Warning: Follows the HRE = Germany theory. Don't like, don't read.
For Ludwig, this was increasingly obnoxious.
No - not just obnoxious. Obnoxious and unsettling. Disconcerting. And awfully god damn confusing. It seemed to defy every aspect of Feliciano's apparent personality and to have no underlying cause, that Ludwig could see. But there had to be one. Why couldn't he see it?
As Ludwig's colleague, Feliciano had always been a bit... clingy. He'd hang off of him and hide behind him, pick him flowers, joke around, and attempt to have a good time, especially when trying to blow off work. This was both annoying and subtly endearing to Ludwig, who placed training above all else, but might have been willing to... rearrange his priorities for the right person.
So he did. But it brought a lot of unexpected change.
Now, as... as partners, Feliciano acted noticeably differently. There were still plenty of moments when he acted just as one would expect - peppy, affectionate, with his head in the clouds - and then suddenly, Ludwig would give in. He'd fall into the right mood, show the softer, sweeter side of him that was always behind a brick wall for everyone else. He assumed this was what Feliciano wanted - for him to play along. Right?
Apparently not. For when Ludwig found himself embarrassingly (but wonderfully) caring and compassionate, Feliciano seemed to freeze up. Literally, sometimes. He'd freeze up and shrink away.
His mouth would shut and his eyes would veer off in another direction and then he'd smile nervously - and sadly? - and ruin it. It was so eternally frustrating. Ludwig simply couldn't wrap his mind around it.
It couldn't possibly simply be sheepishness. Feliciano was anything but. Something bothered him about Ludwig actually getting affectionate. What was it? What was he doing wrong?
This was happening more and more often, and it was starting to give Ludwig insomnia. He'd stare at the ceiling above his bed for hours just wondering. What am I screwing up? What's going on in his head?
He didn't think he could take much more. So when it suddenly reached a peak, Ludwig forced himself to finally ask.
The couple was out in the woodland behind one of Ludwig's grand homes. Wisps of light shed down from between lush leaves as various insects scattered about and contributed to the quiet symphony of flora and fauna. Rich, red-brown tree trunks stretched into the sky all about them. Honestly, Ludwig couldn't think of a setting that shone with more serenity and perfection than this. In that sense, it was his last hope.
Smiling broadly, the auburn-haired Italian crouched to set down a collection of daisies that he'd picked on the way out here through the underbrush. He then stood again and stretched, surveying the comforting scenery with wide golden brown eyes. "How much of this do you own?" he asked, voice chipper with curiosity.
Ludwig smiled, folding his arms across his chest. "All the way back to where the woods stop that way." He pointed to his right. "A field starts there that belongs to a local farmer."
Feliciano let out a low whistle, then a chuckle. "Big woods!"
The blond chuckled back. "Ja."
"Thanks for taking me out here, Ludwig," Feliciano acknowledged, leaning back on a particularly large, stable-looking tree, "I really love it!"
"It was no problem. I wanted to show it to you." Ludwig gazed up at the branches, squinting slightly at the mid-afternoon sunshine contrasted by the dark tangle of wood. "This has always been one of my favorite places."
He watched Feliciano close his eyes, smiling, and take in a big breath of the fresh, woody air. My perfect opportunity, he thought. ...I hope.
Slowly, he took a couple of steps forward so that he was but a couple of inches from the Italian, who looked up at him with calm eyes. No trouble so far. He found himself instinctually reaching for one of Feliciano's hands, just before he leaned in for a kiss.
It lasted several sweet seconds. It was far from their first kiss - but they all felt like the first kiss, in a way.
When he pulled back, to his immense relief, Feliciano was smiling at him. Not his usual broad "I love the world" smile, but still. Ludwig couldn't help but smile back. Feliciano continued to gaze into his significant other's eyes for several more seconds before the smile mysteriously washed off of his face like paint.
The German was just about to ask what was wrong when Feliciano suddenly tore himself from Ludwig's grasp and moved away from the tree, covering his face with his hands. "ARGH! P-porca vacca!!"
