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warmth in a world so cold

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It happens quickly, in a split second, Martin supposes when they're both on base and one of the recruits has an instamatic camera.

 

He'd had to suppress his knee-jerk irritation at them all fucking about, then Alex had leaned in, with a little goading, and kissed his cheek. He'd no idea what his expression is doing. In his head he'd wanted to elbow him and hiss no, but that would look suspicious. Antsy and tense when he's supposed to act like everything is fine. It wouldn't do. Best just to smile and put up with it. Not that the lads had seemed to care – they were laughing and chattering amongst themselves. Martin thinks they're fucking annoying, but he'd gritted his teeth and bore it until they'd gone off to pester the girl working in the canteen one of them is sweet on, shoving his own photo into his hand as they went.

 

He'd elbowed Alex anyway when he leant in to look and got a wounded look in return.

 

“Do they have to be so noisy?” He hissed. His head was loud enough today already, thoughts racing. He didn't need this too.

 

“Sorry.” Alex murmured, backing off. Martin wonders why he's even here. It's only a matter of time before he goes AWOL from here as well as his parents'.

 

He sighs.

 

“It doesn't matter. I'll see you at hom- I'll see you later.” he'd said, and hurried off.

 

He feels Alex's eyes on the back of his head like an itch.

 

-

 

(Later, at his meeting with the general, Martin'd bitten his tongue nearly to the point of bleeding when he'd confided in him about his unruly son. I don't know where he sleeps half of the time Edel had huffed, and Martin had made the appropriate sympathetic noises, nails digging into his palms beneath the table, thinking of Alex curled up in his sheets, safe, dead to the world. He carefully says nothing. Fuck phone tapping, pretending to care about Edel's miserable, dysfunctional life is a much bigger test of his skills.)

 

-

 

Martin finds the photo again when he's putting his clothes in to wash. He doesn't know what to do with it, so he sticks it awkwardly to the fridge. It shares space with a leaflet for a local nightclub, a shopping list, and a few other things that had all been carefully placed on it. All styled to make it look like he was a normal person and not a double crossing spy.

 

Whomever had done it did a good job he thinks, remembering his aunt calling and said she'd arranged alternative accommodation so he wouldn't have to sleep in the barracks anymore. It had fooled Linda.

 

He gets a sharp little yank under his ribs just remembering her. He can't think of her, or the circumstances of that fateful day out in the woods. He sees her enough in nightmares, eyes flickering and blood matted in her silky hair, him holding her broken neck and feeling sick to his stomach, hopelessly trying to fix it, to make her okay.

 

His heart pounds. He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly.

 

He needs to be practical, not think about all the hideous things he's done. He'd be here all day if he did that.

 

Martin looks in the cupboards. No food of which to speak. Well, bar pickles and eggs, and that isn't much of a meal. Not now there's two of them.

 

He writes a list and does the shopping and tries not to let it bother him that the most real bit of him in the entire flat are the letters from his mother stuffed under the mattress, and that stupid fucking photo.

 

-

 

Alex comes back much later than usual, this time with a much larger bag of clothes and a scowl. His cheeks are splotchy red and his knuckles are grazed.

 

Martin points out that there's soup on the stove, and he doesn't answer, just goes into the bathroom and locks the door.

 

Alex stays in the shower for long enough that Martin idly wonders if he's drowned, ending up brushing his teeth in the kitchen sink before he climbs into the bed they share out of necessity. He scrunches himself up tightly in the corner and closes his eyes.

 

-

 

He flinches awake an unknown amount of time later to someone shaking him, calling his name, and it takes a few seconds to remember that Alex is staying, that it's him rousing him. The bedclothes feel smothering and he kicks them off. He's panicking.

 

Every time he shuts his eyes there's a raw, choking type of fear that doesn't want to arrange itself into anything lucid, just lurks like it's waiting until he lets his guard down enough for it to pounce.

 

He shudders. Alex has a hand wrapped around his closed fist still, asking him what's wrong. He's sat up reading, bedside lamp still on, but his hair has dried. Martin must have been out for some hours.

