“You’re 15 minutes late.”
Bernstein stopped short at the pissy tone in Bronski’s voice. “A young lady had broken down. Obviously I had to go to the aid of a damsel in distress.”
Bronski did not look impressed. “That’s what the ADAC is for.”
Bernstein perched on the edge of Bronski’s desk. “What’s up with you this morning?”
“Nothing. All I’m asking is a little professionalism from my partner.”
Whoa, that was uncalled for. “I’m as professional as you,” he said indignantly.
“Oh yes?” Bronski glared up at him. “How many times have you been late this month alone?” he said, his voice rising.
What the hell was this? Was Bronski trying to pick a fight? Bernstein wasn’t up for this before he’d even had his morning coffee. Come to think of it, a coffee’d probably sort Bronski out too. He got to his feet. “I’m going out to get us both a cappuccino. That’ll cheer you up.”
“I don’t want a damn cappuccino,” Bronski shouted after him as he slipped through the door, shutting it firmly behind him.
Halfway down the stairs he ran into Lene, who obviously wasn’t looking where she was going. “Oh hi, Lene,” he said cheerfully, grabbing on to her waist to steady her. He let go as soon as she regained her balance.
“Bernstein,” Lene muttered.
Bernstein was about to keep going when he realised that her eyes were red-rimmed and had dark circles under them. Some people, not mentioning any names, thought Bernstein was a bit insensitive, but if there was one thing he knew about, it was women. Lene was trying not to show it, but she was upset.
“Hey, you okay?” he asked, concerned. He liked Lene.
Lene looked at him as if just noticing him for the first time. “Actually, can we talk?”
“Is this about Bronski?”
“Not here. Can we go somewhere?”
Bernstein thought about the overdue report Micklitz was screaming for. It could wait. “Sure,” he shrugged. “I was just on my way to get coffee.”
Lene turned towards the canteen.
“No, no, not that crap,” Bernstein said, horrified. “There’s a great little café around the corner. Let’s go there.”
Lene nodded. There was a shimmer of tears in her eyes. Bernstein wondered what the hell was up. Was she sick, very sick, and didn’t know how to tell Bronski? Or maybe she was seeing someone else and was going to break up with Bronski. Bernstein stifled the jolt of hope immediately; Bronski cared about Lene, and she was hot stuff as well as being a cool person, so if Bronski had to go out with a woman, Bernstein would rather it was her than someone else. The fact that Lene was passionate about her career was another plus; she showed no sign of wanting to get married and settle down and have babies. The thought of Bronski as a family man made Bernstein shudder. Their friendship would change; Bronski wouldn’t be able to hang out with Bernstein very much anymore. Bernstein didn’t like that idea at all.
Bernstein took Lene’s arm solicitously as they walked down to the café. Lene didn’t say anything until they were settled at a corner table and Petra had brought them each a cappuccino. Petra winked at him as she put his in front of him. Bernstein smiled warmly at her. Petra was a lovely girl.
Lene took a sip and put the cup down again. She looked miserable.
“How’s your coffee, okay?”
“Is this about Bronski?”
Lene nodded again. She looked like she was going to cry. Bernstein pulled out his handkerchief, just in case. He was really starting to get worried. This wasn’t like Lene. She was a tough cookie.
“What is it? Are you okay?” His stomach clenched. “Is he okay? Has something happened?” Surely he would have heard?
“No, no, nothing like that,” Lene said, putting her hand over Bernstein’s for a moment. “I’ve been offered a promotion.”
“Congratulations!” Bernstein beamed.
Lene stared at him miserably.
“You don’t want it? Just say no.” Bernstein couldn’t see what the problem was.
“Then what is the problem?”
“It’s in Essen.”
“What are you going to do?”
Lene shook her head and tears spilled over. Bernstein handed her his handkerchief. She dabbed at her eyes.
Of course she was going to take it. It’s not like promotions grew on trees in the Crime Squad, especially for women. “Have you told Bronski?”
That would explain the shitty mood Bronski was in this morning.
“It’s not the end of the world,” Bernstein pointed out. “Lots of people have long-distance relationships.”
“Taking this promotion means moving there, maybe for good.”
