Ludwig held the phone to his ear. He sighed loudly into the receiver, only to hear his sigh return to him—yet, it made Ludwig feel like he wasn't completely alone. On the third ring, he answered.
"Hi, Feliciano." Ludwig paused. He didn't know what to say. The conversation he had planned so carefully in his head had evaporated at hearing Feliciano's hello. Ludwig said lamely, "How are you?"
"Oh—Ludwig. I—I'm fine." Feliciano said hesitantly.
A TV was on in the background.
"Listen, I wanted to talk to you about something." Ludwig began to wander around his house aimlessly, the way he always did when he was on the phone. "Why didn't you come to Gilbert's funeral?"
"I couldn't." he said weakly. "I just had to leave the following morning. It was just too much."
"I'm not mad," Ludwig said gently, close to a whisper. He bit his lip. Of course anger nearly compelled him to fling the phone at the wall, of course his disappointment made him want to damn Feliciano's name. But Ludwig didn't want to talk about it. Gilbert's funeral passed one month ago—everyone attended, except for Feliciano. And Ludwig waited and waited for him to come, but he never did. They hadn't spoken since the night of Gilbert's passing.
"I'm sorry." Feliciano said tremulously. "Really, Ludwig, I'm sorry."
"I miss you." Ludwig admitted.
"I miss you, too." Feliciano murmured, barely audible over the television in the background.
Ludwig could almost hear the tears sliding down Feliciano's sallow cheeks. But Feliciano kept his voice even and almost monotonous—it haunted Ludwig to hear him speak this way.
"S-So…how is everyone else?" Feliciano asked.
"Roderich and Elizaveta spend not a moment apart. Vash and Liese have returned to the Alps." Ludwig said mechanically. Then he gave a dry laugh and added, "I'm all alone here."
"Me too." Feliciano said. Then, hurriedly, "Listen, I have to go. Let's talk soon, yeah?"
"Right." Ludwig waited. He wanted to at least hear Feliciano speak. There was something soothing about the lilt of his voice and the tones of his accent. It was so familiar. Ludwig wanted to hear familiarity, now that Gilbert's characteristic coughing, sneezing, and loud humming were absent in the house.
"Nobody remembers me." Feliciano muttered.
Ludwig gave a dry laugh and collapsed onto his bed. He shouldn't have been laughing, but he laughed with relief at the fact he was not the only one that felt so alone. He smiled and traced the seams of his bedding with the tip of his finger.
"France and Spain haven't visited. Poland doesn't say hi. Romano doesn't like me anymore." Feliciano said dejectedly. He took a breath.
"No one has visited me, either." Ludwig said.
"I bet you've lost weight, the way you always do when something doesn't go your way." Feliciano said with a forced, but familiar chuckle—it was the nervous chuckle that always followed after an abrupt change of topic. "Remember the Great War?"
"Well…" Germany slipped a thumb under his leather belt, loose around his hips even though it was a tight as the belt itself would allow. He drew a quiet breath of surprise and bolted off the bed, planting himself in front of the mirror and hastily unbuttoning his shirt with his shaking right hand.
"I'll make you pasta and give you all the best food I can make." Feliciano said.
"Feliciano, don't worry about it." Ludwig said distractedly. He shed his shirt and stared at himself. Veins circled his arms, popping out and forming long, smooth mountain rages on those muscular arms. Ludwig was a fit man, well-proportioned, with a steady workout regime and even steadier sustenance of beer, sausage, and cheese. But any fat that remained, along with some muscle, had melted right off of him.
Ever since the death of Gilbert, beer had taken a sour nauseating taste. Nothing interested or appealed to him anymore—except for Feliciano's voice. In those minutes of listening to him speak, Ludwig listened to the rise and fall of Feliciano's voice, the warm tones as he finished a sentence and every breath Feliciano took. His English seemed choppier and faster and more convoluted than usual—he hadn't spoken English in a while. Now that Ludwig thought about it, he hadn't either. He must've sounded so boorish to Feliciano.
"Ludwig? Are you there?"
"Yes—sorry." Ludwig said distractedly. "Yes, well, you're in Venice, is that right? I'll visit right away."
"No, no, stay where you are." Feliciano said with uncharacteristic forcefulness. "Stay in your land and be strong. "
"It'd be weak and traitorous of you to leave your home for me." Feliciano said with contempt. The note of scorn in Feliciano's voice brought goose bumps to Ludwig's skin.
"We could've used this sudden bravery some seventy years ago." Ludwig mumbled, resisting a laugh at his own joke. Oh, but listening to Feliciano speak with empowerment nearly busted Ludwig's hear with pride. The experience of this burning world had built Feliciano up, it seemed. More than ever Ludwig wanted to see him, to speak to the man Feliciano had finally become.
"While the world smolders, our hearts are on fire." Feliciano said wisely. As he stared into his clear blue eyes in the mirror, Ludwig nearly saw Feliciano's gleaming eyes and radiant smile. Ludwig smiled back.
"Mark my words—from the ashes we will rise again, Ludwig." Feliciano said with eerie calm.
And Ludwig stared at his pitiful reflection, alone again.