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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.
(Time Period: 1938)
"I'm sorry," Germany is saying, in that awkward way he does when trying to be personal, not formal. "I've ordered a piano for the parlor, though."
Austria feels himself slowly nod, eyes still on the paper that outlines the terms of the union, that says he will not require and will not be receiving an office to work from, that says he is no longer a realm but a march.
"Well," he finally says, pleased to note his voice is perfectly composed, "it is what it is."
Life in Berlin is very different.
Germany does not keep servants. He is a solitary nation, who takes pride in a hard day's work, and believes in the distribution of it. Even Austria, he says, will have to pick up some of the slack when he is well and able. Austria sniffs in response, and continues sipping his coffee.
Life in Berlin is not quite foreign (they speak German here, same as in Vienna), but not quite familiar (to live in a house that is not dusty and decayed and empty is comforting, but it will never be home).
And, of course, there is Prussia.
Prussia listens to jazz.
Along with all his other irritating habits like belching, and snoring, and commencing his morning target practice directly outside Austria's window—Prussia listens to jazz.
Austria can't understand how America has the gall to call it music. It is discordant and cacophonous and entirely wrong.
Germany pointedly ignores it—but then, Germany is not often in the house these days to hear it. He is busy with Italy and Japan, busy chasing divine artifacts in distant corners, busy following orders from a boss that Austria assumed would be their boss.
The piano is a baby grand—which is smaller than he would like, but is a fine instrument, nonetheless. Austria itches, with a truly excited passion he has not felt in over twenty years, to play, and knows he cannot bear to wait for a technician to see it tuned.
He can actually stand these days. Unsteadily, and not for long, but it is enough. He digs out his wrenches and his forks from the boxes he brought, rolls up his sleeves, and sets to work in the morning. He still has to rest often, and so is prepared to take the entire day, or more.
Germany returns around noon, briefly, for lunch. He pauses at the sight of Austria in the parlor, leaning over the piano and breathing hard with exertion, and raises a skeptical eyebrow. "You have no problem working up a sweat to tune a piano, yet you can't wipe the table after breakfast?"
Austria drops back down onto his wheelchair, dabbing a handkerchief across his forehead and pushing his glasses back up his nose. "That's different," he says. "Wiping a table is something anyone can do. If you can tune a piano, then by all means, I'll claim another task."
Germany's expression turns dry and his shoulders drop, because they both know he doesn't know the first thing about the process. Considering this a victory, Austria pushes himself back up, determined to see this octave through.
"Besides," he continues mildly, "you're much better at cleaning than I. If I did it, you would just feel the need to do it over again, and Lord knows you're busy enough as it is." He tightens another pin at this, his hand turning the wrench particularly hard.
He missed this. Playing the piano, that is.
For a brief moment, after he slid onto the instrument's bench that first time and before his hands touched the keys, he feared he might be out of practice. But the movements and rhythms came back with ease, and now, rarely does a day go by where he does not play even a little something. Austria stretches and is just about to run through an impressive selection of Schubert when the scratch of a needle and the tortured screech of a clarinet interrupt him.
He freezes, fingers poised above the keys, and suffers through exactly thirty-nine seconds of upside-down harmonies and purposefully off-key notes before he slams the keyboard lid shut and hobbles to the sitting room. Prussia is reclining across the sofa, ankles crossed, hands behind his head, cigarette between his lips, and his phonograph on the coffee table.
"Must you listen to that degenerate noise?" Austria demands.
"Yes," Prussia drawls, in a mockingly proper tone. "I must."
Austria huffs. "It's banned, you know. For good reason, I might add. It's completely without form and completely disregards convention."
Prussia blows a dismissive puff of smoke. "Whatever you say, Ostmark."
"Mary," he retorts, bristling at the old name because it's actually his new name, and for some reason, this makes Prussia grin, sharply and crookedly.
"Fucking bullshit," Prussia says one day, slamming his handguns onto the dining room table, popping the cap off a beer and slamming that down too, before dropping into a chair. Irritably, he lights a cigarette, and for a long minute, the only sounds are that of him dismantling a pistol and occasionally swilling his beer.
"Doesn't it bother you?" he suddenly demands.
Austria looks up from his book and blinks languidly. He arches an eyebrow. "That you're noisily cleaning your guns right across from me while I'm reading? Yes. It does."
"That West is always the one running out and doing shit. That all we get are crap, second-hand orders."
