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Autumn Forged

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It’s about an hour’s drive from the brothel back to the base, and though Martin’s driven this route often in the last few months, it’s never felt longer.

Alex is curled up in the passenger seat, eyes closed; Martin drives, and fumes, and doesn’t say a word.

After all, he can’t exactly say what he’s thinking: that not only is Alex a fucking idiot, but he’s a fucking idiot who came within a hair’s breadth of blowing Martin’s entire mission to boot. That Kramer’s dead because Alex was stupid and now Martin is out here all alone.

Kramer saved his ass about ten separate times; if it wasn’t for him, Martin would have been languishing in a West German prison probably from day one.

Maybe now Alex would be joining him.

When they finally pull up outside the Edels’, Martin decides that the barred door and windows make this house, the house where Alex grew up, look a little too much like a prison.

Alex has opened his eyes and is stretching out his limbs, but makes no move to get out of the car.

“Thank you,” he says, very quietly.

Martin doesn’t reply. He stares down the deserted street and forces deep breaths through his nose, in, out, in, out, the way Tischbier taught him.

He drops his left hand from the wheel so he can rub his thumb and forefinger together without Alex seeing it, focusing on the sensation until blankness descends over his mind like a veil.

They’re not done here yet. He can be angry later.  

When he thinks he’s got control of his voice, he says, “This is what’s going to happen. We’re going to go inside. You’re going to go up to your room and get into bed. Military Intelligence will be here at five o’clock to interview you. You’ve been there sick for a week, since the last time you left the base. Your mother will vouch for you. You haven’t seen anyone else.”

He half-expects Alex to argue back, even if only for the sake of it – but when nothing comes, Martin glances over to see him staring at his hands, looking utterly defeated.

“Right? I want you to tell me you understand,” Martin insists, hand twitching against the wheel as he tries to decide whether he should reach out and touch. Whether it would help anything.

Alex blinks, as if seeing him for the first time.

“Yeah. I understand,” he mutters, then gets abruptly out of the car and walks up to the front door, without looking back.

Martin slams his hands against the steering wheel as he lets out a wordless noise of frustration, resting his forehead for a moment against the cool leather.

We’re not done here yet, he reminds himself, taking another long breath, and gets up to follow Alex inside.

 


 

Alex returns to the base two days later. When Martin goes back to his room just before lunch, fresh from exercises, he’s just there – in uniform, leaning against the bedframe with his hands in his pockets. Waiting.

“Welcome back,” Martin says; when Alex doesn’t reply, he just goes over to his locker to change out of his fatigues, reasoning that if Alex wants to sulk then he’s welcome to.

“So how long have you been sleeping with my sister?”

Martin’s head snaps up – making his neck crick, and he grits his teeth through the sudden pitching feeling inside his skull as he turns around.

Martin would normally say Alex is a firecracker, quick to ignite and equally quick to burn out; but maybe this time, he’s a bomb.

He pretends to consider the question. “Two weeks? Only a couple of times. I like her, but I don't think she’s looking for anything serious.”

Moritz Stamm is a nice boy, who a nice girl could take home to her parents, but who would also go down on her until she screamed. And if she didn’t want to take him home to her parents, well, that would be alright by him too.

“And of course she’s on tour now. It’s a great opportunity for her.” He smiles, as if he’s putting a brave face on it.  

“Right.”

Well, you did ask, Martin thinks, turning away again.

But he can feel Alex’s eyes on him, and so he waits, straightening the items in his  locker one by one while he waits for the explosion.

It’s not long in coming.

“Are you not going to say anything then?!”

Martin turns back, his expression confused, and a little concerned. “Alex, I like her. And she likes me. So what’s the problem?”

Alex waves a dismissive hand. “Not about Yvonne.” For the first time, he looks uncertain; Martin notices the way his hand is gripping the bedframe. “We’re friends. Right?”

Friends?

Martin is an impostor in someone else’s life, and Alex is the idiot who very nearly just blew his entire operation.

But at the same time, Alex is – well.

Challenging. Intelligent, principled, opinionated. A damn good soldier when he wants to be, which is almost never; a fish out of water here, who holds his head defiantly high nonetheless. He’s entirely unlike anyone Martin’s ever met, and if he could afford regrets then he’d regret that he’s too busy playing Moritz to ever give any of the questions that Alex throws at him the serious consideration they deserve, or that he will most likely never get to see him become the person he was meant to be.

And isn’t spying supposed to be the art of making the complicated simple?

So he replies, “Yeah. We are.”

He doesn’t know if he’d expected that to make Alex feel better, but it seems to have the opposite effect: he folds his arms, setting his jaw. “So aren’t you angry?”

Does Alex need him to be?

Martin takes a step forward, mirroring his posture. “After what you did? Yeah. Of course I’m angry.”

“So let’s do this. Right now.” Because that’s how both Edels deal with their problems – by shouting at them, and Alex has raised his chin, eyes flashing, staring Martin down. Goading him. “Come on. Tell me just how badly I fucked up. Tell me Kramer’s dead because of –”

“Stop. Talking.”

Martin’s voice is low and deadly, and he’s taken two steps forward before his brain catches up.

Alex laughs. “No, I don't think I will.”

Martin steps forward again until he’s only an arm’s length from Alex, his hands clenching into fists, as if he’s reaching the limits of his self-control.

“Alex. I won’t tell you again.”

But Alex wants him to lose control.

He’s squaring up to Martin, nearly spitting with fury, jabbing a finger in his face. “Don’t you fucking dare try and pretend this is okay! Don’t you get it?! I hate every single thing you fucking stand for! All these war games and let’s show those commie bastards, you’re all no better than dogs just pissing on your territory and fuck the rest of the world with it! You wouldn’t care if you started World War III –”

“You take that back!” Martin snarls, and shoves him.

Fuck you!” Alex roars, but his eyes are ablaze and even when Martin tries to dodge his fist, he still gets in a glancing blow to his jaw.

“Fuck yourself, you little commie shit,” Martin replies, and goes for the legs.

It doesn’t last long: Martin has the advantage in height, weight, and in dirty tricks learned from Tischbier and his ‘friend’ Rudolf; and within thirty seconds he has Alex kneeling on the ground with one arm twisted behind his back, teeth bared and lip split with Martin squatting down beside him, glaring at each other from only inches away, both their chests heaving.

“You’re all animals at heart, aren’t you?” Alex gloats, as if he’s somehow won this fight rather than lost it, as if he isn’t exactly the same. “Half an excuse and you descend into savagery,” and Martin just follows his instincts and bites, sinking his teeth into that split lip until Alex cries into his mouth, his free hand shoving hard enough at Martin’s shoulder that he almost overbalances.

Then his brain catches up; and he drops his grip on Alex like he’s been burned.

In the deathly silence that follows, they just stare at each other, wide-eyed and panting. Completely unsure what just happened – or at least Martin is.

He racks his brain desperately, but all he manages to come up with is the words oh shit, which isn’t exactly a solution.

Then Alex punches him square in the eye.

Martin yells and clutches his face, reeling with the pain and the force of it; and as he puts out his other hand to steady himself against the floor, Alex suddenly hauls him forward by the lapels and kisses him.

It’s hard, rough and angry, his eye is throbbing like a bitch and Alex’s fingers are digging into his jaw hard enough to bruise, while the stupid part of Martin’s brain is thinking girls don’t kiss like this and the part that’s supposed to keep him alive appears to have checked out entirely.

He comes up gasping for air, Alex’s sharp smile the smile of the victor, and Martin’s mind has whited-out entirely .

The game has changed, and he no longer knows the rules.

“Well. This is interesting.” Alex’s hands are gripping his shoulders; it makes him feel trapped. “My my, Moritz Stamm. Do you have any idea what you’re doing?”

Martin’s mind races: that Moritz Stamm has absolutely no idea at all what he’s doing is pretty much the only thing he can be sure of.

If this were anybody else, he’d apologise; but with Alex, he knows better.

Alex’s expression is searching – suspicious, Martin decides, and hardly without reason. “Did you do this in Braunschweig as well then?”

“No, I – I like girls.”

Alex snorts. “Good for you. I don’t.” He reaches up, his thumb sliding deliberately along the line of Martin’s jaw. “I like men. Men who’ll finish what they’ve started.”

Like everything is with Alex, it’s a challenge.

And Martin knows only he has a split second to act before the moment passes – and something in their relationship fractures with it.

He didn’t mean to start this, but his gut is telling him he can’t afford to let it go.

Just as Alex’s expression begins to change, Martin mentally says fuck it, and kisses him back.

This time, Alex comes alive.

It’s hot and close and not at all gentle, and before he knows it Alex is dragging him down to the floor, Martin kissing his way down the taut cords of his neck, then biting just above his collar as he gets his hand between their bodies, pushing down without hesitation to palm the rapidly-hardening line of Alex’s crotch.

Ohh,” Alex gasps, no longer in control; Martin has him now, can unravel him, and this is all it takes.

Alex’s head is thrown back, his hands on Martin’s ass, pulling him in against his own thigh – and it’s good, Martin lets Alex rock him there and hears his own breath falter and tries not to think.

Moritz doesn’t think. Moritz acts, undoing Alex’s collar and loosening his tie so he can lick the hollow of his throat and make him hiss; Moritz fumbles with Alex’s fly and pushes his briefs down just far enough to wrap a hand around his cock, and pulls.

Alex groans, head lolling, and Martin’s flush of satisfaction is cut short as Alex’s hands go to his own fly, and if he can’t get it up this will be an absolute fucking disaster

But Alex’s grip is strong and sure and Martin’s cock is pulsing insistently under his touch, and it’s okay, his breathing is harsh against Alex’s ear and he’s got this.

