, "Are you tired? We can get off-"

"Nah, nah, did you hear that Michel is seeing this guy Ethan?"

Daniela smirked, "you're late to the party."

"We met him," Ella confirmed, "not very exciting for my taste but cute for Michel."

"Guys," Jamie hissed and turned back to me. "Ethan is funny and very sweet, he and Michel are so precious together."

I smirked, "I see why Michel wants to get married."

The girls' jaws dropped.

"He was joking of course," I added quickly.

"Mon Dieu," Ella shook her head as Daniela sighed.

"Did he happen to mention where," Jamie asked, but by her tone she knew the answer.

"Alabama..."

Ella and Daniela gave a small groan as Jamie proclaimed, "Ethan is from Alabama."

"Oh god, how long has he known the guy?" I asked.

"Two-three months."

"Damn, oh boy has it bad."

"He's always been like this Amy, you know that. He doesn't test the waters, he drives right in."

"Like a fool," Ella stated.

"I can't believe you are French," Daniela mumbled. "Aren't you all supposed to be romantic?"

"That doesn't mean anything. Besides I don't want that boy to hurt him, that's all," she grumbled, hiding her face in her sketch pad.

I beamed, Ella may play cold and detached but deep down she cares. "Keep an eye on him you guys, make sure he doesn't go into the creeper stage."

"Will do," Jamie saluted.

We said our 'goodbyes', promising that we would talk again soon. The girls started making plans for the evening, hitting the town once again. Laughing and cracking their inside jokes with one another. Jamie giggled and glanced back to me, "You know this would be more fun with you here."

I gave a tiny smile, "thanks."

"Love you."

"Love you too," I waved as she signed off.


The next day Akram borrowed more clothes from his neighbor for the sari was still drying. The outfit was a beautiful shade of green. The blouse was short sleeve but it was covered in a light sheer, making the green shine against the light. The sleeves of that sheer stopped at my wrists and had gold thread sewed around the cuffs and collar of the blouse. The pants were loose but long, the bottom swept against my heels and swayed as if I was wearing a skirt.

Akram and I were a matching set; he wore a long dark green tunic with loose black pants. We sat together during the meeting and nothing new was discussed. It was filled with causal reports, economy updates and environmental changes. In other words, I was bored out of my mind.

"Is it over yet?" I mumbled.

Akram sighed, "Maybe if you had gone to bed earlier, you wouldn't be so tired."

"I'm not tired," I yawned despite myself.

He raised a brow and I whispered, "Okay, maybe a little."

"If no one has nothing else to add," Ludwig paused for a moment, "then the meeting is over."

The nations rose from their seats and began to socialize with one another. An Indian man in a suit walked into the room and came straight for Akram. He said something in his native tongue and Akram nodded. The man walked back into the hall as Akram glanced to me, "My prime minster wishes to speak with me. It will only be a moment."

"Yeah, no problem," I said as he followed the man.

I leaned against my chair and stretched. I had planned to wait for him but the soft echo of music pulled me away from Durbar Hall. I wondered the halls, following the beat of steady drums and the shake of bells. Before long a man started to sing and I stopped, I recognized the voice. I sprinted to the next corner into Ashoka Hall, well in all honestly it looked more like a ballroom than a hall.

Women in bright, colorful dresses were twirling and swaying their bodies to the melody of the band. The dancers swung long cloths around themselves, some even carried bells or small finger size cymbals that they choreographed with the music. The band was made up of men and boys, most were on drums, each varying in different shapes and sizes. Some had string instruments, some I knew like the violin and the erhu.

The erhu was like a mandolin but with a bigger bass. The other string instruments had names I couldn't place. Most had long necks and fat bellies, some were flat and laid on the floor and a few were played with a bow. The singer was middle aged and had a powerful voice. The women's ages ranged from their early teens to late forties but that didn't render their performance. All were in precise sequence, each shake, step and hand gesture moved together as one.

When the music came to its end, the dancers ceased as one struts to the front to encourage the others and adjust a few flaws. The head clapped her hands and the women and musicians break for a short rest. A girl, the one that I had met the day before spotted me and came running to me.

"It's you," she greeted me with a smile. "Are you here with your husband?"

I blinked in surprise, "Husband?! When did I get married? And to who?"

Her brows furrowed in confusion, "Mr. Verma, my neighbor."

"No, no, no, no, no. He's not my husband."

"Oh, so you are one of his lovers."

"Nooooooo. We're friends; just friends,"

"I'm sorry," she bowed her head.

"It's cool." I decided to move this conversation along, "I'm Amy," I shook her hand as she said, "I'm Esana."

"What brings you here Esana?"

"Mr. Verma has hired me and my family to perform for the party tomorrow."

I looked to the performers, "that's a big family. Do you all live next door?"

She giggled, "No, some of us live next door, and others live across the street."

