He was not a fearful man by any stretch, but there were rare times when all of his rational thought fled his mind and he was left with a nameless terror that ate away at his sanity like a ravenous beast.
He tried to avoid those times as much as possible.
And yet, he could not dodge his fear forever. It did not appreciate being shoved into the corner of his mind and ignored. He used to think that if he didn't think about it (which was not that often anyway) then it would cease to exist altogether. It was only terrifying because he thought it was so.
How foolish he had been.
There were times when he had seen it coming and he had managed to escape before it could wrap itself around him. But when you have lived for as long as he has, you learn that you cannot escape some things, least of all yourself. It would just wait for you to wear yourself out before it struck.
The first crack of the ice went through his heart like a bullet.
Almost too afraid to move, too afraid to even breathe, he tilted his head to look down at his feet. At the unstable ground beneath them. White cracks blossomed out from underneath his feet like white lightning and crisscrossed the ice like a web crafted by a demented spider. Air bubbles no bigger than his fingernails drifted by those hairlines fissures, showing him just how much of it he would have to breathe if he fell into that dark abyss below. Suddenly his fear was there, sinking its teeth into his chest with all the glee of a child with a piece of taffy. His lungs burned and he let out the breath he had been holding.
As if that simple breath had upset some miniscule and imperceptible balance that the ground had achieved, he felt the ice crack further. The ground under his feet shuddered and he felt the vibrations ripple through his body. His heart thundered and he felt as if he were walking on a tightrope. A trickle of sweat rolled down his face. All of his instincts screamed at him to move, to run before the ice broke—and a part of him knew that it would—but his fear had grabbed him by the collar like a dog with its prey and he couldn't even twitch a finger. He could feel the water underneath him; there was a rushing current just inches below him, laced with a deadly cold that would steal his breath and freeze his blood within minutes. The current would carry him away from the opening he would make and would trap him under the ice, leaving him in a wintery tomb.
It sounded like a giant grinding its teeth. The cracks reached out farther, its fingers seeking out the quickest path to destruction. He shivered and felt tears of frustration leak from his eyes before they froze onto his cheeks. "Please…" he whispered, as if the frozen river would absurdly hear him and stop. "Please don't…"
But it did not. His fear had taken over and had turned him into this pathetic, whimpering mess in almost a minute. He could hear it laughing at him. And you thought you could hide from me forever, didn't you? Over the voice that was entirely in his head, he could hear a person calling his name. He started to turn his head, and his back twisted with him. His hips moved to accommodate and his feet shifted in place, scraping over the thousands of weak spots that the breaks had created. It immediately gave way with a terrifying, shocking report that sounded like a gunshot and he was falling, drifting almost peacefully down as if he weighed no more than a feather, and yet his fear had completely taken control and he did not even have the time to scream before the water closed over his head.
At first the water was cold, so cold that he thought he would freeze to death right there, but then he was numb as if he had been paralyzed. It was a cold that went right down to his bones and he finally struck out for the surface, knowing that if he did not then he would die. It still felt like he was falling, there was nothing beneath him and he felt the water dragging him along like gravity had just done to pull him under. Instead of the open space he had just created, his hands hit a smooth, solid ceiling of ice. For a second he feared his heart would stop, but when it started working again he screamed, bubbles of air exploding out of his mouth as he wasted all of the precious store that he had in his lungs. He didn't even think about that, he was falling into the abyss that he had so feared and his terror was making him stupid. That didn't matter though, because he knew in that instant that he would die and no one was around to save him.
"I don't think I've ever seen the sky that blue," Frederick muttered to no one in particular.
Gilbert tilted his head a little and looked up. Evening was fast approaching and had turned the sky a pure cobalt blue with one end fading to black and the other a pale gold. "That's odd," he said, "it's supposed to be turning purple around this time." Not that the sky was very important at the moment, but it was a wonderful sight and it would have been a shame to miss it. A gunshot sounded in the distance, grabbing both of their attention back to the town below them. Another shot answered it. "What if they do something?" he asked, turning to his king. "The Austrians were adamant about us not getting that town."
The monarch did not answer immediately, tapping the reins in his hands idly. "It would hurt them as much as it would hurt us," he said after a long silence. His words sounded confident but Prussia noticed a certain glint in his eye that only appeared when he was worried over something. "And yet the Austrians are desperate to strike a blow," he added as an afterthought. "It's a wonder what they will do."
Somewhere, an artillery cannon fired. Gilbert's horse snorted, anxious to be off and running towards the action. He soothed it with a few pats to the neck and flinched when he felt a group of his men being injured somewhere. He flexed his arm as he felt needlepoints of pain prick it. When he straightened up he noticed that Frederick was watching his closely. "It's nothing," he assured with a smile. "Just a skirmish."
Fritz didn't look convinced but he knew better than to pry for answers. "Where are our men?" He asked instead.
Immediately Prussia pointed to a hill that was to their front and right. "You can't see them from here," he explained when Fritz tried to look.
The sky was growing darker, turning the village into a misshaped lump in the distance. The heavens above had turned into alternating bands of black, violet, blue, and pale yellow, all without a hint of stars. A chill wind began to blow, making the horses twitch. "Come," Frederick said, urging his mount to trot. "We will go back and meet up with the others. The town should ours within the hour."