They’re quiet as they jerk each other off, the only sounds their harsh breathing and the insistent thumping of Martin’s pulse in his ears. Their knuckles jostle back and forth between their bodies, as Martin thumbs over the wet tip of Alex’s cock until he whines, and wonders a little hysterically what Berlin would think of this.

“I’m close,” Alex mumbles against his neck, and Martin isn’t sure what he’s supposed to do with that information so he slows his pace a little, grinning when Alex growls, either from pleasure or from impatience.  

Alex’s left hand moves from Martin’s arm to push up his own shirt, and Martin realises why a few moments later when Alex starts to gasp, eyes screwed shut and head tipped back, throat bared as he comes with a shudder over his newly-exposed belly.

Martin braces his arms either side of Alex’s head, closes his eyes and pushes his face into Alex’s neck, and loses himself in rapidly-mounting heat, coming not a minute later on a harsh rush of breath.

For a moment he just lies there, half-collapsed on top of Alex with his cock still out, and thinks, what the fuck now?

Then Alex shoves at his arm.

“I need a tissue,” he says, and Martin lets him up, getting to his feet and putting his cock away, staring out of the window so he doesn’t have to watch Alex clean himself up.

He’ll just do what Alex wants, he decides. Follow his lead, take his cues. It can’t be that different to how it works with a woman, and apparently his dick’s not bothered either way.

“Well, you’ve got hidden depths, Oberleutnant Stamm,” Alex remarks over his shoulder.

Martin ignores him, and starts getting changed.

He’s tying his tie when he hears Alex’s footsteps coming up behind him.

“Do you understand why I did it?”

Martin doesn’t think he means the kiss.

He starts buttoning his jacket. Moritz is still angry, he decides. “No. I really don’t.”

So Alex tells him: about his mounting disillusionment with NATO policy, the peace movement meetings in Bonn, about Tischbier – whom Martin knew he knew, he’d found his business card in one of Alex’s books, but whom he couldn’t have imagined would seduce him (ugh). That he suggested Alex needed something more radical –

Martin spins round and claps a hand over Alex’s mouth.

“Stop talking.”

Martin doesn’t know what expression is on his face but for once, Alex actually does what he’s told.

Very deliberately, Martin walks over to the table and turns on the radio. Loud.

Then he backs Alex up against the lockers, ignoring his noise of protest and the hands digging into his biceps, and puts his lips to his ear.

“Do not say what you were going to say. Not here, not anywhere on the base, or in the car. Not unless we’re alone outside in the middle of nowhere, and you would bet your whole life there’s no-one listening.”

When he pulls back, Alex’s eyes are wide.

“You think they’d –”

“Them, or us.

They’ve had two separate visits from Military Intelligence within three months, and Martin doesn’t know if they do that kind of thing in the West but he certainly isn’t interested in taking any chances.

“Shit.”

“Yeah,” Martin replies, not a little sarcastically.

“I’d be fucked without you, wouldn’t I?”

For possibly the first time in his life, Alex actually looks rueful.

Martin snorts. “Yeah. You really would.”

“What would you do – if...?”

“Save my own skin.”

The answer comes easily, but Martin realises Alex is looking at him with new eyes, and wonders what he expected to hear.

“Would you save mine?”

Martin says truthfully, “If I could, yeah.”

“And I yours.” Something passes over Alex’s expression, but it’s gone just as quickly. “Let’s see if there’s still some lunch left.”

Martin blinks – but if this is how Alex wants to play this, then this is how they’ll play it.

“Lunch is good,” he agrees, and follows Alex out the door.

 


 

For the entire next week, Alex is so perfectly well-behaved that even the General asks Martin if he’s alright.

Martin tells him that he thinks the visit from Military Intelligence has shaken some sense into him, and the General claps him on the arm, looking relieved.

He and Alex don’t talk about what happened.

Alex treats him completely normally, but a few times Martin catches him looking at him, like he’s trying to figure him out – and every time, Martin looks away.

He supposes Moritz is probably having a sexuality crisis or something.

He’d figured out Alex is gay pretty quickly, mostly from the kinds of comments the others make when he’s out of earshot, though he’d thought very little about it after that. Tischbier was obviously supposed to handle him, though that doesn’t exactly seem to have worked out how it was supposed to.

Martin still doesn’t really know why he did it.

Alex isn’t behaving like he’s in love with him, at least. He doesn’t know what he’d do if he did. How far he’d be able to go.

Linda and Yvonne were different, and not just because they were girls. He didn’t really know either of them; he and Alex have lived and worked together for three months, and Alex has never made any secret of his opinions or the things that matter to him. He knows Alex.

And even though Alex only knows Moritz – well, Martin isn’t always sure exactly how much of Moritz is really just him.

 


 

Over the past few months, Martin has turned falling behind during the morning run to check for messages into an art – but normally Alex isn’t hanging back along with him, in a way he knows he’s not going to be able to shake.

He still feigns surprise when Alex grabs his wrist and cocks his head, in the opposite direction.

They’ve barely left the path before he starts talking, low and quick, in between breaths:

“There’s a peace movement meeting tomorrow. And I don’t know if I want to go. Tobias – the professor – he’ll be there. And I don’t know if I can face him. Not after I yelled at him and stormed out of his house. He probably thinks I’m an idiot, but I’m still angry.” He bends over, hands on his thighs, chest heaving. “I told him I want to leave the Army and he told me to go back. It’s alright for him, he’s a professor. He doesn’t have to hide anything from anyone.”

If only you knew, Martin thinks.

He frowns. “You said he told you to do something more radical. What was it?”

“He told me to go to the DDR Diplomatic Mission.”

Martin covers his mouth with his hands. “Jesus Christ,” he murmurs, turning from side to side as if he isn’t sure where to look.

Actually, this explains a lot.

He was warned never, ever to even approach the Mission unless he was already thoroughly blown and the choice was either that or West German prison.

Alex must have gotten away with it – somehow – since he’s still here.

But if he’s already approached us –

Alex, to his credit, at least looks chastened. “I know. Moritz, I know.”

“Do you?” Martin snaps. “Do you really? Because I don’t think you do. These people are dangerous! They hate everything we stand for and they want to destroy us!”

Is someone running him now? Is Lenora?

Why the fuck do they never tell him anything?

“They want peace! Like I do! And they’ll actually do something instead of just holding hands in front of TV cameras and waiting for Reagan to magically change his mind!”

Martin says flatly, “They want exactly what you want until they need you to do something for them.” He sighs. “Don’t go to the meeting.”

If they don’t fucking tell him anything, then they can’t expect him to help them.

Alex is glowering. “You think I’m stupid, don’t you.”

“I think you’re naïve.” When Alex looks like he’s about to retort, Martin holds up a hand. “I’m sorry. I’m just – worried about you.” He pauses, searching Alex’s face. “You’re not happy, are you?”

Alex laughs. “I’m a closeted queer trapped in an organisation whose values I utterly loathe. No, I’m not happy.”

“Are you going to leave, then? Like you told the professor?”

He shrugs. “I already tried once. It didn’t go very well. You know, sometimes I envy you, and your simple life.”

Martin almost wants to laugh.

Instead, he says, “We’re all different. And we have a different set of choices to make.”

Alex snorts. “Yeah. Easy for you to say. You don’t have mine.”

Martin decides they really aren’t getting anywhere with this. “We should go.”

If they sprint, they can probably still get back to the group before anyone notices they’ve gone missing.

But then Alex steps forward – right into Martin’s personal space. Too close to be innocent.

“No. We shouldn’t.”

Oh.

Alex smells sweat-sharp, and Martin grazes his teeth against the base of his neck and tastes salt there as he shoves a hand inside Alex’s sweatpants and works him to hardness. It starts to rain but he doesn’t care, just pulls Alex closer as a few fat raindrops hit them through the leaves and Alex laughs against his shoulder, and he wonders what’s so funny.

The tree bark’s rough against his bare ass and Alex’s hand never falters, the raindrops cold on his cheeks but his skin so hot, and he bites Alex’s earlobe and makes him cry out.

They both narrowly avoid coming on either of their clothes or shoes, though Alex’s hand comes away glistening – and Martin nearly swallows his own tongue when Alex just licks it clean like it’s nothing.

“Oh my God, you’ve gone bright red,” Alex comments, sounding absolutely delighted about it. “I thought you were a man of the world, Stamm.”

“Not that world, I’m not,” Martin mutters, as he rearranges his underwear.

They run like the wind, and barely catch up to the rest of the squad before they’re back at base. It earns them extra latrine duty and Martin has to go for yet another run before breakfast the following morning to check his messages.

 


 

He snaps the point of his pencil twice while he’s writing:

Autumn Forge suspected case RYaN1
Gather evidence

Martin dunks the message and his own decryption in the glass of water beside his bed, puts both pieces of paper in his mouth, chews – grimaces – and swallows, then washes it down with the rest of the water.

Then he puts his head in his hands and groans.

What the fuck is wrong with them?

He’s already told Tischbier in no uncertain terms that Autumn Forge is just an exercise and definitely not cover for any kind of attack, and now they’re asking him for evidence. Which he can’t provide, because there is no evidence because it is just a fucking exercise.

What is the point of even having him at General Edel’s right hand, if they’re not going to listen to a word he says?

He’s late for breakfast, misses Alex entirely and ends up sitting with Strauss, Baumann and Globowski, which is fine really because he has to work a lot less hard with the three of them than he would to avoid arousing Alex’s suspicions in his current mood.

