Disclaimer: I am not Himaruya Hidekaz and therefore do not own Hetalia.
Rated T for violence and implied mature themes.
Central Characters (Human AU): Romano, Spain (Spamano), Veneziano, Austria (more later on), England
Author's Note: As always, constructive feedback is appreciated. This is my first Hetalia fan fiction. I apologize for any historical inaccuracies. If anyone knows of any good resources for studying Naples in the early 19th century, feel free to share them! The sources I've found online are relatively limited. The story doesn't really focus on any single historical event or movement, but it's always helpful to research the setting.
A Young Man's Reputation
The warden had convened a meeting at an obscure time of night. Nonetheless, a prisoner had no place to argue with their captors and Antonio knew with certainty that he was a chained man. Such a man always complied with absurd requests with the most stoical resignation he could muster. Admittedly, Antonio was no expert at concealing either his unease or his reluctance, but ultimately, he obeyed the commands thrust upon him. He would then return to his own troubled evenings to tear himself apart over the outcome, but such was not the concern of the warden. His sole duty was to order the job and see it swiftly completed; guilt was the role of slaves.
With these bonds coiled about him, Antonio sat before his warden. His hands gripping the table in front of him with a vigor which he found astonishing, for but a moment ago, he had felt ready to collapse from weariness. He felt his blood flowing with abrupt pulses that wracked his bones. The old grandfather clock in the background ticked a sharp, threatening rhythm, urging him to respond to the question. Drawing in a breath that seemed to choke him rather than grant him further equanimity, he said, weakly:
"You know I am in the position to grant you even the most absurd slips of the law. There is certainly power in that, but that power does not extend to your request; I can do nothing for it, Signore."
The warden, in turn, gave the Spaniard a dismissive glance of gleaming obsidian and replied:
"You say that your influence extends across the law. Tell me then, is what I ask not at the very core of the law?"
Antonio faltered and glanced from the mocking grandfather clock to the door. It seemed for a moment that he would dash out of the room with all the fury of a lunatic. However, he made no such move and instead directed an apprehensive gaze back at the other man.
"I'm afraid I do not understand your meaning," murmured Antonio.
The warden's mouth curled into a smile in a motion much like the slow unfurling of a whip.
"It is simple really," he said. "But I shall start from the root of it for your own sake. Is it within your abilities, which you seem to think I've severely overestimated, to extract clandestine charges from the legislative funds?"
"I've done it before," Antonio replied.
"Standard Neapolitan currency?"
"Consider then," continued the warden, who seemed to be reaping much glee from the conversation. "The currency of the law. Let's say a day in prison with nothing done is a worthless coin. Thirty lashes is a pretty sum, but still not the most prized piece. What would be the highest price?"
Antonio made no response and the warden grinned broader in amusement.
"Your mind is quite dull today, my boy," he said. "I will pose the question in another form: what is the highest price a person can pay for a criminal offense?"
"Death," Antonio said, as though the mere utterance of an answer pained him.
"Indeed," continued the warden. "Thus, the heaviest sum in the currency of the law lies in the lives of men. You are the master of the law in our little society, and yet you tell me now that you have no dealings with the currency of legislation? I then wonder what use we have for you."
"I can order an execution," Antonio retorted. "That does not mean I have any right to deal in lives as you have asked of me."
"An execution consists of an exchange," the warden said with a soft tone placed over latent malice. "You trade the life of a dangerous man to save that of others. I now request such an exchange and if you shall not comply with it, I shall simply elect for the costlier option."
Antonio blanched and the other man added with a note of flippancy:
"And for that option, I shall supplement the price with two more corpses from Spain."
At this, Antonio winced and slowly shrunk into a piteous, desperate youth. Hours seemed to drift by as he rested his trembling hands against the edge of the armchair as though to stop himself from reeling over onto the marble floor. Finally, he said, hoarsely:
"I will do as I can, but I beg you to have enough mercy to give me time. It shall take time…"
"Time is an uncertain requirement that I cannot possibly commit to," the warden replied, coldly. "However, I sense that you will make do with whatever I do grant you. I take my leave now. I do hope we'll have the matter flowing smoothly by the time we next meet, my boy."
Nodding shakily, Antonio saw his master to the door and waited until he was pass the front gates to return to bed. Ambling through the luxurious halls of his captivity, he found himself in a most magnificent and horrifying prison, one in which he was beaten by twisted responsibility and starved of freedom until he was unrecognizably despicable.