Prussia nodded and suddenly stiffened as he felt a twinge in his gut. He frowned, knowing that it wasn't more of his people in danger. Yet something was wrong. Something had just happened, something bad. Pain twisted in his side, making him grit his teeth. It wasn't the harsh, biting and tearing pain that he was used to when he felt his people being injured or killed, it was an entirely different sort of pain. A slow, deep throb that hurt worse and worse as time went on. It almost felt like—
He jerked his head up when he heard Fritz call his name. Then he realized that he was nearly bent over his horse and his free hand was clutching his side, right over the spot of pain. He sat up and saw worried blue eyes staring at him. He couldn't downplay this one, not with the looking he was getting. "Something's burning," he said.
Frederick frowned. Whatever he had expected to hear, it was not that. "What—" he said before the horses suddenly whinnied and stamped their hooves in fright. They both shared a look before they realized what had scared the horses. The stench of smoke was heavy in the air. Fritz grabbed the reins to calm his horse and looked back to the town. "Good god," he whispered as he saw the bright flames crawling out of the rooftops, lighting the place up for miles.
"Austrians," Gilbert muttered as if it were the worst insult he could think of. That didn't stop the fire that roared out of the buildings and painted a glowing band of orange across the striped sky.
Prussia frowned at the dish in front of him like a scientist examining a new and interesting species. After a few moments of speculation, he turned to Fritz. "And what the hell are these?" he demanded, pointing at the pale lumps sitting on the dish in front of him.
Fritz chuckled and looked far too amused for Prussia's liking. "Those are potatoes," he said calmly, a small smile on his face. He rested his cheek on one hand and he had his legs crossed over one another. Prussia had seen that pose before and he knew it could either be very good or very bad.
He frowned a little deeper. "And why are you shoving them in my face?" He asked, sparing them another angry look as if they were to take the blame for his current irritation. Really, why had his king just walked in carrying a plateful of buttered potatoes? Why had he even bothered to peel the lumpy brown things? It made no sense.
"Oh come now," Frederick said, tapping his free fingers against his knee. "I hardly shoved them at you. You're just complaining because you have no idea what's going on."
"Then please educate me," Prussia replied, crossing his arms testily.
There was a rustle of fabric as Frederick uncrossed his legs and leaned forward. "I want you to try some," he said, quiet and serious.
Prussia raised an eyebrow. "What," he deadpanned, hoping that he had somehow misheard his Boss.
"Exactly what I said. Try a bite," Frederick said, tapping the fork that sat next to the plate.
"Are you serious?" Gilbert asked, his eyes growing huge in his shock. "Why would you want me to eat potatoes? They are disgusting!"
"How would you know?" Fritz asked, unperturbed. "You have never tried them."
"They were pulled up out of the ground! That's all I need to know!"
"Lots of things are pulled out of the ground and those are edible. Onions, carrots, beets—"
"Those at least look edible!" Gilbert protested, shoving the plate away from him like an unruly child. "Potatoes look like dirt. Hell they might as well be dirt for all you know."
Frederick sighed and did not even try to make sense out of that argument. "Then why would I tell you these are potatoes?" He asked gently.
Gilbert shrugged, obviously running into a roadblock with that one. "As a joke," he offered.
Fritz shook his head, his smile still in place. "What a silly reason," he said, "I wouldn't try to deceive you like that. Now, eat."
He should have known this wouldn't be easy. "They are perfectly edible. The Spanish eat them all the time."
"Spain is fucking weird anyway," Prussia shot back, tapping his fingers on the tabletop.
This caused him to raise an eyebrow. "I thought he was your friend?" he said curiously. They had certainly acted that way when they met.
"He is, but that doesn't mean he isn't weird." Prussia said and glared again at the potatoes. "You know that not even the dogs will eat them? And they grow those nasty tubers and shit."
"You can cut the tubers off," Fritz replied patiently. "And potatoes are not a part of a dog's diet anyway. Obviously the common folk can eat a large variety of things and still be fine. They're a hearty people." He could tell his argument was having no effect, so he decided to bring out the heavy artillery. Before Prussia could comprehend what he was doing he grabbed the fork, speared a piece of potato, and popped it into his mouth. The reaction was not what he expected.
"Don't eat that!" Prussia shrieked, leaping to his feet so quickly that his chair flew back. For a single moment Frederick thought that Gilbert would knock the fork out of his hand but the albino seemed rooted to the floor, unable to move in his shock.
He prayed that the servants wouldn't rush in, fearing him to be poisoned. That would be too much unnecessary drama. "See, perfectly safe," he said once his mouth was empty.
Gilbert had turned white, whiter than Frederick had ever seen him before, which was actually quite worrying. He might have collapsed in his chair if it hadn't been halfway across the room. Fritz quickly stood up and pushed Prussia into his seat. "Sit down, you look like you're about to faint."
Suddenly the nation exploded in a rapid flurry of German that was way too fast for Frederick to make sense of and ran a hand through his hair. The color was coming back to his face, turning them a bright pink. "I swear if you pull anything like that again I will hit you," he said finally, glaring at him for real this time.
