The thing is: not everything a Nation remembers is of its own history. There are the whisperings of its people, the superstitions and the beliefs and the gods that live and spread and die from border to border, changing until they’re hardly the same as they once were. Heroes pursue monsters that flee with maidens in their jaws, larger than life in deed and gesture, yet utterly contained by it.
Go back far enough in any one memory and there is the truth, but there are things that have never happened that are just as real.
“Let them believe,” he remembers someone telling him once, in the dim misty pockets of his memory. He remembers a sharp grin and sunlight off pale hair, and the steady movement of battle-scarred hands working to carve something–a horse, maybe, [_______] always liked horses–“They’ll fight to the death for you when they believe in something. If they have a sense of self they can associate with you, it makes them better soldiers.” There was a flash, the glint of light off the edge of a blade, sharp as the smile that formed the next words.
“They don’t have to love you. They just have to believe.”
“Germany, Germany,” Italy says, and there’s bolognese dotted at the corner of his mouth and he keeps gesturing wildly with a fork, bright orange-red. It’s oddly distracting. “And then, you know, and then, he yelled like it was all my fault, but all I asked him was if we could have pasta for lunch, I don’t think that’s too bad–”
They’re eating outside in the warm bright sun of early spring; the weather is ridiculously perfect–it’s like something out of a storybook, surely. Italy’s napkin flutters precariously at the edge of the table, white as snow, almost blinding. His eyes are very dark and earnest, wet with the injustice that someone might keep him from his beloved food. He’s still talking a mile a minute, ignoring the sauce on his mouth and it irritates him–it’s something out of place, an imperfection, and he should grab for the napkin, but what he does is reach over and swipe his thumb against it. He does it fast, almost without thinking, but he’s keenly aware of it in the aftermath: Italy trails off and everything goes still and quiet for a few long seconds.
“Ah,” he says, because he can’t think of anything else.
Italy tilts his head. He studies Germany with an intensity rarely used, and Germany wants to turn away, maybe tug at his collar–he doesn’t know why he’s nervous now, of all times–and then Italy pushes the plate of pasta at him.
“If you wanted some,” he says, brightly, “you just had to ask.”
“Of course, if they do love you? Works out even better in the end. Every man wants to die for a good reason, if he has to.” His smiling companion tossed the horse at him–the creature caught in mid-gallop. “Remember that, too.”