Gilbert watched the man before him pace the room in rapture. The king's left hand was gripped tight around his cane, his eyes glued on a map of Central Europe and letters from spies detailing intelligence from various foreign courts. He cursed under his breath. "She's still fucking upset about Silesia." He grumbled.
Gilbert sat up straight. A wicked grin cut across his face. "Don't you worry about a thing, Fritz! If we were able to kick her ass last time then we'll be able to do it again! You're the best military strategist they've seen! The Austrians must be clutching their pearls knowing they'll be facing off against Prussian might on the battlefield again. Plus, God's on our side. There's no way we can lose."
Frederick snorted. "If there is a god then he must surely hate us. My own goddamn cousin won't send even a single regiment to help the fight, he's too worried about his stupid colonies. Are you in good standing with his representation?" Gilbert shook his head. The king sighed and rubbed his temple. "Of course not. Neither of us have friends in high places. It's times like these I wished that I'd taken the sword all those years ago."
Prussia chose to ignore this. If he focused on his guilt over being involved in Frederick's trial and the murder of his boyfriend, he could do his job and hopefully help his beloved king. He stood up and peered over the map. "What's the plan? Austria, Russia, Sweden, and France all want us dead. Britain's no use to us. No matter what, we'll take heavy losses. There's gotta be some plan."
Frederick stepped before the window overlooking the palace gardens. He tapped his index finger on the knob of his cane and patted the head of one of his beloved dogs. "The plan is to win by any means necessary. We win or we die, there is no in between." He turned around and looked Gilbert in the eyes. Both were pushing down the immense fear that was growing over them. "Get Dessauer and Prince Ferdinand."
Prussia nodded and rushed out the room. He tried to ignore the growing suspicions and concerns about his own possible mortality, forcing himself to push them to the back of his mind.
Battle of Kunersdorf, 1759
Prussia sat slumped over in a corner of the tent, gasping. He had never bled so much, he'd never felt this much pain. Tears were welling up in his eyes and he ground his teeth together, preventing himself from letting out a blood curling wail. The war was four years in - much longer than any of them had expected, much longer than they had prepared for - and it was taking a toll on him. He started losing his will to fight. Gilbert wanted peace. He wanted the pain to end.
The rest of the camp held his sentiments. The remaining half of the army wanted to retire. There was talk of deserting and Gilbert longed to join them. If his wretched body would let him run back home to Berlin, by God, he would do it. The devotion to his role as nation and his purpose of fighting for his people was slipping.
Frederick sat at his desk in the center of the tent. He played with his quill absentmindedly. His thoughts were chaotic. He shook his head and frowned. "This isn't my fault," he hadn't realized he was speaking.
Gilbert sat up a little straighter. "Then who the fuck brought us into this war? Your little Silesian stunt is the root of this whole disaster."
Fury lit within Frederick. He jumped up and started striding towards his nation. "So now you're against it? You seemed pretty excited to be taking over Austrian lands when this all began! Don't you dare turn your back on me now! Your hands are as bloody as mine."
"You should know better than anyone that I'm merely a puppet to the king's will," Prussia spat out. He shifted his body so he faced away from his king. "Maybe your Majesty should've listened to your fucking ministers for once in your goddamn life! You've killed off half of your men! And for what? We're about to lose Dresden, the Russians are taking over Berlin. We'll lose all of Silesia soon enough." He scoffed. "And we actually consider you great."
Frederick opened his mouth, but paused. He sighed and began walking back to the desk. He started writing a letter to D'Alembert. "I'm leading the kingdom to ruin. Everyone around me is dying. My men, my friends, my family." He looked at Prussia with a sad smile. "Even the immortal family pet is. My father was right, I was never cut out for this."
He rose again and gave the letter to an aide d'camp waiting outside the tent. "Maybe I should follow suit. Leave the army in Henry's hands. Let my nephew take over." He sat on his bed. Prussia looked at him and silently remarked at how old the king looked. He was supposed to be forty-seven, but appeared twenty years older. The war had aged him harshly.
