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Paul Landers couldn't for the life of him figure out what was in front of him inside his band-mate's open chest.

Whirr. Click.

Scratch scratch. Chin turning red from all the scratching. Focused expression.

Whirr... whirr. Click. 

Cogs turning in Paul’s head. They could just as well have been turning in the mechanical heart before him.
  If the parts of the mechanical heart could be compared to cogs, that is.

Whirr. Whirr. Click.

 

"How is it looking?" Came a question asked by a gentle voice. Careful, as if not to disturb. 

Paul looked up, one hand balled and pressed to his mouth and star-chisel in the other.
“Well, Flake, I tell you, I’ve seen some shit-” Paul huffed “but none of that shit leaves me as puzzled at this.” He looked back down at the small vault in Flake’s chest.
  Paul had moved past his initial shock upon finding out his young friend apparently lacked a normal, fleshy human heart in his chest and didn’t need lungs to breathe. 

   
A glance back up at Flake’s throat, where the blonde hair didn’t yet reach.

What Paul had thought were slim scars creeping from his jawline to his collarbones could apparently open, expand across the entirety of Flake’s neck and suck in a breath. According to Flake as they stumbled away from the truck, holding his hand pressed flat to his chest and spitting his life story out through gritted teeth, at least.

   Paul looked back down again. Fucking weird , he thought. Fucking guy doesn’t even breathe every day .

“Well, you were the only one available who knows mechanics-” Flake started to say, irritated, but Paul quickly shushed him and placed his hand on Flake’s shoulder.

“Try not to get upset. It gets your heart spinning too fast… I think.”
    Paul reached his star-chisel to the top of Flake’s heart and was about to poke the machinery when Flake swatted his hand away.
“Don’t do that! It’ll get stuck, and you’ll lose a chisel and I’ll lose my heart!” He said angrily as he released Paul’s wrist, and to his immediate concern, had to push Paul’s hand away yet again.

“Paul! Look! Just listen-” swat, slap. Whirr, whirr, click, click, spin.

“Flake, you weird fuck, your heart is going fucking insane! Let me just- Flake, for fuck’s sake, I know what I’m doing! I’ve handled small machinery before! Now, if you’d just-”
  Paul nearly shouted as the fight for the tool escalated and before either of the two could realize it, they’d begun falling over from where they had sat amid their screaming-fighting match and landed on the grass more or less intertwined by the limbs.
 
Paul was quick on his feet, dragging his elbows through the wet grass and mud to steady himself.
  He got up on his fours and crawled, searching for his chisel, and was pleased to find Flake was disarmed and groaning. His hands were empty.
Now I can finally fucking check out his heart , Paul thought as he reached for his tool. Stick this right in and-


“Paul.” Came a weak groan. He looked down, distracted but impatient.
Flake laid in the grass, white shirt spread across the grass, his chest completely exposed- breathing.
  With his mouth.
“Wait.” He said, eyes pleading, not making a single effort to stand up and cover his chest again.
Vulnerable. He didn’t protect himself.

Paul waited, growing both confused and focused by each second of silence. Silence. Wait, what the fuck-? he thought, where did the sounds go?
“Don’t tell me- no.”The realisation dawned upon Paul like a heavy block falling from the sky. Flake’s heart wasn’t spinning.
What should I-? God, what is happening?
“Don’t you fucking die on me!” He yelled, panicked and lost, holding Flake by the collar and screaming in his face.

“Paul, my neck- breathe- I need to- breathe- collar-” Flake huffed. Paul understood.
He let go of Flake’s collar and more or less threw himself off his lap where he’d been sitting since he got up from the ground.

“Do you need to sit up? No? Yes? Do you want help up? Okay, okay, okay- alright, come here. Come here.” Questions, words, unintelligible sounds came rolling out of Paul’s mouth. Rapidly, like a machine gun, rapidly like a guitar solo- holy fuck, Paul thought, I’m so looking forward to playing the concert once this is all over.

“No.” Flake pushed Paul away once he’d gotten up sitting and motioned for him to look the other direction, and when Paul started pestering him about why, he interrupted with only a few grunts;
“Hurts. ‘S not pretty.”
Paul begrudgingly turned his head away. He’d seen some shit, yes, but whatever Flake did to breathe was not anything he’d want on that list.

  Flake sat on the grass in the small clearing, clothes dirty, hair tousled- he closed his eyes as the skin on his neck began opening up and put his fist in his mouth.
  He was really, really glad he didn’t need to breathe often, as the process of one’s neck opening up wide and the physical sensation of muscles and skin being scrunched up, pushed, into positions the human never evolved to experience- was excruciating.

Rip. Tearrrrrrrrrrr… Rip. Flake stifled a scream.
Rip, rip, fold, tear. Every time it happened, Flake tried to breathe deeper, so as to push breathing again as far into the future as possible.
Rip. Tear, rip, rip. Crunch.
What the fuck-? Flake thought, was that my spine or my jaw?
 
Beneath the pale skin of Flake's throat were metal wires, steely tubes, springs working as joints. And every single piece of those metals opened wide and a horrific sound emerged- like something being sucked underwater and screeching for its life.

  Paul pressed his palms to his ears to block out the noise and buried his head on his knees to block out the sight. He’d shot a quick look in Flake’s direction and regretted it immediately.

