Author: Guede Mazaka
A pickle slice suddenly squirted out of Michael’s sandwich with a disgusting plopping noise. He made a face as he tried to stuff his sandwich back into his hand and keep hold of his cell at the same time. “Robin?”
*Did you get a ground line in your office yet?*
*Finally. I’ll call you back.*
The phone beeped in Michael’s ear. He blinked, then set it down on his desk. He was going to do something about his sandwich, which seemed determined to spill its guts all over the place, but then his desk phone rang. For a moment, he thought about…but then God knew what system Robin would mess with. “Robin, what do you want?”
*Well, I thought I’d take you up on your offer to share your expertise on the office system. I need to know how they built up the archiving database,* Robin said. He was typing, and also doing something that sounded suspiciously like rustling sheets. Though it did sound like he was the only one in the room, so hopefully he was just working in bed or something like that. *I would ask Jens if he were around, but he’s not.*
“He’s not at work yet.” Earlier Michael had gone down to Jens’ office with a question, only to find Thierry and Robert Pirès standing in it, deep in conversation. He’d been a little surprised at that since Jens usually was the first one in, and he was a little more surprised now, but it wasn’t completely out-of-character. Sometimes Jens had business trips outside of the office. “What exactly did you want? Do you want me to detail all the code for you? Because that’ll take awhile.”
Robin snickered, and that was definitely a bed creaking in the background. More rustling, and then it sounded like the other man was walking around. *Aren’t you grumpy today. Was I interrupting something? Because Jesus, it’s not like I’m a summer intern—I just need the basic parameters and you know I can take it from there.*
“I am not—” Michael cut himself off, putting his head down so he could rub the side of his nose. He actually was in the middle of dissecting a hard-drive, but getting Van Persie started was just going to make it that much longer before he could get the other man off the line. “Give me a second.”
After looking down to make sure his chair-legs hadn’t caught any wires, he pushed himself to the other end of his desk where his computer was. It only took a second to call up the right files; Michael shifted his phone to cradle it between his shoulder and ear, then started reading off as fast as he could.
*Hey, hey, wait—if I don’t get it the first time, you’ll just have to read it again,* Robin protested.
With a sigh, Michael started over at a slower rate. He was tempted to point out that if Robin wasn’t writing this down, then he’d better be ready to pay the price if his memory failed him, but…right, nice got things done quicker. Usually. “Are you getting it now?”
*…what, sorry?* Robin had stopped moving at some point. He sounded more than a little distracted. *Go back to the part about the…ah, compiler.*
Michael obligingly did so with gritted teeth. Then somebody knocked on his door and he almost chipped off a tooth in surprise. He winced, then looked up to see Timo leaning against the door-frame. Timo pointed to the phone and raised his eyebrows, and Michael flashed him four fingers and a thumb—hopefully five minutes would do it. “Robin? Robin, are you listening?”
*…so that’s what he does in that room,* Robin muttered, his voice a little thick. *No furniture, bare floor…looked like a cell…oh, Jesus Christ. Oh. Oh, right, Ballack—nothing much, I just found Jens. Sorry, where were—holy God! Don’t come up on me like—*
Harsh breathing, some Dutch and German swearing mixed in with the rasping and thudding of a short, sharp struggle. Then Jens’ voice calmly overrode a kind of moaning whine. *Michael? I’m sorry for the interruption. He’ll call you back.*
“Okay…” Michael slowly put down the phone, then looked at Timo. “Robin, not paying attention. And then Jens. I’m a little afraid to ask.”
“Lehmann’s still home? I wonder—oh.” Timo came all the way in and flopped into the spare seat, laughing behind his hand. “I wonder if Robin walked in on Jens doing yoga. I had to drop something off at his apartment once and saw that, and…well, honestly, it’s weird. You’re supposed to be scared of Jens, not think he’s sexy.”
“David was telling me a little about Cristiano’s party at Premier…” Michael started.
Eye-roll. “I’m so glad Phil and I were under a table and missed all that. It must’ve shocked Cesc silly or something, because he’s been a changed man ever since. Anyway, I wanted to ask a favor. It’s not for right now, so if you’re busy—”
“I’m pretty full till lunch, but my afternoon’s lighter.” Hopefully Timo hadn’t caught the pause there, because Michael did want to be helpful. He just couldn’t help also remembering that Torsten had suggested they take a long lunch, since both of them were working late tonight.
Timo looked at him for a moment, then nodded sharply. “You’re meeting with Torsten? You know, you can count him as ‘busy.’”
Michael ducked his head and rubbed at his cheek, trying not to let a blush start. He poked at the keyboard. “Doesn’t that seem sort of…demeaning?”
“No. Look, if Phil wants to go see a movie, and then later Schweini asks if I want to come over and check out the new Tomb Raider game, then I’d better tell Bastian that I’m busy. Or it’s going to be a very lonely night for me in the other bedroom,” Timo snorted. He started picking at something beneath his nails. “Hey, actually, you might want to get the Fringser in on this. We’ve all decided somebody needs to sit Bastian and Lukas down and explain the rule about having public sex only two times a week.”
He was watching Michael with a funny expectant expression on his face. After a couple seconds of it, Timo sighed and slouched down to stare at the ceiling, moving his arms to the arm-rests.
It suddenly hit Michael like a water balloon in the face in the dead of winter. “Wait, what? You want—I can’t talk to them about this! I—I didn’t even know there was a rule! Two times a week?”
“Well, it’s not like a general rule for everywhere. Just here. The cleaning people came up with it. Something about sanitizer costs and…and anyway, you’re the only one who could talk to them about it. You and Torsten.” Timo paused, then scooted up just enough for him to look at Michael. His expression was dead serious. He did have a pretty good deadpan, but somehow Michael didn’t think that that was what he was seeing right now. “Or Thierry, but Thierry’s been really distracted lately. I’m not sure he’d get everything across.”
