Tangible Schizophrenia


Steppin’ to the Bad Side

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: PG-13.
Pairing: J. A. Reyes/V. Nistelrooy, Raúl/Morientes, Raúl/Casillas/Fàbregas, Lehmann/Metzelder, Lehmann/V. Persie, Maldini/Toni, Maldini/Nesta, Maldini/Kaká.
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: Title from the Dreamgirls song. Thank you to koba_sama for the tattoo info and to louphoenix for the Metzelder and Kehl info.
Summary: History comes back to haunt more than a couple people at FC.


“Excuse—” José jerked back from Ruud’s elbow, then looked up with a mixture of irritation and surprise. He pointed his finger at Ruud’s foot, which…was on top of the other man’s sock.

Ruud got off that, but kept on the warning glare. He flicked his finger at his cell-phone and mouthed ‘Cesc,’ to which José promptly blanched and retreated back to the bedroom. Then he turned around and went back to looking at his computer. “No…I wasn’t even in the country eight years ago. I remember hearing about all that in the news, of course, but—”

*Oh, sorry, I get it now. Yeah, Raúl’s said a couple things about that whole mess but I don’t know a…I’ll work on it,* Cesc said. He certainly sounded as if he were taking notes at a furious rate; he dropped his pen at one point and cursed volubly at it. *When are you coming in today?*

After a moment, Ruud clicked to his online calendar. “I don’t have a meeting till the afternoon—I thought I booked the whole morning for working from home.”

*So you aren’t coming in till just before your first meeting?*

“Why? Do I need to come in sooner? I scanned all the usual tabloids and nothing jumped out at me,” Ruud said. He shifted the cell so he could pinch it between shoulder and ear and clicked back to the news article digest that’d come with Robin’s info-package. It was surprisingly well-organized, with several different ways of cross-referencing and also outside links to internal FC documents. Either Robin had been very bored, or Jens had stood over his shoulder and told him how to do it all.

*Well, it’s nothing in the news. Yet, anyway.* Cesc’s tone turned reluctant. *Just…did you want to lay down any strategy for next week? You’ve got a couple tough-looking meetings with—”

Ruud winced, his mouth suddenly tasting sour, like expired milk. He gave himself a shake, but the taste didn’t go and in the end he locked down his computer to walk into the kitchen. He needed coffee anyway. “Deco? With what we need to talk about, I don’t think he’ll be any worse than my usual meeting with Jens.”

*…what about Cristiano?* Cesc muttered. Even over the line, he managed to convey the impression that he was hunching back.

“Cris hates coming to business meetings, and after a long tour, I think Deco should be about ready to let him skip one. I don’t think he’ll be a problem,” Ruud said, pouring grinds into the coffeemaker. He hit the buttons, then cursed and yanked the plug when he remembered he’d failed to remember to put in water. “Anything else?”

*Well…okay. I mean no, there’s not. I guess.* Like the wonderful assistant he was, Cesc hinted delicately at his dissatisfaction with that decision.

And like the decaffeinated, simmering morass of frustration and longing and jealousy that he was, Ruud was going to ignore it and fill up his coffeemaker. He knew Cesc meant well, and also probably that listening to Cesc would make his life much simpler, but…he just wanted one morning where he didn’t wake up with a raw hand and anger-laced dreams from trying not to miss Cristiano. Anyway, his life was already so complicated that he doubted he’d even notice the extra twists. “I’ll probably come in a half-hour before, and I’ll call you ahead of time like usual.”

*Okay. See you.* Though it was another couple of minutes before Cesc actually hung up. He came up with question after question, but eventually he gave up on Ruud changing his mind.

The coffee was percolating by then, so Ruud went to get out a mug. His hand automatically went back for a second one and he paused to stare at it hovering in the cabinet, which was why he heard José.

Well, that and whatever José had tripped on. Ruud turned around, then stepped into the doorway. “Your suit-jacket’s on backwards.”

“Ah…” Lots of Spanish cursing. José stopped and pulled his jacket off, then began turning it out the right way. He twisted around enough for Ruud to see the red tinge his cheeks had. His visible eye didn’t quite flick to Ruud. “Look…can I borrow your phone to call for a taxi?”

“I could give you a ride,” Ruud said. He would’ve carried out the offer too, but he mostly said it to see what happened.

The corners of José’s mouth twitched in a kind of grimace. He threw on his coat again, then tried to go for the door, but his socks weren’t all the way up and they tripped him up again. “No, that’s fine. No, really—I have no idea who’d be home and they’d…might as well have shouted ‘hi’ to Cesc while you were talking to him.”

Ruud raised his eyebrows. “So it’d be a problem if he knew?”

José stood all the way up and shot Ruud an incredulous look as he pulled his lapels straight. Then he leaned one hip against the wall as he tugged at his socks. “He’s been working for you for what, over six months now? You should know him that well by now. I don’t care but he can be such a pain in the ass when he thinks he’s right. Which is all the time…”

The coffeemaker beeped. After a moment, Ruud went back into the kitchen and shut that off. He grabbed his mug, another one from the shelf, and the full coffeepot as he walked out again. “Right about what?”

Another disbelieving glance, though José clearly was beginning to think there was a catch. He awkwardly shrugged, doing up his shoelaces while he answered. “I know a revenge-fuck when I see one. But I don’t see why I can’t get laid; I don’t know the other person and what I know about you’s that you’ll help out Cesc when he needs it. It stops there, though.”

“Sounds reasonable enough.” Ruud set the mugs down on a side-table and poured coffee into them to three-quarters full. “So, since I like to think I’m slightly less coldblooded than most of the people in the industry, would you like a coffee and a ride?”

He picked up his mug and didn’t really pay attention to whatever José was doing. The other man wasn’t moving towards the door anymore, and that basically said it all.

After about forty seconds, the other mug was picked up. José held it in both hands and watched Ruud over the rim as he drank. His eyes flicked down after the first swallow and he nodded approvingly, switching to one hand on the handle.

“Oh, there’s sugar and cream if you take it with either,” Ruud said. He started to turn, then pivoted back and yanked José towards him. He heard coffee slosh and a few hot drops even splashed his bare arm, but the loudest noises of all were José’s sharp intake of breath just before Ruud kissed him, and the click of their teeth.

Ruud slid his hand to up under José’s arm, using that to first hold the other man still and then, once José had stopped struggling—all of a second—to push him back. Then he resumed his walk back to the kitchen.

“Really, no strings like you said, but if you feel like a repeat with the same conditions tomorrow, I’d be open to the idea,” Ruud called back. He found the sugar bowl and then got the cream, hoping it hadn’t expired—no, it hadn’t.