His reaction had never been so violent before. This was the last straw. "Okay, was?!" Ludwig cried out. "What is it?!"
He heard Feliciano sigh, though it was really halfway to a sob. The Mediterranean nation shook his head back and forth before giving any kind of answer.
"...It was your eyes."
This was the closest thing to an explanation Ludwig had ever gotten for this strange, stand-offish behavior. "What... do you mean?"
More strongly - and also more dismally - Feliciano continued. "They're the same. Exactly the same. For a minute... I saw his face instead..." He groaned and rubbed his eyes. "Accidenti..."
Ludwig was baffled, his eyebrows furrowed. "Whose?"
Slowly, the other turned around, looking about as serious as Ludwig had ever seen him. It was almost heart wrenching. "...The Holy Roman Empire, Ludwig." He folded his arms in front of him and watched a leaf fall to the ground from a tree in the distance, no longer meeting Ludwig's gaze. "Ludwig, ti amo - ti amo, you know that, but - I-I shouldn't. I shouldn't, I shouldn't be... betraying him like this, he made a promise, and I know he's going to honor it..." He closed his eyes. "Or... he would if he could."
This was all news to Ludwig. "...What kind of a promise?"
Feliciano smiled a sad, tired smile. Unfortunately, it was an expression that fit his face rather well, something Ludwig had never before noticed. "A promise to come back to me someday."
This statement tugged at Ludwig's heartstrings and suddenly made him want to hold the Italian forever, but he resisted the urge, knowing it wasn't exactly a good time. "Feliciano... you know... you know he's dead, right?"
Ludwig had been half afraid this would send Feliciano tumbling into teary denial, but it received no apparent emotional reaction. He supposed it had been said to him before. "I know everyone assumes he's dead." He sighed. "I know it's likely. But I also know that nobody has any proof... And even if he is, Ludwig - even if he is, I have... a commitment."
Nodding in sad understanding, Ludwig stared at the ground. "Is that why you always act so... aloof when I...?" He lacked a way to describe his actions that didn't sound corny. But he knew he'd gotten his point across already, for his partner was nodding.
"You're just so much like him. But I can't let myself just pretend you are him... because then I'm betraying both of you..."
There was a moment of terrible silence in which Ludwig almost wished he could forget what he'd just heard. Could they ever be happy together if this memory continued to loom over Feliciano, an entrapping echo of a lost time? Did Ludwig even live up to this memory? Did he even compare? Maybe he wasn't trying hard enough...
He almost missed it when Feliciano suddenly passed him to pick up one of the flowers from his small pile. The German watched him twirl it around thoughtfully for a moment in his fingers before turning back to him. Ludwig then stood still as a tree, blushing, as Feliciano tucked the snow-white daisy behind his lover's ear.
There was that weary smile again, but it wasn't quite so saddening this time, for some reason.
Feliciano was remembering. Images flitted through his mind of the young Holy Roman Empire with an identical daisy tucked behind the same ear, blushing the same shade of red (but maybe a little brighter) and sitting in a green field with the same summer sunlight bouncing off of his golden blond hair. How he wished he could give into fantasy and just pretend. Ludwig could play the part oh so well...
He frowned suddenly, but it was a thoughtful frown accompanied by furrowed eyebrows. Could such close similarity be a coincidence?
Feliciano always thought what fools people were for simply assuming that Holy Rome was gone from this world... but he himself had been a victim of assumption. Was he a fool for assuming that Holy Rome... hadn't come back to him yet?
"They say..." Feliciano began, forming his words slowly and cautiously like individual statuettes out of clay. "They say you lost your memory."
"Mm," Ludwig grunted, wondering where Feliciano was going with this, "who's 'they?'"
The redhead shrugged. "Francis... Roderich."
"Ja, I... I can't remember the majority of my childhood." He huffed. "Head injury, according to mein bruder."
