~*~

Today, he was eighteen. Still the youngest in his group of friends, he had the last birthday of them. The cold November air settled nicely around them, but the small group was free. They were all celebrating the small boy's initiation to the group, as well as the final split from their parents. They were going to take a train to Berlin, and then go on to England to take a small boat to the land North of the American border. Canada, Melchior told them… they'd have to learn English or French.

Freedom was only a train ride away. But first, they had to get on the train.

"That cake was brilliant," Otto said, "Who made it?"

"I did… Ernst deserves a friend to make his cake on his big day," Anna replied. Ernst smiled at his best childhood friend. They were all waiting at the train station, bags in hand, itching to make their first venture out into the world their parents hadn't quite prepared them for.

"If only Moritz and Wendla were here to join us," Ilse said sadly, bringing up a painful memory.

Georg simply batted it back by saying, "When I get to Canada, I'm going to see if I can open a music shop…"

Anna squeezed his hand, "And I will open a bakery nearby… we can both own them."

"I'm going to get a job at an art school," Ilse said, Martha smiled at her and nodded:

"I want to work with you, Anna," she said softly.

Anna took her hand and squeezed it, "Of course, Martha."

There was a silence, and Ernst finally spoke, "Will we fan out to different parts of the country?" he asked.

Anna dropped both Georg and Martha's hands to grab at her best friend's hands, "If we do, Ernst, we'll write each other, won't we?" she turned to everyone as she said the last part. They all nodded, smiling at the youngest member.

"Otto and I promised each other we'd get married," Thea said after a long silence as a train rolled past. It was the train to Munich, not Berlin, so the tight group stayed put on their group of benches.

The girls twittered excitedly at the news. Georg blushed as Anna grabbed his hand and fluttered her eyelashes in an expectant manner. Ernst simply smiled, "I think I want to be a librarian," he said shyly, looking over at a person who hadn't said one thing to him all day. Hanschen looked over at him and nodded.

The train had come, and so the group stood up and moved to an open car. Once settled, they became silent with thoughts about what would happen to them next. Hanschen sat with Anna, Georg, and Ernst, but remained silent. The train ride was agonizing with Hanschen not saying a word to him. He wondered why Hanschen seemed so cold. They were getting away from the village that would have scorned their relationship. They would still have to be secret about it, but Ernst had some ideas…

The train docked in Berlin, and the group piled out. Melchior counted them all out, and they made their way to a local inn. Checking his pockets, he uttered a loud, "Fuck!"

"What is it, Melchie?" Ernst asked.

"I have no money…" Melchior whined.

Hanschen moved to the front, "I'll pay for you," he said briskly, taking out his pocketbook. It was the first thing Hanschen had said all day, and it sounded forced, and a bit awkward. They all moved forward to pay for at least one room for each pair.

Thea and Anna went to the first one, Otto and Georg chose the next one. Melchior was allowed a room by himself, and Martha and Ilse were next-door. Hanschen and Ernst were left with the one at the end of the hall.

Hanschen took the key and let Ernst go in first. Ernst looked around the room, "Hanschen… there's only one bed…"

Hanschen smiled and took Ernst's bag from him, placing it on the floor. Ernst looked at him and saw a familiar glint in his eyes, "Oh, Hanschen!" Ernst said quietly, as Hanschen leaned in to kiss him.

Hanschen then led Ernst to the bed and kissed him again, "Happy Birthday, Ernst. We're now free to do this…" he moved his hands down to Ernst's belt and began to slide the leather out of the buckle.

Ernst had a sneaking suspicion that Hanschen had been planning this all day, and was a bit embarrassed to talk to him because of it… but he wasn't going to say anything, as the older boy had unbuttoned his pants and was very carefully pushing him down on the bed.

~*~