To Each His Dulcinea
There is no Dulcinea
She's made of flame and air
And yet how lovely life would seem
If every man could weave a dream
To keep him from despair
It was raining the night they came for her mother.
They were both dragged out of the house, their bedclothes clinging to their skin with a chilled grip as the policemen huddled under their umbrellas and read the charges.
Celia was six years old – she did not understand why the police would be so angry with her mother. She caught something about her father, who was away – nowhere specific, doing no specific thing besides being away – and why her mother should be punished for that Celia did not understand. She would not understand any of this until many years later, when other family members became brave enough to speak the whole story in hushed tones.
But for now Celia was six years old standing in the rain with a gun pointed at her head while she and her mother were led towards a car. Another woman was with them, younger, and crying even more than Celia.
There was already someone sitting in the backseat of the car. Unlike the three men climbing into the front, this young man did not carry a gun, nor did he wear their red beret. He had on a regular tan uniform, with a black ribbon tied loosely at the collar. He smiled at Celia and gave her a little wave; he did not look at the two women. But he did address the men sitting in front: "You can leave the little one here, right?"
They gave him no acknowledgement, and he only shrugged his thin shoulders and gave a little sigh as the engine sputtered to life.
The car lurched forward and took them past the darkened houses and out of the village, past the bare fields on the outskirts of town and down the mountainside. Celia had to sit in her mother's lap, her ribs aching from the arms wrapped tight around her; but Celia did not complain, because she was gripping her mother's arm as tightly as she could. Outside the car it was only shadows and a million little flashes of raindrops spattering against the windows. To Celia's left, the young woman still wept. Her name was Valeria, she lived by herself after her parents' had died. Celia had heard her complain a lot about things, but she always did it in such a quiet voice, and Celia didn't know why she would've made the police so angry.
To her right, the unarmed young man watched the rain with a faint smile on his shadowy face. When he caught Celia's gaze out of the corner of his eye, he turned his head to her and asked in an amiable tone, "What's your name, niña?"
She answered in a tiny voice, and then he asked her age, like he was a teacher getting to know a new pupil. When he heard her response, he faced forward and gave a high whistle. "Only six!" he said to no one in particular. "Awfully young."
The men in front exchanged glances and nods and sighs, and soon the car jerked to a halt in the middle of the road. The man in the front passenger seat got out, walked around to the other side and opened the door beside Valeria. He pointed at Celia and stated, "Out."
She felt her mother let out a shuddering breath as Celia whirled around to face her. "Mama—"
"I love you, Celia," her mother whispered in a great rush, pressing a kiss to her brow. "Be strong for me."
"Now!" the policeman barked.
Celia clamored over Valeria – the policeman grabbed her arm and pulled her the rest of the way out before letting her stumble onto the ground and slamming the door behind her.
She lifted her head just in time to see her mother's face watching her from the car's rear window as they sped off down the winding mountain road.
Celia chocked on a sob, her fingers digging into the mud of the roadside, her wet hair clinging to her face. She stood with shaking legs, took a step forward, then gathered her strength and prepared to run down the road after the car. But before she could even finish her second step she was pulled to a halt by a hand on her shoulder.
She screamed, more in frustration than fear, and jerked her shoulders in a mad effort to break free.
"Hey, don't be like that, Celia," implored the voice from behind. Celia whirled around to find that same young man from the car standing with her in the rain. Out of the shadows of the vehicle she could see his face a little more clearly – open and friendly, except for the right eye bruised and swollen almost shut.
Later she would think it probably wasn't possible for him to have left that car at the same time she did; but for now all she could think was that he was holding her away from her mother. "Let me go!" she shrieked, yanking away from the arm that now gripped her sleeve.
But he held her fast and with ease, more easily than his lanky frame would have suggested. "Let's go back to the village. You have an aunt there, right? We'll go see her!" He said it all with a smile and closely guarded eyes – he was so calm and Celia hated him for it.
"No!" She beat her little fists against his ribs, meeting with sharp bone and not caring at the pain. "My mama, let me see my mama!"
