This is the companion backstory for Feliciano and Ludwig that accompanies my full fic: Its Just Business. This is the story of how the made man and the soldier met, how Feliciano became the Mafioso he later is, and Ludwig his devoted Capo.
Note: Ludwig doesn't have a last name according to hetalia archives, so I gave him his brother's in this. A soldier needs a last name.
I used real battles in WW1, and a some real personages and places from the time. While I used many facts, I also took artistic liberty where I felt it would benefit the story. Enjoy!
I don't own the rights to hetalia or anything else!
Rated M for violence and depictions of war and imprisonment. Not that bad, really, just on the safe side. (and because Its Just Business is rated M for violence, smut, language, and drug use.)
See the companion backstory for Ivan and Alfred for Its Just Business titled: Going Down and Looking Up which will be found in my profile soon, I'll be finishing it up after class tonight (5/3/2011)
The Mafia and the Militär
The evening of the 23rd of October, 1917
The brittle autumn grass crunched beneath his boots. It had been a long march from the Eastern front; the tall blonde was tired and hungry but he didn't let any of that show as he marched into the northeastern edge of Italy. The soldier had a job to do, and privately he hoped the war wouldn't take much longer, and then he'd be back at home celebrating Germany's victory with his bruder and a few pints. Ludwig had signed up last year when he was 17 and the war had already been going on for two years. In that time, more and more countries had joined the fray.
"Beilschmidt!" The voice of his commanding officer broke through the young soldier's thoughts.
The tall blonde turned and saluted crisply. The other man pointed ahead to the nearby town and the fields surrounding, and spoke gruffly, the years of military life showing in his voice. "Take a contingent into the hills, I want you in first ahead of the gas. Wait until 2:00am. No later. If the Italian communication we picked up is right, you should have fog coverage." The officer said no more, but turned to bark orders to other groups of soldiers.
Ludwig waved to the other young men in his troupe and they set off toward their assignment.
Hours later, hidden out of sight, the German soldier knelt on one knee, his rifle held tight in hand as he looked to his pocket watch by the light of a match. The seconds ticked by. He would wait until 2:00am and no later. Looking back up to the tents of the Italian army, Ludwig watched as a silhouette lay down on the dark shape that must be a cot and the light went out.
"Veh~" The young made man sighed laying in the dark. He had delivered the message to the General, and would be heading back home the next day. Feliciano felt accomplished and smiled up at the canvas ceiling above him as he reached both arms back behind his head. General Cadorna would think twice the next time he made an example of his returning men; he would make sure none of them had the last name Vargas.
Sighing again, the young Italian let his eyes fall closed as he fell asleep.
The air felt clear and light as he fell through the clouds happily. In one hand he held a fork and without a care to the fact that he was falling through the sky, the petite Italian smiled down at the enormous mound of spaghetti and meatballs below him. He was about to land now; he could just almost feel the soft noodles….
He landed hard. This was not pasta. He had fallen out of bed. Temporarily confused, Feliciano sat on the floor of the tent until the sounds of explosions, bullets, the crackle of fire, and men yelling and running outside the tent began to make sense. They were under attack.
Feliciano scrambled to his feet and reached for the pistol his Grandfather had supplied him. Before his fingers could close around the gun there was a deafening blast and he found himself on the floor again. Looking up, the slight Italian coughed and blinked through the gap in what used to be the tent wall.
His caramel eyes widened. Everywhere soldiers were running, shooting; it was chaos. He stood again. The gun was gone, everything was dusty; the velvety night had been replaced by the flicker of flame and acrid smell of burning flesh…the coppery scent of blood.
Feliciano began to panic. He'd seen his Grandpa kill people, He'd helped… but that was different. That was business, they'd owed…not paid. It made sense; this was chaos all around him. No call to battle had been sounded, the Italian army had been taken by surprise. The young Italian stood there for a moment completely unsure what to do. But then he caught sight of the German soldiers running through the camp, behind the gun toting first wave, he could see the stormtroopers with flamethrowers…flamethrowers.
Suddenly his legs could work again; Feliciano dashed around the overturned cot, twisting his ankles in the now dust covered sheet, he went down again. "Madre Maria!" He cast his fate to the heavens.
Oh! A hope bloomed in his heart. He was unarmed and knew no German at all, but everyone understood the symbol of a white flag – that could be his way out of the battlefield. Feliciano reached down and ripped a piece from the corner of the sheet as he once again scrambled to his feet and took off at a full run in any direction that carried him away from the advancing Germans.
The air was filled with the hail of bullets; the small brunette ducked and stooped low as he ran, his white piece of cloth held tight in his right hand. Feliciano spared a glance over his shoulder as he ran, and missed the body in front of him on the ground. He tripped and went down. Scooting back away from the wasted soldier laying in his own blood, Feliciano closed his eyes tight and crawled backward fast along the ground.
He stopped. His breath caught in his throat and his heart missed a beat. The slight Italian sat up straighter, still on his on his knees. There was no mistaking the feeling of a rifle barrel at his back. His arm moving of its own accord, his mind still blank, Feliciano crossed himself and whispered. "Maria, Madre di Dio."
The man with the gun jabed the barrel into Feliciano's back and the Italian turned slowly. The gun was now leveled at his chest. He held the torn white cloth up weakly. Why, oh why had he lost his grandfather's gun?
The German soldier ignored the improvised white flag and made to ready his gun. The Italian prayed silently, letting the white cloth fall to the ground from his fingers. He closed his eyes and thought about his cousin who had been killed a few weeks ago by a rival, his friend who's body had never been found. He closed his eyes and tried to not be afriad to die.
Suddenly the barrel of the gun was pushed roughly aside, off his chest. Feliciano heard another man's voice yelling something in German before he opened his eyes.
"Halt! Er ist ein Zivilist!"
Finally opening his eyes fully, Feliciano looked up to see a tall, blonde soldier pushing his fellow back. The German reached an arm down to the petite Italian. Felicinao noticed the piercing blue eyes as he took the offered hand and stood.
"Was machst du hier?" The German asked.
Feliciano had no idea what he was saying, but he did know the the rolling cloud behind them was looking less like foggy dusty smoke, and more like a gas. The very air rippled like an oil slick. He looked into the bright blue eyes staring down at him. "Cosa?"
Ah, of course he doesn't speak German! Ludwig wondered if the Italian might know English. He had learned it himself in secondary school. "Do you speak English?" Ludwig asked Feliciano slowly, careful to enunciate.
"Si!" The petite man nearly bounced before rattling off in mixed English and Italian. "Grazie for saving me! I can repay the favore!"
"Nein. Don't vorry about that." Ludwig noticed the body behind the younger Italian was a German, thankfullly no one he recognized. The blonde quickly stooped and removed the gas mask from the dead soldier's pack. Standing again, he placed it in the small brunette's hands.
"Vear this und get out of here - it is too dangerous for you here!"
Feliciano couldn't believe a german soldier was helping him. He felt his heart pulling on him in his chest to know more about this man who had pushed his own comrade in arms out of the way to save him. "Grazie!" Feliciano repeated, he looked down, suddenly realizing just how ridiculous he was. This was war, they were on opposite ends of that war, what was wrong with him? It didn't matter, he wanted to know this strange german who would help him. Caramel eyes looked up through dark lashes. "What is your name? So I can remember who saved my life and pray for you? I'm Feliciano" He smiled radiantly.
