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what once was and what could be (and maybe some of what's in between)

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If he's totally honest, he wasn't shocked at first. Waking up with a man's bare arms wrapped around him had become commonplace as of late, and until he opened his eyes, the only thought on his mind was a plan for how to politely ask said man to leave.

But then he opened his eyes.

“Oh,” he whispered, his voice hoarse with the morning. “Oh, merda.” He shifted carefully, trying to extract himself from Germany’s arms, but his movement made the blonde stir, and he froze, instinctively gripping onto his friend’s arm. “Shh,” he whispered frantically. “Go back to sleep.”

“Italy?” Germany asked lazily, still half asleep. “Is something wrong?”

Uh…” he glanced around the room. It was a rather handsome place, with green wallpaper and a lovely sunflower painting above the dresser, but it most certainly was not his room. Come to think of it, it wasn't how he recalled Germany’s room either, but he set the thought aside for later and focused back on his friend. “No, no, nothing’s wrong. Go back to sleep, I'll come back to wake you in a minute!” He forced false cheerfulness into his tone, and Germany nodded sleepily. “Alright, thank you, amico.”

Once he was out of bed, he sighed in relief, glancing around for something to cover himself with and resolutely not dwelling on why he wasn't already covered. There was a t-shirt and a pair of boxers on the floor that he recognized as his, and he pulled them on.

The door creaked loudly and he cursed under his breath, glancing back at the bed and thanking God that Germany wasn’t disturbed. The wooden floor of the hallway was cold beneath his feet. He crept carefully to his left, letting his gaze trail over the unfamiliar walls. A sick feeling was settling in his stomach. This most certainly was not Germany’s house.

It was lovely though, and he paused a moment to admire the flower arrangement on the hall table. The bright petals were very well picked. He couldn’t have done better himself, and his background in art made him rather well-attuned to flower arranging if he did say so himself. In fact, he might even call it a talent of his. Bouquets really were just such beautiful things, whether as a gift or as a decoration, and putting them to form was an art he found very calming. The intricacies of colour intertwining, how the different textures complimented each other, even the meanings of the flowers; it was lovely. He leaned down and breathed in the sweet scent. A picture next to the vase caught his eye.

“Huh?” He picked it up, frowning. The picture had been taken at the beach, white sand in the background, the ocean waves crashing in the background. The wind was blowing their hair about wildly, and dark clouds were visible in the sky, but they were grinning like the day couldn’t be more perfect. He and Germany were standing together, him pressed against the taller man’s chest with Germany’s arms wrapped loosely around him, both of them laughing. Next, to them, Romano was there- he had one hand on Italy’s shoulder to steady himself, but his grin was directed in the other direction, where Prussia was there, their outstretched fingers intertwined in the space between them. Prussia’s smile was unlike the strange, almost animalistic one Italy was used to. A frown creased brow. Genuine happiness shouldn’t seem foreign on Prussia’s face.

Also, he had never been to the beach with them. The picture he held in his hands couldn’t possibly exist, because the instance it showed had never happened. Italy set it back down beside the flowers, a sense of anxiety hovering under his skin. “What’s going on?” he murmured. He moved down the hall.

There were more pictures lining the walls. There was one of him and Romano, his brother’s arm around his shoulder, that would have made him smile if he wasn’t so uneasy. There was another of him and Germany on a boat with his head leaning on Germany’s chest. It was pretty cute, but again, never happened. There was one of Germany and Prussia together at some sort of party, leaning over the table and laughing, their faces lit up with humour and their beer glasses full. There was one of him in hiking clothes, one of Germany holding a daisy and looking annoyed, one of them sitting together and him half in Germany’s lap, and one of the four of them again, perched on top of what he recognized as the Berlin wall, him gripping Germany’s hand and Romano leaning against Prussia’s shoulder.

“What the hell?” he murmured, his eyes flicking over them. These pictures told stories of a life he’d never led, yet somehow, he felt a connection to them. They felt like memories, and he stood there, staring blankly at this stranger that had his face. What was going on?

At the end of the hall, he found a photo of him and Germany dancing together. He was wearing a pink suit. It looked good on him, actually; he’d never considered the colour before, preferring shades of blue and green, but it complimented his skin quite well. Perhaps he should consider wearing it more often. Germany was wearing black, but the rose in his pocket matched Italy’s suit perfectly. They appeared to be waltzing, their faces calm, Italy’s head laid against his shoulder. There was another photo just beside it, and Italy’s breath hitched in his throat. He reached out and picked it up, confusion short-circuiting his brain.

