A/N- At points (okay, most of the time) when I was writing this, I wondered what on Earth possessed me to offer for this fandom and these characters, as I have never written for Horrible Histories before, and knew nothing whatsoever about Mozart or Beethoven. Of course, I did learn a lot about classical music! But on the other hand, I am quite worried about posting, and hope that you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, Taurenova. Happy Yuletide! :D
Also: bonus- if anyone spots all the names of compositions I've slipped in, and I will write you a prize! :D
The sun shines warmly on the round red walls of the Royal Albert Hall. People flock through the double doors, with children, with spouses, with cameras and microphones, with roses and with smiles. They're all reeling with delight at the show they've just seen, and yet, every one of them ignores the static congregation on the grass, just opposite- despite it being composed of the people they've been watching for the past hour or so- colourful kings, conquerors, queens and composers, all bickering and mingling about. The reason for this is that it takes an awful lot to keep important individuals fully corporeal in the real world, outside the Annuls of History, and the budget just didn't quite stretch far enough for a proper visual presence. It's also a slightly clunky bit of exposition, which could probably be carefully and lovingly smoothed out around the edges, but the budget didn't quite cover that, either. There's only so much that can be done to accommodate such big personalities, and so many of them, and the majority of the rabble could probably easily and happily attest to this.
A man in dark grey- with hair and eyebrows and a suit that all match one another- is the only one paying the group any real attention, as he stands apart from it, ignoring all conversation in favour of watching it instead. Compared to the rest of the crowd of historical celebrities, the man with the grey suit rather fades into the background (despite the jazzy pink tie that he picked out especially for the occasion), and is therefore largely ignored as he loudly clears his throat. After a few seconds of trying in vain to catch the rabble's attention, he disappears into the crowd and returns with a group of Vikings. They hoist him up into the air, which earns him a few stares, and then he spreads his hands wide, wobbling, which earns him a few more.
"Excuse me!!" he shouts. "Can I have your attention please?" This largely manages to hush everybody, and even Shakespeare stops talking when Queen Victoria tells him to mind his manners. Bob Hale, who is quite good at shouting but unused to shouting at anything other then a camera crew, is immensely grateful for the relative silence. He's grateful for the Vikings who are holding him up, too, although he is slightly afraid of what they might do to him once they put him down. Worried, he claps briskly to return his thought to the task at hand. "Okay Everybody!" he begins, loudly. "Thank you all for allowing us to pull you out of the Annuls of History. I know there have been some problems, re: the dressing rooms-"
"More waiting around for my father!"
"I was promised a bath of asses milk!"
"-and the refreshments-"
"My tailor has thimbles larger than those tubs of ice cream!"
"-but we were working to a budget. And the kids loved it! That's what really matters. So as a little thank-you, you all to explore London! Take in the sights! Examine the culture! Go shopping!" Bob cries, in an effort to drum up enthusiasm. "But not for long! Because you've only got the rest of the day. And please do pick a buddy in case you get lost," he says, but is unsure as to whether or not the request sinks in, as he's being slowly lowered to the ground. "You've got until midnight to make your way back here, or the coach leaves without you!" he manages, rather desperately, before disappearing.
Towards the back of the crowd, Mozart and Beethoven stand quietly, side by side.
"What did he say?"
"He said we have until midnight to get back here, or the coach leaves without us."
"Back here by midnight! Or the coach leaves without us!" Mozart yells, growing impatient.
"One coach? For all of us?" asks Beethoven, mystified. "How will we all fit?"
That's the strangest thing? Thinks Mozart. The strangest thing about this situation is the size of the coach, and not the prospect of sharing it with kings and queens from every age and corner of the world? Mozart shoots a sceptical sideways glance at the other man, but doesn't bother speaking his mind. "I've no idea," he says, while shrugging theatrically to get his point across.
"How many horses will be pulling it? The very idea boggles the mind," says Beethoven, largely to himself, with a bemused smile. People file away, and the air around them begins to fill with excited murmuring, and swoops and flashes of velvet, fur, gold. Beethoven continues to stare thoughtfully into space, with dark, calculating, delighted eyes. Mozart sighs, and then takes him by the arm.
"Come on," he says. "I'm not wasting what's left of the day by waiting around for you."
"Do you know where you are going?" asks Beethoven, as they amble along the edge of the great swathe of green. Signs tell Mozart that it's Hyde Park, and it's certainly quite pretty, but he's seen trees and grass before, when he was alive, and he knows that twenty-first century London holds an lot more than parks. He knows that it holds great buildings, the likes of which he's never seen before, and shops filled with wild and beautiful clothes and trinkets, and wonderful, alien music. There are things here to kindle the imagination, overwhelm the senses, and boggle the mind. Truthfully, though, he's not sure of where to find them all.
"No," he admits, loudly.
"Well, wherever it is we are going, the views on the way are quite lovely."
"They're quite boring," Mozart blusters, because who wants to spend an afternoon in a garden without any pretty paths or neatly trimmed hedgerows? The flowers here are all higgledy-piggledy- not even in proper beds. There are dandelions in the grass, for God's sake.
Mozart likes the really special things in life, though he's not surprised that Beethoven fancies tramping around in the weeds- he's not even wearing a wig. And the clothes he wears are so dull and solemn- I wouldn't wear clothes that dark even to a funeral, thinks Mozart, and then he grimaces because he's always thought it was bad luck to dwell on things of that nature. But it's hard not to, of course, when one has died. And, particularly when the cause of one's death remains speculated about, it's quite understandably hard to find closure.
"Don't knock it," says Beethoven- referring, of course, to the park. "Perhaps if you'd gone for more walks you'd look less like a baby bird."
