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Dip Your Feather Wisely

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Ice

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.

Krrrrr, krrrrr.

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.


 

Band

"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—

"Gilbert!"

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.


 

Smile

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."

"No."

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.


 

Crying

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.


 

Yogurt

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.

"Fermented milk."

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."


 

Truth

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."


 

Feminine

"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 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?"

"That's—That's—"

"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?"

"No."

"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."

"I'm debating."

"Hahaha, alright, you win that one."

"I'm waiting."

"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—

"SHUT UP!"


 

Alcohol

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.


 

Tears

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.


 

World

"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.

Chapter Text

Demented

There were times when Frederick was actually afraid of his country. They weren't common times, but each was burned into his memory. Of course, Prussia never gave him a reason to be afraid of him. His overall appearance and commanding aura was unsettling at times, but his country had never showed him anything other than the utmost kindness. The first time he saw Prussia's darker side terrified him.

He remembered it as clearly as if it had just occurred. His father had always been thrown into rages over some matter or another, and he always took his anger out on his son. This time was no different. It had started with a plate being thrown at him and was quickly followed by a harsh cuff to the head. Frederick William started shouting, winding himself up for a good tongue-lashing. Most of the servants had already fled, and the brave ones that stayed behind turned and ran when the King screamed at them to get out. Being left alone to face the wrath of his father terrified the prince. He wouldn't even defend himself, just flinch and whimper and avoid his father's eye until the storm blew over. However it just incensed the King's rage and soon the abuse turned to open slaps and grabbing him by the front of his shirt and throwing him into the furniture. Screaming would not be of any help, but he did it anyway, if anything to give his pain a voice of its own. He saw his father raise his cane and closed his eyes, waiting for the blow.

But it never came.

He cracked open an eye and saw an astonishing sight. A gloved hand had grasped the king's wrist, stopping it in mid-blow. Frederick William was left staring in amazement at the perpetrator: Prussia. "Don't you dare touch him with that cane," the country growled in a low voice.

That voice tugged at his heart in a way nothing else ever had. All at once the nation seemed terrible and imposing and he wanted to leap to his feet and stand beside him. He wanted to help Gilbert in whatever possible way he could, even face his father for the glory of Prussia. He remembered how his brief flare of patriotism shocked him—mainly because it was entirely unprompted and had simply entered his head like a lightning bolt from a god—and before he could dwell on it he saw Prussia's face and all of his thoughts were blown away like dead leaves. There was nothing kind about Prussia's face now, his lips were curled back in a snarl and his crimson eyes shone with an almost demonic light. His face was hard and his jaw muscles were working furiously as he tried to stay quiet. A lesser man would have fallen to his knees in terror. Even now he could see some of the returning servants peeping around the doorway, all of them trembling like rabbits.

Frederick William did not seem to be the least bit affected by the magnetic aura of the country he ruled. His eyes widened in shock, and then narrowed in fury. "How dare you," he said in a voice that was almost as low as Gilbert's. He locked gazes with the albino, ice and fire mingling to build a storm on the horizon. A storm that was about to unleash all the fury of hell. "How dare you defy your King!" He yanked his arm free of Prussia's grip and whirled to face him. Fritz tried to crawl back, away from the duo. It felt as if two titans had come down to Earth in order to do battle; no one dared to intercede.

His father must have heard him, for his head turned. Suddenly there was a blur of white and blue and Prussia was standing in front of him protectively. "Run, Fritz," he ordered, not even turning to look at him.

"You cannot order my son—" Frederick William sputtered.

"Go!" Prussia yelled.

That rippling voice was back and his body obeyed the command before his mind even processed it. He leaped to his feet as if jerked up by invisible ropes and ran for his life as his father started shouting again. A loud crack reverberated across the room, and he turned in just enough time to see Prussia crumple to the floor, his hair matted with blood. He had not even lifted his arms to defend himself. Frederick William raised his cane again and brought it down swiftly with another crack. An entirely different scream echoed across the palace.

The servants scattered like bowling pins as the prince ran through them, nearly blinded by tears. When they were out of the way he flew down the hall, trying to make his legs move as fast as possible. He thought that if he would run fast enough then he would probably outrun the sounds—the screaming and the sickening crack of breaking bones that he could recall even in the present day. He had avoided his father for days after that, Prussia for even longer. His father would still fly into rages, sometimes even in front of his country, and despite Prussia's efforts Frederick William did eventually use his cane against the prince, but the soldier never again defied his king in such an outright manner. Frederick saw him struck with the cane, dishes, even with rock salt that his father loaded into his pistol. The albino always bore it without a murmur, but sometimes he could see a shadow of that chilling rage flicker in the back of those blood-colored eyes. But he never saw such an episode again.

When he was coroneted that changed. Plans for war had invaded his head and he gladly marched into Silesia with Gilbert at his side. The albino had been laughing and joking, eager for the first battle. Many of the soldiers found it frightening to see someone who obviously wanted to be in the middle of cannons and thundering hooves and the great melee of armies clashing, including Fritz, but he knew that it was just how Gilbert was. A ghost of that murderous rage he had seen so many years ago occasionally entered his eyes, but it only reared its head at Mollwitz. He saw Prussia in the middle of the fray, rising from the gun smoke like a phoenix from ashes, much to the terror of the Austrians. It seemed as if bullets and cannons and swords could not touch him, not even when he whirlwinded directly into the Austrian line with his soldiers and sent their blood flying high into the air. His mad, wild laughter rang out over their screams.

The second display of hid bloodlust scared his almost as much as the first one. Later Prussia had laughed at his fear and had to gently explain it away. It was something that came over him during battle and it was something that his king and his men never needed to be afraid of. "I could never hurt any one of my people," the country told him sincerely. "Not even if they committed the highest treason or if they tried to run me through with a sword. I could never raise a threatening finger against them." Frederick had not been totally convinced, even though he never had seen Prussia harm any of his soldiers in battle, but as the war went on he found himself growing used to it. He had numbed himself to what eyewitnesses called "possession." He knew better than to blame demons though.

"You make me pity whatever enemies we may have," Frederick once said as he watched Prussia pulled his sword out of a soldier that he had nearly cleaved in two. The battlefield was scattered with dead soldiers and many of the Prussians were going around to put the mortally wounded out of their misery.

"As you should," Prussia said, studying the blade in the dying light. "All enemies of Prussia should be pitied, because they shall receive no mercy from me." He twisted his sword this way and that, watching his reflection distort with each movement.

Then he leaned forward and licked the blood from his blade.

Frederick did not even flinch.


 

Lipstick

Germany worried. Probably a lot more than what was considered healthy for a regular person, and if he had been a normal human being then his hair would have turned as white as his brother's ages ago. He had no idea why he worried so much. Gilbert always teased him and said that it was his OCD and rabid perfectionism acting crazy, but Ludwig scoffed at him and his wild ideas. He was not OCD. Regardless, he worried about his country, about his work, about what was going on with the world, and he worried about his older brother.

He knew that his older sibling could take care of himself (although sometimes it was hard to tell) and that he had no reason to be concerned. Ever since the Wall had been torn down he worried about Gilbert's health (but back then it had been entirely justified) and after a while the albino had told him to stop. He had tried, he really had, and if he had been successful then that would mean that he was not currently pacing his house like a madman. It would mean that he was not checking his phone repeatedly for messages, even though it was in his hand and on the highest volume so it was impossible to miss one. It would mean that he was not constantly toying with the Iron Cross around his neck, a sign that he was nervous. It would mean that he was not peering out the windows and cursing when he saw nothing. He would not be doing any of those things, because that would mean that he was worrying. Again.

However, that was all possible if Germany had somehow broken his habit of worrying excessively and had gone to bed hours ago.

It was two forty-three a.m. The blond man snapped his phone shut harshly, glaring at it in an accusingly manner. Gilbert had been gone for eight hours and seventeen minutes (not that he was counting every single minute or anything, he just like to be precise, that was all) and had not given him a single call all throughout those so many hours and minutes. Could he at least have bothered to send him a text? It didn't even matter if it was one of those inane "Wazzup"s or something equally short, he would at least know that Prussia still had his phone. What if he had lost it or something? Or he could just be in a place that had no reception.

Don't be ridiculous, he told himself. He went out with Francis and Antonio, there is no possible way they are going to leave the city. He was pacing again ad he could feel the dogs' eyes on him with every step. They had not gone to sleep either because his restless prowling kept them awake.

Two-fifty. Ten minutes away from three in the morning and still no sign of him. Ludwig tried to concentrate so he could think correctly, but he was getting dizzy. This is what Gilbert did to him; if he had at least called then he would not be worrying so much! He ran a hand through his hair and wondered if tearing it out would do any good.

Thump.

Berlitz started to bark. Ludwig froze with his hand still in his hair. What was that? He knew something had hit the door, but it sounded rather heavy and soft. A little unwieldy as well. It actually reminded him of the noise a body made when thrown—he was running for the door in an instant. He yanked it open and was assaulted by his brother's voice. "Verdammt Francis, was der Teufel bist—" he broke off as Ludwig grabbed him. "Heya there Lutz, what are you doing up so late?"

"Adieu, Gilbert!" France called out from the darkness. He and Spain were not visible, but Ludwig could hear them giggling and laughing drunkenly.

"Hey West," Gilbert said, arresting his attention. "Y'gotta see this stuff we got. Pretty sweet sh—"

"What happened to your clothes?" Ludwig demanded, cutting through his slurred sentence. The younger German had rather belatedly realized that his brother had swapped out his previous clothes for a black French maid's dress. Little lacy headdress, puffed out sleeves, scandalously low neckline, low petticoat that just barely covered his hips and oh Gott was that a garter belt? Ludwig felt his face heat up.

Gilbert made a sound that may have been a laugh, snort, or choke. "Ah, Francis bought this crap with him. Tha's part of the story actually. . . " He let himself be dragged into the house and Ludwig heard the distinct click of stilettos on the hardwood floor. Gilbert kept babbling on about his friend's scheme and Ludwig tried to tune it out, he had heard such stories before and did not want to hear them again.

Now that they were in the light of the living room he noticed another detail. "Is that lipstick?" he asked, running his thumb across Gilbert's smudged lips. His skin came away red.

"I said it was France's idea," Gilbert replied in annoyance. "Anyways, we were at this bar and these two totally hot babes walk in together. I mean, damn. And of course France wanted to bang 'em on the spot but they were both lesbians so he decided that we were all gonna put on these dresses that he had—"

No, he did not want to hear it."Where are the rest of your clothes?" He saw that Gilbert was carrying nothing but a black tube (more lipstick, presumably) and a camera. He did not want to know what was on the camera.

The ex-nation did not like the interruption. "Don' have 'em," he said with a shrug. "Think France was supposed to watch 'em."

Oh of course. Ludwig's hand twitched, automatically wanting to connect with his forehead. Yet another habit he needed to break. "Come on," he sighed, dragging his brother down the hall. "You need to get out of those clothes."

He heard a laugh behind him. "I would love that," Gilbert said right before he grabbed his ass.

It was going to be a long night.


 

Heaven

Books. Books, books, and more books! The shelves were absolutely filled with them from floor to ceiling. Their multicolored spines displayed their titles dully, many cracked and worn with use. There were tomes and volumes and novels, some as wide as his palm and others no thicker than his finger. He scanned the titles, reading French, along with Latin, Greek, and the occasional Italian. He didn't see a single work in German. A thin layer of dust covered many of the rows, showing that the servants needed to clean the place. Of course that depended on Fritz actually letting someone into the library.

He ran a finger along one of the shelves and frowned at the dust that clung to it. "Do you intend to bury yourself in dust and papers?" he asked out loud. "Look at how stuffy this place is, it's like a tomb already."

"Of course not," Frederick's voice laughed from somewhere. "After all, the troops need to be inspected later."

He flicked the dust from his fingertip and headed for the voice. Poking his head around a corner, he found Frederick seated by the window, reading one of the older books. He silently crept up behind him and started reading over his shoulder. "Holy scripture? Really?" he said. "I thought you weren't religious."

"I'm not," Frederick said, toying with the edge of his page. "However, when you have a question and the only shadow of an answer lies within religious texts then I will, with great reluctance, look there."

Gilbert's brows dipped in thought. He drummed his fingers across the back of the chair. "And what is this question?" he asked.

Frederick did not answer him at first. His finger traced slow circles in the corner of his page. Gilbert did not need to look at him to know that he was no longer paying attention to the words in front of him and was probably biting his lip he did every time something bothered him. "I was thinking about heaven, actually," he admitted. "What the Holy Writ says about it." He sounded almost ashamed of himself.

"Ah," was the only thing Gilbert said. He was somewhat surprised, since Fritz did not tend to dwell on such subjects, but he knew that every person had the question crop up at least once in their lives. He sat down on the edge of the desk, making it creak. Frederick gave a disapproving look but did not say anything. "And what have you gathered?"

There was a beat of silence. "That the information in here is quite vague and largely useless." He closed the book and set it down. "It seems as if most authors just leave it up to your imagination."

"Well it's not like someone can just go there and come back and write about what he saw," Prussia replied idly. "Well, except for Lazarus but he was pretty tight-lipped about the whole thing. But maybe that is a large part of the afterlife: imagination."

Frederick gave him a long, searching look that made him squirm. Those clear blue eyes of his could be so unsettling sometimes. "Are you saying that all notions of heaven and hell are just fantasies created by the human mind?" He asked in a low voice.

"Of course not," Gilbert said, his eyes widening a little."But things are not as solid and unchanging are you are led to believe."

There was another long minute of silence. Gilbert wished that Fritz would stop staring at him like that. "What do you mean?" The king finally said. "You act as if you have been there."

Prussia fiddled with the cuff of his sleeve. "Well, I kinda have, in a way." He saw Fritz's eyes widen. "Not heaven itself, but. . . it's hard to explain."

"I shall try to listen," Frederick said, leaning forward a little.

He sighed and rubbed his temple in thought. Well, this was a fine little hole he had dug himself into. "Well, being a country, I cannot die, right?" Fritz nodded. "I can, however, be killed." Frederick opened his mouth to say something and he held up a hand. "Wait a moment, let me explain. My heart can stop beating. I can succumb to wounds and poison. If someone shoots me, I can die. I can fall victim to all those unfortunate accidents that so plague other people. But the thing that makes me so different is that I will not stay dead."

Frederick nodded slowly. "Yes, you have told me this many times."

"I have," Prussia agreed, "but this is one of my major points. I have not actually been to heaven or whatever, because only the truly dead people can go there. But when your body dies, your soul doesn't stick around. It has to go somewhere. Sometimes even those who are on the verge of death have their soul leave their body. But these people don't go to the afterlife, they're stuck in the between-place."

"The what?" Fritz asked.

Prussia waved a hand dismissively. "Limbo, the halfway point, the tunnel, the red field, Summerland, whatever they call it nowadays. We nations have always called it the between-place."

"Very creative," Fritz said with a smile.

"Whatever. But anyways, as nations we cannot 'die', in a sense. Our souls don't go to the Other Side. We can't. We are stuck in the between-place until we are resurrected. But I have talked to people from the afterlife and have listened to their tales." He paused again until Frederick gestured for him to go on. "Well . . .from what I've been able to hear—because they are really secretive about the whole thing—there is no divide in places. There is no 'heaven' filled with sunshine and happiness and rainbows in the clouds where everything is just dandy and there is no 'hell' with fire and brimstone and you're all chained up with horned devils wielding pitchforks stab you for fun while singing 'damn ye all sinners.'"

"What. . . " Frederick's expression said it all.

"Semantics. Anyway, all souls, good or bad, go to the afterlife. Some souls find it very enjoyable, some hate it. There is some divine influence going on a little there, I mean good souls are blessed to enjoy themselves and souls that have done wrong are given a hard time of it, but there's no such thing as throwing you into a pit of fire and letting you sit there for the rest of eternity over some crime. They don't just shove people into one place and let them stay there. What also plays a large part is your thoughts. Each person has a different view of heaven, so you can create your own heaven, in a sense." He was doing a poor job of explaining himself, but the afterlife was a blurry subject anyway. He could only relate what he had heard from others.

Frederick was silent for a long time after that. He stared out of the window, his eyes glassy and distant. He was so still that he could have been a painted statue. Finally a very small smile curled his lips. "It sounds very confusing," he said at last.

Gilbert laughed. "You're being kind. Besides, I wouldn't worry if I were you." He reached out and patted his head. "I'm certain that you'll get into heaven, or whatever the hell it's called."


 

Judgment

"The root of all evil in Germany is Prussia. It is a cancer that must be cut out."

He flinched and closed his eyes at the words that fell upon him. They were bullets aimed right at his heart and he could feel it beating faster. He swallowed and opened his eyes, telling himself that he would not cringe from their words like a guilty child being scolded by his parents. Ironically this was not a war that he had started, or had been interested in, and yet he was still to take the blame. It was better than the alternative though.

They all stood above him like wrathful gods. Britain looked furious; he could not let go of a grudge, could he? America looked slightly sad and could barely look him in the eye and France would not look at him at all and simply stared at the table. China was not present, he did not know Prussia very well and therefore did not care too much about what happened to him. And Russia was just sitting there with that damned smile on his face like he was at a fucking picnic.

Old Fritz, please help me, he prayed silently, feeling the weight of the situation starting to crush him. He had escaped this fate once before, but he wasn't so sure if he could replicate it.

"I vote that we dissolve the country of Prussia," Arthur went on, oblivious to the albino's thoughts. "We can get rid of this evil once and for all." His mouth twisted as he said this, as if he had just eaten a lemon. His sharp eyes scanned the others' as if waiting for an argument. . .or pleading for one. Even from his position Gilbert could see Arthur's hands shaking. Silence stretched out, broken only by someone tapping their fingers. "America?" Britain asked, hopefully it seemed.

The youngest country twiddled his thumbs uneasily. "Are we even allowed to do that?" He blurted out after a long pause. "I mean, you can't just say 'you no longer exist' and be done with it. Prussia still has a culture and people who believe themselves to be Prussians."

But that doesn't mean anything. Not in the long run. Prussia thought, his hands started to tremble. He gripped the arms of his chair to hide it.

He saw America's face fall. He must have missed the rebuttal in his fe—he gripped the chair tighter until his knuckles looked like they were about to pop out of his skin. He forced those thoughts out of his head. Well, he couldn't fault the kid for trying. And to think that he once believed that America would jump at the chance to get rid of his former mentor. He heard Alfred talking again. "For god's sake Arthur, you can't just kill him!" Oh boy, he was playing the "Arthur" card.

"Don't you think I already know that?" Arthur yelled, smashing his fist so hard against the table that the wood cracked. "My hands are tied Alfred. My Boss ordered me to do this. My people are calling for it. I can't do anything else." He looked away, ashamed at the little influence he had.

Oh this was rich. Was Arthur actually guilty for doing this to him? He might have laughed if he hadn't been so touched. He swallowed the lump in his throat and suddenly he realized Arthur's ploy. Britain's vote could be overruled by the others. For a moment he felt hope, but then it was cruelly squashed when he saw America shake his head. "My Boss agrees," the young country said haltingly. "I—I'm sorry Arthur. . . Prussia, I—" he finally looked at him "—I'm so sorry. I wish that there was something I could do."

He tried to smile, he really did, but he felt it mangle on his face. "Hey, don't beat yourself up over it," he said. His voice sounded hollow and distant even to his own ears. "You have to obey your Boss, no way around it." The same way hand to obey my Boss, he wanted to add. There words were still there though, hovering about the room, waiting to be plucked down and spoken.

Britain nodded, that lemon-look back. "France?" he asked gently. It was a freaking miracle; Prussia never thought he would ever see Britain talked to his archenemy in a voice that was not loud nor insulting. War really did forge strange alliances.

At first Francis did not reply. He held his head in his hands and stared at the table. He kept clenching his fingers as if he wanted to tear his hair out. Come on Francis, Prussia thought desperately. You can sway them. You still have some influence. But he knew deep in his heart that it would not work. They had invaded Paris, after all, and Napoleon and the Franco-Prussian War had not done wonders to their relationship. Even if Francis had forgiven his friend, his leaders had not. He saw the blond slowly shake his head. "Non," he said quietly. He sounded as if he was about to cry. "I have no say in this. My Boss votes yes."

A vote of majority. Prussia felt the last nail in his coffin being hammered home. Everything was too bright, his heart was racing and his mouth was bone-dry. The room tilted and righted itself again. This was it, wasn't it? This was how it ended. Not in the glory of battle, as he had always dreamed, but having his enemies simply talk about it with their politics and diplomacy. For a long moment he could not hear anything over the blood rushing in his ears, but then he saw Russia raise his hand. Oh what now?

"I would like to vote against the dissolution of Prussiyah," the violet-eyes man said quietly, his voice echoing in Gilbert's confused brain. He looked right at Gilbert as he said this, and the look in his eyes made him want to bolt. Look at what I'm doing for you, his expression said. I am trying to save your pathetic life, even though I don't have to. You owe me for this, Prussia.

Oh no, this was rich. Russia was sticking up for him? The only two nations that could rival each other in their hatred were Britain and France (although that might be changing) so why the hell would Russia want to keep him around? Ivan knew damn well that Gilbert hated him almost as he hated Feliks.

"Ivan, you are quite overruled here," Britain said reluctantly. "Even if—"

"Would you rather me withdraw my support?" Russia interrupted, his words as sweet as poisoned honey. His smile had not faltered for a moment.

There was a beat of silence. The Soviet Union was now one of the most powerful countries, and he never made idle threats. "Ivan, let's be reasonable—" Arthur began.

"Nyet," Ivan cut him off again, his voice losing all of its warmth. "Prussia may be dissolved, but I would be quite unhappy if dear Gilbert were to vanish. We all have been friends with him at one point, da?" No one replied, looking away guiltily. France winced as the word "friends" as if he had just been hit. Russia started to smile again, his lips twisting and making a cruel mockery of what should have been a comforting gesture. "Let me propose something," he said, looking like a wolf leaning closer to snap its jaws around the prey. "The country of Prussia may be dissolved, but give me the land. I can find a way to put Gilbert to use."

Oh fuck no—

"That. . .might be possible," Britain said after a pause.

"Do I have a say in this?" Prussia asked, his voice cracking.

Everyone turned to him. "Of course you do," Ivan said gleefully. "Why, if you don't want to come with me then I can always take Ludwig instead. He such a hard work—"

"Don't you dare touch him!" Gilbert yelled and leaping to his feet, kicking his chair away as he did so. He saw all of the Allies reach for their weapons.

Ivan's smile widened. "Then we know what the decision will be, da?"

He stared at them for a long moment, so furious that he was shaking. He wanted a knife or a gun or something that he could shove through Ivan's face and watch his head explode. After a long minute of silence he hung his head. Yes, he knew exactly what the judgment would be. After all, he had no other choice.


 

Bully

"—had I been treated so by my father, I would have blown my brains out, but this fellow has no honor; he takes all that comes." The king thumped his cane against the floor in his conviction.

Had I been treated so by my father, I would have killed him, not myself. Prussia thought in reply, wisely holding his tongue. He saw Frederick wince and turn his head as if to fend off a blow. From his position he could see the prince clenching his fists in his coat, probably imagining them around Frederick William's neck. He couldn't blame the kid for not sticking up for himself, that was just asking for the cane. Well, that was what he was here for, it seemed.

He cleared his throat a little. "My, King, if I—"

"Don't you start with me!" Frederick William immediately shouted, rounding upon him. "You and your little protests and 'If I may suggest's that you repeat like some goddamned parrot! When will you learn to keep a civil tongue inside your head?"

Alright, that was a little too far.

"When the person I'm talking to requires it!" he snapped back before he could stop himself. Shit, he thought as the others watching the spectacle gasped. Even Fritz looked amazed; no one but Prussia had ever dared to speak to the King in such a manner.

To his surprise, the cane did not immediately swing for his head. However, the fury he saw in Frederick William's stormy gray eyes promised something much worse. "And you are hardly the judge of that, as I can see." Frederick William snarled venomously. "With no official rank, you think that gives you the right to speak out whenever it pleases you, like a dog barking at shadows. Absolutely no manners at all."

"Your Majesty—" someone tried to say, his face pale.

"God, it's everywhere!" the king roared. "Always speaking up and interrupting! Fine students of the coward here." He gestured to Frederick.

The teenager bristled. ""At least they have something worthwhile to say," he replied coldly.

Prussia shot him a warning look. It was too late to save him, however. "Get out!" Frederick William yelled, finally swinging his cane. Frederick tried to avoid it and ended up getting hit in the shoulder instead of his head. One of the onlookers yelled and stepped forward, and then quickly jumped back as the king tried to hit him as well. In the distraction, Frederick turned and ran, heading straight for the door. "Look at him! So used to running that he doesn't even know how to stand and fight!" Frederick William yelled, snatching a vase and throwing it.

The heavy thing sailed through the air, aimed at the prince's head. It twirled as it flew and nearly crashed into a chandelier as it reached the apex of its path. Fritz paused at the door, trying to open it, and nearly leaped out of his skin when he heard the crack of a gunshot. He turned, petrified that his father might be shooting at him, and saw fragments of white porcelain flying across the room. Everyone's gaze was on Prussia, who casually lowered his smoking gun with all the calmness in the world.

The door flew open and nearly bashed him on the head. "Your Majesties," a servant said breathlessly. "Is everything alright? We heard a shot—" they were nearly knocked aside as Frederick ran past them.

Gilbert smiled and nudged a piece of porcelain with his boot. Oh yeah, his aim was still awesome. The smile was soon wiped off his face as the cane struck his hand, breaking bones and causing him to drop his gun.


 

Wind

He had always loved high places, even as a child. Especially as a child, actually. Whenever he got into a fight or didn't feel so well he always found the tallest tree that he could and climbed right to the very top. He remembered sitting like that for hours, just thinking about things until he felt the need to come down or until Aestii went looking for him.

That was harder to do nowadays. Mainly because most of the large forests had been cut down and the trees left were not nearly tall enough to satisfy him. If he wanted to find a good, proper sized tree then he would have to march into the more rural places of his country, which he could not do, unfortunately, unless he had a very good reason. But when he was in the middle of say, a war, then it was perfectly acceptable to wander about the terrain. He liked to be alone most of these times, but in this particular incident he wanted some company other than Gilbird. And he got it.

"I cannot believe I let you talk me into this," Fritz grumbled somewhere below him.

He smiled widely, knowing that Frederick couldn't see it, and forced back a laugh. "Oh please, it's not that bad," he said, finding a foothold on another branch. "Didn't you ever climb trees when you were little?"

"No, I did not," Frederick shot back, sounding almost offended by the question.

"Tch. You missed out on some great stuff." He replied, swinging up another few feet. He was now above the other trees and could see the sun setting in the distance. It turned the sky a vibrant orange and deepened the color of the trees to almost black.

Frederick's deadpanned reply finally made him laugh. "I shed tears of regret." Almost as soon as he said it the tree moved, prompted into a gentle sway by the wind. "Gilbert. . . "

He would have looked back but he was not at the right angle to do so. "Trust me, you're not gonna fall. Not unless a tornado comes through here. Just move slowly if you're nervous." A grumble answered him, protesting against his notion that his king was nervous. He would have laughed again but he knew that it would just upset Fritz even further. "If it's any consolation, we're almost there."

"This is complete insanity," Frederick muttered, apparently not taking it as a consolation. "We have no reason at all to climb trees like a bunch of monkies. It's undignified."

He would have rolled his eyes if Frederick could see him. "Oh loosen up a little. We can view the army from here."

"We aren't even facing the army."

Finally he came to a good, solid branch that was twice as thick as his own body. This tree had to have been very old to grow like that. He clambered onto the branch and leaned back against the trunk, feeling the wind play with his clothes and hair. Up here the air was clean and crisp, filled with the scent of the forest below them. Gilbird chirped in delight and flitted from branch to branch, warbling out the notes of a song. "Alright then, you get a magnificent view of the sunset," Gilbert said, pointing at the sinking orb of fire in front of him.

Fritz suddenly appeared next to him, looking several shades paler than usual and was trying not to look down. "And how is that supposed to be useful?" he asked, trying to raise an eyebrow and failing.

Prussia sighed. "No one is nearby, so we aren't going to be attacked, if that's what you're afraid of." He saw some of the tension leave Fritz face and grinned. "Now, come here and watch the sunset with me." Without any warning he grabbed his king and picked him up—prompting an undignified squeak from the monarch—and set him in his lap. "There," he said with a self-satisfied smile on his face. Fritz was just small enough for him to rest his chin on top of his head, which he did despite the grumbling he heard below him. Let Fritz grumble, he was enjoying this. "Your heart is beating way too fast," he muttered after a moment. With his arms around his lover's torso he could easily feel his heart working overtime through all of his layers of clothing. "Calm down a little, will you?"

"You could have warned me before doing something like that," Frederick shot back. Despite his words and tone he was leaning back against his chest and making himself more comfortable. "You scared me half to death."

He chuckled, which he probably shouldn't have but he couldn't help himself. "Do you think I would let you fall?" he asked quietly, hugging him closer like he was a giant pillow. Despite the wind, the heat of their bodies kept them warm.

He felt Frederick's chest expand and then heard a sigh. "No, I don't think you would," the king replied.

"Exactly," Prussia said, his smile widening. "So there's no need to worry. I'd rather cut off my hands than let you fall."

"Well, there's no need for that," Frederick answered with a chuckle, his humor returning. "Might I ask why we have to climb all the way to the top of a tree to view the sunset? We can do that on the ground."

"But this has a better view," Prussia said and tightened his grip a little. "And we are quite alone up here. No one would dare follow us."

He sensed rather than saw Fritz's smile. "I see," was the only reply he got. Then there was silence except for the occasional gust of wind. It was refreshing and invigorating; he could taste it on his tongue, fresh pine needles and sweet-smelling bark. It was his home.

The sun was almost halfway gone when Frederick spoke again. "This is quite nice once you get used to it," he remarked. He sounded amazed, as if he couldn't believe what he was saying.

"That shows you not to doubt my awesome ideas," Gilbert said, nipping him on the ear as punishment. He was promptly elbowed in return. "That was rude," he said gently nibbled on his neck. After all, it wasn't like Fritz could get away so he might as well take advantage of their situation. "Just wait until the sun goes down," he breathed, his lips gently ghosting over skin. "Then we'll really have some fun."

Fritz went very still at those words and what they implied. "What happens when the sun goes down?" he question, his voice heavy with suspicion.

Gilbert laughed. "We climb back down, of course. In the dark."

There was the expected silence. Then Fritz sat up. "Get me down," he ordered. "Now."

"But Fritz, the sun hasn't even set—"

"Now."


 

Flowers

Hmph! Why did the owners have to have a stupid flower garden in the middle of the yard? It was so boring and the pollen made him sneeze. Never mind the fact that mice liked to live there, whenever he dug up the stupid things to kill the mice he was always scolded, so he learned to leave well enough alone. He lashed his tail in annoyance and stared at the offending plants as if he wanted to tear them up anyway, regardless of the consequences.

Gilbird peeped from his head, gently pecking him on the noggin as if to goad him on. "Stop that," Prussicat meowed and swiped a paw at the chick. The bird was used to such things and simply flew over his paw before settling back down again. Prussicat scowled at him and then turned back to the flowers. "Old Fritzcat!" he yowled.

Something stirred in the depths of the flower bed. "Yes?" a voice that was considerably more gentle called back.

Prussicat laid his head on his paws and pouted as well as a cat could pout. "Come out of there. I'm bored!"

"And I was napping," Fritzcat replied in amusement. "And I'm going to continue my nap, if you don't mind."

"Of course I mind!" The albino cat meowed, leaping to his paws. "I wouldn't be bugging you otherwise! Friiitzcaaat, there's no one to play with!" He lashed his tail as he whined, stirring up grass and any unfortunate insects hiding in it.

"I'm sorry about that," the voice replied sincerely. "I will play with you after my nap, if you would like."

His ears drooped. "Can't you play now and sleep later?" Prussicat asked, slowly stepping closer until the flower stalks were right in front of his nose. He wanted to sneeze.

The figure in the flora moved again. "You can sleep with me and we can both play later," Fritzcat suggested, a smile evident in his voice.

Prussicat frowned. "That's. . . not fun," he said at last, his voice nearly a whisper.

"Suit yourself then," Fritzcat meowed back and was then silent.

Oh, Prussicat knew that ploy. Fritzcat would ignore him and wait for him to come because he knew that Prussicat hated to be ignored. Well he wasn't going to fall for it! Not this time! He could find other cats to play with. . . like Caustria.

He promptly banished the absolutely horrible idea out of his head and reluctantly stepped into the flower bed. His paws sunk into the dirt a little, making him feel as if he was about to be sucked underground. "I don't know why you like this place so much," he complained as he ducked under the flowers, feeling their leaves tug at his fur. "It's so stuffy and the pollen makes me sneeze." Right on cue he sneezed and his head smashed into a few flowers and coated his head in a fine layer of pollen.

"The pollen doesn't bother me," Fritzcat meowed immediately, showing that he had been waiting for Prussicat. "And I like how quiet and peaceful it is here. You're the only cat that bothers me."

"Hey!" Prussicat meowed, his ears dropping again. Was he really that annoying?

"Oh, I jest dear Prussicat," Fritzcat replied, turning to look at him. His fur was considerably thicker than Prussicat's and was mainly gray with white splotches. The most noticeable things about him were his bright blue eyes and the feather he kept tucked into his collar.

Prussicat sniffed and made his way over to Fritzcat, laying down beside him with an air of affronted dignity. The older tom just laughed and gave him a lick between his ears. "I have pollen on my head," Prussicat warned, rubbing some of the vile stuff from his nose.

"I can see that," Fritzcat purred in amusement. "Just sit still and I'll get it off for you." He went back to grooming his head, licking his ears, eyes, nose and anywhere else that he thought needed cleaning. It actually felt quite nice and Prussicat felt himself being lured to sleep by the gentle ministrations being given to him.

Screw playing, he thought to himself as he snuggled his head into Fritzcat's fluffy fur. This is much better.

Chapter Text

Pride

Standing on the crest of a hill, breathing in the smell of smoke and blood and battle, Prussia allowed a grin to twist his features. They had the Austrians on the run, and he had just watched his army perform that he could have wept with joyful pride. "I am so awesome," he said without the slightest trace of doubt. He was awesome and here was a display of his awesome power, right here in Hohenfriedberg.

Frederick lowered his spyglass a little to look at him. "Modesty is not one of your strong traits, I see," he said mildly. He had a small smile of his own that had not left his face ever since Gessler's dragoons had charged and nearly crushed the Austrian infantry.

Gilbert laughed. "Oh, hello there Pot. My name is Kettle," he replied, almost giddy with happiness. It felt as if he could spread his arms and fly right into the sky.

A chuckle answered him, but no denial came. "It is a marvelous feeling, watching your plans play out exactly the way you want them," Frederick said, glancing through his spyglass again. "The dragoons are performing wonderfully," he commented almost to himself.

"That's because they're Prussian," Gilbert said. How else could they be so awesome? The Prussian spirit in all of them made them the best warriors in the world. He hadn't felt so powerful since the time of the Teutonic Knights, when he had been the terror of Europe. For a while he thought that power had died. He was ashamed to admit that he thought that the strength, courage, and daring of his knights had faded when they had been disbanded, but now he saw that their power had not been destroyed, but had merely changed owners.

Frederick had been watching him, observing how his expression had changed. It had gone from ecstatic to something that he had trouble identifying at first. There was a soft, proud gaze that Prussia displayed to his troops, one that a father might wear as he saw his favorite son. Then suddenly Prussia turned that look on him. "Thank you," he said sincerely.

That took him by surprise. "For what?" he asked.

"For being awesome," Prussia said as if that was the only explanation he needed. He still had that wide smile on his face as, on a sudden impulse, he grabbed his king and pulled him into a tight hug.

Fritz was absolutely shocked. The Gilbert he knew did not act like this, not so openly affectionate and loving. But it didn't take him long to return the embrace. He felt Gilbert laughing against him. And then he heard something spoken in a language he could not even identify, much less understand. "What was that?" he asked.

Another laugh. "Something that my father was fond of saying when I was little," Prussia said. He nuzzled himself closer. "You know, when you were a child there were times when I wondered if you had been switched out with another child, like a changeling from the old tales. You didn't seem to have a drop of Prussia blood in you." He shook his head as if he still couldn't believe it. "And yet here you are, becoming a king that everyone will be proud to call their own."

A warmth blossomed in his chest when he heard those words. No one had ever been proud of him before. "Do you really think that?" he asked, for a moment sounding like a child desperately seeking approval.

Gilbert took a step back so he could look him in the eye. "I don't thinkanything," he replied in a serious tone. "I know how my people feel. Trust me, they will love you just as much as I do." Still buoyed by his euphoria, he leaned forward and kissed him, refusing to stop until Frederick pushed him away from lack of air.


 

Sloth

"Why in god's name would anyone get up at four in the morning?" The prince complained and tried to avoid Prussia's persistent prodding. "There is absolutely nothing to do!"

He sighed and prodded Fritz again, making sure to dig into the hollow of his shoulder. "There is plenty to do, if you find ways to occupy your time. Besides, it's the King's orders." He tried to pull Frederick into a sitting position and was more than a little surprised when Frederick jerked out of his grip and buried his face in the pillows. "Oh come on, you've been doing this since you were young. I shouldn't have to come in here and force you awake as if you're six-years old again."

"You don't have to," Fritz replied, his voice muffled by the pillow. He turned his head so he could be better heard. "If you leave me alone then I will be up by five, I swear."

"Sorry kid, you are in no position to negotiate," he said with a grin. "I also know that you don't want old Jupiter stomping in here, spitting fury and demanding to know why the hell you aren't up." He stood and slipped his hands under the mattress. "So now you get up or I flip this thing over."

Fritz shot up like a spring. "Don't!" he yelled, trying to shove him away.

He laughed and easily avoided the hands. "Much better. Quickly now—" he started to snap his fingers "—you don't want to make me shout this early in the morning."

"You won't," Frederick replied, rubbing his eyes. They were an angry red, which made his irises seem so much bluer. He moved sluggishly and kept shaking his head to keep himself awake.

That was a little odd, Fritz may have been a bastard to wake but once he was actually up he hardly showed any signs of fatigue. Gilbert wondered just how long he had stayed up last night. . . a positively wicked thought came to him just then, making him grin like a naughty child. He watched his prince carefully and noticing him grimacing whenever he move too quickly or twisted in a certain way, as if certain muscles deep inside of him were quite sore.

Oh this was too perfect.

He leaned against the bedpost as he watched Frederick stand up. Predictably he winced and very nearly put his hand to his back until he realized that Prussia was watching him. "So," the soldier said, leaning forward and tasting victory. "Has someone been keeping you up at night?"

To his credit Frederick did not jump or stutter or even blush. His face went as blank as a fresh sheet of parchment paper. "No," he said in a voice that was equally blank. Tooblank, in Prussia's opinion.

He sauntered over to Frederick and saw a trace of unease flicker across his eyes. "Are you sure?" he asked solicitously. "It looks to me as if you're in a bit of pain. Especially right here." Without warning he dug two fingers into his tailbone, eliciting a small yelp and the jump he had been looking for. "Because you see, I know that only very few things can hurt you in that particular region." He crossed his arms and went for the kill. "I wonder, at what time did von Katte return to his quarters last night?" His grin would have made the devil envious.

Fritz grew pale. "Gilbert, don't—" he began to plead.

"Kesesese~!" Gilbert had to laugh at his stricken face. "Relax, I'm not gonna tell anyone. Be glad it was me who woke you up today, or else this would be all over the palace in a few hours." He took Frederick by the arm and pulled him forward, forcing him to stumble after him or fall onto the floor. He ignored Fritz's gasps of pain and went on, "Now come on, we gotta walk that soreness out of your muscles. Sitting around all day won't do a whit of good."

"Gilbert—" the prince whined.

"Ah, ah, nope. Get dressed and I'll show you how to get rid of that pain." As Frederick slipped into his clothes, wincing every time he bent over, he commented, "Maybe next time you'll make him bottom and show him how it feels."

"Gilbert!" Frederick yelled, blushing up to his hairline.

He tried not to laugh, since he could see the other servants appearing. However, he was going to milk this for as long as possible. Fritz was not going to hear the end of this for quite some time.


 

Wrath

"Cracked right through his skull, Your Majesty. We could not do a thing even if we were in the very same room when it occurred."

"He was already dead when he was brought in, so there is not much we can do anyways."

"Oh, dearest Prussia—"

"Do not shed your tears yet, Wilhelmine. Sirs, I demand that you treat this man's injuries. If you cannot even do that then tend to your princess, her father abused her so fiercely that she was senseless for many minutes. We had to use smelling salts to revive her."

"Certainly, my Queen. If the princess could sit here. . . "

"But didn't Gilbert always say that he couldn't die…"

Ow. Ow ow ow ow. Oh sweet holy gods he hurt. He wasn't even moving and he could feel every nerve afire with pain. Coming back to life always hurt like a bitch. A soul did not like being forced back into its body. But it wasn't just his resurrection that made him hurt; while his mind was as slow as molasses in catching up with what happened, he had a pretty good, if vague, idea of what had happened to him. Waking up and hearing people talk about his injuries was nothing new, and he was certain that if he moved then he would be in a lot more pain than he already was.

Curiosity drove him on, however. He let his eyes slide open and he shut them almost immediately as bright light drove itself through them and sliced into his brain. Why did he do that? That was so stupid and now there were red spots coiling around the darkness behind his eyelids. The redness pulsed sickeningly and increased his headache with every beat.

"Gilbert?" he heard someone say. "I think I just saw his eyes move!"

He heard a few gasps and everything was suddenly very silent. It was unnerving and he could only hear a ringing in his ears that would not go away. Then he heard, very quietly: "Prussia?"

Yes, that was his name. He wanted to turn his head towards the voice, but judging from the pain in his head he was afraid that his skull would fall to pieces if he moved. He opened his eyes again and thankfully someone's silhouette was blocking out most of the light. He ran his tongue along his mouth, tasting blood and feeling for loose teeth. When he was certain that he could talk without fear of his jaw falling off, he managed to croak out a greeting. "Hello, Queen Sophia," he said, his voice wet and gurgling from the blood in his throat. His vision swam dangerously but righted itself after a few moments. "Might I ask where I am?" He couldn't see very well and the blurry furniture in the room gave him no clue as to his location.

The queen leaned a little closer. "You are in the royal surgeon's quarters Gilbert," she said quietly, her voice trembling a little. "Lie still, you've been badly hurt."

He tried to smile, but even that was painful. "I can see that," he murmured, barely able to talk any louder. "How did I get here?" Obviously he had been injured, but exactly how was escaping his grasp.

He could sense the atmosphere in the room change. "You don't remember?" Sophia Dorothea whispered.

Why did everyone look so tense? He tried to cast his memory back to before he was killed, but all he remembered were white and red spots. "Forgive me," he said, "but my mind is still quite muddled. Coming back to life does that to you. I cannot recall a thing."

At first he did not get an answer. Sophia Dorothea beckoned one of the surgeons over impatiently and once more ordered him to treat his injuries. Gilbert winced at every little touch on his skin, but he did not complain. "I was in the King's apartments. He had just returned from his trip and he told me that F-Frederick was dead." She paused to swallow the lump in her throat and continued steadily. "He demanded the chest of letters that you helped us burn and then forge, and he took it and hid it. When he returned we tried to mollify him, but the moment he saw Wilhelmine he became enraged and beat her until she fell to the floor, unconscious. He still tried to get to her, but we—" she waved her hand and Prussia only then realized that the entire royal family minus the King was in the room "—formed a circle around her and refused to let him pass. And then you came running in because you heard all of the screaming. . . Do you remember that much, Gilbert?"

His head hurt when he tried to think too hard, but his health was starting to pick back up. He could feel his more minor injuries healing and the disconcerting feeling of his bones knitting themselves back together. Even now the blood on his head had already stopped flowing. "Vaguely," he answered, his throat still sore. Something had definitely happened to it. "I remember arguing with the King about something, gods know what."

"You stepped between him and us," Sophia Dorothea told him. "You were telling him that Wilhelmine could not have had any possible idea about what Frederick was going to do, even though we all know you had no inkling of it. The King struck you across the face—" that explained why half of his face was throbbing "—and came towards us again. He accused Wilhelmine, myself, and you of being part of a plot to overthrow him and place Frederick on the throne." She sounded miserable as she said this, knowing how explosive her husband's paranoia made him.

The details around him were sharpening and he could clearly see that his queen had been weeping. Her eyes were still bright from unshed tears. "I seem to recollect him telling me I was being unloyal to or something of that manner." What were his exact words?

"Everyone knows that my brother has always been your favorite, Gilbert," Wilhelmine suddenly spoke up. She sounded unnaturally quiet. "Father always suspected that you were more loyal to Frederick rather than him."

He would have snorted, if his head had not been clogged with blood. "I would have too, if Fritz was king instead of him." One of the physicians gasped and he flinched as a bandage scraped across his head.

Sophia Dorothea sighed. "And that's what got you into this mess that you are in right now. When he paused for breath you said: 'My King, there is no such plot that you speak of. However, if there was such one then I would indeed join it, because no one would mourn your passing.'" She shook her head and gripped one of his hands tightly in both of her own. It was probably the only place in his entire body where he did not hurt. "Why in God's name did you say that to him, Gilbert? You had to have known what he would do to you."

Ah yes, now he remembered. He had known full well what would happen, and he had not been the least surprised when Frederick William had lost whatever sanity he had been holding onto and broke his knee with the cane. Ironically, Gilbert had been planning to defend himself for once, but his broken knee had put him on the ground and at his King's mercy. He could not recall exact details, but he did remember a boot trampling on his throat and the cane smashing his ribs, arms, head, and whatever else Frederick William could reach. Thankfully it had not lasted very long, because a particularly hard blow to his head had killed him in an instant. "I was not about to let him touch Wilhelmine," he growled out, his anger slowly flickering to the surface. "Already I regret not being able to save Frederick from his father's wrath, but I could never have forgiven myself if I let my princess suffer as well." He tried to sit up and was immediately assailed with "Sit down"s and "What are you doing" and "Stop"s. Hands grabbed his shoulders and chest and arms and gently pushed him back down.

"Please Gilbert, you are hurt worse than you think," Wilhelmine said, standing up shakily. The surgeons tried to help her back into her chair and she waved them off, which Gilbert thought was rather unfair. "Father still continued to hit you, even after you. . . He refused to stop until he broke his cane right in half."

His eyebrows went up. "He broke his cane?" He had always joked that one day it would break from all of the beatings it had given, but he never thought that it would actually happen.

The queen nodded. "It snapped and became useless. The King just stood there for a few moments in a dumb sort of shock, then he threw the pieces away and stomped off, proclaiming that he was going to find a new one."

Prussia repressed a shudder. He hoped at least that Frederick William had burned out most of his anger on him. "Let me up," he pleaded, trying to rise again. His head was no longer spinning and he could take a breath without it hurting. "I need to speak up with him."

He heard gasps. "Are you mad?" Sophia Dorothea asked, placing her hand on his arm. "He will not listen, especially not to you. He wants blood, Prussia, no matter whose blood it is."

"Then it is better that it is my blood than Frederick's or Wilhelmine's," he retorted, sitting on his elbows. "I can heal, my queen, they cannot. We need to convince him to spare your son."

"Gilbert—" she broke off as footsteps thundered outside of the room and an unmistakable voice rose in agitation. In a moment Prussia was sliding to his feet (thankfully the world tilted only a little) and making his way to the door, despite the objections he heard behind him. Someone grabbed him from behind and threw him into a chair just as the door opened to reveal the King.


 

Envy

Prussia did not hate him because of how he looked. His dress may have been silly in some regards, since Prussia had never acquired a taste for wigs, but it was tolerable. He didn't hate him because he spoke out against absolute rule, even though that disrupted the perfect order and discipline that Prussia prized so much. He didn't hate him because he hated the church, but then again Prussia had fallen out of his religious fervor a long time ago.

And yet Prussia loathed that man with every fiber of his being.

He was educated, well-read, creative, and cultured, everything that Prussia was not. It was also how he acted that made the nation hate him. He was a flatterer plain and simple. Normally that wasn't a bad thing, since everyone was one at some point in their life. But it was whohe was flattering with his praises and education and how his subject responded to it that stirred his anger.

He might have taken it better if the man didn't make Frederick so damn happy.

"Another letter almost as soon as I send one," Fritz would say, holding up a paper covered in elegant French script. "Voltaire must write as fast as a man can speak in order to spew them so quickly."

Prussia would never reply, knowing that whatever he said would be very rude and uncalled for. Thankfully Frederick no longer showed him the letters so he could read them. Seeing such phrases as "a Marcus Aurelis" , "Apollo" , "Alexander" , and "Berlin under your auspices will become an Athens of Germany" made him want to be sick. Frederick lapped up the compliments eagerly and that made him see red because he was supposed to make his Fritz happy and no one else. Yet here was this man, who was his exact opposite, who was able to please his King almost as much as he could and the only way they could communicate was through letters—just simple words on paper. All of that silver-tongued wit and poetry was something that Prussia didn't have, but sometimes, in his most private and vulnerable moments, he wished that he did have those qualities so he could make his King even happier than he already was. What made it all even worse was the knowledge that he hated Voltaire because he was jealous of him, and someone as awesome as himself should not be jealous of anyone, especially a Frenchman! On one hand his blood boiled at having such a ridiculous and idiotic weakness, yet at the same time that want, that longing to have something that was not his and probably never would be still ate away at him inch by inch. Every time that man was mentioned that little beast opened up its jaws and took a big, juicy bite out of his patience and self-control.

And Frederick, despite being such a shrewd and observing individual, seemed completely oblivious to his lover's hatred of the poet and why he hated him; or if he did know it, he ignored it completely. Sometimes Prussia wanted to smash his head into the walls from sheer frustration, but that would mean that they would have to spend hundreds of thalers repairing them. Not to mention that he would have to explain just whyhe was beating his heading into walls and that meant that he would have to have a conversation centered around Voltaire that would last longer than a minute. He might have some patience regarding that man, but not a lot. But, he could counsel himself with the fact that Voltaire was hundreds of miles away, in Paris, and not actually living with them in Sanssouci and therefore he didn't have to deal with him every day.

Even that changed.

He was furious when he first found out and Frederick probably had the first hint of what was troubling him. Not that he could put two and two together though. He simply assumed that it was Prussia's dislike of the French and poets in general and he missed the bigger picture completely. Gilbert had sulked—yes, he will admit to sulking—around the palace for days afterward and dreamed hundreds of ways to send that man back to France as quickly as possible. Most of them involved unnecessary violence and would have surely brought Fritz's anger down on him. While he hated that man, he hated seeing his love unhappy even more.

Meeting him was the worst. They had already met before, but with the knowledge that Voltaire would actually stay this time had Frederick smiling like Voltaire had just made his whole damn life complete by walking into his palace. Gilbert did not greet the Frenchman, and he felt his heart being torn in two when he saw Frederick's smile. He used to smile that way only for him. He never thought his jealousy or hatred could possibly increase, but it did. He quickly left because he knew that if he had to watch any longer then he would end up strangling their newest guest right in front of everyone. Again he sulked and snapped at anyone that so much as stared at him for too long. Not that Fritz noticed. He was too busy spending time with that man.

The only respite that he had was that Voltaire tended to skip the afternoon lunches. He had Fritz and all of his generals to himself then. It was like a sip of water being given to a parched man in a desert. Those lunches probably kept him from going insane. However, his patience was being chipped away by the constant praising and philosophical talk, which he now had to listen to in person instead of reading them in letters. Unlike the letters he simply could not turn off his ears and ignore what was being said. Sometimes he wished that Voltaire was also the name of an object, that way he could take it and beat that man with it. That would show him to flaunt that little tongue of his. But no, he had to be good. He wanted Frederick to be happy, so he reluctantly kept himself in check. At least it was just friendship and nothing closer.

Then one day he learned that Voltaire had told one of his friends that he had been charmed by the King of Prussia's "seductive blue eyes."

. . . Alright, that was it. That man was dead.


 

Lust

Frederick buried his face in his pillow and finally let out the frustrated scream that had been stuck in his throat for the past few hours. He gripped his bedsheets and thought of tearing them, but in all honesty that would not do a single thing to help him. Why had this happened to him? What in the world had he done to deserve this? Alright he was no saint, he knew that quite well, but this was too much even for him. He had just slipped out of one problem and had fallen straight into another; it was as if he endeavored to find the deepest holes in his life and jump right into them.

At a first glance it did not seem so bad. Everyone came down with the affliction that he had, but he was cursed with his situation being so much worse. If it were some low foot soldier or a pretty serving maid then it would not have mattered one bit. But it had to be his countryof all the people in the world! One day he would become king and rule over him, and here he was trapped by his own selfish desires. No matter how hard he tried, he could never erase his sinful thoughts from his head. What was worse was that he did not entirely want to.

It was hard pinpointing the exact time he wanted to, well, fuck his nation senseless. It had been a gradual and subtle process. Once he had his freedom from Küstrin he started to notice little things that had not seemed so important in the past. The way Prussia moved, that proud way he held his head, the shape of his face, the timber of his voice, the angles and planes of his lean body. . . all at once he had been struck with a sudden craving, a desire, so powerful that at first he had absolutely no idea what to do. He had floundered for a bit, staggering against the implication that he wanted Gilbert, the man he had known ever since he had been a child. It made his mouth dry and his heart race, and not in an unpleasant way.

God, you are such an idiot! He berated himself more than once. First Katte, and now Gilbert? When will you pick someone who will not get you into trouble? He did not think that even he and Katte had been this complicated. Katte was a soldier, Prussia an immortal nation who he one day had to rule, and how was he supposed to do that when he could barely stand to be in the same room as him?

Well,
 a small part of him said, there is an entirely different way you can rule him.

And there it was, the tightening in his abdomen that sent shivers down his spine. He could hardly work because the albino's face kept popping up in his thoughts. Sometimes he could see it better than he could see his own hands. He could see that face contorting in ecstasy and absently wondered what sort of sounds he would make. Would Gilbert moan, or would he beg? Just thinking about it made him shake. What would it feel like to touch him? What was hidden underneath that concealing uniform? His imagination was quite out of control and the different scenarios, sounds, and visions that his mind conjured had kept him awake for more than one night.

This was so sordid and detestable. He dared not let a single scrap of his thoughts show.

Prussia was not an idiot, however. He knew when something was up. "So, who's the lady this time?" he asked one day when Fritz had been caught in a particularly vivid daydream. "Or man, whichever you prefer this time around." His grin was sharp and teasing and he loomed over Frederick as he leaned over the back of his chair.

Fritz had not been expecting the abruptness or the bluntness of the question, and he jumped. "What?" he asked dumbly.

An amused chuckle answered him; it was deep and right above his ear and it turned his bones to sponge. He felt his chair creak as Prussia leaned further down. "You're mooning again," the country whispered into his ear. "I can see it. Just like when you were chasing after Katte, but this is something fierce." The smile in his voice was obvious.

He could feel the warm breaths puffing against his ear and neck, distracting him the most marvelous way. "I do not moon," he said indignantly. How he managed to respond in such an even voice was beyond him.

Prussia laughed and lord what a sound it was! It made his spine tingle as if warm water had been poured down his back and when Prussia's hand came down on his shoulder he felt his breath stop for a moment. "Oh, you do," Prussia said, rubbing his shoulder gently, although not in the way that he wished he would. "I saw you mooning after von Katte like a schoolboy and I see you mooning now. You see, when you're after someone for a quick fuck you step in and take what you want. You suck them dry and throw the husk away like an orange." Gilbert moved until he was down on one knee and resting his chin on Frederick's other shoulder. At one point in time it would have been comforting, but now it was anything but that. "But when you like someone, when you want them to stick around, you hesitate. You step much more carefully and since you can't immediately have what you desire, you daydream."

His words registered very distantly in the prince's brain. Most of his mind was busy screaming, Stop breathing in my ear can't you see that I am just two seconds away from bending you over this desk and—

"Fine then, don't tell me," Gilbert huffed, bringing him back to the present like a dog being tugged by a leash. "I'll find out anyway." He stood up and Fritz's eye was drawn to the way his thighs rippled under his breeches. His pants suddenly felt very tight and he quickly crossed his legs. Gilbert, still oblivious, turned and made his way towards the door. Fritz chanced a glance down and—damn. That stupid coat Gilbert always wore hid his ass completely, giving only a teasing outline. The country paused, as if sensing the stare, and then half-turned. He craned his head around and a small, distant part of Frederick wondered why no one ever wrote poetry about necks; they were so gracefully curved and at the same time there were so many little details such as the muscles that traveled into the collar of his cravat and the almost invisible vein that pulsed right beside it. He could have written hundreds of things about them. "You can't hide something from me for long," Gilbert promised with a cheeky grin and finally headed out. Frederick had completely forgotten what he was talking about.

"Idiot," he sighed when he was certain that he was alone. "Stupid, foolish, idiot." His last words came out almost as a growl and he put his head in his hands. The letter he had been writing blurred in front of him and he couldn't comprehend the words to save his life. His work was now officially ruined, he couldn't get a single thing done when he had those words and that smile and that touch fresh in his mind. He rubbed his shoulder lightly and sighed again because he knew that he wasn't really putting up much of a fight, no matter how much he wanted to.

He tried to distract himself with other things, but horse riding was dull and the gardens he was so fond of seemed leeched of all color. For once he was not much of a conversationalist and his befuddled mind could not keep up with the talk of physics and philosophy anyway. He couldn't even play his flute. Not out of lack of trying, but his mind was so focused on a certain someone that his fingers would tangle up and the notes he was trying to play would come out as a jumbled mess. That hurt him more than anything, because his dear principessa had always provided him a refuge from the world and made him forget his troubles, however briefly. Now not even she could touch this problem.