“Have you talked to Bronski about him applying for a job in the Essen Crime Squad?” The thought of Bronski leaving made him feel vaguely nauseous.
Lene looked at him miserably. “How can I ask him to leave his family? You?”
Bernstein stared at her. “Me, what?”
“You’re not only his partner, you’re his best friend. You guys spend all your time together.”
“That’s not true. He’s dating you.”
“And how often do our dates end up as threesomes?”
Bernstein couldn’t help giving her a lascivious smile at that, only half-joking. He’d lost count of the number of fantasies of the three of them he’d jerked off to.
Lene just looked at him, unimpressed. “You know what I mean. Somehow either we end up mixed up in a case, or you show up for some very good reason or another. I used to think you did it deliberately.”
Bernstein returned her look steadily, doing his best to look innocent. It wasn’t that he was trying to break them up or anything. He just liked hanging out with them.
“Essen’s only, what, less than three hours away by motorway?”
“Less than three hours the way you and Wolfgang drive.”
“Bernstein, I love Wolfgang, you know I do. But I need to think of my career. Neither of us have nine to five jobs. Just scheduling time together will be difficult, and what happens when one of us gets called into work urgently and we’re three hours drive away?”
“You broke up with him?” Bernstein said. He realised he was fidgeting with his coffee cup and put his hands in his lap.
“I don’t want to. We talked for hours last night. There just doesn’t seem to be a solution other than my not taking the promotion. Wolfgang didn’t ask me not to take it, but I can’t help feeling that he doesn’t want me to.”
“Of course he doesn’t want you to, if it means you guys breaking up. He’s a nice guy though; he’s not going to pressure you. He knows how important your career is to you.”
“Does he? Most guys say they do, but really believe that their careers are more important because women leave to have children.”
“Lene, that’s not the case anymore. And even if it is, even if Bronski thinks that, you have to decide for yourself. It’s your life.” Bernstein wasn’t just saying that in an attempt to influence her decision. It frustrated him whenever one of his female friends didn’t get paid the same as her male colleagues, or got taken advantage of by male bosses. Women’s Lib still had a long way to go.
Lene smiled sadly. “Thanks Bernstein.” She glanced at her watch. “We should get back to work.”
Bernstein ordered two more cappuccinos to go.
Micklitz could be heard shouting for him before they even got up the stairs.
“Uh oh,” Bernstein said, pulling a face.
Lene smiled wryly. “Thanks again, Bernstein,” she said, kissing him on the cheek. She headed off towards Vice.
Bernstein ducked into Bronski’s office and placed the coffee on his desk without a word. Bronski glared at him. “You better go see Micklitz before he has an aneurism.”
“You’re welcome,” Bernstein said calmly, and went off to get yelled at.
At clock off time he ducked his head into Bronski’s office. Bronski looked up.
“Home time,” Bernstein said, determined to be cheerful. “You coming?” They usually carpooled, unless their schedules differed. Today he had the Porsche. He would let Bronski drive – that always cheered him up.
Bronski sighed. “Sorry about earlier,” he said, putting his pen down and running his hand through his hair.
“It doesn’t matter,” Bernstein smiled, relieved that Bronski wasn’t biting his head off anymore. “Come on.”
Bronski looked mildly surprised when Bernstein threw him the keys. Bernstein usually made him work for it.
“You want to go for a few drinks? My treat?”
Bronski looked at him sharply as they got in the car. “You know.”
Bernstein shrugged sheepishly. “I ran into Lene.”
“Just great,” Bronski said bitterly. “I suppose she’s telling everyone.”
“Hey,” Bernstein said sharply. “Firstly, I’m not everyone, I’m your partner. Secondly, what if she is? A promotion’s something to boast about.”
Bronski looked chastened. “I know. I just…” He slammed his hands down on the steering wheel. “I thought we really had something, you know?”
“If you really want her, you’ll make it work.”
“It’s not that easy, Bernstein.”
Bernstein shrugged. He’d tried. “So, down to the Quay?”
“No, I don’t want to get drunk.”
“My place, then. Carola’s in Milan, we’ll have the place to ourselves. We’ll have a few beers, order takeaway and watch videos.”
“Thanks anyway, Bernstein, I think I just want to go home.”