Ludwig was taken aback. His tongue stumbled over the sound of his own name.
"L- Ludwig Beilschmidt." Suddenly blushing and not sure why, he took the mask from the shorter man's hands and put it over the brunette's head, tucking in a stray curl, he fastened it on tightly. "GO!" Ludwig turned the smaller man and pushed him in the direction away from the appraoching gas and furthest from the majority of the fighting.
The blonde pulled on his own mask now. He would be turning the other way. Ludwig looked over his shoulder once more before he ran back into the chaos of the battlefield. He was happy to see the smaller man dissapear into the underbrush, hopefully to safety.
The soldier turned then and ran fully into the battle, firing his weapon as he ran through the haze. Bodies falling from the poisoned air, his bullets or the flames.
...Sixteen days later...
10th November, 1917
Ludwig marched behind the Austro-Hungarians he and his regiment had been sent to aid. His former commander had taken half of the other soldiers to the Western front. The marched toward the trenches at the Piave river.
The soldier ignore his aching feet and empty stomach. He looked ahead and kept his pace up, occasionally patting a friend on the shoulder, reminding both the other men and himself that they had had victory at Capporetto; they would surely be victorious here as well.
Later that evening, it was harder to keep that optimism in mind. Ludwig called over his shoulder for more grenades as he held onto the slipping mud of the trench. The heavens had opened and the rain fell cold and hard onto both armies. The dead lay where they fell among the living. Blue eyes were cool as steel as the young german focused not on the dead and dying, but on what he could do to stay alive and keep those nearest him alive as well. He couldn't let his gaze linger long enough on the dead to recognize the faces of the men who had become his friends this long year.
"Wo sind die Granaten?" Ludwig called, pushing damp hair back from his eyes. Where were those verdammt grenades?
Suddenly the explosions stopped. No bullets whizzed past. All was silent but the patter of rain and occasional echo of thunder, the odd flash of lightning; it was as though the battle went on in the skies when it had stopped below. Ludwig looked to the other soldiers around him. Thier quizzical expressions mirrored his own.
He looked up, chancing a cenitmeter above the trench to glance out. Ludwig couldn't believe what he was seeing. The officer his regiment had been told to follow was standing, putting down his gun. Dozens of soldiers behind him did the same. They were surrendering.
Even as he and the men around him stood and did insticually what they had been taught, to follow their superiors, Ludwig couldn't believe he had to surrender. Not while there were still bullets in his gun, verdammt, while there was still breath in his body.
But he did as he was trained. He followed the chain of command.
Ludwig joined the other German and Austrian men as they lowered their weapons and dropped to their knees in the mud.
While the German soldier was shoved into his cell, the Italian he had spared sat at the window of his grandfather's study looking out at the rain.
"Veh~" he sighed, lost in thought.
"Feliciano, my little grandson," The deceptively youthful appearing man began from his desk. "Feliciano, I will not-a let you go to war." He folded the newspaper he had been reading and threw it in the trash as he stood. The title page still glared out from the bin. 'Ragazzi del '99'
"I kept-a your fratello out of it when he wanted to come home from university in Spain. I will-a keep-a you out of it as well." The statuesque Roman Vargas joined his grandson at the window.
"Veh." The young brunette sighed again. "I'm not 18 yet anyway Grandpa. Maybe the war will end before March." The petite brunette shrugged, his thoughts returning to the german who had saved his life. He wondered where Ludwig was now.
The door opened with a bang; both Vargas men pulling pistols up to face the intrusion, the younger, with eyes wide, the older with a cool detachment born of years of experience.
"Scuse, Signore Rome!" The man at the door put his hands up and apologized.
Recognizing the man, one of the few trustworthy enough to call him by his nickname, the elder Vargas lowered his weapon. His grandson followed.
"Signori," The man continued, nodding to both the Don and his grandson. "You asked to be kept up on the latest news from the front?" Feliciano sat up in the window seat as his grandfather took his seat at the desk again. "Si." Both generations said at once.
The young man, who Feliciano now recognized as one of the spies his grandfather employed, continued. "I have good news! Piave has been defended; the German and Austrians surrendered!"
As Rome poured a glass of wine for the spy and cheerfully asked details, his grandson sat perplexed. He felt conflicted. He shouldn't really feel conflicted at all. He ought to be happy...he was happy Italy appeared to be winning now, but why did he also feel...anxious? Was that the word?
"Scuse," He interupted. "Do you know where they took the prisoners?"
The spy looked over to Feliciano. "Padua. To the Castillo di Padova, under Cadorna." The two other Italians laughed darkly. Rome nodded in his glass as the spy spoke again. "I'd feel-a sorry for them if it weren't for-a Caporetto."
Feliciano gulped. He didn't care about any of the other soldiers, they were the enemy, but he did care about Ludwig. He'd saved his life and he had told him he would repay the favour. Bright blue eyes came to mind as he sat silently at the window.
Feliciano knew himself well. He knew he was different from other boys. Well, most other boys. While he had ostentatiously dated girls all throughout his adolescence, he had always found time to have secret boyfriends as well. They always broke things off when he divulged who he really was, who his grandfather was. But Feliciano knew himself. He recognized the feeling of his heart tightening, stomach knotting, and the way he felt suddenly hot. He just never expected he'd feel this way for a german soldier.
A german soldier who was now being held as a prisoner of war. Wait... Feliciano had a sudden thought, one that made his body lose all heat. How do I know he made it through Piave to surrender? How do I even know he made it through Caporetto?
The younger Vargas stood immediatly and asked the spy, "Can you tell who is being kept at Padua? Did you see them surrender?" He tried to keep the anxiety out of his voice, but by the way his Grandfather rolled his eyes, Feliciano knew he had not been successful.
"Si. Is there someone in partcular you are asking about?" The spy glanced between the two men.
Feliciano opened his mouth to speak, but was cut off by Rome. " A German soldier saved him at Caporetto," His Grandfather finished, "He was there on business" He silenced the questioning look on his spy's face.
"The spy rose his eyebrows. "Really?" He turned to Feliciano. "Do you know his name, or if not, can you describe him?" The spy tapped his fingers along the wood of the desk lightly. Feliciano withdrew a wad of cash from his pocket and passed it across to the other man. "Ludwig. Ludwig Beilschmidt. Tall, blonde, blue eyes."
The spy laughed, "Good thing you know the name, with a description like that for a German soldier!"
"Veh~" Feliciano returned to the window as the spy stood. "Just find out if he is at Padua or...if he is dead." The slight Italian replied. The spy excused himself and promised to return with more information.
Rome looked sideways at his grandson seated at the window.
Once again, Feliciano's thoughts returned to Ludwig. Hopefully he was alive.
20 days later...
30th November, 1917
The young Italian raced down the stairs. His grandfather's spy was finally back. He had waited nearly the entire month for information. Feliciano passed the men in the foyer and shocked the doorman by opening the door himself.
The spy stood, one hand raised to grip the knocker. He looked down at the somewhat shorter man with a serious expression.
"Morto?" Feliciano asked in a whisper, fearing the worst.
"Vivo." The spy replied.
