Notes: (skip if you don't like gratuitous history)
Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871): Prussia won, establishing the German Empire in the French palace of Versailles. Slapped a huge war indemnity on France and took away the territory of Alsace-Lorraine.
World War I (1914-1918): France (+Allies) won, outlining the terms of Germany's surrender in the Treaty of Versailles. Basically blamed Germany for the whole fiasco, slapped on a huge war indemnity and took away the territory of Alsace-Lorraine. Deja vu much?
Friedrich II "the Great" of Prussia (ruled 1740-1786): played the flute. Some of his compositions involved lots of sixteenth-note runs, which, for the non-musically inclined, are very fast and very not fun to slog through. His motto: whatever it takes to make Prussia awesome. Jews? Sure, join the party, just settle where you'll bring us money.
Prussian blue dye: Can be used to make hydrogen cyanide, employed in the manufacture of Zyklon-B poison gas, which the Nazis used in extermination camps.
The Nazis also had a thing for Friedrich the Great's military skill and used him in propaganda.
Now without further ado . . .
Organize his office. Right. That was exactly what Gilbert wanted to do, spend a fucking gorgeous afternoon rooting around in paperwork from God-knows-how-long ago. Just perfect.
He had to admit, though, it was better than meetings. Sticking dry pasta in his ears would be better than meetings. "At least this will be productive," Ludwig had said when Gilbert voiced this opinion. "I don't know how you can find anything in that mess."
It was sorted by date. Roughly. As in, old stuff ended up at the bottom of the pile, new stuff went on the top, and he could find things without too much trouble, most days.
But again. The meeting. Sorting through decades' worth of paperwork would get him out of another ear-scouring session with the boss, who liked to shout a lot and did not like Gilbert very much. It was mutual. Oh, sure, at first they'd been pretty chummy, chatting about his history, his victories . . . but that didn't last. Suddenly he was backward and troublesome and he didn't embody the perfection the boss was so obsessed with . . .
So he left Ludwig in the lobby and headed upstairs to his office. It didn't look messy–on the surface, anyway; that was the advantage to having a neat freak for a little brother. Who, despairing of a proper filing system, would stack things up on the desk whenever he came in, making it easy for Gilbert to shove it all in one cabinet or drawer or whatever.
He opened the top drawer and groaned as papers and spent pens bulged from the gap. "Damn," he said under his breath. He got to work–important documents in a heap to the left of the typewriter, useless stuff to the right. Then he gave up on that system because he could imagine Ludwig arguing that everything was important, that he had to keep meticulous records–and he really didn't want to debate that kind of thing with Ludwig at the moment, even hypothetically.
(Not that he was scared of losing.)
So. One pile for finances, one for drafts of legislation, another for weird shit even he didn't know what to do with, on and on . . .
Eventually he ran out of desk. He migrated to the floor, where he finished the drawer and moved on to a nearby cabinet. A new pile appeared–books. Things he'd read, or skimmed, or started reading and never got around to finishing . . . He saw several titles he really shouldn't have nowadays, and he smiled thinly and set them aside.
(They burned them, later. He watched. A band played a bright marching tune in the background.)
He groped around at the back of the cabinet–he'd reached a pocket of material dating back to around 1871 or so and some of those documents were fucking ironic, now. France and his fucking poetic justice. They'd take care of France later.
Something caught a thread on his cuff as he rummaged in the mess–definitely not paper. Gilbert frowned and dug deeper, pulling out a long thin black case with silver clasps. He stared at it. So that's where it went.
I've written a new composition, Gilbert. Would you do me the honor of accompanying?
Uh, sure–oh, God, what is it with you and fuckin' sixteenth notes–?
He blinked. More than a century ago . . .
"'Every man must get to heaven in his own way,'" Gilbert muttered, flicking the clasps up and opening the case. The flute was a little tarnished now, nestled in dark blue velvet. There'd been no time to play or clean it for . . . too long. So much shit to take care of, and now . . . He slotted the pieces together and brought the mouthpiece to his lips.
(What would you say to all this, Fritz?)
