*Note: this is written in HRE's prespective, so Italy is a "she."
Disclaimer: I don't own Hetalia or any of these characters. None of the interactions represent actual historical or international events.
"Oh, Holy Rome, the lights are so pretty!" squealed Italy as she ran through the aisles of the Christmas market: a street market that was held every year between the end of November and Christmas day and sold all sorts of beautiful gifts, ornaments, and holiday food. The glow of the lamplight and the winter chill lent a rosy red hue to her round cheeks and the tip of her nose. Her breath rose to the sky in little puffs of white smoke. A light dusting of snow covered her red cape—Miss Hungary had specially run out of the house to button it over Italy's jacket claiming that the cold was too much for such a little nation.
Holy Rome followed behind at a more sedate pace; he was grateful to Hungary because it made Italy look so pretty. The red brought out the highlights in Italy's hair and made it seem as if she had a soft warm halo about her head.
Italy gasped in excitement and darted into a stall selling gingerbread cookies. Holy Rome shook his head as he pondered where he would rank when compared to sweets on Italy's List of Important Things. "Italy, wait for me!"
"Holy Rome, you're so slow!" Italy ran back clutching a wax paper bag filled with small gingerbread people. The fragrant smell of spices filled the air. Her little cowlick bounced merrily, snowflakes clung to Italy's hair, making it look as if someone had sprinkled glitter all over her. "Hurry up or we won't be able to see everything."
"Austria let us off our chores, so we have all afternoon and the market will be open tomorrow." Holy Rome started walking faster anyway; Italy's energy was infectious.
"But—" Italy turned around and grabbed Holy Rome's hand, "I want to see everything with you."
Holy Rome sputtered and turned three different shades of red. He was certain that steam was rising from his face. His heart had leapt from his mouth and was running a mile a minute down the road out of Vienna. It would take forever and a day before he could catch it, but that was okay because right now his fingers were firmly intertwined with Italy's. Even through their gloves, he could feel the warmth of Italy's skin.
Italy blushed and looked away. "I-I hope I'm not being too rude, but I'm really glad you asked me to spend today with you. I was too shy to ask and you always seemed so busy." Italy stepped closer to Holy Rome; he could see the snowflakes caught in her long eyelashes. She tilted her chin up and smiled. "Thank you, Holy Rome."
"I-Italy," murmured Holy Rome as he leaned in to kiss Italy. All around them people laughed and chattered as they enjoyed the sights of the Christmas market. The metallic jingle of Christmas bells and the clip-clop of a passing horse carriage mingled with the soft strumming of someone playing the guitar. His body sang with nervous anticipation and happiness as his trembling lips touched…the cool cotton of his pillow.
Holy Rome's eyes flew open. The wan light of the winter sun shone through the windows in his bedroom. A delicate lattice of ice and frost decorated the edges of each window pane. With a disappointed sigh, he disentangled himself from his heavy blankets and slipped his feet into his cold slippers. He shivered as he tugged on his robe. Mornings were getting colder and colder as they got deeper into winter.
The water in the pitcher by the wash-up basin was still warm. A luxury Holy Rome was thankful for. Austria always seemed to be able to find the best house servants out of dozens of applicants. During quiet moments when his land was peaceful and he could return home, Holy Rome enjoyed being able to sleep in a bed and waking up to warm water.
Patting his face with a towel, Holy Rome regarded himself in the mirror. His naturally pale skin was even whiter because it was so cold, but he looked healthy not sickly. His people were, for the moment, content and busy with preparing for Christmas; that meant things would be quiet for at least a little while.
With a huff, he pushed back a lock of blonde hair that had fallen over his face. He never used to pay his appearance any mind, but recently he'd been wondering if he would look good with darker hair. What was that phrase? "Tall, dark, and handsome?" The tall part would come with time, he was sure, but the dark part…maybe he could dye his hair brown. Holy Rome tilted his face to the side and stared at his reflection. Would he look good as a brunette? Would…would Italy like him better like that? Wasn't her beloved Grandpa Rome a tall, strong brunette?
