Curt was on a commercial flight a mile above London, cursing the irony of feeling lightheaded while reading about heavy water.
The article was from some science editorial called Popular Mechanics, and it had mysteriously appeared in his bag after Barb had time alone with it. She’d probably noticed the Autosport still zipped in the outer pocket and assumed that he liked to read magazines now. And given from how long he’d manage to pay attention to this article, Curt had to begrudgingly admit that she was right. The noise-blocking earmuffs she’d packed him didn’t hurt either.
He remembered seeing Barb yesterday in perfect detail, from her purple headband brushing the hair out of her face to the way she nervously flitted around the laboratory. She had been thanking him at the time- “Gee, Curt, thanks for the signed headshot from your Monaco trip! I don’t really have time to go out to the movies these days, so I don’t know who she is, but the lady in the picture has beautiful handwriting.”
Curt had just shot her a sheepish smile and wished he’d managed to swipe the submarine blueprints instead. That would’ve been a hell of a souvenir.
Souvenirs aside, the conversation had ended on a troubling note. Barb had turned her full attention to him and said, “I’ve heard stuff about what they’re working on in Russia, and- well, it’s probably all boring to you, but I just want you to stay safe. Don’t let them get in your head.”
It had been a bit out of character for the scientist, who was usually much too talkative to come off as cryptic. Curt had brushed it off initially, but as he saw the amount of redacted information in his case notes, the worry came back. It occurred to him that he knew a very small amount about the mission when he’d accepted the request to come along. He just knew the location- Stalingrad- and his assigned partner- Owen Carvour.
And at the time, when he was happy and loose from the wedding celebrations, just the second bit of information had been enough for him to swear his safety away and jump in headfirst to the next assignment. But he was a bit of a fool for his job, and now for his partner, what else was new?
It took until Curt had landed at Gatwick Airport, made his way through the terminal, and was waiting in the stuffy air outside that he realized what exactly was new. The mutual “foolishness” him and Owen shared for each other was out in the open. It had been spoken aloud by both of them, like some kind of spell, and Curt had to ensure it wasn’t written all over his face when Owen pulled up to the curb to pick him up.
Owen was dressed more casually than Curt had ever seen him before, in jeans and a grey shirt that looked surprisingly soft and a dark jacket, despite the heat outside. He exited the car and greeted Curt with a wordless handshake before gently placing his luggage in the back. And then, they were off.
“I see you got here in one piece.” Owen said. Curt would’ve responded, but he was distracted by the new sensation of being in Owen’s car. It felt strange, like getting too close to a spider and noticing how many eyes it had.
“I’m surprised it doesn’t smell like cigarettes in here.” Curt mused. “Are you finally kicking the habit?”
Owen snorted at the comment. “That’s because it’s not my car. Just something temporary to get us to Stalingrad, courtesy of my superiors. I haven’t had the heart to light one up in here yet.”
“I knew you had a heart somewhere.” Curt said, but the joke felt flat as it came out of his mouth. Those digs made sense on their earlier missions, when Owen showed all the emotional depth of a shadow, but not now. Not with what had happened after the wedding- which, the less he thought about that, the better.
“So, are we driving straight to the Land of Rus? Because I might need you to pull over for snacks.” Curt changed the subject.
“We have a few stops in between.” Owen said, turning the wheel sharply to turn the car down a crowded street, before parking directly in front of a storefront. “Here’s our first one.”
Curt squinted up at the sign above the storefront, and didn’t recognize the language, but he definitely recognized the logo of a laundry machine in the window.
“Really, Carvour, picking up your Sunday’s best here?” Curt joked. “I wasn’t expecting the full tourist experience but this is-”
“It’s a different sort of errand.” Owen said, and then pulled his keys out exited the car abruptly. Before Curt could leave as well, Owen had circled around the car and was opening up the passenger door with the grace of a gentleman. He continued as soon as Curt could hear him again. “We need to get you a some identification.”
Curt got out and slammed the door behind him. “At a dry-cleaners?”
“Aren’t you supposed to be a spy? It’s just a dry-cleaners in the front, but the back of house is where we’re heading.” Owen said, digging through his coat pockets. “M16 has to outsource certain operations to keep everything running smoothly up top. This wasn’t worth going to HQ about.”
“Damn, I’ve always wanted to see The Circus.”
“The fact that you use that nickname means you’d just be disappointed.” Owen said, and after producing a few shiny coins from his pocket, turned away from Curt to face the meter. “We don’t have any lion tamers.”
“I think you’d make a good ringleader.” Curt was suddenly aware of the hot sun beating down on him through his polo, and reached an arm towards his partner. “Wait, Owen.”
He didn’t need to touch Owen after all (a thought that filled Curt with a sick sort of disappointment), as the other man turned around as soon as he’d heard his name. “Yes?”
“There’s a bottle of shaving cream in my luggage. I, uh, don’t want it to melt in your car. It’ll be useless after that.”
The sides of Owen’s mouth twitched upwards for a second, as if Curt had said something funny, but nodded in understanding. “I’ll park in the shade. Just waltz right in and let them know you’re there for a new suit.”
Curt did as he was told and was immediately ushered upstairs by the woman at the front desk. He was greeted with a wooden door at the top of the stairs, and gave it a hard knock. The door swung open to reveal a tan man of middle-age, wearing thick glasses, the brown hair on top of his head dusted with grey specks.
“I’m here for a new suit.” Curt said, but the man immediately looked over his shoulder. The sound of footsteps on the stairs behind him clued him in that Owen must’ve caught up.
“Hey, Graham.” Owen pushed past Curt gently and walked into the room, a messy office with film negatives and bits of paper scattered everywhere.
“Carvour!” The man, Graham, pulled Owen into a hug. “I was wondering when you’d show your face round here again.” He closed the door behind them. “So, what happened? Did you lose the new passport already?”
Owen gestured towards Curt. “It’s not for me, it’s for my friend here.” He produced a piece of paper out of his pocket. “Here’s all the specs. If you can give it a little wear and tear, even better.”
“Alright. Tell your friend to get the chair and I’ll get my camera ready.” Graham said. He read the paper and shook his head, looking in Curt’s direction. “Actually, scratch that. The new you has a scar.”
“Where?” Curt said.
“Left cheek. I could try and doctor the photos, but since you need legitimacy, you might as well just get dolled up. There’s a makeup kit in the cupboard, if you’ll do the honors, Carvour?”
Owen nodded politely. “My pleasure. C’mon, Curt.”
Curt shrugged and followed the direction he was turning in. “Doll me up.”
A few minutes later, Curt was seated in a little wooden chair in what was actually a cupboard, albeit larger than he was expecting. Owen was bent over the cosmetics kit, mixing together some kind of sticky solution until the mixture was a white-pink. The situation reminded Curt of childhood Halloweens, a holiday that usually found him sitting in the kitchen as his mom loving applied drops of fake blood to his face.
“Never thought you’d be the one to leave me with a scar.” Curt said, trying to move his mouth as little as possible as Owen started his work.
“I told you there’d be surprises on this mission.” Owen said, tickling a brush lightly over Curt’s cheek. “Is this your first time wearing makeup?”
Curt waited to answer until he’d blinked a few times, feeling the powder stinging his eyes.
“No.” He said, and and then, worried he’d have to explain further, decided to ask Owen the same question. “What about you? You seem pretty handy with that brush.”
To Curt’s surprise, Owen nodded. “Yes, but I didn’t start out handy. I broke into my mother’s cabinet as a boy and made a mess with her cosmetics.”
“How much damage did you do?”
“I don’t recall all of it, but I do know I ended up with lipstick in my hair.” Owen said, smiling at the memory. “Mum had the last laugh when she cut it all off the next day.”
“Is that why you keep it so long now? Still rebelling against your mummy?”
Owen’s smile faded, and Curt wondered if hair was a point of insecurity for his partner. “Spare me the psychoanalysis. I grew my hair out because I prefer it that way.” He tucked a lock behind his ear as he spoke. “Before we met, it was even longer, if you can believe that. But I had to sacrifice a bit of it for professionalism’s sake.”
The image of the agent in front of him, younger and wild-haired, brought a smile to Curt’s face that was wide enough for Owen to move the brush away in protest.
“Wipe that grin off, unless you want a crooked scar.”
“I don’t mind crooked.” Curt said, pausing as Owen gripped his chin and moved his face to the side. Once the hand had been withdrawn, he continued. “Adds character.”
“We need realism, Mega, not character. Now be still.” Once Curt had relaxed his face and stayed quiet for a moment, Owen smiled and patted the cheek not currently itchy with powder. “There you go, not so hard is it?”
Curt closed his eyes and pretended his face was just red from the brush irritating his skin. Only twenty minutes later, they were leaving the laundromat with Curt’s new driver’s license and passport, sporting a new name he’d need to perfect pronouncing and the realistic scuffing of a well-used ID that Graham had promised.
He spent a little too much time in the car once him and Owen got on the road again, looking at the thumb-sized image of his own face. The pictures turned out alright, even if Curt felt embarrassed his flushed cheeks had been immortalized in the final shot. But the scar looked good, so real that Curt felt strange once he’d washed it off afterwards, as if he’d just shaved. Oh well, Owen had promised it would be back once they reached Russia. Curt resolved then that he’d take time to learn how to apply it himself, figuring that the farther away Owen was from his face, the better it would be for both of them.
Curt realized his attempts to put some space between them would have to wait for later once Owen told him their next destination.
“My flat,” He had said after a half hour of driving without much conversation. The sun had set while they were in the laundromat, and the car windows were rolled down to let in the newly cool air. “I figured you’d be safer with me than in some hotel in Sussex.”
For some reason, the concept of Owen having a neat little address somewhere made Curt laugh. After Owen shot him a puzzled look for that reaction, Curt sighed and admitted, “I didn’t think you had an apartment.”
“Oh. So you thought I was a responsible homeowner? Can’t say I’m not flattered, I suppose.”
“Nah, not a house either.” Curt said. He was embarrassed to say the next part of the sentence that came to his mind, but it was the truth. He needed to get better at telling Owen the truth. “I just... never thought of you going anywhere when we said goodbye.”
“Well, this is where I go.” Owen said a few minutes later, parking the car once again. “A walk-up in Little Cairo. It’s not much, but it’s reasonable. Hopefully enough for your American tastes.”
They reached the apartment by a narrow stairway. Owen grabbed a single unassuming key from his pocket, not attached to any ring, and opened the door, ducking his head in before inviting Curt inside. Curt noticed Owen taking off his shoes before walking any further than the entrance, so he followed suit and then set his bag down on the nearest surface, a coffee table. Owen hadn’t been lying when he said “not much”. It was the kind of apartment that a realtor might call “quaint” and that Curt, if he wasn’t a guest, would call “cramped”.
He felt as if he was being watched, and turned around to find he was- Owen was looking at him. Looking for approval? Maybe. He could give approval, that was simple enough.
“Not a bad bachelor pa-” Curt began, but to his surprise Owen shushed him.
“Be quiet, I don’t want you waking my flatmate.”
“You have a flatmate?” Curt said, too surprised to remember the term “roommate”, which he was more accustomed to.
“Yes,” Owen said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “And she’s wonderful, so I’d rather not scare her off with too much noise.”
Her brought up a whole slew of other questions, but Curt held his tongue. Owen had already let him privy to so much of his life today, and he knew the man preferred to be mysterious when possible. He could respect that. Just like he would try to respect the decor of the apartment, with its cream walls almost bare save for a few framed postcards. There was a bookshelf in the corner with a few full shelves, a houseplant that looked like it had been well taken care of, and a window that overlooked the now empty street. The only recognizable item of Owen’s was an empty pack of Imperials on the kitchen counter. Curt sat down at that same counter without really thinking, half surprised the barstool didn’t crumble beneath him like a prop. The place reminded him more of a film set than a house where two people lived.
“I could eat.” Curt said coolly, trying not to seem too eager. In reality, he was starving, but he hadn’t been a guest in a friend’s home for a long time- he found himself nervous about the proper etiquette, a state that was not natural to him.
“I would grab us some stuff down the street, but restaurants close early here on the weekdays. Hope you like rice.”
“I won’t complain.”
Owen light up his stove and got to work, while Curt sat and watched and tried to ignore the creeping guilt. Owen cooking for him, making small conversation, pouring a glass of seltzer water without needing to be prompted- it all felt frighteningly domestic. Owen had said it himself after the wedding. The two of them “needed to be professional, not playing house”. And yet here Owen was, the image of a housewife (although Curt loathed the comparison, he couldn’t think of another word for it), serving up a warm bowl of chicken, brown rice and tomatoes with a soft smile.
The chicken was a little chewy, the rice a little crunchier than Curt was accustomed to eating, but he wasn’t about to complain about a home-cooked meal. In fact, the imperfections were a blessing. If Owen was a great cook as well as a great spy, Curt might’ve felt inadequate in comparison. Instead, he could treasure the warm feeling of having something to be better at.
Thankfully, he didn’t have the temptation to voice these feelings, as they barely talked over dinner. Curt asking for a napkin broke the silence at last, and after he’d wiped the bits of stray rice off his face, he felt comfortable asking about the sleeping arrangements.
“I noticed the blanket on the couch.” Curt said. “You don’t have a guest room?”
“The guest room is my room.” Owen said, a statement that wasn’t a joke but made Curt laugh anyway. Owen clarified almost too quickly, as if afraid of the implication, “I mean, I’ll be on the couch tonight.”
“You know, Carvour, you don’t have to-”
“Please.” Owen said. “I insist. With the trip ahead of us, you should be grateful for a good night’s sleep.”
Curt couldn’t argue with that. “Alright. Is your bed nice? Just want to know what I’m getting into.”
Owen gave him a funny look and turned away to wash the dishes. “It’s fine enough.” He said over the water. “Been pretty cold these days, but that’s par for the course.”
Unsure of how to respond, Curt shifted on the barstool awkwardly. When Owen turned back around, plate and rag in hand, he looked... young and calm. Curt had the sensation of something inside him tugging and coming loose, like untying a curtain, and it definitely wasn’t a desire to help with the dishes.
“Owen,” He said, testing the waters. “How’re you doing?”
“The same way I am before every mission, Curt. Just fine.”
“I mean, how are you...” Curt didn’t know how to phrase it. “How are you doing with your secret?”
Owen smiled for a polite moment, and then put the plate he was drying down and leaned closer to Curt over the counter.
“Life can be lonely after a revelation.” He said. His voice grew even quieter than before, but Curt had a feeling it wasn’t for his sleeping roommate’s sake. “Lately, I feel like I’m the only homosexual in London.”
Curt's chest felt funny at how casually Owen said the word, at first he thought it was discomfort but after a moment of thinking, he realized it was more akin to pride. “I have great news,” he said, smiling as a joke came to him. “There’s two of us now.”
Owen laughed loud enough that he clamped a hand over his mouth to stifle the noise. When his face was less red, he spoke again, the words falling out of his mouth quickly. “You know, I can’t believe you’re in my home. Feels... I don’t know, like some strange dream.”
Curt smirked. “Aw, why? Too good to be true?”
“It’s just different with you here.” Owen said with a dismissive gesture, and then excused himself to get ready for bed, leaving Curt to sit in the darkened film-set-of-an-apartment and try to piece together if different was a good or bad thing.
Welcome back! The "M" rating has yet to apply but I do intend to make use of it later, in general the themes in this one are going to be a little darker and more adult so tread carefully. Explanation of some of the terms in this chapter: "The Circus" is a term for M16/M16 HQ, and heavy water is a type of water with different molecules that's used in nuclear moderation. (And it's really cool). Popular Mechanics is a US science magazine that continues to be published to this day!
The song for this story is Evening in Stalingrad.
With Owen out of the room, Curt was left to brush his teeth over the kitchen sink, spitting out his toothpaste and watching the foam catch spare bits of rice on its way down the drain. He was used to doing this routine in front of a mirror, not a blank wall, and the whole situation felt a bit strange. Stranger still was the fact that he had to change in the living room, crouching in one of the many dark corners of the flat and praying that Owen (or even worse, his roommate) didn’t choose that exact moment to make an appearance.
Thankfully, Owen didn’t duck his head out from his bedroom for another few minutes, and when he did he beckoned Curt inside with a hand wave. Curt walked through the doorway, careful to not brush any part of his body against Owen’s, a desire that Owen seemed to understand, as he leaned back and gave Curt room to step past.
The lights were off but Curt could make out a single bed, a table beside it, a dresser, and a closed door that presumably led to the bathroom.
“I know, I know. It’s all a bit Spartan.” Owen said. “But I trust you’ll find it more comfortable than the settee. Like I said, the bed is fine enough, and that what’s really important.”
Curt just nodded, too busy agonizing over whether or not it would be weird to sleep with the door closed. Thankfully, that decision was made for him, as he heard of the sound of Owen closing on his way out with a soft, and ultimately unanswered, “Night”.
Now alone, Curt sat down on the edge of the bed. He sat there for a while, feeling nervous, before how tired he was fully sank in and he submitted to crawling underneath the comforter. The bed was indeed “fine enough”, the kind of comfortable that he’d be grateful to have in a hotel room. But not even the softest sheets in the world could ensure Curt rested soundly. The second he noticed the pillow smelled like Owen’s aftershave- a sterile, minty smell that used to make Curt’s nose itch but now just made his chest ache- he knew he’d be up for a little bit longer.
