Whenever "Italy" came to visit him these days, Spain generally expected to see Veneziano. After all, he was the one who seemed so fond of his new government, he was the one who had bounded into Spain's house a few years back and said, "Il Duce wants to give you some things! Supplies and money and maybe some soldiers."

("Well," he had added, "he wants to give part of you some things. The part that he likes.")

So when they had told him that "Italy" was here to see him, he was surprised to find Romano in the kitchen, helping himself to a glass of wine (and it was only noon – others might have been surprised.)

Spain's eyes widened at the sight of him, but he soon broke into a grin. "Hey there!" he greeted, as Romano leaned against the counter and frowned at him.

"You look like shit."

Spain replied with half a laugh, wincing even as he smiled. "Actually, this is an improvement. If you can believe that."

"Yeah, well." Romano started walking towards the balcony. "I heard all about it. Well – probably not all of it. Veneziano has kind of a twisted view on things." He rested his forearms on the balcony railing and took a sip of wine.

Spain was living in an apartment in the outskirts of Madrid now while his old house was being rebuilt. It had been partially destroyed, bombed by one side or the other, though neither was willing to confess to it and at this point it didn't really matter to Spain anyway. But from this apartment they could observe almost the entirety of the old capital, with towering silhouettes shaping the newer buildings in the distance. It was different from the city Romano had known in his childhood, it was different even from five years ago; and though from the balcony the city was loud and bustling and entirely normal, Spain could glance at any one street or rooftop or window and see scars. Scars like the ones that slashed across his chest, like the ones that had splintered his heart into a thousand warring pieces.

"What did your brother say about me last time he was here?"

Romano gave him a sidelong glance, but only for an instant. He raised the pitch of his voice; his face softened and his eyes widened. The transformation was uncanny. "'It's so exciting! There's so much going on! And Spagna, he looks so alive!'" He looked at Spain full-on this time, smirking. "Guess that was before you turned into the walking dead. What, did you give up churros?"

Spain laughed, and it almost didn't sound sad. "I haven't had much time for cooking like I used to."

Finishing off the last of his wine, Romano turned away from him, balancing the glass on the balcony railing. "Seriously, you need to eat something. Maybe try sleeping, too. You look like a fucking corpse."

Spain turned around and rested his elbows upon the railing, leaning back and lifting his face to the sky. The sun used to make his skin glow like bronze in the firelight – but that was when he could go outside more, before he had spent years hiding away from the world, away from himself. Now the sunlight seared his ashen skin, making the grey shadows under his eyes seem to sink even deeper. "Well, we can't all have such luxuries like in your great empire," he said, smiling.

The glare Romano gave him then was more sophisticated than the red-faced tantrums he used to throw; but not by much, and Spain could still only laugh at him.

"What? Your great leader has given you so much! And your brother loves him so."

Romano snorted. "My brother's getting fed and told how magnificent he is, and that's a lot more than what he's used to. So he'll love whoever they tell him to love."

"Your boss seems like such a nice guy, though. He even gave El Papa his own city!"

"Yeah, except now he's letting that muscle-headed bastard tell us who we can and can't marry. And he's barely even a Protestant, so what the fuck does he know about the sanctity of marriage!"

Spain winced, looking down at his feet. "Ah, yes, Alemania. He's been visiting a lot lately."

"I know he has, why the hell do you think I'm here?"

Spain raised his eyebrows. "Ah, so he sent you here, did he? I suppose you'll be asking me—"

Romano stepped in front of Spain, placing his hands on the railing on either side of him and leaning in close. "Don't join the war."

It wasn't a plea, but it wasn't a demand, either. Spain could only blink at those green eyes, that face that he had watched grow into what it was now. Of course Romano would hate the war – Romano, who was already poor; Romano, who hated being told what to do; Romano, who had only recently gotten his grandfather's city back.

Spain frowned at him. Their faces were close, Romano's arms were almost touching Spain's sides; but Romano had never given much heed to personal space, and Spain had grown used to that long ago. But their close proximity allowed him to see that Romano's face, once round and full, was more defined. And even grown as he was now, Romano had never been thin, and his clothes should not have been hanging so loose on his frame.

"Romano…" Spain's voice was low. "Are you all right?"

