Merry Christmas 2010, everyone. Of course, this piece has nothing to do with christmas, but I wrote it a while ago and I've decided to put it up.

A Beautiful Sound

by flightangel

"Bet you can't make Romano laugh," England sneers in a slur; he's had one glass to many and is practically falling off the countertop.

"Romano laughs all the time," Spain says as charmingly as he can while sitting next to one of the few men who can irk him, as well as attempting to think through his own half-drunk mind. "He laughed with me this afternoon, in fact!"

"At you," England corrects. "He only laughed because you'd managed to trip over your own feet and go barreling in a bucket full of white paint."

"I didn't know you can read minds," Spain suddenly says uneasily. If so, than England's been seeing a few images that Spain didn't want anyone to know for some time.

England snorts. "France flaunted the pictures in my face, you idiot. Here, you're not drunk enough." He signals the bartender to give Spain another glass. Though Spain glares at England suspiciously through wobbly eyes, he accepts the drink. "But seriously." England leans back in his barstool, expression suddenly morphing into a familiar melancholy. "I bet you can't do it."

"Make him laugh?" Spain clarifies, because his head is swimming and England is making less sense than usual. "Sure I can."

"For real," England spits. His fury is sudden and sharp and bitter. A look Spain only glimpses when England stares balefully after America after meetings flickers momentarily across the blond man's features—and then is gone. "Make him laugh in joy. Actual, pure joy."

"Of course I can do it!" Spain declares loudly. A few other patrons turn around to glare at the two of them, though with England sprawled across the countertop and Spain well on the way there himself, it seems pretty worthless trying to pick a fight.

"Bet you can't," England sputters out with a lopsided frown—or is that a grin? The edges are all too fuzzy, and the lights are too harsh. Spain can't tell. "I'll tell Romano all about our pirate and armada days if you can't."

The mention of "pirate" in the context of England sparks a small moment of sobriety in Spain's mind—green eyes focusing sharply, Spain stares at England's flung-out form. After a moment, however, Spain suddenly finds it all rather funny. "All right," he finally says, amicably. He taps his glass for another drink. The bartender shoots Spain a scathing glare, but the drunkenness is returning and Spain can barely decipher the strange challenging glare in England's eyes, let alone the bartender's expression.

"All right," Spain says again, as if reminding himself what he is about to say. He is. "But if I win, you tell America about that incident at the last meeting."

Even in the haze of alcohol, Spain can see England's jaw noticeably tighten. There is a short tense moment—at least, as tense as they can get in their current level of inebriation—before England's lips curl in a vague sneer and those cold eyes seem to harden like steel.

"All right," England repeats. It takes a moment before Spain realizes he is agreeing with him, not copying him. The other nation extends an unsteady hand stabilized only by the solid dependability of the counter. When Spain leans over to seal the pact in a handshake, he misjudges the distance.

Didn't mean to do that, Spain thinks to himself, watching England groan in furious pain on the floor of the bar. The blond man is clutching his bleeding nose. Didn't mean to do that. But damn, that felt good.

Romano is even more flustered and worried than normal; Spain can tell from his vantage on the bed. It's two in the afternoon and the older country is loath to get up. His sheets are soft and warm and comforting against his skin, and though he probably has some strange, meaningless paperwork to shuffle through, it isn't important.

"Fucking bastard," Romano spits. Spain realizes that somewhere between the beginning and end of his thought process Romano has made his way to his bedside. His cheeks are dusted red with crass anger, but his amber eyes hold flecks of worry. "What the fuck were you thinking? You should know by now how much alcohol you can handle!"

True, maybe. The pounding headache gripping Spain's temples is one of the things he would like to be rid of the most at the moment. After four hours of pleading to God, however, Spain has resolved instead to be cheery. It is almost working, but Romano is ruining it.

"Don't mind me," Spain chirps with a brilliant signature smile. It occurs to him that perhaps he should be trying to win the bet—albeit, made while both he and England were half-drunk, but they'd somewhat sealed the deal—"I'm just an idiot as always, si? Boss will be fine! Just a bit stupid!"

Romano's expression jumps from worried to angered to confused, and then finally settles firmly on anger. "Damn right, you're stupid! You try this shit again and I won't be scrambling from Italy to come save you this time!"

Which is ridiculous because Romano has said this every time Spain falls ill to some malady; and each time he faithfully shows up at his bedside like clockwork. It is cute and endearing and Spain is itching to brush a thumb against that reddening cheek if the magnitude of his hangover doesn't suddenly bulldoze against his brain.

"Oh, dios mio," Spain whimpers. What cheery expression he's been clasping dissolves in anguish. "Romano, some water, por favor?"

Romano's expression flickers. A slight tightening of this lips suggest he is about to explode in a "Get your own damn water, this is your fucking fault you bastard!" rant; a strange perceptive gleam in those eyes, however, erases those predictions. Romano stands up stiffly and storms out of the room without a word.

