For Kay.

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This fic is set in a little modern AU of mine. I call it the Mapleverse, because, well, it's set in Canada. Anyone who has read my fics 'La Patisserie de la Rose' or 'Of Ponies and Edelweiss' will be familiar with this version of Gilbert and Roderich. This is the story of how they met, as mentioned in 'La Patisserie de la Rose' Chapter Four:

Matthew raised an eyebrow. A demolition worker and a composer... "So one creates for a living, and one destroys."

"How very poetic, darling!" Francis smiled brightly, sending Matthew's heart soaring. "That describes how they met, actually. Gilbert was in charge of a project to destroy an old heritage concert hall in town; Roderich was in charge of a campaign to save it. I am sure you can imagine, they did not get along very well when first meeting."


The titles are a mixture of musical terms, both German and traditional Italian.


LIBELLE HALL
An Unexpected Love Story in Three Movements

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Pairing: Gilbert Beilschmidt/Roderich Edelstein (Prussia/Austria)

Summary: Modern AU. When Roderich Edelstein – student, musician, and reluctant activist – attempts to save a local music hall from destruction, he is not prepared for the conflicting emotions evoked by arrogant demolition worker Gilbert Beilschmidt.


PART ONE
Allegro con Wütend

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Roderich had never been in a more uncomfortable situation in his life. The street around him swarmed with a mass of unwashed strangers, most of them fellow university students. Some held up placards and shouted slogans; others pushed angrily against the waist-high, orange construction barrier that stretched across the stairs to the concert hall. A group of destruction workers milled around behind the blockade, checking clipboards and smoking cigarettes and throwing dark, dirty looks at the clamouring protesters. Roderich was just trying his best not to touch anyone. He was fairly sure the man beside him had never taken a bath in his life. He turned desperately to Elizaveta.

"Well, this… this is not exactly what I expected."

Elizaveta's features twisted in sympathy. She had a red bandana around her head, a roll of barbed wire around her wrist, and carried a sign that read, 'SAVE LIBELLE HALL!' She really did get carried away sometimes. "Come on Roderich, you organised this. It's a protest, what did you expect?"

Roderich put a hand to his chest, trying to shrink into himself. Yes, he had suggested a campaign to save the hall, but this sort of wild demonstration went far beyond his expectations. "I expected that we would go downtown and have a strong word with the mayor. I mean, what is going on here? Who are these people? Good Lord, Elizaveta, I think there's something living in that woman's hair!"

Elizaveta laughed and pushed Roderich's shoulder. He discreetly dusted the cashmere – it was filthy out here. "They're here for the same reason as us. To prevent the hall from being destroyed."

Roderich wished that were true. However, as he glanced around at the screaming masses, with their dreadlocks and feathers and hideously overgrown facial hair, he had to wonder… "It looks like they simply want an excuse to protest."

Elizaveta shrugged dismissively. "Well, who cares? The more vocal support the better."

Roderich took a very deep breath to try and calm himself. He was never very good in crowds, so he tried to focus on the reason he was here in the first place. Perhaps Elizaveta was right. Regardless of their reasons, the more people who showed their anger at the planned destruction of Libelle Hall, the better the chance of government actually listening to them and taking action to save it. And they had to save it. Roderich could not even contemplate the alternative.

Just as the crowd around Roderich grew louder and pushier, the group of workers parted, and a man strode up to the orange barrier. He drew the attention of the protestors immediately. Perhaps it was his platinum white hair, or his obnoxious grin. Maybe it was the way his eyes blazed into the mob, or the way he sauntered up to the furious crowd without an apparent care in the world. Or maybe it was the bright pink pony emblazoned on his hard hat. Whatever the reason, the entire pushing, yelling, thronging mass turned their immediate attention to the young demolition worker. He gave a small wave in response.

"Afternoon, hippies!"

Roderich waited for someone to react. No one did. Then suddenly, forcefully, Elizaveta pushed him from behind. "Go, go!"

