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Wir halten zueinander

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Delicious smells seep out into the dining room. Richard smiles as he puts the final touches on the dining table. He has carefully selected every detail. Taking a step back, he admires his own work. It looks elegant, yet informal enough not to feel stiff. While there are a few touches like a nice tablecloth and candles, he has deliberately omitted flowers, as he doesn’t want it to seem too romantic. The setting is perfect for a first date.

Only it isn’t.

In Richard’s head it is, but the sad truth is that he has only invited Oliver over for a friendly dinner, nothing more. The plan was to ask him for a date after the last concert of their tour, but Richard choked. All the intelligent words he had prepared vanished as he looked into his bassist’s big, grey eyes. Afterwards, he was glad that he even managed to stutter out the dinner invitation, which Oliver happily accepted.

They have known each other for so many years. Richard remembers when they first met in Schwerin; he was young, Oliver even younger, but they shared their passion for music. When their old bands didn’t provide what they wanted, there had been no doubt in Richard’s mind that he wanted Oliver to be a part of his new project, the project that eventually turned into Rammstein. Richard had always dreamt of success, but what they had accomplished had been bigger than he had imagined even in his wildest dreams.

After Rammstein finally decided to retire, it had been natural for Richard to ask Oliver if he wanted to join Emigrate. Even though he wasn’t a young man anymore, Richard still felt he had more to accomplish musically, and he had a feeling Oliver wanted the same. He had been right.

What he had not expected was how close they’d get once they started touring. As they played in smaller arenas, they shared a dressing room. Not really interested in partying anymore, the two of them had spent a lot of time together, enjoying good meals, good conversations, and good company. Suddenly, Richard realised that he felt alone when Oliver was not around.

Heading into the kitchen, Richard tastes the gravy, adding a little seasoning. He has prepared his signature dish, a duck recipe he learned as an apprentice cook and that he has tried to perfect ever since then. The duck is filled with his special stuffing, it is oven-roasted, and the pieces are currently resting on a baking tray while he prepares the gravy. Potato dumplings, red cabbage, and Brussels sprouts are already made. The Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte sits in the fridge.

Richard glances at the clock on the wall. Oliver could arrive at any time. Lifting the lid off the pan, Richard stirs the Linsensuppe. He knows Oliver loves Linseneintopf - lentil stew - but serving it in addition to the duck would be too heavy. Instead, he has prepared a lighter lentil soup with lots of the same flavours, and he hopes his guest will like it.

The sound of the doorbell startles both him and the countless butterflies that start flying around in his stomach. With nervous steps, Richard goes to open the door, checking himself in the mirror on the way. When he was younger, he had been afraid of growing older. Though the man in the mirror doesn’t look all that bad, despite his age. He has more lines across his forehead and around the eyes behind the black-framed glasses.

Richard’s black hair is slicked to the side, and underneath the apron, he wears black pants, a white shirt with the top two buttons open, and his signature vest. Fixing a stray hair, he forces a smile. His reflection smiles back at him, a little strained. Richard takes a deep breath, then he opens the door.

Oliver looks stunning. As usual, he wears drop-crotch pants, but he has swapped out his regular tank-top for a tight, black sweater with an unbuttoned, knit, hooded jacket on top of it.

“Come on in.” Richard smiles, a genuine smile this time, giving his younger friend a hug. Richard likes hugging Oliver. He is tall and lanky, but at the same time strong and solid, something safe to hold on to.

As they move into the living room, Oliver sniffs the air. “Smells like duck, and I hope I’m right, because your duck is the best,” he says, a hopeful look in his eyes.

He pulls a small gift bag out from his messenger bag, handing it to Richard. “For the host,” he says. “You mentioned that you wanted to start reading more, so I thought I would introduce you to Murakami. It’s a collection of short stories. I know your attention span is not the longest.”

Oliver nudges Richard playfully as the guitarist pulls the book out of the bag - Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami. Richard knows that Murakami is Oliver’s favourite author. They talked about reading habits back on the tour. Oliver always carries books with him, but Richard hasn’t read for many years. He always ends up in front of a screen instead. The fact that Oliver remembers their conversation and wants to share something that means a lot to him, is touching.

“Thank you, I really appreciate it,” Richard says, tiptoeing to place a light kiss on Oliver’s cheek. It ends up on his bearded jaw instead. “Damn, is it you getting taller or me getting smaller?” he laughs.