I wonder if England is as miserable as me at the moment, Spain suddenly thinks to himself in sudden malice. It is a trait of him that he both loathes and admires—a hidden gem wrapped in layers and layers of charm and cheer and lazy southern living, only unearthed in times of utter misery or supreme inebriation. He shifts in the confines of his bed. The sheets really do feel nice against his skin. They are a gift from Francis for his recent birthday five months back, to replace his old worn-out sheets he's kept since the seventies.

Romano returns with a cup, which he thrusts under Spain's nose. The water is freshly boiled—Spain is somewhat touched that Romano has already prepared boiled water for him before he'd even made the request—and he gulps it down eagerly. Romano's expression is both readable and incomprehensible—that cold, resigned frown Romano often acquires after Spain commits another utterly inane act for the third time is very visible on that white face. Spain doesn't know what it means.

He closes his eyes and imagines Romano laughing—laughing how children laugh, from their ecstatic grins to the crinkling of their eyes. It surprises him how much he wants to see that frown morph into a smile. A real smile, neither sardonic nor sarcastic nor any of the other pessimistic moods his former charge often falls into. A brief moment of depression befalls Spain; even when Romano was a child himself, he had never laughed that way.

"Spain," Romano says. Spain realizes it is probably the third time the younger nation has called for him. Cracking an eye open, he peers at Romano's frustrated expression with a tinge of curiosity. Romano has taken the cup away from him and is holding it in his left hand. "I have to go to some goddamn meeting with my boss, so I'm keeping my Mafioso posted here, all right? Don't get your head into more shit while I'm gone."

The sharp clatter of Romano's expensive Italian boots on Spain's gloriously tiled floor alerts his intent to part. A hand suddenly grasps the Italian's right wrist; before Romano can wrench it away and Spain can realize that the hand belongs to himself, the older nation says: "Smile for me, Roma?"

A startled expression sprints across Romano's features. There is a strange, awkward pause, and then Romano is frowning and removing his hand from Spain's somewhat limp grasp. "Is the pain getting to your head or something? Fuck, you did go overboard, didn't you?"

He stalks out the door and down the hall, and Spain spends his time pointedly ignoring the bald muscle machine leaning indiscreetly behind the doorframe and casting desperate, forlorn glances at Romano's shrinking back.

Is this what England wants Spain to realize? Is this what England hopes to bring Spain misery? He wants to say he is above England's taunts—bad relations dredged up on the day his Armada fell to pieces has never ceased to bring out both Spain and England's worse sides—but Spain is somewhat self-conscious enough to know he isn't.

It is the type of inane worry that dredges up more than bad memories between England and Spain. It dredges up other things. Many other things.

He considers asking the muscle machine for more water. After weighing the pros and cons of thirsting to death and actually having to speak with the Mafioso, Spain decides against it. He pulls the covers over his head, shuts his eyes, and prays sleep to swallow him whole.

Spain is feeling much perkier by the end of the week. So much better, in fact, that he decides to dedicate himself to proving England wrong with the entirety of his passionate soul—along with the help of his trusty guitar, matador attire, and help from Veneziano. Though perhaps the help from Veneziano is not too forthcoming; there is definitely a reluctant air in the younger Italian's expression when Spain attempts t explain the direness of his situation.

"I don't much like it," Veneziano says after a moment. He has spent most of the time Spain spent talking picking at his nails with an increasingly distressed expression. "Deceiving my brother…"

Now Spain is the one distressed. "Deceiving? Of course not, Veneziano! I—we—I only want to see him laugh!"

"So England doesn't reveal something you obviously don't want Romano to know?" A rare scowl creeps onto Veneziano's face. Spain may be dense, but he knows when to back off when sweet, cute Veneziano begins to display that sort of expression.

"Just don't tell Romano, please," Spain says somewhat desperately.

"My brother isn't something to be thrown around in bets," Veneziano continues. A strange distant look enters his eyes. Spain watches him closely and starts when Veneziano suddenly shakes his head, lips forming into a sheepish grin. "But don't worry, Spain, I won't be telling Romano. This is something you have to sort out with him yourself when it comes down to it."

"Si, claro que si," Spain responds immediately, and spends the next hour listening to Veneziano chatter on about the new fashions coming in season and how cute his jacket is.

When Romano steps out of his car—somewhat handsome in the darkening summer light, his own fashionable Italian jacket sitting snugly across his shoulders—he is greeted by Spain at his front door. More accurately, he is greeted by Spain's singing.

"Oh, for fuck's sake!" Romano's serene expression melts into familiar annoyance. He raises his briefcase and aims it at Spain's head. When Spain leaps gracefully out the way while still belting out his tunes, Romano chases after him. They somehow end up in the Italies' backyard, where Romano proceeds to bury Spain up to his neck in the tomato garden, break his guitar in two, and swear up and down that if he saw a hint of Spanish ass anywhere near his home again, there'd be hell to pay.

Singing often sends the ladies into giggles; apparently, it only manages to make Romano very angry. Spain ponders this new fact while wondering how he's going to dig himself out of the hole. Romano has stomped into his house with a slam, but not before Spain can see the adorable red flush across his features. That in itself was somewhat cheering, but it still meant that Romano has left him in a hole.

