Chapter 1: The Box (England/Spain)
It was such an inconspicuous box. A dusty wooden crate that had been latched closed for centuries by a rusty lock. And yet, that box seems to hold such control over my life. No matter how hard I try to bury my past, it always creeps back up from the dark corners of my mind. Even when I've chased it back down, it leaves one lingering question, clawing at my every waking thought. What if? Every time I try to get up and move forward, it sits there like a brick wall, and every time I try to scale it, I fall to what seems lower than I've ever been before.
The reasonable part of me always shuts it down quickly. I'm happy now. Well, happier, at least. I'm better off in the present. And besides, even if I weren't, there's nothing that can be done now. I can hardly abandon all my work and go off on a ship to pillage some neighboring country's resources anymore. I wonder if my old ship even exists now? It was probably stripped for parts a long time ago. And yet, I'm always brought back to this box. I don't even remember the contents anymore. I think my sword is in there, and maybe some of Alfred's old things. But aside from that? I have no idea, and I'm almost afraid to find out.
I don't even realize that I'd been crying until I feel two arms around my waist.
Antonio's voice seems so distant. Of course. A few hundred years ago, I never would have been able to be held by him like this. Let alone that we're both men, our bosses would have never approved simply because of the animosity between our people. Somehow, though, that's only a small comfort.
"Antonio, do you ever miss your pirate days?"
A pause. It's probably only a few seconds, but it feels like a lifetime.
"I... I don't know. I don't really think about it that much. Things are better now, though."
I know that. Every part of me knows that what he says is true. So why do I keep returning to this damned box? No matter how badly I want to move on, it seems that nothing I do can make me. Until then, I guess I'll just have to sit here in this limbo. Maybe someday I'll find a way to crawl out.
Chapter 2: I Hate You (Russia/America)
"I hate you." Yeah, you know damn well that that's a lie. Still, Ivan made no move to correct himself, or even provide an explanation for his words. He didn't need to. Without missing a beat, Alfred just flashed him a grin.
"You know you love me."
If only you knew... A bitter smile crossed Ivan's lips. "In your dreams, perhaps."
As Alfred walked away, Ivan looked down at his lap and let out an inaudible sigh.
"Fuck..." Ivan pulled his scarf up over his mouth and nose, mumbling something about a draft to no one in particular. There wasn't really one. Ivan just needed an excuse to hide how red his face was turning. Why can't I just tell the truth? That would be so much easier. It wasn't as though Alfred would tell anyone. He wasn't cruel. The truth was, though, that Ivan wasn't afraid of that. He was afraid of change. His friendship with Alfred was... tense, and far from conventional, but somehow, it was comfortable, and the only thing Ivan felt like he could rely upon anymore. The world changes too fast already.
When had Ivan first developed feelings for Alfred? It wasn't like some cheesy romance novel. He hadn't fallen in love with him at first sight. Far from it. It wasn't like there was one moment in particular where he suddenly saw the light, either. Yet somewhere along the line, his view of Alfred had changed from unbearably annoying to unbearably attractive. But Ivan didn't like to think about that. He'd just shove it back down somewhere in his mind along with the rest of his repressed emotions. He was growing a decent collection by now.
Still, there was always a little voice in the back of his head mocking him. You're just too cowardly to admit your feelings. Ivan just ignored it, though. He wasn't cowardly. He was just waiting until the right moment.
That moment may have come sooner than Ivan anticipated, though. He and Alfred were fighting again, throwing insults at each other without really taking anything to heart. Ivan couldn't remember what happened exactly, but he was suddenly acutely aware of the fact that Alfred was suddenly crying. Damn. What had he said? He approached Alfred slowly and touched his shoulder, biting his lip when Alfred flinched away.
"Alfred, I'm sorry..."
Alfred stared at Ivan for a moment, tears still streaming down his face.
"No, you're not," he said, his voice actually quiet for once, "Look, I'm overreacting. We hate each other, right? I shouldn't take this shit to heart."
Ivan felt his heart pounding in his chest and he opened his mouth. It took him a full ten seconds to get the first syllable out.
"I don't hate you." There it was. Far from an 'I love you', maybe, but it was something. It proved to Ivan that he wasn't just too cowardly. He could express his feelings if he wanted to. And maybe, someday, he'd be able to tell Alfred what he had kept bottled up for so many years.
Chapter 3: What Now? (Poland/Lithuania)
After a drunken one-night stand with Lithuania, Poland contemplates their past and wonders if anything exists between them anymore.
