As usual, everything was Romano's fault (and Italy's fault too, a bit, but then again that went without saying.) But it was mostly Romano's, because at the end of the day Germany was used to Italy's over-the-top, in-your-face displays of hollow affection, and he was even somewhere close to becoming used to it. He still felt a little uncomfortable whenever he woke up in the morning and was greeted by the sight of his friend stretched out on the mattress at his side, mouth slack and open, at least ninety percent naked – but who wouldn't be? Germany had come to realise that Italy's hugs and kisses, and the near-constant clamour of "I love you, Germany!" and the whole sharing a bed thing was nothing – nothing – nothing more than a rather enthusiastic display of friendship, because Italy acted that way around everyone. And so he had got over the embarrassment of misreading the signs, and of rejection, and together they carried on as they always had.

Until Italy had to go and open his mouth about it all in front of his brother, and Romano got the wrong end of the stick and, as usual, went batshit insane.

"What," said Romano, "the fucking fuck do you mean?"

Italy laughed cheerfully. "What do you mean, what do I mean? I just said that if you were cold last night, you should have cuddled up to big brother Spain!"

Romano turned purple. "I don't cuddle," he hissed. "And we're not sharing a fucking bed or anything, you freak! We're just sharing a room! You and the potato bastard are sharing a room!" His expression suddenly changed to one of suspicion. "Why the hell did you think we were sharing a bed?"

"Oh, because me and Germany are sharing," Italy said casually. "We have a double room. Don't you?"

Romano did not respond for a moment. Germany anxiously began shuffling his notes in front of him, silently praying that America would stop fiddling with the projector and just get his presentation started.

"You're sharing," said Romano at last, "a bed?"

"Yes," said Italy, and then, just to make everything a little more painful and difficult (and potentially dangerous) added, "We share a bed quite a lot, don't we Germany? Whenever we visit each other."

"Er," said Germany.

Romano's hands shook, and his notes began to rip down the centre.

"Oooh, Romano," said Italy, "be careful!"

"You," said Romano, and Germany began to glance furtively around the room in an attempt to work out an escape route. "You – you share a bed."

"Sure!" said Italy, cheerful and blissfully ignorant. "It's fun!"

Germany could picture the images that were surely running through the older Italy brother's head right at that moment. They did, he thought, look very fun, but he was sure Romano would not see it that way.

"We don't do anything!" he blurted out, leaning over towards Italy and Romano. He could feel his face slowly growing redder and redder. Soon, he thought, the shade of it would rival Romano's. "We don't –"

"Well, we kiss," Italy said, looking thoughtful, and Romano let out a strangled howl of despair. "And we cuddle lots: Germany's a really great cuddler, even if he gets all embarrassed about it the morning after –"

Silently, Germany cursed Italy's choice of phrasing.

Romano was actually shaking with rage. "The morning after?" he hissed. "The morning after? You idiot, Veneziano – you have s– you – that's a sin!" he hissed, his face by this point so red Germany worried he might actually combust.

Italy looked confused. "A sin? But –"

"I've got it!" America cried, and suddenly the lights were out, and a PowerPoint presentation (colour scheme red, white, and blue, with sound effects and Word Art,) flashed up onto the screen.

Romano slid back into his seat, growling quietly, like a furious cat, and Germany's mind was left to race and panic , whilst beside him Italy began to hum quietly, and draw spirals and hearts all over his notepad. (Germany's notepad, actually. Italy never remembered his.) Romano, obviously, was confused. It was, Germany reflected, not difficult to see why. How many times, he thought, had his and Italy's relationship been incorrectly interpreted by those around them? Not only by the other nations, either, but, embarrassingly, by their bosses, and even by ordinary people on the street. Often, when he and Italy went out for dinner together, the waiting-on staff would light candles in the centre of their table, which would often be positioned to the side of the room, "so you can be alone," one particularly cheeky waiter had said, on Germany's birthday, with a sly wink. More often than not, at hotels – whether they were there for a conference, or whilst visiting other nations, or even simply on holiday – if they were sharing a room (which happened rather often, Germany had to admit: and that thought brought a thick lump to his throat, though he wasn't sure why) they would be asked if they wanted to upgrade to a King-size suit (with a King-sized bed), or apologised to if they were staying in separate or twin rooms, and on one memorable occasion, had arrived in their double room to find the bed strewn with rose petals and complimentary condoms on the pillows.

So it wasn't unreasonable, he mused, for Romano to assume that sharing a bed didn't actually mean sharing a bed, but rather doing the horizontal tango. Or vertical. Or diagonal. Or Germany really needed to stop thinking like this because it wasn't normal.

He hardly managed to get any notes written down during the first half of the session: indeed, when they broke for lunch, Italy capped his biro, glanced over at Germany and asked, "Hey, are you not feeling well, Germany?"

Germany mumbled something vague in response, and gestured quickly and surreptitiously for Italy to follow him out of the conference room. Italy loudly began packing up his things, and chattering away to Japan, who was seated across the table from him.

"Hurry up!" Germany hissed, glancing at Romano from the corner of one eye. The older Italian was being distracted by Spain at that moment: but all of a sudden he looked round, locked his gaze with Germany, drew himself up to his fullest height, and began striding purposefully towards him.

Italy looked up. "Oh," he said, "Romano's fine! He's just angry because he thinks we're having sex but we're not married, and I know he's not a great Catholic, but this is one thing he feels very strongly about, you see? He thinks that love and sex are the same thing and that you should only love and sleep with the one you's kind of cute, actually. He's a bit of a closet romantic, but you wouldn't think it, huh? Hi, fratello!"

Romano ignored him. "So," he said accusingly, glaring up at Germany, "you've despoiled my brother, have you?"

"I haven't –" Germany tried weakly. The other nations were starting to look up from their own conversations and were staring with blatant interest towards the German-Italian face-off at the end of the table. Germany felt the back of his neck turn red. Italy, very unhelpfully, giggled.

"You'd better have a damn good explanation ready," Romano growled, taking one menacing step forwards and narrowing his eyes warningly.

"Er, well," said Germany, casting his gaze around rapidly, silently seeking assistance. None came, of course: the others were far too busy snickering and enjoying the show. Italy just looked amused, which was not helping his case at all. "Er, you see –"

Romano's hands clenched into fists.

