Roderich's lone footsteps echoed off the narrow concrete walls of the stairwell as he made his way up to the third floor. His suitcase was heavy in his hand and despite the padding on the handle it was beginning to chafe. After walking for what seemed far too long he crested the top at last. Roderich set down his suitcase and flexed his fingers. What a tragedy a musician's hands had to suffer! Sighing, he picked it back up and made his way further down the hallway, pausing at a plain door numbered 34.
Roderich put the case down again and reached into his pocket, extracting a brass key with the same number stamped in it as the door. He put it in the lock and the door clicked open smoothly.
"Elias, I'm home!" Roderich called into the flat. There was no answer. "Elias?"
Roderich shut the door, left his suitcase and moved further into the flat. He saw now why he had gotten no answer. Sprawled out across the couch with a magazine over his face was his best friend, Elias Hedervary, a Hungarian who had recently moved in with him. Roderich's eye twitched slightly. The room looked like a disaster zone, with empty and half eaten take-out boxes and crumpled clothes everywhere. Elias was snoring quite loudly amid the filth, the pages of the magazine crinkling in and out with each breath. Roderich brushed off the magazine and pinched his friend's nose. A few seconds later, Elias choked and started coughing and snorting.
"Gahhhh! What gives here?!" He sat up, a cross look on his face that faded quickly. "Oh, it's just you Roderich…*yawn* When did you get back?"
"Never mind that," Roderich said, taking a strict tone of voice. "I leave for a measly week and come back to find this place looking like the city dump. Honestly, haven't you ever heard of cleaning?"
Elias rolled his eyes. He hated getting lectured. "Yeah yeah, I know…"
"Then get your rump off the couch and help me clean this up."
"But I'm still tired!" Elias complained, grabbing Roderich round the middle. The musician was caught off balance and collapsed into Elias's lap. Elias squeezed tighter, burying his face in Roderich's coat. "I'm sure you're tired too…"
Roderich's face flushed at the comment. He squirmed in Elias's grasp. "Yes, as a matter of fact I am, but this needs cleaning first! Let go of me!"
"Aw, you're just a clean freak," Elias moaned, releasing Roderich, who stood up at little too fast and nearly fell over again. Elias smiled and chuckled a bit. "But you're always so cute when you get like that."
This time it was Roderich's turn to roll his eyes. "Stop talking nonsense and get cleaning."
"Whatever you say, Master Roderich."
"How did the concerto go anyway?" Elias sat across from Roderich at the kitchen table. After being forced to pick up the trash, he had been made to bathe, do the laundry and change clothes before dinner. Since he had no clean shirt, he wore one of Roderich's; it was a little too small in the shoulders, but it was good enough until the dryer rang. Over that he wore a pair of bracers and a set of denim trousers. His shoulder length chestnut hair was still wet and tied back into a ponytail.
"Those judges didn't know good music when they heard it. I got third place, third place of all things! Just because they said my score lacked essence and passion. Hmph, just thinking about it makes me mad."
Roderich picked at the stew he had made, suddenly not hungry. He pushed the plate away and stood to start the dishes. Elias took another forkful of the stew.
"I never did hear you play the piece you wrote for the concerto," he said through a mouthful of potato and beef. He swallowed and continued. "Would you play it for me?"
"It's not even worthy playing, that failure," Roderich snapped. He was getting irritable, but Elias pressed harder.
"Please? Just once, that's all I'm asking."
Roderich sighed. "Alright. Just once." He crossed the kitchen and went back into the living room where his upright piano stood. He opened the lid up and took his seat, fingers set to begin. He pressed the first chords, low trilling notes, a slow melancholy melody. The tune picked up a little pace, moving into the higher notes, but it kept the same mellow rhythm. Up and down the notes scaled, flowing together in harmony, the song at last ending with a low quiet note. As the last vibrations faded, Roderich heard Elias's voice right behind him.
"That was no failure."
Roderich jumped, his hands slamming the keys and making a horrid clash of improper notes. When had Elias gotten up?! He kept his eyes focused on the keys, suddenly embarrassed. "No, it is a failure…music not even worth one's time."