Taking a deep breath, he blew across the flute and then winced, cutting off the air flow as an ungodly shriek tore through the air. He knew exactly what his long-dead king would say to that. Your embouchure needs work.
Was he going crazy? Not the imagined commentary. The memories. Faces, events.
Heaven . . .
He tried again. Even when he did manage to produce a steady sound, it felt wrong. Sharp. Painfully sharp. He adjusted the headpiece. Scales-he remembered scales, or his fingers did, and they danced along the flute with a delicacy he'd grudgingly copied off Austria and France. Twelve majors, twelve minors. The plaintive intervals of the minor keys fit his mood better than the relentless joviality of the majors. Minors were . . . dark. Unsettling. Well, he was pretty damn unsettled, thank you very much.
I do not agree with them. I do not particularly like them. But we need them–you need them, you need each other. We'll welcome them, and they'll make you strong.
(Settle them here, there, everywhere, wherever they're needed, wherever their characteristic success will bring the most benefit to the nation; let anyone in, welcome anyone. Anything for the state. For him. His people.)
He scowled and launched into a chromatic scale, practically spitting out each half-step as the notes built from the breathy lower register to a vicious crescendo like a scream, like the silver flute was screaming–
(Prussian blue becomes prussic acid becomes poison–)
In the ringing silence that followed, he became aware of two things. One was that the door was open, so the sound would've carried into the hall, probably even further. The other was that Ludwig was standing in the doorway.
Gilbert froze, then conjured up his usual smirk. "Hey, West," he said cheerily.
". . . I didn't know you still played the flute."
"Heh. Not for a long time." No, he was not embarrassed at being caught–
Ludwig's mouth twitched into something like a smile. "Do you remember anything other than scales?"
"Um . . . Sure. Kind of."
He raised an eyebrow expectantly. When Gilbert didn't move, he sighed and said, "Could you show me?"
Gilbert grimaced. If Austria ever saw this . . . "Fine." He set the instrument, closed his eyes for a moment, and breathed. When he opened his eyes, he focused ahead and slightly upward, as if the bookshelf next to the door held sheet music. He didn't need that–he knew this melody by heart. But it helped to focus on something, because then he could pretend he didn't have an audience–that it was just him, and the flute, and the memory of music.
Germany listened in silence. The tune was lilting, intricate, challenging if unremarkable in composition. Prussia himself seemed to war with the intended style: he was brazen, rough, all sharp edges and harsh laughter; the music was lively but sedate, flowing. Yet despite that . . . it worked. Prussia cared, and it sounded right, for all its flaws.
Until his eyebrows snapped down and together into a scowl and he let the fluttering notes shriek again, screeching like a bird of prey before falling silent.
"What's wrong?" Germany asked.
"Nothin'. Just . . . It's nothing." He lowered the flute, regarded it blankly, and began twisting at the headpiece to loosen it as he turned away. His shoulders were unnaturally tense.
"Prussia . . ."
The case slammed shut, the clasps snapped down, silver on black. Prussia let out a long, controlled breath. Still facing the far windows and the gold-swept evening sky outside, he drummed his fingers against the lid, making a hollow tapping sound. "I know what happened," he muttered. "I remember. But you–everyone . . . Do you believe all this, West?"
"All of what?"
"Everything. The, the reels and posters and shit . . . Do you–do you believe it, what he says?"
". . . Where are you going with this?"
"Can we change history?" Prussia said suddenly, back very straight.
"Rewrite it, make it different–is what you remember what happened or is it what the people think happened or–"
"Prussia, what are you–"
"Answer the goddamn question, Ludwig."
". . . Which one?"
"All of them!" Prussia shouted, whirling around to face him, eyes too bright. Wet.
He hesitated. Very few things could prompt that response. And judging by the impromptu concerto . . . "This is about Friedrich the Great, isn't it."
"Yes!" Prussia hissed. "Him, and and what we're saying now, what we're doing now–"
"No," Germany said quietly.
Prussia stared at him. "No what?"
He opened his mouth, then closed it. His fingers felt shaky and cold, as if with vertigo.
Germany gave a stiff salute and walked away without another word.