Fandom: Axis Powers Hetalia
Pairing: PruAus, AusHun, past PruHun, one-sided SwitzAus
Genre: angst, romance
Disclaimer: APH belongs to Himaruya, and the countries factually belong to themselves. Or their bosses and the people that live there, rather.
Warning: infidelity; ugly, cack-handed similes
Summary: Roderich is stuck in an empty marriage to a woman he doesn't love anymore. The attractive mechanic he meets, however, has his own reasons for seducing him…
A/n: For George deValier, for all the help he's given me. It's not my most cheerful piece, but it's something I've poured a lot of myself into. I hope you like it, sweetie.
Let my lusts be my ruin, then, since all else is a fake and a mockery.
Roderich met the man who would turn his life upside down in the simplest, most unassuming of ways.
His car had broken down, it was as simple as that, really. Well, it was not exactly simple: given Roderich had a penchant for getting lost in his own house, and had never quite figured out to use that obscure device known as a satnav, he wound up in a part of town he would not normally have chosen to be in. His rather expensive attire and general air of both wealth and being completely and utterly lost screamed loud and clear that he was the perfect target for even the most incompetent of muggers. And he was late for dinner for… well, he'd stopped counting a long time ago, in all sincerity. He'd been late for so many dinners he wondered why Erzsébet still bothered. To add insult to injury, it was also raining, cold harsh spit from the heavens on a cold harsh night in cold harsh March still clenched hard in winter's unyielding hand.
However, all was not lost. It appeared his Mercedes had been kind enough in its mutinous disposition to break down outside a mechanic. If Roderich had to be honest, it was not the kind of mechanic he supposed saw many Mercedes, unless they were stolen. But beggars could not be choosers, so he found himself taking the proverbial deep breath before the plunge and ducking out of the car, locking it behind him with a quick swoop of the remote, and dashing into the chilly, damp workshop.
To his dismay, it appeared empty. There was only a Polo that had seen better days, the sort of Audi that should be put out of its misery and an old motorbike that looked in perfect condition. He absent-mindedly wandered over to it, studying it. It was certainly well-cared for, despite its obvious age. The leather seat shone from use and Roderich couldn't resist slowly taking off one of his gloves and reaching out to run a finger…
"Like my baby, do you?"
Roderich nigh jumped out of his skin. Whirling around in shock, he knocked a wrench to the bare cement floor with an almighty clatter. It rang in the ensuing silence, and Roderich scrunched his eyes shut in embarrassment. The other person, a man, let the awkward quiet hang for as long as humanly possible. Roderich could almost feel his amusement, tangible on the air. In the end, however, the Austrian could stand it no longer, and cleared his throat nervously. The other man just laughed.
"Well, what can I do you for?" he asked, wiping his hands with an oily rag and sauntering closer. His tone betrayed the fact he thought he was doing Roderich a great favour by talking to him. Roderich tugged his glove on self-consciously and coughed again.
"Yes, well, my car has broken down. It's right outside, luckily."
The man – a Berliner, if his accent was anything to go by – nodded lazily, kneeling down to pick up the wrench, far too close for Roderich to be comfortable. It was probably the most hostile invasion of his personal space that didn't involve bodily contact that he'd ever experienced. The man grinned up at him, a lazy, self-satisfied smirk that had shivers running down Roderich's spine. His eyes were the most incredible shade of vivid red, and the Austrian vaguely wondered if they were contact lenses. They certainly didn't look it, far too natural, too real... Those eyes, along with his silver hair and the extraordinary pallor of his skin, created the most unearthly, almost supernatural air about the man. Roderich swallowed as the German stood up again, close enough that Roderich had to suppress a shudder, and dropped the wrench back on the small work trolley.
"Right outside, huh?" the man drawled. "What make?"
Roderich breathed a sigh of relief as the man turned and walked away, heading towards the open shutter. It took him a moment to recover, from what he did not exactly know, but he knew he hadn't felt that way in years. A part of him that had been frozen solid with disuse, gears rusty and unoiled, began to slowly move itself once more.
"Hello? What make?"
Roderich shook his head, clearing it of treacherous thoughts that threatened to make their way into his mind, thick and lazy as molasses, and quickly headed after the German. "A Mercedes."
The man turned to stare, an absolutely disgusted look on his face. "How the fuck did you make a Mercedes break down?"
Roderich gave him a withering look as an answer. "I believe your job is to fix it, not to question my skills as a car owner."
The man snorted, opening the car door as soon as the familiar beep of the remote echoed through the small street and throwing himself inside to open the bonnet.
"I'm justified in my incredulity, mate. Seeing a beautiful car like this in the hands of a layperson … I don't want to live on this planet anymore. Well, what's the trouble?"
"It won't start," Roderich said shortly. He chose to ignore the man's previous statement, giving him the benefit of his iciest silence. It didn't work.
The rain had eased off, and all that remained of it were glistening streets and wet slush left over from February snow. The mechanic stuck his head in the mouth of the vehicle like a lion tamer and fiddled around with something Roderich would not have understood even if he had had eternity to study mechanics. He waited, arms crossed and nose turning ever colder, until the man pulled back and slammed the bonnet shut again with a bang that made Roderich wince.
"Try her now," said the man, leaning on the silver hood cockily. He seemed so sure of himself, Roderich almost contemplated lying and saying it still wouldn't start, but as soon as he turned the key the engine roared to life and Roderich conceded defeat. With a sigh, he stepped from the car and reached for his wallet.
"How much do I owe you?" he asked, flipping the old pieces of leather open and rifling through the notes – all fat orange fifties and one or two meadow-coloured hundreds. The man grinned, shoving his hands in the pockets of his green, greasy overalls.
"Normally, if you were any other rich bastard, I'd pluck you like a chicken," he said, and Roderich gave him a puzzled look. The man nonchalantly stepped closer, barging once again into Roderich's personal space as if he owned it and giving the Austrian a look that made his blood rush and simmer. "Twenty euros and a drink with me and we'll call it even," he breathed, caging Roderich against his car with one hand on the roof, the other on his own hip.
Heat surged through Roderich's veins, leaving a fiery path in its wake, warm beginnings of a hunger he hadn't felt since forever. His eyes fell to the man's hand, smudged black and suddenly, fiercely, he wanted those filthy hands on his skin. He wanted grease smeared across his pale flesh as the mechanic took him, those slightly pointed teeth digging into his shoulder, red eyes gouging into his very soul, lust and mirth playing in their depths, in the end leaving him used and sore and smelling of motor oil and leather. He wanted to say, 'why bother with drinks? Consume me, take me over, tarnish me…'
"I'm married," he whispered instead, and offered the man a fifty. The German's eyebrows rose, as if assessing him anew, and he stepped back just enough to allow Roderich to get back in his car. He didn't allow him to close the door immediately, however.
"I'll see you around, I suppose," he said, an undercurrent of absolute certainty in that uneven, chafing voice.
"I doubt that," Roderich replied, trying his hardest to not sound disappointed. You'll be back, the mechanic did not say, and he closed Roderich's car door with an easy, well-practiced sling of his arm. Roderich drove off before he could dig himself into a deeper grave than he was already in, and all the way home he is haunted by those coarse, ragged thoughts of heat and desire and something he hasn't sensed in years.
"You're late," Erzsébet said, so matter-of-fact, so resigned. She'd long since moved to the sofa and was watching some television series, the same as almost every night, and Roderich nodded apologetically.
"I'm sorry, the car broke down," he said. Erzsébet frowned, turning around from her show.
"How did you make the Mercedes break down?" she asked, unimpressed.
He'd managed to suppress all thoughts of that damned German on the way home. He'd managed to send them to their own personal hell and think of notes and music and one complicated pianistic after the other – the same way he carefully avoided every other difficult thought – and then they just came flooding back, clamouring for his attention like starving baby birds in a nest of adultery. Those few words, almost a direct quote of those said before… Only the tone wasn't right. It was the knowing scepticism of Erzsébet, long-used to Roderich being able to achieve the impossible in terms of disaster, not the abrasive, almost derisive astonishment of the most attractive stranger he'd met since forever…
"You know me," he said shortly, unwinding his carefully knotted ivory scarf and leaning over to kiss her on the cheek. She hummed in acknowledgement, her eyes now focused on the flickering screen in front of her once more, and he wandered off.
He stumbled into the room with his piano, and, biting his lip he shut the door. His Leonie beckoned like a siren, and her vision was overlapped with that mechanic… Roderich would never have guessed this morning that he would be so tormented by the evening.
Reverentially he sat in front of her, quickly opening her and shifting velvet from her smiling mouth. And as soon as his fingers touched the keys, he was off. He poured all his pent-up lust and desire and need and intrigue and all the thousand other emotions he felt but had no name for into the improvised music. But most of all the guilt. It burnt like hellfire now he had returned home, seen Erzsébet, his Erzsébet, curled up on the sofa with American crime fighters. How could he betray her, even if it was only in his mind?
Love, honour and obey, Roderich. You did promise.
And outside the door, Erzsébet felt guilty herself for listening, spying, it almost seemed, and wishing those notes were for her.
The German's prediction comes true. Roderich supposes he should have seen it coming: he never was very lucky. He always meets the people he hoped to avoid at all costs, such is the story of his life.
Erzsébet has dragged him out shopping in some department store downtown. It's all far too expensive for his miserly nature, some of the prices nearly give him a heart attack, but he wouldn't be seen dead anywhere cheaper. They're wandering through generic presents, Erzsébet had said something about buying something for a colleague's birthday, when he sees him.
Here, of all places, he had to see him. Roderich freezes, eyes wide in horror and bewilderment, for the slightest of seconds before the moment passes and he hopes the German hasn't seen him. Erzsébet notices nothing, too intent on perusing the shelves to discern Roderich's inner turmoil. Thoughts he's been supressing for a week or more come rushing back at the sight of the man in his most sinful thoughts in biker boots and torn jeans, long leather coat flapping behind him. His red, red, red eyes happen to flicker up, almost as if they know, and at first he is surprised. Roderich can read it across his face as easily as he can read music. Then, in a split-second, it is gone, replaced by that sordid smirk and fiery gaze that make Roderich feel like he's burning alive from the inside out, hot and bothered and willing.
Please don't come towards me, he begs. Stay over there, pretend I don't exist.