 

“Moritz? What is it?” Alex whispers again, shaking him slightly.

 

“I can't-I couldn't- even begin to tell you- there was a-.” he says, then falters. What the fuck is he doing? He can't run his mouth like that. It's stupid, and he can't keep being so slack. Things like this are how you get caught.

 

He doesn't want the next person he puts in the ground to be Alex.

 

A whine slips from his mouth.

 

Alex doesn't move away any, and in a moment of weakness Martin shuffles closer so that his head is pressed against the side of his hip. His heart is still pounding.

 

He jolts in shock when he feels Alex's fingers cautiously begin fiddling with his hair, and to his horror actually finds it soothing. He shouldn't be so needy.

 

“You're okay.” Alex says after a while, fingers against his scalp.

 

Martin makes a broken noise, but can't bring himself to pull away.

 

He closes his eyes again, and Alex dims the light, turning back to his book. He doesn't seem shocked. That's something, surely?

 

“You're okay.” he repeats.  

 

Martin nods shakily and stays where he is.

 

-

 

“I'm not going home again.” Alex says the next morning as he's eating his breakfast. His lips are chapped from biting them, a nervous habit.

 

Martin yawns, still half asleep. He should feel awkward about last night. Disgusted with himself, even. He's not. Instead he just wants more of it. The need settles in his belly like a particularly gnawing kind of hunger.

 

He nods and puts the kettle on to boil.

 

It was inevitable, really, and Martin doesn't have the heart to see him homeless or sleeping in his car.

 

Alex takes a big breath and wrings his hands. He's continuing to pace around the kitchen even though it's making it difficult for Martin to make his coffee.

 

“You'll wear a hole in the carpet if you keep doing that.” he says, echoing what his Mum used to say to him when he was little and stuck inside on a rainy day. He hopes her recovery is going as planned.

 

“So I was thinking – if it's alright with you – if I could. Stay. I don't care if it's for a while or just until I can sort something out but – I kind of need some time to regroup, and I can't do that couch surfing. So if you wouldn't mind, I'd be really grateful, and I'm sorry it's such short notic-”

 

“Okay.” Martin answers, and Alex's face is a picture bafflement for a few seconds, crease between his brows like he's struggling to process his reply. Then he smiles at him brightly. Beams, even - tension dropping out of his shoulders as he pulls Martin into a tight, thankful hug. He can feel the relief coming off him in waves.

 

Martin's heart thumps in his chest. Alex has had things so shitty lately - fuck knows they both have – but that's no excuse for his stomach to do somersaults when Alex grins. For him to want to take another snapshot of the moment to show anyone who'll listen and say look at that.  Everything's going to shit but look. I did that.

 

It's just stupid desperation, why he feels like this. Just desperation and being thrown together and making do. It's what happens in times of war.

 

“Thank you.” Alex whispers, and he sounds choked up. “Thank you so much.”

 

-

 

It all goes to shit, of course. Alex gets the bright idea of holding up General Jackson like it'll work, like there'll be no repercussions.

 

(Martin has to dig him out, because of course he does, of course that's the job he gets. He can't get just a few days – or even just a moment of peace – in this whole shitshow. He'd broken and said as much to his aunt Lenora a few weeks previously and she'd slapped him, her own nerves frayed raw as much as his. Pull yourself together she'd said, and he'd apologised and she'd lit them both a cigarette. Even that had felt like borrowed time.)

 

He hauls Alex back to the flat and doesn't talk the entire way, heart hammering so fast that he can feel in his stomach, like when he has nightmares. He feels fucking sick.

 

He fumbles with the lock twice just getting them in, and Alex brings his hands near to help.

 

Martin jolts his elbow back into Alex's stomach for his trouble. He deserves it.

 

Inside, Alex keeps trying to piece together an apology and only getting halfway there. Moritz, I-.There was- I had to-

 

Martin wants to scream at the futility of it all.

