Tangible Schizophrenia



Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: R
Pairing: Maldini/Kaká, Van Nistelrooy/J. A. Reyes, Ballack/Frings, Lahm/Hildebrand
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: Song for this one is by Styx.
Summary: Enter Andriy Shevchenko, amid upheaval in business and in private lives.


Paolo pushed whoever it was up against the counter, producing a soft gasp and the softer thud of flesh hitting an immovable object. The latter passed through their hips and into his hands, which he shifted to accommodate the reduced area without loosening his grip. “I hate criminal suits. Civil suits tend to be a matter of differing interpretations, and so I usually get to go home at a decent hour. But crime of course doesn’t follow standard business hours, and so I can’t either, and so coffee becomes of extreme importance in maintaining my sanity.”

Fingers flexed on Paolo’s arms, making him blink. When his eyelids went up, Ricardo was staring back at him with wide, anxious eyes. “Yes, Paolo.”

That struck a chord as well, but Paolo ruthlessly stilled it as he actually took in the situation. And nearly swore to make it all worse, and finally dropped his head and raised his hands in apology. “Kaká, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize it was you—I saw the hand reaching for the coffee-pot, and at this hour in my life, my habits are faster than my brain.”

“I was just refilling it,” Ricardo said uncertainly. He continued to stare worriedly at Paolo, as if somehow he was the one at fault.

“And I probably should let you do that before I attack somebody who’s less pacifistic.” Paolo rubbed at his right eye, hoping to ease the strain of pouring over tiny legal font, but instead managed to exacerbate the itching. He sighed and moved his hand up to press down on his eye with its heel. “Why are you still here, anyway?”

Once Paolo had let go of him, Ricardo straightened a bit but didn’t make any attempt to slide out from between him and the counter. He shrugged, absently pushing at his hair. His tie had disappeared and his shirt-collar had lost enough crispness so that it sagged to reveal the gently curved tip of a collarbone. “I went home earlier to run a quick errand and accidentally fell asleep there. Bobby was really nice about it, but we’re behind so I’m making up the time now. Then I saw the light in your office was still on and wondered what you were doing.”

“I’m very frustrated,” Paolo dryly replied. He tilted his head, looking, before putting his hands back on Ricardo’s hips. The muscles in them shifted, creating little dips.

Ricardo’s tongue came out to flick briefly over his lower lip, like a little shy animal wondering if the danger was past. He probably didn’t know what that had just done to Paolo’s self-control. “Oh. Can I do anything to help?”

Definitely didn’t, Paolo thought as his composure took another hit below belt-level. He slowly turned his head to watch Ricardo’s hands tentatively slide down his arms from near the shoulders to the elbows. They stopped. Paolo swung his thumbs out in a wide arc over Ricardo’s thighs, starting with light pressure and ending in a pointed dig, making Ricardo’s fingers twitch. “You know, I had a day-dream that was curiously similar to this.”

“Was it…a good one?” Ricardo cautiously asked, apparently sensing something amiss. He jerked his head down to look when Paolo suddenly stepped forward, only the width of his thumbs separating them, and then back up to stare questioningly at Paolo.

“Well, up till about here it was relatively mundane. Then it got rather pornographic and Juan had to kick me awake before I embarrassed myself in front of some annoying American lawyers.” Paolo couldn’t help grinning a little at the pink that promptly infused Ricardo’s face. He stretched out his fingers till their tips had lapped over the other man’s waistband and were slowly untucking Ricardo’s shirt.

Ricardo nervously licked his lip again, long lashes fluttering like silk veils as he peered up through them. “Did I…do something in it? Your daydream?”

Paolo stopped what he was doing and stared. Which was something of a pity because he’d almost gotten his fingers under Ricardo’s shirt. Then again, his brain was currently stalled over the idea that those words had actually, truly come out of Ricardo’s mouth. And he spent too long deliberating over it, apparently, because Ricardo flushed in a different way and made as if to hide his face in Paolo’s shoulder. “Sorry. I’m terrible at flirting.”

“No, you were doing remarkably well,” Paolo slowly said. He leaned forward as he spoke, letting his breath tickle Ricardo’s ear. He let his hands drift back to the top of Ricardo’s hips, tracing their curve with his thumbs.

Ricardo breathed in sharply, then out in a strange, almost angry hiss. His hands pulled at Paolo’s sleeves, then moved to the lapels of Paolo’s coat and tugged hard at them as well. He didn’t have that extra layer of cloth to barricade away his own body, and the cotton of his shirt was soft and, when Paolo pulled it tight over his shoulder, nearly transparent. Paolo pressed his nose to the spot, inhaling deeply. Then his mouth. He sucked the cotton wet, left it molded to Ricardo’s skin. Shifted up, his lips on skin and fabric, and did the same.

A strangled whisper of a breath floated down into Paolo’s hair as Ricardo tipped his head, his hands now scratching at Paolo’s chest. One finger ran over a button, then returned to it and plucked it free of its hole so violently that Paolo looked up, then down, and was startled not to see it missing. By then Ricardo had already undone another; his fingers were trembling slightly but it didn’t seem to incapacitate him too much.

“What are you doing?” Paolo asked. He slipped his fingers up under Ricardo’s untucked shirt, splayed them over shivering soft skin.

It made Ricardo gasp, but he still managed to reply, eyes dark and flickering, now fixed on Paolo’s eyes and now on his mouth. “Unbuttoning your shirt.”

Paolo pressed his hands into Ricardo’s waist and held the other man still as he gradually rocked onto his toes, let Ricardo’s body take his weight. “Why?”

“Because—I haven’t gotten to yet.” Ricardo glanced down, then up, and his eyes were still on Paolo’s as he offered up his mouth.

Damned good thing he was a lapsed Catholic, Paolo thought. Because Ricardo’s mouth, sweet and yielding and wonderfully responsive to everything, was foremost in his affections right now and Lent would have been a ridiculous interference.

He slid his hands higher up Ricardo’ sides, liking how the shirt strained and folded tight around them, like another pair of hands encouraging him on. Ricardo was pliant under them, letting himself be shoved further into the counter, his tongue tentatively trying to follow Paolo’s in caressing lips, teeth, palate. His left hand seemed to get stuck on Paolo’s waist, but his right tried to continue, its appealingly clumsy attempts at the remaining three buttons drawing some of the heat gathering in Paolo’s core up into his skin, where it settled into a maddening itch. Paolo pressed more closely and swallowed the other man’s half-hearted protest; Ricardo’s trapped hand wriggled and pushed, but to no avail and considerably excellent—

“Juan? Is that you? Can you tell me if you’ve seen—oh. Oh…damn.”