Roderich stumbled forward, taken by surprise, and steadied himself at the last second on the edge of the orange barrier. His heart leapt to his throat. He looked up, slowly, into the most astonishing crimson eyes he had ever seen. He opened his mouth, but no sound came out. What was he supposed to say? The demolition worker regarded him amusedly. "Well, you don't look like a hippy."

Roderich fumbled desperately for a response. "I am a musician."

"A musician?" The worker snorted with derision, his upper lip curled in a sarcastic smirk. "Here to sing your songs of protest?"

Roderich drew himself upright and dusted off his sleeves. How embarrassingly undignified... "I am here to prevent an injustice."

The worker's startling red eyes flicked past Roderich in disregard. "And I'm here to do a job. I'm gonna need you hippies to clear out of here before…"

"You should listen to me first," Roderich interrupted. He had little chance of getting through to an ignorant labourer like this, but still, he had to try.

The man turned his gaze slowly, deliberately, back to Roderich. "Should I?"

Roderich faltered, his breath catching unexpectedly in his throat. He adjusted his glasses, stood taller, and pressed on. "Yes. I know far more about this issue than you do, so I'm telling you, you should hear what I have to say."

The worker leisurely folded his arms. Roderich could not help noticing that one well-defined bicep was patterned with an intricate black tattoo. "You're telling me?" The man's voice was mockingly enunciated; he was either threatening Roderich or making fun of him. Either way, Roderich's neck burned and his pulse began to quicken. The other workers laughed as they looked on; the protestors grew louder by the second.

Roderich forced himself to concentrate. He had to raise his voice, though he doubted it would matter in the end. "This hall dates back to the early nineteenth century. It is one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in the city, and it houses a pipe organ built by the great Cavaillé-Coll himself. Can you not understand the importance of such a building, and what it represents?"

"Sure I can," said the man slowly, grinning in blatant sarcasm. "This building's really important. It represents a rather substantial pay check."

Roderich made a noise of disgust and shook his head. The ignorance was maddening. But what more could he expect from someone so uneducated?

"Look, I'm here to work," the worker continued, sneering contemptuously. "Something I doubt you've done a day of in your life."

"Excuse me?" Roderich felt his fists clench, utterly infuriated. No one had ever spoken to him in such a way. "I am attempting to be civil here. There is no reason to be an offensive bully."

"And there's no reason to be a demanding, stuck-up little shit."

Roderich took a deep breath through gritted teeth. "I am simply trying to enlighten you. You are obviously unable to see the cultural value of a place like this. If you did…"

"Christ, don't you understand, kid?" The worker took a firm step forward. Roderich immediately stepped backwards. "I don't care about this hall's culture, its architecture, or its fucking pipe organ. What I care about, is knocking this block of bricks down, and getting paid for it. And legally, I can't do that with you lot standing here in the path of falling debris – as much as I might like to. So, what's it gonna take to get you idiots to clear off?"

Roderich let out a heavy breath of disbelief, rage flooding his veins. Though a small fearful concern tugged at the corner of his mind, he was certain he had never felt such indignant fury as he did right now. He was almost shaking with it. "I won't let you knock it down."

"Let me?" The man's blazing eyes darkened, his expression blatantly hostile as he looked Roderich up and down scornfully. He took another step closer, almost leaning across the barrier, but this time Roderich forced himself to hold his ground. "You hardly look in a position to let me do anything, princess."

Roderich felt suddenly trapped by that intimidating gaze. The man stared down at him, mocking him silently, his shoulders squared and his arms folded and he really was very well-built and Roderich's head was spinning and no, he had no power to let this brute do anything… Roderich froze in horrified shock. He was turned on. Taking a swift step backwards, Roderich bit his cheek as hard as he could. He had to say something, he had… "I…" …absolutely no idea.

Thankfully the crowd behind him began shouting, again pushing forward. Roderich was simply struck silent with disgusted astonishment. What was wrong with him?! Elizaveta appeared beside him, yelling up at the destruction worker.

