A/N: Welcome in Ladies and Gents. Please take a seat, try not to make eye contact and try to enjoy the company. This is just a random something I wrote over christmas I thought I'd share. I hope you like.
Warnings: copious swearing, murder and mentions of child abuse (but not of Raven or Prozen).
Summary Extended: Gerhardt Zeppelin recounts a colorful childhood alongside Gunther Prozen. However everything starts to change when Raven and Rudolf enter the picture, including their dynamic, during the last year or so of Gerhardt's life.
Gerhardt had been a bully, seriously, he knew that. Though he'd never entirely put it down to any fault of his own. The Zeppelin Dynasty bred assholes in preparation for some kind of global shortage. His father especially was a prick, the drunken aging sadist; he'd spent so many years dangling affection out of reach so he could rain down condemnation on his only son that Gerhardt frankly didn't know if he'd ever truly loved his father. Gerhardt felt so set up, which wasn't Gunther's fault, but Gunther had always been the runt of the litter.
He knew as an adult that it had all been a glorious fucking set up on behalf of his father to breed some nastiness into him, into them both, but that wasn't something you talked about. Gunther could never just have anything, he had to work his ass off, but the Emperor adored him and for Gerhardt he could have everything he wanted, slack off, but his father hated him. There was no way to win where Zeppelin was concerned. He probably wanted them snapping at each other all their lives. Probably thought it'd be good to teach Gerhardt a thing or two about hate, competition and love while thoroughly pushing Gunther into his place. It was cruel but that was how the Imperial line worked. Gerhardt didn't have any brothers, any real brothers, for his father to pit him against so it left Gunther. Zeppelin had been one of six boys in the most vicious section of the war and he'd apparently garnered a lot from that he thought he needed to pass down.
It wasn't even worth considering how the whole Nyx debacle played into that.
Gerhardt had been barely four when Gunther was born but he remembered it distinctly. Charlotte looked so beautiful pregnant but then again she always looked stunning, a true courtier, born poor as shit bar the innate ability to make every woman in a room envious. She was brutal like that but Gerhardt had never noticed it. As a child he'd been too distracted by his little war across the nursery. Everything seemed to be falling apart at seams then: the Empress still looked like a sick milkmaid after her first torturous pregnancy and three years on, seemingly unable or unwilling to spit out anymore his father's neglectful ire towards her was growing ever more enraged. Gerhardt remembered his father yelled at everyone that year. He was too small, his mother was a 'lazy bitch' and even former Minister Prozen, Eve rest his soul, was too much of a 'fucking coward' for the Emperor.
Charlotte didn't get touched. Not a whisper. All she had to do was continue to eclipse the Empress and rattle some direct policies out of her husband to appease the Emperor. Eve she was a nasty woman… Gerhardt remembered her being so sweet to him, letting him feel the baby kick, that glowing smirk she had plastered over her naturally magnificent features… Eve, she'd made his mother cry green. Everyone loved her, especially the Emperor, and his mother had never been able to compete except for that brief glimmer of a summer when she'd had Gerhardt. He was sure now, all grown up, she'd been terrified of dying in labor or of giving Zeppelin a dreaded girl. Most likely she just couldn't stand him any more than he could her and knew well enough another child that looked too much like her wouldn't fix anything in their fractured little hell of a marriage.
Then Gunther was born. Outside the capital, away from everything, and then Minister Prozen and Zeppelin were the best of friends again. For a little while his mother had been happy too with Charlotte gone but then she'd come back within the week, literally, and the Empress was miserable once more. Even after that first, painful, pregnancy Charlotte returned as though she were fresh from the spa. Gerhardt couldn't imagine how exhausted she was, how tightly laced her bodices or how powered her flushed skin. The torture of the effort she'd gone to in order to show up the Empress as a better woman, a more capable woman, for what? Why? Did she really hate his mother so very much?
He'd never understood hate until the day Charlotte came home. The concept of how two people could dislike each other over nothing escaped him. He'd been such a lazy child, he didn't have the time to be angry: he was the Prince, the rising sun, the everything to everyone. Everyone except his father but the Emperor was busy, he was his son, there wasn't any contest there. Well, not until Gunther of course.
His father fucking fussed. Gerhardt had to watch. Gerhardt felt it then that first molten bubble of hateburning through his tiny, angry, body. He hadn't even seen Gunther's face, the babe was held aloft above him between the adults but Gerhardt loathed him for the crime of existing. Oh it was mutual now but then it had been the first flicker of a life long fire blazing to life all on his side. He shouldn't have fallen into it, he shouldn't, but surely that was what Zeppelin wanted? Or was he just so fucking callous he didn't give a shit about Gerhardt at all? Did he even consider his reactions?
It didn't really matter. Gerhardt had been left alone with Gunther for a few moments immediately afterwards so his father could congratulate Minister Prozen with some of his overstuffed cigars. Charlotte left Gunther in the crib. It was a time then when even the ladies smoked and smoked heavily pregnant or not.
Gerhardt had been so angry, he felt abandoned, forgotten. His mother hadn't been invited and he hadn't been spoken to except by the Prozens. He couldn't bring himself to the conclusion of hating the Emperor then, not yet, but he could make himself hate Gunther for it.
He'd set the crib on fire.
Annoyingly no one had been hurt. His father had been livid. Charlotte had clung to the newborn with the wild eyes of a robbed woman and laughed it off. Minister Prozen couldn't say anything, cautious brilliant man, maybe he felt it? The impending ill fortune he could always taste three miles off in battle. Zeppelin had slapped Gerhardt he was almost certain but the memory was vague, he'd been crying too much to pay attention throwing another tantrum for not getting his way. Either way Charlotte had given him a look like hell itself licking its lips and called him Eleanor when no one else was listening. She blamed his mother, the Empress, she thought she knew which side Gerhardt was on as though for this one time the Empress had tried to fight back through the Prince. Now Gerhardt was just like his mother to Charlotte. Now he wouldn't get any more secret smiles. Now he'd just feel her waiting to gobble him up like lurking witch.
It was the first time he'd attacked Gunther but most certainly not the last. They'd both had colorful childhoods. Gerhardt could mark ever year of his life with some scar or broken bone inflicted.
Emperor Zeppelin had done very little to stop it even when the Prozens… fell apart so to speak and the children cloistered up together. Gunther had so much political power in the war then his father had been keen to make sure he stayed beyond anyone else's influence while the Prozens fought. Well, that was how the Empress made the accusation when the Emperor said he was assuming, forcing, custody but what she really wanted to say was that it was because of Charlotte he did so. Zeppelin said it was because of Minister Prozen's long friendship that he took in the scraggly runt for the time being. Neither of them believed that entirely.
Gunther was always the runt. Always. Gerhardt kept pushing him down there. He used his height, his strength, his popularity, his charisma…everything he had to hold against him. Gunther fought back. He never liked Gerhardt, never had the chance too, so there was no mercy. In time it didn't matter if Gerhardt was older, more important, Gunther was smarter (so much smarter) it still made him cringe to think of what Gunther was willing to do to be left in peace. Gerhardt probably deserved everything he got for all the tormenting he did of the child.
He had to rationalize everything Gunther did was retaliatory but in the heat of it he'd never taken that into consideration. He never thought he was a bully no matter how many times he made Gunther cry or how many stupid, mean, things he did. It was only when Gunther bit back he cried foul. Gunther never tried that, Gerhardt was the Prince, who was going to save him?
Gerhardt made a point of emphasizing his parents were well beyond ever returning to court (though the reason why they were so abruptly banished was always a mystery to him) and Gunther…well… That was the first time Gunther bit back, with venom, when he was five years old. Gunther had told him then, so very loudly:
'At least my parents love me!'
Gerhardt remembered punching him for that. The tiny boy had a black eye for a good week but when it healed Gunther had a glare in its place nothing could quell. Gunther could give him such distain from there on out. Especially knowing he would never be given back to his parents. From there it was war and it escalated.
He tried to drown Gunther once. The boy must've been six. Gerhardt had been shoving him the next day when the smaller had forced him from the window seat out the open shutters. It had happened so fast. Gunther turned on him like a caged snake and thrust out his tiny arms rigidly to knowingly push him away and plummeting. Gerhardt had hit a rose bush and broke his arm. He cried for hours, his father told him he deserved it, Gunther got into a great deal of trouble but it meant nothing.
They went through phases of which of them were more volatile. Some years anything could send Gerhardt into a furious mess of kicking and punching. He'd forced paint down Gunther's throat one year and the boy had to have his stomach pumped. Then the next summer all Gerhardt had to do was put a ban on talking to Gunther amongst the other children and in the afternoon, shaking with loathing, Gunther had flown at him and tackling him against the flooring gave the prince a concussion.
It eventually fell into a balance. Gerhardt had friends, lots of them, he could have Gunther ridiculed or beaten or ignored. Gerhardt was languid but charismatic then. Everyone wanted to be his companion. He was going to be Emperor, he was important, he was special, he could have anything he wanted and what he loved most was messing about. Gunther pulled the social short straw but it became irrelevant in wake of his steely determination that Gerhardt's weak resolve didn't have the gumption to match. Gunther got smart then. He'd always been smart, quiet, book-sort but he became brilliant so quickly it scared Gerhardt some days.
Gerhardt remembered when he was eighteen and Gunther was fourteen, he was such a shoddy pilot. The Emperor yelled at him for his crap aim and sluggish response time. He compared him to Gunther: Gunther had records at the Imperial Academy, Gunther was a natural, he was skilled, effortless, he loved piloting… Gerhardt thought it was a chore because his friends always had more exciting things to do. He hated his father for comparing him to Gunther then. He hated the idea he was bad at anything. So as usual he took it out on Gunther.
When Gunther wanted to compete in some shitty contest his father was so proud of him Gerhardt couldn't stand it. His father always did appreciate a person's capacity to cause damage. So the morning he went to compete Gunther's Zoid was conveniently missing from the hangar. Gerhardt had stolen it to take a few of his slack jawed buddies for a joy ride. No Zoid meant no contest. The Emperor had his secretary trying to call Gerhardt all day. Gunther even tried to borrow a nearly totaled Dark Horn but the Academy coordinator wouldn't allow him to use something other than the machine he'd registered said it was 'unfair' on other 'more prepared' students.
When he came home that evening the domestic quarters of the palace were in an uproar. The Emperor raged at him for being irresponsible, selfish, for putting the fate of the Empire in grave danger by removing himself from government protection. All Gerhardt heard was 'yadda-yadda' in his smug little bubble. His father didn't give a shit about him, he didn't care if he was safe so why should Gerhardt?
