smile for the camera

by onetwosevennine

starring. Austria and Hungary (Axis Powers Hetalia), a teensy bit of Italy/Hungary.

author's note. I always noticed how Austria seems to be kind of bashed in fics revolving around Hungary/someone else. And the thing is, I can't help but feel bad for the guy. Because, he's adorkable even though he acts snooty, and Austria/Hungary was (is still?) canon anyway. So what's not to love, you get me? :9

Anyway, this thing kind of popped into my head. It's AU, and it's inspired by a few eps of America's Next Top Model (go ahead, laugh) and just, y'know, the entertainment industry in general. Also, I'd like to think of this as an AU rewriting of Austria and Hungary's marriage, so…yeah. You can probably find some allusions to it while reading. That, and a handful of other references. /is a neeeerrd derp

And Italy/Hungary has grown on me. Don't ask why.

ratings and warnings. Pretty safe, nothing too explicit or suggestive.

summary. His fingers strum against the piano keys and he sings – I think I left a piece of my heart in your dresser.

(in case you want to start over.)

. . .

The first time they meet, it's over coffee.

It isn't as quaint as it sounds though, because when they both come in through the doors, they do it with stone-cold faces, contracts in their hands and agents right behind their backs.

He knows who she is – everyone knows who she is, because, well, she's famous. She is Erzsébet Héderváry, better recognized by her stagename 'Elizaveta' (which is easier to pronounce too, compared to her Hungarian, tongue-twisting, chock-full-of-consonants real name), and she absolutely fits the words 'teen sensation' to the T. She's hit the big-time at the tender age of eighteen, and despite that – or maybe because of that, she's almost kind of beautiful. She has wavy brown hair and a perfectly sculpted face, spicy green eyes and easy smiles that the camera always loves – it's really no wonder she's a model.

She has a trademark style all her own, even when modeling. Elizaveta prefers loose clothing and androgynous looks, fedora hats and button-up shirts, dark-colored slacks and cowboy boots. Accessories for her aren't necklaces or bangles; they're ties and vests, ascots and suspenders. She wears little to no makeup, and her hair is almost always tied back into loose ponytail, chocolate swirls spilling haphazardly past her shoulders.

He thinks, personally, that she isn't much like regular models. And still, she shines above all the others.

Really, she's almost kind of beautiful.

(but he doesn't say anything out loud.)

Their agents do their talking for them, that day. He tunes out for the most part, and so does she, but he does it with a little more dignity and a lot more subtlety, careful to arrange his features to resemble something akin to interest, while she just sits on the sidelines, yawns, and excuses herself so she could buy herself a muffin to go along with her frappucino.

In between their agents' polite murmurs, the faint music playing in the background – it's one of Liszt's pieces, he guesses, and wow, that's a bit ironic in how fitting it was to have a famous Hungarian composer acting as his BGM during a meeting with a famous Hungarian girl – not to mention her dainty little chews upon her muffin, he could still make out the words 'selling power', 'good publicity' and 'a much better idea than letting her stick with Gilbert for the rest of her career'.

He really has little interest in their agents' pseudo-Wikipedia marketing babble, and he thinks he starting to get cramps from sitting still for too long, but then again, his mind reminds him that his agent has found him so many wonderful jobs, and the least he can do to repay ol' Franz back is to stay put here for another few minutes. It's what a gentleman would do, he thinks to himself. Isn't it?

"Roderich, do you understand? Do you agree with the arrangements, everything?"

"Oh," he says, blinking. Drats. He knew he should've been paying more attention. And it would be a little late and a whole lot more embarrassing to ask for a recap now. Fretfully, his eyes dart to the people around him for a moment, desperate for any clues. His manager has an expectant look on his face, so that didn't help much. Elizaveta's agent looks a little more somber, but still has the word 'eager' tattooed on his forehead.

His gaze flits about the room before they finally land on her.