Feliciano breathed out in relief. Ludwig was alive. He opened the door wider and motioned for the other man to follow him into a side room. Once he had closed the door, the petite brunette sat down opposite the spy, a man only a few years older than him. "Tell me what you know."
His eyes widened and heart raced as the spy talked. Feliciano felt first relieved that the German was alive, Anxious because he knew Cadorna's reputation, and then angry and defintely worried for Ludwig when his grandfather's spy told him the soldier had already gotten on the tempermental general's bad side.
20 days of incarceration...
While Feliciano thanked the spy for the information, Ludwig wiped a hand across his forehead and tried to put his unruly hair back in place. He dropped the spackling tool in the bucket and complied with the order to stop work and return to the cells. Turning away from the wall the blonde held out his wrists to allow the Italian guard to cuff him. As though he couldn't have killed them with the tools they gave him to work with each day if he had wanted to. The truth was, he knew there was no where to go, and it was pointless to try to escape. If he hadn't known that before, he did now. The prisoners who had already been there were still talking about the man who tried to escape just after Caporetto. The body had hung in the courtyard for a week.
Ludwig followed the others into the castle turned prison. Up the stairs, turn the corner, up more stairs, down the hall, up more stairs and then to the cell at the end. The guard unfastened his cuffs before closing the heavy oak door to the hall.
The tall blonde hadn't even turned away from the door before he heard a different voice, a femine voice. Speaking in German! It wasn't the dialect he was used to but, all the same, what was a german speaking woman doing here? Ludwig pressed his face agianst the barred window of the door.
He could just see from the corner of his vision, a matronly woman in a white apron. The woman was clearly well educated. She switched from German to Italian and spoke forcefully to the guard, who finally relented under the International red cross nurses' barage. The woman, whose accent Ludwig now recognized as swiss made her way down the hall stopping at each cell to speak with the men inside.
When she made it to his she smiled sweetly up at him, and Ludwig felt his heart warm at the grandmotherly figure; He hadn't realized he had been missing something, but the caring look in her eyes and the kind words were enough to remind him he had once had a mother.
The nurse spoke in German now, and slipped a thin parcel through the bars of the door.
"There is paper, envelopes, and stamps to write home, and we have set up a medical tent in the courtyard. We'll be here from now on if you need any medical assistance or someone to talk to." She looked him over earnestly. "How are you feeling? Do you have any medical complaints? A cough, a fever?"
Ludwig stood straight and replied. "Nein, I am fine, danke." She was clearly dubious, and reached through the bars to place the back of her hand against his cheek and then up to his forehead. "Hmm, alright, you seem to be healthy. They," she pointed to the guard down the hall, "Are supposed to come get us if any of you need us. Just say 'infermiera'" She smiled again after having him repeat it as she had for each of the men along the hall. She then turned and left him, the package in his hands.
The normally composed soldier ripped open the top of the parcel on his way to the cot in the corner opposite the one window in the wall that looked out to the city below the castle and to the battle still raging just outside the city limits.
Paper. A Pen. Stamps. An Envelope.
Ludwig immediatly dropped to his knees on the stone floor and feeling a smile light up his face as it hadn't done in nearly a month, he began to write his brother.
He was determined to make it as optimistic as he could; his older brother probably had no idea what had happened to him.
Gilbert, Mein Bruder,
I hope my letter finds you well and that I can relieve any worry. I am being held at the Castella di Padova in Padua, N. Italy. Surely the news of our defeat at Piave reached you right after news of the victory at Caporetto. I'm sorry it has taken so long to write you bruder; General Cadorna would not allow us writing implements or stamps for some time. (I'm sure his reputation has reached Germany by now, ja?) Thankfully, the neutral Red Cross demanded we be given the ability to write home. I am doing alright. At first we were kept inside all day, but now we work outside from dawn to dusk. I'm grateful for this; I thought I would lose my mind staying in this cell all the time. We are allowed in one large cell for meals, (they do feed us a meal a day, today we had some kind of thin pasta in broth. I won't lie, It can't compare to wurst, but I am grateful for it after hearing where I was going I was unsure what to expect.) As I was saying, they let us in a larger cell for the meal and then we each are put in our own smaller rooms at night. The first few nights we had nothing, but now I have a cot. Overall, I am doing well. When I'm not taken outside to work I pass my time trying to keep in shape in my cell. How are things at home? Gott will, we will be victorious and this war will end soon. There is the constant sound of battle only a few miles away, I know the Central Powers are working to take Padua. We can only hope.
Dein Dich liebender Bruder,
15th of December 1917
35 days of incarceration...
The blonde paced in his cell. From cold, barred window to wall and back again. The sound of the man sobbing in the cell next to his was unnerving.
Ludwig had tried to calm him. He had tried to reassure him through the wall, but nothing had worked.
Finally giving up the pacing and feeling the cold air from the windows chill his bones, the tall German fastened the cloth over the open window and turned back to the center of the 8' x 8' room.
He dropped to the floor and began to do pushups, counting out over the sobs next door loudly. "Eins, zwei, drei, vier..."
As he counted Ludwig's mind trailed back to Caporetto. He wondered if the Italian had made it back to safety. His face flushed as he thought about the other man, Feliciano. Ludwig attributed his sudden heat to the workout and not on the the wide caramel eyes he saw in his mind's eye. "sieben, acht, neun, zehn,"
He thought about his bruder; how anxious he was to hear from home. Ludwig hoped things were going alright in Berlin. He'd heard about the food shortage before his capture. Surely by now, things were better? "dreizehn, vierzehn, fünfzehn, sechzehn..."
The soldier continued until he was exhausted and the sounds from the other side of the wall didn't bother him anymore.
Meanwhile in the Don's spacious Villa...
As Ludwig lay down on his cot and pulled the thin blanket around himself to drift into a heavy dreamless sleep, Feliciano was still awake though the rest of the house was sleeping.
He stepped lightly to the chapel. The slight brunette had been practicing his aim with a silencer on his pistol for the past hour. He'd gotten really good, and now he sat the gun down on a side table beside the door to the small chapel space in his grandfather's estate.
Feliciano walked up to the alter and knelt. He lit a stick of incence and a single tall white candle. The young catholic crossed himself and bowed his head. He prayed for the tall, broad shouldered, blonde who had saved his life. Feliciano felt as though he was sinning as he prayed. No matter...just somethinig he would have to confess too later.
January 3rd, 1918.
52 days of incarceration...
The cell next door had been silent for some time. Ludwig read over his brother's letter again as he had been doing since he recieved it 3 days ago. He could still taste the beir his older brother had sent him. The memory brought a small smile to his face still.
December 5th, 1917
I was glad to hear from you finally! I feared the worst. To think you would come to this and all so those bastard Austrians can surrender! Ja, we've heard of Cadorna here. It makes my blood boil to think of you stuck under that Italian's thumb. I've sent some wurst und bier; I hope it reaches you by Christmas. Stay strong, Ludwig. I know you will. Pasta and broth is no kind of meal. Have these Italians never heard of potatoes?
Business is down here at home, naturally, apart from the soldiers. I often find my mind wandering to the battlefield and to you, but the government is encouraging men like me to stay behind and keep the clubs open. They say the soldiers need the entertainment and I'm happy to oblige. Write to me as often as you can. You know my thoughts are with you, bruder.
