See: Wimbledon, 2004, Working Title Films, Studio Canal. (Really, it will help.)
Lizzie didn't say anything when Dieter showed up at the door in November; Peter was glad, things were fragile enough already. Great, things were great, absolutely, but there was definitely still some adjusting to be done.
Peter had been off the tour for over a year, and although they were officially a couple and married and living together and all that, it was one thing to be living together when it meant Lizzie was actually in the flat for two weeks out of the month (in a good month), or Peter was following her about any one of three or four continents, and an entirely different affair when she was there day in and day out for two months straight. Or even one month, apparently. Tempers had been lost, words had been shouted, and the bill for china had mounted precipitously until they found some sort of balance. Still, the balance was delicate – fragile.
Having a morose German occupying the top floor of the flat wasn't much different than the times Carl came by and stayed (and stayed and stayed and stayed), or the one time Peter's father had come and lived up there for four days, finally going home, sheepish and still-defiant, to renew his own round of china-throwing with Peter's mother. Dieter was better company than either, though, and did at least make an effort to interact with them with a measure of sociability, when he could stand to interact with them at all.
Dieter's knee had finally gone. Always the knees, the shoulders, wrists – joints, those damned weak spots every player loved, hated, coddled, cared for – always the first to go. And Dieter was in his thirties now, finally, those years tennis pros on the circuit became tennis pros at the clubs or on the telly. Dieter wasn't ready for that, yet, though; he was still in the sulky stage, the stage involving hours sitting in the big spa bathtub, other hours spent staring out the upper-floor dormer windows at the sea, grey and brown, wind-whipped or flat and dull.
Dieter added a lot of night-time pacing to the mix, which was different – Peter had slept a lot, Dieter had insomnia. So it went. It was probably good for him, the walking – the knee surgery was done with, walking was therapeutic. But the creak of floorboards over his head was unnerving at 3 a.m. (Lizzie never heard it. One of her many fine qualities was the ability to sleep like a dead person, a solid warmth sprawled beside him, a warmth that wouldn't move, twitch or wake for anything short of the apocalypse or leggy English tennis players climbing through her window. Peter locked the windows. She was too pretty to leave them unlocked.)
Peter woke to a thud above his head. He lay in bed, eyes open in the darkness. Lizzie breathed steadily beside him, only the top of her head visible above the duvet. The sodium lights along the pier downstairs fed light even up here, but it was faint, and the thin curtains blocked even more. He thought it had been a really loud thud, but he couldn't be sure – he'd been asleep, give him a break.
Another thud, more of a thump, then more silence. Peter sighed to himself and slid out of bed, grabbing for his dressing gown and hopping silently across the floor, cursing to himself. Hardwood floors looked so pretty, but Jesus, they were cold in November at – Peter glanced at the clock – 2:49 a.m.
The stairs to the attic were narrow and dark, but a line of steady yellow light under the door at the top reassured him. Whatever Dieter was doing, he wasn't asleep. Peter paused at the top of the stair, wondering if he'd end up embarrassed if he just walked in. Possibly. Peter knocked.
A wordless sound of surprise, then Dieter opened the door. "Peter?" he said stupidly.
"Are you alright?" Peter asked, rubbing a hand over his hair, looking at Dieter's worn, thin face.
"Yes. I fell." Dieter blinked and looked a little more focused. "Sorry - I didn't mean to wake you."
"It's fine," Peter said. "I just wanted to make sure you were okay. So – you are. Good. I'll just..." He waved a hand, meaningless, vague.
"Come in for a minute?" Dieter asked. He shifted back, inviting. Peter looked at his face, then at the floor; his gaze skittered past Dieter's shorts to the ugly purple line along his right knee, the skin around the scar still pink and tender-looking. Down past that – it was too depressing, honestly – to Dieter's long, narrow feet, bare on the dark wood of the floor.
"I – sure," Peter said. "Why not." It wasn't a question, and Dieter didn't respond to it.
