|Primary Characters:||Thomas Buch, Erling Krabbe, Karina Munk Jörgensen
|Spoilers:||Some, season 2
|Description:||About the difficulties of falling in love across one’s respective party lines.
He remembered exactly when it had happened, even if he hadn’t been aware of it at the time. It was when Thomas Buch had kneeled before him, intent on proving his sincerity. The look in his eyes had been so naked, so trusting. Erling had felt something move inside him that he hadn’t been able to interpret correctly at the moment, but now he knew. It was absurd. He had never felt this way about a man before and even if someone had told him he would one day fall for a man, he would have guessed it would be someone far more traditionally attractive. Like Brad Pitt. He had to bite his lip not to laugh out loud. Not actually Brad Pitt of course, just someone looking like him.
But now, he was in the situation he was. He knew what he felt was real and there was no turning back. It was also obvious that Thomas felt the same way about him. The few times they’d met since that time, he’d seen it in the other man’s eyes. That absolute trust and – willingness to give himself fully. He had thrown himself at the other man’s mercy. Erling couldn’t help but find that attractive. He even felt protective of poor Thomas. His situation was worse even than Erling’s.
Thomas had known he couldn’t agree to the cover-up, yet when Erling turned out to be in favour of it, what choice had he had? He felt overcome with guilt, but knew he couldn’t back out. What a fool he was. He even felt guilty towards his wife and children, though he knew that she had left him, in spirit, if not physically, before he’d had that moment of clarity, when he knew that he was in love with Erling, that he had no choice but to turn himself over to him, body and soul. So he had waited, half hoping that he’d change his mind or that Erling wouldn’t be able to read him. It was embarrassing the way he had lost himself not only in another man, but one who held such widely different opinions.
On the other hand, in his current situation – abandoned by his party – he didn’t have that much to lose. He might as well complete the humiliation and betray his political values, because he knew deep down that Erling meant more than principles.
When he found his wife packing and putting the children into the car, he wasn’t surprised, even though he felt his heart was breaking. At that point, he would have been prepared to do anything. Beg. Give up Erling, even, but he could tell from his wife’s tightly pressed lips and the cold look in her eyes, that whatever he did, wouldn’t help, would never be enough.
He tried talking to her but he could tell from the way her eyes shied away from his, that she didn’t want him now. Not after what had happened. He knew it wasn’t his feelings for Erling, it was the politics. And he’d known all along really, that politics could do that to you. Sweep you off your feet, then dump you in the gutter when they were through with you. Rather like a wife or a lover. So he watched his family drive away, leaving him in an empty house, feeling useless. Worthless. Tossed away like the day’s garbage. Most likely Erling wouldn’t want him either, for political reasons or because he really wasn’t that attractive. Too fat. Too plain. Naive. Stupid, some would say.
But later that evening, the doorbell had rung and Thomas had hurried to the door, breathlessly, hoping against all reason, that his wife had relented. Was missing him. That she and the children would be out there waiting to be let back in again. He should have known that was too much to hope for.
Yet who really was standing out there made his heart skip a beat. He felt like a teenager in love for the first time.
”Oh. It’s you. Come in.”
Erling studied him intently, then nodded and followed him inside. Thomas couldn’t help staring furtively around the driveway and out into the street. No photographers hiding out, waiting to catch him at some indiscretion? Of course not. He was yesterday’s news now. How ironic that now that there really was something juicy to catch, no one would be interested. At least that was good. More privacy. Unless they were still out for Erling’s blood. But Erling was too sharp to let himself be followed. Thomas knew he could trust in that, if in nothing else.
Thomas pointed to one of the armchairs in the living room and Erling sat down. He chose a spot on the comfortable sofa across from the low table.
Erling’s eyes were still studying him closely and Thomas felt a faint blush travel across his skin. How could he hope that Erling would want him, when he knew he was one of the plainest men in politics – or rather – oh, never mind.
”How are you?”
”Oh, you know.”
