Gilbert had assigned himself specifically to look after this new nation, become his big brother and care for him, spoil him. He was excited, this was easy to see from the gifts he had bought and the fat grin on his face when he approached the child, hands on his hips like the proud brother he was about to be.
“My name’s Gilbert, you can call me Gil. I’m your big brother!”
The child looked at him, blue eyes cold and face unmoving. He was older than most new nations were when they first came about, usually starting as very small children; he looked about 10 at the least, long legs and knobbly knees shown by his brown shorts. He said nothing, looking up at his new brother with lips tight.
“Uh…” Gilbert faltered, and with a moment to think, he hunched down to eye level, “You wanna come inside?”
The boy nodded, waiting for the confirmation before slipping into the large, new home. Nervous. That was it. He was just a scared kid after all, this new nation stuff would be hard work, but he had his big brother to catch him.
The man who had accompanied him over handed Gilbert a small case of things, “He hasn’t said a word since we got him. Might want to watch out for him.”
“No problem. I’ll have him chatting in no time! He have a name?”
“We’ve… just been calling him kid.” The man admitted.
Nations often named themselves, it didn’t come about immediately, but as Gilbert said his goodbyes, he was confident that this would work out.
“Hey, let me show you to your room.” He motioned with his head to the child who stood in the hall, looking around at all of the décor, dark wood and red, it was all over warm. The child turned and followed on up the stairs. He took each step carefully, mimicking Gilbert’s pace, but he stopped at the last one and hopped up onto the landing, skipping the step entirely. His brother blinked at the odd behaviour at first, but moved on to the room.
It was large, with a big window on one side and its own bathroom. The bed was the softest he could find, and on top of it lay numerous toys and a few books he pulled together. He set the case by the door and let the child walk in.
“This is all yours.” He smiled, “Technically this whole house is. But we’ll just start with here until you’re older.”
No response came, the boy simply hopped up onto the bed and picked up a book.
Gilbert grew used to the lack of response. Over the time this child spent here, he stayed mostly to his room, rarely ate, and refused to say a single word. It was strange, and a little unnerving. Gil refused to ask any other nation for help, he just kept trying. Asking questions, offering activities, but they were rarely taken. He simply wanted to be alone. You would think that a quiet child who stayed to himself would be no problem at all, but it was frustrating and he couldn’t pinpoint why.
“Maybe he doesn’t know how.” A soldier spoke while visiting on government duty, him and Gilbert stood by the kitchen window, watching as the child sat in the garden, fiddling with daisies and making a chain double the size of himself.
“What kid doesn’t know how to talk?”
The Prussian sighed, pouring the last of his now cold coffee down the sink, “He’s gotta know something. He’s not an idiot.”
“Is he deaf?”
“Nah, listens just fine. Just… doesn’t say anything.”
It was only later when the soldiers had left and Gilbert decided to soak some dishes that he felt a tug on his shirt. He looked down at the boy with interest, “What d’ya want, kid?”
The child pointed at the sink,
“You want some water?”
He nodded. Finally, they were getting at least somewhere. This could be an opportunity, ask more questions, but those usually ended up in less contact than before, and the day had been long, so Gilbert sighed and filled up a glass for him.
When the child was handed the glass, he hurried back outside where he began pouring it on the plants dried up by the summer sun. And every day since then, the same thing happened. If Gilbert was by the sink, he would feel a tug, the child would point, and he would get him some water for his plants. They began to revive slowly, and the satisfaction was clear on the boy’s face when they came back to life.
One day, after coming back from watering his plants quite late, the boy was faced with the table in the kitchen, set out for the both of them. Staff was hard to come by these days, Gilbert had done his best to cook what he could. This would hopefully be the first time they could sit and eat together.
“You hungry?” He asked, pulling up a seat.
The child looked at him, then the plate of food and slowly stepped up to the chair.
“It won’t bite, just a bit of potato.”
