General Note: I'm only going to reformat my fics so much when this site is the one at fault. So If the formatting is weird (like, say, there aren't any scene breaks where there should be), please check out my profile for more info. Thank you.
A/N: To explain, the idea first sprouted when I realized that Austria is my Tifa of the Hetalia fandom—meaning I write him the most, and like the way he interacts with others, and I like to make him angst about his love life. I jokingly said I should write a crack fic where they angst together and then make out and/or have sex (because if I'm writing crack, why not go all the way?), and a friend (Verdot) goaded me to actually write it. I brushed it off with a "LOL, oh you!" but then a couple tidbits of dialogue materialized in my head, and the next thing I knew, I was seriously writing the damn thing.
So. Double the angsting, double the fun?
Obligatory (but ultimately pointless) CYA: I don't own it.
Till We Become Accustomed To the Dark
Her first impression of him is an odd one. He looks like an awkward, studious type, with his glasses and thin frame, yet seems comfortable enough in a bar setting. He carries himself with a dignity—even arrogance—that almost reminds her of Rufus Shinra, but when he speaks—only when necessary, and no more—it's most similar to the quiet tones of Vincent Valentine. He appears at once gentle, yet unapproachable. Unthreatening, yet cold.
He wears a three-piece suit with darned cuffs and thinning elbows. He orders red wine, and smokes cheap cigarettes from an expensive case. He does not smile, but nor does he scowl; he frowns sometimes, as if he has a great deal on his mind.
A man down on his luck. Tifa has seen many of them.
In his dreams, he walks. His devastated land and crippled economy cannot confine him to a wheelchair as they do in reality, and Austria walks. Down grey streets in an unfamiliar city, until he comes to a bar that is always plain, but always inviting.
Inside, there is always a brunette with long hair, who is physically capable of beating a man to a pulp. She smiles warmly and often, and Austria always wakes in an empty bed with an aching heart.
Barret calls, in the early evening for her and the early afternoon for him. It is not too busy in the bar yet, so Tifa can afford to talk and catch up. His rough, dark voice sounds like a little slice of heaven, and she realizes just how much she misses him, and all her other friends. The one she still does see fairly often talks little, and reveals less. Tifa puts that thought out of mind and listens whole-heartedly to the receiver.
"We stopped by Cid's," he's saying. "Said hi for you. Cid says you better still be kickin' ass and takin' names."
Tifa tries to suppress her grin and fails quite miserably. "My customers are usually pretty well-behaved, but I'll try my best, for his sake."
Barret chuckles back, all mountainous rumbles. "He taught Marlene how to play poker, and she ended up beatin' the pants off him. Won a buncha his tea," he says, and Tifa full-out laughs, bright as bells.
A chair abruptly screeches against the floor, and she turns. The man in the suit and glasses is leaving in a rush. Tifa curiously watches him go as Barret continues talking, watches him stop on the street to fumble with a cigarette and lighter, watches his nerves relax as he breathes in nicotine and tobacco and tar, watches him hesitate, as if part of him wants to turn back around.
He doesn't, and then Tifa watches him walk away.
Italy hosts the next world meeting. It is close enough that Austria can manage, however barely, to attend. He glances at her once, only once, and it is simultaneously too much and not enough. That evening, after returning home, Austria drinks almost three glasses of wine and smokes far too many cigarettes before being helped to bed, where he falls asleep with his glasses still on.
He dreams of music, this time. Piano, specifically, as he approaches the bar. Quiet and muffled, but unmistakable to his ear, and because of it, he enters with silent care.
The bartender—Tifa, he thinks he has heard her called—sits at an upright piano in the corner, carefully tinkling out a soft, sad melody. Her left hand stretches to bridge chords, missing sometimes, and the pace is stuttered. Still, there is something in the notes that wants to speak to the heart, even if the hands can't skillfully say it.
"You play?" he asks, and she jumps off the stool like a young child who was caught stealing from the cookie jar.