 

He still can't work out why he's so furious and panicked all at once. Nobody emotionally important to him died. Kramer did, so he's down an ally, but they weren't close. It was just a mess. It's fine. It's a massive fuck up, but it's going to blow over, and it'll be fine. Well. In the short term at least. Beyond that, who knows. They mightn't be here at all. They could be shadows scorched into the decimated earth by next week.

 

Fuck.

 

He's almost convinced himself that he's alright when Alex puts a hand between his shoulder blades to placate him.

 

He turns in a flash and grabs him by the wrist.

 

“Don't you dare.” he spits, but Alex remains defiant, frowning and leaning in.

 

“I am – I'm not- I can't say I'm sorry for it – but. I-I'm sorry for causing all this- mess. It wasn't thought through properly-I-”

 

Martin makes a disbelieving noise.

 

“Not thought through properly? Not thought through properly?! Do you hear yourself?”

 

He thinks about shaking him.

 

What wants to say stop being so stupid. I want you safe. I want-.

 

The thought after that isn't really a thought at all, more an instinct to lean towards him and fit their mouths together to kiss off the adrenaline spike. To bite and press close enough there's not a hair's breadth between them, to feel Alex grab back, alive, alive, alive-

 

It hits him like a blow to the chest, and his breath leaves him in one harsh exhale.

 

Then pushes Alex to one side and storms out of the house.

 

Maybe this is it he thinks, darkly. Maybe I've finally cracked.

 

(Through the fog of shock and fear, he still hopes Alex is safe.)

 

-

 

He heads to the dive bar discotech he took Linda to and proceeds to get himself enormously drunk even though it's only 6 in the evening and his grazed cheek is still bleeding from earlier's scuffle. He's lucky they aren't fucking dead, really. There's barely anyone else here.

 

“Whatever answer you're looking for, you won't find it at the bottom of a shot glass.” the girl serving him says when he's on his sixth, but pours him another anyway. She's a bartender. Surely she should be encouraging him to drink.

 

She wipes the counter down and leaves the bottle, then goes back to talking on the phone, winding the cord around her fingers.

 

Martin glowers at her. She looks decidedly unimpressed.

 

He keeps drinking anyway, despite her poor company.

 

-

 

He doesn't return until 2am, and Alex is already asleep. He should probably sleep on the sofa given what happened earlier, but it's tiny, uncomfy, and he'd have to move stuff off it. If he's honest with himself, he's not sure he has the coordination or patience to do that right now.

 

(Prime example – he barely manages to pull his jeans off without falling in a tangled heap.)

 

Besides, it's his flat.

 

Well, sort of.

 

When he climbs into bed, he feels Alex twitch awake but doesn't say anything. He lays on his back, hands stiff beside him, staring at the ceiling as it tilts above him. Martin's already dreading tomorrow's hangover and inevitable awkwardness. And- oh god, he has to meet his aunt again. She'd rang earlier in the day and sounded panicked and fraught, evasive about how his mum was doing. Dread had pooled in his stomach. He hadn't even thought to ask after Annett. Thinking about all this is only making his queasiness worse. He pinches himself and tries to think of something different, anything, breath coming faster and faster -

 

Then-

 

“Moritz?” Alex says, voice quiet and rough. He feels him roll over so he's facing him.

 

Martin doesn't say anything, concentrating on staying still, on appearing asleep.

 

Alex sniffles and says his name again. Martin isn't in the mood for talking. His head is spinning just as sickly as his vision.

 

Satisfied he's dead to the world, Alex curls closer, then- oh.

 

Oh, fuck.

 

Takes his hand.

 

Fingers curling between his own and squeezing gently. It takes most of Martin's resolve not to twitch away from his grasp. It takes all of it not to squeeze back.

 

“I know you're not asleep.” he whispers, and he sounds miserable. “I'm sorry. Moritz, I'm sorry.”

 

He wants to say no. No, don't because it doesn't feel right now. He'd said sorry before and - he'd only been trying to help – albeit in his own stupid, futile, mental idiot way. Martin knows the feeling, when things are so terse that you feel drive to do something – anything – just to relieve tension, even if the action itself is ultimately all for naught.

