A/N: I apologize for the delay, guys. Seriously, so sorry... *hides away*
*****Important note(s): Just for future record, Belgium will henceforth be known as Farahilde or 'Fara' (since I couldn't find her real human name anywhere on the internet...), and she will henceforth be known as Francis' sister since French is one of her native languages anyway. [[~*~*~Update: Special thanks to ff member 'Francis_Bonnifoy' for supplying me with the fanon name Florinda Maes. I might just stick with Farahilde though since I've been advertising it for the last couple of chapters and I think most people might no longer read my Author's Notes.]]
Title: If the Devil Wrote Poetry
Pairing(s): Ludwig/Feliciano; includes Antonio/Romano, Roderich/Elizabeta, one-sided Francis/Feliciano, one-sided Gilbert/Romano, etc...
Warnings: AU, swearing, a smidgen of violence, and, of course, a little smex. And I suppose I should mention something about Francis, but I think seeing his name alone in the warning is sufficient enough. ;)
Translations: Because I am, most certainly, not a pro at this, I'll be posting what I assume are the correct translations at the bottom of the page. If you're a native speaker (or just an autodidact linguist), please feel free to tell me if I've made any mistakes.
Concrit: is appreciated, because sometimes I'm a doofus and I screw up when I'm editing (seriously, feel free to nitpick on anything).
Disclaimer: No matter how much I wish otherwise, Hetalia is not mine...
Summary: (AU) To avoid an invasion from the Beilschmidt Empire, old Roma Vargas proposes a marriage between the families to keep the peace. Ludwig accepts. Feliciano, on the other hand...
Romano was an early riser.
That wasn't to say he was a morning person, per say, but dozing off when he was already wide awake was a task in and of itself. He liked his afternoon naps just as much as the next guy, but the sun was a persistent little bastard at the crack of dawn and there was no avoiding the forenoon heat no matter how many layers of quilts and/or Antonio he kicked off the bed in an attempt to remedy the problem.
Needless to say, daybreak found him wandering the halls through Feliciano's apartments before even the head mistress herself could arrive with breakfast. The servants had already packed the prince's things the night before, but Romano found himself rummaging through them almost dolefully before slipping a stiletto knife and a small vile of poison behind the lining of one of the smaller bags, along with a note instructing Feliciano on how he could best use them should he ever want to snuff the life out of his husband in his sleep. Then again, hopefully Ludwig never reached the commission of 'husband' in the first place (or share his brother's bed otherwise), but such an event was only days away and Romano was beginning to run a little low on ideas...
After startling the first servant to waltz through the halls with his impromptu visit, Romano invited himself into his brother's parlour and set himself down upon scheming. It wasn't long though before Feliciano stumbled into the room, half asleep and about as equally dressed, before collapsing onto the kishty sofa beside his brother.
"Oh, Romano, I had such a nightmare..."
"No, you had a waking crisis. How's your head?"
Feliciano rubbed it gingerly with the heel of his palm. His hair was an awful mess; there was a kink in his ahoge. "Alright, I suppose...I'm getting married at the end of the week, aren't I?"
Romano's left eye twitched in rebellion, but he kept his lips firmly sealed—there was still a small part of his soul that was heretically superstitious, and he refused to say anything that providence might be tempted to charm into certainty. Their luck was a little on the straggly side at the moment. No need to jinx it.
"What should I do?"
"Haven't you cooked up any ideas yourself yet?"
Feliciano gave him a lazy little smile. With the way he squinting merrily, Romano half-expected him to fall asleep on the spot. Couldn't blame him though.
"...Should I take that as a no?"
"Fleeing the country didn't work," Feliciano mused, "so I'm thinking of putting Plan B into action."
"And what exactly is that?"
"I run off to some monastery and marry the church. I wouldn't mind a life of servitude. I like helping the poor and the needy..."
Romano fought the impulse to roll his eyes. "Is that all now...What about a 'Plan C'?"
"That's easy." Feliciano leaned over to rest his head on Romano's shoulder and yawned, beginning to drift off again. "I surrender."
"Lord Almighty—wake up, you dolt. You've got maybe an hour before Nonno sends someone up here to collect you, and we still don't have a clue how to get you out of this mess."
"But why even bother? Everyone keeps telling me that my marriage is what's best for the kingdom..."
