So I kind of started writing a sequel for this. And it's posted. This could be a Very Big Deal for some of you, I guess, so have fun with that! It's called A Portrait of a Tortured You and I, and it's on my profile along with some other, super-cool related stuff...
...Like a link to this awesome gal named People Person I'm Not, who's done a multi-chaptered vignette for this fic! It's called Bury Me (because 30 Seconds to Mars = yessssss) and it's so freaking perfect that it literally pains me to check out the updates.
Now: GO FORTH AND READ!
Some of the wars mentioned in this chapter are meant to be relatively generic, within a reasonable time period. Hopefully this doesn't confuse anyone.
Additional Author's Notes
Editing can wait; you guys rock.
I'm not entirely sure this is the prime time for self-promotion, but I do want to point out that the chances I'll write more for the Hetalia fandom are pretty darn high (I have at least two more one-shots planned, and I might have just started writing a new multi-chaptered historical project). If you liked this, I probably have something else appealing to your tastes.
Since nothing drives me more insane than an author rambling at the very end of a story, the notes are placed at the top for this final chapter. I won't spoil much about what's to come, but I have to say... this final installment was supposed to be pretty cut-and-dry. The key word in that sentence, of course, was supposed - as in, it's not exactly that way anymore. I place the blame for this on Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House, which is a stage play I read in my AP Lit class. I couldn't help but derive some parallels from it (since I had already written a good portion of this fic at the time) and let that script's influence take this chapter in a different direction for a bit; with that being said, I left my original plan for the ending mostly intact.
Hopefully it doesn't disappoint; adieu. And, as always, don't forget to leave a review!
The title for the fic and the chapter names are derived from lyrics to a song by 30 Seconds to Mars. I don't claim any ownership of the band or its records.
Do you really want me dead
or alive to torture for my sins?
There's a bright flash outside, and after a moment of almost utter silence, the thunder resounds so loudly it rattles the desk drawers. And, a few seconds later, the cycle repeats.
"Shut up shut up shut up shut up!" Germany mumbles to himself, trying to stay focused on his book. Where had he been - he'd lost his page - Oh, there: Now when the queen heard of his leaving, she inwardly felt great sorrow, but was very careful to show a great pride to all who looked upon -
"Verdammt!" He shuts it with a huff; even though nobody is there to see him, he's still defensive and turning to anger. "How am I supposed to get anything done if - "
The light flickers, and, after another crask of thunder, the power goes out.
"...Sheisse," he whispers.
When the lightning flashes again, he swears that there is a pale face reflected towards him in the shadows, angel and demon wrapped in one being - and the worst is that he knows it's his mind playing tricks on him. Now he remembers why Italy hardly lets him out of his sight anymore. Without him nearby, Germany starts going insane.
A light. He should find a light - he swiftly walks to the kitchen, being cautious of the furniture and doorways, and pulls out a pack of matches and a tall red candle from the utility cupboard. It takes three tries, but soon the room is flickering in the soft golden gleaming of a flame. It makes everything look strange and ethereal -
Germany, in glancing around the room, doesn't miss the chilling gleam of black and silver lying on the table. He purses his lips and huffs, getting angry with himself, before he sits down in a hard wooden chair to pull his hair out.
He'd been avoiding it, but now the question has sprung to his mind again: What the hell had Italy done? To commit murder! - the greatest atrocity of all! - and for what purpose? France had said that it had been for Germany's sake, but that makes the truth of it all even more difficult for him to comprehend. He simply doesn't see how he's worth such a high price, and it infuriates him that Italy would go out and do something so awful for anyone! Worse - he'd as good as lied about it! To have trusted him for so long, and now to learn that Italy had never cared enough to tell him of this - what is Germany worth to him? And since the truth is coming out, what is he worth to Germany now?
Another crash of thunder.
He looks over the weapons again, swallowing... What is he thinking? Italy - Italy is still worth the world to him. But he - he can't get his mind wrapped around it. Italy? Killing a man - a murderer? His hands clench in uncertainty and doubt. What are they, now? Does Italy still care? Does he even still feel anything for Germany behind the secrets?
Germany rubs his temples as a huge flash of lightning and boom of thunder strike almost simultaneously outside. He grits his teeth - the storms always make him think too much of gunshots and war and the screams of the -
He growls and shudders at another strike of lightning.
