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The Knife that Twists Within - 7. Chapter 7

To make those pretty eyes look so blue

Ben had kept on at Nicholas for days about seeing Marcus' workshop. Finally Nicholas agreed and he was to meet his friend later in the day. There was still no word from Marcus and Nick's longing had grown so much that he hadn't enjoyed masturbating under the shower that morning. Even imaging Marcus' mouth wrapped around his cock the last time they'd made love and the feel of being inside his lover's body had paled when he realized it might have been his only chance.


The breakfast with Ludwig had been enjoyable and Nicholas was glad to find a compassionate listener for his sorrows. Leaving the old man, he had made a short stop at his mother's supermarket to hear that she'd had a bad fight with her husband. So serious was the fight that she'd ended up sleeping on the couch, a thing she hadn't done in their 23 years of marriage. Nicholas felt guilty about it, but Vera assured him that it would be alright. She also wanted him to know that she wasn't willing to give in to his father on the subject of Nicholas and his sexuality. It was a thing to be discussed till the end, she explained. The thought of divorce crossed Nicholas' mind, making his heart ache.


After leaving his mother, Nicholas met Ben in the hall. It was there that Marcus brought him after they'd first met. And now Ben stood, just as Nicholas had months ago, with awe in front of 'Arthur's sword'. And just as Nicholas had, Ben tried to pull it from the rock.


When the sword didn't budge, Nicholas laughed. "You are not the chosen one, my dear." Repeating Marcus' words stung.


"No?" Ben turned, "who is?"


"Only the lawful king of England may take Excalibur from the rock," Nicholas answered mechanically. Perhaps he wasn't the right man for Marcus. He wondered if Sebastian had ever tried to prove himself the one for Marcus.


Ben looked expectantly at him and Nicholas pushed his thoughts aside.


"Who made the piece, do you know?"


"I haven't a clue, never asked. Come, I show you something."


Nicholas led Ben into the workshop, where Johannes was busy painting a wood frame.


"Hello Nick, back again? I didn't expect you so soon."


"This is Ben, a classmate. He wanted to see the workshop."


Johannes smiled, "Make yourself comfortable, Ben."


Nicholas dragged him in front of Michelangelo's drawing.


"Ever seen it before?"


"No, who is this?"


"I'm asking you."


"Me?" Ben examined the reddish conte chalk drawing.


"It's a beautiful man, isn't it? Or is it a woman?"


"Hm. I thought you could help me out with that question."


"Who drew it?" Ben asked.




"Ah, Michelangelo! Then it's clear enough. It must be a man." Ben exclaimed.


"Because he was gay? Do you think that's true?"


"Sure, all men in that era were gay."


Nicholas grinned. "Anyway it's androgynous enough that it could be a man. Perhaps that is what Michelangelo wanted to express: both genders in one person. Do you feel from time to time the female side in you?"


Ben looked surprised. "Never thought about it. I don't think so." He turned to Nicholas. "What questions you ask me! What's your female side?"


Nicholas shrugged his shoulders and turned away.


"Hey," Ben called, "perhaps it's my ponytail!" Both snorted with laughter.


Ben pulled out one of the long spears stuck between two shelves. He lifted it over his head and said with deep, sinister voice "I'm Wotan, the bearer of the spear and flash, the Earthshaker!"


Nicholas watched and grinned broadly. "You must undo your ponytail, then it would be perfect - a young Wotan!"


"Nick!" Johannes called from the other side of the room. "Can you come over here, please."


As Nicholas came closer he recognized Alex sitting at the table next to Johannes. Nicholas frowned and said a reserved, "Hello." Look to Johannes, "Is there something wrong?" But then he remembered that Alex had been on his way to London. "I thought you were in London? Back so soon? Did you speak to Marcus?"


"No, I didn't speak to Marcus." Alex stared malevolently at Nicholas. Rising, he took Nicholas aside and lowered his voice. "I have to talk to you in private. Can we meet in the cafe across the street in one hour?"


Nicholas nodded. "Of course we can. But what secrets do you have to tell me that no one else should hear?"


"Wait and see." His eyes were icy again and he didn't smile when he said goodbye to Johannes.


Johannes looked at Nicholas and said, "Strange. He's changed. Something is wrong with him. He looks bad - old."


Ben came nearer still examining the busts and sculptures, vases and plates that were placed around the room.


"You have any idea why Alex wants to speak to me?" Nicholas asked Johannes.


"I'm sorry." Johannes took off his glasses. "The only thing he said was that the screen is lost and that Marcus is missing. He has not been at his hotel for three days and even Karl doesn't know where he is."


Nicholas sank to the stool. "Hey," Johannes patted Nicholas' shoulder, "It doesn't mean something bad has happened."


"What else could it be?" Nicholas exclaimed.


Ben, hearing Nicholas' distress approached them. "What's wrong?"


"Marcus has disappeared. Nobody can find him!"


Ben glanced at Johannes and back at the distraught Nicholas.


"The man who was here said that?"


"Yes, he wants to speak to me again in one hour in the cafe over there."


"Ok, Nick, let's go. We can wait together."


Nicholas followed him weakly, accepting a coffee and brandy which warmed him inside. It was hard for Ben to understand the story because Nicholas was monosyllabic. Giving up, he changed the subject to Simon, telling Nick about visiting his flat, the turmoil he found it in and Simon's admission to being a complete slut. At last a little smile appeared on Nicholas' face, only to vanish again in another moment.


"That's what Marcus told me. Simon is a slut and always quarreled with Anna, the housekeeper."


"Yeah? What else did he tell you about Simon?"


Nicholas rummaged his memories. "Not much, I'm afraid. It was hard for him to speak about Simon. I guess he was a cheerful guy, but easily bored and therefore always in search of entertainment."


Ben nodded. "And then Marcus found him in bed with another man."


"Yes. Simon told you?"




Nicholas forgot Alex for a moment. "And what does he do now? Still sell drugs in bars?"


"I'm afraid so. I cannot dissuade him from doing it. He needs the money he says."


Nicholas thought for a moment. "Don't know much about his parents, but I know they're rich. Perhaps they aren't that giving, you know. But if I understood it right, Kay doesn't need to work. He does it simply because he enjoys it."


"Kay?" Ben's brows knit at his mention. "Simon's brother. You haven't called him to tell him that we found Simon, right?"


Nicholas looked guilty. "No. Not yet. But I have to, it's not fair. Simon never mentions Kay?"


"He did last time we met, but says that he doesn't want to see him, because Kay would feel obliged to care for him, to support him and that he couldn't bear the pity. He doesn't want to be a burden."


Nicholas looked into Ben's hazel eyes. "You would bear the burden though, right? Is he still a hustler?"


"I don't think so. He earns enough money dealing. And I guess Frank shocked him a bit."


Nicholas laughed unhappy. "Yes, Frank shocked us all - Simon, you and me. Isn't it odd?"


Ben nodded. "You think he has the results of his test yet?"


"Perhaps, but he'll have to repeat it next month." Just then Alex entered the cafe.


"There he is."


Ben turned and rose. "Give me a call when you're finished, yes? I'll be at home." He rummaged in his pocket for money.


"It's ok. It's on me."


Ben gave him an encouraging smile and was gone. Alex took the still-warm seat. He didn't smile as he gazed at the young man.


Indeed, he did look bad, as Johannes had said. His face was haggard and the temples more white than grey.


"So you have no idea where Marcus could be?" Nicholas asked.


"I wouldn't say that." Alex answered and ordered a cup of tea.


Nicholas was nearly bursting with curiosity and nervously drummed his fingers on the tabletop.


"So what are you saying? You saw him but didn't speak to him?"


Alex took his time. He didn't answer until he'd received his tea, added the lemon juice and sugar. Slowly he stirred the brew and glared at Nicholas. "Yes, I saw him. How long have you known Marcus?"


Nicholas lost his patience. "Listen, I only want to know your important news. Say it and let me go."


A smug smile played around lips.


"He means a lot to you, right?"


Nicholas would have loved to have snatched the spoon from Alex's grip.


"Well, I was in a restaurant with Karl when I saw him. You know Karl? Johannes had given me some things..."


"I know who Karl is, please come to the point."


Alex grinned. "It was at the 'Trafalgar Tavern', you know, a popular restaurant situated on the Thames. There is a wonderful view to the Docklands from there and Karl told me it was once famous for the public figures who celebrated there."


Nicholas leaned back and folded his arms in front of his chest. "How interesting," he said sarcastically.


"Indeed, as I sat there, talking to Karl I saw Marcus, eating and drinking. Quite enjoying himself apparently."




"He was in the company of a very good looking man, and since I know that Marcus is gay I had a closer look." Alex enjoyed his tea and peered into Nicholas' eyes.


"I'm afraid I don't understand you," Nicholas said.


"But you will understand me when I say that both were very familiar."


Nicholas shrugged but his heartbeat quickened. "Could be anybody, an old friend."


Alex leaned forward over the table. "Would he allow an old friend to kiss his hand? From what I saw they looked as if they had come straight from bed." He watched intently for Nicholas' reaction. The young man grew a little paler and the struggle to maintain his self-control was evident. Alex grinned again. This play was beginning to please him.


"If I were you, I would take care of my boyfriend. I don't know what Johannes told you, but Marcus changed his lovers like he changed his shirts. I know he met guys whenever he was in Paris, no matter if he had a boyfriend in Berlin or not. So, it's not new."


Nicholas' fingers began to tremble and he tried to hide it by clenching his fists.


"I'm sure this is a misunderstanding." Nicholas managed to say. "I will call him and all will be all right."


Alex laughed. "How will you call him when he's unreachable? Even Karl couldn't track him down. No, no, my friend. He's lying in bed with that handsome man and having a great time, believe me."


Nicholas would have liked to throw the tea into Alex's complacent face.


"And why do you tell me this? For what reason?"


Alex's eyes sparkled dangerously. "To protect you from harm of course. Don't be foolish enough to fall in love with a man like Marcus. Look at you. You have nothing to offer, no money, no education, you have nothing special. Why should he be interested in you?" He stared luridly into Nicholas' deep blue eyes and saw that his words hit him hard.


Without speaking Nicholas rose and left the cafe.



It couldn't be true... simply couldn't be true ... the words rang loudly in his head as the tram travelled to the railway station, drowning out the chatter of the crowd that threatened to close in on him. He desperately needed fresh air.


Trying hard to concentrate, he willed himself not of think of Marcus, but continued to fail miserably. Alex's persistent, sneering face kept appearing in his mind's eye - his slow voice full of scorn, telling him that Marcus had a lover in London. It made sense, he had to admit. He'd disappeared from his hotel, had promised to call but then never had, and when Nick had reached him, he had made some excuse about being unable to speak just then. Added to that, there was a reluctance, almost a holding back that Nicholas had sometimes sensed. Apparently it was what he saved for the others.


Rushing through the front door, Nicholas dialled Marcus' cell phone. Alex was just tormenting him. It was his revenge for the humiliation he suffered at being fired, at being embarrassed by Marcus the last time they met.


The phone was answered after only two rings with a distant "Yeah?"


"Marcus? My God, I've been trying to reach you for days! Why haven't you called me?"


There was only silence at the other end of the line.


"Marcus?" He heard a throat clear.


"I'm sorry, I don't think Marcus can come to the phone right now." Devious thoughts raced through George's mind as he saw the chance for sweet revenge against Marcus. "He's busy at the moment." George began to moan and allowed his breathing to quicken. "His mouth is stuffed with - you know what ... oh, yeah, baby." George moaned again, his cock growing stiff as he imagined Marcus between his legs and the hurt and anger Nicholas would be feeling. "that's it, Marcus..."


Nicholas grew pale. That bastard Alex was right, Marcus was in bed with the man now, doing heaven knew what to create such moans. The receiver nearly slipped from his weak hand.


"Boy? Are you still there? I suppose you are Marcus' lover - I forgot your name..."


"Nicholas," he whispered.


"Yes, so he said. Marcus is wonderful, you know... Oh...." George moaned again, not just for effect. "We have a deal, boy. He fucks me for a week and the screen is his. You'll lend him to me for a few more days, won't you? Please? ...Oh yes, yes Marcus, like that!... Shall I send him your greetings?"


Nicholas hung up. His knees were shaking. He slipped down the wall and reaching the floor, embraced his legs. A dry sob escaped his chest. The thoughts and feelings somersaulted in his mind - from disbelief, to lack of understanding, to hurt and hate. How could Marcus do this? It hammered in his brain. Betray their love for a ... for a ... he couldn't find the right word. For nothing he thought finally. Compared to a living, breathing, loving man a dead piece of wood and glass means nothing.


Yet something deep down inside his bowels refused to believe that Marcus could be so cold, so calculating and so stupid as to take his phone with him and let that man answer it. There could be only two explanations: Marcus had lost his mind with lusting after the screen and the other man or the conversation with the other man had been a lie. But how could he have gotten Marcus' phone?


Nicholas wasn't aware of the tears running down his cheeks. He was cold, very cold. What should he do now? Quickly he considered all his friends - Ben, Matthias, Kay, Sebastian, his mother, Ludwig, Johannes, Simon? He ought to call Ben but shook his head, there was nobody he could speak to right now. He had to manage it by himself. And - how could they help him, when Marcus didn't love him? Although he'd never said it, could the feelings Nicholas felt have been wrong? The shelter and protection, the understanding and support he had experienced? And Marcus threw all that overboard for a SCREEN?


He would had done anything for Marcus - even slept with another man if was necessary to save his lover's life or health. But this. To do so for a screen. It was selfish and mad - he wouldn't accept it. It was prostitution.


He stopped at that thought. If he did this only to get the screen, was there then hope for their love? Had Marcus given his body and not his heart to that man because his heart still belonged to him - to Nicholas?


He shook his head and wiped the tears away. If that was the case, then he would have preferred that Marcus had fallen for a wonderful man that he couldn't resist. To find this coldness within Marcus was sad, that he would give his body for a piece of art that couldn't speak nor breathe, nor laugh nor cry.


Slowly Nicholas rose from the floor and went upstairs to the bedroom where he crept under the covers. He had never felt so unhappy in his entire life. The warring voices fell silent within him and all that was left to do was sleep.



* * * * *


Try as he might, Sebastian was unable to keep Kay at home. However, in surrendering to his pleas for more sightseeing, Sebastian first lectured his young love on what parts of the city were considered dangerous and what parts were considered safe. After listening attentively, Kay made Sebastian promise to show him where he worked at the Forum Romanum.


Sebastian's bright red little Fiat followed the same path Kay had taken the other night, passing the old gladiator schools and rounding the Colosseum before coming to a stop in the parking lot reserved for employees. Luckily it was a light day for tourists, so they had the fields of ruins almost completely to themselves.


"We have to go down?" Kay asked surprised.


"Yes, this is the street level of the ancient Rome. You see how high they built, level upon level."


It was quiet though the busy traffic was only a hundred metres away. Sebastian visibly relaxed, happy in his element.


"Look at these pillars, how tall they are! I never thought they were so tall."


"Yes." Sebastian smiled. "It's surprising, isn't it?"


Quietly Sebastian began to name the places, temples and arches of the emperors. He stopped briefly at a before a roped-off place and bent down, motioning Kay to follow him. Peering inside the opening, Kay saw a vault of some kind with supports or pillars that appeared only partially excavated, though he couldn't be sure.


"There was quite a sensation over this discovery in 1899. It's supposed to be the grave of Romulus, the founder of Rome. That little obelisk there", Sebastian was pointing to one of the supports before them, "bears an inscription which curses anyone who disturbs the peace of this place."


"Indeed? And what happened to the man that discovered it?"


Sebastian laughed. "Nothing, I don't think. The curse is very old, perhaps it lost its strength."


Kay turned and looked across the field of marble pillars, temples and churches, up to the Palatine hill to the arc of Titus.


"It's unbelievable", he muttered. Sebastian nodded.


"Yes. Once upon a time, the world's heart beat from this place. Come."


He kneeled beside at a toppled pillar pulling Kay along with him.


"Imagine it is sunrise," Sebastian began, his arm sweeping across the scene before them. "The first sunbeams hit the golden helmet of Jupiter in his temple over there." He pointed to the Capitol hill. "The priests are waiting for this sign. First all is quiet, but then the stomp of horses and oxen begins to rumble, the sound growing like the huge cloud of dust rolling forward. Emperor Nero steps onto the balcony of his palace behind us. The Forum fills with the rabble of the Subura, with merchants, thieves, actors, prostitutes, with noble men and senators draped in their togas and robes.


In front of Jupiter's temple a fire is lit, priests bring rams to slaughter - a sacrifice to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, while the lead Vestal implores the Gods. The people fall silent and the three Holy Trees at the Comitium tremble.


Incense burns at Caesar's temple. Nero's arm goes down as a signal to sound the bronze trumpets. The deep metallic sound merges with the noise of the army now marching into place before the temple. The Pontifex Maximus splatters the statue of Jupiter with blood while the cohorts stomp over the Via Sacra. Next, the chariot wheels crunch over the stones as whips crack over the backs of slaves and barbarian princes. Plunder appropriated from conquered towns is piled high in carts parked before the Emperor, along with cages housing exotic animals - cheetahs, lions, apes, and snakes.


Soon the very pillars are vibrating under the frantic cheering of the people. And yet though we are only beggars looking on, we are Roman Citizens. And who is more than this?"


Kay looked at Sebastian and grinned. "I think I've seen it before. In Ben Hur?"


Sebastian laughed. "Yes, Hollywood's vision of the past, but probably not too far off the mark." He pointed to the square belfry of a church. "See, there's the Forum museum, where I work. The smaller finds of our excavations are all displayed there."


"I can't imagine you in soiled overalls, a hoe or a trowel in your hand, digging the earth", Kay told him with an amused look.


Sebastian kissed Kay's lips. "You can't? Why?"


"Well, you are so ... you look like such a gentleman, you know. I would have guessed you were one of those kids that never got dirty when he played."