"That's awesome, my family is kinda spread out there. I live in California, I got cousins in Texas and in Hawaii and my grandma has family in Oklahoma."

Her eyes widened, "that's a lot of distance."

"We still keep in touch. So are you and your family professional singers and dancers?"

"Yes, it is a long tradition among my family," she answered and then asked. "Do you come from the same background?"

"My grandparents were once dancers but now a days we do it for fun."

She narrowed her dark eyes, analyzing me. "That is what you say but the eyes say different. I saw how easy it was for you to follow me, you are dancer."

I blushed with pleasure, "thanks." I stuck my hands into my pockets, instantly I felt my iPod and wireless earbuds. "Hey, what kind of music do you like?"

"I don't think you would know any Indian singers but my favorite American singers are Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, oh and Nicki Minaj."

I nodded in acceptance, "I think I got something." I handed her an ear bud, scrolled through my playlist of songs and clicked onto, 'Bang Bang.'

The melody blasted out with the bass as Jessie J started the lyrics. Together, we found our tempo and began to shuffle our bodies to the rhythm. It wasn't meant to be perfect, it was goofy and most times we were just showing off our most ridiculous moves. Before long we were just jumping and twirling to the song in our heads. Then when it came to Nicki's part Esana sang along; she wasn't a bad rapper.

"It's me, Jessie, and Ari

"If they test me they sorry

"Ride us up like a Harley

"Then pull off in this Ferrari

"If he hanging we banging

"Phone ranging, he slanging

"It ain't karaoke night but get the mic 'cause I'm singing."

"Damn girl that was awesome," I grinned.

She flushed, "thank you."

"Amy," Toris called from across the ballroom, "Mr. Verma is waiting for you."

"Yeah okay," I nodded.

"Esana!" An older woman exclaimed and gestured for her to gather with the dancers.

"I have to go," she handed me back the earbud.

"See you at the party," I grinned.

She nodded and walked back to the group as Toris came to stand by my side. "You make friends easily."

"Like Alfred?" I asked.

He smiled, "yes."

"Are you sure there wasn't more going on with you two?" I joked, "Cause all I hear is Alfred this and Alfred that. Be honest, you had a man crush on him didn't you?"

Toris chuckled, "if man crush is another way of saying that I respected him, then yes."

"Don't hide in the closet Toris. It's okay, there's nothing but love here."

He laughed harder, "I'm very open to the people I care about being female or male."

"Oh, I know. Gil went into some detail about the nations rolling both ways."

He sighed, "I could just imagine."

"He was wiggling his eyebrows and getting his voice all seductive and stuff. He thinks he's smooth but he ain't."

"You and I have that in common."

"You don't like Gilbert?" I asked.

"I'm not very fond of him," he proclaimed.

Before I could comment; the next song followed, it was one of my favorites: 'Lips Are Movin' by Megan Trainor. I shoved the other earbud to Toris, "put this on!"

He raised a brow but did what he was told, he took a moment to listen to the rhythm. I shook my shoulders as sang along with Megan, motioning for Toris to dance with me. He stepped back, shaking his head but I grabbed his hands and swayed his arms to the beat. He was stiff at first but he quickly loosen up, moving on the balls of his feet as we crossed stepped in sync.

I slid to his side, shuffling my feet in a quickstep. Toris smiled and followed my lead, shaking his legs with quick ball changes and loud stomps. We danced and lip synced to the melody, enjoying each other's silly antics and quirks. Then I held out my hand and without a single shred of hesitation, he pulled me close, spun me and then dipped me at the exact moment the song ended.

"You do realize there is no music playing."

We looked up to find Lovino staring daggers at us but I ignored his rude tone. "We have earbuds, we're not crazy."

Toris pulled me up as Lovino proclaimed, "Germany is about to pop a blood vessel if you continue ran off like this."

"I didn't go anywhere, I'm still here," I stated, annoyed.

"I can see that, but Germany needs to have sight of you. Is it just me or is he acting like a first time mother?"

"It isn't you. Ludwig would put a leash on me if he could."

"There are rumors about his affection for leashes," he smirked in joking tone.

"I do not need to know," I remarked as he gave me a dazzling smile but his eyes were still alert. They slid towards Toris, glaring at him with caution and suspicion.

I raised a brow in uncertainty as he turned me into the opposite direction, away from Toris. "I was thinking you and I should go out for dinner. I heard there's an amazing restaurant not too far from here."

"That sounds great Lovi but Akram and I are going dress shopping," I said apologetically.

"I can come with you, pick something that can show off those beautiful legs," he winked.

"You would like that wouldn't you?"

"Yes, very much," he grinned.

"Well," I unwrapped myself from his embrace, "that's what you say now but you never went shopping with me for formal dresses. You should've seen me in Vienna, I think we went to thirteen or fourteen different shops just to find one dress."

"And it was gorgeous," he grabbed my hand and kissed it. "I couldn't keep my eyes off you."

