As soon as he gets off the stage, Till takes a long swig of his beer and lets out a sigh of relief.
The adrenaline rush is ebbing. He knows a backlash is coming, another surge that will keep him up all night, but for now, he’s in the eye of the storm. He hides in the bathroom and lights a cigarette, hoping no one will find him before he feels ready to move all their gear back in the van.
Music has always been good fun for him; an excuse to drink, wreak havoc, and spend time with his friends. This was the first time he’s felt so nervous before getting on stage. Hiding in the back behind his drum kit—who pays attention to the drummer anyway?—is usually enough to put him at ease, but this was more nerve-wracking than what he’s used to.
Paul had secured First Arsch a gig in Berlin and agreed to fill in for Scholle. Jörg and Stefan had been super excited by the prospect and yes, it was exciting, but when they stepped in the venue (a big word for a shabby youth center), Till started to second guess everything.
It was easy to play in front of people he vaguely knew and who never had much else to do anyway, but here, in Berlin, everybody has seen everything already. There is always a lot going on, and at the end of the day, he and the guys, they’re just peasants. His little tricks wouldn’t impress anyone; besides, where would you find a live chicken here anyway? He’d just hoped they would play late enough that everybody would be hammered by then.
Now, in the brief moment of clarity that always follows the end of a show, he realizes that the dread he felt before going on stage had very little to do with the audience of a few dozen drunk Berliners: he was just very afraid of disappointing Paul.
The idea of sharing the stage with him was thrilling but also terrifying. Despite the constant debacles of Feeling B’s gigs, his standards are ridiculously high. And of course, Till had seen him put a lot of different drummers through hell already—yes, this was his band and Paul didn’t have a say in anything there, but still.
Seeing how Paul was grinning on stage a few minutes ago though, Till figures he did just fine.
A couple of songs in, Paul turned to him, smiling like a madman. “Harder!” he yelled, and Till hit as hard as he could, chuckling with delight. At that instant, he felt perfectly comfortable in the whirlwind of noise he was creating with his friends, anything existing outside of the stage merely a faint memory. He was totally flustered, too, the sparkle in Paul’s eyes and the tension in his body triggering a string of untimely memories.
After the night they’d spent together, Till had gone straight to an ex-girlfriend of his. They had sex, like they always did, except that this time, it felt especially familiar and comfortable and good; something like a return to normalcy after a particularly strange chain of events. But then, he hasn’t thought about it once ever since, while memories of the sex he had with Paul keep popping back behind his eyes whenever he lets his guard down.
Deeper into the show, Paul did it again: the same hysterical grin, the same growl. Till couldn’t help but grin back, and this time, he threw one of his drumsticks at him. Paul ducked it easily and his smile looked like a thousand suns.
Till sighs and exhales pale curls of smoke. Something flutters deep inside him; he starts to feel jittery again. Grinning to himself, he stubs out his cigarette, and goes back to the hall. He deserves a party, doesn’t he?
“Where are we staying again?”
“Aljoscha’s. Loud guy with the leather pants back there,” says Till while winding up a bunch of cables.
“Not Till, though,” chirps Paul. Till looks up and sees that Flake just joined them. His grin is wide, a perfect match to Paul’s.
Stefan raises an eyebrow. “Oh yeah? And how come?”
“He’s staying with us. Broken water boiler. We need help.”
“Isn’t it your job, Paul?”
“There’s something in the way, I’m not strong enough to move it around,” he says evasively, and turns to Till. “You don’t mind, do you?”
Till chuckles and shakes his head. It’s the first time he’s spending the night there since… Well, since he spent one in Paul’s bed. The last time he was over, they were up all night and he drove away in the morning.
“See?” Paul’s grin at Stefan is cocky. When he plants his eyes on Till’s, they’re glittering with mischief.
Enthusiasm turns to restlessness turns to frustration. The succession is familiar, which doesn’t mean that Till is very good at dealing with it. Carrying the gear off the stage was fine, getting a few pats on the shoulder too. But then...
The beers keep coming in a steady flow. There is an overwhelming amount of unfamiliar faces. This is usually when he starts to desperately want to fuck—not even out of lust, just to get a grip, to take his mind off his unease.
There aren’t that many women and they all look like someone else’s girlfriends (not that he minds, but it never made things easier). He’s not too optimistic about the outcome of the night. How come he has more options in his boring little town than in a huge city like this?
Drumming never helped anyone get laid. Being a guitarist is another thing, though, seeing the flock of girls following Paul everywhere. Or a singer, of course, but if any conclusion could be drawn from his recent experiences, that wasn’t going to happen to him ever.
A couple of weeks before, he did record backing vocals for Paul’s stupid Russian song. It was an ordeal, a harrowing afternoon of embarrassment. Okay, it just took two takes, a bunch of shots of vodka, and about ten minutes, everybody had been very nice and supportive about it, but still, it took him hours to overcome the crippling feeling of shame.
Once done, he sneaked out to sit on the stairs to the studio to take a breath of fresh air and clear his admittedly foggy mind. Flake joined him.
“Jesus, I wasn’t drunk enough for that,” Till complained.
“You’re drunk alright, and it’s only 4 in the afternoon.”
“Nah, that’s the worst spot: when you’re drunk enough to do stupid stuff but not enough to completely block out the shame.”
“You have nothing to be ashamed of, you did great. Everybody loved it.”
Till smiled: it was sweet of Flake to try and make him feel better about it. They shared a cigarette in silence, and after a while, he muttered, “How is it possible that he makes me do all these stupid things?”
Before Flake could answer anything, Aljoscha popped out of nowhere and sat next to them. “That’s what we’re all wondering,” he grinned.
At that, Till felt his heart drop in his chest and instantly blushed. He was following his own train of thoughts, wondering for the millionth time how Paul managed to get him in bed, and it sounded very much like Aljoscha was reading his mind. Could he actually know about that?
“What do you think I’m thinking when I’ve been singing the same few lines for an hour straight and still see him rolling his eyes behind the glass?” Aljoscha went on, before embarking in an eerily spot-on impersonation of Paul. “Come on, it started well but you ended completely off the track, do it again!”
Till chuckled, relieved, and opened another beer, which was obviously necessary.
“And don’t even get Knolli started,” added Flake, but before he could go on, he was cut by Paul, whose face peeked out of the door, sporting a devilish grin.
“Recess is over, Flake! A keyboarder is desperately needed in here!”
