A/N: Little plot bunny bugged me while I was sitting in Chinese class. I really ought to pay more attention in that class. –sigh– More quickly written stuff here. I cross my fingers and hope this hasn't been done. It's been a while since I've looked through Hetalia fanfictions. They'd kill whatever's left of my work ethic, and that's not cool.
Gah. Finding a female name for Austria was so difficult…I chose the best I could. D: I hope no one minds.
-NarutoKyuu

(Warnings~ uh…conceptually(?) shonen-ai/slash (boyxboy), coarse language, failed attempts at humor, possibly incoherent sentences, and, as always, probably a little OOCness. Still getting a hang of the characters…
Notes~ Not many. Human names are used. AU. Lotso' gender-bending.
Parings~ PrussiaxFem!Austria, GermanyxFem!Italy, FrancexFem!Canada, mentions of SpainxFem!Romano)
((Are disclaimers really necessary on a site like this?))


Rules Are Made To Be Broken

Today was the day, damn it. He'd been turned down again and again, for the better part of a year, but, no. He wouldn't give up. He had known that some day, some day, she would give in. And today was that day. He was as sure of that as he was of his own name. He just needed the right…touch. The final push that would finally open her eyes to his awesomeness.

There was a loud sigh from the man standing across from him. "Are you sure? I mean, there's got to be a limit," the dark brown haired man tried to convince him otherwise. That was okay. He would accept the truth in time.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm sure! "

"Are you really su–"

"Yes, goddamn, Antonio!" He angrily shoved his hard-earned money into his friend's hands. "Just take the damn money and give me the best you have. Stop worrying!"

"But it's my job as best friend to worry about you! I really think you should just give up, Gilbert. I'm all for the pursuit of true love and passion, but you've been at it for a year! I think it'd just be best for you to give up – it's obvious she isn't interested. You – you spend all your time and effort on her…I'm just saying, this can't be healthy." Even as Antonio chattered away, worry clearly showing in his shining, green eyes, he moved about the stand, looking for his best flowers.

Gilbert's red-violet eyes narrowed in irritation. "And I'm saying that I know that it'll work out today!"

Antonio sighed again as he handed Gilbert an expertly wrapped bouquet. Before he relinquished his grasp, however, he looked at his friend sadly. Gilbert had to pause in his irritation to blink blankly. Although he knew Antonio had the capacity to be serious, he also knew that the dark haired man very rarely chose to actually show it. Maybe he really should listen to his friend's pleas. "Listen, Gilbert…If it doesn't work out today, promise me you'll stop? I always tried to support you, even though you two are in completely different social classes. I always thought it would work out eventually…But I can't just watch you waste your life on her when it obviously isn't going to work."

Gilbert had a genuinely pained expression on his face. "But, Toni–"

Antonio brought the bouquet closer to his body, away from Gilbert, and looked at him sternly. "Promise me, Gilbert."

Gilbert let out an irritated sigh. "Fine, fine. I promise. Doesn't matter anyways."

Antonio's face suddenly lightened as he grinned, all seriousness gone. "All right, then! Go get her!" he cheered, shoving the bouquet into Gilbert's chest, careful not to crush any of the flowers.

Gilbert took this sudden change in stride, responded with a wide grin of his own and said, "Thanks! I will!" and walked away, head high.

xxx

He knew the place almost inside and out, from his numerous failures at trying to get into it, and yet, the size of her house never failed to amaze him, even just a little. He never thought of it for too long, though, because that would mean he would have to accept the sheer difference in their classes. All he would allow himself to think was that the place was beautiful, and that his own house wasn't nearly that big. Or clean-looking, for that matter.

Shaking this from his mind, he confidently strode up to the door and knocked rather loudly. The door opened almost immediately, as if he was expected. This only served to boost his confidence a little more, even after he saw the glaring green eyes that were revealed.

"Miss Edelstein is unavailable at the moment."

Gilbert was undeterred. "Come on, Liz! For old time's sake?"

"No. Go away. I thought I told you to stop coming around two weeks ago?"

Gilbert could specifically recall that day. He'd come just to say hi, since he hadn't saved enough money for another gift yet, but he couldn't remember any actual speaking going on. "You didn't tell me anything," he replied, giving his ex-best friend a glare. "You nearly gave me a concussion!"

