Pairing: Unrequited Vash Zwingli/Roderich Edelstein (Switzerland/Austria)
Summary: WW2 AU. Captain Vash Zwingli is a soldier in someone else's war; a man mad enough to lead where others will not. He treads a fine line between life and death, between sanity and madness, in a constant battle to forget. But when Vash's past confronts him in the worst place on earth, will it finally tip him over the edge – or give him a chance for redemption? Unrequited SwissAus. Tie-in to 'Lily of the Lamplight.'
This is a tie-in fic to my ongoing WW2 AU series. It will be a collection of short chapters and flashbacks, from Vash's point of view, following the main storyline to my PruAus story, 'Lily of the Lamplight.' It won't make much sense unless you read that one also, I'm afraid. This first chapter takes place between Lily chapters two and three.
We're all alone,
Living in a memory.
My echo; my shadow; and me.
We'll wait for you,
Even 'til eternity.
My echo; my shadow; and me.
The Russian Front
Captain Vash Zwingli walks slowly into the makeshift command hut, carefully shuts the door behind him, and with a steady, deliberate breath, leans his hands against his paper-strewn desk. The bare, wooden rooms of this silent, broken, abandoned house close in around him. Rage, frustration, fear, disbelief, overwhelming panic: a clashing cluster of emotion tears through his head, claws at his chest. Vash holds it back. Vash is so used to holding it back.
He tries to focus on the papers before him, on the reason he is here commanding this prison unit in the back woods of Russia. Because here, Vash can control his fury and unleash his madness and chase his wildness. Here, Vash can lose himself in death; here, he can forget. But now... but this... The maps and strategies and letters of command blur before Vash's eyes. Six years he has tried to escape one face; one name; one memory. Six brutal, blood-soaked years, shattered in an instant.
Master Roderich Edelstein. Vash's breath catches to even think the name. Roderich Edelstein, standing in line like a common German criminal, disguised in military grey and using a name not his own. Vash fumbles for the flask at his waist, pours the clear, burning liquid down his throat. He fumbles for some sort of understanding. But all Vash can think is that Master Roderich Edelstein is still more beautiful than anything he has ever seen. He is still the only person Vash has ever wanted, needed, desired, yearned for with every last thread of his existence. He is the only man Vash has ever both loved and hated: stripped of his humanity, and sent here to die under Vash's command.
"God DAMN IT!" Vash slams the flask on the desk. He closes his eyes, takes deep, slow, steady breaths. One… two… Not here. This is not the battlefield. He will not lose control here. Three… four… No use. Vash's world turns red. With a furious roar, loosed like a gunshot from his throat, he overturns the desk and sends it smashing to the ground.
What the fuck is Roderich doing here?! It's insane. It isn't possible. He should have left Europe by now, should have escaped to America. Vash looks to the ceiling, runs shaking hands through his hair, kicks the broken desk with all his strength. His mind spins - too hot, too hazy, too fast – while every word Roderich spoke in their last exchange echoes through his head like a reverberating bullet of steel.
"I am not a soldier." Vash laughs wildly, incredulously. Master Roderich Edelstein, a soldier! Master Edelstein, the delicate heir, who wears suits of cashmere and plays on ivory keys. Master Edelstein, whose fragile nobility could never protect him from the stones and insults of those less refined: Judenschwein! Judenscheisse! A rush of furious memory boils Vash's blood. No, Master Edelstein is not a soldier. Master Edelstein belongs in parlour rooms and concert halls, not in this Russian hell. His hands belong to crystal glasses and violin strings, not to rifles and grenades.
"I don't really know." Vash strides to the wall, clenches his fist, smashes it against the cracking wood. Roderich never knew. He never saw. Roderich was blind to all but his music, blind even to the Swiss town's hatred, blind to everything but his own small, closed, perfect world. The hours Vash sat listening outside the music room window - the days he spent watching and wanting and sheltering and protecting. Roderich never understood; he never knew.
"Rather, it pleased them too much. There are certain things I will not be associated with..." Vash feels blood run between his fingers. How very like his prideful aristocrat - always better than those who mocked and those who protected. Who did he offend this time? Who did he ignore? Who did Roderich Edelstein finally insult enough to end up in this last destination for the ruined and the condemned?
"…Nor let my music be associated with." Of course: the music. What else would Roderich Edelstein sacrifice himself for? What else would he care about? Roderich does not even remember him. Of course Vash's haughty, infuriating, beautiful Austrian genius does not remember him. Vash was never important or memorable. Vash was simply there.
By now Vash is frantic, desperate, his tenuous grip on control fading fast. He tries to pace, tries to breathe. The walls are too close. One… two… What can he do? How can he possibly ensure Roderich's safety out here? Send Roderich back to Austria – he has not the authority. Transfer Roderich to a regular unit – where he will certainly be killed before the week is over. Just take Roderich and run – run where? How?
Vash roars again, his veins burning in furious frustration. His mind begins to blur; his control slips. Three… four… No use. With one swift movement he pulls the pistol from his hip, cocks it, and aims it at the wall.
"No. I'm just a musician."
Vash feels the world turn… and he remembers.
A manor house in Switzerland
It begins softly. A gentle, falling line of trickling sound, like the flow of water in a summer stream or an early morning birdcall at the foot of the mountains. The falling lines bind together, slowly become something Vash recognises as music. Vash has not heard much music before. His days are spent tending the Edelstein estate gardens and caring for its extensive grounds, not reclining in its drawing rooms and fine salons. He is only in the house now to fix a leaking roof, and he knows it is not his place to go where he pleases. But Vash detests these rich Austrians' authority, and he is not a dog to be kept outside. So he makes his way steadily down the unfamiliar, ornately decorated hallway of the mansion, drawn to that delicate, falling, rising, swelling melody.
