CHAPTER 4 – FOREVER

Disclaimer – I don't own any of the characters

Warnings: dark/angsty/gore. A story I wrote for the sake of my inner demons.

"The shade is a tool, a device, a savior

Cloud come, shove the sun aside" – Deftones, My own summer

The Sportlehrer's whistle woke them up earlier than usual the next morning.

"Get up! In ten minutes I want to see everybody at the lake!" the man shouted and the boys jumped reluctantly from their beds. Friedrich fought sleep a few more moments, after he'd sulked under his covers almost all night, staring at Albrecht's empty bed. He must have returned after Friedrich had eventually fallen asleep, because there he was now, among the other boys, in the general frenzy to get ready.

"When I say ten minutes, then you ARE to be at the lake in ten minutes, is that clear?"

The teacher's voice was partially muffled by the biting wind that hurled away the snowflakes. Albrecht lined up right next to him and Friedrich noticed that now both his wrists were bandaged. But before he could say anything, the teacher spoke again.

"Ok. You're going to enter the air hole and swim to the second one" he explained briefly, pointing to the holes that pierced the thick layer of ice, revealing the deep, dark blue water below. "Whoever's ready goes to wash up for breakfast"

Friedrich glanced startled at Christoph, who was the first one called for the task.

"Friedrich, you're next"

His feet moved forward automatically and he caught Albrecht's terrified gaze before tossing down his clothes and diving into the ice cold water.

-x-

Friedrich lay in bed, under two thick blankets, trembling as the fever ravished him. He breathed hard and forced his eyes to remain open, most of the time, despite the drowsiness. All he could see when he did close them was Albrecht's palm, against his on the other side of the ice, before being swallowed by the dark abyss. Then he would scream, but strength had left him entirely. The walls and the furniture of the infirmary were all white, as if covered in snow, white, deadly snow, crushing, suffocating him.

"They say you are better. You can move back in the common bedroom" he heard Christoph's voice as if coming from another world and he briefly wondered for how long he'd been asleep.

"We were worried about you, you've been lying here for three days" Hefe added, providing the answer.

He struggled to open his eyes and shifted slowly. The fever was gone but he still felt drained. Christoph got him to sit up and Hefe cast a robe over his shoulders. They helped him back to the common bedroom and to his bed, in which Friedrich collapsed almost instantly, pulling the blanket around his body. The sight of Albrecht's empty bed was hard to bear, and he shifted his gaze, only to meet the sight of Albrecht's empty locker.

"His things are gone already…" he murmured out loud.

"They put all his things in the coffin…" Hefe explained.

"Let's not talk about this now!" Christoph whispered angrily, elbowing him.

"What do you mean?" Friedrich muttered.

"They never found his body. The divers-"

"That's enough!" Christoph cut him. "Let's let him rest"

The two boys left and Friedrich turned away from the lockers, burying his face in the pillow. His right hand delved underneath it, encountering something that felt like a crumpled piece of paper. Intrigued, he pulled it out and unfolded it carefully. It was a small sheet, torn from a math notebook.

"First comes the love, then the pain, and then the bitterness" it was written in Albrecht's neat, beautiful hand-writing."And then the blood" The last four words, that Albrecht had never spoken, had been added on the bottom of the page, by a foreign hand. The letters had been scribbled roughly, almost tearing the paper.

-x-

That night, the dream returned, but this time it was different. He was no longer running, no longer calling, too tired for the lost battle with loneliness. He simply stood out there, in the dark and cold, confined to the wasteland of his own soul.

"Why?"

Albrecht was there, in front of him, silent, looking uncomfortable and slightly embarrassed, as if not knowing what to say. The gray wolf was by his side, resting its head against his leg.

"I never meant for this to happen, I thought that it would just be over, just as it was for Siegfried Gladen…" he finally spoke, hesitantly, avoiding Friedrich's gaze. "And I'm so sorry I've hurt you, I never meant to… Please Friedrich, forgive and forget". And he was gone.

Friedrich woke up flinching, in the familiar darkness of the common bedroom. Around him, the boys were fast asleep, some snoring softly, yet his ears made him aware that someone was up and fumbling around the lockers. He sighed and settled back in bed, sinking his head in the pillow as much as he could.