Sleep evaded him. Every time he lay in his bed and closed his eyes his fantasies came rushing to him gleefully. The only way he ever fell asleep was if he exhausted himself so thoroughly that he barely had any strength to think once he hit the mattress. Many times he lay awake in the darkness, heart pounding, tormented by the empty space beside him and how dearly he wished for a certain albino to be filling it. It was only during times like these he could indulge himself. His face burned with shame as he touched himself, but his body responded so eagerly to his ministrations that he soon forgot himself completely. He always came quickly, but he felt so pleasure as his body shook with his orgasm and he spilled himself onto the sheets. Gilbert was still not with him and whatever brief relief he had was a lie, a ghost of the fulfillment he wanted. Just like a mirage in a desert.

Exhausted and near-sick with his delusions, Frederick wiped his hand on the covers and wondered if this is what going mad felt like.


 

Gluttony

"Hmmm, this is delicious," Prussia murmured contemplatively as he swirled his wine in his glass. It was a deep, rich red that matched his eyes when held up to the light.

"The finest from Hungary," Frederick responded with a smile, sipping his own drink. He had acquired a taste for it in Silesia and always had a bottle in his cellars, not matter how expensive it
was.

Prussia frowned at the mention of Hungary, but did not say anything. He stared at his wine for a few moments, then tipped his glass back and drained the whole thing within a few moments. "More please," he said politely, hiding a grin as he set his glass back down.

Frederick tried not to roll his eyes at his nation's manners (or lack thereof) and wordlessly uncorked the bottle. Thankfully they were alone, or else he would be dying of embarrassment. "Don't drink it all now," he warned as he poured it. "It will go to your head. You're supposed to enjoy it."

Gilbert laughed and reclaimed his glass. "I drink you out of your cellars before you'll see me drunk," he said. "I have a very high tolerance. Besides, you've had more than I have." Fritz shot him an exasperated look but did not reply, meaning that he had won this round. He smiled in amusement and speared a portion of cake and popped it in his mouth. While private dinners were delightful to him, it was the dessert course that was his favorite. The sweet cakes and pies with their chocolate sauce and cream made his toes curl and made the wine taste sweeter. If it was possible to live off of such pleasures as these then he would have done it a long time ago.

He felt eyes on him and looked up to see Frederick watching him. "What?" he demanded.

"Nothing," the king said with a smile, slowly taking a bite of his own cake. His gaze never wavered and never blinked, which made Gilbert more uncomfortable by the second. It felt as if those eyes were boring right through his skin and flesh and reading his very soul. "I'm just amazed," Frederick said after a long silence, hiding his laughter when he saw Prussia slump in relief. He knew how uneasy he could make people just by looking at them and he often took advantage of it. "You have eaten almost an entire cake by yourself and yet you attack your food as if you just returned from a campaign. One has to wonder where all of that food goes."

Prussia laughed that odd "Kesesese~" laugh that always gave Frederick goosebumps. "Of course I can eat a lot of food, I'm awesome like that!" He reached for another piece as he spoke." "Besides, it would be shameful to waste all of this." He ate nearly a third of it in one bite and leaned back in his chair, looking as content as a cat in a sunbeam.

A scolding was on the tip of Frederick's tongue and he opened his mouth to tell his nation to sit up straight and not in such an improper manner, but his words died in his throat. The candlelight cast a soft glow on Gilbert's blissful face, making him look absolutely gorgeous. It would be a shame to waste such a sight, like Gilbert had just said. He rested his head on his fist and abruptly felt a wave of dizziness from the movement. He reached for his wineglass and to his shock found it empty; he could have sworn he had more.

"Tsk, you can't let your glass stay empty for long," Prussia said, noticing his problem. He quickly reached over and grabbed the wine bottle and poured some more of the blood red liquid into his cup. "Drink up, it might go bad after a while." Frederick wondered what he was grinning so widely about.

For a moment he questioned whether or not it was wise to drink so much, since he had only had. . . actually he couldn't remember how many glasses he had. He knew that should have bothered him but it did not. Oh well, it wasn't like he had to entertain guests or anything of the sort, so he was allowed to be less than clearheaded. "Aren't indulgences such as these looked down upon?" he mused rhetorically, sipping his drink.

"If either of us was religious then we might have reason to worry," Gilbert laughed. He drew his finger around the chocolate sauce left on his plate and licked it. "However, seeing as we are not, we can indulge and sin to our hearts' content." He eyed the rest of the dishes speculatively, which were merely more wine, chocolate, and cream. The sweetest sins of mankind, and no more food to grace them with. "Finish your wine and we'll get rid of this extra stuff," he said, dipping his finger in a bowl of cream and sucking on it.

Frederick downed nearly half of his wine in one swallow and almost burned his throat. "How do you plan to do that?" he coughed.

Gilbert's grin stretched from ear to ear. "I have ways," was his only answer.


 

Greed

It was very cold, despite the layers of blankets draped over him and the body snuggled against his. Frederick wondered if there was a draft somewhere. Not likely, since the windows were closed, but he had no explanation for the chill that was raising the hairs along his arms and neck. It seemed to come from inside him, which was absolutely absurd because the body was always warm on the inside. He frowned a little and pulled the blankets up until they reached his neck.

The man next to him sighed at the movement, drawing his attention downwards. He was a young infantryman with a rather attractive face, including a pair of gorgeous green eyes. It was rather odd, he mused, that such a brash individual could have such fine features, one would almost call them "pretty." Even now with the way the man was snuggling closer to him for warmth was adorable, the way he acted reminded him a lot of Gi—

There was that chill again, although stronger by twofold. Frederick scowled into the darkness as if it was the culprit of his fluctuating temperature. This was ridiculous, he couldn't be feeling guilt, could he? He never had before, so why should he now?

Because you've never fought before,
 a dark, treacherous little voice in his head whispered. It only came to him in the darkest hours, when he was pondering over more dismal thoughts. This was never an issue until just recently. Think about what your dear Gilbert said to you earlier. What do you think would happen if he saw you now, all cuddled up with your newest toy for the night?

His heart thudded painfully against his ribcage and ice prickled down his spine. He did not want to think about what would happen, because it would be terrible. There was another sigh, coming from his "toy," whose name he suddenly couldn't remember. The grip around his arm tightened and he wanted to shove it away, but at the same time he did not want to wake the sleeper. Well, at least he wasn't hugging him back or anything, it was all one-sided.

And that means
 what, exactly? the voice asked him. You're letting him do it, so you aren't entirely unwilling.

He dearly wished that voice would be quiet. It was bringing forth all of the things he wanted to repress. All of the words he wished he hadn't said.

"Another one?" Gilbert demanded as he saw a figure leaving discreetly through the gardens. "Didn't you already have someone a few weeks ago?"

Frederick turned his eyes away from the man as soon as he was certain that he wouldn't be caught. "Yes, but you can't keep them for very long," he answered mildly. "Too many times together and they'll start to think that they're something special." He turned back around as he said this, and as a result he missed Prussia's stricken look.

Alright, that was in bad taste, he will admit to that. He had absolutely no intention to wound Prussia with those words, but he had. Oh, his dearest was far too sensitive sometimes. On the other hand. . .

"I don't see why you're so upset," he said, not even looking up from his writing.

Prussia leaned over the desk, his hands gripping the edges so tightly that Frederick could see the veins in his knuckles. "Don't play dumb with me," he growled in such a dangerous tone that Frederick looked up in alarm. "You know exactly why I'm upset." He was trembling all over and his eyes were hard.

He swallowed and carefully set his pen down. "I know why," he said, "but I don't know why you take it so harshly—"

"So I should just act slightly annoyed when my lover runs around with other men like some dockside whore?" Prussia yelled, unable to restrain himself.

In an instant he was on his feet and glaring at his nation with real anger. He was rather irritated that he was shorter than Prussia, because he had to look up to see his face. "Don't you dare speak to me in such a manner," he said, fisting his hands at his sides.

"I will say what I want to say, even—"

"Enough!" Fritz shouted, cutting right through his sentence. His own eyes were icy and sharp as broken glass. "Do you own me now? Am I your slave, not even allowed to do as I please? Should I be chained to your side like a dog?"

Gilbert's eyes narrowed. "I would like it if the 'servant of the state' would not treat his state like a bauble that he can take out and play with whenever he desires."

He felt his anger rising like a wave. "So I should even give away my freedom for—"

"I give you everything!" Gilbert exploded, smashing his fist against the table hard and upending two inkwells. "All I ask for is some equality in that matter!"

He bit his lip, still seeing Prussia's face in the darkness. He remembered his expression as he said that, as if he was tearing the words right from his soul. Deep down, Frederick knew that he was right. But the problem was that neither of them liked it when they were wrong, so instead of admitting their faults they turned around and tried to hurt the other. Their arguments played over in his head, each word another sharp needle of pain driven right into his heart. He hated how Gilbert could make him feel guilty. He had never cared for his little flings until Prussia opened his mouth and spilled out the words that struck him to his core.

"I give you everything I am, and you still want more!" Prussia cried, his eyes bright with tears he refused to shed. "Am I just not good enough to satisfy you?"

 

Chapter Text

Kingdom

Once upon a time there was a group of people called the Aestii. They were a peaceful sort and did not fight wars with their neighbors or go out and slaughter villages. They loved nature and worshipped the mother goddess as their deity. Like many different places around the world, these people had a person who personified them and their culture. His name was also Aestii.

Aestii looked like a man and acted like a man, but he was not a man. He had a special connection with his land and people, he could feel their joys and sorrows in his heart as if they were his own. Even though he represented the land and people, he was still very human in many ways. He even had children. But they were not children that had been born from a wife. These children had no mother, and were born from the earth. They were a sign of things to come. These children were called Lithuania and Prussia. They were both quiet and gentle children and they lived a peaceful, uneventful life.

And then the Romans came.

They were strangers with odd metal armor and metal weapons. They were wonderful and fierce and many were curious about them. Aestii was delighted when he saw that these people had someone who represented them as well: a man called Roman Empire. Aestii knew only a few people who were like him, only Scania and Germania, and this comrade could become a friend. However, Lithuania was frightened of the Empire and Prussia did not like him.

The Romans were conquerors, but for some reason the Aestii were spared. Instead they were interested in amber, which washed up along the coastline. The two of them started to trade back and forth, and this continued on for years. Along the way Aestii gained two more children, Estonia and Latvia. Even though they were all related, none of the children were very close to each other. They watched their father deal with the Romans, but they noticed that every day that their dearest parent was looking paler, thinner, and more tired. This continued on until one day they woke up and found Aestii gone. He had disappeared, as all nations eventually do, and the children were left alone. Lithuania was the oldest and took it upon himself to take care of his siblings. But Prussia was a very independent child, so he left his home to live with Germania and his children.

At first the other children mocked him and treated him cruelly, but Germania took him in and raised him as his own. Over time Prussia grew distant from his brothers and regarded the Germans as his new family. He and his adopted siblings fought often, but then they would also band together to fight the Romans. They sacked the city of Rome over and over, eventually toppling the mighty Empire. After he fought by their side, Prussia was considered to be part of the family instead of an unwanted burden. However, soon after the Roman Empire fell, Germania disappeared just like Aestii had. It was a huge blow to the Germans, especially Prussia, who saw Germania as a second father. Left alone to fend for themselves, the children grew separate and went off on their own.

In the time known as the Dark Ages, all of the countries had lost their parents, and they were as confused and lost as their people. Many of them turned to fighting and conquering and they were making the beginning of their own countries. Prussia went back to his own lands, trying to live peacefully by himself. For a while he succeeded, but then the Germans invaded his home. They slaughtered his people and kept him as a captive under their rule. They were known as the Teutonic Knights. The knights held him for years, trying to break him and his people. But Prussia would not fall. He fought and fought, but eventually he realized that he could not win against such a powerful enemy. Instead of fighting, he decided to join him.
He killed the original leader of the Teutonic Knights and took control of the order. He rode with them into battle and was forced to kill his own Prussians. He learned how to fight and conquer, things essential for a country to know. After a while the influence of the Germans took its toll on him and his people; they saw themselves as wholly German and paid little attention to their Baltic roots. He did not think about his brothers anymore. With the knights he grew strong and his name was feared throughout the land. "The Teutonic Knights are invincible," people would whisper to each other in fear. Then one day Prussia fought against Poland and Lithuania at the Battle of Tannenberg. He no longer looked upon his brother with love, but greed. The battle was very fierce, and Prussia saw his knights crushed by his older brother. They never recovered and their power was broken.

Even though the order was gone, existing only in name, Prussia refused to fade. He lived, even though his people and lands were scattered. Later, Poland granted one of his knights some land, and he made the land into a country: Prussia. His fortune was suddenly reversed, and now that he was a proper country he started to grow strong again. Centuries passed and he rose and fell. Sometimes his leaders helped him, sometimes he had to help himself. But no matter how hard he tried, war, famine, and other countries would keep him forever down, groveling before them. He found himself constantly overshadowed by larger, wealthier, more civilized countries.

His kings gave him an army. A wonderful, dazzling army that his fellow nations swiftly grew jealous of. But only one took advantage of this army. He led them to war and glory. He defeated many of his enemies, all of whom were larger than his country, and made Prussia into a great power. No one had ever done this to Prussia before; his leaders in the past had more often than not wanted to further their own power, but this man had fought and shed blood just for his country's benefit. In return, Prussia loved this king with all of his heart and was absolutely devoted to him. He did anything and everything for his beloved, which was reciprocated wholeheartedly. For a long time the king and his country lived peacefully together, but one day the king died, just like everything else that Prussia had ever loved.

His death threw Prussia into the deepest grief, one that he thought that he would never recover from. His new king replaced the old, and he felt his power waning. Prussia was never one to give up, so he pulled himself out of his depression and put all of his work and energy into taking care of his new little brother, the one who knew deep down in his soul would replace him one day. Through the years Prussia fought, and sometimes he was beaten, but many times he was victorious. He waged wars for his little brother, and under the rule of another great king and his minister they formed a new country and placed his brother at the head of it: Deutschland. Germany.

The brothers rose to power together, laughing at the world that had tried to hold them down. But then disaster struck. War broke out, but it was not any old war that Prussia fought on a regular basis. This was a great war, a war to end all wars, a war in which the world was involved. For a while the Germans were winning, but then the tide turned against them. Their enemies knocked them down and Prussia found himself facing the executioner's axe. Others wanted to destroy his country and make it little more than a memory. However, fate stayed Death's hand, and while he escaped he was stripped of his power and left to wallow in despair.

But while the siblings were struck with poverty and sickness from the war, after many years Germany began to grow stronger. His people rose out of the dust and were headed by a leader who had words of silver and could turn many to his cause. Prussia watched as his little brother got stronger, feeling himself fall at the same time. The larger and more powerful Germany grew, the more Prussia declined. Then they began another war that was much like the first—and once more the world fought—and again they seemed destined to win. But history was repeating itself, and when they seemed at the height of their power they were once again pulled down. They were charged with crimes of the utmost evil, and this time there would be no mercy. The blame fell upon Prussia once more, and the nation's heart broke when he saw his own brother agree to his death. His country was dissolved and his greedy neighbors tore him apart as they laid claims to lands that were once his.

Prussia should have died then. He had no land or people to call his own. But he did not.

He was taken by his most hated enemy and forced to live under a new roof, under his rule. He was given a new name, Deutsche Demokratische Republik, and became a slave to his captor's will. Prussia tried to be obedient, but for such an independent spirit like himself he found that hard. He tried to fight, but he was punished harshly. Then his enemy built a Wall in the middle of his country and split his heart in two. Suddenly he was alone, isolated from his dearest little brother by an obstacle that could not be broken. And yet, the irony of ironies, Prussia found himself reunited with his Baltic family. They all suffered together, subjected to every kind of torture that their captor could think of in order to break them. The years went by and every day Prussia grew weaker. He barely had any hold on the world, not even his own people called themselves Prussians anymore. He became compliant to his new status, trying to live as he was now but he could not help but remember his days of the past. At times the former nation would weep himself sick at the loneliness he felt and wonder why he did not die.

His enemy was flawed, and as time went on his power grew weaker. Other nations hounded him and wore him down until his power finally broke. Prussia fled, running to the hated Wall that his people were tearing down. But as the power of his enemy crumbled, so did he. His country was uniting with his brother's and he was no longer needed. He fell, kicking and screaming all the way. Once again he was dying, and once more he fought. He was stricken with poverty, his people were disheartened, his land nonexistant, and his name was just as it was: nothing more than a name to be lost in history. And yet Prussia would still not die. Despite all of his suffering, Prussia still wanted to live. He became the other half of his brother's country, like the other side of a coin. His own force of will kept him alive.

And he stills lives on, even to this day. Because he was too stubborn not to.

Chapter Text

Spring

Spring was often depicted as a wonderful and happy time of the year, when the hard vicelike grip of winter loosened and the flowers began to bloom again and the birds were starting to sing. The days were warmer and longer and brighter, filled with the promise of a fresh start to the year. People smiled to each other and were generally in better spirits, which was natural considering that the snow and cold had finally gone. Fritz certainly loved it because it meant that he could return to his dear Sanssouci and spend time among his beloved gardens that he enjoyed so much.

Prussia hated it with a passion.

And there was only one reason that he hated it. It seemed that when the earth shifted, everyone went absolutely nuts. There was more energy in the people and the land, as if all throughout the winter they had been storing up their energy so they could release it all in one explosive burst when springtime came around. He could feel the happiness of his people and sense the farms and grasses growing as if in a race. It felt awesome, like being reborn, but at the same time it gave him the most debilitating migraines he could ever imagine. He couldn't count the amount of times he had been forced to simply lay on a couch all day with a cold cloth over his forehead, shivering as spasms of pain shot up and down his body like lightning.

It happened every year, but it was never something he could just "get used to," as the saying went. How the hell were you supposed to "get used to" the feeling of a red-hot knife slowly impaling itself through your temple? Not that anyone ever told him that, because they feared his reaction, but he was well aware of the odd (and sometimes resentful) looks that he got from others. As if they were asking why he was just lazing about when there was work to do. Most of the time however he was quite alone, stuck lying down with only Gilbird to keep him company as an unholy pain ripped apart his head bit by bit.

Frederick never said anything about his migraines. He just gave him the occasional puzzled look, mainly because he wondered how in the world a simple headache could keep his nation down. Nonetheless he let Gilbert lie on his couch and gave the albino anything he requested. "Just get some rest," he murmured quietly, with a gentle smile. "It will pass eventually."

On that particular day Prussia didn't even have the strength to nod his head in reply, and just kept his arm thrown over his eyes to block any light. He felt a kiss on his cheek and footsteps leaving, and then he was all alone. It hurt, but he knew that as his king Fritz was constantly busy and he couldn't put off his work even if he wanted to. The nation simply swallowed the lump in his throat and pressed his face into the back of the couch.

Hours passed, with the occasional footsteps coming and going, and he felt evening draw near without even opening his eyes. He slept in short fits, the pain in his head usually too great to allow him to drift off. Suddenly, he felt the hairs of his neck rise, and he lifted his arm up a tiny fraction to squint at the room. It seemed unusually dark for the time (the clock had chimed 5 o' clock not too long ago, driving another nail of pain through his eyes with each clang) and he could sense his people becoming quieter. He wondered why, and then he was answered when an earsplitting crash of thunder broke the silence and caused him to scream as white spots of pain flashed across his vision. Was there no merciful god in the universe?

Another damn spring storm, he thought fuzzily to himself, in a murderous humor as rain began to pound the windows. Is there not one moment when a man can get a bit of peace?

As if to mock him further, the doors swung open to spill light and noise in from the outer halls, making him whimper and cringe in pain. In came Frederick, looking only slightly annoyed with the weather, shooing servants away with a dismissive gesture. They scurried about, arms loaded with firewood, and started to build up the fireplace. Little did they know that every dull clunk of a log was like Thor's almighty hammer coming down upon his brain and each scrape was nails on a chalkboard. It didn't take them very long to get a fire started, and then they bowed and left.

He heard Fritz's footsteps pacing the room, but on their third turn they stopped abruptly. "Gilbert?" the shocked voice of his king asked, as if surprised to still find him there.

He was so shocked at being noticed that he immediately answered: "Yeah?" He winced as he heard his own voice claw its way out of his throat. It vibrated through his skull and sent little sparks of agony dancing across his nerves.

There was a pause. "Are you still. . . feeling unwell?" Frederick asked, lowering his voice some.

He raised his arm a little so he could see his king. "Y-Yeah, a little bit." Hah. A little bit. The understatement of the century. A "little bit" didn't even cover a tenth of what he was feeling, it was a drop in an ocean. A bitter smile crossed his face, but he felt his lips trembling from the exertion.

Frederick watched him for a few moments, no doubt taking in his trembling shoulders and twitching fingers, every little hitch of his breath when another jab of pain pierced the back of his skull. Then he lifted his eyes, cold, clear, and light as aquamarine, to Gilbert's own: swollen, watery, and even redder from all of the bloodshot vessels. Without another word he turned and left, disappearing into his bedchambers.

An unexpected lump formed in his throat from Fritz's cold departure. What had he expected, some sort of pity? Well, kind of. A tiny "sorry" would have been good, but apparently that was too much to ask for. He turned his face back into the couch, tears burning in his eyes and his head pounding worse than before. It might have been the combination of misery and agony, but he did not hear Fritz come back into the room. He did not hear him stoke the fire. To him, the flute came out of nowhere and in his shock he lifted up his arm to see Frederick standing right in front of him, blocking out most of the firelight. His eyes were half-lidded and his fingers gently swept over the keys, coaxing a low, warm sound from the instrument. He would have thought that any music would have been the most unbearable of tortures, but this fell upon his ears like a caress and soothed him like a lullaby.

"Fritz. . ." he whispered when there came a pause in the music.

"Hush, Liebster," Frederick replied and then launched into the next part of the song.

In his amazement, Prussia did just that. He felt the music reaching deep into him, relaxing his tense muscles and calming his nerves. He had no idea what the name of the song was, but he had no doubt that it was something of Frederick's own composition. He sank deeper into the couch and simply listened to the notes. When the song finally came to its end he had almost fallen asleep, and the sudden silence brought him back to full awareness. The couch dipped as someone sat beside him.

A marvelously cool hand started to stroke his face. He lifted his arm the tiniest bit to look at Fritz. "Was that good?" the king asked almost shyly. "Did that. . . help, in any way?"

He smiled again, although it was much wider this time. "Yes, it did," he said, his voice just a murmur. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," Fritz said with a matching smile. The back of his hand pressed against his temple. "You feel a little warm." He frowned a little in worry, and then bent down and gently kissed him. "I hope you feel better," he whispered against his lips.

Laughing hurt, so Gilbert just smiled even wider. "I already do," he replied, laying his hand across the side of Fritz's face and bringing him back down for another kiss.

Well now, he supposed that spring wasn't too unawesome, not if he was going to get this sort of treatment on a regular basis.


 

Summer

The warm, rolling tides of summer was the best time of year to be in Sanssouci. Not that that was much of a shocker or anything, it was a summer palace after all. But the beautiful terraced vineyards bloomed a lush dark green and the gardens regained their full splendor and dappled the grounds with roses that glowed a myriad of colors in the sunlight. The scent of flowers was always heavy in the air and the sparkling fountains dampened the plants just enough so the smell was never too overpowering and lay just beneath the surface of one's senses.

The gardens were so large that a stranger could easily get lost in them. To those who knew the palace well (such as, say, the person who designed it) the gardens were a sanctuary where one could go off for a moment of privacy. No one would come looking for you because no one knew where you were.

With all of the headaches and pain of spring gone, Prussia was left to bask in the warmth and laziness of summer. And he did just that, lying on his back under the shade of a fig tree with his head pillowed in Fritz's lap. The empty air was being filled with a gentle song from the flute; the notes were played so softly that you couldn't hear the music if you were more than twenty paces away. Despite the soft and dappled light in the trees and the gentle sweep of the hedges that gave a watcher a wonderful view of his surroundings, Prussia's eyes were closed and his attention was focused solely on the rhythmic breathing above his ear and the cadences of the music. It was not the first time he had heard this particular song, but he was the only one aside from Fritz who knew that it even existed. It was not a song for concerts and performances, but a gift that was shared between them, something that was played only when they were alone.

A love song, as Gilbert had once described it. Fritz had blushed terribly when he said that and tried to ration and make some bullshit explanation for him, and Prussia had laughed and said that it was the sissiest thing his king could ever have done for him. There had been no venom in his words and quite a bit of softness to his eyes when he said it, so Fritz knew his nation didn't mind a bit. Ironically enough it was one of Prussia's favorite songs, and not just because he knew what it was about.

The ending was marked by a downward spiral of notes that reminded him of rain and one long, low note that eventually faded into silence. C sharp. Prussia didn't like the ending. There was a sort of sadness to it, as if the world was being deprived of something. The drowsy warmth chased away most of it, but the feeling still remained.

His eyes were still closed, but he could hear Fritz putting his flute away. He was always so fastidious with it, treating the thing as if it were his own child. The case clicked shut and then all was calm and quiet. Two birds sang a duet somewhere in the distance, but they were barely audible. Suddenly a hand was on his head, gently stroking his hair. He felt fingers brushing his forehead, skimming across his eyelids and traveling down his cheekbones. He smiled under the fingertips that tenderly traced his lips. "A groschen for your thoughts," Frederick murmured, tickling him under his jaw.

He allowed his eyes to part halfway so he could view his beloved's face. The smile he was wearing suddenly morphed into a grin. "Pay up," he said, holding out of his hands expectantly.

"It's a figure of speech," Fritz replied in amazement.

"Thoughts can be dangerous things sometimes," Gilbert said, closing one of his eyes as if threatening to fall asleep. "If you want to let loose such things then you better be willing to pay for it."

Frederick scoffed and rolled his eyes in a long suffering manner. "So dramatic," he said but dug into one of his pockets anyway. He found a groschen and placed it in Gilbert's palm. "Moneygrubber."

"Miser," Prussia retorted, holding the coin up to the light. He turned it this way and that, and then tucked it into Frederick's coat pocket. "There, a reward for the wonderful music." He laughed as Fritz rolled his eyes again.

"So what were you thinking?" Frederick prompted.

"Absolutely nothing," Gilbert said, stretching out and pressing his head deeper into his makeshift pillow.

A chuckle. "The usual, then," Fritz teased.

Prussia whined and smacked is arm lightly. "Hey, I just gave you a compliment and now you go and—" Two fingers pressed against his lips, shushing him.

"Oh relax, you silly thing. You're worse than a girl."

"Well you were the one who said that 'more feminine' crap that one time—"

"So are you finally accepting that?"

"No!" He tried to sit up, but a hand on his shoulder restrained him. He was pushed back down, much against his will. "Hey, let me up d—" Lips pressed against his fiercely, swallowing his complaints. It was Frederick's favorite and most effective way of shutting him up. He tried to pull away—because he was still mad and all—but Fritz's hand wound its way into the back of his head and pressed him closer.

When he was finally let go their faces were inches apart. "You are such a child," Fritz said affectionately, playing with a lock of his hair.

He smiled despite himself. "And because I'm a child I'm still mad at you. We children love to hold grudges."

His face was pulled closer. "Would my love forgive me? Perhaps accept an apology?" Frederick kissed his ear lightly.

"You'll have to do a lot more than apologize if you want to be forgiven so quickly." Oh, his little king was going to have to do a lot.

"Tell me."

He let his eyes slide closed. "Well, for starters for can continue what you were doing. I'll think of something in a minute."

There was another laugh and his mouth was captured again, hands pulling him ever closer. He parted his lips lazily and let Fritz explore his mouth, gently sucking on his tongue to encourage him. Summer was officially awesome.


 

Autumn

"Is something troubling you?" Frederick asked as they quietly explored the woods of Silesia, examining their new territory and the benefits they would reap from it. It was the middle of autumn and the trees had long ago turned a brilliant scarlet and gold, blocking out the evergreens like children isolating others of their kind for being too different. Even though the colors were warm and inviting to the eye, a chill wind whistled between the trunks, nipping away at any exposed skin. Ruler and country were the only two souls around, having slipped away from the army with their horses to go sightseeing.

Prussia was gently tugged out of his daydream and he blinked in confusion. "What?" he asked, turning to look at Fritz.

The monarch sighed and tugged on his reins a little, bringing his horse up besides Gilbert's black Friesian. It was an odd sight, the smaller white horse riding next to the massive black warhorse. "You looked a little peculiar just now," Fritz said. "Tired, I guess. Are you still injured and haven't told me?"

He smiled and shook his head, still touched by this commander who actually seemed to care for his wellbeing. "I'm just fine," he said. He could tell that Fritz didn't quite believe him and he fought down the urge to laugh. Seeing his kin turn into such a worrywort over him was too cute, not to mention incredibly flattering. "Would you understand if I said that I'm just being the non-human that I am?"

Frederick raised an eyebrow. "I cannot, since I am just a human myself." He tilted his head a little, pondering over a question. "Would you care to educate me?"

Gilbert pursed his lips in thought, glancing at their surroundings as if looking for inspiration. "I can try," he said. "You know how I'm not only empathic to my people, but my land and culture as well?"

"Yes."

"Look around you right now. What's happening?"

He was given a look, as if he was being asked, "Are you serious?" However, his monarch obediently did as he was told, his long braid whipping his back as he swung his head. After a few moments of quiet observation Fritz spoke. "Well, obviously autumn is arriving. The leaves on the trees are dying."

"Ah, there's the keyword: dying." He saw Fritz look at him in alarm and really did laugh this time. "Oh no, no! You have the wrong idea there." He waved his hand dismissively. "I'm not dying, nothing of the sort. However, you see everything winding down, how everything seems to be getting slower?" A nod. "I feel it too. It makes me sleepy. That's why you said I looked tired."

Frederick nodded again, his insatiable curiosity returning. "Does this always happen to you when the seasons change?" he asked. "I remember how you get those terrible headaches in the spring."

He was already figuring things out. Prussia loved having such a shrewd man as his king. "Sometimes it's not that bad, sometimes it's unbearable. Usually I just feel it around major climate changes, like winter to spring and summer to autumn. It's just something you have to get used to when you're a nation." As they spoke they came across a small stream that cut right across the trail. The sound of bubbling water added a sort of tranquility to the scene, something you usually didn't see while marching with an army. "No bridge," Prussia said, frowning. "We'll just have to walk across, then."

"No," Fritz replied and he dismounted. "I like it here. Let's give the poor horses a rest and we can stay here for a while."

Gilbert shrugged and slid off his horse, stretching his cramped muscles. The Friesian whickered and turned to look at him questioningly. He smiled and patted its head. "How long do you plan to stay here?" he asked, starting to tether the beast. "We don't want Schwerin throwing a fit because His Royal Majesty has vanished."

"Schwerin can just worry all he wants," Fritz said carelessly, pacing among the trees. "He knows that you are with me. I am in no danger."He didn't see Prussia's surprised look, mainly because he was busy picking out the leaves that had already fallen into his hat. When he turned back around he was holding up a bright red leaf, squinting at it. "Hmm, too bright," he murmured, holding it up to Gilbert's eyes.

The albino smiled a very tiny smile. His bookish lover was in a bit of a playful mood, it seemed. "Please, I'm far too awesome to be compared to dead leaves," he said, plucking one of the falling pieces of foliage from the air. He scrutinized it with a suspicious air. It was a pale yellow shot through with streaks of red, like a flame.

Fritz raised an eyebrow. "You're so pessimistic. Is dying all you see around here?" He gestured to their surroundings.

"Mainly," he said, mirroring the expression. "I assume you're trying to make some sort of point?"

"Of course," Fritz said with a smile. "I find autumn very beautiful, myself. It might prelude a cold winter, but what a prelude it is! You say everything is dying, but everywhere I look I see life."

Gilbert paused the slightest bit before answering. Seeing Fritz in such a jovial and carefree mood was odd, to say the least. "How so?"

The king let the leaves slip from his fingers and tumble to the ground. "In the autumn everything ripens. Fruit, trees, women." He gave a sly smile as he said the latter. "Even though the leaves are wilting, they look so vibrant. It's as if everything is just giving out an explosion of life, a final act before the curtain falls." He crossed his arms and waited for a response.

Well, that was one way of looking at it. Prussia tapped his chin in thought, mulling the words over in his head. "I've never thought of it that way before," he admitted. "I think you might be right, in a sense. People are more active in the fall. Especially children, always jumping about in the leaves." A smile flickered across his face as he remembered how he used to do the exact same thing when he had been young.

Frederick nodded slightly. "Ah, that as well." He had the oddest expression on his face as he said this, and Prussia focused on it immediately.

"What? You never liked jumping in leaves?" He asked in disbelief. Surely his king could not be thatstiff!

Now Fritz was definitely avoiding his eyes. "No, I never actually did that," he said.

Prussia's jaw fell open. "Never?" he repeated.

"No, never. I was not allowed to pursue the same childish activities of my friends. Father wouldn't permit it."

He let out a noise of sympathy in his throat. There were still times when he felt that familiar stir of pity for his dear king, for an innocence lost far too early in his life. "You missed a lot of fun times," he said, scraping his boot across the ground, pushing leaves into a pile.

"So I've been told," Fritz replied, still looking at the branches overhead. He sounded a little sad.

He would just have to fix that then. He stomped around in a wide circle, kicking and shoving leaves until he had a decent pile in front of him. It wasn't very large, but it would suffice. He went over to Frederick, who seemed to be lost in thought. He waved his hand in front of his face to catch his attention. "Come on, we can still make up for lost time," the soldier said, grabbing him by his wrist.

Fritz looked confused, and his eyes found the pile that Gilbert had scraped up. It took him a moment, but realization slowly dawned on him. "You can't be serious," he said, although his voice lacked any rebuke, just amazement.

"Am I laughing?" Gilbert asked quietly, stepping closer. He cupped Fritz's cheek with his free hand, turning his face to look at him. A delighted grin spread across his face as he saw a slight blush color his reagent's ears pink. "Trust me, you'll love it. It's fun."

"It's—just foolishness," Frederick replied, although he seemed to have trouble getting the words out.

"How would you know? You've never tried." Prussia was having none of these objections and stepped back, pulling Fritz with him. Despite his words, Fritz didn't protest that much and tugged half-heartedly at the hand holding him. He actually looked a little curious. "Now, watch," Prussia said, leaning close to him as if whispering a secret. Then without any warning he yanked Fritz around and pushed him, although not harshly. He took Fritz completely by surprised and the monarch stumbled back and fell, yelping in a rather undignified manner as he came down on the pile of leaves. Red and gold and brown exploded into the air, swirling around him and giving his blue uniform a stark appearance.

Prussia exploded into laughter. None of the sly chuckling or snickers that people were used to, but great hoots of mirth that echoed among the trees and made the horses snort in surprise. "Oh—my—gods, your face," he gasped inbetween breaths, holding his stomach and just barely standing up.

Fritz sputtered and sat up, feeling around for his hat, which he had lost in his fall. Amazingly, he was also laughing. "That's wasn't funny!" he yelled, trying to stand up. "What w—" He was only halfway to his feet when he saw Prussia leap at him and tackle him, bringing them both back into the leaves.

"Nu-uh! You're not supposed to get up!" Gilbert said, his grinning face inches away from Frederick's. "You're supposed to roll around. Have fun!"

"I am not about to do that!" Fritz gasped in shock.

Prussia laughed again and shook his head in amusement. He scooped up a double handful of leaves and dropped them right on Frederick's face. "Come on, little spoilsport. Have some fu—aaaaahhh!" He yelled as Fritz immediately grabbed leaves of his own and threw them in his face. There were hands on his shoulders and suddenly he was falling backwards with Fritz landing on top of him.

The king looked ridiculously pleased with himself as he shoved another handful of leaves down Gilbert's uniform. "Ha!" he shouted. "So now who's—" he was cut off when Gilbert grabbed him and pulled him into a rough kiss. For a moment he was stunned, but then all his previous thoughts drifted away and he returned it eagerly. Prussia's hands ran over his shoulders, gripping his uniform tightly. Suddenly his nation threw his whole body upwards, and the force of it sent them rolling over; red eyes hovered above him wickedly. "Much better," he heard Gilbert purr before he leaned back down and kissed him again, starting right back where he left off.

Alright, autumn could be awesome as well.


 

Winter

Autumn had died a peaceful, quiet death and had let winter come upon the land. First the earth was bare, and then the snow had fallen and had covered everthing in a blinding white sheet that warped one's sense of things. Everything was so bright and so still that it seemed as if the cold had frozen the flow of time itself.

People tended to stay indorrs, which was fine by Prussia. He liked being inside a palace with a mug of wine and a roaring fireplace to chase away the chill. Fritz disliked it because that palace could not be Sanssouci. He would have stayed there his entire life if he could, but the way the palace was constructed made it very susceptible to the cold and sickness was a common problem. Of course, Fritz would have stayed there anyway, being his stubborn self, if Prussia had not constantly berated him about it. They both moved to the royal palace in Berlin for the winter, where they were surrounded by the court.

It wasn't nearly as beautiful as Sanssouci, but something about the snow softened the look. Prussia loved it and often spent his time outside, playing in the snow with Gilbird and throwing snowballs at unsuspecting passersby. Something about the snow excited him, and it had nothing to do with the climate or his people or his lands, it was his own private pleasure. He often dragged Fritz out with him, and the man grumbled and complained because he did not like the cold very much, but he stayed out anyway. With all of the people flocking inside the palace, not to mention the Christmas decorations were going on, it was hard to find some peace and quiet. Of course with Prussia round it was hardly peaceful orquiet, but that was beside the point. He still enjoyed his time.

The only instances when they were truly alone and allowed to enjoy each other's company was when they were inside Fritz's apartments. No one except Gilbert and Wilhelmine were allowed inside and anyone who dared to contradict that faced the displeasure of the king. Even now, on Christmas Eve, the two of them were not a part of the ball that was being hosted to celebrate the holdiays and were more content with snuggling on one of the couches next to the fire. The dogs lay on the rug and Gilbird was asleep on his owner's shoulder.

It was almost midnight, and Frederick was trying not to fall asleep. That was a little difficult, since he had had nearly two glasses of wine and was currently pressed against Gilbert's side, his head resting on a broad shoulder (the one opposite to Gilbird.) Prussia hand gently stroked his hair and the back of his neck, causing his thoughts to drift pleasantly. He felt the chest in front of him tremble as Prussia laughed softly. "Tired already, old man?" Gilbert asked, his voice filled with a gentle teasing.

He mumbled something inaudible and turned his head so he could bite down on sensitive skin of the albino's neck. Prussia squeaked and tried to squirm away and Fritz bit down harder. "Hush yourself," Fritz said, his words muffled. "Now tell me what time it is."

Gilbert managed to free himself and twisted around to look at the clock. "Five minutes until midnight," he said and settled back down. "Dunno why you're so excited about it."

"Because it's Christmas," Fritz replied, resting his chin on Gilbert's chest and smiling at him.

"So? You used to hate Christmas."

"Used to," Frederick said, laying his head back down. "I like it when I'm with you."

Prussia laughed again, although not unkindly, and went back to messing with his hair. With his free hand he grabbed the rest of his wine and drained it in one gulp, then handed Fritz his own glass. The fire popped, sending flickering shadows across the furniture.

Fritz sat up, placing his empty glass back on the table. "What are you doing? Sit down," Prussia grumbled, hugging his across the waist and trying to pull him back down.

"In a moment," Fritz said, prying his hands off. He stodd up rather shakily (although he attributed that to the fact that he had been laying down for the past few hours) and stepped around the couch. He glanced at the clock as he passed it. It was 11:57. Almost midnight, he had to be quick. He made his way over to a cabinet and opened it, revealing its contents to be a large bottle and a small box tied up with a ribbon. He grabbed both and came back to the couch. "Hand me the corkscrew please," he said as he sat back down.

Prussia squinted at the bottle. "Champagne?" he asked, handing the device over. "Honestly? We just had some wine."

"Are you turning down an opportunity to drink even more?" Fritz shot back, a knowing grin spreading across his face. "I know my precious Prussia better than that. Besides, it's custom to drink champagne on the stroke of midnight." The cork came out with a loud pop that made the dogs jump in fright.

"Says who?" Prussia demanded, frowning at him.

"Says me, and I'm King, so what I say is law." Fritz said, pouring the sparkling gold liquid into their glasses. He chuckled at Prussia's face and held out one of the glasses. The country mumbled something under his breath and took it. His crimson eyes fell on the box. "What's that?"'

"Your gift," Fritz replied, unable to keep the smile off his face.

Prussia had the oddest expression when he heard that. "My. . . what?" he asked, as if his king had just spoken something in a foreign tongue.

"Don't be silly, your Christmas gift," Fritz said. He patted Gilbert on the knee. However his smile began to disappear when he saw that Prussia's face did not change. "What's wrong?"

Prussia shook his head. "Nothing. It's just that I'm not used to getting gifts. No one has ever really given me a Christmas present before."

Fritz blinked in surprise. "No one? Surely you jest."

"I don't. I was more of the partying type, so I either held Christmas parties or went to them. No one ever gave me a gift."

"Well then, I'm honored to be one of the first." Frederick replied, his smile returning. Just then the clock struck midnight and the bell started tolling. Far off in another part of the palace a loud cheer went up. "Joyeux Noël, Liebling," Fritz murmured and held out his glass.

Prussia smiled and clinked their glasses together. "Frohe Weihnachten, Schatzi." Then he threw back his head and drank, the long column of his throat bobbing up and down as he swallowed.

Fritz sipped his own drink modestly, watching as Gilbert once again emptied his cup and set it down. Really, the man's tolerance was amazing at times. The pale man sat up fully and stretched, popping his neck and shoulders. To his surprise, Gilbert then plunged his hand between one of the couch cushions and felt around. Before Fritz could ask what he was doing he pulled out something that was wrapped in a thin cloth. "Here," Gilbert said, handing it to him without a flourish. "It's, um, your present." It was hard to tell in the firelight, but his cheeks seemed a bit more pink than before.

"You hid it in the couch?" Fritz asked, a secret delight warming his heart. He took it and started to peel off the cloth. From the way it felt he knew immediately that it was a sort of book. As the last swath of fabric fell away and saw Prussia pour himself some more champagne so his back was facing him. He smiled and at his nation's shyness and looked down at the cover. Zadig ou la Destinée. He frowned a little. That sounded awfully familiar. "I think Voltaire mentioned this to me in one of his letters," he said conversationally.

"It is Voltaire," Prussia replied quietly.

The king's eyes grew huge and he looked down and yes, there was the the poet's name under the title. This must have been the new book that his friend mentioned, the one that had only recently been published. He knew that Prussia disliked the man, and he had obviously swallowed his pride and bought the book—for him. For his pleasure. He thought his heart would burst out of his chest. "Thank you," he said, setting the book on the table, next to the box. "You're sweet." He saw the blush on Gilbert's face deepen, and he resisted the urge to laugh. He leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, then tapped the box. "Now it's your turn."

Prussia tsked but reached for the box anyway. It was barely smaller than his palm. "Why is it so small?" he asked as he pulled at the ribbon.

"Because the gift is small," Frederick answered in amusement. He tapped his fingertips together nervously, his eyes never leaving Gilbert's face. Gilbert had of course gotten him something that he knewhis king would like, but Frederick could not say the same. He knew that Prussia would certainly appreciate the goft, but he wondered if he would understand the full message he was trying to say.

Gilbert finally slipped the ribbon off and lifted the lid. His brows dipped a little and his countenance turned into a distant confusion. "What is this?" he said, his voice barely above a whisper. He gently took the object out, examining it in the firelight. It was an Iron Cross, black with a white trim, just as it was always depicted in history. It hung from a silver chain that was polished so brightly that the light winked off of it like stars. It rested comfortaby in his hand, smooth and cool to the touch. He turned it over on the blank side and was even more surprised to see the Hohenzollern coat of arms engraved into the metal.

Frederick gulped his champagne and willed the right words to come to him. "I had it made for you," he said at last. "I know that this symbol was an important part of your history, and I thought that you would like to be able to carry some of your history around with you. The Iron Cross represents you, just like the black eagle does." He moved a little closer, pointing to the coat of arms. "And that is my family symbol. I want you to know that no matter what happens, you will always be a part of our family, and myself. I. . . " For a moment his words almost failed him. "I have no other way to show you just how precious you are to me. How you alone have my complete love." He knew he was being the "mushy romantic" that Gilbert always teased about, but Gilbert didn't seem to mind the slightest bit. In fact Gilbert's expression had softened quite a bit. He stared at the cross with some intense emotion that Fritz could not name and ran his thumbs along the points.

He was silent for so long that Fritz started to think that he had done something wrong, or said something that he had not meant to. He was on the verge of apologizing (for what he didn't even know) when Gilbert closed his fingers around the cross and looked up. Fritz was astonished to see that his eyes were filled with tears. He opened his mouth to speak, then had to stop and swallow before he could. "I—I don't know what to say," he managed to choke out before one of the tears rolled down his cheek. "Verdammt," he muttered angrily, wiping it away.

"Then don't say anything," Fritz gently teasing, wiping away the other tears with his thumb. "However, a 'thank you' would do just nicely."

Prussia made a sound that was something between a laugh and a sob. "Thank you," he said, turning to look at him. "You have no idea what this means to me." It was the most sincere thing Fritz had ever heard him say.

"On the contrary, I believe I do." Frederick replied and took the cross from his hands. "Here, it has a clasp on the back." He slipped his hands behind the albino's neck so he could clasp the chains together. The cross stood out starkly against his clothes, a splash of black against white, and rested right over his heart. When he went to pull his hands away Gilbert reached up and grabbed them tightly, holding them in place. He only saw a wicked smile before he was pulled into a soft kiss. It was Gilbert's own way of thanking him, of trying to convey all of the words he couldn't say. He tried to reach up so he could touch Prussia's face, but that tight grip on his wrists prevented him from going anywhere. Suddenly he was being pushed back into the couch and he felt Prussia's weight on top of him, holding him down. He heard Gilbird cheep in indignation as the sudden movement threw him off.

Now thoroughly on top of him, Prussia started to move downwards, trailing soft kisses to his neck and jaw. "My King, I do believe more than a simple thank you is in order. I believe I'll have to showyou how grateful I am." The warm purr in his ear sent shivers running down his spine, something that didn't go unnoticed by Prussia.

"Then do it," Fritz purred back, trying to pull his hands free from Prussia's grip and failing.

The country chuckled and squeezed his arms tighter. "I shall. Now stop that squirming, or I'll have to tie you up." From his expression Fritz knew that he was being deadly serious, but when he bent down to kiss him again Fritz found out that he really didn't care.

Winter was—oh to hell with it. All of the seasons were awesome.

Chapter Text

Pizza

The sound of singing woke him up. He was sprawled across the couch with his arm over his eyes and Aster lying on top of him. For one blurry moment he was confused because he knew that West would never in a million years sing in the kitchen (unless he was in a really good mood and thought he was alone) so the singer obviously couldn't be him. A second later his brain registered the voice that was two octaves higher than his own and the stream of Italian that it was singing and a huge smile split his face. "Off, Aster," he ordered, pushing the sleepy retriever away. He managed to crawl off the couch and hit the floor on unsteady, sleep-fogged feet. Gilbird gave a half-hearted cheep from his hair.

His shoulder popped as he stretched languidly, standing on the tips of his toes and bending his back into a perfect curve. He straightened out and headed over to the kitchen, smiling even wider when he peeked inside. Of course little Feliciano hadn't noticed a single thing, always wrapped up in his own little blissful world. The young Italian was bustling about the kitchen, kneading a lump of dough on the counter and occasionally checking on a pot of bubbling tomato sauce. He must have snuck into the house again, because Prussia knew from personal experience that West was far to OCD to let others use the kitchen, except Japan.

"Hey Feli!" He said as he stepped into the kitchen, still smiling because damn it that kid may be older now but he was still so innocent and cute! Sometimes he wondered if Feli had grown up at all since the last time he saw him.

Feliciano jumped in surprise and whirled around in shock. "Oh, Gil!" he chirped when he saw who it was and immediately ran over for a hug. Prussia easily gave it to him and laughed as Feliciano pecked him on the cheek. He, unlike West, was used to the Italian's overly-affectionate way of expressing himself and simply went with it. "Did I wake you Gil?" Feliciano asked when he pulled away. He was the only one who was allowed to call him Gil without being punched. "I saw that you were sleeping when I came in so I tried to be extra quiet. Ve~ I'm so sorry! I promise that I'll be quieter!"

Gilbert just laughed and ruffled his hair, carefully avoiding that one particular curl. "Aw shucks, don't be sorry. It was time for me to get up anyway!" Actually it was the first nap he had gotten in two days, but he hated seeing North Italy being anything other than his usually jubilant self. He turned to look at the various ingredients that were scattered around the kitchen. "Whatcha making? Pizza?" He grinned, immediately recognizing the circular shape of the dough.

Just like he expected, Feli immediately brightened up as if he had just flipped a switch. "Sì!" he said, all but bouncing back to his place. "I haven't visited Germany in quite a while, and I thought that he must be making himself sick from all of that weird food he eats, so I thought I'd make him a pizza!" As he spoke he started to toss the dough up and down, making Gilbert wonder how he managed to talk at the same time.

He let the jibe against his food slide, mainly because he knew that Feliciano never insulted anything on purpose. He was just far too honest about his own opinion. "And how's that going?" he asked, sitting on top of the counter so he could watch more comfortably. He heard another cheep and Gilbird flew down from his head and onto his knee, examining the kitchen curiously.

Feli frowned, scrunching his face up in the most adorable way. It reminded Gilbert of West when he had been younger. "Fine, I suppose. I brought most of my ingredients with me, but there aren't that many things that are useful for making pizza at your house." He turned and examined the tomato sauce closely before giving it a small taste test. Judging it to be sufficient, he picked up the entire pot and carried it to the counter.

Prussia tried not to laugh and fed his bird a few pieces of shredded mozzarella that Feliciano was keeping in a bowl. "Well, we don't eat pizza, so we don't keep things around that make it," he replied mildly. Gilbird cheeped in agreement.

"Ve~! Please stay out of the cheese, I need that!" Feli exclaimed, rushing over and grabbing the bowl before the two of them could stuff themselves on it.

"But it tastes good," Gilbert complained, slowly following Feliciano until he was right beside the Italian. He felt Gilbird land on his shoulder. He watched as the younger of the Italy brothers started spreading his tomato sauce and cheese all over the dough, his red eyes never missing a single detail. "Hey, why don't you put some wurst on it?" He asked when he saw Feliciano slicing thin pieces of pepperoni and placing them over the cheese.

The chef froze when he heard those words. He frowned again in confusion. "Why?" He asked, tilting his head to one side like a confused dog.

So cute! Prussia rubbed his hair again and smiled. "Why not? Come on, you like wurst, right? Where's your sense of adventure?"

"Hmm," Feliciano replied, tapping his chin and staring off into space as if he were trying to do advanced calculus in his head. "Your wurst does taste pretty good, but only sometimes. I've never tried it on pizza before though…"

That surprised him. "Why not?" he asked, immediately going to the fridge for some of the wurst that he and Germany always kept in store. "I thought that was a pretty common thing over at your place."

"It is, but fratello doesn't like wurst."

Oh, that explained a lot. "Your brother doesn't like anything…except perhaps Spain." He snickered at that and slammed the fridge door.

"Ve~? I don't get it."

"I didn't expect you to," Gilbert answered. "These are leftover from last night, if that's fine with you."

Feli's smile returned. "Oh, that's alright! In the old days pizza was a way to get rid of leftovers!" He still looked doubtful but started chopping the meat up regardless.

Prussia stole a piece of pepperoni and nibbled on it. "Interesting," he murmured, offering a bit to Gilbird.

Feliciano nodded enthusiastically, excited over any opportunity to talk about his culture, although pizza was technically not his. "Oh yes! It's funny how many people love it now, when it was originally a dish for the poor. Whenever they had any leftover food they would—"

Suddenly the front door slammed open unceremoniously, making the both of them jump. "FELI! Where the hell are you?" Well, speak of the devil and he shall appear.

"Ve~! Big brother, please don't slam doors like that! It's scary!" Feliciano called back, trembling a little.

Footsteps stomped over to the kitchen. "Of course I'd find you over at the potato bastard's house! Do you know how long I've been looking for you? You could have at least left me a damn note or—" a brown haired head poked itself around the corner and Romano's already dour expression dropped even more. "Oh, it's you," he said, glaring at Prussia in an attempt to show that he presence was neither welcome nor appreciated. Which was really quite unfair because it wasn't even Romano's house to begin with.

"Yes, me," Gilbert replied, giving the older Italian a sharp smile. He knew that he freaked Romano out and loved to mess with him.

Romano's eyes widened and he quickly stomped into the kitchen. "What are you doing with the older potato bastard?" he demanded, grabbing his brother by the elbow and glaring warningly at Prussia. "You know he's almost as bad as his brother, no come on bef—"

"No!" Feliciano whined, digging his heels into the floor like a child. "Big brother, I'm making a pizza! I'm not done with it yet!" He gestured frantically to the pizza still sitting innocently on the counter.

Lovino immediately rolled his eyes. "Feli, how many damn times do I have to tell you to stop making my cuisine? It was invented by my people and only know how t—" he stopped when his eyes fell upon their creation. "What the FUCK is that?" He screeched, pointing at the newest topping.

Oblivious as usual, Feliciano just looked confused. "It's some wurst, fratello. Gil had this idea that if we put wurst on pizza then it might—"

"Oh hell no!" Romano yelled, making a grab for the thing, but Prussia quickly captured him in a half nelson and pinned his free hand behind his back. "Let me go! Fucking potato bastard I swear to god I will kick your ass up and down your damn Brandenburg Gate—"

"Put it in the oven!" Prussia ordered, laughing at Romano's futile attempts to break his grip. "It'll be awesome, trust me!"

The younger of the brothers looked a little worried, with Romano's screeching and fighting, but he didn't seem to be in pain so Feliciano somewhat warily did what Prussia said. This is just increased Lovino's yelling until it echoed through every corner of the house; not that either of them minded, Feli was used to it and Gilbert had heard Ludwig yell a lot louder.

The albino laughed again, both at Romano's flailing limbs and Gilbird flying around their heads avoiding said limbs. "Oh, don't get all pissy about it," he said, his voice barely audible over the furious cries in Italian that were probably insulting everything he could think of.

"Fratello, I don't think it will be that bad," Feliciano added in an attempt to please his brother.

"Don't talk to me about what you think! It's the culture of my people and you are ruining it—" he went on until Prussia got tired of hearing him yell and carried him into the living room and then threw him on the couch, facedown. Prussia quickly sat on his before he could get up and effectively pinned the southern nation down so his voice was muffled by the pillows.

And truly, it was the best pizza Gilbert had ever eaten. It was totally worth sitting on top of a writhing, kicking, screeching Italian for nearly a quarter of an hour.


 

Mafia

Really, all of this over a pizza? Romano took the meaning of "overreacting" to a new level. But Gilbert had to admit, this was way more fun than he thought it would be.

He thought it was rather cute that they were dressed in nice suits, but then again they always dressed in suits. It wasn't like he was one to talk though, since he was in uniform. West would have a heart attack if he saw him now, all dressed up in his old uniform with the band on his arm. But hey if the mafia were going to overplay their role then he would do the same.

"Ja?" he asked when he opened the door to their constant knocking. He knew that he surprised them, but he kept his amusement down. They looked very young, perhaps they were new.

In all honesty, they didn't look like they wanted to be there. Prussia wasn't really surprised. With a boss like Romano they must have been ordered to do all sorts of weird stuff. They even accepted the cigarettes he offered them. The joke was on them though. He had found those cigarettes in one of his pockets and they were probably older than the both of them.

So he stood in the doorway with a serene smile of his face, blowing smoke in their faces, and listened to the stammered explanation he was given. Damn, they really looked out of their depth. It must have been too odd for them to see a victim that wasn't terrified of them, and dressed like an SS officer no less. It was the uniform. He knew he looked awesome in it. That was a good thing too, because he knew  that he was outgunned so the only leverage he had was his experience and their fear of him. "So, let me get this straight," he said, taking a huge puff of his cigarette and flicking the stump away. "You're here to 'hit' me," he made quotation marks with his fingers, "for making a pizza?"

One of them looked rather sympathetic and the other had no clue what to do. A few choice comments later and they were both arguing over how ridiculous their mission was. He simply leaned back and watched the chaos unfold until he saw a third figure approaching. "Sirs," he said, interrupting them. "Can I ask you to go now? You seem to be pretty good people and I don't want to see you get hurt." That was an outright lie, but the punchline (literally) would be all worth it.

One of the men rolled his eyes. "And what are you going to do?" he demanded, hefting his gun into view.

He widened his eyes, filled with childlike innocence. "What I'm going to do?" he repeated, laughing. "No, no, you should be worried about what he's going to do." He pointed to the man behind them.

They both turned and one of them managed to catch a glimpse of Ludwig's fist before it slammed into his face and dropped him like a sack of potatoes. The other swore and raised his gun, but Ludwig grabbed his wrist and broke it in one smooth movement. Then he easily slammed the man into the ground, knocking him out instantly. The younger nation wiped the blood from his knuckles and looked back and forth between the unconscious men. "What happened here?" he asked very calmly.

"Romano," Gilbert replied, grinning widely.

Germany sighed, and then his expression darkened. "Take that off," he growled, obviously noticing the outfit. Fury sparked in his eyes. "Right now."

"Alright, alright," Prussia replied, going back inside. He knew that his brother didn't like to joke around with relics of his past, especially the particular era that he was wearing. Not that he liked it either, to be honest. "Thanks West, love ya!" he called over his shoulder. An irritated grumble was his answer.


 

Beta

Alpha came before beta. Alpha was the highest rank, the dominant one. Alpha was first, beta was second.