“And what, sulk in your bedroom all night?”
Bronski shot him an annoyed look. He accelerated around a slow moving truck, narrowly missing a cyclist that came out of nowhere. Bernstein braced himself against the dashboard. “What?”
Bronski shook his head. “All right,” he said, not sounding particularly enthusiastic. “Why not?”
“Fantastic!” Bernstein crowed, ignoring the lack of enthusiasm in Bronski’s voice. “I vote Die Hard for starters.”
“The original, not the sequel.”
“Naturally.” Bernstein punched the air with his fists. “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker,” he yelled triumphantly.
“Bernstein,” Bronski said repressively, but Bernstein could tell he was trying not to smile.
”I still say we should have waited for the Chief to get back,” Bronski grumbled. How he let Bernstein talk him into these things, he didn’t know. Bernstein would stare at him so earnestly with his big hazel eyes, and he’d make whatever crazy idea he’d had sound perfectly reasonable and the next thing he’d be rescuing his partner from leather bars or they’d be handcuffed together in their underpants. Of course, after that they’d solve the case, more often than not due to some inspired deduction by Bernstein. He was becoming a good cop. If only he could learn to restrain his wilder impulses.
Bernstein made an impatient noise. “Miss Keil said Micklitz’s meeting could go all day. If we wait for him it’ll probably be too late! Besides, you know he’d probably give it to other officers and make us do filing or something.”
The Chief did have a tendency to do that. Bronski wondered if Bernstein knew that the Commissioner was even more insistent that his son be kept out of danger ever since that time Bernstein was abducted. Rita had confided that the Commissioner had promised Micklitz he’d make his life very difficult if anything happened to Bernstein. Bronski felt a bit sorry for Micklitz, and tried not to take it personally whenever Micklitz ranted and raved at them.
“We don’t even know if the tip is genuine,” Bronski argued. “It could have been kids phone-pranking the Crime Squad.”
“True. That’s why we need to check it out before we call in the entire squad. Besides,” Bernstein grinned impishly, “it’s too nice a day to be stuck inside doing paperwork!”
Bronski shot Bernstein an impatient look. Bernstein grinned back unrepentantly and pulled the Porsche over into an empty car parking space. “The warehouse is two blocks away. We’ll park here and creep up on them.”
Because that always ended well. Nevertheless Bronski got out, a curl of excitement in his stomach from the thrill of the chase. He followed Bernstein as he sidled cautiously around the side of the building. Bernstein stopped when he came to a door and shot an excited grin back at him. He slowly turned the handle and eased the door open. They slipped through into near darkness and paused for their eyes to adjust to the gloom. An echo of voices came from the main loading area and Bernstein started towards them. Bronski caught his arm and shook his head but Bernstein pulled his arm free and slipped away. Bronski rolled his eyes and followed more cautiously. Ahead of him, Bernstein stopped and peered around a corner. Then he leaned back and beckoned to Bronski. Bronski caught up and leant around him to have a look, a brush of warmth and the scent of expensive aftershave unexpectedly catching his attention for a moment.
The sight of the drug deal going down wiped that from his mind. There had to be millions of dollars of cocaine in the briefcases incongruously set up on a poker table in the middle of an empty warehouse. A shiny black Mercedes was parked several metres away; two menacing-looking thugs in black suits in front of it, clearly on guard. Two men in suits stood on one side of the table, two men in leathers on the other.
Bronski leaned back against the wall and took a deep breath. He turned to face Bernstein, to tell him that there were too many, that they had to withdraw and wait for reinforcements.
Bernstein suddenly ducked back and leaned towards him. Their faces were inches apart. Bronski could feel warm, peppermint-scented breath on his face as Bernstein whispered, “Call for back-up.” He peered around the door again.
Bronski was reaching for his phone when Bernstein swore under his breath. “What is it?”
“They’re packing up.”
Bronski’s heart sank. Bernstein was about to suggest something stupid, as usual. Bronski would argue against it and Bernstein would go and do it anyway. “Bernstein,” he said warningly, futilely.
Bernstein grinned excitedly at Bronski and pulled out his gun. He held it up, two-handed, like in those American films he loved so much and leapt into the doorway, shouting “Police! Hands up!”
