"Your brother will teach you how to fight."
Those words were the first thing that Holy Rome heard upon his arrival to Regensburg. He almost pointed out that he knew how to fight, how would he have expanded otherwise? But the emperor pointed out that territory expansion was one thing, fighting for one's existence was another. Expansion had already taken a toll on Holy Rome, using his energy for expanding the empire instead of physically growing. The emperor then proceeded to inform Holy Rome of a phenomenon called 'nation personifications', and that Holy Rome was one of these personifications.
Prussia, as he learned, was this older brother and the last of the Germanic territories to fall under the Holy Roman Empire.
Maybe that was why the two brothers took an instant dislike to each other.
Prussia turned out to be an ego-driven individual, just because he was (used to be) the biggest of the Germanic territories. He did not care about the numerous territories that faded almost right after birth. He didn't like Holy Rome either, so that was fine by Holy Rome. The young empire learned quickly that Prussia wouldn't care either way what happened to him, so he told himself that he shouldn't care about Prussia either. No one would mourn another lost territory, another lost brother, so Holy Rome swallowed it down and forged ahead.
All he had to do was surpass Prussia, leave him behind and not look back. Show Prussia that he didn't care if Prussia were to fade away.
Show Prussia how much it hurt inside.
Holy Rome took his brother's lessons to heart. Never learning from his mistakes. As long as victory was achieved, he was one step farther from fading away into nonexistence.
It took one nightmare to strip away Holy Rome's defenses, flimsy walls he constructed for himself, to hold his fears at bay. Maybe it was a memory, of another brother that Holy Rome had played with in their early years, a brother that simply disappeared one day and never came back.
Holy Rome remembered curling into a ball that night, stifled sobs of fear shaking his little frame. He'd pulled the thin cotton blanket over himself to hide; the tent walls were not soundproof and the troops didn't need to know that their bossy commander was frightened. Worse, pompous Prussia didn't need to know that either.
Holy Rome didn't know what happened, but he woke up the next morning to find himself in a cocoon of warmth and security. A cocoon that had a beating heart. Poking his head cautiously from the blankets, he found himself tucked in Prussia's tight embrace, the elder nation fast asleep on the edge of the cot.
A white flag flew between the two brothers. As far as the soldiers were concerned, Holy Rome and Prussia remained as distant as ever. Only the commanders noticed the slight fondness in Prussia's eyes that grew over the course of time, the small hope in Holy Rome's as the two brothers led the troops to victory.
It had been during a break in the march that Holy Rome was exploring the Italian countryside to find a bird's nest, fallen on the ground and full of empty eggshells and a quivering blob of wet feathers. Cradling the small bird, Holy Rome brought it back to his tent, hoping to hide it from Prussia; he didn't want a little creature to die so soon. He didn't know what Prussia would do if he knew about it.
The bird disappeared that night from his tent. But he did notice that Prussia's uniform jacket had an extra lump to it, and Prussia had a grumpy mask as they set out.
The two had an unspoken agreement never to talk about the bird that was nestled in Prussia's inner coat pocket. Just for the sake of saving face in front of the troops.
He was summoned to Vienna not too long after; there was an administrative side to ruling an empire and Prussia could only teach him so much. He also found out why Prussia was excited to be there as soon as they arrived; they weren't even at the entrance gate when Prussia started tormenting the personification of Austria. At first, Prussia is relentless in his tormenting of Austria, continuing even after the woman, Hungary, took a cast iron frying pan to Prussia's head. If anything, it only encouraged him. Chaos reigned throughout the house, scaring cats and servants.
That was the first time that Holy Rome ever completely lost his temper with Prussia and ordered him to stop, putting the full weight of the empire in his voice. Then, still riled up, Holy Rome lectured both Austria and Prussia, sending both nations into a shocked but obedient silence.
After Prussia finally left, Holy Rome wondered if had just been another test from his brother, to see if he could assert his authority.