Flake gave them his best horrified look and disappeared back in. They heard them both giggle like the maniacs they were.
That left just Aljoscha. Till liked him—you have to admire a guy who has the guts to get on stage to scream nonsense until he collapses. He’s wild and free and does exactly what he wants with his life. Truth to be told, Till was actually sort of intimidated. Aljoscha is so assertive and all over the place that he never really dared to approach him. He often made him feel like a boy, not a man, and that is a feeling he particularly dreads.
“Really, you did great,” Aljoscha started. “The reason why he gets you to do that is that he likes you.”
Till wished he didn’t blush, but then he probably did.
“It’s okay, I—I’m sort of glad he’s doing that, anyway. I think I just need a good kick in the ass every once in a while.”
Aljoscha grinned and clinked his beer to Till’s.
“You and me both!”
Till watched him roll a joint and frisk himself to find a lighter. Feeling chivalrous, Till sparked his own and offered the flame. Aljoscha nodded a thank you, took a long drag, and looked at him pensively.
“How’s life, Till?”
Till let out a noncommittal sigh. “Alright. Boring. I don’t know,” he shrugged. “I don’t mean—I’m glad to be here.”
Aljoscha passed him the joint. “What about this little friend of yours? The brat with the ridiculous hair?”
“Of course not! This guy from Schwerin.”
“What about him? He... He just left a couple of months ago. He crossed over to the West.”
“Oh no he didn’t,” exclaimed Aljoscha, sounding somewhat indignant. “Is he alright?”
“I don’t know. I guess,” answered Till, who didn’t necessarily want to think about the fact that he had no news at all.
“Why? Why on earth would he do that?” mused Aljoscha. “If the punk youth leaves, we’re fucked. Sounds like we’re not the only ones who need a good kick in the ass.”
“Oh, he had his share of kicks in the ass,” said Till with a small, pained chuckle. “Can’t blame him. The world is wide behind the Wall.”
“Well, the world isn’t waiting for him. Whatever he’s fleeing, he’ll find it back on the other side. Things are not so different out there.”
“That’s easy for you to say, you can go there whenever you want. You’re not stuck,” snapped Till, not sure if it was still about Scholle or about his own frustrations. He took a last puff and gave the joint back to Aljoscha.
“It’s because I do that I can tell you that you’re not stuck either. What would you do there that you can’t do here?”
Till thought about it for a second. “See different things, different people. Explore. Stuff like that,” he said evasively.
“There’s plenty to explore in Berlin,” answered Aljoscha with a small, ambiguous smile. “Depends on what you’re after.”
“Oh, anything, really. Action? Freedom?”
“We have those here as well, Till.”
“Well, at least there would be… More, I guess?”
“More what? More stuff to buy? You probably wouldn’t have the money for it anyway. Consuming more isn’t freedom. That’s what the West wants you to think and that’s bullshit.”
“Thank you Karl Marx, I’ve been to school here, I’ve heard that before,” muttered Till, feeling somewhat grim, all of a sudden.
Aljoscha gave him one of those disappointed, vaguely indignant looks Till saw a lot in his life, especially in the eyes of his teachers—or, well, his parents. But Aljoscha was pushing it so far it was sort of funny, almost affectionate.
“Not Marx, Till. Bakunin!” Till shook his head and chortled. “Seriously, though. Don’t waste your time looking for solutions in the wrong places. It’s only in the absence of freedom that true freedom can emerge.”
Usually, Till just ignored what he saw as Aljoscha’s hippie nonsense. This time, maybe because he was drunk enough, he figured that maybe, maybe it could make sense if he were able to set his default cynicism aside for a minute.
“You’re drunk, Losch,” he chuckled anyway.
“It sort of ruins your point.”
“It doesn’t. If the West was keeping its promises, I probably wouldn’t need to drink that much,” he laughed, although that was hardly a laughing matter at all.
“Point taken,” Till admitted.
“You’re lucky, in a way. Look at Paul and Flake, they understand that perfectly. Don’t they look free to you?”
Through the glass of the door, Till looked at them talking animatedly, radiating determination and happiness. He remembered them the morning before, taking care of a splinter he had stuck in his finger while working, Flake handling the tweezers with a steadiness and a dexterity Till didn’t know he was capable of, Paul carefully holding his swollen thumb and gently pressing the splinter out, both bowed over his hand as if it was the most precious thing in the world. He remembered Paul’s confidence in the studio a couple of minutes before; he remembered how blithely he curled against Till’s naked body before falling asleep that night. Paul and Flake were probably too busy living to yearn for anything else.
“They do. I wonder what I’m doing wrong,” Till said eventually.
“I’m surprised you feel that way, you’re a lot like them.”
Till shrugged. “I’m just reckless. There’s no big picture to it.”
“It doesn’t need one. Trust your guts! As far as I’m concerned, chaos is the system itself,” grinned Aljoscha. “For Flake, I think it’s his way to deal with his fears. As for Paul… Who knows what’s going on in that pretty little head of his.”
Till smiled. Yeah, who knew—not him, that was for sure, although he really wished he did. He still wasn’t sure why they had sex and what it meant and what Paul thought about it. It was making him way more insecure than he was ready to admit. For a second, he even considered telling Aljoscha everything.
Instead, he lit a cigarette and asked, emboldened by alcohol, “Does fucking men make you free?”
Aljoscha chortled, surprised.
“Not necessarily, but it can.” When Till said nothing, he elaborated. “Fucking whoever you feel like and not just who society wants you to does.” And then, after another pause, “Questioning yourself?”
“Nah, it’s just, uh. Very abstract,” answered Till with an evasive sweep of the hand.
For a few seconds, Aljoscha just stared at him.
“Men would love you, Till.” Till scoffed. “You’re mysterious. You have a great body. You’re sex-obsessed,” he stated dispassionately, as if he was just listing undeniable truths of life.
“I’m not sex-obsessed,” muttered Till automatically, and then it really sunk in. He forced himself to meet Aljoscha’s eyes. “Is it really what you think of me?” he said with a little smile that was definitely not flirty—no, not flirty at all.
“I thought it was all very abstract,” retorted Aljoscha, his grin thin and knowing. He took a good look at Till, not lewd or anything, just attentive, maybe curious, then held his gaze, his eyes bright blue and unflinching. “What do you think you’re doing, exactly?”
Something in Till snapped.