Finally. It’s breathing in.
  Flake pressed his lips together- clenching his jaw and keeping his eyes forcefully shut- and let the machinery suck in as much of the fresh air as possible. The pain gradually toned down, the screeching of air being sucked in went quiet.
  Flake reached a hand onto his neck- closed. No more wires.
Whirr, whirr, whirr, whirr, whirr… whirr. Whirr, whirr.
Not a single click. Not a single halt in the machinery.

“Is it safe to look now?” Paul asked.
“Yeah-” Flake said, voice breathy, and put his head in his hands.
“Dude, what was that noise? It sounded like you were dying over there.” Said Paul, still shook from what had just taken place- he hoped his tone suggested his normal self was on its way back.
  Because it wasn’t. Paul was still too shocked to have a concrete sense of self.

“It’s the sound of a deep breath.” Flake groaned. He’d lifted his head and was now sitting with his hands wrapped around his knees and leaning backwards, so his chest was completely exposed.
To the trailer park, to the world. To the midday sun breaking through the trees, as if to say; sun, warm me. Heal me.

“The sound of the loch ness having an orgasm, you mean.” Came the quick remark. Maybe Paul was returning to himself.
“Paul, stop.” Flake blinked a few times as he looked over at his bandmate tiredly.
Paul was dirty- a few blonde hair strands having gained dirt clumps, the white t-shirt underneath his black vest muddy at the hems. Knees green, calves brown.
   Wouldn’t be too bad of a look on stage, Flake thought, we’re both all dirty, we look like we’ve been fighting. Quite punk rock.

That was however not how the crowd was gonna interpret the band member’s absence and their dirty clothes. The crowd would creep out of their trailers and walk down to the stage in the truck, taking a seat and sharing joints.
They’d spread rumors and talk amongst themselves- ‘hey, I saw Landers with that keyboarder guy earlier,’ or, ‘My buddy said they came out of the bush together, I think they were fucking.
  But that didn’t bother Paul nor Flake. People will think whatever the fuck they’ll think.

Silent. The wind sung, the trees sang along, the birds chirped in harmony.
  Words and the sound of doors being slammed shut came from the trailers down below- yet the little clearing where Paul and Flake sat was quiet.

“Hey, Paul, could you help me close the hatch to my heart again? It’s quite too hot for it out here.” Flake said, breaking the silence, and pointing at Paul’s chest then back to his own. Come fix me.
  Paul looked down, confused, and touched his vest pocket with the palm of his hand.
There it was- his chisel. Orange handle familiar as always in his hand.

“Okay. Come here.” Paul said. Flake dragged himself over and pulled his shirt further open.
Whirr, whirr, whirr. Whirrrr.. whirr.


Paul didn’t notice Flake’s spinning heart. He didn’t notice the sounds from the stage, where the sound checks of the mic had ensued. Where the band’s singer was hyping up the crowd, but not loud enough to potentially get any bypasser’s attention.
  That could get the police involved. And no underground musicians would like the police their concert, where everybody was high as fuck and anybody could ben taken.
 
  Paul could only focus on his work, and wasn’t satisfied until he was done, until it was perfect.
One hand carefully twisting the star chisel, the other gently sat with it’s fingers hovering on Flake’s chest.

Twist, turn, twist. The metal plate across Flake’s chest sat in place again and Paul could look back at it with pride.

“There you go,” Paul beamed “no need to thank me.” He said as his toothy smile turned into a smug grin. Landers, the master mechanic, strikes again!
“Now that I’ve patched you back up, and we figured out what was wrong- you could live forever! Or maybe not. I don’t know how your heart and shit like that works.”

Flake looked to the side and scratched his neck. He wanted to thank Paul, really really thank him for saving his ass. I can’t put the plate back on myself, and I wouldn’t want to be standing on stage with my mechanical parts exposed, he thought, some idiot probably would have lodged something in there and killed me.

“I wouldn’t want to live forever if you aren’t there.” He finally said.
Paul sat silent for a few seconds. He was taken aback, flattered even.
  He brushed it off.
“Don’t get too sappy over your new personal mechanic, Flake. I’m sure even you will die one day.”
Flake looked down at the ground. Felt melancholic.

His heart had stopped clunking and clicking, something he considered a miracle- and although it was the lack of air that caused the disruptance, Flake couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if he was alone when it happened and his anxiety had gotten to him.

Paul, you’re not just a mechanic.

”M-hm.” Flake mumbled. That was all he could get out.

“Come on, boy, it’s time to play now. It’s time to get drunk!” Paul exclaimed as he jumped up from his sitting position, cracking his knees on the way up and taking a moment to take in his surroundings.

He hesitated for a second before he reached out his hand to Flake and helped pull him up. Their hands stayed intertwined.
“Ah. Of course,” Flake said bitterly “-getting drunk, playing, getting drunker, throwing up. The easy life of Feeling B.”

Paul grinned.
“The best life of all! Long live Feeling B!”
The sun shone, the trees sang. The crowd was hyped, and Flake held Paul’s hand as they trotted down the hill.

A perfect day of summer 1988.

Chapter Text

Every day had been the same since September ended and autumn began.
Gray morning, clouds passing by. Slippery leaves on the ground ready to trip the few people who were outside.
Sun hidden, yet not forgotten.

Same old apartments, same old routines. Nothing exciting until summer came again.
  Arms stretching out far only to meet a jagged wallpaper, body too long for a too small bed. The thin blanket could’ve been a compensation for that- but no. It, too, was too short.
  Disproportionate!

Flake shot off the bed and staggered to the open window on tired legs. He couldn’t sleep anymore. 