She blinks, a little startled at the attention. Then she tilts her head to the side, messy chestnut spirals grazing her cheek, before finally, her lips twist upwards into a little, tiny half-smile – that looks so easy and carefree, she practically radiates that playful feeling that everyone loves.

(he wants to be a part of that. somehow. he doesn't really get it either.)

"Yes," he says at last. "I do."

"Then, it's settled." His manager says with a seemingly satisfied voice. "From today, you two are going to be dating."

. . .

They're just a gimmick to keep the people interested. Tabloids love them, they're dubbed as the epitome of 'opposites attract', and for a few months their faces were plastered on almost every magazine cover. She starts getting more photo shoots and starts modeling for more famous brands. He gets more tickets sold for his shows, and his songs begin to get more airplay. Things were looking pretty great, and they both were moving up in the world. To quote the words of his manager, at that time, 'life was flippin' awesome.'

But honestly, it kind of doesn't make sense to him. Because if Elizaveta the darling little tomboy ladette is going out with him, Roderich "Mister Piano Man" Edelstein, what does that have to do with anything?

(not that he's complaining. nobody ever said that tomboy ladette and mister piano man couldn't work out. right?)

So yes, life was flippin' awesome.

Then, the Axis happens.

The Axis is a group of three young men – younger than Roderich, anyway – who sang and danced and acted their way to stardom. They're a bit like a boy band, but a lot less obnoxious and hair-gelled and their songs are quite catchy, so the world instantly loves them.

(well, sort of. but haters are gon' hate.)

There is the sweet-faced, deliciously Italian Feliciano Vargas, the austere, macho-man German Ludwig Beilschmidt, and the humble, distinctly Japanese Kiku Honda. The three of them are under the same label as Roderich, so their tastes and genres of music are almost similar – but Roderich prefers to have a little more of a classical influence thrown into his work, along with a little blues and maybe, when he's feeling it, a piano solo improv done on the spot. The Axis' singles are mostly centered upon bubble-gum pop beats or ballads mixed with a great bass line and the boys' perfect vocal harmony, and usually Roderich would look down upon such 'music' but hey, they're selling it, and they're selling it good.

But of course, everything has its downsides. Feliciano and Ludwig's hometowns are located pretty far from the big city where they usually do their recordings, so the more they grew famous and the more packed their schedules became, they find it even harder to actually get together and perform. Things even went so far as to Kiku basically just running away from his own home, and soon, before he even knew it, Roderich found himself housing the three younger boys inside his apartment with the bathroom the size of a fridge.

Their label and managers told them to try and keep it a secret, but that plan soon flew out the window – especially when Feliciano's older brother, who was a rather known DJ and back-up dancer, accidentally revealed to the paparazzi that his little brother doesn't live with the family anymore. Cue spotlights and headlines and their faces on the cover of tabloids (again) – like "Roderich Edelstein Welcomes Axis Members" or "Mister Piano Man = Team Dad?" Things got much, um, livelier when the media found out about Kiku's whole situation. The world was enraptured, and the Axis went on topping the charts for about four weeks in a row.

It also sort of helped that Kiku's older step-cousin-slash-guardian was the confident billionaire CEO of a major corporation – something-something Enterprise. All Roderich knows is that it has "Wang" stuck somewhere in its name. Mister, uh, Wang made it clear that he definitely did not approve of Kiku's "unruly behavior" and his "forgoing of family business in order to pursue an unstable career in the entertainment industry" and, most importantly, the fact that "he didn't even bother to finish college, aru!"

Suddenly, Roderich begins to see more and more snapshots of him and his newest 'little brothers', and less of him and –

"Elizaveta?" he asks, putting away his glasses. Only a handful of people know that he doesn't really need glasses to see, they were just accessories recommended by his manager to make him look less plain. "Of course I know her. Why?"

He reaches out for a mug of coffee settled upon the kitchen counter. Feliciano is standing in front of him, smiling, while Ludwig is upstairs taking a shower, and Kiku is busy buying everybody dinner – something Asian, probably, that boy seems to be looking a little homesick.