He dropped to his knees and seized her by the shoulders, pulling her into a tight embrace. Between the sobbing and the cold rain and the dizzying lack of anyone else to hold onto, she was too tired to fight it. Instead she clung to his shirt and cried, "Why?"
"Why" was a question he never liked to think about. There were too many answers and none that satisfied: "Because only one side is getting any money. Because sometimes the other side is just as bad. Because they don't make good kings anymore and they haven't for a long time. Because they took away my land and the sun started setting and it was all downhill from there."
Because we're all too scared to stop them.
All he could give her was a tight hug and an "I don't know" before the cracking gunshots echoed through the valley, ringing in Spain's ears and lodging in his skull for long after.
The rain was still relentless. Spain draped the outer jacket of his uniform over Celia's head, buttoning it around her. He carried her back to the village with one arm, while his free hand clutched at his chest.
"Congratulations." Germany gave him a curt salute while Italy waved vigorously at his side.
Spain tried to smile, he really did, but the swelling made it impossible. He couldn't return the salute either, with one arm in a sling and the other hand a shapeless mess of bandages. "Thanks, I guess," he said, as well as he could around the welt that stretched across both lips.
Romano was absent from this informal meeting – of course he was. His thoughts on Germany notwithstanding, there really wasn't much need for him. Veneziano was the face of Italy these days: hopeful and happy and right beside Germany. Romano being there would've just brought everyone down.
The thought almost makes Spain laugh.
"We don't expect immediate repayment," Germany continued, pointedly ignoring Italy's chin now resting on his shoulder. "We simply ask that you give us what you can, when you can."
Spain wasn't even sure how much he owed either of them. A lot, was all he could guess. Those planes and all their bombs must've been expensive. At least he didn't have to worry about paying Russia back for anything.
"Well!" he said with a weak lift of his shoulders, "this has been real fun, but I could use a nice long nap!"
Germany cast his gaze to the side. "Yes, I… I'm sure." He let out a sigh before looking at Spain again. "I will be seeing you soon."
"You bet!" Actually, though their bosses would be seeing much of each other, Germany would not see Spain himself for a long time. Neither would Italy, or anyone else, really. France would see him briefly, though they would never speak – in the shadows of the Pyrenees, watching the sky with bruised eyes as thousands of his people fled their homeland.
"And…" Germany didn't look away this time, though it seemed like a struggle, and his voice grew soft. "If you… need anything. Let us know."
Smiling was starting to hurt – not enough for him to admit it (it was never enough for him to admit it), but enough for him to want to be alone now, so he could put his face however he wanted without people wondering about him. "Nah, you've done plenty already!"
It was a mild spring day, the skies clear, a warm breeze ruffling Spain's hair as he coasted down the hill on his old bike. Three o'clock was drawing near, and he looked forward to dropping into bed for a peaceful hour of rest – not that the day had been particularly stressful, or that his new apartment was particularly comfortable (and it was still "new," though he had lived there for fourteen years, because he'd lived in the old house since about the fourteenth century), but siesta was habit, one that he was lucky to get to keep.
He cycled down the road towards his apartment on the outskirts of Madrid – or what had once been the outskirts, and was now moving closer to the center as more buildings popped up from behind. The city wasn't growing fast enough for the boss's tastes; Spain actually thought it was growing pretty darn quick, but he wasn't about to tell his boss that. He watched one of the cranes working in the distance as he pedaled slowly along, until his bike came to a crashing halt.
It stopped so quickly that the rear wheel jumped up, and Spain planted his feet onto the pavement while the rest of his body lurched forward. The entire bike might've tipped over, but for the foot propped against the front wheel, attached to a pair of long legs belonging to a young man who grinned from ear to ear.
"Oh," said Spain.
"How are ya?" America greeted with a jaunty flick of two fingers in a mock salute.
Spain gritted his teeth behind his smile. "Y'know, I kinda hate it when you just pop up outta nowhere like that."
