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The Accompanying Apology Note

Chapter Text

It’s not a cry you hear at night
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s cold and It’s a broken

- Leonard Cohen

~~~

Moritz was never the type of person to say much during a conversation. No, he leaned towards the ‘stare at your shoes and fiddle with the hem of your shirt while you nod and try not to cry’ end of the social spectrum. In fact, he was never the type of person to say much at all. He had been more open as a child he remembered, or at least thought he remembered. Thinking of his past was like watching a silent film, games of pirates in the park outside school, feeling free to cry and laugh without his own neuroticism clasping its clammy hands around his throat. Those moments when he was happy captured like pictures from a polaroid camera he carried in his mind. Life had been simple like that. Just simple.

He studied himself in the mirror of his cluttered bathroom. Sometimes he just wanted to get out. Out of his house, out of his city, and especially out of his head. His bathroom, like politician’s public speeches, had too much useless stuff in it. Old razors he didn’t throw out, cosmetics and hair products his sister left at the house, paintbrushes he left to soak for eternity. The old mirror was cloudy due to lack of cleaning but he could see himself just fine. He looked too much like his father. It always came back to his father. Always some way to lay the blame discreetly yet firmly there. One day he might glance back and realise he was being juvenile, blaming it on his family. Always.

/“Silvia, where’s Moritz?”
“In his bedroom papa.”/

His sister, forever the Pontius Pilate in Moritz’s life, disappearing whenever he needed her most. Part of him hoped to reconcile his relationship with her but another wanted to keep hating forever.

/“Crying again?”
“Yes papa.”/

Hate was always so much easier. The silhouette of his father danced in his memory of the hallway at his old house.

/“I thought we’d spoken about this crying Moritz. Or have you forgotten?”/

He winced, glad his mother had decided to move after her husband was sentenced.

Admittedly, not knowing the precise coordinates where it all got complicated made it easier to conclude with an ‘always’. His thoughts tripped over themselves and he relished the relief provided by the familiar lull of the numbness, replaced by a swelling tide of pure anger. An emotion with which he had become well acquainted. Angry at his bastard father whose genes would taunt him forever. Pollute him. Angry at his coward sister who would never grow up enough to apologise. Even angry at his mother who scarcely gave him reason to be so for her silence was as wide as the fucking sea.

/“It’s natural Moritz.”/

His best friend’s voice drifted through the humidity in the bathroom.

/“That’s what dictators do, instil fear to a point where not even those they are imprisoning can communicate. You need to be better than him. Talk to your mom.”/

Moritz smiled at the memory of thirteen-year-old Melchior telling him this after experiencing one of the many stilted exchanges between Moritz and his mother first hand.

Sure, he wanted to talk about it, but how does one captain a ship if he has no knowledge of the ocean? People couldn’t expect the best from Moritz when he’s been taught nothing other than how to decipher the hidden meaning behind the sounds of slamming doors. To him, love was as terrifying and uncharted as the surface of a distant star and anger a familiar yet bittersweet hovel.

A sigh. Moritz inspected his complexion. As nearly anyone at his high school could have told you, Moritz was officially the third hottest guy in the grade (although it was the general consensus that the higher class of good-looking teenage males attended private schools, an elite club from which, as his drab casual clothes reminded him every day, Moritz was excluded). This ‘Objective Hotness Ranking’ had been posted on the schools Facebook page several months ago. It was also printed out and stuck in every hallway and bathroom stall by a group of girls Moritz knew from middle school. There were very few students at their school so placement in the list was by no means competitive or unbiased.

Melchior was awarded top place for his all-round charisma and chivalry. Not only was he highly intelligent and opinionated but he also possessed dazzling looks not all too dissimilar to that of a movie star. His dirty blonde locks sat perfectly atop his head and soft lighting often gave the illusion that he was supporting a halo. His jaw was firm and his eyes a shimmering yet mysterious blue that could be simultaneously cheeky and scary as the raging fires of hell. He was tall and fair skinned. As unapproachable as he was charming and could come crashing down on people with strength such that you could think the sky was falling and doomsday had arrived. However, the thing that made people really swoon was this: He cared nothing for what others thought of him and even less for what the consequences of showing it were. He took every possible opportunity to miss class if he thought the lesson was unimportant and had no fear of the teaching staff who had learnt to treat him more as a problematic acquaintance than a pupil.

/“What is this you’ve just put on my desk Melchior?”
“Why, that’s my assignment Ms.” He replied with innocence enough to convince any sceptical mother that, no he had not stolen that last cookie and it was his brother Jamey.
“But it isn’t about Jasper Jones?” The teacher removed her glasses, perplexed.
“Oh, right” he chuckled, “No, it’s on Emma by Jane Austin. I think a much more interesting read, don’t you?”
The front row tried not to snigger too obviously.
“You cannot fulfil the success criteria with this piece of writing Mr Gabor.”
“Pardon me ma’am, but where in the success criteria does it say anything about the novel Jasper Jones?” He drew the criteria sheet from his school bag, infuriating the teacher further with the fact he was anticipating the conversation, “‘explores themes and evaluates the novel critically and concisely’, etcetera. ‘Spelling and grammar’, ‘stylistic features’, as far as I can see, Ms, the only possible place I can be penalised is in the ‘addresses the essay question’ section of criteria AE3 and even that’s pushing it a bit as I did technically answer the allocated essay question, just on a different book.
“So, if the system is fair I should theoretically be able to achieve an A grade regardless of what I wrote about.” He flashed the teacher a toothy smile before turning around and making his way to his seat next to Moritz whom he’d winked at. Moritz had blushed, but this was nothing compared to the seething red hue of Ms Clark’s face./

Melchi had received a B+ for the task and claimed he was more than satisfied with his success.

It was such things that drew people’s attention to Melchior. Such things that drew Moritz to Melchior.

The second place on the official attractiveness scale of high school was Bobby Maylor. Awarded on the most part to his ‘good body’. It was rumoured the guy was born with extra abdominal muscles and had broken the world record for largest pecks. This could possibly be whittled down to the fact that the majority of girls he had dated probably couldn’t count the number of abs he did or didn’t have but the story had stuck regardless. Ignoring the people he chose to swap spit with, Bobby was a good guy. Sharp and hardworking; it was well known that he wanted to be an attorney once he finished school. It had also been reported that a number of students had discovered the gym where he worked out and were offering the information in exchange for hand jobs. Bobby was dark skinned and a bit of a jack of all trades, but aside from that Moritz knew little about him as they had shared no classes since eighth grade.

Moritz glared into the mirror as if that might be the thing responsible for the emptiness settling deep into his stomach. His complexion was pail and gaunt, with a sprinkling of blemishes on his forehead that he was told suited him somehow. The combined effort of his high cheek bones and lean figure gave the impression he was undernourished but anyone who knew Moritz was fully aware of his remarkable ability to consume mountains of food and not gain an ounce. His hair was completely hopeless and any attempts to contain the mop of chestnut curls had been long since abandoned. People would sometimes commented on how Moritz’s hair would stick up oddly, giving him a permanent aura of ‘I just got out of bed’. He would always scowl at this and mutter about not having washed it in a while.

The boy had a handsome swagger about him but it was his deep set, soulful eyes that won him third place over others at school. He was a jittery enigma and few people dared scratch under the surface for fear of discovering something unexpected.

He ran his palm down the side of his face. It’s not like he gave a shit what the girls in his school rated him appearance wise, it didn’t give him any real advantage socially or academically. Heck, it didn’t even give him a romantic advantage, he was gay anyway.

No, Moritz was never the type of person to say much at all. He kept his thoughts and feelings to himself. The barrier stayed up even when submerged among the Melchior’s of society who let everyone know how they felt ninety percent of the time. The barrier stayed up through the days when he felt nothing and everything all at once, when the dam was bursting and when the world felt like it was ending he held it together at the seams with pure will power and an icy resolve. And, just like those times, the barrier stayed up now as he clenched his hands on the bathroom sink, knuckles white, watching the tears crawl slowly down his cheeks.

Chapter Text

Weeks where monotonous. With the wake up late, sit in classes for attendance, homework, sleep, there was little to distinguish one day from another. They were seniors now and that meant they were approaching the most exciting time of their lives. It didn’t feel like it. It felt like some big joke to Moritz, just the punchline continually evaded him. He was the same kid he always was just now he had to use his not-yet-fully-developed frontal lobe to make some of the most ‘important decisions of his life’ despite still having to request permission to use the bathroom. It was absurd. If his doom and gloom ninth grade teacher was right, it was all downhill from here just with a higher alcohol percentage to numb the pain. It seemed a horrid yet very real possibility.

This is precisely what Moritz was pondering when he heard his name called. The world came back into focus in less than a heartbeat giving him the unmistakeable sensation of nausea. Dammit. Why did teachers insist on calling the role aloud? They could see he was in class so just mark him off. He could hear the blood rushing through his ears, feeling like a tortoise ripped from its shell. Usually he would have the better half of the role to mentally prepare himself for his name to be called. He would practice his response in his head, clear his throat twice (to check his vocal chords where still there) and then wait. So his feeble ‘here’ cracked in many more places than should have been possible.

Ernst gave him a re-assuring smile from his left side, making his heart flutter, and the day began.

~~~

“Stupid people are so infuriating” Hanschen grumbled as he sat down. “They majorly impact me in my Italian double and I know I’ll get scaled poorly because of it. It’s my personal opinion that everyone with an IQ below 90 should be executed.”

“Hanschen!” Ernst chocked on his corn beef sandwich. “You can’t just say stuff like that! And I failed basic English last year so I’d probably be one of the people getting murdered.”

It was lunch.

“Ernst, babe, no, English is a highly illogical and useless subject.”

Melchior practically materialised out of thin air, “On the contrary Rilow. English is possibly the most useful of all subjects we study here at school. Not only does it aid us in understanding the world around us, but it allows us to think critically and make good life choices.” He shot finger guns at the five who were there. “Wear your seatbelts kids!”

Hanschen turned around slowly to face Melchior who had taken a seat next to him, “Well, look who’s been summoned from the pits of hell at the sound of people who will actually have jobs when they graduate from college.”

Georg’s head bobbed up from where it had been bent over his phone, “You used that joke yesterday Hans.”

“Um, no” the blonde rolled his eyes, draping an arm around Ernst who looked sceptical. “I happen to possess an infinite collection of original and mentally stimulating jokes.”

Moritz snorted loudly, resulting in the iced coffee he’d been drinking getting over a large portion of the table. Melchior and Ilse found this particularly amusing and Ernst gave Moritz a packet of tissues and a gentle smile to help clean up the mess.

By this time the other members of the group had arrived and settled into their usual areas on the table. With so many people, they all had unspoken zones at their table where they sat each day. They were an unlikely assortment of personalities, brought together by equally unlikely events no one seemed to remember. A wild card played by the fates. Back in middle school, when Hanschen and Melchior had genuinely hated each other, they were two separate groups but had eventually combined. The facts were awfully murky, but everyone knew that band lessons and Ernst had something to do with it. Funny how after all that time Ernst continued to be the glue which held them together. A neutralising agent. Without him they simply were not whole. Ilse had been the most recent edition to the group in sophomore year when her father had finally given up on forcing her to attend boarding school. So, she had been able to reconnect with her childhood friends. She occasionally ate at another table with the drama kids.

They were known to most of the school as ‘the friend-cest group’. This was partially because most of them had dated each other at one point in time and partially because both Hanschen and Melchior had ‘reputations for being fuckboys’, in Ernst’s immortal words. Contrary to popular belief, Melchior had never had a partner other than Wendla and the same applied to Hanschen’s relationship with Ernst. Melchior often said it was just stigma around his pansexuality and probably Hanschen’s bisexuality as well that drove the rumour. Moritz though it was probably just because Melchior was over-friendly and invasive, although he never actually said that.

No one could argue that the group had seen many unions and break ups between their own members. Otto and Anna had been the first, then Wendla and Melchior, followed by Georg and Anna, Ilse and Martha, Otto and Thea, the long awaited ‘Hernst’, and most recently, Wendla and Martha. It was also acknowledged that the first romance had been between Ilse and Moritz in fifth-grade. They had never kissed and both came out as gay in high school so the ship had consequently sunk, but this didn’t deter Hanschen’s twin sister Thea from writing a poem about their wild romance for an assignment.

Perhaps the basis of the widely accepted title of their group was well founded but they cared little. The only couple to have lasted longer than two and a half months thus far was Hanschen and Ernst. They had been inseparable before they started dating and were probably the most well-known couple in the school. Their math teacher junior year had even let slip that some of the teaching staff had placed bets on when the two would get together.