There was the sound of automatic gunfire. Bronski automatically flinched away as bullets ripped into the wall opposite the door. Bernstein staggered back a couple of steps. He slowly turned to face Bronski, a look of surprise on his face, and toppled over.
“Bernstein!” Panic clawed at his throat but Bronski forced it down. He had to focus, damn it. He pulled out his gun and risked a quick look around the corner. The suits were tossing the briefcases into the car. Another vehicle screamed into the warehouse and came to a rocking stop next to the two in leather; another man in jeans was racing towards the car from out of nowhere, a high-powered automatic rifle in his hands. The shooter. Obviously Bernstein hadn’t noticed him. He’d been focused on the action around the table. They both had been. It was a rookie mistake.
No one seemed interested in the fallen police officer. Bronski edged into the doorway, his heart pounding, expecting any second for guns to be turned in his direction, but the criminals had all piled into their vehicles, and the cars were accelerating out of the open doors of the warehouse. Keeping one eye on them just in case, Bronski holstered his gun and fell to his knees beside his partner.
Bernstein lay face down. Bronski grabbed him and turned him roughly over, his hands shaking as he ripped open Bernstein’s shirt, his heart seizing at the sight of the blood staining the pristine white cotton. His brain seemed to have split itself in two, one half was perfectly recalling first aid procedures for gunshot wounds, while the other half was quietly freaking out, circling around and around the realisation of just how important Bernstein had become to him. Bernstein was his partner, his best friend. Maybe even more than that, and this wasn’t the time to be having this kind of revelation; Bernstein could be bleeding to death—
“Wolfi, if you wanted to tear my clothes off, you should have just said so,” Bernstein said, opening his eyes. There he was, smiling his smug, stupid smile at Bronski as though nothing had happened. Typical. Bernstein was always flirting with him; Bernstein flirted with anyone who stood still long enough, but it wasn’t funny, damn him. Bronski didn’t even recall making the decision to lean down and press his lips to Bernstein’s.
Bernstein made a surprised noise and his hands came up to grip Bronski’s biceps tightly. Bronski froze. Bernstein was going to push him away. For a moment he wanted to resist, to kiss Bernstein harder, to make him understand just how scared Bronski had been. Then his brain caught up with what was happening and he started to draw back, horrified at his actions. Then Bernstein’s mouth parted under his; Bernstein’s hands let go of his arms and slid around his back and pulled him inexorably down on top of him. Bernstein’s tongue was doing things that should be illegal. Bronski’s body was reacting, quite without his permission. Bernstein shifted slightly and Bronski was suddenly lying between his legs, Bernstein’s erection pressing against his own, and he instinctively pushed, seeking to thrust against Bernstein—
A grunt of pain from Bernstein brought the reality of the situation crashing down. Bernstein was wounded. Even as Bronski was scrabbling to get off him, to check the wound properly, the realisation of just how monumentally he’d fucked up was sinking in.
That he’d just had his first gay encounter wasn’t even a blip on the radar compared to the fact that he had just cheated on Lene. The fact that their relationship was in trouble, had been almost since she left, was no excuse. Bronski hadn’t given her a thought when he’d kissed Bernstein. He’d kissed Bernstein. He didn’t even have the excuse that Bernstein had started it; Bronski’s sudden overwhelming feelings for his partner had temporarily made him take leave of his senses.
Bernstein probed the area with his fingers, craning his head up to look. “Just a flesh wound,” he said, grinning with relief.
Bronski could see that now; the bullet hadn’t penetrated the flesh too far. That’d explain why there wasn’t more blood. Bernstein had the luck of the devil. All the strength seemed to go out of his body and he sagged down to sit beside Bernstein. Bernstein propped himself up on his elbows, smiling nonchalantly at Bronski. “Can we get back to the kissing, now?”
Bronski punched him lightly in the chest, carefully not near the wound. Bernstein still gasped, though. “Ow,” he said, sounding annoyed.
“You stupid asshole,” Bronski said roughly. “I thought you were dying.”
Bernstein sat up, looking concerned. “Hey,” he said, reaching for Bronski.
Bronski scrambled back out of reach, ignoring the hurt expression on Bernstein’s face. “You need medical attention.”
