Summary: Three bullets. Two guns. One dead man, and one realization - "Nothing," Italy says coldly, with tears on his cheeks. "There is NOTHING I won't do to save Germany."
Less Eloquent Summary: A story of how Italy goes more or less insane at the end of WWII because Germany is almost guaranteed to die. Established GerIta throughout.
Words of Caution: Contains Dark!Italy, the aftermath of WWII/the Holocaust, scenes of death/torture (later on), general yaoi/sexual themes, and varying degrees of language. RATED M WITH GOOD REASON. I had a friend read this fic before it was published, and it gave her nightmares where Italy was chasing her with a gun; cross my heart and hope to die, I'm not making that up.
Disclaimed. Hetalia is the property of Hidakez Himaruya and others.
Beta'd by scrambled-eggs-at-midnight and midnight-elise, with kudos going to chibistar12.
For the hundredth time that year and the thousandth time since the war, Germany is screaming.
"NO! I'LL NEVER - NO!"
"I WON'T!" he shouts defiantly. "NEVER!"
"Wake up! LUDWIG, WAKE UP!"
There is a sudden bellow, of grief and pain and a million horrible things that lie between the two. Then comes silence... Then choking. And, eventually, there is sobbing.
Germany can't tell if the tears are his own or Italy's; as they hold on for dear life at three in the morning, he drifts off into a quieter, pain-free, dreamless sleep with soft nothings in Italian echoing in his ear.
"Don't be," Italy replies, in a strangely serious tone. "I would be screaming, too, if I saw those things in my sleep."
Germany has a bite of his breakfast sausage. "That doesn't make me feel like any less of a weak failure."
The Italian says nothing to that because he doesn't think it's a topic worth discussing at mealtime, as Germany is well aware; instead he reaches for the orange juice and changes the subject to something less solemn. "Romano wants me to come visit him sometime this week."
"You should," his friend agrees. "You spend too much time with me."
Italy glances up at him over the rim of his cup. "It's my choice," he points out with a hint of dryness. "I wouldn't stay with you if I didn't like you so much." The German's lip twitches upward into a very subtle smile. Italy catches it and blushes a bit before adding more cheerfully, "Ve, but I suppose you're right. I haven't seen Romano for a very long time, and you probably want to do something on your own for a change - " he grins, " - isn't that right, Germany?"
He nods. "Ja, there are some things I've been meaning to get done without any distractions."
Italy grins even more. "And I'm distracting to you?" he asks teasingly.
"Extremely," Germany says.
Without skipping a beat, Italy leans across the table and wraps his arms around Germany's neck. "Good!" he exclaims.
Germany shakes his head. "You're the only person I know who would think being distracting is a positive trait."
"Because it is!" Italy insists as he presses their foreheads together. More quietly, he elaborates, "The more you're distracted, the less you think. And that's a very, very good thing, if you don't think much."
With a pang, Germany realizes that Italy is completely right. When he thinks, he's always pulled into the past. The past is what makes him scream out in pain. It hurts too much.
Distractions. Italy. One and the same, he figures.
"...What kind of lives are we living?" he asks carefully. "We die every night in our dreams, then pretend nothing is wrong once our alarms go off."
Italy looks at him with those dark amber eyes. "We're living," he says softly, "and isn't that what counts?"
"Goodbye, Germany!" Italy waves at him as he walks down the front steps. "I'll be back tomorrow!"
"Don't call me about tying your shoelaces!" Germany calls from the doorway, only half-way in jest.
Italy winks and blows him a kiss. Germany shakes his head and is unable to keep a corner of his mouth from rising in a smile.
As Italy steps into a cab and disappears from sight, the German decides that it's time to accomplish something useful - he's been meaning to clean out the drawers in their house for a very long time...
Two hours later, he's almost done: all six in the kitchen, the cabinets in the bathroom, his desk, his clothes chest, and the closet drawers have been organized. He feels extremely accomplished - a misplaced book (an antique copy of Le Morte d'Arthur) and some previously lost items of personal interest make it well worth the work. Now all that's left to clean is Italy's small personal desk. Germany doubts his friend will mind; the Italian almost never looks in this desk, anyway, so there shouldn't be any reason he would care.
