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Per Amore

Germany spread the maps out in front of them and took a deep breath. "Let's begin," he said. "Italy! Are you paying attention?"

Italy nodded quickly, bobbing his head up and down, but the movements lacked his usual vigor. Germany looked doubtfully at him—but perhaps Italy was just tired.

Germany certainly was, these days. But that didn't matter. He was not so weary he would fail to follow the orders of his leader. He resolved to put the matter out of his head, since it seemed not to be affecting Italy too seriously.

"Yes, Germany!" Italy said, and his voice was the same as ever, at least. "I'm paying attention!"

"Good!" Germany turned his attention to the map. "First of all, it's important that you reinforce my position here . . . ."

It wasn't that the war was going badly. It merely wasn't going particularly well, and that was an important difference. He still had his allies, and he could hardly fail to finish the conquest of England . . . sooner or later. For now, they needed to focus on Russia and Africa, and . . . they would win. Somehow, they would. Germany put his unease out of his head, his own weariness and sickness and the ache in his bones and the apprehension he felt with each new order. That didn't matter. Orders were orders, and he—

He frowned over at Italy. "Pay attention!" he barked.

"Eh?" Italy said, slowly. "I am paying attention, Germany." His chin was propped on one hand, and he had been gazing out over the map. He was certainly not paying attention.

"Not like that!" Germany tapped the map sharply. "The map, look at the map."

"All right, Germany," Italy said. He dragged his eyes away from Germany's face and down to the table.

From Germany's face? Germany swallowed. What had he been thinking that for? Italy hadn't been staring at him—had he?

Repeating the orders that he had earlier memorized and filed away in his mind didn't take up his entire capacity for thought. He quickly reviewed the last few moments as he spoke, reeling off directions and facts all the while. Italy's soft dark eyes had definitely been focused on his face, on his nose or something around its general vicinity.

And when had he started thinking of Italy's eyes as soft and dark? Though they were dark, objectively speaking . . . well, maybe not typically dark, not night dark, certainly, warmer than that, like chocolate cake, the soft light fluffy sort—

What was he thinking? That was not an appropriate train of thought for a military man to be having about his ally! He should not be dwelling on the color of an ally's eyes, of all things, and—

Whatever those thoughts had been, he was not having them.

"Hey, hey, Germany?" Italy said suddenly, breaking into both his thoughts and his orders. "Germany?"

Germany stopped, straightened, and put his hands on his hips. "What?" he barked.

"I'd like some pasta!"

Germany sighed. "Is that all?" he demanded, shortly, impatient.

Italy looked at him and smiled, that strange, sleepy, scattered smile he gave Germany so often. "No!" he said.

"What is it, then?" Germany asked, tiredly, expecting a long, rambling explanation.

"Would you kiss me?" Italy asked.

"Ah—" Germany froze and took a deep, steadying breath.

That—that—it was nothing particularly unusual, and if that was what Italy wanted—and it got him to focus—and it wasn't a hardship to kiss Italy, really, he was warm and his skin smelled of sun and flour and spices. It was just . . . unsettling, but that was no excuse. Germany reached forward, tilted Italy's face up with one hand, and leaned across the table to kiss him quickly on the cheek, his lips barely skimming across skin surprisingly smooth for a man, then tilted his head and kissed the other cheek. Italy just smiled and let him. Germany swallowed and drew back, dropping his hand. He felt warm, but that was stupid, so he dismissed the fanciful notion. He raised his eyebrows.

"Is that sufficient?" he asked.

Italy's smile brightened, and he blinked, and then his eyes opened wider. "No!" he said cheerfully, and held out his hands. "Kiss me again, please, Germany!" Germany hesitated. They should get back to work—but Italy hadn't finished. "On the mouth this time!" he added.

Germany blinked, stared, and took a deep breath.

Italy, he thought, was a very affectionate person. And people from his area of Europe in general were very . . . demonstrative. Italy probably felt that Germany was a terribly cold individual. Italy might be lonely. It was probably perfectly normal for a sweet, generous, affectionate person, like Italy, who was not at all like Germany, to ask for a kiss (he wasn't going to make the mistake of assuming Italy was interested in him as more than a friend this time).

"Very well," he said gruffly. "But then we must get back to the briefing."

Italy nodded again, his smile unwavering. Germany took another breath, took Italy's hands, and leaned forward to press a quick, chaste kiss against his lips. Which were . . . warm. Like the rest of him. Soft. And opened slightly beneath his, to release a moist gust of breath against his own lips. Germany pulled back perhaps a little too quickly.

"Sufficient?" he asked. He felt like his voice had gone deeper, hoarser, and blushed, clearing his throat.