   Ah, so that’s why it’s so cold. Maybe Paul wanted his balls to crawl into his body, and he opened the window, Flake thought and looked out over the city.
Gray, bland, boring. Tasteless and cold. Few people on the streets. Roofs and house walls as far as the eye could reach.
Bah! Too much tristesse. Time to find something to do.

“Paul?” Flake called out.
No answer. Flake looked out his room into the jaggedy kitchen-living room combo and Paul wasn’t there. Maybe he’s on the toilet?
  Flake didn’t bother checking.

He sat down on a worn-out couch in faux leather he and Paul had found at the edge of the road one day.
At the time, the two of them could barely afford rent even though they lived together, and the couch was like a godsend. They only had one bed at the time and grew tired of sharing, as Paul said;
“You’re too cold, Flake, and your heart spins all the time! It’s like sleeping next to a clock!”
And thus they didn’t hesitate to drag the couch home with them.

But Flake didn’t mind trying to wriggle into a comfortable position, having the blanket stolen and stealing it back, or waking up with Paul’s knee pressing to his spine so hard a vertebrae surely was popping out.
No, he didn’t mind it. He was used to being alone, being too cold with nothing to warm him.

Flake scratched his chin and yawned. He looked down at his hand and found the remains of a few pimples under his nails.
The hand traveled up, into his hair, and felt greasy blonde strands against his fingers. He hadn’t had a shower in nearly a week, and the sea water was way too cold for his taste. 

Paul had numerous times insisted that swimming in a pond and washing his hair with stolen shampoo was the most refreshing feeling in the world. It’s not even that cold, he’d say, come and try and-
Flake always dismissed him with the same argument.

I need to be washed by hand, manually, Paul. Because a single drop of water in the wrong place could end up in my chest, and then the metal all rusts and I’m dead.

At that point, Paul would usually leave the subject alone and leave their home, an old towel flung over his shoulders, and sneak into the woods.
  Yet one time, he’d idled in the doorway, tired of Flake’s pickiness.
I’ll wash you, then, you picky goose. Come here and we’ll take a bath together.
Flake didn’t oblige. He sat silent and flipped the pages of an old magazine.

Whirr, whirr, whirr. His train of thought was cut off by the familiar sounds of the mechanical heart and Flake looked down, surprised, at his chest. The heart shouldn’t sound that loud, he thought, if it’s sealed behind the plate.

While his heart had many ways to say things that a normal human’s body would communicate through their organs, Flake had a hard time deciphering what each sound meant. Three loud whirrs could mean it needed to be polished, could mean it was too cold or too hot, could mean anything. Good or bad.

Flake decided his heart was cold and rose from the couch to try and find Paul.
Looked into the bedroom again- not there. Not in the living room, not passed out on the kitchen floor.
Where the fuck-?

Just then, as Flake was pulling his head out of the doorway of their tiny toilet, the front door shot open and loud footsteps stumbled inside.
The person bumped into Flake, making him bump his head on the door post, and let out a scream.

“Flake? Is that you?” Came the question. Paul’s voice. Mystery solved! He’s back!
His timing, however, was rather unfortunate.
“Paul!? Where the fuck have you been?” Yelled Flake, feeling his throat muscles tense up. I need to breathe soon, fuck, fuck, fuck! Maybe that’s what my heart was trying to say?
  Paul didn’t answer, instead only glared up at Flake. He had a towel over his shoulders and it had almost frozen in the cold.

“You weren’t here when I woke up! I got so worried!” Yelled Flake, putting down his foot and moving a step closer to Paul.
“Yeah, because I helped you home last night! And I wanted to wash myself!” Paul exclaimed, irritated, a few drops of water still staining his clothes and glittering in his hair.
“And speaking of washing oneself, you must be stinky.” He added, flicking his wrist in Flake’s direction.
“And today, we’re going to my friend’s place. Are you really gonna smell like that? You need to take a bath, Flake!”

“Make me.” Flake said, crossing his arms and leaning against the little island in the middle of the kitchen.
Paul pulled his towel off his shoulders, walking up to Flake slowly. He looked up, saw the collar of Flake’s shirt, the buttons in a row down his torso. A few folds in the fabric could reveal the rough position of the metal plate.

Gaze going further, past Flake’s adam’s apple, over his chin. Lips, pink and pressed together- Paul had to look away. The things I’d want to do to those lips.
Their eyes finally met, the apartment silent but for the wind rattling the windows. A taste of dust hung in the air.
“How, exactly, would you like that?” Paul asked, forcing himself to keep his eyes interlocked with Flake’s.

Silence. Flake didn’t answer.
Paul felt bolder.
“I could take you to the pond and-” the shorter of the two said “and, I don’t know. Scrub you clean. If that’s what you’re asking.”
Neither had a response to that, or a snarky remark. Only silence and gazes cast at the other’s lips.

Until Paul felt a gust of air on his face.
At first, he was confused. Where could that come from and how the fuck was it happening? There was no explanation- yet there it was again.
Paul looked up at Flake, puzzled, and the realization fell into his shoulders like a wall of bricks.

Flake’s breathing..? Through his mouth! Shit, shit! And the slits on his throat are opening- fuck! Fuck!

“Flake! Come here, piece of fuck, to the window! You need to breathe!” Paul dropped his towel and almost fell onto Flake as he grabbed the other by the arm forcefully and nearly dragged the two of them into the bedroom. 