Neither his mind nor his body would gain any rest that night. As he lay in bed, his exhaustion mocking him, the awful realization of his commitment slowly drowned him. He closed his eyes in an attempt to catch some bleak reminiscence of peace, preparing his soul for many more tortuous hours, each more excruciating, each more paralyzing.
He found himself chucking. It was lunacy after all, and lunacy was always laughable, whether it was inane madness, or the chilling fusion of insanity and supremacy that forced one to create a false light. Thus, smiling to himself as to feign victory, he drifted through the bars of night which led him without fail into the void of dawn.
Lovino was not certain what had brought him down to his knees. The confusion was common enough. Life tended to fly by too fast to determine the causes. No; "life" wasn't the right term. "Happenings" was more suitable.
That morning's happenings involved the youth Lovino himself, a doctor known around the city as Signore Agostino Foscari, and far too many curious bystanders for comfort. It had begun with a simple request which had been received with such acrimony that the entire bargain had rapidly morphed into a row. Had he not been inoculated to shame, Lovino would perhaps have shrunk back from the shear ignominy of the situation. As it was however, he had fallen too low to care.
So, he persisted. Dirt-laden cobblestones scraped against his skin as Signore Foscari, whose cloak he clung to ever so fervidly, pulled forward. A few drops of scarlet peeped out with a distinctive bite. Yet, Lovino only tightened his grip.
"You will kill Feliciano!" he cried. "Murderous bastard!"
"Your inability to care for the boy is none of my concern," Foscari bellowed back. "Let go, you wretched cur!"
Lovino responded by tugging the fabric farther towards him. He received a kick to the ribs and winced at the fresh surge of pain. Clinging to the image of his brother, however, he maintained his hold.
"You will have him die then?" he seethed. "You will have him curl up and die before you will see to him? Then, I suppose you'll demand a fee to look upon the corpse?"
"I've stated the price," the doctor replied, coldly. "I cannot afford to make exceptions for every whining brat on the streets. Now, get you gone!"
The next blow was accompanied by the sharp taste of blood, which Lovino spat onto the fabric before him. The commotion had now attracted a small crowd, majority of which remained too amused to intervene. At last, an old merchant grew weary of the spectacle and moved to tear the relentless youth away from Foscari, who indignantly swept back his cloak in an effort to cleanse it.
Upon seeing the doctor departing, Lovino lunged forward once more. The audience watched anxiously for a brawl, but received nothing of the sort. Instead, Lovino fell upon the street and shrieked:
"Please, Signore! I will pay you whatever price you ask for in time if you shall tend to my brother now! I can find you the money, but Feliciano –"
"Do not pester me with lies!" Foscari yelled back. "I am not a fool. I will not be conned."
Lovino opened his mouth to protest, but stopped when he saw the approaching figure.
"Good day to you, Signore Carriedo!" Foscari called out.
The man's ornate suit and the glimmering weapon at his side were enough to betray his authority at a distance. Lovino didn't care to meet any bit of it. A fearful energy overcame his weakness and he fled as though he were being chased by a specter. It was a hopeless retreat for he knew that he would undoubtedly be caught if pursued. Yet, by some bizarre fortune, no one followed him.
Thus, the day commenced with nothing to be gained but a few throbbing bruises from the incident. There was nothing good to be said with a day that began with injuries, but the night always held greater evils. It was all relative.
Lovino collapsed by the side of a decrepit store after what felt like hours of sprinting. His every muscle cried for reprieve and his lungs burned within him. Exacerbating these ailments was the longing for nourishment which had plagued him his entire life with growing ferocity. Harnessing what little strength he still possessed, he ambled back behind the wooden structure and crawled underneath it.
There was a little ditch beneath the building. No one had ever bothered to inspect such a minor thing, and Lovino was grateful for the fact. The recent rains had turned the ground about him to mud, although it mattered little to him. Mud and other petty sources of annoyance were the concern of those who in fact had nothing to be concerned about. From the depths of the dimly lit space came a tremulous call:
"Fratello? Where were you?"
Lovino crept closer to the owner of the voice and felt a pair of small, pale hands wrap around him. A mop of auburn hair brushed against his neck and he instinctually returned the child's embrace. He stiffened when he felt the burning fever.
"I told you I was going to the doctor, Feli," muttered Lovino. "Dammit! Why can't you remember anything?"
