He can feel the heels of his scuffed white boots sinking into battle worn ground. This war, this second war for Schleswig, should never have been. But what else was there to do when a peace treaty was broken? Fighting is what he knows. He has been fighting for as long as he can remember. First a knight, then a vassal, now a nation in his own right. He has fought enough battles to know when one is over. And today? Today, as a he stands over a fallen Denmark, he knows he has won.
No. They have won. Austria stands on his left, coat is splattered in shades of brown and ripped apart by bayonets and gunshots. Everything about him is messy; his hair is wind-tousled and damp, his glasses precariously askew on his sharp nose. He's never seen him like this before, up-close and un-perfect.
Austria catches him watching and graces him with a small smile, before turning back to the defeated nation in front of them. Denmark still has the courage to scowl.
Austria looks down at him for just a second more, and then turns away.
"Take him away."
It's then when he sees it. That unfamiliar conquering spirit flickering brightly, briefly, in Austria's eyes.
He had always wondered how this piano playing pacifist could have become an Empire, the major power in Europe. A century ago he had broken Austria so easily, seized Silesia in a heartbeat. A few decades ago, while at war with France, he had only glimpsed Austria from afar. He had heard stories then that Austria was stronger, but dismissed them as rumours. "Probably just Hungary", he'd said in response. "She was always the strong one."
Through this war, he'd finally seen it. A different side of Austria, one he hadn't known existed. The man next to him is composed, but in battle he had killed and fought and lived freely. He had seen a dirty, powerful, strange Austria.
It was beautiful.
"Will you ever leave me alone?"
Roderich has always been hard to read, but he recognises the cold anger in the man's oh-so familiar eyes. He back smirks in answer.
"She's not here to protect you right now, is she Rodi?"
He notices Roderich's hand clench – just a little, barely a twitch. He chuckles. Roderich's never liked the nickname.
His smile falters at the word.
-is visiting Feliks."
"Just you and me then, I guess."
He takes a step forward. He expects the Austrian to back away, but instead he stands his ground.
"Almost like old times, right Roderich? Remember Schleswig?"
Things are different now. His words aren't mocking like before. Austria recognises that they're laced with nostalgia, and his face softens.
30th October 1864
The Austrian looks up from what he's writing, hand poised mid air
"Prussia?" He sounds tired. Understandable. It's late, very late. He doesn't know why he's still here in Vienna, still here in Austria's home.
Austria looks as neat as ever, but he hasn't quite lost that arrogant demeanour that he demonstrated during the war. A glimpse of it is still there, under the combed back hair and the neatly buttoned coat. It intrigues him.
It takes three steps to reach Austria's desk. There are papers crumpled up on the floor, scattered all over, the desktop. A quick peek shows him it's sheet music (for two violins, a viola, and strangely, a snare drum). Of course.
"I.." he starts to speak, but for some reason he can't form the words. This has never happened before. He's Prussia. The great and powerful Kingdom of Prussia. Struck speechless in front of the namby-pamby pianist.
Austria peers at him. He drops the pen, and brushes a stray brown hair out of his face.
He finds himself transfixed by this small action.
"Why are you still here?" asks Austria, raising an eyebrow. "You're free to go."
He was right. The Treaty of Vienna had been signed earlier, and the Kingdom of Denmark had given up Schleswig, Holstein and Saxe-Lauenburg to the Kingdom of Prussia and the Austrian Empire. The three duchies were to be governed by them. Together.
After the signing of the Treaty, there had been a party at Austria's estate. A small celebration held by his boss, and Austria's boss. He, and Austria, had been up front and centre, mixing and mingling, as you do.
He'd found himself watching Austria, watching for no real reason at all, except that he couldn't look away. Every little step the man took, every perfectly controlled action, was fascinating to h. How could he be so calm, when he'd seen the nation lose that control?
But the party was long over, and everyone had gone.
"I.." his mouth attempts to form words again, to say something. "I don't know."
"Then leave." Austria turns away again, looking back down at his music. His hand moves, pen meeting paper. Another perfectly written note on that perfectly straight stave. Not an ink smudge in sight.
And then he realises why he's here. He reaches out and grabs the Austrian's hand, yanking it lightly to the side, marring the music. He hears the Austrian's cry of protest and exasperation and it makes sense now, it all makes sense.
Austria stands up, frown etched onto the planes of that almost delicate face. He's angry, but he hasn't shaken off his hand.
He reaches out with the other hand and grabs the back of Austria's head, leaning in to kiss him. For a moment, Austria is still, completely still, but only for a moment.
Then Austria's arms are around him and there's a new urgency in the kiss.
The pen in Austria- no- Roderich's hand drops to the floor and they break for air. He sees confusion, shock, anger, joy... a mix of conflicting emotions flashing through the violet eyes.
He smiles at the Austrian, whose brown hair is now dishevelled and glasses are lopsided. This is why he stayed.
To see Roderich lose control.
"It's been a long time Gilbert." Roderich says softly, pushing his glasses up with a quick movement. "Since then, I mean."
"Not that long."
"36 years. Half a lifetime."
"Not for us." he spits the words out like they leave a bitter taste in his mouth. "It's nothing when you live forever."
His hand is drawn to Roderich's face, brushing it gently. He freezes at the touch, but he doesn't turn away.
"Why are you here Gilbert?" Roderich's words are careful. There's no harshness anymore, no trace of anger.
He's been here before. 36 years ago, in this same room, with this same nation. Just like before, his words are escaping him, but this time... this time his reasons are slightly different.
Everything is slightly different...
"Are you happy?" he blurts the words out before he forgets how to say them. The Austrian raises his eyebrows in surprise, but otherwise says nothing.
"Are you happy?" he repeats, reaching forward and grabbing Roderich's arm before he can turn away. "Tell me."
And this time it's Roderich who can't seem to speak.