Alfred has the feeling of ‘parents’, something Ivan cannot totally grasp. Few nations had any feelings of connection with others, even older ones. But Arthur and Francis tried something new, and strange–almost confining the boy to their residences in his lands.
They brought over experts in different fields to tutor him, wrote him letters constantly, and even lived with him. He went on trips overseas with them, and loved them with childish innocence.
It’s hard to imagine, when Ivan thinks on it. He and the rest of them never had anyone or anything, other than knowing there were some distant people out there close to them, like his sister in the Ukraine. But even then, it was only random that they saw each other. They simply knew they were alike. It was an instinctive sense of similarity. He’s almost jealous, but at the same time, can’t imagine his poor little boy suffering like he did. Like everyone else did. Alfred’s hope and optimism and lovely smile would have drained away into nothingness, and he would have become cold and without emotion. He cannot wish it upon him.
But damn if he doesn’t wish he’d had that too. Someone picking him, choosing to care for him. He’s only had Alfred do that, and he’s only been alive for five seconds. It’s only a matter of time–he’ll get tired of Ivan and his boring life ….. and personality…. and go off with someone else. Half the time Ivan expects his calls to start with, “So, me and Kiku decided to start –” fill in the blank. But he hasn’t yet, somehow. Ivan’s continually surprised.
Alfred on the other hand has different baggage. Instead of fearing he’ll be alone or crushed by enemies, he feels safe on his lands, buffered by enormous oceans on both sides. Instead of being confined to a few climates, he has them all.
And instead of feeling the desolation of loneliness, he has parents. Even more-so than Matthew, they are his kin. The three of them turn to each other for support, guidance, help, emotional unwinding and love.
Alfred is held to a different standard, though. Nothing is ever good enough. Ivan has often felt proud that his people survived–that any of them did. At all.
Alfred’s work, however, is never done. Nothing is fast enough, strong enough, successful enough. It’s a severe set of expectations those two Europeans set for him, time and time again. His best is never acceptable. He always has something to strive for.
Sometimes Ivan thinks the boy feels that way about his actual self, though–that he is never enough. That he has to do more and more to even be baseline okay.
Ivan also wants to say: I don’t care what you’re doing, what you accomplish, or what you fail. It has nothing to do with you personally. It is just history, which inexorably marches on. All you have to do is keep living, for me at least.
Ivan does miss one thing–the stress of it all. He thinks Alfred is naturally his bubbly self, and has never seen him relax. That’s not something he feels comfortable doing in front of other nations. The rest of them, including Ivan, feel fine getting crazy drunk while others are there, but not Alfred.
He needs to be alone, up in New England or down by the border in the south, and just fall apart for a weekend. It’s his time to do everything ‘bad’ that he’s not supposed to, and wear raggedy clothes and not bother to get up or do anything productive. While Alfred knows the terrible things Ivan dreams about at night, he’s never had the occasion to tell him anything personal like that.
It just seems too personal. His demons are his own, and no one knows what they are.
-Young woman smoking  by Francisco M. y Manovens