Ludwig drew his young brothers close, folding them tightly against his chest in the dark of their shared bedchamber as they shivered, bundled together in their night clothes. With each growl and crash from the next room, their small bodies whimpered and tensed.
They lay curled in Ludwig's arms, swallowing their fearful tears knowing that any sound they let slip could remind him of the nuisance they were thought to cause. The burden the three hungry mouths placed on him, their haggard father, hadn't he already suffered enough he'd bellow. Tonight they were lucky - tonight Ludwig was back home.
When he'd left for Vienna the boys had cried, wrapped in one another on the small bed. Look after each other - and look after Mama he'd made them promise. He looked so different, dressed in his day coat and cravat, leaning out of the hired carriage to wave them off. The day he left Bonn, he knew that he would be leaving his home forever. To his Mama, he owed his life, to his brothers - his heart.
And to his Father?
There would be no remorse, nor anguish, on that blessed day.
His thoughts were shrouded with guilt as he pulled away from the platz that afternoon. Along the journey, he prayed for his brothers. He prayed for his Mama, and for their protection. He prayed his success would allow him to send for them in Vienna. As bitter tears rolled slowly down his cheek at the memory of his departure not two months prior, he buried his nose in the dark mess of curls beneath his chin. Here he lay, in the room he swore he'd never return to. This was his grim reality now.
His prayers for his Mama had failed. He'd been summoned to return, barely having settled in his new life before receiving the devastating letter from back home.
As the eldest, he knew he'd take the brunt of it.
In the mind of his Papa, it was something that could be taught - no, beaten into a child.
Ludwig squeezed his eyes shut, his fingers curling tightly around the small limbs, digging into the soft flesh protectively, "He'll fall asleep soon..." he whispered before kissing the tops of their heads. It would have been easier to just stay in Vienna and to forget all of this. It would have been easy to wipe his past clean and start anew. His belly churned with regret, with lost hope for what could have been.
"Extraordinary playing - wasn't it Wolfie?" his little wife clasped her hands together gleefully, her dark eyes twinkled. She was enchanting, I could understand the Maestro's interest in her hand. I gave a polite nod of acknowledgement but remained frozen at the keyboard, waiting for the final jury.
He pursed his lips in thought staring unblinkingly at me with those striking blue eyes. I could feel my pulse racing, the dramatic thumping flooding my ears as if they would seal forever. My senses deafened by my own heartbeat.
This was it - my new life, on his word, on his blessing - the great master himself.
The Prince of Vienna.
Under his intense gaze I began to nervously thumb the darkened spot on the inside my wrist. Having been there since birth, I rarely noticed the irregular shape anymore, it's presence only noticeable in situations such as this. It's strange placement and coloration did cause one to stare once spotted - as I noticed Herr Mozart doing in that very moment. He raised an inquisitive eyebrow, moving to step closer as if to investigate further, but he was stopped instead by his wife who placed a hand on his elbow and leaned in to whisper something in his ear, to which he smiled.
Glad for the interruption, I absently tugged my cuff to cover the mark. I self consciously patted my sleeves and coat, suddenly reminded of Mama's advice, "Make sure you take care of your appearance, no one is impressed by a vagrant!"
Judge my performance, not my appearance - I repeated this to myself silently, feeling more insecure by the passing minute. Suddenly, his voice broke my train of thought,
"My wife would like to invite you to stay for lunch - would that suit you?" he extended his hand genuinely.
I could feel the heat in my cheeks rising as my fingers dug into the piano bench, "And perhaps then we can hear something else..." He trailed off absently, as if looking past me before continuing with marked disinterest, "Though your playing was indeed skillful, I'm not particularly impressed by prepared show pieces."
Prepared? Then challenge me!
It took every ounce of me to stop from leaping up and demanding he provide me a theme on which to play. "How about a variation?" I offered politely, but he grimaced and waved his hand dismissively, "No no, again - as I said, prepared pieces -"
"On a theme of your choosing." I interrupted boldly
Sitting up with a panicked jolt, Ludwig stared wide eyed into the darkness. For a brief moment, he was struck with absolute fear, not recognizing his surroundings. Where was he? The bedside clock flashed 2 am. It was the middle of the night. Another dream he reassured himself as he willed his breathing to slow. Turning to see Wolf splayed out on his front beside him, hair a muss and snoring softly, Ludwig began to calm.
With a sigh he settled back down onto his side, content to watch him sleep - if only in the dark. He found peace by listening to his sleepy rhythmic breathing, and he smiled at the occasional murmur. It was clear that he was dreaming too, of more happy things, Ludwig was certain.
"What would you have taught me?" Ludwig whispered faintly, squinting to make out the more delicate features as his eyes adjusted to the dark. He began to comb his fingers through the long strands of tangled pink as he felt his eyes becoming heavy once more, sleep slowly overtaking his body.
