I was planning on posting the seperate chapters of IR in chronological order, but since I have been to busy to write much lately, it just seemed cruel to make you wait for this. I guess I'll just have to shift the chapters around a bit later on.
So here is the second part of the Valentine's Day entertainments for you, this time from Roderich's POV. Beware of fluff.
Spending an entire evening watching Ivan and Matthew dance, laugh and flirt was not exactly Roderich's idea of a good time. Of course, he reminded himself, he had volunteered for this. And he probably should have been content, since so far, their first official meeting (never mind Mattie's trip to Moscow) under his supervision had turned out rather well. Ivan was surprisingly cheerful, and it did not look as if he was going to do anything terrible to Matthew or anybody else anytime soon. Matthew himself seemed happy enough, so there was absolutely nothing to complain or worry about.
Roderich idly toyed with his napkin, wondering why he was incapable of simply enjoying a surprisingly quiet evening. The food had been superb, they had carried on a lively, not unpleasant conversation, and now he was listening to a decent, if barely more than amateur orchestra playing music that was associated with so many fond memories… he should have been content. But he was not.
He watched Ivan hold Matthew close, as if he was some precious, fragile thing, watched them move across the dance floor with surprising grace for such an ill-matched pair, and he wished he could be there, too. Not with Ivan or Matthew, even though they had both offered, apparently taking pity in him. Roderich hated people pitying him.
I suppose Gilbert and I have that in common, if little else.
Thinking of Gilbert hurt even more acutely, because Roderich had allowed himself to hope for a moment. Matthew's words had shone a ray of light into the dull, grey emptiness of boredom and regret that had invaded his life. But that light had flickered out like a dying candle. Gilbert wasn't here. He wasn't here, and he would not come.
And you should have known that, fool! You know him well enough. So stop whining and feeling sorry for yourself, you can't change Gilbert any more than you can change your own heart.
Morosely, he watched Ivan and Matthew four-step around the room. They had their own troubles and difficulties, to be sure, but right now they looked so happy.
It seems that happiness is not for me, though. I have been given so much, I should not complain. Beauty and music, and power and peace… prosperity, accomplishments, friendship and a high social standing. But never true happiness. Maybe I am not made for happiness.
He noticed that Ivan and Matthew had fallen out of step and turned towards the door, and followed their gazes with mild curiosity. There was a slight commotion near the door, as somebody was making his way through the maze of tables, approaching slowly but steadily.
Roderich felt a strangled sound escape his throat and closed his eyes to calm himself. No. It cannot be… Gilbert?
He re-opened his eyes, but the Prussian had not disappeared like the vision he should have been. In fact, he was only two tables away now. Roderich slowly rose from his chair. He found that he had nothing more intelligent to say then What are you doing here? and decided to keep his mouth shut. Which might not have been such a good idea, because the first thing Gilbert said, before even saying hello, was: "You look completely miserable, Roddy."
Roderich bit his lip just in time before the words "I am" could escape him.
"Music that bad?" Gilbert asked, cocking his head as he listened to the players for a moment. He shrugged. "Come on, surely you've heard worse. They're amateurs, to be sure, but they're making a valiant effort."
There was something surreal about this situation, Roderich decided. "What are you doing here, Gilbert?" He finally asked.
Gilbert blinked, as if taken aback by the question. Apparently it hadn't crossed his mind that Roderich might be surprised to see him… but then, Gilbert's mind worked in strange ways, and not just because he was no longer a nation.
"Well, it was your suggestion that I come by whenever you're babysitting Ivan and Mattie," Gilbert pointed out rather defensively.
Roderich was about to make a snide remark, when the Prussian added in a quieter, almost embarrassed tone of voice: "Actually, that's not why I'm here."
"Oh?" Roderich raised his brows, trying to douse the flicker of hope that had sprung up at Gilbert's last statement. Hope was a treacherous thing.
Gilbert shifted his weight from one foot to the other, clearly nervous now. "You're deliberately making this hard on me," he complained.
"No, I just don't want there to be any… miscommunications between us." Because God forbid that this is one of your jokes and I fall prey to ridicule for admitting my feelings…
"Alright then," Gilbert said after a moment of hesitation, "your hand, if you please."
Roderich stared at him. "Are you…?"
Gilbert rolled his eyes. "No, I am not asking you to marry me. Yes, I did just ask for the next dance." Strong, slender fingers grasped his hand in a determined grip. Roderich's head spun. Numbly he let Gilbert lead him onto the dance floor, all the time wondering where this was supposed to go.