Wait. No, no, no. Holy Rome blushed and rushed out of the bathroom shaking his head, shooing away all thoughts about his appearance. He wasn't mooning over some girl. That's what sissies do, and he definitely wasn't a sissy nation. Even if said girl was really cute. And great at drawing. And funny. And kinda okay with housework, but she did look adorable pushing around that broom.
Holy Rome stepped out of his room; the smell of breakfast called to him downstairs. The servants bowed to him as he passed them in the halls. Not many of the hired help knew the real nature of the aristocrats that they worked for—just that Austria and Rome were distant but influential members of the royal family. Austria saw no reason for the servants to know more than they needed to know. Despite that, the humans who worked under their roof still seemed to give them more respect than they would to someone of similar station. They even treated Italy and Hungary, who were both introduced as maids, with affection and care.
Holy Rome rounded the corner, entering another hallway filled with antiques and framed art. Speaking of whom…
Italy stood on a short stepstool waving a grey feather duster over her head. She was trying to dust a vase that was taller than her, but it didn't seem to faze her one bit. She stretched as far as she could reach and when that didn't work, she went up on her tippy toes, struggling to reach those last few inches.
"Just a little more…oh…uh-oh," chirped Italy as she felt herself tip. Her arms spun frantically as she fought to keep her balance. In her panic, she whacked the vase with the feather duster, which sent it rocking back and forth on its pedestal. Italy made a desperate lunge for the vase, the sound of Mr. Austria's scolding already ringing in her ears, but her feet got tangled in her petticoats and she landed on the floor with a thump. She screwed her eyes shut and cringed as she waited for the horrific crash that would bring the wrath of Mr. Austria and the housekeeper on her. When no such sound came, she opened her eyes.
"Holy Rome!" she exclaimed.
"Good morning, Italy," said Holy Rome as he steadied the vase. For something so delicate, the darn thing was pretty heavy. "You should be more careful with the antiques."
"E-Eh? I'm sorry! I'll be more careful, so please don't tell Mr. Austria!" pleaded Italy. The handkerchief tied in her hair was askew and a bit of dust streaked her cheek. Little bits of feather floated in the air as she twisted the feather duster in her hand. "I just wanted to make the house a lot cleaner because it's almost Christmas time and everyone's so busy. I thought maybe Mr. Austria will give me pasta for dinner if I'm good."
Holy Rome smiled at Italy's babbling. Reaching up with more calmness than he felt inside, he straightened her crooked handkerchief. "I'm sure Austria will see how hard you're trying."
Italy beamed. "Really? Because Christmas is my favorite time of year and I want everyone to be happy and have fun."
Suddenly the image of Italy running around at the Christmas market flashed before Holy Rome's eyes. He saw the fiery highlights of her hair glowing in the sun and the snowflakes sparkling like glitter in her cowlick as she ran around looking at all the stalls. Her cheerful upturned face as she stood close to him on the street...
"Huh? What?" Holy Rome snapped out of his reverie and frantically tried to stamp out the blush that was crawling up his cheeks.
"I hear Housekeeper calling me. I think she wants something." Somewhere in the distance, a shrill voice shouted Italy's name. "Um, please excuse me." Italy curtsied and went running in the direction of the kitchen.
"Bye, Holy Rome!" Italy turned around and waved. He cringed as she crashed into a servant carrying linens.
Holy Rome watched Italy's retreating back until she darted into the servant's corridor. With a sigh, he turned and continued walking to the dining room. Even though she lived in his house, Holy Rome barely managed to catch glimpses of her as she went back and forth doing her chores. Austria made sure she was kept busy day in and day out. After working so hard all year long, she deserved a break.
Holy Rome stopped. A fantastic plan was forming in his head. He could invite Italy to the Christmas market! She really would love seeing all the sights and eating all the holiday sweets. He could definitely invite her and turn the dream into a reality. They would have so much fun and then she wouldn't be so afraid of him anymore. She might be so happy that she might even k…kiss… Holy Rome pressed his cool hands to his flaming hot cheeks. He was too embarrassed to even complete that thought in his head. That dream was definitely his subconscious telling him the perfect way to get closer to Italy!