"Well…" Feliciano drawls out slowly. He's twisting the edge of his dark blue T-shirt like he's nervous, and his hazel eyes dart across the living room before he finally speaks again. "Do you know if Elizaveta's, um, seeing anybody?"

Roderich is immediately awed by how utterly clueless this boy could be. If it weren't for the fact that they all dwelled under the same roof for the past six months, Roderich would've asked if Feliciano had been living under a rock.

(dude, you're freaking looking at him.)

Instead, he says, a little jokingly, "Why, Feliciano, do you like her?"

Feliciano turns a little pink, and laughs. "Yes. I mean, no. Well, maybe. A little. I don't know, I met her on the set of Teen Ink'sphoto shoot today and I'd just like to get to know her better, if that's possible. She seems cute."

"But she's older than you."

Feliciano shrugged. "So? Everyone knows older chicks are better. And besides, she's also…a little different. Not like other models… not like other girls her age," he pauses, then resumes. "Right? Don't you think so?"

Roderich immediately thinks back to the time he first met. The time when she yawned in the middle of her agent's lecture. The time when she excused herself to go to the ladies' room, only to emerge with a large muffin in her hand. The time when he spaced out and probably mastered the art of falling asleep with his eyes wide open. The time when she smiled, and when he thought that really; she's almost kind of beautiful.

("then, it's settled. from today, you two are going to be dating.")

The time when they went out on their first date – he remembers that they watched Brokeback Mountain,because Elizaveta claimed it was an excellent movie (he begs to differ). The time when they first showed a public display of affection – she'd looped her arm around his when they crossed a street called Poppy Road. The time she actually went to one of his concerts – right after the release of his album Goodspell. The time when they stopped for some ice cream by the side of the park and then suddenly cameras and microphones were shoved into their faces, along with the question: "Tell us, are you two together?"

She laughed, then. Easy and carefree, as always.

(he still wants to be a part of that – )

Feliciano's little cough awakens Roderich from his musings. "Oh. Yes. Sure. She's different, all right," Roderich answers awkwardly. He puts on his best stone-cold face in a matter of nanoseconds – he's got a politician's control of his features – and sips his coffee. The Italian removes a hand from his mouth and looks at his older friend expectantly.

"Well? Is she seeing anybody?" he prompts.

Roderich sets down his mug, and thinks again. Feliciano seems to be really interested, if anything, and helping him out with this thing certainly seems like it was a nice, gentlemanly thing to do. Roderich himselfhardly ever sees Elizaveta anymore, the news of them being a couple is practically old hat, and besides, it wasn't like they were actually going out for real, anyway. Little tomboy ladette and Mister Piano Man – everything was just an arrangement in order to stir up some drama and publicity. It wasn't as if they liked each other.

( – right?)

"No," Roderich finally says. "I don't think she is."

. . .

Almost unexpectedly, Feliciano doesn't date Elizaveta. He just admires her from the sidelines, because when he tries feebly to chat her up, she'll always laugh, ruffle his hair and call him a 'cute little kid.'

And, being Feliciano, he's content to stay as that.

She isn't.

Slowly, she changes.

She starts walking with her steps carefully measured; the hem of her new, short dresses brushing lightly against her legs. Her hair begins to gradually free itself from her usual low ponytail, and he begins to find a single, fresh geranium tucked between her loose caramel curls. Each footfall of hers is a transparent bell toll –

( - ringing and ringing and ringing.)

She discards her leather jackets and Bermuda pants, choosing instead to sweep her eyelids with glitter and her cheekbones with powder. She exists in a way that Roderich can feel is different, yet she still outshines any spotlight, and she still lights up the whole world with her presence.

It's not difficult to find Elizaveta. Roderich spots her in a dress that looks like something out of a fairy tale, green and white with billowing skirts gathered up in her palms. Her eyes are half-closed; her skin is sticky and damp from the humid air. Her hair is spinning wildly as she dances, moving to an invisible beat that's playing, in front of the backdrops and stage lights and camera flashes.

