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joining up the dots

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Manuel doesn’t know why on earth he agreed to this. Actually, he can’t recall ever agreeing to it in the first place. Suspiciously, he eyes Thomas, who is just getting strapped into their parachute by their instructor. He looks unfairly cheerful at the prospect of jumping out of a flying aircraft.

“When again did I agree to this?!” Manuel asks, and he doesn’t even care that he’s sounding a bit whiney.

Thomas just cackles at his misery “Remember that bet we had going a few weeks ago? When you promised me that if i scored more goals during the next game than you made saves, I would have one day for us to plan all on my own?”

Manuel clenches his teeth. Yes, he remembers; remembers how the game had been surprisingly easy, how there had only been three attempts on his goal, and only one that he actively had to stop. And how Thomas hat scored his first hattrick in what felt like years, of course.

But really, when Thomas tugged him out of bed this morning, promising him a fun day, this definitely isn’t what he’s been expecting.

“This really isn’t what I expected,” he says, causing Thomas to chuckle once again. The younger one walks up to him, patting his shoulder.

“Cheer up Manu! I swear this isn’t as bad as it looks like; it’s completely safe. You’re gonna be fine, I promise!” 

Manu side-eyes the open airplane door behind Thomas with a growing nausea in his stomach that doesn’t ease in the slightest when the instructor asks them to step closer together, strapping them together. Normally, having Thomas so close to him would make him feel calmer, but now it only fuels his approaching panic attack. He isn’t afraid of heights, but this is different. And definitely not his definition of ‘fun’. Or ‘fine’, for that matter.

He startles a bit when he feels Thomas’ fingers on his neck.

“Hey, are you okay?” he sounds concerned – well, at least something.

The biggest part of Manuel wants to scream ‘do I look like I am okay?!!!’ – instead he settles for “If I die, I’m going to haunt your ass.”

Thomas laughs, his finger rubbing over his sides. They stand very close together now, and Manuel is once again reminded that soon the only thing preventing them from a sudden death on earth’s surface is the parachute strapped onto Thomas’ back. Manuel flinches when those cheeky hands drop down to his waist.

Thomas’ voice drops almost to a whisper as he leans forward to speak directly into his ear, giving his butt a good squeeze, “If we do this, I will haunt your ass. Promise.”

And suddenly, Manuel feels a whole different kind of light-headed.

 

Chapter Text

Sleeping on the couch isn’t all that comfortable. Mats knew this, but still, he somehow has forgotten what it feels like. His back is hurting and it’s unfair.

It’s unfair, that now, in some of the few rare days he and Benedikt can spend together anymore, they have to argue.

He doesn’t even remember who started it, or why. Probably because of something trivial, or Bene got jealous of his continuous social media ‘flirting’ with some other players. Bene didn’t used to get jealous this easily, Mats thinks. But he guesses it makes sense with the distance in between them, that he’d get more territorial. That’d he’d be afraid that Mats would find someone else.

It’s the same fear Mats has, after all, what with Bene in Italy, where the men have a reputation for being handsome and suave.

Anyway, they ended up yelling at each other during lunch. They haven’t exchanged a single word since, and Mats has tried to avoid Bene as good as possible. The little house they’d rented for their holidays didn’t make it easy, so he went out to eat, even if he wasn’t able to enjoy his food and instead only sadly stared at the empty chair on the other side of the table.

Bene was already been in bed when he came back, all the lights turned off, so Mats took some blankets out of the closet, trying to make himself as comfortable as possibly on the tiny sofa.

He wraps his arms around himself, sighing frustratedly. He’s been tossing and turning for hours, and when he checks his phone, it’s already 2am. With a groan, he rubs his hand over his face.

He gets up, his joints aching, shuffling to the kitchen. He pours himself a glass of milk, downing it in one gulp, leaning against the counter. He starts to freeze, and suddenly, the too-small couch with it’s soft blankets feels inviting again, but somehow, he can’t bring himself to lay back down.

It takes him a few more minutes until he makes a decision. As quietly as possible, he tip-toes up the stairs. Thankfully, Bene is a pretty heavy sleeper, so he doesn’t notice him sneaking into the room.

His beloved is curled together in a tiny ball, gathering the blankets around him. It doesn’t look all that comfortable, and Mats can see how one of his hands is clenched around the blanket. With a sigh, he sits down next to him, wincing when the wooden frame creaks under his weight.

With shaking fingers, he pushes out a strand of hair that has fallen into his face, traces the freckles hidden underneath. He’s gotten so much tanner since moving to Turin, even if in the darkness, Mats can’t make it out. It shouldn’t suit someone with hair this light, but Mats has always envied him for not getting burned as easily.

He doesn’t even realize it when he leans down, has pecked Bene on his lips before he knows it. The blond frowns in his sleep, and when Mats pulls away, he slowly, tiredly opens his eyes.

“Why do you only kiss me when I’m sleeping?”

