Arthur jolts out of sleep, like hitting the ground in a dream of falling. He squints in the bruise-purple early morning light, unsure of what woke him. Maybe a car engine backfiring?
A wiry arm wraps around him from behind. “Think the heater just died,” Curt murmurs, sleep thick in his voice.
“The bang. It’s what woke you.”
“Oh.” Arthur scrubs at his eyes with the back of his hand. “Did it wake you too?”
“Nah, I’ve been up for a while. Jet lag.” Curt’s splayed fingers tap out a slow beat against Arthur’s ribs. The black nailpolish has chipped on each finger except his thumb, which was bare to begin with. Arthur had meant to ask him about it, whether there was some symbolism there. He’d probably just run out of polish.
Unfamiliar shapes rise up around him, their outlines slowing resolving as his eyes adjust: a coffee table with mismatching legs, an empty wine bottle balancing on a stack of 45s. An old-fashioned cabinet radio, the back panel screwed off and its wiring half-taken apart, spilling out onto the faded rococo rug like entrails from a gut wound. In one corner, an overstuffed and unfashionable settee, the set mate of the one they’re currently lying on. And up against the big picture windows, a spindly Christmas tree, its thin branches sagging beneath the weight of police tape garlands, wooden ornaments hand-carved in the shape of penises, a twelve-pointed star cut out of aluminum beer cans.
The heater clangs again. Arthur starts.
“Fucking Berlin,” Curt swears, laughing against his ear. They’re staying with friends of Curt’s in a shambling flat near the Landwehrkanal. Little clues hint at its well-heeled past: the height of the ceilings; the four fireplaces, now bricked-up; the delicate blue-and-white tilework in the bathroom and the hulking claw-foot tub. By the time Gabi and Hans-Peter moved in five years ago, it had lain abandoned for years. Last night, Hans-Peter had shown them marks from where ivy had grown in through the jagged holes in the broken windows, faint smudges of green that ran across the living-room walls like veins just beneath the skin.
The rough weave of the blanket drags against Arthur’s ankles as Curt shifts a bit closer, bringing their bodies flush with one another. “It’s always fucking something. The last time I was here, they were rewiring everything themselves, using an old school textbook. Half of the time, you’d turn on the lights and the lightbulbs would explode.” Curt’s hard, in an aimless morning sort of way. His dick nudges against the back of Arthur’s thighs, lazy and familiar.
“Sounds a bit melodramatic.”
“Yeah,” Curt says, “well, it’s a melodramatic kind of place. Living under constant threat of nuclear annihilation’ll do that to you.”
“Mm,” Arthur hums. He straightens out his legs, stretching out the stiffness that’s settled in his knees overnight. Curt’s dick slides over the swell of his ass, nestles into the dip of his lower back. “Gather ye rosebuds.”
“Something like that.” Curt’s breath is hot against the thin skin behind his ear, prickling the fine hairs there. His fingers curl, knuckles casing Arthur’s sternum through the thin fabric of his shirt, dragging lower. He rocks his hips, slow and shallow and inexorable as the tide. “Khrushchev used to say, ‘Berlin is the testicles of the west. When I want to make them scream, I just squeeze.”
Arthur snorts. “Is that supposed to be a come-on?”
“Why?” Curt noses his jaw. “Is it working?”
Arthur turns to face him, navigating the narrow space in a tangle of limbs. The blanket slips, and Curt hisses at the cold, until Arthur tugs it right again.
“Thank you for coming here with me,” he says.
Curt’s brows twitch, his mouth twisting the way it always does when he’s faced with kindness too early in the morning. “Yeah, well. What was I gonna do? Your German is fucking terrible.”
“Where would I be without you.” It’s dry enough to be sarcasm, though they both know better.
“Nowhere good,” Curt promises. Arthur remembers the first time he saw Curt in light like this, on the cusp of morning.
“What time is it?” he asks.
“Early.” Curt says. “Does it matter?”
Arthur’s got a whole itinerary in his briefcase, neatly scheduled out into half-hour blocks and printed in triplicate.... but Curt smiles at him, the same way he’d smiled at him that first time, and no, it really doesn’t matter.