He'd followed Prussia to the gate, a strange tugging in his heart at the sight of his brother leaving. He hadn't realized how attached he became, but when Prussia knelt down in front of him to say good bye, Holy Rome saw that Prussia was struggling to remain the teacher. "Stay strong," Prussia finally said, clasping Holy Rome's hands in his own. A wrapped object was pressed into Holy Rome's hand, and the next thing that the small empire knew, Prussia was swiftly riding away, and Austria had joined Holy Rome at the iron gate.
"If you require anything, please inform me." Austria respectfully guided Holy Rome back to the mansion and to his new quarters. Holy Rome couldn't figure out how he had defeated an older and graceful nation, but did not voice his thoughts aloud. "Miss Hungary will also provide you with anything that you ask," the Austrian added as he pushed a door open, and Holy Rome saw that his belongings had already been placed within. He waited until Austria and Hungary were gone from the hall before he curled up on the luxurious mattress, feeling horribly out of place in an ornate mansion. He yearned for the hard life on the front lines, but knew that in order to stay strong, he had to make sacrifices.
It wasn't until he met the other servant girl, the personification of Northern Italy, that he realized he had unknowingly entered a hidden kingdom. One whose borders that the little girl had innocently created. In this magical world, time ceased to exist as the girl led him to all of her favorite hiding places, spots she hid in when she displeased Austria. Romping through the fields transformed into nighttime escapades as Italy chased fireflies in the dark, Holy Rome close behind. Italy let him forget about the stresses from his imperial duties. In Italy's world, empires and wars and fear didn't exist. Death did not exist in this magical kingdom that grew with the children's imaginations.
But one afternoon, Austria informed Holy Rome that an important man had come to visit. Holy Rome had assumed it was just another visiting dignitary, but was surprised to meet the mighty and famous (or infamous, depending on whom Holy Rome talked to) British Empire. Britain, dressed in his characteristic scarlet red, looked pale and withdrawn. As though he had been grieving. Austria did most of the talking, and Holy Rome soon learned that Britain once had a little brother, a colony under British care. Austria had been shocked when Britain finally confessed to having lost control and subsequently the entire colony. America, the new nation was calling himself, land of the free. Holy Rome listened with distaste for this America; didn't the brat realize how well Britain had been taking care of him? That Britain could have been more brutal in America's upbringing?
"I will not lose another colony like this," Britain growled, but Holy Rome sensed the lack of conviction in the Englishman's voice. The mighty British Empire was not as impervious to damage as everyone once thought, and Britain had been disgraced on the European world stage.
If the mighty British Empire could lose colonies, then he was not as great as the Holy Roman Empire, which had yet to lose a territory.
Holy Rome was better than Britain.
Holy Rome's dreams were full of his plans for European conquest that night.
But, when he found Italy the next afternoon to play, he realized that (to his secret embarrassment) that he preferred playing with Italy than playing with other European powers. Italy smiled a lot, laughed and was full of stories (some of which, Holy Rome was sure she was making up). The two of them played as Holy Rome kept the thoughts of conquest far from his thoughts.
Prussia managed to slap Holy Rome back into reality without ever seeing his brother. While Holy Rome had been playing pretend underneath green trees and summer flowers, France had been threatening his borders. Threatening to kill him, threatening to wipe him from existence. Austria told Holy Rome about Prussia's midnight visit, and told him that Prussia would soon send for him from the battlefield.
In order to preserve his memories with Italy, he didn't tell her anything. But it was hard to play now, knowing that he was going to leave any moment and he still hadn't told her how he felt. He couldn't decide whether he should ask her to come with him so they could remain together, but then he would remember the blood, the violence, the adrenaline rush of the battlefield, and then decided not to because he didn't want her to see him as a monster. Then he realized that he treasured her company and love above all, and made his decision. Finally, when he told her, told her that he would be leaving soon, he said he wanted her to join him. He told her that the two of them could expand the empire and become co-rulers of the mighty legacy of the powerful Rome. His hopes were set high and his tone took a dreamlike quality when he talked.
She said no.
He had never handled refusal well (and boy did Prussia have the scars and stories to prove it). But instead of reacting like he would have had if Prussia was there, he somehow wound up whispering a promise to come back. He would come back to Italy. Death itself would not stop him from coming back to Italy, or at least that was what Holy Rome told himself as he left with his entourage. He remembered Prussia telling him that nations couldn't die as long their people were still there.
