A/N: Part of meine Familie, the collection of Hetalia fics that will, hopefully, trace the German family from the beginning of Austria to present day.
Note on names: Because of frequent changes in name that occurred through the centuries, I've chosen to use the German translation of each country's name in dialogue, and the English name in prose .
"Österreich, he looks like–"
He couldn't have been much more than a meter, a meter-and-a-half tall at most, staring up at the two of them with a calm, blue-eyed gaze. The small, fitted uniform looked as though it were made for a child merely playing soldier, his hat held in both hands before him.
"Look, Österreich–!" Prussia was growing impatient, physically taking Austria by the arm and turning him to face him. "Österreich, I thought you said–"
Austria yanked his elbow free and scowled. "Will you be silent, Preußen!"
Through it all, the young boy stared up at them, face blank, completely silent. It was almost eerie, the similarities between him and–
"Wait here for just a moment," Austria addressed the boy finally, putting his hands on his hips and gesturing to the room as a whole.
The boy nodded once, but made no other movement. His eyes never left Austria's, not even glancing to Prussia for confirmation. It was enough that one of them had given the order, apparently, which made the Prussia audibly growl and turn, dark blue coat flying out behind him in a flourish.
Austria rolled his eyes at the dramatics and turned to follow, glancing over his shoulder one last time at the boy as he put his hand on the doorknob. Alone in the center of the room, the boy made no move to seat himself in one of the chairs nearby, or pick up the cup of coffee Austria had had one of his officers prepare and pour. He just... stared at them both.
"The coffee is growing cold," he remarked mildly, shutting the double doors behind him with a squeal and a soft click, finally cutting off that blue-eyed boy's stare.
Prussia immediately turned, sticking his nose right in Austria's face as he snarled, "Holy Rome is dead. You told me that."
Austria didn't back up, refusing to give ground to Prussia. They might be allies now out of common necessity, but that did not mean they had to like each other. "Imperium Romanum Sacrumis dead," he conceded, voice amiable as he stared at the other through his glasses. Latin rolled off his tongue with the same ease as German, and he saw Prussia flinch. Yes, he supposed that perhaps his tone was a bit flippant for something like this. However, he could not afford to show something as weak as sentiment before the other; he could not one to wear his passions on his sleeve for any to take advantage. Not without reason, that is.
"Jeezus, are you a German or aren't you? At least call him Heiliges Römisch–"
"I do not have a need to drag the languages of state through the mud, unlike you, Preußen." Austria didn't raise his tone as he stared at the Prussian. "Besides, that child wanted more than anything to be like the Roman Empire. Do you really think he would have enjoyed being labeled like one of you lot?"
"He wanted to be like Rome more than anything. The least you can do is not drag his name into the dirt with scum like you."
"Now listen here, you fucking–!"
"Preußen, kindly do not shout." Austria finally pulled back and stepped around the other German, clasping his hands behind his back and folding his hands within his long white sleeves. He did not care for uniforms of this kind; he would much prefer to be in his long blue coat, baton in hand rather than the rifle that seemed more often to be in his palm. "That boy is likely listening." He stopped in the center of the room. This house was adorned with French emblems, classically built; the little upstart-emperor's handiwork, no doubt. There was something undeniably German about it, though, something that gave Austria pause.
"What, and you don't want to ruin his delicate sensibilities?" Prussia snorted. "He's not you, you know."
"Nor is he you," he pointed out, turning his head to glance over his shoulder at the Prussian. "No, he may have been raised by France, but he is by no means French."
Prussia snorted again. "Betcha he can sing "Chant du départ" with the rest of 'em."
"You gigantic fool, look at the boy!" Austria finally turned and pointed sharply at the door behind them. "He is clearly German!"
"I'm not arguing with you, priss." Prussia moved forward and knocked a fist against Austria's chest with a grin. "Sheesh, bit uptight, aren't ya?"
"Be quiet." His nostrils flared as he pushed away the Prussian's hand and scowled. "The question remains as to what we are to do with him."
"Well, he's German, ain't he?" Prussia grinned wider and shoved his hands in his pockets. "Makes 'im mine."