Gracefully irritated and chagrined, as only Robert Pirès could be. Startled, Ricardo leaped and hissed and pushed all at once. Paolo, however, had long since learned that the other person was not stupid and almost always had good enough eyesight, but he bowed enough to Ricardo’s obvious panic to let go of him. “Bobby, knocking is usually polite.”

Robert, being French, managed to express an eye-roll with a simple twitch of one eyebrow. “Not with the common break-room. For one, there’s no door to knock on. For two…Paolo. You’re a senior attorney. Shouldn’t discretion be second nature by now?”

Ricardo’s first action upon receiving breathing-space—literal—was to yank and scrub at his clothes, face flaming-red and held as parallel to the floor as possible. But now he raised his head to frown at Robert. “It’s my fault, too. I forgot—”

“Kaká, I’ve got a plane to catch. Please don’t let the next words out of your mouth be ‘to remind him,’ because then I’ll have to delay to talk with you,” Robert sighed. He rested his left hand on his hip while using his right to push the hair out of his face. “Anyway, I’m sorry I…interrupted. I just wanted to tell you that I won’t be back till late tomorrow, but I think you know what to do. And Paolo, I do have to suggest you find a room with a door.”

Years of practice allowed Paolo to keep a straight face. “Taken, with much thanks. Good luck on your trip…do I get to hear what it’s about later?”

“If ‘later’ doesn’t bring any problems.” Robert shot a warning look at Paolo as he left.

Milder than he was entitled to be, but that didn’t stop Ricardo from turning a regretful look towards his back. Paolo swallowed a sigh and started tending to his clothing. “No, he’s got a point. Unfortunately for the day-dream. I can’t go home till I finish my work, neither can you, and there’s also the fact that counters are incredibly bad for your back. Even at your tender age.”

“You’ll be talking like that when I’m fifty, won’t you?” Ricardo replied, tone all exasperated affection. He glanced up, then took a second, longer look. And apparently caught it, though Paolo had tried to smooth over his expression. His heart visibly sagged for a moment, and then just as visibly drew itself back up. “All right, Paolo.” Kiss to the cheek. “I’ll…”

“See you tomorrow,” Paolo hastily interjected. He needed the night to deal with this latest ruffle. And much as it obviously disappointed Ricardo, it’d be in his best interests as well. He might want to, but he didn’t need to stay and see the struggle with midnight doubts and fears.

* * *

“Oh, Micha went over to Torsten’s tonight,” Lionel said, leading the way back to his room. They passed a stubbly, depressing-looking Hildebrand sprawled out on the couch in front of the evening news; Lionel pointed his chin at him, then mouthed ‘Lahm.’

Once they were safely in Lionel’s room, Cesc poked the other man. “Wow, they still haven’t made up? It didn’t sound like a big fight to me.”

“Well, you’re…you.” Lionel attempted not to look patronizing.

Cesc smacked him on the head on the way to flopping out on the bed, then rolled over to toe his shoes off onto the floor. “Wait. Leo? These are clean sheets—”

“Of course they are! Honestly, Cesc, the rest of the world isn’t like Sergio. He’s made you paranoid.” Shaking his head, Lionel climbed up next to Cesc. He sat himself cross-legged near Cesc’s head and fished out a bag of lollipops from his dresser drawer, which he proffered and which Cesc refused. Shrugging, Lionel popped one into his mouth. “So what’s up? What’s with the emergency call? You don’t seem in a hurry.”

“I’ve got till morning. And—” Cesc rolled over again. Onto his belly, so he could hide his face in the mattress. “Ruud and José are both in Madrid.”

Jab at his shoulder. “What?” Lionel yelped.

He didn’t want to repeat it. Hell, he didn’t even want to talk about it, but…Cesc made himself lift his head. “Ruud got sent to Madrid in a mix-up. Lehmann just called saying that he’s sending someone to make Ruud leave for South America early. He wanted to know if me or Raúl wanted to go—talk to José. And Raúl wanted to know what I thought, and…I don’t know.”

Lionel moved so his head was directly over Cesc’s. His hair fell in his face so that that just looked like a big, scary black hole perched on his neck. “Cesc. Did you just say that Ruud is in the same city as your cousin? Who had a nervous breakdown because of that asshole? Who got kicked out by his parents—”

“Raúl yelled at Auntie till she got some sense and now she’s feeling horribly guilty, so that’s not a problem,” Cesc said. He looked up at Lionel, then sighed and shrugged. “Look, I know, it sucked. I almost quit over it, Leo. But the thing is that…I mean, I don’t know if going there is going to do any good. I’m not Ruud’s cousin, and what can I really do for José now? We never were close anyway.”

“…if I didn’t know any better, I’d be worrying that you’re having a nervous breakdown now. Cesc, you should at least—”

Cesc grunted irritably and flapped away Lionel’s words. “Look, I’m his cousin, not his parents, and he told them off before they told him off. And besides, I warned him and he still…I mean, what? I go and tell him don’t go looking for Ruud, and maybe José wasn’t going to. Then he’ll be mad because I’m treating him like a kid, and he’s older. Or maybe he was—then he won’t care what I say.”

“At least you’re saying something. It means you care,” Lionel stubbornly insisted. “Parents are different, you know.”

“Yeah. But he’s not even listening to ‘Nando…he keeps telling ‘Nando he asked for it. Wanted it. He—yeah? What?” That last part was to the door, which had just been knocked on.

It eased open enough for Hildebrand to stick in his head. “Hey. Sorry to interrupt whatever you’re doing, but the second console under the TV keeps making beeping noises. Is that supposed to mean something?”

“Oh…oh, hang on. I know what that is.” Rolling his eyes, Lionel crawled over to the side of the bed and hung over the edge to swipe at the floor. He muttered a thanks when Cesc grabbed his ankle to help him keep his balance, but mostly he mumbled a lot of stuff about geez, Micha, always forgetting to turn off his experiments. He finally came back up with a remote, which he aimed at the door—Timo obligingly opened it wide—while pressing a couple buttons. “There. That should do it.”

