It had been just another Saturday afternoon in the peaceful state of Virginia, site of Alfred's oldest and most historical of all his houses. The sun shone brightly in a cloudless sky as the trees and flowers waved in a slight breeze. Birds sang from branches above and squirrels chattered busily, and the grass in a nearby field danced elegantly in a surprise gust, sending butterflies free-flying into the air.
Nothing about that day could have yielded a warning about the horror Arthur was going to find when he finally reached Alfred's colonial home.
Outside the house, the birds still sang and the frogs in the pond still croaked happily, going about their daily business. The sun still shone. There wasn't an ominous darkness about the place, and it wasn't locked up or shut in either. All the windows were uncovered and open, filling the house with the fresh air and natural chorus. The world was utterly peaceful.
That is, until a gunshot rang out.
The sound sent Arthur at least two feet into the air. Recovering from his initial shock, he muttered a curse at the American, wondering why in hell he was practicing his aim at such an early hour.
A second shot, less startling than the first but more puzzling. Those weren't rifle shots Arthur was hearing, he could tell that much; they were pistol shots, and as a third one sounded he realized in terror that they were coming from inside the house. Inside. Not the backyard, the uppermost floor of the house.
He was at the threshold in an instant, yanking at the doorknob and attacking the bell furiously, shouting for his former colony to come to the door.
'Why the hell am I panicking so bloody badly?!' he thought in frustration as he kicked at the old wood, 'he's probably just fooling around with an old handgun or something; why am I so worked up?!'
After at least five minutes of assaulting the oak door, Arthur took a step back. He was red as a cardinal and fuming like an Austrian, breathing heavily and glowering. Another shot sounded from above, and he leapt toward the door, smashing his left shoulder painfully hard against it. To his shock, it caved almost instantly, and before he knew it he was sprinting up flight after flight of stairs.
He got to the fourth floor and skidded to a halt. Standing in a doorway just inside of the hall was none other than the man he'd broken down a door to find; Alfred. Panting, he wordlessly surveyed the young country's condition. He seemed to be completely uninjured, although appeared uncharacteristically tired and gloomy.
"Iggy? How did you get in here? I didn't hear the bell and I'm the only one home
"I heard gunshots coming from up here!" the Brit retorted, "I broke down your damn door to make sure you were alright! What the bloody hell where you doing up here?!"
Alfred's cheeks became tinged with pink, and he smiled gently, completely ignoring Arthur's question; "You were worried about me? Aw, now I'm a little embarrassed."
you're absolutely sure that you're alright?" Even as he said it, the words sounded ridiculous, as Alfred looked absolutely perfect.
"Of course I'm okay, Iggy." Alfred's smile didn't drop, but it didn't widen into the grin Arthur had become so accustomed to. The smile he wore now made him look even older, and more exhausted.
"Quit calling me that," relaxing a bit, Arthur punched his ally's arm in a playful gesture, letting himself smile, "Anyway, what were you doing up here? I mean, what could you be shooting at in an attic?" he laughed, "I thought you'd died or something when you didn't come to the door."
At these words, Alfred's smile did drop. Suddenly he looked ashen, and his sky blue eyes darkened.
"Oh no, definitely not dead. I can't die; it's impossible."
"B-because you're the hero, right?" Alfred's strange demeanor was baffling the poor Englishman, "and heroes never die?"
"I wish," Alfred gave a humorless smirk, "but I mean it literally. It's impossible for me to die."
Alfred's icy tone, mixing with his out-of-character expression, made Arthur shiver.
"What do you-"
"God damnit Iggy! Do I have to spell it out for you?!"
Startled by this shift from apathy to anger, Arthur stepped back. Alfred turned swiftly away from him and walked back into the room he'd been coming out of. Arthur followed a second later, regaining his composure
Only to lose it once more when Alfred lifted the barrel of a pistol to his temple.
"A-Alfred! What-what are you doing?! Have you gone off your rocker?! Put that damn thing down!"
Alfred's eyes were cold again; they seemed to pierce right through the Brit's body.
"Watch and see, Iggy," he said dryly, "this thing can't hurt me, no matter what I do with it."
And he pulled the trigger.
The explosion from the bullet shook the entire room and everything in it, right down to Arthur's ribs. He snapped his eyelids closed, refusing to believe what had just happened, to see the gore that was sure to be splattered all over the floor
"See, Iggy? Absolutely nothing."
He opened his eyes.
Alfred still had the gun to his head, his finger having squeezed the trigger all the way down. A recently-spent bullet lie only feet away, smoking on the floor. Alfred was physically unchanged; there was no wound in his head, no stream of blood cascading down his neck, not even a speck of brain matter on the floor. He was still pristine.
"I-I-I don't, I-
" Arthur was at a loss for words. Alfred had just done something that should have been suicidal, and yet he stood completely unharmed before him.
"It doesn't matter where I shoot; it doesn't hurt, I don't get hurt, and I can't die," Alfred's voice began to shake, "no matter how many fucking times I try, I can't fucking die!"
How many times had he tried to shoot himself? Arthur felt a jolt of horror; to come to the conclusion that he was immortal, Alfred would have had to actually try and kill himself. Alfred would have to be suicidal. The thought of it chilled his entire body, inside out.
" He was still stammering as the American let his body sink to its knees, going all but limp except the gun in his hand, still jammed against his skull, "You've
tried to k-ki-ill yourself? Why? Why in Gods na-"
"I can't die!" Alfred suddenly wailed, his eyes jamming closed and his face contorting into an agonized mask, "I'll have to live forever! Longer than you or Matthew or even Yao! I'll have to watch you all die before me! And I have to live with it!"
?" words continued to fail the normally insatiable talker.
"The memories! The fucking memories!" Alfred pounded the floor with his free hand, balled into a fist, as tears began streaming from his eyes and down his face and neck, splashing on the floor with an almost inaudible sound, "I have to live with every fucking disgusting thing I've ever done! Bring all that hell to the middle east, destroying Vietnam, tearing up Korea, inventing that damn atomic bomb and nearly killing Kiku with it
" he choked off, sobbing loudly and choking on air. Arthur took a tentative step forward, cursing himself for being useless in a situation like this.
"Putting my people through hell in the 1860s
nearly tearing myself in half and killing thousands of my own men," Alfred was talking more to himself now, his words becoming mumbled and his tears flowing faster, "and
tearing myself from you before I was ready
that was the cause of it all, wasn't it? If only I'd sucked up my pride and stayed a colony for just a little longer
I wasn't ready, damn it, and look what it's done to everyone!"
And with that, he pulled the trigger again, sending Arthur to his knees and scrambling towards him. He threw his arms around his sobbing young brother, pressing the side of his face to the front of Alfred's shoulder blade and embracing him as tightly as he could. He could feel moisture in his own eyes now. Alfred had been suffering this much for so long and he'd never seen it; he'd never even thought to guess that someone who always seemed so joyful and strong could be so broken inside. He cursed himself nonetheless, for not knowing, and at a few points in history, not caring. He squeezed more tightly.
Alfred fired another bullet through his head, allowing his entire body-save for his left hand-to become limp in Arthur's grip. His body was shaking with sobs; the concoction of regret and guilt bubbling inside was burning him, and it was agonizing. He fired another bullet, extracting a jump and a loud sob from the now-also-hysterical Englishman.
Outside, the birds still sang from their perches. The wind still blew gently against the foliage. The frogs still hummed their exotic chorus. The sun was still shining over Virginia, as if nothing excruciating was happening in the homeland's heart, as if no nations were pressed together in a dusty attic, sobbing incessantly with hell burning unleashed in their hearts.