It's almost as if the mechanic reads his mind, because he chooses to saunter lazily over and study the shelf right opposite their own.
"Roddy," Erzsébet drags his attention through the frozen mud that his brain has become to some knick-knack she's found. "What about this?"
"Lovely, dearest." He barely spares a glance to it, smiling that indulgent smile he can't help but bring out and that she so detests. She frowns, shrugging.
"I'm going to look over there. I suppose I'll find you in the music department when I'm done." And she's gone, and Roderich has never felt so relieved to see the back of her. Almost immediately bitter, hot-cold shame at those thoughts scalds his insides, and he can't bring himself to look upon that Cheshire grin he knows will be thrown casually his way like rubbish from a moving car.
"Roddy, is it?" the German rumbles, and Roderich flinches at hearing that grimy voice so close to his ear, sullying his sense of hearing. He affects his best sneer, bred into him by centuries of Austrian nobility, and adjusts his scarf somewhat fastidiously.
"That would be Roderich, to you," he says curtly. The final 'peasant' is only implied, but the arch in the mechanic's eyebrow shows he did not miss it.
"All right then, Roderich," he scoffs right back, pulling a leather-clad, bare-fingered hand from his pocket to scratch his nose with. He manages to put such an immense amount of condescension in three short syllables that Roderich is impressed. "I'm Gilbert."
"What makes you think I want to know your name?" Roderich says waspishly. He must at least maintain a vague sense of propriety, of reluctance to betray, no matter how much his body is already begging for the other man. Pleading to slam the other into the shelves and hush that coarse, inferior mouth, touch and rub and grind and gasp and…
"Oh, I know you want to know," Gilbert says silkily, once again placing his arm in such a way that Roderich feels utterly, unmercifully trapped. However, it is much more casual this time, nonchalant in its loose pose. It could almost be taken for the friendly lean of a close acquaintance. The charade is rendered null by Gilbert leaning in so close Roderich can taste him on the air between him. He can smell leather and oil and cold wind and it makes him lightheaded, wanton.
"I know you want to know what name to scream when you fuck her," he continues. His tone is shaped like a wolf – elegant and powerful, unaffected in its potency, and yet still feral and savage. It drives Roderich nearly mad with need, as he closes his eyes and must remember to keep breathing. On reopening them, he realises Gilbert is looking after where Erzsébet had gone.
"She's hot," he says. "Nice tits."
Roderich wants to punch him. Some primordial part of him still believes in defending Erzsébet's honour, it seems. Not that she isn't more than capable of defending it on her own… It's still a husband's duty, though, isn't it?
"I would be ever so grateful if you did not refer to my wife in such terms," he says, his tone Siberia in January. Gilbert laughs.
"Don't worry, I've got my sights on you, pretty boy."
That isn't much comfort.
"I told you I'd see you around," Gilbert goes on. "I have a feeling we'll just keep bumping into each other."
Roderich's brain puts two and two together and comes up with a very realistic-looking four. If he could have taken a step back, he would have, but the shelf and Gilbert all over him without even so much as brushing him blocks any means of escape. Horror and more than a hint of fear spread their icy fingers across him. "You're stalking –?"
Gilbert snorts. "No need, Specs, destiny has a way of getting what she wants." He holds up a slip of paper between index and middle fingers as if it's some sort of religious relic and slides it in Roderich's pocket. It's the most innocent of gestures, but the slow deliberation and the tempting, shark-like smile makes it seem like the most obscene.
And with that he is gone, leaving Roderich as debris in the wake of his hurricane, dizzy with the anarchy in his heart, body and soul.
The slip of paper burns a hole in his pocket all the way home. It's as if it were made of acid, scalding his skin through thick wool and corduroy and cotton. He's gripping the steering wheel too tightly, grinding his teeth to stop them from chattering and his jaw is clenched so forcefully it's surprising he hasn't fractured it.
"Are you all right?" she asks, concern in her light, pretty, familiar voice. He forces a smile, this one much more brittle and transparent than his last, and waves a dismissive hand as he changes gear.
"Perfectly fine," he lies airily. If he were perfectly fine, he would not feel like he's been stuffed in a barrel full of spikes coated with desire and rolled down a hill. Every litre of his blood has been replaced by a crippling ache for a man he has only met twice, both times leaving him with unsteady knees and wavering resolve.
She does not buy it. She's always far more shrewd than anyone gives her credit for, stopping at the smile and the pretty face and the large breasts. But she says nothing, and Roderich is grateful for it.
Erzsébet has gone to work – Roderich has his day off. They stopped trying to make their off days coincide what seemed like forever ago. He sits in front of Leonie, staring at her polished ebony face, plucking a key or two in dejection. That phone number stares at him from the music desk, daring him to call. Goading him into giving in. It mocks him, jeering like a child in the playground. It will either drive him to tears or madness, perhaps both.
In frustration he slams his fingers into the keys, torturing poor Leonie like he has never done before, wringing disjointed notes from her in his want for, for… for whatever this desperation is. It's unimaginable thirst meant to be quenched, unfathomable hunger that needs to be sated. He's like a drowning man and Gilbert is his breath, but not a sweet one of breaking the surface. No, Gilbert is his last one, water filling his lungs and dragging him deeper.
And as he plays, violently and cruelly hurting the most beloved thing in his life, he reaches a decision. He halts his mistreatment quite abruptly and picks up the slip of paper.
Roderich is nervously trying to force down a coffee he does not want while sitting in a café he has never entered before, waiting for a man who might never turn up. His hands are clenched in his lap and he is wondering, not for the first time, what possessed him to even call the German. Why? This isn't like him at all. The Roderich he has been all his life would not do this, not in a million years.
He thinks his Mercedes is plotting his downfall, with Christine-like precision.
He hears a deafening disturbance of the peace outside the café, and not two minutes later Gilbert swaggers in, the very definition of arrogant triumph. He hasn't even changed out of his overalls, and he throws himself down on the seat in front of Roderich with the air of a general victorious. Roderich pushes his glasses up self-consciously, and the silence lengthens – it seems to be Gilbert's favourite tactic.
"So, you've won," the Austrian says tonelessly, capitulating. He picks up his cup and sips his now cool coffee, and he wishes he wasn't trembling. He is on the highest diving board and Gilbert is the swimming pool that might be bone dry.
"And I take great pride in my victory, Specs," Gilbert says, crossing his legs and spreading his arms along the back of the chaise, that despicable smirk all across his face like a hideous scar. "You broke easily."
Roderich knows this. "I didn't call you to talk," he says. Gilbert claps his hands and rubs them gleefully.
"My place, I expect," he says, all business all of a sudden. Roderich gathers his coat without a word, pays for the coffee he's left and follows Gilbert to that death-trap known as a motorcycle. The mechanic notices his trepidation as he offers his helmet and sniggers.
"Scared of my baby, huh, Roddikins?" he taunts. Roderich's eyes narrow and he hands his glasses to the smirking German before shoving the helmet on his head and taking them back. He tugs up his long coat and
swings his leg over with more grace than he expected – he was ready to stumble and have this obnoxious man laugh at his expense once again. But no, he is fluid and settles himself like a cat on a velvet cushion, and he thinks that maybe this is because he is giving in to what every fibre of his being is demanding.
"Hold on tight," Gilbert orders, kicking down the ignition and revving the rumbling monster beneath them into reluctant life. Barely a moment to throw his arms around Gilbert's waist and they are off, speeding through the Vienna streets with several manoeuvres Roderich is sure are illegal, and then he realises… he's finally touching him. He is pressed against Gilbert's back from shoulder to groin, arms around his chest, and… and it's the most exhilarating sensation he has felt for what seems like centuries. He gets lost in the feeling, allowing his torso to think for him, allowing it to indulge. He breathes in, forgetting he has the helmet before realising this is Gilbert's helmet – his mouth is exactly where Gilbert's is every time he wears it. He breathes in deeper and grips Gilbert's overalls subconsciously. This is the most beautiful experience he has had in over a year, at least. And if Gilbert notices, he says nothing.
Gilbert's apartment is a dingy, damp, two-roomed excuse for living quarters in Fünfhaus. There is a steel-framed bed in the corner of one room and a third-hand, particularly ugly sofa in the other. The television, however, is state of the art, as is the laptop on the spindly Formica-topped table, nestled close to one of those ADSL devices only Erzsébet knows how to use. The flaking walls are spread with posters of cacophonous heavy metal bands Roderich has never heard of. As he shrugs out of his coat and flings it onto the sofa carelessly, Gilbert seems almost ashamed.
"It's not much," he mutters. "Rent is cheap, I can afford good stuff and bills that way…"
Roderich shakes his head. Who is he to begrudge a miser like himself? He slowly takes his own coat off and looks for a peg for it – it's Burberry, a moth-eaten sofa is no place for it – but there is nowhere, so he admits defeat and places it with Gilbert's own, along with his scarf and gloves. And he notices Gilbert is more nervous than he expected, so he decides to take charge, something he is not famous for in any field besides music. He steps up to Gilbert, raising trembling fingers and placing them on dirty, tough cotton, his lips so close he can already sense Gilbert's own.
And then whatever chord is strung between them snaps, and they are all over each other, kissing and biting and desperate. They wander to the wall, Roderich's back collides and he briefly realises the flaking, off-white paint will stain his navy blue shirt, but then Gilbert's hand is on his thigh, tugging him closer, bringing Roderich onto his bent leg to send shots of pure electricity through him, and he can't think at all anymore. The kiss is harsh and disillusioned, mixed with pants and gasps and sighs and Roderich's head is spinning wildly, madly, like a top.
The journey to the bed takes both far too long and no time at all, the buttons of Roderich's shirt flying away to allow Gilbert's hands on his chest. They are both hard and starving for each other, all heat and debauchery. The springs twang as Roderich is pushed back onto the mattress and he watches, propped on his elbows, as Gilbert hastily unbuckles the straps of his overalls, yanking them off to reveal lose black boxer shorts and a tight, grainy grey t-shirt that has seen as much grease as Gilbert's hands. Gilbert is much better off in the body department than Roderich had imagined: he is compact and lean, lithe muscles and stockier limbs than he thought, but he takes all that in it a brief, here-then-gone moment. No… what his eyes are truly drawn to is the remarkable tent in those boxers, and the need to discover it. Roderich sits up, cross-legged, and tugs Gilbert closer by two fingers in the waistband of his boxers. Gilbert smirks, paper-pale cheeks dusted pink, and his fingers dig into the Austrian's hair.