America leaned forward, winking. "Better than an attack from behind, right?" He slapped Spain on the shoulder, and—well, Spain was pretty good at holding his ground, but even he teetered a little bit with the force of it. America had never been one to pull his punches, or even to know when he should be trying to, and Spain knew by now not to expect gentleness from him.
Of course, Spain hadn't expected much of anything from him these days, least of all a personal visit. "What're you doing here, anyway?"
America finally took his foot off the wheel, standing to his full height so he could shrug his shoulders. "What, you never get friendly visitors to your place?"
Spain tilted his head, his eyes darting to the side for a moment as he thought. "Well… not lately, no."
"Oh yeah!" America gave a short, comprehending laugh. He was pretty loud, even by Spain's standards. "Hey, you shoulda known you weren't gonna have many friends when you made that guy your leader."
"It wasn't like—"
"Walk with me, would ya?" America didn't wait for a response before taking hold of one of the handlebars and pulling the bike forward with Spain still on it.
It was easier to acquiesce than to ask questions that America would probably ignore anyway. And it had been a long time since anyone had asked him to join them for a walk, and with America pulling Spain wouldn't have to pedal the bike at all. So he propped his feet up between the handlebars while he listened to the perky tune America was whistling.
"That's a new one," America said a moment later. "Doris Day. You allowed to listen to her music? Doesn't matter, I'll send you some records."
Spain folded his arms on his knees with a little smile. "I won't tell my boss if you don't."
"Hey, speaking of that guy! How's he doing lately? I mean, aside from being a fascist."
Spain blinked at him. "Oh, he's… he's good, I guess! Been the same."
The bike gave a little jerk as America turned to look at him. America, it seemed, had a hard time keeping still; even his feet moving was not enough. "Still hates the Reds, right?"
"Oh yes! Our Caudillo, hateful as ever!"
"That's great to hear! 'Cause y'know, my boss and I, we've been thinking. It's actually pretty helpful having a guy who hates the commies right here on this peninsula!" He twisted around to walk backwards, keeping his hand on the bike, and using the other to clap Spain on the shoulder. "So if it's all right with you, I'd like to hang out here more often!"
A slow smile spread across Spain's face. "Well… I could use the company!"
"And I could use the ally!" He released Spain's shoulder and turned to face forward again. "Even if it'll be kinda weird being allies with, y'know—well personally, just between you and me—" America jerked his shoulders together, with the awkward smile of someone revealing a brilliant secret to a foolish friend. But he didn't lower his voice, not really, because that's not what America does. "You really ought to ditch the fascist."
Spain set his chin in his hands, neither annoyed nor curious. "Why's that?"
"See," America gestured at himself, "I'm a forgiving guy. I'll be friends with you! But I can't say if the rest of the world feels the same. You're not all that popular these days."
"I've noticed." He grinned at America. "I mean, you're the first one to visit me in a long time!" Aside from Romano, and even his visits were rare; besides, his influence as a country these days was not quite the same as his brother's. "But hey, maybe you can change everyone's minds! People really listen to you nowadays."
"Not as much as I'd like," he grumbled, and that more than the words made Spain look up curiously. America was frowning, as if deep in thought, and when he spoke next his voice was slow and cautious and that certainly made Spain's eyes widen. "Remember what you said to me a while ago? Y'know, during the whole Cuba thing?"
Spain lowered his feet onto the pedals, which moved slowly of their own accord as America continued pulling him along, and with a sigh he leaned forward to rest his forearms between the handlebars. He remembered. He remembered a lot of things. If there's one thing Spain wished he wasn't so good at, it was all that remembering he could do.
What America was talking about had happened late in the last century, when the young nation's armies were mobilizing to march against him, to "liberate Cuba," as America had put it. Spain had visited him at his hotel-turned-military base, which had then been shining and new – straight red bricks running perpendicular to the steel minarets whose half-moons pointed towards the blue Florida sky, while inside America's newfound aristocracy was treated to Venetian mirrors and Chinese lacquer. It was built by some wealthy pioneer who craved the history of so many Old Worlds.
