To my awesome readers: Wow. You guys are amazing. I wasn't sure many people were still following my fics, but one little note on my profile page, and I have been inundated with messages of support. Honestly, the level of love and respect you guys give to my work just blows me away. I swear I will finish these fics for all of you who continue to care about them. Thank you so much! :-)

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The piece Roderich is playing on the pipe organ is Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565, a.k.a. that creepy piece playing in every old black and white horror movie you've ever seen. YouTube (/watch?v=ho9rZjlsyYY)


Still for Kay.


PART THREE
Crescendo con Herzlich

.

The second Gilbert picked the lock and stepped through the front doors of Libelle Hall, he heard the music. And the second he heard the music, he knew he was not alone. "Little Austrian," he muttered under his breath - pretending to be surprised, pretending to be annoyed, pretending he had not expected to find this all along. But Gilbert never was a very convincing liar, even to himself. So he simply shrugged resignedly, took a swig from the glass bottle he'd cracked open two streets over, and followed the music.

The old foyer was lit faintly by floodlights from the demolition equipment outside, filtered through high, dusty windows, illuminating faded gold walls and frayed red carpet. The hall was deserted now - no sign remained of the protestors who had cried so very loudly for its salvation. Nothing except that intricate music, deep, full, and echoing through the eerie emptiness, drawing Gilbert deeper into Libelle Hall and towards the only person who actually seemed to give a damn for it.

He walked through the dim foyer and up a red staircase; through a large, golden, doorway into a wide, open hall where the air lightened and the music swelled. Down past aisles on aisles of red, musty-smelling chairs and then a few wooden steps onto the stage itself. Gilbert had never been in here before – after all, what was the point? He was only going to knock it down. But now, he couldn't help feeling a little awed as he stared up at the high, domed glass ceiling, the embellished balconies, the massive silver pipes lining the walls. Even in its decline, this place was magnificent.

The music now blasted down from directly above, shaking the very air, and Gilbert followed it to a narrow staircase behind the stage. He climbed it steadily, the old wooden steps creaking beneath his feet. He was pulled towards this, unable to turn back, but why? Why had he even come to this place, with nothing but a six-pack of beer and a vague sense of confused inevitability?

Because, his traitorous brain answered, you knew he'd be here. "I don't know what you're talking about," Gilbert muttered. He finished his beer, tossed the empty bottle over his shoulder, and reaching the top of the stairs, he stepped onto a small, balustraded balcony.

His heart did a somersault in his chest.

On one side, the balcony looked down on the stage below, and rows and rows of empty seats stretching dimly into the dusty light. On the other…

Roderich sat with his back to the hall, fingers flying over four rows of keys, feet tapping across a line of pedals, his entire body practically dancing with the massive sound he drew like magic from the old pipe organ. Gilbert nearly reached for the wall to hold himself steady. He felt his breath catch as he watched the Austrian play, and for a moment he almost thought the soft, gold light that filled the room was glowing from Roderich's beautiful face rather than the tall lamp which sat atop the keyboards.

After what might have been a few minutes, or might have been an hour, the air-shaking music finally drew to a close. Roderich still had not noticed Gilbert standing mere feet away. Heavy silence engulfed the hall, and Roderich slowly stilled, head bowed and hands resting on the keys.

"Holy shit!" Gilbert slammed his mouth shut, too late to stop the words echoing accusingly off the cavernous walls. Roderich gasped loudly and spun around, hand flying to his chest, face white and utterly stunned. Gilbert's blood roared to his head and he stammered, "I mean, fuck - I mean, gah - I mean…" Be cool! "S'up."

Roderich's astonished expression turned nervous. He glanced briefly at the exit. "How did you get in here?"

Gilbert answered too quickly. "The front door was open."

"No it wasn't."

"It was unlocked."

"No, it wasn't."

Gilbert let out a defeated breath. "Okay, fine. I busted the lock."

"Ah." Roderich did not sound surprised. "What do you want?"

"I..." Difficult question. Which he didn't exactly have an answer for, so he nodded up at the massive pipes instead. "They, uh… said it didn't work."

Roderich lifted one shoulder slightly. His wide eyes did not blink once. "Some of the keys are stuck, and a few of the stops refuse to move. You have to be gentle with it. It is a little broken, but it can still create something beautiful."

