Berliner Luft

by Shikkoku no Suzu (漆黒のスズ)
illustrated by staringatsuns

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/239478.html)

When Jim said he wanted to go to Berlin and he thought Alfred ought to come with him, Alfred had imagined a city somewhat like his mother’s stories of Paris before the war: the Arc de Triomphe became the Brandenburger Tor, and Alfred imagined himself and Jim sitting in cafes and drinking coffee while Jim gave Alfred each page of his book as it was typed, and Alfred contributed comments that were invariably well-received by the inspired author.

Of course, he’d heard of Berlin—the cabarets, the prostitutes, the Berliner Luft that made the city’s inhabitants act like madmen—from his mother, repeatedly. She had interspersed these admonishments with wistful remembrances of Alfred’s elder brother Tom, who’d been slaughtered by Germans—probably Berliners—in 1916.

Alfred barely remembered Tom, and barely remembered the war. Jim had said he wanted to work on his book, and he thought the change of scenery would do Alfred good. Alfred had acknowledged that was true and packed his suitcase, discounting his mother’s apocalyptic musings on the sad inevitability of her son’s fall from grace into sin and vice. Now that he was here Alfred felt hopelessly naive for thinking Jim would have been drawn to Berlin by anything other than sin and vice.

The Unspeakable opened up before him, a vision of glittering mirrors, spinning chandeliers, and stained red carpet. Women smoking cigarettes laughed, their breasts barely contained by thin under-linens. Men with their faces painted white, wearing underpants and socks with sock garters, swung their hips and curled their red lips in contemptuous smiles. Moving in between them, men in pink and lavender tuxedos led girls with feathers in their hair and long black gloves towards little round tables, glasses of beer and sekt held precariously between dangling fingers. Everywhere light, colour, noise, and the heavy smell of a hundred different perfumes with a base note of sweat and stale beer.

As he pressed himself against Jim’s side, a babel of languages came at Alfred from all sides: German, of course, and English and French, Danish and Swedish and others Alfred didn’t recognise. The man and woman at the door, murmuring, “Hello, good evening, willkommen, bon soir“, their lips crafted with lipstick and grease-paint into caricature Clara Bow curves.

Alfred wrapped his arm around Jim’s elbow. Jim patted his hand and tilted his head so that his ear brushed Alfred’s head. “Don’t be scared,” he whispered.

The man who’d told them about the Unspeakable had croaked—in heavily accented English, between drags of a cigarette in a long holder of the type Alfred associated with actresses and divas—that it started as a tavern under an old, run-down hotel. When the hotel went bankrupt, the Kabarett had knocked out the ceiling and made itself a proper stage and a dress circle which ended abruptly, with nothing to stop patrons from tumbling down onto the tables below. Alfred looked up warily as they stepped out from its shadow.

The Unspeakable had atoned for the loss of the crushing intimacy of the cellar by covering the walls in oppressive gilding, draping the entire place in ragged black and green crêpe, and packing so many people and tables in that it was impossible to get to one’s seat without pressing one’s body up against complete strangers.

Fortunately, Jim let Alfred keep hold of his hand as they wove through the crush of people. The tables all had numbers written on cards in spidery green script and big square telephones. Jim stopped at a little white-draped table with two gilded wooden dining chairs and nodded. “This is ours, Alfie,” he said. “You can let go of me now.”

Nodding, Alfred released Jim’s arm and settled himself into a chair. More at ease now he was seated, he looked around again. There was a candle dripping wax onto the tablecloth, which Alfred now saw was ragged and stained with red wine. They were about a third of the way back from the stage, which was still and empty, brown boards and a black drop curtain, with a single chair sitting off to the side, as if forgotten. Jim leaned down. “Bottle of wine, old chap?” he said.

“I, ah, yes. To share?”

Jim wasn’t looking at him; he was scanning the room, shining like polished silverware at Christmastime. “Of course, of course,” he said, and then he was gone back through the crowd. Jim didn’t seem to have any problems with pressing himself up against strangers.

Alfred looked down at his hands. Jim had said that Berlin loved people of their kind, but Alfred didn’t think that was true. Berlin loved decadence, and sex, and it spread itself open for the inverts and perverts that the rest of the world rejected.

The feeling he had had ever since they stepped onto the platform at the Stettiner Bahnhof intensified. As if there were a circle of cold air and silence between him and the crowded theatre.

It was as if he were a fish flipping about on dry land, suffocating among the glittering, laughing, lazily outrageous world Jim had dragged him to. As if everyone here could tell that he had never so much as kissed a girl, or wanted to; or, more egregiously, that he’d barely even kissed another man. He’d climbed between Berlin’s legs, but unlike Jim, he had no idea what to do now he was here.