"It's ignorant drones like you that let the establishment get away with this sort of crap!"

The worker just peered down at her, insolent and superior. He was rather tall… "You will be moved out of here. No one gives a shit about your little protest."

Elizaveta actually growled, her eyes wild with rage. "Do you realise how pathetic you are? You're nothing but a mindless puppet!"

The worker scoffed, gave a dismissive wave, and turned his back. Oh, damn, he had nice shoulders… "Move it along, hippy. Go save a whale."

"Hey!" Elizaveta shouted furiously as he walked away, his shoulders wide and his back powerful and his… "Get back here, puppet! I'm not done with you! I said…"

Roderich grabbed Elizaveta's arm and pulled her quickly through the shouting, swarming crowd. "We have to go."

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"What a… I can't… I'm just…" Roderich paced his dorm room, fists clenching and unclenching, stomach whirling with anger and frustration. "I'm so… What a simply horrid person!"

"Breathe, sweetie." Elizaveta sat on Roderich's bed, leaning against the wall and flipping through some pretentious art magazine. She'd gotten over her afternoon bout of activism and now seemed quite content to let Roderich carry on his little tirade on his own. This suited him just fine.

"I mean, how dare he? He obviously understands nothing of culture. He obviously has no idea that there is more to life than simply going to work every day and getting your pay check once a week. He is obviously the most uncultured cretin I have ever had the displeasure to come across."

Elizaveta probably wasn't even listening. Not that Roderich minded. He simply had to say this aloud, had to try and make sense of it. Not that he wasn't grateful to have Elizaveta there: he never found it easy to make friends, and he was glad to have at least one at this enormous, lonely university. Even if it had taken a disastrous and misguided attempt at dating to get to the friendship stage.

"He even had a pony on his hat. The most ridiculous thing I've ever seen! And did you notice the way he…"

Elizaveta interrupted. "It is a little worrying that you keep talking about him."

Actually, Roderich was a bit worried by that too. Yes, he was furious about the hall being destroyed. He was furious about that brutish demolition worker's arrogance and intolerable rudeness. But what Roderich was really furious about was that he found the brutish demolition worker really, really attractive. He absolutely detested him, and he'd never been so turned on by a stranger in his life. Roderich paused in his pacing and stared at his reflection in his dresser mirror. He felt disgusted with himself. "I'm just…" Roderich searched for an explanation to give Elizaveta. "I'm just angry about those slaves of the system taking property from the common man and, er, and propping up the elite…" Roderich faltered as he tried to remember the lines the unwashed protestors had been spouting.

Elizaveta looked completely unimpressed. "I love how you say that with a straight face while wearing a shirt worth more than my car."

Roderich waved a hand vaguely. He refused to admit he had no idea what he was talking about. "It's the principle of the thing."

"Oh, bullshit, you just don't want your precious music hall to be torn down."

Roderich spun around angrily. "And so what? Why can't I protest the wanton destruction of important public architecture? Because my parents set me up a trust fund? Because I wear silk instead of hemp? Because I wash my hair regularly?"

"That's it." Elizaveta threw the magazine down on the bed, stood straight, and placed a hand on her hip. Roderich leant away warily when she fixed him with her best 'Do-as-I-say-now' stare. "Roderich, I love you, but I am not sitting here listening to your pitiful whining and twisted politics all evening. We're going out."

Roderich closed his eyes and groaned. He knew where this was going. "Please, Elizaveta, if you're planning to use me to get into that vulgar gay bar again…"

But Elizaveta was already waist-deep in Roderich's well-stocked wardrobe. "You know it, sweetie. Now, where are those fabulously tight purple pants I bought you…"

"No, Elizave… I mean it, I'm warning y… NOO!"

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"Goddamn hippies!" Gilbert slammed his empty glass onto the bar. It was the ninth time he'd said it all evening, but he hadn't yet managed to come up with a more scathing insult.