"Forgive my hastiness," Frederick replied sincerely and slid the plate closer. "I still beseech you to try them." A wry smile twisted the corner of his mouth. "I haven't keeled over yet, so I am quite fine." He cut another piece with his fork and offered it to Gilbert.
"Poison doesn't work that fast," Prussia muttered but obediently relieved him of the utensil. It finally seemed to have registered that Fritz was simply not going to leave him alone until he tried it. He sighed and quickly ate, deciding to just get it over with.
It did not taste like it had just been pulled out of the ground, much to his surprise. Actually it didn't taste half bad. "It's a little bland," he said, his voice amazed.
Fritz chuckled. "You can cook them in different ways and add many things to them," he said, knowing that he had won. He had a huge smile on his face and for once Prussia wasn't ruffled by it.
A peep came from above and suddenly Gilbird was fluttering out of his usual perch in Gilbert's hair to see what all the fuss was about. Prussia tapped his lips in thought and cut off a tiny piece of potato and held it out to his bird. The chick studied it for a moment and pecked it out of his hand, shaking its head as it ate. "If you add a few things to this," Prussia said, "just a few odds and ends, it could be quite delicious.
Frederick could count on one hand the number of times he had seen his dear nation cry. The immortal man had always viewed it as something "unawesome" and repressed his tears whenever he felt their presence. He had emerged stone-faced through bullets, cannon fire, stab wounds, broken bones, and poison. But that was all his own pain. The agony of others could cause the mask to slip and the hidden cries to come forth.
Kolin was a disaster, no one needed to tell that to the King. Worse was that it was a disaster wrought entirely by him. In the ever-perfect clarity of hindsight he saw how foolish it had been to split his troops. Of course those smaller units were easy targets, and they had all paid the price for not noticing it sooner. So many of his Prussians had been slaughtered, and he felt the weight of it on his shoulders. But not in the same way Prussia had felt his own people dying.
The first sob tore at his heart.
Frederick had found him hidden behind a pile of crates in an alley. Prussia had disappeared right after the battle, causing worry to break out between the king and his staff and they had searched the town and enlisted troops to search the surrounding hills as well. Now, standing at the mouth of the alley and hearing the choked sounds coming from it, he wondered if it was just better to let Prussia grieve without a witness. He was debating on whether or not to go when a pitiful moan reached his ears. He was striding down the filthy alley before the echoes of it even faded.
Prussia was sitting against the wall, curled up so his feet wouldn't stick out from behind the crates. One arm was wrapped around his middle and the other was thrown across his eyes as if to hide the sight of his tears from the world. He moved a little when he heard footsteps and then curled even tighter around himself when he realized who it was. His face was wet.
Frederick knelt down and reached out to wipe the tears away, and then drew his hand back abruptly as if afraid to touch him. He had no idea what to say. Should he say that he was sorry? Apologies wouldn't bring back the dead, nor would they change what had happened. He had screwed up and the both of them knew it. Tentatively, he laid his hand on a knee. When Prussia didn't flinch away he took that as a somewhat good sign. "Can you walk?" he asked gently. His voice was low, nearly devoid of emotion.
He saw a nod. "Give me a moment," Gilbert replied shakily. His throat bobbed as he swallowed the rest of his cries. "I'll be up in no time." The false cheer fell flat and he couldn't even manage a fake smile. He uncovered his eyes and the look on his face was so filled with pain and sadness that Frederick wanted to hold him close, like a child.
"You don't have to strain yourself," Fritz said quickly. He saw Gilbert shaking as he tried to push himself to his feet.
The pale man shook his head. "We have to get out of here," he growled. "Damn Specs'll be all over this place soon. They're already in the town." He gave a sudden gasp of pain and would have fallen to the ground if Frederick had not caught him. He was nearly a dead weight but the monarch could feel his muscles spasm as another wave of pain wracked his body. Now that he was standing, Frederick could clearly see the blood that covered his entire torso.
Prussia noticed the stare and glanced away. "I can feel their pain," he said quietly, feeling the need to explain himself even though he had already told his king multiple times. "When they die, I can feel it. Their pain. . . it becomes my own." He fought down another sob and pressed his arm closer to his stomach; so far it had staunched the blood flow and had kept him from bleeding to death.
Of course Frederick had already seen it all. His king had been there when he started to scream as wounds split open his body apart entirely on their own accord. Fritz had actually been the one who ordered him to be carried off the battlefield when he couldn't rise to his feet. Thankfully, Frederick remained his usual tact self and did not say anything. He let Gilbert lean on him, unmindful of the blood getting on his clothes, and helped him walk. "I'm sorry," the monarch whispered quietly.
Gilbert shook his head again. "It's not your fault," he gasped. "Everyone makes mistakes."
Well, Frederick certainly wished that he had someone to blame.
Frederick examined the dish in front of him curiously. "And what might this be?" he asked, turning to Gilbert, who had a bowl of his own and was spooning the stuff into his mouth. Whatever it was, it looked a lot like very thick cream.