Austria crossed his arms and sniffed, closing his eyes to keep from having to stare at that blasted shit-eating grin. "I'm as German as you are, fool."
His raucous laugh exploded through the hall, and Austria opened his eyes to see Prussia doubled over, barely able to breathe for his scornful laughter. "That Hungarian bitch in your house is no German, priss, hate to break it to ya," he said finally, wiping a tear from his eye. "Have you looked at your territory lately? You're no German, Austria."
He gritted his teeth and crossed his arms tighter, closing his eyes again. How was it that even Latin sounded foul by the Prussian's lips? "My territories may be Slavic, this is true, but I am a German."
"And who's that kid, huh? Which kingdom's he supposed to be, huh?"
Austria uncrossed his arms and shook his head, moving to stand just before the door, hand resting lightly on the knob. "He's not just a kingdom," he murmured, violet eyes thoughtful as though he could see the boy through the thick mahogany. "He's the entire Confederation of the Rhine."
"...Bullshit." Prussia came up behind him and leaned against the door, arms crossed, staring down at Austria before glancing at the door. "There's no way that kid can control all that."
"If he were alone, I might agree with you." Austria turned and leaned against the door with a frown. "However, he has had the support of Frankreich for nearly a decade."
"Tch. Bastard." Looking at Prussia's face, it was hard to believe that barely half a century ago he and France had been close friends. Austria hummed softly to himself. France's rebellions and mad grasps for power... faintly, he wondered what the other empire was thinking, if he were even fully in possession of himself. "So you're telling me that kid is going to be the next Holy Roman Empire."
"He is not Imperium Romanum Sacrum, Preußen, that boy is gone and there is no use trying to pretend that he is going to come back." He tilted his head and ignored the faint twinge in his chest. What was the saying? "There is no use crying over spilt milk."
Next thing he knew, his face was pressed into the rich red carpet, Prussia's boot digging into his back, cheek still stinging from the sudden punch. His glasses clattered across the hardwood almost as an afterthought, the only sound labored breathing from both of them.
Austria coughed and craned his head in an attempt to glare up at the Prussian. "What is wrong with you, you fool?" Gentlemen did not spit across the floor, and he was forced to swallow the iron tang of his own blood. "Are you trying to declare war?"
"Are you trying to be a complete Arschloch?" Prussia drew his foot back, and Austria squeezed his eyes tightly shut in anticipation for a kick. "How can you say that, you raised that kid, you sonuva–"
With the pressure removed from his back, Austria rolled onto his side and coughed into his hand, shooting a venomous glare up at the Prussian as he dug for a handkerchief. "You think I am not fully aware of that? That child made his own foolish choices, and he is dead because of those choices!"
"Because you didn't help him, you bastard, you just sat there and watched Frankreich slice him to pieces, didn't you?" Prussia was fairly shouting now, and Austria felt his breathing catch in fear. He hadn't often seen this side of Prussia away from the battlefield, where his red devil's-eyes blazed with anger. "Did you two fuck afterward? That's all you're good for, you rank aristocratic piece of Scheiße!"
Austria laid there, resting on his elbow without fully getting up until the sound of Prussia's heavy breathing was the only sound in the room. "Are you quite finished?" he asked finally, dabbing at the corner of his mouth with the handkerchief and wincing when it came away red.
"Don't you even care about anything?"
It seemed he was not. Austria rolled over gingerly and started to rise to his feet, one hand held up in an attempt to stave off another blow. "Do you think I did not care for the boy...?" he asked softly, folding the handkerchief carefully without looking the Prussian in the eye. "Do you really think I did not do everything in my power to protect that boy...?" He swallowed his own bitter salvia and drew himself up to his full height, gazing contemptuously at the Prussian. "You would do well not to care so much, Preußen. It seems that which one cares for most is constantly taken away. I learned that many times, often from you."
"The fuck is that supposed to mean?"
"Interpret it as you will, Preußen. I owe you no apology." He tucked the folded handkerchief back in his pocket and reached up to adjust his glasses before realizing they had been knocked off by the earlier punch.
