Franz Joseph wandered down the darkened hallways that led to his wife’s rooms. She wouldn’t be there, of course, but he knew who would be.
Rudolf had left the dinner over an hour ago, sneaking out between courses, aided by a clumsy servant dropping a tray and causing a distraction. Squaring his already ramrod straight shoulders, Franz readied himself to deliver a lecture and a scolding. Rudolf was problematic: immature, scared yet thrumming with an undercurrent of rebellion, of dissatisfaction with his lot in life.
Pushing the door open, he saw a light burning in Sisi’s bedroom. Ah, there was his son, seated on a backless sofa, staring into one of the huge mirrors that stretched from floor to ceiling. The glow of the lamplight illuminated him, turning his angles soft, his hair like burnished bronze. His jacket, embroidered and bedecked with the symbols of his stature, was open at the collar.
Rudolf was delicate, sensitive, much too much for the role he had been born to play. Franz knew he was too hard on him sometimes, but he knew no other way to be. His own mother had seen to that. Surely it was better that he was close, trying to guide the wayward prince, than off somewhere with no care for him.
He moved further into the room and Rudolf gasped, turning to see him.
“Yes, I found you.” Franz sighed and sat down beside his son, resting his hands on his knees.
“I’m sorry, I just couldn’t bear…”
“I do understand. Tonight’s guests were exceptionally dull, even compared to the usual. One minute more and I might have sent them all away myself.”
Rudolf smiled hesitantly, his eyes huge and dark and filled with something akin to awe. Was it really so rare that they spoke so candidly or casually? Perhaps the lecture could wait until the morning. There, alone in Sisi’s perfumed space, so often denied to him, he felt himself drift into a dreamlike state.
“You know, Rudolf, sometimes I see so much of her in you.” They both knew who he was referring to. Franz touched his gloved hand to his son’s cheek and was disturbed by the choked off sound the young man made. Rudolf’s eyes fluttered closed, his lashes long and casting longer shadows still.
Torn between anger and love, as he always was when it came to his son, Franz put thoughts of Hungary, Julius Felix, and a myriad of other troubles to the side. Rudolf leant into him as if starving for the tiniest affection and, for once, Franz was of a mind to give it to him. Aiming to kiss his cheek in a fatherly manner, his intentions were dashed when Rudolf turned his head at the last moment and their lips brushed. A shudder ran through the boy and he trembled beneath his hands. A shaking sob erupted from him and for a moment Franz indulged the kiss, feeling how soft his son was, how like and unlike Sisi.
Steeling himself, Franz pushed his son away by the shoulders, holding him at a distance and watching as his face fell.
“Rudolf, you don’t know what you’re doing.” He protested.
“I do! I haven’t drunk all night!” That was a rare claim, or so the palace spies told him. “Please, father…I…” But Rudolf faltered, not knowing what he wanted to say. Franz began to stand but stopped when he felt a tug at his sleeve. “Please don’t leave - the dark - I don’t want to be alone.”
They were all alone though, weren’t they? When would Rudolf learn that to be an Emperor was, in the end, to be alone.
Still he acquiesced, sitting down again and letting his cloak be removed and folded neatly to be put aside. Then Rudolf’s hands moved to his formal uniform and began to untie and unbutton it. Franz allowed it, stopping him only when one cool palm pressed against his chest over his undershirt. Bravely, Rudolf dragged him close for another kiss, sighing as Franz twisted a hand through his hair. He wasn’t cold or displeased like his mother, he was desperate, passionate, but it was sheer madness to continue…only, Franz was lonely, so very lonely that it hurt deep inside, hidden beneath layers and layers of steel and stone constructed by Sophie and his advisors.
He had been a young prince once too, and what he wouldn’t have given to have known, without a doubt, his own parents’ unconditional love.
He really did get up then, crossing the floor to stare at the lines around his eyes in the mirror. Rudolf hovered like a ghost behind him, obviously frustrated and aroused. He adjusted himself and Franz swallowed, rubbing his hand across his moustache. A painting of Elisabeth caught his eyes where it hung on the wall, moonlight slanting across her guarded gaze. She was watching them, seeing how he lusted after his son. Was she angry? It had been so long since he had felt anything at all from her.
“Father,” Rudolf approached, “You can pretend, if you like.” His eyes flickered to the portrait and Franz felt his heart thump painfully.
Cupping his son’s face with two hands, he searched for things he never normally saw. Rudolf bit his lower lip, worrying it between his teeth, and then he kissed his father again. This time it was like lightning and they crashed together. Franz touched his tongue to that reddened lip and then licked his way inside, Rudolf groaning as his father’s hands smoothed down his back and sides and then further. He pushed forward, grinding himself against the leg that Franz inserted between his.
Somewhere in the shadows, a spectre of a man watched and laughed. Oh, Elisabeth, if only you knew what was happening at home while you ride your horse around Europe! A moment of ecstasy for the boy, stolen from his father, would torture him ever after - another nail in his eventual coffin.
“You are yourself, Rudolf,” Franz said as quick lips kissed their way over his jaw and down his neck. “You are not her.”
“I’m her mirror,” Rudolf muttered, so low that Franz did not catch it, but Death did and he smirked.
They moved to the bed and Rudolf lay back, surging up to meet the body that pressed him down onto the sheets. They were entwined, hard and beyond the point of no return. Helping his father, Rudolf rid himself of his constricting clothes and then moaned as Franz touched him half hesitantly and half surely.
He did not go so far as to find himself sheathed inside his son, but they moved together much too intimately. Rudolf cried, though he tried to hide it, and Franz saw, though he tried not to. Such a sickly, fragile, beautiful boy. What kind of hope was he for the future? Franz couldn’t answer that, he could only encourage his own completion by guiding Rudolf to his.
Afterwards, he tucked his sleeping son into his wife’s sheets and then left, slinking back to his own apartments with growing dread. It seemed, as he passed a mirror, that another face was mocking him. A cruel, white face with no mercy.