Spain hated kids.

They were loud, annoying and they always cried for their mommy. He couldn't stand them running about, breaking things as they went, screaming at every single hour of the day, demanding attention. Their strange falsetto voices were creepy and he hated how they had that look of pure innocence even when they did something extremely nasty.

He preferred kids to stay far away from him.

What he really wanted was the gold, the new territories and to become great, maybe even greater than that bastard of England, and all of this needed planning and thinking, things that he really couldn't do if there was a kid around, screaming his soul out.

Maybe that was why he never took a colony home if he could. Except, this time, he had no other choice.

Austria took what he had aspired to rule and he was left with the part he wanted the less. But it was better than nothing, he though, and he had to surveillance his new colony twenty-four hours a day if he wanted to make sure no one was going to take him away from him. Leaving him alone was out of the question.

He knew he was going to greatly hate himself for this decision one day.

South Italy was a kid, a mini-nation. Spain immediately knew he was trouble as soon as he noticed the arrogant way he stared back at him, the way his arms were crossed over his chest and the way his mouth twisted in disgust as Spain approached him.

An aggressive one. How unlucky, Spain thought. No wonder Austria hadn't wanted him.

The bastard.

They stared at each other for long, before South Italy shouted at him in Italian and made to run away from him as fast as his little legs could carry him. Spain didn't have any problems catching him and a moment later South Italy was fighting in his arms for freedom. Great. Now he has a reason more for taking it home.

He tried to smile. Someone told him that kids needed to be reassured that nothing was going to happen to them.

"Don't worry! You are in good hands. Nothing is going to happen to you!" he tried to say cheerfully, hoping the stupid kid would finally calm down and follow him home. He didn't want to use violence. Not yet, at least. The little guy, though, didn't buy it and bit his hand instead.

Patience, Spain told himself. His hand hurt and his smile started wavering. Patience. Kids need patience, didn't they say? South Italy was making him run low on it, though, as he kept screaming and kicking and cursing. He never thought that the Italian language could feel this cruel.

With all the patience he could master, Spain dragged the rebellious little nation home, where he knew South Italy couldn't escape. When they finally arrived, Spain unceremoniously dropped him on the floor and hoped the brat would take the message and finally shut up. South Italy, though, kept shouting at him and even run after him, throwing his little fists in the air, when Spain tried to walk away as far away as possibly from the little brat.

"Bastard!" it kept shouting. "You'll regret this! Leave me alone! Stupid! Your house sucks!"

Spain sighed and tried to smile at the nation once more.

"Are you hungry?"

South Italy blinked at him for a moment and Spain thought he had finally caught the brat's attention. Kids were really difficult but maybe they just needed to be fed first. Like dogs…

"I don't want any of your dirty food! Bastard! Let me go!", South Italy started shouting again. Spain couldn't take the continuous complaints anymore.

He wanted him to stop! Spain swore he was going to cut the little kid in two if he didn't stop right then. He noticed some tomatoes, a new fruit (or was it a vegetable?) he discovered in the New World, and, curious, throw one at the little nation.

South Italy was taken aback. He caught the tomato in two hands and stared at the round red thing for a long minute.

"What is it, bastard?" the little one exclaimed. Spain looked at him, raising his eyebrow at the sudden interest.

"A tomato…" he said, "It's eatable and you must be hungry…"

South Italy stared at the vegetable. Spain stared at him. Unexpectedly South Italy gave a bite and Spain was glad that he found a way to make him stop screaming.

"You'll stay with me from now on…" Spain told him, smiles and kind words aside. "You are going to work here", he took some clothes Spain had found for the brat. He wondered why he troubled himself with this kid, in the first place, and he looked over his shoulder to check if the kid had listened to him at all.

"I do not work!" South Italy spat back, the tomato's water running down his chin. Spain blinked at the scene, his heart skipping a beat. He wondered what that was all about. Probably he was just scared his new carpet was going to be ruined if the brat kept eating like that. Yes. Probably that was it.

"You are my new colony…" Spain tried to reason. "And as such you…"

"I don't fucking care! Do it yourself, bastard!", South Italy cut him out, totally ignoring what Spain was saying.

Spain wanted to laugh. The brat didn't fear him at all, unlike his other colonies. Without another word he threw the clothes he was holding at South Italy, who let them drop to the floor, without giving them much of a look.