The air around the bay had been thick with moisture and mosquitoes, but Spain had long been used to that sort of environment. He had owned so much of it once. America, it'd seemed, was less accustomed to the heat and humidity, judging by the pink nose beaded with sweat – but he'd shown no outward discomfort, sitting there barefoot on the vibrant lawn and fanning himself with a wide-brimmed hat. He'd looked much as he did now, maybe slightly shorter, maybe a little more wide-eyed.
Spain had had a feeling by then that he was going to lose the war. America was so young and full of ideas and ambition, while Spain's ambition was all dried up: after so many centuries of seeing how far he could stretch himself, all he really wanted to do was rest. Those were the days that saw America on the precipice of the rest of the world, with his head held high. Looking at him then, Spain had realized something.
I'll only be the first guy you trample on the way to where you're going.
"You were thinking about it all wrong," America said to him now. "I'm not like you, any of you. You guys were just conquerors. If I'm going to war, it's to defend something."
"Well, sure. I defended stuff too. Defend yourself, defend your friends, defend God, defend your way of life. It's all the same."
America stuck his free hand in his pocket, blowing stray strands of blond away from his face. He turned his head to watch the construction spread across the skyline of Madrid, but a moment later looked back at Spain out of the corner of his eyes. "So, how many guys did you trample on your way up?"
"Oh, I lost count a while ago."
"Who's the last you can remember?"
Spain only smiled and undid another button on his already loosened shirt. He pulled it to the side to reveal the wrinkled, ruined skin over his heart, the burn from two decades prior that had yet to disappear. He still hoped it would fade someday, that his adamant way of ignoring it would turn to true forgetting.
America stopped walking. He stared at the burn, his face withdrawing in a way that Spain had never seen from him. Spain tilted his head and shrugged. "Fight everyone long enough, and eventually the only one left to turn against is yourself."
America let out a huff of breath that was maybe trying to be a laugh. His fingers hovered over his own heart as his lips twisted up in a smile that was very unlike his normal one, sad and shaky and not all there.
The beaches were getting crowded.
It was a nice feeling, for the most part, seeing so many different faces gathered on his shore, sharing drinks with his own people, all of them celebrating in the sun – even if many did insist that everyone speak English to them. They brought business with them, and they brought good conversation. They also brought bikinis.
His priest, the one he visited every week by his boss's order (not a priest he would've picked on his own, but he saw no reason to disobey the Caudillo), did not like the bikinis. He didn't seem to like beaches very much either, and strongly urged Spain to stay away from them, lest he be "tempted into debauchery." But Spain and his people were no strangers to debauchery, and it seemed like such a big useless fuss over such a little piece of clothing.
Spain, like most of the people ambling along the Costa del Sol that day, did not bat an eye at all the flesh on display. Most of it was pale northern skin roasting in the August sun – eventually he passed by one body in particular that looked downright sickly, skin as pallid as uncooked shrimp stretched over protruding ribs.
"Dios mio," Spain muttered, rolling his eyes towards the sky. "What are you doing here?"
"Really now." England didn't open his eyes, only moved his lips. "Is that any way to speak to a guest?"
Spain folded his arms with a merry smile. "But I think in your history, you're always the uninvited guest."
Here England did open one eye, briefly, and it squinted in the light of the sun. "You're one to talk. How are your former colonies? Still rejoicing in your absence?"
"About as much as yours, I guess!"
A ragged sigh escaped England's lips. "I must say, for being a den of corruption, your home does have such lovely beaches."
Spain dropped down beside England's lounge chair – of course he wasn't sitting directly on the sand, that would've been far too relaxing. "Which part are you here for, the beaches or the corruption?"
England folded his hands on top of his sunken stomach, shifting his neck as if it were still restrained by a tight suit and tie. "A gentleman does not consort with thugs."
"Unless they're pirates," Spain muttered under his breath.
"Those men were privateers, thank you."
"So a 'privateer' is… a gentleman who rapes and pillages."
"You were always so touchy about that whole affair."
"I'm not the one who went to war over some guy's ear."
England sat up and leaned close to Spain, his nostrils wide. "And I'm not the one holding the continent's longest list of spectacular military defeats for the past five hundred years!" As he settled back into the chair, he uttered in a low, sullen voice, "And my language is spoken more."