“I—I don’t know,” he backed off, painfully aware of the sudden blush covering his cheeks and probably his neck. Still, he managed not to avert his eyes.
They just looked at each other for a while, until Aljoscha said softly, “If you feel like having a chat or meeting people, you know you can always stop by. Paul and Flake are smitten with you and I trust them on that, so.”
“This isn’t-” started Till, and then he figured he’d better shut up instead of making things worse.
Aljoscha was about to add something when Flake burst out giggling.
“Guys, you should see this! Paul is basically teaching the engineer his own job. The guy is probably two seconds away from strangling him!”
But defying Flake’s prediction, Paul stepped out right after him and plopped down on the stairs, looking perfectly unfazed. “What were you talking about?”
“About the fact that you’re a pain in the ass and a dictator,” grinned Flake.
“You guys love it. Just wait until I get there, you’ll miss Honecker, believe me.”
“Oh no, I can foresee the worst,” said Flake with a bright smile. “Uniforms! Gulags!”
“Uh-huh. You finish the eggs and ‘forget’ to buy some more so your dear flatmate doesn’t starve when he comes back from work? Straight to Siberia!”
“Come on Paul, I apologized!”
“Right. And now we have about forty eggs in the fridge—if you guys want some, by the way...”
“See? I deserve better,” went on Flake. “Something like a ministry, for instance.”
“Alright, alright. You’ll be the minister of culture, but you’d better behave.” For the first time, Paul acknowledged the presence of Till and Aljoscha. “You, Aljoscha, you’ll be the minister of… Let me think… Education,” he finished, looking pretty pleased with himself. They all laughed.
“Will you have a spot for me?” Till finally dared to ask, meeting the bright gray eyes. Paul answered immediately with the most ferocious grin.
“Of course I will. You’ll be the head of my harem.”
Now, Till is alone again. He managed to share a couple of drinks with Flake before he was beset by a group of very loud people he obviously knew, and Till figures it’s probably as much as he can get. His few attempts to chat up girls can’t seem to get anywhere. So he gives up and just leans against the wall in a quiet corner to watch the crowd for a while. He feels light-headed. The smell of booze and sweat, the dim lights, the relentless pounding of the music are familiar and comforting.
He looks at a bunch of very young kids pogoing around the sound system, boys and girls with insane hair and home-made outfits. Jörg and Stefan each have a lady in their arms—those fuckers, how did they do that? Two guys look like they’re comparing something, their shirts, maybe tattoos. In a dark corner across the room, he sees a couple entwined. It’s too far to really have a good look, but he can watch the girl grab the jacket of the guy and how he presses her against the wall—nice. He wonders what kind of noise she’s making. Sighs? Whimpers? When his eyes finally fall on Paul, his heart skips a beat. He realizes that’s what he’d wanted to see all along.
Paul is just talking with a couple of guys; he has a bright smile, gestures wildly—he’s drunk, Till translates—and is the center of the attention, of course. He pats one of his friends on the shoulder a lot. Is he being flirty or just touchy-feely? Till never knows.
Nothing has been awkward since they fucked, except for Till himself. Paul has been as friendly as ever, which mostly means he’s teasing him all the time, but it’s fine. He smiles at him, he never misses an occasion to invade his personal space and touch his arms or his back. Sometimes, they exchange knowing looks. It could be Paul just being Paul. It could be something else.
More often than not—now, for instance—, Till entertained the idea of Paul dragging him in a dark corner to make out. That would be nice, really. Sure, maybe he should be the one dragging Paul in a dark corner to make out, but for some reason, he can’t bring himself to. It’s not that he’s scared, no. But… It’s just not that easy.
To be fair, Paul sort of did that once already, so maybe he’s just waiting for this to happen again.
One of those party nights at his place, Till sneaked out to catch the first lights of the sunrise. He sat in the garden, alone, as he often does. Inside the house, the party was dying down. Paul came to join him and, despite the cold—Paul doesn’t like to be cold at all, found Till—, sat at his side in silence. They watched the pink and yellow swirls unfold at the horizon for a while, their breath pale puffs in the crisp air.
Paul had dark circles around his eyes; he looked tired and drunk, just like Till felt. He simply pulled Till in and kissed him, intent and languid.
They kissed for what felt like a long time. Without saying a word, Paul moved to straddle him. He pressed their bodies together, touching and grinding and nibbling at his neck until they both came in their pants, stunned and out of breath. Then he stood up, patted Till’s shoulder with a little smile, and went back in.
The first sun rays were starting to peek through the fresh leaves of the trees. Till curled up on the grass and dozed off. When he woke up a few minutes later, the sun was warm on his face and his whole body sore and freezing, and he wasn’t sure he didn’t dream the whole thing, but the nasty, cold wetness in his pants was definitely real.
Till sighs. He needs to get the fuck out.
As he wiggles his way out of the venue, he passes Paul, now alone, carrying a ridiculous quantity of beer bottles.
“Want one?” he asks with a small smile.
“Sure, bring it on.”
Paul takes a good look at him and stops in his tracks. “Why so broody, Lindemann? We rocked!”
“As far as I’m concerned, these people look like they’re enjoying themselves. I’d even go as far as saying that you were enjoying yourself on stage as well.”
“I’m not saying I didn’t. It’s just… It’s packed. I need some fresh air.”
“Sure,” shrugs Paul. “Can you light me a cigarette? My hands are a bit busy.” Till does, and doesn’t flinch when he sticks it between Paul’s lips. It does feel more ambiguous than it should. Ugh. “What about the blonde you were talking to a couple of minutes ago?” he goes on after his first drag. “Didn’t work out as you wanted it to?”
“God, no. The only girl who actually seemed to enjoy my presence for longer than a minute! Her boyfriend showed up and gave me a dirty look; I figured that wasn’t going to work.”
“Ouch,” says Paul, but he’s actually grinning.
“That’s not funny.”
“It’s not! She doesn’t know what she’s missing, that’s all,” he says wiggling his eyebrows suggestively, and grins even wider.
“Are you flirting with me?”
Till is pretty sure he is, but he doesn’t know how to handle that smoothly.
Paul rolls his eyes. “Am I?”
“Come on, Paul. Half of the girls here are basically throwing themselves at you.”
Till is feeling even more uncomfortable than a few minutes ago. “Well, that, uh. That doesn’t leave much for the rest of us.”
