Title: In Hell, the Simultaneous Translators Are Swiss
Fandom: Hetalia
Rating: U
Originally posted: 24-28 February 2011 (also available at AO3)
Summary: The nations have lost their ability to communicate with each other in any language other than their official languages. Canada and Switzerland, as nations with multiple official languages, have been pressed into service as simultaneous translators for EU meetings. But how will they react when a desperate Italy begs for help to convey a message that he can no longer say on his own? (Germany/Italy, implied France/England)
Disclaimer: All original works are copyright of their respective owners; I lay claim only to this particular story.
Notes: Written for a Hetalia anon-meme prompt in which the nations are suddenly confronted with language barriers that prevent them from communicating with each other. (Heaven help me, I've written serious 'ship-fic for the first time.) All notes -- in this case, primarily linguistic notes -- are at the end.


In Hell, the Simultaneous Translators Are Swiss

Switzerland knew that things had reached a truly desperate point when not even his fiercest glare and his favourite rifle were enough to make Italy reconsider his actions.

'For the last time, Italia,' he ground out through clenched teeth as his finger curled around the trigger, 'I am not translating that for you.'

Italy ignored the rifle barrel pressed against his temple, and clung even tighter to Switzerland's leg. 'Please, Svizzera? It's been so long, and even if I can't tell poor Germania myself I can't let another day go by without him hearing it, even if it's through someone else!' His tear-streaked face was the very picture of anguish.

'Tabernac, Suisse,' Canada grumbled, taking off his glasses to pinch the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger, 'just translate for him and get it over with already. Otherwise we'll have to listen to him whine all day.'

Switzerland shot a furious look at his fellow translator, whose exhausted posture showed the strain that both of them had been under ever since the 'worldwide communication problems' -- the nations' bitter euphemism for the sudden loss of their common language -- had started. The European Union meetings in particular would have likely descended into World War III without Canada and Switzerland's service as simultaneous translators and general peacemakers, but Switzerland had to bear the brunt of the work as the non-EU member who spoke French, German, and Italian with enough fluency to conduct negotiations. Belgium and Luxembourg helped out when they could, but they couldn't relay translations and participate in the meetings at the same time, and most of the other nations had been left with only the most basic conversational skills in their regional or protected minority languages. Tensions were high, frustrations were mounting...and Italy, not for the first time, was shaping up to be the straw that broke the camel's back.

'We'll have to listen to him?' Switzerland snapped, as he made another unsuccessful attempt to shake Italy off his leg. 'I'm the only one who'll be able to understand it!'

Canada sighed, and shoved his glasses back up his nose. 'All the more reason why you should just do it so he'll shut up for five minutes, eh?'

A sharp crackle of static through their headphones made both of them wince. 'Canada? What's taking so long?'

Canada adjusted the volume dial, and the static faded slightly. 'It's nothing, England!' he said hastily, and then covered his microphone with his hand as he switched back to French. 'Suisse, honestly, I will buy you lunch and dinner every day for the next month if you translate Italie's message for Allemagne before he starts crying again.'

'So you're resorting to bribery now?' The prospect of not having to pay for his own meals was certainly tempting, but Switzerland refused to be swayed so easily. 'This is precisely why I loathe getting involved in international politics.'

Italy whimpered softly, and Canada muttered something under his breath -- in English, though the inflection told Switzerland all that he needed to know -- before he fixed his fellow translator with a flat, uncompromising stare. 'Look, until we can come up with a better solution, for the time being we're stuck with this job whether we like it or not. I know you technically don't even have to be here, and neither do I, but we're here now and we might as well make things easier for everyone else. If it makes you feel any better, I've been roped into translating for France and Angleterre outside of meetings as well.' He raised an eyebrow in an unspoken conclusion: I leave the rest to your imagination.

'Your former colonisers' sordid private lives have absolutely nothing to do with me,' Switzerland said stubbornly. 'And I don't see how making an exception for Italie here is in any way -- '

'Suisse.' There was a new note in Canada's voice, one that made Switzerland's protests die in his throat. 'Half of us can't speak to our family anymore, let alone our neighbours and friends. My diplomats tell me that Ukraine hasn't stopped crying since she the day she lost contact with Russie and Biélorussie. If Amérique hadn't been driving back to DC by way of Virginia when our problems started, I probably wouldn't be able to talk to him at all -- as it stands, we're lucky if we can understand each other for more than a sentence at a time now. How would you feel if you'd suddenly lost the ability to communicate with Liechtenstein?'

Cold sweat prickled at the back of Switzerland's neck. 'T-that's hardly -- '

'Italie's not asking for much, Suisse.' One corner of Canada's mouth quirked in a tired half-smile. 'And right now, you're the only one who can give it to him.'