Spain turned a cheery smile on him. "You mean America's language?"
England bolted up once again, with even more indignation, one bony finger pointing in the air. "It's my language, it has always been my language, I don't care what that little upstart has been telling you!" He dropped back onto the chair, crossing his arms over his chest. "You're lucky he's so single-minded these days that he'd even consider you as a friend, despite your current…" He raised an eyebrow, and his lip curled as he drew out, "Condition."
Spain threw his hands into the air and let them drop to make craters in the sand. "There you go! You and everyone else, treating me like a leper! I'm not that different from the rest of you, y'know."
"Perhaps you weren't informed, but I'm afraid fascist dictators went out of style about thirty years ago, at least on this continent. But you never were good at keeping up with the times, were you?"
Spain shrugged, rubbing grains of sand off on his pants. "It's not so bad. My boss, I mean, he's not so bad."
"Really." England let out a brief snort of laughter. He turned to Spain with his bushy eyebrows low, and spoke in a discreet voice, "I had people here during your war. They saw what that man did. I don't know how you can stomach it, not in this day and age."
Spain leaned back on his palms, giving England a lopsided smile. "I guess I'll just have another war, then! That'll fix everything!"
England rolled his eyes. "There are other methods."
"Like an election, I suppose?"
"Well, if you don't want to improve your situation!" England snapped. "I'm only offering suggestions."
"And I'm telling you, it's not that bad. And trying to change stuff is only going to make things worse." Spain sat up, resting his hands palm-up in his lap. "It's all in the past," he murmured, marking where the sand nestled into the scars and calluses of his hands. "It's all dead and buried."
England sighed, settling into the chair and closing his eyes again. "Then I hope for your sake it stays buried."
Spain didn't like the quiet. It made him think of loneliness, unhappiness. A quiet death unsettled him – he preferred the angry stamp of the bull, the enemy's defiant battlecry, a resounding testament even at death to having once been so alive.
It was very quiet after the Caudillo died.
The morning of the funeral he received a card from Italy in hand-written calligraphy; he and Belgium and some of the old colonies had also sent flowers. Spain wasn't sure if they were meant as condolences or congratulations (America had offered both over the phone).
He sat in the back of the basilica for the funeral, watching the ministers and family members pour in, watched the king as he wept in the front pew. The body had already received mourners the previous day in the center of Madrid, about half a million very quiet people. Even the ones opening champagne in the secrecy of their own homes did not make themselves heard.
Spain was so relieved to be able to speak himself that he did so louder than he meant to: "…and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…"
Spain's new apartment had not aged well. His boss had offered to have it renovated a few decades ago; Spain had politely declined, but that never stopped the Caudillo from doing what he felt was necessary. Now the apartment and its décor were showing their age again, and if his boss hadn't spent the past year dying he probably would've ordered another renovation.
Spain didn't like all the constant updates of this century. Change had always come much more slowly in the past, and he'd had time to grow sick of things before he had to throw them out. When had he gotten so bad at adapting?
"I guess I'm just old," he mumbled as he entered his little bedroom, "set in my ways."
"No shit," came a response from the windowsill. "You've been old for about five goddamn centuries."
Spain's initial shock wore off pretty quickly – Romano was never one for knocking, not when he could pick a lock instead, and this certainly wasn't the first time Spain had come home to find him hanging around. Tossing his suit jacket on the bed, he replied, "Yeah, but I used to be a lot better about handling change."
Romano's right foot swung freely, while his other was propped up on the windowsill. "Well, you changed your living habits, at least. This place is actually clean."
Spain shrugged, loosening his tie. "Gotta keep everything tidy, in case the boss drops by!"
"Seriously, the carpet's vacuumed and everything. Do you even fucking live here?"
Spain dropped backwards onto the bed – at an angle, so his head missed the pillows, and the weight of his body on the bed bounced them slightly out of their perfect placement. But maybe a little disorder was all right – it was safe to say he wouldn't be getting any surprise visits today.