Prussia could remember when he was the alpha. He had been the strongest of Europe, and the thundering steps of his soldiers had made the ground quake beneath them. There had been a time where no one had dared raise a fist against him and he sat comfortably in his throne, laughing at the nations below him. Dear little Ludwig sat in his lap, nestled in his arms, his head resting against his throat. His beta.

"Ich bin ein Preuße, kennt ihr meine Farben?" The Iron Kingdom sang, marching under the banner of black and white with the ebony eagle flying over his path. His blood burned and the taste of victory was on his tongue as his boots trampled his enemy, those who dared to tear him down and throw him the dirt. Did they not know that he was the best? He was not on top for nothing. He had everything, and no one could take that from him.

But he could not stay up there forever. He knew that as well as anyone, but he preferred not think about it. Instead he crafted another throne beside his own and placed his little brother in it so they ruled side by side. There had been no beta then, just two alphas. They had been two suns which the others revolved around; they changed the world. And then, he had cruelly been kicked out of his throne and found himself kneeling at the boots of his brother, who had no longer seemed so little. The balance between them had changed, and now he had been reduced to the beta.

Which was not how it was supposed to be. He was the oldest and the strongest and did not deserve to be kicked around by the little runt that he raised! A deep part of him was proud, despite himself. This was just what he wanted to see: that little child grow up to be a ruler, even if that meant ruling him as well. He may have been angry, but he accepted him new position reluctantly. Until another alpha came and claimed him and tried to crush him. He had fought him in the past, as an alpha, as two major powers colliding. The past was the past though, and being just a second place shell of a nation that everyone carelessly threw aside, he had no power left. His enemy laughed and laughed at him, It's funny how things work out, da~? The chain around his throat tightened, cutting off his air. The rising star of Europe, now sitting at my feet like a dog. It's like the wolves of Siberia, where the omega male is crushed beneath the alpha. But he was not beaten, and he never bowed willingly. Through snow and blood and stone he survived, because he was still the best. He may have been an "omega", but he knew how to live through torture.

It was kind of funny, in hindsight. He had stronger and more powerful people trying to destroy him, and yet despite his lower position he still won in the end. The brother who he thought had betrayed him so harshly helped him regain his life. Finally, he was the one laughing at his foes while they stare back in envious disbelief. Why did he still live? He was nothing. He had nothing to call his own except his name. He was an omega, a pitiful loser that had to step aside for the alphas, so why was he around?

He laughed whenever someone asked him that. "Because I'm too awesome to die, that's why," he answered with his usual cocky grin.


 

Sight

He gasped as the explosion rocked through his body and sent him flying backwards into the dirt. Bright flashes of pain sliced across his view and then gradually faded away. But something was wrong, he could not see the shapes of his men marching across the battlefield or the terrain or the Austrians. In fact he could not see anything at all. He tried to blink in an attempt to chase away the darkness and yelled as a sudden spasm of pain drilled through his skull. He clawed the ground and drew his knees up as if to curl in on himself, panting harshly as he waited for the pain to end. The battle was still going on, he could clearly hear the fire of artillery and the shouting of his men and he could feel his people being wounded, but he could not see anything. In a sudden grip of panic he ripped off one of his gloves and felt around his eyes with a shaking hand.

He winced as more pain came from his head, but under his questing fingers he could feel hot, sticky blood and sharp fragments—bone and wood and pieces of his goddamn skullembedded in his flesh. Another cry was torn out of his throat as he felt the gory mess of meat and blood that were once his eyes. I can't see, he thought, the realization crashing over him like a bucket of cold water. I can't see Ican'tsee Ican'tseeIcan'tseeIcan'tseeICAN'TFUCKINGSEE— he whimpered deep in his throat and clawed at the ground like a newborn, choking down the sobs that threatened to escape his body. The enemy was approaching, he could feel it, and he had to get out of there.

Easier said than done. He sat up on his knees and was immediately knocked back down as one of his soldiers tripped over him. An unseen foot stepped on his hand and invisible troops made the ground tremble beneath him. He was afraid to get up again because he had no idea where to go or how to avoid whatever dangers lay ahead. Again he threw out his arm and felt around him, searching for something the only way a blind person could: through touch. He wrist clumsily bumped against something solid and he grabbed it. A closer examination revealed it to be a rifle, with a bayonet attached no less. Well, at least he wasn't totally defenseless. He didn't need to see in order to fight.

Suddenly the ground next to him exploded again and he felt dirt and grass sting the raw flesh of his face. The enemy artillery must be getting closer. One of their shrapnel bombs had already taken out his eyes and another well-placed shot could take him out for good. He stumbled to his feet and almost instantly tripped over a dead body that had been lying in his path, and only fortune stopped him from impaling himself on his own weapon. A hopeless cry tore itself out of his throat. How in the world was he supposed to move when he couldn't even walk two paces? He felt tears building up where his eyes used to be and they burned and itched like fire and he wanted to claw at his eyes. Out, vile jelly, he thought sourly as he contemplated it.

"Preußen!" he heard someone call over the noise. He frowned to himself. Was that Schwerin?

He heard hoofbeats nearby and felt the ground rumble. He sat up in alarm and tried to stand. Was that the Austrians or his own people? Even though he was still blind he tried to look around, as if that might help him. Smoke sung his sensitive eyes and he doubted he would have been able to see much of anything anyways. The hoofs stopped right beside him and a horse snorted frighteningly close to his ear. "Gilbert!" Fritz shouted clearly, and there was a thud as feet hit the ground. Then two arms were around him and helping him up. He knew those hands and that voice, and he gripped the arms around him and buried his face into Fritz's coat. "Gilbert, what's wrong?" Frederick asked, trying to pry him away. "Please, you need to get up. You'll be trampled out here!"

He shook his head miserably. More warmth trickled down his face and into his collar, more blood and tears and sticky fluid, hell maybe his brains were dripping out of his head. "I can't," he sobbed, clinging to Fritz like a child. "I'm blind." Something in him broke to say those words out loud.

"What?"

"I can't see!" he howled. "I can't see! They took my eyes, Fritz, my eyes. . ." His voice trailed off into a whimper. He wanted to just curl into Fritz's arms and hide from the world. Then suddenly there were hands on his face, trying to turn him upward. "Nooo," he moaned, but despite his protests he felt cold air on his face and knew that his face was exposed.

Silence. And then: "Oh my god. . ." Fritz breathed, his voice barely audible over the sound of gunfire. But Prussia heard it and he wanted to cringe and hide himself away from the absolute horror he heard in that tone. "Schwerin!"

More horses pounded up. "Yes, Your Majesty?" Schwerin said, his voice tinged with anxiety.

He felt his arms being tugged gently, guiding him across the field. "Take Gilbert to the doctors immediately," he ordered, bring them up beside a horse.

He heard gasps from all around him. "Merciful God," Schwerin said, "what happened to him?"

"I don't know," Frederick replied, giving Gilbert's arm a light squeeze.

"Strauss, give him your horse," came Schwerin's voice.

You do realize that I can't ride a horse because I'm blind? Prussia wanted to say. All of a sudden Fritz's hands left him and were replaced by another, unfamiliar pair. His fear came rushing back and closed his throat, causing him to choke on his monarch's name. He reached out for his king, but could not feel him. Fritz, Fritz! Please don't leave me, please. I can't see, don't leave me alone! Please, don't leave. Ignoring his cries, those foreign hands dragged him away, propelling him back into the world of confusion and darkness.


 

Carnival

"Come on, admit it. My parties are like, totally the best thing ever."

The best thing ever would be like, totally punching you in the face. Prussia thought in reply to Feliks, sipping his wine in order to keep his face blank. He was a guest here, and he had to be respectful to his host, even if that host was one of the most damnably infuriating men he had ever met. "It's. . . interesting," he said at last, trying to find a suitable word for the spectacle he was trying to describe. "Very colorful." Hah, colorful. What a laugh. It looked like God had just barfed a rainbow all over the place.

Poland laughed good-naturedly and resting his hand on his fist. "Yeah, I know. It's so boring to have everything all one color, so I had to liven it up some!" He laughed again, looking so smug and self-important that Prussia wanted to hit him. He wondered how in the world Saxony could stand it. "My King actually gave me full reign this time and let me plan everything!"

That explains why everything is so mind-numbingly gaudy. Prussia thought sourly. Being stuck with a king like Frederick William for so long had dulled some of his extravagant tastes, and he found himself somewhat annoyed at the great Dresden carnival. Or maybe that was just because he was spending so much time with Feliks. Where the hell was Saxony anyway? He might have been a complete knucklehead but at least he wasn't Feliks.

"Hey, Gil, do you—"

"Do not call me that," he growled out, gripping his cup tightly. No one was allowed to call him that except his Bad Friends and Italy.

Feliks huffed, puffing his cheeks out childishly. "Okay, chill out," he said with a sly smile. "But, as I was saying, do you think your royals are enjoying themselves?" Despite their history of being sworn enemies, Poland still had a very tiny shred of concern for his guest. At least, he did with his royal family.

Gilbert tapped his fingers in thought. A few hundred feet away, King August was showing off his strength by doing his usual trick of snapping horseshoes with one hand. Even as a nation Prussia had to admit that was pretty damn awesome. Frederick William seemed to be pretty impressed as well, watching the display with a thinly veiled respect. He couldn't see Fritz anywhere, but he had no doubt that the boy was off somewhere trying to soak up the lively atmosphere. "I think they are enjoying themselves very much," he said. Another bit of an understatement, since the cheerful Saxon court was like a breath of fresh air compared to the militant and almost oppressive Berlin court he was used to. He knew that Frederick would not be wanting to leave any time soon.

"Totally great," Feliks said with a wide, satisfied smile. A band of musicians came tumbling by, dressed in red and gold and playing a lively tune that had many dancers all but flying over the ground as they tried to keep up. When they had passed by the blond nation turned to his neighbor. "Hey, you've got to see this," he said, a sudden excitement coming over him. He knew better than to grab Prussia's hand or wrist, but he sorely wanted to.

"See what?" Gilbert demanded, narrowing his eyes. Seeing Feliks so hyper was usually not a good thing.

"Something totally awes—" he qualied under Gilbert's malicious glare. "Cool. Something totally cool."

"I don't believe you," Prussia replied flatly, then he noticed that August seemed to be talking to Frederick William. The soldier-king suddenly turned and gestured to Frederick, who somewhat reluctantly came to his father's side. "What are they doing?"

The grin Poland was wearing sent alarm bells off in his head. "Come on, I'll show you." With that he set off at a brisk pace, forcing him to finish the rest of his wine in one gulp and almost jog to catch up with him. Feliks of course knew the palace like the back of his hand and led him through hallways, rooms, and little hidden shortcuts, all of which were decorated with elegant tapestries and paintings set in gold frames; crystal chandeliers glittered overhead like captured stars and silver and gold platters lay on the dining tables that they passed, all of the utensils polished until they were like mirrors. Even Frederick I, the most spendthrift man that Gilbert had ever known, would have gone pale at the thought of how much money all of the lavish decorations had cost. They arrived at a handsomely fashioned oakwood door and at the exact same moment King August came into view with Frederick William and Fritz.

"Ah, Feliks! It's good to see that you brought your friend," the cheerful king said.

Now where in the hell did he get the impression that they were friends?

Even Feliks look a little comfortable at the implication. "Yeah, I did," he muttered, trying not to scuffle his feet.

King August didn't seem to notice. "Come, this way," he said, opening the door and gesturing the inside. Frederick William gave him an odd look, but complied. For a moment Fritz hesitated and looked to Prussia as if asking him if it was alright. As a reply the kingdom shrugged, telling the prince that he was just as clueless as the rest of them. Fritz cautiously stepped inside. The moment he was gone Prussia saw the Polish king give his country a conspiratorial wink, which immediately made the alarm bells start clanging again.

"Hey, Prussia, wanna see what's inside?" Feliks asked, a positively wolfish grin spreading across his features.

Not on your life, Prussia wanted to say. He opened his mouth to tell him that and remembered that August was still in front of them and anything rude to come from his lips would have repercussions later. "If you insist," was what he said, although he did not move.

"I do," Feliks said, placing a hand on his shoulder and guiding him inside.

The room turned out to be a luxuriously decorated private salon, only natural for a man of August's tastes. Candlelight gave a soft, diffused look to everything and made the rich color seem warm and inviting. Frederick William was examining a tapestry, his back facing them. His son was looking around the room as if he expected something to jump out, which turned out to be a wise move. Poland led him to stand just beside the door and he caught a flash of movement as King August made a gesture. Then, just like that, he turned and swiftly vanished without so much as a sound. What in the world?

He turned to give Feliks a questioning glance, but the shorter man wordlessly shushed him and pointed to a corner of the room. He saw a servant suddenly appear from a hidden doorway, rolling an elegant velvet couch into the room. Lying on the cushions was an even more elegant woman, stark naked and reclining against the armrest in the most obvious "come hither" position the Gilbert had ever seen. He thought his eyes were going to pop out of his head and he saw the same expression mirrored on Fritz's face. Oh dear gods what was August thinking? Normally he would not have cared one whit about what was happening (actually he would have enjoyed it) but he knew exactly how his king would react. Sure enough the moment Frederick William turned around he sputtered in shock, the blood draining from his face. Then a moment later he seemed to realize that his son was still in the room and didn't seem as shocked as he had a second ago. Quick as a flash, the king rudely pushed Fritz through the door, ignoring the prince's protests, and rounded upon the terrified servant and started up his infamous yelling.

Prussia couldn't help it. He started to laugh and bit down on his hand to quiet himself, but Frederick William had already heard him. He saw a death glare thrown at him but the king never once stopped his tirade. Even Feliks was laughing, but it was more of a giggle than anything. It was just too funny! Not to mention he had to appreciate the boldness of the move, but he should have expected nothing less from the ever flamboyant king and his country. Hell, the girl was still sitting there and had not put on any clothes or made any attempt to cover herself!

Now he was pretty glad that they accepted the invitation to Dresden. If anything else, this was worth it.


 

Circle

One stroke. Just one, simple stroke and there it was. Prussia tapped his stick in the dirt, staring pensively at the perfect circle he had just drawn into it. Such a simple shape. And yet it was so important, so vast. How such a "simple" shape could affect all of the nations in the world!

Draw a circle, that's the Earth.
Draw a circle, that's the Earth.
Draw a circle, that's the Earth.
I am Prussia.

"What's that?" Fritz's voice came from right behind him, causing him to jump. He whirled around in alarm, shocked that someone had managed to sneak up on him. "Forgive me," Fritz apologized with a smile, coming to sit on his heels beside him. "I just heard you humming and I became curious."

"Oh?" he replied, raising his eyebrows. He had not been aware that he was humming.

Fritz merely nodded and then noticed what he had drawn on the ground. "What is that?" he asked again, pointing. "And don't try to be cute and say that it's a circle."

He laughed, because that was exactly what he had been planning to do. "It's the Earth," he said, tapping it.

"I see," Fritz said. "And the song?"

He rolled his eyes. "So questioning! So prying! Curiosity killed the cat, as the saying goes."

"But I am not a cat. And you're avoiding the question."

Dammit. He hated it when Fritz called him out on that. "It was a song that my parents taught me," he admitted after a small silence where Fritz patiently waited for him to talk. "I mean Aestii and Germania, they both knew it. It had been taught to them by their parents. . . All of the countries know it."

Fritz looked intrigued. "How does it go?" he asked, interlocking his fingers and resting his chin on them.

Gilbert shrugged, trying to look nonchalant. "Most of it's just drivel. Many of the actual words have been lost over time, since the song is very old. Hell, I was told that it's the oldest song in the world." Frederick did not answer him, but waited expectantly. He sighed. "Must I?"

"You don't have to," Fritz said, "but I would very much enjoy it if you did."

Oh no, not that ploy. He knew exactly what his king was up to. Of course he liked to please his king, but there were some things that he would not do. He never sang for anyone, never in his entire life. He didn't like an audience, so he would never—"Alright, fine. I tell you the few lines that don't change." He took a deep breath. "Draw a circle, that's the Earth~" He drew another circle for emphasis. "You say that three times, then you say what country you are. Then it goes: Ah, with a single swipe of a brush, a wonderful world can be seen! Something's supposed to come after that, but no one knows what."

"I see," Fritz said again, trying to bring his thoughts back into some semblance of order. Hearing Prussia sing in that deep, riveting voice was...was..."Is that the only part you know?"

Prussia shook his head. "No, but it's the part that shows up in every song. Minus my awesome name of course." He saw his leader's look and tried to explain. "All of us know the song, us countries I mean. However we all have our own different words for it, but those few lines always remain the same. It's the only part of the original song, the one that was invented by the very first countries, that survived."

Frederick tapped his chin thoughtfully, mulling over something. "So you countries knew that the world was round even before the scientists discovered it?"

Gilbert looked amused by this. "Yes, we always did. We can feel our lands, and we could feel that they were. . .curved, I guess." He ran his hand along the air, making a sphere. "Ach, I'm not making any sense. We've just known that the Earth is round, the same way that you know that the sky is blue and the sun is bright." He paused for a minute, still thinking, and then suddenly threw the stick away and stood up.

"We can learn a lot from our countries," Fritz said, letting Gilbert help him to his feet.

Our countries. Not you countries, as if saying that they were different from humans. Prussia did notice his king's rather possessive tone, though. "No one remembers us," he said, linking his arm through Fritz's. "We're supposed to remain in obscurity, as a rule."

The arm around his tightened. "Not with me, you won't," Fritz promised, leading them away from the twin circles in the earth.


 

Manipulation

"Oi, what the hell's all this?" Gilbert demanded, indicating to the freshly dug garden in the palace grounds. The earth was still loose and soft. But there were no plants in it as far as Gilbert could tell.

Fritz watched him with that smug little smile on his face that he always wore when he knew more than someone else. "That's my new garden," he said, coming to stand beside him. "A little small compared to the others, I will admit, but I don't intend for it to be that big." He tapped his fingers on his cane and watched the guards that he ordered to stand around the garden. They looked very stoic and professional, and they were in plain view. Both onlookers and passersby gawked as they passed. He knew the question that was on everyone's mind: Why was the king ordering guards to be placed around his new garden? What was so important that they had to protect?

"Stop being so vague and tell me what it is," Prussia said, crossing his arms and almost pouting. That was a trait that the both of them shared: they hated it when one of them kept secrets from the other.

He stopped his laugh before it could begin. He loved it when Gilbert pouted and whined; it was adorable. Scanning the area, he already saw that people were starting to stare, both noticing their King and wondering who the pale man standing beside him was. "Come, this place is far too public." He turned and walked away. He didn't even dare link their arms together or grab his hand, because that would only start rumors.

The hedges that lined the garden paths closed around them, shielding them from prying eyes. All at once the sounds seemed muffled as well and birdsong could be heard over the murmurings of the city. "I assume you know about my recent failures in getting the peasant stock to implement potatoes into their diet," he began, keeping his voice in a low, conversational tone. It wasn't quite a whisper, but it was just quiet enough to let others know that it would have been terribly rude to eavesdrop.

Prussia snorted with laughter. "Of course I know it, everyone does." He said, smiling a little. "Honestly, did you really think that threatening to cut off everyone's ears and noses would actually work?"

Fritz whacked his cane against the country's knee. Not hard enough to leave a mark, but enough to let him know that the comment was unappreciated. "Oh hush. Might I remind you that it was your suggestion?"

Because he was so pale, it was easy to tell when the blood was rushing to Gilbert's face. "I didn't mean for you to take it seriously," he said rather lamely.

"You didn't tell me not to. Nonetheless, it didn't work." They came across a bend and the interlocking yew branches overhead came the path a little shade. Two other gentlemen passed both of them and bowed to the king as he went by. When he was certain they were out of earshot Fritz continued. "So I decided to go for a less direct approach. I can't do a repeat of what I did with you, so I'm letting rumors do the work for me."

Prussia nodded in reply, remembering how Fritz had gone to rather dramatic measures to show him that potatoes were in fact edible. He still got chills thinking about it; he had been terrified when he saw Fritz eat what he thought had been deadly poison at the time. "I'm assuming your new garden is filled with potatoes, then?"

"Exactly," Frederick replied, delighted that he had made the connection. "And I've told people to say that my guards are watching over my potatoes. I want the word out as quickly as possible."

"Why?" Prussia asked, tilting his head to one side like a confused dog.

"Because that will make people curious," Fritz explained, smirking deviously. "They will want to come and see it. They will wonder why I, the King, want to have something as foreign as potatoes in my garden and why I have soldiers guarding them."

An understanding of what his king was trying to do flickered in his brain. "You don't put guards around something unless it is precious in some way," he said slowly.

Fritz smiled brilliantly at him. "Again, you are correct. People will wonder what makes these potatoes so precious, and they will want them for their own." Unable to help himself, he barked out a laugh. "And they will think that it is entirely their own idea as well! Unbeknownst to them that this is exactly what I want them to do!"

Gilbert laughed with him, then paused. "Wait, what do you mean by that? Are you going to let people break into the palace and steal right out of the gardens?"

"That is exactly what I intend to let them do. It won't work as well unless they think that they have ultimately outwitted me." He fiddled with the buttons on his cuff. "Do not fret, there will be guards watching the rest of the grounds to make sure that they don't go any further." The trees ended, bringing them back into the sunlight. "And once they realize that the stolen potatoes are edible, it might finally get through their deplorably stubborn skulls that potatoes are food." His long suffering tone made Prussia laugh as they strolled through the grounds. It didn't take them long to start betting on how long it would take for the citizens to finally crack and become bold enough to sneak into the palace gardens and steal the potatoes.

It took five days. Prussia knew his people well (as a nation should) and predicted that the potatoes would be gone within a week. Fritz thought that the people had more respect for his guards and would therefore hesitate longer, and he was quite amazed when he found that to be false. Despite that, he still smiled and praised his soldiers for following orders and deliberately looking in the other direction whenever they noticed someone climbing over the walls. They simply ignored the thieves to the best of their ability and let them run off, carrying the King's potatoes with all the glee of children who had just snuck sweets from the sugar bowl.


 

Fourth of July

This was absolutely amazing. No, not amazing. Awesome. This was awesome and Prussia knew without a single shred of doubt that the title was well-earned. He actually felt privileged to have been a part of it. Then again, if his awesome self had not been here then it would not have been nearly as awesome.

Cannons fired everywhere and the cheers of people sent his heart racing. He wasn't even a part of these people and he could still feel them! It was so odd, Baron von Steuben was the only one of his citizens in this country, and yet there was still a faint connection with these people. He laughed with all of the others and clapped them on the back, shouting greetings and praise. A sea of people passed him by and somehow, over the great roar of noise, he heard his name being called.

"Prussia! Prussia!" A young man was pushing through the crowd, his dirty blond hair in disarray and his blue eyes wide and bright in excitement. If the situation had been any different he would have yelled at the lad for having his uniform so sloppy. "Gil!" the lad finally resorted to shouting.

"I told you not to call me that!" Gilbert yelled back, shaking his fist for emphasis. He knew that he was grinning like an idiot though so his words lacked their usual effect. Seconds later the boy careened into him and latched his arms around him in a crushing hug. Damn, he kept forgetting how strong the kid really was! "You break my ribs and I'll break you!" Prussia swore, but he returned the hug anyway.

America just laughed loudly and eased his grip a little bit. "Cheer up some! Doesn't this feel awesome?" He gestured to everyone around him.

The older country narrowed his crimson eyes, but didn't say anything. He'd let the kid get away with using his word. Just this once. Next time earned him a good punch. "Yeah, it does," he said, letting him go. "I outta tell you, your people sure as hell know how to party!" As he finished another round of cannonfire went off, which just made everyone cheer louder. All that was needed now were a load of fireworks and the whole pomp would have been taken care of.

Alfred blushed with pleasure. "Thanks, we have people from all nations here so we kinda mix the way they party."

Hmm, that didn't sound like a bad idea. However, there was one problem. "Where's all the beer?" he demanded, glancing around. He saw neither food nor alcohol, which was unforgiveable. How the hell were you supposed to thrown a decent party without beer?

America blinked, suddenly looking every bit the kid that he was. "What, are you planning to drink?"

He rolled his eyes so hard that it actually hurt. "Naw, I just want to collect a shitload and play chess with them. Beer are pawns, wine is bishop, brandy equals king." In case Alfred wasn't catching his sarcasm (and he really could be dense sometimes) he smacked him over the back of his head like he always did when he heard the new nation blurt out something stupid.

The blond winced and rubbed his head. "Alright, alright. But we're not supposed to drink on duty."

"Good thing we're not on duty," Gilbert replied impudently. He gave Alfred a light slap on the shoulder. "Now, take me to the nearest tavern. Consider that an order, soldier."

In response the blond also rolled his eyes and, uncharacteristically, gave up. "Fine then, but you pay," he said, starting to weave through the crowd like a fish through water. The people around him parted instinctively to let their country through and forgot him almost as soon as they saw him.

Prussia laughed that brash laugh of his. It was a laugh that could always, without a doubt, make someone feel as if they were being insulted. "Fuck you. It's your goddamn holiday, you pay for it."

"That's not fair!" Alfred yelled, turning to look at him in shock.

"Life's not fair kid. Deal with it."

"Gilbert! Alfred!" An accented voice called to them and France seemed to materialize out of nowhere, feather-trimmed hat and lace cravat and all. "Mes amis, where do you think you're going without me, hmm?" The dashingly handsome blond asked, one hand quickly grabbing each of their asses. Francis was a person who did not believe in simply walking up to someone without touching them. Despite the groping, he had a hurt and abandoned expression on his face, like an orphaned child. Gilbert knew his friend well enough to tell when he was acting.

Unfortunately America did not. Not only that, but his entire face turned red and he jumped back when France touched him. "Oh, jeez, Francis, I'm so sorry about that, I—I would have gotten you but—"

"Stop blubbering," Prussia interrupted him, grinning at his expression. "And Francis, it's your own damn fault for not finding us sooner."

Francis put a hand over his heart as if he had just been wounded, but the beginnings of a smile were tracing his lips. "But, I am here now. And I ask again: where are we going?"

"Drinking," Gilbert replied, turning his grin onto his old friend. Spain wasn't around, so they couldn't do their usual bar-hopping, getting-pissed-off-your-face drinking, but they did have the kid with them. . .

Francis saw his look and understood it at once. "Amérique," he all but purred, leaning closer to Alfred and making him quite uncomfortable. "This is your town, is it not? I'm sure you know where a good tavern is, and I'm sure that the three of us can handle a few drinks together. Would you mind leading us there?"

"Sure thing," Alfred replied, and then he frowned as France's words sunk in. "Hey wait, the 'three' of us? I wasn't planning on drinking, I mean we're—"

"No," Gilbert interrupted again, grabbing his protégé by the arm. "It's terribly rude to turn down an invitation, Alfred. Besides, if you want to get anywhere in the world then you need to learn how to handle your damn alcohol. Luckily for you, you've got us." He turned the younger country around and pushed him a little. "Now, take us somewhere before I get mad."

"Oh don't listen to him," Francis said in honey-sweet words, smoothly butting him aside. "He's a rough, uncultured soul." He ignored the punch to his ribs. "If anything we would very much enjoy your company Alfred."

He could see the kid's resolution wavering by the second. "Okay, I guess hanging out for a little while won't hurt," he said at last, still looking a bit uneasy.

"Of course it won't," Francis assured him, patting him on the head. "You are quite safe with us." Well that was true, in a sense.

America nodded and smiled. "Alright then, follow me." He started walking away again, and he missed the devious looks that Gilbert and Francis shared behind his back. They both knew that the night was going to be quite memorable in a few hours.


 

Own Holiday

"This day is waaaay too awesome to be contained in one little span of twenty-four hours. Seriously Fritz, it was absolutely fucking awesome." Prussia leaned even further back in his chair and now it was in serious danger of falling over.

Frederick tried to hide his grin by sipping his wine. "You've said that seventeen times already," he pointed out, although he didn't really care. He just needed something to say.

"It's just that awesome," Prussia replied, putting his feet up on the table. If he had been back at the palace the Dowager Queen would have thrown a fit at his lack of manners, so he was obviously taking advantage at being out on a campaign. "I mean, I'm the embodiment of awesome so I can tell when something is awesome."

"Well then, what would you do to commemorate this awesome day?" Fritz asked, leaning his head on his fist and staring at his half-filled cup. He was trying not to drink too much this time, since he needed to be sober for tomorrow. On the other hand, Gilbert had gone through enough wine for the both of them and he wasn't even slurring his words yet. It made him just a little envious.

The albino pursed his lips in thought, mulling the question over as if it was one of the great mysteries of the universe. His chair came back to the ground with a muffled thump and he pushed it back again, repeating the cycle until Fritz glared at him to stop. "I know what we should do," he said, pushing the chair again but keeping it on two legs. He quaffed his wine and then slammed the empty cup on the table. "We should make this day a holiday. Every year we should have people celebrate this day for our awesomeness."

Fritz choked down a laugh. "That's preposterous. No one makes holidays after their military victories."

"The Romans did."

"But this is not Rome."

"Says the 'Marcus Aurelius' of Germany." Prussia grinned, sharp and wide, and poured himself more wine. "Anyways, we'll call it 'Awesome Day,' naturally."

Naturally. "Would it not be more prudent to name it something that has more relevance to the actual events of the day you're celebrating?" he asked. Not that he was actual going along with the idea, but he was going to let his love indulge.

Gilbert looked at him as if he had just spoken in Russian. "The hell is that supposed to mean?" he demanded, pushing his chair further back. "It's relevant to everything! All day we were awesome! Besides, do you want to go around all day saying 'Happy Hohenfriedberg Day' to everyone?" He raised his eyebrows, showing him that the question was purely rhetorical.

"I see your point," he conceded with a smile. "We'll have to think of something properly presumptuous later."

"I already said Awesome Day," Prussia pouted, starting to think that his king was ignoring him on purpose.

"That you did," Fritz said, gliding the bottle over to him. After all, he wasn't going to drink anymore. He needed to lead an army tomorrow. "But I said 'properly' presumptuous. Make it sound like we paid some pompous ass to sit around all day to think of a title."

Gilbert nearly snorted into his drink. "Oh, that'll twist the aristocrat's nose real good," he murmured. He stopped as an idea came to him. "Ha! And every day it comes around I'll go to Austria's house and punch him right in the face."

Fritz raised his eyebrows, suspecting that alcohol was doing most of the talking now. "Why?"

"We beat the hell out of him today, didn't we? Gotta keep the tradition alive." He seemed to melt into his chair and stared off into space, once again seeming thoughtful. "But then Hungary'll get all pissed," he went as an afterthought, the words tumbling from him without restraint. "Swear to gods that woman's always pissed, like she's a having a permanent peri–Oh FUCK!" His chair finally fell backwards, finally unable to hold itself up from all of his pushing, and sent him sprawling across the ground.

"It's a long journey to Austria anyways," Fritz said mildly, leaning to the side so he could look at Gilbert. "I say you should think about it in the morning."

"I say think about it now," Prussia retorted, although his eyes were glazed. He kept rubbing his head as if expecting to feel pain, but from his vaguely puzzled expression it was clear that he wasn't feeling much of anything at the moment.

He stood up and finally offered his hand to his nation. "And knock the rest of your brains out?" he teased, helping Gilbert to his feet. "You won't have two thoughts to put together by sunrise."

"Oh be quiet," Gilbert mumbled, allowing himself to be dragged into a chair.


 

Want

The most sought-after monarch in all of Europe. An apt description, to say the least.

Prussia watched his king through half-lidded eyes, seeing him a totally different light than he ever had before. Frederick was hunched over a map of Silesia, studying the little lines and figurines scattered across it, planning some other new detail of their conquest. He was so caught up in his map that he didn't even seem to notice that some strands of his hair had come loose and were now hanging by his face, somewhat tarnishing that upright and perfect image he wore in front of his troops. His hands were splayed flat on the table, holding the paper down. Usually those hands seemed good for nothing but holding a quill or playing his flute, but Gilbert had seen them grasp a sword with the utmost confidence as his king rode among his troops, shouting orders. Recently he had seen a new side of Frederick, one that he had glimpsed when they had been making preparations to invade Silesia. Apparently he was a lot more bellicose than everyone believed and his harsher, more warlike side had reared its head at Mollwitz. It didn't matter that Fritz fled at the end (although Fritz didn't think so) Prussia was still proud of his ruler and his army.

He tapped his fingers against his flask contemplatively before taking another swig. He had taken a bullet to the leg during the battle and it still ached, but that was mainly because he refused to sit still like the doctors had ordered him to and he had spent all day marching and riding. Good old brandy did wonders for pain, and not even Fritz knew that he had an entire bottle of it hidden in his packs. However, combined with the candlelight it made the tent they were in terribly hot, despite the biting cold outside. He muttered a curse and undid the first few buttons on his shirt, freeing his collar and neck and letting the slight breeze from outside wash over him. Someone had left a loaf of bread on the table, and he tore into it greedily, never taking his eyes off of Fritz. The man hadn't even looked up in the past five minutes. "Would you mind sharing your interest of that map with me?" he suddenly asked.

Fritz looked up in surprise, blinking like an owl awoken in the daytime. His eyes widened as he noticed Prussia's unbuttoned collar that displayed his neck and just a teasing hint of his chest. Gilbert would have laughed, but his mouth was too full. Fritz's head quickly dropped back down. "I was thinking about Neisse, actually," he admitted to the table. "I wish we could have captured it. Things would have been so much easier."

Prussia smiled and finished his meal. "Well, things can't be perfect all the time. At least we won this round." He sipped his flask again to wash down the remnants of bread.

Fritz didn't look at him. "Yes, we should count the blessings we have." His voice lifted a little, and whatever gloom he had seemed to be chased away. "Pass me that chocolate, will you?"

He reached for the cup across the table and handed it over. Fritz accepted it with a murmur of thanks and met his eyes for the barest second before turning away. He sipped his drink and tapped his fingers against the table in an absent manner.

At once Gilbert knew that something else was bothering him. "Do you have any plans?" he prompted gently.

There was a beat of silence. "I'm not sure yet," Frederick replied. "I should like to wait for the foreign envoys to arrive first."

He waved his hand, bringing Fritz's attention on him. "You know I hate it when you don't look at me when you speak," he chided him.

Something flashed across Fritz's eyes, but it was gone so quickly that Prussia had no idea what it was. "I know," Fritz replied, a smile finally stretching across his face. It was a magnificent sight and made him look so much younger. Prussia wondered why he didn't smile all the time.

"Then why do you do it?" the nation asked, smiling back.

Fritz merely shrugged in answer and lowered his eyes. He wasn't looking away from his charge, but he wasn't meeting his eyes either. Almost as soon as he broke his gaze his smile faded and his brooding descended on him once more. It was driving Gilbert absolutely insane and he wanted to reach out and grab his face and tell his king to look at him and nothing else.

…Huh. Now where did that come from? He sounded like a jealous housewife all of a sudden.

Wife. . . he recognized the expression on Fritz's face now. It was that daydreaming look he had been seeing for quite a while now. Years actually, on and off. "Mooning for your ladylove again?" he asked, wondering why he felt strangely hurt by the idea.

"It's not a lady, Gilbert." Fritz snapped at him. Then he stiffened as he realized that he let something slip and shook his head as if to physically wrench the thoughts from it.

Gilbert laughed in a low voice and edged forward. "So, your man then," he said, trying not to grin. "I envy him. He must be really special to capture your attention for so long." And why should he envy him? It wasn't like he cared about who his king liked or wanted…right?

For a moment it looked as if Fritz would say something, then he shut his mouth. Gilbert couldn't see his face very well because he was still looking down, but he was certain that he was torn between telling him and keeping silent. The silence stretched on, getting heavier and more awkward with each passing second. Finally Fritz sighed and said, "He is special. Very much so." He even sounded wistful.

That didn't tell him anything, but at least it was an honest-to-gods response. "Do I know him?" Prussia went on.

"Why do you want to know?" Fritz asked defensively. Dammit, he was back to avoiding questions. "It's none of your business."

Truly it wasn't, but Prussia didn't care. He wanted to know who in the world was keeping his Fritz's attention off of him. A bit miffed, are we? A snide little voice in his head asked. He ignored it. "It's my business when my King is distracted and unable to do any work because of it." He knew that Frederick hated it when he invaded his personal space—it made him uncomfortable—so he stood up went sidled up to him, just inches away from his side. Fritz turned his head just the barest degree in his direction. "Besides, you know that I'm a nosy bastard."

Fritz laughed, sounding a little out of breath. "I do know that," he agreed, trying to edge away from him. Prussia just stepped closer. "Gilbert, I—"

"Look at me when you speak!" Prussia finally snapped, reaching out and grabbing is leader's chin and turning it towards him.

His move was so sudden and unexpected that Fritz simply gasped in shock, but then he smacked the offending hand away angrily. His eyes, almost on their own accord, dropped down to his open shirt and the powder-white skin that it revealed. Only a moment too late he realized that his emotions must have been written all over his face, but Prussia had already seen everything; the lust and desire he saw in those blue eyes floored him completely, and the blush that rose to his leader's ears only confirmed his suspicions. For a moment he wondered why in the world Frederick was looking at him like that, but then it hit him like a gunshot.

Oh. . . oh.

Well now, this was certainly an interesting twist to things.

Suddenly Frederick backed up as if trying desperately to put some space in between them. He only took a step before his back hit the table. "Gilbert, I—I—" he stammered guiltily, for once his words failing him.

His expression went right through Gilbert's heart, and he wanted to wipe it away. Fritz hadn't looked this ashamed over something in a very long time, and he realized that the look did not suit him very well. "My King," he said, a grin stretching across his features. "I'm flattered." Something in the back of his mind told him that he should be alarmed, that this was bad, but the sudden joy that swept through him silenced that voice.

Fritz frowned in puzzlement, but the odd mix of guilt and desire was still there. "You're not. . . mad?" he asked as if he feared the answer.

"Why would I be mad?" Gilbert asked in genuine surprise. "If anything I'm quite pleased to be the object of your affections." He took a bold step forward and once again planted himself in front of his king.

"Because I've known you since I was a child," Fritz replied, sounding confused. As if he couldn't imagine a world where Prussia would not be mad at him. "And to think of you in such a way—"

"Ah, but then who would be better than me?" Gilbert interrupted him. "After all, I know you better than anyone else. And if you haven't noticed by now, you are not a child anymore Fritz." He watched Fritz slump in relief and smiled widely. "Besides, I've seen a lot weirder things in my life."

"I suppose you're going to tell me how silly I've been acting?" Fritz murmured, a teasing gleam coming into his eyes. Prussia noticed that once all of his fears were banished he was remarkably quick at finding his balance again.

Prussia shook his head. "Not at all. It just means that your morals are higher than my own." He inched forward a little as he said this, forcing Fritz to look up at him. And look he did, with such an unveiled want in his eyes that it made the albino's heart quicken. Those beautiful blue eyes, usually so cold and distant, were all but smoldering like coals, all for him. He noticed, not for the first time, what amazing eyes his dear Frederick had. They stared at him so intensely that he wondered what it would be like having those eyes watch him as he sucked his king off.

Wait, what?

His thoughts were running away from him again. But then again, he certainly liked the direction they were taking. As if Frederick read the lewd expression on his face (and he had, since he had been staring at it) he leaned back. "We can't," he said, sounding as if he were forcing the words out.

Gilbert stopped and looked at him as if he had just lost his mind. "Aren't you the one who started this?" he asked, his irritation rising. What the hell was Fritz playing at?

"I know," Fritz said ruefully. "But we cannot touch, not during a war. Not when one of us could be killed." He almost stumbled over the last word, but he managed to keep his voice even.

The pale man sighed and shook his head. "Being pessimistic again? I told you to stop doing that at Mollwitz. I can't die, and I will never let anything happen to you. It's my duty to protect you."

"Regardless, I would not be very happy if a relationship between us started in the middle of a war."

Gilbert chuckled. "What better way to start one?" he asked, but he could tell by his king's face and tone that he would not be moved from his decision. He sighed in annoyance, but then an idea came to him that could only be described as pure evil. "Fine, no touching." He removed one of his gloves and leaned forward until he had Fritz right against the table. Honestly, any farther back and Fritz would have to crawl across the table in order to escape...actually that didn't sound like a bad idea.

"What are you doing?" Fritz demanded, suspicion rising in his voice.

Prussia grinned at him, that malicious grin that promised nothing good. "You said no touching. I will obey my King, and I will not touch you. However, if I was allowed to then this is exactly how I would do so." He placed both of his hand on the table so Fritz was caged between them, but he carefully avoided any contact. Then, with a deliberate slowness, he lifted his ungloved hand and trailed it upwards, stopping to hover right above Fritz's cheek. He saw his monarch's eyes widen as he realized what his nation was doing. "See? No touching, just like you said," he said, running his thumb along the air beside his skin.

Oh this was absolute torture. If Frederick's attention had not been so focused on that hand or Gilbert's face then he would have without a doubt hit him. As it was, he was more concentrated on those long, thin fingers which did not seem very suited for a soldier at all. He was quite aware of that thumb that mock-traced the contours of his face, of the fingers that so gently skimmed over his hair. They were so close that all Fritz had to do was straighten up and Gilbert's hand would have been on his head. Even so he could feel the heat from his body and he griped the table hard, imagining that he was grabbing Gilbert and pulling him closer.

That teasing limb came down, following the line of his nose and tracing his lip. Even though it hadn't touched him his skin tingled as if it had been. Gilbert abruptly brought his face closer and allowed his lips to follow the same path as his fingers. His lips caressed the air above his cheek while his hand moved lower, lingering for a moment on his neck before sweeping aback down and resting on the table. The table creaked as Prussia shifted his weight so he could rest his mouth inches away from Frederick's own. Fritz had no idea how agonizing it could be to just stand still like he was doing right now. Before, whenever Gilbert touched him his thoughts scattered like frightened birds, but having the albino stand there and pretend to touch him made him want to tear his hair out in frustration.

"By this time I would kiss you," Prussia murmured, his warm breath tickling Fritz's face. "But, unfortunately, that is another form of touching."

Fritz was very close to not giving a damn. Inches, just a few scant inches separated them. All he had to do was lean forward the tiniest bit and he could kiss him. He had dreamed of it for so long, had craved it, and now it was finally in his grasp. It was all he could do to resist the impulse to flick out his tongue and taste the lips that hovered a hairsbreadth away from him. He was seriously considering it when he noticed the challenging, almost mocking grin on Prussia face, and in an instant he knew what his nation was trying to do. This wasn't just playful teasing, it was a battle of willpower, a struggle to see who would be the first to relinquish dominancy over the other. If he went back on his word now, then that meant that Gilbert could get him to submit to his will and he would be wrapped around the devious man's fingers. Well Gilbert was about to see how well he could play that game! He saw with a twisted satisfaction that Gilbert was trembling ever-so-slightly; his little game was just as torturous to him as it was to Fritz. This king smiled his own bold challenge and pushed himself away from the table. "Yes, how unfortunate," he murmured back, practically tasting Gilbert on his tongue as they were suspended in a moment just before the kiss. Then he did the hardest thing he ever had to do in his life: stand still.

One long, agonizing minute passed. And then another. Prussia swallowed thickly and forced himself not to move, despite the blood pounding in his ears. He could sense people passing by outside the tent, oblivious to the miniature war being waged between them. He could smell his king, taste him, and almost, almost touch him. Gottverdammt if he could just close that gap between them. . . he gripped the table harder, feeling his nails dig deep into the wood. Any more pressure and he might have ripped the table apart. He could clearly see his own desires reflected in Frederick face but he would not—do—anything—and it was about to drive him mad.

Another minute dragged by with both of their defense crumbling. Prussia's trembling became more pronounced and Fritz's breath started to come in quicker, shorter pants. He shivered and nearly bumped into Fritz, causing them both to gasp as their breaths intermingled. He found his mouth automatically opening for a kiss and Fritz did likewise, but just at the last minute they remembered themselves and stopped. Another minute dragged on, and right when they were both about to scream in frustration there came the sound of light, hurried footsteps from outside. "Your Majesty!" an aide called like a thunderclap from reality. "Monsieur Bell-Isle is here to see you!"

The mood was abruptly shattered and the both of them were brought crashing out of whatever world they had drifted off to. Prussia swallowed again and shut his eyes, and then stepped back. He plastered a smile over his face and waved dramatically to the entrance to the tent. However, when he noticed Fritz's furious expression his smile vanished. Gods, that was something he never thought he would see again; for a moment Fritz looked almost exactly like his father when he was getting ready to cane someone. The monarch took a deep breath and wiped his countenance clean like the actor he was and half-turned. "Let him enter," he called, his voice steady and unreadable.

While Fritz's outward expression seemed calm and controlled, on the inside he was screaming. No, he had been wrong before. This is what going mad felt like.

Chapter Text

"Prussia."

The word hung in the air for a long while before his ears plucked it down to be heard.

"Prussia...Prussia."

It was a...a name. He was certain of that much. His name? Yes, he thought so. It had a rosemary-scented familiarity to it.

"Gilbert, wake up."

He shied away from that voice, burying himself deeper into his velvet blanket of darkness. He didn't want to wake up. That sharp voice came from a harsh place that promised pain, more pain than he was already in, with a sound of silver tingles that raced along his skin like crawling ants.

"Blast it, man, wake up!"

Silver morphed into an iron-blood taste and peeled back his eyelids to cut across his brain, leaving dull lines of pain flashing across his head. A whimper tore its way out of his throat, hot trickles of more pain scattering from it like horses in a race, thundering hooves forming a pounding in his skull. Suddenly he was aware that he was laying on something hard and cold. The hard and cold didn't taste or sound like anything, and for some reason that terrified him.

Terror tasted like ice.

A wavering sign, then, "Pah!" A single word filled with loathing. Flung down like a dead animal. "You're useless to me."

He flinched and suddenly his body flew apart and rearranged itself in an awry, skewed fashion, like a child taking apart a toy only to shove it back together in a guilt-ridden haste. It felt as if his arms were twisted behind his head at impossible angles and his knee was growing out of his chest and his guts had been drawn out of his mouth and wrapped around his limbs and face, binding him and silencing him. Every moment sent his glass bones snapping and popping back into place with agonizing white slowness. His head hurt, with one single place above his temple burning as if someone had left a burning coal there so it could bore right through his head and into his brains.

"Look at yourself, lying there like a rag," the voice came back, fluttering across his ears with butterfly quickness and bringing the scent of sharp, burning oil with it. "You are such a hypocrite. A liar." The razor-edged words caressed his veins, gently parting them and making him bleed inside. " 'My King, I will protect you,' you say, but when that time actually comes you lie there, useless."

That one word struck him like a hammer blow and sent his scrambled nerves back into their proper places. His arms were in front of him and his legs were slightly curled underneath him. Something thick and heavy was blocking his mouth, but it was not his guts. Blood, thick and dry, glued his lips shut like a doll's. A pained, red-salt-tasting moan slithered out of his throat with a thousand snake coils brushing against his throat and teeth.

"Hush! They'll hear you!" The voice hissed. There must have been snake trapped in his throat as well. A different tone colored the voice salmon pink, and then it faded to a silver-blue sage scent. "I should have known you would be a liability. I don't even know why I bother with you."

No, stop it, please stop. It hurt, those cold and invidious words. They weren't true. He wasn't a liability. He could be useful.

"You disgust me."

Disgust tasted like rue. Anise burned his nostrils and sticky spiderwebs plucked at his spine like a lute. Those three wormed into his ears and crawled down his throat, wrapping around his heart like branding irons of pain. They hurt, oh how they hurt.

"Coward."

Hate burned his tongue like pepper. Yet it felt cold, little snowflakes of malice freezing those cuts in his veins and chilling him from the inside out. He shivered and rattling like a carriage that had been poorly assembled.

"Pretending that you're still asleep. You aren't even trying." A pause, the silence punctuated by little bat squeaks coming from the pain in his head and hands. "You call yourself a soldier. You're a disgrace to that name."

His eyes burned and something hot trickled out of them. Blood? It felt like feathers. He needed to get up, to make those words untrue. And he could, he knew he could. Those flickering words with their violet-tastes still chilled him, except for his hands and head. He had to prove them wrong. He had to...

...wake up.

He parted his lids with a wet, sliding sound. Fluid sluiced from his eyeballs and let the cold air kiss them. For a moment all he saw was gray, hazy and foggy over his vision. It didn't feel like fog though. The light brought violin screeches of agony upon his ears and the high, wavering notes made spots of yellow and red flash across the gray in an odd staccato snapping beat. He blinked and grayness receded slightly. The fog was lifting, bringing more objects into view that coalesced into a room. The yellow lights were actually candles and they were throwing a feeble light on the floor. His hand twitched and his fingers scraped across something that sent signals of cold and hard and wood to his brain. Belatedly, he realized that his wrists were tied. Not with guts, but rope. Wait, not rope, it was too soft. It was. . .cloth? Handkerchiefs? He stared at the binds without really seeing them, the bright colors ringing in his eyes.

"That's it, lie there. Let a little knock on the head stop you."

Now that he thought about it, there was a dark stain underneath his head. Of course, with the pain coming from his skull he shouldn't have been surprised, but for some reason he had not made the connection until now. The puddle was frighteningly dark, and the red-black-hot-sticky blood stretched nearly to his elbows, making him nauseous with its metallic rust-stabbing smell. More of it slowly dripped from his head, tickling down his forehead with swamp green touches to pitter-patter to the floor like soft rain. His hair was sticky, as if tree resin had been smeared across it.

"Never mind that both of our lives are at stake."

That roused him, bringing him out of that odd floating state of mind. He noticed that the voice was now tinged with a limey sort of sadness that made him see indigo. That voice shouldn't be sad, a part of him knew. He hurt when the voice was sad, quite literally. He tried to get up, but he moved too quickly and all at once and his body shrieked with pain, an awful bruise of a noise that rumbling through his bones and was so loud and encompassing that it made him wonder if the timbers of the room were screaming back at him. Colors exploded in front of him, first red then white then fortissimo black and then the hazy fog was back. This time the pain tasted like nutmeg, which surprised him more than anything because it kept changing flavor as if each new height of pain peeled back another layer of a cottony object that clogged his mouth and ears and left him in this confusing world where his senses were mixed up and sights and sounds were indistinguishable from each other and had their own scents and flavors.

It took the grayness quite a while to vanish. Again it was the voice that drove it away, driving into his skull and spine with the monotonous conviction of a blacksmith's hammer. "Brainless...stupid...worthless...unreliable...weak..." A bitterness made the words taste strangely of mustard.

He remembered how to work his mouth. He parted his bloody lips, imagining them ripping apart like the fabric of a ragged scarecrow. He swallowed once, forcing the copper-blood-spit down his throat. Maybe the snake would drown in it. "Now.. " he whispered, putting all of his thoughts into making a simple sentence. "No need—for insults." He croaked them out, his old hag's nails of a voice scraping out of his throat to add a counterpoint to the orange melody.

At once the voice was silenced. "I'm sorry Gilbert," it said later in pine-scented regret. "They're the only thing that you've responded to."

He wondered what that meant. Slowly, he exhaled, trying to clear his foggy head. Or at least clearing it as much as he possibly could, which was admittedly not that much. His strength slowly came back to him, dancing along his fingers and toes and sitting on his scorched heart, as if it could banish the wounds that the words had torn open. He needed to free himself, somehow. But...he knew that he could easily do it, but he forgot how. It felt like his mind was trying to break down the door to the problem when it could have simply opened it and walked in.

Handkerchiefs, that was the key. Ropes were harder to untie, but he could not untie the handkerchiefs when he was already tied up. Something else. . .something. . .teeth. As if only now remembering that they existed, his hot-metal-marble teeth started to vibrate like a plucked string. He ignored it and brought his hands to his mouth, forcing his strained muscles to pull them closer, his joints creaking like old door hinges. He dragged his hands closer to his face with all of the deliberateness of a cat stalking a mouse, but when they were a few inches from his grasp something caught on a gap in the floorboards and PAIN! Red green yellow wail tenor smoke PAIN curdled the bones in his hands and arms and split his skull into pieces that scatted across the floor like beads thrown away by a careless child. A buzzing stared up in the distance, and with the way the pitch varied and brought different shades of color he knew that the voice had started up again.

"...a coward, giving up like this. Not even putting up a fight." The voice was trembling now, wavering like a leaving tossed into a flowing stream.

Nein, he thought redly, too incoherent to form words just yet. He could still see, barely, it was all he needed to guide his wrist to his lips. He parted them again and sank his teeth into the cloth like a dog tearing into fresh, steamy red meat. It felt as if he was trying to bite through wood, which sent an entirely different sort of buzzing into his ears. Then he tugged, he neck cringing in pain, but the bindings didn't loosen. That didn't even deter him; he just pulled harder. His head swirled and the handkerchief tasted of blood and sweat and sweet butter. But he would not let go, he could not. He had to get free, why he did not know, but the voice said that he did, and he trusted that voice with his life.

His determination was so single-minded that for a while he forgot his pain and intermingling senses. He was going to get out, and anything else was unacceptable. It felt as if he had been pulling on those rags for years, but in one elated moment he felt a knot slip free. Yes! Buoyed by his victory, he immediately went for the other one. This took a shorter amount of time and when the next knot was untied he managed to get his hands free. A wide grin split his face and the bell-like ringing from his lower lip signaled more pain.

The voice was behind him, so naturally he had to roll over in order to see it. The mere thought sent chills through him. A nameless dread sunk its teeth into his gut, but deep inside of him was a part that was untouched, unaffected by all that was going on around him, and it calmly informed him that it was the only way. He knew that it was right and began to plan on how to do it. From the way he passed out earlier, there was something terribly wrong with his left hand, and he wasn't quite sure but he thought his leg was broken. Drumbeats pounded out of it, which had started after he had first passed out and had not gone away since. He took two deep breaths and then in one harsh motion used his good hand to push himself onto his back. His shoulders hit the floor with a sickeningly wet thud and he immediately felt a thick warmth soak through the back of his clothes. His head felt a lot like it was still rolling, even though his body had gone completely still. There was more light on this side, which was mixed blessing since he could see better but that brought the strong smell of moss and damp things to his nose. He saw something move out of the corner of his eye and he turned his head to see Fritz.

His leader was sitting against the wall and for a moment he wondered why, then he saw that Fritz's hand were also tied, and they hung above his head as if he were being chained up in a castle like they used to do in the old days. He was still wearing his uniform, but it was filthy and bloodstained. He had lost his hat and his wig and a few strands of his hair had come out of its braid. Most of the powder had come out of his hair, revealing its true mahogany color. But to his utter astonishment he was the glitter of tears on his king's cheeks, all of them singing with a diamond bright brilliance. That was profoundly wrong, Fritz was a person who should never cry, and the wetness of his collar showed that he had been crying for quite a while.

Fritz was looking at him with a torn and helpless expression. "Gilbert?" he asked when he realized that Gilbert was staring at him.

He blinked, trying to remember how to speak. He had managed it a minute or ten ago, but his rolling head was snatching away his thoughts and memories. A strange curiositystole over him and he lifted his injured hand so he could see it in the light. At first his mind refused to comprehend what it saw. No, that was not a hand. It was too jagged and twisted. He heard Fritz gasp something and noticed that there were mountains on the back his hand. Against the blood on his skin they were a shocking white, splitting through his skin and jabbing out at all sorts of angles like the spines of some sea creature. White, they were such a vibrato white, white as bone... he slowly lowered his hand, feeling sick to his stomach. It that was what his hand looked like then he hated to see what the rest of him looked like.

"Prussia," Fritz said, grabbing his attention. "Listen carefully to me. I need you to come here." He gently thumped his boot against the floor to indicate what "here" meant.

The thump made the corners of his vision flicker azure. Terror-ice pooled across his tongue as the meaning of Frederick's words came to him. Come here? As in moving?

Noticing his expression, Fritz went on. "Please Gilbert, I know it will be hard. But it's the only way we're going to get out of here. If we don't free ourselves, then our captors might use us for ransom, or kill us." He leaned forward, his eyes hardening in intensity. "They will kill us, Gilbert. They'll kill me."

Kill had a sort of pleasing baked pastry taste to it, but his neck and ribs flamed as the tone scratched down them harshly. He could not allow that to happen, every fiber in his broken body cried out against it. He sighed in resignation thought about how he was going to move. After a moment he gripped the slippery floor with his good and slid his leg up until it was bent perfectly, then he used both to push himself across the floor. It hurt, but of course it hurt, everything he did hurt. He had braced himself for it and even managed to push himself again before his spinning vision forced him stop. He allowed himself only a moment of rest and then started again. People were going to kill Fritz, and he had to stop him. His anger gave him a strength he had no idea that he had and soon his crawling pace had picked up and he was scooting across the floor inches at a time. All of a sudden the back of his head hit a boot and a hot pepper scream pulled darkness over his eyes. It was a wonderful darkness, warm and inviting and smelling of rose petals. For a while he was completely devoid of any pain and just felt a soothing coolness reaching into him, washing away the growling of pain and leaving him floating and more content than he had ever felt in his life. He was far too gone to be able to tell how long he floated in that darkness, but he was certain that it was a long time. Nonetheless his consciousness slowly returned.

"...a bumbling idiot, not even able to crawl like a baby without injuring himself. Clumsy fool. He just sits there, like an inbred sop without a shred of loyalty. Giving up again, leaving me to die."

The litany of abuse tore him apart bit by bit, pitiless and unmerciful. Fritz wasn't even talking to him anymore, but merely describing him as if he wasn't even there. Despite the sting of basil and vinegar in his mouth and nose, he still rallied against those words, wondering how in the world he still had the strength to do so. "Never," he forced out, opening his eyes. "Never leave you to die." Even though he was broken in more ways than one, he knew down to the depths of his soul that it was true.

"Gilbert? Oh god, I thought... never mind what I thought." The disdain was gone, replaced by a warm cinnamon relief. "We don't have much time. Can you get up?"