“Is this where you give me your card?” José asked when Ruud had turned. He looked discomfited and angry about it and beneath that, more than a little interested.

Ruud rolled his eyes as he pushed the sugar bowl down the counter. “Don’t be ridiculous. That’d be putting pressure on you.”

He stood back against the counter and drank his coffee, having nothing else to say. Besides, if he was reading José’s very expressive face correctly, he didn’t need to say anything else.

* * *

Eight Years Ago

You have to be the responsible one. You’re older than him,” Raúl sighed. “Yes, I know, he goes to special advanced classes but Cesc’s only twelve.”

Looking stricken, José opened his mouth to protest. Hopefully it was his greater maturity that told him to drop it at the last moment, but Raúl suspected it probably had a lot more to do with his glare.

In the corner, Cesc magically stopped sniffling over his scraped knee. “Yeah, shouldn’t you know that that wouldn’t have worked anyway? Don’t you guys take physics?”

“Well, then why did you go along with it, genius?” José hissed, whipping his head around.

Two exams tomorrow, plus laundry to do and Cesc’s tutoring and that stupid dinner party. Sometimes Raúl wished he were an orphan. “Stop it, both of you! Holy mother of God…Cesc, you’re old enough to bandage your own knee. Don’t forget the ointment…because…”

“It keeps the germs from getting in and infecting the cells,” Cesc sing-songed, bright-eyed and bouncing. Then he accidentally poked his knee and his face crumpled again. “Ow. Uncle…”

Raúl screwed up his willpower and ignored that; he kept hoping that puberty would do away with Cesc’s ridiculous ability to look needy and defenseless, but so far Cesc was only getting better at it. “José, go get the dustpan and get all those pieces picked up before somebody steps on them. I’ll—”

The doorbell rang. Thank God, whoever it was.

“—get that,” Raúl finished, stalking off. Behind him, he heard José and Cesc start going at each other again, but their voices were far enough apart so that Raúl let it go. They were boys and short of cutting out their tongues, it was impossible to keep them from being wise-asses.

He yanked open the door, praying that the ringer was going to keep him occupied for a while, and consequently was totally off-guard when a blinding smile swooped in, pushed him back into the opposite wall, and stuck a tongue in his mouth and a hand down his jeans. Raúl whuffed out a shocked protest and grabbed at Fernando’s shoulders, but the other man just shoved his hand down deeper. And twisted it. And—

“Kids,” Raúl gasped.

“What?” Fernando finally pulled back. At least, his head did; his hand kept inching down Raúl’s jeans, long fingers probing and pressing and Raúl was having a hell of a time staying on his feet. With his back against the wall. “Oh…oh, damn it, you’re babysitting again?”

At that, Raúl had to raise an eyebrow. “I always have José and Cesc over this day of the week.”

“Oh…right, you do.” A wide, wide smile that did not bode well for Raúl’s composure cracked that faked ignorance right off Fernando’s face. He looked thoughtfully over Raúl’s shoulder, then reached behind Raúl with his free hand and pulled at something.

And then they backed into the coat-closet, and hangers padded over with scratchy fabric were poking Raúl in the head as Fernando nonchalantly resumed his attempt to give Raúl a throat examination with his tongue. The light suddenly went out, so somebody’s foot had caught the door, but—Raúl stabbed his hand up over his head and sent some of those damn hangers skittering out of the way. Then his back found the wall again, and he could get braced against Fernando’s assault, and…wait. Damn it, he wasn’t supposed to be helping.

“So how’s the medical student, hmmm?” Fernando bit at Raúl’s earlobe, licked down Raúl’s throat after the shiver that went through Raúl and then mouthed bone-meltingly at the…the carotid pulse. His hands were rapidly stripping the jeans off of Raúl, and then up under the hem of Raúl’s shirt and teasing at the trembling abdominal muscles. “Am I ruining another physiology lecture for you?”

“You’re ruining my ability—to—to ever look my sister in the face again. ‘Nando—Mori—damn it, they’ll hear us!”

“Yeah, they could. Your little innocent nephew and cousin,” Fernando cooed, his lips feathering over Raúl’s jaw. He pushed Raúl’s hands back against the wall, then splayed his fingers over Raúl’s hips. “They could completely hear their god-idol of an uncle getting fucked till he screams his over-stressed head off.”


Not paying a speck of attention, Fernando kissed Raúl over the protests while his hands methodically, ruthlessly hit every single weak spot Raúl had. And then some. Raúl twisted and made a try at getting around the other man, but Fernando just hauled him back and then hiked him up the wall in one smooth, effortless lift that made Raúl’s mouth dry out.

“It’s too dark in here. I can’t see your face. I’d love to see how you’re—goddamn it Jesus!”

Suddenly Raúl was sliding unsupported down the wall; he grabbed at Fernando’s shoulders, but the other man was collapsing himself, swearing violently. Light blazed into Raúl’s face and he grabbed at his clothes before he’d even regained his balance, and so they both ended up in a jostled, somewhat sore heap on the ground.

“Raúl, José wants to know what he should do with the pieces he picked up.” Cesc. Standing there and frowning just like Raúl’s grandfather at something he thought shouldn’t have been invented. “And you’re supposed to be helping me with math now.”

It was supposedly anatomically impossible, but right then the flow of Raúl’s blood completely reversed and zipped from his prick to his face. He yanked at the parts of his clothes that he could reach, and when Fernando tried to sit up, shoved his head back down with an elbow in a panic to keep the other man shielding him. “Cesc! You—go help José throw them in the trashcan. I’ll be out in a moment.”

“Ten minutes,” Fernando muttered, clutching his calf. His nose was prodding into Raúl’s thigh and he’d been there slightly too long to give Raúl any peace of mind.

Cesc frowned at Fernando’s back, which gave Raúl another moment of panic till Raúl realized Fernando had only been stripping him and was still dressed himself. “Raúl needs to tutor me,” he said, as if explaining to a much, much younger child. “He doesn’t have ten minutes.”

“Cesc, go help José,” Raúl hissed. He willed the boy to, for once in his damned life, do what he was told.

And apparently God was done laughing, since Cesc reluctantly backed away. He left the door open, but Raúl didn’t dare move till he heard Cesc’s footsteps fade away…and then Raúl collapsed against the wall in a red-faced, gasping heap.

“You know, I don’t think that one likes me.” Fernando slowly got himself into a sitting position. He still looked a little annoyed, but that quickly faded as he stared around at the half-hung coats, tumbled-over shoes and disheveled Raúl. Once he got there, his eyes stopped and he started to grin again. “You look great.”