He stepped into the dining room and said a cheerful good morning to Austria who had already started his breakfast. Austria murmured an absentminded greeting from behind his newspaper.
Lost in his own world, Holy Rome floated to the sideboard and filled his plate with eggs and sausages. His thoughts racing as he daydreamed about spending the day with Italy. The Christmas market would be open from now to Christmas Day. He had almost a month to ask her out (it wasn't a "date"; Holy Rome refused to call it a date because that would be too embarrassing.) What could possibly go wrong?
"What's Holy Rome doing reading a book on the stairs? He'd be more comfortable here or in the library, I'm sure," Austria asked as he made a note in the margin of his paperwork. He was working in the living room, taking advantage of the bright light that streamed from the tall windows.
Hungary raised the shirt she was mending and studied her work. She hummed under her breath as she tied the string and snipped the thread with her scissors. "He's being shy."
"Shy?" Austria looked up in confusion. "What's there to be shy about? He can come in here."
"No, you silly. He's waiting for Ita-chan to pass by so he can ask her out." Hungary hid a smile behind her hand when Austria's pen skidded across the paper in surprise. "He's so young."
Austria sputtered as he tried to blot up the excess ink, "Ask Italy out? W-Why… When did this happen?"
"It hasn't happened. Or has it, Rome?" Hungary directed her question to Holy Rome, who had just limped into the room.
Holy Rome flopped on the couch next to Hungary. The frustration boiling in his veins was making him uncharacteristically sloppy. He smoothed his hair back and sighed. "No, it hasn't happened."
"Oh, dear. What was it this time?"
"I slipped and fell down the stairs." Holy Rome rubbed his sore knees and shins, wincing as he touched the places he landed. "Next time, I'll choose a place that isn't so dangerous."
Austria stuck the pen back in its stand and leaned back in his chair. It was obvious he wasn't going to get his paperwork done any time soon, so why fight it? He blinked as his brain registered Hungary's words. "What do you mean 'this time'?"
Holy Rome reddened. "It's just that I… Things haven't been going as I planned…"
Hungary laughed and patted Holy Rome on the hand. "What he means to say is that he's been trying to ask Ita-chan to the Christmas market for the past three weeks and he's had awful luck. There was that fiasco with the flowers earlier this week, remember?"
"How was I to know Italy is allergic to carnations?" Holy Rome buried his face in the throw pillow.
Hungary tsked sadly. "Then there was that day in the garden. Wherever did that dog come from anyway?"
"I don't know, but it chased me for a good while. I was so close to asking her too!"
"How about when you asked her to meet you in the observatory? I thought that would have been a good place to ask her."
Holy Rome paled for a second and then blushed furiously. "I learned that I'm afraid of heights."
"Oh, no." Hungary gasped.
"I fainted. Italy had to find someone to carry me down."
Now that he knew what was going on, Austria began to understand why the house had seemed so much more hectic. He tapped his chin with his finger. "So then all that commotion the other evening…"
Holy Rome slid down his seat and stared up at the ceiling. In a flat voice, he said, "I caught Italy outside the kitchen, but just as I was about to ask her, one of the kitchen staff bumped into me while carrying a basketful of apples and sent them all rolling down the hall. And then Cook stepped out of the kitchen with a full tray of pastries."
"Did you know whipped cream and chocolate is hard to wash out of your hair?"
Austria barely managed to turn his laugh into a cough. There was bad luck and then there was luck so bad that you wouldn't wish it on another person. But there was also something horribly funny about it.
Hungary clucked her dismay at Holy Rome's plight as she searched for ointment in her sewing basket. Asking a secret crush to a special outing was always a nerve wracking experience and failing not once but five times must feel so awful; the poor boy must be so dejected.
She pressed the sharp smelling jar of ointment into Holy Rome's hands. "Rub this into your bruises; they'll heal much faster and the pain won't be so bad." When he just nodded despondently, she spoke again, "Don't give up. I know it feels bad now, but you have to keep trying."