Plan B somehow involves tricking Romano into attending a bull-fighting show. "A what?" Romano says flatly. He is wearing a t-shirt and khakis and looks thoroughly displeased to be awakened before noon. When Spain unintentionally leans forward to brush a hand through Romano's hair, he earns a smack on the cheek and a door slammed in his face. Well, that's fine—he's been sneaking into Romano's house through the back living room window for decades anyway.

"A bull-fighting show!" he chirps from behind Romano in the upper story bathroom. Romano cuts himself shaving in surprise. Gaping at the older nation behind him in the mirror, he seizes the closest bottle of shaving cream and aims it in Spain's general direction. He looks murderous and annoyed and flustered, and Spain wonders as he escapes down the hallway if there is anything that can make his previous former ward even smile.

Spain decides the next best course of action is to bring the bull fighting to Romano. He pulls on his tights, jacket, waistband and other matador accessories galore; calmly unearths the red piece of cloth responsible for so many brushes with death; and prances into Romano's front yard.

Veneziano is cleaning the porch, and frowns in Spain's general direction. "Spain—"

"Please," Spain begs. Veneziano is weak when it comes to people begging him for a change. Though there remains a stubborn protective glare in those amber eyes, Veneziano succumbs; leaning the broom against the wall, he turns back into the house and shouts: "Romano! Romano, come downstairs!"

The minute Romano lays one bare-footed step outside and catches the sight of Spain, he gapes. Spain doesn't know what this look means either, though it must mean something important; Romano stares for a good five minutes before his borderline wondrous expression morphs back into one of familiar anger. "What the fuck are you playing at, bastard!"

"Come on, Roma!" Spain twirls the red cape about him. "You be the bull and I'll be the matador! We'll have fun! It'll be like make-believe when you were little!"

Romano's lips purse into a thin white line: he looks about to go on a screaming rant on "I didn't want to play make-believe when I was little you fucktard; you're the one that made me join you!" or even a biting "What the fuck have you been smoking and why the hell do you think I'd even think of joining you!"

The Italian settles, instead, on a simple, charged and enraged: "Goddamn you!"; a furious blush that only reddens the more he stares at Spain's hopeful face—and the rest of him as well; and a rather predictable escape back into his house and onto the comforts of his living room couch. Spain checks his watch. Well, one of Romano's favorite television programs does start right around now.

Both of his marvelous plans shattered into pieces, Spain allows himself to wallow a bit in misery. Why is his Romano torturing him? Why isn't he gracing him with his laughter? Surely there are some aspects of Spain that gives Romano so much joy as to laugh!

"Spain," Veneziano says from the doorstep. He's resumed cleaning the porch, though is peering at the older nation with a somewhat nervous and pitying expression. "Why don't you stay for dinner and sort this all out with Romano, hm? I'll be going off to Germany's—"

"Yes!" Spain responds wildly. His heart pumps in ferocious agreement and his mood soars; eyes green as the ladies' hearts he inadvertently charm flash again with a renewed—and doubly stubborn—life.

Veneziano carefully places the broom back up against the wall. He squints at Spain's brilliantly hopeful face and chews his bottom lip. "On the other hand, Spain…"

"Hm?" The Spaniard swivels to face the younger nation.

"Romano doesn't laugh very often…" His expression acquires a vague air. "Though now that I think of it, I've never seen Romano say no to a cute young girl. So maybe you can go in that direction instead?"

A strange disheartening feeling attempts to wriggle its way into Spain's general cheer; he forces it away quickly. "What? Oh, of course. Thanks, Veneziano!" He grins, large and wide and so face splitting it threatens to cover the gulf of Spain's emotions and hide the ache that has suddenly bloomed in his chest.

The girls—two of them—are strikingly beautiful and very Hispanic. Their skin, sun-kissed and gleaming, appear tantalizing soft in the light of the restaurant; their curly hair, dark and full, are pinned up in a ponytail and cut in a bob, respectively; the one on Romano's left is wearing a lime-green sleeveless dress and the one Romano's right is wearing a low-cut black t-shirt and a pair of hip-hugging, sinfully short jean shorts.

And Romano is laughing.

Spain thinks he should take a picture with his camera-phone. Send the thing to England be done with it. But something clasps his wrist before he can dig through his pocket for the device—it beats strong in his chest and ears and in the end all he can do is simply stare as Romano smiles graciously at both girls and buys them another drink.

"So you're from Rome," Green Dress giggles flirtatiously. Spain takes a moment to admire her rack. Damn girl. "I've only been there once, really. Muy hermosa, si?"

"It's the most beautiful at the end of spring," Romano informs her spritely. His right hand is touching the back of Black V-Neck's soft dainty feminine ones. Spain spends a moment thinking that this is true. He's been with Romano to see Rome many times before; however, to Spain, Rome is always beautiful. Romano signals for a waiter to bring Black V-Neck another margarita. "I have connections with some of the travel agencies if you want me to show you…?"

"How delightful!" Black V-Neck laughs. She turns away from Romano and winks cheekily at Spain, who grins back on autopilot and tries not to dwell on the strange unsettling feeling bubbling in his stomach. Spain misses the strange, somewhat strangulated glances Romano keeps discreetly throwing at him when the girls aren't looking. He's too busy playing with his Blackberry and trying to figure out what to do next.