Hopefully we'll take Padua and you'll be home soon. You know I'll be the first to get you a drink and find you a girl!
Unfortunatly the wurst had gone bad while the package waited in the General's office, but the beir and the words his older brother had sent from home stayed fresh.
Ludwig sat up and swung his long legs over the side of the cot. His fists clenched in anger. Why had they not been given more paper? They had been assured they would always have paper. Ludwig knew he wasn't the only one, each man in Castillo di Padova was missing home and wanting to write badly.
He stood and began pacing. The sunlight streaked in cooly from the window, overly bright as it reflected the snow in the courtyard below. The tent was still there, and Ludwig knew the nurses had been trying to get paper to the soldiers, but had had no success since a breakout attempt last week. The men had been executed in the courtyard.
Ludwig shook the memory from his mind. He had yelled along with the others at the injustice of it, the nurses had told him of recent laws which had been created to prevent this exact thing. It still infuriated him, but confined to this small space, Ludwig knew there was nothing he could do about it. Instead his mind kept returning to thoughts of the petite Italian. The german knew no more about Feliciano than his name, not even his last.
However, he couldn't stop thinking of him, wondering if he had gotten home.
As he neared the center of the room, the blonde stopped his pacing and turned toward the door. It was opening. Suddenly he was faced with three guards, their guns leveled at his chest. The general walked up to him, and motioned for a fourth guard who brought the customary cuffs.
"I know you are-a one of the ring leaders. I hear that you stir up-a trouble." Cadorna glared down at the taller man, Ludwig having been pushed to a sitting position on his cot.
Chin held high, the german said nothing. He hadn't been involved with the escape attempt and didn't know why the man had been so sure that he had since it happened. He had, however been guilty of spreading what he knew of the new laws regarding the treatment of prisoners of war to the others on his floor. That must be the trouble the general meant.
Blue eyes glanced to the guards with thier guns pointed toward him. The man next door had once been a translater, and before he had had enough, he had told Ludwig that even the Italians detested the general. The blonde wondered which of these men infront of him shared the sentiment.
"I know you were involved in the escape-a! Admit it!" Cadorna pulled back and struck him hard across the face with the back of his fist.
There was only so much a man could take. Without thinking Ludwig stood, now much taller than the other man. "Nein. I had nothing to do vith it!" The german ignored the stinging along his face and kept his eyes focused on the general's.
Three sets of rifles clicked ready as Cadorna stepped closer. "I am-a getting tired of you. I think it would-a be wise if-a you did not take your days for-a granted.
The Italian general stepped back as the guards pushed their cuffed prisoner back to the cot.
Ludwig watched the general leave, his guards following behind him. The blonde glanced down to his brother's letter and sighed.
After sitting for a time, Ludwig stood and returned to pacing his cell. He continued this for an hour or more, he had lost track of time, when suddenly the german stopped and listened to the stepps coming down the stone floor of the hall outside.
He stood in the center of the room and waited. Had Cadorna found some fictitious proof he'd been involved? Ludwig stood as straight as he could and waited as the steps got closer.
It wasn't the general. It was one of the Italian guards. The man was carrying a box of black books. The brunette looked up through the bars at the german prisoner who had moved closer to the window in his door.
The man didn't say anything but passed one of the books through the bars into Ludwig's hands, and moved on down the hall without another look.
Ludwig moved the book around in his hands carefully, glad that his wrists were cuffed in front instead of behind his back. He read the words printed in gold on the side. It was the Bible. He'd finally gotten something to read, and as much as the next thought filled him with a pang of guilt...something to write on!
The tall man knelt carefully and selected a few pages from the front: the title page, and a few from the old testament. Ludwig reached for the pen and stamps the nuse had given him. Slowly, he wrote Gilbert back. He moved carefully, making sure his handwriting didn't give away his shackled wrists. He didn't want to alarm his older brother.
Danke for the beir! It was a small taste of home, and the envy of the rest of the men! I am sorry to say, the wurst did not make it, but I appreciate the effort. I know how much it must have cost. Again, I am late in writing, having just gotten your package today. General Cadorna had stopped all incoming mail after a man killed himself with the razor he was sent after an escape attempt by some of the other prisoners. It has been hard lately bruder. The winter means we are inside all the time with nothing to do. The battle is quieter outside now. We don't get much information here, but what we can overhear, and one of the few who spoke Italian was the man I mentioned before, with the razor. We had run out of paper as well, but luckily we were given the bibles one of the humanitarian groups has been trying to get to us. I don't know what the Italians think, that we will convert our jailers to Protestants when we don't even share a language? But they did arrive today, as you can see, due to my use of the old testament. I feel bad about it, but I don't want to go longer without writing, and don't know when we'll be given paper again. I think the worst is the cold and the lack of German comforts like beir. I can not tell you how happy I was to finally get your package! I hope business has gotten better by the time this letter finds you.
Dankbar, Ihr bruder,
-Also, I don't understand why they don't use potatoes more either! It would make a wonderful winter crop instead of canned tomatoes. But, beggars can not choose. I tell myself that soon I'll be home and I try to keep my spirits up. My correspondence with you is a great help!
Meanwhile, as Ludwig folded the letter and planned how to get another envelope from the nurses, Feliciano was sitting at his customary seat by the window of his grandfather's office while Rome paced the study, a letter from their family in America in his hand.
Finally, the elder Vargas spoke.
"Feliciano," He began and walked to sit beside his grandson in the window seat. "I want you to go to Chicago. Take your cousin's place." Rome looked at his seventeen year old grandson and knew there was no other choice. He had been training him for the family business his entire life, but he would be the youngest to be placed in such a position. However, Feliciano could take his second cousin's place as Don of the Chicago operations or he'd have to join the war once he turned 18 in March.
"Veh! Me?" Feliciano's eyes went wide as he pointed to his chest.
"Si. It will get you out of here, and it will appease the other families. I think I have avoided an all out war between the other four, but they demand I appoint someone aside from the spoiled sons in line." Rome placed a hand on his grandson's shoulder. "I have faith in you Feliciano."
"B-but, what about Romano? He is older than me." The petite young man couldn't believe what he was hearing. He was the younger brother, surely Romano was the logical choice.
"No. Your older brother is too hot headed. I need someone who will not make rash decisions." Rome spoke seriously to his young grandson. "You have many cousins and relatives here, I want you to select a bodyguard and get to America. You can go to Spain to meet your brother there. I want both of you out of Europe. I expect you to make a place for Romano in Chicago. He is too temperamental to make a good boss, but he will be an asset to you."
Feliciano nodded, thinking over all his grandfather had said. " Veh~ Of course. I hope Romano is not angry with me…" He looked back up to Rome, "Alright, but I do not trust any other relative to get me to Spain."
Feliciano thought over his words which were sure to be met with reluctance at best. He stood from the window seat and thought, if I am to be a boss, I must start asserting myself.
"Grandpa. I will only take a bodyguard I can trust, someone I know will gain nothing from my death." He took a deep breath. "I will only go to Chicago if I can have Ludwig Beilschmidt as my guard."
His Grandfather stood as well. "The German soldier? Feliciano, are you out of your mind?"
The younger brunette stood his ground. He wouldn't let his Grandfather see his nerves.