The music becomes louder, until Vash finally reaches the doorway it drifts through. The door is half open, and Vash peers through it, curious as to how something so light and fragile can draw him so strongly. The room is long and wide, polished wooden floors gleaming in the sunlight that streams through ceiling-length windows. It is empty except for a single object: a large, shining black grand piano, the source of the gentle music. And sitting before it…
The music fades. The sunlight darkens. Vash's eyes flare and his breath stutters. His heart grows in his chest, lifts and swells and fills every part of him. His whole world, his entire life narrows to this one place; this one moment; to this one dark, pale, stunning stranger. The boy's hair is the colour of chestnuts in autumn; his skin the colour of mountain peaks in winter. His eyes are bright and faraway, trapped behind locks of hair and wire spectacles. He moves with the music, lost in it, his fingers flying on the white keys like birds dancing in the wind. Vash has to gasp for air, has to grasp the doorhandle beside him. This boy is more beautiful than anything Vash has ever seen.
Vash has heard that the Edelstein's have a son. His sister Lili is still young enough to pass gossip on from the chambermaids, and she has spoken before of a genius - a musician named Roderich, who stays in Vienna when his hateful parents visit their country estate here in Switzerland. This must be him. He is a few years younger than Vash, barely in his teens, and Vash can easily believe the stories that he is too frail to travel. Stunned and unmoving, Vash watches him; watches his white hands fly and his slender body sway and his lips part then press then catch between his teeth. Vash watches Roderich open his unseeing eyes and close them tightly, watches him tilt his head and lift his shoulders and draw lines of gentle sound from a hard row of black and white. But Vash no longer hears the music. He does not see the sunlight; he does not feel the heavy doorhandle beneath his sweaty palm. Vash is somewhere removed, struck senseless by this beautiful Austrian musician, by this pale, noble vision of perfection.
Vash barely notices when Roderich finishes playing. He just watches. Watches as he stands, brushes back his hair, adjusts his glasses; as he gathers pages of music in his arms then turns and strides across the room. He wears a dark, elegant suit, and though it looks too old and severe, Roderich wears it like it is part of him. He does not notice Vash until he reaches the door. When he does he swiftly halts, clutches his music to his chest, and stares silently with eyes like frozen violets. Vash's hand clenches dangerously to the doorhandle, his cheeks too hot and his head too light. He tries to think of something to say. He should have something to say. Roderich looks him up and down; raises an eyebrow disdainfully at Vash's feet. Vash looks down at his muddy boots, strangely embarrassed. He takes a step back to allow Roderich through the door. The boy takes a few seconds to do so, edging away from Vash, his lips pressed together and his eyes looking down.
The edge of Roderich's coat brushes Vash's arm. The delicate scent of lilacs in bloom floats on the air. Vash feels the doorhandle start to crack. He should say something… he has to say something… "That… the music," he stutters, unfamiliar and unsure of these pleasantries. It is so hard for him to speak. "It was… good."
Roderich just raises his chin as he marches away, elegant and pale and dark and beautiful. He does not respond.
The crack of a gunshot blasts through the air. Vash's senses flood back. The first thing he notices is that his pistol is still in his grip. The second is that the shot was not fired by him. Vash blinks the past from his eyes, returns the pistol to its holster, and runs a steadying hand through his hair. Deep, slow, steady breaths. One… two…
A quick glance out the window and across the village square solves the mystery of the gunshot. The enormous Swede sits beside a small fire, his rifle in his hands and pointed at the sky. Vash smirks at the sight. He knows now he let Oxenstierna keep his rifle for a reason. Two men stare down at the Swede – insignificants. The dense little Pole sits there also, and that arrogant Prussian, and… Vash's senses slip and his stomach falls. Roderich. He reaches for his pistol, and starts to move. But something stops him.
Across the square, the Prussian smiles and speaks. The Swede fires another shot. Vash watches as the insignificants react, as one tosses a pack of cigarettes to the Prussian. He watches as Beilschmidt waves a hand dismissively and the two men stalk away. Vash watches as the men around Beilschmidt, willingly or not, do as he orders. And he watches as Roderich's frozen violet eyes do not move once from the Prussian.
Vash's grip on the pistol tightens. He searches his memory, recalls his profile folder: Gilbert Beilschmidt. The self-proclaimed Prussian private, with the famous pilot brother; the desperate survivor, who angers so easily and dislikes authority and starts fights in transport trucks. The Prussian private who protected Roderich from an attack at their last base. The Prussian private who is here on suspicion of illicit activity...
Vash's gut churns and his mind tilts. Illicit activity. Roderich. He forces himself to turn away. One… two. He reaches down into the scattered debris of his overturned desk, retrieves his discarded metal flask from under a scattered page of orders. Vash drinks deeply as he scans the words for distraction. Your unit fights tomorrow… Kalova village… need corporals... Vash looks up sharply, the words firing his mind and the vodka warming his blood.
Kalova village… This unit fights tomorrow. …need corporals… This unit needs men whose orders are followed – willingly or not. Vash looks to these orders, looks to his pistol. He cannot protect Roderich out here. Not observably, and not on his own. But the Prussian... Vash crumples the paper in his hand, sees nothing but Roderich's violet eyes: wide and uncertain in an ornate hallway; confused and unaware in a military line-up. Vash breathes – two, three – calms, and grasps for the only option he has.
Yes, this unit fights tomorrow, and is not expected to survive. No, Vash cannot protect Roderich out here - but he can ensure another man does. Even if this man draws Roderich's eyes; even if the charge is illicit activity. But as Vash smoothes his ruffled uniform and drinks from his flask and takes a lighter from his pocket, he cannot help but smile to himself. Because Vash has long learnt not to underestimate desperate men.
To be continued…