Germany gets through the first drawer, rearranging everything with immaculate precision. Then down to the second drawer. The third. He gets to the fourth drawer and pulls it open without hesitation or any idea what he's about to see.
Germany's heart stops when he realizes what he's staring at.
Germany is acutely aware that France is giving him an incredulous stare, like he's grown another head. It looks and feels strange, probably to the both of them - five years ago, had they met face to face, they would have tried to kill each other. "Look," he says somewhat crossly, "I know we were enemies in the past and that you have no reason to like me after - "
"Oh, non! Non, it's not that I hold anything against you!" France exclaims in a voice that makes him seem oddly honest. "It's only that... I don't understand what you're doing here."
Awkwardly shifting on France's doorstep, Germany clears his throat and says, "Well, you see... it's Italy."
"Italy?" France looks mildly alarmed. "Is he well? Did something - "
"Italy himself," Germany quickly interrupts, "is fine. It's just... something important has come up, and I don't quite know who to - " he pauses before he decides on the word, " - consult. I would ask Prussia, but under the circumstances, we can't really - "
"Allemagne." France interrupts him quietly. "I know."
For a moment, there is complete silence.
Germany tosses France a dish-towel, with something concealed inside. France unwraps it carefully and almost drops the makeshift package with alarm.
"I found them in Italy's drawer," Germany says softly.
As his initial expression fades, France stares at the two pistols he's holding with an extremely blank face. "Why me?"
"Because there's nobody else, and your house is the closest anyways," he answers simply. "Can you tell me why Italy has them?"
"In good time," France says curtly. He examines them carefully, from all angles. "A Beretta M1935," he whispers, "and a Walther PP... Tell me, Germany - do you know where these weapons came from originally?"
"Well..." He pauses before he gives a full answer. "The Beretta was probably Italy's personally, during the most recent war, and to an extent I can understand why he kept it... But the Walther belonged to my brother. I know because he always personalized his weapons with his eagle insignia."
France examines the mark Germany is referring to - a black Prussian eagle. "That is true."
"Why does he have it?" Germany demands.
"Why are you asking me?" France demands back.
"Because you're the closest, like I said, and because you know the both of them," he answers simply. "You knew Italy long before I did, and you were one of Prussia's best friends before - " Before Russia took him, he almost says. There's an inconvenient lump in his throat, however, that he suddenly can't swallow away, so he never finishes and lets France figure on his own what he wants to express.
France looks at the guns. Then at Germany. Then out onto the quiet road stretching in front of the house.
"...These are not matters to be discussed outside," he says solemnly. "Please, Allemagne, come inside if you wish to hear." Germany begins to step in, but then France whirls back on him. "You're sure? If you want the background to the story, then I must warn you: you won't like it."
Germany exhales. "...Yes."
Before they talk, there must be wine present; Germany accepts the other nation's glass, because France would never let him live it down if he didn't. As soon as he pours for Germany, France asks:
"Germany, how many people have you killed?"
Germany barely manages to swallow his sip of Chardonnay before he coughs out, "Excuse me?"
France waves his hand and leans back in a chair opposite of Germany. "You are a young nation; it's rather unlikely I would be offended or disturbed by your answer. But really, how many people have you killed in wars, with your own hand?"
With his own hand? He sinks back in relief and responds, "Not many. Less than a hundred, and all as a soldier."
"A few score? I thought so." France sits on the edge of his sofa. "Now, how many have you murdered?"
"...Murdered?" The word falls off his tongue, cold and harsh like the act that it is.
"Murdered," France repeats with a nod. "How many men have you gazed in the face while you pulled the trigger? How many opponents have you destroyed in a moment of passion? How many times - " he emphasizes, " - have you seen the fear in the eyes of your adversary before you extinguish the light?"
Germany's mouth is dry. "...None."
"I'm not surprised." France sighs and stares at his empty glass. "War was different in the old days. Now, you just flip a switch, hit a button, or pull a trigger, and it does the job for you. You kill, nowadays. But back then, when you fought on a battlefield with swords and daggers, you had no choice but to murder or be murdered."