(can we pretend that they're like shooting stars? i could really use a wish right now.)

Her strappy, high-heeled shoes clack against the ground, tapping out a melody in D minor, and for a split second, she flashes a warm smile that makes his heart feel like his chest can barely contain it.

(let's hope the music never stops.)

In his studio, Roderich's fingers glide upon the ebony and ivory keys; and he presses them randomly until something like a song begins to pour out. Humming lyrics tentatively, he improvises for two hours straight until all he has is a song called Sixteen Bars about a Well-Dressed Girl with too-sweet notes and thoughtful words.

Almost expectedly, it reminds him of Elizaveta.

(and just so you know, it is played in D minor.)

. . .

Roderich releases a new album in the summer, with the title Gentlemen Don't. It's instantly a hit, because the songs are simple and upbeat and it's sort of a refreshing break from his usual blues-flavored singles. He goes on tours, gets invited to perform at the Grammies; he's nominated for a few awards and even manages to win a couple. His manager is ecstatic – by the end of the year, they'll be rolling in royalties for sure, he says.

Tonight is Roderich's last concert before he goes on a break to work on – hopefully – another award-winning album. He could hear the crowd going wild. A chant of 'One more song!' rises above the cheers and thunderous clapping. Roderich is in the middle of it all, almost completely breathless after playing on the piano so loud and singing so long. Even his fingers are shaking.

"Okay," he says into the microphone, voice a little hoarse. "One more song."

The audience cheers again, the cacophony growing louder as they recognize the opening notes. He sings Sixteen Bars about a Well-Dressed Girl before finally declaring his performance to be over, wishing everyone a good night and a see you soon.

Exhausted, he comes home to his apartment and opens the door to be greeted by a lively chorus of 'Surprise!' It turns out that Feliciano, Ludwig and Kiku decided to throw a tiny little get-together to celebrate their 'big brother's success. It isn't much, but there's chocolate cake, music, some fruit juice and party hats, so it sort of counts. Besides, despite everything it is a pretty sweet gesture, and definitely worth appreciating.

The four of them 'party' for a good half-hour until they are all worn out, which is signaled by Feliciano almost falling asleep in the juice bowl. Roderich orders everyone to go to bed – he's grown used to the whole Team Dad gig by now – and cleans up the living room to the best of his ability, even though his eyes are clouded by drowsiness.

He notices a little, yellow post-it note attached to the TV when he goes to turn off the lights. Curious, Roderich peels the note off the screen and reads it. The letters is a little scribbly here and there, but it's still legible – it must be Feliciano's writing.

Elizaveta – a couple of little hearts and a smiley face decorate this particular line. Roderich rolls his eyes good-naturedly even though no one else can see him, before continuing.

day after tomorrow. 5.30 pm

EK flight 195

destination – Milan

He freezes.

(…she's leaving?)

. . .

Erzsébet "Elizaveta" Héderváry is magic –

(because she's made of light freckles that dance across her shoulders, hazy sepia curls that frame bold green eyes, and a perfect, perfect smile that stretches across her face and kind of curves at the end like she knows the biggest secret in the whole wide world.)

and Roderich Edelstein is ordinary –

(because he's just a plain old wallflower of sorts that just happened to hit the big-time by a stroke of luck and talented fingers, and yet he likes to think that they still sort of fit in a way he just can't express except through his music and merely his music.)

and maybe, he's in love with her –

(because he sees inspiration, and she is inspiration.)

But that just isn't enough.

(it's time to say goodbye, now.)

. . .

"Don't you think it's a bit mean of you to leave for Milan without telling me?"

Elizaveta's head jerks up from the beige pages of Boy Meets Boy – honestly, he isn't that surprised at her choice of literature – and she turns around. There was something oddly idyllic, Roderich decides, about Hopkins – a little coffee shop tucked away within a quiet corner of the usually busy airport. Golden sunlight streams through the folded cream curtains, and he lets out a slow breath when he sees her eyes visibly widen as she recognizes his voice.