Romano is laughing. He is laughing because Spain has brought him out to dinner with two pretty girls, and so he has won the bet, si? But he hasn't; at least, he knows he hasn't won the bet the way England intends for him to win it. England is a spiteful, bitter old country and Spain knows the island nation likes wheedling reactions out of Spain by exploiting his relationship with Romano.

Is it because Romano still comes rushing to his bedside whenever Spain is sick; because he, no matter what he says, still grudgingly accepts gifts and affectionate gestures from Spain when he isn't being too surly; because sometimes, in the middle of moments where Romano is at his side admiring the historical landmarks their people have erected in their honor, Spain feels that perhaps Romano doesn't hate him quite as much as he says he does—?

Or is it because America never does these things with England?

"And you, Antonio?" Green Dress is saying. "You're from Madrid? Or Barcelona?"

Spain spreads his arms wide, palms open. He finds flirting back with these girls as easy as it is to breathe. "Everywhere I suppose. I get around. Go all over the country."

"He's from Madrid," Romano says in a strangely contemptuous voice. He sounds almost like he does when irritably lounging on his couch with Spain, though the sharp edges of his voice are smoothed by the girls' feminine presence. "Don't trust too much in what this guy says; he's a habitual liar."

"Lovino!" Spain scolds light-heartedly. He feels his left hand tighten around his wine glass; his right one hovers over the cool surface of his Blackberry. Should he? Shouldn't he? Romano is staring at him sharply with inquisitive amber eyes. "Be nice! The last thing these ladies want is to see us bickering as usual, hm? They're far too beautiful for that sort of thing!"

The girls giggle appreciatively, and Spain, with a tinge of animalistic thirst, watches Romano's lips pull back in a similar laugh. The source of his uneasiness strikes him abruptly: it's because Romano's not laughing because of Spain. He's laughing because of these two girls who barely know him, who are only Spanish civilians with nice racks and hot asses that will last perhaps a few decades before disappearing—he's laughing with strangers who he's met only in a day, when Spain has known him for centuries without Romano ever bursting out into giggles once. Oh, Roma.

"Bathroom," Spain excuses himself with a cheeky grin and a right-handed salute. He feels his heartbeat thrum in his ear and tries hard not to think of blood seeping from his left hand and into his pant pocket. He'll have to remove the bits and pieces of wine glass from his hand later.

Tomorrow, he thinks, and takes out his camera-phone one more time to stare at England's contact number.

"You're going barmy," Prussia shouts from his kitchen. There are a few keen clatters and clangs. "Absolutely, completely, shit-faced mad!"

"Yeah," Spain agrees, shifting uncomfortably in his chair. He picks at the corner of a neatly stacked pile of folders sitting at the edge of Germany's compulsively neat table. "Where's France?"

"Oh, you know." Prussia returns juggling two beers; they're so cold the can burns Spain's palm when he pops it open. "Out and about, here and there. Fucking his way through half of Europe, as usual."

"Sounds like him," is Spain's pleasant response. There is a worrisome crease he can feel in his eyebrow, though, and a sharp downturn tinge to his normally spritely self that he can't seem to erase. He absent-mindedly thumbs the corner of his mouth. "And you?"

There is an enraged squawk from the other end of the table. "Are you suggesting the awesome me can't get laid? Of course fucking not! I happened to bang a few sexy whores in the past week, thank you!"

Prussia sets down his beer can with a defiant smack, and Spain raises a brow when he realizes the can is empty. The other nation graces him a quick grin and proceeds to drum paper-white fingers against the table.

"But whatever, you're here to talk about that fucking stupid Italian kid aren't you? Go ahead, I'm not going to stop you."

Spain looks distressed. "Really, Prussia! Romano isn't stupid, he's more perceptive than he lets on… but he is very cute when he blushes you know. Just—"

"—like a tomato, etcetera, etcetera. Yawn, Spain! Tell me something interesting! Heard you've been acting like a, y'know—" Prussia makes a cuckoo gesture with his right hand, "lately."

"Just England again," Spain shrugs half-heartedly. He briefly considers brooding over his drink, but that isn't in his nature. He'd fall asleep from boredom first. "Trying to get at my nerves.."

"How so?" Prussia asks. He frowns. "Y'know if that fucking moron tries to go after you again like last year—"

"It's just—!" Spain blurts out. He feels the dam barred across his chest collapsing. His tongue has become a separate entity, a desperate fugitive seizing Prussia's tipsy openness with a passion worthy of Spain's self-proclaimed title. "It's—he's making me think you know!"

"God forbid," is Prussia's response.

Spain ignores him. "He's making me think about whether or not Roma actually—you know—doesn't mind me that much! And, well, maybe he's kind of cute sometimes and he's so huffy and adorable and—but he doesn't show me any of that! And suddenly England wants me to face the fact that I've known for years, but—well—!"