He hadn’t expected that tone of sympathy. As if Erling truly cared about how he felt.
”My wife took the children and left. Packed up and – she won’t be back now. It was too much for her. The scandal and me being dismissed like that. Of course, deep down, I’d always known the situation couldn’t last, but I was hoping -”
He seemed to hesitate, then reached out and placed his hand on Thomas’ more chubby one. The touch did something to Thomas and he drew in breath. He felt that, all through his body, like an electric shock. Static electricity.
Erling saw Thomas’ eyes change expression and felt a stab at the pit of his stomach. He knew that look. The desire almost took his breath away and he considered himself far more experienced than he could imagine poor Thomas being. Not when it came to men of course. There they were both in unknown territory, but –
No one knew he was here. Not even his wife. He was sure he hadn’t been followed and as he had suspected, no one was keeping an eye on Thomas anymore. They were all alone and whatever happened between them would stay between them. The thought excited him even more and he got up and sat down on the sofa next to Thomas. He heard the other man’s breathing pick up. Before he had a chance to consider the consequences for himself, Erling covered Thomas’ lips with his own. He felt a shudder go over Thomas’ body. Strangely enough he didn’t find the extra fat at all unattractive. It didn’t affect his own reaction at all. He deepened the kiss and let one hand travel down Thomas’ body. Yes, he’d been right about the intensity of Thomas’ attraction for him and even – he thought – the love the other man felt for him. It made his own feelings stronger too.
After a while, he let go, considering their situation. The sofa wasn’t big enough for two of them, even if Thomas hadn’t been the size he was. They would have to stop or move on to the bedroom. Without a word, he held out his hand for Thomas’ and he took it. Somehow, they ended up on the double bed, where clearly Thomas and his wife had been sleeping up until last night.
It wasn’t that different, after all, but perhaps because it was so new to both of them, Erling found it all the more exciting. The novelty or maybe the strength of their feelings for each other.
Afterwards, he found himself confiding in Thomas over personal matters, that he had never thought he would share with anyone.
”My wife – we’re not about to get a divorce – but – I have been forced to realize that she never loved me. Our marriage is a sham. Always was, but – funnily enough I was the last one to know. I just want you to know that we’re not – involved anymore. It’s just a fiction. A pretense. Imagine how it would look if I had to admit defeat, after I went against party policy and married a foreigner.”
”I see. Of course.”
And of course Thomas did see. He wasn’t stupid, even if people probably thought so. His rather unassuming exterior made that an easy mistake to make.
”Never mind. Let’s not talk about that now.”
And Erling kissed Thomas again. He couldn’t stay until the morning, but they still had a few hours. Eventually, while Erling was considering finding a cigarette – except – he checked his mobile phone for messages and found that it was already close to four. He would have to be back at the office or at home at six at the latest. It was time to go.
He had thought that Thomas was asleep, but hearing his name mentioned, Thomas turned and faced him. There was still that look on his face, the one Erling had hardly ever seen before. If it didn’t sound so ridiculous, he would have said it was the look of love. Except it was. Thomas really did love him that unconditionally. Erling was filled with conflicting emotions. Part of him wanted to let himself go exactly the same way, but there were other parts, that were more cautious. He wanted to warn Thomas not to trust him or anyone that much. Not to give his love away like that. He would get hurt.
”I’m sorry. I have to go.”
He couldn’t quite read the look that now came into Thomas’ eyes, but he thought it was a mix of disappointment and acceptance.
For a while, they didn’t move, then Erling forced himself to sit up, to find his clothes and tidy himself up enough to face the ride back. He’d go to the office. His wife was used to that. He had been ‘working late’ and ended up spending the night at work, as so often before. Yes, no one there would be able to contradict that story.
When he was standing in the doorway, about to leave, Thomas called him back.
”When can I see you again?”