 

But now – he doesn't like the finality with which Alex had apologised. Again. That on top of everything else – it's -

 

His breath catches in his throat with panic again, and Alex snatches his hand back as though burnt.

 

It takes nearly an hour for him to drift into an uneasy sleep.

 

-

 

He jerks awake some hours later to the sound of someone banging about the flat, and he hates how his hands twitch instinctively towards the gun in his bedside drawer. He knows it's just Alex. That there's only the two of them here, but his training is deeply ingrained enough that any sudden movement, any loud noise, and his hyper vigilance flicks on like a switch.

 

He swings his legs over the side of the bed and stands. His head is pounding and his mouth feels a little like something has died in it. Ridiculous. It was ridiculous of him to get so drunk last night – and for what? To stumble back too inebriated to stand and have to face today so ill.

 

Whatever, he'll do it. He's done much worse whilst feeling much worse before. Somehow the knowledge of this is cold comfort.

 

His traitorous brain flicks to Linda again, to feeling her last heartbeat against his palm (trying to stem the sick gush of blood from the hole in her chest, failing, failing badly) and throwing up so violently that all that came up was bile after he buried her.

 

It still makes his heart palpitate. He wonders how Tischbier does it, just switches off that empathy, the basic humanity. Does he even have a heart at all? But. It's him that's in the wrong really. He isn't here to care. He's here to deceive and con and he's gotten people killed. He's killed people himself. Still fretting over something so trivial – in the grand scheme of things – just makes him a bad agent.

 

He sighs and tries to put it out of his mind.

 

-

 

In the kitchen Alex is at the sink, washing the dishes he's used for breakfast.

 

"You don't have to do that." he croaks. The few dishes that had piled up are the least of his worries right now. He just wants an aspirin and some cornflakes.

 

Alex doesn't reply, but his mouth twists glumly.

 

Martin reaches past him into the breakfast cupboard and sets about his morning routine, trying not to think about how the fact they even have one ignites something traitorous and warm within him.

 

Or, at least it would if Alex didn't look as though he was been led to the gallows.

 

Martin peers at him. He's gone back through to the living room but the door isn't completely shut, and he can see him perched on the sofa and staring blankly at the morning's news show, like he's not really watching it at all. Maybe yesterday's finally caught up with him.

 

He takes a gulp of his drink absent-mindedly as he thinks and burns his tongue.

 

There's an uneasy sort of atmosphere that's descended over the flat. Martin groans quietly to himself. It isn't even 10am and his brain feels sluggish and shrunken, but if he doesn't say anything about the weird quietness on Alex's side he'll surely go mad before midday.

 

The uneasiness follows him through to the living room, where Alex is stuffing his pyjamas back into his hold-all.

 

He swallows hard.

 

"Are you going somewhere?" he asks, and Alex winces visibly.

 

"Tomorrow, yes." he replies, and he can't meet Martin's eyes.

 

"Okay."

 

It's not okay. It's not okay at all, because he's not been here two minutes and already he's flitting off somewhere. He'd be suspicious were it not for the defeated slump of Alex's shoulders. In his time in the army they'd all learnt how to read body language, or at least the basics of it. How to tell if you should be suspicious of someone. When to know if you should be watching them, Were they being sneaky, were they asking intrusive questions, were they suddenly overly friendly or hostile? The only thing Alex looks is sad, though.

 

"I don't want to- overstay- I don't want to make you- uncomfortable."

 

Martin grimaces. How does he say that he's not, he's fine, he can stay, when Martin can't even guarantee that the whole city won't be wiped clean off the map if he fucks up. Sure you can stay, but just so you know I can't say you'll be safe no more than I can fly.

 

So he just nods instead and flicks through the TV. Alex sits beside him, legs crossed, book in his lap. Martin settles on MTV and watches without really seeing, In any other situation, any other life, this would look awfully snug. Terrible weather outside, the fire on, sat side by side, each absorbed in their own activities but close in proximity. Cosy.

