Notes: (briefer than usual because there's no way I can do these events justice in little blurbs like this. Also, I don't want to write a textbook, I want to write Hetalia fanfiction. Because who wants to read a textbook? ;D)
Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815): In the aftermath of the French Revolution and Napoleon's eventual takeover, France went imperial and basically tried to conquer Europe.
War of the Third Coalition (August-December 1805): Britain, Austria, Russia, and others banded together to fight France & Co. Britain maintained control of the seas (of course), but a disastrous campaign at Ulm and defeat at Austerlitz knocked Austria and Russia out of the war.
There Stand Empires
There is a dream.
A need to fight, a necessity–inexplicable but undeniable, like the bones that are mountains and the veins that are rivers and the flesh that is the land, the realm, the empire, all of it. There is no certainty, though, no conviction, not even hope. Providence cannot smile upon this war.
What is Providence? So many faces, so many paths to Heaven, pulling and tugging in all directions. A standstill, then; immobility, and the panic of paralysis as millions of souls beg for salvation.
There is a shield with a hundred shields on it. Breaking apart like puzzle pieces, falling, and if they could be put back together just so, they might form something else, something different . . .
They fall. Down and down. And splintered black and gold remain.
It's over–so tired, with sleep beckoning . . .
Dreaming of paintings and a smiling face and an unkept promise.
Just let me sleep.
There are black eagles stung by golden bees until the sky shatters and falls around them, and then there is nothing at all.
Just a dream.
Austria disliked battles. Losing did nothing to improve his opinion of them.
His most recent engagement with France had ended in utter, painful failure: he'd been dragged away with a bullet in his leg, one arm and three ribs broken, a hundred cuts and bruises, and the insistent weariness of a defeated nation, a lethargy which made every motion a battle of its own.
Austria's glazed, half-lidded eyes focused on a point in the air a few feet from the far wall. He rested on a bed in the crowded stinking medical tent while all around his men, his people, moaned and bled and suffered in his name. Many remained on the battlefield–their transports were slow, cumbersome; all too often, wounded soldiers were left for the ravens and the bandits to take care of.
Hungary entered his line of vision, clad in her black-and-red cavalry uniform, her wavy brown hair escaping its tie to frame her face. "Welcome back," she said, smiling and kneeling next to his bed.
Austria summoned up the energy to return the smile. "Thank you. How long was I unconscious?"
"Two days. It's evening on the fourth."
"Ah . . . What news from the Emperor?"
"Which one? Yours or his?"
". . . I suppose either."
Hungary gave a short breathy laugh. "Well. They've set the date for our surrender treaty. Pressburg, later this month."
"What does France want?"
"Looks like he wants Veneziano."
Austria fought down an indignant protest. He was in no position to argue at the moment; and besides, there was still time. Perhaps he could negotiate his way to more favorable terms.
Hungary tugged thoughtfully on an loose curl. "Would you mind if I snuck out and strangled France?"
"Far too dangerous, Elizabeta." He knew she was joking, making light of a situation they both knew was dire, but he couldn't shake the worry that she might actually try something. And be hurt. And that . . . that would–
"Oh, all right. Listen, I know this isn't exactly the best thing to wake up to, but Gilbert arrived earlier this afternoon."
"Why would he–not with reinforcements, I assume–"
"No, just him and a horse. We decided not to let him in here until you woke up. You needed your rest, after . . ." Hungary grimaced, and whether it was at the prospect of interacting with Prussia or at the ravages of battle, Austria could not tell.
"You," he said, "are a godsend." He was gratified when her sour look lightened somewhat.
"Should I send him in and let you get this over with?"
Hungary rose, straightened her coat, and took a step away before hesitating. ". . . I could tell him you're still out of it," she said hopefully.
"I think he would simply barge in here anyway."
"True." Hungary exited the tent, letting in a wash of chill air.
Austria settled back against the thin pillow. He closed his eyes. What could possibly motivate Prussia–who had steadfastly avoided fighting France this time around–to visit him? They had never been on particularly friendly terms, so a social call was out of the question. And so, apparently, was an offer of belated military aid . . .
The tent flap rustled and Austria's eyes snapped open again. Prussia strode in with a smirk. Hungary idled behind him, just an inch too close, an unspoken threat hovering between them. Try anything and you'll regret it.
"Why are you here?" Austria croaked. Might as well dispense with the pleasantries; Prussia never even tried to reciprocate.