“Happy Christmas,” Arthur says instead, and kisses him.
Curt’s mouth tastes harsh, morning breath and last night's pilsner and the ashy remnants of a cigarette Arthur half-remembers him slipping away in the middle of the night to smoke, but Arthur leans into it, keeps kissing until there’s only Curt on his tongue.
In truth, Curt was the reason Arthur had accepted the assignment in the first place. They’d run hundreds of stories about the fall of the Iron Curtain in the last six months, but Arthur himself had only written a handful. His editors kept him clear of anything that might offend the powerful and connected, these days. Christmas in the newly reunited city, though, was apparently enough of a fluff piece to safely offer to Arthur, especially since it meant everyone else could spend Christmas at home with their families.
“You could stop over in England on your way back,” Tina had said, with something approaching empathy. “Spend New Year’s with your folks.”
“Maybe,” Arthur echoed.
“Think about it.”
“I will,” Arthur promised, smiling politely and meaning it not one bit.
Curt was watching the news again when he came home that night, folded up in on himself on one end of the sofa like an origami crane. Onscreen, the camera cut from Peter Jenning’s face to more footage of soldiers and punks and old ladies bearing sledgehammers at the Wall, a line of sardine-can Trabants inching through the now-opened checkpoints. Curt leaned forwards, gnawing at the cuticle on the side of his right thumb, the same sharp and yearning look that had been in his eyes for the last five weeks.
“Hey,” Arthur had meant to say, “I picked up Chinese for dinner,” but instead what had come out was, “Do you still have a passport?”
Now, here, Curt is making soft sounds against his mouth, like he can’t help it.
“Later,” he murmurs, “I’m gonna make you breakfast.” Their lips overlap, mouths sloppy.
“Later?” Arthur sighs into his kiss.
“Yeah.” He pulls back, sinks down the couch to draw level with Arthur’s hips. The blankets go with him, draping over his shoulders like a dark cape; the old springs of the couch groan against the shift. “Later.”
Arthur laughs shakily. "Curt. We can’t -- ”
“Don’t be so fucking English,” Curt says. He pulls down the waistband of Arthur’s pajama trousers. The cold air hits Arthur’s bare skin like a slap, but Curt curls his hand around Arthur’s cock, quick enough that the warmth of his skin as much as the feel of his grip punches all the air out of Arthur’s chest.
Curt looks up at him. The light catches his eyes, pulls out the green until they’re almost the same iridescent shade as that strange, beautiful pin. “Just,” he says, voice rough. “Let me, Arthur. Please.”
Let me thank you for this, he means.
Actions come more easily to Curt than words, and by now Arthur’s gotten pretty good at translating them. He wonders, sometimes, if it’s because of Brian, all the quotes they left scattered throughout the press during their courtship like flower petals, beautiful and eventually destined to rot and die. He wonders if that’s why Curt shies away from talking about most things -- why he’d sneak the pin into Arthur’s beer five years ago instead of giving it to him directly; why he’d leave without saying anything but then show up at the subway platform, three days later, and ask to scrounge a cigarette off him.... and, when Arthur didn’t have any, only then ask if he wanted to get a drink.
And it’s too early for Arthur to be able to resist that, to do anything but reach down and touch Curt’s hair, fingers slipping through the strands.
Curt turns his head, catches the tips of Arthur’s fingers on his lips. He nuzzles Arthur's hip, rests his face against the skin and just breathes for a second, sending electric pinpricks of sensation down to Arthur’s toes. His mouth drags lazy patterns there, pulsing little kisses with the flat of his tongue.
“Curt,” Arthur whispers. He’s already leaking, precome trickling down onto Curt’s fingers. He leans over to lap it up, tongue just grazing the skin of Arthur's shaft between his fingers. When he gets his mouth around the crown, Arthur thrusts up -- and the couch creaks its displeasure again, louder.
Curt pulls off. “Careful,” he says, spit-glossy lips curled up into a smile. He plants his other forearm across Arthur's hips, holds him steady.