Antonio leant over the pile of empty glasses and gestured for another round. "It is a beautiful building. I can understand why they are upset to see it destroyed."

Francis gave the bartender a soft wink as he placed the drinks before them. "Yes, I agree completely. It has that fabulous fin de siècle decor, the marvellous chandeliers…"

"…the charming little coatroom where you used to blow the valets," Antonio finished bluntly.

Francis sighed wistfully. "Memories."

Gilbert glared at his friends, though he could barely make them out through the dark red lighting. The music was loud, fast, and entirely electronic, so of course the flashy Frenchman and the simple Spaniard were completely at home in it. This inner-city bar had been their usual after-work hangout for years, but it had only recently started to become… well… 'trendy.' Gilbert hated 'trendy.'

"I knew you'd be on the hippies' side. You arty types are all the same. Some of us have to work for a living, not just prance around in tights or cook cupcakes." Gilbert sneered over his beer. "Holy shit, you two are so gay."

"Really, darling," said Francis wearily. "Must you continue these regular fits of denial? It grows tedious."

Antonio giggled and waved a hand over his sangria, his green eyes bright with too much alcohol. "He can't help it, it runs in the family. Did you see Inspector Aldrich Beilschmidt was in the papers again after he…"

"They can't prove anything," Gilbert interrupted with a forceful fist on the bar.

Francis gasped dramatically, his own eyes lighting up as he leant forward. "Oh, I know, and Ludwig is still insisting he and Feli are 'just friends.'"

Gilbert gritted his teeth. It was one thing to make fun of him - it was another to pick on his little brother. Only he was allowed to do that. "Ludwig is in high school. Did you come out in high school?"

Antonio snorted. "Francis came out in the womb."

Francis shrugged superiorly. "I see no reason to hide. Ludwig is quite old enough to accept his nature and deal with it. As are you, Gil."

Gilbert would usually be hugely irritated by his friends' gossip mode, but his thoughts kept flying back to his afternoon at work. Why did people even care about that stupid music hall? It wasn't like there weren't any others. It was just a building, for Christ's sake. Gilbert took a swig of beer, then remembered to respond to Francis' ridiculous insinuation. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Hey, Francis, hey. "Antonio twisted on his barstool, fidgeting with his straw. "Ludwig and Feli are the same age, aren't they?"

"Yes," said Francis slowly, his eyes narrowing.

"Oh, right, okay." Antonio feigned nonchalance. "What's that, fifteen?"

Francis answered warily. "Yes."

"Ah. That would, uh, that would make..."

Francis snapped. "That would make Lovino still jailbait."

Gilbert downed the rest of his beer and again slammed the empty glass on the bar. "Goddamn hippies."

Antonio turned red. "That's not what I mean!"

"How dare they?" spat Gilbert. "Thinking they can tell me what to do."

"Come off it, Antonio, you're as subtle as a punch in the face."

"All dreads and banners and save the world and shit." Gilbert paused. But then, there was that one guy - the musician, the student, who looked more like a prince than a protestor. The one who'd stood up to him. Gilbert couldn't stop himself wondering aloud. "Except for him."

At those words, Antonio and Francis fell silent immediately, bickering forgotten. They both turned intrigued looks on Gilbert. "Him?"

"Yeah," Gilbert continued, wilfully oblivious. "Prissy little thing, thought he was better than me. A goddamned teenager wearing a cravat. Who the hell wears a cravat?"

Francis raised an eyebrow perceptively. "Sounds like your type, Gil."

Gilbert ignored him. "Musician, apparently. What kind of job is a musician? It's almost as stupid as a baker or a dance instructor."

Antonio blinked blankly, then turned to Francis. "Do you know why we still hang around him?"

Francis just took a sip of wine. "I ask myself every day."

"He called me an offensive bully. Me! A bully!"

"Imagine that," said Francis flatly.