"Oh, I was wondering where that stare of obsession was coming from," I said in a humorous tone.

Toris covered his mouth to hide his laughter, reminding us that he was still here. Lovino glared, "What are you laughing at Baltic."

He bit his lips together in a tight line, "Nothing; nothing at all."


 

I met Akram at the car; he was leaning against the hood, enjoying the breeze. He sensed my presence as I approached, his eyes sliding to me with a dull gaze. He looked tired, "hey you okay?"

"Hm? Yes I am. Why do you ask?"

"You look worn out," I whispered, but raised my voice again to say, "We don't have to go shopping. We can borrow something from the neighbors."

"No, I'm fine," he said cheerfully. "Besides we are only going to one shop."

We drove in silence, the ride wasn't long and the rain was only a drizzle. Akram entered into the heart of Delhi's downtown market. Again, traffic was jammed pack; he decided it was best to park a block away from our destination. We walked through the crowded streets, weaving around people as we got closer to a little shop. The windows displayed alluring and vibrant silks and cloths. Dresses of eastern and western style hanged along the walls while shoes, jewelry and bags were placed in glass display boxes.

"Mr. Brahman?" Akram called, "Are you here?"

A young woman stepped out from the back room, "Mr. Verma you're early."

"Is that a problem?"

"No," she smiled, "the dress has arrived and I am assuming that this is the young lady that the dress was ordered for?"

"Yes," Akram nodded as an elderly man walked out, "Mr. Verma you got here right on time." He lifted a black garment bag, "you're order's ready."

"What is it?" I asked.

"Go and try it on," Akram smiled.

"Abi, show her to the changing room," the old man asked.

His granddaughter gave a slight nod and gestured for me to follow her to a room with a curtain as a door. She handed me the garment bag, "come out when you're ready."

"Okay," I said as she closed the curtain.

The dress was long, sweeping around my ankles as a small portion trailed behind me. The gown was slimming but yet loose, flowing around my legs and giving me the freedom to move. It was sleeveless with thin straps, the neckline was a portrait aligning against my collar bone and scooping slightly at the back. The color was a light shade of sapphire; it faded subtly as it traveled to the floor, creating a graphic of the late evening sky. But that wasn't all, connecting to the straps of the dress was a sheer cape that draped around my shoulders and swayed freely behind me. In the center of the cape was a peacock outlined in sparkling green thread, feathers of that animal covered the garment causing it to shimmer every time the light touched it.

It was stunning.

I pulled back the curtain and skipped out, swinging my arms to reveal the cape. "This is amazing!"

"Do you like it?" Akram smiled, knowing full well that I did.

"Yes!" I exclaimed, "Akram thank you but you can't pay for this. It's too much-"

"Nonsense," he said, "the price is fine."

"But-"

He stepped forward, placing his hand on my cheek and craning my neck up to face his sternly set eyes. "You will wear the dress," his smile sent chills down my spine. "I will not take no for an answer."

He turned to the shop owner and said, "We'll take it."

The car ride was once again, silent. Akram said nothing as we drove back to the cottage, sometimes he would adjust the radio or tap on the wheel but other than that he was quiet. He said nothing to me, didn't make a single attempt to talk to me. It was unnerving, the tension was so thick that it could be sliced through with a knife.

I couldn't take the silence any longer. "Um, Akram did something happen with your prime minister?"

All I got in return was silence, so I continued, "if he said anything, you know you can talk to me. It's the least I could do-"

"I'm alright Ms. America," he interrupted. "You have nothing to be concerned about."

Once we arrived to the house, Hani was right at the gate to greet us like always. He jumped in excitement, wagging his tail and licking my face.

"Down Hani, don't get the dress," I lifted the garment bag away from his reach and scratched him behind his ear. He was a happy dog, very pleasant and super sweet. He was friendly towards people, never chased the chickens and barely barked. That's why I could never believe that what happened next was Hani's fault.

His dark eyes slid to his master and he froze. The fur on his back stood at attention as he lowered his head and bared his teeth.

"Hani," I whispered as Akram raised his brows slightly, "what's wrong boy?" He reached out to him slowly but Hani snapped at his hand. He growled harshly as he moved towards Akram, barking furiously at him.

I stepped closer, "Hani-"

"Wait Amy," Akram grabbed my arm and Hani leaped into action. The canine sank his fangs into Akram's forearm and jerked his arm away from mine.

"Hani!" I exclaimed.

Akram tried to pull him off by the fur of his neck but Hani would not let go. He bit harder, breaking skin as blood stained Akram's clothes.

"Hani! Stop!" I cried.

A neighbor, hearing the commotion came running with flat bat. He swung at Hani, smacking him right on the nose. He yelped, releasing Akram from his jaw. The neighbor continued to swing, backing the dog into a corner. More men came to his aid, gathering rope and a post. They surrounded Hani, holding him down as they tied the rope around his jaw and neck.