Romano didn't like the way Feliciano automatically said that, as though his brain was simply summarizing whatever had been fed to him over the course of the last day, so he snapped his fingers in front of his brother's face furiously when it looked as though he was dozing off again and then flicked the end of his nose until Feliciano opened his eyes. "That's a load of crock. Nonno's got powerful friends and enemies alike. Marry any one of them and it'll help the kingdom somehow in the long run—heck, maybe we can find someone with enough man power to help us instil a little good, old-fashioned fear into that bastard Beilschmidt's heart. Emperor that he might be, he's hardly immortal. Wouldn't that be nice?"
"But I really don't want to get married...At all."
Romano sighed. Not that he'd ever admit as much aloud, but the married life wasn't all that bad, at least if you kind of liked your spouse. Granted, Feliciano was currently betrothed to Ludwig of all people, but Romano didn't want this experience to scare his brother off marriage for good. Life was an awfully long thing to brave alone.
"Then maybe we'll find someone who has a bone to pick with Gilbert anyway and see if they'll take us on as a charity case," Romano offered, although where he'd ever find someone like that was beyond him. Maybe somewhere up north? He'd been hearing an awful lot of damsel-in-distress stories from the younger maids lately and how just about every able-body man was now riding off to slay anything they could waggle a sword at. "...You know what? You just focus on making those Aryan bastards as miserable as you possibly can on the journey over, okay? I'll see what I can do about finding you a knight in shining armour."
Feliciano lifted his head from Romano's shoulder and squinted suspiciously at him. "...Is this considered 'scheming'?"
Lord, Nonno really had him trained now, didn't he?
"No," Romano said, but only because he didn't want Feliciano tattling on him before he could get to work. Best intentions aside, Feliciano really knew how to shoot himself in the foot. "This is simply me expressing my distaste for the situation at hand. If fate suddenly decides to deal you something better, who am I to stop it?"
Feliciano had that half-dazed look in his eyes he usually got when he was still just a little torpid and/or confused. Good. A confused Feliciano was far better than the I-want-to-help-you-but-will-inevitably-screw-you-over-unintentionally Feliciano that used to waddle after him as a toddler. Even so, scheming had somehow been so much easier in those days...
That, he had to admit, was something he missed about his unmarried life—
—But damn, he forgot about Antonio. Romano wouldn't make it so much as mile out of the city before his husband figured things out, and Antonio was on to him now anyway. He'd have to deal with him first.
It looked as though Feliciano wanted to interrogate him further, but by then the senior nursemaid had breezed into the room and began carping at Romano to leave—Feliciano needed to eat and bath before he left, not to mention that there were still some things that needed to be packed, and Romano was yet another distraction for the young prince, blabitty blah blah blah—more of the same old babble she'd been iterating since the beginning of time between sobs of how much she was going to miss the little sweetheart when he left. Feliciano looked rather dour himself, otherwise Romano would've complained, so instead he wandered down to the courtyard and threw pebbles into the water fountain as he watched Beilschmidt's soldiers lead their horses out from the stables.
They were a disappointingly unremarkable lot, all tall, fair-haired, and broad of shoulder, though to varying degrees, and none of them smiled or made jokes. Thin-lipped and astringent—not at all like Nonno's guards, who, while certainly a force to be reckoned with, where either chatting amiably by the gate or munching away at the remnants of their breakfast. Romano supposed he couldn't blame them though. No, not when Gilbert himself stormed from the stables and bellowed something vaguely threatening at his men in that appalling tongue of his. They all snapped to attention, eyes glazed, like a bunch of windup toys on display; it was no wonder Gilbert had such a god-complex.
Gilbert dismissed them immediately when he spotted Romano by the fountain, lingering long enough to watch them march back into the stables before wandering over to the boy. He was smirking now, but Romano could already tell the man didn't have high expectations for a civil conversation between them this morning. Neither did he.
"Not so much, I'm afraid."
"You're still here, after all."
Much to Romano's chagrin, Gilbert's smile only widened. "Charming as ever, Ro-ma-ni-to~. Come to kiss me goodbye?"
"Only if you let me skewer you afterwards."
"Afraid not. I have campaigns to run, cities to level, cultures to destroy—you know me, and the sooner Ludi ties the knot, the sooner we can get back to business."
Romano took a moment to entertain the idea of Ludwig widowing his brother before the year was through; considering the prince's fame in the battlefield, however, it would seem that the odds were stacked against him.
"...A penny for your thoughts?"