Switzerland let his finger ease off the trigger of his rifle as his own conflicting feelings went to war inside him. Italy's whimpers had quieted to faint sniffles, but somehow he sounded even more miserable for all of his efforts to stop crying. Listening to him, Switzerland could not help thinking of how Liechtenstein had cried when she found out that she couldn't talk to Hungary anymore, or to any other nation who couldn't speak German. She'd tried to hide her tears -- he knew how badly she wanted to be strong for him, especially once it became clear that he would have to shoulder the burden of translation for their less fortunate neighbours -- but closed doors did only so much to muffle the sounds of sobbing in the dead of night.

Right now, you're the only one....

Seized by a sudden impulse, Switzerland shouldered his rifle and reached for his microphone. Canada instinctively moved to open the German-language frequency -- and 'accidentally' pressed the button that would broadcast the transmission to all of the nations' headsets, regardless of their language settings.

'Deutschland!' Switzerland barked into the microphone. 'I have a message for you from Italien.'

The German-speaking nations immediately looked over at Germany. Those who didn't speak German were quick to follow their lead.

Germany, for his part, looked distinctly uncomfortable at having everyone's attention focused on him. He tugged at the collar of his shirt and fiddled nervously with his headset. 'Schweiz, I assure you, you r-r-really don't have to -- '

Switzerland did not let him finish. 'I have a message for you from Italien, Deutschland, and you are going to listen to it, because I am not going to repeat it.' He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, before he laid his rifle across his knees and drew his chair a little closer to the microphone. 'Italia, Germania is listening,' he said, glancing down at Italy, and this time his voice sounded almost gentle. 'What do you want to say to him?'

Startled by Switzerland's abrupt shift in tone, Italy blinked, and for a fleeting moment hope chased fear across his face. He let go of Switzerland's leg and pushed himself up into a sitting position, and wiped the tears from his eyes with the edge of his sleeve.

In the pause that followed, Canada took the opportunity to surreptitiously flip a few switches on the main control panel, rerouting the translation booth's audio feed from the EU nations' individual headsets to the public address system speakers for the entire meeting room.

Silence, for a long moment, and then Italy's voice quavered into the stillness:

'I...I miss Germania so much.'

'I miss Deutschland so much.' In the translation booth, Switzerland kept his eyes fixed on the little window that looked out over the meeting room, at the assembled nations in their seats below. 'Go on, Italia,' he murmured, turning the microphone volume up a few notches. 'Tell him what you've been wanting to say.'

Italy swallowed, and nodded. 'And I...maybe I'm just being silly like everyone says I am, because I know I shouldn't be missing him, n-n-not when I can see him and touch him and hear him just like always, but it's...it's not the same. Not when I can't -- '

' -- when I can't understand what Deutschland says when he tries to talk to me, no matter how hard I try, and I never thought I'd miss being yelled at when I fall asleep during a meeting or spill pasta sauce on his new shirt or try to hug him too tightly when other people are around, but I do miss it. And it hurts.'

And so it continued, with Italy occasionally stumbling over his words or losing them in choked sobs and Switzerland smoothing out the translation as best he could. As they spoke, Canada continued to monitor the audio output, his hands moving steadily over the various controls to ensure that the transmission stayed clear and free from feedback and other interruptions.

' -- and I think that Germania is hurting, too, because sometimes I see him looking at me and he looks so lonely and tired and sad that it makes me want to start crying. But crying doesn't make me feel any better, and it doesn't help anything, so that's why -- '

' -- that's why I decided that I had to say something to Deutschland, even if it came through someone else.'

Down in the meeting room, the assembled nations sat very still in their chairs, not even daring to breathe too loudly lest a single word of the message be lost. The German-speaking nations had given up all pretence of trying to hold back their emotions: Belgium was weeping silently into her hands, Luxembourg had placed an arm around her in wordless sympathy, and even the normally reserved Austria had taken off his glasses, tilted his head back, and was blinking rapidly at the ceiling. The nations who couldn't understand the words being said were smiling small, watery smiles as they listened to Italy's heartbroken babble and Switzerland's quiet but no less heartfelt translation.

(Only Canada, up in the translation booth, noticed that France had taken hold of England's hand, and that for once England wasn't trying to pull away from the public display of affection but had instead laced his fingers with France's in a grip tight enough to turn their knuckles white.)

As for the message's intended recipient, Germany's eyes were closed, and he had rested his forehead on his steepled fingertips. No one could quite make out his expression.

No one was entirely sure that they wanted to.

But Italy was still talking, and it didn't require any knowledge of Italian to hear the smile in his voice that had managed to fight its way through the tears. 'I know that some day we'll all be able to talk to each other again just like we used to, I'm sure of it, but Germania, I want you to know that even if you can't understand me right now when I say I love you in my language, it hasn't changed how I feel about you one little bit. So Germania, I don't want you to be sad and worry about your Italia, all right? Because as long as Germania knows that I love him -- '

' -- I'll be happy,' Switzerland finished, half a beat behind Italy.

Beside him, Canada let out a shaky breath, and ended the public address system transmission.

Switzerland leaned back in his chair, away from the microphone, and clasped his hands together in his lap to stop them from trembling. He began to turn to Italy, tongue prepared with a sharp reminder that this was the one and only time he would agree to do something like this, for Italy or for anyone else, but Italy was already moving -- and had wrapped his arms around Switzerland in an embrace tight enough to drive the breath out of Switzerland's lungs.

