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December

'This was an awful idea.' Alfred realizes, wondering why he had even deemed the notion of visiting Matthew acceptable in the first place.

But Alfred is already standing on Matthew's porch, and if he leaves now he probably won't be able to work up the nerve to do this again. And his boss will chew him out for being too much of a coward to handle this. With that in mind, Alfred curls up his fist and raps twice on the door, completely ignoring the doorbell. He shifts uneasily as he waits for Matthew to come to the door, cupping his hands over his mouth and blowing warm air onto them in an attempt to stave off the all too familiar numbness that accompanies the frigid December air.

Alfred allows his hands to fall to his sides as footsteps approach from the other side of the wooden barrier, straightening himself anxiously as the door slips open; he has never dealt with a broken-hearted person, least of all when he himself was the cause of said heartache.

The door swings open, "Francis? I thought you were coming tomo-" Matthew freezes mid-sentence, hand still on the knob, and stares at him in shock.

Alfred wants to sigh at Matthew's reaction, but refrains from doing so because he doesn't want to make this any harder for Matthew by being rude. Instead, he locks eyes with Matthew, clears his throat uncomfortably, and greets, "Hi."

Apparently that was all it took for Matthew to be yanked from his trance, seeing as he forces out his own greeting and steps aside, wordlessly inviting Alfred inside.

Alfred hesitates, glancing uncertainly past Matthew and into his home, 'I shouldn't. I don't want to give him any false hope; it's better if I tell him how I feel now and leave.'

"I know you don't love me, Alfred. But it's cold outside, and you came all this way…" Matthew sighs, running a hand through his hair tiredly, and continues in a pleading tone, "At least let me explain things to you."

He wants to say no, but Alfred feels a twinge of pity at the sight of Matthew's pained expression that makes him step over the threshold and enter the house.

He stands awkwardly in the entryway, absently noting the click of the door behind him as he takes in Matthew's living room. Matthew skirts around him and makes the short journey to his sofa, making a placating gesture towards the loveseat (Alfred winces at the wording, very glad that there's a coffee table separating the two) across from him.

Alfred shrugs off his winter-coat, drapes it over the armrest, and seats himself, giving Matthew a pointed look, "I'm listening."

Matthew takes a shuddering breath, tugging at the sleeves of his shirt before commencing, "I've loved you for a very long time." Alfred's stomach drops at the words, and it seems his unease shows, as Matthew adds bitterly, "You haven't loved me for just as long, and I've always known it, at least on some level." A rueful smile adorns his face, "In the beginning I wanted to believe that you felt the same, or that you would someday-" He pauses, "-but you don't know when the beginning was." Matthew's eyes are a bit unfocused now, his gaze far away, and Alfred wishes he hadn't come in the first place, but it's too late now, "To be honest, I began to have feelings for you the first time Arthur introduced us, after I had become a possession of the Empire; I was an ill-behaved colony who wanted nothing more than to be returned to Francis, and you were kind to me when I was nothing but unbearable. It took only a word for me to realize what it was I felt, ridiculous as it sounds…"

Alfred doesn't dare look at Matthew's face, instead studying the cream ceiling as he listens.

"Canada, I am going out for a stroll…" Alfred trails off, drinking in the sight of his clearly upset fellow colony, "What ails you?"

Matthew's eyes are red-rimmed, and he has clearly been crying, but his voice is steady as he replies, "Do not concern yourself, America; I am fine."

"Do not be silly, Matthew." Alfred dismisses, hoisting him up by the arm and leading him towards the door, "Some fresh air will do you well."

"Your name?"

Matthew nods, and looks unbelievably vulnerable for a moment before he regains his somber expression, "You were being so familiar with me, and I felt cared for, for the first time in a long time, actually."

Alfred frowns at the words, remembering Arthur's coldness during Matthew's first years under his care, 'I wonder if things would have been different if Arthur was more patient with him.'

Perhaps Matthew would have never fallen in love with him, then.

"Why were you crying, anyway?" Alfred inquires, pushing those thoughts aside.

"Gilbert visited Arthur while you were out. I asked him when Papa-" He spits the word out, "-would be coming for me, and he laughed." His eyes are stormy, "He told me that Francis wasn't coming for me, and to stop acting like such a kid."

"Oh." Alfred wonders how he missed that, but, apparently, he's good at missing things.