“Why not Lehmann? Aren’t they scared to death of him? Or—you’ve known them longer,” Michael protested. His stomach was highly uncomfortable with this, and the rest of him wasn’t doing so well either.
The other man gave him another look, like he was missing a ton of information. Which he damn well was—all right, university studies had left him under-socialized, but even so, he didn’t think this was part of normal social interactions in most places.
“Yeah, they’re scared of Lehmann, but that just makes them more likely to do it. You know, he tells them not to jump a cliff and then they do it just because—you could see that, couldn’t you?” Timo waited till Michael nodded, then leaned forward to put his hands on the desk. He stared intently at Michael. “And none of us can because we are their friends. I mean, you are too, but it’s—different. They don’t, um, have that kind of respect for us.”
“Bastian’s almost seen Torsten and me in the elevator,” Michael muttered. “Are you sure it’s not just because—”
“Hey, what’s up?” Philipp bounced into the room, glanced around, and then ‘oohed’ as realization came over his face. He turned to look at Michael. “Timo asked you? So are you going to do it? Please? I know it’s kind of weird and it’s a lot to ask, but we’d all really, really appreciate it.”
Michael opened his mouth, and somehow a ‘sure, no problem’ came out of it. For a moment, he didn’t even know who’d said that, and then when he got that it’d been him, he just…he sat back and stared at his desk. He really hadn’t meant to. He’d had his further arguments all worked out in his head, and he’d been going to ask more questions, and damn, he’d just given his word so none of that was any good now.
Timo had twisted around to give Philipp a bit of a wry look. “See, you should’ve just asked in the first place. You and your big-eyed face.”
“What?” Philipp asked, utterly confused. At least, he looked and sounded very convincingly confused. “Oh, no way. You’re the one who can talk about it without blushing. Okay, so let’s plan how to do this. I think you’d get better results if you talked to them separately, Micha. Micha?”
“This was…I just got played, didn’t I? That’s the expression, right?” Michael finally replied.
The look on Timo’s face didn’t have an ounce of sympathy in it. “Just get used to it now. You’re never, ever going to be able to do anything about it anyway.”
Phil wrinkled his nose and rolled his eyes, then hit Timo on the shoulder on his way to sitting down on a stack of boxes. “You’re mean. Anyway. Getting Bastian and Lukas to take it home once in a while.”
Michael put his head in his hands.
* * *
David frowned, then waved his hand in front of Thierry’s face. The other man didn’t flick his eyes to look, which was worrying. He didn’t blink either, which was downright creepy, and that wasn’t something David often associated with Thierry. “So I was thinking I’d just hire the chimp. It’s ugly enough so that Robin wouldn’t get jealous and it could jump out of the way of anything Jens throws at it.”
“Wouldn’t we have a problem getting it a work visa?” Thierry asked.
Pause. Then Thierry laughed and slewed his chair around so he wasn’t staring out the window. Relieved, David indulged himself and smacked the other man in the shoulder. “Don’t scare me like that. I need you, man. If you lose it, then I’m the only sane person in this office and I don’t think I could keep that up for very long.”
“I think Michael is levelheaded most of the time.” Thierry picked up his pen and put down his head, resting his chin on his hand. His smile slowly slipped away as he stared at the papers in front of him. “I’m sorry, I was just thinking about my meeting after this with Bobby…getting the one Cristiano wants for his new agent on board is annoyingly difficult. All kinds of contract issues are coming up.”
“Bobby, huh. Guess he’s sticking around then, if you’ve gotten so cosy already,” David absently said. He shuffled his hands through the files on his desk, then picked one up at random and flipped it to Thierry.
The other man startled, but composed himself before David could tell what expression Thierry had had. “Oh, I suppose. What’s the difference in these again?”
David frowned—Thierry had suddenly sounded a bit harried—then shrugged it off. It’d been relatively quiet around the place lately, but they all knew that just meant something really nasty was coming. Maybe Thierry was finally getting nervy like the rest of them. “Nothing. I swear to God, I’ve narrowed them down as much as I can. Jens has to start interviewing, but every time I mention it, he says he’s—”
“—too busy, and that’s why he needs the second assistant anyway, and I’ll talk to him, I promise,” Thierry sighed. He opened the file and glanced at it, then stared longer. Then he shot David a look of suppressed amusement as he flipped the folder around so the picture clipped to the inside could be seen. “I think Robin would have a problem with this one. At least, if he’s been looking up what I think he’s been looking up.”
And…David wasn’t going to ask for explanation on that. It was bad enough that he actually, undeniably knew what Jens’ current boyfriend looked like—before Jens had always kept them under wraps so David could easily pretend blissful ignorance—without getting details. Well, more details than he already, with the greatest reluctance, had. Jesus, he should not know what kind of noise Robin made when Jens bit his neck. “Doesn’t look much like Van Persie.”
“Well, no, but he’s basically the type Jens would—never mind, I don’t think you’re interested in that discussion and anyway, we should finish this before…yes?”
That last part was to the guy gingerly poking his head in the door. At first David couldn’t place him, but then he remembered: Pirès’ paralegal. He came into the room with an apologetic smile, followed by one depressed-looking Fàbregas.
“Sorry to interrupt,” Kaká said. “Bobby needs to reschedule and also sends his apologies, and—”
“What happened?” Thierry cut in, eyebrows raised.
Usually Thierry didn’t interrupt people, so that was weird. He seriously needed to take more breaks if he was that stressed.
“Cristiano flew in his guy early and wanted him and Pirès to meet up. Ruud’s stalling them in his office, so you’d better get over there. He said he tried calling Jens, but couldn’t get to him.” Cesc seemed remarkably monotone about it, considering he was describing a serious emergency. He took a chair and sat down, then rubbed at his face as if he had a headache.
Thierry was already at the door by that point, moving so fast that he completely missed Kakà’s attempt to get his attention. “How long?”
