A/N Slice of life one-shot written while listening to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy's song "You and Me and the Bottle Makes Three" and reading e.e. cummings. Squinty AustriaxPrussia (I know, I'm such a tease.)
Nazi Germany had an increasing problem with jazz music – mostly due to the fact many of the performers were Jewish or African-American. It was eventually banned in 1935 and listening to foreign radio stations playing jazz was penalized.
When the Waltz first broke out, it was mainly considered low-brow and provincial, only danced by rural men and women. The close grip and whirling steps contrasted with the distant, stately dancing of polonaises and minuets. It was banned in parts of Swabia and Switzerland.
Obligatory disclaimer: I wish I did, but I don't own Hetalia. Thanks for reading!
Berlin – June, 1939
Austria watched from the table as Prussia twirled and spun the girls over his arm, kicking his legs out in perfect time with theirs, feet twisting and stepping with a curious lightness to the brassy music. He desperately wanted to join but dignity and embarrassment kept him anchored to his chair. He didn't know why he'd asked to come to this dive with Prussia. He'd probably needed some diversion, some loud distraction to take his mind away from the world's current affairs. And who better than obnoxious, degenerate Prussia?
A slower song started and Prussia took that as his cue to leave, dismissing the fawning girls with a wave. He flung himself into the chair opposite Austria, knocking back the rest of the beer he'd left. Austria primly sipped his watery gimlet.
"Man! They just don't know when to quit." Prussia wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand.
"Why ain't you out there, Specs? There's plenty o' girls…and guys." Prussia's mouth cracked into a slanted grin as he lit a cigarette.
Austria's lips tightened. "I prefer a waltz to this – this – I don't know what to call it. Waltzes have structure, grace. It looks like you're having a seizure out there, limbs flailing every which way."
Prussia snorted, angling his head. "You just don't know how. I could show you."
Austria pressed his lips so tight they nearly vanished. "No thank you."
"Hey, you wanted to come!" Prussia blew a cloud of smoke towards the ceiling. "Christ, I feel like I'm on a date with someone's mother."
Austria turned his head away, raising the spotted glass to his lips. He huffed, realizing it was empty, and set it down with a loud thunk.
"You want another?" Prussia offered.
Austria's eyes darted back to his host's. "…Yes. But I would like a – " God, he couldn't believe he was actually going to ask for one – "a beer."
Prussia's grin widened. "Back in two shakes, Specs."
Austria watched the other nation saunter up to the bar. Well, "bar" was a bit of a misnomer. It was no more than a salvaged counter top mounted on top of a metal shelf. Crates of beer rested on the shelf, and behind the counter stood another metal rack with a scant amount of liquor bottles. Austria was a little surprised the "bartender" knew what a gimlet was or had any gin to begin with – which probably accounted for its watery taste.
Prussia returned shortly with two bottles of beer. With a clipped "thank you," the spectacled nation took one of the proffered bottles and tipped it into his mouth. The taste was vile. Austria set the bottle back on the table, pulling a face.
Prussia sneered. "You'll get used to it."
"I'm not sure I can."
"You'd be surprised," Prussia said, grin fading. He threw one arm over the back of the chair, angling himself to face the dance floor.
Austria blinked at that statement. For the briefest moment, Prussia's words held a deeper meaning. Or maybe he was just reading too much into it. Or maybe he should just stop complaining and try to choke down the rest of the contents in the brown bottle to turn his damn mind off. That's why he wanted to come out in the first place, right?
Austria upturned the bottle, wincing with each pull, until he drained it. He set the bottle back on the table, wiping his mouth with the heel of his hand, thankful Prussia had not seen that action. Well, it's not like this place had napkins anyway.
Austria folded his arms, wishing he could draw himself in closer, wishing the effects of the alcohol would kick in. He wondered how much longer Prussia intended to stay. These surroundings were wholly alien to him – the crudely dressed youth spouting their new slang, the mismatched tables and chairs that had most definitely been pilfered or imported directly from a garbage dump, the stale air, the grimy floor. Austria could almost feel the dirt seeping into his pores as he sat; and yet, he felt like he belonged here too – hiding with the rest who didn't subscribe to Germany's newfound ideology. Austria cast his eyes around the jazz dive, not wanting to think about it. They fell on a battered pool table in the corner and a crazy idea struck him.