It was his brother, wearing a suit, wearing a ring, holding up his hand to show off the silver. His smile was so wide it seemed it was going to split his face. Italy was there next to him, in the pink suit, gripping his other hand tightly and grinning at him, looking proud. Prussia was there, in a suit that matched Romano’s, with an arm thrown around the feisty Italian’s shoulders, his head leaning on the shorter man’s and his hand held up to show off a matching ring. Germany’s hand was on his brother’s shoulder, smiling and looking like he might cry from happiness. Italy brought the photo closer to his face, squinting at it. Those were wedding bands.

Romano and Prussia were wearing wedding bands.

“What the fuck?” He put the photo down, looking back at the one of him and Germany dancing together. The same suits. The same night, then? Him and Germany dancing together the night their brothers got married? He groaned, rolling his head back. None of this made sense. Romano and Prussia weren’t married, and if they were, Italy certainly didn’t recall going to a wedding. He hadn’t been to a wedding in years. “What the fuck?” he said again, softer, baffled. There were stairs to his right, and he blew out a long breath, proceeding down them. They creaked loudly.

The living room. Italy hesitated in the doorway before entering, looking around. There was a huge marble fireplace, the mantle decorated tastefully with a bouquet and a few knickknacks one might find in an antique shop, a painting of his countryside hanging above it. He recognized the sprawling field that was depicted- it was the view from the bedroom window of his summer villa. There was a long, low leather couch in front of the coffee table, which had an open book on it next to a half-empty glass of wine. Italy took the glass in hand. “Now if only it were full,” he muttered sardonically, and shook his head, taking a sip. There was a matching armchair to the left of the couch, situated at a just-so angle in order to catch heat from the fireplace. There was a cat curled up on the chair. Italy froze. It shifted in its sleep- holy shit, was that an Ashera?- but it didn’t open its eyes, and he breathed out slowly. Ok. There was a cat. That was fine. He loved cats.

On the far side of the room, there were two windows, green curtains pulled back to let the light come in. There was a wall table between them with more pictures on it, along with a very handsome clock that Italy couldn’t help but admire. The craftsmanship was lovely. He leaned in close to the pictures, preparing himself for another bout of shock.

He was not, in fact, prepared.

He and Germany were standing, hands clasped, wearing matching white suits, in front of a priest- at an altar. He and Germany were standing together at an altar. A sound like a whimper came up from the back of his throat, and he reached out, setting down the wine glass and taking the photo in his hands. He could see the absolute happiness on his own face; he could see Romano off the side, dressed in the same shade of pink Italy had been wearing in the pictures upstairs, holding the rings and smiling softly.

Italy bit back another whimper. He was holding his own wedding picture in his hands, which should have been sweet, which should make him smile, except he wasn’t married. It would warm his heart, but he and Germany weren’t together. No man that perfect would ever settle for a weak, idiotic crybaby. Italy put the picture back, resolving to ignore it. There was no point in dwelling on things like his marriage to Germany when he didn’t even have a wedding band.

Except, as he put the photo back, he caught sight of the very real band that very much was on his finger, and he really did whimper this time, bringing it closer to his face. A wedding band. It was very beautiful, actually; it was gold in colour, with the pattern of a leaf inscribed along the outside, small diamonds dotting along the central vein at measured distances. Expensive, at a glance, and even to a practised eye like his the gold and diamonds seemed real. “Shit,” he murmured. It was an absurdly nice ring for a marriage he hadn’t had.

He picked up the next picture couldn’t hold back a soft gasp. He and Germany, standing next to each other, grinning; Germany at him and him down towards the little boy whose hands they were holding. The kid must have been seven or eight, looking up at him like he was the sun. Italy brought the picture closer to his face and frowned softly. Was that- “Vatican City?” he murmured, tracing a finger over the boy’s face. He had never met the microstate at such a young age. In the photo beside it, Germany had the boy on his hip, the two of them smiling at each other. Vatican City, if it was him, was older, perhaps ten, but still small enough to be held. Italy was next to them, his head on Germany’s shoulder, with a child he didn’t recognize in his arms. The child was clinging to his neck, wide blue eyes staring up at him.

“Otto.” The word came to his lips unbidden, and a swell of protectiveness surged up in him as he stared at the little brown-haired child in the picture. He had the sudden, distinct feeling that he would kill- literally, genuinely kill- anyone that dared lay their hands on his son.