His chest is heaving. Spain's eyes feel hot, his fists are clenching open and closed, and finally he realizes that maybe he is upset. He trembles like a leaf delicately balanced at the ends of a branch—he feels fragile and open and hates himself for it.

"So you've finally caught on?" Prussia seems more relieved than anything. Spain gapes at Prussia's traitorously smug expression; so he knew? He knew all along? Did everyone know?

"Of course I've caught on!" Spain shouts. He suddenly finds both his feet planted squarely on the plain kitchen tile, a flood of anger so ancient it feels foreign as it roars in his ears. "I've caught on that no matter what I do, Romano won't ever look at me! That's I'm a horrible boss, that I've treated Romano like shit after all these years and no wonder he won't even smile in my general direction or at all or—or—! I've caught on that no matter how much I—I—! That Romano hates me for what I did before and it's not going to change! So yes, I've caught on, and I hate England for pointing it out to me!"

The self-loathing feeling pours out from his heart and floods his veins. Each upset breath is like a small hiccup in the silence; Spain briefly considers getting a hold of himself. It's been years since he's last felt this surge of dark anger. He's filed it away, most of the time. The modern world doesn't typically need or want his less humane side anymore.

Prussia is staring at him. Familiar white lips accustomed to smirking are now downturned in a—puzzled?—frown.

"What." the Germanic nation speaks. It's less of a question and more of a general cough of disbelief.

Spain flushes. "Stop! Don't say anymore!" he wails. Whatever darkness he's struggled to keep inside simply vanishes. He's exhausted. He feels dejected and alone and uselessly soppy. His first instinct is to flop on the kitchen table, but Spain isn't completely suicidal and messing up the folders on the table's edge will be sure to draw Germany's anger. "I know! I know! I'm horribly hopeless, am I?"

"More like completely dense!" Prussia has snapped out of whatever shocked reverie he has been thrown into. "Good God, you really don't know, do you? Everyone does! I thought for fucking sure even you do, though you're only half as awesome as I am, but apparently that brain of yours is completely made of stupid!"

"What?" Spain stares at Prussia blankly. "What are you talking about?"

Isn't the other nation mocking him—as usual—for his hopeless denial; that Romano will never look at Spain twice and if Spain hadn't put so much effort into rounding Romano into his plans, the other nation will never even willingly step into his house; that he's treated Romano horribly and the poor boy's problems are his own fault?

Prussia shakes his head in disbelief. With a bit of a clatter underneath the table, the man unearths another can and promptly pops open. "Look," he says, after a terse silence. Red eyes sweep disapprovingly up Spain's desolate figure across the table. "Listen close and listen well, young fucking stupid Spanish sapling."

Spain is not one to give up advice. He leans forward.

The other nation jabs him in the shoulder: "Fuck him into the ground already and stop wasting time here! Good fucking God, you completely unawesome buffoon!"

And then he kicks him out into the street.

Germany finds him in the end. Spain is huddled underneath his jacket—an old fraying one he'd dug out from the back of his closet—on the blond's doorstep. Prussia has been so unhelpful. Spain doubts the last thing in Romano's mind is for Spain to—to—well, anyway. His longtime friend's mocking voice scrapes across his heart.

The taller man pauses in front of this crestfallen guest. He is in casual wear, all striped v-neck sweater and khakis and smart, black boots. In his left hand is a bag of groceries. "Spain," he acknowledges stoutly.

The man in question raises his eyes upwards. Was Germany always this tall? "Yes?"

The younger nation places a hand to his temple. "Spain, do I need to call a taxi for you? How much have you had to drink?"

Spain graces Germany with one quizzical look and opens his mouth. And then it all seems rather funny. And stupid, even for him; he shouldn't be here, moping about like a kicked dog on Prussia's doorstep. He should be out pursuing Romano, seeking his laughter, pouring his effort into his goal—how much time he's wasted here! Distressed and blind to Germany's startled glance, Spain jumps onto both feet and dashes out into the street with only the socks on his toes.

Romano's laugh is the important thing: it has always been, now that Spain thinks about it, even before England and the bet and all his hopefully flawed attempts. It's about something more than the bet, but it is the bet. It's confusing. The consequences of losing crashes onto Spain's shoulders; even if Romano doesn't already hate him already, he surely will if England discloses full details of Spain's exploits during his Armada days. The idea of Romano's utter hate—real, true-to-heart hate, not the half-hearted frowns he usually throws in Spain's direction—leaves a vile taste in Spain's mouth.

He has to win this bet, and for real—he wants Romano to laugh because of him and nothing else, to show that side he's so preciously kept from Spain since early on. He's proving something to everyone. To England. To Romano. To himself.

Exactly what this something is doesn't concern him. He just knows it's important.

Romano loves tomatoes. It doesn't matter how often he sputters in indignation whenever Spain thrusts a basket of presents under his nose. His former charge has never been one to turn down a gift of tomates, no matter how angry he is at Spain.

So when Romano finds out about the bet, Spain is somewhat prepared.