Something guilty and unpleasant crawled under Gilbert's skin. What was he doing here? Roderich obviously felt threatened by him. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea, and maybe Gilbert should leave. But maybe there was a reason he couldn't get this Austrian out of his head, and maybe this was the perfect time and place to find out why. Also, maybe he should give the guy a compliment or something. "It sounded fucking epic, dude."

"Thank you." Ever polite, even as he furrowed his perfectly groomed eyebrows.

"S'alright." Gilbert scuffed a foot against the ground awkwardly. "I can play 'Stairway' on the guitar."

Confused silence. "…oh?"

"Yep. Rock on." The silence grew uncomfortable. Not knowing what else to do, Gilbert held out what remained of the Köstritzer six-pack. "Want a beer?"

Roderich's eyes lowered to the beer, lifted back to Gilbert's own, then narrowed doubtfully. "Are you trying to mock me? Is that why you're here?"

"Please," Gilbert uttered sarcastically, dropping the beer back to his side. It wasn't like he was disappointed or anything. "I had no idea you'd even be here." Liar.

"Ah." Roderich folded his arms haughtily, his expression smoothing in apparent understanding. "Of course. You are here to gloat over what you are about to destroy."

Gilbert made a colossal effort not to slam a hand against his forehead in sheer frustration. Why was Roderich making this so difficult? He might be pretty, but damn he could be daft. "We ain't knocking this place down just to piss you off, y'know." He tapped his foot against the ground, and it responded with a creak. "There are termites in the walls, the ceiling is too heavy, the floor is sinking with the soil. It's pretty, yeah, but it's dangerous. Like it or not, Libelle Hall is coming down, with or without my help. Now do you want a beer or not, because this shit's getting warm and I ain't drinking warm beer like a bloody Englishman."

At first, Roderich looked utterly devastated, and Gilbert was terrified he might burst into tears. Then his features twisted in fury, and for a mad second Gilbert worried he might attack him. But just like that, it was all gone, and instead Roderich breathed a deep, tired sigh as he stood slowly from the organ chair. "Yes, thank you. Yes, I would very much like a beer."

"Right then." Gilbert passed him a bottle then sat heavily on the faded timber floor behind the peeling balustrade. Roderich, however, glared at the dusty ground, and would not sit until Gilbert rolled his eyes and dusted it off with his sleeve.

"So, um." Roderich settled beside him, legs crossed and back straight, just close enough for Gilbert to catch a whiff of something suspiciously floral. Oh good Lord, the hippy even smelt like flowers. He took a small sip of beer then rested the bottle lightly against his crossed ankles. "Pretty, you said."

Gilbert instantly felt the blood drain from his face. "I did?"

Roderich tilted his head curiously. His eyes were piercingly violet in the lamplight, the warm glow casting gold highlights in his deep brown hair, and how had Gilbert never noticed the little beauty mark beneath his lips? "Do you really think so?"

Burning sweat rose to Gilbert's brow. Had he said something? Was he that obvious? Could Roderich read minds? Don't think of him naked!

Slightly puzzled, Roderich prompted, "You said it was pretty, but dangerous?"

The air left Gilbert's lungs in a mighty whoosh of relief. "The building."

"…Of course..."

"Of course." Gilbert took a rather desperate swig of beer. "It's nice enough. Don't see why you were willing to be crushed by hippies for it, though. It's just a concert hall."

Roderich stared at him coldly, before breathing a soft sigh and shaking his head. "It's not just a hall, though. It reminds me of someone..." He hesitated, unsure, and brushed his hair behind his ear. "Someone who was important to me."

Sometimes - just sometimes - Gilbert realised he'd been a bit of an asshole. "Shit, I'm sorry, man." How had he been so blind not to see Roderich was grieving? That's what this had been about, all along. "My parents died when I was twelve. If I'd've known…" But not knowing how to finish, he simply patted Roderich clumsily on the shoulder.

Roderich blinked at him, eyes wide in surprise. Then his face softened into a sad smile. "How could you have known? I'm sorry about your parents. Mine are in Vienna. They are professors, and they're horrible snobs, and I'm sorry I called you uneducated because I sound just like them and I hate it."

"S'okay," Gilbert shrugged. He could not even remember Roderich calling him uneducated, but whatever. "It's not like you're wrong, I mean, I didn't even finish high school. Ludwig, my brother, he's the smart one. But hey, at least I got the looks! I just got dirt on your shoulder, by the way."

