Verlöschend con Adagio
Roderich could not move. Dozens of protestors stood outside the hall today, angrier and louder than previous demonstrations, shouting deafening words he could not make out. Roderich folded his arms to his chest, trying to make himself smaller as the crowd crushed in around him. The atmosphere was heavy and frantic; the workers behind the barrier kept their distance. The slogans the crowd shouted were not even about the hall anymore, but about the people, and the establishment, and other vague terms Roderich did not understand. It seemed, to them, this really was just an excuse to riot.
But to Roderich, this was more than an excuse. It was more than a political platform. This hall was important, yes; it had cultural value, certainly – but more than anything, this hall held an important part of Roderich's memory, and an intimate part of his heart. If he lost this, when this was all he had left to remember…
But Roderich could not think of that now. "Elizaveta, I think we should…" Roderich trailed into anxious silence when he realised Elizaveta was no longer beside him. He turned around frantically, scanning the crowd, but she was nowhere to be seen. The cold anxiety in his gut began to build. And Roderich realised, with a sick stab of fear, that he was trapped. He couldn't get out. A small group rushed the barrier, and that was it. The entire crowd rushed forward, a swarming tide that Roderich was helpless to fight against. He tried to back out, but the mob was like a brick wall behind him. He was pushed one way, then the other, then he stumbled and fell heavily to his knees. He could not get up. He could not breathe. Roderich's head turned light as one mad thought flashed bright and sharp through the rushing noise: he was going to die here.
The hand came from nowhere. Roderich felt it grip his arm, felt it pull him upwards and drag him through the crowd. Light and colour and noise swam around him; it all went so fast, and everything faded but that firm grip on his arm. It wasn't until he stood on the street curb, breathing the open air, that Roderich saw who had pulled him from the mob. His chest leapt and his jaw dropped. "You!"
The German narrowed his eyes and dusted off his hands. "You're welcome." He was dressed in his work uniform, complete with bright orange vest and pony-emblazoned hard hat. He also sent Roderich's already struggling emotions into overdrive.
Roderich's heart pounded furiously, and it wasn't from fear anymore. Despite his spinning head and his constricted lungs, Roderich could only remember the feel of this man's lips against his ear the night before. He quickly shook the unwelcome memory away. "Where did you…"
"What were you doing in there?" the German interrupted forcefully.
Roderich broke off at the words. Was this man actually… concerned? But that was ridiculous! "I've already told you why I'm here," Roderich managed to choke out. "To protect this hall…"
"Austrian, none of them are here for that reason." The German sounded exasperated, his expression plainly frustrated as he pointed at the protestors. "Look at them. They're just waiting for the riot police to turn up. They don't give a damn about this place."
Roderich looked at the mob shaking the barrier. "No." He lowered his eyes, all other emotions drowned by a sudden, crushing sadness. "It seems I am the only one who does."
Silence fell between them for a moment. Roderich's heart jumped when the German said his name. "Roderich..."
But he got no further, interrupted by wailing sirens and squealing tires. A fleet of police cars tore down the street, coming to a screeching halt beside the protestors. The first car door swung open and an officer with long, white hair emerged swiftly, a radio transmitter in his hand.
"Shit." The German turned his back, pulled his hard hat down, and glanced sideways at Roderich. Those red eyes blazed into him. "Get out of here, Austrian."
Roderich watched breathlessly as the demolition worker stalked away, as the officers surrounded the crowd, as too many thoughts raced through his head. Where was Elizaveta? What would happen to the hall now? And why on earth did he feel this way about that obnoxious German?
"He rescued you."
Roderich adjusted his glasses and took a deep breath through his nose. They'd already been through this about fifteen times. Now that the afternoon's nastiness was behind them, and he and Elizaveta sat safe and well on his bed in his dorm room, the whole situation seemed – well – quite ridiculous. Elizaveta's insistence on returning to the matter of the German demolition worker was, to say the least, frustrating.
"No," Roderich explained calmly. "He just took my arm, and… pulled me out of the crowd."
"Oh, Roderich." Elizaveta leant forward eagerly, a pillow clutched dramatically to her chest, her green eyes wide and shining. "He rescued you!"
"No, as I said, he…"
But Elizaveta wasn't listening. "He's your knight in shining armour!" she breathed, placing the back of her hand sarcastically to her forehead.