"Stop!" I shouted, "You're hurting him!"

A man held me back and it took all of my self-control not to sock him in the face. The men jerked Hani to the backyard where they tied him to the post. Two checked on Akram, they pulled back his sleeve reveling his bloody arm. The fangs had pierced the flesh, leaving deep puncture wounds.

Once Hani was secured, Akram reassured his neighbors that he didn't need a hospital and persuaded them to go home. I glanced to Hani, now tied and defeated. "What got into him? That wasn't like him."

"He was former stray," Akram stated calmly as he cleaned his wounds, which were disappearing by the minute. "He must still carry a wild streak."

"A wild streak?" I exclaimed harshly, "that dog wouldn't hurt a fly."

"Yet he harmed me," he remarked coldly. "It will be best to leave him out for the night, let his temper cool."

I bit back my tongue, at least taking comfort that he wouldn't call animal control. He tried to change the subject, asking what I would like for dinner.

"I'm not hungry," I said as I walked back into my room and collapsed into bed.

This is so messed up.

It didn't make any sense; Hani was a good dog, being a former stray didn't change that. Hani held nothing but love for his owner, what would cause such a drastic change to his personality? Akram didn't look any different, tired for sure but nothing too severe. Yet that cold stare in the shop said otherwise.

Chapter Text

I don't know when I fell asleep that night but it wasn't strong enough; my conscious mind still lingering in between reality and dreams.

"Amy . . ."

At first, I didn't hear this voice, but over time it got louder.

"Amy . . ."

It sounded like it was in pain and crying out for help.

"Amy . . ."

I groaned and sat up to find no one in my room, till I found a shadowy figure in the corner.

"Run . . ."

In a blink of an eye the figure vanished and reappeared from the corner to the foot of my bed. It lunged for me and I screamed.

"Ms. America!" Akram slammed my door open, sending out a burst of light from the hallway.

For a second I thought the dark figure had moved from my bed to the door frame, taking the place of Akram. But once I rubbed my eyes, I was relieved to see that I was wrong. The figure was gone.

"Are you alright?" Akram asked.

"Yeah, just . . . a dream," I reassured. "I'm okay, really."

He nodded, "very well, goodnight."

"Goodnight," I said as he closed the door.

I laid back, trying to calm my racing heart. I took deep breaths, silencing my thoughts with sheer willpower but it didn't work. Then I heard the sound of footsteps outside my door. I jumped, preparing for an intruder but this person walked on, heading out the front door.

Curiously overcame my fear and I opened the door. I scanned the hall, finding Akram's door open and his room empty. I stride to the front and followed Akram outside. He was heading towards the backyard where Hani was muzzled.

I leaned against the house, using the shadow of the wall to cover me. Akram walked closer to Hani as the animal tried to jerk himself free from the post. He looked absolutely terrified.

Akram stopped, watching as Hani tried desperately to get away but couldn't. In one swift move Akram grabbed Hani by the throat and slammed him against the ground. The dog squirmed under his hold. Hani kicked and scratched but Akram only pressed harder.

I was about to leap into action till the nation released him; allowing Hani to breath and cower under his gaze. When the light of moon hit Akram, I was finally able to see his face. His smile was big and it spread from ear to ear but there was no light in it. His eyes gleamed mean and cold and the only pleasure he was taking from this situation was the fact that Hani was whining and shaking in fear.

Hani never showed these emotions and if Akram was this hurtful all the time, Hani would have displayed them day one. No, this was new. Akram's sudden change in behavior and voice, his aggressiveness and chilling smile.

This man was not Akram.


 

I waited till the impostor was in his room and waited a little longer just to be sure that he was asleep. When my phone displayed two-thirty I scoured through the internet; searching through current news of India, CNN articles of world politics and for the last resort: tumblr. When nothing came up of the country in turmoil, the theory of Akram hearing voices and developing a split personality became less likely.

I decided it was time for me to try something even more delusional; exorcism. I scrolled through various websites, all containing ghost stories, shifter myths, vampirism, and dark magick. Along with this information were exorcists ready with a phone number to call. Wiccans and voodooists performing their rituals in step by step instruction on YouTube while charms and curses could be bought or sold.

What was real and what was just for show?

Who were the con artists and who were the professionals?

I rubbed my eyes, "this is impossible," I mumbled.

It was five in the morning, which means it would be four-thirty in afternoon in Summerland. I called Grandma but I was answered by Blair.

"Aunt Amy!" she exclaimed excitedly, "How are you? Mom and Dad said you were India, how is it? What's it like? Why don't you call more often? I mean I want to call but Mom says that you live on a different time zone than I do, so the only way I can call is if I figure out the math. But I hate math! And you live in the future! Every time I figure out the time in Delhi, Mom says it was too late to call and then I'm just so mad. I mean why couldn't you just say that first instead of me figuring it out through numbers, you know?"

