SOY: the end of the chapter might surprise you. I have to admit I was surprised when I wrote it. This has been sitting in my hard drive enough as it is, so you can get it, please enjoy! Also, this chapter might be a bit… uh. Yeah.

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Rating: Rated M.

Chapter Warnings:

Disclaimer: I don't own Hetalia.

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Growing to…

Chapter 05 – Wounded pride and loss

Germany stood in front of the closed door, unmoving, his eyes the only thing moving from side to side.

He was waiting.

Almost a week had passed since his 'talk' with Austria, and he had not been able to see Italy ever since then; his decision to ignore the Austrian Nation's words had been kept, and he had refused to return to Austria's house either.

Italy had apparently vanished, though, and not even the spies Germany had sent around to check for him had reported anything amiss.

The Italian nation was simply gone.

Five days. Germany had barely slept at night, unable to understand why his body couldn't relax, why his muscles were still tense, why his shoulders screamed in pain yet he could not rest.

Maybe he could impute all of that to Italy missing from his life, as the bed felt empty and far too big and cold now, whereas before the silly Nation had entered his life it had been perfect and fit for Germany's body only.

It was surely Italy's fault –he kept sliding in his house to sleep at his side, and of course someone like Germany could get used to that…

Germany could barely sleep without Italy's presence at his side, without knowing that he was fine (and not causing mayhem somewhere else), with his soft breathing and the warmth Germany had grown accustomed to.

With the Italian Nation at his side, everything had felt fine.

Now, though…

Germany's hands clenched into fists unconsciously.

Things were not fine anymore.

There were many things he'd thought about during the last few days, first of all Italy's disappearance and the truth of what he felt in regards to him (he just had to face him and demand an explanation, right? Then at least things would go back to how they were), but the nagging feeling he should give Austria's words some credit was ignored.

It was better to worry about Italy's disappearance than any insult Austria could throw at him.

He had been called by his boss early in the morning, and that was the reason he was standing in front of the closed door, waiting to be let in; he knew why he was there –to finally receive the explanations he deserved as a Nation. He was sure of it.

It was worth it –the excruciating wait, his troops being sent to battle whilst he had to stay home and train more soldiers, the lack of recent news, his headaches and backaches, the throbs of pain he'd felt through his body.

He would surely get the answers he needed and with that… he'd finally show Austria that he was wrong. That there was nothing to doubt in his boss.

Austria was wrong. Germany didn't need actual confirmation for that (of course he didn't! he'd never turn his back to his boss), because how could it be otherwise? A boss always fought for his nation.

And about Italy…

Germany would ask permission to go search for him. He had to. He couldn't stay alone in the house anymore, there were so many unresolved things between them, and Italy would surely get caught or hurt himself without Germany around to help.

Besides…

Germany needed reassurance on his feelings –that they were fleeting, that they meant nothing, that France's words back then meant nothing… that things could go back to how they were before. With them being simply friends, not something… not something more.

No words of lo… no words of affection.

No mental images of bodies arching in pleasure, glistening with sweat, lips parted to cry out Germany's name…

He would fix everything.

And maybe afterwards, he could truly rest for the first time in… months? Years? He wasn't even sure how much time had passed since he last rested for real.

Why was his body hurting so much lately? Why was it so hard to concentrate even on the smallest things? Surely it wasn't because of Italy's attitude or disappearance. Why was it so hard to sleep during the night…?

'You could ask for the reports, instead of just reassurance words. You could ask why you ache so much. What the reason of your headaches is…' a part of his brain hissed, sounding so much like Austria that Germany recoiled from it, angered at himself for even thinking something like that.

He couldn't allow doubt to filter into his thoughts –he was stronger than that. Doubt was allowed to others, like Austria, because they were not Germany. They didn't have to believe his boss. He had.

Tiredness couldn't justify such abhorring thoughts.

Finally, after what felt like hours of standing, body aching to sit and relax, the door of the office opened.

The wood cracked slightly, alerting Germany's tired mind and he finally shifted from his position, stepping into the room with his back straight.

His blue eyes flickered from side to side, mentally controlling the door, listing off everything he saw in there, surprised at the normal appearance of the office.

There were a few photos on the walls, of men Germany knew, and others he had only heard of, and there were bookshelves filled with foreign titles, some even in Italian, and of course his boss' personal book.

Germany, with all the work he had to do, had yet to read it.

