Author: Mistflyer1102 PM
A chance encounter with a stranger in Venice, Italy during Carnival leaves Ludwig Beilschmidt with more questions than answers.Rated: Fiction T - English - Mystery - Germany & N. Italy - Words: 4,337 - Reviews: 3 - Favs: 10 - Follows: 2 - Published: 02-21-12 - Status: Complete - id: 7860355
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
He never let his lack of knowledge hold him back from accomplishing something.
But, even though he tried so hard, Ludwig Beilschmidt could never recall the girl's face.
He stared up at the whitewash ceiling in silent contemplation. The bedroom window was open slightly, and he could hear faint music coming from the Venetian celebrations outside. The weak February sun did its best to slip a few rays through the blanket of gray clouds, but only managed a slight shine in the end. Although the window was closed, the room still felt cold against his bare skin.
Cold. Rain. Mud.
Ludwig groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose to block those thoughts out. He didn't need troublesome thoughts on top of everything else. For example, there were so many things he could have done differently when his commanding officer approached him last week stating that he was to take a few weeks leave from his duty as captain in the Deutsches Heer. He should have fought harder to stay on duty, especially if he had known at the time that his brother, Gilbert Beilschmidt, had been the one to request this leave for the two brothers. It wasn't that he didn't appreciate his brother's actions; it was just that Ludwig could not simply abandon the men under his command on such short notice. Granted, the Federal Republic of Germany was not in a state of war at the moment, but it just felt wrong to leave the men behind. Ludwig could not explain it, but he felt as though he were failing them.
He could not explain it. The feeling was just there and he couldn't shake it off.
Ludwig jumped, startled at the high-pitched chirp that had come from his stomach. He abruptly sat up in alarm, but grimaced when Gilbird dug its little sharp claws into his shirt and subsequently the skin underneath. Ludwig gingerly supported the chick enough to let Gilbird let go of his shirt and right itself on his hand. Its black beady eyes looked up at Ludwig, who for the most part ignored it while he glanced at the clock, noting that there were only twenty-five minutes left until the appointment that morning.
And, since Gilbird was here in his room and not Gilbert's, chances were good that not only did Gilbert finally stumble home late last night, but he was also passed out on the couch downstairs.
Ludwig gingerly deposited the bird on his nightstand so that he could get ready to go. First order of business was getting changed into more appropriate attire for the day, and then he would have to go down and wake Gilbert up.
He took the T-shirt off and replaced it with a long-sleeved dress shirt before bending down to grab a pair of formal pants. Just because he wasn't on duty at the moment did not mean it was an excuse to dress slovenly, especially when it came to informal meetings with other officials. He carefully combed his hair back and flat while keeping an eye on the time.
The last item he reached for was on his nightstand, next to Gilbird; it was the Iron Cross, a token he'd had for as long as he could remember. It was his only link to a childhood he could not remember.
That was another item on an unwritten list of things that he and Gilbert had silently agreed never to discuss for the sake of maintaining the peace in the household.
Speaking of which…
Ludwig gently scooped up Gilbird from its place on the nightstand and then walked downstairs, checking the hall clock as he did. Only five minutes had passed since he last checked, giving him enough time to finish getting ready and leave.
He carefully deposited Gilbird on top of the mound of blankets that was stretched out on the couch, trusting the little bird to do its work.
The coffee was going when Gilbert finally stumbled into the kitchen, his white hair still all over the place from sleep and his clothes from last night all wrinkled. Anyone looking at him would assume that his eyes were that usual shade of red, but Ludwig, from years of experience, could tell that his brother's eyes were darker than usual as a result from the high level of alcohol consumption the night before.
Gilbert winced. "Don't yell," he mumbled before opening the small refrigerator and bent down to look around for something to ease the still-present hangover.
"Dare I ask how late it was when you returned?"
"No. I don't remember."
Gilbert threw a dark look at his bird. "Okay, so apparently I came home at four last night," he said before disappearing into the fridge again.
