Tangible Schizophrenia


Hit I: Turntables and Microphones

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: NC-17. Bondage, d/s.
Pairing: Schweinsteiger/Podolski, Lahm/Hildebrand, Van Nistelrooy/Lehmann, Thierry Henry/Lehmann, Van Nistelrooy/Cristiano Ronaldo
Feedback: Good lines, typos, etc.
Disclaimer: This is absolutely fiction and not real and I don’t know these people at all.
Notes: Record label AU. Totally crackified; any resemblance to any real-life record company or event is completely accidental. For hermine to cheer her up, and for louphoenix and jamjar as a thank-you for the info.
Summary: Michael’s first day at work, among other things.


Tchokrattle. The hinges on the front door needed to be tightened again.

Philipp stretched his mouth as wide as it could go and pushed it back up Timo’s neck, listening to the bed creak as the other man strained at his bonds. He let his teeth sink in a little bit and Timo let out a groan that vibrated up against Philipp’s chest.

The knock came again. “Lahmi! Come on! I told you I was coming over! I have the new guy who needed a place to crash, remember?”

Bastian had not. He’d popped into Philipp's office fifty-seven times in five hours and he hadn’t said a single thing about...oh, damn, he had. In the middle of a big spastic rant about how Lukas had accidentally dl’ed a virus onto his work-station, so Philipp had almost missed it and he had been just trying to get Schweini out so he could finish his work so he’d said yes without really listening. Sighing, he sat up.

Timo blinked. Then he opened his eyes wide, silently begging Philipp to say he was kidding.

“Sorry, I...he...yeah, Bastian...” Philipp flushed and started to duck, only to be startled back up when Bastian banged the door for the third time. He started to reach for the tie holding Timo’s right wrist to the bedpost. “Damn it, he’ll break it if I don’t--look, I’ll make it up to...”

Then he paused and really looked at how Timo was stretched out, skin gleaming with sweat and muscles shivering, wild look in his eyes. After a moment’s thought, Philipp took his hand away. “Um, actually, this shouldn’t take too long. I’ll just get them into the spare and come right back, okay? Shouldn’t take more than five minutes.”

Before he could totally collapse in shock at what he was doing, Philipp bent over and gave Timo a quick peck over the gag. Then he hopped off, grabbing one of Timo's buttondown shirts and throwing it over him as it went; the tails would hang low enough on him to be decent. He felt kind of dizzy and incredulous at himself and...well, pretty pleased. That had definitely been Timo’s cock jumping up against his butt a second before he’d gotten off the bed. Once he got whoever it was settled, they were going to have a lot of fun.

He padded into the next room and got to the door just as Bastian was starting up again. Philipp undid the locks, then yanked it open with an annoyed grumble on the tip of his tongue. “You said you’d come two hours earlier—”

Tall, dark, and not only ridiculously good-locking, but nervously ducking his head and fidgeting with the strap of his duffel. The new hire was sex on wheels—very long, shapely ones in jeans just tight enough to appreciate the curves of thigh and calf. And Bastian wasn’t taking him home himself?

Well, then again, Lukas kind of seemed to be taking up all his time now, though Philipp didn’t think the two of them were exclusive yet. And Philipp was really staring. He ducked his head and rubbed at his nose, then looked up again; Bastian was turned away with his hand over his mouth, probably laughing his head off. Jerk.

“Hi, I’m Phil—Philipp Lahm,” Philipp said, sticking out his hand.

Strong grip. He dressed a little oddly in comparison: the jeans were all right, but the dark sweater with the collar of a white buttondown sticking out of the top was very conservative. “Michael Ballack.”

“Just call him Micha,” Bastian grinned, draping one arm over Michael’s shoulder. “It’s short and cute.”

Michael blinked and glanced at Bastian, obviously not sure how he was supposed to take that. Then he turned back to Philipp, adjusting his bag on his shoulder. “Thanks for putting me up.”

“Oh, no—no problem. The guest room’s this way, and if you need to eat anything there’s leftover pasta in the fridge…um, bathroom there…” Philipp waved at it, suddenly remembering about Timo and, well, really wanting to get back to that. He swung out of the way so Michael could get in, then grabbed at Bastian’s arm when the other man tried to follow. Once Schweini got a foot in, it could be hours before he’d leave. “Don’t you have a full day tomorrow?”

“Yeah, but…what? The drive over was only twenty minutes and I didn’t even find out what his favorite food is yet. But he likes Euro-trash pop and classic R&B,” Bastian said. His eyes were unashamedly staring at Michael’s ass as the other man tentatively walked further back into the apartment. They flicked back to Philipp when he snorted, then lingered over the shirt. A knowing look came into Bastian’s eyes and he whistled beneath his breath, rocking back out the door. “Oooo. Did we interrupt?”

Blushing, Philipp stuck his hands out and shoved at Bastian’s stomach till the other man was all the way in the hall. Bastian was saying something else, but it probably wasn’t all that important so Philipp just shut the door. He locked it, spun around and then yelped, stumbling back.

Michael backed up a bit as well, hands up. “Sorry. I was just trying to ask if you had an extra toothbrush? I forgot to pack mine.”

“Um…second drawer beneath the bathroom sink. You have to rinse them out but there’s some spares…Lukas is always leaving his here…just yell if you need anything else, okay?” Philipp said, edging his way around Michael. It had to look pretty funny and Michael probably thought he was rooming with a crazy person, but Philipp just…really needed to get back to the bedroom.

As soon as he decently could, he turned around and hopped the last meter to the door. He was careful not to let Michael get a glimpse as he slipped inside. Then he ripped off Timo’s shirt and crawled back on top of the other man, who promptly began twisting beneath him. Philipp muttered apologies all the way up Timo’s belly and chest, then pulled out the gag.