"Excuse me! You can't-! Hang on," says Mozart, slowly bringing a hand to the other man's head. "Is this...? A leaf. You have a leaf in your hair!" he wails despairingly, pulling the thing out and holding it up to see. "Don't you care at all what you look like?" Then, quite without warning, Mozart sets about trying to smooth down the other man's wild hair. He rummages around in his pocket and pulls out a silk handkerchief, just about managing tie a low pony tail with it. When he's done, he pulls back, frowning, because the other man doesn't really come across any better for it. At least it looks like he's made an effort now, though. "I said, don't you care at all what you look like?" asks Mozart, ignoring the way the other man's eyebrows arch sceptically.
"Not especially, no," says Beethoven, and then, catching the other by surprise, knocks the heavy white wig clean off of Mozart's head. It falls to the pavement in a haze of powder, knocking the little blue bow askew, and Mozart stoops to pick it back up with near breakneck speed.
"Why would you do that?" he crows, trying to dust it off and neaten it up. His blonde hair- his real hair- stands up at angles around his head, and he seems to know this, as, frantically, he tries to neaten that too. His eyes are glassy and there's a pink tinge to his face as he pulls the hairpiece back on.
"I'm sorry," says Beethoven, sheepishly. "I'm only teasing. I just think you should loosen up a bit, you know? You're so highly strung."
"I suppose you're right. I guess I don't need this now, anyway. Nobody can even see us any more," Mozart says, sniffing, and pulling off the heavy wig once and for all. He shoves it unceremoniously under one arm. "Though I bet I look an absolute disgrace," he frets, patting at his fine, fair hair. Beethoven watches as he fusses and preens. The jewel-like threads of Mozart's clothes glitter in the pale light, giving him the air of a bird with ruffled feathers, and, indeed, being so small and thin it seems as though he could quite easily be carried away on a strong breeze. Beethoven has always thought this.
"You look fine," he says. "Leave yourself alone."
"Yes... thank you," says Mozart, slowing. He looks pleased, and seems to have taken this as a compliment. "I say, it's a shame we never met before, isn't it?" Mozart yells with a smile.
They have met before. Twice, in fact, and both instances undeniably shaped Ludwig as a person.
He remembers vividly the journey to Vienna, made on a borrowed horse. He had been young, and nervous, having been groomed and thoroughly prepared by Neef- his teacher, and friend- for the trip, which was the be the start of his real musical education. Being so young, he had been uncertain of his musical prowess. Yes, he understood that he possessed some degree of proficiency with regards to the one thing in life he felt a true calling towards- that was music- but so many people insisted that what he had was something more than mere proficiency- a raw and sparkling talent. To a plain and somewhat awkward youth, this was a difficult concept to grasp. The people around him, however, had been so sure that something special was germinating inside of him that they'd urged him to seek out Mozart, in the hopes that the great composer would see that germ of talent and encourage it to grow.
And then, before he knew quite what was happening, the young Beethoven was riding all the way to Vienna with a nervy stomach and a sore backside, on a horse that didn't like him much, to a land full of strangers, in the hopes of impressing his hero. And there was nothing to do on that lonely journey but worry, and think of the music he might play, and wonder what the meeting with that amazing man would be like, and think of all the ways that it might go horribly wrong.
Indeed, that was all he could think of even when he'd finally reached Vienna, and when he'd found affordable lodgings, when he'd woken in the morning, when he'd found Mozart's apartment and had sat hesitantly at his piano. The problem he had, while sitting before the expanse of ivory, waiting for himself to begin, was not that the room was full of rudely murmuring strangers- (behind the room separator, at least), nor was it the fact that he had been been shown to his seat by Mozart- to Beethoven, the greatest living musician in the world- without having had the chance to express his admiration, or indeed, even his thanks for the opportunity. The real problem was that here, in this strange, beautiful room, in a strange and beautiful town, he felt exactly like what he really was- a plain and inexperienced young nobody.
Mozart hovered on the edge of the day bed closest to the piano, and though they were very close to one another, the small man paid no attention to Beethoven or to the rest of his surroundings- staring instead, with wide, worried eyes, into nothingness. His mind was clearly elsewhere.
But, still, to be in the same room as this man was inspiring, and Beethoven had to do something with the nervous energy that had built up within him, so he set fingers to keys and finally began to play.
When, after a while, the music roused Mozart from his thoughts, he at first seemed interested, and then impressed, but then bored and disdainful. It wasn't long then before he walked over and laid a hand on Beethoven's shoulder, bringing the music to a grinding, disjointed stop.
"Right!" said Mozart, drawing the young man to his feet and ushering him back towards the door. "Thanks! That was very nice. It's been really nice meeting you, so-"#
"What? Hang on a minute, you can't do this! I've... come all this way, and I've- I've always wanted to-"
"Sorry, but I'm just not interested in hearing something you've spent weeks practising. I could praise all the boys who learn things off by heart and practice for hours on end every day, but that's just not very exciting, is it? I mean, where's the fun in that? So, it was nice of you to come all the way from... well, whatever farm it is you seem to live on... but I'm afraid that-"
"No!" cried Beethoven, at last finding his voice again. "Give me something to play about, and I'll play about it. I'll improvise. I'll play anything for you."
The small man seemed rather bored, but thought for a moment anyway- to humour him, presumably. And then, with a face that betrayed no emotion whatsoever, said,
"Play me a song about arses."
Beethoven thought it might be a joke to make fun of him, or a way to get him to leave- given Mozart's preoccupation with thoughts unknown- but he strode back over to the piano anyway and sat heavily upon the stool. He'd come all the way here and had already been mocked and rejected, so he really had nothing to lose besides what was left of his self-esteem. So he began to think about arses and, slowly, started to play. It took a little while to get used to making music while thinking about something so profane, but when he stole a glance at his one man audience and saw a delighted smile, Beethoven knew that he was finally doing something right.
