Disclaimer: Hetalia is not mine. It is, however, an amazing series.
Germany stepped into the dusty attic armed with a wash-cloth, a feather-duster, and a scowl. It had been ages since he had set foot into this section of his house, and there was certainly enough dust to prove it.
Brow furrowing, he surveyed the various boxes and cloth-covered furniture, briefly wondering if there was anything salvageable among all this clutter. Well, he would find out, wouldn't he? He might as well get to work.
The next few hours were long and arduous as he sifted through boxes, cleaning away dust and grime. The farther he went into the room, the older the mementos he found got. Some things he was forced to get rid of just because of disrepair; others he did his best to scrub or dust clean, setting those items aside for later consideration.
Finally, in one of the musty old boxes toward the very back of the attic, he found something that rather surprised him: an old, cracked painting. Squinting in the dim light provided by the bulb hanging from the ceiling, he lifted it up, trying to identify it. It almost… looked familiar. Who had painted it? How old was this painting? Why had it been forgotten up here, instead of preserved and kept in the main part of the house?
The subject seemed to be a tiny girl, curled on the seat of a chair, fast asleep. The colors had long faded, but Germany could suddenly see them as they had once been: her hair, a soft reddish brown, her dress and bonnet a rich green and white. Light blue eyes stared at the painting, clouded in frustration as the Nation struggled to remember who exactly this girl was. She was… amazingly familiar. Something long forgotten made his chest ache.
Germany tucked the painting under his arm, abandoning his cleaning efforts for a moment. He returned downstairs, ignoring the startled stares of a few of his officials – ah, he probably should've taken off the handkerchief and apron he had donned to protect himself from dust and grime; it was too late now – and reentered his own room.
He set the painting up on his desk, propping it up against the wall. Stepping back, he examined it yet again. The strokes were childish, but not too bad in terms of skill. The painting had obviously been a result of a lot of time and careful effort. Although he didn't quite remember doing it himself, a part of him was positive that it was his own work. How strange.
Germany's memories of his childhood were blurry at best, abysmally vague at worst. The Thirty Years' War had devastated both his house and body, and his identity had crumbled in the chaotic aftermath that followed. It was only after that period of time – after he had been reunified into who he was today, Germany – that his memories picked up again with any sense of reliability.
Consequently, he honestly could not remember whether this painting was his or not. It was in his possession now, so of course he had to have acquired it somewhere, but as to who had painted it… he had only that gut feeling to assure him he was right about it being his own work.
So who was she? He remembered… remembered… nothing. She had been important to him, once, but now he could not even recall her name. Frustrated, Germany left the painting in his room and went to finish cleaning the attic. Maybe there were more clues to this young girl's identity hidden among the dank, dusty boxes.
There was one other clue, if he could even call it that. Mortified, slack-jawed in shock, Germany stared down at the tattered old pair of girl's panties in his hand. What… what were these doing in his attic!?
Flushing, he set them aside and hastily finished sorting the last few boxes. There was a pile of objects waiting to be restored and maybe even sold, and then there were those that were irrevocably ruined. He called someone to deal with both groups, hiding the panties in his hand as he fled back to his room.
He placed the panties with the painting, certain that they belonged to the same girl, but as to why he would have them… Had she confessed her love to him? Germany flushed again at the very thought, doubly frustrated with his faulty memory. A girl had loved him, and he couldn't even remember her name! What sort of man did that make him?
Sighing, he went to shower, going to bed once he had finished. Hopefully the name would come to him, eventually, the longer he thought on it. He owed it to the girl to remember, so he could find her and apologize for his absence all these years.
The world seemed so much bigger, for some reason. Then again, he wasn't very big himself. Just give him time, however! He planned to be the biggest and best Nation of them all.
All he needed was her hand. If she agreed to join him, he could become the next Roman Empire. After all… he was the Holy Roman Empire, wasn't he? It was a name he had chosen for himself, but he was determined to earn it. All he needed was for her to stay by his side, and then he could do anything.
He had to be the best, so that he could protect her from all the others. France, Spain, and everyone else… they picked on her. They stole pieces of her land. They bossed her around. It made him really angry, but he couldn't stop them. Not as he currently was.
But every time he tried to get her to join him, every time he asked, she would cry or run away. Was he really that scary? He wasn't trying to be. It was just that… he wasn't the best with people. And he loved her. So, maybe he did appear a little intimidating, but he didn't want to hurt her.
He just wanted to keep her safe and happy, so she never had to worry about anything ever again.
Speaking of her, his angel, wasn't she over there, sweeping? Holy Roman Empire peered around the corner, feeling his chest tighten as his face heated up. She was so sweet… so graceful… so beautiful. He stared intensely, trying to commit everything about her to memory.