Yes, victory against the French was going to be his.
But first, he needed practice.
Prussia was already on the move when Holy Rome and his men joined the others. In fact, Holy Rome managed to catch up to his brother while the Prussian troops were on the move. His men blended easily with the others, and Holy Rome had the satisfaction of sneaking up on his brother and startling Prussia's black eagle (which in turn startled Prussia enough to nearly fall off his horse). Instead of being angry however, Prussia had only laughed and the two caught up while riding alongside each other.
Only once when they were safe from prying eyes, Prussia pulled his smaller brother into a tight hug, and didn't say anything. He just held Holy Rome, and the small empire sensed hidden desperation in the elder's body. As though Prussia had done something that unintentionally put Holy Rome in harm's way.
"Bruder, are you okay?" Holy Rome whispered.
"I swear I won't let you get hurt. I swear."
Prussia refused to elaborate on his cryptic response.
Instead, the two plunged back into the battlefield. Prussia's gift from long ago, his Iron Cross, remained clasped at Holy Rome's collar. Holy Rome silently considered it to be his lucky charm; since Prussia had become powerful in the time he'd had it. Perhaps it would be lucky for him too. Holy Rome proudly led the campaigns as he took Austria's and Prussia's lessons to heart, often overruling Prussia's decisions when it came to troop movements and the timing of the attacks. He felt the power coursing through his veins as the empire's borders expanded slowly over the years and relished the feeling.
Italy remained with him in his thoughts. Even when he didn't realize that he was supposed to be focusing on the next campaign, Italy's heartbroken expression was the last thing burned into his memory. Instead of the borders of the French empire, he saw the Italian territorial lines.
The night before he and Prussia were to meet France himself in battle, Holy Rome confessed to his brother about Italy. It felt good, to unburden himself before battle. As much as he loved Italy, he could not bring his memories of her into battle with him. He could not afford to be distracted, even if he was fighting in Italy's name to protect her from the evil Napoleon Bonaparte.
He told Prussia about Italy, that he would return to her and return to her magical kingdom where no one died.
Prussia told him to go to her once he won against Napoleon and France. Holy Rome said he would, that he had a promise to fulfill.
The morning of the battle brought a red sun and sky. Prussia was wearing his colors, while Holy Rome wore the pure white of the Holy Roman Empire with a gold collar on top of his uniform. Today was special: he could sense it. Prussia's eagle was perched on his shoulder, but as soon as the two brothers began riding toward the French lines, Holy Rome felt the adrenaline rush return.
The thrill of battle. It never ceased to amaze him, as he cut his way through the French troops. Colors and uniforms blurred as Holy Rome cut his way through, searching for the blond personification of the enemy country. This would be the first time that he would ever meet another country personification in close-quarters combat, and Holy Rome could not wait. He would emerge victorious, and then could set his sights on Great Britain. He saw himself uniting the world under Germanic rule.
Then, he spotted France.
The nation was wearing a deep blue, not caring if he stood out. He didn't see Holy Rome yet; he was on horseback next to another, significantly shorter man also on horseback. Holy Rome raised his sword to discreetly wipe off the blood that already stained his sword, and then twisted his horse around. If he could get to France before the French nation turned his head, then Holy Rome could run his sword clean through the Frenchman's chest. His understanding of nations was limited to what Prussia told him, but if Prussia was correct, then France would be reincarnate in his capitol, and then would be weak long enough for Holy Rome to move and conquer Paris, and thus defeat a large European power for good.
Today was France. Tomorrow would be the world.
And Italy would be forever safe.
Holy Rome charged.
The next five seconds passed in a slow blur. Holy Rome was solely focused on France when next thing he knew, he was staring into a pair of blue eyes full of malice. Somewhere, a pain-filled scream echoed through the air, but Holy Rome did not listen to the silent and desperate plea for him to stop.