Sebastian laughed loudly. "That's how you see me? Well, with your rich upbringing I doubt you ever played in the mud yourself, did you? But you are right, sweetie. Therefore I have a lot to catch up on! It's fun to dig in the earth carefully, to measure and compare it with old maps and plans, to reveal treasure. You see the three high pillars there? They belonged to the round temple of the goddess Vesta, inside the Holy Fire was housed and protected so it would never die. Behind it was the house of the female priests of Vesta, where we found a mosaic floor. Can you imagine what that meant? Those tiny stones, so artfully arranged to grace the feet of those that have been dead for about two thousand years now."


He looked into Kay's interested brown eyes. "It's holy. You understand?"


Kay nodded. "Of course. It's that old that it is holy to you."


"Yes. This work means a lot to me. And therefore I cannot give it up to live in Berlin again."


Kay looked surprised. "I never suggested that you should."


"No, you didn't. But I can read your mind, sweetie. How do think it will go with us?" He took Kay's hand in his.


"Soon you must return to work. You said you had only one week off, and it's half over already."


"I don't know," Kay whispered. "I haven't wanted to think about it."


He pressed Sebastian's hand, absently watching a Japanese tourist in the distance shot one photo after another, incessantly.


"You must think about it."


"And when I go back you will find another Andrea or even renew that relationship, right?"


"Not if you will come back."


"For what? Holidays?" Kay exclaimed.


"Not only for holidays." Sebastian's voice was gentle. "You don't have to work, Kay. You are free. And if you absolutely must, then we'll find another way. Think it over."


"Does this mean you want me to stay with you?"


Sebastian didn't respond immediately. Suddenly he was scared by his words, his feelings. Was this what he really wanted? Briefly he imagined Nicholas' face but banished the image quickly. Nick was out of reach. And Kay's worth? Why measure it against his lust? A young, lovable man who was eager to learn all about his interests, who's lifestyle matched his own in so many ways, who satisfied all his physical desires? He wanted Kay to stay.


"Yes." He said firmly and saw Kay's eyes light up.


"Then I'll give it a try." He smiled.


Sebastian stood up and stretched out his hand. "Let's go into the museum."


It was late afternoon when they arrived home, exhausted but happy. Kay's head was spinning from all the new things he had seen and learnt and also from the realization that his secret wish had come true. He would stay here with his lover, to experience a Roman spring.


Sebastian was in the kitchen when the phone rang and when Kay didn't answer it, he rushed out leaving the zucchini on the stove, unattended.


Hearing Nicholas' voice surprised him.


"Hi, Nicki, how nice to hear from you. Has Marcus returned?"


At the mention of his lover's name, Nicholas almost burst into tears. He managed a short, "No."


Sebastian was alarmed by Nicholas' shaking voice. He took the telephone and went to the couch.


"Still in London, then? But he's called to say when he will return." Sebastian hoped his assertion was correct.


Nicholas took a deep breath and said with a tired voice, "No, Bastian, I haven't heard from him for four days. Do you know what Alex told me?" His words were becoming fluid. "He saw Marcus with another man in a restaurant - behaving like they were lovers. And when I called the cellphone, a foreign man answered, telling me that Marcus had agreed to fuck him for one week in exchange for the screen."


It was out now. And it wasn't as difficult to tell Sebastian as Nicholas had thought. Awaking, he had found he could think more clearly and he had longed for some consoling words. He'd automatically dialed Sebastian's number in Rome, though afterward he wondered exactly why.


Sebastian was speechless.


"But it must be a joke!" he exclaimed finally. "I don't understand... Alex was in London too?"


"Yes, visiting Karl."


"Hm. And then he had nothing better to do than tell you this news, hot off the press? How would he know that Marcus and this foreign man were sharing a bed?"


"He said they were kissing or something."


Sebastian couldn't believe it. And he wouldn't believe it until Marcus admitted it.


"And the other man, on the cell phone, he was an Englishman?"




"He told you that Marcus is fucking him? Are you certain you understood correctly? Did you hear Marcus' voice?"


"No, but it doesn't matter; it must be true. I don't know what to do now..."


Nicholas' voice sounded choked with tears and so unhappy that it nearly broke Sebastian's heart. He sighed, thoughts racing, before he smelled something burning.


"Shit! Kay! Can you come quickly? Sorry Nicki, something's burning in the kitchen. Listen, come here as soon as possible, we will figure this shit out together, ok?"


Nicholas was dumbfounded. What would he do in Rome? But then his face brightened. It couldn't be bad to be with friends at a time like this. Kay would be there, with his carefree cheerfulness, and Nicholas longed to feel some of that.


Yes. I will come. Kay is there, isn't he?"


"Sure, and I hope he's saving the pan right now! Call the airlines and find out when the next flight to Rome leaves, then call us back. We'll pick you up. Oh," he paused a moment, "don't you get airsick?"


"I'll get something at the chemist's."


"Well then, honey. Do call the airlines, I'll be waiting here, alright? Try not to be too unhappy, this will come to a good end."


Nicholas hung up and and made the call. There was a direct flight to Rome at 10:30 that night. Without hesitation he reserved a one way ticket and dialed Sebastian's number again. Already the pain was beginning to subside knowing that Sebastian would help him no matter how things came out.


In the meantime, Kay had fished the burnt zucchini pieces out of the pan while Sebastian tried to reach Marcus. This time nobody answered the phone. In another moment, Nicholas called back to let them know that he would arrive in Rome around half past midnight. Kay waited patiently to ask just what was going on.


"Nick wants to come to Rome? Has he said anything about Simon? Is that why?" Kay was alarmed.


"Simon?" Sebastian was confused. "No. No, don't worry." Kay sat beside him and Sebastian pulled his back to his chest, embracing him from behind. "It's not about Simon."


"There hasn't been another attack?" Kay asked, surmising that must be the cause of Nick's visit and Sebastian's attempt to reach Marcus.


"No, no. Worse than that, although I still don't understand the story. One of Marcus ex-employees saw Marcus and a foreign man acting in a way that implied some intimacy and then he apparently had nothing better to do than to tell Nick. Nick called Marcus afterwards on his cell phone and a foreign man answered, telling Nick that Marcus was fucking him to get the screen. Though what it means... I thought the screen was in the possession of a American."


"Perhaps it was Carlisle?"


"No, Alex knows Carlisle."


Kay was shocked. He didn't know Marcus well, but doubted that he could do something like that; at least not when a lover like Nick was waiting for him at home.


"It sounds so over the top!" he said finally. "Nick is devastated, right? You invited him to come down?"


"Yes." Sebastian nibbled at Kay's earlobe and his hands stroked his belly.


"He'll be on the 10:30 flight from Berlin. Any idea what we could do until then?" He gently rubbed Kay's balls through the cloth of his trousers.


"The zucchini is in cinders, but we could cook up a fresh one," Kay said.


"I know a better taste, sweetie - or are you starving?"


"How can you think about THAT right now? Nick is so unhappy and all you want is to get into bed with me?" Kay said seriously.


"Hey," Sebastian's voice was low, "Perhaps I need a little consolation because I'm unhappy too?"


"You are unhappy?" Kay's voice was mocking. "And I shall comfort you now?"


"Yes. Come on, baby, do me the favour."









"Do you think it's true about Marcus?"


Sebastian rested atop Kay's body - a thing both enjoyed. He raised his head to look into Kay's eyes.


"Seriously? I can't believe that Marcus would fuck a guy to get a screen. But then, I've known Marcus as long as I can remember and he is stubborn and pigheaded. He's besotted by beauty, no matter if it's living or dead, alive or inanimate."


Replacing his head on Kay's chest, he listened to the steady beating of his heart. Kay's voice reverberated deep in his thorax as he asked, "Living or dead? You mean art?"


"Yes. I love it too but not in a crazy way. It must be the blood."




"In his blood, the old genes. His father and grandfather were art collectors, too. Before the Second World War his grandpa fled to Switzerland, taking as much of his collection as he could carry or send ahead. Marcus also possesses this hunting and gathering instinct."


"And he forgets all about this particular instinct, I see." Kay said, rumpled Sebastian's hair and squeezing him tight. "Would you do the same to me? I look around at all the precious things you have collected in this house and wonder, what have YOU done to get them?"


Sebastian looked up again. "I haven't done anything similar to what we hear of Marcus, sweetie. I've never fucked a man - or even a woman - to get anything. You know, most of these objects are on loan from the museum. I pay to have them around me, because I love them. Some things I bought at auctions, of course, but..."


"But would you fuck another guy to get what you desired?"


Sebastian closed his eyes and thought about it. "I don't know. Perhaps. But not if I would hurt you by doing it."


Kay smiled. "That's the point, lover, and the reason why I refuse to believe Marcus could do it." He looked at the watch. "I guess we should get something to eat before we pick up Nick. It's getting late."








Marcus looked at his watch while fastening his seat belt. From the tiny window he could see the runway lights glittering like blue topaz in the darkness. Again he reviewed the explanation he planned to give Nick. Of course he would mentioned George, but no word of the deal he had made. With a whole day to distance himself from the debacle, he could no longer understand what had made him agree to it in the first place. Now all he was looking forward to was seeing his lover again and forgetting everything that had happened. Even the long showers he'd taken couldn't wash away George's smell or the scent of betrayal he carried with him in his clothes and on his skin.

The airplane touched down softly in Berlin and Marcus unfastened his belt, grabbed his bag and left the plane as fast as he could. It was around 10:30 when he reached the baggage claim area and he cursed that he hadn't been able to get an earlier flight home. It seemed likely that Nicholas would already be asleep and he burned with the desire to snuggle against his warm body, to take him into his arms and to kiss the tiny freckles on his nose.


Hearing the last call for a flight to Rome, Marcus thought of Sebastian and Kay and hoped that they were having a good time there. Perhaps Sebastian would finally fall in love and Kay would decide never to return to Berlin.


Stepping out of the taxi in front of his house, Marcus noticed that there were no lights on in the house. His initial surprise was allayed when he realized how late it was. Had Nicholas expected him, he was certain he would have experienced a brighter homecoming. Leaving his suitcase just inside the door, Marcus raced up the stairs expecting to find an Nicholas in a heavenly sleep but the bed was empty and cold. Thunderstruck, Marcus didn't know what to think. Could it be that Nick was out, staying overnight at someone else's, perhaps with Ben or Matthias?


Shit, he thought, he didn't have an address or phone number for either one of them. The only way to find out would be to wait until morning and go to the academy. The realization made him terribly weary and Marcus sat down on the bed, too tired to do more than kick off his shoes and crawl under the covers.


But sleep was suddenly far away. Just before closing his eyes, he'd caught sight of Nicholas' drawings on the opposite wall. One was of he himself, naked, lying on his stomach, and apparently sleeping. He remembered the evening it had been done. It was the last time they'd made love, and the memory of Nick being inside him was now as vivid as ever.


Beside it hung another drawing and even in the moonlight he could see that it was a copy of a painting by Burne-Jones. His cheeks burned with sudden shame. What had he done in London with George? He would never to tell a soul about it, not even Bastian. No one would ever understand how anything could have been more valuable to him than Nicholas' love.


What would happen to the screen now? Would George remain true to his threat and destroy it? Entertaining these questions, staring at the drawings before him, Marcus became aware that he actually didn't care. Not in the slightest. What he cared about was Nicholas. He heard rain knocking softly at the windowsill. Was it possible that Nick was so angry with him that he was taking a sort of revenge, ignoring Marcus as he had been ignored?


With a jolt Marcus jumped out of bed and rushed into the dressing room searching for Nick's clothes. At the first, it appeared they were all there, but gradually he realized some of them were missing. In the bathroom he discovered that Nicholas' razor was gone, as was his toothbrush and comb - the necessities.


Could the impossible be true! He rushed down the stairs to have a look at the coat rack. Nicholas' jacket was gone too. Uttering curses to himself, Marcus went to the kitchen, found Anna's prepared and untouched lunch upon the stove, but no note. Nicholas had left without a word.


Despairing, he sat in one of the chairs and buried his face in his hands. How could Nick do this? There was no way he could know what had happened in London and yet he was gone. Without reason, Marcus considered. Or perhaps London was the reason - that Marcus hadn't called as he'd promised and that he'd hurried Nick off the phone when he had made the effort.


With a simple thought, Marcus felt a terrible, burning punch to his stomach. Alex! Alex had seen him with George at the Trafalgar Tavern! Could it be that ...


"Holy Shit!!" Marcus exclaimed. Of course Alex would have an interest in destroying his relationship with Nick. Apparently he still was furious over his dismissal and rejection. He might well have called Nick and told him that there was another man in London. Maybe even that he was Marcus' lover.


Gut aching, he moved to the living room in search of something to drink. With a trembling hand, he brought a glass of brandy to his lips. The drink did little to decrease the burning in his belly, but he welcomed the warmth that radiated into his limbs. Settling on the couch he noticed for the first time the room's disheveled appearance. Apparently Anna hadn't come today.


He looked at the watch. It wasn't really that late for a call to Anna. He got the answering machine her son had bought for her and he remembered how she'd grumbled about the new, useless thing and her problems in learning to use it. He waited for the beep and left a brief message before hanging up.


With another large sip of brandy, he returned to the couch, snuggling into the corner with his knees pulled up. What had happened here, he wondered.


He noticed an open book lying on the low table, the letters of Franz Kafka. How did it come to be here? Absentmindedly he leafed it through.... "That you are the knife with whom I twist myself inside...." Marcus blinked. What did it mean?. The knife with whom I twist myself inside... Suddenly, it was as if he could hear Nicholas' voice, see his deep blue eyes looking reproachfully at him.


I am the knife. Marcus understood.


The knife that twists within. The pain it caused was he himself. With a bang he closed the book and emptied his glass in one go. Taking up the bottle, he poured another glass full listening all the while to the maddeningly loud silence of the house.








Nicholas was glad that he could keep his queasy stomach under control with the help of the chewing gum he'd bought at the chemist's. Chewing it also provided some relief for the pain in his ears as the plane descended toward Rome. They approached from the sea, so the water's darkness gave way to runway lights suddenly without any preview of the city.


During the flight he had asked himself repeatedly if it was wise to flee Berlin like a wounded animal. Eventually he assured himself that it was better to speak with Marcus' oldest friend than to sit, waiting for the call that would tell him to pack his bags because he'd been replaced.


With shaking legs he made his way to the baggage conveyer. Looking around in the large hall he saw neither Sebastian or Kay. The longer he waited the greater his sadness grew until somebody tapped his shoulder. Nicholas swirled around to find Kay's smiling face.


"We aren't late, are we?"


Nicholas was so relieved that he almost burst into tears as he embraced Kay.


"It's ok, sweetie, I know the whole story," Kay told him, matching the strength of his embrace. "Although I don't understand it. Look here comes the luggage."


Nicholas looked at him, vision blurred. "You don't mind that I've come here?"


"Of course not! Come, Sebastian is waiting outside with the car."


He took Nicholas' bag, and gently pushed him toward the exit and the little red Fiat. Sebastian stepped out and pulled Nicholas to his chest. "Are you ok?" he asked, lips close to his ear. "No airsickness?"


Nicholas shook his head and took a step back, being so close to Sebastian was more than he could bear at the moment. "Only some mild pain in my ears."


"Well then, you can't become a pilot!" Sebastian tried a weak smile. "Come on, let's go home."


Nicholas climbed into the backseat next to Kay and breathed deeply. He had made it. He was here in Rome and far away from Berlin and Marcus. Kay studied him intensely and Nicholas felt the gaze.


"Marcus still hasn't gotten in touch?"


"No. And I'm not sure if I want to hear his voice." He hesitated for a moment. "I haven't thanked you for inviting me to come. It's ... I was alone..."


"Sshsh, you aren't alone, Nicki," Kay stroked his hand. "I'm sure we'll find it was all a big misunderstanding."


"Yes," Nicholas snorted almost, "and if it turns out to be a big misunderstanding Marcus will be angry that I had no confidence in him or us and fled to friends, crying like a baby."


"Nonsense." Sebastian threw in. "That's what friends are for. If I were Marcus, I would think only how much you... loved me to be so distraught."


"But love supposes confidence!" Nicholas exclaimed. "And trust."


"Love also includes care for the other. He should have called." Sebastian responded.


"Sebastian is right, Nicki. You don't have to make self-reproaches. Marcus is responsible."


Nicholas didn't answer. Suddenly he felt very tired, sagging against the upholstery.


"The airport is about half an hour from home. We think you'll love the room we've picked out for you. It overlooks the garden behind the house, framed by pine, cypress and chestnut trees."


Nicholas smiled. It was indeed a good idea to have come here.


"Any news about Simon?" Kay asked suddenly and Nicholas flinched.


"We have found him," he said almost timidly.


"What? You're just telling me now? When did you find him? Why didn't you call immediately?"


"I'm sorry, Kay. I wanted to call right away, but then I thought you would cut your visit short and come back. I didn't want to disturb your holidays, especially since Simon appears well and will be there when you return."


"Oh, thanks so much for your consideration!" Nicholas could hear a slight hint of sarcasm in Kay's voice, though he no longer seemed seriously angry. "It's all right. Now tell me, where did you find him?"


"At the 'Nightfactory'. It's his usual hangout. He looks fine." Nicholas met Sebastian's eyes in the tiny rearview mirror. "You know he deals drugs and he... he's became a hustler."


"What?" Kay was shocked again. "That... arsehole. I should have known before. He's always messing things up," Kay muttered.


Nicholas patted his arm. "Ben cares for him it seems."




"Yes, my classmate, you've never met him. Together with my friend, Matthias, we found him at the club. We led him to believe we were going to have a nice foursome, but then he recognized Marcus' house and tried to flee. We managed to convince him to come inside. And now Ben has fallen in love with him."


Surprised, Sebastian again raised his eyes to the mirror. "Really? And he knows the whole story?"


"Yes, he does. Simon owns a little flat but Ben says he doesn't take his customers there."


Kay shook his head. "Did he ask about me? Do you think he'll speak to me?"


"Don't know. I think so. Will you return to Berlin now?"


Sebastian looked at Kay in the mirror, waiting for his answer. He wasn't sure if it was a good idea to be alone with Nicholas.


"Heaven knows. I must go back in two days anyway. Do you have his phone number?"


Nicholas nodded.


"Good, then I will call him and see how it goes." Kay looked out of the window. "Look, we are almost there."


Sebastian drove up the winding streets which led to his house on Gianicolo hill and parked the car in the garage.