“Five minutes,” Cesc called out, since Thierry was in the hall by then. Then he slouched down further so the back of his head hit the top of the chair. His hands moved to press their heels into his eyes.
Kaká took a step into the hall, hand raised, but then dropped back with a sigh when it became obvious a flying pig wasn’t going to catch Thierry. “It looks like Deco’s contract is going to get settled soon, so Bobby wanted me to bring over some files. But I don’t know where they are, and he told me to ask—”
“Which ones? I know where basically everything is around here,” David said. The other man was about to reply, but David put up a hand to stop him. Then he pointed to the chair Thierry had just vacated. “Man, sit down. You’re going to be running around soon enough.”
“He wanted a complete copy of Ruud’s contract, both the part Cristiano signed off on and the part the label signed. The one on file is missing that last part.” Cesc put his hands down. His eyes stayed closed. “I think you have to call Lehmann about that—Ruud was making these weird hand gestures at me and I think that’s what they meant.”
“Oh…oh, great. Yeah, probably.” David checked his watch, then picked up his desk phone as he rolled over to his computer. One click told him Jens still hadn’t checked into the building, so…man, Lehmann was late today.
Of course, he wasn’t supposed to be officially in for another fifteen minutes, but David could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times that Jens hadn’t shown up hours before that. He didn’t have any outside meetings this morning, so he still had to be at home. Crap. Maybe he was doing some ‘extracurricular’ work or something.
God, please, please don’t let me call in the middle of anything, David silently pleaded as he dialed. Then he realized that Thierry probably had called to give Jens a heads-up about the Deco thing and felt a little better about his chances.
“Are you…okay?” Kaká asked, staring at Cesc. He hadn’t taken a seat.
After a moment, Cesc seemed to get that he was being spoken to and cracked open an eye. Then he threw out a hand and caught the edge of David’s desk, using it to haul himself into an upright position. He did look as if he’d had one hell of a night: dark circles under his eyes, messed-up knot in his tie, chapped lips. “I’m fine—I’m just tired. I didn’t go home last night.”
“Seriously?” David had been counting the number of rings, but he lost track out of pure shock.
“Hey, if I have to work late, I’ll do it,” Cesc said, sounding faintly defensive. He flicked his gaze over Kaká, but not with any particular intent from what David could see. That was pretty weird too, since usually Fàbregas did a more thorough visual scan than an x-ray machine. “Since the br-Cristiano’s getting shifted, I figured I’d better get to know the other acts Ruud handles.”
“You only worked with Ronaldo?” Kaká asked. He immediately made a demurring wave of the hand, looking apologetic. “It’s just my curiosity.”
Cesc shrugged, rubbing at his bloodshot eyes some more. “More or less. He takes up a lot of time, you know…or maybe you don’t. Was today the first time you’ve met him?” He grinned a little at the almost-face Kaká made as the other man nodded. “Oh, hey, I’m sorry. I guess nobody warned you, and he’s in…um, unbelievable form today.”
David had to hide a grin at the way Cesc wasn’t really covering his slips of the tongue. He didn’t usually like Cesc’s sense of humor—beneath the nice smile, the guy was even more sarcastic and nasty than Timo on his crankiest days—but Cristiano really deserved it. “Does Ruud know you call him the—oh, hi, Jens. Sorry for calling you, but there’s something you should know about.”
He dropped into German and turned his chair around to give Jens the details as quickly and concisely as he could, but even then Jens snapped at him to cut the crap out. There was too much background noise for David to tell what Jens was doing, but whatever it was, it was getting done in a hurry. Hopefully that meant Jens was on his way.
“I don’t know…I don’t call Cristiano a brat to either of their faces, but I’ve done it enough times in front of everyone else. I’d be really surprised if nobody’s mentioned it to Ruud yet,” Cesc sighed.
Kaká laughed a little uncertainly. “He can’t be so bad all the time, can he?”
“I guess, but Ruud gets his good side.” Cesc shifted around in his seat so the chair creaked. “When they’re not fighting. Hey, next time, would you mind not smiling at Cristiano when he compliments your suit? It’s usually not a good idea.”
“Why not? Wasn’t he being nice?” When David had first met him, that question would never have occurred to Kaká, so maybe the guy was getting some street sense.
*…there in five minutes. I want everything before I walk into that room, David, so--*
David jerked up, then yanked the keyboard over and started emailing attachments to Jens’ PDA. “I’m on it, boss. Don’t worry about it.”
*That’d be one thing out of the day,* Jens muttered. He hung up so abruptly that the end of the last word was clipped off.
After madly emailing for a couple of minutes, David gradually became aware that the other two men in the room were staring at him. “Uh, Jens is coming in. And—oh, shit, right. Ricky, I’m really sorry but Jens just gave me a laundry list of things to do and—”
“Here, let me see it. I’m pretty good at the filing system around here,” Cesc said, putting out a hand.
He actually looked serious about it too; his eyes were on the paper Kaká was holding. Of course, Kaká didn’t seem to take him at anything but face value and promptly handed over the list with a smile. “Thank you very, very much. I really appreciate it.”
Cesc replied with a wry half-smile and bitter eyes. “If I’m helping you look up things, then I don’t have to go back in there, so don’t worry about it. We’re all even.”
* * *
“…got abducted by aliens after he stormed out of Premier, and that’s why he’s being all nice and helpful and not mouthing off all over the place,” David said. He took a deep breath, then stuffed the cinnamon roll into his mouth. His eyes rolled back into his head and he made an exaggerated moan of pleasure. “Schweini, I love your mom.”
“I’ll let her know!” Bastian yelled back from the other side of the room. He was down behind one of the desks, trying to figure out which cable went to the Playstation and which one went to the copier. “She thought that thank-you card you sent her last time was really cute!”
David flushed a little and mumbled something about having to baby-sit somebody’s kids and craft-time and whatever, it’d gotten him more food. He wiped his mouth with his hand, then licked at the sugary traces on his fingers. “I mean, he actually went around and showed Kaká where everything was. And I think he even said he’d show Kaká down to the Fringser to get some finance questions answered.”