Arthur takes a shaking breath. He registers Curt's arm pushing him down and spreads his legs wider for him, eases down into the cushions by increments. His eyes are open and it's not that he can't see, but for a second, it's like his brain isn't concerned with seeing at all. Then Curt sucks up, his tongue curving around Arthur's dick, and a ragged sound comes out of Arthur's mouth, echoes on the high ceiling.
“Jesus,” Arthur manages, nearly swallowing his tongue. Curt takes the length of him in his mouth and Arthur reaches back, grips the arm of the couch to keep himself steady. It’s so early, nothing feels real; Arthur feels like he’s half asleep, like this is all a dream that will dissolve when he opens his eyes.
There's tight twist between his hips, a warning that shouldn't happen for at least ten minutes, at least five minutes. “Curt, I can’t -- ”
Curt’s hand on Arthur’s body flattens out, gentling the trembling muscles of Arthur’s pale thigh. He looks up, and Arthur knows he must look shell-shocked, desperate.
Curt swallows Athur down into the back of his throat -- and winks.
Arthur comes. His legs move like he wants to curl up and his head hits the back of his couch with a thump. He jerks hard into Curt’s mouth, then again, a few more times, weaker and erratic as his muscles slowly unwind. The orgasm crests for longer than usual and his body feels helpless, riding it higher and higher, carried aloft into the stratosphere and the shivering cold stars, the earth blue and small below.
When he comes back down again, Curt is still sitting on his haunches. He’s stroking his own cock, watching Arthur with a hungry, tender look in his eyes.
“Curt,” he murmurs. It comes out dry, cracked. “Do you want -- ”
Curt’s hips jerk. “Nah,” he manages. “This, this is good.”
Arthur nods. Licks his lips, keeping his eyes on Curt’s face. He wants to cover himself, feels embarrassment at being splayed out exposed on this couch, in a foreign place where one of Curt’s punk friends could come in at any time. His fingers itch. But he stays still for Curt, lets him have this -- after all, Curt’s always been a sucker for aesthetics.
Curt strokes himself a few more times, and comes with a gasp, spilling over his own fist. Scattered drops land on Arthur’s bare skin, marking him; his cock gives a restive little twitch at the thought.
Curt sinks back down, into the narrow space between Arthur and the back of the sofa. His body thrums, still shuddering through the last shivers of orgasm. Arthur wraps himself around him, pulls the blanket over them again. Kisses the top of his ear, the corner of his eye.
“I’m glad we did this,” he says, meaning this, meaning Berlin, meaning these last five improbable years (and the ten that preceded them).
Curt gives an indistinct noise, curls closer. He's already halfway back to sleep, for all his talk of jet lag. Arthur listens as the slow sighing draws of breath mingle with the older, indefinite creaks and murmurs of the old building settling in on itself.
Arthur knows they ought to get up soon. The article he was sent here to write lies scattered in half-written fragments across the pages of his notebook. Like a children's toy to be assembled on Christmas morning, pieces have gone missing (the interview with the West German tourist official that Arthur canceled to hear Curt play a last-minute gig in front of a crowd of snarling feral German punks who looked at him like God) or been replaced (currywurst on the street corner instead of fine dining on starched white tablecloths) or haven't yet been taken out of the box (the Christmas concert today at the Schauspielhaus, Leonard Bernstein and the "Ode to Joy" broadcast around the world). Arthur pets Curt's hair, and lets his mind drift, working out the jointures and sockets where they'll all fit together.
And later, they’ll cross the Wall together, just the two of them. They'll walk past the abandoned sentry posts and across the long barren patch of the dead zone, feet scuffing the disturbed earth. They’ll hold hands, just for the thrill of knowing that no one’s watching, and step into a world that’s somehow, against all the odds, changed. And maybe Curt will kiss him there, balanced on the edge of the cliff at the end of history, his hands tangled in the lapels of Arthur’s jacket, the green pin glinting in the weak winter sun like it's winking, like it knows something they don't.