Tangible Schizophrenia


How to Score the Arsenal Way

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: R. Amazingly.
Pairing: Lehmann/Senderos, Lehmann/Senderos/Drogba, Lehmann/Senderos/other Arsenal players. Implied Lehmann/Ballack.
Feedback: Good lines, typos, etc.
Disclaimer: This is fiction and isn’t what these people actually do in their free time (dammit).
Notes: References Arsenal matches from the Dec. 10, 2006 one against Chelsea to the Jan. 2, 2007 one against Charlton. Sequel to The German Connection.
Summary: More satire and awful punning. Phil’s eye view of the Arsenal locker room.


The really depressing thing, Philippe often thinks, is that nobody would buy the book or the script or whatever form into which he eventually puts his memoirs. There’d be too many foreign-language bits or subtitles necessary, and the kind of people who can get those kinds of books or movies published, the huge legends who have mantels full of Oscars and Nobel Literature Prizes, wouldn’t think the jokes are very funny. Because they’d think football is too lowbrow.

They’d be wrong, but only because they’d be aiming too high.

“Two buckets, one at each goal-post.”

“Well, he already puts his water-bottle there. Why don’t we just get him a bigger one?”

“Not enough water. No, I mean, you know how he gets. You’ve got to have a lot, enough for a big slap of it hitting his face, to get through to him. And it’s got to be cold…well, not a problem now.”

“Cold and rainy. English weather sucks. It doesn’t even have the decency to turn to snow most of the time. But wait, wouldn’t he be used to cold water by now because of that? It’s always raining here and Jens still gets it up. I don’t think the buckets are going to work. We need some other way to ice him down.”

What?” Cesc screeches. His linguistic skills are pretty good by now but his timing off the pitch…well, frankly it sucks. He’s always arriving at the tail-end of the conversation, like right now, and instead of asking for people to recap, he prefers to launch himself straight in, arms flailing and eyes huge with panic. “Why would you want to do that? You get so much shrinking that way!”

When he was sixteen, it was cute. Cute and frustrating for Philippe, who ended up building his cold-shower immunity to about fifteen minutes in Arctic-temperature waters. Now that Cesc’s nineteen, graceful enough to mostly miss noses and shoulders with his flapping hands, and has Philippe’s number on speed-dial for hauling him out of everything from nightclub back-entrances to what used to be a very nice flowerbed in Arsène’s yard, it’s really just hopeless. Yet strangely addictive to watch. Philippe supposes it must be the same effect Desperate Housewives has on Cesc.

Cesc stares at Kolo and Johan, who stare right back. Then Kolo rolls his eyes and resumes stuffing his feet into his shoes. “No, his head. We’re talking about calming him down so he stops getting booked.” He flicks a dismissive look at Cesc. “Besides, you’d probably need it made smaller.”

“I would not,” Cesc declares. He sticks out his lower lip the way women stick out their breasts and spins to look appealingly at Philippe. “Phil? Tell him.”

“Tell them what? I can’t judge something like that.” They don’t live together anymore, which is on this occasion something for which Philippe is seriously thankful. If they had been, then it would’ve been guaranteed that sometime later in the night he’d be woken by a Spanish brat wanting to check with a banana or, God help them, a cucumber. Philippe likes his food sans awkward mental associations and even more awkward explanations to Gary Lewin, thank you.

Cesc looks at him. Kolo and Johan look at him, which is annoying since Philippe’s just upheld the silent code of back four solidarity, and this is how they repay him?

With a small, but immensely expressive sniff, Cesc takes himself out of the room. A few moments later Kolo nearly drops his bag at the sound of Jens roaring for Cesc to get the hell out of his shoes.

“Shoes?” Johan blinks.

“The size. They, you know, some people, they think foot size tells you what the other size is,” Philippe mutters. He’s stuffing his duffel as quickly as humanely possible, hoping he can get out of it before Arsène shows up to ask questions. It’s not exactly embarrassing to talk about that sort of thing with the boss, because Arsène is no prude, but he’s definitely…Disapproving. With the weight of centuries of French cultural superiority, never mind that the French invented the term ‘double entendre.’

Kolo frowns and sticks out his foot to look at it, then snorts. He shakes his head, muttering something about underestimating. “Why is Cesc still on this subject? Didn’t he and Robin and Mathieu get their curiosity all bent out so they came into training the next day wobbly-legged?”

“I thought that was just Michael Ballack.” Philippe probably says that a little too fast. He’s used to covering up for Cesc, not for himself. “Maybe we should just ask Jens to turn around in the shower sometime. Easy solution.”

Johan is scrubbing half-heartedly at his cheek, but his embarrassment doesn’t keep him from stating the obvious. “Not if they jump him right then and there. Remember, we’ve already discussed this. For the good of the team, we must always block that view.”

Of course Philippe remembers. It’d been a hell of a way to be introduced to Freddie Ljungberg, that conversation, and it’s one of the linchpins of the Arsenal defense. Synchronized screening of Jens Lehmann’s cock in the showers.

Honestly, for a lot of this season so far, it’d been damn near the only task on which they’d successfully cooperated. Which Philippe really, really tries not to think too much on…damn that new edition of Freud he’d picked up last week.

“Speaking of Ballack and Chelsea, I heard there was some talk about my national captain,” Kolo abruptly says. His eyes have narrowed and he looks…well, Philippe is already grimacing at himself, but the only word for it is ‘defensive.’