Smirking, Oliver bends down a bit, pointing to his cheek, silently asking for another kiss. Richard obliges, kissing him again, loudly. Oliver’s skin is soft. When they met, he looked younger than his years. He soon started hiding his babyface behind facial hair. Maybe that is why Richard never really noticed him aging until he, back in 2019, flipped through Jens Koch’s photobook from the Ausländer shoot and saw the photo of Oliver on the beach. Was Oliver’s beard really greying that much? And when did he get those wrinkles around his eyes?

Suddenly seeing his friend as a middle-aged man had bothered him a little. Inside, Richard almost felt like time stood still. Even now, he is still the same man as he was in his youth, with a little more experience, sure, but he doesn’t feel old - at least not mentally. Physically, he has to admit that he feels his years more than before. He still works out every day to stay in shape, but he needs more rest, and he often discovers new body parts starting to ache.

Then again, he has come to terms with it. Richard is happy that his body still serves him well, and where he previously saw beauty mostly in younger people, he has become more appreciative of the faces and bodies that show signs of lives lived - like the wrinkles that enhance the still youthful sparkle in Oliver’s eyes, and even more so when Richard kisses him on the cheek.

“I need to check on the food,” Richard says, suddenly feeling bashful. Trotting into the kitchen, he puts his gift down on the counter and busies himself with the pots and pans; stirring the soup, tasting the gravy.

“Smells fantastic,” Oliver remarks. Richard realises that he has company in the kitchen, company that is staring at the gravy with an almost begging look in his eyes. Humming, Richard fishes out another spoon from the drawer, scoops up a spoonful of gravy, and holds it out to Oliver, who happily blows it before slurping it off the spoon.

Oliver closes his eyes in appreciation of the rich gravy. “The culinary world missed out on a star,” he says, licking his lips. Richard laughs. He seems to laugh a lot around Oliver.

“So you think I should have become a chef instead of a musician?”

Faking shock, Oliver gasps and covers his mouth with his hand before bursting out in a big smile. “Of course not. Then I wouldn’t be here right now waiting for this delicious food!” he says, bending down to eye the duck and the potato dumplings inside the oven.

“You don’t have to wait any longer,” Richard says, shooing Oliver out of the kitchen. “I selected wines for the meal, but if you want something else, help yourself to whatever you’d like. Just sit down, and I’ll be out in a second with the first course.”

“Wine sounds good,” Oliver replies, and heads off into the dining room.

Soon after, Richard joins him, holding two bowls of warm soup. After placing one in front of Oliver, he puts the other one down for himself before removing his apron and sitting down while Oliver pours wine for the both of them.

“Prost!” he says, lifting his glass, and Richard happily lifts his own for the toast.

Only muted clanking of spoons against porcelain can be heard as they start eating. The soup is warm, but what warms Richard even more is the look on Oliver’s face as he eats.

“This is so good… You made this just for me, didn’t you?” Oliver says in between mouthfuls.

“Of course.” Richard smiles.

“Gott, I love you!” Oliver proclaims, tapping his napkin against his mouth before taking a sip of the wine.

Hearing those words, even in such a non-romantic context, makes Richard blush. He knows that Oliver loves him as a friend, but Richard wants - no, he yearns so much for those words to mean something else. Busying himself with his soup, he figures he can claim it is the heat from it that makes his face red, and nothing else.

“Ahh, I could eat so much more of this,” Oliver sighs as he finishes his bowl.

“Does that mean I get all the duck for myself?” Richard jokes.

Oliver sends him a judging look in response.

“Okay, okay,” Richard says, lifting his hands in the air. “I did make some extra though, so you can take the rest with you home. Or, you could have it as a late night snack if you want to stay over…”

Richard lets the words hang in the air. He has tried to say them as casually as possible, but he is sure Oliver must have heard the tone of his voice. Oliver doesn’t show it though. He is smiling like a kid in a candy store at the prospect of more soup. “The things you do for me,” he grins.

I would do anything for you, Richard thinks. Finishing his own soup, he picks up the two empty bowls and brings them back to the kitchen. He quickly plates the duck dish, filling two warm plates with juicy duck with crispy skin, potato dumplings, red cabbage, and Brussels sprouts before adding a generous amount of gravy.

Oliver’s face lights up even more when he sees his plate. Richard opens a different bottle of wine, and they toast again, before eating. The duck is almost perfect. Richard is not sure if it will ever be fully perfect, but he knows he will continue trying, and almost is still so good that they eat in silence, save for humming sounds of satisfaction from the both of them.