Timo coughed, moaned when Philipp wetted his mouth with a deep kiss, and then jerked his head aside. “Phil! That was not funny! I can’t believe you just—”

Philipp craned around to suck on the tip of Timo’s ear, running his tongue around the curves while he reached back and dug into the space between the headboard and the wall. He usually could find one or two…his fingers touched the plastic tube and he hastily squirted out a handful, then tossed the tube onto the dresser. “Sorry, sorry, I totally forgot Bastian asked me,” he said, reaching behind himself.

He jabbed in his first finger a little too fast and the burn of it snapped his teeth into Timo’s ear, cutting off whatever the other man had been about to say. He almost started apologizing again, but instead of swearing, Timo arched up, letting his hard prick drag heavily against the side of Philipp’s thigh. So instead Philipp licked at the bite and hurried up.

With what traces of lube he had left, he ran his hand over Timo’s cock so the other man’s head lolled back and he groaned loud enough to make—well, no point in worrying about Michael now. Philipp circled one finger down around Timo’s balls, drinking in the hiss he elicited, then pulled his hands forward to press them palms-down on Timo’s shoulders. He lifted himself up, then took his time about pushing himself down.

“I’m really sorry,” he said.

Timo lifted his head like it was the greatest effort he’d ever had to make to stare in bleary, pleading disbelief. “Phil, my God, can you just move--”


“Oh, Christ,” Timo moaned, his head dropping back.

Yeah, exactly.

* * *

Michael paused in the middle of washing his face, then flicked the water off his hands. He turned the water off and cocked his ear, not quite certain if he’d heard right. But then there came a hard crescendo of creaking wood, and he knew he had. He flipped the water back on and pressed handfuls of it to his suddenly-burning cheeks. No wonder Phil had been in such a hurry.

Then the moaning started to filter through the walls. The sink wasn’t going to give Michael enough water to cool down his whole head, and it wasn’t like he could go out, knock on the door and politely ask them to stop either. He rubbed at his eyes, then sighed and decided to take a shower. It’d been a long flight and he felt slightly less than human, anyway.

Thankfully, the shower-head was powerful enough so that the noise of the water hitting the walls completely covered up whatever Philipp and…and the other person was doing. By the time Michael was done, apparently they were as well, so he was able to dry off and finish getting ready for bed without overhearing anything.

He rolled out onto the bed and ended up on his back, staring at the ceiling while his thoughts crowded in on him from the corners. Years and years at university and he was finally out, no longer a slave to didactic, old-fashioned professors, and he had a job that would actually support him in conditions better than a factory chicken got, and he still didn’t really know what he was doing. The music industry hadn’t exactly been his idea of how he’d be spending the rest of his life—he had his favorite DJs, of course, but it wasn’t like he’d been goofing off in his spare time with turntables and beat machines like some of his classmates. He’d been thinking sound research in a lab somewhere, maybe something to do with reversing deafness, except that had unexpectedly ended up a no-go.

A rhythmic, muffled noise slowly penetrated Michael’s consciousness, though when he figured out what it was, he groaned to himself and tried to stick his head beneath the pillow. It was really nice of Philipp to put him up on such short notice, especially since the hotel cost would’ve been a little bit of a stretch for Michael’s current bank balance, but…Michael really, really needed to get his own place. Really.

* * *

Eventually fatigue overcame the racket and Michael got in some sleep. When he cracked open his eye several hours later, the sun was streaming in through the window because he’d forgotten to pull the blinds. His mouth tasted like raw cotton and his stomach was growling so loudly he had to curl in on himself for a few minutes, squeezing his palms down over it.

Getting ready for the day didn’t take too long, though Michael spent a couple seconds shaking his head over the state of his luggage. He didn’t have anything that wasn’t…then again, working at a record label probably wasn’t like working at a research institute, so he just threw on a wrinkled shirt, dug out a clean pair of jeans, and headed out into the kitchen.

Philipp wasn’t there, but another man was: several centimeters taller, with long honey-blond bangs and light grey eyes. He was ungracefully stuffing his face with cereal and when he saw Michael, he choked a little in surprise. Ducking down, he wiped off his mouth on the back of his hand.

“Sorry. I’m…um…Michael.” At first Michael started to extend a hand, but then he realized he was on the other side of the island and he’d really have to stretch to reach the other man. By the time he’d walked around, too much time had passed for him to feel really comfortable with putting out his hand again.

Of course, he just plain felt awkward all around. The other man didn’t seem to notice too much, just nodding and waving his hand towards the fridge behind him. He sounded mushy at first, but his voice gradually got clearer as he swallowed. “Timo. There’s milk, and…well, if you want a heart attack first thing in the morning, you can have Philipp’s cereal.” He pointed at a box of one of those children’s cereals that came with colorful marshmallow bits. He was eating cornflakes himself. “Or you can have mine. And there are apples…somewhere. We need to go grocery-shopping, sorry.”

Michael didn’t miss the ‘we’ or the blotchy mouth-sized spots peeking out of Timo’s collar, but he didn’t try to make any smart comment about it. Usually he always fucked it up and ended up making more enemies, and even if this hadn’t exactly been what he’d had in mind, he wanted it to work. He didn’t want to have to run again. “Thanks.”

“No problem,” Timo mumbled, back to shoveling cereal. He glanced pretty often at the clock on the fridge, and when he saw Michael watching at him, he looked faintly embarrassed. “I’ll try to make sure Phil doesn’t make us late.”

As he spoke, he lifted the bowl to his mouth so Michael could see his wrists, which were ringed with what looked like bruises. He slurped down the milk, then gave the bowl and spoon a quick wash before padding off towards what presumably was another bedroom.

After a moment, Michael helped himself to the cornflakes. Philipp probably wasn’t as young or weak as he’d looked like, flapping around in the shirt of somebody five or ten sizes bigger than him—oh…Michael must’ve been really tired to not have put that and Timo together—but he didn’t seem like the violent type. And Timo didn’t seem like the frightened type; he could be acting, but in that case, he was the best actor Michael had ever met. He looked Michael in the eyes when he was speaking to him and didn’t have that hunched, terrified air that—

“Phil! Get out of bed!”