"Nearly? Would you like to actually have one?" Elizabeta asked sweetly.

"No!" Gilbert seemed to start backing down before he found his strength again. He swallowed his pride, which was certainly no small feat, and quietly asked, "Please, Liz? I…This is my last chance. I promised Toni I would stop if it didn't work out this time, but I just know it will, if you would just let me see her!"

Elizabeta's eyes seemed to soften, but she remained in her place, blocking the entrance and holding the door open just enough so that she could see him clearly. "I'm sorry, Gil, but Miss Edelstein refuses to see you. You should have known this was bound to fail – there's just too big of a difference."

Gilbert struggled to keep the absolutely crushing feeling in his chest from showing on his face. "Well, would you at least give these to her, then? And you can tell her I won't be…bothering her…anymore…" He held the bouquet out for Elizabeta to take.

She wavered, the conflict of thoughts showing clearly in her eyes and actions, as she nervously tucked a lock of light, brown hair behind her ear. "I…" She took a good look at Gilbert's face. It might have been a while since they had actually considered each other as friends, but she could still read his masked face like an open book. She sighed, giving in. "All right. But you better keep to your promise."

"Thanks, Liz," Gilbert replied before swallowing down his emotions. He left the bouquet in the hands of his…friend before turning and leaving.

Elizabeta waited until she was absolutely sure Gilbert had left before retreating back into the house. She paused, back to the door, and looked at the bouquet in her hands. It was truly a beautiful piece of art, and as she gently ran her fingers over the petals her stomach lurched at a sudden realization. Gilbert must have practically paid an arm and a leg for this. Forget how successful he was at his job, there was no way he could have comfortably afforded this.

She shook her head. It wouldn't be good to be sympathizing with him too much. Although Gilbert had his moments, most of the time he was a downright pain in the ass. She sighed and quietly went to the piano room to arrange the flowers into a vase. She carefully placed them on a table where her employer would definitely see it before slinking away to her duties, but not without one last look at the arrangement in the middle of the room that was proudly absorbing the warm sunlight filtering through the curtains, and then reflecting the warmth back tenfold.

xxx

He heard the bell's quiet jingle as the door opened to the shop long before he heard his brother shuffling around behind him. That within itself was a reason to be worried, but before he could ask about anything, Gilbert said, "Sorry I'm late in coming back. I had something to take care of." There was a slight pause, but he couldn't find the time to speak before Gilbert continued. "I know I usually keep watch of the front, but…I don't feel up to it today." He sighed as he heavily sank down onto his wooden chair and ran a hand through his already messy, platinum blond hair. "Just this once, Ludwig? Watch the front?"

Ludwig allowed the worry to visibly show on his face as he nodded. "What happened, Brother?"

Gilbert had turned around and was bent over his desk, fiddling with a watch he was supposed to be fixing, and Ludwig began to wonder if Gilbert would respond before he quietly answered, "I'm done."

When it became clear that Gilbert would not turn around and would not further explain, Ludwig turned back to his own work before asking, "Done? Done with what?"

"Rhodenia."

Ludwig frowned slightly in confusion as he paused in his work. "Miss Edelstein?"

"Yeah…"

Ludwig sighed and bit back a reprimanding 'I told you so.' When his half-brother had announced to him last year, while they were out at the market and had first seen the woman, that that was the woman he would marry, Ludwig had immediately told him that it would be impossible. But did his older, supposedly wiser, brother ever listen to him? No, of course not. What confused him more, though, was the fact that Gilbert had given up. He had seen no signs of his brother letting up any time soon, and so this sudden change concerned him. Gilbert was infamous for his stubborn streak miles and miles long. "Why?"

Gilbert simply made a questioning sound, not understanding the question.

"Why are you done?"

There was a moment of silence, during which Ludwig assumed Gilbert didn't want to tell him any more, before his brother sighed loudly. "I went to Antonio's today to get her flowers. Toni managed to get me to promise him that if it didn't work this time, that I would give up." He scoffed, before setting his work down and dangerously leaning back in his chair. "He said he was worried about me, something about it not being healthy. Can you believe that?"

