The same night the coup failed, Ludwig Liechtenstein was cleared of all charges.
In the aftermath, there was nothing but vivid impressions. The white streak of ribbon against the inky sky as they left the palace. The startling loudness of Eduard's reticence. The clarity of Orpherus' eyes as he gazed out the carriage window, thoughtful. Camus' warmth shifting closer during the journey homewards; out of cold, weariness and an anxiety he could not put a name to.
At the edge of his memory, a silver-haired man with shoulders hung in defeat and victory.
These were glimpses of a whole, and Ludwig was certain all of them would not forget this night for the rest of their lives. Each for their own reasons.
On her trip back from France, the Duchess surprised him with an embrace.
Ludwig was taller by a head. He tried to catch his father's eyes over the flamboyant trimmings of his mother's new hat - an artful confusion of quills and violets - and failed, but knew before their gazes met that shehad heard things.
The question hung before him: How much did she know ? And to what extent had the holiday abroad failed to protect her ?
Tapered, feminine fingers reached up and touched his hair, tousling. Ludwig was still for a smallest fraction of time before disengaging, searching his mother's face; it was tempting, to allow her to be the comforting parent to his child again.
It was, by far, even more tempting, to sugar-coat the truth.
I will never meet him halfway.
But Isaac would not back down, not even if it's an heir of a duchy sitting there, with his eyes telling the other to depart with a quiet, almost menacing, dignity. Isaac, who would be on a ship tomorrow, bound for England and a sister cherished well enough to overthrow a country. Ludwig wondered if Isaac even realizes his position; an Englishman who shared no kith or kin with his motherland and a co-conspirator at that.
"This isn't about who's right and wrong. The two of you need to put your pride aside and start thinking. Your country's sovereignity is at sta-"
Ludwig uncrossed long legs, stood and crossed the room. No man's land, dangerous quicksand for two men of different borders and loyalties. Isaac was sinking, weighed down by words heavy as lead.
"I know it, Bartholomeus knows it, anyone with two bits of political brain knows the treaty's not going to last."
Ludwig did not slow down.
"It's going to hell, Ludwig. And you know it."
Long, dark bangs swung to a standstill as the younger man paused on the threshold, countenance like chiselled marble.
"Betraying one's convictions, is also a certain kind of 'death'."
He did not look back.
His hand hovered above the bow at his neck, one finger tracing the curve of the ribbon; a stark burgundy. One tug and it would hang loose from his collar, come undone. He would change from outdoor clothes into his uniform and resume his life; put aside every insult to his honor, every blow to his dignity, every moment of disgrace.
The ribbon fluttered to the floor.
If only it was that simple.
He let it lie there, looked out the window instead. Two figures were sparring, the light glinting off their blades blinding.
Yes, he believed he would read outdoors today.
When he and Orpherus came within a certain distance, Ludwig always felt a shift in the air. Now, the feeling was subdued, muted. It was strange, this placidness. The more he approached, the more it seemed he was walking a tightrope of a truce he never recalled them making.
"Lui." The blonde's expression was unguarded, tinged with surprise. Up close, his collar was upturned, back of his shirt dark with moisture, fair locks sticking to his temples, sword missing from his side. And Ludwig wanted to to smile darkly at the irony. It felt like ages since they clashed steel against steel, and not just in the literal sense.
"Are you with the rest of the fools, content with walking on eggshells around me ?"
Orpherus' eyes thinned, but that he didn't lash out, pride blazing, was a little telling in itself.
"It's over, Orpherus. My family honor is restored." And inwardly he resolved that a long time should pass before he would be obliged to be so candid again. "We are of opposing views, you and I. Conduct yourself appropriately. Or will you willfully cause a disservice to us both by continuing this folly of yours ?"
It took awhile for Orpherus to understand what Ludwig wanted of him.
The blonde raised one hand to shade his eyes from the sunlight. It was one of those ephemeral afternoons – too nice to spoil with talk of politics and philosophy.
Ludwig did not have long to wait.
The lull was broken before they knew it. Orpherus saw his chance – an opening Ludwig knew he would catch – and pitched a vehement objection. There was confusion in eyes all around, before students roused themselves, supporters rallying to opposite sides of the room, some skittish, whispers of debate and fight crackling alternately in the air. A faint glitter in Ludwig's eyes, akin to triumph – dare you hold back ? - and they had only just begun.
Parry; parry; thrust. Back and forth, a familiar rhythm that fired his convictions, a feeling Orpherus realized, he had missed.
Ludwig read him like an open book. It's there, a pale blue flame, in his eyes. And this, he thought, was the way things should be.
Only when Ludwig was alone again with the Duke does he reflect how night was descending on the country; a crushing finality in which they had only been granted a reprieve.
They could glean nothing new from the informants' reports, and so father and son sat across each other, wordless, pushing ivory and ebony across a polished, chequered board.
"White or black ?" the Duke had asked, aloud, halfway into the game as he captured the younger man's pawn with a knight.
And Ludwig in turn remained silent over what was surely a rhetorical question.
White makes the starting move - what color chooseth Kuchen ?
Ludwig cannot yet see the players on the other side, but he knows for a certainty who will be standing on this side of the war.
People like Orpherus and Naoji were a law unto themselves. Ungoverned by conventional rules and wisdom, this may be exactly why they would not easily be check-mated in England's game.
And until the veil was lifted, perhaps this was enough.
A/N: The summary is meant to be read that way, no typos intended (that said, I don't have a beta so I apologize if there were any mistakes in the fic itself ^^;). Thanks for reading. Breaching the 1,000 word count for this compulsive micro-ficcer is an accomplishment (it's not perfect, it even might not make sense to some people, but at least it's mine XD).Thoughts and concrit are welcome ^^