Mats only stares at him, bewildered.

“You haven’t kissed me once ever since since our reunion at the airport. Especially not after our fight.”

Mats frowns, trying to recall if he’s right; wants to protest, but realizes he can’t.

Bene sighs, feels for his hand, taking it in his. “I feared you haven’t missed me as much as I’ve missed you.”

“Of course I have.” Mats is aware of how broken his voice sounds, but he feels broken, too. “I missed you so, so much.”

Even if both of them are whispering, their voices seem loud in the darkness of the room.

Bene sighs, turning around, his back facing Mats. The younger one hesitates before laying down as well, moving closer to him. He smiles a bit when Bene reaches behind himself, groping for Mats’ arm, draping it around himself, their fingers locked together.

And when he doesn’t flinch as Mats presses as kiss onto his naked shoulder, and instead shuffles back a bit, bringing them closer together, Mats thinks that maybe, these might not become the worst holidays, after all.

 

Chapter Text

It is very much possible, Mats found out, to feel like a teenager again, even if you were in your late twenties. 

What with the main cause being not seeing your boyfriends for literal months, and him suddenly seeming one hundred times more attractive than before (even if Mats hadn’t thought that was possible – Bene had always been the epitome of beauty to him) – his hormones run crazy now that they were together again.

Thomas had laughed at him when he’d almost fallen over his feet to fling himself into the blond’s arms when they’d arrived at the airport. (So had everyone else, but as always, the Bavarian’s laugh had been the loudest.) But Mats couldn’t find it in him to care, not when Bene was here, in his arms, smelling so so good, smiling into his t-shirt.

Of course, late that night, after their obligatory team dinner had passed with a lot of playing footsie under the table, and Mats grinning at Bene like a loon, feeling his lips stretch even wider whenever he’d smiled back, they’d quickly made an exit. Bene hadn’t even bothered to go back to his own room first, and instead followed Mats to his, making quick work of shoving the dark-haired one against the door as soon as he’d closed it behind them.

What followed, Mats could only described as a lustful state of bliss, and when they’d finally fallen asleep hours (and one noise complaint from, again, Thomas (that hypocrite), who occupied the room next to them, delivered by text) later, he’d been all-around satisfied, happily sighing when he’d tugged Bene into his arms.

Only, when he woke up again in the middle of the night, his hose buried deep in Bene’s hair, he immediately felt his lower regions stirring again.

He stroked over Bene’s stomach, first slowly, lazily, then with a bit more intent. After a while, he started nibbling at his neck, sucking a bruise onto the tan skin.

It was actually surprising that Bene took so long to wake up. The blond groaned, turning around in Mats’ arms, wiggling a bit when he felt his erection already poking into his side.

“You didn’t just wake me up at 2am because you were ‘in the mood’, did you,” he asked, but by the way he tiredly smirked up at him it was clearly a rhetorical question.

Mats only grinned. “Are you opposed?”

Bene propped himself up on his elbows, chasing after Mats’ lips, moaning quietly when they finally slot together in a open-mouthed kiss.

Mats threw the blanket over them. Sometimes, even no answer was answer enough.

 

Chapter Text

Sometimes Manuel really questions his decision to let Thomas move in with him. Granted, it only made sense – ever since they started dating, they’ve pretty much spent every possible night in the same bed, usually being either Manuel’s or the one in a hotel room, but offering Thomas Müller with a key to your house (and your heart) came with the big disadvantage that he now feels at home in Manuel’s space. Which is, of course, sweet but also … it can be quite inconvenient.

Like when Manuel has just finished showering but forgot to bring fresh clothes with him, so he has to wander back into his bedroom only in his towel, where Thomas is currently occupying the chair by the big window, for whatever reason playing some kind of upbeat version of Stern des Südens on his phone. Loudly.

It’s 9am, can you turn that down, Manuel doesn’t say. Instead he asks Thomas if he’s seen his clothes. (He could swear he’d left the outfit he planned to wear neatly folded on the bed.)

Rather than answering, Thomas gets up from his chair with that distinct look on his face – smirking, eyebrows raised daringly – that usually means he’s up to something.

Manuel expects the worst.

He realizes it’s worse when Thomas starts swaying his hips. He can’t really dance, neither of them do, but with Thomas it’s more of an inability to appear graceful but doing so with great enthusiasm, whereas Manuel just always feels completely embarrassed and stupid trying to move his limbs on a dancefloor.

So anyway, Thomas shimmying up to him, looking slightly ridiculous but as if he’s challenging him, is not exactly a good sign. Manuel groans when the younger one takes his hands, bringing them closer together.

“Thomas, what … I just got out of the shower, I can’t dance. What if my towel falls off?“ 

Even if it was only a clumsy attempt at getting out of this without having to dance, he probably should have expected Thomas’ lewd grin. “Nothing I haven’t seen before, babe.”