“Maybe he’s got a crush! I mean, definitely the hottest paralegal I’ve ever seen—I wonder how Pirès lucked out on him.” A loud crash and a couple curses came from Bastian’s direction right after that, followed by a couple moments of silence. That lasted long enough for Michael and David to start to get up, exchanging worried looks, but then a hand flapped over the edge of the desk. “I’m fine! Nothing’s broken!”
Michael sat back down and went back to rooting through the operating files on Philipp’s computer, trying to pick out all the adware the other man had accidentally downloaded earlier. “Cesc doesn’t have a crush on Kaká.”
“How do you know?” David asked.
“I just…look, it’s confidential.” Which was the wrong thing to say, given how David’s eyes lighted up. By now Michael really should know better than to say that kind of thing here…it was like dropping meat in front of a bunch of sharks. “I think he’s just depressed and he’s trying to hide in work.”
David leaned and put his hand on his chin, thinking about that for a bit. “Depressed over what? He and Ruud are still getting along okay, he’s not going to be working with Cristiano for much longer…oh, wait. Is there some kind of drama going on over Raúl and whoever the hell he picked up from Cristiano’s launch party?”
Michael coughed, then realized that that didn’t necessarily mean David knew the whole, courtesy-of-Lionel’s-early-morning-complaining, story. Though now David had confirmation that they were sort of connected. “I didn’t get to go to that, remember? You did.”
“Yeah, but I was too busy trying to forget what a drunken, horny Jens looks like. I mean, that’s just wrong in all kinds of ways,” David muttered.
Bastian’s ruffled crest peeked over the top of the desk. Then the rest of him emerged as he hauled on a double-handful of cables. “I heard Cristiano said it was hot.”
“See? Holes in the universe! That’s totally what I mean when I say it was just wrong,” David sputtered, wildly gesturing. Then he yelped and grabbed the remains of his Danish just before it would’ve hit the ground. “Van Persie showed up in leather trousers. It was just…”
“Straight boy,” Bastian snorted. Affectionately, but affectionately the way he suddenly jumped David’s head and got it into a headlock while he furiously scrubbed at it with his knuckles.
David twisted one way, then abruptly reversed direction to grab Bastian around the waist. Michael picked up the keyboard and moved out of the way while the two of them wrestled, then cautiously came back when it looked as if they’d finished.
He had to dodge really quick because David made a last lunge at tickling Bastian’s belly, but then something beeped. All three of them checked their pockets, but it ended up being David’s cell; he looked at it, then sighed and pulled his tie straight. “Okay, I need to go back to work. See you guys—thanks for the food, Schweini. Don’t think I’m gonna make lunch today, so it was really nice.”
“No prob,” Bastian mumbled, mouth already full with a hunk of pastry. He gave David a clap on the shoulder, then dropped into the chair by Michael. “So Micha, what did you want to talk to me about?”
Oh…damn. “Well…I just wanted to ask how you and Lukas are. I haven’t really, um, seen either of you lately.”
“That’s because you work too hard,” Bastian cheerfully said, smacking Michael’s arm. He leaned back to wave at David’s departing back. “Hey, you and Torsten getting together much? ‘cause, you know, we’re all worried about you. You and the elevators.”
Michael’s face toasted like he was trying to fry eggs on his cheeks. “The elevators are safe.”
The other man grinned and kicked out his legs, sliding down till he could rest his head on the back of the chair. His feet hit the side of Michael’s, then skidded sideways as Bastian idly began to twirl his chair around. “Just checking. So…hey, Micha? Can I ask you something?”
After setting up a search to scan the whole hard drive a last time for any malware, Michael pushed back his chair and then leaned down to grab at his calves, trying to stretch out his back. This really was the best time to talk to Bastian—trying to talk to him and Poldi together was a surefire recipe for disaster—but…well, Michael was going to take the question first. “Sure.”
“Eh, well, it’s kind of complicated. Actually, here, lemme see that paper and pen.”
Which Michael made the mistake of handing to Bastian. Ten minutes, six incomprehensible flow charts and way too many anecdotes about public indecency charges later, Michael had his pounding head in his hands and Bastian was awkwardly patting him on the shoulder.
“I…look, I’m sorry it’s a headache for you. But I really don’t know who else to ask,” Bastian said. He spoke quietly and soberly, and probably for the first time since Michael had met him, he sounded a little nervous. “Micha?”
“I’m—” Michael raised himself enough to turn his head and face the other man “—sorry, Schweini, but what?”
Bastian hitched up a shoulder and dropped his clasped hands between his knees and looked as if he wasn’t even old enough to drink. “Next week Lukas and I are going to have been, um, exclusive for three months and that’s kind of the longest either of us have ever…and I mean, I’m kind of his first one ever. Not like Poldi hasn’t dated or anything, but…right, so what do I do?”
He felt guilty and embarrassed about it almost right away, but Michael’s first thought actually was: this was all I had to do to get a straight answer? “Oh.”
A couple of seconds passed. Then Bastian ducked down to squint at Michael. “Micha? Did I give you another headache?”
“No, of course not,” Michael automatically responded. Though that was a lie, and honestly, much as he felt for Bastian? This was even more complicated than trying to…oh, yeah, that. “Well, firstly, you shouldn’t screw him in the men’s toilet. You—um—it—right, you do that too often so it’s not going to be special or anything.”
* * *
Torsten stared. “Did he actually take you seriously?”
The mop of black hair trying to crush itself into the top of his desk said, “Yes! He nodded and I think he bought it, and oh, my God, how does this kind of thing keep happening to me?”
In another few seconds, either Michael’s head or Torsten’s desk was going to break. Which really was something Torsten needed to worry about, but he just had to marvel for a second. “Wow. Micha, that’s brilliant. Everyone’s going to thank you.”