Roderich's vaguely amused expression fell in horror and he brushed frantically at his shirt. "Oh my God, this is Dior..."

Gilbert bit his cheek to keep from snorting, and took a swig of beer to keep from thinking how sort of cute Roderich's reaction was. This was completely baffling. The way Roderich spoke, the way he moved, the things he said – it should all annoy Gilbert, disgust him, infuriate him. Instead, Gilbert was fascinated. "Is that how you ended up in Canada? Fleeing the snobby parents?"

When Roderich seemed satisfied his stupid shirt was not completely ruined (and what the hell was a Dior, anyway?) he shrugged in response. "That's it, basically. They only cared for the fame I could bring them. Trotting me out at every Austrian concert hall and Viennese social event like some sort of performing monkey. My only escape from the whole vulgar charade was to visit my Aunt Maria, here in Canada." Then Roderich smiled again, looking out over the hall, and Gilbert's hand tightened on his beer bottle. "She loved music. But she really loved it – none of that false posturing of my ridiculous parents. She gave me hundreds of music books and let me play what I liked - even Mahler, who my parents simply detested."

Roderich's face practically glowed at the memory, and he visibly relaxed, his shoulders loosening. Once he started speaking, the words flowed easily, like he had been waiting a long time to say this. "Aunt Maria was the patroness of this place. She brought me here for years, ever since I was small - to watch the concerts and operas, to meet the musicians, to play the pipe organ. This was where music became a joy for me, not a duty. I used to pretend I was the Phantom of the Opera, and I could live in this hall forever, and no one would ever find me and make me return to Vienna. When I turned sixteen I moved to live with her… but she died only a few months later." Roderich swallowed heavily, that smile and that glow and that memory fading. "So now this place is all I have left of her. And tomorrow…" He shook his head, as though still unable to believe it. "Tomorrow it will all be gone."

Another cold stab of pervasive guilt sat wedged in Gilbert's ribs. He'd never imagined that Roderich's connection to this place was so personal, so important. He wanted to say something, anything, to apologise or reassure or show he understood. "That sucks, dude." Shit.

But Roderich just nodded. "Yes. It does, rather."

"Do you think you'll move back to Vienna?" Not that he cared… Liar.

"I'm at university now. After that, maybe. I've been offered a number of performance contracts, so we'll see, I suppose."

Gilbert whistled. "Performance contracts, at your age?"

"I am eighteen." Roderich sniffed haughtily and straightened his back in an almost painful looking gesture of superiority. "I signed my first contract at six."

"Huh. Well I'm twenty-three and the last thing I signed was Antonio's butt when he passed out on New Year's."

Roderich's eyes widened and his lips parted in a tiny gasp of surprise. Then, looking almost surprised at his reaction, his entire body relaxed, and he laughed. Gilbert's spine tingled at the sound. And he wondered if maybe he had made the right decision coming here tonight, after all.

.

Another hour, two more beers, and Gilbert felt completely at ease. Which was really weird, actually, because he never felt at ease. Roderich sat with his back against the balcony balustrade, cravat loosened slightly and one leg crossed over the other; Gilbert leant back on his hands, feet sticking through the spaced wooden beams and dangling over the two-story drop. They'd spoken briefly of music (Roderich had at least heard of Rammstein, which was much more than Gilbert had given him credit for), tentatively on politics (Roderich really was a bloody hippy, no surprise there), and now Gilbert was just drunk enough to ask the thing he really, really wanted to know. "So. What's your boyfriend like?"

Roderich almost choked on his beer, his hand flying to cover his mouth. "My boyfriend?"

"Let me guess – eight feet tall with arms like barrels; does pull-ups with his teeth; fights bears in his spare time."

Roderich's lip twitched, though Gilbert couldn't tell if he was confused, amused, or furious. "What?!"

Gilbert lifted a hand in a silencing gesture. He didn't even know if he was teasing at this point, or hoping to put his own mind at ease. "Wait, no – a middle-aged property millionaire, flies you to Prague for the weekends and keeps a riding crop in his briefcase."

Roderich hand dropped to his chest, faintly alarmed. "Good Lord. I'm not sure where to start. Um… what makes you think I have a boyfriend?"