"Don't say that. There'll be other auditions, other clients. Don't let this one get you down. You're a wonderful musician and a wonderful pianist. But most of all you're a wonderful friend." Elias bent down across Roderich's shoulder and pecked him on the cheek. He pulled away before Roderich had time to react. His cheeks pinked at the childish kiss. Elias was just trying to make him feel better, so why did he not even have the strength to turn around?
"Don't worry about the dishes tonight!" Elias called from the kitchen. "Leave those to me! You just get some rest and stop worrying! You're going to give yourself an ulcer with all that worrying!"
Roderich lay wide awake in bed, unable to sleep. Next to him in the bedroom over he could hear the grating snores of Elias. Even with the door closed they were loud. He lightly touched the cheek where Elias had kissed it. The skin still felt like it tingled from the touch. Roderich turned over and pulled the covers closer. Why was he getting so worked up over such an innocent little thing?
When he was a little boy growing up in a small Austrian village in the Alps, he had had a friend who lived in the next village over, a Swiss boy named Vash. He and his sister Lili would often bring their sheep herds to the grazing pastures near his village. Ah, the happy times of childhood…he and Vash became fast friends and would play whenever they could. But something happened that made the friendship end abruptly and hurt Roderich emotionally. As a result, he had never let anyone get close to him again, building an impenetrable wall around his heart.
As he got older, the memory of Vash and his sister slowly faded into the recesses of his mind. He moved to Vienna to train under a prestigious piano instructor and soon forgot all about what it was like to have friends. He flourished and was considered a very talented piano player. Then, on the night before an important recital, he met him.
Roderich was walking home from his teacher's house when he heard the commotion. A street fight was in progress. Three guys had ganged up on another one, though the one being attacked seemed to be holding his own pretty well. He socked the long blonde haired one straight in the jaw, sending him reeling into the street. He turned his attention to the brown haired one when the one with white blonde hair pulled something out of his coat pocket.
"LOOK OUT!" Roderich had shouted, his body seeming to move of its own volition but it was too late. The scream of the firearm rang out into the chilly night air and everything went black.
When he came to, he was in a hospital bed, his hand heavily bandaged. His glasses had been removed so everything was fuzzy.
"Oh, you're awake!" said a voice. "Here, your glasses. That was sure a stupid thing to do, you know? You could have been killed! Lucky it was only your hand."
Roderich slipped the spectacles on and faced the speaker. He was a young man about Roderich's age, with a distinct Slavic brocade. He had shoulder length chestnut brown hair and green eyes that danced in the light. He had broad shoulders and a rather straight nose. He had a few cuts and bruises on his face from the fight.
"Excuse me?" Roderich said, slightly shocked he spoke German so well.
"I said it was stupid. It wasn't your fight to begin with and on top of that I had to drag your ass to the hospital cause you wouldn't stop bleeding! But…I guess I owe you one. You did save my life after all. My name's Elias, Elias Hedervary. You're that pianist that's been in the paper recently right? The one they're calling a prodigy?"
Elias held out his hand to shake. Roderich took it, surprised again at his firm grip. He nodded his head. "That's right. My name is Roderich Edelstein. But I won't be playing anything anymore with this hand."
"Don't say that!" Elias exclaimed. "You'll heal, then you can play again! It's my fault anyway you got hurt anyway. I shouldn't have let those idiots get to me like that. Like I said, I owe you one. If you ever need anything, just call me! I'll be there for you in a pinch."
So it had gone. Not a week later Elias had shown up on Roderich's doorstep begging him for a place to stay. He had been evicted from his previous establishment because of brawling and now he was homeless. Unable to say no to his desperate face, Roderich had agreed, with the provision he would find his own housing. And that was how Elias had come to live with him. Days met weeks, which in turn became months and now Elias had been living with Roderich for nearly three years.
Roderich snuggled deeper into his quilt. Elias was his friend, his only friend. If he ever left, he'd be alone again. He didn't want to feel that emptiness again. As his eyes finally drifted shut, he made a silent prayer that Elias would stay…forever.
The next morning as Roderich surfaced from deep sleep he got a whiff of something cooking. He sat up, trying to figure out what it was then it hit him. It was something like sausages but with a spicier scent. Roderich fumbled for his glasses and opened his door, the smell wafting in heavier doses.