“Hey Moritz,” Melchior pulled Moritz from his thoughts. “Do you remember that time in grade school when we snorted spaghetti.”

Moritz rolled his eyes. Melchior was always doing this. Not just the statement of his random thoughts at any point during the day although he did this a lot as well. No, it was the reminiscing about the past and claiming life was so much simpler then that irked Moritz. It just seemed forced was all. Like he wanted to make an effort to point out every aspect of Moritz which wasn’t messed up. Like he didn’t realise it was a painful time that Moritz would do better to forget.

He played along anyway, humouring his friend. He always did go to great lengths to impress Melchior. “You mean that time you bullied me into snorting spaghetti and I almost died even though it wasn’t illicit drugs.”

Melchior smiled. He smiled and said that at least if Moritz had died snorting spaghetti he could trust his friends wouldn’t have passed up the opportunity to add heaps of puns to his eulogy. There were several attempts made but no one was able to achieve a satisfactory pun standard. Melchior said it didn’t matter because Shakespeare had already laid claim to all puns, so it would just be plagiarism. And he grinned the way he did and Moritz felt safe.

Perhaps school was boring and their lives where meaningless and they were a bunch of kids about to face a world they didn’t understand and have the best of their souls murdered by capitalism. Perhaps they were a table of shitty millennials who had no control over their lives and weren’t cool enough to participate in inter-group dating, but so what? Moritz could still try to have a damn good time.

Chapter Text

“Fuck calculus, x needs to learn to use bloody google maps.” Moritz fell back against the bedding, digging the palms of his hands into his eyes. “Why do we even have to do this when you can just search the answers up on the internet or whatever?”

“It’s teaching a way of thinking Mo. The education systems method of trying to make us good at problem solving and mathematical reasoning.” Melchior hardly looked up from his own homework as he responded to his friends whining.

“But why do the questions all have to be so different?” The anxiety rose in Moritz’s voice, his arms failing wildly. “Like, I’ll ask for help on a question and then when I understand it I’ll move on to the next one and be faced by some hideous beast from the underworld that makes no sense and is missing half the information I need to answer it.”

“That would be because the universe hates us.”

Us. Moritz liked how even though Melchior found school easy he would always include himself in the distain for it. Moritz forged on. “But then, when you go into the test having done all the set chapters and homework sheets it’s like being served up to Hades with your only weapon some dumb cheat sheet you wrote at three am.”

Melchior set his mechanical pencil down, turning to face Moritz with a mere quirk of the eyebrow at the boy’s distress. “As a politics student, I would advise that you don’t worry so much because we’re all going to die anyway.”

Moritz blinked, “That had literally nothing to do with politics.”

Melchior shrugged. “I just say that because the whole ‘obnoxious politics student’ act generally annoys people into forgetting what they were worried about.”
The two boys held each-others gaze for a few seconds before lapsing into easy laughter, partly at Melchior’s words and partly at the knowledge that this is what school had reduced them to.

Much was every day after school. Moritz would drive them to Melchior’s place and they would do homework together. Generally, it would wind up with Melchior ranting about something or other or Moritz despairing over a question his friend inevitably answered for him. Sometimes they would just make nachos and fuck around and film a video for Melchior’s YouTube channel. It was something they had been doing for ages and had the primary function of preventing them from going insane. It also made Moritz feel important. He was always welcome at the Gabor’s house and always treated with unconditional positive regard and love. That’s what he liked the most probably. The fuzzy feeling. Love.

Back in middle school, when he had been so lost, so confused, the Gabor’s had always been there. His mother was busy at work, he knew that, the money had all disappeared with his father. His mother hadn’t wanted him, he knew that too. At first, children had just been a remedy for the loneliness but as soon as she’d had Silvia, she hadn’t loved them. Children had just chained her down and made her feel sad. She’d said so once when she thought they were sleeping. Moritz laid awake for hours afterwards trying to tell himself it wasn’t his fault but not quite believing it.

It was around then that the envy of Melchior had set in. When Moritz began to realise how different their lives were. It made him feel horrid, knowing that Melchior thought of him as a pseudo sibling and didn’t have anything he wouldn’t gladly give up for Moritz. But the envy had stuck around, through countless dinners, movie nights, and trips spent with the Gabor’s. He’d begun to think of Fannie more as a mother than his own biological one. She was better suited to the role. It was her he went to when he experienced his first growing pains, when he broke his arm, when he was confused about his sexuality. Eventually, the jealousy had faded. He supposed it was still there in some way, just supressed. Regardless, the Gabor’s house was the only place he could go where he didn’t long to be somewhere else. Be someone else. It could have been described as liberating, but it was more simple than that.

Moritz arrived home later that evening to a Facebook notification informing him Melchior had tagged him in a post. The two religiously tagged each other in memes but resigned to limiting themselves to one per day. Today’s read;

‘Me without coffee: suffering
Me with coffee: suffering but with a faster heart rate’

The comment said, '@Moritz us in study'
Moritz snorted. They didn’t even share study anymore. He replied regardless, '@melchior yea if the librarian ever let me in with coffee'
The reply was virtually instant. 'Well that would be the case if SOMEONE hadn’t spilt the stuff everywhere in the first week of senior year'
'Fuck u'
'😊'

He smiled dumbly down at his phone. It made him feel special the Melchior cared about him enough to remain friends for so long. He loved how when he was struggling, Melchior was always a constant in his life. An unshifting rock that manifested as the logical voice in his head. When he had no one to listen to him, Melchior was only ever a car ride or phone call away from him. Always calming, always all knowing about what to do. Moritz really loved that about him, the sheer reliability. How he could be crazy and outgoing enough to dim the other, stressful aspects of life. Like morphine or opium. Addictive. In a way, Moritz supposed he had become dependent on Melchior. It was a confronting yet logical conclusion to come to. He needed Melchior there to stay sane. Needed him to stay alive.

Chapter Text

Moritz shared his study line with Ilse and Ernst. Ilse rarely attended but would always invite the other two on her adventures to wherever she was going instead. They would mostly politely refuse because they had homework. Which they did, and they always /intended/ to do in study. But, both Moritz and Ernst agreed if anyone actually did any work at such times they would be prepared to drive both their cars off a cliff.

So, most of the time study was Ernst and Moritz sitting around trying to find interesting unblocked sights without using VPN.

“Oh my God, Moritz!” Ernst grabbed his friends’ arm, panicked.

Moritz was shaken from his thoughts. “What?”

They locked eyes. “Isaac Newton died a virgin.”

Moritz leaned over to look at Ernst’s screen, partly disgruntled by the suddenness of it all but mostly perplexed as to how Ernst had roamed to such a topic not within five minutes of having sat down. Sure enough he had found a website claiming the puffy-haired apple falling expert died a virgin.

He had only one conclusion. “That just proves math is useless.”

“But don’t you think that’s so fucking sad? You can invent calculus but you still can’t get laid.”

Moritz scoffed, “Yeah, well I haven’t done either of those things so arguably I’m worse off.” He squinted once again at the flattering portrait of Newton in the corner of the article. “I’ve been one upped by Mr L’oréal.”

Ernst shook his head, “Nope. Firstly, Newton totally stole calculus, Hanschen has tagged us all in enough of his memes to know that, and secondly, if I have anything to do with it, you and Melchi will be together by spring break.”

“Look, Ernst, I told you-”

“No listen, all Melchior literally ever talks about, excluding world politics and equality, is you. Also, I was messaging him the other day and he said that-”
“Don’t you have English to do, asshole?” Moritz said, turning away from his friend slightly and fidgeting with his sticky notes. He really didn’t want to talk about this. He was too much of a wreck to be in a relationship, Melchior deserved better than that.

“Don’t /you/ have English to do?”

“Touché.”

Hanschen’s familiar drawl sounded from behind them, “What are you two losers up to?”

Ernst frowned, “Hansi aren’t you supposed to be in Chemistry?”

Hanschen cocked a perfect eyebrow as his boyfriend stood up to give him a hug “Isn’t the president of the United States supposed to be sane? We live in a backward society.”

Ernst sat back down “Did you know Isaac Newton died a virgin?”

Hanschen sat too, “Where did you read that?” He leant back in his chair, they way teachers always told you not to do in primary school. “Newton never corresponded much with women but that doesn’t mean he died a virgin.”

Both Moritz and Ernst blinked at him, confused.

Hanschen tapped his head dramatically “He was gay geniuses. I’d expect you two to figure that out. I also heard he sexually assaulted some kid but I’m not sure if that’s true. He was a dick in general though, so I wouldn’t be surprised.”

Moritz typed frantically into the search bar to see if there was any evidence to back up Hanschen’s claims. If there was his life was officially a lie.

Hanschen leaned back further in his chair, watching Ernst.

“Anyway, I’m here to ask if you’ll go to the school dance with me.”

“Of course I’ll go with you, nut-head.” Ernst rolled his eyes and planted a kiss on Hanschen’s cheek. “I’m your boyfriend.”

“Yes, well I have to ask anyway don’t I?” Hanshcen said distantly, he was reading the article on Ernst’s laptop. “It’s one of those technicality things.”

“Shit I forgot about the dance.” Moritz piped up from his spot to the right of the couple.

“We should all go shopping together!” Ernst said. “Except I have like negative five dollars.”

“We’ll sort it all out later” Hanschen sat all four legs of his chair back on the ground and made to pack up his boyfriend’s workbooks. “Do you want to come and get burritos with me?”

Ernst grinned, “Sure. Moritz, you wanna come?”

Moritz squirmed uncomfortably. He was pretty sure he would manage to be third wheel in a story about his own life, so he politely turned the offer down and waved goodbye to the two. He heard Ernst talking animatedly about his art project before they disappeared through the sliding doors and Moritz settled in to do his homework alone for what was left of the period, missing Ernst’s company.

Chapter Text

It was a Saturday, balmy and bright and Moritz found himself driving to Melchior’s the instant his mother left for work. While his excuse was the fact he had left his calculator there (he always did that and by this point he wasn’t sure if it was accidental or just routine) he genuinely just wanted to spend some time with his friend, who was always obliging when it came to assisting others with procrastination.

The Gabor household was nearly always open and if not, Moritz could climb in through the laundry window. Fannie would always say that she was surprised he could still fit through, but Melchior would just laugh and recite the story of Moritz hiding in the refrigerator during an intensely competitive game of hide and seek. He said it like a joke but at the time he had been ridiculously mad at Moritz for not considering the possibility of contracting hypothermia. Melchior was a bit like a parent that way, lecturing was something so innate to him that it happened automatically when he was worried.

There was a common misconception that Melchior was an adventurous, rebellious teen on a mission to create controversy. Perhaps there was some truth in this, but Moritz knew for a fact that Melchior wasn’t a real risk taker. Sure, he would bend the rules and intentionally rub people up the wrong way, but when he did, it was calculated, sure. The probability of success and the ratio of pros to cons tediously analysed with mathematical precision. He merely though about things for what they were and let people know if he though it was bogus. He was one for quiet contemplation, a desire for change, and ability to bring it about while being self-preserving. He had a kind of survival instinct Moritz lacked. This sparkle. This knowledge that one day, he would do something, really, truly, do something with his life, so he had to look after himself. Moritz wanted that, more than anything, and in a way, he had it vicariously through Melchior.

True to form, the Gabor’s house was unlocked and Moritz made his way upstairs to Melchior’s room. He had stopped knocking years ago.

“Hey Melchi, I’m just after…” he froze mid-sentence

Melchior turned around to smile at him from his place in front of the camera, “Hi Moritz. Come on in, I’m making a video about terrorism.”

Moritz reluctantly made his was over and spoke under his breath, “Of course you are”, prompting a laugh from Melchior.

In truth, Moritz wanted to turn around and run like hell out of the room. He hated being in Melchior’s video’s and tried to make it so he appeared as scarcely as possible. The viewers seemed to like him, but he always felt vulnerable and stupid because he never knew what to say on camera. But Melchior’s smile had gotten him again and he found himself settling down on the couch next to his friend (“Why on earth did you get a couch for your room Melchi? Literally no one has a couch in their room.” “Ah Moritz, I’m sure people said the same to Sigmund Freud”).

Melchior grinned at him once more “So, Moritz, what’s your opinion on the involvement of religion in terrorism?”

Moritz tried not to fiddle with the hem of his shirt “Umm, I think it’s pretty dumb.”

Melchior nodded encouragingly “How so?”

In times like these it was always wise to regurgitate exactly what Melchior had told him about the topic, “Well, ignoring home-grown terrorists, if you think about it, take say, ISIS, it’s basically like Christianity a couple hundred years ago you know? Like the Spanish Inquisition and stuff. Well not like that but that’s one example. And I just think that killing people and burning down stuff isn’t really what God and stuff had in mind…so…I find it pretty, pretty sad that in any religion where the majority of people aren’t aggressive or anything that they get this bad representation? And it’s really scary that after all this time we still haven’t learnt how to deal with it I guess and people still do it and think badly about religious groups when it’s not their fault.”