Ludwig bit back a sigh as he poured himself some coffee before shutting the machine off. And Gilbert still wondered why people often mistook him for the younger Beilschmidt sibling. "We have to go, our meeting with Fraulein Amatore is in fifteen minutes. It will be rude of us to arrive late," he said, grabbing his dark green jacket from its hook by the door. He finished off the coffee and placed the mug in the sink before returning to the coat rack to fish his black gloves and tan scarf out of the pile of Gilbert's discarded winter gear.
"She just offered to show us around Venice today, we're not going to some stuffy boardroom meeting." There was a slight clunk from the kitchen. "I mean it's just she's not the Italian ambassador or anything like that."
"Gilbert…" Ludwig paused, not in the mood to argue with his brother about an already over-discussed topic. Ever since they had arrived to Venice, Ilaria Amatore, a government official and friend of Ludwig's commanding officer, had offered to show them around the city. Gilbert had taken an almost immediate dislike to the Italian, a feeling that was apparently mutual. "Meet me outside in five minutes," he said before he opened the door.
"Let me get my phone and wallet. No one has to know that I was out and about last night in these clothes.
Ludwig didn't respond, just shut the door before walking down the few steps to the pavement.
The cold air felt sharp against his exposed skin as he walked to the wall of the canal. He felt more awake and alert now, the earlier thoughts about the little girl disappearing with the breeze. He checked his watch before turning to lean against the wall of the canal.
Ludwig looked up in alarm as Gilbert slammed the door open, muttering to himself as he forcibly yanked his jacket on while Gilbird remained safely perched on his head. "Stupid little bastard…I'm going to murder him when I get my hands on him…"
"Bruder, what happened?"
Red eyes met blue. Gilbert scowled but didn't say anything until he zipped up his dark blue jacket and kicked the door shut behind him. "Nothing…happened that you should worry about, West. Rather, you should worry more about will happen once I get my hands on that little Italian rat from last night…"
Ludwig blocked his brother's path down the stairs. Gilbert may have been older, but Ludwig was bigger. "What…happened?" he growled, refusing to budge even when Gilbert tried to physically move him aside. Gilbird tried to flee by hopping from Gilbert's head to the stair railing, but missed the railing and had to settle for perching on top of one of the iron designs between the railing and the steps. Then it chirped angrily from its spot, sounding about as angry as a bird could sound.
Gilbert finally raised his hands in mock surrender. "Fine, fine, fine. Well, as you know, I went out to that bar that Ilaria recommended yesterday. Good drinks by the way, you should check it out if you finally decide to loosen up a little for once." He paused long enough to scoop up Gilbird again. "Anyway," he said while tucking Gilbird under his jacket, "I was enjoying myself at the counter when this short Italian comes up and asks the awesome me to play some card games with him and two of his friends. They needed a fourth player, and they even offered free beer if I agreed to play with them. 'Course, the more we played and drank, the more snarky the shortest one got. Called me a 'potato bastard' at one point."
"What else?" Ludwig already didn't like the direction where the story was going.
Gilbert frowned. "I don't exactly know what happened. All I remember is the constant banter and this dark brown hair curl that the short Italian had. It had been driving me crazy all night so after the fiftieth un-awesome insult, I reached over and yanked the hair curl to shut him up." Gilbert blinked as though trying to remember what happened. "All I remember is seeing the little Italian go berserk and lunging for me from across the table." He looked down at Ludwig. "And then I woke up here. I don't remember what happened between those two points in time."
Now that he mentioned it, Ludwig could see faint fingerprint-shaped bruises on Gilbert's neck. He had to resist the urge to face-palm.
Gilbert didn't notice his brother's grimace. "I think the little idiot took my wallet and phone…and my passport. I had my passport in my wallet, verdammt…I'm going to murder that Italian when I find him again." Gilbert made sure Gilbird was safely secured before ducking underneath Ludwig's arm. "Keep an eye out, huh?" he said over his shoulder before he started sauntering away.
Ludwig readjusted his scarf before following his brother. He couldn't believe that Gilbert lost the damn passport…now they would need to go to Rome to the embassy for a temporary replacement. Ludwig patted his jacket to make sure that his was still safely tucked in and zipped away its usual spot in the interior breast pocket. While it was risky carrying it around with him, he'd rather it was on his person instead of a house that a thief could easily break into.