The bed shifted, and then Romano was straddling his waist, leaning forward to set his forearms on Spain's chest. His frowning face interrupted Spain's observation of the ceiling's chipped paint. "So what are you gonna do now?"
Spain shook his head a little, his gaze traveling along the wavy outline of Romano's hair, highlighted a faint copper by the ceiling light above. "Whatever they tell me to do."
Romano's dark brows knitted together. "That's it?"
He shrugged. "Kings die all the time. Nothin' to make a fuss over."
"Make a—" Romano pursed his lips and puffed out his cheeks. "How long are you gonna keep your head stuck up your ass? And anyway, he wasn't a king!"
"One guy in total control his whole life?" Spain waved a hand. "Close enough."
Romano tapped his finger against Spain's chest. "I don't think kings are supposed to take the whole kingdom down with them when they die."
"I never said he was a good king."
"Whatever." Romano let out a sigh and gave his head a shake. "The guy's dead now, so maybe you can go out in public without everyone looking at you like you've got the goddamn plague."
A wry smile quirked at Spain's lips. "Is that why you never invite me over anymore?"
"Dumbass," Romano muttered as he lowered his face. "When have I ever invited you over?"
It was a few minutes later, when Romano was nipping the part of his neck that usually drove Spain into a frenzy, that he realized Spain was still staring at the ceiling with his hands limp at this sides.
"Spain," he prompted. Then a moment later, "Hey, boss."
Spain blinked a few times before tearing his gaze away form the ceiling and giving Romano a weak little smile. "Ahh, sorry, Romano. Guess my mind was somewhere else!"
Romano's nostrils flared as he let out a huff of breath. He seized Spain by the tie and growled, "Let's go," sitting up and yanking Spain up with him.
"Where?" Spain hacked out, his tie suddenly pulled quite tight.
"Anywhere." Romano dragged him to his feet by the tie. "Just out of this fucking prison cell. To one of your tacky beaches for all I care!"
Spain took him by the wrist, tugging his tie loose with his other hand so he could speak. "Nah," he coughed, "these beaches are better."
Their shoes sank into the sand, and the silence of the lonely apartment opened into the crashing waves of the Atlantic. This was not part of the bustling Costa of the south, or the packed hotels of the east, and the nearest town was an old, quiet village several miles inland. It was not much as beaches go, with only about thirty feet of space before rocky ground rose sharply out of the sand, the steep incline ending in a verdant plateau several meters up.
As Spain kicked off his shoes, Romano observed the area with his hands shoved in his pockets. "Why this place?"
Spain dropped onto the ground, unbuttoning his collar to let the breeze caress his neck. "It's peaceful!" There were none of the human noises he enjoyed; but there were crying gulls and rustling leaves and surging waves, plenty to remind him of all that was alive.
"Not for long," Romano replied, nodding further down the coast at the dark clouds roiling towards them.
Spain followed his gaze, and he smiled at the fast-approaching clouds. Turning back to Romano, he said brightly, "But it's not raining yet! So come sit with me."
He patted the sand next to him, and after heaving a great sigh, Romano joined him on the ground. Romano rested his elbows on his knees and picked up a small stick that was halfway buried in the sand; shaking his head, he began to methodically snap it into little pieces that he flung back into the sand. "You're just like my brother. You put on a stupid smile and pretend like nothing's wrong. Someone could point a gun right at your face, and you'd just smile at it like a fucking idiot."
Spain fell back onto the sand and watched the clouds drift in front of the slate-grey sky. "But nothing is wrong."
"That's bullshit and you know it."
He closed his eyes and furrowed his brows, one corner of his lips twisting up in something too perturbed to be a smile. "And why d'you say that?"
