Thank you for the reviews! I really appreciate all your comments. You guys give me warm fuzzies. Here's Part 2, hope you enjoy it!
Really Dumb Disclaimer: This is not a historical essay. This is a Hetalia fanfic. As such, it is not 100% historically accurate (partially because I had a hard time finding information on the subject). Also, this story is mostly about the Italy brothers as people – Romano's actions here do not reflect how I think all southern Italians felt at the time, same with Veneziano and the northern Italians.
Just, y'know. So we're all aware.
The Best of All Possible Worlds, Part II
"I am telling you, because I think you would like to know what exactly it means."
Austria had decided to tell him, not long after they'd returned from the Congress, when he had spent an afternoon at the piano, suddenly unable to join any notes together into something satisfactory. So when Veneziano entered the room with a bucket and a large brush and sat down to scrub the floors, Austria told him – he waited until Veneziano had finished a good portion of the floor, because parts of it did need a decent scrubbing, and then he said it, as clearly as he could, because ambiguity might make him hopeful and hope would only make the truth more painful.
Veneziano froze in place, on his knees, both hands on the brush trapped in mid-scrub. He stared wide-eyed at the floor. "But… when you say 'no more,' you don't mean… gone."
Austria's fingers slid across the keys, seeking the higher notes that played in his head when he listened to Veneziano speak. "I do mean gone, Italy. Gone, and he will not come back."
Veneziano snapped out of his daze with a quick shake of his head. He smiled knowingly, moving the scrub once again. "Oh no, that's not true. He promised me, you see, he said—"
"It matters not what he might have promised," Austria snapped, harsher than he had intended. "Reality is what matters, and reality agrees with me."
The serene smile on Veneziano face was giving way to distress. "But… how could… how did it…"
Austria pressed one key, then a higher one, running a melody through his head. "What's done is done. It is pointless to ask questions. I simply felt it would be best if you heard it now, from me, rather than later from someone else."
Veneziano sat back on his heels, still pressing the brush to the floor. "That… that's kind of you, Austria." From anyone else, Austria would have interpreted that as sarcasm. But he had learned by now that Veneziano grasped at anything he could perceive as kindness, like a parched man in a desert, clung to it and nurtured it, smiling at shadows in the unkind desolace.
Sighing, Austria removed his hands from the piano. "The floor is clean enough. You may go if you wish."
It took a moment for the words to register, but eventually Veneziano did place the brush into the bucket, taking hold of the handle with both hands as he stood. When he was almost to do the door, he paused. "Austria?"
Veneziano turned to face him, though he did not look at him. "Did he get a say in what happened?"
Austria did not look at him, either. "Even if we had asked, he would have been too weak to reply."
-Vienna, March 1848
Austria looked as confused these days as Veneziano had ever seen him. They were all staying inside most of the time, and Austria would sometimes move the curtains aside, peering out the window and sighing in his delicate way, uttering phrases like "degradation of society" and the like.
Veneziano was forbidden from leaving the manor. He wasn't sure why; but Austria was permitting him to sit by the piano and sing, so he saw no reason to ask questions. He was so placated, in fact, that it took him a while to realize that Hungary wasn't much speaking to Austria.
Austria didn't seem to notice this either, or if he did he gave no indication. She, too, was forbidden to leave the house; but she was also assigned fewer and fewer chores, which she completed with less and less care.
But Veneziano's life went along much as it always had. He did his chores, he read his books, he wrote to his brother and only rarely received a reply (Romano did not always get the letters, it seemed – the roads to his house were not so good). Sometimes Poland was there to stay, but for the most part he only had Hungary and Austria to talk to.
"Do you ever wish—" Hungary began one day, pausing from her work on the dishes. She stared ahead out the window with her head cocked just slightly and a thoughtful frown frozen on her face. They sat in a very long silence while Veneziano waited for her to continue – or maybe it just felt long, uninterrupted by the productive clinking of dishes, so strange that Hungary could think of a statement that she could not finish.
Veneziano, standing beside her at the sink, leaned against her, his brows furrowed in concern. When she felt his weight, she blinked and straightened, startled out of her reverie.
She smiled at him and nudged him with her shoulder. "Oh, don't mind me. Just thinking out loud!"
"About what?" Veneziano gave her an encouraging smile.
Hungary chewed on her lip and looked down at the sink. Then she turned her head to look at the door behind them, and a feeling of dread sank low in Veneziano's belly. He didn't like it when Hungary was nervous and actually showing it.
She turned back towards him, her head tilted down and her lips pressed together, two thin lines of worry on her brow. Veneziano had stopped scrubbing by now and simply let his hands float in the soapy water.
"I haven't told Austria this," she began, and Veneziano swallowed hard. Hungary wasn't in the habit of telling anyone things that she wouldn't even tell Austria – she might talk to Poland about them sometimes, but never to Veneziano, "because you are simple and happy, and I want you to stay that way as long as you can." So he stood perfectly still and held her gaze when she finally looked at him. "But lately I… can't decide which part of me to listen to."