Richard breaks the silence first, as he puts the cutlery down on this now empty plate and pats his stomach. “You have some gravy in your beard,” he chuckles, and Oliver wipes his napkin across the greying hairs.

“You know,” Richard says pensively, tilting his head a little, “I can’t really remember what you look like without that beard.”

Oliver smiles. “I can’t remember what you look like with your natural hair colour,” he retorts, and Richard sends him a glare. “I’ll make you a deal. I’ll shave if you let your natural hair grow out.”

Richard frowns. “I don’t know about that,” he says, but he actually considers it. Maybe during winter, when he can easily cover up with a hat. He will definitely have to hold Oliver to that deal.

It is a beautiful, clear night. They decide to have dessert on the roof terrace. As Oliver pours sweet wine, Richard cuts large slices of Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte. “So, any plans now that the tour is over?” he asks as he hands Oliver a plate.

“Nah.” Oliver’s voice seems strangely quiet, and Richard could have sworn there is a hint of sadness on his face.

“It used to be nice to get back home from tour,” he sighs. “Now it’s different. The house is so quiet.” He cuts off a piece of cake with his fork.

Richard nods. He can relate to that. They are both living alone now. While he is very comfortable with just having children and grandchildren over every now and then, he does sometimes miss having other people in the house.

“Envying Schneider?” he says, lifting his wine glass to his mouth.

Oliver almost chokes on his cake. “Gott, nein,” he blurts out. “He really made up for his late start. I would never have guessed he would become the father of seven!”

Richard chuckles. No one expected that once Schneider had started producing children, he didn't seem to stop. That was partly why Rammstein eventually decided to call it quits. Then again, Richard was sure that Till had been somewhat relieved when Schneider brought it up back in 2027. The conversation that followed led to their final tour and the last, spectacular farewell concert at Olympiastadion around a year later.

“Do you know who is going to be you in the movie, by the way?” Richard asks, staring out at the Berlin sky. After their retirement, Flake had written several more books, and one of them was going to be adapted for the screen. Richard wasn’t sure how he felt about that, but as all the others said yes, he had agreed as well.

Oliver takes a sip of his wine. “Don’t think they’ve found anyone yet. I don’t have sons who can do it, like you and Paul. Plus, they probably struggle finding someone tall enough.” He flashes a smile. “Do you know what Till is up to nowadays?”

Richard raises his eyebrows. “Haven’t you read the news?”

Oliver shakes his head. “Don’t really follow. Too much celebrity bullshit.”

“Well, that’s normally where you’ll find out what Till does,” Richard says dryly. “Apart from a few women claiming they are bearing his children, which is of course just attention-seeking as we both know he got snipped years ago, well - he is getting married.”

“What?!” Oliver’s jaw drops, and Richard laughs - again.

“I didn’t believe it either, but I needed to call Till anyway to see if he was up for doing guest vocals on that new track I wrote on tour. He said yes. Anyway, I jokingly asked about the marriage rumours, and you should have seen my face when he confirmed them. We should get invitations soon. He talked about Costa Rica. I never thought Till would tie the knot again, but it seems like pigs do fly after all.”

Richard is amused by Oliver’s shocked expression, and for a moment, he feels brave. “How about you, do you think you will get married again?”

Oliver stops chewing, then starts again. He stabs the cake with his fork, breaking off a big chunk. Richard studies him and sees that he is uneasy, because he subconsciously sticks his tongue out. It’s adorable. He is unable to read Oliver’s expression. The bassist has always been somewhat of an enigma due to his quiet nature, seeking solitude and time away from everything. Richard appreciates that quality. He has those same needs, Oliver is just less dramatic about them. But right now, he wishes he knew what the other man is thinking.

“I thought I was done with all that love stuff. I have enough friends not to feel lonely, but...” Oliver starts, his eyes focused on something far in the horizon, “I miss someone who loves me the most, I guess. It feels egotistical, but it’s the truth. Do you ever feel like that?” He turns, and his eyes meet Richard’s.

A lump forms in Richard’s chest. He wants to deny it, but the vulnerability in Oliver’s eyes makes him unable to. “I do,” he nods, admitting to his own vulnerability.

They finish their cake to the faint sounds of cars far down on the street. Richard pours more wine, and Oliver accepts his offer for a refill. The sky is getting dark, with stripes of red. It reminds Richard of fire - of Rammstein.

“I miss our shows, too,” he says quietly. “I wish I had been able to appreciate it more in the moment.”