Michael’s head stopped grinding down, then lifted so the other man could glower at Torsten. “This is very not helpful.”
“I know, and I’m sorry. It’s all out of my system now—really, really, it is. So what else did you say? You didn’t just leave it there, did you?” Torsten replied, trying hard to crush the laughter bubbling up in his chest. He composed his face, then tried for a sympathetic expression.
It didn’t look like Michael entirely bought it, but he did take his head off Torsten’s desk. He had a couple faint red lines across his forehead from folders. “I did, sort of. I told him I needed to think about it and get some ideas, and that we’d talk to him at the end of the day. Lionel promised to stall Lukas for a half-hour when he comes in.”
“Wait a minute—‘we’?” Torsten put his pen back down.
Apparently Michael’s flash of cleverness with Bastian hadn’t been a one-time wonder. He shot Torsten a ‘so-there’ look. “Well, if just I had met with him, that still would’ve meant that we’d have to push dinner back. And I figured you could help, because I don’t know what to tell him.” He dropped the slightly smug air for a pleading face. “Please? I really don’t want to let him down.”
“…have you been taking lessons from Phil?” Torsten said after a moment. He thought he recognized those puppy-eyes. Lahmi’s were bad enough, but from Michael’s green eyes? Deadly.
Michael looked blank. Usually when he did that, he really was clueless: he was a terrible actor.
“Okay, okay, I’ll come too. Though now we have to spend our coffee break coming up with what to actually say to him.” Sighing, Torsten picked up his pen again. He spun it a couple times between his fingers, then let it fall from his fingers. “I don’t know either. I mean, I’d have a couple ideas if these were normal people we were talking about, but it’s Poldi and Schweini. The guys who thought it’d be funny to wire up Jens’ door so he got shocked when he tried to turn the knob.”
“Is that why they never meet with him in his office? I’ve been wondering about that,” said somebody behind Michael.
Michael started to turn, then muttered an apology and scooted out of the way so Torsten could see Fàbregas in the doorway. Somebody was behind him…oh, Pirès’ assistant.
“More or less,” Torsten shrugged. He heard Cesc could be annoying from people he trusted, but Cesc had never been particularly offensive to him and they still had to work together, so he just tried to keep it professional. “Can I help you?”
“Not me—Ricky here.” Cesc stepped out of the way, waving the other man forward. Then he started to walk off, but Ricardo put out a hand and said something that made him stop. He still didn’t look particularly thrilled about it; he shoved his hands in his pockets and drifted out of Torsten’s view, though occasionally his foot would swing forward as he scuffed at the floor.
Ricardo needed a whole bunch of information on financial exemptions for agents, which wasn’t that hard to pull up but which was the kind of thing that really should’ve been requested beforehand. Torsten figured it had something to do with Cristiano, but refrained from asking any questions and just tried to get things together as soon as he could so he didn’t have to kick Michael out.
Luckily, Ricardo was like a Brazilian version of Michael: good-looking, ultra-polite, and with a dedication to work and organization that bordered on obsession at times. He handed over his list with what could be emailed and what needed to be in hard copy, didn’t ask stupid questions or drop any files so their contents all over the place, and remembered to say thank you.
And apparently he was like Michael when it came to certain kinds of social interactions as well, Torsten thought as he watched Ricardo and Cesc leave. Cesc did look like he needed a shower and twelve straight hours of sleep, but that still wasn’t enough to justify Ricardo putting a hand on his forehead. Or staring like that after Cesc had absently brushed him off, probably giving some flippant excuse to judge by the attempt at a nonchalant shrug. “Well, I figured a disaster was coming from that corner, but I definitely didn’t think it’d be that way,” Torsten muttered.
“Huh?” Michael had just finished scooting himself back into place. He glanced at Torsten, then twisted around to stare down the hall. But by then Cesc and Ricardo had turned the corner and were out of sight. “Actually, I probably don’t want to know. I’ve already had enough surprises for today,” Michael said, turning back. “So…Bastian.”
Torsten thought a moment. His head started to hurt and he put his elbows up so he could support his chin on his hands. “We’re forgetting somebody here. Did anybody talk to Lukas?”
“It’s supposed to be a surprise for him. Wouldn’t he put things together and figure it out?” Michael asked.
“Not if we get the right person to do it.”
Michael started to look panicky.
“No, no, not you,” Torsten snorted. He checked the time, then picked up his phone. “I bet Philipp’s taking a break right now.”
“He said he wanted to get a nap in—he’s not used to working through days. And I don’t think Lukas is even in yet.” Not that Michael was really objecting. More like thoughtfully trying to work out the logistics. “Then again, now that I think about it, Phil does have responsibility for planning some of this. You know, he does this thing where he looks at you, and…you just…do things.”
Torsten grinned into the receiver. “Timo says that’s how he ended up staying here. His first project was with this horribly irritating girl and he was going to quit, but Phil took him out to lunch and then they didn’t come back till the next day. And somehow by then he and Phil had decided to get a new flat together.”
“It’s a good thing Philipp’s a nice person. I think of some of the people here with that kind of power and I get really sc—”
*Hello?* Philipp said.
Michael seemed to hear, because he shut his mouth and started to duck out of sight. So Torsten gave him a weird look and he caught himself, then sat back up, blushing like crazy. Sometimes it was like Michael had his head in a totally different world than everyone else—thinking somebody on the phone could see him, honestly—but he was still oddly adorable. Considering he was just about one-point-nine meters and could sub as a bouncer in a pinch. “Hey, Lahmi. Listen, Micha just told me about the plan to get Schweini and Poldi to stop fucking so much, but for it to work, we need you to do something…”
* * *
It was really a shame that Thierry had had to leave as soon as Jens had arrived. Of course, Thierry had his own work to do and couldn’t always be tying himself up in Cristiano’s mess, but…he tended to come up with good reasons for why Jens shouldn’t kill people.
