Title: Bearing Witness
Author: Zalia Chimera
Characters: Prussia, Germany
Summary: After the reunification of Germany, Old Fritz is finally laid to rest in Sanssouci. Prussia holds vigil.
A few people give the man strange looks as they file past, peering at the coffin like an ancient curio, but most do not pay him much heed. He looks strange, knelt, with his shock of white hair. The old blue Prussian uniform earns a few concerned murmurs.
He ignores them all and remains kneeling, head bowed, hour after hour, as the people come and go, unmoving and untouched by the outside world. He does not stir for food or water or to stretch his legs which must surely have been aching after hours on the stone floor.
No-one comes to remove him when the doors close and the people leave.
Prussia keeps vigil.
It is dark when Germany finally arrives at the palace, the crowds of the day dissipated, and a few groundskeepers picking up the debris. No-one had expected so many people to attend, not the thousands who had filed past the sarcophagus laid in state.
Well, perhaps one had anticipated it.
Prussia stirs slowly, like a statue coming to life, shaking off the stiffness that came with kneeling all day. He stretches, smoothing out the lines of the antique uniform that Germany had persuaded his boss to let Prussia borrow, just for the day. They're still wary, still not sure what to do with Prussia himself, a relic of the past that has become an uncomfortable presence in this new Germany. Germany lets him take his time, watching the flag draped over the sarcophagus until Prussia feels alive enough to speak.
Germany turns to face him, hands clasped respectfully behind his back.
"Thought you weren't coming. It's dark," Prussia adds reproachfully.
"I would have come earlier," Germany says, looking apologetic, "but it was decided that it would be better if I waited until the crowds had dissipated."
Prussia laughs, a sound with no mirth in it. "Until no-one could see you, you mean."
Germany makes no attempt to deny it. It is the truth after all. No point in pretending otherwise. "Certain others are... concerned by our honouring a military king in such a way."
"Especially a Prussian one, right?" Prussia says sourly, the bitterness obvious in his voice.
Germany just nods. He will not lie to his brother, not when he has just got him back, and he is still adjusting to the man that Prussia has become; prickly and paranoid, where once he had been laid-back and confident to the point of arrogance.
"Perhaps I should be amused that those bastards are still scared of a man who died over two hundred years ago." His tone makes it obvious that he does not find it at all funny. "They can't stand that I became something more than a vassal, that iyou/i came into being."
Germany shifts uncomfortably, glancing back at the coffin for a moment. Now is not the time to get into a debate of European sentiment towards a unified Germany. He has been wallowing in it for two years now, and he doubts there was any solution which would have satisfied everyone. And he knows that it isn't that that his brother is focussed on now. "It is not ihim/i," he says slowly, wishing that he knew how better to approach his brother these days. Sometimes it is like speaking to a stranger. "It is what he symbolises these days. Some of the people attending today..." He had seen them on the news, swastikas and skinheads, and he doesn't understand how they can condone such vile things now, when history is laid bare and brutal in front of them, except that he ican/i really, because those people are his too, no matter how much he hates to acknowledge it. But his memory is untarnished by the passage of the years.
"Not my problem," Prussia replies with a shrug, and then he pushes himself to his feet. It strikes Germany how much smaller his brother seems now, without the boundless energy he had always associated with him. Not smaller in stature, not really, but the loss of territory, of status, has become obvious. "They're idiots. They don't understand him. Besides, that was only a few people."
But a few people is all it takes sometimes. Germany knows that well enough. "Still," he begins, choosing his words carefully, "you must understand how this could be misconstrued, as well as my turning up publicly. The legacy of the war tarnished his name as well as ours."
Prussia rounds on him sharply, still intimidating, even now, and Germany has the distinct impression that no, Prussia idoesn't/i understand, doesn't icare/i to understand. "No! He died so long before all this that it shouldn't matter! Just 'cause your insane boss idolised him, picked and chose what he liked from everything Fritz stood for."