"Oh! No!" She laughs, embarrassed, and nervously tucks her hair behind her ear. "Well—I mean—I used to, but that was years ago. I'm afraid I'm not very good at it anymore."
The bartender fidgets. Austria blinks. There is no one else in the bar.
She swiftly perks up, beams a smile at him. "Do you play?" she asks.
He looks at the instrument. "Not recently." His spirit is too sapped of passion these days, and before that, his hands were too preoccupied with firing rifles in muddy trenches.
"…You can," she offers, gesturing at the piano. And then quickly adds, "If you want."
He stiffens at the suggestion, but after a moment, yields to himself, and sits. He will not lie; it is a thing he misses. But then, he misses many things these days.
Austria plays guilt, and regret, and anger, and apologies, and maybe, just maybe, he plays love. He will not remember the composition upon waking, and perhaps that is for the best. These are thoughts that should be said with words, not music, and if he cannot manage the one, he should not settle for the other.
As the last note dies, a strange noise—like a muffled hiccup—comes from behind him, and he turns.
She wipes tears off of blotchy cheeks. "I'm sorry," she says, and laughs fragilely at herself. "That was beautiful. Really." She sniffles. He stands. Out of habit, he reaches into his jacket and pulls out a handkerchief.
She takes it, and as she wipes her nose, her large, liquid brown eyes look at his over the square of white linen, and she again laughs a little. "Such a gentleman."
"Not enough," Austria says.
She will formally introduce herself next time, Tifa decides. He comes to her bar often enough, and she is curious about the man who never really seems to fit in yet never really stands out. She never sees him around town, nor does he ever come in with a friend. He never even talks to any other patrons. He strikes her as lonely, and perhaps a friendship can coax a smile out of him. It worked for Vincent, after all.
She likes making the lives of others' a little brighter. It brings a sense of purpose to her, to see a smile on someone's face, because despite the whole saving-the-world business (which she hates to call it, even if it's the truth), there is still so much strife, and still so much work to be done. Tifa will bring joy where she can. If she can manage that, she can manage life's disappointments.
The next afternoon, her door opens, and the bespectacled man with the wavy brown hair enters. He sits at her bar, primly and properly, as always.
"Red wine, please," he murmurs, and pulls out a cigarette. Tifa nods, turns, and presses her lips together to hide her grin of anticipation.
A moment later, she sets his drink down in front of him, then genially sticks out her hand. "Hi," she says with a smile. "I'm Tifa Lockhart."
He blinks, and clasps it. His grip is almost delicate compared to that of most men's—at least the ones she is used to; his fingers are long and strangely soft. "I know," he says.
Her smile widens good-naturedly at that. He isn't so sunk into himself that he pays no attention to the world around him. "Been seeing a lot of you here lately."
He taps his cigarette ash into the glass tray. "Yes."
Tifa is not so easily deterred. And if there is no sign of progress today, she will try tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day, until there is. She leans against her bar top, casually, but off to the side so as not to invade his personal space. "So, seeing as how you're pretty much a regular, and I already know you by drink order, mind if I ask your name?" A name will be easier—and more polite—than the 'Mr. Mopey-Pants' she uses in her head. (Marlene, she thinks, has rubbed off on her too much.)
He seems to consider this for a moment, and then relinquishes, "Austria."
Tifa tilts her head and purses her mouth with genuine curiosity. "Austria? Now that's a strange name." It sounds rather feminine, though she doesn't mention that part.
His expression goes dry in a silent reproof, and there might even be some rusty intimidation in there, buried under the composed weariness he seems to radiate. It is the most emotion she's seen on his face, and Tifa considers it a victory. "I sometimes go by Roderich Edelstein," he deigns to explain, "but my real name is Austria."
Tifa flashes a disarming grin and lets it go. "Just 'Austria'?"
There is a pain in his eyes—blue, dark, indigo eyes—that makes her heart catch. "Just 'Austria,' " he says, a little hoarsely, breaking the gaze and downing the rest of his drink.