"Wait until morning breaks, you will be surprised at how beautiful it is here." Kay said, pulling out Nicholas' bag. "Is this all you brought with you?"


"What else do I need?" Nicholas responded. "I don't want to spend the winter here."


Sebastian ushered both men into the house and turned on the hall light. "Are you hungry? Want something to drink?"


"Nothing, thank you. I'm tired."


"Good. Come with me." Nicholas followed Sebastian upstairs into a surprising spacious room with nice old furniture, a large bed and a connecting bathroom.


"It's all yours, Nicki. Make yourself comfortable and welcome to Rome." He smiled encouragingly.


Again Nicholas' view was a little bit blurred. "I don't know what to say, Bastian... I'm so ..."


Sebastian stepped up to him, embraced him and stroked his back. Then he briefly kissed Nick's cheek and whispered, "It's ok, honey. If you get hungry in the night, the kitchen is downstairs, to the right. But try to sleep, yes? I tried to call Marcus myself, but there was no answer. Perhaps it was indeed only a misunderstanding."


He looked into Nicholas' deep blue eyes. "Tomorrow you will feel much better, you'll see." At the door he turned. "Sleep well."


Nicholas sighed and looked around before opening his bag and pulling out another smaller bag that he carried into the bathroom. A hot shower was all what he wanted now, that and a soft bed. And no dreams of Marcus.








Marcus woke at the crack of dawn. At first he couldn't remember where he was and why he was lying on the couch in his living room. His head pounded, his tongue was coated and thick, while his stomach twisted with nausea. He'd drunk too much last night, based on the hangover he felt, but a glance at the empty brandy bottle confirmed it had been far too much. With that, the realization that Nicholas was gone hit him like a well-placed professional boxer's punch.

Moaning he wandered through the house searching for some sign that Nicholas had come home in the night. As he traveled, his nausea increased until he only just managed to make it to the upstairs bathroom where he threw up into the toilet bowl. Afterwards he felt a little better, and drank some water from the cup for his toothbrush before climbing into the shower. Gradually his mind was cleared and the headache subsided. He had to find Nicholas. First he would drive to the academy - perhaps Nicki would be there! If not, he would speak to Ben.


Arriving in the kitchen, Marcus noticed that it was much to early to find any students at the academy, so he sat brooding until a vaguely spoiled odour disturbed him. Searching for the cause he lifted the cover of the pot standing on the stove and grimaced. The dish had begun to rot, which meant that Anna hadn't been there for days. That was most odd, he thought, taking the pot to the bathroom where he flushed the contents away.


Again he dialed Anna's number and this time he got Anna's husband who told him that his wife hadn't been well for the last few days; she'd come down with a flu. From a relayed message, Marcus learned that Anna had no idea about Nicholas' whereabouts either.








The yellow flowers in the black plastic vase were bleached out and withered. A man in a dark and heavy coat stood in front of them with folded hands, seemingly immersed in silent prayer. All at once, trembling fingers reached to trace the small, golden letters which told the date of death: 26th December 1998.

Thirty two years, Philip. A life that had lasted only thirty two years, the man thought.


The pale sun, peering out from time to time behind milky clouds was mirrored in his glasses. Alexander ran his hands through the white hair around his temples, his face stern and determined, furrowed in pain and haggard from a poor diet. Hate was the only thing keeping him alive now.


He envisioned the accidents he had caused: the dark, slippery street, his target, stumbling, eyes glowing like a deer just leapt from the forest onto the road in the path of his car ... the sharp, yet sweet scent of the anesthetic he had pressed upon the boy's nose in the toilet of the bar ... the purposely frayed wiring on the sparkling coffee pot at Marcus' exhibition... A vicious, twisted grin spread over his face.


Certainly the boy seemed to have a guardian angel but, he wondered, was it really his intention to kill Marcus newest lover? Abruptly Alexander clenched his fists in the pockets of his coat. Marcus had to pay ... 'An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth' ... Marcus would pay because Marcus was the reason that his lost son lay there, alone in the cold earth without hope of resurrection, and beyond redemption due to his suicide.


Images flashed before him of blood pooling beneath a stilled body, the deep and ugly wound that had cleaved the skull and spilled the brain of his only child... Marcus had to pay for it. It must be done. Alex took a deep breath and allowed his gaze to travel from stone to sky, cloudy and pale.


Was the revenge perfect already?


He had seen Nicholas' reaction as he told him that Marcus had betrayed their love. But how could he be sure that Nicholas would believe his strange story? Certainly he would have called Marcus, and it was likely that the older man would have claimed a huge misunderstanding. Doubt would likely remain... He must be sure.


With a quick look and a prayer over the grave, Alex left the cemetery.






As Marcus recognized Ben coming down the street he stepped out of his car. Ben saw him and beamed.

"Hello, Mr. Weidenbruch! Back from London? Now I see the reason why Nick didn't call me yesterday." He winked blithely as Marcus' heart sank.


"He was supposed to call you and didn't? You were my last hope, Ben." Marcus raised his head to look directly into Ben's eyes. "And don't call me Mr. Weidenbruch, please. I'm feeling old enough as it is."


"As you like ... Marcus." Ben responded. "Why do I get the feeling that you don't know where Nick is?"


"Because he's not at home and I was hoping he might be with you. You say he was supposed to call you?"


"Jesus! Yes, he was to call me after the meeting with one of your ex-employees. Supposedly the man had something important to tell him."


"Ex-employee? What did he look like? Slender, middle aged, glasses, grey temples, small face?"




"Alex! God Damnit!" Ben stood stunned before him, "Nick is gone, Ben, without a note. I have no clue... wait, surely he has gone to his own flat!" Marcus slapped his forehead and rushed back to his car and shouted, "I'll let you know..."


"Wait!" Ben ran to the car. "I have Simon's address. Perhaps he's there." Ben opened his wallet and removed the scrap of paper. "Here."


Marcus grabbed it. "Thank you, Ben. I'll try it."


The car made a jump as Marcus slammed the accelerator. How could he be so blockheaded, he wondered. Nicholas had gone to his flat that first time they'd had a falling out, why he shouldn't be there a second time?


Arriving, he hammered on Nick's door but knew instinctively that the flat beyond it was empty. Pitifully, he sat down on the dirty staircase to wait in case Nicholas was just out at the market. After twenty minutes he realized that Nick wasn't going to appear.


While sitting there on the stairs, Marcus thought of Nick's parents. It might be possible, though unlikely, that he had taken refuge there. Clutching at every straw now, he drove to the heart of the city, where blocks of graffity-coloured tenements lined trashy streets casting grim shadows over stray dogs and disenfranchised youths.


He mounted the stairs to Nicholas' parents flat with single minded purpose, and arriving, leaned impatiently on the doorbell. The sound of shuffling steps could be heard through the smudged door and in short order he faced Nicholas' father. It was difficult for Marcus to see even a trace of his lover in the figure that stood before him in worn-out track suit bottoms, a soiled and sweaty undershirt and a day's grimy beard.


"What do you want?" he said with disgust.


"Nicholas. Is he here?"


"Nicholas? Why should he be? I thought he was with you, enjoying the trappings of people like you."


"You haven't seen him in the last few days?"


Rudolf's face sneered. "Of course I've seen him in the last few days."


"Yes?" Marcus made a step forward into the flat. "Tell me where and when."


"Hey, I didn't say you could come in." But Marcus took another step forward and Rudolf retreated.


Marcus shut the door behind him, raising his voice, "Tell me!"


Rudolf's eyes darted around the stranger, never looking directly at him. "He was here, spreading presents he bought. Apparently he's a rich man now, isn't he? Or was it your money?" At that, his gaze settled on Marcus. "I told him and now I'll tell you. I don't want the money of a faggot! I worked my whole life with my own hands, and I have no use for the dirty money that comes from a lay about!"


Marcus looked at if he would hit Rudolf in the face. "Shut your mouth! All what I want to know is where your son is?"


"How should I know? Did you treat him so badly that he ran away? Perhaps I should go directly to the police and press charges! What did you do to my son?"


Marcus' anger dissipated. Nick wasn't here. Any more discussion was useless. "If he should turn up, tell him to come back home. Please." With that Marcus turned and left the flat.


On the ground floor a door opened slightly and the man peered through, apparently to see what the commotion was about. Ludwig Reisig and Marcus' eyes met and Ludwig opened his door wider. "Are you Marcus?" he asked almost timidly.


"Yes," Marcus was astonished.


"Come in, please." Marcus was greeted by a tiger cat coming around the corner to see check out the guest.


"I'm sorry, I'm Ludwig Reisig. Come along, please."


On the kitchen table were the remains of a poor breakfast and Marcus became aware that he hadn't eaten since the afternoon before. His stomach's growling was audible.


"You are hungry, yes?" Ludwig smiled and motioned at the rolls, butter and marmalade. "Help yourself. I'm not hungry anymore."


Without asking, he made fresh coffee. Marcus helped himself to the fresh rolls. Ludwig seemed to watch every move he made. "I assume you were upstairs at Nick's home, yes? Had a row with his father? He's just came from his night shift... he was probably tired."


"You are well informed." Marcus managed.


"Well," Ludwig smiled again. "Nick was here a couple of days ago and poured his heart out."


"He was? Why?"


"Because he was lonely. He'd had a quarrel with his father over gifts he'd brought. His father didn't want them. Said he didn't want anything bought with the money of a fa..." Ludwig swallowed the rest.


Marcus nodded. It seemed clear now.


"And he told me about you, that you were absent and he felt lonely." Ludwig studied Marcus' face.


"I know, I was gone too long and didn't get a chance to call. But is that any reason to run away?"


"Run away? You can't find him?"


Marcus nodded. "I was at his school, at his flat and now here."


"This is bad."


"Did he mention an Alex?"


"Alex? No. Only that he's happy with you." Color rose in Ludwig's face. "At least it seemed so to me."


Marcus closed his eyes. He was happy with you. And now you've messed it up, you clod... He emptied his cup. "Thank you, Ludwig. I appreciate this greatly. If you should hear from Nick, please call me." Marcus removed a visiting card from his breast pocket and left it on the kitchen table.






The first twittering of birds woke Nicholas from a deep sleep. He hadn't expected to sleep so well after all that had happened, but he felt much better this morning. Just as Sebastian had promised. He smiled and rubbed his eyes.

Creeping out of bed, he went to the window and pushed it open to look over the lovely garden below. The house was still quiet and Nicholas wondered where Sebastian's and Kay's bedroom was situated. Perhaps next to his on this same floor? After he relieved himself in the bathroom he slipped into a T-shirt and jeans and inspected the house. It was similar to Marcus' and he felt instantly comfortable.


In the living room he had a brief look at the Venetian mirrors standing on a sideboard, the strange Drink Horns from Persia, the Etruscan Goldfibulas and paused before a marble bust of a beautiful young man 'Antinous' according to the engraving. Nicholas believed he had seen it before but couldn't remember where.


He came to a patio with comfortable looking armchairs, coloured cushions and a low table, and in every corner stood large terracotta bowls full of plants. It went on into the garden and Nicholas understood why Sebastian preferred to stay here than in grim Berlin. What if Kay would stay here? How had their relationship had developed, he wondered. Yesterday it looked as if they were both happy together... but then he'd had only a very brief look.


Hearing naked feet on the stone floor, he turned. It was Sebastian, dressed only in jeans and looking very tired. "What are you doing up so early? I thought you would sleep like a marmot." He smiled. "Good morning, Nicki."


"Morning, Bastian. Yes, I did sleep like a marmot, but the twittering of the birds woke me."


"Come in, it's still cool outside. Hungry? How about ham and eggs?"


"Yes, please." He followed Sebastian into the kitchen where he started the coffee machine.


"Let me get that. Where's Kay? Are you sleeping together?" He bit his lip. Again his tongue was faster than his thoughts. Sebastian turned, amused.


"What makes you think that we wouldn't be? He's a sleepy head, you know."


"And you?"


Sebastian laughed. "Usually, yes. But I woke, thought of you and thought I ought to check on you. You do want breakfast, don't you?"


"I could have made it by myself. You know, I'm not a baby."


Sebastian came around the table and embraced him. "No one thinks you are. How do you feel? I will try to phone Marcus later. Either he has lost his cellular phone or he will be back at home by now. I'm sure of it." Sebastian's body warmth made Nicholas weak. He breathed in his special scent, though unwashed it was still pleasant, even the unshaved cheeks were soft to his skin.


Nicholas missed the scent for cinnamon and lemons but Sebastian's smell of rosemary and sage or something similar - a very Italian scent - caused him to hold Sebastian tight for a moment longer. Then he abruptly broke the embrace, "Let's not do this," he whispered.


"Do what?" Sebastian whispered back.


"How is it with you and Kay? Will he stay with you until the end?"


Sebastian moved to the stove. "Until the end? Of the world? Until we are old and gray? Dying?" He shrugged. "We spoke just yesterday about it. Yes, I want him to stay. But he has to go back to quit his job. To pack his bags. Whatever."


As the coffee gurgled into the jug Kay appeared in the kitchen, also dressed only in his jeans and with rumpled hair.


"Hi," he said and with almost closed eyes, sat at the kitchen table. Nicholas grinned.


"Is he always in such condition in the morning? How can you love such a sleepy head?" he teased, almost in Kay's ear, making him jump.


"Man! And how can you be in such a good mood so early in the morning?" he shouted.


Sebastian laughed. "I certainly missed the way you are together."


He held the scrambled eggs under Kay's nose and the boy rose perked up at the scent. "Hm, smells really good."


Sebastian dished up.


"Nice tattoo, sweetie," Nicholas said with full mouth, pointing to Kay's upper arm.


"Isn't it? It was created by my last lover, who owned a tattoo shop."


Nicholas raised his eyebrows. "So it's permanent?"


"Yes. It will stay with me always." He looked at Nicholas. "Sleep well?"


"Yes, thanks. It's a nice room and an even nicer bed. Do you have to work today?" he asked Sebastian.


"No. No more work before Kay leaves. So we'll have time to find out what's happen to Marcus."


Nicholas flinched at the mention of Marcus' name. "You think he has lost his phone and somebody was playing a joke?"


"That's the only answer I can think of."


"But why hasn't he call me?"


"Let us have our breakfast first, Nicki. Then we can sort it out."


"Have you seen a lot here in Rome?"


"Indeed. Yesterday we were at the old Forum, it's where Bastian works. He showed me all the ruins and pillars and the grave of Rom ... what is the name? ... the founder of Rome. And then the Colosseum, the Capitol and the little island in the river. Oh, and the Spanish Staircase."


Kay touched the band aide on his head. Nicholas noticed, "Where did you get that?" he asked.


"Um, I guess you could say it was a souvenir I picked up the other night."


Nicholas tossed a puzzled look at Sebastian. "He was keen to see the Colosseum in it's nigh time glory, and he was robbed. "


"Unfortunately yes. The motorbike and my wallet, both gone."


"And your shoes. But you've learned something new every day, sweetie." Sebastian laughed.


Nicholas smiled weakly. He would have given a lot for the light heartedness of these men. Suddenly he felt like an intruder into their blissful place.


"What would you like to see first?" Kay asked.


"I'm not here to make a sightseeing tour." Nicholas said tired. "And I don't want to disturb you."


Kay rolled his eyes at Sebastian. "I only thought you would enjoy it, distract you from your brooding."


"Sorry, Kay. Of course. I would like to see everything."


"Hah, you would need a lifetime to see all that! But let's start with a nice view of Rome, what do you think?"


Nicholas smiled.






It was almost noon when Marcus arrived at home again. In his pocket he felt for the scrap of paper Ben had given him with Simon's address. He hadn't the energy to see him now, and calling ahead would probably be a bad idea. He'd rest for just a bit and then go round to Simon's flat. And maybe Nick would be there.

As he was unlocking the front door, a man stepped out from behind a bush.


"Alex!" Marcus exclaimed with surprise. Reacting to the odd look in Alex's eyes Marcus grew suddenly nervous. "What have you done to Nick?"


Alex's face paled. "Nick? Who's that?"


"Come on, don't fool around. You saw George with me in London. And I know what you think of it, am I right, Alex?"


Alex had regained his composure. "I have no clue what you are talking about. Yes, I saw you and this ... George together, but why should I care?"


Marcus motioned him to come in and Alex followed. "You know very well that Nick and I ... so you put one and one together and told Nick to spite me, isn't that so?"


"And why should I do that?"


"Why are you here? Lying in wait for me?" Marcus was nearly shouting, his nerves absolutely shot.


"I didn't know the young boy meant so much to you." Alex said almost innocently.


Marcus went into the living room and sat at the edge of the couch. Alex followed and took the opposite armchair.


"Let us stop this," Marcus said. "If you did say something and Nicholas is gone because of it, then I would like to know the reason."


"Can I have something to drink please?" Alex asked.


"This early the day? If I remember rightly, you never drank a drop."


"It's different now." Alex watched Marcus poured in a glass of whisky and a second for himself.


Alex didn't like whisky but it didn't matter now. "You want to know the story, yes?" he said after the first gulp.


Marcus nodded.


"Well, it all began with my last trip to Paris. You know, the Marie Antoinette brooch we were after. Everything was going fine until I got a call from Berlin. It was the hospital telling me that Philip - my son - had had a bad car accident. He was unconscious, his condition deteriorating, they requested I return immediately." He threw a wary gaze to Marcus who looked dismayed.


"I know we didn't know the woman who wanted to sell the brooch, but suddenly there was no time for another appraisal. The woman pressured, telling me if I wouldn't buy the brooch right then she would sell it to somebody else. What was I suppose to do? I knew how keen you were for the piece and how apparently precious it was." He took another gulp. "I wasn't thinking clearly. In fact, all I was could think of was my son and that I wanted to be with him..."


Marcus remembered that Alex had lost his wife about a year before the Paris trip and that his son was all he had. He emptied his glass and felt his headache return.


"I bought the brooch and returned to Berlin to find that Philip was still living. But the doctors made it clear that he would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. You know it hit him hard because he always loved sports, climbing in the mountains, walking, playing games. He was also engaged, planning to marry within the month. Well, it would hit anyone hard, wouldn't it?"