“Thanks,” Hildebrand said.

Lionel dismissively flipped a hand. Then he stiffened, and then he flopped over Cesc and scrambled to the end of the bed. “Hey, wait, wait. I took care of that, so do us a favor? I think we need a third opinion here—”

“Damn it, Leo, this is family business—” Cesc started.

“If it’s about your cousin, it’s not exactly under wraps anymore. David overheard Jens telling Ruud why he was being sent to Spain.” Hildebrand did look a teeny bit sympathetic, so credit to him for that, but overall he just sounded sarcastic.

And after the first moment of outrage, Cesc had to admit that he really couldn’t blame the other man. He exhaled instead of spitting out all those swear-words and turned over to stare at the ceiling. “Great.”

“Well, you’re one of the biggest gossips around. Didn’t think you were immune, did you?” Timo snorted.

Lionel immediately sat up, ready to cut loose, but Cesc pulled him back by the arm. “No, he’s got a point. No, I didn’t, and yeah, I like talking about people. But so what? I’ve got to hold that to some perfect standard? I’d rather be a hypocrite than be a coldblooded dick who doesn’t care about anyone.”

It was quiet for a long moment, the only sound the muffled crackle of the TV in the next room. Then Hildebrand exhaled, long and tired. “I can get that. You still want my opinion, or should I go back to the triple homicide in the historic district?”

“Triple…” Lionel gave himself a good shake, and tugged his arm from Cesc’s grip for good measure. “Well, Cesc?”

“We’re debating whether it’d be all that useful for me to go and try to talk to my cousin. There’s a chance he and Ruud might meet up again—I don’t really want to explain that, okay?—and Leo thinks I should go see José about that,” Cesc said.

“If only to get in your say,” Lionel agreed.

Cesc shot him a half-exasperated look, because while he did appreciate the way Lionel wanted to defend a family that wasn’t even his…sometimes the other man just stopped listening too soon. “It’s just I’ve been thinking—why would José even start with Ruud, anyway? He’s not like Sergio, it wouldn’t just have been how Ruud looks or fucks or any of that. I warned him, and for all that Ruud did, I don’t think he pretended to be nice and got to José that way. And José’s never gone and done things just because…just because somebody told him not to.”

Lionel’s teeth flashed in a brief smile as his and Cesc’s eyes met. Then Cesc had to pinch him, but not that hard; Lionel had been right there with Cesc for most of that, after all, and didn’t regret it any more than Cesc did. It just was that they needed to be serious now.

“So maybe José has some kind of reason. And how much can we…tell him what to do?” Cesc said uncertainly. He wasn’t sure if he was using the right words, or even feeling the right way. “He’s two years older than me. He’s worked full-time for a lot longer—he’s even got a pretty impressive rep in his business.”

“But you can’t let him hurt himself,” Lionel protested.

“You can’t really cage him up either.” Timo merely lifted an eyebrow at the furious glower Lionel promptly bestowed upon him. Then he looked away, towards the far wall. He rubbed at his cheek and jaw, which was covered in a scraggly dusting of white-pale stubble, and then his blood-shot, dull eye. “Look, it kind of depends on how you’re looking at the situation, as a relative or as somebody with job interests, but you have these responsibilities for your cousin. And there’s only so many of them, because you’re not him, and you can’t do everything for him. You just…” Timo’s mouth took on a bitter bent “…have to trust him at some point.”

Lionel snorted. “And if he doesn’t live up to that?”

“Then he…well, he doesn’t, does he?” Hildebrand briefly dropped his face into his hand. Then he raised his head and shrugged, looking pensive. “People suck sometimes. Then that’s when you have to figure out if you still love them or not.”

Cesc opened his mouth. Closed it. Did that a second time, and a third time. Then he rolled over and pushed himself up on one arm. “Huh. Is that a new discovery of yours?”

“Hey, you wanted my opinion and you got it. You didn’t say anything about putting me on the head-shrink’s couch, and frankly, I’m not interested,” Timo snapped, pivoting on his heel.

“Wait—I just—” But Hildebrand was already all the way down the hall, and Cesc wasn’t going to yell just for him. Though he didn’t feel as much better as he should when he sat back on the mattress. “I was just going to say thanks, too.”

“He’s really missing Lahmi,” Lionel said, lifting his hands with palms up. Then he ruffled at his hair. “It’s okay, he doesn’t really hold grudges, and Micha’s working on them. You know, when he isn’t hiding at Torsten’s. Not that I blame him.”

Cesc sucked on his lip, then reluctantly let it go. Nothing he could do about it now, even if he did have the time. “Well, thanks for having me over, Leo. But I gotta call Raúl.”

* * *

“Did I miss much?” José asked, slightly breathless. He stepped hurriedly back when Ruud turned. “Sorry. It took a while to find the back door here.”

Ruud half-turned so the other man could see the stage, if he wanted. He pushed out his arm and touched several ropes before his hand grazed the wall; he withdrew the arm, mindful of the curtain-pulleys that had already proved touchy tonight, and reached around them so he could lean against the wall in safety. “Not really. We’re only on the second one because of tech problems, and I already want to get drunk.”

José’s teeth flashed brightly in the dimness as he looked to the side. A stagehand passed by, nodding at both of them—Ruud had bribed them with tickets to an upcoming Victoria Beckham concert, which also took care of what to do with those—and José started, then looked nervously up. He shoved one hand in his pocket. “Is…that why you…”

“You still ask a lot of questions for someone who doesn’t want to go home bruised up anymore,” Ruud observed. He scanned the area behind José, then slipped between the curtain-ropes and eased towards a door in the back. There were already footsteps following him, but Ruud waved the other man after him anyway. “No. Bad music comes with the territory, and if you drink over that, you should switch professions.”

“Does sex help?” More uncertain, but that José had even asked still was surprising.

They’d just reached the room Ruud had spotted. He paused with one hand on the door to look at the other man. The light was better here, so the white teeth and soft voice had been fleshed out—a cheekbone, the curve of half a lip, the startling line of the throat, unwrapped further than Ruud remembered because José had his shirt open to the third button and wasn’t wearing an undershirt. “What are you, horny?” he snorted, turning back to the room.

Utility closet, Ruud noted. Probably stuffed solid when there weren’t acts playing, but it was just empty enough to fit two now. Then he frowned, glancing sideways towards José.

