(Apparently FFN is being weird again. Against my better judgment, I'm posting anyway. DX)
General Note: I'm only going to reformat my fics so much when this site is the one at fault. So if the formatting is weird, please check out my profile for more info. Thank you.
This fic is a chapter of the Edelweiss Arc, of which you can find more about in my profile.
Obligatory (but ultimately pointless) CYA: I don't own it.
His name is Klaus, and he never properly announces visitors. As evidenced by the fact that he is currently showing Germany into the bedroom without so much as an "Herr Deutschland to see you," let alone a preemptive declaration that someone is here in the first place.
Austria would be lying if he said it didn't grate on him, just a little. But, to be fair, Klaus is a butcher, not a butler. And Austria doesn't get many visitors, besides.
Germany clicks his heels and gives a sharp half-bow. Austria finds that irritating for some reason, though by all means, he shouldn't. It is a formal and even proper gesture, after all. "Österreich," he greets, and Austria nods back, a little curtly.
Germany walks over to the bed, and Austria despises the sound of his boots on the floorboards, and his straight, stiff stance, and—
He's jealous, he realizes.
Germany—who shouldered the brunt of the Great War, who was in as bad a state as Austria, if not worse, for a time—can walk. Germany has color in his cheeks and muscle on his bones. Germany is healthy. Austria finds he needs a cigarette. He reaches for the case at his bedside table, tries to make his movements casual as he shoves one between his lips and snaps his lighter to life.
Thirty years ago he might have reached for a violin. But it takes effort to press on strings, and Austria tires easily these days. Instead, he inhales. For a moment, he hates himself.
Klaus still stands at the door, awkward and questioningly. Austria nods at him. Klaus closes the door with a bare, callused hand, and shuffles off down the hall in worn, stained shoes.
Getting carpets cleaned is only a hassle if one can afford it in the first place. Austria can't, and so the dirt and dust don't matter, he tells himself. He almost believes it.
"To what do I owe the pleasure?" he finally asks, tone mild. Appearances can be everything, and Austria is determined to take pride in what little he can.
Germany grunts slightly, as if in answer. Self-consciously, he pulls up a chair, removes his hat, and sets it in his lap. Germany is all right angles and perfect posture, and Austria desperately wants Prussia's slouch. Wants Prussia's slouch and belches and unrefined speech, because then he could still feel superior in some way, and not inadequate and wasted as he now does.
Austria breathes. The smoke helps, a little.
"I see you've moved your bedroom to the first floor," Germany says, looking around.
"It makes no sense to keep it on the second when I cannot climb the stairs." The words come out tersely. He cannot help it, and he hates it. Soberly, Germany nods at this logic.
Germany shifts slightly. "I'm…glad to see you can still afford servants, though," he says, as if trying to brighten the situation. Austria purses his lips around his cigarette to keep from sneering.
"I can't," he says, bluntly and perhaps even bitterly. "His apartment was destroyed in February and he needed a place to stay. I don't charge him rent so long as he goes to the grocer's for me and helps me out of bed."
Germany blinks, visibly taken aback by this information. "If your circumstances are that dire, wouldn't your government have appointed you someone?"
"My government?" Austria repeats. "My government?" he says again, incredulous and demanding. "Which one—this week's or last week's?" His breathing is ragged from the force of the words, and he calms himself, lest he dissolve into a coughing fit. Smoke in, then out. In, and out.
Something like sympathy flickers across Germany's stern features. "Should you really be smoking?"
Austria is in no mood for small talk, and his voice turns cold and hard, an echo of the authority he once had. "State your business, Deutschland, or else see yourself out."
Germany shifts the hat in his lap and apologetically clears his throat. "I came here to discuss the prospect of annexation. I was wondering if you would care to move into my house."
Austria scoffs. "No, thank you." It is bad enough that he's a weak, bony shadow of the great power he used to be; he refuses to be reduced even further by what would amount to little more than an amicable conquering.
Germany swallows. Chooses his words diplomatically. "I…feel the need to warn you that my boss will…want to convince you that it's in your best interests."
"Tell your boss he'll have to contend with Italy if he does." Germany stiffens in surprise at this, and Austria thinks, Good.
"But," Germany tries, "you do have citizens who support it. The incident with your previous chancellor…"
"I wasn't there," he says, perhaps accusatorily.
"Nor I," says Germany, looking him in the eye, and Austria almost desperately wants to believe it's the truth.
They watch each other for a tense moment—until Austria taps his ash into an obsidian tray, and Germany momentarily looks down at his military cap.