Again he looked at Marcus who sat slumped in the corner of the couch.


"Why didn't you tell me this?"


"Why?" Alex laughed bitterly. "You never gave me the chance to explain, Marcus. After you found out that the brooch was a fake you but me to pieces with your temper, there was no room for explanations. You weren't interested in the reasons. I'm not a stupid man, Marcus. You should have known that there had to be a good reason for my failure.


"Anyway. Philip was discharged from the hospital... I took a flat on the ground floor because of the wheelchair. Then his girlfriend left him, his friends deserted him, leaving only me to care for him."


Alex offered his empty glass for a refill. Marcus took the bottle and poured out the amber liquid, his hand trembling slightly. He still couldn't figure out the connection between this and Nicholas' disappearance.


"Philip was in bad condition, he couldn't face the future the doctors had painted for him - that he would live out his days in that chair. I moved in with him, caring for him like a baby, just like a baby in fact, emptying the bags of piss, moving his bowls. Then I heard of a doctor in the USA with therapies for those that are paralysed. He's had sensational success. I wrote to the doctor and he said it would be possible to operate Philip, but reading the cost, I knew I would never be able to pay for it. It was a huge sum. I asked if it would be possible to make payments in instalments, it was. All I needed was a job."


Alex paused and glared hatefully at Marcus. "Yes, I tried to get a job, Marcus. How many times did I ask you? How many times did you reject me?"


"But I didn't know..."


"Shut your mouth, man. True, you didn't know the reason but wouldn't it have been fair to give me a second chance? Just for old time's sake? For the years of loyal service I'd already given you? You weren't the least bit interested in how I was paying my rent. It's true, you've always paid your people well, why else would I have begged you to take me back? Would you have employed me again if you'd known about Philip and the surgery?"


Marcus' look was bewildered. "But what .. I don't understand..."


"No, you don't understand. Of course not. I wasn't able to get a job. There was no hope for the surgery and Philip ran out of courage and patience. He gave up on the 26th of December. I found him on the floor, his head split apart by a bullet from my pistol. What did YOU do that day?"


Marcus' face was ash grey. The ache in his head throbbed steadily, like a blacksmith swinging his hammer against his skull. What a horror story. And he'd had no clue about it. Alex and his damn reserve. One word and Marcus could have assured the surgery. Now it was too late. Far too late.


Alex had emptied his second glass and his cheeks were burning. A diabolic grin spread out over his face. "You are the reason for his suicide!" He spoke clearly and slowly, his forefinger nearly piercing Marcus' chest. "Why should you be happy when Philip is dead?"


Alex jumped up and smashed the glass into the carpet. It didn't break, but the remains of the whiskey dribbled into the fibers. Oddly, Marcus had a brief thought about how angry it would make Anna to see such a thing. He raised his head just in time to see Alex's fist swinging toward his face. He jumped up, grabbed Alex by the collar and twisted his arm behind his back. Alex whined in pain and went limp.


"It was you!" Marcus hissed. "You tried to kill Nicholas. Admit it!" He twisted even more Alex's arm.


"Yes," Alex panted. "Of course it was me. I've lost my little boy, you should lose yours."


Marcus suddenly released Alex. "You bastard!" he spoke through menacing, clenched teeth. "Get out of my way. You must be insane. If you want to take revenge then you should kill me, not an innocent boy!" His face was an angry red and the little blacksmith in his brain hammered even harder.


Standing in the middle of the living room, Alex began to laugh. First it was a high-pitched giggling, then it spread to a sound which filled the whole house. Marcus turned and held his palms over his ears. He neither wanted to hear that laughter nor to see Alex's loony face. All that he could think of was how to prevent another attack on Nicholas. Like a flash he turned again and slapped Alex across the mouth.


"Don't you dare to do anything to Nicholas again. I'll kill you, I swear it!" Marcus hissed and Alex's laughter abruptly subsided.


"It doesn't matter to me, Marcus. Kill me if you want. I'm dead already." With that he turned and left the house.


Marcus' head was spinning and enduring the pain was quickly becoming nearly impossible. Infuriated, he stomped Alex's glass into the carpet where it broke. What ought he to do next? Follow Alex and prevent Nicholas from further attacks? He shook his head and screwed his eyes up in pain. Alex didn't know where Nick was, of that he was sure, therefore, it was a good bet he'd had nothing to do with his disappearance.


Marcus sank into the couch and ran his hands through his hair. Alex had lost his son. He had reason to be mad, to have lost his sense as a result of the pain, to hate Marcus for his selfishness, for his ignorance, for his arrogance. You've always considered yourself to be a nearly flawless man, haven't you? But look at all the ways you've fucked up - Sebastian, Simon, Alex and now Nick.


This realization hit him hard, a punch to the solar plexus - and he saw all those faces before his eyes: Sebastian, now with Kay... Simon, doomed to die... and Nick - where and with whom? How must he feel now? Certainly betrayed and perhaps despairing.


Marcus crouched down, arms resting on his knees. He recalled Nicholas whispering 'I love you' after the last time they had made love, to which he had answered with silence. Why hadn't he just said what he was feeling? He loved Nicholas, didn't he? But he'd never said it out loud to anyone before and he wasn't sure he could bring himself to say it even now. Yet all the little things he remembered, all things which made up Nick's personality. That he could feel very clear in his heart - or wherever such a feelings were produced. It wasn't hard to love Nicholas. And now Marcus was responsible not only for Nick's sorrow but for Alex's too. Even Nicholas had asked him to hire Alex again, but all Marcus could think of was his own reputation, as if anybody would have known of Alex's failure. If only Alex had mentioned it, Marcus would have given all his money to save the young man's life. He realized it wasn't easy to share your tragedy or sorrow with others, but he was no stranger to Alex. Alex should have told him.


He realized he was oversimplifying things to ease his guilt. Yet, Nick was first and foremost in his mind. He must find him and try to make right what he could, before something else was beyond repair.


Would Nicholas believe that George meant nothing to him? Another lie. George had meant something to him. He'd spent two night with the man, and although he didn't actually fuck him, Marcus was pretty sure Nick wouldn't care if the actual act had taken place. It was still betrayal, and for what? An Antique. He'd lost Simon to the obsession. And though Sebastian had tried to warn him about it happening again, the advice had fallen on deaf ears. If he'd lost Nicholas also... he only could hope that it wasn't too late.


Taking a deep breath, he resolved to go to Simon. And if he was not at home, he would wait upon the staircase until he did return. He had to speak to him.



* * * * *



"Wow!" Kay exclaimed and his cry echoed in the long, tall, almost empty church of St. Maria in Trastevere. Luckily there was no one there to disturb. His gaze drifted above to the wooden and gilt ceiling, examining the granite pillars which parted the church into three sections.

"Antique?" Nick asked and admired the Ionic and Corinthian capitals.


"Yes, from the Caracalla-thermal baths," answered Sebastian, "You know the first building is from the first century, about 212."


Kay turned all the way around, his eyes pausing on the soft golden glow of the apse-mosaics. Their footsteps echoed on the richly ornate marble floor. Sebastian motioned for both to join him at the choir barrier which separated the old Bishop's throne and the altar with the ziborium from the rest of the church.


"Look, here is the so-called 'fons olei' - in 38 BC a little foul- smelling spring of oil erupted."


"Olive oil or sunflower?" Kay grinned.


Nick slapped his arm. "Ignorant!"


"Of course it was petroleum," Sebastian said smiling. "But the Jewish people took it as the third sign that the Messiah would be arriving soon."


"Really? And what happened to the spring?"


"Dried up apparently."


"And what has petroleum to do with Jesus?"


"Kay, the world is full of mysterious signs. And to the Jews, Jesus is just one of the prophets which announced the coming of the Messiah."


Kay looked puzzled. "So Jesus isn't the Messiah?"


"Not for the Jews."


"Most odd."


Nick moved between the pillars, touching them with his fingertips. He had never visited such an old church before and he loved the bareness of the stones, the gloominess... the room was shrouded in silence so that he felt he could not raise his voice to more than a whisper. Always he had wished to see this with his own eyes, not just in pictures and paintings.


Sebastian watched him from the corner of his eye, noticing his intrigue and wonder. Marcus should be making this wish come true, he thought, not me. But Marcus, the old dickhead, was off chasing things that were not important when he had all that he should ever wish for: a young, trusting man who loved him, a lively spirit with a strong desire to learn and love. Sebastian was sure that Nick's trust was now destroyed and he wondered if Marcus would have what it took to build it up again, if it was even possible.


Sebastian certainly didn't care if Marcus was selling his body for a fucking screen, nor did he much care if Marcus ended up alone because of it - it was a cost Marcus was willing to pay. But it made his heart ache to look at Nicholas, so forlorn. Sebastian had no idea how to console him.


"This was the first church in Rome to be dedicated to the Virgin Mary," he told his students. "Legend says that the dedication came after a quarrel between the churchgoers and the owners of the taverns. The emperor intervened, eventually siding with the Christians. To him it was better to have a popular place filled with believers than with drunken people."


"But this," Kay pointed to the chapel next to the apse, "this doesn't fit in I don't think."


"Oh yes, it was made much later, in a style we call 'Manierismus' from the late 16th century. It deals with the Council of Trient." Sebastian was pleased that Kay seemed to be genuinely interested and had noticed the variation.


"And the marble floor?" Kay continued, "How was it done?"


"The floor?" Sebastian looked down at the big circles of a greenish marble, decorated with smaller white squares trailing around. "It was complicated of course. All the big circles you see where sliced from big pillars, mostly ancient pillars from the pagan temples."


Nicholas was astonished. "But how did they cut them into slices? Certainly not with a power saw."


"No." Sebastian laughed. "Probably with thin ropes. Actually no one has yet duplicated the operation. It was developed by a famous Greek family called the Cosmats."


Outside the church Kay studied the Roman facade, a narthex with a mosaic above and a tall, square belfry beyond that. Certainly he had never had an interest in anything like this before, but he was beginning to understand the love Sebastian felt for the old and ancient times.


They walked to a little tavern where Sebastian ordered rigatoni con paiata, fried flowers of zucchinis, an antipasto with salami, pickled beans, tomatoes and eggplant. Certainly he could get used to this, Kay thought and smiled at his lover. But Sebastian seemed to be consumed by a sudden brooding mood. He exchanged a glance with Nicholas and asked, "Something wrong? You don't like your salami? If not, can I have it?"


Sebastian seemed to wake up and grinned, "Greedy pig! Here you are. If I don't watch out, you will fill out like a yeast dumpling!"


"Would it be that bad?" Kay asked, eating noisily.


"Not as long as you can lift your legs for me." Sebastian threw a cautious look to Nicholas but saw him laughing. Kay blushed for a brief moment then he had to laugh too.


"When do you have to go?" Nicholas asked.


"Tomorrow afternoon. My first stop will be Simon's, then if you don't mind, I will go to Marcus' to see if he's there. Is it ok?"


"Sure. But if he's there, will you tell him where I am?"


"Not if you don't want me to."


The paiata arrived and Kay bend down to sniff it. "Smells great. What is it?"


"Veal with rigatoni. Try it."


Kay picked up the noodles with his fork and chewed. "Good." Sebastian smiled but didn't tell him that it was the intestines of a calf, just a favorite Roman dish.


"Could we visit St. Peter's?" Nicholas requested after his first try of the paiata.


"Of course, Nicki. You haven't truly been to Rome if you haven't visited St. Peter's."






Marcus stepped out of his car and looked around. He was in the center of Berlin, in a quarter of the city which had been renovated in the eighties, comprised of restaurants and shops for tourists set around the oldest church. He passed an old, barred spring in front of the church searching for Simon's house number and wondered how Simon was able to afford such a flat. Perhaps it wasn't too steep if it was only a one or two room flat. Finally he found the entrance, it's door open, and climbed the stairs to Simon's door. It didn't take Simon long to respond to the bell, but there was an immediate awkwardness between them. Without a word, Simon stepped back, allowing Marcus to step inside.

Closing the door, Simon's voice was low. "I expected to never see you again."


Marcus turned and looked at the young man. His face had become more grown-up, manly, and there was a serious look to his dark eyes. Where had the merry, dimpled and laughing boy gone, Marcus wondered. He stepped closer and ran his fingers over Simon's cheeks. "Nor I you", he whispered. "But you know, I'm now caught in a vortex I can't control. Do you know where Nick could be?"


"Nick?" Simon shook his head. "I haven't seen him for a few days." Marcus followed him into the living room. As he'd expected, the room was untidy yet bearable. "Sorry for the mess, but you know..."


Marcus smiled weakly. "Yes, I know. Nick told me all about you."


"So what happened? Why are you looking for him? I thought he was your big love?"


Marcus flinched. "I was in London, something happened and he's gone."


Simon sat on couch, patting the space next to him. Marcus sat beside him. "Ben will come by after school, perhaps he knows more."


"No, I've asked him already." Marcus sighed heavy. "I don't know what to do now." He looked at Simon. "How are you?"


"Pretty well, thanks. Although I believe the flu caught me."


"The flu?" Marcus was immediately alarmed, hoping it didn't mark the outbreak of the disease. "Now what about Ben? Does he ... I mean do you..."


Simon laughed, the familiar dimples appearing deep in his cheeks. "You mean have I fallen in love with him? Don't know. I don't think I could fall in love with another man." A strange look crossed Marcus' face. "After all that happened between us and ... this disease. I can't. I've tried to avoid Ben, but he is persistent." Tiny beads of sweat appeared on his forehead.


"And what have you been doing all this time? Nick said you were dealing? Don't you think that's a dangerous job? What is it? Cocaine, heroin?"


"Not heroin. Calm down, Marcus. You don't have to read me a treatise on the subject. If they don't get it from me, the kids will get it someplace else."


Marcus sighed. "That's supposed to make it alright? Nevertheless, I'm happy to find you here and not in a gutter as I always feared."


"Right, thanks." Simon answered sarcastically and got up to answer the doorbell.


Stepping into the flat, Ben noticed the sweat on Simon's forehead and wiped it away with his handkerchief. "Feeling bad, honey?"


"No, yes.... stop treating me like a child, Ben!" Simon laughed. "It's ok. Look, who's there."


Ben beamed, "Hi, Mr. ... Marcus. I hoped to find you here."


"Why? Have you word about Nick?" he asked, excited.


"No. I hoped you would speak to Simon, that's what I meant." He frowned. "Still nothing from Nick? That's odd. What could have happened?"


Simon disappeared in the kitchen where he pulled out sliced bread, butter and cold cuts. "How about tea?"


"I'll help." Ben followed him.


Marcus was standing in front of the bookshelves when they returned with the food. "You're reading all of a sudden?" he asked Simon.


"Yes. I'm not illiterate, you know."


"Of course not. But I never once saw you with a book in front of your nose."


"Ben supplies me with this stuff. And I must admit I enjoy it!"


He smiled at Ben, itching in his nose until he sneezed.


"Oh dear!" Ben exclaimed. "I should go and buy something for this."


Simon rolled his eyes at Marcus. "You're such a queen! Pampering me like a baby."


Marcus smiled. He was afraid that Simon would find need of Ben's solicitude all too sound and it made him happy that Ben was there for him.


"So what are your problems with Nick? He seems a very likable guy. What did you do to him?"


Marcus nibbled at his sandwich. He wasn't sure if he should confess his shitty behaviour in front of Ben.


"I'm sure I messed up our relationship."


"Really? But Nick was so happy..." Ben swallowed the rest. Simon, in the meantime, had tilted his head to listen carefully. Certainly he had a good idea about how Marcus might have messed things up.


"Don't say you left him alone while you were chasing a useless art object," he said dryly. "He too got bored, eh?"


Marcus shot Simon a wary look, not entirely devoid of his own accusation. "Afraid you're right." He took a deep breath. "Do you remember the Burne-Jones screen?"


Simon nodded.


"I was in New York but wasn't able to get it. Then Carlisle, the man who offered the screen, came to London and I went there to try again. I learned a man named George bought it. He then offered it to me if I would stay with him for a week."


"And of course, you did."


Ben wondered how Simon could take it so calmly. "You did?" he asked loudly.


Marcus dropped his head, staring at his shoes. "I don't know what came over me."


Simon laughed unhappily. "I know what came over you. You fucked the man to get it, right? Nick found out, right?"


"Apparently yes." Still Marcus hadn't lifted his gaze from his shoes. It was an awkward feeling to get dressed-down by the younger men but he felt he deserved it.


"At least you look as if you regret it."


"I didn't fuck him, Simon. I only spent two nights with him and nothing ... I mean almost nothing happened. He was strange..."


"Don't dither, Marcus! Nick wouldn't believe you anyway. Neither would I."


"Ah shit! And what I'm suppose to do now? Shall I beg him on my knees to come back?"


"That's a possibility. But first you have to find him."


"Sebastian," Ben threw in. "Did you try to call Sebastian? Nick told me he's your best friend and now in Rome with your brother," he looked at Simon.


Marcus was confused. "What should Sebastian know?"


"But he could have phoned him!"


"Why should he? I think he would rather have talked to you, Ben, or to Matthias."


Ben admitted that it sounded reasonable. "But try calling Sebastian, Marcus. You must try every possibility." Simon sneezed again and Ben rummaged for a handkerchief. "I'm going to the chemist's. Be back in a minute."


Simon grinned at Marcus. "He's cute, isn't he?"


Against his will Marcus responded to the grin. "Don't push him away, he seems to love you. Although I don't know why."


He caught the cushion Simon threw after him and laughed.




Just for one moment

Later that night all the sights had merged together in Nicholas' head: The wooden colonnade of St. Peter's, the funnily dressed Swiss guard and the diagonal sunbeam coming from a window in the cupola that parted the church just in front of the big canopy.


He remembered Michelangelo's 'Pieta' in the right chapel, protected from besieging by tourists by bullet-proof glass. Nicholas strongly regretted the manner in which it was displayed, feeling locked out, far apart from the smooth white marble... He would have loved to have moved his fingers over it, to touch what Michelangelo had touched.


Sensing his disappointment, Sebastian had furtively stroked his hair. "Some time ago there was an attack at the sculpture. Mary's hand and eye were almost destroyed and since then it has been behind this glass."