He curled his fingers and examined the nails. Clean, white and buffed. The man on the door with the Clara Bow lips and arched eyebrows had had his fingernails painted green. The woman’s had been purple.

A commotion distracted him, and then the table was almost upturned by three women scrambling across it to get to the stage. He made a startled noise and the last of the three dropped to the floor and turned. She had blonde hair floating around her face in a halo and a broad, dreamy face with bright blue eyes. “Ah! Entschuldigen,” she said. Then paused. “Sprichst Du Deutsch?

“Ehm, nein?” hazarded Alfred.

Ah, Engländer, ja?”

“Mm.” Alfred cleared his throat and nodded.

“Welcome to Berlin then,” she said, switching seamlessly into English. Her voice was husky and languid. “And welcome to the Unspeakable. I’m Victoria. These are my friends Trixie and Helga.”

“Pleased to meet you. I’m Alfred M—ah, Alfred.”

“That’s right; no last names here,” said Victoria with a smile. “I apologise for almost landing in your lap. Now please excuse me.” She turned and smacked Trixie’s backside, and, giggling, the three of them spilled up onto the stage and behind the curtain.

“Thinking of getting into the petticoat line, Alfie?” said Jim dryly, pulling out the other chair and sitting down. “I have to say, she was a pretty little thing. Pity she doesn’t have a prick. Oh, don’t poker up. You’re in Berlin; live a little.” He placed two carafes of wine on the table and shrugged. “They wouldn’t hear of us sharing a bottle. The waiter said it would be unhygienic as they had no glasses left, and there was plenty of time to be unhygienic later. He then told me I could find him on Fasanenstraße after three am if I wished. I say, they speak very good English here, don’t they?”

Before Alfred could reply, there came a clanking, grinding noise, and a long panel to the right of the stage slid up, revealing a five-piece band.

They started playing a manic, brassy song, which kicked into something languid and slow, and then people started strolling out on stage. Trixie and Helga were there, now dressed in oversized men’s singlets and underwear, along with a couple of men in satin under-linens and feather boas. Then Victoria strolled out wearing a Fauntleroy suit with a cut-away black velvet blazer and black breeches, a white ruffled blouse and white stockings. She looked lean and androgynous, her hair floating like a halo around her broad face.

She gave the audience an amused look, then turned her back and sang in English, “Hey Hey! Women are going mad, today. Hey hey! Fellers are just as bad, I’ll say.” She turned and looked over her shoulder, one corner of her lip quirking up.

Go anywhere, just stand and stare—” She turned around and put her hands on her hips, sticking her hips forward, pigeon-toed. She pouted. “—you’ll say they’re bugs when you look at the clothes they wear.” She beckoned the others forward and pulled up a chair, which she sat on backwards.

Alfred watched, fascinated, as the men shuffled forwards, swinging their hips, their pricks starkly visible in the clinging satin. He shifted in his chair, trying to release the growing tension.

Victoria tilted her head from side to side as she sang, “Masculine women, feminine men: which is the rooster which is the hen? It’s hard to tell ’em apart today And say…” She stood and kicked the chair aside, running the back of her hand along Trixie’s cheek. “Sister is busy learning to shave—” Now she caressed the man’s oiled hair. Alfred’s fingertips tingled at the heavy-lashed, amused look he gave her. “—brother just loves his permanent wave. It’s hard to tell ’em apart today, hey hey!

Alfred watched the dance routine with his hand to his mouth. He realised he was chewing on his index finger and glanced at Jim, who was twisted in his chair, surveying the clientele. Victoria was still singing, now in German.

The end of the song was greeted by laughter and applause. “Goodness me,” said Jim, leaning back in his seat and finishing his wine. The phone on their table rang. Alfred looked at Jim, who looked at the phone. He flexed his fingers and lifted the earpiece. “Hello?”

Alfred watched as Jim’s eyes went wide and he looked quickly up at the balcony.

“What? I am sorry, but I don’t speak German. Je suis désolé—where? Oh, I see you.” Jim paused. “I beg your pardon?” His eyes widened further and he flicked a glance at Alfred. “I… all right, yes, I will. Now? Yes, I’ll meet you there.” He set down the receiver and stood abruptly. “I have to dash out for a moment,” he said. “Don’t drink all the wine.”

“Where are you going?”

“A fellow on the balcony just offered to polish my Johnson for three marks,” said Jim, his eyes glittering with excitement, “and by Jove, I’m going to do it!”