"I know sweetie, math sucks but I'm sure your dad helps you out," I resisted my urge to yawn.

Blair huffed, no doubt she was pouting, "only sometimes, it's always Raiden this and Raiden that."

"Hey now, you love your baby brother."

"But he cries, a lot."

I chuckled, "yeah he's a wailer. Anyway, can you get G-Ma on the phone?"

"She's with Blake," she grumbled, "she's always with Blake, she likes him more than me."

"No, Blair, G-Ma loves you both-"

"But she always asks for him and they spend all afternoon together in her office, always asking me to watch the shop but I can see when she switches the sign from open to close. G-Ma only wants me out of her hair," her tone that was once so confident, now crumbled to a meek and wounded squeak.

I realized then that Blair was lonely; with the addition of Raiden and Grandma helping Blake sort out his powers, no one really bothered to include Blair. She didn't see what her twin saw, she only experienced these moments through hushed tones and closed doors. I remembered what Arthur had told me about Blake always being the outsider because of his gift. I replied that he would never feel like that and I kept my promise, but his sister ended up in his place.

"Blair, it isn't you. G-Ma only wishes to help Blake-"

"Because he's special," she mumbled.

"Yes, but because he'll always be a target. No one will understand him, not the way you do," I proclaimed.

Blair was about to speak but I cut her off, "hang on sweetie let me finish. Remember when your parents sat you down in April? The day they were going to explain to you about Blake's power."

"Yeah," she said.

"And do you remember what you told them? You said that you already knew. Even though Blake was told at a very young age to keep his gift hidden and to wait for you to get a little older to keep secrets, you just knew. You knew what went on in Blake's head and connected the dots on your own. Blake realized this and confined in you, I'm sure he tells you things that no one else knows right?"

She was silent for a moment but eventually she said, "Yeah."

I smiled, "it's because you're his big sister and he will always come running to you when he needs help."

"But-" she froze for a moment and quickly whispered, "I gotta go; G-Ma's coming."

"Wait I need-" she hanged up, "to talk to her . . ."


 

Blair deleted the caller log in her great-grandmother's phone and slid it back to its place at the front desk. The elderly woman walked out of the back office and smiled at her, "thank you for watching the shop for me."

Blair nodded but said nothing.

"You two better get home, your mother's waiting," Aponi bends down to kiss her and her brother on their foreheads. "See you tomorrow my little warriors."

The twins rode their bikes in silence, both lost in their own worlds. Blair fell in behind Blake which was unusual for anyone that knew them, for Blair always preferred to take the lead. She didn't have the desire or will to pedal to the front. Her thoughts engrossing her into a daze. These thoughts contained her brother, her family and of her recent conversation with Amy.

She looked back to Blake, observing him with an aching heart and a wounded ego. It's been nearly three days since he spoke to her. He avoided her at every turn, locking himself away in his room, ignoring her when they crossed paths at school. It confused and hurt her, what had she done to deserve this treatment? Why has he stopped talking to her? Why has her own twin shut her out and for what reason?

Blair could no longer handle the silence. She stopped with a screech of her wheels and yelled, "I can't take this anymore! Why are you ignoring me?!"

Blake braked and turned to face her, his face concealed in a calm expression. "I'm not-"

"Yes you are!" she shouted, "you don't talk to me at school, you run to G-Ma when we're at the shop and you hide in your room every night. You're avoiding me. Why?"

He looked to the ground and whispered, "I'll tell you when we get home."

"No! I'm not moving from this spot till you talk to me!"

"Blair-"

"You heard me!" she hissed but allowed her frustration to cool. She inhaled deeply, "was it something I did?" She gripped the handles of her bike, "did I do something to make you mad?" Tears spilled down her cheeks, "why won't you talk to me?"

Blake dropped his bike and pulled Blair in for a tight hug, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry Blair, please don't cry."

"I'm not crying," she lied as she wiped the tears from her eyes. "Why did you shut me out? Why did you stop talking to me?" she whimpered.

He pulled back, blinking away his own tears. "It was the only way I could keep my promise to G-Ma. I knew if I had told you what I've been doing, you would've begged me to show you but G-Ma said it was dangerous. I had to learn to master it before showing you."

"Master what?" she asked curiously.

He held out his hands, "give me your hands and close your eyes."

Blair didn't hesitant, she grabbed his palms and closed her eyes. Blake squeezed her fingers in return and took a deep calming breath. After a minute passed, he said, "Okay, open your eyes."

What she saw she almost didn't believe. Blake was surrounded in bright purple light. This light cascaded over him from head to toe, bathing him in the color violet. When he saw her reaction, he beamed, his light glowing brighter along with the shades of pink and yellow merging with it. Blair remembered that pink was the color of love and friendship and yellow represented things like intelligence and indecisiveness but depending on the shade it could also mean happiness.

"You should see yourself, you're like a rainbow," he stated.