He could not, not on his own anyway. But he had reached Fritz, and Fritz could help him. Indeed it was Fritz who did most of the work, wriggling his legs under him and helping him up. Of course with his good arm he tried to help, but he was so disoriented that the only direction he really knew was up. He let Fritz guide him into a sitting position and then push and prod him until he fell back against his leader's chest. Fritz's head rested on his shoulder and his torso was pressed against his back. It was a position they had assumed many time before, but there was nothing intimate about it now.

He was so tired from the work that he head was starting to spin. "Gilbert...Gilbert..." he felt Fritz whispering into his ear urgently.

He wanted to tell his king that his voice tasted like sage and hearing it brought wonderful lattice designs of silver into his mind's eye. His scent hand a low hum to it that thrummed across his entire body as if a rain-swelled stream had been injected into his veins. But Gilbert knew that he wouldn't understand, he could hear or taste the colors that he could smell. "Wait," he gritted through his teeth before the horrid torrent of insults could start again. "Trying... to think." His head was still whirling and all of his thoughts threatened to pull him under.

"Let me do that," Fritz answered immediately. "Now, do you remember the knife you once showed me? The one that you said was hidden in your boot?"

Remembering hurt, but snatches of images came to him. "I think so," he murmured. Then he remembered that the heel on one of his boots was fake, and taking it off revealed a hidden compartment where the aforementioned knife was carefully hidden. He had been ridiculously proud of himself for making it.

"Good. If you can get it then I can cut these ropes."

"I don't remember how to take the heel off." And that was true, he could not recall it even if his life depended on it. And, ironically, it did.

"You showed me how to do it. Just do as I say, trust me."

Yes, that was so much easier, to let go of his thoughts and simply do things. To obey a higher command unquestoningly like his army had been drilled to do. He let Fritz talk to him and did whatever he was asked. he let Fritz tell him which boot to grab (by the merest stroke of luck it was not the one belonging to his broken leg) and how to twist his hand and leg exactly so. The fake heel came off with a minty click that made him gums itch. The knife was not overly big, but he knew that it was very sharp, since he kept all of his weapons that way. He managed to wrap his fingers around the handle and drag it out of his boot and waited for Fritz's next instructions, trying not to pass out as he did. How long had he been awake now? He had no idea, but it had been far too long. During all of his periods of consciousness he had been exerting himself, each ordeal harder and more painful than the last, and his body was at its limit. It was odd, because by now he should have healed himself, but instead his condition had, if anything, deteriorated. It made no sense, but whatever the case he should have been resting and not impeding his recovery.

Fritz suddenly nudged him on the head, bringing him back from his musings. "Are you still there?" he asked. What an odd choice words.

He gave a tiny nod, and even tht tired him. He was so tired, but he would not sleep. Not until Fritz was safe.

"Prussia, are you listening to me?" Fritz said, his breath tickling his ear.

He was too tired to nod again, so he murmured something indistinct. Of course he was listening, Fritz never called him by his country name unless he had to say something important.

"Good. I'm sorry that I have to ask this of you, but I need you to lift that knife into my hand." Fritz sounded uneasy, a darkish orange look.

His heart thudded painfully against his ribcage. Oh no. . . he thought, his body starting to tremble. How in the hell was he supposed to do that? He was having a hard enough time keeping his eyes open, let alone lifting his entire arm up above his head...But he had to. He certainly couldn't cut Fritz's bonds. He took a slow breath and tried to gather his strength, and then he dragged his arm into his lap. It was the hardest thing he had ever done in his life. His shoulder hurt and his arms felt as if they were weighted down with lead. Fritz started whispering his name again, but he could barely hear it. His pounding heart sent the roar of waves crashing into the shore of his mind, waves of gray and blue that swirled in edges of his vision like a dream, tasting of sweet apples and smelling of coffee. He fought off that tempting world trying to pull him into darkness and lifted his hand upwards. It was slow going—his muscles refused to work—and he often had to catch his finger on a button or a fold in his clothes so he could give his arm a rest. By the time his hand had reached his shoulder he was panting as if he had been running and his vision was starting to flicker.

The waves were growing louder and Fritz's words, whether insults or encouragement, simply faded into the background and became a wind being blown by the sea. At first he could not find Fritz's arm and he had to stretch, but once he found a sleeve that was not his own he grabbed it stubbornly. He had to find Fritz's hand by following the arm, since he couldn't see it, and he pulled his arm ever higher, gripping the knife so hard that he could feel it wailing hotly as it cut into his palm. Please gods don't let him drop it because he would never manage this again.

His strength, which had amazingly gotten him this far, was starting to fail him. He was trembling so hard that only his constant grip on Frederick's clothes kept his arm from falling. Not now. . . you can't stop now. . . a voice whispered to him, whether his own or Fritz's he could not tell. Whatever it was it spurred him on. He twisted his body and pushed himself higher using his legs. Suddenly his vision fragmented and the pain made his eyes come loose and rocket around the insides of his skull like two crazed marbles. Even though he could not see he could still feel, and he continued to reach up, up, up. His broken leg crackled as if lightning had just shot through it and past the pain he could feel the knife slipping out of his grip. He tried to hold it tighter, but it vanished from his hand. He cried out in frustration and denial, refusing to believe that he could have failed now after all that he had done. He wanted to grab it but he was falling.

A final spasm of ginger pain wracked his senses and then he knew no more.


"How long has it been?"

"Three weeks, two days, and probably nine or something hours."

"Your Majesty, shouldn't you think of... putting him in a home or something?"

"Oh? Do elaborate, if you would please."

"Your Majesty, forgive his boldness. He's young and —"

"That's enough, Marshal Keith. While your defense of your troops is admirable, his boldness made him speak out first."

"Yes, Your Majesty. I ask that you do forgive my boldness, but I think it simply must be said. If General Beilschmidt has lain there for three weeks and has yet to awaken, then why do we still linger here? It is more than likely that he will never wake up, so why are we letting him become a burden?"

"He saved my life."

"No, Your Majesty, you saved your life when you cut your bonds and climbed out of that window, God knows how you managed it in your condition and the window being on the second floor of the house."

"And I would not have managed it at all if he had not given me his knife! I had been in that house for two days and would have remained there even longer if he had not found out where I was."

"It is a most commendable action, surely, but he would not be laying there at all if went to General Schwerin's search party the moment he found you. Yet he got captured and was half-killed because he lingered."

"He did not linger. He did not call get help for the same reason that I did not at first, he was captured before he had the chance to. You cannot fault him for that, use your brain man!"

Voices. Voices that didn't taste or smell of anything, thank gods. The sounds did not bring colors into his stubbornly dark vision and he wasn't feeling anything at the moment. He could hear a lot of people talking, one of them being Frederick. He would recognize that sharp voice anywhere. He tried to focus on what they were saying, and he realized that it was about him.

"We're getting off topic here. What he have to decide now is what to do with him."

"Oh Zieten, not you too!"

"I am neutral on this topic, Schwerin. I am just saying that aruging about what General Beilschmidt should have done is not going to change what happened."

"Unfortunately, he has a point."

"He's not going anywere."

"Your Majesty, be reas—"

"No! I am not about to ship him away to be holed up in god-knows-where for the rest of his life as if he were some sort of embarassment."

"My King, please listen to me. I've seen this before. I had a grandather who was a good, hardworking man, but one day he took a tumble and hit his head. He woke up a few days later but he was never the same man. Had this glassy, blank look in his eyes like a doll's. He did nothing but sit and look out the window all day and didn't speak a word to anyone. He couldn't even put on his boots and refused to eat anything that wasn't served with blackberry jam. My mother tried to take care of him, but he wasted away and died after a few months."

"Be that as it may, Lieutenant, my answer remains the same. It doesn't matter what happens to Gilbert. If he wakes up and wants to look out the window all day, then I shall make sure there is a comfortable chair placed there. If he can't put on his shoes then I will do it for him. If he wants to eat nothing but jam—blackberry or otherwise—then I shall keep the cellars stocked with it! He can be a doddering idiot for the rest of his days but he stays here!"

It was a thunderclap of a voice that left a stunned silence in its wake. He felt his breath catch in his throat as he heard Fritz standing up for him. That voice that had hurled diatribes at him like stones had now become his protector and defender. Again people were deeming him useless, but it was not Fritz. His senses were coming back to him; he was lying in a bed, that smell of clean sheets and wood was in the air, and Fritz was somewhere nearby.

"Your Majesty, I—"

"By God, look! Majesty, his hand just moved, I swear it—"

"Yes, I see it! Well, what are you all standing around for? Find Doctor Zahner at once!"

There was a great clattering of footsteps and then everything was silent. A single person came to stand by his bedside and a warm hand closed around his own. "Gilbert?" Fritz asked, his voice barely above a whisper. "Can you hear me? Please, you don't have to say anything, just squeeze my hand or—yes, like that!" There was a laugh of wild relief, as if a man being led to the gallows had found out that he had been pardoned at the last minute.

His eyes were too heavy to lift, so he simply squeezed that hand again. That one motion seemed to unleash something within his king and before he had time to register it he was being swept into a tight embrace and Fritz was whispering words that he thought he would never hear. "Brave. . . stout. . . true. . . enduring. . . amazing. . ."

A tiny part of him wondered what those words would have tasted like. They felt like balm, soothing those raw places that Fritz had torn open. He was not a failure, he was not useless. He had saved Fritz's life and that was all that mattered. He squeezed his hand again, silencing Fritz, and managed to crack open his eyes. Pressed against a shoulder, the only thing he saw was the dark blue of a uniform, and even that was too bright for him. "I want jam," he croaked, his voice hoarse from disuse. Unable to stop himself, he curled his lips into a smile.

For a moment he felt Fritz freeze in horror. Laughter then rumbled in Fritz's chest as he realized that Prussia had actually been listening to the conversation from earlier. "Alright, Liebling, I'll get you some jam." A hand gently stroked the back of his neck, idly playing with strands of his hair.

"Not blackberry," he said, muffling a cough. "I hate that shit."

"Not blackberry," Fritz agreed, hugging him tighter. "I love you, you know."

He wanted to laugh, but that required too much energy. "I love you too," he murmured and closed his eyes, letting himself drift off to Fritz's voice and the two warm arms that were supporting him.

Chapter Text

It was night again. The same chill that had crept through the house for the past two nights was seeping through the floorboards, causing Frederick to shiver. He wasn't that cold, but the chill tickled his exposed neck and bloodless hands. He clenched and unclenched his fingers and winced as the ropes tying his hands above his head chafed painfully against his raw and bloody wrists. He had learned the hard way that trying to pull his hands free of the rope was absolutely useless.

A harsh laugh came from downstairs, making his stomach flip. So far his captors had not been cruel to him, they gave him food and even talked to him some, but there had been repeated threats that if he tried to escape then he would be punished. He was a bit dubious about that, since he knew that Maria Theresa would want him alive and unharmed. If the news got out that the Austrians had brought harm upon a member of royalty, regardless of whether that member was an enemy or not, it would infuriate the rest of the European courts and isolate Austria from its allies. Yet Frederick wouldn't put it past his captors, who were actually Hungarian. They had killed almost all of his gendarmes after the dragoons had fled.

"Damn!" he swore as he checked his saddlebags again, trying to be as discreet as possible about it.

His comment had been whispered, so only Prussia heard it. In a moment the nation had ridden up beside him. "What is it?" he asked in a low voice.

His irritation was rising, but he kept it in check. "I left something back at the village. We have to go back and get it."

Gilbert slowly shook his head. "We can't turn this entire company around. Send an aide-de-camp to go fetch it."

"No, it's too important for that." He sighed as Gilbert gave him a questioning look. "It's those marching plans you and I were going over. If they fall into the wrong hands then the Austrians will know where the army is and where we intend to go."

Gilbert bit his lip in thought, worrying over the matter. "I know what they look like," he said after a long minute. "I'll go get them." He saw Frederick's look and went on. "No one will question why I'm riding back, and I'm sure that kindly landlord will hand anything over without a fuss." A smile threatened to make itself known at his words.

Frederick didn't like the idea, but he knew that Gilbert could take care of himself. "Hurry back," he murmured. With all of those Hungarian bandits about it was dangerous to be alone for too long.

The soldier grinned widely at him. "I'll be back before you even miss me," he promised with a wink and wheeled his horse around, trotting back the way they came at a brisk pace.

That was the last time Frederick had seen him.

He still remembered that smile, and the way Prussia spoke, as if he existed in a world where failure did not happen. Too unawesome to exist, as Gilbert would have put it. In a way, Frederick was glad that Gilbert had not been with them when they had been ambushed. In hindsight it was rather ironic, him worrying over Gilbert being attacked by Hungarian hussars when in reality he was the target. At least Gilbert had been safe and unharmed. But for how long? He knew that his kidnappers would at the very least want him for ransom, but they could also have him issue orders to have his army withdraw. His was king, and not a single man in Prussia could disobey his orders, and he could bring his country to his knees if he wished. The thought made him sick.

Frederick swallowed and glanced out the window. The moon wasn't even visible. It had been terribly cloudy for the past few days, with the weather letting up only occasionally. It was so unlike that one day when the sun had beaten down on them mercilessly.

The heat made the smell of blood and gunpowder nauseating. All around him were the screams of horses and men and the crack of gunfire. Above the writhing melee a single voice shouted out: "Don't harm the King! Kill the rest of this rabble but if you so much as cut him I'll flay all of you!"

He drew his sword and swung, daring anyone to venture too close. He swept his eyes around, looking for an opening, but the great mass of Prussians and Hungarians made it impossible to see. Suddenly an aide rode up next to him. "Your Majesty, you have to escape! Our lives mean little to us, but if you were captured—" his sentence choked off into a gurgle as a bullet caught him in the chest and sent him tumbling off his horse.

Frederick stabbed out with his sword, slipping it under a Hungarian hussar's arm and plunging it into his side. He yanked it back out and parried a blow that came from his right, all the while trying to keep his horse under control. It wanted to bolt, and if it did that now then it would ride straight into the crossfire and kill them both. Around him were only two gendarmes, the rest were caught in battle and most of the dragoons were now in full flight. He cursed them and held onto his sword tightly. A group of hussars rushed at him and his gendarmes met most of them, but two slipped by and came right at him.

He quickly drew his pistol and shot, hitting one in the chest, and feinted with his sword, distracting his other attacker. For a few tense moments their swords clashed, neither of them gaining an edge on the other, and then he scored a deep cut in the hussar's side. It wasn't enough to seriously harm him though, and he was about to strike again when his horse screamed and fell, pierced by a well-aimed bullet. The king hit the ground with an impact that jarred his teeth and sent his sword flying out of his hand. For a moment he saw nothing but the blue sky and the surrounding hills of Wartha Valley, and then he was surrounded by hussars.

"You're our prisoner now, Your Majesty," one of them sneered. At least, that's what Frederick thought he said. The man spoke even worse German than he did.

He tried to keep a calm façade, even though he barely believed that this was real. "Regrettably," he answered in a steady voice. All around him the sounds of battle were fading away.

"Perhaps for you," the Hungarian replied, switching to French. "Now, get up. We have a place to take you to."

He wondered whose house they had stolen. It was far too nice and furnished to be a random hut or outpost that had been set up for the sole purpose of keeping him prisoner. Someone had been kicked out of their home so the Hungarians could use it. Again he sighed and wondered how he could escape, even though that possibility was nonexistent by now. Heading downstairs was right out of the question, since that was where all of his kidnappers were staying, and the window was on the second floor. Unless there was a way to somehow climb down the side of the house then the only thing he would accomplish by climbing out the window would be falling and breaking his leg. Oh, what a fine joke that would be, to ingeniously free himself only to rush headlong out of the nearest escape route and cripple himself. He imagined himself lying in the middle of that pretty garden in front of the house, unable to go anywhere because of his own stupidity. The Hungarians wouldn't even have to organize a search party, just walk outside.

He snorted. No thank you, he preferred staying in here.

Another bout of laughing crawled through the floor, punctuated by cheering. They sounded just like the Prussians playing their drinking games. Hell that was probably what they were doing. If his bonds had been any looser then he could have slipped out of them and escaped while the Hungarians drank themselves into a stupor. But all of that was nonsense from stories. There was never a convenient way of escape; there were no ropes that he been left loose or untied, no key that someone had forgotten to pick up. No knife or sharp object left conveniently within his reach. This was the real world, and he wasn't getting out unless someone freed him.

Frederick sighed and slumped against the wall, then hissed in pain as the ropes stung his flesh. Good gods that hurt. He shouldn't have fought and tugged on them for as long as he had; now he barely had any skin left. He bit the inside of his cheek and forced the pain into the back of his mind. He had dealt with worse pain than this, so much worse. He slid his legs closer to himself for warmth and tired not to think about how cold it was becoming. Hopefully the Hungarians would remain in the house for the night, since he knew that the longer he stayed in one place the easier it would be to find him.

Now that he thought about it, he wondered what the others were up to now. No doubt Gilbert and Schwerin were throwing fits and worrying themselves sick. They were always so concerned for his safety, and he knew that Gilbert would take it harder since he had left his king's side right before he would needed him the most. Zieten would scour the countryside, turning over every house, hut, and stone looking for his king and the rest of the population be damned. Leopold would have enough sense to watch the Austrians so they couldn't surprise them with a sneak attack, and Winterfeldt and Old Dessauer would be the only voices of reason. He hoped that Henry was taking the news well, since he was now in charge of the whole army.

He took a deep breath and let it out, trying to calm his racing heart. Whenever he thought about his friends and the army his mouth went dry and his gut knotted. How perfect it would be for the Austrians to turn and smash the Prussians while their king was gone! They had every reason to do it, and Frederick couldn't think of a single good argument against it. For all he knew it had already happened and was still being kept here because his enemies were toying with him. He wouldn't put it past those damned Hungarians.

A noise startled him out of his thoughts. He sat up in alarm, glancing around. It had not come from downstairs, but somewhere in the room. For perhaps the first time Frederick had gotten here the clouds were thin enough to allow the moonlight to shine through the window. It illuminated some of the room, and he saw absolutely nothing with him. The sound came again, a sort of scratching and tapping noise that was coming from. . . the window? Just as he looked over at the window a dark shadow appeared and blocked out most of the moonlight, making his heart leap into his throat. Moments later one of the panels swung open and a figure leaned partially in, its head turning back and forth. Frederick's eyes grew huge because even though the light was now faint he still recognized that silver hair and unnaturally pale skin. "Gilbert?" he whispered, hardly believing his eyes.

The head snapped in his direction. "Fritz?" Yes, it was Gilbert, that voice was unmistakable. "Oh thank gods you're here!" He tried to open the other panel and swore when it stuck.

"How did you find me?" Frederick asked, unable to stop himself. Seeing Gilbert appear quite literally out of nowhere sent his hopes soaring. The rest of the army had to be somewhere nearby, Gilbert would have never ventured far from it.

Gilbert jerked on the window again, then reached over to fiddle with the latch. "It wasn't easy, almost half the damn army has been looking for you for two days." The window finally swung open. "I almost rode right by this spot, but you can say a hunch of sorts stopped me. Just you hang on a sec and I'll—" A shot rang from below, cutting off his sentence. Frederick saw something dark and liquid fly into the air. "Son of a bitch," Prussia snarled and yanked out his pistol, retuning the fire.

The crack of the gun made him jump. "Great, now the whole countryside knows you're here!" Frederick said, his heart dropping just as quickly as it had risen.

"Can't help that," Gilbert replied and tried to slide into the room, but two more shots sounded, one right after another. He saw Gilbert jerk and pressed a hand to his leg, and it suddenly crumpled underneath him as if it could no longer support his weight. He crashed into the sill before he fell, leaving the window open and empty. Frederick just blinked in surprise, at first not registering that Gilbert had just fallen out of the second story window.

His stupefaction did not last very long. Very soon there more shouts and more gunfire and then a high, wailing scream. Someone cursed and he heard the clash of swords, followed by another scream and then a loud crack drifted through the air. He shuddered, recognizing that sound from his childhood. At once the noise outside was silent, and he heard someone rushing up the stairs. The door to his room slammed open moments later and light invaded the room. The hussar that appeared immediately looked at him, and slumped with relief when he saw that their captive was still quite tied up. The man soon noticed the open window and strode across the room and was about to shut them when he paused and leaned out the window. "What the hell are you doing?" He screamed out at whoever was below.

"What does it look like?" Came the reply, and past it Frederick could hear more cracks of breaking bones.

"Stop that at once!" the hussar roared. "Or by God I'll come down there and thrash the daylights out of you!"

"It's just his hand—"

"That doesn't matter!" The hussar yelled back and slammed the windows so hard that it was a wonder that they didn't break. He set his candle down on the table so he could the latches together with a piece of rope that he brought with him and ran back out, muttering under his breath. The door slammed and soon his footsteps faded. He had left his candle behind.

What were they doing to Gilbert? Frederick felt himself trembling and he tried to tell himself that it was the cold. The temperature in his body seemed to have plummeted within the last minute, but he didn't bother to wonder why. It was the room. That was all. He heard the door downstairs slam open (what was with all of the door slamming? Did the Hungarians not know how to use doorknobs?) and there were voices yelling angrily, the floor muffling what they were saying. He heard the hussar's voice from before, angrily yelling in such a manner that the Prussians would have been envious, and then there were footsteps up the stairs. Their voices became clearer.

"I say we just kill the bastard and be done with it!"

"Absolutely not! Look at what he's wearing you blasted fool! The gloves, the coat, the medals, he's a damned officer! I'll bet my sword that he's a general too, look at the coat! Think of it, if we have both their king and a high-ranking general then the Prussians will surely bow to our terms."

"Have you lost your mind Gaál? Just look at what he did to Erdélyi and Tamás and Szabo! God knows if Szabo will even walk again; are you just going to ignore them?"

"Of course not, but he's more useful to use alive than dead."

"He's dangerous!"

"Look at his head, do you think he'll be able to do anything with the knock Józsa gave him? I'm surprised he wasn't killed. He's not getting up."

"Then he'll be useless to the Pr—"

The voices were right outside the door, and it swung open to reveal four hussars, all carrying a terribly familiar body between them. They shuffled in and carelessly dropped Gilbert onto the floor, where he landed with a boneless thud. His hair and clothes were matted with blood. He wasn't moving. The hussars ignored Frederick completely, instead leaning over Gilbert as if waiting for him to suddenly spring up an attack them. "Shouldn't we at least tie him up?" One of the hussars asked at last.

The leader rolled his eyes but dig his hand into his pocket anyway. "Oh fine, but I'm not wasting any rope on him." He drew out a handkerchief and knelt down, seizing Gilbert's hands—one of which was covered in blood—and tying his wrists together with two tight knots. "There, even if he gets up, which I doubt, he won't be going anywhere." He stood up and turned, giving Frederick a mock salute. "I hope he keeps you good company, Your Majesty," he said and left, laughing with his comrades.

"Go to hell." Frederick snarled, but he wasn't sure if they heard him. The door shut and their footsteps faded back downstairs. After a moment he turned to the still body which had been so casually dumped onto the floor. "Gilbert?" he asked, trying to keep his voice quite in case the Hungarians were listening.

He got no response. Gilbert was terrifyingly still. Even as Frederick watched, a thick puddle of blood started to form underneath his head. The room was so silent that he could hear drops of it pattering against the floor. It spread across the floor like some sort of army, creeping forward and claiming more territory as its own. "Gilbert," he said again, his fear increasing with every second. He tried to see where Gilbert was injured, but his nation was lying on his side and his back was facing him, and he could see nothing. The king could feel his breathing growing erratic, and he tried to keep it under some control. He could smell the blood in the air, thick and cloying. There was so much of it, what if Gilbert had been—

He cut that thought off before it could begin. No, he couldn't have such thoughts now. Gilbert had been through worse, just like he had. He had gotten up after the worst of injuries and had laughed it all off, saying that he was too awesome to be brought down by such things. Frederick couldn't start doubting his country now, especially after he had only seen him for all of three minutes. "Gilbert, for the love of heaven will you answer me?" he hissed, his frustration seeping through. He couldn't even tell if Gilbert was breathing. He stared at the blood on the floor numbly, watching it spread so slowly, sapping the life from Gilbert's veins. With a jolt he realized that Gilbert still had to be bleeding, and dead things did not bleed.

At once his hopes were renewed and he leaned forward, ignoring his flaming wrists. It took a few moments, but he finally detecting the faint rise and fall of Prussia's breathing. Good. But, was he awake enough to hear him? "Prussia," he whispered, at once trying to be loud and soft at the same time. Gilbert always responded to his country name.

Except for this time. This time he was as still and silent as a statue.

Frederick wasn't one to give up though. "Prussia. . . Prussia," he repeated, clenching his hands. He needed Prussia to get up. A plan was formulating in his head, an insane one, but it was the first one he had in days. He knew without a doubt that Prussia still had a weapon on him somewhere, for he always did. Even if the Hungarians had searched him, they would never have dreamed of looking for that clever fake heel on his boot that hid one of his countless knives. He could use that to free himself, that was, if Prussia could get close enough for him to use it. "Gilbert, wake up," he ordered, wondering if Gilbert could even hear him.

He had been watching and listening so intently that he noticed right away when something changed. Gilbert's breathing became shallower, much more deliberate. Oh, he was awake alright. Frederick felt another fit of trembling coming on, both from the growing cold and the alarm in his chest. Did Gilbert not know the danger that they were both in? Why wasn't he getting up? "Blast it, man, wake up!" he snapped, his patience growing thin.

He saw Gilbert move, just a twitch. Then a sound reached him, so soft and faint that at first he didn't hear it. It was a pathetic, timid whimper. He felt his breath stop. Gilbert. . . he thought, unable to believe that that pained noise had just come from his precious nation. He must have truly been hurt. For a moment he felt a pang of guilt, then he banished it angrily. Injured or not, weak or not, he had to get Gilbert to move. An idea suddenly came to him, and it made him sick. It was horrid, awful, but it would work. He did not want to do it. He had to. He took a deep breath and tried to summon his courage and wipe away his fears; put on a mask, like he had done for most of his life. Gilbert, please forgive me, he thought, releasing his breath in a trembling sigh. He took another breath. "Pah!" he spat out, trying to inject as much venom into his voice as he possibly could. "You're useless to me."

The effect was total and immediate. Frederick saw Prussia move again, a full-bodied flinch that brought another, louder whimper forth. He watched as Gilbert curled slightly into himself, as if trying to hide from the words. A piece of his heart froze and broke off in his chest painfully. "Look at yourself, lying there like a rag," he went on forcefully. It's the only way, it's the only way, he repeated the words to himself over and over like a mantra. "You are such a hypocrite. A liar." He spat the words out as if they were poison, and they were, burning his mouth and guts. He went for the kill. " 'My King, I will protect you,' you say, but when the time actually comes you lie there, useless."

Yes, play the guilt card, that always worked well. A moan split the air, frighteningly loud after all of the whispering. "Hush! They'll hear you!" Frederick said, praying that those downstairs were ignoring them. Another thought entered his head, as if it had been waiting there. "I should have known you would be a liability. I don't even know why I bother with you. " What a lie that was! After all, Gilbert had been the only one who found him. He searched his mind for more insults, more hateful words. They were hard to say but they were working.

He thought of his father.

At once his blood went truly cold. God, no wonder the insults came to him so easily. He had years upon years of them store inside his head, literally countless words of abuse that had once cut at his own heart. He knew exactly what to say. "You disgust me," he said, his voice so filled with loathing that even he was surprised. "Coward." He licked his dry lips, wishing that he could somehow calm his racing heart which was making him rather ill. A fit of trembling had seized Gilbert's body, only intensifying his guilt. Gilbert, just get up. Get up so I can stop. "Pretending that you're still asleep. You aren't even trying." He was running out of words, since most of them were mere repeats of what he had already said. What mattered most to Gilbert? Yet again he remembered his father, an unwelcome intruder to his thoughts. "You call yourself a soldier. You're a disgrace to that name."

Finally he saw Gilbert move a little more, actual purposeful movements instead of the involuntary twitches he was getting. Yes, finally he was coming around! Frederick watched excitedly as Gilbert turned his head a little, as if trying to get a better view of the room. But he was far too slow. Time was absolutely of the essence here, and even though Frederick hated to do it, he would still do anything in order to increase his chance of escape. The sheer frustration and guilt of the whole situation welled up inside of his and his vision wobbled and split. Was he crying? Instinctively he went to wipe his eyes and the sharp flare of pain in his wrist brought more tears to his eyes. Stop that! Stop that right now! A part of him screamed at him, disgusted at how easily he was falling apart. Another part of him was viewing his earlier insults with a critical, disapproving eye. Oh good job, picking at him while he's down. Don't you think he's in enough pain already? Did you even have to say most of those things? Look at him, he's having trouble just waking up and he does not need you making things worse! He pushed away both of those things with difficulty.

"That's it, lie there. Let a little knock on the head stop you." He swallowed the lump in his throat and wondered if his plan was just stupid. Perhaps he placed too much trust in Gilbert, he was fallible after all—No. "Never mind that both of our lives are at stake." If knowing that his king was in danger didn't rouse him, then nothing would.

Gilbert raised his head, actually raised it a little. Then he tried to get up. But he had barely moved when his body spasmed in pain and a harsh gasp of pain filled the corners of the room. Just like that Gilbert went limp, unconscious again, undoubtedly. Frederick stared, dumbfounded by what he had seen. He had tried to stand up, Gilbert had tried to stand up, and he couldn't. "Come on Gilbert, you can do it. Just crawl over here." No response. "Idiot!" He growled, and got the same reply. "That's all you are, an idiot! A worthless nothing, undeserving of being a country." His eyes burned and he hurled out more insults, any that he could think of and some that he made up on the spot.

"Now. . ." Gilbert's weak voice interrupted him. "No need—for insults." He sounded so weak and strained that Frederick's guilt briefly came rushing back full force.

He shook his head ruefully. "I'm sorry Gilbert," he said, and he meant every word. "They're the only thing that you've responded to." And if there was any other way then I would do it.

Gilbert sighed and didn't respond. The man was silent for so long that Frederick wondered what he was doing, then he saw him moving his arms, bringing them closer to him. He watched with bated breath, hardly daring to let his hopes rise too high. Could Gilbert even untie himself? He had no idea what was going through Gilbert's head, but he trusted him all the same. Another whimper filled the air and Gilbert went limp again. No, that would never do, he was passing out too easily. Frederick barely paused to think before he was speaking, reciting all of the most hateful things he had ever heard, throwing them at the person that he loved. His voice was losing some of its fury and the tears were flowing freely now, rolling down his neck and soaking his collar. Oh how he hated this! This helplessness, these words and abuse that he had to fling out as if he was trying to imitate his father. He was in the middle of a sentence when he noticed that Gilbert was stirring, and he shut his mouth instantly. Gilbert didn't need to hear all of that when he was doing what Frederick wanted him to do.

Thankfully Gilbert did not pass out this time and Frederick could tell that he was trying to free himself using his teeth. The minutes dragged by, slow and agonizing, while Frederick tried to listen for noises for downstairs. They seemed to be getting quieter. Slowly, so slowly, he saw that one of the knots Gilbert was working on had come loose. Immediately the nation went for the second one and soon that was untied as well. "Good, Gilbert, good!" Frederick whispered, his voice barely audible. Prussia didn't seem to hear him.

Now what? Frederick bit his lip in thought. Of course he needed Prussia to come over to him, but how in the world he was to do that was the problem. He heard two loud, deep breaths. Gilbert amazed him by suddenly turning over onto his back, splashing in the puddle of blood. The front of his uniform was also bloody and one of his sleeves was torn, and he noticed that there were boot marks all over his clothes, as if he had been trampled on. Then Gilbert turned to look at him and Frederick saw that one half of his entire face was stained with blood. But the thing that truly shocked him was the blank gaze in his eyes, looking but not really seeing anything. However those eyes locked onto his and Frederick knew that Gilbert was at least partially aware of what was happening. "Gilbert?" he asked softly.

He saw confusion seep into those crimson eyes and Gilbert frowned a little, as if he had been presented with a complex problem. Slowly, he blinked. As if he had suddenly lost interest, Gilbert turned away and lifted his left hand into the light to examine it. He saw blood, blood and. . . bone. The bones in his hand had split through his skin and were sticking up like splinters, twisted and warped. "God. . ." Frederick heard himself say, although that was ludicrous. God had no place in this hellhole. He saw Prussia slowly put his hand back down. Broken hand or not, he still had to move. "Prussia," he said, getting Gilbert to look at him. "Listen carefully to me. I need you to come here." He quietly thumped his boot next to him, hoping that it wouldn't attract those downstairs. For once he saw Gilbert's face change into fear and trepidation. He was having none of that. "Please Gilbert, I know it will be hard," he said, finally giving in and pleading. "But it's the only way we're going to get out of here. If we don't free ourselves, then our captors might use us for ransom, or kill us." He saw his opportunity and grabbed it. He made sure that Gilbert's eyes were on him when he continued. "They will kill us, Gilbert. They'll kill me." Alright that wasn't quite true but if it was going to get Prussia to come to him then he'd repeat it all night long if he had to.

Defiance flamed into those eyes, so familiar and welcome that Frederick wanted to laugh in relief. A sigh slipped out of Prussia and after a few moments he used his good hand to grip the bloody floor, then bent his leg upwards. Frederick wondered what he was doing, and then Prussia used his arm and leg to slide himself across the floor. Yes! Yes, yes! Frederick smiled widely as he watched Prussia make his way over to him inch by precious inch, stopping for only moments of rest before pushing on. It was incredible, that endurance and determination. That was why Frederick loved him, he simply never gave up. But then disaster struck. Prussia couldn't see where he was going, and he accidently bumped his head against Frederick's boot. The soldier thrashed in agony, a muffled keen slipping out of his throat as if he were about to scream, and then his eyes rolled back into his head. "No. No Gilbert, get up. Get up!" He nudged Gilbert of the back, careful to avoid his head. Gilbert just rolled in the same limp manner from earlier.

He couldn't believe it. Was his chance of freedom being dangled in front of his face only to be snatched cruelly away? Something in him broke and he started speaking again, repeating nearly every single hateful thing he had ever heard his father say and directing them at that still figure by his feet. Gilbert simply would not reply, not even to the things he knew would sting him the worst. What if he had somehow killed himself? He had just bumped his head, but he already had a head wound…the thought of Gilbert being dead drove right into his core like a single knife twisting deep into a wound. His ears were ringing so loudly that he couldn't hear his own words, but he knew that his lips were moving and he had to be speaking whatever came to his mind. He just had to keep speaking, hoping that some deity in the world might be merciful enough to show him that he was wrong, yet again.

"Never," Gilbert suddenly croaked. His eyes were open and half lidded, but the fire in them was back. "Never leave you to die."

He could barely believe his ears, yet it was true. "Gilbert? Oh god, I thought. . . nevermind what I thought." Sentiment had no place here. The only important thing was duty and escape. "We don't have much time. Can you get up?"

Gilbert tried, bless him he tried, but his one good arm could only lift him a few inches from the ground. Frederick granted him mercy and pushed his legs under his body, supporting him. It was awkward and clumsy but he managed to push Gilbert until he was nearly sitting up. He hooked his legs around Gilbert and dragged him closer until he fell back against his chest. He ignored the warm dampness that started to soak through his jacket. "Gilbert," he said, feeling his country go limp again. "Gilbert."

"Wait," Gilbert answered immediately, out of breath. "Trying. . . to think."

"Let me do that," Frederick replied. Gilbert just had to do what he said, it had worked well enough so far. "Now, do you remember the knife you once showed me? The one that you said was hidden in your boot?"

"I think so," Prussia replied.

"Good. If you can get it then I can cut these ropes." And that was all that mattered, really. Prussia just needed to get the knife.

"I don't remember how to take the heel off."

That didn't matter. "You showed me how to do it. Just do as I say, trust me." Prussia was silent after that, but he did do whatever he said. Frederick remembered the instructions as clearly as if they had just been recited. He remembered which boot the knife was hidden in, and he remembered how Prussia had showed him to twist the heel a certain way so it came off. The click of the heel detaching was the most glorious sound he had ever heard. Gilbert had gone very still, but his breathing was still far too shallow for him to be passed out. He gently nudged him with his head. "Are you still there?" Gilbert's head moved a little, but he wasn't sure if Gilbert had done that or not. "Prussia, are you listening to me?"

There was a quiet murmur of asset. Frederick swallowed, hating himself for what he was about to force him to do. "Good. I'm sorry that I have to ask this of you, but I need you to lift that knife into my hand." It was the only time he would allow himself to feel some doubt. It had taken Gilbert so much to simply get over here, could he do this one last thing for him? He did not hear an answer, but Gilbert simply moved his arm into his lap. Frederick could hear him choking back little noises of pain. "Come on love, you can do it," he whispered. He couldn't insult him anymore, it would have just been too wrong. He saw the knife in Gilbert's hand, polished so brightly that it reflected the firelight into his eyes. That one sliver of metal was his salvation and he couldn't tear his eyes away from it, like a starving beggar seeing a plate of food. He heard Gilbert's breathing turn into harsh pants, as if the effort was physically painful for him. He tried to keep up the stream of encouragement, but he was barely paying attention to what he was saying, too focused on this knife to care." Very slowly Prussia's hand made its way towards his own, often gripping his sleeve for support. It was so close that Frederick had to resist the urge to just grab his hand, for he was far too afraid of messing this up. This was the only chance they would get.

Suddenly Prussia's hand was nearly in his and he seized the initiative. Quick as a snake, he grabbed the handle of the knife and slid it out of Prussia's hand. To his surprise he felt Prussia's hand chasing him, trying to grab the knife back, but his body shuddered in pain and a cry of pain was torn out of his throat. It was an awful sound that hit Frederick like an artillery round, and then Gilbert fell back against him, still once more. "Gilbert?" he asked. He didn't even feel him breathing. "Oh my god…" For a moment he stared, unsure of what to do, then he looked upward. He had the knife, but he was holding it the wrong way. Carefully, he twirled his fingers, turning the knife as delicately as if he were holding his flute again, until the blade was pressed against the ropes. It was awkward holding the knife in such a way, but he'd be damned if he was going to let it go. He worked it back and forth, feeling it slowly bite into his restraints.

He nearly cut his wrist at one point, but the ropes snapped and his hand came falling down. At first he couldn't feel a thing because his hands were numb, but he soon was working on the second wrist and that was free in seconds. Then he set the knife on the floor beside him and carefully lifted Gilbert off of him and laid him down. "Gilbert?" he asked again, bending over him worriedly. There was so much blood on him, it was incredible. He gently slapped his cheeks. "Please, get up. Come on Gilbert, please." His hand was trembling slightly as he laid two fingers against Gilbert neck, feeling for a pulse. His fear skyrocketed when he felt nothing and he placed his ear on Prussia's chest, listening. After a few terrified moments he felt the faint beat of his heart and his breath came out in a rush. It was weak, unlike any other times that Frederick had heard it. Gilbert couldn't get up, he couldn't follow him.

The realization was cold, cold as ice. The only way Gilbert was going to get out was if he carried him. Downstairs was still out of the question, and only divine intervention could allow him to carry Gilbert out of that window. He had to leave him behind. He sat up and stared at him hopelessly. First he insulted him, and now he was just leaving him behind like a piece of trash. He bent back down and kissed him on the forehead, then kissed his lips, no matter how unresponsive they were. "I'll come back for you," he whispered. It was absurd the think that Gilbert could still possibly hear him, but saying it out loud made it more real somehow. "I swear on it. If I never do anything else I will return." Then he stood up and went over to the window. Untying the rope was the easiest part, and he swung the windows open carefully so they didn't make any noise. A gust of wind blew in and snuffed out the candle.

Great, just great. At least the moon was out for good it seemed. He leaned out and peered into the half-lit gloom. There was a rose trellis standing right below the window, with half of the roses hanging off limply. So that was how Gilbert climbed to the window. He must have been a damned monkey. Frederick carefully climbed into the window and looked down. There was light shining out of the window below and quite clearly showed the trampled earth and the dark, wet stains on it. Nope, the ground was definitely too far away for him to jump. He sighed and turned back to the trellis. It was insane, but no less insane than whatever had happened earlier. Don't think, thinking too much would make him fearful, and if he ever wanted to get out of here then he needed to get rid of his fears.

So he jumped. Not very far, more like an incredibly long step than anything. He slipped and almost fell off of the trellis but instinct saved him and he grabbed the cold metal so tightly that his hands hurt. Good gods what was he doing? "Dammit," he muttered before carefully making his way back down. His mind was running miles every second, thinking in that delightfully quick way that many so admired him for. He couldn't climb all the way back down, that would put him in the light and anyone who looked out the window would have seen him. He bit his lip and looked beyond the garden. "Dammit," he said again and thumped his forehead against the trellis.

Gilbert had gone through so much to make him get out of that house. The least he could do was return the favor to bring him back. He braced himself and leaped off the trellis, completely passing over the light and hitting the shadowy ground. His breath was driven out of his body in a harsh cough and at the same moment laughter exploded from inside, covering the noise. He carefully got to his feet and stepped away, brushing off his clothes and pulling his jacket tighter around himself. It was colder than he expected. A shudder wracked though him and he looked back up, at the dark square in the house that yawned open like the maw of some horrible beast, where Gilbert still lay inside. "Adieu," he murmured, turning away guilty. "Adieu, for now. I will return."

If Gilbert was even alive by the time he got back.

Chapter Text

Forest

Some thought that they were dark and foreboding. Harsh spires that gutted from the ground like the ribcage of Gaia, their interlocking leaves and branches creating a shadow world that turned the ground into a black carpet and muffled all noise. But that was only at night. During the day they were quieter than a church. The most distant noises were nearly inaudible and only your thoughts could fill the silence. Other found them bright and beautiful, with no influence of man to taint their natural beauty. Some even looked upon them with a certain respect, seeing them as remnants of an older world, still standing and unchanged by time.

To Prussia, they were home.

As a child he had always lived in the forest. Aestii built their actual hut near the sea, but they always ventured out to explore the beaches or the surrounding forest. When he had been young and it had only been him, Toris, and Aestii living together, Aestii often went out to gather supplies and left his children to roam about on their own. Sometimes when he was done he would join them and he would spend hours talking about the animals and the trees and the land. This is elm, he would say, placing his hand on one of the trees. And this is ash. You can tell they're different because of the bark and the leaves. Trees look different from each other, just like people do.

Prussia liked the forest because it was quiet. Living by the sea, the constant crashing of waves against the shore would nearly drive him mad sometimes. The gentle solitude of the woods always rested his mind and allowed him to hear things for once. He used to wander for hours, just listening and trying to remember everything that Aestii taught him about the trees and plants. He never got lost though, because the birds always led him back. They were his constant companions, flitting between the branches and chattering noisily. To him, they were an essential part of the forest, because if there were no birds then it just wouldn't be right.

With the birds to help him, he learned how to use the woods to his advantage. He learned how to hide and stalk and vanish without a trace. Whenever Rome came to trade he would stomp off and hide deep in the forest, away from anything that had ever seen the touch of mankind. He would find the tallest tree and climb right to the very top and sit there, watching the birds and the sea. Aestii would always find him later, no matter how well he hid himself, and get him to climb down. It was almost like a game they played, Prussia using his knowledge of the forest to hide and then seeing how long it took for Aestii to find him.

The Germans had little regard for his escapades and were more concerned with teaching him how to fight. Germania's flock turned it into a subject to be mocked and for a while he stopped his pursuits. However, a good warrior should always make weapons out of the most unexpected things, or so Germania told him. He knew that the only way the Germans would listen to him was if they somehow used a forest to defeat their hated enemy—the Romans—so he kept his thoughts to himself and waited for the opportunity to present itself.

It was a good thing that Teutoburg Forest was so much like his old home. That made it ridiculously easy to plan an ambush.

Now that he thought about it, that was probably where the whole "evil forest" concept came from. If anything it did nothing to dispel the rumors. Lines of Roman soldier marching under the green canopy, armor gleaming and capes fluttering, where all would be peaceful and scenic. Then it was broken as the German barbarians fell upon them like vultures to pick their bones clean. The clashes of swords, battle cries, and the screams of the dying echoed across the entire forest that day, and they were only answered by death. By the time the greatest army in the world had broken and fled, the ground was stained with their blood. And it would not have happened if a freak orphan boy from the edges of civilization had not given them the idea.

It was funny how things worked out sometimes.

Using a forest, we managed to give the mightiest empire in the world a great shining black eye, Prussia thought to himself, twirling the reins in his hand. His horse snorted and stamped impatiently. "Oh hush," he told her. The last time he had seen such a spirited mare in this bloodline was nearly eighty years ago. The Friesian snorted at him in reply. The kingdom rolled his eyes and looked around at the hilly terrain surrounding them. And yet here we are, wide open and without cover. Sometimes I wonder if anyone learns anything from history.

He heard Fritz riding up behind him. "Would you suggest that we move?" Fritz asked, noticing how he kept glancing around.

He shook his head in reply. "The land isn't right for any of the idea I would try out," he replied. Once again he scanned the field, watching the two opposing armies. Nope, this particular battle had to be fought in a field. Besides, there wasn't even a forest anywhere near this place.

He could feel Fritz watching him. "Mind sharing those ideas?" the king asked curiously.

"You couldn't use them anyway," Gilbert said. "You need a forest." Fritz did not reply, and waited patiently for him to elaborate. Dammit, he hated it when Fritz did that. "If you hide some people in the forest and wait, you can spring out an ambush any enemy that comes near."

"You could," Frederick agreed, a thoughtful look crossing his features. "However, it would be hard to navigate and artillery would be useless." And yet he did not dismiss the idea entirely. He seemed to be lost in thought but Gilbert knew those sharp eyes and ears were aware of everything that was going on around him. "It does not follow traditional warfare, and we'd be no better than those Hungarian bandits. However," his eyes had a scheming look to them now, "if we want to meet our enemies on even ground them we must fight like them. I think the hussars in particular would enjoy it." He gave his companion a sly smile. "I will drop the idea by Zieten and see what he thinks. Meanwhile, the camp needs checking." He turned his horse and trotted away, not seeing Prussia's smile or his victorious look.


 

Master

The lights were swirling in his vision like dust motes in a beam of sunlight, making a sickening whirl of brightness that made him think that he was floating off somewhere. He licked his lips and grimaced at the taste of his own blood. Something brushed against his tongue and clattered to the floor. A tooth. He winced as a replacement pushed through his gums and fit itself neatly into the gap that had just been created.

Footsteps came toward him. Heavy, slow, deliberate footsteps that he had come to fear over the years. He tried to get up, but his arms would not work. They lay next to his body like empty hoses, completely unresponsive. Each step was another promise of pain, another whisper that penetrated him to his bones. This is not over yet. Not even close. The sound of metal dragging against stone made his heart race and his muscles tense as if he were about to run. And that was exactly what he wanted to do: get up and run as fast and far away as he possibly could. Probably climb that damn Wall while he was at it.

Chink went the pipe against the floor. His face throbbed as if to answer it. Those steel toed boots came closer and stopped right beside him. He braced himself for the expected kick, but for some reason it never came. All he could hear was the beating of his own heart and then the rustle of cloth as someone knelt down beside him.

"I don't think you quite understand how our relationship works, DDR," said that childish, almost singsong voice. "Nor do I think you understand just what I do for you." He felt the massive presence of his captor leaning over him, like a mouse being caught in the shadow of a hawk. There was a pause, one of those heavy ones that he knew Ivan was so fond of.

He wondered what in the world the Russian was playing at this time when suddenly he was grabbed by the back of the neck and he couldn't breathe. Ivan had grabbed his scarf—that revolting red one that he always had to wear or else suffer another beating—and was dragging him across the floor like it was a leash, cutting off his windpipe. He tried to gasp and force air into his lungs but nothing came. He kicked and twisted as if to escape but that just made the scarf wind tighter around him. In desperation he clawed at his neck, trying to force his fingers under the fabric but black spots were swirling in his vision and his ears were ringing and let me go you crazy son of a bitch—

Before he could pass out Russia grabbed him by the front of his shirt and brought him up, slamming him against the wall. It would have hurt, but he was too busy trying to breathe to think about the pain. Ivan let him cough and pant for a few seconds, but then he stepped closer until their bodies were pressed against each other. His heart nearly stopped and he looked up in terror.

But Ivan didn't seem to be in the mood tonight. In fact, he smiled in amusement as he read the fear in his eyes. "You belong to me Gilbert," he said, leaning forward until only a breath of space separated them. "I," he twisted that single word around as if it were a knife in a wound, "own you. I am your master." He shook him a little and he felt his brain rattling around in his skull. "And as your master, I expect a few rules to be followed. A few simple rules, and yet you insist on making things. . .difficult." The word hung around them, heavy and unmovable. A heavier silence stretched on after that. More words came, silent and unheard, crowding around them and waiting to be spoken. Gilbert didn't say anything. He would give Ivan the satisfaction of an argument. The Russian sighed and started to drag him again and he quickly stumbled after the huge man before he could be suffocated.

They went to the small, barred window that occupied a tiny corner of his room. It was no bigger than a breadbox. Russia could look outside with no problem, but it was too high for Prussia to get a good view. To remedy this Ivan simply threw him against the glass and held him there like a doll. "Look down there Gilbert," Ivan whispered, his revolting voice crawling into his ear and making him shudder. "What do you see?"

He saw Moscow, of course. It was below them since Russia had built his house on a hill that overlooked the city, as if it were lording over everything else. The window also faced west, and he knew that Ivan had put him in this room for exactly that reason. He couldn't see the Wall, but he could still feel it, as if a piece of shrapnel was stuck in his heart. "Your city," he muttered listlessly. "Moskau."

Ivan's hand tightened when he heard the German pronunciation, but he did nothing else. "I see prosperity," he replied in a low voice. "Think of what I do for you. I feed you, I clothe you, I—"

"Barely," Gilbert interjected before he was slammed into the bars.

"—I made sure that your people were not ground into the dust like so many people think they deserved!" Ivan cut him off with a yell, his voice holding that dangerous tone that said he had better shutup, and fast. "I even let you become a country again. It's a poor substitute compared to your Iron Kingdom, true, but it is better than nothing, da~?" He finally put him down and turned him so they were face to face. There was a twisted little smile on his face. "But then again, that's what you've become. A little shell of a kingdom whose name your people no longer even know. There are no Prussians, just Germans, and all of the Germans belong to that adorable little brother of yours." He laughed in delight and for a moment all Prussia saw was red. "But I remember," the Russian went on. "I remember moi droog, Prussiyah. The others threw you away and I picked you up, out of the kindness of my own heart. And even though you have been less than grateful, I still keep my kindness. I gave you work to do. I saved some of your cute little scraps of history. It would have been such a shame to let those diaries of yours go to waste. Why, they fill up a whole library!" Prussia felt his heart drop somewhere into his boots. "Other landmarks you had, I let you keep as a show of my goodwill. I did not have to keep that statue of your dear 'alte Fritz,' as you call him. That beautiful palace in Potsdam, I could have had that destroyed. It takes up so much space and no one uses it anymore, but I know you would be happy if I did that. However I still could, since my usual disciplinary measure seem to have no eff—"

"Please Ivan, for the love of god just stop." Prussia almost sobbed, biting his tongue to hold back tears. Ivan's words struck him right in his soul it seemed, just like Ivan knew they would. He had already lost his name, his brother, his country, his people. He couldn't lose Fritz as well. Whatever was left of him, anyways. And he knew the threats were serious, and that Ivan could make that happen. Despite all of his mind games and playing and string tugging, Ivan never bluffed.

Russia just laughed. "Why Gilbert, I haven't even done anything! But if our topic displeases you then I shall drop it. But please remember what I said." He patted him on the head reassuringly. Then he fisted his hand and backhanded him across the entire half of his face, right where he had already been hit with the pipe.

The blow was so casual and deliberate that it caught Prussia entirely by surprise. Red spots exploded in his vision and he must have blacked out because he woke up on the floor and he had no memory of falling. He hurt, oh gods his face hurt so much. The psychotic bastard, hitting him right where his cheek had already been broken and now it was having to heal itself a second time.

"If I see a repeat of what you did today," Ivan's voice came from above, "then I shall be very unhappy. Please remember that Gilbert. I let you run your country, but if I think that your conduct is becoming unmanageable then I shall have to deal with it; and I know that you won't like it." He turned and left, slamming the heavy door behind him and locking it.

The ex-nation was left on the floor, wincing, as his face knitted up and wishing that he was anywhere but here.


 

Mercy

The train rattled along noisily, jolting the silent occupants back and forth in the cab. A light snowfall swirled outside the windows, hazily obscuring some of the forest that went by. Occasionally a dark shape streaked by, a wolf or a bear in all probability, but other than that the area outside was completely still.

Russia liked to look outside, so he always sat by the window. Gilbert always sat next to Ivan since the large man always insisted it, and Toris sat next to Gilbert. There was no particular reason for this, Ivan just liked to keep his favorite nearby. Estonia and Latvia sat across from them, Estonia pretending read a book and Latvia looked as if he were about to faint out of fear. The poor thing was thrown into hysterics nearly every time Russia was in the same room as him, and even though Russia was currently showing no interest in him at all he was still shaking. It would have been better to send him off to one of the other compartments, but they were already full. Belarus was watching the other satellites in the neighboring cab: Hungary, Bulgaria, the Czech twins, Romania, Poland, and even Ukraine. Needless to say it was one of the most awkward train rides Prussia had ever been on.

The pale man licked his lips and tried not to tap his foot. He didn't mind silences, but it was these tense, strained silences that tried his nerves. They never talked on the train, because they only things they were allowed to talk about were revoltingly superficial or irrelevant, so they just chose to stay quiet. Not to mention he was sitting right beside Ivan and he was in easy range if the psycho decided to go off on one of his episodes again. Really, the man was completely nuts. How in the world his Bosses could still understand him was a mystery to Gilbert.

But he wasn't going to complain too much. Not when they were on this train, heading for West Germany. He still couldn't believe that they were actually going there, since a part of him never thought that Ivan would actually agree to it. It was not without its consequences however. His scalp prickled as he remembered the conversation they had. . .

"Send you to West Germany?" Ivan asked in surprise as he read the very orderly and professional document that Gilbert had handed him. He laughed and put it down. "No. Absolutely not."

"Russia," Gilbert replied in his most even and polite tone. "I must be there to represent my country. It would reflect badly if I could not be there to give a sense of national pride to my team."

"A country does not need to show up at the tournament," Ivan replied, picking up his pen and writing again. "And I'm sure you prepared a cute little speech to give to me, no doubt to be delivered in a heartbreaking fashion, but my answer remains the same."

He felt his heart sinking. "Russ—" he began again.

"Nyet."

"But—"

"Nyet! Do I have to resort to your pig language for you to understand? Nein!" He looked up and Gilbert saw that he was angry. Truly angry, not that concealed anger that he hid behind sweet words and a sweeter smile, but a hard-mouthed, narrowed eyes anger.

A few days ago he would have left it at that. He would have nodded and left, as dejected as a whipped dog. But that was days ago, and he had had quite a while to think about his decision. He hadn't realized until recently just how much he wanted to go to Germany. To see the Wall. . . and West. He missed his brother so much and he wanted, no he needed, to see him. It was tearing him apart, this separation, and he needed to see Ludwig, if only for a while. His determination and need made him far more reckless than he would have usually been. "Ivan," he said, trying to put all of his pleading into a single word. He gripped the Russian's desk and leaned over it so he could look him directly in the eyes.

Ivan's frown lifted some and the anger in his eyes was replaced by a cold, calculating gaze. He knew that Gilbert hated to call him by his human name, and any time he did it he had a good reason to.

Gilbert could tell that Ivan was now listening. And right when he was, all of his arguments had failed him. "Please," he said, using all of his willpower to force that word out to the person he hated the most. "I need to go."

The larger man stared at him, those unearthly purple eyes seeming to drill right through his head and twist his thoughts. Ivan was actually quite surprised at what he was hearing. Was Gilbert really begging? The great Kingdom of Prussia, reduced to this? A part of him chuckled in delight and another part frowned in disappointment. That was not the Gilbert he knew, and he didn't like it. He tapped his fingers together and stared calmly into the crimson orbs in front of him. Unlike so many others, he was not in the least afraid of those eyes, and after observing them for some time he found that they were quite striking. He could see the desperation in Gilbert's eyes as clearly as if it was written across his forehead. Desperate men would do desperate things, and with a few more clever pushes he could have Gilbert right in the palm of his hand. "And what are you going to do when you see your little match, Gilbert?" he asked lightly. "Are you going to sit in the stands like any other spectator and drink and eat and cheer? Of course not. Don't try to fool me."

Gilbert swallowed thickly and tried to find his voice. "I'm there to see a game, Ivan. Seeing West as well is just a bon—"

Ivan laughed and stopped his sentence short. "A sweet lie, but a lie all the same. I won't have you lying to me to get my permission."

"I don't need your damned permission!" Gilbert finally snapped, his eyes flashing angrily.

Ah, there was the old Gilbert. "To go to West Germany, you do," he reminded the albino kindly.

Gilbert snorted derisively. "I'll climb over that goddamned Wall if I have to, but I'm still going."

"And get shot again, like so many of your botched attempts in the past?"

"Yes, and I'll still get over it."

Ivan tilted his head to one side, observing the sudden strength in the man before him. He had not seen that unshakable, rock-hard determination in a very long time. He supposed Ludwig really did bring out the most admirable traits in his brother, even when he wasn't present. "And what will I get in return?" he asked politely. "Gaining passage into the other half of Germany is tricky business, you know."

Gilbert blinked in surprise. He could not believe his ears. Ivan sounded as if he was actually considering the idea. He thought about what he could possibly trade, but he already knew the answer. "I'll be good," he promised. "For an entire year."

That was certainly tempting. But not good enough. "Just a year, Gilbert? Tsk, that is much too short. How about forever?"

No way in hell. "Ivan, it's a year. Three hundred and sixty-five days of no rebelling, no talking back, always getting your sh—vodka."