Who hastily stifled his chuckles by rubbing an anxious hand over his mouth. “I’m twenty-three. And ‘Nando’s so worried that he wants me to stay in all the time, so all I get to do is think. I do wonder if all my cousins are so much happier because they get laid regularly.”

Ruud continued to look at him. “How are you so levelheaded, and still so—”

José’s chin went up. His eyes flashed with—anger, maybe, for once. Then he put his hands on Ruud’s waist and Ruud got him by the arm and the shoulder, and they stumbled backwards into the closet. The edge of the door banged into Ruud’s shin, then into his shoulder when he swiveled to push it shut with his foot. The tongue twisting in his mouth might’ve been wrapped around words, but first he dragged his hand from back to ass, curving his fingers along the tight muscle so José sank against him, and then the band on-stage started up again.

This far backstage, with José’s warm mouth and warmer body competing for Ruud’s attention, the music was much more tolerable. Even helpful: most of what got through was the bass line, and its fast low drive blurred into the movement of their bodies, taking away all the need for thinking. All Ruud had to do was let his hands move along with it, shuck the jeans from José’s hips—José arched, his nails scratching through Ruud’s shirt—and close his eyes. His hips were driven back into the door; the first time barely registered, but the second time made the hinges rattle and his hipbone ache. He hadn’t realized how they’d gotten turned, and twisted to put José’s back up against it instead. The other man slung his arm around Ruud’s neck and used it and the door to hike himself up, his right leg hooking around the back of Ruud’s knee.

The dig of José’s toes into that joint both temporarily collapsed Ruud’s leg and lifted his reason out of its coma long enough for him to think that he’d never let José get that involved before. A soft suck at his lower lip, a tease of teeth over the same, and he dropped the thought. Though not without a snort, which José noticed. “Ruud?”

“You’re good at sneaking in and out,” Ruud said, tipping his head. He applied his mouth to the side of José’s throat and felt its muscles slacken, lose their grip on whatever words they’d been about to push out. “That is a useful skill to have.”

“Just started.” José’s head went back, his eyes a pair of pale crescents under his lashes, which were the only part of his face that the light creeping in around the door caught. He pushed his hand down Ruud’s waistband, at the hip, and then dragged it to the front. His thumb fumbled over the fly-button, then slipped lower to dig in when he abruptly shuddered, and Ruud had to bite his lip. “God. That—this is—the music really—”

Ruud finally realized what had happened and transferred his teeth to José’s throat, shoving the other man’s hips up against the door just as another deep minor chord boomed out. Fingers knotted in his hair and yanked hard, forcing him back much to his annoyance. He started to snap at José, but then remembered. And José apparently had been ready to remind, to judge from the way his head was angled, but hadn’t been able to do more than that pull at Ruud’s head. Now he was pressed back, shoulders hunched up and hands tense on Ruud.

“This does help with the shitty music. Better than vodka,” Ruud finally said. He tilted his head, then slowly bent forward. After a moment, José turned his head to allow Ruud better access as Ruud laved at the spot he’d just bitten. He also took the opportunity to run his tongue along Ruud’s jaw, and the demanding rhythm pulsing around them more or less let them fall right back to where they’d been.

Then the song changed, but it was somewhat easier to get over this stutter. Ruud shoved José higher up the door, meaning to—another beat came down out of place and he grimaced, writing this band off for good. In the meantime, his grip on José had slipped so he paused to deal with that, and the door was rattled from the outside.

“José?” somebody called. Pause. A second voice came up and told the first person that that was just a closet, and they promptly asked where the hell was the manager, they needed to—the two men began seriously arguing then. A fist hit the door again, but this time it seemed to be meant to illustrate a talking point. Their voices faded as they moved off afterward.

José slumped, twisting his head aside to whisper furious curses. “Fernando. I don’t know how he got here.” He put both hands on Ruud’s chest and pushed, then had to make a hasty grab to keep his jeans from falling further down his hips. “I’m sorry, I’ll take care of it.”

Ruud caught at his arm, sliding across to block the door-knob from José. “Is he going to act like your parents?”

“I’ll deal with it,” José said, tone a little stronger. He pulled at his arm, then exhaled irritably when Ruud didn’t let go. “I thought you didn’t care if it wasn’t your problem, and he’s my cousin.”

“It is my problem. If you don’t have your family, it looks like there’s just me,” Ruud snapped. Then he jerked his head aside and closed his eyes; José hadn’t slapped him, but it still felt as if someone had. Maybe his dignity, finally deigning to show up. “I didn’t break it off with you properly last time, and that’s something I’ve been doing too often lately.”

It wasn’t quiet: there was the band, the sounds of the backstage crew, José’s cousin yelling at somebody fairly close by. But the little space in between Ruud and José still had that kind of weight to it.

“I’m not sure whether you’re saying you do care, on some level, or you’re dumping me again,” José finally said.

Ruud started to reply, only to jerk his head towards the door when somebody suddenly slammed on the other side of it.

“José?” Fernando shouted. “Van—whatever the hell your name was, get the hell off him now! I warned you—”

José began to yell back, but gasped instead when Ruud grabbed him up and kissed him hard, clamping his head in place with a hand splayed over the back of it. “You have my phone number,” Ruud told him.

Then he shoved open the door. It jammed halfway as it ran into something; Ruud pulled back a little, then rammed it harder. This time, it opened far enough for him to slip out. He did so, shouldering aside somebody, and quickly walked away. He was leaving José to handle it all himself, but to be honest, Ruud thought that divided things just about how they should be.

* * *

Michael blinked the sweat out of his eyes. More rolled in. He blinked again, feeling completely boneless and relaxed and…well, till Torsten suddenly hitched up and his cock pulled half-out of Michael. Then it was all cramped muscles and wobbly joints and sticky stuff everywhere, and for the first couple moments, this weird squeezing ache deep down in Michael’s ass, like he wanted Torsten’s cock back in.

After a second of groaning and staring at the ceiling, Michael decided he did. Just…maybe in two hours or so. “I think something in my back broke.”

Sigh against his thigh; Torsten eased the rest of his cock out at a more considerate pace, then lowered Michael’s legs from his shoulders. “Your back…I swear, you need to see a chiropractor. Or get a better chair at work. My job’s just as computer-based as yours, but—”

“You’re more bendy,” Michael snorted. As soon as his feet were back on the mattress, he carefully rolled onto his side. Then reached out and snagged a handful of Torsten’s hair and pulled him over. He cursed and half-heartedly pushed Michael away so he could toss the used condom, but succumbed fast enough when Michael licked at his hip. “So what was that?”