“Oh, of course. That’s what’s ailing you.” Paul’s gray eyes meet his. “Are you jealous?”
He sounds like he’s being playful but Till isn’t sure he is. Paul does that all the time and it never fails to make him flustered.
“I could introduce you to a couple of them if it would brighten your mood,” he offers, clutching his beers, hips slightly tilted. “Although I don’t know why you’d want that. They have nothing on me.”
This time, his gaze is unambiguous and to Till’s horror, he feels himself blush. He hopes it’s too dark for Paul to notice.
“You’re flirting with me,” he states flatly, and cringes at how clumsy he’s being.
Paul huffs out a chuckle. “Not more than usual,” he says, his grin now wolfish, and adds, “That means yes,” because apparently Till looks that stupid.
“Let’s hook up,” Till blurts out.
Paul does an impatient, ‘finally, we’re getting somewhere’ tilt of the head, and Till thinks he’s being unfair—and a pain in the ass. “Sure, let’s,” he casually says, and the nagging frustration Till has been feeling since the end of the gig is instantly replaced by a crushing wave of lust.
“Come with me?”
Paul waves the bottles he’s still holding. “Just give me a minute, I need to get rid of these.”
“I’ll be outside,” nods Till.
He watches Paul walk away. It’s like his slight figure now embodies all the excitement of the evening, like there is a direct connection between the relentless whirlwind of the stage and his smooth skin, his lean muscles.
He leaves when he sees him chatting with a bunch of girls he gave the bottles to. He feels ruthless and smug, almost trembling with anticipation.
When he exits the building, the cold bites his cheeks. He smiles to himself, lights a cigarette, and waits.
Paul shivers when he steps out. It’s probably the cold, it might be excitement. He finds Till smoking, leaning against the wall, one of his knees drawn up, a broad silhouette under the bland light of a street lamp.
Unaware of his presence, Till looks lost in his thoughts, unguarded. The way he blows the smoke of his cigarette is typically him, and yet Paul is overcome by a strange feeling of déjà-vu.
A couple of years ago, he was in Till’s spot, leaning exactly the same way against a wall next to a lamppost, alone, smoking outside a venue that looked a lot like this one. A lanky guy he’d seen inside had come to him—a weird guy, really, a couple of years older than him, with rain boots, strappy leather pants, and an impossible haircut. A guy from the West.
“You must be Paul from Feeling B,” he said. Paul nodded, and the guy went on. “I figured. They say you’re a twink who looks like a hustler; you do match the description.” Paul guffawed—in retrospect, he should have been offended, but it was so outrageous that it was hard to really be mad.
“Looking for a good time?” he just answered, and the guy laughed too.
“What wouldn’t you guys from the East do for a few West marks, huh?”
He had a ferocious smile. Paul flipped him off, but the guy just sat cross-legged in front of him, on the cold, nasty pavement, and they shared cigarettes and chatted for a while. Through a mysterious chain of events, they ended up making out and trading blowjobs on a battered couch, in the shabby room of a squat.
“These places are everywhere the same, aren’t they?” said the guy when they were done. He was sprawled on the grubby floor, hands behind his head, pointy elbows dangerously sticking out. “We could be anywhere.” It really made an impression on Paul back then.
That was the first time he had sex with a man. He told Aljoscha the following day; he expected a pat on the back, but against all odds, he scolded him because the guy was supposedly a junkie or something.
From this day on, things were different—it was like he was seeing things as they really were for the first time. He realized that the overwhelming feeling he’d had for this guy Pankow he met at Aljoscha’s a couple of times wasn’t just admiration, and that there was a vast, fascinating world at the crossroads of lust, friendship, and love.
Funny that he’s reminded of that now. The situation is completely different and he feels like he doesn’t have much to do with his nineteen-year-old self anymore. But maybe it isn’t the case, after all.
Till notices him and gives him a little smile. For a second, Paul is speechless, not sure how to behave. The coldness of the empty street is sobering.
“I was starting to think you wouldn’t come,” says Till lightly.
He looks tall and dark in the beam of light falling from the lamp. He also looks approachable and younger than he usually does. Paul’s stomach flutters.
“You know I wouldn’t pass that up.”
Till shakes his head and puts out his smoke. He turns to face him and for a couple of heartbeats, they just stare at each other. Nobody breathes. The anticipation and pent up edginess are dizzying. Intensity builds up ridiculously fast and the crisp air of Berlin turns heavy, electric.
Till lowers his eyes first and breaks the tension with a low chuckle. It’s coy and charming and makes Paul swoon.
“So?” he asks, impatient.
“What’s your plan, Lindemann?”
“I have no plan.”
“You sounded more inspired inside,” he teases.
“I’m... Let’s get something to drink.”
“Want me to go back inside and get some?”
Paul huffs out a chuckle. “Then what? I’m broke.”
“Me too. Not a problem.”
Paul bounces on the ball of his feet and blows on his hands to warm them up. God, this is taking forever. He’s been waiting for Till to do something for days—weeks. He likes to be in charge, that’s not the problem; he just wants to see what it’d be like.
A couple of days before, as he was looking for a sketch he made for the set-up of the gig, he found what he wrote in his diary back when Till stayed over. He used to write in it a lot, but since he lives with Flake, he hardly does it anymore. As close as they are, there are still some things he’d rather keep to himself, though. Doubts, weaknesses. And then that:
I KNEW IT.
T left a couple of hours ago after spending the night in my bed. We did it. Very easy, went according to plan. I was right about everything.
Fairly dedicated lover. Rough at the edges but means well. Impressive body. The weight of him! Never felt pinned down like that before, never thought I’d be into that. Clever mouth, pretty, somewhat unspectacular cock—felt very, very good
(he fucked me—of course he did).
Amazing, but never again.
He’s been flabbergasted to read that—again, it felt very far, like it’d been written by a different person. How could he sound so cold and detached about a guy who still made his heart pound faster by just stepping into a room? And “never again”—really? This thought actually did cross his mind?
Truth be told, he was still feeling a bit funny about the fucking. He must have been very horny and very drunk to let that happen. It’s not like it’s something he does a lot and it could have gone wrong in many ways. But it didn’t, although he’s been somewhat in pain the following day, which actually may explain things.
It’s a familiar pattern: Paul wants something, he wants it so much he can’t think of anything else, and when he finally gets it, he feels a bit let down. He doesn’t know what he’d been hoping for—actually, Till had been exactly what he expected him to be, hot and skilled and in control, certainly not straight. But now, Paul thinks there must be something else. There’s more to him, he just doesn’t know what yet. He’s determined to find out.