“You know that’s less than the price of dinner,” said Alfred in a stifled voice.

“Yes, yes, what a thrill!”

When Jim was gone, Alfred sat in his pocket of cold air and looked unseeingly at the stage. The band struck up again and a man wearing lederhosen and very little else stepped onstage and began to sing. Alfred barely heard the music over the hum in his ears and the imagined tik-tok of his wristwatch. His mind’s eye was full of the image it had concocted of Jim, in a shadowed, curtained alcove, unfastening his trousers so some line boy could slip his hand inside.

His own prick twitched at the image and Alfred burned with shame. He ran his hand across his mouth and looked at his feet.

Jim reappeared seventeen minutes later, flushed and rumpled and no longer wearing his shirt, although jacket, bow tie and trousers had been retained. “Thought you might have found someone for yourself by the time I got back,” he said cheerily.

“Oh no,” said Alfred casually, “not really my scene. Besides, I’m enjoying the show.” He plastered a leer on his face and nodded towards the stage.

“Right-o,” said Jim after a too-knowing silence. He drained the carafe and set it aside. “Damn, I’m thirsty. More wine?”

“Not for me,” said Alfred, holding up his half-full carafe.

“Keep up, old chap,” said Jim, and he was gone again.

While he was gone, the waiter with green-painted fingernails came by with what looked like a pillbox. “A gift for your friend,” he said in accented English.

Dankeschön,” said Alfred, taking the box and clicking it open. Inside was a little white paper bindle. He snapped it the box shut.

Jim wove his way back to the table, splashing wine on the already-spoiled carpet. As he sat down, Alfred pushed the pillbox towards him with two fingers. “Present for you, Jim. Apparently.”

“Ooh,” said Jim, opening the little paper envelope. “Do you think that’s cocaine?”

“Most likely.”

Shrugging, Jim poured a little onto his knuckle, blocked one nostril, and inhaled. He blinked and shook his head. “Well, that’s how my grandfather used to take his snuff, the old sod.”

The phone rang again; Jim disappeared again. He came back looking dazed. “Did you know there’re still apartments from the hotel upstairs? The old bastard on the door charges a few pfennigs for access, and then you can go in and do whatever you want. It’s Bedlam.” His eyes were bright, darting from the chandelier to the stage, to Alfred and back again. “I’m surprised we can’t hear the fucking from down here.”

“Jim,” said Alfred.

Jim sat down. He still wasn’t wearing a shirt; his tuxedo jacket gaped open to reveal his lean chest, the hint of muscles under pale skin and the dusting of hair between his nipples. The line of hair vanished into the starched white of his cummerbund. Alfred looked away, feeling soft and undefined.

A man with sharp cheekbones and kohl-lined eyes stepped onto the stage and the audience hushed and settled into their seats. As the band played the opening bars several people cheered and whistled. He started singing something in German. Men in lavender tuxedos were singing along, as were most of the waiters. As Alfred listened, the performer switched to English.

What makes them think they have the right to say what God considers vice?
What makes them think they have the right to keep us out of Paradise?
They make our lives hell here on Earth,
poisoning us with guilt and shame.
If we resist, prison awaits so our love dares not speak its name.
The crime is when love must hide;
From now on we’ll love with pride.

The crowd shouted the last line and broke into laughter. The lyrics rattled around Alfred’s head, mocking him.

“Alfie,” said Jim gently, “are you having fun?”

“Oh, of course, why wouldn’t I be?” said Alfred, unable to keep the bitterness from his tone. He started when Jim’s hand came across the table to brush his cheek.

“You’d love this place if you’d just loosen up a little. There’re no mother or sisters here. You’re not responsible for anything but your own pleasure.”

“I’ve always been useless like this,” said Alfred. “Even since before my father died. You know,” he tilted his head, “mother said she thought it was such a pity I had not even enough loyalty to Sainted Tom to refrain from desporting myself with those who murdered him. It speaks badly of my character, apparently.”

That had given Alfred pause. All his life he’d been compared to Tom, who’d fought for king and country and died when Alfred was eight, whose name was on the Roll of Honour at the Stanworth School, and who had apparently never given Mrs Messinger a day’s worry about his immortal soul. But given the choice between pleasing his mother and pleasing Jim he’d chosen Jim. As always.

“That was Alfred Messinger from Buxton, Derbeyshire,” said Jim. “Now you’re Alfred the Berliner.”

There was a silence while Alfred stared at his hands. His father’s signet ring was on the middle finger of his right hand, turned around so the garnet seal rested against the fleshy palm. Ill-gotten plunder: if not on his father’s hand, it should have been on Tom’s. But they were both gone.