Manuel feels his cheeks flush inadvertently, and then blushes some more when Thomas pulls him closer still, his hands settling on his ass, giving each cheek a gentle squeeze.

They’re slowly swaying by now, completely out of time with the music. Manuel knows where this will lead, can feel Thomas shiver underneath his fingertips, has to suppress a whimper when the brunet kisses his collarbone.

Then the music stops, and Manuel feels warm fingers slipping underneath the towel.

“Thomas please … I only just showered,” he protests, weakly.

Thomas only smiles against his skin, tenderly nipping at his neck. “The shower doesn’t walk away now, does it,” he teases as he gently walks them back to the bed.

And well, as Manuel lowers himself back into the sheets, towel falling open as his legs do as well, he can’t help but thinking that showering together is more enjoyable anyway.

 

Chapter Text

Nuri isn’t used to people pestering him when he was pissed off. His teammates as well as his friends and family know better than to bother him when he's in a mood; especially if they were the ones who caused it.

Apparently, Andriy hasn’t gotten the memo.

Instead, he’s been trailing after Nuri like a lost puppy, trying to get him to “relax, koxányj. I didn’t mean it like that.”

Nuri only scoffs, getting up from where he was seated at the breakfast bar, moving to the living room. It’s being going like that all day. As if Andriy expected Nuri just to forgive him like that, even if it was him who had fucked up.

He settles on the couch, grabbing the remote, turning on the TV. It’s in the middle of the afternoon on a normal weekday, so they’re only showing some old show again that even back when it first aired no-one cared about. This does nothing to lift Nuri’s spirits. With a sigh, he reaches for his playstation controller instead.

He’s halfway into a FIFA game against some idiot who of course chose Bayern and, on top of everything, is winning against him too, when Andriy drops down next to him, a bowl of cereal in his lap.

“Oh, you’re losing.”

Nuri shoots him an angry glare. “Could you maybe not point that out, thank you,” he says through gritted teeth. When he looks back to the screen, his opponent has scored another goal. He groans, throwing the controller on the floor.

Andriy puts his bowl down, then picks up the controller, placing it on the coffee table instead.

Nuri flinches when he feels the Ukrainian's fingers ghosting over his shoulder, starting to gently caress him. When he doesn’t react, Andriy starts to poke him. Nuri sends him another glare.

“Quit it or I’ll bite.” He really means it too.

Andriy chuckles, softly shaking his head. The petulant child in Nuri wants to pull away when the other tries to pull him into his arms, but being mad all day can be exhausting as well.

“Please, koxányj. I’m sorry.” He whispers it into Nuri’s ear and his voice so soft and laced with fondness that it’s so hard to stay angry at him.

Still, he can’t resist snarking back. “Oh, so you’re sorry? You forget about our date for a random dinner with some of our teammates – that I wasn’t invited to! – and all you say is that you’re sorry?!”

Andriy sighs, clearly a bit exasperated by now as well. “You told me you had that meeting …” He runs his hand over his face.

Nuri snorts. “Yes, I had a meeting. That I cancelled so I could take you out to our favourite restaurant, because we haven’t been on a date for almost three weeks!”

Vybačte. I’m sorry.”

Nuri crosses his arms in front of his chest. He doesn’t want him to get away that easily; unfortunately, Andriy has this pair of chocolate brown eyes and well … It’s really unfair that someone as manly as him is able to imitate puppy dog eyes that well.

He resists for about a minute before he lets him be pulled into the taller man’s chest, snuggling up to him.

“I’m still mad at you.”

Andriy chuckles. “Of course,” he says, placing a soft kiss on Nuri’s hair.

 

Chapter Text

It was a bit strange, being married again. Of course, it also felt right, but somehow, Thomas had always thought Lisa would be the only person he’d ever be married to. Then they’d parted ways (amicably!) and he hadn’t believed there could ever be someone who lived up to her.

But then, there had been Manu. Manu with his adorable smiles, his endearingly shy and sometimes awkward self and his stunning blue eyes. Manu, whose body suddenly made Thomas’ knees feel weak; who he had never looked at as anything but a friend; who somehow, when Thomas wasn’t paying attention, became a love interest.

Thomas couldn’t deny how elated he’d been when he’d found out his feelings were requited. How Manuel’s cheeks had flushed when he’d stammered that he felt the same and how Thomas had thought that he must have been the prettiest person to ever walk this earth.

Skip three years forward, and now there was a ring on Thomas’ finger once again. He smiled fondly as he observed Manuel shrugging his jacket on, fiddling with his tie, a matching band on his right hand. After watching him struggle with the knot for a while, fingers trembling, he took pity on him.

“Let me,” he said, stepping behind him, when Manu wanted to protest, “I’m your husband. It’s my job,” a smile sneaking it’s way onto his face, unable to ignore the way Manuel’s face had softened at the term.

He tied the knot in a few experienced motions, gently draping his arms around Manu when he finished, resting chin on his shoulder.