Paul opened the window, not wasting any time looking out over the lifeless city. He furrowed his brows and scratched his chin, stuck his head through the window and felt a mild, cool wind biting in his cheeks.
He closed his eyes and breathed in, momentarily forgetting about Flake. His exhale became a sigh as it became part of the breeze, a few birds screeching in the far distance.

“Don’t put your head out the window when your hair is still wet. You’ll get a cold.” Came Flake’s voice somewhere behind Paul- who was too engulfed in feeling the fresh air on his face to take any real notice- and soon followed a hand, gently cupping Paul’s shoulder.
Yet the fingers bent, scratching on Paul’s jeans vest, and the dirty nails scraped against the fabric as the grip became harder.

“Paul. Come back inside.” Flake’s voice sounded strained and oxygen deficient. Paul finally, reluctantly, looked back inside.
  Flake’s throat was tearing up and hints of glistening metal were showing, wires and tubes trying to burst through the front and back of his neck.
His lips were pressed together, and Flake was obviously holding back a sound Paul rather wouldn’t hear.

“Okay.” Paul said, wriggling his torso back into the room and making space for Flake to peek his head out.
“What if- I- fall?” Asked Flake through pained moans and groans, his hands holding onto the windowpane for dear life.
“You won’t. I’ll make sure you won’t.”
Paul must’ve sounded convincing enough, because Flake nodded and closed his eyes. He let his metal throat win and open wide.

Paul didn’t know how to keep his promise, however, and only realised that when Flake had almost started breathing. I can’t cover my ears and keep him in place at the same time.
But I promised him. And he’s having a harder time than me right now.

So Paul put his arms around Flake’s waist and pulled him close, close to his body. As if he was a weight keeping him on the ground, an anchor for the boat.
With one ear pressed to Flake’s side and the other exposed to the room, Paul heard both the mad spinning of Flake’s heart and the blood-curdling scream that emerged from him.

His mouth or the mecha of his throat? Paul couldn't tell.
He didn’t want to open his eyes to find out.

The scream only continued and Paul grimaced as if he’d eaten a lemon whole. His ears felt like they were bleeding, the high-pitched screech rolling around somewhere deep in there and slapping his eardrum with force.

His arms became tired, his cheek hurt where he was pressing it to Flake’s side, and he was getting dizzy from the volume of the scream- yet Paul didn’t want to let go.
I fucking promised him I won’t let him fall. I won’t take my arms off him before we’re both stationed in the kitchen and this is all over.

Paul knew when it was over.
The scream wasn’t heard anymore, Flake’s heart was returning to whirring as normal, and he wasn’t tensing his body as if he was bracing himself for a fight. Instead of the scream was a loud ringing in Paul’s ears.
But he remained with his arms around Flake.

Then, suddenly, came a sob. Paul looked up in surprise and saw Flake looking absolutely destroyed and weeping.

“That was so hard.” Flake sobbed, kneading his temple gently with his fingers and placing his arm around Paul’s back. 
“It hurts so much. I’m so sorry.”

“Why are you sorry? You can’t help it.” asked Paul, a little confused, with his voice muffled between his and Flake’s arms.
“Because you had to hear it happened. You were there.” admitted Flake, tears still running down his cheeks, almost as if he was embarrassed.

Oh, Flake. Why be ashamed for how you function? For who you are? It doesn’t matter to me, Paul thought, you could be however the fuck you want and I’d still fall face first for you.

“Don’t… you don’t need to apologize. Don’t be ashamed.” Paul managed, at last, to say. Out of all the things he was feeling, the words running through his head and the thoughts that popped up, that was all he could. So as to not give himself away.

“Come on.” Paul patted Flake on the back and reluctantly exited their embrace.
“Today, we’re going out on an adventure. We’re gonna meet my friend.”

* * *

The sky remained unchanged since the morning. Gray, bland and bright. A few dots across the vast expanse of the valve that was the sky and a few shrieks announced the existence of birds.
No birds sing beautiful songs in east germany. They scream, and they’re hungry. Like anybody else.

Paul and Flake had left their apartment in silence, putting on their clothes and locking the door without exchanging a single word.
Now, they were out trotting down streets and Flake had not a single idea where they were going. Not a single clue as to where Paul’s friend lived.

Their shoes met the pavement and nothing else was heard other than the occasional few birds in the distance.
Flake looked down. The asphalt of the sidewalk was so worn down and cracked it could’ve just as well been a rocky cobblestone path.

He wondered- how many people have walked these streets? Who else has almost tripped and fell, like me, on the same ground as I? Where are they now? What’s happened since they last were here?

A mother could’ve walked her children to school, or to the store. A worker could’ve walked down here after a long day, with sweaty boots and greasy shirt.
Somebody could’ve been dragged down here against their will.
  A secret stasi could’ve walked on the same roads as anyone else.

The thoughts became a void and Flake shook his head to come back to himself. He regretted his decision in the moment he made it, as his neck was still sore from breathing earlier, and the wires and tubes inside protested.
Flake grimaced and stuck his hands further into his pockets. Needed something else to think about.

“What do normal humans do with their lives, Paul?” Flake asked, gaze still fixed on his shoes.

“I don’t know, really. My experiences of living aren’t universal.” Said Paul, shrugging and kicking some stones around.
“Sometimes, life is a matter of whether you should follow your heart, your brain or your dick. My heart usually leads me to food, though, so I suppose I follow my stomach.” The shorter of the two continued, as if he had taught it to many people before and he was picking the words in a fine, precise manner.
  Flake snorted and rolled his eyes.