He wanted to see Gunther but he couldn't find him. His governess told him he needed to apologize but Gerhardt just wanted to gloat. He couldn't find Gunther however, not even a hair, but regardless he knew for damn sure at least that Gunther was heart broken. Truth be told, in hindsight, Gerhardt knew it was unnecessary. It was probably the nastiest thing he'd ever done, even factoring in the multiple assaults, because Gunther would've been devastated. It had been the one thing Gerhardt or the Emperor or his parents couldn't ruin for him, the one part of his life he was good at and liked for.
Needless to say Gunther got his comeuppance however. Gerhardt, young and stupid, thought that his playmate would forget it, move on and put it to rest but he did not forget easily and forgiveness was not something Gunther dolled out lightly he quickly learned.
It was a good three months before the next contest. Gerhardt's buddies thought it'd be hilarious to pluck Gunther's Zoid again before the tournament. So filled with smug self worth they'd snuck into the hangar and showing off, as he always did, Gerhardt had planted himself in the pilot's seat and pressed the ignition to start the systems up.
He couldn't even explain what happened next. There was just pain. Gut wrenching, bowel busting, lung breaking pain. He screamed so loud, so constantly, his friends turned sheet white and froze. The morning guard came running and almost wet himself. Gerhardt remembered crying hard. At eighteen, a posturing boy, he'd promised himself that real men, among who he considered himself, didn't cry but Gunther had reduced him to a blubbering mess of a boy in short order. He sobbed, he howled, they called the medics, they called the Emperor…
The medics couldn't figure out how to untangle him for a good twenty minutes. They had to wake Gunther up and with a mocking ease he'd leant across the console, over sobbing Gerhardt, and switched off the ignition. Whatever had crushed into Gerhardt relented instantly and the medics rushed him out of the cockpit. Being wheeled away Gerhardt couldn't remember a moment he'd hated Gunther more since the first time he saw him. It wasn't because he was in pain it was because he was so embarrassed, ridiculed, in front of his dopey friends, the medics, the academy staff and his father… caught red handed in a theft sobbing like a girl.
Whatever Gunther did to rig his cockpit broke both of Gerhardt's legs. He was in a cast for eight weeks. His idiot friends, just eighteen, abandoned him for the summer party season to get laid leaving him stuck with his miserable mother.
Gunther got in a shit load of trouble at the Academy but not at home. Apparently his father and the Academy head had decided it was enough to let them take care of the discipline but all Gerhardt could think was that his father, again, sided with Gunther. His father was probably proud Gunther had gotten his vengeance. He told Gerhardt plainly in the hospital it was his own damn fault for trying to steal again. Eve it broke him that bobby-trap. To be abandoned by his friends, his father, to be as isolated and helpless as Gunther must've felt he was made Gerhardt sickly.
He remembered the conversation they'd had one Wednesday afternoon when Gunther had come home from the academy vividly.
"Was it worth it?" He remembered spitting.
"I don't know," Gunther shrugged in that calm passive-aggressive drawl Gerhardt hated for his own inability to mask his emotions, "was stealing my Zoid worth it?"
"You're fucking nuts." He spat. "No wonder you don't have any friends."
"Better no friends than fakefriends." He turned then, gangly and small for fourteen, to glower at Gerhardt. "They don't really like you. If they liked you they'd be here."
"What the fuck would you know?" He felt it dig into him. Gunther always knew what to say in an argument. He knew he was asking to be attacked by that same potent venom that always lingered in the boy's eyes but he couldn't stop himself. "You've never had any friends or anybody who gives a shit about you."
"I have the Emperor," he finished Gerhardt with that, he didn't need to go on but Gunther never left a dying animal in misery without ending it; "which is one more person than you've ever had. Nobody likes you Gerhardt. No one."
After that life got easier for both of them. Gerhardt, now an adult, got to go on his Grand Tour of the Empire for twelve months like every noble young gentleman was expected to. He got to escape his father for a little while, his expectations, to party primarily without taking in any of the academic tidbits their mentor tried to instill in the rowdy group as they toured the finest cities in the country.
Gunther, for the first time in his life, got peace for a little while with Gerhardt and his posse gone. He even made friends. Just two, mind you, but girls to Gerhardt's distress. They weren't pretty girls yet being so awkward and pimply but for some reason they liked Gunther and for that reason Gunther did everything in his power to make sure Gerhardt never so much as saw them. All he knew were their plain-jane names; Patricia and Hanna.
Gunther got a chance to develop an easy confidence in Gerhardt's absence. He hardly recognized him when he came home. The hair he'd always ridiculed hung long, sleek, and elegant down Gunther's back and somehow it made the stupid looking child appear more handsome. Gerhardt made an effort to tell Gunther how stupid it looked in the first two hours of returning home but infuriatingly all the teenager did was grunt uselessly at him from behind his fucking books.
Gerhardt could laugh about it now.
He was all grown up. His father had even had him married to a poor pretty noble girl. He thought of how much she'd grown since he'd last saw her when they met again at twenty. She was beautiful, so beautiful in fact he couldn't keep it in his pants. She got knocked up and furiously his father had to rush the wedding ahead three years. When she lost it, the baby, she'd seemed to grow up a little in sorrow and the Emperor was set in his distaste for both of them as silly children.
Fuck even Gunther, little Gunther, was all grown up. Fucking well formed too. Gerhardt knew he didn't exactly have any competition for the ladies but it still bothered that competitive inkling inside him to see Gunther blossom into something magnificent. He supposed he had his mother's jealousy and Gunther had Charlotte's good looks. Now Gunther was twenty-two to Gerhardt's twenty-six everything about him that had been odd and uncomfortable had settled out into finely realized features. He was brilliant now, as skilled and hardworking as ever growing into that hefty position the Emperor had finally let him take up in his banished father's stead.
As for his two girlfriends Gerhardt had finally met them. Unsurprisingly they were both spitfires. Patricia Hardin and Hanna Hanna were two of the best active soldiers in the Imperial army at the time. No longer pimply freckle-faced girls they had strong, full, figures and bright features to accompany their bold personalities. They were glued to Gunther somehow Gerhardt easily noticed. They'd do anything for him. It was obvious they'd die for him. It was obvious he made them happy. How did he get that? How did he do that? All Gerhardt's friends were watery.
He felt so pathetic this evening as he reminisced on the balcony. Clichéd too which was worse. The ball was dying down inside and he wasn't nearly drunk enough to go whoring with his buddies. He wasn't in that happy little spot of indecision and inebriation that alcohol induced in him so readily. It fooled him into being happy which he loved but the way his gorgeous wife was looking tonight, just like his mother… nothing could push him out of some uncomfortable distress. So he'd run away to the balcony.
When the doors opened he didn't readily greet his trespasser. He hoped they'd go away really. Chances were in the back section he was occupying, that it was low level staff cleaning up the debris escaping the party but instead they sighed and came to stand next to him.
Gunther lit up a cigarette next to him in total silence. Gerhardt was at a lost for exactly what to say himself. How exactly were they supposed to talk to each other?
"What is it with Zeppelin men and running away?" Gunther grunted sourly to the Prince's peculiar surprise. "The Emperor's in his office fucking a twelve year old girl with a bottle of scotch on the side."
"Fucking typical," Gerhardt scoffed, leaning into his elbows soured from his own drink instantaneously as Gunther took a long hard drag from his cigarette.
"I swear I'm going to fucking puke." The younger declared gravely. "I hate this shit."
"No wonder you're perkier than usual tonight," he retorted extending his hand, "give me a fag I can't drink now."
Gunther passed it to him without argument huffing tartly up at the stars. He seemed uncomfortable this evening, off balance, in his normally steady confidence. The fact he was talking to Gerhardt in private at all was atypical in and of itself but the detail didn't concern the Prince as much as it should. He was almost glad for the company. Gunther knew what he was really like, Gunther didn't give him any bullshit, Gunther understood his father's game and the dysfunction of how his life within the palace conducted itself. Gerhardt almost regretted pushing his potential ally away all those years ago.
"What's wrong with you?" He demanded suddenly. "Why aren't you with your prissy wife? She looks wretched."
"Because she always looks miserable," Gerhardt snapped weakly, "what the fuck's wrong with you?"
"He's an asshole," was all Gunther said in response, "he fucking… I can't believe him…"
"What he say?" Gerhardt was curious now. Gunther had always gotten along better than he had with the Emperor. The Emperor adored Gunther plainly but every year Gunther seemed more and more disillusioned with him. It wasn't any wonder he was such a steadfast cynic.
"He fucked Mum once or twice. Oh they're dead now too and, just by the way, Nyx doesn't want me." It was so blunt, so Gunther, in how brisk and business like it delivered itself into being but the inkling of pain, frustration, fury that Gerhardt knew from years of hazing him and that tiny note of affection from an abandoned inner child wrung harsh.
He'd never totally appreciate the complicated truce with Nyx or how that alliance had functioned but he knew Gunther was unable to escape the inner workings of it that the Emperor had kept Gerhardt ignorant of. Whatever happened he always sort of knew Gunther would have rather been there at the very least to be reunited with his parents.
It was only afterwards that it really hit Gerhardt what Gunther, in this moment of flinching weakness, was insinuating.
"Are we…?" He was never eloquent.
"I don't know," Gunther mumbled coldly refusing to really look at anything especially Gerhardt keeping his jaw set and held high, "probably. I'm probably stuck with you fucking maniacs. Which means he's always going to have something for that psycho play shit he pulls as emotional blackmail, I swear to… fuck…" Gunther's hand ran shakily through his hair, "he just has to rub it in doesn't he? That you're a good for nothing shit and you're still always going to get more than me from him even if I rip out my own fucking spine."
"Least he likes you." Gerhardt was too insulted to be sympathetic or at the very least he was out of practice.
"I don't want him to likeme," Gunther spat, "I don't want to be trapped in this bullshit anymore. I've worked my ass off just so he'll give me half of what's mine anyway. He wouldn't hand over my right to the Ministerial title without making me run circles. Now tonight he has to insinuate I could be so much more, he liked my mother more than yours, but I'm still going to get shit all in comparison even if he hates you. How's that for being the favorite?"
"He wants us to be just like him." Gerhardt laughed. "You're stuck with us just like I'm stuck with him."
"Until you're Emperor," the younger man responded hotly, "then we're stuck with each other."
"You can run the fucking country then," Gerhardt promised, "I'd be useless. They're going to run everything around me anyway. He's got all the Ministers thinking I'm a drunken brainless sack. Might as well start delegating to you now hey?"
Gunther actually laughed. Well, sort of, it was somewhere between a deranged little giggle and a chuckling scoff of distaste but he was accustomed to the younger man being so sour. It was enough though to set Gerhardt in easier spirits. Gunther even seemed easier after spilling his guts at him, his fingers didn't shake so badly when he idly batted his hair away again to take the last long drag from his cigarette.
"Give me the booze," Gunther demanded plainly, it was so casual and instinctive for him to order around Gerhardt. They'd been raised in quarters too close to have proper etiquette or at the very least Gunther didn't exactly respect him as the Crown Prince. Though truthfully Gunther had birth rite enough to respect whoever he wanted to really.