After a moment, Philippe gets what Kolo is driving at and stifles a groan. “Drogba? I think they’ve forgotten about it. Ashley Cole got to them more.”

“Who, Cesc? Mathieu? I meant Jens. I heard he was talking about looking Didi up.” Kolo raises his hand to stop Philippe’s response. “I don’t worry about them fighting. I meant the other way.”

Johan blinks, then stares wide-eyed. He coughs once, twice, and then hurriedly scurries from the room. Philippe carefully doesn’t note whether Johan’s heading for the street, or for deeper into the changing rooms for some privacy. It’s one of the little courtesies the defenders give each other; they can’t do the same for the midfielders and forwards since God knows where the team would be if they stopped doing their job once they stepped off the pitch. At the very least, Wenger would have out a restraining order that Hleb and Rosický had to stay two hundred meters apart at all times. Yeah, right, cuddling for warmth. Be warmer with their clothes on.

“I think he was just joking. You know how he is—always trying to wind up Cesc or Robin,” Philippe weakly says.

Kolo looks hard at him. “What if he’s not?”

“Well, what are we supposed to do? I guess you could warn Drogba, but we can’t really tell Jens not to do it.” Philippe could actually be a lot more reassuring than this, considering the current better-thing-he-has-to-do-than-sneak-ER-doctors-to-Cesc, but he doesn’t really want to let even the other defenders in on that. Mostly because he’s got a nasty, nasty feeling that they’d call foul on him for not sharing. A lot of that blocking Jens’ business is rooted in collective self-preservation.

“I can’t warn Didi,” Kolo says, sounding a bit disconsolate. He kicks at the support for a nearby bench. “Didi’s the one who wants to know whether it’s true.”

Oh. Oh…damn. Damn. Normally Philippe likes to think of himself as a tolerant, patient kind of person, but right now he suddenly wishes that Germans stayed in Germany. Particularly tall, dark-haired midfielders who think opposing teams are their personal dating service and whose idea of being helpful to mannschaft friends is completely fucking with Philippe’s evening plans.

“International duty makes things so damn complicated,” Kolo sighs.

“Yeah.” Philippe thinks very, very fast, and it is times like these that he wishes Cesc had a tiny bit more commonsense so he could ask the other man for help without risking the safety of half the team, Emirates stadium, and probably a good portion of London’s sushi restaurants. “Well, you can tell him you don’t know, and the only way to find out is to ask Jens. If he’s not that serious, then that’ll probably do it.”

Kolo momentarily brightens. Then he goes back to kicking the bench. “I think he’s serious.”

Over Philippe’s dead body. He hasn’t been working up the nerve for months to stalk Jens’ house and get Jens to order him inside just to have bloody Drogba waltz into bed over a bunch of play-acting on the pitch. And also Philippe possibly needs to curb this brutal-honesty habit he has for the sake of his dignity, but that’s a discussion that’s impossible to have while in the locker-room. “So we’ll block them. You do Drogba, and I’ll do Lehmann.”

“Block them how? Politely ask them to stop?”

“No, make sure they don’t even get together in the first place. We’ll have to be annoying, but it’s better than having more Chelsea-Arsenal…” Philippe can’t quite think of a suitable word to describe all that, so he just gestures. It looks like Kolo gets his intent well enough from that. “Think Cesc bugging Titi and Bobby.”

One eyebrow raised, Kolo turns from the door to look straight at Philippe again. “That was on purpose? I thought he was just a moron and hadn’t noticed.”

“He noticed. He wanted to catch them snogging,” Philippe mutters. If he ever, ever had to listen to a debate on if Thierry giggled during sex again…who cared, honestly? If people actually were paying attention at that point, they probably were doing it all wrong and didn’t deserve to be there. “It’ll blow over in a couple weeks. I mean, we’ve got Liverpool in two Cup-tie matches coming up, and then Man U at the end of the month.”

“True,” Kolo nods. Looking a lot more reassured, he starts off towards the door. “Ronaldo always gets on Jens’ nerves. Actually, I almost want to see Jens ream that little shit out. Maybe it’d straighten out that problem with his legs where he falls over all the time.”

* * *

Jens absently drums his fingers on the steering wheel as he waits for the light to change. “You’d think, but no, it just makes him whinier. ‘Faster, higher, no, no, bad angle, no, stupid German bastard, Rooney fucks better’…”

After a moment’s thought, Philippe remembers to breathe. He’s not having a bloody panic attack in the middle of London’s shopping district, and Jens is probably kidding. Probably. There’s not a goal-post in sight, but then, this isn’t Jens’ usual insanity. This seems quite deliberate, and lately Philippe has noticed that Jens does let himself crack more jokes around him. “No way. Gary told me he was seeing to you after that match, so the only other time would’ve been during the World Cup. And you said you were screwing Odonkor and Ballack then.”

“What, that means I couldn’t have been making a man out of Ronaldo?” Glance over. Then the light turns and Jens has to look at the road again, but his mouth is quirked into a half-smile.

“You don’t do that kind of charity work,” Philippe mutters. He’s still getting used to this whole idea of saying what he’s thinking. It’s weird to hear himself sound sarcastic.

Jens snorts, then lets out a full-throated laugh. He really is a totally different person when he isn’t trying to massacre the other team’s forwards. “Anyway, I’m not sure if even Cantona would do the trick with Ronaldo. And I don’t really want to talk about him during my free time—what is this toy we’re getting for Mats again?”

