Tangible Schizophrenia



Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: R
Pairing: Van Persie/Lehmann, Maldini/Kaká, Henry/Pirès.
Feedback: Good lines, bad ones, etc.
Disclaimer: This is absolutely fiction and not real and I don’t know these people at all. Any resemblance to any real-life record company is completely accidental.
Notes: Titled after Fluke’s song.
Summary: By tracking the travels of an object around the workplace, some interesting intersections are revealed.


Jens stared at the book. He turned it over once in his hand, absently noting the weight of it, then looked at the front cover again. Sometimes he really could do without relatives. He’d keep his immediate family, of course, but the rest usually were just superfluous. When they weren’t completely humiliating him.

“—so it looks like Ferguson’s backed off a while and isn’t going to be pressuring the DJs about that Norwegian guy’s new songs. Which are so crappy that even I can’t stand to listen to them, and I don’t really care what I…” Robin stopped. Both talking and walking.

When Jens looked up, Robin and Thierry were standing about a meter away and staring dubiously at the…Jens suppressed a grimace and tossed the book down. He wiped off his hands on his trousers and pointed at the chairs on the other side of the table. “That’s good to hear, but we can’t slack off. Trying to out-intimidate Ferguson just makes the radio stations hate both of us, and I want a long-term solution…and yes, it’s the Joy of Gay Sex. My aunt had some sort of epiphany and decided she needs to be supportive of my sexual preferences.”

“Oh,” Thierry said. His mouth was twitching. He folded his hands together and pressed them hard to his lips as he took a seat. He dropped his eyes and began to bow his head, but abruptly jerked it back up so he wasn’t looking at the book.

Instead of following suit, Robin threw his bag down on top of the table and came around to the other side to poke at the book. He put one hand to his ribs as he bent over to look at the title on the spine. “My God, it is. Are you keeping it?”

“How is this relevant? I have to talk to the board of directors in an hour. We don’t have ti—Robin, sit,” Jens snapped, yanking the book away. He shut it and shoved it across the table to Thierry, who finally lost his battle against giggling, but who at least would get rid of the damn thing.

“Hey, don’t be so quick. I thought you were all about thorough research and having references on hand.” Robin made a last feint at the book, then laughed and finally flopped into the chair beside Jens. He slouched down, grinning like the Cheshire Cat. “Let me guess: you already know everything in there.”

His foot had sidled up to prod at Jens’ ankle. Jens lifted his foot, then gave Robin a kick in the calf as he sat down. “If you need it so badly, you can have it.”

That pricked Robin’s pride enough to shut him up, though he didn’t stop smirking. “Rather have a hands-on demonstration. Yes, yes, I know, two more fucking weeks.”

Thierry took an inordinately long time to put the book away, but at least he worked on getting himself under control while he was doing it. Robin, however, periodically stopped his updates to cover his mouth and snigger into his hand. And he kept pushing his toes into Jens’ ankle, like they were back in the schoolyard. He knew damn well Jens couldn’t properly reprimand him till his ribs had healed, and no matter what he said, he was goddamn enjoying it.

“Sounds good for us,” Thierry finally interrupted. His smile was a touch strained as he folded his hands together, looking earnestly from Jens to Robin and back again. “I think we can get out the Chels’ first CD without any fuss, and then maybe we even have till the spring.”

“Doubtful. Michael keeps coming back to me with system problems—we really need to do something about Savage.” Welsh bastard. He was supposed to have drunk himself into third-tier hackwork by now, or have spectacularly imploded at MU. The odds had pointed towards him getting bounced out on his ass by Ferguson within two weeks over tabloid comedy, but instead he’d settled in like he’d grown up there. Or someone had settled him in. “The nightclub scene still hasn’t thrown up a successor to Moggi either, so let’s start figuring out who we’ll be backing.”

Soft, smug laugh from Robin. “Suffocated with a giant slab of pork fat. So fitting it’s poetic, really.”

“I don’t like poetry,” Jens snapped. He shot another glare at Robin and this one finally seemed to sink in; the other man frowned, then straightened up in his seat.

Thierry looked at Jens for a moment, then had one of his truly eerie mind-reading moments. “Ruud’s doing better. I haven’t heard Freddie complain about him all week, and I think Cesc is getting home at decent times now.”

“Great. At least I don’t have to worry about a furious Spanish doctor poisoning all of us,” Jens muttered. His PDA beeped and he checked it, but deleted the message without reading it when he saw the sender. “Deco says everything is going well, and he’s being truthful insofar as he hasn’t let anything hit the news yet. What do you think?”

“Ronaldo is behaving, far as I can tell. He’s keeping to schedule and curfew and everything,” Robin said. He pulled at the top button of his shirt, then sighed and started to wriggle completely out of the corduroy jacket he had on. “But my money’s on him snapping out of shock and blowing up like a volcano soon.”

After a moment, Thierry nodded. “Suppose we’ll see what Deco is made of then. Yes?”

He looked at Jens, and after a somewhat longer moment, Jens signaled his agreement. Deco was good enough to have negotiated a contract that left FC very few loopholes for getting rid of him, but professional incompetence was one. And if he managed to avoid that, then Jens was happy to have Cristiano in his hands and to be able to work directly with an intelligent agent; it’d be tougher to swing things FC’s way, but there’d be less unpredictability. And if there was one thing Jens hated, it was that.

If there was another, it was not being able to fully control matters, but Cristiano was on tour and he couldn’t be out of the damn country all the time. He’d had to spend most of December like that and now it was catching up to him. Thierry had just said something. “That’s all for now. I’ll see you when you’ve got the prelim schedule for the Chels’ promos.”

“Marketing says I might get it tonight—”

“Call me. I’ll probably still be up, and if I am, it’ll be a legitimate hour for drinking while working,” Jens muttered. Then he yanked out his PDA again, thumbed it so it’d stop buzzing, and looked at the message again. And silently snarled as he deleted it.

He belatedly made some sort of farewell gesture as Thierry excused himself from the room; Thierry would try to use his grumpiness as an excuse to drag Jens to something ‘relaxing’ like roller-skating or ballroom-dancing later, but by then Jens might be in a better mood. Maybe he would’ve gotten the chance to deep-six Kahn by then.