"It sounds lovely. But it would be wonderful if it would happen all the time."

Gods, he could do that for the rest of his life. Just thinking about it for a year made him want to vomit. He needed something more. "I'll do anything you want," he blurted out, throwing the bait and frantically hoping that Ivan would take it. "Anything."

Ivan paused and mulled the words over. They sounded like a trap. But Gilbert wouldn't try to trap him now, not when the thing he wanted most was about to be snatched away from him. He looked at Gilbert and smiled wider, arching an eyebrow. "Anything?" he repeated, wondering if Gilbert was implying he thought he was implying.

Again, Gilbert swallowed. He knew what Ivan was thinking, with that expression and that tone. But he didn't care. He had to see Ludwig. "Anything," he affirmed, feeling his heart race. "For a whole year, anything you want." His palms felt sweaty and he wiped them on his pants.

For a long time Russia stared at him, as if trying to figure out whether he was lying. The clock on the desk ticked the seconds away, marking how long the silence was stretching. Then all at once Ivan moved and opened one of his desk drawers. "Very well, I shall hold you to that." He said, slapping a handful of very official looking documents over his work. "In the meantime you can start your end of the bargain now. Bring me some coffee. You know how I like it."

His stomach was finally starting to lift up from wherever it had fallen during their conversation. "Do you mean it?" he asked, hardly daring to hope that Ivan had actually given in.

Ivan looked up from signing his name onto the documents. "Of course I do, Gilbert. I have never lied to you before. However, it would be cruel to leave my dear sisters and the other states behind; except for poor Yugoslavia, he's not feeling very well. But we can all go on a journey, like a family trip." His eyes grew distant and wistful, and his lips softened. "Like one big family. . ." he murmured to himself, for a moment forgetting that Gilbert was still there. When he remembered he frowned a little. "My coffee, Gilbert," he said warningly.

The albino nodded, then stopped. "Why do I have to start now?" he asked.

Ivan shook his head like a tolerant parents listening to the ramblings of their silly child. "So I can be certain that you will uphold your promise to me. Imagine, us going to Berlin, you seeing that wonderful little brother of yours, and the moment we get back you revert to your old self. I'm being quite merciful here Gilbert, and I need a show of your goodwill." He started writing again.

The threat had not been spoken, but it was as clear as if it had been. If you don't do this, he won't let you go anywhere, a voice in his head warned him. He sighed again and nodded. "Alright, I can see that," he said and quietly left to do what Ivan had ordered…

The train jolted again, bringing him out of his daydream. His face felt weird for some odd reason, and he realized that it was because he was smiling. That surprised him more than anything that had happened so far. He couldn't remember the last time he had smiled. He wouldn't have been surprised if he had forgotten how. Raivis was staring at him as if he were crazy and although Toris was not watching he could feel waves of understanding rolling off of him. Gilbert really couldn't care less about all of the staring. He was going to see West! If his injuries hadn't hurt so much then he might have started dancing out of sheer joy, right in the cab.

A feeling of dread pierced right through his euphoria and he turned to see that Ivan was also staring at him. He could feel the Russian's gaze as clearly as if the revolting man had just reached out and touched him. Much to his shock, Ivan was smiling. It looked. . . genuine, nothing like those sadistic smiles or the honey-sweet grins he was used to seeing. Ivan seemed honestly happy for him.

Ivan must have noticed his look, for he simply shook his head and turned back to the window. Gilbert could still see his smile reflected back in the glass. It made him wonder what his captor was so damn happy about.


 

Letters

and you should have seen how the army preformed. Steuben and I have only been here for a few months and we've managed to turn this rabble of farmers into soldiers. It was an amazing sight, and after we ambushed the British they took off like sheep being chased by dogs. Of course they tried to fire on us, but they were far too surprised to aim and most of their bullets just passed harmlessly by. However I did find two bullet holes in my hat and a few in my jacket, and I even found a musket ball rolling around in my pocket and now I toss it at Alfred whenever we have lessons on how to dodge gunfire. As of right now he's covered with tiny bruises that are no bigger than the tip of my thumb, and half of the men think he has some sort of plague. It's absolutely hilarious.

Love, Gilbert


Gilbert,

I congratulate you on your success. With all of those complaints you were lavishing me with earlier you had me quite convinced that you would never get anything done over there. Perhaps there is something to these Americans after all. Give the Baron my compliments, will you?

Despite this, I ask that you please take better care of yourself over there. Knowing that you were almost thrice shot is very disconcerting, and it makes me worry that one day you will not be so lucky.

And why would you have lessons on how to avoid gunfire? Either you get hit or you don't.

Love, -Fritz-  Frédéric


Hey Fritz,

Don't worry about it! Worrying needlessly will turn your hair gray, you know. I remind you yet again that I cannot die and therefore is I were shot then I could just get back up later. Hell, for all you know I was shot and killed and I just haven't told you.

.That doesn't mean anything by the way. Just me talking random stuff!

It is rather flattering to know that you are worried, but you need not to. As for my lessons with Alfred, you yourself know that on occasion we countries can move faster than humans. Of course this doesn't happen all the time, but it's still a useful skill to have in case you need to dodge a bullet.

Love, Gilbert

P.S. Why did you cross your awesome name out?


Gilbert,

You last letter has not been reassuring in the least, particularly when I find that some areas of it have been stained with what look suspiciously like blood (and I know you tried to hide it from me.) My fears are not as unfounded as you make them seem. Exactly how much have you been keeping from me?

I don't understand. If you can dodge bullets they why have I seen you shot so many times?

Frédéric

P.S. My name is not Fritz. It is Frédéric.


Fritz,

I noticed that your letters are becoming increasingly emotional and frantic. Please, calm down. I was bleeding because a musket ball had clipped me on the cheek and I knew that you would worry if I mentioned it. It seems that either way you find something to fuss over. I don't keep anything from you, I only tell you what I think you need to know because you told me yourself not to bore you with unimportant details. See what I get for doing what you say.

And to answer your question: because bullets are unawesome.

Pardon that I cut this letter short, but we are going to march soon. The British are moving, and we might be meeting them in battle soon. I now have every confidence in these soldiers and I'm certain they can win us a victory. If everything goes well then I will write to you soon.

Love, Gilbert

P.S. That's a silly reason.


Gilbert,

I am not becoming frantic. I just want some clear answers, which you seem reluctant to give. And stop throwing my words back at me to gain an advantage, it won't work.

You were shot on your cheek? Only Fortune stopped it from taking off your head! This is why I worry, since every time I let you out of my sight you get into some sort of trouble. And I find you nearly getting shot in the head a very important subject.

Again I ask that you be careful in your upcoming battle (and you better obey it this time) and write as soon as you are able.

Love, Frédéric

P.S. It does not matter whether my reason is silly. It is still my reason.

Gilbert,

It has been two weeks since your last letter. I have restrained myself from writing earlier, because I know it takes poor Gilbird a while to cross that great ocean. Now I write because I have been wondering over your prolonged silence. You did not say that you were laying a siege, so I ask for what is happening over there.

Love, Frédéric

Gilbert,

You are usually not this silent. It is quite disconcerting, and I have heard absolutely no news about the war in quite a while. Are you injured? Please tell me.

Love, Frédéric

Gilbert,

If you are ignoring me on purpose then I swear you will not like it. Now answer me.

Fritz

Gilbert,

Honestly, it's becoming quite childish now. It's as silent as a tomb over here and I beg that you reply.

Fritz

...

Gilbert,

Please talk to me. I cannot bear this silence anymore.

Fritz

Alright, fine. You win. What do you want me to do?

Fritz

Gilbert,

I miss you. Are you happy now?

Fritz

Mon cheri ami,

Why do you keep ignoring your king? Please send him something, he is tiring out all of my Pierres having them fly back and forth between that blasted ocean. And he says that if you keep ignoring him then he will, and I quote: "come to America and drag you back to Prussia by the ear and the war be damned."

All my love, Francis


F—

Traitor.

G

P.S. Why do you keep kissing your letters?


Mon ami,

Why do you ignore him so? He has been pestering me about your health.

All my love, Francis

P.S. It shows mon amor of my love for him!


Francis,

Actually I have just received his latest letter now. All he had to say was one little "I miss you" and things would have been fine. A lot better than him constantly nagging me, I'll tell you.

Gilbert

P.S. Hmm, coming to America? That actually sounds pretty awesome.

P.S.S I'm going to ignore that heart you drew on your letter.


Mon cher Prusse,

Why can't you just be normal and ask him if he misses you? No need to be dramatic about it.

All my love, Francis~

P.S. By the way, your king says that you're a fucking bastard.


F—

Pffft. Boring.

G

P.S. He wants me.


 

Vacuum

Cleaning day.

The most dreaded time in the house of Germany. The time when West's domestic instincts went nuts and the floors were mopped, the furniture dusted, rooms cleaned, and everything scrubbed until the entire house was as spotless as if it had been just built. The dogs knew by now to hide under Gilbert's bed whenever Ludwig started to get the cleaning supplies out because the only safe haven in the entire house would soon be the albino's room. The ex-nation would lounge on his bed, idly flipping through the channels on the TV, cursing his brother and his OCD-ness.

Downstairs he could hear thumping and clattering, the usual sounds of West waging war on stains and dust bunnies. He knew that Ludwig wouldn't appreciate him coming downstairs because whenever he did he somehow managed to track dirt everywhere or make streaks on freshly mopped floors or smear marks on whatever he had just polished or one of the other dozens of things that West managed to flip out over. He could be such a woman sometimes. It kinda sucked actually. He was getting hungry. He heard a whine and looked down to see Berlitz cautiously poking his nose out from under the bed, cautiously sniffing the air. "It's alright," he cooed to the dog, reaching down to pat his head. He thought that it was rather funny how the fierce German Shepard had been reduced to this just by looking at a broom.

Gilbird started to cheep and fly in circles around his head. "Oi, shutup," Prussia said, holding out his finger, which the chick obediently perched upon. "I'll get food in a little while, when West stops going crazy." He grinned wisely, suddenly wondering if his brother was wearing that frilly pink apron that he had bought him for Christmas. One time he had managed to convince his brother to wear nothing but that apron as he cleaned the house.

That had been a good day.

Gilbird chirped again, bringing him back from the wonderful fantasy that his mind had been about to create. "Look, I'm sorry I forgot to buy food. I'll get some later." Another cheep. Gilbert sighed explosively and crossed his arms, forcing the bird to fly onto his shoulder. "No, not while West is cleaning." As if on cue, the scream of a vacuum started downstairs. The dogs started to shake. Gilbird cheeped again and dug his tiny claws into his owner's shoulder. "Alright!" Gilbert finally said. "But you owe me."

If it was possible for a bird to look triumphant, then Gilbird managed it.

Prussia poked his head out of the door and was greeted by the roar of the vacuum increasing tenfold. Gilbird ruffled his feathers but did not move. The pale man quickly crept out and ran to the end of the hall and peered down the stairs. They led straight into the living room and thankfully he did not see West anywhere. He quickly bounded down the stairs, hoping the vacuum drowned out his steps, and ducked into the kitchen.

And immediately slipped and fell. "Dammit Lutz," he growled against the tiled floor, staring at the unnaturally bright reflections next to his face. The floor had been waxed. He mentally hit himself for not thinking about that sooner. He thanked whatever gods existed that it had already dried, or else West just might have exploded. He tried to get up and slid again, almost smashing his face in. He swore and went to take his socks off, then froze. If he put his bare feet on the floor then that would leave marks, and if Ludwig saw that after he had just waxed. . . he shuddered and opted to scoot across the floor instead.

He yanked open the door and grabbed a beer. As he was closing the door he heard the vacuum click off. Shit, he thought, using the counter to pull himself to his feet. He quickly grabbed an apple and stuffed it in his pocket and then tried to shuffle across the floor without falling again. Once out of the kitchen he saw Ludwig, or rather, Ludwig's ass as he bent over to plug in the vacuum.

Gilbert paused as if he had just been slapped in the face, unable to tear his eyes away from the sight. Then he noticed that Ludwig was indeed wearing his pink apron. In an instant his plans changed and he figured that the dogs wouldn't mind too much if he didn't come back upstairs for a while.

"Gilbert, what are you doing?" Germany asked, not even turning around.

He almost swore again. "Getting food," he said nonchalantly.

"You better not have put marks on the floor."

He rolled his eyes even though Ludwig's back was still facing him and therefore he couldn't see. "I didn't, chill out," he muttered, heading over to the couch. His eyes roamed over the rest of the clothes his brother was wearing, scowling at them since as if their very existence vexed him. He'd have to get rid of them later. He threw himself onto the couch and popped the cap off of his beer using his teeth.

Ludwig whirled as if he had heard a gunshot and glared at him. "Don't drink that over the couch!" he yelled in exasperation.

"Chill the hell out West, I'm not gonna spill it. Spilling beer is a sin." He said right before he threw his head back and started drinking. Gilbird landed on his chest and looked at him mournfully. "Oh yeah," he said and reached into his pocket for his apple and knife. He quickly sliced the fruit into thin pieces.

"Are you seriously about to start eating in here?" Ludwig demanded.

"No, he is," Prussia said, pointing to Gilbird. Ludwig didn't look amused. "It's an apple West, it's not gonna stain anything." The taller nation just huffed and started vacuuming, leaving Gilbert to grin at his victory. He sipped his beer and watched his brother clean. He was quite thorough, vacuuming under and behind the furniture and even under the cushions of the chairs. Not that Gilbert minded, since it forced Ludwig to bend over, crawl on his knees, stretch out, and put himself into all sorts of various positions in order to accomplish his tasks. It was like being given a free show.

The albino toyed with the hem of his shirt, berating himself for not wearing a button up because that was so much easier to tease people with. But then again being blatant sometimes worked. A few moments later he decided that it really didn't matter; it was actually quite warm in the house and Ludwig no doubt had a lot of energy to work off. He quickly peeled off his shirt and stuffed it between the couch cushions and went back to his beer. If Ludwig noticed his brother's new state of dress then he didn't acknowledge it. He simply went on with his cleaning until he reached the couch. "Get up," he said, making a shooing motion with his hand.

Prussia grinned and leaned back. "No," he replied.

Germany tried not to roll his eyes. "Please get up," he tried.

"No," Prussia said again. "The couch isn't even that dirty."

"It's not as clean as everything else," Germany retorted.

Gilbert snorted with laughter. "Oh come on West, it's fine. You can even sit on it if you want." He raised his eyebrows suggestively.

This time Ludwig really did roll his eyes. He knew exactly what his brother was trying to do and he really didn't want to put up with it. In a second he had slipped his hands under Gilbert's body and was about to lift him up when Gilbert purred and arched into the touch. The blond literally froze for a half-second before he jerked away as if his sibling's half-naked body had just burned him. "Just get up," he said, his cheeks noticeably pinker.

Gilbert smiled. "Ludwig," he murmured in that low tone that would always catch Ludwig's attention, no matter what he was doing. "It would be entirely pointless to clean the couch, then have to clean it again when we're done using it. I'm only asking for a few minutes of your time." He stretched himself fully across the couch, openly displaying himself as if he were on a silver platter.

Ludwig's cheeks turned even redder at the implications. "I didn't say that I would do anything," he said sternly, although that certainly wasn't stopping him from thinking things.

And it showed. "If you don't want to do anything then why are you getting hard?"

The younger country felt his face heating up and Gilbert laughed loudly. He cleared his throat and tried to ignore the laughter and the growing tightness in his pants that said laughter caused. He brandished the hose of the vacuum as if it were a gun and turned it on. "I'm not asking you again, get up," he said.

Prussia looked up and grinned. "You know West," he said over the noise, letting one of his legs slide off the couch. "You can always use that to suck on someone. Really frees your mouth."

If it at all possible, Ludwig's face turned an even deeper shade of red and he felt dizzy from all of the blood going to his head—both of them. Without really thinking he swung the hose at Gilbert, hoping to knock him on the head and get him to finally shut up. Gilbert yelled and hit his hand and instead of crashing into his skull the hose somehow managed to latch onto the albino's neck.

The reaction was not what he suspected.

Gilbert's eye grew huge and his jaw fell open, then he grabbed the hose and pushed it deeper into his skin, wriggling and bucking. "Oh fuck West, yeessss—" he hissed, entirely unaware that he was doing so. He laughed again, breathless and delighted from the assault of pleasure on his nerves.

That was more than enough for Ludwig. He all but pounced on the albino and ripped the hose off of his neck, replacing it with his teeth as he bit down on skin. Gilbert's hands immediately grabbed his hair and yanked it, freeing from its usual slicked-back prison. He responded by grabbing Gilbert's wrists and pinning them above his head before sliding up and kissing him on the mouth. He bit down on Gilbert's lower lip, hard enough to bleed, but Gilbert always liked it rough. He heard a light growl and then Gilbert was biting him back. For a second it was all a dominance battle when Gilbert suddenly hooked a leg around Ludwig's hip and dragged him closer, grinding their arousals together harshly. Ludwig broke off the kiss, gasping, but immediately went back to attacking the albino's neck, sucking and biting.

A cheep interrupted them.

They both paused, flushed and panting, Ludwig's teeth still brushing Gilbert's neck and Gilbert's legs still hooked around his brother's waist. The chirping came again, louder and more frantic. In unison, they both looked to the source of the noise in just enough time to see a yellow ball of fluff disappear down the hose of the vacuum—which had fallen to the floor—with a frightening sucking noise.

"Gilbird!" Prussia screamed and threw Ludwig off of him with a strength that Ludwig didn't know he still had. Gilbert lunged for the vacuum while Ludwig crashed unceremoniously into the table and he nearly ripped the vacuum apart as he tried to open it and turn it off at the same time.

"Don't open it!" Ludwig yelled, but it was too late. A great cloud of dust billowed out and a flying black ball shot into the room, cheeping angrily and trailing feather and dust wherever it went.

"No Gilbird, come back!" Gilbert cried, leaping over the couch in one bound in an attempt to catch his bird. The vacuum clattered to the ground and spilled the rest of its contents all over the pristine carpet. The two of them ran around the room for a minute before the chick flew out of the open window. "No!" Gilbert yelled again, leaping out of the window and chasing him down the street, still shirtless.

Ludwig swore heatedly and pushed himself to his feet, glaring at the mess that had just been made. Dust was everywhere and some of the furniture had been knocked down. He would have to put everything back in order and vacuum again. He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. At least it was just dust. At least it was easy to clean up. However, he heard a steady dripping noise coming from behind him and turned to see that Gilbert's beer had been knocked over and was now spilling all over the carpet.

Even though he was nearly half a block away, Gilbert still heard Ludwig's scream. He cringed and figured that it would probably be better for his health if he hung out at Toni's place for the rest of the week.


 

Zoo

"Animal cruelty! That's what this entire thing is! How would you like it if someone shoved you into a cage and—"

"Would you shut up?" Ludwig hissed, about to die from embarrassment as everyone within hearing distance stopped and stared at them. He grabbed his brother's arm and quickly dragged him away, past the tigers pacing in their cages and past any people until they were out of sight.

"What, West? This isn't awesome. Captivity is not awesome, and neither is dragging me so can your unawesome self unhand the Awesome Me?" Gilbert jerked out of his grip and stomped over to bench, crossing his arms and pouting. God he looked like a five-year old.

Germany smacked a hand to his forehead and rubbed it. Why in the world he thought this was a good idea evaded him. He didn't like zoos overly much, but his Boss had insisted that he take a break and gave him free tickets, so it had been rather hard to refuse. Now he really wished he had turned down the offer since Gilbert insisted on making this trip a disaster. "Will you please stop making a scene?" he asked, uncovering his face so he could look at his brother.

Gilbert still didn't look very happy. "Why? No one else is doing anything about how these animals are treated. Just look at those cages they were in! And then the whipping and beating them with a chair, that's just messed up Ludwig." He drew his legs up on the bench and plopped his chin on his knees, sulking.

Ludwig sighed and sat next to him, putting a hand on his shoulder. "Yes, the animals could be treated better, but yelling at innocent spectators isn't going to change anything. If you really want to do something then talk to the ringmaster or something." He could tell that his words weren't having too good of an effect, but Gilbert was certainly appreciating the shoulder rub.

The older nation gnawed on his lip with his teeth. "Yeah I know, but sometimes it's so frustrating." He looked as if he wanted to say more, but right then one of the animal handlers came up.

"Excuse me sir," he said, sounding very aloof and professional. "Do you know that you have a bird on your head?"

Prussia turned and gave the man one of those "you-are-so-stupid-that-I'm-surprised-you-even-know-how-to-breathe" glares that often had his soldiers shrinking in fear. "Yeah, so?" he replied tersely.

His manners obviously shocked the handler, who thought that he had simply asked a polite question and he could not see why the man was being so rude. He cleared his throat, more than a little uncomfortable with those red eyes that stared at him as if daring him to say something idiotic. "Well, I noticed that it seems very tame and isn't flying off. I think it could be one of our animals, and it might have slipped out of its cage. May I ask where you fond the bird, and if—" He stopped abruptly when he saw the fury in Prussia's eyes.

Only Ludwig's nearly bone-crushing grip on his arm stopped him from leaping at the man. He did jump to his feet though. "He is not your goddamned bird and even if he was then he would not be going with you!" he yelled, once again causing people to stop and stare. On top of his head, Gilbird chirped, puzzled by all of the yelling. "Now out!"

"Out" probably wasn't the right word because they were already outside, but nonetheless the man turned and fled. An Italian would have been proud. Prussia's eyes followed him even after he had disappeared, as if contemplating whether or not to run after him. Ludwig squeezed his arm lightly and once more started to lead him away. "Now that you've managed to make another scene," the blond said, trying to seem as calm as possible, "what do you want to do?"

Gilbert pursed his lips and gently petted Gilbird, stroking the chick on the head with one of his fingers. His eyes roamed around, watching the animals stuck in their cages with the people ogling them. He felt sick. "Let's get some food," he said, suddenly taking the lead and dragging Ludwig behind him. They pushed through the crowd, looking for a food stand. Gilbert simply followed his nose until they came to a stand where a man was selling roasted nuts. "Hey Lutz, let's get some nuts. Geddit, nuts?" Gilbert laughed to himself, probably thinking that he was very clever.

"Whatever," Ludwig said, rolling his eyes and letting go of his brother. He knew that Gilbert wouldn't buy any food, so that left him to do it. He wasn't very hungry, so he bought only one, and when he turned around with the packet in his hand he saw that Gilbert had completely disappeared. "Bruder?" He asked, scanning the immediate area. He saw neither a mop of white hair nor a fluffy yellow chick and he felt his heart quicken. He quickly shoved his ridiculous fear aside. Prussia could easily take care of himself, and had probably seen something shiny and had wandered off to see what it was. What puzzled him most was how a man with red eyes, white hair, and a bird riding on top of his head managed to utterly disappear in a crowd. Then again Gilbert often did things that defied all logic so he didn't think too hard on it.

He sat down on an empty bench and watched the people going by, waiting for his brother to come back. He absently munched on a peanut, savoring the sweet taste. They were honey roasted, which he actually bought just for Gilbert because he knew his older brother had a fondness for sweet things. The minutes passed and as they dragged on Ludwig started to worry again. If Gilbert had just gone off to look at something then he would have definitely been back by now. Did he go somewhere else? If he did then why did he do it the moment he had his back turned? He pondered that, then he realized that Gilbert was up to no good. There was no other explanation.

Again he felt a wave of fear, but much to his surprise it was not his own.

Someone screamed and he noticed that there were people running. "Help!" he heard someone yell. "The animals are loose!" As if to approve of the statement he heard a roar.

Oh no.

"Are those honey roasted?" Gilbert's voice just appeared behind him and a pale hand quickly snaked into the bag he was holding in his hand. "Awww, they are! That was so sweet of you Lutz."

Germany leaped to his feet in alarm and turned to Gilbert, who was smiling. Not good. "What did you do?" Ludwig yelled, putting as much force into his words as he could.

"Something awesome," Gilbert replied. There was another roar and something streaked by them. "Go, be free!" He yelled and Gilbird twittered in excitement. Two seconds later the expression was wiped clean off of his face. "Oh shit," he muttered before turning and running, something very un-Prussian of him to do.

Ludwig glanced over his shoulder and caught a glimpse of something orange and black running towards them and moments later and he was running after his brother. "Gilbert I swear to Gott if these animals don't kill you then I will!" he screamed at him.


 

Attraction

Take special note of one of your students, Gilbert Beilschmidt. He has a condition which makes him sensitive to sunlight, and he is allowed to have sunglasses in his possession.

Condition? Well don't be too specific, will you? Frederick shook his head and slipped the note into his pocket, wondering what sort of "condition" this Gilbert had. Not that he was going to pester the boy or anything, he just wanted to know. It had been a common failing of his, constantly seeking out new information, whether good or bad. He swept the papers on his desk into a neat pile and after a moment of deliberation went over to the windows. They were very large and sunlight poured through them, turning the room a warm honey color. It was beautiful, but he grabbed the drawstring to the blinds and pulled them down. The things he had to sacrifice.

The room looked a bit more artificial with the light gone, but he was going to put up with it if it made a student more comfortable. He drifted around the room, waiting for his second class to arrive. The bell had rung almost a minute ago and they still had yet to show up. The campus of Hetalia Academy may have been large, but it wasn't enormous. Perhaps they were taking their time because they knew that they had a new teacher. He thought that his first class had liked him well enough. He was certainly not the stuffy old teacher that he knew that they had stereotyped him to be. It could have gone much worse, that much was for certain.

To busy himself, he started to clean his flute. He was just putting it back in its case when he heard the door open and close. He looked up to see a lone student carefully making his way towards him. The first thing he noticed was that the student had white hair. Not a really pale blond, but literal silvery-white. The second thing he noticed were the sunglasses covering the student's eyes, and he immediately knew that this was the mysterious Gilbert Beilschmidt. He was wearing the Hetalia Academy uniform, albeit a little sloppily, and a black and white bag was slung over his shoulder. Then the student took off his glasses and Frederick wasn't sure which of them looked more surprised.

Now that the glasses were off he could see Gilbert's face clearly, and he was shocked to see how pale he was. There was such an utter lack of color to him, except for the slightest pink undertone from the blood underneath his skin. Albinism, he thought to himself. That's his "condition." But the most shocking were his eyes. Most albinos had pink eyes, but this person had true, deep red eyes that stared at him in the most unnerving way. At least those eyes were widened in innocent surprise, which diminished their effect somewhat.

Innocent surprise was a good phrase. This is our new teacher? Gilbert thought, more shocked than had been all year. He didn't know what he had expected, but it had not been this young man who could not have possibly been older than his mid-twenties. Yet he was surprisingly short, Gilbert would have bet money that he wasn't taller than Feli. He had long reddish-brown hair that was tied back into a ponytail and the most drop dead gorgeous blue eyes he had ever seen in his life. He could immediately name over ten girls who would commit murder to have their eyes that color.

Only a few seconds had passed while they each made their observations about each other. Not long enough for the silence to become awkward. Frederick smiled, trying to look as amiable as possible. "Ah, so you're the student whom I had to shut the blinds for!" he said, waving towards the windows.

For a moment Gilbert wondered if the teacher was accusing him of something, but he didn't sound very accusatory. More teasing actually. He tilted his head and smiled. It was a wide, sharp smile that was full of wit. "Yep, that's me. Gilbert Beilschmidt." He said the words as if he were announcing some sort of lordship or title. As if simply being him was a privilege. "And you're. . ." his eyes darted to the board and he raised his eyebrows. "Mister Frederick?" He looked at his new teacher as if he were playing a joke.

"Yes, that is what I would like for you to call me." Frederick tried not to laugh at Gilbert's expression, but it tickled him for some reason.

"What's your last name?"

"Hohenzollern."

"What."

Frederick really did laugh this lime, because Gilbert's deadpanned tone didn't even make the word into a question. "Exactly. Frederick is so much easier for people to remember."

The beginnings of a grin twitched on Gilbert's pale lips and he threw his bag into a chair. "So, I take it you're German then?" he asked in a voice tinged with excitement. No wonder, since he was meeting one of his fellow countrymen.

"Yes, but some find that hard to believe." At Gilbert's look he went on. "I lived in France for a few years when I was a child, and I fell quite in love with the country. I almost ashamed to admit that I can speak French just as fluently—if not even better—than my mother tongue."

Gilbert jus scoffed and rolled his eyes. "Oh boy, Francis'll love you." The way he said it made it sound like an undesirable thing.

Frederick decided not to ask. "Are you the only one in this class?" he asked, seating himself beside Gilbert so he could talk to him easier. "Where is everybody?"

"Well, my class is close to this one so I'm usually one of the first people here. Although Alfred wanted to show us all something on his phone so the others are probably being held up."

Frederick sighed and in an instant he pulled a phone out of his pocket. Gilbert's eyes grew huge when he saw it. "What is Alfred's number?" Frederick asked briskly, sliding out a keyboard.

Startled, Gilbert gave it to him. "Why?"

"I wouldn't want most of my class getting in to trouble for being late," Frederick replied. He typed out a quick message, fast as Gilbert had ever seen anyone type, and slid the keyboard back into place. He noticed Gilbert's incredulous look and smiled. "What?" he asked with a fake innocence.

Gilbert shook his head and said nothing. This teacher was so. . .different from any teacher he ever had before. He was charming and polite and didn't lord over you like some of the more strict teachers. Then again considering his height Frederick probably couldn't lord over much of anyone. Either way, he found himself talking to this man as if he were a friend, which had never happened with a teacher before. "What instrument can you play?" he asked, suddenly wanting to know more about him.

Frederick pocketed his phone. "Flute mostly. I also know how to play the piano and little bit of the violin, although I never really practiced my violin as much as I should have. And you?"

"My friend Feliciano taught me how to play the violin," Gilbert said. He grinned, knowing that Feli shared this class with him. He would love their teacher. "But I was wondering if there were any other good instruments to play."

"Well I can certainly teach you the flute," Frederick replied. "That would be the easiest for the both of us."

"Alright then, flute it is," Gilbert said with the same sharp smile. Frederick found himself intrigued by that smile. It was the knowing smile of an intellect, and Frederick loved nothing more than to carry on an intelligent conversation with someone. Paired with Gilbert's sharp features it made him look quite handsome.

He was about to ask another question when the door was flung open and a small whirlwind of energy bounded into the room. "Gil, you won't believe what happened!" Feliciano crowed, skipping over to them. "Alfred was showing us all these cool pictures on his phone and suddenly a teacher texted him and told him to stop distracting his students!"

Gilbert looked immediately to Frederick, who had the smallest of smiles on his face. Feli followed his gaze. "Ve~ are you our new teacher?"

"Yes, my name is Mister Frederick," was Frederick's reply. He stood up and Gilbert noticed with no small amount of amusement that he and Feli were practically the same height. Feli was probably a hair or two taller.

"Is that so? What's your first name?" Leave it to Feli to ask all of the personal questions.

"Frederick," the teacher replied, even more amused.

"Ve~?" Feliciano asked, looking even more confused. Then he smiled brightly. "You have very pretty eyes," he said, neither flattering nor mockingly, but stating a simple fact.

And wasn't that the truth. After some intense staring Gilbert had noticed that those blue eyes almost seemed to have some gray in them. Frederick raised his eyebrows as if asking him if he was being serious, and then he smiled as well. It lit up his face and all at once his eyes seemed very warm and inviting. "Thank you," he said with a nod. "Grazie."

He can speak Italian? Gilbert wanted to yell and in an instant Feli's whole demeanor managed to become even more hyper, which was an accomplishment. He opened his mouth and was about to subject them to a whole round of his incoherent Italian babbling when the doors opened yet again and the rest of the class streamed in. Gilbert saw Feli's older brother detach himself from the crowd and run over.

"Feli! Did you run off again? I swear to god I will fucking tie you to me if this keeps happening!" Lovino yelled, grabbing his brother's arm. Despite his words he actually looked a little worried. His gaze landed on Frederick. "Are you new?" he asked curiously.

"Yes, I am," Frederick replied, unperturbed.

"Fratello, you won't believe it, he's—"

"Later, Feli. Where the hell's our teacher?" The older Italian scanned the room.

"Right here," Frederick piped up again. Lovino's eye landed on him, shocked and wide. "I'm your new teacher," Frederick elaborated, flashing an amused glance at Gilbert. The teen snorted with laughter, trying not to howl like he wanted to. Lovi flushed a deep red and before he could attempt to explain himself the bell rang. Frederick winked at them and stepped up to the front of the room. "Alright, settle down!" He yelled, his voice startlingly loud for someone so small.

Gilbert lounged back into his chair, again observing their new teacher. He seemed very funny and laidback, and yet demanded them of work when the time came. Gilbert was certain that he would like him, even though he had only know him for about five minutes.


 

Feather

Prussia is a wreck.

Schwerin sighed to himself as he slipped into the room and saw Prussia's stiff back as he stared out the window. It had been an entire day since the king had been kidnapped, and all of their most vigorous searching had not even turned up a hair of him. The general could not believe that such an atrocity had been committed in their own territory, right under their noses. It was unforgiveable. How could they have messed up this badly?

He made his way over to the silent figure, his footsteps soft and careful. Gilbert did not even move or acknowledge his presence. He simply stood and stared out that window and let one of his hands rest on Frederick's hat, which was on the desk beside him. Schwerin could still clearly recall the exact moment when Gilbert had stormed into their headquarters, pale as a corpse and gripping the black feather-trimmed tricorn hat as if it were the only thing keeping him alive. In a way, it was. He remembered listening to Prussia as he stammered out an explanation, how their king had been captured by the enemy and that almost his entire guard had been slaughtered.

Prussia blamed himself. He could tell from his obsessive scouring and searching of the countryside. He never even part from Frederick's hat, always keeping it within arm's reach.

He stopped right behind him, for a moment unsure of what to say. "You found nothing, didn't you?" Prussia asked, saving him the trouble.

Of course they didn't. And Schwerin absolutely hated himself for it. "No," he replied, sounding more dejected than he ever had in his life. "Not a trace."

Prussia sighed and thumped his forehead against the glass. Schwerin noticed how his hand tightened around the hat like a drowning man clinging to a lifeline. "I don't know why I'm so surprised," he whispered, his breath fogging against the window. "It's been the same answer every other time I've asked, I don't know why I expected this to be an different." He paused for a moment as he realized what he just said. "But I still thank you for your effort. It means a lot to me."

The general swallowed and did not reply. He was just doing what any soldier, what any good man, would do. Why their own nation was personally thanking him was beyond him, especially when he was failing so horribly. The kidnappers could not have gotten very far, since it would have been far more prudent to hide their prisoner in the nearby countryside instead of running off somewhere. So why couldn't they find them? That many hussars did not simply vanish off of the face of the earth! He gripped his hands around his walking stick tightly, frustrated beyond belief. The king had been one of his closest friends for many years now, and he had been certain that he could serve and protect him.

And yet, a small, emphatic part of him pitied the poor nation standing in front of him, because he knew that Prussia's grief had to be so much worse. Schwerin had known the king for years, but Gilbert had known him since the day he had been born. Schwerin had not actually been with the king on his journey, but Prussia had. It was Prussia's job to serve and protect Frederick with his life, and when Frederick had needed him the most he had not been there. He knew that Prussia was letting his guilt eat away at him, because Schwerin was doing the same.

"We won't give up," Schwerin found himself saying. He might as well have been talking to a piece of wood. He saw Gilbert's gaze darting to and fro, but what he was looking at was anyone's guess.

At that moment Schwerin wanted to do nothing but crawl into a bed and sleep. He was constantly working, taking only a few hours' worth of naps before throwing himself back into his labors again. Prussia did not sleep at all. He had heard from the aides that Prussia did nothing but pace all night and pour over every scrap of information they had. Whatever food was brought up to him would remain untouched. Even though it had only been a day and a half, Prussia's eyes had become bloodshot, his cheeks hollowed, and his clothes seem to somehow hang from his body. They all felt terrible, but Prussia actually looked like it. For the oddest reason that made him feel guiltier.

He realized for the first time how important their dear king was to Gilbert. He had never seen him look so utterly lost before. He opened his mouth to say something—anything—to reassure the nation, but again Prussia beat him to it.

"I will find him."

Prussia turned his head to him, and he was shocked to see that his eyes were still alive. They burned in a bold defiance to. . .the Hungarians? The Austrians? The world? Fate itself? Those eyes seemed to reach into him and hold him, as if something had physically restrained him. His heart raced as if it had been shocked and his felt the nation's gaze right down to his very bones. It was instances like these that made it easy to believe that Gilbert was not human. A blink later and the unnatural feeling was gone. Prussia's eyes slowly drifted down to the hat as if something had drawn them there. "I swear it," he promised, his hand starting to shake. "If I never do anything else in my life I will find him."

Schwerin nodded and stared at the hat with him. It was the only remnant left of the king they both loved. It was a poor, pathetic substitute. He didn't care if they had to murder every single Hungarian hussar in the country, he just wanted his friend back. "We will find him," he said, looking up into those chilling eyes. "We all will, General." It was hard for him to say Prussia; it felt unnatural on his tongue.

Prussia stared at him for a long moment, and then he smiled. It was tired and worn, but it was completely genuine. "It's just Gilbert, Schwerin," he said gently. He looked amused, but it was such a welcome sight that Schwerin found himself smiling back. "I know you feel obligated to call be by some sort of title due to my position, but I insist that you call me Gilbert." He straightened up and took the hat in his arms, holding it as if it were a child. "Yes, we will all find him. And then we'll show the Austrians that you don't mess with our king." Now his smile was forced, but there was a definite spring in his step as he headed for the door.


 

Noise

Something had been following Frederick around all day. He could tell.

The worst part was that he couldn't see it. He could hear it, but every time he tried to get a look he would see nothing behind him. He half-feared that he was going mad and was hearing things, but usually people who went insane tended to hear voices and not an odd thumping noise. So he concluded that something small was following him.

He didn't hear it all the time. Usually it showed up whenever he went into another room or walked a long distance, coming in sporadic bursts. The oddest thing that no one else seemed to notice a thing either. Whenever he held an audience he waited for someone to hopefully point out something, but it never happened. He wanted to ask Gilbert, but the nation had gone to the city earlier that day and had yet to come back. So with a little bit of difficulty Frederick put it into the back of his mind ignored it to the best of his ability.

The gardens seemed to offer a bit if a reprieve. Whatever was stalking his shadow vanished in them, giving him a measure of peace. The king strolled for some time, enjoying the peace that he rarely got these days. Even when they were not in a war odd, disturbing things still happened to him. Such was his life, he supposed. It was nearly an hour before he had to venture back inside; being a king meant that he always had a schedule, even in his most private of retreats. As he headed for the door he heard the noise start up again, coming closer to him. He broke out into a run, regardless of whatever eyes may be watching, and slammed the doors behind him. He listened for a second, but he could hear nothing. He laughed, satisfied that he had gotten rid of his bothersome noise, and made his way to his rooms, feeling much more at ease.

His rooms were always his sanctuary. No one was allowed inside of them unless he allowed it, and it was always here where his deepest thoughts were allowed to see the light of day. He wished for a moment that Gilbert were with him, because only his lover could listen to whatever he said and not immediately judge him for it, but he brushed it away. Gilbert had his duties in the city, whatever they were, just like he did. He made his way over to his flute case and opened it, gently skimming his fingers over the ebony frame before methodically piecing it together. Just as he was finished he heard a slight tapping coming from the window, startling him out of his thoughts. The monarch frowned and walked to the window, at first seeing nothing. He paused and opened the window, more out of curiosity's sake than anything. At once he heard a loud fluttering, the exact same noise he had been hearing all day, but this time he saw it as a small yellow bundle flew right into his room and landed on his music stand. He relaxed when he saw what it was.

"Piyo!" Gilbird chirped at him, almost the same way a person would say "Hello!" It was a little unnerving.

"So you're the one that's been following me around all day," Frederick murmured, laughing at himself. God, what a fool he was! He should have known that sound well enough by now.

"Piyo~!" Gilbird chirped again, hopping along his stand and tilting his head to one side. Then abruptly he flew off again, landing on his desk. Frederick watched him hop around before flying to his bed.

Frederick frowned a little. "What? If you're going to come in then at least stay still. You're making me nervous with all of that flapping." Then he paused as he analyzed what he had just said. What was he doing, talking to a bird? It couldn't understand him, it was a bird! But Gilbert did it all the time and. . . he ground his teeth together. Gilbert and his ridiculous habits were starting to rub off on him, and that wasn't a good thing.

He watched Gilbird flit about his room, landing on the chandelier, his study, his bookshelf, and even under his bed, peeping all the while. No matter where the chick landed he starting peering about as if looking for something. Or someone. "He's not here," Frederick said, mentally kicking himself for talking again.

And, amazingly, the bird paused and looked at him. He felt his breath catch. No, there was no possible way the bird could understand him. It was impossible. And yet those two black eyes stared at him in the oddest, most concentrated way, which a normal bird with its tiny attention span could not do. "Gilbert's not here," he elaborated, feeling slightly foolish and very disconcerted.

Gilbird flew over to him, landing on the nearby desk. "Piyooo," the chick sang, staring at him mournfully. Despite everything that was scientifically possible, the animal sounded sad. Hell he even looked sad, as if it somehow knew that his master was not around.

Frederick plucked at his cravat and stepped up to the music stand, suddenly wanting to avoid Gilbird and his not-bird-but-very-human acting. "I'm sorry," he said, flipping through his music. "He will be back later. I'm sure he's missing you too." He lifted is flute and drew in a breath to play when he heard another fluttering and a weight was suddenly on top of his head. He was frozen in place for a good handful of seconds, then he nearly threw his flute onto his stand and ran for the mirror on his nightstand. "Oh no," he said the moment he looked into the mirror and saw a yellow ball sitting on top of his head. "I am not Gilbert, off!" He flicked his hand at Gilbird and watched him take flight, but a moment later he landed on his shoulder. "Stop that!" he said, shooing the bird away. It landed on his wrist. "Gilbert might tolerate you riding on his head all the time, but I will not. Shoo." He tried to wave Gilbird away but the persistent thing just fluttered to his head again and stubbornly avoided his hand.

He hoped a servant wouldn't suddenly take it in their head to enter his rooms. That was the absolute last thing he needed.

Finally he gave up and simply stared at Gilbird in the mirror. Gilbird stared back. "This is so stupid," he murmured. Gilbird didn't answer. He just stared at him with that same, begging puppy look that Gilbert had pulled on him many times in the past, and for a moment the parallel between the albino and his bird were uncanny. Frederick felt his defenses crumbling. "I can't go walking around with a bird on my head," he protested, but even to his own ears his voice lacked any conviction. Apparently the chick could tell, and it settled itself further into his head with a happy peep. It was a little fluffy bump that stuck out from his perfectly combed hair, and it most definitely did not belong. Yet he could not bring himself to bat it away. "Fine," he growled at last, stomping back over to the music stand. "But if you shit on my head then I'm throwing you into the fireplace. While it's lit." He got another peep as an answer. Mentally swearing, he grabbed his flute and launched into the first song that he saw on his stand, trying to forget about the bird.

For a while he succeeded. Despite his recent irritations, his dear principessa always managed to take them away. The music became him and he was so caught up with it that he barely remembered where he was or what time it was. He let the notes take him someplace else, a safe place that he had greedily sought out as a child and made him sneak his flute past his father, for it had been one of the only times in his life where he had been truly happy. He had forgotten about Gilbird completely, so when the bird suddenly burst out into song he nearly leaped out of his skin in fright. The flute squeaked into silence and left him panting in shock. "What?" he asked resentfully, wanting to smack his little companion for interrupting his music. The reply he got was a little warbling that he would have bet money sounded a little puzzled. "It's music," he explained, "now don't interrupt." He lifted the instrument again and had only blown two notes before the singing started up again. "Will you stop that?" he snapped.

No response. Frederick prayed that Gilbert would come back soon. He didn't think he could stand his pet for much longer. He started his music again, wincing as Gilbird once more started to sing. As much as he tried he couldn't block the noise out completely, and as a consequence he listened to it, and when he realized just what it was he nearly dropped his flute out of shock. It was a harmony. It was not a harsh intrusion upon his music, a competitor vying to make himself heard. It was a harmony to his melody, an accompaniment, a duet. He had to stop again. "How the deuce did you do that?" he asked, holding his hand out for the bird. It immediately hopped onto his palm. He placed it on top of the music stand. "Did Gilbert teach you how to do that?" he asked in a barely restrained excitement. Gilbird blinked and stared at him cluelessly.

He thought that birds only knew one song, but this bird seemed to be able to make any note he pleased without having to follow it up by the same tone embedded into his instincts like every other bird did. Fascinating. He would have to ask Gilbert about it later. As he raised his flute to his lips the less rational part of his mind would have sworn that the bird looked excited. This time Gilbird shifted seamlessly into his song and his listened in an enraptured amazement as they created an entirely different sort of music together. Somehow, Gilbird seemed to have an instinct for what sounded right. He drew out long notes when Frederick launched into a solo and whenever the flute rose in volume he backed off in return. When Frederick sounded weak Gilbird proudly warbled a tune of his own, adding a sweet counterpoint to the sonata that was even complete with trills. Frederick found himself shifting his music slightly, coming from instinct and long habits of finding just the right sound, to create a new and unique melody that was gently pulled back and forth between them, like two children playing catch with a ball.

When it finally ended he could do nothing but stare for a long minute. Gilbird peeped happily and seemed quite pleased with himself. He knew that he was giving the bird emotions yet again but it had just created music with him, and that required a significantly deep thought process. "I used to think that Gilbert was slightly crazy for constantly talking to you," he said, holding out his hand. It still amazed him that Gilbird leaped right into it. "Now I think he really has something going here." Gilbird just peeped and flew to the top of his head, and he let him.

Suddenly there came the sound of footsteps from outside. He heard them even through closed doors and he knew that they had to be military boots of some sort. That was all the time he had to make observations before his doors were flung open and Gilbert burst into his room, his eyes huge and hair disheveled. "Fritz, please you have to help me!" He gasped, slamming the doors behind him and almost running into the room before stopping.

The sudden intrusion had surprised him, but he tried not to show it. "Gilbert, what—" he tried to say.

"I can't find Gilbird!" Prussia went on, ignoring whatever he was going to say. "I know he was with me earlier today when I went to the stables. But I think he got lost somewhere in the city or maybe he flew back here. You have to help me Fritz, please, what if he's flying around in the city somewhere and he gets eaten by a cat? Oh Gott I feel sick already—"

Indeed he did look much paler than usual and Frederick noticed that his hands were shaking. "Calm yourself, liebeling," he said in a desperate attempt to get him to stop ranting. "Gilbird is just fine, I—"

"How do you know?" Gilbert shot back. "He could be anywhere, probably being tormented by predators and he'd be so lost and alo—" He stopped dead in in tracks when he saw the very thing he was worried over nesting in his leader's hair with all the calmness in the world. His jaw dropped dumbly. "I—bu—how—"

Frederick smiled at him. "He has been following me around all day, looking for you." Gilbert didn't seem very capable of speaking coherently so he continued. "It was rather annoying at first, but I decided to look after him until you got back."

The last word was barely out of his mouth before he heard a squeal and Prussia all but tackled him and nearly sent them sprawling on the floor. He gasped as Gilbert swept him up in a crushing embrace. "Oh mein Gott Fritz you look so cute!" Gilbert shrieked, gripping him so tightly that the breath was driven from his lungs. "Have you seen yourself? You're so prim and proper and then Gilbird is just sitting in your hair and you're already so small and he's so fluffy and sweet and it's so fucking adorable!"

He would have said something about being small but he was too busy trying to breathe. "Let…go…" he gasped, trying to squirm out of that iron grip.

"Oops, sorry," Gilbert said with a nervous laugh, releasing him. He gasped in two deeps breaths and tried to muster up a glare, but Gilbert was now totally ignoring him. "And you," the albino said, pointing at the chick who just flown back to his usual perch. "You are such a little bitch, you know that? I was worried sick about you and I was looking over the whole damn city and I even terrified that landlord and here you are sitting with Fritz—"

The king sighed and brushed himself off. Well, things seemed to have returned to a sense of normalcy, for now anyways. He busied himself with putting away his flute, tuning out Prussia's rambling.


 

Image

He couldn't see anything.

He learned to accept that fact rather well, although that was mainly because he was still in the numb grip of shock so the full horror and pain had yet to fully seep into his muddled brain. He couldn't see, and apparently his injuries were too much for his body to immediately heal right away, since his vision remained dark. That didn't stop him from seeing, from remembering. His mind was assaulted by the memories of the moments before his blindness; he could still see the clear green grass of the field and the smoke of gunpowder and the Austrian line in front of them. But the piece of imagery that plagued him the most was the brilliant flash of fire that had exploded right in from of him the blindingly painful pain that had impaled itself through his skull. He still saw that white flash, over and over, every single time his eyes stung from the wind and smoke and whatever else they were riding through.

He flinched, unable to help himself. His eyes were still so sensitive. Everything hurt them.

The horse he and his aide were riding on jumped, and the shock of it hitting the ground again sent another wave of dizzying pain into his head. He was gripping the pommel of the saddle with his life, since his loss of vision had disoriented him and he knew damn well that he wouldn't even be able to walk without falling down. It was the most infuriating and terrifying sensation he had ever known.

"Ho!" He heard someone call as they rode up. He tried to imagine a face to go along with that voice, but the faces of people he already knew flashed in his mind's eye instead. The horse jerked to a halt, jolting him out of his musings. "What have you got here?"

The aide nimbly dismounted, but a firm hand still grasped his wrist. "The king ordered me to take General Beilschmidt to you," the man explained, helping his from his horse. He was patient and yet the only thing he did was let Prussia balance himself. Prussia was far more thankful than he let on, because he probably would have snapped at someone for trying to coddle him.

"Oh Lord!" He heard the surgeon gasp as they got closer. "What in the world does His Majesty expect us to do? We may be experienced with wounds but we're not miracle workers!"

Prussia wanted to point out that his ears still worked, and he could hear the both of them just fine, but his kept his mouth shut. There was a sour churning in his gut and he was afraid of what might come up if he opened his mouth.

"I don't know, but it's the king's orders," the aide replied, guiding him forward. "Just do what you can." For a moment the hand left him, sending him into a confusing storm of a world, but it was replaced by another, the surgeon's presumably. He hated how the hands balanced him, like an anchor keeping a ship in one place. He shouldn't need this help, he should be able to at least stand up on his own! He heard the aide mounting and riding off back towards the battle.

There was a beat of an awkward silence. Then a sigh. "I'm sorry, General," the surgeon told him. "But I just want you to know right now that we probably cannot save your eyes. It pains me to tell you, but I don't want to foster a false hope only to crush it later."

He nodded. In a way this man was much like himself, a realist. "I know that," he said steadily, trying not to shake. He didn't bother to tell him that his eyes would eventually heal on their own. As a nation no wound could ever permanently leave its mark on him. However only the king's surgeon and a special team of his own physicians knew him for who he really was, so he kept this one man in the dark. He cringed a little at the joke.

He felt the man jump a little as he spoke and an irrational anger rose inside him. He wanted to lash out at something, to hurt someone, just as that canister full of shrapnel had mindlessly harmed him. "It's just my eyes, surgeon," he snarled, feeling his lip curl. "The rest of me works just as well." Did the man think that he was stupid? As if the loss of one of his senses had someone damaged his mind?

He felt the surgeon flinch away, but from guilt. "Of course General. My sincerest apologies." At least he sounded sincere about it. "Come with me please, I can find us a safe spot." He felt himself being led somewhere, gently turning this way and that to avoid wounded soldiers who were being treated on the ground. All around him he heard the screams of the wounded and the dying, and their pain drove into him from all angles like needles. As they stepped around a man who had been shot in the chest, his own burned. His leg screamed in agony as they skirted a man whose broken leg was being set into a splint. There were so many wounded, and even as these men were being treated their comrades were dying out in the field, which Prussia could feel as well. Only the strength from those who were still alive kept him from collapsing.

The sound of a tent flap opening alerted him to their new location. "Zahner, I have General Beilschmidt here!" The surgeon called out. "It's the king's orders that we take care of him."

"Heavens!" He heard a new voice exclaim. "General, what in the world put you in such a sorry state?"

"Artillery," Prussia replied listlessly, trying to not to flinch and waver like he wanted to. Gods, this is slowly tearing him apart. He wanted to see. He wanted to look at whom he was talking to. He wanted to be able to do things without anyone's help.

Hands were on him, quickly guiding him to a cot. "Sit down," the man called Zahner said. "Or actually, lying down would be better." It was, since his head stopped spinning, but he felt the blood and fluids leaking from his eyes rolling down into his hair. "Now, can you see this?"

Prussia had no idea what he was supposed to look at in the first place, but it didn't really matter. "No," he replied, forcing to say it past the lump in his throat. He was cold, so cold. A slight shiver went through him.

"I thought not," Zahner replied ruefully, making Prussia want to scream. If he didn't think so then why torture him like this? He felt him lean closer. Then there was a gasp. "There's still shrapnel in your eyes," he whispered in a stunned sort of horror. "Bayer! Go find some assistants, we'll need them in a few moments." He heard the second man running off. "Tell me General, do your eyes still hurt?"

He tried to control his breathing. A feeling of impending doom was creeping up on him, he just knew that something terrible was about to happen. "Yes," he whispered. "Yes they do."

"Can you feel this?" Suddenly there was a touch on his eye and something that was embedded in his eye twitched. A yell was torn out of his throat as he felt a lance of pain stab all the way to the back of his head. "I'm so sorry General, I had to check."

His breathing had turned into panting. His heart was pounding, driving more blood out of his eyes and making his nerves throb with every beat. Despite every attempt he was making to keep himself under control, the fear, pain, shock, and the cries of his own people were wearing away at him. He just wanted to crawl away into a hole and just hide there, away from everything that could possibly hurt him. "You, come here quickly," he heard Zahner say. He sensed two of his people in the tent, including Bayer. "Hold him down. I have to remove the shrapnel from your eyes, General, and I can't have you thrashing around."

It felt as if he had just been doused in cold water. What? Oh gods no, please no more. He didn't think he could stand any more touching on his eyes. He'd do anything to stop it. His own fear and dread twisted the words he wanted to say and stuck them in his throat and he was unable to speak. Suddenly he felt his arms being pinned down by two heavy hands, and someone else did the same to his legs. Immediately he wanted to thrash and thrown them off, but the men were very heavy and strong. He probably could, being a nation, but for some reason his body was refusing to work correctly. "Bite on this," Zahner ordered and placed a strip of leather in his mouth. Oh no, oh no, oh no no no no. He had seen it countless times, surgeons stuffing leather or cloth into their patient's mouths so they wouldn't bite their tongue off. Because their pain was so great that they were absolutely mindless and had to be restrained or else they would hurt themselves and others.

His thoughts had been distracting him, and as a consequence he wasn't prepared for the agony that split through his head. His spine arched and he screamed at the unexpected pain, the sound muffled by his gag. It felt as if every fiber of his body was being pulled out through his eyes and set on fire. He jerked and the pain intensified, his stomach heaved and he fought down the bile rising in his throat. "Dammit Bayer, hold his head!" Hands were on his head and then he truly couldn't move at all. The pain came again and he could feel something being pulled out of his head, scraping against his flesh with its sharp, unnatural rough edges. He screamed again because he could hear an awful sucking noise as it was dragged out of his eyes.

Entirely of its own violation, his body jerked again, trying to throw his captors off. Just like any animal that was being hurt, he wanted to run and hide, to get away from the pain, but he could not move. He was being held down while his torturer carried out another round of pain. The pain made his vision flare white and again he could see the images in his head, of the explosion and the bodies that littered the battlefield, of the crows that would fly down to pick the warm flesh from their bones. The pain was no longer his own, but many. It was not just his voice that screamed out to the heavens, but the cries of his men, building in his chest and bursting out into freedom. And yet no matter how much he cried out to alleviate the pain it was still there, under his skin and in his veins, dancing along his nerves and promising more to come. He couldn't control his body anymore, it reacted solely on its own and it thrashed, it bucked, it clawed at the sheets on the cot like a wild animal while the others pinned him down so harshly that he would have bruises for days afterwards. A long splinter was gently pulled out of his head, but it was precisely because it was so gentle and slow that made it hurt. Being gentle drew the pain out into unbearable hours, which was more than he could take.

Something enjoyed tormenting him, he knew, because another piece of whatever the hell was still stuck in his eyes was being drawn out again—oh ye gods, there were so many! When would it ever end?—and lightning bolts of anguish blasted from his eyes and scorched his head and razed down his spine, it felt as if every inch of his skin was being peeled away by red hot pokers. It all hurt, everything hurt, everything burned, and he was trapped inside of the torment, crying out and knowing that no one cared, that they would continue their work regardless of his vocalization of his pain. His body had become a useless burning prison that going against everything it was made for, and inside of it he was floundering in a sea of agony. Time was no longer measured in seconds or minutes, but the waves and crests of pain and how long it would take for the pain to spike before mercifully dwindling back down. And it would repeat in an endless cycle.

Because he had lost all sense of time, he had no idea how long he had lain there under that inescapable torture. Finally, he broke and started to scream mindlessly. . . and scream...and scream...

Chapter Text

White Day

"Hey Kiku, what's happening?"

The small man jumped a little as he heard Prussia's voice behind him. His pencil slipped out of his fingers and clattered noisily to the floor. "Oh, I did not hear you Mister Prussia!" he exclaimed, quickly bending down to pick it up.

Prussia grinned lazily at him. "Aw, c'mon Kiku, you can call me Gilbert, you know that well enough by now." He leaned against the couch, leaning on his forearms.

Kiku looked up at him, tilting his head to one side. A tiny, almost invisible smile hovered around his lips. Yet such a tiny change was immediately noticeable in the man's usually blank face. "Yes, I do know that Prussia-kun," he said, ignoring Gilbert's long-suffering sigh. "However I find your reactions amusing." Now he was truly smiling, and it lit up his dark eyes beautifully. For a moment Prussia could do nothing but stare at that face and that smile, but then a slight blush rose to Japan's cheeks when he realized that he was being watched and he quickly turned back to his drawing pad.