“You look very handsome.”

Manu made a face. He hated wearing suits, even if Thomas had always been of the opinion than he looked better in one than most other men. He pressed a kiss on Manu’s cheek, as light as a feather, taking his hand in his. Still, the blond didn’t look any less worried. 

“I’m sure it won’t be as bad as you think.”

Manu chuckled. It sounded slightly forced. “That’s what you said.”

Thomas rolled his eyes, pinching his side before leaning in to kiss him on the lips. “Yeah that’s what I said – and you really should believe me. Now c'mon, Herr Müller, let’s face the music!”

Manuel groaned as Thomas dragged him along, voicing some mumbled protests, but Thomas could make out the small smile that had found its way onto his face.

Manu still seemed fidgety when they were sitting in the car, running his hand through his hair again and again. 

It was going to be their first official appearance as a married couple, and Thomas knew Manuel still feared the people’s comments. He huffed. There had always been critics, ever since they’d announced they were a couple. Surprisingly less than he’d expected, actually. It had probably helped that they’d done it together, at a point in their career when their achievements and their names were too big to be torn apart.

Nothing would change now; well, apart from the fact that now no one was able to deny they belonged together anymore, Thomas thought, squeezing Manuel’s hand, letting out a small sigh when Manu squeezed back. He looked determined albeit still nervous by now, frowning slightly, expression growing soft when Thomas’ eyes met his.

The air felt cold as the car door opened. Thomas got out first, waving at the small crowd, never once letting go of his husband’s hand. He smiled as he felt the cold metal of the Manuel’s wedding band against his skin, and he couldn’t resist pulling his husband closer as soon as he finally came to stand beside him, snaking an arm around his waist.

Manuel looked radiant, beaming at the cameras, seemingly growing more confident every second. And Thomas couldn’t help kissing him as the first flash went off, for all the world to see, tasting his smile against his lips.

 

Chapter Text

It’s almost as if Julian can hear the crack when Matze’s bone breaks.

Matze’s cry is slightly delayed. It sounds broken, as if it had shattered together with his leg. It goes through Julian like a shudder, leaves him with a kind of emptiness that presses cold against his heart.

The game goes on, of course it does; it has to. Julian takes a while to pull himself together. Only when Löw sends him a slightly annoyed look he finally manages to fully focus on the game again, even if it feels like he’s not acting on his own, as if he’s watching a movie with himself in the main role.

They win, actually, and when the team huddles for a group hug, he can almost feel Thomas’ concerned stare hefted onto his back. Sure enough, when he turns around, the usually so cheerful forward is frowning.

Julian nods at him, forcing a smile. He’s sure it isn’t that believable, and that the crease between Thomas’ brows deepens only confirms that.

The rest of the team are in a surprisingly good mood, but Julian doesn’t feel like celebrating. The first thing he does when they get back to the changing room is checking his phone. Of course Matze hasn’t texted, but he figured it was worth a try.

He barely pays attention to anything that happens back on their way to the hotel, apart from when Löw informs them that Matze has been taken to the hospital; doesn’t even notice when Thomas sends him another concerned glance, quietly talking to Manuel.

In the end, it’s the captain himself who finally soothes his nerves hours later, when Julian is alone in his room. Matze is back – Oli just told me, his text read, Leg is broken, but he didn’t need surgery.

Julian gulps as he writes Manu a short reply, thanking him. Of course, it could have been much worse; bones grow back together, after all. Still, his stomach twists at the implication what this will probably mean for Matze.

He just wants to get up when there’s a knock on his door.

The smile Matze greets him with is crooked, he looks pained. He’s walking with crutches; his left leg in a cast. Wordlessly, Julian ushers him in; Matze carefully sits down on the edge of the bed.

Julian caresses his shoulder as Matze takes a deep, shaky breath.

“The World Cup is over for me. Nothing to be done.” His voice is surprisingly steady, he sounds almost resigned.

Julian rests his chin on his shoulder, wordlessly wrapping his arms around him. By the way Matze melts into him he can tell that he needs this now, this silent comfort, more than anything else.

But when he can feel the blond tremble under his fingertips, stubbornly trying not to cry, the words rush out of his mouth before he can stop them.

“You’re strong, baby. You have to be.”

Matze looks at him, frowning.

“I mean,” Julian nervously fiddles with an errand strand of hair before brushing it back into place, “Yeah, it majorly sucks that you will miss Russia, amongst other things because I was really looking forward to experiencing it with you, but I’m one hundred percent sure you will only come back stronger. After all,” he chuckles weakly, “we are still young.”

Julian kisses him on the forehead, tenderly brushing his fingers down Matze’s neck before settling them on his shoulders, pulling him closer.

The kiss is as light as a feather, nothing more than a shy brush of lips. It’s Matze who presses closer, desperately, gripping Julian’s hoodie with both hands.