"These are going to be your clothes from now on…" Spain said. South Italy didn't even glance at them. By then, South Italy had finished his tomato and he cleaned his hands on his own clothes, staining them with tomato juice. Spain stared at the motion as if hypnotized and then looked up at the boy's face. "Yours are dirty, you should really change…" Spain added then.

South Italy looked down at his white robes, then at the clothes on the floor then back at Spain. His hazel eyes were suspicious, angry even, but, for the first time since he carried the little nation home, Spain finally saw the concealed fear in them.

((And Spain thought, somewhere in the back of his mind, that it hurt to see such emotion in that boy's eyes.))

Spain tried to smile again, to make South Italy feel better, but he really didn't know if he was doing it right as South Italy just took a step back in rejoin. Suddenly, South Italy looked down at the offered clothes again and without another word, picked them up and walked away in some part of the house. Spain sighed.

This was going to be hard.

: : :

To see him run about in his big house in those new clothes for the next days was really a sight, Spain thought. He really looked like a little girl with that bandana around his head. An always pouting little girl. It was kind of cute, in a way.

Unfortunately, though, South Italy (or Romano, as the brat preferred to be called) really didn't want to do anything, not even the tiniest little chore. He kept swearing in Italian, he fell asleep in the most unlikely places, or kept demanding the little red juicy thing over and over again. At least eating made him more manageable. If only he would eat everything.

Romano wanted either food from his own land or tomatoes. He didn't touch anything else Spain gave him, not even the bread. It was really frustrating the way the brat kept declining everything. Spain even considered stop feeding him, hoping that hunger was going to do its wonders sooner or later, but the brat just grew more maddening and always on the verge of tears by hunger.

Spain couldn't stand seeing him cry, so he started trying to give him his food again. Romano kept refusing it.

Considering Romano wasn't going to lift a finger as much as Spain forced him to it, Spain decided he could try teaching Romano some Spanish. At least, Spain thought, it would feel like Romano had done something at least. Moreover, Spain thought, South Italy would, maybe, finally, accept his new culture and start eating what Spain cooked for him.

He was too optimist.

Spanish lessons were disappointing. Romano kept falling asleep during Spain's lectures and, when he was awake, he would start laughing, saying things like:

"Why you say that word like this? Ridiculous!"

Spain would sigh and massage his temples, trying with all his might not to hit the mini-nation hard across the face.

((But then, Romano would cry and Spain couldn't stand that.))

But all of the above weren't as seriously frustrating as the next facts. Romano's bathroom problem, for once, was making him lose control. No matter how many times Spain had tried to show Romano around his house, Romano kept forgetting. When he needed to pee, Romano could never find the bathroom and Spain was always running after him, a broom in one hand and a wet rag in the other.

If his men could see him, Spain always wondered. He wasn't going to be taken seriously ever again.

"Spain!" Romano shouted, his face red. Spain thought he looked like a little tomato. It would be cute if it wasn't for the wetness on Romano's pants. Not again. "Your house is too big, dammit!"

Another problem were the nights. Romano was given his own room, far away from Spain's own, but Spain could hear him perfectly even with such a distance between them. Romano's constant cries at night made Spain's heart heavy. He didn't know what to do. He considered giving him away once, but then decided against it.

((The house would feel too empty and that thought alone made Spain feel terrible.))

He needed to get away from Romano for a period of time. Spain really didn't want to leave Romano alone, he was scared he was going to kill himself in a way or another, but he needed to clear his head.

The opportunity came when he was ordered to return to the New World, to his other colonies. He was going to stay away from Romano for a long period of time, as the journey wasn't that short even for nations.

"I'm going away for a mission, Romano!" he said, smiling. Romano stared at him, chewing on his tomato like nothing was going on.

"As if I care, bastard! Try not to return ever again!" he exclaimed. Spain patted Romano on the head, felt the bandana under his fingers (and wondered what that curl felt like on his skin).

"Are you sure you are going to make it on your own?" Spain said, ignoring Romano's antics. He slowly was getting used to it and he was proud of his accomplishment. Romano slapped his hand away and said:

"I don't need you, motherfu—"

"Language, Romano!"