"Mark that young man," called Mozart, to the people sitting in silence behind the screen. "He will make himself a name in the world!" and elation was all the young Beethoven felt until he finished, breathlessly, with wide and hopeful eyes silently asking the question that he already knew the answer to- what did you think of that, then?
"Well, I'm sorry for what I said before- there's egg all over my face, right now," Mozart blustered, laughing awkwardly. "And I'd just love to mentor you. Uhm, that is to say, I would- if I had the time, or the money, or the room. It's just that I've got a lot on right now. I'm doing another opera, you see. And I've already got little Johan Hummel running around under my feet."
Beethoven couldn't quite believe that he had been made to stand again, had been led to the door again, was having to face this crushing defeat twice in one day. As numbness began to set in, all he could do was look at his ratty shoes- the scuffed leather boots that would never again share the same floor space as those belonging to the man he'd travelled hundreds of miles to meet.
"Oh, but- hey- don't feel too bad about it. You really are very good. So good that you probably don't even need a mentor. Who knows? Some day you might be almost as good as I am!" said Mozart, with enthusiasm. "Nice meeting you!" the little man had said.
And then Beethoven was on the wrong side of the door that is closed in his face, standing on a street in a chaotic, ugly world.
"What's this? Is it a theatre?" asks Mozart, having at last found a part of the city that is less boring than Hyde Park. There are so many lights and buildings and people and vehicles here, though, that he isn't sure what's what any more. Still, he feels it's all very exciting- especially when he begins to see the buildings covered with huge, brightly coloured posters. "I think it is, you know!" he says loudly to Beethoven, hanging on his arm. "Theatres! Come on, we should have a look! See what sort of shows they put on these days!"
"Theatres. Oh, you want to take in a show? I wonder if they have matinees."
"Oh, I should think so-"
"One moment," says Beethoven, as he readjusts his heavy coat sleeve under the other man's grip. Mozart seems embarrassed at having this gesture called to his attention, and laughs nervously as he pulls his hand away.
"Don't know why you want me to take your arm as we walk. Very strange behaviour. You're not a complete invalid."
"Oh, relax. I don't mind that you want to walk like this."
"This is the twenty-first century. Loosen up, nobody cares about it," and then, upon seeing the theatre doors open, "Come on, people are going in," says Beethoven, pointing to the nearest theatre.
"'Priscilla, Queen of the Desert'," Mozart reads, grateful for the change of subject- and it is quite an effective distraction. The billboard is covered in violet sequins that glitter as they shake in the breeze, and the theatre itself has red and gold insides. It looks suitably impressive and interesting. "Sounds like a Greek Tragedy, perhaps? Or a farce?"
After shuffling in with the rest of the queue- both of them standing out like zebras amongst donkeys, but going strangely unnoticed by the herd of chattering twenty-first century people- they wait until the lights dim to find a pair of unoccupied seats. At first they're disappointed to be settling for a place in the stalls, but when they realise that their view of the stage is not obscured by gas lamps or an orchestra, understand that things have indeed changed in the theatre world. Being so close to the action allows Mozart a wonderful view, as though he were sitting in the pit with the musicians, but without having to do any work, and when the show really gets under way he's utterly dazzled. It's all he can do not to cheer and applaud when he sees that glittering wigs, and jewels, and finery have not gone out of fashion, and neither have high spirited songs and dirty jokes. Mozart's grin is threatening to split his face in two, and loud guffaws of delighted laughter threaten to bubble up and out, but beside him Beethoven sits quietly, taking the show in with a straight face, with interest. Mozart feels as though the man is beginning to remind him of his father- whom he loved dearly, obviously, but who was very straight laced and who would have absolutely hated this strange and heavy music- so he goes to great lengths to ignore his partner, despite actually being quite interested in what he thinks.
The men on stage shimmy about and flirt with one another, pout and mime, and then Mozart begins to feel uncomfortable. At first he thinks the talking about love between men is a joke, like the costumes, and then he realises that she show is as much pathos as it is comedy, and wonders if he is reading meaning into things that should be interpreted differently.
He's shocked, then, because these things happen, but they aren't spoken about- and they certainly aren't set to music- at least, not in ninteenth century Vienna. Mozart steals a glance at the solemn man beside him, expecting to see an equal amount of embarrassment and uncertainty on his face. Perhaps then they can leave without having to form difficult opinions, he thinks, but it's too dark to really see. It looks as though Beethoven is simply watching, quietly, so Mozart continues to watch too. Threads of uneasiness knot in his stomach. He does his best not to examine them- to just leave them be- so he watches with as much objectivity as he can muster.
Mozart isn't at all sure how he's ended up in another park. Yes, it is very pretty, but it's just not really what he wants. On the other hand, he had wanted to take in a show, but that had ended in an awkward, silent walk to God-knew-where-he-was when it had finished. And now he's sitting by himself on the grass- which is almost definitely staining his powder blue breeches- because there are no unoccupied benches. He doesn't even know where the other man has gone. He'd said 'I'll be back in one moment. Stay right where you are', and then had simply left, and now Mozart is on his own, reflecting upon how rude it is to leave one's travelling companion unaccompanied-
"Oh! Hello," speaks a man with a sing-song voice. When Mozart lifts his head to see who is addressing him- with a reasonable degree of embarrassment at being spotted sitting alone on the grass- he sees a rather smug looking man with a goatee and a brown leather doublet, who rests his weight on one hip in such a way as to aim his codpiece straight at Mozart's face. "You're Mozart, aren't you? Wolfgang Amadeus?"
"Ye-es, I am," says Mozart, rather coldly.
"I'm Shakespeare! It's so nice to meet you properly- you know, one genius to another," says the man, dropping cross-legged to the floor. He holds a ridiculously limp-wristed hand out for shaking, and Mozart takes it, amused and warming to the man slightly. "Weren't you hanging about with Beethoven? Where did he get to?"