Owen sleeps here, when he’s not sleeping across the room from you. Owen slept- sleeps- with people here. People who aren’t you. People who you’ll never know.
You’ll only ever be in this bed alone.
Once his internal monologue was satisfied with how crappy he felt, Curt could finally close his eyes and drift into a dreamless sleep.
Curt awoke with a jolt hours later and, for a moment, forgot he had even flown to London. In his half-awake state, he clambered for one of the many water cups he always kept next to his bed at home but found the only item on the bedside table was a photo frame. Owen’s room. Right.
Even though Curt didn’t care about photographs unless they were of top secret documents, something compelled him to look at the photo. It was a posed family portrait. Owen’s family. There were only three people in frame- an tall man with wire glasses and grey-peppered hair, a woman in pearls with a slight crookedness to her jaw, and a little boy standing between them sporting a grin. Owen.
Curt found himself doubting that observation once he looked closer, as there was barely any resemblance. The boy in the picture’s hair was short, combed perfectly, and very light brown in color. The boy in the picture had a round face. The boy in the picture was missing a few teeth. Most importantly, the boy in the picture looked happy.
Curt rolled over in bed, frowning at the fresh wave of aftershave that the pillow provided. This wasn’t a good time for sentimentality. Be realistic, Mega. The boy in that picture- the man he became- still smiled that wide now. But it was usually after he shot someone.
That picture would be the first time Curt “saw” Owen that morning, and there was no sign of him when Curt exited the bedroom. There was however, someone else sitting on the couch. Owen’s voice echoed in his head. Flatmate.
She was a woman that Curt could place as vaguely middle-aged, with tanned olive skin and dark eyes peering out from underneath a pair of tortoiseshell reading glasses. Thick eyebrows with plenty of tiny hairs in the space in between spread across her upper brow, an area that was tensed in concentration as she flipped through the newspaper, movements clearly undisturbed by Curt’s presence.
“Good morning.” Curt said, feeling deeply like a stranger in this house. This home, someone’s home, not his home, not safe.
“There’s tea.” The roommate said, without looking away from the paper. She had an accent Curt couldn’t place, but her voice sounded pleasant. Soft.
And even though she didn’t ask his name, didn’t ask why he was there, Curt offered it anyway. It would feel strange not to. He already felt so strange.
“I’m Curt.” After no response, he found himself talking more, desperate to fill the silence. “And you must be, uh-”
“Shadi.” She said. There wasn’t a handshake. Nothing that formal. Curt shrugged it off and went to get some tea. There was already another cup sitting beside the kettle and he poured it carefully, still looking at Shadi.
“So, how long have you known Owen?” He said, feeling the silence start to get to him again.
“Long enough to know his friends don’t usually ask this many questions.”
Curt didn’t always know when he should shut up, but he got the message loud and clear from Shadi. He crept back in Owen’s bedroom and closed the door as quietly as possible. Time to get ready for the day.
Owen’s shower was small and had several long, stray hairs stuck to the floor, which Curt stepped around like minefields as he scrubbed the plane sweat off his achey body. He opted not to use shampoo or conditioner, intimidated by the unfamiliar European brand and the bold typed phrase “for thick hair” that appeared on both bottles. Afterwards, Curt dried himself with the single bleach-stained towel in the bathroom and realized it was damp. Owen must’ve somehow snuck a shower while he was sleeping. Typical sneaky behavior.
Owen had snuck around him again that morning, returning to the apartment while Curt was in the shower. Curt discovered this when he emerged from the bedroom again to find Owen was sitting next to Shadi on the couch. The two were talking quietly and Owen was smiling (nothing like the boy in the photo, but still carefree) when he looked over his shoulder at Curt.
“How did you sleep?”
Curt shrugged. “Good.”
“Good.” Owen repeated back. “I brought some pastries back, help yourself and then we’ll be off.”
Curt wasn’t particularly hungry but he picked up a scone anyway and ate in hunched over the sink in a few bites, flicking a few crumbs off his collar when he was done. He heard Shadi and Owen’s conversation continuing behind him, a background buzzing that brought a twitch to his eye for a reason he couldn’t place.
Jealousy wasn’t the right word for it, more like... humility. Something that reminded him of his place. He didn’t ever consider Owen had someone else to go to when he wasn’t out with Curt. Another friend. A home. A bed and a family he cared enough about to keep their photo close. And then there was Curt, orbiting on the outside. Eating a scone over the sink in silence.
After finishing breakfast, Curt was desperate for somewhere to turn his eyes towards and found the bookshelf catching his attention. All the books on the top shelf were of different sizes and condition, but there was a common theme.
“What’s up with all the books on... historical battles?”
Curt heard a laugh in response that was not Owen’s, and turned around to see Shadi smiling for the first time since they’d met. She spoke as gently as before but with a jovial edge to her voice, “Don’t let Owen fool you. He hasn’t read half of those.”
“Because I hardly have the time.” Owen said. “If you must know, I bought a case of those from some charity shop a few years ago. I thought it would help out with strategy.”
The casual way Owen alluded to his job made Curt wonder exactly how much Shadi knew about her roommate’s life, but he wasn’t about to open up that conversation.
Instead, he said, “I’ve been trying to read more books.” It was a lie, but since reading on the plane had gone so well, Curt reasoned it could become true at some point. As long as he kept those noise-cancelling earmuffs around, anything was possible.
“Ah, what a noble goal.” Owen said. He got up from the couch and Curt stiffened in anticipation of his personal space being compromised, but Owen was far more focused on the bookshelf behind him. The taller man skimmed a finger over several book spines before picking one out and handing it to Curt. “You might find this volume relevant.”
Curt looked down at the book in his hand. The Battle of Stalingrad: A Retrospective. Unlike some of the other books on the shelf, this battle was barely a historical topic, in fact it had happened recently enough that the information it the book would hardly be new, but Curt tucked it under his arm anyway.
“And that reminds me,” Owen turned around to face Shadi, pulled an envelope out of his pocket and let it drop down it on the coffee table with a slap. “The rest of this year’s rent.”
Shadi’s face fell immediately. “No, no, Owen-joon, you don’t-”
“It’s all for contingency’s sake. Khuda hafez.” Owen said, his tone weighed down with an unfamiliar tenderness. Shadi nodded, her face still clearly upset, but didn’t say anything more.
Curt shifted uncomfortably and held the book tighter against his side, wondering if this was what it was like to be a bug in the wall.
Owen didn’t seem too keen on having him remain a bug any longer, as he turned his attention back to Curt immediately, all the warmth gone from his voice. “Alright, Curt. Let’s get going.”
They packed up the backseat with Owen’s bag, Curt’s suitcase, and a sack full of pre-made sandwiches, apples, bananas and two water bottles. And just like that, they were back in transit, a state of being around Owen that Curt greatly preferred. Too long in one place, in one home, things could get personal. But the constant stream of stimuli outside the car window provided Curt with enough distraction that he didn’t even think about seeing Owen at the wedding, or dancing with him, or what happened after they danced- well, if he tried his hardest, at least.
Looking out the window was also the only source of entertainment for Curt during the first stretch of their car ride. Owen insisted on having the radio off for “concentration”, and he didn’t speak much, unless he was yelling obscenities at whatever car had pissed him off (and a lot of them seemed to). Curt didn’t mind the lack of conversation, he knew they’d be stuck together for a while, and that plenty of time would come to talk.
That time came once Owen had parked the car on a ferry that was taking them across the English Channel. They were sitting in the car, facing a row of cars that were stuck in the same liminal position. Curt almost felt like he was back in America at a drive-in, except instead of a movie there was just the huge skyline stretching in front of them. And instead of having his arm around the person next to him, he was drumming his fingers nervously on his knees. And instead of popcorn, he had an apple. In fact, the more he thought about it, he would rather be at the movies.
“It shouldn’t take more than two hours to get to Calais,” Owen said, taking a noisy bite out of his own apple. “In fact, this entire trip should be on schedule, unless we end up like Miss Victoria.”
“Never heard of her.” Curt said, and he noticed Owen roll his eyes. “And two hours? Damn, everything over here is so close together. I could drive twice that and not get out of the state back home.”
“I feel it’s almost too close together.” Owen said with a snort, and Curt didn’t know how to reply, just nodded. The lack of things to look at started to get to him, and he started to think about that morning, a smile coming to his face as he remembered something.
“So... Owen-joon, huh.”
Owen rolled his eyes for the second time since they’d boarded. “Don’t start with that, it’s a perfectly nice langua-”
“I’m not making fun! It’s just fun to say.” Curt paused to change the subject. “Your roommate, uh, she seemed, nice.”
“Nice is irrelevant to my agreement with Shadi. What’s important is that she doesn’t ask any questions.” Owen said. “But yes, she is nice, isn’t she? It’s a shame you didn’t stay longer, you could’ve met the cat.”
“There’s a cat?!” Curt said, louder than he’d spoken all day. “What is it, invisible?”
“Just keeps to himself.” Owen said. “He’s tough too. I think you two would’ve understood each other.”
“A whole night in your apartment, and I never even met your damn cat. Wanna just call the whole thing off? It’s not too late to turn around.” Curt joked. His smile faded the moment he noticed Owen didn’t seem to be amused. In fact, he was looking back with the kind of stare that Curt knew he’d feel even if his back was turned.
“Oh, Curt, don’t be a fool. It’s definitely too late to go back. You knew that when you got in this car.”
Curt felt his ears get hot, and wanted to say something, anything, but Owen cut him off with a sudden handclap. “Anyway, I’m bored. You up for a round of I Spy?”
After almost an hour and a half of a circular conversation (“I spy with my little eye-” “You know, you don’t have to say it every time.” “Yes, I do.”), the ferry finally delivered the car to France safe and sound. Once they had paid the toll and were on the open road towards Antwerp, Owen seemed to relax further, cracking jokes, pointing out models of cars they drove past and even turning on the radio. The broadcast was in French, and Curt only understood about every other sentence, but he listened anyway. He listened so intently that he didn’t bother looking out the window anymore, electing to slump his head against the door instead.
“Just gonna close my eyes for a moment,” Curt said, and then closed his eyes for a very long time. When he opened them again the sensation of the car moving jerked him back up. His neck ached and his face was almost numb and it was much darker outside than it had been a second ago. The radio was still on, but it wasn’t French, oh god, oh no, was that German?
“Hello, Curt.” Owen said casually, and Curt nearly jumped out of his skin at the sound.
“Owen?” Curt took a deep breath and rubbed his eyes, feeling a headache begin to set in. “Where the hell are-”
“Bielefield, Germany!” Owen interrupted. “The crown jewel of North Rhine-Westphalia. Just a little five hour drive from Antwerp, I won’t bore you with the details.”
“Five hours? You let me sleep for five hours?”
“Just a drop in the bucket, old chap, on a journey like this. My driving even improved without you blabbering on. We’re ahead of schedule now.”
If Curt was more awake he would’ve had a comeback, but his mouth just felt dry and empty. He struggled to get a complete thought together, ultimately deciding on, “I gotta piss.”
Owen wrinkled his nose in response. “We’re almost to the restaurant, surely you can wait until then.”
“Of course.” Owen smiled politely. “I haven’t eaten since my partner and banana-peeler went off and took a nap, so I figured dinner was in order.”
“I’m starving, let me just- let me just get my head on straight.”
“Make it quick. You have about ten minutes.”
Curt felt a little better once they had sat down. The restaurant was closer to a pub with wooden tables inside, but Curt didn’t mind, welcome for the change of scenery and the promise of warm food. Owen ordered for both, selecting currywurst for himself and sauerbraten “for the gentleman”, a dish that he assured Curt was “just like pot roast.”
Curt hadn’t been face to face with Owen all day, and he couldn’t help taking in a great deal of information from watching his partner’s face. Owen was checking out their waiter. Didn’t know he liked blondes. Owen was folding his napkin into one tiny square. Strange bird. Owen was staring down at his hands. What’s so interesting about your hands? Owen was looking straight ahead. Fuck.
“What are you thinking about?” Curt said. Owen dismissed him with a simple shake of the head, fingers still unfolding and refolding his napkin.
Even if he had been keen to reply, Owen wouldn’t have gotten the chance anyway, as their food arrived not a moment later. Noticing how Owen thanked the waiter just a bit too loudly, Curt prodded a piece of sausage with his fork and then decided to prod Owen again.
“Cmon, what’s in that steel trap? I can see your gears turning.”
Owen smirked as if he’d been caught. “Oh, it’s nothing much. I was just thinking about what I’d do with you if I give that gentleman our hotel room number.”
Curt could think of a few options, but all of them made him want to crawl into a big dark hole. He traced a bit of salt around on the table with his finger, willing himself to respond with a cool head. What he ended up saying was meant to be a joke, but as he opened his mouth to speak he realized it was the truth.
“I’d sleep in the car.”
“You’re a good friend, Mega.”
Curt just smiled back and pretended the word “friend” didn’t make the back of his neck feel warm. They ate in silence afterwards, and Curt found himself playing with his food, thoughts drifting back to Owen’s apartment. He thought about Owen’s bed that he would never sleep in again, Owen’s roommate that he would never get to know, and Owen’s cat that he would never even see, and frowned, feeling as if he was being held at a distance no matter how close he got.
Buckle up, Mega. It was going to be a long, long trip.
It's travel melancholy time for Curt. If you want to follow along with the trip, just search "London to Volgograd" on Google Maps to see the countries they're driving through.
A few things: Princess Victoria was a ferry accident on the English channel that happened in 1953, a lot of people perished in it. It's a little Too Soon for Owen to be joking about it, but he's canonly morbid so I thought it would fit.
Shoutout to my fellow Persian and author on here Sunny_Moonbeam for naming Shadi! Owen says "goodbye" to her in Farsi at the end of their scene together, and "joon" is a common term of affection to add on to someone's name.
Owen's mom resembling him (the jaw) is a reference to Joey Richter looking more like his mom than his dad, just based off of Instagram posts.
PS: look up "Bielefield conspiracy" for a fun time.
Chapter 3: Hanover
Curt was tied to a chair in his hotel room. Curt was tied to a chair in his hotel room, and the rope wore on his arms, and his back was itchy but he couldn’t scratch it. Curt was tied to a chair and the man who tied him up was his best friend, pacing back and forth like a hound tracking a scent, in pursuit of nothing but a sign of weakness, looking down with an unbearable gaze.
How did I get here?
About an hour earlier, everything had been alright. Curt didn’t even need to make good on his offer to sleep in the car, as Owen ultimately chickened out of the proposition. But that wouldn’t be the resolution of their sleeping situations issues, as they arrived at their hotel in Hanover to find only one bed.
Curt felt his stomach do a flip, but Owen threw his jacket on the bed casually as if there was nothing wrong with the room.
After another moment of silence, Curt itched the back of his neck. “So, should I go back to the car? That backseat looked comfy.”
“This mission was planned for one person.” Owen explained matter-of-factly, turning around and picking up a smaller bag that he’d laid beside the door. “But lucky for you, I did some planning of my own.”
He had unzipped the suitcase he’d brought in and unraveled a crinkly sounding sleeping bag, slapping it down onto the floor and turning back to Curt with a smug smile.
“Alright.” Curt said. “Who gets the floor?”
“That’s where the game comes in.” Owen said. “I came up with it while you were asleep. I think it’ll help us both with the coming mission. And, if we’re still both alive at the end, winner gets the bed.” He winked.
The game. Owen had asked if Curt was up for a game later, on the car ride out of Bielefeld. At the time Curt had asked if he meant travel chess, or War, or more I Spy, but Owen had shook his head and told him to be patient. That it was something they’d be equally matched in. Curt had sunk into the passenger seat and considered saying that they only thing they were both good at was driving each other crazy, but decided to keep quiet.
But hearing Owen bring it up again, smiling like it was a challenge, didn’t make Curt shrink away. He’d never backed down from a challenge before, especially not one from his partner.
So, Curt had given in. “Put me in, coach.”
Owen dragged a chair, a thin and uncomfortable wooden thing that was sitting in the corner of the room, directly by the bed. He patted the back.
“You’re going first. Take a seat.”
Curt couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow. “Can I know the rules?”
“What’s the fun in that?” Owen said, and patted the chair once again after Curt refused to move. “I trust you’ll catch on.”
Curt complied, and caught on very soon, as soon as Owen started tying his right arm down.
“Haven’t I sat enough?” He joked, trying to ignore the nervousness building at the back of his throat. “I was in a car all day.”
“You didn’t arrive here in a car.” Owen had said as he moved on to Curt’s other arm, looping rope around the wooden arm out of the chair into a snug fit. “You were on a mission, not paying attention, when someone threw a bag over your head and brought you here in a helicopter.”
“Ah, very interesting. Where was my partner when all this happened? Did he get distracted by something shiny?” Curt said, and winked in the hopes it would get a laugh out of Owen. It was not successful.
“Your partner died,” Owen tightened the knot with a swift tug. “And you, poor bastard, are left alive with the burden of all his secrets. I’ll be interrogating you about the botched mission. It’s your job to let nothing spill. The more answers I get out of you, the less likely you are to get a good night’s sleep. Understood?”
“Uh.” Curt said, barely speaking, just breathing out the noise. “You died?”
“Your partner in this training scenario died. Try not to get too sentimental, alright? It’s just a game.”
Curt nodded. Games were okay. He could win games. “Understood.”