His son? No, no, that wasn't right. This was just a boy, one he’d never met to boot. Just a little boy in a picture that made his stomach tighten with something like paternal instinct, and Italy put the picture down and turned away with his hands shaking. He took up the wine glass and left the room as quickly as he could. The floor creaked upstairs, and he cursed, heading for the stairs. If Germany was up, things were going to get even more complicated. He had no idea how the blonde would react to the pictures that lined the walls.

Luckily, it wasn’t Germany. Unluckily, Italy didn’t recognize the boy that was looking at the wall. He was a young teen- thirteen? Fourteen? There wasn’t much difference between the two anyhow- with shaggy brown hair pulled back into a ponytail and an eyepatch over his right eye. He was humming softly, a pop song Italy didn’t recognize, running his fingers over one of the pictures- the one of Germany and Italy on the boat, holding each other. “Vati,” he murmured. He had a thick German accent, and Italy’s breath caught in his throat. Oh. Oh.

“Of course,” he said out loud, and the boy started, whipping toward him. There was a moment as they stood there, caught in each other’s state, both resembling deer in headlights; Italy awkwardly cleared his throat, shifting his weight on his feet. “Which one?”

The boy blinked once. “Bavaria.” A pause, eyes tracing him up and down. “You’re North Italy,” Bavaria continued, his eye narrowing appraisingly. “Vati talks about you a lot.” Vati? That must be Germany. Italy felt a smile light up his face. He had always assumed Germany had more important things to talk about than him or their friendship, and the realization that he was discussed to his friend’s family warmed his heart.

A door opened at the end of the hallway, and another teen appeared, looking absolutely panicked, wearing a white Italia sweatshirt and sweatpants, his hair messy with sleep. His eyes landed on them, and he whimpered, passing Bavaria and coming straight to Italy’s arms. “Hey, hey, don’t be sad,” Italy soothed, petting Vatican City’s hair. “It’s alright, calm down.” His words slipped into quiet Italian, calming nothings murmured as the boy trembled in his arms, hands were knotted hard in his t-shirt.

“VC?” Bavaria asked, his forehead creasing. He stepped forward, resting a hand on the younger Italian’s back and rubbing softly. “Are you okay?” Vatican City pulled his head off Italy’s shoulder long enough to glare at the younger boy. Bavaria stepped back, putting his hands in the air. “Okay, okay, sorry.”

Vatican City’s face softened. “It’s fine,” he muttered, hiding in Italy’s arms again. “I’m just… very disconcerted right now.”

Italy tucked the boy’s head under his chin, holding him close. “You should see the wedding photos,” he commented casually, earning himself a weird look from Bavaria. “I think I might have cried from confusion.”

“You cry from everything,” Vatican City shot back, his voice muffled by Italy’s shoulder.

“Rude!” Italy exclaimed, pouting. Bavaria gave a small smile, turning away to look at the pictures on the wall again.

“You cried when I asked your birthday.”

Italy huffed. “That’s because I don’t know my birthday,” he complained. “You were stressing me out.” Vatican City laughed, and he smiled, grateful that the boy had stopped shaking, at least. He’d never dealt with change or unknown very well, and waking up in a house he didn’t recognize must have shaken him up quite a bit.

The door to their left opened. “What’s going-” Germany paused, his eyes tracing over the three of them. He was wearing sweatpants and a shirt that was much too small. Italy frowned, huffing.

“I think that’s my shirt,” he commented with a whine. “You’re going to stretch it out.” Germany flushed red to the tips of his ears and crossed his arms defensively. “Ooh, don’t do that. You’ll rip it.” Bavaria snorted, ducking his head like he was trying to hide his amusement.

Germany scowled. “It was on the floor,” he muttered. Vatican City pulled out of Italy’s arms, looking disgusted.

“Did you sleep together or something?”

Italy felt himself go red. Bavaria laughed out loud this time, and Germany slapped the boy lightly upside the head, hissing “shut up, Bavaria,” under his breath. “Uh…” Italy glanced down at his wrist. “Oh! Look at the time! You should come downstairs, I’ll make breakfast!”

Vatican City raised an eyebrow. “Ok, one, you’re not wearing a watch, North. Second of all, can you put on pants?” Italy pretended to think about it, biting his lip, then shrugged, going into the room Germany had just vacated.

“I’ll be down in a second!” he called as he closed the door. “Don’t you dare touch anything in the kitchen!” The kitchen was his room. It didn’t matter what house it was, cooking was one of his greatest talents and by God, he would be the one doing it.