And of course, he was standing in front of him, on the other end of the desk.

He wasn't by far the tallest person Germany had seen –actually, he was barely Italy's height… and yet, his attitude, his stance… everything of him spoke of power, the aura of a strong man in a strong position.

Steely eyes stared deeply at him, and Germany found himself under scrutiny, fighting the need to back away from that man; he was so different from his other rulers… there was something in him… something that spoke of danger.

He also had changed, in the last few months.

"My nation…" that rough, low tone, broken with a heavy Germany accent, made Ludwig blink, his attention focusing on his boss. "Have you been following my instructions?"

Germany brought his hand to his head in a salute, and bit back any words he might have wanted to say, simply nodding.

Of course. He would never betray his boss, like his boss would never betray his Nation.

Germany's arms ached.

"Yes, I thought you would. You are the perfect soldier… this country" the man, that human, stood up, rounding the desk to reach Germany's side, observing him with appreciation. Germany once again fought the urge to back away, surprised at his own reactions.

He couldn't understand that person. He wasn't properly his own, but there was something lurking under the surface, something that made Germany's skin tingle unpleasantly.

Was it the eyes? Or his dark, clipped tone? He didn't know.

But for the first time, ever since his visit to Austria, Germany found himself suppressing an involuntary, strong wave of fear.

Eyes observing his hair, meeting his eyes, shifting to his soldier built…

"It's almost admirable how the country's personification himself is showing the traits of the perfect man," that man continued talking, as if to himself. He stopped circling, but his eyes were still dark, appraising. "Inspiring your children to fight for this ideal… to fight for perfection… to achieve it, until only this will be standing –the Arian race".

Germany gulped down his uneasiness. He wasn't sure of what that man was talking about, and deep down he was not sure he wanted to know.

Besides, a soldier didn't have to know of his superior's thoughts, was it? Even if that soldier was the Nation itself.

"You might be wondering why I called you here," suddenly, the human was moving away from him, and Germany let out a shuddery breath.

With a startled, soundless gasp, the German nation realised he had been holding his breath ever since his boss had moved to his side, circling him and observing him; blue eyes open wide, he observed the man move away without relaxing, muscles aching.

This was his leader… the man who was commanding his whole nation.

He continued referring to him as 'human', somehow never daring to speak his name. why was that? He'd never had any trouble before, and yet now he needed to stress the fact that this was a human.

"You have been training your troops alongside the… human personification of our ally, Italy," the Führer sat back down on his seat, shifting reports and papers to one side, and inching a single sheet towards Germany. "I was told you have been in… good relations with each other, as was expected of you".

Ludwig felt his cheeks burn in shame. He hoped no word of Italy's actions had actually escaped his grounds, because he knew that… certain ideas… certain actions and attitudes and desires were forbidden by this person –his boss.

And he had been experiencing such desires, all the while knowing he couldn't defy his own boss.

But no, Germany had done nothing in regards to his inner thoughts, and he was not going to act upon them either. Nor would Italy, of course. Apart his gentleness, his smiles and warm actions, Italy had always been proper on that account (disregarding his running around naked, but these things had not been discovered by humans, right?).

Yet, he remained in silence, not answering. Deep inside, he knew he had nothing to fear, and that this man's ideas had nothing to do with his own. But he had to respect the man and bow to him anyway.

"Yes, of course" the one–sided conversation continued. "Unfortunately, I thought I would have to be the one to give you this information… to avoid any unpleasant reactions. I am sure you understand what this means."

Germany stared down at the offered paper, and slowly held out his hand to grab it. His boss' face was still emotionless, showing nothing of his inner thoughts, and waited patiently for his nation to read.

There was a flash of something passing through his eyes when Germany closed his fist around the paper, trembling slightly in shock.

With a suddenly dry mouth, Germany looked back up at his boss, feeling lost.

"This…"

"Is the truth. We have received formal dispatching by the Allies that Italy accepted an armistice and will be deserting our side".

The world suddenly lost focus around Germany, almost as if he was floating into nothingness. His heart was thumping so loudly in his chest that he felt it would explode.

Italy had… Italy had

"You surely understand that we have to take immediate countermeasures to prevent leaking of information and any losses we might suffer" whilst his voice was still calm and controlled, those dark eyes were burning up. "Any Italian soldiers not repenting from their troops will be shot or deported, and all troops will be informed of this status. We cannot allow this betrayal to go unpunished. Furthermore, my dear nation, you are the only one whom I'd trust for this mission… march through the northern Italian territories and make them ours".