That tone – so completely lacking in pride or dignity almost made Erling choke and he wasn’t a sentimental man. This was – a bad idea. He’d end up hurting Thomas and he’d never forgive himself for that. Then – to hell with the consequences – he heard himself replying softly, gently, in a voice he hardly recognized.
”Soon. I’ll be in touch. Take care of yourself now. Don’t let it get to you. Screw your party. They didn’t deserve you.”
He was able to get back to the office without attracting any attention. So far so good, even if he knew he could never afford to let his guard down. Sooner or later someone would find out and then – but he didn’t want to dwell on that now. He felt great. Better than he had for years. Relaxed, satisfied – even happy. He had to watch himself so his face didn’t give him away to his people. No one could know about this. It was his secret. His and Thomas’.
Over the following weeks, Erling managed to find the time to sneak over and meet Thomas almost every night. He was surprised to find that familiarity didn’t breed boredom as he had expected. Even after nearly three months, he still craved Thomas’ touch. He was still filled with mixed emotions though. A part of him wanted to protect Thomas from potential harm. That part forced him to be honest, to warn his lover.
”Thomas – please – don’t trust anyone. Not even me. Do you understand? Are you listening?”
It didn’t look as if his words were getting through. Thomas still had that look on his face. That smile.
It made Erling lose his temper. Was Thomas stupid, after all? Surely not. Naive, yes, but stupid – no. He decided to try again, more impatiently this time.
”Are you listening to me? Thomas, I’m serious. Be careful. Don’t open yourself up for more pain.”
Thomas still didn’t seem to understand completely, but at least now he was paying attention.
”Ok. If you say so. Are you going to hurt me?”
Damn. So naive.
”Not intentionally. But you have to see – Oh, it’s useless. Just take care.”
Thomas smiled again, clearly intent on something else. He reached out and touched Erling’s face and Erling smothered a curse. Fine. He had tried. And would keep trying. He moved closer and kissed Thomas. For a while, he managed to forget his concerns.
He knew it was only a matter of time. Someone would find out and then – what would he do? What choice would me make? Thomas – or – his life’s work? Even though he knew they were on borrowed time, he refused to consider the question further. This made him happier than he’d ever been. He didn’t want to let his doubts undermine what they had.
But just as he had known, it was only a matter of time. One morning he saw the headlines on the papers. So it had come. He had suspected something was going on, when he’d seen some of his staff looking away from him. Refusing to meet his eyes. He grabbed the nearest paper so hard he almost tore the flimsy paper. It was obvious that he had been careless. They had photos. Not too incriminating ones but they were bad enough. Proved beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he had something to do with a member of the opposition – or rather a former member of the opposition. Had he subconsciously wanted to be found out? For a moment, he had no idea what to do. His mind was a blank. He’d damaged the party. Ruined his own position forever.
He smiled mirthlessly, thinking that now his wife would be forced to act. No longer would he be the eligible match she had married for a comfortable, safe life in Denmark. The question was, should he try to bluff it out and claim he had had ‘political discussions’ with Thomas or just give up the pretense and let them know the whole thing? Either way, he was pretty sure he was screwed. All the party could do was dump him and get to work on whatever damage control they could figure out. He knew the drill. After all, they had had to do this before. He’d just never thought it would happen to him.
It wasn’t more than ten minutes until he was called in to defend himself.
Before he had time to think of a defense, he was met with a harsh tirade.
”What the hell is going on? Have you lost your mind?”
”Sir – I -”
”You know there’s nothing you can say that will make a difference, right? Just out of courtesy, I’m going to let you try to explain, but – let’s make this quick and painless, right? You clear out your desk and leave and we’ll have the press secretary make up some hogwash about ‘family reasons’. Well?”
What was he going to say? There was absolutely no reasonable explanation here. Maybe he should just go while he still had some dignity. The truth wouldn’t do. He was pretty sure no one would understand what he saw in Thomas. Making up a lie that was even mildly plausible would be undignified.