“I’m tempted to steal Ferguson’s car again so you can have a good bash at it, since you can’t fuck me,” Robin suddenly said. He looked seriously and hard at Jens for a second, then turned away with a half-smile quirking his lips. The chair creaked rather loudly as he leaned back, sliding down to rest his head on the top of its back. “You really not happy about Moggi?”

“He was a problem. Now he’s not a problem and doesn’t have any say in my current problems. So I’m not thinking about him at all.” Jens reached out and shuffled together the papers and photos Robin had brought. After putting them back in the other man’s bag, he started gathering up his own things.

Robin sighed and stretched out his leg so he could push off against the table stand with his foot. He did a slow circle in the chair so his foot bumped into the back of Jens’ calf. “So it’s internal. Kahn? I know you said no going after him, but I could embarrass him without going—”

“I’m taking a woman out to lunch today. We might have cocktails later tonight as well,” Jens said. He stood in place, his hands briefly pausing on the table-top.

The foot touching his leg jerked, then abruptly disappeared as Robin pushed off in the opposite direction. Before he would’ve turned far enough for Jens to see his face, he stuck out his arm and viciously smacked it against the edge of the table. He left his arm up afterward instead of pulling it away to rub what had to be a bad bruise forming.

“If the hairs on my neck even start to prickle—”

“I’m not going to spy on you. If you wanted to break up, you’d just tell me straight-out, like you’re ordering fucking food,” Robin snapped. His hand came up bent at the wrist as if he were going to slap it down on the table, but at the last second, he just fell back into the chair instead. A long, tired sigh came out of him, followed by a tight, hurt curse. He crossed his other arm over his chest to press against his side. “Your family? Crazy aunt aside?”

Jens inflamed his irritation by hesitating. He snapped his briefcase shut. “No, it’s business. It’s one of the board directors. She’s been a very strong ally of mine, but she doesn’t do it for free.”

Robin’s arm came down on the table. He started to get up and turn at the same time, but didn’t time things right and got caught between the chair and the table. Before he’d freed himself, Jens had walked out.

* * *

By not knowing about how men and men worked, Thierry had in no way meant to refer to the physical aspects. After so many years of working at FC—and particularly after he’d ended up in Jens’ team—he probably knew more about the physical aspects than some less adventurous types. He certainly knew quite a few tips about what not to do. So there was no reason for him to look in the book. None at all. He just needed to dispose of it in someplace where nobody about whom he’d need to worry would come across it.

He was about ten pages in and frowning at what seemed like an incorrect diagram when Freddie surprised him. “I—merde—I didn’t hear you come in.”

“Even after I called your name twice, knocked, and then bent down to stare at you,” Freddie chuckled. His eyes drifted towards the book spine; Thierry belatedly tried to hide it under the desk, but Freddie’s hand darted out and stopped him. “What’s so good that—oh. Oh…kay. Thierry? Something I missed while we were running around dealing with Italian mobsters?”

“I’m getting rid of it for Jens,” Thierry mumbled. He realized he was trying to hide behind the book, but was having difficulty stopping himself.

Freddie sat down, curled his hands over the top of the book to tilt it towards him, and lifted his eyebrows at what he saw. “And Jens has it because…”

“He has relatives with strange ways of being helpful?” At least they were off the subject of himself.

“More like relatives who’re years late with their help,” Freddie snorted. He let go of the book and leaned back, throwing one arm over the top of the chair. “So why are you reading it instead of tossing it in a dumpster?”

Thierry grimaced and snapped the book shut. He started to stick it in his bag, but happened to catch sight of Freddie’s expression as he did and promptly gave up. “I…well…”

“Oh, God. Don’t tell me the grapevine got it right for once. You and that lawyer?” For some reason, Freddie was grinning. At first Thierry thought it was because the other man was stunned or incredulous, but he knew his face wasn’t hiding anything and Freddie could see that perfectly well. And if anything, Freddie’s grin only grew. He shook his head, then suddenly slapped his leg and started to laugh. “Oh…oh, damn, Thierry. You might take a while but you always do things in style.”

“Pardon?” Thierry said. On one hand, he was relieved Freddie was taking it so well. On the other, he couldn’t help but be a little irked: what was so damn funny? When he’d been trying to sort out his head and losing sleep during one of the busiest and trickiest periods of his career, he hadn’t found it so amusing. In fact, he still didn’t.

Freddie covered his mouth with his hand, but it still took him a few minutes to stop laughing. “Sorry, sorry. No, believe me, I thought people were losing their minds when I first heard. But then I thought about it and if you were going to go for a man, Pirès would be it.”

“I’ll tell him you said so.” Thierry bent over and shoved the book back in his bag. His cell rang while he was sitting back up and startled him into banging his head on the underside of the desk. Hissing, he rubbed at the spot and gingerly maneuvered back into an upright position.

“No, don’t. I want him to have a good opinion about me if you two are going for it,” Freddie said a bit more soberly. He glanced off to the side so Thierry had a good view of the way his mouth twisted, with more than a touch of bitterness to it. “No point in having the significant others of both my closest friends hating me.” Then the bitterness vanished in another genuinely happy smile. “Well, you haven’t even gone out with a woman in…what, a year and a half? I’m just glad to hear you’re getting some again.”

The call was from John Terry, but he hadn’t left a message and he usually didn’t if it was trivial. It’d still be professional to call him back, but that could wait a couple minutes. “Not yet. I’m not like the young ones around here, in somebody’s bed before they’ve even showered from the last one.”

“Which was why you were reading that book?” Freddie waved his hand at Thierry’s expression. “Joking. But no, I guessed that. But you will eventually, and that’s good. You bottle things up too much and then it comes out in your performance. You could use it.”

“What is your problem with Robin?” Thierry asked. Then he shrugged off the dagger-look he got. “You did mention it, didn’t you?”

Rather pointed eye-roll from the other man. “Not really, but we’re about to talk about it, aren’t we?”

“It’s getting noticeable. Jens might be a bit blind when it comes to his friends, but eventually he’ll catch on,” Thierry said.