Germany's brain was having a hard time focusing on his boss' words. Part of it was listening, assimilating his new orders, yet the rest of him couldn't think of anything else but those words on the paper.

The Italian soldiers had deserted, switching sides to join with the Allies and proclaiming war against Germany.

The Allies had gained aid in South Italy thanks to the current mafia bosses, and were marching through Italy to chase any German soldier out.

The people were acting up. The soldiers were fighting one against the other, split in two.

Italy had switched sides.

Italy had abandoned him.

The thought hit him like a punch on his face, shoving all air out of his lungs.

Betrayal.

Italy had betrayed him. Italy had left.

No, he couldn't believe this.

Feliciano… Italy… he would never betray their pact. It had been something shared between the two of them. Italy had said he loved him. How could…

But he had his proof now. Italy had betrayed him. His trips to France… he had been lying then, too? Was he already thinking about switching sides? How much did he tell them? How many secrets did he reveal? How many tactics had been explained?

Why… why Italy?

'Feliciano is weak, and he acts like a stupid all the time, and he's too obsessed with pasta…' Ludwig felt his heart twist. 'But that… that doesn't mean anything now, does it? His words were for naught. His heartfelt speeches meant nothing in the end…'

Betrayal.

Germany had never felt so empty ever before. No pain, no confusion could par with what he felt now.

It hurt.

It ripped something deep inside his chest, pushing and pulling and burning. He vaguely felt wetness at the corners of his eyes, but valiantly fought it back.

Were those tears? He had never cried before. He couldn't cry. Why would he? It was a war. And Italy had… Italy had…

He had considered Italy his friend, especially after everything the other Nation had said. All his friendly speeches, all his touchy-feelings, all his closeness, his words, and actions… he had leaned on the other country not as an ally, but as a friend.

His first friend.

Someone he could rely on, despite Italy's inability during battles, despite his clumsiness, despite everything… he had ended up trusting him. Depending on the small, apparent unimportant details that made their daily relationships so much more…

"Ve, Ludwig~ let's be friends, aren't we friends? Hug! Hug!"

Special.

"Let's be friends forever! Don't ever abandon me!"

Lies.

Coldness seeped through his body, icy and painful, anger and betrayal taking roots deep inside his chest, washing away any warmth he might have had before.

He'd accepted someone into his heart. He'd allowed Italy to get close, so close… and that was his reward.

He realised, through his suddenly sharp mind, that his boss was still talking. Abruptly, he turned his whole attention to him.

He'd been a fool to doubt. There was nothing else left but this.

"You will follow my orders, right? After all, whilst our alliance with Japan is still on, we've lost our closest ally to the enemy. We can't allow ourselves to show a weak side or let this go".

Germany gritted his teeth, bowing to his boss and leaving the room in a hurry.

He had many things to do, many orders to send, many troops to prepare.

The office was silent for a long while after the Nation had disappeared without even asking to be dismissed, but the man didn't mind.

Slowly, each movement done with extreme languidness, Germany's boss, the man known as Adolf Hitler, stood back up, his lips firmly pressed together in a thin line.

A wounded animal always showed its claws in the wildest way possible. The Führer knew this. No human was immune to this, and for how superior and… definitely not completely human those Nations were, they were not immune to betrayal and pain either.

A smirk slowly disfigured the previously emotionless features.

Behind him, the clock ticked in the silence.

Time rushed forwards.

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"Feliciano…"

Italy didn't answer.

Motionless, he continued to look to the side, just like the previous day, and the day before that. He refused to speak, eyes determinedly set anywhere but on his brother, who kept returning despite being ignored, only to leave beaten and utterly powerless.

Romano knew what Italy was going through –it had been his decision in the end, if only to protect his brother from what was happening– but he knew that Italy was well aware of the his reasons, and yet…

Yet, South Italy was going to take responsibility and wait and persevere, because he knew his little brother needed time to accept everything.

The pain of having to stay away from Germany… Romano might have hated the potato–bastard, and he still hated him for hurting Italy like that, but… but Italy… oh, his brother loved him.

How could someone as sweet and innocent as Italy end up loving that bastard German… no, he didn't understand it.

But he knew what it meant to stay away from someone he cared for. And it was bad enough that the one Romano cared for was keeping himself out of the war, he could barely hope to understand what it meant to be on opposite sides.