And they're running. The field is chaotic, but they have to push through; there's no time for idleness if they're going to survive this damned war. He joins the soldiers because it's his duty as a nation, although he's barely enough of a man to know how to use the weapons -
- and the cannon shots are just as likely to hit them as they are to hit the enemy, but he has to remember why he's doing this! Italy is back at Austria's house, and he'll be damned if he isn't strong enough to win this war and go back to see them again -
"Shut up shut up - "
- and so he has to do this! He has to protect the things he loves! Now he's running through the field, shooting his rifle at nobody in particular and darting to the ground when he reloads after every shot, until one of the stupid stupid enemy soldiers is taking aim at him right before his eyes. And right as he notices, his rudimentary gun jams up, and he knows he should run -
"Go!" he's whispering to himself. "Run!"
- but his pride won't let him. Instead, he takes out a dagger and dashes right up to the man and -
"Oh Gott," Germany pleads. "Oh Gott, wake up already - "
- and slits his throat - and - and watches as the soldier's eyes roll into the back of his head as he lets out the groan of a dying man - and - and - and falls to the ground.
The soldier doesn't get back up. The stranger's eyes widen in death, and his eyes widen in what he's done.
That's when the boy runs, runs, runs back through the people trying not to sob -
"IT'S NOT MY MEMORY!" Germany stands up so suddenly the chair falls over and the candle-light wavers. It takes him a moment to realize that there's nobody there to talk to, nobody there who needs an explanation, nobody there to tell about his nightmares. Italy knows, or at least partially knows, but Italy is gone.
In the candle-light, near the kitchen sink, Germany swears that he sees the Angel bending over and leering at him, as if to say, "I'm getting a pipe. Are you going to stop me this time?"
Germany narrows his eyes and knocks the candle over with his fist so as to blow it out. The figure disappears.
Another flash. Another boom. Finally he notices the rain hitting the window, and with a shudder he wipes his own eyes.
"God damn it," he mutters as he heads upstairs. "It's like a hurricane out there."
He doesn't sleep a bit that night; instead, he goes and hides under the blankets of the bed, like a child, and consistently winces every time a bit of light or roll of sound comes through the makeshift barrier. He has no idea how long this goes on for, but at some point he does notice that the night has melded into the day, although the storm continues outside.
A door opens. "...Germany? Ve, Germany?"
Oh no. No, no he isn't ready to face Italy yet - what is he ever going to say about the guns he found? How is he going to ask for the truth? How can he pretend that he isn't angry over learning that Italy's a murderer, or pretend that he doesn't care about such a sick atrocity - ?
"Germany? Are you in bed?" He sounds... tired. Just as tired as Germany is. The bedroom door opens slowly, and Germany sees him peeking inside with only one of his eyes and that curl. A moment later, the curl recedes and the door opens fully. "Ciao, Ludwig," he says with a soft smile.
What to say? What to do? "Morgen. How... how's Romano?" he asks gruffly.
"Oh, he's fine." The brunet sets his small bag down and walks over to the bed. "Did you sleep last night?" he asks, concerned.
Germany shakes his head. "Did you?"
"...No..." He pauses, and then with a tired grin he says, "Yay! It's time for napping, then!"
It's hard to not smile back (even if he knows in the back of his mind that he should still be angry), and Germany halfway fails at keeping his face neutral. "Ja... I wouldn't mind that," he admits.
That's the moment when he makes a split-second decision: not yet. Internally, he might be falling apart, but he wants to have just a few more hours of peace before the consequences rip them apart. As much as they pretend to be happy, pretending for just that much longer won't matter anyway.
Italy bends over to steal a short kiss before taking his shirt off and crawling into the bed. "Then we will. Ve -Goodnight," he says, snuggling up next to Germany's shoulder and closing his eyes.
"It's morning," he corrects with a slight eye roll.
Italy ignores him. "Ti amo."
Germany might pull him closer and feel the response deep in his chest, but for the first time, he can't seem to make his lips form the words.
"Hey. Hey. Germany. Ludwig. Ve, are you awake?"
He rolls over, getting a little closer to the warmth. "...'M now," he mutters sleepily.
Without opening his eyes, he knows that Italy is smiling when he says, "I'm getting hungry - do you want breakfast?"
"What time 's it?"
"Um... three in the afternoon."
After thinking the absurdity of it over for a moment, he hums. "Alright. Why not."
Then the warmth is gone, and he finally opens his eyes to see Italy getting partially dressed again. "Eggs? Sausage?"
"And toast," Germany suggests lazily.
Italy stands up straight (for once) and mock-salutes him with the wrong hand. "Si Signore Germania!" he grins. Without further delay, he runs out of the room to begin cooking.