"What are you doing?"
Elias turned from the stove, wearing a handkerchief over his hair and an apron. Over the fire was a sizzling pan full of food. He smiled cheerfully at Roderich. "I'm making breakfast of course! It's a Hungarian specialty, though I kinda had to improvise."
"I didn't know you could cook," Roderich said with some surprise.
Elias scoffed. "Of course I can, it's just a big hassle that's all. But I figured you needed some cheering up after yesterday."
Elias dumped the skillet onto the table and spooned out some on Roderich's plate. One did have to admit, it did smell rather unappetizing not to mention what it looked like. Elias dug right into it, wolfing it down like nothing. Roderich picked at with his fork and took a tentative bite. It was spicy like it smelled, but was also savory. It wasn't horrible, but it was certainly edible.
"You don't like it, do you?" There was disappointment in Elias's voice.
"No! No, that's not it…I-,"
"If you don't like it, just say it. You don't need to hide it from me." Elias picked up his empty plate and skillet, taking them to the sink for scrubbing. "Hey, do you remember the first time we met?"
"Hmph, how could I forget? You got me shot, that's what. And as I recall, you said you were going to find your own place to live."
"Aw, not that again! Come on, Roderich! Don't you like having me around?"
Roderich looked down at the table, unable to answer Elias's question. Elias was a pain in the ass, he never cleaned up his messes and just made headaches for Roderich when he left for concert auditions. But…there was something nice about having someone to greet you when you came home.
"What's the matter with you?"
Roderich's head shot up and found himself face to face with a far too close Elias. His face turned red and he leaned backwards, falling out of the chair and tipping it over.
"Whoa! Are you okay? What's with you? You've been acting weird since you got home last night." Elias bent down to help Roderich up, but he smacked away his hand, suddenly angry.
"I can get up myself," he snapped. He righted the chair and picked his glasses up off the floor. "I'm fine, alright? There's nothing wrong."
"If you say so…"
In the front hall, the click of the mailslot and shuump of letters falling through was heard. Wanting to avoid talking with Elias, Roderich quickly marched out of the kitchen and scooped up the mail. He flipped through the stack; a magazine for Elias…a electricity bill…and a hand addressed envelope to Roderich. He tore open the top and slid out the heavy paper. His eyes widened as he read the letter.
"What's taking you? Mail get stuck in the slot again?" Elias called from the kitchen.
Roderich's anger was gone and replaced with excitement. "I…I got a request…from Berlin!"
"Huh? Berlin?" Elias poked his head around the corner. Roderich waved the letter.
"The chairman of the Berlin Symphony wants me to compose a piece for his daughter's wedding…it says he heard me play in Nepal last week."
"Wow, that's fantastic news Roderich! See, I told you not to worry!"
Tap tap tap tap. The tip of Roderich's pencil drummed against his paper. He had been sitting at his piano since dinner and not a single note at come to mind. A few times he had plinked away at the keys, playing his favorite Chopin to get his mind going, but even that hadn't helped. He put the eraser end in his mouth and chewed on the end, his mind a total blank.
He had started out eagar to go, but as soon as he sat down all his ideas went poof. His rubbed his eyes and checked the clock. It read 10:47pm. Was it really that late already? Roderich stretched, groaning from sitting too long. He looked back at his sheet music paper, woefully blank.
The front door opened and Roderich heard Elias's voice. "I'm home!" He walked into the living room and saw Roderich sitting at his piano looking dazed.
"You're still trying?" he asked, setting down the bag of groceries he had been charged with fetching. "Maybe you should sleep on it, you know refresh your mind and all that?"
Roderich sighed tiredly. "The chairman wants it in a fortnight. That's hardly adequate time to write a proper piano arrangement…"
"Hmm…maybe then all you need is some inspiration?"
Elias had crossed the small room and come to stand next to Roderich. He sat down on the piano bench next to him and leaned in, a strange look in his eyes. He smiling too. Roderich didn't like the nature of that smile.
"W-what are you doing?"
"Giving you some inspiration."