“Paul, how in the world could one follow their stomach or their dick?” He asked.
My heart chooses what I can and can’t do. And I have no idea how my mind works, so maybe I’m following my heart all the time.”

The wind tossed in his hair, folded his jacket, blew right through him. Not in the literal sense, no, as Flake’s chest had the metal plate securely screwed shut and shielding what was inside.
  Paul had lended him their only scarf for the walk. I don’t want your neeck freezing, he’d said, because that would probably fuck with your breathing and I do not wanna see that shit take place again.

“The only way to happiness is to follow your stomach!” Paul exclaimed, but not loudly, not so loud anybody could hear.
“And my stomach guides me directly to Till’s place. Maybe he has food.”

“Who is he, really?” Flake asked. He’d heard Paul talk about Till and his other friends frequently, yet never got a concrete perception of who the people were. Once, Paul described Till as ‘able to crush my skull with any part of his body, but way too kind to hurt a fly’ and that was the only thing Flake knew about him.
  The part that had stuck with him wasn’t the comment about kindness. Yet he was intrigued as to what kind of person Till could actually be.

It would take more to hurt me than to break my bones.
Because I’m not human, I’m different.

“Ah… well, he’s a little of a complicated guy. Works as a basket weaver, and apparently plays drums. With live chickens in there! How insane!” Paul said, waving his hands about before burying them in his pockets again.

“He’s usually pretty high, but he has his moments of sobriety,” He paused for a second “you know, I don’t know why he’s a drummer and not a singer. He’s a man with a voice that could talk anyone into his sheets.”
  Flake looked down at Paul, surprised and amused at the comment.
“What, are you projecting your desires of sleeping with strong men onto this weaving guy?” He said and grinned wryly at Paul.


“Hey, fuck off! I’m not interested in Till! Not like that. He’s just got a deep and powerful voice, is all. And he’s buff. Nothing too remarkable that you need to know anyway.” Paul hit Flake with his closed fist on the arm and Flake stumbled a little, nearly stepping out into the almost empty road, not expecting Paul to get so defensive.

“No, I’m not into him. Don’t start dreaming, Flake.” Paul said, looking away. Little shops and tall brick houses rose beside him, old signs flaking at the edges where they once were painted.
   

I’m not into Till, because he’s not you, Flake, Paul thought as he pretended to be into the old gates of closed properties they walked past.
He doesn’t have your mechanical heart, your wild hair, or that peaceful face when you’re sleeping. I can’t like him, because he’s not you. Not my type, because my type is you.
I can admit it to myself, but not to you. I don’t want to ruin what we have, so I keep my mouth shut.

“Alright. He should live here.” Paul said suddenly, and checked that the number engraved in a plate on the brick wall of the worn-out house was the same as the one Till had given him.
Should be right.

“But how will we get in? There’s a guard over there.” Asked Flake cautiously.
“That guy can no way care about that shitty apartment complex. Just act like you belong here and he’ll let us inside.” Paul replied and trotted across the street, Flake soon following behind.

“Good day, sir!” Paul said, somewhat cheerfully, as the guard approached. He only got a grunt in response.
Ah, Paul thought, so that’s how it's gonna be. I need to act more tough to earn his respect, or at the very least avoid any suspicion. 
“I’m here to visit my cousin, Till. Could you open the door for us?” He said, harsher, straightening his posture and using his dark voice as an advantage. Being short meant he couldn’t tower over anyone to intimidate them.
But Flake could.

“And who is that?” The guard nodded in Flake’s direction. Paul saw the look in the man’s eyes, and immediately felt a need to step in between the two. Something about the guard screamed ill intentions.
“That’s my half-brother, Lorenzo.” Came Paul’s answer. He hoped he sounded convincing, for if the guard saw through his lie, he and Flake could get in deadly trouble.

“And why are you here?” The guard asked sternly, not budging.
Paul kicked himself mentally for not thinking this through.
“It’s family business. It regards our mom, or his aunt, who’s having a really hard time lately.” Paul said, and suddenly got an idea- if I babble on long enough, he’ll get tired and just let me inside! Maybe. 
“Oh, sir, you must know, just how hard it is for an old widow to get by! She tries to get by, on scrawny pension, and selling marmalade! And oh, don’t ever get me started on living costs! Can you imagine-”

He was abruptly interrupted by the guard, who by then was both confused and exasperated, snarling at him to be silent.
“I’ll give you thirty seconds to go up those stairs and shut the door behind you. Time starts now.”

And with that, Paul dragged Flake inside and slammed the heavy door behind them, leaping up the stairs until they were on the third floor and the guard wouldn’t see them anymore.

“Holy amplifier, that was a close one.” Paul said, catching his breath.
“Now that we’ve got that guy out of the way, only one problem remains,” he continued “and that problem is that I have no idea which floor Till lives on, or behind which door.”

The two of them looked around. Nobody there.
“Maybe we should just see if somebody shows up, and we can ask them?” Flake suggested, hand on his forehead. He wasn’t out of breath at all, not even breathing- of course, Paul thought, how could I forget? He doesn’t fatigue the same way I do.

“Sounds like a good idea. Let’s walk upstairs.” Paul said, and just as he stepped onto the stone staircase to the next floor, a door opened behind them.