Gilbert chuckled when he noticed Kiku's adorable shyness. "Whatcha drawing?" he asked, leaning further over the couch to look over his shoulder. "Hey is that us?" He plucked the drawing pad out of Kiku's hands, ignoring his gasp of protest. Immediately his eyebrows shot up and he whistled. "Whoa Kiku, I didn't know you had such an imagination." A shit-eating grin formed across his face as he flicked back a page. "Holy hell! Wait a sec I thought you said you didn't like my toys that much."

The blush had deepened with every one of Gilbert's sentences, and now Kiku's entire face was red. "May I have that back?" he demanded with all the dignity he could muster, holding out his hand.

"Hang on a sec," Gilbert replied, flipping through it. "Me and West? Damn Kiku, you never said you liked it kinky! Hey wait a moment…is that—" He was so shocked that he let Kiku snatch his drawing pad from his hands without the slightest fuss. He stood there, blinking for a few moments while Japan clutched his pad to his chest possessively.

The pale nation was silent for so long that Kiku gave him a small, concerned glance. "Prussia-kun?" he asked softly. Not that the unassuming nation of Japan could speak in a different tone anyway.

As if he had been hit, Gilbert snapped out of his reverie. "Oh sorry," he said sheepishly. "I was just thinking about what you drew." He coughed a little, color rising to his cheeks as he said that.

Japan plucked a little at his sleeve. "You um, told me that the two of you were lovers, once," he said, a defensive edge rising to his voice.

"Oh I know," Gilbert assured him with a smile. "What I meant to say was that you draw pretty damn good. He looked kinda hot actually, just like he used to." Almost unconsciously his eyes drifted over to the picture that hung on the wall, the one depicting his most beloved king.

"Thank you," Kiku said, bowing slightly. This time his blush was one of pleasure, and his smile had returned.

Gilbert shook his head, forcefully bringing himself back to the present. "Anyways, you were distracting me. Great." He threw the smaller man a mock glare.

"That does seem to be a common problem whenever I am around you," Kiku remarked dryly. "I think 'daydreaming' would actually be a better term."

"Oh be quiet," Gilbert said before grabbing his wrist. He ignored how Kiku jumped at the contact. "Come on, I have something to show you."

Usually those words could be promising something either very good or very bad. "What is it?" Kiku asked somewhat suspiciously.

"It's a surprise," Gilbert replied enigmatically. He gave his arm a little tug. "Come ooooon, I promise that you'll love it."

Now, "love it" was quite a bit of a stretch for Kiku. Most of the time he was rather pleased or simply thankful for a gift, but loving it was a different story altogether. It wasn't that he couldn't love—Gilbert himself was proof of that—it was just that he did not overreact to many of the gifts that were given to him and attach such a strong sentimental value to it. To show his confusion, he raised both of his eyebrows and tilted his head to one side just a little, letting his expression speak for himself.

That expression sent a pang of joy right into Prussia's heart. Kiku looked so cute when he was confused, like a little kitten, and the ex-nation wanted to do nothing but pull him into a hug and just squeeze and squeeze. But he knew that the small man wasn't particularly fond of physical contact (at least during the day he wasn't) so he tried to keep himself in check. Instead he just tugged Kiku along. "Close your eyes," he said as they got closer to the kitchen.

"Why?" he was immediately asked.

"Because it's a surprise."

He felt Japan squirming a little in his grasp. "Prussia-kun, the last time you asked me to close my eyes I found myself tied up in a very compromising position afterwards—"

"And do you really regret that?" Prussia asked, giving his captive a rather lecherous grin.

A slight tremble went through Kiku's body. "N-No," he managed to stammer out, his face still a little pink.

"Exactly, because my ideas are awesome. Now close your eyes."

He saw that Kiku still looked a bit wary, but he obediently closed his eyes anyway. Gilbert mentally tacked that as a victory for himself and led them into the kitchen. He had cleaned it up before he went to see Kiku, since it wouldn't have been very smart to give him a present in the middle of a near-ruined kitchen. And it was thanks to his awesome cleaning skills that it was now spotless and shiny as if West himself had just been in there. He grinned widely to himself and stopped in front of the kitchen table, for a second savoring the sight before tapping the smaller man on one of his bony shoulders. "Okay, you can open your eyes."

He did so, and then they widened in shock. "Prussia-kun, what is this?" he asked, staring at the things that had been arranged on the table in front of him.

Gilbert smiled widely. "Weeellll~ that right there is a cake, I made it myself you know, and that is a box of chocolate, and that is a little gift I bought for you." He pointed out each of the items as he described them: a small cake decorated in white icing, a white box shaped like a heart, and another white box that was slightly smaller. "Wanna try the cake? It's chocolate."

He got no response. Kiku just stared at the gifts for a few long moments, then he turned to Gilbert and asked, "Why did you get these?"

At that Prussia raised his eyebrows. "Well it's White Day today, is it not?" He saw Kiku's thunderstruck expression and had to laugh. "Kesesesese~! Oh come on, I wouldn't be so unawesome as to ignore my cute little lover's holidays, would I? Besides, it sounds pretty cool, giving stuff back as a thank you. I tried to stick with the 'three times as many' rule, which is why I got you three things. Now, what do you want first?" He plopped his head down on top of Kiku's and waited for him to reply.

Because he was not looking at him, he did not see the wide smile that was spreading on Kiku's face and would have sent in in raptures of joy if he did see it. "Thank you, Gilbert," the Asian nation said quietly, reaching up to pat his face. "I would not mind some cake, if that's alright with you."

"It's your cake, why should I mind?" Gilbert asked, rolling his eyes. Nevertheless he used a knife to cut off a piece of cake and handed it to him on a little paper plate that was decorated with yellow chicks. He boasted at how awesome his cooking skills were and told Japan the entire tale of how he made the cake from scratch, even including that he had to make another batch of icing because Gilbird somehow fell into the first one. He couldn't help but realize that Kiku had a pleased blush to his face throughout the whole story as he listened to all the work that Gilbert went through to make something for him, and it gave him an egotistical surge of pride to see that only he could make the usually reserved nation blush that way. When he was done with his cake Gilbert insisted that he open the rest of his presents, especially the one tied with a ribbon. He tried a few pieces of chocolate, white of course, and then went to the box. The moment he lifted the lid he froze, at first not processing what he was seeing. "Like it?" Gilbert asked, grinning wolfishly. "Why don't you try them on?"

Immediately Kiku's face flushed a deep red. "No! I—Prussia-kun—you—" he trailed off uncertainly, his eyes glued on the scraps of white lace in the box.

"What?" Gilbert said, his face the perfect picture of innocence. "I thought you were supposed to buy this kinda stuff on White Day." He hooked his finger around a bra and pulled it out, dangling it in front of Kiku's face. "I know they're the right size too, measured 'em myself." He swung it around the joint of his finger, unable to keep the grin off of his face for even ten seconds.

"I don't think—" Kiku started, his entire face red. He seemed to be at a complete loss on what to say, so he simply turned and ran out of the room.

In an instant Prussia was running after him. "Come on Kiku, I've seen your porn collection, I know you're into this kind of stuff!" He yelled, waving the lingerie around like Italy waving a white flag. A few seconds later he added, "I can tell your nose is bleeding! Come here!"


 

Anxiety

"Oh for the love of gods will you just screw him already?"

Frederick nearly leaped out of his skin when he said that and thankfully he did not scream like last time. He whirled around, eyes huge and a blush already on his face. "Heavens, Gilbert, stop sneaking up on me like that!" he whispered.

Gilbert rolled his eyes with a snort. "I didn't sneak up on you. If you were paying the slightest bit of attention then you would have heard me coming. But you were focusing on a certain someone else for the thousandth time." He peered out of the doorway with Fritz, ignoring the prince's gasp and the hand trying to drag him back. "I have to ask, what do you see in him? He's pretty popular among the troops and all, but what has my Prince so lovestruck?" At Fritz's sputtering he grinned. "Oh come on Fritz, anyone with eyes can see it. You aren't doing a good job of hiding yourself."

"Oh be quiet," Fritz murmured, finally dragging him back into the hall.

"I gotta tell you Fritz, hiding around and sneaking looks from one of the servant's doorways isn't exactly awesome. Actually it's pretty stalkerish." He could tell that Fritz wasn't exactly listening to him, or at least listening with all ears like he should have. The nerve of the kid, ignoring his awesome advice! "Hey, Romeo, I'm talking to you here!" He poked him hard in the shoulder.

An irritated sigh reached his ears. "What?" Fritz snapped, turning to glare at him. That actually brought him up short, because the prince very rarely showed him anything but a sincere kindness.

But Prussia wouldn't be his awesome self if he was brought down by some look from a teenager, absolutely not! "Damn, calm down Fritz," he said. He waited until some of the anger had left Fritz's eyes before continuing. "Now, you never answered my question. Tell me, what makes Lieutenant Hans Hermann von Katte of the Prussian army so special? Not even the pretty Count Orzelska caught your eye for this long." He smiled at that, trying to diffuse the situation a little.

Frederick knew that Gilbert was baiting him, and he found himself faced with two options. He could either ignore the jibe and answer Gilbert's question (and the thought made his gut flop uneasily) or he could defend his younger self against the little remarks that Gilbert loved to throw out concerning his brief infatuation with the Polish king's mistress. Of course that would get Gilbert off his back for a little while, but the nation would just return to the topic sooner or later, totally undaunted, until he finally pried the information out of him. Sometimes his stubbornness was infuriating, and yet Fritz couldn't help but admire it. He shrugged a little, unsure of how to adequately put his feelings into words. "He's kind to me," he said at last, rather lamely.

He could hear Gilbert's eyes rolling. "And that's real damn special. Specifics Fritz."

He sighed at that. "What do you want me to say?" he demanded, his odd and irrational anger coming out again. "Because I can't think of anything that can truly describe how I feel. You can't just put love into so many neat little words, Gilbert." He almost winced as he said that, but he held firm, because he was certain that he loved Katte. He had never been more certain of anything else in his life.

Oddly, he did not hear the disparaging remarks he expected to hear from Gilbert. Instead there was a softer sigh and a quiet, "I know." He turned a little at that and saw Gilbert leaning against the wall, casual as could be. "I'm asking for a reason though. Lots of people are kind to you, oh don't make that face you know it's true, so why fall in love with Katte particularly?"

A part of him wanted to ask why in the world it was any of Prussia's business, but he knew that Gilbert was quite nosy so this was nothing new. Again he shrugged. Honestly the Crown Prince did not know what to say, which was up until this moment something unheard of. He could tell that Gilbert was growing annoyed again, and he had to say something. "This is different," he threw out, so quickly that he actually surprised himself. But more words were rising to his lips, suddenly springing into existence in a jumbled heap that crowded themselves to get past them. The floodgates seemed to have opened. "He's kind in a different way. Everyone else is just polite and only then that's because I'm the prince and they have to be nice to me. You and Wilhelmine are the only people who are actually honest about your kindness, and dammit so is Katte!" He peeked out again, watching the troops outside drill, picking out the face he was looking for within seconds. "I can be myself around him," he found himself saying. "Like with you. I don't have to hide around him, I don't have to put on airs or try to live up to his expectations or play little games with him. I can say or do what I want around him and he doesn't scold me or hate me for it, and no one except you has ever done that to me before." The words came tumbling out of him in a rush, right from his heart and into the air and he wanted to run and lock himself in a closet somewhere and hide for the rest of his life.

Gilbert was silent for a while after that. He felt him step closer to him so he could watch the soldier with him. Fritz didn't really like watching Katte either, but it was the only way he could look at him, since whenever the man was nearby his tongue would tie up and he would make a complete fool of himself. "So," Gilbert started after a few minutes. "Are you gonna go screw him or do I have to lock you two in a closet together?"

"Gilbert, please—" he said, his patience growing thin.

"I'm dead serious Fritz." Gilbert cut him off. "What do you have to gain by keeping your silence?"

"And think of what I'll lose by breaking it," Frederick replied. His heart pounded with fear at the idea of telling Katte how he felt….Hell just telling Gilbert had his mouth dry. "What if he rejects me?"

"What if he doesn't?" Gilbert said.

He twisted the hem of his shirt nervously. It was dangerous to think such a thing, since that would foster false optimism. But oh he wanted so badly for it to be true, but if it wasn't then he doubted that he could take it. "I don't even know if he feels the same about me," he murmured.

"You'll never know if you don't ask," Gilbert said, sounding uncharacteristically wise.

Frederick didn't answer. The words floated endlessly in his head, circling his mind over and over and carefully peeling away his resolve. He wished he could be like Gilbert, who hardly ever thought about things and reacted on impulses. He would have confessed a long time ago if he had, but now he found himself always thinking over his decisions and second guessing himself. In the parade grounds the march ended and the soldiers were marched off in an orderly fashion. Katte remained behind. The lad paced around a little bit, obviously in deep thought. Seeing him in such a calm and carefree state, without the careful veil of control and politeness he had to pull over himself whenever in the Crown Prince's presence, was a treat to witness.

However, Prussia simply would not let him indulge in the sight. "Frederick," he said, laying a hand on his shoulder. That made him jump, because Prussia almost never called him by his actual name. "You're not doing yourself any favors by constantly denying yourself of what you want."

"How do you know?" he asked. "Have you ever been in love?"

The silence he heard after that surprised him. He expected Gilbert's usual quick responses, but one did not seem to be forthcoming. "This isn't about me," Gilbert said at last, although Frederick could tell that his voice was a bit strained. "This is about you and what you want. Just think about it this way: if you confess your feelings, then you at least have half a chance of succeeding. But if you keep silent, then you automatically lose."

Frederick bit his lip uneasily. Well when he put it that way. . . He sighed and blinked, then noticed that someone was walking towards them. "Oh God he's coming here!" he gasped, his heart leaping into his throat.

The hand on his shoulder tightened. "Don't you dare go anywhere," he heard Gilbert warn him.

He couldn't have gotten far anyway, because only a few handful of seconds later von Katte stepped through the doorway that they had been spying on him through. "Guten Tag, General Beilschmidt, Prinz Friedrich." He said smoothly and bowed to them. Prussia wondered just how long he knew that they were there.

He didn't even have to look at Frederick to know that he was blushing. For once he decided to be merciful and saved Fritz the embarrassment of having to scramble for an answer. "Guten Tag, Lieutenant Katte," he replied, saluting the young man. "That drill out there was splendid, as if the king himself was watching it. Was he?"

"Unfortunately not," Katte replied, shaking his head. His gaze turned to Frederick and Prussia could actually see the lines around his eyes and mouth soften. No. Way. "You don't need to show any aloofness toward me, Friedrich," he said, apparently a little put out that Frederick had not yet answered him or even acknowledged his presence. "We're all friends here."

Well Katte didn't seem to be going to any lengths to hide his affections, unlike Fritz. It was so obvious that for a moment Gilbert could do nothing but stare dumbly and try not to let his jaw drop. Fritz's face had turned such a bright red that only someone who was color blind could have missed it. "I know," he answered at last with a smile that thankfully didn't look very forced. "Merci."

Katte smiled at that and met his prince's eyes boldly. All of a sudden Gilbert was pretty sure that the two of them had completely forgotten his presence by now. If chemistry had a feeling then it would have been a tidal wave of energy crashing over the lot of him. He knew right then and there that Fritz's silly little crush was entirely mutual.

Great, now all he had to do was get the both of them to see it.


 

Prison

If there was any place on Earth that might possibly be Hell relocated, that place would be Küstrin. It was absolutely awful, with its damp chills and the awful stench that came from the nearby marshes, of the faceless soldiers that would not look at him or even acknowledge his presence, of the meager food that would have even a beggar turning up their nose, and of the utter silence and desolation of the whole area. They were the very things that grated on Frederick's soul, and it had already gone through quite enough within the past few weeks. He felt as if he were walking along an edge, and one little nudge would send him reeling back into that oblivion of insanity that he had so recently climbed out of.

What had to be the worst was the boredom. It was the thing that Frederick hated the most, and the few books that he had procured (through bribery and charm, of course) were eventually engraved into his memory and could offer no more relief from his suffering. In the long hours between his sessions with Müller he had nothing that could occupy his time, so his thoughts most unwillingly came to torment him during those long periods of emptiness.

Katte was always there, his smiling face hovering in the back of his mind (and no longer standing next to him as if he were in the same room, thank god) his voice murmuring soothingly to him, like it had so many times in the past. And then the image would morph into blood and death and the vision of his love's headless body lying in the sand kept returning to haunt him. The sight had been branded into his memory for perhaps the rest of his life, and he was trapped by it, drowning in it. Grief was his constant companion, but so was fear. He could hardly remember being more terrified in his life. He knew that his father was eagerly waiting for him to make one more mistake and give him and excuse to do the same thing to his son, and Frederick, for all of his moaning and complaining about how bad his life was, most certainly did not want to die. At least not anymore.

So what was he to do? On one hand he still hated his father with every fiber of his being and wanted to show it, but then there was his newfound fear and caution that was binding him and keeping him silent. He found both urges pulling him in different directions and at the moment he wasn't sure what he wanted to do. He was putting on airs for Müller and the others, but what was he really going to do? All of the different thoughts and emotions made an even worse cage than the stone walls or barred window ever could.

Because of this, he practically leaped to his feet in joy when he heard that he had an unexpected, unscheduled visitor.

Until he saw who it was.

His spirits had begun to soar when he heard to news, but then they froze and crystalized and fell back down when he saw that all-too familiar pale figure appear outside of his door. Prussia didn't look an inch different from when he last saw him, except his mouth was twisted into a grim line and there were circles under his eyes. A memory flashed—unbidden and unwelcome—of Prussia standing in the courtyard below his window, straight-backed and unflinching as ever, his sword glittering in the cold sunlight…He wrenched those memories from his head and stared at the nation.

Prussia's eyes roamed the cell for a moment and the soldier had to suppress a flinch. No furniture except an entirely too small cot and a waste bucket. Of course his trained eye immediately detected a very misshapen pillow, no doubt molded into its current state from the books and candles that were stuffed inside of it. Not that he was going to tell anyone of course. He saw Fritz tremble anyway when his eyes rested on it. Or was that fear of him? Had Katte's execution finally driven a wedge between them?

Frederick's eyes met his own. The fire in them was now nothing but ashes, piercing sky blue faded to a dull bluish gray. A long minute passed where neither of them spoke and they simply stared at each other. The air between them was heavy, and not because the marshes near the Oder River were particularly wet this year. Finally Fritz was the one who broke the silence. "What do you want, Prussia?" he asked, his voice just as flat as his eyes.

That simple sentence pierced Prussia's heart in about five different ways. So he was just Prussia now, no longer Gilbert? Fritz never called him by his country name, ever. And the way he said it, without malice and without accusation, but apathetic and dead, as if all the life had been sucked out of him, drove a nail of agony right into the immortal man's flesh. Gilbert had been terrified that Fritz would hate him forever after what he had done, but hearing him speak in a shell of his normal voice was far, far worse. At least hatred would show that the prince he knew was still there, was still fighting. He swallowed and tried to keep his face calm and controlled. Actually he had no business at all being in this cell, but Frederick William never said that he couldn't visit the kid. "I wa—" his voice crackled and he had to clear his throat before starting again. "I wanted to see how you were doing." That was the truth, although he had delayed his coming because he hadn't been sure how Frederick would react and he had only now worked up his courage.

This was not awesome at all, the mighty Prussia caring about the opinions of an eighteen-year old. But he supposed that Fritz had a certain privilege of getting him to do that.

Fritz eyes narrowed, although he did not try to deny it. He lowered his gaze thoughtfully and happened to catch a glimpse of light winking off of metal. His blood truly froze when he realized that Prussia was carrying his sword with him, that odd longsword which he refused to trade out with any of the more recent and fashionable swords and always kept it with him. It was very old, supposedly the same sword Gilbert used in his days of being a knight, but it was still sharp. Fritz had not actually seen the beheading, having fainted before the sword even struck, but he had been told that the blade had sliced neatly through skin and muscle and bone as if it were all made of warm butter. The hairs on his neck rose as he pictured the event happening.

Prussia followed his gaze and nearly choked. He quickly slid his belt around so it was mostly out of sight, mentally kicking himself for not taking it off before he came in. His movements seemed to bring Fritz back to the present. "You can go tell my father that I am quite miserable, since nothing pleases him more," the prince said, his usual mask of arrogance and haughtiness sliding back into place.

He tried not to sigh. "I'm not here for the king, Fritz," he said quietly. He could tell that Fritz didn't quite believe him, but he could also tell that Fritz had his doubts. "I'm here because I wanted to come."

"Then why didn't you come earlier?" Frederick demanded.

I tried. I tried and—"Well, you weren't quite yourself a few days earlier," he said, tactfully sidestepping any offense he might give. "I was waiting until you recovered some of your health."

Fritz closed his eyes and quietly exhaled through his nose, then looked up again. Prussia saw something flickering in his expression, but he wasn't sure what it was. Frederick wanted so badly to shout: "Well how the hell do you think I'm doing?" but he knew that would most likely cause an argument, and he didn't feel like arguing with anyone now, especially Gilbert. "I'm not going to lie and say that I'm fine," it gave him a small, twisted satisfaction at seeing Prussia flinch ever so slightly when he said that, "but I will recover."

Gilbert nodded silently and felt the dread in his chest growing tighter. Alright, this was officially a bad idea. He was glad to see that Fritz was at least coherent and no longer having fits and hallucinations, but there seemed to be a new obstacle in place. He could barely read the kid at all. He saw his expressions just fine, but before this he had always been able to tell what was going on inside that sharp mind of the prince's. Now he stared blankly at the prisoner, so many words pressing at his throat, words he desperately wanted to say, but words he also feared to say because he had no idea how Frederick would react. It was as if a wall of glass had come between them, where they could see and hear each other just fine, but they could not touch and a nearly invisible barrier blocked off the closeness they had in the past. Fritz was staring at him, plainly waiting for him to reply, and he chose one of the many things he wanted to ask. "What are you going to do now?" Probably not the safest topic, but without a doubt the most important.

In answer, Fritz shrugged. "I'm not sure," he said. "What I want to do is conflicting with what I need to do." He paused for a moment. "And no doubt you already have something to tell me."

Alright, this little pessimistic stuff was starting to get on his nerves. The only reason why he didn't snap at him was because Fritz was actually right. "I would advise you to just do as your father says," he said. Fritz's head whipped up to stare at him in utter shock. "What? It's only until the old man croaks."

"Are you mad?" Frederick asked. "How could I possibly do what he says? Am I to submit to him and bend over backwards like some sort of slave?"

"Exactly, because if you don't then you'll be digging yourself into an even deeper hole than you're in now. Already it's big enough to be your grave, and it was a miracle that the king didn't bury you in it!" He reeled himself in for a moment, trying not to shout at him. "You were saved by a hair, Fritz, and the king is still looking for a way to punish you. At least have some sense not to blindly throw yourself back into trouble and ignore the dangers! What would Katte think if his sacrifice had gone to waste?" Dammit! He nearly slapped himself. He had told himself earlier that he wasn't going to bring up Katte, but the words seemed to have slipped out on their own.

Immediately Fritz's eyes darkened in anger. "Don't you dare talk about Katte!" he hissed, balling his fists up. "You have no right to bring him up after what you did."

Salt being rubbed in already raw wounds made him tense in a similar anger. To anyone else he probably had no right to talk about Katte, especially after the execution, but as a nation he did. "He was one of my people," he snapped back. "My blood and my life, my children. I have every right to talk about him!" He went on before Fritz could think of a retort. "But enough about Katte. You have to do this Frederick, it's your only chance at getting out of here."

Fritz shook his head, looking pained and regretful. "I can't. I can't let myself be pulled around like a dog on a chain and ordered this way and that and take everything with a nod and a smile. I won't sink into that servant-like obedience the same way you have."

The words were like a fresh slap to the face. Fritz had immediately hit him in one of his most sensitive spots; he hated having to submit to the will of others and he hated the fact that he had to do literally everything his king ordered him to do. His anger flamed up in an instant and he shot back, "Servant I may be, but if you'll notice it's not my friends who are getting their heads chopped off!" It was petty in the extreme, picking at each other's weaknesses like that, but in a way it also felt kind of good.

He knew even before the words were fully out of his mouth that they were the absolute worst things to say, and the way Fritz's face twisted in pain was a testament to that. The prince leaped to his feet and the fury he saw burning in those eyes actually made him take a step back. There was the anger he was looking for, which was both comforting an agonizing at the same time. He knew that if he had been standing closer then Fritz would have punched him right in his jaw. "Leave," Frederick growled.

"You can't order me out of a prison cell." Gods, why did he always have to have the last word? Regardless of what he had just said he turned and headed for the door, making sure to slam it and lock it on his way out. The guards outside gave him an odd look as he swept by, but he didn't care. He just wanted out of this damp hole of a fortress so the sunshine and air could clear away the words that were still replaying over in his head. "The same way you have."


 

Heart

Prussia decided that the heart was a stupid, silly thing to have. It was important, yes, but it was also stupid, especially when it kept doing all of these unawesome things. He was sure that Fritz was somehow responsible, because it only happened when he was around.

For example, Prussia could be sitting by himself, going over reports with all the casualness in the world and everything would be fine and dandy. Then Fritz would walk in and when he looked over at him his heart would jump. Yes, it would fucking jump. What the hell? And then it would start to race for absolutely no reason at all. It was terribly confusing, because he had not been running or drilling and as far as he could tell they were not under attack, so it had been spazzing out for no reason at all. Then Fritz would smile that wonderful warm smile at him and his heart would start to flip-flop in his chest and that would make him short of breath and even his stomach felt funny. With that his confusion turned into alarm because his body was doing all of these weird things without reason, and he had no idea what it was trying to tell him.

Of course Fritz could tell that something was up because he had always been able to read him like a book and at times it was really annoying. He would ask what was wrong in that gentle, concerned tone and Gilbert knew that the warmth in his veins was not because of the temperature in the room. Perhaps it was gratitude? He had no idea, but seeing a king who seemed to genuinely care for his health made him feel all fuzzy and warm, as if he were being covered in fluffy bird down. He didn't want Fritz to worry, because whenever he worried his heart did all sorts of funny things that were actually a little painful (was his heart trying to kill him or something?) so he just laughed it all off and pretended that he was fine, even though he wasn't.

Besides, he doubted that Fritz could help him much anyways. His little king always prided himself on being logical and practical, and whatever the hell was going on with him was not logical and not practical. Sometimes he would sit alone and rest his hand over his heart, feeling every steady beat and waiting for it to jump again. Of course it wouldn't, because the heart was stupid and unawesome. It was as if he had some sort of illness that made his heart beat faster and his stomach tighten and his skin tingle at random intervals. It sucked. It wasn't quite as random as it seemed, since it only happened around Fritz, which was just plain weird. Maybe there was something about his king that set it off. Was he having some sort of allergic reaction? As far as he knew nations weren't really allergic to anything, but it was the only possible explanation he could think of.

Even though his heart was being unawesome, that didn't stop him from spending as much time as he possibly could with Frederick. Heart flipping out or not, he was still happy whenever Fritz was around, happier than he could remember being in a long time. It was probably because Frederick William was finally dead and the tyranny and yelling and beatings had stopped. They were at war with that sissy aristocrat, and his cultured king was turning out to be a soldier as well. He was smart, funny, sharper than a knife, educated, kind, but also fierce and ambitious. He was everything Prussia could have ever wanted in a king, and more. He would have been happy for perhaps the rest of his life if his heart never decided to do any of the things that it was doing now, which was really starting to freak him out. It was driving him out of his mind, and he could tell because when he had nothing else to do he would think about Fritz. He could just be out riding or playing with Gilbird and all of a sudden he would think about his king and his heart would beat faster.

Gottverdammt! Now this illness was affecting his thoughts as well? Why in the world would he think about Fritz? Sure he was his king and all, and pretty awesome, but the way he kept popping up in his thoughts was creepy. Not to mention it was making that muscle in his chest act up again and that was always a downside. Yet he was actually a little happy whenever he thought about him. Why in the world that was he had no idea, and his mind and body seemed to be contradicting each other. He was happy when he was around his king, but his heart felt funny every time it happened, which was not a good thing and the two impulses were giving him a monumental headache.

He wished he could reconcile the two. Then perhaps everything would be fine.


 

Pirate

The hot midday sun beat down upon the ship that was plowing through the ocean waves, driving a searing ray of heat into whatever unlucky souls that happened to be standing on the decks. Those on watch pulled their hats (if they had any) further down their heads and those without headgear fanned themselves with their hands or handkerchiefs or whatever else they could find. The only thing that stopped the day from becoming like one of the pits of Hell was that it was very breezy, and the sailors welcomed every little gust that came through.

Captain Frederick was not as bothered by the heat as the rest of his crew. It was ungodly hot, yes, but he happened to be on the quarterdeck, where the wind was the strongest. He quietly paced along the railing of the ship, running his hand along the wood, which was smooth and warm under his hand. No doubt countless other hands had traced the same patterns that he was doing now, which had in turn worn down the wood. The Prussia may have been a little old for a ship, but she was fast and loaded with firepower. His recent innovations had put the old frigate back into its top shape and she could probably go up against one of the precious flagships of the Royal Navy. At least in theory. They hadn't yet run into a flagship to test it on. He tapped his nails against the railing contemplatively, then turned to look at the quartermaster manning the wheel.

Even though Schwerin was busy turning the ship, he could still tell when he was being watched. "Yes, Captain?" he asked, turning his head so he could view him out of the corner of his eye.

"What time will we arrive at Charleston?" Frederick asked, a little ashamed that he had been caught staring. Usually he was more subtle than that.

Schwerin turned to the navigator who had been reading aloud instructions to him. The lad immediately tapped somewhere on his map and replied, "In about two days if this weather keeps up."

Frederick nodded and thanked him, turning back to the sea. It was so blue and endless, dark and calm, and they were the only ones around to see it. The Prussia speared through the waves, causing sprays of foam to lap the sides of the ship. The repetition of the water was soothing in its familiarity, and he found himself thinking of the shores of Charleston on one of its mild days. Warm and beautiful, and all of the French inhabitants living there made it a bonus, especially when so many of them were his friends, d'Argens and Maupertuis to name a few.

"You are the spaciest man I've ever seen, you know that?"

The familiar voice instantly brought a smile to his face, and he turned around to see his first mate, Gilbert. It was quite surprising that he had decided to brave the sunlight, since his sensitive skin burned so easily. His broad hat was being used to shield most of his face and his hands were carefully gloved. "Only when there is nothing to do," Frederick replied, smiling and turning back to the sea. He waited, feeling his smile growing wider by the second.

A few seconds later Gilbert was beside him, just like he knew he would be. The pale man leaned his elbows on the railing, crimson eyes watching him. "Why are you out here then, if there's nothing to do?" he said, his voice barely above a murmur.

"Because there is nothing to do inside either," Frederick said. He heard a snort and couldn't hold back a small chuckle himself.

"Don't give me that crap. What about that whole crate of books that nearly broke my back when I had to carry them aboard? Your flute? I can count on one hand the number of days this ship has gone by without a single note played." As he was speaking he leaned closer to his captain until their faces were nearly touching. Their hats bumped a little and Frederick heard a sleepy peep as the chick that resided in Gilbert's hat was awoken. "Get out of this unawesome sun. You certainly don't want to burn that lovely skin of yours."

In earlier times Frederick would have been uneasy at how close they were, especially since they were right on the deck, but he knew by now that none of the crew would say anything. In fact the relationship between the captain and the first mate had been the subject of rumor and gossip for a long time before either of them found out about it. It was something that the crew simply knew, even before Gilbert had once decided to confirm it by kissing him in front of literally everyone. The crew had taken it remarkably well, and aside from a few jokes made by Winterfeldt and Seydlitz Frederick barely heard a word about it.

Now he could all but see the ears stretching as everyone on the decks tried to listen while desperately trying to look as if they were doing something important. They never seemed to learn that the two of them were masters at holding a private conversation. "You," Frederick said, loading that one word with as much accusation as he could, "are just trying to lure me into my quarters, alone."

At that Gilbert grinned one of his infamous grins. "Yes I am," he said without the slightest hint of shame. ""Now come on before I have to carry you there like a bride."

"Twenty lashes if you do," Frederick replied without missing a beat.

Gilbert looked hurt. "What? Gods, you overreact so much!" Actually he looked a little sick.

Frederick rolled his eyes and patted the man's arm comfortingly. "Oh hush. While there are a few things that I will let you do in front of the crew, publicly humiliating me and making me look like a joke is not one of them." He said his words in the most reassuring manner, letting Gilbert know that he bore no ill will towards him.

Gilbert pouted a little. "Hmph. You're no fun at all," he murmured.

"No, you just have a warped sense of what fun is."

"Yeah right. My fun is awesome."

"Sometimes," Frederick agreed, trying not to smile. He noticed that he still had his hand on Gilbert's arm, and probably everyone on the entire deck saw it as well, but for once he couldn't bring himself to care. Let them stare, the bloody rumormongers. They stared at the ocean for a long minute until Gilbert, who couldn't keep his mouth shut for very long unless the need was dire, poked him in the side.

"So," the pale man started, grinning in a rather predatory manner. "Your cabin?"

Frederick rolled his eyes. "No. The captain is not allowed to keep his quarters to himself."

Every time he quoted the codes to Gilbert he always replied with a scoff, and this time was no different. "You won't be by yourself, you'll be with me," Gilbert said.

"No. Maybe later tonight, but not right now."

Gilbert chuckled. "Why, we don't have to do that, but I won't turn down that offer. You can just play away on your flute or hell, quote that damn philosophy at me, as long as you get out of the sun." He reached out and pushed Frederick's hat lower down his head and his hand was waved away irritably.

"Stop that," Frederick said and pushed his hat back up. "It's very flattering, but you worry far too much."

"Says the man who nearly fainted in the middle of the street because he wouldn't listen to what anyone said about the heat and gave his hands a most magnificent sunburn."

The captain froze at those words, then turned and very slowly fixed Gilbert with a deliberate stare. "We will not talk about that," he said slowly. "Ever."

Gilbert tried to make a nonchalant shrug. "Suit yourself, but do you want to spend another week complaining about how you can't write or play your flute?"

At that Frederick paused for a good handful of seconds. "You don't give up, do you?" he asked finally.

Knowing that he had won at last, Gilbert smiled. "Nope, glad you learned that by now."

Before either of them could even move or begin to make their way below, there was a commotion on the main deck. A moment later a voice rang out, "Sorry to interrupt your alone time Captain, but there's a ship up ahead!" It belonged to the second lieutenant, a bold young man by the name of Seydlitz. He was the only man on the ship besides Gilbert who could get away with talking to the captain like that, but then again the crew of the Prussia ran more on loyalty than regulations so speech was a lot freer.

Instead of reprimanding the officer like any other captain would have done, Frederick just gave him an amiable smile and said in the kindest, warmest voice that he could muster: "Go to hell Seydlitz." Those within hearing range laughed and even Seydlitz, who was coming up the steps, smiled. He was followed closely by the first lieutenant, Zieten, and the bosun, Winterfeldt. "What type of ship is it?" Frederick asked the moment they were assembled.

"Definitely a schooner," Zieten said immediately. Out of all of them he looked the most like a stereotypical pirate, with a curved scar running around his right eye and temple.

"Merchant?"

"Undoubtedly."

"Perfect. Hoist the colors, whatever flag matches theirs, and keep a steady approach. Ready the guns!" His voice raised to a shout on the last order and everyone scrambled to their posts. In an instant more sails started to unfurl and catch the wind and a flag, ironically French, made its way up the mast.

"What, no real colors?" Gilbert asked as he followed close behind Frederick. They came to stand by the wheel, where Schwerin was steering them into a course that could use the wind to their advantage. "Whatever happened to the Gentleman Pirate who hoisted his true colors beforehand to give his prey a fair warning?"

Frederick pulled out his spyglass with a snap and held it up to his eye. "He is feeling a bit mischievous today, and wants to play a trick," he replied. "Steady, Schwerin."

Gilbert laughed. "Tsk, tsk. Shame on you, breaking your own code."

"It's not a code, just a habit." Frederick said with a grin that matched Gilbert's. "Come on, if you're good then I'll let you lead the boarding party."


 

Temper

"Are you sure you want to do this?" Gilbert had to ask as the two of them made their way to the stables where their horses were waiting. It wasn't that he was unsure if his general could take care of himself, far from it, but his behavior was really starting to freak him out.

"Yes Gilbert, I am sure," Zieten nearly spat out, causing him to jump a little. "I ask that you not question my resolve." He hurried his pace even more, which was the fastest Gilbert had ever seen anyone walk without actually running. For a little guy Zieten could move pretty damn fast when he wanted to.

He stretched his own legs in order to keep up with Zieten's ground-eating strides. "I would never question your resolve, General," he said carefully. "But I was just wondering if you know the consequences that might befall you because of this."

The hussar was silent for a moment, then he sighed loudly. Gilbert wondered how he still had the breath to do so. "Yes I have. I have considered the matter for quite a long time." The whickering of horses grew louder and they turned the corner to see a soldier holding the reins of both of their horses. "However my answer remains the same." He took the reins of his horse without so much as looking at the handler.

The soldier's eyes grew huge as he heard the last snatch of their conversation. "General, you can't do this!" he protested. "This is just foolishness! You can't—" The words stopped dead on his lips when turned and Zieten gave him such a glare that he was instantly cowed. Good lord, he had never seen anyone but the king do that! What stunning, unforeseen fires lay beneath the ever-calm and warm General Zieten!

Zieten launched himself into the saddle of his horse with little trouble and waited for Gilbert to do the same. When he had firmly seated himself he took the reins of his horse in his hands and set off at a brisk trot. Gilbert followed him, unease still prickling inside of his gut. For the most part Zieten seemed calm, but he could tell by his clenched hands and hardened jaw that he was anything but. Together they rode through the camp, for the most part avoiding any company, until they were setting off down the road with only two sentries being aware of that they left at all.

It was a lovely day out in the countryside. The sun had only been up for an hour and a fine mist was rising from the grass, blurring the landscape like the fragments of a fading dream. The only living creatures that were around were the birds, which flitted from tree to tree and cried out warning calls as they approached. It might have seemed that he and Zieten might have been the only humans (well, one human technically) for miles around if they didn't know better.

At length, Zieten turned to him and said, "You know you didn't have to come, Gilbert." The hussar general was one of the few men who didn't seem to mind calling him by his human name

"Don't be ridiculous, of course I did," Gilbert replied. "I couldn't just stand by and let one of the most competent generals in the army, and a dear friend no less, ride off into danger." As if to agree with him, Gilbird cheeped from his hat.

He saw a hint of color rise to the general's cheeks, just barely visible in the light. "Well, I thank you then. I know this isn't really your business and I don't want you to feel like that you've been dragged along."

The nation smiled good-naturedly. "Actually Zieten, it is my business. You are both my people." He wondered whether or not to voice his greatest concern, but then again he knew that Zieten would understand. "I hope you don't plan to seriously injure him." Honor or not, he knew that he would personally restrain the both of them if things went too far.

Zieten's eyes widened. "Oh heavens no!" he exclaimed. "I'll certainly knock some manners into that damn foolish skull of his, but nothing more than a little blood drawing. Teach him to respect his superiors." All at once normal Zieten was gone and angry Zieten was back. Again the change was more than a little disconcerting. "The absolute nerve of him! I'm very patient and can take a lot of stress, as you know, but this something that I won't take silently!" His voice rose with every word until it became a hardened shout that would have any soldier automatically snapping to attention. Even the birds fell silent.

Gilbert found himself edging away from Zieten. The man may have been unimposing with his small and slender build, but there was something undeniably fierce about him when his anger was up. Not to mention that seeing Zieten honest-to-gods angry—since he was usually in complete control of himself—was like seeing Fritz in love with a woman; it just didn't really happen. He was glad that he wasn't the one who was dueling the general, for he was certain that the experience would not be very pleasant. He wanted to know what the poor bastard they were about to meet had done in order to piss off Zieten this badly, but he was pretty sure that Zieten wouldn't want to tell. Nonetheless he had to try. "So what did the man actually do?"

He heard a grumble and saw the man twist the reins in his hand. Zieten was deliberately avoiding his eye, keeping his own gaze fixed on the road ahead. The seconds ticked away and the silence grew. Gilbert knew better than to continually prod him for answers like he or Fritz would do to each other, so he waited. "It was a personal insult," Zieten said at last. "If it had been directed at my hussars or my regiment I wouldn't have minded so much, lord knows that I've heard plenty of that in my lifetime, but it was intended for me. We had all been drinking, when this rude bugger asked rather loudly how such a small man with a voice like a castrato ever got into the good graces of the King. Made sure to say it while I was in the room too."

Gilbert snorted and Zieten gave him an odd look. "I hope you knocked his goddamned teeth out," the albino said after a moment.

Zieten scoffed, the color again rising to his cheeks and an irritated scowl scrunching up his face. "Believe me, I tried, but my good officers were able to prevent a major brawl from taking place right in the middle of the pub. However I proposed a duel and that's why we're here now."

This time Gilbert laughed outright and some of the nearest birds flew off in fright. "Well I certainly can't blame you for undergoing this trip. I just hope it won't take too long, Fritz would be most unhappy if any of his plans were to be delayed because of our absence."

"I don't intend for it to be that long," Zieten replied, pointing a clump of trees that had grown in such a way that it formed a small clearing on the side of the road. "That is our spot."

Prussia nodded and dismounted so he could lead his horse over a comfortable spot. "Hey Zieten," he said when the general did the same. He got a questioning look as a response. "Kick his ass, alright?"

For a moment Zieten was quiet and no doubt a little confused, but then he grinned. It was a fierce grin that made Gilbert rather proud, since it made the man look a bit savage. "I will," the hussar promised before turning away and going to his spot.


 

Fortune

Click.

Frederick ran his finger along the rim of the box, toying with the tiny gap between the two halves that were pressed together. He traced the line, across the tiny hinges and all the way to the latch on the opposite side. He paused for a moment, resting the tip of his finger on the little lock, before flipping it open with a flick of his nail. The lid of the box popped up to reveal the treasure nestled inside. Under most circumstances the objects inside the box would have aroused feelings of horror and perhaps a bit of disgust inside him, but now they were more precious to the king than gold. A handful of pills, all of them small and white. They were quite innocent in their appearance, but it was also quite deceptive; the contents of his box were enough to kill him five times over, or that was what he had been assured. Opium was supposed to be quite painless and it would have been like falling asleep, except he wouldn't wake up from that deadly sleep.

Click.

The lid snapped shut again, pulling a veil of metal and jewels over the little pieces of death that were in his palm. Like an old horse plodding the same beaten track, his finger felt along the jewels and designs embedded into the metal, absently drawings designs until it inevitably found the latch again. His dull blue eyes stared at it for a long moment, expression unreadable, until his finger flicked the latch again and opened the lid. The pills were still there, silent and unobtrusive. They reminded him of little fingers, eager to reach out and pull him under the earth, never to rise again.

Click.

It was a sharp sound, like a mother slapping the hand of her wayward child. It was a stark denial of what would happen, what the future could possibly entail if he walked down that final path. Every time he heard that snap his thoughts were jerked from their morbid wanderings, back into the present day.

Despite the positive aspect of the sound, it was a source of great irritation to the other occupant of the room.

"Will you stop that?" Prussia finally snapped as the lid clicked shut again. It had been steadily wearing on his nerves for ten minutes now and he couldn't take it anymore.

Frederick started and glanced up at him as if he had forgotten that the albino was there. He blinked a few times as if to collect himself. "Why? Does it bother you?" he finally asked. His usual sharp tone had left him, leaving his voice earnest and simple.

However, Prussia was having none of it. "Yes it fucking bothers me!" he said shortly. "Just—stop toying with it, it's making me sick." He really did look a little ill and his eyes were pointedly averted from Frederick and his possession. Fritz knew that the nation could barely stand to even look at the pillbox, as if its very existence was a thorn twisting around his soul.

The king was silent, still carefully observing his prize as if it might suddenly spit out an answer to his problems. Preferably one that didn't involve swallowing those pills. After a moment he sighed and compliantly slipped it back underneath his shirt, feeling the cool metal rest above his heart. The idea that a silent weapon lay so close to him, able to make that steady beat cease forever, sent a thrill through him. He was not afraid, he had lost his fear of death a long time ago, but more cautious, he supposed. Like a wary animal very carefully venturing forth from its hiding spot, unsure of whether or not a predator was waiting to pounce. "Just a precaution," he murmured to himself.

Nonetheless Prussia heard it. He let out a groan and passed his hand over his eyes, rubbing them tiredly. "Please don't give me that again," he said, sounding very old and very weary. "I'm serious, if I have to hear that speech again I'll… I don't even know. I'll do something."

"Something awesome, I would hope," Fritz replied, his voice so flat and desolate and devoid of its usual banter that Prussia felt his throat tighten.

"Yeah," he managed to force out through the lump in his throat. "It'll be awesome… But would be even more awesome was if you threw that box away, or burnt it or something."

"Not while it could still have some use," Frederick replied mildly, sensing the stormclouds approaching.

"Some use?" Gilbert repeated incredulously. "You're treating it as if it's some sort of tool, like one of the shovels we use to dig our trenches! You're talking about killing yourself for heaven's sake!"

And here they went again. He would have made a remark on the irony of Gilbert's statement, of killing himself and heaven, but he wasn't in the mood for even that. "But it is, isn't it? It's a tool for my death, if the situation calls for it."

Prussia flinched as if he had just been hit. "Stop talking like that!" he nearly yelled, finally turning to him and fixing him with a burning gaze that was angry, tortured, and utterly helpless all at the same time. "There's still hope, so you can just forget about those stupid pills."

"Are you trying to convince me, or you?" Frederick asked quietly. He tried not to meet Gilbert's eyes, for they sent a wave of pain right into his soul. He knew that if they were defeated and all hopes of survival totally crushed, then he would end his own life before he could see his precious kingdom fall. His resolve on this was firm, but every time he saw that look on Prussia's face he felt that resolve start to crumble.

"I'm not trying to convince you of anything," Gilbert said, his voice harsh from the lump still in his throat. "I'm telling you. Not all is lost and even if it were I would not let you take those."

"I don't need your permission to," Fritz answered. "It's my choice, and I will not give my enemies the satisfaction of seeing me kneel before them, and I will not be forced to hand you over to them. I will end my life before I give them anything they want."

"And what, with you gone everything is just going to magically get better?" Gilbert snapped, fisting his hands against the arms of his chair. "Do you know what's going to happen if you die, Fritz? Everything will fall apart, that's what! You are the one holding this damn army together; the men love you Fritz, and when you die so will their will to fight. The whole goddamn country will collapse because even you know your idiot nephew can't hold it together and there goes Prussia! I never told you what happens to a country that's conquered, did I? They partition it, which means ripping it apart, kinda the same way you quarter someone with horses. You know, East Prussia is annexed and Russia comes along and hacks off my arm and takes it away. Austria wants Silesia back, nice piece of leg and flesh there." He traced a line along his thigh, hip, and part of his stomach.

Fritz looked away, sickened by what Prussia was implying. Did they literally come by and slice off a piece of you, like the local butcher cutting a side of beef? He wanted to block his ears from Gilbert's words, but they kept coming.

"What, can't take it? Don't just think of what will happen to my people and lands, think of what'll happen to me. Did you ever think of that? How do you think would feel if you died, leaving me to face them by myself?" His voice was rising and he had to make an effort to calm himself.

No, he didn't think. He didn't want to think, lest he change his mind. "Gilbert, don't make this any more difficult than it has to be—" he started to say before the country cut him off.

"I'm not doing anything, just pointing out the facts that you seem to be willing to ignore! How do you think I would feel if my lover killed himself and left me to die? Oh don't give me that look, that is exactly what'll happen, I'll die and so will you which makes your goddamn 'noble' sacrifice absolutely fucking pointless!" Gilbert was shouting again, unable to help himself. He leaped to his feet, but stayed rooted to the spot, looking down upon his king. "But we can still fight, we can beat them. They have weaknesses, all of our enemies do, but we just need time to exploit them. We just need—" for a moment he choked, as if he knew how utterly hopeless his words sounded "—more time."

Frederick realized that he should have never shown Gilbert the box in the first place. Ever since he learned of its existence Frederick had heard nothing but endless grief and arguments from his nation, and he was always repeating himself. "We don't have any time," he said for what felt like the thousandth time in months. "I'm doing this for your sake, Gilbert! If I'm gone then maybe—"

"We're stronger with you than without you, Fritz!" Prussia interrupted yet again, his voice trembling. "Why can't you realize that? Can't you see that we need you, that I need you here?" All of the energy that had been powering him earlier seemed to have run out, and he simply stared at Fritz, his eyes haunted and tortured. Then, as Fritz watched, a large tear rolled out of each scarlet eye and down the pale man's face. Evidently Gilbert noticed it as well, for his lip twisted in disgust and he turned his back to him, scrubbing his face almost angrily. "No, I won't cry for you. You're so goddamned set on killing yourself and I'm not going to waste my tears now, not when they just make me look like a fool."

His tears, his voice, his simple acceptance and defeated attitude brought Fritz to his feet as well. He could bear a lot of things in the world, but for some reason seeing Gilbert cry, the man who he had always regarded as invincible and unconquerable, hit him in his core the same way the deaths of his mother and sister had. Gilbert was not supposed to cry, it was something profoundly wrong and alien to the monarch, and he could not bear to see it. Frederick reached out and grabbed Gilbert's sleeve and pulled the man closer to him. "Please stop crying, you know I hate that," he whispered, fumbling around in his pocket for his handkerchief. He reached up and gently patted the wet marks from Gilbert's face, when the albino gave a choked sob and simply fell against him. Fritz barely had time to catch him before his weight sent them crashing back into the chair he had just been sitting in. At first he thought that Gilbert was injured, but he noticed that Gilbert was crawling into his lap and clutching him as if he were afraid that Death had already come to take him. "Gilbert?" he asked.

The only response he heard were the continuous sobs that Gilbert was breathing into his shoulder. "Don't leave me," he gasped out, pressing his face into Fritz's uniform. "Please don't leave, you have no idea, you don't know. I-I couldn't take it, please don't leave me alone—" he shuddered and broke off his words as he began to cry in earnest, hugging his beloved king closer the way a drowning man clung to a piece of driftwood.

If this were anyone else in the world, Fritz would have pushed them away and told them to stop with their nonsense immediately. But Gilbert was different, his crying brought out a more tender and gentle side that not even the king's friends would have thought existed. Slowly Fritz returned the embrace and stroked his lover's hair soothingly. "Hush, shhh," he murmured softly, ignoring the desperate fingers that were yanking at his uniform and the tears that were no doubt staining it. "Hush, liebling, it's alright, I'm right here. I'm right here." Gilbert continued to cry against him, releasing what had to be years of frustration and fear and grief onto his king, who bore it without a complaint and kept up his stream of comforting assurances. Prussia was completely lost in his own private world of grief, one that he had kept hidden for who-knows how long, and the idea of losing the man who meant the whole world to him was bringing that world to the surface. Normally his pathetic sobs would have repulsed him, but he was hurting so much that he couldn't control himself.

It seemed as if they stayed like that for hours, and honestly Fritz wasn't keeping track with the time, but eventually Gilbert became quieter, and over the minutes his gasping sobs became little hitches in his breath. He shuddered all over, like a frightened animal, and still grasped Fritz's uniform tightly between his fingers. Frederick was still running his fingers through his hair, rubbing his scalp in a way that he knew would calm him down, while his free hand ran up and down his back and drew gentle circles along his shoulders.

It wasn't until Prussia had gone completely quiet that Fritz dared to pull away a little so he could turn his head to face him. His hands still stroked and petted, not once breaking their repetition. "I'm sorry," he whispered, pressing a gentle kiss to his temple. It was really the only thing he could say.

Gilbert gave a little shudder, but he couldn't tell if that was a response or not. One of the hands clutching him loosened, and started to fumble around the neckline of his shirt. "Take it off," Gilbert said, turning his head so he could see what he was doing.

For a moment Fritz was utterly confused, and he was about to push Gilbert's hand away when he realized that Gilbert was reaching for his necklace.

"I can't stand looking at it," Prussia said before could even draw a breath to argue. "I can't stand knowing that you keep it so close to you, and any second you can just open it and t-take them." He jerked it out of his shirt and they both stared at it, watching the light glint off of its jewels and polished hide. It really was quite a pretty box, all things considered. Gilbert grasped it tightly and would have yanked it off if Fritz had not caught his wrist. "Fritz, please—" he begged, another shudder rippling through him.

"Don't break it," Fritz said gently, prying his fingers from it. He bit his lip in thought. "Oh fine, I'll take it off for tonight. It's Christmas Eve after all, and none of us have any reason to do anything morbid now." He could feel Gilbert's eyes on him as he slipped the necklace off over his head and set it down on the table next to the chair. "And I don't want you touching it. It's going to stay there, out of reach." He tried to punctuate his sentence with a hard stare, but it failed rather miserably.

But Gilbert merely nodded and relaxed, again slumping into Fritz's arms. His mumbled "Thank you" was nearly lost in the folds of Fritz's jacket.

Fritz sighed. "You're welcome," he said and brushed away a wet tear track with his thumb. "You're a proper mess, you know that?"

A strangled laugh came out of Gilbert's throat, shocking its owner as much as it did Fritz. "Well it's your fault," Gilbert shot back, dabbing at his eyes with his sleeve.

Fritz gave a disapproving frown. "Don't use your sleeve for pity's sake, here," he said and handed him his forgotten handkerchief.

Prussia would have smirked at that, if he had been in a better mood. "I'm serious, you know," he said after he spent a long moment drying his face. "Something could still happen. For all you know our fortune is about to change for the better."

Fritz let out another sigh. "I have no idea how you can be such an optimist," he replied. Despite his words his hand started to run through his hair again.

"Well not everyone can be all Mr. Doom and Gloom like you," Gilbert replied, leaning into the touch. "Someone has to be positive, or else this place will be like a funeral."

And Gilbert wasn't an overly positive person to begin with. It was an odd little change. "Perhaps you're right," Frederick said, although he was saying that to please Gilbert, and they both knew it. "There just might be a silver lining waiting for us after all." They were silent after that, taking whatever comfort they could in the fact that no matter what had happened so far, they still had each other; although for how long was questionable.

The date was December 24, 1762.


 

Identity

Red eyes. That had always been his most telling feature, the red eyes. Not a very bright red either, more like a dark crimson that was as riveting as it was chilling. He loved them, because no one else in the world had eyes like his. They were solely his, and when one would think of red eyes they would immediately think Gilbert or Prussia. But now…

Staring at himself in the mirror, and seeing those eyes stare right back, he didn't know who the hell he was staring at.

Almost mechanically, he reached up and pinched a lock of white hair between his fingers. His other defining feature had been his white hair, just as unnatural as his red eyes. He twirled it a little, letting the greasy and sweaty strands run through his fingers. When he took his hand away he saw a few clumps of pale hair sticking to it. He wiped his hand on a towel and turned back to the mirror. He knew that hollow face in the glass was his, but he could not recognize it. It wasn't the same.

As the Deutsche Demokratische Republik his face would have been thin, but nowhere near as thin as it was now. His lips would have been thin and twisted into an almost permanent grimace, and his eyes would have had a sort of hardened anger that glared out at the world.

The Free State of Prussia would have still been in somewhat good health. His cheeks would have color and his eyes would have been bright, but when no one was looking there would be a shadow over him, as if he knew of what was to come. He would have still been strong though, centuries of lean muscle still built underneath his deceiving uniform.

The Kingdom of Prussia had been his golden years. Strong, healthy, practically glowing from his wealth and power, one would have looked upon him with admiration. His head would have been held high and his eyes challenging, glinting with life. He would have been a key part of some sort of group or confederation, and not some sort of shadow that hung in the background so he would disturb anyone. He would have still been important.

He had still been young during his Duchy years, so he had looked more like an older teenager than a grown man. Nonetheless he had still been as stiff and proud as ever, because he still had a sense of purpose to his life. He remembered smiling a lot in those days (a concept that was completely foreign to him now) and laughing and joking, filled with the happy innocence of someone who believed that nothing bad could ever happen to him.

And then the Teutonic Knights, when he had been a boy and some off his teen ears as well. His wild time, filled with conquering and crusading. He had been so full of energy, galloping across the world to bring his Order to the pagan lands. He had been such a child then, but gods, he remembered being happy. Those days had all been one blur of happiness after the other… right after the insanity had gone, of course. Back then his eyes had been like freshly spilled blood, sharp and wicked and piercing to the soul. The eyes themselves could have been alive, "a demon's eyes," as a peasant had told him once.

But now…

Thinking back to all of those times, remembering his face as he looked into a mirror, a blade, a pond, the polished surface of a shield… he couldn't find himself anywhere in the face that he saw now. Not even Deutsche Demokratische Republik was there; it was as if the moment he and West were unified he became a completely different person. Not that he was much of one to start with, but some sort of cosmological fuckup had stopped him from dying when he should have all those years ago. Not now though, oh no. Gilbert may have had no idea who he was staring at, but he knew a dead man when he saw one. Hollow face, skin so pale that he could see the blue veins underneath, nearly all of his flesh wasted away until he could clearly see the bones of his face and hands. That's all he was now, skin and bones. Not a thing you would call a country.

Not only did he look like he was dying, he felt like he was dying. He no longer existed as a country, DDR was no more, and his people… they were gone too. They all belonged to West now, and he felt so useless and empty, like one of those plastic cups you threw out of the window of your car that would sit on the side of the road for weeks until the rain knocked it into a ditch forever. He leaned forward a little, gripping the edges of the sink, trying in vain to catch some sort of answer behind the stranger's eyes. What? That was the question. What would he do now? What was going to happen to him? What was the world thinking as they trained their eyes on Germany? What in world was he now?