When he looked up, Alfred caught Jim sharing a long look with the man with green fingernails.

“Why don’t you go and show me how to be a proper Berliner?” he said tiredly.

“What? Oh, all right,” said Jim, standing up again. Several tables had been pushed aside to clear a dance floor, and as Alfred watched, Jim struck up a dance with the waiter. They appeared to be arguing over who would lead and doing a very poor job of a foxtrot. Then the man with green fingernails leaned close and Jim stilled, and a moment later they were gone from the dance floor.

The phone on the table rang and Alfred ignored it, watching the door through which Jim had disappeared.

“Come on, you look so dreary slumping around like that.” Alfred looked up. Victoria was standing in front of his chair, hands on hips.

“I’m all right,” he said, “don’t worry about me.”

Rolling her eyes, Victoria took his hand and pulled him upright, dragging him onto the dancefloor. “You know the foxtrot, yes?”

“I’ll probably make a hash of it.”

Zut alors,” murmured Victoria, putting her hand on his shoulder and plunking his hand firmly on her hip. Under the tasselled, fringed dress, he could feel the hard, lean muscle of her hip.

“That wasn’t German,” Alfred observed.

“I have a talented tongue,” Victoria replied, poking the tip out for Alfred’s inspection. She tapped her foot to catch the beat, then started dancing. She was an easy partner, much better than the giggling girls he had to waltz with at the Buxton socials. He fell into time with her and actually started to enjoy himself. Victoria looked up at him, amused. “Are you watching carefully?” she said.

He was about to ask her what he should be watching when she spun away and he found himself in someone else’s arms.

Guten abend,” said the man. He was probably in his mid-thirties, with a bushy moustache that was slightly lighter than his brown hair, and thick-lashed green eyes. He was pleasant-looking but not intimidatingly attractive. Alfred, used to thinking of himself as average, was drawn to his crooked nose and square jaw.

Alfred could feel the pressure of the man’s hands where they had landed on his hips. “Hello,” he said, “I am ever so sorry.” He looked around over his shoulder and found Victoria dancing away with one of the girls from the cabaret line-up.

“Ah, you are from England?” said the man.

“Yes.” Pushed by the other couples crowded in around them, they kept moving together Alfred found himself picking up the beat again and his feet began the figures by themselves. “You?”

“Lübeck,” said the man. “I am in Berlin for work. It is very different here.” He looked around.

“Yes, it is rather,” said Alfred with a startled laugh.

“I am Georg. It is very nice to meet you.”

“Alfred. And you too.” Georg’s smile peered out from under his moustache and Alfred felt his body respond. Humiliated, he stepped away. “Thank you for dancing with me,” he said and fled back to his table.

Jim found him a few minutes later with his head in his hands. “What’s got you down, old chap?”

“Everything,” said Alfred miserably. “I’m a freak. But I’m not even a proper freak. I just have freakish urges but no guts to act on them.”

Crouching beside his chair, Jim patted his knee. “Buck up,” he said, offering Alfred the carafe, “and drink a little more wine. I promise it will help.”

Alfred wordlessly took the carafe. Jim held his gaze for a moment and looked away. “Alfie, it really is dire how innocent you are. We need to do something about that.”

Alfred downed his wine instead of replying. When Jim offered him a scoop of cocaine from the pillbox, Alfred took that too.

“Stand up.” Alfred rose and concentrated on Jim’s bare collarbone as Jim slid his hands between jacket and shirt and pushed the jacket away. Then he undid Alfred’s bow tie and pulled out his cufflinks. “Roll up your sleeves.”

Still looking at Jim’s collarbone, Alfred complied.

Jim stepped back and looked Alfred up and down. “There, at least now you look like you’ve been well fucked.” Alfred’s chin jerked up and he looked at Jim, trying to find words to deflect that blow. Jim winced and tilted his head. “Sorry.” And the moment was gone.

Disgusted with himself, Alfred turned and sat down.

Jim ran his hand through his hair and went back to his seat, slouching down and surveying the room. A moment later, he straightened. “Hullo, what’s this?”

Georg, Alfred’s acquaintance from the dance floor, was approaching them.

Alfred noticed that Georg was giving Jim a close look, and a weight settled in his stomach. He wouldn’t have gone with Georg himself, but… of course Georg preferred Jim. Everyone preferred Jim. Alfred preferred Jim.

“Good evening,” said Georg, nodding to them both.

Alfred stood; Jim lounged back in his chair, all sulky schoolboy. “Jim, this is Georg. He’s from Lübeck.”