Whiny complaining noise. It reminded Michael of a puppy a boyhood friend of his had had.

You’re tired? I should be the…” Timo suddenly dropped his voice “…don’t want to be the one who makes him give Lehmann the wrong impression, do you? Come on, don’t…hey…okay, you’re hopeless, you know?”

Nope, it wasn’t that. So the other likely explanation…probably could wait till Michael had finished breakfast. And had coffee. And wasn’t in the same apartment as Philipp and Timo so he didn’t run up their water bill with all the cold water he needed.

Item two on his list: work on socializing more. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d gone out for fun, and it was annoying getting all embarrassed over practically nothing.

Several minutes later, a ruffled Philipp wandered into the kitchen. He was apparently dressed for the day—khakis and a t-shirt—but looked much less awake than Timo had been. He almost poured orange juice into the bowl and when Michael hastily substituted the cartons in his hand, it didn’t look like Philipp actually noticed. He just plopped down on the floor and mechanically munched on his cereal.

Timo came out about a minute and a half later, a duffel bag over his shoulder. He frowned as he stared around the room.

Michael coughed, then nodded down.

“Oh…oh, honestly, Phil,” Timo snorted when he’d spotted the other man. He hooked his hands beneath Philipp’s arms and pulled him upright, then took the empty bowl from him. “I’m really sorry, he’s not usually this bad but our coffeemaker’s broken.” Eyeroll as he snagged a small Styrofoam cup from the counter and pressed it into Philipp’s hands. “And he won’t wake up in time to walk down to the corner with me…anyway, you ready to go?”

“Yeah—oh, wait. I need to grab my bag—it’s just be a moment,” Michael replied, hustling back into his bedroom.

When he got out, Timo still had one arm around Philipp and was more or less dragging the other man through the front door. Occasionally Philipp made the effort to take a step, but he seemed really busy draining the last drops of his coffee; he held the cup with both hands like it was a baby bottle.

“He’ll wake up in the car.” Timo held the door for Michael, then shut it and took care of the locks with mindless efficiency. “So you’re going to hack for us?”

“Yes. Yeah, that’s what they hired me for. Though I don’t know yet what I’m doing…I thought a big company like yours would have plenty of people who can do that,” Michael said.

The building had an elevator, but a sign on it said ‘Out of Service’ so Timo led them to the stairwell, muttering about the jackass landlord. He went down one flight of stairs before he suddenly bent down, elbowing back his bag, and hiked Philipp up into his arms. They went much faster that way, since Timo didn’t have to watch to make sure Philipp didn’t run into sharp corners and things. “Oh, you have no idea. We’re going to work you to death…all of us techs and producers know plenty about the boards and the hardware, but when it comes to the software, we’re pretty bad. I mean, you can’t even follow the wires or anything—there’s just these green plastic things with gold lines on them inside a computer. How are you supposed to rewire that?”

“Well, hopefully you don’t.” Michael tried out a laugh, but since Timo was ahead of him, he couldn’t see the other man’s reaction. Yes, he was still nervous. “‘Boards’?”

“Soundboards. All those switches and toggles and crap you see in the movies—those are boards. That’s probably what you’re going to start on. Old-school, you fiddled with the settings till they all were how you wanted them and then you absolutely didn’t touch them because there was no way of saving them,” Timo said over his shoulder. He got to the bottom step and passed a trashcan; Philipp blinked, then hastily pitched his cup into it. “Accidentally hit a dial and you were fucked, man. Whole session down the drain. But now we’re going digital.”

That vaguely sounded like what had been described to Michael, though the version he’d gotten had been considerably less…intimidating. He hoped to God they just wanted him to tweak a new system or something, because from-scratch engineering wasn’t really his strong point. “Have you switched over yet?”

“Huh—yeah, yeah, the stuff’s all installed, and the basic editing package isn’t too hard to learn, but it’s kind of for general use. We’re running parallel with the old boards right now because nobody wants to learn programming languages if they don’t have to.” Timo snorted. “It’s not that bad…”

“You already knew some before. Gives me a headache,” Philipp said.

Michael and Timo stopped and looked at him. He shoved his head back down into Timo’s neck, making a face.

“Back with the living?” Timo swung the other man down onto his feet, then dug around in one pocket till he came up with a key-ring. He rumpled up Philipp’s hair even more, grinning fondly at the other man. “Actually, the real problem’s that it’s half-installed. See, we had this other guy, but he fell out with the execs and he just walked off the job one day and left a whole bunch of surprise problems behind him. Though he was an asshole anyway…”

Philipp frowned, casually leaning in towards Timo. “Robbie wasn’t that bad. In the beginning…”

“If you say so. Even before Savage got on Jens’ bad side, he was kind of a jerk. But everyone ends up liking you,” Timo said, voice softening. His smile turned private and…

…and Michael stared up at the ceiling. The water-stains were fascinating.

“We’re going to be late,” Philipp abruptly commented. “By the way, Michael, if you’re looking for a place, remind me to point you towards Torsten or Lionel. They’re both looking for a flatmate.”

“Thanks,” Michael said, looking back down.

* * *

The coffee barely missed spilling over Torsten’s hand and giving him one hell of a scalding. He jumped back, hit the open fridge door behind him and sent it into David’s side; David cursed and fell backward onto his ass. Torsten grabbed the door before it could wreak any more havoc and started to reach for the other man, but David waved him off.

“I’m fine,” he grunted, starting to get back up.

A hand clamped down on Torsten’s shoulder before he had time to be relieved. “New guy!” Bastian chirped, like he hadn’t just triggered a chain-reaction of disaster. “Look!”