“I’m sorry,” Ruud said. He fumbled around with the base of the chair till he got the back to tilt down, then turned around and flopped on it. “I really had no advance warning that Cris was going to do that. He didn’t say anything to me.”
Jens watched the ceiling. His fingers itched a little, so he kept rubbing them against the chair arm, but that didn’t seem to do anything. “Deco seems fairly sensible, actually. I think I would’ve been fine with contracting him anyway.”
“I swear to God, I’ll talk to Cristiano. He can’t just--throw things at us like this. God!” Punctuated by a fist hitting the table. Ruud threw up both hands, then slumped back in his chair. “I thought we had things straight.”
If he was referring to business, then Jens could’ve told him that that wasn’t going to be the case. Maybe Cristiano was willing to be a little more realistic about matters, but he never had shown any signs of giving up on doing everything his way. “Pirès promised the papers would be drawn up by early next week, so just make sure that neither of them try to get in last-minute changes. I want that contract signed and the whole deal done—I need Legal’s services on other projects and I can’t keep them on this one forever.”
The other man was rubbing his hands over his face. He dragged them down over his chin, then pressed his left hand against his temple. “I will, I swear. I…why are you taking this so well? I honestly think that Cris was being a bastard that last half-hour more because you weren’t reacting than because of anything else.”
“Oh, I’m not really taking this well. I just don’t have the time to spend on it,” Jens muttered, getting up. “I have to cancel our meeting tomorrow, since I’ll be catching up on everything I delayed today in order to take care of this.”
“I’ll go see David and get it rescheduled. And I will talk to Cristiano.” To be honest, it sounded like Ruud was the angriest about the whole situation. When Cristiano had left with his cousin, now agent, Ruud had curtly told the other man to go home without him. And now he was name-calling Ronaldo to Jens; he’d been frustrated with Cristiano before but he’d never outright expressed it like that. “He pulls something like this again and I’ll—never mind, I’ll see you later.”
Jens was already halfway in the hall at that point. He did turn, but it looked like Ruud wasn’t even really talking to him anymore, so he kept going.
He stopped in his office to resync his PDA and get all his new messages while David collected everything Jens would have to take home. Then he went around the floor to just see if anything major had happened while he’d been locked up in meetings. He caught Lahm having an IM conversation with Podolski instead of working, but Philipp usually was over-productive, so Jens just gave the other man a tap on the shoulder—Lahm yipped and nearly fell out of his chair in surprise—instead of startling him with a blistering lecture. And Philipp had been putting up with Cristiano for the past several months.
Michael jumped as well when Jens unexpectedly ran into him in the hall, so something probably was up. Hildebrand had already left for the day, Podolski wasn’t in yet, and Schweinsteiger had fallen asleep over the soundboard in one of the studios, so Jens decided it couldn’t be anything too serious. Probably just another bizarre coffee-time debate they were trying to work out.
Jens drove home while not really listening to the newest British act Freddie had found. He went up to his apartment and went inside, tossed his briefcase in the corner, and after some walking around, located Robin doing something to the wiring in the utility closet in the back.
“I thought you said you weren’t coming back till—”
Robin said some other things as well, but Jens stopped paying attention after that. He was tired and annoyed and he still had a full evening, but right now he had the time to shove Robin face-first against the wall and fuck the hell out of him. So he did.
Jens stumbled a little bit as he pulled out and had to put his hand on the wall to keep his balance. He leaned back and Robin shakily turned around, then slung one arm over his neck. “Damn,” Robin breathlessly said. His eyes were still wide and dark with lust, and his smile was a bit melted around the edges with self-satisfaction. “What brought that on?”
“Cristiano Ronaldo.” One side of Jens’ trousers slipped off his hip and he grabbed at it to hitch it back up.
By the time he checked Robin’s reaction, the other man had mostly gotten over his irritation. He snorted and licked some of the sweat from Jens’ jawline. “Okay, he’s one annoying shit, but damned if he doesn’t end up getting me some of the best sex I’ve ever had. What’d he do?”
“Acted like a little selfish prick.” Jens took his hand off the wall and started to straighten his clothing. He didn’t shrug off Robin’s arm, though it made things more awkward, and the other man continued to nuzzle at his throat and face. “Leave him alone. I’m giving Ruud a chance to deal with him.”
“If Ruud can’t, would you think about trying to break them up?” Robin asked.
He looked like he was just being curious, but even so, Jens made a mental note. “What do I look like, an angry mother-in-law? If Ruud can’t deal with him, Ruud would break up with him. And stop that—I have work tonight and I refuse to explain tooth-marks to people.”
Robin defiantly nipped again at the underside of Jens’ chin, then laughed when Jens pushed him hard back into the wall. He slouched so he could deliver an insolent look through his eyelashes. “I always have to explain tooth-marks to people. And other things.”
“No, you don’t. You could just keep your mouth shut, but you like talking about it,” Jens muttered. His tie-knot felt too lumpy so he pulled it out, but after a second thought, he just took his tie all the way off. His suit was too wrinkled and he smelled too much like sex and dust—didn’t the cleaning people get back here? Did he have to fire them again?—to go out.
“Well, you like my mouth open.” Another challenging look. Then Robin cocked his head to look thoughtfully at Jens. “Want me to help wash your back while you’re at it?”
He…was getting disturbingly good at reading Jens. “Can you even stand away from that wall?”
“Not really, but it’s not like I have to be on my feet. Don’t look at me like that—I’m a twenty-three-year-old man. This is normal behavior,” Robin said. “Besides, you still look stressed.”
“It’s starting to turn into your fault,” Jen replied, rolling his eyes. He stepped around Robin and went back out into the main area; he could hear the other man lazily following as he walked towards the bathroom. He could even hear the stutter in Robin’s stride. Between this morning and a couple minutes ago, it really wouldn’t be that sensible.
On the other hand, Cristiano had really, really pissed him off today, and none of his evening meetings were going to get him much of a chance to let off steam.