Still Gerhardt was too turned off his drink to withhold it and passed the glass on to Gunther who flipped his chin back to skull the nasty concoction like a true Zeppelin noble. Gerhardt could only imagine how many bad habits his father (their father?) had drilled into them: the drinking, the smoking, the swearing, the gambling, the mind games, the hate, the violence, the knack for making women miserable that Gunther seemed to have missed out on…
"We're pathetic," Gerhardt laughed, "or I'm pathetic and you're fucked up."
"Bat shit crazy." Gunther clarified. "I'm absolutely nuts."
"If you say so I'm not arguing," he swore warningly, "but if it comes up later remember you said so."
"I don't care," the younger man snorted languidly at the idea, he had such a thick skin by now.
"I don't know what I'm going to do if Sash gets pregnant again." Gerhardt confessed childishly. Responsibility stupidly scared him. His father had never trusted him with anything and he felt too much like an idiot to trust himself. He didn't want to fail at something else. "Father's been calling her all sorts of things because she lost the last one. I swear it's just because Mother's dead and he can't yell at her anymore."
"Then stand up for her," Gunther demanded bluntly, "if you're old enough to get her pregnant you're old enough to be a shitty father and a stupid husband. Least you like her, don't you?"
"Course I do," Gerhardt groaned, "but I don't know if she likes me anymore. I feel like she's too mature for me sometimes. Isn't that pathetic? She's younger than you."
"Yeah that's pathetic." The younger agreed stoutly but not cruelly. It was just Gunther's damn no nonsense honesty.
"I'm going to be a crap father."
"Of course you are, it's genetic," Gunther almost consoled him, "but feeling sorry for yourself isn't going to help. Just love the brat and try and be better at it than the Emperor. It's not hard. He's set the bar monumentally low."
"Easy for you to say," Gerhardt laughed, "you're never even going to touch anyone let alone get married and knock a girl up. You hate people."
"Whose fault is that?" He snapped but it was weak. Gunther even looked pale, dreadfully pale, and Gerhardt was forced to pause.
"What?" He demanded firmly, pushing off the mantle of the balcony. "What's that's face for? What'd you do?"
"None of your business!" Gunther retorted defensively but he was shaking again like he might crumble into nothingness. It was like he was five again before he learned how to shut everything out and be cruel back. Gerhardt hadn't seen him like this for years but it brought back so many memories.
"Bullshit," he pestered accusatorily and Gunther refused to back down his footing and retreat back to the ball, "what'd you do? Did you knock some girl up?"
"No!" Gunther hollered then furiously, clenching his fists, "I'm not as stupid as you!"
No, he wasn't, Gunther was always the perfect child, the good student, the responsible adult… Everything Gerhardt couldn't match from his corner that saved Gunther such a spot in his father's heart. It was stupid though, again, his father wouldn't have loved either of them truly even if they shot their brains out for him.
"I…" it was Gunther again. He sounded almost scared. "I…"
Who did Gunther talk to when he was scared? Gerhardt didn't have anyone, did he?
"When I was on assignment I…" Gunther put his elbows on the mantle of the balcony and buried his skull in his hands quietly, "I picked up a kid…"
"A kid?" Gerhardt reeled, "you hate kids!"
"I know!" Gunther hissed furiously, desperate, and pressed his head back into his hands with a shaky sigh. "I don't know what the fuck I was thinking…"
"Why?" He pressed urgently. Perfect Gunther had slipped up? He'd gotten lonely? He'd felt sympathy for someone? He'd made a stupid decision in the moment? Never. No way.
"He tried to shoot me," Gunther groaned pathetically and Gerhardt sighed wretchedly, "I don't even know why I just picked him up and brought him back with me. He's tiny."
There it was then. The vicious cycle that apparently not even logical, practical, Gunther could escape from. Apparently they were both doomed to reenact the Emperor's shoddy mind games in their adult lives.
"I don't know what I was thinking," he murmured hopelessly, "I don't think I was really. I hate children but next thing I know I'm finding a babysitter for tonight."
"Does anyone else know?" He pestered with adamant curiosity. It was so nice to see Gunther crack again, to not be so well put together, to fuck up like he did frequently.
"Just Pat," Gunther whispered.
"Then dump him," Gerhardt ordered with senseless disregard for the child. Gunther's head bucked at the suggestion to rise from his hands and twist to regard him wildly. "Go give him to children's services or something. He's a war orphan isn't he? Let some nice soccer mum adopt him."
"I can't…" Gunther stressed tossing his hands up in surrender. "He… he actually wants to stay with me. I have no idea why. I'm insane."
"So?" He prodded. "How old is he? He'll probably forget you in a month. You're not even twenty-five!"
"No!" It was determined but desperately lost. "I can't."
"You…" Gerhardt almost pinched himself, it must've been Christmas. "No, you just don't want to. Do you?"
"I don't know anymore!" Gunther spat grasping the railing and leaning at him angrily. "After everything I've heard tonight I probably should just give him up to CPS. I'm doomed to be a terrible human being. I don't have to take everyone down with me."
"I can't believe you actually want to keep a kid." Gerhardt reeled turning to lean his lower back against the rail of the balcony in awe and horror. "That's so not you…"
"I don't know though," Gerhardt laughed with odd emphasis, the sound was so strange coming out of him. "By the sounds of things this kid's as nuts as you are."
"You've no idea." Gunther groaned propping his head into his hand.
"Well then if you want him keep him."
"You just told me to dump him," he hissed.
"Yeah, and you just fought me not to," Gerhardt snorted. "Have it your way. No one's ever stopped you from getting that fuck knows. Have a kid. Adopt him. You want to. Who knows maybe it'll help un-fuck you up a little. Get you to loosen up and to man the fuck up. Shit if I can be a father, you can, you can't be any worse than me and if you are it'll be nice for you to not make me feel incompetent for once."
"Making you feel like an idiot isn't hard." Gunther grumbled. He sighed then pushing himself back by his palms to stand tall and straight. Gerhardt was always envious of that ability to compose himself. It was just one of a thousand things he used as a child to enrage himself towards Gunther. "You might actually be right though. Eve tonight is bullshit. I might be stuck to you two wankers by blood, you actually said something intelligent for once in your sorry life and I might have adoption papers to forge in the morning."
"Jerk off," Gerhardt grunted and for the first time he knew what to say to scald Gunther's thick skin, "or should I call you baby brother from now on?"
"I'll kill youif you do." Gunther hissed viciously. "Go back to your sham marriage and shut your mouth."
"Cheers then to my sham marriage and your sham family," he toasted raising his empty glass. Gunther was actually mad at him for a change. He took so much joy out of it. He almost felt like a bully and it turned him sour instantly. "Sorry…"
Gunther sighed his shoulders dropping weakly.
"Yeah," he muttered, "sorry. We shouldn't be fighting each other."
"We should poison your father." Gunther muttered darkly. He refused to own Zeppelin.
"You scare me sometimes." Gerhardt admitted. "I'm not exactly a saint but sometimes I think you've got the very devil in you."
"You want to though, don't you?" Gunther supposed. "Don't tell me you honestly don't wish he was dead."
"Of course I do."
"Then what?" Gunther accused, "I'm the only one with the balls to actually do anything about it?"
"Maybe," Gerhardt confessed weakly, "I've never really had a backbone."
"Maybe it's time to grow one."
"Why, so we can be best friends?" Gerhardt grumbled.
"He goes we can have peace." Gunther elaborated. "You'd be in charge of the whole Empire. Together we could do whatever we wanted. He wouldn't be able to ruin our lives anymore. You'd stop your wife from getting picked on, you'd keep him away from your children and our mothers might get some vengeance."
"Yeah, when he sees your Mother in hell I'm sure she'll give him an ass kicking," it was so instinctive to snap at Gunther but he wasn't feeling it, he felt quite the opposite actually. "I don't know…"
"Fine," Gunther shrugged, "I'll do it by myself, like always, if you're too pathetic to stand up to him for once. I'm not ending up like him. I'm not listening to him for the rest of my life waiting, begging, for him to finally die. I can't stand it anymore. Have fun playing house."
Just like that he was leaving, resolute in the same way he was totally resolute about everything he'd ever decided upon even knowing the consequences so well as Gunther inevitably did.
"Hey!" Gerhardt turned. There was real evil in their blood, he realized it then, it was genetic. "Just…will you let me fucking think about it?"
Gunther stopped. He stalled and actually waited for Gerhardt. He'd never waited for Gerhardt for anything: help, assistance, love, compassion… He'd never really waited for anyone. Gunther was a runt, who'd learnt quickly enough to look after himself, but he stopped.
"Okay," he shrugged over his shoulder, "think about it. I'm going back inside. I need to get home soon."
"Let your little man know he's got a new home I suspect," Gerhardt mumbled, "try to be nice to the kid won't you? You're the one who wants him after all."
Gunther laughed again.
"Yeah, sure," he answered, "I'll try. I'll let you know how badly I fail so you can laugh at me."
Gerhardt called Gunther later. It had to be the first time in his life he'd ever done so. Gunther had called the private line at the palace once when he was thirteen and lost in the city. He'd demanded Gerhardt put someone else on and he'd hung up on the runt. Eventually Gunther found his way home and the Emperor discovered the phone off the hook.
Gerhardt actually did expect to be hung up on but he was lucky this evening.
"Prozen here," of course Gunther couldn't greet anyone more cordially than with something so brisk and business like.
"Hey," was his eloquent reply, "how'd it go?"
"What?" Gunther asked dryly.
"While I was gone he locked himself in my room and now I'm home he refuses to get out of my bed."
Gerhardt actually snorted.
"Fuck you," Gunther scoffed plainly.
"He sounds like me," he supposed and he could practically see Gunther's foul expression.
"He's not." He swore to himself. "He's just clingy tonight. He's more like me actually, stubborn and passionate and crazy. I swear to Eve I can't let him near any firearms."
"Fuck no." Gerhardt agreed it was like he was in on a conspiracy with this one, irresponsible, action of Gunther's. "What's his name anyway?"
"Raven," was the casual response but Gunther almost seemed to express something sincere in saying it.
"Raven?" Gerhardt laughed. "He's going to get ridiculed! What a stupid name…"
"Shut up," Gunther snapped boldly, "you've been saying my name's stupid for years and my hair and everything else about me but it never stopped me kicking your sorry ass at everything."
"Fine," he conceded sourly, "whatever. Has he got the breath of Satan in him like you?"
"I told you he was crazy already," Gunther answered, "he'll kill me in my sleep if I'm not careful. He's about three hairs from snapping."
"And you like this kid because?"
"I contemplated killing you in your sleep sometimes," was the slightly quieter response, "call it nostalgia."