“Before or after I finally lose my temper and give you the spanking your mother forgot?” Torsten snapped. He pulled himself free and grabbed a handful of napkins to mop up the spilled coffee. Then he poured himself another cup. It wasn’t that he wasn’t curious, especially considering how this one’s predecessor had left, but he’d see the guy anyway when they sent him down to get his forms processed for putting him on payroll.

Bastian made a half-hearted apologetic face as he dusted David off because he was busy peering around the corner. “Come on, Fringsi. You must have better things to do than be my mother. Who wants to know if she should send down more strudels next time, by the way.”

“Yeah, ‘cause you owe me a whole one just for…I thought we were hiring a geek, not a model,” David snorted, his tone flipping from annoyed to startled. Then he snickered, and from the sound of things, probably got into an elbowing war with Bastian. “No wonder you’re so interested.”

“Hey,” Bastian said, oddly reprimanding. Considering he had managed to work his way through half the studio—both sexes—before he’d met his energetic match in Lukas. Most people figured Bastian was so surprised at being the one worn out for once that that’d been why he’d cut down on the flirting. They thought he’d be right back at it once he’d recovered.

It’d been a few weeks, though. Torsten wasn’t one for betting, but if he had been, he would’ve been leaning the other way.

And speaking of Lukas, he walked in right then, apparently attracted by the lingering air of mayhem. “Hey what?”

“Hey-Micha’s-here. Phil’s introducing him to the desk staff, and then I think he’s going to take him up to Jens, so look quick.” Bastian walked forward a step and slung his arm around Lukas’ neck, just in case the other man had been thinking of disagreeing.

Shuffling feet, and then a blissful moment of silence. While he could, Torsten did the sugar and creamer and then started walking out of there.

“Nice ass,” Lukas said.

David h’mmed. “He dresses like a prude.”

“He looks good like that,” Bastian mock-scolded. “Knock it off—you like girls anyway, so what do you know?”

Gossips. Honestly, Torsten didn’t know why he wasted a half-hour every morning coming up here. He could’ve just bought coffee on the way to work and then gone straight to his office; God knew he’d get more work done that way.

* * *

“I think we’ve just about covered everything,” Jens said, getting up. He wasn’t smiling, but he didn’t look displeased or anything. “Did you have any questions?”

Michael was actually a bit happy for the thick file of forms and papers he’d just been given, since it gave him something to hold onto so he didn’t fidget. “I will, probably right after I’ve walked out, but I’m good at getting answers for myself. I wouldn’t want to bother you unnecessarily.”

“I have a narrow definition of ‘unnecessary.’ I don’t like trouble, and I prefer to nip it in the bud whenever possible.” The words were smooth enough and Jens still looked pleasant, but something about him had turned steely and cold. Then he blinked and smiled, extending his hand over the desk. “So feel free to stop in with any concerns you might have.”

“Thanks. I…will,” Michael said after a moment. He gave Jens’ hand a shake and left feeling more than a little relieved, though the other man had been nothing but polite and had even seemed genuinely interested in making sure Michael had everything he needed.

It might have something to do with Jens wearing an impeccable black suit while everyone else Michael had met so far dressed much more casually, or maybe the spare, Zen-like theme of the man’s office, but he just made Michael wary. He probably was all right—he ran one of the most successful divisions of the company, according to the little bit of research Michael had been able to do before flying in, but he definitely hadn’t gotten to where he was without putting in the work. And probably putting people in their place.

Michael walked out just as another man was coming down the hall towards the door. He was nearly the same height as Michael—a shade shorter, maybe—and dressed in a lean-cut gray suit that made him look like a razor. He seemed about as friendly, giving Michael a flick of the eyes without stopping or every turning so Michael was forced to briefly stand up against the wall to let him pass. But the man’s face wasn’t inherently chilly; he gave the impression that he’d deliberately worked to close off any warmth from his eyes or the generous curve of his lower lip.

And Michael was thinking about entirely the wrong thing there. He snorted to himself and started on again, thinking about all he’d have to do just to get put into the payroll and security system. He’d be lucky if he even got to do a preliminary poke around the system today.

For that matter, he’d be lucky if he even figured out where accounting was; he stopped right where he was before he could get lost and looked around. This was the little reception area for Jens’ office, and through ajar doors he could see a few other, much smaller offices scattered around. The receptionist to the left offered Michael a shy smile when he looked at her and he returned it, but she was handling two phones at once, so he didn’t want to disturb her.

“Hey, Micha!”

He turned around, then sagged in relief when he saw Bastian coming out of one of the doors. The other man finished saying something to someone standing in the office, then ambled out. He hooked a thumb over his shoulder. “That was David, by the way—I’d introduce you but Jens just landed a whole load of work on his desk. Never mind, we’ll drag him out for lunch. Anyway, Philipp just had Cris walk in on him ranting about something, so I said I’d finish taking you around.”

“Thanks,” Michael gratefully said. They started off and he pulled the folder out from under his arm to check what forms he needed to file first. “Cris—you mean Cristiano?”

“Yeah. Spoiled brat.” Bastian made a disgusted face, then grinned at Michael’s surprise. “They’re superstars out there, but in here they’re mostly dumb pains in the butt. Poor Lahmi, I don’t know how he handles the guy…he writes these great melodies and then has to fight for weeks to keep Cris from, like, throwing a car-horn into a ballad. Once in a while you get somebody that actually knows something about music, but not him.”

Well, they did a very good job of covering that up, because nobody would’ve known from Cristiano’s sales. And it wasn’t that bad, either; Michael had to admit to having a few of the man’s songs on his iPod. Cristiano’s voice was good, and he generally—or maybe it should be Philipp generally—didn’t stretch it beyond what it could do.