“I can’t believe you finally slept with Italy,” he heard Bavaria say casually, (finally? he wondered) and Germany choked, sputtering out something about how they didn’t know that and you’re too young to say things like that, look at you- Italy chuckled, his face heating up, and turned to the chest of drawers, pulling them open to hunt out something to wear. In the end, he found a blue button up and a pair of jeans, and a comb on the vanity that he ran through his hair, working out the knots from sleep (and sex, apparently, but he very much was not dwelling on that.)

(And he most certainly wasn’t disappointed he couldn’t remember it. That would be ridiculous.)

-

America woke up with a crick in his neck, and he groaned out loud, pushing himself up from where he was slumped over his desk, only to stop short. “Where the fuck?” he grumbled, pushing his chair back and standing up. He pushed his glasses up his nose. He was in what looked like a dorm room, with a Yankee’s scarf hanging across the wall and clothes strewn across the floor. He turned in a circle and laughed nervously. “Ok, then…”

He headed for the door and emerged into what was unmistakably a college dorm suite. The cramped kitchen was to his right, the space that mimicked a living room to the right. There was a door next to his, open to reveal the bathroom, and another next to it that presumably led to another bed. The setup was reflected on the other side of the small space. “Hello?” he called. Three other doors, that meant three other people, right? Maybe they knew what the fuck was going on.

There was a crashing noise from the bedroom closest to him, and someone cursed loudly. America froze, staring at the door, eyebrows raising slowly as the person’s voice crescendoed in a language he didn’t know, yelling was was very clearly a string of profanities. The door at the other side of the suite flew open, and a boy came storming over, slamming his fist against the wood. “Shut up!” he yelled, and the person on the other side screamed something like “go away” back, but it was in such a thick accent that America couldn’t be entirely certain.

“Jesus fucking-” the boy turned around, his eyes landing on America. “Oh.” His accent was Irish. “America?”

America blinked twice. “I, uh-” he cleared his throat, shaking his head to get his thoughts in order. “Uh, yeah. You are…?”

The boy stuck out his hand. “Northern Ireland,” he introduced himself, a laugh following the words. “Not surprised you didn’t recognize me, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?”

America blinked again, this time in shock. “Holy shit, it has. You’re a lot taller, wow.” He shook Northern Ireland’s hand, giving him a grin. “How’s it been, dude?”

“Not bad,” the redhead replied, giving him a crooked grin. “You got any idea-”

“What the fuck is going on?” someone interrupted in a growl, the door next to them flying open. Iceland was there, his arms crossed across his chest, glaring at them with nothing short of venom burning his eyes. “I was on Denmark’s couch when I went to sleep, I was not here.”

Northern Ireland shrugged. “Yeah, neither were we,” he replied. “I was about to ask that same question, actually. You know where we are, America?”

America shook his head, his eyes looking the two boys up and down. Iceland looked older than he had at the last World Meeting. He usually looked sixteen or so, but he was definitely more like nineteen now. Northern Ireland appeared the same age. America himself had been looking closer to early twenties recently- had he slipped back into late teens? He sighed at the thought. No one ever took him seriously when he was the youngest one there. He’d been pumped to finally be somewhat accepted by his peers, but he supposed he did act more like a nineteen-year-old anyway.

There was a knock, and all three of them glanced around, trying to figure out where it was coming from. America followed it through the kitchen to the front door of the suite. There was a boy on the other side (also about nineteen, if America had to guess. The college was probably in session, then.), with messy hair and wearing pyjama pants. “Hey, Alfred,” the boy greeted with a grin, and America felt a cold thrill run down his spine, but he grinned back at the stranger anyhow. He hadn’t been given a reason to be antagonistic yet. “Can you ask whoever’s screaming to quiet a bit? Nicky is getting pissed.”

“Yeah, no problem,” America replied, reaching out and patting the guy’s shoulder on impulse- instinct? He wasn't sure why, really, but it felt familiar. “Sorry for waking you up.” The guy shrugged.

“Don’t worry about it. See you later, Al.”

“Yeah, see you later,” he replied, watching the guy as he crossed the hall and entered his own dorm. “Huh,” he said softly as the boy’s door closed, leaning against the doorframe. Clearly, the kid knew him, but his face was nowhere in Alfred’s memory. He frowned, stepping back into the dorm and closing the door. “He wanted Iceland to shut up,” he relayed as he stepped back into the hall. The silver-haired boy sent him a glare at him from where he’d settled on the cheap orange couch, and America raised his hands in surrender. “Hey, don’t kill the messenger, dude.”

