Wrote this one for the kink meme, mostly over the summer. It's got a good dose of what-the-hell-is-going-on, but things will gradually get clearer, and the writing, in my own opinion, gets better as I go. I'll post it up in I believe four parts, cleaning it up a bit from the original. Warnings for Gilbert's foul mouth.
I do not own Hetalia. Enjoy!
It's night be the flame
And the red that colors the clouds
Good day sir Good evening madam
You don't look your age
What does it matter if your embraces
Make the twin stars bleed
What does it matter if your face is painted
if hoarfrost glitters on the branches
Of granite or marble
Your age will show
And the shade of the great trees
will walk on your graves.
-"Good Day Good Evening," Robert Desnos
Today Gilbert spends time at the Wehrmacht offices at the capitol building in Berlin, then goes out with Francis and Antonio. He jumps a quick flight out to Barcelona because his travel is more or less paid for by the government and because he can, and the three of them rampage about in fine style, visiting a bar, a museum (at Francis's insistence) and a club. Generally he has a good day, and by the time he gets back to Ludwig's house he's humming loudly through the dark, a freeform mockery of something Bach that had been playing at the museum.
When he opens the door Ludwig is at the kitchen table, forehead resting none-too-restfully in his hands, blonde hair sticking up all along the edges. He's poring over maps and telegrams, and Feliciano sits across from him, folding paper airplanes from important diagrams. The brunette waves, and Gilbert gives him the special smile reserved just for him.
"Ve, Prussia, look!"
"Yeah, they're really good."
"No, I mean there's still pasta on the stove, if you're hungry."
He ignores his brother's heavy "Do you have any idea what time it is" and heaps the cooled noodles onto a plate. Ludwig finally looks up and notices the wreckage that was once the design of a 5I 156.
"What? But Germany, it was a plane paper, I just made it a real – noooo, I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry!"
Gilbert snorts and pulls up a chair, shoving the noodles into his mouth contentedly. They didn't officially ever stop to eat this evening, besides an appetizer at the bar. "Lay offa the kid," he says through a mouthful of fettuccini.
"We've been over this, he's not a kid-" Ludwig is awfully tall when he stands. Some would find it imposing.
"Doesn't make you less of one."
"Gilbert that doesn't even make any sense-"
"S'true, though." He swallows and burps loudly. Ludwig deepens his glare, but it's late and apparently he's tired, because he doesn't say anything past that. Instead he sinks back into his seat with a heavy sigh, pointlessly rearranging a few of the topmost papers as Feliciano eyes his pencils. Gilbert thinks it's an awful lot of trouble nowadays to go to war.
The front door bursts open and is instantly filled with Italian rage as Romano storms over to collect his brother.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing, keeping him here so late? You better not touch him, you bastard, or I swear I'll rip you a new one!"
Ludwig barely looks up.
"I wasn't keeping him. He stayed-"
"You think I fucking care? C'mon, Feli." He glares at the German brothers, then at the papers themselves as if they had done him some great personal harm. Gilbert is sure to give him a predatory leer, just to put him on edge – it works. Romano grabs his brother's hand and practically drags him towards the door, casting murderous looks over his shoulder as Feliciano sings a goodbye. They can hear the two arguing down the front walk even after the door slams.
"Fratello, that wasn't nice."
"Shove it! D'you know what time it is?"
"No…what time is it?"
"Hell if I know!"
Gilbert laughs and works on finishing his pasta, while Ludwig goes back to his papers in an almost relieved manner. The seconds slide by, Ludwig squinting down at his work through eyes darkened from lack of sleep. It is far, far too much trouble to go to war these days.
Gilbert slurps noisily to break the silence. "So how long until Poland?"
Ludwig grunts, and Gilbert takes that to mean that he's still not sure. He thinks that it would be much better for his brother if he were less meticulous in his plans; everything has to be perfect down to how the men clean their damn socks. Gilbert is excited for war, to be honest – a break from routine, an old enemy to invade. Feliks doesn't stand a chance. Ludwig is stiff and disciplined, but he doesn't quite understand the blood rush that's supposed to come with an invasion; the ancient, primal stuff of the humans that make them up. Glory, pride, those things he understands. But it's not wild for him, never outside the lines. And that practically defeats the purpose.
He eyes his brother's drooping posture, eyelids fighting to fall even as he sits with black coffee looming before him.
"Go to bed, Luddy."
"What time is it?"
Ludwig gives him a long, studying look. Gilbert laughs.
"You take yourself too seriously. Get some sleep."
Ludwig smiles slightly, sheepishly, as he stands. "Gute nacht, then."
"Yeah. Sweet dreams."
Ludwig straightens a few last papers and heads up the stairs, and the world is silent now, the lighted kitchen a content little enclave in the darkened house.
Gilbert leans back in his chair and hums his Bach mockery.
Someone asks if he'd like to play chess.
Gilbert thinks it over and figures, why not.
