Moritz doesn’t understand.
He doesn’t understand the significance of the casual touches that have been steadily increasing in the past few months. He never picks up on the comments Melchior made, trying to set them up for a conversation that would let him know where he stands. He can’t tell the difference between the look you give a friend, a best friend, and the look you give someone you-
Moritz isn’t one for concealing his emotions, for carefully covering up all but what needed to be exposed to the public. Melchior is used to knowing exactly how he felt, the moment he felt it.
Melchior knows what Moritz felt about everything but him.
Moritz is ignorant about everything, it seems. They’re taught dead languages and ancient history, they memorize equations until their eyes bleed, but they’re left in the dark about their own bodies.
The other boys are no different.
Melchior can’t care about the other boys.
He cares about Moritz.
Moritz needs someone who will educate him with Moritz’s interests in mind, who has no ulterior motives, who looks at him as a friend, a brother, a pupil in need of enlightenment.
Melchior is not that person.
Melchior is all that Moritz has.
It would be so easy.
Moritz is staring at the essay, horrified but also enraptured, overwhelmed by the brave new world that Melchior has forced his eyes open to. And he’s young, and he’s confused, and he wants, just like everyone else does, but he doesn’t understand yet. And it’s so easy for Melchior to pry the essay from him, it’s so easy for him to take Moritz’s hands and run them up and down his body, showing him what it’s supposed to feel like. And it’s so easy for Melchior to replace Moritz’s hands with his own.
It’s even easy, when Melchior is leaning over Moritz, touching him, feeling him, Moritz having relinquished all control of his body, for Melchior to press his mouth to Moritz’s neck. And he does it again, and again, and he feels Moritz responding to his touch, until he lets out a sound of confusion.
Melchior lets go of Moritz. He walks around him, until he’s facing him, and he looks into his eyes.
“Just relax,” he says. He brings his hand to Moritz’s shoulder. The way he casually grips it is friendly. The way he looks at Moritz is not. “This is natural. If it weren’t natural, you wouldn’t feel it.”
Moritz looks uncertain. He looks scared. He wants, though. Melchior can see it.
“This is supposed to happen.” He brings his hand to Moritz’s neck. “You trust me, right?”
Moritz does trust Melchior. He has always trusted Melchior.
Moritz nods, and Melchior sees some of his uncertainty dissipate.
He shouldn’t trust Melchior. Not now.
Melchior brings his lips to Moritz’s, and Moritz’s hands reach up to grasp the collar of his shirt, and Melchior’s guilt is drowned by the narcotic of Moritz’s touch.
Moritz is acting skittish around him.
He jerks away from Melchior’s touch when Melchior reaches over to pass him a pencil. He keeps glancing at Melchior, out of the corner of his eye, like he’s not sure what Melchior will do next.
Melchior doesn’t want to destroy their friendship.
He slows down. He treats Moritz the same way he always has, he talks to him casually about Latin and their friends and the way he thinks the educational system is destroying German teenagers. He doesn’t touch him in any way that isn’t perfectly friendly. He attempts to make his glances casual, to bury whatever longing lies in them.
He doesn’t mention sex, or the female anatomy, or anything having to do with the essay.
Moritz slowly, but surely, relaxes around him. He’s lets Melchior take the lead, accepting that this doesn’t have to make a difference if Melchior says it doesn’t. Their friendship becomes almost comfortable again.
Melchior knows that he should leave it like this. He’s had his taste of the apple of knowledge, he knows now how Moritz’s lips feel against his own, and he hasn’t destroyed his relationship with his friend. That’s far more than he ever expected to get.
He also knows that he won’t leave it like this. Not now when he knows that he doesn’t have to. That what happened with Moritz could happen again.
They’re sitting in Melchior’s hayloft, talking about everything and nothing, and Melchior is hyperaware of every movement Moritz makes.
He’s gone up here a million times, to write, to think, and no one besides Moritz has ever interrupted him. His parents haven’t, certainly. They have no reason to. The barn hadn’t held anything of value in years. Why would it? Industry was dominant now. There was no place for farmers.
Moritz isn’t jittery, not like he is. He thinks that whatever happened between Melchior and he is over, and there is nothing to worry about, nothing to anticipate.
Or he knows it isn’t over, and he’s ready for it now.
Melchior can’t quite convince himself it’s the latter. But he can’t eliminate the possibility that it’s not.
It is not nearly as elegant as it was the last time. There is no buildup, no prelude. No lingering touches to warn Moritz that something is coming. Melchior simply leans over and kisses him.
