Title: There Are Always Consequences
Fandom: Axis Powers Hetalia
Rating: PG 13 (violence)
Word Count: 3407
Summary: Snake AU. The day after the reality of his situation comes crashing down on Matthew, angry words are shared and he finds himself chased out of Arthur’s garden. But is he jumping ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’? There’s a vicious murderer in this odd garden of Eden, and it just might not be Arthur.
At the farthest corner of Arthur’s garden, a deep fissure between the mountains spilled forth a breathtaking waterfall. The water splashed down to fill a modest pool and ran on to feed the stream that bubbled through the center of the garden and down through the rest of the forest, and it was at that pool that Matthew had fled as soon as the sun rose over the horizon. The water was frigid as it cascaded over him, covering his skin with goose bumps and leaving him shivering, but he didn’t care.
He just wanted to be clean.
Perhaps it would have been better to wait until later in the day, when the sun had warmed everything up and the water wasn’t quite as chilly, but he didn’t want to. He’d slipped out of the cave as soon as there was light enough to see, shirtless and barefoot and full of confusion as to what had transpired the night before. Arthur had… and he’d… Matthew shuddered and dunked back under the spray, trying not to think. He used a handkerchief to scrub his skin until it was pink from more than just the cold, until finally there was nothing left to do but stand there beneath the water.
How long he remained like that he did not know, but he’d been struggling with the knowledge that he’d have to eventually return when a movement at the edge of the clearing caught his eye. Swiping the wet bangs from his face, Matthew froze before scrambling back under the falling water as an all-too-familiar figure slowly edged towards the embankment, carrying something.
It was Arthur.
The snake-man hesitated a few feet from the water, his strange eyes darting back and forth across the pool. For the first time in the few weeks since Matthew had first fallen into his clutches, Arthur seemed… uncertain. “I know you are there,” he said at last, pulling back to rest among his own coils, his eyes dropping to the ground in front of him, “because I followed your scent here. But all I can smell and hear is water, and I… I cannot see you. Won’t you come out?”
“Why should I?”
Arthur’s face whipped towards him at the sound of his voice, but just as quickly his gaze fell away, seemingly unable to pinpoint his location thanks to the falling water. “Because,” he grumbled petulantly, “I’ve brought you something, and how can I bloody give it to you when I can’t see you?”
The young man chewed at his lip and eyed up the bundle clutched in Arthur’s clawed hands. He might be curious, but he really didn’t want to be any closer to that monster than he had to be, either. And if he stayed in the water much longer, he might just make himself sick. “I… I’ll come over if you put it down on the grass and back up,” he finally responded, shifting on the pebbled bottom of the pool. “Just stay back.”
Nodding, the snake-man carefully laid his offering on the edge of the embankment and shifted his lengthy body back until he’d almost re-entered the trees, mottled sunlight filtering down through the leaves to light his frowning face. Matthew waded slowly from the pool, never taking his eyes off of the beast. Folded neatly in the pile were two squares of fabric, one for washing and one for drying, as well as his shirt which appeared to have been cleaned. There was also an odd little lump of something that smelled faintly of herbs. “It’s soap,” Arthur offered, watching him intently now that Matthew had returned to his scope of vision. “So that you may wash.”
Well. That was unexpected. Mumbling a soft thank you under his breath, he returned to the water with his gift. He felt awkward with Arthur still laying right there, only slightly comforted by the fact that he couldn’t seem to see what he was doing. Soon enough his pinkened skin smelled of rosemary and mint, not a physical trace remaining of the events of the previous night, and he could find no more excuse to keep himself partially immersed in the pool. Eventually he pulled himself back up on the bank, tugging his shirt and breeches over damp skin while still watching his captor. He could see the tip of Arthur’s tail twitch amongst the weeds, a few of the coils curling tighter in amongst themselves, but still he remained quiet.
Finally Matthew couldn’t take any more of the silence. “Why?” He blurted out, wincing as the sudden sound made the snake-man jerk in surprise. “Why would you… with me…?”