Northern Ireland was on a beanbag tossed on the ground in the living room, frowning. “He called you Alfred,” he pointed out, his tone uneasy. America felt his heartbeat stutter. Nations weren’t supposed to know each other’s human names. It was dangerous; revealing your human name put you in a position to be more easily targeted. Even most married nations didn’t tell each other their “informal” names. It was too big of a risk.

America cleared his throat. “Yeah. People do, sometimes.”

Iceland was still glaring at him. It was unsettling.

“You sure we should be allowed to know that?”

America met Northern Ireland’s stare head-on, trying to analyze what the boy was thinking. His pose was relaxed, sprawled across the beanbag, but his face was blank, eyes hard. It was defensive. That meant he was uneasy; afraid. America stayed silent for a long moment and then stepped closer, squatting down and sticking out his hand again. It couldn’t hurt, could it? “Alfred F. Jones,” he said, his tone casual even as his heart thrummed in his throat, his brain screaming at him that this was a bad idea, he should find out where he was first, and he hardly knew this guy- “The F stands for Franklin, if you were wondering.”

Iceland whistled lowly. “Ballsy,” he muttered. Alfred ignored him.

Northern Ireland stared at his hand for long enough that he felt awkward, but just before he went to pull it back, the redhead reached out, shaking it firmly.

“Aidan Kirkland,” he replied, his voice trembling the tiniest bit. “Nice to meet you.”

Alfred gave him a grin. “My last name used to be Kirkland. Changed it a while back, though.” Aidan returned the smile, chuckling the tiniest bit. “Bit too… English, you know?”

“Damn Yank,” Aidan teased, and Alfred laughed, standing up. Iceland’s eyes followed the two of them, his knees pulled into his chest. Alfred didn’t look at him. He didn’t have any reason to expect the Nordic to give what they had given him- that group had always been private, keeping to themselves and their snow. So Alfred’s heart stuttered in confusion when Iceland blew out a long breath, standing up and offering his hand to Aidan. He kept his eyes on the floor. Aidan stared at his hand for a long second, and then reached out, grasping it hesitantly.

“Eirikur,” Iceland mumbled, still looking away. “The last name is Thomasson.” Aidan relaxed, shaking his hand firmly. Alfred snorted. Paranoid, just like his brother.

“Nice to meet you, Eirikur,” he replied, his voice completely casual. “Sorry for yelling through your door.”

Eirikur’s lips curved into a small smile. “Sorry for being so loud. Usually I’m not a screamer.” There’s a tone to his second statement that makes it obvious exactly what the joke is about, and Alfred couldn’t stop himself from laughing. Eirikur’s grin widened, and Aidan dropped the Icelander’s hand, wrinkling his nose, but his lips twitched into the crooked grin he’d given Alfred earlier.

“That’s disgusting,” he complained, and Eirikur shrugged, brushing past him towards the kitchen. Aidan rubbed his hand on his pants like his skin was tainted, and Alfred covered his mouth to keep from laughing louder.

The refrigerator opened. There was a moment of silence, and then a long sigh. “Guys,” Eirikur called in a long-suffering tone, “This is not where you keep ramen.”

Chapter Text

Prussia had woken up in many strange situations before; at the end of a sword, in a stranger's bed, suffocating in a concentration camp, that one memorable incident of being buried alive- but never had he woken up next to Romano, and certainly not in a room that he didn't recognize.

Romano had sputtered out some kind of insult that had to do with a potato and possibly called him a whore, he couldn't quite tell, and scrambled away, leaving Prussia alone in an unfamiliar bed. He’d taken the time to look around. He was mainly searching for his phone, figuring he could deduce his location and then call West or Hungary or someone to come get him, because there was an angry Italian outside the door and he was afraid of him. He’d gotten as far as finding his phone, plugged into the wall and laying on the bedside table. He must have been here awhile, if he'd gotten around to plugging in his phone. That, coupled with the fact that he was wearing pajamas, mostly eliminated the probability of a one night stand. Which was a relief. If he was picking someone to have a one night stand with, Romano would be pretty low on the list. With the relief, though, came a worse feeling; why couldn't he remember how he'd gotten here?

He opened his phone. He had three missed calls and four messages. He tapped on the calls first. No one ever called him. The calls were all from Ludwig- distantly, he wondered when he'd changed his brother’s contact name, but he figured he must have just forgotten and moved on to the messages.