That stings, the iaccusation/i in Prussia's voice, and Germany's expression goes blank and cold. "He became a symbol," he says, voice hard enough that Prussia gets that wary look in his eyes, the one he gets when he's reminded again that Germany is the one with the power now. Germany hates the expression, but he continues regardless. "A symbol of the German militarism which led to our atrocities. You cannot just ignore that, pretend that it never happened and doesn't exist. Such a symbol has potency."
"He never would have wanted that!" Prussia snarls, hand dropping to the antique sword at his hip. It is blunt, Germany made sure of that when he procured the uniform, but he doesn't doubt that it could be a dangerous weapon in his brother's skilled hands. "He never wanted to be a symbol. All he wanted was to be buried next to his damn dogs. Not this circus!" Prussia moves to push past Germany, rough and angry and Germany has visions of blood on the streets before he is forced to put this mad nation down like a rabid dog. He moves quickly, shoving his brother back against the wall, and it scares him how easy it is, how little effort it takes to hold him back.
Prussia gives him a startled look.
"The hell are you doing West?" he asks, pulling ineffectually at Germany's hold on him. He sees the apprehension in Prussia's expression as he realises that he cannot break free, and Germany hates seeing that look in relation to him.
"That is a man's thinking," Germany says, his voice softening, and perhaps his change in tone has some effect, because Prussia ceases his useless struggle. Germany leans forward, resting their foreheads together gently. He sighs and closes his eyes, breath brushing against Prussia's lips. "All you see is a man, a friend and comrade who wanted to be buried simply next to his beloved pets. It is admirable. But we are not men," he says seriously, opening his eyes to gaze into Prussia's, "and I, at least, cannot see things in such a way. Nothing that a Nation does can be so simple as that, and we are not blessed with privacy."
He wonders if something broke in Prussia, the day that their unification was announced, if he lost the ability to see as a Nation, remember as one. Maybe it happened so much earlier, when Germany jammed in the knife and the Allies twisted it into his brother's back.
Prussia stares back at him for a long moment before his gaze skitters away. "I just want him to have his last wish," he says quietly, and looks over at the flag-draped coffin. "He was a great man, West, a igood/i boss. Prussia is dead and gone," he continues, and the words send an unpleasant shiver up Germany's spine, "so at least let ihim/i have the ending he wanted."
"He will," Germany says, hoping that he sounds as confident and reassuring as he wants to. "Part of me is honoured to see this happen, because of the high esteem that my brother holds him in, but I cannot ignore the world or forget the past where he came to be an idol for some of the worst of humanity. I cannot think as a man on this." And he so wants Prussia to understand, to not hate him for his concerns.
Prussia sighs, the manic anger draining from him, his shoulders slumping. It looks so wrong in the pristine Prussian uniform. "What they criticise him for... Europe, I mean, it's hypocritical. Makes me sick to hear them talk of him like he was a monster, a war monger, like their rulers were anything different." He sneers at the thought, and Germany pulls away a little. "Couldn't walk a mile back then without becoming embroiled in war, and I don't see France and England spitting on the graves of their old rulers with their Divine Right."
"That's..." Germany stops. There are things that he could say in response to that; that these monarchs had never been idolised and held up as an ideal by a monster and taken to heart by a Nation gone mad, but in the end it boiled down to the fact that the Allies had won, and he and Prussia had lost, and over the years it had been transmuted in Germany's mind to the knowledge that the Allies had been iright/i.
Prussia doesn't really want an answer anyway. Germany can recognise that at least. He wants to hug his brother, comfort Prussia as Prussia had comforted him in the past. He settles for squeezing his brother's shoulder. He hates seeing Prussia look so lost. "He is home now," Germany says quietly. "He will lay next to his hounds in peace until I am no more. I swear it."