"Eager, are we?" he growls, low and fuzzy like snow on the television. Roderich's eyebrows rise and he boldly mouths Gilbert's erection through the cotton. The German grunts and has to steady himself, his fingers flexing.
"Pot, kettle," Roderich says easily, running a hand down Gilbert's thigh, rubbing at the back of his knee.
"Aw, fuck it," Gilbert snaps. He throws Roderich down to the bed (it's such a divine sensation, to be manhandled like this, like a ragdoll) and kisses him again, unforgiving, relentless. Roderich shoves his hands under the t-shirt, hastily dragging it up, hooked under Gilbert's arms. He drives his thumbs over the other's nipples, and Gilbert grinds down, making Roderich choke into the kiss. Then there's fingers at the button on his trousers, flicking it inelegantly and fizzing down the zip. Roderich has to break the kiss when Gilbert shoves his hand down his briefs, almost studious in his grip.
They are both far, far too dressed for this. Roderich pushes him back, practically shoves him off, and throws his shirt across the room. Gilbert's t-shirt, freshly yanked off, follows it not a moment later. With only the barest degree of fumbling, Roderich's trousers are gone, then his briefs – Gilbert's gaze is appreciative, a small consolation for what is about to come, when Roderich tugs down his boxers.
Gilbert is… well-endowed, to say the least. He kneels back, parading himself without an ounce of shame. His cock is long, thick, and Roderich can't help but reach out, slide a hand that's more curious than anything else along its impressive length. Gilbert gasps, and Roderich thumbs the head lightly, now touching because he needs to. He catches himself licking his lips, thoughts thundering down tracks that branch off at a million different crossroads, and he suddenly feels excruciatingly empty.
Without thought or hesitation, he tosses his spectacles to the bedside table and drags Gilbert into another kiss. Now is no time for misgivings – all thoughts of how inconceivably wrong this is have long since run to the hills. Because for once, Roderich feels. It's a glorious, breath-taking sensation. He feels weightless as Gilbert orders him, in a broken, rushed hiss, to get on his stomach. He's dizzy with want, hole throbbing, when Gilbert lunges for the drawer in the bedside table, his fingers slipping as if the handle is ice until they finally wrench it open and dive for a tube of lubricant and a condom. He lets out the most wanton sighs and moans as the German begins to tease him, lips teeth tongue on his shoulder and scalding palms on his backside. He shudders in delight when Gilbert parts his legs and circles his entrance with a cold finger, face buried in his hair, breath hot on the back of his head.
Then there are two fingers inside him, sudden and without any warning, and Roderich grits his teeth, grunting in pain. Gilbert's first intrusion is much like everything he does: abrupt and with no regard to the comfort of anyone else except the concession of lubricant. Those fingers torment and mock, and the Austrian glares back over his shoulder. Gilbert merely grins, lopsided and smug, and begins gently stroking the other, twisting and turning inside him in a way that seems almost… inexperienced. Gilbert's hand caresses its way up Roderich's side, round to his chest, down again, caressing the small of his back. He thumbs above his tailbone and Roderich shivers. Those invasive fingers spread, another joins them, they search blindly within him until Roderich bridges off the bed, gripping the sheets and gasping.
Gilbert seems satisfied, and Roderich is left empty for a moment, while a pillow is shoved beneath his hips and his buttocks are squeezed and parted.
"You'd better be ready," Gilbert hisses, "because I'm sick of waiting."
Roderich barely has timely to nod before he chokes out the kind of blasphemies his mother would likely slap him for saying. Gilbert feels twice as large as he looked, and Roderich can barely breathe. The intrusion is surprisingly slow and thoughtful, especially given that this is Gilbert, and from what little Roderich knows about him, patience is certainly not a virtue of his. He vaguely wonders if he has any virtues at all, but all that is violently squeezed from his mind as he feels Gilbert settle inside him. He's never felt so full in his entire life. He clenches, grits his teeth, and Gilbert groans. It takes Roderich a few moments of deep breathing through his nose before he briefly nods behind him. Gilbert's hands slip around his hips, and it certainly doesn't feel like they belong there, not at all (although he has no idea why he's lying to himself), and then he's gone. Roderich's whole body sighs with relief, but then scrabbles for purchase on the sheets, moaning shamelessly as he is breached once more, cloven in two and put back together again.
It takes a surprisingly short time for Roderich to get used to it. He soon begs for the hot burn, the fullness, the rough thrusts, the coarse, laughing groans in his ear. His world is violently thrown off its axis, tossed into the star-studded vacuum of vulgar, licentious need. His eyes are closed as all his nerves end where Gilbert begins, and he allows the other to move him, pull him up roughly against his chest, as unresisting as the other is relentless. Gilbert's hands burn into his chest as he thrusts up, into him, deep and ruthless and everything Roderich had never known he needed. He reaches a hand back, delicate fingers talons on the other's thighs as they make inharmonious music together, rutting like animals.
It builds within the Austrian, flowing, contortionist heat that scalds through every cell in his body, his world a pinprick of coloured light in the vast space of grey surrounding him. In this world there are only he, Gilbert and the mounting pleasure that threatens to boil over like a pot left too long, but Roderich is certainly not going to turn down the heat. He wants it to overflow, pour from him, and as he reaches his other hand up, threads his fingers tightly into Gilbert's hair and presses the German to his neck, feels the sting of teeth and the wet warmth of sucking lips, he steps over the edge so willingly. With a moan that's three-quarters desperate and one quarter relieved, he clenches and comes. He would go limp, but Gilbert has not yet reached his own peak, and Roderich is wrung painfully tight when finally the German comes, groaning raw-throatedly and slumping against Roderich. Roderich who is loose-limbed and weak, and they merely fall forward, Roderich barely catching himself on quivering arms.
Gilbert pulls free with an odd, cringing noise and flops to the bed beside Roderich, facing the ceiling with a hand thrown over his eyes. Roderich lets his arms slip across the cotton, closing his eyes in satisfaction as his breath slowly steadies and his heart sounds less like a marching drum. The only sounds in the room are their breathing and the pounding in his ears. He curls his arms closer to his body, hiding his grin with his knuckles. When was the last time he lay in boneless abandon after such gratification? When was the last time his limbs were dragging through water, when his body sang of the ache of fulfilling sex? When was the last time he smiled like this? Oh, he probably looks a mess, thoroughly debauched like some heroine in those tasteless novels his grandmother used to think nobody knew she read. His nether regions throb and protest loudly when he moves, but it doesn't matter. He longed for this, it is absolute perfection.
"You look pleased with yourself, Specs."
He opens his eyes to see Gilbert staring at him, gaze heavy-lidded, wearing the smirk of the triumphant lover. Roderich rolls over, biting his lip at the sheer screaming ache and snorts.
"Shut up, Gilbert," he orders. Gilbert just laughs, and they stay there for… Roderich can't tell. He has lost all concept of the passage of time. It could be a few minutes, it could be years. He sighs and sits up, glancing to the digital alarm clock next to his glasses. He tries not to think about how well they go there, how natural they look on this ratty bedside table with an ugly second-hand lamp and the drawer half falling out in Gilbert's haste. He reaches to pick up his glasses, and Gilbert slams the drawer closed with speed one would not expect from a person who has just had very good sex.
"Going already?" he enquires lightly, as if he has not just done something highly suspicious. Roderich tears his eyes slowly from the drawer, running them along Gilbert's still outstretched arm to his face.
"Yes. My wife will be home soon," he says. And suddenly, fiercely, like a bucket of ice-cold water, there is guilt. It claws at his insides, tearing him into bloody tatters. It pours hot-cold down his oesophagus, burning and scalding and wringing him into twisted, evil shapes. He sees something flicker through Gilbert's eyes, although he cannot place it before he lowers his eyes, clearing his throat in the awkward silence.
With a low grunt of pain, he stands, searching for his discarded, ruined clothes across the length and breadth of the hideously bare room. The walls, now he takes the time to notice, are painted a damp, depressed pink, like rotting salmon. There is a wardrobe that looks rather dejected as well. Everything in this place screams loneliness and a deep pit of sadness that makes Roderich's heart ache as he buttons his trousers.
He sighs when he sees the carnage that has been made of his shirt. It's missing too many buttons, and for once, he doesn't care, and doesn't call it a waste. For once it doesn't irritate him to hell and back, as he tugs it on and glances back to Gilbert.
The man is staring at him, and it makes Roderich almost painfully self-conscious as he tugs the halves of his shirt together as best he can. Although, he muses, there's really no need. Gilbert has seen him stretched out and bare beneath him, all arrogance thrown to the dogs as he begs for something he so desperately needs and only Gilbert can give to him.
Finally he slips his shoes on, his shirt held together by one stubborn button, and there is a tension between them that is nothing like the one before. Gilbert is leaning against the table, arms folded over his bare chest, in only his boxers. Roderich is pulling his coat on, but slowly, methodically: almost as if he doesn't want to leave. The strain between them is palpable and thick, and it is a most unpleasant sensation to be a part of, for it has nothing to do with lust or need anymore. No, it is all awkwardness and uncertainty, bitter and oily.
Gilbert clears his throat, and it sounds contrived.
"Well… See you," he mutters. He's staring at the floor – or the back of the sofa, Roderich isn't sure which – and for a blinding, luminous moment, an offer to stay hovers on the Austrian's lips. But as soon as it has come, it has gone again, and he shakes his head before he realises Gilbert can't see him.
"I suspect not," he says, dragging a haughty tone from where it has laid dormant. He cannot allow this to happen again. He will not allow this to happen again.
This is all it needs for Gilbert to return to normal with a snort and the wry grin of the perfect bastard, a smile which has Roderich's hackles rising.
"Nah, I'll be seeing you. I know I will."
Roderich rolls his eyes at his impertinence, ignoring the secret thrill, the traitorous anticipation and desire to meet again, and leaves, closing the door tightly behind him. He calls a taxi, which picks him up with an anxious look at the neighbourhood a nice young man such as himself is in, and Roderich knows exactly how bad this looks. He arrives home, pays and immediately limps to the bathroom.