"You're fucked up," Gerhardt scoffed, "I wonder if this is how Father thinks…"
"I'll hang up on you." It was firm and cold and all Gunther needed to say for Gerhardt to know he'd inched a little too far in testing him. The pussyfooting was officially over. "What do you want?"
"I don't know," he sighed, "lonely I guess. Thinking about what you said."
"Don't talk like a princess or your prissy wife will hear and think you're cheating on her." Apparently Gunther had lost a great deal of the ability for gentle conversation.
"You're a prick, fine have it your way," he grunted, "I think we should do it."
"That wasn't up for debate," Gunther declared, "the only thing that is, is your participation. You want to play then we'll rock and roll. Bout time you grew a spine."
"You're such a nasty bitch."
"Whose fault is that?" Gunther replied smoothly and Gerhardt wondered if this really was the violent, nasty, creature he'd created with all his teasing and torturing. Had he really made Gunther the kind of young man who'd kill the only father he'd never know? Was he really the same?
"Zeppelin's." He responded instead and Gunther didn't argue.
"We should talk in person," was the only reply he received, "tomorrow?"
"Sure, your place?"
"Do you even know where I live?"
"You've never been willing to tell me."
"Of course not," Gunther admitted, "fine I- Raven!"
Gerhardt almost dropped the phone he heard something on the other end, struggling, or arguing or something. He recognized at least the sound Gunther made when he was fighting one handed anyway.
"Stop it!" He hissed on the other end. "Come here!"
The sound died down into a lot of fevered hushing and hissing. He could almost hear that little, sullen, voice of the child he'd never met that had garnered more of Gunther's compassion than he ever would. He was curious about it even with the little sobs that came along with it and the angry hissing whispers it made. The kid even sounded like Gunther had as a child: less child than thing. It was so trippy. No wonder he felt sympathetic to the kid. Gunther must've seen something familiar in him.
"What's going on?" He demanded stoutly when he could restrain himself.
"Nightmare," Gunther responded plainly but a fractionally strained, "who kicks and bites in their sleep?"
"Who names their kid Raven?"
"It was his idea!" Gerhardt jumped at the crystal clear, pouty, little voice audibly glaring at him down the line.
"What the fuck was that?"
"Got you on speaker," Gunther sighed, "kinda have my hands full."
"Warn me next time!"
"Oh stop your whining," he scoffed, "I can only attend to one child at a time."
"I hate you." It wasn't Gerhardt this time. It was the child he realized, Raven, spiting venom of his own back at Gunther.
"No you don't," Gunther accused as though he were still speaking to an adult, "or have you changed your mind about CPS?"
There was a painful silence, Gerhardt was certain there was glowering taking place, some kind of death match between nasty eyed giants but then there was the thump of tiny fist hitting chest angrily and the huff of tiny face against said chest following suit.
"See?" Gunther muttered nearly gentle. "Now settle down."
"You hate me," was the little hiss.
"No I don't," was Gunther's equally sullen and huffy response as though the accusation were a great insult.
"Shit, it's like listening to you argue with your inner child," Gerhardt mumbled blankly.
"Screw you!" Gunther snapped. "Tomorrow, my place, get your secretary to tell you where I live and show up at a decent hour."
"Don't get murdered in the night," he snorted, "that'd be tragic."
"Especially since I might actually contribute something useful to mankind during my lifetime," the younger man answered once more painfully smooth before hanging up on him entirely.
"Asshole…" Gerhardt muttered.
It was true however Gerhardt had never bothered to find out where exactly Gunther was living now that he'd left the palace. It wasn't really a strain to come up with possible locations after all. When he thought about it the Prozens had a royal estate within the capital like all ministerial noble families which had sat empty all the years Gunther was under his father's guardianship. It only made sense when Gunther reached the age he couldn't stand to be around them anymore and had freedom to leave he'd go there. Gunther could pretend, with what little memory he had of them, that his parents had been any better than Gerhardt's.
The Sunday sun pickled everything it came in contact with including Gerhardt. It was ridiculous Gunther didn't have anyone to answer the doors at the estate. It seemed he didn't receive many visitors and he didn't like to have any staff on hand. Gerhardt couldn't imagine living without a household staff for the menial tasks he'd never been required to perform. Gunther must've been different because past the security entrance Gerhardt had to walk to the front door, which no one answered anyway, and then trek along the house to the back. 'House' here being a loose term, it most certainly was not small enough to be considered a house by any stretch of the common reckoning.
His whole body ached from the uncomfortable unconscious tangling between himself and his wife in the midnight. She tended to push him in her sleep, especially when he smelt of booze and the heat of the mid morning sun did nothing to alleviate his contorted muscles or his post scotch head throb.
Gunther was to be found in the back yard and frankly he looked more than a little disheveled. Gunther had always been mildly obsessive compulsive, impersonal, Gerhardt had never seen him in sleeping clothes, un-showered, or generally unkempt and they'd been forced upon each other since infancy.
With his forehead resting on the surface of the table in the garden it was obvious the kid had won this round. Raven, or what must've been Raven, was indeed a tiny boy and sat across from Gunther licking his fingers with one spoon wielding hand in a carton of ice cream. Breakfast had apparently been abandoned in-lue of something simpler which allowed Gunther to nap and supervise all at once. He sincerely hoped he didn't look so terrible after his first night with a baby boy…
Speaking of, the boy was a similar sort of age to what Gunther had been when he'd been shuffled off to them as a political hostage. He wanted to cry 'repressed inner child trauma alert' but in his current state Gunther might actually hurt him physically for the first time in years. Apart from that the pair couldn't be more physically unalike. Raven had dark, dark, hair and sharp wide indigo eyes set in a delicate albeit sour little face. He glared like Gunther if nothing else could be said but he was certainly less fastidious about cleanliness if it could be concluded from the way he wiped at his mouth with a downy little forearm.
"Hey!" He hollered and Gunther, bless his battered little brain, jumped. Perhaps it was a flinch but Gerhardt couldn't let the sheer victory of being capable of sneaking up on Gunther elude him totally. The younger man had been so highly strung he hadn't wrung a jump scare out of him since the other was twelve.
Raven's ears perked suspiciously a button nose twitching in Gerhardt's direction but apart from the flinching of his shoulders Gunther did little else but groan.
"You must be Raven," he greeted pleasantly, he prided himself on having more charisma in person whereas Gunther's social skills were considerably lacking. It was part of their innate dichotomy. "How you going kiddo?"
Raven's eyes narrowed catlike into a set frown totally unconvinced and thoroughly unmoved by his friendliness. He had all but half raised his hand to ruffle the thick head of hair when Gunther finally spoke up.
"Don't touch him." It was a solid command ringing surprisingly strong.
"Geeze," Gerhardt grumbled letting his hand slump freely against his side, "you're feisty this morning."
"Is he the Prince?" Raven demanded. "He doesn't look like a Prince."
"That's because he's a loser." Gunther grumbled from beneath his hair.
"So much for 'good morning' then," he snapped tossing up his hands, he couldn't win with Gunther whether he committed to homicide or not. The depth of his unfriendliness was sever and terminal which didn't say much for Gerhardt's equally unpleasant disposition in turn. "What the fuck happened to you? You look like you got run over."
"Practically," the younger man huffed making the eventual effort to raise himself up and slump back in the steel framed chair, "I knew I hated children for a reason."
"You hate me." Raven spat accusingly across the little table and Gerhardt immediately felt insanely awkward. It was one thing to hear them bicker across the phone but this…well Raven's glower was passionate in a very adult fashion.
"I…Argh…" Gunther let his head lull back in exhausted surrender this train of argument had been continuous it seemed and Gunther had long since conceded. "No I don't hate you! I'm sorry!"
Raven didn't appear satisfied but resumed his foul look of discontent at the ice cream he was stirring into a delicious paste.
"Well you're whipped." Gerhardt announced. "What did that take? Forty eight hours? And you call me spineless."
"Die in a ditch." Gunther ordered severely. "I'm not in the mood for your petty posturing."
Raven's eyes rolled back his set jaw shaking with an air of detached superiority to the situation Gerhardt rarely witnessed amongst the ministers. The kid would be a fabulous noble and future Prozen in the making. Fit right in amongst all the pompous fucking military types.
"So are we going to talk or shall we do it here so kiddo knows what he's been brought into straight off the bat? How much of your homicidal tendencies do you want exposed?"
"You are such a weakling," Gunther snorted pushing himself up by the arms of the chair to sit straighter, "go nap Raven."
"No." Yep the kid was a straight out blunt bitch.
"You- we hardly slept last night." Gunther snapped. "Go sleep."
They glared each other off hotly. Gerhardt was within a hair's width of cackling hysterically at the sheer ridiculousness of it.
"I'll be right here," Gunther tried again, "I'll hear if you need me. Throw things at me from the window if I don't. You've already established you have a good aim."
Raven glared but relented abandoning the ice cream on the table, spoon skewering it harshly, to pitter-patter bare footed back up the steps of the back veranda into house. He looked much less imposing with his back turned and his short, runtish, body at its pathetic full height. All the fire came from those eyes. Gunther watched him go with a firm set expression hoping to keep the kid moving if he looked back testing his resolve. Once he was out of view Gunther gave a heaving sigh and slumped his chin into his palm.
"Spitfire?" Gerhardt inquired.
"Hellion," Gunther grumbled in clarification.
"You know he's not going to crash chugged up on ice cream, right?"
"I don't care," Gunther threw his hands up, "I'm sick of arguing with him. He doesn't want me to leave him alone but he doesn't want me to so much as look at him. I think he's bipolar."
"Oh no," Gerhardt cried, "if only he was a stable pessimist it would be so much better!"
Gunther grunted noncommittally and Gerhardt chose to take that as a yes.
"Sit," he ordered finally with a dismissive gesture.
"So," he began collapsing heavily into the uncomfortable posture inducing steel chairs, "do you have any concept that could be considered a plan or are we going to give him cancer via osmosis?"
"Of course I have a plan. Are you really that naïve?" Gunther snorted easily extending his arm across the table to swoop up the spoon from the melting tub with such transformed composure Gerhardt could forget how unkempt he appeared. "We're going to poison him."
"What?" His stomach turned mildly. There was a thrilling sense of relief, joy, at the concept but a deep pit of foul wrongness.
"He smokes, he drinks, what's consuming a few more chemicals?" Gunther elaborated coolly sharp, frightening, eyes falling on him with purpose. "It'll be slow but it'll be subtle and hard to trace and then it'll be over."
"How are we going to-"
"Oh come on," Gunther scoffed, "we're his children aren't we? You live with him and I see him every day. He lets us everywhere. He trusts us. There's not an inch of his office we don't know. He gets me to pick up his cigars. He leaves that paint thinner whiskey of his everywhere, in his little hiding holes, all of which we found when I was ten and you were trying to bludgeon me."
"You've really thought about this."
"We all have fantasies," Gunther shrugged guiltlessly, "don't bullshit me and say you haven't thought about it."
