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Tied In (Austrian) Knots

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"Hmm… Mmm-hmm, mmm-hmm."

Standing in Austria's office, with the nation himself giving her a thorough inspection, Hungary tried not to fidget. While he'd been known to make the odd request here or there (she distinctly remembered one time when he'd woken her up in the middle of the night specifically to ask where the cake flour was, for instance), this was, admittedly, one of the stranger ones as of late. Not unreasonable or difficult to accommodate, just…strange.

And so there she was, dressed up in her hussar uniform, standing in the middle of his office, while he circled her like some contemplative vulture.

"Yes," he finally said, "I think those will do quite nicely."

She turned her head to look at him. One hand was on his chin, his gaze was still on her clothing, and he seemed to be talking mostly to himself, but Hungary tried anyway. "What will, sir?"

Austria blinked and raised his eyes to hers. "Hmm? Oh," he said, and pointed to the bottom of her sleeve. "These."

Hungary looked down. "The braidwork?"

"Yes," he said again, as he made his way back around to his desk. "I've been thinking we need a way to indicate rank among officers in the army. Something easy to distinguish with a quick glance."

Ah, so that was what this was all about. In hindsight, Hungary supposed she wasn't too surprised. Rank indicators were kind of becoming a Thing among European militaries. France had started to use epaulettes for that express purpose, and a couple others nations were already following suit, at least for some of their regiments. Which rather invited the question, as far as she was concerned: "What about epaulettes?"

Austria paused in the middle of jotting down some notes to fix her with a look so severe, she would have sworn the temperature in the room actually dropped. "Because it's right there in their name," he said. "They're French in origin."

Right. She should have known better. This time she did fidget, just a little. "Well…" she said, after a moment, "if you don't mind my asking, what made you think of the braiding?"

Austria looked up again, this time in something like mild surprise. "Ah," he said, and adjusted his spectacles, "well…they're very noticeable, being on the sleeve, and truth be told, I've always…admired the way it looks. Particularly on you," he added. His eyes glanced over her once more, and Hungary tried not to blush. Austria cleared his throat. "They're very elegant and worthy of such an application, I feel."

"Oh," she murmured. "Well, thank you. It's very flattering."

"You're welcome," he said, and let his gaze linger on her for a couple seconds before suddenly looking back down at his desk. "Yes, well," he continued, dipping his pen with one hand while giving her a dismissive wave with the other, "you may go now. I apologize for pulling you away from your other duties for so long."

Hungary curtsied (or maybe she should have saluted?), chirped, "Oh, it was no trouble at all!" and then fled before he could look up again and see how pink her cheeks were. Sometimes, she thought, living in Austria's house was downright terrible for her peace of mind.