Spain kept smiling even if he knew that his accomplishments weren't that big, after all. He was trying really hard to get along with the kid but everything he did was useless. He looked back at Romano once more, his heart grave, before he joined his men waiting for him. He wondered if Romano was really going to wait for him, or if he was going to run away now that he had the chance. He wondered who would protect him, if anyone decided to take advantage of his absence.

He wondered if Romano was going to make it on his own… or miss him.

Those questions were always somewhere in the back of his mind throughout the journey. He did the best he could in the New World to get rid of them. His plans were going well, his new colonies were obedient and learned fast. His men were loyal and did everything he ordered.

((Sometimes Spain missed the fact no one dared to contest him.))

One day, as he patrolled one of his new cities, a kid suddenly showed up and was almost hit by his horse. Nothing serious happened but the kid was so shocked, he started crying loudly in the middle of the road. Spain, without really thinking, hopped off his horse, approached the kid, patted him on the head and smiled at him reassuringly.

"Are you hurt?" he asked, worried. The kid stared at him, his big hazel eyes wet. Spain didn't notice his men staring at him, shocked, and neither did he care. The kid slowly shook his head no and dried his eyes with his right's hand palm. Spain wanted to take him in his arms but he suddenly felt bad at the mere thought.

As the kid slowly smiled back at him, Spain understood that he needed to return home.

Unfortunately, he had to take the field once more and his journey back was delayed. He won but he lost many men in the fights. His clothes were bloody and he was hurt all over.

Even when he arrived finally home, his wounds didn't heal as they kept opening again and again throughout the journey. He couldn't wait to lie down and forget the pain.

He opened the door for the first time after so much time away and he didn't expect the house to be so dark inside. He wondered where Romano was but he was too tired to call out for him. Suddenly, he heard footsteps running down the stairs and Spain turned his head slowly to the side to see Romano stare at him some distance away from him.

"Roma—", his words stopped in his throat as soon as he noticed the emotion on the other nation's face: Romano was shaking in fear and his eyes were examining him as if he was some kind of monster. Spain, confused, made a step forward and reached out for him. Unconsciously, Romano made a step back.

Spain then realized how he looked: with his clothes dirty and his axe handing by his side, still dripping with blood, he must look terrifying, he thought. Romano had never seen him like this.

"Romano… I'm…" he wanted to apologize.

((And then wondered: what for?))

Romano started silently crying then and it was Spain's turn to be shocked when Romano abruptly turned around and run away somewhere in the house, far away from him.

He felt as if stabbed. He dropped the axe down and for a moment fought with the urge to run after Romano. But he needed to take care of himself first, he reasoned, and so he made his way up to his room, to his bathroom. He just wanted to take a bath, throw, no, burn his bloodied clothes, and hide his weapons. Forever.

He hadn't known how much he hadn't wanted Romano to see him like that again until that day.

The warm water soothed him, the terrible things he done slowly faded from his mind. He wondered what Romano was doing then, if he was crying himself to sleep. So deep in thought as he was, he didn't hear the door slowly creak open and it was only when he opened his eyes that Spain noticed Romano stared at him, his cheeks red and his eyes still wet.

"Romano…" he whispered. Romano didn't say anything and just walked slowly over to him. He was glad Romano wasn't tall enough to see the dirty water over the bathtub. "Romano…" he tried again, but Romano just took his hand that was leaning out the tub and stared at the deep cuts on Spain's fingers as if mesmerized.

Spain felt his chest warm up and, surprisingly, let Romano study his hand. Romano's fingers were warm against his skin and soft, so unlike his own, which were hardened by the battles. Romano had that look of pure determination and wonder in his eyes that Spain found so appealing.

"Does it hurt…?" Romano asked suddenly, breaking the silence that formed between them, his eyes still looking down. It took Spain a while to register what Romano had said and he blinked at the little nation, before he slowly smiled at him.

"No, not that much…" he whispered, hoping he sounded convincing. Romano wasn't fooled.

"I brought bandages…" he said instead, his voice soft and embarrassed. Spain smiled. Romano abruptly let go of his hand and Spain suddenly felt cold. He needed to feel that warmth again and so Spain lifted his hand and caressed Romano's across the cheek with his thumb. Romano soft gasp went unnoticed.

"Thanks…" Spain said. Romano stared at him, his eyes unreadable. Spain smiled again and Romano bit his lips and abruptly stood up and run away.