"He's one of yours," he adds, as if this will mean something.
"I know," Austria says, with a bored sort of arrogance, and dismissively grinds out his cigarette. "I also know he would rather be one of yours."
Germany clears his throat again. "Even so, he has helped me recover, and he would like to do the same for you."
All personal feelings aside, the idea is a tempting one.
Austria's eyes flick to Germany's. Without answering yes or no, he simply points out, "The League of Nations wouldn't approve."
"The League of Nations is what brought us to this in the first place," Germany points out, in turn. He pauses, and his voice softens. "We have both suffered from the fallout of the Great War. He has promised to return the borders to what they once were."
Austria stares, and breathes, and cannot help but think of the Carpathian Mountains, and an Adriatic coast, and the Danube—
He reaches for a second cigarette. He thinks of tobacco, and smoke, and of a prattish, little prodigal son who sang "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles," instead of "Gott erhalte, Gott beschütze unsern Kaiser." After a couple deep puffs, Austria turns back to his visitor.
"I'm curious as to why a man who never liked me would suddenly care about my health."
Germany shifts, perhaps uncomfortably. "It was your monarchy he didn't like," he clarifies, ever the stickler for details.
"Ah. Yes. Because a dictatorship is so much more progressive." At the criticism, Germany flushes slightly in embarrassment. Austria sighs, letting his anger dissipate with it. Because it is not Germany he is truly angry with, but everything else—clerks who can now play at being kings, and constitutions that are tossed aside like cards, and, most of all, his current state of being. His eyes settle on his blankets, on his useless legs beneath them. He takes another drag from his cigarette. "Even so…beggars can't be choosers, isn't that how the saying goes?" The words are low and stiff, his demeanor weary and resigned.
At length, Germany quietly confesses, "…I would like to see you walk again, Österreich."
Austria arches an almost-amused eyebrow. "You, or Hitler?" Haughtily, he inhales a breath of smoke.
Germany squares his shoulders. "Me."
"I," Austria corrects, and exhales.
Germany's nose wriggles at the smoke, but the hint of a smile twitches at his mouth. He nods. "I."
Austria stubs his cigarette out. He sighs again, briskly, then leans his back against his headboard and raises his chin. "And so would I," he admits. He crosses his arms and huffs petulantly. "It's impossible to play the piano in a wheelchair. The height is all wrong, and I barely have the strength to press the pedals, besides."
Germany's face brightens. "Then you'll—?" He breaks off, hopeful.
Austria frowns disparagingly. "I never said that. My government, as you know, does not condone National Socialism."
"But—" Germany says, expectantly, because there must be a 'but'—and there is, it is simply that Austria is loathe to admit to it.
"…I'll think about it," he relinquishes coolly, and this is apparently enough for Germany, because he nods, and even smiles his small, reserved smile.
Germany stands and settles his hat on his head. He half-bows, and Austria doesn't find the gesture half as annoying as he did at the beginning of the visit. "Herr Österreich," he says, and doffs his cap.
Austria echoes the motion with a hat that doesn't exist, and nods graciously. "Herr Deutschland."
Germany nods again, like some boy whose father finally told him he could take the car out for a spin, and takes his leave.
Austria listens to his steps fade down the hall, hears the walls reverberate with the closing of the front door, feels the heavy way the silence falls back into place, and admits that, sometimes, the emptiness of his house can feel downright oppressive.
Later, Klaus brings in dinner. It is not much—it is never much, these days—but at least his being a butcher means they rarely go without meat of some sort.
Right before he leaves the room, Austria suddenly asks, "You consider yourself a National Socialist, do you not?"
Klaus freezes and stares. The proverbial deer in the headlights.
"I'm not going to turn you over to the police," Austria reassures. "Believe it or not, I'm more like you than the government." Klaus relaxes with a slightly nervous, slightly embarrassed laugh. He scratches the back of his neck.
"It's just strange, it is. I mean, you. Um, I mean. Sir." He quickly drops his hand to his side and tries to correct his posture, and Austria actually smiles at his clumsy attempt at decorum. Klaus is rough around the edges, and not very educated, but he is a good man and a proud citizen—which is more than can be said for some people. Austria is grateful for him, despite everything.
"I can't help but think it would be for the best," Klaus says. "Union with Germany, I mean. We could be a part of something strong and important again, not this pathetic rump state. I mean, you can't even walk, for Christ's sake. And I don't see that Austrian identity would be affected," he goes on, as if he's familiar with this argument. "After all, Scotland's part of the United Kingdom, but you'd never call someone from Glasgow an Englishman."
