Note – I recently met the amazing (and really rather lovely) Jamie Blackley, and so to celebrate have written a lovely fluffy Hernst fic, which I am sorry to say I haven't done for a while, for various reasons, one being the difficulty of multitasking. This is loosely based on the Fratellis song of the same title, and I hope you enjoy it.
It's a surprisingly large town, for such a small place. There's a lot to it, and it really is beautiful when you look at it the right way. You have to live here to truly appreciate it, though; otherwise it blends into every other little village in North-West Germany – no, in the whole world. Yes, you really have to live here, because it's the personalities that make it so wonderfully unique. The people fill up so much space with their large and colourful personalities, and it's hard not to love them. In fact, it's hard not to fall flat on your face with love. But the people make it bigger, and the bigger it gets the bigger the people grow. Sometimes you get lost. Sometimes you get lonely.
He remembers being young, eight or nine maybe, and this little face appeared in the school yard. He'd seen the face around town, but he was too preoccupied by playing with his then-friends, Georg and Otto, to have really noticed it. He notices it now, though.
"Tell me your name"
The boy with the doe's eyes looks up at him, frozen to the spot. He thinks that the boy's eyes are pretty; perfect a shade of acorn-brown. He reminds him of a squirrel terrified of a cat.
And the cat nods and runs off. When he turns back, the squirrel is standing there, watching him run. He laughs, and beckons, and the boy follows him. He always will. Even now, seven years later, he knows the boy will follow him to the ends of the world and back, and if he's honest, he knows that he would do the same. Now they're fifteen, and teetering on the brink of the crack in the universe, worried of the inevitable fall.
Will you be mine?
Not if you never ask.
He's not one for romantic gestures, and his companion doesn't mind. Then again, both of them knew right from the beginning that there wasn't anything romantic involved, at least not on one side. He knows about toys. He knows that you haggle for them in the toy shop, when they are still clean and brightly painted. You play with them. They become dirtier and worn; until you stop playing and leave them in a dark corner of the room until you throw them out. So he plans a carefully scripted monologue, and though it's out of line to be so bold he knows that he won't need to play by the rules to win. Sure and soon, he will know that you don't play with people's hearts.
Now it's three, and he and his are lazing quietly by the stream. The boy with many shades of brown in his eyes is looking up at the trees, a small smile on his face. The burning sun is pale and bleached in the humid atmosphere. It's the first of August, and he has failed his Latin exam. They climbed up here almost two hours ago, and he hasn't yet said a word. The fey boy won't look at him; not out of shame, but out of a sense of failure. Eventually, the smaller rolls; and looks up at him, and though they haven't stopped playing yet the rules have changed, and he is as a queen gazing down at a beggar.
"Do you ever get lonely?"
The cat stills. Contemplates the absurdity of the question. But not for long.
"Of course not. Why do you ask that?"
His companion just smiles secretively, stands, and makes his way back down the hill and towards the town.
"Hey, wait up there!" the flaxen boy calls after him. He is ignored. "Come on, don't be so pedantic. How silly!" He is still ignored. "Oh, don't be like this. You know you don't want to leave, and so do I. I know you!"
Now the brunet turns; smiles gently. "No you don't. It's sweet of you to try, though"
Then he's going, going, gone over the hill with his schoolbag swinging uselessly over his shoulder. The boy-man-still-just-a-child calls his name once, and then flops down in the burning heat of the summer sun as the boy-man-no-longer-a-child leaves him behind. He groans. He wishes that he could figure out his friend. He wishes he had a hand to hold on to as he falls into the crack in the universe that he is so desperately balancing on, because he doesn't want to be swallowed by the unknown just yet, and not without…
Anyway. He lies there for a while. Then he stands up, slowly. His shoes have been kicked off loosely, but rather than put them back on he gathers them up with one hand, listening to the faint creak of leather underneath his firm fingertips. Soon enough his crisp white socks are stained green from the grass, and he winces as he steps barefoot on stones but it's too hot for shoes and so he can't bring himself to put them back on. He takes a different route to his comrade, the longer one, because he doesn't want to go home just yet. Over the field, he sees a shape, hurrying back from its piano lesson as the grass twitches in the dusky breeze, adjusting his glasses. He smiles at the shape, and waves. Georg looks at him, blinks, and carries on towards the town. The wind sighs.
As night falls, the cat pads up the path to his home. He slips on his shoes quietly, hearing the soft sound as the heels hit the stone doorstep, like the memory of a gun fired on a cool spring night. The orange light is inviting and off-putting at the same time. He pushes the door open, and shuts it. The stairs rasp under his shoes as he steps up to his room, dark from the lack of light. He stumbles through the dark hole of his bedroom, thin finger flick at a matchbox and light the candle by his bed, and the room succumbs to the thin glow, the darkness banished to the corners. He changes, slips the gown over his head until it brushes the floor. He clambers into bed.
God knows that he can't bring himself to succumb to the warm arms of slumber that night. He doesn't usually suffer from insomnia, but somehow, tonight, it feels too much like falling. He's always been afraid of falling. Falling asleep. Falling into the chasms of life. Falling in love. He never wants to fall away from anything. The known is safe. He can't even stumble, not unless there's somebody there to catch him. But who would? Who in this town of the bright and the beautiful would catch the manipulative phantom, especially if they knew the risk of falling with him?