When she paused, Veneziano asked, "Well, what is each part trying to tell you?"
She picked up a plate and used her fingernail to scrape off bits of food. "One part of me is… very happy, so happy to be here with Austria and to help him and take care of him and protect him and—"
Hungary was smiling faintly now, but then her eyebrows knitted together to make the expression something very sad – beautiful and sad, and though Veneziano did not like to see her being sad he could not help thinking how lovely she looked then, hiding all her truths just below the surface, burying her regrets with devotion. "But the other part of me says I am weak."
She did not get to continue before Veneziano's hands flew out of the sink, sending a trail of water through the air as he seized her arm, heedless of the suds and water soaking into her sleeve. "No no, Ungheria, you're not weak at all! You're the strongest person I know, you could win a fight against anything, you—"
Staring down at his hands on her sopping sleeve, Hungary let out a tired laugh, her sad face breaking into a grin. "Oh Italy, that's not what I mean. Weak because… I've grown complacent. I'm happy where I am. I'm happy, when my people aren't."
Veneziano didn't know what to say to that. He didn't like to think about his people very much lately, because when he did it caused an ache in his chest, one that bled into the other part of his heart where thoughts of his brother were buried.
His grip on her arm grew slack, and as he looked away she asked in a low voice, "Are you happy here, Italy?"
He immediately looked back to her with a smile and a nod.
She leaned down so that her face was inches from his. Her voice went softer, secretive. "But don't you think it would be nice to only wash your own dishes?"
His eyes went wide for an instant, his lips parted wordlessly. Then another, smaller, more genuine smile crept onto his face. He whispered to Hungary, "And my brother's dishes, too!" But he quickly let go of her arm and returned his attentions to the dishes in the sink. "But that won't happen, you know. Because Romano and I can't live on our own."
"You've grown a lot, though," Hungary replied, picking up a sponge and scrubbing the dish in her hand. She gave Veneziano a sidelong glance. "France helped you with that, didn't he? You're much taller now."
He turned to her with a wide-eyed grin. "You think so? Oh, but Austria said that living with France was very bad for me."
"Yes," she sighed. "He would say that, wouldn't he."
Austria left the manor not long after, and he took Hungary with him. She was very vague when she told Veneziano about it, and Austria was in a hurry to leave so she didn't have much time to go into details – all he could tell was that someone was getting kicked out and it was someone Austria was rather fond of; Hungary, for her part, seemed actually quite excited about the whole thing. They didn't even pause to lock the door when they left.
Not that it mattered; even if the door had been locked, Romano would have still managed to find a way in, because he was very good at that sort of thing, like how he was good at taking things out of people's purses without them knowing.
Veneziano was sweeping in the hallway when Romano came creeping around the corner, casting furtive glances all about until Veneziano called out his name in delighted surprise.
When Romano flinched, Veneziano hurried up to him. "Oh don't worry, Austria and Hungary are both gone and Poland's not living here right now so it's just me and now you too and oh I'm so glad you're here!"
But before he could embrace his brother, Romano took a step back, glaring at the broom in Veneziano's hand like it was some sort of bug, or a German Bible. He wrinkled his nose with a great snort and knocked the broom away, sending it flying across the hall.
"We're going home."
"Sardegna is leading it," Romano explained, gripping Veneziano's wrist as they weaved through the gardens behind Austria's house. His face was flushed and the teeth of his grin flashed in the sunlight when he looked back at Veneziano. "My kingdom is helping, and so is Toscana, and even the Pope, Veneziano!"
Veneziano grinned, more at Romano's expression than the other things, though they were very impressive things indeed. "If the Pope is helping, then it must be a good thing!"
"Of course it's a good thing! We will kick Austria out of your home, and then… and then maybe the Pope will let us live in Rome, and…"
He had stopped walking, and Veneziano stepped forward and twined their arms together, leaning against him. "And we'll cook a big dinner together, and I'll make a painting to put on our wall, and…"
And everything will be okay.
Venice, August 1849
Austria brought his horse to a halt at the end of the bridge leading into the northernmost district of Venice. Hungary was beside him, her musket strapped to her back, and a soldier came behind them bearing a white flag. Austria's commander had made this trip before, several months prior, to little avail; but Austria was starting to get a headache from this venture, and he felt it was time for a personal intervention.
There were many soldiers facing him at the end of the bridge, their weary faces a mixture of fear and contempt. Austria paid them no heed, but turned his gaze towards the large building up ahead.
"Italy," he called, "come out now. I would like to speak with you."
The soldiers glanced back at the building. There was silence for several minutes before one window was thrown open, and a head of dark, tousled hair poked itself out.
"The hell do you want?"
Austria let out a deep sigh through his nostrils. "Where is your brother, Romano?"
"He's taking a nap. So why don't you piss off before you wake him up!"
This would not improve Austria's headache. He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Ungarn," he said low voice, "perhaps you can reason with him."