For several moments, Germany is content to sit there and think. If only things would stay this way forever - if only they could both be so optimistic every morning (afternoon?) - if only...
He sighs and gets out of bed, making sure his long sleeves are rolled down and that most of his skin is covered. Satisfied with his appearance, he heads downstairs. Things seem oddly quiet - why isn't Italy making any noise? Normally, there would be some clattering pans by now, or singing, or something -
He gets to the kitchen and freezes.
Italy is by the kitchen table, tracing the eagle on Prussia's gun - still sitting exactly where it had been last night - with wide eyes and shaking hands; he looks more scared in that moment than Germany has ever seen. "No," he's whispering to himself, "no, no, no, no, no, no - "
Germany suddenly wants to slap himself in the face for speaking, because now Italy's eyes have snapped upward and met his own. "...Ludwig?" he whispers pleadingly, sounding scared to death. And then, Germany can't help but forget every reason he'd found to be angry last night - because now he understands exactly what France meant. Now he's seeing the hurt for himself, just like the other nation had said he would - how long has this been hidden from him - ?
Italy runs. Germany reacts almost instantly, but Italians are naturally fast - Italy is already out the front door, heading towards the back of the house with the garden - is he wiping his eyes? - and the gun in his hand is slowly rising higher and higher towards his own head -
And then the Italian is falling - he must have tripped on something, and he barely avoids falling into a nearby rosebush. The gun must have slipped from his hands, too, because Germany sees him trying to scramble for it in the wet dirt, but by then it's too late.
Germany pins him on the ground, holding him down by the wrists and by straddling him, keeping his legs around the Italian's thighs. And Italy is crying hard, so hard, and it's so obvious that he's completely scared to death that Germany feels it in his own soul, as cliche as it is. "Feliciano, I - I don't - "
He sounds so defeated - almost as though he's dead. Germany stumbles over his own words a minute and finally manages, "...Yesterday."
"A-and - " it gets visibly caught in his throat for a bit, " - and y-you know th-the t-truth."
Not a question. "I... No. Yes." Germany sighs angrily at the turmoil in his head. "I know parts, I suppose. Feliciano, I - " He has to swallow when his eyes meet Italy's again. "I apologize for alerting you to my knowledge of the guns in such a... such a careless way. I - " Another bitter sigh. " - I would just like to hear the truth from you. I expect nothing less and nothing more... Is that so unreasonable?"
And then, of all things, Italy glares at him, and his hands curl into fists. In his surprise, Germany loosens his grip on Italy's wrists, although the Italian doesn't seem to notice.
"D-do you really think," he begins in a low voice, "that y-you can just s-say you're sorry and that it makes everything r-right?" His arms are beginning to shake - Germany can feel it. "Y-you expect th-the biggest secret of my life to j-just be something I let go so easily? A-and," he lifts his head off the ground and narrows his red eyes even further, "do y-you think you're actually being r-reasonable with that request?"
Germany can hardly even breathe."What about it is not reasonable?" he asks, honestly not sure what the Italian is hinting at. "I've known you for God knows how many decades anymore, and I want to know the truth - !"
"Oh, y-you want the truth," Italy spits out, his head dropping down again. "You found out yesterday th-that I kept two guns in a desk, and y-you managed to learn part of the story, a-and so you ask for the truth! I found a d-dying nation in Warsaw more than five years ago, w-with cuts a-and bruises and b-burns - " he lets out a sob, " - and o-only part of the s-story to go with it, a-and I d-didn't push y-you f-for the d-details!"
Then, just as rapidly as it appeared, the venom in his expression dies; he's sobbing again, so hard that Germany actually wonders if he's going to be sick. By God - and it was true - in his first reactions of anger, he hadn't even considered that Italy had suffered so, so much longer than he had. And then, just as soon as he thinks this, he removes his hands from Italy completely and instead uses his palms as support to lean over and kiss away all the tears sliding down his cheeks - and even then, he only has a moment before Italy uses a freed hand to pull Germany's mouth lower, onto his own.
"Mi - dispace," Germany breathes between kisses, in Italy's native tongue.
The other nation pulls away for a moment, his eyes watering again. "No, I - ve, I'm sorry! I - I d-didn't mean to yell at you!"
Germany looks those bronze eyes over again. "France was right," he whispers to himself in a moment of epiphany.
"France," Germany repeats aloud. "I've never seen you angry before - I didn't even completely believe it was possible for you to be angry at anything - but he insisted that he'd seen you enraged - " He shakes his head. "No, you have no reason to be sorry for any of the things you said; you were right."