Spain didn't hear from Romano until later that night, when he was lying down awake in his bed. Someone softly knocked on his door and Spain didn't have the time to answer that the door opened, letting Romano in. The kid was blushing madly and once again Spain thought he looked like a tiny tomato.

"What is it?" Spain asked, slightly curious. Romano was hugging his pillow close and was looking at anywhere else but Spain.

Romano blurted something Spain didn't immediately understand. Spain stared at him confused and Romano blushed even harder.

"CanIsleepwithyou?" Romano exclaimed then, louder.

"I'm sorry, I didn't quite catch that…" Spain said, laughing a little, embarrassed

"I'll sleep with you, bastard! That's it!" Romano shouted and hopped on the bed, immediately turning his back to Spain, so the older nation couldn't see his face. Spain stared at Romano's back, surprised at the turn of events.

"Yes, of course…" Spain whispered then, smiling a little. Romano curled in himself and didn't talk. Spain stared at Romano for a long time and listened to Romano slowly falling asleep. Kids were so tiny, Spain thought, but they have so loud voices. They are so fragile and still they trust people really easily.

((For the slightest of moments, he wondered what it would felt like to be inside that little body.))

Spain slapped himself. What was he thinking?

But then, stories of men that had raised kids to become their lovers when they became adults, filled his mind, and he wondered what would happen if he did the same thing too. No, it was sick. Spain thought. It wouldn't be right. He abruptly turned away from Romano and hid his face in his cushions.

What was he becoming? He wanted to scream. Why this kid was having such an impact on him?

He felt sick knowing Romano was sleeping peacefully beside him while he was having such dirty thoughts. And suddenly…

"Spain~"

Spain shot up and turned to look at Romano, scared he had woken him up. Romano had turned around to look at him but his eyes were still hermetically closed, he was still asleep. Spain felt his heart sped up and slowly he laid down again, stretching his arm to tentatively caress Romano on the cheek. Romano's hand suddenly shot up and took his fingers in his. Spain thought he had eventually woken him up but Romano's eyes were still closed and he was still dreaming.

Spain stared as Romano's little hand clutched his fingers as only kids could do. The sight made him warm inside and all previous thoughts vanished completely from his head.

No. He could never, ever hurt this boy like that.

He wanted him near. To protect him. To make him smile.

There was a line Spain wasn't meant to cross and Spain would hate himself if did. He would rather die before making Romano cry and break him.

"What did you do to me…" Spain wondered out loud. Romano just sighed in his sleep, still holding Spain's hand close.

His question would forever remain unanswered.

: : :

The next few days, as he watched Romano try (and failing) cleaning around, Spain decided that Romano should get out and see other kids his age. Probably it wasn't healthy that he spent all day long with him, he finally realized.

That, and he was afraid his house would be smashed if Romano kept on 'cleaning'. Brooms really weren't Romano thing and, as much as Spain was glad Romano finally decided to give him a hand, he preferred to see Romano do nothing than destroying all his precious vases and setting fire to his curtains.

It was Austria who came to visit him first, taking Italy along with him. Spain found the opportunity marvelous and he thought Romano would be happy to see his brother again after so much time.

He sat down on the grass, besides Austria, in the same fashion the two little Italians sat some distance before them. Spain couldn't hear what they were saying but he believed they were describing each other lives right then. It was funny, Spain thought, the way they stood side by side, their little curls almost tangled and forming a heart.

"Cute, isn't it?" Spain said, not really meaning to say it out loud. Austria, who had been standing silent besides him, turned to look at him.

"How is going with Romano, Spain?" the Austrian asked then, breaking the ice between them. Spain smiled at the other nation and laughed a little embarrassed.

"He is a difficult child but I manage…", he answered truthfully.

"Italy is really hard working…" Austria said, instead, probably to make him feel jealous, Spain thought. "I'm glad he's with me…"

"Romano is hard working too…" Spain immediately retorted, leaving the 'if he wanted' part aside. "I'm sure you'll like him…"

"I'm not going to trade Italy, Spain…"

Spain stared at Austria, then at Romano standing there with his brother. In that moment, the two boys stood up and Italy ran back into Austria's arms, laughing. Romano stood alone for a moment, his lips into a pout, and then slowly made up his mind and walked over to Spain's side. Spain watched as Romano sat down on the grass, his back turned to him. He suddenly felt an urge and without thinking took Romano in his arms and made him sit on his lap.