Italy's hands tightened on his. They were hot and slender and stronger than he'd imagined they could be. "No!" he said. "Try again, Germany, please. Please?" He blinked and tilted his head slightly to one side, and his usual smile tilted just a little too, going soft and a little crooked. He took a deep breath and wet his lips, quickly, a motion that took up far too much of Germany's attention, and looked up into Germany's eyes and said, "I want you to kiss me for real."

Germany gulped and stared at him. "Explain," he managed to get out.

Italy smiled and bounced back and forth on his feet. "Kiss me!" he said. "Like you kiss the one you love, like a dark night in the plaza when no one's looking, like a summer when you're young, like goodbye in a train station, like roses, like pasta!"

Germany blinked. He had no idea what pasta or roses had to do with kissing, but he reflected that he should have expected pasta to be in there somewhere.

"You want me to kiss you like . . . you kiss the one you love?" he said, and he had to struggle to force his voice above a whisper. It sounded hoarse when he finally did. "Like a family member, or—"

"Germany," Italy said, dragging out his name, his lips settling into a pout. He swung their hands gently between them. "Not like that." He looked down at their linked hands and threaded his slim bare fingers between Germany's gloved ones, rubbing his thumb under the edge of Germany's left glove so it brushed against his skin. Germany concentrated on breathing evenly and nearly forgot to swallow. His heartbeat sounded very loud in his ears, and he could feel it throbbing in his head, which, he thought, was not at all where it was supposed to be. He wished it would stop and resume its normal activities. His collar was much too tight; why had he fastened it so tightly that morning? "Please?" Italy said. "Just once? Don't you like me, Germany?" He glanced up at Germany, from under his eyelashes, which were very long and very thick and as chocolaty as his eyes and, Germany thought, altogether unfair, because they made Italy look almost pretty, and he was already attractive enough, which was another thought he simply hadn't had. "I don't," Italy said, "want you to go and fight Russia without kissing me once. For real. So, please . . . ?"

Germany's breath shuddered in his lungs and he seemed unable to think properly. To think at all. "Could you," he said, "could you, perhaps, show me, how you'd like to be kissed?"

Even the air around Italy brightened. "Yes!" he said. "That's perfect! That would be so easy! You're so smart, Germany. It's too hard to explain. It's not something for explaining. Why didn't you ask before?" He stepped around the table without letting go of Germany's hands, then ran his own hands up the outside of Germany's arms, his fingers skimming warm over Germany's wrists and forearms and elbows and tracing carefully over the planes of his biceps. He reached Germany's shoulders, hummed happily, said, "You're so strong, Germany!"—in the same tone of voice he'd said it so often before—and scooted up, abruptly, to slide himself onto the high table so that his feet dangled above the floor and his head was level with Germany's. He closed one hand on the back of Germany's neck and slid the other forward, along his jaw, tilted his head down a little, carefully—like Germany was a fragile porcelain figurine from Dresden, almost—and leaned forward to take his lips in a kiss.

Because that was the kind of kiss it was, the kind of kiss that people took, that was immortalized in film and painters painted and sculptors sculpted. It wasn't at all familial, or innocent, or merely friendly. It was heated and slow and sent sparks through Germany's head and down his spine and pleasure sweeping through his body from where their lips were pressed together, where their mouths were linked and they breathed each other in, pleasure so hot and strong that Germany didn't quite trust it, could hardly stand it. Italy's mouth tasted like fresh buttery bread—or pasta—tomatoes and wine and a warm hint of spice and something that was merely Italy and there was something burning and immediate and bright in the touch of their lips, in every place their bodies touched, where their tongues curled together and where Italy's breath mingled with his. It was, without a doubt, a lover's kiss.

It was, Germany, thought, real. His breath hitched, sobbing just a little, but it was all right, because it was into Italy's mouth and no one would be able to tell.

Italy hummed a little, in his throat, and his hands came up to flit through Germany's hair, to frame his face, to rub little circles across his cheekbones, and the touches were so light and tender and unfamiliar that Germany blinked quickly, confused at his stinging eyes and how good it all felt. Feeling this good was strange and new and probably not beneficial for the state, but he couldn't bring himself to stop.

"Mmm," Italy said, and his arms went around Germany's shoulders. "Mmmmm." It was a sound Germany had heard him make over pasta, and that made his throat tighten for some reason. He hesitated, uncertain, and then rested his hands on Italy's waist and stepped forward, close, between his legs. The table was high enough that Italy's knees brushed his ribs.

Italy made a bright, happy noise and hugged him tighter around his shoulders, kissing him more deeply, sucking at his mouth for a moment, then moved his hands to frame Germany's jaw—a low, hoarse groan escaped from somewhere deep inside Germany's chest and made him flush, hot and ashamed—and gently, slowly, Italy disengaged from the kiss, brushing little, smaller kisses across Germany's lips and cheeks and nose while he did so. "See?" he said, pulling back just a little, not too much, still close enough that Germany could feel the soft puffs of his breath on his own skin. He smiled, that same scattered smile, but it was still softer than normal, tender, and his eyes were dark and liquid. "Like that, Germany!"