Something Philippe would really like to know is why everyone seems to think he’s an expert on gift-giving. But well, Jens’ kids are cute and Conny is suspiciously serene at family dinners and it is an excuse for Philippe to hang out with the man—and it is damned hard to come up with excuses for that. But especially crucial right now if he and Kolo have any chance of stopping the whole Drogba-Lehmann mess from going to another level of wrongness. He has no idea how Kolo’s sticking to Drogba, but he’s purposefully cleared his calendar for the week to shadow Jens.

All right, that isn’t completely a hardship. Just when they’re not fucking and when Philippe isn’t bemusedly trading book reviews with Conny.

“Your German’s a lot better now,” Jens comments as they rattle and poke at toys. He picks up a stuffed wind-up animal and presses the trigger button, then nearly gets a wing in the face. Startled, he drops the thing and backs up a step as the white duck menacingly advances on him.

Lehmann, terror of the EPL, has just been intimidated by a toy bird. Philippe looks around and makes sure that nobody like Frank Lampard is watching. Then he finds a squirrel and sets it hitching after the duck. “It was bad because I was scared of you.”

Jens dubiously eyes the squirrel before shooting Philippe a look. “I’m tempted to feel discouraged. I spend a lot of time trying to put some sense of caution into you young idiots, and now you’re telling me you’re not scared of me now? And that thing is ugly.”

“Yeah, yeah, the ones in Germany are prettier. You know, I saw a couple when I was there and I didn’t think much of them. Too scrawny,” Philippe says. He wanders back a couple steps and finds himself in the Barbie aisle. With the exception of the one time Ljungberg forced them to watch an ABBA DVD, he’s never seen so much abuse of color in his life.

“Me excepted, you don’t seem to think too much of German things in general. You know, Micha’s still asking if he can meet you.” Jens comes up, sees what Philippe’s seeing and beats a hasty retreat. A couple seconds later, a Nerf arrow whizzes by the front of the aisle. There are some clicking sounds, and then a bit of German-English mumbling about Klinsi’s nutty American training coming in handy after all.

Philippe has sudden visions of Jens, fed up with only being able to swear and watch as the forwards fuck up a good chance at goal, toting a Nerf rifle to the next match and taking aim at Aliadière’s head. He hurries out of the Barbie Hell and skids into the next aisle over to lurk on the fringe for the opportunity to direct Jens towards something less likely to result in angry Frenchmen. “Why? I thought you said he’d gotten all that crazy fucking out of his system.”

“Yeah, he’s just doing Shevchenko now. I think. If that’s what he was saying when he started talking about Boulahrouz, then I’m glad I stopped listening.” Frowning, Jens fiddles with the levers and latches on the side of a Nerf blaster. Then he hoists it to his eye and takes aim at a gigantic stuffed bear at the other end of the aisle. “It’s your fault for making that crack about Terry. He thinks he missed something in Arsenal, and one of Micha’s outstanding virtues is his thorough efficiency.”

“Jens, I don’t think—”

The Nerf bolt smacks the bear dead in the left eye. Having thanked God many a time for how surprisingly difficult it is to get accuracy with one of those, causing Cesc’s patience to run out and make him move back to plain video games, Philippe doesn’t feel too bad about having his mouth hang open. Now he’s worried.

“Looks like Mourinho, doesn’t it?” Jens nods at the bear as he puts the rifle back on its shelf.

And it actually does: facial shape, eyes, small pursed mouth, gray fur. To the point that Philippe is a bit creeped out and has to turn around so he’s not looking at it. He ends up missing what Jens says next because of that. “What?”

“I said, he said Drogba thought it was pretty funny, too. You want to meet him?” Jens repeats. Then he saunters off, and it’d be a great chance to stare at his ass except for the minor fact that Philippe is about to hyperventilate himself back on the injury list.

“What? Wait a second. Jens. We don’t see Chelsea again till May. You can’t seriously be thinking about this. I mean, after last time? I think Thierry might catch on. I’m pretty sure Freddie has and he doesn’t like it.” Okay, Philippe is completely flailing at random here, but he wasn’t exactly expecting things to happen like this. He—what the hell, Drogba thinks he’s funny? When did that happen? Every time he’s seen the man, Drogba’s either been rolling around screaming for a card or coming at Philippe with the whites of his eyes blazing and his nostrils flared out like he could smell the blood, and—

--fuck. Philippe had put down working on that as one of his New Year’s resolutions this year, but maybe he needs to move that up past ‘work hard enough to get back a regular start’ and ‘stop making excuses for Cesc to Gary when Gary obviously knows Cesc doesn’t just have muscle strain in his ass.’

“Oh, Freddie knows. But I already introduced him to Micha during the World Cup,” Jens says, now browsing the remote-control cars.

“I wasn’t talking about that! Not everything is about Michael fucking Ballack!” Philippe nearly screams.

Jens pauses, then turns to stare at Philippe. Then he shrugs. “Okay, I’ll tell him no.”

Philippe inhales. Exhales. Wonders briefly about his taste in men and why he can never go for the quiet, peaceful ones, like Gilberto. By now he’s got Jens’ methods memorized, but still they get to him. “What about Drogba?”