"I've no idea," says Mozart, wide eyed and eager to articulate his outrage at being left alone. "He just told me to wait here for him! By myself! Can you believe that?"
"Why do you care so much?" says Shakespeare teasingly, with eyebrows raised, and suddenly Mozart feels like a boy again, like when he used to gossip with his sister.
"Well, I don't. At all. It's just very-"
"You should care," says Shakespeare, as he begins to rummage around in a leather pocket. "He is SO into you."
"Beethoven. He's really into you. I can tell," the man mumbles around the long, white stick he's put into his mouth. "Do you want one?" he asks, holding out a small box of them. "They're cigarettes- tobacco. I, uhm. Well, I acquired them from a rather burly looking gentleman. He thought his friend had taken them. It started a really good argument," he says, laughing. "No, but Beethoven is really into you," says Shakespeare, as he lights both cigarettes with a match, and then passes one over.
"You must stop saying that," Mozart replies, as be breathes out a puff of tobacco smoke that is much smoother than the pipe tobacco he's used to. "It's not... it's not proper, is it?"
"Who cares if it is or it isn't? Besides, anything goes, these days. Or, rather, this day. We only have one here, you know, before we go back to wherever it is we came from," Shakespeare says airily.
"Still," breathes Mozart, taken aback, "You're making some pretty big assumptions there, pal."
Shakespeare either doesn't notice or doesn't care about the other man's sudden turn towards nervousness. He's leaning back on his arms with his head angled high, clearly preoccupied with making himself look as attractive as possible.
"I say, could I have those?" asks Mozart, nodding to the cigarettes. "I doubt I'd make a good pickpocket," and then they're being thrown at him disinterestedly.
"I had a fling with a colleague of mine, you know. Christopher. Shame he couldn't be here, actually- but then, my plays always were better, I'm afraid," says Shakespeare, with a very poor approximation of modesty.
Mozart thinks about this, finishing his cigarette, and thinks that the grass under his hand isn't so bad, now that he has someone to talk to. He supposes he could be seen doing far worse things than sitting on the ground.
Soon Beethoven returns, and in each hand he holds a dripping white cone topped with a log-like brown stick. Shakespeare excuses himself as he sits down on the ground, and when the man has gone, Beethoven hands Mozart one of the treats he has procured.
"What is it?"
"It is a ninety-nine. With a flake," he says, and he stares intently at it with dark eyes. "It's delicious," he says, and the he licks it. Mozart does the same, and finds that he is absolutely right.
To tell the truth, Mozart had entertained thoughts of that nature before, and had very nearly acted upon them.
It had been in Vienna- he can't recall the year,- but it was definitely March, and the tavern had been warmer than the air and atmosphere outside, and so much more welcoming. He had been spending a good deal of time there, actually- more than usual- so much time, in fact, that he could go alone but still have friends to talk to while he was there. He knew nobody by name, so instead ruminated upon their character and then invented handles of his own for them- the scrawny barmaid with the blue eyes and the red nose, and an expression reminiscent of one you'd pull when smelling sour milk, had been dubbed the Duchess Smackarse. The grizzly old man with the milky eye and the beard like horse hair was named the Baron von Pleasurepisser. The smug, plump young man who thought he was much cleverer than he really was- and smelled like a tannery, to boot- was called Prince Potbelly von Pigtail. It was a little cruel, perhaps, but it brought a smile to his face, and they would never know. Besides that, they were not real friends by any stretch of the word. The kind of people one meets and socialises with solely in taverns are never so much friends as they are companions in misery, and while Mozart had an attractive wife, a blooming career, and a good sense of humour, he was certainly miserable.
His recent marriage to Constanze had been forced, and though he did love her, he was plagued by almost as many adulterous urges as she was. He had received the libretto for 'Don Giovanni' months ago and had barely even begun to compose for it, despite what he told the Emperor and the damned Italian court composer. The words sat heavily in his mind- brilliant, but not inspiring him- and with every day thinking about them, but being unable to write musical accompaniment- they grew staler and heavier still.
His poor mother was ill, and though he wasn't sure what the cause of her sickness was, he knew that it was serious. With every letter to her he'd write a cheeky little verse or two, but it had been a while since she had been able to muster the wit to send him one back.
And he had almost no money left to speak of, he reminded himself, as he called for another drink. When he'd handed his money over to the Duchess Smackarse, he walked over to where Prince Potbelly Von Pigtail was singing loudly with his friends and proceeded to get as drunk as he could.
It was much later, when all the world seemed to buzz and crackle as joyfully as the fire in the grate, that he noticed the young man sitting alone in a corner. Mozart would never break tradition by going over to asking for his name, so instead thought of him as Lord Backbottom Embracer, and took note of his dark eyes, his tightly clenched jaw, the hair like bouncing skeins of chestnut silk. He was young and brooding, and people who brooded tended to be quite interesting, and Mozart felt an attraction that may or may not have been brought about by beer.
A small part of him- the part that knew he was drunk- told him that a man like him couldn't go around picking up boys, but then thought that the people he'd been spending his time with all idolised the Greeks and Romans and shouldn't be entitled to a double standard, and then made up his mind. He swaggered over, thinking back to his first opera- of Apollo and Hyacinth. The real story of Apollo and Hyacinth was nothing at all like the sappy and contrived libretto he'd composed for- the real story was as bold as Mozart was when he sat down heavily beside that handsome young man, and said with a thick slur,
"Hello," and watched the tight cupid's bow form words and spit them back.
"What are you doing here- talking to me?"
"You look so downhearted that I find the sight of you almost offensive."
"I- well of course I am!"
"You've no business being. You have good beer, good looks, and very good company," said Mozart, with a wink, happily remembering Don Giovanni, who went to bed with everyone.
