They put the church gate back in its place together, bumping into each other as they carry it and lift it onto its hinges, still debating the ethics of their actions even though the peeler has already caught them and the consideration is therefore purely academic. Marx feels his head begin to throb as the alcohol threatens to begin to wear off.
Forcing himself to pull his sightline away from Engels, who smiling brightly and holding the gate up with his healthy, strong arms, Marx follows the pattern of the wrought iron of the gate, each twisting bar… if he had managed to abscond successfully and pawn it with Mr Fleece… now, the iron only represents so many lost potential meals for the children.
To most Englishmen, stealing from the (wealthy, powerful, mendacious) Church of England was the worst sort of taking of property, but Marx didn’t quite see eye to eye with most Englishmen.
Engels had made to stalk off after their wandering, unsober argument/pep talk over the plight of the poor and Marx’s relative lack of economic brutalisation. However, once Marx had stopped his second attempt (chidingly noticed by Engels) to liberate the gate from its hinges, he persuades Engels to return with the prospect of more drink. Marx promises to buy the next round, but they both know the offer’s performative.
If this is truly the time his wife won’t come back to him, at least Marx can comfort himself with the reasonable assumption (he feels it somewhere deep and certain within him) that Engels always will.
“Shall we call it a night?” Engels asks in his usual friendly manner after their pint, his hand resting on Marx’s shoulder. They had not quite made it through all eighteen pubs on Tottenham Court Road. “Dragging that gate back rather tired me out.”
“Come home with me,” Marx says, because it’s so easy to say; it runs off his tongue like a rhetorical flourish. “Nym won’t mind.”
“She might, considering the state we’re in,” Engels says, eyebrows raised, but he’s still smiling, and his voice is softer than usual. “Don’t give Nym any shit. Are you angry at Jenny for leaving?”
“She’ll come back,” Marx says, mumbling the reply towards their empty, grimy glasses. “Besides, she took an entirely sensible course of action. Being both richer and more left wing than me gives Willich a distinct advantage. She believes in the cause. She doesn’t even want to go back to wearing French silks. She just wants to own some furniture. And a pony. Women like ponies, I think. And now I’ve drunkenly agreed to flight Willich to the fucking death. That’ll really annoy her.”
“It’s annoying me too,” says Engels. “And Nym, probably.”
“Are you sure you don’t mean ‘worrying’?” Marx asks slyly.
“I can’t speak for Nym,” Engels says shortly, and Marx grins, taking the victory where he can at the knowledge that they all care about him – his best friend, his maid, and his wife, sometimes, maybe. Thinking about that helps push the fear down.
“I tried to stop her from leaving, back at Dean Street,” Engels says. Marx wonders whether Engels is drunkenly running together his words like he is, or whether his own affected perception is putting that in. He likes to think he’s quite a self-aware drunk.
“Come home with me,” Marx says, which he hopes Engels will take to mean thank you.
“I suppose there’s a chance my lodging house might be locked up by this time,” Engels says heavily, and Marx laughs, drags him out of his chair, claps him on his back and pulls him out the door.
The cold sobers him, slightly. It has only just stopped raining, and the cobblestones shine from the water and the light of the gas lamps. Marx collects his thoughts, Engels chattering and bumping along aside him. He wonders how Nym would feel about Engels being brought back home, under the circumstances for which Engels would be there, and he thinks about the thinness of the dividing wall between the flat’s two rooms. Making up his mind, he takes Engels by the arm and yanks him into one of Soho’s narrowest, most deserted alleyways, where they are alone and, at this hour, likely to remain so.
“Not too loud,” Marx tells Engels as they stumble in together. Engels has inconveniently chosen this moment to break into giddy, uncontrollable laughter.
Engels flops against the grimy brick wall. He looks flushed from drink and the cold and happiness.
“Please let me see your cock. Properly.” Marx’s speech is not as slurred as it was earlier in the night, although he still feels the daring that comes with inebriation. “Please, just once. For an old friend.”
“Keep your voice down! Why you have this sudden fascination I have no idea–”
“It’s not a sudden fascination,” Marx says, self-righteously but also swallowing down the words, such are his nerves. He’s not quite sure where they came from.
“Well, I’m not going to just whip it out,” Engels says. “You’ll have to charm it from me.”
Marx steps closer, his hands either side of Engels’s torso, his body pressing Engels against the wall. He’s very close to Engels’s face.
“I might die tomorrow,” Marx says.
“That’s not very charming,” Engels replies. He’s quiet, because of where they’re standing and because their faces are so close.
Marx swallows. He is not often out of words.