Under normal circumstances, Germany did not feel even vaguely threatened by Italy's brother. Romano was, for the most part, all talk and no trousers, and though his language was foul and he took great pleasure in seizing every available opportunity to verbally abuse others (and Germany was his favourite victim), Germany had never spent very much time worrying about being on the receiving end of a punch from the older of the Italian brothers. The only person who seemed to have to deal with that sort of thing was Spain, and Romano tended to simply turn crimson and collapse forwards onto the other's chest immediately after hitting him, in a fairly lacklustre manner, Germany had observed, right above the heart. And anyway, he was practically twice Romano's size. Romano was merely an irritation, and nothing more.

But he was cornered, and he was certain that he would never convince Romano that he and Italy were not intimately acquainted (they slept in the same bed, Italy frequently informed Germany that he loved him, they exchanged regular hugs and kisses, and they had seen one another naked.) And a angry Romano, though not physically threatening, was extremely unpleasant, and so Germany panicked, and, before his brain could catch up with his mouth and tell him that what he was about to do was a really, really bad idea, he blurted out: "But Italy and I are together."

No! cried his brain.

Romano stopped, his eyes widening. On the other side of the room, Hungary let out a strangled cry. Germany couldn't even bear to look at Italy.

"What?" said Romano.

"We're together," said Germany, and he was suddenly consumed by the passionate, aching desire to fling himself out of the nearest window. "We're – we're in love."

Romano was no longer stalking towards him; but he didn't seem to be breathing either. His face was slowly but surely turning purple.

"Roma?" said Spain, anxiously.

Romano began to shake.

"Umm, Germany?" said Italy.

And Germany turned, grabbed Italy's hand, and dragged him from the room, scattering pages and pages of notes in their wake.

"Telling lies isn't a good thing, Germany," Italy informed him mildly. Germany merely groaned in response, and pushed his face even further into his palms.

He had locked them up in their hotel room, laid down on the bed, and refused to answer the door. Italy sat cross-legged on the sofa beneath the window, one eyebrow raised in mild disapproval. His brother had tried calling him several times. Italy had not answered, as Germany had instructed, and in the end, Romano had given up.

"He'll find out eventually," Italy said, and though Germany could not see the other nation, he could tell from the tone of his voice that Italy was trying not to smile.

"I know," he said, into his hands, "I know, Italy." He sighed heavily. "Why did you have to tell him about us, anyway? If you knew his...views on...on things know."

"Sex," said Italy, bluntly, and Germany squirmed and nodded. Italy shifted on the sofa. "But we're not having sex," he said, and it was frustrating how very unconcerned he sounded.

"I knowthat," Germany snapped, finally sitting up and moving his hands away from his face, "but your brother doesn't, does he? And now he thinks I'm – I'm the spawn of Satan, and he thinks we're in a relationship, and as soon as I leave this room, I'm going to be surrounded the Mafia, and encased in concrete and thrown into the nearest river."

"Eh," said Italy, "Romano doesn't like dealing with the Mafia if he can help it. I wouldn't worry."

"Your brother really hates me," Germany mumbled.

Italy shrugged, and stood up, sashaying across the room in that infuriating way he did. "Can we go and get lunch? It's not fun hanging around here being sad."

"I told you," said Germany, "Romano will kill me."

"I'll protect you!" said Italy, cheerfully.

Germany did not feel any safer.

Italy sighed, and crossed the room to the bed, sitting down at the taller man's side. "Look," he said, "I know it's scary, but it'll be okay. And I mean, you can't spend your whole life avoiding Romano. Let's just go and see him, and we'll explain, okay? You can tell him that we're not in a relationship, and I'll tell him that we don't do anything sexy together, okay?"

Germany's face flushed at the thought of doing sexy things with Italy, but the other man, it seemed, did not notice. "It'll be fine, yes?"

Germany pursed his lips. "All right. Okay. Yes, fine. You're right. I can't hide in here for the rest of my life."

"That's the spirit!" Italy said, happily.

They stood together. "We'll go and see Romano," said Germany, feeling a little better now that Italy had said he would go with him, "and we can explain everything. It'll be fine."

"Of course it will!" Italy said, and he looped his arm through Germany's in a way that made Germany feel both terrified and rather excited (as well as slightly sick), and side-by-side they left their room, and headed towards Romano and Spain's.

It was Romano who answered the door, and, unsurprisingly, his mood did not appear to have improved at all in the time since the meeting.

"You!" he hissed, glaring at Germany as though hoping to burn him with the acidity of his gaze. "You! What do you want? Veneziano, come away from that bastard."

"I'm fine, Romano," Italy said, rolling his eyes.

"Romano," said Germany, and Romano looked back up at him, eyes narrowing. "Er...look, I feel that I really need to explain something to you. Back in the meeting, when I told you that Italy and I were together...well...that wasn't strictly true –"

"We're not seeing each other," Italy said, quickly.

Romano became very still. He stared at Germany for a long, long moment, seemingly taking the time to inspect every aspect of Germany's expression and body language, before slowly sliding his gaze away and focusing instead on his brother. At last, he turned back to Germany, and drew himself up to his (rather limited) full height.

"So," he said, dramatically, "what you're trying to say is that you have dumped my brother."

"Yes," said Germany. Then he paused, his mind ticking painfully as he processed the other's words. "Wait – what?"

Romano seemed to swell up with burgeoning rage. "You have dared," he said, loudly, and suddenly Spain appeared behind him, looking very interested, "You have dared to cast off my little brother like some cheap, dirty streetwalker?"

Oh. Oh no.

"No –" Germany protested weakly, and at his side, Italy pressed his lips together in an effort to stop the fit of giggles that seemed to be threatening to spill out.

Spain, at Romano's elbow, frowned. "Germany!" he said, "Is this true? But you love Italy so much!"

"I – what?" Germany suddenly felt very warm. Spain, Romano, and Italy were all staring at him, wearing expressions of disappointment, disgust, and interest respectively. He could think of no reply to make to such an extraordinary statement. "Wh-what?"

Romano clicked his tongue in impatience. "You bastard! You cruel, heartless, perverted potato freak! How dare you, you son of a bitch! Veneziano, forget about him, he's not fit to lick your Salvatore Ferragamos."

Germany made a weak noise of protest. Italy said, "Umm," and allowed himself to be tugged into his brother's side.

