Axis Powers Hetalia: PruCan AU
The Forest and Three Little Pigs
"Do you think it will rain?"
Gilbert sniffed the air, but not before rolling his eyes at the question. The forest they were traveling through was so dense they could scarcely tell daylight from evening. It was not the first thing that should have been on his mind. "Shouldn't you be more worried about dinner? Or finding a decent place to camp for the night?"
"I'm sure we'll find something. Those are things we have some control over." Matthew switched his pack to the other shoulder, adjusting his cloak to cover it accordingly. He could barely see in the gloom ahead. Gilbert's night vision was thousands of times better than his, and his voice was a beacon. "I was just wondering."
Gilbert snorted. After a few more paces, he answered over his shoulder, "shouldn't rain. Anything still on you?"
"Some nuts, a chunk of that dried meat from the last village we went through, and a turnip." And three apples, he added mentally, but those didn't need mentioning. "And a few matches."
"Save the matches. A fire in here would be stupid." It would show for miles around in the murk, and Gilbert did not want the company it would bring. He grabbed the boy he was supposed to be protecting and dragged him off the trail by the wrist. Time to camp. The whole place reeked of something ominous, and he would just as soon they were out of these damn woods, but they would be walking for a while yet by the feel of things. Better to be well rested before they tried to go it any further. The inky black of a hollow tree showed a shade darker than the surrounding gloom. Gilbert dropped Matthew into it with little grace."Stay here and don't do anything dumb." And with nothing else to say, he took off.
Matthew stuck his tongue out in the direction he supposed Gilbert had taken off. The drop hadn't hurt him, exactly, but he didn't appreciate being tossed around like a sack of potatoes. Don't do anything dumb, he'd said. So that meant he was supposed to sit still and quiet and not attract the attention of whatever lived in this forest that was likely to try and eat him. As if he would do otherwise without the warning.
He sighed, feeling out the space he had been dumped into. The trunk of the tree behind him was rubbed smooth to the touch, obviously not the work of nature. It was wide, too. With his legs drawn up to his chest, he thought that even Gilbert could fit in here with him, if not a little snugly. The ground below him was swept clean. Probably recently. He swallowed at his suddenly dry throat, hoping that who or whatever had hollowed out the tree was not going to be angry with him for using it without permission. Aside from a little pen knife, he had nothing on him for protection. At times like this, he tended to rely on negotiation to get out of tight spots. So if the owner of the tree was angry with him, Matthew could not help but hope it would at least be a little reasonable about it.
He need not have worried. Gilbert was back in the space of a few minutes, dropping their oilskin full of fresh water into his lap along with a small fish that still had a bit of wriggle in it as he joined Matthew in the small space. As he'd thought, they both fit, even with the fluffy tail in the mix. Gilbert's ears just brushed the top of the hollow. Matthew wrinkled his nose at the flopping, but his hunger had the better of him even with no fire.
"There's a shallow stream not too far from here. We'll get more in the morning and we can save the dried stuff for down the road," Gilbert informed him. He had a general distaste for anything but fresh meat, but put up with the supplies when he had to. Picky eater or no, starving was not on his list of things to do. It seemed he'd managed to catch two fish, which meant they didn't have to try and share just one. Gilbert's instincts were getting better, then. They ate the raw things quickly (Matthew was still adjusting to the taste of things raw and unprepared, but knew better than to complain; better a fish than something bigger when it was freshly dead) and buried the bones a little ways away to keep things from getting up too much of an interest in them. The water tasted a little murky, but it washed things down well enough. It was preferential to the more bitter internal bits of the fish at least.
Matthew tugged his cloak tight around him to keep the early autumn chill out, glad for the shared body heat in the small space. No breeze made it into the dense forest, and everything was still and quiet. No insects or night noises permeated the eerie stillness. Just the sound of his and Gilbert's quiet breathing echoed against the wood around them. Soon, the spaces between breath became longer, and they slept there, shoulder to shoulder until morning.
The night passed them up without event, and when they clambered out of their little hideaway and got a good stretch, both boys were well refreshed. Indeed, the dense forest passed quickly into thinner trees and patchy sunlight after only half a day's walk, and by the evening they were passing out of the edge of it and greeted the sunset against sparsely populated hills. It was a far cry from civilization, but if they sent Matthew to request supplies or lodging, they could probably get on comfortably.
The first house they came upon, curiously, was built from straw.
"I wonder what sort of person thought it would be a good idea to make their whole house out of straw. A roof, I could understand, but the walls too?" The whole place seemed to sag a bit toward the middle. Matthew could not imagine it was very sturdy. A medium gust of wind might knock it over sideways, and a cooking fire was simply out of the question. It seemed a very impractical place to live.