Till did make a pass at him, once. It was at his place, one evening. The night before, Paul had stepped out to sit with him to watch the sunrise and sort of jumped on him. His memories of the episode are very blurry, but he remembers that the sky had been beautiful and that Till had looked lost in contemplation—it had felt like if he’d touch him then he’d belong to the picture.
He remembers how pliant Till had been when he’d pulled him in for a kiss and how his eyes fluttered shut in some strange, demure way that struck him as both delightful and completely out of character. He remembers the warmth of Till’s big, splayed hand on the small of his back, under his shirt, how solid his body felt against his. He also remembers Till’s labored breath when he got close and that the birds were fucking loud. The rest faltered in bliss, alcohol, and exhaustion.
Anyway. The following day, as he was fixing one of his pedals in Till’s kitchen, Till silently sat in front of him. He fiddled with a couple of cables for a minute, quiet and pensive, dark hickeys Paul vaguely recalled giving him glaring on his neck, then brushed the inside of Paul’s wrist and the crest of his palm with his fingertips.
“Let’s go upstairs,” he said, his tone firm and unambiguous, his green eyes glowering under the kitchen lamp.
Paul stood up, mesmerized, and followed him without even making the conscious decision to do so, adrenaline rushing through his body like a flood.
The walk up the stairs felt unbearably long. He managed to dodge Aljoscha who was asking him he doesn’t remember what by pretending Till had to show him something first (which was, well, not exactly a lie, after all), but then Knolli spotted him and basically harassed him about some stupid gear malfunction that definitely could have waited.
He sent Till, a few steps ahead, a desperate look.
“Work it out, Landers,” he said with a helpless shrug.
Paul cursed and hoped for Flake to come and save the day, but he didn’t. Instead, three guys he hardly knew joined Knolli and dragged him down to the living room.
He didn’t count how many times he imagined what would’ve happened had he followed Till to his room. It haunted him for a while, late at night when he felt too restless to sleep and in the dreamy haze of mornings.
Paul steps into the tiny grocery store with his friendliest smile. They have a plan.
They put all their money together: it’s just a bunch of pfennigs, but it should be enough for Paul to buy candies or something.
The cashier is a middle-aged lady, which is perfect—middle-aged ladies love him.
He asks for all the different sweets. He tells her she’s so brave to work night shifts. And then he goes on a rampage—he makes up a story about working in a factory close by, and about a friend of his she must know since he’s working at the store during weekdays.
“Oh, you mean Philipp, don’t you?” she says.
“Exactly! A great guy, right?”
As he goes on chit-chatting, Till steps in, greets them with a nod, and vanishes between the shelves. He exits a few seconds later—Paul and the cashier only notice because the bell chimes, they’re too engrossed in their conversation.
Paul cuts it short as soon as he can, though. He pays for the cheapest cookies he could find and disappears in the night. He finds Till at the corner of the street, as they agreed.
“Well, that was easy,” he says with a smug smile, opening his coat to reveal a bottle of vodka.
“Good. Now, where do we go?”
“You tell me, I’m not from here,” shrugs Till. “Wherever I can kneel in front of you is fine by me.”
Paul lets out an incredulous chuckle and Till grins. It may be the cold, but Paul is pretty sure he’s blushing.
“Maybe we should just get in a building and find a dark, cozy corner somewhere.”
“How old are we? Sixteen?”
“You have a better idea?”
“Just kidding. I don’t mind, really.”
Paul can basically sneak into any building around here. He knows most of the empty ones and for the others, he has a copy of the mailman’s master key he got through a friend a couple of years before.
By now, the whole city of Berlin feels like an extension of his bedroom.
It came in handy more than once.
The last time Till was in Berlin, in the middle of the night, he drunkenly begged them to help him steal a street sign for his living room. When it comes to foolishness, Till is ambitious: it had to be of Unter den Linden, a huge, open street.
It was a cool, foggy night, so they decided they might as well do it then. Everything was wrapped in dusty gray, the street lights a weak, amber halo. It felt like stepping out in a dream. The murmur of the city was low, subdued—it was probably going to snow.
Everything went smoothly: Flake climbed on Till’s shoulders to unscrew the sign, Paul helped and kept a lookout. It took a while, but it turned out to be so easy Paul and Flake decided to get some too, Magdalenenstraße and Keibelstraße, because who deserved it more than them?
Right there in these very streets, it was practically begging for trouble, but it went fine as well. It was only when they were almost done that Paul heard people coming. He snatched the last sign, caught Flake who tumbled down none too gracefully from Till’s shoulders, and they bolted.
A block away, he knew an empty building they could hide in: the lock of the back door was broken and he’d snuck in more than once to make out with his girlfriends when he was a teen.
They got inside—Till had them step in first because it was less dangerous for him as nobody knew him in Berlin—, ran up a few flights of stairs to be sure, and decided to go all the way up just because they could. When they reached the rooftop, Paul’s lungs were burning and the adrenaline was pulsing fast in his veins.
He was about to say something when he took in the view. In fascinated silence, they all walked to the edge of the building.
The fog had started to recede and a few snowflakes were fluttering in the sky. It would soon turn into sluggish mud, but for now, it was ethereal, almost magical. As far as the eye could see, the soft, pulsating gleam of street lights, roofs dusted with white, the red headlamps of rare cars, the square glow of lonely windows. The spectral shadow of the Fernsehturm. Somewhere in the distance, the massive darkness of the Wall. Behind, at the horizon, faint sparkles of the West, not brighter than the stars peeking through the clouds above them.
The buzz of the sleeping city was muffled by the snow, its wet, metallic scent blending with the thick smell of coal smoke.
Sure, there was something to be said for the fiery sunrises of Mecklenburg, but this felt just as grandiose, as timeless.
They took it in, speechless.
Surprisingly enough, it was Till who broke the silence.
“So that’s your kingdom, huh?” He sparked a cigarette. “There’s something to it, I have to admit.”
“It’s your kingdom too,” answered Flake with a smile.
Till produced a flask of liquor. They toasted.
They chain-smoked and watched the snow slowly cover the streets until their teeth chattered and their feet went numb. Right then, towering over the dark city with his two best friends, Paul thought that the dismal Berlin winter wasn’t just bearable: it was everything he’d ever wanted.