Romano carried on his rant, disregarding their weak protests. "First he tricks you and takes your innocence without marrying you, then out of nowhere he decides he does not care for you! And to leave you like this! You German bastard! Get out of my sight!"

"It's not like that!" Germany protested, wondering how on earth things came to this. "It's – well –"

"Go away!" Romano yelled, and even Spain was glowering at him. Italy just looked confused. That made a difference.

And then, yet again and for reasons unknown to Germany, he did something very stupid and not at all carefully considered. He reached out and took Italy's hand, and cried, "But we're not together – we're not just seeing each other – we're getting married!"

"Really, Germany," Italy said that evening, when they were alone in their shared room, watching a football match on the TV and getting steadily intoxicated (Spain had immediately told everyone about their impending "marriage", and France had seen fit to call room service and order a dozen red roses and a huge bottle of champagne to celebrate, which was thoughtful of him, but made Germany feel quite guilty.) "I don't know why you keep telling these fibs!"

Germany groaned. "I don't know why, either!" he protested. "I – I just panicked. Your brother was even more pissed-off at the idea that I'd – I'd left you than at the idea of us together, and...I don't know! I couldn't help blurting it out!"

Italy laughed to himself, taking another sip of champagne and turning his head to the side to study Germany's profile. Germany felt his cheeks pinking beneath the other's gaze. "I guess you're right. You do usually know best, after all," he said.

Germany just sighed.

"I suppose Romano is more likely to forgive premarital sex if we do intend to get married," Italy continued thoughtfully.

Germany sat up. "Italy, we're not having premarital sex! And – and neither are we getting married."

The other man gave him an uncharacteristically stern look. "You know, I'm beginning to think you haven't thought this through at all. Romano will be even angrier if he thinks you're leaving me at the altar."

"I'm not –" Germany paused, trying to get the words in some kind of sensible order before speaking again. "Look, Italy...I just need a little bit of time, okay? I'll figure out what we can do so Romano doesn't have to get angry at anyone." At Italy's sceptical expression, he quickly corrected himself. "So Romano doesn't have to get angrier at anyone than he normally would. In the meantime..." he trailed off, suddenly feeling quite nervous. His stomach was flip-flopping around, and his heart was beating a little faster than it usually did. Perhaps he ought to see a doctor. "In the meantime," he continued, "we'll just – we'll have to keep pretending that we're – together, and getting married." He felt his cheeks heat up, but Italy just shrugged and nodded.

"All right," he said.

They fell silent for a while, watching the small, white ball zip from one side of the television screen to the other, listening to the cheers and boos and songs of the crowd. Italy breathed in deeply, once, and out again, and slouched down against the mattress, tilting his head to one side until his temple rested against Germany's shoulder. They didn't speak. Germany swallowed the bitter sphere that had formed in his throat. Italy didn't mean any of it, but it was a small kind of comfort, and welcome, when he thought about Romano's anger, and the complicated knot of untruths he had entangled both himself and his best friend in, and the difficulties he would be forced to face when the sun rose the following morning.

When Germany woke up the next day, he refreshed, and a lot calmer. It really wasn't a big deal. Misunderstandings like this happened all the time, didn't they? He was fairly certain they did. They did in films and on the TV, anyway. All they had to do, he thought, was pretend to be in love for a while, pretend that they were engaged, therefore giving Romano the time he needed to cool off and calm down. Then Italy could break up with him (there was no question that Italy had to be the one leaving him: Italy was everyone and their grandmother's darling, and Germany was one hundred percent certain he would be lynched if he were to do anything that could be perceived as hurting Italy,) and everything would go back to normal.

Everything would be fine.

He rose, carefully folding the sheets back up around Italy's body (Italy wriggled a bit, then settled down, snoring,) and went into the bathroom to change into his exercise gear. Though he felt somewhat happier about the whole sex/love/marriage situation with Romano, there was still an odd, painful twinge lurking somewhere behind his ribs which only intensified when he thought about his bedfellow's smiling, sleeping face. He could run the feeling off, he thought, and, with some effort, changed quickly before leaving the room without a backwards glance.

Outside, the sun was rising, and it was just warm enough to promise a pleasant day. Only a couple of dog-walkers and one or two other runners were about, and the streets were quiet, and even the birds seemed sleepy. Germany ran, relishing the thud and shake of his tendons and muscles as his feet pushed into the hard ground, and with every stride, he felt better and better about the situation with Italy and Romano. It would all be fine, he thought. How could it not be when the sun was steadily climbing into a clear blue sky, and the roads were quiet and still, and the air was sharp and fresh? He ran a large loop around the hotel, and through the park behind it and along the canal beside it, before returning.

France stood outside the entrance, smoking a cigarette and squinting up at the sky. His face lit up when he spotted Germany approaching.

"Germany!" he cried, waving a hand enthusiastically and scattering ash everywhere. "Did you get the champagne?"

"Yes," said Germany, halting before the other nation and attempting to catch his breath. "Thank you."

"And the flowers?"

Germany assured him that the flowers had been received, and that they were much appreciated.

"Good!" said France. "You know, we are all so pleased for you and Italy. It is about time you made it official."

Germany made a small noise of thanks and agreement.

"So," France continued, "a few of us thought we should have a party for you tonight, you know, an engagement party?"

"Oh," said Germany.

"I know it is a bit last-minute," France went on, waving his cigarette again, "but you didn't give us much warning, my friend! And besides, everyone will be returning home tomorrow." He shrugged. "It will be far easier to do it now, while everyone is already here. It won't be much, just drinks, but it is the least we could do."

"Oh," said Germany again. "Er, thanks."

France beamed. "It is no problem, no problem at all! So – we shall see you tonight? I have asked to use the function room, so just come down at, shall we say, eight?"

"Er, alright," said Germany.

France looked ecstatic. "Very good! Well, I shall see you then, my friend! Enjoy your day!"

Germany nodded, and headed into the hotel, and the lift. As the doors closed behind him, he thought he heard France murmur, "I like those shorts," but he disregarded it, and headed back to his and Italy's room.

Italy was, at last, getting up. His eyes were still half-closed, glazed, and his hair was reverting back to its natural curliness. There were a couple of mugs of coffee standing on the dressing table, along with a plate of croissants, and butter and jam.