It takes Julian a lot of mental effort to bring himself to pull away again, resting their foreheads together. When he opens his eyes, Matze stares back at him; maybe a bit helpless, a bit lost, but somehow, Julian can see the determination in his eyes, burning twice as bright as before.

“This is not the last the world will see of you, of that I’m sure.”

 

Chapter Text

Sometimes, living with Mats was a pure disaster. 

In this instance, it started when Mats was looking for his sweater. Not just any regular sweater, of course, but one his mother had given him for Christmas, and one she definitely expected him to wear for the next family dinner, which Mats and Benedikt were currently preparing to host later that night. 

But well, Mats couldn’t find it. Which, in itself, wasn’t all that surprising. Mats’ chaos was legendary, and so was his inability to be able to find any of his things on a good day.

“Bene!” he yelled from another room, “Have you seen my sweater?”

“Which one?” Bene yelled back, currently busy with tidying the kitchen – which Mats had promised to do the night before, but hadn’t. Now, this wasn’t unusual and Bene had gotten used to it over the years, but it could still be annoying at times; especially since it needed to get done before Jonas came over, who had promised to help them cook.

“The burgundy one! The one my mum gave me! You know?!”

Bene pondered this for a while. “Didn’t you wear it for that business dinner a few weeks ago?”

Mats, who by now was leaning against the doorframe, dressed in nothing except his boxers and a tight black t-shirt, frowned, his hair sticking up in odd angles, frowned.

“Yeah, I think you’re right. How did you know that?”

Bene chuckled, his eyes still resting on Mats’ body. “You send me selfies from pretty much everywhere you go, did you forget that?” 

He didn’t need to add that he kept them in a separate hidden folder in his phone, that he cherished every single one. Mats knew that anyway. (Sometimes it physically hurt, being separated from the one he loved, and the pictures soothed his heart; if only a tiny bit.)

“Someone has to, and since it’s clearly not you …”

He yelped a bit when Mats gently slapped his arm. Still, neither of them could suppress a giggle, and Bene felt a warm fondness pooling in his stomach when Mats reached for his hands, pulling him close.

“You’re so mean,” Mats whispered against his lips.

Bene only grinned, shrugging. “I’m your husband. It’s my job.”

“Oh? I don’t recall that being in your wedding vows,” Mats said, tenderly biting Bene’s lip, bumping their noses together.

Bene quirked his eyebrows. “Well, I don’t remember promising to clean up your messes all the time either, and yet.”

“See! Mean,” Mats complained, trying to pull him into another kiss, putting his hands on Bene’s hips, bringing their bodies closer together. Bene suddenly appreciated that even at four in the afternoon, he wasn’t fully dressed yet.

They quickly drew apart when the doorbell rang. Bene had to contain a laugh when he saw the wide-eyed look Mats was giving him.

“I’m pretty sure your brother has seen you in worse states,” he teased, even if he couldn’t deny that Mats looked as if they’d just had a quick tumblr in the sheets. Or on the kitchen table, alternatively.

Mats groaned exasperatedly. “Can you stop it?“

“Stop what?” Bene had to admit, he was having fun with this.

“I’m supposed to be the eloquent one in this marriage!”

“Well right now, you’re definitely the one without pants.”

He only cackled when Mats flipped him off before rushing out of the kitchen, running up the stairs.

He was still just barely holding it together when he opened the door, causing Jonas to quirk an eyebrow at him.

“Just, your brother.”

“Ah,” Jonas said, a wiry smile tugging at his lips, “what has he done now?”

“Well hello to you too, asshole,” Mats quipped from behind Bene’s shoulder, making the latter startle a bit.

“Now,” Mats took Jonas by surprise, pulling him in by his sleeve, “do you think Mum will notice if I don’t wear that sweater she gave me?”

(Yeah, she did. But instead of being cross, she only let out a little laugh before turning to Benedikt. “Is he still so messy?” she asked. And judging by the way they shared a sly smile, Bene was sure she already knew the answer.)

 

Chapter Text

Bernd is angry. Angry at their opponents, angry at his own defense. Angry at Jogi for trusting him enough to put him in goal over Marc. But mostly angry at himself for failing him and his team. Angry for conceding the first goal because the ball slipped through his fingers, allowing the other team to equalize, angry for not being able to stop the penalty ten minutes later, mere seconds before the final whistle, finalizing their loss.

He barely resisted kicking the wall back in the dressing room, but figured it would demand too much attention. He ducks away from the pitying or maybe even disappointed looks from his teammates as quickly as possible.

He’s glad that he’s the first one on the bus, immediately making a beeline for the last row. The driver casts him a critical glance but doesn’t say anything. Good for him, Bernd thinks bitterly; he knows he probably would have snapped.