It was strange though, that Gilbert suggested that the two of them go to Venice during Carnival. Granted, it was for the purpose of dragging Ludwig out of his work by the heels in order to relax for once, but Gilbert seemed to be the one on edge for the last couple of days, ever since they arrived. He was constantly at odds with Amatore, bickered with vendors and civilians almost constantly but at the same time, he was content to let Ludwig and Amatore lead the way.
Perhaps that was why Ludwig did not say anything to Gilbert about the dreams of the little girl in the green dress. He did not want to stress Gilbert out even more. For some reason, Gilbert always became…well, it wasn't panicked, more like concerned, when Ludwig mentioned this sort of thing. But Gilbert always said that he'd watched after Ludwig himself when Ludwig was growing up, so he had no idea where Ludwig was getting these thoughts.
Ludwig himself wasn't sure where these images came from either. They were always scattered and broken, like a broken film. Fields, flowers, a stern caretaker, a little girl, an eagle, and Gilbert. Frequently he would see a younger Gilbert looking down at him from an impossible height, more frequently than the little girl.
But that couldn't be right.
"Oi West! Still with me?"
Ludwig glanced at his brother, who had paused up ahead. "Ja, just thinking," Ludwig said, pushing his thoughts out of his head. "We'll have to go to Rome, to the German embassy so that you can get a new passport…"
"Wonderful. Cannot wait."
Ludwig ignored the sarcasm and kept walking.
The two soon found the source of the music that Ludwig had been listening to earlier. Although the parade itself wasn't going to start until 1000 hours, people were already out and milling around between open shops while enthusiastically greeting each other. A constant stream of confetti rained down from above, which children picked up and threw back into the air. A majority of the people were wearing masks, and then others were wearing just costumes, and then there was the small group that had both. Tourists were easy to spot, especially the ones who were putting in little effort to not stick out as much. Ludwig easily spotted the small horde of pickpockets that had floated into the square after the tourists. Two were chatting casually with a victim while a third did the work, another two were eating ice cream on a nearby bench watching their comrades, and one was reaching into Ludwig's jacket pocket…
Ludwig ignored the high-pitched squeal as he clamped a hand around the thief's wrist and twisted it slightly at an unnatural angle. Never breaking eye contact with the thief, Ludwig warned, "I will not be merciful next time."
Instead of looking terrified, or even nervous, the pickpocket scowled. "All bark, no bite," the man growled, yanking his hand free from Ludwig's grip. "Just like the albino German bastard last night…"
Gilbert had to have gotten whiplash from turning his head that fast. He sputtered for a few moments before he realized who was standing in front of them. "You! You stole my stuff last night!" he bellowed, attracting unwanted attention as the thief smirked. Gilbert lunged for the smaller man, knocking Ludwig aside. The pickpocket's cap fell off as he tried to move out of Gilbert's reach, revealing a dark brown hair curl.
The thief laughed as he easily dodged Gilbert's second strike. "A carnevale ogni scherzo vale," he said before disappearing into the thickening crowds. Gilbert snarled something unintelligible before taking off after him. German swears and threats marked the chase.
Ludwig nearly jumped when he realized that Gilbird had moved onto his shoulder for safety's sake. The bird looked faintly annoyed as its eyes followed Gilbert's path before it turned to Ludwig expectantly.
I know, I know, get Gilbert before he murders someone and causes an international incident. Ludwig sighed before he started in the direction of the general chase. Gilbert may have been a drill sergeant in the army, but he was still a respected veteran. As long as he was in front of the troops that is. Off the field, he was a completely different person.
It was actually quite easy to follow Gilbert's trail; the albino had left many annoyed partygoers in his wake. As Ludwig walked, his pace increased when he thought he could hear a mixture of angry German and Italian. Soon he was at a light jog as he darted through the squares, apologized to those he bumped into, and checked at one point to make sure that Gilbird was still clinging for dear life to his shoulder. Italians, already ruffled by Gilbert's rampage, scattered when they saw Ludwig coming. He could hear angry and irritated mutterings behind him as he finally slowed to a walk, having caught sight of Gilbert.