“I’m about this close to tossing you out for the whole night,” Raúl grumbled. Tried to grumble, anyway: Fernando’s good humor, however inappropriate, was ridiculously infectious. He started pulling his jeans back up and the other man reached out, making Raúl jerk away. “Oh, no, you don’t. We are not—not till I get Cesc and José back to their mothers. What’s got you so excited, anyway? Usually you wait till I cook, and then you make me ruin dinner.”

Still not really listening, Fernando idly shifted his gaze around parts of Raúl’s body. Stared at Raúl’s prick till Raúl hastily tucked it away, then at Raúl’s warming throat and wrist—the names of the eight bones in it flew out of Raúl’s head, like birds going south for the winter—and finally at Raúl’s still-tender ankle. Raúl started to pull his leg towards him and Fernando’s hand flashed down, pinning it in place.

His finger-tip calluses scratched at the tattoo, making the flesh start to swell almost immediately. He looked up when Raúl hissed, but only to show a hungry, close-lipped curve of the mouth. His thumb ran along the black ink lines once, and then he bent down to swipe his tongue along it while Raúl dazedly thought he was going to completely fail medical school. He’d be too busy remembering times like these to ever write down an exam answer.

“Wanna celebrate now,” Fernando murmured. His shoulders and hips shifted liquidly to accommodate his new position, like a predatory cat adjusting its haunches to a crouch. “Guess whose band is opening for The Dutch Masters tonight?”

Raúl was breathless, and not just because Fernando’s tongue was slowly, achingly wriggling up his ankle. “…are you serious? Mori—”

“I know.” Grinning, wild-eyed, beautiful with excitement, Fernando sprang up out of that oddly ageless sensuality that made Raúl almost feel cold and back into a gangling young man who pounced and cracked Raúl’s head against the wall on the way down. And more than made up with it with the sweetness of his mouth.

He drew back several moments later, frowning. Raúl shook his head and pushed at him, trying to mumble something about younger relatives, but Fernando just rolled his eyes.

“What?” he asked. “No, just say it, and then I can get back to making you stop thinking.”

“Nothing much.” And it wasn’t, and why the thought would pop into Raúl’s head when Fernando had just told him something like that…probably why he got stuck watching all the younger boys. Their mothers knew he’d do his duty even when it hurt. “Just…I thought Ajax was opening for them. They’ve been blaring ads on the radio for weeks now about it. What happened to them?”

Fernando blinked, then shrugged. “I have no idea, and honestly, I don’t care. FC called me and said they’ve got it for me, so that’s all I need to know.”

* * *

“Later on you learn that that’s exactly what you should know about,” Raúl muttered. He took the next bottle out of the closet, unscrewed the top and looked inside, and then put it back before making a note on his clipboard. “I never heard the whole story, but that was near the beginning. The Dutch Masters were on a foreign label and they were really big, so getting their opening act was important. Ajax was MU, and ‘nando had been FC for about three months.”

Iker put down the bandaid box and shot Cesc a questioning look, which reminded Cesc that they really, really needed to work on Iker’s musical knowledge. How the guy had managed to get this far as a movie reviewer without running into some crossover…well, no, he did write about film scores in his column. His memory just sucked unless movies were involved in some way.

“Ajax’s lead singer broke his leg the day before the show under very mysterious circumstances,” Cesc explained. “He could’ve gone on anyway, but the way I heard it, he insisted on leaving town right away.”

“His wrist would’ve gotten broken next otherwise, and then there goes the guitar-playing.” Raúl grimaced and put down the clipboard to stare moodily into the drug cabinet. “That was Kahn. Once I figured things out, I made ‘Nando switch to Lehmann. Jens is just as psychotic, but he knows how to be more subtle.”

Cesc pushed his hands hard into the examining table, then abruptly hopped up to perch on its edge. He hoped that nobody had noticed; Raúl had said no to Morientes and that was that, and even Cesc could see it was stupid getting all worked up over what had actually happened.

“You were twelve and you kicked El Moro?” Iker whispered.

“Would totally do it again, too. I wasn’t so young I didn’t know what they were doing.” Well, okay, Cesc was also human. But he was going to stop after that.

Raúl glanced over his shoulder and Cesc belatedly put on an innocent face. Of course, Raúl wasn’t fooled at all, but he restrained himself to an annoyed grunt. “The point is, you’re digging into some nasty history.”

“You and El Moro didn’t seem to mind it too much,” Cesc reluctantly admitted. He really didn’t like having to say it, but outweighing that was how weird it was that Raúl seemed to be totally rewriting his memory.

Iker looked from Cesc to Raúl’s suddenly stiffened back. Then he hurriedly finished wrapping up his paper-cut. He would’ve gone back to the kitchen to finish working as well if Cesc hadn’t leaned over and glommed onto his arm. He frowned and stared questioningly at Cesc, but Cesc just waited for Raúl to get on with it.

“No. It’s not setting a good example but there were times when I was damn glad Lehmann was willing to go past the law. ‘Nando worked too hard and was too good,” Raúl muttered. He rolled his shoulders to loosen them and then picked up his clipboard again, going back to inventorying. “Doesn’t mean I got fond of patching up people after one of those tangles. Or that I agreed with every off-payroll specialist Lehmann brought in. Iker, did I take out a blue bottle with a yellow cap?”

“Nope.” Iker scanned the room for good measure, contorting himself to get around Cesc’s hold on his arm. He happened to twist his ass right up against Cesc’s knee and Cesc immediately moved his grip, then ducked to muffle Iker’s yelp.

Raúl sighed. “If you’re going to have sex, do it in the living room. This is supposed to be a sterile environment.”

“I’m not having sex! I’m just checking Iker for hemorrhoids,” Cesc said. He steadfastly ignored the choking sounds coming from Iker and kept on nibbling at Iker’s neck till the other man finally started pulling at his shirt. “So Giuly was one of those specialists?”

“Ludovic Giuly,” Raúl said with measured deliberation, “Is an entirely different species. I think till Van Persie came along, he was the only man to blindside Jens in any way and completely get away with it. Though as far as I know, he and Lehmann never…which old case are you resear—Cesc. Get your hands out of Iker’s trousers.”

Iker coughed and looked a little embarrassed. He answered because Cesc couldn’t. “Um, actually it’s the other way around.”

Raúl paused, then sighed and threw his clipboard on the counter as he turned around. “For the love of the Virgin Mary—”

Which, Cesc muzzily thought as he and Iker grabbed at the other man, was some excellent forward planning. Keep Iker from going back to work, distract Raúl from asking more about why Cesc wanted to know about eight years ago, and get a chance to drag Raúl into at least some heavy petting. Yep, he was good.

