*Update 11/14/12:

Wow. Just, really, wow. I reread this story, and realized I hate it up until halfway through chapter three. It's probably because I wrote chapter four before everything else, and rushed through writing the rest. The plot, and especially the character progression, happens far too quickly for my taste.

I recommend skipping through until halfway through chapter 3. Or at least not judging me for crappy writing XD I plan to redo this one if I have time.*

What was wrong with Italy?

That question had plagued Germany's kind for the past week. Italy and his brother had been in town, staying at a nearby hotel. They never stayed at a hotel when they were visiting. Sealand had come for a stay earlier in the week, but he'd returned to his "country" two days into the Italians' visit; they could have been staying with him. Sure, Romano wasn't his biggest fan, but Germany didn't think that that was the problem. The issue had pretty obviously originated in the northern part of the country, and whatever it was, it was causing his friend to be distant from him. Veneziano had been avoiding him like the plague, recently. When the two were forced to be near each other, he said as little as possible, just enough to get whatever needed to be said said, and whatever needed to get done done. Had Germany done or said something wrong? He couldn't get the thought off of his mind, but if Italy didn't want to be around him, he didn't know what he could do to fix it.

"Hey, West!" Prussia came into the foyer, irritatedly holding up a flour sack. "See this bag of empty flour? Yeah. It's not going to magically refill itself. I think you forgot the "soon" part of I NEED THIS FLOUR ASAP!"

"Ja, ja, I'm leaving now," Germany pulled open the front door. Prussia had sent him on a massive grocery run (somehow, whenever Germany's turn to go get groceries arose, they were on their last few meager portions of everything...) "Maybe we wouldn't have this issue if you, oh, maybe, actually did your grocery shopping."

Prussia rolled his eyes, but whatever retort he was planning was cut off from Germany's attention by his phone ringing and vibrating in his pocket. The name on it was... Romano?


"Yeah, it's Italy Romano," he said with extra emphasis. "Listen, I'm out of tomatoes, so come get me and Veneziano and Espagna so we can go to the store, ah?"

Germany sighed. Spending an afternoon with Romano was not his idea of the perfect shopping trip, but if Italy was coming, it could give him a chance to figure out what was wrong.

Or... it could be painfully awkward... judging by the fact that he could hear Veneziano protesting his attendance on the trip in the background. He could hear Romano yelling something about him going if he had to drag him, muffled as if his hand were over the microphone. When it sounded like Romano's ear was back on the speaker, Germany informed him that he would be there in ten minutes, and hit the red End Call button.

Ten minutes, practically on the dot, and Germany's SUV came to a stop in front of the hotel, where Romano, Spain, and a very reluctant-looking Veneziano piled in. The latter took the back, passenger-side seat, getting into the car wordlessly while the others walked around to the other side.

"Hey, Italy," Germany said, testing the air between them.

"Oh, hey, Germany," Italy replied. His voice had its normal carefree pitch, but the inflections made his greeting sound perfunctory. Nothing more was said between them, as Romano opened the door to take the back driver's-side seat.

"Scooch your booch, Romano!" Spain complained when it didn't look like he was going to move over to the hump seat. Romano whipped his head around; he wasn't aware that Spain was behind him in the first place. "If you think you're squishing the three of us back here together, you've got another thought coming, amico!" After a few more seconds of yelling, Spain sadly retreated to the front passenger's seat, claiming, "Romano, you're mean to me!"

Germany could have, and did, predict that this was no longer going to be just a trip to the grocery store. It felt like they stopped at every store in between the hotel and the supermarket. It started when Spain saw an ice cream shop, one whose ice cream, he'd heard, was legendary. They stopped to get some, Spain's treat, and continued on their way.

"Beautiful~!" Spain sung upon his first taste of the chocolate-mint swirl cone. "It's like an ice cream symphony in my mouth!"

"Yeah, this stuff isn't half bad," Romano agreed, licking into his double-chocolate cone. Germany's ear twitched at the sound of the Italian being agreeable for once. In fact, he had hardly said a single disagreeable thing since entering the car. "Veneziano, what do you think?"

Italy had gone for a sweet cream-flavored cup with a Reese's Pieces topping. "It's really good," he replied simply.

Germany wasn't satisfied with this response. Since when did Romano ask Italy's opinion on anything? Since when did anyone HAVE to ask Italy's opinion? He usually just shared it without anyone asking for it, with excruciating detail. His mood was bothering Germany exponentially more and more every time he did something that was out of character. He didn't know what to say to his friend, though, and since he was obviously the source of some of his discomfort, for whatever reason, he didn't want to exacerbate his suffering by trying to talk to him about it.

After hitting up another five or six stores on the way, Germany remembered his brother at home, who was now sure to be livid, and made it clear that he was not making any more stops until after the grocery store.

When they finally reached their destination, the two Italians and the Spaniard immediately made a beeline for the produce section, but Germany grabbed Romano by the arm before he could get too far.

"I need to talk to you," he murmured, bending down toward Romano's ear. The brunette nodded, and Germany grabbed a shopping cart. They started picking up groceries on the opposite side of the store, so they would have enough time and space to talk.

"What's wrong with Italy? What did I do?"

Romano already knew that Germany's intention was to ask him about his brother's mood. He inhaled and sighed. "I don't know why Veneziano's in this mood. He's been this way all week, and the only thing I know is that when he's not around you, he's a hell of a lot worse. He's been laying in bed, doing nothing this whole damn time, and it's really depressing and annoying, ah? When he's with you, at least he'll talk, and actually get off his lazy ass and do something. So what are you waiting for; do something to cheer him up already!"

"Why do you think I asked to talk to you?" Germany replied, irritated. This was going to get him nowhere. "Correct me if I'm wrong here, but it seems like he wants nothing to do with me in particular recently. Plus, I'm bad with things like emotions. I don't know how to cheer him up."

"Quit with the I-don't-know-how-to-make-Veni-happy bullshit nonsense," he said, waving his hand back and forth in his trademark disdainful way. "My fratellino is always going on about how much fun he's having with you. You know his sense of humor, too, so just do whatever you can to get a response out of him! You know as well as I do that once he starts smiling and laughing, he won't be able to stop."

"Right... I'll try..." Germany muttered, trying to think of how he was going to get that guy to lighten up. When it came down to it, Germany never knew the right thing to do when dealing with emotions. In the case of Italy, fun just sort of... happened. He could plan something for a million years and get it wrong, but if they did something on a whim, it was guaranteed to be a good time.

This was going to be difficult.

*I had Romano call Spain "Espagna" because since Spain raised him, I liked the idea of mixing the Spanish and Italian words for Spain (EspaƱa and Spagna respectively.)*