When Matthew got back in the wee hours of the morning, he did not expect Roderich to be waiting for him, seated in an armchair by the fireplace, nursing a cup of tea. What he had more or less expected was Roderich and Gilbert waiting for him and Ivan, one worried and annoyed and the other bouncing with fury.
Maybe I can get out of this without losing too many feathers, he thought. He decided that this was one of the rare times where is reputation as a shy, innocent and utterly harmless nation would come handy.
"Matthew, where have you been?" Roderich asked. There was nothing whatsoever threatening in his voice – except that it didn't hold any threat at all. Roderich was one of those polite, calm people who patiently waited for a long time before suddenly exploding.
"Uh…" Why did he feel like he was a clumsy baby nation and this was Arthur, lecturing him about not getting his hands dirty? – Because Arthur and Roderich actually had the same paternal attitude towards people they regarded as their charges. It probably came from ruling an empire and raising a bunch of other nations.
Since there was no point in prolonging his discomfort he decided to be straightforward. "I went clubbing with Ivan."
Roderich looked at him expectantly. "And…? Go on."
Matthew shrugged. "I really don't think you want to know the details. We went out, we danced, we had a good time. Nobody got hurt, scared or otherwise damaged."
"And where is Ivan now?"
"On his way home… I hope. We got into a bit of a fight."
Roderich raised his eyebrows. "What kind of fight?"
"Relax. The non-violent kind." Matthew shook his head, feeling somewhat resigned. "The old argument really – he's being patronizing and I can't stand it."
Roderich breathed a soft sound of disbelief. "Well, if that's your only problem, I congratulate you."
"Okay, what did Gilbert do now?" Matthew asked with a somewhat exaggerated sigh.
"Who's talking about Gilbert…?"
"You, obviously. What's the matter, Roderich? It seemed to go so well earlier tonight. Actually, that's the main reason Ivan and I left." It was a blatant lie, but maybe he could get away with it.
Roderich frowned. "Wait. Are you telling me, you planned this?"
Matthew shrugged again, smiling wryly. "We agreed to help each other, didn't we? Now, you already did a lot for Ivan and me, so it seemed about time we did something nice for you. So I bluntly told Gilbert that I thought he was interested in you and that it was about time he did something about that. It was actually quite amusing – you should have seen his face. But when he didn't show up last night I was worried that my plan had gone amiss. You can't really count on Gilbert to do anything; his mood swings are pretty unpredictable. I felt bad about having told you to expect him. So when he finally did show up, I was glad. And it looked like you were finally getting somewhere, so I decided it was probably time to leave… especially considering that Gilbert doesn't get along well with Ivan. It's a one-sided antipathy, since Ivan actually likes Gilbert, but it could have spoiled everything."
"You're telling me you did this for me," Roderich said, clearly still suspicious.
Matthew assumed his best impression of friendly innocence. "Well, Gilbert is my friend, too, so I did it for him as much as for you. And I also did it for me, because looking at the two of you brooding and suffering was beginning to be painful."
Roderich shot him a dark look. "It wasn't my choice, you know. I never asked to fall for Gilbert, of all people."
Matthew snorted. "Of course not! Do you think I asked to fall in love with Ivan? Granted, my life has gotten a lot more exciting lately, but God knows I never asked to fall in love with a self-loathing, psychopathic control freak, who's always at the brink of war with most of the world."
That actually caused Roderich to smile. "What a romantic description of your lover, Matthew. I'm glad Ivan isn't around to hear that."
"Oh, he knows. And I'm pretty sure he didn't ask to fall in love with a timid, overly clumsy masochist with serious anger management issues. Point is, we don't get to choose. I'm pretty sure that if you were to write a list about the things you hate about Gilbert, it would be longer than my arm. But in the end, it doesn't matter. Which brings me back to my original question: Where's Gilbert?"
Roderich sighed, running a hand through his already tousled hair. "I sent him away," he confessed.
"You're an idiot. Why?"
"I… I don't really know. I guess I was scared." It didn't sound particularly convincing. Whatever the underlying issue was, Matthew got a pretty clear feeling that Roderich didn't want to talk about it. But at least he had managed to complete distract the Austrian from his own transgression.