“Yeah…well. Huh.” Grimacing, Freddie restlessly pulled at his shirt-cuffs till his fingers came away with a thin white thread. He lifted his arm and tracked it back to a button, then sighed and irritably shoved that hand into his pocket. “Van Persie gets on my nerves. I know, at this point I just have to get used to him, but it’s not like he helps much. It’s like if you don’t automatically adore him, he can’t even be professional with you. I’m just going to avoid him as much as possible.”

Which, much as Thierry personally liked Robin, was very true, and very hard to do anything about. Possibly Jens could have had some influence, but Jens seemed to prefer Robin as was. “I’m sorry you got off on the wrong foot with him. He’s really not that—”

“He’s smart enough to keep Jens out of trouble. The rest, I couldn’t give a damn about…sorry, Thierry. I know you’d like everybody to get along, but that just doesn’t happen sometimes,” Freddie sighed. After slouching further down in his seat, he absently checked his watch. “So what’s the strategy for the month?”

“Build up our street connections, stay away from Ferguson. I need you to take care of more of the Chels’ stuff for the next few weeks…and Freddie, no picking fights with Rio Ferdinand.” When Thierry had some time, he really needed to start seeing to the other man’s non-work interests. Their whole conversation had reminded him that the time he’d gone without companionship was really nothing compared to Freddie, who as far as Thierry knew hadn’t had even a hook-up in ages. “That counts.”

Freddie shot Thierry a mulish look, but nodded anyway. “Fine…though my God, aren’t you itching to? After you heard he’s the one giving it to Savage nowadays? I just—never mind, I just have all this energy now that the holidays are just about over. I’ll hit the gym and work it off.”

Which meant he’d be stopping in on underground clubs for slightly rougher things than scouting for new acts. There just wasn’t time for people in this business, Thierry thought. “Well, don’t give yourself any migraines, yes?”

“Thanks, Thierry,” Freddie said as he got up.

It didn’t escape Thierry that that wasn’t a real answer, but Freddie was moving rather quickly, and somebody else was trying to come in at the same time. Freddie stopped to have a friendly word, then twisted around and out the door as Robert came in, with a wonderful-smelling and slightly oily-looking bag in hand.

“Brazilian. It just opened last week and Kaká mentioned it this morning, and I thought we really needed to try it,” he said, smiling. Then he glanced over his shoulder. “You didn’t email, so I assumed lunch was still on…”

“Oh, don’t even speak it aloud. Just come in before somebody tells me it’s not.” Thierry came out from around the desk and shut the door while Bobby deposited his things about the office. Then Thierry turned, and Bobby was standing about a foot away, and…

…well, here was something that that book’s table of contents hadn’t covered. Normally Thierry would’ve walked over and greeted him. But a hug seemed a little odd and just smiling made him feel vaguely foolish, even if no one else was around. And he wasn’t sure exactly what would be too much; his standards of judgment for that were seriously skewed by his working environment compared to what it was in a less frenetic department at the label.

Bobby solved the problem by taking a step forward and turning his head towards Thierry as he reached to hang his coat on the hook on the back of the door. His mouth brushed Thierry’s, not exerting much pressure. Then he started to shift back and Thierry belatedly advanced. They both got a little more involved at that point, Bobby’s hands coming up to rest lightly on Thierry’s arms as Thierry hesitantly touched Bobby’s waist.

“Bad week coming up?” Bobby asked when they’d separated. He disengaged gracefully and politely ignored Thierry’s moment of uncertainty about how much to brush down his clothes. “Jens hasn’t sent me any loads of paperwork, but it’s the kind of breather that makes me feel like I should order my roof re-done.”

Thierry paused, then laughed. Not completely with strain. “Bad month. But I think it’s all in-office politicking. Kahn nearly tied us for profits last month and he’s been going around saying that he’s got some spectacular new act up his sleeves.”

“Hmmm.” Bobby unbuttoned his cuffs, then rolled up his sleeves before digging into the lunch-bag. He started hauling out cartons, each with a more delicious smell associated with it than the last. “No new contracts of that caliber have gone through Legal yet. If he does, it’s not on the book-books.”

He’d definitely stuttered there. With a sigh, Thierry came round to stand by Bobby and was not surprised to see he’d left his bag open with one thing in particular in prominent view. “That…I’m getting rid of it for Jens. A misunderstanding with a relative of his about a gift.”

“It does look a bit hefty to simply throw away,” Bobby said. Somehow sounding perfectly at ease about the observation, with no mockery or anything lurking in his voice. “I’m not sure you’ll find many people who’d want to take it here.”

“No…” Though now that Bobby was here, Thierry could think of one person, but he wasn’t sure about the ‘want’ part and didn’t want to risk being offensive. He put his hands on his hips and glared at the book a little, thinking he didn’t really need another complication, tiny as it was. “It…is it any good? Useful?”

Bobby didn’t answer right away. When Thierry glanced over, the other man had one arm in the bag, but didn’t seem to be doing anything with it, and was also staring at the cartons already out on the desk with a curiously intent expression on his face. He looked up after a moment and startled a bit when he saw Thierry looking at him. Then he ducked his head a bit, his teeth flashing in a quick, awkward smile. “Well, I’ve never read it but there’ve been times when I could’ve used something like it.”

“Are you embarrassed?” Thierry asked. The corners of his mouth were twitching, and when he tried to make them stop, those muscles only twitched harder.

Shake of the head from the other man. Then Bobby turned back to the bag of food. “Not really, come to think of it. Are you?” he asked, utterly nonchalant and taking Thierry utterly by surprise.

Which was mostly Thierry’s fault, because a fool could’ve seen it coming. He winced. Then he saw Bobby’s expression start to change and jerked his hand in negation. “Yes.”

Bobby stopped, then took his hands out of the bag. He looked around but didn’t see what he wanted and was visibly irritated. Then he shook himself and pivoted to put his arms—greasy hands carefully bent away from Thierry—around Thierry’s waist, turning Thierry towards him. “I know,” he said, simply accepting.

Thierry looked at him for quite a few moments. Probably long enough for the wonderful Brazilian food to lose some of its quality, but then, he could always return the favor some other time. He owed Bobby.