“Oh really? Where’s that?” said Jim. From the way his eyebrows drifted upwards, Alfred could tell he was interested.

“It’s in northern Germany, near the Baltic Sea,” said Alfred.

Georg looked at him. “Very few people have heard of my home,” he said, a smile lighting his face.

“It was the Queen of the Hanseatic League,” said Alfred. “Lübeck is of immense historical significance.”

Georg shrugged out of his jacket and held out his cuff. “See? The Holstentor.” Alfred ducked down to examine the cufflink, which was silver, engraved with an image of two round medieval towers. He noticed Georg’s long, blunt fingers and wondered how they’d feel on his skin.

Jim rolled his eyes and bounced upright. “Georg, do you want to go upstairs with my friend?”

“I—I had intended to ask…”

Jim,” Alfred hissed.

“Don’t bugger it up,” Jim muttered back.

Alfred reached behind himself to the table and took a deep pull of wine. Jim slapped him on the shoulder. “That’s the ticket.”

Georg looked between them. “Forgive me, my English is not very good,” he said. “Do I intrude between the two of you?” Jim had opened his mouth to deny this when Georg continued, “Because we could all go upstairs, yes?”

Oh. Alfred heard Jim snap his mouth shut. “Why, Georg,” Jim murmured, “you opportunist.”

Georg looked at him blankly, then gave Alfred a hopeful smile. “Is good for everyone, yes?”

“Yes,” said Alfred. He nodded. “Yes.” He looked back at Jim, whose hands hung slack at his side. “Jim? Shall—shall we go upstairs with the nice German?” His heart thudded in his chest and it felt as if his bowels were cramping. Jim frowned and Alfred said, “Please.”

Jim waved his hand. “All right,” he said. Alfred wondered if he were the only one who would hear the pity in Jim’s voice. He turned away; the thumping in his chest hadn’t abated.

Clapping his hands together, Georg said, “Splendid.”

In contrast to the trip down the cement staircase, where Alfred had taken in every detail of the Kabarett opening up step by step, on the way up all he saw was a long dark tunnel narrowing in front of him. He emerged onto the street, blinking. Berlin seemed to be simultaneously in and out of focus.

He managed to reply in nods and affirmative noises as Georg told them about his train journey to Berlin, the sister and nephews in Lübeck, coming to Berlin to talk to the Reichsbank. Apparently the same old man with the cigarette holder had told Georg about the Kabarett. Alfred wondered if the old bastard was drawing a salary. Behind him, Jim was a silent presence.

They all stopped on the doorstep; even Georg paused his monologue and looked around. Jim pushed past them and stalked around the corner into an alley. He stopped outside a closed door, hesitated for a moment, then with a visible inhalation, knocked. Alfred watched Jim release that deep breath as he lowered his hand. That was the difference between Jim and Alfred. Alfred felt like he was still holding the breath he took when Georg walked up to their table.

The door opened and a man held out his hand and said, “Ten pfennigs.” Jim looked over his shoulder and Alfred realised that Jim hadn’t made eye-contact with him since he said, All right.

Georg hurried forward and handed the man a coin. The world spun and then suddenly Alfred was in Georg’s arms and Georg’s clear green eyes were looking down at him, filled with concern.

Alfred smiled. There was blessed silence in his head. No inner voice taunting him; no leaden feeling in his stomach. Vaguely aware that the reprieve from his own thoughts was courtesy of the wine, cocaine or both, he straightened and pulled Georg close so he could press their lips together. Georg’s moustache tickled his nose. The feeling wasn’t unpleasant.

“Come on, upstairs,” Jim broke in. Alfred stepped back and looked at Jim over Georg’s shoulder. Arm wrapped around Georg’s waist, they stumbled up the staircase together. Jim knocked on a door and when there was no reply, pushed it open.

“Jim’s found us a room,” said Alfred. “He’s very clever; he always looks after me.” He put his hand on Jim’s cheek as he passed. Jim didn’t pull away. Alfred looked around the room. It showed the vestiges of comfort: a pleasant green-patterned wallpaper peeling away, cracked white plaster mouldings. A double bed on a metal frame. A threadbare Turkish rug over a dusty wooden floor.

Four large casement windows looked out onto the street and an exposed light bulb hung from the ceiling. Georg pulled the cord and it flickered to life, producing more noise than light.

Jim tripped and sat down abruptly on the bed. Alfred burst into laughter at his startled expression, then there was an expectant silence between them. Georg’s hand was warm on Alfred’s hip.

“Do you have a way that you prefer to do this?” said Georg.