"You know something, Österreich?" Prussia shook out his hand and stared at it as if it were something filthy. "You've got a dirtier fucking mouth than I do."
Austria raised a hand to his mouth, feeling a smear of blood he had missed with the handkerchief and wiping it with his thumb. "Is that so...?" he mused, closing his eyes.
He had raised Holy Roman Empire, almost since his birth. He had admired him, looked up to him, hoped to follow him on his quest to achieve greatness like Rome himself had done. He had watched that boy struggle to make something of himself, to try and mold himself into something he never was. With all his heart, he had wanted to see that boy succeed.
Which made it all the more painful to watch France's emperor just decide to... dissolve him.
"You are, of course, entitled to your opinion," Austria said finally, rubbing his thumb and forefinger together in an attempt to remove the blood and opening his eyes to see Prussia with his glasses in hand, holding them out without looking.
"Dropped these," he said, sounding somewhat embarrassed. "Look, you're an asshole, okay, but everyone's on edge these days, right?"
Austria snorted softly through his nose and took his glasses back, pulling out that handkerchief again and unfolding it to find a clean corner to wipe them with. "That is supposed to be what I say to you, fool."
"Yeah, well, do us both a favor and don't insult the kid, okay?" Prussia shoved his hands in his pockets and stared at the door, lips sticking out slightly. "He... he did his best. I mean, we could'a..."
He paused as the other trailed off, staring down at the glass. "I know..." he stated softly, slipping them back on and adjusting them carefully over his nose. "Believe me, I know..."
Prussia cleared his throat and jerked his chin toward the door. "Kid's probably thinkin' we're completely nuts, ya think?"
"That's just you. Fool." Austria put the handkerchief away again and brushed himself off. "I suppose we should go speak with him, if you're quite finished beating your own allies...?"
"I make a special exception for you, priss." Prussia grinned wickedly and moved to shove both doors open, coat flying out behind him. "Yo, kid, you miss us?"
Austria followed, arms crossed, much less dramatically than Prussia, and watched the boy. To all appearances, he hadn't moved so much as a centimeter from where he had stood when they left. In response to Prussia's question, he shook his head, looking first from Austria and back to Prussia.
"Rheinbund, is it...?" Austria crossed the room and took a seat on the couch near the fireplace, folding his hands in his lap. "I trust you understand the situation you are in, yes?"
The boy nodded once, following Austria's movements with his eyes.
"Jeezus, does the kid even speak German?" Prussia sauntered over to him and crouched down in front of him, staring up at him curiously.
He flinched, eyes widening at the sudden invasion of his personal space, a quick, "J-ja!" escaping from between his young lips. The boy's voice was still high as he leaned back from the Prussian, looking quickly toward Austria as if waiting for a cue.
Austria just shook his head, an exchange that didn't go unnoticed by the Prussian. "Yo, Österreich, how come the kid likes you so much?" he asked, following the boy's gaze.
"If you must know, I was unfortunately also under Frankreich for a time, you fool." Austria reached out calmly and took a sip from his coffee, grimacing a bit at how cold it had grown.
"Right, right..." Prussia nodded, then reached out and grasped the boy's chin between his fingers as if inspecting him.
"Preußen, what are you–?" Austria set the cup down as the boy began to struggle, blue eyes wide.
"L-let go of me!"
Prussia tilted the boy's face, ignoring the little hands pounding at his arm. "You talk like a Frenchie," he said finally, letting go and watching him scramble backward, hands outstretched to fend off another attack. "But you're definitely a German. I like you, kid."
The boy raised one hand to his chin, scowling darkly and flushing with indignation, a sight that only made the Prussian chuckle. "Good, kid, fight back. You know, there may be some saving you yet. Can I have 'im, Österreich?"
Austria snorted through his nose and crossed his arms. "You say that as if it's my decision to make, fool. I doubt it."
"W-what do you two want?" the boy demanded finally, jutting his chin out and crossing his arms stubbornly. "Stop talking about me like I'm not here!"
Prussia laughed again and jumped to his feet, fairly applauding. "Ahaha, this kid's got spirit! Nothing like you, Österreich~"
Austria rolled his eyes and leaned forward to gesture to the couch across from him. "Rheinbund, please, have a seat."
