Austria rolled his tired shoulders, a scowl set firmly in place. It had been a long, tiring day. And the constant jostling of the automobile wasn't helping either. In truth, Austria never liked this invention. The "car" as some called. It coughed bitter, black smoke, was far too noisy, and had no elegance about it, none at all.
He would've rather walked back home, but Francis Joseph would have none of that. Especially since Austria's abode was several kilometers away. For all his aristocratic air, Austria was quite fine with having a little mud on his shoes. Between some dirt and the "car", he would rather take the dirt. Alas, that horrendous grating was torture on his sensitive ears!
But there was one shining, silver-lining to the "car". It was a lot faster than walking. And for that, Austria was grateful. It wouldn't do to keep a certain princess waiting.
And by princess, Austria didn't mean any of Francis Joseph's daughters.
His boss had no children.
"Stop here, good sir." He commanded, opening his door.
Stepping out into a well-manicured garden, a small smile flitted on Austria's expression, the world melting away behind him. He was home at last.
The front door slammed. The pitter patter of footsteps as a ball of energy launched herself into his awaiting arms.
The beloved princess.
But Austria did.
"Papa!" She cried, hugging him tightly.
And for once, Austria cared not for the wrinkles on his coat. He cared not for the close intimacy of touch. Focusing instead on that warmth, the gentle warmth radiating from this tiny body, the beat of her heart was music to his ears.
The idea of a family seemed so evanescent. Austria saw no point in it. He was a nation, and perhaps that skewed his viewpoint.
He had lived many years. Families haven't changed since his birth. There was a mother. There was a father. And there was a child. It was always the same dynamic.
After a few decades... it would be over. The child would grow up. The parents would die. And the cycle would start all over again.
It was all pointless, for a nation with all the time in the world, the importance of family was so... meaningless.
Or so she said.
Austria stared at her for a long time, trying to gauge if she was joking.
But she was not.
Congratulations, he had said. He had always known Hungary wanted a family. She finally got her wish.
"Don't you... Want to be a part of his life?"
She bit her lip. He shook his head. Music, the piano that was all he needed. He was fine.
Hungary was outraged.
"Why not? Why not? This child is yours! You... Don't you even care?"
He was a nation. This child would be just another human. It wouldn't make a difference. If Hungary wanted material support, he would gladly provide. But as far as emotional attachment went, Austria saw no point.
It would all be over in a few years.
Nine months passed. Austria had seen his queens give birth. But Hungary was his wife. It... It made all the difference.
Austria found himself pacing outside the hospital room.
The first time he heard that tiny heartbeat. Resounding from deep inside the womb...
It was the most beautiful sound he had ever heard, because he understood. He finally understood.
He was raising a life, this existence.
He was a nation. He was the culmination of ideas and beliefs. He represented thousands of people.
But they could live without him. Should he die, the world would keep on turning. His people would find new homes. But here...
Hungary smiled at him, cradling the newborn in her arms.
"It's a girl."
If he hadn't... She wouldn't... And oh god...
She was so small, so fragile. And she needed him.
"Baby, meet your Daddy. Austria, meet your daughter."
I'm your father. I brought you into this world. And I'm going to raise you. I'm going to protect you. I'm going to love you. I'm going to love you with everything I have. Because...
You're my daughter.
You're my everything.
Austria cradled that tiny baby. Kissing her softly, and listening to that precious heartbeat. It was sweet, sweet music to his ears.
Because life without his daughter... It no longer seemed possible.
He needed her now.
His beloved princess.
Entering their humble abode, Hungary stood waiting at the doorway. A knowing smile painted on her face.
"Mama, are the cookies ready yet?"
"In a minute, baby. You have to wait. Why not show Papa your dance first?"
The little girl beamed, nodding her head excitedly.
"Dance? What dance?" Austria inquired, incredibly flustered. He was never one for dancing. His home was beside the piano, not waltzing on the floor.
"C'mon, Papa! To the music room!"
Austria allowed himself to be dragged. She got that exuberance from her mother. He couldn't help but smile at that.
"I still don't know what dance you speak of."
"Herr Francis Joseph invited me to a ball tonight." She cheerfully explained, not missing a beat.