Arthur seemed to recoil at his words, something akin to shame painting its way across his features before he reared up, suddenly on the defensive. “You wanted it,” he spat, fire flashing in his dark eyes. “Your body practically screamed for touch. I could taste it on your skin, you stupid boy, so why do you act as though I’ve wronged you?”
"Because you did," Matthew snapped back. "I didn’t ask to be groped by you like… like some harlot! I wanted to leave but you wouldn’t let me!"
"Then why didn’t you say something? Push me away? I gave you plenty of opportunity to draw away, yet still you lay there!" A ruddy flush began to glow at the centre of Arthur’s cheeks, the growing rage drawing him tighter and tighter like a coiled spring. "I would not force myself on anyone unwilling, you damned-"
Matthew let out a sharp bark of laughter, a bitter, mirthless sound. “I have been unwilling since the moment I stepped into this garden, yet I stay out of fear for my life and that of my sister’s. I put up with your constant fondling for I know not what you’ll do if I refuse.” And last night there was something more than that which kept him pinned to the bed, something about those damnable eyes that held him there, unable to cry out… “How is that consent, to choose between death and being raped by a monster?”
Silence fell over the clearing, the anger between the two men nearly palpable. Inch by painstakingly slow inch the snake man drew himself up to an impossible height, every instinct in Matthew’s body screaming at him to run. When he spoke again, words fell from his lips with such a snarl that they barely seemed human. “Get. Out. Out of my garden.”
Matthew shrank back, violet eyes darting wildly. Oh gods, he was going to die now, he could just feel it in his bones, the borrowed time he’d been living on suddenly draining away like sand out of the broken hourglass of his life. There was simply no way he could hope to escape in once piece. Arthur was faster, stronger, and more agile, easily outmatching him. “N-now?”
“Now,” roared Arthur, his wicked teeth bared and body snapping forward as if to strike. Matthew scrambled from the clearing, his shoes lying forgotten in the grass behind him. He had no thoughts in his mind but to get away, no destination but out, and so he ran with his very life depending on his flight. Vegetation tore at his body, thorns and rocks slicing into his flesh, but even the roots which tripped up his feet could not keep him from running, not when he could hear the beast crashing through the undergrowth behind him.
Somehow he found the exit.
And so pumped full of adrenalin and fear, he didn’t give a second thought to the fact that he stumbled through uninhibited.
* * *
Just keep running.
Almost from the moment he’d entered it, the forest surrounding Arthur’s garden bore down on him with a heavy dread. His escape should have felt like freedom, but the pervading silence made his skin crawl and his hair stand on end. He thought he’d been frightened before, but this… this was a deeper, purer form of terror. Arthur’s words from before kept whirling in the corner of his mind, about how he could never leave alive if the other discarded him, and he was beginning to think that it wasn’t just Arthur he had to worry about.
Something was stalking him.
He’d lost his way almost immediately, stumbling from the path into the underbrush in hopes that it would give him an advantage, and while he seemed to have lost one persuer he’d almost certainly gained another. There was something about the dead silence and the unmoving air that left Matthew nearly shuddering with anxiety. He’d grown up on a farm and knew how predators worked, how they drove their prey nearly to madness and herded them to their doom with calculated precision. He couldn’t see it, couldn’t hear it, hell, he didn’t even know what it was, but he knew it was there.
The young man couldn’t tell where he was anymore, or if he was any closer to escaping this nightmare than before.
Something snapped behind him and he whirled, expecting to see something right on his heels, but nothing met his sight. Only more of the silence. When was the last time he’d seen an animal or heard anything but the sound of his own panting breaths? Sweat beaded on his brow and trickled down into his eyes, making them burn; he skidded to a halt by a large tree to wipe at his face and gain his bearings. He had to get out, had to get away, had to… gods, why did he have to lose his head and snap at that monster?
I don’t want to die.
