“At least give him a chance, Ed,” Alfons says.
Ed kicks viciously at a small mound of snow with the audacity to get in his way. “Crap until proven competent. You know the drill.”
Sometimes, Alfons wishes for little things, stupid little things—wishes that Ed could be optimistic, every now and again; that he could open his eyes to the small and beautiful possibilities that the world doles out each day to make up for the shadows hounding at their heels.
“He might be nice,” Alfons says.
“Nice and competent aren’t the same thing,” Ed says.
“No,” Alfons says, “but it makes a difference.”
“He’s from France.”
“He’s a specialist, and he’s come a very long way.”
“He better be pretty goddamn special, I’ll tell you that.”
Alfons sighs, and smiles, and watches how the fragile sunbeams breaking through the clouds strike sparks in Ed’s swinging hair. Little things.
Ed makes a strong attempt at damaging the doorknocker, and eventually the pounding summons a nurse, who ushers them into the narrow hall.
“He’s just finished with his last appointment,” she says. “Fine timing! You boys must be a very lucky pair.”
Ed looks like a stormcloud incarnate. Alfons beams at the nurse before she notices the hostility.
The building’s old and a bit drafty, and the paper’s peeling off the walls. Alfons bites the inside of his cheek and allows himself to wonder, just briefly, how good a doctor the Frenchman can be if he can’t afford a nicer office.
But that’s not fair. No one can afford a nicer anything right now, with things as they are.
The nurse leads them down to the end of the hall and gestures for them to head into the room that opens on their right. Alfons draws a deep breath, and Ed squares his shoulders, and they step in.
Well, Alfons steps in—Ed stops short.
“No,” he says. “No goddamn motherfucking way.”
The man attempting to read a notepad by the light of the tiny window looks up, startled. He raises a slender finger and pushes his glasses further up the bridge of his nose. His eyebrows draw together.
“I’m sorry,” he says with a trace of an accent, although his German is extremely good. “Is something wrong?”
“Oh,” Ed says, “only everything. Alfons, I will tell you firsthand right now that this guy is a hack.”
The doctor frowns. He’s really quite attractive. He’s so attractive, in fact, that Alfons feels a flush climbing his heretofore-frozen cheeks at the very thought that Ed is making a considerable scene in front of an individual of such aesthetic value. Alfons prefers to be very pleasant to good-looking people; it tends to make them inclined to stay, and then you can look at them more often. If Alfons is being painstakingly honest, that’s part of the reason he puts up with Ed.
“Do I know you?” the doctor asks.
“Not really,” Ed says. “Let’s just say your reputation precedes you.”
The very attractive doctor assesses Ed with a sharp eye for another moment, and then he turns to Alfons and… oh. Oh, that smile. That smile, and the black hair sweeping over those great dark eyes, and the deft shift of his long fingers as he poises his pen.
“Alfons Heiderich?” he asks, and something inside of Alfons deliquesces abruptly at the way that this man’s mouth forms his name. “Shall we set aside your friend’s misgivings and begin?”
“You’re not setting me anywhere, Doc,” Ed says. “I’m staying right here and keeping an eye on your wily ass.” He sets his own ass, which is rather less wily and rather more wiry, down on a stool by the door, glaring with remarkable finesse.
To his credit, the doctor mostly just looks amused. He turns to Alfons, and—that smile should be illegal in every country in Europe.
“May I call you Alfons?” he asks, extending one of those wonderful long-fingered hands. “René Moreau, and please do call me René. I hope that I can help you.”
“I hope so, too,” Alfons says, and if he sounds slightly breathless, it’s just his lungs.
“I hate you both,” Ed says.