Prussia swallows thickly; Germany can see his Adam's apple bob, and he nods, giving Germany a grateful look. "I can't think of a better caretaker, if I'm not there to do it." He stretches, then pulls away, and even though he's too thin and tired, it's easy to see the still strong muscles there.
"And you will be there too, by my side."
Prussia looks back over his shoulder at him and grins sharply. "Yeah, of course." His smile is strained, and Germany feels his heart sink to the pit of his stomach. None of them really know how this reunification will affect Prussia, but he's been trying not to think about that. It hasn't worked very well.
Prussia takes slow steps towards the sarcophagus, fingers trailing reverently over the flag laid over it, and, after a moment, Germany follows him, shoes clicking on the stone floor. He'd never met Prussia's favourite boss, but he feels that he should show his respects. The man was part of his history too.
Prussia kneels, and for a moment, Germany thinks that he is praying, but he just leans his head against the sarcophagus and closes his eyes. Germany is reminded strangely of a dog waiting by the door for its master. He imagines Prussia curled up with his beloved king's greyhounds after his death, mourning in their own way.
It's awkward standing there, watching his brother murmur under his breath to a long dead man. All he can do is watch and wait and try to come up with something to say. It only seems right, but his ideas on the matter are a jumbled mess of European disapproval and Nazi propaganda and the stories that Prussia had told him when he had been a child. He has no real memories to fall back on to even form a genuine opinion.
It takes a moment for him to realise that Prussia is watching him, one red eye open as his cheek presses against the cold stone. His expression is flat, almost hostile, as though challenging Germany to prove himself in some way.
He pauses before reaching out and laying his hand on the coffin respectfully. "I never met your personally, Sir," he begins, the words feeling thick and strange in his mouth, but Prussia's expression has changed to one of curiosity and it buoys him onwards, "and I regret that. You were good to my brother and he holds you in esteem above all others. I thank you for that, for giving him strength and culture and for being someone that he could rely on."
Prussia's full attention is on him now, surprised, but pleased too, Germany thinks. "I am Germany, the state of the German people that my brother, your Nation helped to create. It is an honour to be here on this day." He straightens and after a moment's hesitation, gives a sharp salute, every bit as precise as it had ever been, despite his lack of practice. He has little involvement with the military now.
When he looks back down, there is a slight smile on Prussia's lips. "Not exactly an orator, are you, West?" he says, but there is fond amusement in his voice, rather than scorn.
Germany feels a flush of embarrassment crawl across his cheeks. "I do not have much cause to make speeches, brother, you know that."
Prussia pushes himself to his feet again, rubbing a corner of the flag, ihis/i flag, between his fingers. "I think he would have liked you, West."
Germany finds himself standing straighter self-consciously. It is high praise indeed, coming from his brother, and he thinks that there will always be a part of himself that wants to make his brother proud.
"Maybe you're right, at least a bit," Prussia concedes reluctantly after a moment. "When it comes to him, I do think as a human would. I remember him reading to me and sitting next to him as he wrote. He taught me how to play the flute and read music." There is a wistful smile on his lips and Germany wonders how long it has been since Prussia has touched the instrument. Certainly not since the wall fell, not to Germany's knowledge.
Prussia turns his gaze away from the coffin, and fixes Germany with a fierce look, his posture straight and proud and, for a moment, he looks every inch the proud and powerful soldier that Germany had first known. "I also remember how he won me my freedom, made me a Nation that was beholden to no-one! He made me a ipower/i!" The fierceness in his voice near takes Germany's breath away. "He gave me an army that all others tried to emulate. He let people practice their faith as they willed, while caring nothing for it himself. He was a patron of the arts and music, and even as a Nation, looking coolly at history, I think that he deserves this much respect."
Germany swallows and almost backs away from the intensity of the impassioned speech. No, he is no orator, but Prussia, when he finds something that he so fiercely believes in, is a master. A being of a different time. "He'll be buried with honour," Germany finally says, when the lump in his throat is swallowed down. "Not everyone will agree, but he will be, and you will remember him as he truly was. I have to think of the opposition, but you have the luxury now, brother, of just remembering."