Austria stiffens in his seat. Yes, he wants to say, a thousand times over, yes—because he was promised an office and has only a bedroom, was promised glory and is being steered towards bus-boy. Still, his clothes are beginning to fit the way they should, and he barely has to use even a cane these days. He cannot complain about his circumstances too much (can he?); it is a decent trade, overall (isn't it?).
Austria forces his shoulders to relax, and lets composed resignation take the place of futile reservations. "It is what it is," he says.
Prussia strikes a match to life and lights another cigarette. "It's fucking bullshit."
In November, when he wakes up gasping and coughing because of glass and smoke, Austria stumbles to the parlor and plays Ellington. Not Mozart or Beethoven or Bach, but Ellington. It is discordant and cacophonous and entirely wrong, and it is entirely right for all the same reasons.
When he is done, Germany, who was roused by the noise, simply puts a hand on his shoulder and squeezes briefly, but what the gesture is meant to say is anybody's guess.
Prussia walks in just as Germany walks out. Cigarette in mouth, hair more mussed than usual, he shuffles to the side of the piano bench, leans back against the instrument, and wordlessly hands Austria his own cigarettes and lighter. Austria removes one from the case, slides it between his lips, lights it, and for the first time in a long while, realizes his fingers are trembling, and that he can no longer blame it on weakened muscles.
Austria smokes, and stares at the black and white keys in the still darkness, and wonders whether he is a victim or an accomplice, and knows he is both.
"What are we coming to?" he asks, and for once, Prussia does not have a response.
The next day, Prussia plays Billie Holiday. She warbles out that so-called aria "Summertime" from that so-called opera Porgy and Bess, her voice untrained and her English informal, and for the first time, Austria listens, really listens.
Germany does paperwork in his office and pretends not to hear, and Austria can't help but cynically wonder what else Germany pretends not to hear.
Prussia goes out that night—and the next, and the next, and the next.
He finds him in the far back corner of the dance club—though "club" is a bit of a misnomer; it is little more than an underground warehouse, mismatched tables and chairs surrounding the perimeter, a make-shift bar formed out of packing crates. Prussia doesn't seem surprised to see him, but maybe that's just because he's half-drunk.
"You get it now," he says, talking over the tap-crash of cymbals, and the thump-thunk of a double bass, and the wah-wah blare of dampened trumpets.
"Yes," Austria replies.
For a moment, they just look at each other—but then Prussia shifts back in his seat and says, "Why don't you sit your scrawny ass down?"
Austria dryly quirks an eyebrow, but complies, settling in the chair next to him. For a long moment there is only the music, filtered through the crackle of an over-used record, accompanied by the rebellious swing-twist-stomp-clap of boys who wear their hair too long and girls who wear their skirts too short.
"So how the fuck did you find this place?" Prussia finally asks. Austria presents the matchbook procured from Prussia's room, an address scrawled on the inside of the cover. He takes it, regards it, and then turns back to Austria. "So how the fuck did you find this place?"
Austria frowns, huffs, and looks back at the dance floor. "I found an appropriately young ruffian and had him show me the way," he relinquishes. Prussia snorts. Another moment passes.
"Have a beer, why don'tcha?" he suggests, and is already pouring him a glassful from the chipped pitcher in front of him.
"Yes," Austria says, because the days of red wine in gold-rimmed goblets have long since been gone.
They stumble in, long after midnight, feet swaying and arms around each other's shoulders, and Germany, awakened by the racket, rushes to the front hall to see what's going on. With the flood of light, they each shove the other away, as if they aren't drunk and weren't just using each other for support. Prussia makes a gallant effort to stand straight, hands pushed into his pockets. Austria settles against the wall and pulls out his cigarettes. Germany surveys this scene—sleep still in his eyes, boxer shorts still twisted from bed-sheets—and sighs, dropping his head into his hand.
The snap of Austria's lighter catches Prussia's attention. "Hey, lemme have one," he says, already making a move for the cigarette case.
Austria pulls it out of his reach and manages to give him a dry look. "You have your own," he puffs around his cigarette.
"It isn't my fault you smoke like a chimney."
Prussia turns to the third party that's present. "West, tell this pansy-ass to gimme a cigarette."
"Tell your idiot of a brother to go buy his own cigarettes," Austria snaps, aiming for the same nerve, and Prussia sneers at him, his expression turning vicious.
"You're a fucking asshole, you know that!"
"And you're an uncouth barbarian!"
Prussia swings at him, a glancing blow off his shoulder, and Austria swings back with a clumsy impetuousness he thought he left behind in his youth, the centuries of conflict between them returning full-force, and it is angry, and familiar, and oddly comforting.