He’s kept busy all day fetching documents for the General’s seemingly-endless meetings with the Dutch liaison, even managing to take a few photographs whenever he can avoid Frau Netz’s eagle eye for a minute or two; but he’s newly-careful, mindful of the messages, and the fact that a couple of their documents are actually in Dutch and just understanding what he’s even looking at is making his head ache, let alone whether sharing it will put Berlin’s mind at ease or just reinforce its paranoia.

He works out so he doesn’t have to think, showers, sleepwalks through dinner, says a distracted good night to Alex and then passes out more or less instantly – and repeats this pattern for the next three evenings, until on the fourth he fails at the passing-out part and just lies awake as the minutes tick by, staring at the ceiling, exhausted and miserable.

Between doing Moritz’s job, trying to get his own people to see sense, watching Alex to make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid and watching Alex watch him, he’s absolutely run ragged. Not to mention the ever-present list of things he refuses to think about but that lurk in the back of his mind all the same, waiting for him to drop his guard.

And it’s not going to get better. He could be here for years, if he’s successful: standing by General Edel’s side, drip-feeding his secrets.

The General’s a good man, though not the best father – but there’s no use thinking like that.

What was it he said to Alex, in the forest? We all have different choices to make, and none of Martin’s choices would ever have taken him even remotely close to a life where he could have been a good soldier to the General.

Fuck, he thinks, rubbing his aching eyes with the heels of his hands. He can’t afford to disappear inside his head. He needs to –

He gets up, trying not to make the bed creak too much, and climbs down the ladder.

Above, Alex mumbles, “The fuck are you doing?”

“Taking a shower. Sorry I woke you.”

“You didn’t.” Alex sits up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed and only narrowly avoiding kicking Martin in the head. “Couldn’t sleep. What with all the excitement of the war games.” He rolls his eyes. “I was here for last year’s Reforger2 and thought I knew what to expect. But this time it’s even worse.”

“Yeah.” Martin grabs his towel from the radiator, grimacing when he notices it’s still wet. “It’s a lot.”

“Are you still swallowing all this shit, then?”

Martin opens his mouth to reply – and hesitates.

Alex is needling him, yes, but he’s asking a real question as well. And though Martin knows very well what he should say – what Moritz should say – he’s just utterly fucking exhausted, by the whole thing.

He slumps against Alex’s ladder.

“I don’t want war.”

It’s the least controversial sentence in the world; but here and now, it feels like a confession.

“I always thought I knew what we needed to do to prevent it. But now I’m not so certain. What if your Greens are right and neither side is willing to blink first? We’ve been here before,3 and I wouldn’t trust Reagan and Andropov over Kennedy and Khrushchev. Maybe this time we won’t be so lucky.”

“‘My’ Greens.” Alex kicks him in the shoulder, which Martin thinks is supposed to be affectionate. “I’m glad you’re finally starting to see sense. It must be my good influence.” He pauses, considering. “What would you do, though, if you lost all faith?”

“What you can’t,” Martin answers, painfully aware of the irony of his words, “and try to change the system from the inside.”

This time, he catches Alex’s foot when it swings – and then doesn’t know what to do with it, just stands there with his thumb and finger encircling Alex’s ankle, looking at Alex looking at him.

Well. He knows he doesn’t want to think any more tonight.

He strokes his thumb over the hollow of Alex’s inner ankle, and feels him shiver.

“So,” Alex says, falsely casual. “You said something about a shower.”

This is, by any measure, a bad idea. Even at nearly midnight, when everyone in their right mind is sleeping.

Martin quickly decides he doesn’t give a shit.

The corridor is deserted, and their rubber slippers smack so loudly against the linoleum that they take they take them off after only a few paces, sharing an awkward look.

In the bathroom they strip in silence, leaving their clothes neatly folded on the benches, and round the corner into the showers.

They’ve seen each other naked plenty of times, but not like this.

Martin walks over to the furthest showerhead, presses the button, and waits for the water to get tolerably warm before stepping under the spray – only to realise Alex is just standing there, watching him.

“Don’t tell me you thought we were coming here to actually shower,” he remarks, his body language remarkably composed, though Martin can see the interest sparking in his eyes.

“Only if you stay over there,” he replies, and holds out a hand.

This time, it’s different.

When Martin reaches for Alex’s dick, Alex bats his hand away. “Slow down,” he murmurs against Martin’s ear, “We’ve got time,” and so Martin does.

Instead he lathers up the soap and rubs it over Alex’s shoulders and along his arms, under his armpits and over his chest, Alex shivering in pleasure when Martin brushes over his nipples – which is interesting, Martin had thought it was only girls who liked that – and then collapsing in laughter when Martin drops the soap.

“Guess I’d better get that then,” he quips, and when he straightens up Martin turns him around to do his back, and then his ass, and when Alex’s head lolls against his shoulder he wraps his left arm across Alex’s chest, and his right hand around his cock.

Alex is already half-hard, and this time Martin watches as his cock swells in his soap-slick hand, slightly darker, slightly more slender than his own. Alex’s breathing is coming faster by his ear, and Martin’s surprised to find he wants to make it good for him, better than the last times, wants to make him shake and shiver and squirm, and why the fuck would Alex need Tischbier when he can have this?

It takes him a moment to realise Alex is saying something.

“What?”

“Soap up your cock, and push it between my legs.”

It only takes a few pulls to bring himself to hardness, and he does as he’s told, only understanding why when Alex clamps his thighs together and squeezes, sending a wave of heat through Martin’s body.

“Brace yourself,” Martin murmurs, and starts to thrust, one hand on the wall beside Alex’s, the other keeping up a shaky almost-rhythm on his cock.

It’s good, he decides, his cock’s pushing back and forth more between Alex’s ass cheeks than his thighs – and Martin tilts his hips experimentally and is rewarded with a long, low moan as the head of his cock rubs along the crease of Alex’s ass, and Alex’s hand covers his against the tiles.

It’s not perfect – not quite slick enough and he keeps losing the angle – but his body feels like it’s fucking and Alex’s fingers are curling into his, and Martin bites down on Alex’s shoulder to muffle his own groan as his climax hits, imagining his come spurting over Alex’s asshole, dripping down his thighs.

He rests his head against Alex’s, panting – and it’s only when Alex grouses, “Come on,” that he realises he’s left him hanging, close to the edge; so Martin bites down on the word sorry and pumps, twisting his wrist at the head the way he likes himself, until Alex comes with a moan not a minute later, come splashing over the wall in front of them.

They both freeze at the sound of footsteps.

Martin grabs his soap from the floor and dashes across to the opposite shower, slamming the button and flinching as a stream of icy water hits him full-on.

He stands facing the wall as he washes himself, holding his breath as someone walks through to the toilets, urinates, flushes, and then retreats.

When he turns around once more, Alex’s eyes are wide.

“That was too risky,” he says as they dry themselves off, because he’s fairly sure Moritz is supposed to be the sensible one here. “Even this late.”

“Yeah.” He can feel Alex hesitate. “If – if someone catches us, you know I’d take the fall for it.”

For a moment, Martin can’t speak.

Moritz should protest – but maybe he’s not that good a person. Maybe when it comes down to it, saving his own skin is more important.

Alex squeezes his shoulder. “It would hurt you a lot more than it would hurt me. You belong here.”

In the end Martin just murmurs, “Thank you,” and leaves it at that.

When they get back to the bedroom, Alex unexpectedly presses a kiss to his cheek. “Good night.”

He looks happy; and it’s only now that Martin realises he didn’t know what that looked like before.

 


 

Martin sleeps well that night, in the end, though the next morning’s still even more of a struggle than it usually is, and it’s times like these that he misses being able to sleep in till all hours the way he did back home. In his other life.

Even Alex, who normally snaps into wakefulness at five o’clock sharp like someone’s flicked a switch, stumbles out of bed bleary-eyed and groggy, and all but ignores Martin over breakfast. Then they’re immediately plunged back into Reforger coordination with their NATO partners and their aides until dinner, half of which is by necessity in English. It’s exhausting work, and Martin barely has the energy to even think, let alone worry about any of the other things he should probably be worrying about.

It’s another day and a half until he can finally bring himself to tackle the thing that’s been stewing in the back of his mind for the best part of a week, because he is an idiot who was too busy playing his role to find out what really happened during that week where Alex went missing, and where exactly his loyalties now lie.

Alex trusts him, probably more than anyone; and everyone needs a confessor. If his people won’t tell Martin what he needs to know, then Alex will have to.

He finds him in their room, reading Der Spiegel. He doesn’t look up when Martin enters.

Martin could recite the contents of Alex’s locker by heart, could name every book and magazine he owns, from the mainstream to the radical, and has read every note he’s scrawled in the margins. He knows his clothing, shoe size, brands of toiletries and the names of his contacts in the peace movement, privately thinks all his cassette tapes sound the same, and knows about the Quelle-Katalog from Autumn 1981 stuffed behind the right-hand locker, that falls open on the men’s underwear pages.

He can’t afford to feel guilty.

He reaches up and taps Alex on the leg.

“I’m going to the kiosk. Want to come?”

Without looking at him, Alex replies, “No, thank you. We don’t all have your endless appetite for sweets.”

It’s only when Martin squeezes his ankle – hard – that he finally lowers his magazine.

Martin raises his eyebrows in a way that he hopes conveys, I really need you to. “I need to get cigarettes for the General.”

“Can’t my father get his own cigarettes?” Alex grumbles, though he’s already swinging his legs over the side of the bed and jumping down, without waiting for an answer.

Alex catches Martin looking quickly around as they leave the base and turn onto the road leading into town; but for once he’s patient, staying silent even though the road is nearly empty, and they’re only passed by one dog-walker and a handful of cars in the first five minutes.