“Ask who about what?” Came a voice from the open door.
Flake turned around and swore his heart was spinning so fast Paul could hear it halfway up the stairs.
In the open doorway stood a young man in a shabby white hoodie with curly hair so massive he looked like a tree. The boy’s blue eyes looked out through the curls, mischievously curios in a way.

“Who are you?” Asked Flake, looking down at the man. He looked young and annoying.
“Call me Schneider. I’m living here with my friend for the moment, since my girlfriend dumped me and I’ve been staying away from home for a few days.” Schneider flashed a grin, leaning against the door.

“Okay, Schneider, do tell me. We need to find our friend, and he told us he lives here.” Paul called from the stairs, slowly making his way down to stand by Flake’s side.
He’d gotten protective of his special little friend.

“I don’t know anyone here. But, alright, tell me, what’s his name?” Schneider said, eyeing Paul up. Paul wasn’t pleased.
“His name is Till. Big, muscly guy, black hair like that-” Paul made a motion with his hand over half his face “and doesn’t speak much with strangers. Have you seen him around?”

Schneider listened attentively and smiled again.
“Oh, you needn’t describe him to me. I know who he is.”
Paul raised his eyebrows.
“Good! Do you know where he lives?” He asked, brushing his fringe out of his eyes. I really need to cut this god damn mullet.

Schneider only nodded into the apartment in response and motioned for Flake and Paul to come inside. The two exchanged a look- should we really do this?- but decided that potentially being alone with some young guy was better than not finding Till and interacting with the guard again.
  If Schneider was speaking the truth, they got to meet Till, which had been the whole objective of their little mission.
They decided to walk inside with Schneider. Flake pulled on Paul’s little finger, as if to say come on, hurry up, and Paul felt a surge in his stomach.

That felt really nice.

Schneider had already walked inside by the time Paul and Flake followed. 

They entered a poorly lit small hallway with a few clothing racks along the wall and a pair of shoes strewn across the floor.

Paul thought he could make out a dark lightbulb above him, in the ceiling that almost looked like it could collapse.
The whole place looked like it could fall apart at any moment.

The three of them entered the living room, where the wooden floor was murky but there was a window in the wall to the opposite of the doorway. A carpet, a few chairs and a couple of baskets crowded in the small space.

Till sat in a big armchair that looked more like a small couch.
His posture was crooked, and one of his knees looked awkwardly stiff and was almost hoisted up on the armrest.

He was doing something with his hands that needed his full attention, judging by how focused he seemed, his hands barely moving but carefully repeating the same motions over and over. The dark hair was strewn across his face and his green eyes looked sunken in, as if the dark, tired circles were consuming him.

Schneider went over and tapped Till on the shoulder. Till near flinched and quickly ran a hand through his hair.
Were those really big rings he had on his fingers? Or-
Flake, who had just entered the room, suddenly understood what he was seeing.

The fingers of Till’s right arm reflected the little light in the apartment like a golden glove, metal plates covering where his skin would’ve been. He stretched them out and the plates fit perfectly into each other.

Till pushed himself off his armchair, put his little craft- a basket handle- away and grimaced as his stiff knee straightened.

“Schneider? What-” he asked, mildly upset, and Flake understood what Paul had meant with ‘a voice that can talk anyone into the sheets.’
But he didn’t mention that.

“Oh, Paul! Hi! Sorry to keep you waiting. It’s been such a long time…”
Till went silent when he noticed Flake behind Paul, his words trailing off and his eyes becoming more focused.

He looked at Flake as if he could see right through him.
Or, rather- right through his chest. Into the heart, into the soft sounds muffled by the plate across Flake’s upper torso.
The fingers of Tills’ mechanical arm moved with a few clicks and he looked up into Flake’s eyes. He somehow understood, could see.

They saw themselves in the other. A recognition they never had before- neither were alone anymore. Whether it was Till’s prosthetic or Flake’s more or less completely mechanical neck and chest- there it was.
  Another person just like me.

Paul was bothered by the sight. What are they doing, he thought, why are they looking at each other like that? Nobody ever looked at me like that.
  A thorn of jealousy lodged in Paul in that moment- he didn’t understand what was going on, why Flake took a step away from him. Does he not want me anymore?
He was suddenly taken aback by his own train of thought.

Paul furrowed his brows and recalled what had just gone on in his head. Am I fucking jealous of Till because he and Flake are looking at each other? Because he’s part mecha and I’m not?
What’s wrong with me? Did I have too much booze yesterday and I’m just having a really bad hangover?

No, I didn’t. Because I was fucking busy helping Flake home.

“Would you stop eye-fucking, you two?” Paul finally said, irritated and confused.
He gave Flake a not-so-discreet jab with his elbow and exchanged a look with Schneider, who only looked smug. What’s this guy’s deal?

“What-” Flake said, startled, and looked down at Paul.
Till looked away a second later, a little confused, and looked down at the floor. He scratched his neck with his mechanical arm and looked back up at Paul, his gaze quickly averting to look at Flake for a moment.

“Sorry, Paul, I-” He started to say, but was quickly interrupted by Paul, annoyed, waving goodbye and walking into the kitchen.
“No, nevermind. You two bond and I’ll go get something to eat,” he said “and don’t look at each other like that when I’m around, it looks like you’re gonna fuck in the living room!”

Paul heard both Flake and Till start to protest, but their voices faltered as he went into the kitchen on the other side of the wall.
He closed his eyes, furrowed his brows and let out a deep sigh, running a hand through his hair. It’s prime time to evaluate my emotions, he thought, right about fucking now. I’m seriously getting fucking jealous because my friends are looking at each other.