This chapter contains some slightly questionable content. However, there is nothing explicit. Also, oh my lord, everything has been so grim thus far. I promise I'll throw in some fluff too. I've just haven't been in the best mood lately, so I don't feel up to writing something cutesy as of yet.
Do you remember how things used to be?
It feels like an eternity ago. Things have changed so much since then. We've changed so much since then. And yet, I never stopped loving you.
I was so naive once. I kept dreaming about a knight in shining armour to sweep me off my feet, but when he actually came, I was scared half to death and just hid away. I must have been so hard to deal with for those first few months.
But you never complained.
Somewhere along the line, we grew closer. Far closer than two men should be, I remember you protesting. But when our bodies tangled together for the first time, I think that your conscience was put at ease. Surely something that brought us both so much joy couldn't be evil. Even then, though, I think I knew that this could never be permanent. Nothing is ever permanent between nations.
But I don't want to think about that. Especially not now. The memories of last night are dim, clouded with the heavy daze of alcohol, but I remember just enough. Should I regret it? Maybe. Instead, though, when I think about the way you touched me, I'm just filled with overwhelming joy. Your cheeks were tinged red, but I couldn't tell how much of it was because of the alcohol and how much was because of what we were doing. I'm sure that I was just as flushed. Still, you looked as beautiful as ever. Even now, as I look around the room, I can't help but laugh. My clothes are strewn around haphazardly, as expected. Somehow my shirt ended up draped over the ceiling fan and hanging over us like a canopy. Your clothes, though, are folded neatly in the corner. Of course. I guess you're like that even when drunk.
You're facing away from me. I'm aware of that now, even as the too-bright sun blinds my vision. I really should get up and take an aspirin. Maybe make some breakfast for you. Would that encourage you to stay? But I'm glued to the bed, fixated on the back of your head. You've gained more scars since I last saw you. Hardly a surprise. We haven't seen each other in years. Still, it makes me sad.
My fingers graze over a particularly dark scar and you flinch, but don't wake up yet. I hate that you've become like this. I remember when you were so fearless... Oh, it isn't that you've become more cowardly. Far from it. But between the two of us, we've gone through enough to break a thousand men. The fact that you've healed so much already is a miracle.
"Toris..." I breathe. I haven't used your human name in so long. It was too personal, and given that you were still angry with me, 'Mr. Lithuania' and 'Mr. Poland' seemed far more appropriate to use with each other. But damn, your name feels so right on my tongue.
I remember the last time I saw you before we were separated for so long. You said that you hated me, and I believed you. For the next two hundred years, those words repeated endlessly in my head, sounding more bitter each time until I could hardly recognize your voice. Even now, as we lie tangled in a mass of blankets, I can't help but be afraid that you'll repeat those words the second you wake up.
The bed shifts a bit as you roll over, eyelids parting to reveal those beautiful emerald eyes. At first, they're glazed over in bewilderment before they clear up and stare at me. I probably look pathetic. My vision is blurred with tears and I can feel myself shrinking under your gaze. I wish you'd just say something. I can't tell what you're thinking, and after everything that happened last night, I need to know.
Your mouth opens as if to answer, but no sound comes out. I see you move forward and I instinctively shut my eyes. You still don't speak. Instead, I feel your arm settle gently on my waist, pulling me closer, and that's all the answer I need.
Chapter 4: Hold Still! (Hungary/Ukraine)
Hungary's boss wants her to start acting more feminine as her country starts to grow closer to Austria, and she isn't exactly having the easiest time with it. Fortunately, Ukraine is there to help her.
"Ow! Ukraine, what the hell?!"
"I'm doing my best to be gentle. And you really shouldn't swear, you know. You know your boss doesn't like it."
"Yeah, and it's my boss' fault I'm stuck in this goddamn thing, so I don't - fuck!"
Ukraine let out a longsuffering sigh as she finished lacing Hungary's corset. "Miss Hungary, I know you don't like it, but this is the best chance you've got at being taken seriously."
Hungary muttered something under her breath before cursing again. "I can't fucking breathe in this thing!" She paused as a horrific realization dawned on her. "Your chest is over twice the size of mine! How do you manage this?"
"You get used to it," Ukraine answered calmly. Admittedly, it wasn't at all uncommon for her back to randomly ache or for her to be short of breath after only a few steps. But to her, it was a small price to pay to avoid a tongue-lashing from her boss. "Come on, let's put your next layer on."
"You mean there's more?!"
"I'm afraid so."