Martin tells himself he wants to put a bit more distance between them and the base, but really he knows he’s stalling. This could change everything – but until it happens, he has no way of knowing what he’ll need to do.

Just one more minute, he decides. There’s a footpath along the edge of the woods, which will take them off the road; dusk is falling fast, and it’ll be deserted. Then whatever needs to happen will happen, without fear of scrutiny.

“This way,” Martin says, turning off the road and onto the path; if Alex is surprised by this, or by the way Martin immediately slows his pace, he doesn’t show it.

Martin shoves his hands in his pockets, fiddling with the handful of coins there for a moment to ground himself, and says, “You never told me what happened, when you went to see – the people your professor told you to see.”

For a moment, there’s silence.

“Yes. Well. I told them who I was and that I wanted to offer my services. But the woman they said I needed to speak to was out of town and wouldn’t be back until the morning. They let me sleep on a sofa in one of the rooms. I was living out of Yvonne’s car, I – didn’t have anywhere else to go.”

Martin doesn’t know what to say.

Before he can figure it out, Alex continues. “Eventually she came back, the woman. It was almost noon by then. I told her what I thought, about rearmament, all my ideas, and she just sat there, looking at me. Smoking. She must have smoked five cigarettes, one after the other. The smell made me feel sick.”

Martin knows all too well.

He briefly touches Alex’s arm.

“Go on?”

“Then – she started asking me questions. Nothing about what I’d just said or about what I could do for them. About myself.” Alex sucks in an unsteady breath; Martin pretends not to hear it. “It started off – innocuous. Political views, I thought okay, fair enough. Maybe that’s important to them, considering – who they are. But then she asked me about the peace movement meetings. Names, details. And then  – about my father. She knew about my father. And then she asked if I was queer. I said it was none of her damn business and she smiled at me!”

Martin has never heard him cry before.

In the dark, he reaches out and squeezes Alex’s fingers, just for a moment.

Alex clears his throat. “Then – I told her to tell me what I could do and she said they’d be in touch. And she walked out. And – that was it.”

“Have they been in touch?” Martin asks, heart in his mouth.

“No. Nothing. She obviously thought I was an idiot. You know you’re a liability when even the enemy don’t want you.” Bitterness colours Alex’s tone. “I spent the rest of the day walking around Bonn. Thinking. I decided that I could make something happen without them.” He scrubs angrily at his eyes. “And we all know how that went.”

Martin grabs his sleeve and pulls him to a stop.

“Promise me that if they contact you, you’ll tell me.” Alex laughs disbelievingly. “Please. I want to know.”

“Okay. I promise. They won’t, though.”

He starts walking again.

“What would you have done, if they had? If I was working for them now?”

Martin can hear the unspoken question as clear as day:

Would you betray me?

Luckily he can take his time to answer, knowing that for Moritz, the question is one that goes right to the core of who he is.

Moritz is anti-Communist, pro-‘freedom’ and the rule of law; but he found Alex standing over the body of a dead woman and his first thought was to protect him.

In a voice that’s barely above a whisper, he replies, “I don’t think you could do anything that would make me give up on you.”

Alex stops dead, grabs him by the lapels and kisses him on the mouth.

For a moment Martin lets him, before gently untangling his fingers. “Alex. Not here, okay?”

Alex can’t disguise the hurt in his voice. “It’s practically dark. And there’s no-one around.”

“It’s a public footpath, and we’re in uniform.” Martin gives his fingers one final squeeze, before pulling his hand away. “Come on. Or we’ll be late back.”

“And God forbid the General doesn’t get his cigarettes,” Alex remarks, but he starts to walk.

They’re silent for a while after that; but as the lights of the road come back into view ahead, Alex says, “I dream all the time about leaving here. But – maybe I need it. Isn’t that fucked up?”

You’re scared, Martin thinks, and you need something you can fight.

It’s okay though, Moritz is completely out of his depth here too.

In the end, he says, “You’ll figure it out.”

At the kiosk he buys a packet of cigarettes that he’ll have to sneak into General Edel’s drawer without him noticing, and a packet of Mentos, that he knows are the only sweets Alex ever eats.

Alex doesn’t say anything, but Martin can feel him watching as he puts them on the counter; and as they step back outside into the darkness he bumps his shoulder against Martin’s, slightly too hard to be accidental.

Martin smiles, and lets his touch linger when he hands him a mint.

 


 

They’re not running him.

The thought settles slowly, percolating like the General’s coffee, drip by drip.

Do they think Alex is blown? Would they know for sure if he was?

Tischbier hasn’t asked, though he’s an idiot if he thinks Martin doesn’t know everything by now; and Martin would have told him to go fuck himself in any case.

Tischbier may have been the one who seduced Alex, but he also drove him away again. It’s Moritz who’s by his side now. Who he tells his dreams to, and his fears; who gets to see him cry, and make him come.

Alex, who needs something he can fight.

If they’re not running him – could I?

 


 

Since that night, things have – shifted.

Alex is freer. Looser. Martin’s not sure he’s happier exactly, but, well, one step and then another.

When he catches Alex looking now, he smiles shyly, and doesn’t look away.

When Alex comes back to their room one evening looking particularly fed up, Martin catches him as he closes the door, presses him up against it and kisses him thoroughly.

“Hello,” Alex says at length, smiling curiously up at Martin. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Martin shrugs, a little self-consciously. “Just felt like it.”

“Well,” Alex punctuates the words with another kiss, “I like it.” And another. “If that helps.”

Martin takes a moment to consider. “Yeah. It does.”

He drops his hands – but Alex catches his wrists.

“I want to try something. Tonight.” His smile curls. “Don’t go to sleep immediately.”

Well. Not with a promise like that.

Alex waits for half an hour past lights out before he starts to get up.

Martin knows it’s been half an hour because he’s seen the small flash of light that means Alex is checking his watch at least six times.

He lies on his back and waits, feeling his mattress shift, the bedframe taking Alex’s weight as he climbs up the ladder.

This is risky – but no more risky than it was in the shower. Or rolling on the floor in the middle of the day.

Besides, he’s taken so many risks in the last few months that it’s becoming difficult to care.

He draws back the covers to let Alex in.

Alex’s bare skin is hot, and he whispers in Martin’s ear without preamble, “I want to suck you off.”

“Oh, yeah,” Martin manages, anticipation rolling through him like a wave.

The white Western lights of the base still burn outside their window, filtering through the curtains to cast Alex’s expression in shades of grey as Martin frames his jaw in his hands and kisses him, slow and sweet.

In the low light, everything’s more deliberate: Alex takes his time, lingering at Martin’s lips before he kisses along the line of his jaw, doing something with his tongue down the length of Martin’s neck that makes his breath hitch. He’s exploring, kissing his way down Martin’s chest, laving the flat of his tongue over one nipple – which is good, Martin realises with surprise, sending a rush of heat down deep in his belly – though he isn’t sure how much of that is pure sensation and how much is the way Alex looks up at him through his lashes, hollowing his cheeks as he sucks, Martin’s cock pulsing in his underpants in response.

He reaches out and brushes Alex’s hair off his forehead.

This is going to be intense.

He weaves his fingers into Alex’s hair, not pushing, just resting there as Alex kisses his way down the trail of hair at Martin’s belly, making him hiss as Alex’s chin bumps the head of his cock through the fabric.

Alex hesitates – looks up at Martin again, his expression not seductive this time but uncertain; and Martin brushes two shaky fingers over his lips and resists the sudden urge to say something ridiculous like I’ve got you.

When Alex sucks those fingers into his mouth and caresses them with his tongue, Martin has to stifle a groan.

His cock is straining in his underpants, thumping in anticipation, and when Alex taps his hips and pulls his underpants down, he’s holding his breath.

He expected Alex to swallow him down, but instead he lowers his head and nuzzles Martin’s cock, nudging it with his nose and inhaling, eyes fluttering shut – and it’s weird as hell but Martin’s fingers are clenching in Alex’s hair and Alex’s hot breath on his cock is making him half-crazy, so he has to conclude he’s into it.

Then without warning, Alex licks a broad stripe from the base of his cock to the tip – and Martin nearly bucks off the bed.

He’d forgotten just how damn good this feels.

The girls he’s slept with always made blowjobs sound like a favour, like something they didn’t really enjoy but would do to make him happy; but Alex was the one who asked for this, and his expression’s open and curious as he mouths his way up Martin’s shaft, making him gasp when he laps up the fluid beading at the head, gently tonguing his slit.

Then Alex opens his mouth and sucks him down.

It’s warm and so wet, and almost maddeningly slow; Martin props himself up on his elbows so that he can watch as Alex starts to slide his lips up and down, seeing how much he can take and gagging a little when he pushes too far, swirling his tongue around Martin’s cockhead in a way that Martin wouldn’t care if he’d learned from Tischbier or from Erich fucking Honecker himself because it feels like absolute heaven.

It’s messy and imperfect – Martin winces once or twice when Alex scrapes him with his teeth – but when he takes Martin’s cock in right to the back of his throat and looks up at him, dark eyes pricking with tears, it takes a concerted effort for him not to come right there and then.

As Alex grows in confidence he picks up the pace, settling into a rhythm with lips and tongue, and with one hand working Martin’s cock at the base and the other pulling gently on his balls, Martin knows he won’t last long at all.

“Getting close,” he murmurs, and then almost loses his control entirely when Alex hums his understanding, the vibrations sending a fresh wave of heat through him.

“Do that again?” he asks – and Alex does.

That’s what makes Martin lose the last threads of his control.