"Teach me to play pool."
Prussia nearly choked on his beer. "What?"
"Teach me to play pool."
Prussia twisted back around, facing Austria. His eyes landed on the empty beer bottle.
"You're a cheap date," he muttered, grin returning.
"I'm not drunk."
"'Course you're not. I was only fuckin' with you, Specs. Relax a little, will ya? You know anything about pool?"
Austria stared blankly back.
"Yeah. Thought not."
"If you're just going to mock me – "
"I'm not mockin' you, Specs. I'm just wonderin' why you wanna learn. It's not a gentleman's game."
Austria shrugged a shoulder. "It used to be. Besides, it seems appropriate," he said stiffly, glancing around the club.
Prussia suppressed a smirk. "Alright. Buy the next round while I set up the table."
"I'll break," Prussia said as Austria handed him another beer, "and you just watch, okay?"
Austria leaned back against the wall, bottle in one hand, pool stick resting awkwardly in the crook of his elbow. He watched Prussia line up his shot and before he could blink, the other nation sent the cue ball hurtling down the table. The sharp, gunfire crack of the balls startled Austria. His arms fell to his sides. The pool stick clattered to the floor. Prussia didn't notice. He was already too focused on the game.
Austria watched as Prussia pocketed one striped ball right after another until he sank the cue ball on his sixth shot.
"Shit. Scratched it." Prussia lit another cigarette and took a pull from his bottle. "Alright, Specs, you're up. You want to aim for the solid colored ones. Except the eight ball. Save that one for last, unless you want to go ahead and hand me the game."
Austria picked up his pool stick and set his beer on the rickety table in the corner. He tried to remember how Prussia had stood, how Prussia had eyed his shot before taking it, but it was slipping away. His face flushed in frustration. Austria was beginning to feel very stupid. Maybe this wasn't such a great idea after all.
He leaned over the table, not really caring what he hit. He just wanted to get it over with. Austria gripped the pool cue and thrust it towards the white ball with what he thought was enough force to send it flying. He flinched as it connected with the ball. The stick bounced back, reverberating in his hand. The cue ball spun lamely to the left, rolling only a few inches from its starting point.
Austria jerked his head up, ready for Prussia's snide remark.
None came. Instead, Prussia walked over, moved the cue ball back to its original position and said: "Do it again."
Austria shot the ball. This time he hit it dead center and watched as it bounced around the table, not hitting anything.
"That was better," Prussia said.
"But I didn't hit anything."
"What were you aiming for?"
Austria blinked. "I – I…wasn't really."
"Do it again. Go for the number four – the purple one. You got a great shot at the right corner pocket."
Austria huffed. "I thought you'd be teaching me. Don't you have any other advice?"
"I'm watching your technique…or lack there of," Prussia grinned, exhaling a cloud of smoke through his nose.
Austria grimaced, stalking back to the pool table. He lined up the shot, aiming for the dead center of the white ball. The pool cue came lunging forward, connected, and sent the cue ball careening off to the left. It ricocheted off the bumper at a ninety-degree angle and came to a halt in the middle of the table.
Austria's shoulders dropped.
"Well?" he snapped.
"You're gripping the cue too tight," Prussia said simply.
"You couldn't have said that before?"
"You weren't aiming at anything before. Here, I'll line up the shot again and show you."
Prussia placed the cue ball directly in front of the number four so it lined up perfectly with the pocket.
"Okay, get ready to take your shot."
Austria rolled his eyes and leaned over the table.
"Now, you don't want to use the whole force of your shoulder. That's why the ball keeps veering off. Just use your elbow. And grip the stick in the middle, but keep your fingers relaxed. All the action is in your elbow. Let me show you." Prussia stepped up behind Austria, wrapping his hand over the other's thin fingers.
His hand was firm, strong. Austria could feel every muscle working behind the skin of the palm, making him painfully aware of just how bony and weak he really was.
The spectacled nation's neck tensed. "Is this necessary?"