“Having lunch with him tomorrow after training. If you want to come to that, you’re free to,” Jens replies. He moves sideways into the beginning of the builder kit section and finally picks up the one Philippe had mentioned. “Diving aside, he doesn’t bitch like Lampard and I hear he’s actually quite nice off the pitch, so I thought I’d see for myself.”

“Maybe you should tell Ballack to screw Lampard, since Terry’s out with the back injury. That might do it,” Philippe mutters. He’s stalling a little bit, trying to think of something to say besides “Jens, please don’t fuck Didier Drogba. It’s bad for team harmony.”

Which is true, but not exactly the kind of argument Jens would pay attention to. Damn it, why can’t Wenger take care of this sort of thing? He’s called the bloody manager, and…well, now Philippe is bitching. And not coming up with a solution.

“Who said I wanted Lampard to not be a little bitch? Just makes it better when we win and all he can do is sulk. Besides, I don’t want my national team captain touching that. He might catch something.” Jens checks the price, then tucks the builder set beneath his arm. “So are you coming?”

Damn it. Philippe’s going to have to do this the hard way. “Okay.”

* * *

“You said they weren’t going to!” Kolo screams. Actually, more like shrieks. He’s been getting more and more high-pitched since Aliadière started getting starts, probably out of sheer frustration. It’s hard to keep up defending when you’re always seeing the forward lose the damn ball.

“They haven’t yet. I’m going to lunch with them, so we’ve still got a chance,” Philippe hisses. He whips his head out the door to check for eavesdroppers, then comes back to make shushing sounds at Kolo. “I tried with Jens and got that much. How come you couldn’t keep Drogba in check?”

All filled with fury, Kolo straightens himself and opens his mouth…and then suddenly deflates, looking embarrassed. He rubs at his face so Philippe can’t understand him right away. But Philippe’s positioned himself in front of the door, so Kolo can’t leave without repeating himself. Which he does while scuffing his feet.

Philippe momentarily considers banging his head with the door. “You got distracted by Kalou? With what we’re trying to do?”

“Salomon is not Didi, and I sure as hell am not Lehmann,” Kolo primly says. But it only takes one arched eyebrow to make him break down, wringing his hands and ducking his head. “Look, I’m sorry! But I’m friends with his brother from national team so I had to say hi to him, and then he invited me for some good home cooking and he’s…he…” Kolo pulls at his hair “…he’s a really good kisser.”

“Oh, my God.” Philippe stares at the far wall. “Ballack’s already run through half the midfield, Drogba’s going for Lehmann, and now they’ve infiltrated the back four. Chelsea’s going to beat us by fucking their way through.”

Kolo smacks a finger across his lips and vigorously sssh’es against it. “Don’t say that! They are not going to beat us! They’re old and overpaid and getting fat, and they’ll run out of stamina first! I mean, except for Salou. Who I wish played for somebody else, because he’s really too good for them.”

“I’ll…see you later,” Philippe vaguely says. He needs to go sit down, and the closet they’re using for privacy doesn’t have anywhere for that.

* * *

This isn’t sitting down, and actually it’s a little bit of a reminder of all the problems on Philippe’s plate right now, but if Jens is going down on his knees in front of him, Philippe’s not going to turn that down. He’s going to have issues with keeping his footing on the slippery tiles and feel bad about yanking Jens’ hair that much, especially since that bald spot—pity since his hair’s so good-looking—is getting bigger, but not with letting Jens turn him boneless with his mouth.

Jens gets up and dusts himself off while Philippe is still trying to remember that breathing is a two-step process, in and out. He leans in and pecks Philippe on the mouth the way he does Conny when he’s stepping out, and then gives Philippe an extra pat on the shoulder. “Drogba’s meeting us at the restaurant. It’s within walking distance, so just come find me after you’ve showered.”

Oh, so that’s why. “You already think it’s going to go that badly? You could always phone and say you were too busy. Or just plain stand him up.”

“No, I think it’ll go fine, and if I stood him up then he’d think I’ve got no nerve. I just thought you looked like you could use a blowjob. Cesc go around getting tipsy and flopping into people’s crotches again?” Jens drawls as he saunters off.

Cesc actually happens to be coming up the other end of the hallway, sandwiched between Robin and Johan, which means Philippe can’t properly reply. And which is a shame, because Philippe’s just realized this isn’t even about sex. This is about Jens’ weird fixation on not backing down and probably involves some need to compensate for having to apologize and make nice to Drogba on the pitch and God, couldn’t he just make insulting comments to the media like everybody else?

“What was he saying, Phil? Was he making fun of me again? I know that tone and he was, wasn’t he? Lehmann’s been such a jerk lately,” Cesc pouts, bounding up. He grabs onto Philippe’s shoulder and hikes himself up onto Philippe’s back; Philippe automatically reaches around to hoist the other man by the thighs. It’s something he should stop doing, considering how damn pointy Cesc’s chin is. “Oooo, hey, your head’s really fuzzy today.”

Robin frowns and reaches over to have a feel himself. He rubs a bit, then nods. “Yeah. Soft. Do you use any shampoo on this, or do you just run a bar of soap over your head?”

A medium-soft thing with two slightly moist dots in it briefly presses to the top of Philippe’s head. “Shampoo! Smells like fruit.”