He smiled finally, lips together and their corners not so mirthful, and put his head down on Bobby’s shoulder. After a second, he felt Bobby’s lips graze his ear.

“I’ll take the book. I can probably find somebody to palm it off on easier than you,” Bobby said.

Thierry grinned, then hurriedly smoothed out his expression as he lifted his head. He couldn’t quite keep his amusement at bay, though. “Are you calling my coworkers jaded? Or just nymphomaniac?”

Bobby just snorted and gently thumped Thierry’s back with the heels of his hands. “Try the churrasco first. I had a nibble on the way over and it’s fantastic.”

* * *

One of the many perks of his position that Jens never had much time to enjoy was the private toilet attached to his office. He did keep a few changes of clothing and toiletries in there for when he had to work all night, but otherwise he never touched it. So he was somewhat alarmed to walk in and see a sliver of light at the bottom of its door.

Then he saw Robin’s jacket thrown over his couch and felt his temper spark instead. He put down his briefcase, set his PDA in its desk stand for syncing, and then went over. The door wasn’t locked, but it hit something as Jens pushed at it. He waited for the curse and the shuffling feet, then pushed again.

“Ballack called. Found something on the mainframe even he didn’t want to touch,” Robin said. He had his shirt off and all the wraps around his torso as well, and in the fluorescent light the bruising along his side was the color of those goopy avocado shakes that were currently in fashion. His reflection showed the top of his head—he was concentrating on whatever his hands were doing—and oddly prominent ribs, which was a trick of the light but which were striking nonetheless. His nipples were reddened and raw-looking, like someone had taken sandpaper to them. “It’s dirty as hell down there.”

Jens glanced at the black smears liberally decorating Robin’s jeans, then at the mostly black and brown shirt on the floor. It’d been white earlier. “Did you take care of it?”

“Yeah, in that I got rid of it. No, in that I don’t know why you won’t let me arrange something for Robbie Savage already. I hate that fuck and I haven’t even met him yet.” Robin glanced over as Jens nudged him in the arm, then scooted. He watched with a sour twist to his mouth as Jens filled a glass of water, then rinsed his mouth a few times. “Cocktails later?”

“No, but I’ve got an unplanned meeting with Kahn that’ll make me miss dinner.” May that girlfriend of his fuck him into a heart attack sooner rather than later, Jens thought. He put the glass down and went around Robin to look in the small medicine cabinet on the wall while Robin finished washing the grime off his arms.

The air practically hissed with suppressed rage. When Robin shook the excess water off his hands, a few drops bounced off the sink so hard they splattered on the counter. His arm went in to rub at his side, but the twist of his mouth got even harder. “People here don’t play fair, so I don’t see why you let them off easier than everyone else. You could do it and still keep it out of the papers. You could—you just don’t want to and I don’t get why, damn you.”

Jens hadn’t quite expected things to go that way. He looked at Robin, but the other man just snarled at the sink. Robin jerked when Jens put a hand on his shoulder, then pointlessly resisted when Jens forced him to turn. He stared at the tube of ointment in Jens’ hand like it was poison.

“I didn’t fuck her,” Jens said. He squeezed out a pea-size dollop onto his thumb-pad, then carefully applied it to Robin’s right nipple. The area was rawer than it looked; Robin cursed and jerked back, catching himself on the edge of the sink. He pulled himself back up to Jens by hooking two fingers under Jens’ belt, darting short, uncertain glances at Jens. “She stuck her tongue in my mouth for a greeting, then spent the rest of the time hinting about it. But when you get to her level, the fun’s in keeping people guessing, not in actually doing it.”

“So she might get around to it someday, when you start really thinking she won’t go that far. Or maybe she made you fuck her already and you just don’t want to talk about it.” Robin shifted his weight so he could stand without leaning on anything. He didn’t take his hand off Jens’ belt and didn’t look any more relaxed. “Jesus Christ. Six weeks of nothing but foreplay and on top of that, the goddamn bandages are rubbing my skin off.”

The nipple was stiffening a little beneath Jens’ thumb. He moved his hand back, spreading the ointment beyond the areola, then lightly crossed it over and drew it in a half-circle around the edge between dark and light skin. He felt a little shift towards him and dragged his forefinger over the pectoral, running over some of the bruising, before bringing it and his thumb together to lightly pull off some of the excess salve. Then he moved on to the other nipple, rubbing in the ointment in a spiral pattern that closed in on the hardening tip. Robin breathed in very slowly, shoulders hitching up, obviously losing the tension in his muscles against his will.

“It’s not foreplay if we go through a set of bedsheets a day,” Jens muttered. He drew his thumb around Robin’s nipple a last time, then pulled his hand away. The other man stood still in a daze while Jens put the ointment away and wiped off his hands, only blinking his way out of it when Jens came back with…

“Who the hell does that belong to?” Robin snapped, glowering at the strip of silk Jens was holding.

Jens lifted it and Robin went for the door, then actually tried to hit Jens when Jens hauled him back. “Me, you idiot. You think you’re the only one who’s ever had cracked ribs inconvenience you?”

That strip had been sitting in the cabinet for a couple of years so Jens slapped it against his thigh a couple times to get rid of the dust. Otherwise it looked fine, so he wrapped it around Robin while the other man stared stupidly at him, making sure it wouldn’t slip down and expose Robin’s nipples to the rough cotton bandages. Then he went and hunted up a fresh roll of those; he’d need to restock, since he’d have to use all of what he had now on Robin.

He was halfway done when Robin lifted his arms and put them on Jens’ shoulders, making the task considerably easier. As Jens smoothed the strip around the other man, Robin tilted forward more and more till he was finally resting his head on top of one of his arms, his hair tickling Jens’ neck. “I hate just having to sit and watch things happen.”

“Then why the hell did you take up computers?” Jens snorted. He knew the dig of nails into his shoulders was coming and didn’t flinch from it or stop it. His mouth still tasted like crap; he’d have to get out the mouthwash after he was done with Robin. “If she got knocked out, then somebody would have to take her place. All the frontrunners for that like Kahn.”

Robin resettled his head, letting out a soft, dry chuckle. “Want a promotion?”