Lovi: hey babe when are you getting your lazy ass home i want a hug the kids are watching a dumb movie and it's making me want to die

Lovi: nvm i can hear your car in the driveway ily come hug me asshole

Prussia almost dropped his phone. Instead, he checked that it really was his. It seemed to be, but in what world would he be getting that kind of text? Babe? Kids? And who was Lovi? Normally he'd assume a wrong number, but the contact was saved.

Erzebet: hey, can you call me in the morning? I need to talk to you about something.

He almost recognized the name; it hovered somewhere in his consciousness, whispering to him that he should know this name, he should know who this was, but he came up blank and a feeling of loss came over him, like missing this person meant he was missing someone irreplaceably important. He shook off the feeling, blowing out a long breath. This was beginning to hover on the line between ridiculous, creepy, and downright terrifying. He swiped to the most recent text- which, he noted, had been received at 3:25 that morning.

Al: gb, dude, bro, man, i wanna die

Prussia’s eyebrows rose very slowly. Literally no one had ever called him GB in his life, but he supposed it sort of worked as a nickname, maybe, kind of, not at all.

Only to someone that knew his informal name, though, and all those people were dead as far as he knew.

Terrifying was starting to win out. “What the fuck,” he said softly. He sat there for a few seconds longer, pondering, and then stood up, moving towards the door. He pressed his ear against the door. He couldn't hear anything. That didn't necessarily mean Romano w asnt out there, lurking and plotting or whatever it was he did while he wasn't causing a ruckus, but it sounded safe enough that he crept out, closing the door softly behind him.

The Italian was nowhere in sight. Prussia wandered down the hallway, eyes trailing over the decorations. There were some pictures hanging up that he didn't bother looking at, a window at the end that was propped open slightly, a soft red rug on the floor. “Hello?” he called, his voice echoing in the empty space. “Romano, you still here?”

“Fuck off!” someone yelled from upstairs, and he snorted, heading in that direction. The stairs were old and creaky, but the wood was smooth. He found Romano in the living room, sitting on the couch with a leather book in his hands. There was a husky lying by his feet that perked up when it saw Prussia, bounding over to him. Prussia leaned down to scratch its ears, unable to resist a cute dog. “I said fuck off, bastard,” Romano snapped, refusing to look at him. Instead, Prussia took a seat on the couch next to him. Evidently he was feeling particularly suicidal today. “Are you too stupid to understand what I'm saying?”

Prussia grinned, leaning over to see if he could catch a glimpse of what the smaller man was reading. Romano snatched it away, and Prussia pouted, leaning further. Photos? “Are you too stupid to understand I’m ignoring you?” he jabbed back, and Romano flushed red; before a retort could be made, Prussia continued. “What’s that?”

Romano shrugged. “A photo album,” he muttered. “It’s got pictures of you.” Prussia started and then winked, leaning back and crossing his arms over his chest.

“You like looking at pictures of me?”

Romano spluttered, his face darkening even further, and threw the photo album at him, storming out of the room. Prussia laughed loudly as he watched him go. Once the footsteps had faded down the hallway, he flipped the book open, an amused smirk dancing on his lips. The first several photos were of little children- there were captions, which he didn’t bother reading, because they were in spindly cursive that hurt his eyes and he didn’t like children anyway. Eventually, he came to a picture of two little boys, arms slung around each other’s shoulders. One was wearing a wide grin; the other was frowning, but there was a slight upturn at the corner of his lip. His breath hitched- there had been no photography when the Italies were so small. The caption read, “Lovino and Feliciano’s eighth birthday!” in the same spindly print, and he shrugged it off, flipping the page.

Except the next showed a snapshot of what unmistakably him, with his arms around two little blonde boys. The one on his right was struggling to pull away, not even bothering to look at the camera, while the other was clutching his shirt, staring up at him like he was looking for reassurance. He swallowed, tracing a finger over the angry boy’s face. “Switzy,” he murmured. It had been a long, long time since he and his brother had stood so close together. The caption read, “Gilbert tormenting his little brothers, as per usual,” with a little smiley face next to it.

He closed the album.

“You should've flipped further,” came Romano's voice from behind him, sounding more passive than Prussia had ever heard it. “There are some lovely pictures of your wedding.” His tone is bitter.

Prussia snorted. “Right. Who would marry me?” He twisted around to look at Romano, a sardonic grin already stretching his face.