“What’s up?”
Paul nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard Schneider’s voice coming from the couch before him. He breathed out and closed his eyes, momentarily, again.
“Hello, Schneider.”

Schneider was stirring in a bowl of some kind. Looked like milk. But why would he need to stir in a bowl of only milk? Maybe he was bored.
“Are they out there flirting?” He asked nonchalantly. Paul furrowed his brows and looked at Schneider suspiciously- why was he so casually speaking about two men flirting?

“I guess you could say so.” Admitted Paul, taking a seat at the opposite side of the table.
A few pieces of dry bread were laid out on the wooden surface. Paul could only guess how old they were.

“Made you a little uncomfortable?” Asked Schneider, still stirring in his bowl of milk.
He received a nod and a suspicious glance as an answer.

Schneider stopped twirling his spoon in endless circles, put the bowl aside and crossed his arms, leaning onto the table.

“You jealous?” He asked with a grin. Paul glared at him and shook his head slowly.

“You really like those guys, huh?” Schneider teased, ducking as Paul threw a piece of stale bread at him.
“Shut up, Schneider!” Paul hissed, leaning forward on his chair and slamming his open palms on the table, only to pull them back as if the table was a hot plate. Fucking spilnters, he thought, and Schneider’s laughing at me! Piece of shit!

“First thing you do when we get here is ogle Till,” Schneider pointed out, nodding his head to the doorway that interlocked the living room and kitchen “-and don’t fucking tell me you don’t like the baby chick.”

“Bold of you to state, curly cloud” Paul groaned, fiddling with the splinter in his hand and giving Schneider a death-glare.

“And it seems you only like looking at men. I saw you when you both were walking here, and you didn’t even notice any of the girls outside.”
“Girls? What? Which girls?” Paul asked, confused. He kept fiddling with the splinter- piece of shit just wouldn’t come out!
“See!” Schneider exclaimed and laughed.

Paul didn’t bother looking back up at Schneider. Pretended he didn’t hear. What the fuck would he think about all my previous partners, then? That I never really liked them?

“Like, you have women all lined up. Men too! God, you should just hear the stuff they say in the crowd. You know, because I’m not in your band. I am just… a friend of a friend.” Schneider said. His nails tapping on the table and his foot rhythmically stomping on the floor, his pestering and teasing- Schneider knew he was getting Paul riled up.

“But you seemingly only have eyes for the baby chick.”
Paul stood up with force, the scraping of his chair ending Schneider’s freestyle drumming as the noises stopped. 

Fuming with rage, balling his fists and feeling a scream scratching in his throat- the anger was boling in Paul.
What does Schneider earn from teasing me? Is he doing it just fuck with me? What’s the fucking point of pulling Flake into his teasing?

“He has a fucking name!” He shouted.
Schneider looked up at him, for once looking shocked and taken aback. He slipped off the couch and backed away towards the door.

“Get the fuck out! Quit your bullshit!” Paul yelled, ready to chase after Schneider just out of rage, balling his fists. He felt he needed an outlet for his anger. Maybe throwing something would help?
Closest thing nearby happened to be another bread slice. So Paul, a true innovator, took it and chucked it at Schneider’s curly head. Again .

“It’s ok to like men, Paul! I’m not blaming you for liking the baby chick!”
“And thanks for the bread!” Schneider said as he turned on his heel in the doorway and made his way out.

Paul was left alone in the kitchen, feeling the anger leave him. It felt as if fumes escaped him and stabilized his mood again.
Then came despair. What if Schneider actually knows, Paul thought, and what if other people can tell too? What would happen to me if anyone found out?

He laid his hands on his cheeks and pulled them backwards, towards his hair, so hard it  stretched the skin. 

The tears were burning in his eyes as the thoughts took over, the anxiety fed by his worries, and Paul drifted further and further away from the kitchen and further and further into the darkest corners of his mind.
  A tear was shed.
It was violently brushed off by an almost shaking hand that soon had its knuckles in Paul’s mouth, stifling a sob.

He walked to the edge of the room, where a window let gray light in, and wiped his tears as they came.
Breathe in and out. In and out. In, out, in and out.
Paul took a deep breath and opened his eyes, seeing the bland landscape outside. Buildings, buildings. House after house after house, yet no people. He almost wondered where they all were.

Maybe he couldn’t notice anyone at all? Maybe Schneider was right in that Paul, quite literally, only had eyes for Flake?

He stood there for a little while, half calming down and half wanting to make sure no traces of his tears were visible.
One last deep breath- Paul straightened his posture, ran a hand through his hair, straightened his vest and made his way out of the kitchen.
  Into the living room, where Till and Flake sat conversing on the floor. They seemed to have so much fun, laughing and talking away.

 

The two of them practically shone, but that only made Paul’s mind darker.


On one hand, he was jealous. He’d accepted that he was in love with Flake at that point, and couldn’t bear to see him so happy with another.
  On the other hand, he worried for Till and Flake both- what if they develop chemistry, gew closer, and somebody made an assumption? What if that person decided to tell people?

Paul walked over to Flake and impatiently tapped his shoulder.
Flake looked up, surprised, sitting with his legs crossed on the cold floor. 


“Have you been crying?” He asked. Paul wanted to die on the spot.
“Paul? Did Schneider do anything?” Flake continued, looking worried.
Paul wanted to die even more. It hurt to see Flake care about him and knowing he could never tell the other about what were his woes.

