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He dreams, helplessly, of Austria.

Sometimes dark eyes and blown pupils stare out at Switzerland from an all-consuming blackness. They stalk him, mark his footsteps, circle him like a wild cat – then Austria’s fingers are bruising his wrists and Austria’s lips are crushing his throat and pain, sweet pain, floods beneath Switzerland’s skin as his eyes fly open.

Other times they’re sitting on a beach, listening idly to the gulls’ sobs as the waves surge forth, draw back, and surge forth again. The dying sun’s gold-red rays linger longingly on Austria’s easy smile; the warm winds sigh, love-struck, as Austria raises an arm to cup Switzerland’s cheek like he’s done a hundred times before.

“I love you,” he says, and draws the dreamer into a kiss.

When Switzerland opens his eyes he tastes Austria’s name, like sea-salt tears, on his lips.

---

He doesn’t seem to learn.

At first Switzerland keeps his distance, takes a breath, and withdraws into his defences. The last time he lowered his guard, he’d fallen; the last time he’d let Austria in, he’d broken. For some time he’d returned to bricks and mortar, repeating the words “I won’t let this happen again” to himself, to his heart; he’d slammed his doors to the world, and watched from above as everyone else swept by. People loved, and lost, and loved again – it was an endless cycle, a pointless one, which Switzerland had removed himself from.

He’d thought that would be the end of it.

But Austria is persistent, and suddenly Switzerland doesn’t know what to do anymore. He dreams of Austria, dreams of his face and his smile and his laugh; dreams of a time that’s gone by, of a past that they can never recover, of a connection that disappeared long ago but that now screams for recognition.

And he miscalculates.

A crack – that’s all it takes for Austria to slip in, unnoticed. Words follow words and sentences swell into conversations, and one day Switzerland realises that Austria is back, back in his life, and there’s nothing he can do about it.

The days fly past and the years stretch on, endless. Somewhere, somehow, Switzerland stumbles. A forgotten feeling pounds at his last lone wall.

And his heart gives way.

---

Falling in love is a weightless plummet.

Sometimes it’s a giddy joy that overwhelms Switzerland when they’re alone together; suddenly all his problems are feather-light and all his worries and anxieties crumble to dust in Austria’s presence. Now he’s struggling to suppress a smile, instead of a frown – he laughs, helplessly, and the smallest brush of a hand makes his heart flutter.

Everything that Austria says or does now is endlessly fascinating. Nothing’s changed, except that Switzerland hangs on to every word – that now every flex of a finger or nod of a head carries a meaningless significance that it has never had and will never have again. Sometimes Austria is like the sun, too bright to look at, and Switzerland can only weakly look away; sometimes Austria is like the moon, too beautiful to look away from, and Switzerland can look at nothing else.

When Hungary sweeps over to hook her arm in Austria’s own, everything falls apart.

Switzerland’s own voice cries out in his head – “I’m an idiot, I’m an idiot, I’m an idiot”. It has to be true, for he should’ve learned his lesson the last time; a fool can fall in love with someone who’s beyond his reach, but only an idiot will stupidly fall in love with that same person all over again.

Give up, he tries to tell himself, give up before it’s too late – too late for what? Switzerland doesn’t know, and he doesn’t want to find out. The thought of uselessly chasing Austria forever is just as terrifying as the prospect of never being able to speak to him again; and Switzerland is scared enough already. It’s not something that he wants to think about.

It’s impossible to escape his self-judgement. Bitter, angry thoughts race through his mind – if only Hungary wasn’t there, if only Austria looked at him the way he looked at her, if only – and suddenly he’s yelling at himself for being so pathetic, for being so helpless, for falling in love. For all his life Switzerland has hated feeling vulnerable – that’s why he’s closed himself off, fought and worked and slogged away for all these years, made himself invincible and irreproachable and infallible – and now he’s falling apart, but what for? Love? Happiness? Being with Liechtenstein should be enough, so why does he want more? Why does he need more? Why is it so hard to give up?

And it’s at the end of the day, when Switzerland struggles to gather his giddy, furious thoughts, that he realises –

There’s no hope for him, either way.

---

He dreams, helplessly, of Austria.

“I love you,” he says, gazing distantly at the moonlit man before him. Their wine, abandoned on the dining table, cools in silence. “I love you,” he says again, as the white curtains twist in the breeze that the starry night blows through Austria’s windows.

If this were real, Austria would have turned on his heel and disappeared long ago. “I love you,” says Switzerland, “I love you.” The alcohol buzzes in his chest, and he can’t understand the look in Austria’s eyes. Something shifts, and Switzerland dimly realises that Austria’s taken a step back – no, he can’t, he mustn’t. “Don’t go,” he says, raising a hand to catch Austria’s shoulder. When did Austria become so tall? They’d been the same height, once. “Don’t leave me.” An odd feeling seizes his heart, and Switzerland blinks back tears. “I love you.”

The apology that falls from Austria’s lips doesn’t make sense. When the glass of water is offered to him, Switzerland drinks; when Austria turns to leave, Switzerland asks why.

Austria apologises again.

It takes six hours for Switzerland to wake up.

---

At first, they pretend nothing happened.

“I was drunk,” says Switzerland, “…and I didn’t mean anything I said.” The lie slips easily from his lips. He’s a well-practised liar – he’s been lying for so long, after all.

Austria nods, and lies, and says that he understands. He does understand, really – he understands, he understands everything, and Switzerland knows it. They’re lying to each other. They’re lying to themselves.

It’s the easy way out, after all.

For a month, they dance around each other. It’s a doomed farce that crumbles slowly, then all at once – one day they can’t speak to each other anymore, and all of a sudden they’re doing everything in their power to avoid one another.

The pain mellows into an ache that dissolves into numbness. Switzerland takes a breath, withdraws into his defences, and slowly rebuilds his walls once more.

This time, he won’t let anyone in.