Germany closes his eyes and tries to imagine the sight. Scenes from his nightmares are what he sees; he snaps his eyes back open. "But what does this have to do with Italy? What about Prussia's gun?"
France just shakes his head. "Prussia's gun is immaterial at the moment; you're getting ahead of the storyteller." He pours himself another glass and sips it before continuing, "Italy, when it comes to death, is a special case compared to the rest of us nations. He has never actively fought on the front-lines of war, and so I can tell you with certainty that he has never killed a man in his life."
Germany, for some reason, feels a weight lifted from him when he hears that. "Thank God."
"He's never killed," France repeats. "But I know for a fact... he has murdered."
"Not possible," Germany whispers.
"Very possible," France corrects with another whisper. "Very, very possible."
"He can. He did."
"He doesn't have the heart! The knowledge!"
France laughs sourly. "The heart? The knowledge? Are you mad? We're discussing the blood grandson of the greatest empire the world has seen - the prime example of a nation who lived to torture and kill! Pardon me, a nation who lived to murder! I'll be damned if he doesn't know a thousand ways to make a human suffer and another thousand ways to destroy a man inside out!"
He can't breathe. The sudden knowledge that Italy, sweet Italy, who shared his bed and kissed away his tears, could be a murderer! - it's too much.
"...How many people?" he asks, feeling helpless.
"I have an educated guess," France admits. "How many bullets are in your brother's gun?"
Feeling sick to his stomach, Germany reaches for it and opens the cartridge. "...Five," he breathes.
"Six minus one?" France thinks this over and nods to himself. "Yes... that's what I thought. He's murdered one man, then."
Germany buries his head in his hands. After a moment, he hears rustling and feels France sitting next to him on the couch.
"He's murdered," Germany moans. "He's murdered."
"Calm yourself, Allemagne," France says soothingly. "There is scarcely a nation to have walked on this earth who has not murdered before - Italy is still one of the kindest and least tainted among our kind. One man! I had not even lived for a century before I'd murdered ten!"
"But why?" Germany sobs. "Why?"
"Because... He killed to save."
Germany lets out a choked laugh. "Killing to save! I don't suppose he was crying when he did it!"
"You don't believe me. You've never seen him angry, then; when he becomes truly enraged, when your life is truly threatened, he turns into a completely different - "
"My life?" Germany's head snaps up. "MY life?"
France purses his lips, as though he realizes he's said something that should not have been revealed. He quickly backtracks and says, "The only times I've ever, ever seen him murderous were when someone he loved very, very dearly was near death."
"Plural," the German states suddenly.
France raises an eyebrow. "Pardon?"
"The only times," Germany says. "You mean to say it's happened more than once?"
"Only twice," France replies dryly, "that I'm aware of."
"That you - !" Germany gives France an incredulous look.
"Oh, I'm quite sure those were the only two times," France says with certainty. "He never did kill me, obviously, but good portion of his anger was taken out on me..."
"Taken out on you... how?"
For a moment, there is silence. Then: "I still have scars that can be seen if you look closely. Would you like to...?"
Germany nods sorely, feeling that he will regret this choice in a moment. France takes a moment with his shirt buttons before facing Germany and pointing at his chest. "You see the lines?"
He sees alright.
They stretch from the center of his upper ribcage - almost to his throat - down far enough that they almost extend beyond the Frenchman's waistband. They extend horizontally across the entire span of his chest. And in the very center -
"He used a rapier," France whispers. "He pinned me down, and he cut me open so that the entire floor was soaked with red. And as his final ministration, he shoved it in right here - " he points to the gaping scar in the center, " - and twisted."
It's too much. All Germany can see now is France lying helpless on the ground and Italy standing over him with his eyes reflecting the red pool on the floor and lips curled in a sadistic smile and holding the sword in position ready to -
Germany forces his head up from between his knees.
"He did," France says again. "He was sobbing the whole time. And I felt horrible - not because of what he was doing to me, but because of what I'd done to him."
Pursing his lips, Germany wipes away a stray tear on his cheek. France doesn't seem at all surprised that he's crying - maybe Italy told him about the nightmares he has every time he closes his eyes, or maybe France had been expecting the German nation to be broken anyway. It doesn't matter.