"Of course you have a boyfriend. Look at you, you look like you've just stepped off the pages of GQ magazine." Gilbert hurried to add, in case Roderich thought he actually read that metrosexual crap, "Francis has a subscription."

Gilbert was growing very familiar with that interesting shade of pink tingeing Roderich's cheeks. "I… don't know if you're complimenting or mocking me."

At first Gilbert could not fathom how Roderich could be so oblivious to how he looked, but then he remembered that Roderich thought skinny jeans and a cravat were the height of fashion. "Just stating a fact, Roddy."

"Well… thank you, I suppose." Roderich blinked dazedly a few times. "But I don't have a boyfriend."

He damn well better not have. Gilbert was almost embarrassedly relieved.

"Actually…" Roderich briefly caught his lower lip between his teeth before adding uncertainly, "I've never had one."

Gilbert's eyes flew wide, and the bottle in his hand felt dangerously close to cracking. Now the relief was tinged with something hot, something like possessiveness, because if Roderich had never had a boyfriend, then... Gilbert's lungs filled with air, his blood started to burn, his head was hazy…

"The closest I've had is Elizaveta."

The words hit Gilbert like cold water. He knew there was a reason he'd immediately disliked that she-devil. He took a swig of beer. "The guard dog, huh?"

Roderich ignored the jab. "She's no property millionaire, however, though I believe she does own a riding crop. And she only fights bears in arm-wrestle competitions at that leather club, The Bear Cave." Roderich nonchalantly sipped of beer. "I've never been, myself."

"Me neither," Gilbert lied, shuddering. He now had no doubt that Elizaveta could deliver on her threats of hair-pulling and ass-kicking.

"It hardly counts, though. We went on one date. She opened doors for me all night. It was a bit confusing."

Gilbert snickered. He hadn't expected how easy it would be to actually talk to Roderich. Not that he had that much experience in actual conversation. With his workmates there was always the sense he was playing the role of someone else; and always the fear they would find out. There was Francis and Antonio, of course, and he loved them to death, but they probably spent more time arguing than anything. And he and Ludwig spotted each other at the gym regularly, but they didn't actually speak that much - which had nothing to do with jealousy, but really, how the hell could his fifteen year old brother lift more than him, anyway?

No, in a way this was more careful than that; and at the same time, it was more honest. And if he kept getting distracted by the white curve of Roderich's neck or the lamplight glinting in his hair, well, Gilbert was only human after all. It didn't mean the pretty Austrian wasn't still a snobby, deluded…

"What is your boyfriend like?"

The question smashed like a hammer through Gilbert's thoughts. "Hey, hey now," he spluttered, sitting up straight and holding a hand out in protestation. "That's a bit presumptuous."

Roderich almost laughed. "You asked me first!" he replied, far too reasonably.

"Yeah, but you're obvious."

Roderich just stared for a moment. "Do you even realise when you're being offensive?"

"I find someone will usually let me know."

Roderich raised an eyebrow. "Gilbert."

"Yeah?"

"I'm letting you know."

"It wasn't an insult!" Gilbert protested. "I just mean you're, y'know... pretty. Arty looking. Roddy, seriously, you're wearing a cravat. Now, look at me." Gilbert gestured over himself. "Sensible haircut, stain on my shirt, my socks don't match. Why would you possibly think that I was…" He broke off, loudly cleared his throat, and attempted an offhanded shrug. "You know."

Roderich folded his arms, obviously not about to let Gilbert off that easily. "I do?"

"Like that."

"Like what?"

Gilbert swallowed dryly, glanced around as though someone might be listening, then leant forward slightly. "That I was…" But he could not say the word. "Why would you think I liked guys?" he finally spat, as though the words might burn him.

Roderich looked thoroughly unimpressed. "Putting aside the fact that you cannot conclusively prove one's sexuality from their appearance…"

"I dunno, Roddy, that cravat's sayin' a lot…"

Roderich ignored him. "There is the little fact that you were in a gay bar last night."

"Oh, that!" Gilbert laughed loudly, too loudly, and waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. Unfortunately he knocked over his beer. Then he sent it skidding across the ground when he tried to retrieve it. Then it flew under the balustrade, over the balcony, and after a tense, silent, horrific second that felt like an hour, it shattered spectacularly on the stage below.