Owen punched a few buttons on his watch, and Curt heard the familiar beep of a timer being set, although he had no idea how long it had been set for. The room felt a lot colder once Owen pulled away and stood in front of him, rolling up the sleeves of his button-up shirt, taking a deep breath.
He spoke in Russian when he opened his mouth. Curt was familiar with the language so the translation came natural to him, even if Owen’s fluency was questionable. “Who are you working for?”
“None of your business.” Curt said.
Owen switched back to English immediately. “Curt, if I may? A tip. I can tell by your accent, and if I were to search your pockets, the make of your gun, that you work for the Americans. You can answer a question without answering it. Try to keep that in mind.”
“So what am I supposed to do? Stay silent?”
“I’m not at liberty to tell you what to do.” Owen said. He cleared his throat. Back to Russian. “What do you know, American?”
Curt stayed quiet.
“I’ll be more specific. What were you doing on the premises of our embassy in Ankara?”
“If I told you, I’d have to kill you.” Curt said, forcing back a smile. This whole thing felt too much like children playing pretend to take seriously.
Owen stepped closer, and closer, until he was too close. He leaned down to Curt’s eye-level, resting his hands gently on top of the rope on Curt’s arms, and whispered in his ear.
“This is the part where if we weren’t playing a game, I would have already pulled a few teeth. Maybe gave you a big shock. But since I won’t do that, we’ll just pretend, alright?” He pulled away from Curt’s ear but still remained annoying close, a looming figure taking up all of Curt’s vision.
And up close, Owen looked tired. Like someone who’d been behind the wheel for ten hours. Curt swallowed, and hoped the gulping sound wasn’t audible from a few inches away. “While we’re off the record, are you holding back on me? Too afraid to get rough?”
Owen blinked back, no change in his expression. “It’s a game.” He said, like that was enough.
“Baseball players skin their knees all the time.” Curt didn’t know why this was the hill he’d chosen to die on. He didn’t want Owen to hurt him, but part of him knew he never would. Hoped he never would. He said “won’t do that”, not “can’t”. But even if things went too far, he figured poking fun at the convoluted rules was was worth a tooth or two.
“Rest assured, your knees will be intact.” Owen said. “Maybe some rug burn, if getting out of that chair goes the wrong way.” He glanced down at the arms of the chair, at Curt’s arms. “But somehow I don’t think we’ll run into that problem.”
“You have me tied up pretty good, I’ll give you that.” Curt said. He was starting to feel like he was really playing. Playing a game, or playing Owen, whichever one would secure him the bed. Time to play his ace. “Do you do this all the time, Mr. Russian Spy? Take boys home and tie them up?”
Owen pulled away so quickly Curt was worried he was about to walk out of the room without untying the rope. But instead he hovered in front of Curt, tapping his foot anxiously. “Hmph. No. Only nasty American spies.”
“Alright, I’m American. You got me there.” Curt said. The shakiness of Owen’s voice didn’t escape him. This is getting fun. “But I don’t know if I’d say I’m ‘nasty’. Maybe nosey. My mom always said I was too curious for my own good.”
“Well,” Owen said, speaking English again. “You wouldn’t be the first cat killed by curiosity.”
Curt shrugged. “I always land on my feet.”
Owen shook his head, and pulled something out of his pocket. Curt was tense for a moment until he realized it was a cigarette. Owen lit in one swift motion and then used his other hand to toss the lighter just over Curt’s head. Curt didn’t flinch, but heard the sound of it hitting the bedside table behind him. Owen took a single drag and blew it into Curt’s face.
Curt coughed despite his best efforts. The smoke stung. “Really? That’s your best idea of torture?”
“No. This is.”
Owen snuffed his cigarette on the arm of the chair directly between Curt’s index and middle finger. Curt felt the heat painfully close to his skin and spread his fingers as far as they would go to avoid a burn.
Once Owen had flicked the cigarette away, although he was still looming a little too close for comfort, Curt glanced down at the ashy residue left between his fingers. “They’re going to the charge the room for that.”
Owen pinched between his eyes, as if that sentence was completely ridiculous. “We’re not in a hotel room, Curt, we’re in a warehouse in the Soviet Union.”
“You can say whatever you want, but looking at your dirty socks on the floor is kind of killing the scene.”
“What a shame.” Owen said, pretending to wipe a tear. “The great Curt Mega is no fun to play with.”
“Maybe it’s just a shitty game. Did you think about that? I don’t even know what information I’m supposed to be hiding because none of it is real, and-”
“So, you want realism?” Owen interrupted. Curt nodded, cautiously, worried at how quickly the response had came. He didn’t know what realism entailed. “If you’d rather answer something else, I can change the mood.”
“Bring it on. Torture my favorite color out of me, I’d love to see you try.”
“It’s red. Isn’t it?”
Curt was taken aback by Owen’s accuracy. “L-lucky guess. That one doesn’t count.”
“I’ll give you that. Let’s begin.” Owen’s eyes twinkled mischievously, or at least Curt hoped that was mischief he saw. There were far more dangerous impulses that made the other agent light up like that.
Owen began to speak in Russian again. “What are you most ashamed of?”
“Not answering that.”
“What was the worst day of your life?”
“I don’t know, but this is in the running for the worst night.”
Owen narrowed his eyes. “You have to answer, American, or I won’t let you free. Do you want me to take another drag in your face?”
“Sure, I’d appreciate the nicotine. I’m bored. Ask something else.”
“Are you seeing anyone?”
Curt hoped he wasn’t blushing. “No. Can you stop fucking around with me? I feel like I'm unlearning skills at this point."
Owen nodded. He gave up too easily, something that made Curt suspicious. “Let’s try something else. I’m excited about this one, I do hope you feel the same.”
“I’m sure I won’t.” Curt said with a huff.
Owen ignored him. “Do you think you are superior to your partner?”
Curt blinked for a second, mind blank. Owen’s Russian wasn’t the sharpest so the sentence took a moment to translate. But once he understood the question, he tried to move his arms on instinct, wanting to run a hand through his hair or count his fingers or anything else but continue this conversation.
“Excuse me?” He said, instead of doing any of that.
“It’s a simple question, Curt.” Owen said, and repeated the sentence in English. “Do you think you are superior to me? Out of the two of us, do you believe you’re more proficient? More competent, valuable, when it comes to the work we do?”
In was in that moment that Curt realized Owen wasn’t playing a game anymore. The rope on his wrists suddenly felt heavier. He was trapped. Not just tied up, but in another country with no escape except the car Owen drove him here in. Here, to his doom, in this uncomfortable chair.
But this exercise was about resisting interrogation, so instead he just looked back casually, as if he wasn’t tied down. “Owen? This is weird.”
Owen laughed bitterly. “Hmm. Well, it’s important to me, and if you cared about that, you’d go on and answer honestly.”
“Don’t try that guilt tactic on me. Is this about...” Curt trailed off from saying whatever dumb guess he was going to formulate as the mostly likely answer finally sunk in. “Oh my god, this is about the role assignment, isn’t it?”
Owen didn’t say anything, which meant that Curt was right.
“It is. It is, I know it is, because the last time I saw you you were screaming at me about it.”
“Oh, damn.” Owen said with a snap of his fingers, voice flat and sarcastic. “Did I give it away?”
“I knew it! I knew you were still pissed off at me! Jesus Christ, Carvour, you can hold a grudge.” Curt couldn’t help his voice getting louder as the excitement of being right started to set in. The distance that Owen had been holding him at, the condescending cheek pat at Graham’s, their tense conversation in the car- it was clear Owen had some kind of open wound from Monaco, and he was content to bleed all over Curt.
“How about you tell me your side of the story?” Owen responded, expression infuriatingly blank. “I think my memory is a little biased.”
Curt sighed. He knew the story too well, he’d gone over it in his head so many times. “After the wedding,” He started. “We were... I want to say we were on the beach, when I got a call from Cynthia. She said I was going on the Stalingrad mission- this mission- with you. At first you were celebrating. So was I. But then she said that since I was more fluent in Russian, you’d be my backup and I’d be the one going undercover.”
“And then you lost your mind. As soon as I hung up you were so pissed, ranting about how you had more than enough time to brush up on your Russian and you couldn’t believe you’d been replaced. I think you used the word ‘bamboozled’? And then, then... you told me it was all my fault.”
“It was.” Owen said. “You got under my skin, Mega. I lost my edge and everyone could see-”
The conversation was cut off by a sharp beeping. Owen looked down at his watch, pressing a finger down on it reluctantly to stop the noise.
“Timer’s off. Now, we switch.”
“We’re still playing?” Curt said, fighting to not raise his voice.
“Surely you have some questions for me. It’s only fair.”
“You’re insane, you know that?” Curt said.
“We can stop. Do you want to stop?” Owen asked.
“The way it looks right now, I lost.” Curt said. “And I’m not going to lose. Plus, maybe I want to see you squirm a little.”
Owen didn’t respond, but he did sit down in the chair dutifully. Curt squatted behind him, rope in one hand. It would be easy to just tie Owen’s arms to the chair and best done with it, but he had different plans now that their places were switched, wanted to keep the other agent on his toes.
“Put your arms back, now.” He said in Russian, and after a moment of watching Owen stay still, sighed and repeated the sentence in English. “Arms behind you, Carvour. God, this is probably why they made you the backup.”
Owen complied silently. Curt couldn’t see his face, but he could imagine the pissy expression he was probably making at the comment, a pout that only came out when he didn’t have a good response. Suddenly, the idea of stringing a rope around his wrists seemed a lot less fun.
“Do I even need to tie you up?” Curt said, and on a sudden impulse, grabbed Owen’s wrists and held them together with one hand. He yanked them in the direction of the ground quickly so that Owen’s head hit the back of the chair. Owen made a soft noise of surprise at the motion, something between “uh” and “oh” and Curt held the grip tighter even as his own fingers ached. He could feel Owen’s pulse against his palm. He could feel Owen’s pulse speeding up. He let go.
“I don’t feel like tying a knot right now.” Curt got to his feet, head swimming. “Just pretend you can’t move.”
Owen finally caught his breath. “Already off to a great start, I see.”
“Shut up.” Curt said, louder than he intended, and Owen flinched at the noise. “Just tell me what the hell is going on, okay? So we can go to sleep.”
“Aren’t you supposed to ask me about the embassy?” Owen said, barely unclenching his jaw. He was flushed all the way down to his neck, like when he got mad, but he wasn’t mad, something else, something just as intense.
“I think we’re past that, friend.” Curt said, feeling excited despite the entire situation. Vulnerable was a good look on Owen. That black shirt was a good look on Owen. Focus. “What’s still bothering you about Monaco?”
“You’re bright red. Nothing doesn’t make people look like that. Did it hurt your, uh, your fucking spy ego, finding out you got replaced?”
He expected Owen to snap in response, but he didn’t. When he spoke, it was a quiet, small sound.
“It’s not that simple.”
“Then explain, and I’ll let you go.” Curt said, realizing he’d been forgetting to speak in Russian and then realizing immediately after that he didn’t really care.
Owen looked at him, eyes wide and strained. As if he would rather have Curt read his mind than say anything out loud. After a few more moments of staring he blinked a few times, looked down at the ground, and then began to speak.
“It’s dangerous, Curt, alright? The last agent on this mission was undercover as a scientist, and he didn’t make it back. This time they wanted me to go in as a test subject. I was scared out of my wits. I requested backup- you- for a reason. And it got all turned around on me, and now I’m backing you up, and if, god forbid, you die in some terrible experiment because I - god, I’d never- I’d be mad about it forever, I think.”
Owen sounded scared, and he wasn’t usually scared without a good reason, so Curt started to get scared too. He tried to swallow the fear, and finally kneeled down in front of Owen.
“I’m not gonna die, Owen.” Curt said, more for his benefit than his partner’s, but he figured it was time to end this all anyway. “How could I? I'm brave. I'm more than capable. I’ve got the best backup in the world. And if I said something on the beach that told a different story, I didn't mean it.”
“You don’t mean that.” Owen didn’t meet his eyes. “We’re- we’re playing.”
“I’m not.” Curt said, carefully. “I hate this stupid game.”
“Yeah?” Owen said, seeming to relax. His arms finally dropped at his sides, as if an invisible rope had been untied. Curt let himself close his eyes for a moment, breathing out a sigh of relief, that everything was over- and then he felt the pain.
There was a painful feeling under both of his ribs simultaneously that could’ve only come from someone jabbing both their hands into his sides at once. He opened his eyes and registered all of it- Owen had moved his arms forward in a split second to do just that, fingers clenched into an unforgiving claw. He was now moving those same fingers on Curt’s in a fast motion, a tickling motion that made Curt spasm with laughter. Owen added some pressure to the motion and Curt fell back onto the floor, crying “stop! stop!” without even realizing it.
Owen stumbled to his feet and looked down at Curt, panting. “Don’t call it stupid.”
“Goddammit.” Curt said, slapping a hand over his face. “Fucking. Jesus Christ. Ow.”
“How sophisticated.” Owen said. A beat passed and he said, “I’m sorry.”
“You’re a piece of work, you know that? Just give me the bed and we’ll call it even.”
Owen complied, and Curt let himself feel victory for a moment before he just felt tired. He got ready to sleep. Owen did the same and the two shuffled around each other in an awkward silence. Curt was already comfortable in the bed when he heard Owen come out of the bathroom and lay down on the floor.
It took him about five minutes to realize he didn’t want the bed. Not to himself. It took another five minutes to think of how to phrase it, and finally just decided to let the words tumble out.
“Fuck it.” Curt said, mostly to his pillow. “Owen, just- just come up here.” There was no response, so he called again. “I know you’re not asleep.”
“Finally decided to switch?” Owen responded so quickly it made Curt jolt a little in surprise, even when he was relaxed.
“No,” Curt said, sitting up and rubbing his eyes. “This is dangerous, right? We could be driving to our deaths tomorrow. There’s no reason either of us should sleep on the floor.”
Owen piped up in the darkness. “I can think of a few.” It sounded like he was smiling.
“Oh yeah?” Curt dipped his head over the side of the bed, able to make out the outline of Owen’s face somewhere in the dark below him. “Wanna share those with me, tough guy?”
“For one, you snore.”
“This window of opportunity is closing.”
“Fine, fine, I’ll shut it. I’m coming up.” Owen said, and then he did, silently crawling onto the bed and settling down, facing Curt with wide eyes.
Curt couldn’t go to sleep without one more question, even if it would make those eyes even wider.
“Can I ask you something?” He said, almost a mumble.
“Mhm. I prefer a bit of pillow talk.” Owen said, the kind of thing he’d normally say as a joke in the daylight, but in the dark it sounded too serious. Curt swallowed nervously before replying.
“After the wedding. When we were arguing. How did it all end?”
“You don’t remember?” Owen said, and Curt closed his eyes for a moment, imagining Owen’s brow crumpling under the weight of worry. “Well, you were blitzed out of your mind. You said things you couldn’t take back. I did the same. And in an elegant display of self preservation, you got sick on the beach, so I shoved you in a taxi and sent you off.”
“I threw up?” Curt said. “That doesn’t sound like me. I must’ve been... gone.” Saying that out loud made his ears get hot. They got hotter as he wondered what else he didn’t remember. “Did anything else happen?”
Owen was silent in the dark for a painful amount of time. “God, no, Curt, I swear.”
“I didn’t mean it like that. I just, uh, wanted to make sure I didn’t do anything that made you uncomfortable or- yeah. Uncomfortable.”
“No. Nothing I can remember.” Owen said, and Curt decided he’d just have to live with that uncomfortable response.
“And this doesn’t mean anything either, just so you know.” Curt said, thumping the space between them with his hand, immediately winced at how defensive the sentence came out. Of course it meant something, not the usual thing that inviting someone to your bed could mean, but it meant enough to make his heart pound.
“Let’s put a pillow between us.” Owen said in response. “We’ve got plenty to spare.”
After a cool pillow was shoved in the space in-between their bodies, Curt could finally roll over and attempt to go to sleep. It started to come faster than he’d expected, the sound of Owen gently breathing was relaxing, making all of his limbs feel heavy. By the time he was on the verge of sleep, he’d forgotten it was even Owen next to him, and not just a creature in the dark somewhere, a shapeless form surrounding him with the in-and-out rhythm of being alive.
Curt’s eyes snapped back open as he heard something coming from over his shoulder. He was nearly dreaming at this point, but he knew what he’d heard.
Good night. Owen was speaking Russian. The line between reality and dream finally melted into one and Curt fell slack against the pillow, but not before wondering if they ever stopped playing that stupid game.
Morning came sooner than anticipated. Curt woke up to the scent of mint lingering in the air and the sight of his partner sleeping across from him. That information came as no surprise given the events of the night before, but Curt still couldn’t help but stare, afraid to move and break the spell. Owen was deep in slumber, one arm thrown over the pillow barrier, lips slightly parted to allow the passage of a slow and relaxed breathing pattern.
Curt had pictured waking up like this before, but he wasn’t prepared for it to feel so normal. After the initial shock, it was just one of many comfortable elements about that morning. The sun had rose, the birds outside were chirping, and Curt passed his time by counting the stray hairs between Owen’s eyebrows. There were five of them. Must’ve forgotten the tweezers at home.
The same brow Curt was focused on began to twitch, and the breathing that was relaxed before rose in speed, and only a moment later Owen’s eyelids fluttered open.
“What time is it?” He said almost immediately.