Philippe reaches up, but somehow manages to miss hitting Cesc’s head even though he knows where the rest of the man’s body is. He’s helped at first by Robin, who swats at Cesc and, to judge by the squeal, finds his target, but after Robin comments on not getting snot on Philippe, he and Cesc get into an argument about whether Cesc’s new haircut is scrubbier or stiffer than Philippe’s. Unfortunately, they both like to illustrate their arguments with hands-on demonstrations, and the hallway is too narrow for Philippe to run away. If he gets out to the pitch without having all his hair rubbed off, he’ll promise never to make comparisons between Freddie’s head and the male anatomy again.

In the background, Johan is alternating between making sympathetic faces and laughing behind his hand. It’s going to be one long training session. And the sad part of it is, it won’t be long enough.

* * *

Thierry’s back at training, which does seem to lighten the mood a little. Or at least distract everyone’s attention from how every time Kolo messes up, it’s because he’s sneaking a panicky look at Jens. Philippe is covering up his nervous breakdown a little bit better, but he still ends up getting scolded by Arsène for sloppy marking. The boss has no idea.

“What’s wrong with you?” Johan snaps the next time they pass each other. “You need to get laid or something? Watching somebody challenge you, I’m wondering if the next time you’ll just jump right out of the stadium.”

“Go ask Kolo,” Philippe hisses back. Maybe he says it more viciously than he needs to, but he’s under a lot of stress here. He’s got a lot to keep his eye on. He’s—

Jens comes out and starts doing his stretches in preparation for set-piece practice, and suddenly there’s an epidemic of flopping players. Nowadays Arsène just stares at the sky and silently mutters to himself while the team gets over it. They’re building resistance. They’re getting used to it, and it’s even become a subject that people are actually tired of discussing on the bus or plane.

Well, except for the fact that despite freezing temperatures, Jens has pulled out what’s got to be the least baggy and most threadbare sweatshirt ever. And he’s positioned himself so his ass is facing them, and in between struggling not to remember what that ass looks like naked, Philippe’s really tempted to grab a ball and let fly. They’re on the same team, damn the man—if he’s got to practice being an asshole, can’t he target somebody else? Right now Philippe would even take having to share with Ballack over this crap.

“Hi, Phil,” Thierry says, jogging up.

And Philippe is so bloody frustrated and steaming and just fucking embarrassed about the half-erection he’s got that he says, “Why the hell does he have to fuck Drogba? What’s wrong with us? Doesn’t he like the team?”

Thierry blinks, big eyes even bigger as he clearly tries to figure out where that came from. He looks around, rubbing at his mouth with his gloved hand, and is turning back when he stops. Then his confusion apparently clears up with an ‘oooh’ and a nod. “That again. No wonder Kolo’s looking so pained…oh, I knew I forgot to do something.”

“What?” Philippe’s a bit slow. Considering Thierry isn’t surprised at all, and furthermore only needed a second to understand after being away and out of the loop for a couple weeks, he thinks that’s fair on him.

“Don’t worry,” Thierry grins. He gives Philippe a pat on the shoulder. “It’ll come out all right in the end.”

Whose end? Philippe is tempted to yell after him. But then Arsène is asking why Philippe isn’t getting into position, and then they’re halfway through a drill before Philippe really registers the ‘that again.’ And ow.

“Sorry,” Mathieu says, reaching out a hand. “Need some help?”

“You have no idea,” Philippe mumbles in Italian. Then he says thank-you in French and clambers back to his feet.

* * *

Despite Philippe’s best stalling tactics, they’re only a half-hour late to lunch. And that doesn’t annoy Drogba at all, since he doesn’t show for another five minutes due to “traffic.” He does have a good smile when he apologizes, and then Philippe promptly gives himself such a flurry of mental smacks that at first he doesn’t notice Jens trying to introduce him. As a translator.

Didier can speak English, and Jens has some French by now. And Cesc would be all over the deception and the insult Jens has just played on Philippe, but Philippe suddenly is seeing a ray of hope. He smiles, shakes Drogba’s hand, and sits down to manipulate translations as much as he thinks he can get away with.

Drogba: (in French) I like your style of goalkeeping, actually. I like the more physical approach. You’ve got this very…forceful…presence.

Philippe: (in German) You’re an amazing goalkeeper and I actually find it a little intimidating. You’re much more challenging than most goalkeepers in the Premiership.

Jens: (in German) You’re really too kind. For myself, I think you’re one of the hardest strikers to stop. If I weren’t concentrating on that, I’d say I really enjoy watching you move.

Philippe: (in French, fighting off incredulous giggles) Thank you very much. You’re a great footballer yourself, and you have great sense of movement.

Drogba: (in French) Hmmm, I think that’s the waiter with the bill. The lunch was very good, thanks…but I don’t care for the coffee and afters at this place. What’s your opinion on switching to someplace less formal?

Philippe: (in German, now biting his lip) The waiter is coming with the bill. Thanks for the great lunch, but I don’t like the coffee they serve here. What do you think?

Jens: (in German, lazily smirking) If you don’t mind walking by the stadium, there’s a very nice coffeeshop a few blocks away. Very cozy and discreet.

Philippe: (in French, worriedly watching a nearby potted plant that has very shapely dark-skinned legs coming out of its bottom) I like the coffee at this place closer to the Emirates, but I don’t know if you want to go by there.

Drogba: (in French, running his tongue over his lower lip) Oh, I’d love to see what Arsenal is like casual-style. I’ve wondered what you do for fun.