Silence. Gilbert couldn't move. He daren't breathe. And oh shit, his face really better not be as red as it felt. "Um," he said finally, drawing himself into an upright seated position and clasping his hands together in a desperate attempt to claw back some measure of dignity. "I don't know what you're talking about."

And there was that raised eyebrow again.

Gilbert finally deflated, and an old, familiar dread grew steadily beneath his skin. He'd never admitted it. Oh, he'd gone home with plenty of pretty boys; he'd had a crush on David Bowie since he was five; he'd once worn nothing but leather boots and a rainbow flag in a Pride parade float manned by Eastern European drag queens. But he'd never admitted it. And as his heart beat uncomfortably, and cold, stinging sweat rose to his neck, he wasn't sure he could.

"What does that tattoo mean? The one on your arm?"

Roderich's voice was deceptively casual, and through the rising panic, Gilbert realised that he was changing the subject. Which was far more polite, kind, and bloody decent than Gilbert deserved. Gilbert took a moment to breathe out the irrational fear; then, like always, he pretended nothing had happened.

"This is nothing." Gilbert flexed his bicep and ran a hand over the intricate black pattern. "Woke up in a gutter the morning after Francis' twenty-first, and there it was."

"Gosh," said Roderich, staring at Gilbert's arm intently. "I do hope you were tested for hepatitis."

Gilbert paused. "I've… never had that reaction to that story. But hey, if you wanna see one that does mean something…" Gilbert twisted so his back was to Roderich, and lifted his shirt to his neck.

Gilbert had searched years for the right artist to ink his back, finally finding a hot Belarusian chick who was awesomely talented, if not slightly psychotic. It had taken weeks, and cost a fortune, but it was worth it all. The massive black eagle that spread across his back and shoulders signified his past, his blood; his passion and his pride. It was part of who he was. Gilbert knew it was impressive, and judging by Roderich's sharp intake of breath, he thought so too. So maybe Gilbert flexed his shoulders slightly more than was strictly necessary - he might not be ready to admit anything, but he didn't go to the gym for nothing.

Gilbert turned back slowly, a smug grin on his face, and took the opportunity to sit just the slightest bit closer. "Yep," he boasted, giving a nonchalant shrug as he cracked his knuckles. "I work out."

Roderich's face was red, lips set in a hard line, hands clenched on his knees. Gilbert couldn't tell if he was trying not to laugh, or overcome with lust. Probably the latter.

"Don't try to deny it, Roddy, you know how smoking hot this body is."

That did it. Roderich's lips turned upwards, and he turned away to hide a brief laughing fit behind his hand. Gilbert wasn't sure what was the bigger revelation: that he was not offended, or that he'd actually been trying to make Roderich laugh the entire time. The sound made his whole body light and warm and he was filled with stupid pride that he was the cause of it.

"Anyway," said Roderich finally, concealing the last of his laughter with a cough."The Prussian Eagle. It's an amazing tattoo. Why…" He hesitated briefly. "Why do you call yourself Prussian?"

Gilbert grin fell when he remembered Roderich's reaction in the bar last night. "Are you gonna tell me it's a 'militaristic model of fascism' again?"

Roderich had the good grace to look slightly apologetic. "No. I am genuinely interested, Gilbert. Tell me, please."

Damn, Roderich did look pretty when he said 'please' like that. Gilbert swallowed heavily and dragged his brain back from that very dangerous line of thinking. "All right, it's like this. First of all, Prussia is tough. It built itself from nothing into a place strong enough to unify an Empire and survive three hundred years of relentless attack. And it's misunderstood. People see it for its wrongs, and ignore everything else. They judge it without knowing it. They hate it without understanding it. And I guess I just get that, you know?"

Roderich's face softened and he nodded. "Yes. I get that." But of course he got that. Roderich knew exactly what it was to be judged, every single day, and Gilbert was an idiot for not seeing how alike he and this Austrian musician actually were. Gilbert protected himself with arrogance, with violence, with denial; Roderich covered himself with a layer of defiant superiority. But in the end, they were both hiding the same thing.

And maybe Gilbert was done hiding.

He leant forward slightly, until both he and Roderich were sitting sideways against the balustrade, cross-legged and facing each other. "One more thing about Prussia," said Gilbert quietly.

Roderich leant closer to listen, head tilted curiously and his hands clasped in his lap. Whenever the man moved, he did it so damned gracefully. Another wave of lilac made Gilbert's head swim.