Germany nodded, unable to trust his voice, and looked down. "Ahh," Italy said, his voice dipping down and then up again in the middle of the syllable, and he leaned forward to press his lips gently against Germany's forehead. "You see?" he said. "That's what I meant."

"I—ah—" Germany said, desperate to come up with something to say, something to justify this—this pleasure, this decadence, how good and right and wonderful he felt standing here like this. His leader would definitely not approve. And—and—

Italy shook his head and moved his hands down over Germany's head, patting, gently, in quick, smooth strokes that ended at Germany's neck. "Shhh," he said. "Let me talk please!"

Germany swallowed, and nodded, and thought, that's only fair, I do give a lot of orders, and let Italy guide Germany's head to his shoulder.

Italy's hands moved down to stroke over Germany's back and then rested there for a long moment on the muscles of his shoulders. "I thought," he said, "maybe I shouldn't, I thought you probably would get around to it in your own time, or maybe you just didn't want to, or maybe you just didn't kiss—" Germany started to raise his head, vaguely offended by that, but Italy just patted his head and laughed. "But," he said, "I like you, a lot, Germany," he smiled up into Germany's eyes, "and I think maybe you like me, too."

Italy's hands were still cupping Germany's face, which made it ludicrously difficult to think, but he stared down the tiny space he was taller than Italy with Italy perched on the table and looked into Italy's eyes and thought, a little dazedly, that Italy had just said that he liked him. A lot.

His mind was frozen on that for what felt like long moments, while he struggled to—to think, to do anything really, and strangled on his own breaths, and then he managed to force, wheezing, out of his lips, "I—I do like you, Italy," shocked that there had been any doubt.

Didn't Italy have any idea? Did he think Germany would sleep beside and work beside and wait for and fix the mistakes of and—and—and esteem and protect the alliance of just anybody? Had he no conception of how much Germany valued his—his company, his smile, his preposterous ridiculous behavior that was nothing like anything Germany could have ever accepted from himself? Italy's hands were still curved, patiently, against his face, slender fingers and warm palms callused in all the wrong places for holding a gun. And there was a part of Germany that even liked that about Italy, liked how expressive and giving and open his eyes were (not shuttered and blank like those of his own soldiers), liked how Italy's hands were all wrong for holding weaponry, liked how he thought about food and eating and people and love before he ever began to consider strategy or tactics or formations or effective tank mechanics. He'd thought his weakness for Italy obvious, embarrassingly, dangerously so, to everyone, and that certainly it must be ridiculously plain to Italy himself.

Had he somehow—failed? Failed to show the very recipient of his—his—ah, his—loyalty—how he felt about him? Had he left Italy in doubt in some way?

"Ah, well," Italy said, "I know you like me, a little." A little? Germany was thinking, but then Italy's eyes half-closed, his eyes themselves turning smoky and dark, lids growing heavy. Italy leaned forward slightly. "But like this, Germany?" he murmured. "Do you like me like this?" He blinked, and his eyelashes fluttered against his cheeks, and Germany thought that that should probably be made against the law.

Germany swallowed, hard, quite painfully. It had suddenly become quite difficult, given the dryness of his throat, and tightness of his collar, and the way that—that look in Italy's eyes was suddenly demanding the lion's share of Germany's attention. He tried to speak and instead made a strange, strangled sound that he just barely managed to turn it into a cough.

Italy smiled and leaned forward to kiss him on the cheek, lingering over his cheekbone, breathing soft warmth into his skin, then turned Germany's head to the side and brushed his open lips against Germany's other cheekbone. He pulled back slightly, braced his hands against Germany's face once more, and then pressed his open mouth to Germany's and waited, simply . . . breathing. He was perfectly still. Germany hadn't realized Italy could actually be that absolutely motionless.

He held still himself for a moment, barely able to breathe, waiting for Italy's next movement, before he realized that Italy wasn't going to do anything but hold his face with gentle hands and sit there with his lips pressed carefully to Germany's. A moment later he realized that Italy wanted him to do something this time.

Something. Do something. He had to do something.

A few more moments—most of them filled with pure panic—later, Germany lifted his hands from Italy's waist to pull him closer with one arm braced at his back, running the knuckles of his other hand up Italy's spine. Italy shuddered and made a small pleased moaning sound against Germany's lips, but didn't move apart from that. Germany sank his hand into Italy's hair and moved his mouth, uncertainly, questioningly, against Italy's.

Italy gasped a little, and trembled, and Germany made a decision. He tightened his grasp in Italy's hair, tilted his head back, and set about the business of kissing Italy the way . . . the way Italy had asked him to.