Standing beside him, Kay had gazed admiringly over Jesus' almost naked body and murmured "It's clear, Michelangelo had to be gay, don't you think? He's so beautiful."


"Remember that he was only twenty-three as he made this," Sebastian told them before dragging them both through the tall building to the heavy bronze canopy and the stairway which lead down to the grave of Peter. Many tourists had their elbows propped up on the railing, staring down between the gild candelabras on the balustrade.


Kay watched an Italian-looking woman fling herself toward the grave, fall to her knees and make the sign of the cross, praying with ardour. Averting his eyes from the display, Kay looked up to the bronze tassels hanging down with little bees creeping around of them. He tugged at Sebastian's sleeve and pointed.


"The bees? It's the coat of arms of Pope Urban VIII Barberini."


Now lying in bed, Nicholas smiled at the memory. Remembering how he'd stood in front of the grave where a huge skeleton stretched his hand out and shook an hourglass. A long queue waited for a touch of Peter's foot which was by now well polished. He wished they'd had time to visit the newly restored Sistine Chapel but Sebastian had said that they would have to come much earlier next time.


Nicholas snuggled deep into his covers and tried to imagine Marcus' face. How he would have loved to see all of it with him ... to have had Marcus be his guide. How would he manage staying here alone with Sebastian once Kay had gone? It gave him a bad feeling. No, bad wasn't the right word. Concerned perhaps. Uneasy. But why?


He pushed those thoughts aside and tried to think about Marcus, his body pressed against him, his arms round his back, head close to his own and the silent breath at his shoulder... nobody could compare. Nobody...


The three of them spent the next morning at the Pantheon and its surroundings, where Sebastian had shown them the grave of Raphael. Afterward, they'd taken Kay home to pack his bag for home. Again Sebastian noticed Nicholas' forlornness as he stood in at airport waving goodbye to Kay. He clasped Nicholas' shoulder briefly and led him to the car.


Good-humouredly he asked, "Now, Nicki. Tell me what you would like to do."


"What I would like to do?" Suddenly Nicholas' eyes were brimming with tears. Go back home to Marcus' sheltering embrace! It screamed within him but he wasn't able to speak a word. Nevertheless, Sebastian saw and wiped away a tear from his cheek.


"So sad about Kay's departure?" he asked, trying to make a joke.


Nicholas swallowed his tears and sat upright. He fastened his belt and said, "What would you suggest? You are at home here."


"Nicki," Sebastian said softly, "Anything you want. With Marcus still missing, it's yours to decide." He started the car. "Shall I list what you haven't seen yet? Perhaps the Holy Staircase? Or how about the bleeding picture of the Madonna? The grill of Holy Laurentius? The altar of the Tiburtin Sibyl? Bernini's wonderful sculptures? Or perhaps a museum with paintings?"


Nicholas sniffed and began to laugh. "I don't know! You tell me."


Sebastian watched the landscape of the Roman Campagna, a peaceful piece of earth sprinkled with tall cypresses, box trees and laurel. He tried to think clearly. Perhaps he needed more rest and it would be a wiser delay the trips from one museum to another.


"What about a holiday by the sea?" he suggested. "I mean Rome will be there when we return, but you could relax and I won't disturb you as you think."


"By the sea?" Nicholas repeated. "Where?"


"Oh I now a very nice little village with a long beach, set below some hills - there are even some castles around." He looked at Nick. "What do you think? Of course it's up to you."


Nicholas avoided Sebastian's gaze. He wasn't sure if it would be a good idea to be so alone with him. But the thought of a long, deserted beach tempted him and so he threw all this inhibitions overboard. "Yes, I like the idea. When can we go?"


"Right now, if you want. It's only two hours away from here."



It was early evening when they arrived in the little sea town of San Felice Circeo, near the Gulf of Naples. Sebastian and Nicholas hadn't spoken much during the drive. The silence was a comfortable one, Nicholas clearly lost in the sites or his thoughts of Marcus. Sebastian pulled up in front of a hotel sitting directly on the beach and a warm breeze welcomed them to 'Albergo Neanderthal'. Nicki wondered about the strange name.


Sebastian had left him for only a moment, "All right, Nicki, we have two rooms."


Pulling out the suitcases, he followed Sebastian through the hotel lobby. Sebastian exchanged a few words with an older women sitting at the reception desk until a young man appeared who carried the luggage to their rooms. "The weather has been nice the last few days, Carlotta says. Plenty of sunshine."


"You know the woman? You have been here before, yes?"


Sebastian nodded and thought briefly at Andrea. But everything was different now. This time he wasn't fleeing the hot Roman summer.


"We're the only guests here, so I think Carlotta will spoil us with her cooking skills! Hurry up, Nicki, I'm hungry."


It was much later when they took a short walk along the beach and Sebastian pointed to a cave just beside the hotel.


"Look, here is where they found the skeleton of a Neanderthal man - 60,000 years old."


"Hence the name of the hotel, right?"


"Right." Sebastian slid his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket.


"Tomorrow we can visit the town if you like, it's a very old, called Circeii. It was a Roman colony, established three hundred years before Christ. After that it was in the possession of the Order of the Templar. The location was strategically important for their crusades."


"Certainly you know a lot, Bastian. Does Marcus know as much as you?"


"I'm sure he does. And if not, you can read it in any travel guide."


Nicholas looked out to the sea, beyond the gentle waves breaking against the shore. The moon was only a very small sickle, the only thing he could see when he looked above was a sparkling ocean full of stars - a gigantic black table with a brilliant pattern.


"Do you know any of the constellations?" he asked Sebastian.


"Constellations? Afraid not."


"I do, but I've never seen so many stars."


Sebastian stopped walking, looking into the firmament.


"There is the little bear, with the Pole Star." Nicholas said, "and there, the big W, you see it? It's Cassiopeia."


Sebastian narrowed his eyes but couldn't see anything. Perhaps he needed glasses.


"But the most impressive is Orion, the heavenly hunter. You see?"


Sebastian smiled. "I'm sorry, I'm afraid my eyes are getting weak."


"Oh, what a pity. So you wouldn't be able to sit with Kay in front of your house and count the stars."


"You're much too romantic, my heart."


Nicholas sighed. "Perhaps you're right. Let's go back."



As Nicholas awoke early in the morning he had the feeling that he had closed his eyes for only five minutes. Nightmares of strange faces and places, vanishing as quickly as they'd materialized, had plagued his sleep. He knew it wasn't the foreign room and bed that had caused them, both were pleasant - it was loneliness. What on earth was he to do now, he wondered. His longing for Marcus grew with every second, but if he thought about him and the foreigner together in London he felt sick.


He tried to console himself that the screen was the only reason Marcus had shared his bed with another man. Yet allowing for that made it hard to convince himself that Marcus had ever truly loved him. His task now was to think about starting a new life. A life without Marcus and all the things he'd gotten used to.


He saw himself behind a counter at the shopping center, selling boring things, his place at the academy filled by someone else. Certainly, he could still paint, but without Marcus' support or protection, continuing his education was out.


A dry sob escaped his throat, he grabbed the pillow and pressed it to his chest. In a little while the pain subsided enough that he could leave the bed. Going to the window, he pushed the curtains aside to behold a marvellous view of a calm sea which looked like polished silver, a mirror. A faint haze prevented him from discerning the line between sky and water. Seagulls argued loudly about a fish. He breathed in deeply the fresh, salty air.


No use brooding, he said to himself. Maybe Kay would be able to find out more once Marcus returned.


"Now, honey, how did you sleep?" Sebastian asked as Nick joined him at the breakfast table. Seeming in good humour, he was wearing a green woollen pullover which perfectly matched his eyes.


"Actually ... good." Nicholas lied, not wanting to spoil Sebastian's mood.


"Fine. Let's have a cup of coffee and then visit the town, ok?"


"Anything you want." Something hit him. "Kay can't reach us, Bastian, he won't know that we are here!" he exclaimed.


"True, I called him last night but didn't tell where we were. No need to make him jealous." He gazed deeply into Nicholas sleepy eyes. "There isn't a need for him to be jealous, is there?"


Nicholas bit into his cornetto, avoiding the answer.


Both men enjoyed the little town with its dark brown and red stone buildings. They visited the Casa dei Cavalieri, a house that had once belonged to the Knights Templar. Sebastian called Nick's attention to the ruins of the ancient city below, and in the afternoon they visited the old castle high above the town.


"Fourth century before Christ," Sebastian remarked, "can you believe how old this is? Sometimes I wish all the walls and stones and trees could speak. What would they tell us, Nicki?"


"Certainly about war and plagues and death. The history is full of wars. Do you think there could be another future? Without war?"


"I don't know. We're enjoying the longest period of peace in Europe since the calendar began. This should be a sign of hope."


Nicholas shook his head. "Don't know. When we don't make war with other countries we make war on ourselves, on a small scale you know. Hurting other people with words ... or actions."


"Hey," Sebastian stopped and took Nicholas chin. Nick was almost of equal height. "That's human nature. Every progress is a step back, every invention is good and bad at the same time. Humankind is curious, we don't need a language to communicate these things. What do you think would have happened if one of the first anthropoids had decided to live in a tree forever? If he had never tried to walk on two feet? Never formed a stone into a weapon to cut meat?"


"Guess we'd still be living in trees." Nicholas grinned. "I know what you mean." He took hold of one of the silver-green leaves of a crippled olive-tree. "But this tree could live without us. He doesn't need us, we need him."


"That's fairly true, Nicki."


"Like I need Marcus, but he doesn't need me."


Sebastian looked dismayed. "That's what you want to tell me, yes?" His fingers stroked Nicholas' cheek until the boy buried his face in the palm of his hand.


"Marcus is an idiot. I can't figure out why he did it."


"You also believe that it must be true?" Nicholas asked, raising his face to meet Sebastian's.


Sebastian bit his lip and looked into Nicholas waiting eyes. "What shall I say? If I say no you wouldn't believe me. I can't comfort you, honey."


The sun, beginning to set over the water, bathed the landscape in a sharp, bright light. Sebastian reached for Nicholas' hand and turned with him to the Tyrrhenian Sea. He pointed to the left and said, "Over there is Naples and the Vesuvius. Want to make a trip there? Tomorrow?"


Nicholas nodded. He felt Sebastian large hand, his soft, long fingers twined around his own and he felt warmth streaming from them up to his heart. Yes, he wanted to go there with him. Sebastian was now his only stability.


Silently they watched how the sun kissed the water, surrounded by pink billowed clouds, making a golden trail on the water. It seemed that one had only to stretch out his leg and he could enter the passage to arrive at a better land behind the sun, sorrows left behind.


The sky was now light green and changing slowly to Prussian blue while the last of the sun laid her head to rest into the water. Still Sebastian held Nicholas hand as he said, "Come, soon it will be pitch dark."


Hand in hand, they travelled went down the hill, passing the town with its illuminated market place and little bars, not pausing until they reached the beach. They passed the hotel but neither moved to enter. They simply walked along, silently, until one star after another appeared at the dark blue firmament.


"If it turns out to be true, would you forgive him?"


Nicholas knew what Sebastian meant. "I don't know. I've been asking myself that constantly but I can't decide. It's too difficult." He squeezed Sebastian's hand. "I mean, if I were to see Marcus again, if he was standing right here in front of me now ... I think I could forget. The only thing is for him to love me." He dropped Sebastian's hand. "But I'm afraid that wish is in vain. He's one of those people who can't love ... or can't show it ... or have no longing for it." Hastily Nicholas wiped a tear from the corner of his eye.


A light wind was blowing, a wind which came from the land, carrying the first whiff of Spring and with it, a different scent, like blooming rosemary and orange blossoms.


Sebastian noticed it and he breathed deeply. "Can you smell it? It's a wind coming from the south. It must be spring in Naples already." He ceased his slow walk, coming to stand before Nicholas. Again he lifted the boy's chin and wiped, with both thumbs, the tears streaking his face. "Don't cry, honey. It's such a beautiful night," he whispered and narrowed his lips to Nicholas' mouth.


Without thinking he met Nicholas' cool lips, and sensing no resistance, pulled his body close. He felt Nick shudder and held him even tighter. Nick was kissing him back, opening his mouth, emitting a strange little sound and Sebastian knew there wouldn't be turning back now.


Kay was forgotten, pushed out of his mind as all his suppressed feelings for Nicholas broke free. Still kissing, he dragged the young man with him to the shore, before pulling off his jacket and throwing it on the fine sand. He kneeled, again pulling Nicholas after him.


Looking into Nicholas' face Sebastian saw a small smile on his full lips, and in reply, found his hands traveling down, undoing the others belt, pulling the shirt from his trousers. In the next moments he shed his own clothing, tugging at his pullover and struggling with the zipper on his jeans. Realizing his desire, long pent up, deterred by his relationship with Kay, Sebastian recognized the power of the moment, felt as the walls of Jericho as they came tumbling down.


No return and no thought for Kay or Marcus - the only reality was the feel of Nicholas naked, warm skin, rubbing gently against his chest and the fine fuzz of hair. The wind blew gently over their naked bodies, but it was no longer cold, not just from the boulders above them, hiding their lovemaking from prying eyes, but from the heat of their passion.


Sebastian moved Nicholas onto his back and began a trail of loving kisses from lips to belly, just as he had done that night Kay had interrupted them at Marcus', ringing the bell at front door after the attack.


Sebastian snaked his tongue in and around Nicholas' belly button, kissing the junction of abdomen and legs which he had spread wide. Again he heard that funny little sound escape Nick's throat.


He showered Nicholas' cock with kisses, tonguing the head, leaving a trail of saliva on it until he reached the place behind his balls, where he buried his face, searching out the dark hole, almost invisible, trusting his fingers, his senses, his heart, before finding the sweet smell which was Nicholas' very own. As his tongue meandered around it's rim, Nicholas let go a cry of pleasure, of stifled, wounded desire ... a need to be filled deep within.


For Nicholas there was a sudden inability to recognize or decipher the two men - Sebastian from Marcus. Who's tongue brought him pleasure? Did it matter? This one was gentle, plunging him from one pleasure to another until the boy could bear it no more. He tugged at Sebastian's hair, pulling his head up, seeking the older man's lips, kissing him feverishly, tasting both his precum and the musky taste behind it, all the while staring deep into his eyes.


As Sebastian's fingers slipped into his hole - very warm and wet fingers - Nicholas heard himself purr like a kitten working toward contentment. No, at night there was no difference between the men, but when the sun rose again that would change. For now, Nicholas wanted the warm, caring hands, a fast heartbeat next to his, a tongue pushing against his tongue, and a penis inside, caressing his soul from within. Nicholas arched his back as Sebastian's fingers found his prostate, lifting his legs even further.


Sebastian understood the silent sign, positioned himself and slipped inside with almost no obstacle, slowly, carefully, until he was seeded fully. Had he ever felt such comfort, Sebastian wondered. Had there ever been such a tight room for him, so hot and demanding that he almost lost consciousness? He couldn't answer for sure, his mind was awash in sensation, like the gentle waves licking at the sandy shore, drowning out their breathing, their gasps and cries and all too soon Sebastian emptied himself deep into Nicholas', wishing it hadn't ended so soon. But what was time? How long their lovemaking had lasted he couldn't say for sure.


He lay down on Nicholas' heaving body, feeling the warm, sticky semen on his belly while murmuring unintelligible words into Nick's ear.


Nick stroked the sweaty hair from his forehead, caressed his shoulders and down his back. He arched his hips, anxious to prevent Sebastian's cock from slipping out. Yes, he could smell it, the wind carried the scent of orange blossoms from the south, a very Italian scent...


"Nicki." Sebastian's voice was husky. "Unbelievable," he continued. "Are you ok?'


Nicholas' soft laughter surprised Sebastian. "Of course I'm ok. You are a gentle tiger, you know."


Sebastian raised his head. "A gentle tiger?" he asked, grinning. "That was the shortest I ever did, angel. I wanted you so badly. Too badly."


Sebastian dropped his head, softly kissing Nicholas's lips. Sadly Nicki felt Sebastian's penis slip out of him and he was again lonely. Not empty, so long Sebastian was with him, but lonely still. Carefully he sat upright pulling Sebastian's heavy body with him.


Sebastian searched for a handkerchief in his pockets, found one and cleaned up Nick a bit. Then he sat at his heels and began to shiver. "Ready to go back?" he asked.


"Yes. But don't leave me please." Sebastian smiled and took his hand.


Tousled, they reached the hotel, snapped up their keys before Carlotta could make a strange comment and Nicholas followed Sebastian to his room where they took a long shower together.


Nicholas couldn't believe it. He marvelled over Sebastian's firm body, stroked the soft, light skin on his shoulders and along his arms, washed his limp penis and squeezed his balls until Sebastian was squeaking for mercy. Where was the guilt he should be feeling?


"Feel guilty?" he asked Sebastian timidly.


Sebastian gazed into the boy's violet-blue eyes, the most heavenly blue he ever had seen, and shook his head slowly.


"What about Kay?"


"I don't want to think about it, angel. Not until the morning."


He stepped out of the shower, dried himself and waited for Nicholas, rubbing the young man dry when he emerged. When they were both dry, he led the way to bed, switching out the lights along the way. Then he sat on the bed, embracing Nicholas, burying his head in the flesh just above his pubic hair while kneading Nick's butt cheeks.


"Do you think this bed is big enough for both of us?" Nicholas asked in a low voice.


"Sure, I'll show you." Again his lips found Nicholas' penis, caressing it until it began to rise again. "This time I want to feel you inside me." he whispered.


"So you will leave all the guilty feelings to the next morning, right?" Nicholas asked, already beginning to pant.


"Stop talking, angel. I definitely will." Sebastian sank back into the covers, pulling Nicholas along with him.


That's right, Nick thought, leave the guilt until the morning ... it will certainly come. But here and now... he moved over and kissed his way down Sebastian's abdomen, the soft, tiny hairs tickling his nose and cheeks. He kissed the erect penis, circled around the head and pressed his tongue in the very moist slit. And all that he felt was joy. Joy that he could delight Sebastian.



A fresh, soft wind blew through the window they'd left ajar, still carrying the spicy scent of wild thyme and rosemary, mingled with the salty smell of water and seaweed.