“That, Micha, was early Metallica.” Torsten flopped down on one elbow, awkwardly curling to stay on the bed, and patted the slightly vibrating mattress with a big grin. “So what do you think of the speed-metal genre?”

Michael was about to say that he thought he could get fond of it, but then a hideous buzzing cut through the air and instead he did his best to smush his face into the bed. He jumped when an elbow hit his side.

“Doorbell, Micha,” Torsten muttered. When Michael looked up, the other man was already off the bed and hopping towards the hall while yanking his leg through a pair of track-pants. He did that with remarkable grace…

Shaking his head, Michael stopped staring at Torsten’s ass and searched around for his own clothes. He’d turned up his shirt but not anything resembling leg-wear when he heard Torsten say “Lahmi?”; cursing, Michael just snagged up the bedsheet from where they’d tossed it on the floor. He wrapped that around himself and stumbled out just in time to see Philipp walk in, rubbing at his face and looking exhausted.

Philipp glanced up, then steadily looked at Michael without seeming to understand for a good ten seconds. And when he did, the comprehension was a slow dawning, so slow that Michael could see how the blush spread differently in different parts of Philipp’s face. “Oh. Oh. Oh, I’m really sorry. I didn’t…know you…were…”

“Um, we just did, so it’s okay. You caught us on a break,” Michael stammered, perching on the sofa. Then he made the mistake of glancing at Torsten, whose expression was a barely-restrained combination of exasperation, amusement and confusion. He quickly looked back at Philipp—and yanked up the sheet when he felt a breeze way too low—and waved vaguely. “What’s wrong?”

“This is a bad time,” Philipp finally said, shoving his hands into his pockets. He poked his toe at the floor, then half-turned.

Torsten flicked the dead-bolt on, then flipped his hand around to do the chain. “Sit down, Phil. It’s not like we’ll be able to start up again now—Micha’ll be too busy worrying about you. I’ll go start the coffee.”

And he promptly ambled towards the kitchen to do that while Michael and Philipp both stared after him. Michael belatedly started to rise, but first his ass twinged and then the sheet he was clutching to himself slipped. So he gingerly sat back down and made a note to get in first for the next round and make Torsten wait a damn long time for just…just leaving like that. He knew Michael wasn’t the best at improvising difficult conversations. “So…ah, what’s going on?”

Philipp ducked his head and scuffed his hand over the back of it. “It’s not really—okay, okay, Micha. I just…wanted to talk to somebody. I probably should’ve called, now that I think about it.”

“Why didn’t you?” Micha asked. Then he realized that might sound a bit harsh. “Just curious. It’s not like you to not think of that.”

“Well…” With a sigh, Philipp backed up so he could lean against the opposite wall. He pulled at his nose. “I guess…this will sound stupid. Nobody was home and it was really quiet, so I just went out for a walk and then I thought a talk would be nice. I ended up near Torsten’s place, so…” shrug “…I wasn’t really thinking.”

Michael absently tugged at the sheet, then had to pull it back when part slid up past his right knee. The wet streaks on his thighs were beginning to dry and get annoyingly itchy—and he remembered his come had splattered higher up and sneaked a frantic peek down at his stomach: nothing was showing, thank God. “What about?”

Philipp…rubbed at his nose some more.

“Timo?” Michael said. He clamped his lips together right afterward, not sure if he’d spoken too soon. But honestly, all the edging about each other—which still made no sense to him—was fraying his patience.

“How’s he doing?” Philipp asked, looking at his feet. “He’s still staying with you, right?”

It did not take that long to dump grinds in the coffee-maker, Michael irritably thought before dragging himself back to the other man. “He’s still over at my and Leo’s place, yes.”

“Is he…that bad?” Philipp slowly replied, voice strained.

Michael resisted the urge to sneak a peek towards the kitchen. “Lahmi, I don’t know. He doesn’t talk about how he is, and unless it’s really extreme circumstances, I don’t feel like it’s my place to pry. You and he are the only ones who can start talking about it.”

“But—” The other man grimaced, sliding a little further down the wall. “He thinks I’m a slut.”

“He does not,” Michael immediately protested. He raised his eyebrows right back at Philipp’s lone arched one. “I don’t need to ask to know that. Look, a lot’s happened since…since the first part of it, right? So how do you know what he thinks of you? Have you asked him?”

“I can’t ask him,” Philipp snapped. He took his hands out of his pockets and made short, sharp, frustrated slices with them in the air. “He’ll bite off my head again. He did the first time and he didn’t act like he was going to be different the second time.”

A sudden faint trickle almost made Michael fall off the couch-arm as he glanced over his shoulder. But no Torsten, damn it. “So you’re afraid of Timo?”

Philipp opened his mouth, partly closed it, and then nodded firmly. He looked pleadingly up at Michael. “Look, it’s not that I’m afraid he’ll hit me or anything. But of course I’m terrified of him right now. I came home and made dinner and talked to Owen about how his new job is going, and I thought afterwards I’d get to watch crappy Japanese horror films from Timo’s lap. But instead we have a fight and it hurts so damn much I actually thought I was having a heart attack. I even looked up the symptoms online. So why shouldn’t I be afraid of him?”

Because he loves you, was the first thing that sprang to Michael’s mind. And when he’d had time to really think it through, he was glad he hadn’t just blurted that out. “Good point.”

Blink. “What?”

“No, it is. You’re right about that—I don’t know the details, but if you felt like that afterward, then he did something really wrong,” Michael said. He pressed his hand to his mouth, trying to make sure what he was thinking would come out in the right words, then took it away. “But I’m just saying that if you don’t see what a third time is like, that’s going to be your ending, and it’s not a nice one.” He stopped there and waited for a reply, fiddling with the sheet. But the silence got longer and Michael more nervous, and finally he did have to add something else. “You know…I’ll help with it. If you want, like if you want somebody…I don’t know, waiting outside or something.”

A soft, dry chuckle came from the other man. Then Philipp pushed off the wall and offered Michael a small smile. “Thanks, Micha.”

“Hey, any time.” Michael wasn’t positive, but he started to get a good feeling about it all.

