"And if I show you my dark side
Will you still hold me tonight?
And if I open my heart to you
And show you my weak side
What would you do? "
Ludwig was in the middle of reading when he got a phone call. Already slightly irritated, the annoyance grew as a teenaged female voice started speaking, a bit difficult to understand amongst static and another voice.
"Mr. Germany, Vene—Italy wanted me to call you to say that he won't be home for a while, so—" she cut off into giggling at something.
"Very well, Lili. Make sure he doesn't do anything stupid."
"J-Ja, I will…" the girl said in between giggles. Ludwig sighed, and hung up the phone, trying to get his mind back into the book he had been reading. After a minute, he gave up and stood, grumbling to himself.
"He comes here so much that he thinks he lives here. Why did she have to call?"
He suddenly felt burning jealousy, an uncomfortable and not entirely unfamiliar feeling. But how could be envious towards Italy? He was bumbling, childish, cowardly… but he was so happy in his ignorance. He was even able to make Lili happy, obviously—they had been dating behind her overly-protective brother's back for weeks now. Ludwig began to pace, a habit from the second World War that had been coming back recently, and clenched his teeth together, wishing that he would stop feeling so bad.
Earlier that day he had picked up his phone twice, both times with the intention of calling Yekaterina. The first time, he had gotten as far as to dial the number before hanging up; the second time he had just stared at the buttons for a moment, the fingers of his other hand tapping restlessly on the table top. Then he had given up and had gone to start to make food for lunch, cursing himself for his cowardice.
What would he say if he did call her, though? I'm sorry that my brother tried to force you to kiss me, want to go out sometime?
He slapped his hand to his forehead, groaning in frustration. Give him anything, any kind of fight, any kind of work, and he would easily get through it with precision and accuracy. Give him something like this, though—this weird emotional situation—and it was just the opposite.
Guilt was part of it, he knew that. He hated himself daily for what he had done in the past. The guilt was like a bullet in his heart that couldn't be removed. And he knew that for the most part he had been forgiven, but there would always be that tiny glint of blame in anyone else's eyes if he were to speak to them; even from others who were part of the Axis. The war had begun with him, and it had ended with his own miserable defeat.
He could live with that. He always had. But now there was this woman—this sweet, warm, motherly, fearful woman—that he was beginning to have feelings for. Feelings? No, it was more than that… wasn't it? He really didn't know enough about the subject of affection to really place it.
"Katya Braginskaya," he murmured to himself. Just saying her name made his heart beat faster.
Someone knocked on his door three times, the sound echoing through the house. Running his fingers through his hair, he made his way over, ready to lecture Italy on how he had his own house to go to.
He definitely didn't expect who he saw.
He was dimly aware of the blood rushing to his face. After a moment of trying to regain his ability to speak, he blinked and tried to look more casual. "Frau Ukraine."
"I-I'm sorry for just coming here, but I had a question."
"Ja, go ahead. Uh, would you like to come in? It's starting to rain."
She looked up at him for a moment before nodding slightly. "If it's okay."
"Of course," he replied, moving aside. She was obviously uncomfortable, but her shyness almost made him smile. He realized he had nothing to be nervous about, but he still felt the blood rush to his face when she looked at him again.
"I'm sorry," she repeated, her voice a bit louder than before.
"Why is that, Fraulein?"
It was her turn to blush, pink creeping up her usually pale face. Something about his voice…
"I-I was worried, Mr. Germany, about Ivan and Natalya. Have they been, I mean, uh…"
Ludwig tilted his head and observed her as she struggled to find the right word. "Bothering you?"
"Not as much as Gilbert bothers you, I'm sure." It was a lie, but he didn't like how frightened her mannerisms seemed—her eyes darting from the floor to him to the window to the door, and her hands moving together in front of her. She would do the same thing back when he was forcing her to learn his own language, and he didn't like being reminded of that time.
"Oh." She seemed only slightly relieved, but she managed a small smile.
"There's nothing to worry about, Frau Ukraine. Ivan is just naturally… concerned… for you. Anyone would." He realized that by saying that he was implying that he himself was dangerous, and hastily tried to cover the bad word choice. "He hasn't gotten over the war, I mean."
They stood, Ludwig watching Yekaterina and the woman trying not to meet his eyes. The silence was an uncomfortable one, the air thick with tension.
"Speaking of," the man continued, to break the silence, "I apologize for mein bruder's insolence. He has the mind of a ten-year-old with ADHD."
This made her smile a little. "It's okay…"
Another painful moment of silence, again broken by Ludwig.
"Would you, ah, like to stay for a while? It is rather ugly weather."