He has to remove Gilbert from him, or he might go mad. The man's scent, his touch, his marks, they're digging into his skin like leeches, all sharp teeth and bloodsucking intent. He throws the mutilated shirt away directly, as gazes at himself in the large mirror.
If he expected some sort of demonic visage, some visual demonstration of his disloyalty, he is sorely disappointed. He is still himself, though his hair is mussed and his lips are kiss swollen. He bites his lower one, and almost fancies he can still taste Gilbert upon it. He can still feel him, inside, around, all over… But now he looks into his eyes, close as he can get with the white porcelain sink in the way, and he can see turmoil, guilt, anger, recklessness, stupidity… betrayal.
Disgusted, he turns away, and heads to the shower to burn the last traces of the bastard German that is digging himself into him. He has to train himself to not limp.
He manages to make it a week. A week in which he has to constantly remind himself that he's satisfied his curiosity, and will have no need to ever see Gilbert again. Of course, he's always been a champion at lying to himself.
It burns through him at night, acid in his veins. He is febrile with it, with the memories of Gilbert's touch, his mouth, his voice, his cock… It nearly drives him mad.
He tries to force it from his mind with Erzsébet, but her long legs and full breasts do nothing to assuage his raw need for the other man. Her lips do not move like his, her scent is entirely different, her hands are too slim and her nails too long and sharp. He buries his face in her thick, walnut-shell hair and she is driven so easily from his thoughts, replaced with fox's eyes and wolf's grin. He has to bite down on the name that threatens to spill from him as he comes.
Her smile is too warm, too affectionate. He answers, slipping on a sweet smile of a mask as he kisses her. The mayhem inside him, however… he is rotten, ruined. Blackened by that bastard – although he knows perfectly well Gilbert is not entirely to blame. He himself is the weak one, the fool, the one who is not content with the beautiful woman life gave him and seeks a German mechanic for a reason he can't fathom… Oh, but he can fathom it, really. Gilbert is something new and exciting, a something so incredibly wrong and yet so incredibly right, that Roderich has been gasping after. Allegro con brio within a funeral march.
He still waits another day, however, before calling Gilbert again. The laugh in the other's voice is audible, and he tells him they will meet at the same café as before. Roderich closes the call and wonders what he's doing. This wasn't supposed to happen again, he swore it to himself, but… he has the willpower of a spoilt child. He puts his coat on and wonders what he's doing. He sits down and orders the same coffee as before and realises it's too late to be shocked at his own behaviour. He's in this quicksand up to his neck and he certainly can't crawl back out now.
Gilbert arrives, strolls over and grins, and the Austrian's body reacts to his mere presence far more violently than he expected, with the rush of blood in his ears. Roderich almost fools himself into thinking the man might be happy to see him – something in his eyes, his smile – before the moment is gone, whipped away by Gilbert's obvious impatience and the summons in his gaze. Roderich follows, his whole body thrumming in anticipation.
It is just as rough and starving as before, all finesse the art of love-making is supposed to have balled up and thrown away like a badly written letter. Roderich is flotsam on a storm-tossed sea, broken notes slammed on piano keys, angry paint strokes and holes punched through dry wood walls… And it's perfection.
It is only when Roderich makes to leave, tugging his coat on, that he notices Gilbert has bought a hat stand and put it next to the door.
They meet again and again over the next month and a half. The sex is the most incredible he has ever experienced in his whole life. The guilt that comes with it is also the worst, but he is becoming more and more skilled at ignoring it.
And he notices he and Gilbert are talking more. They talk beforehand, when they are sitting in the café Roderich has come to think of as 'theirs' (all of a sudden, one morning when he is practicing some dull, simplistic piece he learnt when he was a child and knows so well he can afford to not think about it). They will talk after they're finished tearing each other to pieces, burning into one another with fierce abandon. Roderich has studied Gilbert's tattoos, and asked about them, wrinkling his nose at the Iron Cross on his shoulder.
"That's because of my grandfather," he says, and there is a deep, potent pride in his voice. "He was a Luftwaffe pilot. Not a Nazi, if that's what you're thinking," he adds, seeing Roderich's gaze harden. "Just a pilot. And a fucking excellent one at that."
Roderich lets that drop, and runs a hand across Gilbert's shoulders, caressing the black eagle spread across his skin. "And this…?"
"I'm Prussian on my mother's side, some general dude's descendant. I thought it was cool."
Gilbert glares. He's very good at picking up sarcasm, but not very good at retorting at all.
"What about you, then?"
"You mean my family history?"
Gilbert nods, rolling over with one leg bent, his arms behind his head. He looks like some sort of god of debauchery after a night of licentious merrymaking. Roderich does not move from his position, leaning back on a pillow against the steel head of the bed, he merely straightens the covers slightly around himself.
"My great-great-grandfather was a general in the Great War," he mutters, remembering the stern portraits his family managed to recover from vaults in Switzerland. "His daughter married a Jewish banker, very rich family, and greatly disapproved of, which gave us the name Edelstein… which led to my grandfather being sent to Buchenwald, after refusing to forge any of his papers. He was a proud man. He survived, married my grandmother and the rest is history."
"What kind of history?"
"The kind of history that led to my grandfather owning an empire built entirely on Austrian confectionery," Roderich chuckles. "With the odd world-famous musician thrown in for good measure."
Roderich raises an eyebrow, smirking. "Been researching, have we?"
Gilbert's shrug is non-committal, but there's no way cheeks so pale can hide even the barest of flushes. "Maybe."
"Well, what did you learn?" Roderich asks, settling himself down with one hand propping himself up.
"Nothing that's not on your Wikipedia page," Gilbert mutters. Roderich blinks.
"Should I feel flattered I have a Wikipedia page?"
Gilbert snorts. "Yeah. You're pretty famous in musical circles. Flitted around a few forums and Facebook pages and found something out. They're gagging for you to do concerts abroad, but you won't."
Roderich only understands half of what Gilbert just said, the rest is complete gibberish. He scrambles around for an answer that won't make him sound so painfully technologically challenged, but can only hum. And not very convincingly, at that. Gilbert sniggers at him and rises like a ghost from the bed, heading naked to the living room. Roderich would lie barefacedly if asked whether he is admiring Gilbert's arse as he goes.
The German comes back with his laptop, plugs it in and turns it on. "Look at this," he orders as he settles back down next to Roderich, the computer on his stomach. He skims and types faster than Roderich can comprehend, and suddenly there is an odd-looking globe in the left hand corner of the page, and his photograph a little lower. Gilbert scrolls lowers, smirking, and Roderich can barely believe it.
"There's my entire life here…"
"Duh, it's Wikipedia. Of course it's all here. You're a famous virtuoso, according to this."
Roderich reads his own life with considerable awe, feeling not a little violated by the detail. Of course, it is nothing he hasn't revealed in the few interviews he has given over the years, but still… it's quite invasive indeed.
"How on Earth did you find this?" he asks eventually, after reading the entire thing (it has the date of his wedding, all his major concerts, everything the critics have ever said, even the names of his parents…). Gilbert shifts, and to Roderich it seems guilty, as if he's been caught doing something wrong.
"I think I remembered who you were from a magazine I read in a waiting room once…"
Roderich doesn't think he's heard a worse lie in his life. "You really were stalking me, weren't you?"
Gilbert nods, grinning sheepishly. "Only on the net…"
Roderich shakes his head. "You are truly the oddest person I have ever come across."
Gilbert's grin quickly morphs from sheepish to cocky, and he closes the… lid? Screen? of his laptop and places it on the floor beside the bed. "But you like it anyway," he states, raising an eyebrow. Roderich rolls his eyes. Gilbert is so full of himself he bursts at the seams. He is arrogant and egotistical, but there is something about him… Something strange and tempting that draws Roderich in. Gilbert is a sprite in a marsh, holding a lantern as he floats through the misty bog, dragging Roderich closer to his doom in mud and mire. But Roderich truly doesn't care at all.
"Maybe I do," he replies, settling down. Of course, he doesn't see the light flush that returns on Gilbert's cheeks.
Gilbert, Roderich thinks vaguely as he sits at his Leonie, is the kind of man they would have written songs about. There's a warrior within him somewhere, someone savage and wild, given to rejoicing in the unsubtle art of bloodletting. But there is also something hauntingly beautiful about the man, something dark and ethereal, something Roderich remembers from first encountering him and had forgotten since getting to know him. He can envision Gilbert upon a black warhorse, pillaging, burning and killing, and he imagines the songs they would write: awe-filled verse of the admirer, crying his deeds to the four corners of the world; lustful sighs of bereavement of the old lover forsaken for the new; rancorous, resentful rhymes of the defeated, mourning their losses. And through it all, Gilbert would ride, laughing with glee at the wake of destruction he would leave behind, heedless of the weeping and the moans of the dying…
He did not realise his fingers had begun to move as his flight of fancy took him further than he expected, plucking vivid, hard notes from the keys, dissonant and bloody. He is not a composer, usually. He favours mastering the works of those who have come before over penning his own. But this… This savage, rough, gory music he is pulling out of nowhere is entirely his own child, and he hurriedly grabs a sheet of music paper and scribbles down the notes, quickly and energetically. And he continues playing and writing, playing and writing, and while he does so he realises that what he feels for Gilbert is no longer simple lust. It is no longer a wish for change and to satisfy a curious desire that had been frozen in his bones for too long. There is something in Gilbert that begs him to look deeper, to probe inside and see how fragile the German is. It calls to Roderich through the arrogance and the self-aggrandisement, and Roderich wants to simply cradle it against him until it falls asleep against his chest. He wants to take it and care for it, and build something beautiful out of it.
And now he plays something purer, something which he dare not confine to paper lest it become real. It calls of past mistakes and redemption, and second chances and tentative touches and suggestions. It sings of two men broken who come together, take their broken pieces and stick them together with superglue and sticky tape and prayers and hopes. He plays this, fighting down the epiphany he has come to until Erzsébet returns home and finds him there, playing beautiful, soul-drenched music that is once again not for her.
Roderich is not a man of many friends. There is his agent, his wife and his producer, and those are all the people he really knows apart from his family. But there is one person, a person he has known for many years and whom he is still in contact with. This person is a banker, a son of bankers, and his name is Vash Zwingli.