“Coffee!” Torsten walked back in with two mugs in one hand and a third in the other, which he handed around. He looked at Phil, then at Michael, and then took up a seat next to Michael on the couch-arm. “Sorry, did I miss much?”

Philipp gazed into his coffee for a moment, then handed it back to Torsten. “Actually, can I borrow your phone instead? I…well, I’m going to try and set up a lunch date with Timo so we can talk.”

* * *

Ricardo blearily looked on while Paolo unlocked it, holding his briefcase with both hands. Once the door swung open, he went inside after absentmindedly giving Paolo a peck on the jaw.

It was nearly two in the morning and Paolo was about to collapse himself, but he couldn’t help leaning on the doorframe to watch. The other man walked on, dropping his briefcase off on a side-table, and then took a right. About ten seconds later, Ricardo came back looking considerably more awake. “This is your place. Wait. Wasn’t I driving?”

“You were. And I thought it was rather odd as well, but you seemed very determined about getting out of the car with me,” Paolo said. He shrugged and swung inside, setting his briefcase down by Ricardo’s and dropping his suit-jacket on top of it. “Wait a moment and I’ll tell the front desk to call you a cab. I really don’t think you should be—”

“I think I’ll fall asleep first. Can I just stay over?” Ricardo asked, yawning a little. He wandered over to Paolo, and if Paolo didn’t know any better, he would’ve taken that for the beginning of a ploy. But Ricardo’s eyes were clear of guile, tired as they were under those long black lashes.

Paolo pressed his lips together and pushed his hand through his hair, suddenly wishing he wasn’t so susceptible to his sense of humor. It’d been amusing to watch Ricardo’s unconscious stumbling, but now Paolo did remember the reason why he’d wanted Ricardo to drive: he’d been hoping that’d force the other man to leave him for the night. “Kaká…”

“Yes?” Ricardo came a little closer, one hand in his pocket and the other ruffling at his hair. He yawned again and that hand slipped down to half-cover his mouth, the mask of its fingers only highlighting the lips behind them.

“You’re getting a taste for it,” Paolo finally said, dry and pointed. He raised an eyebrow at the confused look he got. “Staying over.”

The confusion in Ricardo’s face intensified, then abruptly went away. He frowned at Paolo. “I loved it last time. I thought…did I do something wrong? Didn’t you like it?”

Paolo opened his mouth, but just couldn’t really find the words. He turned his head and exhaled, so as not to have his jaw hanging open for nothing, but that didn’t give him any inspiration. Neither did pushing both hands through his hair, and then Ricardo, justifiably concerned, reached out and touched his arms, and that—well, no more time for thinking.

He intercepted Ricardo’s wrists and used them to push the other man back against the door, shutting it. Ricardo stumbled slightly, then jerked his head up when he hit the door. His mouth opened and Paolo took full advantage of it; in the space of one breath, he’d tasted every inch of its interior. Swallowed a moan and teased out another in its place. Eyes fluttering, Ricardo slumped with his head back, sending his hips forward to press into Paolo. One side of his collar had gotten flipped up and the stiff wing rubbed irritatingly at the underside of Paolo’s chin, an indirect reminder of how soft and smooth the other man’s skin had felt. And suddenly Paolo’s hands were itching to run over it, to push down till he could feel the strain making it quiver.

He let go of Ricardo’s hands and pulled up the other man’s shirt, slipping his left hand beneath its tails to angle strokes across the belly and around to the ticklish dip of the back. His right hand went up and plucked three buttons free before running into an arm, which seemed as if it shouldn’t be there. Paolo paused, mouth tending towards a frown against Ricardo’s slack lips, and so was startled into jumping when hot fingertips grazed the side of his neck.

Ricardo pressed a feverish mouth to Paolo’s mouth, jaw, cheek as he fumbled at the top button to Paolo’s shirt. “Please—let me—” he groaned in frustration as Paolo drew his tongue from where shoulder met neck around to the front of the throat “—Paolo, that’s distracting.”

“That’s the point,” Paolo whispered, flicking his tongue-tip along Ricardo’s ear. He pivoted on the balls of his feet, letting Ricardo’s slowing fingers slip to the side, and lightly drew his little finger up the other man’s spine at the same time that he applied the open circle of his mouth to the spot behind Ricardo’s ear. When Ricardo shivered, he let a faint rasp of teeth go over the same place.

The fingers on Paolo’s chest curled. Then uncurled as Ricardo fought through a gasp to set his shoulders. He put his other hand up on Paolo’s shoulder to keep enough space for him to undo another button.

Paolo wanted to sigh and to shake him and to drop down on one knee to swallow him whole. “You’re going to be stubborn about this, aren’t you?”

“I want to see.” The flush in Ricardo’s cheeks crept higher, onto the delicate bones framing their tops. His lip caught beneath his teeth as he stared at Paolo’s neck, fingers determinedly continuing to work.

“But you’re so much more enjoyable to look at,” Paolo said. He kissed Ricardo’s left brow, letting his tongue slip out to wet the fine hairs. Moved both hands to Ricardo’s waist and swept his thumbs out to circle the other man’s bellybutton, pushing harder when he felt the muscles in Ricardo’s stomach tighten.

Ricardo’s eyes dragged back up to look at Paolo’s face, almost unwilling except for that helplessly molten heat they held. He licked his lips once, twice, and then tried to kiss Paolo, quick learner that he was. Paolo ducked and at the same time let his hands slide lower, ruthlessly repressing Ricardo’s reflexive buck. Ricardo’s fingers slowed down again, but still held onto Paolo’s shirt. “Paolo, you’re too humble. I just—” he briefly lost that damnably obstinate set to his jaw when Paolo kissed him, but then jerked his mouth free “—I want to see you. Like you showed me…me, and I never…looked at myself like…please. Please.”

Paolo’s chest clenched behind the breastbone. His arousal also spiked in one second to double its previous level, and for a moment the conflicting sensations literally paralyzed him. Then he swallowed, leaning forward to brush his lips over Ricardo’s. “All right, all right. You did ask nicely.”

“So manners count for something?” Ricardo said, shakily humorous. But his smile whipped off his face when Paolo reached up and covered his hand. His mouth dropped open a little and he stared up like a pinioned bird, wide-eyed and still, as Paolo guided his fingers around the remaining buttons.