Gilbert glared at the wall, fuming internally. "Who even speaks like that? What was his problem? Who the hell wears a cravat?!"

"His problem?" Antonio scoffed. "You're the one who can't stop talking about him."

Well, that was a point. Gilbert quickly tried to rationalise it. "He's what's wrong with the world these days, people expecting shit for nothing, think the world owes them something, oh Jesus Christ there he is."

"What?" Francis and Antonio swung around on their barstools, glancing around the room wildly. "Where?"

The musician stood at the end of the bar, clutching a beer like his life depended on it, looking about as out of place as Gilbert felt. He wore a different suit from the one he'd worn this afternoon – the purple pants were interesting - but his cravat remained the same. Gilbert was immediately stunned… and almost as quickly, furious. "What the hell is he doing here? How dare he? This is my stupid trendy gay bar! No hippies allowed!"

Antonio gripped Gilbert's elbow, his eyes wide. "Hang on, do you mean the guy in the glasses?"

Gilbert nodded. Francis' mouth dropped open and he placed a dramatic hand to his chest. "Mon Dieu, Gil."

Antonio shook his head, amazed. "He's... he's gorgeous!"

Francis nodded breathlessly. "That is quite possibly the most gorgeous man I have ever seen."

"He's pretty," spat Gilbert contemptuously. "Men shouldn't be pretty. It's not natural."

Francis and Antonio rolled their eyes at each other. "Gil," said Antonio skeptically, "You're telling me you're not interested in him? At all?"

Interested? Gilbert regarded the musician: staring around with wide, fluttering eyes, attempting to hide his unease with a haughty exterior… Gilbert felt his back burn and his stomach leap. He quickly scoffed with derision. "I'd rather hook up with Francis."

Francis tossed his long blond hair. "Of course you would, darling."

"Good. Cover me, I'm going in." Antonio took a few steps in the musician's direction before hurrying back and muttering quietly. "How old is he?"

Gilbert could only glare. Antonio did worry him, sometimes. "Legal."

Antonio breathed a sigh of relief. "Okay, good."

Francis laid a ten dollar note on the bar, watching shrewdly as Antonio approached the musician. "Five minutes."

Gilbert laid a note to match. "Two."

Two minutes later, Antonio was back. Gilbert tucked both notes into his front pocket. "Well?"

Antonio reached meekly for his sangria. "Small tip: Austrian is not the same as Australian. I may have offended him by asking where he parked his kangaroo."

"He's Austrian?" God, that would explain everything. Though Gilbert hadn't noticed an accent earlier…

"Apparently." Antonio pointed at Gilbert with his straw. "He sounds just like you, actually. Only, you know… posher."

"Amateur." Francis rubbed his hands together, a familiar glint growing in his calculating eyes. "Watch a master at work."

Gilbert's stomach fell. He grabbed Francis by his belt, dragging him back before he could take a step. "Oh no, not you too."

"Hey!" Francis cried indignantly. "You said you weren't interested…"

"I'm not. I'm just..." Gilbert actually found himself strangely bothered by his friend's attempts at seduction. The Austrian was his pretty hippy. Not that Gilbert wanted anything to do with him, of course, but damn it, he'd seen him first. "I'm just... For Christ's sake, I'm gonna see what the hell's going on. I bet he's stalking me."

Gilbert pressed his way through the sweaty masses, charging towards the musician. The Austrian took a moment to notice him, though when he did, his skin whitened and his lips parted as though in a gasp. Gilbert felt a wave of satisfaction at the student's obvious shock. He leant on the bar, grinned widely, and spoke in German. "What is a boy like you doing in a place like this?"

The musician only looked stunned for a moment, before clenching his jaw and replying in the same language. "German. I should have known."

"Prussian, actually."

"You are not Prussian."

Gilbert straightened up. "I totally am!"

The musician sighed witheringly. "No, you are not. Prussia has not existed for over sixty years."

Gilbert was quite annoyed at that. He lifted his chin and replied, "Prussia exists in the hearts of all who believe in it."