It wasn’t like that every day, though. About a week after that adventure with Till, Paul had a particularly tough one. Work had been annoying as hell. Something broke and he had to fix it and fair enough, that’s what he was there for, but it led to an immense amount of paperwork to fill out and a lot of cranky people to deal with. He didn’t have the time to eat much and when he finally left, piercing cold February rain was drenching the city, which was gray and wet and fucking depressing.
He let out a sigh of relief when he made it home, soaked to the bone, and cursed when he stepped in the shower to be bitterly reminded that the water boiler stopped working the day before.
Paul isn’t a gloomy guy. When something goes wrong, he tries to fix it, and when many do, he usually takes a step back, grits his teeth, and lets it wash over him. He can even enjoy the chaotic beauty that sometimes emerges from a particularly spectacular outpouring of troubles. But every once in a while, he’s just beat and cold and craving for comfort.
Teeth chattering, he prepared a pot of coffee and the rice pudding his mother used to make when he was sick as a child. A few minutes later, he was carefully balancing two mugs of coffee spiced with a generous amount of whiskey in one hand, the pan of pudding and two spoons in the other, and knocking with his elbow on Flake’s door. He could hear him playing something that sounded like Satie passed through the most stupid effect of his keyboard.
“Come in,” Flake said, and Paul found him sitting cross-legged on his bed, his keyboard balanced on his knees, a cigarette pinched between two fingers. Everything was dim; it was only 5 but the sun was already low—Paul really hated February—and Flake’s bedside light looked like a safe haven in the darkness.
“Good old Erik must be turning in his grave,” he started with a smile, handing him one of the cups of coffee.
“I don’t agree. Very D-dada. I’m sure he’d appreciate it.”
Paul shook his head and chuckled. He was already feeling better.
“The water boiler is really fucked,” he sighed when Flake looked up from the keyboard for good. “Drastic remedies were required.”
He plopped on the bed next to his friend. Flake hummed sympathetically and took a spoon of pudding.
“Mmh, cinnamon, your ma’s recipe. Things are really bad, aren’t they?”
“Ugh, bad day, that’s all. Rain. No umbrella. Nothing works. People suck… Want me to go on?”
Flake put the keyboard down and wiggled around to give Paul more room. They ate in comfortable silence, barely broken by quiet chit-chat. Eventually, they just lay together on Flake’s bed, facing each other, as it happened so many times before, and Paul was hit by a surge of nostalgia and longing he didn’t see coming at all.
Things used to be rough but simple. A couple of years ago, the two of them were sharing a one-room flat and living in a weird, uterine symbiosis that through time became synonymous with home. Whenever one needed a hand, the other would provide, whatever it should mean. Them against the world. Did things change?
They got bigger, more complex, thought Paul—and Paul and Flake grew up, but never apart, despite the girlfriends and bandmates and boyfriends. When he scooted closer, Flake tangled their legs exactly the way they did back then. Paul buried his face in Flake’s neck and Flake threw an arm around him. It wasn’t quite as ordinary as it used to be, but Paul was glad Flake was still playing along. Sometimes, he wondered if Flake needed it as much as he did.
Minutes passed. Night fell for good. It was nice, the smell of Flake and his freshly laundered sweater—he’d spend the weekend at his parents—and his not-so-clean sheets and the delicate skin of his neck. At some point, Paul realized their breathing had synchronized.
He pressed their lips together because, well, why not. Flake gave him a small, knowing smile, eyes unreadable, but let him kiss him again. He parted his lips, their tongues brushed. It was light and sweet—it wasn’t much, really, but the relief Paul felt was deep. The only shelter he needed was right there.
He gazed in Flake’s eyes for a while, playing with the hair at the back of his neck (he’d cut his hair a few days before and missed quite a few strands, he realized). There was a sense of innocence and carelessness in there that Paul confusedly felt they weren’t allowed anymore.
“Do you miss Till, sometimes?” started Flake, seemingly out of nowhere.
“I don’t really think about it like that.”
“Let me put it differently: do you wish he was here?” Paul let out a noncommittal hum. “He gives very good, comforting hugs.”
“He does. Your bony hugs are very nice too, though.”
“He gives head.” Paul chuckled somewhat indignantly. “He would fix the water boiler in a j-jiffy.”
“You do have a point here,” he admitted. “This has nothing to do with him, though.” Did it?
Flake looked at him with big, pensive eyes. Paul tangled their fingers together. They dozed off.
They choose a fancy, Bismark-era building, because why fucking not. They sneak in and settle in a dark corner down the stairs to the basement. There is no way someone will pass by at that time of the night.
When the time switch of the light goes off with a faint buzz, they’re swallowed in darkness: it’s almost pitch black, except for the gleam of a streetlamp pouring in from a basement window above them. Paul doesn’t mind. It makes him very aware of Till’s presence, dark and massive and very, very close.
With a pleased grin, Till takes out the bottle of vodka.
“Ill gotten, ill tasting, my grandma’d say,” Paul giggles—when he was a kid, she caught him with a handful of cherries he stole at the market, he’d never seen her so mad.
“I don’t agree.” Till takes a swig and Paul takes the next. “Isn’t it the best you’ve ever had?”
It’s cold and then it burns and yeah, it tastes amazing. Paul blindly puts the bottle on the windowsill above them and is about to wipe his mouth with his sleeve when it’s covered with Till’s. It’s another kind of burn; his lips are warm and parted and Paul feels heat bloom all over him. He tastes like vodka and cigarettes and, to Paul’s surprise, something like hesitation.
Paul isn’t the hesitating kind: he licks his way into Till’s mouth and slides his hands in his coat. It’s enough for Till to crowd him until his back is pressed against the wall, kissing him harder, deeper, an arm braced against the wall behind him. Paul whimpers and clutches at his shirt. His pulse is starting to run, he feels it beating at his temples. Till tilts his head and their teeth clink.
Paul likes it when things get amped up real fast, when the adrenaline kicks in. He grabs Till’s hips and brings him closer, eager for more, but Till slows down and their lips part.
The hand cupping his cheek slides down to his neck, fingertips tracing delicate lines from the back of his ear to the hollow between his collarbones and back. Till’s face is still very close to his, his eyes are down but Paul feels his breath on his lips, sharp and shallow. He tugs at Paul’s scarf to get it out of the way; Paul sighs shakily and lifts his chin to give him better access. In the darkness and silence of the staircase, Till’s fingers are all he can feel; his skin is so sensitive the slightest touch sends shivers down his spine.