Holy Rome smiled. Hungary was always so kind to him. "Thank you, Hungary. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to put on the ointment now. I can feel the bruises coming." He stood and bowed slightly, first to Austria, and then to Hungary, who waved to him with a smile. The door closed with a soft click behind him as he stepped out of the room.
Holy Rome trudged slowly to his room. When he had decided to ask Italy to the Christmas market, he hadn't been anticipating it to be such a trial. It was like fate had it out for him or something. By now, he was sure Italy and all the servants thought he was the most accident-prone boy in the whole world. His face flamed as he recalled all the embarrassing moments he had shared with Italy. Giving her flowers that she was allergic to. Being bombarded by apples and pastries. Fainting like a coward in the observatory…
He banged his against the wall. Things couldn't possibly get any worse than what he had experienced in the past three weeks. Italy probably thought he was a dork now. Any chance he might have had must have gone swirling down the drain.
As he stood there sinking deeper into his depression, a pinecone dropped on his head. Confused, he looked up, and then quickly looked back down. "Italy, you dropped this."
"Oh!" Italy exclaimed from the top of the ladder where she stood. Her skirts rustled as she reached down to take the gold encrusted pinecone from his outstretched hand. "Thank you!"
Trying to look in any direction except up (because gentlemen didn't peek up skirts), he surveyed the length of the hallway. The windows were all freshly washed and streak-free; the heavy, sumptuous red curtains shot with strands of gold thread had been taken out and hung, giving the place a warm glow. All along the ceiling hung garlands of holly and fir decorated with red velvet ribbons, tiny red berries, and silver and gold pinecones. He recalled that the living room had also been strung with garlands and cleaned to within an inch of its life.
"Did you do all of this? It's beautiful." He gazed at a delicate glass ornament that hung from a wire on the ceiling.
"Everyone helped! We've been cleaning and cleaning, but I love decorating best because now everything looks so Christmas-y. And Housekeeper let me pick the decorations this year. She's so nice." Italy took a tiny pin out of her apron and fastened the pinecone to the garland. Lifting the long dangling strand of holly and fir, she hung it on a hook nailed into the wall and leaned back a little to see her work. Hurriedly, Holy Rome reached out and steadied the ladder.
"Thank you, Holy Rome." Italy started stepping down the ladder, so she could move on to the next spot. She was almost done with this hallway; just a little bit more of the ceiling needed to be properly hung with decorations.
Now was his chance! There was no way anything could possibly stop him from inviting Italy out! "Um…Italy?"
"Would y…" But just as Holy Rome was about to say the words that would make every embarrassing moment in the past three weeks worth the pain, Italy's skirt got caught on the ladder and Holy Rome found himself staring at her bloomers and bare legs, milky white but for a little touch of pink at her knees.
"Waaah! I'm sorry! I didn't look on purpose!" Blushing crimson, he let go of the ladder and frantically covered his eyes with his hands. The ladder began to wobble dangerously and Italy cried out in surprise, clinging to the rungs of the ladder. Holy Rome watched in alarm as she grabbed the garland just before the ladder tipped over with a loud bang. She dangled several meters above the ground, but her added weight was too much on the garland and it broke with a sickening snap.
"Italy!" Holy Rome rushed to catch her, his tiny arms stretched out to break her fall; his heart beating in his throat as she plummeted to the ground with a scream.
"What's going on here? Rome? Ita-chan!" Austria and Hungary rushed to where the children were laying in a heap on the floor. The housekeeper and the butler were not far behind.
Hungary and the housekeeper pulled Italy off Holy Rome and checked her all over for injuries, clucking like mother hens. Holy Rome sat up gingerly and touched the back of his head with a grimace. There was going to be one impressive bump tomorrow morning.
"How do you feel?" Austria handed him a bit of crushed ice wrapped in a tea towel. Over Austria's shoulder, Holy Rome could see Italy being bandaged and iced as well. Trust Austria to be able to give commands when everyone was still panicking.
"Achy. Dizzy and light-headed." Holy Rome pressed the ice pack to his head and looked down at his lap. Guilt ate at his gut and made him want to throw up. "It was all my fault."