"I ordered breakfast," he said with a yawn.

Germany thanked him, but privately wished that Italy wouldn't do things like this, things that were undeniably domestic, and horribly endearing, and he was just about to tell him so when Italy pushed him down onto the bed, handed him a croissant and a mug of coffee, pressed a kiss to his forehead, and flopped down beside him, leaning against his side. He forgot what he was going to say, and instead accepted that little pang of warmth and longing back into his chest.

Germany was not at all looking forward to the party that night. Italy, unsurprisingly, was. He found the music channel on the television, and turned it on while he showered and did his hair and got dressed, dancing all the while between the bathroom and the wardrobe. Germany felt sick.

"I'll probably just leave early," he said. His throat felt oddly tight. Italy probably hadn't heard him, he thought – and then Italy popped his head around the door into the bathroom.

"Don't be silly!" he said, beaming. "We'll have a lovely time! It's our engagement party!"

"We're not engaged," Germany mumbled from his position on the bed. His shirt was already wrinkled, but he felt too anxious to get up and change it.

Italy frowned. "I know that," he said, "and you know that, but everyone else doesn't, so let's make this convincing, yes?

And so that was why they spent the rest of that night arm-in-arm, hand-in-hand, chests pressed together as they danced, casting each other longing, loving gazes from opposite sides of the one point, Italy even kissed him on the cheek, and Germany kissed him back. He had to remind himself, though, that this was normal. This was how Italy behaved. Italy hugged and kissed everyone, Italy clung to everyone's hand. Italy loved everyone, human, animal, nation (and probably a few minerals too), and he expressed this love physically. Germany loved Italy, but he did not express his love physically, and the way he loved Italy was very different from the way that Italy loved him.

This revelation hit him sometime around midnight when he was talking to his brother. It hit him hard, and left him physically devoid of breath for several long, difficult seconds. Thankfully, Prussia was so absorbed in giving him marriage advice (despite never having been married) and berating him for not telling his "bestest big bro" all about his "relationship" that he did not notice.

He was, he realised, with horror, in love with Italy.

He had known all along, of course, that his feelings for the other were more than that of simple friendship. At first he had ignored them: the strong desire to be close to Italy all the time, to get to know him, to talk to him and just – just be with him were all part of the natural tug of being best friends, he thought. He'd not had many friends before, and certainly none so close as Italy, so it wasn't as though he had much to compare these emotions to. But then the pull, the tug, had intensified tenfold, and tenfold again, and again, and he wanted to be with Italy all the time, and no-one else, and he didn't want Italy to be with anybody else, and he felt jealous and hurt whenever Italy winked at or called after a pretty young woman in the street. And he had become used to Italy's body being curled up beside his in the mornings, and Italy's constant hugs and kisses, and he had wanted to hug and kiss and hold Italy back – but he couldn't. He didn't know how.

And that was how it had been, for the longest time, that feeling, that longing affection, and it had gone unnamed, and that was fine with Germany. And then, suddenly, with seemingly no prompting, Germany's subconscious had dubbed it love.

He was in love with Italy Veneziano.

"Oh, God," he said out loud.

"What's that?" said Prussia, apparently losing his train of thought.

Germany blinked. "N-nothing," he said. "Nothing."

The function room was jam-packed, and far too hot. It smelt of alcohol, and the ringing sound of laughter and the bite of conversations, cheers, and arguments bounced back from the walls and rang loud in Germany's ears. The carpet felt too thick beneath his feet. It clung to him, weighed him down like quicksand or deep mud. He dragged his gaze across the crowd surrounding him. Italy stood at the other side of the room, laughing with France and Hungary. He looked like he was glowing. Germany looked back at Prussia for a second – then once more through the crowd. He spotted Italy immediately. He was like a bright jewel, a beacon of light.

He was in love with Italy.

"I have to go," he said abruptly to his brother, and turned towards the large double doors that led out to the foyer, and the lifts, and his room, and silent safety.

Prussia reached out and caught his arm. "Hey," he said, "What're you doing? You can't go yet!"

"I have to go," Germany repeated, and pulled away. He was halfway across the room when he heard Italy calling him.

"Germany! Where are you going?"

His heart sank. Slowly, he turned. Italy had moved away from France and Hungary, and was standing with Prussia, frowning in confusion. Internally, Germany groaned.

"C'mon, West!" Prussia shouted, grinning wickedly. "You aren't going to go to bed without giving your fiancé a goodnight kiss, are you?"

A couple of people cheered. Out of the corner of one eye, Germany saw Romano's eyes narrow. Italy tilted his head to the side. Nothing in his expression gave Germany the slightest clue as to what, exactly, he ought to do.

"Come on!" Prussia encouraged.

Germany stiffened, straightening his spine. He clenched his hands, digging his nails into his palms in an effort to cease any trembling that may have occurred, and walked towards Italy. Italy blinked at him, saying nothing.

Prussia made a noise of encouragement, and a few people whistled and cheered.

Germany closed his eyes – and when he opened them again he was staring down, pale and breathless, at Italy.

"Germany?" said Italy, frowning in confusion at something that must have been etched into his skin, swimming his eyes. Or perhaps he just looked so confused because Germany was standing right there in front of him, silent and still, looking straight at him but saying nothing.

"Just kiss him!" Prussia yelled.

Silently cursing his elder brother, Germany took one final step forwards – Italy's eyes suddenly widened in understanding – and took the other's face in his hands, his thumbs resting on Italy's cheekbones, his fingers cupping the gentle curve of his jaw. Italy's skin was warm and soft, and it felt better than it ever had done, and it looked better too, and so did his big, brown eyes, and so did his parted lips...

Without further ado, Germany ducked his head, whispered, "We're just making this convincing, right?" and pressed his mouth against Italy's. For one awful moment the room was silent. Italy felt stiff and uncomfortable against him. He was not yielding to Germany's kiss, and his arms still hung by his sides. Germany didn't move: just kept his eyes firmly shut and kept on kissing him.

Then, finally, thankfully, Italy relaxed. His hands moved upwards, crossed over Germany's shoulders comfortably, and his eyes closed – Germany felt the light tickle of eyelashes against his skin – and he tilted his head, and, at last, kissed him back.

Somebody wolf-whistled. Someone else let out a drunken holler of approval. Germany elected to ignore them.