"Am I making you uncomfortable, Specs?" Prussia sneered.
"N-no. I just don't see how – "
With his other hand, Prussia pulled Austria's shoulder back, silencing the protesting pianist. Prussia moved the arm holding the pool cue.
"Do you feel how only your elbow moves?"
Suddenly, a light clicked on in Austria's brain. Indigo eyes widened as he turned his head to face Prussia, as if this action could impart the full weight of his revelation upon the other Germanic nation. "It's like playing a violin."
"I suppose so." Prussia grinned at the dawning realization on Austria's face.
"One last thing you gotta do, Specs, before you can take your shot," Prussia said, leaning in and brushing his knee against the back of Austria's leg, "bend your knees."
"I beat you!"
"Just because I scratched on the eight ball don't give you room to brag."
"I beat you! I beat you!" Austria sang. "I beat the pants off you!"
"I didn't know we were wagering," Prussia laughed.
Austria threw his head back as a riotous guffaw burst from his throat.
They stumbled through the door of Germany's house well after three in the morning, both trying to hold the other upright.
They collapsed on the couch in the parlor – currently serving as Austria's music room – Prussia half slouching off the end and Austria slumped fully against his shoulder.
"You're drunk, Österreich."
"Yeah, but you're loud enough to wake the dead."
"You're just mad 'cause I BEAT YOU!"
Prussia jabbed a finger in Austria's ribs. "No. I just don't want you wakin' up West."
Austria's raucous chanting died away. Prussia had never cared about his antics disturbing the other nations in the past, especially his too-serious baby brother….
Unfocused eyes blinked up at Prussia as Austria's gaze widened in comprehension. "He doesn't know you go there?"
"No. And I'd like to keep it that way. He thinks I just get stone drunk at a beer hall."
"Oh," Austria hiccupped lamely.
Prussia pushed himself up, leaning forward, arms resting on his knees. Austria repositioned himself so he now leaned against the arm of the couch. He watched as Prussia lit a cigarette, the white haired nation's face becoming unreadable as he clamped his lips around the tobacco.
"You wanna 'nother beer?" Austria slurred.
"Okay." Austria stood and meandered into the kitchen.
"What're you doing?" Prussia hissed.
Austria returned shortly with a bottle of wine and two glasses. "Now you're in my world."
"What are you talking about?"
"I was in your world, at the jazz club, and now you're in my mine. So we will drink wine. Hey, that kind of rhymed!" A giggling fit overcame Austria and Prussia quickly grabbed the glassware before the spectacled nation could drop it.
"You're drunk, Österreich," Prussia smirked.
Austria sat on the coffee table, fingers fumbling with the foil around the bottle's neck. "Why do you keep calling me that?"
"What? Drunk? 'Cause you are," Prussia said, prying the bottle away from the other nation and tearing the foil off.
"No. The other thing…my name!" Austria giggled. "You've always called me 'Specs.'"
Prussia's face reddened as he twisted out the cork. He made a noncommittal noise that sounded like "I don't know." He filled the two glasses, handing one to Austria.
"Sounds better, I guess," Prussia said at length. "'Sides, we're in 'your world,' as you said."
Austria inclined his head, holding the glass up as a toast. Prussia did the same, and they both drank.
"…Can I play something for you, Preussen?"
"What is it?"
"A record. One of my favorites."
Austria went over to the record player, opened the cabinet, and dug out a black disc. He placed it on the turntable and set the needle. After a few cracks and pops, the slow, bold sound of horns filled the room. Then the strings took over. As the tempo increased, the horns came back in, working with the violins to create a graceful, flowing melody. Austria closed his eyes, swaying back and forth with the music.
"It's Strauss' 'Emperor Waltz,'" Austria said. "Did you know waltzes were banned for a time? It was considered indecent to dance so close."
Prussia drained his glass and poured another, watching as Austria swept across the room. The waltz ended, but he didn't seem to notice. Austria could already hear the next one in his head.
It began slower than the "Emperor Waltz," but still with the same rich horns building with the strings, alternating between a soft whisper and a loud declaration.
"What's this one?" Prussia asked.
"'The Artist's Life,'" Austria said, opening his eyes. "Would you like to learn to waltz?"