“God, no,” said Jim with an odd laugh. “Alfred, any preferences?”

“You might kiss me,” said Alfred, turning his head up to Georg. This was apparently the type of thing he said when he didn’t think about it. His eyes drifted closed, and he felt Georg’s breath across his lips, then the warm pressure of skin against skin.

Georg took Alfred’s top lip between his and tugged, then brushed his tongue against the seam of Alfred’s lips. Obligingly, Alfred opened them, and Georg’s tongue pushed into his mouth. He was vaguely aware of being walked backwards, but it was still a shock when his knees hit the bed and he tumbled over, Georg on top of him.

Georg’s thigh was in between Alfred’s legs, pushing against his hardening prick. Alfred opened his thighs and tilted his hips, scarcely aware of what he was doing but knowing it felt good. Georg sat back, kneeling with his knees on either side of Alfred’s hips, and shrugged off his tuxedo jacket. Alfred reached up to help with the buttons, and opened up a vee of lightly furred chest. He placed his hands against Georg’s pectorals as Georg pulled his arms out of the shirt and threw it aside.

Georg laughed and said, “You and me, we are dressed the same now,” over his shoulder. Jim turned on the bed and knelt beside Georg. Alfred looked between them. He could feel his prick, pressing up against the heat of Georg’s crotch. Unlike Georg’s, Jim’s chest was smooth and bare, with only a scattering of fine blond hair. He was lean and hard where Georg was softer, and pale where Georg’s skin was a ruddy light brown.

“Do we meet with your approval, Alfie?” asked Jim, his brown eyes lidded and dark. A sudden rush of anxiety flooded Alfred, and he reached for Jim, who took his hand. “It’s all right,” Jim said softly. “I’m here.”

Looking between them, Georg said, “You two are good friends, yes?”

Alfred nodded. Georg shuffled backwards so that Alfred could sit up. “I think—” he cleared his throat, “that we are all wearing too many clothes.” He couldn’t help the way his intonation drifted up, and looked to Jim for reassurance.

“Stand up.” Jim quirked a smile and Alfred allowed himself to be tugged off the bed. His head spinning, he felt two sets of hands on him: Georg’s in front unbuttoning his shirt, his fingers lingering on each slice of skin they exposed, seeking through the white cotton singlet, and Jim’s behind, undoing the fastenings on the cummerbund. Alfred could feel Jim’s breath against his nape, but Jim’s touch was light, methodical. Jim stepped away, leaving Georg to unfasten Alfred’s trousers, and when he stepped back into sight, he was naked and focused on disrobing Georg.

Alfred felt the cool air of the room against his privates just as Jim pushed Georg’s trousers and underwear down. Alfred toed off his Oxfords and stepped out of his trousers.

Georg stepped back and looked at Jim and Alfred rapturously. “My two English boys,” he said. His cock was solid like the rest of him, springing erect from a nest of heavy brown curls. There was a shuddery feeling in Alfred’s stomach and he reached for Jim’s hand again.

Jim squeezed Alfred’s hand, cocked his hip and said, “Come and keep us warm.”

Lurching forward, Georg gathered them both up and pushed them onto the bed. Alfred’s flank pressed against Jim’s, but Jim wiggled away, turning Georg over and crouching on the floor between his legs. Georg propped himself up on his elbows as Jim put his hands around the base of Georg’s cock and sucked it into his mouth. “Ah,” said Georg, and mumbled something in German. “Sweet boy.”

He tugged Alfred upright so he could fix their mouths together, thrusting his tongue between Alfred’s lips as he shifted his hips to push his cock further into Jim’s mouth. Alfred closed his eyes and saw against the lids Jim’s cheeks bulging out as Georg’s cock disappeared into his mouth, his sandy eyelashes almost lost against his pale skin.

Alfred moaned against Georg’s mouth as he felt Georg’s hand stroking his thigh and wrapping around his cock. The strokes were spasming and uneven, in syncopated rhythm with his stuttering breath. Alfred’s hips turned of their own accord to press against the circle of Georg’s fingers.

The scrape and pressure of the contact had Alfred writhing, the muscles of his gut pushing and contracting of their own accord. It was too much. Stop, he thought but didn’t say it. The pressure was merciless. He clung to Georg as his blood seemed to shudder through his veins and then with a rush of warmth it was over.

When he came back to himself, Georg was still stroking his softening prick, semen glistening between his fingers. Alfred felt tired and languid. He wanted to flop out on the bed in the circle of Georg’s arms and go to sleep.

