Before the wedding, all they have are memories of centuries past, hastily dusted off and studied.
A hand is held out politely to her and she takes it. He bows and brushes her knuckles with his lips; she smiles in response but doesn't blush. His eyes are too tempered, his manners too controlled.
She can tell he's assessing her as they say their vows, and she makes herself as pretty and as perfect as she can. Her bosses and his bosses look on during the ceremony and mutter to each other in muted approval.
They're swept up in a whirlwind of their fellow nations afterwards, everyone crowding in to offer a few words. They all know that marriage isn't their choice, so she receives plenty of 'well, it could have been worse' and 'he'll treat you right, at least'.
When it's time for them to leave, he places a gentle hand on her elbow and guides her to the carriage. They ride to his home and dismount, awkward now that it's just the two of them.
He puts his arm around her hesitantly and looks at her for permission. She stares back at him blankly for a few moments before realizing what he wants and gives him a cautious nod. He bends slightly, blushing a furious red, and sweeps her off her feet to carry her over the threshold.
She clings to his neck tightly, afraid he might drop her.
After nearly a fortnight of wandering the halls of his home and trying in vain to find something interesting to do, she comes to the sudden conclusion that all the polished floors and grand doorways made for a very lonely place to live.
He is so polite that it irritates her to no end, making her want to shake him and scream at him that it's okay to be human. The servants here are all just as quiet and reserved as he is, to the point where she wonders if she's living in a house of ghosts. Maybe everyone here is dead and she died too, only she doesn't know it yet.
By the time a month has passed, the urge to take off into the night is nearly insuppressible. She has the habit of taking long walks in the garden when the moon is high in the sky. She can breathe in the scent of the flowers and the wind and pretend she's still free.
It's on a night like this, when she's twirling in the garden with her arms out and her eyes closed, that she first hears the music. She lies in a dizzy heap on the cool paved path when the quiet melody drifts through the air and settles around her, calming her.
She doesn't stop to think before she gets up and follows the sound. When she approaches one of the grand windows and peeks in, she sees him sitting at the piano, pouring all the emotion he has into his music. With a small smile, she sits underneath the window ledge and listens to him say everything he couldn't say out loud.
She falls asleep where she is and dreams of spring and a little boy who wears her clothes and a young musician with beautiful eyes.
She opens her eyes slowly, groaning out loud as she tries moving and realizes how sore she is. It takes a few moments before she's awake enough to realize that he's standing right in front of her. When she does manage to focus on his face, she jolts upright, mumbling apologies about her unladylike appearance.
That is, until her head crashes into the window ledge and she lets loose a string of curses while pain shoots through her skull.
"Miss Hungary!" He rushes forward and places one hand on her shoulder, the other trying to move her hands so that he can see the damage. "Are you alright?"
She's not sure if it's the pain or the music or the sheer hopelessness of her cage that makes her start laughing and say to him, "That's Mrs. Austria to you, young man."
When he pulls away, a startled look on his face, her smile falls and she sighs, going back to cradling her head. "I'm sorry, Roderich – I can still call you that at least, can't I?" She waits for him to nod before going on. "I don't know what came over me."
He's silent for a moment, measuring her with those piercing eyes of his. "What were you doing underneath the window?"
Embarrassed, she shrugs. "I remember you used to play every day."
Now it's his turn to look uncomfortable and glance away. "My boss says there are other things I should be concentrating on, and I wasn't sure if you would mind the constant noise."
"That's silly," she says firmly, boldly reaching forward to take one of his slim hands in her own. "Your music is a part of you, Roderich, and it can't be taken away or ignored. Besides," she adds when he opens his mouth to interrupt, "why didn't you just ask me? Didn't we used to know each other? Didn't I used to come to listen to you whenever I could?"
"You've changed," he admits, his hand tightening ever so slightly around hers. "Besides, we're married now. It's not like before." She sees him hesitate, taking the time to choose his words carefully before he continues. "It's important that this marriage works out, and I didn't want to offend you in any way."
"Roderich, that's ridiculous. Come on; come take a walk with me. I feel like I haven't talked to a real human being in ages. If you want this to work out, I want to be married to you, Roderich, not some cold shell who only knows how to say 'please' and 'thank you'." She smiles at him and tugs him gently along the paths she so often haunted at night.
They hold hands until she lets go to kneel and study the edelweiss. For once, she's not particularly fussy about getting her dress dirty and she's more delighted than she can say when he starts telling her all about them.