Roderich's piano sounds out of tune. He's playing as brilliantly as ever, of course, something sickeningly slow and Gilbert thinks it's Beethoven. Symmetrical, strictly in rhythm, with only brief moments where the music reaches a deadened pace and then goes back to merely a crawling pace to break the monotony. Gilbert prefers jazz these days. It's hot and new and blaring out of clubs all over Berlin, jungle-wild and brassy in the lungs and hands of the young.
Roderich, of course, wouldn't understand these things. Gilbert's ears pull his melodies out of sludge water. Lukewarm rhythm and a quicksand tempo.
He's sprawled over the obnoxiously stiff sofa in Ludwig's sitting room where they've put the piano, one foot slung defiantly over the armrest despite all warnings. This is a good way to unwind, after a long morning of avoiding his brother and his work until he finally leaves for the day, papers neatly pressed into a folder in a binder in a briefcase beneath his arm. Gilbert avoids the capitol and all its bureaucracy when he can, lazing about with a cooled beer, making off-color comments to the thoroughly stiff back sitting on the piano bench in front of him.
"Roddy, I'm surprised at you."
"Do tell." The voice is, expectedly, dripping with dismissive sarcasm.
"You're letting your piano go all wonky. Flat."
There is no hesitation in the meandering melody. "You must be mistaken."
"No. No, I'm right. It's off." It isn't anything that he can place, exactly, and Roderich would probably put that down to him not being "classically trained," but he knows there's something a bit jarring woven under a chord here and there.
"Gilbert, despite my respect for your…obvious musical genius, I must insist. My piano is always perfectly tuned." Not even a twitch in that flat-board back, which Gilbert finds slightly irritating.
"Really? 'Cause there's something-"
"Forgive me," the voice is strained over the crescendo, that's more like it, "for not trusting your sense of pitch."
Gilbert grins and takes a swig. "mmHey, all I'm saying-"
"Don't you have something to do with yourself? An invasion to help plan?"
"Luddy's pretty much got it now." He strains to hear the song get louder, or the sharpness of an angry staccato. Roderich, try as he might, can't ever prevent jumping into the song himself just a little bit. Disappointingly, the song remains soft, blunt, and slow as the pianist falls back to sudden silence. And something pinches at him, just beneath the surface.
The chess pieces are spread like a tactical ghost town, struggling to regain definition in the half-light of the parlor table. Gilbert sits with his chin on his hand, interest quickly flatlining. He has played this game a thousand times over, with princes, queens, foreign dignitaries, nations themselves. He understands the rules, and much of the strategy. Back when it was in vogue he even enjoyed the game, sometimes. But the world has changed, and there are a thousand more interesting diversions than a simple board, checkered white and black and white. Or gray, in the shadow. It's all a jumbled mess anyway.
"Are you gonna move or wait until wood rot sets in?" He taps his fingers against his cheek to accentuate his point.
"Be patient. This game requires thought."
"Guess that's not a strong point of yours, huh?"
"Very clever. Ah, I see it now."
Gilbert waits a few more moments for the next move, but the stillness extends, only the steady, dark wooden ticking of the grandfather clock behind him penetrating the quiet.
"Thought you said you knew."
"I do – but not that. Gilbert, you should really remember where the pieces are." Gilbert frowns, slightly offended. He's not even losing, really. Not by much.
"I remember! Why the-"
"You should remember better."
"Why the hell do I have to remember better?"
"Because. Jedem das Seine. Anyway, do you know what time it is?"
"…Fall, fall down! And here the verdict: 'The dancer will be executed the following morning while doing a dance step with her gems sacrificed to the heat of her body: The blood of the gems, soldiers!"
The French is liquid-smooth, the nonsense trickling into Gilbert's inattentive ears. Francis stands with his hands behind his back, perhaps a habit left over from poetry recitations of old, soft eyes roaming the bright museum. Antonio isn't quite listening either. He's looking very intently at the painting in front of him, muted browns and blues and yellows.
"I can't quite remember the rest. A bit like your Dalí, non?"
Antonio nods fervently, still not able to drag his eyes away from the canvas. Gilbert can't see what's quite so wonderful about clocks melting on a beach, but he figured as much would happen if he were dragged to a museum with these two. They'realways more up on the artistic trends. A bit womanish, but that's Francis and Antonio and they've always sort of been that way.
"You two are boring," he says, because it's true. Francis waves a hand, and as if by secret signal a strange, tiny anger burrows into the back of Gilbert's brain.
"Surrealism is hardly boring, Gilbert. It's a wonderful trend. Like trapping the inner workings of the mind." He's wearing his Cultured look now, and Gilbert misses the chance to cut him off at the head of things. "Dalí truly is a master painter, but I have some remarkable poets that do quite well with their pens."
Gilbert laughs, purposefully abrasive. "That shit? That was art?"
"Of course it is." And there's that snooty nose in the air, indignant. "You have no culture. Robert Desnos is-"
"Desnos! Oh, I know him!" Spain finally turns away from La persistencia de la memoria, smiling hugely. "He did… 'Good Day Good Evening,' I think."
