The Flowers of Kübler-Ross - A Rammstein Fanfiction
The singer bends down and scoops up a handful of water from the stream, tilting his head back to drink. The water is cold and refreshing and sweet as it hits his tongue and rushes down his throat - certainly very much needed. Flake's giving him a bit of a look, doubtless frowning upon him for just drinking straight out a stream without concern for whether the water is good or not; he's boiling up some of the water to store in water bottles himself, patiently waiting until the water is sufficiently clean for his tastes. He's proven right when the keyboardist speaks up again: "You could have waited just a little longer." Talk about finicky. Sensible but finicky. Giving him strange looks all the while to boot.
But then this isn't unique to Flake. Till's noticed that the entire group has been giving him odd glances and stares every now and then and it's only the second afternoon of the trip. He's not surprised, though - those glances weren't all that unusual when they were back in the city, either. No wonder, for almost three months he's been in a mood of sorts. A combination of exhaustion, disillusionment and having his daughter moving out has worn him out so much during these months that he hasn't been able to handle it very sensibly, and it's definitely showed in the way that he's treated others. Till's been like a completely indifferent and detached figurehead one moment and like a fuse at the next, ready to go off at the slightest provocation, and everyone's been walking on eggshells near him in recent times.
He's really not himself, and Till does regret it quite sincerely; they're probably giving him those looks today because this trip was kind of his idea. He's quite simply mentioned the idea to Paul one day - 'I want to climb that mountain' - and within days they'd all gotten together to sort out a trip, liking the thought of relaxing for a few days up in the Alps. So it's not that any of them are against climbing mountains, they've all had fair experience, but he's kept at it at a very determined pace without ever actually telling anybody why he wanted to go there in the first place apart from 'peace and some good scenery'. Someone climbing a mountain for fun wouldn't act anything like the way he's been acting, they must know that he has some other motive in mind - but he can't tell them his own personal reason yet because he just feels like it's not the time.
He's making a pilgrimage to his father.
Perhaps it is too dramatic to put it that way, but it is appropriate in his mind. Up the top of Großglockner lies a monument to his father, laid there by relatives, admirers and under request of his poetic soul. Till himself has not seen it for over ten years - well, that's not really the truth because he's never felt the urge to even seek it until now. He knows it only by description and a map but has never laid eyes on it, and due to difficult feelings that he's always nursed towards his father; even just the thought of going had repelled him before. But Nele leaving the nest has given him a sense of hollow emptiness - he can't let go of her because whenever he looks at the now-twenty-year-old young woman she's become, he still sees the sweet young girl who held his hand tight and called him 'Vatti'. Now grown up and independent, Nele is often worried and rightfully quite frustrated with him sometimes; they had an argument about his notoriously antisocial demeanor just two weeks ago that ended with Till driving back to his own flat in Berlin, wondering when his girl grew up so quickly and feeling deeply hurt inside.
He spent that night in darkness, sitting in his bedroom and staring at nothing, steadily sipping from a wine bottle or three - it was only then when it sunk in, that for the first time in twenty years he was alone in his flat without his daughter, truly left alone to embrace his solitude. He's never been one to enjoy being around people too much, and he still remembers and acknowledges that there were many times during the years he spent with his daughter when he'd wistfully think of just being by himself. But Nele has moved out and left an empty room and empty bed with her posters and childhood ornaments still in them, and in the days following the argument he would find himself standing in the doorway and staring at them blankly.
On the fourth day he started thinking of his father in turn and wondering if he ever felt the same, seeing his oldest son always regarding him with distant resentment and awkwardness. He and Nele are all Till's thought about recently; at least he and his daughter's always had a mostly amicable relationship, so he imagines that it really couldn't have been easy for his own father when their relationship was so strained. He should apologize to Nele, sit down with her and have a heart to heart for the first time in years. But he can't, not yet, not before he comes to terms with his own father and his past. Till's inwardly struggled with such emotions for years and years, all throughout bringing up his daughter, and he's only ever managed to suppress those feelings instead of facing them head on. It's time that he came to terms with them when now, over ten years after his father's death, he's slowly beginning to understand what perhaps made his father that way in life. As he's busy in thought, he feels Paul's hand on his shoulder, lightly shaking him and indicating that they've got to move on; he nods to the older guitarist, standing up, and the former moves ahead in formation.
"Hey," Till looks around. Richard's next to him, throwing away the fully smoked filter of his cigarette. "nice day, isn't it?"
"Smoking up here can't be good for your lungs, Risch."
"Ach. Since when has smoking anywhere been good? We both do it anyway."
The older man laughs. "Well, in that case, give me one too, will you?"
Richard doesn't usually share cigarettes with people, but Till is an exception. Without even a second thought he pulls one out from his pack and lights it for Till, handing it over; he takes it and takes a long puff, exhaling the smoke contentedly. The younger man has been curiously affectionate recently, even more than usual - having gone through his own divorce and having his own daughter to take care of, Richard identifies more closely with Till than they both acknowledge to others. He's always carried a deep respect for Till and vice versa, but recently he's been seeking out the older man more, perhaps seeking comfort and to provide him with the same. He's the only one who knows about the argument with Nele, for one thing; Richard knows that Till's wanting to clear his head and take in the beauty around him before facing her, although he doesn't know that a monument to Till's father is at the top of the mountain. The singer doesn't feel like telling him yet, either. Perhaps when they actually see it for sure, he'll let it out then. But the last thing he needs is pity towards him and his past. He glances sideways at the younger man, who (surprisingly) isn't smoking himself and is just watching him. "Are you feeling all right?"
"Mm?" Richard looks up, a little startled, before brushing a lock of his hair back and clearing his throat nervously. "oh... oh, sure. Yeah. I'm fine."
Till nods, not pursuing the topic any longer. They walk together in comfortable silence for a short while before Olli, leading the group, looks at his watch and stops. "The sun will be down in about three hours," he hollers behind him. "we better find a place to set up camp."
"It's only about three in the afternoon," Richard replies. "will it be too dark to walk by then?"
Till takes another drag of his cigarette, peering at the top of the mountain; they're only really at the crags at the moment, having worked their way up the more gentler, easing slopes quickly. "We'll be okay if we move fast enough, I think we're ahead of schedule. Let's hurry."
This is affirmed by the entire group and they carry on. Richard keeps close to Till all the way, a fact that the singer doesn't fail to notice as they come to a point where they need to cross the stream. "Are you looking forward to it?" he asks the guitarist, watching the glistening water rushing across the pebbles, shining in the sun and Paul's feet splashing across it.
"The view at the top? Of course," pause. "you've been... quite... excited about this too, haven't you, Till? I don't know if that's the right word to use, but you did want to come here and..." Richard trails off and laughs a little, rubbing at his head. "heh. I'm not very good at this. Still, it must be an amazing view if you're so eager to see it."
"Well, I've never actually been," Till responds. "but yeah, I'm looking forward to it. Quite a lot," he takes out his half-smoked cigarette before preparing to walk across, handing it casually to the younger man. "I'm done with it. You can have the rest."
Till turns away. But he doesn't miss Richard smiling to himself a little (and raises an eyebrow curiously) as he takes up the cigarette, specifically angling it so that his lips close around the filter on the exact spot where Till's lips have been, as they walk across the stream and up the crags leading to the steeper slopes. The snows of Großglockner are pure and white even from the distance, and that is where Till hopes to find some peace of mind.
Your ankle caves in fairly easily.
Well. It's that. Exactly that, nothing more. Till's just a bit surprised, that's all. Some rewinding is necessary to get the full picture of how this all came about.
There are two routes up to top, a slower and less steep one that spirals upwards the mountain and the way up a few small cliffs that could be climbed in perhaps two days' worth of strenuous climbing. Not exactly something any of them find difficult by any means. They are also ahead of schedule by about a day, a significant amount to consider when thinking of rations and planning their route - so who could blame them for deciding to take on the steeper way up? They can just climb the summit and take it easy while they're going down.
"... on... ight... you up..."
"I can't hear you," Till shouts over the wind. But to Schneider it must simply come across as nothing more than a drowned whisper amidst the gale.
Not that there was anything wrong with this route, but taking it when dusk was falling and the strong winds started up was probably a terrible idea. They're all fastened to the cliff face; Flake is in the lead, swiftly making his way up the rocks with calm, even footing. Till is the last one in the line, being supported by Schneider who is of the most similar build to him; though as the events afterwards prove, that's not saying much when the singer's bulk is much heavier than anyone else's.
The rocks are a lot more slippery than he thought, but he's managing okay. Flake's found a stable spot that they can all temporarily fit in, so he's stopped and they're all helping each other up, tugging at the nylon ropes. This goes well until Schneider (having gotten his own firm grip on the cliff face) starts trying to hurl Till up by the ropes, the tugging on his waist briefly startling the older man and making the rocks beneath one foot crumble. And without quite knowing what's happening, suddenly he's dangling without any support over the crags, rocks and snow glistening menacingly at least several guaranteed to be dangerous meters beneath him, only the drummer's hand gripping onto his.