So he thinks, and as he does so the lights of the town go out one by bright one until all that's left is the cool darkness. The colours sleep.
When the very first fatigued star disappears, it's still dark. The only colour in the town is the pair of bright blue eyes that stare, awake, into the little hours of the morning. The candle has burnt right down, the wax dribbling excessively. A drop races down the bumpy stick, and a deft finger reaches out and catches it. It burns on his fingertip for a second before solidifying and freezing into a perfect mould. It's so beautiful he nearly cries. Then he shoots a puff of cloudy breath at the flame, and it extinguishes.
He straightens, and swings his legs out of bed. He takes the clothes from last night, which had carelessly been strewn over the back of the chair, and puts them on. He looks at himself in the mirror, his eyes searching for the smoky reflection in the darkness of the room. The hard lines in his shirt and trousers have been worn down and bent into creases, and they hang off him sadly. For once, he doesn't take pride in his image. His hair is tousled, like grass. His whole body sags into his outfit. His eyes droop with lack of sleep. But he doesn't care for once. He slips his shoes on and makes his way downstairs. The grandfather clock at the bottom of the stairs reads five to four. He opens the door and slips outside, as soundless as the ghost in his soul.
He walks over the barren ground of his town, his steps kicking up dust. He can't think properly. His peace has been shattered by everything. By him. Because of him, his heart throbs with an indescribable pain and his head is a mess of inconsistencies. He's the logic to the art, but where's the use in logic when the logic can't figure out something as straightforward and simplistic as a human being? Unless…
Unless human beings aren't so straightforward after all.
The wind wraps itself around him, legs of pure oxygen entwined around his waste and in his air. He gulps it down, feeling the chill against the back of his throat. Funny how the weather can change so quickly. There's something in the atmosphere here (or is it just his mind?) that makes him feel slightly out of it; slightly mad. It's a maddening air here, in the early hours of the morning. He's going mad, trying to work things out. He feels like he's walking with spectres. Moritz Stiefel, tapping him on the shoulder. Wendla Bergmann, consolingly stroking his arm. He shakes them off, and carries on walking, leaving them behind in the darkness.
After a while, he reaches the hill. With effort, he clambers up. He trips on an untied lace, but he doggedly carries on regardless of the dewdrops that tingle against his bare ankles. Then, once he reaches the top, he stands, and looks down at the shape, with the dim light playing off his angles. The squirrel's fingers are blackened with charcoal as he draws the night view on a sketchpad, cross-hatching the enclosing shadows.
"I am" He says, and his words echo and rebound off the fading moon. "I am lonely. I'm always lonely. This place, it…it gets to me, and I can't think straight, and I'm afraid, I'm so afraid that nobody will ever remember me. That all of this will have been for nothing" He breathes. "There. Are you happy now?"
His friend doesn't reply. He laughs quietly, the quiet sound tickling the sky. "You're crazy. I've walked all the way up here to…I just…I just want to get back to sleep and a bit of me thinks that if I talk to you then the…the fear might go away"
His companion finally turns to look at him, with a teasing smile. "You trekked up here at four in the morning because you want to go to sleep? You're the crazy one"
He takes a step, and sits down next to him. The sketchbook is rapidly filled in. "And what about you? Are you lonely?"
"Of course I am. Why do you think I asked in the first place?"
"God, you amaze me. You are the most wonderful person I've ever known. Even when you just smile, sometimes it makes me want to cry, just looking at you. Only somebody like you could be so amazing and still be lonely"
"That must make us similar then" the dark-haired and dark-eyed boy smiles. "What a crying shame. Neither of us knows the other very well at all"
"I wish I did" says the lighter boy with a darker mind. His friend stills. "I thought I knew you, but I don't. So I want to figure you out. I hurt you earlier. I don't want to…I don't mean to"
There's a little pause.
"If you are lonely, why did you say you weren't?" he eventually replies.
"Because I don't want to fall. I'm scared of falling. So scared"
"Falling isn't so bad. Not if you've got someone to help you back up again"
The fair boy stops. He's never thought of it that way before. Then he laughs. "Nobody would want to help me up"
"Don't worry. I will" A pair of charcoal-stained fingers find a pair of grass-stained ones, and they gently link, connecting and bonding but never suffocating. "We may as well be lonely together, if we're going to be lonely at all"
"I remember when I met you. You caught my eye. Irresistible…" he trails off, and a thumb strokes his. "Will you be mine? Properly, I mean"
A sigh. "God, I thought you'd never ask"
A slip of the sun clambers over the distant hills, and the light bursts from its confinement, the colours exploding away and dancing over the sky. They've never seen colours as beautiful as this. Maybe, they wonder, another pair of friends-companions-lovers sit on the other hill as they do. Either way, it's breathtaking. And as the lights in the houses flicker on for August the second, the two men lie down on the hill and fall into each others arms, no longer alone and always able to sleep.
And maybe, he decides, falling in love isn't so bad when you're falling together.