"Oui, that was his, he has the ability to fall under a trance, you know. It's all about the subconscious, did you know that he's-"
And while normally Gilbert has little to no interest in hearing his friends talk about art, the anger is new, small and niggling and pointed directly at Francis and his curling lip, his fine cheekbones.
It startles him, and he crosses his arms and scans Dalí's masterpiece, clocks like strange, dying creatures drooping over branches and a giant, distorted face, lying like some great dead beast. There's a piano playing somewhere and it's plodding along and starting to give him a headache, and there is a pocket watch in the corner of the painting, honey gold and covered in crawling, swarming black ants.
"Ah! I remember the next part," Francis's voice – was it always so haughtily nasal? – cuts back in. "And what then, the mirror yet! Mistress you black square, and if the clouds all at once forgetmenot, they mills in the ever present eternity."
Antonio makes admiring sounds, but Gilbert doesn't understand a word.
"Can we go now? It's evening and you said we'd be back in Barcelona half an hour ago."
Francis sighs huffily. "Oh? What time is it?" Gilbert feels a disconcerting sense of déjà vu.
Antonio just laughs, points to the dying clocks.
He finds Elizaveta after her shopping in the early afternoon, paper bags full to bursting. She's headed in the same direction as he is, to Ludwig's house. It's a little sad that Roderich still needs his ex-wife to look after his day-to-day needs after all this time. Not that Gilbert is really complaining; Roderich doesn't get all of the treats to himself. Ludwig's house is growing busier lately.
He sidles up behind her. She gives him a firm "no" before he can even ask for a peek.
"What? I just wanted to see- ow that was my foot what the fuck-"
"This isn't for you, Gilbert."
"I'm not stooping to your level." The words come out more sing-song than she probably intended.
She makes a small, indignant sound and sinks into an icy silence. With that out of the way they walk in relative peace. Summer is fringing into fall, and the days in Germany are less oppressive in their heat. Any day now, Gilbert will get to remember what the weather is like for the season in Poland.
With the house in sight, Elizaveta reluctantly breaks the silence, each word seeming to blame him for her question.
"What time is it?"
Gilbert stops, nearly trips. When she turns to look at him he responds to her carefully indifferent look with an open glare. "Why the fuck does everyone keep asking me that?" Because that's what it is, that's what's been strange lately, everyone wants to know-
Elizaveta doesn't move a muscle, but her face seems graver, her eyes more open and plain. Truthful.
"Well, do you know?"
And Gilbert's world flashes and sways, rotting clocks, anger, a piano melody he can't quite catch, Romano grabbing Feliciano's hand.
"Well, do you know?"
Gilbert blinks down at the chess pieces. It takes him a moment to realize he is sitting. The room is bathed in weighted midnight silence, save for the grandfather clock.
He shakes his head, willing all of the strangeness away. The corners of his vision settle. "Nothing. It's nothing. But you said Jedem das Seine."
"Yes, I did."
"That has nothing to do with chess." He crosses his arms and leans back, frowning at the board. "'S a Prussian motto. 'To each his own.' It's about…rights and…punishment and rewards. Justice. And you're trying to tell me that it's why you think I'm bad at chess. Which I'm not."
A heavy sigh.
"No, that's not really what I was saying. But it does have to do with chess."
Gilbert watches his opponent's move as he listens.
"Chess represents war, and war has everything to do with justice – and nothing at all."
Gilbert snorts and makes his own move, one of the few he had considered. He's getting tired of this. "You sound like Francis on one of his moral days." He ignores the ping of anger at the name because it bewilders him completely. He buries it deep.
"Well, of course it depends on the way one looks at it. But according to Jedem das Seine, there is a punishment and a reward for everything. Or there should be."
"Yeah, well. Who gets to decide, then?"
"I wouldn't know. It's your own motto." Hands move forward, lightly grasp the edges of the table. "What piece did you just move?"
Gilbert smirks. "Nuh uh, that's cheating. If you weren't watching-"
Something is off now, and his smirk fades to hollowness, disappears entirely. He looks down at the board, eyes sweeping rapidly over the pieces. "It was…I moved the…"
He doesn't know.
He hears, "And which did I move, before that?" and his own hand reaches out to grip the table, bring himself closer to the checkered board. He can't quite grasp it, for the life of him he can't-
His opponent shifts forwards, leaning in, chair creaking loudly in the padded silence. A sudden repressed urgency, running like taut wire beneath the quiet voice. "I need you to think, Gilbert. Do you remember where the pieces are now? Are they the same as they were before?" And Gilbert is feeling a headache coming on.
"What the fuck are you going on about, I-"
"Do you remember how long it's been since the invasion has 'almost started?' How long you've been caught in the calm before the storm? Do you even remember how you got here? Where are the pieces, Gilbert?"
And something in the back of his head is spinning, spinning, out of control and the clock is tick tick ticking but he can't look back, doesn't know what he'll see, and the Italy brothers are holding hands.
He stops. Forces the ground back under his feet. Everything is fine.