"Friedrich." Gilbert pounded a fist to his chest proudly. "Friedrich's my bro."

"Friedrich the Great?" Roderich asked, forehead furrowing tentatively.

"Yeah." Gilbert's blood was throbbing in his veins, and it felt like the words he whispered were engulfing the silent hall. But he'd made up his mind. And though he'd never told this to anyone, there would never be a better time to say it, or a more understanding person to hear it. "Whenever people say shit… insulting shit, y'know, about being…" He faltered, but forced himself to stay strong. "About being gay. It hurts. Because I know – deep inside, I've always known – that they're talking about me."

Roderich's eyes went very wide, and he stayed very still, but he did not speak. Gilbert's skin was burning, and he'd never felt so vulnerable in his life. But he would say this. He had to say this.

"Then, I think of Friedrich. Prussia's greatest king. The most badass military leader of all time. A man who moved a nation from a time of darkness into a time of light. A man with vision, and influence, and passion, who had the power to change the face of Europe." Gilbert paused, but only briefly, because if he thought too deeply, he knew he would stop speaking. "A man who, just like me, was gay. I think of Friedrich, and I ask myself why I should possibly be ashamed to have something in common with one of the greatest men in history."

Gilbert was immediately sure he'd said too much. "Shit, that was lame, I..."

Roderich quickly interrupted. "For me it was Tchaikovsky."

Gilbert's heart stuttered wildly. For the first time in his entire life, it felt like someone understood him. And his mouth was still open in surprise, and Roderich was staring rather uncertainly at his hands, and say something, damn it! "Plus, when I was a kid, I liked the idea of being a Prussian knight in shining armour."

"Oh, gosh." Roderich breathed a soft, faintly amazed laugh. "I think we would have played well together."

Gilbert smirked and lightly nudged Roderich's knee. "Never would have taken you for a fellow knight, Roddy!"

"No, I just…" Roderich awkwardly brushed back his fringe, before finishing in a mumble, "… rather liked the idea of being rescued by one." He closed his eyes and whispered, "Now that was lame."

"No, that was adorable."

Roderich's violet eyes met his, and Gilbert forgot to be mortified that he'd actually said the word adorable out loud. This went beyond anything he had ever felt. It was like his heart was going to burst. And Roderich was so close, with his perfect hair in his perfect eyes, and his skin like moonlight, and his stupid, stupid cravat, and oh God, Francis and Antonio were right, he wasn't pretty, he was gorgeous…

"Gilbert."

"Yeah?"

"Why are you here?"

"I…" may as well stop lying. "I knew you'd be here."

Roderich reached for Gilbert's hand, and smiled like he'd guessed that already.

.

Gilbert woke slowly to the sensation of his phone buzzing silently in his pocket, and Roderich asleep against him. He took a moment to marvel at just how nice it felt - warm and comfortable, like everything was right with the world - then carefully retrieved his phone so as not to disturb Roderich's rest.

There were twenty-three missed calls from his coworkers, and a massive stack of messages. Gilbert's confusion to how he'd missed them turned quickly to alarm, a cold dread settling in his gut as he scanned the texts with increasing panic.

Gil, ring back. Can't reach you. Have important news about the Libelle Hall job.

Gil, dude, the demolition time's been rescheduled. Answer your phone.

Gilbert for fucks sake answer your phone!

Demo going ahead at 6am. You'd better be there or there'll be shit.

Gilbert looked at his phone, looked at the early morning light entering the windows, and looked at his watch.

Six a.m.

"Well, shit."

Then an excavator claw shattered the ceiling.

.

Roderich's body jolted him awake, and he instantly fumbled for his glasses. "What…"

He barely registered the crashing sound before Gilbert's hand gripped his and hauled him to his feet. "RUN!"

Later, Roderich would not recall exactly how they emerged unscathed from the rapid destruction of Libelle Hall. He scarcely felt his legs move as Gilbert dragged him down the narrow staircase, the deafening sound of smashing wood and breaking windows shattering the air. The floor shook like an earthquake beneath his feet, and the only reason Roderich was not terrified was that he was just so very confused.

"What on Earth is going on?" He shouted to be heard.

"What do you think?" Gilbert yelled back. "They're flooring the place. Just keep running!"