"What human age are you in your earliest memories?"
"Approximately eleven or twelve... why?"
Feliciano glanced away, biting his lower lip. "Just wondering..." That was an awfully close age. Holy Rome had gone away to war at the physical age of about nine.
Ludwig sighed, adding to his previous statement: "Ja... right at the beginning of the Second Reich..."
Feliciano's eyes widened. No - no, it fit too well. Why should Ludwig's memories start right at the end of Holy Rome's reign? They did occupy approximately the same area... maybe that was all there was to it. Maybe...
One final test. He needed one final test before he jumped to conclusions. He looked back up to the blond with new determination. "If I were to - to put on a green dress and an apron and find a wooden push broom - what would you say?"
Appearing downright weirded out and blushing slightly, Ludwig shook his head spasmodically. "Was?"
Feliciano grabbed gently at the other's forearm. "Ludwig, what would you say?"
Ludwig actually considered it now. He appeared to look past Feliciano at something in his mind. "I'd say... I'd say you looked like this little girl who I think I've dreamed about on occasion..."
Feliciano froze in place. "...Really?"
"Ja..." Ludwig shook his head as if to snap himself out of something. "She's got the same color hair as you, and this... smile like the sun. Strange dreams. Every time I think about them, I feel a bit... detached..."
The Italian's unchanging, shocked stare was starting to make Ludwig's stomach churn by this point. "Is something wrong, Feliciano?"
In response, Feliciano swallowed. "...Kiss me."
Still mystified, Ludwig only cooperated. He leaned forward and placed another gentle kiss on the other's lips. Midway through, however, he felt wetness trickle down onto his own cheeks. He pulled back to find Feliciano breaking into a wide smile, tears suddenly pouring out of his brown eyes.
Heart thumping a bit faster, Ludwig wiped Feliciano's tears from his own face. "Feliciano, what...?"
"I can't believe I never thought of it before," the smaller man choked out past overwhelming joy.
It slowly began to dawn on Ludwig what the other was proposing. He shook his head, completely bewildered. "Nein..."
"Si," Feliciano protested, "si, I know it now. I know it!"
"Nein, Feliciano, I'm -" He gestured to his own chest almost frantically. "I'm me, I'm Germany. I'm sorry, but -"
"Don't apologize," Feliciano interrupted, hugging him very suddenly and as forcefully as he could. "I was the stupid one. I can't believe I'm just realizing... you are the Holy Roman Empire."
The German pushed Feliciano away partially and cradled his cheek, staring with hopeful intensity - trying to remember. But all he could remember were the dreams.
A young girl, a green dress. Red-brown hair, large, shining brown eyes. A broad smile, a summer's day. A push broom and flowers.
Despite how unbelievable it seemed, Ludwig was close to convinced. "So the girl... it's... you?"
Feliciano nodded, then raised an eyebrow on top of his smile and tears. "You really thought it was a girl in those dreams?"
Ludwig blushed. "Well - she's always wearing that dress..."
Laughing while simultaneously still crying, Feliciano clapped a hand over his mouth. "D-did you think I was a girl the whole time? Way back then?"
The blond shrugged, embarrassed. "H-how should I know? I can't remember!"
This sounded, Ludwig realized too late, like admittance or agreement. But he was beginning to believe it himself. "Feliciano... I wish I'd known sooner..." He felt tears beginning to come to his own eyes. "I'd have come back to you years ago..."
"But you did! Neither of us realized it, but you did! So it doesn't matter!" Ludwig was embraced again. "We've had each other all along!"
Ludwig kissed Feliciano's head, feeling light-headed from the revelation, but somehow fulfilled and happy. "Ich liebe dich, Feliciano..."
Grinning as more tears spilled from his eyes, Feliciano kissed the taller man's shoulder. "Ti amo, Ludwig. I've loved you for a very long time..." The Italian rose onto his tiptoes on the soft cover of leaves to mutter into Ludwig's ear.
"It's been since at least the tenth century."