Italy's body was warm, and the way he pressed against him was comfortable, now that he was apparently over his initial shock, and had relaxed. Germany could smell the shampoo and conditioner Italy had used in his hair, and his cologne, and the detergent Italy washed his clothes in, the scent of which was almost as familiar to him as the smell of his own clothing. It was comforting, as was the slow press of their lips, the way they moved and folded around each other. It almost felt to Germany like Italy was smiling. He stroked his thumbs over the other's cheeks, slowly, gently, and as he felt Italy gradually beginning to draw back, uncross his arms and move away from him, he let his hands slip down, and his eyes flutter open, and, eventually, their mouths parted. Germany was sure that his face was bright red.

Prussia was still making sounds of approval, and obscene, smutty comments, but Germany hardly heard him. Italy looked up at him, saying nothing, giving nothing away. He did not look disgusted, but then again, Germany was fairly sure that Italy's face could not even manage to contort itself into the grimace required by that dark emotion.

"I, er," said Germany, but people were losing interest now that all intimacies were over. Italy simply gazed at him questioningly, saying nothing. "I'm going now. Back to – back to the room."

"All right," Italy said. He looked at Germany a moment longer, almost appraisingly, then said, "I'll be up soon. Goodnight."


Germany headed back to their room alone. After kicking his clothes off, he collapsed onto the bed and fell asleep almost at once. He did not wake up when Italy came in, and he did not wake up when Italy pressed a soft kiss to his forehead before curling up beside him.

"Goodnight, Germany," said Italy again.

It was easier once the conference ended and they all went their separate ways. Or not so separate. Because Germany didn't just go back to Germany, and Italy didn't just go back to Italy, and France didn't just go back to France, and so on and so forth. Nations were rarely solitary creatures. Romano and Spain spent most of their time together, despite the former's vicious protestations that they weren't "a fucking couple, damnit!" Prussia, of course, spent all his time hopping between his brother, France, Spain, and Austria's houses, and occasionally Denmark and America's, and Sweden and Finland, now they had Sealand, spent most of their time in Stockholm together.

Italy tended to hang around Germany's home most of the time, whether he was invited there or not, and only usually returned to his own country for meetings, or to pick up clothes he had forgotten and "needed." Sometimes he would go there to buy pasta as well.

"We have pasta in Germany!" Germany had told him, rolling his eyes.

"Not real pasta," Italy had replied, looking a little shocked at the other's audacity.

So Germany supposed that they did look like a real couple, getting the plane back to Berlin together (Germany even carried Italy's bags, because Italy was just too slow) and going back to his house – the house they shared, rather, together.

In a way, it was good, he thought: they didn't really have to put too much effort into their "relationship", and yet it was still, apparently, believable. So believable, in fact, that when they returned home, there were fifty-seven messages waiting on the answering machine (forty of which were congratulatory messages from other nations, various politicians, and members of the intelligence services; sixteen were from Romano warning Germany not to try "any funny stuff"; and one was from his window-cleaner asking which day he was needed. Germany told him to come the following Tuesday, and deleted the rest of the messages.) There were also dozens of messages on his Facebook wall, and a notification from Feliciano Vargas.

"Why," asked Germany, "have you added me as your fiancé?"

Italy, who had been drying up after breakfast, paused behind him, and leaned in to read the words on the screen of Germany's laptop. His arm, bridged over Germany's and resting upon the desk, was far too familiar and pleasant for Germany's liking. "We have to make this convincing," he said.

"Yes, well, there are limits," Germany muttered.

Italy seemed to lean in just a little bit closer. "And passionate kisses are well within those limits?" he said.

Germany choked on nothing in particular. Italy stood up straight, and glided away, giggling to himself. Muttering irritably under his breath, Germany clicked "accept."

Ludwig Beilschmidt is engaged to Feliciano Vargas.

One evening, perhaps a couple of weeks after the unfortunate conference at which Germany had claimed to be engaged to Italy, they went out for Chinese. It was late, and getting dark, and Germany was tired after going through mind-numbingly dull spreadsheets all day. Italy seemed to have spent most of his day "working" on Skype. Germany didn't bother to ask him what, exactly, he'd been doing.

The restaurant was dark, lit with red lights, and filled with the clacking of shoes, the clinking of glasses, and the clicking of cutlery. They were guided to a table near the corner, half-hidden from the rest of the customers.

"For privacy," said the waitress, with a wide smile.

Germany attempted to protest – here, where nobody knew them, there was no need to pretend anymore – but Italy beamed widely, and thanked her, and then, with no prompting whatsoever, said, "We're getting married."

The waitress looked delighted. "Congratulations!" she said.

"Thank you!" said Italy.

Germany said nothing.

When their order had been taken, and the waitress had left, Germany turned to face Italy across the tabletop. The dim, coloured lights softened his already gentle features. He looked blurred around the edges somehow, almost fuzzy, and his smile, and his round eyes, and his round cheekbones, and round chin, and his hair, which curved and dipped inwards towards his face looked soft and tempting.

Germany wanted to say something like "You're beautiful," or "I think I'm in love with you," or maybe, "How come you only get excited about the prospect of marrying me when the marriage is fake?" but Italy just smiled at him in that way that tied his stomach in tight knots, and so he swallowed these words, and instead asked, "Why did you tell her that?"

Italy looked slightly indignant.

"You said we have to make this look convincing!" he said.

Germany sighed in exasperation. "Yes, but not all the time," he replied. "We don't even know the waitress, and I'm pretty sure Romano doesn't either."

Italy shrugged, picked up his glass of water, and began to drink from it quietly.

They didn't talk much over dinner, except to remark upon the food. Germany was hungrier than he'd thought he was, and ate quickly and ravenously. Italy ate bits of everything, but never quite managed to finish an entire plateful. When their table was cleared, they looked back up at one another as though each had forgotten the other was there.

"You've," started Germany, awkwardly. "You've got hoisin sauce on your face."

Italy giggled, and the tension that had mysteriously built up between them began to evaporate. "Oh," he said, grinning sheepishly, and he raised his napkin to dab at the right hand side corner of his mouth.

"The other side," said Germany, and then when Italy missed it again, he sighed, picked up his napkin, and, blushing a bit, proceeded to clean the sauce from where it had smudged beside his lips.