This time, she serves him wine before he even has a chance to order. Austria blinks in surprise, and Tifa smiles rather smugly. He pays for the drink, and then stops, wallet frozen in hand. For the first time he notices that the currency he carries is unfamiliar.
This is a city he doesn't know, he thinks, and a moment of clarity dawns upon him.
"Is something wrong?" Tifa asks, sounding mildly amused by his concentrated expression.
Austria looks up, studies her face for a moment. "…I think I must be dreaming," he says.
Tifa laughs shortly and pushes herself back from the bar with a wry smile. "Yeah, I've heard that one before," she says over her shoulder, going back to drying her lowball glasses. "To be honest, I pegged you for better pick-up lines."
He blinks, stiffens defensively in his seat, maybe even blushes at the insinuation. "I wasn't trying to—" He breaks off and huffs. "I mean it," he says, very seriously. "I think this is a dream."
There is a stool behind the bar, off to the side, and she pulls it over and sits in front of him. She looks at him levelly, hands under her chin. "Why do you think that?"
He blinks again, and stares straight back, not sure whether to be unnerved or comforted by her proximity and interest. "This currency," he finally relinquishes. "I don't know it at all, can't read the characters on it. And," he realizes, "…I shouldn't be able to walk. I can't walk."
A flicker of concern in her brown eyes. "And why's that?"
He swallows. "I lost a war."
"A war injury, you mean?"
Austria grimaces thoughtfully. "Of sorts. It was just a combination of everything. The losses, the expenses, the poor economy, the poorer government… It all just hit me so badly…" He stops, realizes what he is saying, and straightens. "You don't believe me."
She lowers her hands, rests her forearms against the bar top, and thinks about this for a moment. "I don't know," she admits. "You don't strike me as crazy. And frankly, I've seen so many impossible things…I don't know what to believe anymore." She meets his eyes and smiles briefly, apologetically, and it is only then that Austria can see her smiles for the armor they are.
"I won a war," she confesses. "And that isn't all it's cracked up to be, either. I lost a good friend." There is something in her eyes that Austria can't name. It might be regret. And then she adds, "Maybe more than one."
The next time Tifa sees him, she is again—stubbornly, she thinks—at the piano. The chords have come back, but the tempo is all wrong and inconsistent, and Tifa wonders if that perhaps has something to do with the blond who was kind enough to deliver a package of Costan sweets, but not kind enough to stick around until she returned from the grocer so that she could actually thank him in person.
She is not sure why she turns to the instrument—trying to coax comfort out of it. Perhaps because shadow-boxing takes away the frustration, but leaves everything else.
"Relax your shoulders," a calm voice says, and instinct causes Tifa to whirl around, fists defensive.
Austria blinks at her hands. Tifa breathes and her posture eases. "Couldn't you make a little bit of noise when you come in?" she asks. The fact of the matter is, he usually does—usually his step is firm, even commanding.
"I didn't want to interrupt," he says, by way of apology. Usually his step is firm, even commanding—except when there is music, Tifa supposes, and then he turns as silent as a Turk.
Unless he really is a dream, or maybe a ghost, and the idea doesn't unnerve her as much as it perhaps should. But his suit is old…
"Sit," he says, gesturing back to the piano, and his tone is such that Tifa finds her rear plopping back onto the stool of its own accord. "You're too tense. Don't scrunch up your shoulders." His hands land gently on her, and they are a little cool, but not strangely so.
She tries again, some composition she'd known and loved as a girl, and managed to get her hands on again. Austria's piano-instructor touch leaves her, and he listens.
It is at once more difficult and easier, to have someone who obviously knows and appreciates music listen to her play. Tifa concentrates on loosening her shoulders, and in turn neglects her fingers, and she breaks off half-way after hitting one too many sour notes.
Austria is thoughtful. "You said you used to play?" he asks, voice unreadable.
"When I was a kid. Honestly, I just don't think my hands are up to it anymore. They're not exactly as sensitive as they used to be…" And she flexes them as if for display, fight-callused and water-dry as they now are.
He shakes his head at this, firm and sure. "The skill will come back in time. Hands remember many things."
