chapter 3.

Everyone else was leaving for the night-and, much to his annoyance, Edward hadn't come back—as Alfons washed his hands at the row of sinks along the far wall, lingering as the cold water washed the traces of petroleum and kerosene and phosphates from his skin. It felt nice, but he only wished that it were hot, and he could feel cleaner, and also, so that he could breathe in the steam and soothe his throat and lungs.

"Heiderich."Klaussen was beside him.Alone with him for the first time since the day before, his stomach quivered.Klaussen craned his neck to look around the shop as if to confirm that Becker and Reinert were gone."I want you to help me transcribe all the fuel formulas we tested today.There were a couple that I'd like to work on further."He turned and looked to catch Alfons' eyes."I think that one of those must have come from Oberth, no?Why don't you show me how you arrived at it.It would be a shame if we failed to replicate it."

Alfons stopped."I told you, I'm not stealing Oberth's work.It wouldn't be right."

"Oho," Klaussen growled, turning to face him."I've had enough of your goddamn schoolboy ethics.You'll tell me what you did with Oberth."

They were in one of the farthest corners of the large space, a niche behind wooden bookshelves on which rolls of schematics, piles of paper and bound books were stored.In this corner, where it was cool and dark, they stored the containers of chemicals and petroleum.

"Come on now," Klaussen coaxed.


Klaussen was a tall, thin man, much the same as Alfons, but at about twenty years his senior, he seemed stronger and commanding.Facing him now, Klaussen relaxed his fierce expression into a dry smile, and changed his tone accordingly.It was unctuous and coaxing, but a thin veneer over what Alfons now realized was an implied threat.

"Heiderich, I want to speak to you about your prospects.It's true that Gottschalk mentioned your name to me; he thinks you're promising.He thinks Astra can get a government contract andI'd like to bring you with me.The thing is, my boy, you really must be more cooperative."

"What about the others?" Alfons asked, knowing he should be flattered, but feeling otherwise.

Klaussen huffed."We don't need them.Becker and Reinert are a couple of grunts, I can replace them like that-" he snapped his fingers-"but you, you're smart, you're inventive, we could go far together."

"What about Edward?" Alfons had asked the question before he had even thought about it.

"Elric?He's an adept theoretician but he's no engineer. And he's not even German...I'd be reluctant to trust him with secrets.Besides, his heart's not in it, not like you and me.This is our destiny."

Alfons held his breath.It was true; Klaussen understood.His invitation was seductive. Still, he hesitated.Ditching the rest of the team-and Edward-didn't feel right.

"I-I'll have to think about it.Thank you for your confidence in me," Alfons said stiffly.He tried to stand up straight."I don't think I can accept, but it's an honor to be asked."

Klaussen crossed his arms and worked his mouth, head cocked to the side.

"What's holding you back, eh?Is it your attachment to Elric?"

"We're friends, I'd hate to abandon him to find work on his own..."

"You've been propping him up long enough, don't you think you should let him find his own work?Hmm?" Klaussen took a step toward him."But it's more than that, isn't it?We both know no one would give good work to that little foreigner're protecting him...but also, he's sucking your cock, isn't he? Isn't that how he pays you?"

Alfons' heart nearly stopped.He'd never heard anyone say anything like that...his face heated up instantly and his throat threatened to close up.

"Yes, I saw you two," hissed Klaussen.Now he was close, he grabbed Alfons' chin with his fingers and squeezed, yanking his face up towards his.He pushed him backwards so that the back of his head hit the wall, causing him to see sparks for a moment."You two little faggots can do whatever you want together, only, you give me what I want, or I'm reporting you."He squeezed harder, then Alfons felt a hand clamped on his crotch."And I don't think either of you would last long in prison.I'll protect you, as long as you give me what I want."Klaussen leaned in and, letting go of his crotch, grabbed a handful of his hair and pulled his head back further, before kissing him hard on the mouth.

Shocked, Alfons tried to pull away.Hadn't he just....

"I'm not a sodomite, and I don't have anything to prove.I've got a cock, you can service me, whenever you want...and you can get rid of Elric," Klaussen breathed into his ear.

"Get off!" Alfons shouted but Klaussen's hand clamped over his mouth.

His mouth came hot to his ear. "Do we have a deal?"

"Mmmf!" Alfons tried to say no into the palm over his mouth.

"What was that?" Klaussen purred, removing his hand.

"Get off!"

After a moment, Klaussen released him and Alfons raised his arm across himself protectively, ready to strike at him if he tried to touch him again.He tried to take a deep breath but his heart was racing, his throat was tight and closed off, he felt himself about to choke.He wheezed as he held up a threatening fist.

