‘I don’t think this is a good idea.’
‘I think it’s a bit late for that.’
France was angry, shoulders rigid and face set and Spain made a noncommittal noise to appease him without further adding to the insanity.
Prussia was currently half leant over the edge of a bridge, one foot hooked around a signpost pole warning of construction work in an attempt to retrieve France’s jacket, which he’d flung over the side. It had, luckily for both France and Prussia, caught on some iron castings around one of the bridge’s support arches as it had fallen and was now happily serving as a rather gaudy flag.
‘You’ve gotta admit it was funny,’ Prussia came back up over the side and repositioned his foot to give him more length before going over again, ‘Francis, you looked like you were going to kil-‘
‘I don’t think you can reach it,’ Spain cut in quickly, ‘It’s too far down. You can always get another jacket, Francis.’
France turned to him. He didn’t speak for a moment and Spain increasingly felt that maybe France would throw him over as well, ‘Why should I?’ he said eventually, mouth tight, ‘Why should I have to get another jacket or spend the rest of the night cold because Gilbert decided it would be funny to “see how I would react” if my brand new, couture jacket went into a dirty underpass.’
‘You can wear mine?’
‘That’s not the point, Toni.’ France angrily waved a hand at Prussia’s back, ‘He never thinks.’
‘I did think,’ Prussia’s voice was slightly muffled, ‘I thought it’d be funny.’
France clenched his jaw tighter.
If he were honest, Spain didn’t think that Prussia meant to do it at all. What Spain thought had happened was that Prussia had tried to get a reaction from France and make him look silly for panicking but had accidentally let go of the jacket. That, or he’d thrown it further than he’d meant to. Whatever the truth was, Spain was unlikely to find it out.
‘You have no idea how expensive that was,’ France continued, rubbing at his arms to warm himself in the cool autumn breeze, ‘And it is only 12am; this is pathetic, even for you, Gilbert.’
‘I can reach it,’ Prussia shifted his hips further over the wall, his shirt riding up against the concrete wall to reveal the small of his back and the top of his boxer shorts. Spain tugged the shirt back in place and almost received a kick to the face for his troubles, ‘Jesus fucking Christ, it’s not a problem.’
‘It is a problem,’ Spain said, ‘Don’t they have CCTV here? This is Vienna after all.’
‘What’s that got to do with anything?’ Prussia came back over the side properly, cheeks visibly red even in the yellow streetlight from being upside-down for so long. There was dirt on his hands, or perhaps old oil from the metal and when he rubbed at his nose it streaked there, ‘Do you not think I can do it either?’
‘No,’ Spain quickly corrected himself, ‘Yes, I just think that you falling over the side onto that little island down there and cracking yourself open won’t be the best news.’
‘And where have I got to be tomorrow, huh?’ Prussia scowled and came forwards to jab a finger in Spain’s chest, ‘You and Fran are part of the NATO talks. Not me.’
‘No, but Germany is.’
‘So? I ain’t Germany, am I?’ Prussia huffed and hefted himself onto the wall again, hooking his foot back in place, ‘No one’s gonna notice if I’m dead.’
Spain and France shared a quick, loaded look as Prussia manoeuvred his top half once again over the edge. A group of civilians approached along their stretch of pavement, laughing easily in colourful night outfits until they saw what was going on.
One of them, a young man in his twenties, checked the lady next to him was watching and opened his mouth, ‘Er, excuse me-‘
‘It’s fine,’ France acknowledged with a wide smile, his French accent thick under the German. The man sounded nosey more than anything else but the rest of the group looked concerned. France gave them all a wink, ‘We’re having a dare contest.’
The young man’s eyes darted from him to Prussia. The young woman next to him hooked her arm through his and narrowed her eyes, ‘And what kind of dare?’
‘A dare to see how far I can bounce before I die,’ Prussia moved himself still further over, voice straining.
‘He’s joking,’ Spain added, grabbing hold of Prussia’s legs when the group of what now he assumed were students continued to grow even more worried, ‘We’ve got him.’
‘No, he hasn’t!’ Prussia sounded terrified, ‘Help! He’s trying to throw me over! Oh God, I’m too young!’
Spain looked over the edge at him in horror as France quickly stepped forward to speak over Prussia’s howling, ‘I’m sorry, he’s a bit drunk-‘
‘You’re letting a drunk person dangle over the edge?!’
France gave a tinkling laugh that sounded far too nervous to be natural, ‘No, no…’
‘If only I were allowed to live!’
‘Shhh!’ Spain shook Prussia’s leg carefully, ‘You’re panicking them.’
‘Did you hear that? He’s blaming me for not being murdered quietly!’ Prussia gave a loud, very exaggerated sob and slapped the nearest brick, ‘The best one always dies first. I knew it, I’m too awesome to stick around any longer.’
‘I’m showing you up too much, that’s what it is,’ Prussia wiped away a fake tear, ‘You’re jealous that even as an ex-nation I’m still better than you.’
‘A what?’ the young lady asked, peering around France who quickly sidestepped her.
‘He dropped his phone down over the ledge.’ France turned around and jerked his head for Spain to pull Prussia back over, ‘And he’s being a bit dramatic to scare you; he’s terrible.’
