Paul felt the sickening crunch as he landed hard on his forearm and had the time to think that he was fucked. They had done the Bück Dich routine so many times that everything was in his muscle memory. Frau Schneider would kick him down the stairs, he’d fall dramatically and land with a little roll in order not to hurt himself too much. But tonight he’d missed that roll and fell sprawling on his side, left arm trapped in an awful angle under him.
The pain caught up a second later, and he couldn’t breathe or even scream. The world whited out for a moment. It came back with the flashing lights and noise and Schneider’s wordless commands. Somehow he managed to follow them and crawled to his place one-armed. The pain was an insistent drill which refused to stop.
The show rolled on and he was powerless to call it to a halt. The thought didn’t even occur to him. All his thinking capacity was taken over by breathing, which was now a conscious exercise, and the thought of how the hell he was going to play.
Somehow he did it. The pain turned into an incessant throb. His fingers felt numb, but he forced them to move. On a trip backstage between songs he asked for painkillers and had the sense to blame a migraine. Otherwise someone would have made him stop, made them stop, and that wasn’t a possibility. The show wouldn’t be ruined because of him. He took maybe too many of the pills, changed guitars one-handed and walked back to the stage accompanied by stabs of pain.
He botched a couple of notes, came in a little late in some songs, but he did it. There was no horsing around with Richard, none of the showy playing he liked. He was thankful for the stone-faced stage persona he’d developed; anything else would have been impossible.
The others must have noticed something was off. Richard mouthed a question at him as he didn’t respond to his antics, but Paul only shook his head and went on playing. He’d do this forever if he had to. The initial numbness in his fingers had been replaced by sharp needles, and his head spun. It was awfully hot, way hotter than usual.
He managed the bows, waved at the audience with his good arm, and then stumbled backstage and crashed on a couch, squeezing his eyes firmly shut.
“Paul? You okay? Come on, what’s wrong?”
He opened his eyes and saw Richard’s worried face, his eyes darting to the arm Paul was cradling. Of course Richard would have been the first to notice something was wrong.
“I… I think I broke my arm,” Paul managed to say, and then it was like all air had been let out of him and he was nothing, only a slight impression on the couch, a stain of sweat. Why did it still hurt?
The noise around him picked up in volume. Trust Richard to amp up the dramatics. From then on everything was a blur. He remembered snapshots of the ride to the ER, choking on pain as the bone was set, someone’s large hand on his shoulder – he knew without looking that it was Till. Patched up and full of painkillers, he felt the urgent need to make sure everyone was okay and counted for.
“Everyone’s all right,” Richard told him on the ride back to the hotel. He sounded – worried, angry? It was sometimes hard to make out which. Paul realized that he was slumped against Richard, probably drooling on his shirt. He hoped it was nothing designer. But no, after a concert it was comfortable worn cotton with some silly ass logo which screamed America.
“I’m here, Till is here –” Paul felt a brief reassuring touch on his knee – “and everyone else is back at the hotel. Which is where we are going.”
“Good. Great. Can you get me a coffee? I feel awfully tired.”
“I don’t think that’s the best idea. You’re high enough as it is.”
“Yeah,” Paul agreed. “But it’s no fun.”
A sigh, someone ruffling his hair.
When they got to the hotel, everyone was still awake – way more awake than Paul. The hotel was a smallish place, and they had the whole upper floor to themselves, including a large common room. Paul was deposited on the couch, which was so comfortable he felt like it was swallowing him. He asked for coffee again, and everyone proceeded to tell him how dumb he was, which probably meant they loved him.
“You played half the set with a broken arm,” Till said with something like admiration in his voice. Richard elbowed the singer so hard some of the beer he was drinking sloshed on his pants.
“This isn’t a meeting of masochists united,” Richard snapped. “Paul, what the hell were you thinking?”
“I wasn’t thinking,” he said in a small voice. “I just didn’t know how to stop, so I kept playing. Can I have some of that beer?”
“No,” Till and Richard said in unison.
“You don’t need me to tell you how stupid that stunt was,” Flake said from the other end of the room. He’d already changed into boxers and a t-shirt. “I’m going to bed.”
Paul was starting to feel a little bad, on top of the muffled pain and the meds messing about in his head. He’d tried his best, hadn’t he?
“You did good,” Olli said quietly. He was sitting by the window, seemingly detached, but little escaped his notice. “I couldn’t have done it.”
“Sure you could,” Paul said, which elicited several demands of no one else trying out shit like that.
Suddenly Paul became aware of an absence which would have been immediately apparent to him had he got all his faculties about him.
The drummer was nowhere in sight. But on the table in front of Paul was a cup of take-out coffee.
“Sulking in his room,” Richard said.
“But it wasn’t his fault!”
“Frau Schneider did kick you down the stairs,” Till pointed out calmly.
“Yes, like he was supposed to do!”
“We know that. He knows that. But does it help him right now? Probably not.”
Paul sighed and took a sip of the coffee. It was mostly milk and sickeningly sweet. The barista had misspelled Christoph’s name on the side of the paper cup.