Klaussen had the grace to laugh.

"I am in terror.Listen, boy, the deal is done. We'll be good together, and don't forget-" he held up a warning finger-"I've got your number."He moved forward and put his hands on Alfons' shoulders.

"Now, Heiderich, have a seat and I'll get you a glass of water.Then you're going to write down your answers to everything I ask you.It'll be just like an examination, nothing more, I promise."

Alfons sat, about to heave, and accepted the glass of water with shaking hands.

"Where's Heiderich?" Edward asked Klaussen when he found him alone in the laboratory at seven o'clock, hunched over the drafting table yet again.

"Elric, where the hell have you been?"

Ed stopped and turned.Klaussen was getting up from the drafting table and striding toward him.

"Do you know where Alfons went?"

Klaussen crossed his arms and drew himself up, making himself seem tall and, Edward imagined, he must have thought he seemed authoritative.There was no way he could keep working for him if he was going to be like this.

"I have no idea. It's a wonder you even came back here. Don't you have work to do?The schematics aren't finished."Klaussen handed him the pencil he was holding."You might as well get started.That's your job."

"Yeah but I-"

"What is it, Elric?Just sit down and finish your work.You've been gone long enough."

Ed looked over at the drafting table.He felt that he couldn't face sitting down and working on that fucking useless drawing for another four hours.He just couldn't.His spine tingled with unease at Alfons having left; it wasn't like him at all.

"Are you not fond of being paid?I can easily replace you with someone who actually wants to work, you know."

"I'm sorry, I have to go."Without pausing to listen to what Klaussen was shouting behind him (it was probably, "You're sacked") Ed spun on his heel and hurried to home.

Alfons was there; he could tell the moment he pushed open the door to the flat.The place smelled like someone had been sick and he wasn't surprised, when he glanced at the kitchen basin, to see the signs of hastily rinsed, rusty-looking vomit.He threw off his coat and hurried to the bedroom.

He was on the bed, still dressed but for the suspenders pulled off his shoulders and shoes kicked off, curled on his side and facing the window.From the door, Ed could see his ribs rise and fall, and heard his breath come short and shallow.

As he entered the room, he pulled the bottle of brandy out of his pocket.Setting it down loudly on the beside table, he said,

"Look what I got!"

Getting no reply, Ed sat down behind his back; Alfons didn't turn to greet him.Ed looked down and picked at a bit of straw coming through the mattress; the sheet had partially come away, exposing the stained blue and white ticking.He leaned over to confirm; yes, the eyes were open, staring at the window, although there wasn't much to see but the inner courtyard of the building.

He was never good at breaking their silences; there seemed to be some pressure to say something grand, and he didn't feel like saying, "How are you?"He sensed that something had happened.He broke a piece of straw apart in his left hand, crumbled it and let it fall to the floor.

Alfons coughed, briefly, and Ed rubbed his hand against Alfons' back.

"Are you sick?" Ed asked finally.

Alfons shrugged his hand away.

"Are you angry at me or something?"

Alfons didn't move.Tentatively, Ed tried again to soothe him and squeezed his shoulder.

He attempted levity."You might have made more of an effort to clean up in the kitchen-"

"Will you stop touching me? I feel like shit," Alfons interrupted, in a voice so gravelly and low and miserable that Ed wouldn't have recognized it at all if he hadn't been sitting right there.

Ed's stomach felt squeezed as he withdrew his hand; something was very wrong.He felt stung at being rejected.Hey, he was trying here.

He compromised, leaning over Alfons' shoulder, he tried to get a look at his face.

"Did something happen at the lab?"

More silence.Ed waited for Alfons to whip around and push him off the bed-which is what he imagined he would do if he were in that sort of state-but he only just continued to lie there and stare at the window.

Finally, Alfons stirred and turned onto his back.He took a deeper breath and then another, but Ed noticed his eyes were wettish and bleary.

Ed didn't know what Alfons wanted him to do.Did he want him to pet him, take his hand, lie next to him, leave him alone?You could ask.No, I'll just sit here.Alfons still wouldn't meet his eyes.

"It's Klaussen," said Alfons."I knew something was wrong...I just knew it.I should've done something, told Metzger, or something, just stop working there, I don't know, but..." He slapped his hand over his eyes."He did see us.He's trying to blackmail me."

Ed took this news in stride.In reality, he had expected it.He had just known that someone had seen them.Of course it had to be the biggest asshole of the bunch.But what could Klaussen do about it, really?He guiltily realized that this would mean much more to Alfons; he was trying to make a career of this, this was his world, and even if Ed felt like he was living in a dream half the time, he was quite certain that Alfons didn't.