“I’m not going to be back till tomorrow night.” Jens stopped just inside the bathroom to take off his shoes and socks, which gave Robin the chance to catch up.
The other man gingerly crouched down, putting his hands down for balance. His grimace wasn’t entirely due to whatever soreness he had to be feeling. “I saw your schedule update,” Robin said, oddly quiet.
He paused, then leaned in; his mouth was slightly mismatched in how it came down on Jens’ lips. There wasn’t any provocation in the gesture.
After a moment, Jens put up a hand against Robin’s cheek and briefly deepened the kiss. Then he broke it off to get off his shoes. Robin’s shoulders hitched in a silent snort and he awkwardly got up, moving towards the shower.
* * *
“Just so you know, it was an accident. I’ll fix it, I promise,” a nervous-looking Bastian told them.
Michael exchanged a confused glance with Torsten, who just shrugged. “Bastian, we’re not…accusing you or anything. Though if you’ve done anything lately that involves the computers, I need to know exactly what keys you hit or what wires you—”
Torsten coughed into his fist. Beneath the table, his foot lightly smacked into Michael’s ankle. “Micha told you we were going to talk to you, remember?”
“Oh, right, I know, but you two look so serious!” Bastian said. His hands flapped aimlessly about for a bit before he apparently figured out what to do with them and waved at the table. “And we’re even sitting down in Balla’s office and everything.”
“That’s just so we don’t get interrupted. Really, this isn’t supposed to be formal or anything,” Michael hastily replied.
After a moment, Bastian nodded and relaxed into a sprawl. He grinned sheepishly as he ran one hand over his hair. “Oh, okay. So…did you come up with something?”
Michael looked at Torsten again, who looked right back. The other man had said yes to this, but he wasn’t exactly taking an active part. Hopefully that didn’t mean he’d decided he was actually upset with Michael for dragging him into this. And right, Bastian—Michael turned back towards him. “Well, we think—well, an anniversary is about showing your appreciation and ah, making the other person feel special. So it might be nice to do something with Lukas you haven’t done before. But not really elaborate—you do too much and then it’s not really about him anymore. It’s about all the big planning you did and that’s about you, and…well…yes.”
That made no sense whatsoever. Torsten knew it didn’t make sense and Torsten was carefully looking off to the side while the side of his mouth twitched. It quirked harder when Michael stared at him, but he still didn’t jump in with any help.
“But like what?” Bastian asked.
Good question. Philipp had done the best he could, but all Lukas had talked about was the latest Playstation releases and then some really cool new sound equipment he couldn’t wait to get on trial, and once again, Michael had to ask why him. “Just…something where you can spend time with him. Um—not work. But not a fancy dinner, because I don’t think Lukas really…”
“He always strangles himself with his tie,” Bastian nodded. He put his head down and rubbed at his mouth, obviously thinking very hard. Then he jerked up so hard that Michael was surprised his head didn’t fall off, a wide grin on his face. “Snowboarding!”
“What?” Of course Michael knew what that was, but he was just…he checked with Torsten, and yeah, it did sound like the kind of idea that would result in a hospital trip. “I think maybe—”
“Micha, you’re brilliant. Poldi’s always complaining about how he doesn’t get to run around much outside, and I haven’t gone in ages. I can teach him, he’s going to be a dork and fall over a lot but then we can warm up later.” Bastian bounced up from his seat and somehow got around the table to hug Michael till Michael’s ribs protested. He probably didn’t actually jump the table, but close enough.
After the first dazed moment, Michael started to hug back, but by then Bastian was already running out the door babbling about wax and boards and other things. So Michael put his arms down. Took a deep breath, winced at his ribs, and then put his head down, too.
“Well, that went a lot easier than I thought,” Torsten said.
“I’m not cut out for this. I mean, there’s a reason why I work with computers—they’re not people,” Michael muttered.
“Hey, he thanked you. I think you just pulled it off.”
The parts of Michael’s brain just behind his temples were beginning to hurt. “I didn’t know half of what I was saying. It’s like the blind leading the blind.”
“Oh, what—” Michael started, lifting his head. He got stopped halfway because Torsten had grabbed him by the back of the head and kissed him. Hard. Wet. Hot. He was moaning by the time Torsten eased off.
Torsten was a little flushed himself. He parted his lips, absently licked the lower one, then spoke. “We finished early. Want to go?”
Michael opened his mouth to answer…and somebody knocked at the door. By this point, even he didn’t startle up to knock himself into the desk or Torsten’s head or anything like that anymore. He just put his head back down on the desk and groaned.
An echo of that came from Torsten’s direction as the other man pulled back. “Philipp, this had better be a dire emergency. We were going home.”
“Yeah, I kind of…saw. And I’m sorry, but this won’t take that long,” Philipp apologetically said. He was a little pink in the cheeks. “It’s just that…well, David went in to talk to Ruud and found him passed out in his office with a bottle of vodka on his desk. We can’t really leave him there so David’s driving him over to Lehmann’s apartment.”
“Why not his own?” Michael asked, lifting his head.
Philipp made a couple awkward motions with his hands. “Because consensus is that if he’s drunk it’s because of Cristiano and Cristiano’s now living with him, so he can’t really go home. Lehmann’s got the best security, so David figures that’s the best—anyway, David’s making sure we can get him down without people seeing. I just need some help carrying him, so could you?”
“Okay,” Michael sighed. No point in making Philipp get out the pleading eyes over something like this. “Where’s Cesc?”
“I think he went home. He was looking really bad, so Thierry told Lionel to drive,” Philipp said. “We left him and Jens a message. We, um, well, I’m not really sure if we should call Cristiano. So we’re kind of not. Is that a bad thing?”
Since Michael’s quota for wrestling with complicated relationship questions had been filled for the day, he looked at Torsten. And he kept looking till the other man got the message. “No, just…when Ruud wakes up, he can do that call,” Torsten said, rubbing at his neck. “He does look okay, right? Are you sure we shouldn’t take him to the doctor?”