The albino got up and, wincingly, made his way towards his king. "Don't tell me you're thinking of abdicating," he tried to sound like he was joking, but desperation tinted his words.
The king chuckled softly and retrieved a necklace that had been tucked under his uniform. He held it in his hand and gazed at it fondly. "Ah, abdicating. That would be too complicated. What I long for, my dear Gilbert, is a much more permanent solution. It would be so nice to see Wilhelmina and Hans again."
Gilbert snatched the necklace out of Frederick's palms. He swirled it around in his hands, heard the contents rattle inside, and slipped it over his neck. "Sometimes I forget how insane you are, as surprising as that may seem right now." He rose again and laid down in his bed. A storm was gathering in his mind over the contents of the necklace, of the power they held.
He was finally beginning to heal, finally feeling ready enough to bring his men into the next fight. Prussia was feeling bolder and the bloodlust was slowly coming back to him. If he tried hard enough, he could visualize his boot digging into Austria's face. Gilbert closed his eyes. "Fritz, I love you, but sometimes I really fucking hate you. I want to die too, but the only was I'm letting you go is if I go first. You'll have to crawl over my corpse to get back those...I don't even want to say what they are!"
He jerkily sat up, ignoring the shooting pains in his body. He found Frederick's gaze and held it. There was something manic in Gilbert's eyes. "If I lose you, this war loses its meaning. The kingdom loses what its fighting for." He shook his head and tried to stop his tears. "If you die, I lose my will. The kingdom needs you, I need you. Please, continue to lead." Tears began to fall. "I can't lose you. Not you, please not you!"
Frederick quickly came over to the other man and hugged him close. He whispered soothing things in the nation's ear and stroked his head, like a father comforting his upset child. "I won't leave you, Gilbert. I promise, I won't leave you for as long as I can. We'll both make it through the war." He sighed and felt the weight of the world. "Let's get some rest. Today's been a difficult fight for both of us."
They fell asleep in Prussia's bed like that, not waking up until the drums sounded.
The Austro-Russian camp was far more peaceful that night. The men were content with their victory. They were in a good position to continue to crush the Prussian forces with sights set on Dresden first. The two allies left the planning to the generals - Roderich was no military mind and Ivan wanted a break - and warmed themselves up by the fire the Russian had made.
For a long time they sat in silence. It was broken by a letter from France detailing how the his battles in North America were going. Austria pressed his lips into a frown.
"No good?" Russia questioned, leaning so he could read over his companion's shoulder.
"Terrible. He's failing on every front." Austria snorted. "And he fancies himself a great power. Arthur'll have all his colonies in no time if he continues with this pitiful performance." He handed the letter off to the boy who delivered it, instructing him to give it to the generals. They'd have more interest in it than him.
"Ah, what a shame."
Neither of them seemed concerned. Their alliance with France had been one of pure convenience. If he lost to Britain, it meant nothing to them. They doubted peace in India and North America would mean an influx of British troops onto the continent. The Hanoverians didn't care about helping their Hohenzollern cousins, a fact that Austria was personally thankful for.
Roderich smiled. He was thankful for a lot today. He'd finally seen Gilbert and his oh-so-great king make absolute fools of themselves on the battlefield. He'd already detailed their miscalculations and failed maneuvers in great detail to Maria-Theresa, hoping she'd find as much joy in it as he had. He began imagining the future of a partitioned Prussia, one where his obnoxious cousin ceased to exist and would no longer challenge his power over the German states.
"Ivan, I think we've finally done it. At last we've put the final nail in the Prussian coffin. If we can get a few troops from France and Sweden, we can surround Berlin on all sides. If we kidnap the queen - well, not the queen, the king doesn't care about her - if we can kidnap the crown prince, we'll have those dogs cornered and begging for mercy." Something dark glinted in Roderich's eyes. He grinned. "The Prussian menace will be eradicated at last."
Ivan shrugged. "We have the king right in our grasps. It would be easier to take him into custody than trying to get help from those two deadbeats. We can only count on ourselves."