Roderich gritted his teeth. Elizaveta was enjoying this far too much. "Knight in a hard hat, maybe. But seriously…"
"Oh, oh Roderich," Elizaveta gasped, practically jumping on the bed. "Imagine if you fainted, and he had to give you mouth to mouth…"
A far too confusing beat skipped in Roderich's chest. Now, that was too far. He pointed a finger firmly. "No, stop! We don't like him, remember? You almost physically attacked the man."
Elizaveta gave a small nod of acknowledgment. "Would've smashed the bugger too, if his friends hadn't been there."
"Exactly. He is an arrogant, misogynistic, homophobic…"
"Oh, he's an arrogant bastard, I'll give you that. Misogynistic, without a doubt. But homophobic?" Elizaveta tilted her head, her gaze far too perceptive. "He was in a gay bar, darling."
Roderich ignored that insinuation. "I'm quite certain he was only there in order to ridicule me. The man detests me, that much is plainly evident."
Elizaveta's eyes sparkled playfully. "But he did rescue you, fair Roderich!"
Roderich shook his head, exasperated. "You really need to stop now. I am not nearly as delicate as you imagine, you know."
Elizaveta looked irritatingly doubtful of that. "But Roderich, darling…" She stifled a giggle. "You just got rescued by a tradesman."
That was quite enough. "I need to think." Roderich jumped from the bed and marched from the room, ignoring Elizaveta's laughing apology behind him.
Some people, when they need to think, listen to music. Others need silence. Roderich went grocery shopping. Somehow, after navigating the aisles and negotiating between seven different types of cheese, Roderich always had a clearer sense of the world. Today, though, his usual tactic did not seem to be working.
It wasn't like he actually liked the obnoxious German. Actually, that was a big part of the problem. He didn't like him at all, and yet whenever he thought of him… those red eyes, that deep voice, those wide shoulders… the way he'd dragged Roderich from that crowd so easily; the way he'd teased at the bar… "You beg so well…"
Roderich took a deep breath and steered his shopping cart into the cereal aisle. Best not to think too much on that right now. Despite the fact that he made Roderich's heart race, his skin flush, and his lungs burn, the German also infuriated him. He was arrogant, he was vulgar, he was… walking down the aisle towards him. Roderich froze, just as the German noticed him.
The German looked delighted as he caught Roderich's eye. He came to a grinning halt beside him, holding a full shopping basket, and rested his arm on Roderich's shopping cart handle. "All right, admit it. You're stalking me, aren't you?"
Roderich almost choked, his cheeks burning hot. "Excuse me?!"
"Why else do you keep showing up everywhere I go?"
"I…" Roderich panicked. "This is my local grocery store, how can I be expected to keep track of where you…"
The German shook his head, laughing. "Settle down, kid, it's called teasing. You're not very good at taking it, are you? Of course…" He leant closer and winked slowly. "I could teach you that."
It took Roderich a moment to decipher what the man meant. When he did, his breath caught with fury, shock… and something else. He could only turn his wide eyes away and push his cart swiftly down the aisle.
Roderich had no idea why he stopped.
"You all right?" The German almost sounded apologetic.
Roderich felt his forehead furrow, his palms sweaty on the cart handle. He turned back in confusion.
The German looked slightly uncertain. He scratched the back of his neck before asking, "After yesterday. You all right?"
Roderich was lost in this conversation. Once again, he had to wonder - did this brute actually care? And why did everyone assume he was so darned breakable, anyway? He composed himself enough to answer. "I am perfectly fine."
"You're perfectly lucky you weren't crushed. You really need to learn some common crowd sense. You don't go to many music festivals, do you?"
Roderich straightened his shoulders, affronted. "I attend the Salzburg Classical Festival every year."
The German snorted. "My name's Gil."
Oh, Roderich was so lost. He blinked widely and adjusted his glasses. "Gil?"
"For God's s…" The German rolled his eyes. "Gilbert Beilschmidt."
Why was this man giving Roderich his name? He obviously hated him. But Roderich was nothing if not dignified. "Well. Pleased to meet you, properly, Gilbert. I believe I have already given you my name."
"Indeed. Roderich Edelstein, the student musician who likes to protest." Gilbert peered overtly into Roderich's shopping cart. "And is fond of cheese, apparently."
Roderich narrowed his eyes. Gilbert's basket contained a lot of beer, a lot of sausages, and not a lot of anything else. "Is it Oktoberfest already?" he asked flatly.
Gilbert grinned at that. "It's always Oktoberfest at Chez Beilschmidt."
Roderich was not impressed. "Oh? A party house?"