The next thing he saw was the cloudy sky, France looking down from his perch on the horse. His sword, once silver, was now coated in vivid crimson. Holy Rome frowned, trying to replay the last few moments in his mind as the Frenchman turned the horse around and silently left.
But he could not remember anything.
Prussia's horrified face filled his vision next, the other's mouth moving with no sound. Instead, Holy Rome heard the thrumming of a increasing heartbeat as something warm spread rapidly across his chest. His eyelids fluttered as the pain began to creep to the edge of his consciousness. So he was hurt? Prussia said that countries could recover from injuries as long as their people remained strong. His people were strong, right?
Holy Rome opened his mouth to remind Prussia of this. But his mouth did not respond to the brain's commands; instead, Prussia began shouting; Holy Rome could tell from his brother's rapidly rising chest and the curt movements from the elder's mouth. But Holy Rome could not hear Prussia anymore...instead, he heard the soft tinkling of a girl's laughter and soft promises. He let himself drift toward the comforting sounds, unaware that the sky in his field of vision was changing and that a warm liquid was occasionally splashing onto his cooling cheek. He felt nothing. He heard nothing. He said nothing.
He saw nothing.
Instead, he closed his eyes and let visions of the sweet Italian girl swim in front of his eyelids, and the soft regret that he would not be able to fulfill his promise as soon as he would have liked. The pain was starting to numb everything from his awareness to his senses. He wondered if Prussia could tell her, that Holy Rome had to recover first before going back to her home.
The names and faces blurred until there was no more.
"Your brother will teach you how to fight."
Those words were the first thing that Germany heard upon his arrival to Berlin. He was tired and worn out, having fought the silver-haired, red-eyed stranger the entire ride from the woods to this strange city. He missed the woods with a fierce passion; those had been quiet compared to the brusque men that spent a good three days hunting the little territory down.
Germany had awaken inside the men's camp, confused and disoriented with no idea of how he got there or who he even was, and at first, had sat down outside his tent until someone told him to do something. Then the silver-haired stranger had appeared, shocked and delighted at the same time to see him. There had been no introductions, but Germany still caught the flash of disappointment in the red eyes when he confessed to not remembering who the silver-haired man was. Strangely hurt and guilty, Germany had snuck away from them in the dead of night. It wasn't until dawn broke when the men started searching. All at the orders of the silver-haired man.
Now he looked up at a regal man he had never seen before in his life; the regal man was but just one more in the court in Berlin.
The words tumble out of Germany's mouth before he can catch them. "I have no brother."
The silver-haired soldier that he'd fought looked away.
The regal man before him frowned before turning back to the silver-haired soldier, silently asking for an explanation. "He is Germany." The stranger's tone is curt and cold.
"What of Holy Rome?"
Germany's blue eyes flickered back to the silver-haired soldier.
"Holy Rome is dead. It was too little, too late." Red eyes looked down to the stone floor.
"I see." The regal man gestured to Germany. "I still wish for you to train him. Make him into a worthy heir of the Holy Roman Empire."
Germany had no wish to take a dead man's place. Especially since everyone but him seemed to know who the regal man was talking about. But there was no malice, no resentment in the silver-haired man's red eyes as the two of them made brief eye contact.
There was never anger in the other's eyes. No matter how many times Germany failed at first, the silver-haired man, Prussia as he introduced himself, was never angry with him. But he was still cold when it came to training, a brutal master that did not accept failure. Instead of lashing out, like Germany expected in the beginning, the Prussian only pushed Germany harder. Punishments for failure were subtle; perhaps less sleep than Germany desired, or less food. It all changed on the offense. But never once did Prussia ever raise his voice or lash out in anger. Prussia's black eagle, frightening yet strangely comforting at the same time, watched over him as Prussia's second set of eyes whenever the Prussian left Berlin on business.
In his younger years, Germany only ever tried to sneak out of Berlin once, frustrated by the stifling confines of the city. Prussia had caught him on the borders, and came to the closest to anger that Germany had and would ever see him get.