"It's easier if we split up the work."
"Da, under normal circumstances it is. These aren't normal circumstances. Sweden let up out of pity and France is busy losing his colonies, we can't expect them to lend a hand. In war, you can only account for the aide of your people, never other governments." Ivan smiled. An amusing thought popped into his head. "You also forget that Prussia is a cockroach. He can live for days without his head, invading Berlin won't stop him completely unless we take his heart as well." He laughed. "You really show your lack of military intelligence when you talk. It's extremely cute! No wonder so many nations line up to marry you!"
Roderich turned bright red. Russia took this as his invitation to continue. "You're not thinking like a sword. You were never made to fight. You're - what's that annoying the word for that thing you're always playing when you have guests? - a piano! You're a piano! Beautiful to look at, have interesting things to say, but not a fighter. Prussia, he's a sword. His whole life he's been fighting." Ivan laughed again. Memories popped into his head. "And fighting against me. I should know what he's made of. Anyways, both of you have the wrong mindset towards the other. You should try talking, it might help prevent wars like these. I'm getting tired of fighting in them when there's nothing to gain."
Austria huffed and turned his body so it was completely facing the fire. "Are you done? I don't need advice on how to interact with people from the Siberian recluse."
Ivan shrugged. "I'm done. Have it your way." He rose and stretched his back. "You'll be on your own soon enough. Elizabeth can't take much more than this."
"Excuse me? What does that mean?"
"Oh, you'll see! I'm sure you'll love Peter! He's a very silly guy. He loves you Germanic types. You just won't like which one he's more fond of." Russia chuckled at his own inside joke. "Ah, that's too much foreshadowing. Goodnight, Austria. I'll see you in the morning." With that haunting premonition, the hulking man stalked off to his own tent for the night.
Austria was left speechless. Slowly, he began to process how quickly he'd need to end this war if he wanted to continue to maintain the advantages he'd just gained. The Prussian menace would be harder to eliminate than he'd hoped.
Prussia was awoken that morning by violent shaking. He jumped up and grabbed the sword that was lying besides his bed on the floor. He pointed it at his assailant. "Whoever dares to attack Gilbert von Beilschmidt, kingdom of Prussia, loyal protector of the house of Hohenzollern, and-" He blinked sleep out of his eyes and saw who his supposed attacker was. He dropped his sword. "What the hell, Fritz? We were marching all day yesterday and now you-"
"Shut up, shut up! For once in your life shut the hell up! Gilbert, that god you spoke of just might exist. Read." Frederick shoved a letter at the nation. The parchment was marked by the coat of arms of the Russian Imperial Family.
He quickly scanned the paper. Only the words 'Peter III', 'withdraw', and 'greatly admire' stood out to him. "Holy shit. We're going to live. We're going to fucking live."
The king had tears in his eyes. "There's actually a monarch in all of Europe that respects me. One that respects me so much he's betraying his own allies and giving me enough troops to turn the war around. He even promised to help mediate peace with Sweden. I could run to St. Petersburg and kiss him, make him next in line for the throne, and invade Vienna."
Gilbert hugged the old man tightly. Relief was running through them both. The tides had changed. A miracle in their favor had finally appeared. The state was secure enough to live on through this war. All fantasies of cyanide pills and abdication were forgotten and replaced with those of victory and security over claims to Silesia.
"Let's tell the troops and get hammered. I need a few beer." Prussia began making his way towards the opening of the tent. Frederick grabbed his arm and stopped him. The nation looked back and saw something fierce in the king's eyes. It sent chills down his spine. It was a look he wouldn't forget for the rest of his life.
"Let's do something better. Let's remind Maria-Theresa and the rest of the world who runs the show here. Let's show them the renewed strength of our army and bring them to ruin." He smiled wickedly. "I want Austrian blood spilt and I want it spilt now. We need to send a message to everyone in Europe, especially our new allies."
Prussia smiled in agreement. The beers could wait, the war couldn't.