Yes, Ludwig could believe that, more than he wished he could. He had started to see the effects of his brother's obsession shortly after his self-assigned mission had started. Gilbert had started spending all his free time either figuring out how to win the young lady's heart or actually putting those plans into action, and had started investing a large portion of his money into his plans. This, naturally, affected the amount of nutrition and sleep Gilbert got, and that showed clearly – dark bags surrounded his tired eyes ninety-percent of the time, his face was paler thank normal, and his face became drawn as he lost weight. Ludwig had looked onto this with great concern, but had known that Gilbert would refuse to listen to him, and so had kept quiet. He couldn't help but be silently grateful for Antonio's interference.

Ludwig sighed and brought his chair over to his brother's workstation to sit next to him. "Yes, I can," he said softly. "You know you couldn't stay in denial forever."

Gilbert practically whined before burying his head in his arms and resting it against the table, subconsciously careful not to knock anything down to the floor. It was pathetic. "I swear she's the one. I got so close. I'm sure of it!"

Ludwig awkwardly placed a hand on his brother's back before rubbing it gently. With that, he quickly realized that he was crying. Gilbert didn't cry. It just wasn't possible. "I can…talk to Felicita, see what she has to say about…how far you got," Ludwig offered after a long moment of silence. "And…well…depending on how far you got…I can…talk to Antonio."

Gilbert sighed before turning his head to look over at his brother, tears still continuing to fall from his eyes. "…Thanks…"

xxx

Upon entering what was possibly her favorite room in her family home, she couldn't help but notice the extravagant arrangement at the center of the room. Her mind started to immediately supply her with the name of the sender, but she stopped that thought before it could finish.

"Elizabeta!"

Her maid quickly appeared next to her, performing a quick curtsy before asking, "Yes, Miss Edelstein?"

"The flowers – who are they from?"

Elizabeta looked uneasy for a moment before steeling her expression and saying, "Gilbert Beilschmidt, Miss."

Rhodenia looked mildly surprised at Elizabeta's defense of the unruly, young man. She had known that they had been close friends, once upon a time, but was under the impression that they now had a rocky relationship for whatever reason. She dismissed this for later thought and turned to look at the beautiful flowers. Of course they were from him, he had come by earlier. Why did she even feel the need to ask?

Elizabeta cleared her throat respectfully, capturing her attention again. "If I may, Miss…"

"Yes?"

"When he dropped these off earlier today, he said that he wouldn't be bothering you anymore."

Rhodenia froze, not expecting that. At her words, it felt like her stomach had disappeared. She would have never admitted to even remotely liking him before, and even now her mind was having trouble grasping the fact that the feeling that had taken over her was worried shock rather than the contented relief she had thought she would feel. Gilbert was nothing but a nuisance; she should be ecstatic that he would no longer be coming around. So why was she starting to feel so miserable?

"He's lying," she finally whispered as she numbly moved to stand before the flowers. She gently ran her fingers over the soft petals. These were truly beautiful. There was no way Gilbert, pain in the ass that he was, could be giving up so easily. "He has to be lying."

"I…I'm sorry, Miss, but I think he was telling the truth," Elizabeta replied cautiously, Rhodenia's reaction unexpected.

No…

She couldn't help but feel a sense of loss and she gently fell to the soft cushions of the sofa before the table. She was beginning to like him, just a little. Just a little, but it seemed enough to have her heart wrench every time she thought 'He's gone.'

"Miss? Are you all right?"

Rhodenia stiffly nodded. "Felicita. Bring her here."

"Right away," Elizabeta replied, performing a quick curtsy before exiting.

Rhodenia sighed and looked fondly at the flowers. He probably hadn't realized it, but she had – it had been exactly a year since he had first shoved a handful of flowers at her. She couldn't help but notice how each time he presented her with flowers, the flowers would grow more extravagant, more professionally arranged, and the arrangements were always different, because she never told him what her favorites were. She couldn't bring it upon herself until now to realize that as long as they were from him, they were her favorite.

"Miss Edelstein? You wanted to see me?"

She smiled at the sweet voice before turning to the other maid her family employed, a happy-go-lucky girl with beautiful red-brown hair and golden-brown eyes. She was clumsy and lacked common sense, but she meant well.

"Yes. You're seeing that one clockmaker, aren't you?"

Felicita looked a little confused before happily replying, "Ludwig? Yeah!"

Rhodenia nodded, and couldn't help but continue smiling at the girl's kind disposition. "Could you talk to him for me? Ask him about his brother, if you would?"