"You should sing," she tells him, cutting him off in the middle of his speech about the color of the flowers.
He blinks in confusion a few times before frowning and shaking his head. "Where did that come from?"
"You have a nice voice," she explains, tilting her head to the side a bit as she studies him. "And I don't think I've ever heard you sing."
When he doesn't reply, she quietly murmurs, "I think the only time you're ever relaxed is when you're with your music. If you won't sing, will you at least play for me?"
He gives her a look that tells her she's caught him completely off guard and he thinks she might be a bit crazy, but humors her anyway. "Last night wasn't enough for you?"
"You owe me a month's worth of concerts," she tells him, smacking him lightly on the arm with a grin. "I want to hear you play every day."
"We'll see." He leads her back to the house and into what she assumes is one of many piano rooms. "You'll probably get bored of listening after a few days."
"Never," she assures him. "I'll always be listening for your songs."
She can hear a smile in the piece he plays for her.
It takes a while, but eventually she convinces him that she hasn't changed so much that she'll fall apart if he buttons his shirt the wrong way or accidently knocks over a flower pot when he's trying to walk and read at the same time.
"You don't have to be perfect, you know," she tells him after he spends nearly eight hours alternating between his piano and his violin, ink staining his fingers every time he picks up his old fashioned pen to write. Before he touches either of his precious instruments though, he always scrubs at his hands until they're clean again.
"I'm almost done," he says shortly, not quite so polite as usual when he can feel a song just out of his reach. "Please be silent if you wish to stay in this room."
She watches him pace the room seventeen times before suddenly rushing over to piano and playing a few notes. He shakes his head and makes a noise of disapproval, moving to the sheets he has already filled and scanning them over with his lips pressed together tightly.
"I'll be in the garden if you need me." She leaves the room as quietly as she can, not expecting an answer and not receiving one.
The dawn spilling across the sky is the first thing she notices when she opens her eyes. He stands over her, a frown etched into his face.
"You shouldn't have stayed outside all night," he scolds. "Why didn't you sleep in your room?"
She shrugs and mumbles, "Lost track of time." She doesn't tell him how cold her room is, how empty and silent. At least in the garden, she can hear the wind whistling, when the birds and crickets aren't chirping.
"I apologize for last night," he says softly, offering her his hand. His hand is warm as she slips her fingers through his, as they have become used to doing during their walks. "I may have been a bit rude."
She brushes it off easily. "Did you manage to finish?"
"Yes." He smiles at her and she grins back. "Would you like to hear it?"
"After dinner," she declares, letting go of his hand to twirl around. "I demand that you take me out somewhere nice for dinner to make up for last night!"
She glances over her shoulder to see him watching her and laughs a little at the mild alarm on his face as she starts running backwards. She stops and waits for him to catch up, and skips away again when he does.
"Come on," she teases, "Don't tell me you're an old man already!"
He sighs and shakes his head before walking slightly faster. She rolls her eyes but falls into place when he offers her his arm. They walk back to his house together, where he promptly insists that she tell him where she wants to go.
"This is your country, silly," she replies, waving her hand at the view outside the windows. "You pick somewhere."
When he hesitates, she huffs and throws a pillow that connects solidly with his face. His shocked expression looks so naïve that she can't but laugh, clutching her stomach as she collapses onto the couch.
"Maybe we could just cook something," she suggests once she's calmed down. He's watching her rather warily and she has to resist the urge to find something else to launch at him. She stands briskly and, grabbing him by the hand, runs off to the kitchen.
He likes to sit by the fireplace with a novel in the evenings when he's not practicing. She's taken to keeping him company, often with a book of her own. Sometimes, they tell each other about how their days went and discuss what their bosses were planning, but often they are content in the silence.
On this particular night, she notices right away that he can barely keep his eyes open as he sinks down onto the couch. She sits beside him and places a comforting hand on his arm. "Are you okay?"
"Just tired," he replies, rubbing his eyes behind his glasses. "If you'll excuse me, Miss Hungary, I think I'll retire for the night. I doubt I would be very good company tonight; I'm simply much too tired."
"Roderich," she says suddenly, stopping him as he stands. "When are you going to stop treating me like some delicate noblewomen?"
He blinks at her. "What do you mean?"
"You'll stay here tonight," she decides firmly, yanking on his arm until he sits down again. "If you're tired, you don't have to stay awake. If you want to sleep, feel free to do so, but I would very much appreciate it if I didn't have to spend another night alone."
Slowly, he nods in understanding. With a tired smile, he stretches out on the couch with the top of his head just barely brushing her leg. "Good night, Miss Hungary."