“I talk a lot, by the way,” Bastian laughed. Somehow he made it sound friendly and amusing instead of annoyingly obvious. He ran his hand over the top of his head, pushing up the little highlighted crest he had going. “It’s a bad habit of mine but it helps me think and I get into enough trouble even with that that if I stopped talking, I’d probably accidentally burn down the building or something. But on the other hand, I know practically everything about everybody, so if you ever want to know…”

“Are you inviting me to gossip?” Michael asked. He couldn’t help but grin, though he usually preferred to avoid that sort of thing.

Bastian shrugged nonchalantly, then comically flicked over a sidelong glance. “Well…”

They stopped in front of an elevator and after some consultation, they decided the quickest way would be to hit security, then web for an email account, and then do finance after lunch. By then, the elevator had come up and Michael went in first, then backed off when he realized he didn’t know the floor number. He watched Bastian punch that in, wondering if he should ask, since he did need to know at least who was around. He could just stop the other man if he started getting uncomfortable.

“There was this man I almost ran into when I was coming out of Lehmann’s office just now,” he finally said. “He was almost my height and had dark brown hair, and he was in a suit—”

“—and he looked like he didn’t see you at all? That’s Ruud van Nistelrooy.” Wrinkling up his nose, Bastian leaned against the back railing. He paused when the elevator stopped, then started up when the doors opened to show Timo standing there, arguing with someone over the phone. “Signing agent—oh, hey, maybe that’s why Cris is here. He handles the guy. He has the biggest mouth. Literally, you know, because he doesn’t talk to ‘work drones’ if he can help it…”

Timo blinked and shot a funny look at Bastian as he and Michael got in and the elevator started to move. Then it stopped again and Timo looked to see who it was, then actually leaped out of the way. Just in time, because a light blur topped with blond hair jumped on Bastian. “Schweini!”

The rest Michael completely didn’t catch because it was such a babble at warp-speed. He just stood there and tried to avoid the flailing elbows as the two men wrestled in place; across the elevator, Timo shot him a sympathetic look.

“This is Poldi—Lukas Podolski,” Bastian finally gasped, getting Lukas in a head-lock long enough for Michael to see his face. “Poldi, say hi to Micha.”

“Say goodbye to peace and quiet is more like it,” Timo commented. He ducked whatever Bastian tried to use Lukas to do to him.

Lukas grinned breathlessly and clapped Michael on the side of the arm before Michael could shake his hand. “Hey. And Basti’s right, though good luck getting Ruud to open it. We think he only really does that for Lehmann, probably—”

“It’s so big and his throat’s so long, he probably can take everything including balls, and everybody knows Lehmann’s hung like a—”

“Has to be why Jens puts up with him, ‘cause normally Jens doesn’t like anybody around that’s more of a stone-cold bargainer than him—”

“You’re embarrassing Micha. Knock it off—it’s only his first day.” Timo finished his phone call and used his cell to smack Bastian and Lukas lightly on the head. “Besides, those are all rumors. Nobody really knows. I mean, maybe they’re good friends or something when they aren’t working.”

* * *

Jens jammed his nails into the edge of his desk, jerking forward with one last grunt. Tight as the seal of Ruud’s mouth around his cock was, some come still managed to seep out. After carefully pulling out, Jens leaned forward again till the other man had licked that up. He didn’t have time to make a trip to the bathroom to clean up.

“Getting sloppy now? Should I be concerned?” he asked, keeping his voice soft and curling.

Ruud was thinking about saying something nasty—the idea flashed in his eyes, but then Jens pushed his foot forward, tipping it up to balance on the heel so he could rub his sole over the erection straining the front of Ruud’s trousers. And instead Ruud dropped his head and let out that pleading whine, so different from his usual crisp confidence, that always made Jens think about an extra five minutes.

But then he’d be late for the meeting with Thierry. He controlled himself and leaned over to check Ruud’s hands--still securely knotted up in the man’s tie--then carefully brushed away some of the hair sticking to Ruud’s forehead. “I already said how far I’m willing to go with Victoria. I don’t care how big her husband’s bankroll is—he wants a vanity record, then he should’ve gone to Kahn. I don’t mind losing her to him.”


“Now that that’s cleared up…” Jens muttered, letting his hand slide down the side of the other man’s face. He felt Ruud start to turn into it, but kept his hand moving till he’d reached Ruud’s fly.

When he judged the other man was about to climax, he stopped and turned back to his desk to retrieve a handful of tissues. Ruud had his teeth clamped in his lip and was shaking badly by the time Jens bent down again. He came with a harsh, hard hiss: the stream of air hit Jens’ cheek with the force of a punch.

Jens wiped off his hands and Ruud’s prick before untying the other man’s hands. He patted the sweat off his face and neck with more tissues. “And how’s your circus pony?”

Ruud grabbed the edge of the desk with one hand and slowly pulled himself to his feet, holding onto his trousers with his other hand. He tucked in his shirt and did up his fly, then spent a few moments twitching at his clothes to get the wrinkles under cover. “Two more songs and the album’s a wrap.”

“Good. We’ll have time to market it before the holiday season. When can I hear the singles?” Jens asked.

Instead of answering, Ruud reached back down and picked up his briefcase from the floor. He clicked it open and stuffed his ruined tie inside, then pulled out an identical one. After swabbing his face and neck dry, he looped the tie around his collar.

“He does have a couple, doesn’t he?” Sometimes Jens thought that if Ronaldo wasn’t such a consistently top earner…then again, that was why Ruud was around. So the only times Jens actually had to speak to Cristiano was at publicity parties and the final signings of agreements.

“Of course,” Ruud finally said, tone clipped. He closed his briefcase and swung it off the desk, then started to knot his tie. “He’s tweaking them.”

Translation: Cristiano was being a little bitch and slowing everyone up again, probably because he was off making tabloid headlines with coke and tooth-pick models. And sometimes Jens wished he had an excuse to see the prettyboy dick more often so he could personally slap some sense into him. “Have you explained to him what a deadline is yet?”