Once he’s sat down in his seat – it’s a bit more cramped in the back, or at least that’s what it feels like. Usually he sits somewhere in the middle with Joshua or Julian – he immediately searches his bag for his phone and his earphones. Sometimes it’s a good idea to drown reality with music when you’re feeling like crap; Bernd’s wish to do so has never felt bigger than today. As he listens to the first sounds, he lets his head rest against the window. It has started to rain, the drops look strange on the glass when you’re so close to it. Slowly, Bernd closes his eyes.

He only realizes he must have dozed off when he feels someone plop down on his left. He doesn’t usually feel so tired after games, but this one has drained him not only physically but also mentally. 

When he cranes his neck to peer over the seat in front of him, he can see that almost everyone has boarded the bus already. They’re more quiet than usual, it seems, no one really in the mood to talk after this bitter defeat.

Bernd buries himself back in his seat before anyone catches his eyes, unwilling to face their judging stares.

“You should know better,” Marc says. Of course it’s him. No one would dare to approach a pissed-off goalkeeper except another goalkeeper. It almost makes Bernd smile. Almost.

He doesn’t ask what Marc means, but the other elaborates anyway.

“They don’t blame you. We just played shit in the second half. It’s not your fault. And honestly, you should really know that by now.”

Bernd snorts, shaking his head. As if Marc wouldn’t do the same, if he were in his place.

He flinches when he feels Marc’s hand on his knee, quickly shoving it away again.

Marc shoots him a look. “What?”

“Not here,” Bernd hisses.

Marc sighs so exasperatedly that it’s a miracle no one turns to stare at them. Still, he has the decency to lower his voice as he continues. “Have you ever thought that it might not help anyone if you push me away whenever I want to comfort you?”

That’s a bit crass, Bernd thinks, he doesn’t always push him away. But if he is entirely honest he has to admit that showing such weakness in front of your former and-also-kinda-current rival is not something that is easy for him. Even if through some strange events, said rival has somehow become his lover.

When he finally looks at Marc, his hand still hopefully hovering over Bernd’s leg.

Bernd sighs, nodding reluctantly. “Sometimes it’s really annoying how insistent you can be,” he mumbles as Marc pulls him into a tight hug. This time, he doesn’t resist. In fact, he can’t help a tiny little smile when he feels his boyfriend sneakily placing a kiss in his curls.

It takes a while for Marc to reply, both of them kind of lost in the warmth of their embrace.

“And you, stop placing all the blame on yourself. No, let me talk,” he fixes Bernd with a stern glance when he opens his mouth to interrupt, “I know that I do it as well, so does Kevin, hell, even Manuel! But with you, you let the guilt consume you, and it’s gonna break you one day if you don’t stop.”

His eyes look pleading, and it’s only then that Bernd realizes that by pushing him away, he doesn’t only hurt himself, but Marc as well.

After quickly checking if someone is observing them and noting there isn’t, he swiftly leans forward, pecking Marc on the lips, even if he can feel his stomach dropping knowing that they are kissing in a place where anyone could see them.

Still, Marc’s beaming smile when he pulls away makes it worth it.

“Will you let go now?” Bernd grumbles, unable to keep the fondness out of his voice.

But Marc only shakes his head, burying his face in Bernd’s shoulder.

“No,” he murmurs, only tightening his hold.

 

Chapter Text

At the beginning, Bayern was strange. Everything was bigger, different, new. It wasn’t the first move, for neither of them, but somehow, it felt like it. The one thing that hadn’t changed was Niklas. Too-tall Nikki who, even if he might not look it, was as sweet as honey with a golden heart to go with it, who was an incredible footballer on top of that. Niklas who, by sheer luck, had been asked to make this move with him.

For Basti, it was like winning the lottery. In some way, the move had only strengthened the bond between them; but still, he hadn’t expected these new feelings and honestly? He had not a single clue clue how to deal with them.

Suddenly, seeing Niklas do well in training made him feel unreasonably proud, suddenly, his smile made something Basti’s stomach to do somersaults.

It took him way too long to realize that he wasn’t the only one immediately looking away, blushing, whenever their hands brushed together on accident because they had been walking too close to each other again.

That not only did he try to sneak glances at Niklas all the time during training, but that Niklas was also often observing him. (Basti caught him doing it once. His cheeks had grown adorably pink and so had the tips of his ears while he was busy furiously staring at the ground, which did nothing to hide how flustered he was.)

It was terribly endearing, but in the end, neither of them managed to make a first move.

It got to the point where other people started noticing something was up with them as well. They were often referred to as ‘the old married couple’, and Mats, who was incredibly noisy on a good day and downright annoying on a bad one, had even once outright asked him if there was something going on between them.

Basti hadn’t been able to come up with an answer, instead he had just stuttered helplessly, causing Mats to raise a single perfectly maintained eyebrow at him before he’d walked away, looking very smug.

That had been the moment when Basti had decided to do something about it. About this unspoken thing between him and Niklas.

But infuriatingly, somehow, each time he wanted to confess his feelings, he was interrupted or distracted by somebody or something each time he tried. (Maybe he might have been glad for that, but it was annoying nevertheless.)

