So he had left. Just like that, not leaving behind any trace that would have reminded Michael of him. Only when Olli yelled over the pitch, "Greetings from the Lutscher," and Michael waved back at him, the grin jarring his face. Him, he would phone.
He never phoned him.
At night, listening to Simone's quiet snoring, this thought runs circles in his mind. Around and around, until Michael can't stand it anymore, has to open a window in the living room and breathe the spicy forest's air, trying to clear out his mind.
It was all his fault.
Whose fault, exactly? Torsten's, Michael's? He doesn't know. Was it both their fault? That Torsten – like he said in the interviews that Michael read – that he did never feel at home at Bayern, that it wasn't the right environment for him. What a quack, Michael thinks. Torsten was okay here, very much so. He was one of the quieter ones, of course. But then, so was Lucio. So was Ottl. It wasn't as if Torsten had been a loner in the team. On the contrary.
Maybe you just never knew him, a voice says, slicing through his jumbled thoughts.
Michael sighs and rests his head against the cool window pane. He thought that – no, he did know him better than anyone. In every sense. And, unbidden, memories of Torsten's sturdysleek body rise to the front of his mind: the strongmuscled thighs, slick with sweat, the furry chest heaving under his, the swollen lips outlining moans and sighs, the thick wavy hair catching in his fists –
He had known Torsten. Once, and since Torsten went and joined Bremen, it was as if the whole… thing, whatever it was that he had shared with Torsten, had been just a figment of imagination. He couldn't possibly have befriended the fellow midfielder, couldn't have shared a bed with him on more than one occasion, couldn't – not when it seemed more and more like a dream with every day that went by.
Michael remembers how happy he had been when it was announced that Torsten Frings would come to Bayern, to play alongside him so that they would reach for the stars together as they had already done with the Nationalmannschaft. He hadn't been able to wait, had counted every day until Torsten actually was there, the shy smile lightning up his rugged face, blue eyes sparkling. Michael had hugged him, hard – or was it the other way around? Didn't matter, really, because then the future was laid out like the grandest promise in front of him – with Torsten at his side.
But now there was no more Torsten. Sure, Michael had noticed that he seemed to be quieter in the last weeks – no, months, if he had to be honest – but he had put it down to him being benched too often. But that did happen from time to time, even to the best football players – you just had to wait it out. Michael had to go through it, too.
As for themselves, well – he had been quite busy himself, what with sponsoring and shooting ads and modelling for these. And then there were Michael's sons, too, and a weekend dad was what he never wanted to be. Torsten's family placed similar demands on him, too, and they never discussed these things; they just accepted them, knowing it couldn't be changed, not for their sakes. So the only downtime they had together lately had been just at training camp – when they weren't too knackered from the gruelling training, either with Bayern or the Nationalmannschaft – or stolen moments after a match, here and there.
Michael sighs again, deeply. So maybe it was both their fault that things got that far. That Torsten wanted to go back to Bremen. Michael isn't a fool; he knows that the football played at Bremen does fit Torsten's style and that Schaaf will suit him better than Felix as a trainer. As a football player, objectively, Torsten couldn't have made a better choice.
Michael's damp palm fogs up the glass. When he lifts it, it leaves a shape of his hand that disappears slowly, but then it was as if it never had been there. Michael wonders if it was like that for Torsten and him. That he had left no more than this imprint of him on the other man and vice versa, only to be dissolved in time, leaving behind something else. Invisible wounds.
Time heals all wounds.
But with the Confed Cup coming up, these would never heal as Torsten wouldn't resign from the Nationalmannschaft and neither would Michael – as it would be utter folly. So they will have to look each other in the eye, greet each other as if nothing had ever happened between them.
Michael wonders if Torsten can't sleep for the same reasons as well. If he's also gazing out of a window, a still form black against the nightfall scenery glittering with diamonds here and there, thinking of them. Suddenly Michael wishes no more than being with Torsten, to calm both their muddled minds by enveloping him, resting his chin on a shoulder, their curls mixing – dark and light. And somehow, it would be okay, against all odds.
His empty arms ache.
Suddenly Michael realizes that there's actually a way to find out if he does know Torsten as well as he thinks he does.
The cell's still lying on the coffee table in front of the TV and he crosses the room to pick it up. Thank God for speed-dial. And then –
"Micha?" – "Torsten."
Michael Ballack smiles. He still knows him.