...well, I wanted to put a helpful link up here with some basic historical background, but I forgot that FFN hates anything more complicated than bold and italics. So here is the lowdown: King Charles II was the last Spanish Hapsburg, and the Spanish Hapsburgs were a bit like that one episode of the X-Files, y'know, with the deformed mom having deformed babies with her deformed sons. So yeah, he died without an heir, and then there was a war, and we call it the War of Spanish Succession and it was a delightful affair that you should all read about when you get the chance.
Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright
Deep in the night, the king was awoken by the violent jerking of his own body, reacting to nothing in particular. He squeezed his eyes shut against sudden consciousness, against the creaking pain in his bones. He sucked in a breath that rattled in his chest, and when he tried to prop himself up on the pillows he found his arms were too weak to support even that. He let out a groan, muffled as always by his swollen tongue, and when he opened his mouth to let out a cry, a small stream of saliva crept over his lips. But then a gentle voice shushed him, and a handkerchief dabbed at his mouth, and someone lifted his shoulders to adjust the pillows behind him.
"Won't be long now, will it?" said the voice cheerfully.
"No," the king moaned, "but I haven't had time—haven't fixed everything yet…"
"Oh, don't worry about that." He felt the mattress shift, and when he opened his eyes he saw a young man sitting at the foot of the bed, one leg propped up and the other swinging off the edge. "I think even if you had another fifty years to figure things out, it would all be the same."
Spain shrugged and smiled. "Sorry, Your Highness, but I'm fucked no matter what."
Charles' lip began to quiver. He knew Spain, of course, though he didn't quite recognize him in the way that others might. He just knew of the grinning youth who wandered the castle grounds, who accompanied him when he went shooting, who leaned over the balcony with his chin in his hands to observe the auto-da-fé. It was this same youth who intercepted persistent diplomats, and who carried him to bed when he couldn't make the walk himself.
"I'm sorry," Charles sputtered, more drool spilling over the corner of his mouth. And he meant it, even though he didn't really understand it – he only knew that his companion looked very tired lately, and everyone around him whispered uncertainties, and the problem wouldn't get solved until after he was gone. "I'm sorry it's like this—"
Spain shook his head, still smiling as his eyebrows furrowed sadly, and he brought up the kerchief again to wipe away the spit and tears on Charles's face. "It's not your fault. None of it is."
"There's going to be war?"
"Yes." Spain's expression brightened, and he patted Charles on the leg. "But you won't have to see it!" When Charles only groaned and tried to roll over, Spain took his spindly hand and leaned in close. "But you still have to make a decision, I'm afraid. Or someone else is going to decide for us. You understand, Carlos?"
"I don't know," Charles whimpered, his face half-buried in his pillow. He looked over his shoulder to stare timidly at Spain. "Which one do you want?"
Spain laughed. "Oh, I don't really like either of them!" He pulled the blankets up to Charles's chin. "But they're not giving me much of a choice."
But Charles probably wasn't listening at this point – he stared straight ahead, his lips moving with only wordless mumbles escaping them. He wasn't very old, not by upper class standards; but he was bald already, and he had been ill all his life, and there wasn't much that could ever be done about it. Things had gone downhill ever since he came to the throne – but things had been going in that direction even before, and Spain was being honest when he said he didn't blame Charles for any of it. Granted, Charles hadn't helped matters either – an heir certainly would have been nice; but no one, least of all Spain, had expected that from him.
So now Spain was left with a dying king of a dead dynasty that was not even his to begin with. And soon it would start again – another foreign ruler, and another country to kneel before. Austria was ready to send a fresh Hapsburg to his door, while France had presented one of his Bourbons for the cause. And no matter who was chosen, a war would follow.
The war, he could handle. That would be great fun, in fact, and a nice distraction. It was all the machinations preceding and following that Spain had grown weary of. He used to enjoy the political game, back when there was plenty for him to gain from it. But things had changed, and it was hard to get excited about treaties when they were going to damn him either way.
It didn't help that he already knew what France and Austria had discussed regarding his fate. They seemed surprisingly eager to avoid a war, and all they had to do was draw lines across Spain and all his lands, so that they both got equal portions of the feast. The succession is no longer an issue, they had told him, we have taken care of everything. Spain had nodded, smiling so broadly that he'd thought his face would split apart—and wouldn't that have been convenient! France and Austria could have both brought a piece home.
Spain let out a long sigh and slumped across Charles's faintly trembling frame, drumming his fingers against the king's shoulder. It used to be that when a problem arose, all he had to do was put on his armor and deal with it. But this problem was different. There was politics involved. Not to mention France's rather formidable army standing in his way—
--standing right in front of him…
Spain got up from the bed to retrieve parchment and a quill from the nearby desk. He dipped the quill into ink and began to write. He left one part blank. Then he took the parchment and set it directly in front of Charles's face.
"All right, Carlos. This is the last thing you will ever have to worry about. Do this, and then you can relax." He put the quill in the king's hand, pressing his fingers together at the tip. "I'm going to say a name, and you're going to write it down."
Charles's eyes remained unfocused, but he dragged his hand to the paper. Spain adjusted it so that it was in the right spot, then he gently stroked Charles's smooth, pallid head.
"Write this name, and then you can sleep, and I'll handle the rest."
The next morning Spain was sitting on a bench in the gardens of Versailles with a smile on his face. France, out for his morning walk, stopped short when he saw him. His lips upturned, but his face was guarded.
"Good morning, my dear," he said with a graceful wave.
"My king is dead!" Spain said brightly by way of greeting. He held out an envelope. "And he left this for you."
France took the envelope, regarding the royal seal on the back with a little smile. "Ah, messages from deranged monarchs are always so entertaining!"
As he read the enclosed parchment, his face did not change – likely because he already knew what the message was. When he finished, he lowered the paper to look at Spain, tilting his head, his lips twisted in a condescending expression. "Dear Spain, do you know what it would mean if I accepted this? I would be turning my back on my prior agreement with darling Austria. Do you think I am entirely without honor?"
Spain set his chin in his hands. "Oh! You mean the agreement where you both get to split me up however you want?"
France pointed at him with the paper. "Yes, that's the one!"
Spain's shoulders rose and fell as he let out a dramatic sigh. "That's too bad, 'cause I thought it'd be more honorable to uphold what's in a king's will. Y'know, royal decree and all." His eyes traveled up to the great palace that stood out among the greenery of the gardens, tall, imposing, and beautiful, like an old temple of some shining divinity.
France, too, followed his gaze, tapping the folded corner of the parchment against his nose as he said musingly, "It is rather like the word of God, is it not?"
"And I suppose," France said, lowering the parchment and regarding Spain out of the corner of his eye, "if my king declines, you will be going to Vienna next."
"Yup!" Spain sat up and shrugged, spreading his hands. "But hey, maybe Austria won't want to go back on your deal either!"
France's lip curled, and he looked at Spain out of narrowed eyes. "Hardly, my dear. You cannot expect honor from a Hapsburg. So you leave me little choice."
He let out a long sigh, crumpling the parchment against his chest and delicately lifting his free hand out towards Spain. "And it would pain me so to see you without a worthy leader, my dear friend."
Spain stood from the bench, only to immediately drop to his knee before France. He took the proffered hand, lowering his lips towards it; but first he raised his eyes to look at France beneath his dark lashes and mutter: "Hope your army's ready."
And he pressed his lips to France's hand.