Mission accomplished, he silently congratulated himself.
"You should at least call him tomorrow," he advised, "because right now, Gilbert is probably giving poor Ludwig hell on Earth."
"He's not yet back in Berlin," Roderich muttered, "he was driving."
"Well in that case, I do pity anyone he might encounter on the road tonight. Gilbert is a menace when he is in a temper."
"Well, I'm going to bed now. See you sometime around noon?"
Matthew awoke from a dreamless sleep at two o'clock in the afternoon and his skin itched with the desire to take a shower. The sound of running water and the smell of lavender soap reminded him of Washington, of Ivan's hands caressing his skin, of his smooth voice, talking of a distant past, when he had fought on frozen battlefields and watched his lovers die there.
I never lost a lover to war, Matthew mused. I lost them to time or to other humans, and sometimes I simply lost interest… I guess my life has been peaceful so far. Maybe too peaceful.
He stepped out of the shower, grabbed a fluffy towel and dressed in jeans and a comfortable shirt, since there was no one around whom he had to impress. With his hair still wet, he went downstairs, inhaling deeply when he noticed a tantalizing smell of coffee and… pancakes?
Is Roderich seriously making pancakes for me? That's so sweet…
Smiling, he stepped into the large, sunlit kitchen – and stopped short, when he realized that there were actually two people in the room. Roderich stood with his back against the refrigerator and Gilbert's hands on both sides of his body, caging him in. It was an intimate position, and even though he couldn't see it from where he was standing, Matthew felt pretty sure that if they weren't kissing, they had been doing so just seconds ago.
Okay, so the pancakes probably aren't for me, huh? But he couldn't help but grin.
Gilbert jumped away from Roderich so fast he almost crashed into the wooden stool to his left. Roderich blinked, looking dazed, and Matthew realized that once again, his eyes were the wrong color.
"Oh, hi Mattie," Gilbert said, once he had regained his balance.
"I'm really sorry, I had no idea you were here," Matthew replied, grinning ear to ear.
"Bullshit," Gilbert rolled his eyes. "You loved every moment of it."
"Okay, yeah, I did. It's actually quite nice to see the two of you engaged in some activity that isn't fighting. Are you making pancakes, Roderich?"
"Kaiserschmarrn," the Austrian replied, his cheeks still pink.
"Well, whatever it is, it does appear to be burning."
"What…?! No!" Roderich rushed to the stove, spatula in hand. "Idiot," he said over his shoulder to Gilbert, once he had assessed the damage. "This is your fault for distracting me."
"Oh, here we go again," Matthew said, shaking his head as he sat down at the table and poured himself a cup of coffee. "I've heard it said that to some people, arguments are something of an aphrodisiac, but you guys really are beyond the pale."
"Was sich liebt das neckt sich," Gilbert said cheerfully, wrapping an arm around the fussing Austrian and stealing a bit of Schmarrn from the frying pan. "It's fine, Roddy. Absolutely edible. So stop fretting and let's have breakfast."
"Or lunch," Matthew said, gazing at the kitchen clock.
Roderich pushed Gilbert away and carefully carried the pan to the table, where he filled three plates.
"So, when did you get here?" Matthew asked Gilbert conversationally.
The Prussian shrugged. "Sometime before dawn, I guess. It's all kind of fuzzy. I remember driving like crazy, and being put out with Roddy for going to sleep. He did leave the front door open, though."
"It was six o'clock in the morning, and I hadn't slept all night. Did you expect me to stay up and wait for you?" Roderich asked, pouring himself a second cup of coffee. There was no anger in his voice, though. "I didn't even know if you'd come."
"Roddy," Gilbert said seriously, reaching across the table for his hand, "that phone call would have raised me from the dead."
"Well, technically, you are dead," Matthew pointed out.
"Shut up, Mattie."
"No really, Roderich, you're going with the fashion these days – your boyfriend is a vampire. Congratulations, you are in one league with Sookie Stackhouse, Anita Blake and Bella Swan."
"You know what, I always wondered why there weren't any gay vampire in those books," Gilbert said thoughtfully. "It's pretty homophobic actually, isn't it?"