The shadows felt like they were closing in on him, threatening to swallow him up in their dark maws. Matthew stumbled back into movement, forcing his way into another patch of brush towards what he could only hope to be the exit before the ground suddenly disappeared from beneath his feet. The sandy soil of the riverbank cushioned most of his fall, but the sharp drop from a height greater than his own left the blond momentarily stunned, unable to do more than flop over onto his side with a groan. Nothing felt broken but everything ached, from his flight and the fall and the stress, and for the barest of moments Matthew wished nothing more than to lay there and accept his fate.
At least until he realized that he was no longer alone.
Almost within reach lay another man. Well, he assumed that he’d once been a man. The other would be of little use to him unless the gods saw fit to return him the sinew and muscle that had long since been stripped from his bones. Matthew scrambled back, his heart thundering in his throat. “Oh gods,” he whispered, swallowing back bile and staring down at the corpse. Once the man might have been an adventurer of sorts, judging by element-worn armour and the sword at his side, but he’d obviously encountered something here that had ended such dreams. Something that had hacked apart and chewed at his ribs, indicating an end much like Matthew was fearing.
…Wait. The sword.
Normally he would have been reluctant to touch the dead, but there was little time for such taboos right now, not when his life might very well depend on having a way to defend himself. He inched forward and grabbed the scabbard, wincing as the movement disarticulated the pelvis from the spine. “Sorry,” he mumbled, pulling his prize to him and yanking it out of the sheath. He had no skill to speak of but it was better than nothing, and the sword itself looked solid enough in spite of its recent fate.
Matthew gulped, eyes darting around him for the first time since he’d fallen. Down here at least there was sound, the faint trickle of the stream next to him offering something to balance out the lack of wildlife and insects. The narrow beach he lay on stretched on for several furlongs, birch saplings lining the banks with their pale bark, and…
And then he saw it.
There, almost directly above him, frozen like a statue on the bank from which he’d fallen. A sharp cry rose unbidden from his throat, every muscle in his body seizing in shock. Arthur had been terrifying with his chimeric appearance, but this… this was well and truly a beast, not an ounce of humanity apparent in its serpentine body. It was as if someone had taken one of the snakes he’d chased away from the pastures in his childhood and grown it to a horrendious size; the head and portion of its body raised from the ground to watch him would easily tower over him, yet it was only a small portion of the animal’s total length. Milky white with a touch of gold and bearing brilliant ruby eyes, the snake might be considered beautiful if not for the way it reared back and hissed as their gazes met. Its mouth dropped open to reveal a pair of wickedly curved fangs, and in that moment Matthew lost any remaining hope of survival.
But he was not to go down without a fight.
Throwing the sword up between then, the young man dug his toes into the sand and never dropped his gaze from the gigantic snake, in spite of the moisture beading up at the corners of his eyes. “You too, eh? Why? I just wanted to protect my sister, to give her a chance at the life that the universe seemed so damned intent on stealing away, but because of that I had to give up my own. Do I not get some credit for that? I have done nothing to deserve any of this! Leave me alone!”
If the snake understood his words it made no indication, rearing higher and suddenly snapping forward. Matthew screamed and tried to block the strike with his sword, somehow managing to keep those fangs from sinking into his skin but losing his balance in the process. Knocked from his feet into the water, he splashed and scrabbled backwards across the shallow stream as quickly as he could, but the snake was quicker. More of its body spilled down onto the beach with him, the tip of a muscular tail whipping forward to coil around his ankle and pull him off-balance, his head falling back to slam against the river stones. He choked as water filled his mouth and threatened to drown him, but just as quickly his body was tossed back against the bank.
Somehow the sword remained in his hands through all of this, and as soon as he could find his bearings again he brought it up beat against the snake’s body, but the blade merely glanced off of those armour-like scales like it was made of felt instead of metal. The snake dragged him flailing through the air, beating the poor boy’s body against the sand and embankment as if he were nothing more than a ragdoll. There was an insane sort of intelligence lurking behind the monster’s eyes, something that suggested that it knew exactly what it was doing and was enjoying every moment of it, but such a thing was impossible for Matthew to notice in the heat of the moment. His struggles began to weaken, his battered body starting to give in to the pain which wrapped around it, and his vision blurring. Throwing its plaything down atop the sand one last time, the snake rose over him and hissed in what could only be glee as it prepared to strike.