When she didn't respond right away, he glanced at her out of the corner of his eye and saw that one hand was counting the number of soldiers between her and the building, the other resting lightly on the rapier at her side.
Austria cleared his throat. "The friendly way, if you please."
"Oh!" Hungary giggled, her cheeks reddening. "Of course, how silly of me!" She dismounted and approached the soldiers, her hands raised and her smile bright.
"Hello, Romano!" she called up to him, waving.
Romano was slow to respond. His voice was strained. "H- hello, Hungary."
"Listen, Romano – you've both done very well here. You should be proud of yourselves! And, well… we talked to Spain – he's not mad at you, you know. He misses you, and he wants you to come home!"
"That's too bad, 'cause I sure as hell don't miss him!"
Hungary clasped her hands behind her back. "How is your brother? Is he getting enough to eat?"
Austria knew she asked this in earnest, innocent sympathy, because she had helped to raise Veneziano and she cared for his well being even now; but she was no doubt aware, as Austria was, of the effect her words had on Romano. Austria could see the flash of panic in the young man's face even from several yards away.
But Romano's scowl returned quickly. "He's fine. He's great. Better than ever, thanks!"
Austria could hear the smile in her gentle voice. "I'm glad to hear it. May we speak to him, then?"
Austria did not miss the glance Romano threw behind his shoulder. "I told you, he's sleeping."
"Romano—we're worried about you two."
Romano gripped the windowsill and leaned forward; his voice raised, but his adamancy was overshadowed by high-pitched squeaks of his cracking voice. "You wouldn't have to, if you'd stop attacking our goddamned city!"
Hungary's hands were clasped in front of her chest now. "Please, Romano, we don't want to see either of you get hurt."
"That's rich, coming from you! You're the ones who're hurting us!"
He jumped slightly at the firm address; Austria nudged his horse forward, straight into the cluster of soldiers, who fell back at his advance. "This foolishness has gone on long enough. Either you end it yourselves, or I will."
The former defiance on Romano's face was giving way to something rather ill; if Austria was closer, he might have seen him trembling. "This- this isn't going to end until you're out of our country!"
Austria sighed and shook his head. "Look at this city. The men are weak and tired. Piedmont has been defeated; the Pope has condemned you; even your own kingdom has abandoned this foolhardy venture. This war of yours is pointless, and I am going to put an end to it."
Romano's shoulders hunched and his cheeks puffed out in indignation; but even at this distance, Austria could see that his face was pale.
"Tell your brother," Hungary said, "that we want him to come home."
Romano wrinkled his nose, snarling. "'Home'? He's home right now! This is where he wants to be! But you don't care what he wants, none of you do!"
Hungary shook her head emphatically. "You don't understand, Romano—Austria takes good care of him, he takes good care of all of us!"
Romano responded, but not loud enough for them to hear.
"Romano?" Hungary prompted.
He leaned almost all the way out the window and yelled, "I said, 'not every slave gets to sleep with their master!'"
As soon as the words left his lips, he stood up straight as his eyes went wide. He backed away from the window. His voice cracked more than ever. "Uh, anyway, um—we're not surrendering, so you should just leave!"
And he slammed the window shut.
Hungary's shoulders slumped as she let out a sigh. "Well, Spain did warn us about how stubborn he is."
Austria waited until she had pulled herself back onto her horse before he wheeled his steed around to return the way they'd come. "But he is weak, like his brother. Besides, you saw those soldiers – they won't last through the month."
Silence followed this, and glancing aside he saw that Hungary was biting her lip and staring down at her lap with furrowed brows.
Austria coughed slightly. "I'm sure he'll feel better once he's safe at home. He's learned his lesson by now, and we shall simply have to pick up the pieces."
Hungary looked up at him with wide eyes, mouth opening to say something. But then she let out a long breath and nodded, giving him an unsteady little smile.
Romano flung the curtains closed and backed away from them as though there were on fire. A tremulous voice whispered from the bed behind him:
"That wasn't a nice thing to say about Ungheria."
"I know," he replied, staring down at his shaking hands. "She's going to murder me, isn't she. Oh Christ, she's going to cut my head right off and give it to Austria on a silver platter."
Veneziano started to laugh, but the pain in his stomach silenced him immediately, and he whimpered instead.
Romano turned to look at him, then quickly approached the bed, pulling a blood-spotted handkerchief from his pocket. He knelt beside his brother and dabbed the handkerchief at Veneziano's nose, which had begun to bleed anew.
"I should've just ignored them until they went away," he muttered. "But you should've seen Austria – that snobby face of his looking so annoyed, it was great!"
Veneziano groaned and curled into a fetal position, wrapping his arms around his abdomen. Romano reached back, grabbed the nearby wastebasket, and held it aloft.
"Anyway," he continued, looking away while his brother wretched into the wastebasket, "this whole thing must be really frustrating for him. I figure eventually he'll get so frustrated that he'll just go home."