"Damn it!" he heard Albrecht's unmistakable voice swearing out loud and jumped upright, squeezing the blanket in his fists. He noticed that the door of Albrecht's locker was ajar and a dark, indistinguishable figure was rummaging now through Hefe's.

"Hey! Who's there?" he shouted, tossing his covers aside.

The intruder, a slender, rather fragile figure wrapped in a dark cloth, rose to its feet holding some sort of bundle to his chest, grabbed one of Hefe's uniforms from its coat hanger and darted out the door. Friedrich jumped down from his bed and ran after him, ignoring the protruding coolness. He followed, but the thief was unexpectedly fast and he lost trace of him in the darkness of the hallway. In front of the bathroom door he stumbled on the dark cloth that now lay piled on the floor. Kneeling, Friedrich examined it almost blindly, only to discover that it was an old, ragged blanket. He flinched in surprise as his fingers touched the melting snow between its folds. He thought he'd heard some movement in the bathroom and he rose on shaky legs, abandoning the blanket. He stepped in carefully, his ears alert, but all he could now hear was the pounding of his own heart, as he advanced in the moonlight sunken room. Who would have guessed that a common bathroom could hold such memories, Friedrich found himself thinking. The corner of his eye caught a suspicious flicker of light and he turned around just when a shadow was trying to slip past him.

"Albrecht!" he called, the word slipping from his lips without thought.

The shadow stopped abruptly and slowly turned, revealing itself. Friedrich almost stopped breathing at the sight. Indeed, Albrecht was there, in front of him, Hefe's uniform a bit loose on his slender body. There was something different about him, his hair was slightly darker, his skin paler and even his eyes appeared to have a darker shade of blue. His features had the vague iridescence of someone from a dream, all the more mesmerizing to behold.

Friedrich found himself surprised at his own calm, numbness even, in the presence of his dead friend. Albrecht's face intrigued him, more than anything else. He looked guilty and simply stood there, not moving, in complete silence, chewing his lower lip. Without another word, Friedrich reached and pulled Albrecht into his arms. Even through the thick fabric of Hefe's uniform, the cold of that unnatural body engulfed his flesh and made him flinch. Albrecht's breath was cold as ice against his cheek, yet it only made him tighten his embrace. After a few moments he pulled back a bit and simply stared. Albrecht had always been beautiful, but now he was so beyond words, such that Friedrich wondered if he'd not strayed into dream again. And in that very moment he found the courage to do what he'd secretly dreamed of for quite a while, he pressed his lips over Albrecht's. His friend's mouth was cold, and so were his fingers, as they rose to caress Friedrich's jaw line, yet the kiss continued, deepened even, and it was completely insane but his mind ended up acknowledging that Albrecht was right there, in his arms, real and somehow alive.

Suddenly, Albrecht pulled away from the kiss and from Friedrich's arms. His expression displayed even more guilt and discomfort.

"I'm sorry, Albrecht, I didn't mean…" Friedrich began, shaking his head. "What's wrong?"

Albrecht's lips moved as if he was going to say something, but then he resumed chewing his lower lip, nervous. He took a few steps away from Friedrich, stuffed his hands in his pockets and cleared his throat.

"Friedrich, I would like to… be able to explain…"

"It's ok, Albrecht, don't be afraid" Friedrich said in the most soothing voice he could manage under the circumstances.

"I'm not afraid" he replied with a brief smile "Not anymore, it's just… I don't want you to be afraid. I know I've put you through a lot, and I'm… very sorry, but I want you to know that I would never hurt you. Not you, I couldn't…"

"Albrecht, I fear nothing! I only feared that I'd lost you, but now you're here, you're..." He did not dare to say "alive".

Albrecht shook his head, averting his friend's gaze. "Friedrich, I can't stay…"

"Why not?" Friedrich asked panicked and took a step forward, but Albrecht backed away.

"I told you I could never hurt you. You're so strong, so warm… And I don't trust myself around you" he whispered visibly ashamed.

"How could you hurt me?" The blonde's brow furrowed in confusion as he considered his words. Albrecht looked positively cornered; there was something he struggled to say, something he had to say but did not find the courage to.