"Why are you doing this, Gilbert?"
"Because I want to. Now shut up and put your other hand where it belongs."
Where it belongs. The words echoed in Roderich's mind, filling him with a sort of incredulous awe and joy, as he placed his left hand on Gilbert's upper arm. Is this where I belong? Can it be…?
He felt the gentle pressure of Gilbert's right hand against his left shoulder blade. "Ready?"
As ready as I'll ever be… I'm dreaming. This has to be a dream. Stuff like this doesn't happen in the real world, and my Prussian nemesis did not just change into a chivalrous lover…
Roderich moved through the familiar motions of the dance with absolute ease, but he was stunned to see how smooth and graceful his partner moved with him. Not only did Gilbert know all the steps, but he also managed to take the lead with a partner who was not used to following.
"I didn't know you danced," Roderich commented quietly. "I've never seen you dance before."
"There are a lot of things you've never seen me do, I'd wager," Gilbert replied, and there was something suggestive about his low tone of voice. "Besides, you know what they say about people who are good dancers… that they are good fighters, and good lovers. Since I excel in both disciplines, it's only reasonable that I should be a good dancer, too, isn't it?"
Roderich snorted. "Your ego always was bigger than your country. I see that hasn't changed."
"Ah, come on, Roddy. You know I'm right. We've fought often enough, for me to prove my prowess. And as for the rest… well, you never gave me a chance to prove it to you."
"I don't remember you ever asking for one," Roderich replied, looking straight into those startling red eyes. Their intense gaze was more than a little discomforting.
"Maybe you just didn't listen closely enough," Gilbert murmured, his voice tinged with regret.
"Maybe I didn't," Roderich acknowledged. "And even if I did, it would have been imprudent. I'm not Francis or you. I don't do casual love affairs."
"You're such a prude." Gilbert shook his head and loosened his grip as the last notes of the piece faded away.
"I'm not. I'm just not stupid."
"Hey! In my own name and in that of Francis I must protest! We're not idiots; we just like to have a good time. You're as prickly as Romano. He hates it when Antonio goes clubbing with us."
"With good reason, I assume. One of you by himself is a menace, but the three of you put together is a natural disaster. Although Lovino at least has nothing to fear; Antonio has been utterly obsessed with him since he was still in diapers."
"How does it feel to be married to a pedophile?" Gilbert joked, lights dancing in his unusual eyes.
"I never married for love. That I came to esteem all of my spouses and love at least one of them was purely coincidental," Roderich replied haughtily. Gilbert was still very close and it was making him nervous. He had yet to explain why he was here tonight.
"Do you know that Fritz wanted to marry Maria-Theresia?" Gilbert asked softly. "It was a fleeting notion, and it probably sprung from desperation, because he very badly wanted to get away from his father and the court when he was young, but he even proposed to renounce his claim to the throne in return."
Yes, and what if the king and the emperor had given their consent to that union…? Roderich wondered, briefly shuddering at the implications. He tried to mask his discomfort. "Friedrich wanted the power a marriage with Maria-Theresia would have given him, nothing else" he replied. "He was not even interested in women, so it probably didn't matter much to him which one he married."
"It mattered to me," Gilbert said laconically.
Once again, their gazes met. For a seemingly infinite amount of time, Roderich stared into the Prussian's eyes, lamenting lost chances as his world turned scarlet. Finally, he managed to tear his gaze away. It fell on Gilbert's closed lips instead, which was no better, because it made Roderich regret that he had never kissed those lips and likely never would.
It's the tragedy of my position, he thought. I can fight with you, team up with you if there is a common cause, even dance with you as it is; I can keep you alive, but I cannot allow myself to love you, for fear of being hurt.
"You look sad."
Damn the Prussian for being so attentive!
"Lost chances," Roderich muttered, because he couldn't bring himself to lie to Gilbert, not while they were this close. "They never come back."
"Which is why you should grant me another dance," Gilbert suggested. "Might be your last chance, who knows?"
Roderich had to smile at that. Sly, Gilbert, very sly.
"Alright," he agreed amiably. "But if there is no difference in gender, it is usually the better dancer who takes the lead."
"And what makes you think that you are the better dancer?"
"Years of experience and the fact that I watched the composer of these dancers grow up. I stood behind him when he wrote this music. Trust me on this."
"Show me," Gilbert challenged, grinning.