The last one slipped free and a sharp, short exhale passed through Ricardo’s lips. He looked down and Paolo, unable to resist what was right in front of him, pressed a kiss to the top of Ricardo’s head, against the part. By the time Ricardo had lifted his head again, Paolo had taken care of the remaining buttons holding Ricardo’s shirt together.

“This seems familiar,” he muttered. Ricardo blinked, distracted, and Paolo simply took his wrists and pulled them up to pin them against the door on either side of those dark, wondering eyes. He openly watched the movement made the sides of Ricardo’s shirt billow apart, the slow bob of the other man’s Adam’s apple—rounded and tender-looking, like the fruit; Paolo had to duck and close his mouth over it. Not bite, but he did let his teeth graze the skin and he smiled when Ricardo’s breath caught. “Well, did you have your look?”

Ricardo started to speak and Paolo moved in, stopping up his tongue by way of entangling it with his own. He pressed harder on Ricardo’s wrists, part of him just wondering, and they did twist hard in his grip like he’d expected, Ricardo’s moaning now edged with nervousness. But when he loosened his hands, letting the wrists slip through his fingers, they slid down only far enough for Ricardo to twine his fingers around Paolo’s. And they stopped there, apparently willing to be held against the door. To even help with that—something ground hard up against Paolo’s chest, putting the taste of blood in his mouth even as Ricardo’s soft tongue curled it away. He shifted to—

--jerk away and nearly lose his balance as something jangled incessantly in a high, peeping tone. Paolo swore and caught himself on the door knob, then straightened up just in time to see an equally, if less vocal, frustrated Ricardo snapping open his cell phone. It was a telling sign that Ricardo’s thumb hovered over the buttons for several seconds before he finally answered it. “Bobby? What—oh. Oh.” A blush, oddly enough. Then Ricardo handed the phone over. “He wants you. He says your phone isn’t on.”

“Of course not. I was heading for bed and I hate…” With a sigh, Paolo took the phone and put it to his ear. “Bobby?”

*Sorry if I’m interrupting, but you’re about to find out where my last-minute trip is to. Do you remember I told you Van Nistelrooy had been sent to Madrid to get him out of the way of trouble?*

“Yes. Please don’t tell me he managed to get on somebody else’s hit list,” Paolo muttered, pressing his hand to his forehead. He half-turned as he did for no particular reason and slowly became aware of an intense…awareness to his right. And when he looked up, Ricardo started to duck.

Then the other man gave himself a shake and scrubbed at his red cheek and pulled at his nose, eyes hesitantly flicking between the floor and Paolo. Anyone else would’ve been slouched with their head back to stare irritably at the ceiling, or perhaps down as they buttoned their shirt back up. Ricardo didn’t make a move towards tidying himself till Paolo reached out and started to do that for him, and even then he abandoned it after a few seconds to tug the halves of Paolo’s shirt together.

*No, he didn’t. He’s not why I’m calling, actually. Though I am going to Madrid to speak with him about something else. It’s that while I was waiting for my flight, I thought I saw somebody familiar waiting for a passenger on the flight that was coming into the next gate. A tall black man wearing tinted glasses. He testified for you for one of the Giuly cases…at least I think that’s where I saw him last.*

Lilian Thuram? Paolo bit down several curses. He started to ask if Bobby had called anyone else yet, only to jerk his head up when he felt his shirt being pulled off his shoulder.

Ricardo looked a question at Paolo, and when Paolo didn’t speak, slipped his fingers about four centimeters into Paolo’s shirt-sleeve to touch the tattoo encircling Paolo’s upper arm. “I didn’t even know you had this,” he whispered.

*I already called Lehmann and somebody’s looking into it, but I thought I’d warn you. I don’t think Lehmann knew Giuly brought that man with him,* Bobby helpfully said. He paused, and when he spoke again, his tone was much more reserved. *Tell Kaká good-night for me.*

“Thanks.” Paolo waited till he heard the beep, then took the phone down and flipped it shut. He reached around and dropped it into the pocket of Ricardo’s trousers; Ricardo breathed in sharply and moved a little nearer.

When Paolo pulled his hand away, Ricardo turned a puzzled expression on him. “I like what you do to me, and I want to do the same to you. Because it’s fair and because…” Ricardo bit his lip “…it feels so amazing that I can’t understand why you wouldn’t want it, too. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work?”

Paolo breathed once. Twice. He put his hands up and cupped Ricardo’s face, looking as deep into the other man’s eyes as he could. Then he turned his head and just ran his lips across Ricardo’s cheek, and when the other man turned into it, that was when he let go. “Kaká, I need to do some work. I can’t—talk about this right now. Go on and take the bed—no need for you to stay up.”

Ricardo’s mouth became a straight, tight line as he silently stared at Paolo in disbelief and exasperation. The deferral was so pathetic even he couldn’t help but see straight through it, but…he nodded and went past Paolo. His hand came out to grab Paolo’s fingers, squeezing them hard and then slowly letting Paolo’s immobility pull them away.

* * *

“José, don’t lie. I’m not blind,” Fernando snarled, stalking off. “What—what--why?”

He continued for several meters before he seemed to notice that José wasn’t next to him. Then he wheeled; his face at first was scared and José felt a pang of guilt, but then Fernando saw him and the rage came right back. The other man stormed back up and tried to grab José’s arm, swearing when José pulled away.

“Come on, you need—” Fernando started.

José yanked his arm from Fernando’s second try, then backed up and dodged around the front end of a parked car when it looked as if a third try was coming. “’Nando—no! No, damn it!” he snapped, throwing up his arm. “You’re not helping.”

Fernando stared at José. Then his lip curled and he turned away, pushing both hands into his hair. “What did that asshole tell you? Whatever it was, he was lying. He just wants to get into your pants again. I swear to God, if I see him again, I’ll kill him.”

“You will not,” José said. And he meant it, and he meant the anger that accompanied it. But that was a flash and it passed, leaving him to slump tiredly against the van behind him. “’Nando, would you just listen for a—”

“You came all the way down here and he followed you. My God, we need a lawyer—”

“Fernando!” José yelled. Silence instantly fell, but he couldn’t—he realized he’d closed his eyes, he’d yelled so loudly, and opened them. Then he sighed at the expression on his cousin’s face. His head hurt and it wasn’t going to be much help in figuring out what to say to that, but he was going to have to explain now. They couldn’t stand around forever, and besides, they were beginning to get an audience. “Look. I mean, for one, I’m not—not that—Ruud didn’t follow me, all right? He got sent here on business and we…I tracked him down when I heard he was around. I wanted to see him again.”