"I don't really care what kind of idiot is in there. Just knock on the door and stare at them with your big baby eyes and see if you can wring anything out of them with sympathy or something," Gilbert snorted. They had learned that it was better if he kept somewhat out of sight when they begged food or lodging. If his appearance didn't ruin their chances, his personality and sharp tongue did them in. "And try not to die again, would you."
"No promises," Matthew answered back airily. He was getting used to the jibes and in his worse tempers found himself answering them with some jabs of his own. Gilbert was shooed off the drive and back onto the makeshift road where he waited impatiently.
The blonde wondered at first whether he should knock on the door (it looked as if it might not withstand even being opened), but the decision was made for him as he drew close enough to be in the shadow of the little house.
Surprised, Matthew stumbled a few steps back, landing with little dignity on his backside. The voice had not been a loud one, but it was shrill and not entirely human. "I'm sorry?"
"Don-don't come cl-closer," the small voice squealed at him from inside the little straw house. It had hushed to something just above whisper tones, as if being too loud was dangerous. The walls creaked in the breeze. Matthew supposed there was something to that idea.
"My friend and I," Matthew heard the scoff from the road, but ignored it and continued, "are looking for either food, lodging, or directions. Can you offer us any of those things?"
There was silence from the house.
A bit of nervous snuffling. Matthew thought he could see a short pink snout between the cracks of the door.
"Directions, or I'll fucking knock your house in around your piggy little ears."
The commotion from inside mixed with the bout of yelling and an ill timed gust of wind came together at an unfortunate unison. There was a creak and a snap, followed by the choked sobbing of the little pig inside the house. None of them really heard the soft thump as the walls fell, almost comically, in four separate directions. The bundles of straw that had made up the roof rolled down to follow, their support ties having come loose. Nothing but a sad framework of a house was left behind, with a tearfully nervous little pig standing in the center. Matthew couldn't help but feel sorry for the thing. He scrambled to stand back up and apologize.
"Oh. Oh-! I'm so terribly sorry about your house! I had no idea something like this...Gilbert, would you apologize or something?"
But when he turned to his traveling companion he saw him smirking, his sharp fangs flashing in the fading sunlight. The piglet must have seen it too, because he hit the ground in a dead faint. Matthew pinned the other young man with an accusatory glare.
"That was completely unnecessary."
As unnecessary as it had been, the damage was done (in a fair number of senses). And since it had been their fault, Matthew wanted to take responsibility. He had crouched down next to the piglet, patting at the little tuft of blonde hair sprouting between his ears.
"It isn't our fault the dumb pig's a little coward. We're leaving him."
"We could leave him if there was a safe place to leave him in, but as you've kindly knocked in his house-"
"I did not knock in the little bastard's house!"
"You may as well have," Matthew had gone stubborn and Gilbert had the awful feeling he was about to get his way again."And if we just leave him here in the open, we may as well have killed him. Next to those woods...we were lucky last night, but that's all it was, I reckon. Neither of us is an enchanted pig. We'll take him to a neighbor, and if he wakes up before we get there, he can take himself. Deal?"
If the prince refused the deal, he knew what would happen. He'd already put in too much work to let the petulant little miracle worker just walk away without properly changing him back first. Grudgingly, he turned his back on the boy.
"Die again and I'm leaving you both to be eaten."
Matthew beamed as he hoisted the watermelon-sized piglet into his arms, happy that Gilbert had seen the right of his way.
They had only followed the road for a slow pace of ten minutes (heavier than he looks, Matthew insisted), when they came upon a second little shack made of bundled sticks. It looked only slightly less likely to blow over in the wind than the straw hut had. The residents of this part of the country seemed remarkable at choosing poor building materials. The sun had already dipped below the horizon, leaving them wrapped in a dim twilight.
"Alright. Let's dump it here and get this over with," Gilbert flourished a clawed hand at the poorly constructed hovel. "And don't talk to whoever's inside. Everytime you stick your nose into people's business you end up dead on some stranger's floor."
"Charming." Matthew rolled his eyes, shifting the comatose piglet's dead weight to his other arm. "Stay here and behave yourself."
Matthew missed whatever face the other pulled as he stepped closer to the threshold. He didn't dare chance knocking on the door. If he was the one that knocked in the second house, he would never hear the end of it.
"Excuse me," he called politely, arms straining with the heavy little piglet. "Is anyone home? Your neighbor ran into a bit of trouble, and...we've brought him over." The door creaked open a crack, and a cautious pink nose poked out. Matthew could just make out a cautious pair of watery porcine eyes and a bit of brown tufty hair in the dark of the house.
"Which neighbor did you bring?" The voice that came out was high, but not nearly as thin as the first pig's terrified stutter had been. It was actually fairly pleasant sounding, for a pig.
"I'm sorry. I don't know his name, but his home was made of straw just down the way. His walls fell out and his roof fell in and my traveling companion and I couldn't leave him there in good conscience. He's, ah. Fainted from the stress, it seems." An impatient noise came from the road. "We'll just leave him in safe hands and-" The second pig suddenly let out an alarming squeal.