"Did he now?" Austria replied, playing along. Again, he was not one for make-believe either. Such frivolities were beneath him.
But he would make an exception. For his daughter, he would do anything. Pluck the moon from the skies, catch falling stars from the heavens. Anything.
"Well then, we must practice!"
He approached the piano, when he felt a sharp tug. Looking down, he met with her earnest gaze.
"Silly Papa! I need you!"
Austria raised an eyebrow. Oh, he knew where this was going. "Whatever for?"
"Every princess needs her prince. Am I right?"
And there was Hungary, seating herself at the piano bench.
"But... The cookies..." He feebly argued.
Hungary winked, such a devious woman.
"Oh please, Papa! Please!" She pleaded.
Austria rolled his eyes, bowing lowly. There was never a shadow of a doubt. She need not even ask.
He bowed lowly. "Milady, may I have this dance?"
So I will dance with Cinderella
She grinned, clumsily curtsying. "You may."
And he took her hand, still so much smaller than his. Free of calluses, free of burns, free from the taint of war. Austria took his daughter's hands.
While she is here in my arms.
The music could use some work. Some notes were off, the beat was unsteady. But Austria found himself unable to take offense. All his attention was on this little girl, no doubt inventing the steps as she went.
Looking into her innocence, gazing at her smile, it felt as if his chest would explode. He had no idea he was capable of such emotions, this suffocating warmth that enveloped his entire being, embracing his very soul.
He didn't know he could love so hard.
His precious princess. His beloved daughter. His everything.
The years passed... Softly and quietly, the years passed. His precious princess grew. And grew.
While he... He stayed exactly the same.
She was more beautiful than ever. The boys were beginning to notice. Unfortunately.
Austria had never been a violent person, but if he saw one more man eye his daughter so lustfully... Well, he had no qualms about borrowing Switzerland's shotguns and-!
"Hungary! How could you not be incensed at such crude behavior! Look at what they're doing to our daughter!"
And the woman had the gall to laugh.
"You're so cute when you're jealous!"
"I am most certainly not!"
She rolled her eyes. "There's no need to worry. We have raised our daughter well. She will choose wisely."
Austria knew he was being petty. And still, he crossed his arms and pouted.
Hungary laughed once more. "Let it be, Austria. She's growing up."
She was growing up. She was growing taller each day, her beauty blossoming. Once barely reaching his knee, she was now a mere head shorter. All smooth skin and soft curves. And as much as Austria tried to deny it, plugging his ears and whining about it.
She was becoming a woman. She was growing up.
And Austria felt abandoned.
Where was his little girl? Where was the child that clung to him for dear life? Who begged he play her lullabies? Where was the princess that woke him in the middle of the night, terrified of some nightmare? Where was the baby he cradled so softly?
Did she not... need him anymore?
Somehow, playing Chopin was not enough.
"Papa? Papa! There you are!"
He looked up. His breath caught in his throat. Auburn locks pinned up, a light blush dusting her cheeks, a hint of mascara. Gold earrings and a flowing white dress, modest but eye-catching. She looked stunning.
"Just a walk." She lied. She had always been a horrible liar.
"You look... beautiful."
Her blush darkened. "Really?"
And it hurt, because she really was growing up. But still... she was so beautiful.
She gazed at him. Austria remembered her infancy, when she first opened those clear, pure eyes, gazing at him with such raw wonderment and awe. Loving him, no questions asked.
'Cause I know, something the prince never knew
And then, she smiled. His daughter, now a lady, smiled. Her smile had not changed. It was still warm, so sincere.
She tugged at him, taking his hand in hers.
"I need to practice my dancing."
She pulled him up.
"Oh please, Papa! Please!"
Oh, I will dance with Cinderella
Austria took her into his arms, holding her close. Together they twirled and they spun across the wide, open floor, the world melting away. Her head on his shoulder, her heartbeat the only melody he needed.
Nothing had changed. She was still his princess.
Eventually, Austria met him. The infamous man who courted his daughter, who captured her heart, and who finally asked for his blessing.
Austria had only four words to say:
"Take care of her."