"Yeah," he sighed, "I'd rather beat his head in."
"So violent," the younger man chuckled, "that's so you. You'd rather rush in and do it brutally, botch it, get us caught. You're still such a kid."
"You're a soldier. You must think blood's more satisfying?"
"Of course," Gunther defended, "but this is utter treason. He'd cut our heads off if he suspected something."
"Never," he scoffed, "he wouldn't."
"He had three of his brothers beheaded, one executed, one imprisoned and the youngest exported to the Republicans because he was sympathetic to the idea of a cease fire." Gunther rattled off with practiced knowledge. Gerhardt could make out the traces in his words of disillusionment. "He'll just be more furious if it's us. It's one thing for the enemy to try and kill him, he expects that, but this is a base betrayal."
"No fucking kidding." Gerhardt sighed lulling his throbbing head back towards the sun. "Where are we going to get it?"
"I know a few people. There's an Imperial spy called Pearce who'll do anything for a buck. He's a glorified mercenary." Gunther was so clear in his thoughts, so precise, Gerhardt wondered if his father had ever considered the dangers of his brilliant golden boy learning strategy, managing spies and running military development laboratories. He was so straight faced over the planning of killing the only father he'd ever know those eyes were so clear, so sharp, so angry Gerhardt felt uneasy.
"You scare me sometimes."
The first time he accompanied Gunther into those quiet, empty, chambers his heart pounded. Gunther had organized everything, had security cameras on loop and assured him that Zeppelin had them removed from his private office and bedroom for his rendezvous with under aged lovers but Gerhardt was still so sure they'd get caught. Gunther was so frighteningly meticulous about it, about the details, as he poured little satchels of powder into every hidden vial of alcohol in the chambers. He even dipped the tips of the cigars in it dusting them off with little taps and a practiced eye.
He whispered to Gerhardt conspiratorially about how and when to do it. He'd supply it, take care of the top ups twice a week but the other two top ups were for Gerhardt to carry out. He promised he'd have the cameras dealt with, that as long as Gerhardt followed his instructions they'd be fine and that it'd be slow enough to catch the palace medics and Zeppelin off guard. That didn't mean that he didn't feel guilty, that didn't mean he didn't hate himself, that didn't mean Gerhardt wasn't afraid in one last childish act of vengeance Gunther was going to string him up for treason.
Nothing happened however. There were no screaming guards busting in gun-ho the first time Gerhardt administered the poison or the second or the third…
Slowly, so slowly, to his amazement Zeppelin, his able bodied father and tyrant, began to weaken. His smokers cough became foul, frequent, and harsh. His body became sluggish, unresponsive and painful. He drank more, he was irritable and tired and Gerhardt, always teetering on the edge of alcoholism himself drank more in synchronization with the stress of the deceit. Zeppelin didn't ask for help however. Not once.
Months later Gerhardt was becoming more skilled at not thinking about the situation presented to them. He was better now at shuffling it to the back of his mind with a little sip of this or that. He was exhausted, nervous, even his carefree friends were being sympathetic with his plight of an ailing father but Gerhardt just wanted the old man dead. He wanted it over. He wanted it gone, settled, buried. He couldn't stand how calm Gunther could be about the whole thing.
His only other distraction was Sash and her new, bulging, pregnancy. She'd lasted so much longer this time. Every day made it more apparent that like it or not he was very shortly about to become a real father. He was terrified. She was happy though, excited, his father was settled and exhausted enough to even be nice to her, and it soothed the ministers to know even if the Emperor was ailing the Crown Prince couple were fertile.
Gunther was so happy. Not for them, of course, but it was stunningly peculiar. He was so satisfied in the impending tide of change but more than that he seemed calmed by some impulsiveness in his private life. Gerhardt hadn't really had time to gauge all the minor changes in his demeanor so it was rather the overall picture which assaulted him one day.
They were on a royal edition Whale King towards that year's Guylos Grand Pre. Nothing was too good for Zeppelin, too over the top, especially not when he had his pregnant daughter-in-law in tow. He wanted to exhibit the fertility and splendor of the royal family in force while he had this public opportunity to try and dispel the rumors of his failing health. They'd been given a rather spacious compartment for their time.
Zeppelin was off socializing with his war chums from the good old blood soaking days, reminiscing how they'd set countless Republican crops on fire over the summers. Sash couldn't seem to distract herself from stroking her belly, quietly satisfied with her bucking babe and her hot tea. Zeppelin had even recently recommended a soothing brand of cigarettes for her against medical instruction to the contrary which she had gently declined. She wasn't even complaining about the tightness of her formal attire. For his part even though it was hardly noon Gerhardt had secured himself a stout drink.
Gunther was the curious party. He was working, still, it was an odd thing to utterly remove him from his duties or a military mindset. Gerhardt was certain he just found solace in the precise chaos of the military which prompted him to become a workaholic by extension. There was nothing exactly odd about his studious scouring of documents and screens the peculiar details were his treatment of their fourth occupant: Raven. Gerhardt was surprised to find Raven accompanying them but the boy appeared eager about the chance to leave the capital where Gunther had kept him tightly cloistered at home. He was restless but Gunther allowed him to come in and out of the compartment without any fussing. Gunther was so calm about it and the boy too was so calm about him in return. Oh Raven was still crazy Gerhardt could tell and he was much louder about it than Gunther but he was at ease now. Not so wild.
He disappeared for a good twenty minutes or so at one interval returning just as Gunther checked his watch pointedly and began considering searching him out. When Raven returned to the couches and found his seat occupied by the latest mass of statistic forms he'd shoved Gunther's knee and, just like that, the man had shuffled the things in his lap to one side and lifted him up. Raven leant back against him calmly. There was no sigh from Gunther, no hesitation, and no squirming or hissing or glaring from Raven at all.
Gerhardt sat in silence for a moment watching over the rim of his glass in abject curiosity. Gunther couldn't parent, surely not, especially not this accused hellion. There was no way one of the Zeppelin boys, cursed, could be a capable father.
Raven leant back into Gunther sucking idly, Gerhardt realized, on a lollipop he had not had before leaving the compartment. Gunther noticed keenly, sharp as ever, and raised one fine brow.
"Where'd you get candy?" He murmured bemusedly, snorting.
"Old lady," Raven shrugged plucking his treat momentarily from his mouth and then popping it briskly back.
"You shouldn't just take candy from people you don't know. It's dangerous."
Raven pulled another granule from his pocket, something round and chocolate coated and pressed it up to Gunther's complaining mouth. He kept his brow raised but good humouredly sampled the drop. Gunther never had humor. He was a wet blanket. Gerhardt waited for the ire but…
"Hmm," Gunther grunted thoughtfully, "that's good. Good catch. I can understand why you accepted those. You can pick quality."
And that easily Raven grinned settling back, argument won, suckling his hard sugar droplet. Just like that Gunther let it go. Let something that normally, a year ago, would send his compulsions and his paranoia into overdrive just passed over with a little parental inquiry that when satisfied soothed him.
Raven was…soothed. This wasn't the same eccentrically bat shit crazy brat Gerhardt had met. This boy was too content and Gunther was too casually confident with him. This wasn't possible. Eve he felt panic and loathing bubble in his gut. There was no way he could be that good with his baby. He was going to be a dreadful parent. Gunther should've been a dreadful parent especially to a contemptuously diabolical brat like Raven had made it evident he was. This wasn't fair. How could Gunther make the women in his life happy? How could he make a child happy? Was Raven just a broken child already and so that was all there was to it? Eve he hoped so and he felt dreadful for hoping so.
Just looking at Sash's overbearing belly made him churn with nausea. Just looking at Raven's relaxed, sweetened, as he glanced back at Gunther with half a smile face made Gerhardt furious.
Gerhardt would've felt much better if he'd seen them at the hotel room that evening. It wasn't perfect. Nothing Prozen managed ever was but he'd had a reasonable day. The cup had gone down without any security outbreaks, Gerhardt had kept his rowdy drinking under control, his wife hadn't pushed herself beyond a great deal of smiling at the cameras and the Emperor had stayed plain in view, on his best behavior, to gamble rather than fondle. Raven had even had fun which was something of a rarity. Wringing uninhibited joy out of him was a stricken process but his mood had been pleasant all day. Shit he'd even let Prozen hold him, happily, without any tantrums or embarrassments.
It was the night that the vicious little demons came out. Raven lingered on the edges of being a nocturnal monster. Every time he tried to put him down for the night was a struggle. It was a little war Prozen raged every day. He had his own plight against insomnia to contend with well before Raven's avid hatred of the dark became a factor. Nothing he could say, nothing he could do, could make Raven feel safe enough.
They could sit on the balcony for a good hour Prozen working, Raven watching the stars, till the boy began to doze but as soon as that laptop clicked shut he perked again to struggle. Raven refused to lie down and sleep, let alone in another room or another bed. He'd clench his tiny fists and holler and sob and shake and accuse till Prozen was too exhausted to argue. He'd get him under the covers only to have the boy refuse to stay there unless the lights were on so he could stare stubbornly at the ceiling.
It wasn't a raging tantrum against the end of his fun, oh it could never be so simply petty, Raven was fucking terrified. Of what he either didn't know or wouldn't share. Prozen could check the locks, he could show Raven his gun, he could explain the security systems but none of it was good enough to hold back whatever nasty lurked in his subconscious memory. Not even Prozen was good enough, Raven didn't trust him that much yet, he was lonely and Prozen was permitting company but he wasn't some invincible hero who could defend him against any foe. It… it almost hurt to be so discarded in the question of his capability to ward off danger as a parental figure. Wasn't that what parents in the normal world were supposed to be for?
Prozen remembered feeling lonely, unprotected, certain every time he lay himself down that nothing could make the next day better and that no one could ward off his daily trails. He remembered being afraid that every morning would be worse than the last in some way he couldn't foresee. Especially after the morning he woke an Orphan.
During the day, he could forget Raven was a war orphan that he'd stolen out of some idiotic need for validation but during the night it and everything stupid and childish about Prozen flared. Especially when he felt so thoroughly rejected.
He wasn't a saint, not even close, he shouted, he swore, he picked up the boy and turned off the lights to the child's screaming, terrified, protests and he, regrettably, slapped him once. Raven had sat there looking so devastated Prozen felt more detestable than he'd ever experienced before. Even Zeppelin, with all his vast flaws, had never hit him. He felt worthless, useless, and he'd apologized profusely to Raven's sobbing face. He'd even held him.
He felt like he had a newborn and frankly he wished he had wife or someone to back him up. He was on his own with Raven feeling like an incompetent idiot because nothing worked. Not even his brilliant mind could argue with irrational horror. He wanted to feel capable, always, it was something of a great insecurity of his that he was weak and powerless. No one brought that out more than Raven because of how inherently helpless the boy figured they were against his monster.