Italy made a soft, happy noise in the back of his throat and leaned into Germany, twining his arms upwards around his neck. He almost . . . melted against Germany's chest, into his arms, leaning forward eagerly and squirming more tightly into Germany's hold until their bodies were pressed together.

They were so close that Germany could feel Italy's heart beating fast, almost frantically, feel the rapid rise and fall of his chest along with his every breath. Germany reached up with one hand and let his fingers trace over that hammering pulse in Italy's chest, beneath the cloth of his shirt and uniform jacket and Germany's gloves and Italy's skin.

He hadn't realized that Italy's heart would be as beating as quickly and recklessly and almost painfully as his own.

Italy gave a high, shuddering breath with just a ghost of sound at the touch, a breath that cracked and broke about halfway through, when Germany pressed his hand flat to feel Italy's heart beat.

For a moment Germany couldn't breathe at all, couldn't even remember how to go about getting the air into his lungs to do so, but it didn't really seem to matter. It was an inconsequential detail. Italy's lips were open and yielding beneath his, their bodies so close together, and Italy's arms were around his neck, his hair tousling beneath Germany's fingers.

In that one moment it didn't seem like there'd ever be a need for him, for either of them, to let go.

Germany lost track of time—he never lost track of the time, he didn't, but he was utterly unsure how long they stood there. All he knew was that eventually he moved the hand in Italy's hair down over his back again, skimming over the flat line of Italy's slim hip to his knee. Italy gave a high, breathy sort of moan and sort of bounced up, a little, somehow erasing still more of the space between them when Germany had not thought such a thing possible, and Germany spread his booted feet to set them more solidly against the floor and caught at Italy to steady the both of them. His fingers caught at the map, crackling under the leather of his gloves.

What—what was he doing? It wasn't kissing Italy that sent pure horror at his own lack of discipline through Germany's gut. It was the simple fact that he had no time to be kissing Italy while he was supposed to be briefing him on a mission.

He tried to pull back and tried to speak at the same time, and what left his lips was a pathetic twisted sputtering noise.

Italy pulled back as well and laid his head comfortably on Germany's shoulder to gaze up at him. His hands remained where they were, curled around the back of Germany's neck. He smiled happily up at Germany, and there was something soft and warm and not at all disciplined struggling free in Germany's chest.

"I—" Germany said. "I—" No, that wasn't right. "We—we need to get on with the briefing," he managed finally. "This—this is no time for—"

"Mm," Italy said, easily, lightly. "Germany, you're mean."

Germany swallowed with difficulty. "I am sorry," he said, drawing on all his military dignity and bearing. "But I—"

"That's all right," Italy said, looking down, at Germany's collar. His hands moved in Germany's hair and fiddled with the cloth in the back of his collar. His fingers brushed against the sensitive skin of the back of Germany's neck. "I like you the way you are." His voice was bright and happy and unconcerned, as if he were saying the words after a normal day of training instead of—instead of—

Germany swallowed again. He simply could not think of anything to say. "Later," he managed, finally, "we will have time to—to discuss this. Later. But for now, I have not finished—"

Italy sat up. "You'll kiss me again later, Germany?" he said. "Really? Really? You will?"

Germany shifted, uncomfortably. Not at all because Italy sitting up again had shifted his weight across Germany's legs in an . . . interesting fashion. "We must finish the briefing now," he said, and was ashamed for how he had dodged the question.

Italy smiled, his eyes going softly hazy. "All right!" he said in the easygoing tone of voice that Germany knew from experience meant that he didn't plan to pay a great deal of attention. "But I want to say something first!"

"I—" Germany said. It was still difficult to focus. Italy's lips were damp and reddened from . . . from kissing. "Ah—very well."

Italy took a deep breath that made Germany's internal organs do . . . interesting things. "That wasn't the kind of kiss you say goodbye with!" he said. "It was an until-we-meet-again kiss." Italy slid down from the table and laid both hands on the front pleats of Germany's uniform. He looked down at his hands and his fingers tightened in the stiff cloth of the uniform, and then he looked back up into Germany's face. His own face was serious, and his eyes were soft again and dark and very large. Germany thought he could most likely look into them forever. "It was a promise!" Italy said.

Before Germany knew what he was doing, he reached out and touched Italy's cheek, once, quickly, still looking into his eyes. "Ah," he said. "A promise."

Italy reached up and touched his own cheek where Germany's fingers had lingered, and smiled again. "."

Historical Notes:

This is set in 1942--America has come into the war and Germany is mired in Operation Barbarossa--the invasion of Russia.
Per Amore means "for love" in Italian. Si means yes, though that's no doubt pretty obvious.
Italy may be terrible at fighting, but he's very good at other things. I think kissing is probably one of them.