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Midnight Duet

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Prussia lit a single candle, all he would need to find his way through the palace at night, and then dressed quietly. He didn't want to wake the servants who would undoubtedly tell his king about his comings and goings. This was one trip be wanted to make in complete secrecy.

He had been woken by the sound of a trapped bird playing out its song late in the night, when it was allowed to. He had decided that he was going to seek out the source of the music. He was not entirely sure why he felt so strongly, he simply did. His instincts did not usually fail him.

Prussia pulled on a vest over his shirt, decided that it was too late at night to bother with a cravat. He then pulled on a pair of boots on; the oldest pair that did not make the same loud clicks as the others. The air was still filled with the sweet notes that had awoken him. He stopped by the door for a moment to think, there was something else he wanted to bring with him.

He walked over to a cabinet he hadn't opened in quite a while and, with a slight hesitation, opened it. The instrument sat, untouched for more than a decade, shining in the mahogany confines. Prussia reached out and ran his hand along the wood. It seemed to respond to him, not in any physical way, but with a feeling. It sung to him about all the years he had denied himself this, his own art. Without another thought, he tucked the violin under his arm and took the bow in his hand not holding the candle. It had been so long since he had played that violin, the instrument that he had been taught by Austria when they had both been younger and on better terms.

He then turned and walked to the door, this time certain that he was not forgetting anything. He opened the door as quietly as he could, even so the hinges squeaked ever so slightly. It was not loud enough to wake his king, but Prussia felt himself clench his teeth in anxiety all the same. Slowly, he closed the door. It again gave a very slight squeak, enough to set all of his hair on end again. He hadn't noticed before how loud these doors could be. With one more glance at the door to make sure it was properly closed, he started walking again, this time down the hallways he knew so well.

His boot heels made muted clicks against the floor. He followed the sound that had originally called to him, the soft rise and fall of sweet notes carried on a strained melody. Music, but not the best, still the result of an unpracticed hand. It was not hard to guess what room the music was coming from. There was a private study tucked away just up a level, too small to be of much interest to most, especially the king. But, Prussia knew that it was where he would find the bird he was looking for.

He turned sharply at a staircase and took the stairs quickly. Now that he was far enough away from the King's chamber, Prussia's heart began to lighten and he allowed himself to be louder. He reached the next landing and turned again. It wasn't far now to the room he sought. Sure enough, there was light coming out from under a door at the end of the hall. It was on this that Prussia set his sights.

When he reached it, he put down his own candle and pushed open the door with one hand. Flute music spilled out as the door swung open, engulfing Prussia with its own charms. Certainly, it was not yet exceptional, but it was good and had integrity to it. Stepping into the room, Prussia caught sight of the young man he had been expecting. He smiled to himself; this late night strategy was new.

He spoke, "Isn't it late for this, Fritz?" The Crown prince jumped as though he had not expected anyone to interrupt his private concert.
He said, hurriedly putting down the flute as he did so, "Gilbert, don't scare me like that!" He quickly unbristled like a cat that had been startled by someone it trusted, and said, "How did you know I was here?"

The albino took a couple careful steps closer, closing the door behind him. The room was small and currently populated with a surprising number of books, a clear sign that the Crown Prince had been using this room to hide his more effeminate hobbies from his father. There were a few candles lit that made a small well-lit space in the center of the room, right next to the window. The resultant reflection of the light off the glass was brighter than the candles would have been on their own. Prussia made sure he was close before saying, "I could hear you playing and I followed the sound. It wasn't hard to figure out where you were hiding."

As he spoke, he sat down on a chair that had apparently been pushed to the side, but which now faced the Crown Prince almost directly. Friedrich still looked defensive at the invasion of his privacy, but his indignation would have been far worse with anyone else. He said shortly, "If you could hear me playing, did it wake the King as well?"

There was obvious bitterness in the way he spoke about his father. He refused to even acknowledge that they were related, a step he had never taken before. Prussia was struck by how far the relationship between father and son had degenerated. They had never gotten along, but this was different. He responded as cautiously as possible, "Your father-" He placed special emphasis on the word as a reminder about the relation "is a much deeper sleeper than I am. The music is quiet enough to not wake him."