He was pulling even less sleep than when he was living alone or on the field. Raven on the other hand was hardly stealing a handful of hours and that just left him more sullen the next day and more desperate the next night. When he could get him to sleep the whole night through he was a joy, he was happy, he was energetic, he was normal… but Prozen wasn't skilled enough to wrangle that out of his runt frequently. How the fuck had Zeppelin gotten him to sleep at all? He couldn't remember it being this difficult, Zeppelin had never been so bad at this and Prozen contemplated giving up frequently when the futile nature of his attempts faltered his ego enough.
That night was no better. The new, unfamiliar, location only made Raven nervier. At three am Prozen had given up fighting long enough to plant himself on the edge of the mattress and bury his face in his hands.
He needed air.
He'd gotten half to his feet when dozing but stubbornly clinging to consciousness Raven's pallid hand had grasped cloyingly at him.
"Please don't leave," he pleaded.
"There are guards outside," Prozen promised, "you're won't be alone. I just need a cigarette."
"They're not you." Raven mumbled pathetically and it shouldn't have but it was enough to make Prozen want to stay. Just the inkling that his presence in particular made a difference one way or the other… "Don't leave me."
"Alright," he conceded weakly, "but we can't keep doing this every night."
"I know…" though Raven obviously didn't like the fact but he still let Prozen lay down beside him under the fleecy hotel sheets without any complaints.
"What would make you feel safe?" Prozen compelled desperately, he'd take anything, no matter how ridiculous and he'd given up trying to figure out exactly what he was supposed to be protecting against.
"Where's the safest place in the Empire?" Raven muttered. "I want to be there."
"Well…" he sighed heavy in his throat as he considered it, "probably the domestic wing of the Palace in the Capital. It's where the Emperor lives."
"Can we stay there?"
"I…" it hit him suddenly even if he hated the place, "yes. Yes actually… I have quarters there. We can stay there."
"For how long?" Raven's fingers grasped his sleeve tightly, his face buried cheek flat against the pillow, as he visibly attempted not to tentatively get his hopes up.
"For as long as we want," Prozen promised feeling for the first time as though he was gaining some much needed ground, "I'm practically family. Do you want to go there then when we get back? Will you sleep then?"
"I'll try," the child promised sincerely and Prozen felt a knot of tension leave his shoulders, "thanks Prozen."
"It's okay," he chuckled weak with unexpected victory, in the distasteful position of having to return to living with the Zeppelins. Frankly, pros and cons considered, just for a while it might be worth it. "You have to sleep tonight though."
Raven considered it plainly.
"Can we leave the lights on?" He conceded finally giving Prozen an inch.
"A few?" he attempted to barging hesitantly and to his great shocked relief Raven nodded his allowance. At last Prozen didn't feel like quite so much of a failure. It was better than winning a Zoid fight.
Gerhardt wasn't sure how he was going to take living with his whole family under one roof again. The three men of the family had taken to staying as far away from each other as possible. Sash was about three months off popping like an over filled balloon and the Emperor's health was still waning making him a right prissy prick when Gunther arrived at the domestic wing of Militos Palace. It was only a few hours after they'd landed at the air strip and after two days in relatively close quarters he expected Gunther wouldn't want to see head or hair of any of them for about a week. However there he was, manifested, with Raven looking very smug on his hip.
He'd been tempted to close the door on him but Gunther had gotten his foot squarely in the door frame and pushed in thrusting Raven forward first.
"You won't slam it on a child," he stated plainly as they stood sharing dirty looks.
"Go home," Gerhardt ordered, "I'm the Crown Prince, you're the Minister for Defense, I out rank you. Go home."
"I don't give a shit." Gunther snorted stubbornly. "I cleared it with Zeppelin. Move bitch."
"Sash's about to eat that hideous sixteenth century portrait of Helga and I'm this close to an alcoholic rage. You don't want to be here."
"I don't want to be here anyway but if you don't let me in there'll be a calculated misfire on that cottage you runaway to."
"I'll buy another one."
"Gerhardt," Gunther hissed hefting the child on his hip up higher, "if I don't get a good night's sleep I'm going to pull your baby out of that little girl with my bare hands and shove your head up into her uterus. Move."
Gerhardt's eyes strayed momentarily to Raven who nodded supportively. He could hear the 'he means it, he'll do it, better get your sorry ass out of the way' lingering on that sharp little tongue. The fact Gunther was quickly developing a partner in crime could only spell trouble for Gerhardt's continued happiness. He only hoped his little babe would develop into a spitfire like the ready-made model Gunther had recruited and converted to his side.
Gunther had given that grunt of a greeting to Sash somewhere between polite and dismissive before disappearing entirely into his old chambers to toss the brat on the bed. His Empress-to-be had blinked at him and fishing up his shot from the coffee table Gerhardt had taken a heavy swig.
"My father hates me," he concluded evenly, "wants me to snap and go on a rampage with a sawed off shotgun like some drunken Republican trotter."
Sash gave him a muted little gape. She'd been raised in such a prim household the crass nature of the Royal family left her dry. She obviously considered some of her passive aggressive posturing as she stroked her overripe belly but Gunther's emergence from his rooms cut her quip to the quit.
"Gerhardt couldn't hit his ass with both hands tied behind his back," he assured her, "he aims like a dying fish."
He took another stiff drink under Gunther's scrutiny.
"How is it marrying a sailor in Prince's clothing?" the younger man inquired of his wife teasingly when he took his own seat on the vintage daybed.
"All good men like a drink every now and again," Sash defended meekly, she so disliked discussing the general nastiness of their habits. "The Emperor certainly does enjoy his manly comforts."
"Smokes like a pig you mean," Gunther scoffed, his blunt tongue put his gentle opponent on edge.
"I don't know why half the court think you're eloquent." Gerhardt snorted.
"The other half think you're charming so they must all be morons." He concluded simply in retaliation.
"I think I best be off to bed like the little one," Sash spoke up suddenly pushing herself up onto her slipper-strapped feet unsteadily, Gerhardt wanted to throw something at Gunther for the look he gave her as though he was curiously regarding a load teetering on a horse and buggy. She obviously wanted to retreat to the peace of her chambers however so to speed up the process he kept his mouth wired shut behind another tide of booze slipping down his throat.
"Night Darling," he grunted at her shadow eventually, "you can't look down on pregnant women anymore. You're a single father."
"They look ridiculous," Gunther grumbled, "why would you subjugate yourself to that for a parasite?"
"You're just a regular sweetheart. That's my baby you're talking about," Gerhardt's shoulders collapsed back into the structured support of the furniture, "enough picking at my life. I heard a rumor you're working with the Ancient Research division."
"So what if I am?"
"You're supposed to be winning a war. Father's not paying you to play in ruins is he?"
"What would you know about what Zeppelin wants?" The very subject seemed to make Gunther prickle. He tended to lean towards the defense of antiquities with that fanciful inkling inside him. "I'll be surprised if he tells you the day we storm New Helics."
"This isn't about that bullshit from Gurreal is it?" Gerhardt pushed back nastily.
"What bullshit?" The younger man queried cautiously his sharp eyes snapped squarely on Gerhard in preparation for his ire.
"When we like twelve and you fell down that shaft-"
"You pushed me."
"Whatever," Gerhardt dismissed, "it took the crew three hours to get you out and you spent the rest of the day yammering about those plaques. You were convinced you'd found evidence for some gigantic monster Zoid. Don't tell me logical Gunther's chasing fairy tales again?"
"You wouldn't know historical evidence if it kicked you in the face." He snapped viciously. "I happen to be exploring some very viable options for a long term territory solution. All of which would be a waste explaining to you. Especially where reverse engineering is concerned."
Truth be told Prozen was still tossing about Gerhardt's accusations of foolishness three days later at the laboratories. Sleep had its benefits but with his mind less foggy he had all the concentration in the world necessary to play with Gerhardt's ideas in his subconscious. Still he was holding onto his latest victories, however small: the Emperor had been forced to bed rest for one and Raven had actually begun letting them rest the whole night through. It had taken four levels of security clearance and moving back in with his relatives but Prozen didn't care. Raven had slept for three nights. They'd had one nightmare and that was it.
He wasn't holding out much hope for this evenings REM total but that was to be expected. He'd weighed his options for the day and drawn a short straw for the sake of sating any lingering paranoia. He had to be at the lab tonight, the technicians weren't moving off their asses unless he was down the hall to prompt them, and while he might be able to leave Raven at the palace he didn't much like that idea. The Emperor wasn't getting out of bed for anything but stiff vodka that evening but just leaving him with Gerhardt would be foul for the child if he happened to have a nightmare. He knew if he took Raven with him he might not get any rest but he supposed it was better than worrying all night he was going to get a hysterical phone call demanding he come home.
Surprisingly Raven was better behaved than expected, Prozen's pride easing into a steady plateau after a successful struggle with insomnia, after seeing the security measures at the laboratory he'd conceded to dozing on the couch in Prozen's office. From the desk Prozen could catch his eyelashes twitching from underneath the fringe but he didn't move and he didn't pester so he could let the boy be.
The office was practically a fish tank down here. Two sides cradled by hallways the long right hand wall of the office was exposed through a thick Plexiglas observation window. Mainly it was from moving offices left, right and centre in the last six months. Prozen had to shift half the building to make their latest project possible. The facilities for the archaeological work had to be near the engineering levels or at least in close quarters and it meant he had to move down a few levels to properly supervise it. Sure it meant a few gawking grunts walking by during the day but no one walked in unannounced any more when he was on the phone.
The last few months had been increasingly peculiar really. Apart from the obvious attempted murder of the Emperor he was privy too. Actually what bothered him the most was the change in gossip around him at court or in the barracks. He brought home one psychotic little orphan and suddenly next thing he's some kind of soft hearted saint to the workers. Bollocks and a bit honestly. He was still the exact same jackass he'd always been, seventeen years with the Zeppelins didn't just erase itself because he brought home someone else to yell at him frequently.
It was strange, irrevocably strange, in an off putting way. He hadn't had people coo at him under their breath in the corridors since he was five years old but with sour pouty little Raven in tow the cooing had returned in force. Fuck his life. Raven was going to ruin his strong reputation. He'd have to pray whatever Sash spat out was either a queer as sin little boy or a hideous little girl so the gossip would travel right back to where it belonged. However so long as Gerhardt became Emperor soon, which he would if Prozen kept slipping Zeppelin a little extra hooch, then Prozen would be totally forgotten to take on the business of running a puppet government. He was looking forward to that. Proving to Gerhardt what a hopeless, useless, trollop he was and spitting on Zeppelin's grave by extension… sounded like a damn merry freaking Christmas.
Shit, what did you buy bipolar little terrors for Christmas? How much exactly was expected of him for the holiday season? Raven seemed to think he was something of a parental failure initially but with his opinion of him improving so were his expectations. Great.