"You!" the man screeches as he rushes out of the house. He is immediately distracted by the sight of his front lawn, or what is visible of it. The entirety of the grass is covered by tomatoes—not clumsily thrown onto the lawn, but each laid carefully in columns and rows as ramrod straight as Germany's back. Romano's mouth works up and down in an attempt to form coherent words. Spain, standing at the very end of Romano's driveway, watches with hunger at Romano's mouth. Will he smile? Will he frown? Will he continue yelling?

The lips instead settle on a gaping, somewhat indignant expression.

"You!" Romano repeats in a higher squawk. He trembles once, and then he makes a furious beeline in Spain's direction. All the older nation can think of before he's lifted into the air is: Oh, Roma, I like those jeans. Your legs look striking in them, si?

"I'm not something for you to play with!" Romano shakes Spain twice for good measure; despite being a few inches short of Spain's own height, he obviously has enough physical strength to display his anger. "Goddamn you! Did you think—did you think I wouldn't find out, you fucking asshole!"

Spain fears Romano will fling him into the lawn of tomatoes, but the Italian obviously thinks better of it: why waste a few good tomatoes under Spain's weight when the asphalt works just as well instead? Romano's expression shifts from furious to hurt to even—disappointment? Spain squeezes his eyes shut in anticipation for a fist in the face, but none comes.

"Just go away," the man above him finally chokes out. His voice is wavering and cracking in an alarmingly teary way, and when Spain opens his eyes and attempts to scrutinize his face, Romano looks away. Spain's hand reaches for Romano's sleeve; the Italian shakes him off violently. "Goddamn it, you fucking bastard, just leave me alone and out of your stupid games!"

And so Spain somehow ends up stumbling back into the seedy bar where he and England first toasted each other's cruelty centuries earlier: the exact memory is as hazy as Spain's vision, but it somehow involved kings and queens and wars and strange, blood-smattered attire that itched. Spain catches sight of the familiar sandy-blond collapsed on the counter, nursing his way through a fifth or sixth drink.

It's only four in the afternoon.

The blond raises his drink in acknowledgement, albeit in an unsteady and rather nerve-wracking manner, and gestures at the empty stool besides him. Spain sits down.

"He found out," the brunet says. It comes out sulky yet accusatory, and bitterer than he intends.

"Oh," England says after a poignant silence . He's staring into the depths of his drink as if it holds the answers of the universe. "I think America told."

"It's off then." The bartender is throwing Spain dirty looks. He orders a drink to soothe him, even if it is only four in the afternoon. "You know I can't complete the bet."

"Sure you can," the other nation sneers. Little details that often escape Spain's attention when drunk suddenly leap out at him: the flickering half-light in the bar shining unflatteringly upon the blond's brow; the rowdy and often despairingly resentful patrons; England's pitiful self, huddling at the counter. Fingers dusted with light blond hair drum against the counter. "You can still make him laugh even if he does know. Or is that too hard?"

"He'll not laugh simply to spite me! That's just how Romano is!" is the stressed response. England simply looks triumphant, as if whatever he means to prove with the idea of the bet in the first place is fulfilled and Spain shall now admire England's sharp sense of perception.

Unfortunately, Spain feels too stupid to understand what England is trying to prove. The bartender leans in between them to place Spain's drink on the counter. Spain takes one sip and pushes it away. The entire situation suddenly seems horrible and stupid and suffocating. He stands up, and England's watery eyes follow his form on his way to the door.

"Hey!" the island nation calls out in a slur. He's leaning precariously over the edge of the counter. "Spain! Don't think you can run away from this! Spain!"

But the brunet is already out the door and is breathing in the cool, summer air. He checks his watch. If he rushes, he might be able to make it back in time for dinner.

"Spain!" Veneziano chirps. He's armed with apron and ladle and looks far too bright in the fading sunlight. "Come in, come in. We were just about to get ready for dinner!"

The living room is quaint and homey and, Spain notices, occupied by baskets filled to the brim with tomatoes. Romano obviously wasted no time collecting those. He lets Veneziano place his jacket carefully on the coat-rack and follows the younger nation into the makeshift dining room near the back of the house.

Romano's peaceful gaze becomes absolutely murderous at the sight of one mop of Spanish hair. Sitting at the table's end, he bolts up and opens his mouth in preparation for an obscenity before Veneziano overrides him with small talk and compliments towards Spain's pants.

"I like those," Veneziano says sweetly, albeit loudly over Romano's angry mutterings, "but we can talk about that later. I'll go fetch the stew!"

Spain seats himself across from the now his visibly enraged charge, who glowers at him.

Dinner is a silent, somewhat terse affair, punctuated by Veneziano's attempts at conversation—"Did you know Germany is actually really smart when it comes to animals? So I was asking him about his dogs and he was telling me—"—and ends when Veneziano announces that the dishes need to be washed and disappears. Romano stands abruptly and throws himself at the door, but soon finds his right hand snared in Spain's vice-like grip.

"Romano," Spain says. He sounds desperate even to his own ears.

"You—!" Romano attempts to shake the hand off, but Spain is powerful when he wants to be and his grip is unbreakable. The younger's nation's cheeks flush in rage. "Bastard! What are you playing at? Let me the fuck go!"