She seemed to notice his regard and glanced up, whimpering nervously as she saw his expression. "H-Holy Roman Empire!" She clutched her little broom, fidgeting cutely. His face grew hotter. "I'm… I'm doing my chores, like I should…"
He wanted to go to her, to take her hand and ask her to stay with him forever. However, his knees locked and he just kept staring, heart fluttering in his chest. She squeaked with fright and ran off, much to his disappointment. Holy Roman Empire was only able to move after she was gone, slumping and letting out a sigh. He needed to stop being such a coward. How could he ever protect her, at this rate?
But he wanted to. She was the most important person in his world.
Germany stared at the ceiling blankly, running his hand through his hair as he reflected on the dream. The scenario replayed in his head, closing his throat with emotion. That had been her. The girl in the painting. His painting of her.
And he had been… the Holy Roman Empire? Not Germany. Not exactly. His head ached, just like his heart. Hadn't he always been Germany? And that house in the dream – the memory? – it looked more like Austria's than his own. Had he lived with Austria?
Why couldn't he remember his childhood?
Frustrated anew, he climbed out of bed and got dressed, pausing only to style his hair into its typical look to erase the mussed bed-head he was sporting. Then he left his room, striding determinedly downstairs into his study.
He would call Austria and see if he could verify that part of the dream at least. If Germany had lived in his house as a child, then Austria also might know the identity of the girl Germany sought. She would be grown now, of course, but hopefully she would remember him. It was a selfish thing to wish for, considering he did not remember her himself, but he wished it all the same.
Unfortunately, as he picked up the phone to dial Austria's number, a dreaded voice floated down the corridor.
"Germaaaany~ Germaaaany~" Italy called out happily, weaving his way down the hall. "Germaaaany~"
The tall blond grit his teeth, hanging up the phone. This was the last thing he needed at the moment. Italy was nothing but an annoyance. Normally, an annoyance he tolerated – God knew why – but he wasn't in the mood for the pasta-lover's nonsense today.
The other Nation stuck his head into the room, beaming lazily. "Germaaany~" he laughed in sing-song. "Do you have any more wurst~?"
Germany growled softly. "Italy, I am busy right now. Can't you come back later?"
Italy blinked obliviously, tilting his head to one side slightly. "But Germany~ We're friends~" He continued on, babbling about pasta and how he liked being at Germany's house.
Something about the young man's vacant expression brought Germany's thoughts back to his dream. The girl… actually, now that he thought about it, she resembled Italy somewhat. A sudden flare of hope rose in his chest.
"Italy." He interrupted the brunet's pointless chatter.
"Ve~? Germany~?" Italy smiled brightly.
"Do you have a sister?" Germany knew that Italy had a brother, Romano, who periodically insisted on making himself a pain in Germany's side, but he had never thought to ask if Italy had any more siblings.
"A nee-chan~?" Italy paused in surprise. "Uh… I don't think so. Not that I know of, anyway~"
Germany's heart sank. He had been so sure she was part of Italy's family… but if he didn't have a sister, maybe that meant…
Maybe she had perished in his absence, without him to protect her from all the other Nations.
Grief choked Germany, closing off his throat and tightening his chest. She was gone. He had failed to protect her. Hell, he had failed to even come back for her in time. He had forgotten all about her.
Devastated, he slowly left the room, walking numbly up the stairs toward his bedroom. Italy followed, flitting about behind him, worried and confused. He called Germany's name multiple times, but his efforts fell on deaf ears. Germany was too lost in his sadness to hear him.
He entered his bedroom, crossing to the painting. His shoulders shook ever so slightly, tears struggling to form past the barrier of his pride as he stood there, staring at only two mementos he had left of his childhood love.
"I promised…" Germany mumbled, hardly knowing what he was saying. "…that I would come back…"
"Germany?" Italy clung to the door, hesitant to intrude into the Nation's bedroom when he seemed so scary. Still, he was a friend, right? And that meant that if he was in a pinch, Italy had to help him out!
He stepped into the room, coming up behind Germany to get a look at just what had captivated his attention. Italy blinked, briefly confused by what he was seeing.
"Heeeeeeeey~!" he laughed. "Germany, why do you have a painting of me~? Where did you get it, anyway~?"
The tall blond froze.
"…A painting of you?" he repeated quietly, baffled.
"Yeah, yeah~!" Italy gestured to it, smiling widely. "I wore those types of clothes when I was little, ve~"
"So…" Germany's world turned upside down as he tried to understand this new information. "…this is you. You're sure."
"Ve, ve~" Italy tilted his head back and forth. "I know me, you know~?" He paused, blinking. "Are those a pair of my old panties~?" Germany wasn't listening. He was too busy processing this new development.
The person in the painting was Italy. Not a girl. His beautiful childhood love was the pasta-loving buffoon in front of him. Not a girl.
Red slowly spread over Germany's cheeks as Italy watched in awe. Flushing angrily, Germany grabbed Italy and proceeded to throw him out of his house. "You idiot!"
"Uwaaaaaa—!" Italy went flying, confused by this whole encounter.
After he was gone, Germany stood alone in his study, pressing his palm to his burning face, trying not to die of embarrassment.