“A little after seven,” Curt said after glancing down at his watch. He remembered vaguely that they were supposed to leave at eight, but reminding Owen of that didn’t seem to be in his best interests.
“Mhm.” Owen hummed back, and closed his eyes again.
“Gonna go back to sleep?” Curt said.
“No.” Owen said, undisturbed. Curt squeezed his eyes shut as well, feeling his stomach twist at the answer despite how casually it had been tossed out. No. A single word and the entire logic of the situation fell to pieces. The bed was for sleeping, and that was all Curt had invited Owen there to do. The way they were currently lying next to each other was only for the sake of a good night’s sleep. If that activity wasn’t involved, there was no reason to stay in bed, much less together. But Curt was staying, because he wanted to stay, and Owen was staying, which meant...
Which meant there had to be another reason. A reason that had nothing to do with mission planning or games or being a good friend. That reason came to Curt’s mind in a flash, a vivid reminder of what he wanted to do. To put a hand on the back of Owen’s head and kiss him senseless. Knock into his teeth if it came to that, swallow his tongue, keep some fingers gripped in his thick hair.
Such fantasies used to remain that way. Fantasies. But now that Curt had woken up next to Owen with rope burn still on his arms, anything seemed possible. And Curt needed to do something, anything, that would bring them closer together instead of further apart. They wouldn’t be on speaking terms by Russia with the way Owen was handling things.
So Curt figured that if it was all going to hell, he might as well do what he wanted. What they both wanted.
“You should get up.” Curt said. “Shave.”
“Why would I do that?” Owen said, voice still a sleepy drawl, eyes still closed.
Curt smiled in anticipation of his next move, fighting back a nervous laugh as he imagined Owen’s expression afterwards.
“You don’t want to be scruffy when I kiss you.”
That got Owen to open his eyes. He even lifted his head off the pillow. “I’m sorry, what?”
“You heard me right.” Curt rolled onto his back and put his arms behind his head, trying to project confidence. Casualness. “I want to kiss you. Thinking I might give it a shot today.”
He didn’t turn to look but he could see Owen getting up in his peripheral to pace in front of the bed, hands combing through his hair.
“You’re joking. You wouldn’t just come out and say it like that.”
“I’ll say it again,” Curt said. “I want to kiss you.” Saying the phrase so freely brought a giddy feeling through him. It felt good to be honest. Unfortunately, it didn’t look like Owen was appreciating the truth- although his partner’s eyes were bright and alert, he had yet to throw himself into Curt’s arms.
“We can’t-” Owen stopped, glanced up at the ceiling as if thinking, and then continued talking. “I mean, Curt, we talked about this. Our friendship comes first.”
“You tied me to a chair last night and we’re still friends. What’s wrong? Afraid of a little peck? I get great reviews.” Curt threw in a wink just to see Owen squirm, and squirm he did, making a strange huffing kind of noise and scrambling to hunch over to his suitcase on the floor.
A minute later Owen had closed the bathroom door behind him, mumbling something about needing a shower as he did, and Curt’s body language immediately folded inwards. He curled up on the bed, heart racing, mind racing even faster. Did that work? Am I fucked? How fucked am I?
But when Owen came back in, face smooth save for a few razor nicks, Curt knew he didn’t have anything to worry about. Soon afterwards, Curt grabbed a shower of his own (after which he made sure his teeth were brushed and his hair was neatly combed in place) and they headed out to the car without much of a fuss.
Once inside the car, Owen immediately rolled down the window and grabbed a cigarette from his pocket. He raised it up to his mouth, lighter in hand, before pausing and glancing towards the passenger seat with a furrowed brow.
“What?” Curt said, looking back with a similarly blank expression.
“Are you going to do it now?”
“Do what?” Curt feigned innocence and was about to wink again until he noticed the harrowed look on Owen’s face. He glanced out the window instead, trying to ease the guilt that was already started to build up. “Oh, kiss you? Nah. I’m not really in the mood right now. Maybe in a few hundred miles.”
“That’s alright.” Owen said, tossing the unlit cigarette in the cupholder. “I need to focus on getting us through Berlin in one piece.”
Berlin called back a swarth of mission memories for Curt, and he had plenty of time to reminisce on the drive out of Hanover. Not all of them were good memories: he could recall gunshots, tear gas, wailing in pain on the floor of military base. Wiping his brow and coming away with both blood and sweat. The first time he’d killed somebody, a shot right between the eyes. After thinking about it (and there was so, so much thinking) he had come to regret it. There were other options- negotiation, running off, something else. But instead, he’d pulled the trigger out of fear. He had been so afraid. He tried not to be afraid anymore.
“Curt?” Owen prompting him brought him back to the here and now. “Can I get a map check?”
“Gotcha.” Curt unfolded the map, a little crinkled from how he’d twisted it in his hands absentmindedly, and traced the red ink that marked their route with his eyes. “Uh, take a left up here.”
“And then?” Owen said, putting on his blinker.
“Drive straight for... hang on-” Curt put his index finger up against the stretch of road, trying to eyeball the distance. “It’ll be about fifty miles.”
“Thank you.” Owen said, and then fell quiet again save for the sound of the apple he was crunching into. Curt stared back out the window, looking at the drab miles and miles of farmland that surrounded the car, and thought about Berlin again.
There were good memories too, of course. His first mission on his own, where he’d disabled a bomb based only on guesswork. Or last summer, when he’d stopped a plane hijacking without any witnesses. Cynthia had literally patted him on the back after that one. And it wouldn’t be Berlin without remembering his first mission with Owen. Jumping from rooftop to rooftop with a folder full of top-secret blueprints stuffed down the back of his shirt.
Owen was right behind him in that memory, leaping and landing always one second afterwards and nervously blabbering the entire time (slow down, wait for me, be careful, Mega, don’t slip, don’t- don’t- CURT!- don’t-) as he was known to do in their first year working together. At some point something had shut him up, maybe it came with the experience or a conscious effort to keep a handle on his emotions. Whatever the reason, Curt found himself occasionally missing the background noise. Especially as the car ride remained frustratingly silent.
Curt cleared his throat. “Do you remember our first time in Berlin?”
“Of course I remember. It was a special occasion. First time in Berlin, first time in the field together... hmm, my first near death experience...”
“Shut up,” Curt said, even though he was laughing. “I would’ve caught you.”
“Mhm. From the other side of the building?”
“I’m faster than you think.”
“Apparently,” Owen said. His eyes remained on the road but he was smiling now. “You know, you had a mean streak back then.”
“Hey, give me some credit. You told me that you didn’t trust me the second we got caught with those blueprints. That’s mean too.”
“Because I didn’t!” Owen said with a nervous pitch, voice too loud for the small car. “You had quite the... tawdry reputation with my agency back then.”
“Ooh, tawdry? That sounds sexy.”
“It isn’t, I assure you.” Owen cut his eyes over towards Curt. “My boss told me we’d be at each other’s throats before the plane even landed.”
“And was he right?”
“Ultimately, no. But it was a rough flight. You were, ugh-” Owen made a gesture with his thumb that Curt couldn’t quite understand until the sentence continued. “-You kept clicking that pen they gave you at the airport, and making the most inane small talk with the hostess. It was driving me mad.”
“If that’s how you felt, what made you come around on me? Was it the old Mega charm?”
“Something to that effect.” Owen said, and Curt raised his eyebrows. “Not really the charm, but... how deep that went. I thought the way you talked, all that bravado, was put on, but once it became you were genuine, I appreciated it. A lot of spies try so hard to be charmers-”
Curt had to interrupt. “Sounds like someone I know.”
“It doesn’t come naturally to all of us, is what I mean.” Owen said. “But it seemed to come naturally to you. And once I stopped resenting you for that, well, we got on much better.”
Curt just nodded, letting the words sink in. “Thanks.” He said. “I didn’t know you felt that way.”
“Don’t get sentimental, Curt, please.” Owen said, reading him like a book. “It’s Berlin. A city like anywhere. Just a... mission. One of many.”
“It’ll be three years ago in the fall.” Curt said, feeling his mood start to drop. Despite what Owen’s warning he was getting sentimental. “It’s weird. I used to know nothing about you, and now look at us.”
Owen made a snorting sound. “You still don’t know me, not really.”
Curt’s heart dropped at the sentence. He would’ve been able to brush it off, but the words mirrored the way he’d been feeling since he got to London. He decided to tell Owen what he always told himself when the fear came creeping in. “That’s not true.”
“You don’t even know my age.”
“I know that it’s about mine.” Curt said. “Does that count?”
“Of course it counts, but I don’t know if it helps your case.” Owen said. “Don’t worry. It’s not a bad thing, not knowing much about me. I think it’s nice that we both have our secrets. Keeps things exciting.”
“I know you look like your mom.” Curt blurted out in response.
“I suppose that’s what I get for letting you in my flat.” Owen’s tone was dry, annoyed, but Curt couldn’t stop at that point, the information pouring out of his mouth as fast as he could remember it.
“I know you like jelly on your bagels. And, uh, you always carry extra bullets in the outside pocket of your bag. Only the left one. I know you smoke Imperials, when you can find them.” Curt said. “Oh! You gained fifteen pounds- sorry, um, six kilograms, in America. You hate the smell of fish. You have a roommate, and a cat, or maybe your roommate has a cat, I’m not really sure but- oh, you like weird things in the bedroom. Not that it’s any of my business. And-”
“I think you’ve proved your point.” Owen was gripping the steering wheel harder than he had all trip. “Congratulations. You spent three years with me and you know a handful of trivia. I’d clap, but as you can see, my hands are busy-”
“You’re pulling away.” Curt said. He noticed the blunt words made Owen visibly stiffen, but he kept talking. “Don’t do that. We’re friends, alright?”
“Friends.” Owen said, and then he smiled like the word was funny. “Friends. I suppose that’s where I’ll have to put you.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“Don’t act like it isn’t clear. That, I, erm, I don’t know where you fit in yet. You came with a neat little label on you, just a partner, practically a coworker. But you slept in my bed the other night. I don’t do that for anyone, and I sure as hell I don’t know why I do it for you. And that’s only going to get harder to answer after you kiss me.”
“Do you not want me to?” Curt said. He knew that his voice sounded small and hurt, but he felt small and hurt, considering for the first time that his plan to kiss Owen may have been a bad idea.
“No, no, I do.” Owen laughed to himself a bit, as if embarrassed. “God, I do.”
“I do too.” Curt said, even if that was obvious by now. “It’s for the best, I think.”
“We might as well see what all the fuss is about.” Owen said.
“Get it out of our systems.”
“I was just about to say,” Owen smiled. “Get it over with.”
Curt put a hand on his chest in mock offense. “Well I never. I’ll guess I’ll have to keep these lips to myself, sir.”
“Listen.” Owen said, voice suddenly hushed.
“We’re the only on ones the road. I could pull over.” Owen sounded uncharacteristically excited. Curt’s chest grew warm realizing that he was the one who made Owen sound that way. “We could do it right now, just to tide me- us, over.”
“Don’t get impatient.” Curt said, even though he was just as impatient, he wasn’t about to let the ball back in Owen’s court so soon. “I’m not that easy. You’ve barely shown me a good time all trip.”
“Christ, there’s a reason for that. We’re not going out for a picnic in the country, you know. It’s a job.”
“Yes, but we’re ahead of schedule, right? Because of your driving skills.” Curt tried to lay on the charm. “Don’t you have a little time to show your American pal around?”
“Fine. Take a look at the map. Anywhere in Berlin- erm, how about West Berlin- I’ll take you.”
It didn’t take long for Curt to find out where he wanted to go. He pointed on the map and Owen took his eyes off the road for a moment to look. He smiled when he saw the familiar name.
“Fancy yourself a boulevardier, eh?”
“It’s nice to take a stroll sometimes!” Curt said. “There’s barely any legroom in here.”
“Well, it's about twenty minutes off course for us, but-”
“We have the time.”
“We will, if I make the time.” Owen said. He shook his head. “The things I do for you.”
“Don’t say you don’t love it.”
“Fine, then. I won’t say anything.”
An hour and twenty minutes later, time that went fast as they chattered nervously back and forth (talking about anything and everything under the sun that didn’t involve the word “kiss”), Owen parked his car on Kurfürstendamm. The famous street was bustling with an afternoon crowd- schoolgirls in giggling groups of three to five each, pairs of Volkspolizei walking in an eerie sync with each other, shopkeepers announcing their wares- and the sound of German being spoken both loudly and quietly all around them.
“Happy?” Owen said as they started the stroll. “The last time we were on this street, you had more of a bird’s eye view.”
Curt smiled, remembering the rooftop jumping again. “It looks better on the ground.”
His mood was dampened as the walk took them past a building that was clearly still damaged from the war.
“Yikes.” Curt said under his breath.
“Proof that the Battle of Berlin can’t just be paved over and forgotten.” Owen said with a shrug. “I still can’t believe it sometimes, the fact that there was a second one.”
“A second World War. You’d think that kind of thing would only happen once.”
“Well, it happened twice. I try not to mope about it.”
“I’m not moping, Mega, but it is strange. Every world power engaged in combat, twice. You have to admit that.”
“I’ll admit whatever you want, but let’s change the subject.” Curt found himself tensing his jaw. “I- uh- I don’t like to think about it. It makes me sad.” Guilty was the better word to describe it, even if he didn’t know quite why. But he knew the subject was a sore one.
“Alright, I’m sorry if I offended.” Owen said in the same tone of voice he always had when he backed down. Not quite pathetic, but definitely cautious, pitchy with nerves. Curt hated it, not the sound, but what it implied. That Owen felt on edge around him, if only for a moment.
“Don’t worry.” Curt said. And then, because the crowd around them had dissipated a bit, he added, “I still want to kiss you.”
Owen slowed down. “Me too.”
“Maybe.” Curt gritted his teeth. Time for some dangerous territory. “Soon, not later.”
“Oh?” Owen said, eyes growing wide and pupils darting around as if he expected Curt to plant one on him right then and there. “If that’s what you want, I wouldn’t be any trouble.”
Any more trouble. Curt thought, but since he was trying to seduce the man in front of him, he kept that inside.
“Good. Good, then...” Curt tugged on the sleeve of Owen’s jacket, pulling them in the opposite direction. “Let’s go back to the car. Can you drive us somewhere a little more private?”
Owen nodded quickly and led them back down the street, back threw the crowd. Curt just focused on his footsteps, throat tight.
Finding a private place in the capital of Germany proved to take longer than either of them thought, and Curt started to regret turning around so quickly. He could’ve stretched his legs more. He could’ve waited longer, considering how long Owen had made him wait. But it wasn’t his nature to play games like that.
“Seems like everywhere is populated.” Owen said quietly.
“There’s gotta be a hill or something coming up.”
They found that hill eventually, a series of roads that twisted upwards into an area looking over some more ruins from the war, the remains of what must have been an ancient Germanic fortress, the jagged stones that used to compose a building painfully easy to see in the daylight.
“I’ve never been here before.” Owen said, as if that wasn’t obvious. Curt just made a “hm” noise in response, deep in thought. Owen piped up again with, “What are you thinking about?”
“Nothing. I need a little more time.” Curt’s palms felt itchy. He rubbed them on his suit pants but the feeling only intensified.
Curt didn’t want to tell him. He had to keep it up, had to be in charge, had to be strong- not afraid. When he was afraid, people died. Things went wrong. Whether it was a bullet between the eyes or a misplaced kiss. God, once he did this, it could never go back to how it was before- never ever ever.
He felt Owen touch his shoulder, and then drop the hand away just as fast. He turned to his side to look towards the driver’s seat. Owen looked just nervous as he did, fiddling his fingers together in his lap.
“Curt, please.” Owen said. “Get on with it already.”
“Need more time.” Curt mumbled back.
“There won’t be another time. Do it now, please. I can’t. And you said that you would.” Owen sounded desperate, and that was enough to build Curt’s confidence back up enough to straighten up in his seat, turn on a bit of that charm.
“Do you think you’ve waited long enough?” Curt teased.
In the end, it was the tiniest crack in Owen’s voice as he replied, “Haven’t you?” that made Curt finally lean in. He didn’t get to grab the back of Owen’s skull. He didn’t even touch any part of him except his lips. But he pressed a single, chaste kiss against his partner’s mouth. In a lot of ways it was just a mouth like any other he’d been close to, but when he pulled back to see Owen, smiling in a way that could only be described as pure relief, he knew it was special, that it was the right thing to do.
“That’s what you wanted, right?” Curt said. He’d had plenty of time in the car to come up with that line.
“Yes.” Owen said, nodding slowly, smiling wider. “Yes, it’s a start.”
And then Owen laughed, breathy and nervous, and Curt laughed too and leaned back in for another kiss, and then a few more, because it was the sort of thing they could do now.
47k words in and these two finally kiss. It has been a LONG journey but I hope this is a satisfying ending- to some of the tension- and beginning- to a lot more complications. My heart is beating out of my chest posting this. It's a big moment for the characters and the story!!
The best thing about kissing Owen was that it was a lot more fun than not kissing Owen. Curt had spent the better part of three years fighting the desire to pull Owen close. Whether Owen was smirking, or laughing, or wiping the corner of his mouth. Finally free to act on every suppressed desire, Curt drank in the experience as much as he could, bringing their lips together over and over.