The boy glanced between the two of them suspiciously before moving to sit at the very edge of the opposite couch. He was light enough that he didn't sink into the heavy fabric like Austria did, and his little boots hung over the edge, just barely brushing the floor with his toes.
Prussia sauntered over and perched himself on the edge of the couch's arm, casually resting his chin on his palm and winking at him. Austria glanced over and had to stop himself from rolling his eyes again; Prussia wanted this kid, that much was obvious, but he couldn't tell if it were genuine interest in the boy or if he merely wanted to take something from under France's nose for spite.
"There is a problem, Rheinbund, and that problem is you."
To his surprise, the boy didn't look taken aback; he just nodded slowly. "Because of the war with Frankreich...?"
"Yeah. We're finally pushing the French bastard back–!"
"Preußen, mind your tongue."
"What, like he hasn't heard "bastard" befo–"
"Whether he has or not is inconsequential, kindly make an attempt to be civi–"
"Would you two please stop that?" A third voice entered the growing debate and brought it to a sudden halt as Prussia and Austria glanced toward the boy. "I already asked you not to treat me as if I am not here!"
Both of Austria's eyebrows rose in surprise, and he settled back in his seat with a small, satisfied smile. It was good that the boy wouldn't allow himself to be spoken ov–
His eyes widened as Prussia lunged forward, hands outstretched as if he were going to strangle the boy. "Preußen, what on earth are you–"
"So cute–!" Prussia was grinning like a madman as he grabbed the boy's cheek and pulled it. "Österreich, this kid's like the little brother I never had!"
"S-stop that–!" The boy angrily knocked Prussia's hand away and scooted to the other side of the couch with a scowl equal parts indignation and horror. "Are you really Königreich Preußen?"
"Unfortunately, he is..." Austria rubbed one hand against his temple and sighed. "You see what foolishness I must deal with on a constant basis...?"
"That settles it, we're taking him away from Frankreich, no way that French bastard deserves to keep an awesome kid like this!" Thankfully for the boy, Prussia didn't try and make another grab for his cheek, just sitting there on his own side of the couch and grinning to himself.
Austria sighed and lifted his eyes heavenward before continuing, "As I was saying, Rheinbund, you are no longer going to be permitted to be with Frankreich any longer. We, the Coalition, will be taking control of your territory, at least for the foreseeable future. Your aid in our struggle against Napoleon would be greatly appreciated."
"Yo, Österreich, isn't that a little much to throw at the kid all at once?"
The boy glared at Prussia, and the older country held up his hands with a grin to keep him from having to repeat his earlier request. "I understand fine," he growled through gritted teeth, crossing his arms tighter over his small chest. "If I help you, it would be better for me after the war, right? If you win."
Prussia whistled through his teeth. "Smart kid..."
Austria carefully hid his smile behind a sip of coffee. "Perhaps. That does depend on the nature of your involvement."
The boy looked at them both carefully, then he closed his eyes and mimicked Austria's pose, crossing his arms and leaning back. "I don't want to disappear."
It was the forced casualness that made both older countries pause and look at each other. Sharp kid, Prussia mouthed again, to which Austria only nodded and offered a minute shrug.
"Well." He cleared his throat and took another sip from his coffee. "That is not our decision."
"I heard you. Outside." The boy opened his eyes, and Austria exchanged a startled glance with Prussia. He hadn't noticed it before, but those blue eyes that seemed to watch and analyze everything looked so much older than the boy should be. "You were talking about the Holy Roman Empire. I was reading about him."
"I-issat right...?" Prussia forced a chuckle with a smile that didn't reach his eyes, studying the boy carefully. Austria set his coffee down and leaned it, looking at the boy's face. "You're a smart kid, aren't you...?"
The boy just shrugged and rested his elbows on his knees and his chin on his hands, a strikingly childish pose compared with his words. "I want to be strong so I won't disappear like him."