"Christ, Spain, look at yourself! It's like you never left that funeral!" Romano waved his hand sharply towards Spain. "No, before that – you never even left that fucking war! Your body's here, but your mind is still back there getting bombed in Guerni—"
Then Spain's hand was clamped tight around Romano's wrist, and his eyes were flashing green slits staring towards the grey sky. Romano knew he'd gone too far with that one – he'd wanted to go too far, because maybe that was the only way to wake Spain up, except he'd forgotten what Spain was like when awoken to something he didn't want to hear. Romano didn't breathe until he saw a large raindrop splash onto Spain's nose, causing the other man to flinch in surprise. Spain released him then, luckily – Romano could not have freed himself when it was just his strength against Spain's – and stood, staring out at the churning waters before slowly turning to look up the steep, rocky hillside.
The nearest village was several miles away; by car ride this place was just close enough to be convenient, far enough to be discreet. Spain had made that car ride before, here and all over the country; he'd been the idle observer, the one holding the gun, the one dropped unceremoniously into the roadside ditches, he'd been everything but the driver.
The rain was coming down hard now as he dragged himself up the hillside, the mud slick between his hands and the slippery rock – but this land was his, and his feet were steady upon it, and the wet dirt covering his fingers and toes felt as natural as his own skin. The gentle sea breeze had grown to a roaring wind that drowned out Romano's curses from below.
When he reached the plateau, shining a rich green, it only took a moment for him to spot where a young tree had once been. The tree had grown thick and tall only to be struck down in the forty years since Spain had last seen it, and was now nothing but a high stump beside rotting log – the only grave marker the people buried there would ever get.
But Spain didn't need any landmarks to find it. He felt this grave, all the graves, down in his bones, in the throbbing of the scar over his heart that still, still would not fade. He fell to his knees and dug his fingers into the mud, flinging it aside as he reached down, down four decades into the past, four unnamed bodies who no one but Spain remembered.
His nails scraped the first hint of bone by the time Romano came up panting behind him, his immaculately tailored suit covered in mud, groaning, "Jesus, Mary and Joseph. What the hell's the matter with you?"
"Look, Romano!" he declared, scraping the dirt off of the skull he'd just pulled from the ground. The rain seeped between the cracks in the crater just above where the ear had once been. "This was Rodrigo. He wrote propaganda for the left during the war. So they shot his wife and then smashed his head with the butt of the rifle." He glanced back to find Romano staring at him, his mouth hanging open in horror. "Should I keep digging? I could find his wife, Carmen. Or maybe Luis, he was hiding after he got mixed up in a raid on a storehouse. A few weeks later they found his wife and killed her too, but they kept his daughter Celia alive so she could grow up an orphan."
He staggered to his feet, still clutching the skull in one hand, and with the other he seized Romano by the shoulder, bringing their faces close. His teeth were bared in a wild grin. "But they're all dead now! They're all dead, and they have their own graves, and everything's fine."
Romano jerked his shoulder away, but couldn't get himself out of Spain's grip. So he just spat into the rain, "Pazzo! I always knew you were crazy, but now you're just living in a dream world. You know who else is dead? Your fucking dictator! So what are you scared of? He can't punish you now, so wake up and look at everything he did!"
"It's not what he did!" Spain's smile was gone now. His face was close enough for Romano to count the water droplets clinging to his eyelashes. "It's what I did. It's what I let him do."
He opened his mouth as if to stay more, but then he quickly snapped it shut and whirled around, dropped the skull back into the hole in the mud, and began to shove the dirt back into place.
Romano watched him from behind, his shoulder blades sharp and his lean muscles tense beneath his sodden shirt. "Boss," he murmured.
After giving the ground a final pat, Spain shot to his feet. "Let's go home, Romano!"
When Spain turned and grabbed his hand, Romano took a step back. "What the fuck are you—"
"We're going home!" And with a final yank they were gone, and soaking wet outside Madrid.
Spain had brought them home – or what used to be home, what used to be a grand house with many tall windows that faced the sunrise and a balcony for sunset, an opulent house that stood as testimony to the time when Spain had ruled the world. But it wasn't a house anymore. Now it was three crumbling walls, a second floor that had collapsed in on the first, shattered glass and tattered curtains scattered all around a weathered floor. Spain didn't know which side had bombed it, and neither had offered to rebuild it, so here it stayed, empty and forgotten on some lonely hill just out of sight of the capital.