The worst thing about kissing Owen, Curt mused as they set out on the road again, was that it had to end. The reality of their circumstances came like a slap in the face. They weren’t in Owen’s car parked on Lover’s Lane after a date, they were in a government-loaned gas guzzler in a half-ruined Germany, their passion running on borrowed time. That time ran out after only ten minutes of kissing. Curt had just gotten up the courage to start pecking along Owen’s jawline when the other agent groaned, not out of pleasure (as he had been doing previously), and pulled back.
“As lovely as this excursion has been-”
Curt interrupted with a groan of his own as he realized what was happening. The inevitable end. As if sensing the disappointment, Owen patted his arm gently before continuing.
“Curt, we only have so much daylight.”
“I get it. The job comes first.” Curt said. He closed his eyes and slumped back in the passenger seat. The vision behind his eyelids wasn’t totally black, it was blurred a lighter color because of the light shining in his face, but it was comforting to see nothing and focus on all of his other senses.
He listened to the engine roar to life and the car jerk noisily into reverse gear as Owen backed out of their little hideaway. He wriggled his fingers, feeling the sweat on his hands starting to dissipate. His lips were tingling from all the contact. He smiled at the feeling, aware that if Owen looked over he’d probably raise an eyebrow. But a thousand raised eyebrows couldn’t stop the smile from spreading to Curt’s cheeks. He’d done it, he’d kissed Owen, and the world didn’t end.
Curt opened his eyes when he felt the road turn from bumpy to smooth and paved again. Owen wasn’t paying any attention to his passenger, eyes focused on the road. Curt wanted that to change, so he cleared his throat.
“So, that wasn’t so bad, huh?” He sounded too eager for his own comfort and swallowed hard, trying to settle the heartbeat still pounding in his ears. “Getting it over with.”
“If time allows, I’d like to see what else we can get over.” Owen said, fingers tapping on the steering wheel with an anxious rhythm. The noise distracted Curt, and he willed himself to focus on Owen, not just his lips (lips that were redder than usual from kissing) but the words coming out of them. “I’ll admit I was skeptical in the morning... but this has the makings of a very interesting experiment.”
“Experiment? Come on.” Curt said. The word choice made him feel itchy all over. “We’re not even in Russia yet! If you make me a test subject early-”
When Owen interrupted, he sounded genuinely offended at the implication. “No, no, of course not. You’re conducting this with me.” Owen said. “Hell, if anyone was the test subject, it was me.”
“That wasn’t how I wanted you to feel.”
“And how exactly did you want me to feel?” Owen said. He was still looking straight ahead at the road. Curt wished they could make eye contact so he could maybe get a glimpse of what was going on in his partner’s head, but that method hadn’t helped him in the past anyway. Still, he took his time responding.
“...Wanted.” Curt said, landing on the right word at last. “Pursued, I guess. Maybe a little nervous?”
“Hey, hey, nothing wrong with getting knocked off your high horse once and a while.”
“Hmph. I think I’ll stay up here a little longer, thank you.” Owen said, eyes finally darting over to Curt for a moment. “The view is nice.”
“I don’t get a thank you?”
Owen actually laughed at that, thankfully. “For what?”
“That I had the guts to actually make something happen instead of pussyfooting around-”
“Don’t be crude.”
“Admit it.” Curt said. “You wanted to kiss me last night. You just didn’t know how to ask.”
Owen remained frustratingly silent, so Curt spoke again. Jabbed again. “Not so brave now, huh?”
“Must everything be a competition with you?” Owen said, taking a less-graceful-than-usual turn onto the highway. “If you have to know, a quick peck wasn’t the only thing on my mind. But I think we both know that by now, so how about we move on?”
Curt wasn’t quite ready to move on. He had a win on his hands. “I knew it! Mr. Gentleman Spy didn’t have entirely professional intentions, sound the alarm.”
“Well. I wouldn’t say my intentions were personal either.”
“Then what would you call them?”
“Impulsive.” Owen said. Curt noticed the way his lip twitched after he said the word.
“I can live with that.” Curt said, because he could, if he tried hard enough. He could understand impulses, he could work with that. He was happy to be an impulse, even. His mind echoed the statement with a thought that he was just controlled enough to not voice. Can’t say guilty pleasure without pleasure.
So Curt lived with it all for another few hours. The drive out of Germany was tedious, and as the conversation in the car became platonic and stale again, Curt felt himself getting bored. Despite all of his well-earned confidence, something stopped him from keeping a hand on Owen’s thigh during the drive. Maybe it was just a little too bold. Maybe he was starting to associate being denied contact with even more pleasure. Maybe he’d rather be fidgeting with the zipper of his jacket then have to keep one hand still for the entire drive.
“We’re almost to Poznań.” Curt said, looking down at the map for the fourth time that hour. Owen had promised they’d stop for lunch (and, hopefully, something else to sate Curt’s appetite) in the Polish city, and Curt had been keeping very careful track of their progress. A navigator with his own ulterior motives, but helpful all the same.
“Ahead of schedule as usual,” Owen said. He checked both of his mirrors incredibly unsubtly, and was seemingly pleased with the fact that the road around them was completely empty.
“Yep.” Curt said. Bored bored bored bored.
“Yep?” Curt repeated, this time hearing his own voice crack with excitement.
“Curt, my boy,” Owen began tentatively. Even though Curt had heard that phrase plenty of times, the word my still brought color to his cheeks. “I think I feel an impulse coming on.”
“Oh?” Curt said. He took a quick breath. Licked his lips to make sure they weren’t offensively dry. “Need some help with that?”
It wasn’t the smoothest come on he’d ever used, but it seemed to work just fine on Owen. The spy put on his turning signal despite the next exit being twenty miles down the road, and with a swift jerk of the steering wheel, pulled the car over into the patch of dirt beside the road.
Owen put the car into park, silenced the engine, and then didn’t say anything for a moment, looking deep in thought. Curt just bathed in the awkward silence, unashamedly studying his partner. He was half-afraid Owen was going to change his mind, and turn the key, and send them blazing down the road once more.
But like usual, Owen surprised him. He looked at Curt and then nodded his head in the direction behind them. “Backseat?”
They had to put the cooler on the roof to have enough legroom, but it was a small price to pay to have nothing separating them anymore. They seemed to have entered a silent agreement to pick things up exactly where Berlin had left them. Owen had a hand in Curt’s hair and Curt had his mouth on Owen’s jaw and they were both panting and occasionally giggling.
“Don’t leave any sign of this.” Owen gasped out when Curt sucked particularly hard on his collarbone.
“Try a little trust, Carvour.” Curt responded smoothly. What he didn’t say is I won’t, unless you ask me to. The boundary ended up working in his favor, as he graduated to much softer kisses and felt Owen’s grip in his hair tighten impossibly harder.
Owen called for a “time out” after a few more minutes, citing needing a water break as the reason. Curt leaned his head against the window, grateful for the cool feeling of glass on the back of his neck. His mind was racing. He was about to do something dangerous.
“I remember the first time I thought about doing- something like this- with you.”
“Mhm?” Owen pulled his mouth off the bottle.
Curt stared at the droplets of water on his partner’s mouth and chin as he spoke. “Spain, our second time around. Just outside Barcelona. When we bumped into each other and you were on that mission-”
Owen’s eyes lit up with understanding and he suddenly cut Curt off. “Ah, yes. My evening with that lovely gunrunner.”
“And I was at the bar and I didn’t know if she was your date or a job but then you winked at me and I knew you were up to something.”
“So just one wink did you in?” Owen said. “I’m impressed with myself, honestly.”
“I’m not that easy.” Curt said, pulling a face of mock offense before smiling again, so relieved to finally say this all out loud. “Right after you winked, you kissed her. And I kept watching, you know, to make sure you were safe-”
“The way you did it- it just looked like you were a good kisser. I guess you made a pretty convincing honeypot if you even fooled me.”
“That kiss was just one of my many negotiation techniques, although it’s much less appreciated than my aim. I needed her to believe that I felt something for her, so I kissed her like that was the truth. I’d say it worked like a charm... but I don’t really need to, do I? You seem to remember that mission quite well.” Owen winked once he was done speaking. Cute.
A desire pulled from somewhere deep inside of Curt. He spoke it aloud before he could change his mind, it all coming out in a rushed whisper. “Could you kiss me like that?”
“Kiss you like what?” Owen said. His voice was low, coming from the back of his throat. Curt squirmed in his seat as he realized he was being teased. “Like a mark?”
“Whatever you want to call it.”
Owen nodded slowly. “I can do that. Close your eyes for me, love, if you will?”
Curt closed his eyes, fighting a smile from how silly it felt. The situation stopped being silly only a moment later when he felt warm lips against his. The kiss that followed was good but it wasn’t great. Wasn’t a Barcelona kiss. Curt broke the contact first, eyes narrowing once he saw the hardly-deserved smirk on Owen’s face.
“That’s all you’ve got?” Curt taunted. “I’ve been stabbed more intimately.”
Curt could barely appreciate his own line before Owen had grabbed his face in both hands and pulled him into another kiss. Their lips touched, and then their tongues touched, and Owen moaned without breaking the kiss. Curt let out a noise of his own, more of a yelp as his mind registered the sound. It was too familiar. The last time he’d heard Owen make a noise like that, he was in that hotel suite in Paris, wrist held up to his ear, frozen like a statue.
You could hear him through the wall. His brain supplied, not helping matters at all.
And then the kiss was over, just like that. Owen pulled away and dropped his hands to Curt’s shoulders. He blinked a few times in what Curt could’ve swore it was an intentional move to show off those long lashes. “Convincing enough for you?”
Curt was breathless but he still managed to answer. “Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Just- convince me again.”
Owen was all to happy to do that. With his eyes closed, any sleight of hand now invisible to him, Curt melted into the next kiss. He kissed and he was kissed back and let himself be tricked.
Kissing, kissing and more kissing. This chapter is kind of an in-transit one, both for the characters and the plot, but it was still fun to write. Still figuring out this whole "the characters can actually talk about their feelings" thing!
It was Curt who ended things in the backseat. He could’ve kept going forever, but his body had other plans. A sharp protest from his stomach reminded him that he hadn’t eaten since a suspiciously-browned apple in the morning. Once his mouth was free (Owen had been keeping him quite busy), he spoke up.
“So am I.” Owen said and punctuated it with a kiss to Curt’s neck. “Starving, in fact. Good thing...” He nipped the same area. “I found myself something swee-”
“Shut up.” Curt mock-winced at the cheesy line and then winced for real as another hunger pang made itself known. “Seriously, didn’t you promise me a lunch?”
Owen sighed and lifted his head up to look down at Curt. “I made that promise before we spent a half hour back here. Need I remind you, how delicate our situation is-” He was cut off by a whine as Curt suddenly bucked up, bringing their hips together.
Curt tried to not to whine himself, rubbing against proof of how their impulsive rendezvous was effecting his partner. He cleared his throat and tossed out a quick comeback, “Yeah, I got it, real delicate,” and gently started to pull himself out from under the other agent.
When they had both shuffled positions to sit side by side, Owen finally responded.
“You...” He shook his head. “You’re being a bit of brute.”
“Why did you kiss me then?” Curt said, and stuck out his tongue. He felt a little bit like a child, but it was worth the pout that Owen gave him return.
“God only knows,” Owen said. He ran a hand through his hair, an action that did nothing to undo how messy it was. “I must be a masochist.”
“Bet that comes handy in our line of work.”
“You’d be surprised.”
Curt cocked an eyebrow. “Oh yeah? Surprise me, then.”
If Owen had a surprise in mind, he never acted on it. They were interrupted by the sound of a motorcycle roaring past the car. A silence set in afterwards, and Curt wondered if Owen was thinking the same thing he was: oh, shit, there’s a whole world outside this car. Either way, the event seemed to kickstart something, because Owen was in the driver’s seat a minute later, asking Curt for the map like nothing had happened.
They nearly drove off with the cooler still on the roof, but once that was taken care of the drive into town was a short one. Owen ended up making good on his promise for lunch, and he pulled into crowded parking lot, mumbling something in Polish.
“What is this place called?” Curt asked as he stepped out of the vehicle.
“It’s a bar mleczny.” Owen explained, closing Curt’s door behind him. “Milk bar. You’ve never been?”
“A milk bar? I’ll tell you, they better have beer.” Curt joked, stepping out of the car to trail behind Owen.
“I wouldn’t complain if I were you. This place only charges one euro per course. For a couple of weary travelers like ourselves, that’ll be just fine, don’t you think?”
Curt couldn’t deny the price was appealing, so he just shrugged. “I could use some calcium anyway.”
They entered the doors and stepped into a building that looked more like a cafeteria than a restaurant. The interior was filled with all kinds of groups- men in overalls passing cards to each other, families with several children in tow, families with several elders in tow, and the occasional young couple.
Curt tried his best to not focus on any one table too long and keep his head down, but he was overwhelmed by the sudden onslaught of noises and sights. It also felt strange to be out in public with Owen for the first time after the kiss. Specifically, it felt strange to be outside of the car. There was something comforting about the interior of the vehicle and the privacy it created. Now they were in public, and Curt was at anyone’s mercy instead of just Owen’s.
Oh well, Curt had other things on his mind. The lunch he had been wanting loomed in front of him as he tried to make sense of the faded menu. The line to the counter moved quick, so he didn’t have much time to decide. The entire menu appeared to be vegetarian, something that puzzled him for a moment until he remembered the meat rations that were probably still in place following the war. When it was his turn to order, he sucked it up and asked for an omelet with some kind of vegetable dish. He was sure he butchered the pronunciation but the man across the counter didn’t seem to mind, scribbling it down and ushering the next person over immediately.
After ordering, the two spies ended up seated at a table in the corner. Curt carefully avoided leaning his sleeve directly on the surface, as it was still a little wet from being cleaned. Instead, he folded his arms in his lap and looked across at Owen.
Owen gave him a lopsided smile. “Happy?”
Curt would’ve responded with a probably nervous-sounding “yes”, but their order number was called out in Polish from across the room.
“I’ll grab it,” Owen said, and left Curt to stare at the empty seat across from him and the chipping paint on the wall behind it. When Owen came back, a tray covered in warm food in each hand, Curt didn’t think he’d ever been so happy to see him. Or see a glass of milk.
He was about to drink some of that milk when he saw Owen raising his own cup across the table. “A toast.”
“A toast to what?” Curt said, clinking his glass against Owen’s anyway.
“To Anglo-American relations being the best they have in years.”
“I’ll drink to that.” Curt said, and then he did, dipping his head back. He dug into the omelette next, surprised to find it was alright despite being horribly under-salted, and relished the sensation of warm food for the first time all day.
After a few minutes of silently eating, Curt set down his fork. “You know what I still don’t understand about Europe?”
Owen tipped his head up, one eyebrow raised, and Curt braced himself for the comeback he was about to hear.
“I could name quite a few.” Owen said, and finished the sentence with an undignified bite of his pierogi.
Curt rolled his eyes more for show than anything else. Owen had pushed, and now it was his turn pull. He could do this all day (in fact, he had been doing this all day for several days).
“You done? Because I was going to ask a real question.”
Owen’s mouth was still full but he gestured with his palm out, as if to say, go ahead.
“Alright. So, Stalin-” Curt said, and then noticed a few heads turned in their direction. He coughed lightly and lowered his voice. “Stalin’s out of the picture. Why is Poland still red?”
“Well, my boy, I’m no economist...” Owen said, and shrugged. “But as far as I can tell, that’s how things tend to go. A country can’t reverse itself that easily.”
“I guess that makes sense.”
“I’m sure will go back to their natural state one day. For now, you can thank the great communist state for our meal-”
“I’m not thanking them.” Curt said. “I’m not thanking anyone... I guess, except you.”
Owen pulled an incredulous face. “Oh? What did I do?”
“Drove us here. And paid.”
“Then shush and enjoy the free meal.” Owen said. “All this talk of dead leaders, it’s a bit depressing.”
Curt enjoyed what was left of his meal, and before he knew it his fork was scraping an empty plate. He busied himself with looking around the cafeteria, practicing lip reading on random civilians around him. He couldn’t understand much, like usual, but it used up enough time. He turned his attention back at Owen to see if he was done eating and caught the other agent in the middle of a suspicious motion.
Quick as lightning, Owen had drawn something from his pocket and brought his hand to his mouth. He held his jaw tensed for a moment and then took a deep gulp of water. The actions were puzzling as they happened, but immediately after, Curt connected the dots.
He spoke up. No time to waste. “What was that?”
“What?” Owen said. The innocent face he pulled was worryingly convincing, but Curt tried not to dwell on it. He had bigger fish to fry.
“The pill you just took.” Curt said. He kept his expression neutral, but when Owen didn’t respond, he couldn’t help letting a tiny smirk show. He’d caught him. “You should’ve known better than to try and sneak something past me. Didn’t you invite me on this mission for my spy skills?”
“Fine, you caught me.” Owen said.
“That’s not what I asked.”
Owen sighed, a touch dramatically, as if the whole situation was an ordeal. “Dexies.”
It was as if he’d spoken in tongues. Curt felt the urge to stick out his tongue again on reflex, but instead he said, “Dexies?”
“It’s, erm, a sort of medicine that keeps you up.”
“Oh, like-” Curt furrowed his brow in thought, trying to think of the name. “Greenies. Amphetamines! Yeah, that’s it.” He sat with the thought a moment longer before it sunk in. Owen was taking amphetamines. “Huh.”