He was right. Blair was surrounded by colors: red, blue, orange, yellow, green, pink, the situation perfectly described her emotions. She was surprised and unnerved by the aura, how it not only surrounded her but poured out of her skin. She was also excited that she could see them that she had earned her brother's trust so deeply that he felt safe enough to share his gift.

She looked at Blake as the pink and yellow slowly faded away into the purple. "Why do the other colors fade while one stays?" she asked.

"It's because violet is my true aura, the one that reveals my true self while the others display only my emotions."

"What's my color?" she asked.

He shook his head, "you gotta figure that out on your own. Just focus, clear your mind of everything else and focus on what makes you, you."

Blair closed her eyes once again, racking her brain for proof of her essence. But in reality, who was she? Blair was still just a child, her parents always told her that discovering one's self took years and through trial and error. Just as Blake said, she was like a rainbow, experiencing these new sensations as they come and go.

What was her true color, she asked herself.

Was it still waiting for her or did she miss it?

"Don't over think it," said Blake.

Blair snapped her eyes open, "can you read minds?"

"No but your aura is all over the place," he gave a tiny smile. "Come one Blair, you know who you are, everyone does. The only reason we are told that finding our true self takes years is because we lose sight of them over time. Because we wish to fit in with the crowd or to become part of the group, we are willing to forsake our true nature and wear a mask to please others. It takes years for people to realize that hiding your true self only hurts you." He gazed to her with wisdom filled eyes, "don't let people take away what you are."

She nodded and relaxed her shoulders, clearing away the nagging thoughts and insecurities. When her mind was empty and all she felt was love and acceptance from her brother and herself, she opened her eyes. Blue radiated off her skin, completely engulfing her as if she was sinking into the deepest depths of the ocean.

"Blue represents creativity, loyalty, kindness and spiritual," Blake proclaimed. "It may not be at the same level as mine but its great way to start."

"Start? Start where?"

"G-Ma is teaching me magick and she wants you to learn too."

She blinked, "magick . . . magick's real!"

He nodded as Blair grinned like the Cheshire cat, "Sweetness."

"But don't treat it lightly Blair. We are learning it for self-defense."

"Why? What's happening?"

"G-Ma hasn't told me the whole story, but it has something to do with Amy."


 

I hardly got any sleep last night. I stood up to the late hours of the morning, searching for a clue to what was happening with Akram. I still had no solid evidence if the man I was sitting with was Akram having a mental breakdown or an impostor. He looked like Akram, he had the same skin color as him, the same eyes and hair and his voice carried the same honey like tone. It was completely terrifying that some guy could be exactly like Akram and it's also the major reason I still believed that this man was Akram but a different side of him.

But then of course I only end back to the same place where I began; deciding if Akram was real or not and if this man was an impostor. Last night's incident was proof that something was wrong, but not proof enough if Akram was sick or replaced. It was a never-ending cycle.

"You've been locked in your room all day," he spoke, "you must be hungry."

I pushed my food around with my fork, trying to contain my composure. "I'm too excited to eat."

"For the dinner tonight?" he questioned, "Yes, I see. It must be pretty exciting for you meet the prime minster and attend a formal affair. Tell me have you gone to anything like this?"

My eyebrow twitched, he knew about the ball at Austria's, he knew I've done this before but was this forgetfulness or something more? "No. I never went to anything so formal, prom maybe but nothing like this."

"It's nothing too fancy, just a dinner, possibly a dance afterword."

"But you hired those dancers, the ones that live on this street."

His brow arched slightly and his jaw clenched. These minor movements were so tiny that anyone would have assumed that it was just a tick of the muscle. But I knew these were signs to the cracks of his facade.

"Oh yes, I nearly forgot. My mind has been other places."

"Well, Jasmine and her family will do a great job," I said, taking a chance.

"Yes, Jasmine is a very talented girl," he smiled.

I curled my hands into tight fists, having an urge to slam them into his fake ass face but I calmed myself. I released my hands and forced my lips to smile back, "yeah she is."

After I made an effort to eat, I excused myself to my room and locked the door. I sat back against my door, taking a moment for my heart to settle, but my adrenaline did not diminish. I knew for certain that this man was not Akram.

The only questions I had now were Akram's disappearance and the identity of that impostor.

My plan was simple: act like nothing was wrong and prepare for the dinner. Arrive at the Rashtrapati Bhavan with the fake Akram and mingle into the crowd. Once the dinner was over and the party was at full swing, I would sneak out and come back to the cottage for Hani.

The only way I had a chance of finding Akram was to use Hani's nose, for no matter how close in appearances the impostor had to Akram he couldn't produce the same scent. Hani saw through him the moment he laid eyes on him, a dog's instincts were not to be stifled with.