Prussia paused to swallow and set his spoon into the bowl. "Something Turkey once showed me," he said, smirking a little. "He called it 'yogurt' or something to that effect. Pronounced it all weird. Regardless, it is quite good."
"And what is it made from?" Frederick asked, picking up his spoon.
The spoon went back down. "What?" Fritz said, shooting his country a look.
"Fermented milk," Prussia repeated, taking another bite. "Trust me, it's not what you think."
"If it is made from fermented milk then that is all I need to know," Frit replied. He wanted to slide the dish away but refrained from doing so.
"That is not true," Gilbert said, placing his empty bowl on the table. "Do you know that cheese is also made from fermented milk? Technically it's a type of mold." He interlocked his fingers, knowing that his king was not aware of that. It gave him a certain mischievous pleasure to have knowledge of something over Fritz, and he knew how much he liked to learn.
Frederick paused, mulling the words over. Prussia knew that he would have loved to deny it, but that would imply that he knew how it was really made. "Is it now?" he said, trying to sound indifferent.
Prussia nodded. "Honest to gods," he said, "saw it myself. Now," he picked up the untouched spoon, "Not all bad milk is really bad. Try it." When Frederick did not reply he scoffed. "Oh come on, you made me try those potatoes."
Ah, that explained a lot. "And this will stave off famine?" Fritz asked, smiling a little.
Gilbert shrugged. "Maybe, maybe not. That's not the point. I would like it if you tried some. Humor me." He held the spoonful of yogurt in one hand, waving it gently. "Please?"
He had to say those words, didn't he? Frederick sighed and took the spoon from him. "Fine," he said before tasting it. Much to his surprise, it was slightly sweet instead of the sourness he had been expecting.
Prussia smiled brilliantly when he saw Frederick's face change. "I told you," he said, although he sounded more happy than gloating.
"I will admit to it differing from my expectations," Frederick agreed, shooting his country a knowing look, which was returned. "It seems a bit bland, however." Those who dined with the king knew of his preference to spiced foods.
A chuckle answered him. "I told Turkey the same thing. He said that his people put fruits and other sweets into it for flavor. I added some honey to this mixture." He dipped a finger into the bowl and licked it.
"Your manners are atrocious," Frederick muttered, pointedly not looking at Gilbert sucking on his fingers.
"It's just the two of us," Prussia said, the smile evident in his voice. "We don't have to impress anyone." He set his elbow on his knee and propped his chin up on his fist. "So, do you like it?"
The king paused, and then smiled. "If you add a few things to this, just a few odds and ends—" Prussia started to laugh "—it could be quite delicious."
Warm sunlight filtered in through the large windows, basking the room in a golden glow. Notes from the flute fluttered in the air, filling the empty space with the trills of a sonata. The flautist and his one man audience basked in the warm light, soaking up the heat. One man sat in an armchair; he was so pale that his skin seemed to have a glow of its own. The other was turned slightly away, more focused on his music stand than anything else.
Prussia sank deeper into his chair, enjoying the peace of the study. He didn't mind the constant music, but he preferred watching his king play more. The way his fingers would glide over the keys and the sway of his body were absolutely entrancing and Prussia felt a wicked joy at having his King all to himself. Fritz was his, and this little bit of alone time was proof of it. But why was Frederick his? It was times like these that made him philosophical and question things like that. Frederick surrounded himself with musicians, philosophers, and intellectuals. While he had his dear Fritz to read and educate him and actually bring philosophy into his field of interests (Wilhelmine still could not believe it) he could not compete with brilliant minds suck as Pierre de Maupertuis or Marquis Jean d'Argens or, heaven forbid, Voltaire. He swallowed and tried to dispel the poet from his thoughts. Just the man's name could sour his mood. He would actually be happy in the company of those such as Winterfeldt and Stille, but a certain Frenchman was not.
His king obviously enjoyed the presence of Voltaire more than any of his other guests, and why shouldn't he? The man was smart, witty, poetic, appreciative of the arts, and a radical thinker. Gilbert had heard quite a lot about the man from Francis and while his friend spoke admirably of him Gilbert knew that he irritated France to no end. After all, there was a reason why Voltaire no longer resided in his home country. But compared to him, Prussia was a rude, warmongering soldier who could not appreciate the finer arts like an educated man. It. . .it would have hurt if Prussia had been unawesome enough to actually allow something like emotions to actually harm him. Nope, didn't feel a single thing.
He noticed that he was tapping his fingers against the armrest and quickly stopped. A moment later he also noticed that something strange had happened to the room. Rather belatedly he realized that the music had stopped. He looked up and noticed that Fritz was watching him. "Why do you seem so morose?" the king asked when he had Prussia's attention. "I'm sure my playing wasn't that bad."
He could not even force himself to smile at Frederick's joke. It might not be effective anyway, since Frederick had always been able to read him like a book. It was a little annoying sometimes. "It is nothing," he said, his voice unnaturally quiet. "Your playing was as excellent as usual. My mind just likes to wander in times like this." It wasn't a lie, just not the entire truth.