The Austrian's bright eyes narrowed behind his glasses. In the street earlier Gilbert had not noticed what a remarkable shade of violet they were. "That's what you believe in? Prussia? A totalitarian, fanatical, militaristic model of fascism?"

Gilbert didn't know whether to laugh in amusement or growl with rage. Ignorant little fool. "Of course you'd think that, little Mozart. And I bet you think Beethoven was Austrian and Hitler was German."

The musician almost flinched, as though he were personally affronted. "How dare you. Beethoven was Austrian."

"What?!" Gilbert almost spluttered in indignation. "He was German! He was born in Bonn!"

"And he lived most of his life in Vienna," the musician shot back.

Gilbert couldn't believe someone could be so obtuse. "So, you're Austrian, yeah?"

"Yes." The musician replied combatively, though his hand tugged nervously at his sleeve.

"And you moved to Canada when?"

The musician blinked slowly, his lips set in a hard line. "I am Austrian-Canadian," he replied finally.

Gilbert smirked smugly. Ha, he'd won that round. "Well, then let us agree that Beethoven was German-Austrian."

The musician breathed deeply through his nose, his eyes fixed on the wall and his knuckles white as he clutched his beer. "I'll agree to nothing. What do you want?"

Gilbert paused for a moment. What did he want? He shook the uncertainty away and justified it to himself. Hell, he was bored, and he wanted to irritate the little Austrian as much as the Austrian irritated him. Gilbert motioned for another beer, ignoring the fact that was the lamest justification ever. "Can't a guy get a drink and some conversation?"

"Conversation?" The musician repeated incredulously. He turned to face the bar, attempting to block Gilbert with his shoulder. "I have nothing to say to you."

Gilbert leant back on his elbows against the bar. "You had plenty to say this afternoon."

The Austrian took a sip of beer. He kept his focus turned from Gilbert, though his cheeks were the most intriguing shade of pink. "And you refused to listen."

Gilbert put his hand to his ear in an exaggerated gesture. "I couldn't hear you over the grating sound of your blaring self-righteousness, little Mozart."

The musician interrupted tersely. "My name is Roderich Edelstein. Flattering though it is to be referred to by the name of Vienna's finest composer."

"Hang on, wasn't that Beethoven?" For the briefest second, the Austrian almost looked amused. Gilbert reached for his own beer and took a swig. His throat was parched from having to practically yell to be heard over the pounding bass. "Speaking of Beethoven, is this electronic crap what passes for music these days?"

"I know," the Austrian replied automatically. "This sounds like something they'd play on the elevator to hell."

Gilbert looked at the musician. The musician looked back. Their eyes connected for a fraction of a second. "So tell me… Roderich… What is it about that stupid hall? Why do you care so much?"

And just as quickly, Roderich's expression turned furious. "As though someone like you could possibly understand."

Gilbert felt a curious stab in his gut that might have been anger. He refused to consider he might be offended. "Someone like me? What the hell do you know about me?"

Roderich stood taller and glared at Gilbert with a sort of pompous loathing. "I know that all you care about is your next pay check."

Gilbert let out a grunt of mirthless laughter. So the musician had been listening this afternoon, after all. "Some of us have to care, princess. Some of us don't have silk cravats and trust funds and Prada glasses."

Roderich adjusted his glasses uncertainly. "You know these are Prada?"

Gilbert shot a quick glance through the crowd where Francis and Antonio stood watching avidly. He shrugged in explanation. "I have a very homosexual group of friends."

When he turned back, Gilbert noticed Roderich catch someone's eye and shake his head slightly. Gilbert followed his gaze – ah, the hippy girl who'd been protesting with him this afternoon. She stood a few metres away, her arms folded, watching vigilantly. Gilbert gave her a wave. "Your beard? Or your guard dog?"

Roderich frowned, his expression turning quickly guarded. "My friend."

Gilbert arched an eyebrow. Now, this sounded intriguing. "Friend?"