As Veneziano gave a final, heaving spit into the basket, Romano found one of the few remaining clean spots on his handkerchief; he moved the basket and wiped the corners of Veneziano's colorless lips.
"I can't," Veneziano gasped, his bleary eyes unfocused, "I can't do this."
"Yes you can!" Romano scowled at him. "You've made it this far, haven't you? You can't let that bastard bully you anymore. He already thinks you're weak, and now you want to prove him right?"
"Romano… the Pope, he said the Pope condemned us—"
"Stop talking. You need to rest."
"If the Pope wants you to go home then why did you stay?"
"I said shut up, Veneziano!"
There was a boom in the distance, then another one much closer, and the ground shook and the window rattled and so did Romano's teeth as Veneziano clutched his head and screamed.
-Turin, summer 1858
The Prime Minister of Sardinia had already closed the door to his office when he heard the voice behind him, "This is bullshit."
Cavour's grasp on Italian was tenuous, but fortunately, "merda" was fairly universal in the world of Romance languages. Which only left the question of how an Italian or anyone at all had managed to enter this locked room before him.
He whirled around, bracing himself against his desk as his gaze darted about what should have been an empty room. He quickly found the man leaning against the wall beside the door: very young, very tanned, and very, very irritated.
"Who are you?" Cavour demanded, then added in a more inquisitive tone, "How did you get in here?"
Romano leaned forward a little, his eyes wide with disbelief. "French? You're speaking French?" He threw his arms into the air and rolled his eyes up as he entreated to the ceiling, "What the hell is wrong with this place?!"
"Forgive me," Cavour replied, this time in Italian, and still peering apprehensively at this stranger. "My Italian is… not so good."
"I'll say. Your pronunciation sucks." Though it didn't, really, it was just different. They did a lot of things differently this far north.
Cavour pushed away from the desk, straightening. Now that his initial shock was wearing off, his pragmatic nature had restored itself. "Now I will ask again – who are you, and how did you get into my office?"
Romano hunched his shoulders and crossed his arms over his chest while he glared at Cavour for quite a while. His cheeks, red with anger, puffed out as he blew a sharp breath through his nose. But he couldn't be too surprised. Cavour was shrewd, Romano knew that much; but a keen intellect only got one so far when it came to recognizing Someone Like Him. Besides, Romano was used to not being recognized.
Didn't make it any less aggravating.
When he got sick of glaring, Romano squared his shoulders and spoke, "You don't need to know who I am. All you need to know is you are a bastard and you are fucking everything up."
Cavour narrowed his eyes. "Did Mazzini send you here?"
"No." Romano approached him and poked him hard in the chest. "I came here on my own to tell you that you're an asshole and you're going to mess this all up if you keep going like you are."
Cavour glanced over the teenager, trying to make some sense of him. Peculiarities aside, though he was crafty enough to sneak into a government office, he was only a boy, and a rather tactless one at that. "Very well." He sat down at his desk, folding his hands over his wide stomach. "What is this that I am going to destroy?"
Romano's breath hissed through his clenched teeth. "Don't play dumb. I know who you just met with."
"Do you? Very strange, as that meeting was supposed to be a secret."
"Can't hide things from some of us."
Cavour set his hands palm-down on the desk, giving a mild little smile. "Well, I cannot imagine why a boy as young as you would have so much interest in politics. But because you already seem to know things you should not, why not share some details? Yes, I went to France, and I met with the Emperor. He agreed to join us in a war against Austria."
Romano snorted. "And you believed him?"
Cavour shrugged. "You think France has any desire to show kindness to the Austrians?"
"Of course not, he doesn't show kindness to anyone. What makes you think he—France isn't going to screw us over in the end?"
Cavour stroked the thin line of hair at his chin. "Oh, I think I have made it worth France's while."
Romano narrowed his eyes, bringing his hand up to slowly scratch his neck. "And let's say France doesn't screw us over, and we actually win this war. What happens then?"
He held up a finger, his raised eyebrows sending wrinkles up his wide forehead. "Ah, this part is quite interesting! We will create Italy, yes, but it will be a confederation, with Rome at the center. Specifically, the Pope. Piedmont will govern the north, naturally, and we will create a new state in Tuscany, and Naples and Rome will remain as they are – only under our supreme rule, of course."
The guard on Romano's face faltered as his brows knitted together. "So… the Pope will lead us? The whole nation?"
"More or less, I suppose. You like the idea of the Pope being in charge?" Before Romano could even begin his tentative nod, Cavour continued, "Well, so long as he does not become too attached to all his territories. Because some of them might get taken from him. For the good of Piedmont, you see."
Romano sputtered wordlessly for a moment, his hands dropping to flounder at his sides. "You- you're going to steal Papal lands?"
Cavour gave an exaggerated wince. "Oh, steal is such a harsh word. You see, we will simply annex a tiny portion of those lands to just slightly expand Piedmont's sphere of influence. It is all quite innocent."
"You can't do that. He is the Pope!"
"He is only a man."