Soon, though, Hungary's indignant protests grew quieter and eventually disappeared entirely as Ukraine's fingers worked at lacing the intricate garments around her body. Oh, it still hurt like hell, but she couldn't avoid a small blush from appearing on her cheeks when Ukraine's head accidentally bumped against Hungary's breast. She quickly scolded herself. She shouldn't be thinking about things like this. Especially not about Ukraine. Especially when Ukraine's face is inches away from her body. But it seemed that she couldn't control herself. Ukraine finished the next layer much faster now that Hungary had stopped squirming and stood up straight again to stretch her back. Without really thinking, Hungary suddenly leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss on her lips. Ukraine immediately jerked away and the two stared at each other.
For a moment, time seemed frozen. This is it, Hungary thought to herself, Ukraine is going to kill me.
But she didn't.
Instead, Ukraine took a step forward and placed a hand on Hungary's cheek.
"You'll have to do better than that if you want to make up for all your whining." she teased before pulling Hungary into another, deeper kiss.
Let's just say that Hungary more than made up for it that night.
Chapter 5: Spice (Portugal/England)
When the mysterious new neighbour invites him to come over for supper, Arthur can't help but accept. (Human AU)
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The old house on Alexander Road hadn't been inhabited for years. I remember the old baker who lived there dying when I was around five or six, and no one moved in since. Of course, no one was surprised. The house wasn't very big and was probably crumbling apart by now. Still, it was beautiful. Deep green ivy crept up the side of the door and every summer, it bloomed sparse, drop-like flowers. What was once a windowbox had become overgrown with a variety of plants weeping out the sides. I remember that I loved playing there as a child. It was so quiet, and I sometimes liked to pretend that there were fairies living in the flowers that surrounded the house.
Of course, it is not nearly as quiet now as it was back then. Not since he moved in. Yes, I know, his name is Gabriel, but to the town, his only name seems to be 'him'. He seems to be friendly enough, but seems somewhat reserved, and no one really knows what to make of him. He moved here from... what was it, again? Some Mediterranian country. Geography was never really my forte.
Well, regardless, a few weeks after settling in, it seemed that all of the town's gossip about him had faded away, and he himself seemed to disappear into oblivion. Or was that just me? It's not like I leave the house very often.
Either way, imagine my surprise when none other than Gabriel himself knocks on my door one afternoon asking if I want to go to his house for supper. Naturally, I accept. I would be rude not to. And anyway, I want to know more about him.
As I approached the house in the evening, I was overcome with nostalgia. How long had it been since I played here as a youth? It seemed like forever. The door opened before I could even knock and Gabriel escorted me inside. The furniture wasn't quite unpacked yet, but there was a table set up with a few chairs around it. A plate of what appeared to be a chicken dish was set in the centre with two places set across from each other.
"Come, sit!" Gabriel said warmly, perching on the edge of one of the chairs. I slowly sank down into the seat across from him.
"It smells wonderful." It was true. The smell coming off the plate was unlike anything I had ever experienced before.
"Well, hopefully, it tastes wonderful too. Help yourself."
I took a small bite of the chicken obediently and immediately could feel myself turning bright red. "O-oh, it's... certainly strong." That was an understatement. I could practically feel my tastebuds peeling off of my tongue, and I had never needed water so badly in my life. I grabbed a glass and immediately poured the contents into my mouth. When I looked up again, Gabriel was grinning from ear to ear. "You did this on purpose!" I accused.
Gabriel shook his head and spoke, struggling not to laugh, "No, no. I just always forget how bad you English are at tolerating spices."
"I'm not bad at it!" I tried not to shout, but I couldn't help it. My ruined tongue needed to be avenged. "You just made me put the goddamn fires of hell in my mouth!"
He stood up and walked around to the other side of the table patiently. "You know, I am aware of one method that might fix it."
I let out a sound that was definitely not a whine. "What?" I was desperate at this point.
"I could kiss it better."
"You what? But you can't kiss a tongue better! It's inside of my - mmph!" Before I could even finish my sentence, a pair of lips met mine and my eyes widened. He couldn't kiss me! But to my horror, I realized that I didn't entirely hate it. Before I knew it, my body was melting into the kiss and my eyes fluttered shut. He pulled away all too soon.
I was speechless for a moment. "You... you kissed me!"
"I did. But your tongue doesn't hurt anymore, does it?"
I had to go silent at that. He was right. I had been so distracted by the kiss that I had forgotten about my tongue. "Well... I suppose you're right. But you had better kiss me for every bite, then!"
Thank you @Katfish_1967 for the request!