A long hallway sat vacant except for two occupants sitting outside a rather magnificent mahogany door. The silence between them was tense. Both appeared worse for wear. Prussia was covered in bandages and had his right arm in a sling. Crutches leaned up against his chair. Austria, for his part, had bandages covering fresh wounds and a broken nose.
Prussia wheezed out a laugh. The very action hurt him, but he continued anyway. His left hand clutched his ribs and tears were welling in his eyes. Austria glowered.
"What in God's name is so funny to you? How is this situation slightly amusing? You may have won, but at what cost? You look ready to drop dead. In fact, I wish you'd hurry the process along so I'd be free of you."
Gilbert wiped the tears away from his eyes. "Do you realize what this means? You can't deny me anymore! We're equals! We're finally equals. You can't boss me around anymore, you can't tell me who my princes can marry and who I'll go to war against. I'm a real power now, a real force to be reckoned with."
Roderich eyed up his cousin. He stared at this pathetic man - this physically broken and mentally incompetent man - who now declared himself to be on equal footing as he. Anger filled him. The consideration that he, an empire with centuries of prestige behind him, would have to consider the actions of this backwoods bloodthirsty animal insulted him. He found himself on his feet.
"You will never be my equal! Take as much territory as you need, instigate as many wars as you want, pick your own worthless allies! But how dare you compare yourself to me! I gave you and your dynasty everything it has! Any power you hold is a gift from me! And what do I get in thanks? Almost 400,000 of my men dead, an empty treasury, and a queen who's now got to figure out how to clean all this up! You are nothing but a menace to all of Germany! It will be my honor to be the savior of our people - no, you turned your back on them by declaring war on me - of my people by crushing your ambitions."
He hadn't noticed the emergence of Grand Duke Francis and King Frederick from the treaty room. The two leaders had been watching the nation's rant, one with horror and the other with something like pleasure. The Grand Duke cleared his throat. Austria grew startled and quickly humbled himself. He extended his hand and looked down at the floor.
"On behalf of Austria and all of the Holy Roman Empire, I extend my deepest gratitude for your promise to vote for Joseph in the upcoming Imperial Elections and for agreeing to remove your troops out of Saxony. Let us both hope that this restores peace to Germany and the rightful balance of power to all of Europe."
Prussia looked up at his king who merely shrugged. Having received no official orders, he decided to give Austria what he deserved. He smirked and rose up, leaning on the crutches and wincing from the pain. "No need to act diplomatic, Roddy. We all heard how you really feel. Take your gratitude and shove it up your ass. I'm sure we'll meet on the battlefield again."
The Austrians left in a huff at that comment. Frederick laughed and put a hand on Gilbert's shoulder. "You certainly are something, Gilbert. I'm surprised you didn't punch him and bring us into another war."
Gilbert smiled. The Prussian felt himself swelling up with some emotion. It wasn't pride, he wished he had taken a swing at Austria and he'd lost too much to feel optimistic about this win, but it certainly was something. He'd made a name for himself. The history books would have to mark his name down somewhere. He'd made it out bleeding excessively and barely breathing, but by God, he'd made it out.
He looked at his king - by now he was more than that. Frederick was his boss, his best friend, and his father-figure all wrapped up in one confusing package - and saw similar thoughts reflected on his face. Frederick had lost friends, mother, sister, and brother over the course of the war. He'd been ready for death, had been inviting it towards him for the longest time yet still managed to cheat it. He'd made it out while some core part of him wished he hadn't.
Gilbert tugged at the sleeve of Frederick's military coat. They both needed to be yanked back to reality and away from the horrors of the last seven years. "Let's go home. I miss Potsdam."
They smiled. Home, what a lovely concept that was. There were many places they could find death and glory - Jägersdorf, Leuthen, Kunersdorf - but nowhere was lovelier than home. They knew that somehow they'd meet the Austrians again in war, but that wasn't their concern. Their concerns now were of home: of rebuilding, of repopulating, and of creating their shared legacies for their people to pass down for centuries afterwards. Maybe it wasn't the most glorious way to rule, but it certainly couldn't be more miserable than war.