Italy leaned into his hand, smiling gratefully – and when Germany began to pull back, turning his gaze down towards the dark green carpet, Italy followed him quickly, lips parting as though he meant to say something – then suddenly their table was surrounded by waiting staff, cheering and singing raucously. They both jumped, and sprang back to their respective sides of the table. Germany couldn't actually tell what, exactly, was being sung – perhaps it was in Chinese? – but even if it wasn't, the blood was pounding far too loudly in his ears for him to hear properly. Italy looked bemused, but he smiled happily as he always did.

When the song at last ended, the head waiter stepped forwards, and cried, "Congratulations to the happy couple!" And every single person in the restaurant stood up and clapped. Italy laughed, and waved at them. Germany ducked his head and asked for the bill.

"We could stay for desert, Germany!" Italy said, when the applause eventually died down, and Germany was fumbling with his credit card.

"I've got..." Germany struggled. "...cake in the freezer," he said, with some effort.

Italy looked a little disappointed, and Germany felt suddenly terribly guilty. But his companion did not protest, and so he continued to pay (for both of them: Italy had made a half-hearted offer to foot the bill, but had seemed very pleased when Germany had replied, "No, I insist.")

They stepped out of the restaurant and stood still for a minute, gazing over the car park, and the street beyond. It was dark now. The last red splashes of sunset had trickled beneath the horizon, and the moon was sailing behind a cloud, and all the streetlights were on, and the headlights and taillights of the cars on the road were shining too, and there was a very slight nip in the air. They were standing side-by-side, and suddenly Germany realised that their hands were touching. He looked at Italy, just to see if he had noticed too – and Italy looked back up at him.

It was hard to tear his gaze away from those big, amber eyes.

They were standing a lot closer together than he had originally thought they were.

"Germany," Italy said, quietly. "Everyone inside is looking at us."

Germany glanced over his shoulder. Italy was correct. He turned back to look at the other man. "Oh, for heaven's sake," he said, and he leaned over, and kissed Italy again.

For the next couple of weeks, things were fairly quiet. Germany had plenty of work to be getting on with, and thankfully Italy did too, work he couldn't manage to wriggle out of this time. He worked from Germany's house for a week or so, but was eventually forced to concede that things would be much, much easier if he returned to his own country.

On the day he left, Germany drove him to the airport, and bought him a cup of horrible coffee, because he seemed rather morose.

"I'll miss you, Germany," Italy said, eventually. His lips were red and damp from the hot drink.

"Yes," said Germany, trying not to stare, "well...I mean, I will miss you too, but I'm sure we'll manage. At least you'll be able to get some work done now."

Italy rolled his eyes. "Hooray," he said.

Germany tried not to laugh as he checked his watch. "You ought to be going through to departures now," he said, and gave his friend a little push in the small of his back in order to encourage him. "Go on. I'll see you soon."

Italy heaved a heavy sigh. "All right," he said, and before Germany could stop him, he stood on the tips of his toes, and pressed a firm, coffee-scented kiss to his cheek. That was normal – although it still flustered Germany a little, because it was a kiss, and he loved Italy, but Italy did not love him, not like that – but the way Italy pulled back only a short distance, and stared at him, lips parted and eyes wide was not. And they could not tear their gazes apart, but simply went on staring into each other's eyes instead. And then, without warning, Italy swooped in again, and kissed him right on the mouth.

It shouldn't have been a shock – they'd already had to do it several times before, for the sake of pretence – but this was different. Italy hadn't needed to do it at all.

The smaller nation pulled back. Germany blinked. His people continued milling around him, rushing to catch flights, waving goodbye to loved ones. "You didn't have to –" he started, blushing.

But Italy had already turned away, and picked up his case, and with a brief wave over his shoulder, and a light-hearted yell of, "See you later!" he was past security, and out of sight.

And Germany was left very alone, and very confused.

They texted each other a couple of times (because Germany often worried that Italy would starve to death without someone constantly there to remind he needed to buy milk, and bread, and so on, and because Italy liked to talk to someone before he fell asleep at night – and he went to bed later than Germany, so typically, about half an hour after Germany, with much tossing and turning, had finally managed to drop off, his phone would light up, and buzz, and he'd have to discuss some inane gossip with Italy until one of them dropped their phone on their face from exhaustion.) But they didn't see one another for about a month after Italy left, due to their busy, busy schedules, and a couple of excuses on Germany's part.

He loved seeing Italy, of course he did. But he knew that if he gave in, and gave the okay for his friend to return to his house, he would be subjected to the constant hollow kisses and meaningless smiles, tiny drops of affection that Italy bestowed upon everybody but Germany had foolishly taken to heart. If, he thought, they spent a little time apart, he would get over this ridiculous pining, and, even better, it would add real weight to Italy's impending claim that he had dumped his fictional fiancé. And the sooner that happened, the better. Germany was still receiving emails and phone calls from Romano demanding to know details about the wedding, questioning Germany's religious affiliation, or threatening him with painful and strange tortures if he dared to do anything that would upset his precious baby brother. Germany tended to ignore most of these.

But one day, a slightly different message was left in his voicemail.

"Hi, Germany!" came Spain's cheerful voice, and Germany paused – perhaps this was, for once, an important politically motivated message? – "I'm having a little get-together at my house this weekend – well, for a little longer than a weekend, actually, more like Thursday night to Monday morning – and I wondered if you wanted to come? I'm inviting a bunch of people, it'll be fun! I think your brother's coming too, so, yeah!" Someone whispered something in the background, and Spain hastily added, "Oh, and Veneziano's coming too, so..." he trailed off, giggling. "We're still looking forward to your wedding! Uh, okay, that's it, give me a call and tell me if you can make it! Hope we see you soon! Bye!"

Germany hung up. I won't tell Prussia, he thought. I won't tell Prussia, and we'll just stay here, and it'll all blow over, eventually.

The door banged open, and Prussia stomped into the kitchen where Germany was.

"Hey, little bro!" Prussia said. "Pack your bags, we're off to Spain's!"

Fuck, thought Germany.

And that was how they ended up sat outside on Spain's patio at two o'clock in the morning, smoking cigarettes, drinking wine, and discussing Germany and Italy's impending (yet sadly fictional) nuptials. Spain had invited France too, and Austria and Belgium and Netherlands, as well as both Italy brothers. Romano, whose alcohol tolerance was frankly pitiful, was half-draped over Spain's lap with his head on the table, while Austria, who had spent most of the evening complaining about Prussia blowing smoke in his face, appeared to have overcome his earlier woes and was dozing against the other's shoulder. Prussia looked as though all his birthdays had come at once.