"You - you talked t-to France?" Italy squeaks.
It occurs to Germany then, at least slightly in advance, that he's treading on a subject that could turn nasty very quickly. "I tried to talk to France," he insists, softly rubbing his thumb on the Italian's cheek. "He told me that it would be an great injustice if I had to hear the full story from him."
One of Italy's slender hands comes up to his face to rest on Germany's, softly gripping it; he closes his eyes and swallows. "I c-can see his logic," he admits quietly. He gives a shaky sigh. "W-what are we doing? I - I mean, we keep s-saying that we l-love each other and hug and k-kiss but - but we both know that we've j-just been ignoring th-the things we need to say a-and that neither one of u-us is really h-happy with it!"
The worst part is, Germany knows that Italy is completely, undeniably right about it; it's all a facade. On the outside, they look as wonderful and healthy as the rosebushes they're lying next to, but underneath it...! A horrible thought strikes him - it's entirely possible that, once they dig beneath the surface of the act, they might not even love each other anymore. That idea truly terrifies him more than anything else that he's ever dealt with.
"You - you know I love you, ja?" he whispers.
And with that, Italy's eyes darken. His hand curves slightly, so that his nails dig into Germany's skin, and, for a brief second, the German imagines a tingling in his palms.
"...Prove it," Italy softly says.
Germany thinks it over. A challenge? "I will," the blond promises. "But first, I think we should go inside."
"R-right." The Italian wipes his eyes on his dirty sleeve and watches Germany get up slowly, never losing eye contact once. When he tries to stand, he winces in pain. "Ow... I'm sorry, my foot is - "
He doesn't have the opportunity to finish his sentence, because Germany abruptly bends over and picks him up bridal-style. The German can't help but halfway smile when Italy automatically puts his arms around his neck and frowns at him with puffy eyes. "You carried me when I couldn't walk," he points out. "It's time I returned the favor."
That moment, it seems to him, is the moment they leave behind the illusion of paradise.
In the bathtub of the house, Italy is still cleaning the dirt off of himself. Germany had finished some time before, using the downstairs work shower, and now he is waiting for Italy to call for help getting out of the tub - the Italian's foot seems to be causing him trouble from when he had fallen earlier. Patiently, the German sits on the bed, still looking himself over and trying to not talk himself out of what he's going to do -
His head snaps up to the doorway and to Italy, wearing a black bathrobe. "Feliciano - you're walking alright? Does it still hurt very much?"
"It's getting better." The Italian looks him over with wide eyes. "W-why are you...?"
Germany stands up. For the first time in almost five years, he is allowing his skin to be seen by someone - no long-sleeved shirts, no pants, and no shoes in the way; his black boxers are the only clothing item he has on. It makes him feel horribly exposed, but he knows why he's doing this. "You wanted me to prove that I love you," he reminds Italy steadily. "I can't think of a better way."
With large eyes and shaking hands, Italy comes and sits next to him on the bed. His hand comes to rest on Germany's left arm, directly over the blue ink; he swallows.
Germany begins there. "I was given that within five minutes of arriving in Auschwitz, in December of 1943 - it's the first ugly scar I got there. I - " he pauses to swallow a lump in his throat, " - I received it along with a pink triangle, to announce to everyone that I was a prisoner because of homosexuality. I... I did it because I love you."
He looks up from the floor then, and when he sees how torn Italy appears, he wants to die - he's the one making Italy upset, and it's happening with the mention of just one of the dozens and dozens of marks on his body. How is he supposed to go on if the Italian is going to - ?
"Continue," the brunette whispers. "P-per favore."
His hand, then. "Within a few hours, I was taken to Josef Mengele - he was called the Angel of Death for the things he did to people - and he made good use of his time and ordered my fingers snapped - " And Italy must have known of the incident, but even so Germany sees him trying to hold in a noise of terror with his hand. " - and I simply took the pain," he says slowly, "because I was not going to be known as a coward who couldn't fight for the person he loved - "
"Because of... me?" Italy breathes.
Why does he sound so shocked? Does he not know? Can he not understand that he is worth it all? "Ja," the German confirms softly, "for you... A few days later, they moved on to my feet..."
It takes a full hour - an awful, long hour - to recount where all the scars came from. By the end of it, Germany is holding the Italian in his arms again; the blond's voice is consistently cracking with emotion, and Italy is openly sobbing once more.