He hopped up onto the chair, looking down at the food in front of him. It wasn’t anything special, just some sausages he’d cooked up and potatoes he accidentally over did and decided were better mashed anyway.
Gilbert sat down opposite to eat, already cutting up the food before realising the child wasn’t touching it.
The plate was pushed away,
“Hey, something wrong with it? You don’t like potatoes?”
He shook his head, pushing the plate again,
“If you don’t want it, you can say you’re not hungry.”
The child sunk down, placing his forehead on the table, legs swinging under his chair.
The Prussian tried his best to ignore the frustration building in him. He didn’t even know this kids name and he thought he had business being fussy.
“Well fine. You don’t want it, I’ll throw it away.”
“Nn!” The noise was a surprise, making Gilbert stop in the middle of picking up the plate,
“…So you do want it?”
The child moved, keeping his head on the table but tilting it to look up, then looked at his brother’s plate.
“You can’t have mine.”
“Mm m.” any noise felt like a step forward, and slowly, Gilbert sat down.
He looked between the plates, trying to find the difference between them.
“You want me to cut yours up?”
The child sat up again, nodding, legs still swinging wide. His brother almost sighed with relief. That wasn’t so hard, but could have been done so much easier if he’d said so in the first place. He took the plate and began cutting up the sausages into pieces before handing it back, pleased to see the child tuck right in immediately.
“You know…” He started, watching the food get eaten, noting the boy only used his fork to eat and left the hand for his knife pressed against the chair, “All of this would be easier if you had a name.”
The child didn’t pause his eating, but he did look up, blinking in what could be confusion.
“Most kids have one.” Gilbert continued, leaning forward a bit, “Mine’s Gilbert. What’s yours?”
This exact conversation had happened a couple of times, and every time the boy in front of him would nod and leave, never once acknowledging the question at the end and preferring to hide away back in his room. This time didn’t seem to be much different as he did exactly that. Nod, and hop down off his chair and back up the stairs. Gilbert sighed, leaning back into his own chair.
Soon, the footsteps came thundering back down the stairs, and the boy carried in his hands some blocks that had been bought for him with letters on them. Interest grew in his brother as he sat back down and organised them correctly.
“Ludwig…” Gilbert had to hold back his full force grin, “That’s a nice name.”
Ludwig nodded, the tell tale hints of a smile on his own face.
They continued mostly like this, the only words spoken were from his older brother asking questions, he tried to approach them as calmly as he could, pushing down the frustration of not getting it right. But soon, Gilbert got used to it, to the point most soldiers who would visit would question when he was going to teach the child to speak.
“He doesn’t need to.” Gilbert shrugged one night as they prepared for a small party at the house – just a celebration, nothing too serious.
“How will he do normal things though?”
“He’ll work it out. Smart kid, y’aknow?” He blew the questions off easily, since Ludwig wasn’t often there to hear them, and if he did he didn’t acknowledge. Stuck in his own world and rhythm of watering the plants daily, and going back upstairs to read his books or just play alone. He was odd, but what kid wasn’t?
Today, Ludwig was found in the garden, using a trowel to dig a fairly sizable hole. It wasn’t too deep, but Gilbert watched from his break away from the others as the child tested the depth and continued his dig. Most would be mortified at the sight of the garden so messed up, but stopping him seemed fruitless. Whatever he was doing, there was a reason to it. And that reason gained one hell of a frown from his brother when he finished the hole, and laid in it.
Gilbert decided then that he should go over and investigate, flicking away his cigarette and stepping on it as he made his way over. At the edge of the shallow hole, he crouched,
“What you up to, Lud?” He asked,
his brother laid in his little hole, began moving some of the dirt over himself, then raised his arms to the sky. “Pshh…” He exclaimed quietly, wiggling his fingers to the sky.
“You’ve lost me.”
“Pshh!” He made the noise again, pushing his hands up harder.
It took a little while, and some broad thinking, but his brother gathered that he was aimed towards the sun, and his arms were the only things able to be seen over the hole.