Matthew wastes no time, picking up where he left off, "After that, I continued to pine after you, hoping that you would confess your love for me, and I had just about worked up the nerve to tell you when things became turbulent." Alfred's eyes narrow slightly as he remembers, "You and Arthur would argue whenever we came to visit, and I knew that it wasn't the right time, not that the timing mattered." Matthew scoffs, and Alfred feels another prick of pity, "You did not-" 'and do not' is wordlessly added, "-love me."

Alfred has never seen so much pain in those violet eyes, but he's never really looked.


Alfred doesn't see Matthew again until Christmas Eve, two weeks later, at Francis's mansion in Bordeaux.

Matthew is in the middle of a conversation with Adele, who is leaning casually against the banister of the main staircase, when Alfred steps over the threshold. They make eye contact for a brief moment before Alfred looks away and makes his way into the crowded kitchen, ignoring the eyes he feels following him.

Matthew's anecdotes and heartfelt confession did nothing but make Alfred uncomfortable around him, and although he does feel bad for snubbing Matthew, he also doesn't want him to get the wrong impression. Alfred has never intended to settle down with anyone, he's never even considered the thought, and Matthew's feelings for him do not change that.

Alfred removes his coat and drapes it over the back of a chair at the table, shoving his unpleasant thoughts aside, "Hey, Iggy! How's it goin'?"

Arthur bristles at the nickname, brushing off his green sweater and replying crossly, "It's going as well as things can when in France."

Alfred chuckles at that, but he inwardly raises an eyebrow. Arthur rarely refers to France, the country, by its proper name; he usually uses an offensive replacement, like 'Frog-country', or 'Cheese land'. That, and something else is off…

"Hey, Iggy?" Alfred asks curiously, taking note of something, "Didn't Francis give you that sweater?"

Arthur blushes, which Alfred cannot conceal his surprise at, and replies, "Yes, well…" He looks away awkwardly, "Francis and I are together."

Alfred is midway through a laugh when he realizes that Arthur isn't joking, "Oh." He pauses, unable to wrap his mind around the thought, "How'd he get you to agree to that?"

Green-eyes narrow slightly, "You don't seem very surprised."

A snort of laughter escapes the Belgian woman pouring a drink at the counter closest to them, and Alfred almost sighs in relief at the prospect of not having to inform Arthur by himself that Francis has been plotting ways to convince Arthur to have an exclusive relationship with him for some time.

"I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to cut in." Belle says laughingly, giving Arthur a pointed look as she continues, "None of us were surprised, Arthur, mostly because you two have been dancing around each other for centuries-" Arthur opens his mouth to argue, but closes it just as quickly, "-but also because you two were the only nations that had no idea about your true feelings." Alfred's eyebrows furrow, and she rolls her eyes, "That is, the only nations besides a select few."

Alfred shoots her a half-hearted glare at the jab, but quickly redirects his attention towards Arthur. He repeats his question, "How?"

The shine in Arthur's eye when he answers causes Alfred to feel a twinge of something, something that Alfred knows he doesn't particularly like.

"Well," Arthur doesn't meet his eyes, sounding very much like an old friend who is trying to catch him up without inciting jealousy, "Francis cornered me after the World Meeting and we got into a row, per usual, but-" Here Arthur falters, continuing only after Belle gives him a prompting look, "-this time it was about something different: settling down. The frog said that he woke up that morning, after one of our usual romps, glanced at the spot beside him, and wished I was beside him." Belle smiles at that, glancing fondly towards Antonio. Arthur's eyes follow a similar route, landing on Francis, who is beside him, "He said that we should be together." Arthur chuckles, shaking his head slightly, "I told him to sod off, but he persisted…and now we're seeing each other."

Belle coos delightedly, and Alfred feels as if he's missing something when Arthur shoots him a look that is almost pitying.


February

It's February first, and Alfred is going to die.

The first thing that registers when he returns to the realm of consciousness is his pounding headache, and the second is the stifling heat caused by him drifting off in his day clothes.

The third is that he is not alone.

His eyes snap open at the sound of humming in the kitchen, and he is halfway to his gun drawer when he recognizes the voice.

'Why is Matthew in my house?' He thinks distantly, sitting on the edge of his bed and holding his head in his hands, 'Why did I agree to a drinking contest against Gilbert?'