"So when," France was saying, leaning forwards in his chair a little, "are you two actually marrying?"

Germany's head felt a little light from the wine and the smoke, and possibly from Italy's closeness too. Italy had seemed over the moon when Germany had arrived, kissing him on both cheeks, and had hardly left his side since. Beneath the moon and the buzzing insects in Spain's garden, his head was tipped to one side, and his feet were resting on Germany's knees. At some point Germany's hand had drifted down to rest on his ankle. Italy was smiling.

"I," said Germany, stupidly, "I – I don't know."

"Soon," said Italy, slowly, blissfully.

"Lemme give you some advice," Austria said, his voice slurred by alcohol and muffled further by Prussia's neck. "Never'er get married."

"You wound me, my dear," France said calmly.

"I want to marry Germany," said Italy, fishing around clumsily in his pockets for another cigarette. "I love him."

Everyone turned to look at Germany, as though waiting for him to corroborate this claim.

"Mmm," he said, when it became apparent that nobody was going to look away until he said something.

"I think it's gorgeous," Belgium said, sitting up to slap at a mosquito that had settled on her bare leg. "Weddings are beautiful."

Austria made a very strange noise, and Prussia reached up to stroke his hair.

"As long as he makes you happy," Romano said unexpectedly from his slumped position on both Spain and the table.

There was a short, shocked silence.

"That was...a surprisingly nice thing for you to say, Romano!" Italy said, eventually.

"Fuck off," mumbled Romano, sleepily. "Don't tell me what to do." Then he slumped down even more, and began to snore loudly.

"Ah, Roma won't wake up 'til morning now," Spain said, smiling as he ran a hand through the older Italy's hair. "Perhaps we should go to bed. I'll carry him up."

Nobody protested that: and as soon as Spain and Romano moved back into the house, Belgium stretched, and sleepily suggested that they all turn in for the night.

"Don't do anything stupid," Germany muttered as his brother hauled Austria, who was by now mumbling about the Austrian succession and pawing at Prussia's chest, upright and looped an arm around his waist. Prussia merely raised an eyebrow at him, before turning away. Germany's drink-addled brain couldn't quite decide what to make of that – until somebody patted him on the arm, and he turned around to see Italy standing behind him, somehow both illuminated and cast in shadows by the light that wept from the windows of Spain's villa, and from the big, orange moon that hung overhead.

He looked around. Everyone else was gone. The garden and the house were falling quiet. He looked back at Italy.

"We should," he said, but the words go inside withered and died on his tongue, and Italy didn't seem to care anyway.

"Germany," he said. His voice was much quieter than usual. Germany was not accustomed to hearing Italy speak quietly. It was like France buttoning his shirt all the way to the top or Prussia coming home at a reasonable hour. It just didn't happen.

"Germany," he said.

Germany's head felt strangely light, and his tongue felt far too thick and heavy in his mouth. "Yes?" he managed at last.

Italy's mouth moved for a moment – and then he looked down at his feet, and shook his head. "Nothing," he murmured.

This was very odd. Italy never had nothing to say. Italy was always talking, even when everybody told him not to.

Italy began to turn away.

"Why haven't you told them yet?" Germany blurted out before he could stop himself. "Why haven't you told them you've broken up with me? Why haven't you told them we're not together? Why do you keep on acting..." he trailed off. It was difficult. It was painful, actually.

A strange expression crossed Italy's face – but before Germany could attempt to put a name to it, it was gone.

"Shall we tell them tomorrow?" he asked, "Or is that too soon?"

Germany sighed. "Wait until Romano's not hungover," he said, "then tell them."

Italy nodded slowly. They stood there together in the half-darkness, saying nothing for a long, long moment. Then they turned, together, and went back into the house, and lay down, but Germany did not fall asleep for a long, long time.

Italy didn't tell them, even on Sunday, even on Monday when Romano's hangover was a distant memory and Germany and Prussia and Austria (the latter two sulking having had a screaming row the previous night, resulting in Spain's elderly neighbour letting himself into the house and yelling that people were trying to sleep) were putting their bags in the boot of a taxi. Instead, he stood beside his brother, toeing the dirt with his shoe and examining the backs of his hands with great interest.

Austria gave a sharp nod, and flung himself contemptuously into the front passenger seat. Prussia growled under his breath and stomped over to the others to say goodbye. Germany stood in front of Italy, opening and closing his mouth and saying nothing.

"What are you doing, idiot?" Romano snapped.

"Italy," Germany finally managed to croak. "Are you...?"

Italy sighed, and looked up at him. There was a brief, tense pause. "See you soon, Cucciolo," he said, and while Germany was busy turning bright red and mouthing silently again, he stepped closer, put his arms around Germany's waist, stood up on the tips of his toes, and pressed a firm kiss to his lips.

Germany almost at once placed his own hands on Italy's hips, and closed his eyes, and turned his head into the kiss, and parted his lips, and kissed Italy back. Just to make it convincing, he told himself. But that excuse was old and weak now, and the knowledge that, despite the fact that Italy didn't love him back, he was in love with the younger Italian brother felt as familiar as an old pair of shoes. Not a comfortable pair, he reasoned. Having your heart broken on an almost daily basis was not a particularly pleasant experience.

France chuckled. Romano coughed loudly.

Italy pulled away.

"Erm," said Germany, "right."

"I'll miss you," said Italy.

"Y-you too," said Germany. "I mean – I mean I'll miss you." And then he moved his hand, quite suddenly, without thinking, as though he was about to lift it to Italy's cheek and rest it there. But instead he turned, and stumbled towards the taxi.

Prussia raised his eyebrows at him, but Germany looked away, out of the window – and he could not draw his gaze away from Italy as the car pulled away. And Italy raised a hand to his mouth, and blew him a kiss. And Germany kept it in his heart.