Finally, the fear kicked in. As they darted across the stage, a massive piece of ceiling crashed through a balcony, instantly flattening a row of seats. Roderich's head swam sickeningly and his blood roared in his ears. No one knew they were in here... How were they going to get out... What if...

But Gilbert's hand was in his. Gilbert's hand was in his, and it filled Roderich with an inexplicable, infuriating sense that everything would be all right.

Reaching the end of the stage, Gilbert pulled Roderich through the side door, into a narrow corridor filled with overflowing boxes and strong-smelling costumes, then stopped at a red-draped window. Roderich's head snapped into focus, and his heart dropped to his feet. "No."

"Listen!" Gilbert placed a hand on Roderich's chest, his fierce red eyes burning into Roderich's own. "We're only one story up. There's no time to find a door."

Roderich shook his head firmly, even as Gilbert's hand burnt his skin, even as the entire building shook with the force of falling balconies and shattering walls. In his panic, he reverted to superiority. "How dare you? I refuse to..."

Gilbert abruptly turned around, headed back up the corridor, and Roderich's entire body jolted frozen in shock. Gilbert was leaving – why was he leaving – oh God, how could Gilbert leave him?! Roderich couldn't breathe, and his mind wouldn't work, and he was going to panic, and… and why was Gilbert digging through that box of props?

"What… what are you doing?"

"Fair Roderich." Gilbert finally turned, placing a flimsy knight's helmet on his head, and brandishing… oh, for heaven's sake… brandishing a plastic sword. Roderich's fear vanished in a haze of utter bemusement.

"...huh?"

Gilbert stood tall, one hand on his hip and a rather manic grin plastered on his face. "My name is Sir Gilbert the Awesome, and I am here to rescue you!"

Roderich stared. Gilbert stared back. A massive crash rattled the window. "Are you insane?!"

Gilbert lifted his hand into the air, throwing back his shoulders and raising his chin, looking for all the world like a Shakespearean actor about to deliver a speech. "You are startled, Fair Roderich, but never fear! It is my sworn duty to protect you!"

"Oh my goodness you're insane..." Roderich shook his head, trying to make sense of this, and he was not amused, and he was not laughing, blast it all!

Another crash. This time the floor shifted beneath them and Roderich had to grip the windowsill to keep from falling. There was the fear again… "Gilbert! This place is falling apart and you are standing there in a knight's costume!"

Gilbert nodded and tossed the sword over his shoulder. "Better head through that window then."

He had a point. He was insane, but he had a point. "You go first."

Gilbert rushed to Roderich's side and threw open the window shutters. They were perhaps four metres above a colourful flower garden, leading onto a large green lawn bordered by far, well-tended hedges. "What sort of knight would I be to abandon my fair da…"

"If you call me a damsel, I swear Gilbert, I will hurl you through this window myself."

"…dapper young gentleman," Gilbert finished smoothly. "Now what we are going to do, is climb through the window-frame, then I shall hoist your delicate frame atop my mighty shoulder…"

"Gilbert!"

"Okay, okay, then we jump, and hope that flowerbed cushions our fall. Are you ready?"

"No."

"Good, let's go."

The next few seconds were a blur. Roderich vaguely recalled trying to cling to Gilbert's hand as he clambered over the windowsill; his blood pounding dizzyingly to his head; Gilbert flashing him a grin like this was nothing more than an afternoon stroll. They were on the ground before Roderich even made the decision to jump. His arm stung where a branch scratched it, and his lungs screamed for air, but Roderich barely had time to even feel relieved.

"Now get up. Run!" Gilbert grabbed his arm and they ran, as fast as Roderich's aching chest would allow, as far as they could across the vast, open lawn until they finally collapsed, breathless and exhausted, against a low, green hedge surrounded by an orange construction barrier.

Roderich wasn't sure he could think, or feel, or breathe. He was vaguely aware that his shirt sleeve was ripped, and his hair was awful, but he'd just jumped out a window so those were probably trivial matters right now. The world slowly turned right side up, and he was brought back to his senses by the feel of the bush digging into his back and the sound of Gilbert's voice beside him.

"Shit," Gilbert muttered between gulps of air. "I think I might be fired."

And Roderich couldn't help it. He laughed. He laughed until the tension beneath his skin lessened, until it broke, until it drained away and he was suddenly aware of nothing else but Gilbert's shoulder pressed to his, and the realisation that he was laughing, too.