"Roderich Edelstein! Why are you here?" she exclaims, before realizing how terribly rude her statement must have sounded. She promptly turns red and covers her mouth with her hand, the other too busy closing her book and putting it away inside her carryon bag. "I – I'm sorry, that didn't come out right…"

He can't help but laugh. "No, that's quite all right. I…" he lets out a breath, and something akin to an ashamed grimace. "…I don't know what I was thinking, actually, following you here. I heard everything from a friend, and – "

"Feliciano?" she asks, a little smile tugging at her lips.

"Feliciano," he confirms, nodding.

It becomes awkwardly silent for a while. He watches as she leisurely fingers her vibrant, canary-yellow sundress that flows down her lanky frame just like water. It compliments her complexion well, he decides, and God, he really shouldn't feel so – so – lyrics, his mind says, to try and escape the heap of embarrassment that comes with thinking that she is –

Nothing comes. Nothing fits.

Except –

"…Why are you leaving, Elizaveta?" he utters, suddenly.

She blinks at his outburst. "What?"

"Uh, I mean, your agency must have been against you doing this, right?" he moves his head to the side, plows on. Tries to amend, or maybe even backpedal on his words.

"No, actually," she says, tucking a piece of her hair behind her ear. "They encouraged me to do it," she grins broadly.

(and his heart goes stop the time, don't leave, stay here, why are you really – )

"Besides," she continues. "Until now, I've just been following what everyone around me says. You know, like, 'Elizaveta, wear those,' or 'Elizaveta, say this' or 'Elizaveta, do that'. Stuff like that, and – and it slowly became a burden for me." She licks her lips a little, and begins looking wistfully out the airport window. Sunbeams dust her face with a faint orange glow.

(he wonders, just for a second, if the notion of 'Elizaveta, go date Roderich Edelstein' also was a burden.)

It takes a moment, during which the ridiculous little piece of hope he's been lugging around rises to huge, dumb proportions, but then she laughs. "But lately, I found out that this job could actually be a lot of fun, and I…really want to learn a lot and be able to succeed…" her voice sort of fades at the end, when she stands up and steps closer to him, close enough to kiss. "…On my own."

He chuckles, a little. "Elizaveta, you've changed," he remarks honestly.

She smiles. "You think?" she asks.

There hasn't been a time where he's seen her look this happy – like there's a small flame at her core, spreading warmth from her toes to the tips of her fingers. And he wants to think that it's all because of him – him, Roderich, who sings of hope and love and magic and you're as lovely as a ray of sunshine, I'm glad that you're mine, and takes her to the cusp of a world drenched in –

Silence engulfs them both once again, but it's the comfortable kind, and Roderich takes the time to contemplate how weak his willpower is. Almost a full year of no contact but the occasional text messages and semi-awkward run-ins during Academy Awards after-parties, and she'll be taking off to Milan in less than three hours, and here he is, randomly showing up in her face at Hopkins like a complete and total stalker – and she welcomes him with open arms.

It feels like old times again. Just a little, maybe.

Roderich nods. He glances down at her table and traces the maple carvings. He memorizes the shape of her hand. He finally tells her with a rare smile of his own:

"Then, I wish you the best of luck, Elizaveta."

It's an all too familiar plot but for once he decides to screw it and live a little.

She wraps him up in a hug.

( - almost kind of beautiful.)

"…Thank you."

. . .

endnotes. Rushed ending is flippin' rushed. This started as a 7k+ words saga and I felt that I needed to cut it down, so I know that the transitions were probably not that smooth. Terribly sorry about that. :I

oh, ALSO. Working on this got me approximately ten hours of sleep over two days, so somebody tell me it was at least vaguely worth it or I'm totally falling asleep in class tomorrow no matter what, I swear.

Which basically translates to please leave a review, and thanks for reading! ❤