Nicholas was awake but hadn't yet opened his eyes. Though he had expected to be confused when he awoke - he was not. Instead, he felt deeply satisfied - and deeply guilty. This, of course was what he had expected. He was aware of Sebastian's warm closeness, the arm draped over his chest, gingers splayed across his upper arm. He breathed calmly, a cool breeze upon his shoulder.


When Nicholas moved his right leg, he could feel Sebastian's semi-hard penis poking against his hip. His body jerked at the touch and Nicholas knew Sebastian was about to wake up. Sure enough his hand wandered aimlessly around Nicholas' body, along his hip, and leg, finding his limp penis then stroking it sleepily.


Eyes still closed, Nicholas made no move to stop the caressing hand and fingers until it was too late. Against his will, arousal awoke and he couldn't stop it. In a lithe movement, Sebastian shifted his body and Nicholas felt a very warm, velvety mouth close around his cock, sucking lightly so that he couldn't hold back a little moan which seeped from his throat.


Nicholas closed his eyes tightly because images of Marcus and Sebastian were merging together - Marcus with grey-green eyes and Sebastian with shiny dark hair - but both revealing the same smile, the same tender mouth. Their styles were certainly different, though both were highly pleasurable, seductive, ravishing, and irresistible. In no time, he poured himself into Sebastian's mouth, clamping his fingers into Sebastian's hair, and finally opening his eyes. He was met by Sebastian's smiling eyes and fully erect penis poking into his belly.


Sebastian kissed Nicholas, giving him a taste of his own semen and Nick gave in a second time. But then the pain began and he pushed Sebastian aside. "We must stop this," he murmured.


"First, a good morning, angel."


"Morning. What's the time?"


"What the devil hast thou to do with the time of the day?" Sebastian was grinning. "We are without time, Henry the Fourth."


Nicholas looked confused, "Ah stop joking. I mean it, seriously. We must stop this."


Sebastian fell back into the pillows. "So you don't want to help me out with my morning desire, do you?"


"No." Nicholas bent over Sebastian and stroked away a sandy strand of hair. The little silver coin from the chain around his neck touched Sebastian's lips.


"What is this? I meant to ask you yesterday."


"My good luck charm." Nicholas replied, enclosing the medal with his fingers.


"Marcus gave it to me after he came back from America."


Sebastian seriously considered it. "So ... a good luck charm. Well it didn't protect you from me..."


For the first time in hours Sebastian thought of Kay and then of Nick's words - that the guilty feelings would come today. Kay didn't deserve this treat. Sebastian shook his head.


"What are you thinking about?" he heard Nick's voice.


"Kay." His voice was suddenly very tired. "What do we do now? Do we have to tell? Will he understand? Will Marcus understand?"


"Ah, Marcus! He's the last person who should complain!' Nicholas exclaimed but Sebastian sat up quickly and said sharply, "You don't know for sure what happened in London, darling. Don't be so quick with words. Don't judge him before you hear his version of the story. After all, we might find ourselves in a similar spot."


Nicholas didn't say anything and eventually Sebastian pulled him into his arms.


"Don't you agree with me?" he asked softly.


"Can we go home today?" was Nick's sole answer and Sebastian sighed. "If you like, we can wait for Kay's call together, yes?"


Nicholas nodded. He crept over Sebastian's body, out of the bed, and without a look vanished into the bathroom. Closing the door behind him was a signal to Sebastian, they would not share a shower today.


Was it worth it? The thought of Kay almost choked Sebastian's throat. His body screamed a yes but his mind was definitely angry. Yet, he felt that it had had to happen. When the old magic works between two people, the energy must be expelled. In a sense each night had led to last night, enchanted couplings on the beach and here in this bed. It was over now, the spell broken, but not the attraction ... not the loving care ...


Sebastian climbed out of bed and went to the open window. A chilling wind came in and he breathed deeply. Still it smelled of wild thyme and he remembered his promised trip to Naples. What rubbish! He ran his fingers through his hair. Kay was waiting, Kay was packing his clothes to come back to him, Kay would be pleased to go with him wherever he wanted to go... he felt two arms embrace him from behind and a soft cheek press against his.


"Are you mad at me?" Nicholas whispered.


"No," he said without turning. He stroked Nick's long fingers. "You have beautiful hands, did I ever tell you?" he whispered back.


"Will you tell Kay about it?"


"Will you tell Marcus about it?"




Sebastian turned and embraced Nicholas again. "We will do the right thing when it's the right time, angel. Have a little faith. You regret last night?" He felt Nicholas shaking his head.


"No. I don't regret it. It was wonderful. But it has to be a single night. We mustn't do this again."


Nicholas thought he sensed a little disappointment from deep within Sebastian. Certainly he had enjoyed the night with Sebastian ... the attraction was too big not to give in, and it was still there, but he couldn't do it again, couldn't hurt Marcus and Kay. Gently he moved away from Sebastian and said, "Come, let us drive home."


Sebastian's look was sad, but he acquiesced.



* * * * *



Marcus tried to call Sebastian but nobody seemed to be there. This wasn't strange of course, perhaps he and Kay had enjoyed Rome far into the night.


After the initial shock had subsided, along with a nearly sleepless night surrounded by Nicholas' paintings and scent, Marcus was able to think more clearly and the first thing that came to his mind was the workshop, Johannes and the exhibition he ought to organizing. Johannes, he was sure, would be cross with him... he had prepared nothing and the show was to open in only a few days. Hopefully he'd managed it somehow.


Arriving at the workshop, Marcus found things much the same as always, although Katja had cleaned up a bit. By this time she was aware that she ought to leave things in their places to avoid his wrath. Even the little spider-brooch he'd rediscovered in the cupboards days ago remained where he'd left it. Remained to remind him of his guilt. This piece was the beginning of all the nasty things that had happened. Of course that was bullshit, Marcus thought. He was responsible for all of it ... for the death of Alex's son, for the injuries Nick had sustained, for his leaving, and for his own loneliness. It wasn't the brooch at all.


Never had Marcus carried another so deeply in his heart. He had always borne the burden of parting so well - Sebastian, Simon, his cheating and disease, the brief encounters he'd had with other men. But this time it was different. This time he was in love. Really in love.


It was his responsibility all right. But the brooch remained a painful reminder of his poor decisions. He should sell it, he realised and wrapped a cloth around it, slipping it into his jacket pocket. Looking around at all the treasures he had collected he felt empty. His fingers furtively touched the shiny bronze surface of Giambologna's "Mercury" dancing on tiptoe, caduceus held high in the air, ready to fly away - like Nicholas. None of these pieces held real meaning for him anymore.


He glared into the dead and sightless eyes of the marble busts, peered into cupboard doors at contents he hadn't looked at for a long time. Eventually his gaze rested on the old sword stuck in the rock. The memory came like a flash of lightning, a clicking of an automatic camera ... Nick standing here, marvelling at the piece, trying to pull out the sword... Marcus behind him but neither of them able to pull it out. "You are not the chosen one," he had whispered to Nick. Why had he said it? He knew right from the start that Nick was the one. Haltingly, almost timidly Marcus brought his hand to the cross-shaped hilt of the sword and tugged. The sword didn't move. Abruptly he gave up and turned. Old fairy tales! Only in legends was the hero able to work miracles.


Despite Marcus' being so urbane, so rich, Nicholas was gone, so what was the use?


Marcus caught sight of his image in glass of the cupboard door and it made him think of a popinjay. "You are useless, like your money. The best things in life can't be bought." His hand slid into his pocket, seeking the brooch. Unwrapping it, he dropped it onto the floor, crunching it beneath the sole of his shoe until it was no more than a red and gold stain.


With renewed determination he joined Johannes in his work area where he was busy explaining to Katja how to clean a dirty painting. Next to him on the table were two half potatoes which Marcus knew he used for the cleaning.


As Johannes turned, he was startled. Marcus looked horrible - at least horrible for a usually good-looking man. His hair was dull, his eyes, lacklustre, and he was unshaven. Johannes had never seen him with stubble before.


"God, Marcus!" the words escaped him. "Where have you been?"


Marcus tried to smile. "I'm sorry, my friend. It was terrible to leave you alone with all the preparations for the exhibit." He looked at Katja. "How are you? All right?"


Katja nodded. "There were several calls and visits from young men and women who wanted to know if things would be ready. We told them yes, of course."


Marcus nodded. "Then I left things in good hands."


"Where's the screen? I thought you would bring it." Johannes asked.


"The screen?" Marcus had forgotten the screen. "The screen. Yes."


He stared at a vague point at the wall. "It's in London. And it will stay there. I'm not interested in it anymore."


Johannes sensed that something had happened to Marcus and sent Katja away. Then he lowered his voice.


"Nick was here. He was more than sad that you hadn't called him."


"When was he here?"


"Oh, several days ago."


"You haven't seen him since then?"


"Is he gone? You don't know where he is?"


Marcus shook his head. A lump had built in his throat and he wasn't able to speak for a moment.


"I've tried every place I can think of, Johannes. He's vanished from the face of the earth."


"That's impossible, Marcus." Johannes' voice was soothing as ever and Marcus was thankful for the presence of the old man. At the same time he realized that he knew nothing about Johannes. Why he worked such long days, even some weekends. He'd never mentioned anything about family ... surely because he hadn't any.


"Do you have family, Johannes?"


The old man took off his glasses and looked astonished. "You've never asked me such a question, why now?"


"Because it's important to have one." Marcus mumbled.


"This realization comes a bit late, if I dare say it. What, for heaven's sake, did you do to make Nick go? By the way, Alex was here before his departure to London. Have you met him?"


Marcus nodded. "Yes, I have met him. In London and here. He told me a horrid story. A sad story, but I won't go into it now." Marcus looked very tired. Dark rings hung below his eyes. "You didn't answer my question."


"You are my family." Johannes spread out his arms. "All this. I couldn't live without this."


Marcus understood. He had always taken Johannes' understanding presence and wise advice for granted, never caring that it was odd for a man of his age to take Marcus' problems as a gay man so seriously. Johannes never had asked stupid questions, had never let him feel that he was an outsider because he loved men.


"Have you really tried everywhere?" he heard Johannes low voice from a distance. "What about Sebastian?"


"Not able to reach him in Rome."


Johannes laid his hand at Marcus shoulder. "Go to him. I'm sure he will help you."


In Marcus' eyes there raised a little smile. "I will. I can leave you alone now? You will do this for me, handle the exhibit?"


"Of course. It's all almost done and I can easily cope with the rest. Nothing can be more important than your boyfriend now."


"I will make up for this, I promise." Marcus squeezed Johannes' hand and was gone.


As Marcus parked his car in front of his house he caught sight of a familiar figure in the distance. He was out of his car quickly shouting, "Kay!"


Kay ran over to Marcus. Startled by his appearance, he looked into his pale face and asked, "What's happened to you man? You look as if you've come straight from a bar!"


Marcus ignored the question. "Where's Nick? Do you know?"


Kay hesitated with his answer, his allegiance conflicted. "Well, he was cross that you never called."


"Yes I know, Kay. Come, don't be evasive. Tell me where he is if you know."


"Can we go in first?"


Marcus guided Kay through the door and into the kitchen before pulling a bottle of mineral water from the fridge. "What are you doing here in Berlin?" he asked, more calmly.


"Came back to pack my suitcase." Kay beamed. "I'm going to stay with Bastian in Rome."


"Yes? Wonderful, I'm happy for you. You both get along well, yes? I had hoped it would be so." He filled two glasses and handed one to Kay. "Now, don't torture me, sweetie."


First Kay emptied his glass, put it back and said slowly, "Nick is in Rome."


A moan escaped Marcus. "Of course he is. Where else. I've searched for him in every other place."


"Well, you know 'he who comes too late will be punished by life...' to quote Gorbatschow." Kay looked at Marcus seriously. "To be honest, it doesn't look good for the two of you." Kay wasn't sure if he should tell Marcus the whole story; it wasn't his job but Nick's. So he said, "Tell you what. Come with me to Rome tomorrow. You must speak to Nick yourself. I can't help you with this. Oh, by the way, I was at Simon's flat just now. I think he was happy to see me - and I am happy to have him back. There was a guy with him, Ben. He said he's a friend of Nicki's. He's very likable and I had a private talk with him."


Marcus nodded. "Yes, I've met him and I saw Simon yesterday. It seems he won't be alone. Do you agree?"


"Yes, Ben seems to really care and he told me that he had fallen in love with Simon, despite everything."


"Brave boy", Marcus muttered and Kay nodded.


"Now, will you come with me?"


"He's really alone with Bastian?" Marcus had a queasy feeling in his stomach. "If I were you, I wouldn't have left him alone with Sebastian." he said and regretted it instantly. He shouldn't wake any suspicions in Kay.


"Why not?" Kay seemed to be unsuspecting. "I know that Bastian likes Nicki a great deal. But I cannot imagine that he'd jump straight into bed with him as soon as I left the town."


"Your words in God's ear!" Marcus laughed a half laugh. Yes. He would fly to Rome with Kay tomorrow. All would be all right. He was sure.










Sebastian took Nicholas' hand from where it lay beside his leg and squeezed his fingers. Exchanging smiles, the timidness and awkwardness between them dissolved, though each was aware of the guilt that remained. The attraction between them was not diminished but had shifted in intensity, as if quelling the physical need had allowed them to shift focus or reach a higher level.


They drove along the coastal road, Nicholas lost in thought as the rough sea crashed spectacularly below. Should he tell Marcus? Could he go on as if nothing was happened? Belong to love but not honesty? Would Marcus forgive him? Would Nicholas forgive Marcus if something had happened with the foreign man? Nicholas wasn't sure. At least they would be equal then. But the intention of love was not to be equal to your lover in cheating.


Nicholas tipped his head against the headrest and closed his eyes.




"A bit. We didn't sleep much last night."


"True." Sebastian's lightly stroked Nicholas' leg. "Perhaps Kay never called and will simply come back," he continued.


Then the possibility of repeating last night would be nil, Nicholas thought. And that would be good.


Two hours later they arrived at the big loop around Rome and Sebastian took the exit Via Aurelia until he reached the Gianicolo with its winding, narrow streets. They passed St. Maria in Trastevere, the square full of young people and old men sitting in front of a bar.


To Nicholas it was now a familiar view and he would miss it. Berlin was loud and noisy with its cars and fumes and construction sites. The hectic pace of mostly unfriendly people, rushing from work to home and from home to fill their spare time with pointless activities and things was its own kind of monotony. Sure Rome's traffic was chaotic too, but it seemed to Nicholas that it was chaos only in pursuit of relaxation. The people were calmer, enjoying their lives.


Nick imagined living such a life. His mind raced with thoughts of books he might read, paintings he might paint, love he could share.


Abruptly he came down to earth as Sebastian stopped in front of the house.


"Have you thought about how we shall spend the rest of the day, Nicki? Any special wishes?" Sebastian stepped out of the car and pulled out their bags.


"No. I don't have any wishes."


"So? Perfectly happy? I've never seen a guy who was perfectly happy."


Nicholas followed him into the house.


"Are you very disappointed that we didn't drive to Naples?"


Sebastian looked surprised. "You remember that?"


"I remember everything." Nicholas whispered. "And it will stay in my heart forever. But we can't repeat it. Even if Marcus and I should break." He raised his head, looking directly into Sebastian's eyes. "You know I like you very much. And if Kay wasn't ..."


Unwilling to complete the thought, Nicholas reached for his bag.


"What would happen then?" Sebastian took the bag from his hand and began to climb the stairs. Of course he could finish the sentence for himself. If only things were different...


"Do you love Kay?"


Sebastian let the bags go and turned to Nicholas.


"I do," he said simply and without the smile that so often caused Nick to wonder if the older man was making a joke or not. "I love you too, but I think my feelings for Kay are stronger now. Can you understand?"


"Not exactly."


Now Sebastian smiled. "You will when you grew a little bit older, angel. Feelings are complicated to explain, therefore you should simply follow your stomach, not your brain. It's mostly the right decision, believe me." He stepped closer and took Nicholas' chin. "So what does your stomach tell you?"


"That I'm hungry."


Sebastian burst out in laughter. "All right, Nicki. Let's see what we can find."


They spent a peaceful evening on the terrace, sipping a light wine and watching the last sunbeams die behind old pine trees. Nicholas wasn't anxious about the night, because Sebastian had made a decision. And he was glad about it. More than glad. Nicholas realized he would never be happy in a relationship built in the wake of grief - his, Marcus' and Kay's.


Finally they called it a day, going into their rooms and Nicholas slept much better than he had for a long time.


Shortly before noon the next day Nicholas and Sebastian were preparing to take a walk to the Palazzo Corsini and its museum when a taxi came to a stop in front of the house with squeaking brakes. Curiously Nicholas peered through the box trees at the entrance and recognized Kay's funny haircut. His heart thumped, perhaps Kay had news of Marcus. He ran to open the gate, but stopped halfway when Marcus stepped out of the taxi.


It was as if a medium-sized atom bomb had exploded within him. Unable to make a step, to move at all, he simply stood there staring until Marcus' eyes met his gaze. Though shaven, Marcus looked pale and somewhat haggard as if he had lost weight.


Kay waved, shouted something and pointed at the gate finally getting Nicholas to move. He opened it and again stood petrified at the entrance.


"Hey, what's the matter with you, sweetie? Aren't you glad?"




"I found him at home, despairing because he couldn't find you", Kay whispered. "But I didn't tell him anything. It's up to you."


The taxi departed and Kay went into the house, leaving Nicholas and Marcus alone.


"I thought I would never see you again." Marcus voice hummed and Nicholas felt his knees weaken.


"And I thought I would never hear your voice again. Kay found you finally."


Marcus stepped up to him and tried to embrace him but Nicholas took a step backward. This was all that Nicholas had wished for, but now he couldn't bring himself to touch his lover. Not before things were cleared up.


Marcus frowned but didn't say anything. He simply followed Nicholas into the house where he caught Sebastian and Kay in a tight embrace. He smiled weakly and set down his suitcase.


"Hi, Bastian. I hope you don't mind that I've descended upon you. May I stay here a bit?"