“Yeah…I mean, he doesn’t smell like alcohol. It’s just that the bottle was out, and I don’t know.” Philipp shrugged, then checked his watch. “Um, we should get him down now. David’s waiting.”
Torsten got up, still looking uncomfortable and annoyed. He moved his chair out of the way so Michael could get by, then fell in behind. “If Van Nistelrooy wakes up and this drags into a half-hour, I’m putting holds on his company credit cards. This is getting ridiculous.”
* * *
Ruud didn’t wake up, so after wishing a harassed-looking David the best of luck, Torsten finally dragged Michael into a car and got them back to his apartment.
“You don’t get impatient that much,” Michael said, following Torsten into the back. The only other times he’d been over, he’d never really gotten past the living room couch. He’d always been too tired or too polite, and he was a little too large for Torsten to easily haul to the bed by himself. “That’s why I’m surprised.”
“Well, this has been going on for months now. Ruud is supposed to be one of the best—right now, it seems like that’s more coincidence than anything else. He hasn’t really done anything notable since Cristiano’s rehab.” Torsten pulled off his sweater as he walked into the bathroom. He tossed that in the laundry hamper, splashed his face a couple times, and then went back into the bedroom. He did feel a little sticky-scratchy beneath his clothes, but a shower could probably wait till after dinner. “I don’t understand why Jens hasn’t done more about him. It’s not like—”
Michael snorted and put his feet flat against the floor. Through a combination of pushing on those and wiggling, he managed to get himself further up the bed. He could’ve done that a lot faster if he’d sat up, but the view when he was lying down was much more interesting so Torsten had no objections. Dinner could wait. “Okay, to be fair, Ruud did get Robin here. I’m not saying that that’s all a good thing, but it’s definitely notable.”
“But that was a while ago. Besides, I don’t think it’s Van Nistelrooy that’s keeping him here,” Torsten said, leaning down. He put one hand on Michael’s knee and the other on the bed, and pulled himself up over the other man.
“Could we not talk about—what are you doing?” Michael’s head came up. Then he pushed his elbows behind him and tried to sit the rest of himself up. “Torsten—”
“You’re the one lying on my bed.” Michael’s thigh muscles twitched beneath Torsten’s hand. Torsten moved his other hand to Michael’s belly, so flat that when he pressed on it, he felt it dip instead of spread to push up at his fingertips. He slid the hand he had on Michael’s leg all the way up to the top of Michael’s jeans, feeling just a little bit of a warm rise start near the heel of his hand. “We could not talk about it. I think that’s doable.”
The wide-eyed stare was ruined by the way Michael’s lashes kept fluttering. After a moment, he laid back down; his hands briefly, awkwardly hung in the air before he put them on Torsten’s shoulders. “It’s a nice bed.”
“Took you long enough to find that out,” Torsten couldn’t help saying. He bent down before Michael’s outraged reply could sputter up.
Michael’s arm went around him and Michael had his tongue in Torsten’s mouth almost before Torsten had fully settled down on him. His hand scraped down Torsten’s side, rumpling the plain white t-shirt Torsten had had on under the sweater out of his waistband, before cupping Torsten’s hip, and…and…
“What?” Torsten sighed, pulling off.
“Nothing! Nothing—I just—we’re actually lying down. It’s kind of—I just need a moment to get used to it,” Michael muttered in an embarrassed tone. He nervously tapped his fingers along Torsten’s hipbone, trying to duck his head even though the only place it could go was into Torsten’s chest.
Then he apparently spotted something interesting there and pushed down. Something warm and wet and soft touched Torsten’s collarbone, overlapping his shirt-collar kind of…kind of like Michael’s fingers were with his waistband, stroking up onto the skin above it so Torsten shivered. He twisted around, trying to get back level with Michael’s mouth—
--and Michael rolled him. Laughed at his startled grunt, sparkling eyes and flushed face eventually emerging above him, in between dips down to nibble at his lips. “We should do this more often. Definitely more room.”
“God, Ballack—you’re just being a tease now,” Torsten scolded. He grabbed Michael’s hips and ground his own against them, pressing his thigh up till he knew exactly which pant-leg Michael put on first in the morning.
Michael groaned, the light in his eyes turning dark and hungry. He shoved at Torsten, trying to get back down, but Torsten bent his knee to keep their chests from more than grazing. Frustrated, Michael cursed and yanked at Torsten’s shirt almost to the point of ripping it, but only ended up flopping mouth-first into Torsten’s ear when Torsten added a hand up there.
“Just because you’re clever doesn’t mean you get to win.” Torsten rubbed his knuckles in a lopsided circle over Michael’s erection before finally uncurling his fist to pick at Michael’s fly.
Whatever reply Michael had to that didn’t sound particularly nice, but he muffled it too much into the mattress for Torsten to understand. His hands skimmed up and down Torsten’s sides, the first pass skinning up Torsten’s shirt and then the second leaving prickly trails of heat behind on his skin. He mumbled some more, still incomprehensible but sounding harsher and deeper and more strained, and the next time Torsten slid his shin up along the rise his cock made in his jeans, stretched with it, his body twisting like a flame above Torsten.
He didn’t manage to flip Torsten a second time, but he did get down to lie on his side next to Torsten, his tongue eagerly flicking about the shell of Torsten’s ear. Torsten bit back a groan and hauled himself around to get his hand back into Michael’s undone fly. “Nice trick, Micha.”
“It wasn’t a—” Michael moved back enough for Torsten to see his eyes rolling, then buried his face in Torsten’s neck “—would you just fuck me already?”
Something caught awkwardly in Torsten’s throat, and when he coughed to dislodge it, it only spread out to constrict his whole neck. “You just had to ask.”
“Oh, my God, now you’re teasing—” Michael snarled, lunging mouth-first. Of course, Torsten was more than happy to meet him that way.