Those clear blue eyes narrowed, bright with thought. Now Fritz knew that something was bothering his nation. Bothering him terribly, if the observations of the past minute had been any indication. Had it really taken Prussia a full minute to realize that he had been staring at him? Carefully, he set the flute on his desk and made his way over to Prussia until the nation had to look up. "What is troubling you?" he asked gently.
"It is nothing you should concern yourself with," Gilbert lied smoothly, avoiding his eye.
"Why don't you let me be the judge of that?" Fritz replied kindly. "Come on, out with it. The truth now." He reached out and gently ran his fingers through silver locks of hair, a comforting gesture.
Prussia did not answer him immediately. He stared off at the all, trying to ignore him. The combination of his own misery and Fritz's warm presence cracked his shell though. "Why do you love me?" he asked abruptly. "I want the truth as well."
The fingers stopped. Prussia could feel the surprise radiating from his king. "May I ask what prompted this thought?" he said.
"You may," Prussia replied, "but that does not mean that I will answer you."
He heard a sigh. "Very well," Fritz said. "You want to entire truth?" Prussia nodded under his hand. "Well, if I were not being truthful then I would say that I loved you since I was a child. That I always viewed you as a protector or guardian that I could run to in order to escape my father. If I were not being truthful then I would say that that you allowed me to be myself and loved me for it, and I loved you in return."
Prussia felt his heart drop. Those seemed to be good reasons for love, but they were not the truth. What was then?
Frederick went on, carefully picking out his words. "I could say that I love your character. You are so different from my friends and guests, and I enjoy that difference and find that we compliment each other well. You hardly let anything bring your mood down and the confidence I see in you inspires me. Witty—and a bit devilish I might add—you know out of all people how to take a joke. Voltaire is far too sensitive."
A ghost of a smile threatened to make itself known when he heard the jibe at Voltaire. But he knew it wasn't solely to please him. While Frederick was startlingly astute at times, he was incredibly dense when it came to Prussia's jealously of his favorite poet. "So what would be the truth?" he asked quietly, his stomach turning.
Frederick bent down until he was looking directly at Gilbert. His eyes were as blue as a warm summer sky. "Truthfully, I would say that I love you for all of those reasons and so much more. They are all excuses to love someone, and I don't need and excuse to love you. I love you because you are simply yourself." He smiled and leaned forward, placing a quick kiss to his lips. "Now, smile for me. It brightens the room."
"What the hell kind of statement is that?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Damn right you should beg it! What's this 'more feminine' bullshit you have right here?"
"You know that's a certain breach of trust to go through someone's papers."
"It's lying out as plain as day, anyone could have read it! Now stop avoiding the question."
"Well, aren't you?"
"Aren't I what?"
"The more feminine of the two of us."
"W-WHAT? How am I the more feminine one? Look at yourself!"
"What do you mean?"
"Alright, long hair. Curly long hair to make it worse. Ah, don't tell me about how it's the French fashion, France may as well be a woman with how he dresses. The flute playing: womanly."
"All educated men—"
"Excuses, excuses. The dress coat, the dress coat. The military uniform looks great on you, but then you change into this lacy shit. You have a bow in your hair for Christ's sake!"
"And you are throwing a bit of a fit right now. That is a favorite pastime of the womenfolk, is it not?"
"Ah, ah, excuses."
"I am not making excuses. And even if that is womanly your traits far outweigh mine."
"But men everywhere are required to wear their hair long, correct?"
"Just because you are an exception to this rule does not mean that everyone else is."
"So? I'm still a man."
"Yes, but if you base traits of a 'manly' person from your own characteristics then the scores are quite biased."
"And this isn't biased right here?"
"I just call out the facts as I see them."
"Where's your proof?"
"Well right now you're arguing. I'm sure you know how well women love to argue."
"Hahaha, alright, you win that one."
"You tend to be insecure about little things—"
"I am n—"
"And when they are brought up you get upset. You immediately deny it as if the very thought ruffles you."
"But when you make accusations like that—"
"I am not accusing you of anything. You are making this out to be bigger than it actually is. Another habit of women I might add."
"Men do that too! Since when were you an expert on women?"
"I am not, and neither are you if you mistook your best friend as a boy for decades."
". . . Where the hell did you learn that?"
"It doesn't matter where Iearned it. Is it true, by the way? I cannot trust my source."
"I—well, um. . ."
"No immediate denial, which is usual, so I will take that as yes."
"Now wait a moment!"
"You will have to explain that to me later."
"No I do not!"
"Moving onto my final point, is it not usual for the woman of a relationship to bottom under her husband?"
". . ."
"Why, my dear, you are quite red. You would not even need to put rogue on your cheeks to redden them, just a simple blush would—
Ludwig stumbled down the stairs, rubbing the sleep from his eyes with a tiny hand as he righted himself on the bottom step. Gilbert was cooking; he could smell hot butter and the popping of food sizzling on a pan. The kitchen was just in front of him and he peeked around the wide doorway to get a better view. Gilbert's back was facing him, the bright red cape a startling splash of color in the predawn light. Steam curled up from the top of the pan he was watching, its thin wisps drifting up and disappearing out of the open window.