A stab of pain assaults his head at that, and Alfred groans loudly.

'What time is it anyway?' Alfred turns towards his bedside table, letting out a relieved sigh when he takes note of the glass of water and two Advil tablets beside his clock, 'Only noon; at least I didn't sleep all day.'

Alfred places the pills in his mouth without further delay, eager to rid himself of his awful hangover. He chugs down the water, emptying it quickly.

Alfred, cup in hand, treads down the hall slowly, rubbing the sleep from his eyes and attempting to address the problem of getting Matthew to leave without hurting his feelings.

He fails.

Alfred descends the stairs carefully, grasping onto the banister for support, and proceeds to the kitchen, which is where the sounds are coming from.

His kitchen is hardly ever used, and thus fairly clean, but Alfred still finds himself avoiding it for some reason. He only enters it when Matthew is over, or on a special occasion. Perhaps it's due to his inability to cook anything more complicated than a burger.

Matthew hasn't noticed him yet, and Alfred doesn't feel inclined to announce his presence. He takes a seat, crosses his arms on the kitchen table, and rests his head atop them, setting the empty glass down quietly.

Alfred turns his head to watch Matthew. He turns off the coffee machine, and opens the cabinet directly above it to retrieve two mugs. Matthew sets them on the counter and pours some brew into each mug, not spilling a drop. He grabs the milk, adding some to each cup. Matthew concludes this process, and the song he has been humming (Alfred identifies it as Alouette), by adding two teaspoons of sugar from the container to Alfred's coffee, and three to his own. Matthew places the spoon in the sink with a quiet clack and returns the milk to the fridge, topping the sugar jar, and unplugs the coffee maker as soon as he reaches the counter.

'Hippy.' Alfred thinks, the swell of affection that accompanies the thought shocking him.

Matthew grabs both mugs by their respective handles, and turns, a surprised look flitting across his face before it's replaced by a slightly uneasy smile. He sets a mug before Alfred carefully, and his smile lightens a bit when he is rewarded with a grateful thank you, which is probably what gives him the courage to take a seat.

An uncomfortable silence hangs over them for a few minutes. Alfred is half way through his coffee (which is perfectly made) when he finally speaks to Matthew, who at this point seems rather anxious, and eager to leave.

"Hangover duty?" He asks quietly, remembering all the other times that Matthew has greeted him after nights of excessive drinking, and knowing very well that Matthew is always called by his government and begged to take Alfred home.

Matthew nods, explaining briefly, "I know you don't want to be around me because of what I told you-" Matthew seems to be avoiding any direct reference, Alfred notes, although that's probably for the best, "-but you were startling pedestrians, and someone needed to take you home."

Alfred pauses for a moment, struggling to collect his thoughts due to his still hazy mental state, "Thanks, Matthew." Matthew winces at the name, which Alfred marks with bemusement, "I really appreciate you helping me with this." Thanks for taking care of me would be more accurate, but Alfred can't say that to the man who is in love with him. "But, considering what you told me-" Alfred doesn't want to say it, but he's thinking it (I can't be near you because you told me you're in love with me and I don't love you, so you make me feel really uncomfortable and guilty), "I want you to leave."

'I am such an asshole.'

He doesn't look at Matthew again, instead focusing on the now cold coffee before him and wishing it tasted horrible.

This would be so much easier if Matthew didn't know him so well.

'I have to tell Obama to stop calling him.'


March

"I'm sorry, Alfred; I don't believe I heard you well."

Alfred sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose tiredly as he replies, "I'm pretty sure you did, Kiku; Matthew's in love with me and I have no idea what to do about it."

Kiku sets the X-box controller down, leaning against the sofa. He twists his body to face Alfred, an intrigued look on his face, "Am I to assume that you do not love him?"

Alfred looks straight ahead, controller still in his hands, and inquires, "What do you do when the person who knows the most about you is in love with you, and you don't feel the same?"

Kiku's studying his face intently, and Alfred sees his eyes close for a moment in his peripheral vision before he opens them again, "I don't know, Alfred, but you cannot avoid Matthew forever. You and he are far too close, geographically and otherwise."

Alfred's eyes narrow in frustration, "How does he know so much about me? We don't spend much time together."