Romano followed him through the charred pillars that had once been the frame for the mahogany doors. He'd watched Spain walk through those doors so many times, soaked in so many peoples' blood, hefting his axe onto his armored shoulder with a smile as bright as the sun. Spain made his way to the far end of the hall, where only the bottom half of a towering window remained.
"I'll never get it back," he whispered, staring up at the jagged glass.
Romano approached him, scowling up at the window that used to look so big to him – but now its enormity had disappeared into the sky. "That doesn't mean you have to change who you are. Besides, I don't like this new you. You're too… too damn quiet."
Spain turned around and grabbed Romano by the front of his ruined shirt, backing him against one of the still-standing walls with such force that they heard the wood cracking as a plume of dust enveloped them. But Romano didn't have time to yell about the pain before Spain's mouth was on his, pressing in, all tongue and teeth, scraping and sucking and devouring, leaving Romano weak-kneed and bewildered when Spain finally pulled away.
"Would you rather have this me?" Spain hissed, his breath hot on Romano's swollen lips. "The one who takes and takes until everything's been sucked dry? Look where that's gotten me." He realized he was still pressing Romano against the wall; his shoulders drooped as he released a long breath, unclenching his fists from Romano's shirt. He set his forehead against the wall above Romano's shoulder and mumbled:
"I just want to forget."
They stood there for a long moment, Spain's breath unsteady on Romano's neck. Romano had his hands raised awkwardly, and he was wondering if he should've been patting him on the back when Spain spoke again: "How did you feel? When you watched them shoot the Duce?"
Romano let his hands hover in the air as he tried to think of a good response, something noble, something he could be proud of. In the end, as he rested his hands on Spain's arms, all he could think of was the truth. "Nauseous."
He shook his head. "Not happy. There was nothing happy about it."
Spain lifted his head to look him in the eye; their noses almost touched. "So what happened afterwards?"
Romano shrugged helplessly. "We got better."
A slow smile tugged at Spain's lips. He stepped away, out to the center of the hall, where the fading sunlight illuminated the dust flung into the air by the incursion of this ruined house's old residents. Spain could never live in this house again. The walls were too frail to be built upon, too scarred by war and corruption.
But the foundation was still solid.
Spain returned to the tall, splintered window. He picked up the curtain rod that had fallen to the floor, pushing aside the burnt remnants of the drapes, and he held the rod aloft as he had done with his axe so many centuries before. He took one final look at the window before smashing the rod through it.
Romano jumped back from the spray of glass. "—the hell are you doing?"
"This house has to come down, Romano," Spain declared, laughter breaking through his voice. Tossing the rod aside, he turned and rolled up his tattered sleeves. "'Cause it's time for me to build a new one!"
-In his book Ghosts of Spain, Giles Tremlett describes what the Spaniards call el pacto del olvido, the pact of forgetting. It was an unspoken agreement that the violence of the Civil War and the corruption of Franco's regime were best left buried. That book also covers the exhumation of the mass graves left by the fascists during the war. The opening scene of this fic is based heavily off of Tremlett's interview with a woman describing her mother's death at the hand of Franco's soldiers.
-Hitler and Mussolini used the Spanish Civil War as a sort of testing ground for the military tactics they would later use against the rest of Europe. Their forces were largely involved in the bombing of Guernica and other such acts.
-The Pact of Madrid was an agreement between Spain and America that allowed the US to operate out of Spanish air bases; Spain, in return, received military aid, and it also represented an end to several years of isolation from the rest of the world. There's also references to the Spanish-American War, and America's base of operations during that war, the Tampa Bay Hotel (because I wanted to write about a place I'm actually familiar with [it's PRETTY okay don't judge me]).
-Francisco Franco died on 20 November, 1975. He'd named King Juan Carlos as his successor, and after the Generalísimo's death, Juan Carlos instigated Spain's transition into democracy.
-For the record, I didn't write this with the intention of saying ~AND THIS IS HOW ALL SPANIARDS FELT~. This is just my interpretation of Spain the character. That being said, if I've made any factual errors please let me know so I can fix them!