He was certain that he made no noise, and the sizzling was much too loud for a person to hear much of anything, and yet Gilbert still turned around the moment he entered. "Guten Morgen," the older country said, smiling a little at his brother's messed up hair. So cute.
"Guten Morgen," Ludwig mumbled sleepily, going over to hug his brother. He was so short that he only came up to his hip, but Gilbert didn't seem to mind. He patted the blond's head before lifting up the pan.
"Bist du hungrig?" He asked, transferring eggs to a plate with a spatula.
"Ein wenig," he replied. He heard Gilbert laugh and ruffle his hair again before heading to the table with his plate.
"Come eat something," the albino said, abruptly switching to English. "It might arouse your appetite." The plate clinked as he set it down.
"Ja—yes, brother," he replied, almost stumbling over his words. Gilbert had recently been teaching him English and had firmly told him that if he ever wanted to become fluent then he had better start speaking it on a daily basis. He climbed into his chair, trying to mentally rearrange his vocabulary. Why did it have to be so early? They could at least practice when his brain wasn't so fuzzy.
Prussia strided over to him, a mug in each hand. "Here," he said, placing one of the mugs in front of him. Ludwig did not catch his smirk.
"Thank you," he mumbled and started to eat. People often made the misconception that Gilbert could not cook when actually he was very good at it, he just made a mess.
Prussia did not have a plate, since he had already eaten. He was always the first to rise and always lingered behind to spend time with his adorable little brother. Occasionally he made a remark and sipped his own drink, but for the most part he stayed silent and prodded Gilbird across the table.
It was in the middle of one of these silences that Ludwig reached for his drink. Instead of the milk that he expected he tasted bitterness and foam and coughed as bubbles nearly choked him. He felt Gilbert give his back a good slap as he erupted into a fit of coughing. "Bruder! Was ist das?" he gasped when he could get a breath without choking.
"Beer," Gilbert replied calmly. He grinned over the rim of his own drink.
"W-Was?" Ludwig said, his eyes widening. Gilbert gave him a look and he went on, "You switched my drink with some of your nasty beer?"
Prussia scoffed and waved his hand. "It is not nasty, you are just complaining. You'll like it eventually."
"Gilbert, I almost choked," Ludwig whined. His throat still hurt from the abuse it had just taken.
"That's because you were drinking it too fast," Gilbert replied. Then he smirked widely. "You should have seen the way you went at it. Chugged it just like a natural."
Ludwig felt his face heat up. Over his brother's laughter he saw his mug sitting on the table, innocent and peaceful. He nibbled on his lower lip and reached for it again. After all, it had tasted pretty good.
The sound of tears interrupted his walk and made him pause in his tracks. There was no one else in the hall except for him, and only a single voice sobbed to itself in one of the rooms. It did not take a genius to realize who it was. He sighed and quietly made his way to the slightly ajar door. He did not want to frighten the room's occupant, so he very gently pushed the door open and slipped in, closing the door behind him softly. No one else had to see this.
The Crown Prince was curled on his side, his face hidden in the crook of his arm in an attempt to stifle the noise that he was making. The poor thing, it was not uncommon to see him in a less-than happy mood these days. He went over to the bed and the cries paused when they heard his footsteps. The mattress dipped as he sat on it, which was rather amazing since it was the hardest and most lumpy mattress he ever had the misfortune of sitting on. Gently, he laid a hand on the prince's shoulder and rubbed it comfortingly. He would have made his usual "crying is unawesome" comment, but he knew that Frederick was heartily sick of hearing it.
Fritz's head turned a little at his touch, revealing a face reddened and soaked by more tears. Even in the dim light his eyes sparkled brilliantly with more tears, each as beautiful and heartbreaking as a cracked diamond. He turned a little more and then grabbed two fistfuls of Gilbert shirt and pulled himself up into a sitting position. Gilbert said nothing as the boy buried his face into his shirt as if trying to hide from an assassin. The crying started up again in the ruffles of his collar. The country gently shushed his prince and stroked the back of his neck soothingly, muttering comfortingly words all the while. He was the only one Fritz trusted enough to cry in front of, with the exception of Wilhelmine. Unfortunately the older princess was downstairs and the King always grew suspicious when both of the children were seen together.
Prussia didn't mind that his shirt and jacket were getting wet. He had other ones anyway. A soft "Piyo" came from above and suddenly Gilbird fluttered down from his head and landed on the prince's shoulder, peeping quietly. Frederick showed no indication that he knew the bird was there. After a handful of minutes, he sniffed and finally spoke. "I hate this place."
That was nothing new. Everyone knew that the prince openly scorned Wusterhausen and everything about it, especially the daily hunts. To find him crying over it was unusual, however. There had to be more to the story.
He offered a smile, although Frederick could not see it. "Kesese, the 'castle in the desert' as your sister so nicely puts it," he said, trying not to laugh. Wilhelmine's sarcasm could be hilarious at times. For a moment he was silent, then admitted, "I don't like it either. I've lived in poorer places than this, but never with such disagreeable company." Even the Tabagies were becoming unbearable. Not that they were the most wonderful activity anyway, but Gilbert had recently been feigning pain and aches from internal affairs in order to escape them. That was the upside of being a country, you could fake a sudden pain attack or sickness and no one would be suspicious.