Before it can escalate to full-on wrestling, Germany hauls them away from each other. Alcohol-induced tempers die down as quickly as they flared, and, tentatively, exasperatedly, Germany removes his hands from their collars and takes a step back, running a hand over his face, still trying to dispel his drowsiness.
"You know, the government rather frowns on smoking…" he starts, and Austria suddenly laughs—a short, sharp thing.
"Here," he says, and throws a cigarette at Prussia. "Here," he laughs, and throws some more.
"You throw like a girl," Prussia cackles, and claps him on the very shoulder he tried punching a moment ago. Austria grabs his arm for balance, and they both slide down, giggling madly, and land hard on the floor. Austria sits, legs splayed out in front of him, and pointedly inhales smoke with every bit of haughty elegance he can manage. Prussia lays unceremoniously on his back, fumbles around him for the cigarettes, sticks exactly seven in his mouth, lights every one, and gives the ceiling an old-fashioned salute.
Germany stands, and doesn't understand at all.
-Anschluss: On March 12th, 1938, Austria was officially annexed by Nazi Germany. It was generally a popular, non-violent affair, though there has been speculation that many Austrians were keen on joining Germany not because they thought Nazism was FTW, but because Austria was in a real shit place at the time, and they hoped the union would bolster the economy and stabilize the government—which it did, admittedly. However, many also hoped that the union would be more like a partnership, and that Austria would retain some power and identity within the Third Reich. Once the Anschluss was official, Hitler basically said, "Shyah, right," and proceeded to quickly work at suppressing Austrian national identity, even going so far as to ban the use of the name Österreich (literally, "Eastern realm"). The area of Austria was, at least at first, renamed Ostmark ("Eastern march"), in an attempt to harken back to the 10th century, when it was still considered a stem of the Bavarian duchy, and to, more specifically, dismiss the thousand years of separate histories between the two countries.
-The Free State of Prussia had been the largest German state of the Weimar Republic (1919-1933), and stood as the major republican force in the country. In 1932, using a bit of violent unrest in the area as an excuse, the cabinet was dismissed in what became known as the Preußenschlag, or Prussian Coup, and the state's power was basically stripped to make way for Hitler's (and National Socialism's) rise. (Head-canon says this was because Prussia, being an albino, didn't meet Hitler's Aryan ideal, and so was consequently "demoted" as the primary representative of the country.) In Hetalia canon, Prussia started off as the Teutonic Knights, the full, formal name of which is the Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem.
-Kristallnacht (literally "Crystal Night"), or the Night of Broken Glass, was a series of attacks in Nazi Germany (and annexed Austria) against Jews, taking place on November 9th and 10th, 1938. Homes, shops, synagogues, and entire towns were ransacked, resulting in almost 100 deaths and approximately 30,000 arrests.
-Jazz was officially banned in Nazi Germany, on the basis that it was degenerate, promiscuous, and, worst of all, African-American in origin (oh noes!). Despite (or because of) this, jazz still found its way into the country and was popular with the German counter-culture of the time, which saw significant activity in the cities of Hamburg, Berlin, and even Vienna. Duke Ellington was a pioneering composer of jazz music, and Billie Holiday was, and still is, one of the most famous jazz vocalists of all time.
-Porgy and Bess: An opera composed by George Gershwin, that first debuted in 1935. Though conceived as an opera and considered one today, it wasn't legitimately accepted as one at the time, even in the United States, due to its incorporation of jazz and folk idioms. "Summertime" is the most well-known song from it, and Holiday's version, released in 1936, was the first popular recording of it.
-At least throughout American history, there's typically been a long-standing empathy between the Jewish and African-American communities. Sort of a "Western society has been asshats to both of us, so let's be friends" sort of thing. (Gershwin himself was of Jewish descent, as were many jazz musicians of the time, which was another reason it made the Nazis go all ragey.)
-Frederick the Great of Prussia, Old Fritz, while not completely without prejudice, was surprisingly tolerant when it came to religion, and more or less welcomed Jews with open arms, so long as they settled in places that would facilitate the awesomeness of his country—which they did. For this reason, I'm inclined to think that, out of the three Germanic nations, Prussia's the most sympathetic towards the Jewish plight at the time. (The menorah, the candelabrum used in Jewish temple ceremonies, has seven branches.)
-While smoking was a rampant, perfectly acceptable habit at the time, the Nazi party was officially against it, and actually ran one of the first anti-smoking campaigns.
A/N: I've been wanting to do this particular installment for a long time, because I love post-19th century Austria-Prussia interaction, but it took a long time to get it right, and actually ended up going through a major rewrite. But yay! It's finally done! :D