"Hm? But of course, Miss Edelstein!" Felicita tilted to her side in question. "But whatever for? I thought you couldn't stand Gilbert?"

Rhodenia looked around nervously, as if checking if there was someone spying on her, before giving in to the cute, clueless, and genuinely concerned expression of her maid. "I thought I couldn't…But…I might…well…like him…" Her vibrant, amethyst eyes widened at what she said and added, "Just a little, mind you!"

Felicita giggled before saying, "Okay, Miss! You can count on me!"

Rhodenia smiled fondly before dismissing her. She then turned her gaze to the flowers and her smile slowly faded away. Could she really be starting to like Gilbert back? After gently caressing the flowers for a few seconds, she stood up, a look of determination set on her face.

She needed to think about this.

She needed some quality time with her piano.

xxx

Felicita happily threw her arms around her lover's neck and giggled. "Hello, Ludwig!"

She missed the blush taking over his face as he wrapped his arms around her to catch her. She sighed happily as he greeted her back, snuggling into him.

"Are you just about done here?"

Ludwig looked around the dark shop (they hadn't gotten around to lighting many lamps yet) and took a second longer to look at his brother before replying, "Just about. Um…but, I think I'll have to stay with Gilbert today, I'm sorry. You see, something happened and–"

Felicita cut him off quickly, stealing a quick kiss. "That's okay! I actually have something to ask you about him!"

Ludwig looked a little curious. "Let me go lock up and light the lamps. Where would you like to talk?"

Felicita hummed in thought as she watched Ludwig move about the shop. If she thought about it long enough, she figured Miss Edelstein wouldn't want Gilbert to hear anything about this, and so decided that somewhere he couldn't hear them was best. "Can we go to your room?"

Ludwig nodded and gently led Felicita up the stairs, but not before saying to Gilbert, "I'll be checking up on you later. Don't stay up all night."

After receiving an acceptable response, they went into his room before he gently closed the door behind him. Felicita took a quick glance around his room before happily bouncing down onto the bed and looking at Ludwig earnestly.

Ludwig smiled, a little nervously, but not enough for Felicita to notice, and sat next to her. "What did you want to talk about?"

Felicita fumbled with her fingers for a few seconds before she replied. "I wanted to talk about Gilbert. Uh, um…Miss Edelstein…ve…She said that, uh, well, we heard that Gilbert was going to stop, uh, trying woo her, and she, ve, wanted to know…why." Felicita suddenly clapped her hands, folded her legs under her, and turned to face her whole body towards Ludwig, nervousness disappearing. She started babbling rapidly. "So, yep! Why has Gilbert stopped? I mean, he's been so persistent! And, and I'm sure he could've managed to convince her eventually! I know it seems like she hates him and would never even consider marrying someone so much lower than her socially, but, ve! When I sit down with her in the afternoons to listen to her play, she'll pause to talk to me, sometimes. She never said she liked him outright (well, not until today, but even then she denied that it was anything much) but I could tell that she likes him very much! He's all she'll talk about, sometimes. I think it's cute, how she doesn't even realize how much she likes him, but I didn't think it would've actually driven him away! If not, I would've done something! Why didn't you tell me anything?"

"Are…Are you sure?"

Felicita stared blankly for a few seconds as she processed what Ludwig had asked, reigning in her mind that was still in mid-rant. "Well, I heard Liz say something about Gilbert quitting or something…Hasn't he told you?"

It was Ludwig's turn to stare blankly before he figured out that Felicita had interpreted his question incorrectly. "No – I mean, yes, he told me, which is why I was intending to stay with him tonight. I meant: are you sure about Miss Edelstein…returning his feelings?"

Felicita's eyes brightened. "Oh, yes! I'm sure! I'm not sure about returning them, but she likes him very much, even though she says it's just a little." She smiled. "You should see her when she talks about him." She paused, tilting her head in thought. "Liz…When she came to get me, she told me that Miss Edelstein seemed very sad when she was told that Gilbert was stopping." She looked back at Ludwig. "How come you never told me?"

Ludwig was silent, deep in thought, for a few moments and Felicita grew worried that she had said something wrong. However, he managed to respond before Felicita started verbally freaking out – he had experience with those and it was quite difficult to convince her that he couldn't hate her if he tried and it wasn't something he liked to deal with. "I didn't find out until today." He wasn't exactly sure if he would have told her even if he had found out before, but he didn't have to say that.