Bernstein reached into the breast pocket of his jacket and pulled out his phone. He held it up. It was smashed, practically in pieces. Bronski stared at it.
“You’ll have to call it in,” Bernstein said, still way too blasé.
Bronski walked away from Bernstein to make the call, aware that his anger with his partner was irrational, all mixed in with guilt and worry and relief. He stared blankly at the doorway. The wall around it was liberally decorated with bullet holes; concrete dust particles floated in the air currents. Bronski’s stomach rebelled, and he leant over and vomited.
It was nearly noon when Lene got into Hamburg. She had lunch with her parents and then drove over to HQ. She’d deliberately allowed enough time to catch up with her old colleagues in Vice. It was a good visit, they were glad to see her, but it reinforced her conviction that there was no going back; six months in and she was thriving on the responsibility and the respect she received in her new job.
Wolfgang smiled reservedly when she came to get him, and kissed her on the cheek. She wondered if it was a work matter that had put him in a serious mood, or if he was finally ready to admit that their long-distance relationship was in trouble. And if so, whether he was invested in making it work.
She handed him the keys as they walked over to the car. Like nearly every guy she knew, Wolfgang liked to do the driving. She didn’t care; she’d done enough driving that day already.
Wolfgang didn’t take the turnoff to his family’s house. “Where are we going?” she asked, surprised.
Wolfgang shot her a sheepish look. “My house is crazy at the moment. Mum has a new boyfriend that practically lives there now, and Angela is more out of control than ever.”
“So we’re going to a motel?”
“No!” Wolfgang said, looking horrified. “Bernstein’s.”
“Bernstein’s?” Lene repeated, her heart sinking. So much for that relationship talk.
“He’s given me a key. Carola’s in New York for the week. We can sleep in her room. Bernstein has a date tonight and he’s promised me he’ll go back to her place afterwards. We’ll have the place to ourselves.”
There were steaks marinating in a wine sauce and a plastic-wrapped salad in the fridge. A note with a smiley face and the word ‘Enjoy!’ was propped in front of them. It was unexpectedly considerate of Bernstein, although Lene had noticed that Bernstein tended to go the extra mile where Wolfgang was concerned. She’d always suspected that Bernstein had feelings for Wolfgang; something about the way he looked at him and always gave him his complete attention. Wolfgang seemed completely unaware of it though, so maybe she was mistaken.
After dinner they took their wine glasses over to the couch. Lene turned to face Wolfgang and took a deep breath. “We need to talk.”
“I need to tell you something first,” Wolfgang said, with the air of someone confessing to murder.
“I kissed Bernstein,” he said, in a rush.
Not what she’d been expecting, but Lene’s first reaction was relief. Because it gave them an excuse? A reason to break up that wasn’t her fault for moving away, for putting her career ahead of their relationship? It was at that moment that it truly sank in that their relationship wasn’t going to survive their being separated, that she’d been skirting around that knowledge for a while and yet hadn’t once considered giving up her new life. No matter how much she loved Wolfgang.
There didn’t seem much point in making an issue out of his confession. “I see,” she said.
“You don’t sound surprised.” Wolfgang looked disconcerted. He’d expected her to be outraged, or at least hurt. She should be, she supposed.
“Did you expect me to?”
Lene found a wry smile from somewhere. “There was a reason I thought you two were together at first.”
“We’re not together,” Bronski said, with less vehemence than she would have expected. “I wouldn’t do that to you.”
“I know. Yet here we are.”
“He’d just been shot. I wasn’t thinking.” Wolfgang clasped his hands together in front of him, leaning towards her. “It’ll never happen again,” he assured her earnestly.
“Does Bernstein know that?”
Lene was tempted to mention her suspicions about Bernstein, but she restrained herself. You never really knew with people. Wolfgang had never seemed homophobic, but finding out his partner fancied him could be a deal-breaker, especially if he was in denial about his own feelings. She couldn’t do that to Bernstein. Bernstein was a nice guy underneath that often smarmy exterior, and he’d been there for her when she’d needed a shoulder to cry on.
Still, Wolfgang wasn’t doing any of them any favours by trying to ignore whatever there was between him and Bernstein. “Now the cat is out of the bag, you think it’s just going to go back in?” she asked, genuinely curious.