Austria raised an eyebrow. "Is that so?"
"I was holding the ladder and her skirt went up and I panicked. I'm so childish. She got hurt because of me." Tears welled up in his eyes, but he refused to let them fall. He didn't want to show his weakness in front of everyone.
"You're right. That was pretty stupid of you." Shocked at Austria's harsh words, Holy Rome jerked his head up and looked into the older nation's violet eyes.
Austria kneeled down and began to clean the small scratches on Holy Rome's face. He flinched at the sharp sting of the alcohol. "It's true you let your embarrassment get the better of you and that is something you have to work on, but…" Austria smiled, "You saved her, didn't you?"
"She got hurt anyway."
"Listen, it's true you made a silly mistake, but you didn't freeze or blame Italy for falling. You immediately tried to save your friend. Without you, she could have been seriously hurt." Austria sat back on his heels and brushed a hand through Holy Rome's bangs, pushing them away from his eyes.
"What you should take from this is not guilt, but the desire to change yourself for the better. Think about it." Austria patted Holy Rome on the shoulder and stood up.
"Will she forgive me?" Austria paused and looked down at a very miserable Holy Rome.
"Why don't you ask her?" he said not unkindly. With those words, Austria pulled away and faced the small group of people that had gathered in the hall.
"Attention, please! May I have your attention?" Austria clapped his hands several times, the sharp sound echoed through the hall. He paused for a few seconds for everyone to quiet down. "I'm sure everyone has had enough excitement for today and I think we could all use a break. How about we all go down to the Christmas market and enjoy the holiday cheer?"
The hallway resounded with cheers and the group broke up as everyone rushed to change into outdoor clothing. Holy Rome pushed himself off the ground, wobbling slightly as his head still felt a little jumbled. He was a little bitter that Austria was able to invite people to the Christmas market without having some sort of mishap befall him. With his hand on the wall, he slowly made his way to his room so he could put on his boots and jacket. Italy had already been whisked off by Hungary to be properly bundled up for the weather.
He met Austria, Hungary, and Italy at the foyer in ten minutes. His aches and bruises were making him slower than usual and that made him irritable. Many of the help had already left in groups of twos and threes. The housekeeper fussed over him, making sure he was fit to go outside. Austria tolerated this for a few minutes, but finally he shooed her away and they were off for the big market outside of City Hall.
It was bone-chillingly cold outside; their breaths rose to the sky in little white plumes of smoke. The snow was blinding as it reflected the light of the sun. Italy and Hungary ran ahead, throwing handfuls of snow at each other and squealing as it melted down the back of their necks. Austria snorted at their antics and threw a well aimed snowball at Hungary's head.
When Holy Rome saw the glint in Hungary's eyes, he knew there was going to be trouble. "I'm…I'm just going to walk ahead by myself."
"Oh no, you don't."Austria grabbed Holy Rome by the collar. Keeping a grip on Holy Rome, Austria yelled to Hungary, "You call that a snowball fight? Boys against girls! We'll see who the better sex is!"
Holy Rome groaned as Hungary screamed her battle cry and he was instantly bombarded by a flurry of snowballs. Fearing for his already bruised body, Holy Rome joined forces with Austria and all the way to the edge of the city, they waged a vicious battle of snowballs.
Still huffing and puffing from the exertion, they strolled through town. Hungary laughed as Italy looked all agog at the extravagant goods and ornaments being sold and leaned down to whisper something in her ear. The boys followed behind at a leisurely pace. Holy Rome stopped to look at a stall selling leather goods; the detail on the stitch work was astounding.
Austria nudged Holy Rome with his elbow. "What do you think you're doing? Don't let my assistance go to waste." When the younger nation merely gave him a confused look, Austria tilted his head in the direction of the girls and raised his eyebrows.
Holy Rome's heartbeat started thumping faster than when they were running around and throwing snowballs. The saliva in his mouth dried up and he felt completely tongue-tied. He tried to wipe his sweaty palms on his trousers and then realized he was wearing gloves. "What if she doesn't want to talk to me?"