Prussia snorts softly, the tautness gone from his body, diminished once more. "Maybe I was wrong. You have your silky words when you want to use them." He reaches out and ruffles Germany's hair, mussing it from it's neat state. "It's not much of a luxury when everything is so uncertain, you know. I might drop dead tomorrow after all," he adds with a morbid, irreverent smile.
It makes Germany wince to hear it, and he wonders if this is part of why the burial is so important to Prussia. Nations do not have graves or tombstones; no-one grieves for the Nation given form, but they can leave things behind. A memorial for his most treasured king might be a fitting monument in Prussia's mind. "Don't talk like that," he says, lips pursing into a tight line. "We don't know what will happen. I won't abandon you." Not like he had last time. Not again.
"You're so tightly wound, West," Prussia says, giving him a lopsided grin, and Germany sees the shadow of his brother as he had been before the war. "You should relax a little. I'm not going anywhere."
Germany sighs in exasperation at the sudden switch in Prussia's mood, although it is a relief to hear the sharp amusement which suits him so much better. He checks his watch instead; it's slim and fashionable, a gift from France. Nearly midnight. "They'll be here soon to bury him," he says. "Do you want to stay? They are your nobility." Diminished greatly, but still Prussia's.
A look of dismay crosses Prussia's face for a moment, before it returns to blankness. "I don't care to meet them," he says, voice a little strained. "I... I've lost my taste for aristocracy."
That, Germany knows, is a remnant of the more recent past, behind that terrible wall that had separated them for so long. He hates to hear it from his brother, but he comforts himself with the reminder that none of those Prussia might meet today could ever hold a candle to the man they came to honour.
Germany clasps his brother on the shoulder, squeezing slightly. "We can come back," he says, "he'll still be here." And it's true now, not just something to placate a desperate Nation.
Prussia's fingers linger on the flag and after a moment, he reaches into the neck of his uniform and draws out the chain which holds his iron cross. Germany hadn't known that he'd taken to wearing it again. He's kept it hidden well. Probably for the best. Prussia presses the cross briefly to his lips, murmuring something that Germany cannot hear, before laying the cross with near reverence on top of the sarcophagus. Germany feels a little as though he is intruding on something very private.
But Prussia turns back to him after a moment, pausing a pace away, before he slings a companionable arm around Germany's shoulders. It feels warm and iright/i somehow. "You're driving me back here tomorrow, West."
Germany splutters. "I have to visit the Reichstag! I have work to do!"
"Then let me borrow the car."
"You have your own, brother."
"Fffff... like I'd be seen in a Trabi when I can drive your Volkswagon."
Prussia leads them unerringly through the rooms of Sanssouci Palace, and out onto the dark terraces. His footsteps become lighter with each metre walked, as though a weight is slowly falling from Prussia's shoulders.
- Frederick the Great (Friedrich der Grosse) had given instructions that he wanted to be interred at night and without pomp, on the terrace of his palace of Sanssouci in Potsdam, next to his beloved Italian greyhounds. While he died in 1786, this did not happen until 1991 after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany.
- On August 17th 1991 (the 205th anniversary of his death), his casket was laid in state, covered in a Prussian flag, in Sanssouci and was accompanied by a Bundeswehr guard of honour. He was buried at midnight by members of the Hohenzollern family, which Frederick had been a member of.
- The event was somewhat controversial. Hitler had greatly admired Frederick and the Prussian military tradition that he founded was seen as the source of German Nationalism and militarism. The burial with such honours was seen as a possible resurgence of this. On the day, there were clashes between protestors and Neo-Nazis.
- Despite being a military king, Frederick was also a philosopher and patron of the arts. He abolished torture, introduced a more practical legal system, and allowed religious refugees, including Jews and Huguenots, to find refuge in Prussia.