Paul had been rooming with Schneider for most of the tour. They couldn’t blame it on necessity of circumstance any more, not that they needed to. But it looked like a cup of coffee was the most he was going to get out of Christoph tonight. He felt oddly bereft. The thought of going to his own room where he’d only dumped his stuff when they arrived wasn’t inviting. He yawned despite the fake coffee.
“Wanna stay with me tonight?” Richard asked, as though he had a direct line to Paul’s thoughts.
“I don’t have a concussion or anything,” Paul said. “You don’t need to keep watch over me.”
“That’s not why I was asking.”
“Trying to get into my pants?” Paul tried for a winning smile, but it turned into another yawn.
Richard scoffed. “You wish. Not tonight, darling.”
Paul had wished pretty often, and Richard was good at granting wishes. He didn’t often stay at Richard’s room, though; the man was a night-owl and prone to bouts of insomnia, which made him a difficult sleeping partner.
“Okay,” Paul said. Everything was starting to sound funny to him, the way syllables fit together and rolled out of his mouth. “I choose you. I choose boredom.”
“I choose to ignore that. Come the fuck to sleep. I’ll get your stuff.”
Stuff meant more painkillers, his toothbrush and a change of clothes. Paul noted belatedly that he was still wearing the pants of his stage outfit. At some point he must have cleaned himself up a little, or someone had done it for him, but he was still nowhere near something Richard would ordinarily have let into his bed. Paul splashed some water on his face and then contemplated the pants. They would have to go. He struggled with the belts one-handed before giving up.
“Richard? A little help here?”
“I’m not going to hold your dick while you piss.”
Still, Paul heard approaching footsteps.
“You can if you want to,” he said, leaning against the sink in defeat.
“I just said – never mind.” Richard entered the bathroom.
Paul spread his arms in a helpless gesture – ouch, he really shouldn’t have moved the left one.
“Help me out of these pants?” He was a little disappointed at how that sounded, tired and exasperated, when in other circumstances it could have led to something good.
Richard was quick to get on with the program, and Paul closed his eyes and let himself drift as Richard’s agile fingers opened belts and buttons and peeled the pants down his legs.
“Damn, these are tight,” Richard said, but he didn’t sound at all disapproving.
“Mm. Should I complain to the costume crew?”
“Hell no. Okay, lift your feet. And you’re free! Can you manage the rest?”
Richard had brought him boxers, which was good, since his own were soaked with sweat and all kinds of fluids from the show, and a shirt, which was also good, because he wasn’t wearing one. The air conditioning was starting to make him shiver. Richard had had the sense to pick up a sleeveless shirt which opened at the front and a hoodie with a zipper – things he could get on with relative ease.
He left the shirt and hoodie open and stumbled out of the bathroom, suddenly feeling more tired than he’d ever been in his life. Richard was already sitting on the bed, having peeled back the covers, and was smoking against regulations. A rebellion, however tiny. Richard could always be trusted in some things.
“Thanks,” Paul said. “I know you prefer sleeping alone.”
Richard smiled a little. “Do you think I would have slept anyway? Come on, get in.”
Paul slipped between the covers and flopped on the bed like a dead fish. The movement jarred his arm, and he winced. He was suddenly very happy not to be alone.
“Can’t sleep on my back,” he complained, but his eyes were already falling shut.
He felt the warm weight of Richard’s arm on his waist. Paul opened his eyes a crack and saw Richard laying on his stomach, one arm pillowed under his head. He had unfairly long eyelashes even without makeup. Paul started to count them one by one, and then he was dozing off, finally dead to the world.
Paul woke up to raised voices in the other room. He blinked groggily, trying to separate dream from reality. In his dream, an army of goblins had been prodding at his arm with pitchforks and made an awful ruckus. Well, the noises were real, that was sure.
Paul drank the glass of water which had been left on the nightstand along with the prescribed meds while trying to make out what was happening. Last night felt surreal, and also like a terrible idea. He had the cast to prove for it. Besides, he felt like death warmed over. For a moment he contemplated burrowing back into bed.
“Of course we did!” Richard’s voice rang out.
There was something Paul couldn’t quite make out.
“Yes, I did! I took care of it, I’m not an idiot.”
Something else –
“He’s alive and in one piece, sleeping in my room, and you’d know this, Christoph, if you hadn’t run off last night!”
Oh no. Paul swung his legs over the edge of the bed. A lovers’ quarrel first thing in the morning. His favorite thing.
“I couldn’t see anything from behind the drums, I was too far away, but you should have noticed something was wrong!” That was Schneider.
Richard barked out a laugh which didn’t sound at all nice.
“You were the one who kicked him down the stairs, and you’re taking this out on me? How is any of this my fault? It was a fucking accident, for heaven’s sake!”
Paul opened the door wide and braced himself against the doorframe.
“Guys? Could you stop this? You’re waking the dead.”
Both of them quieted immediately upon seeing his bleary-eyed form.
“Good, thank you, please come take this sack of guilt off my back,” Richard said, waving his arms, and added, a little sheepishly, “Are you feeling all right?”
“Peachy,” Paul said, looking at Schneider who definitely wasn’t. He looked like he hadn’t slept at all last night. “Richard, can you please get us coffee?”