Frederick wiped his eyes, but he still refused to look up at Prussia. "The king hates me," he murmured. He hardly said "father" nowadays. It was as if he couldn't bear to admit that the two of them were related.
The words twisted Gilbert's heart. He had heard that a number of times as well. The worst part was that he could not completely deny the accusation not when he had heard a few of Frederick William's choice remarks with his own ears. "I wouldn't say hate," he replied uneasily. "You certainly don't like each other, but hate is quite a powerful term."
"Prussia, please spare me your ambiguous remarks regarding the relationship between me and my father," Frederick said coldly. For a moment he sounded as aloof and distant as a hermit living on a mountaintop, but then he shuddered and choked back another sob. "Forgive me, I should not have taken my frustrations out on you." He wiped his face again, although it was clearly ineffective against the waterfall of tears. "The king has all but clearly written out the words and shoved them in my face." He turned his head to look at something behind him, and Prussia noticed a half-crumpled sheet of paper with the king's writing on it.
He nearly reached for it, then remembered his manners. "May I?" he inquired gently. Fritz mumbled something that could have been anything, but he did not shake his head or show any kind of negative reaction. Gilbert took the letter and smoothed it out so he could read it. His blood chilled as he read the first few lines. It just got worse from there. "Oh, Fritz," he murmured sadly and stroked the boy's hair. The sniffling started up again. "Here," he said and drew his kerchief out of his sleeve. "Wipe your face. You don't want to look all red and puffy for dinner, do you?" Frederick shook his head and accepted the kerchief with a murmur of thanks. Gilbert picked up the letter again and read on as Fritz quietly blew his nose.
"He has a willful and wicked disposition; he does not love his father. A son who loves his father does the will of that father, not only in his presence, but also when he is not there to see. He knows perfectly well that I cannot endure an effeminate boy, who is without a single manly inclination, who cannot ride, nor shoot, and who, into the bargain, is dirty in his person, never has his hair cut, and curls it like an idiot. A fine gentleman, withal, haughty, never speaking to anyone except one or two people, not affable, and not popular. He does my will in nothing except under compulsion. He does nothing from filial love. He has no pleasure but to follow his own head. That is my answer."
He sighed sadly. Frederick William certainly knew how to make his words hurt. He didn't even refer to his son by his name, just the third person. He swallowed and set down the letter. "Come here," he said, drawing the young prince into a gentle embrace. "I know it hurts," he whispered in his ear. "But after a while it will stop hurting. Cry a little now, but don't let him see how much he hurts you." Frederick shook his head again and simply leaned against him, sniffing and occasionally wiping his eyes.
"Oh, this is going to be hectic," Prussia murmured, fidgeting with the cuffs of his coat for the tenth time. He did not look nervous or frightened by what lay ahead. He was anxious and almost pacing, like he always did before a battle. However this battle would fought with words and negotiations instead of guns and cannons. The doors were closed, but they would not be for long.
Frederick watched him closely. "How hectic?" he asked, tapping his fingers against his cane. He had no desire to restart the war within the confines of one room.
Prussia answered him with an ironic, bitter laugh. "Very hectic," he said, smiling a self-depreciating smile. "Honestly, if you guys weren't here then we would just try to kill each other the moment we stepped in."
Silence. "You're quite certain of that?" Frederick asked, sounding a bit uneasy. He had a reason to be, since it was only him and his nation going into the meeting room.
"Absolutely," Prussia replied, trying his hardest not to pace. "But trust me, we don't pick fights in front of our rulers. At least we try not to." He offered a forced smile, but it did no good.
Fritz fought down a sigh. This was going to be chaotic. He wished that Winterfeldt or Schwerin or even Keith were here with him, any of them were great morale boosters. But, reminded himself bitterly, they were all dead. And more would die if they did not get this blasted treaty signed and have the war dealt with. Prussia finally threw himself into a chair next to him, crossing his legs irritably. The marks of war were still clearly on him. He looked thinner and paler, his eyes no longer shone with that bright lust for life and seemed dull and glazed. A cough had settled over him, brought on by a sudden sickness ("We're almost bankrupt, that's why," Prussia told him when he learned of it) and made him seem even weaker. At least there was no more blood on his clothes, but whenever he moved it was stiff from all the bandages that were wrapped tightly around him. Even though he was no longer pacing, his fingers tapped an irritating rhythm onto the armrest of the chair. Fritz reached out and restrained them. Prussia looked up and was met with just a raised eyebrow.
Suddenly the double doors opened and Fritz jerked his hand back as if he had just stuck it into a fire. "Yes?" He asked the servant who had just entered.
"The room is ready, Your Majesty," he said formally. "The, ah, countries—" he seemed to have a hard time getting the word out "—are coming in just now."
Prussia leaped up, cracking his fingers. "Alright, let's do this," he said with a grin. It was painfully obvious that he was still apprehensive over the entire ordeal, but Frederick did not have any time to reflect on it.