* * *

Eight Years Ago

“Jensi, phone.” Something took a couple lazy cuffs at Jens’ back, then moved on to pulling at his hair. “It’s ringing. And it’s five in the morning.”

If Christoph had just shut up for a moment, he would’ve noticed the change in ringing tone as Jens dragged the phone under the covers. “Don’t call me that—hello?”

*Guess who got their newest Spaniard in for The Dutch Masters,* Thierry said. *I miss Lyon already.*

“Thierry, I thought you were looking forward to the challenge.” Couple of years in a second-rate city, turning local garbage into some respectably profitable regional acts, and Jens was finally back where he should be. And it seemed Olli hadn’t forgotten him in the least, which was a little flattering. “Did that guy you know, the one who did the nice job with the free football tickets and the shareholders’ vote, get in yet?”

*Ludo? I think so. You…don’t want to see him already, do you?*

Jens maneuvered himself past Christoph’s sleepily wandering hand and out of bed. He wished he could’ve poured himself into his clothes as well, but he hadn’t had time to properly arrange his apartment yet. “I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t. Set us up at a coffeeshop that’ll give out quadruple espresso shots.”

He hung up and set about getting dressed. Christoph let out another grunt and rolled over to look at Jens through half-bleared eyes, the dim morning light drawing stripes over his smooth back. “Being a little rough on the assistant already, aren’t you?”

“I hired Thierry right after I punched out my last one for trying to take bribes on the side, so I think he knew what to expect,” Jens muttered, buttoning up his shirt. He padded into the bathroom to splash his face, rinse his mouth and give his curls a few yanks with the brush to put some order into them, and when he came back out…Christoph was still lying there. Of course he didn’t have to get up for another three hours; TV producers apparently got regular work hours. “Today looks like shit. I might not be back till late.”

Christoph stared up through slitted, so-what eyes. Then a sliver of white cracked the mask and rapidly widened to a full grin. He rolled over onto his belly and grabbed at Jens. When Jens backed off, he snorted and crooked a couple fingers. “C’mere, Jensi.”

“Call me that again and—”

“So come here.” Empathic waggle of the eyebrows. Once Jens reluctantly had, Christoph suddenly swung his arm over Jens’ head and dragged him down for a sloppy, mismatched kind of kiss. His teeth rasped over Jens’ chin, and if Jens didn’t have to press a damp paper towel to that to get rid of the mark…but Christoph’s grin as he sank back was a pretty thing to see at this hour. “Okay, now go enjoy your shit day.”

Shaking his head, Jens finished getting ready and walked out. His mood stayed that much lighter till he’d gotten to the coffeeshop and mainlined a couple cups to full consciousness. Not coincidentally, that was about the same time that Giuly showed up.

“Good morning, sunshine.” The other man sat down with a smile and a tall cup of something with a truly stunning mound of whipped cream, two different drizzled syrups, and a cherry. He pulled that off first, sucked off a bit of cream, and then ate the fruit with loud, appreciative relish. “I don’t know about you, but I’m finding the first day of my vacation fascinating. They have so many innovations up here.”

“If you’re about to start listing them, I should point out that the undercover cops here generally get the clothes right but the cell-phone too cheap,” Jens dryly said. He nodded towards the pair in the corner. “I think they’re just getting breakfast. So far.”

Giuly glanced at the shop-window behind Jens, checking the reflection. “Ah…so that’s why you aren’t threatening to chop my balls for the endearment.”

“That’s scheduled for this afternoon.” Jens heard a soft beep and glanced down at his beeper. It was Thierry and the code for ‘get back to the office,’ which worsened Jens’ mood. “Have you looked at Kahn yet?”

With a snort, Giuly heartily applied himself to his drink. And to a couple girls staring from the far side of the room, who were young enough to giggle every time he winked. “I understand you wanted the opener for that Dutch band. Personally, I think they peaked two years ago, but…”

“Not according to their sales.” Morientes…Jens hadn’t really had time to research him yet, aside from scanning the basic stats and hearing a demo tape last night. He thought a moment about that, about his first impression, and then decided. “Olli had a good candidate for that—I can’t begrudge him for pushing it. But I don’t see why if he’s got that, he also needs a hand in five of the best club acts this city has.”

“Four.” Giuly paused to wipe some foam off with his finger. He looked at the whitish streak, then put his finger in his mouth and slowly sucked it off. One of the watching girls might’ve fainted, to judge by the sudden thumping noises from that corner. “I hear Gary Neville actually beat both of you to that Catalan one.”

Jens stopped with his cup halfway to his mouth. Then he put it down.

“I could do something about that, too. MU’s even dowdier in person,” Giuly said, smiling in halves. The part the girls could see was charming, and the part Jens was looking at was somewhat more crude in its appetites.

“I suggest you refine your own style a bit,” Jens finally replied. He picked up his cup and drained it, then started to get up. “This is a different city and what passes elsewhere doesn’t pass here.”

Shrugging, Giuly lounged back and stared hard at the girl who was still up. “Ah, advice. Freely given, usually not to a receptive ear. Drink your coffee, Lehmann. I’ll do what I do.”

* * *

“If you have to work with somebody and you get to pick them, why not get a guy who doesn’t make you look like you’re sucking a lemon every time I mention his name?” Robin padded after Jens, the sheet he had wrapped around himself slapping the floor behind him. “I think your cheeks just hollowed more than when you’re going down on me.”

Jens pulled on a shirt, but had to go answer his buzzing PDA before he could button it. He sat down on the bed to get the screen beneath the light and Robin promptly plopped himself on Jens’ thighs. “Because I want to work with the best, and Ludovic Giuly is. Even if he’s a debauched mercenary with the kind of sense of humor that gives the French their reputation as the people you most want to slap. Robin—”

“You like me in a bedsheet, remember?” Robin purred, pushing and wriggling till Jens had to lie on his back to finish reading the damn email. The other man immediately pressed his advantage and snugged himself down on top, the thin sheet doing less than nothing to hide his nakedness beneath it. His half-risen prick rubbed against Jens’ thigh and the muscles in his legs shifted smoothly, teasingly against Jens. He pulled apart the sides of Jens’ shirt and started taking delicate licks at Jens’ chest, twirling his tongue in the curly hairs there. “So what’d he do to you, aside from not rolling over whenever you threw a fit?”

“He did not have sex with me, so you can get that out of your head.” The email was the kind of irritating memo that needed immediate action on some stupid minor detail that should’ve been seen to months ago by any thinking admin functionary, but that hadn’t and had subsequently blown up. Jens propped his elbows on the bed so he could hold the PDA over his head and started typing.