"With pleasure," Roderich replied, reversing their positions. "Relax," he told the Prussian almost gently, noticing the tension in his posture, "I know you hate to give in, but this is not a fight for dominance."
"Oh?" Gilbert raised his brows. "Parallels, Roddy, parallels. If dancing is like fighting and making love, then it makes a huge difference who's in charge."
"Dancing isn't about being in charge," Roderich argued, smoothly leading Gilbert across the floor. It felt a little less awkward, now that he was in his usual role. Or maybe he was just getting used to the feeling of Gilbert's body against his…? "Besides… how do you know what role I would prefer in those departments?"
"I'd say the fact that your past partners include Antonio and Elizaveta, who are both pretty bossy in the bedroom, is a pretty good indication." Gilbert was smirking now.
Roderich's brain took a moment to process this statement. "You slept with Antonio?"
"Once or twice. Relax. It was after you divorced him, and it meant nothing."
"I didn't assume…." Roderich began, before he decided that it would be wise to change the subject.
Gilbert chuckled softly. "Oh, you're priceless, Roddy, you know that?"
After that they were silent for the rest of the dance, and the next. Roderich was lost in his thoughts and in the sensation of feeling Gilbert move with him, the warmth of his skin, his smell, his disturbing, alien beauty.
This is why I should never have agreed to this in the first place. It just feels too good to have you so close, to hold you, like you are mine… as if you ever could be.
"I need a drink," Gilbert said after their third dance. He was slightly out of breath and his usually pale cheeks looked almost rosy.
"Of course." Roderich fell back into his habitual politeness, drawing it around him like a protective shield. He let go of Gilbert and looked around. He had temporarily forgotten all about Matthew and Ivan, which now proved a fateful mistake.
"Where did they go?"
"Ivan and Matthew. They were dancing. Now I can't see them anymore." A suspicion rose within him and he turned back to Gilbert, his eyes narrowing. "Wait. This wasn't a trick, was it?"
"Huh?" Gilbert looked surprised. "What… no! God, no. What are you thinking, that I would let my worst enemy abduct one of my best friends?!"
"It's only an abduction if the other participant isn't willing, and knowing Matthew, he would have been very willing. It was probably his idea." Roderich inwardly cursed himself. "I should not have taken my eyes of them. I'm their chaperone, for heaven's sake! They are my responsibility."
… and Ivan could be hurting Matthew right now, his mind supplied unhelpfully. He could be beating him to pulp, or raping him, or worse… is there anything worse? Well, if there is, Ivan has probably done it before… how could I be this irresponsible?
"Can you find them?" Gilbert asked.
Roderich hung his head. "It would be pure luck. It's not as if I put some sort of tracking device on them."
"Well, maybe you should."
"… and my people won't realize who they are, unless they reveal themselves."
"Okay," Gilbert said slowly. "So now you've got two choices. You can turn your city upside down, trying to find them, which will probably cause a mess, cost you all night and lead to nothing but attracting unwanted attention."
"Oh, great," Roderich said unenthusiastically. "You are a huge help, Gilbert, thank you."
"Or," the Prussian continued unperturbed, "you can go home with me and wait until they turn up on your doorstep, hoping that everything will be alright and that they don't do anything stupid. I won't breathe a word of it to Alfred and Arthur, and you can bet your pretty head on it that Matthew and Ivan won't tell on you, either."
Roderich looked up in surprise. "I thought you'd be mad at me for letting them slip away, and that you'd want to tear everything apart, looking for them."
Gilbert shook his head. "That wouldn't help much, would it? Besides, it's sort of my fault, too. I didn't look, either."
"We did a pretty good job at distracting each other, huh?" Roderich asked, sighing.
Gilbert smiled. "Well, you are very distracting…"
"I'm not sure that's a compliment," Roderich muttered.
"It is." Gilbert said, raising the Austrian's hand to his lips in an archaic gesture that made Roderich shudder with suppressed delight. It was a very, very bad idea to take Gilbert home.
He did it anyway.
"Play for me?" Gilbert suggested when they had arrived at the house and Roderich was standing in the middle of his beloved music room, nervously wringing his hands.
It was a surprisingly thoughtful proposal, because music always calmed Roderich, and right now he was very agitated.
Roderich shrugged and slid onto the piano stool. "Is there anything in particular you would like to hear?"
"Whatever comes to mind. I've never heard you play something that wasn't beautiful, so I guess it doesn't matter, right?"
Gilbert's approach to music was obviously a little different than his.