Yes, Romano could understand.

But Italy was refusing to move, refusing to eat… he could not go on too much like that. He had to snap out of it.

"Feli, per favore…" with a pained gaze, Romano pushed the plate of pasta towards his brother, trying to reach deep inside himself to nudge at his brother through the something they shared as same country, but he encountered a cold, barren wall once more.

Italy didn't even turn around.

"Arthur said you've been like this since I left, four days ago" South Italy continued, shaking his head in despair. "You can't continue like this… eat something, please!"

Italy's eyes flickered to the food he was offered with no interest. It was pasta, obviously, because his brother was trying to lure him with his favourite food. It was hard to get by, nowadays, for his brother as well, but Italy had no intentions to cave in.

He could go some more without food, and until he truly had to, he would not eat.

He didn't want to eat, he didn't want to be there, he didn't want to leave his room and have to accept that he'd left Germany. He didn't want to feel the many Italians dying on the Allies side, so he kept that part of him shut close.

Italy knew better than to just hate the Allies. They were just like him, Nations involved in wars that only belonged to humans. Nations never ended up creating anything that was as painful and devastating as the many weapons humans could create, just like at the same time, they could never create something as beautiful as human art and literature.

They could only exist, and Italy would never step so low as to blame England, America, China, Russia or France for forcing him to switch sides.

In the end, no war would truly make them hate each other, no matter how many years could pass by.

England had once been Japan's friend (Japan had been the one to tell Italy, of course, during one of their lazy afternoons under the kotatsu), yet they were on opposite sides now.

America and England had been enemies once, and now they were fighting together, albeit hesitantly –America was, in the end, young. As young as Germany.

Italy understood everything, and yet he couldn't stop the contempt he felt inside. He could see how they looked at him –England shifting and struggling to say something, china trying to reach out to him, to comfort him… only to shy away.

He'd seen Russia's behaviour slip over and over, cracking like a broken light every time the conversation touched determinate subjects.

They were all in pain, and it was always war, war, war –that was why Italy hated it so much, with his whole being.

Yet the fact that he could understand them as much as they could understand him didn't mean he could settle down. They could not help him.

He could not help them, nor himself.

"Feli… dannazione! Eat something! Say something!" Romano slammed his fist against the wall, gritting his teeth in anger and trying to hide his tears. "Did you really think your intervention would change something? We are… weak! Fuck it, we're weak! We tried out best but it'd never be enough, on either side!"

Italy blinked, slowly shaking his head.

It didn't matter. Even if weak, he still wanted to try and help Germany. Stay at his side until he realised how bad the situation was, even if it meant Italy would crumble… why couldn't Romano understand?

If he let Germany go, it would be the same thing once again. Just like with Holy…

"I want to be on the right side, for once, Feliciano!" South Italy's eyes were burning with anger and tears, his tone trembling. "Germany has to be stopped!"

What was it not to understand? Italy could see it so clearly. It wasn't Germany that had to be stopped. It was his boss. It was his soldiers, his people. But Germany was only doing what he thought was best –trusting his own leader.

But if Romano couldn't understand why he was doing this… what was the point in talking?

"Feli…"

Slumping down next to the bed, Romano gathered one of Italy's hands into his own, clutching at it.

They had never been on the opposite sides ever before, not like this. Romano couldn't accept this. They were fucking brothers!

"Feli… you're the only brother I have… you can't be thinking about giving up your… our independence just for that potato bastard!" the hold on his hand tightened painfully, and Italy stifled a gasp. "He's used you all this time, and it was wrong to side with him in the first place… it's not worth it, it has never been worth it!"

Italy finally shifted, eyes moving from the floor to Romano's face, and the older brother gasped and moved away, releasing Italy's hand in shock at what he saw reflected in those brown eyes.

'Isn't it worth it?'

There was a part of Italy that wanted to explain Romano that he was wrong –that if there was someone to blame, that was Germany's boss, not Germany himself– and he wanted to tell him that he couldn't just make his heart ache either, and he wanted to pour in his brother the pain he was feeling, but he didn't.

Maybe he was usually weak, and he refused to understand war, and he deliberately tried to turn his back to how it was going, to how much pain Germany was in, denying that there was a problem and only trying to keep that apparent bubble of happiness, but… he knew he could not deny the truth of Romano's words anymore.