Laugh. Robin appeared to be trying to make patterns in Jens’ chest-hair with his tongue, and ridiculous as it sounded in Jens’ head, in actual sensation it was annoyingly distracting. “I saw how tall he was.”

“You could tell who was an idiot by whether they made a Napoleon joke about him,” Jens muttered. “He’d laugh with you, but later on you’d find your brake-lines cut or your lover doing your gardener or land in jail on a planted drug-charge.”

After a moment, Robin stopped nibbling at Jens’ nipple and slid farther up so he could look down at Jens over the top edge of the PDA. “Are you saying you called him a shortie and he fucked with you?”

“No. I never insulted his height, and he still fucked with me.” Jens sounded bitter about that. And he was still goddamn bitter, all these years later. He should’ve come to terms with it by now, and he did understand objectively why Giuly might have done that…but for some reason he couldn’t get rid of the idea that he’d had the better offer and that French ass had turned him down just because.

He knew better now, but that didn’t mean he had a great revised strategy for keeping Giuly’s loyalty. Not to mention he hated having to be a panderer in the first place. But it was either that or watch an underworld turf war escalate into a business threat, and Giuly already knew he was the logical choice. He’d shown up at that damn restaurant when Jens had only been expecting Ruud.

Robin was still staring at him, jaw slightly working and eyes not entirely focused on Jens. Sighing, Jens shoved the PDA to the side and pulled at the sheet till he could get his hands on Robin’s waist, getting the other man’s attention. “Don’t take it personally. He didn’t, and that’s why he pulled it off.”

Frowning, Robin splayed his palms on Jens’ ribs and tugged himself up till Jens could reach his ass and hips. “You’re not planning his ultimate demise with this? After what he did?”

“I never even said what he did, and no, I’m not. I need him. I need him happy, so do not go off like a half-cocked moron on him,” Jens muttered. He stroked his fingers from Robin’s waist to mid-thigh and then back, staying on top of the sheet’s folds.

Of course Robin squirmed and tried to get him to go to skin, but Jens hooked up the fabric with his fingertips and teased the other man through it till Robin finally blew out a breath and threw back his head. “Fine, fine, I’m not going to. Now can you stop molesting the bedsheet and get around to—” he stopped, his Adam’s apple bobbing with a hard swallow and his fingernails suddenly gouging into Jens’ stomach “—oh…God…that’s it…”

Jens kept on rolling his palm over Robin’s balls while pulling at the sheet with his other hand. He pushed himself up on one elbow as he did, then was about to reach for the bedside drawer when Robin suddenly swayed in.

“…so what’d he do?” Robin asked, vigorously nipping at Jens’ ear.

After a moment, Jens pushed the other man over in exasperation. He would’ve left as well, but Robin wound around him like a leech and made moaning little noises and sucked at Jens’ lower lip till Jens finally pushed him down and fucked him till his eyes rolled back into his head.

And afterward, when Jens was trying to disentangle them…“Did he fuck with you like Kahn does, or—”

“Olli’s never had the last word. Ludo got that—” With a sigh, Jens laid back down and resigned himself to telling Robin about it. He might as well figure out how to do it here, he thought. He’d probably have to trot out the explanation a couple more times, if he knew Giuly.

* * *

Eight Years Ago

“I had no idea that being cooperative with a criminal investigation could be so reciprocal.” Grinning like a loon, Luca sprawled over the bed. He more than dominated that space.

Well, it was about time for Paolo to—his beeper went off, he checked it and then he knew it was time to go. “Just as long as you don’t let the reciprocation go to your head. It’s not really about you, it’s about your testimony.”

“Testimony? But I didn’t see anything,” Luca said, rolling over. He looked up with wide, confused doe-eyes that would absolutely melt a jury of hardened army sergeants. Then he snorted and ran one hand through his hair. “That French guy already talked to me. I know what to say, what’s going to happen if I screw up…I like my job and my life fine. Not interested in moving.”

Paolo smiled, thin-lipped, and gathered up his clothes. “Sensible outlook. It’s really nice to run into that.”

“Come down after the trial and have a drink at the bar on me.” Luca’s tone was lazy and his eyes watchful, taking in Paolo’s body but not getting taken in by it. “Or not. Half the people I meet seem to go that way for a closing, and the other half…”

“Well, we’ll see. But in case I don’t happen to come by, that really was an excellent martini,” Paolo said. He nodded to the other man and Luca got that as well, shrugging and turning back over, apparently to go back to sleep.

Paolo’s eyes drifted to the clock and he suppressed a curse, hurrying up his dressing. He honestly hadn’t intended to dally this long after briefing Toni for his cross-examination, but then, he hadn’t really been expecting Jens’ man to throw up a counter witness with silky dark hair and positive acres of golden-skinned, lean muscle. If he broke a couple traffic laws, he’d probably still make it to the office in time.

And as it turned out, he could’ve saved himself from that worry. He walked in and Jens was being dragged back by Thierry and Kahn was being held down by whoever his assistant was this month, and they were both screaming bloody hell. So Paolo turned on his heel and went back down to the nearest secretary.

“This club act they both wanted just turned up a double murder,” she said. “Bass player got caught feeling up the girlfriend of the club manager they were due to play at tonight and bam! Bam!”

“It’s the—” Thierry started, running up.

Paolo knew which one it was, and also knew from Thierry’s face that his afternoon had just gotten rearranged. “Which one?”

Thierry almost said Kahn, but he was at heart a fair man and couldn’t. “I have no idea. Somebody tipped off the manager from an FC number, but it was a lobby phone anyone could’ve picked up.”

“So we’re implicated for accessory to homicide? Then it looks like it’s mine again, either way,” Paolo said, sighing. A loud, sharp thud came from the meeting room and both he and Thierry winced. Then he exhaled more pointedly and waved one hand that way. “For the love of God, can somebody please shut them up? It’s the third open criminal investigation this month that can be linked to them—remind them that they’re already partially suspended from business.”

“It’s not Jens. I swear it on my grave, it wasn’t him,” Thierry said, urgency ironing out his usual engaging charm. He peered into Paolo’s face, then whirled and went back to the meeting room at a fast trot.

Maybe he wasn’t the caller, but given how fast and loose Lehmann had been playing since he’d gotten his recall to the main office, Paolo wouldn’t completely exonerate him. He and Kahn might keep Paolo in enough work to justify the biggest bonuses in the legal department, but both of them could be utter asses at times.