He blinked once. Then he blinked twice. Then he got up and scrambled to the other side of the room. “Is that a child?”

“Shh!” Romano shushed angrily. “You'll wake him up!”

“Why do you have a child?” he shot back, quietly but still harsh.

“I don't know, I found it in its room!”

Prussia stared at him. “So you took it?”

Romano looked distinctly uncomfortable. He looked back down at the little kid he was holding. “I felt… connected to it,” he muttered. “I don't know, it sounds fucking stupid out loud.”

Prussia snorted, collapsing in his chair. “Yeah, no shit. You can't steal kids.”

“I didn't fucking steal it, bastard. I just picked it up.”

“Oh, well that's much better,” he shot back, sarcasm burning in his tone. Romano glared at him and opened his mouth, but just then the child yawned, blinking its eyes open. It looked slowly up at Romano, and then turned its head to look at Prussia, and then looked back again.

Its lip started to quiver.

“Shit,” Romano muttered. “No, no, please don't cry.” It whimpered, burying its face in the Italians shoulder. Prussia leaned against the wall to regard the two; Romano was murmuring in low Italian in the kid’s ear, rubbing its back gently as it clasped its arms around his neck. The sight made his chest glow with something warm, and he hardly noticed his lips curving into a smile. Romano looked up at him and scowled. “What are you looking at?”

Prussia glared back. “What, you think you're nice to stare at? I'm watching the kid, dumbass.”

“Go die. At least I'm not paler than the moon's ass.”

Prussia crossed his arms with a huff. “That doesn't make sense. And you know I'm albino, shut up.” Romano looked like he wanted to yell, but he gritted his teeth together and settled for leaving the room with the kid instead. “Are you at all concerned with what's going on?” Prussia yelled after him. He got no answer. Prussia groaned and ran a hand through his hair, deciding that the owners of the house would have to return eventually, and he'd just have to pray that they didn't call the police when they did. “If we end up in jail, I'm blaming you!”

“Fuck you!”

“Watch your profanity! Think of the children!”

-

The sound of the phone ringing seemed absurdly loud. Norway bolted straight up in bed, fully intending to murder whoever was calling, but was stopped by his own surprise when he took in his surroundings; chillingly unfamiliar. The red paint on the walls was chipping; the carpet, soft under his feet as he stood, was a hideous shade of beige; the door was a scratched up thing in a dented frame. He wrinkled his nose, extending his magic to brush over the space. He was alone.

The phone stopped ringing, and it became ominously quiet.

Norway stepped out of the bedroom to look around. He let the magic roll off his hands again, trying to detect any kind of threat in the area. A spell, perhaps, that had brought him here? Had he been drinking enough to forget last night, he would have a hangover. But he felt… oddly refreshed. That was a better sleep than he'd had in a long time, and there were no traces of magic.

It took a very short time to look around the apartment. It was small, obviously cheap, with little decoration aside from the familiar battle axe leaning beside the fireplace. Norway’s shoulders relaxed when he saw it. Denmark had been here. It was probably just his apartment in Copenhagen, the one he'd bought a few months prior when his government complained for the thousandth time that his cabin was too far away from the capital. Norway hadn't visited yet, which would explain why he didn't recognize it. It didn't explain why he didn't remember arriving, though. He found a few Polaroids in the living room, scattered across the coffee table, that only strengthened his suspicions: there was one of Iceland, leaning over the railing of the bridge, looking at peace with the morning sun reflecting off the water (it was cute. Norway slid it in his pocket.) and one of Norway himself, reading a book on a park bench, with another’s hand- Denmark's, probably- reaching from the behind the camera to brush a piece of hair from his face. He found it odd that he didn't remember when the picture had been taken, but it seemed a fairly mundane moment, so he didn't stress over it.

The phone rang again. Norway turned, trying to find it. It was a landline; what else would he have in such a shitty apartment? Norway deliberated for a moment before answering.

“Hello?” he asked, intending to tell them that the man they were calling for wasn't home, but they answered before he could.

“Is this Lukas Densen?”

His blood went cold. How did they know to call him Lukas? Had he slipped up? Or had Denmark told someone? His last name hadn't been Densen in a very long time. His hand tightened instinctively around the receiver, and his voice was sharp as he answered. “Yes, it is. Who is this?”

“This is Riget Hospital. I'm calling about your husband, Mathias. He was brought in this morning following a car crash.”

His heart jumped into his heart, thudding against his vocal cords and making it impossible to speak. Thoughts swirled violently through his psyche as he tried to sort of the absurd information he had just been given. He opened his mouth but all that came out was a small choking noise.