But even as the aftershocks faded, Georg’s gentle caresses were calling out a response, a primal call-and-answer that he couldn’t resist. When he looked down, Jim’s gaze darted away from him and he resumed his attention to Georg’s prick.

“Ah.” Georg put his free hand on Jim’s head. “Sweet boy, stop. I do not want to ruin things by… ejaculation too early. Unlike our friend here, I will not rise again.”

Jim slid his mouth off Georg’s cock with a pop and rested his chin against the juncture of hip and thigh. He smiled up at Georg, his lips red and shining.

“Come here,” said Georg and Jim climbed onto the bed. Georg pushed and pointed until Jim and Alfred were lying side-by-side on the bed, heads on the pillows. Jim had one leg splayed lazily out to the side, and Alfred snuck a look at his cock, which rested half-hard on his belly.

Without wishing to, he imagined reaching out and wrapping his hand around that lean member, rolling over and pressing his lips against the head, feeling it hot and hard against his thighs. But it was Georg who reached out and took Jim in his hand, who brought Jim’s half-hard prick to aching attention and called out the ready blush to mottle Jim’s cheeks and chest.

illustrated by staringatsuns

Georg crawled up between them both, alternating licking and caressing each of them. Alfred’s eyes had drifted closed, and when he opened them Jim was turned to look at him. Their faces were barely six inches apart. He could easily lean over and kiss Jim right that moment. Tilt his head and press his lips to Jim’s. Feel the seam of top and bottom lip and feel them open so that their tongues could brush together.

Jim looked up at Georg, who pressed his lips to the base of Jim’s throat. Jim’s hands drifted up to card through Georg’s hair. “Georg,” he said, and reached underneath him to produce a little screw-top tin.

Georg propped himself on one elbow. “Vas ist das?” he said.

Uscrewing the lid, Jim said, “Vaseline.” Alfred doubted Georg knew the word, but he certainly got the point when Jim took the gleaming petroleum jelly and rubbed it between his thumb and index finger.

Jim handed Georg the tin and Georg held it reverently in the palm of one hand. He looked at Alfred. “Will you allow me to…”

“Fuck him,” supplied Jim helpfully.

Jim.”

“Here, roll to face me.” When Alfred looked at him blankly, Jim asked, “Do you want to, or not? Because I wouldn’t mind Georg atop me, if you’ve second thoughts.”

Alfred thought of earlier, when Jim had unfastened his cummerbund and Alfred had almost felt Jim’s lips against his nape. He realised that despite everything, they had barely touched the whole evening. Jim viewed this as an opportunity to discharge his obligations to Alfred. To get his stick-in-the-mud friend properly fucked so they could both go out and enjoy Berlin.

And Alfred was grateful to Jim for that. He was grateful that although Jim didn’t care to do the job himself, he cared enough to be there, to coax Alfred through it. And he was grateful to Georg, who had liked Jim, but liked Alfred better, who had long, blunt fingers and bright green eyes and didn’t seem to notice Alfred’s inexperience.

From somewhere in the depths of him, Alfred summoned up a smile, which he turned on Georg over his shoulder. “Please,” he said. “I want you to.”

Georg didn’t need another instruction. He settled himself behind Alfred, his chest hair tickling Alfred’s shoulder blades. Jim had turned on his side to face Alfred and was watching the proceedings in an almost-proprietary way. Alfred felt one slick finger slip between his buttocks and gasped. The fingers circled and pushed into his anus.

Jim put his hand on Alfred’s cheeks and said, “Don’t worry. You’ll enjoy it, I promise.”

Alfred nodded; he held Jim’s gaze, but his focus flickered when he felt the head of Georg’s cock press against him. Georg wrapped his arm against Alfred’s abdomen, drawing them closer together and breathing heavily against Alfred’s neck.

As Georg pushed inch by inch into him, Alfred arched his back. Jim watched him closely, bottom lip unconsciously tucked between his teeth. He reached out and stroked Alfred’s side.

Alfred found a smile, but it quickly slipped away into something more primal. The feeling of being penetrated was new, wholly unlike anything he had imagined when he had stroked himself to solitary ecstasy in the dormitories at Stanworth, or his little bedroom in Buxton. He was being stretched, his insides were being rearranged to accommodate the long, hot intruder. There was a strange kind of pleasure, a pulsating in his belly.

Georg began to pull out, then push in again. Pleasure merged with pain, and Alfred realised that he was again achingly hard, leaking semen onto the counterpane. Jim’s fingers were still feathering along his side, and Jim was saying, “That’s it, oh Jesus, Alfie,” in a raw whisper.