Disbelief was Fernando’s first reaction. And part of his second, but then it was mixed in with a kind of disappointment that…that did hurt, but to be honest, not as much as José had been expecting. “Why?”

“Because I wanted to. Damn it, I didn’t leave because of him. I left because…and he never did anything I didn’t ask for. Anything.” The headache shifted from the center of José’s head to just behind his eyes, making them throb and seem too large for his skull. He bent over and rested his elbows on the hood of the car in front, rubbing the heels of his hands over his face. “He’s not what’s wrong. You can’t make things right just by making sure we’re in different cities, ‘Nando.”

“Oh, bullshit. You were getting better and now…now look, you feel like shit again. You look like the night we left,” Fernando snapped.

“Because you’re yelling at me! Stop telling me what I—what I look like, what I feel like, what I’m supposed to do,” José snarled back. He pressed his hand to his face again, and through his fingers glimpsed movement.

The next instant he was standing in the street on the other side of the car, and Fernando was slowly pushing himself off the hood. On that side of the car. Fernando looked less than happy. “Well, how else are you going to know? José, I’m trying to help here.”

“And you’re just making things worse. Maybe I know because I get up in the morning and look at myself in the mirror. Maybe I know because it’s my damn mind.” A horn blasted and José glanced sideways, then jerked up against the car to let a delivery truck pass. He looked back at Fernando just in time to catch the other man trying to round the car again, and quickly moved to keep the same distance between them.

Fernando raised his eyebrows. “José, we’re getting ridiculous. Come on. It’s late, a lot’s happened, we’re both pretty worked up. Let’s go home and then deal with it, all right?”

José stifled a panicky chuckle at the soft, coaxing tone the other man took. And stayed put. “And what are the chances that you’ll ever let me out the front door again?”

“What…you’re not a prisoner,” Fernando said, eyes suddenly wide. His mouth worked a few times before he managed to go on. “You’re my cousin. I’m worried—hell, am I worried, and I’m just trying—”

“Then why don’t you listen, damn it?” José snapped. He would’ve gone on right away, but he ran out of breath and had to inhale. And maybe that was for the best, because by then he’d calmed down a little and could think. “’Nando. Ruud is…not the love of my life. Okay? He’s not. But he’s important, and I’m not…I need to see him still, and I’m not quite sure what will happen with that but I need to find out. By myself. I need to see it through. Please, ‘Nando.”

He stared hard, putting it all out there for his cousin to see; Ruud was right, José couldn’t lie, but he had gotten good at picking what he did show. It was impossible to get through the day being totally honest. But José had never done that to Fernando except tonight, to get out and meet Ruud, and he hoped that the other man remembered that.

Fernando’s brow furrowed and he chewed his lip, thinking, and for a minute José thought Fernando might understand some of it. But then the other man shook his head, looking down. “No…no, not if he hurts you. I can’t let him do that. I can’t stand seeing you like this, and…and I’m sorry, José, but if it’s what it takes to…José? José--”

José slammed shut the door to the taxi that he’d hailed while Fernando was talking, then put up his arm to block his view of his cousin. His throat was so tight that they’d gone to the end of the block before he finally could respond to the driver’s question, and even then…he didn’t even know, did he?

“C’mon, I don’t have forever,” the driver snorted.

“Drive to the metro station.” From there it’d be easier to think of a place Fernando or some other relative couldn’t get to quickly, and then José…he’d have to call Ruud. He didn’t know if this was what Ruud had meant, with that parting comment, but he really didn’t have any other choice now.

* * *

“Andriy Shevchenko?”

A tall rapier of a man stepped forward from the crowd. Precisely creased, conservative suit, skin the color of Andriy’s preferred brand of coffee, glasses tinted a dark blue. He practically screamed organized crime.

Andriy shifted the paper that’d gotten him through the last quarter of the flight from under his hand to his arm. He nodded and glanced down at the familiar print. Then he shrugged and tossed it, going forward to meet his escort. “Ah…yes. I am…him. I have…”

“We’ve already taken the liberty of picking up your luggage,” the man said in French-accented Italian. He pointed to another man standing several meters away with them clustered about his feet. “If you’ll just take a moment to confirm that we retrieved all of them and tell us which carrier will be delivering the rest, then we can go straight to the car.”

“No immigration?” Andriy said. Mostly because of the jetlag than because he really wanted an answer; if they were good enough to know to send an Italian-speaker, they obviously weren’t the kind of operation who’d slip up with paperwork. “All right. Well, those are all my bags. Everything flew with me, nothing was shipped.”

His escort blinked.

“I was planning to buy my equipment and supplies here. Cheaper with better quality.” He gazed around and spotted a little coffeeshop tucked into the corner. “Mind if I buy myself something before we go?”

“You’re here for an interview, Mr. Shevchenko,” the escort said, faintly reprimanding.

“Doctor. The degree’s real enough, even if it is Italian. I swear I only bribed to get my absences discounted, not to get the degree,” Andriy calmly replied. He dug into his pocket, trying to remember if he had enough change in the correct currency—the flight’s bar had turned out to be more generously stocked than he’d been expecting—for a decent-sized coffee. “And I know, interview, but if I don’t get the job I know I’m also not leaving here. Not with the hell Abramovich raised with your master. What’s your name?”

The other man regarded Andriy for several seconds from behind those tinted spectacles, which were really excellent enhancers of his air of intimidation. He finally moved his hand, signaling to his partner, and then nodded. “I suggest you stick to plain black. The airport workers may go on strike in two days and they’re in a meddling mood. I am Lilian, Dr. Shevchenko.”

“Thanks for the advice. I think I’ll follow it.” Deciding he did have enough, Andriy started towards the coffeeshop. “Actually, people usually call me Sheva. I don’t care too much about whether you use a title or not, but if you do use it, then I’d like that you use the right one.”

“I will remember that, Dr. Shevchenko.” Apparently Lilian’s moment of thaw was over. He followed Andriy at a deceptively sedate walk. “And I would hope that you remember we are on a tight schedule. May I order for you?”

Andriy smiled carelessly, knowing a veiled demand when he saw one. And knowing enough to not see the value in protesting. “Ah, thank you for the kindness. You may.”


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