“Not really. I’ve gotten to where I want to be—it’s taken forever, but I did it. The war is in staying here.” Jens tied off the bandage, then tucked its end in. He arched his hands to lift them off, but after a moment, slowly flattened them again and skimmed them down Robin’s back, which arched to meet his palms. “She’s got a husband. A nice, well-preserved moron with the right background to cover for her. They all do at that level. I don’t want to get married.”

“You pick some odd moments to be honest.” Robin moved to press more of himself against Jens, then abruptly leaned back to look Jens in the eye. “I couldn’t find enough on her,” he said unhappily, defiantly.

He would’ve gone and checked, even though Jens had warned him not to—Jens lifted one hand and smacked Robin on the side of the jaw, but it was a ghost of a tap and the other man didn’t rock from it in the least. Instead Robin closed his eyes and pushed his cheek into Jens’ hand, his mouth rubbing along the hollow of the palm. His head dipped, then angled so their mouths touched as he leaned back. His tongue flicked out and left a burning trail over Jens’ lip that instantly went icy as the cool air hit it.

Idiot would’ve gotten his ribs broken again if it’d been up to him, pushing up against Jens and trying to bend like he couldn’t have even with all his bones in perfect shape. He actually bit Jens’ lip hard enough to draw blood when Jens walked them backward to put Robin’s back against the wall. And Jens—cursed when he dug his teeth into the exact same spot, trying not to give in to the urge to retaliate. The absolute last thing he needed today was to have to take Robin to Raúl and then put up with the sidelong glowers and almost-comments about lack of commonsense.

“Come on,” Robin grunted, pushing his hips up against Jens. He hitched one arm higher up on Jens’ neck and dropped his other hand to Jens’ wrist, pulling it so Jens’ palm slid down his side. Jens jerked his hand free for a moment and swept his fingers across Robin’s chest, then crushed his mouth over Robin’s moan as the other man twisted in a startled shiver. “Shit. What—that was…fuck, that was the silk, wasn’t it?”

By way of reply, Jens did it again and watched as Robin’s pupils shrank to pinpoints, then snapped so wide only a sliver of brown around them remained. “You know, usually I know what I’m doing. I don’t know why you keep arguing with me about things.”

“Because you like it.” Robin’s tongue flicked out over his teeth, then slid mockingly over his lip and slowly dragged itself back into his mouth, tip curled in invitation. “Because sometimes you aren’t right. Because hell, I think you forget things once in a while. You’re coming up on forty, aren’t you?”

Jens forced his hand between them and molded it over the erection stretching the front of Robin’s jeans. And belatedly remembered the grease streaks at the same time; he’d have to change his suit after this, damn it. He ground his palm against Robin’s cock till the other man was wide-eyed and whimpering, dragging his nails down Jens’ arm over and over again. “You annoying little sh—well, you’re right this time. I thought Savage would’ve fucked up by himself by now, but apparently he needs help even with that. Have fun.”

Robin blinked, then started to lift his head. Which thumped back hard against the wall when Jens, still keeping three knuckles pressed against Robin’s erection, twisted his hand around and undid the other man’s fly. “Goddamn it, you’re such a bast—” his breath stuttered and his eyes rolled back into his head as Jens snaked forefinger and thumb between unforgiving denim and swollen, tender prick “—fuck me already.” Robin’s lashes fluttered, then snapped up as he stared, his begging look more desperate than hungry, at Jens. “Please. Damn it, please.”

It wasn’t two weeks. It was thirteen days if everything went well between now and day thirteen, and having Robin beg him for more even while he was finger-fucking the other man jacked up Jens’ frustration just as much, if not more, than it did Robin’s, but Robin probably didn’t give that more than a passing thought. And even sexually frustrated and exasperated with the Robin’s willful lack of forethought, Jens really would rather be sticking his tongue in Robin’s mouth than prepping for a meeting with Kahn.

“Robbie Savage…” Robin thoughtfully said as they were straightening themselves up. “So how far can I go?”

Of all the things Jens didn’t have time to think about…and didn’t particularly want to think about. He didn’t even have respect for Savage as an opponent—he had a very, very little for Kahn—and in all honesty, would’ve preferred the man to have just disappeared.

He started to say so, but Robin interrupted. “Never mind, I need to see what I can get first,” he muttered. He pulled on one of Jens’ spare shirts, paused, then reached out to pick at Jens’ sleeve. “Hey. You…can you at least try not to have a late meeting two weeks from now?”

Jens looked at the defensive way Robin was holding himself, head down and elbows stiffly out, and had to snort. He smiled at the irritated look Robin shot him. “Keep everyone outside of the label off my back and I’ll consider it.”

“Asshole,” Robin said, tone oddly fond. He grinned up at Jens, not even protesting when Jens couldn’t help but straighten out the man’s collar lapels. “You do have one, I’m going to be waiting outside the door and I bet you’ll be happy to see me there.”

“I’ll make a note to tell Thierry to have you escorted down to the lobby in that case,” Jens dryly replied. He ignored the half-hearted retort Robin made as he walked out the door; he could at least trust Robin to get himself out of the building at this point.

* * *

Bobby’s shirt-sleeves were charmingly wrinkled and his lower lip had a bit of a swollen, soft look to it, and he’d had his lunch upstairs. Presumably with Thierry. It really was a shame that they couldn’t talk about that, since that would’ve been an absolutely fascinating conversation, and certainly one that’d be far less likely to result in inelegant brawling.

“I’m sorry,” Bobby finally said. “I don’t think I heard you correctly.”

“Thanks for offering me an out, but I can’t take it.” Paolo shrugged and leaned against the wall. If he had to take any physical blows, he might as well stay standing. “Kaká thinks he’s in love with me and I can’t shut my door to him.”

The other man looked at Paolo for a few minutes. There wasn’t any particularly strong emotion on Robert’s face, but his stare still had a commendably unnerving quality. It explained his reputation for both being a gentleman and merciless in the courtroom.

Finally Bobby sighed and turned a little, apparently dithering about what to do with the coat and briefcase he had in his hands. He eventually threw the coat over his chair and then put the briefcase to the side. Then he moved behind his desk to look something up on the computer. “You’re in love with him? Is that why you’re confessing?”