Austria sighs, because this makes sense, almost too much sense, but there are also his beloved musicians, and artists, and actors, and writers—so many of which are Jewish, he knows, and so many of which only grace his galleries and theaters because they felt the need to leave Germany.
He sighs again, running a hand through his hair before letting it fall back to the bed, at a loss. Klaus fidgets with concern.
"What would you have me do?" Austria asks, quietly and maybe rhetorically, and despite all his personal politics, Klaus blinks, uncomfortable with the question.
"…I don't have the authority to tell you what to do," he says—which is true, yes, but Austria wonders if he wouldn't rather take orders from a genuine Austrian, butcher though he may be, than a wannabe German.
"But still," Austria says, not unkindly, more a thoughtful statement of fact, "you would forsake tradition to embrace modernity."
"They say tradition died in the Great War," Klaus says in turn, also not unkindly, and Austria does not disguise the way the words wind him. Not when he is in the confidence of one of his own people.
"Yes," he murmurs, and thinks of all those modern things like tanks and player pianos and divorces, "it did, didn't it?"
Historical Blocks of Text I Mean Notes:
(Interwar Austria was a cluster-fuck. Let's just get that out of the way right now.)
-Hitler was ethnically Austrian (born in Austria-Hungary), but fell in love with Germany at a young age (partially just to thumb his nose at his very proud-to-be-Austrian father, who he didn't get on with very well), and more or less wanted nothing to do with his country of origin until he began his whole "let's unify all the German areas" quest. He officially became a German citizen in 1932, was elected chancellor in 1933, at which point he promptly started gathering power. By August of 1934, he had absorbed those of the president, and declared himself Führer.
-The League of Nations, trying to avoid a rehash of WWI, had forbidden a political and/or economic union between Austria and Germany. (Eventually, as you should know by now, they just said "to hell with that" and did it anyway.)
-During its existence, the Austro-Hungarian Empire stretched all the way to the Carpathian Mountains in the east, to the Adriatic Sea in the south. The Danube is obviously the famous river that runs through both Austria and Hungary.
-"Deutschland, Deutschland über alles," (translated as "Germany, Germany above all") was the first line of the German national anthem during WWII. (Before and during WWI it had been a popular patriotic song, and its third stanza is the current German national anthem.) "Gott erhalte, Gott beschütze unsern Kaiser," (translated as "God preserve, God protect our Emperor") was the first line of the Austrian (and consequently Austro-Hungarian) national anthem, from 1854-1918. Both songs had the same melody, and as a youth, Hitler used to sing the FUCK YEAH GERMANY version because doing so was all rebellious and awesome to him.
-Austria wasn't really all about Nazism in the early '30s—he was more about Austrofascism, which was kind of like Italian fascism, but with a conservative Roman Catholic wash. The main opponent to Austrofascism was socialism, including the Nazi variety. In 1933, the Austrofascist-leaning Cabinet took advantage of a formal error during a very narrow bill vote and said, "Oh, Parliament can't decide! Guess it's incompetent and we need to fall back on our emergency plan!" Parliament started to say, "Well, we've got procedures for when this sort of thing happens…" and the Cabinet basically interrupted with, "NO. UR RONG. ALL YOUR LEGISLATIVE POWER ARE BELONG TO US." This caused the socialists to go, "Uh, wait, not cool, guys. How about we talk about this?"
-The Austrofascists, strangely enough, did not want to talk about it, and started arresting socialist party leaders in February of 1934. This led to the February Uprising, also called the Austrian Civil War, which was a few days of pretty intense skirmishes. The chancellor, Engelbert Dollfuß, ordered the military to intervene, and while the whole thing only lasted a few days, it ended with at least a few hundred dead, and the destruction of a lot of housing.
-Following all of that, the Austrian constitution was rewritten, banning socialism, abolishing freedom of the press, and creating a one-party system (that one party being Austrofascist in ideology). Pro-Hitler activities were also banned, which in turn pissed off the Nazi-sympathizers, who tried to stage a coup on July 25th by assassinating Dollfuß. (He was succeeded by Kurt Schuschnigg, who kept the anti-Nazi, Austrofascist dream alive all the way until 1938.)
-Italy was pretty tight with Austria at the time (fascism FTW, baby), and promised military support if Germany were to invade. Say what you will about Italy's questionable military skills, the threat of souring things with Mussolini was at least partially responsible for Germany's backing off of Austria in 1934.
So yeah. And that's not even accounting for all the shit that happened to Austria in the '20s. Needless to say, he wasn't a very happy country at this time.