They didn't see each other again until about three weeks later at another conference, this time in Paris. Every night for about a week beforehand, Germany had promised to himself that he would not leave France until he and Italy had announced that they were splitting up. He reminded himself of this commitment as he boarded his plane in Berlin: and again as he landed in Paris. He kept muttering it under his breath as he was driven to the hotel that had been rented out for the nations (earning a few strange looks from his driver,) and he really did have every intention of keeping to this decision – until the car stopped, and he got out, and was confronted with the handsome, smiling face of Italy Veneziano.

"Good afternoon, Germany!" Italy said, happily, and he opened his arms, and leaned in.

Looking back, Germany realised that what Italy had probably intended to do was to pat him on the back, and kiss him on both cheeks: the angle was, he realised later on, completely wrong for a kiss on the lips. But years of meaningless affection, and weeks of increased displays of false love had impaired his vision, or so it seemed, and his judgment too. And so, instead of smiling and doing that silly air-kiss thing he was pretty sure France had started, Germany put his arms around Italy's back, pulled him against his chest, and kissed him full on the mouth.

The driver dropped his bags and fell backwards off the curb. Italy made a strange sort of squeaking sound, and froze. And a sudden understanding swooped down on Germany, chilling and horrible. He stiffened, and pulled backwards.

Italy just blinked up at him.

"I thought you were going to –" Germany started, just as Italy said, "I thought we were supposed to be breaking up?"

"Oh," they both said.

There was a squealing sound behind them, and they turned to see Germany's driver speeding away down the street, and out of sight.

"I'm sorry," said Germany, quickly.

"It's," said Italy, and then he trailed off, saying nothing, which was most unlike him, and highly unsettling. So in what was both a vain attempt to ease the tension, and a moment of utter madness, Germany put his arms around Italy once more and kissed him again.

Italy remained still; as stiff and as unresponsive as a very nice-smelling plank of wood for several awful moments. Then, just as Germany was beginning to worry, and starting to pull back, Italy's arms moved from by his sides to Germany's shoulders. And then Italy's lovely soft lips parted, and he smiled – he smiled – into the kiss, and pushed his weight forwards, so that their stomachs and chests were pressed right up against one another.

The kiss was a little clumsy, and honestly one of the most terrifying experiences of Germany's life – but it was also completely, utterly honest, sincere, was a relief, after the many years Germany had spent dancing around his feelings for Italy, and Italy's feelings for him, and the weeks and weeks of deception and pretending he had just dealt with, and it was warm. Italy was warm, and he felt right there, he felt good, he felt like home.

Slowly, they broke apart, ever so slowly, and Italy's arms were still around Germany's shoulders, and Germany's were still around Italy's waist, and Italy's face was so close to his own that he could feel every tiny breath Italy took against his skin. Italy smiled. He beamed.

And Germany couldn't help but smile too.

"Why didn't you say something?" Italy said – more laughter than words.

"I did propose," Germany mumbled, feeling like a shy little boy beneath the gaze of a very classy, well-travelled, experienced lover, though in truth Italy was ditzy, and intellectually fairly dopey. "Years ago."

Italy threw his head back and laughed. "You did!" he cried, "Ah! That was so scary!"

And Germany scowled – and then his lips twitched – and then Italy kissed them.

That evening, they ordered room service, and watched a strange and unfunny French comedy, and lay naked together on the messed-up double bed they had, yet again, been given. Germany found that he didn't mind Italy being naked when he was naked as well, and especially when he was not only permitted, but also encouraged, to touch Italy.

Germany's phone had buzzed a few times from the pocket of his discarded trousers – no doubt he was being called upon to resolve some stupid administrative issue before the first meeting tomorrow morning – but he disregarded it.

"You're ignoring your phone," Italy had murmured, after the third buzz, when Germany lay above him, covered in a thin sheen of sweat, mouthing red marks into his neck.

And Germany had pulled back a little, eyebrows raised, and replied, "Of course I'm ignoring it. I'm with you." And Italy's grin had very nearly reached from ear to ear.

He couldn't understand, he thought, slowly putting another French fry in his mouth, why his heart was still beating so fast even hours after they had concluded Making the beast with two backs. But then he turned his head to look at Italy, who was stretched out beside him, tanned and smiling, messy-haired and so, so beautiful and sweet. And he thought that maybe he understood after all.

Italy stretched, slowly and lazily, like a cat, and turned onto his side. His right hand came up to rest on Germany's stomach, drifting in slow circles, then back and forth, and then, slowly, slowly, lower, down to his hips.

"Germany," he murmured, his eyelids dropping down, and he lifted his face and parted his lips, still smiling, and Germany wanted so, so, badly, to lose himself in another breathtaking kiss, between those thighs, above and beneath that familiar, longed-for body. But first –

"Wait," he said, pressing a finger to Italy's descending mouth and making the other smile, "What – what is this? Now?"

Italy looked confused. "Your finger," he said, carefully. "Is this some kind of symbolic thing or something?"

"No," said Germany, "I mean – what are we? Are we...are we a couple? Or...?"

And Italy laughed, and pushed his finger away, and kissed him on the mouth, deeply, passionately, with every last gram of his love behind it. "Of course we are!" he said finally, drawing back, lips swollen, face flushed, and eyes bright. "Silly Germany! We've practically been married for the last hundred years. Or however long." He rolled his eyes, then shifted so he was lying on top of the other man. The air left Germany's lungs in a sharp, painful huff. "This was just..." Italy waved a hand vaguely. "...consummation."

"Your brother is going to murder me," Germany murmured, reaching up to run his fingers through Italy's still slightly sweaty, tangled brown hair, "three times."

Italy looked up at him, his eyes shimmering with laughter, his lips curled upwards in sheer joy at the corners, and, pressing his nose against Germany's and resting his hands upon his shoulders, he whispered, "let's make it four."

Germany really didn't want to get killed by Romano, especially not four times over – but it was Italy asking. And because it was Italy asking, he laughed, and pulled him down, and accepted every little bit of Romano's unavoidable wrath.

Because he loved Italy, despite the fact that he had a mad older brother, and a personality that frustrated everyone he met, and absolutely no work ethic whatsoever. But that was okay, because Italy loved Germany, despite the fact that he had a mad older brother, and a personality that frustrated everyone he met, and the inability to relax, at all. Much.

They told Romano the next day that they were going to marry in the new year. Romano threw Spain's suitcase out of the window and thanked them for telling him.

And then they all lived happily ever after (even when Italy left wet towels on the floor and Germany let the dogs sit on their bed.)