“No, I’m telling you because he hasn’t.” Here came the actual confession. “Of course I’m in love with him. How couldn’t I be? But there’s a very large difference between being in love and loving, and you know that as well as I do.”

“So are you expecting me to shake my finger at you and say no, I forbid this?” Robert asked. He sounded a touch exasperated.

“Well, I had a little hope.” That was a half-truth. The more important, unspoken part was that Pirès had more or less been Paolo’s last hope, but of course things weren’t going in Paolo’s favor. He wasn’t the hero, after all.

Robert straightened and looked more closely at Paolo, eyes sympathetic but mouth pursed in thought. His hands shifted from his keyboard to his briefcase, which he opened up without glancing down. Then he shrugged, as if shaking off a bit of a chill. His tone was decidedly less casual. “I know you, Paolo, but I can’t cut you any more slack than I’d do anyone else. Do more than he does to you and I’ll see that you regret it.”

“And that’s still too fair of you, really,” Paolo said. He gave Bobby his own shrug as he put his hand on the doorknob.

It figured that Kaká would be standing right outside, hand raised to knock. His eyes widened when he saw Paolo, making perfect windows for Paolo to watch the succession of emotions through them. First surprise, then welcome, then the dawning suspicion, and then nothing because Kaká had craned his head to look at Bobby and Paolo couldn’t see anymore.

“I’ll stop blocking your view,” Paolo told Kaká, using a tone in which a religious old grandmother couldn’t have found fault. Then he side-stepped around the other man and headed out towards espresso and decidedly earthier conversation.

He amused himself for a while at Riquelme’s expense, though not for so long as he would’ve before; the damnedest part about the new twist in his personal life was that instead of laughing at Juan being so clever he tripped himself up, Paolo kept picturing Kaká as the various young men with whom Juan was trying to substitute said cleverness for affection. And then he felt sorry for them. He did some work. Sent out enough paperwork for the secretary to comment for the second time that week that he might finally have to give in and hire a paralegal to help, which did nothing for his mood and caused him to gouge a nasty cut in his hand with a pen from the effort of mustering up an amiable reply to her.

Paolo didn’t think it was so bad and just stuffed a tissue against it to make the bleeding stop sooner, but five minutes later the tissue was soaked through and he reluctantly decided to search out the first aid kit. At least, he was presuming there was one somewhere on the floor.

One innocent question to a colleague later, he was standing in front of Kaká’s desk. Of course Ricardo would have it. It all fit together and sometimes Paolo wished he could smash it with his fist. Though if the pattern continued, all he’d manage by that would be a smashed-up hand.

“Paolo,” said the angel. Soft and startled.

If this was revenge for all the times he’d embarrassed the poor old priest back in his little Milan neighborhood—the man had faith all right, but a lousy grasp of logic and not enough sense to resist debating a smart-aleck young boy—then Paolo had to admit he was very impressed by God. Very. “I cut my hand. They said you had bandages.”

Kaká had a book under his arm, but he immediately put it down on his desk upon hearing that. He grabbed Paolo’s hand and lifted it up to see, one eye narrowing, then let go to poke around in his desk drawers. A moment later, he came up with a small box and a palm-size tin. “You have lint in it. You need to rinse it out first with cold water.”

Paolo happened to be looking at the book Kaká had and wondering if a new relationship had turned Bobby’s sense of humor from generous to utterly insane. He missed what Kaká said but heard the sound of it and belatedly looked up. “What? Oh.”

“Oh.” A faint sprinkling of red came up in Kaká’s cheeks, then blended back into his skin. He shrugged and tapped the cover with one finger. “Bobby had it for some reason. He said if I wanted it, I could have it. Come on—the longer you leave that, the more chance it’ll have to get infected.”

“No doubt, considering my ability to find filth in the cleanest places,” Paolo dryly said.

Kaká’s first reaction was still to flinch, but instead of letting out an embarrassed laugh or earnestly claiming Paolo didn’t know what he was talking about, he silently gestured towards the bathroom. It told Paolo Bobby had said considerably more than that, but instead of prodding, he followed Kaká into the men’s toilet. Remarkably, they seemed to have it all to themselves.

He rinsed out the cut, doing his best to pick the specks of lint the tissue had left from it, while Kaká set out a few bandages and opened up the tin, which contained some kind of antibiotic salve. The other man drew in the occasional edgy breath. Once he knocked his hand so one of the bandages went flying off the counter, but he reached out and snatched it from the air before it could float to the floor.

“Can you hand me something to dry off my hand?” Paolo asked.

Instead of doing that, Kaká jerked up his head to stare at Paolo. Mostly confusion with a little hurt, but even a little showed clear as the moon on a cloudless night on him. “Why did you tell Bobby? What was the point of that?”

“What did he say?” Curiosity killed cats, but in Paolo’s experience, it wasn’t so kind to men. It crippled them into helpless new shapes.

“Oh—” A flash of anger went over Kaká’s face. He turned sharply and took a half-step, then moved back as he dismissively chopped his hand through the air. His chin lifted so he could flay Paolo with another uncomprehending look. “I told you, if you don’t…if I’m really not what you want, then you don’t need to worry. I’ll respect that.”

Paolo felt his gut twist around his spine so it buckled. Naturally, what was wrung out was the blacker part of his sense of humor. “But you’ll still be in love with me. You’ll end up saving yourself all your life for nothing.”

“That’s my decision,” Kaká said, jaw set at the angle of unyielding stubbornness.

Blood was welling up from that damn cut, but it wasn’t that that was making Paolo think of stigmatas and martyrs. But he’d never in all his life been able to enjoy that sort of sight. “Angel,” he threw out, letting mockery twist the word.

Kaká winced. “Don’t call me that.”

“Why not?”

“Because angels can’t love anyone besides God,” Kaká replied. And he was invariably being serious about it, and staring at Paolo again as if he were seeing an entirely different person. A much better person.

The cruelty of the innocent was certainly exquisite, if not particularly creative. “I wish I’d just taken that job with divorce cases.”

A little crease appeared between Kaká’s brows as he tried to make sense of that. Then Paolo reached for the bandages and Kaká intercepted his hand. And tenaciously held on till Paolo finally let him pat the area dry, dress the cut and then position the bandage.