"Hold on, Till!" Schneider's voice is suddenly extremely clear and tinged with terror. "hold on! I've got you!"
Till knows instinctively, though, that the younger man won't be able to 'have him' for much longer. The other's expression is already strained. Out of the corners of his eyes he can see the other band members staring down at them, finally grasping the scope of the situation, and he thinks of calling out himself -
- and then suddenly the grip slackens and his hand slides out of Schneider's, the ropes unraveling, and he's freefalling towards the rocks beneath.
"Nein!" he hears an utterly despairing scream tearing from someone's throat from above - it's Richard, he's never heard him sound so utterly horrified before, that's a new one - the winds are cold, whipping past his body at unnatural speeds as he begins falling towards where they've started from. Till only falls for what can be five seconds at the very most, it's probably more like three or four, but it feels like the rest of the world is in slow-motion; he's hovering in the air, only the wind and Richard's cry echoing in his ears, before he suddenly hits the ground.
He's landed on one ankle before rolling about in the thick snow, which has admittedly broken up his fall significantly. It's a miracle he hasn't hurt his back; but there's the pack to cushion him too, so there's that. The first thing he feels is not the pain but how suddenly cold it is and the sense that he wants something to drink. He could really use a stiff drink. Then the hot rush of pain comes, travelling through his entire body like a scream, but even that comes in too strong of a bout for him to really react to it; it just leaves him feeling intensely dizzy and reeling with shock, that's all. There's also probably the adrenaline that's coursing through his body and disabling his other senses. Falling is nothing like how it happens in films.
And then suddenly there are voices close by him again, and he can hear them clearly. Schneider is the first to get to him, frantically kneeling down, checking to see if he's breathing - "Till, Till, please talk to us!" - and Olli is next. Richard approaches them more slowly, his expression purely stunned, unsure what else to do. Maybe he should be giving them a reaction to all of this but for a few seconds his head's all muddled and he doesn't know what kind of response to give.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" Schneider is crying now, hyperventilating with shock, and this is what makes him finally blink and show that he's alive. Till turns his head towards them.
"... Hello," he mumbles dazedly at his horrified friends, gathered around him, which takes the scene back to how it started. "where did you all come from?"
They set up camp right there, putting their tent up around Till, working as quickly as they can in the increasing darkness. The singer doesn't really have a sense of this happening all around him for the hour or so that they spend putting everything up - jolts of hot, intense pain run through his leg whenever he even twitches a muscle and he should be finding it a horrible ordeal, but it doesn't feel like that somehow. The cold's numbed him better than any painkiller, slowing down his responses. It still does help that he's been fed an ibuprofen pill, though.
Once that's done and everyone is settled in, they light three lamps and place them around Till to brighten up the tent. One would usually be all they would use but this is an emergency. Paul and Flake know roughly what to do, at least. Flake sits down, gesturing for Olli and Richard to keep the singer's body propped up. Taking out a thick roll of bandages and some portable splints, he puts them aside and uses his medical scissors to slice up the other's trousers - 'sorry about that, Till' - before pushing apart the fabric to note the damage.
"Holy shit," Richard whispers, unaware of how high his voice has gotten from his terror. It sums up what they feel about the injury perfectly. At least there's no bone showing, but he's sustained cuts from the rather sharp rocks that his leg ended up dragging against - so his foot is covered in blood and his ankle is quite clearly broken. If Flake didn't have his beard then they'd be able to see that he's nervously biting on his lip, utterly dismayed, but there's no time to lose so he simply takes a deep breath to steel himself.
"Do any of you have a spare bit of cloth? And more painkillers?"
"Got them. What's the cloth for?"
"We'll need to take a medieval approach. Crude, but I don't want him biting down on his tongue or anything. Till," he says, bending down close. "we're going to have to gag you. I mean this seriously. This is going to hurt. I'm not going to stuff it into your mouth and leave you to choke on it or anything - bite down and just try to keep calm."
The older man nods and does as asked, and Flake washes his hands before getting to work. Till only makes one sound during the entire operation but it's a sound that they will never forget. As his ankle is picked up and set between splints, he shuts his eyes at the horrible pain and lets out a cry that comes out only as muffled 'mmmpf' through the cloth gag. But it's intense enough of a sound with such agony woven into it that everyone around him (except for Flake) winces; Paul actually has to close his eyes for a second or two, clutching at his ears, to try to clear the sound from his mind. It's clear from the keyboardist's expression that he too really wants to stop and go outside and maybe take another deep breath or two, but this has to be done. Due to his relatively calm attitude, they soon get Till's ankle secured, lathered with antiseptic and bandaged firmly; the singer is now panting, breathing hard through his nose and mouth, eyes clenched shut.
"You did well, Till, you did well," Olli whispers as he quickly takes out the cloth from Till's mouth; the older man shudders and retches, but he doesn't vomit. He isn't listening to what Olli's saying, gasping and shivering with the intensity of what's just happened to him, tears running down his face along with beads of cold sweat. Paul quietly leans over and wipes the other's face clean with a hand towel. "give me another pill... it's all over now, so just rest, okay?"
Soothed by the bassist's quiet voice and the gentle stroking of his hair, Till calms down somewhat so that he can accept the pill. Then Schneider's next to him, whispering his tearful apologies again, although he can't really pay attention to it as he spirals into an exhaustion-fueled sleep and disconnects from the world.
It's too bad that he will remain mentally disconnected for a few days more.
Till has calmed down considerably more after a night's sleep; when the sun rises in the morning of the third day of their trip, he wakes up and immediately winces as he jostles his bad leg, waking up Schneider (who's been sleeping next to him). After hastily swallowing a couple of pills and waiting things out for about half an hour, he's conscious and feeling a little better, good enough to ask what's happened.
"We've set your leg now," the drummer tells him, his voice subdued. "we'll... we'll stay here for another day. You can't move in that state, take it easy..."
"Did anything happen while I was out?" Till asks, but doesn't get a reply as Olli becomes roused from his sleep as well, bidding them both a quiet 'Guten Morgen'. Schneider nods - and then ducks his head, avoiding their gaze, before quickly leaving the tent. The discomfort in his body language is obvious to Till even through his still-present dizziness, as evidenced when he genuinely has to think hard for about a minute to remember that it was Schneider who lost his grip on him last night. The guilt must be heavy for him.
"He's been crying all night," Olli admits, confirming his thoughts. "we dimmed the lamp so that you could sleep... he wanted to get close to you though we tried to get him to leave you be, he was lying on his stomach crying for hours into his pillow, you have no idea..."
Till doesn't know what to say to this yet except for an 'oh', so that's what he does. It's not as if he can do much more anyway, his usually-sharp mind is still a little fogged up for him to really try linking events together. If Schneider was crying all night, why didn't he hear anything?
Olli asks him if he wants to eat anything and he declines, feeling a little too sick to eat still. He ignores the concerned look on the other's face - well, the bassist is right, if he wants to survive alongside pills then he really ought to eat something, but he doesn't feel like it - and only requests help to either let him sit up or be propped up a little by something. By the time this is done and his back is propped up somewhat comfortably, everyone in the tent is awake and anxiously asking if Till's all right, to which the singer can only offer a small nod.
"I was so worried," Richard tells him in a faint voice, his face still pale and drawn from last night's events. "when Flake set your leg yesterday... it must have been agonizing, I can't even..." he shuts his eyes for a second and winces before continuing on. "... I'm sorry. None of this is going to help you. Does it... feel more firmly in place, though?"
Move around a little. A dull jolt of pain shoots up his leg and fades away again, but nothing feels loose. "I... guess?"
Richard lets out a sigh of relief and reaches out, squeezing Till's shoulder softly. "Gott sei Dank... we'll just rest for today before doing anything, we ought not to move you too much..."
"Olli told me. Any idea where Flake and Schneider went?" at the mention of the drummer's name, Richard's expression becomes dark and Till realizes that he blames Schneider for this situation. This doesn't bode too well, they can't afford to resent anybody up here, but the older man's own indifference prevents him from commenting on this.
"Not really, no," he says stiffly, before turning to Till's pack and taking out a few packages. "you need to eat, Till. Keep your strength up. We're saving on rations because we aren't really moving about right now, but you at least need to eat well."
He still doesn't feel much like it, but it's not as if he doesn't understand Richard's logic, so Till does as asked. Rations aren't all that interesting to eat but that's why they're rations. After that's done, Richard keeps close to him while he looks at the midday sun outside and starts pondering as to what the next move should be.
So what's going to happen to him now?
He's broken his ankle quite badly. He can possibly walk a little with a makeshift crutch or so because of how firmly it's been set, but it would be out of the question today for sure. The chances of him having the injury healed up here are also close to nil, and should infection set in, he's in for a world of trouble.
Till has a sense that he should be feeling some sort of turmoil inside him for this. So he tries to feel something - anger perhaps, he tries to muster up some by thinking the age-old question, why me? and hoping for something to happen. But just as quickly, his inner self responds well, why not me? and all that falls flat quite spectacularly. So is he grateful that he's not hurt worse than he could have been? It's not that either - all he feels is a crushing sense of absolutely nothing, nothing at all. It doesn't feel real to him. From what he can observe, the full impact of what's happened to Till hasn't sunk in fully for the others either, and he can't say that he's at all surprised about this.
While he's thinking this, Flake enters the tent with a basin of heated water in one hand and holding something else in the other. "Oh, you're awake, Till," he says in a clearly relieved tone as he sets the basin down. Richard moves to accommodate him. "I'll just wash your foot and put antiseptic on it again once this cools down a little. Have you eaten anything?"
"Ja. I've had two pills too," Till's peering at his other hand. "what have you got there?"
"Edelweiss," Flake says softly, opening his palm. Six sprigs of edelweiss flowers are resting there. "I know it's a protected plant but it's not as if we'll ever see those again."
Till takes the first one, observing it closely. The flowers are white and the first thing he notices about them is their petals, which are curiously soft and furred almost like a cat's. They're like a snowy sunflower with a yellow centre and silvery-white petals, delicate and beautiful. He dangles the flower above him, contemplating its appearance, before he gets to wondering about its scent.
And he's not disappointed; edelweiss smells very sweet. Till closes his eyes and leans back, inhaling the scent slowly and exhaling at intervals, fingers toying with the stem lightly. It's more than just a sweet smell - it's quite strong with a vague hint of musk and when he holds the flower closer the furry petals tickle his nose a little. There's a hint of honey in there, luscious and thick and curiously warm. But while strong, it's a delicate, fragile scent, viable to be blown away by the smallest gust of wind. When he delves deeper, he swears that he can also sense fruit and spice in it somehow, making him think of a scene in a lazy autumn or spring afternoon, with a freshly baked apple-and-strawberry Obstkuchen lying on the countertop in a well-lit kitchen. It makes him imagine the sunlight shining in through the kitchen windows, creeping with catlike tread along the countertops and the table and chairs, a long-lost memory from his long-lost childhood that is gone as quickly as he can visualize it. Curious how it comes from a wintery, rarely-seen, hardy flower like this, its feel and scent the embodiment of everything that it isn't.
Flake has noticed the look on Till's face, how suddenly soft and calm it seems, and gently places his own sprig of edelweiss on the other's chest. "I take it that you're fond of the smell," he says quietly. "you could do with it. Remind you of anything?"
"Oh no," Till shakes his head and smiles, but it's a far-away smile. "... it's just that... well.... Edelweiss is the saddest scent of all, I think."
Flake tilts his head in confusion at those words, but the singer isn't about to give away more than that. Following Flake's example, Richard sets his edelweiss down on Till's chest as well; during the day he comes into possession of all six sprigs, and even though the image of him lying down covered in those silvery-white flowers is kind of beautifully morbid in hindsight, it at least keeps him calm enough for the entire day and night that they're there. In their simple relief that the man's up and talking (if a little quiet and withdrawn) the band members just keep up the mostly-silent atmosphere for the rest of the day - and it is perhaps because of this that the whole impact of what really is going to happen to Till afterwards hits harder for all of them.
The day after that is not quite as calming because the tension gets to be too much for them to handle. Or, more accurately, for Richard to handle. It certainly comes off as unexpected to all of them, even Till, because the morning starts off in an actually fairly positive manner (given the circumstances) - they actually manage to climb a little upwards in the morning despite the singer's condition because of the need to move their camp. With some help from his bandmates, an improvised walking stick and a few painkillers in hand, along with taking a slower, less steep route, they manage to get a dozen meters above where they were before. It's slow progress, and the singer's remained quite passive and a little distant throughout, but Till's demonstrated that he can still function through sheer determination; now they just need to settle down in their new site and wonder what to do next.
That's the good news. The bad news is that he doesn't feel much of anything in his foot anymore. Even the broken part of his ankle only throbs dully now and then, but there's none of that intense pain that he was feeling two days ago. He informs Flake of this during midafternoon and is mildly surprised when the keyboardist looks at him nervously.
"Will you lie down? Keep still." Till complies; lying down's what he's been doing a lot lately. Flake peels back the other's trousers and looks at his bandaged foot, which was washed and had antiseptic applied to it, and gingerly presses on a toe. "do you feel that, Till?"
He does it again, a little harder this time. "And that?"
"You don't feel that at all?" his voice has taken on a somewhat panicked tone, which is so unusual for the keyboardist that it gets the attention of everyone in the tent. Richard pushes forward, looking particularly concerned.
Till looks over indifferently. "I appear to have lost all feeling in my toes. It's nothing."
"No, it is most definitely not nothing!" the guitarist responds incredulously. "just the... just the toes?"
Flake's pinching lightly at the base of the foot as well, which the singer again says that he doesn't feel. "This is bad," the keyboardist mumbles. "this is... this is very bad."
"What's going on?" Schneider asks tentatively, earning him a glance from Richard that he tries to and barely succeeds in disregarding. "tell us, Flake."
"He's not getting circulation in his broken foot anymore and the nerves appear to have dulled," is the reply, and then out comes the word that they've all been dreading. "soon the tissue will die off and then it'll become gangrene. It's... it's started already."
Richard inhales and exhales deeply, brushing his hair back, his expression apparently calm. But Paul subconsciously backs away; they all know that look, the look that the guitarist gains only when he's right at the edge of complete and utter madness. "Flake," he asks in a forced monotone. "Flake. You've been nursing Till's foot for the third day now. How long can he last in his current condition? Do spill. Come on, Herr Doktor."
The keyboardist hesitates and closes his eyes for a few seconds, a look of utter despair crossing his face before looking up. "I won't lie," he says quietly. "we're lucky that we're out in the cold in one way because it's slowed down any infection, that's one thing for certain. But it's inevitable now that he's lost feeling. It'll probably be dry gangrene so it must feel pretty much just like frostbite; even if we manage to get down, though, I don't know... if we can save the limb. The foot itself is pretty much a goner," he sighs and continues on. "and really... I doubt he can last more than... more than a week or so if he doesn't get any treatment-"
"-Don't say that," Paul immediately interrupts, shaking his head. "don't you ever say such a thing, Flake, Till isn't going to..."
"We have to be pragmatic here. I'm sorry, but we have to. That's a generous estimate, if he moves too much it might be even less - if we continue on like this I'd be surprised if he lasted three or four days without falling into septic shock."
Paul simply looks at Flake, rather taken aback at the perceived harshness of the other's words. The keyboardist has always been the more prepared one for situations like those, a true realist, but already thinking about such terrible possibilities? Either way, this has given the younger guitarist a push off the edge; Richard inhales and exhales in the same unnerving way once more. "Well," he says tightly. "well. You did a real number on Till there, Doom. Lived up to your name, didn't you."
"You think I'm not feeling guilty enough?" Schneider cries, withdrawing onto himself. "I'd do - I'd do anything to go back in time and hold on tighter to Till, he's all I've thought about those past three days! Do you think I don't care or something-"
"I never said that you don't care," Richard cuts him off in that dangerously quiet tone, now trembling from effort. "no, Doom, I never said that. Stop extrapolating. Oh no, I'm just saying that you've good as murdered him, that's all."
Those forbidden words cut straight through the minds of everyone in the tent, causing a sudden, sickening silence to fall in the tent. Even the guitarist himself looks completely stunned at what he's said, looking suddenly unsure and nervous. Olli's head snaps up and he stares at Richard disbelievingly, and Paul's gaping at them in sheer horror, but it's nothing compared to the look on Schneider's face. Actually, rather than being a single determinable look, the drummer's expression goes through an almost-montage of emotions - shock, terror and then to a look of overwhelming guilt and sorrow. "No," he says, putting a hand over his mouth, tears spilling down his cheeks and frantically shaking his head, trying to throw off the accusation, but it's too late. What's been done is done. "no... no, Risch... that's... that's not true... I tried to hold on, I really did..."
"This is beneath you, Risch!" Flake exclaims, the anger in his voice evident as he kneels down beside Schneider in an attempt to comfort. Till watches on, indifferent, thinking only of the mountain; things are rapidly deteriorating in front of him and he feels so apathetic that it's actually kind of unsettling. "shh. It's okay, Doom. We would have all done the same in your situation, and you did your best..." he glances back at Richard, still standing there with his fists clenched. "I didn't think you were going to sink so low, throwing accusations around when we should be trying to cope with the situation!"
"Well, perhaps I have!" Richard spits back angrily, the insecurity in his expression gone; Flake's retaliation has simply added more fuel to his rage. "perhaps I have sunk this low, what with the fact that this wouldn't have happened if Doom had held on for just a few seconds more, and I'm just meant to look at him and Till lying there and accept this! How can I? In fact, I find you profoundly strange, Flake - for acting as if you expected any of this all along-"
"Risch," Olli is taking hold of his shoulder. Richard throws his grip off violently. "Risch. Stop."
"No, no," Richard suddenly screams, having finally lost it, his voice sounding horribly broken and hoarse from his despair and fury. He clutches at his head for a few seconds, trembling uncontrollably as the rest of them watch on in alarm, before he suddenly throws himself down on the floor in front of Till, grasping at the other's face with both hands. "that's it, I can't take this anymore," his eyes aren't focused and he sounds positively desperate and deranged. "we're getting off this fucking mountain. Right now. You might not be able to save your foot, but it's still not too late, Dietrich - what are we even continuing on for? This was never meant to be a journey towards death, for God's sake, I'll go out and-"
He only gets that far before Flake pulls him away, admonishing him sharply for being so violent towards an injured man; Till himself gazes into Richard's eyes tiredly and tells him to shut up.
"What are you telling me to shut up for?" the younger man cries, now sounding unbearably hurt in addition of everything else. "why, Till? I just don't want you to die! You know you haven't got long left if you carry on in that state, any fool can see it! Why is what I just said so wrong?"
Paul buries his head in his hands. "Oh, Gott," he whispers. "hilfe..."
"All of you just shut up right now, do you hear me. What happens to me isn't relevant. I say that and I'm the one who's dying. What are you throwing a tantrum and wasting your energy for? If I die, I die. End of story. Now be quiet. I want to watch the sunset."
The sheer apathy that Till's showing would be kind of funny because of how misplaced it is. But the situation being what it is, it simply adds more disbelief and dread to the atmosphere; Richard just stares at Till, completely speechless, while Schneider looks up wearily.
"Answer me this one thing, Till," Paul whispers from his seat, his words sounding a little muffled as he still has his head in his hands. "I don't feel like being fatalistic and I personally don't believe that you'll actually let yourself die here, but that's not important... just... answer me one thing. What are you carrying on for?"
Is it worth saying anything? Till doesn't know, but it's not as if answering it will hurt. "There's something I need to do. I need to do it even if it kills me."
"What is that?"
"I can't tell you yet."
"What, are you out of your mind?" Richard cries, cutting Paul off and speaking what every single one of them are thinking. "how is any of this going to solve things? Is it something you'd honestly and truly risk death for?"
Till gives him no reply, simply staring out at the distance again. The sunset is intensely orange and beautiful up here. Another day is dying. Schneider is staring at him, a look of sick horror on his tearstained face, having deduced his answer from his silence alone. "No," he whispers, shaking his head. "no, Till, no, you can't be serious..."
"Be quiet, Christoph!" the younger guitarist rounds on him and Schneider flinches back sharply. They can all see that the drummer's heart is breaking many times over, not just from seeing Till in this condition but because of Richard's unconcealed hatred towards him. This isn't the man who once lived with him and Olli in a flat together and persuaded them happily to join the beginnings of Rammstein. "what if we don't want to follow?" Richard carries on, turning back towards the singer. "what if we ignored you - requested rescue and dragged you down this mountain despite what you might do-"
"Would you?" Till asks quietly, silencing Richard completely; he knows that they wouldn't dare to do such a thing. The latter, sensing that he's lost this battle, buries his head in his hands with an agonized sob.
"Oh my God, please... why are you doing this, it makes no sense, why can't you just try to live..."
"It won't matter, Risch," Flake says it for all of them, his shoulders also slumped in defeat. "he wants to go up and that's all we can do. Even if we ignored him and got him down by force... he won't try."
The singer doesn't say anything to counter this, ignoring the looks of utter dismay from everyone else, indirectly confirming that this is indeed the case. He won't consent to a rescue when they are so tantalizingly close to their goal - his goal, even - and he knows too well that none of them can even comprehend abandoning him. Like it or not, he's staying, and them along with him. His conscience screams out to him that this is the most immensely selfish thing that he's ever done; can he really drag everyone along, forcing them to watch him wither away and suffer for what may be days on end? Can he really do such a thing, when he would be placing a burden on their shoulders that none of them deserve should he die up here?
Thinking of Nele and his father, the stubborn and less logical side of his mind tells him that yes, he can. They're not running low on supplies yet and he can still keep going, and no one else is physically handicapped. He can endure it. So can they. If he dies, then so be it. So he pushes the unease in his mind away and gazes out at the sunset, intense and beautiful. Little does he know that once he starts really taking in his surroundings beyond the scenery of the mountain and the white snow, he will be snapped out of his detachment and dearly grow to regret his decision, but that is still ages away.
"It's not right," Richard has retreated into a corner, sobbing in anger and frustration, unable to understand Till's intentions. "Till, it's... not right..."
The singer looks over, and for a second or so he gives his friend a vaguely pitying look before he turns to the whole band. "Whatever happens, I will give you my everything."
That's all he can offer. But it's all he's got at the same time.
After his ultimatum, Till starts making slow mental preparations to take in as much as he can before he either makes it up the summit or dies trying. And the first thing that he notices is the fact that Schneider's been providing him with almost constant care, as evidenced when he wake up alongside Till with swollen eyes and a tired expression - despite the singer telling him that perhaps he should get more sleep, he shakes his head and immediately gets to checking the bandages. The drummer has slept next to him every night and hasn't hidden his sorrow from Till in the slightest; and although the singer did start off secretly wishing that he'd stop crying all over his body, now his honesty touches him deep inside. Alongside Flake, Schneider is the one who looks most after his foot, helps him eat and keeps watch. He's always the first to support Till whenever they need to move onwards, even just a little. It's much appreciated for sure - at least, Till does. His realization of the full scope of Schneider's guilt and desire to atone for his failure comes with also noticing the way Richard looks at them both - the guitarist hasn't said anything to either of them since his breakdown, but nevertheless Till notices how Richard glares at the drummer whenever he's close by. The only reason he's not pushing Schneider away and taking up those duties himself is that Till is giving him warning glances every now and then, to calm down, to just let things be.
He's not sure if that's helping matters from Richard's point of view, but at least Schneider doesn't have to deal with being called a murderer again. His guilt is the heaviest out of all of them, after all.
"There's no need to ask for forgiveness," Till tells him finally at nightfall. "there was nothing to forgive in the first place."
"You say that when I'm sitting here watching you die," Schneider replies tearfully. "Risch was right. I let you drop. I doomed you to almost certain death. That's not something anyone would ever - ever forgive me for."
There's not much point in lying. "He might not forgive you. I won't pretend that I don't see that. But I don't think there was anything you did wrong, Schneider. It happened, that's all."
"Why don't you want to get down?" the drummer asks pleadingly, grasping Till's hand. "letting you have your will is the least I can do, and I'll respect whatever choice you make... but I don't understand why you would even want to... if only I could, I'd..."
It's less that Till wants to die and more that he really needs to do this regardless of the consequences, but he doubts that Schneider will really understand even if he sat him down and told him all the relevant aspects of his life over countless hours of angst and sorrow. There's no point in doing that when every hour is precious; Till doesn't know if he's going to die yet, but it's a more stronger possibility than any of his bandmates would like to think about and they're at a place where no time can be wasted, after all. "This is the only chance I'll ever get to do this," he tells the younger man nevertheless as a way of trying to ease his mind. "if I got down now... I don't know if I'll ever find the rightful will to come back, nor if any of you guys will ever let me up again. I don't mean that as an accusation either," he quickly adds, seeing the vaguely hurt look on Schneider's face. "you heard what Flake said. Foot's coming off for good if I get medical help. I doubt I will ever get to where I need to go if I'm on crutches or anything like that."
"And you're going to fare better with a broken foot?"
"I'm still closer to the goal than I would otherwise get."
The drummer is silent, trying to concile this information in his mind. Till can see that he's not that much closer to understanding, but that the younger man isn't about to pursue the topic much more. "But that's my problem, Schneider, and it's important that you know-" he picks up the other's hand. "-that you are not to blame, nor do I hold anything against you. I want you to remember that no matter what anyone says."
Having said this, he brushes his lips gently over Schneider's knuckles, seeing the utterly grateful, bright smile on the other's tearstained face. It's not much, but Till can still give him what little comfort a crippled and dying man can provide. Unbeknownst to either him or Schneider, Richard has been watching them from just outside the tent; his expression becomes dark and he looks away, staring resolutely into the fire; it is about five minutes before he stands up with a small heated basin of water in hand. The rustling sound from the tent flap alerts them to Richard's presence, and Schneider looks around nervously.
"Your turn to watch over the fire," Richard says in a monotone, walking over to them and specifically ignoring the large space of bedding on the other side. "move over."
"The other part of the tent's empty-"
"Don't argue with me. Leave."
Arguing with the guitarist is the last thing Schneider wants to do, so he hurriedly ducks out of the tent with a hasty nod and one final squeeze of Till's hand. Even that is too much for Richard to accept, so he glares at the drummer as he leaves - and out of pure spite, he walks over to the flap and zips it shut so that they're hidden from view. Richard then turns back towards Till and sits down next to him. "How are you feeling?"
"You could try being nicer," Till says, not answering the question and gazing directly into the other's eyes. The younger man doesn't answer, but he scowls again, looking down at the basin of water. "it wasn't his fault."
"He let you fall," the guitarist says flatly. "I don't want to talk about this now, Till. Lie back down."
At this question, Richard's expression softens; he looks up at the other's face, and reaches over to touch his cheek. "I want to give you a shave. You've grown quite the stubble."
Till could probably make some comment about how Richard's already preparing him to look nice in death, but he doesn't. There's no point in rejecting the other's kindness even if he doesn't quite see the point in it; what could any of that possibly achieve except for more hurt feelings? It's bad between him and Schneider as it is. So he just nods and lets Richard prop his head up on a few jackets and a spare folded blanket, closing his eyes as the younger man rubs a little bit of shaving oil over his face from a tiny bottle. The rasp of the razor against his stubbled chin makes him tense a little - it feels kind of ticklish in a rough way - but Richard is slow and careful. He works methodically, careful to rinse the razor off with each stroke, doing such a good job of it that he leaves no cuts at all and makes the older man almost doze off a little. The only thing he says during the entire process (this remark provides the only pause in his work) is 'Till, you smell of flowers'.
"It's the edelweiss," is Till's reply. He's had all six sprigs pressed either to himself or stored in his pockets ever since he was given them, inhaling their scent every now and then and intending to watch them slowly withering away. They're still mostly intact in form, though, with a faint undertone of their scent still remaining. Edelweiss flowers are a lot hardier than he thought they would be; but then they're alpine flowers, they wouldn't survive otherwise. Richard rinses off the razor for the final time and wipes it, tucking it back into the pack, and empties the basin of water before sitting down again.
"How're you doing for clothes, cleaning yourself...?"
"Had a snow bath three hours ago. Schneider helped me out of the tent and kept watch. Clothes are changed too as you can see."
At the mention of Schneider, Richard frowns a little, but he's busy rummaging around in the pack again; he picks up a tube of lotion and peers at it closely. "Oil-based... that's good... So you're at least clean and freshened up?"
"Ja. Even more so after the shave. Thanks, Risch."
The guitarist gives him a shadow of a smile, before looking down at the other's hands and arms. The skin there is chapped and roughened from the wind and the cold temperatures - by no means a new thing for any of them, but Till could use a bit more care in that department. "Your skin's a little rough... you wouldn't mind awfully if I just rubbed some lotion on them, right?"
"You are taking good care of me," the singer actually manages to chuckle slightly. "go ahead."
Richard starts off just as slow, quietly unzipping the other's jacket to reveal one side of his body, pulling out his arm and dabbing some lotion on it. Till's just enjoying the sensation of having his skin massaged a little when the guitarist does something that he wouldn't have expected in a thousand years: Richard suddenly lets out a sound halfway between a sob and a moan and buries his face into the other's chest, clumsily tugging away the jacket, a lot more of Till being revealed in mere seconds.
"Risch," Till whispers frantically, gazing around the otherwise-silent tent. Olli shifts around a bit, but he's asleep for sure; Richard doesn't take any notice of him and simply pushes his jacket aside, pulling up his shirt. "Risch... Richard, what are you doing, there are the others..."
"This will be the last and only time that I will get to feel your body," Richard whispers softly against his skin; he lets his hands roam all over Till, brushing against the shoulders, running down his chest and abdomen ever so gently. "forget the others. Just... let me... just once."
He doesn't know what to say. This is not what he expected at all. The younger man's touching him as if one would touch a lover, reverent but at the same time utterly desperate, and to say that Till has no idea what to do would be an understatement. "Stop," he gasps as Richard starts clutching at him as if he were drowning and Till's the only thing he could hold onto, worried that his friend's quite lost control of himself from all he's gone through in the past few days. "Risch, please stop..."
"Let me kiss you, Till," Richard implores, sorrowful blue eyes meeting Till's green ones. "please... just once..." without waiting for a reply he bends down, still holding Till in his arms, and their lips are so close that he can feel the other's soft warm breath brushing against his skin-
-before Till shakes his head and turns away, rejecting the gesture. "I can't, Risch," the older man says regretfully, looking into the other's stunned face. "don't think I'm not fond of you, it's not that... but if I let this happen, it would be so much worse for you afterwards."
This was by no means a wrong statement, but it sure wasn't what the guitarist needed; Richard gives him a hurt look and tears well up in his eyes again before he dabs them away. He stays still for a while before slowly pulling Till's shirt back down and covering him again with the jacket. "Sorry," he mumbles. "... it won't... happen again... if you don't want to."
"I'm not angry at you, believe me. I just... what brought this on, I'm not sure if I..."
The younger man gives him a half-apprehensive look, unsure if Till really means it - when the singer just keeps looking at him in that confused way, he appears to be a little more reassured that he hasn't irreversibly damaged their relationship. He slides down and tentatively lays his head on Till's chest again, relaxing considerably more when the older man lets him do so.
"I've sung alongside you for years, Till," the younger man whispers. "I visited you many times in your basket-weaving workshop before Rammstein even was a concept. When I was divorced months ago you were there for me, you looked after my daughter and I looked after yours. I've even shared bedding with you a few times. You don't - you can't just forget a person who you've been so close to for so many years - you can't forget a friend who you've slept next to multiple times just for the sake of sleeping-"
"There's more than that, isn't there?"
"I..., look, Till, I don't think I can make it clearer that I don't want you to die," the guitarist says heavily, eyes closed and nuzzling into Till's chest. His grip is so tight that the older man can feel that he'd genuinely have difficulties if he tried to free himself. Not that he has that desire. "I know you've been very lonely since Nele left, that you've been feeling down for quite a while now, but you still put up with me whenever I get depressed about Caron leaving. God knows I don't want to burden you any more... I've wanted to get a bit closer to you for a while, be closer friends, I never thought anything like this would ever happen to you..."
"... Is pity all this is?"
"No, Gott, that's not it! I know you don't need anyone crying all over you, you never have, but... right now I have to convince myself that you're alive. I'm scared, Till. I'm scared that soon I'll turn my head away or be distracted and then you'd be gone, that I will never know until it's too late. What if - what if you stop breathing overnight and that's the end? I need to be close to you. I need to feel your warmth. So that I know you haven't left."
"But I'm not that close to dying yet," Till says, a weak attempt at a rebuttal. It doesn't do a thing for the younger man, but they're interrupted as the tent flap slowly unzips and a shivering Schneider comes back inside; he kneels down to shake Paul awake and informs him that it's his turn. The older guitarist rubs his eyes and nods silently before leaving, and once this is done Schneider glances over in Till's direction; he flinches a little when he sees that Richard is still there, holding onto the older man and giving him a defiant look. Bowing his head a little in resignation, the drummer backs away and settles into the large empty space of bedding on the other side of the tent, next to Flake and Olli, and lies there with his back turned to them.
Till would like the hostilities (or hostility, singular) to stop but he's not sure what to say to either of them when both Schneider and Richard are in the tent. Telling one of them off is easy, but doing the same while trying to keep the peace with both men is not at all an easy endeavor. He glances in Schneider's direction - the drummer's lying with his back turned to them and doesn't make a single sound, but from the slight way that his shoulders are shaking, he's either sobbing or trying very hard to stop himself from sobbing. Till sees the regret in Richard's eyes as they both watch this pitiful sight; the latter almost makes a motion as if to rise, but doesn't, and it is then the older man understands.
Richard doesn't hate Schneider and never did. But neither of them know that. Richard is just so angry at the situation that he's taking it out on everyone; he doesn't know how else to cope, and the unfortunate drummer is simply the most logical target in his mind. He's not so much angry at Schneider as he is towards fate for having made things escalate to this point, and really towards Till himself for being incomprehensibly apathetic to the possibility of death. But at the same time his love and concern for Till is too great for him to be angry at the older man for long. He's angry because of the thought of losing Till, that he's lost his chance of approaching the man proper before even getting his thoughts sorted. It's kind of sad really - he must have been waiting for an opportunity to be this close to Till for quite some time now, he probably never imagined that it would be under these circumstances-
Just a natural process of coping. It's a shame it has to be this way; even though he's already feeling bad about rejecting Richard's affections, Till forces himself to think realistically. He can't let the younger man be attached to him any more than this, regardless of in a romantic, platonic or a simply friendly sense.
He gave Schneider the gift of assurance. His gift to Richard has to be one of detachment, as terribly cruel as that sounds. The singer justifies it with this chain of thought: should Till be torn away from the world, away from the younger man (as it's now looking increasingly likely), it'd be infinitely crueler to leave him in agony and longing. He cares for Richard too much to let either of them care too much. A hedgehog's dilemma. So Till closes his eyes and pretends that he doesn't feel a damn thing even as Richard clings close to him possessively, shielding his body from the entrance and making it clear that no one else - especially Schneider - is to come near them for the night. And maybe something in his heart aches deep inside and maybe he wants to summon up all his strength to cuddle Richard close and tell him that they'll get off the mountain, but it's probably just his mind playing tricks on him.
It wouldn't have worked out anyway.
There is so much to notice up here. He doesn't mean just the scenery either, although it does get more cruelly spectacular the more they go up. No, he's more interested nowadays in his bandmates and noticing the dynamics between them. For Till, who's been mostly indifferent to everything for a couple of months, this is genuinely a fascinating development for him. To keep his mind off things he's grown to take note of their relationships - but fascinating doesn't always mean good, as evidenced when Paul rises from his seat. "I'm just going outside," he mumbles. "I... I might be some time."
"Mm," Till starts, but the older guitarist is already gone. Paul hasn't dared to meet his eyes fully for quite some days now; he was probably finding it hard even before Richard's breakdown. Till can see that his constant staring and observing of his bandmates in such a distanced manner is aggrieving Paul the most, he can see that the older guitarist is immensely uncomfortable with it, but what can he do? Paul still doesn't believe - or rather doesn't want to believe - that Till might end up dying in this mountain and still refuses to acknowledge that possibility. A far cry from Flake, who's so far on the other side of spectrum that anyone with a lesser grip on the situation would denounce him as cold and heartless. But the singer understands it for exactly what it is, realism, and he's just kind of grateful that Flake is guaranteed to keep a cool head for a while.
Richard and Schneider are still not talking to each other. The drummer has persisted on looking after Till, though, moving ahead with such resolve that Richard hasn't dared to push him away again - they've just been kind of awkwardly getting on with taking care of the older man in unspecified turns, waiting until one of them's gone somewhere to take their turn. Till has noticed that Schneider's dedication has softened Richard's stance, though, although he's probably not about to admit it just yet.
It's still a shame about the younger guitarist. He's still simmering with rage, but it's more directed towards the heavens for dooming Till; next to the older man he's just kind of more plaintive than anything, wanting to hold on to him, not wanting to leave him alone. He's probably thought of Till as more than just a friend for a long time and the thought of losing him so pointlessly can't be easy on him. And maybe, just maybe, it's hard on the older man as well to dwell on it for too long, so he doesn't.
Olli doesn't say much. He helps out whenever necessary and faithfully looks after Till whenever it's his turn, but he never wants to be alone with the singer - sometimes he leaves the tent and sits outside with his back turned to the older man, staring into the same direction as he and apparently trying to figure out what his intentions are by looking at the same things as Till is. He also cries every night, and Till can always hear it, even though he's the best at hiding it out of all of them. He's nearly at the same level as Flake, completely understanding the inevitable, but he simply can't accept it yet as the keyboardist has - and this has depressed him. He was always the shyest and the most sensitive out of all of them, and also the youngest of them all (the singer's always thought of him as a little brother of sorts); he's not equipped to deal with this and yet he's had to. Whenever Till gazes at Olli's increasingly more sorrowful brown eyes and tired expression he thinks of Nele, and maybe something in his heart aches a little but he ought not to show it. If he broke down, everyone would, and there would just be no end to the grief. He's giving Olli his fullest understanding.
Till has to wonder how they can stand it when he's literally rotting away. He doesn't realize yet that the others have their senses numbed from the cold to a greater extent than he from being out and about more often; and they don't even notice the smell that much because they're so busy thinking of other things. The gangrene is also progressing more slowly than they thought which helps just a little when they need to move. But it's very much there, just waiting to have another infection introduced to it soon; and the man wishes that they would just make it up there up already so this can be over and done with. Waiting for something to happen gets surprisingly tiring.
He wonders if Nele's sleeping well. She always used to struggle with nightmares.
He wishes he could tell her a story one last time.
She always said that she would never be too old for his stories.
And then she went and grew up anyway.
The gangrene gets worse every day, although Till was beyond feeling any of it a long time ago. The cold temperatures have kept him alive for longer than expected, but it was inevitable that one late afternoon, Till suddenly breaks out into a fever and starts moaning in pain from sepsis setting in.
"Till. Till," Olli says frantically, dabbing a towel onto his forehead. "please talk to us. We've come so far. You can't die right now, do you hear me?"
"Ahh," the singer moans out, delirious and weak. "ahh..."
The towel is soaked in the basin of fresh snow and put over Till's body again. Against common sense they also unzip his jacket and leave him dressed in only a shirt and trousers, trying to get him to cool down just a little; they can't leave him like that too long otherwise he'd freeze. It temporarily works as Till's moaning dies down into just a series of barely audible groans, but it is still a couple of hours before he opens his eyes and looks around.
"Dietrich, are you awake?" Flake asks him, his voice quiet. Till stares at him blearily. "you are. Right. I'm going to outline things for you as clearly as possible. You understand what I'm saying, right? Give me a nod if you do."
It's obviously quite an effort, but Till gives a definite nod.
"Good. Right. Today's the sixth day since your fall and eight days into our small expedition and it's getting dark outside. And because you are a stubborn, illogical bastard-" Flake's voice suddenly falters here in both distress and utter frustration, and he has to take a deep breath before he carries on. "-your gangrene's gotten worse and from the looks of it, sepsis has finally set in. You haven't eaten or drunk anything much, we don't have anything to treat you with and thus you have at most two or three days before you expire. So you have a couple of choices left, Dietrich. Either you carry on with the climb and inevitably die, or we perform the rescue signal now and get off the mountain. Before long it will be too dark for it to get through and I don't know if you'll still be alive and conscious tomorrow. Your chances of saving the limb are close to nil and your foot is most definitely coming off, but you might still be able to live. We'll follow your wishes."
There's no reply. The singer simply stares, giving no indication that he's even listening. The keyboardist waits patiently, the others all holding their breath lest Till's request (whatever it might be) be lost.
"It hurts," Till finally mumbles, and to the dismay of everyone, tears start to well up in his eyes. "it hurts so fucking much!"
Flake bites at his lower lip, before standing up and dusting his knees. "That's not an answer," he states as calmly as possible, although his voice is trembling ever so slightly. "and we need one. Who has painkillers? It won't slow down the infection any, and we'll need quite a bit of it, but it's better than nothing."
"I'm all out," Schneider says quietly, rustling through his own pack and coming up with five packs' worth of ibuprofen. The tabs are all popped open. "I gave all mine to Till already."
"What about you, Risch? Olli and Paul too?"
A prompt examination of all their packs follow: Flake comes up with two full packs and Olli comes up with half. Richard didn't have any in the first place. "Is this enough to keep him going for two, three days or so?"
"I doubt it," Olli murmurs, his eyes darkening with the realization that they've nearly run out of methods to help Till. Now they can't even aid him in his pain; he simply sighs and buries his head onto his knees, shutting his eyes tight. Meanwhile, the keyboardist is frowning lightly as he looks at the pills, working out how to ration them. Olli is right, it is not enough for Till - they need to think of emergencies for other band members as well, even though it's already pretty much established that when they get down they will use the Alpine signal. Till will certainly not survive the climb back down and that's even supposing that he's alive by then, a thought that Flake pushes away with a heavy shudder.
It is then that Paul speaks up for the first time in days. "I might be able to help," he says in a nigh inaudible voice, clutching at his first aid kit. The band members all look up with the exception of Till, who's now beginning to wince and mumble fragments of disconnected sentences.
"What have you got in there, Paul?"
Paul hesitates. Whatever he's got in the pack, it's not something he probably ever wanted to let on that he had. But he reluctantly zips open the kit and takes out a brown bottle filled with liquid - along with a syringe. "Morphine sulfate," he says in a shaky voice, but the look in his blue eyes is more determined than they've seen in the past few days. "the second time I went mountaineering, someone got injured, worse than Till here - they shot him up with morphine before getting him down and he managed to not succumb to the pain. He was lucky the rescue came so quickly. And I go travelling a lot, you know that... I've carried a bottle around ever since then, whenever I know that we're going someplace even remotely dangerous. Ten milligrams as an initial dose should cut down the pain. But once we start up, it's extremely addictive, he might end up being severely dependent until..." he stops and looks away, unable to say it, before looking back up. "... much stronger than ibuprofen, though. But I haven't got much in here. I'd hoped that it wouldn't come to this."
"I can see that," Schneider murmurs, throwing Richard a quick glance. The younger guitarist is staring intently at the needle. "... and that's the absolute amount the first dose can be?"
"Ideally. Otherwise he might..."
Silence. The implications of Paul's speech have dawned on all of them, and it's not at all a nice thing to contemplate. It would be easy to simply give Till an overdose here, let him die in comparative peace - but then they look at the singer, feverish and ill but desperately holding on to achieve his purpose, and that thought is gone. Flake sighs once and nods. "Yes. Yes, in that case... you can help, Paul. Do you want to do it yourself?"
A nod is given as a response. Under their watchful eyes, Paul carefully measures out the solution within the syringe before standing up and walking towards Till. For a couple of seconds, the singer squints at him, unable to focus; but when the actual syringe comes into view, the older man flinches back, clearly terrified that this is just going to be the end.
"Are you... are you... going to euthanize me?" Till mumbles, stopping Paul in his tracks. The older guitarist's eyes widen at the words and he starts shaking, chewing nervously on his lip; recognizing the hesitation in his face, Flake stands up.
"Maybe I should do it-"
"I... I want to help," Paul stammers out, and even though he very clearly wants to just turn back and run, he steps out again. "I've done nothing but deny this all this time... at least I can do this much..."
"Please don't send me to sleep," Till whispers before he starts sobbing incoherently, tears running down his cheeks again as he slurs his words together, trembling uncontrollably with the cold and the weight of his own fear. He's so scared that he's actually trying to back away from Paul despite his utterly weak state; a pitiful sight that's hard to even think about, let alone watch. "I have to see him before I go, I absolutely have to, please don't let me die now oh mein Gott please I beg you don't stick that thing in me just yet give me a little more time please-"
Paul shuts his eyes in agony. "Till."
"I don't want to die!" Till screams, his voice rising rapidly in volume and making his bandmates wince or turn away. "please let me live just a little longer... just a couple of days more... my father... and then you can take me... oh God... help me..."
"This'll help," the older guitarist says frantically as he sits down next to the older man, forcing himself to meet the other's frightened gaze. "this'll help, maybe it's going to hurt just a little but it won't hurt any more than what you've already felt, I promise. Please just calm down-"
But calming down is the last thing on Till's mind; he's shaking his head and still trying to back away, looking at Paul as if he were Death himself, a sight so completely opposite the detached attitude he's had for the past few days that they can't comprehend it. "Just do it, Paul," Richard cries out, although he's kept his eyes tightly shut as to not watch. "please!"
"I..." the older guitarist falters, looking down at the syringe and back at Till's arm where the veins are. "I can't..."
"Don't give me that, Paul."
They all turn around. Olli has emerged from his corner, his usually-soft brown eyes now blazing with what looks unnervingly like fury and determination. He walks past them towards Till, and ignores the other's terrified whimper as he kneels down by the older man and forcibly pins him to the floor, keeping one arm still. "Give him that injection," he commands. Just wanting to get it over and done with, and now having Till sufficiently immobilized, Paul obeys and hastily bends down to inject the older man with the morphine. As the needle breaks through his skin, the singer cries out and tries to struggle free, but the bassist is a lot stronger than he appears. Just as soon as the procedure is all over, Paul stands up and backs away, eventually hiding his face and blindly hurling himself out of the tent.
"Oh," they can hear Paul finally wailing once he's outside, sliding against the walls of the tent, the empty syringe dangling uselessly from between his fingers. "oh God.... oh my God... I can't handle this anymore..."
None of them are up to comforting Paul yet, though, being too fixated on Till's condition. The singer's writhed around in pain for a few seconds before suddenly slumping back down, panting and his eyes taking on a glazed look. All are looking at him with half fear and pity, although Olli looks inches away from losing it completely. "Your father," he says, forcing himself to keep calm. "you mentioned your father. This trip has something to do with him, doesn't it?"
No response. Till just stares at him blankly.
"Over ten years ago," Olli persists. "you mentioned that you'd never really had a good relationship with him when he was alive. When we were first really consolidating the group, getting to know each other. Are his remains around here? Is that why you're carrying on?"
"Can't die," comes a barely audible muttered reply. "not just yet. Got to see."
"Well, you know what, Till? We could have avoided all of this if you hadn't been so stubborn!" Olli shouts, snapped out of his days-long depression, his sorrow replaced with spontaneous anger. "six days and suddenly you start caring about your life! Jesus! Why couldn't you have cared for that earlier? Why are you holding onto what's gone and past when there's us to think of - don't you see that every single agonizing second we live on earth we're going to be remembering and mourning your loss - and Nele! Who's going to take care of Nele when you're gone? What about the other family you've left behind? Why, when it might now be too late to do anything but carry on until you die?"
Till is silent for a while. From the increasingly hazy look in his eyes, the others doubt that he is even paying any attention to Olli's speech - but then his lips suddenly quirk in a dazed little smile at the mention of a familiar name. "Nele," he mumbles. "Nele. My daughter. My love. My life. Darling, darling Nele..."
"That's right," the bassist whispers, leaning forwards and taking hold of Till's right hand in both of his. The anger's gone from his voice, and there's now only a soft pleading in them. "there's still a lot to live for, Till... see? We can get down now. We'll do everything to keep you alive and healthy and back on your feet. If only you'd..."
"-'m entrusting you with her care, Olli," Till cuts him off, his expression looking more and more light-headed by the second as the morphine kicks in, and the bassist stares at him as he realizes that the man isn't actually listening to a word that he's saying. "you're like a brother to her, almost. And all of you... take care of her... my children, my family... never was a good father. Just like my own father really. He and I... not so different after all. Much... much better off without me. She's a big girl now. Tell her... sorry... she was right all along... miss her so much... love her... more than anything in the world..."
"No, Till, don't say that," Richard interrupts this monologue, letting out a pained groan and taking hold of Till's shoulders; the look on his face shifts from distressed to horrified at the unexpectedly hot temperature of the other's body. "guys... where's the ibuprofen? He's burning up..."
"We shouldn't," Schneider whispers.
The guitarist's expression changes into the old one of hatred at this statement, making the other flinch a little. "Shouldn't! What the hell do you mean that we shouldn't!"
"He means what he says," Flake says sharply from beside them. "we just shot him up with what's basically heroin. Any more drugs at this point and it's not going to end up well, Risch. Be reasonable."
Richard takes a deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. The drummer winces nervously, anticipating another shouting match, but what he gets isn't what he expected. "I suppose you're right," Richard whispers, and actually closes his eyes in defeat. "that was uncalled for, Doom. I'm sorry."
Schneider blinks a little, not having expected this, but nevertheless ducks his head in response and mumbles a little 'it's okay'. Otherwise they're all just sitting there, helplessly gazing down at Till, waiting for the morphine to spread through his body more evenly so that he's neither in pain nor mentally hyperactive. And during all this time (which feels like eons but really isn't more than about ten minutes or so), with dozens of vibrant and completely incomprehensible images flying through his mind at abnormal speeds, Till is nevertheless is experiencing one undeniable truth taking shape deep within him.
He's going to die. There are no grey areas anymore. It is this thought, as morbid as it is, that he holds onto tightly until the rush of images and visions die down. Even if he consented to the rescue, the time it'll take for any to arrive and actually get him to a hospital is not guaranteed to be quick enough, and with the blood poisoning in the picture he's not even guaranteed to be let off with just an amputation. He's essentially doomed himself; he could have consented earlier but he didn't and now his chances of survival are far too low even if he changed his mind. So he must carry on just for that faint chance of making it to the top, fighting against the poison spreading in his body, through the agony of his own self and the others helping and watching out for him - because he's got nothing left otherwise. What will it make of him if he dies in a helicopter or in a hospital, having not achieved a damn thing?
The singer looks up weakly and towards the flap of the tent, his gaze travelling along the cracks before he spots the blue of the other's jacket. Paul's out there, leaning against the tent and still howling out his sorrow for the first time in those six days that he's kept it bottled up. It is his breakdown that makes it total and inevitable for everyone else, including Till himself - not even Paul, who's denied this for nearly a week, can run from it anymore.
He's hurt Paul. He's hurt all of them. He's made them suffer with him involuntarily, unable to actually choose between life and death; he's going to his doom, sure, but what of the last days that he's spent very much clinging onto life and watching everyone suffer the consequences? And what of what he's just said - 'I don't want to die' - contradicting his stance on everything he's done so far?
"Paul?" Till whispers softly. "Paul...?"
How can anyone love him at all?
"Do you want me to get-"
Without paying heed to Schneider, Till reaches out with one arm and then the other, his still-present arm strength from his swimmer days allowing him to shift his body closer to the flap of the tent. He then pauses for breath for only a little while, even that one action being a strain on his body, before he blindly sticks one hand outside and feels around for Paul. When he comes into contact with one gloved hand, he grasps at it. "Sorry..." he mumbles. The wind is too loud outside for the older guitarist to hear him, but he can at least hope for the message to go through.
Paul doesn't say anything and his weeping doesn't cease. But Till's hand is squeezed firmly in response anyway. A confirmation that he is still breathing on this earth; life, his gift to Paul, sadly too meager and perhaps a little late but nonetheless reassuring. He hopes that the older guitarist will not fall into a deep depression as Olli has done. From the ferocity of his sorrow, that seems unlikely, which settles Till's mind a little; he lies down properly again, his hand still stuck outside the tent, gripping onto Paul's own hand as if that was the only thing that's keeping him tethered to life.
Till will never get down from this mountain alive. He's made his choice.
Nightfall comes and the six are all deathly silent as they try to get some sleep. Schneider has assumed his usual sleeping place by Till, but he's also abandoned the sleeping bag so that he can physically stay with the older man, his body pressed against his back to provide him with body heat. Richard is curled up by the other side, also having decided to stay with Till in the closest way he can.
Schneider was numbed from his grief days ago. He doesn't say anything to Till or beg for forgiveness but simply gazes blankly into the singer's face, now simply hurting too much to even voice what he's got in mind. Richard's anger has also died down to pretty much nothing and he knows better than to overwhelm his best friend with useless words, so he also doesn't say anything and simply presses his face into Till's chest. The singer's grateful for the silence - his body's still reeling from the effects of the morphine coursing through his veins and anything being said to him just sounds mostly like an amalgamation of incoherent syllables stitched together. He's warm, warmer than ever, and he doesn't know if this is because there are two of his friends keeping him safe next to him or because the infection is burning him up inside.
Till's not sure which option he'd prefer, or whether it even matters anymore. All he knows is that he's sick, very sick, and it's not even just the gangrene. He can practically smell it on himself. Under his usual faint musky scent and the persistent stench of necrotizing tissue that they've all gotten used to, there's a curiously faint metallic odor that no one else seems to have noticed. They probably can't sense it. Till doesn't know what to make of it, but he can guess; it's the sepsis, infecting his blood and beginning its final conquest of his body, and he's the only one who's noticed it because of his own heightened senses.
He probably has no more than forty-eight hours left on earth. And even though they don't say it, he knows that everyone knows too. Forty-eight hours, two whole days, still such a long way to go. They're all starting to truly prepare for the inevitable, even if it's hurting them worse than before. Paul has refused to do any more injections after what's happened earlier, understandably so, teaching the others the correct amount to use in the syringes and how to sterilize them before lying down in his sleeping bag and keeping his eyes firmly shut for hours despite Till trying to tell him just how sorry he was for being so afraid. He's not commented on the singer's apologies at all, but at least they're able to meet eyes again, which is about as good as it will get in the time they have left. Olli has also calmed down and apologized for his outburst; but Till could nevertheless see that it was with a heavy heart that he asked for the older man's identification photo in his jacket so that he could chip it into a metal plate along with the words 'Till Lindemann' beneath it. It's strange how a musician would end up with a mountaineer's headstone - but if that's what it takes, that's what needs doing. Now that that's covered pretty much everyone, the only one he's still concerned about is Flake, who's shown almost nothing but levelheadedness since his fall. He's grateful, of course, that the keyboardist didn't panic and has kept his nerve for almost a full week without descending into sadness or anger himself, but he somehow gets the feeling that once he's gone, Flake might break down for the longest time out of all of them. This chain of thought is then interrupted when Schneider starts whispering to him.
"Till? Are you awake?"
He is, but he doesn't answer. It's as if Richard being there doesn't matter in the slightest anymore as the drummer then shifts closer to his body and clutches at one arm. Schneider keeps quiet and just holds on to the warmth, although Richard's watching him and Till's fairly aware of what's going on. Their dispute simply has no meaning anymore. Richard doesn't say anything as he squints and figures out what the drummer's doing; but soon enough, Till feels the other's arm slowly reaching over his body, hesitating - and without prompting, feeling for Schneider's hand and grasping it tight. The drummer lets out a quiet gasp at the touch, feeling that the hand is not Till's own - Richard's calloused and rough fingers are comparative only to Paul's, and the latter is at the other side of the tent - but soon he too returns the gesture and squeezes the guitarist's hand tight, choking back a sob.
They lie there in silence, hands joined in silent grief and forgiveness over Till's body, and even though he's delirious and feverish the singer is at least relieved that his death will not create enemies.
The snowstorm gets worse and worse but he doesn't feel it. His body is boiling with septic shock and he doesn't know how he's managing to hold on.
Drifting in and out, with only the morphine injections every four hours or so keeping him walking; but he's in a complete daze.
He's so tired. He feels like giving up and going to sleep. So numb and tired.
Only the memories of his Nele and the sensation of the six dried sprigs of edelweiss in his pockets keep him going.
Thrust the pick into the ground, hurl yourself up. Touching upon the rocks at the summit, the six men stop and take a collective breath, looking around them. They've been climbing for two straight hours, having started before sunrise under Till's insistence, and they can't say that this was an unreasonable thing to ask when they've been greeted with a view unlike what they ever imagined.
The sun is just rising. One full week since Till's fall from grace, and another day (tenth of the overall expedition) is dawning; they've made it up to the top of the mountain to watch it slowly unfold, and even though they've lost so much and shed so many tears, none of them are thinking this as they watch the light spreading across the horizon. "Gott," Paul murmurs as their surroundings become illuminated in sunshine, casting long shadows over the smaller peaks and brightening the view. He sits down, his awe briefly overshadowing his depressed state, looking around - and pausing to stare at something behind Till. "hey... look over there... what's that?"
"What is?" Schneider whispers, worn out from having supported Till all the way up, but he too blinks and stares at whatever Paul's pointed out. "... I don't know... what might that be?"
It's Richard who realizes it first. "Till, is that what you've-"
"Turn me towards there," Till whispers weakly, gesturing with his head, and they comply. Richard then sits down just behind him on a rock - and turns his head away as he puffs at his cigarette so that if the tears start falling, he can blame the smoke getting in his eyes.
Settled in the snow, being able to see all the way out, Till begins a visual scan of the area. Flake is supporting him, holding him close - and it is when Till lets out a quiet gasp that indicates that he's finally found what he's been looking for that he suddenly grasps him tight, tears trickling down his cheeks. The man has spent over a week of remaining stoic and calm, never letting himself grieve properly for Till's loss - he's the last one to break down, his tears soon becoming loud, uncontrolled sobs for he has held his sorrow in for the longest and it's all coming out in a rush. Till's gift to Flake, the final one that he can offer - as recursive as it seems - is the freedom to grieve, the assurance that it's now okay to cry.
"Do you see?" Flake sobs out, finally letting his mask crack as he looks down at all they've achieved. "we've done it. We did the bastard. Do you see what you're looking for? Are you happy now, Till?"
Yes... Yes, I do see...
One tall white cross, standing out in one of the smaller peaks outstretched right in front of them, freeze-dried garlands laid on it by still-admirers or relatives having come past recently. It's a pity he never got to lay a flower on it himself, never even got to stand in front of that cross and look at it and say that one simple sentence - I forgive you and I'm sorry - but at least he's here, on top of the world with the best view of the monument in front of him, feeling as clean and pure as the snow. Finally, for the first time in what must be around two and a half decades, he is face to face with his father. And it was a struggle, all the way, but looking at it now he wonders why he never thought to do it before when it's made him so utterly peaceful. Herr Werner Lindemann, resting in peace amidst beauty since 1993 - and his son, coming to see him at last.
He thinks of Nele and whether she will ever make such a pilgrimage to him, but he'd like to be where things are less cruel and still just as beautiful. She must live on in a world without such danger. He will never see her face again, never get to say a goodbye beyond the 'I'll be gone for a while, take care' that he texted her just before the trip, will never see the regret and sorrow that she'll show at his funeral. He will never get to kiss her forehead one last time and tell her that he's proud of her and that he will always love her, beyond life and death. But she's amongst good people, his five friends will protect her now with their lives, and he's happy that she'll one day be okay. Perhaps he'd like to rest somewhere like the quiet sea, drifting, travelling yet present everywhere so he can watch over her. The others are watching him too, overcome by the view and the expression of complete peace and calm settling within Till's green eyes, and that change alone is so great that they've put their sadness on hold for a minute or two. They're beautiful people, they all are, for helping and accepting him all this time despite his flaws, and for one fragile eternal moment Till loves them, all of them, more intensely than he ever loved anyone save for his daughter before.
"It's beautiful," Olli says, gazing around him in awe. "it truly is..." Till gives him a small nod.
He doesn't tell them that he feels a pull, deep inside, towards a place so far away where they can't follow.
But they notice anyway. "Hey, guys," Schneider murmurs ever so quietly, his words nevertheless carried through the oddly cold and serene atmosphere and breaking their silent spell. "I think... Till... he's..."
Within seconds they're surrounding Till, peering into his face, quietly observing what the drummer's commented on. They knew this was coming for days on end now, but despite all the sorrow they went through and all the bits of mental preparation that they've made, all those things are threatening to break apart at the image of the man beginning to really fade away. Flake and Schneider shift over a little so that the others can hold Till as well, giving him their collected warmth, reassuring him that they will be there until the final moment and that he is not alone.
There are things that not even a master of words can express with words alone. So he looks at each of them in turn, meeting their eyes briefly, before giving them a small smile and getting back five in return. Till knows that they will understand.
He can't see the view anymore, his vision dimming rapidly, but he can still feel through his numbed fingers; there's a sense of calm washing over him, cleansing him of pain and sorrow, as he feels for the dried flowers - now reduced to potpourri - in his pockets. For what is life, really, except a mere fleeting moment, a sweet scent of a flower that is soon blown away and dissolved in the wind? Till's a part of it, has always been and will be - content with this, he inhales and slowly exhales his final breath in a soft white mist, eyes fluttering halfway shut. He's going where sunlight dances with flecks of glistening dust in the kitchen air, the warm depths of a quiet memory from his childhood. He'll be a part of it, part of the soft humming noise of the oven, a part of the sweet tart lusciousness of Obstkuchen and the brown-grained roughness of the wooden furniture, melding into a once-past sense of happiness and peace.
With the last of his consciousness he feels Richard slowly, hesitatingly cradling him in his arms; he strokes Till's forehead and gently kisses his eyelids shut, the warmth of his lips melting the frozen unshed tears clinging to the other's eyelashes. Richard bites his lower lip to hold back his own tears as he tastes Till's, settling for sharing his warmth until the very last moment.
"Go in peace, Till," he whispers. The older man can't reply anymore, nor smile, but his closed eyelids flicker a little and that way, he has given his everything.
"... Edelweiss is the saddest scent of all, I think."