Romano's eyes widened for a moment, and a flash of pink appeared across his tanned cheeks. He stood up straight and turned his face away, but kept his hands on the railing behind Spain.

"I hate that guy," he muttered at last. Before Spain could ask the requisite question, he spat out, "Il Duce," as if the name tasted foul on his tongue. "I hate that he's turning us into Germany's lapdogs. I hate that he's using Grandpa's memory for his propaganda. I hate that my people can't even get a job without bowing to his fucking ideology."

He moved his hands at last, because he needed them to swat and grasp at something in the air as he spoke.

"He's trying to turn us into Germans. He keeps blabbering about embracing our heritage, but then he wants us to be a bunch of brainless soldiers, like- like his own army of perfect little Nazis. It's-"

He clenched his fists and snorted, closing his eyes and wrinkling his nose as he recited, "Me ne frego."

Spain watched him out of the corner of his eye, then gave a weak smile. "I suppose I'm lucky. My new boss hasn't been around long enough for me to hate him. Well… except for the part of me that does hate him. The part of me that never liked his ideas." It didn't help that he could still see the scars across Madrid, or that he still had countless little burns that had yet to heal; but Spain didn't say that out loud. He sank down onto the balcony floor, resting his back against the railing.

"Remember when things were simple? There was a king and a queen and the church and a big ocean to explore. And we minded the church and we loved the king, and when we went to war we had to walk a long ways into some empty field. Now we can't talk to the church and we can't trust the king – we can't even call him a 'king' – and they make weapons that can target children, and they call it 'progress.'"

Romano joined him on the floor, leaning his shoulder against the railing. "I don't think the past was ever as great as you make it sound."

"No. But it never pretended to be." Spain ran both his hands through his hair, clutching at it as he turned his face upwards and laughed. "Or maybe it did, and I've just forgotten! The past was so long ago. Now everyone just sees the future, this wonderful future they all have planned, but no one can agree on how it's supposed to look."

Romano was frowning at him, but it wasn't the petulant frown of the spoiled little boy he'd once known.

"Don't join the war, Boss."

Spain smiled at him. He reached out his hand, slowly, waiting for the recoil or rebuke – Give me this, at least, just a touch of what I used to have – but Romano's expression did not waver, and his gaze remained fixed on Spain as he ran his fingers through Romano's dark hair.

"I thought that last war was going to tear me apart." And it did. "I don't want anything to do with this one."

Romano let out a long breath through his nose. "Good to know."


Spain had wanted to invite Romano to stay for dinner, but he didn't have anything they could eat. So now he stood in the room that did not feel like his own, his shirt tossed onto the floor, and regarded himself in the mirror.

Some of the wounds were healing. Some.

The burnt skin over his heart had faded to a dark brown, as Madrid was slowly being repaired. But so many other little burns and gashes were still red and raw. The white scar on his belly, the one England had given him hundreds of years ago, looked pale and faded compared to the wrinkled red patch sitting just above it.

Spain pressed his fingers to the burn on his stomach – it was numb. There wasn't much to Guernica anymore.

"Señor España!" Someone was knocking on his door. "His Excellency wants to speak with you!"

His Excellency. His leader. The new savior of his nation. The man half his heart adored, while the other half cursed his name, and his body ached from the strain of so many hands pulling him asunder.

"Señor España? Please, open the door!"

Spain collapsed onto the floor, clutching his head and trying not to scream.

- The Spanish Civil War lasted from 1936 to 1939 and ended in victory for the fascists, led by Francisco Franco. Their victory was due largely in part to aide received from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

Spain was declared a non-belligerant state during World War II - although Franco supported the fascist nations of Germany and Italy, both in spirit and financially, Spain never entered troops into the war. For one thing, the nation was too poor and shattered after its civil war to offer much to the Axis's effort; Franco also managed to stay out of the war, despite frequent negotiations with Hitler (and occasional communications with Mussolini), because his demands in reparation for aid were always too high.

- "Me ne frego" translates to "I don't give a damn." It was the motto of the Italian fascists. By the time this fic takes place, Mussolini's reputation was in severe decline even in his home country.

Also, El Papa's city refers to the Vatican City, when Mussolini allowed the Holy See to establish a microstate within Rome.