Five Times Italy Knew

-

"Wow," Italy breathed as his gaze traveled about the residence. "Your house is fancy!"

"Eh," Prussia replied, flinging his coat onto a nearby chair. And he did have nice things – not very many things, arranged rather haphazardly, and the tables didn't match the upholstery and Italy really wanted to change the color of the curtains, but the things were very nice. And everything was well maintained and all in order, which meant that Prussia probably didn't stay here much. Understandable, because Prussia was very busy these days. He'd just gotten back from France, while Italy and his brother had just come from Rome, which was now theirs, and now their capital. And Italy had wanted to see Prussia, to thank him for that.

Romano had been less eager to make the trip, probably because he had been buy lately too, and unlike Prussia he wasn't very used to being busy. But Italy knew Romano must've been just as grateful to Prussia, only he didn't like showing that sort of thing too much, especially to someone like Prussia who would probably make fun of him for it. But Italy didn't mind showing his gratitude, and he could do it for the both of them!

Now Romano was wrinkling his nose as he and Italy sat down on the couch and he looked around the opulent sitting room. "Doesn't seem like your type of place."

Prussia threw himself into the armchair by the fireplace. The chair looked way too fancy to be very comfortable, and maybe that was why Prussia was sitting in it all wrong, with one leg dangling over the side. "Yeah, it's all sissy as hell and damned uncomfortable; but when the bosses get richer, they just keep throwing this shit at me." He draped his arm over the gold-lined crowning at the top of the chair. "But hey, they're also throwing fun new guns at me, so I'm not complaining."

"The guns were helpful, weren't they?" Italy exclaimed with a grin. "I heard France was really surprised!"

Prussia gave a very unkind snicker – but Italy knew it wasn't directed at him, so he laughed in return. "Yeah, I don't think France'd been that surprised since fucking Waterloo. The look on his face was goddamn priceless."

A devilish smirk snuck through Romano's surly expression. "Wish I could've seen it."

That sent Prussia into a detailed retelling of the end of the siege. He told the story really well and it all sounded very exciting; but Italy was also really interested in the decorations in the room, so he listened a little bit while his eyes wandered all about.

He started first with the only painting on the wall – a battle scene with a white-haired man charging across the foreground, stern but elegant in his confidence. His gaze went up to the simple chandelier, then traveled from the decorative stucco ceilings down the intricate molding of the doorway and the hallway behind, until he passed over neat blond hair and a pair of wide blue eyes locked with his.

-

"I don't know why you're so shy about it!" Italy said as he drew a few quick lines across the paper. "You're okay taking off your shirt when it's too hot during training or when we're at Japan's house in the hot springs!"

"This is… different," Germany replied, his gaze fixated on the wall behind Italy. Maybe it was because he wasn't wearing pants, either – but Italy had consented to a single sheet draped over Germany's waist to preserve his modesty, as that was about the only thing that would make Germany agree to be his model for the day.

He was lying across the couch, propped up on one elbow, his pose a little stiffer than Italy would normally like, but with Germany he didn't mind so much, because Germany himself was already very firm and sculpted and it was nice to draw him in a way that showed that.

"But you know," Italy continued, wondering if it would be better to do crosshatching for the shading instead of his regular smudging, "if other people had a body like yours they would be showing it off all the time!"

He was at least very good about not moving – his lips hardly moved at all when he responded, "I am not other people."

Italy giggled. "You're right! And I'm glad. You're very beautiful, and being shy about it makes you even more beautiful!"

He found himself wishing he was painting instead – he would have loved to immortalize the pretty shade of pink spread across Germany's cheeks.

-

It was when Italy stood very slowly, facing the wide-eyed boy in the doorway, that Prussia finally noticed they'd been joined.

"Hey," he called out to the boy, "what're you doing hiding back there? Come sit down like a normal person."

The boy finally tore his gaze away from Italy's to stammer out an apology in German and bow low to Prussia before fleeing out of sight. Prussia gave a little shrug.

"Dunno why he's so damn shy. He'd better loosen up soon, I don't want him being such a wuss around people."

Italy was still standing, facing the doorway. "Who is that boy?"

The tone of his voice, far away but intently focused, made Romano look up sharply.

"Doesn't quite have a name." Prussia smirked. "Not yet, anyway."

-

Italy used to think Germany was just very good at avoiding blood, until the day Italy decided to join him on the front, and he saw him before he had a chance to clean up.

Germany stood there while Italy stared at him for a long time, the air between them heavy with silence and the smell of iron. Eventually Germany went to the water basin, grabbing a towel and soaking it.

Italy snatched the towel away before he could use it. He beamed up at Germany and touched a corner of the cloth to a streak of dried blood just above his golden eyebrow.

"None of it is mine," Germany stated.