He'd rounded the corner, and spotted his brother doubled over slightly as though to catch his breath. Then, before Ludwig could get his attention, Gilbert took off again, disappearing once more into the crowd on the other side of the ornate-decorated stone arch. Here, on both sides of the arch, the number of fully costumed and masked people increased. Ludwig walked past one dressed in red with white plumage on the collar, his white mask following Ludwig for a few moments before turning his attention elsewhere. Ludwig murmured soft apologies as he bumped into a few more people.
Ludwig was relieved to find that the crowd on his side of the arch dissipated right before the archway. His footsteps echoed as he marched through, already looking for a familiar flash of white hair or perhaps more swearing in German.
And walked straight into someone.
Ludwig silently cursed to himself as Gilbird flew off his shoulder in alarm. "Oh, I am sorry. I did not see…" his voice trailed off when he turned around and came face-to-face with the person he'd bumped into, the latter having slipped past him while he'd been figuring out what just happened.
The young Italian was wearing a blue and black ensemble that was trimmed with gold at the sleeves and on the edges of the blue tri-cornered hat. Two red tassels, hanging from the hat's white plumage, stood out in stark contrast against the blue, white, and black costume. A pin with two blue feathers was attached to the coat's lapel. Amber eyes from behind the gold half-face mask regarded Ludwig with slight suspicion. In carefully phrased German, the man asked, "Have we met before?"
"No, I do not believe so." Ludwig was careful not to sound surprised at the question.
To his slight relief, the stranger's suspicion was immediately replaced by a smile and friendliness. "Ah, buongiorno Signor. Benvenuto a Venezia. Welcome to Venice," the man said, switching from Italian to English while bowing slightly. As he did, a few strands of copper hair slipped from underneath the hat, including a thin copper curl that stuck out in a similar fashion as the thief's dark-brown hair curl from earlier. "Have you been enjoying your stay here in the City of Light so far?"
The man's accented English was stronger than his German. Ludwig responded to the question in English as well. "I am here with my brother and there is a young lady who has graciously been showing us around during our stay here. I have enjoyed this city immensely so far." Ludwig bit back a flash of impatience at the reminder. He didn't bother checking his watch; he knew he and Gilbert were going to be late to the rendezvous anyway. He added, "Speaking of which, I must find my brother so that we are not too late to our meeting with our guide." With that, Ludwig turned and started to walk in his original direction.
And came face-to-face with the same Italian again.
Startled, Ludwig glanced back only to find the milling crowd from before...yes, there was the grumpy-looking red-and-white partygoer still staring uninterestedly into the crowd. The Ludwig looked back to see that the masked Italian had tilted his head in curiosity. "Is something wrong?" the Italian asked finally, his amber eyes wide in a childlike manner and his tone full of innocence.
Ludwig refrained from pinching the bridge of his nose in frustration. He didn't exactly have the time for games right now, not wit an international incident at risk. "No, but there will be if my brother manages to get a hold of the thief who took his passport and other items of his last night," he explained patiently before stepping to the side, planning to step around the Italian. The man smirked before copying Ludwig and blocked his path again. Ludwig let out a short sigh before taking a step back. "I do not think you understand the severity of the situation. My brother will harm if not kill the thief if I do not…"
"But I'm sure it's only in good fun. Mischief and pranks are a part of Carnival." The Italian spread his arm out to the crowd behind him. "As it is often said here, 'A carnevale ogni scherzo vale'. Or in English, 'Anything goes at Carnival.'
This time Ludwig groaned aloud. The man before may only have been a head shorter than him, but the Italian was infuriating. "We need that passport so that we may legally leave the country in a couple days," he said, trying not to get too frustrated with the Venetian in front of him.
The man looked strangely put out, visible even through the mask. Ludwig forced himself to swallow the sudden twinge of guilt. But the Venetian recovered quickly, asking, "Do you not plan to see the rest of Italy?"
"We do not have the time, we came to Venice for Carnival. The city is very beautiful, but we do have to return home soon." Ludwig did not know why he felt compelled to tell all of this information to a complete stranger, but he did anyway. His commanding officer would disapprove. "We were planning to explore a little more of the surrounding region though, before leaving."