Sebastian beamed. "But of course you can!" He rushed to Marcus and embraced him too. "Good to see you again, old guy, although you're looking terrible!"


Marcus' cheeks flushed and he stared down at his shoes. "Yes, I know. I haven't slept much the last few nights and I forgot to eat I guess."


Sebastian looked at him attentively. "We'll leave you both alone, ok? But I warn you, don't invent any odd stories, Nick had a call from Alex and then he called your cell phone. Guess who answered it?"


Marcus' face grew even paler and he closed his eyes with the news. His cell phone, God Damnit! Apparently George had answered it. Now he had the last piece of the puzzle.


He turned to Nicholas who was chattering with Kay and nodded slowly. "Thanks Bastian."


"It's true?" Sebastian could hardly control his voice. "You fucked the guy to get the screen? And where is it? Already in your bedroom?" His voice was piercingly cool. "You are nuts, Marcus. It couldn't be worth it."


Marcus looked at him as if he was a stranger. "Of course it wasn't worth it. And I didn't fuck around!"


Kay and Nicholas stopped chattering immediately, turning their heads.


Sebastian motioned for Kay, "Let us go upstairs." Kay understood, gave Nick an encouraging smile and vanished with Sebastian.


"Now, have you anything to tell me?" Nicholas asked.


Marcus' heart sank. "Let's go outside, please." He lead the way to the patio in the ground floor, taking a seat in the comfortable armchair as he waited for Nicholas to sit as well.


The empty wine bottle from last night still sat in the ice bucket, the used glasses beside it. Regarding them, Marcus asked, "You found consolation with Bastian, yes? He's a good listener, I know. What else have you done with him?"


Nicholas couldn't believe his ears. "I don't think you are in any position to make strange comments about me and Sebastian! Tell me, rather, what have you done with the guy in London? And don't lie to me, Marcus. I know everything."


Marcus laughed shrilly. "You know everything?" He bent over. "Then tell me what do you know."


Tears welled in Nicholas' eyes, but he blinked them away. "I know that you were fucking a man to get the screen from him." He gazed triumphantly into Marcus' burning eyes. Indeed he looked pretty terrible, but still he was the most beautiful man Nick had ever seen.


"That's only the half truth. The man - George - bought the screen from Carlisle and offered it to me if I would spend a week with him."


"Which included the right to fuck?"


"Right." Marcus licked his dry lips. His throat was so dry that it hurt.


Nicholas saw it and said, "Shall I bring you something to drink?"




After Nicholas had gone, Marcus buried his face in his palms. Kay was right. Nick was like a hurt child, and nothing that he could say now would change it. It was over. He would have loved to be able to slink away like a wounded animal, to curl up and die someplace.


Nicholas put a carafe of orange juice on the table and poured glasses for each of them. Marcus grabbed it thankfully and drank, gathering his thoughts so he could begin again.


"Of course the deal included fucking him. Nick, how can I explain this to you? I was mad. Insane. I never realized what was important in life." He looked deeply into Nicholas red eyes. Apparently the boy had been crying in the kitchen. "I did nothing to him. Before he could bring me to fuck him I left the house and the screen. I am not interested in it anymore." His look was now pleading. "You are all that I'm interested in. Believe me. I know I can never make it up to you. Perhaps that will have to be my punishment. But I want that you know that I bitterly regret my actions."


Nicholas stood up, tucked his hands in the pockets and paced aimlessly around the patio. "I can't believe you, Marcus." He turned to him. "I simply can't."


Marcus nodded. Of course he couldn't. "There's something else. I know now who it was that was after you... all the accidents. It was Alex. We had a talk and I was afraid that he might still try to do something terrible to you. That's why I've been so desperate to find you. And because..." No, he couldn't say "I love you". It would sound like in a soap opera. Nick was hurt too deeply, he wouldn't believe him anyway. Simon was right. Everybody was right. He had certainly behaved like the world's biggest dickhead.


Laboured, he rose from his chair and threw a longing gaze at Nicholas' back. "I think I should go now. It's no use."


He left the patio and went to the entrance hall to grab his suitcase. Sebastian and Kay were surely celebrating their reunion in the bedroom and he wouldn't disturb him. He would call later.


"Why should you go?" he heard Nicholas shouting from outside. "You are not up to traveling. I will go. There's nothing to keep me here anyway. Do you know when the next flight leaves for Berlin?"


Marcus shook his head.


"Doesn't matter. I'll wait at the airport until it goes."


Nick bounded up the stairs, entered his room, and threw all his belongings into his bag. Returning to the hall, Marcus stood still dumbfounded.


"Tell Sebastian that I've gone home. And give Kay all my love, will you? I'll call him when I'm back."


"Nicholas," Marcus shouted. "How will you get to the airport? I'll call you a taxi." Quickly he leafed through Sebastian's notebook and dialled a number.


"Wait, honey. The taxi will take some time. I'll come with you."


Nicholas stopped outside the house. Marcus would go with him to Berlin? He doubted that he would be able to bear the closeness.


"What about Sebastian?"


"I left him a note."


"That was a very short stay." Nicholas said, sarcastically. Marcus remained silent.


Marcus remained silent during the drive to the airport, as well as during the two hour wait for their flight. And he barely spoke a word as they sat together in the airplane until Berlin appeared beneath them.


"Don't say this is the end, Nicholas," he said in a very low voice. But Nicholas was fighting nausea and the pain in his ears.


"I don't know. Give me time to think about it, yes? I'm not so innocent as you think."


"What do you mean by that?"


Nicholas shook his head. "Perhaps I will tell you someday. But first I have to think." He looked into Marcus eyes. It was hard not to want to kiss his lips, not to touch his hand. Despite feeling so awful, his body longed for him. But he wouldn't give in. Not yet. Perhaps never.


Marcus disturbed his thoughts with sharp whispering close to his ear. "I want to know what you meant!" His hand had gripped Nick's upper arm painfully firm.


"Leave me alone," Nicholas tried to get free. The guilt inside him hurt more than Marcus' firm grip. Had he any right to be in a huff? His own actions were no better justified than Marcus', even if they had come about because of his loneliness... yet Marcus' actions were calculating, greedy...


Again Marcus squeezed his arm. "Tell me!"


Furious, Nicholas flashed at Marcus and hissed: "You want to know? Fine, I slept with Sebastian. Are you satisfied now?"


It was out and Nick breathed audibly. Still his gaze held Marcus' glare until a dangerous spark appeared in the now black eyes.


"So you did it," Marcus said surprising calm. "You did it." The firm grip had never left Nicholas' arm. "And now do you think we are equal, yes? Which of you began the game? Bastian?" He laughed out loud briefly. "And he stood there and reproached me! Bastard." Nervously he ran his fingers through his hair. "And who's fucking whom next? You won't miss Kay, will you?"


Nick would have loved to slap Marcus in the face, but he stared at the back of the man in front of him and chewed on his lower lip. Again he felt the nausea rise and he swallowed fiercely. Marcus complied with the request to fasten his seat belt and poked Nick to do the same.


Once again composed, he asked. "It's true, isn't it? You haven't told me a lie because you want to hurt me?"


"No, it's true." Nicholas' voice was flat, emotionless and tired. "It's not Sebastian's fault. It just .... happened. One time." His voice was hardly audible.


Marcus closed his burning eyes. Again quick glimpses flashed through his mind ... Nick naked and open ... under him ... legs wide spread ... stroking his glistening cock ... his flushed voluptuous face .... and a smile afterwards which sent him to heaven ... always.


When the plane reached the gate, Marcus suddenly released his belt, jumped up and pulled his bag from the overhead compartment.


"Marcus?" Nick called after him, trying to keep up with him as he ran through the long jetway and into the airport area. Finally Marcus slowed down his walk, eventually coming to a halt.


"When I asked Sebastian if we should tell you and Kay about what we'd done, he said we would do the right thing when it was the right time. I guess it wasn't the right time."


Marcus avoided looking at Nick.


"But it had to be said."


"Yes." Marcus took his bag again and went out with Nicholas.


They summoned two taxis. "I'll call you, Marcus. I promise, but I have to be alone for a while. And I think you do too." With that he stepped into the taxi.






Sebastian and Kay didn't celebrate their reunion in the way that Marcus had supposed. Instead, Sebastian had questioned Kay about Marcus and Simon. An hour later they found Marcus' note on the sideboard in the hall and both were sad.


"Marcus doesn't say if they went back because they reconciled or because they broke up." Kay pointed out as he sat in Sebastian's lap playing with his hair.


Eyes on the garden and the box trees Sebastian muttered, "Yes, Marcus is really a clod. I'm sure they broke up. What do you think?"


Kay shrugged. "If Nicki's at home I will call him later." He stopped his stroking. "Now tell me what you did alone here."


Sebastian started. "Dreamt about you all night, sweetie."


"Indeed? All alone in the bed?"


"All alone in that bed." It was not a lie, of course. Sebastian relished the feel of Kay's warm body and he was happy to have him back. He had missed his funny, cheerful lover and it didn't make any sense to fill Kay's heart with the sorrow of a story now finished. He tried to justify his feeling concerning Nicholas because he still didn't regret what had happened, but he liked Kay too much to hurt him by telling the tale. What would happen if Nick told Marcus? Kay would likely find out eventually... Sebastian decided to leave such thoughts for later.


"By the way," he continued, "Marcus admitted that the London story is true. Although I hadn't time to ask him about it in detail." His fingers roamed over Kay's belly and slipped under his pullover.


"Poor Nicki." Kay muttered. Yes, poor Nicki, Sebastian thought. Poor me. Poor you. He felt terribly guilty.


Kay's hot breath tickled his ear. "Love me," he whispered.


"I always love you, Kay."


Kay gazed inquiring into his face. "You do?" he asked seriously. "Why don't I believe it?"


"Why don't you believe it," Sebastian repeated slowly and thoughtfully. "Perhaps because I'm an arsehole. Perhaps because I don't deserve you."


Kay's fingers slid over Sebastian's strained face, outlining the strong nose and the sensual lips.


"Perhaps two arseholes make a good pair", he whispered. "I've never loved anyone ... just like you."


"And now?"


"I want you to love me. That's all."


There was a pain in Sebastian's heart. Certainly he didn't deserve this. But he brought his lips to Kay's and closed his mouth with a long kiss, roaming his hand over Kay's body, tugging at his trousers and slipping into his briefs.


During the next hour Sebastian tried to forget everything and succeeded. His ears were full of Kay's panting and purring and he loved it. To deny there wasn't a difference between Nick and Kay was foolish. Of course there were a difference. Even with his closed his eyes he would have felt it. And the point when he could have told Kay was over now. Sebastian realised that he would forever despise himself for it.










The view from Nicholas' window was dull and dead like his heart. How long had it been since Marcus had picked him up here? The big trees in the middle of the yard were leafless, naked branches, motionless and lonely in the cold wind, bearing no similarly to the pines and cypresses of Rome. Not that he was actually looking at the yard - the image of Marcus' face as they parted at the airport continued to fill the space before his eyes. Above him, his neighbour stomped like a restless elephant from one corner of the flat to the other, the radio turned up loud.

The ringing of the telephone surprised Nick, apparently it was in working order after all. But then Marcus had been paying all his bills, hadn't he. Slowly he lifted the receiver.


"Nicki?" He recognized Kay's voice.




"Are you all right? Why did you leave us so abruptly without a word?"


"I thought Marcus left a note."


"Indeed he did. But it doesn't say much."


Nicholas' thoughts raced. Surely he couldn't tell Kay what he had admitted to Marcus about sleeping with Sebastian. "I have to be alone for a while, Kay. Marcus told me everything. There was something with the guy in London."


He heard nothing but Kay's breath. "I know. Sebastian told me already." His voice sounded sad. "Don't say you've broken up with Marcus, please. Can't you forgive him?"


If you only knew! Nicholas tried desperately to keep his voice under control. "I don't know. I have to think about it."


"But you could have thought about it here! It makes no difference where you are thinking. At least you would have company. I don't like the thought of you being alone there."


"Kay. I'm not alone. I will go to Matthias, and there's Ben... and Simon. I haven't seen them for a long time."


He heard Kay sighing. "And where is Marcus? At home?"


"Think so."


"Well, you have our number. Please call, will you?"


"Yes. Bye, Kay. My regards to Bastian."


"Will do. Take care."


Nicholas stood in the middle of his room and remembering suddenly that most of his things were at Marcus' house. Only the clothes he had taken to Rome were here, and all of them dirty now. He couldn't even paint...


Desperately he ruffled his hair and let out a frustrated cry. Fortunately he still had the most of the money he'd earned from his paintings.


After a short visit to the supermarket and the art supply shop Nicholas returned and put away the groceries before sorting out all the utensils he'd bought; pens, brushes, paper, palette, rubber, paints, chalks, clothes, scissors. It had cost a small fortune but he wasted no thought on it.


He threw himself into his favourite armchair, setting his feet upon a small upholstered chair and began to draw with thin black chalk. He envisioned Sebastian's house and his fingers followed his memories. Feverishly the chalk darted over the rough paper, followed by his middle finger to smudge out the lines, merging with various tones of green chalk, lightening with white and bright red for the roof. Yes, that was it. With a critical eye he examined his work then tossed it aside.


This time he ran into the kitchen, filled a glass full of water and opened the box containing the water colours. He blocked out the place for the house, painted a very blue heaven and all the box trees and junipers he could remember. He was still painting when darkness descended accompanied by his grumbling stomach -- reminding him that he hadn't eaten since the morning. Abruptly he stopped, setting aside the work and went into the kitchen to have some bread and butter.


Only drawing or painting stopped the pain inside him, and now without the work in front of him, the pain was back with a vengeance. What was he going to do? He must make a plan... there was money enough for now he thought, but he couldn't go on like this indefinitely.


Unhappily he sat on the couch beside his still unpacked bag. Was it so bad, what Marcus had done? Was his own crime so bad? Or were both so bad that their relationship should end? Looking through the window, he saw lights coming on in flats all around the square. And behind each of them lived people who had their own sorrows, just as he did.


Was it even his decision to make anymore? Since he'd told Marcus about Sebastian... If he were able to forgive Marcus, would Marcus forgive him? Suddenly Nicholas felt very tired. He stretched out beside the bag and fell asleep, undisturbed by the stomping of his neighbour, the drunken voices coming up from the yard or the soft rain beating on his window sill.


Coming awaking was terrible. His neck hurt from the lack of a pillow and his arm, which he had used as cushion, was numb. Nicholas shivered at the room's chill and he sat up to rub his arm.


Instantly the memories were there again, all the mixed feelings, shame, anger, disappointment and still, remarkably, love. Was he indeed doomed to sit here waiting for Marcus to call? Would there ever be a call? Nicholas recalled promising Marcus that he would call, so was Marcus sitting and waiting for HIS call? And what would they say to each other?


Looking at his watch, Nicholas realised it was time to go to the academy - and then remembered it was Saturday. Probably Ben would spend the day with Simon.


A ring at his door startled him. Marcus! He jumped, literally, to the door and opened it. Disappointed, he glared at the elderly man before him, box tucked beneath his arm, slip of paper held in his hand.


"Good Morning. Nicholas Zellner?" he asked.




"I have a registered package for you. Express from Italy."


Surprised Nick raised his eyebrows while the man held out the slip and a pen. Hastily Nicholas scribbled his name, took the small parcel and read the name of the sender. Of course it was from Sebastian. Curiously he ripped off the adhesive tape, removed the cover and found a letter and an even smaller box with keys. His fingers trembled as he unfolded the letter and read Sebastian's fancy handwriting,




Are you in the mood to watch over my flat? I think I forgot to empty

the fridge and the things could be rotten by now. Of course you don't

have to, but if you're in need of new surroundings, feel free to use it

as long as you want. I haven't told Kay our secret. Not sure if I ever

will. Call me.



Beneath the text, Sebastian had written the address and drawn a map illustrating its location.


Nicholas closed his fingers tightly around the keys, recognizing that the flat wasn't far from Marcus' house... Dangerously near but also perhaps, a promising reminder. He remembered Sebastian's description of the flat - an apartment at the top floor with a nice view of the forest. Of course he would love to have a look at it - at least to empty the fridge. Add to this, his curiosity of being somehow close to Sebastian again; perhaps he would smell his scent - in the bed or on the towels.



* * * * *


While he brewing himself Turkish coffee, Nicholas decided he was mad to think of Sebastian in any way other than as a friend or as Kay's lover. Yes, visiting the flat would likely stir memories. Memories of a single night of passion as opposed to Marcus' cold and calculating "deal". But his thinking, his consideration of the future had to center on Marcus and not Sebastian. That resolved in his mind, Nicholas admitted to himself that Sebastian's offer provided the opportunity to resume a lifestyle he'd gotten used to - at least for a little while.


Later, Nicholas slipped into his jacket and boots and looked out the window. Still it drizzled outside, the gray sky suggesting that the day would get no brighter. Opening the door he nearly bumped into Tina.


"Tina!" he exclaimed, amazed to discover Matthias behind her.


"We were just about to ring," she grinned. Nick, at a loss for words, stared at the smiling Matthias.


"Well," his friend began, "if you won't come to me, it seems I'll have to come to you. What's up with you and Marcus?" He looked him up and down. "Were you about to go out?"


Nicholas nodded. "Yes. I have to go to Sebastian's flat." His face brightened. "Hey, why don't you come with me? You have the car with you?"




"But why don't you come in first? Sebastian's flat can wait."


Tina and Matthias followed him inside. "So tell me, where have you been all this time, we thought you'd forgotten about us." Matthias put on a sulking face for effect. "I looked up Marcus' telephone number and called him. He said you were probably here. What's happened?"


Nicholas stood dumb. Of course! Matthias hadn't any clue about what had happened. Nothing about the London trip, the screen, George, Rome nor Sebastian.


"Coffee?" he asked to gain time.


"Yes, please."


Tina put the water on to boil, opened the shelves to pull out big cups. She watched Nick from the corner of her eye, noticing that he was unshaven and tired looking. It gave him a more mature appearance. The look in his eyes was different, dulled maybe, as if he'd lost some of his innocence or openness. She felt certain that something happened.


"What went wrong with Marcus," she asked softly, "won't you tell us?"