Felicita frowned. "Oh…all right…" She sat there frowning, staring down into her lap, for a few more moments before taking Ludwig's hands in her own and looking back up with a determined expression. "We have to do something about this!"

Ludwig subconsciously readjusted his grip and gently rubbed the backs of her hands with his thumbs. "What do you have in mind?"

Felicita grinned deviously and stole a kiss, not one to waste opportunities. She then proceeded to act like she didn't notice Ludwig's blush (she usually didn't, but she did now – it was so cute) and said, "Well, I think I heard Miss Edelstein's parents saying something about the Bonnefoys holding a ball and that they wanted her to go, to see if she found anyone interesting. She tried to refuse (I think it's because she knew Gilbert wouldn't be there), but her parents told her they would go. Maybe we could get Gilbert in, or something." Felicita's grin turned into a wistful smile as she stared off into the distance. "Ve, I wish I could go – with you, of course. But we'd never get invited to anything like that…" She seemed to begin to sigh but it turned into a small yawn. "Oh! Sorry…I'm tired…Miss Edelstein made me…clean up the…dishes I broke…and I missed my nap…"

Ludwig nodded and said, "I'll walk you home."

She tiredly shook her head. "I'll…I'll stay here…Grandpa won't…mind…much."

Ludwig was pretty sure her grandfather would mind very much, but didn't want to upset her – it wasn't good to fall asleep while upset. So, all he did was nod and stand. "You can sleep here. I'll go and talk to Gilbert. Do you need anything?"

She shook her head, a small smile on her face as she let Ludwig stand and curled up on the bed. "I hope this works out…" She yawned. "It'd be sad…to see two people who liked each other very much…not be able to be married."

Ludwig allowed a small smile before exiting the room. He quietly shut the door behind him and quickly made his way down the stairs. He found Gilbert where he had left him, hunched over his workstation illuminated by several lamps, working away. Ludwig pulled his chair up next to his brother and sat. When Gilbert continued to ignore him (or maybe he genuinely didn't notice his presence), Ludwig quietly cleared his throat…just before Gilbert started speaking.

"I think I'm going to enlist."

Ludwig stopped in the middle of forming a sentence. Instead, he merely stuttered, "W-what?" not sure if he had heard correctly.

"I'm going to enlist."

"Why?" Ludwig asked, trying to keep the confusion and slight hysteria out of his voice. Gilbert had sworn, practically promised, that he'd never enlist, after their grandfather had unrightfully fallen in battle…What had happened?

"Why the hell not?"

Ludwig took a deep breath and slowly said, "Brother…I-I talked to Felicita about Miss Edelstein…"

Gilbert narrowed his eyes as he used more force than necessary as he tried to work. "So?"

Ludwig softly sighed. "She's going to attend the ball being held by the Bonnefoys some time soon. You used to be close friends with…Francis Bonnefoy, right? Perhaps…perhaps you could ask for a favor…?"

Gilbert scoffed as he finally set his work down and met his brother's eyes. "We haven't talked for years, ever since his parents finally threatened to have me incarcerated," he spat out the word distastefully before continuing, "if I didn't leave him and his new little betrothed alone. And why would I wa – Why would I go anyways? I keep to my promises, and I intend to keep it that way."

"Felicita told me that Miss Edelstein likes you a lot, even though she doesn't show it."

Gilbert rolled his eyes and leaned back on the chair tiredly. "She's lying."

There was a flash of protective anger in Ludwig's eyes before it just as quickly disappeared and he said, "She would never lie. You know that. I'm not even sure she knows what the word means."

Gilbert seemed to consider this as he looked up at the ceiling with exhausted eyes. After a few seconds of mental warfare he quietly asked, "How much is 'a lot?'"

"Enough to be upset about you stopping."

He was hesitant, still a source of worry but Ludwig ignored that, and replied, "I'll…I'll go talk to Francis, then. Tomorrow. First thing in the morning. You'll be okay by yourself?"

"Yes. Now go to sleep. You look awful."

Gilbert grinned, said, "I can never look awful. There must be something wrong with your eyes. 'Night," and pushed away from the table to go up to his room.