"Veh~ How can I trust anyone else? He could have killed me at Caporetto but saved me, and unlike my relatives, he would gain nothing from killing me now." Feliciano knew his argument was sound, and smiled inwardly as his Grandfather's expression showed that he had won.
"Si, si Feliciano, If that is what you insist." Rome sighed. "We'll need to bribe Cadorna to release him. I will write to the families; until you are able to arrive, they will have to work by committee. They will understand it may take you some time, considering the danger of traveling…" he continued shaking his head, "especially through France with a German soldier."
Rome sat at his desk and gathered his papers. He didn't look up as he spoke, "Go write your brother, and have the spy keep you updated on the German's condition." As Feliciano turned to leave, His grandfather spoke again, and looked up from his letter. His words sent a flush to Feliciano's cheeks and a lump to his throat.
"Be careful, mio nipote, I know your heart."
27th of January, 1918.
76 days of incarceration…
Finally! Ludwig tore into the open package his brother had sent from Berlin. He had been told it had arrived weeks ago, but that Cadorna was having all packages examined. The blonde had seen the scarf his brother had sent when the guards went through the box when it had first arrived. A black, white, and red striped piece of woven fabric with the black eagle embroidered in the white field on one end. Ludwig had laughed out loud at his brother's audacity.
He therefore hadn't been that surprised when he was only given the letter and not the scarf or paper his brother had sent.
January 10th , 1918
Mein kleiner Bruder,
I am sorry to hear about your predicament. It wrenches my heart but I know my strong little bruder will not succumb. I wish I could send you better news but things continue to be rough at home. I'm particularly sorry about the waste of the wurst. I can't help but hate those Italians and their bureaucracy for letting such a thing happen. Still, it is not so bad and it will be better when you're home, ja? I've sent you some paper and stamps in the hopes that they'll help you to write more often or even just to stay your boredom. I can't have you defacing the bible, Ludwig what would Mutter say? I sent you a scarf that I hope will help with the cold and lend you a little comfort. Keep your spirits high. I know it must be grueling for you trapped inside with nothing to do but I know remember you can exercise with only your body for aid. Ha! and speaking of using your body for aid, don't forget to do that too bruder. It will help keep you healthy and happy in the darkest times!
You know when you need comfort you can always think of your bruder back in Berlin and your beloved Deustchland. Just not while you're doing your special exercise, ja? I think that would bother Mutter more than knowing you'd defaced the bible.
Well, I don't mind if you lie back and think of Deustchland but leave me out of it.
Ihre liebevolle großen Bruder,
Ludwig had rolled his eyes, but been relieved to read Gilbert's usual humour through his brother's words.
The blonde dug through the package, pulling out the scarf and the stamps, ignoring the blast of cool air from the window. No paper.
"Vhere is the paper?" He called through the bars. One of the guards was prodded by his fellows and stepped up. It had been a relief that someone other than Cadorna or the officers spoke English and though it wasn't his native language, Ludwig could have some better idea of what was going on if he could get the other man to tell him.
"Be glad you got have that-a scarf. The general does not believe that you were-a not apart of the escape attempt. You should-a be glad you were not executed along with the others." The Italian soldier looked torn between his hatred for the German and his own superior.
"How vould paper help me escape?" Ludwig asked the other man.
The Italian replied before walking away, "The general believes it could contain hidden messages. We are aware of code written in oil."
"Vait! Vait! I had nothing to do vith it! Gott Verdammt!" The German with a scarf over one shoulder held onto the bars in his door and yelled down the hall.
1st of February, 1918.
27 days since putting the spy on his personal payroll, Feliciano had grown more into the role he would be taking in America. The young Mafioso met with his spy who had gone to work in Padua under the guise of a volunteer in the prison kitchen.
"Veh~ What do you know? Is he still a suspect? Did he receive the package from home? You said last time that he had a cough, how is that?" Feliciano blushed, suddenly aware he was showing too much concern.
The spy knew better than to voice his observations of the boss's grandson to the young man who would soon be leaving to become a boss of own in the United States. Instead he replied without so much as a raised eyebrow. "He did receive a scarf from his brother in Germany. I am-a sorry to say that he was still-a coughing when last he came through the kitchen, but many of the others are as-a well."
Feliciano tried to keep the worry from his face. He had wanted to act immediately, but his Grandfather insisted on getting not only enough money together, but also dirt on the general to blackmail him if necessary. "Veh~ And is he still a suspect in the December escape? He asked the other man.
The spy leaned forward now, "Signore," He began and Feliciano knew he did not have good news. "If you insist that this is the only man you will trust to accompany you to America, I suggest you leave quickly. Cadorna does not have proof, but he is-a itching to make an example of someone to keep the other prisoners in line. The prisoners demand paper, and more blankets, the guards demand more time at home, and are outraged at the executions of a tenth of the returning men from failed battles."
The seventeen year old Mafioso paled as his informant continued. "Beilschmidt embodies everything 'German', and Cadorna has made it no secret that he dislikes the man. The guards I have spoken with expect the young soldier will be the perfect example. I would guess you have less than a week."
Feliciano fought to keep the waver from his voice as he stood and shook the spy's hand, slipping him his payment. "Grazie. Per favore, keep me updated. I will speak to my grandfather."
Feliciano watched the spy leave and closed the door behind him. "Veh~" he sighed, leaning on the door for a moment before he shook his head, clearing it from worried images of the man he'd only seen once but who had none the less left an imprint.
Stepping away from the door he quickly crossed to the panel hidden in the wall that led to his grandfather's study.
Regardless of whether or not Rome had gathered enough dirt to blackmail the General, they had to act now. Feliciano would do it himself if his grandpa didn't agree.
3rd of February, 1918
101 days since Caporetto,
84 days since the surrender at Piave
The two Italian men stepped out from the car and made their way up the slopping walkway to the gate. As the guard at the door recognized the older of the two, he opened the gate and tilted his head in respect.
Rome motioned Feliciano ahead of him as he tipped the guard at the gate. The young Mafioso made his way quickly up toward the courtyard. Snow still clung to the edges of the walkway, the eaves of the castle, and the limbs of the trees.
It took few words for the two men to be admitted quickly and shown to the general's personal office.
Feliciano stood beside his grandfather as the youthful elder man made himself comfortable across from the disgruntled general.
Rome spoke in a musically soothing voice as he intimidated the other man. Feliciano smiled softly as his grandpa reminded Cadorna of how much his men detested him, while they would do whatever he asked of them; Informed him that he carried much more sway with the king, and then smiling, expressed how much better it would be for Cadorna if the general would release the German agreeably.
Feliciano soaked it all in as he watched his Grandfather work, ending the softly spoken threats with the roll of cash slid across the general's desk.
Cadorna pocketed the money and stood; Rome mirrored the other man's movements standing as well, and Feliciano stepped closer to the door as Cadorna spoke.
"I will give-a you a chance, but Beilschmidt has made it clear that his allegiance is unwaveringly to Germany." The general continued smiling, "If he does not-a go with you then I will use him to keep the others in line." He passed Feliciano at the door, "I have always dealt with escape attempts after they have been-a attempted. I will giv-a you a chance, but if he does not-a go, then you cannot-a stop me from reminding the prisoners that I am in charge here and I do not have to wait for an attempt to introduce-a him to the firing squad."