Elias's face was much too close and Roderich had nowhere else to back into but the wall. Elias's assault was swift to ensure Roderich couldn't protest. His lips were still cold from being outside, but his tongue was hot as fire. It quickly found its way deep into Roderich's mouth. Elias's body was pressing closer and closer and his hand was winding its way up under his shirt. Roderich finally managed to break away from Elias's kiss and slapped him as hard as he could across the cheek. Elias flinched from the blow and stopped, pulling away. A large red handprint throbbed on his face.
"What kind of inspiration is that?!" Roderich said, forcing his voice to remain calm, though he wanted to scream at his friend.
Elias rubbed his cheek, his face unreadable. "That really hurt, you know. I'm in love with you, you dolt. Can't you tell?"
Roderich's face burned red at the confession. He looked at Elias in disbelief. "What?"
"I said I love you. I've loved you since that night you saved my life." He started to move closer again, his hand reaching for Roderich's face. "I've waited three years and I think it's been long enough."
Roderich leapt from the piano bench away from Elias's hand. His arms were curled around his body and he was shaking. "No! Don't-don't touch me! Get out! Get out! I don't want to see you again!"
"GET OUT!" Roderich couldn't contain his voice any longer. He shouted at the top of his lungs at his friend, sinking to the floor. "Just…just leave me."
Roderich half expected Elias to approach him again, but the other man merely stood, crossed the room and left the flat without saying another word. The door clicked shut, a normally quiet sound ominous in the awkward silence. Roderich's shaking wasn't stopping and now the emotions came bursting forth, bringing with them old memories. He remembered it all, everything that had transpired all those years ago in his home village…of the sheep…of Lili…and… of Vash.
Roderich sat curled up like that on the floor for a long while crying. All the while he remembered why he had built his emotional barricade. And poor Elias…he hadn't done anything wrong. He'd hurt his friend, his only friend and driven him away.
Roderich unfurled and leaned up against the drywall, staring up at the stucco ceiling. He ran his fingers over his lips where not long ago Elias's had touched. He could still feel the ghost of his kiss, taste his tongue, feel the softness of his lips.
"I'm such an idiot…," he muttered through tears.
Roderich ran down the narrow lanes, his misty breath vaporizing almost as soon as it left his mouth. His scarf flopped behind him, batting about in the wind. It was bitterly cold, but Roderich didn't care how cold it got. There was only one thing that would warm him up.
Four blocks down the way he arrived at his destination; a dimly lit pub that served mostly older people. This was it, it had to be it. There was no other place he would go.
As soon as he opened the door, he almost immediately regretted it. A beer mug came hurtling towards his head, smashing mere inches from his head. Roderich instinctively ducked and looked around. His gut feeling had been right.
"You've finally showed your face again, eh?" The speaker was a browned haired man wearing a red sweatshirt.
"Don't think we've forgotten what you did to use before," said his partner.
Roderich took a slight gasp. He recognized these two; there were the same goons who'd jumped Elias the night they met, but where was the third? Elias's face was red from drinking and he was cracking his knuckles.
"You idiots still didn't learn, did you? Better not mess with me tonight. I'm in a bad mood." Elias swung and cocked the brown haired guy in the jaw. The goon's partner took a swing as well, but Elias ducked and kicked him in the gut. He went reeling into a table, knocking it over.
Elias's head whipped around, surprise on his drunken face. "Eh?! Roderich?! What are- oof!"
The brown haired guy made a comeback, striking while Elias was distracted. He got him on the head with a beer bottle. Elias fell to the ground, clutching his head. Now the partner goon got up and kicked Elias. Roderich couldn't stand by and watch anymore.
The blonde goon turned just in time to get a fistful of knuckle sandwich. Roderich had punched the guy with all the strength he could muster. The blow landed square in the middle of his face, breaking his nose. Blood spewed everywhere. The guy gripped his bloodied nose, swearing profusely. Roderich didn't give him time to recover. He followed it up with a swift uppercut, knocking him down with the glass jaw. Roderich turned his attention to the other guy, who was backing away.
"Hey man, no need to go postal on us…"
"Then I suggest you leave before I do what I did to your friend there," Roderich said with venomous ice.