Melchior practically jumped out of his seat in excitement, “Yes, exactly! So, Moritz, how do you think we should be dealing with terrorism then?”

Dammit, he should have seen this one coming. “Ummm…education? Restricting the availability of firearms?”

“Yes! Yes, this is precisely what I was saying before you came in.”

He dutifully sat through the remainder of the video and nodded along to what his friend said, hoping that no one would make fun of him in the comments section or make memes out of him again when the video was uploaded.

After filming, Melchior said he had an errand to run which involved his neighbours being away and getting paid $75. He apologised and said he would be back in under half an hour so if Moritz was happy to wait, they could spend time together then.

Moritz, of course, was obliging. He’d just be scrolling through his social media feeds at home anyway so he might as well do it here.

It wasn’t until ten minutes later that he noticed it. A thick, leather-bound book sitting on Melchior’s night stand. A journal. Moritz supposed he shouldn’t be surprised at it being hard copy, Melchior was old fashioned about things like that. He still didn’t know how to delete his search history or use the kindle his mother had bought him for his birthday three years ago.

It wasn’t as if his fingers moved by themselves. No, it took a rough three point five seconds for Moritz to actively decide he was going to pick up that little brown book and flick through the pages. There was none of the satisfaction one might feel when skipping class or eating the last of your sibling’s food. That cocktail of anxiety with a hint of pleasure while doing something you know you shouldn’t but that provides enough short-term benefits to sway you towards affirmative. No, this was much deeper. It was a betrayal of trust on Moritz’s behalf. This crossed the boundary of friendship and broke every law of common decency that Moritz held in his gangly body. His intentions, as they were, were clear to him though. He wanted to see this part of Melchior. To establish his position as the closest person to him and understood the workings of the darkest parts of his mind.

His hands didn’t tremble and his gaze was set in his resolve as he flicked to a random page.

'25th May

Life can be a funny place to find yourself. Sometimes it make me want to scream. People are always prepared to either brush the epidemic of mental illness under the carpet or romanticise it to the point where they won’t make any effort to help people who suffer from it.

Suicide is no sin. Individuals do not conspire against God in such a crude and intentional manner. It is nothing more than a choice that the individual alone can make. It’s always there, leering at us. It might be tragic but that does not mean it should be ignored.

Guilt too is a point of interest. Shaming and damnation of a fictional woman’s curiosity unleashing the worst things in the world as encouragement to never give up on hope. Guilt for original sin. The suffering of thousands unheard because the colour of their skin? What kind of good can such beliefs possess and how can they still be tolerated in the modern era? Good fucking job humanity. Sometimes I think the only thing that can stop some people from taking religious texts so literally is if they were to get modernised.

I visited Moritz’s this afternoon and was less than pleased to find his grandparents there.'

Typical Melchior. Blunt and to the point if you can find your way among his jumbled ramblings. He also never passed up an opportunity to complain about Moritz’s grandparents. Still, not what Moritz was after. He had to hear this kind of stuff 24/7 from Melchior, just the two of them pretending they understood anything other than the information they found on the internet.

He flicked through the pages, ranting about anti-vaxers, ranting about it gun lobby, ranting about climate change. Finally, an interesting entry popped up.

'3rd June

A little over two years ago, I convinced myself that Wendla was the one who could fill the void of loneliness that had established itself in my heart. It seems funny how blind I was.'

Moritz had to re-read this four times yet still could not remember any significance June the 3rd might hold only that it was about six months after Melchior and Wendla broke up. He skipped past several entries and was about to put the book down when his name appeared on the page.

'17th June

Considering it’s Moritz’s birthday I’m going to dedicate this page to him.

Since first meeting him, Moritz has been one of the most intense and demanding forces in my life. He’s always had a way of trying exceedingly hard never to draw attention to himself. Funnily enough this is exactly what intrigued me about him and was partially why I introduced myself to him. That and because Hanshen called him lame in primary school and while I may have hated Hanshen at the time I didn’t originally intend to prove him wrong but have previously caught myself subconsciously noting reasons why this is the case.

It has taken me some time to understand Moritz, I’ll admit. It has been worth all the prying and coaxing of information from him.

The father, of whom I still know little about, was abusive and I believe he still controls a certain part of Moritz. He left when Moritz was seven years old and I am lucky to have had very few interactions with the man. I never told Moritz this but I found a photo of his father in some online records some time ago. He let slip once that he looks alike to his father but I didn’t think so. If there are any remnants of him on the boy’s face they’ve been drowned out by Moritz’s placid nature and doe-like eyes.
The mother, who may have physically saved Moritz from the clutches of his father in the end but her expansive silence over the years has drowned Moritz as much as any of his father’s abuse. She has done him a great deal of injustice as while he may have been emotionally scarred in his younger years it has been these more recent ones that have secured his feelings so deeply inside of him.

I have very little on his sister. I was in middle school when I first figured out she existed and since then he always has this steely gaze when I mention her. She is much older than him.

It hurts to see his doubt. About his personality and about his status as a good person, about his ability. That being said, it may be this exact insecurity that makes him an artist. I am never more at ease than when I am with him.'

 

Moritz left before Melchior even came home. He couldn’t allow himself to comprehend the possibility of someone returning his affection. Additionally, he couldn’t stand the thought of someone knowing more about him than he did himself.

Chapter Text

Moritz parked two streets down from the party. The night was warm, and the sound of Melchior’s door slamming calmed his anxiety a little. He wasn’t going to be alone tonight. Melchi would be there the whole time.

They walked side by side down the dimly lit street.

Melchior took a deep breath, “Ah, the scent of oops I just took eight shots and people refusing to share drugs because they’re twats and drugs are expensive.”

“Melchi, you know that if you did drugs I would probably tell you off then give your mom the entire story along with incriminating pictures.”

Melchior let out a soft chuckle, “You wouldn’t. And besides, we’ve both smoked weed before and you consume more caffeine than anyone else I know, hypocrite.”

Mortiz huffed, “Yeah, well I take chemistry, so I could actually make the drugs. You could too if you took any /real/ sciences.”

“Wow, that’s low Moritz. Consider me and my psychology textbook deeply offended. I honestly thought we were friends.” Melchior wiped away fake tears.

“We sound like a pair of middle schoolers.”

Melchior paused, “Watch as I win a roast battle with the words; no, you.”

Moritz grinned, “And try best my rebuttal; your mom.”

“I think we’re too lame for this party.”

“Melchi you know half the people wouldn’t be there if you weren’t going.”

Melchior snorted, “Unlikely. It’s amazing how teenagers possess the ability to sniff out an excuse to get drunk.”

They stood on the front lawn, facing the double storied middle-class monstrosity before them. Some freshmen who evidently hadn’t made it past pre-drinks where passed out on the lawn and the music was so loud Moritz was sure he could feel the soundwaves causing his skin to vibrate.

'It’s okay', Moritz thought to himself, 'Melchi will be there the whole time'.

This, he realised all too soon, was a fucking lie. Melchior disappeared into the throng almost immediately. Whenever this happened, Moritz would generally find his friend three hours later having a heated debate about politics or equality of some sort. And he generally had to be rescued before the argument turned physical. And generally the person doing the rescuing was Moritz.

So here he was, stranded in a sea of strangers who were doing all sorts of scary illegal stuff and he was unable to even get drunk because he was being the sober bob for his best friend who had deserted him. Great. It was times like these that Moritz wished he wasn’t an awkward teenage boy who hadn’t even had his first kiss or used a vape. Actually, he always wished this wasn’t the case. With this in mind he made his way into the kitchen in search of a glass of water or some soda.

Upon returning from the kitchen he bumped into Ernst who promptly enveloped him in a tight hug, he didn’t usually let people hug him, but Ernst was an exception.

“Hey Mo-Mo”

Moritz rolled his eyes, Ernst was a very emotional drunk and he could already hear the guy starting to tear up, “Hi Ernst. Are you alright?”

Ernst backed up, looking into Moritz’s eyes, “That’s so sweet of you Mo. Why are you always so nice to me? You mean so much to me you know? Your like, a real good friend.”

“Hey Stiefel.” Hanschen clapped Moritz on the back and wrapped an arm around his boyfriend who was now actually crying.

“Hi Hanschen. Sorry about.” he gestured awkwardly to Ernst sobbing.

The blonde waved it away, “Ah, it’s all good. He’ll be fine as soon as I find him another beer.”

Moritz shook his head, perplexed. “Fair enough. How long you guys been here?”

“What’s the time?”

“It was about a quarter to twelve last I checked.”

“Mmm then a little over an hour and a half I think.”

“Cool.”

Hanschen nodded sagely, “Indeed. What about you? You come with Gabor?” He wiggled his eyebrows in a very uncharacteristically Hanschen way which Moritz tried to ignore.

“Yep. We got here at like eleven thirty.”

“I see. Well, I’d love to stay and chat but I gotta look after this kid.” He motioned to Ernst who was still sniffling, “See you round Stiefel.”

Moritz offered a small wave before heading out the back of the house and into the expansive gardens. Talking to Hanschen was always the weirdest part of his night. Partly because it was difficult to tell how drunk he was and partly because he never usually spoke to Hanschen unless he /had/ to. It was mostly good how friendly everyone was while they were high off their asses but with Hanschen it was just weird.

It was more quiet out the back of the house. A group of kids where tyring to start a fire in the back-right hand corner of the yard but seemed too busy snapchatting it to actually start an effective flame. Moritz barely had time to notice them before Wendla came running towards him, cradling a half empty water bottle and beaming, Martha and Ilse following behind.

“Hi Moritz!”

She spoke far too loudly considering there was very little space between them. “Hey guys.”

“Hey” Martha replied, obviously the most sober of the three, “Help me babysit would you?”

Moritz nodded. He had nothing better to do anyway, and never minded Martha’s company. She never tried to talk to him a lot so they would just sit in comfortable silence, understanding each other without speaking. It was a very low maintenance friendship.

The four sat by the pool talking for about forty minutes. They watched Ilse occasionally jumping away from the ‘octopus’ that wasn’t actually there and complaining about nausea and everything looking green.

It became increasingly more clear that what Wendla had in her water bottle was not, in fact, water and it eventually had to be confiscated by Martha.

When the three girls decided it was time to leave, Moritz sat alone at the edge of the pool. Pretending he was texting was his favourite pastime at events such as this anyway.

Not half an hour later did a dishevelled looking and incredibly intoxicated Melchior stumble outside in search of his friend. Moritz cursed under his breath for forgetting that Melchior was trying to make a habit of eating nothing before going to BYO parties so the alcohol he scabbed off other people would get him drunk faster. He must have found Hanschen. The guy was basically the Messiah at house parties, producing expensive and high percentage alcoholic drinks out of thin air.

Melchior sat next to Moritz by the pool, “Bro, I’m so sorry I left you dude. I just kinda lost you I don’ even know how it happened.”

Moritz sighed, annoyed he would have to sneak Melchi past his parent like this, “Yeah, well, it’s fine.”

“No, no it isn’t.” Melchior said, shaking his head. “I do shit like this all the time” he threw his arms open wide as if that could somehow quantify his behaviour at house parties, “I’m a bad friend.”

Moritz’s frustration faded, “Melchi, the only reason I pass school is because you help me out all the time. And besides, I’d rather you invite me to these parties and walk off but get home safe because I’m here than the alternative. You’d do the same for me.”

Melchior smiled, swaying ever so slightly “Hey. Isn’t it lucky that I drink because I’m a cultured youth who genuinely likes the taste and not just to get drunk hey?”

“Yeah, that’s right,” Moritz rolled his eyes, “You wanna go back to the party or go home now?”

Melchior took a sip from the solo cup he was holding, “I wanna be with you.”

“Oh, um, really?” Moritz attempted to prevent his voice from cracking. A task at which he failed.

“Yeah. But like, right after I vomit on that tree.”