Feliciano felt his heart constrict and his blood run cold. He had learned from the years of his grandfather's tutelage however, and he held this all in, conveying his emotions with only a glare to the general as he walked past.
Cadorna called to a nearby lieutenant. "You will not mind if I do not-a accompany you?"
Feliciano was more than happy to say goodbye to the general and nodded to the man without meeting his eyes. The young man then walked slightly ahead of his powerful grandfather as the two followed the lieutenant around the hall and up a winding stair.
Feliciano was not used to so many stairs and in his small stature he had to move quickly to keep up with his grandfather and the lieutenant. But by the time he reached the top floor, the petite Italian's heart was beating loudly in his chest; so loudly he was surprised the other two men with him couldn't hear it.
Stepping up ahead of the taller Rome, Feliciano walked alongside the lieutenant as they passed cell after cell toward the end of the hall. His heart quickened as his stomach churned at the apprehension flooding through his body. Feliciano was at once excited and nervous to see the other man again. He wondered if the German would remember him…
"fünfzehn, sechzehn, siebzehn, achtzehn" Ludwig continued the only thing that managed to keep him sane. He had been running in place but had kept coughing and so returned to push-ups. He was not sick. He was not sick. There was no way he would allow himself to get sick. It was just the cold, once spring came he'd feel better. At any rate, the occasional cough didn't stop him from exercising.
"neunzehn, zwanzig…" He stopped, someone was turning the lock in his door. The German coughed again, and hated his lungs for disobeying him as he stood and turned toward the opening door.
Mein Gott, it was the Italian. Feliciano.
Ludwig combed a hand through his disheveled hair before the officer accompanying the young Italian stepped forward to cuff his wrists as usual. Ludwig held out his arms to the lieutenant, his blue eyes on the shorter man beside him in the doorway.
Feliciano stood next to the taller lieutenant, another taller man behind him. Caramel brown eyes locked onto sky blue for a moment before moving to the German's outstretched wrists as the lieutenant closed the cuffs around them.
"Che non è necessario" Feliciano stepped forward.
The lieutenant replied that it was the rules. He turned back to the smaller man, and then up to the Don behind him. Stuttering, the officer repeated that he could do nothing about it, he did however move quickly past the two other men in the door and down the hallway.
Rome looked to his grandson and then after a silent glance, the older Vargas followed the Leiutenant.
Ludwig looked down at the shorter man in front of him. "Hallo Feliciano. I'm glad to see you made it out of Caporetto." He brought his hands to cover another cough as he stepped closer. "Vhat are you doing here?" Ludwig looked down at the Italian. He took mental note of the leather shoes, tailored dress pants, and pale blue silk shirt under the dark striped vest as Feliciano took off his long wool coat.
"I am here to repay the favore. Veh~ you look flushed…are you feeling alright?" Feliciano asked.
Ludwig was flushed, and Feliciano had noticed the cough. The German was wearing nothing but a shirt and his uniform fatigues. Looking around the cell, the Italian was shocked to see only a worn blanket on a cot in the corner, a few papers and a scarf, and an empty beer bottle sat beside it.
"I'm fine." The tall blonde replied.
Feliciano stepped up on his tip toes, his coat in the crook of his arm. "Veh~"
The Italian stepped back to his own height and took hold of the German's hands cuffed in front of him. Feliciano pulled Ludwig to his cot; the two men sat down on the edge. The petite Mafioso crossed his legs and moved to face the German soldier. He put a hand out to feel the side of his face.
"Veh~ You're cold." Without a second thought he threw his coat over the taller man's shoulders. It didn't quite work, being much too narrow. Both men laughed.
Ludwig's laughter ended in another cough. "I am fine, really. Vhat are you doing here, Feliciano?"
"Veh~ You are not." The Italian grabbed the blanket from behind them and sat up on his knees to drape it around the German. He sat back and continued, looking into Ludwig's chest instead of meeting the other man's eyes. "Veh~…I came here to ask you to come with me. I have to go to America to take over a job for my grandpa. I…" Feliciano paused suddenly nervous of what the reaction would be. "I don't trust anyone to come with me, I have to have a bodyguard, and, I can think of no one I can trust more than you."
"Me?" Feliciano looked up now into Ludwig's wide eyes. He couldn't tell if the other man was blushing or if it was a part of the fever he could tell was coming on.
Ludwig went on. "You trust me? But we only met, and am I not your enemy?"
Feliciano looked back at the German shocked. "My enemy? No, no, you saved me! I would have died had you not saved me at Caporetto!" He reached out a hand to rest over the cuffs on the blonde's wrists. "Will you come with me?"
"How vould I?" Ludwig tilted his head to indicate the four walls around them. He left his hands still, the Italian's petite fingers warm where they touched his skin.
Feliciano looked away for a minute, unsure what the response would be to his next sentence. "No one says no to my Grandfather. We can get you out of here today."
The German was silent. His eyes on the fabric flapping over the window.
Feliciano went on, feeling the panic rising in his chest. "If you don't come with me, Cadorna will put you in front of the firing squad tomorrow!"
Ludwig turned back to Feliciano. "Vhat?" blue eyes narrowed. "So Cadorna vants to make an example of me?" The tall blonde stood, the blanket falling back to the cot, He turned to face the seated Feliciano. "I can not take the easy vay out and run avay. I must show him that a real soldier is unafraid to die for his country!"
"No, Ludwig, I have been trying to get you out since I heard you had been taken prisoner in November!" Feliciano stood now too, and looked up with eyes threatening tears.
Ludwig was taken aback. "Really?" He sat back down on the cot and Feliciano did the same. "Si! You saved my life, I did not want to think of you in this prison!" The Italian sat his hands over the German's again. "And when my second cousin was killed and my Grandfather promoted me to his position I thought of no one I could trust more than you. Feliciano rushed his words out, terrified of Ludwig's cool words of resignation. "You will gain nothing from my death, and you will be freed from here and not have to die!"
The blonde turned to the brunette fully."Vell, true I do not vant to hurt you…But vhy vould anyone? Vhat vould anyone have to gain from your death?" Ludwig felt his stomach knot and his heart rate quicken. Maybe he was getting sick. He had begun to sweat a little. There could be no other explanation for these symptoms…could there? Nein.
The brunette had gotten quiet again. Ludwig just waited for an answer as he looked at the smaller man. He had spent so many hours wondering if he had made it out of Caporetto alive. He never thought he would get the answer to that question. The German smiled inwardly. Ludwig's heart was lighter knowing Feliciano was ok, more than ok, by the way it appeared the Italian was downright affluent.
Finally Feliciano spoke and Ludwig understood how he was able to dress so well, given the current crisis.
"My full name is Feliciano Vargas." Oh, of course, Ludwig was from Germany, the brunette thought to himself at the nonplussed expression on the other man's face. "My famiglia is, well," Feliciano was getting more and more nervous thinking about the others he had told this too before. "No one says no to my grandpa Rome because he is, we are," He looked up into the startlingly blue eyes. "We are the mafia. Organized crime."
Ludwig blinked. This innocent petite Italian was in the mafia? "I have underestimated you, Feliciano. Vhat do you need me for? Surely you can handle yourself?"
The brunette shook his head violently. "No no no, I can't! I'm only seventeen, I should be working my way to the top for years to come, not pushed into the position of Don so quickly!"