The man smiled again, his amber eyes lighting up behind the gold mask. "How much longer did you plan to stay in the country after Carnival?"
"Seven days." After which, once the passport issue was settled, Ludwig planned to bury himself back into his work again and not leave until his commander gave him written orders explicitly telling him to take a break. He didn't know how to explain it, but he felt more comfortable with the troops than on a vacation. "But, my brother and I need to either reclaim his passport or purchase a temporary one in Rome."
"Ah, that's right. You need the passports to leave the country, correct?" the Italian asked, looking thoughtful.
The man sighed sympathetically before looking past Ludwig's shoulder. "Well, it appears that I am needed elsewhere at the moment, seeing that the parade is about to start. A slow grin formed on his face, showing white teeth for the first time. "It also appears that your guide has arrived as well, best to not keep her waiting."
Surprised, Ludwig turned to find Ilaria Amatore walking toward him, looking flustered with auburn hair escaping its ponytail. She said a quick apology to the masked partygoer dressed in the red and white before walking up to Ludwig. "Signor Beilschmidt, my deepest apologies for arriving late. I was worried when neither you nor your brother showed up, and I assumed you both got lost…is something wrong?" she said, her voice faltering when she took a good look at Ludwig's concerned expression.
"I was just talking to this man about…" Ludwig stopped talking when he turned back around to gesture to the masked Italian only to find that the man was nowhere to be found. "Well, there was someone here that I was talking to about why I needed to find Gilbert…"
Amatore looked confused. "Who? I saw you about five to seven minutes ago, and there was no one else here with you."
What? "He had a blue overcoat and white plumage in his hat." Ludwig gestured to the spot where the masked Italian had been standing. Amatore frowned as she walked over to the indicated spot before she started shaking her head.
"No, I'm sorry Signor Beilschmidt, but there was no one else here in the arch except for you." She looked up at him, frowning in concern. "From where I was standing, while I was looking for you, I saw you facing this direction as you are now, but you were talking to yourself. There wasn't anyone standing in front of you." She shrugged, looking apologetic. "Perhaps you were hallucinating?"
I think I would remember not feeling a hallucination if I walked into one. No, the blue costumed Italian was real; he'd felt solid enough. But Ludwig didn't say that aloud. Instead he said, "Of course, my apologies. Now we need to find Gilbert, the dummkopf lost his passport after getting drunk last night, and he supposedly saw and recognized the thief."
Amatore looked horrified. "Oh dear! I suppose we should start looking for him now, we don't want –"
As she talked, Ludwig happened to look up and past her and spotted the gold-masked Italian that he'd been talking to earlier; the copper curl was the giveaway even though Ludwig could only see the man's profile. There was slight smirk on the man's face, a slight tilt of the hat in acknowledgement, and then he was reaching into a blue pocket. He pulled out a familiar small maroon book that had the word 'Reisepass' written clearly on the bottom.
Ludwig reflexively checked his jacket's interior breast pocket, where he'd hidden his.
The passport was gone.
Ludwig looked back up at the masked Italian, who was now grinning. The passport disappeared back into the blue coat pocket before the Italian offered a small salute. Then he turned on his heel, his blue coat flaring out behind him before he simply disappeared from sight altogether.
As though he'd never been there to begin with.
A/N: Tumblr challenge met and accomplished. Story's title is 'Masks' in Italian. You guys can imagine the accents, I don't usually make it a habit to write accents out. I'm also not implying anything about anyone here. Ludwig was the hardest to write here, with Feliciano coming in at a close second (although for this piece to work, I wanted Feli to be a little more serious than usual. But I think I still got his usual personality through). Second major concern came from the accuracy with the brief mentions of the German Army (Deutsches Heer) and the ranks, and the Venetian setting (and I am sorry if I'm using the wrong spelling/version for 'Carnival' used in this context, please let me know if I am). The only OC here, Ilaria Amatore, is mine and requires my permission to use elsewhere. Hetalia Axis Powers and all related media belong to Hidekaz Himaruya.