Moritz shook his head as he watched Melchior leap up and run to a nearby pot plant, emptying the contents of his stomach into it. Moritz stood, “Come on, let’s get you home”.

~~~

It was always a struggle getting Melchior up the stairs and into his bedroom. He would giggle and try shushing Moritz who was telling /him/ to be more quiet. They fell down an average of two times and Moritz was more than reasonably certain that the Gabor’s always heard them.

This round was no different. Getting Melchior to shut up while he was sober could be a competitive sport in itself but this was a whole new level.

Eventually they got into Melchior’s bedroom and Moritz let out a relieved sigh before making his friend change out of his jeans and casual shirt. Melchior would insist Moritz look away while he was changing, a funny quirk that only existed while he was drunk.

“Okay then Melchi,” Moritz said after turning off his friends reading light like a tired parent putting an obstinate toddler to sleep. “I’m off now but I’ll check in on you tomorrow morning.”

Melchior grabbed a hold of his wrist, whining. “No. Please stay. You always leave, I don’t like it when you leave.”

Moritz’s mouth went dry. He couldn’t just stay here. It would be so weird when Melchi woke up with Moritz in his room and no memory of the night before. Besides, they hadn’t had a sleep over in years so he could hardly brush it off as platonic. But how could he say no to that face?

He let out a sigh, changing out of his jeans and into some more comfortable clothes of Melchior’s. He fell asleep almost immediately.

~~~

Moritz dreamed about his father. While he didn’t see the man’s face, he felt that presence behind him. Watching him as he stalked across a barren minefield. He’d no idea how he knew it was a minefield, it just looked like a spooky clearing in a decaying forest. It was so lonely and cold, and his father egged him on.

He felt that familiar sensation creeping up his spine, pure terror at the thought that he would somehow wind up being like his father. Statistics flashed through his mind. Of impoverished slums and under-educated, exploited children and teen pregnancies and abusive homes all failing to break the cycle. Somewhere in those black and white newspapers was a statistic telling him he had a chance of being like that. Becoming that feeling. Over someone else’s shoulder. He would sooner kill himself than have to face that reality.

Moritz was standing on the edge of a cliff. A rocky outcrop far above a swirling sea. It was windy, and his scarf was failing around like a striped flag. Ernst’s voice called out from behind him, “No, Moritz! Don’t do it! God, please don’t, there are people who care about you.”

His lips moved but he only registered that he had spoken after it happened “But do I care about me, Ernst?”

Now it was his sister, spitting out the words “You have so much to live for. Why are you doing this to yourself, to us?”

Hot tears spilled onto his cheeks. The dam burst and he wheeled around to face the older woman. His sibling. They stood on their childhood back lawn. All dead grass and sadness. She was twelve, he was five “There has never been an ‘us’ Sylvia. It’s always just you and your strength and my weakness. My discontent just a good for nothing side effect of never being loved.”

She laughed humourlessly “you are so full of shit.”

The scene shifted. His face was dry, but his hands were covered in blood. His mother’s body lay motionless on the floor and his sisters voice whispered in his ear “See what you’ve done.”

Again, the dream changed. He was in Melchior’s bedroom revising for an upcoming English exam. Joking around like usual. Their hands brushed like it was some romantic comedy and suddenly their mouths found each other, and skin moved against skin as they lived and breathed together in their own euphoric bliss. It was the same dream he’d had a little over six months ago.

He’d had to stop denying everything after that. First, he’d been stalking this guy from a clothing store whose last name he didn’t even know but he had wanted badly and then those feelings faded and he was left with Melchior. It wasn’t as if he noticed the change, if he had he would have stubbed the thoughts out as soon as he could. Pining for a friend had been painful enough the last time. But as per usual, he was a little slow on the uptake. It seemed so very natural to fall back on his best friend. Only he fell too hard. And he hated himself for it.

Dream Melchior shouted his name one last time before Moritz awoke, but it was in the form of a strangled cry as Moritz launched himself off the cliff and into the peril below.

Chapter Text

Moritz took a cold shower. He returned to Melchior’s bedroom to find his friend stirring, his dirty-blonde head of curls bleached golden in the morning sun.

“Urgh, what time is it?”

Moritz smiled, “10:34 am. I’m going to get you an aspirin then make breakfast. You want any food?”

The younger boy didn’t move and instead mumbled into his pillow “Quite probably.”

“Okay” Moritz adjusted the curtains, so the light didn’t shine in Melchior’s eyes. “I’ll be back with your aspirin.”

~~~

Pancakes where the traditional breakfast choice when Moritz slept over at Melchior’s and this morning was no different. Moritz was a good cook, or so his friends told him, and could make practically anything as long as it wasn’t too fancy. Melchior, on the other hand, was the kind of person who people hypothesised could burn cereal. Logically, Moritz knew this stemmed from his friend’s apparent inability to follow the rules and his determination to make certain meals regardless of whether or not he had the ingredients.

So, Moritz always made the pancakes. Today they were banana flavoured so they could at least pretend they were eating something healthy.

Melchior came downstairs, wearing only his boxers and wrapped in his bedsheet, just as Moritz had started cooking the second batch. He watched Melchior sit down and set his head on the cool kitchen benchtop.

“What happened last night?”

Moritz flipped the pancakes “Not much really. I lost you for a while then you came back, and we went home. Got here at like 3am so we weren’t out too late. Oh, and your parents had some lunch thing on for their volunteering group? I forgot when they said they were getting back.”

“Why’d you stay overnight?” Moritz opened his mouth to respond before Melchior back-peddled. “Not that I mind! I mean, you can stay here whenever you want just, you usually don’t.” He was blushing.

“You asked.”

“Oh.” Melchior sounded almost disappointed, but he covered it up smoothly. “Breakfast smells good.”

~~~

“It matches your eyes so nicely Wendla. You should buy it.” Martha felt the material of her girlfriend’s proposed dress for the school dance.

“Are you sure you’re not just saying that because you’re hungry and want to finish up and go eat?”

Martha feigned offence, “Of course not. Why on earth would you say such a thing?”

It was only Wendla, Martha, Ernst, Hanschen, Georg, Melchior and Moritz out shopping as the others had already purchased their outfits online. Neither Moritz nor Melchior particularly cared what they wore on the night so long as they looked presentable. Which is why they had been the quickest to choose their outfits, and also why they were out shopping three days before the dance.

Hanschen would usually be the first group member with his clothes but Ernst had insisted they go shopping with the others.

“Okay guys,” Wendla addressed the group. “The yellow or the blue one?”

The majority voted for the blue and so it was decided. Wendla bought her dress and the seven made their way to the food court.

After getting their food and looking at their phones for longer than was probably socially acceptable, they all ate and talked together.

“So, Martha” Melchior started, sounding not dissimilar to a game show presenter, “What are you thinking of doing after you graduate?”

Martha squirted some soy sauce onto her sushi. “I was looking at business and commerce. Or maybe engineering. We’ll see I guess.”

It struck Moritz that they hadn’t really spoken about this as a group. He’d no idea Martha was at all interested in business or engineering. It was strange, most people were entirely caught up with what they were going to do once school was finished, getting ready to apply for university or take a gap year or get a job. But it never seemed to pop up in whole group conversations. Almost like it wasn’t important. For once in his life Moritz considered the possibility that Melchior might be worried about the future, but he brushed the thought aside. He probably just wanted to know what people had planned.

Meanwhile, Melchior nodded and shifted his gaze to Wendla who spoke from Martha’s right “I have absolutely no idea.”

“You’d be a good nurse.” Ernst piped up “or a teacher maybe.”

The others murmured their consent. Georg spoke next “I don’t know what I’m gonna do either.”

“Professional meme browser.” Hanschen shot from the other side of the table and prompting a laugh. “Or one of those tech guys who just tells you to try turning stuff off and on again.”

“Well what’s /your/ future career then Hanschen.” Georg prodded back sarcastically.

“Look here,” Hanschen pointed a fry at Georg. “I may not know what I am going to do with my wealth of talents but at least I’m not like Mr Gabor whose practically been a politician since he was five.”

This was somewhat true. Most of Melchior’s friends and teachers had been expecting him to make his way into politics for as long as anyone could remember.
“Changing the subject Rilow.” Melchior pointed out. “What about you Ernst?”

“Art school probably. If I get in.”

Moritz laughed at that “You’ll get in. You’re amazing.”

Ernst blushed, poking Moritz in his side “But no way I’m going if you don’t come too.”

“My mother will kill me and I’m not about that life.”

The very thought of this made Moritz nauseous. He had yet to tell his mother that he could imagine himself doing nothing other that painting for the rest of his life. She still thought he was going into accounting. But he wanted to paint. Sometimes it was the only real thing left, when everything else was so confusing and he lost track of who he was he could just drift away and paint. It was quite a selfish thing really. People became doctors and lawyers and teachers because they wanted to help others. Moritz wanted to help himself.

Ernst raised one of Hanschen’s fries in the air “Then I will conduct a human sacrifice and avenge you after the murder.”

“Can you do the sacrifice in my Chem exam, so I pass automatically?” asked Wendla.

Georg nodded vigorously “and can the sacrifice be my psych teacher?”

The conversation moved onto whether or not that ruling was actually real and how they would get away with the sacrifice.

“I’m sure you’ll be able to talk your mother ‘round.” Melchior said quietly. Moritz smiled, knowing the reassurance meant that Melchi would go out of his way to talk to Ms Stiefel. Of course, Moritz could do this himself but it was always good to have Melchior on his side. A safety net. Like a ‘get out of jail free’ card. Yes, that’s what it was, a kind of certainty which erased his fears. Companionship. Maybe that’s what love was. Companionship with strings attached.

Chapter Text

“Hi guys and welcome back!” Melchior held his camera awkwardly, trying to get both his face and the bowl of dry fruit loops he was holding in the shot. “This video is pretty different to my usual but you guys kept requesting I do one with Moritz in it so here you are, a video of us getting ready for the school dance. So, if you watch my channel for the actual content there is no need to watch further. I’ve done absolutely no planning for this and it has no important messages or anything but will probably get more likes than any of my other stuff.

“Anyway. I’ll put that behind me. So, it’s a Wednesday. We didn’t go to school. Don’t be like us, kids. We’ve been home watching movies. The last one was ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and Moritz fell asleep which is an absolute fucking tragedy.” He turned the camera to face the Moritz-sized lump on Melchior’s bed buried under the sheets.

Moritz’s voice came out muffled “I’m not asleep.”

Melchior swapped the camera back to face him “See. Asleep.”

The lump on the bed laughed.

“Come on Moritz, I have Fruit Loops and the video is really boring right now and there’s already too much wasted space on YouTube.”

Moritz kicked the sheets off roughly and allowed Melchior to lie down next to him “What, like those talking animal clips?”

“Don’t you dare” Melchior shot him a look. “Those are sacred.”

“Remind me of the purpose of this video?”

“Remind me of the purpose of anything.” Melchior said with that shit eating grin of his.

Moritz groaned “Please my existential crisis is already a problem as it is.”

Melchior laughed gently “So, Moritz.”

Moritz leaned his head on his friend’s shoulder, so they could both be in the shot, hoping desperately that it could be passed off as a platonic gesture. He was almost certain it wouldn’t be but he was over feeling nervous about that “Yes.”

“The Beatles or Bob Dylan?”

“Jesus Christ Melchi, it’s too early in the day.”

“It’s four thirty in the afternoon!” Melchior said indignantly.

“Fine, Bob Dylan. You?”

He shrugged “Probably the Beatles. Okay indie or classic rock?”

“Is this ‘either or’ now? Where are the questions coming from?” Moritz smirked. He felt ridiculous to suddenly be a part of one of the many Q&A videos on the internet. Those were supposed to involve interesting people talking about interesting things.

Melchior cocked an eyebrow “Do you have a better suggestion. I have a list of questions that people comment on my videos for some reason.”

“Classic rock.” He snatched the laptop and placed it in the middle of the bed “My turn, peanut M&Ms or regular?” He asked, taking a handful of Fruit Loops.

“Peanut.”

“That would be because you’re a psychopath.” Moritz said through a mouthful of breakfast cereal.

Melchior laughed. “Oh, this one is cool. Would you prefer to freeze to death or to be thrown into a volcano?”

“Wow, I love how the other questions were nice, getting to know you ones but there’s someone out there who just wants to ask how you want to die. Well murder, I’d prefer to freeze to death thank you. Melchi?”

“Yeah, same.”

“Okay would you prefer a time machine that only goes forwards in time or one that only goes backwards in time?”

Melchior winced, contemplating “I’ve been asked this before and I think the forwards one. You?”

Moritz shrugged “I don’t know.”

“You can’t pick the question and not know Moritz!”

“Watch me. Oh, I have another one! Would you sacrifice yourself to save 7000 strangers and no one know it was you or live and everyone would know you chose not to save them.”

“What happens to me if I sacrifice myself?”

“I don’t know. You probably get blown up.”

Melchior nodded sagely “I’d sacrifice myself I think. Or, that’s what I like to think.”

“Yeah, same.”

“Would you rather be in a real-life version of ‘The Conjuring’ or ‘Jurassic Park’.”

Moritz whined “Look as much as I like horror movies it’d have to be ‘Jurassic Park’.”