There was also a ghost in Berlin. He occasionally saw Prussia watch it. Germany knew that it was constantly at his heels, because it poisoned his dreams once a year. White-hot pain and whispered prayers haunted his dreams of fields and a little girl in a green dress that he had never met before. He never mentioned these nightmares to Prussia; wasn't Germany supposed to be Holy Rome's heir? And an heir to an empire never cried.
Aloud that is.
Tears and sniffles were buried in the pillow, and the chamber felt cold and he'd never felt so small and alone before.
It was still comforting in an odd but familiar way when Germany woke up the next morning to find himself in a cocoon of warmth and security. A cocoon that had a beating heart. Poking his head cautiously from the blankets, he found himself tucked in Prussia's tight embrace; the elder nation fast asleep on the edge of the bed and his eagle perched in the rafters, a silent sentinel to the scene below.
It was the first physical contact they ever had.
The compassion slowly came out of Prussia as Germany grew and strengthened. Soon he was surpassing his teachers in skill, but still had yet to beat Prussia in height. The more Germany improved, the more rules Prussia relaxed.
But he still refused to let Germany see the world beyond the limits of Berlin.
That night, after a long and bitter argument about Prussia's refusal to let Germany come and go as he pleased, Germany learned about the nation personifications. How that there were more ruthless countries out there, empires that would not hesitate to cut Germany down at the first strike. Prussia's descriptions of close calls and battle were bloody and graphic, and Germany couldn't tell whether Prussia was encouraging him or not to defy Prussia anyway.
When he did leave the borders, it was not of his choosing.
Prussia, bristling and feeling threatened from his powerful neighbors, took Germany by horseback to a friend of his; a guardian to watch over him while Prussia went to war. Germany was not yet at full height, a 'teenager' by human standards. This friend turned out to be another empire, or at least half of one. As it turned out, Austria shared his imperial power with his wife, Hungary. Both were formidable opponents in their own rights. Prussia trusted them.
When they arrived to the house, Germany, by reflex, glanced across the sprawling grounds as though looking for someone. He didn't know who he was looking for, but for some reason, he half expected to hear a child's laughter.
During his stay, it was Hungary that fussed over him the most and kept an eye on him. Austria was mired in the matters of his empire, and Germany sensed that the Austrian was keeping to himself for other personal reasons.
That was how Germany figured out that his damn ghost had followed him from Berlin.
Time slipped by. Germany explored terrain that was both alien and familiar at the same time. Hungary took his training farther and honed his combat skills, and even Austria humored him with a match or two while also educating him about the administrative side of ruling an empire. When Prussia finally returned, many, many years later, Germany proudly matched his brother in height and hopefully skill.
Prussia's test turned out to be actual combat, and it took decades to pass. The brutal master from Germany's childhood was back, cold and harsh as he shared his bloodlust for the battlefield with Germany. Prussia finally started to hang back from fighting, but Germany did notice that his brother never left the front lines while Germany was there.
War came easily for Germany. He held nothing back, sometimes competing with Prussia for dominance of the army's leadership while at the same time cutting down the enemy without a second thought. His mind was cold and focused the entire time, and nothing interfered.
It wasn't long though before Prussia suddenly cut the last shackle to Germany's prison of city walls without warning. Germany was formally introduced to the world as the German Empire, and met the other European nations. France eyed him suspiciously before Prussia made an off-hand remark to him, distracting the French nation from Germany. England and Spain treated him with indifference; to them, he was just Prussia's little but very ambitious brother that posed no threat to them.
"Well, I've done what I can." Prussia and Germany were in an antechamber, away from the main party. He pressed a wrapped object into Germany's hand and said, "Show me, that you are a worthy successor to the Holy Roman Empire."
It was the Iron Cross.
Germany turned the cross over in a gloved hand, something teasing the edge of his consciousness. He looked up to see Prussia looking away, in the same way he did that first day in the Berlin court. Prussia looked back, and gave a toothy grin.
"Tell you what, Luddy," he said, smirking as he used Germany's detested childhood nickname. "I'll give you a hint. Alliances make one stronger. And," here the smirk grew, "I heard that the descendant of the great Roman Empire, the great empire before Holy Rome, is still around. Veneziano, I think his name is. The stronger the ally, the stronger one's empire and country are."