At the look on the blonde's face Feliciano realized he hadn't gotten to that part yet. He launched immediately into exactly what happened to his second cousin, the four other families in America, his brother in Spain, what the mafia did and didn't do, how unprepared he knew himself to be, no matter how he had been practicing and learning from his grandfather. How lonely it felt to know that now he had been promoted he couldn't trust the cousins he had grown up with, and how much he really did need Ludwig.
"Veh~" Feliciano ended the entire speech in what had nearly been one sentence with small breaks for air. He leaned his head onto the soldier's arm.
Ludwig looked down at the brunette with his signature little stray curl. What a strange curl. He reached up to tuck it back. Feliciano gasped at the touch and blushing pulled back from the other man's broad shoulder.
"Vhat did I do? I'm sorry!" Ludwig felt his face coloring and wasn't sure what his hand had done. He barely knew Feliciano, why had he felt the need to reach out into the Italian's mahogany hair?
"No, it's ok Ludwig. It is just very sensitive." Feliciano smiled and reached out a hand again to the German's wrists. "So…will you come with me? To Madrid? To Chicago?"
The larger man looked distraught. "I do not vant to be a traitor. Vhat else vould I be if I left here und did not go immediately to rejoin the other soldiers still fighting?"
"You would be alive! Dio Mio, Ludwig, you will be shot tomorrow if you do not come." Feliciano continued near to tears. "And I'll never make it alone without you. I know we only just met for a few minutes, but I know I can trust you."
Before Ludwig could answer, a shadow crossed the open door. Both young men turned to face Rome who stood in the doorway of the cell, the keys to Ludwig's cuffs in his hand.
"Ludwig?" The elder Vargas asked.
"You have family in Germany?"
"Ja..mein bruder." He reiterated in English. "My brother."
"Things are hard in Germany now, si?"
Ludwig was silent. He looked from Rome's calm eyes and easy smile to Feliciano's teary expression and back.
"Si." Rome continued. "So do you not think you and your brother would be better off in another country for a little while? Make some money, go back to Germany when things have calmed down. The war will be over soon I think, but Germany will have to recover for some time. Don't you think it would be best to get your family out of there for now?
Blue eyes hardened. "I vill not take the easy vay out and let Cadorna think the German military is veak. I am not afraid to die."
Rome continued from the doorway. "Good. Good, you may have to do that for my grandson. For some reason he will take no other as his bodyguard."
Ludwig glanced back to Feliciano. "Per favore? You don't have to die. It doesn't matter what Cadorna thinks. He'll be fired soon. I'm sure of that." Feliciano looked to his grandfather who nodded from the doorway, then turned back to Ludwig. "You have a brother? I have a brother too – I would never want him to die, I bet your brother would feel the same way about you. Per favore?"
Feliciano leaned in and whispered to the German soldier who blushed furiously at his words "Per favore, Please? I don't want you to die either."
Ludwig didn't know why but he genuinely cared what the petite Italian said, and that he was near to tears pained him somewhere deep in his chest, he felt like he might be getting heartburn and attributed all his physical symptoms to the cold he was surely coming down with. But he truly didn't want Feliciano to cry and his and his grandfather's words did make sense. He and Gilbert could start fresh for a little while in Chicago.
"Ja. Alright. Don't look at me like that." Ludwig blushed further as he looked down at Feliciano who wiped his eyes and then grinned.
Rome tossed the keys to the German who caught them in his cupped hands. The slight man beside him took them and quickly unlocked the cuffs to free the blonde's larger hands.
The two men stood, Ludwig suddenly felt he couldn't move fast enough now that he had decided to go. He was free. He was getting the hell out of the Castillo di Padova.
The taller man handed his petite friend his coat and then gathered his few things; the scarf he wrapped around his neck, the beer bottle he put in one of the large pockets of his pants, the letters he lovingly folded and put in the other.
As the three men left the cell and walked down the hall, Ludwig's fellow prisoners yelled after him, some angry he was leaving while they stayed, but most cheering him on for the opportunity.
With Feliciano beside him, Ludwig stopped at the guard's station and after looking over the desk, he saw the paper his brother had sent. He reached across and in one swift move took it. The Italians looked to Feliciano and his grandfather and did nothing.
The next day, as Feliciano packed his things, Ludwig sat at a desk in the spare room he had been given for the night at the Vargas' spacious villa. Feliciano's Grandfather had already sent a man to take his measurements the night they got back from Padua and Ludwig now had a duffle bag full of new clothing. The entire day had been one of the strangest he had ever experienced.
The blonde ran a hand through his hair, smoothing it back. It had felt amazingly wonderful to have a warm shower, soft warm bed, and a real meal, though it still paled in comparison to the meals he used to enjoy at home. Ludwig still had an uncomfortable knot in his stomach. He wasn't sure if what he had done was the honorable thing…He only knew he had inexplicably been unable to say no to Feliciano and that his grandfather had made a good point. He hoped Gilbert agreed.
Ludwig took out the paper his brother had sent, even though now he could have asked Rome for a piece of paper, he preferred to rely on himself. He coughed once as he prepared to write, but he was feeling much better after a good night's sleep. He had forgotten what good sleep felt like over the past four months.
Thinking over how to tell his brother about the new developments in his life, Ludwig finally put pen to paper.
4th, February, 1918
Mein lieber Bruder,
First, Danke for the scarf! The Italians nearly didn't give it to me with the emblem of the eagle on it! I laughed so hard at your nerve, bruder, It made me so happy! Also, danke for the stamps and paper, I will definitely make use of these in the coming months. Speaking of the months to come, I have news; you may find it a mixed blessing, as do I. I think I should start at the beginning. At Caporetto, I spared a civilian, an Italian, a year younger than me. As it happens, he is the grandson of a crime boss here. more particularly
the crime boss here. I dont know if you may have heard of Roman Vargas? I had not, but I know in your club you hear more than I about things such as that. Now, how to say this...? They came to me, the Don and his grandson I saved, Feliciano. They offered to free me in exchange for taking Feliciano to the United States, as a bodyguard. At first I refused; I didn't want to take the easy way out. I want to fight, I still want to go back to the field. I still felt it would be traitorous of me, even when they told me Cadorna intended to make an example of me if I stayed. Bruder, you know I would face the firing squad with dignity, I hope I have made the right decision. Feliciano said he could not trust his family to help him, and then his Grandfather suggested that with the situation in the fatherland deteriorating, it might be best to take some time in another country for a while and then come back after things have gotten better after the war. Oh, I hope I made the right decision bruder! I can not explain myself, I feel that this Feliciano needs my help. We will be going to Spain to meet with Feliciano's brother. I hope you will join us there as soon as you can travel out of Berlin. I can not imagine we will be away from our Deutschland long bruder, but I think it may be the most responsible thing to do. I do not know how long it will take us to get to Madrid, we will be traveling through France, which will be dangerous so it may take some time. But I will write as soon as we arrive.
Danke Bruder, I could not have gotten through these four months without your letters, I hope you will join me in Spain soon.
all meiner Liebe,
14th of February 1918
Gilbert ran a hand through his white hair and poured over his brother's letter. So he'd escaped? Gott sei Dank. Gilbert sat behind the bar of his nearly empty club and felt the pangs in his stomach that alcohol couldn't sooth. It was getting harder and harder to keep the club open even with the soldiers and their demand for entertainment.