"But he is the Pope!"
"And he stands in the way of a full Italian unification. The French, they want the Pope to lead Italy, if any one man must do it; so I will tell them what they would like to hear. Nevertheless, he is a man standing in the way of our goals."
Romano lunged forward, slamming his hands down on the desk and shoving his face in front of Cavour's. "What goals?"
Cavour linked his fingers together, meeting Romano's gaze with that same placid smile. "Oh, I'm sure if you think very hard, you will understand."
Letting out a huff, Romano clenched his hands upon the desk, but they only shook harder that way. "Why do you want to unite Italy? What the hell would you gain from it?"
"Why does anyone engage in these pursuits?"
"For God. For family."
"For glory," Cavour added.
Romano leaned in even further, close enough to see each individual hair lining Cavour's jaw. "For the good of the nation!"
Cavour tapped a finger on Romano's nose. "Exactly! I work for the good of my nation. My nation – which is Piedmont."
"Piedmont is—" It is his, it is part of him, YOU are part of him, why can't you understand, why can't any of you understand--!
A noise of disgust tore from Romano's throat as he whirled around and marched towards the door. As he wrenched it open, Cavour spoke behind him.
"Are you all of Italy, then?"
Romano stared hard at nothing in the hallway. His voice was low and tight when he finally responded, "Just the south."
"And why are you meeting with me, instead of the north?"
He turned back just enough to see Cavour out of the corner of his eye, blurred with tears of frustration. "I'm here because he can't be."
He slammed the door on Cavour's mild, pensive face.
"For Italy," they kept saying, entreating to farmers who didn't even know what Italy was. "For Italy," everything they did, every city they conquered or signed away, except no one had thought to ask Romano if that was what Italy wanted. But people never thought to ask him much of anything – he was too abstract a concept, too weak, too fractured to be recognized for what he represented, which was—hell, he wasn't even sure anymore. It seemed like there was only one person with any kind of authority who could ever see him for what he really was, and that was often because Romano always made a point to introduce himself to that man.
When Romano met with him, it was not the same way he had met with Cavour – one does not saunter so arrogantly into this office, and Romano had not had reason to disrespect a pope since the Borgia were in power.
The elaborately adorned guards did not even give Romano a sideways glance as the Pope led him into his private office deep within the holy city; Romano closed the door behind them.
He locked his hands behind his back, keeping his head lowered and his eyes fixed on the lush carpet. "Thank you for seeing me, Your Holiness."
The Pope circled around to sit at his desk. "I have not seen you in quite a while. You have been busy these past few years."
Romano winced. His felt a scolding beneath the mild tone. "Things have… been complicated. I'm sorry if… my actions… I did not mean to disobey you."
Pius made a small noise that was barely an acknowledgement. "You have been to see Cavour."
Romano had never asked how the pope knew all that he did – it was simply to be expected. "He told me his plan for—for the peninsula. For my brother and I."
"Yes, I have heard of this plan. Italy will be divided into a four-part confederation, with my office at the head."
Here Romano did meet his gaze, as well as he could with his head still lowered – the top of Pius's head was obscured by Romano's furrowed brows. "He's going to betray you. He wants your lands for himself."
Pius let out a great sigh, his fingers forming a steeple in front of his lips. "I expected as much. Sardegna has always sought to expand its territories, and Cavour is particularly ravenous with his ambition. The men of his kingdom are not to be trusted." He gave a smile that just barely crinkled his eyes. "But I am glad that you have not been caught in his sway."
Romano looked down again, rolling his shoulders in an awkward shrug. There were many things he wanted to say about Cavour, but none that he would even think of uttering in front of the Pope.
Pius stood from his desk and approached Romano, who knelt immediately, mostly with reverence, but with no small amount of shame. No one asked him what Italy wanted, but in the end it was a good thing, because Romano wasn't sure he knew anymore.
"But tell me," Pius asked, "what did you think of Cavour's plan? Of your nation under my dominion?"
Romano swallowed hard before answering. "If I'm going to have one man leading me, I'd like it to be you." But he kept his head down, for he was thinking of another holy man – one who had pulled him to his feet and told him to straighten his vestments and fetch armor for the bishops, because things were going to change and he would no longer be ruled by petty criminals. And things had changed, but that had been many years ago, and he had still been so small when he had collapsed beside Julius's deathbed, wailing, "You promised, you promised—" But this was not God's kingdom, and Julius had been a mortal man, and Romano was doomed to the mercy of lesser mortals once again.
Pius brought his fingers to Romano's chin, tilting his head up, then lightly put his hand upon Romano's cheek, reddened with shame and sadness. The Pope's face was not unkind, but it did not hold the warmth it once did, before Romano had lost his trust. "I forgive you your trespasses, my child. You and all who come with you."
"It's more than we deserve," Romano said, or tried to say – but he choked on the words, as he did when he kissed Pius's hand.
The war did not go well.