There'd been a brief period, fifteen years ago – a million years ago – when Dieter hadn't been so fluent in English, when rhetorical questions were answered and Peter's blank-faced brand of taking the piss had resulted in hours of fun, constant jokes at the new German player's expense, and in Dieter's finally, finally learning how to use sarcasm, purely in self-defense. Peter could remember his own shock when Dieter made a snappy comeback, the way Dieter's face had turned pink with pleasure as Peter gaped like a fish out of water. The way Dieter had laughed, finally, a big, open-mouthed laugh that made Peter feel the first tug of attraction.
It had been a long time since then; a million years, give or take.
"So, I don't really know what to do with myself," Dieter said. "You may have noticed." He walked to the bed, careful not to limp, and sat on the edge of it, facing Peter. One hand pushed through his hair, ruffling it up. "I won't be able to play again like – like before."
"No," Peter said, friendship and 3 a.m. making him more blunt about his honesty than he probably should have been. Dieter nodded, looking at his own feet. The house was quiet.
"I don't want to go back to Germany," Dieter said abruptly. "After the surgery, there, with my parents – it was –" He glanced up at Peter, a smile in his eyes briefly before they dropped again. "Well, imagine for yourself. Living at home again, now."
Peter gave a short, sharp bark of laughter. "Thanks, no. I've got enough nightmares already."
"Genau," Dieter said. "I wondered if - I don't know. I know I need to – to go, to move on, to find something, something to do, a job."
"Do you want to stay in England, or find a job somewhere in Germany that's far from your parents? Or – well. France, America, Australia; anywhere, really, you know – you could go wherever you'd like." Peter sat, finally, the bed dipping under his weight, rolling him toward Dieter a little, so their shoulders pressed together. "If I could get such a plush job even before that whole – you know. Wimbledon," his gesture indicated madness, the intensity of the press interest, the tabloid romance with Lizzie, the aftermath of winning, "then you should be able to find something wherever you want. After all, you were ranked sixth, once. I only ever made it to eleventh." He smirked.
"Yes, Mr. Miracle, believe me, I know." Dieter rolled his eyes and bumped his shoulder against Peter's. "I like it here," he said a moment later, quietly. "I like it here, in England." He was looking away again, and Peter glanced sideways to see his downcast eyes, the sweep of lashes against his cheekbones, sharper now after the months of physiotherapy, of not eating much, of mourning. "I wish," Dieter said, and then he was looking right at Peter; Peter had been caught looking right at him. "I wish things had been different for me, for – us," he said.
It was Peter's turn to look away. "I know," he said. Another long silence, the room warm with light and Peter's face too warm, now, so he knew he was flushed. It was ridiculous. "I'm happy, though – and that was all – a long time ago." He risked another look at Dieter. "All over years ago, really."
"Oh, yes," Dieter said, standing suddenly, waving one hand. "I know, it's just my national heritage coming out, you know – depression, regret, all that. I'm happy for you, really. And I like Lizzie. She's good for you, you know."
"Yeah," Peter said. "And she has a hell of a backhand."
"She does," Dieter agreed.
It could have been different, Peter knew. If they hadn't both been so young, so stupid, so competitive and wild and determined to best one another. If the world hadn't been a different place, fraught with homophobia and AIDS and the terrible need to keep anything other than perfection, normality, out of the public view. Fifteen years ago, a million years ago, Dieter and he had fallen into bed with one another and it had been wild and splendid, sordid and fun, nothing more than a fling, leaving behind nothing less than the best and deepest of friendships.
And although it had all been over years ago, if Peter had never met Lizzie, things might have turned out differently. If Peter had been retired from the tour for a year, if Dieter had been forced to surgery and recovery, if he'd come to live in Peter's attic – what a ridiculous metaphor that could turn out to be, Peter thought, half-amused, half-horrified at himself – if all those ifs had taken place, things might have turned out very differently indeed. What could never have worked fifteen years ago might have worked now, both of them older, at least a little wiser, and the best of friends. Dieter, after all, was still almost beautiful, and still had that open-mouthed, wonderful laugh; and he understood sarcasm, now, too – a bonus.
Peter sighed. "I'm sorry, you know," and that was 3 a.m. talking again, because Peter was British and Dieter was German, and both of them were men, who should not be having this conversation. Peter ploughed on, though. "I wish things were different, but I don't wish I'd never met Lizzie. I do love her, and I'm glad she's here, even when we're pelting one another with tea cups."