"I don't want to talk to you."
"You don't even know me!" said Mozart, with a laugh, not noticing the boy's look of slack-jawed disbelief.
"I wish I didn't know you," the boy laughs, though there's no humour in his words. He turns his face to the table.
"No!" cries Mozart. "Don't do that! Look at me. Come on," he says with the words of the libretto ringing in his head. "'Your lips are sweeter than honey," 'your heart is sweetness itself: Be not cruel my angel, I beg for-' "'-one glance, my beloved!"
It's when Mozart covers the boy's hand with his own, and tries to rest a weighted head on his shoulder, that he stands, angrily, and leaves. As the sound of the inn door slamming, and the gust of cold air, reach Mozart, he rests his arms on the table and his head on top of those, crushed by sadness and drunken desperation.
"What did you think of the show?" Asks Mozart, somewhat quietly, because he knows that it's probably best not to ask but he just can't help himself. He has always had poor impulse control.
"Oh- The matinee!" he clarifies, with his voiced raised. "What did you make of it?"
Beethoven stares at the trees, and his face is still- not betraying the storm of thoughts likely to be on the rampage in his mind. That's the way he is- Mozart can tell. He can tell that Beethoven is just as thoughtful as he is, except where the other man keeps his thoughts safely locked in his head, Mozart speaks them before he'd done forming them. Beethoven wipes an ice cream cone crumb from the corner of his mouth.
"It was fairly enjoyable."
"But... what did you think of the subject?"
The man seems to mull this over for a little while, as Mozart tries not to look as anxious, and desperate to know, as he really is. "I always enjoy stories about the struggles of other people. And I like a happy ending."
It seems that Beethoven isn't going to be the first to express his opinion of what they both know is the real issue, and Mozart scowls, tearing at blades of grass. He pulls out another cigarette, wishing it were his pipe.
"Wow," croons Beethoven, as they come to a stop, perhaps trying to regain some lost composure. "Tunnels underground, full of people," he says with a smile- and as he smiles so rarely, each one is sincere- because it's a joy to see so many people blustering around each other so tolerantly. It's a horrible place really- the tunnel is lined with slick tiles and the flowery smell of rising damp. It's dirty and small, but it is full of life, and it is used by every class of person. The cold, rough people with long, battered coats and holes in their gloves share it with the youths in tight trousers, as colourful as birds in a zoo, who walk amongst the smart men in neat, black woollen suits, with white shirts and expensive haircuts. The tunnel is dirty and small, but it is full of life, and it is used by every class of person, indiscriminately. It's something Beethoven loves to see. The chill of the place is seeping into his hands, so he stuffs them into his pockets, but does so happily.
"Look at that," Mozart coos into his ear. Beethoven isn't sure hat he's supposed to be looking at specifically, as everything is worthy of attention. Soon the smaller man is on the prowl, creeping off towards his target as though he's capable of being caught looking.
A young woman is standing with a group of her peers, though her dress sets her apart from the rest. She's corseted and laden with bows and layered skirts, looking something like a member of twenty-first century London and something like a lady from nineteenth century Europe. The heavy black skirt shows her long, bare legs, and though she doesn't wear a wig, her hair is styled into a dark bouffant with long curls. There is a silver ring through her nose, and she hides her face behind a fan. Mozart is clearly enchanted. He sneaks around the girl as though he's playing some sort of parlour game, and it strikes Beethoven then that it's quite charming- the way the man acts, and has always acted, with the high spirits of a young boy.
Beethoven laughs a hearty, snorting laugh when the man falls to the floor, rolls onto his back, and wolf-whistles as he stares up her skirts.
Later, when they're bored of hopping on and off of the huge steel trains, they amble down more tubular tunnels, slip and slide down moving metal staircases, and ricochet merrily through the solid crowd of commuters. They stumble into something like a clearing, a junction of stairways, when Mozart comes to a dead stop and begins to wince.
"What are you doing?"
"Shh!" spits Mozart, and he angles his head, listening. Beethoven can hear nothing but the steady droning echo of the crowd, and a faint, constant screech. He counts himself lucky to hear even that, though, so isn't too put out.
At first tentatively, and then with a spring in his step, Mozart ducks and weaves through people, and Beethoven follows him, until they stand before a small group of musicians. One plays a clarinet. The others have abandoned their instruments- violins, viola, cello- to stand aside, eating sandwiches and drinking from steaming plastic cups. They nod in thanks as coins are thrown to them. Mozart looks to Beethoven, and is effervescent with excitement, so, curiously, the older man walks to the clarinet and puts his ear there, to hear.
It's Mozart's quintet for clarinet and strings- the third movement. The strings should be playing along, Beethoven notes, but this movement is really all about the clarinet's solo.
"Poco!" yells Mozart, put out and wanting to conduct, hopping around the man. "Gradually! Build it up!" but then the reedy notes come to a slow stop, and the instrument is rested in its case as its owner walks towards his friends and their lunches.
Beethoven picks up a violin, quickly checks the tuning, and begins to play the fourth movement as best he can- which is, admittedly, rather well. It stops the loud and overdramatic sighs of disappointment emanating from Mozart, and encourages a slow spreading smile on his face. Beethoven needs to watch his fingers as, obviously, he can't hear himself play very well, but every once in a while he steals an upward glance at the other man. It's impossible not to draw comparisons to that day in Vienna, years ago, and while he's pretty sure that he's totally over that, he has to push away the beginnings of a nostalgic nervousness nevertheless. It should be irritating, but every time he looks up to the other man and sees an expression of absolute pleasure, one so intense as to be absolutely genuine, Beethoven carries on bowing, and feels no ill will of any kind.
The buskers pause and listen curiously, hearing the music's ghostly echo as it caresses the tiles, but not quite knowing where it's coming from. Beethoven smiles too, then, as he tries not to laugh.