 

He thinks unexpectedly of when he was a teenaer. Of being in his mother's house when he and his ex  were still just courting. Radio on, and her straddling his lap, long periods of kissing and her giving him a love bite his mum had seen. Her bringing it up over breakfast the next day. He'd turned the colour of a beetroot but - he'd felt happy. Giddy, even.

 

This feels like a fucked up mirror image of that. Like playing house. He's not even revolted by it. He knows Alex is a queer and that's his business (there'd always been whispers in the barracks but never actually saying anything to his face - it wouldn't have done to piss off the general's son) and Martin had always frowned because it was about the least important thing they could possibly be concerning themselves with.

 

Then again he's an expert at anything to do with prying into personal matters, be it his own or someone else's. He's made a job out of it. He can hardly talk.

 

He's so lost in his thoughts he barely notices Alex speaking again.

 

"You- you don't want me, do you - I mean, you don't want me to stay? With you?"

 

Martin flounders.

 

"That's- you're free to do what you want." he says, and doesn't mean it to come out so brusquely, but being ripped from his thoughts has that effect sometimes, especially if they are deep ones. “You might want to wait until the stunt you pulled with the general dies down a bit before you go, though.”

 

"That's not really an answer." Alex sighs, and he seems to shrink a little, even in the giant jumper Martin had dug out when he'd complained of the cold and the minimal clothing he's had with him was in the wash. It had been one his aunt had given him when he enlisted. Knitted by her own fair hand (she wasn't really one for such homely hobbies, it turned out) and thus lumpy and giant on him. You'll grow into it she'd said, not even convincing herself. It was large on him, but on Alex it looked like a (lurid, turquoise) tent.

 

"It's the only one you'll get."

 

His defensiveness made him sound sharp, he knows it. He flounders.

 

"Sorry, I didn't mean-"

 

"It's fine. Please just - It's fine. It doesn't matter."

 

Alex is smiling, but it isn't a proper one. More body language 101. He can't hold Martin's gaze. He's restless, flighty, and upset looking beneath it.

 

There's a few beats of silence that feel like pulling teeth, then -

 

"I'm going for a walk." Alex says, and the awkwardness in the room is almost deafening. Just go Martin thinks, because he needs some space. Just some time to go over everything in his head with nobody to distract him.

 

He doesn't realise he says it out loud until it's too late.

 

Alex looks stricken and hastens the gathering of his coat and shoes.

 

Martin opens his mouth to say something, anything, but it's like his vocal cords have been cut.

 

There's a sense of foreboding, too. Like if he does nothing, he'll have lost Alex for good. He'll be sleeping on the sofas of his activist friends, then going to more demos, then riding around Germany in the back of a hippie van with a badly done peace sign hastily spray painted on. For a general's son it may as well be a target.

 

The seconds stretch and it's now or never. Fight or flight. Alex excuses himself to get to the door, and Martin shakes his head. He swallows hard, brain scrambling to get together something. Anything-

 

He refuses to move.

 

“Moritz...” Alex says, and Martin watches the way his lips form around the word. “Moritz, please...”

 

Martin leans closer so that they're stood toe to toe. His hands grasp Alex's forearms.

 

“I can't let you go.” he murmurs. “I'm sorry, god – I'm sorry.”

 

He leans so that their foreheads are pushed together, and he can almost feel Alex's hackles rise.

 

“You don't know what you're sorry for!” he hisses. “You've messed me about so much, you're cryptic, you never give straight answers, but at night! By night you cling to me like you're drowning!”

 

Martin doesn't let go.

 

“I'm sorry” he says, and the flat it very quiet. This close, even their breaths sound like roaring. “I'm sorry.”

 

Alex makes a disbelieving noise.

 

Then he says something like fuck it and closes the gap to kiss him and -

 

It's surprisingly soft, to say how tense they were a second ago.

 

The world kind of narrows to where their mouths are connected.

