Chapter I Part I

A King Before a Brother

...

It Was Raining when Matthew saw his brother, Alfred again for the first time in three years.

It was a normal Thursday evening for Matthew, he had returned from the carpenter shop where he worked and was cooking dinner for his bear, Kumajiro, just like he did every night. The last thing he had expected was for his estranged brother to come knocking at the door, drenched from the rain and surrounded by palace guards.

Did I forget to mention his brother was the King of the Spades Kingdom? Oh well...

There he stood, a royal blue cape draped around his broad shoulders to save his (no doubt) silk tunic and finely made trousers from the ungodly storm that sat above the town their family had lived in for generations. He stood with his head held high, chest puffed forward like a boastful bird, looking all high and mighty as if he had someone to impress.

Alfred looked at his brother expectantly, waiting impatiently for Matthew to invite him in. Apparently he had learned manners during his time ignoring his family while he pranced about the castle...

"Hiya Mattie!" That damn nickname already? "Can I come in? It's kind of... ya know... Raining?"

Rolling his eyes, Matthew nodded, opening the door wider for his brother. "Yes, you can. They," he motioned briefly to the guards, "Cannot."

Alfred nodded and turned towards the guards, telling them to wait in the small barn that sat adjacent to Matthew's small cabin before walking in and closing the door. With a wide smile, Alfred walked towards his brother, pulling him into a hug, which Matthew returned after a moment's hesitation .

"How are you, Brother?" he asked as he pulled away from the lavender-eyed blond, looking him over. When he noticed the small height difference, he scowled playfully at Matthew. "I see you've grown."

Smirking, Matthew gave a nod. "Could be that you shrunk," Matthew said as he turned away, pulling out an extra bowl and filling it with stew, setting a plate on the floor full of beef scraps for Kuma to eat while he grabbed a spoon for Alfred. When Matthew turned, he noticed that Alfred had moved to sit at the dinner table. Leave it to Alfred to make himself at home.

After handing the bowl to Alfred, Matthew sat down in the chair across from his brother and began to eat as if oblivious to the fact that the stew was still piping hot. Raising his gaze, Matthew watched as Alfred blew on the spoon before downing its contents. Palace life must have changed him -he used to jump at the chance for another meal, now Alfred just ate as if it were a frivolity and not a necessity. With a frown, Matthew looked away, examining the house he lived in rather than the brother he felt he no longer knew.

Matthew's house -cottage, whichever you prefer- was quaint, to say the least. He felt no need for embellishments and kept it tidy. Cracked stucco walls, a roof with large wooden crossbeams and shingles that barely kept the rain from leaking in gave the house its character. Matthew's rickety bed by the fireplace -the only heat-source in the entire house- wooden bear carvings on the mantle and a pot hanging over a dwindling fire. Two chairs, occupied by Alfred and Matthew, a well-used pinewood table and a barely-qualified-as-a-door door.

Matthew wondered what it was like for Alfred to live in that crystal castle of his -a dozen servants at the ready just to tuck him in at night... Alfred was always dealt the better hand in life.

"Matthew? Are you even listening to me?"

"Huh?" Matthew responded as Alfred's exasperated voice pulled him from his inner musings.

Alfred rolled his cornflower-blue eyes. "Of course you weren't listening... I asked where Mother was."

Oh. course Alfred would want to know about their witch of a mother... she always paid attention to little Alfred.

"She's dead," Matthew stated nonchalantly, causing Alfred to choke on his soup. "The plague took her roughly seven months after you left," he finished as he twirled his spoon in between his fingers.

Alfred set his spoon down and looked at Matthew, ignoring his brother's uncaring attitude towards the fate of their mother. It was no secret that Matthew hated the woman -she once made him live in the barn for two months at the age of ten. She said that Matthew should live with the livestock where swine like him belonged. There was no love lost in their relationship.

"Why wasn't I informed of this? She was my mother too, Matthew," he said with a scowl as he crossed his arms in front of him.

"Oh, spare me the theatrics, Alfred, you knew very well when you went to live in your dollhouse that it meant cutting ties with us," Matthew spat as he leaned back in his creaky chair, giving his brother a hard look.

Alfred's gaze softened as he looked at Matthew. "You're right..." he exhaled as he looked down at his hands in what could be shame or guilt, Matthew wasn't sure which.

"Of course I'm right..." Matthew mumbled, feeling quite contrite for snapping at Alfred - leaving them couldn't have been easy on Alfred either.

After a pregnant silence, Alfred spoke up again, nostalgia thick in his voice.

"What happened to you, Mattie? You used to be so shy and polite... Hell, you actually look like the older brother now..." he finished, running his fingers through his damp blonde hair.

Matthew smiled bitterly, watching his soup as he stirred. "Well, without you around I had to learn to fend for myself. When mother died I had to find a way to make money... There isn't really any time to be a child during all of that. Plus I'm almost twenty, I would've had to grow up at some point," he responded before taking another bite of his stew. "Also," Matthew swallowed, "You're nearly nineteen and you've matured considerably."