“He’ll deliver. I’m handling him.” Ruud finished with his tie and then reached around Jens to grab his coat, which was thrown over Jens’ chair. He swerved a good deal closer to Jens than was strictly necessary so he brushed up against the side of Jens’ arm. “When are you free?”

Lately he’d been doing that sort of thing a lot, which was beginning to send up little warning flags in Jens’ mind. He hadn’t been riding Ruud that much; aside from Cristiano and the Beckham girl, who really was just a minor annoyance, Van Nistelrooy was one of the top agents in the whole label. There wasn’t any clear reason Jens could think of for the other man to be pandering this much to him.

He shifted away to pick up his planner, flipping to the right page. “For Cristiano? I’ll make time, I suppose. Out of deference to his track record with us…but I’d prefer it be within the next two weeks.”

“Consider it done.” Ruud straightened up and looked Jens right in the eye, some odd emotion swirling up behind the usual coldblooded competence. He appeared to be looking for something.

Jens smoothed his face. He didn’t know what the other man wanted, but irritation probably wasn’t it, and Ruud was currently too good to blow off. Even if he was making Jens seriously late for lunch.

After a moment, Ruud looked away. He might’ve made a small noise, an oddly morbid-looking chuckle, but then, it could’ve also been the rattle of somebody opening the door. Both of them darted looks at each other, doing a hasty check; Jens spotted a thin line of red peeking out of Ruud’s cuff. He reached over, yanked down the man’s sleeve and then continued to bend so he could retrieve a pen from the holder at the corner of his desk. It wasn’t a gesture of anything other than commonsense—other people didn’t need to know what the most efficient way to motivate Van Nistelrooy was—but Ruud flicked Jens another odd sidelong look.

David popped his head in, then started to back out when he saw Jens had company. “Sorry, didn’t know you were still busy. But I just heard from the front desk—Thierry’s on his way up.”

“Well, I think Jens was just about to push me out,” Ruud said. Lightly, but still with bite.

“Thank you,” Jens told David. And as soon as Odonkor had backed out, he snatched up the end of Ruud’s new tie and whipped it around his hand a few times, yanking the other man back. He still had the pen in hand and he tilted it so the tip dug into the underside of Ruud’s chin. “Is there a problem here? I thought we had an understanding.”

Ruud’s hands had come up halfway to his throat, but he’d stopped himself and they now hovered awkwardly at mid-chest height. He blinked hard, a flicker of…ruefulness? Not sharp enough…passing over his face. “We do. And I understand perfectly.”

Jens could’ve answered that a few different ways, especially given the inflection Ruud had given ‘perfectly,’ but in the end he decided he’d rather get Ruud out of the room so he could think things over. He unwound his hand from the other man’s tie—no wrinkles once Ruud had straightened it out—and sat down. Then he scooted forward so he could pick up the top file on his desk. “Good.”

After a moment, Ruud turned and walked out, his shoes making a soft shushing sound over the thick carpet.

When Thierry walked in, Jens didn’t hear what his footsteps sounded like because Thierry was already talking. “Jens! I knew I’d catch you working…honestly, I don’t know what to do anymore. I already take care of everything except forging your signature and sending Freddie to stand in for you at the negotiating table.”

Jens meant to snort, but ended up almost snickering. “Freddie? I don’t think that’d work.”

“Curly blond wig—convenient that he’s already shaved his head—and lifts in his shoes. I tell you, he can do a mean copy of your smirk,” Thierry laughed. He didn’t hesitate to settle himself on the front edge of Jens’ desk, then lean over to pull the papers from Jens’ hand. “Come on. We’re going to miss our reservation, and this one I’m not even billing to the label.”

“If it gets you off my desk…” Thierry was just as good as Ruud and took considerably less effort to manage, so it wasn’t much of a surprise that Jens preferred his company. He made a mock-push at Thierry, then got up and grabbed his cell, his beeper, his PDA…almost. A small wind whisked up Jens’ sleeve as Thierry snatched that away.

And he started to walk off with it as well, nonchalantly slipping it into his pocket. “I know it’s a nice desk, Jens, but it’s not healthy to love it so. Isn’t there anything else you’d like to sit down to?”

Like Thierry on the desk? Yes, but one, Thierry worked perfectly fine without Jens needing to screw him into it, which might mean that he’d do horribly if they complicated things, and two, Jens genuinely liked him. As always, Jens felt a twinge of wistfulness as he watched how good humor animated the other man.

Then he shrugged it off and looked forward to at least good food, good conversation and an hour where he wasn’t worrying about crazed beatmasters and obsessive agents and coked-up pop-stars.

* * *

“Hang on, let me just grab Leo for lunch. I promised Phil I’d check in on him and stuff something down his throat. He’s been working like crazy to round off two albums at once,” Timo said, wandering into one of the recording studios.

Bastian had taken Michael down and through getting keys and a security clearance before he’d gotten beeped by Lukas and had had to go. But first he’d called Timo to take Michael the rest of the way, which was rather thoughtful of him. Actually, so far everyone Michael thought he’d have to work with had been nothing but friendly, so maybe this wouldn’t be so—


Startled, Michael jumped and almost dropped his new ID cards and keys. He scrambled to catch the tiny brown envelopes, then turned around to see what that had been. It’d sounded like it’d been coming from the studio to the left…he wandered over and the door was already open, so he just nudged it a little with his foot. Then he nudged it a little more. Then he opened it all the way, but the weird hand-slapping side-to-side swaying thing Bastian and Lukas were doing still didn’t make sense.

“Is he in there…oh,” Timo said, coming behind Michael. He rolled his eyes as he turned away. “Nobody gets it, you know—they can’t even do it in time, but they write killer beats. Fifteen straight hits…”

He was right. Bastian and Lukas’ hands never met in the middle; one of the two always stopped too short, or went too far over, but somehow the other always saw it coming so their motions were seamless. Even if they were severely uncoordinated.