"Oh, yeah," Gilbert grinned, raised his chin, and pointed with some ridiculous gesture. "Twenty-four hour, baby."
And then Roderich had an unexpected reaction. He laughed. As soon as he did, he silently panicked, and again turned away. This German demolition worker already had him madly infuriated, hopelessly confused, and disturbingly aroused. He could not make him laugh, also. The feeling did not last long, however, as Gilbert's tone abruptly changed.
"We'll be knocking your hall down tomorrow. The cops are barricading the street."
The words were like a punch to the gut. Roderich actually gasped, his hand flying to his stomach. It took him a few moments to fully process what he had heard. When he did, he closed his eyes tightly. He should have expected this. He should have expected it, but all he felt was sick with pain. So Gilbert did not care after all – he just wanted to gloat.
"I am sorry."
Roderich ignored him. Sorry? What did that mean? What did any of this mean? This man was going to knock Libelle Hall down himself. Roderich was too hurt to feel confused. He was too confused to feel hurt. He did not even know. He just nodded slowly and walked towards the exit in a daze, leaving his cart behind him. He felt Gilbert's eyes on his back the entire way.
Yesterday, Gilbert was convinced Roderich was a pompous little fool. Today, Gilbert realised that Roderich was still a pompous little fool, but he was also sort of fascinating and really, really attractive, and damn it all why could Gilbert not stop thinking about him? He needed to forget these confusing, conflicting, and just damned insane emotions. Gilbert didn't do emotions. Hell, he was gonna do his best to forget, and he may as well be the best grandson ever and grace his family with his presence as he did it.
"Hey, Opa!" Gilbert shouted cheerfully into the phone. "What are you up to? Besides breaking up student riots, of course, rough day, huh? But enough of that…" He looked down at his grocery shopping spread across his kitchen counter. "Because I've got a carton of Köstritzer Black, about fifty sausages, and this, like, Colosseum-sized pack of pretzels, and…"
"Not now, Gilbert," said Aldrich impatiently. "Your brother and I are going out."
Gilbert deflated slightly, but continued, "Okay, cool, where? I'll come."
"We're just going to dinner, Gilbert, you won't be interested."
"Where are you going?" Gilbert asked warily.
Aldrich took too long to answer. "Casa Vargas."
"The Italian restaurant?" Gilbert groaned and flopped forward onto the counter. "Shit, Opa, I've told you like ninety times, old man Vargas is straight. The guy has eight hundred grandchildren."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"You need to be more careful, man. You were in the papers again. Even Antonio knows about it, and he doesn't know who the Prime Minister is."
"Here, speak to your brother."
"What, hey, wait..."
Gilbert narrowed his eyes when his brother spoke. "Ludwig. Casa Vargas, huh?"
"I like Italian food," said Ludwig flatly.
"Bullshit. How's Feli?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
The line went dead. Gilbert muttered irritably as he tossed the phone down. "Hang up on me, you little shit…"
How goddamn rude. His own family bailing on him in his hour of need. Gilbert scowled at the phone. Screw them; new plan. Probably better to go out and get smashed, anyway.
Gilbert knocked heavily on the carved wooden door to the Patisserie de la Rose. Francis must have just closed - the smell of baking bread and chocolate still wafted from inside. After far too long, the door finally opened slightly, and Francis peeked out through the crack. Gilbert held up a six pack of Köstritzer and grinned. "Thirsty?"
"Er…" Francis quickly looked behind then back, his expression impatient. "This is not the best time, mon ami…"
Gilbert narrowed his eyes and tried to peer past him. "Why? You got a trick in there? Tell him you'll reschedule, I'm more important."
"Well, they are only in town for one night, you see…"
"They? One night? Why are you wearing a top hat?" Actually, where was that music coming from, and why did the place smell like powder… A peal of laughter filled the air as a cloud of pink feathers floated past. What the hell? "Francis, do you have the circus in there or something?"
Francis had the decency to look a little embarrassed. "Only the strongman, the trapeze artist, and the clown."
Gilbert's eyebrows shot up. "What?!"
A loud noise sounded suspiciously like a whip cracking, and a shout rang out. "Roll up, roll up boys!"
Francis bit his lip sheepishly. "The ringmaster may be involved."
"But Francis," Gilbert whined, wringing his hand in a pathetic attempt to invoke sympathy, "I need emotional support! I'm having feelings and stuff!"
"Oh, Gil." Francis looked briefly empathetic, patted Gilbert on the shoulder, and pressed something into his hand. "Have a cupcake." Then he shut the door.