Romano shifted a few feet back into the shade of one of the courtyard's fig trees. "I was just wondering how 'soon' exactly you plan to mobilize for your next campaign."
Gilbert lifted the back his hand to his brow to dab the perspiration that had gathered there, but did not move to join Romano out of the sunlight. He had always been remarkably restrained in that manner, odd as that might sound. "Three weeks? Four, maybe, if Ludi's up for it. Depends on Antonio too, I suppose, since it's that bastard Sadik Adnan we're after this time."
Romano blinked in surprise. This was certainly news to him. He had only met the sultan a handful of times on political sojourns out east and hadn't much liked him, least of all when Adnan had invited him to join his harem. "Sadik, huh? ...What does he want this time, more land?"
"The rights to the Eastern Strait, to be precise, but he doesn't have too many of his people living in either of the ports already there, so I plan on giving him the boot. Want to tag along? You're homicidal enough. Might give him a run for his money."
"Ha, but I can barely stand your company on a good day. If I never see Sadik again, it'll be too soon."
"Then I'll bring you back a souvenir," Gilbert said with a wink, red eyes sparkling, "as token of my affection."
"Not unless you want me to break your fingers."
"Pain is its very own pleasure, Liebling. And for what it's worth, I think we would be beautiful together, I have no doubt about that."
"Yeah, a match made in hell. Now get out of my kingdom."
Gilbert bowed as lowly as he could manage before turning sharply on his heel, cape whipping the air behind him. He marched briskly back into the stables where shouting commenced, foreign soldiers filing out into the heat in the same mechanical pose.
Romano crossed his arms and leaned back against the trunk of the tree, half tempted to reach up and pluck a fig from its leaves for a nibble when he heard the high trill of his brother's voice behind him. A glance over his shoulder revealed Feliciano and Antonio already halfway down the stairs from the entrance hall, chatting animatedly amongst themselves as the senior maid trailed after the younger prince, still sniffling, dabbing dramatically at the corner of her eyes with her handkerchief.
Feliciano, despite his earlier protestations, had at least had the mind to dress properly for the journey. He wore tan trousers beneath a green tunic and the knee-high boots Romano had given him for his last birthday, his traveling bag hanging loosely from one shoulder and a cape tucked under one arm in case the weather proved inclement. And if Romano knew anything at all about his brother, he could bet Feliciano had stuffed some parchment and drawing utensils into the bag before setting out, because a life without art, at least in Feliciano's eyes, was about as unfulfilling as a life without pasta.
Feeling the all too familiar pangs of sorrow now that his departure was drawing near, Romano shifted uneasily in the shade and wondered whether or not Feliciano would cry when he bid him farewell. Feliciano was odd like that; merrier than a kid in a festival one moment and a fountain of tears the next. 'Difficult' might be a better word to use here, because Feliciano was typically sporadic in his bearing at the best of times (and Romano was hoping against all hope that this would give Ludwig as much a headache in the next few days as it had afforded Romano throughout the span of his short lifetime).
Frozen as he was as he weighed the pros and cons of interrupting their obviously pleasant conversation, he eventually caught sight of somebody else lurking at the top of the stairs. Naturally, it was only Ludwig, looking as phlegmatic as ever, with his hair slicked back and his cape draped carelessly over his left shoulder. Stiff and impassive, he looked like a statue, the metals of his ridiculously decorated uniform gleaming in the sunlight as he took a deep breath. He looked obdurate; unyielding, even more so when his eyes caught sight of Feliciano.
It unnerved Romano, to say the least; he couldn't read the man. Maybe Ludwig was merely studying his brother, as though he was yet another unknown continent to be conquered. Or maybe his gaze was drawn by lust; Feliciano was certainly lovely when he wasn't being an absolute pain in the you-know-what.
Whatever the case may be, the other 'L' word flickered briefly through Romano's mind when Ludwig descended the first step and, still staring, very nearly missed it. The prince corrected himself almost immediately as Romano tried with all his might to banish 'love' from his mind, but the damage had already been done and there was no unseeing what he had just born witness to.
Nevertheless, Romano could not submit to such an absurd a notion. There was no love—
There could be no love.
And so, with this in mind, Romano strode over to Antonio and his brother before Ludwig could reach either of the two and looped his arm through his husband's. Then, pleased with the bemused look on Antonio's face, Romano leaned up a little onto his toes to whisper in his ear. "Nonno wants you to explain something to Feliciano."