All these months Gilbert had tried to keep the truth of the situation in Germany from his brother. He didn't want to add to his pile of worries. He couldn't let Ludwig know just how much that spoiled wurst had cost him. He couldn't let him know how he was scraping to get by. He just couldn't tell his brother their people were starving when Ludwig was struggling to keep his hopes alive in the midst of suicide, execution and brutal captivity.
Ludwig was his only family left, his little brother, and Gilbert would sacrifice everything for him just like a parent. He didn't care if he had to go hungry to get Ludwig his stamps, to get him his scarf. If it had kept him warm, kept him smiling even for a little while, then it was worth it. Still, he didn't want him to know. He couldn't let him know how bad it really was.
Gilbert wasn't thrilled about Ludwig taking up with the Italian mafia but at least they could provide for him, which was more than Gilbert could honestly claim at the moment.
It would hurt them both to leave Germany but Gilbert had no doubt it was what must be done; for the time being, at least.
It was just like Ludwig to worry about whether looking out for his own life would've tarnished his honor. If Gilbert could, he would've shaken him and asked him just what good he thought letting himself be executed by those bastard Italians would do the Fatherland.
The pale man felt a weary smile grace his face. His Ludwig, always worrying that a single toe might have strayed from the path of uprightness. He thanked providence that Ludwig had saved that young Italian. If Cadorna had made an example of him, it would've been the end for Gilbert. He couldn't have gone on. But he tried not to think of that, instead he turned his thoughts to Spain and how he could get there.
14th of February, 1918
Along the southern coast of France.
As the pale German in his East Berlin club read and re-read the letter his brother had sent him, Ludwig stood guard against a tree along the coast of France. He waited as Feliciano knelt praying, at the rocky cliff face overlooking the sandy beach below and the cold waves of the Mediterranean in February.
The Italian stood and dusted his knees. "Veh~ The family will be sitting down to St. Valentine's dinner now." He sighed and looked out to the sea. The petite Mafioso hugged his arms tight around his coat and shivered.
Ludwig was hungry as well, They had only a little food to last them as they made it through France. "Come avay from the cliff Feliciano. It is warmer under the trees."
Feliciano did as Ludwig asked, and found it was less cold, but certainly not warm by any stretch of the imagination. He sat down beside Ludwig against one of the largest trees. The German had retrieved a blanket from his pack and constructed a make-shift tent.
"L-Ludwig," Feliciano said after some minutes of silence, his teeth chattering as evening truly set in. "C-Can't we light j-just a l-little fire?"
Ludwig's brow furrowed as the knot in his stomach returned. He felt guilty for Feliciano's discomfort simply by being who he was. A German in an Allied country.
"Feliciano, you could just go into town und stay in a hotel if you did not insist on me being vith you. I can stay here und vait for you to return." Ludwig spoke through clenched teeth. He refused to give in to the cold ever again.
"N-no." the Italian shook his head, as he had the last several nights. "N-no, I-I'll be ok."
As Feliciano shivered and held his coat close around him, Ludwig leaned against the tree and looked up through the edge of the blanket to the velvety black sky through the tree tops. The air smelled of possible snow. Blue eyes anguished, he looked back to the petite brunette beside him. Feliciano. The young civilian he had saved at Caporetto, the budding Mafioso who had saved him from execution in Padova, who would be the youngest ever Don, and Ludwig's boss in Chicago, should he take the offered job. He knew he would. Feliciano. The small brunette shivering in the French woods because he wanted to stay with Ludwig. He was all these and a friend.
The broad German reached out to pull the petite Italian close to him. "Here Feli-" Ludwig coughed once as the cold wind blew through the trees and along the forest floor at the edge of the cliffs.
Nestled close against the German's broad chest, Feliciano's heart sped in his chest, his face flushed pink and he was suddenly much warmer. Eyes closed he smiled, his face hidden in Ludwig's coat. "Grazie." He whispered as the larger man rubbed his hands along Feliciano's cold arms. "I like that." He whispered up from his place in the German's arms.
"Ja, friction keeps the body varm." Ludwig said, feeling his face blush.
"No, the name. No one has given me a nickname before." Feliciano's words came drowsily up to Ludwig.
"Ah, Feli?" The German spoke softer, sure that he must be coming down with something as his body ran suddenly hot and his heart tightened.
"Mmmm Si." Feliciano didn't know if Ludwig would ever reciprocate his feelings, but if not, the Italian would be content as long as the German was a friend.
It took the two men another week to reach Spain, and a few more days until they reached Madrid. Feliciano's brother was not thrilled to see the German who accompanied his brother and was clearly close to him, but understanding that his frattelino was to be the don of Chicago, he begrudgingly welcomed Ludwig.
Feliciano turned 18 soon after their arrival. Antonio, Romano's Spanish boyfriend threw a great party, though as most parties with the two, this one ended with Romano and Antonio arguing, Romano throwing a tomato at Antonio before storming off, Antonio pouting.
Ludwig turned 19 in July and demanded not to have a party, instead he insisted they focus on how they were to get to America. There was no way around the German blockade. This did not stop Feliciano from surprising him with cake and throwing him a party anyway.
As the seasons changed and summer turned to Fall, the war took a decided shift and then ended. The allied nations had won, the central powers had lost. Ludwig excused himself to the Spaniard's balcony. He wasn't sure how to feel. He felt relieved, depressed, hopeful, guilty, and concerned for the future of his homeland all at once.
Soon after the war was over, a pale haired German arrived at the address his brother had sent him. Ludwig embraced his bruder and introduced him to Feliciano, who Gilbert got along with right away, thanking the petite Italian for getting his bruder out of prison. Romano scoffed at having to put up with another potato eating German, but found himself tolerating Ludwig's older brother much more than he expected too as Gilbert and Antonio became fast friends and the three spent a lot of time together. When talking about the impending journey to America, Antonio would often leave, as he had expressed to Romano several times that he wanted him to stay in Spain. The two older siblings would often wander off as the younger ones talked and got to know eachother better. Romano usually passive aggressive, Gilbert way to busy planning for his awesome new club in Chicago to notice.
The end of the beginning!
I hope you all enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it! I only have two more finals left, and then I'll be getting back to Its Just Business. (For those who find this before they read Its Just Business, that is the 1920 story that follows this backstory. – Go to my profile to find it, it is on going!)(as of today – 5/3/2011)
Maria, Madre di Dio = Mary, mother of god
Halt! Er ist ein Zivilist! = Stop, he is a civilian!
Was machst du hier? = What are you doing here?
Cosa? = what?
Si = yes in Italian, Ja/nein = yes in German, no in german
per favore = please
Signore = sir
Signori = sirs
Scuse = apologies, escuse me
Gott verdammt= God damnit
Wo sind die Granaten = Where are the grenades?
Regazzi del 99 = refers to the boys of '99, the conscription of all Italian young men who turned 18 that year after the defeat at caporetto. this continued until the end of the war
Fratello = brother
Morto = dead
vivo = alive
eins, zwei, drie, etc = Ludwig counting in German.
mio nipote = my grandson
Che non è necessario = thats not necessary
Danke and Grazie for reviews! They keep me writing!