"Arthur would disagree with you on that," Alfred replied with a smirk, reclining in his chair.

Matthew looked back at Alfred, eyebrow raised. "Ah, how is your Queen? As temperamental as all the rumours say?"

Alfred chuckled, pointing at Matthew. "You can only imagine… 'Alfred this, Alfred that'! It never ends… Thank the Gods I have Ivan to rant at," he finished, grinning like a fool.

Resting his elbows on the table, Matthew leaned forwards and gave his sibling a questioning look. "Ivan? Who's this Ivan?"

That action earned a blush from Alfred as he scratched the back of his head, avoiding eye contact with his brother. "A little late to be playing the older brother card, wouldn't you say?"

"Hey, I don't want you to wind up like mother did. Bitter because my father didn't love her back..."

Alfred laughed. "Don't worry, Big Brother," he teased. "Ivan makes sure to remind me that he loves before calling me an idiot and cussing me out in Clubs High-Court."

"Loves you!?" Matthew choked.

...

After a good half-hour of idle chat, Alfred and Matthew sat in front of the fire, soup forgotten and Kumajiro sleeping on Al's lap. Matthew finally asked the question that had been nagging at him since his brother had arrived.

"Hey, Al?" the wavy-haired blonde asked, his gaze resting on the fire.

"Mhmm?" The other boy mumbled lazily.

Matthew took a breath, "Why did you come? After all these years why did you come back?"

In the corner of his eye, he noticed Alfred's hand pause in petting Kuma. He sighed and Matthew turned to look at him, wondering what seemed to bother him so much about the question.

"Four days ago a very important court member passed away," Alfred replied, watching Matthew intently.

"What?" the elder scoffed. "You think I killed him?"

Alfred scowled. "No. She died of natural causes."

"That doesn't answer my question."

"Will you let me finish?" Alfred shot back, his tone rising in exasperation.

Matthew put both hands in the air in surrender and closed his mouth.

"Thank you," he replied. "As I was saying, she passed away four days ago. Being a very important member of the court, we had to find her replacement as soon as possible so that the position didn't fall into the wrong hands... The position she held was the Ace of Spades. To fi-"

"That's impossible, Ace's are just a tale to make children obey their parents!" Matthew interjected.

"Matthew!" Alfred shouted. "Will you please shut up?"

"Yes, Your Highness..." he mumbled with a scowl.

"Aces do exist, they are extremely powerful and closely guarded. All Aces are related to either the king or queen and when one dies, the title is passed down to the next king or queen's family member," Alfred finished.

"Is that why you're here? Because you think I'm the Ace?"

Alfred nodded.

Rolling his eyes, Matthew stood up and looked down at Alfred. "You have no way to prove that. If that's all you came for I would like for you to leave now."

Alfred sighed, placing Kumajiro on the floor and standing up, looking his brother in the eye. "I can prove it."

"Like hell you can!"

"I can! How long has it been raining here?!" Alfred yelled back at Matthew, the wind howling outside.

"About four days? What's that got to do with anything!" He fired back, annoyed by the fact that the only reason his brother came back home was to see if Matthew would be of use to him again.

"It has everything to do with it!" he cried. "When an Ace dies, a form of minor natural disaster happens where the new Ace is!"

"How is a storm going to tell you where a person is!" Matthew yelled as a flash of lightning illuminated the darkened room.

"Well, if you don't believe me, take off your shirt and we can put this to rest."

"Excuse me?" What kind of a response was that?

Alfred groaned, grabbing a fistful of his bangs. "I swear Matthew, despite how smart you are, you are equally as stupid," Alfred shot back, exasperation shining in his eyes. "If you take off your shirt I can tell you whether or not you have the crest of an Ace!"

"If I do this will you leave me alone?" Matthew asked, decidedly finished with Alfred and his tall tales.

"Yes," he replied, furrowing his eyebrows for a moment as he thought. "Unless you're the Ace... Then you have to come with me."

Rolling his eyes, Matthew began to unbutton his navy blue vest, muttering about Alfred and his nonsense before removing it and a crinkled white shirt. Looking down at his bare chest, Matthew noticed nothing out of the ordinary.

"Alfred, I don't know what you're going on about! There's nothing here!" Matthew exclaimed as he motioned at his chest.

Now Alfred rolled his eyes, walking behind remained standing behind Matthew before letting out a piercing bout of laughter.

"I was right, Mattie's wrong! I was right, Mattie's wrong~" He sang happily, dancing around Matthew as if he were a delighted child.

"What!?" Matthew yelled as he craned his neck in an attempt to look over his shoulder.

Alfred continued to laugh as he stood behind Matthew and poked at the other's exposed back. Pain flared up from the middle of his spine all the way to his head, causing his vision to go white as Matthew dropped to the ground. Thunder exploded in the distance and lightning lit up the entirety of the tiny house once more.

Curling in on himself, Matthew felt nothing but burning pain as he slowly lost consciousness.