”As you say, let’s just make this quick and painless. I’ll be gone in an hour or less. Say what you want. I’ll back you up. There are family reasons, so I don’t think anyone will be surprised.”
”Very well. You’ll have to appear on the press conference, so we’ll be in touch. Erling – what’s really wrong? Some sort of breakdown? Middle age crisis?”
He shrugged. What could he say? He had no idea what had caused him to act this way. Better to keep quiet. That way, maybe his colleagues would invent some explanation that didn’t leave him looking like a complete idiot.
He would have to find something else to do. Who would hire him now? After this kind of scandal – and he knew the evening papers would try to portray their connection in the worst possible way – who would even want to be associated with him? That reminded him – he would have to contact his attorney. If not, his wife might take the children and leave the country. Even if it would be a relief to end his fake marriage, he wouldn’t want to lose his children. He should have asked Thomas about his children. The fact was, they hadn’t really talked about anything when they were together. Just – He couldn’t help smiling.
Now that it had come – he was beginning to realize that he had no regrets. Somehow, he’d find a way to work things out. He had to call Thomas and warn him. Not that Thomas had as much to lose at this point – but still – and – maybe – he should help him find an attorney, in case his wife would use this as an excuse to take the children from him.
On his way back home – if he would be welcome there – Erling punched in Thomas’ number. He had been extremely careful about that in the past months. Never called his lover at all, in fact. Just shown up when he had time. Usually late at night. How had he missed the photographer hiding out outside Thomas’ home?
”Listen, the shit has hit the fan. They know. Some bloody photographer has caught me walking into your house. Nothing more, so if they call you, don’t say anything.”
”Ok. No one’s called so far, but I suppose it’s only a matter of time. What did you tell your party?”
”Nothing. I left that up to their imagination. There was nothing I could have said anyway that would have made a difference. Just – hang in there. I’ll come and see you as soon as I can.”
”Are you sure? If you stop seeing me now, maybe you could salvage something of your career?”
Maybe Thomas had been listening after all.
”No. It’s not worth it. Never mind. I’ll deal with it somehow. Thomas – I love you. Whatever happens, it will have been worth it.”
That was the first time he’d said it. He could hardly believe his own ears. Thomas had told him dozens of times that he loved him, but he had held back. Maybe it took this sort of disaster to make him realize how he really felt.
There was a stunned silence on the phone, then Thomas’ voice came back, filled with warmth. Erling could just imagine the look in his eyes.
”I love you too, but you know that already. Take care. Don’t let them get to you. We’ll get through this.”
”Oh. Do you have a good attorney? For the custody negotiations.”
”Uh – I have one, but I never thought I’d have to really fight my ex.”
”I’ll text you a few names. Contact them right away. You have no idea how fast these people move. You need to get help now.”
”Thanks. You too.”
”Don’t worry about me. I’m on it.”
And he called his attorney as soon as he’d terminated the call. Fortunately, the woman was extremely good. He didn’t think his wife – soon to be ex – would be able to get anyone that good. Now all he could do, was hope that the court wouldn’t wish to rule against a man who had cheated on his wife – although a wife he had been separated from, for all intents and purposes – with another man. At least the court wouldn’t bother with their political differences.
He had thought he would be prepared, but the meeting with his wife was grim. Her cold, hard scorn hit him harder than he had expected. Now that it was finally over, he suddenly recalled just how much he’d once loved her. Seeing her like this hurt, despite everything. She threatened him with all kinds of things, among other things, leaving for her home country with the children.
It didn’t take her long to pack up her things and the children’s and get a taxi. Though it felt like a slap in the face, in a way it was a relief not to be forced to fight her. Not in front of the children. He hoped she would stop short of telling them what he had done to anger her like this. Though he wasn’t ashamed of his love, he also didn’t want to have to explain to the children why their father had suddenly become involved with another man.
Later that evening, the press secretary called to let him know the time for their press conference. He was surprised they had managed to get it arranged for nine that evening. But he would be there. It would look even worse if he didn’t show up.
