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Challenge ficlet #1

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He remembers Micha. More than he'd like to admit, and certainly way more than he wants to. But then, it probably can't be helped, says the wry voice in his head. Can't, and now you've got to live with it. And so he lives with these little slices and bits of memories. Of Micha - and him. But mainly of Micha.

Michael Ballack. When he was still young. Still with Kaiserslautern, still not yet having grown out of that lanky boy's body - which disappeared only when he was on the pitch - and having the most beautiful eyes in the world Torsten had ever seen. Petra's came close, but Michael - his eyes. Fucking beautiful. Cat-like, almost. And Torsten has always admired cats. Not the small, domesticated ones - but rather the big ones, the cats of prey. Lions. Tigers.

And over the years, when he got to know Micha, exchanging words here, a friendly handshake there, locking eyes - he discovered the hidden strength in Micha. Not only was he one of the most beautiful men Torsten had ever met, but also one of the most intriguing.

At Bayern, people were clamouring for someone to take up the mantle of Beckenbauer or Effenberg, to lead the team to glory and riches, to call the men up to their arms and into the fierce battle on the pitch. And everyone's eyes were on Micha.

But he didn't do it. Didn't say that he was a leading player. Just that he was part of the team, that the team cohesion was much more important than a strict hierarchy. That they didn't need another imperator like Kaiser Franz - that wasn't said, though, but implied. Torsten knew what Micha meant, though. He knew that Micha's not someone to bask in the spotlight like Matthaeus or preening around like Beckenbauer. Micha didn't want that. Still doesn't, as far as Torsten knows. And sees.

And - well, this is a quality that he has always admired in Micha. That he never asked for more than he wanted. That he was willing to contribute whatever he could to the beautiful game. To his country, to his team mates, but that he'd never claim all the rewards for himself. Maybe it's because how Micha grew up, in the GDR, socialism and all that, but Torsten doesn't really believe that. It's just the way Micha is. Not showing his fur's spots in the bright sunlight, but rather stalking the jungle's seams, blending in seamlessly with the greenery - until these impressive eyes gleam up and you are in their thrall, forever and ever.

And besides, Micha can be egoistic as well when it comes to his desires, a fact that has led to innumerable hours, even nights, spent in guest rooms and the second flat that Micha's still keeping, dust gathering on what little furniture is there except for the bed that always had fresh linens, provided by Micha himself. Lube in the nightstand. Wet tissues for wiping up afterwards, too. It is their place - no, it was. Torsten doesn't know what Micha has done with the flat now that he's in England. Has he sold it? Kept it for old times' sake?

Torsten runs his hand through his hair and sighs. He knew that Micha wanted to go abroad. "I have to do this, Torsten," the words reverberating in his head, "I don't want to end up thinking 'what if?' all the time."

But then, there will be always what if's. Always. You have to choose every day. What to eat, what to dress, what to say. And even though most of these choices aren't really such that you'd worry day and night over them, there are these few ones that don't leave you, even years after you've decided on them.

He doesn't know if this is also the case with Micha. With London. Chelsea. Micha seems to be happy there. At least he sounded happy the few times Torsten has phoned him up. Maybe a bit overwhelmed. Exhausted, too. But then, maybe Chelsea really was the best choice for Micha, after all. At Bayern - Torsten knows how much he got hounded by the press. The fans, too. Most were nice - but then, it's not the quality, but the quantity that wears you down. Here, at Bremen, they're not as crazy as the Bayern fans - what had Bastian told them once, giggling? That he had to sign a girl's décolleté? Bremen fans would never do something like that, and for that Torsten's grateful.

He's happy at Bremen, too. Although he can't help remembering the times with Micha. Training together, showering next to each other - Torsten doesn't know why, but they did end up that way often, rather too often for it to be a coincidence. Maybe it was his subconscious doing, maybe it was Micha's intent. Or the other way around. It's all in the past, anyway.

Does Micha think about him, too? In big, bustling London, which makes Munich seem like a backwards village, with all that glamour and dirt and brashness in your face? Or has he forgotten? Or is he trying to - like Torsten?

When Torsten first had sex with Micha - it was just sex, rough and hasty, sweaty skin clinging, harsh breathing - he felt afterwards as if he wasn't Torsten Frings anymore, driving back to his home, mind reeling with the last hesitant kiss Micha had bestowed upon him. The touch still burnt on his lips and he rubbed them hard, as if he had been with another woman and it was lipstick. At home, he had stood for a long time under the shower, the hot water washing away every trace of Micha's hands, the trails his fingers painted on Torsten's body, the stickiness of his groin.

And after the second, the third, the fourth time - it got easier. Not really, but - more comfortable. They got used to each other, figured out each other. But it never was boring, Torsten thinks with a rueful smile. Never. Micha's desires were not easy to sate. And his hunger. And to have this directed at himself only - well. It was like wrestling with a fierce leopard, sharp teeth and claws dangerously close to his skin, nicking its softness from time to time, leaving bruises and scratches, but the danger restrained just so. Almost. Because being with Micha like this, that was different from seeing Micha speaking in interviews, smiling at celebrations or events, where the leopard was safely behind bars and people only noticed a faint gleam in the eyes.

Torsten, he had seen it all. He had seen the real Micha. And sometimes he had asked himself - often after one of their nights - how Micha could stand the conflict between the nice, easy-going human nature and the dangerous hunger of the leopard. How he lived with it, putting fake facades up day after day. But then there was the beautiful game. And that was another place where Micha could let the leopard out to play. He didn't do it all the time, but when he did, you could see it in his eyes.

Like Torsten had seen it when he first laid eyes on Michael Ballack. And this was what drew him to the other man - and it wouldn't ever stop. Torsten hopes that the leopard's still out there. Half-hidden in Micha, in the shadows. Stalking. Waiting.

For him, Torsten.