It pained him that he had not a single answer to any of those questions.

His knees were trembling. Not from fear or anxiety, but exhaustion. He had been standing up for far too long. It was absolutely ridiculous, growing tired because he had been standing up. He gritted his teeth and tried to straighten up, and even that pained him. His body was failing him, it had no reason to keep itself alive, not when its purpose was gone. This wasn't right, it wasn't fair. He balled his fist on the counter, shaking from the exertion of doing just that. He had been the awesome Kingdom of Prussia, and he couldn't even get out of bed to look at himself in a mirror?

Had been. That was the key word.

His fist connected with the mirror before he even knew it was happening. The sharp crack that filled the whole room brought him to his senses, and he was quite surprised to find his fist pressed against the mirror and thousands of spiderwebbed cracks stretching out from around it. He hadn't even felt it touch the glass, nor had he seen it move. After a few seconds of staring at the broken mirror in some sort of stupefied shock, a sharp pain in his fingers made him hiss and reflexively jerk away. He looked down to see his knuckles sliced open and shards of glass jutting out of his skin. Blood, startlingly bright and red against his pale skin, welled up around the base of each fragment and gently oozed into the cracks between his fingers and down the back of his hand, creating little red trails where they went. He stared at them in an odd sort of fascination, transfixed by the calmness of it all. He would have expected blood to start gushing out like a damn fountain, but this was like a deep underground spring rising to the surface. He held his hand up to his face and watched the trickles of blood mark their paths down his arm.

It reminded him of tears. Tears of blood, his body crying out as all of its vestiges of life were stripped away one by one. He moved slowly, as if underwater, and swept his finger across one of those scarlet trails. Curious, he lifted it to his mouth and tasted. Immediately he grimaced; his blood tasted wrong, unlike any of the other times he had tasted it before, like it was diseased. He spat it into the sink and looked back down at his bloody hand. His blood was starting to drip onto the floor, making a soft pattering noise that was completely maddening in its softness. The death of someone as awesome as himself should make a noise that the whole world would hear, not this gentle sound that even he had to strain to notice. Again he drew his hand into a fist, uncaring of how much it hurt, and looked back into the shattered mirror.

A hundred pairs of unknown red eyes met his own.

He gasped and leaped back, hitting the wall as he did. The eyes seemed shocked too, but gods, who did they belong to? They were too dull and lifeless to be his own, yet they stared at him from the shell of a face that housed the spirit of a broken nation. Did those eyes belong to DDR? Prussia? The Teutonic Knights? He didn't know, Old Fritz help him he didn't know. He couldn't even tell who he was anymore.

He slid down the wall, mercifully out of sight from those eyes, and sat curled up on the floor. He held his injured hand close to himself, feeling the warmth soak into his shirt, and wondered just what in the world he was now.


 

Folklore

"Gilbert?"

"…."

"Gilbert?"

"Mmrgh."

"Gilbert?"

"Mmmph, was? Wait, Fritz? What are you doing still up?"

The boy jumped a little from Gilbert's suddenly harsh tone, grasping his hands behind his back nervously. "I'm sorry," he mumbled, staring at his feet guiltily.

Dammit, too much cuteness too soon. Prussia sighed and sat up a little on his elbow. "Don't be," he mumbled, rubbing his eyes. He wondered what time it was. Certainly late, since Fritz needed a candle to find his way to the nation's room, but it couldn't have been terribly late or else the boy would not have been awake at all. "Just make sure your father doesn't catch you like this. What wrong?"

Fritz swallowed, scuffing his foot against the carpet. For a second he glanced at the candle on the nightstand as if it would betray him, but then his eyes returned to Gilbert's face. "I—" he started, then paused as if nervous to go on.

Gilbert tried not to let his irritation show. "Come on Fritz, I haven't got all night. What's bothering you?"

The child bit his lip. "I-I couldn't sleep," he admitted at last.

"Obviously," Prussia said. Fritz winced a little and the nation gave himself a mental boot in the ass for being callous. "Well, what do you want me to do about it?"

Fritz twiddled his thumbs a little, the very picture of uncertainty. "Will you… tell me a story?" he asked finally.

At first Gilbert couldn't comprehend his words. He stared at the boy as if he had just spoken in fluent Russian. "What?"

"A story," Fritz repeated. "Wilhelmine tells me stories sometimes, and I always fall asleep when she does."

"Then why don't you go to her?"

"She's asleep."

Oh of course. If Prussia had been in a more sour mood then he would have pointed out that he had also been asleep, but that adorable puppy look the prince was giving him worked wonders. "Please Gilbert," Fritz said after a moment, his lip trembling a little.

Inside the confines of his mind, Gilbert swore colorfully in Old Prussian. "Alright, fine," he grumbled, "but one story and that's i—oomf!" The breath was driven out of him as a small six-year old crashed into his side like a cannonball.

"Thank you Gilbert!" Fritz squeaked, at once smiling and all of his previous sadness and pathetic eyes gone. Why that sneaky little—"I'll be good, promise!"

"Doubt that," Gilbert said, feeling the child snuggle up to his chest. "Gods you're freezing, didn't you put on something warmer?" He gently tugged the blanket over the young prince's shoulders and slipped his arm around his body, pulling him closer.

"Nope," Fritz replied shamelessly, snuggling his head under Gilbert's chin in a way that sent warm fuzzies into the kingdom's stomach.

Prussia grunted and pinched him on the cheek, sending the boy into giggles. "Alright, what do you want to hear?"

Fritz shrugged in answer. "Whatever you want to tell," he said.

"Don't give me that, what do you want?"

Another shrug. "Something I haven't heard before. Wilhelmine likes to tell me stories about princesses, but I don't want to hear another one of those."

"Good kid," he murmured, tickling Fritz behind the ear. The boy probably fell asleep from boredom every time Wilhelmine told him a story. "Alright, I'll tell you one about…" he wracked his brains for a moment, trying to think of some fairytale that wouldn't scare him shitless. "Ah, I know: 'The Straw, the Coal, and Bean'."

"…What?" Fritz titled his head up to look at him in puzzlement. "Like an actual straw, coal, and bean?"

"Yes actual ones! What other kinds are there?" He saw Fritz scowl and pinched his cheek again. "Hey, no scowling. Do that when your dad's around." His jibe worked and immediately the prince smiled again. "Alright, it goes like this. 'In a village dwelt a poor woman, and—"

"Aren't you going to say 'once upon a time'?" Fritz asked innocently.

He tried not to smack his face. He knew this had been a bad idea. "Once upon a time," he started again, stressing the words dramatically, "there was this poor woman who dwelt in a village. However she—what?"

Fritz had tapped him softly. "Where did she live?"

"In a village, I just said it."

"Where's the village?"

"That's not important. It was just a village."

"But it's more believable if the village has a name!"

Head, meet headboard. Gilbert really wanted to smack himself against it right now, but he restrained himself. "Berlin," he said. "One of those villages outside the city, take your pick. Now stop interrupting." He took a breath and tried to remember where he left off. "She was poor, but she had gathered a pot of beans together to cook. She made a fire in the hearth, and so that it would burn more quickly she lit it using a handful of straw. Now when she was pouring the beans into the pot to cook, one fell out without her observing it and landed on the ground next to a piece of straw. Soon afterwards a coal leaped out of the fire and fell between the two.' Oh what now?"

Fritz cringed a little, but asked in a small voice, "How does a coal leap? It doesn't have legs."

Gilbert felt a twinge of pity for Wilhelmine. If she had to go through this all the time… "They can jump. You've seen them fall out of the fire."

"But how do they do it?" Fritz persisted.

"I don't know, they just do." Fritz tapped him again. "What, Fritz?"

"How come the straw didn't burn when the coal landed next to it?"

"Because it was awesome."

"Wha—"

"Shush!" Gilbert cut him off. "Just listen, alright? Dammit now you made me forget where I was."

"The coal jumped out of the fire and—"

"Yeah, yeah, the coal. Anyways, when the coal jumped out and landed between them the straw said: 'Dear friends, where did you come from?' Yes Fritz, it talks. Ah-ah, no questions! They just talk, alright? They're awesome like that. The coal replied: 'I sprang out of the fire, and if I had not escaped by sheer force then my death would have been certain. I would have been burnt to ashes.' The bean also said: 'I too have escaped with a whole skin, but if the old woman had gotten me into the pot I would have been made into a broth without any mercy, like my brothers.'"

"You can't make a broth from beans!" Fritz piped up as Prussia was drawing a breath. The nation swore and thumped his head into the pillows. "What's that word mean?" Fritz asked curiously.

"Ahhh, nothing you need to know until you're older," Gilbert quickly replied. "And yes, you can make a broth from beans. I know a lot more about this than you do and I know you can."

Fritz nodded. "But wait, so whenever we start fires and cook beans we're, killing them?" he said, his voice rising a little.

"Yeah, whatever. Burnin' them to a crisp and all. You want to hear the rest of the story or not?"

Fritz nodded again. "What about the straw?"

"I'll get to that! The straw then replied: 'And no better fate would have befallen my lot. The old woman has destroyed all of my family in fire and smoke; she seized sixty of them at once and took their lives. I was lucky enough to slip through her fingers.' You alright there Fritz? You look kinda pale… Alright, if you say so.

"Well now they found themselves in a bit of a pinch. 'What are we going to do now?' asked the coal.

" 'I think,' answered the bean, 'that since we have all managed to escape death, we should stay together, lest the woman tries to take us again. I say we all go away together, to some foreign country.'

"The other two liked the idea, and soon they set off. However, they soon came to a little brook and—Fritz I swear to gods if you interrupt me one more time—"

"I'm sorry!" The boy squeaked. "But how did they get out of the house?"

Actually, that was a pretty good question. "Because they were awesome," Prussia replied, his failsafe answer to anything. "Now if you interrupt me again I'm putting you out." Instantly Fritz went still. "Good. They came to a brook, and since there was no bridge they were pretty much screwed in trying to get over it. But the straw got an idea and said: 'I will lay myself across the stream, and then you can walk over me like a bridge.' How the hell that was supposed to happen since a straw is really kind of thin and breakable I don't know. But the straw then stretched itself from one bank to the other, and the coal jumped right on top and started to walk across. But when the coal reached the middle of the bridge and heard the water rushing below, it stopped, because it was afraid of water, naturally. However, it hesitated for too long and burnt right through the straw, and the both of them fell into the brook. Now the bean had stayed on the bank, because it wasn't a complete dumbass in trusting a straw bridge, and thought the whole thing was hilarious, so it started to laugh. It laughed so hard that it burst, and I mean literally exploded, and probably would have also died if a tailor hadn't been walking by. He saw the whole thing happen, and apparently he had a thing about sewing up beans, because he immediately took out his needle and thread and sewed the bean back together. Dunno why he did that, since all he did was waste some good thread. Dammit now what you've done, now I'm second guessing myself. Anyways, since the tailor used black thread, all of the beans after that had a black mark on them. And I guess the bean lived happily ever after or some crap like that."

The room was silent for a long moment after the rather unceremonious end to the story. Gilbert scowled and poked Fritz irritably. "You're not asleep," he said flatly.

"I'm sorry, but it was such a silly story!" Fritz replied, stifling a giggle. "Talking beans and straw bridges. But not all beans have black on them, so why would you say that they do? And when we eat those black beans are we eating thread as well? What made all the beans after that have a black mark on them? That would be like saying if someone spilled paint on themselves and all of their children had a mark of color on the same spot. If I were there I would have—Gilbert are you alright?"

Gilbert sighed and hit his head into the pillow again. "Just go to sleep Fritz," he said into the fabric, completely out of ideas.

"Alright," Fritz mumbled and snuggled closer. "Can I stay in here? Your bed is really warm."

"Go ahead," Gilbert answered, feeling the kid curl up against him. "Just don't kick me in your sleep or anything."

Fritz shook his head. "I won't," he promised, stealing a little corner of the pillow for himself. Again Gilbert's arm came around him, but his hand also started to stroke the back of his neck, which lulled the child to sleep faster than any story ever had.


 

Night

To Frederick, the night always had a special sort of charm to it. Something about the silence and the soft-footed steps that you had to make when travelling in the dark made everything seem very secretive, and he had always had a weak spot for secrets. The night always let him cast off the veil he had to wear during the day and he could be himself. As a child he used to sneak candles into his room so he could later read by their light, and sometimes he would hide in his closet and carefully practice the fingerings on his flute, without playing it obviously. Because all of the noisy happenings of the day had been left far behind, he was left to muse alone with his thoughts, which was something that always pleased him.

The night was also good for stargazing. Even now that was what he was doing, sitting on his bed with the sheets tangled around his waist and watching the stars pensively. He mapped out the constellations with his eyes, naming each in his head and the stories behind them. The moon shone through the window, bathing him in a cold light that bleached everything of almost all color. There was hardly any sound at all except for the steady breathing coming from the person behind him, sprawled across half of the bed and, for the moment, asleep. The king smirked as he thought about him.

Oh yes, the night had many advantages indeed.

His chin rest on his hand and he stared at the night sky absently. A starry view of the heavens always made him thoughtful, and his current thoughts were dwelling on the past. The Silesian Wars, how they had changed both king and country. They had come out of those wars as different people, but all things considered it wasn't a bad change. It had brought them together after all, and that was a decision that Frederick knew that he would never regret in his life. He had wanted his nation for such a long time, and he finally had him. His smirk turned into a fond smile as his memories went down a sweeter path.

As if his mere thoughts were enough to rouse him, he heard Gilbert shift a little. There was a bit of rustling as the sheets moved and then an arm curled around his neck. "What are you doing sitting like this?" Gilbert's sleepy voice murmured into his ear as his warm chest pressed against Frederick's back.

Frederick tilted his head so Gilbert could rest his chin on his shoulder. "Just thinking," he said, tracing along Gilbert's arm with his finger. He was so pale that his skin fairly glowed in the moonlight.

"About what?" Gilbert asked.

He shrugged slightly. "The past, things that happened. Mainly Aix-la-Chapelle and its aftermaths." He felt Gilbert laugh against his back and couldn't suppress a smile of his own.

"Can't blame ya," Gilbert said, his voice heavy with amusement. "Best two weeks of my life." Lips touched his shoulder and he flinched involuntarily. Gilbert immediately pulled back and then paused. "Oh I see," he said a moment later. "I did that, didn't I?" The nation licked his finger and drew it down Fritz's back, following one of the many scratch marks that crossed it.

Fritz shivered at the touch. "Quite so," he said, feeling the rest of his back sting. "You have such sharp nails. You should keep them trimmed."

"Now why would I do that?" Prussia asked, now running his fingers up Fritz's abused back. "You make so many delicious noises when I scratch you. As far as I'm concerned these nails can grow as long as they want."

The king sighed but did not argue, because that would mean that he would deny that he liked it. "Elizabeth will wonder about them," he said after a long minute of silence, although it was unclear who he was talking to.

Gilbert laughed heartily, as if he had just heard a joke. "Don't tell me you actually let that woman see you naked," he replied.

"Not really," Fritz admitted, "not as much as before."

"What, it happened at all?"

"Well when you have an old bastard like my father hanging over your head every day demanding that you produce an heir you pretty much have to do what you have to do." He shrugged again, his mood becoming more melancholy. "Poor girl, she can never be happy with her life."

Gilbert paused, mulling the words over in his head. "You're sorry for her?" he asked curiously. "I thought you hated her."

"No, I don't. I don't love her, but I don't hate her. I rather pity her, to tell the truth."

"Why?"

He hesitated for a moment, wondering where Gilbert's sudden interest had come from. But it wouldn't really hurt to tell him, he supposed. "She's a sweet person," he admitted as if he were confessing a crime. "True, she's plain and has a bland education and she makes me want to run my head into a wall sometimes, but her personality is most agreeable. She hardly does a thing without thinking about how it could please me in some way, and even though she knows that there can hardly even be friendship among us she still tries."

"Then why don't you divorce her?" Prussia questioned, sounding honestly confused about why it hadn't happened already.

Fritz made a noise and looked almost personally offended by the idea. "That would be cruel," he said as if that was all the reason he needed. "She doesn't have much of a place to go, and to turn her out would be heartless after all I've already done."

Gilbert played with a lock of his hair, drawing over his hand and admiring it now that it was free of the powder. "You sound guilty," he said.

"I wouldn't go as far as that," Fritz said, reaching up to stroke Gilbert's face. "Like I said, I feel a bit sorry for her. She did nothing to deserve this life, but now she's stuck with it. I do wish that there was some way that I could make her happy without loving her, but the problems in life never have an easy solution." He was silent after that, but it was one of his "thinking" silences, as Gilbert liked to call them. His king was deciding on whether or not to go on. "I did try to love her at first," Fritz mumbled out in a rush. He turned his head away as if ashamed with himself, but Gilbert kissed his cheek and brought it back towards him with his free hand. "But I simply could not."

"Was she that bad?" Gilbert asked, moving his lips to his lover's neck.

"Ah! N-No, but I was already quite in love with a certain someone else at the time." He felt Prussia's grin against his skin, causing another shiver to go through him. "And I found out that I simply could not make myself love her, not even as an act. I couldn't love her any more than I could eat a stone or breathe water." He sighed, partly from his own frustration and the fact that Gilbert was starting to work wonders on his neck. "I'm not making any sense, am I?"

Gilbert shrugged. "Sort of, but then again I'm not paying that much attention." He bit down lightly and pressed himself against Fritz once more. "I don't have to worry about her taking you away from me, and that's all that matters." He ran his fingers down Frederick's side, making sure that his nails touched him ever so slightly.

A laughed finally rumbled through Fritz. "Oh, you never need to worry about that with anyone," he promised, turning his head around so he could kiss him.

Prussia moaned approvingly and swept his hands back up to the broad shoulders. He frowned and pulled away. "Lord, you're freezing!" he exclaimed. "How long have you been up? Never matter, come back down here, I can't have my King catching a cold now, can I?"

He let himself be pushed back down onto the bed. "Of course not," he said, running his fingers through Gilbert's hair as the man threw a blanket over the both of them. "There's work to do. And I might get you sick as well!" He gave his hair a playful tug to punctuate his words.

"Hah, I'm too awesome to get sick," Prussia crooned to him, kissing his jaw. Then he started to make his way down, past his neck, biting a nipple as he passed his chest, and even further down. "Don't worry Fritz, the Awesome Me will have you warmed up within five minutes, tops." He paused to give him a wink before sliding even further under the covers.

Chapter Text

The snow was starting to fall again, a soft sprinkling that was only disturbed by the slightest breath of wind. It would have made excellent weather to romp around in, but many were deciding to stay inside on Christmas Eve. It was still light outside, even though the sun had vanished not too long ago, and almost everyone was taking the advantage to party, even the austere court of Berlin. It was far from midnight and yet the dancing and drinking was under full swing. Here and there were scattered conversations on whatever topic pleased the speaker, ranging from politics to philosophy, but the conversation being held by the two people standing just outside the main doors was by far the most interesting one.

"You must be joking," King Frederick said to the country he ruled, giving him an utterly bewildered look. Many would have been jealous at the albino's ability to throw his ruler completely off stride, which many had attempted and failed to do in the past.

"I'm not," Prussia replied with a grin. "It sounds a hell of a lot more fun than being stuck in there for the rest of the night, doesn't it?" He waved towards the crowds inside the ballroom; loud, stuffy, noisy, that's all it was. That's why he had politely asked his king for a word in private and extricated him from the gawkers that had been around him.

Frederick glanced back at the room, then back at Gilbert. "Being stuck in the cold for however long on some utterly pointless and impractical task, no it does not," he replied coolly.

Instead of being put off like most would, Gilbert just scooted a little closer to his king. "It's not pointless, and it will have a practical use later on," he promised in his smoothest voice. He said no more than that and waited for Fritz to simply take the bait.

Blue eyes narrowed at him. Fritz was used to such games, having grown up with them all his life. "Mind sharing?" he asked.

"Nope. You have to come and build it with me first," Gilbert replied quickly.

"You want me to go outside with you and build a snowman, and yet you won't even give me a good reason why?" Frederick scoffed. "No thank you." He started to turn to walk back inside, but a hand on his elbow stopped him.

"I told you already," Prussia said, stepping closer until he was right beside him. "Fun. You don't know what fun is?"

Fritz sighed and tried not to roll his eyes, although he sorely wanted to. "Of course I know what fun is. It's—"

"—what happened last n—" Prussia began, only to be cut off by a loud "Shh!" from his king. He started chuckling when he saw Frederick's warning glare. Thankfully no one was close enough to overhear him.

"Yes, that would be a good example," Fritz said lightly. "However that is quite different from building a snowman. My answer is still no. Now let's go back inside before someone misses us."

Gilbert pulled on his gloves, making sure that they were snug and tight around his hands. "You can go, but I'm not," he said.

Fritz glanced back at him. "And, pray tell, why not?"

Gilbert gave him a look that implied that the answer should have been obvious. "I said I wanted to build a snowman," he said. "I was only asking you to come because I would have liked some company. I'm still going to build it." He gave a small, two-fingered salute. "Enjoy your party." Then he turned smartly on one heel and started striding for the outside doors.

That cheating, manipulating... Frederick ground his teeth together and turned to go back inside, and paused when he saw all of the raucous laughter and overheard snatches of meaningless subjects. He sighed and rubbed his temple. He had to go back in there, since this was a party for the whole court and it would have made a terribly bad impression if the king was not there. But everything was so loud and boring; Gilbert and Wilhelmine had been the only two reasons why he stayed behind instead of going off to his rooms for a little solitude. And now Gilbert was leaving him and Wilhelmine was currently surrounded by no less that fifteen people.

He couldn't go back in there and face the whole court by himself. He might go mad. But he also did not want to go outside into that freezing weather.

"Damn you," he muttered, turning around and quickly making his way down the hall towards the rapidly retreating figure. He wasn't mad at Gilbert, but rather himself for allowing him to be manipulated so easily.

"Ah, so you decided to come after all!" Gilbert said cheerfully when Frederick appeared beside him.

"Just shut up and let's go build your silly snowman," Fritz said, scowling as Gilbert opened a door and let in a blast of cold air. It was still light enough to see by, although barely.

"Tsk, so grumpy! Where's your Christmas spirit?" Prussia laughed, ushering him outside and leading him into the ankle-deep snow. Just to make sure his leader wouldn't have second thoughts and turn back, he hooked their arms together and all but dragged him deeper into the field of snow that blanketed the gardens.

Fritz tugged on the arm around him, but he might as well have been fighting against a statue. Desperate, he glanced around, but he didn't see another soul. Well at least there wouldn't be any rumormongers about. He was pulled deeper outside until they were nearly fifty feet away and well on their way into the gardens. Prussia kept looking around as if trying to find a specific spot, then he gave a cry of joy when he saw a cart of evergreen trees sitting beside a path, seemingly abandoned. "There we go, this will be an awesome place," he said, stopping right beside it.

"We're building a snowman, not decorating a Christmas tree," Fritz replied in puzzlement.

"I know," Gilbert said, releasing him and sitting right down in the snow. He started scooping together huge armfuls of loose snow and patted them into a pile. "Come on, help me."

For a moment Frederick simply stood there, contemplating on walking away. However no matter how fast he ran he knew that Gilbert would easily catch him. Vowing to make his nation pay for this, he carefully sat down across from him and started scooping snow as well. "You still haven't told me how this will be useful," he said.

"Be patient!" Gilbert said with a laugh. "It will all become clear in the end, young apprentice." He reached out and patted his king on the head and was rewarded with a large handful of snow thrown at his face. He sputtered and threw a handful back and for a good half-minute snow was flying back and forth between the small space and it ended with Prussia yelping as miniscule amounts of snow got under his uniform on onto his skin.

Satisfied at getting his small bit of revenge, Frederick was in a lot better mood. He idly continued to help with the construction of the snowman's base, which was actually turning out to be quite large. "Why does this have to be so big?" he asked, gently patting it. It was nearly as wide as the both of them standing side by side.

Gilbert looked up with a slightly lewd grin. "You know I like big things," he said, snickering at the slight blush that appeared on his king's cheeks.

Without missing a beat, Frederick replied, "Despite your tendency to choke?" He burst out laughing at Prussia's thunderstruck face.

"I do not choke, you lying bastard!" Gilbert gasped, scooping up two handfuls of snow and chucking it right at his king. His face merely turned redder as Fritz continued to laugh.

"No, but your face was hilarious." Fritz said, laughing again when Gilbert huffed and turned away from him, pointedly ignoring him. Seeing him get all flustered was too precious. He brushed the snow from his shoulders and watched Gilbert patting the snow in place, then scooping up more for the middle base. After a few minutes of silent watching he once again started to scoop up snow and help him pat in tightly. Gilbert gave him a look but said nothing.

The snowman was turning out to be quite large and they had to stand up to finish the middle section, which came up to Frederick's shoulders. It was standing next to the side of the cart, so the cart and the snowman formed a rudimentary corner of sorts. As the minutes passed Frederick began to grow worried, since he knew that any moment their presence would be missed and someone would end up looking for them. What a sight that would be, trying to explain to his guests why in the world he was outside during a snowfall building a snowman, of all the things in the world. The things he did for Gilbert.

When they finally placed the head on top the snowman was taller than the both of them, and broader. Fritz could not believe how much effort it took just to pile snow together like that. The exercise had left him pleasantly warm, even to the tips of his fingers. "It doesn't have a face," he said at last, staring at the blank piece of work in front of them.

"It doesn't need one," Gilbert said, taking off his gloves.

Frederick gave him a look. "Well, going out here and building this absurd thing was your idea. Are you not even going to finish it?"

"Finishing it wasn't part of my plan." Now there was certain predatory gleam to Gilbert's eyes that made Frederick take a wary step back.

"Your plan?" he repeated.

"Yep," Gilbert said, looking incredibly pleased with himself. "You see, I've had to you all to myself. And if you will notice," he gestured to the snowman, "we are now hidden from the windows of the palace." Then the albino surprised him by putting his hands on his face and drawing them into a kiss.

To say he was shocked was an understatement, but he had lived with Prussia long enough to know that you had to be used to surprises. He kissed back and he felt Gilbert pushing him until his back hit the cart. "Awfully elaborate plan you have here," Fritz murmured. "Whatever happened to simply finding a room somewhere?"

"Now where's the fun in that?" Prussia asked and kissed him again. It was a few minutes before he spoke. "Besides, we are much more alone out here than in there."

Well now, he couldn't refute that logic. He chuckled and fisted his hands in Prussia's jacket, then abruptly pushed him down into the snow. The nation gasped as the snow stung his face, but his lips were captured again and he felt his face heat up. Fritz knelt down and eased himself into a comfortable position, gently straddling Gilbert's stomach. He traced his fingers along Gilbert's jacket, playing with the buttons and flicking them teasingly, causing Gilbert to whine a little. He grinned into the kiss and suddenly felt Prussia's hands slipping into his own jacket, digging into the back of his shirt and pulling him down until he was practically lying on top of his nation. Then, being the ever-demanding lover that he was, Gilbert threaded his fingers into the back of his head and held him firmly in place so he could not escape.

Not that he was going anywhere anyways.

He pressed two fingers against Gilbert's jaw, tilting his head up at a more convenient angle so he could kiss him deeper. Prussia opened his mouth under him and greedily took him in, sliding their tongues against each other in a way that made electricity shoot from his head to his toes. He managed to break away, ignoring Gilbert's needy moan, and yanked the pale man's cravat down so he could bite and suck on that one spot that made Prussia thrash and keen. Fritz tried not to laugh as he felt the body beneath him jerk and buck; he knew that he would leave a mark on that delicious white skin.

"Fritz…" Gilbert panted, his breath hot against his ear. Wandering hands traced his spine, his neck, ran through his hair and nearly pulled out his braid. Then at once they stopped. "Did you hear that?"

Frederick mumbled something inaudible through the mouthful of skin he was still sucking on. A few seconds later he heard it too. "Frederick! Get your hands off of our nation and come join us for the toast! You're supposed to host it!"

As much as he loved his older sister, at the moment the thing he wished for the most was for her to simply vanish somewhere. He sighed though his nose and very slowly sat up. "What makes you think I have my hands on him?" he called out steadily, trying to ignore the hands that gripped his hips and the thumbs that gently skimmed over them.

"I'm not an idiot, dearest brother," Wilhelmine called out again, the voice getting closer. Not quite close enough to find them though since he knew that Wilhelmine would have been even more embarrassed than himself if she walked in on the both of them. "Now come on, I've been running out of excuses to give for your absence."

Frederick glared at Prussia, who was grinning amusedly. This is all your fault, Frederick mouthed at him and he felt Gilbert laugh. One of his hands gently slid along his pants, skimming over his pelvis. He slapped it away. Suddenly Gilbert sat up and almost sent him into the snow, but two strong hands grabbed him and Gilbert leaned closer, licking him from his neck to his ear. He sucked in a breath as that wicked tongue traced the shell of his ear, hot and stimulating. "S-Stop it," he whispered and bit his hand to stop himself from crying out as teeth latched onto the skin below his lobe.

"Forgive me, My King," Prussia growled into his neck. "But I am not in the mood to go back to the party just yet. In fact, I'm feeling quite…unsatisfied at the moment."

Oh he could tell. He knew exactly what was pushing against his leg. "We are not going back to the party," he growled back, yanking Prussia away from him by his hair. He kissed him again, messily. "After the toast, I am going back to my quarters. I expect you to be there no less than ten minutes after."

"Frederick!"

"I'm coming!" he yelled back.

"Done," Gilbert said, nibbling on him a little before pushing him away. "Come on, mein Schatz, the sooner you do your thing the sooner we can have our fun."

Fritz snorted and stood up, brushing the snow from his clothes and combing his hair back into place. He paused when he felt that some of his curls had been pulled loose. He glared at Gilbert, still sitting down and smiling at him like a mischievous child. "Oops, " the nation said, not the least bit remorseful.

"We are going to have a talk later," Fritz said, tucking some of his hair behind his ears. He hoped it wouldn't show too obviously. "A long talk."

Gilbert laughed and pushed himself up. "Fritz, I don't intend to let you talk for quite a while," he purred, leering at him.

He had no reply to that, so he simply pulled his hat lower down his head and turned, stomping out from behind their cover with Gilbert following and laughing behind him.


 

"I told you I didn't want this."

"You act as if I actually had a hand in the matter." Prussia casually plopped his elbow on Fritz's shoulder, enjoying his height advantage. "This was all Wilhelmine's idea." He nearly tripped as Fritz shoved him off.

"Typical," Frederick replied, sipping his drink to clear his countenance. He wasn't fond of having his birthday celebrated—honestly, what was the point?—and had told Gilbert multiple times that he did not want a party. Leave it to the kingdom to find some sort of loophole in that statement. "Why did she do this? She of all people should know that I hate parties centered around myself." He didn't mind regular masquerades and balls, since they were not very important anyway, but one such as these had all of the attention focused solely on him, forcing him to keep up a constant mask.

Gilbert leaned against the wall, far more relaxed than his ruler was. He gulped his wine. "Lay off a little, Fritz. She's just trying to make you happy."

"No guilt tripping," Fritz murmured over the rim of his own glass. He heard Gilbert laugh.

Suddenly one of the women from the crowd detached herself from the rest and made her way toward them. People greeted her as she passed and she bowed her head politely in return. "It's not a good impression to sulk at your own party Frederick," Wilhelmine said once she was beside them.

He scowled at his older sister, which only amused her. "I am not sulking," he said.

Wilhelmine smiled patiently and Gilbert laughed. "Oh he is, don't let him trick you," the albino said, again leaning his elbow on Fritz. He had to duck away as Fritz swatted at him.

"Stop it, both of you," Wilhelmine chided them, placing herself between them. "Gilbert, stop teasing him. Frederick, at least smile. Everyone will feel bad for going through all of this work and not being able to make the King happy."

Fritz shook his head. "Ah, dearest sister, but I am happy, see?" He smiled, bright and warm and cheerful. But his eyes were bitter and sarcastic, clearly labeling his words as a joke. "You see, everyone just looks at the face, and they ignore what lies behind the eyes. If I went up to someone looking like this, they would wish me well and never ask what was really wrong with me. Shallow as rain puddles, all of them."

Wilhelmine frowned a little at his misanthropic statement. "You can't possibly think that of everyone," she protested. "Most of the time you don't even bother to—" she stopped as a pair approached them. It was the Saxon ambassador, along with some baron whose name she couldn't remember. They came to congratulate the King and pay their respects before inevitably vanishing back into the crowd.

Frederick glared at their backs as they retreated. "And that's why I hate this. Everyone is always congratulating me. Yes, I managed to survive another year of living, what an amazing accomplishment." Now a grimace was etched into his features. He finished the rest of his wine in one gulp and set the empty glass on a nearby table. "I'm going outside. Come on, Gilbert."

"Not very subtle Frederick," Wilhelmine said, disapproval written all over her face.

Fritz gave her a charming smile that didn't reach anywhere near his eyes. "I have a headache," he said slowly. "I want some fresh air. It's Gilbert's job to protect me, so he has to accompany me." He gave her wink. "Be back in a few minutes." Then he turned and left, somehow slipping through the crowds and out the door like a phantom. Gilbert laughed again, shrugged at the irritated princess, and followed him.

The only person they saw when they were travelling down the hall was a servant carrying a load of towels. She bowed to them as they passed and then scurried away. "Finally," Fritz sighed in relief as they came to the main doors. He grabbed a scarf from the nearby rack and wrapped it around himself before going outside.

A blast of cold air greeted them. "I thought you hated the cold," Prussia remarked as they started to walk along the palace, keeping close to the walls so the wind couldn't come at them from all sides.

"Ah, the annoying crowds of the masses or nature's freezing wrath. A cruel choice indeed!" Frederick wailed, drawing his coat closer around himself.

Gilbert smiled and scanned the surrounding area. "Damn. If there was snow on the ground then I would ask if you wanted to build a snowman."

A sly smile twisted the monarch's lips. "Not that little trick again," he said, glancing into the windows as they passed by. Not a single soul in sight.

"But it was such an awesome trick, and it had so many rewards." Gilbert's voice was low and smooth and his hand trailed down Fritz's spine to rest against the small of his back. "Didn't it?"

"Yes, it did," Fritz agreed, for once not pulling away from the touch. Public place or not, they were still alone so it didn't matter. He allowed himself to be pulled closer and that hand to slip around his side, resting just above his hip. Pressed so close against his country, Fritz noticed that he was shivering a little. He looked up and noticed in dismay that was still wearing his court clothes that Fritz had spent nearly an hour talking him into wearing. While they made him look incredibly attractive, they were quite poor in providing warmth from the cold. "You silly thing," he said, his tone affectionate despite his words. "Didn't you think of grabbing a coat?"

"Not really," Gilbert said, trying to hide his shivering behind a smile.

It didn't work. Fritz clicked his tongue at him and started to take off his scarf. "Here," he said, wrapping it around Gilbert's bare neck. "Where's your cravat?"

"I took it off." Gilbert replied, grinning at Fritz's long-suffering sigh. "What? They're so stuffy and tight." He pulled the scarf more snugly around himself, and then frowned. "Hey wait a minute, now you're going to get cold."

"No I won't," Fritz said, trying to turn his collar up to cover his neck.

"Yes you will! Take it back, I'm fine." He started to unwrap the clothing only the have Fritz slap his hands away and put it back on.

"Stop that! I gave it to you for a reason, just take it!"

For a moment they struggled, each insisting that the other wear the scarf. It ended when Gilbert managed to pull away nearly half the length of the scarf and wrap it around Fritz. "There, now we both have it," he said, beaming proudly. They had to stand quite close together in order for it to cover them both comfortably, but it worked.

Frederick plucked at it. "This looks ridiculous," he said, although he made no move to change it.

"I think it's kind of cute actually," Gilbert said. He reached out and tucked it more securely around his king's neck.

As he worked, a stream of music drifted through the air, marking the beginning of a new song. Fritz smiled and stepped closer to Gilbert so he didn't have to talk so loud. "Well, it makes it easier for my purposes. Come, dance with me."

Gilbert blinked in confusion. "What?" he asked.

A chuckle left his lips. "If you will notice, I have you all to myself," he said softly, watching Gilbert grin at the familiar words. "The windows of the palace don't face this way, and everyone is at the party anyways." He took one of Gilbert's hands in his own and slid his free hand down his back, mirroring what Gilbert had done to him earlier. "Now shut up and dance with me." He sealed his statement with a kiss.

"As you wish," Gilbert murmured and nipped him on the lip before straightening up. After a moment of listening, they both began a slow allemande that eventually built up until they were twirling around the confines of space that they had. "Dancing," Gilbert scoffed as they moved. He rolled his eyes. "If I didn't know any better I'd call you a prissy aristocrat."

"Well, I am an aristocrat," Fritz said, squeezing the hand in his own. "And you are a liar. You told me that you couldn't dance." He gave a pointed look at Gilbert's shoes.

Prussia rolled his eyes again. "I hate dancing. I told you that so I could escape it."

"But you're so good at it," Frederick protested. "Better than my wife, that's for certain."

Gilbert tried not to laugh. "I don't like it though," he repeated. "At least, not any vertical dancing." If his words weren't enough of an innuendo, the way he leaned closer and breathed the words into his king's ear was.

"Mmm," Fritz said, his eyes sliding half closed. "Both have their advantages."

"Which do you prefer?" Gilbert wondered, drawing his thumb across the back of Fritz's hand.

Frederick pretended to think hard about the answer. "Well," he said slowly, turning his head so that his lips brushed against Gilbert's jaw, "that would depend entirely on how skilled my partner is." Gilbert tilted his head down and quickly captured him in a kiss before he could pull away, and their movements came to a slow halt. Somewhere in the background the music ended, but that wasn't important anymore.

When they pulled apart Prussia gave him a rare, heartfelt smile. "Happy Birthday," he said. Although another year tacked onto his beloved's life hurt him in more ways than he could imagine, he still had a small measure of happiness left somewhere inside of him.

He heard a groan and Fritz plopped his head onto his shoulder. "Not you too." His king's hands hugged him around the waist and pulled him closer. "Why can't we celebrate something that actually matters? What about your birthday? The Kingdom of Prussia has withstood another year against his enemies, that's important."

Gilbert laughed quietly, rather touched by the idea. "Well, you're a little late for that," he said, playing with one of Fritz's many curls.

"What do you mean by that?" Fritz asked suspiciously. "Did your birthday already pass by?"

"Mhmm," Prussia hummed. "It was on the eighteenth."

Frederick paused for a moment as the information sunk in. Then he stepped back so he could look Gilbert in the eye. "You mean to tell me that your birthday was less than a week ago?" he demanded. "Why didn't you say anything to me?"

An amused smile stretched across his face. "Because you would have tried to celebrate it in some way," he replied, pulling Fritz back to him. "And, mein Schatz, I hate parties that are thrown for me."

Fritz's fist connected with his chest, but it wasn't intended to hurt him, just show his King's frustration. "You hypocrite," Fritz hissed out. "You dirty little—" a kiss cut him off, no doubt Prussia copying what he himself did on many occasions.

"None of that now," Gilbert said playfully. "No complaining, not when I still have to give you your awesome birthday present later."

The implications of that statement were blindingly obvious. Frederick felt his temper cool almost immediately. "Shame on me," he said, letting his hands dip lower, to the base of his spine. "Since I didn't know your birthday, I never got you a gift. How regretful." He grinned.

"You can make up for it," Gilbert told him with a positively lewd smirk. "I'll give you your gift, then you can give me mine."

Fritz's thumbs rubbed along the curve of his back, eliciting a small shiver from him. "I will be waiting eagerly," he said. "But can't I have a peek now?" He would have hit someone if they called his expression "coy," but that's exactly what it was at the moment.

Gilbert chuckled softly and leaned closer. "You're worse than a child sometimes," he said, but kissed him anyway. It was nothing more than a simple press of the lips, incredibly gentle in contrast to the kisses from before. Fritz made an appreciative noise and dipped his fingers lower, stroking over Gilbert's hips to encourage him. Despite the peace of their surroundings and the wonderful state of bliss he was currently in, a small part of his mind sarcastically noted that this would usually be the time when they were interrupted.

The world did not disappoint him. Not two seconds after he thought that he heard a click and one of the side doors that the servants used to do their work swung open. Thankfully the door swung towards them so whoever was behind it couldn't see them.

"For God's sake, Lotti, stop dropping it!" A woman's voice yelled as there was a thump and a small cloud of dust rose from behind the door. "I wouldn't trust you to serve the guests their coffee, that's for certain."

They both leaped apart as if shocked. Immediately Fritz turned and ran, heading for one of the paths that went to the gardens. But he had forgotten all about the scarf, and it jerked him into a choking halt as if he had been a dog tugging on its leash. The force of it also yanked Gilbert off balance and sent him tumbling into his king and they both ended up tripping over each other and falling into one of the many shrubs that lined the path.

"Did you hear that?"

He tried to get to his feet, but branches caught in his clothes and he found himself stuck. He fought against the confines of the plants and only managed to get his arms free. A hand suddenly grasped his collar and dragged him out of the bushes right as a head poked itself around the door. "Hey! Who's out there?" a woman yelled as they fell behind the bushes.

Fritz thumped his head against the grass. "Oh great good God, just kill me now," he muttered hopelessly, his face flushing in embarrassment.

"Get up," Prussia said, smothering a chuckle. "They haven't seen us yet." He managed to pull Fritz to his feet, almost picking him up as he did, and dragged him along by the wrist. They ducked around a corner, jumped over a stone bench, and slipped through a narrow gap in the hedges. It was one of the very same alcoves that Prussia had hidden in a few Christmases ago and threw snowballs at whomever had passed by, and now they both crouched in it, hidden by the cleverly cut branches and leaves around the entrance. "Here we go," the albino said, pressing his king closer to him. Because of the winter months the hedges had not been trimmed very recently, and their overgrowth made the space unusually tight and cramped.

Frederick shook his head and sighed. "Wilhelmine's going to kill us," he murmured. They had already been gone for an embarrassingly long time.

"Well we can't go anywhere with that crazy maid yelling like that," Prussia replied, jerking his thumb in the direction of the voice that was now calling them out as vandals.

"She's a maid," Fritz said with a roll of his eyes. "That's hardly a valid excuse."

"Still sticking to it," Gilbert said. He frowned as Fritz tried to get up and quickly wrapped his legs around him and jerked him back down. The force of it made him lose his balance and hit the ground on his back, but he didn't care. "Nope, you're staying right here."

Even in the dim light he could tell that Fritz was blushing. "Not here!" he said, gripping his shirt warningly.

Gilbert's look was full of innocence. "What? We're just laying here." He wriggled his body under Fritz's, as if trying to get comfortable, and barely stifled a laugh as Fritz's breath hitched. "But if you want sex we can probably manage pretty well in here. Kind of cramped though, so no crazy positions—"

A hand slapped over his mouth. "Hush!" Fritz whispered, listening to the footsteps drawing closer to their hiding place. He barely held in a gasp when Gilbert opened his mouth and started to suck on his fingers. He went to jerk his hand away but Gilbert caught his wrist in a firm grip. Red eyes gazed at him challengingly. If you move then I'll yell, the soldier mouthed at him.

Goosebumps prickled his neck. You wouldn't dare, Fritz mouthed back. Being caught in a position like this could end only in a complete disaster, and Gilbert knew that.

Nonetheless Prussia smirked at him, a "try me" smirk. He guided Fritz's hand back to his mouth and carefully slid it back in, licking up and down each finger as they entered. He kept his eyes on Frederick the entire time, holding his gaze with his own. Frederick bit his lip to stop himself from making any noise, but a shiver passed through his entire body. He felt Gilbert pressing a finger against his lips in a shushing gesture, and a surge of anger swept over him at Gilbert's game. Without really thinking he bit his finger, delighting in the gasp that caught in Gilbert's throat. His victory barely lasted a second, because Gilbert bit him back, dragging his teeth down his skin and swirling his tongue around each digit softly. Dear lord if only Gilbert would do that to something else—

Fritz buried his face into Gilbert's clothes—admitting defeat—so that if he accidently made any noise then it would be muffled. "I hate you Gilbert," he whispered (no, it was not a whimper.) "I hate you, I hate you." He repeated the phrase over and over, feeling his face heat and his heart race. God this wasn't fair, this wasn't fair at all.

Gilbert's chest heaved in a silent laugh. He slid Frederick's fingers out of his mouth with an appealing wet noise that shot straight down Fritz's spine. "No you don't," he replied in a voice that was barely above a whisper. He paused as the footsteps of the maid swished right by their hiding place without a single pause. When they were gone he smiled slyly. "Well, that was fun," he said calmly.

He rolled his eyes and wiped his hand against Gilbert's clothes. "You're unbelievable," he muttered and sat up. Thankfully Gilbert didn't seem intent on holding him there anymore.

"And you're as red as a beet," Prussia replied, skimming a finger down his cheek. "Liked it?"

Of course he did. His heart was still pounding like mad and it was suddenly unbearably hot and his clothes were quite uncomfortable and tight. He sighed and rubbed his temple right over the spot where a headache was started to form. He needed a drink. "I'm going back," he announced, prying Gilbert's legs off of him.

"Oh, don't be like that," Gilbert said, sitting up with him. He brushed at his clothes. "Besides, I've got grass stains on my clothes. What will Wilhelmine think when she sees them?"

"And I have leaves in my hair," Fritz replied, plucking them out as he spoke. "I know exactly what she will think."

Prussia barked out a laugh. "Gods, and for once her assumptions will be wrong," he said, imagining the princess's face when they would meet her and no doubt the deep blush that would color her face when she would see them.

"Not completely," Fritz said, still shivering from the ministrations he had received. Merciful heaven that mouth of Gilbert's was practically a sin. He quickly stepped out of their hiding place to distract his thoughts, taking the scarf that was still around his neck and tugging it, prompting Gilbert to his feet as well. The coast was clear, and they stepped back onto the path that ran around the palace, the same one they had been walking and dancing on before they had been interrupted. Gilbert tried his best to put his clothes into a somewhat neat manner, wincing as his hands passed over the stains, while Fritz tried to rid his hair of the foliage while keeping his curls intact. Thankfully no one had come to look for them during their prolonged absence, and the only person they passed on their way back was Winterfeldt. The general was sitting on a bench smoking his pipe, and he looked up when they drew near. At first the man looked rather bewildered, his eyes landing on the scarf shared between them, and then he noticed the rest of their appearance.

Fritz had to force down a laugh when he saw his friend's face redden, but he was mercifully spared having to think of an explanation as Winterfeldt just bit down on his pipe and remained tactfully silent. However, his raised eyebrows and the questioning look that was thrown his way told him that he would definitely have to be explaining a few things later.

Chapter Text

Restraint

"Untie me this instant."

Gilbert smirked as he listened to the imperious command, sitting back so he could look down upon the eyes that were glaring up at him. For once they had no effect. "Calm down Fritz," he said playfully. "We haven't even started yet." He chuckled outright as Fritz jerked against his bonds and they held tight. "I didn't know that you were that excited~ I wouldn't waste all of your energy though, I tied them pretty good."

Fritz sighed in irritation. "Enough," he said, ignoring Gilbert's advice and pulling against the ropes that held him. He couldn't believe that he had been so oblivious that he hadn't noticed Gilbert tying him to the bed until he woke up to see Gilbert binding his wrists together. This was the last time he was falling asleep before him.

To his annoyance, Gilbert looked amused by his reaction. "Don't be like that," he said, reaching out and running his fingers along the ropes that held his wrists together and wrapped around the bedposts. "I didn't go through all of the trouble of getting this and then trying not to wake you up just for you to say no. But don't worry, schaztchen, I'll get you to like this."

He opened his mouth to argue but Prussia quickly leaned down and bit his neck, turning his words into a sharp gasp. "None of that," the nation said, pressing a quick kiss against the mark that would soon form. "You're stuck here and you aren't going anywhere until I decide to let you go."

"What do you plan to do?" Frederick asked, feeling his gut twist with unease. He tried to ignore the flush that was creeping up his neck.

"Hmmm, I'm not sure yet," Gilbert said, sliding his palms along Frederick's exposed sides, feeling him shiver at the touch. "But I guarantee that you will be screaming my name before we're done." The purr of his voice and the way he punctuated the end of his sentence with a slow lick sent a spear of desire right through Frederick's body, despite all of his objections against it. He was supposed to be hating this! And that was true to an extent, he was rather angered by his helplessness and inability to move, but a part of his mind that was growing louder with each second was crying out for more. The way Gilbert was pressing almost his entire body against him and rubbing his sensitive sides and chest sent delightful tingles racing across his skin. Out of pure habit he tried to pull his leg closer and growled in frustration when it too refused to move. God this was frustrating, not being able to move or touch him back. "Keep moving like that," Gilbert murmured distractedly as he thrashed his entire body in an attempt to get free. "It feels great."

Immediately, Frederick stopped, his cheeks burning. Gilbert smiled and continued as if nothing had happened, kissing his neck and around his collar, running his hands up and down his body. He was being unusually gentle tonight. Most of the time he was rough and demanding, and the sudden change caught the king completely by surprise. As if to directly contradict his thoughts, Gilbert bit down on him and started to suck, hard. A moan tore its way out of his throat and he tried to move and put his hands on Gilbert's head to press him closer, but they just twitched uselessly in the ropes, making him groan again. Eventually Gilbert let go with a wet pop and licked his lips, eager for more of those noises that his lover made. He could feel the heart beneath him racing madly, in time with his own. He went to work again, biting that little spot where the neck joined the shoulder and made Frederick twist helplessly under him. "Hold still Fritz, honestly," he grumbled out. He grasped him by the hips and used his weight to pin him to the bed.

Fritz bit his lip to stop the noises that were trying to break free. It felt as if his blood was roaring in his veins, and his skin was on fire. He had no idea why the hell he was starting to enjoy this, but heaven help him he was. Gilbert had a way of getting him aroused even when he had no desire to do anything related to sex, and he both hated and loved him for it at the same time. This was a whole different game however, being trussed up and helpless, but the way he was losing control and being at the mercy of someone else was strangely… exciting. He was beginning to get an idea of why Gilbert liked being held down so much. Instead of protesting he was now turning his head to one side so his neck was brazenly displayed. The nation had one a victory already.

And he knew that too. "That's more like it," Prussia said, rewarding him with a gentle nibble along the vein in his neck that sent blood rushing to his dick. "Don't you trust me, schatzi?" Gilbert asked playfully, tilting his head to one side

"No," Frederick answered immediately, but the curl of his lips betrayed his words. Now what sort of a question was that? He trusted Gilbert with his life. He knew that his love would never do anything to hurt him.

Prussia laughed against him, knowing his lover's game. He didn't bother to reply and scraped his nails down Frederick's torso, stopping right by his navel and tracing gentle circles into his skin. Frederick arched into the touch, feeling Gilbert's chest press against his own for a brief moment, but then he was pushed back down with firm hands holding him in place. Then they trailed lower, slipping off of him, but he got the message and forced himself to keep still. "See?" Gilbert said as he sat back fully, his hands the only point of contact between them now. "I told you that you would like this." He gave a pointed look at his erection, but other than that he ignored it.

They stayed like that for a few moments, Gilbert's thumbs gently stroking over his hipbones. Fritz could feel Gilbert watching him, those hungry eyes roving over every inch of him like a wolf eyeing a tasty meal. A shiver of anticipation went through him and he strained at the hands. "Gilbert," he murmured, his voice thick with need.

"Yes, love?" Gilbert asked, drawing his fingers away until only the very tips touched him.

The lack of contact was about to drive him mad. "Please—"

"No."

The harsh rebuttal threw him off. "W-What?" he stammered, which was the only coherent word he could think of through the spinning of the room and the blood pounding in his skull.

"Speak to me in German," Gilbert ordered, taking his hands away completely. "German only from this moment on, or else you won't get anything tonight."

He groaned in annoyance. Gilbert had done this to him before, making him speak that vulgar language while they were in bed. "No," he said, trying to wriggle closer and swearing heatedly when Gilbert moved out of his reach. "That's ridiculous! Why should I have to speak German? You can understand me just f—where are you going?" Prussia started to get up. "No wait, stop!" He made a great show of crawling over to the edge of the bed and sliding his feet onto the floor. "Gilbert please, no, no! Nein!"

Almost immediately the kingdom paused. "What was that, schatzi?" he asked, drawing his feet back up and turning around. The smile on his face was sharp and gloating, but Frederick didn't care.

"Nein," the king repeated, twitching his hands again and jerking his hips into the air uselessly. "Bitte."

Gilbert started to crawl back over. "Please what?" he asked, reaching out and gently running his fingers along an ankle.

Frederick cried out and nearly choked on his words. Tremors wracked his body and his groans turned into desperate whimpers. Oh God, his ankles were so sensitive, and that teasing touch was driving whatever sanity and protests he had left out through the proverbial window. "Mehr!" he managed to gasp out, letting the arch of his body beg for more. "Bitte Gilbert, mehr!"

Prussia scooted closer, once again seated himself between Frederick's spread legs. His hands went up, grazing his calves, tickling the back of his knees and then slowly stroking the inside of his thighs. Prussia listened as Fritz's vocalizations became louder and more heated, pleas in German spilling out of his mouth as if he had never spoken any other language in his life. He was fighting down his own shaking, trying not to let Fritz see how affected he was. But that was nigh impossible, a man would have to be dead to not react to all of the soft moans and whimpers that Fritz had made. Was still making. "Fritz," he said, his voice rough and ragged from his own onslaught of lust. He slid back up his body, keeping his hand on his thighs but gently nipping at the rest of him. "Tell me what you want."

He wanted to be untied. But Fritz knew that Gilbert wouldn't do that, it wasn't part of the game after all. He sighed mentally and forced himself to relax and just accept the situation. He cast about his mind frantically, recalling half-forgotten words and grammar lessons that Gilbert had been trying to get him to learn. "Ich will daß du mich berührst," he panted out finally, letting all of his raw want seep into his voice.

Prussia chuckled low in his throat, a sensual noise that seemed to reach out and caress him just like his hands had just done. "Good answer," he replied, giving Fritz a trademark smirk before he took one of his nipples in his mouth. He delighted in the gasp that filled the room and started to trace wide circles with the tip of his tongue, carefully avoiding the sensitive bud. One of his hands reached up to play with the other one, mirroring the motions of his tongue and letting his nails tickle his lover ever so slightly. He waited until Fritz's breathing became harsher and a pleading "Gilbert," reached his ears, and then he bit down and started to suck. A shuddering cry came from Frederick at the sudden sensations and he bucked up again, grinding their bodies together for a moment. Prussia growled and moved to the other nub, licking all the way across his chest and leaving random bites along the way.

Fritz threw his head back and groaned, gnashing his teeth in frustration. His skin felt as if it was about to crawl right off of him and it was so wonderful, he wanted it to go on forever, but at the same time he wanted more. Other parts of his body screamed for the attention that Gilbert didn't seem willing to give. "Gilbert, bitte, ich brauche dich," he said, finally giving in and begging. Oh how he wanted to touch him back. This wasn't fair! He heard a laugh and, "Who said this was supposed to be fair?" He didn't realize that he had been speaking out loud.

He twitched involuntarily as Gilbert bit down on his nipple, not enough to make him bleed but more than enough to send a rush of heat coiling in his belly. His member twitched and for a moment he tensed, but it wasn't near enough to make him come. "Hör auf mich nur scharf zu machen und fick mich endlich," he snapped out, repeating something that Gilbert had said to him on many occasions. Damn the ropes and the foreplay, he wanted sex, now.

Gilbert grinned and raised his head, giving the nub one last suck before he did. "Why, but it's such a fun game," he said, inching closer. On an impulse he bent down and licked the hollow of his throat, lapping at the sweat that had gathered there. In a moment he was overwhelmed by the unique scent and taste of his king, which set all of his nerves tingling with excitement. He lingered for a moment, breathing in the heady scent that always came off of him whenever they had sex and made the albino just want to pick his king up and pound him into the headboard until it broke. He couldn't hide his trembling anymore but Fritz seemed too far gone to even notice or really care. Despite his words from earlier, Prussia frowned to himself as he felt the almost spasmodic twitching beneath him and the needy, desperate whimpers coming from his lover. Maybe he had teased him too much.

Or maybe not. He kissed his throat and made his return journey back down, running his hands over every ticklish spot that he knew, stroking and teasing still. He seated himself between Frederick's legs and took his time in adjusting his position, holding off as long as possible so Fritz could get even more hot as he was forced to wait. Gilbert licked his lips and gazed at his prize for a few long moments, then without any warning at all he leaned in and gave his cock a long, hard lick and oh, he loved how Fritz jumped at that, letting out a surprised shout. He threw an arm over Fritz's hips to pin him in place and licked again, slowly dragging his tongue along the underside of his length, following the thick vein pulsing underneath the skin. Fritz gasped even more at that and had to turn his face into his arm so he could muffle his cries. Gilbert then paused for the barest moment, eyes flicking upward, his mouth inches away from the head and his hot breath washing over it. He could feel Fritz tense in anticipation, and he waited for a moment longer before he took the head of his cock in his mouth and started to swirl his tongue around it.

"Oh Gott, Gilbert, ja," Fritz moaned, resisting the urge to thrust into that hot, wet mouth. He didn't care that he was now groaning and making all sorts of begging noises, submitting completely, he wanted Gilbert to make him forget everything except what was happening right now. "Ah! Ja Gilbert…" he went on, his vocabulary reduced to a mere handful of words.