Philippe: (wishing he had hair to pull out over stupid Kolo pulling a Mathieu-style trick) Emirates doesn’t scare me. It’s a gorgeous stadium.

Jens takes the bill from the waiter and glances at it, then pushes it over for Drogba to see while he get out his wallet. “Great. Micha says you can stand up for it…I’ve been wondering. Do we really need to get coffee?” he says in English.

Drogba laughs. “Nah. I think though that I need to get my countryman over there. Back in a moment…oh, here’s my share.”

Not really caring to see this, Philippe puts his elbows up on the table and covers his face with his hands till he stops hearing the noises by the potted plant. He does open his fingers to peer between them at Jens when he starts hearing the other man whistling. “Is this really a good idea?”

“What, having silly teammates try to spy on me every single time I try to socialize?” Jens asks.

“Screwing a Chelsea player in Emirates. Look, even if you don’t believe in superstition—” Philippe personally doesn’t, but the magnitude of this seems to just be begging for the universe to fuck with them over it “—it’s not very professional.”

Jens rolls his eyes. “We’re not going inside. I was thinking we’d just break into somebody’s SUV and fold down the backseat, Hleb-style.”

Philippe starts to yelp, but something about the way Jens’ eyes are glittering makes him stop. He frowns, searching his brain, and then…then he throws up his hands and falls back against the chair. “Oh, my God, you aren’t even going to screw him. You never screwed Ballack a couple weeks ago, and you aren’t…you’ve just been yanking us around again. You like seeing us in potted plants.”

“Well, it usually improves your hair-styles…” Jens idly glances over Philippe’s shoulder, then begins to get up as Drogba comes back, a contrite-looking Kolo in tow. “Someday you’ll learn. But if you’re not going to learn now…”

“Stupid senior players,” Philippe mutters.

Didier grins. “Not just the…the older ones don’t learn sometimes. I think Michael Essien and Ballack, they’re up front hiding behind menus. If they catch us snogging, I win a hundred off Essien minus the ten Salou takes for making the bet for me.”

Salomon’s a nice person, Philippe savagely remembers. Yeah, right. He shoots Kolo a look and Kolo seems suitably apologetic. Great timing for it, when he could’ve dug out the whole scam if he’d just kept his trousers on a little longer.

“Just me?” Jens asks.

Drogba gives Philippe a considering look, pursing his lips. Then he flashes another smile. “No, it’s two hundred if I get both.”

He leans over and thoroughly kisses Philippe before Philippe has a chance to protest, or ask for a cut of the profits, or…well, do much except think shit, Drogba’s just another twisted pervert after all, and this should help with the demystifying, and that’s a really long tongue. Then Philippe’s back in his seat, gasping for air, and he and Kolo are both staring as Didier and Jens go at it like starving dogs. After a couple seconds, Kolo abruptly drops into what had been Jens’ chair with a small whimper. He doesn’t take his eyes away from the two men.

There’s a bit of German cursing from somewhere in the front. If Philippe knows Jens, then Jens probably had his own bet going on with Ballack, and God knows what it was. God can also have the job of worrying about that for now.

When Drogba backs off, his eyes are heavy-lidded and he looks rather impressed. “Now I wish this wasn’t a bet. Well, maybe the off-season.” He shakes Jens’ hand again. “See you in May.”

“I’ll be there to pat your shoulder when we win,” Jens says, baring his teeth as he smiles.

Didier doesn’t blink. He looks sharply at Jens, then smiles in exactly the same way. “Pat me in that game and you’ll get a red that time, I promise. Looking forward to it. Eh, Kolo, à bientôt.”

“He’s actually a very pleasant man,” Jens comments, watching Drogba walk off. He absently wipes his hand over his mouth, then uses his fingertips to rub at the spittle left at the corners of his lips. Then he looks at Philippe and Kolo. “All right, Kolo. Let’s go back to the locker-room so everyone doesn’t bite off their fingers waiting. If I’ve got to have you all yelling at me, I might as well do it now.”

* * *

“And he’s Chelsea and he’s a bastard, he totally dived when I just brushed him, I barely touched him, and anyway I’m like five stones lighter, and I can’t believe you, Jens! What’s wrong with you?” Cesc screeches, pogoing up and down. If he’s trying to get eye-level with Jens, he might as well just stand on a bench. All that jumping is clearly giving everyone a headache. “You—you jerk.”

With that, Cesc flops dramatically back and smacks himself into the lockers. It’s silent for a moment, and then Johan raises his hand.

“Kolo, you twat,” he says. “That stuff’s supposed to stay in the back four unless it gets out of hand.”

“I thought it was getting out of hand! So why weren’t you helping? You just ran off when Phil and I were discussing it!” Mulish expression on his face, Kolo starts towards the other man.

But before anyone needs to intervene, Manu Eboué sticks out his arm and then whirls to glower at Kolo. “Wait, why didn’t anybody tell me? I’m back four and Didi’s my captain, too.”

“All right, all right, this is getting out of hand. Everyone—everyone just calm down. Sit.” Thierry walks into the center of the room, arms out and palms facing out. He stops and slowly turns, making sure to look everyone in the eye for at least a few seconds. “Now, we’re all adults and we can’t really dictate each other’s private lives.”

“Why not?” Cesc mutters. “If we aren’t allowed chocolate bars…”

Philippe puts his hand over his eyes. “Chocolate bars aren’t people. Besides—Michael Ballack, anybody?”

