Prussia lay on his bed in his basement in Berlin, pillow over his face. He was halfway through a (private) blog post about his trip to Washington, D.C., but it wasn't really helping him sort out his feelings, either about the trip or in general. He didn't know what to think anymore thanks to Denmark and then France, although the resulting scuttlebutt had made it even clearer that secrecy was the way to go. He had never seen the point in coming out, anyway: who cares if you're not dating anyone? He didn't think Brandenburg would much care either about the distinction between and "doesn't" and "can't." France had said that no love was impossible, but Prussia couldn't feel love in the first place, so it didn't seem to apply.
He turned over on his side, and Gilbird cheeped at him. Stretching up, Prussia cupped Gilbird in his hand and brought him down to sit next to him on the bed. "Bet you had a better few days than me, huh?" Gilbird cheeped again and nuzzled into his fingers. The little bird had been worried about him for quite a while, and Prussia was both touched and grateful. Stroking Gilbird's feathers gently, he said, "Love you too, little guy."
Gilbird cheeped again, and a jolt of some kind of enlightenment struck Prussia. He loved Gilbird, and his brother, and his awesome friends, and even some of those endearing losers he lent his expertise at video games to. He'd call those feelings love, and had said as much to their faces, but he never had to Brandenburg.
He used to say as much, in the privacy of his own journal. It hadn't been so long ago when he was too uptight to admit to any feelings aloud, especially such a squishy one as love, but in his heart he'd always loved his close friends and his family. If pressed, he probably would have said he loved Brandenburg the most. But as times had changed and he had changed, he'd become more open with everyone except the person he was supposedly closest to.
He knew now that Brandenburg meant something different when he said "love," but he hadn't said it before that revelation either. Why not?
He was tempted to bury his head in his pillow again.
Something about Vienna always made under his skin itch. Prussia had several theories, but it didn't matter since he didn't come very often. Not unless he was desperate, like now.
The door opened, and Austria raised both his eyebrows, blinking rapidly as if unable to believe his eyes. Well, Prussia didn't believe it either, so that made two of them. Great.
"Hey," Prussia tried simply, adding on a sheepish smile.
"Come in," Austria finally said, probably worried to death his neighbors would see and think him rude for leaving a guest on the doorstep or something. "There is cake," he said, leading Prussia into the sitting room, and Prussia knew better than to turn down something Austria had baked.
"Sounds good." He waited awkwardly just inside the doorway until Austria came back and gave him a look.
"I do not make my guests stand," he said disapprovingly, setting down two slices of cake. "The coffee will take a moment."
Prussia felt a little bad for barging in and then putting Austria to all the trouble of making cake and coffee, but he didn't know how to say so without getting censured again. "Thanks," he said as he drifted to an armchair.
"It's no trouble. I usually give most of what I make to the neighbors, so it's no different sharing it with you."
"You don't entertain much anymore?"
"Not nearly as much as I'd like, no," Austria said primly. "I would offer my skills on commission instead, but there is too much to do for the government to allow for that, I'm afraid."
Prussia frowned. Was he the only one who was good only for being a Nation? Even Austria, who had never been particularly good for anything, had a skill he could use in the regular world.
"The coffee should be done," Austria said, getting up again. He was silent as he came back and prepared the coffee, and nothing about his aura encouraged conversation. Finally, after everything was served, he took a moment to collect himself, then said, "Now we may discuss why you're here."
"It could be a social call," Prussia said, nervousness fluttering in his stomach. Austria gave him a look over his glasses as if to say, "We both know that it's not," so Prussia took a sip and then said, "Does that offer from a few months ago still stand?"
"If it didn't, I shouldn't think I'd have let you in."
"I just-- it's a complicated situation, but you're probably the only one who'd understand all the nuances." Austria waited patiently for him to go on, so Prussia did. "Has West ever explained to you how things are in his house?"
"I know that you live there, but the others have their own homes."
"They do, but they visit Berlin a lot. Sometimes there are three or four there at once. And... it's not exactly harmonious. You know."
"I certainly might," Austria said wryly, "but as you have never gotten along with them, I don't see why it should have become a problem now."
"I used to get along with one of them," Prussia said into his coffee, "and between the two of us, we could just mock the others until we were laughing too hard to be annoyed anymore. I would spend a lot of time visiting him, too. It wasn't so bad."
"And you alienated this person somehow?"
"Yeah. Without him around, it's hard to--" Prussia interrupted himself. "I'm not saying we're at each other's throats or anything. If push came to shove, we'd help each other out, we just don't like each other, you know? West doesn't know, so don't tell him. We all know he doesn't need any more stress, and like you said, it's not like there's anything he could do; we've never liked each other."
Austria's brow wrinkled. "I'm slightly confused. Is this problem to do with your friction with the other States or your estranged ally?"
"The latter," Prussia said. "I could come up with some BS excuse for moving out of West's if it came to that, but that still wouldn't fix things with..."
"Am I meant to pretend this person's identity is a secret?" Austria said, cutting through his cake with his fork to take a bite.
"It's just hard to talk about," Prussia said, wishing he was anywhere but there more and more fervently.
"Yet here you are." Prussia didn't respond, hiding behind eating the cake, so Austria said with a sigh, "What did you do that warrants such a grudge?"
"I don't think it's what I did so much as what I didn't do," Prussia said. "It's a long story, but it comes down to he apparently loves me in a way I don't reciprocate, and we didn't find that out under the best of circumstances."