Actually, it went very well at first, until France had decided to do exactly as Romano had expected. France and Austria had already worked out the terms for the peace treaty, of course, and it was only after the fact that they allowed Cavour in to hear them.
Veneziano was there too – maybe Austria had considered it a kindness to let the brothers see each other, or maybe he was simply reminding Romano of the truth of the matter; but even if it had been the former, it still Istung/I like the latter, and Romano did not want to meet his brother in this way.
He also was very tempted indeed to watch Cavour's face whenever he finally emerged, for the brief, dark feeling of satisfaction he would get by saying "I told you so;" but the whole affair was making Romano's stomach churn and his chest clench and he was certain if he stayed here much longer he was likely to explode.
But as he made to storm out, his brother's voice halted him: "Romano!" He didn't turn around, but he soon reeled from the force of Veneziano throwing himself against him and embracing him from behind.
"I'll miss you!" Veneziano sang in a soft warble.
Romano stared at his feet. What could he say in response? Not for long, I'll be coming for you soon, we'll be together again? He couldn't comfort Veneziano so in good conscience, not with all that stood between them now.
When Veneziano gave him a squeeze, he turned his head just slightly to watch him out of the corner of his eye. "Aren't you pissed about this? You're the one they're fucking around with. How can you just sit there and take it?"
Veneziano nuzzled the back of his neck; Romano could feel his upturned lips against his skin. "It's not so bad!" He rested his chin on Romano's shoulder. "They take care of me, because you know I would mess things up if I was on my own, so this way my people and I will be happy!"
Romano could've smacked him right then. Instead he let out a loud breath. "And did you think to ask your people what would make them happy?"
When Veneziano replied, it was without any inflection or emotion or anything that was his own voice, but still with that cheery smile. "Austria says that's unnecessary."
Romano wrenched himself from Veneziano's grasp, pacing in front of him, fists clenched. "Forget what Austria says! Who gives a shit what Austria says?"
Veneziano looked down, his finger poking thoughtfully at his lip. "I think Austria does," he mumbled.
Romano made a nose that could've been a growl from someone with a deeper voice. He marched forward and grabbed Veneziano's shoulders, giving him a little shake. "What the hell's the matter with you? Did you forget how to think for yourself? Just forget Austria for a minute and tell me what the fuck you want!"
Veneziano looked up at the ceiling, tilting his head, a faint "hmm" humming through his pursed lips. "I want… I want a house in the mountains – and by the water! Definitely a house by the water – a river or a lake or the ocean, it doesn't matter which as long as it's a nice view, the kind that makes you want to make things. And I want lots of paint and canvases, and I want you cooking one of your tasty seafood dinners, and we could sing one of the songs Papa taught us, one of the ones no one ever sings anymore because Papa forgot to write them down."
Sighing, Romano relaxed his grip on Veneziano's shoulders. "That's… not exactly what I meant, but…"
"What do you want, Romano?" Veneziano stared at him with wide eyes, grinning, curious and genuine.
Romano sputtered for a moment. "You're missing the point! It's not—hell, I know what I want! I…" He wanted to stop getting jerked around, at the mercy of those who insisted they knew better. He wanted to stop that nagging feeling of forgetfulness, like he had dropped something, every time he crossed a border. He wanted to cook in a home of his own while he listened to his brother sing.
Maybe Veneziano really did understand what he meant.
His hands slid down from his brother's shoulders, pulled by some invisible weight. He did not look at Veneziano when he muttered, "I guess a house on the water would be nice."
He was saved from further details when the door flew open and Cavour stormed out, his round cheeks red and his shoulders hunched. As he stomped past the brothers, Veneziano called out, "Did it go well, Prime Minister?"
Cavour lurched to a halt and spun around to look at the brothers, his arms spread wide and his cheeks puffed out. "Did it go—how do you think it went when I was not even invited to the negotiating table? My god, they make us sit through the entire construction of the treaty for godforsaken Crimea, but when it is something that truly matters to us, they can't even let me—"
Well, if Romano was going to stay for this, he was going to be at least partially satisfied. "I might have told you that would happen. Actually, I think I did."
Cavour scowled at him. "Piedmont will receive Lombardy," he stated, as if it was an insult and not a concession.
"Guess you got what you wanted, then." Romano crossed his arms over his chest. "More land for Piedmont! You should be fucking thrilled."
Cavour opened his mouth for an angry retort, but his face relaxed into a thoughtful expression, because that was when Veneziano stepped forward.
"Take good care of the people in Lombardia, will you? They are used to Austria, but I think they will do fine with you. So take good care of them!"
Cavour was staring at Veneziano with his lips parted and his head tilted just slightly, squinting as if trying to recall a name. Veneziano took his hands and smiled.
"Thank you for trying, Camillo! Maybe I'll see you again soon."
The door opened again and they heard footsteps passing by, and an idle voice called out, "Italien."
Veneziano paused just long enough to kiss Romano's cheek before he scurried after Austria.
They were alone now, and Romano did not look at him when he said, in a low voice, almost reverent, "That is what I was fighting for." He started to walk away.