"I don't want to bother you, were you in the middle of somethi—"
Nein, Italy is out with his friend, so I have no messes to clean up, and I baked a cake this morning, we can have some of that," he interrupted quickly. He hoped that it wouldn't show in his face or his voice how desperately he wanted her to stay.
"I could…" she said quietly, her face reddening again. The frustration from before came back to Ludwig, but he made himself smile slightly.
"How is everything, back at home?" he asked, gesturing for her to follow him into the kitchen. She thought for a second before answering.
"Well, the wheat crop has been planted… uh, well, not much else," she said softly, feeling an uncomfortable wave of nostalgia as she glanced around the room. The house seemed more cheerful than the last time she had seen it, but still there was an air of foreboding and anxiety that she could feel. A chill rippled through her body and she shuddered. Ludwig turned and gazed down at her, realizing that a friendly evening together wouldn't be very likely and changing his expression along with his mindset.
"I guess you're not too happy about being here." The sentence was devoid of emotion.
For some reason, her avoidance of the question almost put him past his limit of frustration. The self-control he always took pride in almost slipped, but he managed to not act on the sudden urge he had to push her against the kitchen wall and tell her everything he felt towards her.
"Don't try to make me out as innocent, Fraulein." He realized how harsh the statement was after he said it, but then he decided that it was just how it needed to sound. The fluttery, hopefulness he had felt when she had first come turned to something different—something that he knew he had shown before to her, but he couldn't remember when…
"Mr. Germany, a-are you okay?" she asked as his face paled and his smile disappeared.
"Nein, ich bin es nicht," he replied, accidently speaking in German.
She took a few steps closer and looked him as if searching for something, her own eyes widening slightly with worry. "Mr. Germany?"
"Fraulein, are you afraid of me?" he asked suddenly, both arms shooting out to take her gently by the shoulders, gazing at her imploringly.
"N-Nyet, I have no reason—"
"Stop trying to pretend I never hurt you!" he demanded, his fingers closing more tightly around her shoulders. She breathed in quickly and put her own hands over his.
"Do I have a reason to be afraid of you now?" she asked, her tone becoming more motherly and understanding. It was the way she talked to Ivan, sometimes, when he was upset. It was easier to keep her voice even and her thoughts straight when she compared calming Ludwig to consoling her brother, although the two were so very different.
"I don't know." It was an honest answer on his part, he was feeling things towards her at that moment that might terrify her.
Yekaterina stared up at him with her big, blue-green eyes for another moment before Ludwig couldn't take any more of it.
"Katya…" he said, his expression pleading, "I'm sorry."
"I know." The words were almost too soft to hear.
"When he said… what he said about you… I forced myself to believe it. I ruined everything, I ruined half of the world. I killed… I loved killing. I loved the taste of blood, the sight of destroying the weak ones, the imperfections. Because he made me believe that it was okay, it was acceptable, it was right…"
As he spoke, his voice grew hushed, more desperate. She could practically see reflections of the Holocaust in his eyes, and it frightened her.
"I loved watching the fires, Katya," he whispered, his voice full of a sort of numbness and guilt. Their faces were close now, and the idea to move away from him vaguely stirred in the back of her mind, and then died.
"Mr. Germany," she said, trying to bring him back from the past he was reliving. It seemed to work, because his eyes focused again on hers.
"Katya, Ich habe dich geliebt, schon damals. Please, please, forgive me."
She looked up at him for a few more seconds.
"Mr. Germany, I had forgiven you the moment you let me go," she said, knowing it was true the moment the words were spoken. She realized then that she was in love with him. The realization was like stepping into a trench and being pulled under cold, unforgiving water. His pale blue eyes suddenly looked threatening, as though he suspected she was lying, but then he let go of her shoulders, wrapping his arms instead around her waist and pulling her closer.
"Promise me this, Katya."
Her hands went to hold his wrists, as if to pull his arms off of her. It was the opposite of what he wanted to do. Pulling her body forcefully against his, he caught her mouth with his own and began to kiss her, feeling her moan in surprise as his lips worked almost angrily against hers. All the guilt, frustration, sadness, and want that had built up through the years went into every touch between them; they could feel each other's heart beating against their own. When he finally pulled away from her, she stood on tiptoe so she could whisper to him—she felt that if she tried to speak above that she would faint; she felt dizzy.
"Ya lyublyu tebe…"
He nuzzled her neck, still feeling her quickened heartbeat against his chest. It seemed as if then, everything would be alright. They stood together, holding each other, each hardly believing what had just happened.
"Ich liebe dich, Yekaterina," he whispered back, the very words making his mind and heart buzz.
Yekaterina Braginskaya closed her eyes and smiled, love shielding her from any doubt she had left in her mind.