“What do you mean?”
“For your own sake, and his, you need to figure out what’s between you and Bernstein.”
Wolfgang grimaced. “Lene—”
“But that’s not what we need to talk about,” Lene hurried on.
Wolfgang looked a bit shell-shocked. “What, then?” he said.
“It’s not working, is it?”
She expected an argument, denial. She didn’t expect his shoulders to slump, for him to sit back on the couch and avoid her eyes. “I guess not,” he said, sounding defeated.
She hadn’t realised until that moment how much she’d hoped that he’d try to talk her out of it, to come up with suggestions to try to make it work.
“That’s it, then,” she said, and her voice sounded hollow to her, distant. Her brain felt oddly disconnected.
“For what it’s worth,” Wolfgang said, “I’m glad your new job has worked out so well. I’m sorry I haven’t been more supportive.”
“Thank you,” Lene said. She wondered if Bronski could hear the edge of bitterness she couldn’t quite hide. If only he’d said that even a month ago. It was too late now.
She stood up, looking around for her handbag. She just needed to hold it together a little longer. Lene couldn’t remember where she’d left it. There, on the chair.
“It’s late. You don’t have to go,” Bronski said.
As though she could stay here now.
A key rattled in the door. “Sorry! Sorry!” Bernstein said, in his usual brash way, breezing in. “My date’s husband showed up at the restaurant to confront her, apparently he’d had a private investigator tailing her for ages, it was all very dramatic. Anyway, I’ll just go to my room and put my headphones on and you won’t even know I’m here.” He looked up from fishing his keys and wallet and phone from sundry pockets and dropping them carelessly on the table. “What?” he said, finally noticing the way they were staring at him. “I didn’t know she was married, all right?”
“Bye, Wolfgang,” Lene said. She retrieved her bag and stopped in front of Bernstein. He’d obviously picked up the strained atmosphere, he smiled uncertainly at her.
Lene leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. Bernstein blinked at her, confused. “You’re leaving?”
“He’s all yours,” she murmured, smiling a little sadly at his bewildered expression.
She let herself out.
“Are you sure there’s nothing else you can think of that might be relevant, Mr Mertens?” Bernstein asked, smiling his best encouraging smile at the witness. Mertens was very attractive, in a clean-cut type of way, and from the way Mertens’ eyes wandered over him, he figured Mertens probably fancied him too. Still, Bernstein was a professional, so when Mertens slipped him his mobile number with a wink and a brush of his hand, Bernstein merely smiled warmly at him and promised to give him a call if they thought of any more questions to ask. The back of his neck prickled, and without turning around he knew that Bronski had noticed Mertens’ come-on and was glaring at him.
Bronski didn’t say anything as they left the building and got into the car, but he was clearly fuming. Bernstein felt his own irritation rising. It wasn’t like Bronski had a right to criticise who he flirted with, just because he was still moping about his break-up with Lene. Bernstein was getting a bit sick of it, to be honest. Bernstein had given him lots of space, had been there for him like a partner should be, had been tolerant of his mood swings and sudden spurts of temper, but it had been nearly two months now, and quite frankly, it was time Bronski got over it.
In the meantime, Bernstein was starving. He’d missed lunch because they’d needed to interview the witness ASAP, only to discover that Mertens had misled them about how much he’d seen. It looked like the case was going to be a bust. Maybe that’s what Bronski was pissed about. He spotted a likely-looking café. A car was just pulling out of the space in front of it. On impulse he swung the Porsche into the spot and turned off the engine.
“Why are you stopping?” Bronski snapped. “We need to get back to HQ.”
Bernstein took a deep breath and smiled calmly at his partner. “I’m hungry. We can spare a few minutes. If you don’t agree, you can catch a cab.”
Bronski glared at him for a moment and then turned to stare out the window.
“Do you want anything?” Bernstein asked politely.
“No,” Bronski said, not looking at him.