The guy didn't hesitate to pick his injured buddy up and get out of the pub as fast as he could. Roderich bent down and helped Elias to his feet.
"I could have handled them," Elias said, his booze buzz effectively gone and replaced with a throbbing head.
"You were outnumbered and you knew it. You're bleeding too."
"Gee, I hadn't noticed," Elias said sarcastically. He was in a foul mood. He stomped out of the bar, hands shoved deep in his pockets not even bothering to wait for Roderich. Roderich hurried out after him, concerned about the cut on the back of his head. He had to run to catch up with his friend.
"Slow down! Hey!"
Elias didn't seem to notice him shouting, but slowed his pace anyway. His shoulders were hunched over and he was shivering quite noticeably. He hadn't bothered to take his coat when he left. Roderich took the loose ends of his scarf and wrapped them around Elias's bare neck; an easy task since they were about the same height. Elias gave him a funny look.
"You're going to catch cold. Here, give me your hand."
Before Elias could protest, Roderich pulled his hand from the pocket and curled his thinner fingers around Elias's thicker ones. He put both hands in his own coat pocket, forcing him to walk close and in sync with Elias. The entire time Roderich hadn't looked Elias once in the face. His gaze was focused on the snow covered sidewalk. If he had looked up, he'd have seen Elias's cheeks turn a little pinker.
The pair was thus silent as they walked the four blocks back to the flat. The streets were deserted and the snow was falling gently, collecting on the electric gas lamps and postboxes at the corners. At last the flat came into view. Elias stopped a few feet from the front door. He unwound the scarf and pulled away.
"I guess we say goodbye here," he said sullenly. "I'll come back for my stuff later."
Elias turned and started walking back down the street, hands back in his pockets. Roderich took off after him, grabbing him from behind.
"Wait! Don't…don't leave…don't leave yet…" Roderich's voice was muffled in Elias's shirt. Elias looked back at him.
"First you tell me to leave then not to. Make up your mind!"
"I-I'm sorry…I'm sorry I yelled at you…I…I…" He couldn't stop the tears. They came forthwith and in a matter of seconds he was practically bawling into Elias's back. "Please *hic* don't leave! Please!"
"H-hey! There's no need to cry over it! Alright, alright, I'll stay!"
Roderich sat on the couch in the living room, his eyes still red from his recent tearing. Elias had completely forgotten his anger and got rather flustered when Roderich had started crying. Roderich rubbed his face, still hiccupping slightly. How childish of him, crying like a five year old!
Elias came into the room, his head bandaged and looking tired. He flopped down next to Roderich.
"You okay now?" he asked.
Roderich nodded. "Yes, I'm fine. Thank you…for staying that is."
"Well, didn't have much choice," Elias said, shrugging. "I'd have probably frozen out there anyway. Are you going to tell me what's wrong? It's because of what I did, isn't it?"
Roderich twisted his hands in his lap. "No…it's…not all that…"
"Whatever man. If you're straight, that's fine with me. As long as we can at least stay friends, that'll be good enough for me. Hey! What's with you all the sudden?"
Roderich has taken hold of Elias's sleeve and scooted closer. He put his forehead on Elias's shoulder.
"If…if you left me…I'd be all alone…I…I'm afraid of being alone." Roderich looked up at Elias with teary eyes. "Please…don't leave me alone…because…because…I…I…"
He couldn't finish the sentence because Elias had leaned in and given him a sweet kiss. This time Roderich didn't flinch or pull away; rather he just let his body enjoy the warmth. Elias drew Roderich into a tight embrace, holding him tenderly.
"I will never leave you alone," he whispered into Roderich ear. "I'll be your knight. I'll protect you, comfort you…if you'll have me."
Elias's voice was serious, a tone Roderich rarely heard from the normally cheerful guy. Roderich bit his lip, trying not to cry again. He buried his face into Elias's shirt, breathing in his musky scent.
"You'd better be able to keep that promise," he said in his normal tone.
Elias laughed and winced, hand going to his head. He winked at Roderich. "You can count on it!"
Roderich cleared his throat, shifting his eyes sideways at Elias. "I recall you saying something before about inspiration. I can't say I remember what it was."
Elias gave a sly grin. "Then I guess I'll have to remind you."