"Idealism," said Cavour, slowly and deliberately, "will not unite a country."
Romano stopped to stare down at his feet, his face scrunched from the stench pervading this whole affair that he could not block out. "It doesn't do much of anything, does it?"
-Sicily, May 1860
Two ships came to Marsala early in the summer bearing a company of soldiers. A ragtag bunch, Romano thought, not something he would call a proper army. Their "uniforms" consisted of red shirts in varying shades and fabrics. He estimated there were about a thousand of them. The old man who led them was apparently bandying about words like "liberation," "the King," "Italia."
Romano watched the first battle from a nearby hill. The soldiers in red were outnumbered, but the ending was nowhere near definitive, and in fact several Sicilian soldiers fled past Romano, casting glances back towards the battlefield, uncertainty etched upon their faces.
Men were joining their ranks by the dozen. The original company had been composed mainly of Venetians, but now citizens of Sicily joined to fight beside them.
On the way to Palermo they passed a young man sitting against a fence post. His hazel eyes watched them beneath thick, furrowed brows. His round, rosy cheeks and his petulant expression made him look rather young, though his eyes said otherwise. He looked clean-shaven at first, but as they drew nearer they saw the faint black hairs above his lip that were not quite ready to be shaved.
The general paused on the road beside him. "Be proud, bambino!" he said, and the diminutive made the young man twitch. "You get to watch Italia become whole!"
The young man raised one dark brow. "That so," he replied.
The general raised his chin. "It is." He inclined his head in farewell and started down the road again; but the stranger's voice halted him.
"You're from the north, aren't you?"
The general turned back to him. "Yes – from Nizza. Most of my men are from Lombardia."
"Nizza, eh?" He crossed his arms over his chest. "You mean France's newest plaything."
The general's face grew red, and not from embarrassment. The relinquishment of his home city was still a sore spot for him. "It is an Italian city, and it will always be so!"
"That's not what your buddies in Sardegna are saying."
Shaking a fist towards the young man, the general growled, "That conniving fool had no right to give away our lands! Cavour does not speak for all of us!"
The young man leapt to his feet, and they saw then how short he was. "He speaks for you boss, doesn't he? You're fighting for Piedmont!"
"I fight for Italia!"
"Oh yeah?" He put his hands on his hips. "Did Italia ask you to?" The general looked taken aback by this statement, as they all were. The stranger continued in a low voice, squinting at them, "What do you have to gain here?"
The general puffed out his chest and squared his shoulders. "What do you have to lose?"
The young man opened his mouth to reply, but could manage nothing besides a few wordless noises. Then he snapped his jaw shut and raised his chin, and he and the general locked eyes for a long minute, saying nothing.
The stranger broke the silence at last. "How far are you going?"
"All the way to Nizza, if my men and I can manage it."
The young man wrinkled his nose, adjusted his jaw, then let out a huff that could almost have been a laugh. "Yeah. We'll see about that."
The General had expected dissention; but he had hoped for better, at least, among the Italian youth. Sighing, he inclined his head slightly. "ArrivederLa, then. Maybe someday you'll change your mind about this."
Romano, for his part, had long since given up on hoping for better. Men like this were just perpetuating that annoying cycle, pushing and pushing until someone bigger decided to push back, and they were all shoved once again into the little holes that had been assigned to them by the great defenders of the status quo. It took all of them at once, he'd decided with grim satisfaction, to pretend to be his grandfather reborn.
The army marched on, but the General lingered. "Hope," he said, turning back to Romano, "is not a bad thing."
Romano did not look at him, but leaned against the fence with his arms crossed over his chest. "It's a persistent son of a bitch, and it keeps coming back but never follows through."
The General planted his rifle on the ground and leaned upon it, asking with genuine curiosity, "Are you happy with the way things are now?"
Romano glared at him out of the corner of his eyes. "I don't see anything better coming my way."
The General snatched up his rifle, gesturing at Romano with it, and making him jerk back with surprise. His was a different sort of confidence than the kind he'd seen from Cavour, or the Pope, or France and Austria and all their leaders. It was not the confidence of someone aware of his own cunning, or someone with the greatest armies of the world behind him, or someone who was used to looking down from on high. This General's confidence came from somewhere else, and it was hard for Romano to place because he wasn't sure if he had ever met it before.
"In a few weeks," the General said, holding Romano's gaze with all the force of a king and all the heart of something better, "look to Rome. Then I will give you something better."
The General turned and followed his army, leaving Romano with the strangest feeling, like Garibaldi was not just speaking to him, but was promising something to him.
-Campanga, August 1860
They took Messina soon after, and the Redshirts' general declared himself the dictator of Sicily, ruling it in the name of Piedmont's king, who he called the King of Italy. After Messina they left for the mainland, and they had only been there a few days when Garibaldi heard a voice from the hill behind him.
"Hey, old man—er, signore!"
Garibaldi and the men turned to find a familiar young man stumbling down the hill. The general raised his eyebrows.