"I know," Dieter said. "I love her, too."
"I'm glad you're here," Peter said, and stood up to face Dieter. "I'm going to go back to bed, and tomorrow we should look for a job for you."
"Tomorrow we should talk about what I want to do, before we look for a job for me," Dieter said.
Peter moved past him to the door. "Don't be silly," he said. "I've already got that figured out. Leave it to me."
"I would say 'very well,' but those sound like famous last words," Dieter said, and if his humour sounded forced, well, it was something.
"I kind of miss Dieter," Lizzie said.
"Mm," Peter agreed. He pulled the duvet higher. Almost March now, and still chilly; Lizzie was just back from Australia, where she'd been the runner up in Melbourne. Celebratory sex could only keep him warm for so long, though. "He's doing well. He's been coaching a couple of the juniors at Roehampton, and he's good at it. He thinks one of his kids will be ready for the adult tour in a year, or even later this year."
"He's got a gift for that kind of thing," Lizzie said.
"I know," Peter said smugly.
She rolled toward him, her eyes gleaming in the half-light, a smile curving her lips. "I knew you had something to do with it," she said.
"He was always a good coach," Peter agreed. "I just had to help other people see it. My god, he's probably the reason I did as well as I did, those last couple of years – he's probably the only reason I didn't retire a year before I ever met you."
She hmm'ed and wriggled closer, a warm, comfortable weight against him, threading her legs through his, resting her head on his shoulder. "Where's he living?"
"He has a flat close by the club," Peter said. "It's... cheap." And ratty, and bare, he didn't add, and pursed his mouth, thinking about Dieter's forced cheer, the way his smiles still looked false, except when talking about his work.
"That's a shame," Lizzie said, her voice fading into a yawn. "Invite him to come stay with us again," she murmured. "He can keep you company when I'm gone."
"That... might not be the best idea," Peter said quietly, and settled himself into the mattress, into Lizzie, ready to sleep.
But a moment later: "Why not?" Lizzie asked, raising her head and looking down at him, eyebrows high.
"What?" Peter blinked up at her, shifting gears away from 'sleep,' back towards 'talk.' "Oh, nothing. Really – no reason." He tried to look innocent; suspected, by her continued expression of scepticism, that he might have failed.
"Is Dieter gay?" she asked.
"What? Well, ah -" Peter shifted in the bed, less comfortable. "You'd have to ask him, really."
"Peter Peter Colt," Lizzie said, grinning down, "don't tell me you're embarrassed by this conversation."
He made a face. "I just – fine. Dieter's bisexual, then, I suppose, but it's not really something we've ever – it's not talked about, all right?"
She pulled her head back a bit, still gazing at him. "What? Why? I know you have friends who're lesbians, gay men, too – why would Dieter be something different?"
He pulled her down again; it was easier to talk to the ceiling, or the dark room. "It was different when Dieter and I were first on the tour," he said. "AIDS was like – the bogeyman, or something. The early nineties were not a good time to be a gay man, or even a bisexual man, even though there were plenty of us on tour who were. It was just... kept quiet."
Lizzie nodded against his shoulder. "Things are changing, now, though," she said positively. A beat. "Wait. 'Plenty of us...' Were you – are you bisexual, too?" She lifted her head again.
Peter wasn't sure what he'd expected to see in her face after that question, but she just looked amused and curious – there was nothing of censure in her eyes, and the corner of her mouth quirked up as she waited for his answer.
"I – well. Not as much as Dieter, I suppose," Peter said, holding on to the fact that Lizzie was hardly shy in bed, that she was as bold and assertive there as on the court, that she'd wanted only to have sex with him, first. "But yeah, a bit. Not in a long time, though," he added.
The quirk at the corner of her lips had grown into a smile and she leaned down to kiss him again. "You're such a perv," she murmured against his mouth, still grinning, and he let himself smile, finally.
"A bit," he agreed, sliding one hand down her back to palm her bottom.
Her head popped up again. "Did you and Dieter ever... you know. Hook up?" she asked.