Chapter 6: Paper (Russia/Lithuania)
Russia decides that he wants to take up origami, and Lithuania reluctantly agrees to help. It doesn't go well.
"Why won't this damn paper do what the video does?!" Delicate squares of thin paper fluttered onto the floor as Ivan hit the table in frustration. Toris gathered up the sheets patiently, setting them back on the table while being careful not to crease them.
"There is a reason that origami is considered an art. It takes practice."
"It's just folding paper! I didn't think it would be this hard..." Ivan pouted and took another paper, trying again. "These keep turning out horribly."
Toris picked up an attempted piece and looked at it. "Now, now. It isn't that bad. Remember, it's your first time."
"Can you even tell what it is?"
"Of course I can! It's... it's a..." Toris turned the lump of paper over in his hands. "A rock?"
Based on the whine that came from Ivan's throat, it was most likely not a rock.
"This is hopeless!" Ivan threw another rejected piece on the floor. "My fingers are too big for this."
Toris frowned and settled his hands on Ivan's shoulders, rubbing them gently. "Hey. You stop that. If it's really hopeless, why don't you take a break? I'm sure you'll feel better in a few hours."
"No!" Ivan crossed his arms stubbornly. "I'm going to figure this out!"
"Fine." Toris released Ivan's shoulders and took a step back. "I'm going to go make some tea, then. Maybe that will calm you down."
Ivan didn't respond, too engrossed in his attempted craft to even notice that Toris had said anything. The latter let out a quiet sigh and walked towards the kitchen. Silently, he grabbed a couple of teacups and filled the kettle with some water. He really did love Ivan, but goddamn, he could be a pain sometimes. Once the tea was ready, he set the cups and pot on a tray before adding a couple cookies for good measure, then brought it upstairs. The second he opened the door, though, Ivan was standing in the corner with his hands behind his back, looking down.
"I ran out of paper..."
"Ah. Well, it's probably for the best. You already have enough to be stressed about. Why were you so dead set on this, anyways?"
Ivan didn't respond right away. Instead, he just revealed what was hidden behind his back: a "bouquet" of paper roses in various colours, tied together with a ribbon. "I wanted to make this for you, but it just turned out ugly each time. This is the best I could do..."
Toris opened his mouth and closed it again, unable to speak for a moment. Eventually, he took the flowers and set them on the table before pulling Ivan into a tight hug.
"Ivan, don't be ridiculous. I don't care how good you are at making them. Just the fact that you made an attempt means the world to me."
Ivan looked down and returned the hug meekly. "Promise?"
Chapter 7: Hollow (Estonia/Finland)
Estonia doesn't quite understand what's wrong with him, but at least he knows that he won't have to deal with it alone.
"Estonia, what's the matter?"
I realize that I had been grinding my teeth and try to make myself relax. Finland stares across the table at me. When had he finished his coffee? I try to say something, but all that comes out is a vaguely confused sigh. Of course, this only makes him worry more and he stands up.
"Are you sick?"
"No..." My voice is hoarse, but at least I manage to speak.
"You haven't touched your coffee... What's wrong?"
I open my mouth to answer. I want to say 'nothing'. Nothing is really wrong, per se. And besides, I don't know if I can articulate it. But somehow, all that comes in is a weak,
Finland blinks, and I don't blame him. Even I'm surprised. Since when do I ask for hugs? Still, the idea doesn't sound unappealing... I don't remember seeing Finland move, but somehow, he's next to me with his arms wrapped around my waist.
"Talk to me, Estonia," he says quietly, and his tone breaks my heart. I know what it looks like. He thinks that I don't trust him.
"Finland, I don't... I can't talk about something that..." I pause for a moment to gather my thoughts. It doesn't work. "I just feel empty. It feels... I don't know..."
I want to tell Finland what I'm feeling. I need to let this go. But I can't put any of this into words. Nothing could fully describe the heavy feeling in my chest that seems to drag my whole body down. I don't even know what it is, but it's something, and it won't let go of me. It's almost like a yearning for something that I don't even know how to find, or even put a name to. But somehow, I know that I can't achieve it.
Still, Finland doesn't let go of me. He just hugs me tighter and places a hand on the back of my head, guiding it to rest on his shoulder. Even if it doesn't dull the ache, it at least gives me a sense of hope. I'm not alone.
Eventually, I manage to shove the feeling into the back of my mind to deal with later. Not the healthiest practice, maybe, but I don't want to drag Finland down with me. I take a sip of my now-cold coffee and manage a smile.
Chapter 8: Flowers (Russia/Romano)
Just a quick and dirty oneshot I wrote on the bus.