"Whether you want them to or not?" she jokes, and his eyes suddenly flash to hers, stunned, or panicked, or something.
Austria blinks languidly, and it is gone. "Do you not like the piano?" he asks, courteously, and she somehow knows that that was not the first worry that occupied his mind.
"It's…" she begins, suddenly feeling uncomfortable under his scrutiny. "It's just…been a long time," she admits, her honesty surprising her. "Reminds me of better days, I guess."
His brow softens and he nods, slowly. Tifa wonders just how many pockets three-piece suits have, and just how many secrets they can hold.
"I do like it, though," she continues, turning back to the keys, trying to dispel any awkwardness that has crept in. "It's a beautiful instrument. Even if it's only an upright. And I appreciate the help." She glances her thanks over her shoulder. His lips twitch and stretch slightly; a small smile that really can't be called a smile, due to its missing pieces.
Tifa lets it go. Austria lights a cigarette.
This time, she steps out of the bar before he has a chance to step in.
A blond precedes her. His build is reminiscent of Switzerland's, but his hair is most certainly not, and it occurs to Austria that they know each other, and she is seeing him out. He busies himself with strapping a parcel of some sort to his motorcycle, and Tifa looks at him and bites her bottom lip.
"You…you could stay, you know," Tifa says, almost fumbling the words, and then plasters a smile over them. "And leave tomorrow morning, after a good night's sleep."
The blond ducks his head, shakes it timidly, awkwardly scratches his neck. Austria hears him mutter something like, "Don't want to impose."
But you won't, Austria thinks, and Tifa doesn't say.
"I should get back to my route anyway," he adds, perhaps apologetically.
Tifa smiles her tremulous armor-smile, and says, "Okay. …But take it easy. And keep in touch." He nods once, down and up, and then mounts his motorcycle.
Austria watches her longing stare, watches her eyebrows draw together in anxiety, watches her fingers fidget, and her mouth open with words that won't come. Can feel the bitter way they settle back in her stomach.
Tifa watches the blond ride away, and Austria watches her heart break a little bit more.
She jumps a little upon noticing that he is standing, waiting, looking at her, right at the corner of the building. "Oh!" she exclaims, forcing a grin onto her face, and she wonders which one of them she's trying to convince. She babbles, nervously, and flees inside. Austria follows. "Sorry, just saying good-bye to a friend. I hope you weren't waiting too long,"—she hopes he wasn't watching too long. "Red wine, right?"
He nods, and sits, the only patron in the bar. She'd prefer there to be many, because then she'd be too busy to think, or none at all, because then she wouldn't have to wear this mask that has somehow become a crutch.
Her hands flutter all around. Wine—red wine—glass—glass—
A motorcycle roars in the distance. Her fingers slip, and the glass shatters, and it seems that's enough to shatter her, as well. With a cry, she ducks her head, hides in her hair, fumbles for her dustpan and tries to sweep up the pieces, but they're everywhere, and so small, and her hands are shaking and her throat has closed up and her eyes are blurring so she can't even see, and it's so stupid, it's just a wine glass, it's so stupid, she's so stupid—
And long fingers come into view, and gently take the brush and dustpan from her.
"Here," Austria murmurs, and it is everything kind and unapproachable, and it just makes Tifa want to cry more, for some reason. She's too embarrassed to raise her eyes to his, and so she stares at his hands—his beautiful, pale piano hands—and there is something soothing in the way he sweeps up the shards. Tifa can't imagine he does such menial tasks very often, but he is thorough, his movements smooth and deliberate.
It is only when he reaches over to the side and the light hits just right that she notices an even paler band of skin around his third finger. Where a ring used to sit.
There is something oddly calm about the way she reaches out and stills his hands, takes his fingers in her own, as if something greater than just herself is compelling her to do so.
"What happened?" she hears herself ask. Some part of her needs to know.
Tifa waits, and when Austria answers, his voice is soft. "I told you; I lost a war," he reminds her, then corrects himself. "We lost. It's true we were forced apart…but it would be a lie to say that she didn't want to leave."