"Officially," Prussia said, "I'm checkin' up on a sort-of ally who just got decimated by a definite threat. Unofficially . . . oh, you know. Schadenfreude."
He had a remarkably annoying voice. Grating, rough, scraping at the discerning ear like sandpaper. Austria sat up with difficulty, ribs screaming; he winced as several barely-healed wounds pulled and threatened to reopen. "I am glad," he said sourly, "that someone is drawing amusement from this disaster."
"You're a goddamn mess."
"How very observant of you."
"Not that I expected much, 'specially since it's you. But still." Prussia shook his head in insincere concern.
Austria had, over the years, become something of an expert in reading Prussia. And his words, while arrogant as always, were belied by a faint tension in his face, a growing fear. "You're worried about France, too; don't deny it."
Prussia laughed. "Nah, there's no way he can take me. You and the brat, though–"
"If you are only here to gloat, I suggest–" He stopped. He looked at Hungary. "Elizabeta," he said slowly, "where is Heinrich?"
She bowed her head. "We haven't seen him since the battle. And France hasn't said anything about capturing him."
"Has anyone looked?"
"Of course. We went back and looked all yesterday, when we realized he was missing. Didn't find anything before it got too dark to stay out, what with all the scavengers . . . and French . . ."
"You believe he is still out there?" Austria asked.
"Maybe. If he is, though, one of us might have a better chance than . . . anyone else." Nations had a tendency to be drawn to each other–it was rare not to encounter one's counterpart in battle.
But still. The bandits, the lowlifes who preyed on the dead and the dying. The French soldiers who had broken off their pursuit of the Austrian army once they surrendered, but who would no doubt take issue with their presence should they be discovered . . . No single human had ever permanently killed a nation, but the rules of their immortality were fluid and unreliable, especially in wartime. And Austria did not want to see Hungary hurt.
"I could take another look," she was saying, and the flower in her hair caught the sunset through the tent fabric and seemed to glow, the brightest color in the dreary winter world save for her eyes' warm green. And Prussia's, of course, but they were the color of blood, and there was entirely too much of that lying around.
"Out of the question," said Austria.
"I'll be fine," she insisted.
"At least take someone with you–"
"I could go," Prussia interrupted.
Austria sniffed, "I would prefer someone a bit more dependable–proper soldiers, for instance." And if he absolutely had to choose a nation to accompany his . . . maidservant, for lack of a better term, he would have preferred anyone–Poland, Russia, anyone–to Prussia.
Who, very pointedly, flicked a nonexistent speck of dust from his spotless blue uniform. That look said My army is the best in Europe. Don't even get me started on soldiers. With obligatory extra profanity, of course; after all, this was Prussia. "So what'll you tell 'em you're looking for, then?" he scoffed. "Some random blond kid who just won't die?"
His lips thinned. But Hungary saved him the trouble of retorting, choosing to snap, "I can take care of myself, you idiot. Mr. Edelstein, I know what war is like and I can handle it. I'm going. Now good night." She spun on her heel and left with another wash of cold air. Her shoulder bumped Prussia's arm with rather more force than could be chalked up to accident.
Prussia glanced down at Austria. "Sleep tight," he said mockingly. He stepped out after Hungary, rubbing his arm as if it had hurt. Austria felt a brief flare of satisfaction.
He lay back and let out a deep breath. Schadenfreude. Of all the arrogant, belligerent, unreliable warmongers to have as a neighbor . . . He was above that, though. Prussia could claim military superiority all he wished; when it came down to it, Austria would always best him in culture and–dare he say it?–guile. Not all battles had to be fought with swords and rifles . . .
. . . He knew that Hungary was a capable fighter. God knew she had fought him time and again, even when he was trying to free her from the Ottoman Empire–but that was another issue entirely. She would be fine. She could handle practically anything the world threw her way.
And yet he was still worried. She was part of his household; he should be able to protect her–only it was more than that, it was . . . personal.
Heaven help me.
Austria slept, but his dreams were uneasy.
Cold. Hungry. Alone. The first thing he could remember, though, was a tattered banner–black on top and gold below, the fabric torn and scorched and filthy where boots had trampled it into the dirt. He recognized it without being able to name it.
All he knew was that the sun had risen and set and risen again, and now it was night once more, and he'd always been among corpses and ravens. He wandered across the battlefield and hid from the dark figures that picked through the dead and the dying, speaking in a language he didn't understand. And then he moved on, not knowing where or why, only that he must.