In the absence of any other technique he can see available to him, he surges forward and kisses Engels deeply. Marx expects some appreciable technique from such a serial seducer, and indeed when Engels responds his kiss is sweet and involving, the sweep of his tongue making Marx’s stomach flip over.
“Oh.” Engels says softly against his lips, and it sparks a feeling of tight heat somewhere in Marx’s chest.
They kiss again, Engels held between Marx and the wall of the alleyway, and Marx realises with a hot shock that their cocks are hard and pressed against each other, through their layers of clothes.
Marx gasps against Engels’s lips, emboldened, and reaches down to undo the high waistband of Engels’s trousers, then unbuttons the front of his drawers.
“God,” Marx murmurs. “It really is massive.”
“My ego will grow even larger than it if you keep saying such things,” Engels replies, the flush in his cheeks rising further. All the same, he doesn’t particularly look like he wants Marx to shut up, nor that he wants Marx to stop touching him.
“I am pleased,” Marx says, tightening the grip of his hand in a way that makes Engels shudder in pleasure. “To have finally managed to seize the means of production.”
Engels splutters in surprised, gratifying laughter, which makes Marx laugh too, and they collapse against each other, laughing and laughing at the brilliant joke.
“You are extremely lucky to have produced no issue,” Marx at last says, quite seriously.
“That I know of,” Engels says. “Now if you could just return your hand…”
“How many French women have you ‘taken tea’ with, now?”
“None so pretty as you,” Engels leers, making Marx laugh again, until Engels puts his arms around Marx and returns to kissing him.
Engels squirms, pressing his hard cock firmly against Marx’s thigh, but he doesn’t change their positions. Instead, he unbuttons both layers of Marx’s flies and grasps Marx firmly and assuredly. Marx is so goddamned close, he realises, that it’s going to take an embarrassingly short time for him to finish.
Marx groans, looking at Engels looking at him, and feels lightning run through him like the key and the kite.
“What do you think of mine?” Marx says uncertainly, gesturing downwards with his eyes, trying to make a joke, feeling more undone than he expected to.
“It’s about as long as your book, I suppose,” Engels says offhandedly, continuing the movement of his hand, pretending to look stern. “Not very.”
“Fuck you,” Marx says, teeth biting into his bottom lip as his toes curl in his boots and he comes with a swallowed-down moan. He’s dimly aware of his seed hitting the wall.
“Well,” Marx breathes once he has calmed down sufficiently, Engels still (Marx notices with delight) tenting his underwear. With the priorities and confidence of the slightly inebriated, Marx folds to his knees and hits the cobbles of the dirty alleyway. “If you are, potentially, giving nearing half your income to me…”
“You wish you could charm that much from me,” Engels says, looking down at Marx with a delighted smile.
“You get half of me. It is the capitalist way.”
“The bottom half,” Marx says, his insides leaping at how Engels’s breath hitches.
“No! Then I wouldn't get to hear your treatise!”
“Well, if you take the top half, I can still do this,” Marx says, flashing a grin as he dips downwards to take Engels entirely in his mouth.
“Oh, sweet Jesus,” groans Engels, arching back dirtily, one hand hitting the bricks with his palm.
“My dear Engels,” Marx says, after a few minutes’ interlude – his pulling away of his mouth makes Engels grunt out in frustration. “I’ve thought on it further. Actually, my initial statement was incorrect. The capitalist way is all of me for a third of the price.”
“Marx, you are aware I was extremely close to finishing – if, just for a few moments, you could ignore what I fund you for and go back to what you were doing–”
Marx resumes his attentions, but this time with his hand, enjoying the way Engels’s eyes delicately close but never stay closed for long, and how Engels bites down hard on the inside of his cheek to try and quieten himself.
“Am I better at this than your Parisian friends?” Marx asks.
“Less professional,” Engels replies between keening breaths. “But more well-meaning.”
“Well,” Marx says. “Just so you know, whether for full price or none, you have all of me.”
“Oh!” says Engels, and finishes all over Marx’s hand and upturned face.
With his clean hand, Marx retrieves his handkerchief.
For a few minutes, Engels stays quiet, slumped against the wall, a gently contented smile across his face. Once he has adequately rested, he pushes himself up to an upright standing position, and places his hand on Marx’s shoulder.
“My dearest Marx,” Engels tells him. “This is never a repayment. What you can offer the world is your repayment... What you can offer me personally is a very welcome sideshow.”
Engels offers his hand, which Marx grasps and uses to pull himself up from the ground, swaying a little.
“Marx and Engels!” Marx calls out, one fist raised in the air, before abruptly slumping over Engels, leaning into the crook of his neck, which smells musky and familiar.
“Engels and Marx,” Engels replies, his tone kind, a hand in Marx’s long hair. “Go and get some sleep.”