The fingers wrapped around the sword grew slack as Matthew closed his eyes. He’d tried, but it simply was not enough.
But just as he waited for those fangs to sink into his flesh, an unholy snarl rang through air and something struck the snake with such force that it reared back and released him. Violet eyes fluttered open just in time to see a furious mass of green and gold decend upon his attacker, all claws and teeth and anger.
Serpentine bodies wound ‘round one another with lightening speed, rearing and hissing at one another as they tried to find an opening in which to strike as the two of them writhed over the streambed. Water splashed beneath their bodies, sand and mud flying through the air, yet still they struggled as Matthew scrambled back out of reach of those winding bodies. The monsterous snake seemed more surprised than anything at the attack, doing little to fight back until the snake-man’s claws sank into its softer underbelly and drew blood; before Matthew could even cry out in warning, it snapped forward to sink its fangs into the juncture of Arthur’s neck and shoulder and held on tight.
"No!" Without thinking he dove in, slamming the pommel of the sword squarely into the top of the creature’s broad head. Almost instantly it let go, clearly stunned by the blow and losing the will to fight. Helpless prey was one thing, but an enraged half-man, half-snake who seemed intent on killing it was another matter entirely. Especially when the two joined sides against it.
With a last dazed hiss it withdrew and Arthur let it, planting himself firmly between the other and Matthew. “Not this one,” he rasped, blood trickling down the pale skin of his torso from rapidly bruising puncture wounds. Chest heaving, he fixed the snake with a steely glare, one which clearly promised more of his wrath. “No matter what we might have been, I swear I will end you if you touch him again.” With that, he whirled on his consort, grabbing the boy without a care for his weak protests and throwing him over his shoulder before rapidly slithering back towards the safety of his garden, leaving the scene of their brief yet intense battle quickly behind.
The other snake did not follow, for which Matthew was grateful, but it was all too apparent that his troubles were far from over. He might have been worried about becoming the sole focus of Arthur’s wrath if it weren’t for the fact that the closer they got to the garden, the more difficulty Arthur seemed to have in staying upright. At first he merely sagged a bit under his burden’s weight, but by the time they’d almost reached the stones that marked the boundaries of his territory, Arthur kept pausing to lean heavily upon the trees as they passed.
"…Arthur, put me down."
His answer was a headshake and a low groan as the snake-man forced himself forward once more.
Matthew’s alarm only grew as he realized how warm the skin beneath his hands had grown, almost burning to the touch. He recalled the snake’s fangs and with sick dread began to fear that a couple of bite marks were the least of his worries. “Arthur, please. I… I promise I won’t run away.” He paused again, wilting against another tree and reluctantly loosening his grip on Matthew, who gratefully slipped off of his shoulder to get a better look at him. Arthur either couldn’t or wouldn’t look at him, and it was with some coaxing that he finally tilted the snake-man’s face up. What he saw did not look good. Arthur’s skin was waxen, his pupils blown and his lips parted as he panted labourously with each and every breath; coupled with the darkening skin around the bites, Matthew finally stated what had been eating at his mind. “It was poisonous, wasn’t it.”
The other man swallowed thickly and nodded, grabbing his arm and giving him a little shove towards the garden. “Inside. I can’t… protect you out here.”
Ignoring Arthur’s grumbled displeasure, Matthew slung an arm around his serpintine waist and began to ease him the last few steps into the garden, only breathing a sigh of relief once they’d passed the border stones. It would be so easy to run right now, to leave Arthur as he was and take his chances with the snake, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Arthur had risked his life to protect him, and in spite of what had happened previously… well, his honour and his life were two totally different things. He couldn’t ignore such a debt.
He just prayed to whomever might be listening that he was making the right choice.