With a heave, Spain pulled Prussia, who made absolutely no attempt to help him, back over the wall and onto the pavement. Prussia shook his head to clear it and then gave a low, sloppy bow, ‘I hope you enjoyed the night’s performance!’ he said as he straightened with a flourish, ‘But nah, it’s honestly okay. My phone did go over and it’s caught just over the side. It was the new iPhone.’
A collective ‘oh’ and sympathetic nods. ‘Good luck,’ the man called to Prussia as they left.
Prussia immediately went back over the side with a huff, ‘Nosey Austrians.’
‘Don’t make them come back,’ Spain waved them away until they were out of earshot and then grabbed on tightly to Prussia’s legs until he bucked his hips.
‘Get off me, you’re holding me back,’ Prussia gave a chuckle, ‘Loser. You gotta let me fly high and fulfil my dreams.’
‘Or fly down,’ France came to take hold of Prussia’s other leg, ‘And what sort of dreams do you have, anyway?’
‘World domination?’ Prussia pushed himself away from the brickwork to gaze up at them in contemplation, ‘No… tried that. Besting you both at literally everything? Already achieved that… damn.’
‘Hurry up,’ France pinched him, ‘Can you reach the jacket or not. You’re making me nervous.’
‘What for? If worst comes to worst it ain’t gonna be permanent.’
A pregnant silence fell.
‘Oh, come on,’ Prussia sounded angry, ‘Don’t fucking do that.’
‘Do what?’ France sounded honestly unsure, voice light, but his face was sad and he refused to meet Spain’s eye again.
‘You know full well what.’ Prussia bucked again, kicking out at them both, ‘Lemme go. If I fall then I fucking fall.’
‘What?’ Prussia twisted around, hands holding him up on the iron edge of the support, ‘What, I might really die? I might not come back?’
Spain didn’t respond.
‘Fuck you,’ Prussia kicked out again, ‘Fuck both of you. I’ll come back. I’ll throw myself off this fucking bridge just to prove it.’
He didn’t. Prussia carefully stretched out one arm for the jacket, a few inches below his fingertips, but maintained a strong grip on the metal rail with the other, knuckles white and arm shaking with the effort.
Spain wrapped his arm tighter around Prussia’s leg, all too aware suddenly of the warmth of his leg, the solid alive feeling of it. He grinned at France, swallowing back a truth and a future he didn’t want to consider just yet, ‘We could lower him down?’
France frowned and craned his neck to peer over the side without disturbing Prussia’s weight.
‘Drop me!’ Prussia called up at them, ‘I’ll grab it on the way.’
France looked pained, Prussia’s throw-away comment barbed and goading, but when he spoke after a tut, he sounded only coolly irritated, ‘No, your blood will stain the fabric.’
‘Says you,’ Spain repositioned himself, feet braced better against the ground, ‘Come on, Fran, let’s use him as a crane.’
‘That’s it, that’s my true calling in life.’
‘You cannot be trusted with anything nice.’ France copied Spain’s stance and they slowly eased Prussia further over the wall, ‘It is my fault, really. I should have known your brutish nature would reject the sight of anything delicate and expensive.’
‘Do you want me to flick it off this thing? Cos, I fucking will.’ A few grunting noises, Spain not looking for fear of upsetting the balance, and then Prussia gave a whoop of triumph, ‘Got it! Pull me up.’
Back on his own feet, Prussia swept the hair away from his head and flapped the jacket at France, who snatched it and hurriedly put it on.
‘What, no thank you?’
‘Why should I thank you? What was entirely your fault.’
‘I almost died for you.’
France huffed and turned away, flicking his hair out of his collar and hiding his face, ‘A stupid consequence for a foolish action.’
Prussia’s expression twisted, something raw and broken that was quickly hidden under a practiced unbothered expression. There were fine lines at the corner of his eyes and across his forehead, marks of mortal time that stayed even when his expression softened into apathy.
Were they new?
Spain ran his tongue over his teeth, feeling out the new need for cautiousness in his chest. It didn’t belong there, for creatures like them. ‘Come on,’ he said, patting Prussia’s shoulder and pulling his shirt straight again at the bottom, ‘Let’s get Francis drunk enough so that he loses that damn jacket.’
Prussia barked a laugh, ‘€50 he gets drunk enough to go looking for Arthur.’
Spain pouted, ‘I’m not going to put money down when you’re obviously going to win.’
France arched his eyebrow, flicking a finger against Prussia’s arm, ‘If we’re betting on obvious wins, then I wish to put €1000 on Ludwig needing to come and take you home.’
‘Or bail us out of jail?’ Spain supplied.
‘Yea yea, “ha ha”,’ Prussia huffed and began walking towards town, ‘Better him than Roderich.’
France shuddered and Spain cheerfully agreed, ‘For you, maybe. But really, both seem bad to me.’
‘For you, we’d call Lovino.’
Prussia cackled and jogged ahead. A taxi was coming towards them, light on for passengers, and he waved his arm at it furiously.
‘He’s skinnier,’ Spain said quietly, feeling France come to stand alongside him to wait and watch, ‘Did you feel it? Less muscle.’
‘Don’t think about it,’ France’s tone left no room for discussion. He took a long breath in through his nose and then out again, things he could not say settling between them both, ‘What good will that do anyone?’