“I’d probably go for ‘The Conjuring’ to be honest. That might just be because I know I’m not stupid like the people in that film, so I might survive, whereas ‘Jurassic Park’ if you’re not a main character you have like negative plot immunity.”

Moritz pondered this for a few seconds “What if ‘The Purge’ was real?”

“I literally think about this all the time” Melchior said enthusiastically, taking some Fruit Loops before continuing. “I would probably just move to England.”

Moritz laughed “I was gonna say hide in my house but if you’re moving to England can I come too?”

“Yes. I’ve allowed you to move to England because I am boarder security and I have that power Moritz.”

“Wow your sarcasm is so impressive. I’m impressed.”

“e tu.”
“I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if you moved to England anyway. Just to meet the Queen and David Attenborough.”

Melchior jumped up in excitement, disturbing the bowl of fruit loops “Okay I already have a whole plan for this: become a British citizen, work in politics, become the prime minister, meet the Queen because that’s a thing, then, request a meeting with Dave because he is an icon.”

“What’s your stance on Brexit?”

Melchior looked at the camera dramatically “I’ll send you a link to my video on that.”

“Oh my freaking gosh, you don’t have to be self-promotional on your own channel. I’m going to get coffee.”

Moritz went to get up but was stopped by his friend “dude, we don’t have time.”

“Dude, we really do-oh shit!” Moritz leapt out of bed and went to get changed with the half hour they had before they were due at school.

Twenty minutes later both boys were ready to go, had signed off on their video and Moritz was jumping into the driver’s seat and flooring the gas to get them there on time.

And the evening Begun.

Chapter Text

The night of the dance commenced with speeches from various students and administrative staff. Melchior and Moritz sat side by side and entertained one another with a hushed running commentary about the heads of faculty. It was difficult not to make fun of the staff at their school when they left themselves so open to it. Their head of English looked like he’d just walked out of work. He wore the same jacket he always did in class that people stuck stickers to which he never removed because it ‘added flair’. The head of science spoke with such a monotone voice it was reminiscent of the overbearing drone of a lawn mower. However, the crowning glory of the school was head of the arts faculty. He was so similar to Mr G from ‘Summer Heights High’ it was uncanny but what really did it for them was his ability to combine his two favourite fashions – the unitard and the turtleneck. Soon enough formalities were over, the food came out and people ate and talked together.

There were eight to a table on this occasion, which made it rather inconvenient for their group. However, Georg, Otto and Ilse all came over forty minutes late so the others had all just sat together. At the present, Martha and Wendla were reviewing the buffet food and giving different dishes scores on a scale comprised of each group members cooking ability. No dish had yet received a Hanschen or a Thea (As twins they were both ranked as duel best cooks) but the potato salad had been unlucky enough to scored an Anna (The lowest possible score).

Moritz glanced across the table where Ernst and Hanschen were arguing with the other couple about the score for the lamb (‘It’s literally just lamb. Only Georg would make something that plain. Melchior would at least have the decency to add some vegetables.’ ‘Exactly.’). On the table sat a bunch of black roses Hanschen had clipped from his garden for Ernst. Moritz had to admit he felt a tinge of jealousy at this. The flowers were so beautiful.

He went back to his food, only half-listening to the conversation.

“Martha this isn’t going to work if you keep avoiding giving Wendla’s because you’re worried you’ll offend me.” Wendla told her girlfriend, biting into a piece of carrot.
“Well I was going to give the fish a Wendla if that makes it better.”

Wendla looked flabbergasted, “it most absolutely does not, the fish was horrid.”

“It’s not a very objective scale is it?” Melchior said.

They all laughed together and talked a little while longer before the lights came down and the music started. Immediately, people jumped up onto the dance floor.

Moritz worried a lip between his teeth and turned to face Melchior who smiled kindly “we don’t have to dance if you don’t want to.” Moritz averted his gaze to his feet, he wanted to dance but then everyone would see how bad at dancing he was and then they would look at him and see that there was absolutely nothing he could do right in his life.

His thoughts spiralled, and he let them, hair falling into his eyes and he continued to stare at the ground. Melchior brushed it away, the intimate gesture bringing Moritz out of his frazzled state. He jumped to his feet, a ball of blushing neuroticism “sure, let’s go dance”.

They found Ilse and Ernst among the crowd and danced with them for several songs. Although Ilse eventually peeled off to find her other friends and Hanschen stole Ernst off to some secluded corner. Finally, the two were left stranded on the outskirts of the dance floor. Moritz rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly before deciding to take Melchior’s hand and lead them off to the side.

The hall was bathed in red light and it was difficult to tell who everyone was at first glance. Not that he even knew half the people in his grade anyway, even with such a small cohort. His gaze drifted to the opposite wall where their friends where, but his hand remained in Melchior’s, longing to be alone awhile. Moritz leaned back on the wall in a way that he hoped looked nonchalant but probably didn’t. He dropped Melchior’s hand.

“What do you want to do now?” He felt like he was back in eighth grade, a sleepover at Melchior’s where they would laze around and see how late they could stay up.
Melchior shrugged, not taking his eyes off the dance floor “We could watch I guess.” Their eyes briefly met before he looked away.

Moritz knew that look “why are you nervous?”

Melchior sighed, caught out “I just don’t know if I’m ready for this year. For it to end. It just seems real now is all.”

Moritz hoped his silence would be enough to convey his own uncertainty. Somehow, their entire lives didn’t seem like enough time to prepare them for such finality. Their schooling was almost over.

They were silent for some time. Just watching everyone dance. Finally, Melchior spoke, tentatively at first “You know, I was…I wanted to ask you to this.” He waved his arms towards the room in front of them.

“The dance?” Moritz spluttered unintelligently.

The two locked eyes “Yeah, the dance.” Moritz wanted to say something. He should definitely say something right? Now was probably the time to come up with some self-depreciating joke or mention a vine that fitted the situation, but nothing was coming to mind and vines were supposed to be dead anyway. Luckily, Melchior went on, “Just like how I wanted to stay with you at every party we go to. Like how, when our group went to the movies I wanted it just to be us. Like how the last time I held Wendla’s hand all I could think about was you with your stupid hair and that perfect smile and the smell of your after shave and your hands that are always freezing cold in mine.”

Moritz cleared his throat ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I think you do.”

He paused. Moritz felt terrified. Terrified yet exhilarated. This wasn’t where he’d expected this to go. Yes, he wanted it, but he wasn’t sure how much yet. It was becoming increasingly clear that he wasn’t ready for more than what they had. But, typically, he just let Melchior keep talking. He should have known better.
“I’m sick of running away from whatever this is Moritz. I know I sound like a sappy asshole bringing it up now and I understand that…that if you can’t reciprocate my feelings I’ll try to back off, but I need you to know that I love you, Moritz.”

That’s all it took. After months of pining and doubt and self-hate that was all Moritz needed to catapult himself out of the hole he’d dug and finally lean forwards to kiss Melchior on the lips. It was short and sweet but allowed enough time for Moritz to entwine his hand in Melchior’s before pulling away. He’d never had a way with words.

“I love you too. Sappy asshole and all.” Melchior just grinned, colour flushing his face as Moritz went on “What do you say we skip the afterparty?” He hadn’t wanted to go anyway. Melchior would just wander off.

“Sounds perfect. Back to mine?”

Moritz squeezed his hand “Yeah.”

As they left, waving goodbye to the others (Ernst was holding his flowers and posing for photos) Melchior squeezed back.

~~~

The sky was overcast and Moritz worried for those who were going to the afterparty. But these thoughts where long forgotten by the time they made it back to Melchior’s house and they were sitting on his bed making out and dear God did that feel good. Just their mouths finding each other and his fear melting away at Melchior’s touch.

Chapter Text

“Moritz” Melchior’s voice was anxious, rushed, “Moritz! Wake up we have to go, now.”

He rolled over. It was still dark outside “Melchior what the fuck, it’s 4am.”

Melchior threw a pile of clothes in Moritz’s direction as he changed hurriedly “There was a car accident. Coming from the after party.”

Something in Moritz’s brain registered the fact that most of his friends went to the after party. He sat up, head spinning. It was dark, and it didn’t make any sense, why was Melchior’s voice shaking so much?

“I just,” Melchior took a deep breath, “I just got a call from Wendla and…and Ernest is, he’s gone Moritz. He’s gone.”

He paused, biting back the desire to ask, ‘gone where’ and they would all laugh about the joke because everything was fine. He lingered on the thought only momentarily “No, no but I saw him at the dance, when we were leaving. He’s fine.”

Melchior pulled on a shirt “That was six hours ago now come on, we need to go.”

Moritz shook his head as he was rushed off the bed and helped into a pair of jeans “No. Melchi, no that’s not what hap-you’re joking, right, it can’t, it can’t!”

He heard his own voice rising in panic and felt Melchior’s arms wrap around his wiry frame, “I know, I know Moritz, but it is and right now, we need to get to Hanschen’s house. Everyone’s there. My mum will drive us.”

So they went, Fanny drove them and Melchior held Moritz’s hand in the back seat the whole way.

As promised, most of their friends where at Hanschen’s house already. A tragic irony in the fact that this was the first time they were able to organise an entire group meet up. None of them had been in the car but apparently, Ernst had died before anyone could even call an ambulance. Before anyone could even get to his side.

And there was Hanschen. Sitting on his bed in his ridiculously large room, silently staring at the wall.

