The moment Feliciano opened the door to his friend's house, he knew that something was wrong. The still night had fallen away to reveal a strange pressure that squeezed the breath from his chest, and a vindictive force hung heavily in the air like poisonous gas. With a start, the Italian realized that he hadn't been greeted by any of Ludwig's three dogs. His heart quickened, throbbing almost painfully in his chest.
"Germany?" His thin voice wavered in the tense air as he ventured deeper into the house. It was a chilly night, and Feliciano found himself wishing that he'd thought to pull on some pants before leaving home. Frightened by the stubborn silence, the brunet prayed for a lengthy sermon from his friend. Even one of Ludwig's boring lectures would be better than the ominous chill that had settled into his flesh.
A raw, hacking cough made him jump, echoing hollowly in the once-silent house. Feliciano could hear the nation's dogs whimpering from the upper level as their owner choked up a lung. His legs almost moved on their own as he flew up the stairs.
The door was open when he reached the bedroom, and the three dogs were pacing nervously around the bed. The Italian's heart leapt to his throat, then plunged to the floor as his eyes fell upon his friend. Ludwig was curled onto his side, shivering violently beneath his blankets. As Feliciano approached, he realized that the blond's scarlet face was drenched with sweat even as his straight, white teeth chattered restlessly. Pale bangs bounced limply against a clammy brow as the German was struck with another fit of coughing. The painfully grating noise made Feliciano weak in the knees.
"G-Germany?" A hesitant hand brushed the nation's sweaty locks from his forehead only to be snatched back as though burnt. "Germany's burning up!"
Glassy eyes fluttered open, staring past the worried brunet into some imaginary distance. Half-formed German shook on Ludwig's pale lips, his breath squeezing out in quick gasps. "Tut mir leid
Feliciano swallowed back his fear, forcing himself to be strong for the ailing nation. "No, no, it's all right. Don't worry, Germany, I'm here."
"Please forgive me
"Sh, sh, sh, sh
" The Italian sought his friend's trembling hand and held it tightly, surprised by the cold, clammy skin. "It's okay, Germany, really."
The normally stunning shade of Ludwig's eyes was surreal, shining like a clear April morning. As they fixed onto something beyond the physical realm, tears fell like glass, sparkling on his red cheeks. His gaze was distant, and the twin gems gleaming in their sockets were clear and bright. Too bright.
She is giggling again, the light-hearted music falling pleasantly across his burning ears. There is too much time before her bouts of laughter, he decides, there is too much time in which she is crying. He will have to fix that.
She is looking at him in confusion, head tilted and lips forming a small "o" as his own words stumble across his tongue. He wants to tell her so many things, but yet, he is afraid. If he ruins the bond that they now share with his imperfect confession of imperfect love, he will never forgive himself. He turns.
She is calling after him, the tears in her eyes spilling into her voice. His name rings out with a clear note, like that of a church bell, in the hopeful air. He will see her again, not matter what. He has promised, she has promised, and they will love until the world became dust. There is nothing on Earth that can ever truly separate them.
Shame and guilt stack themselves upon his chest, stealing the air from his struggling lungs. He knows that he's lied, that he's dying, that she's still waiting for him to return. A fresh wave of grief breaks over his aching body, salty tears stinging at the cuts on his face. "I'm so sorry, Italy. Please forgive me."
Feliciano smoothed the wet cloth across his friend's burning forehead, reflexively wiping away the nation's tears as they fell. Ludwig had been crying in his sleep for the past hour, murmuring his repentance through shuddering lips. "I'm sorry, so sorry
The Italian sighed, absently drawing his thumb across the other's cheek. "Why is Germany apologizing? He's not doing anything wrong."
Berlitz cocked his head, gazing wisely into worried amber eyes. Master is always hard on himself. It's just the way he is.
The Golden Retriever shifted at the foot of the bed, rolling onto her side to address her brother. That's not it, not this time. Master is living in a different time right now
an ancient time, I think.
Tch. the Rottweiler snorted, What makes you so sure?
Feliciano blinked and snuck a glance at the clock on the bedside table, finding it to be 03 26. That late already? Or was it early? He had never quite figured that one out. Either way, he probably just tired.
Blackie lifted his head to look up at the Italian. You do look tired, Herr Italien. If you'd like to rest, we can watch Master for awhile.
Rubbing his eyes wearily, Feliciano shook his head. "I'll be fine. I want to be strong for Germany
I know he'd do the same thing for me."
All three dogs nodded in agreement, their warm, liquid eyes dripping with ageless intelligence.
Very well, the German Sheppard panted slightly. We, too, shall remain by Master's side.
"Good boy." He scratched between Blackie's pointed ears, smiling as the canine sighed with pleasure.
When Feliciano awoke, Ludwig was sitting upright, studying him with a half-amused, half-embarrassed expression. The cloth had fallen from his forehead onto his lap and was spreading its moisture across the quilt. He didn't seem to notice.
"Italy, you're awake."
"Ve, so is Germany." He smiled, still drunk with sleep. "Is Germany better now?"
"Ja. Danke." Now-pale cheeks flushed once more, this time with emotion. "You didn't have to do this for me, Italy."
"But that's what friends do! They help each other." Feliciano beamed. "Besides, I wanted Germany to get well as soon as possible!"
The blond seemed to be at a loss. Finally, he offered a tentative smile. "Thank you."
"Oh! Blackie, Aster, and Berlitz helped, too!" The dogs thumped their tails tiredly against the floor, grinning up at their recovered master.
"They did?" There was a sliver of laughter in his voice as Ludwig regarded his pets with an unfamiliar expression of affection. "Then I guess I had better visit the butcher later, hm?"
Three sets of ears perked excitedly. Feliciano giggled.
"What time is it, Italy?" The German made to get out of bed, only to be tackled back by his caretaker.
"Germany can't get out of bed yet!" he was insisting, arms fastened stubbornly over the other's. "It's too early, and he was just so sick!"
Blushing a spectacular shade of crimson, the nation struggled to free himself. "I'm fine now, Italy, really. Besides, I have two very important meetings I have to-"
The brunet was quickly joined by his furry, panting backup, the four of them successfully anchoring Ludwig into the bed.
Aster licked her master's face cheerfully, flashing him an "it's-for-your-own-good" look with her warm, honey-colored eyes. He sighed heavily.
"Think of it like this," Feliciano instructed, "the more Germany sleeps today, the faster he'll recover!"
He couldn't deny this logic.
"I suppose I could stand to stay in bed just a little longer." the blond replied grudgingly. He blushed. "But only if you stay here with me."
Grinning, the Italian swooped down to plant an excited kiss on the man's still-feverish cheek. "Of course, I will. I would stay with Germany forever if I could!"
Lying back against the pillows, Ludwig let out a small sigh of relief. Then, even as sleep overtook him once more, a whisper of breath crept from his lips. "Please do."