Gilbert reached for Roderich's collar. "Allow me, Fair Roderich, your cravat's all loose…"

Roderich rolled his eyes. The man had a serious obsession with his choice of neckwear. "And you are still wearing that ridiculous hat!"

Gilbert grinned and adjusted it. "I think it suits me."

No had had ever made Roderich laugh the way this mad Prussian did. "Sir Gilbert the Awesome."

"Yeah, baby. Your knight in shining armour."

Roderich had to fight not to cover his face, his cheeks burning with embarrassment. Oh, if Elizaveta ever heard about this...

"But seriously…" Gilbert's eyes softened, and he reached up to pluck a stray leaf from Roderich's hair. "You all right?"

Roderich felt the heat from Gilbert's touch tingle across his scalp and down his spine. "Yes."

A tremor in the ground, a startling bang, and as he turned his head, the last of Roderich's laughter died away. "Actually… no." Because there was his beautiful Libelle Hall crumbling in the distance, lines of smoke silhouetted against the grey morning sky. Harsh machinery surrounded the golden building, smashed it to pieces, reduced Roderich's memory and joy to rubble and dust.

"Well," Roderich whispered. He let out a long breath, a bitter ache tightening his throat. His glasses fogged as his eyes began to sting. "I suppose that's it."

Gilbert moved as though to speak, then stopped, at a loss. Instead he slowly removed his hat, then he took something from his pocket and pressed it into Roderich's hand. A short black peg, attached to a little white disc, with a single word - clarabella - stamped across the flat top. One of the pipe organ stops. Gilbert must have ripped it from the instrument itself.

It was the final proof of how very wrong Roderich was in ever thinking Gilbert understood nothing. That one gesture – that one organ stop – and Roderich felt the breath knocked from him. As his pounding heart finally started to settle, he looked up slowly. Gilbert's white hair stood up in wild peaks, and his startling eyes were not nearly so harsh this close – just very bright, and very deep, and staring at Roderich like this was the first time Gilbert had ever seen him.

And Roderich could not stop himself. He leant forward and kissed him.

For a second, Gilbert sat frozen, his lips motionless. Roderich panicked. He didn't know what he was doing, he'd made a mistake, he'd never actually kissed someone, and how was one actually supposed to do this?! But then Gilbert kissed back, and Roderich might have made an embarrassing sort of squeak of surprise, but that very quickly did not matter much. In fact nothing – not Libelle Hall, not its demolition, not Gilbert's ego or Roderich's superiority or either of their stupid stubbornness – none of it mattered now. Nothing except for Gilbert's lips moving on his, strong and soft, parting his lips, touching his tongue, and oh, that was how one was supposed to do this…

When their lips parted, Roderich was practically shaking, and Gilbert looked almost as stunned as Roderich felt. Roderich hesitated just long enough for an inkling of doubt to set in, but it vanished the second Gilbert squeezed his hand. "Hey, here's something awesome. The dragonfly - the Libelle - is a symbol of new beginnings, did you know?"

Gilbert grinned proudly, and Roderich shook his head in surprise, an impressed smile tugging on his lips. Libelle. Dragonfly. It was what Aunt Maria had used to call him. "How do you know a thing like that?"

Gilbert just winked one brilliant red eye. "You'll be amazed by the things I know, baby."

Before Roderich could laugh, or scoff, or even think how to respond, Gilbert's arm encircled his waist and pulled him back into the kiss. It should have been astonishing. Instead it just felt natural, and right, like they had been leading to this moment all along. Roderich placed a hand on Gilbert's chest, felt his heavy heartbeat joining with his own; and when Gilbert's fingers threaded gently into his hair, Roderich thought that there had never been a place he belonged as much as this.

Libelle Hall was being destroyed before them. But between them, something honest, and scary, and wonderful, was being created.


The End.


Aunt Maria is Maria-Theresa, Archduchess of Austria. I don't think the poor dear would have liked Gilbert much.

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Check out 'La Patisserie de la Rose' for Francis and Matthew's story set in the Mapleverse, and 'Of Ponies and Edelweiss' for more of Gil and Roderich's story.

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Finally, for those (heathens) who don't know what Gilbert meant by claiming he could play 'Stairway' on guitar - (Youtube) /watch?v=9Q7Vr3yQYWQ) - Go forth and educate yourself. ;-)