And then Till’s whole wide hand wraps around his neck, warm and strong. Paul bites his lip and his eyes flutter shut. Till doesn’t squeeze, caresses instead, and the fingertips reach the nape of his neck, tracing the tendons up to the root of his hair. Paul bucks to press his hips against Till’s and feels his hard-on through his pants. He blindly reaches for it, feels its stiffness under his fingers, imagines its warmth. He presses his whole palm on Till’s crotch and Till puts his free hand over his, holding him in place.
His lips fall just above the collar of Paul’s shirt and work their way up, hot and wet. Paul’s head spins.
“Can I?” murmurs Till and Paul has no idea what he’s talking about but nods anyway. When he sinks his teeth in, Paul’s yelp sounds lewd and echoes in the stairwell. He buries his hand in Till’s hair and Till goes on, soft tongue, sharp teeth and rough fingers skilled and thorough.
“I love your mouth,” Paul pants, and then he remembers. “Did you mean it?”
“What?” whispers Till in the crook of his neck, his breath cool on Paul’s wet skin.
“That you would get on your knees?”
He feels him smile. “Yes.”
Paul’s breath hitches. “Want me to do it first?”
“Will you-” His lips feel like cotton. “Can I come in your mouth?”
“Uh-huh.” Till’s fingers slide along his throat. “I’ll swallow.”
Paul moans piteously and his hips thrust forward. Then Till’s mouth and hands are gone and his neck feels cold, very naked. And Till gets on his knees, merely a shadow at Paul’s feet.
He doesn’t waste time, opens Paul’s pants, slides them down his hips, and, taking Paul off guard, buries his face in his crotch, mouth open, breath warm.
“Fuck,” gasps Paul, mindlessly grabbing the bottom part of his shirt to get it out of the way and wishing with all his might he could see what’s going on—his eyes are getting used to the darkness but still, he can’t see shit, a dark mop of hair on dark clothing, black on black, merely two wet sparkles glistening when Till looks up to him. “Fuck,” he says again, and presses his hips forward.
It’s cold then warm when his dick slides in, rubbing against the slickness of the roof of Till’s mouth.
He brings a hand to Till’s face to feel what he can’t see. He cups his cheek, runs his fingers along his stretched lips. Through the rough, stubbled skin, he can feel himself as Till’s head bobs back and forth. His eyelashes brush his wrist. The rest he can imagine: images of Till going down on him while grinding against his bed are still crystal clear in his mind—the glassy blue eyes, the messy dark bangs, the fingers gripping his thigh.
For this like many other things—drumming, typically—, Till makes up for a lack of real skills with enthusiasm and physical prowess. He’s steady, never falters, and takes Paul so far in it takes him an inhuman amount of willpower to not just buck forward and shove it in all the way. But Paul breathes in and stands still.
He loses all sense of place and time, the wall cold and solid behind him, Till mouth’s blissfully warm and wet, until one of Till’s broad hands slides from Paul’s hip to his ass to give it a nice grope. Paul swallows a curse and thrusts and Till does some kind of low, muffled moan.
“Oh shit, Till.”
His dick pops out. “Good?”
“Yes, yes,” he whimpers as his cock slides back in. “It really turns you on, huh? Is that why you wanted to go first?”
Till lets out another deep sound. Paul’s hand is trembling as he rakes it through Till’s hair.
“Touch yourself—just don't come.”
He can’t see him do it but he does feel him moan, and suck harder, and Paul tangles his fingers tighter in the dark locks to try and not lose it immediately.
He stretches it as much as he can, but at some point both of Till’s hands are back on him, rough and eager on his ass, and that does it: he collapses back against the wall, his eyes and fists shut tight, a wave of pleasure burning from his groin to the tip of his fingers, and he comes in a few, short spurts in Till’s mouth—he feels his throat work; he swallows, he swallows.
Till is back on his feet before Paul remotely gathered his wits. He helps him tuck everything back in. He sports the widest grin Paul has ever seen on him, wolfish teeth glistening in the dark.
“Fuck, Lindemann,” he pants, his heartbeat still very loud to his own ears, as Till reaches up for the bottle of vodka. He takes a gulp and smacks his lips.
Paul flops down against him, his arms thrown around his neck, and listens to his pulse for a minute.
“Gimme some,” he mutters, and drinks until his throat is on fire. “Your turn?”
Till nods, eyes shiny and dark, and Paul can’t resist kissing him again. His lips feel tender, a bit swollen. He licks the lower one and sucks on it, a hand firm on the back of his neck. He sneaks the other between their bodies to feel him up through his jeans and bites back a moan.
He leans back on the wall and slides down until he’s on his knees, tucked between Till and the cold roughcast.
It’s even darker down there, everything disappears behind the laps of Till’s coat. All he sees is Till’s white hands working on his belt, unbuttoning his jeans, and shoving his shorts down.
His mouth waters—he can instantly smell it, sweat, precome, arousal. Till grabs his cock as if to hand it out to him, which is both sort of awkward and incomprehensibly sexy. Paul looks up and sees Till looking down, lips parted, bracing against the wall with his free arm.
He grins up to him and takes the dark, shiny-slick head in his mouth. He’s so hot, so hard—Paul hums appreciatively, but decides on another strategy.
He nuzzles Till’s hand up and leans in to run the flat of his tongue on his balls. He hears a soft moan; Till gets the hint and keeps his cock out of the way, stroking it slowly, as Paul mouths wherever he can reach, tasting salt and sensitive skin.
Eventually, he kisses his way back up, pecking Till’s knuckles one by one, before covering his hand with his own and popping his cock in his mouth again. He bobs his head a couple of times, and Till’s hand withdraws to land in the crest of his neck.
He can go at it for real, now, and lets Till’s cock fill him up. His eyes fall shut, he tightens his lips, and he builds up an enthusiastic pace. Since Till, showing, as often, spectacular self-control, doesn’t thrust, he lets his hands roam through the thick hair on his thighs and under his shirt, on his belly. Till’s whole body feels tense, all trembling muscles and pent up energy.
He tries a few tricks of his tongue but doesn’t waste time teasing: all he wants is to see him come undone. He hollows his cheeks and grabs at his hips.