"Why don't you smile?"

"What?" The older Italy stops flailing under Spain's frightfully serious gaze. Romano's honestly puzzled. "What are you going on about?"

"Why don't you smile for me, Roma?"

The younger nation stares, unabashed, before his face clouds in a whirl of emotions. Spain watches with consternation as those furrowed, worried brows wage war against stubborn lips. Romano is thinking furiously and frantically and finally seems to settle on his favorite default: angry.

"And why the hell should I smile?" His eyes, furious and smoldering and touched with a tinge of something unreadable, bear holes into the ground. "You're always off making my life a living hell, embarrassing the shit out of me, and then treat me either like a kid or an object to be thrown around! After all these years you can't seem to get it into your head that I'm not your cute, little Roma anymore, goddammit! I'm not even yours!"

It's as if he's thrown a fist into Spain's gut, all sudden unspeakable pain and guilt—but the older nation simply continues to watch Romano rant.

"So what's there to smile about?" A streak of nastiness manifests itself in a twitch under Romano's eye. "Or, more correctly, what's there to laugh about, hm?"

Spain can feel his breath hitch in his throat—depression is creeping underneath his firm, positive façade, and he's terrified—but stands his ground. "But what about the good times we had together, Roma?" he whispers doggedly. He realizes how much his leg hurts standing up in this strange position and considers sitting down. The weakness of the gesture, however, keeps him upright and standing. "What about those times we went on vacation together? Whenever we ran through the streets of Spain with tomatoes flying everywhere? Ice cream trips? Days on the beach? Aren't those… aren't those good things? Didn't you enjoy them?"

Romano stares defiantly somewhere above Spain's right shoulder. Even when Spain swerves his head, the other nation won't look at him directly. "I never wanted to do those things," the other nation finally whispers. "You made me. What do you want me fucking say?"

"I don't believe you."

"Then don't believe me!" Romano explodes. Spain half expects his hair to stand on end like a cat's. "Just go on doing whatever the hell you've been doing for years, like making bets and getting your rocks off treating me like—"

"So I did make a bet!" Spain shouts back, own cheeks suddenly flushing. Romano seems thrown, mouth open; Spain realizes it's been too long since the last time he's lost his temper with the other nation. "But I was drunk and I didn't know what I was doing and goddamn it Romano please, I don't like it as much as you but it's making me think about how much you really hate me because I can't even get you to laugh! Do you know how horrible that is?"

Spain flings away Romano's wrist and is knifed with guilt when he sees the angry red marks bloom where his fingers has been. Romano doesn't move away. He folds his arms and closes in on himself like a padded lid slammed shut.

"I'm sorry," Spain says desperately. He realizes the ugliness of his actions—yelling at Romano in his own home—and finds it impossible to keep his hand from shaking. Romano really does hate him—he isn't saying anything, just sitting there with his eyes shut, mouth shut, heart shut and damn, damn, damn! Spain's heart clenches. He's tempted to hide behind one of his trademark smiles, but thinks better of it. Romano will simply get angry. "I'll go now."

"Spain—" a desperate voice whispers, but when Spain turns to face Romano, the other nation is silent.

The taxi drive to the airport is suffocating. Spain's mind reels in a mess of emotions, frantically chasing itself into exhausted circles. He closes his eyes and thinks of a younger Romano: the memory of a crisp child's dress, a wet nose snuffling at his side, an enraged squawk and a stubborn pout.

Romano, he thinks vaguely. He places his hand over his heart. It feels empty.

Spain stays in bed for three days. The first he spends relatively alone, only slinking out of the lovely French sheets to relieve himself and drink water; by the third, other nations become concerned. He's lying on his back, feeling the sun play tunes against his eyelashes, when he hears his bedroom door creak open. It's France. He's clad in his office suit and has tied that wavy blond hair in a business-like ponytail.

"You do look like shit," is all his friend says before shoving a plate of mouth-watering food underneath Spain's nose. "Eat up, mon cher, you're stick and bones."

Spain considers refusing, but his stomach rumbles pitifully. France whips up a cold dinner and sets it on the dresser next to the brunet's bed. The silence is somewhat tense, but France doesn't probe and Spain doesn't reveal. Prussia has probably spilled everything anyway. The blond eventually leaves for a late afternoon meeting after promising to check in later to see if Spain has eaten.

Spain closes his eyes and feels: the pillows are sinfully soft, the sheets silky against his skin, the sun warm and approving against his face. He can almost be cheery again under these circumstances. "Spain" as he knows it is lurking underneath this sun-kissed skin; a few more days and he swears he'll be back to normal.

The door creaks open again, and soft footfalls head in his general direction. Spain doesn't twitch, even when the unidentified nation—it must be a nation, Spain hasn't kept any human servants since the nineteenth century—kneels down at Spain's bedside and says nothing. There is only silence and breathing: Spain's own borderline even tones, accompanied by shorter, nervous ones.

"What did you promise England?"

Spain eyes flit open. Romano is wearing his and Spain's favorite leather coat—it hugs Romano's form in an almost obscene manner—expression raw in the sunlight. Their faces are so close Spain can count Romano's eyelashes.