Gilbert stared at the door, stared at the cupcake, fumed silently, then muttered to himself as he marched away. "What the hell? Who does everyone think they are? Better than me? I'm having issues, damn it, I deserve a bit of sympathy… circuses, really, what the… damn, this cupcake is awesome."
A few blocks later, Gilbert stormed into the Carriedo Dance Studio. Surely Antonio would join him on a boozy night out... the Spaniard never had anything else to do. Gilbert threw open the doors, charged into the main dance hall, and marched straight up to Antonio.
"We need to go out," Gilbert stated firmly, Köstritzers still in hand. "You're gonna have to change though, those tights are the stupidest thing I have ever seen."
Antonio blinked vacantly a few times, closed his mouth, and finally narrowed his eyes into an icy glare. "I am working."
Gilbert rolled his eyes. "Oh come on man, this isn't a real job."
Antonio took an exasperated breath through his teeth. "Gilbert…"
Gilbert stood his ground. "You're my last hope, man, my family is obsessed with Italians and Francis is currently fucking the entire Cirque du Soleil and I need to go out. I need to get blind drunk. I need to chat up a Swedish tourist, I need to eat a kebab at 3 a.m, and I need someone to make sure I get home with my pants on."
"Um. Gil." Antonio pointed behind Gilbert's shoulder. Gilbert turned slowly to find an entire class of ten year old dance students staring up at him, wide-eyed and open-mouthed.
"Uh." Gilbert waved awkwardly. "Hi kids. Don't do drugs."
A kid with blond hair and massive eyebrows waved back, grinning. "That sounds awfully fun!" he cried in a British accent. "Can I come too?"
Gilbert only paused for a second. "Know a good kebab place?"
"No, but my dad's Swedish."
"Let's roll. Hey!"
Antonio gripped Gilbert by the ear and hauled him towards the door. "Peter, don't encourage him. Gilbert, get out!"
"Bye, kids. Stay in school!"
Gilbert lay sprawled on the couch in his messy one-room apartment, flicking through T.V. channels without actually watching anything. The vapid, monotonous drone of the television filled the empty flat. It was a slightly depressing thing to realise that he'd pretty much just approached everyone he knew. Gilbert snorted softly to himself as he remembered his earlier supermarket conversation with the Austrian. "Twenty-four hour, baby," he murmured with a bleak laugh.
With nothing to distract him, Gilbert's head swam with everything he'd spent the afternoon suppressing. He did not know how to control these thoughts; how to understand them. When he'd seen Roderich in that swarming crowd this morning, he had only one instinct: to jump the barrier and pull him to safety. What was with that? And then in the supermarket…
Gilbird flew across the room, settled on Gilbert's knee, and gave a tiny chirp.
"I don't know," Gilbert replied absently. "He's completely pompous, he wears a cravat for Christ's sake, and he seems to have no idea what the hell's going on around him. How has he even managed to survive in the world so far?"
Gilbird answered by pecking Gilbert's knee.
There were too many thoughts in Gilbert's head; there was too much to try and understand. And this silent, cluttered room was not helping in the slightest. Gilbert gently shooed Gilbird off his knee, stumbled off the couch, and retrieved his beer from the fridge.
There was only one place that might clear his conflicted head.
Even Chopin's Nocturne no. 20 in C-sharp minor wasn't lifting Roderich's mood. He stared out his window overlooking the college grounds, wishing the late afternoon skies would rain, and listening vacantly to the old recording. "Too fast," he muttered when the piece entered the first crescendo. He sighed and rested his elbows on the windowsill. What was the point? Everything he had worked towards for the last six months, everything he'd done to try and save Libelle Hall – it was all for nothing. No one listened, after all. No one even cared. And why had Gilbert…
"No," Roderich growled emphatically. There was only so much his overworked brain could take. He walked slowly to the dresser and looked sadly at the framed photograph that sat there. A regal old lady, dressed in a gown of blue silk with her white hair in an elegant knot, seated at her shining grand piano. Roderich sighed again, guilty and devastated. "I'm sorry, Aunt Maria."
The sky outside was starting to darken. This old Chopin record wasn't helping. Roderich's fingers ached. He felt empty, and he needed to feel the music in his bones. He thought of his piano in the classroom across campus; he glanced towards his violin in the corner. No, neither of those would be enough. Roderich turned away from the photograph, silenced his record player, and took his coat from its stand.
There was only one place that might soothe his conflicted heart.