“I was lying,” Paolo finally said. He watched Kaká’s head whip up. “You knew that. Even you aren’t that naïve.”

“It’s not a lie if you’re not going to believe the truth.” Kaká had put his thumb over the center of the bandage to hold it still while he peeled the paper off the adhesive strips, and his thumb was still needlessly in place. His fingers were lightly draped over Paolo’s hand, and when he talked their tips unconsciously curled in to touch Paolo’s skin. “I didn’t ask Bobby for that book because I thought it’d help me get anywhere with you. If you don’t want—I just…” that sureness finally stuttered a little “…wanted to know…what it was about.”

Paolo lifted his free hand towards Kaká’s face, watching the shade of Kaká’s eyes soften, darken as his hand came nearer. He stopped it barely short of the cheek and Kaká’s pupils flashed to their widest, as if Paolo had slapped him. “No, you wanted to know what you were missing. You wouldn’t have been content living like that, waiting for me. You’d be—”

“—what I wanted to be,” Kaká snapped. He ducked his head; his cheek grazed Paolo’s fingertips and a tremor went through him that ended in a hitched breath. “Maybe not happy, but then, you’d say we can’t have everything.”

There was a hiss. After a moment, Paolo realized it’d come from him, and let himself wince while he was at it. He pressed his hand hard to the side of Kaká’s face, adjusting how it fit to cheekbones and jaw and the soft flesh connecting the two as the other man lifted his head, but not letting up on the pressure.

“You wouldn’t say that,” he told Kaká. He passed his thumb over that plump lower lip as it was dropping to shape a reply, and instead it shivered as a sharp exhale blew over it.

Kaká’s eyelashes fluttered down, good as any gauzy veil. Though a lead curtain couldn’t have hid the way his eyes drank up Paolo, the slow seep of color into the soft hollows of his cheeks, the trembling, uncertain forward lurch his feet wanted to make. He lost all his grace and tried to replace it with determination, and it only worked because he was still young. On older men it would’ve been pathetic and comical—it was pathetic and comical. Kaká was ruining farces for Paolo: he’d never be able to go to the theater again without seeing too much of himself on the damn stage, paraded around for everyone to watch the pieces chipping off.

“It’s not the same, reading about it. Or just watching it.” Paolo drew his thumb across the underside of Kaká’s chin, tracing the wonderful lines of the man’s jaw. He tested the give in the flesh there, stroked down further till his thumbpad was resting on top of every hard swallow the other man made. He could almost see the pages of the man opening up, fluttering apart before his fingertips so he could touch every word. Scrape them out of existence if he wanted, rewrite new ones with his nails.

Part of him really did want to do that, to take the willing unexposed expanse being presented to him and cover it with blood. He couldn’t help but be jealous, not being able to remember if he’d ever been so trusting, feeling his own principles crumple and wanting to rail at Kaká for making him rediscover himself years after that sort of thing had been interesting to him. He couldn’t take his hand off Kaká’s face.

He curled his fingers around the back of Kaká’s neck, threading them partly into the dark, thick strands of the man’s hair. Then he lifted his other hand, his cut hand, and turned it to run its back over Kaká’s parted lips. He felt them move to close, ever so slightly, about his longest finger as he dragged that across, hooking it in so he just felt the shy flick of Kaká’s tongue. Kaká shivered, trying to put his head down. He hissed in a breath when Paolo forced it back up, pupils widening and shrinking in alarm as Paolo closed the space between them.

Who’d taught him how to kiss, Paolo wondered? How to move his lips, to swing his arm around the other person’s back, hand lightly resting but not pushing? Maybe Paolo should send them a thank-you note; at least he didn’t have to suffer through that.

Or maybe Paolo should send them a few curses. He pressed his fingers harder over Kaká’s nape, fitting them in between the bumps of the man’s spine. Held the man still while he pushed harder, went deeper till he knew he was skirting the boundaries of Kaká’s previous experience; he could feel Kaká’s fingers arching against his back, reflexively wanting to grab Paolo back, take him back to some land of gentle care where Kaká could still think of this as some celebration of the soul. Well, Paolo didn’t know where his soul was and didn’t much care.

He dropped his hand and curled its fingers more, till the hold on Kaká’s neck couldn’t be mistaken for anything but a hold. Kaká’s lower lip slipped between Paolo’s teeth and he let them bite, then hung on as Kaká winced and tried to draw away. He pulled the other man back by the lip, then sucked hard at it while he slid his hand down the slope of Kaká’s back and side, stroked over the top of the hipbone, and finally cupped it over Kaká’s ass in a carnal demand even Kaká couldn’t whitewash.

They’d stumbled back, mostly because Kaká couldn’t keep his balance with the pressure Paolo was putting on him. One arm flung itself past Paolo, presumably to seek for support from the uncaring counter. The other one drooped from its position around Paolo, sinking till its only points of contact were the palm and the elbow…and then slowly rose again to tighten till Paolo couldn’t breathe. Kaká pressed some sort of low, aching noise into Paolo’s mouth, his right knee slipping between Paolo’s legs so all of his weight fell against Paolo with the suddenness of an electric shock. His fingers grabbed at Paolo’s suit-jacket, crumpling a trail vertically down it till his hand reached the hem. He briefly let go as Paolo deliberately forced a thigh against his groin, but reached again and this time, his hand came up under the jacket to burn its heat through the much thinner fabric of Paolo’s shirt.

Goddamn it. God, Paolo cursed and pleaded. God, not now. Something—

--somebody knocked. Startled, Kaká jumped back and spun away in a whirl of flushed face, dazed eyes, disheveled clothes. Then he slid out of Paolo’s field of vision and Paolo gratefully lunged for the door.

His hand touched the door-handle about the same time he remembered to look towards his own appearance, but—never mind that, he could take the teasing. He opened the door.

Cesc Fàbregas, of all people, stood there with big bright observant eyes and a mouth held tightly in order to keep it from laughing as he took Paolo in. “I guess it’s a good idea to knock on all the bathroom doors in this building, and not just on my floor. Hi. Have you seen Bobby or Ricky?”