“Don’t be jealous, Hildebrand. You know you want to try it.” Lukas smacked Bastian’s wrist, then bounded sort of past the other man. He got caught in Bastian’s elbow or something so in the end both of them came tumbling over. “Looking to save Lahmi?”

“Huh? What, is Cris still in there? I was looking for Leo to make sure he ate, but if that little shit’s—” Timo was getting surprisingly worked up, his hands going briefly to fists and a look of determination coming over his face. He purposefully turned around and took a step forward, then stopped.

“Hey, hey, don’t do…what?” Bastian slung one arm around Lukas and moved him over so he could see. “What’s…oh, hey, Ruud.”

Ruud barely nodded as he walked past them and down the hall, then took a sharp right and opened a door so fast that the key was just a flash in his hand. He went in and an angry male voice immediately barked at him. Pause, then a torrent of furious yelling.

“Ooo, Cristiano.” Lukas leaned harder on Bastian, who didn’t seem to mind at all…interesting…and whistled beneath his breath. “If I ever go to Portugal, I’ll know how to insult a guy’s mother in fifty different ways thanks to him.”

Something made a very loud clatter. Then there was a sharp bang; Michael snapped his eyes to Timo, who’d taken a swift step forward. But before he could go any further, a dazed-looking Philipp stumbled out of the room. He glanced around, spotted them, and hustled down the hall. “Are we going out for lunch? Please, please say yes because I really don’t want to have to stay around for the rest of that.”

“How bad?” Bastian asked. He was sympathetic and gave Philipp a squeeze on the shoulder, but he was obviously dying of curiosity as well.

Timo muttered something impolite about that and put his hand on Philipp’s other shoulder, very casual but very pointed at the same time. Philipp just still looked bug-eyed. “Well, Cris tried to throw a spare mike at Ruud, and when I got out, Ruud had Cris bent over the board—” he stopped to look disapprovingly at Lukas, who’d choked at that “—and was patting him down. For pills and crack and that stuff.”

“I bet Cris was disappointed,” said somebody. They yawned twice in the middle of it.

Everybody turned around. What Michael had taken for a brown shag pillow leftover from the sixties had unfolded into a rumpled man. He yawned again as he stood up, proving that he was slightly shorter than even Philipp; beneath all his shaggy hair, he looked really young as well.

After a moment, Bastian had the first word in. “Messi, you need a haircut.”

“After you, Schweini.” Nose wrinkled, the man blinked around till he got to Michael. Then he stopped and said something that Michael didn’t understand.

“German, English, or Russian, Lionel. Sorry, but no Spanish,” Timo said.

Lionel made an exaggerated face of pain, then threw up his hands. “What? When are they going to hire another one of my people? I’m tired of being the Latino! I want to do punk.”

“I do some too,” Philipp quietly commented. More like an attempt to reassure the other man than a reprimand.

“I know, I know, and you’re good but you do melody and harmony. You don’t—” Just from the way Bastian and Lukas exchanged glances, it was pretty clear that Messi did this often. And that once he really got rolling, he must be much more frightening than he looked, since those two were cringing.

Luckily, before he could, another barrage of vitriolic Portuguese screaming came from the room down the hall, and shrill enough to make them all wince.

Timo waved a hand to get everyone’s attention. “Food?”

“Food.” They all nodded.

* * *

Ruud glanced at Cristiano, then decided the other man was too worn-out to try anything just now. He bent over and grabbed the top and arm of the chair Cristiano had overturned, then righted it and sat down heavily in it. The meeting with Jens had already left him in a less than patient mood, and now Cris had decided to be his biggest pain in the ass for the day instead of his biggest singer. “You’re being immature, hence why I’m treating you like an idiot child.”

Cristiano folded his arms over his chest and immediately started to dig his nails into his elbows. Goddamn it…he was getting far enough along to need a forced placement into a rehab center. Except they couldn’t do that yet because Ruud needed two lousy singles from him, and if he could just keep it together for a little longer…

“I’m not being immature. Even children know when they’re being mistreated, and they scream to make sure everyone knows,” Cristiano hissed in Portuguese. Then he broke into English for a couple stabs. “You…cheating me my…”

“Your pay? Do you want me to get out the spreadsheets and show you how much money we’re pouring into you again? Well, more like wasting right now. If I went to that godawful thing you call a mansion right now, how much more of this would I find?” Also in Portuguese, since right now Ruud didn’t feel like tolerating the massacre Cris made of English. He dangled the plastic baggie of white powder he’d found in Cristiano’s pocket, then grimaced inside at how quickly—and hungrily—Cristiano’s eyes went to it. “What else is there? You know, if you want to fry your brain, you can do it much more quickly and cheaply with—”

“Like you care. You get this album finished and you’d be happy to see me die,” Cristiano sneered. He jerked up his head so the pain in his eyes undercut his attempt at bravado, then stared down again. After a moment, he pulled his knees up to his chest.

Ruud waited a moment, but no more hysteria was forthcoming. That wasn’t normal. “You think so?”

Cristiano sulked for a couple seconds, then tilted his head so he could look up at Ruud without having to lift his chin. Sometimes when he did that, his eyelashes sweeping down against his cheekbones, he almost looked like the man Ruud had signed: heartbreakingly young, half-terrified of what his voice could do for him, easily awed by anything and everything.

And all that had been only two years ago. It was probably a good thing Ruud had chosen to follow his better instincts, since God knew how much quicker they’d have gotten here if he had taken up Cristiano on one of those hesitant looks. “I realize everything looks much more dramatic when you’re high, but Cris, it—”

“You haven’t called me that in months,” Cristiano said, suddenly coy and breathless. He pushed himself up and sinuously wound himself across the intervening space to grab Ruud’s knees, which he used to pull himself up till he was almost touching Ruud’s chin with his mouth. Apparently the drugs didn’t get in the way of his sheer sexuality. “Why not?”