A muscle in Austria's jaw twitched. Did the child really think it was only a matter of physical strength...? Impossible. There were far too many intricacies to political life in this age, there were far too many alliances. Not to mention where he was located; he would have nowhere to expand to gain the kind of strength he wanted.
But... Austria tilted his head to regard him. There was something inspiring in the way the boy set his jaw, the determination reflected in his eyes. Just like Holy Rome, before he had left his house never to return. In spite of himself, Austria felt as though he could – should – help this boy do it. He was a German, after all...
Prussia slid across the couch, and the boy immediately raised a hand to cover his cheek with a suspicious glower, but the older man only patted his shoulder. "'S a good goal, kid," he said. If Austria didn't know better, he would have sworn the Prussian's eyes softened. "I think you can do it. I'll help you like you're my little brother."
Don't be hasty, Austria wanted to say, but the words rested heavily on his tongue until he swallowed them. Hadn't he just warned the other not so long ago to try not to care so much...? But looking at the boy, it was difficult to follow his own advice. It was almost...
As if he were being given another chance.
Austria raised one hand to his chest, touching the cross hanging around his neck. He couldn't feel it under the uniform, but he knew it was there; it was always there, just like Him. Dear God... He closed his eyes even as Prussia started trying to muss the child's hair, much to the boy's consternation. Please let me be able to keep this boy safe, and let him grow strong...
He took a breath, fully aware of how strange he must look right now, and opened his eyes. The other two were still occupied, and, seeming without regard for how serious their previous discussion had been, the young German was laughing under Prussia's assault.
A small smile graced Austria's lips as he pulled his hand away from the cross and glanced upward for a moment. Imperium Romanum Sacrum... please watch this boy, and be proud, my child...
He closed his eyes against a sudden assault of emotion, and quickly raised a hand to cover them as a single tear emerged from beneath his eyelids, quickly wiping it away before the others could notice. "Come now!" he barked, crossing his legs and scowling, trying to make himself heard over the laughter. "There is much to discuss, are you listening to me, you fools?"
After several attempts, he gave up and sat back, closing his eyes and carefully hiding his smile. Well. Give the child a chance to be a child for now, anyway. The Lord only knew what this boy had waiting for him in the future.
Confederation of the Rhine... no. German Confederation.
The Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815): (An extremely brief summary) These wars are the backdrop of the fic; the European continent has been at war for the past decade with the French forces commanded by Napoleon. France was able to largely sweep across the continent thanks to new tactics developed by Napoleon, but by 1813, the Coalition was able to start pushing back, starting with Napoleon's disastrous defeat in Russia (1812).
HRE: (An even briefer summary) A summary of the entire Holy Roman Empire would take several books. _;; For the purposes of the fic, what's important to know is that the Holy Roman Empire was officially dissolved by Napoleon in 1806 (well, to be fair, technically Napoleon issued an ultimatum to Austrian emperor Franz II to declare the HRE dissolved), to be replaced by the Confederation of the Rhine. This act (obviously) stripped the emperor of Austria of his title as "Holy Roman Emperor." This is NOT to be confused with German Unification under Prussia in 1871; rather this functioned more as a military alliance to aid France until the Coalition started pushing France back; then the individual member states started defecting over to the winning side. Oh Germany, ever the pragmatist. ~_~;;
German Confederation: (Again, not to be confused with the Unification of Germany in 1871.) Teeeeeeeeeechnically the German Confederation wasn't established until 1815 with the Congress of Vienna to create a buffer state between Austria and Prussia, but as it was mentioned near the end, it deserves a footnote. The German Confederation was the successor to the Confederation of the Rhine, unifying some of the three-hundred-plus German kingdoms in thirty-nine kingdoms.
Latin vs. German: In the era following the French Revolution, within Europe there was a rise in the popularity of the vernacular to be used in courts and for state affairs, rather than the traditional Latin. Austria was one of the last countries to finally switch from Latin to German.
Germans vs. Slavs: Though the state of Austria itself was as German as Prussia and the rest of the kingdoms to the West, the bulk of the territories of the Austrian Empire were in fact Slavic. With the concept of nationalism beginning to rise in this time, it left the question of who were the "Germans," and how that related to the concept of the empire as a nation.