His head hits the pillow with a thump, his hands fisting in Alex’s hair as his hips lift, and it’s all he can do not to choke Alex with his thrusts as he lets go with a stifled groan, spilling into Alex’s mouth and watching as he swallows it down without hesitation.

His own harsh breathing is loud in his ears, and he strokes his thumb over Alex’s wet lips as his heartbeat settles, their eyes meeting.

“Come here.”

Alex presses up against him and lays his head on Martin’s chest. He’s rock hard, and the front of his underpants is damp.

Martin brings him off in less than a minute.

He wipes his hand on his own discarded briefs, and says, “You enjoyed that.”

“Yeah.” Alex’s tone is wary. “You’re surprised.”

Martin shrugs. “Most girls don’t. In my experience.”

“Huh. Weird.” Alex wriggles until he’s lying firmly under Martin’s arm, Martin’s hand resting on his hip. “I mean, I mostly like the effect it has on you. But I also just like dick.”

Martin huffs a surprised laugh, and they fall silent for a few moments. Alex’s eyes are closed, and he drapes his leg over Martin’s, the sole of his foot cool against Martin’s ankle.

“What’s it like, with girls?”

Martin blinks.

“Erm... good, I guess? They make a lot of noise, if you do it right.”

Not that he wants to think about any of them right now.

In this quiet, companionable moment, he dares to ask a question that’s returned to his mind a few times since all this started:

“Is it hard, being gay?”

Alex is silent for long enough that Martin almost regrets asking.

“Not for me,” he says eventually. “It’s other people who make it hard. Being a homosexual soldier may not be officially forbidden, but I think we both know better.” He pauses, considering. “Am I the first gay person you’ve met?”

“There was one other guy,” Martin says truthfully, “but he was an asshole.”

“And are you still telling yourself you’re straight?”

Even though this is Alex, the question still makes Martin’s blood run cold.

Though he has his body too well-trained by now, this is Alex, and he’s sure that his stillness will give him away as surely as any reaction would have done.

“I still like girls,” he feels duty-bound to point out.

“You can be bisexual. That’s when you like both. Or you can mostly like girls and just sometimes like men. Or you can like girls almost exclusively and also like me.” He can hear the smile in Alex’s voice. “I like that idea. It’s pretty flattering.”

Martin knows he should say something. Offer something – a declaration of feeling – but his mouth is dry and all his instincts have deserted him.

He doesn’t know what Moritz is thinking any more: Moritz likes girls, and orgasms, although maybe not in that order.

But Moritz isn’t a person, with thoughts and feelings of his own. He’s a mask, a construct, and Martin knows that Moritz isn’t going to help him on this one.

He’s been silent too long, and Alex is already sitting up – shaking him off. “Just – try not to fight it. It’s a battle you can’t win. Trust me, I know.” He gets out of the bed and starts climbing down the ladder. “Now I need to wash my mouth out and then get some sleep.”

He doesn’t say good night.

Martin lies awake for a long time after that, thinking.

If I’m going to turn him, what will it take?

Should Moritz fall for him – and would Alex actually believe it if he did?

He’s not trained for this, and there’s no-one he can turn to for help. All he has are his instincts.

He just hopes they won't let him down.

 


 

It’s only a few days later that Martin realises Alex isn’t talking to him.

It’s easy not to notice at first. Reforger preparations are in full swing, and according to received wisdom, the exercise itself is the busiest they’ll be all year; meanwhile Berlin are showing no more signs of actually listening to Martin’s increasingly blunt messages than they were a month ago, and he’s not sure if it’s the Zentralkomitee or the Kremlin who’s the bigger fucking idiot here but it doesn’t exactly make him think they deserve his efforts. He’s permanently tired and pissed off, and a few times comes dangerously close to thinking about all the things he doesn’t think about.

Besides. Alex isn’t ignoring him; they’re saying hello and good night and exchanging information when they need to, though Alex’s responses have a mechanical quality to them that Martin puts down to tiredness until he realises, on their first free afternoon in a while when Alex makes no more effort to speak to him than he has thus far, that it’s something more.

Even just the idea of dealing with it is threatening to give him a headache.

He rolls over and closes his eyes, figuring that until the rain stops and he can go for a run, he might as well try and catch up on sleep. He certainly doesn't have the energy to do anything that might require thinking.

He doesn’t know how long it’s been when he hears Alex say, too loud, “I’m leaving the Army.”

At first Martin thinks he’s misunderstood.

He rolls over. Alex has put down his book, and by now Martin recognises the defiant jut of his chin.

“You’re leaving the Army,” he repeats.

“Yes.”

“Oh,” Martin says eloquently, sitting up on his bed as his mind scrambles to catch up, trying to figure out what Alex wants him to say. “When?”

“After Autumn Forge ends, I’ll talk to my father. He’s going to hit the roof, so you’ll get to enjoy that.” Alex is angry with him, then. “I’ll probably go to Berlin. That’s where he says all the shirkers are.”

“What are you going to do there?”

“I don’t know. But it can’t be worse than being here.”

Martin’s brain still isn’t giving him anything useful; and he can see in Alex’s face the moment that his patience runs out.

“Are you not going to say anything?!”

“What like?” Martin snaps. “It’s not like I can stop you!”

“Well, excuse me for thinking you might care!”

Alex gets up and starts to climb down the ladder – and Martin moves, jumping off the side of his bed and ignoring his protesting knees as he lands heavily on the floor, trapping Alex at the bottom of the ladder.

“Don’t go. Not just yet.” Alex still looks mutinous, and Martin grips his shoulders when he threatens to push past him. “Please. I just – you know I’m not good at this.”

“Alright.” Alex shoves his hands in his pockets. “But – I need you to say something, because this is – I mean, what do you think this is?” He runs a hand through his hair. “You kissed me, and then you keep on coming back for more, but really, I don’t understand what you want or what you think you’re doing at all! I thought this was just about sex for you at first, but – is it?”

Martin drops his hands.

This is it, then.

This is the moment; and he looks down at the floor and takes a shuddering breath, hands clenching into fists.

“I don’t know,” he mumbles, Alex laying a steadying hand on his arm. “I didn’t mean for any of this to happen, but I –” he looks up, inhaling deeply. “I want it to keep happening. And I’m scared.”

“Oh, Moritz.” Alex pulls him into a hug, and Martin clings on gratefully, pushing his face into Alex’s neck. “I understand. I really do.”

“I’m not going to tell you not to leave.”

Alex strokes the short hairs at the nape of Martin’s neck with his fingers. “I appreciate that.”

Martin asks, “Why did you become a soldier?”

For a few moments, there’s silence.

When he finally answers, the pain in Alex’s voice is clear: “Because there was a time when I still thought I could actually make my father proud.”

Martin doesn’t say anything, but his grip tightens on Alex’s waist.

“You know, I thought I was alone here. For so long.”

Martin raises his head at last, and says simply, “You’re not.”

 


 

It’s for the best.

It’s definitely best for Alex, and probably for Martin too: Alex walked in through the front door of the Diplomatic Mission, and took a US Army General hostage at gunpoint, for God’s sake, how on earth could Martin have ever hoped to keep him in line?

Lenora would probably laugh at him if she knew. Fucking Tischbier definitely would. The arrogance, he thinks, to expect that he could succeed where a professional had failed.

If Martin had turned Alex, he would have lost him just as quickly: he’s too angry, and too fundamentally honest, to live anything other than a life where he can truly be himself. If he were willing to settle for anything less, then he’d still be under Tischbier’s thumb right now.

And what’s worst is that deep down, Martin knew as much all along.

But he started this anyway – and now Alex is under his skin.

It’s almost dinner time, still raining and rapidly getting dark, but he puts on his tracksuit and his running shoes anyway. He’s not hungry, just wants to be somewhere no-one will find him and put one foot in front of the other, over and over until he isn’t thinking any more.

 


 

In the light of a new day, perhaps it doesn’t actually matter so much.

Alex will be gone in maybe as soon as a month, depending on what happens when he speaks to the General. Whether he’s wise enough to let his son walk away, or forces him into a show of insubordination, or worse; at this point Martin thinks that Alex would consider a dishonourable discharge more than worth the price of his freedom.

Martin can be pretty much certain now that his own people aren’t bugging him after all, because there’s no way Tischbier would have been able to resist letting him know that he knew.

And as long as it lasts, well, all these orgasms aren’t exactly a hardship. Nor is the illicit thrill of a secret shared; and in the privacy of his own mind, Martin can admit to himself that Alex isn’t the only one who’s glad not to be feeling alone.

Another week passes. He gets two more blowjobs; the second time, Alex manages to swallow his cock to the hilt, and Martin can hear it in his voice for the whole day after.

Every moment is a risk, and they both know it – but Alex would be half-looking for an excuse to get caught if it was only up to him, and Martin doesn’t care as much as he knows he should either.

At least in those moments, he isn’t thinking about anything else.

It’s still raining. It feels like it’s been raining forever. Alex is pretending to read Prinzip Leben, Petra Kelly’s latest, though when he complained of an aching shoulder, Martin reached over and started to dig his fingers into the muscle without a second thought – until Alex groaned and said, “God, please keep doing that,” and Martin got up and stood behind him so that Alex couldn’t see him flushing.

“When’s my father coming back from Brussels?”

“Monday. Why?”

“Because it means – ow – he definitely won’t be at home tomorrow. And my mother plays tennis on Sunday mornings, and then has a boozy lunch with friends that she always pretends won’t last till dinner time.” Alex looks over his shoulder, raising an eyebrow. “And I have a key to the house.”

Martin’s hands still on Alex’s shoulders. His mouth is suddenly dry.

“And if anyone asks us where we’re going?”