Ludwig had no reply until Gilbert reached the top of the stairs. "Brother…"

Gilbert turned to look at him, looking happier than he had looked since he had gotten back earlier in the day. "Yeah?"

Ludwig swallowed and nervously fumbled with his fingers for a moment before quietly saying, "Felicita…She…She wants to go…Just this once…Could you–"

Gilbert grinned widely. "Of course! What kind of older brother would I be if I didn't take care of my baby brother from time to time?"

Ludwig was so internally relieved and even a bit happy that, instead of mentioning how their roles were reversed most of the time, he only said, "Thank you…Good night."

Gilbert nodded and continued going to his room.

It was only until Ludwig returned back to his own workstation to work on repairing a clock that he realized that he and his brother would probably need to spend a large sum of money on just clothing to go to this ball, granted that Francis was feeling generous. Well…if he did the math right, and prevented Gilbert from doing anything too lavish…they would be fine…

Yes…He would have to deal with it, because it would be better than dealing with a depressed Gilbert for the rest of his life.

Ludwig frowned, half in concentration and half in worry. Damn. He had just dipped into his savings, too.

xxx

The next morning there was a loud, almost annoying rapping at the door, and Ludwig forced himself awake from his half-asleep daze on the uncomfortable, wooden chair. He quickly rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands before standing and tried to make himself presentable for a few seconds before going to the door to open it before whoever was on the other side broke it down.

As soon as he opened the door he was met with livid, hazel-green eyes. "Damn it, you fucking bastard! You have better not done anything to my sister! I swear if you did I'm going to tell Grandpa right away and you'll finally get what you deserve, jackass! I knew you wouldn't be right for her, but did anyone believe me? No! And now you've taken her virginity before she's gotten properly married and now you're just going to dump her to be nothing better than a-a-a prostitute!"

There was only one woman he knew that had that loud of a voice and that vile of a mouth, and that had no problem with hitting him. Repeatedly. It didn't actually hurt all that much, but it did get irritating.

"If you would come in, Miss Vargas, and please lower your voice," Ludwig replied tiredly as he opened the door wider and moved to the side to let her in. He honestly didn't know why he tried. She would just yell at him more before entering, with or without his consent.

"It's Fernandez Carriedo! It has been for several months damn it! Get it right, bastard!" She practically screeched before angrily stomping in.

Ludwig said a quick prayer in his mind as he closed the door. He turned to see Felicita's older sister glaring as she looked around, as if merely glaring would bring her sister out from the depths of what she dubbed as hell, before turning and glaring up at him instead. "Where. Is. She?"

Ludwig was saved from having to respond as Felicita quickly ran down the stairs, adjusting her dress and running her fingers through her hair. "Romola! I thought I heard you! What are you doing here?" She then saw Ludwig. "Oh, did you stay up all night 'cause you had nowhere to sleep? I'm so sorry! You should have said something! You should go catch up on your sleep now!"

"I-It's all right…" was all Ludwig could get out before Romola started up again.

"Felicita! Are you all right?" She quickly went over to her sister and looked her over, using her hands to try to straighten the dress out even more. "What did he do to you? He better not have done anything! Grandpa was so worried about you! He woke us up this morning, asking if I knew where you were 'cause you didn't go home last night! Of course you had to be here, but what if you weren't?"

"Roma!" Felicita flinched away and brushed at her dress herself. "We didn't do anything, okay? Ludwig's the perfect gentleman, Roma! And well, I'm safe, so it's fine!"

Romola harrumphed before saying, "Well, you're coming home now. You can't show up looking like that. Come on," and dragging her off by her wrist.

Felicita could only chirp a quick, "Bye-bye, Ludwig! See you later!" before being pulled out the door.

Ludwig sighed once there was finally quiet within the shop again and tiredly leaned against the now closed door.

"Hey, Luddy! Are you eating breakfast? I know you stayed up all night!"

Ludwig allowed a small groan as his brother's loud voice pierced through his mind. He then took a deep breath and went back upstairs. This would be a long day.

xxx

"There is a Mr. Beilschmidt here to see you, Mr. Bonnefoy. Shall I send him away?"

"Mr. Beilschmidt, you say?" When the butler nodded, a grin broke out on the blond's face. "Goodness, no! Bring him in!"

The butler seemed to waver for a moment in indecision before bowing and making his leave.