He didn’t really have any idea how they’d ended up here, sitting on the bench in the dressing room, facing each other, legs on either side of the bench. How he’d finally dared confessing his feelings, and how those feelings in his stomach bloomed into an all-encompassing golden warmth when Niklas’ eyes had grown wide, his mouth forming an o-shape, before a wide smile had spread on his face.

After a few minutes they were still sitting there, admiring each other in wonder, none of them making a move. Then, Niklas tilted his head like an overgrown puppy. He looked so darn adorable that Bast couldn’t resist; he leaned in.

It was everything he’d dreamed their first kiss to be. Slightly clumsy, he could feel Niklas' smile against his lips. They both tasted salty, still hadn’t showered after their training session, and their noses bumped together several times. But it also felt like that bubbly feeling Basti had been trying to chase ever since he first saw Niklas smile, that had until that point always just slipped through his fingers; it felt like comfort, like coming home.

After that, everything felt simple. Suddenly, Bayern felt like a second skin, as if he, as if they had always been there.

Niklas was still there, of course, but now, they were even closer than before.

“Hey, are you two done over there? We have a training session to start!” Mats yelled from the other side of the pitch, followed by cheerful laughter from some of the others.

Basti didn’t mind them, instead he just buried his face deeper into Niklas' chest.

His boyfriend (and that term still made Basti smile) let out a delighted chuckle.

“You’re so clingy, I love it.”

Basti grinned, wiggling around a bit, trying to escape Niklas’ tight hug. When he couldn’t, he simply pulled away enough to raise his eyebrows at him.

“Pot, meet kettle.”

 

Chapter Text

It’s the end of March. Therefore, Mats is quite sure, it’s not supposed to be freezing. Nevertheless, the cold wind bites at his cheeks as the grass crunches slightly underneath his boots, his frozen breath clouding his sight.

Infuriatingly, no one else seems to be all too bothered. In fact, everyone looks pretty darn happy.

And he gets it, of course, reuniting with the National Team is always fun, especially considering some of the players haven’t seen each other in months – despite his teeth still chattering, Mats manages a happy sigh when he recalls his reunion with Bene, holding him close for the first time in what felt like centuries, kissing his cheeks, his nose, his lips. 

But. It’s still surprising that they all don’t seem to care about how fucking cold it is.

(Thomas even got rid of his sweater pretty soon, running around in only shorts and jersey. Mats pins a glare to his back as he runs past him and silently envies him for his higher body temperature. ”He’s like a walking furnace” Manu once said, his voice sounding suspiciously dreamy. Mats didn’t ask and instead wondered how he’d ever been oblivious to their relationship, as blatantly obvious as they sometimes were.)

Astonishingly, he manages to get through the initial exercises without losing feeling in his fingers, so he counts it as a win. Still, as they’re all standing in a circle, listening to Jogi’s instructions, he can’t help but wrapping his arms around himself, craving the bit of warmth it offers him.

He doesn’t notice Bene frowning at him from where he’s standing opposite of him.

Mats is glad when the assistant coach announces the next exercise, needing the movement to keep himself warm. When Bene jogs up to him, for the first time that morning, he offers him a shaky smirk.

“Heya, handsome! How are you doing old man, can you keep up?” His tone is teasing, but it’s laced with some thinly veiled concern that he's sure Bene has no difficulty picking up upon.

It’s almost a miracle Bene got called up anyway, his spot at the World Cup anything but certain. (Mats’ stomach clenches at the possibility of having to go to Russia without the love of his life by his side.)

Bene pinches his side, jokingly glaring at him, though unable to hide his smile.

Mats throws a quick look over his shoulder. No one is paying them any attention; they’re all used to their flirty behaviour by now, most of their teammates believing they’re only joking around (even if some know better), but Bene has always been the more careful out of the two, whereas Mats usually overcompensates his insecurities with even more quips and wit.

He looks at Bene expectantly and is rewarded with a fond shake of the blond’s head and his smile spreading even wider.

“I’m just glad to be back,” he finally admits. He almost sounds disbelieving that he is.

Mats beams at him, having to hold back the absurd, inconvenient urge to just lean in and press his mouth on Bene’s. Instead, there’s another gust of wind, and he just so manages to suppress a shiver.

Bene raises his eyebrow.

“You’re cold.”

“Am not,” Mats snaps grumpily, fully aware he sounds like a petulant child.

Bene giggles, and Mats wants to kiss him.

“Yes, you are. You’ve always gotten cold quite quickly. Here.” Swiftly, he takes off his jacket, offering it to Mats.

“But you’ll be cold!” he complains, weakly.

Bene to roll his eyes. “We’re done in ten minutes. I’ll be okay.”