Ignoring the brusque words, Feliciano nuzzled closer against his elder brother and said with a note of frail elation:
"That's good. When will you take me?"
"We will…" Lovino hesitated. "We will go soon."
"When is soon?"
"Soon enough. You won't have to wait much longer."
Feliciano accepted the lie without question. Whether this naivety was bound to be a blessing or a curse was unclear, but, for the time being, Lovino took it as a stroke of luck.
A breath of wind swept through, making the young child shiver. At this, Lovino gripped his brother tighter. He often found himself ill-suited to provide comfort, having little knowledge of the matter. Yet, fraternal sympathy drove him to attempt to give what consolation he might. He had resolved that as Feliciano had no better example to judge from, the child would appreciate whatever his brother had to offer. Such was indeed the case, for Feliciano seemed to relax a little, though he continued to tremble.
Lovino did not know exactly how long he remained kneeling in the dirt, stiffly clutching his brother. The only trace of fading time lay in the fleeting rays of sunlight, glimmering through the wooden boards above the entrance to the ditch before giving way to shadow. Lovino often watched the ephemeral light with a kind of melancholy amusement. The spectacle granted him a much needed distraction.
His attention was drawn away from the sunbeams by a soft whimper. Feliciano had begun to squirm. There was no need to ask the reason.
"Fratello," Feliciano moaned. "Did you bring anything to eat?"
"If I did," Lovino groaned. "I would have given it to you already. Do you suppose that there's food lying about on the streets for me to bring to you?"
Feliciano said nothing in return, though the flickering pain beneath his silence remained evident. After setting his brother down, Lovino made his way over to the back of the ditch and began to rummage through the dirt where he found a few coins.
"Is this all there is?" he asked, speaking half to himself.
"I think so," Feli replied weakly.
Lovino turned to recount the coins. His hands shook and he cringed as an unpleasant chilling sensation ran through his bones.
"Fratello, will you be working this evening?"
It was an innocent question with a simple, clear answer. Still, the cold rush grew fiercer as Lovino forced a response.
"Yes," he said, clutching the coins. "Because this sure as hell isn't going to last us another day."
"I don't want you to go," Feli sniffed. "It's too lonely when you go… to scary and lonely…"
"Damn it, Feliciano!" Lovino snapped. "What do you want me to do?"
"I want you to stay!"
"If I do that, I'll just be up all night dealing with your sniveling about being hungry… and you'll be right to cry since we'll both have something to whine about!"
"Then… then let me come with you while you work!"
"NO!" Lovino grew pale, the dreadful chill slowly tearing away at him. "No, no… you'll just be a pest and trust me, one minute into the job and you'll be wishing that you'd listened to me and stayed where you belong!"
"Why? Is it very dangerous?"
"Yes," Lovino sighed heavily. "It'd be too… too much for you."
He paused, awaiting another question. However, he did not receive one. Instead, Feliciano slowly curled up on the ground and murmured something incomprehensible. Lovino had never seen his brother so subdued. He crept closer and whispered:
"Don't worry about me. I'm going to the market now. Then, I'll come back with something to eat. You'll be asleep by the time I leave for my job and I'll be back before you even notice I'm gone. Alright?"
"Wait here then. Promise you won't follow me. You don't want to anyway. Promise?"
Feli nodded. It was a pleasing sight and for an instant, everything seemed simple, perhaps even pure. Lovino did his best to capture the sensation. Dusk would inevitably come to shatter the peace, but till then, it could be secured.
"Stop fretting over me, you bastard," Lovino muttered. "Now, I'll see you tonight for supper."
With that, he crawled out into the glaring noontide sun. There was something to be said about too much light. The beams, so tantalizing in the darkness, proved hollow in excess. It was simply disappointing.
The marketplace seemed to move farther away every morning. Yet, it was an irreplaceable part of the daily cycle. The trip involved a mechanical route of two turns and a longer stretch at the end. There, Lovino halted to rest beside a pile of broken crates at the edge of the plaza. He could not recall how many hours of his life he'd withered away in that spot, nor could he predict for how much longer the cycle would continue.
Lovino tiredly examined the miserable coins. Counting them in his outstretched palm again, he found that they were too few for a purchase. He turned towards the activities of merchants and buyers, eying the stands of tart cherries and fragrant pears.
Half of the pears are half rotten, Lovino mused, perhaps, they will toss the spoiled ones out tomorrow, out for the rats to snatch up?