"Russell Edgington is gay, at least in the TV show. I don't remember the book… come to think of it; I always thought Louis from Interview with the Vampire was gay. And Armand definitely is."
"Good God, please don't tell me you've both read all of that nonsense?" Roderich groaned.
"Well, one can't always read Goethe and Shakespeare, Roderich. People like that kind of books nowadays. Tomorrow they'll like something else, but we have to adapt." Matthew shrugged. "That Schmarrn stuff is pretty good. Doesn't Schmarrn mean 'nonsense', by the way?"
"It does," Gilbert confirmed.
"Well, there you go."
"You are not a vampire," Roderich said earnestly to Gilbert.
"I promise not to bite you. See, I'm even wearing a cross," Gilbert replied, pulling his iron cross out from beneath his shirt.
"No, I mean you are not dead."
"Do you want me to come around the table and proof it to you?" Gilbert asked, grinning wickedly.
"Okay, I'm out of here," Matthew announced.
"Pfft, don't play the prude, Matthew. You've lost your sweet and innocent bonus when you began sleeping with the bogeyman," Gilbert said, turning back and fixing him with a red-eyed stare. "Where did you go last night?"
Matthew rolled his eyes. "Gee, I knew this was coming. Who are you, my mother? Ivan and I went clubbing."
"And we did some things that should not be discussed at breakfast. There. Are you happy now?"
"He has totally corrupted you," Gilbert complained.
"Ri-ight. Because you never did stuff like that. You've been to bed with half of Europe, probably including Ivan, so don't lecture me about him."
"Most of us have, actually," Roderich said mildly.
"Surely you haven't?" Gilbert asked, looking faintly shocked.
"Antonio, Elizaveta, Francis, Ivan, Ludwig, Romano and Vash. Not to mention Czechia and Slovakia, when they were still joined as one country. And I'm probably forgetting a few," Roderich said defiantly. "Don't baby me, Gilbert. I'm older than you are."
"You slept with my brother?!"
"Yes. The notorious Anschluss, ever heard of it? Though I must say neither Ludwig nor I particularly enjoyed that experience."
"I'm going to kill him!"
"Gilbert," Roderich sighed, grabbing his arms. "Really, after seventy years?"
"He had no right."
Roderich shrugged. "Those were different times. Oh, sit down, Gilbert. You are being ridiculous."
"Glad to see I'm not the only one who gets upset about my lovers past love affairs," Matthew muttered, having watched the exchange with some amusement. "By the way, Roderich – we need to set a date for the next supervised meeting, or whatever you want to call it. Assuming that you still want to be our guardian…?"
"Well, you definitely need one," Roderich replied sourly. "And if you sneak out on me again, I'm going to hand you over to Arthur. Choose a date, Matthew. But if it's all the same to you, I would prefer if we could meet here."
"Sure, I don't suppose it matters much, and neither Moscow nor Ottawa are particularly inviting in winter. I'll talk to Ivan and let you know."
"Good." Roderich nodded. "Oh and Matthew…? On the phone. You'll talk to Ivan on the phone, not in person."
Matthew rolled his eyes. "Yes, Mom."
Kaiserschmarrn – an Austrian dish made with pancake bits and raisins. Try it, if you get a chance to do so; it's delicious.
"Was sich liebt, das neckt sich" – German proverb stating that a) lovers tend to tease each other or b) people who frequently tease each other may be lovers
Sookie Stackhouse and Russell Edginton are characters from the Southern Vampire Mysteries / True Blood. Anita Blake is Laurell K. Hamilton's sexy female vampire hunter / lover. I've lost count on how many books there are now, I stopped reading when it got to the point where I couldn't remember whom she was currently sleeping with. I don't think I need to explain who Bella Swan is. Louis and Armand are characters from Anne Rice's vampire novels.
The "Anschluss", meaning the unification of Austria and Germany occurred in 1938. I'm not even going to start discussing whose fault it was or whether or not the general Austrian population went along with it, there are some unresolved issues there. There were Nazis on both sides of the border, and since they were megalomaniacs, they thought it was a pretty good idea to unite the two countries. In any case, lost wars are like lost elections – in the end, no one wants to take the blame or admit that they knew about all the bad stuff going on.