Paolo made a few calls to start getting evidence from the police and finding witnesses on his way to his office. He was telling his secretary to cancel all meetings for the day when Thierry found him again to schedule an appointment to hear Jens’ version of events—Lehmann always was prompt about that. Kahn usually took till the next day, and then he had the gall to complain about unfair treatment.

While Thierry was there, Paolo was tempted to ask if whoever Jens had producing the marvelous string of witnesses with which he’d been providing Paolo had been alerted, but he finally decided against that. His instinct said this was going to be a very circumstantial case, easy to tear apart on its own merits, and so there was no point in getting out the bag of tricks. It was tempting fate to rely on those all the time.

And, when Paolo finally did step into his office, he was very glad of that decision. The back facing him looked as if it were made of steel, but was shaking so hard he was surprised he didn’t see pieces flying off. He put down his briefcase behind the couch and then took the precaution of locking the door and pulling the blinds on the hall-window.

“You disgusting piece of corporate rot.” Sandro had his hands clasped together against the small of his back. His fingers squeezed till they were white and brittle-looking, like pieces of cloudy ice.

“I won the case, Sandro,” Paolo simply said.

The fingers didn’t break, but the creaking of their bones under the strain was nearly audible. Then Sandro whirled, his arms flying up and out as he swooped at Paolo. His eyes were blazing and his face had paled with rage to make the contrast even more startling. “You won because you tampered with witnesses! You talked that judge into admitting evidence that’d never stand up to sunlight--you cheating bastard! You make me sick! I want to spit in your—”

His fist angled at Paolo’s face. It was more of a wild afterthought of rage than anything else, but Paolo still wasn’t interested in getting a broken nose. He caught it and twisted Sandro’s arm back; the second fist was more deliberately directed, but slower and Paolo grabbed that as well. He kept his head down and let Sandro’s vicious epithets go over him, and when he heard Sandro’s need for air start to rasp his words rough, Paolo gave the other man a hard shake. Sandro gasped, stumbled and was starting to recover when Paolo spun them around.

He gasped again when his back hit the wall. Paolo kissed him while the air was still wheezing out of his mouth, tasting prickly heat in it, and then Sandro had to kiss back or suffocate.

Sandro being Sandro, he held out till Paolo nearly let up out of concern. And then he gave, one grudging scrap at a time: his mouth softened, his wrists bent and then his lashes fluttered against Paolo’s brow as he shut his eyes. Not stupid enough to rush it, Paolo shifted his fingers so he still held onto Sandro’s wrist, but without gouging on the tendons. He started to ease his mouth over the other man’s lips, probing with his tongue, and then Sandro suddenly was all fury and passion again, but in tune with Paolo and not against him. His fingers curved to thread into Paolo’s and he moaned, pressing up against Paolo.

Paolo swept his tongue over the roof of Sandro’s mouth and then trailed it out the corner, sucking at the other man’s lower lip till he could feel it turning tender against his teeth. “I won, Nesta.”

“And you didn’t do anything I wouldn’t do. If I weren’t a prosecutor,” Sandro muttered, half-bitter but still melting. He tugged his left hand loose, then slipped it up beneath Paolo’s suit-jacket to rest on Paolo’s back.

“Even as a prosecutor.” When Paolo turned his head, Sandro tipped his so Paolo could kiss him at the jawline, the throat. “I could list some wrongdoings of your own, but I seem to remember a certain…”

“I meant to come here in official capacity, not to let you get off on fucking the opposition again, so I didn’t break my promise.” Sandro bit at Paolo’s chin, almost hard enough to leave a mark and definitely hard enough for Paolo to belatedly recall Toni. Then Sandro went for Paolo’s throat and Paolo ducked so the other man stayed out of his shirt-collar and chewed on Paolo’s lip instead, hard and stinging and not without some enjoyment. For both of them. “More of your label’s people are in trouble, and I just know you’re on it, aren’t you? Looking forward to me sucking you off during recesses again?”

That had been a little too bitter—Paolo raised his head and looked Sandro in the eye, steady and calm but searching. And Sandro couldn’t meet his gaze for more than a few seconds, which did disturb him. He genuinely admired the man’s spirit and unlike some people, hadn’t gotten into this to break it.

He pushed up Sandro’s chin with his hand, then held it there when Sandro tried to duck again. “I said I’d never lie to you about who I am—you already knew what I did, and do. Have I lied?”

Sandro did stare then. And then he snorted, a smile going over his face that was all the more brilliant for its reluctance. “You’re an old-school bastard, Maldini.” His eyebrows lifted, slanting over suddenly sharp eyes. “But you know, not everybody else likes the old code of honor. You might want to start watching your back, if you want to keep meeting me in court. I’m not so desperate I’ll take on obvious farces.”

“What?” Paolo asked.

“This latest—” Sandro started.

Somebody slammed on Paolo’s door and they both jumped. Then Sandro cursed and jerked himself out from between Paolo and the wall. Yanking his collar, he unlocked the door and ripped it open before Paolo could stop him.

As he stalked out, Jens stalked in. He somehow managed to look even madder than when he’d been trying to reach for Kahn’s neck, which set off a church-tower of warning bells in Paolo’s head.

“He’s screwed over both of us,” Jens hissed, kicking the door. “It just came to me—it was him. That Lyonnais shit.”

He did it hard enough so that it bounced right back out of the frame and Paolo had to catch it on the rebound. “Who?”

“L—the one who’s been setting up witnesses and contracts. He was supposed to set this one up for me, but something Kahn said—that fucking son of a bitch promised Kahn the same thing, maybe even promised MU for all I can tell, and then turned around and made sure none of us signed the band.” Jens walked forward two paces, then abruptly punched at the air while letting out a truly thundering snarl of rage. “And he’s left a mess. I hear there’s already been a knifing over who owns that nightclub now, and the band’s lead went and shot up the dead manager’s brother’s bookie office this morning.”

On the off-chance that Lehmann had one of his violent episodes where he temporarily forgot who everybody was, Paolo moved to where he could reach the nearest chair. “Is there proof? Can you be linked to him?”

“No.” Incredibly enough, Jens laughed…though it was a humorless, near-roar of a sound. “No, he’s not that stupid. I think there’s enough to get us to a hearing, but that’s all. I think everything else he’s done will still hold, so you don’t need to rework anything, but—that son of a--”

The rest was in German and gave the distinct impression of being liberally soaked in acid. Paolo ignored Lehmann and started trying to figure out exactly what he did need to change in his open cases. Enraged as he was, Lehmann still seemed to be thinking clearly, and what Sandro had said last might be support—he frowned, startled out of thought by a ringing phone.