Alex grins. “Bowling?”

The rest of the day feels like a year.

Martin insists on driving, mainly so he doesn’t have space to think. They’re both in civvies, which only serves to make the whole thing feel even weirder, and he notices that Alex’s hands are clasped tightly in his lap.

He reaches over and puts his own hand on top, squeezing for just a moment.

Alex unlocks the door and calls for his mother just in case; but as promised, there’s no reply.

He drops his kit bag in the hallway, and hovers awkwardly. “Would you like a drink?”

Martin thinks: Moritz doesn’t want a drink.

So he backs Alex up against the hall table and kisses him breathless.

“Come on. Let’s go upstairs.”

Alex’s bedroom is blue, and has a single bed with a blue and white striped duvet, a small desk and an entire wall of bookshelves, full to bursting. Above his desk hangs a corkboard stuffed with postcards, ticket stubs and a few photographs, of his family and a few other people Martin doesn’t recognise, and he really wants to take a closer look but Alex is practically radiating embarrassment beside him.

“Nice room,” he says.

Alex scoffs, dropping his kit bag on the floor. “It’s a child’s room.”

“It’s yours,” Martin points out, “and I’m interested.”

“Well, I’d rather you weren’t,” Alex snaps – and then sighs. “I’m sorry. That was unfair. I’d just prefer not to be reminded how naïve I was.”

Martin steps forward, taking Alex’s hands in his. “Well, it’s not like you brought me here to talk.”

Martin ends up sitting on Alex’s bed, Alex in his lap. His kisses have a new edge to them here, which Martin might even call desperation, and he’s just wondering if he should ask when Alex says in his ear, low and urgent:

“I want you to fuck me. I’ve got lube, and condoms if you want them. Please say yes.”

Martin pulls him gently back by his hair.

“Yes,” he says, giving the word all the weight it deserves, and kisses him again.

They have time, and they take it: Martin starts by unwinding Alex’s scarf, kissing and biting the skin revealed there, and ends by sliding his briefs down his legs and off entirely.

For the first time, he looks his fill: Alex is compact, fit, the sparse dark hair on his chest running in a line down his belly to frame his half-hard cock.

He’s never seen him look this nervous, or this hopeful.

“God, I want you,” Martin growls, and covers Alex’s body with his own.

Alex comes alive under his hands: he gasps and wriggles and writhes, as if taking him off the base has freed him from his tethers. It feels like a glimpse of the person he’s going to become, beautiful in his unselfconsciousness, and at least Martin can give him this before he lets him go.

“Wait,” Alex leans over the edge of the bed, and pulls a pot of Vaseline out of his jeans pocket. “You – need to stretch me first. With your fingers.”

“Okay,” Martin replies. “How do you want –?”

“Erm... last time, with Tobias, he had me on my hands and knees.” Alex pauses, reading something in Martin’s expression. “You’re jealous.”

“No I’m not,” Martin protests – but he can’t very well say, I lived with him for a month and I think he’s a shithead.

Alex smiles knowingly. “Sure. That was all he did, though. He didn’t fuck me.”

“Then he’s an idiot.”

Alex’s smile is quicksilver.

He wastes no time getting in position, resting on his forearms with his head on the pillow. His back is arched and his ass round and raised, and Martin follows the curve with his hands like a connoisseur.

He unscrews the pot and coats two of his fingers liberally, before reaching out and tentatively smearing the jelly over Alex’s hole.

Oh,” Alex gasps immediately; and Martin remembers the shower, and how Alex moaned when Martin’s cock pressed him there, like a promise.

“Moritz? Take it slow.” Alex voice is strained, and Martin realises just how vulnerable he must feel.

“Of course,” Martin promises, wrapping his left hand around Alex’s ankle as his right begins to move.

At first he just touches, sliding the pads of his fingers up and down, from the top of Alex’s hole down to behind his balls, listening out for Alex’s hitched breaths to guide him. He tries curling his fingers and massaging with his knuckles, tracing the curve of Alex’s ass with his other hand, reaching around to his cock just to be sure and finding it fully hard.

“I didn’t mean this slow,” Alex remarks unsteadily, and Martin smiles, and bites the meat of his ass in response as he pushes his index finger inside, up to the knuckle.

It’s as tight as a vice, and hot, and Alex lets out a low whine against the pillow that goes right to Martin’s cock, and that only gets louder when he pulls it back out again.

Alex likes this, he realises as he starts to slide his finger back and forth; it doesn’t seem painful or uncomfortable, or just a means to an end, something men do because neither of them has a cunt. Not when it’s making him gasp and moan like this, not when his cock’s rock-hard and glistening at the tip and Martin has barely touched it.

He wonders if Alex could come from just this.

When he pushes his second finger inside, Alex braces himself on one arm, reaching his other hand back to take Martin’s, the grip of his fingers almost as tight as the grip of his ass.

Alex is noisy like this, a litany of gasps and moans coming from his mouth, and Martin’s hard too, from his noises and from imagining fucking them out of him, imagining sinking his cock into that tight, slick heat.

“Crook your fingers,” Alex gasps, and Martin does as he’s asked, the pads of his fingers rubbing against something flat and smooth, and Alex keens and buries his face in the crook of his elbow, his nails digging into Martin’s palm.

Awareness hits him like a truck: he wants to make Alex make more of those noises. He wants to make him feel good, make him come, and watch his face when he does. He wants to be his first, to have something Tischbier doesn’t, and he wants Alex to look at him afterwards and smile.

I can have this, he thinks dizzily, he’s giving it to me.

Martin crooks his fingers again, and then again.

“Stop, stop,” Alex mumbles suddenly – and Martin slides his fingers out, frowning.

“Okay?”

“Yeah. More than okay.” Alex’s smile is suddenly self-conscious. “I just don’t think you want me to come yet.”

“Oh. No,” Martin agrees, giving his fingers a last squeeze. “I’ll wash my hands.”

The Edels buy fancy liquid hand soap, though even that leaves a faint residue on Martin’s fingers, like a memory.

He wants this desperately and at the same time wants to run a mile – and he doesn’t understand why it’s happening to him.

Sex has always been easy before, even with Alex. But this is – too real, somehow, and he’s –

Not now.

He splashes water on his face, and goes back to the bedroom.

Alex is sitting cross-legged on the bed, waiting; and as their eyes meet, Martin can almost feel the intensity shimmering in the air between them, ready to ignite.

He crosses the room in a few short steps and pulls him into a forceful kiss.

He lets Alex lead, and is quickly pulled down to the mattress, their legs tangling. Alex grabs a pillow and shoves it under his hips, and murmurs into Martin’s mouth, “I want to see you.”

“Condoms?”

“I don’t care if you don’t.”

“Okay.” Martin kneels up and slicks up his cock, Alex spread out below him like a feast, and presses inside.

It’s –

Overwhelming.

It’s almost too much, the heat and the pressure, his nerves singing; Alex’s legs are folded up against his body, groaning in such acute pleasure it sounds almost painful, his soft dark gaze never leaving Martin’s, as he reaches out a hand.

Something deep and animal inside Martin takes over, as he presses his hand into Alex’s thigh for purchase and move his hips. His other hand starts out joined with Alex’s on his cock, but he can’t keep the rhythm and ends up letting Alex move it for him, slow and deliberate.

Alex is only half-hard but he’s moaning with every thrust, face slack with pleasure, and Martin forces himself to slow right down, leaning over Alex’s body and kissing him, caressing his jaw. “Good?”

“Oh yeah, it’s good,” Alex murmurs, expression hazy. He’s strung out on pleasure, turning his head to kiss Martin’s fingertips, nuzzling the palm of his hand.

“Good,” Martin repeats, straightening up just enough to move again, gripping Alex’s thigh hard enough to bruise, needing to keep his momentum but just wanting to touch, touch, touch.

In the end he tries to do both, shifting back and forth, fast and slow, smeary fingers on Alex’s jaw and chest and cock, kissing until Alex whines against his lips, “Come on, Moritz!”

Martin grins, kneeling up and bringing both of his hands back to grip Alex’s thighs, and starts to piston his hips with a new determination.

Alex’s eyes flutter, his head rolled back and his throat bared as Martin fucks him, one of his hands pulling slowly on his own cock and the other wrapped around Martin’s leg, his moans strung together until they’re one long sound, building in strength and urgency that’s making Martin feverish with desire, determined to hold out until he can make Alex come on his cock.

He's expecting something sudden, explosive – but when it happens Alex's face and his sigh of relief are a breaking wave, his hand stilling and all the strain in the lines of his body washing away like the tide, the sudden clenching of his ass sending Martin tumbling over the edge with him in a blaze of pleasure that seems to resonate out through his entire body, until he collapses on top of Alex, half-dazed.

It takes him a few moments to realise Alex is speaking: “... incredible. It's like I came with my whole body.”

“But you didn't come come.” Martin notices, his hand coming away clean from Alex's belly.

“No, that happened last time as well. Tobias said it's like that for some men.”

Tischbier may be an asshole, but Martin can't deny that his knowledge is proving useful. Besides, he fucked Alex and Tischbier didn't. (Ha.)

“How was it for you?” Alex asks, a little shyly.

“... Good,” is all Martin manages, but when Alex grins he knows he doesn’t need to say anything more.

They shower together, using liberal amounts of that fancy hand soap; once they’re dried and dressed Martin casts a critical eye around the bathroom, noting the damp towels on the rack, the wet bathtub showing clear signs of use.

“Will your mother notice someone’s been here?”

Alex shrugs. “If she asks then I’ll say I swung by for some books and decided to take advantage of the opportunity to have a real shower. But I can’t say that every time. So if we do this again, we’ll have to be a bit more careful.”