Bernstein shrugged and went inside. While he waited for his sandwich to be made he stared idly out of the window at the figure of his sulking partner. Bronski had got out of the car for a stretch and was leaning against the door, his arms crossed. Even pouting, he was gorgeous. As usual, when his thoughts turned in that direction he found himself recalling the crush of Bronski’s lips against his, the way his heart had pounded, the way Bronski had melted against him. For a few wonderful moments Bernstein had thought his wildest dreams had come true. He’d had no clue at all that Bronski might actually swing that way, might fancy him, but Bronski had been hard against him. Bronski had kissed him. Bernstein had wanted that kiss to last forever.
Then Bronski had pulled away, shouted at him and then promptly vomited. Bernstein told himself it was the stress of the situation, but when he needed a reality check he reminded himself that Bronski wasn’t gay, that it was entirely possible that Bronski had thrown up in response to kissing Bernstein. Not exactly flattering.
The counter lady handed Bernstein his sandwich with an appreciative smile. She was an older woman, pushing 40, but still good-looking. Bernstein smiled in response and leaned on the counter. He was about to try his luck when a movement out of the corner of his eye made him look up in time to see Bronski dash across the road, right into the path of a bus.
For a long moment Bernstein thought his heart had actually stopped. He dropped the sandwich and dashed towards the bus, which had come to a stop about 50 metres on. The driver was climbing out, looking shocked. Bernstein couldn’t see Bronski.
“Bronski!” Bernstein shouted desperately, ducking down to peer under the bus. He felt sick. “Bronski!”
“Bernstein, it’s okay,” he heard Bronski say behind him. He spun around. Bronski was leaning against a parked car, cradling a crying toddler. He looked pale. The child’s mother was rushing towards them. She snatched the child from Bronski’s arms and hugged her, and then turned and hugged Bronski, thanking him over and over again. Bernstein didn’t really hear exactly what she was saying. He was drinking in the sight of Bronski, whole and unharmed, staring at him over the woman’s shoulder.
Eventually the woman and her baby left, and the bus drove away. Bernstein knew he should congratulate Bronski. Bronski was a hero. But the adrenalin was still racing through his veins. His hands were shaking. “You nearly gave me a heart attack!” he said. He patted Bronski’s arms, his chest, reassuring himself that his partner wasn’t injured.
Bronski batted his hands away. “Now you know how I feel.”
Bernstein stopped at the fury in his partner’s voice. “What?”
“Every time you pull some stupid stunt instead of waiting for orders.” Bronski’s voice was shaking with anger.
Bernstein stared at him in astonishment. And then, like dominoes falling into place, he knew. “This whole thing isn’t about Lene at all, is it?” he said, crossing his arms defensively. “You’re not mad at Lene. You’re mad at me.”
“You got shot.” Bronski’s voice cracked.
“Being a cop is a dangerous job,” he defended himself. “Why are you so mad?” Bernstein’s heart was pounding again, this time with hope. “If it bothers you, why not just request a new partner?”
Bronski moved closer, inside Bernstein’s personal space. He was staring at Bernstein with so much emotion in his eyes Bernstein nearly had to look away. “I don’t want a new partner,” Bronski said intensely. “I want the one I’ve got to stop risking himself unnecessarily.”
“You’re my partner,” Bronski said meaningfully, holding his eyes.
Bernstein couldn’t help the triumphant smile that spread across his face. His heart felt like it was doing ridiculous little jumps of joy. He couldn’t wait to go somewhere private where he could kiss Bronski again. Properly this time.
Then Bronski rolled his eyes, took hold of Bernstein’s face with his hands, leaned in and kissed him firmly.
Or, here and now was good, too.
Bernstein wrapped his arms around Bronski and kissed him back, trying to pour all of the emotion he felt for his partner into that one kiss. He was vaguely aware that they were in a public street, that they were probably attracting attention, but he didn’t care. He wasn’t letting go.
Bronski jerked awake. His phone was going off. Bernstein, of course, didn’t stir. Bronski slid out from under the arm wrapped possessively around him, not without difficulty. He found his jeans crumpled on the floor, half under the bed, and retrieved his phone from the pocket. He sat back on the edge of the bed. “Hello?”
“Hi Wolfgang, did I wake you?” Lene sounded way too cheerful and awake for this early on a Sunday morning.
“No. Yes. It’s okay.” Bronski squinted at his watch. Oh, not so early, then.
“You could say that.”
“Anyone I know?”