 

Martin's hands are shaking. He doesn't really know what to do with them, so they just hang awkwardly by his sides. Their noses bump. It isn't even a good kiss really, but his head is spinning a little, and all the ways in which this was a bad decision should be blindingly obvious, screaming at him, but no. It's just.

 

Quiet.

 

Quiet, for the first time in months.

 

-

 

When nigh time rolls around, they both turn in early. Martin spends an age in the bathroom after he's brushed his teeth. He thinks about Alex, or to be more specific, being without him. Coming back to his sham of a flight with nobody to fill the spaces between missions and fraught phone calls.

 

It feels so wrong, so empty and – sad.

 

He's aware this kind of selfishness could jeopardise everything, or at the very least make it ten times harder, but at the same time he just can't bring himself to care. Especially when his mission's end seems nonexistant. He's living on borrowed time and he's ultimately disposable to them. He deserves something.

 

Martin splashes his face with cold water to try and snap himself out of it. Bad decisions could ruin everything. That's what he needs to remember. Encouraging Alex to stay would be one such bad decision.

 

-

 

It all goes out the window the second he climbs into bed, though. Alex looks all soft and warm and they kiss again, better this time. More coordinated and with one of Alex's shaky hands pressed against against his ribcage, t-shirt pushed up. Martin pulls away and kissed his cheek, heart thumping.

 

“You can stay.” he murmurs, remembering earlier. “You must, you have to-”

 

Alex stills.

 

“You mean it?”

 

Martin nods.

 

Alex is quiet for a second, then springs upon him, skinny arms wrapping around him and squeezing.

 

“Then yes. Yes, yes, yes, of course. Thank you so much-”

 

“It's nothing, you- you need to be here. I- need you.”

 

Each word feels like it's being choked out of him, but Alex is smiling hard enough that his eyes are all crinkly, so it's worth it.

 

He threads his fingers between Martin's and this time he doesn't stop himself from squeezing back.

 

-

 

Things tick along nicely after that. Days turn into weeks and a month comes to pass. Even with the constant threat of the world being blown up, things seem a little brighter.

 

He's not very good at romance - never has been - but he does turn up after work with take out and a new record for them to listen to after a relatively uneventful day. He'd even gone to the trouble of asking Yvonne what music Alex liked. He's not sure if he got the food order right, but seen as Alex always ends up stealing from his plate no matter what, he's hardly sure it matters.

 

Martin calls for him when he gets in, but doesn't get an answer.

 

He puts his bags of food down on the kitchen side and takes his coat off. Maybe Alex is napping, as he so loves to do in the afternoon. Martin has lost count of the number of times he's come home to him sprawled on the couch in a pool of sun, out cold.

 

He smiles just remembering, but Alex isn't on the couch today. He can't hear the shower running, and a note hasn't been left, so he must be in bed. He picks up the record and wanders down the hall, holding it behind his back so it'll be a surprise. He could have wrapped it, sure, but he lacks both the supplies and skill, so a brown paper bag will have to do this time.

 

“Alex...” he calls softly, pushing the door open, expecting to have to rouse him – but.

 

Alex is sat on the edge of the bed, back to him.

 

“Moritz.” he says, without turning around. His voice is uneven. Maybe he's just woken up.

 

Martin flops onto the bed and shuffles closer, wrapping his arms around Alex's waist and kissing the back of his neck only -

 

Something's not right, because Alex is stiff in his arms. Tensed right up, like he's about to spring away.

 

Martin swallows and peers over his shoulder.

 

“You-” he whispers, very calmly, and Martin's heart starts to pound. In his hands are the letters. The ones from his mum and Annette and no – no, no no, he'd hidden them so well, but apparently not with enough forethought to factor in how they'd be discovered if his lover would change the sheets. This can't be happening. He can't have this snatched away, not yet, not after everything-

 

“Mori- Martin." he corrects, turning his flinty gaze upon him, boring holes right through Martin's skull. Fuck, fuck, fuck. “what the hell are these?”