"A-Are you sure that was wise, Francis?" A soft voice from his side asked. "I have nothing against Gilbert, of course, but your parents did ask you not to see him anymore."

Francis waved his hand in a dismissive manner. "Nonsense. They did that under the impression that he was actually bothering you, but if you don't mind him, then there's no reason to keep him away, and it's not like they're around to stop him."

She fiddled with her hands for a moment before saying, "Well, yes, but don't you think that's a bit disrespectful?"

Francis gently kissed her cheek and comfortingly stroked her hand. "You worry too much, Madison. It'll be fine."

She was going to argue more, but the butler returned and introduced, "Mr. Beilschmidt," before leaving once more.

Gilbert was grinning as he entered the room. "Francis!"

Francis was as equally enthusiastic and rose to greet his friend. "It's been too long! Come, join us! We just finished up but there must be something left for you."

Gilbert was momentarily distracted by the prospect of food as he was led to a chair, but upon seeing Madison he was (somehow) reminded of his mission. "Ah, no. I ate already. I actually came to ask you for a favor. For old time's sake."

Back in his spot beside Madison (who was staying as quiet as possible, not keen on attracting Gilbert's attention – just because she didn't exactly mind him didn't mean she wanted more of his attention than necessary), Francis smiled widely and said, "Anything for you, my friend!"

"I heard you would be holding a ball here. And that the Edelsteins were invited. You see, I've been trying to win Rhodenia's affections for a year, and would like to have the chance to charm her at this ball of yours." Gilbert asked as nonchalantly as if he were talking about the weather, not asking his close friend to put his name at risk by violating numerous social regulations.

And, Francis responded accordingly. "Of course!"

"But, Francis…" Madison tried to caution him, tried to act as a voice of reason in the room of recklessness, but Gilbert's loud voice completely covered hers.

"Awesome! I definitely owe you one…" He trailed off to silence as he thought (or his mind wandered off, one could never be too sure with Gilbert) before he looked back to Francis and grinned. "One last favor. Luddy said that cute, little Feli wanted very badly to go to a ball, at least once. Could you allow a couple more people to slip by?"

Francis waved the matter away as if he wondered how Gilbert could even think he would even need to ask. "Of course, of course! I haven't seen her in such a long time. It'd be nice to see how she's turned out." There was a strange glint in his eyes before it quickly disappeared. "I think it's wonderful that they've finally taken their relationship further. I can remember when they were little, how they would chase each other back and forth but were so oblivious to their fate!" He smiled wistfully. "Are they married, yet?"

Gilbert sighed in a melodramatic fashion. "Alas, no." His disappointed face rapidly changed into a grin and he leaned forward excitedly. "But! I'll tell you a secret, because you're being so awesome today." He paused, accepting the silent promise of keeping the secret before stage-whispering, "He's planning to propose some time soon. He's got the money saved up and a ring and everything!"

"Oh, the signs of true love," Francis said just as dramatically and excitedly as his old friend. "All that just to make her happy. You people amaze me, some times, truly, you know that?"

Gilbert just winked. "We're awesome like that, you know?"

Francis grinned. "I do know. Would you stay for a little longer?"

Gilbert finally stood and waved his hand. "Nah. I've got to get back to work. Luddy's probably fallen asleep and stabbed his eye out, or something – stayed up late working and all. I'll see you soon?"

Francis relaxed back into the sofa and casually wrapped an arm around Madison's shoulders. "Three days from now," he casually informed, "And then we'll have to see what we can do about you and a certain Miss Edelstein."

"Great," Gilbert's grin widened in an almost genuinely grateful expression before he left.

"Francis…Your parents are rolling around in the grave as we speak," Madison softly sighed, after she was sure Gilbert had left.

"Really?" Francis asked in surprise and, for a brief moment, Madison actually believed that he hadn't thought of that. Then she remembered who she was talking to and just rolled her eyes.

"Yes, really."

"I wouldn't have guessed," Francis shrugged, still pretending that he had no idea what she was talking about.

She made an attempt to look like she was upset. "Honor thy father and thy mother."

"Hm? What was that, dear?" He smiled innocently.

Madison rolled her eyes again and softly smiled. "I love you."