"And - a-and - and y-you did it f-f-for me! Oh, Dio!" he cries. "I-it was m-my fault, t-t-too!"
"No it wasn't," Germany insists. "None of it was your fault - "
"S-si! Y-yes it was! I - I - I was th-the one who s-said o-over the phone th-that - that - ah - a-and - and th-that's w-why you w-were - "
"They would have found another charge!" he insists again, holding onto Italy a little tighter. "The government was getting tired of me! Hitler was furious that I sometimes hesitated to follow his orders - he was hunting for a reason to depose me anyway!"
Slowly, Italy's breathing deepens, although he's still shaking from his sobs. "L-Ludwig?"
"You..." He swallows, audibly. "Y-you forgot one th-thing they d-did to you."
Germany closes his eyes and rests his head on Italy's shoulder. There were to be no secrets anymore. "How did you know?"
"A-Austria f-found scar t-tissue when he w-was looking you o-over," Italy whispers. He pauses, waits, and gasps when there is no denial. "Oh God, th-they did!"
Inhale. Exhale. Breathe, Germany. "With a - a pipe, yes."
And Italy looks so broken by the confirmation that Germany can't help but draw him closer and wish and pray that somehow, things get better than this.
"I w-wish I could h-have taken it i-instead!" Italy moans.
The blond stiffens. "Never! I wouldn't have ever, ever let you do that for me - "
"Ve! - I would rather break m-myself than other people!" he wails. He chokes on his own tears for a moment as Germany stares at him with widening eyes. "I - I would," he repeats. "I - I know I w-would - "
Germany can't believe he just asked that question; neither can Italy, apparently. "S-scusi?"
"How did it happen?" he elaborates, his voice cracking. "I can see how you would be worth my ordeals, but - but not how I would be worth yours."
He's still crying; fresh tears are running down his cheeks. "It was H-Hitler, a-and if you'd h-heard what he said a-about you... I shot him. B-but I..."
"B-but before that," he whispers, seeming terrified to say it out loud, "before that - I crucified him."
He's not worth it. Germany is absolutely, completely, and without a doubt not worth so much suffering. "I-I'm not!" he shakily insists when Italy is done with his side of the truth.
"Si! You are!"
"Nein! I did nothing for you but put you through hell for decades and decades - "
" - and now I'm just a worthless nation who has nightmares every single damn time he closes his eyes!"
"How c-can you think that way?"
"It's the truth!"
"Ludwig, I - I don't regret it at all!"
Their arguing pauses. That means that - that Italy would do it over again? "...You... don't regret it," he repeats coldly.
"I - no! I don't! I've wondered a-and wondered if it was the r-right thing to do, a-and I still suffer all the time and see his eyes when h-he was dying, but I-I could n-never, e-ever regret d-doing it for you!"
Germany's breath is caught in his throat. "I don't understand."
Italy shakily exhales. "Do y-you... do you remember wh-when you taught me h-how to use a gun? A-and you asked m-me i-if I could use it to save my o-own life - r-remember what I said?"
"You..." He swallows. "You said you couldn't do it."
"A-and for Romano's life?"
"You said no - "
"And f-for you?"
His eyes widen as he remembers. "Yes. You said you could."
"So - so w-what about you? Would y-you kill someone for yourself?"
"Maybe - "
"For - for Prussia?"
There's an unexpected pang in his chest at the mention of his brother. "Maybe," he admits.
"A-and... for me?" he finishes weakly.
"...I don't know."
That's the moment when Germany realizes he won't ever understand.
For him, it's not a moment of sorrow or fear, but rather one of self-disappointment - he's supposed to feel what Italy feels about it, but he can't. In his mind, murder is still murder, no matter the reason behind it, and that conclusion sounds so stupid in his head and so unlike what he wants to believe that he doesn't know how to handle it.
He sighs, irritably, and Italy seems to sense that there's some sort of internal struggle within the German.
"I'm sorry," the nation whispers, resting his head on Germany's chest.
It takes nearly three full days for the two of them to have another real conversation.
Italy, the German notes, spends his time wandering around outside, in and out of the garden in something of a daze. Perhaps he's looking for the gun he dropped - if he is, he won't find it. Germany had gone out early in the morning and buried both the Beretta and the Walther right next to the rosebushes. The ground is wet enough that it doesn't look as though any of the soil has been disturbed; the illusion of paradise remains there.
He knows Italy is wandering because he has almost completely shut himself in the spare bedroom alone for those days and spent the hours staring out the window. There isn't much to see. The days are cloudy, and the Italian isn't acting like his usual, sunny self to brighten things up.