The press secretary had all of three minutes to spare to brief him of what he was to say. It was the vaguest possible story. Clearly they knew that there wasn’t much to be done at this point. So he stood there claiming those vague ‘family reasons’, knowing that no one bought his flimsy story. It was a good thing he had enough experience to draw on. He found that he could talk about it without blushing or flinching. The press secretary kept the conference short and concise and the attending reporters were never allowed to ask any difficult questions. It was all over within fifteen minutes. No one had anything to say to him afterwards. He waited for a minute, but no one would even look at him, so in the end, he just returned home. At least it was over. He would have time to think about his situation.
His attorney didn’t get in touch until the next morning, rather late, but at least she had some good news. He had moved quickly enough. The children would not be allowed to leave the country. His wife had found the best possible attorney but not one that was as good as his. He would win this.
The evening before, he had called Thomas again and was relieved that the latter had taken his advice and called an attorney. Erling wouldn’t want to be the cause of Thomas losing his children. He knew how much he loved them, just as he loved his own.
When he decided to take the risk of visiting Thomas again that evening, he couldn’t help glancing around, trying to spot the inevitable photographer. Once again, he was unable to see anything out of the ordinary. Had the bastards set up in one of the neighbours’ houses? It would have to be something like that. Well, at this point, he had nothing to lose. He even considered kissing Thomas full on the mouth in the doorway to give those vultures something to gloat about, but his natural caution overruled the impulse. If there was a miniscule possibility that someone would believe there was some less intimate reason behind their friendship, he would be relieved if they chose that. At least for the sake of his children.
They might even choose to live together in the future, but not until all the attention had died down. Erling knew far too well, how soon you became yesterday’s news. Just like Thomas. Their connection had briefly put Thomas back at the center of attention, but if they kept their cool, they would be forgotten in a few weeks’ time.
The following morning, Erling decided not to bother returning home in the morning. For once, he wanted to wake up with Thomas. Again, he woke to hear the phone ringing, but it wasn’t his phone. It took Thomas a few more seconds to come to. By that time the phone had stopped ringing.
”You should probably not answer that.”
Thomas was holding the phone up to his face, squinting to make out the number of the display.
”Yes. Karina Munk Jörgensen.”
Thomas’ mind got to work trying to figure out why his advisor and secretary would be in touch now. At least she wouldn’t be out to get him. Even though he knew he’d let her down when he’d sided with Erling. He could still see the stunned and disappointed look on her face. She had been one of the few he’d known he could fully trust among all his people. While he was mulling the matter over in his mind, the phone rang again. Same number. Karina must be eager to reach him. He’d take the chance and pick up.
”Yes, speaking. What can I do for you?”
”It’s more what I can do for you, I think. I might have a job for you, if you’re interested.”
A job? He’d never expected anyone would just come out with a job offer. Especially not now. He’d been right about her. What a shame he had had to let her down like that. Some day he would try to explain. But after what she’d seen in the papers, maybe she already did understand.
”Yes. I’m interested. That’s very kind of you.”
”It won’t be anything like what you’re used to, but – well, see what you think. I work in an attorney’s office. You’ll be able to get something administrative. Nothing fancy, but -”
”Oh, that sounds great. A lot better than I could expect after – all this.”
”Yes, I read about you and -”
He didn’t know exactly what to make of her tone. She sounded – Of course, in the past, he hadn’t even liked Erling. He could imagine how Karina felt about him. Knew what she’d said about him in the past. And he’d agreed. Said some really terrible things himself. But that was then.
”Yes. I don’t expect you to understand, but -”
”Oh, I’m not in a position to judge. Don’t worry about it. Whatever makes you happy.”
That was far more generous than he could have expected. Especially since he knew far to well what she thought about Erling.
”I’ll email you the details. If you could get back to my employer in a day or two, that would be great.”
”Thanks, I will. Karina – this is really kind of you.”