"And what would that be, cariño?"
Romano smiled. "Sex."
Antonio, despite his darker complexion, visibly paled. "...This is a joke. Right?"
"Not at all." In the corner of his eye, Romano could see the way his blatant secrecy had piqued Feliciano's curiosity. "Nonno said I can't, for obvious reasons, but Feli's a virgin and neither of us wants him to be frightened on his wedding night."
Dragging Romano a few steps back from Feliciano, Antonio fidgeted nervously at his side, the way he usually did when Romano had ensnared him through other means than mere seduction. "Cariño," he very nearly whimpered, "you know as well as I do that there is no simple way of explaining...it. Least of all with the amount of time we have left."
"Better get to it then," he murmured, brushing his lipsagainst the shell of Antonio's ear (just to give him the chills). Then he slipped his arm free of Antonio's and headed up the palace stairs, not sparing Ludwig so much as a glance before running off to find his grandfather.
There was still so much left to do before the 'wedding'.
This ungodly heat did not sit well with him.
Ludwig had woken that morning in something of a black humour. He had always been an early riser, although it had taken him a moment or two to remember where he was exactly now and what had transpired the day before. Despite the fact that Feliciano Vargas was not entirely pleased with their engagement, Ludwig's disappointment in the matter was perhaps less so than he would've expected; after all, he had prepared himself for the situation to go either way, with either Feliciano's acceptance or dismay, because those were really the only two outcomes that could ever come of a royal engagement. Honestly, as long as Feliciano was graceful of character in social affairs, Ludwig didn't see them having any real troubles in the foreseeable future...
And besides, the young prince was comely. If that wasn't a godsend, Ludwig didn't know what was.
Nevertheless, he felt stifled by the heat. His country had its fair share of warm summers, but the air was humid here in a way that carried the suffocating warmth into every crook in cranny, and despite his best efforts to evade it the palace shade could only do so much to alleviate his discomfort. He felt like a prisoner in his own uniform.
The sooner they left, the better.
Ludwig quitted the guest chambers after taking a light breakfast (these people seemed to think 'meat' was undeserving of a place on the morning menu, which was, plainly put, bordering on barbaric) and asked a servant to have someone prepare his horse for him before making his way to the entrance hall. Through the windows of the main floor he could hear the sound of Gilbert sorting out the younger foot soldiers, followed then a burst of giggles from a couple of maids hiding behind the curtains who were too absorbed in ogling the foreign officers to commence with their usual chores. They snapped to attention and curtsied the moment they caught sight of him, though, before scampering off, and so he took his first step out into the sunlight with a weary sigh, wondering how Roma had managed his kingdom all these years with such a conspicuous lack of discipline.
He hadn't been quite so prepared to see Feliciano up this early, having learned of the prince's sleeping habits from both Gilbert and Antonio the night before, but he couldn't say that he was disappointed. Truly, the boy was stunning: small and lithe, amber hair afire in the morning light, smiling sweetly the way only an honest soul can—Ludwig couldn't help but stare.
A moment later, it occurred to him that someone would notice him standing there, gaping like an idiot, and he almost took a tumble when he realized it. Somehow—thank God—he managed to make his way down to the courtyard in one piece and was, quite thankfully, blatantly ignored by the older Vargas as they passed each other on the stairs. Such was the way of small mercies.
Feliciano spotted him out of the corner of his eye and trained his gaze curiously on his fiancé before realizing the sudden change in his brother-in-law's demeanor. Where once he had been spirited, Antonio now looked nothing less than distraught, face pale, rubbing the sweat from the back of his neck before taking Feliciano gently by the elbow and leading him over to the shade. Feliciano, for the most part, looked utterly perplexed, but continued smiling regardless, as though he was not unfamiliar with the way his brother had a way of setting Antonio's nerves on edge.
Some small part of Ludwig wanted to interrupt their conversation so that he could have a word with Feliciano himself, but it occurred to him suddenly that he hadn't the slightest idea what to say. Feliciano, it seemed, wasn't as easily impressed with Ludwig's militant attitude as the women back home.
Discouraged (though he would never admit it), he spotted Gilbert across the courtyard beside his steed and decided that now was as good as any time to ask him what the hell 'pas-ta' was. When he asked as much, however, Gilbert had no reservations about guffawing openly in his face.
"I'll give you a clue, Ludi: you eat it."
"Is it a meat then?"