Raven shot up on the couch before the desk along the left hand wall, blankets pooling carelessly around his sides as they slipped of little white shoulders, and stared. From his profile Prozen could make out wide eyes, parted lips, a rattling chest…He frowned, he tilted his head towards the observation window-
Prozen was not ashamed to say he almost shat himself.
The thing in the window, gazing back at Raven, was not human by any stretch of the imagination. It had a huge bulking figure, shrouded or cloaked and faceless, sticky black spikes protruding from it at uncomfortable angles. It stood there for a long procession of seconds raising a spindly, clawed, hand to press against the glass and in a jerking sharp little motion turned its head towards Prozen. He felt it staring at him heavily, his heart palpating in amongst his ribcage, before it slapped its hand firmly against the Plexiglas. Raven jumped at the harsh sound of contact, yelping, and just like that the thing shuffled off down the hallway out of sight.
Prozen wasted no time in alerting security.
"Get me a unit down here to search the building we've got a fucking comedian on staff." He ordered briskly hands quaking every so slightly against the intercom. It was only when his hand wavered and he slumped back into his chair he allowed himself a moment of quiet bemusement. "The fuck was that…?"
Raven sat frozen, perfectly still, shaking like a leaf.
"You saw that too right?" The boy spoke up weakly.
"Yeah," Prozen nodded in quiet amazement.
"Sir?" The comm. buzzed impatiently on the desk.
"Talk to me," he ordered.
"Sir we can't find anyone suspicious in the initial sweep. Which section?"
"South corridor near my office heading to engineering, you'll know him when you see him, passed about five minutes ago. Have Kempsy check the cams."
"I'll take you home," Prozen promised the terrified child as the line silenced itself promptly. "Just give me a few moments to sort this out."
"I'm not leaving this room till they shoot that thing."
"Fair call," he conceded as they waited. "I bet the bored security boys from the archaeology block are involved. Probably think it's hilarious. Probably will till I have them court marshaled for acting like retards."
"Sir we can't find anyone. We're checking the upper blocks." There was a brief, awkward, pause. "Kempsy says there wasn't anything on the cams for the last thirty minutes past your office. I had him double check for technical error or bugging."
"Nothing?" Prozen snapped. "He didn't see anyone?"
"No Sir. As far as the cams and motion detectors show there's been no one in the corridors for the last two hours."
Raven looked increasingly pale.
"Fine…" Prozen murmured weakly, "complete the full sweep and go back to your check points."
"It was there," Raven insisted, "we both saw it!"
"I know," he answered pressing the back of his palm to his forehead inquisitively. A hallucination? He didn't feel hot, he wasn't tired, he wasn't anything out of the ordinary and even if he was Raven's little inclusion ruled out most mind tricks. This hadn't been some passing phantom this had been several tense moments in clear lit view.
"Let's go home," he pushed out from the desk briskly as though he wasn't just contemplating his sanity behind his poker face, "I'll get my office checked out tomorrow. There must be a gas leak in here. I'll have those artifacts checked for radiation too."
"I saw it." Raven insisted unhelpfully. "It was right there. You saw it too. It was big and black and sharp and it hit the glass!"
"Hush," Prozen ordered sharply before he could restrain himself, "we're tired. We just saw something. There's nothing in the building."
"Yes there is!" The child was desperate now, stubborn and harsh in retaliation thrusting a tiny index finger towards the window. "It was there!"
He couldn't argue with Raven anymore. He was a rational human being, he prided himself on that, he didn't see things he couldn't explain. It had just been a very vivid trick of the mind or something he had yet the ability to explain away. He'd just been thinking too hard about the new project, remembering what Gerhardt had said, remembering those hours down the shaft in Gurreal with the unnerving sounds, the eerie images, the childish nightmare fodder. Yes, come to think of it he'd seen something similar down in Gurreal on a mosaic and late in the night it had come bubbling up from the back of his mind.
Of course that didn't explain Raven's detailed account of witnessing the same creature when the boy had never so much as heard the name Gurreal…
Gerhardt wasn't told anything regarding their little incident at the laboratory but he recognized the spooked expression lingering on Gunther's well enough and the brat wouldn't so much as look at him for half the week. Raven crossed his arms and glowered sulkily at his feet under Gunther's prodding obviously offended by something. Gunther tossed his hands up eventually so that whatever they'd been arguing about in the dead of night could wane into memory. Gerhardt almost wished children had longer memories when Raven woke in good spirits one morning seemingly forgiving Gunther's misdeeds.
He was becoming increasingly nervous himself. Sash was about four weeks off bursting though the doctors seemed to take joy in telling him she could go off at any time like a bomb in the china store of his life. Drinking didn't even help at the point even if he was living half in a haze. What's more the Emperor was getting better.
"Wake up Gerhardt!" Gunther balked slapping him hard and sending the small of his back ramming into the oak boundary of the desk. "Pay attention! Did you give him your dose Tuesday?"
"I put it in his booze like normal," he muttered sourly, "what else do you want?"
"Did he drink Tuesday?"
"He always fucking drinks or smokes!" Gerhardt snapped. "How should I know? He can't go an hour without smoking something and you've been covering that since he hit bed rest."
"Listen to me you drunken bitch," the younger man hissed viciously, "you don't seem to understand the severity of trouble we're in. If he's just getting better for no bloody reason it's because someone's onto us."
"Then what do you want me to do?"
"Oh you're useless!" Gunther seethed. "I want you to help me keep us from a chopping block you idiot! Or are you so pathetic you're ready to die?"
"This was your idea."
"Oh yes so that excludes you from any responsibility," the other chuckled nastily at him, "because Daddy loves you so much he'll just let it slide for you."
"I don't know what to do!" Gerhardt flared angrily. "He should be dead! I just want this over with! I can't take this anymore!"
"Ball-less wonder…" Gunther snorted. "Fine, I'll handle it by myself. Never could rely on you to so much as wipe your own ass. When he's dead I'll expect payback for keeping your involvement quiet."
"You're blackmailing me?"
"Aren't you a genius." He spat as he gathered up his things.
"You can't do that to me!"
"It's your own fault. Don't expect any sympathy from me or your wife."
Gerhardt knew he was alone now. He knew he was close to a precipice of unavoidable change after wrangling himself into a sorry corner. He had to fear now what Zeppelin might do to him as well as what Gunther might take up against him. The three of them were at odds again. The one secret he'd ever shared with Gunther was now very likely to bite him sorely in the ass. Either way there was no denying Zeppelin was getting better, much better, his return to active duties was sprawled victoriously over every magazine, newspaper and bathroom wall in the country. However Gunther was 'taking care of it' wasn't working. They were losing.
Gerhardt had a sense then he was screwed to put it lightly.
It brought everything sour inside his head to a front even heavy under booze. He remembered pushing Gunther down that shaft in Gurreal probably because the other boy had been enjoying their little expedition whereas he'd been bored silly. It was another one of his flashes of jealousy about Gunther being smarter than he was.
Even when he'd come up that line shaking like a dog dragged from out of a well Gunther had somehow been stronger than before. Down in that dark, nasty, pit he'd found a fanciful dream that no one could shake him from. He gone down a twenty foot shaft into a space no one had trespassed in for centuries only to emerge uninjured and worse invigorated. Gerhardt had picked on him for feeling at home amongst the remnants of a dead civilization, in much less graceful terms, only to find himself disturbed at how Gunther clung to a dream for decades without shifting or wavering when he could barely remember what he wanted to be when he grew up at twelve.
He'd felt then, amongst a handful of other times, that he'd lost to Gunther in the race. That Gunther would survive while he was obliterated by his father's world. He was going to get gobbled up and spat out like so much trash regardless of who he was or born to be. He'd always hated that he'd been 'born to greatness' to fall short at every single hurdle. He wasn't cut from the cloth of stern nobility. He'd been a wavering playboy of a teenager, a lazy delinquent of a child and a drunken lout of a man. Gunther had beat him years ago and Gerhardt had been the one to make it a contest in the first place.
He remembered saying he'd never get married, that he'd never be like his father, that he'd never be boring, that he'd never be a failure… He clearly drank more than his father, he was married to an equally unhappy woman, and he had none of the passion and flare of his potential bastard baby brother. He wanted to swap, genuinely; he just wanted to have the freedom of flexibility in his fate. Not have every day from his birth to death plotted out like it had been.
He hated his Father. That was no contest. Not to say he'd never wanted to love his father to the contrary all he ever wanted was to love his father and have happy parents and happy children but that ship had long sailed. He even hated Gunther, sharp nasty man he'd become, but again he'd felt closer to him these last few months than he had in years with anyone else. No one else had the potential to be closer to him, to know him better, but their relationship had hit a brick wall and so even that was over. Gunther would never call him to come over and talk about schemes, would never rely on him to support him in anything, would never try and include him or trust him for the rest of their lives.
Most of all, however, he hated himself for getting into this situation. He'd made all his own choices. No one had forced him any more than he'd forced back. He'd chosen not to study, to start a little war of the siblings, to let all his Father's issues wriggle inside him and eat him alive like maggots. He'd fallen into the family trap without the energy or the perseverance to drag himself back out. He'd never really considered how much he disliked himself, the effort he went to in order to avoid his own company, until now. It scared him.
He thought about the babe, inches away from stepping straight into this mess and it made him run a little cold. It wasn't his fault his Father was a crazy old bastard and it certainly wasn't the baby's fault. The kid shouldn't have to be privy to it or have to deal with it but keeping it out of this meant pulling himself up by his bootstraps. Gerhardt had always deplored strenuous work and this was a lifetime commitment to keeping his kid from getting royally screwed over. Maybe, just maybe, it might be worth it to make an effort for him. Gerhardt was twenty-seven now, he was still young, he had decades ahead of him to straighten up. What would three decades of stupidity be to a later four of good behavior? He had all the resources in the world just not the will.
He was contemplating that, turning himself around, when his cell started wailing.
"Gerhardt, it's Prozen, I need you to come over."
"Gunther?" He lingered in the chair hesitantly eyes wavering over the grandfather clock propped up like a coffin in the corner, "it's almost midnight. What the hell do you want?"
"It's about Zeppelin." Gunther sounded so very calm, cool, it was worrying. All the more disturbing than any passion or fear the younger man might exhibit. "I'm sure you understand why I'd rather talk to you in person."
"Just maybe," he snorted irritably his stomach turning, "alright fine I'll be there in a few."
"Thanks," and Gunther was gone.
He sat staring at the silent receiver for a moment. Gunther never told him, of all people, thank you so casually. He had a glimmer of hope, a failing suspicion that maybe aggressive Gunther might wish to make peace between them again. Perhaps the task of trying to kill an Emperor all by himself was too much or just too daunting for the younger man at only twenty-three years.