It was Jens’, and judging from his frown as he put it up to his ear, not a call he was expecting. He listened with an impatient expression for a few seconds; Paolo was about to go over to his desk and sit down to work when Jens suddenly stiffened and went white.

“Who?” he asked harshly. “Sebastian Kehl? Who—Christo—what? What?” Pause. The color slowly faded back into Jens’ face, which was rapidly setting in a blank stone mask. “Oh. I see. Well, get out by tonight. I’ll have the locksmith in tomorrow. No…no…no, I don’t really care to hear about it now. If you wanted to talk to me about that, you should’ve brought it up before telling me you’re leaving.”

Jens seemed calm enough when he thumbed off his phone. He turned around and took one step towards the door, and then he spun and Paolo was ducking nearly out of his chair as something smashed through the window behind him.

Phone-less, Jens walked the rest of the way to the door and opened it without destroying anything else. “I’ll send a check down for that in fifteen minutes,” he said, and then he left.

* * *

“Kehl was an investigative reporter. You know, one of those earnest young men who has a half-hour every week or so to warn you about the newest brand of corruption infecting modern society,” Paolo said, nibbling on his pen-cap. He occasionally paused to make a note on the papers he was reading. “Apparently he got wind of Lehmann’s underworld games. Didn’t have any concrete proof, but he was convincing enough for Lehmann’s boyfriend. And they were already old friends, I think. They moved away together shortly afterward.”

“How’d he get wind? Somebody blow it from another FC phone?” Fàbregas was certainly quick, but Paolo wasn’t so sure that the fascinated gleam in his eye boded well.

Kaká, on the other hand, had looked increasingly uncomfortable as Paolo had talked and now was sitting as if his notepad would explode if he let it tilt the wrong way on his knees. Understandably enough—Paolo had at first been tempted to gloss over some parts, but Fàbregas had made it very clear he already knew enough to pick out the gilding.

“Oh, it was fairly common knowledge that Kahn did that as retaliation. He didn’t catch on as fast as Lehmann did, and even afterward he said Lehmann was responsible for creating the situation in the first place.” Paolo shrugged. “I wouldn’t know the details. I didn’t particularly enjoy having to have my window replaced, so I kept my distance. And I was busy enough anyway with everything that happened afterwards. At one point FC put out a nightclub ban to try and cut down the number of agents in court as accessories, witnesses and so on.”

Whistling slowly, Fàbregas shook his head and stared at the opposite wall. “Yeah, I found that memo. And the one exiling Lehmann to Sweden. Though he fought his way back in six months and got Ljungberg there…I guess that’s part of why people think Kahn’s an ass, right? You’re not supposed to mess with colleagues’ personal lives in public.”

It was cute, but Fàbregas’ little eager-student act wasn’t terribly convincing. He was too smart to need explaining about that. “Why are you looking up these old cases again? Ludovic Giuly was a troublemaker, but he was never that big a figure in this city, or during that time. He was only here for a few months, and left right before the trouble really started,” Paolo said.

“Oh, one of the singers FC was looking at then has a new band and looks promising. Ruud just wants to make sure they’re not carrying any legal baggage from that whole mess,” Cesc said. His eyes weren’t glittering with innocence, so Paolo supposed the other man was actually telling the truth, as far as he knew. “Thanks, Mr. Maldini! Sorry it took so long—”

“Well, you wouldn’t have known how long the story really was, I’d think.” Paolo put down his work and got up to see Fàbregas out.

He stayed by the door and watched the other man walk away, bounce in his step and probably a zillion ideas flying around in his head. It probably had been the best idea of his career to switch to civil law.

The couch cushions creaked, and Paolo became aware of the wry smile on his face. “I suppose you’re sorry you helped him now. I’m in no position to lecture you about your friends, but that one—”

“Cesc means well in the end,” Kaká said, disturbingly close. He’d gotten up and was leaning against the wall just beside the door, coat off and sleeves rolled up and hair charmingly rumpled. His gaze was sober and utterly damning in its refusal to judge, as usual. Then he glanced away and nervously rubbed at his jaw. “What…what happened to Nesta and…”

“Alessandro’s a good, tough-minded man. He eventually got over his self-destructive period, dumped me over some other one-night-stand of mine and went back to Italy. I hear he’s gotten into politics now,” Paolo said, pushing himself out of the doorway. He shut the door and then braced his shoulder on it, turning towards the other man. “I have no idea about…what was his…Luca, right. Back then I was one of those who didn’t think a glass afterward was necessary, and he wasn’t stupid enough to try and find me again.”

Kaká looked back at Paolo, and kept looking as he leaned forward. He lifted his hands to waist-level, hesitated, and then slowly put them on Paolo’s sides, his head tipping down a little. “Oh.”

“Some of the other ones weren’t, and I wasn’t terribly nice to them about it.” Paolo bit back the urge to add on excuses about it. Basically he hadn’t really cared beyond the personal inconvenience, and that’d been the cause of his actions and nothing else.

A self-conscious, almost wry smile. “You don’t have to apologize to me. I’m not them, Paolo. All that is between you and them, and anyway you already feel bad about it.”

“Mostly when I look at you,” Paolo muttered, brushing some of that hair out of Kaká’s eyes. He let his hand turn as it drifted down the side of Kaká’s face, running his knuckles over the smooth skin, and Kaká turned his head into it so his mouth grazed the base of Paolo’s thumb. He put up his other hand and framed Kaká’s face between his fingers. Then he sighed and shook his head, and slid his fingers down to Kaká’s throat as he pulled the other man close. “And beneath all that goodwill, you don’t actually approve, do you?”

Paolo kissed Kaká for every time Kaká tried to say something, and given how stubborn the other man was, that was quite a few times. Even when Kaká was staggering and clinging to Paolo to support, his lips were still moving, defying every trick Paolo knew. He dug his fingers into Paolo’s shoulder and side and finally pushed his head past Paolo’s cheek. Of course Paolo adapted and moved to tracing out the lines of Kaká’s ear and jaw with his tongue-tip, but despite the shudders, Kaká wasn’t having any of it. “I said I wanted to hear about it too and I do.”

His flesh was ridiculously soft, like peach-skin, and then resilient beneath that no matter how Paolo pressed with his tongue. A flash of contradictory ire made Paolo try his luck with his teeth—just the flat fronts of his incisors, no real attempt to draw blood—and he didn’t have any more luck getting through but Kaká did stiffen up. Snorting, Paolo drew back and curved his fingers around Kaká’s face again. “This is why I have such a problem. You think it’s worth listening to and I think any sensible person would be condemning me to hell. I don’t see why I of all people get a reprieve now.”