Prussia raked a hand through his hair, lowering his gaze. He looked like a school child asked to solve an impossible math equation.
"It's easy," Austria snickered. "If you can dance to that jazz music, you can certainly dance to this."
He extended a slender hand, but Prussia just stared at it. "No, it's not that – "
But Austria was already pulling him to his feet. Prussia continued to stare at the long, elegant fingers entwined with his. Austria's hands were so delicate and light and…beautiful! It was like holding a summer breeze. He shouldn't be touching something that beautiful. Prussia's eyes traced the scars etched on his knuckles and frowned. His hands felt like barbed wire compared to Austria's. He thought of the girls he'd danced with that night and wondered if they'd noticed, wondered if they'd cared.
Austria positioned Prussia's other hand just under his shoulder blade and placed his own on the white haired nation's shoulder. Prussia tensed. It seemed a strangely intimate gesture, having Austria's hand resting on his shoulder, so close to his face. The girls he danced with at the jazz club never got that close. He'd never let them.
"…try and follow my lead. Keep your feet between mine. Got it?" Austria had been instructing him and he hadn't heard a word of it.
Before he knew it, Austria began twirling him with the music. Startled, Prussia's head jerked down, watching his feet.
"Don't look at your feet. Look at me," Austria admonished.
"But I'll step on you…."
"Then the reprimand will be severe," Austria smirked.
Prussia's face broke into an uneasy grin. But his head kept bobbing up and down as he struggled to watch Austria and his own clumsy feet.
"…What are you afraid of? No one's watching."
"I know…but I've never…danced this close before."
"Just relax. Listen to the music."
Prussia closed his eyes, letting the undulating rhythm wash over him as Austria led him around the room.
They were the ebb and flow of the tide, moving up and down and back and across.
Prussia saw the world Austria clung to – that of aristocracy and court and poise and manners – and it was grand and gilded and for a moment he belonged there too.
The music had stopped long ago. But Prussia still glided across the floor, eyes closed to the world.
Austria gave his shoulder the slightest squeeze. Red eyes fluttered open. The needle bumped and scratched against the spinning record.
"You danced wonderfully," Austria smiled, drunk and lopsided but still somehow composed. "You began leading me."
The music had stopped – replaced by the stillness and sharp oranges and pinks of early dawn streaking through the charcoal sky. The music had stopped and would be replaced by the crack of gunfire and the bark of orders and the yes-sir-no-sir-right-away-sir drill. Soon West would awaken and begin his morning exercise. Soon he would be pounding on Prussia's door, pulling him from intoxicated sleep and demanding he start his training. His shoulders drooped at the thought.
Austria read the look in Prussia's eyes. The thing they had managed to keep away all night crept into the room, crept across the floor with the lightening sky. He reached a thin finger up, brushing Prussia's cheek, and tried to smile as he said: "I suppose we should try and get some rest."
Prussia nodded and swallowed, trying to dispel the growing constriction in his throat.
They made their way to the stairs. Austria ascended first, elegant hand extending towards the banister. Prussia caught the airy fingers before they could slide out of reach.
Austria turned, blinking down at Prussia. The other nation dropped his gaze, hunching his shoulders sheepishly. A rough thumb brushed over Austria's soft knuckles.
Prussia's eyes darted from Austria's to the floor, his feet shifting back and forth.
"Th-thank you, Österreich," he said simply. Then, hesitantly, he brought the long fingers up, pressing his cracked lips against the warm skin.
His lips suddenly pulled away in embarrassment. Such a gesture should not last, but it felt so right he wished it could linger.
Austria smiled, inclining his head. "And you."
Prussia held Austria's hand for a few seconds more before letting it fall and watching Austria climb the stairs, but to him it was an eternity. He would hold that hand forever if he knew it could hold back the swelling wave of war. But such things do not stop the thunder of tanks, the roar of planes, the cry of gunfire.
In an hour, the wave would crash through his door, break across his bed, and he would have to swim with it or be pulled out to sea. But for a moment, though, he could pretend he was nothing more than the gentle ebb and flow.
somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near
your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose
or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing
(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands