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It's raining tonight, the lights of Paris gleaming dappled and shining on the wet pavement. Franz climbs the stairs to the tower, shaking the water from his umbrella. He doesn't want to be here, but he wants to go home even less.

Franz hangs the scarf outside the window, but he holds little hope that Albert will come. He sits at the desk and watches the candles burn lower, sipping wine out of the bottle and feeling like a tortured artist might, sitting alone in his studio. If he had any talent at all he'd be able to put his feelings into an epic poem, or lay out some of the dark knot roiling inside him onto a canvass, but he's never really been good at that sort of thing.

The wine makes his face warm, the inside of his head fuzzy, thoughts blending into one another. The candles gleam in a halo of brilliance as it gets darker and darker inside the tower. He wonders how much longer he'll allow himself to wait.

Franz takes another sip of wine and listens to the rain.

There's a creak of hinges and a rush of cold evening air. Someone taps their way up the steps, slowly, and the top of Albert's head appears between the slats of the railing.

"Hey there, Franz," he greets, expression wavering, as if it can't decide whether to break into a smile or not. He's in evening wear, a suit that Franz knows is blue, but has gone black from the rain. His hair is slicked and wet, drops shaking loose to trail down his neck.

"You're soaked," Franz says. "Why didn't you catch a taxi?"

Albert shrugs. "I felt like walking."

Franz would offer him a towel if he had one, but there's nothing in here but the candles, the wine, and the lost relics of their childhood lining the shelves, so he just sits there and watches him drip onto the floor.

Albert walks over, and as he does, Franz notices his stride isn't quite right. It's not even a limp, really, more like the suggestion of pain in his frame. It would hardly have been noticeable, if Franz hadn't spent most of his life noticing everything about Albert.

"Are you alright?"

Albert frowns. "I'm fine. I've just had dinner with the Count."

Franz snorts. "Of course. Since that's what you do every night that the sun sets."

Albert's eyes narrow. "Oh yeah? Well, where were you?"

Franz takes a sloppy swig of wine, feeling less like an artist now and more like a drunk. "I was having dinner with Eugenie. You remember her, the girl you're supposed to be marrying?"

Franz expects Albert to lash out, to fight back. Instead his chin droops, lips curving upward into the vague mockery of a smile.

"Do you remember when we all used to be friends?" He sits down across the table from Franz. "All those rides in the countryside, the trips to the beach? When we talked to each other?"

Franz stares for a few moments. Frustration is coiling through him, like water circling a giant drain.

"We're still friends," he says, and pushes the bottle across the table. He feels almost silly. His father had done this, before his death--sat in the lounge with some friend or another, filling their glasses with brandy and lighting their cigarettes, listening to them vent their lovelorn away.

If this is what growing up feels like, Franz thinks dully, I want to stay a child forever.

Albert is staring at the tabletop, fingers fidgeting with label on the wine bottle, something neat and flowing in Italian, declaring it to be much too fine and expensive to be consumed by two despondent teenage boys.

Franz thinks back to years ago, when it had been a rare thing to see a look so serious on his best friend's face. It had been Albert's smile, above all else, that had pulled him out of the dark spiral of misery he'd descended into when his father died.

That day is grey in his memory--a grey sky, the grey faces of the men who'd bourn his father's coffin. His mother's grey eyes heavy with unshed tears. In fact, the only thing that wasn't grey was Albert's face and his smile, mischievous and kind as he'd flicked pebbles at him from behind the chapel.

After that Franz had fallen hard and fast, though he wouldn't know what it was he was feeling until years later.

The love that dare not speak its name. Franz can't help a wry grin. Right.

Albert frowns at him. "What's so funny?"

Franz shakes his head. "Nothing," he says, and he means it. "Absolutely nothing."

They sit in silence for awhile, watching the candles burn lower, listening to the sound the rain makes on the pavement outside.

They speak at the same time.

"Franz, I--."

"Albert--."

Franz smiles, just for an instant. "Go ahead."

Albert puts his fidgeting hands in his lap. Then he runs them through his hair. It looks like he's searching for the best way to say something. Franz wonders when they got to the point that they had to censor what they confided to one another.

"I know you don't like hearing about the Count--." Albert begins.

"That's an understatement."

"Shut up, let me talk." Albert looks reproachful. "I know you don't like hearing about the Count at all, but he said something to me that I think you should hear."

What, get on your knees and open your mouth? Franz almost says it out loud.

Instead he sighs. "I'm listening."

Albert's hair is still damp, one solitary drop sliding down his nose. Franz wants to lick it away.

"The Count said that if there's something you really, really want, you should just take it. Before it's too late."

"Is that so?" It sounds like something the Count would say--something that seems profound and impressive, but in practice would be dangerous and silly. "And what do you really, really want, Albert?"

"I'm...I'm not sure." He shakes his head. "I'm not sure of anything anymore. I just know that you always sort of look like you want something and..I..." He trails off uncertainly, like he's not so sure of what he means.

Franz isn't sure either, and it makes him nervous.

"Albert, what are you saying?"

Albert shrugs. "I don't know," he repeats, but his eyes say something different. They're narrowed and dark. Like a dare. It makes Franz angry, makes him feel like he's being played with.

The old Albert, the one he'd grown up with, would never do something like that, but he's had a wonderful mentor of late, for that sort of thing. Franz wants to reach over the table and smack him across the face.

Instead, he stands up in a burst of frenzied movement, feeling earnest and drunk, staggering around the table. He reaches Albert and trips over his feet, nearly landing in his lap.

Albert mumbles something that might have been a curse , grabbing at Franz's coat. For a moment Franz fears he's going to shove him off, pretend he didn't just provoke this. But Albert doesn't let go, doesn't push him away, and when Franz kisses him he parts his lips, making a tiny noise in his throat

Albert smells like oranges, like the groves near his family's house in the countryside, touched by the summer sun. Franz isn't sure if it's his cologne, or soap, or simply his skin. He can't remember being this close to him since they were children, back when propriety meant nothing.

Franz knots his fingers in Albert's hair, damp and silky and fragrant. His mouth is wet and warm.

"Is this what you meant?" Franz demands fiercely when they break apart. "Is this what you wanted me to do?"

Albert opens his mouth, licks his lips. Franz kisses him again, doesn't give him a chance to speak.

One of them has knocked over the wine, and the slow drip, drip mingles with the sound of the rain.

Albert's tongue pushes its way between Franz's lips. He moans, like he knows what he's doing, like he does this often. Franz tightens his hands on his shoulders reflexively, possessively.

He wonders, as he sinks to his knees, if this is what the Count had been planning all along when he'd given Albert that advice. It would be just like him--proving to Franz that the only reason he is getting what he wants is because the Count is allowing it. Offering it up to him as a gift, like a prize racing horse or a shiny watch.

He unbuttons Albert's trousers clumsily, with one hand. He's thought about doing this more times than he cares to admit, but he's never actually done it before. Never done anything like this before.

Albert's half-hard already, and his breath comes out in a little gasp as Franz strokes him.

"Franz..." His voice is shaky, and Franz loves that he's the one causing it.

He laps at the head of Albert's cock, feeling eager and strange, all keyed up, aching in his trousers. Albert's scent descends on him as his friend's fingers snarl in his hair, pushing him down. He hardens in his mouth, cock thickening.

Franz looks up as best he can. Albert's eyes are fluttering like they want to close, hips twitching like he's trying to stop himself from thrusting up further into Franz's mouth

Franz pulls back for a moment, licking a long line up the shaft. He focuses on the spots just under the head, the parts that make him tremble and gasp whenever he touches himself, lying in his bed alone and thinking of moments like this. He takes him deeper into his mouth, as deep as he can without choking, sucking and licking, savoring the taste and the softness of his skin. "Franz...Franz..." Albert makes a desperate sort of noise, moving his hips, a thick drop of fluid sliding out and onto Franz's tongue. The taste is thick and salty, and he licks it up.

"Franz, that's..." Albert's pulling at his hair now, but Franz doesn't care. Outside, the rain is coming down harder than ever, the candles on the table descending into pools of wax, one by one, drowning themselves into nothing until they are snuffed out with a soft hiss.

There's another sound, distant, beyond the noise of the rain, beyond the soft sounds of Albert's breath. The creak of a door, the click of heels. The rustle of an umbrella closing as Eugenie steps into the light of the wavering candles.

Her eyebrows crease in a frown, before she stops dead at the top of the stairs. She blinks, her mouth opening wide in shock, before setting into a thin line. Franz sits back on his heels, but he doesn't get up. Of all the evenings for Eugenie to follow him.

He shouldn't blame her--she wants to understand, just like he does, to know where her best friend has been for the last few months, where his head has gone.

Albert is breathless by now, disheveled, cock flushed and wet at the tip. He's facing away from Eugenie--he hasn't seen her. "Franz," he gasps, "Franz, don't stop."

Franz looks at Eugenie. She looks back, face expressionless. He should stop now, he thinks, try to salvage some part of the situation. That would be very like him. Trying to fix things, to keep things the way they are.

A deep, shadowy strangeness takes him by surprise, the desire to do something completely for himself, to leave everything else in the dust. It's a dangerous feeling, foreign and thrilling.

He wonders if this is the way the Count makes Albert feel, like he has no one to answer to, not even himself.

He swoops back down on Albert, taking him deep into his mouth, sucking, moving his tongue. Albert thrusts up desperately, thighs shaking as he comes, thick and bitter. Franz swallows, and looks up just in time to see the tail end of Eugenie's coat disappearing down the steps. He looks up at Albert, at the glazed look in his eyes, his heaving chest, the way his gaze has gone distant, and doesn't think they've ever been further apart.

All feelings of power and spite leave him in a rush. Franz leaps to his feet, flying down the steps just in time to see the the door slam shut.

"Franz, what are you--." Albert splutters blearily, like he hasn't fully regained all of his brain function.

"Just a moment, Albert," Franz calls. "I'll be back."

He skids down the stairs, nearly tripping over the last one, banging out through the door and onto the street. Eugenie is standing at the curb, head bowed against the rain. Her umbrella is dangling from her hand, dripping water onto the pavement.

"Eugenie, I didn't--." He isn't sure what he's trying to say. He doesn't want to say he's sorry, he knows that, but he feels like he should say something.

"Do whatever you want," Eugenie cuts him off, in that voice that's made to sound careless but gives away more than anger ever could. "It's not like he belongs to me or anything."

Franz realizes, standing there in the rain, that Eugenie has lost Albert to the Count of Monte Cristo just as much as he has. Maybe more, since she's the one he's supposed to marry one day.

The rain slicks her hair dark, plasters it to her neck. Her shoulders shake, and though she makes no noise, he can tell she is crying. He wonders if Albert is watching them.

"Eugenie..."

Eugenie shakes her head quickly, a sharp, side to side motion. "No, it's fine. You win. Whatever."

He watches her walk to the corner, raise her hand to hail a cab, and thinks that she's got it wrong. It's the Count who's won. He's won, and all three of them have lost.

He should go back into the tower. Find Albert, demand some sort of answers, some acknowledgment. Find out what that limp is from.

Instead he steps down from the curb, striding off into the rain, every inch of him going cold.