“…Did you plant yourself?”
Ludwig looked at him, making his hands into fists and then slowly blooming his fingers out.
“So you’re a flower.” He couldn’t help but give a little smile, “You want me to water you?”
A nod in reply, this time with a glint of excitement in his eyes.
Gilbert, while confused, also found the situation at hand to be quite endearing. What he wouldn’t give to become a flower too. He took the little watering can that had been filled and slowly, making sure the child in the hole was ready, poured a little of it over the dirt he had pulled over his chest.
“Pshh...” Ludwig repeated, blooming his fingers out. His brother laughed lightly, making sure not to pour too much water on him. At the laugh, another one was returned, small but pleased, within making his quiet rain noises.
“Right.” Gil smiled, as much as he didn’t want to ruin the fun, “Am I allowed to pick this flower so he can go get washed and dressed for the party?”
After a little time of pondering, Ludwig nodded as sat up, his arms out to be picked up. This was strange for him, usually he would flinch away at being touched, going so far as to swat people away, but now he was inviting it. His brother decided now was best to be careful. He picked the child up under his arms and pulled him out of the hole and back onto his feet. This was sufficient enough it seemed as Ludwig brushed himself down and looked over for his brother to lead the way.
While he was in the bath, Gilbert took the time to set out his brother’s clothes for when he got out – certainly less muddy ones, this was not something you would wear to plant yourself in the garden. On top, he placed a gift. Nothing too special, just something he got while he was out in town, but he hoped it was enough. With that, he called to the bathroom to say he was leaving, and headed back down the stairs to inspect the preparations.
It was when he was talking to someone else about the food that he felt the bump against his back. He turned, lifting his arm to look behind him to see Ludwig leaning against him, book in his hands.
“Hey buddy.” Gil smiled, relaxing slightly but not turning yet, “You like your gift?”
The boy nodded, remaining pressed against him with his eyes firmly as far away as they could be.
“Well, how about tonight, I read some to you?” His brother suggested, turning to face him only to have the head now planted into his stomach. Instinctively, he put his arms around him, but quickly moved them to his shoulders. “You alright?” He asked, trying to be light with his hands.
Ludwig nodded again, but seemed quite fine to be just against his brother.
“Is this a hug?” Gilbert asked hesitantly. He could never be sure with this kid, in fact, he’d never gotten a hug from him.
This time, the nod was short, like he didn’t quite want to admit it.
With that, Gilbert could barely hide the burst of joy on his face and had to hold back from completely encasing the child in an overbearing grip. Instead, he let his arms fall around him again, and returned it as gently as he could.
“Thank you. That’s very nice of you.”
It didn’t take long for the nice moment to be broken off, Ludwig, after spending a good few seconds in his brother’s arms, pushed himself away and hurried back up to his room, dodging everyone he might pass.
“Weird kid…” One of the men Gilbert had been talking to before commented,
“He’s just got a different way of thinking, that’s all.”
The party went on as expected, and he didn’t mind the lack of little brother following him. It meant he could drink and joke about with others as much as he wanted, but he kept the thought of him in the back of his head, wondering if he might have wanted to come down. Though the atmosphere was suffocating as it was, he wouldn’t imagine such a sensitive kid would enjoy it.
A man tapped him on the shoulder, a worried expression on his face. Speak of the devil…
“Hey, you should see this…”
After being led through the party, Gilbert found himself outside the kitchen, chatter and music still hanging in the air. They approached a small collection of people, hunched over with concerned faces. Dread filled him. As he pushed past, he expected to see his brother hurt, ready for the worst.
Ludwig sat on the floor, knees up to his chest and hands over his ears. His face was buried in his knees, breathing unsteady and shaking. His brother fell to his knees in front of him, checking for injury where he could,
“What happened!?” He shouted to the others around him, unable to control the level of his voice with his brother in such a state,
“He just ran over here and started kicking off!” one of the men explained, “We tried to get him to stop but he just kicked us away and sat there.”