Kaká looked blankly confused. “Why not? Everyone deserves one.”

“And that’s the Christian in you,” Paolo easily replied.

He was expecting Kaká to take offense and get distracted in another defense of his faith, not to jerk up his head and stare with that kind of fire in his eyes. Ricardo swallowed hard, his brows drawing down almost into a scowl. Then he shook his head sharply; his hands dropped and he jerked Paolo forward by the belt-loops till a particle of air couldn’t be found between them. “That’s me. You deserve one,” he said. He might as well have swore.

Paolo bit his lip till he tasted blood. He stared at Kaká till the other man dimmed a little, uncertainty over Paolo’s response taking over, and then he swung his arm around Kaká’s waist, holding him in place. A hard decoy kiss while Paolo yanked at Kaká’s tie and then collar, and when he’d managed to spread cloth from skin with his fingers, he ripped his mouth down Kaká’s neck. He ignored the gasps and the sudden, warning twist of the body against him—he did stop just above the spot, where throat flowed into shoulder, and exhaled on it so he felt the heat of his breath buffet back onto his face. Then he bit it as well.

Kaká said something, some startled, half-choked exclamation that Paolo willfully missed. His nails skittered audibly over Paolo’s suit-jacket, catching on the fibers. Paolo reached up and wrapped his hands around the other man’s wrists while he sucked at the flesh his teeth held till he knew there’d be a mark, till he knew it’d stay and throb dully throughout the day, a sore Kaká’s shirt-collar was going to rub at incessantly. And then he let go, blood-taste souring on his tongue like the last drink of a dying man.

He dropped Kaká’s wrists and Kaká jumped as if Paolo had electrocuted him, then seized Paolo’s hands back. Ricardo pulled them to his throat and Paolo stretched nerveless fingers towards—but then Ricardo let out a frustrated, desperate noise and yanked them lower, till they touched his loosened tie. Paolo thought he got the idea then and smoothed out the crushed wings of the collar, straightened them against Kaká’s neck, then tightened the tie-knot while Kaká stood there with a bowed head. But then Ricardo lifted his head, and met Paolo’s eyes, and shakily said, “That was still above the—”

“Ricardo—” Paolo started, relieved and horrified at the same time.

Kaká grabbed a double-handful of Paolo’s clothes and used that to claw a kiss out of Paolo, throwing himself into it with an irresistible, shockingly reckless abandon. It didn’t last long—they were both too off-balance—but Kaká managed to right himself a little with it, and his second kiss, to the corner of Paolo’s mouth, was considerably more deliberate. And so on, as he pressed his lips to Paolo’s jaw line and neck and finally to back of Paolo’s right hand.

He looked up. “I’ll see you for dinner,” he said.

Then he walked out, leaving Paolo standing there as if somebody had applied a blunt object to the back of Paolo’s head.

Eventually Paolo got his wits together enough to go out and see if…Kaká was halfway down the hall, step a little shaky, and didn’t look back. But he was touching the side of his neck the same way he’d probably touched his first Bible, nervous but reverent. It sent Paolo reeling back into his office, where he was damn glad for a wall to lean on.

“Fine enough revenge, even by your merits, Sandro,” he finally muttered.

* * *

“Huh. Okay. All right…no, no, that’s good…that fills in just about all the blank spaces I see…thanks, Cesc,” Ruud said, mind more on the email he was reading. Giuly had gotten back to him about a time for a face-to-face, and now they were onto the more difficult stage of settling on a location. “No…they’re probably not a great choice after all…I’m probably flying to South America soon to try my luck…because I speak Portuguese. All right, I’ll—”

Somebody knocked on the window. Ruud frowned and warily turned around, and when he saw José standing outside of the car, he didn’t relax. He pointed to his cell-phone, then made a slicing gesture with his hand; José sighed and shoved his hands in his pockets, clearly meaning to wait.

“—see you tomorrow, Cesc.” After hanging up, Ruud rolled down the window. “How did you get this address?”

“The guy you use as a realtor comes in every Friday lunch for the tapas special. He doesn’t hold his sangria well,” José said, shrugging. He had a newspaper tucked under his arm and he pulled it out now, flipping it around so Ruud glimpsed the large color photo in front. “Today’s my day off. I was reading the paper and saw this, and I had this wild guess—”

Ruud reached out, pulled the paper from the other man’s hand, and then pitched it into a nearby street-side trashcan. “I think I can understand you coming here, but coming here and bringing me that…you seemed smarter than that.”

“Yeah, I’m the steady, responsible one of the family.” Irony and bitterness imbued José’s voice in equal parts. He shrugged again and backed up a little, looking at Ruud.

“He’s coming back in three days,” Ruud finally said, getting out of the car. He locked up, then tossed his keys in the air—José’s eyes tracked the metallic gleam—and caught them with a flip of the hand that sent them into his pocket. Then he walked forward and took José by the arm, dragging the other man along with him.

He had to let go to unlock the house’s front door, but José didn’t go anywhere. The other man tamely followed in after Ruud, their footsteps weirdly echoing through the huge, empty spaces. “I think my favorite quote was the one he gave about moving out of the past and not letting it hold him back. ‘Looking for a new everything in my life.’”

Ruud grimaced and turned the corner, then pivoted hard. When José came around, Ruud grabbed his wrist and twisted it up behind his back till José was too busy gasping in pain to talk. Then he pushed José up against the wall and mouthed the other man’s throat, licking and biting while José tried to keep himself up on his toes to take the strain off his arm. Snorting, Ruud gave his wrist another twist and José settled down. Except for his prick, which was already hard against Ruud’s thigh, and his free hand, which was pulling at Ruud’s belt.

“Stop talking about that article and maybe you’ll get that,” Ruud told him in a pleasant tone.

José froze. Then he moaned, head going back and eyes closing as Ruud bit under his chin, and his hand fell to sit on Ruud’s hip. That was better. That was—Ruud shut his own eyes and he could almost hear the sounds of partying, champagne corks popping and glasses clinking and Cristiano’s laugh soaring over all of it. But then his memory brought up the smell of the days after in this house, the vomit and the drugs, and he opened his eyes to see José’s bared throat. Ruud rubbed his thigh between the other man’s legs and watched José swallow.

“Now you don’t mind being pressured, do you?” he asked coolly.

Wide, pretty black eyes stared up at him. “Please…”

“I’m thinking about it.” Ruud buried his face in José’s neck again, not wanting to see the room but not wanting to let his imagination have a chance either. And soon after he buried himself in José’s body, and he thought he might have found some kind of middle ground between the two.


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