Gerhardt considered telling Sash where he was going. She was curled in her own bed around the heavy weight of her belly and had long since gone to bed. If anything he'd just irritate her at this hour, his wish to tell her anything was further irrational considering how little they'd spoke since her first miscarriage. So he shuffled the thought aside hesitantly and called the chauffer. The domestic staff were accustomed to requests like this. It was nothing odd to take Gunther or Gerhardt or Zeppelin out in the middle of night to all corners of the city after all.
As a matter of absolute fact everything was just dandy normal till Gerhardt got to Gunther's.
Raven's coat was by the door where a minuscule pair of sneakers were shoved under the antique side board in a sort of modern meets classical domestic mish-mash. It was kind of vulnerable, personal, to see Gunther's home lived in by a child, something small, relatively helpless and innocent when neither Gerhardt nor Gunther could exactly claim being good men. It drove home something inside Gerhardt. Did he want Raven to be used to these kind of shady midnight dealings? Did he want his child to be accustomed to them? Did he want his little girl or boy conspiring to kill him in the night?
What the fuck were they doing?
Gunther looked like death warmed over when he hit the bottom of the stairs, Gerhardt didn't even hear him till he was standing on the final step with the banister in hand.
"What's up?" He didn't want to be rude tonight, he felt too delicate to squabble and Gunther looked about the same.
"We have a problem."
"We should stop this," Gerhardt spoke up as firmly as he could, "we should just quit and work around him. This is nuts."
"Way too late for that," Gunther sighed slumping his shoulders with an uncomfortable beckon, "come on we'll get comfortable in my office while we figure out what to do."
When Gunther entered the open door and collapsed wearily into the red velvet couch running his hand over his face before letting his arms fall into his lap he looked like a badly disciplined child. He looked about ten again and Gerhardt just wanted this night to be over. He didn't question why Gunther didn't take his seat at the desk out of view as he strolled in himself he was too transfixed with the dejected expression across his face.
"Your shit has hit the fan."
It was like something out of a bad movie when Zeppelin spoke up. Gerhardt felt his heart sink through his shoes. Gunther wouldn't do him the courtesy of so much as looking at him as he sat there, shaky handed, running his fingers over his scalp piteously. How Zeppelin had talked Gunther into getting Gerhardt there or whether Gunther had tried to pin everything or him wasn't exactly apparent but it didn't matter momentarily.
"I can't believe you," Zeppelin was fierce, positively livid, as he began raging down upon them. "You ungrateful little shits! I raised the sorry pair of you!"
Gunther's index finger settled across his lips as he kept his gaze firmly locked on the darkened windows and Gerhardt felt himself begin to shake in tandem. They were screwed. It was over.
"I honestly thought you were smarter Gunther, I thought you were better than this, you wretched little bastard! And you!" Gerhardt cringed under the weight of the jutting finger thrust in his direction. "You repugnant little worm! I knew you were a spineless good for nothing just like your mother the day you were born but that you would have the gall to come after your own father is beyond even the depths of your stupidity!"
"It wasn't my idea!" Gerhardt found himself insisting suddenly. "Gunther blackmailed me!"
Red eyes flashed over him in stunned horror and then turned fierce vermillion in retaliation.
"Coward." It was all Gunther got to hiss out, it was all he had to say to make Gerhardt's stomach turn with hatred and shame.
"I don't care," Zeppelin seethed, "it's irrelevant. You both tried to kill me. I ought to have the pair of you taken care of! I ought to keep Raven and the baby and try again!"
Gerhardt fell into a stutter, he felt so delightfully selfish in the second, all he could think was that his father was going to replace him. It still hurt as a grown man to realize how easily Zeppelin could do that. Gunther, poor Gunther, meet his eyes and proved one final time that he'd won because Gunther didn't care about himself in that second. Gerhardt could see clear as day Gunther wasn't thinking about being replaced. He was thinking about Raven putting up with the same shit he'd endured for seventeen years. Gerhardt knew then that whatever vile, dreadful, thing Gunther was he was lower.
"Really Gerhardt," Zeppelin snapped, "couldn't you grow a back bone faster? Couldn't you have come at me head on? Given half the effort you've put into turning yourself into a wreck you could've had me committed! Call me senile! Shot my brains out! Anything rather than this downright betrayal of my trust!"
The whole room became very quiet for a moment as the Emperor sighed and drew.
"Neither of you had the balls to stand up to me, to confront me," he accused pulling back the clip of the weapon blandly, "that's what really disappoints me boys. That you'd do this to me without the decency to do it like men. It's pathetic."
Gerhardt was trapped, they were both dreadfully trapped, he didn't even know how to look at Gunther any more. He didn't know what he should be thinking but he felt, knowingly, that this was the end of the road. Zeppelin wasn't going to take any more crap. Gunther met his eyes pointedly in that thought. He was just as desperate, just as scared, they were both just as bad as each other.
Regrettably that realization would be the last thing that would ever cross Gerhardt's mind before Zeppelin blew his brains outs.
The funeral sickened Prozen but he didn't say anything to that affect. Gerhardt's death was shuffled under the rug with his assistance as a corroborating witness for the Emperor. The military would write it off as a drunken fit inevitably gone awry, the perfect full stop to Gerhardt's downward spiral, while the media would be confronted with a very tragic suicide from a young man who hadn't grown up enough to face the stresses setting in upon him.
Prozen wasn't asked to speak at the funeral and Zeppelin declined so they could take cigarettes behind the pews away from the Pastor inside and the cameras outside.
"That was Gerhardt's last warning," Zeppelin muttered dryly, "it's your first Gunther. Don't make me bring this shit up again. I'd hate to lose you too."
"Yeah, right," Prozen grunted dismissively as he inhaled, "just don't make me cover for you like that again."
"Don't get yourself knee deep in the sty next time." The old man spat towards his son's mourners. "I have no doubt you orchestrated it. Gerhardt didn't have the brains or the balls. This is your fault."
"I'm well aware your Majesty."
They filed out shortly after to Prozen's exhausted relief. Raven's cold little hand grasping for his vice like and needy as they departed the cathedral into the streets packed with civilian mourners.
"Are we going to go watch them bury the body?" Raven asked quietly.
"No," Prozen assured him, he lifted the boy up without quite knowing what he was doing or why to hold against his chest as they made their way down the line of cars.
The murky sky ahead looked about ready to piss down on them which seemed only fitting. Prozen didn't want to speak to a media outlet, he didn't want to look at Zeppelin, he didn't want to remember the splatter of brain matter across his face… he just wanted to go home and lock the doors even if his office was still quartered off for professional, intensive, cleaning.
Sasha had thoughts of her own however when she abruptly cut him off in his retreat. She looked the part of a bloated warship well enough pasty, sickly, tear free and only days away from seeing her little runt into the world.
"Prozen," she began composing herself in a wobbling pant after she'd obviously rushed after him, "no one's telling me what happened. I want the truth. Gerhardt wouldn't kill himself."
"Really?" He scoffed, "doesn't sound that far fetched in context."
"Don't lie to me you bastard."
Sasha had never spoken to anyone like that. She'd learnt early on to keep her soft little voice quiet and her silly mouth wired shut after her little dream of royal happiness had turned to ash. It rubbed Prozen all wrong to see this un-involved weakling demand answers from him.
"Fine, you want my opinion?" He snapped hefting Raven against his hip higher. "Gerhardt getting his skull capped was inevitable and my advice is to hope you have boy in there because it's your last bargaining chip against Zeppelin."
He pushed past her with more genteel manners than he would've liked but with so many cameras tracing every angle of the mourning royal faces he couldn't take the chance of being on tomorrow's front page.
When they'd cleared the blocks of bustling civilians, when no one recognized them anymore or cared who they were Prozen gave up and let Raven back onto his feet. He scuffed his little black dress shoes on the side walk while Prozen pulled his hair free and tied it back tighter out of compulsion and waited for Prozen to present his hand again. Prozen did and Raven took it just as tightly as before.
"Are you going to miss him?" The child asked innocent and dismissive.
"Sort of," Prozen sighed, "you?"
"Don't know," Raven muttered, "did you really try and kill the Emperor?"
"You heard that?"
"I heard him yelling at you," there was half a pause, "and the gun shot."
"Yes," he admitted finally as they strolled, "I really did try to kill him."
"Do you have to stop now?"
"Supposedly. It's a complicated situation."
"Are you going to?" Raven tilted his gaze curiously up at Prozen as he spoke as though he had expectations he wanted the man to live up to. Part of Prozen still wanted to reach those expectations while the rest of him was too tired to be anything but honest.
"Not a chance." He whispered. "I'm going to slaughter him."
Raven smiled, grinned, or that was to say some kind of wicked expression of proud satisfaction met his guardian's regard. Prozen found himself decidedly hesitant of Raven's approval yet all at once relieved to be accepted. The child seemed to think more of him every day, rely on him, depend upon him, trust him…not like he'd ever trusted Zeppelin and he had begun to think that he would really be a much better father than the Emperor or Gerhardt after all. That if nothing else gave him a sense of confidence, superiority, to use as his last weapon towards the Emperor. If Raven felt there was something in Prozen worth believing, worth backing, or if the child was so doubtless he could succeed then maybe he still had a chance.
They halted only momentarily at the road crossing of a busy city intersection to make their way closer to where Prozen had sent the car to meet them. Beside him Raven tugged his hand tightly and drew his attention down the long narrow road leading towards them.
"Do you see that?" The boy asked without so much as pointing towards the hideous black form gazing expectantly towards them. It was just like the laboratory that night.
"Yes," Prozen admitted calmly, "just ignore it."
"What is it?"
"I don't know," he shrugged at it, "and I don't care."
AN: Hope you enjoyed Ladies and Gents. It's a little peculiar but it was ball of fun to write. I don't know why I picture the Imperial Royal family as a bunch of nasty, un-classy, foul mouthed bastards but I like them that way.
1) Nyx is from the Manga and Battle Story. Prozen and the Madame President were heirs to the Nyx throne before the Guylos Empire conquered them. We mixed that up a little in this one. Made the whole situation a little messier.
2) I went with Gerhardt because Rudolf calls himself "Emperor Rudolf Gerhardt Zeppelin III" and his Grandfather "Zeppelin II" so from that I assume both of he and his grandfather are named Rudolf while his father had a different name. As Gerhardt is his middle name I'm going to assume it was a gesture to his father who obviously died when he was quiet young.
3) The rest of the names are purely fictitious except for Hanna Hanna who again is a Prozen Knight from the Manga who's basically the Manga equivalent of Hardin.
There is a sequel to this. A multiple part fic centralized around a couple of OCs that heavily involves Prozen and Raven. I suppose it's not so much a sequel as the Raven and Prozen which appear in this fic go on to appear in my next fic. Hopefully that will be out next year at some point. Probably on live journal though so if you're interested check out my profile.
Anyway thank you for reading, even if you didn't like, and sorry for my crappy holiday editing.
Have a good new years!