“What, are you surprised? Did you think I was driving for nine hours straight on passion alone? If so, I’m flattered.”
When Owen said it like that, Curt hated to admit, it made a lot of sense. He remembered waking up from that nap the previous day and hearing Owen’s rushed babbling about Germany. How he’d picked at his food during dinner. The napkin he folded into a tiny square. The restless way he had moved around their hotel room. The way his limbs twitched when Curt was pretending to tie him down. Don’t think about that in public.
Still, it didn’t entirely fit. Curt finally figured out the words to voice that opinion. “Huh. Doesn’t seem like your style.”
“Why not? It was good enough for the Tommies.” Owen shifted in his seat as he said the words.
Curt began to get the sense that he was hitting a nerve, but he didn’t mind. There was something satisfying about seeing Owen getting wound up. He pushed a little more. “You just come off like you’d wanna be in control of yourself. Popping pills doesn’t really fit that bill.”
Owen rolled his eyes. “I’m still very much in control, Curt. These pills improve physical performance, there’s nothing psychological about them.”
“I don’t know. You’re a little,” Curt paused to think of the word. “Irritable.”
Owen’s expression turned flat at that, and he took a sip of the soup that was definitely cold by now before speaking. “They haven’t even kicked in yet, but please, continue your analysis. I’m sure this whole bloody cafeteria would love to hear about what you think of my personal-”
“Hey, hey, you don’t need to get defensive.”
“I’m not defensive.” Owen said, sounding incredibly defensive. He stood up suddenly and Curt couldn’t help but flinch at how fast it happened. “I’ll be in the car. You- you just clean up, alright?”
“Great, let’s go back to the car. I liked you a lot more in there anyway.”
Owen didn’t respond, but the way he practically ran out of the cafeteria was an answer enough. Curt sat there and stewed for a moment, looking at the fly now circling around his tray. He couldn’t regret what he’d said because it was true. The Owen who had been driving him around was different than the prickly man he’d just had lunch with.
To Curt’s disappointment, Owen wasn’t in the car when he exited the building. He was leaning against the wall outside, midway through a pull of his cigarette. When he saw Curt he didn’t say anything, but breathed out some smoke and took one step forward in his direction.
Curt, moving almost on instinct, raised his hand up and brought it flat against Owen’s chest with a soft push. Owen, still silent, stopped in his tracks. His expression was unreadable. Curt didn’t know what to do, but he knew he wanted Owen’s attention, so he ducked his head in for a kiss.
His lips up meeting Owen’s cheek.
“Bastard.” Curt said under his breath, moving back.
“Says the man who almost blew his cover.”
Curt rocked on his heels for a second, thinking the sentence over. Our cover.
“Can I have a smoke?” He said, instead of something he’d probably regret.
Owen looked a little surprised, but coughed out a “yeah” and pulled another cigarette out of his shirt pocket. Curt placed in his mouth immediately and waited.
“Might need a light to go with that, Owen.”
“I’m getting to it, don’t you worry.” Owen huffed, and produced a shiny silver lighter from his pocket. He gestured “come here” with one finger and Curt couldn’t help but lean forward, as if pulled on a string.
He felt the warmth of the lighter draw closer to his face. A moment afterwards, he was inhaling the sharp taste of tobacco. He coughed on exhale despite an attempt to hold it in.
“Ahem.” He said, as if that made it any better.
Owen laughed, the sound refreshingly friendly. “Is this your first cigarette?”
“Hardly. I-I just got too used to cigars, I guess.”
Owen didn’t question that response, thankfully, and after the first pull Curt found the cigarette much easier to smoke. He was so focused on the taste of it and the heat in his throat that the silence between him and his partner slipped his mind. So did their previous conversation. For some reason, the ritual felt a bit like a truce.
By the time they were in the car, Curt’s limbs were tingling from the nicotine and he began to tap his fingers on his knee. He needed to say something, so he forced a small cough and waited until Owen’s eyes had flicked over at him before speaking.
“So, uh, what was it you were saying about Anglo-American relations?”
Owen smiled, an expression that hung wearily on his face. “I didn’t mean to ruin our diplomacy with all that Dexies nonsense. I was mostly surprised that you noticed... even impressed, I suppose.”
Curt resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “If you were impressed, I didn’t get the memo. You know the impression I got?”
“I’d love to hear it.”
“That you were out for my head.”
“Oh please, don’t be so-”
“Seriously, Owen. You said our situation is delicate. So, I don’t know, can you act like it?”
Owen tensed his jaw and then relaxed it, fingers keeping a tight grip on the steering wheel. Finally, he spoke. “If we had time to pull over, I would make it up to you.”
“There’s another way you could do that.” Curt knew an opportunity when he saw it. He figured he might as well take it.
“Let me drive.”
Owen immediately shook his head and took one hand off the wheel to wave dismissively. “No, no, absolutely not.”
“Why not?” Curt heard a subtle whine in his own voice, but it was too late to take it back.
“For starters, I know the way there-”
“I’m the one that’s been reading the map the entire time.”
“Fine, I’ll give you that. But it’s still my mission from my agency.”
“That you’ve been assigned backup on.”
Owen made a sound almost like a growl and Curt stiffened in his seat, catching a reflexive apology in his mouth before he could say it.
“You know...” Owen started, his voice cracking. He coughed and began again, “You know, love, I don’t particularly like being at your throat. It’s not an experience I look forward to.”
“Seemed like you liked it earlier.” Curt joked.
Owen sighed, but still didn’t even barely crack a smile. “You’re correct. I don’t have any issue with kissing your neck, but if doing that makes me want to wring it too, then maybe this whole arrangement isn’t... worth it.”
Curt’s temples pounded with a flash of fear. “So you think we should stop?”
“Things had to come to an end eventually, right? It’s not like we can just keep doing this- er, that- forever.”
Yes, we can. Curt thought, but he knew better than to voice that. Instead, he said, “That’s not fair. I wasn’t on the top of my game earlier, that’s not the impression I want to go out on.”
Owen didn’t say anything, but his shoulders seemed to relax as Curt continued talking.
“I mean, how many times do you get to choose your last kiss with somebody? Shouldn’t it feel... special? We are partners.”
“We are.” Owen admitted. “I’m not sure what ‘special’ entails... but I can’t deny I’d like to find out.”
“Just you wait, agent. I’ll blow your mind. You’ll be sorry it’s our last kiss, that’s for sure.”
Owen was smiling now, finally. He glanced in Curt’s direction with a playful gaze. “You’re lucky you appeal to my base urges.”
“And you’re lucky that I’m a good friend.”
They acted well in the parts of “friends” for the next hour and a half, joking around as if the argument earlier hadn’t happened, as if they were on a trip for sightseeing instead of a terrifying undercover operation. It was fun for a bit, but Curt couldn’t deny the second option, the reality, was more appealing to him anyway. It had been a long time since he could remember what excited him before the missions. At some point, the dread of being in danger had turned to a strange sort of craving. In comparison, his “time off” started to feel grey and cold. And the time he spent in transit became the coldest and greyest of all.
At least, until Owen had entered the picture, and the verbal (and occasionally physical) sparring they engaged in made Curt’s heart beat fast whether they were on a mission or just on their way to one. It was definitely beating fast now, the sun setting on the open fields in front of them as Owen deliberated exactly what he was expecting from their last kiss.
“If you’re any friend of mine, Mega, you’ll make me feel fireworks.” Owen said. He was a beauty in the driver’s seat, illuminated in orange hues, hair fluttering gently as air rushed through the rolled-down windows.
Curt giggled into his palm, something he’d been doing a lot for the past few minutes. “Should I be taking notes?”
Owen clicked his tongue before replying, “Don’t be so clinical.”
“You called getting to first base an experiment.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be making something up to me? Watch your tongue.” Owen said, but there wasn’t an malice in it.
Curt thought an appropriately teasing response was in order. “You better watch my tongue, because I’m going to be doing amazing things with it.”
For some reason that seemed to finally break Owen. His cheeks turned red, something that couldn’t be explained by a stuffy car since the air was getting cooler by the moment. “How can I watch it if it’s inside my mouth?”
Curt shrugged. “Who knows. Maybe you’ll just have to look down.”
“Curt!” Owen said, his strangled voice sounding somewhere between fake scandalized and actually scandalized.
“I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist. You know I wouldn’t, unless-”
“Of course.” Owen said very quickly. A silence set in. Curt wasn’t exactly sure what they had just agreed upon, but it seemed to settle things down in the car. They hadn’t discussed doing anything beyond kissing, but seeing as they were having their last kiss anyway, maybe a couple of “firsts” wouldn’t hurt either.
“One more thing, Owen.”
Owen’s voice was husky when he responded. “Yeah?”
“Do you mind if I sleep shirtless tonight? I figured I’d ask, since, we might be having our last kiss before bed and I don’t want to tempt you.”
Curt expected an equally coy response, but instead the smile faded from Owen’s face. “That’s fine with me. But don’t expect me to be joining you.”
“Why not?” Curt cocked his head. “I’m sure you’ve got nothing to ashamed about.”
“You don’t remember the last time you saw me shirtless? I figured you would’ve held onto that image.”
Curt had replayed the memory in his head a few dozen times, but he wasn’t about to give Owen the satisfaction. He still wasn’t exactly sure what the other agent could be insecure about, so he pressed on. “If this is about your tum-”
“Jesus, don’t make me remind you. It’s the wounds. Does the word ‘dogbite’ ring a bell?”
“Oh.” Curt said. He had barely remembered those, too distracted by the fact that Owen had been clad in only a towel, but now that the subject came up, his brain filled in the blanks. Owen had an awful amount of lacerations from his solo mission. He couldn’t imagine they were fully healed by now, perhaps they were just on the edge of becoming scars.
A question Curt had forgot about came back to the front of his mind. He angled his body more towards Owen. “What happened in Las Vegas?”
“It’s a long story.”
Curt gestured a hand towards the empty road in front of them. “We have plenty of time.”
“Hmph. It’s a boring story, how about that? Does that satisfy you?”
“A boring story doesn’t get you sliced up like that."
Owen didn’t say anything. Curt was almost content to leave the conversation lie, but he was frustrated over how much information Owen clearly liked withholding from him. It wasn’t fair, after they’d been through so much, even bit each other’s lips for god’s sake, that he couldn’t know the details of some dumb American excursion.
“You tell me about every mission.” He said. “What’s different about this one?”
“I don’t need to give you a reason.”
“Uh, yeah, maybe you do. It’s been almost three years and you can’t trust me with a single-”
Curt was cut off with a grunt as his shoulder slammed against the door, the sound of wheels screeching filling his ears. After the initial chill of dread wore off, he came to realize what had happened. Owen had veered the car off the road, slamming on the breaks just before they collided with a tree. A tree that could’ve- would've- slammed right through the passenger window.
“What the hell?” Curt exclaimed, fueled by pure adrenaline. He looked over to the driver’s seat to see Owen laying his head against the steering wheel.
“I saw a rabbit.” He said in a very measured voice. “There was...” A pause, and then a weak cough. “A rabbit, or some other rubbish. I saw it. I didn’t want to hit it.”
“Bullshit! You nearly killed us because you didn’t want to answer a question. I get the hint, alright? You need your goddamn space.”
“Curt, listen to me, I swear. I saw something. At least, I think I did- no, I swear, I did.” Owen’s breathing was picking up, his eyes were moving from Curt’s face to the tree out the window right behind him with a rapid pace. “You don’t believe me.”
“Okay, look.” Curt pinched the bridge of his nose, willing himself to stay calm. One of them had to. “I didn’t see a rabbit, but maybe it was there.” He dropped his voice purposefully lower and leaned in a little bit. “Or maybe, hon, those pills might be making you a little paranoid.”
“Don’t.” Owen said. He breathed out hard through his nose, creating a singular, anger-tinged sound. “I’m going to have a smoke, and when I get back in, I don’t want to hear another word- noise- out of you.” And just like that, he exited the car, slamming the door with an unusual amount of force.
Curt sat there in the darkness, listening to the engine continue to hum, for a few minutes. He stared at the tree outside his window, watching it almost go flat in the darkness. A few cars passed by on the road and the headlights stung in his peripheral vision. This whole thing felt dark and dumb. Finally, he opened his door and stepped out in search of Owen.
He didn’t have to go far. Owen was leaning against the trunk of the car. The cigarette looked like a firefly in the dark as he raised it up to his mouth, taking quick puffs and breathing out a barely-noticeable cloud of smoke.
It took Curt a moment to realize that Owen was speaking to him. “I know you’re there.”
Curt opened his mouth not knowing what to say, but the truth stumbled out anyway. “I’m sorry.”
“For what?” Owen said, taking another drag. “Not sneaking up on me adequately?”
“You know what I mean.”
Curt took another step forward. He felt a bit like he was sneaking up on an animal, or a mark. But he didn’t have the will to move any faster. His limbs felt almost heavy, the way they would if this was a dream.
“I think we’ve been making a common mistake, the two of us.” Owen said, as if he hadn’t even heard Curt a moment before. Or didn’t care to respond to him.
Curt had a feeling the explanation would make him feel sick, but he needed to know. “Yeah?”
“Yes.” More smoke entered the air. “That is to say, being in an intimate space and fooling ourselves that it’s intimacy.”
The full answer did make Curt feel sick, his head swimming suddenly. He couldn’t help but bark out, “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means,” Owen suddenly swung around to face Curt. A car passed on the road and his entire body was silhouetted in the headlights behind him. In that new darkness, his expression was unclear. “That I’ve been overthinking this.” The headlights were gone now. His face looked calmer than it had been before, but maybe it was a trick of the light, or the dark, Curt didn’t know. All he knew was what Owen was saying. “And it means that you can drive.”
With only that small verbal warning, Owen shoved the keys into Curt’s hand unceremoniously. He lingered a bit longer and then came closer to press a hard peck to Curt’s cheek.
“Owen,” Curt whispered unsteadily, unsure of what he would say if he got the chance. He never did, because Owen had already opened the passenger-side door and sat down with a noticeable slump, closing it behind him.
Curt couldn’t join him in the car, in that “intimate space”, just yet. The idea of taking his time suddenly seemed appealing. He listened to the bugs chirping all around him. He swung his arms experimentally, feeling his armpits unstick from his shirt sleeves in the humid air. Finally a bit more grounded, he squeezed his palm around the keys. The metal was cold. For some reason, that struck him as strange. It was silly, but...
He thought it would feel warmer.
Sorry for taking a million years to update, life caught up with me for a bit. Hope this update is worth the wait!
A few things:
-Dexies are actually what the band "Dexys Midnight Runners" are named after
-Tommies were a nickname for WW2 soldiers, who took pills like Dexies to stay awake during combat
-Last week was the three month anniversary of the first part of this series. This truly has felt like a summer project, and after all this time I'm still having fun with this world. Grateful to have readers who are willing to share that fun (and occasionally, angst) with me for all that time!
Chapter 7: Warsaw
Sorry for the eternal wait for this lucky chapter seven, school kidnapped me for a bit. This one gets nsfw near the end, so tread carefully! I tried to make it obvious when that part starts so anyone uncomfortable can skip over it.
The drive to Warsaw might as well have been a drive to the moon, for all the time it took. Hours and minutes lost their meaning. In the darkness of the drive, Curt was aware of two things: the road in front of him and the man sitting beside him, who was on his third cigarette.
Curt had expected Owen to clam up once they got in the car, but the opposite was proving to be true. He had gone through the history of the battle of Stalingrad unprompted, reciting it as if reading from a book, and was now adjusting his seat over and over, grumbling under his breath.
Curt thought it was endearing, despite everything. “Someone’s a little restless now that he’s not driving.” He immediately heard Owen laughing. The sound was bitter. “What’s so funny?”
“It’s just- you’ve got it all wrong, old boy. I’m actually grateful that you’re driving us.” Owen said, and adjusted his seat yet again. “Gives me lots of time to think.”
Great answer, jackass. “Think about what?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” Owen flicked his third cigarette out of the car and rolled up his window as a sudden shower of rain started to beat down on the car. Curt snorted in amusement, even if the change in weather meant being trapped inside with the damp smell of smoke.
(And, of course, trapped inside with his partner, which might be even worse).
“Pull down on that stick on the left.” Owen said.
“You’re going to need the windscreen wipers, aren’t you?”
Curt rolled his eyes but followed the direction anyway. The windshield wipers came to life with a squeak and began their crawl back and forth across his field of vision, clearing the ever-increasing flood of rain away. There was nobody ahead of him on the road so Curt turned on his brights, casting the rain in an eerie glow. Like little ghosts. Curt felt a shiver go up his spine. Owen had chosen an inopportune time to shut up.
“You know,” Curt said, eager to hear a sound that wasn’t mechanical or meteorological. “I’m surprised you aren’t being more of a backseat driver.”
“I suppose you could say I’m holding back for your sake.”
“Oh yeah? Anything else you’re doing for my sake?”
Owen laughed and then broke into a weak cough, but didn’t say anything. Curt heard a tap-tap-tap sound coming from his direction and realized it was Owen’s fingers on the dash.
He swallowed the annoyance the sound brought up in him and decided to ask a question instead. “Why did you let me drive, Owen?”
“Felt like having a break.”
“You didn’t pop those pills for a break.”
That seemed to do the trick, even if Owen sighed heavily before answering.