That third night, they cross paths in the kitchen on accident; Germany walks in on Italy pouring himself a glass of deep red wine. Both of them freeze.
"You're... you're wearing sleeves again," Italy slowly states.
Germany glances at himself and represses a sigh. "It was cool today," he excuses.
The Italian says nothing to that subject but, when Germany nearly turns to leave, he blurts out, "Please! - do... do you hate me for what I did?"
"No," he whispers.
The brunet opens his mouth, then closes it to bite his lip; he exhales loudly through his nose, like he's trying to repress a shudder. When Germany turns back, he suddenly looks at the wine and decides that alcohol would probably do his system some good. He goes to get a glass of his own, but Italy suddenly speaks up and says, "Y-you can just share with me. I won't drink all of this."
They sit down together, sharing the one bottle and cup. Germany takes the first sip and asks, "Do you still love me for not... understanding?"
"I..." Italy takes his own mouthful and swallows very carefully. "Si. I wouldn't fully expect you to understand, really."
He frowns. "Why the hell not?"
Pursing his lips, the Italian responds honestly, "Because I don't understand it either, sometimes. It's just - it's impossible to completely acknowledge because, i-if I did, I wouldn't be able to face the world."
They pause, staring not at each other but at the wine, as though it will somehow give them answers and solutions for fixing this riff between them.
"Why are you still here?" Germany asks suddenly.
Next to him, those brown eyes reflect confusion. "Ve?"
"I've got nothing to give you anymore," he specifies, unconsciously curling and uncurling his hand into a fist. "We've been rotting here in this house for almost five years, and what have we got to show for it?"
"I'm still here," Italy begins, "because I love you - "
"Is there something wrong with me?"
"Italians are supposed to be physical," he says irritably, suddenly jerking the glass towards him and taking a full mouth of wine. He sits the almost-empty glass on the table and folds his arms; staring at the table with a dark brow, he continues. "You used to hug and kiss me so much that the habitual part of my conscience had half a mind to push you away, but it seems like you hardly bother anymore - "
" - and never once have you asked me to have sex or anything!" Germany points out. "I know you can be awfully naive at times, but I highly doubt that the thought hasn't ever crossed your mind! There's something wrong with me, and I can tell you believe it from the way we've been - "
He never finishes that sentence because, with a sudden sob of air, the glass has been slammed down onto the table; Germany snaps out of his stupor and can hardly lift his eyes up beyond the cracked facade between them. He's too afraid to see what Italy's brown eyes hold.
"Th-there is," says a shaking voice, "n-not a single th-thing wrong w-with you. You - you're th-the - " He has to pause to swallow something. " - you're th-the most perfect a-and the least s-selfish person I kn-know!"
And when Italy removes his shaking left hand from the broken wine glass, it's hard to tell if the stain left behind is red wine or blood. Germany's eyes widen slightly with concern. "Let me see your fingers."
"L-Ludwig I - "
"Please," he whispers.
The Italian pauses for a moment; slowly, then, he extends his hand. It is blood tainting the pure crystal. Italy's fourth finger has a few perfect drops forming from a small cut on the underside. "I-I'm fine," he insists. "It's... it's j-just a scratch!"
Even so, Germany carefully cradles the hand in his own. "I'm sorry," he whispers. "That was my fault."
"N-no, it wasn't. I - I just, u-um..." Germany looks up imploringly, and Italy turns away as he continues, "I knew a l-little a-about the things th-they did t-to you, a-and I didn't want t-to... to..."
The first emotion he feels is anger: Italy had known. But as soon as he realizes the intent of the statement, Germany completely forgets every reason he should feel upset over such a thing. Didn't knowing mean that Italy had been holding back, just like him? Germany knows about his own faults, of course - how he pulled back when the kisses became too deep, how he forced his hands to remain immobile at times, how he had to stop and make excuses to leave the room when he felt things were coming close to disaster - but he'd been completely oblivious that Italy had been doing the same until this point in time.
"You could have control," Italy whispers. "I - I wouldn't mind."
"I don't want to hurt you," he says, not even blinking when Italy's brimming eyes turn back his way. "Never."
"You wouldn't," he replies. "Not even if you tried."
Germany is very careful to make sure he doesn't react to that; instead, he focuses his attention on the finger. "I don't believe there are any glass splinters," he diagnoses calmly. "It should heal just fine."
"R-really? Ve, it kinda hurts."
