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Finding Strength in Pain

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It’s too cold to be sitting outside. It’s too cold to be sitting outside, weaving a basket. What is that idiot doing? How are his fingers still functioning? Standing at the front window of Till’s countryside home, hands on his hips, Paul peers through the open drapes to see that goliath of a man hunched over, seated atop the low porch, the winter breeze running through his bangs. He draws a knee up, foot planted upon the wood. He has a basket in his lap. Paul is wondering if this is another one of those occurrences where Till thinks he’s being sly, punishing himself, thinking no one would notice. Well, Paul is noticing. He’s noticing it, for damn sure. Sighing, Paul debates what to do. Till was on the phone with his mother for close to an hour, so he supposes he’s unsurprised that Till has withdrawn into a place not quite safe.

Well, he’s not going to stand here and contemplate it. He has to get Till inside before he gives himself frostbite.

Cracking open the front door, the cold that attacks him has a violent tremble rippling throughout his flesh. Shuddering, Paul steps out. He closes the door behind himself.

“Till, it’s fucking cold,” he says, crossing his arms, stepping up closer behind the seated man. Till is silent for a moment. He stiffens up; Paul can tell by the way his shoulder blades clench under the fitting fabric of his top, his jaw setting.

“It is the winter season,” Till agrees, voice low and emotionless. He contemplates the basket in his lap, head remaining low. Paul, already feeling the bite of the chill on his nose and ears, moves to sit beside him on the porch. Even the wood is cold against his ass. Paul looks at his profile. Till’s face is unreadable. Not upset, not angry. Just blank. His nose is running.

“Let’s go inside,” Paul says quietly, “We can have a drink, you can do your basket thing on the couch. You know… Where it’s warm and comfortable. Isn’t your ass aching from sitting on this wood for half an hour, anyways?”

Till doesn’t reply. He wipes his nose off on his wrist, and then resumes the familiar process of making a mid-sized basket. Watching his hands, Paul could never decipher how he decides where a piece of twine shall go, or a little bit of bark, or whatever. Till has explained it to him before, but even then, Paul didn’t really grasp it. Shivering, Paul rubs at his arms and pans his gaze out to the expansive nothingness before them, shrouded in darkness. He sees the unencumbered view of stars, and admires. That is something Paul does like about the countryside; no light pollution. The stars are very prominent, glowing, piercing. The moon is stark, peering at them beyond the darkened clouds.

“Go back inside,” Till says lowly, “It’s cold. You’re not big enough to handle it.”

“I’ll go back inside when you decide to,” Paul answers, teeth clattering slightly. Till huffs. He looks at him past his fringe, a frown on those full, shapely lips. His eyes are heavy, unhappy—and his nose is still running. Paul shrugs. He grabs one of the long pieces of wood laying upon the porch between them. Reed, Paul thinks. He begins playing with it. He whips at the air with it. Till silently resumes threading the pieces together in his lap.

It’s really fucking cold. Paul stops playing with the material, neatly sets it back in the stack, and winds his arms around himself, bringing his legs up to tuck his knees to chest. His toes are icy.

“This is d-dumb,” Paul states, rightfully so, shivering. Till is silent. Paul doesn’t say anything more. Till knows exactly what he means.

Paul remains sitting there for five minutes, watching the stars, shaking, rubbing at his arms. Only after he reaches out to begin rubbing at his toes with his hands, a futile attempt to warm them up, does Till heave a sigh, gather his things, and rise up from his seated position. He shoulders his way back into the house with blatant annoyance, but Paul doesn’t care. He just smiles, jumping up to rush back in after him. He shuts the door behind them, and sees Till toss his basket weaving material onto the couch. Paul notices how red his hands are, his ears. Can hear how much he’s sniffling, how he’s taking in sharp breaths through his teeth.

Rubbing at his own ears, warming them, Paul watches as Till begins to put together the means to make a hot drink. Stepping up behind him, Paul reaches out to wind his skinny arms around his broader torso, resting his cheek to his back. He’s wearing a green shirt with elbow-length sleeves. Not very thick to battle the harsh chill. Till tenses up in his hold. He is entirely stiff; unwelcoming. And he’s cold. Very cold in his arms. He’s shaking. Poor thing. Poor, ridiculous thing. A thing that only knows how to process pain with pain.

“Need to warm you up,” Paul insists, holding him firmly, “Almost froze out there.”

“Warmth should be reserved to those who deserve it,” Till mutters, predictably. Paul nuzzles into his broad shoulder blades and says, “Exactly. That’s why I’m giving you mine.”

That has Till huffing an exasperated sound.

“It really is frustrating that I can’t—” Till begins, and then stops. He hesitates, staring down at the mug meant for his drink. He doesn’t finish speaking his mind. Paul hums, prodding for him to say it. Till continues, lowly.

“I can’t have this moment to myself. There is a reason I went to be alone, Paul. But you refuse that.”

“You can be alone in the house,” Paul replies just as quickly, releasing him, yet patting him on the sides in a departing reassurance, “But not in a place where you could hurt yourself. When you hurt yourself, you hurt me. I do refuse it, Till. I refuse to let you hurt both of us.”

“It shouldn’t affect you this much,” Till says, grabbing the kettle, moving towards the sink. He begins filling it. “The cold kept me grounded.”

Paul leans against the counter, crossing his arms. He watches the other man, tracing the lines of his muscle hidden under clothing, staring at those hands roughened by many things.