Being familiar with broken-hearted men, and discovering he is one of them, his past reactions suddenly make more sense. Tifa raises her eyes to his. "Do I…do I remind you of her?"
"You did," he confesses. "But now you remind me more of myself."
There is a decisive grace about Tifa when she stands, abandoning the mess on the floor, and Austria watches as she goes to the front entrance, turns off the "OPEN" sign, along with most of the lights, and locks the door.
Austria hesitantly rises, himself, emptying the dustpan into a trash bin. He watches her return behind the barely-lit bar, watches her pull out two glasses, and pour red wine from a green bottle. She hands him one, and he takes it, feeling oddly removed from himself.
This is a dream, he thinks. But it feels as real as anything. And this woman mourns as really as anybody.
Tifa drinks. Most of her glass in large gulps. Morosely leans her forearms on the bar. "Do you still love her?" She asks it softly, curiously, almost innocently. Austria itches for a cigarette. Lights one and takes a long drag before he even considers answering.
It isn't a subject he often lets himself think about. Whether he still loves his ex-wife or not is not the point; the point is she is gone.
"I don't know," he finally says. "Maybe. Yes. I don't know," he says again, and Austria huffs at his uncertainty. He flicks his ash into a nearby tray, runs a hand through his hair, and settles on, "It's complicated."
Tifa laughs into her glass. The sound is short, rueful, and knowing.
Austria leans on the bar, himself, for support, and watches the smoke rise mournfully in front of him. "It ended badly," he elaborates, swirling the wine in his glass before taking a drink. "We took a lot out on each other."
"I can't even get anything to start," she says, her shoulders slumping, her posture dejected. Her fingertips trace through condensation on her glass, and her next words are almost whispered. "I thought war was supposed to draw people together. Camaraderie between soldiers and all that."
Austria drinks, as if the alcohol could warm him. "From personal experience, all war did was draw a rift between us." Or perhaps 'trench' would be a better term. He would laugh, if there was anything to laugh about anymore.
Tifa tops off their glasses. Drinks until she can talk more and feel less. "Every time I tell myself I'm going to say something to him, and every time I can't manage to do it."
"I know," he murmurs.
"I know you know," she murmurs back. "That's why we're here together. Because we're alone and miserable."
Austria desperately sucks in smoke. "Yes."
It's a combination of three parts alcohol to one part heartache that makes her lean over and tilt her head up and press her mouth against his. His lips twitch curiously, as if he is not used to the sensation, but for whatever reason—the wine or something else—he doesn't pull away, and a moment later, begins to kiss her back.
His hands settle on her waist and, from there, carefully caress her back. She presses against him, and he is warm, so warm, and maybe, just maybe, he can dispel the chill inside her, if only for a moment. Her fingers find his shoulders, his neck, bump against his glasses, brush across that odd little beauty mark to the side of his mouth, and his breath catches and he pulls her closer, his hand in her hair and his lips not exactly gentle anymore, and Tifa feels wanted, and needed, and strangely enough, but most importantly, understood. Whatever this man may be—dream or delusion or deception—there is one thing she knows for sure: He aches as keenly as she does.
Tifa thinks that this is perhaps why she became a bartender. Alcohol and cigarettes and foggy distractions are easy vices to haphazardly patch people's wounds. Perhaps she could actually heal them, if she could only get their hearts to open.
But she can't even get her own to open, let alone someone else's.
It's the moan from her throat, and the realization that it was caused by his hips pressing hers into the bar, that knocks some sobriety—and manners—into him. He jerks back, flushed and embarrassed, and braces his arms on either side of her for support. Tifa blinks in glassy confusion. Her lips are pink and wet and inviting, and Austria ducks his head.
He breathes, swallows, forces his hands to stay on the bar top, elbows locked. "You're drunk," he answers to her unasked question. And while he might be drunk as well, he's a gentleman first.
"You're a dream," she says. "But at least I can actually touch you."