~~~

The later weeks were all a blur. Time didn’t run in a logical direction and all Moritz remembered was a hazy numbness keeping him from panicking. The abyss he’d always been so afraid of. Hanschen was staying with the Gabors. Which meant Thea was staying with the Gabors. This had been decided almost immediately because everyone knew Hanschen needed someone to look after him and his parents where not the ideal candidates. It wasn’t a flawless plan by any means, he probably felt imprisoned but at least he was away from all of the memories for now. Melchior said Hanschen cried himself to sleep most nights. Moritz wished he could cry too, it would probably get rid of the white noise.

~~~

It was the funeral. Held at the tiny local church the boys had attended when they were children. The whole process was taking too long. It was a warm day and the sky seemed far too sickly blue considering all the black clothes. There was an open casket up the front and people crying.

Moritz heard a chair scrape beside him, watching as Hanschen stood up and left through the side door. Melchior caught his eye and they stood to follow.

Hanschen seemed to have walked impossibly fast and was already standing between two willows looking out over a sunlit brook bubbling past the other side of the church. There was something discordant about having such a lovely spot in the middle of a cemetery. Melchior reached him first but stood silently two paces behind the blonde. Moritz hung back.

Hanschen spoke so softly. So much so that Moritz wasn’t even sure if he recognised the voice “By the time the car I was in made it to the crash, there was so much blood. He’d been sitting on the back seat and just,” he whistled shortly “launched through the windscreen. I was going to sit there because they were my friends, but they said I was too tall to sit on someone’s lap. I don’t even know what happened when we got there but I remember thinking he forgot to get a haircut and that he wouldn’t be happy with any of the formal photos.” He laughed dryly, tears mangling the sound “Now he’ll never get to put all those dumb filters over them and make a scrapbook. He’d been looking forward to that.”

He paused, “Before he got in the car he told me to stay safe and that he loved me. I don’t even know if I said it back.

“But either way, that was the last time he said it. The last time I got to hear him say it. Taste his lips. Like bitters. God knows I never took him for granted but if I had known. The last time we touched.”

He turned around, startlingly well composed save the glistening of his cheeks “What do I do now, huh? What the fuck do I do!”

Melchior sighed “I don’t know Hanschen, but it’s going to hurt like a bitch. We’ll live with it that way. All Ernst ever wanted was for us to be happy and we can’t let his loss tare this family apart.”

Hanschen stiffened, voice small once again “But why us? He was so young and he, he…and we were so happy. Why?”

“Because sometimes things happen. Sometimes things happen and there’s no reason for it, they just do. We get told that in life everyone’s got to pay their dues and that bad guys always come to a sticky end and its complete bullshit. But it’s too hard to face the reality that adults are just as terrified as us. You don’t miraculously have an enlightening moment the instant you turn twenty-one, but you let that sorrow become a part of you and you can grow.”

They were silent for a long time. A car horn sounded in the distance and the brook gurgled at their feet and Moritz wondered why he was there. Why anyone was there. Eternity passed. Finally, Hanschen spoke “I loved him, dammit. I loved him so much. And what do I have now?”

Melchior barely missed a beat “You have us Hanschen. Me, Moritz, Thea, Georg, all of us. We’re not going anywhere. Ernst would want us to stay together and keep going on.”

“Ernst” Hanschen’s voice had an edge of bitterness “would want to be here now.”

Then he turned on his heel, got in his car, and drove off to nowhere.

Chapter Text

Moritz waited impatiently in the school bathroom. He’d skipped last period but had decided to stay on campus, so he could drive Melchior home. He wasn’t really sure what their relationship was anymore. He had found a voicemail from Ernst the day after the accident saying that he’d seen Moritz and Melchior leaving the dance and hoped Moritz would call the next day to divulge what had happened. He’d sat silently in his room for hours afterwards.

He looked in the grimy mirror. Shit at public schools never seemed to get cleaned properly. He looked tired, well, more tired than usual. Felt tired too. On top of that, he’d started having dreams. Not bad dreams, just weird ones. Every time it happened, it was like he was stuck in a Dali painting. Maybe it was because he hadn’t picked up a paintbrush in weeks and the creative part of his mind couldn’t take it anymore so had converted to surrealism.

Over the past few days, ever so slowly, he’d been coming back to his senses. It wouldn’t be long before the itch to paint returned.

It was as he looked in the mirror that this thawing process seemed to accelerate. Which hurt a little, if he was being honest. Moritz took a writing book out of his bag and tore a blank page free, quickly scribbling a few short sentences in his appalling handwriting, and tucking it into his pocket. He was armed and ready now, just in case.

Immediately when the bell rung, when Melchior emerged from his history class, Moritz dragged him to the car and drove them both back to Melchior’s house. He grabbed a hold of Melchior’s wrist and led them upstairs without a word despite his friend’s protests.

“Hey, lock the car remember!”

But Moritz pretended not to hear. Someone could steal the car and crash it into his house for all he cared.

“Moritz, what are you-” Melchior watched as the other boy slammed the bedroom door shut and pinned him to the wall, “Moritz, we can talk about thi-” but he was cut off by Moritz’s mouth on his.

The kiss was aggressive, Moritz eventually pulled away for air and opted to leave a smattering of half-hearted hickies along the side of Melchior’s neck. He was crying before he could even make it to the other’s collarbone, choosing instead to sob into his shirt.

They stayed that way for some time. Both just standing there, crying together. Moritz clinging on to Melchior’s shirt and Melchior clinging on to Moritz for dear life.
Eventually, Moritz pulled away, stony eyes and mask retrieved once more “I’m sorry, but I have to leave.”

“No, you don’t.” Melchior smiled “I never want you to leave. And besides, we have to talk about this. I want to be with you Moritz. I know it seems wrong. That we’re together and that Hanschen has nothing and it just seems so backwards but that’s how it is. The world is burning and I love you.”

Moritz let a single tear roll down his cheek. Not at Melchior’s words. Not because he was touched or moved or sad or turned on or whatever other fucked up emotion he could be feeling right now. No, he cried because the words brought him nothing. Because his first love was dead and the only other person in the world that he’d ever come close to loving was now of no consequence to him. He’d already lost so much and now his feelings for Melchior, whatever they had been, where going too.
“I know, and I’m sorry. But right now, I’m afraid I can’t return the favour.” He watched a billion different emotions march across his friend’s face “I know I’m an asshole, feel free to hate me. God knows I do, but I just need to do the next few months on my own. I’ll let you know how I feel after that.”

And he took the note out of his pocket, handed it to Melchior, and left.

Chapter Text

'Hallelujah'

 

The first time it happened was some nondescript Autumn day. Much like all the other Autumn days Moritz had spent in New York, it was crisp and dreary, and everyone was in a rush to get indoors. What did set it apart however, was the fact that it was the first exhibition Moritz held containing entirely his own art.

After several years of refusing to let a spare moment escape in which he wasn’t expanding his artistic skill set and creative ability, the day had finally arrived when he would discover if it had all paid off. The showing was not by any means esteemed but with some luck (something of which Moritz unfortunately seemed to be uncontrollably averse to), it would turn a small profit and attract some attention.

Moritz hummed softly to himself, assembling a plate of scrambled eggs on his gas stove - “All the leaves are brown.”

The acceptance into an elite New York art school had come before his final exams in senior year. A white envelope snugly enclosing the letter with a green seal.

“And the sky is grey.”

It hadn’t seemed like a relief at the time, perhaps not as much as it should have. Neither had it occurred to him that his peers may have given pretty much anything for confirmation that they had a place at their higher education facility of choice.

“I’ve been for a walk.”

What it had been was a contract, a promise that he would escape that little town where all his old friends were with a vague plan and a scholarship. He could build a new life without having to say goodbye, one where he would spend every hour that wasn’t working to pay bills doing what he loved.

“On a winter’s day.”

Ilse had received her letter shortly after he did, and they moved out of their homes together a week before graduation.

He sprinkled a salt sachet he had ‘borrowed’ from the diner he worked at over his eggs and sat down to eat.

Their tiny shared apartment was forever littered with loose papers, art supplies and mismatched tableware. It had some sort of invincible grime on the arching windows providing the room with light reminiscent of a permanent dusk. They had a gas heater in the kitchen/bathroom and their only furnishings were the old sofa and some stools the flat’s previous owner had left behind. In true bohemian fashion they had no Wi-Fi or hot water, not that either of them cared, it was what they’d always dreamed of.

Working weekends and night shifts but art school during the day. They had recently finished their final year and now worked on their own projects, trying to sell works or get commissions. It was marvellously simplistic, and he felt more alive than ever before. People say you’re asleep until you fall in love. Well maybe Moritz had stumbled out of the fog in his own mind long enough to fall in love with his work and awaken from his comatose state. That’s how it seemed anyhow, things didn’t confuse him as much as before and everything felt like it was happening in real time and it was wonderful.

Ilse and he got along well. They both had similar childhoods; fathers who were distant but mostly abusive and terrifying in their memories. Sometimes they would sit and paint each other for hours in the earlier years of art school. Yet they wouldn’t ever fully paint the other, not really, they acted like a mirror, reflecting their own insecurities back at them.

That morning, Moritz had made his way to the gallery, wrapped in his worn tweed jacket and coffee in hand, apprehensive about the opening. Yet there was little he could do now save pray it went smoothly, but that didn’t prevent him from feeling anxious out of his mind.

Remarkably, he made it to the gallery on time. He’d left his bike at home as he had been up early enough to walk, but the cafe had been full and his long black had taken an eternity.

By the time he arrived, Ilse was already there and making last minute adjustments, fiddling with her hair anxiously “Thank God, we were just about to open but I didn’t want to do it without you.”

Moritz offered her a re-assuring smile. She really had nothing to be worried about, they weren’t due to open for another ten minutes. Not to mention she was the one who insisted she would organise everything that morning, so Moritz needn’t worry himself unnecessarily. But that was Ilse for you. Moritz held the door open for her. “Don’t worry. It’ll all be fine.”

She frowned “You don’t have to act all relaxed, you’re supposed to be near your wits end,” and with that, she ushered them both inside.

~~~

For what seemed like the first time in his life, everything went smoothly for Moritz that morning. He didn’t need to do a speech like you see at gallery’s in movies as it was a low-profile event. That and because Moritz would probably pass out if he had to present a speech. He greeted people and answered their questions politely, speaking at length to some old professors from his college and any potential buyers. Soon enough he resigned himself to the tiny office out the back, occasionally peeking around the door to catch a glimpse of the relatively dismal crowd. Ilse would bring him news if there was anyone interested in purchasing or who just wanted to see him.

The gallery was small, designed with three walls in a ‘U’ shape so that artwork could be hung on both the interior walls of the room and the outside and inside of the U. At the very centre inside of the gallery was the main piece, a large oil painting on canvas, a city scape reflected in a lake at night. The lights seemed to twinkle in the water and the colours all melted into one another, making the figures distorted, fuzzy, and vaguely impressionistic. It was entitled ‘Sylphide’.

It was about four o’clock when Sylphide was sold. Moritz had all the signed papers in his hand and was racing back to the office, so he could arrange for them to be filed and for the transaction to go through. After that he would need to organise delivery.

He rounded one of the corners, head bent over the papers and he ran, quite literally, into someone admiring a painting. Moritz watched it all happen in slow motion, his chest collided with the person’s elbow and all the papers fell out of his arms, flopping onto the floor. He yelped, dropping to the ground to retrieve them.

“My gosh, I am so sorry! Let me…”

That voice, smooth baritone and instantly recognisable. Even after all these years. Moritz froze in his crouched position “M-Melchior?”

Blue eyes. Startlingly blue, with a twinkle of some complex emotion, Moritz didn’t know what. Apprehension? His hair was shorter, no longer as wavy but still as if the lottery of genetics hadn’t quite made it to sun bleached and landed instead on some dirty blonde colour. He passed over one of the fallen papers, his fingers so soft, un-calloused. Not like Moritz’s.

“Moritz.”

He was left with only the first thing that came to mind, wincing as soon as the words left his mouth “What are you doing here?”

Melchior laughed “Straight to the point, huh? /Ilse/ let me know you were doing a showing, so I figured I’d come along to see what it is that can keep a man so busy that he neglects to speak to his best friend for near on five years.”

Moritz almost felt compelled to correct him, ‘four and a half actually’ is what he said in his mind, but the complete lack of bitterness in Melchior’s tone made his skin crawl. Had Melchi really started being serious and mature after spending his entire life not giving a shit?

Moritz could feel the gaze of his old friend analysing him, knowing that this was his cue to apologise but not quite having the capacity to do so. Despite the countless sleepless nights dedicated to this exact moment, he still managed to lose the power of speech and mess everything up.

“And besides,” Melchior went on, gracefully “I was in New York, so I couldn’t miss it.”

Moritz smiled shyly “well, I’m glad you came.” And it almost sounded true, even to him.

~~~

The papers were all settled rather quickly and painlessly. Unfortunately, Moritz was unable say the same for coffee with Melchior.

They were tucked away into a comfortable corner, where Moritz felt nothing of the sort, as if he had been transported back to his awkward early teenage years. That terrifying feeling of having no idea who he really was because everything was so incongruent. Maybe that was just how Melchior made him feel.

He spoke about art school at length. About the move to New York. Melchior told him about his double degree; law and arts. He’d graduated with honours and had been successfully admitted to a small firm in New York. The concept that Melchior was holding down a stable job was an alien one and Moritz had to admit that he had half anticipated his friend to take some time off attempting to become a YouTuber. Apparently, he had changed. However, Melchior did divulge his hope to one day break into politics but only after establishing himself as a lawyer.

Moritz sat staring into his coffee, content with falling into the comforting predictability of question volleyball they were playing, something that didn’t suit Melchior whatsoever.

He was aware that their conversation was drying up and after a period of uncommonly long silence, Melchior shifted in his seat. “I missed you, you know that right? Did you think I wouldn’t?”

Moritz stiffened, of course he knew that. “I messaged Hanschen to let you guys know how I was.”

“Once a year on Ernst’s birthday” Melchior said indignantly, tone bordering on dejected “and that was after you left school. Not when you first shut us all out.”

This was true, Moritz had avoided most of his friends for over six months before moving away.

“Well, I messaged Ilse.”

Melchior’s eyes darkened “But you didn’t message me.”

This was precisely the conversation Moritz had wanted to avoid all those years ago. He wanted to lie now too, take the easy route and say then he was young and disillusioned and thought no one cared about him, thought it wouldn’t break them any more when he left. When he first started avoiding them in senior year. To pretend for once that the idea of picking up the phone had become unbearable after the rush of moving away. But the fact still stood that it hadn’t. He’d known exactly what he was doing. What was worse was that he couldn’t even fathom why.

So, he shrugged, failing to keep the edge out of his voice. “I don’t know. I just did what I thought I needed to do at the time. As shockingly selfish as that sounds.”
“Because you were in love with him, Ernst.”

Moritz wasn’t sure if it was a statement or an accusation. “Yes. I nearly always was. He was beautiful.”

Melchior winced, that had hit a nerve. A sick rush of satisfaction overcame Moritz, a kind of pride at having learnt to survive without his best friend there to protect him. It was like some sort of dark ‘show and tell’ with a five-year period in which to find your item.

Melchior leant back in his chair, “And I was in love with you. Hopelessly so. Even now. A little part of me. You said you loved me back then and I believe you did.”
Moritz shook his head. He meant nothing to anyone and besides, what had they known about love? How could Melchior possibly think that whatever they had could have lasted and have the audacity to accuse Moritz of lying to him? It was ridiculous. He stood to leave, angry suddenly “Well, people fall out of love, Melchior, that’s what they do! Did you ever consider that?”

“You might have fallen out of love with me” Melchior called out as Moritz turned to leave “but you fell out of love with yourself first.”