“Let’s just go, Flake!” He snarled, and regretted it immediately. He saw Flake growing even more worried, confused and hurt, as he stood up from the floor and looked at Till.
Till only shrugged, as clueless as his newfound friend.

“Thank you for the visit, Till! We’ll be leaving now!” Paul called, already on his way out. Flake was fumbling with his shoes, half wanting to stay and talk more with Till, half wanting to go back home with Paul and rest.
“Bye, Till! Bye, Schneider! I hope I’ll see you soon!” he managed to say as he waved and hurried out the doorway and down the stairs,

Paul stomped out of the building, not caring to look if the guard was still there or not, with Flake soon following behind.
His fists were shoved into his pockets and he didn’t say a word. Flake didn’t need any more clues not to ask him about how he was feeling.

Paul looked up, briefly, to check if it was safe to cross the road. Saw his scarf around Flake’s neck- oh, the things I do for you.
He stared for a little while and stepped out into the empty street.
I wouldn’t like to think about them right now.
Their walk continued in silence. And, by god, was it tense.


When inside their apartment again, Paul already making himself comfortable on the couch, Flake gathered the courage to ask him what had been on his mind the whole walk.
“What did Schneider mean with that?”
Paul turned around, half undressed and holding his blanket, puzzled.
“Huh?”
“You know, when he said he didn’t blame you for liking the baby chick. What did he mean?”

Paul bit his lip and started scratching his chin.
“It’s nothing, he just teased me.”
He sighed deeply.
“Don’t be bothered.”

That only made Flake more intrigued.
“Really? Is it about some girl?” He asked with a wry grin.
“No. It’s about a man.” Paul finally admitted. His tiredness made him bold, not thinking about consequences his words could have for him.

Flake looked down at Paul with an unintelligible expression.
Paul took it as an invitation to continue.
“You know, I have a friend. He’s in love with his best friend, they do everything together, and they’ve known each other for years.” He said, sighing again.
“But he’s afraid. Afraid of what would happen if he told him, or anyone.” Paul gestured out into the room, running his hand through his hair. Flake had begun looking like he understood.

“And I’m kind of in a similar situation. And Schneider decided to make fun of me for it.”
"And I got so angry, I couldn't think-" Paul paused then threw himself on Flake, clinging to his shoulders, and broke out into a sob.


“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, Flake! I’m sorry!”
“Paul? Why are you-?” Flake asked, confused and if possible even more worried.

“I’m really relieved it was only that!” he exclaimed, awkwardly putting his hands on Paul’s back. It almost felt as though Paul was trying to claw Flake’s back open.
“Flake, you don’t understand! This is so hard for me!” Paul more or less screamed, still clinging to Flake with all his might, and still crying for all he was worth.
He heard Flake’s heart whirring under his ear, beneath the plate. It’s so loud-?

“Paul, it’s okay. I understand, I just, uh, I don’t really know how to-” Flake said, trying not to get strands of Paul’s hair in his mouth as he spoke.
“Flake, you can’t do anything! Because it’s you I’m in love with, idiot !” Paul said, pulling away from the embrace, still bawling his eyes out. He realized what he’d said, his eyes growing wide, and Flake could physically see Paul’s regret blooming out.

Flake, the poor thing, didn’t have a single idea as to what he should do. What would normal humans do?

“I’m so sorry, Flake.” Said Paul, with eyes full of sorrow and his tears tainted bitter by regret.
“I’m so sorry.”
He wanted to sink into the ground, collapse and mend with the nails on the wooden floor, become one with the metallic taste of dirt. This is it. And I hate myself for it.

Flake fidgeted with his hands and looked down at his feet. No socks, no shame. Probably pretty stinky.
Paul’s forever nagging came to mind. Hey, stinky, you need to take a bath! I’ll wash you by hand if I so must!

“Paul, I… I don’t mind.” Flake said, not realising the words forming on his tongue before they had already lept into the air. He stood there, a little awkwardly, fidgeting with his hands again.
The expression on Paul’s face was unreadable. Blank gaze, tears still fresh upon his cheek, brows furrowed as if he was contemplating a great choice he had to make.

Paul didn’t react when Flake hesitantly stepped closer, when his arms locked around him, or when Flake’s chin placed upon his hair.
His trance was however broken when Flake leaned his head down and his lips met Paul’s head.

A heavy sigh. 

If tears followed, Flake couldn’t tell- Paul had buried his head so his ear was pressed directly to the metal plate above Flake’s heart.
I wonder if he can hear it whirring.

“Flake, your lips are cold.” Came finally a few words from Paul’s mouth.
“I don’t have any circulation, Paul, all of me is cold. You’d always complain about that when we still shared bed.” Said Flake, feeling a few strands of Paul’s hair getting into his mouth.
There was no answer. No words, but a few sniffles from Paul, and a light whirring from Flake’s chest.
Okay, Paul definitely can hear it.

“I wouldn’t mind,” said Paul quietly “sharing it again. I could- I could need that tonight.”
He sighed.

“But I’ve already scared you away, I’m afraid.”
Flake didn’t answer. Instead, he gave Paul a kiss on the crown of his head, and took one of his hands. Held it just above his heart, whirring softly.

“You haven’t scared anyone away, Paul. And even if you did, I’d keep with you even then.” He said after a long moment of silence.
“I won’t ever run away.”