“I heard what you were about to say, before I saw the- before I almost killed us.” Owen’s voice was higher than usual. Nerves, probably. “That I don’t trust you with a single thing. I don’t want you going around thinking that, especially before this mission. Figured I’d, ugh, I don’t know-”
“Throw me a bone?” Curt supplied.
“Exactly. I’m sorry it had to come to that, but I hope you’re enjoying yourself.”
“I’m sorry about today too- about Berlin.” Curt said. He didn’t know why he was apologizing but the sound of that anxious tapping was bringing something out of him. “I don’t know if we were ready to start kissing. If that’s what’s making everything weird, then I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize for Berlin when I still haven’t apologized for-”
“Paris?” Curt interrupted, and smiled when he heard Owen swear under his breath.
“You remember that?”
“You think I’d forget?! C’mon, man. I mean... those noises you were making.” You could hear him through the wall. “I could hear you through the wall.”
“Did you li-” Owen paused to cough. The sound was forced. “The noises, was that good for you?”
Owen mumbled something back so quietly Curt had to prompt him. “Uh, come again?”
“I said, it didn’t sound like you were enjoying yourself. I didn’t hear much of anything, come to think of it.”
“If I’d known we would’ve ended up like this-” Curt hoped that a vague gesture towards Owen would convey what he meant by this . “I might’ve joined in.”
“What? You didn’t the first time?”
Curt shook his head. “Didn’t seem like the right thing to do.”
“What would make it feel right?”
Curt felt his chest getting hot. “I think it might help if we were in the same room.”
“Hm.” Owen hummed.
“That’s all you have to say? Hm?”
“I’m thinking.” Owen said, simply. “Focus on driving, you have a left turn coming up.”
Owen casually guided Curt through the rest of the directions, and soon they were in Warsaw, weaving through civilian neighborhoods. The rain was still coming down in thick sheets. Curt had lost track of the difference between Owen’s nervous tapping and the tapping of drops of the car’s roof, but both were driving him batty.
“Where’s this hotel anyway?” Curt said, turning down yet another road with a long Polish name.
“Not a hotel this time, my boy. It’s a safe house. Should be coming up on our right in a few.”
The house was humble, nestled in between two homes with signs in front of them that Curt could only assume said “for sale”. He pulled into the driveway and parked. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Owen reaching into the backseat to grab his backpack. Curt knew his things were closer in reach, and he suddenly felt the heat of competition warming his face. He stretched his arm over Owen's, grabbed his own bag, and then took off in a sprint up the driveway.
“Wait for me!” Owen yelled as Curt slammed the door shut. Curt kept his pace up, shoes slapping into the puddles and getting the bottom of his pants soaked. Out of the corner of his eye, a dark shape hurtled past him and almost ran into the door. Owen.
Now Owen was fumbling for the key in his pocket. Curt caught up with him and grabbed his arm before he even knew what he was doing. Owen made a small noise of confusion, the beginning of a "what", maybe, and Curt took the split second to press their faces together.
Owen tasted more like water than anything else, but he kissed back harder than Curt was expecting.
“You’re crazy,” He said when Curt pulled away.
“I got what I wanted,” Curt said, and held up the key he’d taken out of Owen’s pocket during their embrace. It earned him a playful slap on the arm as he unlocked the door and they both scrambled inside.
Owen was literally kicking off his shoes the second the door closed, shaking his head around like a dog trying to dry its coat. Curt stood in his own drenched clothing, frozen, watching his partner.
“Your clothes are wet.” Curt said, aware of how his own shirt was clinging to him.
Owen smoothed his hands over his chest, flicking the water off his fingertips afterwards. “I suppose they are.”
“You,” Curt paused to get closer to Owen. “Should take them off.”
“I don’t know about that-”
“Baby, you’re soaked.”
Owen was peeling off his jacket now, flinging it onto the ground with an unusual recklessness. He squinted his eyes at Curt disapprovingly. “Ex-nay on the et-pay ames-nay, please.”
From behind the strands of wet hair, Curt could see those eyes roll. “Don’t call me baby.”
“Alright. What kind of names do you like to be called?” Curt said, relishing in already knowing the answer.
“I know what you’re thinking, Curt.”
“Curt.” Owen practically whined. “It’s unfair, you can’t-”
“Special Agent Owen Carvour , what have you gotten yourself into this time?” Curt said, and stepped a little closer. “Stripping down in some seedy safe house in front of your partner? Surely this can’t be how Her Majesty’s Best are expected to act out in the field.”
Owen didn’t reply, but the look of shock on his face was satisfying. Curt decided to push a little more, ready to make another comment, but suddenly his partner’s mouth was on his again.
Curt moaned, partially because of the kiss and partially because of Owen’s hand pressing down on the back of his neck, causing him to stumble closer. With their hips now pressed together, Curt could feel a familiar-by-now bulge in Owen’s wet jeans, and he broke away from the kiss to whisper, “Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just-”
He didn’t get to finish, because Owen interrupted him with a groan and, “Yes, yes, I’m happy to see you. So happy, you bastard.”
“What are we gonna do about this?” Curt said, grinding a little closer, biting his lip to keep from crying out as Owen’s thigh made contact with a very sensitive spot.
“Well… we’re in the same room, aren’t we?” Owen said. “Are you up for a re-do?”
Curt grinned, nodded, and stripped off his shirt.
They ended up in a pair of wooden chairs in the kitchen, sitting back to back as Owen had requested. The position felt reminiscent of many missions before, and although this activity had a much different goal, Curt felt safer having his head pressed up against Owen’s. Safe enough that he could be honest.
“I wish we could kiss while doing this.” Curt said, and passed the lotion he’d grabbed from his bag to Owen.
“Maybe next time.” Owen said, and then upon taking the lotion, remarked, “So this is why your hands are so soft...”
Curt smiled at the comment, but only had a response for the first part of Owen’s reply. “Next time?”
Curt could feel Owen shrug. “I want to see how this one goes first.”
“Alright. Wish me luck, then.” Curt said, and then shoved his now-lotioned palm down his boxers. He made contact with his cock and immediately moaned with relief.
“I like that,” Owen said, and although he had yet to moan himself, his breathing was already heavier. Curt squinted his eyes shut and imagined he was the one touching Owen, and Owen was the one touching him, and felt every nerve in his body come alive at the thought. He was so sinking so deep into the fantasy that he almost didn’t hear Owen speak up.
“Talk to me, Curt.”
“About what?” Curt said, cringing at how the noise came out more like a grunt. “The fucking weather?”
“I just want something to think about.” Owen said. He changed the subject abruptly. “Sometimes, I, erm, I still think about women when I do this.”
Curt frowned but he didn’t stop moving his hand. “I think you need to brush some cobwebs off your dirty talk.”
Owen continued as if he’d never spoken. “But I- ah - I don’t think I ever want to be with a woman again.”
“Whatever gets the job done.” Curt said, and for a moment he was starting to regret this entire mess.
In a softer voice, Owen said, “I think about you too, you know.”
“Oh?” Curt said, and then, “Oh .” His hand had found a nice rhythm and he stayed silent for a moment, letting the words sink in.
It didn’t seem like Owen was happy with the silence. “Please, keep talking.”
“Give me something to talk about, I’m not made of ide-”
“Tell me what you do, when you bring a man home.“
“Good question. Depends on the man. We, um, usually kiss a lot.”
“Like we did?”
“Exactly like we did.” Curt felt his face heat up as he thought of what he wanted to say next. “Sometimes I put a finger inside of him.”
“I bet that feels really good.”
“It does, Owen. You’ve seen how I work with my hands, right?”
“Just imagine what I’d do to you with those hands.” That's what Curt was imagining, after all.
“I am, I am,” Owen’s chair made a sound, as if it was shifting a bit, and Curt inferred that he’d just bucked up. “Curt- keep talking, I think I might-”
“Make a mess all over yourself? We only just got started.” Curt smiled as he heard Owen make a high-pitched whine in response. “I always knew you had a thing for me, Carvour, but that’s just pathetic.”
“Curt- Curt. Curt.” Owen practically chanted the name, and Curt started to feel his stomach tighten, the head of his cock get impossibly more sensitive, as the sound brought him closer to finishing.
“That’s right, don’t you forget-” He paused to groan. “Who’s doing this to you, who sucked on your lips all day- hell, I’d suck on something else, if you’d just give me the chance.” The words were pouring out of his mouth, dirtier than he'd even meant them to be.
“Jesus Christ, Curt.” The sound of Owen’s strokes speeding up, a wet and needy sound, filled Curt’s ears. His voice was just as desperate when he lolled his head against Curt’s and said, “I’m so glad you kissed me.”
The sweetness of the sentence made Curt's heart pound and his cock leak. He ended up being the first to make a mess all over himself after all. In the post-orgasm haze he could hear Owen reaching the same state. The other man was just as loud as he’d been in Paris, but closer than he’d ever been before, and Curt shivered.
That’s when heard Owen laughing. What could possibly be so fucking funny?
“You’ve got a weird sense of humor if you think this is funny.”
Owen whined, and then laughed again, and then coughed. “Nothing- it’s just, I forgot the sleeping bag. I suppose you won't mind having a bedfellow tonight?”
Thank god. Curt felt sticky and spent and the idea of crawling into bed with the man sitting behind him was a dream. It wasn't romantic, but it was close.
"Of course, Owen." His own voice sounded far away when he spoke.
"Even after-" Owen snorted. His voice was almost giddy. It made Curt smile. "This?"
"Of course. Especially after... this."
Leaving the bed in the morning was one of the hardest things Curt ever had to do. The bed was warm, and he knew the floor would be bitingly cold once he swung his feet over the edge. The bed was soft, and he knew the car seat he’d soon be sitting in was uncomfortable. Most importantly, in the bed he had Owen. He wasn’t sure if he’d be able to keep him once they left.
They didn’t cuddle during the night, a condition Owen had insisted on. Still, Curt felt closer to his partner than ever. He supposed this bed was one of the “intimate spaces” Owen was talking about the night before. It certainly felt intimate, to wake up early and try to memorize the intricate locks that made up Owen’s bedhead.
“Before we get up,” Curt announced once he was sure the other man was awake. “I have a confession to make.”
“...Don’t tell me you’re in love with me.” Owen said with a wink of one sleepy eye.
“No- ugh, you wish - it’s nothing serious. I just wanted to say,” Curt took a deep breath. Sunk his head a little more against the pillow. “I think I hate this mission.”
Owen blinked back at him for an uncomfortable moment before laughing loud and genuinely. “Oh, Curt-”
“I know, I know, you invited me and everything, but I just- I hate it, Owen. I hate the car and I hate how we keep fighting and I’m just so bored of staring out the window-”
Owen cut him off with a wave of his hand, propping his head up with his the other one. “Thank god it’s not just me.”
“Oh?” Curt said, starting to laugh.
“You think I like being cooped up in a car for ten hours every day? Yesterday was the best time I’ve had so far, and we spent half of it necking.”
The slang term brought Curt’s eyes to Owen’s exposed neck. Everything about last night, vague images and noises, started to come back to him. His face felt hot. “Yeah… yeah, I guess we did. About last night-”
“Don’t say another word.” Owen said, and Curt closed his mouth obediently. “I needed that. You needed that. That’s all there is to say, isn’t there?”
Curt could only nod. Owen left the bed after that, grumbling about needing a shower, and suddenly it was a lot easier for Curt to get up too.
After an hour, two showers, and a pot of coffee (and one kiss) between them, the two spies were out on the road again. Owen was behind the wheel, and everything seemed right in the world. Almost everything, at least. Curt found himself a little sad looking at the state of the city outside his window.
“This place sure was prettier last night.” He said after they drove through yet another neighborhood in ruins.
“That’s war, love.” Owen said flippantly. “Always looks better in the dark.”
“But the war’s over.”
“Hmph. War’s over, you say. Well, it looks like somebody forgot to tell these buildings. How about I roll down the window and you can remind them?”
“Shut up.” Curt turned his head to look at his partner. “You know, this is one of the things I hate the most about this mission.”
“Putting up with my wit?”
“No, you goof.” Curt smiled at the comment, but it faded soon after. “Being face to face with the war. I used to fly over neighborhoods like this, and not think about it. But not thinking about it is… harder now.”
“Try growing up in the thick of it.” Owen sounded serious. It made Curt shiver a bit. He turned his head to look out the window again, looking for any sign of life. It occurred to him that this would be a good time to ask Owen about his childhood, to get a little bit closer, but something stopped him from pressing the subject. Maybe it was Owen’s words from last night, still ringing in his ears: “being in an intimate space and fooling ourselves that it’s intimacy”. Maybe it was his brain, scrambled from the caffeine and eager for another subject that wasn’t related to destruction. But he stayed quiet a little longer, until he finally realized what was missing: a little background music.
“Don’t you have anything we can listen to?”
“I believe the term is the radio.” Owen quipped back.
Curt rolled his eyes. “I mean like, music. Haven’t you Brits discovered cassettes yet?”
“I’ve been known to spin the occasional record, but never in the car... if you ask me, the car is no place for music.”
“What kind of records do you like? I didn’t see any at your place.” Curt said. That wasn’t too much of an intimate question, he figured. “I’ve been into that Dean Martin lately, I don’t know if you’ve-” He stopped when he realized Owen was smirking. “What? Something wrong with Dean Martin?”
Owen just shook his head, still smiling. “I prefer Jerry.”
“Jerry? Wait. Jerry Lewis?”
“Yes, of course, who else?” Owen said. “And why all the laughter?”
“It’s just funny. I didn’t know he was your type.”
Owen took his eyes off the road for a moment to look at Curt incredulously. “He’s not my- don’t-”
“I meant type of comedy, Carvour. Loosen up a little.” To prove his point, Curt put a hand on Owen’s stiff shoulder. The touch seemed to quiet both of them immediately. Once Curt withdrew his hand, Owen shook his head and finally spoke.
“There is… something we can listen to, but it isn’t exactly music.”
“Tell me more.”
“Check the glovebox.”
Curt leaned forward and pulled the after-mentioned compartment open. Inside were some papers he assumed were important to the car, a lighter, and a single tape. Bingo. He picked it up and squinted at the faded text.
“The Magical Midnight Mystery Hour? What is this?”
“It’s a radio show- a mystery play, if you will. A gift from Shadi. She said it might take up some time on the road, and I didn’t think we’d need it, but if you’re… bored I suppose I’m willing to give it a spin.”
“I like mysteries.” Curt said after a moment of consideration. He slid the tape into the deck and pressed “ play ” with an eager stamp of his thumb. The sound of an organ filled the car.
“In tonight’s installment of The Magical Midnight Mystery Hour, three unlucky souls will meet their doom. Our first victim is Betsy Shrude, an excited bride-to-be. Like any other women in white, she has something borrowed, something new, something old and Something… Dead!"
“Oh man, this is gonna be good.”
“Good? Good if you like schlock, I suppose…”
“I love schlock.”
“After her shocking story concludes, we’ll meet mechanic Otto Jackson, who has a run-in with a client from Hell as he works on… The Devil’s Car! It’s going to get hot under his hood at the stroke of midnight.”
“Admit it,” Curt said, even as Owen rolled his eyes, “That one was pretty funny.”
“Sure it’s not a little too close to home?” Owen said, patting the steering wheel.
"And our last mysterious tale will send you somewhere out of this world. Butcher and baker Carlton Sharp is about to make his final meal out of… A Strange Meat!"
“Cannibal.” Owen said confidently.
“What are you talking about? It’s out of this world, it’s obviously ali- wait, hang on, they’re playing Here Comes The Bride.”
“So, Betsy’s doom must be coming up.” Curt looked over at Owen, who had a smile on his face. “What? Not high-brow enough for you?”
“Not the case, love. It’s just nice to see you enjoying yourself.”
Curt smiled back. “I think we agree on that.”
By the time The Magical Midnight Mystery Man (“try saying that three times fast,” Curt had joked when the narrator’s “name” was revealed) was wrapping up Carlton Sharp’s story, a little over an hour had passed. The spies were making good time on the road to Belarus.
Curt had nearly forgotten they were in a car, enthralled by the spooky stories on the stereo, and Owen seemed to be having a good time as well- even if he occasionally paused the tape to point out a plot hole (“A professional wouldn’t forget to check the tire pressure, Curt. It’s just not realistic, even if the car is made out of bones...”).
Their smooth journey was interrupted by a sudden ringing from Curt’s wrist.
“Ah shit. Hang on.” Curt said. He held the watch up to his mouth. “Hello?”
Cynthia’s voice rang out loud and clear. “Mega! I sure hope you’re on the road. Your tracker tells me you’ve had a few detours.” As they passed under a bridge, the signal crackled out for a moment, and came back in just in time for Curt’s heart to skip a beat as Cynthia asked, “What the hell happened in Berlin?”
“Just a spot of car trouble, Cynthia. Nothing to worry about.” Owen talked over whatever excuse Curt was going to come up with.
“Owen Carvour," Cynthia said with an uncharacteristically gleeful laugh. "It's nice to hear that voice. I sure hope you’re the one behind the wheel.”
“He is, don’t worry.” Curt said, feeling his neck flush under his shirt collar. “Anything else you’re calling for?”
“I wanted to make sure you weren’t backing out before Stalingrad, obviously.”
Obviously. “Wouldn’t dream of it, Cynthia.”
“Really. And you’re sure you have all the facts?”