"You know, I had a dream about you earlier…" Friedrich recalled "And you told me that you thought that it would just be over, just as it was for Siegfried Gladen. It was strange…"

"It's true. I did think it" Albrecht took a deep breath and straightened his back. "I thought I was going to drown and it would be done. I hadn't planned it, but when I got down there, beneath the ice, it was so peaceful, it called me, I suddenly knew that in the blue depth, there would be no more pain… And for a while it was so, for a rather short while…"

He paused, leaning against the window sill and glancing outside. "Friedrich, I've been lying to you these last days. I lied to you about the girl"

"What do you mean?"

"I did find her again. I kept seeing her every night. Well, at least until four days ago"

"Oh Albrecht, you could have told me…" Friedrich whispered drawing closer.

"It's not what you think…I still don't know how to say it. And please stay away from me"

"But I don't mind, I'm not angry with you. And I'm sorry about earlier, that was… I don't know what I was thinking" Friedrich said reaching to stroke Albrecht's cheek.

"Don't!" Albrecht shouted, his pupils widening. "Get away from me, I'm serious. You stood too close, for too long"

"Albrecht, what-"

In a split second Friedrich saw the sharp white teeth before Albrecht bit deep into the wrist of his outstretched hand. He cried in pain and struggled to escape, but he was held in an iron grip. Frantic, he slammed his fist into Albrecht's jaw with all his strength. Except this time Albrecht didn't even stumble, just tilted his head to the side, releasing Friedrich injured arm. He collapsed on the floor, panting heavily and pressing the wound with his other hand.

There was blood on her face and on her clothes…

The realization dawned on him with such violence that he squeezed his eyelids shut, terror choking him once more. He tried to pray, but all such words had slipped from his memory and he could only beg for the nightmare to end. Still, when he did dare to open his eyes, Albrecht was there, looking down at him with infinite sadness but keeping a safe distance.

"Look what you made me do, Friedrich… Even if I swore never to, I cannot fight it. Not always"

"Not always?" Friedrich mumbled hysterically, still in shock.

"Well, actually almost never" Albrecht admitted, obviously embarrassed. "I'm just… so hungry"

His friend had curled up against the wall in one corner and just sat there, silent.

"See, that's why I can't stay"

"Oh I see alright…" Friedrich muttered from his corner. "But you can't leave me here. Not now"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean I can't… be without you. When I thought you were dead, I thought I was going to die myself, Albrecht, I couldn't take it"

"Friedrich, you don't know what you are saying. I am dead, sort of, and you saw what I have become"

Friedrich nodded slowly, starring at his feet.

"You can tell me the truth… are you still with her?"

Albrecht frowned and grimaced. "Hell no, Friedrich! And it wasn't like that; she compelled me to meet her so that she could… use me, for lack of better words" he said running a hand through his ruffled hair.

"Then take me with you" Friedrich said standing upright, with a stubborn expression upon his hard features.

Albrecht glanced at him rather exasperated. "Friedrich, you don't know what you ask of me! You'd have to… I drowned, for God's sake!" he pleaded.

"I understand, Albrecht. I'd have to die. I'd have to give everything up, my whole life. Well, if life is what you'd call it" he said calmly, slightly ironic.

"Friedrich… I don't think…"

"Albrecht, you were right"

"About?"

Friedrich's eyes shone feverishly and he drew closer and closer to the open window, throwing a fugitive glance outside.

"About everything you said lately. This is hell. And I won't accept it and bear it anymore than you did"

"Friedrich, don't!"

But before Albrecht could reach him, he pushed himself up, straddling the sill and disappeared into the night.

-x-

The pine tree tops revealed a starry night sky of magical beauty, somewhere, far above him. The sparkling snow was soft and caressing around his cheeks as he lay down in it, numb and sleepy. He stretched his legs and arms in the cool embrace that was pleasant and soothing, feeling life coming back to him, slowly but surely.

"Ok, let's say I deserved that" he heard Albrecht muttering from somewhere close. Friedrich sat up and glanced around, and there he was, sat on a fallen branch, with the enormous grey wolf by his side. "However, I did NOT deserve to have to clean the mess you made down in the yard and to have to come back for your stuff" he added throwing a bundle made out of Friedrich's street clothes.

Friedrich cast another look around and smiled. "You were right; it's beautiful out here, in the forest. And now we are free, forever"

"Forever" Albrecht agreed.

THE END