"Poco!" yells Mozart. "Poco a poco!" he yells, putting on a stiff-backed disapproval that reeks of self parody.
"I don't need a conductor, Wolfie," counters Beethoven. "I am the greatest composer that has ever lived!"
"Where are we now, I wonder?" asks Mozart loudly, with an arm entwined comfortably with his travelling companion's.
He feels as though he definitely should know, because the landmark before them- a castle made of cold, grey stone, surrounded by grass (more bloody parks, thinks Mozart)- dominates the whole area, completely.
"You're on your way to the Tower of London!" a voice crows, and the two men jump a mile between them before they turn to address who's spoken. When they see Death standing before them, Mozart starts again, and then fumbles with his arms, pulling away and crossing himself. "Oh, stop that," Death chides. "You've already died once, it's not going to happen again."
"It's... nice to see you again," says Beethoven, with his voice wavering with uncertainty.
"Oh! Ho ho, always were very polite, weren't you?" says Death. Mozart grimaces as the jaw bone clatters and grinds against the bare skull. A dusty white hand is held out, and, tentatively, Beethoven shakes it. Mozart eyes it warily. He doesn't take it, and after a little while Death drops it to his side again, with another laugh. "Come on then, let's carry on going to where we're headed," he says, and the three of them walk in step together along the pavement.
Still rather unsettled, Mozart doesn't link arms with his friend again. Instead, he preens his hair with long, splayed fingers, and then links both hands behind his back, feeling ignored and bitter as the other two speak to one another. Luckily, the the pompous skeleton speaks so loudly that Beethoven doesn't need to tell him to speak up- the deaf old thing.
"Dare I ask why you're visiting the Tower of London?"
"Do you even need to ask? There have been some astoundingly stupid deaths at the tower!" says Death, and Mozart can't help but look across to Beethoven then, just to make sure he's not the only one having to brace himself for the inevitable onslaught of bad taste.
"Good old Guy Fawkes might be skulking around there as a ghost. Did you know, they locked him up there and sentenced him to death by being hung, drawn and quartered. He wasn't having any of that though- not old Guy! So he tried to escape by jumping off the gallows before they put the rope on him, but he fell all that way and broke his neck! Died on the spot!
"And-! And Edward the fifth and his little brother were sent to the tower when their father died. Their uncle sent them there for their own protection, apparently, but then he claimed the throne and had them killed!"
"I believe that's misinformation, actually. Richard the Third sang a little song about it," says Beethoven, though he is completely ignored.
"And Edward the Second was- stop me if you've already heard this- was sandwiched between two tables, and then had a red hot poker shoved up his bum! It was meant to be some sort of a joke, you see, because he was more interested in spending time with his boyfriends than with his wife!"
It's a good job that they've almost reached their destination, because neither Mozart or Beethoven quite know how to respond to that, and the huge grey castle up ahead seems even more foreboding when paired with that insidious, choking laughter. It's still ringing in their ears when they come to a stop on the busy path.
"Well, it was lovely chatting to the both of you again! I'll be-"
"Wait a second!" cries Mozart. "Can I ask you something?" Bracing himself, he claps his hand on Death's shoulder, and feels the bones through the rough cloth. "In private?"
"Ooh!" Death coos, rather obnoxiously. "Go on then," he says, and then, impossibly, he winks, and they turn their Backs to Beethoven. "What is it?" asks Death in a stage whisper.
Mozart hesitates, wondering what's possessed him. He wonders if, perhaps, it's best not to ask, but then remembers that this question has been unanswered and speculated about for a couple of hundred years, and the lack of closure hangs over him, constantly. So he throws caution to the wind.
"How did I die?"
"How did-? You know how you died, you silly thing! It was fever! Which, really, is quite a silly way to go," says Death, chuckling, though the laughter seems slightly forced.
"No!" says Mozart loudly, angry at having his death laughed at. "Was I poisoned? I must know if somebody killed me! I know you know. Who else would know but you?"
"Cor, isn't it enough for you to be more or less immortal? You get to be incredibly famous in life, and then, because you're incredibly famous in death, you get to exist in the Annuls of History and mingle about with all the other famous figures! And on top of that, you got picked out of thousands of historical figures to come on this lovely little day trip!" Death booms, no longer humouring Mozart's request for privacy. "You're a very ungrateful little man!"
Mozart, alarmed at being put down so harshly- and still somewhat afraid of death incarnate- takes a step backwards. He's not really sure what to do or say, which is a fairly new experience for him.
"It's just that... well, dying is quite an important moment in a person's life," Mozart squeaks. "You sort of want to be sure of the facts," and hearing this, Death wilts slightly.
"Okay, okay," Death sighs, and to his merit, he seems almost sympathetic. "It's just that I can't actually tell you. I'm not allowed- Boss's orders. Bit of a sore point, if you must know. "
"Really?" breathes Mozart. "I'd never have guessed." Death laughs at this, which is encouraging. "May I ask-?" begins Mozart, boldly. "Who's... Who is The Boss? Perhaps I can ask him."
"Trade secret," Death laughs, and he taps the space where a nose should be. Then he turns, waves, and walks off toward the tower, leaving Mozart crestfallen.
"Have you finished?" Asks Beethoven, not waiting for an answer as he turns around to face the other man again. "Whoa, Wolfie! What's the matter with you?" he exclaims, genuinely concerned. The pained look on Mozart's face is so uncommon as to be almost obscene, and he dearly wishes he had been able to eavesdrop on the conversation that had made the man look this way. When Beethoven tries to pat him in the shoulder he pulls away tetchily, and produces the packet of cigarettes.
"I'm fine," he says, lighting one. "Now, I'd like something to drink. Lots of something to drink."