They meet for dinner or lunch whenever Vash has business at the Vienna branch, the second largest after the one in Geneva, of his family's bank. Sometimes Roderich wonders how on Earth they ever became friends – the bullied Austrian who spent most of his time with his head shoved down a toilet and the rabid, hot-tempered Swiss who preferred the firing range to lessons. But they did. Vash protected him, and Roderich in return gave him a friendship he most likely would not have had otherwise.
They are dining at one of the high-end restaurants that deals with French cuisine, and their routine is painfully, well, routine. They have been doing this for years, and likely they will continue to do so until Vash retires. Roderich wonders why he comes back every time. But things have changed, the status quo is no longer, and Roderich's fingers itch from the irritation at how perfunctory and repetitive these meals have become.
"So, what have you been doing?" Vash asks, sipping his wine.
Roderich wonders how to answer. 'I'm stuck in a dead-end marriage to a woman I've stopped loving and am engaged in a steamy affair with a German mechanic for whom I am starting to have feelings for'. It sounds ludicrous even as he rehearses it in his mind. Vash would never believe him capable of such things. So the Austrian puts on a brave face, smiles as the circumstance demands.
"Not much at all. Concerts, dinners, that sort of thing."
"How's that wife of yours?"
A disapproving twist of the lips is a hard thing to school from his features. In ten years Vash has never bothered to learn Erzsébet's name. Roderich never gave it a thought before now, but now the fog of humdrum and daily life has rolled away, he studies Vash more closely. There is resentment in his oldest friend's shoulders, stiff and bunched. The fingers on his glass grip harder, his tone is bitterness heavily coated with polite enquiry. He can't believe they've been doing this for years and he's never noticed. It is only the glimmer of confusion that crosses Vash's stern features that shakes Roderich from his shock.
"She's… very well, thank you," he says. Another lie. Vash doesn't seem to notice how bad at lying he is (or maybe he's gotten better over the last few weeks, who knows?) and there is only a brief twitch of the lips to betray his discontent.
The meal continues in much the same polite vein, and it almost drives Roderich crazy. They discuss the bank, and the financial crisis, and Roderich's concerts. He wonders when this monotony began to feel wrong. Since Gilbert? Before? He doesn't know. All he knows is that now, the stagnant pool of everyday life is not something he can go back to. There is disease and unhappiness within those waters, and he despises them.
Once they have finished – Vash pays, Roderich is far too mean, it's always been that way – they stand outside in the muted late April sunshine and say their farewells for this time. And all of a sudden, Roderich feels Vash's emptiness. He feels it on the air between them, he sees it in the shove of hands in pockets and the merest slump of defeat in proud shoulders. And he fancies he can hear Vash's thoughts: Not this time. Maybe the next? It breaks something inside the Austrian.
"I'm sorry, Vash," he says, quietly, and he pours every atom he can into that apology. Vash stops, stares. He knows exactly what Roderich is apologising about.
"What for?" he snaps, and walks away. "See you next time!" he barks back over his shoulder, leaving Roderich in rapidly falling late afternoon.
He does not know when he learnt this path, or how his feet know how to lead him to where he wants to go. He looks up in surprise when he finds himself outside Gilbert's workshop. The shutters are open, and Roderich can see someone working under a car, a BMW. A sorry-looking Mazda has its bonnet open. He steps in, almost nervous, and hovers in the corner, rabbit-ready to run if need be.
The man slides out from under his current charge, and wipes his hands on a filthy rag in his belt. He spots Roderich and scowls at him.
Roderich clears his throat, adjusting his cuff nervously. "I'm looking for Gilbert?" He realises he doesn't know Gilbert's surname. That needs to be amended. The man, sour, burly with skin so stained with grease it's turned tan, jerks his thumb to the Mazda in the corner. Roderich thanks him with a nod and a skittish smile the man does not share, and he hurries over to the corner, his step too fast to be comfortable under the man's gaze on his back.
"Gilbert?" he asks. Gilbert pulls his head out, a spark plug in his hand. His eyes widen in surprise before a frown knits his eyebrows together.
"What're you doing here?" he demands, tossing the spark plug to the side carelessly. Roderich shrugs, shaking his head.
"I have no idea," he admits. Gilbert bites his lip, leaning on the edge of the car with one hand.
"Beilschmidt! I'm leaving!"
The two both turn to the man – Gilbert's boss, it would seem – who is wearing a coat and pulling the shutters to the middle of the gaping entrance. Gilbert sighs, rubbing his blackened hands together, smudging them even more.
"So, really? Why?"
But Roderich is too busy staring at those hands. Dirty, filthy, like he imagined… He wants them on him. He needs them on him. He's desperate for it.
He pulls Gilbert in, kisses him, rough and hungry.
"I think you can guess," he answers, licking shocked lips. Gilbert grins, kisses again, all lips and teeth as usual. Roderich presses him against the bonnet of the car, hands wandering. He slides down, unclasping filthy overalls, watching them fall away and reveal a grubby t-shirt and loose boxers. His fingers trails along elastic, Gilbert stomach jumps beneath black cotton faded to dark grey, and the Austrian's mouth waters.
Oh, what has he turned him into?
He pushes the t-shirt up with his nose, mouthing well-formed muscles, biting at pale, slightly damp skin. Gilbert grunts, guttural and harsh, and Roderich sighs into it. He needs rough, he needs hungry, he needs desperate. Gone is the longing for comfort and sweetness.
He tugs Gilbert's boxers down, revealing a half-hard erection that makes Roderich whimper with need, and he leaves Gilbert little time to prepare before he takes him in, sucking hungrily, with more fervour than he ever has. He's never needed something like this before, and has rarely practiced it. He hopes his enthusiasm as he laps at the head and tongues his way down the thick, heavy length is enough.
Judging by the tightness of the fingers in his hair, the quivering of the hips in front of him, it is.
Roderich continues his pleasuring, fingers encircling the part he couldn't ever imagining fitting into his mouth. His other hand goes to Gilbert's hip when it starts to jerk, wanting more, now, damn it. Gilbert moans his name out, and it sounds like the holiest and most beautiful of prayers as the German's body breaks in two, bends over him, begging for more.
Roderich loves this novel sensation. He never cared for it particularly before, but this… it seems decadent yet intimate. The weight and heat on his tongue, the ache in his jaw, the scent of Gilbert and arousal and motor oil, the slick, obscene sounds they make that echo off the walls. He's on his knees on filthy concrete, worshipping at this altar, and he can't even begin to think of finding such satisfaction anywhere else.
It takes less than Roderich expected for Gilbert to finally go rigid, his throat closing around a loud groan, and come, hard and salty and hot on Roderich's tongue. He's not used to swallowing, and it goes everywhere, drips down his chin, and he wipes at it in annoyance. He can feel his own hardness, the tight coil in his lower belly, demanding to be sated.
Gilbert slumps against the bonnet, panting, eyes closed, cock softening. "Well…" he gasps, showing a sliver of red to join his Cheshire grin. "I wasn't expecting that."
Roderich smirks and gets to his feet. He moves closer, presses his dirty fingers to Gilbert's arrogant lips. Gilbert licks at them, gaze smoky with satisfaction and renewed desire, boneless fingers fumbling with coat buttons until they finally fall open. Roderich tosses his coat off, heedless of the fine Burberry, and presses against Gilbert, kissing him, the need muted into hot, lazy desire.
"Return the favour?" he asks. Gilbert grins, slides his hands down Roderich's trousers, and all the Austrian can do is hold on and moan until he is spent, the thirst quenched for now.
Gilbert presses idle kisses to the side of his head as they breathe together, warm and languid like cats in the summer.
"I never would've expected this from you," Gilbert murmurs. "The prissy Austrian, waltzing in for a quickie where I work."
Roderich lets out a brief huff of laughter, nuzzling at Gilbert's neck. "I do sincerely hope the owner never finds out what we did on his or her car." And now that he thinks about it, it is rather embarrassing. Roderich has always been nothing if not prudish, with a great dislike of anything that is not, as they say, vanilla.
"At least we didn't do it inside," Gilbert mumbles. "Then I would've had to clean it and that would've sucked."
They stand there a little longer, the car creaking under their weight, until Roderich's legs find their strength once more and he can finally pull away to tidy himself as best he can. He doesn't miss the way Gilbert looks bereft, the way his hands try to keep him close, not let him go, as if Roderich's nothing but a dream he doesn't deserve.
Roderich kisses him for his trouble, tugs on his almost-ruined coat and bids him farewell until the next day.
Perhaps these trysts have made him more perceptive, because he also does not miss the way Gilbert smiles, so pure and sincere, as he waves goodbye.
"I hate this."
The bed creaks and groans beneath shifting weight, the sheets grow tighter. Roderich cannot help but clench his fist, his blood a cold river of fear as his heart pounds in anxiety. No, don't say that, don't finish this, I need it, I need you…
Fingers as light and pale as moonbeams caress his arm, his shoulder, the pad of a thumb rubs a shoulder blade absently, almost carelessly.
"I wasn't supposed to care about you," the other man murmurs. Lips fall on trails fingers have blazed, and warm-cold breath skitters across goose bumps. "I wasn't supposed to begin to fall in love."
Roderich knows he is saying this because Gilbert believes him asleep. That he would never dream of uttering these words if he knew Roderich was awake. But Roderich is, as ever, the worst of fools and cannot help but turn slightly and gaze at a terrified Gilbert propped up on his elbow, calm violet on skittish red.
"Neither was I," he whispers back. He rolls over, runs a hand up Gilbert's side, across his chest, faltering over his heart. Gilbert swallows, and there's a drumbeat beneath Roderich's fingers, thump thump thump, steady but too fast to be hypnotic or reassuring. Slowly, though, it settles, and Gilbert's hand covers Roderich's, pressing it to his chest. It started out as passion, rough and desperate, and mutated into this twisted, strange parody of affection that wants so desperately to be the real thing, a fat, bloated caterpillar chewing at leaves of previous loves and almost ready to pupate. Almost ready, not quite there. They need more time. And neither of them knows what will emerge from this strange chrysalis.
Gilbert settles back down, their legs tangle and their bodies are close but don't touch, but their fingers… their fingers are tightly woven, threaded together, camels through needle-eyes. And Roderich knows, in his darkest heart that swells with in a crescendo of ice-cold triumph, that he has never felt this way about anyone, not even Erzsébet.