"Something about my Armada days," he says finally. The brunet stares at Romano's face—not at his lips, not looking for a laugh—but because he feels the irresistible urge to not look away, to absorb the details of Romano's nose, his cheeks, his eyes. He realizes how little he knows about Romano's features past his habitual blushing. As if on cue, Romano flushes crimson at the attention.

His jaw twitches in what Spain sees is an embarrassed clench. "I already know about that."

"Really?" Honestly surprised, Spain bolts upright, startling the Italian. The beautiful sheets pool in his lap. "You never told me you knew!"

"I figured you didn't want to talk about it," Romano assesses accurately; Spain considers turning away in consternation, but there is a strange openness to the other's expression that keeps Spain's attention fixated.

"Oh," is the older nation's response. He stares down at Romano's nails, which are clean and well kept. "So you don't hate me?" Hope blooms tentatively in his chest.

Romano opens his mouth and finds no words. His expression contorts and whips about like a trapeze artist, flitting from embarrassed to surprised to mortified in the space of a few seconds. He finally manages to sputter: "N-N-N-N—"

"No?" Spain chirps. The sun seems to swell his heart in cheeriness; the lightness is somehow dizzying.

"That!" Romano shrieks frantically. The mortified expression refuses to leave his features, however. Spain finds it adorable. His fingers move to brush away a strand of Romano's hair, and the younger nation jumps back as if he's been burned. "Don't do that!"

"Do what?"

"Touch me! I—I don't like that, goddamn it!"

Spain thinks of the times when a younger Romano had crawled in with him in the middle of the night, snuggling in at his side; and the times where, seeking attention, the young boy had wrapped himself around one of his legs and refused to let go when Spain was about to leave on another conquest; where Romano had once gotten upset when Spain had hugged Veneziano first instead of Romano, and the extent Spain had had to bend over backwards to appease him.

And a sudden realization knocks Spain upside the head as stealthily as… well, anything Spain has experienced, really.

He stares.

Romano obviously sees something change in Spain's expression. The younger nation hastily begins stumbling backwards, but to no avail: Spain clasps his hands before the older Italy can make a proper—and very manly!—escape. The older nation flings him onto the bed in a flurry of delicate bed sheets, curly chocolate hair and a high-pitched, relatively girly shriek. Clenched fists beat at Spain's shoulders, but even three days of bed rest hasn't dulled the older nation's strength.

A defiant glare settles its way into Romano's expression, but suddenly Spain notices the other little details: the breathy flush, the wanting flicker in those amber eyes, an openness in that expression that has always betrayed the Italian's heart. And when Romano opens his mouth—armed with a witty retort, shriek, a mouthful of obscenities or even all three rolled up into one—Spain leans down and kisses him.

It isn't a gentle kiss; it isn't even relatively pretty or romantic or experienced. It's a pair of lips on another pair of halfway squawking ones, firm and awkward and, it's only positive attribute, passionate. Romano flails determinedly for a few seconds before wrapping his arms around Spain's neck. "Romano," Spain murmurs, pressing kiss after kiss on that stubborn mouth, "Romano, Romano."

"Stop, that's embarrassing!" the addressed nation gasps once, though unabashedly arches into Spain's touch. "You—oh!"

"Te quiero," Spain whispers. Romano's eyes screw shut in disbelief. "Te quiero, Romano. Eres el único para mí." The arms tightly clasped about his neck stiffen for a heart-wrenching moment before relaxing. A relieved look flits across Romano's face, though is quickly backed up by a stubborn glance on the edge of shouting: "You better not be pulling shit out of your ass, you bastard!"

And Spain's heart and head and chest are light, light, light and suddenly he wishes he can capture this feeling forever and keep it to cherish because now he knows.

"Me quieres tambien, si?"

"Idiota!" Amber eyes snap open.

"Si, but I'm your idiota, mi amor." The older nation chuckles into the Italian's glare—

And then Romano does the strangest thing.

His lips curl against Spain's own lips and the older nation thinks Romano will begin yelling or babbling or, ideally, begin kissing back—but he pulls away and laughs. Laughs.

Spain's mouth opens in startled delight; he's enraptured by the sight, the sound, the feeling of Romano's chest shaking underneath him. And then nothing else matters: not the bet or the end result, not England and his not-so-subtle fixation on America, not the incident at the last meeting, the heavy tension, the depression, the worry. He doesn't even care if England fulfills his end of the bet, though Spain's more compassionate side hopes he does. The America matter needs to be wrapped up at some point.

But now, Spain can care less about all of that—because he has one laughing Italian in his arms who obviously doesn't hate him. Romano can probably drop Spain into the ocean with bricks tied at the ankle and the older nation will still swim back to shore to plant kisses on that stubborn face because he knows Romano doesn't mean it. He doesn't answer Spain's question, but Spain has all the answer he needs.

I love you too, you bastard.

He lets his head fall down on Romano's shaking shoulder, chuckles teasing his ear.

It's the most beautiful sound in the world.


Thanks everyone for reading! Comments are loved. Happy holidays!