"No—think spätzle. Noodles, ja? Only, it's pretty staple around here—and I mean pretty staple. Can't walk two paces without tripping over it."
Ludwig frowned, not entirely pleased with this answer. "But is there some sort of religious connotation to it?"
Gilbert laughed again. Then he grabbed the reigns of his horse, stuck his leading foot into the stirrup, and mounted in one fluid motion. "Might as well be, I suppose. They're not big on meat. An odd diet, I know, but a lean saukerl is harder to kill on the battle field than a fat one, so I can't exactly blame them." Given the still confounded look on Ludwig's face, Gilbert sighed and rolled his eyes heavenward, as though he expected the great and unnamed God to provide him with a better answer; nothing was forthcoming "...Imagine giving up wurst for the rest of your miserable life and instead sticking strictly to the fruits and veggies. Do you get the picture now?"
Ludwig didn't need to say anything. The brief look of horror that graced his typically stoic face was all the answer Gilbert needed.
Satisfied, Gilbert glanced briefly at Feliciano, who was bidding farewell to his brother and his grandfather off to the side before mounting his mare, and then offered Ludwig one last sly wink before setting off for the gates. Things were, it seemed, finally in full swing for their departure.
The servant Ludwig had sent out earlier approached him quietly, if not timidly, with the reigns to his steed in hand. Ludwig thanked the boy, mounted, and paused only long enough to wonder whether or not he should join Gilbert as he always had at the lead before figuring that now was as good a time as any to get to know his fiancé. Perhaps the boredom of trip would eventually loosen his tongue?
If Feliciano wanted to be left alone, he showed no signs of it when Ludwig pulled up alongside him. The four guards that Roma had handpicked from his own men to accompany the prince on his journey gave him the most threatening look of bemusedly, not-entirely-a-threatening-look Ludwig had ever seen, to date, before almost ignoring him altogether in an aloof sort of manner that suggested that they were, in fact, still watching him. It was amusing, to say the least, and maybe just a little frightening, but Feliciano simply glowed in the sunlight in a way that was almost ethereal and Ludwig was completely enthralled before he realized that he was, yet again, openly staring.
Accustomed as he was to the thinly (or perhaps, in this case, craftily?) veiled hostility of the guards, he settled comfortably into pace with the retinue as they trotted through the palace gates.
The peasants stopped and stared at them as they passed through the city streets. Many of them trained their eyes on the foreigners, though they seemed more interested in Feliciano than anyone else; Feliciano, in turn, returned their attention, waving and smiling at the little ones, or maybe responding to a salutation swiftly before Ludwig could translate the boy's native tongue. They loved him, that much was clear, and he loved them in return. And Ludwig...and maybe Ludwig was just a little jealous...
Not for the first time since their discussion last night, Ludwig briefly wondered whether or not Feliciano had a lover. He would have no trouble finding one (that much was clear on first sight), and had been pretty hung up on the idea of love factoring into every relationship. If it was true that he already hadn't found someone, why couldn't he accept Ludwig as his partner? Ludwig wasn't so vain as to boast his attributes aloud, but he really didn't think he was that bad—and besides, he wasn't anywhere near as insane as Gilbert. Honestly, Ludwig was the more sensible of the two. Anyone that knew his brother would agree that Feliciano had lucked out on the long end of the proverbial stick.
Distressed as he was, he couldn't find the right moment to interrupt Feliciano's open discussion with the passing masses to strike up a conversation of his own. And soon, as the houses began to stand farther apart, and the hills began to roll before their very eyes into fields upon fields of gold, Ludwig realized that he only had a day and half left to come up with something to say to the boy that would endear Feliciano to him before they reached the capital...
Somehow, though, he had a feeling it was going to be the longest day and a half of his life.
A/N: ...Meh. For some reason this chapter was such a bother to write. Does it flow at all for you? I'm not sure... Anyhow, criticism is welcome, but you guys are already such a gem in reviewing. Needless to say, I'm very grateful for all your input. ;)
"Nonno" ~ 'grandfather' (Italian)
"Guten Morgen" ~ 'good morning' (German)
"Liebling" ~ 'darling' or 'sweetheart' (German)
"Cariño" ~ 'darling' (Spanish)
"Spätzle" ~ a noodle dish that's kind of like pasta (German)
"Ja" ~ 'yes' (German)
"Saukerl" ~ 'bastard' (German)
"Wurst" ~ basically 'meat' (German)