Martin nods. “We can bring our own towels, and wipe the bathtub down afterwards. That should be okay. We just have to be careful of the bedsheets. And open the bedroom window for a bit afterwards, for the smell.”

When he notices Alex is looking at him curiously, he steps forward and wraps his arms around his waist. “Will we do this again, then?”

“If I can be sure that the house will be empty? Yeah. I’d like to. It’s nice, not having to rush.”

“Or we can get a room somewhere. I’ll sneak you upstairs.”

Alex snorts. “Or we can get a room together and they can get over it. We don’t all mean to hide for the rest of our lives, Moritz.”

And just like that, the gulf between him and Alex is once again acutely clear.

Martin supposes it was foolish to expect anything else.

“We should get going,” he mutters, already turning away.

In the car, Alex says, “I – know you haven’t had as much time as I have. To figure out who you are.”

Martin wants to laugh.

Belatedly, he remembers that for Moritz this is the issue, and resolves to work on getting his shit together starting any moment now, and not letting himself get stupid.

Because that’s who Alex is fucking, isn’t it? Not him. Moritz.

Alex doesn’t know any better; and it doesn’t matter where Martin sticks his dick but he cannot lose his head over this.

He’s been silent too long. Moritz needs to say something.

“I’m a soldier. That’s who I am.”

“I don’t understand.” Martin doesn’t need to look at Alex to know the expression on his face. “How can you not be angry about this?! The Army shouldn’t fucking tell you who you can love!” He growls in frustration, and repeats, “I don’t understand how you can live with it.”

“Because I’m not like you.”

Alex may long for a banner to rally behind; but for Martin, it’s not about the principle. It’s just not in his choices, and what would be the use of pretending otherwise?

 


 

It eventually stops raining.

They're both working all hours with Reforger in full swing, and Martin is running too much, Walkman bouncing against his hip as Rio fills his ears. He'll need to get some more cassettes, he thinks, only having one is conspicuous, but he has no idea where to start and refuses to ask fucking Tischbier for help.

Alex could help – except he couldn't at all, because talking to Alex about it would expose all the things Martin should know but doesn’t and the things he shouldn’t, giving him away as clear as day.

He's been having more thoughts like this lately, and they need to stop.

He'll go to a record shop in Bonn, he decides, once this is over, and pick out five or six of the albums he's confiscated from idiots trying to smuggle them over the border. Those at least should be safe choices.

He'll probably need something to fill his time, once Alex is – gone.

It's for the best. Not least because Martin can hardly trust himself these days.

Alex is – more than he expected. Definitely more than he deserved. And increasingly, more than he can handle –

There’s no point; and so Martin shakes his head, as if he can clear it that way, and turns the volume up.

He showers and goes back to their room, where Alex is reading a book by Wolfgang Harich. Something new, Martin notes, and he’s holding a pencil in his right hand; it will need looking through later.

“Hello, stranger,” Alex remarks, not looking up.

Martin supposes he's been somewhat absent in the last few days.

When he doesn’t respond, Alex puts down his book.

“You know that if you want to talk to me, then you can?”

It takes Martin a good second to realise this is related, and that Alex must think Moritz has been hiding from him, or trying to run away from the sexuality crisis he's probably busy having.

“Yeah,” he replies, busying himself with hanging his wet towel on the radiator and putting his dirty clothes in his laundry bag, though he knows Alex will need more from him than just that.

But with a potential World War III on the horizon and waiting breathless every day to discover if he's done enough to allay Berlin's fears, what could matter any less than who he fucks?

But Alex needs something, and now Martin has to give it.

He climbs up the ladder to Alex's bed, and sits at his feet.

Aren't the best lies those closest to the truth?

“I don’t –” see the point – no, not that. Deep breath, start again. “What I mean is. You're leaving. So all this – will end. And I'll just go back to who I was. Focus on serving my country. No distractions.”

It occurs to him too late that Alex might take exception to being called a distraction, but fortunately for him, Moritz isn't exactly known for being articulate.

Alex shifts to press his legs against Martin's side. It's – nice. Comforting, perhaps, for someone who needed comfort.

“And you'll just go back to being who you used to be? Oh, Moritz. That's really not how it works.”

That hits home.

“And what choice do I have?” Martin demands – his voice suddenly thick with an emotion he isn't sure he could name. “This is my life. There isn't another one. Not for me.”

For a few moments, all he can do is keep breathing: Alex has shaken something loose inside him, something that was locked down so tightly that Martin doesn’t think he’d have even known it was there.

Did he think –?

Even in his most illicit fantasies, Martin has never got further than telling Alex who he is, and it somehow being okay. It was no more than an idle dream, and as such, he never had to consider what would have happened next.

There's no version of the narrative where anything truly changes as a result. Where Martin – leaves.

His mother. Annett, their child. Lenora, even fucking Tischbier. Everything he knows, his whole life.

Unthinkable.

He doesn't know the answer, and he isn't sure he wants to ask.

But Alex has no such qualms. “You know, I thought that myself. I thought that for five years.” When Martin glances at him, he's looking at his own hands, clasped over the book in his lap. “That's how long it took me to realise that what my father wanted and what I wanted were not the same thing.”

Martin's throat sticks, torn between the answer he knows he should give – right on the tip of his tongue – and his own, infinitely more dangerous truth.

“I can't.”

He doesn't have to say why. Alex will fill in the blanks for him.

“I’m –”

Not who I always thought I was.

Feeling too much, and it’s still not enough.

Behind him, the mattress shifts, and Alex puts his hand over Martin's.

“I'm not asking you to come with me. I know you're not ready. But I'll send my address, when I have one. And you'll always be welcome, whether it’s just for a visit or for something longer. When you're ready, you'll have somewhere to go.”

Martin almost laughs.

Would you still mean that, he thinks, if you knew who I really am?

As if they couldn't touch him in West Berlin.

As if they couldn't touch him anywhere.

“But right now, I'm still available for distractions –” okay, he clearly did not get away with that at all, though the way Alex squeezes his hand shows that he isn't actually annoyed. “And I've been thinking. I'd really like us to 69.”

Oh, Martin thinks dimly, as the idea rushes straight to his cock.

It means – well. Putting his mouth. There.

But Alex's expression is that same familiar mix of nervous and hopeful, and Martin can't deny that all his ideas so far have been very good ones.

Besides. If he can make Alex feel even half as good as Alex made him feel –

“Yeah.”

He's not going to think about it.

They decide to wait for a full hour after lights out. If someone walks in they'll still be completely fucked, of course, but when Martin meets Alex's eyes and grins, he decides he's willing to take the risk.

It's nothing short of torture.

If they both reached out, they could probably touch right now, and it's light enough in the room for Martin to see that Alex is facing him, and his eyes aren't closed.

Martin slides a hand inside the duvet and down his body.

He sighs as he presses the flat of his palm against his cock, and watches Alex's eyes widen as he realises what's happening.

He keeps his movements slow, gentle – teasing, he realises, he's not doing this for himself at all but for Alex. For his bright dark eyes and parted lips, for the breathing that hitches as in the other bed, his own blankets shift.

Martin abruptly shoves his hand inside his underpants, in a heavy rush of breath.

Alex's bedframe creaks as he pushes himself up.

Within seconds he's climbing into Martin's bed, by necessity half on top of him, hot and heavy. “Jesus Christ, Moritz. You're killing me.” He punctuates his words with an urgent kiss.

“Guilty as charged,” Martin says unrepentantly, reaching out and stroking Alex through his underpants until he hisses. “Though I thought we were going to wait?”

“That was before you started putting on a display for me, you little shit,” Alex retorts, nipping his ear. “Now you'll just have to take your chances.”

They end up curled around each other's bodies mostly beneath the duvet, naked. Martin has one arm tucked behind him, gripping the edge of the mattress so he doesn't forget it's there, and the other is reaching out for Alex's half-hard cock, inhaling his musky scent.

Don’t think about it, he tells himself, and tentatively, kisses the tip.

Nothing changes. All that happens is Alex's unsteady rush of breath, warm over Martin's own cock.

Then a gentle press of lips, much like his own, and – oh.

Curious, he laps at Alex's slit with his tongue, and waits for – yes, yes, he understands the game.

With Alex mirroring him, it’s easy to experiment, to explore: everything Martin does he receives in return, a line of open-mouthed kisses along the shaft, a swirl of the tongue around the head. When Alex blows warm air over Martin’s cock he does the same, then wonders if Alex has deliberately manoeuvred him to where he wants him, lips poised at the head. Ready.

Martin leans forward and wraps his lips around.

It’s – okay, he decides as he slides his mouth forward. It’s a lot, but Alex isn’t fully hard yet and he can slide right down, his nose bumping Alex’s balls and – oh, there’s no space to think any more as Alex sucks him down, that soft wet pressure as delicious as ever, filling him with heat.

He knows what he likes, though it’s not so easy to translate that into what he needs to do; but where he hesitates Alex is sure, setting up a rhythm, a slow lazy slide of his lips and a hint of tongue, and Martin follows his lead, mimicking as best he can until his hands and mouth learn the rhythm and he stops thinking, slides deep, gags a little, pulls back, a little tongue, yes.

Alex is too quiet here, and Martin decides he wants to suck him off in his childhood bedroom, where he can see how loud he can make him moan, where he can look up at Alex with his cock deep in his mouth and see his breath stutter.

His jaw is starting to ache, there’s saliva running out of his mouth and over his cheek, and his eyes start to water when he gags again, but Alex’s mouth on him is heaven and he doesn’t care about the discomfort or that they’ve lost their rhythm entirely, doesn’t care about anything outside of their bodies and this bed.