Gilbert often starts conversations randomly, with those exact words. It's a clue for Roderich to listen, as they lay in bed together.
"What am I supposed to know?" Roderich asks, simply for the sharp glee of cutting Gilbert off. They have settled into this strange teasing which is nothing more than prickly affection. They nip at each other, like puppies at fingers, and Roderich likes it. Gilbert rolls his eyes and continues.
"I kind of want to go to one of your concerts," he says. Roderich sits up, one eyebrow arched elfishly.
"I thought you didn't like that kind of music," he replies. Gilbert shrugs.
"It's your music, it doesn't matter what kind it is if you're playing it."
Roderich can't help but feel a thrum along his spine and a warm, blossoming throb in his chest. No one has ever said anything like that to him before, and he tries to hide the warm pink of his flattered cheeks in vicinity, in brief kisses.
"I could get you a ticket," he says, "although I'd prefer if you paid, because it means more money for me."
Gilbert eyes him with incredulous fondness and reels him in for another kiss. "You are such a stingy bastard," he says warmly. Roderich hums into the kiss and runs a hand down the other's chest. Gilbert takes it, holds it to him like some knight holds the hand of his lady, caresses his fingers one by one.
"But you're my stingy bastard," he adds once they part, and not even a blind man could not see the warmth in Gilbert's eyes, could deny the affection in his smile. Roderich is overwhelmed by it, like the tide coming in over his head, washing away his doubts, his breath and his caution. And because he cannot form a reply, he cannot form his own fondness into words, he kisses the other once more, and prays that his kisses, like music, can be words enough.
He feels slightly giddy. For such a long time, his concerts have been much like his marriage: endless and repetitive, no soul in his music. These are pieces he has known since forever, and even a packed theatre offers no thrills.
But tonight he knows Gilbert is there. When he silently and blushingly offered the German a ticket, in one of the best seats in the house, the smile on the other's face had been luminous enough to rival Paris, bright and happy as a schoolboy.
He steps out, graceful as always, and he tries not to smile. He can't ignore this shiver along his spine, these butterflies quivering through his stomach, this… this thrill he has not felt since forever. He wonders, if he were to listen closely enough, would he hear the sound of Gilbert's hands, roughened and oil-stained? He bows, hiding a smile with the movement of his body and accepts the good will of his audience, encouragement for music to be well-played.
When he seats himself, he can't help but wonder what Gilbert will think of all this. Will he be as enthralled as the rest of his audience? Or will he, as the uncultured creature he is, fall asleep, or start playing with his phone out of boredom? Roderich snorts to himself. He wouldn't have asked to be there otherwise.
He cracks his fingers and starts playing, Ravel, his favourite. It shows off his skill, which is considerable, if he does say so himself. There is a reason he is acclaimed around the world as a master of the piano, once a child prodigy and now a great virtuoso. He makes Gaspard de la Nuit look simple.
As much as he tries, this time he cannot isolate himself from the world as he usually does. It is no longer merely the piano and himself, the music an extension of his soul. No, there is another being there tonight, sharing the higher plane of existence he reaches when he allows the music to flow freely from him.
Gilbert is there, his soul bright and white hot like a faraway star, and it burns him. It burns so beautifully, so powerfully, so gloriously, that Roderich almost weeps with the pain of ecstasy. He can feel Gilbert there, caressing him, and his voice is the music he is playing. It's magnificent, and Roderich allows it to consume him entirely, reaching for it with every note, as if holding out his hands and beckoning this white fire to devour him whole, destroy him and remake him anew in its scorching, breath-taking image of utter freedom.
And when Roderich is finished, his breath fast and hitched, he realises he is crying, and that he hasn't played like this in years.
When the concert is, the standing ovation having died down to the hum of people taking their leave, Roderich rushes off the stage. His agent is grinning enthusiastically, moving his mouth with what is probably praise for such a magnificent performance, like nothing he's heard before, but all Roderich can hear is the delicious thrum of white noise. He needs to see Gilbert, thank him, take him in his arms and ravish him.
He heads to foyer, black Italian leather rushing across marble so polished it gleams, glad he has not gotten lost this time, past potted palms and mirrors that show the flush of joy that a musician can only attain once he has played so powerfully. His heart sings, his mind reels and his soul is a bright beacon of wonder.
"Stay away from him."
Roderich stops dead in his tracks. He's never heard such venom in his wife's voice before. He takes great care in making himself as inconspicuous as possible behind the heavy drapes that separate one end of the entrance hall from the other. He hears a snort that is typically Gilbert's, and his insides frost over.
"You can't order me to do anything, Erzsi," he says. And Roderich's knees shake like reeds in the wind – he knows her. Only the people that know her call her that. He hears the echo of heels on marble, overpowering the sound of his own harsh breathing.
"Yes, I can," she snarls. "He's my husband, you bastard, you have no right to go near him."
"Well, maybe you aren't appreciating him enough," Gilbert drawls matter-of-factly, and from his tone Roderich imagines him carelessly scratching his chin. He bites his knuckle: he's never been so anxious. Erzsébet answers with an incredulous, mocking laugh, and he knows the movement that goes with that laugh, a cavalier toss of her nut-brown hair over her shoulder.
"Oh, please," she says scornfully, "we both know you're only doing this to get back at me, like the jealous little boy you are. You never lived it down that I'd prefer someone over you, did you?"
Roderich's hands fall from his face to his sides, dead weights. The towers of glory come crashing down, a Babel every one of them, and God's might is inexorable. His mind blanks, and suddenly everything twists into a new, clearer shape. There was no affection, this passion was all a con, a well-orchestrated plot to rip him away from his wife and leave them both empty. And by God, hadn't he taken that tempting bait so easily, the most foolish fish in the pond. He has to drive his teeth into his lip to stop a gasping, brittle sob from escaping him. His fists clench, his heart bursts and pours all of what Gilbert filled it with from itself. It's hollow and void once more.
He reaches for the handle of the glass door in front of him. He barely hears Gilbert's reply.
"You honestly think everything is about you, don't you?" he sneers. Erzsébet scoffs.
"With you, Gilbert, it is. Stay away from him."
And her shoes echo once more on the cold marble, until they are out of earshot. That is when Roderich wrenches the door open and leaves, his indignation and anger finally catching up with his devastation.
He returns home to find her already there. Her hair is still gathered in a strange ponytail, her clothes still the elegant skirt and blouse she wore to the concert. She is even still wearing her shoes as she sits in the kitchen, long fingers wrapped around a mug of tea. She raises her head, her eyes their usual brilliant green and ever so sharp, like daggers. He feels them drive their gaze through him, blades through his heart. They tear him apart, with all that they know, and all he can do is break down and sob, right there on the kitchen floor like some pitiful fool.
His tears smear his glasses, run down his cheeks as the sobs wrench from his chest. He apologises, continuously, profusely, it's the only word he knows anymore. He doesn't deserve her, he never did, and however she will choose to punish him, he will take it, for that is what he deserves. He is worthless, a man so stupid and foolish as to believe the prettiest lies, like some fatuous mouse led to a trap. Only he lost his heart as well as his head.
He weeps until he can weep no more, dry and exhausted, and that is when she rises from her chair. Like a Fury, he fancies, she will punish him as he deserves, her heels clicking like the bells tolling his sentence.
To his shock, she kneels in front of him and gathers him in her arms. He stiffens, eyes wide and horrified. Why is she doing this? Why is she taking pity on him when he should have nothing but her hatred and wrath, so well-deserved?
"Oh, Roderich, what has he done to you?" she murmurs, and he buries his face in her hair, sobbing again.
It seems as though Gilbert has not destroyed everything.
A number calls the next day. Roderich knows it very well. He ignores it. He ignores it every time 'Mechanic' flashes across the screen, taunting him.
Let it try. The part it could tempt is dead and gone now.
Roderich tells her everything. How they met, how the seduction began, how it continued and ended. His words feel like pitch pouring from his mouth, like something stunted and rotten and he feels filthy as he tells her. It is not cathartic, nor is it relieving. It is simply something that has to be done, the truth dragged kicking and screaming into the courtroom where she, judge, jury and executioner, can decide his and its fates.
She is silent for a long time once he finishes.
He wishes she wouldn't stare at him like that. He wishes her eyes would slip off him in disgust, in anger and rage and resentment. But they don't. They remain upon him, scorching his flush off his bones and baring his blackened soul to the sunlight.
"I'm sorry for everything he put you through."
Roderich flinches. She shouldn't say that, that of all things, to him. She should hate him, be horrified with him. He betrayed her, wandered off so stupidly to the bed of another… But these thoughts merely remind him of how foolish and blind he has been these past few months. How he, the fly, flew straight and true into Gilbert's web, almost suicidal, it seems. And to think he had thought Gilbert had helped open his eyes… The familiar, scummy feeling of self-loathing slides down through him. He clenches his hands, trembling slightly and wishing he could turn back time. It would never be enough, he thinks. To know, with the curse of hindsight, that he would betray his wife is a sickening thought.
Erzsébet is truly more than he ever deserved.
Slowly, they try to rebuild their relationship. Couples see worse, he supposes, they beat each other down and pick each other up all the time. And for a while, it works. For a while, they manage to hold each other without shying away, without casting their gazes elsewhere in regret and disgust.
For a while.
No matter how hard they try, they can feel it. The surface waters may be calm but beneath there is something turbid and tempestuous. The connection they once had is broken, and irreparably so. Roderich says nothing, and neither does Erzsébet. They try to rebuild, with a quiet desperation, they try to reclaim their familiarity with clawing fingers. But it's no use. They are trying to build foundations on nothing but the swamps of estrangement, inescapably sinking.
For that's what they now are: strangers. He knows her name, but he no longer knows her, and he feels he could die with it. Die again and again inside, broken and useless and weak.
Still they try. They labour at their marriage like the ship can be saved, but for every bucket they toss overboard, the water is more than before, dragging their vessel down to its watery grave.
It's no surprise when she packs her bags and leaves with a kiss to his cheek and a murmured apology.
He tries to cry over losing her, but he can't. Because he's earned this ending, hasn't he?
Two days later, he finds flowers at his door. They shock him enough that he takes them and reads the note.
The words twist in his gut, writhe in him like vicious snakes and threaten to drive him made. How dare he do this? How dare he, after all he took from Roderich? All that he stole, leaving only the pain and worthlessness, the lies and weakness.
