A/N: Thank you to everyone who has read and reviewed along the way, quite frankly my dears, you've been fantastic and I really hope you enjoy this final chapter :]
"What a beautiful mess this is. It's like picking up trash in dresses
through timeless words, and priceless pictures
We'll fly like birds not of this earth
And times they turn, and hearts disfigure
But that's no concern when we're wounded together
And we tore our dresses, and stained our shirts
But it's nice today, oh the wait was so worth it
What a beautiful mess this is. It's like taking a guess when the only answer is yes"
"Quick!" Ilse turned to Anna who was still working on the ties keeping Ernst on the ground.
"What now?" Anna pleaded with the older girl, "he's gone! They've taken him! There's nothing we can do-"
Ilse ran back along the muddy path, and fell to her knees in the rain; she held Ernst's pale face close to her chest, breathing heavily, "We've got to get to Berlin." She too began to fumble with the straps of the jacket as Ernst continued his attempts to wriggle free.
"Berlin?" Anna exasperated, "Ilse are you mad? We don't even have the money to put breakfast on our table, let alone travel that far!"
Ilse raised and eyebrow, "Felix forgot his wallet the other day…"
Ernst looked shocked, he raised his thin face from Ilse's chest, "That's stealing!"
"Well as if he's going to mind!" Ilse retorted, helping him to his feet, "we're rescuing someone!"
Ernst brushed down his clothes and threw off the last of the straight jacket, "we are?"
Ilse looked at her two friends, Anna seemed nervous but resolute, and Ernst's young face was feverish with excitement. She slung one arm around each of their shoulders. They we're a team, it felt like they always had been, and they were going to sort everything out. "Yes," she nodded decisively, "we are."
It was late afternoon by the time the three of them reached the city. The train had been expensive but Ilse had scraped together enough money to buy them each a pastry. Anna's lay half eaten on the window sill, raspberry jam dripping onto the seat cushion, Ernst and Ilse had left theirs untouched.
"Come on Ernst eat up," Anna's tone betrayed her worry. She had never even been to this terrible place, they had to find Hanschen, keep Ernst safe- there was so much to pull off it seemed impossible.
"Ilse hasn't eaten hers," Ernst protested, pointing to the slice of apple strudel now congealing on top of their luggage, "and my tummy feels strange." He paused, "Hanschen will be alright, won't he?"
Anna forced a smile, and began to cut Ernst's pastry up into tiny bite sized mouthfuls, she didn't know what to tell him, she sighed, "I don't know."
Ilse had said little throughout the journey, staring fixedly out of the window and occasionally offering a comforting arm to Ernst, who sat very still, tears falling steadily down his cheeks.
"We're nearly there," she broke the ensuing silence and began to gather together the few things that they had packed.
The three of them made their way towards the exit and waited for the train to come to a standstill. The noise of the city buzzed through Ernst's head, he clutched at Ilse's arm.
"Woodruff! Fresh Woodruff left over from today's market" someone shouted,
A drunk swerved towards them, "Ahhhh, one man two women!" she slurred, "lucky man!"
Ernst stepped back abruptly, knocking Anna into a fat man with a cane, "How much?" he leered.
"Let's get out of here," Ilse murmured, grabbing Anna's arm. They navigated the maze of dark streets with difficulty, stumbling through the night until they reached they place that Hanschen had described to them. The reflecting glass meant they couldn't tell if any rooms inside the imposing grey building were lit, but the fountain continued to buzz and hum outside. The three of them made there way cautiously up the stone steps, Anna stopped them outside.
"Ok, so if we use Ernst as bait to get in, then find Hanschen and break him out,"
"I'll pose as a nurse," Ilse added, turning to Ernst "to make sure that no one hurts you."
Ernst nodded, still eying the building warily, "That's a bad place," he mumbled,
"I know," Anna gripped his elbows.
"They make people hurt, they made me hurt," Ernst tried to twist away from her but Anna held him firm.
"I know sweetheart but this is for Hanschen and I know you might not know it right now but you love him, and you'll never forgive yourself if you don't go back in there."
Ernst looked at her seriously; he nodded, "ok."
They made their way into the building, Anna and Ernst walking a little way in front; as they made their way up to the desk Ilse ducked behind a pillar and stole into a side room.
"Can I help you?" the piercingly high voice came from a man seated at the front desk, he was completely bald and held a gold fountain pen between his chubby fingers.
Anna grasped Ernst's hand tight, "Yes," she brushed the hair from her eyes, "I've come to admit my, my husband."
"Take number 372 to a seat and a cleanser will be with him shortly"
Anna felt Ernst shudder beside her, his panicked face looked paler than she had ever seen it, beads of sweat started to drip down his forehead, he looked sick.