A look of relief passed over the other's face and the tension he was holding in his shoulders was released. But, he still wasn't completely at ease. He spoke, again putting Prussia on the defensive, "So, why have you come here? Do you want to chide me?" His tone indicated that he was not as upset as the question would indicate. He sounded almost bemused. Prussia took the violin out from under his arm and plucked one of the strings experimentally. It was terribly out of tune, but that was to be expected considering how long it had gone unplayed.

He didn't speak until he was certain that Friedrich was watching him with rapt attention, apparently stunned at the appearance of another instrument. Only once he was certain the blue eyes were fixed on him, did Prussia say, "I thought you might like some company. A duet is so much more satisfying than playing alone." He plucked another string and noticed that it was also completely out of tune. Ignoring the almost giddy smile that was appearing on Friedrich's face, he said, keeping his tone as casual as possible, "Would you mind playing a center C? This thing hasn't been tuned in far too long."

He turned one of the tuning pegs and listened intently to the changes in sound, knowing that this would be of no use without something to compare it to. The other seemed far too surprised to actually respond to the request for a reference note. Finally, he said, "Gilbert!" With so much excitement in his voice, the French lilt that he put on Prussia's name was very apparent. It was charming, but it did irk Prussia that his future king spoke French more fluently than German.

He responded, feigning ignorance, "What, Fritz?" The mortal leaned forward, one hand still holding on to his flute.
His voice was almost unsteady with excitement when he said, "You play an instrument. You actually play an instrument."
Prussia responded with the most nonchalant tone he could muster, "Actually I play the violin." He attempted to smile in a way that he judged to be charming, but the other's enthusiasm was infectious. What had been intended to be a small smile was from ear-to-ear before he could stop himself.

Thankfully, Friedrich broke the silence, "What a pleasant surprise, I never would have expected it." The words concealed, albeit poorly, a fascinating mix of emotions. The excitement was obvious, but there was also something that could only be described as a new sense of belonging.
Prussia replied, managing to keep his voice even again, "I'm not just your father's solider."

He paused for only a moment before changing the subject, "You're never going to hear what I can do with this if you don't help me tune."
Struck by the change back to a serious tone, the Crown Prince remembered his dignity and said, "Of course." He put his flute, which had almost been forgotten in the course of the conversation, to his lips. It took him only a moment to adjust his fingers and play the correct note.

Prussia carefully corrected his string until he found the right note. From there it was easy to adjust all the other springs while Friedrich watched him with an expression of fascination. Once he had finished tuning, Prussia put the violin to his shoulder and pulled the bow across the strings. The sound was sweet, even if it was only one note. It had been so long since Prussia had played, he had forgotten how it felt. It was sublimely exciting to feel the smooth wood under his chin, the strings humming as he pressed his fingers against them. It was a buzz that he could feel all the way through his chest, resonating somewhere deeper.

He glanced up to see his prince had stopped playing and was simply looking at him with a small smile. Prussia would have made a comment, but that was rather hard to talk with his chin keeping his violin in place. Without any pretense or communication, he decided to start a song. He didn't have any sheet music, but it wasn't necessary; he remembered the basics well enough and he could string them together to make something that resembled a song. This was not a concert or even a public performance. Between the two of them, within the confines of this room, there would be no harm in improvising.

Prussia began by ascending the scale, and then let the notes flow freely from there. His fingers remembered the placement of notes perfectly, like the muscles had retained this skill in anticipation of when it would be needed again. He heard the sound of the flute join in, rising above the violin. Friedrich had apparently taken the cue to follow him.

The flute seemed to chase him, following the same notes but with the light, effervescent quality impossible to achieve on a violin. They flitted around each other, in and out of sharps and flats, one faithfully following the other. They reached peaks and descended, changing dynamics in time with each other. Then the two sounds met, merging into each other, the bird and the horse. The delicate flutters of the flute accompanied the driving steadiness of the violin. The vibratto of the violin mixed with the sound of the flute's high clear notes.

Prussia opened his eyes just slightly and looked at his prince, who was watching him as he played. Their eyes met and Prussia couldn't help but smile. He rarely ever saw Friedrich this happy, this free. In this moment, there didn't need to be anything beyond these four walls. This was enough, their own world, bathed in candlelight and filled with the sound of an impromptu composition.

The music reached a peak and then began to fall as Prussia's concentration shifted from what he was playing to watching the way that Friedrich's hands moved over the flute. The prince caught his gaze and followed his lead in allowing the music to fade. When the final note died leaving the air still alive with feeling.