"That guy's a jackass.Don't worry about him.He's not brave enough to make good on any of his threats.Don't make yourself sick over this."

Alfons went, tch.

"What does he want anyway?" Ed asked quietly, but he suddenly thought he knew.

"Oberth's unpublished thesis...our work in Transylvania..."

"But you didn't," Ed said.He left Alfons space to agree with him."Did you?"

"Edward," he said miserably.When he looked up, Ed's breath was nearly taken away.He looked so young, right then, like someone else, someone else he loved and missed more than anything, ever, and he looked so sad that it quite literally hurt to look at him.So he looked away.

"What the hell did you do?" Ed demanded, looking at the floor."You sold out Oberth to that scum?Is that what you did?"

Alfons sat up, and when Ed turned to look at him he pale and shaking."I had to!" he shouted.

"You fucking naïve idiot!" Ed shouted back.

"Don't judge me," Alfons said."You don't know..."He shuddered so visibly that Ed nearly moved to put his arms around him; but, he had been rejected. Also, Alfons still smelled disagreeably like sick, and Ed was disinclined to cuddle him; and also, there was a strange feeling between them.Was it that he had wandered away today, in pursuit of nothing, and left Alfons to be harassed by Klaussen?Was he really that afraid of that petty, jealous middle manager?

Now Ed had a clear view of Alfons' neck and noticed a tiny, fingertip-sized bruise there.He leaned closer and examined Alfons' jawline-two more tiny bruises. And then it dawned on him.

"Wait a minute."He stood up, hand already in a fist."He touched you, didn't he?"

"No, he....well, he did, he pushed me against a wall, held me there...he....yeah."Alfons hung his head, embarrassed, apparently battling speechlessness."He put his mouth on me and said I could do the same to him whenever I wanted."

Ed stood beside the bed for a moment, mind crackling with white noise, then turned and stalked toward the door.

"Edward!What are you-"

He stopped at the doorway but didn't turn around.

"I'm going to kill Klaussen, or at least, make him wish he were dead."

"Don't, don't do anything that'll get us into trouble-"

He heard the bed creak as Alfons got up but he didn't stop to wait.

He had traveled all the way on the tram, and walked several blocks, thinking nothing but murderous thoughts about the man, and almost savoring the adrenaline rush.He felt angrier than he had in a long, long time, anger with a sense of focus.He felt fully capable of beating Klaussen to a pulp.

While he was fully prepared to use his mechanical parts to do the bludgeoning-they might not be useful for precision tasks but they were just fine for battering something-he couldn't help thinking about what he could do to Klaussen with alchemy.Transmute the concrete floor around him, pull up a spear from the floor and hold it to his neck, make him shit his pants, maybe slash his clothes off with his blade and maybe a little light abrading here and there, make him bleed enough to smart, but if he fought too hard, if he said something horrible about Alfons, if he laughed about hurting him, then maybe, maybe Ed wouldn't mind shoving that blade through his damn throat, no, in fact, he wouldn't mind at all.

He didn't pause to examine what feelings were animating him: all he knew was, someone had hurt someone he cared about, and that someone wasn't going to get away with it.He felt no fear for his person or his reputation.It was almost as if all he could feel was his heart beating, and his thought as he approached the laboratory building was only of what it felt like to lay his hand over where Alfons'heart beat, and feel it, under his palm.

You're dead, Klaussen.Dead!

It was already dark and getting late but he thought it a good bet that Klaussen was still at the lab.Of all of them, Klaussen tended most to stay late into the evening; Alfons would too, sometimes, especially lately.But he preferred it when they left together.

He wasn't surprised to find the door was still open, but when he stepped inside he immediately got an odd feeling, like entering a room where you expect to find people but the room is still and quiet.

He said, "Klaussen!" loudly, in a decidely belligerent voice.This was intentional.

He weaved through the laboratory, around the worktables and equipment, around small areas boxed off by bookshelves, but found no signs of him.Then he saw an unexpected thing, a dark, shiny puddle that he at first took to be machine oil, but less than a blink later realized it was something else.It shimmered darkly and when he took another step closer to the far worktable, and he saw the top of a dark head against the cement floor.

It looked like someone had beaten him to it.

Heart pounding, he drew closer.Klaussen was on his back and his eyes were open in surprise.There was a blackened bullet wound just above his right eye.A small stream of blood had escaped from his mouth, and one of his hands was at his neck, frozen into claw-like horror.

Unexpected, this.