Truthfully, Nicholas was tired of talking and thinking about it. He watched Tina pour the boiling water over the coffee and stir it. He met Matthias' grey blue, searching eyes and shook his head almost imperceptibly.


"What did Marcus say, exactly?"


"Nothing more than that you were probably at your flat. He sounded depressed. Have you argued?" He placed his hand on Nick's arm. "Has he left you? Please say no."


Nicholas went over to help Tina with the cups. "I'm not sure, Matthias. A lot has happened."


"Your mother enjoyed the new clothes?" Tina threw in. The clothes, yes. Nick remembered. How many days had passed since Tina and Matthias had gone shopping with him?


"Mother yes. But father... he doesn't want presents from a queer." Nicholas too a deep breath. "You remember Marcus was in London to buy a screen..." His voice trailed off. He hadn't the energy to tell the story. He was unhappy. He was...


"You don't have to tell us if you don't want, Nick." Tina looked at him with pity. "I only hope that it will work out."


Nicholas shrugged his shoulders and drank the hot coffee. "I got a parcel from Sebastian with his keys. He asked me to have a look at his flat. You know he's in Rome with Kay."


Matthias sighed. "I see. If you want to go, we're ready."


Nick was very thankful that Matthias and Tina didn't insist on him telling the whole story, and he remained taciturn while they drove to Sebastian's flat. He was pleased to find six story light brown building set amidst tall pines in a very quiet surrounding. Sebastian's flat was on the top floor.


"Looks very nice," Matthias said.


"Indeed. Sebastian offered to let me stay here."


Tina looked surprised. "Why?"


"He works in Rome and Kay will stay with him there. You've never met them, right?" Tina shook her head.


"An entire floor only for him?" wondered Matthias as they stepped inside. "Why does he need such a big flat when he lives in Rome?"


Nick shrugged. "Rich people."


"You too belong to the rich people now, eh?" Matthias teased, "Or is the money already spent?"


Nicholas slapped him in the rips playfully. "No, not spent. Saved for times like these."


Surprisingly, Sebastian's flat was simply furnished. Function and comfort over glitz or style. Nicholas had expected something more grandiose considering the house in Rome. The trio moved from the hall to a large American-style room - kitchen at one end, dining area combined with a large living room. Beyond that was a broad terrace with an exceptional view. The only doors led to the bedroom, bathroom and closet.


"It's nice looking." Tina said. "Wished we had such a flat."


"What are you supposed to do here, actually? I don't see any plants, fishes, or pets."


"Empty the fridge; he forgot. Perhaps I should stay here. I like it." Nicholas went over to a small sideboard were his eye had caught a framed picture.


"This is Sebastian?" Tina asked, stepping up behind him. The photo was of Sebastian and Marcus in their younger years. Marcus sat in the foreground with Sebastian squatting behind, embracing him. They were laughing, happy.


"Beautiful men," Tina sighed. "They make a hot pair. Wait, they once were a pair, right?"


"Yes." Nick's eyes pricked suddenly. Perhaps they never should have split.


"Has Marcus gone back to him?" Matthias asked from at his other. "It can't be; you said Sebastian was with Kay."


"Yes, he's with Kay." Nicholas whispered. Tina and Matthias exchanged a glance behind his back.


"Hey, you haven't fallen in love with Sebastian, have you?" Matthias pressed Nick's shoulder trying to see his face.


"Marcus was in London and it just happened." Nicholas continued to whisper.


"Gosh," Matthias gasped. "That's the problem then? Marcus knows about it."


Nick regretted that he had let it slip. Nobody from outside would be able to understand what happened or why. Trying to explain would only sound worse. "It's my business, Matthias. You can't help me. And this is only a fraction of the story. You wouldn't believe it if you heard the whole thing."


Tina's gaze remained fixed on the good looking man with the bright grey-green eyes and the ravishing smile. Certainly she could understand Nick. Of course she could. It wasn't hard to fall in love with men like these. She looked to Matthias who still clasped Nick's shoulder and then laid her hand on the opposite one. "It's ok, Nick," she said. "Tell us if you want and if not, that's ok too. If you need help, you know where we are." She smiled at Matthias and he smiled back.


"Can we drive you home or do you want to empty the secrets of the fridge alone?"


Nicholas had to laugh. It was a strange, suppressed sound. "It would be nice if you could help me carry a few things back here. Would you do me that favour?"


"Of course."


It didn't take long for Nick to pack his bags, painting utensils, books and some groceries. He wanted to be rid off his shabby flat and be someplace he could breathe freely.


"You're sure about being left alone? Give us the phone number, please," Matthias requested.


Nicholas scribbled it on a scrap of paper, gave it Matthias and gave them both a thankful look. Tina gave him a kiss on this cheek and they waved from outside at Nick standing on the terrace. He was happy to have such good friends and the thought of it eased the pain inside him somewhat.


After the perfunctory tour, Nick now inspected the rooms with more care, touching the furniture, opening cupboards, the bathroom and finally the bedroom. This seemed to be the only room Sebastian valued, because the bed was large and covered with a plush dark green bedspread and several fluffy pillows.


A poster covered one wall - the life-sized image of a naked man, back turned to show firm, beautiful buttocks. "Looks like Marcus," Nick mumbled, wondering how many nights Sebastian had jerked off while staring at those arse cheeks. The thought made him laugh - as if Sebastian needed to masturbate - certainly there was always a hot guy around to do it for him. And Kay - surely he had slept here together with him.


Nick sat cautiously upon the comforter. The bed was soft but not too soft - he supposed he might sleep here as if he were in 7th heaven.


Then he jumped up and opened Sebastian's closet. Amid the coats, shirts pullovers, and boots lying in the corner, Nick caught sight of motorbike gear. Could it be Kay's? While considering it, he stroked the emerald green sleeve of a pullover hanging there. Finally pulling it down, he ripped off his own sweatshirt and slipped into Sebastian's, breathing the familiar scent deeply.


So comforted, he trotted into the kitchen and opened the fridge expecting stinking vegetables. Instead, he found old eggs, moldy cheese and spoiled milk. These he tossed into a plastic bag, and left the flat for the dumpster.


Heaven hadn't cleared up and the treetops were still veiled in a slight haze. He shivered despite the woolen pullover, so he ran upstairs again, ignoring the lift. In the flat again he turned on the heat and the TV but soon got bored. If Marcus wanted to reach him, it was now impossible. It would be up to him to contact Marcus. Again his eyes met the photo on the sideboard. 'A very hot pair.' He remembered Tina's words and he conceded that she was right. He remembered the laughing, kisses, touches, climaxes - with both men.


Sighing, he sauntered through the room and opened the storage closet door beside the bath. It was larger than he would have supposed, containing suitcases, a vacuum, boxes, buckets, a ladders... and an easel.


Nicholas pulled it out wiping away the dust with his fingers, his heart pounding. Sebastian had said he couldn't paint, so this had to belong to Marcus.


He dragged the easel into an open area between the living area and the kitchen, where he finished dusting it off. Then he shook out his bags, taking the big pad of paper and setting it on the stand. Opening the box of Conte-chalk he began to draw without thinking.


All the hours by day and night he'd spent studying Marcus' body came back to him, helping him to draw without his subject present. He remembered the body parts, the swelling of the muscles, the soft sweep of his hips where they passed over into his muscular legs and protruding buttocks - the dark shade of his pubic hair, the line of his erect cock, the shimmering head, the roundness of his balls. Then he began a second body - same height - in a close, intense embrace, their erect cocks pressed together, rubbing and exchanging fluids, tongues entwined.


He painted with the crayon in Sepia colour and highlighted it finally with red and white. White, were the light fell upon a naked shoulder or a bare buttock. The effect was as if the skin gleamed like polished bronze and it reminded Nicholas of the nights he had spent with Marcus while the light flooded through the open window, the moonbeams dying on Marcus' velvet skin.


Again Nick was absorbed in the fever of painting, sensing nothing. He'd tossed Sebastian's pullover aside long ago, wiping his crayon soiled fingers against his bare, sweating chest. At one point, thirst drove him to the fridge where he'd remembered seeing a bottle of wine. He poured a water glass full. It tasted marvelous.


As he had emptied the glass, he stood before the easel and tried to look at the work as objectively as possible. He found it was breathtaking.


Nicholas noticed that it had grown dark and he was again thirsty as well as hungry. Quickly he made a sandwich and poured more wine, continuing to study the picture while he ate. Suddenly he felt very tired, and glancing at the kitchen clock he saw that it was after 2.


He took a quick shower to rinse away the chalks and used one of the towels hanging nearby. Naturally, it carried Sebastian's scent. Then he slipped naked beneath the sheets, turning on the little TV opposite the bed. The soft babbling of the sports channel guided him into sleep. But it was not long before he awoke again, staring at the bare arse cheeks of the man on the wall.


He longed for Marcus' presence so much that it hurt. What was Marcus doing? Lying awake as he was? Thinking about him? If so, what was he thinking? Had he tried to call?


Nicholas tossed back the cover and reached for the phone beside the bed. Slowly he dialed Marcus' number and listening as it rang through. Then he heard Marcus' very clear voice and it startled him into replacing the receiver as if his fingers had been burnt. So Marcus was awake, probably not able to sleep either.


Nick turned off the TV and slipped into his jeans. Then he began a restless walk around the flat, talking to himself. Eventually he carried the easel into the bedroom and sat in an easy chair by the window looking at it. The more he stared, his eyes glazing, the more he could see the painted bodies moving, breathing, heaving, pushing, tasting and finally exploding... Unconsciously his hand moved inside his jeans to stroke his erection.


Marcus... his beloved, dark-haired Marcus, his one and only lover...


Nicholas pulled out his hand away suddenly, though his penis protested. What was he doing? He didn't have to jerk off to a picture of Marcus. He could go and call him! In less than an hour Marcus could be here and everything in the painting could be true again ...




Nicholas' cock still screamed for attention. Slowly he allowed his hand to slip back into his jeans where he rubbed the hot, hard, moist flesh while gazing at the men before him so absorbed in each other.


Damn think! Think! Who do you think of when you jerk off? Which man? Marcus or Sebastian?


Rain drops spattered against the window and with a suppressed cry, he came into his hand. Licking the white liquid from his fingers and palm, the answer was clear.




He wanted him with every fibre of his body. He would forgive him everything - nothing could destroy these strong feelings for him. He jumped up, reached for the phone. This time Marcus picked up on the first ring.


"It's me," Nick told him in a near whisper. Marcus said nothing. "How are you?" Nicholas continued.


"Ok. And you? What are you doing?"


"I've painted."


"Really? A portrait of Sebastian?" This response was a cold shower for Nicholas. A very cold shower.


"You can't forgive me?"


Marcus didn't respond.


"Say something, Marcus. You are not the only one who is hurt."


Marcus cleared his throat. "True. Let us have a bit time please. A few days, okay?"


Nicholas replaced the receiver hanging his head in sorrow.



Marcus' hand still held the receiver. Just hearing Nick's voice had made him tremble. Tremble with disappointment, tremble with desire. If Sebastian had told him he had slept with his Nick, Marcus would had refused to believe it. But Nick had admitted it and so it had to be true.


He wasn't sure what hurt more: to find that Nick, like Simon, had gone searching for entertainment as soon as Marcus was away, or the deep love that he still felt for the boy in spite of it.


Marcus noticed that he had used the word entertainment. But Nick had not cheated for 'entertainment'. Thinking of their first night together... Nick had been so scared. So full of sorrow. But he had ultimately trusted. And being united with that sweet young man was more than Marcus ever had dreamt of. Perhaps he hadn't shown him how much he loved him, how much he cared about him ... And Sebastian, that bastard, had taken full advantage of the situation. But wait. Nick had said it wasn't Sebastian's fault.


Jesus! If he only knew what to do. Yet another night without sleep was making it difficult to think clearly. His eyes fell on Nicholas' copy of Burne-Jones' "Atlas" with the long, dangling cock between his legs - a nice alteration to the tiny original. Marcus regretted having no photo of Nicholas, no drawing - nothing and yet he felt he might be able to paint his face and body out of memory - the open violet-blue eyes, the delicate skin over his high cheekbones, the tiny freckles upon the bridge of his nose and the full, soft lips who's kiss was so heavenly - certainly Sebastian would agree. About that and how pleasurable his body was and how devotedly ...


Marcus shook his head: You are thinking with your cock, idiot! It wasn't just about a bed mate. That he could easily replace. He wanted the full man, brain and spirit with all his flaws. With all his perfection.


Slowly he removed his hand from the receiver and went upstairs to the bedroom. Time to stop this restless wandering and aimless thinking. In the bathroom he looked into the mirror at his hollow and dry eyes.


"You are looking like shit," he muttered to himself. He ruffled his hair until it stood on end and wiped over his dark stubbled chin. If Nick would see him, he would be repulsed. What's happened to you, Marcus Weidenbruch? Shaking his head he left the bathroom, his eyes falling on Sebastian's portrait.


Marcus examined the strong nose, the sharply outlined lips that played with a slight, wistful smile. Sebastian was looking into the distance, all his cockiness gone. Marcus knew very well that Sebastian had been searching his whole life for pleasure and perhaps for a man he could settle down with. It was quite possible that he and Nicholas had sought out each other only for consolation. Hadn't Sebastian always been there for Nick? Whenever Alex had attacked? While Marcus was busy with other things, Sebastian had pushed Nick from the car's path, taken him to the hospital, prevented the exhibition hall from burning, even asked him to Rome. And what had he done?


Suddenly, Marcus ran downstairs and grabbed the phone with shaking hands, dialling Sebastian in Rome. He waiting through several rings before a very sleepy Kay answered.


"Kay?" Marcus asked, "Still sleeping?"


Kay sat up with a jolt. "Marcus?" He looked at the digital clock at the nightstand. "It's only 7 am! What do you expect?" He blinked and wiped his dishevelled hair. Looking at Sebastian, curled up like a baby at his side, he spoke softly, "What's up? Where are you? Have you spoken to Nick?"


"A lot of questions for this early hour, Kay. Yes, I just now spoke to Nick, but only very briefly." Marcus didn't know what to say exactly because he wasn't sure what Sebastian had told Kay.


"May I speak to Sebastian?" Again Kay threw a glance to Sebastian's peaceful face and the man began to stir.


"He's just waking. Give him a few seconds."


Kay bent down, pushing sandy strands of hair from Sebastian's face, kissing him lightly on the lips. "Hey, sleepy head, Marcus is the phone."


Sebastian growled something unintelligible before opening his eyes. "Marcus?" he mumbled reaching for the phone.


"Yeah? What time is it?"


Marcus ignored the question. "What did you tell Kay? Did you tell him the truth?"


Suddenly Sebastian was very awake. "What? The truth about George? Yes, why?"


"That's not what I'm talking about, Bastian. I know the whole truth. Nick told me everything."


Sebastian fumbled with the receiver and sat up. He glimpsed at Kay now reclining again with his eyes closed.


"What did he say?"


"Why, Sebastian? I only want to know why." Marcus voice was calmed by his exhaustion, but Sebastian's heart pounded as he considered his answer.


"Things happen. I'm sorry about it though." Again he looked at Kay and slipped noiselessly out of bed and the bedroom.


"You are sorry?" Marcus' reply was sharp.


"Listen to me, Marcus. I have no excuse for what we did. I don't know how Nick explained it, but all I can say is ... you know I've always liked him ... he's so sweet. And he was so lonely. We drove to the sea and it was... he was despairing, Marcus. He thought you had betrayed him, left him forever. We didn't know what had happened in London. Try and see it from his point of view!" Sebastian had arrived on ground floor where he stood gesticulating in the nude. "I know he loves you. It happened only out of forlornness... can't you understand?" Sebastian listened to the silence in the receiver. "Marcus?"


"Yeah, still here." He took a deep breath. "I can understand. I've thought a lot over the last few days. It's just ... It hurts."


Sebastian looked into the large mirror and saw that his face had contracted to a painful grimace. Yes, it hurt. He knew. "Will you tell Kay?"


"Me? I think that's your job!"


Sebastian sighed. "What I want to know is, should I? I mean the story is over, so..."


"I have no clue, Bastian. Figure it out for yourself. You have put us all into the dog's breakfast."


"Me?" Sebastian protested. "Certainly it was YOU! You were always chasing useless things forgetting about all the people that love you. I've forgotten why ANYBODY should love you, actually. You are always absent! Now, go and tell Nick what you did and try to patch up what can be patched up. But remember the broken vase - it will always break in the same place."


With this he put down the receiver, stumbling over the wire from upstairs and stubbing his big toe on the sideboard. He jumped around in pain and cursed loudly. This was all a shit!


He regretted his harsh words, but somebody had to set Marcus straight. >From the bedroom he heard Kay shouting, asking what was happening. Kay! Yes he had to figure it out - should he tell him or not? He was sure that neither Marcus nor Nick would let out any words concerning this but could he live with it himself? What would it be like to have Kay pack his suitcase again, forever? Sebastian was sure he couldn't stand it.


As he entered the bedroom Kay beamed at him. "You're looking good this morning," he cheered. "Come here to me."


Sebastian thought perhaps Kay was in need of glasses if he thought this was looking good. Surely he looked dismayed as well as dishevelled. Certainly not "good". But he crept into bed again, rolling Kay onto his back, kissing his neck. Kay began to purr.


"Have you ever betrayed any of your lovers?" Sebastian asked.


"Huh?" Kay wriggled, trying to look into Sebastian's eyes.


"What brings this up all the sudden? Marcus?"


"Have you?"


"I guess so, yes."




"What do you want to hear?" Kay asked. "It was a long time ago. You know there's always a hot guy around the next corner."


Sebastian stopped his kissing and opened his eyes. "A hot guy around the corner? And you complained about Andrea! So you would leave me for a hot guy?"


"Of course not." Kay pushed Sebastian away softly. "What's the reason for this? I'm talking of negligible fucks. I've never had a serious relationship. You could be the first."


Sebastian smiled but asked with uncertainty, "I could be?"


"Yes, you twit." Kay laughed and pulled Sebastian's lips to his own. "You are."


Sebastian knew he never could tell him about Nick.



Copyright © 2011 Stefan; All Rights Reserved.
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