"I know!" Italy laughed. "I'd be worried if it was, because something would've had to hit you and that's a scary thought!" It was a lot of blood, and Germany didn't wear it well – not like Spain or Prussia, who would lick it off with a grin, or France who wore it on his face like a beauty mark. On Germany it was like a mask, and Italy had to scrub and scrub to find him again beneath it.

"But it's all right," he said as he wiped the last remnants from Germany's neck. "Because you believe in this, it's what you want, so it's all right, isn't it?"

Germany took the blood soaked rag from Italy's hands, which were now stained red as his own. "It is what I have been ordered to do." He turned away. "That is all I ever need know."

-

They both watched Italy dash out of the room, Prussia looking as relaxed as ever, Romano with a deep frown etched upon his face.

"Doesn't have a name, huh?"

"Nope. Not yet."

Romano turned to him, brows dark over his narrowed eyes. "Not anymore, you mean."

Prussia clasped his hands behind his head. "I think you got something you wanna say to me, so why don't you just spit it out."

Romano leaned forward, jerking his thumb towards the door. "If you've been keeping him here this whole time—"

"What's it to you?" Prussia raised his pointed chin towards Romano. "I'd've thought you hated the kid."

"Of course I hate him!" Romano replied immediately, straightening and setting his hands on his knees. "The little fucker sacked my city once! Not to mention the Reformation shit. But that's not the point." He lowered his voice and leaned forward again. "It takes a lot to set my brother off. And that? That is a fucking lot."

-

"Don't worry!" he kept saying, "Germany will take care of us!"

Always, always, Italy kept telling him: the war would turn out all right, because they had Germany on their side. Even when they were losing every battle, even when the people were angry, even now that the Allies had taken Sicily from them – Italy was blind to it all, because he had Germany with him.

Like Germany had never let him down before.

Romano knew better than to bring it up. It was spiteful, it was mean. But he was hurting, because America didn't pull his punches, and days later the bruise on his chin still throbbed. He knew better, but he was in pain, and he wanted his brother to know it, he wanted his brother to feel it too.

So he flung his arms out and raised his voice and spat, "Wake the fuck up, Veneziano! Get it through your thick skull, they're not the same person anymore, and he doesn't remember some stupid fucking promise he made to you when you were little idiot kids, before France went and knocked his tiny brain out of whack, and you're the only one who even—"

Romano's breath cut short when he found his brother's face only centimeters from his own. Except he couldn't quite call it his brother's face: somehow it was all wrong, a face he'd never really seen before, subdued in its emotion, eyes cold beneath lowered brows, nostrils wide, lip curled not quite enough to show teeth. He didn't say anything for a long time, far too much silence and far too much focus and Romano felt a gathering dread sitting heavy in the pit of his stomach.

When he spoke, all he said was, "Don't."

The next day, Romano set out for Sicily to discuss terms for his country's surrender, while Italy hurried to be by Germany's side. Germany was tired, and maybe Italy was too, but he could ignore it and focus on kissing Germany's wounds as he chattered endlessly about the future they would have together. When they made love that night it was exhausting and Italy cried the entire time and held him so tight that it might've hurt if it were anyone but Germany, and he didn't let go all night.

He wanted to be there in the morning when Germany found out.

And maybe Germany would be mad, but maybe he would let Italy stay with him, and it would be all right, and this time no one would have to leave.

-

Italy entered the hallway just in time to see the boy darting around a corner at the top of the stairs. Italy bounded after him, taking the steps two at a time. But there was another long hallway waiting for him at the top lined with several closed doors. He tried them all: most were locked, and the others were empty, save for some scant furniture or bits of weaponry. But the door at the end of the hallway was unlocked, and it opened into something Italy would never have thought to find in Prussia's house.

It was a library. Not a very big one, or at least not a very big room, because the bookcases were all packed so close together so as to make a narrow labyrinth for Italy to wander through. The mahogany wood of the shelves was shining and new, and so was the leather of most of the books, though quite a few were tattered and ancient. Scanning the titles as he passed by, Italy saw many words in German on war, weapons, strategy, and it looked quite odd when squished between them was the occasional volume of poetry or philosophy.

Eventually he came to a corner where light poured in from a window set above a small table holding a stack of books, and seated in the very corner was the boy, with his hair reflecting the pale gold of the sun. His face was hidden behind a very thick book, one by that German author whose name was very short but Italy could never quite pronounce it right.

Italy dropped onto his knees in front of the chair, his feet splayed out beneath him and his hands in his lap, and the boy shrank just a bit further into his chair. Maybe he was older than "a boy," now that Italy saw how long his legs were, but he remembered the face being round and young and the blue eyes very wide.

"Hello!" Italy said, which was not very creative, but there was only so much he could think to say and maybe the simplest thing would be the best right now.

The book lowered just enough for the boy to peer down at Italy. "Hello," he mumbled.