“Why does everyone say that man’s name so much now?” Gilberto asks. He looks plaintively about, but the only people who’ll meet his eyes are the ones just as confused as he is, plus Jens and Thierry. Both of whom look strangely amused.

“Why are you defending him? You don’t have to do that when we’re not playing football.” Cesc elbows Philippe hard, then scoots over the bench to stare at Philippe like he’s trying to see the backs of Philippe’s eyes. He adds a couple pokes at Philippe’s ribs. “And why were you making out with Drogba? I thought he scared the shit out of you.”

“Thank you very fucking much,” Philippe snaps. Then he’s a bit taken aback at the way most of the room suddenly whips around to lean in and stare the way Cesc’s been doing. Speaking of whom, Cesc’s now so far in Philippe’s lap that he’s liable to stab out Philippe’s eye with his pointy nose if he twitches wrong. And he’s naturally very twitchy.

After a moment, Cesc puts up his hands on either side of Philippe’s face. “What have they done to you?”

“Oh, for—I play English football! I know—I should know ‘fuck’ just from trying to keep up with your private life.” Philippe glances at Jens, but it looks like the other man’s just going to stand there and watch, with his smug little smile and folded arms and okay. Okay, he counts on Philippe’s quietness and slow temper, but for once Philippe is just really, really annoyed. “I kissed Drogba because I figured Jens would think it’s hot.”

Collective bug-eyes. If Arsène walked in right now, he’d think his team had been replaced by a bunch of Roswell aliens.

Then Cesc frowns. “Very funny, Phil. Jens doesn’t think anything’s hot. He walked out on Ballack and me and Mathieu and Robin.”

Gilberto coughs hard, then furiously tugs at Eboué’s arm and asks for an explanation. Thierry arches his eyebrows, thinks a second, and then makes a face like all the pieces for the Grand Unified Theory of the Universe have just fell into place for him. Jens’ mouth quirks, but he apparently is going to let Philippe take this one.

“He seems to like me fine,” Philippe says.

…honestly, he’s starting to get really tired of this whole group gasping thing. Can’t anybody have a different reaction?

“Phil! You’ve betrayed the back four!”

And that isn’t quite what he’d been hoping for. Philippe spins around to see if Kolo had actually said that, but Kolo is in fact glaring at him like he’s just announced Man U is his dream club. Jens is also staring, but more out of active surprise. “What? What the hell—”

“We have like this pact where we try to keep the rest of the team from jumping you. Freddie told us about it—and that’s important?” Philippe guesses.

“He what? He—oh, for…” The rest is in German and muttered and isn’t particularly complimentary towards Freddie. Who happens not to be around right now, clever bastard. “That’s why everyone stays away from me? Or if they do go after me, act like it’s a James Bond movie?”

Cesc is rocking wildly on the bench and on Philippe’s knees, and it’s a toss-up whether those joints or he’s going to burst first. “That’s why you kept telling me off? Phil! You—you—you—” the search for the proper word is clearly an arduous one for Cesc, and ultimately fails with a dramatic swoon that plops Cesc in Phil’s arms “--suck.”

“Oh…I’d forgotten about that,” Thierry muses, thoughtfully rubbing at his chin. He sneaks a look at Jens, who appears to be working up to his own blow-up, before shrugging in that weird, shimmying way only he can do. “We knew you just by reputation, so Patrick thought it’d be better if you were kept away from that till we knew you better. Then you and Freddie…so we thought you’d settled in.”

“Apparently I need to have some words with Herr Ljungberg,” Jens dryly remarks. He seems to be calming down now, but that just means that Freddie’s going to get it even worse. Hopefully he doesn’t have any half-naked photoshoots coming up soon, or else they’ll be pancaking the make-up on in uncomfortable spots.

“…you had sex with Jens and you didn’t even tell me,” Cesc pouts. His hands are starting to wander, and in one second he somehow manages to recover from his crushing disappointment. He even sounds excited. “So how was it?”

Jens idly examines his nails. “It’s good. He’s a lot less annoying than the rest of you. He didn’t get distracted by Michael Ballack.”

Cesc snarls. While strategically draping himself to put Philippe between him and Jens. Robin and Mathieu look about to join in on that, but then everybody’s attention goes back to the center of the room and the funny Frenchman flailing around there.

“All right, all right, that’s enough!” Thierry waves his hands. And then waves them some more, till he has everyone’s attention and then some. “We had some problems, but everything’s been cleared up now. Right?” He does reveal a bit of uncertainty when he scans the room there, but nobody pipes up, so Thierry’s self-confidence snaps right back.

It’s been awhile since that happened, actually. It looks like the vacation did do him some good.

“All right. So no more arguing, no more back-four pact—talk to the rest of us, yes?—and no more about Chelsea people.” Thierry does that pointed look that gives the impression that if you disagree, he’ll run you over with a Renault Clio. While happily chatting to Bobby on the phone, and…

…and Thierry has just walked over and yanked down Jens’ head, and they’re making out. “Hey!” Philippe yelps.

“What?” Robin absently says. His eyes might be stuck permanently as the size of eggs. And for once, he’s adjusting his trousers because he’s got a reason to.

“Thierry, I…” Philippe slightly loses track of his train of thought when Thierry looks over, hot-eyed and wet-lipped “…I saw him first?”