Prussia spoke first, attempting to keep his usual arrogance, "See, I told you it was better." But, his voice came out remarkably soft. Prussia hadn't been aware he was capable of that tone. There was an excited sparkle in Friedrich's blue eyes, made all the more apparent by the low light in the room. He responded, "You are amazing. When did you learn how to play like that?"

Prussia smiled, enjoying the compliment; "It must have been at least a century now. It was before your father was born." He added, "Roderich never did like playing alone." He spoke the name with no thought about it. There was animosity between them right now, but that didn't change that the past had been good.

However, Friedrich picked up on the name and said, "Who?" Prussia errantly wondered if he heard a slight undertone of jealousy at the thought that he had played a duet with someone else. He brushed the thought away, he knew that Friedrich's preferences were not usual but he doubted that it extended to him. There were rumors he even had a lover, some courtier. Prussia always tried not to feel anything when he heard those rumors repeated; it was not his place to feel like he had a claim to the young prince. But in this moment seeing himself reflected in the pure blue of the other's eyes, he found himself wondering if he even had a choice in the matter.

He responded to the question, "I forget that you don't know the human names of countries. I mean Österreich." This got an immediate response.
A shadow passed over Friedrich's face, and this time it was clear that there was jealousy in his voice, "Oh I see. I should have guessed." He looked away from Prussia as though he had come to a bitter realization. The albino should have known better than to mention it, he knew that the young prince greatly objected to any Austrian influence.

Prussia tried to say something comforting and only managed, "It's been a long time since he and I were even cordial with each other. He used to berate me about my technique when we played together." He remembered it well, the way that playing anything with Austria would result in a constant stream of corrections from the Austrian.

This statement, far from calming the other down, made him visibly bristle. Friedrich said, now defending Prussia from century-old criticism, "How dare he? Your playing is beautiful." Before the albino could say anything, Friedrich continued. This outburst had apparently dislodged a whole torrent of feelings. He said, his anger strangling his voice, "He doesn't deserve you. My bastard father doesn't deserve you either. I hate watching him order you around."

His fury was unleashed and Prussia had to do what he could to comfort it. He said the first thing that came to mind, "Don't worry about me, I have been through worse. Besides he isn't going to be king forever, and you will be king after that." It didn't seem to help at all. The Crown Prince continued with the same tone, "You know he would demand you stop if he knew you played." Prussia nodded immediately; he knew it was the truth because his king thought music was far too feminine. But, he was a kingdom and that limited his ability to disagree with his king. He knew Friedrich was only using this as an example of how oppressive his father was, and the whole meaning came through.

He said, attempting a suitable response, "Fritz, I don't get a choice. For now he is my king." The mortal still looked surly, but he seemed to accept this answer.
He changed the subject again, this time saying, "Gilbert, you used to let me lean against you when I was a child."

His blue eyes were shining as he looked at Prussia. The albino felt himself starting to melt, perfectly aware that if the prince said anything he wasn't going to be able to say no. Friedrich did exactly what Prussia was expecting and said, "Would you mind if I did it again?"
Prussia immediately said, without thinking about how this would affect his strange evolving feelings for the prince, "Not at all."

He put his violin to the side and extended his arms to Friedrich, who almost immediately curled up against him. His head was nestled firmly against Prussia's shoulder. The albino wrapped his arms firmly around the other. He enjoyed having a warm body pressed against him, but it was more than that. He didn't want this to end; he wanted to have this for the rest of his existence. Without a second thought, he entwined his hand in the young man's hair. He wasn't certain what signals he was sending, but this felt natural.

Friedrich spoke, his voice finally softening again, "It was a beautiful duet." Prussia continued stroking the prince's hair and said, "We can do it again another night." He felt rather than saw the nod against his chest. Whatever effects the music had on both of them, the contact was keeping it from fading. There were a couple moments of silence that felt like they stretched on for an eternity. Prussia looked down at Friedrich, who looked so serene leaning against him. He was so young, so beautiful. But he wouldn't remain that way forever. Whatever Prussia was feeling, the rational part of his mind told him that this man would age and he would not. It would not be right to actually fall in love with a mortal man whose life would only be a fraction of his own. But, when Friedrich said, "We make a great duo."
Prussia tightened his hold on the prince slightly and responded, "Yes we do."