The room that they were ushered into consisted of only one round table, with huge windows that allowed the bright sunlight to stream in. As they entered, doors on the other side of the room opened and more people poured in. Immediately Austria and Maria Theresa stepped in, and the queen's eyes immediately met his. If she had a knife or any weapon on her then he was certain that she would have used it on him. He offered her a sharp smile in return and he had the gratification to see her eyes narrow further. Hungary came trailing in behind, followed by Saxony and his elector, France (who refused to meet Prussia's eye) and his king, and then by Russia and his new empress.
Russia's smile looked like it had been carved onto his face with a knife. "Prussiyah," he purred in that distinctly unpleasant tone that made Frederick bristle. "You are certainly looking better than the last time we met."
Of course the last time they had met face to face was at Burkersdorf, but it was obvious that he was referring to the last time they met on opposing sides of a battle: the siege of Kolberg. That alone was enough to make Fritz hate him.
"A hell of a lot better than you were," Prussia replied contemptuously. That was the truth, since they had beaten the Russians back three times before the enemy had finally decided to quit. His tone was all just a façade to hide how weak he really was. It was actually hard to tell who was the strongest nation present; the war had not been kind to anyone.
Russia's smile widened, and Frederick saw something dark flicker behind that happy expression. The tension in the room suddenly popped like a balloon when four other figures entered: Britain and Hanover with their rulers. "Pardon our lateness," Britain said formally, coming to stand beside Prussia. "We hope we didn't keep you waiting." There was a bit of poison to his words, and his gaze landed on each of his opponents as if daring them to comment. Fritz saw King George shake his head in a long-suffering fashion. Britain has been the only true victor in the war, gaining control of France's oversea colonies, and it showed. He looked powerful and regal, despite the marks of sickness on him as well, and it was obvious who the strongest of the nations was.
Austria forced a smile. "Not at all, England," he said quietly. His voice sounded raw from coughing. "We were just about to start." Always the gentleman, he pulled out a seat for his queen before sitting down himself. The rest followed.
Frederick had once viewed sitting as a pose to relax in, good for lounging. He saw nothing relaxed or calm about any of the nations. They all looked like wild animals, crouched and ready to pounce. He saw George shift his feet uneasily, evidently not used to seeing his nation show such restrained ferocity. Frederick knew that he was the only one who was completely at ease, he had after all fought beside his nation in many battle and knew firsthand how dangerous he could be. Actually this was quite tame for Prussia. He leveled his gaze at Maria Theresa. She returned it, which was more than what some men could do. "We want Silesia," he said without preamble. "All of it."
"No," the queen immediately said.
There were a few sighs around the table, although it was impossible to tell who the sounds were coming from. Not this song and dance again, someone—Hanover?—muttered almost inaudibly. Frederick ignored it. "Maria Theresa, be reasonable," he said patiently, "that is all I ask for."
"All?" Catherine replied, raising an eyebrow in question.
What was she playing at? "Yes, all," Frederick said.
"Run off with my richest province?" Austria replied indignantly, "Absolutely not."
"Oh shutup, you were doing just fine without it," Prussia snapped. He winced as Frederick kicked him under the table.
"Whether or not we were doing fine is irrelevant," Maria Theresa said, "Silesia was originally mine."
"It belongs to me by inheritance," Frederick countered calmly.
"A forgery if there ever was one!" Maria Theresa snapped.
Saxony raised his hand. "Hey, before you two start going back and forth, what about me?"
Heads turned to him. "We don't want your lands," Prussia replied, "just Silesia. A generous offer if there ever was one." he threw Maria Theresa a glare as he said this.
Russia leaned forward, causing everyone to look at him. "And Poland?" he asked, somehow making the words a threat.
Before Fritz could reply Gilbert scoffed. "Feliks can go fall into a dry well." He winced as Frederick kicked him again.
The monarch turned to the czarina. "We do not want Poland," he said. "It is of no interest to us."
Catherine nodded. "Very well," she said, "that is all we wanted to know."
Austria sighed to himself. "Unreliable as ever, Russia," he muttered.
The arctic nation was unperturbed. "Whatever happens to your Silesia is of no concern to me. I would not take part in something that does not concern me."
Well, that got rid of one of Maria Theresa's allies. Britain smiled smugly. He looked so damn conceited that even Prussia looked humble in comparison. "Austria, considering all of the land I got from France and Spain you should feel honored that Prussia isn't asking for more." If he had not been sitting down then Prussia would have bet money that he would have started to dance on the spot.
The island nation's jibe had its effect. France—already strained from the war and conversations of dividing up land— leaped to his feet while shouting obscenities in French and just might have leaped over the table to throttle his long-time enemy if Austria and Louis had not grabbed him and yanked him back into his seat. Arthur didn't even manage to rise because the only thing George had to do was give him a stern look before he shrank back into his seat like a guilty child. Nearby, Hanover rolled his eyes. "Oh grow up, you two," he snapped. "You're worse than Prussia and Austria."
His king's remonstration was unheard over the yells of the protest from both of the aforementioned countries. A tug on Prussia's sleeve calmed him down and he turned away, muttering under his breath in German. Austria still glared daggers, but he did not say a word with his leader—not to mention a lady—right next to him. Fritz sighed and felt a headache coming on. He knew this wasn't going to be easy.