"Is there a toilet we can use?" she questioned quickly.
The bald man did not look pleased, grudgingly he handed her a small key on a leather chain, "Through those doors," he pointed a fat arm to an opening to the right of his desk.
"Thank you," Anna grabbed the key and led a shaking Ernst deeper into the building.
"Anna I don't like it here," he mumbled, his head lolling into her, eyes wide and staring, "they do bad things here, my head hurts and I'm not sure I-"
He wretched but Ilse, now clad in full nurses uniform, appeared from a side room, grabbed his chest and pulled him upright, "Its ok," she lightly stroked his hair and Ernst began to recover himself a little, "no ones going to hurt you here, not again."
Ernst nodded determinedly, "we've got to find Hanschen,"
"Yes," a smile touched Ilse's lips, "we've got to find him."
No one saw them as they snuck down the stairs, led by Ernst, to the patient's rooms. The dark haired boy's head pounded, voices and faces swam in and out of focus as if an electric current was buzzing through his body, distorting everything. Numbing his fingers and making it difficult to feel his way.
They turned another corner and herd a clanging come from the door of one of the cells. Someone was coming. Anna pressed herself flat against the dirty white tiled wall in panic. The floor was bare concrete and a clinical lamp threw the corridor into an eerie half light. The footsteps grew louder. Frantically Ilse tried the door to one of the rooms, it was locked. They braced themselves as the figure drew closer. They saw polished black shoes, grey stockings, a green dress and then, rounded wire spectacles.
"Thea?!" Ilse burst out.
Thea stopped in shock and nearly dropped the clipboard she was holding.
"What the hell are you doing here?!" Anna demanded,
"What am I doing here?" Thea hissed, "What are you doing here?"
Ilse ignored her, Ernst looked at the floor, "Do you work here?!"
"I'm afraid I can't tell you-" Thea began but Anna had grabbed the clipboard from her,
"One of my best friends has almost had his life destroyed by this god forsaken 'hospital' and now it might be about to happen to another, so you can forget all your protocols and tell us!" Her face was close to Thea's but the brown haired girl held her gaze.
"No, I mean I really can't," she continued, "take a look at my clipboard,"
Anna turned it over in her hands; the words 'top secret' were stamped across the heading of the paper in big red letters. Ernst frowned as he traced the words on the page with his finger.
"We're an investigative organisation independent from the government, currently working to bring this monstrosity down from the inside." Thea said proudly
Ilse breathed a heavy sigh of relief and broke into a sudden smile, "Thea that's brilliant!"
Thea nodded fiercely and looked, concerned, at Ernst who was looking fearfully at the number 124, etched on the nearest cell door, "Ernst you've been here before haven't you?"
Ernst gave no sign that he had heard her.
"Look," Anna cut in, "we don't have time. Hanschen, have you seen him?"
Thea shook her head, "No, but just down here is where they bring new patients."
They heard wails and cries as Thea led them further down the dank corridor,
"It won't be like this for much longer," Thea whispered, almost to herself.
Finally they reached the end of the winding passage, they heard the slow thump of footsteps from above, they held their breath, but whoever it was passed on.
"Here," Thea said firmly, she tugged the hatch across to reveal none other than Hanschen, attempting to use a pocket knife to unscrew the bolts from the barred window. He whipped round at the noise, sending the penknife flying.
"Thea?" he exclaimed, he rushed to the thin hatch in the cast iron door. "Anna, Ilse, Ernst! What are you doing here?"
Ernst smiled shyly, "rescuing you of course."
Relief flooded through Hanschen's body, but his eyes were still frightened, "Get me out of here. Please-"
"Of course," Thea nodded.
"Excuse me!" a voice came booming from the end of the corridor, "What exactly is going on down here?" A ginger haired man was making his way towards them; his white coat was stained with blood.
"Dr Amoralisch they're with me," Thea stepped smartly away from the door and turned to face the approaching figure.
Dr Amoralisch did not look convinced, "All of them?"
"Yes," Thea nodded, "The patient is just saying goodbye to his family"
The doctor eyed Ernst, "Do I know you from somewhere?"
Ernst stood routed to the stop, his eyes betrayed that terrible familiarly of the doctor's hands, the volt machine the broken promise that the pain would stop soon.
"No!" Thea cut in, "He's new in today."
The doctor seemed satisfied. "Very well Dr Gabor, I have a patient waiting upstairs." He nudged her arm; Thea forced a smile, "Shocky Shocky!"
Anna felt Ernst lean weakly back against the wall beside her, his eyes slid out of focus again.
Thea scowled as the man lumbered away, "he's a wicked one," she fumbled with the keys. Finally the door swung open, Hanschen gasped as he burst through. He pulled the four of them into a hug.