“We could add some fire to the Emigrate shows,” Oliver suggests. Richard knows it’s a joke, but he senses some seriousness behind it. While he enjoys being on stage with Emigrate as the lead vocalist, basking in the audience’s attention, it has never felt the same as it did with Rammstein. He misses them all being together.

“It will be nice to be gathered again for Till’s wedding, if everyone can make it,” Oliver says, as if he has read Richard’s mind.

When had they actually been together last? Richard doesn’t remember - but then it comes to him: The funeral. Awareness of his own mortality flushes through him. He swallows. When did he become so sentimental?

“Hey.” Oliver has that playful look in his eyes again. “Let’s swim?”

Richard stares dumbfoundedly at him as he strips off his sweater. Oliver still has a nice body. A little skin hangs looser than it used to, but other than that, he is pretty much the same as always.

“I don’t know if it’s a good idea.” Richard hesitates. “The food, the alcohol…”

Oliver laughs. “That would never have stopped you when you were younger. Don’t you remember the pool parties we used to have after our gigs, when they opened the hotel pools just for us?” He starts unfastening his pants--

“...and we totally trashed them,” Richard says, unable to hide a smile. They really were stupid stereotypical rock stars at times, trashing hotel rooms and hotel pools and paying for it afterwards when the hotels came to collect. Then again, they had been six naive young men from former East Germany, suddenly living their dream, a dream that came without a user manual.

--and then Oliver is naked. Richard does his best not to stare, but he can’t, so instead he does the second best thing, he tries to look shocked and surprised to justify his staring.

“Nothing you haven’t seen before,” Oliver shrugs, and takes a few steps over to the pool. “Come on. Don’t be such an old man.”

Richard rolls his eyes, but takes the bait. For a second, he thinks about fetching his bathing shorts, but he decides against it and starts undressing. He is an East German after all.

The water has a nice temperature as it closes around his skin. Oliver is swimming back and forth, or rather sliding - with his length, he can kick off against one end and reach the other without even having to actually swim. As he passes by, Richard splashes water on his face. Oliver’s eyes open wide, then he takes a deep breath and dives. A second later, Richard feels hands around his ankles, and his legs are pulled from underneath him, and he goes under.

They emerge, both panting from holding their breath. “My hair,” Richard splutters, and Oliver ruffles the wet strands of black, a big grin on his face.

“My beard,” he says mockingly. They both end up giggling.

Richard isn’t sure how it happens, but somehow he finds himself with his back against the side of the pool with Oliver right in front of him holding the edge, trapping him in between his arms. He stops breathing for a moment, and he sees that Oliver notices.

“I need to ask you something,” Oliver says hesitatingly. His pupils are so big and black, his eyes so innocent, and Richard wants nothing more than to lean forward and kiss him, but of course he doesn’t. Instead he waits.

Oliver is searching for words. He sticks out his tongue briefly. Richard forces an encouraging smile, and it seems to help.

“Do you think we could ever be more than just friends?” Oliver’s voice is as scared and hopeful as Richard feels inside. Then the words sink in, and his brain finally manages to grasp the meaning of them.

Richard wants to yell out yes, yes, of course, yes - but he is terrified, he knows that there is a long way from what they are, to what they could become, so he looks Oliver deep in the eyes, hoping the other man will read him and understand as he mouths a “maybe?”

Oliver understands. Or does he? “Maybe isn’t a no, at least,” he says.

He gives Richard a quick kiss on the cheek before sliding away, leaving him by the edge of the pool, and Richard immediately feels alone, he realises how Oliver just did what he didn’t have the courage to do himself, and he knows how hard it must have been for him, and how he would feel if Oliver had been the one just answering maybe, and he hears himself calling out Oliver’s name - and suddenly he is not alone anymore, Oliver is back and this time he is even closer, and Richard feels the heat from his body, and he lifts his hands to pull Oliver’s head down…

...and they kiss.

It’s weird and clumsy and wet - and wonderful.

And Richard wraps his arms around Oliver’s neck, lifting himself up to lock his legs around a slim waist, without breaking the kiss, and Oliver is so strong that he just walks out of the pool and gently places Richard on a chaise lounge, sliding up next to him, pulling at a blanket hanging over the armrest to wrap it around them so they don’t get cold - not that Richard thinks he could get cold with this beautiful man by his side.

“You know, I really wanted to ask you for a date instead of just dinner,” Richard mumbles into Oliver’s beard, slightly ashamed by his own cowardice.

Oliver caresses his cheek. “We can pretend it was. It did end like one.” He chuckles.

Richard laughs. He really does laugh a lot around Oliver.