“Mr. Densen? Will you be coming?”

He swallowed hard and forced himself to speak. “Yes. I'll be there as soon as possible.” He hung up before she finished replying, the slam of the receiver reverberating through his hand. He stared at the wall, his mind working furiously to sort out what was happening. Mathias was in the hospital. He had no doubt that was true- Denmark had never exactly been the type to think things through. He tended to jump straight in, which ended badly more often than not. Their marriage, of course, being an example. They had divorced years ago, making the word “husband” an absolute mystery. His hand instinctively went to rest against his ring finger, where he used to wear his wedding ring.

His fingertips brushed against metal, and his eyes jerked down, widening at the painfully familiar band he was wearing. His teeth dug into his lip. He was dreaming again, that must be it. This was another trick of the mind, dragging him back into the days Denmark had loved him, driving a spike into his heart that would bleed him dry when he woke up and the illusion slipped through his fingertips.

The drive to Riget Hospital was trance-like. He surmised that yes, his mind had placed him in Copenhagen. Situating him in Denmark's heart, how appropriately agonizing. His cruel tricks on himself were so terribly clever at times. Parking was miserable, making him briefly question if that itself was the culmination of his nightmare. He eventually found a spot and shut off the car; he took just a moment to sit there with his eyes closed, breathing in and out slowly. Inside, the hospital was quiet. Evidently, most people were busy doing other things than getting injured at... 9:00 on a Thursday morning, according to his phone. He went up to the reception desk. The woman behind it glanced up at him from her computer.

“Lukas Densen,” he introduced, and the name felt painfully familiar rolling off it tongue, but all too foreign at the same time. The heaviness in his heart was almost outweighed by the way it jumped hearing the sound again. God, he was hopeless. “I'm here for Mathias Densen.”

Her nose wrinkled as she traced his figure up and down, but she gave him the room number after a long moment of silence. He nodded and headed for the doors inside, not bothering to thank her. He could feel his eyes following him as he left. They burned into his skin. He shivered. There was a heavy judgement in the sharp gaze that made him feel distinctly uncomfortable; that was one part of their marriage he hadn’t missed.

The room was silent. Norway took slow steps toward the bed, his eyes taking in the still figure under the sheets. Denmark didn't seem hurt very badly; his face was scratched, and there was a fantastic bruise on his hairline, but aside from that he appeared alright. Norway pulled up a chair next to the bed and traced his gaze over the Dane. He reached out, hesitated, and let his fingers brush just in the slightest over Denmark’s cheek.

There was jolt like electricity that lanced through his skin, and he jerked back. Denmark’s eyes shot open. There was a moment of breathless silence; then the Dane bolted to a sitting position, his gaze flying about the room. His eyes locked onto Norway’s. “Nor? What’s going on?” His brows furrowed. “Why am I in the hospital? Why are you here?” Norway pointed hesitantly to Denmark’s hand, where the wedding band was in clear sight. The room went utterly silent again. The Dane’s eyes flickered between the ring on his finger and the one on Norway’s, eyebrows steadily raising higher. “Oh.” He sounded dumbfounded. “But we’re not- is this my old ring?” He pulled it off, squinting at the inside. “Where’s the chain?”\

Norway tilted his head. “Chain?” Denmark waved him off, sliding the ring back on, and Norway filed the comment away to deliberate later. “I woke up in an apartment. I figured it was yours. They called the landline to say you were here.”

“Yeah, that must be my place,” Denmark replied with a laugh. “The only spot in Copenhagen that still has a landline.” He grinned at Norway, and the younger man felt his heart stutter. Denmark Makes It Hard To Breathe: Volume 6,543, he thought sarcastically. “They called for you?”

“Not exactly. They called for Lukas Densen.”

Denmark’s face fell into something cold, and Norway’s heart froze. The Dane’s hands curled into fists, eyes slipping closed, and Norway flinched, anticipating an attack. Denmark just breathed out a long, slow breath and opened his eyes. “They shouldn’t know that name,” he said, his voice tinted with a growl. “Someone looked at something they shouldn’t have.” His eyes melted into sympathy, and he reached out to touch Norway’s shoulder. “I’m sorry. I wouldn’t have told them, Norge, I promise.”

He took a few seconds to reply because his lungs didn’t want to function. “I know. It’s alright.” He resisted the urge to snag Denmark’s wrist in his hand as it moved away. “Let’s get you home.”