His breath falters. Because she has a point.
His gaze flicks up to hers, and there is something soft and understanding in her dark eyes. "I'm a big girl," Tifa whispers, with a serenity that belies the drunken state that led them here, and Austria tries to ignore the way his arms have started to go slack in surrender. "I know there's a difference between sex and love." Her fingers touch his chest and tug on his tie—gently and delicately—and he slowly lets her draw him closer.
The air between them smells like wine and cigarettes and loneliness. And when their lips meet again, it's tentative and trembling, as if they're afraid of breaking each other—or perhaps themselves.
Her small bed affords little room, but there is little that is rough or desperate to their movements. His hands aren't demanding, but they are strong, and his lips attentive. 'Reverent' is a word that comes to her mind, and Tifa thinks that they would call this 'love-making,' were they actually in love.
If she regrets this, it will only be because it reminds her of what she doesn't have. But maybe, just maybe, it will be enough to sustain her.
Austria does not close his eyes. Her physique is too similar—all womanly curves and toned muscle—and he fears he would pretend she is someone besides herself. Instead, he lets his hands find her hollows and dips and bones and scars, marks of individuality, and runs his fingers through her hair because it is thick and dark and different, and she deserves more than to simply be a substitute.
Austria doesn't want a substitute, anyway. Just some company.
Afterward, they settle on their sides, facing each other. Austria drapes his hand over her waist, and Tifa rests her hand against his chest, and the afterglow is anything but awkward, and everything comfortable and understanding.
In the dim light of night, Tifa smiles her thanks. It is soft, and genuine, and he finds himself returning it.
She gently touches his lip with the tip of her finger. "So you can smile," she murmurs.
"It's been a while," he admits. They lay in easy silence for a couple minutes.
"I get the feeling I'll never see you again," she says.
"Is that so troubling?"
"I don't know. I think it just is."
Austria hums in the back of his throat, thoughtfully.
"Promise you'll tell him," he says after a moment.
After a moment, Tifa nods. "Promise you'll tell her."
Austria breathes, and nods back. "Eventually," he says, and that is enough for her. She snuggles into the crook of his neck, and he wraps his arm around her back, and they draw each other close.
In the early hours of the morning, Tifa falls asleep, and Austria wakes.
It is not until 1989, not until time has healed his body and his bitterness, not until the borders open, that he dreams of her again.
The unknown city has not changed. Its streets are still grey. The bar, however, has a significant difference: A blond man also works behind it now, apron around his waist, washing glasses at the back sink.
Tifa smiles at him in astonishment. Austria finds himself smiling back. "Red wine?" she asks.
He sits. "Yes, please." He waits. She serves him.
Tifa grins her contagious grin. "They're bad for you anyway."
Austria shrugs a little. "It was a bad time for me."
"Mm," she nods, and then pauses briefly. "You look better."
He nods back. "You too." His eyes flick to her companion behind the bar, and his head tilts slightly. "So," he says.
Hope tinges her mouth with a tentative smile. "We're taking it slow," she says, too soft for anyone to overhear. Austria nods his approval. "And you?" she asks.
Austria thinks of how, for the first time in seventy years, he fell asleep with his nose buried in brown hair and his hand resting on an almost-forgotten hip, and takes a drink to hide his content expression. "Things are better," he simply says.
Tifa takes this for the understatement it is, and grins knowingly. The piano is still in the corner, and she glances at it a bit shyly. "Would you play?" she asks, a special request. He says yes.
Austria plays reconciliation, and maybe, just maybe, love.
America: Japan, this game is awesome! I mean, check out these graphics!
Austria: This seems strangely familiar…
A/N: Okay, so it's really hard to make crack 1.) serious, and 2.) plausible. I don't know if I entirely succeeded. (Like, ignore how he should be speaking German and she should be speaking…something else… IT'S A DREAM, ALRIGHT.) At any rate, this weird-ass scenario is now out of my head. Tifa, go back to Reno for all your angsting needs. Austria, go back to denying you're angsting in the first place.