It being early evening, the bar is beginning to fill up somewhat. Beethoven enjoys watching this from the plush booth in which he sits- the way in which the large, empty space begins to seethe and undulate with life. And it certainly is a beautiful space- full of dark wood and fabric, posters pasted so closely together that the blue walls are scarcely visible, and furniture that, though almost comically mismatched, is all equal in terms of its high quality. It had been so pretty and interesting that it had caught Mozart's eye from outside, and playing the part of the greedy magpie- as he usually did, it seems- he had insisted on going in.
Mozart arrives with more drinks. Neither man is sure what is in the two glasses, as they've been taking it in turns to wait until something is served and set aside on the bar before quickly stealing it. They can't, of course, order drinks themselves because they can't be seen. And, even if they could, neither has any money.
Mozart takes a small sip from his glass as he watches the customer at the bar look around and argue with the staff.
"That is disgusting," he moans, and then sniffs the bubbling brown liquid. "I think it's whiskey. Never have liked whiskey."
"This one has gin. Would you like to switch?"
"Please. Oh!" cries Mozart loudly, eyes suddenly wide and bright. "You- I can't- you won't believe this! They've opened another room, and there's a piano in it!"
"Where?" asks Beethoven, and then, "Should we play?"
"They'll think they have ghosts!" says Mozart, clearly thinking it an excellent idea. With this he stands, glass in hand, and and prances off, with Beethoven trailing behind him.
The second room's centrepiece is the piano, certainly, but there are all kinds of other instruments- drums, and guitars, and brasses- surrounded by tables, and while Beethoven doubts the sound will carry very well here, it's clearly a place for music to be made, and loved.
Mozart runs ahead and drags a high backed chair to the piano. He then tries a few notes and pulls a face that expresses his displeasure at the tuning, but he sits down at it anyway, pulling the tails of his long, blue coat out behind him over the stool.
Beethoven takes a seat in the high backed chair when Mozart gestures for him to, and when it's clear they're both settled the slim fingers begin to play. After a few seconds Mozart looks back, as if for approval. When he sees that Beethoven is making a real effort to concentrate, is straining to hear, he frowns apologetically and then begins to tap the keys with more force.
It's the sonata in A major- the Turkish March- Beethoven realises, played with far more vigour than it ever should be, by Mozart himself, just for him. And he knows that it must absolutely kill the other man to thrash the notes out loudly enough for deaf ears to hear them. The force makes the man's blonde hair bob about, cheeks flush through the powder on his face, his pink lips part and twitch at the corners handsomely.
When Beethoven notices that he's sitting rigidly and gripping his knees he knows that he has to do something to stop himself from acting like an excited teenager, so he moves over and joins Mozart at the piano. Then they're both feverishly hammering away at the thing, turning the sonata into a boastful and competitive duet, with Beethoven acting as a left hand, playing as fast as he can for the fun of it, and Mozart acting as the right, matching the speed flawlessly, and adding in far too many notes. He doesn't watch his hands even at this violent tempo, instead seeming to focus most of his attention on Beethoven; even when he begins to grow tired from the exertion he carries on, with one hand instead of two, while resting his head soundly on Beethoven's bobbing shoulder, laughing.
The room's acoustics are indeed terrible, but the music is beautiful, even when the piano falls silent.
The pub is rattling with sound as thick as treacle, with simple, vibrating bass, when Cleopatra enters. She stumbles, frustratingly invisible, against dancing men- announcing her presence as more of a poltergeist than a Pharaoh- and leaves confusion and anger in her wake, much as she did when she was alive.
Pulling a face, she comes to the conclusion that she has no idea were the toilets are in this poky little establishment- which is a bummer, really, as she's only come here to re-touch her lipstick.
She's not having a particularly good time, if she's honest. On the one hand, the night life here in twenty-first century London is fabulous, and going about unseen all day means she's been able to walk off with all kinds of expensive clothes and jewellery. But, on the flip side, the English weather is frightfully cold (even in Summer, apparently), she'd lost Charles II three clubs ago, and none of the hunky boys she flirts with can flirt with her back.
The handsome young musician flirts with her back, though. True, Cleopatra usually goes for the bronzed, the athletic, or the rich- or all three at once- but when needs must, a little drunk man in make up will do. He's a musician, she thinks- they were never formally introduced earlier on because she hadn't cared enough to ask, and he did begin to boastfully tell her all about himself, but she'd gotten distracted by a handsome man in very tight trousers, so he'd pulled her in for a kiss. He reeked of alcohol, but she'd kissed him back (sadly lacking any other partners to choose from), until he started grabbing at her waist without any finesse, and then she'd peeled herself off him and hidden in the gloom.
She pushes her way back towards the door and then smooths her dark wig down, deciding that she might be able to find Charles if she retraces her steps. She's caught quite by surprise, though, by eyes trained on her. A man with wild hair and wide, hunched shoulders stares at her. An unbridled, venomous fury is aimed Cleopatra's way, until the man sees the blonde she'd rejected just moments ago, and gets up to pull him back to the booth the men had been sharing. Shrugging, she slips out into the street, glad to be gone. That whole situation would have been a nightmare, anyway; you never get far when the one you're after has an overprotective friend. Not without a wingman, at least- and hers is probably still in the burlesque bar up the street.
As her new high heeled shoes carry her off into the night, she pinches a pert bottom and the laughs when the man it belongs to spins around in confusion, searching for the perpetrator.
It's dark, being almost eleven at night, and the stretch of grass before the Royal Albert Hall is empty, save for Mozart and Beethoven, who sit there together. The night is mild and balmy, quiet, and cloudless, and moonlight plays grandly across cloth and skin. Mozart pulls out a cigarette and strikes a match to light it, glad that there is no breeze, and after dispelling a mouthful of smoke, lies back on the ground.
"Things are... much more complicated this way, aren't they?" he says, as arabesque plumes of white curl out of his mouth.