"Y- yes." The Austrian faltered for the first time. He drew his hands closer to his chest, eyes blinking faster as his breathing quickened. "She's… well, she's the one who's…"

Gilbert nodded knowingly. "Dyke, huh?"

"Excuse me, that is terribly rude…" Though Roderich sounded more anxious than affronted.

Gilbert couldn't help enjoying the way his words affected Roderich so strongly. He leant closer, lowering his voice and ignoring how much harder this was to justify. "You didn't actually answer my question earlier. What is a boy like you doing in a place like this?"

Roderich froze. The blood seemed to drain from his face, turning his cheeks white. Damn, this pretty Austrian reacted so intensely... "I don't know what you mean."

Gilbert inclined his head, a tiny smirk pulling at his lips. "Don't you?"

Roderich swallowed heavily. His eyes really were sort of stunning when they blinked like that. "Elizaveta - my friend – she brought me here. I don't... I wouldn't actually come to a place like this myself, I..."

Oh, Gilbert had to see how far he could push… "So, you're telling me you don't share Elizaveta's devious inclinations?"

"What? I... yes… I mean, no!" Roderich seemed to be trying not to panic.

Gilbert snorted in amusement. And his friends thought he was in denial. "Please, you're so obvious."

That snapped Roderich from his apparent daze. He placed one hand on his hip, slammed the other on the bar, and furrowed his face angrily. "I beg your pardon?"

"Oh, do you? I like that." Gilbert placed his hand deliberately on the bar, directly beside the Austrian's arm, so close he could feel the heat from his skin. He leant closer and whispered into Roderich's ear. "You beg so well."

Gilbert did not expect Roderich's reaction. He jolted back like he'd been burnt, his hand flying to his mouth. His cheeks were red; his eyes wild. Gilbert paused, then felt a slow smile spread across his face. His breath turned thick in his lungs; his heated blood fired through his veins. Oh, now this… this was impossible to justify, but damn was it interesting...

Unfortunately, Gilbert didn't get to see just how interesting it could get. A tawny-haired girl suddenly pressed between them, pushed Gilbert on the chest, and growled, "Back off. Now."

Gilbert almost growled in frustration. Great – the guard dog. "Down, puppy."

"Down?" The girl tilted her head, laughing scathingly, though Gilbert could tell by her stance she was deadly serious. "Don't think I won't take you down, puppet. Right here, right now."

"Don't think I won't fight back, little girl." Gilbert's shoulders twitched and he stared down aggressively. "And I'm an expert hair puller."

"Oh, so am I!" grinned the girl, her fists clenched and violence in her blazing green eyes. "And I don't mean the hair on your head."

Before Gilbert could reply, Francis and Antonio promptly appeared to grab his arms and drag him away.

"Gilbert, darling, you know it is improper to start a fight with a lady…"

Gilbert groaned and struggled half-heartedly against their grip. "Come off it, Francis, I wasn't going to hit the Austrian. Ohh, you mean her. It's okay, that's no lady, that's a lesbian."

Roderich placed a hand on the girl's shoulder, though he kept his eyes turned downwards. The girl looked furiously reluctant to let Gilbert get away. She shouted angrily. "Oh, you're lucky your friends are here, little man."

The club-goers around the bar turned to watch the commotion. Gilbert laughed wildly. He liked this girl - he hadn't been this entertained in months. He shouted back as he was steered insistently towards the exit. "Let's reschedule, shall we?"

The girl raised her hands challengingly. "Any time you want your ass kicked, puppet. Any time."

"Gilbert, can we go one evening without dragging you from a fight?" asked Antonio wearily.

"Forget about that, mon ami. What did you say to that gorgeous Austrian to get him blushing like that? I want every word."

Even as he was dragged from the bar, Gilbert couldn't help looking at Roderich for his reaction. The musician still looked anxious, still looked angry. But maybe, just maybe, there was a slight hint of something else.