"This way!" Thea lead them through a wooden door that entered out onto a back street. The cool night air hit them hard but it was somehow refreshing.
"Hang on," Ilse caught hold of Thea's arm, "Doctor Gabor?"
Thea blushed and nodded.
Ilse smiled absentmindedly, "I always thought you might."
They walked briskly onwards, Hanschen supporting Ernst, Anna hurrying along beside them, "I'm sorry we didn't invite you to the wedding," Thea said hesitantly, "It's just, well, too many ghosts, do you know what I mean?"
Ilse nodded, glancing back at Anna "I understand."
"What about you Anna?" Thea questioned, indicating that they should turn left,
"Oh I'm afraid there's nothing exciting for me on that front," Anna smiled softly; "You should ask Ilse though."
"Ilse?" Thea questioned, smiling happily as Ilse showed her the ring.
"And Hanschen what about you?"
Hanschen looked across at the three waiting faces, and then at the boy clinging to his shoulder for support. He nodded at Ernst, "Wherever he goes, I'll go."
After some minutes they reached a tiny house on the outskirts of the district, the chimney stood crooked and the entire building looked as if it might collapse at any moment.
"Home." Thea smiled, "Melchior's not here at the moment, out of the country on one of his fact finding missions," she laughed, "but he'll be back soon, he always is."
The five of them crossed the threshold and sat down in a crowded sitting room. Hanschen carried Ernst to the sofa, he was shivering. He slid in and out of consciousness. The shock of returning to Tiergartenstrasse had been too much.
Thea carried him a hot cup of tea, Ernst tried to lift his head to drink; Hanschen helped him reach the cup.
"Thea?" Anna cut in suddenly, it was dark outside now and the single lamp lit the cramped room with a rosy glow. "You're a doctor,"
Thea nodded warily, "Yes."
"Could you take a look at Ernst? I mean, is there anything we can do to make him better?"
Thea didn't meet her gaze, "It's a question of time." She set down her cup of tea and stood up. Ernst and Hanschen stood still on the sofa. "His memory will start to return gradually, over a number of months or years, depending on the circumstances, he'll return to normal."
"Well how much time?" Ilse questioned, "a few more weeks or a few more years?"
"That depends," Thea continued, "I've been studying Tiergartenstrasse outpatients for a number of months now. It seems they recover faster away from the things that that remind them of their treatment, or the reasons for their treatment in the first place."
Anna nodded, "so what does that mean?"
"Ernst needs to be kept away from certain places, objects and," Thea looked pointedly at Hanschen, "people, that could trigger reminders of what happened to him and why."
Hanschen sat up abruptly, careful not to knock Ernst, "People?"
Thea nodded firmly, "If you want him to recover as fast as possible that it has to be done. You can't see him."
Hanschen opened his mouth, "But I love-"
"You have to think what's best for him," Anna cut in.
"Hanschen he's completely dehabilitated, he can barely dress himself, if it's at all possible, he deserves a better life than that." Ilse looked at him pleadingly. "Hanschen please, do you think he wants this?"
Hanschen clung on to Ernst's hand a little tighter, he closed his eyes. Ernst had the right to live a normal life. He had to let go."
"Excuse me," a tired voice piped up, "but no ones actually asked me what I want."
The thin boy pulled himself up on the sofa. His messy black hair again framed his too thin face which seemed to emit an almost iridescent glow in the moonlight. There were huge bags under his eyes and he was still shaking. He turned to Hanschen.
"I know," he caught his breath, "I said I just wanted to be myself again."
Hanschen nodded, and brought a hand to Ernst's cheek, his throat tightened. Ernst lifted a trembling hand and placed it gently over Hanschen's, he closed his eyes,
"But I can't be myself without you," tears began to fall from under his lashes, "I don't care if it takes a month, or a year. If I'm going to get better, I want it to be with you."
Hanschen tried to say something but the words caught in his throat, the girls watched them in tearful silence. Hanschen brought Ernst's forehead close to his and looked straight into his eyes, the light behind them was beginning to dim again.
He pressed a soft kiss against the dark haired boy's lips and felt him fight to keep himself conscious.
Ernst pulled away a little and gripped his lover's hands a little tighter; the tears formed long wet tracks down his cheeks.
"I'll find a way back to you, I promise." He whispered.
Hanschen saw the dark haired boy's eyes mist over, he was slipping away. He pulled him close and pressed frantic kisses along his jaw line, "I love you," he whispered. Ernst nodded and Hanschen saw the final spark of light fade from his eyes. He could almost here the noise of the bells rising again.
"Hello," the young boy turned to Thea, "my name's Ernst Robel, what's yours?"