“Yes. I read the case file this time, I already told you tha-”
Cynthia groaned. “I swear, it’s like you have straw-for-brains. Your case file might as well be half-permanent marker. Carvour has clearance for the juicy bits.”
“Juicy bits?” Curt mouthed at Owen, who just looked back at the road with no expression. Curt responded to Cynthia with a lie, “Yeah, I’ve read his too.”
“Then you’re braver than I thought, Mega. Good luck, and check in if you get stuck again. And Carvour?”
“For god’s sake, watch out where you’re going.”
After that ominous goodbye, the call ended, leaving the car quiet. Curt shifted in his seat, putting things together in his head. All the facts.
“So, Owen… something you want to tell me?”
Happy Halloween! Here's a spooky-ish chapter to celebrate.
-The tape in this chapter was based on classic radio plays such as The Shadow, The Whistler and Inner Sanctum Mysteries. Listening to a mystery show in a general was inspired by a scene in On The Road by Jack Kerouac
-Dean Martin had only just released his first album in the year this takes place, but he was better known for being one half of the famous Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin comedy duo. Owen might even relate to Jerry Lewis, considering he and Dean Martin were (comedy) partners who had a terrible falling out. Lewis also had lifelong back injuries from a (comedic) pratfall
-Cynthia's warning to Owen is a reference to I Know A Man by Robert Creeley, a poem that helped inspire this story!
-My posting schedule is a little screwed up but I can say that the next chapter will be up sooner than you probably expect :)
Chapter 9: Minsk
Welcome back!!! It's been a while, so let's recap: Curt and Owen are driving to a top-secret Soviet testing center in Stalingrad in the hopes of stealing information about a new interrogation technology. After beginning a hesitant physical relationship with his partner, Curt gets a phone call from Cynthia that makes him wonder about the difference between his and Owen's case files. Begin scene.
Curt had been having a perfectly nice day on paper- listening to a radio mystery and being driven through the Polish countryside by the man he’d masturbated with last night. He was starting to think it was too nice to be real, maybe even a dream, until a surprise phone call had jerked him back to reality. And in this case, reality meant having a difficult conversation.
“So, Owen… something you want to tell me?”
“No, not particularly.” Owen said, a tight smile on his face, but Curt swore he felt the car start to pick up speed.
“Don’t be cute.” Curt really couldn’t deal with that right now, not when his mind was racing like this. “Is there anything in your mission briefing I should know about? Some kind of Soviet torture machine I’m going to be strapped into? Because it looks like Cynthia thinks so.”
Owen only glanced over at Curt, but his expression was clearly tense. “Cynthia Houston also thinks, and I quote, that you have straw-for-brains.”
“I know, and you don’t have to rub it in, but she’s always looked out for me. She wouldn’t bring something up if it wasn’t important.”
“So you trust her- someone who wouldn’t take a bullet for you- over me. Lovely, Curt, just lovely.”
“You’d take a bullet for me?”
“This isn’t about that.” Owen sighed in the way he always did when they had an argument, the sigh that seemed to say more than any biting word. A sound of pure exasperation. “This is about trust, and who really deserves your trust, if you look at all the facts.”
“You wanna talk facts? I got a fact for you.” Curt said, and held his hand up when he saw Owen opening his mouth to reply. “This isn’t about trust anymore if you’re hiding something from me.”
Owen mumbled something that was inaudible to Curt despite how close they were seated.
Curt narrowed his eyes. “Come again?”
“I said,” Another trademark sigh. “It wouldn’t matter anyway.”
“What the hell-”
“I told you, Curt, the moment you got in this car- there’s no turning back for us.” Owen’s voice sounded shaky, or maybe it was a trick of the environment, a sound distortion brought on by the rumbling of the engine. “We have to carry out this mission. And if you’re having doubts because of a minute-long phone call with your boss, then I don’t really know what to say to you.”
“You don’t need to say anything to me, just let me read it.”
“Your damn mission notes.”
“If you were supposed to have clearance, you would have clearance. Our relationship may have… temporarily changed, but I’m still a professional and that’s a classified document. Not like there’s nothing you’re missing out on anyway. It’s all bum fodder.”
“Okay, hang on. Which one is it? A special classified document or… whatever the hell you just said?”
“God, Curt, it’s both. It’s useless and it’s mine. Can we please get on with our day now?” Owen coughed and added one more, “please?”, a little strained.
Curt couldn’t say no to that word. He felt the warmth of anger start to leave his chest, replaced with a hollow, lonely sort of feeling. “Yeah, we can. Sorry for how I… turned on you. Like I said, I hate this mission.”
He was hating it the same amount even once they'd stopped for lunch in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. The cafe was dimly lit, save for a stage at the back of the room, where a performer was moving his hands over a small instrument set on a table in front of him. Curt could barely get a glimpse of the instrument over Owen’s head, but the sound it made wasn’t like anything he’d heard before. It was high-pitched and eerie, like something out of a pulpy movie, and he started to feel like one of the unlucky protagonists of that mystery radio show.
“Have you ever been to Minsk before?” Owen asked, lowering his menu to flash Curt a smile that felt rehearsed.
“No.” Curt said, mentally crossing out the few hours he’d spent at the local airport in-between flights last year. That didn’t seem like the kind of thing that counted. “But I’ve heard of the ghetto.”
Owen shook his head, that smile fading. “How cynical, Mega. All this talk of war. What’s wrong with you today?”
“Just hungry.” Curt said. “This… music isn’t doing me any favors either. Is this what passes for art in Europe nowadays?”
“Hm. I didn’t know you cared about art.”
“I mean, god, I’m not a critic. But I know that I like it when things look nice. And sound nice.” Curt couldn’t help making a flirty glance-over of Owen after that, and smiled down at his menu when the other man shifted in his seat.
The menu wasn’t in English, but the entree page had full-color photos of each dish. Curt’s eyes lingered on what appeared to be a plate of beef and vegetables, looking at the shiny squares of meat. Juicy bits. And it was in that moment, pushed by the unfamiliar music in his ears, the uncomfortable cramping in his knees, and a growling hunger in his stomach, that Curt made a decision. He needed to read that case file. Or he wouldn’t be able to spend another second across from Owen.
“Give me the keys.” He said before he could change his mind.
“Running away so soon?” Owen shot back.
“I just...” He hadn’t thought of a good reason. Curt’s eyes lingered to Owen’s mouth and suddenly inspiration struck. “...Want a cigarette.”
Owen looked surprised but said nothing, just wordlessly handed over the keys.
“If the waitress comes by, order me a beer.” Curt said as he got up, realizing only after exiting the cafe that he hadn’t had a drink since this mission started. Hopefully he wouldn’t need anything strong after what he was about to read. Hopefully, Owen was right and Cynthia was wrong and he was just overreacting.
He unlocked the door and slid into the backseat, reaching blindly into his luggage and grabbing the lump of papers that had to be his case file. He placed it on his lap for later comparison. Then he unzipped Owen’s backpack, moving around the packs of ammunition, unactivated listening bugs and various toiletries until he found an unmarked manilla envelope.
The case file inside, stamped with a “confidential” insignia that was almost intimidating enough to make him stop altogether, was blessedly free of any redactions. The first few pages of both files were identical (save for extra information on a few locations and nearby M16 drop points) but it was the page marked “Phase Two” that made Curt’s heart start to race.
Almost all of the information on “Phase Two” in Curt’s file was blacked out, and the only text left had orders on obtaining the interrogation technology at all costs and bringing it to a safe place for M16’s “evaluation”. Curt had assumed this evaluation would be conducted in some Secret Service lab in Britain. Off his hands. But according to the file in front of him now, the interrogation testing was to continue… between the two agents.
The “deep bond” that Agent Carvour speaks of having with this agent will greatly benefit phase two of the process.
As Curt read on, he began to get angrier and angrier. Their “deep bond ”, as Owen had apparently phrased it, was about to be exploited for M16’s gain. Although the wording was vague as the nature of the technology wasn’t entirely known, there were clear instructions for the agents to take turns “replicating the vulnerable conditions of the original test ” and “ask a series of questions to provoke emotional responses ”. When he got to the part about “use of manacles or other restraints if necessary ”, Curt was seeing too much red to read any more. He tossed both files on the car floor and returned back to the cafe in an indignant haze.
There were a thousand colorful sentences on Curt’s tongue, but when he sat down and saw the genuine cheer on Owen’s face at his return, all words failed him.
“Curt, I want to tell you something.” Owen said. He was moving his finger around on the tabletop in a tiny circle.
“Yes?” Curt said, lost for a moment as his eyes traced the movement of Owen’s hand.
Owen lowered his voice and leaned forward, an indulgent glint in his eyes that reminded Curt of Berlin. And Monaco. And Denmark. Christ. “Last night… I quite liked it when you... called me pathetic. I know, I know, it’s embarrassing-”
Curt laughed. He knew it sounded bitter because of the way Owen immediately fell silent. “You’re going to love what I’m about to call you now, then.”
“We need to talk. Outside.”
“Is there something wrong?”
“Outside, Owen, now.”
Owen didn’t get up, but he did give the air between them a quick, loud sniff. “You don’t smell like a man who had a smoke, Mega. You- you read it, didn’t you?”
A hostess who had been hovering near their table since Curt returned stepped closer and spoke up. “Gentleman, could you please lower your voices? We have an artist trying to perform.”
“I’m so sorry, love, we were just leaving-” Owen started, but Curt had other plans. That damn music had evaded him for too long. He stood up.
“Yeah, I’ll be quiet. If he tells me,” Curt swung around towards the stage. “What goddamn instrument is that?”
The man onstage rocked from side to side once, nervously, before speaking into the microphone with a heavy Russian accent and an answer, “Theremin.”
The word was as unfamiliar to Curt as the music had been, and the information brought him no joy to learn. He blinked once towards the stage before he noticed the hostess was now red in the face.
“I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
Curt started towards the door the moment she finished speaking. He heard the sound of Owen apologizing in the background, that sniveling way he always did, and pushed his way outside. He had just leaned against the car when he saw Owen emerge from the cafe and march over to him.
“You read it.” Owen repeated, getting close enough to Curt that he backed even closer to the car. “You bastard, you read my damn case file.”
“And you know what? I’m glad I did. I thought this mission was simple: get in, get the technology, and get the fuck out. You didn’t tell me that this was just a preamble to us getting real comfortable with each other.” Curt pressed a thumb to his temple, where a frustrated ache was forming. “Cynthia was right. I should give up on this whole mission now-”
“You want to leave?!” The words exploded out of Owen’s mouth. “You should be so lucky. I should have you sent- no, no, dragged!- home this instant, for being a security risk-”
“You’re not going to do that.” Curt said. “You keep saying there’s no turning back, Carvour, so why the hell would you show me the door?” Even if he’d just threatened the same thing, the way that Owen casually tossed out removing him from the mission still hurt. Would it really be that easy? To give all this up? To have the kiss they'd shared this morning be their last?
“As if you’d leave on your own, and go back to your grand old flag empty-handed.” Owen spat back, stepping even closer. “Get in the car.”
“Why?” Curt said. “What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to drive, and we’re going to talk. Settle all this silly nonsense before you go and blow your top in another public place.”
Curt didn’t like it, but he knew Owen was right. They’d be safe in the car. They weren’t safe out here. And the further they got away from that damn excuse for an instrument, the better.
“Fine.” He admitted defeat. “We’ll drive.”
Owen swung the keys out of his pocket and turned towards the driver’s door. “I’ll drive.”
“You’ll drive.” Curt said. As he rounded his way to the passenger side, an unvoiced and harsh thought nagged at his brain.
You’ll drive, alright. But you better talk.
Fun fact: a theremin is an instrument created in the 1920s in a Soviet government-sponsored lab. It requires no direct physical interaction from the player and produces an eerie sound that has become the staple of many sci-fi and horror soundtracks
Chapter 10: Belarus To Russia
I'm back yet again and I intend to keep coming back! I don't know what I can say about the global situation that no one else has said but I hope all of you are staying safe. I am still eager to write this adventure. But I also won't deny the stress from current events has been influencing my writing. Not to get on my high horse about my youtube musical fanfiction, but I think stories about communication are more important than ever. Enjoy these two spies trying to talk to each other during their own hard times...
“This mission is… complicated.” Owen said as they drove towards Moscow, or maybe the creek where he was planning on dumping Curt’s body. Curt couldn’t be sure at this point how the conversation was going. Owen’s tone was calm, but then again, he liked to keep his claws in during parley. And the “talk” felt just as much like a negotiation as the foreign affairs Owen liked to stick his head into.
Curt always sympathized with him, he also liked to stick his head where it didn’t belong. It was one of the things that brought them so close together. It was also what got them into this mess.
“Complicated.” Curt repeated, shaking his head. “Yeah, I’ll agree with that.”
“I’ll admit that I could’ve been clearer about the expectations going into it.” Owen said. He kept one hand on the steering wheel as he spoke, annoyingly formal and casual at the same time. “But, Curt, I didn’t know the content of the mission when I requested you for backup. I didn’t know you wouldn't have access to this information- I thought, surely, that M16 wouldn’t feel the need to hide anything from you. If I’d known… this conversation would be different. You have my word.”
Curt took a moment to process the words before he fired back with what had been brewing inside since they stepped back in the car.
“Why does your agency know about our 'deep emotional bond'? What've you been saying about me? About us? This is my job, Owen, okay? My life.”
It was my job and my life before you, and that hasn’t changed, was the only thought Curt left unsaid. Something about the idea of saying those words made him worry he'd cry, and he didn't want to lose this argument on a technicality like that.
“I talked highly of you because I wanted you on this mission." Owen said. He sounded bored, but Curt knew better than to believe that. "If M16 got the impression that I care deeply for you, that’s not something I can control.”
Any possible sweetness in that sentence was lost on Curt, still boiling over with feelings. “Speaking of control-”
Owen sighed heavily. “Yes, Curt?”
“We’ve never done a mission like this. Using anything, including technology, against each other, Owen, it just doesn’t feel right. And if I know you, and- ha- I think I do, then it’s going to be like that sick game you played in the motel room. You in charge, and me not knowing what the hell is going on.”
“You read the damn thing, so you must know that I’m not the one 'in charge'. In fact, we're taking turns. Isn't that lovely? Now you know you’re spending as much time in my noggin as I am in yours."
“And why is that?”
“You- you’re perfectly comfortable getting tied up and humiliated, you’ve made that very clear.”
Owen’s face was redder than it had been a minute ago. “In my bloody personal time, Curt, not on the job.”
“Funny how those lines seem to blur with you, hm?” Curt said. He waited for an answer, and then waited a little longer, but Owen stayed quiet. He was breathing audibly deeper, and Curt noticed how his hands relaxed on the wheel.
Owen spoke up and he sounded like someone trying to stay calm and being very obvious about it. “I don’t think that you’re angry.”
“I think you’re scared, and of course you’re scared! We’re less than a day away from dangerous territory, and we’re doing something new. But figuring out this technology, Curt, it could help a lot of people. My agency knew that if we trust each other, it shouldn’t be a problem. Do you trust me?”
“...I do.” Curt said. The words came so naturally at this point. In this case, saying it felt like dumping cold butter into a hot pan. And Curt melted similarly when Owen stroked his wrist and said,
“I trust you. And I’m happy with our time together, Curt. I’d like to keep this going.”
Owen inhaled with a bit of a snort, like the question was silly. “The mission, and the rest of it.”
“Me too.” Curt didn’t even try to hide the smile on his face. The things he shouldn’t have read still floated around in his mind, restless and unanswered, but he knew when he was losing a fight. And he wasn’t just losing to his partner, but to his own feelings.
He couldn’t deny the size of the soft spot he had for Owen Carvour. All of the bullshit couldn’t shrink it. It might be a wonder of the world by now… or a landmark, at the least. Curt gulped as he wondered if it was visible from space. Yet another reason he'd be screwed if the Russians made it to the moon.
This string of thoughts was interrupted by a horrid sound from the hood of the car. It was mechanical and wrong in the way that anyone who had been behind the wheel of a failing car would recognize instantly, and Curt even recognized from the passenger seat.
“Owen?” Curt said. He got the urge to reach for his gun, like he did in every emergency situation. As if he could shoot the car back on track or something.
“Blast it, this engine…” Owen mumbled. “It’s stalling, I think something’s wrong. ‘Queen’s quality’ my-”
“Fuck, uh, try hoofing it.”
“I’m pulling over.” Owen said, and then did just that. Thankfully the patches of dirt and grass surrounding the highway were forgiving and easy to drive into. When they stopped, Owen twisted the keys around and then turned them back again. Curt’s ears perked up in anticipation of more noise, but nothing came. The engine stayed dead and quiet. Owen slammed his hand on the steering wheel.
“What was it, you said? We’re less than a day out?” Curt said.
Owen didn’t say “be quiet”, but the look he gave Curt practically screamed it. “I need to make a call.”
“Not so fast, hotshot.” Curt laid his hand over Owen’s wristwatch before Owen could raise it to his mouth.
“Oh?” Owen looked up and Curt could’ve swore he saw hope in those eyes. That last bit of bravery inside him roared to life. He stroked a hand through his hair and made sure it was sitting nice on his head. Next, he leaned a little closer to Owen, who still looked expectant and a little worried.
“It’s just that… now might be a good time. For, you know. The rest of it.”
“It's nice to know your engine still runs-”
Owen deserved every bit of the interruption he got as Curt tugged him in by the collar.