Italy sat up on his knees and leaned forward, placing a hand on the top of the book and pushing it down so that he could see the boy's face. Yes, he was a bit older, but still younger than Italy would've expected, like he had been frozen in time for a while and now he had to catch up really fast, and maybe that was why his youthful face did not quite match his long limbs and big hands. His eyes were a shocking blue, like the sky on a sunny day.

Italy gave him a bright grin before he shot forward and pressed a kiss to the boy's burning red cheek.

When he pulled back, the boy brought a hand to his cheek like he'd just been struck there. "What was that for?" he demanded—not angry, Italy didn't think, but bewildered.

Italy sat back on his heels, beaming up at him. "That's how my people say hello to someone they haven't seen in a long time!"

"B- but—" The boy clutched the book with his free hand, frowning. "I've never seen you before today!"

"Oh." Italy laughed, and the weight rolled off his shoulders before he could much acknowledge it. Then another weight seemed to settle from his chest down to the bottom of his belly, leaving his heart with a dull ache.

He smiled again, and leapt up to kiss the other cheek.

"That is how my people apologize when they've mistaken you for somebody else!"

The boy let out an indignant sputter. "I- I don't think that is accurate!"

-

"There was a little girl."

Italy lay across Germany's chest, running his fingers through neat blond hair, twirling the strands round his finger and then letting them snap back into straight lines upon Germany's forehead. The words were soft and slurred; Germany's eyes were closed and he was almost asleep, and maybe he was dreaming already.

"A long time ago, in the house were I used to live, before—" Before he died, but he didn't remember that part. "Before. When I was young. A little girl. Very pretty."

"What was she like?" Italy asked, tracing patterns across Germany's pale skin underneath the bangs he now had.

"Delicate," Germany murmured, his eyes flitting beneath his lids. "Frail, but… like a flower is frail."

What kind of flower? Italy wanted to ask; but he didn't want Germany to think too hard right now it case it all was shattered. Instead he continued to twirl his fingers through Germany's hair, because that always lulled him to sleep, and the closer he was to sleep maybe the closer he would be to this vision.

"She sang," he continued, "and taught me to paint. I wish I remembered her name."

"But I'll bet she remembers yours," Italy whispered with a smile as Germany let out a deep breath of slumber. "And that's enough for her."

-

"I need to know your name!" Italy declared. "Since we've never met before."

The boy set the book down on his lap, looking away. "Brother has been calling me 'West.'"

Italy stuck his lip out in a pout. "Well that's not a very good name! Because you're not 'West' to everyone! You're North to me, and I'm already someone else's North, and it's going to get really confusing!"

"It won't be my real name!" the boy insisted, maybe offended that Prussia's judgment was being called into question. "He says I'm going to get a new name soon."

"Oh! What sort of name?"

The boy's face went red again, blotchy red that contrasted sharply with his pale skin. "I'll be called Germany." He looked up, his face still red, but it was as adamant as his voice. "It's the name of my people, and that's the name they will give me soon!"

Italy tilted his head and smiled. "That's a very good name!" He jumped to his feet and gave a little wave. "Thank you for letting me talk to you, Germany! You probably want to get back to your book now, so I'll be going!"

He turned to leave, as quick as he could, maybe if he got downstairs fast enough where Prussia and Romano would be talking in their loud voices it would take his mind off of—

"You—" Italy halted at Germany's voice. "You are Italy, correct?"

He turned around again to find that Germany had set the book aside. The boy stood and took a step towards Italy, his hands clasped behind his back. When he spoke again his voice was clear and steady, but his gaze was fixed on his feet. "I would like to say that I… very much admire your paintings." His eyes flicked up very briefly before returning to the floor. "And your sculptures. And your music, and much of your writings. They are all… very beautiful. And I just… wanted you to know."

Italy let out the sob he'd been holding in, and it mingled with the laughter that now burst from him as he ran forward and threw his arms around the boy.

"I'm so glad!" Italy cried, holding Germany tightly even as the boy stiffened and sucked in a startled breath. "I'm so glad you like my art, it makes me so happy to hear it!" Germany really was tall for how old he must've been, already coming up to Italy's chin, but Italy was also very short for how old he was. They'd both been stopped in different ways from growing up as they should've, but maybe that was over now, maybe they would both grow as tall as they were supposed to be.

He stepped away finally, putting his hands on Germany's shoulders and holding him at arm's length. "One day, you know, one day you should come to my house – it's going to be in Rome now! – you should come to my house and I will teach you how to paint, so you can make your own artwork! You will make beautiful things, I just know it!"

Germany, his arms straight at his sides, blushing red to the tips of his ears, stammered a reply: "I- I would… like that… very much!"

Italy brought his hands to his chest, smiling through his tears. "I'm so glad," he repeated in a whisper.

"But…" Germany clenched his fists as his bemused expression hardened into a scowl – the effect weakened somewhat by the blush still burning across his face. "But please do not hug me again without warning me first!"