'Thank you, Svizzera,' he whispered into the crook of Switzerland's neck. 'Oh, Svizzera, thank you so much.'

With his arms pinned at his sides and his rifle still balanced on his knees, Switzerland's options for responding were rather limited. In the end, he settled for reaching up to give the nearest part of Italy's arm an awkward pat.

'Go and take your seat, Italia,' he said. His own voice was not far above a whisper, though he told himself that it was only because Italy's embrace was making it difficult for him to breathe properly. 'We need to start the meeting now.'

Italy nodded, his breath hitching a little. He released Switzerland and sat back on his heels, scrubbing at his face with his already damp sleeve, before he clambered to his feet. Shyly, he nodded his thanks to Canada -- who returned the nod with a grin and a small wave of farewell -- and gave Switzerland a final brilliant smile before he turned and dashed out the door, heading for the stairs that led down to the meeting room.

Once the sound of Italy's running feet had faded, Canada placed a hand on Switzerland's shoulder. 'That was lovely, Suisse.'

Switzerland shrugged off the hand and sat up very straight in his chair, busying himself by adjusting his clothes to straighten out the creases that Italy had left in them.

'That,' he said stiffly, not looking at Canada, 'was a waste of time.'

Canada's face fell, his grin fading into the worn-out twist of the mouth that had become his usual expression of late. To cover his disappointment, he started to reach for his glasses, ostensibly to take them off and polish them before the meeting began and both of them had to concentrate on their work, but his fingertips had barely brushed the frames when a sudden commotion in the meeting room below caught his attention.

Half of the nations were on their feet, and the rest seemed on the point of following suit as they leaned forward over their desks, openly craning their necks for a better look. The meeting room door swung crazily on its hinges, its pneumatic mechanism damaged beyond repair by the force with which it had been flung open. And the cause of the damage was plain to see, for Italy had apparently wasted no time before sprinting across the room and diving straight into Germany's arms.

The two of them stood alone at Germany's desk near the centre of the room, holding each other as if there were no one else present -- not in the room, and possibly not even in the world -- but them. Germany's face was pressed into the top of Italy's head, his broad shoulders quivering, and Italy's hands were rubbing soothing circles on Germany's back. No one approached them; no one wanted to break the spell cast by this fragile moment that went beyond anything that mere words could convey.

Canada bit down on his lower lip, willing the lump rising in his throat to subside. He was so caught up in the scene before him that when he heard Switzerland's voice, he didn't register the words at first, and it required an almost physical effort to wrench his attention back to the nation sitting next to him.

'What...what d-did you say?' he managed to stammer in what he hoped was French.

'As I said, that was a waste of time.' Switzerland carefully propped his rifle against the table, and cast a sidelong glance at Canada before turning his gaze back to the window that looked out over the meeting room. 'Any fool can see that a love like that doesn't require an exact translation.'

***

Notes
This story operates on the premise that the nations of Hetalia used to be able to speak to and understand with each other without the need for translation, until an unexpected (and deliberately unspecified) incident deprived them of that ability and has forced them to cope as best they can. This story takes place about six months after that incident.

To clarify the situation (and hopefully avoid much of the general minefield that is language politics), the following is a very rough summary of the state of nation-to-nation communication in this world:
- Nations who share official languages can speak directly to each other in those languages: Switzerland and Canada (French), Belgium and the Netherlands (Dutch/Flemish), and so on.
- Nations who do not share official languages require a translator to communicate, preferably another nation with multiple official languages. Hence why Switzerland and Canada have been pressed into service for this EU meeting, and (for Canada at least) elsewhere as well.
- Nations who do not have a de jure official language have effectively been locked into their primary de facto national language (e.g., English for Australia, German for Germany), with the same communication rules and restrictions applying as above.
- Nations with regional/protected minority languages have an extremely curtailed nation-to-nation communication level in those languages, with very little working vocabulary and great comprehension difficulty. For example, even though German is a protected minority language in Denmark, a nation whose official language is German would not be able to use German to communicate with Denmark very easily.
- Because some, but not all, U.S. states and territories have designated official languages, America's speech as heard by other nations generally fluctuates among English, Spanish, and Hawaiian, as the three languages with official language status in parts of the United States. His comprehension levels fluctuate as well -- and do not always coordinate with his spoken language.

Although humans might be able to get around these communications problems with a little creative thinking, it does not work that way for nations. Even though a native Spanish speaker could work out basic communication in, say, Italian or Portuguese, Spain himself could not do the same for either of the Italies or Portugal -- as far as anyone can tell, there is some sort of 'official language barrier' in the nations' minds that prevents comprehension and communication, except as according to the rules described above. Which, as one might expect, makes matters all the more frustrating for them.

All nations can communicate with their human bosses and citizens without difficulty, much as they could before. Essentially, nation-to-nation communication in this fic's world has been mostly reduced to official diplomatic cables and notes from ambassadors -- as it is in our world.

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