”You were a great employer. Among the whole bunch, you were the only one I could count on. So don’t worry about it. Looking forward to working with you again. And Thomas – hang in there. It will blow over soon.”
”I know. Thanks again.”
Erling studied him out of the corner of his eye.
”Yes, Karina had a job offer for me.”
”Really? That was good of her.”
Erling’s tone was less cool than Karina’s when she referring to him. Maybe he realized that she was a good friend.
”Yes, very. And she was also very understanding of – this. You and me.”
”Oh. I can imagine what she really thinks of me. But she obviously thinks the world of you. I’ll have to watch out. Once the novelty wears off, you’ll be wanting a woman again.”
”Don’t be too sure.”
For a while, they put off considerations about jobs and the future. Erling didn’t feel really threatened. Some day it would be over, but for now, he was sure of Thomas’ feelings for him. If he chose to be with a woman some time in the future, when it was over between them, it wouldn’t bother him now. Besides, he found it hard to believe he could ever love another man after Thomas. He too, would probably be with women again in the future. This was – something else. Special. Different. And the future was nothing to worry about now, anyway.
A few days later, Thomas walked into the attorney’s office. Karina met him at the door and showed him to his new desk. It felt odd to be back on an ordinary job. He hadn’t had one since he was a teenager. The party had taken up most of his time in the past ten years or more. It was wonderful to see Karina again. She seemed as happy to see him too. Her whole face lit up and she reached up and hugged him.
”It’s so good to see you again, Thomas.”
”You too, Karina. How is your daughter?”
”She’s doing fine. What about your little ones?”
”They’re fine. I’m – my attorney’s working on getting me shared custody.”
”Thanks. I’ll need it. Erling found me a new attorney to help with that.”
She really couldn’t believe her warm, kind, genuine former boss had become involved – one way or another – with that slimy Erling Krabbe. She was hoping Erling wasn’t just playing with Thomas. That it wasn’t some kind of cruel joke at poor Thomas’ expense. But really, wouldn’t that be going too far? Besides, it was none of her business. She was thinking she might have to get Krabbe a job too, but she’d wait and see. Maybe he was capable of landing on his feet once again, despite this – unexpected turn of events. She was sure that it was Krabbe who had somehow made Thomas side with him that day. Thomas had looked apologetic. Sad. Maybe they’d already been involved back then. Didn’t she know far too well how easily you were taken in when you were in love? Maybe she couldn’t blame Thomas.
In the end, Erling’s sense of self-preservation kicked in and he kept his house. Later, he would probably get an apartment instead, but he wanted the children to be able to come back to their home. If he and Thomas had moved in together, nothing would have been left to the media’s imagination. In a way, he felt ashamed of himself for being able keep such a cool head about something so important to him. He was sure Thomas didn’t sit around, coldly calculating what would be to his advantage.
They spent almost every night together, ignoring any potential photographers lurking about in the background.
Lying in bed, next to Thomas, listening to him sleeping, Erling still felt the same love he’d felt from the start. He loved being so close to Thomas. Looking into his eyes, he found it really hard to believe that his feelings would ever change. It was strange how life could change overnight, but he wasn’t about to question it. The way he felt right now, he knew he would love Thomas as much ten years from now, or more.
Despite Erling’s assumption about Thomas, he was still awake, and he too, was listening to Erling’s slow, calm breathing. As long as he didn’t lose his children, he would never ask for more than this. Karina might be right about Erling’s political opinions, but he found that he could easily ignore the politics. There was far more to Erling than that. He was touched by Erling’s insistence on not trusting anyone, even him. But Thomas was going to trust him. He would be willing to accept betrayal, for this, but he didn’t think Erling would betray him. What they had meant far more than any career. Thomas couldn’t help smiling.
These days Erling stayed the whole night. They didn’t have to part in the early hours of the morning. Tomorrow after work, they would see each other again, then the next day and the next. That was all he wanted. Erling moved closer and put an arm around him. They fell asleep like that.