"Let me go, dammit!" Romano exclaimed immediately, his little fists up in the air. Spain just held him closer.

"I'm hungry~" Italy shouted then, cutting Romano's complaints in half. Three pairs of eyes turned to look at Austria, but the nation seemed completely unfazed by the looks.

"We are going to eat when we'll get home…" he said, not annoyed in the slightest. Italy seemed disappointed for a minute but then perked up when Austria slowly stood up. Spain and Romano watched them ready themselves for the journey home. Italy was almost jumping for happiness and Spain couldn't stop himself from saying:

"Italy is really cute, isn't he?" he smiled. He felt Romano tense up and suddenly Romano bit him hard on the arm. "Ow!" he screamed and, shocked, turned to look at Romano, who had taken advantage of his surprise and was already running quickly away. "Romano!" he shouted after him.

Spain didn't understand kids. He made to stand up and run after Romano, but Italy beat him to it, already running to reach his brother.

Austria made a step forwards to stop him but then reconsidered running after the two little nations and just sighed, crossing his arms over his chest. Spain stared as Romano shouted something at Italy, who seemed really confused.

Spain would never understand Romano.

"Antonio…" Austria said then. The use of his human name surprised Spain and he looked up from his injured hand to the other nation in question. "You changed…"

"Changed?" Spain didn't understand.

"I wonder sometimes how much you mean it when you say you want to trade Romano with me…"

"Eh?"

"They aren't going to stay with us forever, you know…" Austria said and with that walked over where Italy was talking animatedly with Romano. Spain watched him go, fetch Italy and drag him away from his brother.

Spain and the left mini-nation shared a look, before Romano shouted a 'bastard' and run away, Spain hoped, to their house.

"Why didn't you run after my brother, bastard!" Romano shouted when they finally reached home. Spain looked at him, his eyebrows raised.

"Look at you…" Spain said, ignoring him, "You're really cute blushing like that. Like a little tomato…"

"A tomato?" Romano screeched, becoming ten shades redder. Spain smiled and patted him on the head.

"I like tomatoes!" Spain said, laughing.

"Don't treat me like a kid!" Romano shouted back and run away again.

Spain wondered if that was the problem.

: : :

Austria's words had struck a cord.

He wondered if it was true, that one day Romano wasn't going to be there anymore, and his heart hurt. Every time we went for a mission or a battle, Romano was constantly on his mind. He pictured him alone, in that big house that Romano never managed to learn, crying, defenseless, until he couldn't take it anymore. Romano would, one day, be fed up with all of this and he would stand up, dry his eyes and walk away. Away from him. Forever.

Spain didn't really want to leave Romano alone, but he had to, and for very long periods of time too. But he would always come back to him, to make sure he was still there.

His first real fright had been that day when he and France had started fighting and the Ottoman Empire had taken advantage of it and tried kidnapping Romano.

Spain had swore he would never raise a sword before Romano in his life but it was necessary that time, as he stared at the Ottoman Empire's covered face, his heart beating madly and Romano shouting behind him something Spain couldn't understand.

How much had he wanted to say he wasn't going to never let him go, because he loved him too much to in that moment? He didn't, though. Borderlines are made not to be crossed.

He was glad Romano was still with him.

Still his.

Once he talked to France about Romano, he told him straightforwardly what Romano meant to him.

"That's pedophilia…" France had told him, with his usual sneer. Spain stared at the blond nation with shock.

"No…" he whispered. "I would never."

He wondered if that was what nations really thought of his relationship with Romano. Spain feared then that Romano heard these rumors and started to fear him.

"Well. That's what it looks like…" France said then, his words slurring from the alcohol.

"I…" Spain wanted to say something, anything, to defend himself. France looked at him.

"Really, Spain…" he said, "You are not expecting him to love you back, are you? What will you do when he finally leaves you?"

Spain didn't have the courage to answer.

In the years to come, Spain watched his other colonies grow and slowly become more and more independent. Romano was growing too, slowly of course but he was. As Romano laid down besides him, scowling even in sleep, Spain wondered if the time was coming closer…

And if he should tell Romano of his feelings.

But he couldn't, could he? He didn't want to hurt him. He still was a kid compared to him.

The world changed.