"Oh! No, no! Here is not safe hands! I mean, that is to say, I know him because he's my brother and I'm thankful you've carried him all the way over here and caused yourself trouble, and if it had been any other neighbor but one of my brothers I would gladly do something, but this is not a safe place for two pigs to be at once!"
Perplexed, Matthew shifted his burden once again, feeling that if this conversation took too much longer, his arms would fall off. Strained, he inquired, "What do you mean?"
"It's a rule. We're being punished. I can't say more, but he can't come in! Oh, but he won't be safe out there either, with the wolf that's about..." Gilbert's patience had run dry with that final statement.
"Yeah, well keep chattering away and you're not safe with the wolf right here." He made for Matthew, intending to get him to drop the dead weight and get moving out of here before they found out what garbage of a sob story the pig brothers would throw at them and they were forced to deviate again from their route. And, as could well be expected from sudden movements from a boy who struck such a terrifying figure in front of a creature already in a fair state of panic, with said creature holding tight to an unstable structure of bundled sticks, another disaster struck.
The sticks had come unstuck from the ground and the whole structure tumbled to pieces on the ground, leaving the second little pig in hysterics, crying that he was in no way delicious.
Neither Matthew nor Gilbert paid him much mind over their own shouting match.
"If you could just hold your temper!" The prince bristled as the blame for destruction was thrown at himself again.
"I wouldn't have to hold my fucking temper if you didn't have to go sticking your nose where it doesn't belong! If you could just mind your own business we wouldn't be in this mess! I told you not to talk to them!"
"Well you told me to ask for help in the first place! And then you made it our business again when you butted in and purposely intimidated them both and destroyed their only shelter from wild animals, Gilbert! Leaving them alone after that is the same as murder!" Matthew threw his hands wide, exasperated.
"Yeah, well, I thought maybe you'd like to have some company, since you seem to enjoy dropping dead all the time for other people's benefit! Jumping at the chance to find a new reason to off yourself and wait for me to clean it up. You're a real fucking saint!"
They were suddenly an inch away from one another. Gilbert had struck a nerve.
"Fine! I may jump in here and there, but at least I'm trying to do some good where I'm needed! At least I don't have to be blackmailed into helping someone other than myself! I'm starting to wonder if there is a single bit of good in you!"
"Oh, good. You know that I'm not hanging around because of some sort of shit sentiment for helping people, but because I need you to get this damn curse off! Maybe you aren't as completely oblivious as I thought you were!"
In the quiet space it took for Matthew to start churning up an appropriate comeback, a snuffling voice piped in.
"You're not a whole wolf."
The two boys had forgotten about the company that had finally gotten their wits back about them. Even the little blondish pig had come back around to a shivering wakefulness and was clinging to his brother for dear life.
"No shit," he shot back, fury boiled back down to irritation. The interruption had taken the heat out of the fight. Meanwhile, Matthew was looking a bit sullen from having missed the last word.
"No, what I mean to say is," The pig with the brown tuft amended, "You're not the wolf we're hiding from. The one that can get us if we're outside of our enchanted houses."
"What a nice thing for all of us," Gilbert simpered, itching to get out of there before they wasted further time. "I'm not going to viciously maul you and you're not going to ask us for any favors so that we can get back on the road." He roughly snatched up Matthew's pack and gestured for him to get moving.
"Wait!" The bigger of the pigs squealed, "the wolf isn't always a wolf! And we're not always pigs! If you're looking to get that curse off you, we know someone who may be able to help."
The two boys exchanged a look; Matthew's dubious and Gilbert's calculating. Help never came for free, but if the price was easier to pay than what he was now...
"It's t-tr-true!" The little one piped up, seeming to have found his voice again. "There's a m-m-man near here who knows some m-magic. He made us our houses t-to keep the w-w-wo-wolf away from us."
"Inside the houses, we're human again. If we want to be safe, we'll need to go see him. If he can make us from all-pig to all-people, he can certainly do something for you since you're halfway there already. We'll show you the road. It isn't far."
Matthew turned to Gilbert, noting the way he seemed to be turning the offer over in his mind, considering it for how much trouble it might be over how much reward it might gain. "What do you want to do?" He was afraid for the answer, feeling a little stab of betrayal that the other boy would change his mind so easily just to get what he wanted. It wasn't as if Matthew had exactly thought they were friends, but he had hoped that traveling had created something of a stronger bond than this.
"You wanted to help them, right? Why don't we show them the goodness of our hearts and play escort for our new friends to the magician." Gilbert was challenging and mocking him, he knew. Maybe it would be a good riddance. But he couldn't drop the niggling feeling that something was wrong with the situation.
"That's our answer then. We'll help you."
Thank you for reading!