Alex’s balls are tightening beneath his hand, and Martin slows his pace in response, smiling when it draws an indignant noise from Alex that Martin feels in his cock. Always so impatient, but Martin loves him strung-out and desperate, wonders if he could make him beg –

Alex is still playing the same game as him, he realises as the lips on his cock slow, become so light there’s barely any pressure at all; and he digs his fingers into the edge of the mattress because he will not lose at this, however insistently his cock is pulsing, even if every touch becomes a torment, Alex’s hand tightening dangerously around his balls in a way that makes Martin want to whine just like he does.

It’s driving him crazy, but he will not give in; and it’s only when Alex pinches the flesh of Martin’s hip in a way that clearly is not supposed to be pleasant that he relents, and starts to suck him properly again, rubbing his tongue over the frenulum and around his cockhead with every movement.

The only warning he has that Alex is going to come is a tightening hand on his hip just moments before his cock starts pulsing into Martin’s mouth, musky but sharp, like something pickled, his muffled groan rumbling right through Martin’s cock.

He swallows reflexively, letting Alex’s cock fall from his mouth as he flops onto his back, reaching down and burying his hand in Alex’s hair as he swallows Martin’s cock right down, and that’s enough to make him come right there and then.

Alex climbs on top of Martin and pulls him into a deep, hungry kiss, sharp with the taste of Martin’s own come.

“That was amazing,” he murmurs, his hands restless, stroking over Martin’s skin, threading into his hair. “I wasn’t sure if you’d want to do it.”

Martin shrugs, or as well as you can when you’re lying with another man’s full weight on top of you. “So far you’ve only had good ideas.”

“And what you do doesn’t say anything about who you like.” Alex kisses him on the nose. “I’m sure I’ll have some other ideas too.”

“I’m sure I’ll like your ideas,” Martin replies, and doesn’t think about what those ideas might be.

His bed is colder without Alex, and when he turns over, Alex is looking at him from the other bed.

Out of curiosity he stretches out his arm; Alex does too, and their fingertips brush.

In truth, Martin doesn’t know what he thinks any more: whether Alex is an aberration, a wiggle in the otherwise straight line of his life, or whether there will be other men who catch his eye, maybe even his heart.

But when neither your body or your heart is your own – when your mission is clear – then there’s no question of being able to share in Alex’s particular brand of existential anguish.

Martin’s choices are set, and there is no room for deviation.

 


 

There are still no messages from Berlin.

He doesn’t worry. Until they instruct him, there’s no use speculating.

When he comes back from his run, Alex is reading a battered-looking, bright red paperback, the names MARX and ENGELS alone taking up half the cover.

For a moment, Martin has to suppress the urge to rip it out of his hands and stamp on it.

Knowing what he knows of Alex, it shouldn’t be surprising that he should read The Communist Manifesto. He has a copy of Mao’s ‘Little Red Book’ for Christ’s sake, peppered with furious annotations, although Alex is hardly a blind follower of any philosophy, and China to Martin has never been more than an abstraction of a distant brother state.

But this –

This feels like playing with fire.

Inevitably, Alex catches him looking.

“Have you read it?”

“No,” Martin lies, and walks over to his locker.

“You should. ‘Know thine enemy,’ if nothing else. But I think we could learn a lot from them.”

Moritz has never allowed himself to be drawn into a political debate, no matter how much Alex needles him. Their positions are too far apart for it to be anything other than pointless, and he doesn’t think Alex either has really been interested in beating his head against a wall.

But that was before Martin started to forget who Moritz even is.

Before he started to tell something approaching the truth.

Against his better judgement, he says, “Like what?”

“Like who’s really in charge here, for a start. We’re practically an American satellite state.”

“The GDR is practically a Russian satellite state,” Martin counters.

“So how are we better? They built us in their image. Our parents’ generation swallowed their doctrine in exchange for consumer goods and forgiveness for the sins of their fathers. And ever since they’ve told us that socialism is our enemy. Why? Because it’s theirs?”

Fuck. He should never have asked.

Because there is no way he can explain what it’s really like.

To be political, for Alex, is to fight. To stand up and shout, to make space for himself even in the face of hostility; but in the GDR, to be political is to only be of the Party, and even being of the Party is not always enough to keep you safe.

He will never understand the fear that permeates every moment, or the apathy that’s required for survival. The balancing act that’s required: retreating as far as you can into home and family, resisting just enough. Making the compromises you think you can live with.

“At least we’re free,” Martin manages.

The words are hollow.

“Free to be overworked and underpaid? Our markets are free, not our people. Listen to this –” Alex flicks through a couple of pages. “‘The proletarian is without property; his relation to his wife and children has no longer anything in common with the bourgeois family relations; modern industry labour, modern subjection to capital, the same in England as in France, in America as in Germany, has stripped him of every trace of national character. Law, morality, religion, are to him so many bourgeois prejudices, behind which lurk in ambush just as many bourgeois interests.’”4

“So?” Martin asks, in spite of himself.

“So imagine society without religion!” Alex drops his book in excitement; Martin folds his arms across his chest. “Without Paragraph 175.5 Where nobody has to choose between his sexuality and his career.”

Martin doesn’t think he’s ever heard of a gay person in the GDR, or even thought of one. When he figured out that Tischbier’s ‘friends’ tended to come during the evening and leave in the morning, he assumed that was a large part of why he’d never been back home.

“And who will make the laws then? Don’t try and tell me that a sugar beet farmer in Niedersachsen will be any more sympathetic to your way of life than Helmut Kohl is now.”

“‘Your way of life’! Just listen to yourself. I seem to remember you enjoyed my way of life more than enough last night!”

It’s meant to wound – and face flushing, Martin turns away, and abruptly starts to get changed.

It’s not his way of life; not Moritz’s, or Martin’s either.

“Look. I’m not saying they’re perfect, or that we should throw away everything and embrace Marxism,” Alex continues, tone conciliatory. “I’m saying that perhaps we’re not all right and they’re not all wrong. That perhaps we can learn from each other.”

Thinking about Alex – and them – makes him feel sick.

He hears the bed creak.

“Moritz.” He flinches when Alex’s hand touches his bare back. “Will you talk to me?”

“It’s a dictatorship.” He shouldn’t, he knows he shouldn’t, but more than he cares about his own safety right now, he wants Alex to understand. “I grew up – near the border. Braunschweig is a dead city. It leads nowhere. We could see the Wall from the edge of town. I –” He pulls his T-shirt on. “I don’t know how to make you understand.”

“You’re so frustrating sometimes, you know that?” When he turns around Alex is glaring at him. “Why don’t you try me!”

“Because I don’t know what to say!” He shoves his hands in his pockets to stop them twitching, paces a little. “It was a feeling. Nobody had to say it. We just – knew.”

“You just knew. Well, that clears it right up,” Alex says sarcastically. “Thank you for enlightening me.”

Stupid, stupid, stupid. Why did he even try, when nothing in Alex’s life has prepared him to understand who Martin is, or why he feels the way he does.

Alex keeps talking as though they’re the same, when nothing could be further from the truth.

“I’m done talking about this,” Martin says at last, going back to his locker and angrily pulling on his fatigues jacket.

“Oh, are you.” There’s nothing kind in Alex’s voice. “Go on then, just put your head back in the sand, don’t let me stop you!”

Martin whirls around, all his resolve gone.

“What the fuck do you want from me?!”

“Just talk to me! For once in your buttoned-up life –” Alex bites off his words, running his hands through his hair. “If I mean anything to you at all, then just tell me what you’re thinking!”

Martin sighs, slumping back against the lockers and closing his eyes.

He’s just so tired of it all. Of fighting. Of pretending. Of trying to meet Alex somewhere in the middle, and finding that however close he comes, there’s still a wall between them.

“I think – you want me to be like you, but I’m not,” he says, looking at the floor, at the hole in one of Alex’s black regulation socks where his toe is visible. “I want to be a soldier, I want to serve. I want that a lot more than I want to – to have sex with men.”

Alex is silent at last, just watching him, finally listening.

“I think this country is fragile, its enemies are pervasive, and they are merciless. I don’t think your new friends appreciate the danger. And – I think you’re lonely.” Alex sets his jaw, like he’s bracing for a blow. “And it will do you good to step out of your father’s shadow at last. But I can’t follow you.”

Alex exhales shakily, looking away. “The last few weeks – you’ve been the only good thing.”

Martin doesn’t say it – Moritz wouldn’t say it – but he can’t help feeling it all the same.

When Alex turns back, there are tears in his eyes. “I just don’t understand you.”

It hurts.

But all Martin can say is, “I know.”

He reaches out a hand – and Alex steps away, out of reach.

He closes his eyes.

The door slams.

He leans forwards, hands on his knees, and lets out a shaky breath.

 


 

The rest of that day, Alex only speaks to him when other people are around. They hardly look at each other.

That night, Martin lies awake for a long time.

The next morning, he gets the message; and Able Archer begins.

 


 

It’s only several days and many kilometres later, when he’s standing alone at last in his mother’s garden and staring into the fire – when he can finally breathe – that he realises he will never see Alex again. That his last memory will be of facing him where he stood on the picket line, arm linked with fucking Tischbier’s, the distance between them as unbreachable as a border.

His choice is made, and Martin’s happy for him.

Martin himself is alive, and home, which is the best he could have hoped for under the circumstances. He may not know what will happen tomorrow, but whatever may come he will love his child, and pretend to love its mother, even if the sight of her leaves him cold inside. Everything else will work itself out.

He won’t forget. But he carries a lot of things with him now, and he supposes this is just one more.