"Call me Elizabeta," she orders, tugging gently on his hair. "And I have a perfectly good lap right here. There's no need to tickle the side of my leg like that."
He looks at her incredulously and she stares back stubbornly. After a few moments, he hesitantly shifts. She runs a hand through his hair, humming in approval. "Much better."
He closes his eyes. "Good night, Miss Hun – Elizabeta."
"Good night, Roderich." She leans down to place a gentle kiss on his forehead.
There's a pink tinge to his cheeks that she can't help but be amused by.
Somehow, she's not surprised when their first time includes candles and a few glasses of red wine. The flickering light is warm against his pale skin as she marks it with her kisses, experimenting with her hands and her mouth to find the places that made him arch his back underneath her and the ones that made him gasp and groan out loud.
When he pushes her down, her hair fanning out around her on the white bed sheets, she's not surprised to find out that his fingers aren't only skilled at making music either.
She holds the gun in her hands and stands over him protectively, her eyes flickering back and forth as she takes in all their men scurrying back and forth.
He stirs weakly behind her and mutters, "What happened?"
"You never really were very good at fighting," she explains almost apologetically.
"You shouldn't have to protect me," he says, pushing himself up onto his elbows.
She just calmly turns and cocks the gun, aiming right at him. "Lie back down right now before my patience wears thin and I shoot you."
He eyes the weapon warily. "You wouldn't."
"I wouldn't hesitate to knock you out," she tells him. "So shut up and get better."
Something like a smile darts across his face and he lowers himself back down slowly. "Thank you, Elizabeta."
She grins at him and lowers the gun. "Don't worry about it. Just hurry up and heal so that when this goddamn war is over, you can go back to using those pretty fingers for what they were meant for."
"And what's that?"
"Making music, obviously." She takes one hand and squeezes gently. "You're capable of making beauty, Roderich, and that's exactly what we need more of."
"I don't usually cry, you know."
"I know," he says gently as she sniffs and wipes her eyes. "You're incredibly strong, Elizabeta."
"This is so stupid!" she cries, hitting the wall in frustration. "Why would they do this?"
He just watches her with tired eyes. She huffs and stalks over to him to stab a finger into his chest. "Are you just giving up? Is this it? We're going to leave here today, and never see each other again because they say so?"
"It won't be never," he sighs wearily, his usually impeccable posture slumping slightly. "You know that politics do not and will never dictate how we feel."
"Tell me how you feel." She watches as a blush slowly creeps its way up his neck and onto his cheeks, and he looks away quickly.
Instead, he offers her his hand. When she accepts, he leans down to kiss it, his lips only lightly brushing her knuckles, before he stands and scoops her up into his arms like their marriage day. With a slight rather undignified squawk, she is carried through the cold halls of his house to his favorite piano room.
He sets her down on the divan by the piano and walks over to his beloved instrument, freeing the keys from their cover with a jarring noise. He sits, adjust his glasses, and becomes completely still.
She watches him warily, noting the tension that coils through his muscles as he brings his hands up suddenly and then crashing down. The dissonant chord tears through the room and she winces, unused to the harsh music that's storming from the piano.
The notes march before her, telling her a story of war and bloodshed and the suffering of the people. They show her the tears of lost lovers and broken soldiers that could never be put back together. They lament the loss of a union, the dissolution of an empire.
The music fades away mournfully and she doesn't hesitate as she approaches the piano and wraps her arms around her husband. He turns to her and she kisses the tear tracks on both of his cheeks before pressing her forehead to his.
"I love you," she tells him.
He smiles sadly and replies, "I know. I love you too."
They lean on each other until England and France come to find them, their eyes cold and guarded. They hold hands tightly as they walk together to hear their fate.
The piano remains behind, silent and empty.
A/N - This is what happens when I decide I should try writing a het pairing - I realize that ohmygod i can use all these pronouns and everything will still make sense and then I end up with a fic that completely abuses them.
Super quick history tidbit that was mostly copy+pasted from Wikipedia:
Austria-Hungary (also known as the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy or the Dual Monarchy) was a result of the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867. Austrian and Hungarian lands became independent entities enjoying equal status. There was a Hungarian government, an Austrian government, and a government under the monarch that united the two countries. It was dissolved October 31, 1918 following military defeat in the Italian front of WWI.
My knowledge of Europeen history is embarrassingly pathetic. ;
The amount of fics I have that involve Austria and music is bordering on ridiculous.