"Lizzie!" he said, and felt his face go hot. "You're the pervert."
"Absolutely," she said, grinning. "So you did, huh?"
He sighed and yanked her back down. "Fine, yes, we did," he said, deciding to get it all out at once, "years ago, we kept it quiet, it ended amicably, we stayed friends."
"Oh my god," Lizzie said, and he could hear that she was still grinning, "that's so hot."
"What?" he squawked, and she laughed, sliding one hand down his belly, under the covers.
"It's totally hot," she said. She gave him a squeeze. "You have no idea."
"Honestly, Lizzie, you are a total pervert," he said. "And fun as that is," he rolled her over, dislodging her hand as he went, "I'm a worn-out old man, and I'm not going to be able to go again for a while." He pinned her under him; she lay motionless, blinking up at him, still grinning. "A total pervert," he added, for good measure, and bent his head to kiss her fondly.
"You love it," she said after the kiss, a little breathless.
"I do," he agreed. "But what's so hot about two men?"
She shrugged one shoulder against the mattress. "You like lesbian scenes in porn movies, right?" He tipped his head to one side, agreeing. "So, it's like that. You know – if one man is hot, two men must be hotter."
"Well, it was pretty hot," Peter said thoughtfully. They grinned at each other. Peter's grin faded a little though, as he thought again about Dieter now, the Dieter he'd seen a week ago. "But it was over a long time ago, with Dieter and I."
"That's a shame," she said, and Peter shifted off her, pulling her against him again. "Is he okay?"
Peter rolled his eyes at the darkness. "Yes, I think he's over me," he said dryly, and she pinched his arm.
"That's not what I meant," she said.
"Oh," Peter said. "Well. I think he's lonely," he admitted. "But maybe he'll meet someone."
"Mm, good," Lizzie said quietly. "But just let me know if you and he want to make out or something," she added. "I'll bring the popcorn."
"Incorrigible," he said, and squeezed her very tightly, grinning.
"Seriously, though," she said. "Let's invite him for dinner or something while I'm home. I miss having him around."
"I'll call him tomorrow," Peter promised, and closed his eyes.
And then, somehow, Peter found himself half-drunk and kissing a half-drunk Dieter while Lizzie watched appreciatively and then – then! - she was kissing Dieter, and then Peter. And then, somehow, it was the next morning, and the super king bed felt oddly crowded and – oh. That would be because he was wedged between his wife and his – her? their? - lover. There was a hangover waiting for him in that thought, and in the bright sunlight reflecting off the white ceiling, and in the spectacular, cinematic memory of any number of delicious and sinful acts perpetrated the night before.
He let his head fall back to the mattress – very gently – and tried to decide just how guilty he should feel.
"Stop thinking so loud," Dieter slurred from the vicinity of his armpit. A warm, heavy hand pushed him sideways, so he faced the still-sleeping Lizzie, and Dieter curled close behind him as Peter curled around Lizzie sleep-heavy body. (She sighed and shifted, accommodating, slim light body tangling effortlessly with his.)
"Are you – are we okay?" Peter asked, hearing his voice come out in a rasping whisper.
Dieter's arm slid over his waist, holding him, catching him. "We are okay," he said. "Go back to sleep. We can talk later." He patted Peter's belly. "A lot later. After coffee."
The hangover was still waiting, but Peter decided it could wait, and wriggled down between the two embraces to sleep for another hour or two.
In the end, Dieter gave up the place in Wandsworth. He split his time between the Brighton flat and the tour, accompanying his player. Peter was there when Lizzie won the U.S. Open, and again two years later, when she lost to the player Dieter was coaching. (That made for an unpleasant week or two.) But both men were there, cheering, as Lizzie won Wimbledon – twice. And if it was only Peter who kissed her on camera, Dieter hugged her just as tightly, and made up for missed kisses a bit later. The press never did know quite what to make of the trio, but then, that was true of quite a few players on the tour. And Peter, Lizzie and Dieter knew – or at least figured out as they went along – what to make of themselves, and how. It took luck, and passion, and good balance – that was all.
And the three of them lived happily ever after. (The bills for china were high, but the sex was fantastic.)