Beethoven lies back to join him. It does wonders for his back, which has become horribly knotted from walking Mozart back to the group meeting place, and jogging him around to sober him up on the way. That had worked, at least; the man had been far less drunk than he seemed. "What do you mean?" he asks.
"We were free to do absolutely anything today, in this time, and I had so much choice that I didn't know what I wanted any more."
It's disturbing to see the man so still and lifeless, when just moments ago he was as bright and impassioned as always; looking at him in this moment is like looking at the ruins of Rome. "Too much choice can sometimes be suffocating," Beethoven agrees, doing his best to sound supportive, as his own friends used to do for him when his mood was overly solemn and introspective, as Mozart's is now. "What, then, did you want before?"
The pair lapse into silence again. When Mozart finally answers, his voice is surprisingly airy, with only a hint of its previous tone, and it's as jarring as a cockcrow. The words he speaks are unexpected, but even if they weren't they would still have inspired within Beethoven the same tempest of emotion.
"I very nearly had a fling once, in Vienna. With a young man."
"I know," says Beethoven, with his voice a low rumble, and Mozart pulls himself up to rest on one arm with a comically twisted expression of confusion.
"What?" he manages.
"Are you hard of hearing? I said 'I know'!"
"Well, how would you know?"
"Because it was me," Beethoven says, slowly, and then "You're thicker than apple strudel, sometimes. You always were, actually," he mutters, ignoring Mozart and the look of shocked disapproval that is surely showing on his face. "It was so hard to say no to you- I would have done anything for you, once. But then you rejected me- twice, in the space of half an hour- and it changed the way I thought of you," says Beethoven, remembering that night, in the tavern. "And for years, I wondered if I had done the right thing; a part of me still desperately wanted to please you, you know. I only carried on composing at all to be more like you. And I almost regretted turning you down," he says, in the familiarly matter-of-fact way that doesn't seem to quite fit with the tone of conversation. Mozart is, understandably, both intrigued and reeling with quiet mortification- a feeling which only intensifies as Beethoven begins to speak again. "But then I saw 'Don Giovanni' and realised you were just quoting words that somebody else had written. Which was insulting. To say the least."
"I... don't really know what to say."
"Strange. You usually always have something to say."
"What about- 'Be not cruel, my angel- I beg for one glance, beloved!'" Beethoven intones, jokingly, but regrets it in an instant when Mozart rolls into a sitting position and drops his head to his hands, distraught.
"Oh God," he mutters. "Oh, God, I knew that it was wrong to try to follow through with urges like those. I never tried again after you rejected me- though I wanted to sometimes- and now I know I was right to! Damn the time and the place- I should never have said that to you!"
Beethoven pulls himself upright to lay an arm across the hunched shoulders, and feels almost sick with sympathy. In life, he'd been no stranger to feelings like these- of confusion and dissonance, regret and terrible guilt- but he had music to trap these feelings in, like wasps in tree sap. This poor man, on the other hand, never realised that he could do that- and look at where it's gotten him.
The downside of this is that because Beethoven was always the one seeking solace and very rarely the one giving it in return, he's never been very good at comforting others. Not knowing how else to help, he ruffles the other's fine, fair hair.
"You're very superstitious. It's like you want to see everything as a bad omen, man," Beethoven drawls, and though by rights he should be angry, his voice is once again as level and pleasant as always. He places a broad hand on the back of Mozart's neck and leaves it there to settle, reassuringly, as he begins to speak again. "'Oh God, how unhappy he made me! But, though betrayed and abandoned, I still know pity for him when I feel my suffering'."
"Why are you still quoting 'Don Giovanni'?" asks Mozart, and while he's still upset enough to have his head between his knees, he remembers to keep his voice raised.
"You're quite clueless sometimes, aren't you?" says Beethoven, though he still means well. "It doesn't bother me any more, buddy. Sure, it bummed me out for a while, but I was seventeen! A pimple sends one into a depression when one is seventeen."
"You were seventeen?" Mozart asks, raising his head just a fraction.
"My God, I was twice your age."
"Eh," grunts Beethoven, shrugging; he doesn't care. "You're not any more."
Mozart looks up then, and finds that they're very close. The hand on his neck applies gentle force, and it's hard to find a reason to resist.
"What are you doing?"
"Trying to kiss you."
"What if I tell you get lost?"
"You've already rejected me twice. I think I can get over it."
Mozart doesn't tell him to get lost. Instead, he closes the distance between them, pressing their lips together. He lets Beethoven spread hands about his waist with a firmness that should be irritating, but somehow manages to be nothing but perfect, because this man has experienced all of his flaws in quick succession and still, miraculously, wishes to spend time with him. There's no pressure whatsoever, to do anything, and Mozart relaxes into the knowledge that, here, there's no penalty for being unsure, or inexperienced, imperfect, or maverick. He's falling into an embrace that, for this brief moment, is more welcoming than a woman, is sweeter than drink, smoother than tobacco, and more timeless than music. He kisses Ludwig's chapped lips with such quiet joy that when they end up sliding around on the grass, he doesn't even care about staining the knees of his white breeches.
They continue on this way- a rolling, softly shifting mass of muscle and mouths- until it's at least ten past midnight, and a figure pads over to them, carefully tramping down the grass, and interrupts the pastoral scene. The dark curls of the man's wig are mussed in such a way as to suggest that he's had a very good night, and before speaking, he drains the last mouthful of champagne from a large, green bottle. Reluctantly, Mozart untangles himself, and manages to perch himself in a sitting position on his partner's torso. It's got to be him to address the distraction, as Beethoven hasn't even realised there is one.
"What is it?"
"I hate to interrupt a good time," Charles II ventures, dropping the bottle to the ground, and then smiling rakishly. "But the coach is about to leave without you."