Hungary did most of the planning. Austria, of course, pitched in. But his advice only sent people into nervous breakdowns. Hungary eventually found a suitable role for him: an observer.
His daughter laughed. Pitying her father's predicament, she approached Austria, all smiles and happiness as she offered an alternate occupation.
"The wedding's still six months away. And I need to practice my dancing."
"Oh please, Papa! Please!"
I don't want to miss even one song
She didn't even need to ask.
The wedding day arrived. It was a nice, quiet affair, only his daughter's closest friends and her fiancé's family. It went through with little fanfare. He encountered no problems, until he walked her down the aisle.
There were whispers from either side. They tried to be quiet. But Austria's carefully tuned ear could hear every word.
"Is that her brother?"
"I believe so. My son said she was an orphan."
"I heard her brother's been taking care of her this entire time."
"But she doesn't look much older than her! The poor darling."
Austria tensed. It became painful to breathe. The gravity of the situation finally settled in. He faltered at the last step. Staring at the altar lay out before him.
He was giving his daughter away. She was leaving him.
And it hurt. Never before did being a nation pain him so, to stand still, so perfectly still; caught in a stagnant whirlpool as the humans streamed past them, never giving them a second though. Always leaving the Nations behind.
She squeezed his hand.
Startled from reverie, Austria gazed at his daughter. Her beauty was radiant in pre-marital bliss. She smiled at him.
Austria let go.
Cause all too soon, the clock will strike midnight
Hungary sobbed into his chest. He held her tight. The house never seemed so empty.
The next year, Francis Ferdinand was assassinated. The European powers found themselves caught in a tangled web of alliances. The Great War erupted. Austria found himself in the midst of blood and chaos.
But not once did he leave his daughter. Always from afar, he made sure she was safe, that her family was safe.
Eventually he lost. Austria and his allies forced to submit to the victors. Still, Austria kept watch. Knowing Hungary was doing the exact same thing.
They watched from afar as streaks of gray peppered her hair. They watched in vain as wrinkles line the rosy youth of her cheeks. They watched with heavy hearts as she grew older.
And yet here they were, stuck, trapped in eternal youth.
Watching their child die. Watching their child live.
And she'll be gone
It was pouring, the skies a dark, violent black. The congregation was small, huddled masses beneath fragile shelter, paying their respects.
Erwin was twenty. He was the oldest grandson. He had dearly loved his grandmother. She would often tell him stories. She would claim they were memories, but he knew better.
She spoke of a grand, beautiful home. She spoke of meeting emperors, having tea with dukes. She spoke of dancing with a handsome prince.
They were senile tales from an aging woman. Erwin treasured these stories nonetheless. It was all he had left.
A soft sob caught his attention. A young couple stood right beside him. They looked around his age. They piqued his curiosity. It was... strange to see people so young attending a funeral of someone so old, especially if they were of no relation.
"Hello." He greeted softly. "My name is Erwin. I believe you've met my grandmother?"
The man looked up from his grieving wife. A flash of recognition quickly schooled into a solemn expression.
"Hello, Erwin. It is... a pleasure to meet you."
"Were you her friends?"
Erwin had never known his grandmother to have friends, such young ones at that.
The man slowly, almost hesitantly nodded. His wife sobbed harder.
But if his grandmother did, Erwin had no objections.
The ebony casket was lowered. The dirt piled up. And all Austria could see was his little girl. His baby girl. His precious princess.
His beloved daughter.
He remembered cradling her in his arms. She had been so small, so hard to believe. Where did the time go? It was all so fast.
Austria laid his bouquet, his final gift, on that freshly dug grave. At the end of the day, here they were. Nothing changed. He was still Austria. She was still Hungary. Embittered, hurting.
Erwin rose an elegant brow. "My grandmother loved Edelweiss. How did you know?"
Austria could only smile.
"A father should never bury his daughter." He whispered.
"Hmm?" Erwin murmured.
It was just the ghost of her shadow, her ever-present smile, her crystal laugh, and the echoes of heartbeats.
There goes my life.
There goes my future, my everything.
"I love you, Papa. Good night."
The song had ended.
She will be gone