Things were bad. Really bad.

He could understand why his brother had wanted to switch sides, and if not for his feelings for Germany, he wouldn't have protested, but…

But he wanted to be at Germany's side, and that was it.

It could be wrong, it could be stupid, and Romano was right, of course… but it didn't matter to him.

This was his decision –in the end, he wanted to be selfish and make his own decision, and choose with whom to side with… even if that brought him to the end, even if Italy ended up destroyed.

'Once, I decided to stay back, and I lost him… and now that I'm given another chance, I can't back away, I can't let him go down alone…'

In his mind, his face intertwined with that of Germany over and over, and Italy shook his head, looking back down at the bed.

They were not the same, but history was repeating itself, and Italy didn't want to be left behind anymore, even if there was nothing he could do.

"To be at your love's side… to be able to support them, to be able to hold them close, is there something you wouldn't do?"

Italy couldn't remember who had said that –someone in his past, someone that had known him.

"No," he murmured, not even aware he was speaking aloud.

He could not allow Germany to be alone. He was different from Holy Roman Empire, and Italy was going to stand back up and support him with the little things he could do. Times were different, now he could at least try.

And… and Germany was not flapping his wings too high on his own. He was forced to follow someone else's desires, whilst HRE had been trying to reach a sky too far up.

If that meant Italy had to fly up to reach his Germany, and then fall down to his demise at his side, then so be it.

Was there even a choice for him? It was so clear.

"Feli…? What did you say…?"

His insides twisting painfully, Italy straightened his back, and Romano once again backed away, watching in surprise as his little brother stood up from the bed.

They were equally tall, and there were so many similarities between them that they might have passed as twins instead of just brothers, yet South Italy was acutely aware of the differences between them when Italy looked up at him again, eyes meeting.

There was a determination in them that he had never seen before.

"Fratellone," he murmured. "you're the only brother I have".

His voice was low and raspy, his throat raw for the lack of water, but still clear enough for South Italy to understand him.

"Feli…? What are you–"

Stepping forwards, his legs almost giving up under him, Italy opened his arms wide and pressed against Romano's chest, holding him close. South Italy gasped but did not recoil from the touch, yet he did not hug him back, too surprised by this sudden closeness to be able to react.

Romano felt something pass through their shared connection, but he couldn't understand.

"Feliciano…?"

For a moment, Italy took a deep breath, allowing his brother's scent to fill his lungs. Familiar and welcome, it spoke of brotherly love and banters and afternoons spent working on fields, harvesting tomatoes.

With as much gentleness as he could muster, Italy leaned forwards, meeting his brother's lips with his own. The touch was brief and soft, a simple kiss with whom Italy conveyed as much as he could.

There was warmth and there was sadness and regret and he silently asked for forgiveness.

That he loved his brother so much, yet this time…

He pulled back and shoved Romano away with barely enough strength to make him move, but South Italy was so surprised that he staggered back anyway.

"Grazie, Lovi," he stated, smiling. "Please, take care of yourself, ok?"

"… Feli? W–what are you saying, you're scaring me–"

Lips stretching into a bigger smile, Italy grabbed Romano's hand into his own. South Italy shivered at the cold touch. "If there has to be an Italy, Lovi, then you're really the only one that can be it".

His heart ached. He wanted to make things right, but there was no way they could ever be right, and his decision, even if it was right for him, it was not right.

Consciously, Italy was renouncing to something he could not renounce to, because you couldn't just give up on being a Nation, but…

Romano didn't catch the meaning of his brother's words until it was too late and Italy had already backed away from him, hands curled up inside the long sleeves of his shirt, and when he jumped forwards, hands outstretched to stop him, Italy had already jumped towards the window, crashing through it.

Shards exploded everywhere and Romano shrunk back with a gasp, watching in shock as Italy fell down from the second floor of the building. Being a Nation, the fall didn't hurt him as it would have with a human, so he recovered from the hit and stood up, wheezing and gasping.

"Feliciano!" South Italy reached the broken window and glanced up, worried.

Not turning his back anymore, afraid that his determination would waver if he were to see his brother's face, Italy gritted his teeth and ran away.

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SOY: that was it. Please do leave a comment if you liked, it would really mean a lot to me…

Per favore (Italian) – please

Grazie (Italian) – Thank you

Kotatsu (Japanese) – heated table

Dannazione (Italian) – damn it

Fratellone (Italian) – older brother