He needed more, so he wrapped his hand around his cock and gave up to sensation, uncaring that Jim was still curled on his side in front of him. He’d come once already; the second orgasm was elusive. He bit his lip in frustration and thrashed around the pinioning pressure of Georg’s hand on his abdomen and Georg’s cock deep inside him.

Someone batted his hand away from his prick. New fingers touched him there, warm and dry, tentative. More delicate than Georg’s paw. He opened his eyes to slits and saw Jim, head bowed, looking down between them at his fingers circling Alfred’s prick.

Some distant thought intruded, that Jim shouldn’t be doing that, that Alfred should be grateful… but it was lost almost as soon as it surfaced. Beyond caring, Alfred reached out and dragged Jim to him, melding their bodies together. Jim’s hand between them closed around both their pricks and Alfred shuddered with another wave of hot desire.

Georg’s pistoning thrusts sent shockwaves through their merged bodies, as Jim crushed their cocks together and squeezed and pulled in time. He threw his head back and Alfred pressed his lips against Jim’s neck and came, gasping and shuddering. He was dimly aware of Georg’s following him and stroking Alfred’s hip as he pulled out and rolled away, and then he heard Jim’s long, sighing moan.

Jim’s prick was still against his; he could feel Jim softening, his slowing breathing and his heartbeat returning to normal. When he looked up, Jim was looking at him, irises lost in pupil, some new expression in his eyes. “Christ, you’re beautiful,” said Jim involuntarily.

Alfred shook his head and put his hand up to Jim’s cheek. “You are,” he said. “I love you.”

Jim nodded. There was no pity or hesitation.

They were disturbed by the noise as Georg finished lacing his shoe and set his foot on the ground. “That was very fine,” he said. “I will leave you alone, yes?” He looked between them, a shadow of longing crossing his face.

Jim turned his head. “I—” he cleared his throat. “Thank you. I hope we’ll see you again.”

“I return home tomorrow, but I think I will find an excuse to visit again soon.” He contemplated. “I hope I will see you at the Kabarett then, but if I do not, here is a gift for you, to remember your friend from Lübeck.” The cufflinks rattled as he left them on the nightstand.

Alfred reached out and drew him in for a kiss, and Jim followed suit. Georg stepped back and sighed like one experiencing physical pain. He took one last, long look. Alfred imagined how he and Jim must look: legs tangled, with the sweat still drying on their skin and the mottled blush still fading from their cheeks. A slow, deep smile found its way onto his face.

“Goodbye, Georg,” he said.

Tschüß, good-bye, my sweet English boys,” said Georg, a world of regret in his tone, then he was gone.

Jim puffed out a sigh. “I suppose we should get dressed,” he said, but made no move to sit up. He flicked Alfred an evanescent, almost shy, smile.

Alfred was the one who eventually untangled them. Dazedly he located singlet and shirt, noting the new ache in his body as he moved, and shrugged them on. Jim wandered around the room collecting items of clothing and tossing those that belonged to Alfred onto the bed.

In that way, they were both quickly buttoned, fastened and tied back into their tuxedos.

As Alfred was reaching into his pocket, Jim said, “Here,” and stepped over, holding Georg’s cufflinks with the little engravings of the Holstentor on them. He fastened one of his cuffs, then took Alfred’s arm and fastened one of his cuffs with the other link. “There,” he said, “our first souvenir from Berlin.”

Alfred reached up and Jim leaned down, and after a pause like a pendulum at the top of its arc, their lips met.

“I rather like Berlin,” said Alfred when they broke for air.

“It surprised me too,” said Jim, stroking his thumb up Alfred’s bicep. He wrapped his arm around Alfred’s waist and pulled him close for another kiss. “It’s only 3:30; want to go and see whether that waiter from the Unspeakable is out with the line boys on Fasanenstraße?”

Alfred grinned. “Why not?”

* * *

A/N:

“Berliner Luft” is the Berlin air, which was said to contain a toxic ether more addictive than alcohol or cocaine, that stimulated long-suppressed passions and animated all the tics of sexual perversity. While newcomers thought the erotic madness of Berlin was a function of the uncertain economic times, Berliners jokingly blamed it on the amphetamine-like Berliner Luft, which many swore kept their hearts racing at night and then thoroughly revitalised them for their morning commute.

Source: Voluptuous Panic: The Exotic World of Weimar Berlin by Mel Gordon, which was the key reference for this story.

The two songs Victoria sings are Masculine Women, Feminine Men (which in the spirit of full disclosure is actually American) and The Lavender Song.

Apologies for any historical inaccuracies or incorrect German/French!

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