A damn lot of wistful nonsense, the cynic within him replied, they will clear it out, yes, but they shall not throw food out into the streets. No, the bastards shall tuck away somewhere, or bury it, or do whatever they do to keep it from you. After all, they don't want to attract rats.
Dragging his attention away from the fruit, Lovino looked further up the sloping road. There were but a few shops there, all of which reeked of luxury. Years ago, the exorbitant goods had captured Lovino's own childish fantasy, like buried treasure in a fairy-tale. Now, they served only to irk him. He often wondered at times how excessive affluence twisted the mind to believe that jeweled trinkets and ornate tapestries were worth mountains of gold.
An example of such foolishness happened to take place in front of him that day. Lovino watched the spectacle with the kind of keenness that is in accord with the cryptic instinct that attracts humans to that which most disgusts them. There were too men, one old, one young, both clad in the manner that boasted their prominence, engaged in a bargain with an eager vender.
Lovino scowled as the customers dished out shimmering coins like dry leaves in autumn. It was unusual for any buyer to bring such large sums to the marketplace itself, but apparently, banks not ostentatious enough for this pair. The sale was incontrovertibly impressive.
"Fifteen piastras for Foscari," Lovino muttered. "For Felicano's sake. There's his worth right there, and I suppose mine's a damn lot less. Now here's a jar of spice worth the two of us combined… no five times that! No, more! More, for the bastards!"
His thoughts were shattered by a jarring crash. A cart had rolled out of control and toppled over, spilling its contents across the street. The dealings over the spices was interrupted as the two men and the merchant left to investigate the scene. The younger of the two nobleman stepped forth to lend some perfunctory aid to the distress owner of the cart. What charity! Lovino sniggered at the thought of this "good Samaritan" boasting of his venerable deeds, but his attention quickly turned to a more pressing opportunity: the money had been left unguarded.
In retrospect, it was an utterly hopeless crime. At that instant, however, the impossible prize was, as all unattainable things are, irresistible. The matter was not up to deliberate. Instead, Lovino was confronted by a simple choice between the law and Feliciano, knowing but two simple facts: twelve-years-old was too young to die, and any law that defended the death of a child was of no value.
So, Lovino snuck over to the booth. He didn't have time to count how much he'd taken before the first shout rang through the air. The next few moments flew by as though he were caught in a dream.
Something brought him tumbling onto the ground. He had tripped, or someone had struck him from behind, or maybe it was both. The coins dropped on the road in front of him with the glimmer of tiny disks of sunbeams falling into shadow. Lovino stretched out a bony hand, now scratched and bloodied from the fall, out to gather them before being dragged upward by the collar of his shirt.
A little more shouting, a little more blood, and then it was off to the authorities and whatever punishment they saw fit. Halfway to the jail, Lovino awoke from the fantasy and was greeted by scalding daylight. Dread gripped him and he cried out in vain. Yes, the world was bright with happenings, all waiting to leap out and sweep some poor soul away in the endless current.
There was nothing worse for a headache than sycophants. That, Antonio was certain of. He had spent the entirety of his morning wishing he had stayed asleep, pestered by his subordinates and other colleagues. He had finally given up fighting the drowsiness and laid his head against the documents sprawled across his desk, only to be disturbed once more by another knock at the door.
"Tell them to wait!" he called out, yawning. "I will be wherever I am needed in a minute."
"Signore, if I could please speak with you for a moment, we could perhaps settle this affair now," came the reply. "It shall be brief."
Antonio reluctantly made his way over the door and opened it for his assistant, a man around twenty years of age who stood in the doorway with an impeccable degree of attention. Every inch of detail about him made Antonio's head pound.
I had thought that an assistant was meant to put one at ease! Antonio thought, bitterly.
"What in the world is it now, Paolo?" he asked.
"It appears there was a disturbance in the marketplace," Paolo replied.
"Some elaboration would be greatly appreciated," Antonio said dryly.
"Well, two gentlemen were robbed whilst attempting to carry out a prearranged purchase. The merchant they were buying the goods managed to catch the thief before he could escape. Oddly enough, it was the same youth who harassed Signore Agostino Foscari earlier this morning! Do you recall, Signore?"
Yes, Antonio remembered the skirmish between Doctor Foscari and someone who was, from what he could gather, a severely dissatisfied patient. It had been the singular intriguing incident of an exceptionally dull day.