I skipped the bath and took that time arranging my hair, parting my hair to one side and designing a French braid on the stronger side. I braided it along the side of scalp till I came to the back, where I secured the braid with a rubber band and twisted the rest of my curls into a messy chignon. I then moved on to make-up, going in simple but fun with my eye shadow. Using light blue and gold I created a soft, somewhat natural look. I grinned at the mirror, I finally learned the perfect amount.

Jamie would be proud.

I slipped on my dress, slid on my sandals and stood straight in front of the mirror. I channeled Akram's words of advice: walk as if you are goddess. I grinned at my image and strutted out the door.


 

 Lovino took longer than necessary to take a shower, but in all honesty, he couldn't stand the weather. It was humid, sticky and the mosquitoes were beyond troublesome. His showers were his only escape but tonight was not the night to take his time, especially when another rainfall was due.

The locals have told him that monsoon season would be over any day now, but that's what they've been saying for the last three days. Lovino sighed; rinsing the conditioner from his hair and stepping out of shower to find a note taped to the mirror.

Dear Lovi

You were taking too long, so we left without you.

Here's some money for a cab.

Love you

Feliciano

He folded the bills, crumpled the note and tossed it aside. He got dressed quickly, buttoning his shirt as he blow dried his hair and brushing his teeth as he jumped into his underwear and pants. Once he had his jacket on he ran out the door, calling out for someone to hold the elevator.

The silver doors were stopped by an arm and Lovino sprinted in. He was about to say thank you till he noticed that the person inside was Toris Laurinaitis, the nation of Lithuania.

Lovino cursed under his breath, of all the people he could be stuck in an elevator with . . . Well, if he was honest with himself there would be worse people.

"I see you are running late as well Mr. Romano," Lithuania proclaimed, no doubt trying to lessen the tension that he was creating.

"What's you're excuse?" Lovino countered with a venom filled tone, "Were you too busy doing your hair and makeup?"

Lithuania inhaled through his nose, "good one."

Once they hit the lobby, Lovino sprinted out to the front of the hotel. He lunged for the first cab he saw, opening the back door and crawling in with the money in hand.

"I'm in rush, take me to the Rashtrapati Bhavan."

The middle-aged man turned to him, "I'm sorry sir but I'm here to pick up someone else."

"Who?"

"Me," Lithuania opened the door and climbed in, "don't worry, he's with me."

"I'd rather walk," Lovino was about to step out till thunder roared across the gray sky.

"Are you sure about that?" the cab driver raised a brow.

He groaned, it was just his luck that the only cab that would be available to him was the one called in by Lithuania. He could walk but the rain would ruin his clothes and there was no time to wait for another cab. "Dammit! Fine!" he exclaimed, "let's go before I come to my senses."

The drive was meant to last ten minutes, nothing more but again Lovino was never favored by Lady Luck.

A cow was crossing the street, immediately every car and van came to a halt. The large, tan colored bull took his time, he leisurely strolled as the bells around his neck clanked together with every step.

Lovino rubbed the bridge of his nose, "sir we're in a bit of a hurry, can you honk at him to move faster?"

"No, I won't. He will get by, be patient," the driver stated.

Then, as if the universe wished to spite him. The cow stopped in front of his cab and laid down in front of them. The diver simply switched off the engine and pulled out his phone to check social media.

"What are you doing?" Lovino exclaimed.

"Waiting for the cow to move."

"I can see that," he hissed, "can't you drive around it?"

"No, we must wait for the cow to move."

Lovino moved for the door but Lithuania stopped him, "I know what you are about to do and I will tell you this now, it will not help."

Lovino shoved his hand off, "let go of me you bastard! You have no idea of what I am thinking."

"You are thinking of going out there to yell at the cow."

"Oh," he clapped sarcastically, "brilliant Sherlock, just brilliant."

"Wait," Lithuania pulled him back, "just give it a few minutes, the rain will come in and scare him off."

"You should listen to your friend," the driver added.

"Stay out of this," Lovino remarked and turned back to the Lithuanian, "We're late."

"Then five more minutes will not matter," he said.

Lovino brushed a hand through his hair in frustration, "Fine, fine. If you want to wait for the stupid cow, we'll wait for the stupid cow."

They waited in silence, looking to the sky or the cow for signs of change. The humidity was beginning the fog the windows and the unusually loud ticking of the driver's wristwatch was nearly causing Lovino to lose his patience. His irritation continued to grow whenever he heard the brunet shift in his seat or breathe. He was never this annoyed by the Baltic before. In truth, he didn't know the nation personal, he kept his distance from him to avoid Russia.

Later when Lithuania had severed his ties from Russia, Lovino never saw the need to befriend him. He could barely hold his patience for Poland; he didn't think he had the energy to deal with another eastern European country. Lithuania was also friends with that meddling Latvia. The same Latvian that almost ruined his chances with Amy; but there was another reason, something deeper and more complex that he tried to ignore.