His colonies left him.

He became just Spain.

And when one day Romano, looking like a sixteen year old human boy, stared at him, all his things packed, blushing, (angry, embarrassed, sad, happy), Spain could do nothing but watch him go.

Romano, who took more things from him that he let on, Romano, who could turn from angry to happy in a second, who, liked tomatoes and secretly ate Spain's food when he was hungry, Romano who blushed at the silliest things, Romano, who he loved since he had taken him home more than 300 years before…

Romano looked at him, his face unreadable, but deep in thought. There was a battle fighting in his mind, the question whether he should go or stay swirling around in his head. Spain knew him long enough to understand what was bothering his little tomato.

And he was mature enough to realize that Romano would be better off without him.

Nevertheless, there were a lot of things Spain wanted to say. Will you make it without me?, was what Spain wanted to ask. Will you miss me?

Of course not. I never was more that an invader to you, wasn't I?

Romano's face was indecipherable and without another word, he turned his back to him and walked away.

That day Spain realized what loneliness really meant.

He thought he wasn't going to see Romano again.

He wanted to run after him, tell him…

Nothing.

: : :

That day Spain tended to his tomatoes. The sun was up in the sky and everything looked so peaceful, despite all the things going on in the word in that moment. He was so lost in thought that he didn't hear the footsteps approaching him from behind nor did he noticed someone taking one of the redder tomatoes he had put in the wicker basket and put it in his mouth.

He realized he wasn't alone when someone suddenly said:

"Look at you… you look like an old man…" and a sarcastic laugh. Spain's eyes widened, the timbre had become harder but he would recognize that voice anywhere in this world (and in the next).

He turned around to see Romano eating, in the same fashion he did when he was still living with him.

"Lovino…" Spain said, his heart skipping a beat and let go of the tools he had been using, he let them fall on the grass, as if they didn't matter anymore. Romano blushed and looked away and Spain felt like smiling. He wanted to go and hug him, but he still felt that borderline stop him from moving. Even after all those years, it was still there.

"You've grown…" he said instead. It was true. Romano wasn't that cute, little brat he had been. Now he was a handsome, grown man, nearer to Spain's age now than ever before.

The thought didn't console him in the slightest.

Spain was happy, that was all that mattered in that moment, but his happiness didn't last long.

"Am I still a kid to you now, bastard?" Romano seemed disappointed. Spain was confused.

"I had to see you for so long", he just said, "I missed you…" he added then.

Romano abruptly looked up to him. Suddenly, Romano's eyes started to wet and big tears run down his face. Spain didn't know what to do, he didn't expect such a reaction, and he run to Romano, took his face in his hands and dried his tears with his thumbs. It was pointless: the tears kept streaming down Romano's cheeks and Romano drew out Spain's touch.

"Please, don't cry…" Spain said and held Romano's chin with his thumb and index, moving it up so Romano would look at him straight in the eyes.

Romano stared at him for a long moment and abruptly moved. Spain didn't expect the hug and, apparently, Romano didn't expect Spain would hold him even closer.

"God!" Romano shouted against the fabric of Spain's shirt, "I'm so pathetic! Dammit, bastard, let me go so I can die in peace!" and pushed Spain away.

Spain was irremovable.

"No!" Spain laughed, "Now that you are here, I'm never letting you go again!"

Romano tensed at Spain's words.

"What are you saying, bastard?" Romano said, moving his face so he could speak better, "I am a grown nation now, idiot! I'm not your…"

"Yes, I know." Spain cut him. Romano shut up. "I know you are not a kid anymore, I know that too…"

((There is a line between them. A line Spain can't cross. A line that prevents him from moving away from Romano and let him go.))

Romano softly pushed Spain away and Spain met hazel eyes, staring at him with wonder and determination.

"Do you know how I longed to hear that from you?" Romano said, "Damn you, bastard… you really are dense!" he shouted then and stood up, crossing his arms over his chest.

Spain stared at him, confused, and, suddenly, realization hit Spain like a ton of bricks on the head and he wanted to laugh.

Since when…

((There is a line Spain can't cross but that Romano can. Maybe not right now, but he will one day.))

"Are we going inside or not?" Romano suddenly exclaimed, blushing and took the whicker basket with two hands. Spain nodded, the smile not leaving his lips.

Romano was back.

This time to stay.