He can't help but smile just a little as he brings the finger to his lips; he hears Italy inhale a little with surprise when he kisses the tip of it. Most people, he supposes, would be disgusted by the taste of the blood, but there's so little of it that he can barely even tell there was any in the first place.
"Is it better now?" he asks softly.
And somehow, by the time his brain his brain catches up with the Italian's actions, he's pushed back into the kitchen chair all the way and has Italy wrapped entirely around the front of his body. One of them whines - he thinks it's Italy but isn't sure - and he subconsciously presses in harder. Their hands are wandering, but their mouths never stray.
Damn his brain! As soon as he realizes what is on the verge of happening, he grasps Italy's wrists and forces them apart. "I - I can't," he protests.
Italy looks at him in earnest. "Why not anymore?"
"I," he says, "would rather kill myself than take a chance and hurt you."
"Ve! - I said that you couldn't ever hurt me!"
"You don't know that!" Germany insists.
"I do!" Italy insists right back. "You proved you would never hurt me by sending me away during the war when I made my stupid mistake over the phone!" he cracks. "R-remember?"
"That was different," he tries to say.
"...Ludwig," the brunet pleads. "Please. Please. We - we both need it."
That shouldn't be the case, his logical side protests. He's read God-knows how many books on the subject, and not a one of them would describe that as a healthy solution -
And then he damns the books, too. He looks into Italy's eyes again, and for just a second - just a measly second! - he sees what Italy must have seen that night back in 1945: eyes full of life, with a chance finding hope and fulfilling dreams. If anything, the image is even stronger for him because, instead of looking into the eyes of a stranger, he's staring into the soul of the man he loves.
"If I hurt you," he says shakily, never once looking away, "if I hurt you, then you have to let me know. We'll stop, because maybe you could take the pain, but I can't let you. Feliciano, do you understand?"
In that instance, he wonders what Italy sees in his own eyes. Are they scared - or are they full of anticipation?
"...Si. Ja," the Italian replies.
They say no more as the kitchen is abandoned.
It's night, and the bedroom is very nearly pitch black. From just outside the door where he walks, he is surprised to hear, "Ludwig? W-where are you?"
"Shh. I'm right here."
He hears the bed creak. "I can't see you!"
Walking back and lying down with the mattress again, he manages to find and grasp Italy's hand. "Here."
"O-oh, okay - what! - what're you doing?" he squeaks.
Germany's other hand has found and is beginning to gently rub the Italian's - his Italian's - stomach, with a dampened cloth. "Cleaning up," he murmurs. In the complete darkness, he gently leans forward and presses his mouth to Italy's forehead.
"...Thank you," he adds, his cheeks only heating slightly.
"Oh - cleaning - oh." A pause. "You're so good to me. Y-you're s-so - "
A surge of horror causes his eyes to widen and a lull in the rhythm of his motions. "I hurt you, didn't I!" he insists.
"You're crying! Feliciano, what did I - "
"N-no you didn't hurt me!" he sobs, not even trying to hide it. He abruptly causes Germany to drop the cloth when he suddenly presses his face to Germany's shoulder and wraps his arms around the blond's neck. "I-I just r-realized that I a-always thought that we w-would never make love b-because all the th-things w-we were hiding k-kept were stopping us and - and I realized that w-we won't ever have to h-hide again a-and - and - "
"It's alright - calm down - " Germany tries.
" - and I love you so much!"
His throat closes. Breathe. "I - I love you, too."
Italy lets out a half sob and a half laugh at that. "A-are you crying too?"
To laugh or cry harder? "Damn it all, F-Feliciano! - "
He is about to wipe his own eyes when a pair of lips brushing his upper cheek. "L-let me take care o-of those, per favore Ludwig?" A pause. "You kissed m-my tears away, si?"
He sinks into the mattress, gently holding Italy close as they wait out the darkness.
The sun must have finally come out, because even from behind his eyelids he can tell there's light shining in through the bedroom window.
A bell-like laugh. "I - sorry, it's just - I've been waking up before you lately! Ve, you aren't sick, are you?"
He softly opens one eye, slightly amused and still puffy in the eyes and yet feeling rather unnaturally giddy from the night before. "In truth? I've never felt better in my life." As he opens his other eye, he becomes aware again that he's completely exposed to Italy's gaze; his conservative nature kicks in instantly, and he begins to pull the sheets back up around him.
"No! - don't." Italy's hands reach out and stop him. "W-we can't go back to hiding," he explains quickly, his own pink eyes never straying from Germany's face.
