Disclaimer: Axis Powers Hetalia belongs to Himaruya Hidekaz

Author's note: This fic is inspired from some of the ideas in the Risorgimento doujinshi. I'd like to play more with the theory that Italy knows Germany has a past as the Holy Roman Empire, but he's never mentioned it to Germany because there are things in Holy Roman Empire's life better left unremembered (like the slow decline from the Thirty Year's War to the formal dissolution during the Napoleonic Wars).

The Boy Who Couldn't Grow

"Ve~" Italy sighs as Germany approaches; he plants his boots solidly as he comes down the grassy slope to where Italy is reclining, but today Italy doesn't jump up and run from his stomping. "Germany sure knows a lot of great stories. I have some like this at my house, too."

Germany wants to lecture him, to hit him on the back of the head for carrying his books away from the library and out to the yard where they'll get dirty. But Italy's fingers cradle the leather-bound cover with a steadfast, precise pressure that he has never displayed while holding a gun.

He sits down beside Italy. "You should ask before you borrow my things."

"But we're friends!" Italy protests, though his whine lacks half the customary heart and annoyance; his eyes remain on the book of märchen, and his mind likely dwells with the stories there. He turns the page the way Japan strokes a cat, all gentleness and anticipation and hesitating slightly at the end of the movement. He holds his breath for a moment as though savoring the title; Germany can see the muscles twitch on the side of his face as his tongue and jaw work silently.

"Besides," Italy continues, "I was just looking for something. I wasn't going to keep it very long."

"You're looking for a story in particular?" Germany feels as if, with the book so close beside him, he can recite all the tales from heart. "Maybe I can help."

Italy pauses in the middle of his story, then closes the book. He props it on his thighs like a lectern and pulls his knees closer to his chest, wrapping his arms around them. He hums to himself in a song Germany doesn't recognize, a code he can't follow.

"Does Germany know any stories that go like this?" Italy is looking away, out to where the tree line starts, beyond the green tops of trees and through the blue sky, that look where his eyes don't seem to focus on any point in the distance. "There is a little boy who couldn't grow at all, no matter how many years passed and how much he tried to get bigger. And then when he finally became an adult, he couldn't remember being a child at all."

Germany shakes his head. "I don't. I'm sorry."

Once the words have passed his lips and the memory of them resonates too loudly in the silence between the two nations, it doesn't seem a proper answer at all. So he adds, "Is it a sad story?"

Italy stands up and hands the book of märchen to Germany, who brushes nonexistent dust from the cover with practiced sweeps without noticing Italy has kept it pristine. Italy smiles at him, a smile more radiant and painful to look at than the sunlight that catches a few stray strands of his auburn hair, turning them to shining gold and molten brilliance.

"No, it's a happy story," Italy replies, his voice bright and inscrutable to Germany as always. "It's the happiest ending for everyone."

"I see," Germany murmurs, although he doesn't.

"Ve? Are you worrying about it?" Italy laughs. He pauses in brushing off the back of his pants and presses a hand to his heart. His shoulders, for once, are straight and proud. "It's okay. I already know how the whole story goes."

When he turns and heads back to Germany's house, leaving Germany with his book of fairy tales, Italy is humming to himself again, a sprightly, almost-familiar tune that he can't quite place.