Roderich briefly closed his eyes, before playing the first chords of Franz Joseph Haydn's Piano Sonata No. 52 in G major.
He did not hear Gilbert step closer, but he felt his presence. It was a tribute to his composure that he did not miss a key when he felt the Prussian's hand on his shoulder, light as a feather. To his surprise, Gilbert kept it there for the rest of the piece. They listened to the last note of the sonata disappear into silence, before either of them spoke again.
"Are you feeling better now?" Gilbert asked.
"A little," Roderich admitted, "I still want to beat myself over the head with something heavy for letting them out of my sight, though."
Gilbert added a second hand to the first and began massaging his shoulders, the motions not nearly as soothing as they were probably intended to be. But Gilbert had no way of knowing how badly Roderich wanted him, and it was a nice gesture.
"Let's just hope that Ivan sticks to his New Year's resolutions," Gilbert said. "And anyway, there's not much you could do right now."
Roderich leant back into his touch with a sigh. This felt way too good. It was almost indecent.
"Why are you here, Gilbert?"
"Because I want to be," the Prussian replied stubbornly.
"And why do you want to be here?"
Gilbert's hands froze. Dead silence reigned between them for a minute or two.
"Just how dense are you, Roddy?" Gilbert finally asked.
"I can't read your mind, if that's what you're asking," Roderich replied tersely.
Gilbert sighed and put his arms around him, resting his chin on Roderich's shoulder. Roderich held his breath.
"It seems that I do need to spell it out for you. I want you, plainly speaking. And now that I finally have some indication that you're not totally averse to the idea, I'm taking my chances. Maybe it's stupid. But I had to… I don't know… I don't know how much time I've got left. I need to do things now, or I'll never do them." His voice was very low, and Roderich felt his heart constrict painfully at the implications of those words.
"You have all the time you need," he whispered and the next moment cursed himself for not biting his tongue.
He must not know.
In a somewhat desperate resolution, he turned and pulled the Prussian down onto the piano stool with him for that kiss he had wanted for too long a time. Gilbert was too surprised to respond at first, but when he did, it was with all the passion and intensity Roderich had longed for.
When the kiss ended, they looked at each other, a little dazed and somewhat incredulous.
"It's real, isn't it?" Gilbert asked hesitantly.
"Feels that way," Roderich said, wondering what had happened, and why it hadn't happened long ago.
"Huh. I never thought I…"
"Hush," Roderich laid a finger on his lips. "Do me a favor, Gilbert. Don't say anything incredibly stupid and ruin my moment. Please."
Gilbert's lips curved into a mischievous smile, and Roderich felt ready to fall in love with him again, just for that smile. There was no trace of the usual bitterness in it. "Kiss me again?" He suggested. "Then I can't talk, after all…"
That made Roderich laugh despite himself. "You are so manipulative."
"And don't you love it." Gilbert grinned. "I've always been able to manipulate you."
Yes, you have. But it goes both ways…
"It's getting late," he said. "I don't know about you, but I don't think a sleepless night will help me deal with Ivan. I'm going to shout at him and I doubt he'll like it."
"I'd like to see that. Can I stay?"
Roderich looked up. "Will you be able to keep your hands to yourself?"
"Truthfully? No, probably not."
Roderich shook his head, sighing. "Why did I know you were going to say that?"
"Do you want me to leave?" Gilbert asked sheepishly.
"No. But you should go anyway."
Because right now, I'm vulnerable and tempted to spill my guts and if you stay I'm afraid that you'll learn things you're not ready to hear. I don't want to ruin everything. I can't… I can't lose you.
"Alright," Gilbert said, getting up. Once again, he placed a hand on Roderich's shoulder. "I'll be back."
Roderich nodded numbly. Watching Gilbert leave yet again was painful despite their recent understanding. "I know."
"Please don't let Ivan tear your head off."
"It's not funny," Roderich grumbled.
"In a way it is, Roddy. Because I have the odd feeling that I have Ivan to thank for tonight and that's so bizarre it's almost comical. Come, kiss me good-bye."
"If I kiss you now, you aren't going to leave," Roderich said matter-of-factly.
"And you are too smart for your own good. Okay." Gilbert bent down, briefly touching his lips to Roderich's front. "Sweet dreams. I'll see you soon."
Roderich watched him saunter out of the room and tried to squash the over-excited butterflies in his stomach by thinking about all the possible endings of his upcoming conversation with Ivan.