Prussia's laughter echoed in Germany's ears that night as the German Empire stole his brother's horse and left Berlin in search of this mythical Veneziano, the personification of Northern Italy.
But, whatever Veneziano really was, (as Germany discovered that the Italian was something of a coward rather than a proud strong descendant of Rome), Germany hated him the most for bringing back the ghost of Germany's childhood. Worse, the ghost no longer struck on one night. Any day, any night was a potential attack.
The worst attack came during the Second World War, when Germany was charging France in order to fight for the French lands. Instead of running, the French nation had opted to stand and fight this time. As usual, Veneziano was off somewhere passed out in terror and Prussia was somewhere near also despite his weakened state.
Right as Germany was about to clash with France in one-on-one combat, he was slammed with the memory of charging France but on a different battlefield, in a different uniform. Prussia was with him on the battlefield, both in the present time and in the memory, and the inhuman scream that followed echoed across time and space, startling Germany so badly that he almost lost hiss complete focus. But he held, and France was beaten.
But that didn't disguise the fact that Prussia was extremely pale when Germany returned to where his bruder was standing near a wounded Veneziano...who was still passed out. Prussia shrugged it off though, mumbling something about a sense of déjà vu.
Germany admitted that he too had felt the sense of déjà vu, when he'd been charging France. Prussia had immediately looked down at Veneziano, as though to make sure the Italian was fast asleep before muttering that it was probably nothing and they were both overreacting. Déjà vu, a repeated action, something triggered by a memory of the same action.
But, like Prussia asked him, Germany does not dwell on it.
Memories never have answers. There is no point in dwelling in a half-remembered dream.
He looks down at the sleeping Italian in his arms. The two are sitting under a tree in Volkspark Friedrichshain, in Berlin. Germany's three dogs wander around nearby, careful not to stray too far from their master. The park provides an escape from the twenty-first century, and seals away the memories of eras past. The book that Germany was reading lies abandoned nearby, the worn bookmark still in its place. Germany leans against the tree, staring out across the serenity of the park. Veneziano's head is in Germany's lap, his mouth hanging open slightly as he remains still.
He doesn't know it, but he and Germany are unofficially on chaperon duty. Germany can see his brother walking along the waterside with Liechtenstein. She says something that prompts a real laugh from Prussia, a sound that Germany has rarely ever heard in his long life.
Germany wonders if sweet, little Liechtenstein is aware of the burden Prussia bears. Does she know that Prussia argued and nearly re-started World War Two with France when the Allies were deciding how to split the brothers up? How Ludwig almost went to Russia and Prussia stayed on the western half. Or that Prussia repeatedly sacrificed his own land to Germany to keep his brother alive over the centuries?
Does Liechtenstein know that Prussia is the only soul who knows what truly happened that night Holy Rome died?
A smile twitches on Germany's lips when he sees Prussia sweep Liechtenstein off her feet, the two of them laughing now. Chances are good that Liechtenstein does not know those burdens, but at least she helps ease them without realizing it.
"Italien?" He looks down to see Veneziano stretching, amber eyes blinking sleepily. Without answering, the Italian curls closer to Germany, his curl almost catching onto Germany's belt buckle. Shaking his head but still smiling faintly, Germany reaches for his book.
"Ti amo, Germania."
Germany responds in kind, carefully brushing some of Veneziano's hair out of his eyes. The ghost that had haunted him for so long had disappeared when Germany first heard those three words from Veneziano, but the little girl in the green dress still doggedly follows his dreams, whispering those two words - Ti amo - in his sleep. He doesn't bring this up to Veneziano, he doesn't want to cause strife in their peaceful relationship.
After all, the girl is nothing but a memory.
So Germany doesn't dwell on it.
A/N: I apologize for translation errors. The story's title means 'Memory' in German. Another Tumblr oneshot, but this wasn't published on Tumblr. I decided that it was way too long for Tumblr, and figured it would be better here. This is set in the same 'universe' as Second Chance and Kingdom Where No One Dies. Hetalia Axis Powers and all related media belong to Hidekaz Himaruya.