Slowly, the blond drops the white linen, leaving all the scars exposed. He sighs, giving the situation a bit of finality. "Right," he agrees.
Gently, he gathers Italy's head in his hands and brings him closer for a kiss; when they break apart some time later, the Italian hums in contentment and lowers himself onto Germany's chest. For a few moments, they lie there in silence, until Germany cautiously asks, "How are you... feeling?"
"I'm - I'm just a little sore," Italy admits, sounding slightly nervous. "And, um - oh, please don't get mad for this, but I think... um... I found just a little blood on the sheets - "
"Just a little!" he insists a bit shrilly.
Germany thinks it over, his face etched in a frown. "I didn't want to hurt you," he says. "God damn it."
Italy inhales and exhales deeply. "I know - and you didn't. Maybe... maybe you still think that what they did to you and what we did are similar, but - look at me." Germany does, and Italy continues without a hitch, "You are nothing like them. Everything physical will heal - and if you could see yourself the way I see you, you would know without a single doubt that nothing you did last night caused me any sort of measurable pain."
"I," Germany slowly says, "have no idea what I did to deserve you."
"I-is that your way of saying that... maybe you love me?"
"Maybe? Only maybe?" It's said with an incredulous tone of voice. He presses their foreheads together and softly confesses, "Ich habe immer dich geliebt."
Italy can't help but grin at that. "I hope this lasts forever," he says back.
Germany frowns. "It won't - but I believe we should take advantage of it while it lasts."
"Would you spend the rest of the day here with me?"
"Oh, I don't know..." Italy says teasingly. "It's finally sunny outside now - maybe I want to appreciate the weather - "
"Or, even better. Would you spend the rest of your life with me?"
The playfulness disappears and is instead replaced by surprise. An instant later, though, a smile slowly creeps onto his face. "Well... si! - I'll stay for thousands and thousands of years if you ask me to!"
It doesn't matter that, to a degree, Germany still has no idea how to deal with the truth of what either of them have done and been through - because now, since he finally has asked the question that's been on his mind for so long, they really do have thousands upon thousands of years to realize if it was worth it all or a waste of love.
(He's pretty confident of his answer already, actually.)
"But... ve, I have one condition," Italy adds.
Germany raises a bemused eyebrow. "A condition?"
He giggles, somewhat nervously. "Can we... um... you know... make love some more? Well - um - maybe not right now! Because I do feel a little sore, and I don't think you want to accidentally make it worse - "
A kiss to his forehead cuts him off. "I can't believe you felt that you had to ask."
And no response to that is needed - their fingers and limbs wrap around one another, and Italy softly sets his head above Germany's heart. It makes the blond a little self-conscious of how his chest is rising and falling, but so long as the brunet makes no effort to change positions, he feels just as content as he has ever been.
"Did you dream last night?" Italy asks softly, after a while in the silence. "Did you have any scary ones, like you usually do?"
"I..." He pauses and lets their entangled arms hold on a little tighter. "Yes, I dreamed... but it wasn't a nightmare. It was nice."
Italy looks up from Germany's chest, surprised. "Ve - not a nightmare?" he smiles. "What happened in it?"
How to explain it?... It had been something he'd dreamed several times - Hungary had been reading him a story as a small boy. He'd been so excited, he remembered, to hear the story of Sir Lancelot and the Fair Maid of Astolat, but Hungary had only made it through the prelude - a shorter tale of how Lancelot saved the fair Guinevere from certain death - before Austria appeared and forced the nation to go and do her chores. Normally it wasn't a detail that stuck out to him, but now he distinctly remembers Hungary's saddened face turning to him and saying, "We didn't even get to the real story! I'm sorry!"
But, for the first time since he'd had that dream, his child self hadn't been saddened by this - instead, for once, he'd felt glad that there was more to the book that he hadn't heard yet. Even as he glanced at the cover and realized that Arthur was to die, he wasn't let down by the revelation. Instead of the disappointment that comes with not knowing the details of the plot, he felt - in that moment - anticipation for what lay ahead. And the nation he suddenly wondered about then (and the nation he still sometimes wonders about now) was -
"What is it?" Italy teases. "Was it a dream about last night? Because, ve, that would be a really nice thing to dream of, I think - "
"Nein." Germany leans down and stops his chatter with a kiss. Shaking his head a little to himself, he reaches a hand up and strokes Italy's hair.
"I dreamed," he says slowly, with a rare smile extending to his eyes, "that our story was just beginning."