"What did you do to him?"
France doesn't answer at first. He fiddles with his buttons again and finally says, "I was responsible for the... passing, let's say... of someone very, very loved by him." France gives a humorless laugh and adds, "I don't know what I was thinking. I set out to conquer Europe with Napoleon, and it didn't even occur to me that we would have to become murderers to get there... Even these days, more than a century later, I still see Italy's face when I told him. It haunts me."
"You deserved it?" Germany surprises himself by asking.
Also to his surprise is France's answer. "I did. I completely deserved it, and now I have the scars to prove my stupidity."
He feels angry with himself - how could he have not known about this? Italy, his Italy, hurting so badly... "Why didn't he ever tell me?" he moans to himself.
"Because he didn't want you to know," France answers simply. "He doesn't want you to believe he's capable of it - not because he doesn't trust you, oh non non non. Italy has never been one to let his emotions control him so rashly, so he tries to ignore that the slip-ups have ever happened; that can explain why he never told you of these." He points at the guns with a limp hand before continuing with his clothes.
Suddenly, Germany realizes something. "You said it happened twice. Is that when he used the...?"
"It did happen twice. The second time involves the two guns you brought here today." France finishes rebuttoning his shirt and abruptly asks, "Well, are you satisfied?"
That's all? France will tell him no more? "Satisfied? Satisfied! Of course not!" Germany says with a sudden shout. "You told me a lot about things that don't matter to me - I still don't know what Italy has to do with Prussia's gun!"
France's eyes darken. "Maybe you think it doesn't matter, but if you even want to understand him - non, if you even want to love him the way he loves you, then you need to realize that his past does matter. There are a good many - how to put it? - a good many ordeals he's gone through in the past few years alone which he has never told you of. I've given you a basic understanding, but I don't believe it is my duty to tell you of the details."
"I need to know," Germany states coldly.
"I agree," France says back just as coldly. "But hearing it from me isn't going to prove anything - if you're going to hear the rest of his past, you need to have him tell you."
"How do you know?"
"Because!" France insists. "Because he came after me when he was angry. He didn't send a mercenary to torture me; he didn't stand on the sidelines and send someone else to do his dirty work. He came after me personally, so I could see the hurt in his soul - and if I tell you the story for him, it would be doing him a great injustice."
Germany says nothing.
"He loves you."
Germany still says nothing.
"I told you - he murdered. And I promise you, Allemagne," France says, looking him straight in the eyes, "if you think that there is nothing in this world that could enrage him enough to do so, you're wrong."
"Who was the victim?" Germany asks softly, resigning himself to the fact that France is probably correct.
"Define 'victim'," France deadpans. "You were a victim; so was Italy."
"Then tell me one thing, and I'll leave and never ask about it again." Germany stands up, hanging his head. "Do you think the... the murdered man deserved it?"
France leans back.
The Frenchman grasps his wine glass so tightly it cracks.
"Oh... yes. Yes, he did," France says maliciously. "That fucker."
The Beretta M1935 was a gun commonly used by Italians during World War II; same goes for Germans using the Walther PP during that time. The rapier came from, arguably, either Spain or from the nobility in Italy, and it was most popular in the 16th and 17th centuries - as far as I've been able to tell, it's one of the very last major sword-types to be used for purposes other than decoration and discerning social status.
It's assumed that, in canon, since Prussia no longer has his own country after WWII, he represents East Germany; hence, Russia's taken him in the name of communism by this point in time. (This is pretty common knowledge in the fandom, but I wanted to clarify just in case.)
And in case it wasn't obvious, the first time Italy went crazy on France was because he (or maybe his leader Napoleon) was responsible for the end of the Holy Roman Empire in 1805. There's a strip Himaruya deleted where France tells Italy of the incident personally, but you don't see any reaction because that part of the comic has been lost completely. (As a side-note, I wrote a completely different interpretation of that strip a while ago, for those interested.)
Additional Author's Notes
This was written back in August sometime, and last night I figured it was about time to grow a pair and post this chapter. Reviews are always appreciated.