He shoves the flowers deep into the rubbish, feeling sorry for the roses even as he does so. It's not their fault they are bait, after all, all they are is innocent plants. He burns the note with a match, watching the ashes fall to the kitchen table with a savage sense of glee. It feels like revenge, this small, petty act, sweet and vindictive and he needs it right now. It's therapeutic.
The words of the note, however, eat at his mind like maggots on a corpse, even though the note is now nought but ash. He fights them as hard as he can, telling himself he must rebuild his life anew, far the ruins of the old one, but… On the Thursday he shrugs his coat on and heads out the door, his feet taking him where they want to go. Why he does it, he doesn't know. All he knows is that he needs to end this once and for all.
That is what he tells himself as he sits at their usual table, straight-backed and lying through the skin of his mind's teeth. He is here to end it, to tell Gilbert to fuck off and leave him alone for the rest of his life, in no finer terms.
He closes his eyes and waits, practicing a speech in his head, a spiel that he hopes will make the bastard understand how much he ruined his life.
He opens them again when he hears the chair in front of him shift, and Gilbert is sitting there, looking like a hollow shell, a mere ghost of himself. Roderich despises the way his heart flickers in sympathy and longing. He hates how weak he still is. He dons his mental armour, forcing down his feelings as best he can. He will go for the kill if he can, if not, he will at least keep his dignity intact. He does not love this man.
"Did you really think flowers would make me forgive you?" he spits, his eyes narrow and full of hatred. Gilbert sighs and shakes his head.
"No, I honestly didn't," he admits, honest for once. "But I just wanted you to hear me out for a moment."
Roderich knows he should leave. He knows he shouldn't listen. His instincts scream at him to get up and leave, that Gilbert is going to feed him more lies. But he stays. He stays, crossing his legs and folding his arms and glaring at the other man. The other man who is staring at the table top, twisting his fingers like a child twists pipe cleaners for a school art project.
"I was a stupid kid. Stupid, ambitious for I'm not even sure what, and arrogant. I had no reason to be, given I had no talent, no greatness, and no possibilities. But I suppose I just wanted to be a rebel, or at least pretend I was."
Roderich isn't sure where they are headed with this story. Perhaps he is going to be told why all this came about, why his life has been steadily, methodically dismantled by this man. And despite it all, he is curious.
"My family wasn't worth rebelling against. I didn't have problems. Maybe there was a slight lack of physical affection, but that was it. I never knew my parents, but I had a grandfather and little brother, and we were close, despite it all. So I don't even know what I was looking for in leaving, but leave I did, with two friends of mine, the only friends I had. We were eighteen, and we were stupid.
"We wandered across Europe, unsure of where we were going or even why. We just wanted to get away. Antonio hated his mother, Francis hated his father, and I was so desperate for something to hate I pretended my grandfather was the one that made me leave. All the lies I told about him to them, and to anyone I'd meet, until I couldn't remember that the truth was he was just a decent man and a good father to his son's sons. We stumbled across the continent, until Antonio met some Italian brat in Rome, some kid four years younger than him. Didn't give a fuck about the law or decency, and he stayed behind for him. Francis eventually ran back to Paris one night when we were in Prague, for God knows what reason. I was alone, and I went to Budapest on my own."
And now Roderich knows where this is going. Finally, they have reached a part Roderich can say he understands. After all, he met her in Budapest as well.
"She was a fiddler in a restaurant, and God, was she the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. I needed her, like I needed air, or water. And you won't know how many gods I thanked when I finally got her, when I finally had her in my hands after weeks of watching."
Gilbert's hands are trembling. He reaches up and rubs his face, staring far away off to the side, to memories Roderich can't begin to imagine. But he can understand. There was something about her then, something that has worn off with the sedentary scheme of marriage, that was wild and attractive and called to any man or woman of a certain breed that laid eyes on her. She was fiery, magnetic, a Hungarian dance trapped in human form. Wherever she trod Roderich used to believe he could hear the Ride of the Valkyries, so potent and charismatic was her presence. She was a warrior queen from times gone by, and now, as he remembers how she was before the gold band on her finger mellowed her out, he can see why she and Gilbert came together. The blood knight and the barbarian princess. It seems so fitting he is almost jealous.
"We made all the stupid plans fools make. And like an idiot I believed them. I really thought we'd be together forever, that the fire and passion would last a lifetime. But… I guess we were just too similar. Sort of. She's nicer than me."
Roderich can't help but hum an agreement as he sips his cooling coffee. Gilbert cannot hide his hopeful smile in time, and Roderich is torn between pity and relief. But he does not smile.
"We were a constant cycle of fighting, sex and recklessness. I should have seen it coming from the very beginning. And yet I was head over heels for her, and I did everything I could to try and ignore the obvious. We were already falling apart, because we fought more than we fucked, I just refused to see it. We were imploding in on ourselves like a star that's reached the end of its life. And then… you came along."
Roderich almost drops his cup. He certainly didn't know this part. He glances up, eyes widened with confusion, and Gilbert's smile has turned into a smirk.
"Didn't know that, did you, princeling?" he says casually. "Well, apparently, you entered the restaurant where she played one night, and stole her little heart as soon as you complimented her on her czárdás. She was so besotted with you, it was disgusting. I even… I even thought about killing you. Really, I won't lie. She has that effect, I think. But I didn't. I was a coward, really. And I let her go. You whisked her away to Vienna on the proverbial white horse, and there I was, alone again, naturally.
"I drank myself into the ground the first few weeks. My liver's still feeling it now, I think. And all I could do was cry over my spilt milk and hate you and her for all I was worth."
Gilbert falls silent, and Roderich respects that silence. He is musing over his place in this whole plan, and how he'd destroyed Gilbert's life without even realising it. Or at least had a part in it, anyway, because it seems Erzsébet is as much at fault as he is, simply leaving Gilbert suspended, waiting for an end that would never come, while she skipped away home with him. It leaves a decidedly bitter taste in his mouth that has nothing to do with the coffee he hasn't put enough sugar in.
"How did you end up in Vienna?" Roderich dares to ask. Gilbert raises an eyebrow and shrugs.
"I couldn't stand it in Budapest anymore. She was everywhere I looked, in every woman I saw, in every fiddle I heard. It was torture. I had nowhere to go, so I thought I'd go home, to Berlin. I knew that despite my idiocy my grandfather would stand aside and let me in, with a sigh and a shake of the head. But… I didn't really want to admit my failure. So I just kept wandering west, until I ended up in Vienna.
"It took a few months of mooching off people to realise what I wanted to do. I found a job as a barman at night, found my own place. I was beginning to rebuild it all, everything you two had torn down, and then… God, you were everywhere."
His voice is bitter, and yet longing at once. It's obvious that it's nothing to do with just Erzsébet anymore. Roderich is as much a part of this as she is, as important a player as anyone else in this tale. Gilbert may still have regrets about her, but his focus has shifted, shifted to Roderich. The Austrian realises those words said months ago weren't lies.
He wasn't supposed to fall in love with him, but he did.
Roderich wonders if this is the time he first began playing, crawling himself up on talent and hours of practice, to the top of the pile. Theatres were holding his concerts, they wanted his music. A virtuoso, they called him. The new Mozart, worthy of Liszt. But he never created, only imitated. He was already stagnant then, he just didn't realise it. Ironic that the meeting with a man who had spent so long hating him has changed him for the better… But he continues to listen. He cannot afford to lose himself in thoughts right now.
"I looked you up, you seemed so familiar… And there she was. You'd married her, she was Edelstein, not Héderváry anymore, and… Jesus Christ, it just brought back all the pain again. It was around that time I'd gotten the job as a mechanic, and I… I began to daydream. About hurting you, hurting her… But not physically. No, I was so over that. I was going to hurt you from the inside out. You and her were my obsession. I'd fantasise about breaking you up any way possible… But I knew it could never happen. You were up in the smart quarters, I'd never get to you rich bastards.
"And then you just dropped on my doorstep, and three years of useless scheming just fell into place."
Roderich knows the story from there. He wants to stop Gilbert, but he can't. Gilbert's like a freight train without brakes, he can't stop, he won't stop, not for all the barriers in the world.
"And then I fell in love with you."
Gilbert finally raises his head, and… are those tears in his eyes? The German wipes them away, angrily, furiously, and shakes his head. "I know you'll never take me back. I'm not worth it, but… But yes, it was all a ruse at first. To pay you back for all you did to me, all the pain you caused me. But then you became something so different, so special…"
He shakes his head again, leans back and stares far away. "You're nothing like her. Even what I feel is nothing like I felt for her. It's like that was nothing, dirt, compared to this. I found myself – I still find myself – wanting to build something with you, something real, something… true and long-lasting. Castles in the sky, I know."
He smiles, watery and weak, and stands. Roderich can only stare, something tight and metallic in his chest. Where has his heart gone, replaced by a painful vice?
What can he say in answer to this? That he feels the same? That, horribly, some deeper part of him longs for Gilbert, needs him like air, like water? Or should he stay silent, let it pass like all the beautiful things he's seen and allowed to leave, the story of his life?
He stands, takes Gilbert's wrist. The hope in those strange eyes rips him, like he's paper. He licks his lips, unsure. What to say?
"P-perhaps… one day," he murmurs. Gilbert relaxes, but not into relief. He curls in on himself, like a mongrel on a cold day.
"I can only hope," he replies. With the lack of propriety so characteristic, he offers Roderich a brief, sad kiss on the cheek and leaves. He leaves Roderich broken, torn, and longing for something he might never be able to get back. Perhaps one day.
It's been two months.
Two long months. Two short months. It's almost as if he's been living in a bubble, trying to stay on a calm belt. The air has been still around him, no wind, no movement, as if the atmosphere itself is holding its breath and simply… waiting. Waiting for what, Roderich cannot say, but it is waiting. Some days it is impatient, and those are when Roderich fidgets, paces, runs his hands through his hair and curses himself. Other days it is patient, and it will while away the time having him read or play the piano.
Then, after two months, the bubble bursts. She calls him, he holds his breath. Erzsébet wants to talk. Roderich lets his breath out again. He says that's fine by him and they arrange a meeting. Ironically, it is the same café Gilbert told him to meet him at the first time.