"It's a long run from Sicilia, bambino!" he said. "Did you follow us this whole way?"
The young man stopped in front of Garibaldi, bracing his hands against his knees as he caught his breath. When he straightened again, he glared at Garibaldi with furrowed brows. "You said you're going to Nizza at the end. Think you could make a stop in Venezia?"
Smiling beneath his grey-flecked beard, Garibaldi clapped his hand upon the young man's shoulder. "It may take a long time. But we will get there."
He nodded. "I'm holding you to that."
Garibaldi looked him over, observing the pistol and dagger he carried at his side. "Are you any good with those?"
The man's face reddened slightly. "Not sure yet. But my old boss was, so I figure I must've picked up a thing or two."
"What's your name, bambino?"
The young man swallowed hard, then raised his head. "Call me Romano."
"Romano, eh?" Garibaldi grinned. "We'll get there too, someday!"
-Teano, 25 October 1860
Romano had seen plenty of kings in his time. Lately they all looked quite the same to him, and seeing him now for the first time it seemed the king of Piedmont was no different.
No, not Piedmont.
The king's forces stood across from Garibaldi's as the two men joined hands and Garibaldi hailed him as the King of Italy.
But Romano did not stay to watch the entire event. He was busy climbing a hill overlooking the scene, towards the lone figure at the top. He stopped several feet from Veneziano, who stared down the hill with his hands clasped over his chest.
"You did it, Romano," he breathed, turning to look at him, his eyes shining golden with sun-reflected tears. "You did it!"
Romano rested his hand on the dagger at his side. "Not entirely."
"But you've done so much already!"
Romano's shoulders heaved and drooped with a heavy sigh. "So you still think living with Austria's what's best for you?"
Veneziano's laugh rang high and clear across the hill. "Oh Romano, you know I'm not supposed to be thinking anything!"
He tilted his head then, his gaze drifting to something behind Romano. Romano turned to see Garibaldi standing a distance away, his wide eyes fixed on Veneziano.
Veneziano ran until he reached Garibaldi, who had fallen to his knees. He had to stoop very far in order to kiss Garibaldi's brow, and to throw his arms around him. It was difficult for Romano to notice when it was just the two brothers standing together, because they were very close in height, but he could tell now that Veneziano had gotten taller. Even with his talk of how he was not thinking, he had grown as much as Romano did.
By the time Romano approached Garibaldi, Veneziano was gone, leaving the older man to stare straight ahead, tears brimming beneath his wrinkled lids.
"What'd he say?"
"He said," Garibaldi murmured, "thank you. And…" He slowly turned to gaze up at Romano. "To give his love to the Mezzogiorno."
Romano nodded, clapping his hand down on Garibaldi's shoulder. "The Mezzogiorno thanks you too."
to be concluded
A lot of the information I gathered for this came from a book, so I can't exactly cite it here; but it's called A Concise History of Italy and it details what a magnificent clusterfuck this whole affair was.
-The Mezzogiorno = Southern Italy.
-1848 was a pretty crazy year for Europe. The revolutions started in France and spread all across the continent, even making their way to Vienna. The Hungarians were in revolt, and eventually the ultra-conservative Metternich was kicked out of office. While Austria was busy with THAT, it allowed the Italian states to have their own uprisings. The Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia declared war on Austria and was soon joined by the Papal States, the Duchy of Tuscany, and the Kingdom of Two Sicilies.
-Even after Piedmont had surrendered to Austria, Venice was still resisting. The Austrians laid siege to the city for nearly a year. Suffering from lack of supplies and a devastating cholera plague, the Venetians were forced to surrender at the end of August 1849.
-Camillo di Cavour was the Sardinian prime minister during the Risorgimento, and he orchestrated much of the unification movement. He was a pragmatist who believed that unification would only be possible with outside assistance. To this end, he entered Sardinia into the Crimean War to win the favor of the great European powers, and eventually he organized an alliance with France against Austria, offering up the cities of Nice and Savoy as bargaining chips. Unfortunately, Napoleon III soon realized that a war for Italian unification was not in France's best interest, and he arranged a separate peace with Austria. Piedmont was not invited to join the negotiations for the Treaty of Villa Franca, though they did win the territory of Lombardy as a result.
-Pope Pius IX was originally very sympathetic towards the reformers in Italy. He changed his mind after he got chased out of Rome by one of the 1848 uprisings, and after that become strictly reactionary. (Pope Julius II is the pope that Romano recalls. His other name is Pope Badass.)
-Giuseppe Garibaldi pretty much thought Cavour was a giant dickwad for giving up his home city to the French, and he decided to take matters of unification into his own hands. He gathered up 1,000 dudes and set sail for Sicily, which he quickly took over, and then he marched on the mainland and headed north, where he eventually met up with Piedmont's king, Vittorio Emmanuele II, and handed over all the lands he had won to form a united Italy.
...minus Veneto and Rome, but we'll get to that later.