“Sure,” Richard said, picking up on the hint, and not pointing out that they could’ve called the room service. “I was about to head out anyway.”
He left, his boots stomping loudly down the stairs.
Paul walked over to Schneider and wrapped him in a one-armed hug.
“Are you okay, Chris?”
Schneider let out a little desperate laugh.
“Shouldn’t I be the one asking that?”
Paul felt tension practically radiating off him. Christoph didn’t often lose his temper like this, he was more likely to calm things down than escalate them.
“Clearly you are not fine and I am, so I’m asking.” Paul sank down on the couch, pulling Schneider with him.
“I… I’m so sorry about last night. I shouldn’t have left you like that.”
“Well, that was a bit cold, but it wasn’t like I was aware of much that was going on anyway. And Till and Richard were watching over me like a pair of mother hens.”
“I should have been there, though.”
Christoph still sounded miserable. Paul sighed. He was really a bit too tired for this.
“It’s okay. I’m sorry to have worried you. Did you get any sleep?”
“You’re sorry!” Christoph snapped finally. “When I’m the one who – who made you fall, got careless – and didn’t even realize you were hurt!”
“Come on, you can’t blame yourself like that.”
“Of course I can! I hurt you, and I kept pushing you around...”
Paul didn’t remember much of the performance. He was quite sure it hadn’t been anything out of the ordinary. He’d been so focused on getting his part done that he’d paid little heed to anything else.
Paul laid his hand on Christoph’s cheek and was insistent when the drummer was reluctant to meet his eyes.
“Come on. If it was anyone’s fault, it was mine. I botched that landing.”
Christoph looked so tired now that he wasn’t fueled by anger any more. Much like Paul himself, he supposed.
“You can’t seriously say that.”
Paul shrugged. “So I’m not serious. I don’t kick myself over it. And neither should you.”
Christoph made a choking noise in his throat, and then he was kissing Paul, gently and mindful of his cast, like he was made of glass. Paul bit at his bottom lip just to remind him that he was pretty durable, thank you very much. That got a laugh out of Schneider. It tickled Paul’s lips and made him smile. For a while they were quiet, breathing each other’s air.
“I’m still mad at you,” Schneider said after a moment. His hand was on Paul’s thigh, though, their sides pressed together, so he couldn’t be very mad at him.
“Me? Try to decide who you’re mad at, you’re giving me a headache.”
“You, for playing a show with a fucking fractured arm! We’re not twenty and stupid any longer.”
“Not twenty, anyway.”
“Exactly. You could’ve done yourself serious harm. What if you hadn’t been able to play any more, what then?”
The idea had occurred to Paul, but he’d pushed it down. A possibility in another universe, thankfully written off.
“I know. I won’t do it again? This isn’t really fun, you know.”
“Well, I’m so happy you’re not going to make a habit of it. What’d the doctor say, anyway?”
Paul rummaged his memory. Last night was still a blur.
“That I was lucky. Just one clean fracture. With the couple of weeks we were going to take off in any case, I should be right as rain.” That might have been slightly optimistic, but Paul thought a bit of optimism wasn’t going to hurt right now.
Christoph let out a sigh of relief and let his head fall on Paul’s shoulder.
“Thank god. I couldn’t have forgiven myself otherwise – or you, for that matter!”
“It’ll make a good story, right? Wasn’t I a little bit heroic?”
“You were out of your bloody mind,” said Richard, who had arrived with the requested coffee and also bagels for breakfast. “Has the yelling stopped?”
“Sorry,” Schneider mumbled. “Shouldn’t have taken it out on you.”
“Damn straight. After I looked after sleeping beauty here all night!”
“Okay, we’re sorry all around, can we stop now and eat breakfast?” said Paul, whose stomach was suddenly remembering that he hadn’t eaten anything since last night. That would explain the woozy feeling he was experiencing.
Richard settled on the other side of him and dealt out the catch of his breakfast hunt. Paul downed half his coffee in one go and then proceeded to kiss him, too, because Richard looked down and frayed, dark half-moons under his eyes and stubble on his skin. Being caught by a guilt-ridden Schneider first thing in the morning probably hadn’t helped.
Though their taste in coffee didn’t match, everything else did; Richard’s soft lips, Paul’s eager mouth, the way Richard focused on kissing like nothing else mattered in the world. Schneider ran a hand down Paul’s neck and kissed him there, pressing warm against his back, and that was very nice, the morning was definitely improving –
“Is it safe to come out yet?” Till had opened his door and was peering out, clad in a towel. Three pairs of eyes darted to him. “Ah. Good. It is.”
“There’s breakfast,” Richard said, and Till came over to rummage the contents of the take-out bag. “I think Flake and Olli already beat it.”
“Can’t imagine why,” Till said wryly.
Schneider looked a bit embarrassed, but as Paul nudged at him and complained, he continued kissing the back of his neck. Richard found his mouth again, with more purpose.
“Should we take this to the bedroom? A bedroom. Any of them,” Schneider asked before laying a playful bite on Paul’s shoulder where the hoodie had slipped off.
“I don’t mind,” Till said mildly, leaning back in his armchair.
Neither did they.