“Let me come in your mouth,” Till mutters, his voice dull and low. “Don’t spit it out. Don’t swallow.” He sighs. “Keep it in. P-please.”
It’s just a whine, desperate and ridiculously sexy. Paul sucks hard and takes him in as deep as he can.
He feels it coming, the tightening, the throbbing, but still, he sort of panics when hot squirts start filling his mouth, not sure how he’s going to avoid spilling it out. He does his best though. It’s sort of gross, he’s feeling light-headed and a bit lost, but before he knows it, Till hauls him back on his feet.
He hardly has the time to see him, his dark red cheeks and his wild, shiny eyes, before Till shoves his tongue in his mouth, of course. It’s a mess, Paul feels jizz and spit running down his chin, but Till licks it clean and sucks thoroughly on his lips, a big hand warm and gentle at the back of his neck.
Weirdly enough, it turns into something very tender, a soft, slow kiss. Till pushes Paul’s hair out of his face with trembling fingers and runs them lightly along his cheek. He parts with a peck on his lips and looks into his eyes. Paul would say something, but he can’t seem to get his brain to catch up.
“I, uh. I’ve always wanted to do that.” Till sounds almost apologetic, but his wide eyes and dilated pupils tell another story.
Paul shuffles on his feet and mindlessly rubs his mouth with his sleeve. He could ask why him, why now and all that, but he’s quite sure he already knows.
“You like it dirty, huh?” he states as if it wasn’t obvious, grabbing the vodka and taking a few gulps with a sigh of relief.
Till grins. “Is there any other way?”
They go back to the door in silence and when they step out, the damp cold of the night chills Paul to the bone. The streetlamps are almost blinding and he wishes they’d stayed in longer.
He stops and squints. It’s strange to really see things again. Till looks sort of foreign but mostly blissed-out, flushed and tired-eyed. They just look at each other awkwardly for a minute. Paul goes to give him a challenging look, but it doesn’t work out quite as planned so he grimaces and ends up blushing, rubbing his mouth again, and chortling wholeheartedly.
Till shakes his head but laughs too, low and unguarded. He’s probably as red as Paul is, which Paul finds comforting. He lights them both a cigarette.
“Wanna do this again sometime?” he asks lightly.
Till blows the smoke and grins. “Sure.”
Paul gives him his most wicked smile, and they slowly head back to the venue.
Till wakes up on Flake and Paul’s couch with a splitting headache. He must have crashed here… He really drank too much. He feels both cold and sweaty—terrible, overall. He drags himself to his feet: he needs to take a leak and desperately craves some water.
When he gets out of the bathroom, he notices that the door to Paul’s room is ajar. He lets himself in as silently as he can, trying to convince himself that all he fancies is the soft mattress and proper comforter of Paul’s bed—and not Paul’s body, warm, pliant, and probably half-naked.
“It’s me—I didn’t mean to wake you,” murmurs Till.
“Till?” In the darkness, Till just sees a pale face sticking out.
“Mind if I join?”
He quickly strips down to his underwear.
“Naked,” mutters Paul with a sleepy smile, “or you go back to the couch.”
Till chortles with disbelief but drops his shorts anyway and slides in next to his friend. “Come on, go back to sleep.”
Paul curls up against him and lets out a pleased sigh. He falls asleep almost instantly, as far as Till can tell. Till savors the softness of the worn-out sheets and the pleasant heat radiating from Paul, and follows suit.
This time, when Till wakes up, Paul is still in bed.
The bleak winter sun is peeking in. It makes Paul look pallid, almost sickly. He’s reading—or at least pretending to.
“Were you watching me sleep?” mumbles Till, his voice low and croaky.
Paul grins. “You’re cute.”
“Fuck you.” Till nestles under the comforter and tries to avoid noticing how staggeringly natural this all feels.
For a while, they don’t say anything. Paul reads a few more pages. Till, still sleep-dazed, stares at the freckles on his shoulder. Beautiful.
“Okay, Lindemann. Flake is away this morning. What about breakfast in bed?”
“Good. Let me go and get some. Coffee?”
“Please. Just give me a minute, I’ll come and help.”
“No you won’t.”
“Why not?” Till straightens up, but Paul pushes him back on the pillow.
“Because it completely ruins the point.”
Defeated, Till shrugs and watches Paul sneak out of bed and into the oldest, most ridiculous cardigan he’s ever seen. It’s gigantic. Somehow, he pulls it off.
“I’m starving,” he chirps, and disappears into the corridor.
“To think I was feeling guilty for keeping you waiting for so long,” giggles Paul, which effectively wakes Till up.
“Fuck, I must have dozed off...”
“Looks like you did,” he smiles, pulling out the book Till fell asleep on from under his cheek and settling it on the bedside table. He’s wearing his boots and scarf and coat—and pajama pants. Till gives him a sleepy, incredulous look.
“Yeah, I realized the cupboards were empty so I went out for a quick refill.”
Ten minutes later, Paul slides out of the ridiculous cardigan and into the bed. Everything is settled on a tray in the middle of the bed: rolls, meat, cheese, pastries. Lots of coffee—black for Till, with lots of sugar and milk for Paul.
They listen to the Sex Pistols and Tangerine Dream. They leaf through Paul’s magazines and smoke and Till finishes the milk, drinking straight from the bottle. They chat, Till still stretched under the sheets, Paul sitting up and gesturing animatedly.
He does most of the talking and Till most of the listening, which he doesn’t mind. Paul comments on almost every single track and shows him his favorite parts. He’s enthusiastic and articulate, confident in his likes and dislikes. Till wishes he could do that, but he’s always struggled to elaborate on his feelings—it’s visceral, just below the surface, not quite words. He sorts the world into two categories: what he wants (what he needs, he thinks on his bad days) and what he doesn’t. So far, it sort of worked, but only sort of.
Sometimes, he loses track of the conversation: then he just looks at Paul, and his mind wanders. His eyes skim from his profile to his wrists, from his lips to his fingers mindlessly scratching his neck. Till spots a very faint bite mark there and smiles to himself. Whenever he thinks about the fact that it’s just the two of them in the flat, he feels light-headed.
Could this belong in the first category?
At some point, he gives in and presses the chastest of kisses to Paul’s shoulder. His heart is racing stupidly fast: it took him much more courage than dropping on his knees to suck him off in a dark stairwell. Everything is sharp and very real.
Paul answers with a warm, casual smile. This feels very real too.