His mind would not let him; without his permission or knowledge, his subconscious brought him back to the first day of the meeting. When Amy and Lithuania were lounging in front of the restroom and Amy had asked the Lithuanian to be her date for best friend's wedding. Now, Lovino knew it was Amy's impulsive nature that drove her to ask Lithuania and he was the only person around at the time. He also knew that this wedding wasn't even real but it was principle of the thought.

He flushed in embarrassment; he was being an idiot. He and Amy had chemistry, he knew it. For him to be jealous and over Lithuania was laughable. The man was dull and had the passion of a dead fish. Lovino made Amy blush and squirm under his gaze, she had shared her insecurities with him and she had kissed him.

Yet, his brain would remind him of Lithuania finding Amy first when she had wondered. Reenacting the scene of them dancing to the music in their heads. They looked ridiculous but didn't care; it was like everything and everyone faded away and all they could see was each other.

This was of course, all in his head but he couldn't deny the jealous ping his heart gave when he saw them. He needed to prove that he was special, that he was closer to Amy than Lithuania. He pulled out his phone and sent a quick text to the said American.

"Hey guess what, I'm only a block away but the driver won't go any further all because of a cow. The bastard actually laid down in front of us! Can you believe that?"

Satisfied with his message, he pressed send and waited for her reply. A minute passed, but to Lovino, it felt like an eternity.

"Lol, you should take some pics. Make sure to call Antonio, he's all worried about his little tomato."

He groaned, he didn't want to think about the Spaniard. He wanted Amy to say something he could use to make a point. He didn't want much, just a small token of affection.

"Aren't you worried ;)"

Her message was quick and to the point, "srry, dinner about to start-ttyl."

He glared at the message, having the sudden urge to throw it out the window. But he pushed that aside and plastered a fake smile over his face, pretending to chuckle.

Lithuania looked away from his window and turned to him, curiously, "what are you reading?"

He grinned smugly, "a text from Amy, she's wondering where I am."

The brunet nodded, not fazed by the news. "Oh, can you tell her I have her earbud. I'll give it to her at the party."

Lovino's blinked in surprise, "she left her earbud with you."

"Uh, yes, you pulled her away before I could give it back. I'm sure she must be worried, she loves her music and these buds are expensive. But they're definitely worth the money, I could still hear every song she has played. I even read that they are water proof," he smiled, "I'm thinking of getting a pair for myself."

Amy didn't simply love music, she was madly, deeply in love with it. She would never leave behind an earbud by accident. Did she trust the Baltic that much? Frustration burned at the back of his neck as his heart sank into his gut. He side glanced the Lithuanian, "can you even afford it? Your country is going through an economy crisis."

"It isn't that bad," he said.

"Sure, but Amy is pretty well off, maybe you can go work for her like you did for Alfred. I mean that's all you're good for anyway. Tell me Mr. Laurinaitis how did you ever get those coke stains out of Alfred's carpet?"

Lithuania was quiet for a moment, till he said, "Is it wrong to work for your earnings Mr. Romano? Or should I place all my faith and money on tourism as you do?"

"It works," he glared.

"Yes, it's the perfect job for you, you can lay about in your fancy house and not have care in the world."

Lovino laughed dryly, "yes, I have a fancy house, several actually. I have money to spend while you pinch your pennies as the Americans say. I have an idea, you can stay at Amy's house, earn some cash while I show her the world."

Lithuania raised an eyebrow in confusion, "you really believe that?" He shook his head, "I don't understand how Amy is involved but she would never go anywhere with you. You are immature, childish and hurtful, Amy prefers to be around people that are kind to others. Frankly I don't see how you two can be friends to begin with."

He curled his fist, digging his nails into his palms. "So what makes a better friend? A former slut of Russia's?"

Lithuania paled and Lovino didn't stop, "sorry my friend but Amy doesn't care for sloppy seconds."

The brunet clenched his jaw and gazed at Lovino with a fierce gleam in his eyes. "If I am sloppy seconds? Then what are you? Europe's Whore."

Lovino snapped, throwing the first punch. He made a clean hit at the Lithuania's cheek, sending him to collide against the glass window. Lithuania shook it off and lunged for Lovino.

"Hey! Hey!" the driver tried to break them apart but he was helpless against the nations' deadly focus on one another.

Lovino kicked him in the gut but Lithuania barely flinched, backhanding him so hard that Lovino's teeth rattled. They were so entangled by each other's fight that they didn't notice the driver opening the back door and hurling them out. When they hit the pavement, they broke apart looking to the driver.

He crossed his arms, "if you two are going to continue fighting about this young lady, she'll end up leaving both of you." After he said his piece, he climbed into his cab and locked the doors.

The cow rose and ran to a nearby porch as the drivers switched on their lights and started their engines. Thunder roared and droplets poured from the sky, drenching Lovino and Lithuania to the bone.


 

Dinner was surprisingly quick.

The food was amazing but I had a hard time learning which fork to use, luckily for me I was seated next Erika, who was kind enough to show me. The nations were in their best attire, me