There's a lapse in the conversation, and Alfred is just about ready to press play when Kiku speaks again, "Actually, Alfred, you do." Puzzled, Alfred turns, finally facing his guest, and Kiku continues, "Matthew cleans up after you when you drink in excess, you have attended many sports games together, and you were both cared for by Arthur." Kiku falters here, curling his fists tightly in his lap, but carries on when given a prompting look, "He also leaves you those anonymous gifts."

Alfred freezes, the remote slipping from his hands and thudding onto the floor.

Alfred loves those gifts, the presents that, without fail, are always delivered to his home on his birthday and Christmas. The ones that lasted longer are all precious to him; they are kept in a large armoire in his storage room (except for the gifts that are spread throughout his house, like the coffee maker and his newest game). Alfred has been attempting to discover the identity of the sender for years now, the only person he has confided in about them being Kiku, and to hear that they are from Matthew makes his stomach clench.

'I'm sorry for not loving you.' The thought is unexpected, and Alfred isn't sure how to take it.

Alfred collects himself, picking up his controller and asking quietly, "How do you know?"

Kiku sighs, "When you showed me the note attached to the game we're playing-" I remember you saying something about this. "-I recognized the handwriting as Matthew's; I sat beside him during the last conference."

"Oh." The word passes quietly through his lips.


April

"I really need to clean out this place." Alfred remarks, entering his storage room slowly.

But that's not what he's here for. Today, he is going to look through Matthew's armoire. Alfred isn't sure what compelled him to do so, but the idea has been plaguing him since Kiku told him that Matthew is the one who has been giving him these gifts, and he has decided to do so now.

He doesn't dare look at anything but the large, oak armoire, lest he get off track.

The wardrobe is almost full, various knickknacks and other objects stacked up so high that there are only a few inches of space left at the top. Three thick scrapbooks (red, white, and blue, like the gift-wrap), full of the accompanying notes lay above the gifts. Alfred grabs the blue one-1972 to present day- and takes a seat as he begins to sort through it.

July 1972: Hasn't it been long enough?

A small daisy had been the gift. Matthew had never approved of his involvement in the Vietnam War, and at that point Alfred had lost hope in ever winning.

December 1972: What exactly are you fighting for?

A tie-dye bandana with a peace sign in the middle. Alfred really didn't know what he was fighting for, first it was freedom and democracy, but at that point he wasn't sure that the death and destruction were worth it.

'How does he understand me so well?' Alfred wonders, a wry smile making its way onto his face as he continues to read.

There had been times when Alfred had been so lost and troubled, times when these notes had proved to be his salvation.

Times when Matthew had saved him.


Three weeks later, it's Arthur's birthday. The party is being held at his Yorkshire home, and Alfred has just managed to tear Arthur away from Francis, leading him outside for privacy.

The weather outside is fairly pleasant, bright and sunny, but the chill in the air reminds Alfred that it's not yet summer. Arthur arches an eyebrow quizzically at Alfred, but does not speak.

The words come to Alfred after a moment, and he poses his question, "Why did you stop having flings with people? Why are you in a relationship?"

Arthur has that knowing look in his eye when he replies, and Alfred has a feeling that he's missing something, "I was only sleeping around because otherwise I felt alone; Francis makes me happy, and I haven't felt lonely since we got together."

Alfred allows himself to digest this information before something occurs to him, and he accuses, "Are you implying that I do the same? I don't, Arthur; I have sex because it's enjoyable-"

Arthur scoffs, interrupting him heatedly, "You have sex, and only sex, because you're terrified of rejection: you're afraid of venturing into a serious relationship because you don't want to get hurt, you don't want to risk being denied by someone you have actual feelings for." Arthur's tone softens, and he locks eyes with Alfred as he adds, "That's why you have all those meaningless shags; that's why you're so afraid of Matthew's love." Alfred tears his eyes away from Arthur's, instead studying the clouds above, "There's no reason for that, Alfred: Matthew's been enamored with you for a very long time, and his devotion has never wavered, regardless of any bad decisions you have made."

Alfred hates how right Arthur is.


May

Alfred stares up at the ceiling in utter boredom, unable to think of anything to do, when he realizes that he hasn't had sex since March, when Kiku told him that Matthew has been sending him those gifts.

'Why is that?' He asks himself, this having been his longest dry stretch ever (outside of times of war).

Arthur's words come back to him, 'Do I have feelings for Matthew?'