“It does affect me,” Paul murmurs, firmly, “Because I care about you. There are other ways to feel grounded without being in pain. If you don’t want to talk, then get your drink, and sit down. Weave your basket on the couch. I can put a record on.”

With that, Paul straightens from the counter, and approaches the record player in Till’s living room. He flips through his vinyl as he hears Till move about in the kitchen. A plan blooms in Paul’s mind, searching through these records. There is one he brought here himself, months ago... A grin spreads across his face once his gaze lands on the exact cover he’d been looking for. Perfect.

Soon enough, once the vinyl is slipped from its sleeve and positioned on the platter of the record player, needle placed, the house is promptly filled with the joyous opening sound of Dancing Queen. Spinning to face the other man, Paul sees him shaking his head, exasperated. Till is keeping his back to him. Laughing, Paul begins clapping his hands together. There is no time to feel cold and angry, damn it! There is ABBA to listen to, happiness to feel through the magic of music. Till must find this annoying, but Paul knows he won’t complain.

Invigorated, Paul flops down on the couch beside Till’s basket weaving materials. Again, he grabs one of the long pieces of reed. He plays with it in his hands, watching it contort and twist easily. He makes it dance along to ABBA, grinning to himself. Till finally stops stalling in the kitchen, and brings two mugs over. Slumped back into the couch, legs outstretched, Paul trains his gaze on the bigger man. He’s leaning over at the waist, setting the mugs on the table in front of the couch. His soft, brown hair falls to rest against his brow, shrouding his eyes. His jaw is tense, his lips pressed. Paul smiles weakly, looking at him. He’s so stubborn. It’s like he chooses to be in a bad mood.

Wisely, Paul keeps his mouth shut. He sits up, peering over to examine the contents of the mug. It looks like tea. Reaching out, he curls his fingers around the handle and brings it to his face to smell it, while Till gathers up his things and takes a heavy seat on the opposite end of the couch—as far as he could get from Paul, really. Paul doesn’t mind. Whatever he wants to do, as long as it doesn’t entail discreet methods of self-harm.

The tea smells very good, but Paul would rather not have a burnt tongue. He sets the mug back down to let it cool. A couple feet away, Till begins shifting through his basket materials, organizing the pieces of wood into an optimal position. Paul watches. Till grabs his work in progress, a tangled cluster of reeds that honestly looks like shit to Paul. Though he’s sure it’ll become something impressive as a final result. Studying it, Till then picks up where he left off.

With his big, socked feet propped against the table, Till sits curled up, head low and gaze focused. Paul relaxes, just a bit. It’s nice having him inside the house again. At least he won’t freeze to death, hunched over like he is on his side of the couch, doing his best to pretend Paul isn’t here.

Paul had been working on his own project, too, actually. Previously, he placed his notebook and pencil down to fetch Till from outside, and now they wait for his reattained attention, laying upon the same table where Till rests his feet. Reaching out, Paul gathers his notebook and pencil, and flops back into the couch. It’s kind of nice. Serene. Sitting with Till on the couch, working on their own things, listening to ABBA. Paul smiles to himself as he glances over his notes—writings for Feeling B.

 

Soon, the tea is consumed, and the album runs its course. Forty minutes or so have gone by, and as the night grows longer, so does Paul’s nervousness. Till is still a bit withdrawn, but he’s not quite as tense, he’s noticed. While that is a relief, being ignored for so long always left Paul unsure, restless. With his notebook and pencil placed aside, Paul can only focus on the other man. Having changed position, back to the armrest of the couch, Paul has his legs outstretched, crossing the distance Till has put between them. Giving him the space he needs without being in his face, though maintaining a sense of solidarity. His toes are resting against Till’s outer thigh, feeling the fabric of his tan, baggy pants, obviously secondhand.

The basket in Till’s lap looks to be almost done, if not already done. Till is turning it in his hands, scrutinizing every angle. He plucks at a couple reeds, tightens them elsewhere. Paul watches, hypnotized, until, suddenly, Till reaches out to place it upon the table beside his empty mug.

“Looks beautiful,” Paul murmurs, breaking that long-winded silence. Till exhales deeply, sagging back into the couch like a man who lost a bit of his lifeforce. Maybe he put that bit of himself into that thing, Paul thinks. Till speaks lowly.

“A subjective assessment.”

“It is to me, yeah. It is beautiful. It’s a truth, even if you may not agree with it.”

That has Till cracking the slightest hint of a smile. He finally, finally, looks at him. Paul smiles in return. Till shrugs one big shoulder.

“It’s a basket.”

“Hm,” Paul makes a sound of neither agreement, nor disagreement. A basket may be a basket in itself, but there is no right to dismiss it as it is. It was made by a man with many things to give it. Effort, dedication, craftsmanship, sacrifice, anger, frustration, relief, and satisfaction. That’s what makes it beautiful. Paul could say as much, but he’s not really the type to express his poetic thoughts like Till is. So, instead, he wiggles a little further down on the couch, just to place his feet in Till’s warm lap. Those heavy set eyes pan down to ponder these feet placed upon his thighs. Paul wiggles his toes. After merely a moment of contemplation, those big paws of his raise to gently cup one cold foot in his fingers and palms.

“Oh, your hands are warm,” Paul sighs, sagging into the cushions. Till silently begins kneading at his toes, at the strong base of his foot, along the arch. That feels good. Paul closes his eyes. He feels comforted not only by the physical pleasure, but the reaffirming acceptance from the other man. Closing that gap, coming back to himself, and coming back to Paul. It feels really good.