Hills. A plateau peppered with bodies. In the distance, lakes. More corpses. He'd taken a jacket from a man sprawled over a smashed cannon the first night, as the darkness leeched away what little heat the sun provided. There was blood on the jacket. It made his skin crawl.
He picked his way over a small rise as the last ghost of light in the west faded to a pale grey glow, and the first stars blinked coldly in the distant heavens. If he kept moving, maybe he'd find something, anything-anything but the death-filled emptiness gilded silver by frozen moonlight. He was tired; he wanted to sleep, but the compulsion drove him onward . . .
Footsteps. A horse's–no, two, heavy and sharp and metallic, coming closer, closer . . .
He fled, then, fearing another encounter with the people who stole from the dead. He reached a stand of trees and crouched in the stark vegetation, breathing as quietly as possible, watching for movement. Two indistinct shapes bobbed in and out of the fog and he shivered. His breath puffed out before him in a small cloud.
". . . hell . . . following me?" A woman's voice, angry.
He understood–somehow he understood. He understood but it wasn't . . . his . . .
". . . not? Better chance of . . . . two . . . right?" That was a man . . .
The conversation dropped to a dull murmur. He peered out from his dead-brush shield and watched as two shapes resolved out of the shadows and sullen fog. Two riders. The woman, on a bay horse, was not dressed as one; she wore an officer's uniform (how did he know that, how did he know that). The man rode a black horse. He was pale, and wore a dark coat, and had one hand on the reins and the other around the hilt of a cavalry saber.
Soldiers. He shrank back and then winced as his shifting weight snapped a twig underfoot.
". . . right to . . . –hang on, I heard something," the woman said. And the scrape of hooves against hard frozen ground drew nearer.
"What is it?"
"I'm not sure . . ." A jingle of stirrups, a crunch of boots. She'd dismounted.
He was absolutely still. He could hear her footsteps and then the man's, and every instinct screamed to run, to hide, to get away from these people . . . and something held him back. He understood them. Somehow. He wanted to know why–
Instinct won. He ran.
"Hey! Kid, wait a minute, we're not going to hurt you–!" the woman called.
But he sped over the frost-crunchy earth and the dead man's jacket flapped behind him like a bird's broken wings and every breath hurt his throat as panic tightened it, and in the cold and the dark there was safety, let me sleep, let me sleep–
They had longer legs and they weren't hungry and weak. They overtook him within moments, and he stumbled on a loose stone and fell and rolled partway down the hill. He slid to a halt and lay crumpled face-down. His elbows and knees smarted and the heels of his hands were raw where they'd scraped the hard ground.
His pursuers' footsteps slowed some distance away. ". . . Heiliges Römisches Reich?" the man said.
Holy Roman Empire. It wasn't the same as the other words, it was a language that reached into him and settled like a warm weight, it was right, he knew the words–
He looked up. They were watching him, impossibly tall. He could smell iron and gunpowder and blood and . . . flowers?
"W-wer sind Sie?" he quavered.
They exchanged glances. The woman said, "I'm . . . I'm Hungary . . . Ungarn. This is Prussia–Königsreich Preussen. Don't you . . . What's your name?"
"I don't–I don't have one, I don't know . . ." He stiffened as the woman squatted down beside him and held out a hand and smiled a little. It did nothing to reassure him.
"It's okay," she said gently. "Come with us. I promise, we won't hurt you. It's okay."
He hesitated, then took the hand. It was warm and strong, and she pulled him to his feet again. The top of his head barely reached her shoulder.
"You'll have to ride with Prussia," she said, leading the way back to the horses. "Csillag isn't big enough for two."
"Where are we g-going?"
"Back to camp, a few miles away," said Prussia. "Way safer than out here–you been running from the scavengers this whole time?"
"Yes . . ."
The black horse whickered as they approached; the bay pawed the ground and tossed its head. "Easy," Hungary murmured. She mounted up like an acrobat, seeming not to clamber so much as float into the saddle. Prussia rolled his eyes and hoisted the boy onto the gray, following with a great deal more clinking and wobbling. The boy hunched over, clutching the coarse mane in front of him like a lifeline.
"Sit up straight," Prussia ordered.
He nodded shakily. The ground was so far away . . .
An exasperated sigh brushed his ear; he felt a wiry arm around his midsection, holding him steady. "I'm not gonna let you fall, kid."
"Between a battle lost and a battle won, the distance is immense and there stand empires."