Jens blinks in surprise, while Thierry appears to take this seriously. “Oh…well, yes, sorry. So…”

“…my turn to get fucked first? I, well, you’re the captain, so anything else you’re free to…um…” It’s a distinct possibility that Philippe is channeling the slut character from the soaps. Of course, he’s had Cesc on his lap for the past ten minutes and roomed with him for months before that, so maybe he’s just tapping into that. Either way, it looks like Jens is surprised in a good way, which means that whatever’s about to happen now, it’s going to be Philippe Jens keeps ringing up when Freddie or Conny aren’t free. Which he figures puts him pretty damn well off, considering he just came back from injury. “If that’s okay?”

“Of course,” Thierry says. Somehow he manages not to squeak even though Jens has gotten over his shock and is pulling quite pointedly at his waist. And he definitely is the only person who could say what comes next and come off as even semi-serious. “First priority is always the team—making sure the team plays well together.”

Robin and Cesc exchange glances. “Is that what they’re calling it now?” Robin delicately comments.

Then he curses beneath his breath and accidentally backs into the lockers as Jens, Thierry apparently stuck to his hip, stalks over and grabs him by the arms. “Right, I’ve been wanting to do this for months, you smart-aleck ass.”

“Um.” Kolo settles down on the bench across from Philippe, squeezing Cesc between them, while staring at the double-team on Robin. “So when we say the back-four pact is dissolved, did we mean just the part about Jens, or the part about watching out for the rest of the team? Because that looks like it hurts.”

It does, but if Philippe is understanding him right, Robin is swearing at Jens to do it harder. He really needs to finish learning Dutch; he’s lapsed a little in that since Dennis left.

“Thierry’s in there. He won’t let Jens do too much,” Cesc confidently says. Then he yelps and tries to twist around on Philippe. “What the—”

Philippe looks at Kolo, Kolo gets it, and they have Cesc stretched out on the bench in no time. Cesc yips and tries to kick Kolo in the head, but Manu Eboué is there and then Johan is hovering over Kolo’s other shoulder, ready to handle the other foot if that becomes a problem.

“I think we meant we’re just amending it,” Philippe says over Cesc’s non-protest protests. “Because Cesc needs to get—no, I need Cesc to get laid. If he complains any more I swear I’m going to go crazy and do something…something…”

“Like screwing our crazy goalkeeper?” The hot tongue flicking at Philippe’s ear almost distracts him enough to let Cesc loose. Luckily, Kolo leans down to do something about shutting Cesc up just then, which gives Philippe a chance to look at Gilberto. The other man’s smiling in that serene, calming way of his. Which completely doesn’t match what his hands are doing to below Philippe’s waist. “I forgot about this. Why did we stop again?”

“Because the boss brought in so many kids. We didn’t want to frighten them right away,” Thierry mumbles. He’s somehow managed to enfold Mathieu into the Jens-Robin biting moaning tangle, and if he or Gilberto move just a few centimeters, they’ll have joined the two groups.

Gilberto smiles in comprehension. And shifts. “Ah. Well, looks like they’re old enough now.”

By that point he’s about the only one who’s still got a mouth free. Sincerely hoping that somebody got the door, Philippe cranes his head around and has that covered.

* * *

“Phil,” Cesc moans, “My butt hurts. I don’t think I can train tomorrow.”

“Yes, you will. Or we’ll let Jens take you home,” somebody else says in a thick, exhausted voice.

Jens wedges up his head from beneath Thierry’s shoulder and Mathieu’s knee. “Why do I have to? He tracks mud all over the place.”

“Why is he still mean?” Cesc asks.

“Because he’s like that. If you don’t like that, I’ve already got him.” Philippe does feel sufficiently sympathetic to give Cesc a pat on the…it’s possibly a rib-cage.

Somebody’s mobile rings. Grunting and cursing, Robin eventually worms his way out and walks himself on his elbows over to one of the many heaps of clothes strewn around the place. He digs around, then pulls out the phone. He’s flipping it open when somebody throws out a hand and starts to grope his ass, and when he reaches back to slap the hand away, somebody else grabs his wrist so he just has to put up with it. “Hello? Sorry, what? Oh, he’s right h—Titi, it’s the boss for you. Says he can’t get your phone.”

“Battery’s dead, I think. I meant to charge it this morning but I forgot…” Thierry switches to French when he takes the phone “…yes? No…yes…oh, all right…working on team-bonding, boss. In the locker-room. Yes, that kind. No, we’ll clean up. No, I think we don’t need Gary. Yes, we’ll all be in training tomorrow. All right, see you then.”

Dead silence for a while after Thierry closes the phone and hands it back to Robin. Everyone in the room knows enough French to have followed that conversation.

Finally Mathieu weakly raises his hand. “Wenger knows?”

Rolling his eyes, Thierry casually sinks back into the mess. “Oh, of course. Why do you think he made sure the locker-room was so much bigger here? At Highbury we never could do more than half the squad at a time, and Patrick always got tired before the second group could get in.”

Jens raises himself on his arms. He looks expressionlessly at Thierry for a moment. Then he breaks out in a grin. “Welcome back, captain.”

“It’s especially good to hear that from you,” Thierry smiles back. Then he sighs and gazes around. “All right, enough lying around. Showers, boys.”

They are so going to beat Chelsea. And Thierry does giggle, but only at the beginning. Arsenal is the best club ever, Philippe thinks.