Bronski sighed. As glad as he was that they’d been able to repair their friendship over the last few months, he felt uncomfortable when she asked about his personal life. He didn’t understand why she was so interested. She said she just wanted him to be happy. Perhaps she still felt guilty about their break-up.
Of course, Bernstein chose that moment to stir. He stretched, shamelessly flaunting himself. Despite himself, Bronski’s eyes were drawn to the marks he’d left on Bernstein’s body. He flushed at the memory of how out of control he’d gotten. Bernstein had urged him on, yielded totally and unashamedly, his submission only making Bronski wilder. Bronski had never been like that with the women he’d slept with but he didn’t think it was because Bernstein was a man. It was Bernstein. Bernstein brought out this wild side in him.
He watched Bernstein’s eyes blink open, focus on him. Bernstein’s eyes softened, he smiled at Bronski with so much love that Bronski wondered how he could have been blind to it for so long. “Wolfi?” Bernstein called in a seductive tone of voice.
Bronski’s eyes widened. Bernstein looked confused. Bronski could see the moment it registered that Bronski was on the phone. “Sorry,” he mouthed, his eyes full of apology, but his mouth twitched. Bronski looked at him in pointed disbelief. Bernstein shrugged and looked smug. Bronski gave up any thought of trying to keep their relationship a secret. There wasn’t a closet that could hold Bernstein.
“Wolfgang?” Lene said.
“Wolfgang, is that Bernstein?”
“Lene—” Bronski sighed.
“Tell him hi from me.” She sounded pleased.
Bernstein sat up. He leant into Bronski’s back, pressing kisses to the nape of his neck, his arms sliding around Bronski’s waist.
Bronski dropped his head to his chest. “Lene says hi.”
Bernstein hooked his chin over Bronski’s shoulder. “Hi Lene!” he said loudly.
“Not that I’m not happy to hear from you, but is there a reason for your call?” Bronski asked.
“I’ll be in town next weekend, wondered if you wanted to catch up. Bring Bernstein, of course.”
‘In town’, she’d said. Not ‘home’.
“Love to,” Bernstein answered for them both, still speaking way too loudly considering his mouth was right next to the receiver.
“Good,” Lene said. There was silence for a moment. “There’s someone I’d like you to meet,” she said, sounding a bit shy, but happy too.
Ah. A boyfriend. It was ridiculous to feel jealous, considering the naked Bernstein plastered to his back. “Great,” Bernstein was saying, and then he and Lene were discussing where to meet, and what time, and apparently Bronski wasn’t needed for this conversation anymore, which was just as well because one of Bernstein’s hands was in his lap, curling around his cock, jacking it unhurriedly while he smoothly carried on his conversation with Bronski’s ex-girlfriend. Bronski wouldn’t put it past him to be doing it deliberately, reminding Bronski who he belonged to now. Arousal was curling through him, pooling in his groin, and Bronski was fine with whatever the hell Bernstein was up to, as long as he didn’t stop.
Lene was saying something to him, something about looking forward to seeing him next week. “Absolutely,” Bronski agreed, and hit the disconnect button. He let the phone fall where it may and tilted his head back to rest on Bernstein’s shoulder, momentarily disorientated as Bernstein shifted, but Bernstein had just been rearranging himself. He was wrapped around Bronski now, his thighs bracketing Bronski’s, his erection snug against the small of Bronski’s back.
“Lene has a new boyfriend,” Bernstein said. “How do you feel?”
Bernstein wanted to talk about this now? “A bit jealous,” Bronski admitted. “Relieved, mostly. Free.” He was glad Lene had moved on. Not just because it relieved him of the guilt of not trying harder to make the relationship work and of kissing Bernstein that first time, but because he still cared about her. He was glad she was happy.
“Good,” Bernstein said, a distinct note of possessiveness in his voice. His hand tightened around Bronski’s erection. Bronski tried to thrust into his fist. Bernstein’s other hand tightened around his abdomen, held him still. “Uh uh,” he said, “I’ve got you.”
Gods, that shouldn’t be such a turn on. Bronski’s cock throbbed in Bernstein’s grasp. Bernstein laughed, sounding pleased.
“You asked me how I felt,” Bronski said. “I feel happy.”