~~~

It was even colder outside now the evening was approaching. They’d wandered further from Moritz’s apartment searching for a suitable coffee place so now what would have been a half hour bike ride had become just shy of a two hour walk. Not that he minded. There was nothing like a walk through the streets to clear his clattered mind. He’d never thought of himself as a city person, yet here he was, in love with the bustle, the bright lights and the grit of New York. It breathed some sort of life force into him. All the people, all the different lives packed together just trying to get by in this sardine can they called home. It gave him a purpose, like seeing everyone else scrambling to keep their heads above the bread line made him want to do it too. So, he was glad to walk, it gave him time to think about Melchior.

It had been a long, long time since he last saw anyone from his home town. Excluding Ilse of course. While he wanted the memories to all melt away, to feel as if it wasn’t really him living that different life, he didn’t feel that way. Maybe he was destined to carry around some of that lost little shell of a boy, raised as a failure and thus certain that was what he would become. Scared of this possibility yet somehow more terrified of success and independence.

So much of him was that little boy it seemed. There were so many things he couldn’t explain, but he knew he was profoundly affected by his upbringing. Where he went, his controlling father followed. Bank employee by day and criminal by night. No one in their family had really know what he did, only that he couldn’t have afforded half the stuff he purchased by being a part-time bank consultant. No one asked either. The new Audi, the women, the alcohol. People might have called him an alcoholic but Moritz knew the truth – that his father wasn’t dependent on anyone or anything his entire life. It wasn’t his nature.

That was probably why Moritz went for emotionally unavailable men like Ernst, who had always love Hanschen. And Melchior, who never really got over Wendla or his quest for something more in life, stimulation and excitement, neither of which Moritz could provide. Perhaps, somewhere deep in his unconscious, Moritz strived to prove his father wrong. To prove he was worth loving, to prove the impossible could be achieved. Or perhaps, even worse, he longed to prove his father right. After all, everybody loved a tragedy.

That’s at least what the psychologist at his art school had told him. That he built walls because his unconscious wanted him to overcome them, or for someone to care enough to break through. The notion of blaming a past you didn’t remember and a part of your mind that was out of reach seemed like a poor excuse for his cowardness in Moritz’s opinion. That’s why he only went to two sessions with the art school psychologist before avoiding her for the remainder of his education. Or perhaps it was because she’d told him the truth.

Chapter Text

The second time it happened was at Moritz’s twenty second birthday. All he really wanted was a quiet night with some take out and a romcom on his laptop, but he made the mistake of letting Ilse organise their evening. So, naturally, every person either of them had ever come into contact with now occupied the bar down the street from their flat. It was a Friday night and they were all so rowdy come nine pm, other customers had abandoned the thought of entering the bar at all, leaving it entirely to themselves.

Moritz greeted the guests dutifully, listening as they wished him a happy birthday and replying with some generic response about getting older. He really did like all his friends in small doses but having them all in the one room was too much overstimulation. A recipe for a bad outcome as far as he was concerned.

Which is why he had decided to take the situation into his own hands and was currently hiding out in a bathroom stall. It wasn’t yet a good time to leave but if he waited for another half hour he figured he’d be able to sneak out unnoticed, doubting anyone would miss him.

That was when the bathroom door swung open and someone’s boots clicked across the floor, coming to a stop in front of the only occupied stall.

“Moritz, are you in there?”

Jesus Christ, had Ilse really felt that compelled to invite Melchior Gabor? The very person Moritz had avoided contacting for the past four months out of fear that he had made the biggest mistake of his life.

Never the less, Moritz eventually formed a reply, “Would you believe me if I said no?”

He could hear the smile in Melchior’s voice “Potentially. I’d say it leans towards ‘unlikely’ though.”

Moritz stood, opening the door, Melchior’s grin came into view. He took a deep breath, it was now or never, “Look I’m…really sorry about how I behaved last time we spoke. It was out of line and I don’t even know why it happened.”

The smile faltered, Moritz hated that. When the joy on Melchior’s face would be inevitably replaced with wary confusion, grotesquely reflective of pity, all because of Moritz. His words weren’t unkind though “Don’t worry about it. I think we were destined never to see eye to eye on this one.”

Moritz stiffened, turning his gaze to the odd lime green colour of the tiles, “You mean you still don’t understand why I left?”

“Look,” Melchior ran a hand through his hair, he never used to do that, “It happened. We can’t change that, but I can ask why you’re hiding in the bathroom.”

The smile was back, thank goodness “It’s just…too much.”

He was overcome by the overwhelming urge to go home. Not to the flat he owned down the street, but home. He just didn’t know where it was. It was the first time Moritz had felt fully exposed in a long time, confused and with a sting in his eye he turned to leave. He hated that Melchior could still make him vulnerable. Hated that he was so obviously susceptible to vulnerability, and hated his brain for refusing to release more serotonin sometimes.

“Wait,” Melchior called “where are you going?”

He didn’t know.

Leaving the pub silently, all Moritz was sure of was the sinking feeling in his gut after having just discovered how unhappy he was. How could this not be enough? He had his dream life, he loved his work. It obviously wasn’t enough to remedy whatever it was that had been wrong with him for all this time. Yet desperately he wanted, he wanted…

Gusts of wintery air bit at his skin, he dug his nails into his palms to numb the pain of the cold, venturing aimlessly down the street. His thoughts wandered back to that winter three years ago when Sylvia visited him. Prior to that he hadn’t seen his sister in nearly twelve years.

- -

The downstairs apartment door buzzed in his memory.

“What I don’t understand is why we now have a rice cooker that can’t cook rice.”

“I didn’t know it was broken when I bought it, Ilse” Moritz laughed “and besides, you always say we eat too many carbs so not being able to cook rice should technically be a good thing.”

The door buzzed again.

Ilse grinned wickedly “No, /you/ eat too many carbs.”

Moritz held up his hands “Bland pasta is a perfectly good meal, I don’t know how else I’m supposed to explain that to you.”

The door buzzed a third time.

“Not when you eat it five nights a week.” the buzz sounded again. “urgh, curse you and your amazing metabolism, now put yourself to some use and go let that person in. Jason probably forgot his key again.”

Moritz grinned to himself and ran down the stairs, two at a time.

It was chilly and grim outside. Snow was on the way.

He turned the door knob, planning to race back up the stairs so he wouldn’t catch a cold again, but as he turned to leave, there she was, three moth old son in her arms.

“Just in time” her voice had always been low and gravelly “that was going to be the last time I rang the doorbell.”

Moritz let her into the foyer to meet his nephew, Aharon, and take in his sister’s appearance. She wore a bulky fur coat and lace-up boots which effectively dwarfed her petite figure. Her long, golden-brown hair was tied back and matched her chestnut eyes flawlessly. She looked distinctly uncomfortable and her thin, pointed nose, arched eyebrows, and wide, red lips appeared to pop out of her gaunt face. Almost hauntingly beautiful, in an unconventional way. Impassive, she spun some tale about their mother wanting to know where Moritz was but not having the courage or funds to find out for herself.

“We’re worried about you.”

“Bullshit.” Moritz sneered. “You’ve never been worried about me my entire life.”

“Look around, I’m here, aren’t I?”

Ilse came to check on them at some point but quickly receded back up the stairs when she caught a glimpse of their heated debate.

Aharon sat peacefully in Sylvia’s arms, eyes glued to his uncle’s face “You left a lot behind, Moritz.”

“What would you have me do? Stay in that town? You know I always hated it there.”

“You hurt a lot of people.”

“I had to prioritise myself, look what I have now.”

“What, a dingy apartment and a career that will take you nowhere?”

“We can’t all be engineers like you, Sylvia.”

“People are worried about you.”

“Yeah, you said” Suddenly, he was hit by a sparkling realisation “Someone else put you up to this.”

She stiffened, juggling the baby in one arm.

“Who was it?”

More silence, always silence.

“Dad? Hanschen?” His eyes narrowed “Melchior?”

She sighed, bingo.

“He contacted me some months ago asking after you. I told him I would be in New York now and would call past, yes. I think you owe your friends an apology.”

“You can’t tell me what to do anymore Sylvia.” He opened the door, indicating for her to leave “and they aren’t my friends.”

She rolled her eyes “Grow up, would you?” and left.

He often thought about Aharon.

- -

“Moritz, wait!”

Reality shuddered back into his conscious mind. Melchior was chasing him down the street in the cold.

“Are you going home?”

He didn’t know, “yes.”

“I’ll walk with you.” Something was wrong, it was so quiet.

Moritz scowled, not wanting to talk but unable to overcome his desire to ask “How did you even find my sister?”

That took a few moments to sink in “wait, she actually found you? She told me your address had changed and she didn’t know where you were.”

He sounded so innocent, sad almost, as much a victim of the situation as Moritz was. This is what made him relent, calming his anger once and for all “you could have asked Ilse.”

“I needed someone you would listen to. Ilse was a dead end.”

Mortiz laughed dryly, he was so tired “When have I ever listened to anyone other than you and my fucked-up brain?”

“Your brain isn-”

“Oh, wouldn’t it just be a great idea to block out everyone who is important to you then move to New York to become a fucking artist yeah, new life, new you.”

“Moritz, wha-”

“You know what would be really swell? Scrapping every positive thing about your identity and moving to a huge city where you can go bat shit crazy and lose yourself completely, sounds great.”

“Are you-”

He finally stopped walking, panic welling in the pit of his stomach “What have I done, Melchi?”

A pause “Truthfully, I think you did the right thing. I couldn’t imagine you in any other life.”

He stared into Melchior’s eyes, there lay honesty and care and tenderness, Moritz didn’t give a shit. All he felt was numb. “Great. Just great. Well, goodnight then Melchior.”

He turned but felt a hand wrap around his wrist. “Wait, I didn’t give you your present yet.” Melchior slipped a small gift into Moritz’s hand and waved goodbye sheepishly, leaving Moritz in a state of utter bewilderment. It wasn’t until he was back in his apartment that he opened the gift, a polaroid camera and a note which read ‘for your drawings, love Melchior’.

Chapter Text

The spring came and went. Calendar months were stripped from their place on the fridge, strewn instead on the kitchen floor, reminding Moritz of the constant yet languid marching of the Earth around the sun. He’d never truly understood that much about the physical sciences or the vast and complex quantum world. He’d never tried; but one thing he could remember from his days in high school was that in four-dimensional space time the earth was actually travelling in a straight line. Despite the fact he didn’t have a PhD, the irony was not lost on him. The idea of carrying on, day by day as the years flew by, under the illusion of making progress only to find you’ve been stuck in gridlock circling around and around was not an unknown feeling. It was a reality he bore every morning. Somehow, he wished he knew, everyone else was able to carry on with their lives despite the glaring fact they were all just part of a system, programmed to believe what they did made any difference. This is why he figured it would be so much easier to be a sociopath.

He achieved little in those months. Days blurred into one another, time was a grey mass between the spaces in which he had coffee or a half descent sleep. It was a shame really. To know that after all this time the crushing guilt remained persistent and he was still unable to break the cycle of insomnia.

Of course, there were many moments that made it all worthwhile. Times where he would fall in love with his work all over again. Times where the little things were just too perfect and he had to smile. Times where he and Ilse would laugh and laugh, and he could forget that it should have been Ernst there instead, only to feel bad about it later. It wasn’t simple, but it was all he had, and he was grateful for it.

But anyway. The third time was again, entirely unintentional. Moritz had been employed to do a large series of paintings for a new hotel opening in the city. It was rather easy work, all they wanted were those minimalist-esque artworks typical of hotel chains, but it paid well. There were a number of more intricate pieces required for the foyer and such, which had been less tedious than painting the six hundred odd block colour canvases with random brush strokes. He far preferred the series he was working on for his next showing which he was hoping to have open at one of New York’s many museums or galleries. It was all different types of flowers, ones he saw around the city.

“Moritz, you have an hour until you’re due at the opening and you haven’t even dressed yet.” Ilse stood facing him with her hands on her hips, long hair free of its usual braid. Maybe that’s how she wanted it for her self-portrait.

“I seriously don’t want to go.”

She merely shook her head at his whining “There’s free alcohol, what more do you want?”

Moritz rolled his eyes. This was probably why Ilse was so much better at socialising than him.

He dragged himself off the couch and grumbled as he changed into his nice suit from art school graduation. It was strange to realise he hadn’t grown at all since then. When had he stopped growing? It bothered him in a strange way, but on the bright side, the suit fitted nicely.