Of course, that ruined whatever idiocy Cristiano had been about to get Ruud into. “Are you throwing a fit just because you think I’m not paying enough attention to you again? Cris, I’m flattered, but you’re not the only singer I—”

Ruud was forced up and back a few centimeters before he could get hold of Cristiano’s shoulders. He shoved down on them, but Cristiano made a desperate noise, stabbing his tongue deeper into Ruud’s mouth, and tried to grab for Ruud’s head. After intercepting the other man’s wrist, Ruud used it as leverage to spin Cristiano off him and then around. Then he let go and stood up, kicking the chair back so he could put as much space between them as possible.

Cristiano called him a few things that roughly translated to ‘bastard’ but carried a lot more virulence than that word did. Ignoring him, Ruud turned around and wiped at his mouth, then got out a tissue and used it to scrape his tongue. He hoped to God none of that had been enough to get into his system. “You even taste like that crap. It’s not even good quality. Keep on like this and I’m not even going to bother sending someone to ID you at the morgue when you overdose,” Ruud snapped, stalking out.

He started off in one direction, then stopped and reversed himself once he remembered that Lehmann would be out. Damn it…he’d just have to hold it in for now, and then maybe find a bar after work where he could fuck somebody through a wall.

* * *

“I don’t have much so that won’t be a problem,” Michael said as they waited for the elevator.

“It’s not that small. As long as you didn’t ship a museum to yourself, it probably all will fit.” Lionel’s accent was still pretty strong, but it got considerably easier to understand once he had a full stomach. “When is the rest of your stuff coming in? Do you know?”

Just then, the elevator pinged and the doors opened, which gave Michael a little time to collect his thoughts. Not that he felt any better once they were inside and everyone was looking expectantly at him. “I don’t have anything coming. I already brought everything.”

“What? But you showed up with just three bags…ow.” Bastian grabbed at his side and stared suspiciously at Lukas, who was ostentatiously sucking at his soda. After a couple seconds, Bastian was still staring, but not quite for the same reason.

Michael shifted uncomfortably, his mind off and running on speculating what the others must be thinking. They probably weren’t coming up with scenarios as bad as he was. “University was expensive. And really busy…I think the only times I went out the last year were for a couple football games.”

“Oooh, ow.” For a moment, Bastian looked supremely sympathetic. Then he grinned and gave Michael a couple friendly but hard pats on the arm. “Well, better get used to going out again. ‘cause you can afford it now, and…Torsten! Good timing.”

The door had just opened on one of the lower levels. The man waiting for it blinked, then reflexively backed up before Lukas waved him in, laughing and claiming Schweini was ‘completely harmless now.’ Which Torsten obviously didn’t buy, but he cautiously edged in anyway. Bastian’s height, longish brown hair with blond streaks in his wavy bangs. Nice-looking…and why, Michael wondered, was he checking out every man in sight when he wasn’t panicking? It was making a good case for him turning bipolar.

A heavy weight suddenly applied itself to his side, sending Michael momentarily off-balance. He had to steady himself against the railing and thus couldn’t, say, stuff his leftover fries in Bastian’s mouth in time.

“Torsten, this is Micha—Michael Ballack, new computer whiz and living proof that nerds can be sexy. He needed a flat but Lionel already offered, so too bad for you—you should’ve stared at his ass this morning like the rest of—mmph!”

Everyone stared at the apple Timo had just calmly popped into Bastian’s mouth…well, except for Lukas, who looked reprovingly at Timo. “Hey. That’s my job.”

“Then do it quicker next time,” Timo snorted.

“So…which floor do you get off on for dying in peace?” Michael asked, half-heartedly trying to joke.

Torsten actually did laugh a little, and not at Michael, really. He reached over and punched one of the buttons. “That’d be mine, probably. I’m in charge of payroll and accounting for Lehmann’s team.”

“File your receipts wrong and he’ll call you at three in the morning to blast vintage Black Sabbath into your ears.” From the way Bastian winced and absently reached for his ears, he was speaking from first-hand experience.

“It wasn’t receipts, it was stated expenses for two whole months and two days before the end of tax season. You deserved it. And you’ve never done it again, have you?” Eyebrows raised, Torsten stepped forward as the elevator hit his floor. Then he paused and gestured.

After a moment, Michael figured out it was for him and hastily slid out from beside Bastian. “Oh, right. I think I got most of the forms filled out over lunch, but there were some questions I wasn’t sure about…”

“That’s okay. I’m pretty clear for the afternoon, and I bet you’d like a break from these nuts,” Torsten said. He turned around to grin at all the booing noises and faces he got. “Philipp excepted, obviously. Oh, and I guess Timo when he’s not grumpy.”

“Frings, you’re a dead man tonight—hey, don’t forget! Or I’m calling you up and blasting my newest hit in your ear,” Bastian shouted as the door closed.

Michael looked curiously at Torsten, who led him through a short lobby and then into a maze of cubicles. He looked like he was heading for a row of actual offices in the back, which was a relief because the clattering of keyboards in the open area was deafening.

“It’s sort of a Friday night tradition. We go out and hang in this one nightclub the company owns. They use it for open calls, premieres, that kind of thing. Did anybody invite you yet? No…well, you’re free to come along. Though you know, if Schweini and Poldi have already worn you out and you just want to go home, we’ll understand.” Torsten stopped at one door and unlocked it, then ushered them inside.

“No…I think I’ve still got some energy in me. Just don’t expect me to dance,” Michael said.

He got a grin for that, and then Torsten’s smile broadened for some reason. The other man sat down behind his desk and tapped a key to get rid of his screensaver, then unlocked his computer. “Well, we’ll see if you still say that after we get through all the finance stuff.”


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