He kissed her on the cheek. "Ah, I love you too, Maddie."

xxx

The ballroom was incredibly beautiful, she had to admit. It was bright, colorful, warm, and full of civilized energy. Perfect, really. It was everything a young woman like her could wish for in her wildest dreams in which she was to be swept off of her feet by a charming, handsome, young man. It was where she would meet her soul mate in a fateful, last dance, and be proposed to, just as everyone would be leaving.

She almost had to physically retain her scoff at those thoughts. Idiocy is what those thoughts were. Illogical dreams of even more illogical women that she herself did not partake in.

She was absolutely miserable here because of that reason.

Her mother certainly expected her to be one of those ridiculous young women, when she so obviously wasn't. She really didn't believe in such nonsense. No way. She didn't. She certainly wasn't miserable because, out of all the promising, young men to invite her to dance, the one she wanted to ask her couldn't even possibly be there to do all those ridiculous notions stated before to begin with – because she didn't even want those things to happen in the first place.

"Don't get me wrong, I don't usually break my promises, but I think that you're worth the breach to my awesome reputation."

She froze, refusing to look beyond the hand that was in front of her face. It was impossible, forget improbable. There was no way he would be here. And on the off chance that it was him, it wasn't as if she would show any interest anyways, right? Just like it had always been, and always would be. He would chase, and she would refuse. It wasn't supposed to work out. Society wouldn't allow it. It's not like she wanted…to be…with him…anyways…

She reluctantly let her gaze leave the hand and look at the man standing in front of her. Of course it was him, who else here would talk like that? No. She was not going to smile. Not even if he looked rather…appealing dressed up in better clothing than she had ever seen him in before, with that infuriatingly confident grin and those sure, mischievous red-violet eyes.

Rhodenia was surprised as that grin faltered and his hand lowered just ever so slightly, but didn't show it. What was going on? This wasn't the man she had come to…know. She couldn't help but let a frown through as that thought processed in her mind. Since when did she know him? He was just the annoying, lower-class man who was intent on embarrassing her at every single moment he could. And he did say he was going to stop bothering her…

"At least say you don't want to, damn it."

Was it just her imagination, or was his voice actually shaking?

"I…" She paused. She what? Okay. So she liked him, maybe, just a little. She did tell Felicita that much… And…and, if she let herself admit it…she had…missed him…a little… She reluctantly put her hand in his. Before he could say anything, she gave him a stern glare. "I'll give you this one chance. Impress me and just maybe I'll consider it."

Was it wrong for her heart to be fluttering like that and her breath to be short like that when she saw that grin return at full blast?

And was it really so wrong that she found it not only humorous, but actually sort of pleasing that this was intended to be the last dance of the night?

She allowed a real smile to show on her face at that thought. It wasn't until he responded though, that she realized that she had spoken her thoughts, "Are you going to ask me to marry you?"

When she heard him laugh and ask, "Do you want me to?" she couldn't keep the blush from rising to her cheeks.

"Would you?" She replied, trying not to show her embarrassment.

"Maybe some other time."

That wasn't exactly the response she was expecting. She wasn't sure what she was expecting, exactly, but it wasn't that. "Oh? And why not?"

"I have to be a good brother sometimes."

She raised an eyebrow elegantly in question as they slowly came to a stop.

He simply nodded his head in indication to the side. At first, she had no idea what he was trying to point out, but then she spotted a young woman, who could only be Felicita, hugging, who Rhodenia quickly put together as now Felicita's betrothed, in pure happiness.

She smiled slightly and looked up at Gilbert. "About time."

He laughed. "I know, right? It took me forever to convince him to just do it. I don't think I'll ever understand why he was so worried about asking. It's not like she has a history of hating him or anything."

Rhodenia had to refrain from asking 'Like me?' and instead quietly asked something else that had been on her mind. "How did you get in?"

"Asked a favor from Francis," Gilbert grinned. "Am I awesome or what?"

She rolled her eyes. "I can safely say, 'or what.'" Her happy bubble was then burst as she saw her parents making their way towards her. She gently tugged her hand away and increased the distance between them. "I need to go. They can't see you here."

Gilbert didn't seem fazed at all. He only grinned, quickly kissed the back of her hand and, surprisingly, made himself invisible, but not before saying, "We can always elope."

She allowed herself a quiet laugh. And maybe, just maybe, some part of her, in the back of her mind, was convinced that society's rules and regulations could go jump off a cliff.