"Have you heard the news from Vienna?"
Everyone in the village was talking about it - the court musicians, the luthier, even the baker made mention.
He was dead.
The message came from Vienna the next day by courier to the Kapellmeister at court, by midday everyone knew.
I was reeling, almost dizzy with disbelief. For months I had planned to return, once Papa was stable enough and my siblings could care for themselves. I was to return to Vienna, study and perform! Herr Mozart had given me his blessing.
"Watch out for that boy. One day he will give the world something to talk about!"
In the months that followed I threw myself into my work and pressed my plans to move to Vienna forward. By the following year, I was finally ready to make the move. Having lost my mother, my idol and strangely, my mark, I made no connection between the three.
The next morning, Beethoven found himself basking in the steaming water of the bath with Wolf nestled between his knees, happily preening as per his usual morning routine. Ever the efficient, Ludwig rarely agreed to laze about in the bath, but today - he was willing to make the exception.
Wolf hummed to himself merrily, absorbed in the task of untangling his hair over his shoulder. Staring down at his thin frame, Ludwig's eyes raked over the porcelain skin of his back and shoulder, pure and smooth. He silently observed the detangling from behind, allowing him to work the formidable locks undisturbed.
"Lud-kun?" His voice came in a soft sing-song
A sharp grunt came as the crude response
"Will you wash my hair?" the soulful eyes turned back over his shoulder, daring Ludwig to decline.
With a defeated sigh, Ludwig gently swept the considerable mass of damp hair over the thin shoulders until it hung freely down the other's back. "Don't get any in my eyes" Wolf threatened with a giggle, passing the bottle of shampoo backwards.
"Well - don't squirm" Ludwig muttered as he concentrated on pouring an appropriate amount of soap out of the bottle. Snapping the lid shut and tossing it over the edge of the tub onto the mat below, he began to work his way through the thickness at the base of his scalp, building a considerable lather as he went.
Wolf sighed softly and leaned back, relishing the sensation against the base of his neck. "Good job Lud-kun!" Mozart chortled, kicking a little whirlpool of bubbles at the far end of the tub. His humming resumed as Beethoven worked the shampoo down to the ends, the humming continued while he began to comb through matted sections with his fingers.
Though he would never admit as much, Ludwig loved these moments. He'd never felt so connected to anyone, in either life, as he did to Wolf in this one. His heart swelled at the sound of his cheery voice, his soft laughter and seeing his brilliant smile. He presence set him at ease, gave him a true calmness, a feeling he so rarely felt - both then and now. He often wondered what their relationship would have been like had they had the opportunity in their former lives. He supposed he would never know.
"Dunk" Ludwig withdrew his fingers from the soapy mess, dropping them into the warm water to disperse the suds.
The natural entertainer, Wolf swished forwards and dramatically flopped backwards, sloshing water over the sides of the tub as he let his hair fan out around him in the water. Smiling up at Ludwig he giggled childishly as the water rippled and splashed. Ludwig shook his head disapprovingly but inside, he was grinning right back.
"You're making a mess"
"Oh Lud-kun - nothing amazing was ever created without a little mess!" Wolf tisked, pulling himself back upright, his wet hair clinging to his back. He quickly drew the dripping mess over his shoulder and began to twist and squeeze the excess water out.
With the hair pull aside, a familiar dark marking was revealed, catching Ludwig's attention. There it was, just below the hairline at the back of his neck. Ludwig cocked his head and narrowed his eyes to focus on the strange spot. How odd, he thought, had he never noticed it before?
Quickly turning his own wrist upwards, he frowned, noting the identical features.
"What's that marking on your neck?"
Mozart paused in thought, holding the twisted wet mass of hair in his hands. "Um..a birthmark I guess? Why?"
Ludwig glanced down at his own wrist to confirm the identical features and then let it drop into the water with a shrug, "Nothing - I, er - I just noticed it for the first time, that's all."
Mozart shrugged and made to stand, "Ya - it's kind of strange I guess, but I had it before too. It's just part of me I guess."
Ludwig watched him wrap himself in a bathrobe several sizes too large. He smirked at the result, the extra fabric nearly reaching twice round. He then proceeded to wrap his hair up in a twist with a towel.
"Do you have one too? A birthmark?" Wolf asked between his humming. He was busy stuffing the wrapped towel into itself to secure his hair in place. Ludwig lifted his wrist to gaze at the spot once more before answering.
Wolf didn't seem to notice his response as his humming grew louder, "I guess we both have one" Ludwig murmured softly, watching Wolf sway to his own tune as he brushed his teeth, seemingly unaware of the missed connection.
Ludwig smiled to himself as he leaned back against the wall of the tub watching him dance and wiggle around at the sink, in that moment, Ludwig knew all he cared to.