If Moritz is surprised, he does nothing to indicate it. He opens his mouth at the first press of Melchior’s lips, and he lets Melchior lower him onto the hay.
Soft noises free themselves from the back of his throat, and he lets Melchior unbutton his jacket, unknot his tie, undo his shirt. Melchior slips off his own, as smoothly as if he had practiced, and leans forward again to cover Moritz’s body with his own.
Afterward, Moritz lays his head on Melchior’s bare chest, and Melchior wraps his arms around him, trying to apologize without using words.
Neither of them say anything. Melchior can’t decide if the silence is a comfortable one or not.
Maybe there’s just nothing to say.
Maybe there’s everything to say, but nowhere to start.
Melchior finds hay in his clothes for days afterward. It’s far less punishment than he deserves.
Melchior tries to justify it to himself. If Moritz ever seemed unwilling, he would stop. If Moritz ever seemed like he wasn’t enjoying it, he would stop.
He knows none of that matters.
He has taken without asking, however unresisting his victim seemed to be. He has used his position of power, his knowledge, and abused it. He has taken his friend’s trust in him and twisted it to his own advantage.
At this point, he would almost rather have his friend back.
Melchior worries that if he stops, he’ll lose Moritz completely.
Melchior worries that he’s already lost Moritz completely.
Melchior tries to talk about it with Moritz, but the words stick in his throat. He wonders what Moritz thinks of him.
And their old dynamic is gone. They’re still friends, sure, but Moritz doesn’t see him as his childhood companion. He glances at Melchior when he thinks Melchior isn’t looking, a trace of fear in his eyes.
Melchior tries to be gentler with his touches, to show Moritz that he did care about him, that he wasn’t just a teenager taking out his desires on his best friend. It is too little, and it is certainly too late.
The thing that bothers Melchior the most is the fact that he will never know.
He knows now, that Moritz wants him, at least physically, that he isn’t repulsed by the male body. He wonders what else Moritz could have wanted.
Instead of contemplating the evils of the educational system, Melchior spends hours daydreaming about what could have happened if he had gone about it properly. If he hadn’t eliminated any potential for conversation. Moritz always told Melchior what he was feeling. Melchior could have returned the favor.
And maybe it would have scared Moritz off, destroyed their friendship, but that wouldn’t have been worse than what’s happening now. And there was a chance that Moritz would have felt the same way.
Melchior knows he has eliminated any possibility for romance. You cannot take that from a person the same way you can take physical affection.
This isn’t what he wants. This has never been what he wanted. This is not love; this is some bastardized version of it, but Melchior will keep taking it because he will never get anything more than it.
He has created a Chinese finger trap for himself out of steel spikes, and he will need to extract himself from it slowly and exactly the right way if he wants his finger intact.
It’s foolish, but he still believes he can preserve their friendship.
He stops initiating anything more than kissing. Moritz doesn’t notice, initially, and he seems to accept it with ease, almost relief, when he does.
He doesn’t let his fingers stray anywhere below Moritz’s neck or arms. He tries to make his touches more intimate, more emotional than physical.
He stops kissing Moritz altogether.
Moritz is hurt, he can tell, and all of it could be avoided if he would only just explain, but he doesn’t. Instead, he sits too close to Moritz, wraps an arm around his shoulders, gently strokes his hair.
Melchior tries to talk to him. Not about what needs to be talked about. School. His family. What’s worrying him. He expresses concern whenever Moritz looks the tiniest bit sad, even though he hates it when his mom does that to him. Usually, when Moritz looks sad, he is sad.
And Moritz starts opening up. He seems more comfortable around Melchior. Less afraid.
Melchior takes his hand one day when they are walking home from school. Moritz squeezes it back.
Moritz falls asleep in Melchior’s arms one day, both of them fully clothed, and Melchior counts himself successful.
They are doing their homework while sitting on Melchior’s bed, mostly working independently but making the occasional comments about difficult parts of the translation. Moritz is murmuring the Latin quietly to himself, and Melchior has stopped working and allowed it to wash over him.
He shouldn’t break this moment. He knows he shouldn’t. It has taken so long for them to achieve this peace.
He does, anyway.
“I’m sorry,” says Melchior. Moritz looks up from his notebook, staring at him. He doesn’t ask what Melchior is talking about. He doesn’t have to.
They stay like that, staring at each other, for a second, and then Moritz gives him a small smile. “I know,” he says.
Melchior should leave it at that. But he doesn’t.
“I love you.”
Moritz doesn’t smile this time. He leans his head on Melchior’s shoulder and takes his hand. “I know that, too.”
And finally, Melchior allows himself a measure of forgiveness.