“Hold still. You’re making this hard for me.” Ivan sighed softly as he felt the silky strands of Lovino’s hair slip through his fingers every time Lovino’s head moved to much.
“It’s not my fault. You’re pulling on my hair!”
“Just have patience.” Ivan kissed Lovino’s temple. “You’ll look cute in the end. I promise.”
“I thought I already looked cute.”
Ivan laughed. “You do. But you’ll look even cuter.”
“Just trust me, okay?” A pause. “You do trust me, right?”
Ivan took another flower and wove it into Lovino’s hair gently. Soon, he finished and handed Lovino a mirror. “Well?”
“...Alright, you were right. It looks cute.”
Ivan laughed. “What, no thank you?”
Lovino paused, then kissed Ivan gently. “I’ll thank you tonight.”
Chapter 9: Coffee and Kisses (Netherlands/Germany)
A fluffy oneshot of Germany and Netherlands cuddling in bed. Enough said.
Requested by JammedKnife
Sleepy mornings are the best.
Ludwig sips gingerly on the coffee I made him before setting the mug aside, looking at me with a puzzled expression. A year ago, I wouldn't have known what to make of it, but I've learned to read his body language.
I inch closer to him and rest my head on his shoulder. "How was your night?"
"Not long enough."
"Fair enough." We fall into another comfortable silence and I close my eyes. I've almost fallen asleep again when a pair of calloused lips brushes over my temple.
"You look exhausted. What time did you fall asleep?" Ludwig's tone is slightly harsh, almost scolding, but I can tell it's from concern.
"Mm... probably around three. I was finishing some work."
"You shouldn't work so hard. It's not healthy."
Before I can protest, my lips are captured in a gentle kiss. I can practically feel my cheeks starting to turn a soft pink. I don't understand it. I've never really been the type to get flustered, but something about Ludwig brings out the worst in me. Then again, I suppose Ludwig gets equally embarrassed when I kiss him, so we're even.
"You're cute." Ludwig slowly started to trail kisses along my jaw before planting one right above my ear.
"Oh, shut up... You make me sound like some ninety-pound twink. I'm taller than you, you know."
"Doesn't make you any less cute."
I opened my eyes and wrinkled my nose at him.
"You're a dumbass, you know that?"
"You love me."
"...Against my better judgement, I do."
That just made Ludwig laugh and kiss me all over again. Of course, I wasn't exactly complaining.
Chapter 10: Nightmares (Canada/Cuba)
Cuba has another nightmare, but as always, Canada is there to calm him down.
"I had the dream again last night."
Canada frowned and shifted his weight slightly before moving a bit closer to Cuba.
"Who was it this time?"
"You." Cuba glanced away for a moment and sighed. "You just... vanished. Like a ghost."
"But it wasn't real." A pause. "How about I make you some tea?"
Canada sighed and stood up. Cuba had been having nightmares almost every night where someone important to him disappears. Canada wanted to do something to help, but he wasn't quite sure what he could do. For now, bringing Cuba tea would have to do.
Soon, they were curled up together once more, Cuba nursing a large mug of hot tea. He was always uncharacteristically quiet when he got like this, and that worried Canada even more.
"Cuba, I'm not going to disappear. I promise."
"I know that. I wouldn't let it happen."
Canada smiled wryly and pulled Cuba into a soft kiss. "I can take care of myself too, you know." he teased, "Trust me, I don't intend on letting anything happen to me."
Cuba laughed quietly. "I suppose so." He hummed and set the mug aside. "It's late. You should get some sleep. Don't let me keep you up."
"Oh, shut up. I'm not going to leave you to deal with this alone."
"Canada, you have a meeting tomorrow..."
"It's in the afternoon. I can have a powernap beforehand."
"I guess..." Cuba sighed and wrapped his arms around Canada tightly, his eyes closing. "I love you, Canada."
"I love you too."
Cuba smiled at Canada. "I'm lucky to have you, you know that?"
"Mhm... I know you are." Canada leaned forward and pecked Cuba's lips with a smirk. "But I'm lucky too."
Cuba hummed and rested his head on Canada's shoulder. Within a few minutes, Canada could hear him breathing steadily. He had finally fallen asleep again.
"Thank god..." Canada helped Cuba to lay down, then covered him with a blanket. "Goodnight, Cuba." he whispered.
He stretched, picked up Cuba's empty mug, and carried it downstairs. He didn't want to attract flies. Once the mug was cleaned and put away, Canada walked back upstairs and curled up next to Cuba before allowing himself to fall asleep as well.