“Bobby was in his office earlier,” Paolo said after checking his watch. “I’m not sure where he’d be now, but I doubt it’ll be in any of the men’s toilets.”

“Oh, I wasn’t looking here. I actually need to use the place,” Cesc grinned, apparently not offended at all. He tipped his head to the side, looking up at Paolo the way a fox would at a dog on the wrong side of the fence. Then he quickly twisted and slid past Paolo.

Not that Paolo was trying to block him. Trying to do that would not only demote this from comedy to farce, but would also just be pointless anyway. Instead Paolo retucked his shirt and did something about his tie.

“Don’t mind me, I’m just—oh.” Cesc’s voice snapped from cheerful to shocked…and possibly a little genuinely concerned. Kaká probably looked like a hospital case. “Oh…sorry. I didn’t…hey, are you okay?”

That, Paolo believed, was his cue to go. He went straight back to his office and finished doing some routine contractual paperwork. And he ignored the door when it opened, and the sound of somebody sitting down.

“Can I take you out to dinner?” Kaká finally said.

“I don’t know—what do Bobby and Cesc and everyone have to say about it?” Cheap shot. Weak shot; Paolo’s mind was more than a little numbed from trying to follow the relation of subclauses and sub-subclauses. He heard Kaká begin to snap a rejoinder and raised his hand. “It’d make me feel a bit ridiculous. I’m twice your age.”

Kaká clearly thought this was a nonsensical reason, but refrained from actually commenting. “Can I cook you dinner?”

Paolo paused, then put down his pen. “Do you need a book for that, too?”

“Stop doing that,” Kaká said, rubbing at his knee. He glanced off to the side, then went back to looking Paolo right in the eye. “No. And I just gave that one to Cesc—something about a gag gift. That was stupid of me—what I don’t know doesn’t really have anything to do with that. What I need to know is what you want, but you keep lying to me.”

“Good point.” Pity he’d caught on, since Paolo could’ve done with another week. “What I want and what’s good for me aren’t necessarily the same thing.”

“So is cooking a meal for you a bad thing?” Kaká persisted.

Goddamn everyone, Paolo added to his list of imprecations. If they had been in a play, somebody would’ve had the sense to play the dividing meddler. “Tomorrow. I—”

Kaká suddenly got up and bent over Paolo. At first he seemed to be going to look at Paolo’s hand, but then he abruptly changed directions. He leaned over and awkwardly, meaningfully pecked Paolo on the side of the mouth. “Okay.”

So much for not asking anything of him, Paolo thought as he watched the other man go. He wasn’t sure what he felt about that.

* * *

By the time Jens got home, it was so late he found Robin asleep in a jumble of limbs in front of the computer. He left the other man there and went to take a shower that he badly needed, and not just for physical reasons. Kahn had something up his sleeve and having to watch that man gloat for two hours made Jens ill on multiple levels.

Thierry had called to say he’d be by in a half-hour, so Jens got out a bottle of good red and some glasses, and then settled himself on the couch to skim record sales reports and catch up on who was working the late-night talk show circuit. When the cushions beside him sank down, he whacked out with the papers in his hand and changed the channel to get the news.

The papers missed and Robin managed to get his head on Jens’ shoulder. The rest of him quickly curved up next to Jens. “Does anybody ever ask Kahn to put out for a favor?”

Jens nearly spit out his wine. Maybe he should’ve, since when he swallowed, its taste had clearly been affected. “If they do, I do not want to know. I’m still disgusted I ended up in that toilet stall with him.”

“I’m just asking for strategy reasons, not because I’m really interested,” Robin snorted. He reached over and yanked the lever to put their end of the couch into the reclining position, then stretched out his legs next to Jens’ on the footrest. One ostentatious purr and snuggle later, he shot an amused look up at Jens. “Because it annoys you. Besides, I’m feeling insecure. I’ve been through the index and there’s at least fifty things here we haven’t done.”

Whereupon he held up the…Jens snatched that damn book away and dropped it over the side of the couch. Honestly, if he wanted something shredded these days, he had to do it himself. “Bullshit.”

“Yeah. No, it’s really because I still want to upend that bitch director of yours into a dumpster somewhere.” Robin’s tone lost its jeering edge. He moved restlessly about for a moment, then settled with one hand loosely wrapped in Jens’ shirt-tail.

Jens looked at him, then put down the wineglass and papers to get one arm up and around Robin. The other man pushed closer, going up for a quick, hard kiss, but then dropped back against Jens in an oddly meek way. He rubbed his cheek against Jens’ shoulder a few times, like a dog poking at a possible bed, before quietly and unexpectedly falling back asleep.

Robbie Savage probably wasn’t going to have much longer, if Robin was working that hard at it. It’d be nice to have that off his mind, Jens thought.

Thierry had a key to the place and usually let himself in if nobody responded to his knock and the chain wasn’t on. Jens did snap his fingers to let the other man know where he was before Thierry called out, since Robin was a fairly light sleeper.

“Well, I’ll be quiet,” Thierry said when he’d come in and seen the situation. He handed Jens a folder, then took a seat in the armchair. His eyes happened to fall to the floor beside the couch and a flash of surprise went over his face. Then he shook his head and chuckled into his hand. “I gave that to Bobby. I suppose things always find their natural place, though.”

“Bob—” Jens looked over the side again “—damn it all to hell, Robin and Cesc have been meeting up. I’ve been wondering how he’s known some things.”

Thierry paused, then tipped his head. “Is that a bad thing?”

So Robin was capable of building up a network of contacts of his own. He still was too hotheaded and didn’t think far enough ahead—case in point, flashing that book at Jens just for the one-time joke—and he still tended to reject the idea of making sacrifices now for later. But that…was still more capable than Jens had been rating him. Jens accordingly adjusted his assessment.

He trailed his hand up Robin’s back to tickle the other man’s nape; Robin murmured sleepily and pressed his face into Jens’ neck, dropping his shoulders to lengthen his neck for easier access. Jens lowered his hand, curling it back around Robin’s waist.

“Anyway, I want to get to bed, and you probably do too,” Jens said. He picked up the folder with his free hand and flipped it open. “All right, what idiot errors have Marketing made this time?”


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