"Yes, but I did not get a good look at the offender," Antonio said. "They have him here then?"
"The thief, Signore?" Paolo asked.
"Have they sentenced him, then?"
"No, Signore. That is why I was sent here to consult with you."
Antonio stalked back over to his desk, opened the window above it. The sunlight flew in, pushing back the shadows of walls and furniture, leaving only Antonio's own silhouette sprawled upon the floor behind him. The stairwell echoed with familiar voices, the words too muffled to decipher. Antonio heaved a long sigh.
"Do I have a choice here?" he asked tiredly.
"I beg your pardon, Signore," Paolo replied.
"Perhaps if you are successful with your ambitions in the legal system," Antonio said. "You will better understand that punishment is not between the leading authority and the criminal. We have an old system here… they don't care for youngsters coming to power. They don't care for nepotism, for they've all conveniently forgotten the paternal favors that aided them. That aside, they can stand a young man's authority if he uses it with the stern hand of an elder gentleman. Otherwise, they'll gripe about youth being too soft…"
"I don't quite understand your meaning, Signore."
The response did not come immediately. Instead, Antonio gazed lazily about the wide office, taking in everything from the burgundy curtains to the imposing entranceway where Paolo stood. He drew a drowsy finger across the carved patterns at the edge of his desk and closed his eyes to consider the question at hand.
Antonio glared at his assistant.
"What?" he snapped.
"Have you reached your decision?" Paolo inquired tentatively. "Or would you rather I return later?"
"I will decide in a moment," Antonio replied. "First, you must advise me."
"Advise you, Signore?" The younger man was aghast. "I have lived in Naples but a year and have only studied the administration of the law for –"
"Whatever knowledge has brought you thus far will do," Antonio interjected. "Now what is the lightest punishment for theft?"
"Considering the amount, perhaps a small fine and a word of warning? A brief jail sentence?"
"Well then, what is the harshest?"
"A death sentence, Signore."
Antonio walked over to the window to shut it before answering. The sunlight had grown a little too heavy.
"What is the harshest besides death?" he asked.
"Flogging or another form of severe corporal punishment," Paolo said, his brow furrowed in confusion. "Perhaps a fine… both even if –"
"Then set the penalty at both," Antonio said. "Let the officer who heard the case decide the number of lashes and the cost of the fine. There, you have my decision. Go tell the other men. Bring me whatever papers necessary and I shall sign them today."
He turned back to his desk and quickly busied himself with a book.
"Signore…" his assistant began.
"Oh, never mind. It is not my place to say."
"You can be earnest with me. Come! Say what you will."
"I… it is foolish of me to say, but… well, your decision came as a surprise."
"Let's just say," Antonio said, forcing a smile. "That I've come to terms with my position. A young man's reputation is a valuable thing, especially when he has been appointed Chief Officer of the Law, and reputations should never go untended for long!"
"Certainly, Signore," Paolo replied. "I will inform the others of your decision."
"Good. See to it then."
The door shut with a tidy click and Antonio collapsed into his chair. His assistant brought him the papers soon after, each of which was signed as promised. Then, having assumed his title, the Chief Officer of the Law was left alone once more.
Another tedious hour dragged by, during which Antonio was overcome by an uncomfortable bought of heat. When he could stand it no longer, he threw open his office door and stumbled out into the hall like a drunkard. His headache had steadily worsened and the room, however commodious, was stifling him. So, he consulted the traditional remedy for a heavy heart: a brief walk in search of air.
He was scarcely conscious of what direction he chose. As long as there was movement, the remedy would surely work. The day, however, was set to taunt him, and led him down rather than outside. Down into the entrance hall, past the entrance hall back into the corridor, down the corridor, down the stairwell…
Antonio stopped to examine his surroundings and nearly laughed aloud.
"What better place to find fresh air than the prison cells!" he said to himself.
To his surprise, a rasping voice echoed down the dim hallway in response:
"Signore! Signore, hear my case! Signore, please… my brother…"
Antonio started at the sound and stared down the direction from which it had come. It was unbecoming to answer a prisoner, so it followed that the Chief Officer would ignore it. The Chief Officer would head presently upstairs and return to his own affairs. It was unbecoming to wander downstairs in the first place!
But Antonio was weary of business and the Chief Officer of the Law. He would inevitably return to both soon enough. Besides, his name was already secured for the day.
"Signore!" another call resounded in the prison.
Antonio followed it without further hesitation.