Austria didn't say anything, and Prussia couldn't read what his silence meant. "I do love him, in my own way, just, I can't--"
"You don't or you can't?" Prussia hated it when Austria was perceptive, even if that's exactly the quality that made him good at giving advice.
"I just don't," Prussia lied.
"Well then," Austria said. "What else is left for you to do?"
The words were like ice water. "What?" he repeated numbly.
"This is just my observation," Austria said matter-of-factly, "but I believe he was under the impression you were each the most important people in each other's lives. It may be cliché of him to attach greater expectations to that kind of relationship, but it's certainly not unexpected. One imagines that if you were going to choose him to fill that role in your life, you would have done so by now. The kindest thing to do in my opinion then is to give him space to readjust your position in his life. It is doubtless the only way your friendship might survive."
The edges of the saucer were digging into his hand. He wondered distantly if he was going to break it.
"Preußen?" Austria asked, sounding slightly concerned. "Surely you don't think it's right to keep him hanging on if there's someone else--"
"There is no one else, and there's not going to be," Prussia said lowly.
"I'm confused again. I thought you said--"
"I can't, okay?" Prussia snarled. "I can't. Are you happy now?"
"I assume that since you lied to me, you lied to him too?"
"No, I don't think so. I shouldn't help you at all after that."
He was right. Prussia let his shoulder's drop, finally giving up. If he was going to keep up this pretense of being normal, then he should take Austria's advice and let Brandenburg go. Hell, he probably should anyway. He wasn't interested in romance or whatever bullshit, and it would only be decent of him to give Brandenburg some space. He put down his cup on the table, ready to retreat, but Austria stopped him.
"I shouldn't help you, but I will." Prussia froze. "What is it exactly you want from him?"
"He's-- he's like coming home." Prussia had never put much stock in having a home, but it made more sense if home was a person.
"If you already know, then what are you waiting for?"
"I don't want-- You're right, I should get out of his way..."
Austria's expression soured as if he thought Prussia particularly slow. "How generous of you, to make his decisions for him."
"He's already told me what he wants from me, and I can't be that," Prussia protested.
"That is not something that should engender feelings of betrayal," Austria countered, "so I can therefore only surmise that you have not told him that he wasn't wrong about his importance to you. I imagine that is what he wants to hear, especially since it is only now that the depth of his feelings for you have come to light."
The idea brought him up short. Brandenburg had implied he'd felt the way he did about Prussia for quite a while, and yet he'd never pushed for anything past the boundaries of the relationship they'd had. Because he was afraid, or because he understood Prussia just as well as Prussia had always thought he did?
"What should I say?" he said pitifully.
"The truth should suffice." The "you idiot" was unspoken.
"Don't close the door!" Prussia threw out both hands as if it could stop Brandenburg from slamming the door in his face.
"We're not doing this on the doorstep," Brandenburg said, eyes narrowed. So he was still angry. Prussia had expected that. He did keep Prussia in his foyer, however, positioning himself in the doorway to the rest of the house as if to stop Prussia from getting in.
Every instinct was screaming at Prussia to leave, not to tell, but he pushed them aside. "If you're going to hate me, I at least want you to hate me for the truth, okay?"
Brandenburg's face was as neutral as ever, but he was listening.
"The reason why I laughed, the reason why I'm always so loud and crude about that kind of stuff is... It's me trying to cover. But I don't have to do that around you. You never asked me to be anyone but who I was. You're my home."
"Oh, am I? You never said."
"I'm telling you now. I can't go back and change things, but, just--" He shoved one of his old journals at Brandenburg. "here. I never intended for anyone to read it, so you can be sure it's the unvarnished truth."
Brandenburg knew very well what Prussia's diaries meant to him and how private he considered them to be. He hesitated in taking the bound volume in hand, probably in deference to so many years of being kept out of them.
It was a page from back when they were still Brandenburg-Prussia, but Prussia had recognized early on how much he valued Brandenburg's company, probably even before he'd gotten over resenting being tied to such a boring guy from the middle of nowhere. He didn't remember all of his diary entries; that's why he kept journals in the first place. This one, though, he remembered clearly even now, because it had been the first time he'd put the name "love" on how important Brandenburg was to him.
"I don't get it," Brandenburg finally said in a tight voice, fingers trailing over the ink a second time and then a third. "Why didn't you just say so?"
"I was happy how we were. That's all I want." Brandenburg started to frown again, and Prussia forced himself to say, "That's more than I want from anyone else."
"Hey," Brandenburg said, and it wasn't until he put a comforting hand on Prussia's arm that he realized he'd been physically shaking without even knowing. "You didn't have to lie to me. Not to me."
"I'm sorry," Prussia breathed.
"I always knew things weren't going to work out how I wanted them to, but I just wanted to know I was... loved. That's all." There was still an edge of barely controlled anger in his voice.
"Then say it," Brandenburg challenged back.
"I love you!" Prussia yelled.
"I love you back!" Brandenburg yelled back, but even though it sounded like they were arguing, hearing the words revived confidence he hadn't realized was missing, the confidence that had always let him go out into the fray wearing love as if it was woven into his armor and that had always led him back home.
Prussia let out a long breath. "I missed you," he said quietly.
"Well, I've been here. Waiting for you, like always." Brandenburg's tone was aloof as he turned to lead the way into his house, but Prussia could hear the contentment underneath it. He smiled, following just a second behind. He was home.