"You won't know until you try. Now go." Austria gently propelled Holy Rome forward. Holy Rome whimpered quietly as he jogged to catch up with the girls, but he would die before he'd admit that to anyone.
Hungary noticed Holy Rome out of the corner of her eye and she gave him an encouraging smile. She made a silent "go on" gesture and Holy Rome knew that Hungary and Austria had planned this in advance. He made a note to find them especially wonderful gifts this year.
He found Italy in a stall selling candied almonds in paper bags tied with bright ribbons. She was chattering away at the bemused shopkeeper as she pored over the bags, looking for a bag tied with ribbons in her favorite colors. With a triumphant cry, she plucked her prize from the table, but before she could rummage through her pockets for money, Holy Rome reached over her shoulder and dropped some coins into the shopkeeper's hand. "Keep the change, sir."
Italy was quiet as they stepped back out onto the main street; the sound of a choir filled the silence between them. Awkwardly, she offered him some almonds from the rumpled bag. When he had nabbed a few and was munching away, she asked softly, "Did I hurt you?"
Holy Rome hurriedly swallowed the crunchy sugar and almonds in his mouth. "Hurt me? Oh, you mean when you fell? N-No, I'm okay. Really."
"Are you sure?" Italy touched the back of his head gently. His body thrilled at the touch of her gloved fingers "I landed on you really hard."
Blushing madly, he batted her hand away even as he kicked himself for doing it. "I'm fine. I'm pretty strong when it comes to these things." When it comes to saving you. Holy Rome shoved the unspoken words down his throat. "It's okay."
And just like that it seemed as if the clouds hanging over Italy's head were blown away. She slipped her hand into his and smiled so brightly that Holy Rome felt the sun dim for a second. "I'm glad. I thought you would be angry with me and I felt so scared."
"What? No! Of course not!" Holy Rome sputtered in surprise, "If anyone would be angry, it would be you. I made you fall."
Italy tilted her head to the side. "Eh? Made me fall? What do you mean?"
"I let go of the ladder and you fell. I'm sorry." Holy Rome stared down at his boots.
"No, it was an accident, Holy Rome. Don't be sad." Italy grasped both his hands in hers. "You saved me today. Thank you."
Quickly Italy leaned in and pressed her lips to his. The air was freezing and all around them it smelled of sweat, mud, and snow, but Italy smelled of almonds and her lips were warm and the moment was over too soon.
Completely shocked, Holy Rome just stared at Italy. Or rather, he stared at Italy's back as she skipped down the aisle, peering into various stalls. "C'mon, Holy Rome! Let's find some chestnuts. Miss Hungary said she wanted some. Eh? Where'd she go?"
Holy Rome smiled when he noticed that Italy's ears were tinged pink. Taking a deep breath, he mustered as much courage as he could and shoved the next words out of his mouth before he could chicken out. "I-Italy, will you come see the rest of the market with me? Just the two of us? I would lo-lov- um, like to spend my day with you. Austria said it's okay."
Flustered by how much effort those few sentences took, Holy Rome stared down at his trembling hands. He was starting to feel lightheaded and dizzy which was probably due to the fact that he wasn't breathing properly, so he concentrated on not hyperventilating as he waited for Italy to say something.
"Of course, Holy Rome!" Italy threw her arms around Holy Rome's neck and hugged him tight, knocking off his black cap in the process. Candied almonds flew in the air as she hopped up and down. Cooing pigeons swooped down from the rooftops and scrambled underfoot for the nuts.
Holy Rome blushed and laughed as he was jostled this way and that. The shopkeepers and the people passing by were pointing and smiling, but he was too busy being relieved and happy to be embarrassed. Sure, it hadn't gone the way he had planned it and he had collected a year's worth of bruises in three weeks, but he was finally here with Italy and for that, he'd gladly face barking dogs, flying pastries, high places, and being squished all over again.
"Hey, look at that! Holy Rome, Let's go over there!" Italy grabbed Holy Rome's hand and pulled him forward.
Holy Rome scooped up his cap and pressed it to his head. "Okay! Let's go!"
Written for Gerita_exchange '10 and betaed by aoi_aka