Gilbert tutted, turning back to the child in front of him with panic in his eyes, “Lud… what happened?” He knew the question wouldn’t get answered, really he wasn’t sure if it was heard. He could see how hard Ludwig was pushing his hands against his ears, his palms turning white from the pressure.
“Alright, alright. Give him some space!” He ordered, forcing the men to take a few steps back. To speak to his brother, however, he softened his tone, “Hey… Lud, what’s up? You can tell me.” He spoke, reaching to pull an arm away from his ear. The reaction he got felt like a shot to the heart. Ludwig screamed, swinging his arm away so hard it slammed into the wall behind him. At the noise of the impact, he kicked his legs out into his brother’s knees and retracted back tighter, curling his head down until it was against his thighs.
Gilbert tried very hard not to get angry, he could feel it bubbling up in his chest, the need to shout at him for acting out like this. But, he took another look at that trembling frame, those choked sobs under the music and chatter from the other rooms. He was just scared.
“Tell everyone to shut up for a minute, will you?” Gil waved at the men, “Go. Leave him alone.”
They did as he said, albeit confused and muttering to each other. That anger he had at his brother turned towards them. Insensitive bastards.
When they were gone, Gilbert took off his jacket, and carefully placed it over his brother’s head. The child flinched at first, but didn’t kick out again. He put his hands over his ears, gently moving them, “It’s all a bit much, huh?” He spoke as quietly as he could, hearing the party die down slightly, “I’m gonna get you somewhere quiet, okay? But you have to let me.”
Slowly but surely, he felt Ludwig’s muscles loosen, if only just enough to let himself look up at his brother, eyes full of tears and fear.
“C’mon…” Gilbert offered a gentle look, “Do you wanna go outside?”
The nod in reply was very slight, still shaking,
“Alright. Stand up and I’ll get you out there. You can keep your ears covered if you want.”
With the jacket still over his head, Ludwig moved, delicate and jumpy at the slightest sound or touch. Gilbert just led him, keeping his own hands over his ears, and keeping the jacket in place. Through the kitchen and into the garden where it was dark and the sounds of the party stayed firmly behind them.
“How about the greenhouse?” He suggested, moving his hands slightly, “There’s lots of plants in there. You like those.”
A nod, accompanied by a little sniffle.
He sighed, “C’mon then.”
The greenhouse was by far the quietest place he could think of. It wasn’t very kitted out, more just a little glass house with a few little pots in it – and while the floor was a little damp, he found a relatively dry dust sheet to lay down in a mostly empty area against a wall. As Ludwig sat down, he took his brother with him, still a little shaken. He moved, curling his knees under him and finding a spot leaning on Gilbert’s side.
“What happened, huh?” Gil tried again, letting his arm rest on the child’s shoulder, glad to see he had already calmed down considerably, “Was it all just too much?” he never expected a reply, but he could tell this was the case.
“No more parties then.” He smiled, giving his shoulder a rub, “Just you and me, reading books and planting flowers, yeah?”
“Nnhn.” An adamant reply,
“That settles it. If you ever feel like that again, you come get me, and we’ll come here together.” He sighed, leaning his head against the glass behind him. This was a tiring experience to say the least.
As he sat there, trying not to fall asleep, it hadn’t taken long for his little companion to give in to the feeling, breathing softly against his brother’s chest. It was so rare to see him so relaxed, and while the sight was cute, a look at his hand gained another tired sigh. That smack had left a nasty bruise. Maybe Gilbert shouldn’t have touched him, but he wasn’t a human child. It would heal fine. He could be comforted in that at least.
When sure the child was completely asleep, he shifted, tucking his arms under his legs and carefully lifting him up. Ludwig stirred only slightly, his hand gripping the soft fabric of his brother’s shirt as the leaned against his shoulder.
“You’re a strange kid…” Gilbert muttered as he carried him out of the greenhouse, “Gotta wonder what you’ll be like when you grow up.”