Ed stared at the body for a moment, mind blank of anything except a kind of wonder.

Then he turned and ran.

After Edward had left, Alfons had dragged himself off the bed and to the door, but he was too slow to catch him and not steady enough on his feet to chase him.Returning to the kitchen, he coughed and retched up into the sink until the basin was filthy and his eyes were wet and sore.This time he paid attention to how he cleaned the basin and removed all traces of his sickness.

He reached for the bottle of medicine he had, leftovers from what a doctor had called a "chest infection" several months ago.It was a sticky foul-tasting syrup that burned going down and made him feel dopey, but it usually calmed the coughing.He pried off the cap and took a swig, retching from the taste.Its effects were pleasant, but barely outweighed by the effort required to get it down.

Then he scrubbed his mouth and his teeth and washed his armpits, certain that he smelled awful.He was momentarily obsessed with the thought that he stank of illness, medicine and the taint of Klaussen's hands and mouth on his skin.He couldn't stop replaying the moment Klaussen grabbed his crotch, or when his mouth pressed against his, his lips and his cheek.It had felt horrible, but the worst part was, he felt that he had behaved badly.He hadn't fought back hard enough-Klaussen had only laughed at him and he had been too weak to run away-and worse, he hadn't defended Edward.

He had never felt so young and out of his depth.It crossed his mind, as he sat alone and still at the kitchen table, that this was what he deserved, for playing at being a grown-up, for thinking that he could get away with what was essentially a sin and a crime-although it didn't feel like one, it was supposed to be one-and at the same time wanting to play with the big boys and work like an adult, playing at being a scientist and engineer.He couldn't even get it together to apply to the University.He was nothing; he was a joke.

He noticed that his hands shook; he was terrified for Edward.He couldn't imagine what he was doing right now; fighting with Klaussen?Being arrested for brawling?Being held by police while Klaussen exposed their secret; would they come for him too? Being beaten senseless by Klaussen...all the worst-case scenarios competed for dominance in his head.Nothing good would come of this, was all he knew.

His heart ached, quite literally.He thought he might have to go see a doctor.

Please, just come back to me.Please, please, please.

Then the dopey feeling set in, a kind of warmth that seemed to snake through his blood like a hot wire.It no longer hurt to breathe, and his mind buzzed pleasantly.He fought the impulse to go lie down and wrap himself in the quilt and have a dreamless sleep; but he knew that if he went to sleep now, and woke up in the morning and Edward had not returned, that he would regret it for the rest of his life.

He felt lightheaded but suddenly strong, pain siphoned out of his fingertips.Edward, Edward was going to beat up Klaussen, for him, for was terrible and not a good idea and yet he felt himself immensely pleased, flattered.

He shouldn't let things get out of hand, though.If he didn't go after him, who would?

The door to the warehouse was slightly ajar, sending a shaft of light onto the now-deserted docklands.There was very little activity here, now that it was getting on for evening.Alfons ignored the giddy feeling that had nettled him all the way over on the tram; he anticipated some sort of excitement, some sort of drama, with himself at the center of it, it was rather distracting.The drug in his system sought to make him reckless; he even felt a little thrill of adventure as he pushed the door open.

Silence reigned in the warehouse laboratory, so he figured that he would just find Klaussen, alone at the drafting table; but somehow the whole large space, so filled with matter that he could barely see for the equipment and bookshelves and supplies, seemed strangely empty.

He stepped around quietly, not wishing to disturb the perfect silence.

Ed flung himself off the tram at Gärtnerplatz and broke into a full-on run back to the flat.It felt good to run-he never did it anymore, because his prosthetic leg wasn't made for it and what the hell did he have to run to, or from, anymore?-and even though it hurt and he slipped several times, it helped distribute the adrenaline that had been painfully quarantined in his chest up until he had been able to fly off the tram and let his feet pound the paving stones.All he wanted was to see Alfons, make sure he was all right, that old panic, that feeling of being chased and pursued and sought had come rushing back, and that feeling that he had to protect someone-Al-had returned with a clarity and intensity he had thought was forgotten.It wasn't quite the same, but yet it was similar enough to make him irrational.So he ran.

His heart sank to see no light in the window on the second floor, their window.

Alfons wasn't there.When he got upstairs, Ed sat down on the bed, heavily, and his spine collapsed, head bowed, he looked at the space between his feet.

"Where the fuck are you?" he said to the floor.

He pulled off his coat and let it slide to the floor, then lay down across the bed and stared at the shadows on the ceiling.He felt strangely betrayed, like Heiderich had done him a crime by being gone when he returned.

Being alone is like the rain.Dammit.