She's the same as ever – it's only been two months, after all – if a bit more sober in her attire, a simple pantsuit with her hair tied up. They exchange a look, wincing slightly, as if unsure of whether to smile or not. In the end they give in to a stiff embrace and wan, wary smiles.
"How have you been?" she asks softly, stroking her straw in and out of her milkshake. She never was one for coffee, she always liked sweet things, things that made her business partners either frown at her immaturity or smile at her fun-loving nature. Roderich shrugs, thumbing the handle of his coffee cup.
"All right, I suppose. Considering everything…" He takes a sip, and its darkness burns its way down.
"Have you heard from Gilbert, lately?" she enquires. Her tone is light and lilting, pretending to not care when she does. This time he sighs.
"He called last week, wondering if I felt ready enough to see him yet," he mumbles. Why is he telling her this? Is it because, despite it all, she doesn't seem bitter or angry, but sincerely curious?
"And are you?"
"No, not yet. Soon, perhaps. When everything is… final," he breathes the last word out like it's a death sentence. Because it is the end. It's all gone, poof, disappearing, fading like old photographs left in the sun. Seven years of their lives going up in smoke… wasn't there something about the Seventh Year Curse on marriages? She smiles, and it doesn't look so strained this time.
"You're in luck, then." She reaches into her large, stylish black bag and slides an elegant, mute pink folder across the table towards him. "I don't want anything from you, Roderich, regardless of what my lawyer keeps moaning at me about. It's all yours, after all, I'm not going to go hungry if you don't hand me half of your fortune and keep me every month."
Roderich swallows. He'd gladly part with half of everything he owns, which, with his stingy manner, surprises him greatly. It's as if she deserves it for putting up with him for seven years. But she is a proud woman, and any suggestion of alimony would enrage her to no end, despite it being her right. He reads the papers carefully, and he finds them satisfactory.
"You can have the Mercedes, if you'd like," he offers, in one last attempt. She snorts derisively.
"I have my BMW," she replies easily with a wave of her hand. Then, suddenly, she grins, and it is almost unnerving.
"Gilbert will enjoy being kept," she says with a snigger, "he does like the good life."
She laughs. "Don't worry, he's not in it for the money, he's not like that."
"I feel disconcerted that you know him better than me… Why did you never tell me of him?" he asks. Erzsébet shrugs.
"I wanted to forget him. All the time I spent with him was… an interplay of sex and shouting, shall we say. Is that too much information?" she asks worriedly. Roderich shakes his head, even though it really is. He does not truly wish to know of Gilbert's past conquest of his ex-wife, he knows it already, and even then it wasn't pleasant. He's sincerely curious despite it all, however, he doesn't know her side, and waves her on. "It wasn't ever very pleasant. We weren't compatible, it was that simple. We were too similar, too rough at the edges and too angry with the world. When we met – you and I – I was trying to get my life back on track after leaving him. I wanted so desperately to be normal again, and have a normal life, no shouting matches."
"He… He told me," Roderich says absently. He doesn't repeat what Gilbert said, or any of the words of his version. Because no doubt Erzsébet will snort scornfully and speak of delusion and foolishness, and as much as Roderich resents the other man right now… he doesn't think he could stand that. It makes sense that Gilbert wished to cling to his fantasy to the bitter end: as he said himself, Erzsébet has that effect on people. The more you want her, the more she disappears.
She sighs wearily, as if the memories that come with the words weigh her down, tire her so. "Figured he might. We were friends, best friends, and it goes to show that sometimes good friendships don't make good relationships." She shrugs. Her milkshake is halfway gone, moisture slipping down the glass. "He never let it go. That's why he wanted you, to get back at me. It's… it's good that he's changed. He truly does care about you, Roderich, even though it might not seem like it."
Roderich lowers his gaze to the marble table top, not truly seeing the salmon and black. It does seem odd that a man like Gilbert, having gotten his original wish, would still want him. Perhaps there is something in this after all. But Roderich is a follower of once bitten, twice shy. No matter what Erzsébet says, he cannot yet face Gilbert and trust him again.
He looks up when she stands, and she smiles circumstantially.
"I suppose I'll see you when our lawyers make an appointment. Get this signed." She waves the pink folder, although it needs no explanation. Roderich nods, standing also, for he has not entirely forgotten his manners. Gilbert hasn't gotten to him that much yet.
They exchange another embrace, and it's slightly warmer than the one when they met. They both leave at the same time, and Roderich pays. Once they are outside, he watches her leave. He watches the way she moves, how familiar it is, and vaguely wonders how odd it will be to hardly ever see it again. She still has the sinuous movement of a snake, the primal stride of a panther. Men turn their heads when they see her, women grow jealous. Once, it almost seems like forever ago, it used to send a thrill up his spine, make his knees grown weak. To think that now it is a brash, arrogant German that claims his lusts instead of a sensual, cheerful Hungarian.
With a sigh and a shake of his head, he sets off himself, hands in his pockets and head far, far away.
He'll get there. Slowly. Soon the wounds will become scars, and go from red to pink and finally fade into white, and there will only be memories to be sighed about, perhaps laced with regret, perhaps not. He has never been a man who looks far to the future. He has never pondered on his old age, and what he will have done with his life by then. He knows, however, that he will remember Erzsébet with nothing but affection, and pride that such a beautiful, powerful woman ever looked at him twice.
For now, he'll simply take each day as it comes.
Their lawyers are glaring at each other over the table, but for the life of him Roderich has no idea why. Erzsébet's lawyer seems particularly disappointed, although Roderich's, old Dreyfus, is smug. Erzsébet is annoyed to stellar levels with the whole affair: he can see it in the twitches of her top lip, the cold smoulder in her eyes and the tweak of her eyebrows.
Dreyfus, dry as paper and old as a fossil, nods, his moustache winched up at the corners like a stage curtain. It is more than clear he is pleased with the whole outcome. "Very well," he states, and his voices crackles like a log on the fire, brittle and broken. "If you would please both sign, as it seems the parts have no contentions."
Erzsébet's lawyer is young and desperate for some sort of fame to add to a list, something to make him stand out, like a high profile divorce he can leech for all it's worth. Unfortunately he has fallen badly with the both of them. The divorce, however harrowing the circumstances, is proving to be nothing but amicable.
Roderich jots his sharp, inclined signature onto all the dotted lines where he should. Erzsébet mirrors him, her own mark elegant and whorled. After what seems like an age of writing his name over and over again, until it becomes monotonously familiar and almost disgusts him, they are done. Finally done. Roderich closes the folder, heavy brown leather, and pushes it away from himself, towards old Dreyfus. He removes his glasses wearily, and rubs at his face. Upon hearing Erzsébet chuckle from across the table, he frowns at her.
"You can take that off, now," she says, pointing at his hand. Looking down, he sees something he'd forgotten years ago. He's surprised with the ease with which it slips off.
"Forgive me, I'd completely forgotten," he said. It seems heavy in his hand, heavy with the weight of seven years. It used to belong to his grandfather, but now he believes he will have no more use for it. She laughs.
"I'd forgotten, too," she admits.
They leave, Erzsébet's lawyer shoving his papers in his bag mutinously. She is ethereal, aloof, almost elfin. Roderich… he doesn't know what he's like on the outside, but he feels frail and relieved, like brittle twigs spared by vicious wind. With a soft sigh, he meets the chilly autumn air, breathes it in. He isn't any different, outside or inside, not physically, but… everything has changed. The colours are brighter, the noises are louder, the world is sharper.
She waves, and he waves back. He'll send her tickets. Perhaps she has someone else already. He finds himself smiling, happy for her, and as he walks to his car his phone weighs heavy in his pocket. He stops at a bench, pulls it out and stares.
It rings. Once, twice, thrice.
He's used to all of this. The murmuring trailing off into silence for a second, then polite applause as he bows. He always considers this the applause of encouragement, the one that almost sniffs, "well, let's see what you can do, then". Then there is quiet once more after he sits at the stool, gently tossing the tails of his coat behind him. He stares at the keys for a moment, sighing. His name has carried far, he is rich and famous, but is this gamble worth it?
Yes, it is.
A year ago he would have simply call the piece by a number or a note. He did not give his rare pieces names, it was far too sentimental and foolish. But this… This piece, all his new pieces, have names. This one is by far his favourite.
He remembers the discussion of Gilbert's tattoos, of his Prussian ancestry on his mother's side. This is the piece he composed when he first began to realise Gilbert was more than the mechanic who fixed his car, more than the man he fell into bed with. He will never have those feelings back, but the music reminds him of them, and has given him new ones, new, fresher and slightly more hopeful. He calls this one The Blood Knight.
It tells of a man that travelled far, leaving nothing but destruction in his wake. A man that never stopped, never looked behind, bent on revenge. Until, finally, this man found a reason to hope again, a reason to rebuild what he had destroyed. It has Gilbert written all over it.
The applause is cacophonous enough that he is shocked, and his shows, all impassivity lost in favour of wide eyes and a gasp. It's a standing ovation, and he stands to take it with a bow, smiling, slightly embarrassed. He has shared something so intimate with hundreds of strangers. It's the strangest sensation.
There are flowers in his dressing room. They are simple, pure white roses, and they are beautiful, if few. Roderich touches silken petals, takes in delicate perfume, and smiles again.
In the foyer, people congratulate, the rich and pompous of Vienna shake his hand and offer their simpering compliments. But Roderich has eyes only for the man on the corner, the man with his hands in his pockets and the nervous look on his face. Roderich excuses himself, sips his champagne and heads over.
"Hello," he murmurs. Gilbert jerks his head up, a wince turns into a weak grin, and he pushes away from the wall.
"Hi," he answers. His smile is lopsided, genuine, bright, and Roderich basks in it.
"They're beautiful," he says. Gilbert rubs the back of his neck, chuckles.
"You're welcome. Thank you… thank you for inviting me," he says, sincerely. Roderich waves his glass, scoffs, takes a step forward.
"It was all for you," he states, pressing a hand to Gilbert's chest. Gilbert takes it, kisses the knuckles. His eyes are bright in the golden-rich light of the foyer, deep with affection and longing. Roderich swallows.
He doesn't want to turn back. He can't. He won't. The future is uncertain, but he's sure he and Gilbert can chart it as they go.
His lips press to Gilbert's, a new beginning.
He already knows what his new piece will be.