Taking the subway was, for once, faster than expected and he arrived at the hotels opening celebration only twenty minutes late. The speeches commenced nearly instantly after he arrived, so he had little time to look around. It was all horribly boring in truth. He’d always thought that once he was an adult, speeches at functions would suddenly become interesting to him. This, he discovered, was the wrong assumption and he struggled through the night with comfort in the knowledge he could disappear the instant formalities were concluded. There was a film he wanted to see playing in the cinema, perhaps tonight would be the perfect opportunity to watch it. He could take off his suit jacket and itchy tie and wouldn’t look overtly formal, just another one of the lonely people who had nothing better to do after work.
He was trying to remember the closest cinema to his current location when he heard a familiar name. He’d missed it by the time he was focusing again but the person in front of the microphone seemed to be banging on about how instrumental the mystery individual had been to them opening on schedule. Maybe he had been mistaken and in fact didn’t know who the person was. Or maybe the name rhymed with someone else’s. That would make sense. His query was soon resolved however when none other than Melchior Gabor emerged from the crowd to raise his glass to the speaker and take a quick bow in recognition of their praise. It was so unexpected he almost forgot to clap.

Out of all the law firms, all the potential corporate lawyers in the entirety of New York, the hotel people had decided to hire Melchior Gabor. There was no way that could be a coincidence. Moritz simply had to find out if Melchior had suggested him to the company, yes, that’s why he would now stay. To find out if the company had discovered him with some help, not to see the person who may or may not have provided the help. Besides, it was important for him to know, like when you have to fill in forms and there’s a question about how you heard about the service, so they can review their advertising or whatever. This was essentially what Moritz would be doing, right?

It was with renewed interest that he listened to what remained of the speeches although he started to get impatient when the waiters brought out the finger food. It seemed awfully odd not to be the waiter for once as this was what he spent most nights doing. These waiters were much fancier than the ones at the diner he worked at. Must have earnt more too. He inspected the canapés as they passed him on little silver dishes. They had cheese sticks. Fuck. Yes. He would stay for those fancy cheese sticks alone.

His mind seemed so far away, intoxicated by the smell of food (when had he last eaten?) that the conclusion of the presentation almost when unnoticed. Suddenly people were standing up and his entire leg was numb but he had to act natural. Everything was fine. Most of the people around were total strangers to him but he was fine. He poked his leg aggressively, cursing under his breath. Maybe this was how he died. Trampled by business people while his left leg refused to perform its function.

The dilemma was resolved (thankfully) after Moritz forced himself to walk despite the pain. He made it to some cheese sticks eventually. They were ridiculously good, and he slipped a handful into his pocket for later.

Flittering around the edges of the crowd looking at his phone seemed the only feasible option at the present. It was too dangerous to walk head first into the fray. A waitress offered him some Champaign which he took gladly. Even if he hated the taste of most alcohol he couldn’t turn down a glass of bubbly that was probably worth more than a week’s earnings from his minimum wage job.

Looking across the room, Melchior’s familiar face appeared amongst the crowd, not too far from where Moritz was standing. He drained his glass and set it down, it was time for an investigation of the balcony. It just so happened that he’d have to walk right across Melchior’s line of sight to get outside. What a coincidence.
Moritz pocketed his phone and strode towards the door. Hopefully this would work.

He was almost at the seemingly massive sliding glass doors when a hand grasped his elbow “Moritz, hey.”

Turning around, he found Melchior’s bright smile, how had he forgotten that smile until now? “Oh hey.”

“We really have to do something about this ‘meeting when fate decides’ thing.” Melchior ran a hand through his hair, he was still smiling but seemed on edge. Perhaps he was worried Moritz was going to cause a scene like he had the last two times they’d met. Initially this made him feel angry but after considering his previous behaviour maybe it was a well-founded concern.

Moritz smiled. “Are you sure it’s not turning into a ‘meeting when Melchior decides’ thing?”

“I have no idea what you mean.”

He was bluffing, the smile in his voice told Moritz as much.

“Why’d you recommend me to the company?”

Melchior’s brow creased in confusion and for a second Moritz thought he was mistaken; it was all a coincidence.

“Why wouldn’t I? Didn’t you want the job? Because there’s this thing you can do called declining.”

Moritz rolled his eyes; thankful he hadn’t lost his mind yet.

“No, I was just curious. How have you been?” It was a major miracle that his social skills hadn’t completely disappeared.

“Yes,” Melchior replied, “busy. Too busy really. I’m rather uncomfortable with the sensation of knowing things, I miss study.”

“That,” Moritz shook his head, “Is something I never thought I’d hear you say.”

“What, that I enjoy things I’m good at?”

The words alone seemed like a joke. Strung together to make Moritz laugh, and maybe he should laugh.

He looked at Melchior, for the first time in a long time he really looked.

“Are you okay?”

Melchior paused, slowly opening his mouth to respond.

All of a sudden, the moment was gone when someone called out to them nearby. The stranger forced their way through the crowd and Moritz watched Melchior’s face light up in recognition. The stranger turned out to be one of the most beautiful women Moritz had ever set eyes on. She had long, straight black hair and fine features. Her face seemed to glow from within and she wore what appeared to be one of the most elaborate cocktail dresses ever. She all but fell into Melchior’s arms and gave him two wet kisses, first on the cheek, then on the lips. She was bubbly and kind and introduced herself as Charlotte (“Charlie, for short”). She shook Moritz’s hand and launched into conversation, all glamour and smarts and fun and happiness.

Moritz felt like he was underwater, everything was slow and fuzzy and difficult to hear. He made his excuses and rushed out of the building, hopping on the first bus that would take him roughly in the direction that was home.

He settled his head on the seat in front or him. While the bus jerked around uncomfortably, the plastic was cool and distracted him from the feeling of nausea. Back there, Melchi and that woman, the way he held her close and smiled like she meant everything, he used to look like that all the time. Moritz sat upright again; a few other passengers gave him strange looks, but he didn’t care. Everything hurt, like someone had broken his ribs or punctured his lungs or something. Melchior hadn’t looked like that all the time, only when he was with Moritz.

~~~

Moritz stared into his cup of green tea, catatonic. Ilsa had made it for him before leaving for work and it was cold now but he didn’t feel much like drinking it anyway. It was a funny thing, life. Some days all he wanted was to go back to that simple time of just being angry. Things now were too much. But the thing is that when people are angry, they’re usually just hurt. That’s probably why Hanschen smashed his computer after Ernst died. Probably why Moritz’s father got so much worse after losing his job. But you can’t keep running away from all that sadness and pain forever, it catches you. Which is why Moritz was sitting next to the heater holding a cold cup of green tea and letting himself feel things after so many years of being numb and angry. He wanted things to be the way they were. He wanted everyone together. He wanted Ernst back. He wanted the childhood he never had. He also wanted Melchior.

Thinking back to when he arrived home crying and rambling to Ilse about Melchior’s girlfriend, he felt ashamed. It was a low point even for him. He stood and moved to the window. It was a strange sensation, like getting feeling back in your fingers after forgetting to bring gloves somewhere during winter. It had been years. Years and years and years but he was only now noticing that Melchior had filled some sort of space that nothing else could. Not art school, not Ilse’s tireless dedication, not even Ernst. It wasn’t that he needed Melchior, just that he felt safe and he wanted to become the best person he could when Melchior was around. It was equal parts liberating and tragic to come to such a realisation. He’d taken effort to shut Melchior out and now he wanted him back. It just didn’t seem fair.

He looked out into the street. It was dirty and busy still, even at this time of night. New York, he’d made it his home even thought it was far away from everything he knew. While it hadn’t seemed so at the time, that had taken courage. He looked down at the cup of tea in his hands once again, maybe he was stronger than he thought.

~~~

Moritz jiggled his leg, glancing at his watch. He felt severely uncomfortable, people were too dressed up for a regular Saturday afternoon and the coffee was overpriced. If only he’d thought to compromise with the café choice. He checked his watch once again, Hanschen was ten minutes late. Hanschen was never late. Or maybe he was nowadays. Either way it wasn’t like Moritz didn’t deserve it, he’d happily wait until closing if it meant he’d at least tried.

He admired the salt and pepper shakers, were they real marble? He picked one up, it felt heavy and cool to the touch. Probably marble. He placed it back next to its partner, lining them up meticulously before sitting back to admire his work.

Just then he heard a cough from in front of him and he looked up to see Hanschen, barely appearing a day older than then last time they spoke. If anything, he was more handsome; his jawline had sharpened, his blonde hair and designer stubble framed his face and he wore a plain blue dress shirt that matched his eyes. It was as if he’d walked straight out of a magazine or wristwatch advertisement. Moritz, feeling suddenly self-conscious, leapt up to shake hands.

“Hello Moritz, how are you?” He wasn’t smiling but he didn’t sound upset, maybe just a bit displeased. Suddenly, Moritz remembered why he hadn’t enjoyed spending time with Hanschen in high school – he was so damn hard to read.

“I’m well thanks Hanschen, and yourself?”

They sat “Yes, very well also. Have you ordered?”

“No, not yet.” Moritz watched as Hanschen flagged down a waiter (what kind of a café had proper waiters anyway?) and they each placed an order. It was quite surreal, sitting in a posh café with Ernst’s ex-soulmate.

“So,” Hanschen dipped back into the conversation, interrogation style, “What have you been doing with yourself?”

“Um, I went to art school,” the statement sounded pathetically like a question, “I’m mostly doing freelance stuff, living in New York.”

Hanschen smiled, it was closed lipped but a smile all the same “That’s wonderful. I’m very happy to hear that.”

Moritz was at least 80% sure that wasn’t sarcasm, “and what about you? What have you been doing?”

“I work in business,” he paused to have a sip of water, “I’m also a part-owner of my husband’s restaurant.”

Moritz wasn’t sure which part of the sentence to address.

“You’re husband?”

“Yes,” Hanschen smiled properly now as he lit up the lock screen on his phone to show a goofy looking man giddy with happiness while holding Hanschen in his arms, “his name’s Jack. We met at university and got married about a year and a half ago.”

Moritz frowned, Melchior had probably been invited to the wedding. Possibly Ilse as well, why hadn’t she told him?

“That’s” Moritz began, “that’s brilliant. He looks lovely.”

That’s when their coffees arrived, a welcome distraction. Moritz busied himself by edging the cup slowly towards him and puffing on the dark brown liquid it cradled. He could just make out Hanschen watching him coolly from the other side of the table.

“I’m sorry you didn’t get an invitation to the wedding, I felt it was for the best.”

So, they weren’t just going to dodge the topic as Moritz had hoped. He should have expected no less from Hanschen.

He sat back to look his friend in the eye “No it’s okay. You don’t need to apologise, I should be the one doing that. I left when we all needed each other’s support the most. I was selfish and dishonest and I’m really sorry. And I do mean it, truly-”

“Moritz, it’s okay. I forgive you. I forgave you years ago, there’s no need to ask.” Hanschen look almost amused, or at least very pleased with himself, which made Moritz even more nervous.

“Wha- wait, just like that?”

Hanschen nodded slowly, “It’s what he would have wanted.”

Moritz looked down into his coffee as he considered this. He could imagine Ernst right now, standing with one hand on Hanschen’s shoulder and tears in his eyes /‘All that matters is you’re here now Moritz.’/

“You’re right,” he blinked the vision away, looking up again, “you’re right. We have so many things to catch up on. Tell me about how you met Jack.”

They talked late into the afternoon, Moritz learnt about Hanschen’s enthusiastic entrepreneur husband and their adventures at business school, he learnt that Thea had joined the military and loved it there, he learnt about Hanschen’s day to day life and his visions for the future, how Jack was already talking about children, and he even learnt about Hanschen’s trips all over the world and Moritz told his own stories in return.

As the afternoon bled into evening, the conversation drifted onto Melchior.

“I assume you wanted to ask me about him.” Hanschen grinned knowingly as he sipped away at what was now his fourth coffee of the day.

“Why would you assume that?”

Moritz did his best to sound innocent but he knew simple tricks like that wouldn’t work on Hanschen. Maybe part of him didn’t want them to work.

Hanschen shrugged, presumably just playing along “I had a hunch.”

Moritz downed the last of his coffee before going on, “Do you, er, happen to know about his girlfriend Charlotte? Charlie, for short?”

“No,” Hanschen re-settled himself in his chair, “I’ve long since given up on keeping up to date with Melchior’s romantic adventures.”

“What do you mean by that?”

He rolled his eyes, either fondly or condescendingly, Moritz wasn’t sure.

“What I mean to say, quite crudely, is that Melchior sleeps around to an extreme extent. I wonder what affect it will have on his career quite honestly.”

Moritz frowned “Oh. Are you sure? It looked serious.”

“Pretty sure. Melchior’s a good actor.”

“Oh.” Moritz didn’t have anything else to say.

“You could always ask him yourself, spend some time with him. If you’re transparent and honest he’ll be the same in return. I know you know that already, but you need to actually do it and not run away.” Hanschen smiled at him and for the tiniest second, Moritz thought he saw Ernst there too, “I believe in you.”