"Yeah. Uh huh. Don't worry I'm on my way, Germany! See you soon!" Italy flipped his phone closed and breathed a deep sigh of relief when he realized he recognized the street in front of him at last.
Humming softly, he skipped over to the bus stop, turning up his collar against the wind. Italy frowned slightly, pausing briefly to look up at the overcast sky. It had been threatening to rain for a few hours now, and he hoped it wouldn't start until he was safely on the bus and on his way to Berlin.
A man was already sitting on the chipped pond-green bench, head down and wearing a long blue coat. He had a shock of white hair that drooped over his eyes and hid much of his face. Italy was struck with a sense of uncomfortable familiarity, as if he should know this man, but had forgotten a long, long time ago. Odd, since he certainly stood out.
Regardless of what Germany was always saying about talking to strangers, he plopped himself down beside the trampled looking man, flashing a winning smile. "Excuse me, sir, what's your name?"
The man jolted and looked up, red eyes widening almost comically at the sight of Italy's grinning face. "Y-you . . ."
"Are you alright?" Italy cocked his head. Perhaps he was homeless. His eyes seemed sunken in and his fingers were little more than twigs, like a ghoul from one of Germany's frightening storybooks. "Is that blood on your coat?"
The man gave a wracking cough and turned his face away. "Don't worry. It's not mine. Good to see you haven't changed much. Still cute little Italy, always concerned about others."
Perhaps he should have listened to Germany after all.
"How do you know my name?" Italy looked around frantically, wondering if there was anyone else around that could stop this strange man from murdering him and dumping his body in an alleyway. But it was just them and the cars that occasionally thundered men on a bench, having some sort of odd reunion only one of them was aware of.
"Do you know my name?"
It was not a question, it was a sigh, a piece of hope twinkling and then vanishing into thin air. The man seemed to age as he spoke it, dropping his head once more as tears began to well in his eyes.
Italy began to feel less terrified and more confused. A loose bit of melancholy detached itself from the man and burrowed its way into his own heart.
"No. I don't know your name." It was less an answer than an exhausted confession. There was something more to this sad man that sat beside him. Something that danced on the edge of his mind, eluding him because it did not want to be caught and, deep down, he did not want to catch it. Did not dare reopen the Pandora's box and set all the demons free.
"Than you don't need to know it," said the man. "No one needs to know it. Not even West. Especially not West."
West. That seemed important too, but more constant, more real. Italy pushed it to the back of his mind, filing it away for another rainy night.
"So are you East then?" He did not know what prompted him to say that. It didn't sound quite right, like a suit a bit to tight at the waist and with sleeves a little too long. East wasn't this man's name.
The stranger offered up a grim smile. "Maybe I am somewhere else. But not here. Not here."
Italy just nodded. "Did I ever know you?"
The man next to him paused as if fighting some internal struggle before shaking his head. "What is not remembered . . . never happened. And sometimes it's best to keep it that way. All you need to know is that I care about you a lot. I've always cared about you a lot, alright? West, too. And your brother and Hungary and Austria and Spain and France. I care about them all so, so much that's why . . . that's why . . . they can't know me anymore."
Italy didn't even bother asking how he knew of the existence of the nations, it seemed almost irreverent now. For this man had once been one of them, had once been a nation long ago.
A chill ran down his spine at the thought. What could have happened? What could have caused a nation to fall so far that no one even remembered its name?
"Tell West I said goodbye. Even if he doesn't remember it, I said goodbye long before that wall went up."
And then he was gone. Italy looked up, a question on his lips, something he remembered he had wanted to ask, something that he felt he needed to know, only to find the seat next to him awfully empty and filled with a sort of dull lifelessness.
And then suddenly the question was gone and Italy began to cry because he had just lost something that cannot possibly be replaced. He cried because he wished he had taken that man's hand and brought him to Germany's house, taken him home.
Unless that would have been impossible. Unless that man was nothing more than a ghost, haunting the very streets he used to own.
When he heard the faint roar of the bus thundering down the narrow German street, Italy almost stayed where he was. He almost decided to wait around a little while longer and see if the man comes back. But he didn't, because he knew the stranger is gone for good. Instead, he removed his rosary from under his shirt and pressed it to his lips, mumbling a half-hearted prayer for the dead. He stopped when the sleek navy blue bus screeched to a stop in front him, and tucked the trinket away. Italy cast one last glance at the bench before boarding the vehicle, hoping to leave the feeling of despair that had been clinging to him behind.
Prayers could not help that man, not anymore. Mere words condemned him, but they could not raise him back up for he did not deserve to rise. He must have known that. He must have understood
Italy stared out the window, watching as the sad, grey streets flashed before his eyes, reminding him of someone he once knew, a bleak and bloody crusader of the light.
If I pretend I don't know his name, everything will be alright.
Italy repeated this mantra to himself, clutching the rough seat material in his hand. But it was hopeless verse, because he'd already remembered it, if only for a second, and now he had to tell Germany that he'd met his brother and a bus stop.
I think I miss him.
Germany sat on the edge of his bed, staring out the window, one hand toying with a strand of his sleeping friend's hair. He no longer cared that Italy snuck into his bed at night, in fact he almost liked the sense of comfort the other's presence afforded him. As much as he wanted to deny it, he liked to have someone to sleep with.
But tonight, even Italy could not help him. Tonight Germany's thoughts turned towards the past, and the story Italy had recounted to him today. The story that he almost wanted to dismiss as mere make-believe, the product of the smaller nation's overactive imagination.
But the tale of a sad white-haired man fit far too well into the dreams he'd been having lately, sad little things that told a story about a little girl and a little boy who fell in love and a valiant older brother who watched out for them, with red eyes like a demon and white hair like an angel.
And then his dreams turned darker, the little boy died in a war far away and the little girl waited and waited but he never came back for her, no matter how hard she wished and cried and prayed.
So the little girl (who wasn't really a little girl at all) began to grow up and so did the brother, and they both became a little sadder, a little more tired, but it was okay, because the little boy came back. And then they didn't have a reason to cry anymore, at least for a little while.
But what they didn't know was that the little boy who was now a man was going to start a war, a war that would shake the earth, and he was going to drag everyone they cared about into it.
And during the war, the little boy hurt the little girl and his brother died in shame and was buried in a place where the light never went and was forgotten.
Germany buried his face in his hands, and for just a moment, thought he could hear half-uttered lullabies, telling of love and monsters and telling him that everything would be alright because his big brother would always be there to protect him, no matter what. And even the dragons and the goblins and the mermaids with blood-stained teeth were afraid of his brave big brother, who was half angel and half demon. And maybe his big brother wasn't always one of the good guys, but he was always going to love his little brother, his solemn little brother and that even if he ever had to go away, he would still watch out for him, to make sure that the dragons and the goblins and the mermaids with blood-stained teeth knew their place.
That night, Germany did not sleep.
I'm so sorry Prussia.