He thinks back, remembering how much he's thought of Matthew the past few months; the gift revelation (deep down, he's always loved the anonymous sender), Matthew taking care of him (he's made sure not to get drunk since then), his conversation with Arthur.

'Nah.' Alfred dismisses the thought, 'That's ridiculous.'

He goes back to staring at the ceiling.


June 30th

"I am such an idiot." Alfred says to himself, staring at the coffee maker that Matthew gave him a few years ago

Alfred awoke at approximately nine thirty, and without even thinking about it, made the short journey to his kitchen. Once there, he came to his senses, and, instead of questioning his actions, had a fleeting thought that jolted him awake.

'I miss Matthew.'

Which is where he finds himself now, standing in the middle of his kitchen in nothing but a pair of boxers, a shocked expression on his face as he finally accepts the truth.

'I'm in love with Matthew.' Alfred's eyebrows furrow, and he wonders, 'How could I have been so oblivious?'

A little voice in the back of his head tells him that he wanted to avoid vulnerability; its English accent is all too familiar.

Alfred doesn't know what to do with himself now that he's admitted his love of Matthew, so he continues to stand there with a stupefied expression until he comes up with a plan. Matthew's birthday is tomorrow (Alfred remembering Matthew's birthday is proof of his change), and the gifts that Matthew gives him have inspired Alfred to do something similar.

It won't be as impressive as Matthew's gifts are, but Alfred hopes that Matthew will approve of it because of the note Alfred intends to attach.

Alfred opens a drawer, grabbing a lineless index card and a sharpie marker, and sets the oven to three hundred and fifty degrees.


July 1st

Violet-eyes crack open, a pale arm reaching out for Manitoba and setting the glasses on Matthew's nose gently as he sits up. A glance at his bedside table informs him that it is eight o'clock in the morning, and he rises from his bed, socked feet padding to the bathroom.

Matthew removes his glasses, setting them down on the corner of the sink and washing his face quickly. He replaces his eyeglasses as soon as he's done brushing his teeth.

'Why do I do that anyway?' Matthew questions, not really caring about the reason, and knowing that he's going to continue to do so regardless, 'It doesn't really make sense to put on Manitoba right after I wake up; I just end up taking them off when I wash my face.'

Matthew traverses into the kitchen, shooting a quick smile at Kumawawa. He retrieves the milk from the fridge, as well as the pancake batter he mixed the night before, in preparation for his birthday breakfast.

Matthew pauses for a moment in recollection, 'It's my birthday.'

It's not unusual for Matthew to forget his own birthday; no one else can recall it due to its proximity to Alfred's (Matthew winces) birthday. As a result, Matthew often finds himself remembering that it's his birthday sometime after he's woken up; he never remembers when he first awakens.

The doorbell rings just as Matthew is setting the pan on the stove.

Matthew bites his lip apprehensively as he exits the kitchen, walking through the living room and to the door. He looks through the peephole, and a shock runs through him.

It's Alfred.

Just like that, Matthew's world is off-kilter. Panicked thoughts begin to speed through his mind, 'What is he doing here? Did he remember my birthday? Is he here to tell me he never wants to see me again? Why is he here?'

But standing there and speculating will not get Matthew anywhere, and he has never been one to keep Alfred waiting, sadly enough, so he opens the door.

Alfred smiles nervously, holding out a previously unseen cake as he wishes Matthew a happy birthday.

The cake is beautiful, albeit a bit lopsided. It's rectangular and made to resemble a Canadian flag, with the words Happy Birthday, Matthew written in Alfred's untidy scrawl with black frosting.

Matthew accepts the baked good with a brilliant smile, unable to believe what is happening, and murmurs graciously, "You didn't have to do this."

Alfred shakes his head, "Yes, I did." He pauses, "I know you're the one who's been giving me those presents."

Matthew's stomach drops, and for a moment he's afraid.

Alfred continues, his voice a bit unsteady, "You know me better than anyone else, and I guess the same is true about me; do you still have that wine cellar full of maple syrup?" Matthew nods, trying not to get his hopes up, "I've been thinking about your confession for a while now-" Matthew frowns as he recalls Alfred's avoidance of him, "-and this is what I came up with."

Matthew watches him apprehensively, his eyes tearing up as Alfred pulls a note from his back pocket and allows Matthew to read it.

I love you too.