Gilbert paid him no heed at the moment, although that devastatingly sexy voice was making all of his blood rush into his own arousal, which was aching for attention. He pressed against the bed, rubbing the sheets and trying to keep some semblance of self-control, and took his king deeper into his mouth. He loved the feel of his hot, hard flesh against his tongue and the taste of the precum that leaked out to goad him on. He went deeper, sliding down until he felt the tip of his cock prodding his throat, then he came back up and plunged back down, swirling his tongue everywhere that it could reach and settling into a fast rhythm. He repeated the wild cycle over and over again, licking and sucking and occasionally pumping with his hands until he had Frederick writhing underneath him in ecstasy. Soon he felt the muscles underneath him tense all at once and he immediately backed off, leaving Fritz to whine pitifully as he bucked into the suddenly cold air.

"Gilbert!" Fritz gasped, tears of frustration gathering in his eyes. "Gilbert!"

Gilbert rubbed his cheek along his pelvis, mere inches away from his length."Tha's m' name," he singsonged, his voice wavering slightly. "Don't wear it out." His words may have been playfully lighthearted, but his expression was deathly serious and he had to mouth down Fritz's pelvis and thighs to keep himself distracted.

A muffled keen slipped out of Frederick and nearly made the nation come on the spot. He was glad that he had sent the servants away, because they were both being unusually loud tonight. "Nein! Bitte hör nicht auf!" Fritz said, the raw need in his voice destroying all of his anger. "Gilbert, ich schwöre bei Gott wenn du aufhörst, dann werde ich—"

"You'll what?" Prussia interrupted, giving him a challenging look. The expression was wiped from his face when Fritz turned to look at him and oh gods his eyes were heated. They were always so beautiful, now his dilated pupils had turned them nearly black. For a moment he was completely frozen, then he turned and reached over to the nightstand, fumbling around until he found the bottle that he had placed there earlier. He could feel Fritz's eyes on him as he uncorked it and spread a liberal amount of oil onto his fingers, and the soft smell of almonds became a partner to the other scents in the room. The nation met his king's gaze again and gave him a quick smirk before he slipped two of his fingers inside that awaiting ring of muscle. He felt Fritz clench automatically at the sudden intrusion, but a moment later he relaxed. Gilbert plunged his fingers in deeper, stretching and scissoring the smooth walls, pumping in just the right motions that he knew would soon turn Fritz into a puppet in his hands. He licked the base of his cock right as he added a third finger, although he made sure to carefully avoid that one little spot as he continued to stretch him.

Frederick was less than happy and he pulled his legs uselessly against the ropes as if hoping that they might magically break. There were certain times when he really wanted to hit his lover, but a part of him knew that no matter what, Gilbert would make it all worth his while in the end. He could barely even dredge up his anger now, lost in the blissful sensations that Gilbert's fingers and tongue were wringing from his body. He leaned back and shut his eyes, trying to absorb every single touch and stroke that was building upon that aching need for release inside him.

Gilbert noticed Fritz's silence and guessed at what he was trying to do. "Hah, look at this," the albino said, a little breathless himself. Watching his gorgeous little king completely lose himself in his pleasure was one of the most delicious things he had ever seen in his entire life. He balanced himself on an elbow and moved upwards, kissing his way up to Fritz's chest and tasting him with laps of his tongue. "I'm about to make you come using nothing but my fingers," he breathed into his neck, still the motions of his fingers as he did. "How many of your other lovers were this awesome?" It wasn't a question that needed an answer and Gilbert didn't want one. The words barely had time to register in Fritz's head before Gilbert finally pushed his finger in as far as they would go and curled them, rubbing them right over his prostate.

Beneath him, Frederick jumped as if he had been shocked. "Genau da, ja genau da!" he cried out, squeezing his muscles and trying to take him in deeper. Yes, yes, yes he was finally getting what he wanted! He wished that Gilbert would keep touching that spot forever, but at the same time he was so desperate for some sort of relief that his whole body was shaking. He could barely think through the haze of pleasure and his head lolled to one side, prompting Gilbert to suck on him again and add to the love bites that had already been put there from earlier. "Ja, ja Gilbert—halt, was machst du?" He felt Gilbert drawing away from him again, not quite slipping out of him but swirling his fingers in useless motions against his walls.

Gilbert laughed when he heard the frustrated noise rip its way out of Frederick's throat. It might have turned into a scream if he hadn't cut it off with a kiss. He loved teasing Frederick like this, slowly getting him to break down until he was an incoherent hot mess below him. It was a treat, knowing that Fritz would have never in a hundred years let anyone else do this to him; it was Gilbert's privilege, and his alone. He was yanked out of his thoughts by teeth biting into his shoulder and he was suddenly aware of Fritz pressed against him, straining at his bonds in order to get to him. Fritz turned his head and bit down again, right over that special spot where his shoulder met his neck and drove him absolutely wild when it was touched. A jolt of adrenaline pounded through him and went straight to his cock and a primal growl formed in his throat. He should have known that getting too close to Fritz was a bad idea but his could feel his teeth biting right into his skin and the rush of wonderful pain made him forget everything else around him. Again he pushed in his fingers and focused his attention entirely on his prostate, overwhelming Fritz with touches that sent him into mewling convulsions that made him let go and fall back onto the bed, his body arching and twitching with every flick of his fingers.

"Hör nicht auf," Fritz somehow managed to pant out, burying his face into his arm once more. He pulled at the ropes again. "Lass mich frei Gilbert, bitte!" He thrashed as Gilbert curled his digits and sent all three of them stroking down that sweet spot at the same time. "Lass mich frei!" he cried out again, seeing black spots in his vision. Something inside of him finally snapped. "Lass mich frei! Lass mich frei! Lass mich frei! Lass mich frei!" His voice rose until he was nearly shouting, repeating the words over and over again as if they were the only things he knew how to say.

Gilbert had had enough as well. He drew out of Fritz, ignoring his yell as he did, and once more reached for the nightstand. He knocked the bottle of oil over in his haste to get to his knife; he had planned to cut Fritz loose after they were done, but goddammit he couldn't resist a single thing Fritz said when he screamed at him in that pleading, almost mindless tone that told him that he was about to completely lose it. His fingers clasped around the handle and he brought it up and started cutting, his movements so haphazard that it was pure luck that he didn't slice through Fritz's wrists as well. Almost as soon as they were gone Fritz lunged for him, one hand grasping him by the back of his head and dragging him into a hot, messy kiss while the other scraped down his back and dug it nails into his flesh as if relishing in their solidity. The rest of his body was pulled forcefully down right as Fritz gave another thrust up. He groaned at the friction of their bodies rubbing together and he heard Fritz echoing him and soon they were rutting against each other like two animals, grinding and moaning and touching every part of their bodies they could reach.

It didn't take long before Fritz tensed again and he nearly sobbed in relief as he came apart, orgasm ripping through him as he gave a final thrust upwards. He couldn't even utter Gilbert's name in his joy and gave a wordless cry as he came against him, his hands clutching at Gilbert so tightly that his skin broke. His back arched harshly and he felt a hot gush as he spilled his essence against Gilbert, a few drops landing on himself as well. His thrusting was replaced with erratic tremors and convulsing, and after a few moments he slid away bonelessly, falling back into the sheets in a daze. Gilbert still wasn't quite done yet and reached down to stroke himself, biting into Fritz's shoulder as he added his own moans to the last of his ruler's. After a few hard pumps his body rippled in one long shudder and his vision flashed white. Suddenly the one hand he was using to support himself could no longer hold him and he collapsed ungracefully on top of Frederick, clawing at him like Frederick had done moments before and muffling his groans in his skin.

The sudden silence that followed seemed contrarily loud, the only sounds present being the frantic panting of both of them as they tried to regain some form of coherency. A minute or so passed and Gilbert was the first to raise his head. He could still feel Fritz shivering under him, although whether that was from the heat leaving his body or the aftershocks was questionable. One of Fritz's legs moved, but it was caught.

Fritz raised his arm a little so that he could look at Gilbert. Gilbert could tell from his eyes that he hadn't quite returned to earth yet, but he was at least partially there. "My feet," Fritz whispered, his words both a request and a plea.

The kingdom nodded and reluctantly pushed himself back up. His arms felt limp and useless but somehow they still worked. He looked at the nightstand, then realized that it wasn't there. Shit, he had probably dropped it sometime after he had gotten Fritz free. He pawed through the bed and found it behind Fritz's pillow, and then he crawled to the foot of the bed so he could cut the rest of the ropes that held Fritz in place. He noticed with no small amount of satisfaction that the skin around Frederick's ankles had been rubbed nearly raw and bruises were already starting to form, and the same went for his wrists.

Actually, Fritz was bruised in a lot of places to tell the truth. There were marks all along his thighs, chest, and neck, angry little spots of color that made him look like the victim of some strange sickness. Prussia snickered, but did not say anything as he crawled back over.

Frederick stirred a little and slid his arms around him, sluggishly pulling him closer. Well, Gilbert had half-expected him to go off on some tirade about the teasing and tying up, but this worked just fine as well. He was surprised because usually Fritz tried to clean himself off as soon as he was able, an odd hygienic streak that he had, but he had made no inclination to do so and seemed more content with hugging. Gilbert accepted the invitation graciously, sinking into the warm embrace and pillowing his head on a shoulder. "So," he said, his voice drowsy and rough. "You like my ideas yet?"

There was a pause, and then he saw Fritz shake his head no. Vigorously. But at the same time he tried to turn away so that the smile on his lips would not be seen. "Liar," Prussia said, nudging him on the side. The reply he got was a quiet laugh. "Good gods, why can't you simply accept the fact that you liked it?"

"It amuses me to watch you get annoyed," Fritz answered in a voice that was hoarse from shouting. "Besides, I'm not particularly pleased with this." He held up his hand in the faint light, displaying the marks on his wrist. True, he wasn't very happy about those, but at the moment he was still too busy floating on his private little cloud of bliss to summon any proper anger at the moment.

Gilbert took his arm and brought it closer, gently brushing his lips against the bruises, making them tingle. "You still love me though," he said, placing the arm back down. It was not a question.

Frederick decided to answer it anyway. "Yes, I do. Heaven knows why."

"Cause I'm that awesome," Gilbert said with a grin, leaning close to kiss him. It was a lazy, slow kiss that had Fritz tightening his grip around him almost possessively. When they broke apart Gilbert nuzzled his face against Fritz's and whispered in his ear, "Hey, next time will be just as fun. I'll even let you tie me up if you want."

Fritz grunted noncommittally, trying his best to sound uninterested.

Prussia knew his king better though. A huge smile came over his face and he settled back into Fritz's arms, his mind racing and already planning out a next time. After all, Fritz may not have said yes, but he didn't say no to the idea either.


 

Submission

Even after all of the years that they had known each other, Frederick was still finding things out about his love that would surprise him. For example, he knew full well how much Prussia valued his dignity and his pride. Beaten, bruised, and broken, he would cling to it doggedly with the same amount of fervor of a condemned man clinging to a last hope of redemption. Even at Kunersdorf, when he had been trapped under Russia's boot at the large man's sword had been inches away from his throat, he spat out curses and insults through the blood and screams. Even when every last bit of his power and security had been stripped away from him, Gilbert still held onto his pride and refused to be a prisoner underneath a higher power.

So it was almost frightening to see how easily all of that got thrown away for his king. All it took were a few touches and sweet words whispered in his ear and he would practically melt in Frederick's hands, willing to trust him with his body and his pride. Frederick knew it was completely voluntary too, that Gilbert was doing it on purpose.

His willingness confused him at first, but he quickly learned to like it. Not that Gilbert was subservient or anything remotely related, he was rough and demanding as ever, but sometimes the way he would submit utterly to Frederick's demands instead of his normal resistance was both puzzling and exciting to the monarch. He was supposed to be the servant of the state, but he couldn't help but love how his state bended so easily to his will, literally and figuratively. It was a gift, one just for him, and it was to be kept and prized. After all, trust was a hard thing to win, and an even harder thing to get back once it had been broken. So, he gave the albino nearly everything that he wanted, but only if Gilbert had done the same to him first.

The question was though, why?

It surfaced in his mind at unexpected intervals, like right now. He had snuck up behind his nation and surprised him, wrapping his arms around him and pressing a quick kiss under his ear. He had been feeling unusually hyper and joyous today, he knew the absolute perfect way to work all of that excess energy off and increase his happiness by tenfold. Like so many times before, he simply needed to start touching him through his clothing, massaging his hips and nibbling on his neck and Prussia turned to butter in his hands, soft and boneless and hungry for more.

Why? He suddenly thought as he was in the middle of unbuttoning Gilbert's shirt, which he was managing quite well even though he was still behind him. Why in the world was Prussia letting him do this? Usually a session with him consisted of a battle of sorts, trying to dominate the other before one of them eventually gave up. This immediate compliance was bizarre, to say the least.

Gilbert felt his hands pause and he squirmed a little in anticipation. "Hey," he said, reaching up to touch his face. "I don't know what game you're playing, but I'm getting rather impatient here." Sure it was the middle of the day, but that had never stopped them before. Besides, it was near noon and they had about an hour of free time before getting back to work.

Frederick smirked at his words. "Forgive me," he said, his hands returning to what they were doing. "My thoughts were wandering."

"About?" Gilbert asked, turning around so his job was easier. His own hands tugged at Frederick's cravat, slipping it off and exposing the top buttons of his jacket.

Frederick pressed himself closer, nudging Gilbert's legs apart with his thigh and kissing his neck, slowly dragging his teeth on the sensitive skin. "About why you're so submissive sometimes," he whispered, his breath ghosting over him. "I've never seen you yield to anyone before, not even my father and lord knows the bastard just beat everything around him into surrendering. So why me?" The last of his buttons came free, exposing Gilbert's lightly muscled torso, which always sent a small sting of jealousy into his monarch. His hands slipped into his shirt and splayed along the lean plans of his back, gently pulling him closer until there was hardly a breath of space between them. "What makes me so special?"

His tone sounded more rhetorical than honestly questioning, and only a moment later Frederick starting kissing him again, starting at his neck and traveling around his clavicle before coming back up to his lips. It was distracting in the extreme, but Fritz had gotten him thinking as well. Gilbert had never really pondered over it before, he just did it because it felt right. But that was one of the major differences between them he supposed, Fritz was always the logical thinker and Gilbert was the one who followed his gut and did things on an impulse.

The albino's hands started to roam along with his thoughts. Even when he was busy kissing, he was still pretty good at getting someone's clothes off, and his eager fingers soon pried away the irritating waistcoat and shirt, leaving him to explore his king's bare flesh in the fullest. He squeezed his thighs tightly around Fritz's leg, startling a gasp out of him. "Isn't this what you're supposed to do?" He asked, tugging the now-useless clothes off of Frederick's body. "When you love someone, you trust them. And when you trust them, they're allowed to do pretty much anything they want to you."

Frederick paused again, struck by the words. Gilbert was never so… direct, about his feelings. It was only in the throes of passion that he could even get him to say something that remotely sounded like those last few sentences. "And do you trust me?" he asked, kissing him again. He already knew the answer, but he wanted to hear it out loud.

Gilbert chortled, his chest heaving under Frederick's hands. "Yeah, I do," he said lightly, as if it were no big deal, but the way his lips curled into a small smile said otherwise. He slid his fingers around Fritz waist, toying with the line of his breeches. "Now," he whispered in a much lower tone, "are you going to do anything or am I going to have to do it for you?"

His eagerness made Fritz laugh, and the monarch merely tugged the rest of his clothes off as a reply.

Gilbert would have had them fuck on the desk, since that happened to be the nearest surface other than the floor, but Fritz was having none of it and dragged the albino to the couch instead. He put up only a minor struggle which ceased completely once Fritz had pushed him onto the couch and climbed on top of him, pinning him down. He really did love how Gilbert simply leaned back and let him do what he wanted, even though his hands were busy stripping away the last vestiges of their clothes. How many of Prussia's enemies would have loved to see this? The brash and arrogant kingdom submitting to a mere human; Fritz knew that Prussia could have easily thrown him off and attacked him and he wouldn't be able to do a thing about it, but he didn't. Gilbert just leaned into his touches and moaned and purred and occasionally begged, knowing that Frederick loved it. He knew that Frederick loved it when he would tangle his fingers in his long hair and pull him closer, even though that messed up his carefully placed curls and although Fritz would complain about it later he knew that Fritz didn't regret it. Frederick loved it when he would be inside of his lover and suddenly Gilbert would wrap his arms and legs around him and pull him closer, pressing him in so deeply that it seemed as if he were a part of his nation instead of an entirely separate person.

How strange, and yet how wonderful, to have the immortal man's absolute trust and love. It was like a drug.

And when they both reached their climax that was the sweetest taste of all. For one moment there were no barriers or titles to them at all. There was no king and no country, no roles of who was on top or bottom, there were just two people who loved each other and letting it show. Afterwards Gilbert was used as a pillow for a short while, and the soldier would laugh and hold Fritz close, once again submitting to his ruler's demands for a little bit of cuddling. Not that he minded in the least bit, for despite all of his coarse and rough manners Prussia could actually be quite a soft person, provided that he was in the right mood. And if Frederick wanted to stroke his hair and murmur sweet nothings into his ear that would have had the whole world picking their jaws up off the floor, Gilbert let him because that was them. If Fritz wanted to stay a little afterwards and distract him with the flute and poetry, Gilbert would also let him because that was also them.

And if a few nights afterwards Prussia wanted to all but tackle his king to the floor of their bedroom and hold him there, Fritz wouldn't object and would whisper lewd encouragements into his beloved's ear. And when Prussia would begin to tear his clothes off, Fritz would laugh and help him out because, well, that was them too.


 

Crush

"Get back!" Prussia screamed out not two seconds before the ground in front of them exploded, shooting a fountain of dirt and smoke into the air. If they had not stopped in place then the cannonball would have struck right into the midst of their group.

Frederick pulled on his horse's reins as it whinnied in fear, keeping the beast on a very thin line of control. "Dammit! Where's Oppen?" he demanded, his sharp blue eyes flitting around the battlefield. "It does not take ten minutes to deliver a message!"

"He probably got stuck in the melee," Marshal Keith replied, motioning towards the writhing mass of Austrian and Prussian infantry that were doing their best to hack each other to pieces. It was too close for any of them to use their rifles, and bayonet was ruling the fight. The Prussians were far more advanced with the weapon, but there were more Austrians. Oppen had been sent to find Seydlitz and order him to lead a cavalry charge, and so far not even a stirring of reinforcements could be heard.

Frederick snorted, his brow furrowing angrily. They all knew that the infantry was in trouble, and they needed to send their cavalry out first before the Austrians could rouse their own. There was a sound of thunder in the distance, or rather multiple booms of thunder that overlapped each other as the Austrian artillery let off their cannons one by one. Most of the rounds landed into the infantry and some in the ground directly in front of them, but this time they fell short of them. Frederick seemed completely indifferent to the noise and the shuddering of the earth which made their mounts stamp nervously and calmly reached for his spyglass. Gilbert couldn't help but notice how easy of a target their group presented to be, standing on the crest of a hill, surrounded only by aide-de-camps and the King's personal guards. The enemy noticed too, if all of the rounds that were being directed at them were any indication.

A bullet whistled by, but it hit no one. "Rash, far too rash," Fritz said as if it never even existed. "If the cavalry doesn't come then they will have to retreat." His spyglass snapped shut sharply. "But they won't do that."

"Of course they won't," Prussia replied, knowing that Fritz was tacitly asking him for a confirmation. "They want to distinguish themselves somehow." He could feel that in his heart, his people's determination and courage that would cause them to fight down to the last man. It was taking its toll on him though, with every death the wound in his side would grow bigger and more blood would pour out of it. Soon it would soak through his clothes and then everyone would have been able to see it.

"By getting themselves killed?" Fritz retorted, irritation twisting his features.

"I hear a trumpet!" Marwitz exclaimed suddenly. "A cavalry trumpet!"

Moments after he spoke, the sound drifted to the others as well. It indeed was the peal of a trumpet, calling the cavalry together to charge. One of the cavalry regiments appeared, drawn out of their hiding spot by the call to arms, and suddenly rushed toward the enemy as one. Even from his distant position Gilbert could see Major General Seydlitz leading them, riding in the very front as usual. The thundering of their hooves made the ground beneath them tremble again and the other horses snorted in excitement.

"Finally!" Frederick sighed, his expression lifting. He watched as the mass of cavalry crashed upon the fight, scattering the men like pins. He wheeled around suddenly to view his own battalions of infantry standing behind him, calmly awaiting his orders. "Tell them to march," he ordered Marwitz. "Ride to the generals and tell them to get the men up at once. When the cavalry has softened the Austrian line we can come in and finish them off!"

The aide galloped off, practically flying down the hill in his haste. Prussia's horse tossed her head and pawed at the ground, the young blood fired up. The nation drew his sword, the sharp hiss of metal cutting through the air like lightning, and gripped it tightly in one hand, his eyes alight and the beginnings of a maniac grin already on his face. He saw the others glance at him and Fritz smiled in amusement, but his smile was quickly gone when he looked down at Gilbert's side. Oh hell, the blood must have already soaked through a little.

Neither of them had the time to make a remark about it. The drums started to play, signaling the army to march, and Fritz drew his own sword and held it over his head. The soldiers roared in response, all shouting war cries and "Long live the King!" Gilbert smiled as a new flood of adrenaline rushed through his body, taking away the pain and making it a distant memory. He saw Frederick glance at him in concern, but the king said nothing and started the forward march. The army moved forward with colors flying and instruments playing, as perfect and orderly as if they were at the grand review back in Berlin.

Gilbert laughed insanely as they came down the hill like avenging angels sent to punish those who had dare oppose them and kill their comrades. They slammed into the Austrian line like a wave, blue clashing with white to add to the image. He charged into the Austrians himself, his large Friesian knocking people over with her sheer size and his sword swinging, slashing through bodies left and right and making their blood fly high into the air. He wanted to charge right into the middle of the fray and start hacking, like the good old days, but he had to stay close to Fritz and protect him. He always kept his King in his sight, riding after him if he had to command the line from somewhere else. The other guards were around, occasionally riding off to dispatch hussars and other horsemen, but Prussia always stayed.

"Gilbert!" Fritz yelled in alarm as a few bullets flew by him, taking off a few feathers from his hat.

He laughed and gave him a reassuring wink. "I'm just fine!" he said, waving his hand dismissively. "I'm far too awesome for mere bullets to tarnish my perfect form!"

Frederick rolled his eyes. Oh hardly. He had seen Gilbert shot plenty of times. "Be careful!" he said, his worried eyes flitting over him, pausing for a moment when they saw his side.

The flow of blood had slowed, but he knew that he would have to get it checked out later or else Fritz would throw a fit. "Worry about yourself!" Gilbert shot back. "You're far more important!"

Before he could argue, another round of cannonade cut Fritz off. It was bombarding the fresh infantry units they had just sent in, but it wasn't very effective due to the sheer number of them. His aides and guards started to rush back over, trying to avoid the shells that struck the ground at random. One of them was missing though, and in the gap he created Prussia could see an Austrian soldier raising his rifle to his shoulder. He was calm, controlled, and precise, his sights pointed in a straight line at his target. Prussia knew who he was pointing at the moment he saw him.

"Look out!" he screamed, pushing his horse into a gallop. Fritz's own horse was nearly bowled over and had to jump out of his way; he managed to catch a glimpse of Frederick's astonished face before an explosion of pain rocked through his shoulder. He heard bones cracking and his arm flared in agony. Okay, now he was shot. He hissed in pain and grabbed his shoulder, feeling hot blood seep through his fingers. Every movement his other arm made sent ripples of pain through his body and for a moment the world spun. Abruptly as it came, the pain lessened, taken away by the life of his soldiers and their unhurt bodies. Now there was an advantage to being a nation, he could always draw on his people's energy to add to his own.

When he looked back up he saw Frederick's eyes on him, staring in shock and surprise. "Just a bullet," he said, gripping his wounded flesh harder to stop the blood. "It's a shoulder, not that serious."

Frederick knew that, but he wasn't quite buying his nation's comforting act. "Get yourself to the surgeons," he ordered, trying to wipe the concern from his face.

"Sir!" Someone called and he automatically looked up.

An odd sound pierced the air, almost like a whistle. Gilbert frowned and noticed that there was an odd black dot in the sky, getting closer and closer and he could tell that it was about to land on him. It looked like a giant black sphere.

Oh son of a bitc—

"Gilbert!" Frederick screamed as the cannonball hit Gilbert, knocking him right off of his horse. He could hear Gilbert's bones snapping in his chest as they were all crushed, and his own chest ached as if he had been the one hit. Gilbert seemed to hang in the air for a moment, suspended in place like a puppet, then he fell as if the strings holding him up had been cut. He hit the ground and actually rolled a few feet from the momentum of his flight, his body limp like a doll's. He lost his sword, his hat, and his cape tangled around his limbs as if his corpse was already being wrapped up for burial. "Gilbert!" Frederick screamed again, barely able to get his name out. Oh no, oh no no. Please, no.

It was absurd to think that Gilbert could hear him. He was dead, after all. Nothing could survive a cannonball to the chest, and he had heard the bones breaking, all of them crumpling like old parchment paper. The fore of it would have also caved in his heart and lungs, an instantaneous death. Gilbert had probably been dead before he even hit the ground. That could have been me, Fritz thought after a moment, the revelation a sudden horror. Gilbert had pushed him out of the way of a bullet, and at the same time had also inadvertently saved him from a cannonball. "Pick him up!" he ordered, glancing at the people around him.

Everyone was shocked, and they all looked at each other as if asking for some confirmation. Pick him up? Was the King mad? Most of them knew Gilbert's true identity, since they had to spend so much time around Fritz and therefore Gilbert as well, but he was dead. He had been hit with a cannonball. Carrying his dead body around now would just slow them down.

Their inactivity made Frederick's face twist in rage. "I said pick him up!" he roared, pointing his sword at them, his eyes as cold and hard as the steel.

His voice was like a whip, snapping them into action. Crazy or not, he was still the King, and not only was that commanding voice nearly impossible for anyone to disobey, but he could also have them punished for not following a direct order. Two of the guards slid off their horses and ran to Gilbert's body, carefully unwrapping it and lifting it up as Gaudy grabbed the reins of Gilbert's horse, thanking the heavens that the level-headed Friesian had not bolted. Even with gunfire and artillery firing around them, Fritz refused to move until he saw that they had tied Gilbert's body securely to his saddle so that he would not fall off. He hadn't woken up yet. "Take him to Doctor Zahner," he said when they had all remounted. "And I mean it. I don't care if you have to search the entire camp, Zahner only!" Zahner was Gilbert's personal doctor, and he was one of the few surgeons in the entire army who knew how to properly take care of their nation.

Again the aides glanced at each other in confusion, but a hard glare made them hold their tongues. A round exploded somewhere near them, making the horses squeal and dance in irritation. "Be careful, dammit!" Frederick yelled as he saw Gilbert starting to slip. He had to look away; he couldn't stand the way Prussia's head lolled limply to one side or look at the blood that was all over his uniform. "Gaudy, please take him," he said after a moment, his voice considerably gentler. His chest still hurt, as if he had been hit, and he knew that he just had to get Gilbert away from him, or else his grief might get the better of him.

The aide looked confused at his sudden change, but nodded and wordlessly took the Friesian's reins and started to gallop away heading for the safety of the lines. Every jolt of the horse's body made Gilbert twitch, a mocking parody of life. Fritz swallowed and turned away again, still hearing breaking bones and feeling that crushing sadness lurking in his heart. Get better. He thought, hoping that this injury was not enough to keep his dear love from coming back to him. Please, get better.


 

Trapped

"Well this was real damn smart."

"I told you I was sorry!"

"Yes, but sorries aren't going to get us out of here."

"Neither is trying to blame someone for our problems."

"The fault lies with the both of us, Colonel. But I do agree that arguing isn't going to solve anything."

Seydlitz let out a sigh and might have dramatically thrown himself down on something if there had been anything to throw himself onto. "I know, but what is?" he asked, jerking one of his hands out of the muck that they were stuck in. The mud was thick and cold and it stank of rotting vegetation, and they were both trapped in it. Worse was that neither of them knew exactly how deep it was.

"I don't know, let me think of something." Prussia muttered, rubbing his temple. "Gods this is so unawesome, what the hell?" The world, or whatever he had been yelling at, pointedly ignored him. This was so stupid! Out of every single damn thing that could have happened to them, they had to get stuck in some mud? Fritz would never let him live this down if he ever found out.

"Do you think we could walk out?" Seydlitz asked, ever the optimist, trying to twist himself free.

Gilbert let out a humorless laugh. "I doubt it, we're in too deep," he said. There was a frightening sucking noise as Seydlitz suddenly sank deeper into the earth, his movements encumbering him further. "Watch out!" Gilbert yelled and grabbed him by the collar before he could sink any deeper. He felt the weight of the cuirassier drag him down as well, but he never let go. Now they were submerged up to their chests in the vile muck, truly stuck, but Gilbert could at least feel somewhat-solid ground beneath him. He didn't want to move though, for fear that his numbed feet were playing tricks on him. "We have no idea how deep this pit really is," he said to Seydlitz as their descent came to a halt. "For all we know there's more mud below us and any movement could send us to the bottom."

"So I've noticed," Seydlitz replied dryly, a smirk forming on his lips. He was remarkably calm considering the fact that he had just been saved from drowning horribly in a swampy muck, but Gilbert noticed that his hands were shaking slightly as he pulled away his armor so that he could reach into a breast pocket. A few seconds later he came up with his pipe and some tobacco. "You wouldn't happen to have a flame, would you?" The young man asked half-jokingly, using his thumb to press the tobacco into his pipe.

Prussia rolled his eyes at the colonel's attempt at cheerfulness, but he didn't remark on it. "You're lucky this was in my hand when I fell in here," he said, handing him his pistol. His other gun was in its holster—which was on his hip and therefore in the mud—and both of Seydlitz's were holstered.

"Is it loaded?" Seydlitz asked, cocking the hammer back.

"No." He had fired it when they had been chasing the Austrian hussars.

"Thank you, then," Seydlitz replied, holding the striker next to his pipe and pulling the trigger. The force of the hammer hitting the striker caused sparks to fly, which landed inside of his pipe. Personally Gilbert thought that using a pistol to light anything other than a campfire was rather foolish, but hey, if the pipe would calm your nerves then by all means smoke away.

"How long do you think it'll take for the others to realize that we're gone?" The nation asked, checking the sky. It was still light outside, but barely. The only thing he could see clearly was Seydlitz, and the trees around them had turned into formless black lumps. No doubt the sun had already gone down and its light was still peeking out over the horizon.

Seydlitz was quiet for a few long moments, puffing away so that the flame in his pipe would not go out. "Well, we were chasing some Austrians, so they won't expect us for a while," he said at last. "But then again, considering our higher rank people will of course notice our absence sooner. Hopefully our horses will go straight back to the camp, where the food is, and alert everyone else that we're missing."

Gilbert snorted at the moment of the horses. It was their stupid fault that they were in this mess anyway! Yes, totally their fault. If Seydlitz's horse hadn't ridden right into the mud, thereby throwing Seydlitz off her back from the force if it, then Gilbert would never have had to turn around and try to rescue him. And if Wink had not ducked under a tree, causing a low-hanging branch to knock into him, then he would not have fallen into the mud either. And then the stupid beasts had the nerve to ride off and leave them there! Wink simply trotted off, the impudent bitch, and Seydlitz's horse had managed to somehow free herself and went after her, ignoring the calls of them both. Imagine, two of the greatest horsemen in the Prussian Army, one thrown from his horse and the other knocked off by a branch! He could hear the laughter even now.

Instead of laughs, he heard a cheep from somewhere above. Suddenly Gilbird came fluttering down and landed in his hair, chirping curiously. Of course, Gilbird! He must have flown off when Prussia had been hit and was just now returning. "Hey! Come here," he ordered, holding out his hand, which Gilbird obediently hopped into. "Listen up, I want you to fly off and go find Zieten." The bird gave him a puzzled peep. "Zieten! You know Zieten."

"Are you really—" Seydlitz started to say.

"Hush, you'll confuse him! Zieten," Gilbert repeated, stressing the name. Gilbird just blinked. "Ugh! You know, the short one! Furry-Hat Man!" He made a gesture above his head and Gilbird started to chirp enthusiastically and fly circles around his head. "Yes, him! Go find Furry-Hat Man and bring him back here!" The chick responded with a little "Piyo!" and flew off into the sky.

Seydlitz laughed so hard that he nearly inhaled his tobacco. "Furry-Hat Man?" he repeated, coughing a little.

Gilbert rolled his eyes. "Yes, but don't tell Zieten about it. It takes a long time for Gilbird to pick up on names, so you kind of have to describe most people to him. He'll probably understand Zieten's name after a year or so."

"Does he know me?" Seydlitz asked.

The nation gave him a look. "Yes, actually. You are Sweet-Smoke Man," he said, indicating to the pipe and the wisps of smoke curling from it. Seydlitz laughed again, his face more amused that offended.

"And the King?"

"He's just Fritz," Gilbert said. At Seydlitz's look he explained, "Gilbird can pick up on names, like I said, and he's known the King for as long as I have, so he knows him by name."

Seydlitz nodded and was silent for a long while after that, his eyes watching the light slowly fade from the sky. Gilbert watched with him, although he was scanning the area impatiently, waiting for Gilbird's return. In all honesty they were not that far from the others—he could sense his people nearby—so it shouldn't really take the bird that long to find Zieten. He knew that the general was smart enough to figure out when something was up, so it wouldn't take a whole lot of convincing for Zieten to follow him… at least that's what he was hoping. He shivered, feeling the cold mud sap the warmth from his body. They couldn't stay out here all night, they would freeze.

He saw a faint tremor go through Seydlitz as well, but the man was doing his best to hide it. "Are you certain that, er, Gilbird can find Zieten?" he asked after a moment. The light in his pipe briefly flared, showing his breathing.

"Quite," Gilbert replied, "he's never failed me before. True, it can take him forever to find someone, but he always manages to do it eventually." His feet were numb, and he tried to move them, but they seemed to be stuck. He frowned and twisted his leg back and forth, shifting his weight along both of his feet when he sank a few inches more, up to his armpits. He heard Seydlitz cry out and held up his hand to fend away the one that was reaching him. "Don't!" he snapped, feeling himself come to a stop. His arms were now lying flat on the surface of the mud, keeping him afloat. "Don't try and help me, you'll just suffer the same thing."

He heard a click as Seydlitz bit down on the stem of his pipe, a habit of his whenever he was worried or angry or thoughtful. "Well don't do that again," the colonel said, somewhat gruffly. "I would hate for the both of us to be sucked under because you were too silly to keep yourself still and I had to try and rescue you."

Prussia raised an eyebrow at him, but at this point it was so dark that Seydlitz couldn't see it. "Might I remind you that you are addressing a superior officer?" he asked.

"Yes, I am, but that superior officer also said that I could speak freely in his presence," Seydlitz shot back, the grin evident from his voice alone. "In fact, he insisted that I never censor myself around him."

"Oh be quiet you gloating thing, it's not as if you are totally free of mistakes either."

"How so?"

"Well, Colonel I-Can-Ride-Us-Through-Swampland-Without-Any-Trouble, you were in fact the one who got stuck first."

"Forgive me General, but weren't you the one who ordered us to ride through here in the first place?"

They weren't really arguing, since they both knew that it wasn't entirely one person's fault. More like teasing, in a sense. After all, they had to do something to occupy the time. "That's Field Marshal to you. And I did that because you assured me that you knew your way around marshes and swamps," he replied.

"I do, but you can hardly blame me for my horse taking the bit in her mouth and running off. That was entirely without my consent."

"You are the greatest horseman in the army, are you not? How could a horse get the better of you? Not to mention you were actually thrown from her back."

"You're one to talk, being struck from your own horse by a branch that was at eye level and easily avoidable."

"And if you had not lost your grip then I would never have—"

"Piyo!"

There was a fluttering and suddenly Gilbird was back on his head again, pecking at his hair. Following it was a familiar voice: "Should I come back another time?"

The both of them whirled around to see Zieten, leaning casually against a tree with a lantern in one of his hands. The reins of a horse was in his other hand. "Zieten, you old devil! How long have you been there?" Seydlitz demanded, laughing in relief.

"Oh, I just got here, but I could hear the two of you bickering all the way across the marsh," the hussar general replied lightly. Then a huge grin came over his face. "You know, you two remind me of this old married couple that used to live across the street from me. Those two were always yelling at each other over something and they sounded remarkably like the two of you—"

"Zieten, stop smirking and help us," Seydlitz interrupted, a scowl coming over his features.

Zieten laughed and gently swung the lantern back and forth, casting dancing shadows over the deceptive ground. He didn't move.

Gilbert shook his head. "Lieutenant General Hans von Zieten," he said in the best commanding voice he could muster. "Will you please help us out of this marsh?"

"Of course," the little general replied, turning to his horse and digging around in his saddlebags.

"You're just doing that because he asked you," Seydlitz muttered loudly, biting on his pipe again.

"Is that a hint of jealously I detect there, Seydlitz?" Zieten said, coming up with a long coil of rope.

Prussia laughed as Seydlitz sputtered and nearly dropped his pipe into the mud. He ignored the cuirassier's hot protest and watched as Zieten tied a bit of the rope around the trunk of a tree, then threw the rest over to them. Gilbert caught it easily and wrapped his arm around it, passing a length of it to Seydlitz. When he had a good grip he started to pull on the rope, dragging himself inch by inch to the shore; even Zieten aided them by pulling on his end of the rope, and despite his size he proved to be surprisingly strong, like an ant almost. Despite this, it was quite a few minutes before he felt solid ground beneath his feet and he was able to drag himself out of the rest of the mud. Zieten gave them both a hand and all but yanked them to the shore, pulling them both out at once.

Being stuck in one place for so long hand made his limbs oddly unresponsive and rubbery. He sat back on his heels, for once unmindful of all the dirt and grime getting on his uniform because he was pretty much already covered with filth. "Thanks Zieten," he said stretching his arms and rolling his shoulders to loosen them.

"You're welcome," Zieten replied, giving him a two fingered salute. Then he turned to Seydlitz, who had managed to push himself onto one knee. "Now what was this I heard about you falling off your horse?" he asked, an almost vicious smile coming over him.

"Oh do be quiet," Seydlitz said irritably. He pushed himself up, his legs trembling at the exertion.

Zieten helped him lean against a tree. "I hope you realize that this will probably be all over the camp by tomorrow," he said as casually as if he were stating that the sun would rise tomorrow.

Gilbert groaned in concert with Seydlitz. "You really can't be that cruel, Zieten!" The youngest of them protested. "You wouldn't tell anyone!"

"No, I would not, but I don't have to tell anyone," Zieten replied calmly. "Your horses came into camp, riderless and spattered with mud. Then you two will arrive, the both of you covered almost head to foot in more mud. Everyone knows that there are deep mud pits in the area, and it won't require a genius to figure out what happened." He hung the lantern from a tree and went back down the path he came. "I also brought horses for you, by the way," he explained and came back a minute later leading two mounts for them. Seydlitz thanked him and promptly vaulted into his saddle, his weariness briefly forgotten. For a few seconds Zieten watched him, his smile never leaving his face. "Just don't fall off again, alright? I would hate to have to pull you out of the mud twice."

"My God, Zieten," Seydlitz growled, running his temple with his mud-free hand. "I'm not going to fall off."

"Twice," Gilbert added, causing Seydlitz to glare at him. Zieten laughed and shook his head in amusement, climbing on top of his own horse. The colonel all but bristled in indignation, then he wheeled his horse around and trotted away, leaving the two of them snickering to themselves and hurrying after him.


 

Photo Album

The grainy black and white photo had turned yellow over time, but the image in it was still clear as ever. The lack of colors to it seemed to give a more serious tone to the setting, at least that was Ludwig's opinion. Granted, that could have also been because that cameras and photography had just been invented and many people were awkward and stiff in many old pictures because of it, but then again Gilbert was one of those rare few who took immediately to the new invention. But even with Gilbert's lighthearted smirk staring at him from the ancient picture he still thought that his brother looked very calm and collected. So unlike how he was now. Standing beside him in the picture was none other than Ludwig himself, still caught in the gangly teen years of his youth. They were both in full dress uniform, since Gilbert had insisted it, and Gilbert's arm was around his shoulders, pulling him closer into a one-handed embrace. After a moment he turned the picture over. Written on the back in Gilbert's rapid, slightly archaic handwriting was a date, the year 1879. The same day that he had become an official country.

He tucked the paper into the protective sheet of the binder, carefully making sure that it wouldn't tear. He had arranged all of the pictures in his collection by the date they were taken, and this was the first picture of the two of them together. All of the ones before that were pictures and paintings of Gilbert, depicting him striking all sorts of poses in order to "capture the essence of his awesomeness" as Gilbert had once put it. He pitied the poor photographers and painters that had to sit through that.

With a sigh and a roll of his eyes—because honestly Gilbert took up half of the whole album by himself—he turned the page. His baby blue eyes flitted across the next group of pictures. All of them were of the brothers together, standing in a military parade of Prussia's, posing with Bismarck (whom Prussia had dragged unwillingly into the shot), standing outside of a post office in Berlin, or walking around the grand fountain in front of Sanssouci. In all of them they were smiling. Ludwig noticed that more than anything. The lack of colors still gave off a serious undertone, but the emotion in the picture was still very real, as real as it had been the day it had been taken. They were talking and smiling and in one of the photos Gilbert was laughing outright, and it was so beautiful that Ludwig's heart hurt. They were the final years of the Kingdom of Prussia, where his brother had been strong and powerful and confident. Before his decline.

Germany turned the page again. Gilbert was driving his first car and Ludwig was cowering in the seat next to him, and the chaos that the albino had caused that day had almost forced Berlin into a lockdown. The Kaiser had not been very happy about that. In contrast the next picture was of them sitting on a bench, enjoying a box of pastries that Gilbert had bought. Some amateur photographer had snapped the shot, since he had seen Gilbert's albinism and wanted to publish it. He remembered how Gilbert had chased the man down the street and stolen his camera, right after he had given him two black eyes first. The only reason why no permanent damage had been done to him was because Ludwig had dragged his brother off of him. They kept the pictures though, because it really had been a good shot.

There was one of them visiting Munich together, and then a whole handful of ones that had France and Spain in them, cavorting drunkenly around Frankfurt with Gilbert, and Ludwig had been their unwilling accomplice. He still had no recollection of what happened that night. He smiled as he flipped the page again, but in an instant he vanished.

The next page was empty.

He swallowed, feeling ice prickle his spine. He knew why this part was blank. Despite all of the journalists and photographers that went to the trenches to observe the First World War, there were no pictures of himself during that time. He had actually refused them. Prussia had as well, and for many years those pages remained unchanged. He skipped over the empty sections and stumbled across a picture labeled "1923" that showed Gilbert using piles of their worthless marks to build a model of a giant wurst. That was the only one of its kind, Germany had no desire to see himself during his depression, and he had been too busy to take one anyway.

He frowned at the book. Actually…

Now that he really thought about it, the whole rest of the album was empty, except for a section at the back depicting the present day. Pictures of the brothers during World War II did exist, but they had no place here. Their defeat, occupation, crimes, humiliation, the Wall…nothing. Ludwig already had plenty of memories of those times, there was no need to keep mementos. He sighed and opened to the back of the book, and colors exploded in front of his eyes. The dreary black cloud was gone and energy and life shone out of these new pictures. For the first time they were smiling without reservation, all of the stiffness of their previous photos gone. Sometimes the Italies, Japan, and occasionally America would be hanging out in the background, either laughing at them or trying to butt into the picture, and someone (France, he was certain) had stolen the camera for one shot and had snapped a picture of Gilbert's ass.

Suddenly he heard footsteps behind him and Gilbert leaned over the back of the couch to look at him. "A photo album? Seriously West?" he asked, propping his elbows up on the furniture. "You are such a woman sometimes. Who the hell keeps a damn photo album in their house?"

"Hey, some of these are worth lots of money," Ludwig replied, thumbing to the front to show him the older pictures.

"Who cares? Why would you look at pictures when you have The Awesome Me here in person?" Gilbert suddenly clambered over the back of the couch and dropped rather ungracefully next to him, splaying half of his body across Ludwig's lap. "I'm bored, Bruder. Entertain me!" he demanded.

Ludwig rolled his eyes. "Get off," he said, pulling the album out from under Gilbert's body.

"Weeest," Gilbert whined, nudging him in the stomach. "Come on, you've been out here for an hour probably cleaning and looking at pictures and all sorts of unawesome shit and I've been alone! Is that any way to treat your older brother?" He nudged him again, more insistently this time. "We should do something together."

"Like what?" Ludwig asked, closing the album and laying it on the table. Gilbert was obviously not going to leave him alone long enough for him to look at it, so why bother?

The albino scrunched up his face, deep in thought. "Hey I know! Let's go to the park! The dogs will love it."

Ludwig frowned at that and was going to reply when the clattering of paws interrupted him and suddenly all three of the dogs were around them, wagging their tails hopefully. They knew well enough what the word "park" meant and now Gilbert had probably riled them all up with his words. Aster whined and put her paws up on the couch, leading Gilbert to scratch her on the head. "Alright, fine," Ludwig said, pushing against his brother again. "But get up so I can leave."

"Yay!" Gilbert cheered, shooting up and wrapping his arms around his little brother. Before Ludwig even had time to register it he kissed him and then bounced off, running to get the leashes while the dogs chased excitedly after him.


 

Chastity 

"Come on, let me touch your balls damnit!"

"Like, what the heck's wrong with you? Get away from me!"

The Teutonic Knights frowned to himself. That was not an acceptable answer! Other should have been praising him on their knees for his awesomeness, not running! "Come back here!" he yelled, widening his pace. Thankfully Poland's legs were shorter than his, so he couldn't run as fast. "Don't make me take your vital regions by force!"

"Vital regions?" Feliks repeated, glancing over his shoulder as he ran. "Totally not a cool name!"

Gilbert growled and leaned forward, putting all of his efforts into catching him. He knew that he was stronger because the Knights made him train every day, and stupid Feliks with his girlish ways probably slacked off all the time. In one final push he flung himself at the blond like a cat and managed to grab him around the ankles, causing him to trip and fall face-first to the ground. Feliks started to kick and thrash, but Gilbert held on tightly. "This is what happens when you resist me!" The knight crowed victoriously.

"No, get off!" Feliks shouted, reaching for his sword, but it was trapped against his body and the ground.

"What the hell are you idiots doing?"

Gilbert looked over at Hungary, who was standing nearby with a disapproving scowl on her face. "Hang on, Hungary. I'm busy," he said, reaching up the grab Feliks by his cape.

"Help me!" Poland yelled, starting to scratch at the ground with his fingers. "Hungary please help me!"

Hungary rolled her eyes and came closer. "Let him go, you freak," she said, stopping right beside them.

"Hah! You're the freak," Gilbert muttered. A second later he was kicked sharply in the stomach. "Ow! What the hell you asshole?" He yelled, curling up a little.

"I said let him go! Just because your knights passed that weird law doesn't mean that you have to take it out on everyone!" She grabbed them and tried to pull them apart but she tripped and fell right on top of them. For a few seconds there was a mass of flying punches and kicks, and then Poland broke free and started running for his life, holding his face and limping some.

"Now look what you did, he got away!" Gilbert said, pulling on Hungary's hair.

"Don't pull my hair you jerk!" she shouted and promptly elbowed him in the stomach, loosening his grip so she could slip away. "Besides, you were the one who was chasing him and doing all of that weird shit so you deserved it."

Gilbert rubbed his stomach gently. "Well it's not my fault that the Knights just passed these stupid laws," he muttered. "I mean, I don't care about getting married but not being able to get any action at all? I mean, that's just ridiculous!"

"It's about being pure or something, you idiot!" Hungary snapped, brushing off her clothes. She wasn't really sure what exactly being "pure" was and why it was such a big deal, but if everyone was making such a big deal about it then it had to be important.

"Don't call me an idiot!" Gilbert yelled, tackling her and punching her in the ribs.

"I'll call you whatever I want!" Hungary yelled back, kneeing in him the gut, right over where she had already hit him. For a moment they fought, but then they broke apart with Gilbert holding his jaw and Hungary holding her eye. A momentary truce was called after that, since they had both managed to land a hit on the other.

Gilbert puffed out his lip and scratched absent patterns into the dirt. "I think it's silly," he said after a long moment. "Not being able to do anything with women…" A large grin formed on his face as he said that, though. "But they never said anything about guys. Hey wait a moment, Hungary! You're a guy! You can let me touch your balls!"

Instantly Hungary blushed all the way up to her hairline. "N-No!" she said, scrambling to her feet and backing away. The very idea of that annoying knight getting near her like that made her insides twist up.

"Why not?" Gilbert asked, getting up as well. "You're a guy, and so am I. What's the problem?"

"Just because we're both guys doesn't mean that you can go and touch my balls!" Hungary shot back, her face reddening as she said the words.

The young country noticed this, too. "What, you don't like saying balls?" he said, a huge smirk stretching his lips. "God, you can be such a woman sometimes. Good thing you're not though! Now come here!" He held out his arms.

"No!" Hungary yelled again, backing up even further. "Don't you dare touch me!"

"Don't make me have to invade you," Gilbert said, starting to laugh. "Another conquest for the Knights! Hiyaaa!" He launched himself at his fellow country, and the both of them went down, rolling around in the dirt, kicking and screeching. They fought like two animals, Gilbert trying to twist Hungary's limbs and force her into a submissive position while Hungary kept trying to break free.

It was a fight that Gilbert did not win.


 

Voices

"I would be careful, Friedrich, we're treading on a very fine line here."

"My Prince, why are you crying? Please, dry your eyes for me. A face like yours does not deserve tears."

"I do not wish to desert my country, it would seem cruel to him. I don't care what your father thinks, though. Anyone who mistreats you so deserves to be sent to the lowest pit of Hell."

"Don't act too rash now. Calm down for a moment and let's think this through. After all, I'm not going to back out, but getting caught will certainly result in our deaths."

"…I'm sorry you have to suffer through this, love. Cry into this, if you want."

"How could you ever think that I would abandon you? I love you, Friedrich, with all of my heart."

I love you.

I love you.

I loved you.

I love you.

I

l

     o

             v

     e

d

you.

He could hear the words echoing all around him, overlapping each other and making a sort of white noise on his brain until one line was spoken with a particular vehemence. They came from everywhere and nowhere and surrounded him with their gentle caresses, then tore him apart the very next moment with their memories.

I love you. How his heart had warmed when he first heard those words! And now the very thought of them was causing that same heart to shriek in agony.

He twisted in his bunk, as if that could somehow throw the voices off of him. The creak of the wood just made them get louder.

"Tonight? Friedrich, it's too dangerous. We're not safe yet, please, I beg you, wait a while longer!"

"I agree, the French fashion does suit you quite well. I don't mind the uniform, but this coat makes you look so much more attractive."

"My Prince, are you always this lazy in the morning? We didn't even do anything last night and you're as stubborn to wake as a child."

"Don't you dare tell me that is 'nothing!' Good God, Friedrich, that bruise is as wide as my hand! No, no objections! I don't care if you are my Prince, you are also my lover and I will not let you go untreated."

The walls were speaking to him.

That's where the voices were coming from. They oozed out of the cracks and slithered down the floor, thick and heavy, like the fog that would roll in from the marshes. That wonderful, comforting voice that had been there whenever he needed it, that voice that would drown out his sorrows and pain and would replace it with love. It came to him when he fell asleep, and then it started appearing during the day. Or was he just dreaming? The only thing he was certain of was the voice.

Or, voices. After a while more had come.

"Hey Fritz, you okay? ….No need to get all hostile, I was just asking. Hey don't start pulling that silent crap with me now, you've always been able to trust me! I've always been there for you."

"Ungrateful brat! So you were going to run off and desert, eh? Where were you going to go? Tell me!"

"So that's what your hair really looks like? It's a wonderful color, very suiting."

"Leave me alone! You can never know how I feel!"

"You say that you don't know love, and I say that is untrue. You just haven't been given enough to let you know what it really is. I promise you, Friedrich, you never need to worry about that with me. I already told you that I love you, and I promise that I will show you how much before this night is done."

"Get out of my sight! You faint-hearted scoundrel, can't you even stick up for yourself? Of course not! A fool with no honor just takes what comes his way; if I were you then I would have run away a long time ago, but you haven't even got the courage to do that."

"Oh, mein lieber Prinz… You're a mess sometimes, you know that?"

"I'm so sorry… I bring it upon myself."

"Nein. Don't you ever say that. You've done nothing to deserve this, love."

"Fritz, about what happened today, I can't believe he did that. Honestly, I would have stopped him if I had known."

"No you wouldn't."

"Fritz—"

"Your Majesty! Cut me to pieces, but spare your son!"

He was jolted awake by hands on his shoulders, shaking him gently. It was dark, so dark, like he was trapped inside the womb of some stone best. But this womb was cold and lifeless and unforgiving. Someone had been screaming, but the moment he woke up it stopped.

"Dear Prince—"

"My Prince—"

"—it was just a dream—"

"Hey calm down, Fritz. Dreams aren't gonna hurt ya'."

"Do you need something—"

"What I need, Katte, is to get out of here!"

" —to sleep?"

Sleep.

Yes, that sounded wonderful.

Sleep didn't hurt. Sleep was cool and gentle, and the voices there were kind. Except when they weren't. His eyes fell shut again on their own accord, before his two faceless guards could even finish what they were saying. As he drifted away he felt a hand on his head, combing through his disheveled curls like a mother soothing her child. The phantom fingers skimmed across his forehead, curling his hair around his ear, the same way… the same way he…

A soft chuckle reached him, so familiar that it hurt. It couldn't be real, it couldn't. He saw the body, he saw the head in the dust. Those fingers, that voice could not exist, but they sounded and felt so real. "Mein Prinz," his voice, so often remembered, murmured. It sounded amused, and yet patiently loving, like he always had. "My dear Friedrich."

He turned his head away, burying it into his pathetic excuse of a pillow. A lump was in his throat, and hot tears trickled out of his tightly shut eyes as he remembered those words for the thousandth time.

"To die for such a sweet prince is an honor."


 

Adrenaline

He loved this. The roar and scream and clash of battle, hot gun smoke filtering through his vision and the pounding of feet and hooves trembling the ground below. This is what he was made for. This was where he had his first success, as the Teutonic Knights conquering the heathen lands of the pagans.

It didn't matter that this was a different time with a different battleground and different people. All wars were the same. The only thing that differed was the amount of destruction.

He laughed wildly as he felt his sword plunge into a man's side, no doubt shredding through his guts. Screw the silly rifles and bullets, this was how you really fought! Face to face with the enemy, close enough to feel their gore spatter across your face. Fighting using skills and physical strength was so much more satisfying than just firing a gun, although those had their benefits as well. But this was embedded in him, his very first battles revolved around swords and slaughter, and he couldn't erase that streak from him even if he wanted to.

And his people, his brave soldiers, they loved it too. Caught up in the moment of battle, courting with Death, not knowing if they would be dead the next moment. It created a storm of energy that was all channeled into him, one body feeling the lives of thousands; it felt like he was flying and that nothing could ever touch him. He was always among them, feeling what they were feeling, sharing their victory and spoils while at his King's side. Hell even Frederick was affected, why else would he be on the front lines, bullets flying about him as he shouted and directed and occasionally drew his own sword as well? The pure thrill of it, he knew.

"Oh, don't try to fool me," the nation said when Fritz had first tried to deny it and brush it off. "You love the adrenaline rush, all of us do. It's not a crime."

"To like killing, it is not?" Frederick asked, looking up from his book.

Prussia chuckled. "You're being far too broad. What about that 'good for the Fatherland' stuff you were spouting out when we started this war?"

Fritz couldn't help but mirror his nation's grin. "Alright, you caught me. I like the feeling of battle, but not the actual killing itself."

"You don't have to," Gilbert replied, surprised at how easily he had folded. "After all, they're both two different things."

Yes, completely different. Just like what happened during the battles and after were two different things…

…well, only sometimes.

Prussia may have been injured, but sometimes the wounds were not that serious. They would heal up soon anyways, so he rarely worried about the, especially if the victory he had won was particularly awesome. But he could still feel the energy, the pure euphoria of his people as they were caught up in their victory. He felt so happy and awesome and as if he were about to literally explode from the force of all of the different emotions building up inside of him. Often he went to find work after his battles, ride or visit the injured or do something to get rid of that energy so he wouldn't be bouncing around later as if he were on a sugar high. And that was where Fritz would come in; they were both on a rush and they both needed to get rid of it, so why not?

Fritz rarely started it, most of the time it was Prussia luring him away or catching him alone and then forcing him up against a wall or a bed or really whatever they had at the moment. Their kisses were heated and rushed, punctuated by sucking and harsh bites that left red rings all over each other's skin. They were far too pumped up, far too wild to think about being careful or soft. They had just gotten out of a battle and were lucky to still be alive, slow and loving sex was not going to cut it.

Sex ist eine Schlat.

Liebe ist Krieg.

Gentleness was a thing of the past, like a beloved pet that had been left at home so it wouldn't have to see the dangers of war. They bite and scratched each other, marking their territories and conquests of their bodies. Again another battle, but an entirely different sort of one that used moans for battlecries and nails and teeth for guns. Were they even trying to find a victor? No, the victory was in the pleasure and the excitement of fucking until the room started to spin around them. And yet they had to drive it higher, higher, ever higher, trying to recreate that wonderful wave of adrenaline which heightened everything around them and made their blood burn.

Even though gentleness rarely had a place now, it still managed to sneak after them and find the most unexpected moments to emerge. Afterwards, among sweat and panting as their energy left them, it found a home. A kiss or a touch, a few murmured words of affection, is where it revealed itself. There was no time for sweet nothings or cuddling or sleeping, war was always present, whether in affairs of love or battle, and they were hurried along by it. It was like the other side of the coin, the lustful and passionate side of love that hurried things as opposed to its more gentle half. It was an odd and uncertain sort of life, but neither of them were complaining.

After all, the fun they had was more than worth it.