Mats wants to add that he’ll look ridiculous, but the glare Bene shoots him makes him shut up. He struggles to pull the slightly smaller jacket over his own, doesn’t manage to get it to zip up, but he has to admit, it’s doing wonders already. (His knees are still cold, out in the open like that, but he’s used to that, anyway.)

He offers Bene a crooked grin when he asks if it’s better like that, but can’t help but notice when he shivers slightly. ‘You’ll get sick, love,’ is what he wants to say, but he knows that once Bene’s made up his mind, no one is able to change it. Not even Mats. 

(Not even Mats’ pouting.)

 

Chapter Text

They were painting the kitchen.

Or at least, they had been painting the kitchen until the phone had rung, calling Mats over to the living room, from where he’d called for Bene to help him with a thing or another (that had inevitably ended in making up against the window sill, losing themselves in each other and the tender feeling of comfortable togetherness) – and well, they should have known that leaving Ludwig alone in the kitchen might not be the best idea.

Of course, he had been busy playing with his toy dinosaurs on the floor when they’d made their exit, but even at the tender age of three, the little boy was known for being quite resourceful.

Mats groaned when they re-entered the kitchen, his lips still plush from the kisses Bene had stolen off them.

The bucket of light blue paint that they’d intended to paint the counters with was spilled all over the floor. Thankfully, it was made out of stone, so it would be relatively easy to clean again – the same could not be said for the walls, that had, up until a few moments ago, been a pristine white they’d only worked on two days ago.

Now, there was Ludwig, standing in front of them, very concentrated on decorating said walls with small light blue handprints and intricate swirls that probably only made sense to the mind of a toddler.

Mats cursed when he realized that the paint was not only all over their kitchen, but over his son and his clothes as well, muttering something almost unintelligible that Bene thought must have mean something like “Cathy’s gonna kill me” – and she probably would, knowing how much money she usually spent on the little one’s outfits.

Bene couldn’t hide a smile as Mats tried and initially failed to pull Ludwig away from the newly decorated wall. When he finally managed to lift the little boy up in his arms, the colour in Ludwig’s dark curls transferring to Mats’ identical looking ones, he turned to Bene with a pout.

“Why did you have to leave him on his own?”

The blond lifted an eyebrow.

“Wasn’t it you that explicitly requested my ‘help’ with the sofa?” he said, smirking, knowing full well that Mats wouldn’t be able to talk his way out of this one, unable the deny the urgency with which he’d claimed his partner’s lips.

Bene turned to the wall again, examining the younger Hummels’ work.

“He’s undeniably got talent. Especially when it comes to messing up things that a lot of work went into previously. Well, seems like it’s certain – he is definitely your child.”

Mats shot him an exasperated look; but Bene shut him up again quickly.

“Oh, don’t you start,” he smirked, “may I remind you who decided a paint war was the way to go, back when we painted our first shared apartment?”

Mats pouted, his black t-shirt by now speckled with tiny handprints as well, but then he relented, fondly shaking his head. “Yeah, that was a right mess to clean up.”

“Oh, and whose fault was that?” That earned Bene only a poked out tongue as Mats pushed his stepson into his arms, but they couldn’t help but grinning at each other.

Bene couldn’t help but notice how adorable Mats looked, paint all over his shirt and his arms, some even in his hair.

“Right,” Mats said, the first to break the silence, “how about you go give our little rascal here a bath, and I try to get a head start at getting rid of this chaos. And you young man,” he turned to Ludwig, “I hope you’re sorry about what you did,” he said, playfully wiggling his finger at his son who giggled and hid his face in Bene’s chest.

His mumbled “sorry Papa” almost got lost in Bene’s soft shirt as Bene was petting his head. 

They were almost out of the door already when Mats got started on his chore with a groan. “I swear, next time we’re getting professionals to do this!”

(But they both knew they wouldn’t, too sentimental to give up on a good family tradition.)

 

Chapter Text

“Tell me something I don’t know about you.”

It had become somewhat of a game for them. 

Back when they’d gotten together, when Manuel had put his heart into Thomas’ slender hands, he’d offered him everything. Every moment that had shaped him, all his fears, every past sorrow he’d left behind and all of those he still carried around to this day. Everything that made him happy, everything that made him angry.

All of it had erupted out of him like a volcano, so relieving to finally, finally find someone who would listen, someone who he could love, trust.

Thomas hadn’t said anything, only held him close, running his hands through Manu’s short hair, pressing kisses against his temples, offering him the space to talk.

It had been him who had realized that that evening had created something of a rift between them, an imbalance of knowledge.

Thomas talked a lot, a lot more than Manuel, but it was usually jesting, or sometimes a precise analysis of a situation, or, in Manuel’s presence, more often than not, declaring his love for the older man. He reassured him of it with every pet name, every teasing quip, every “I love you”, knowing that Manuel soaked up every single word.

But for a long time he didn’t realize that he offered not much of his own story.

“I don’t actually know much about what you did before going pro,” Manu had once said, baffled upon realizing.

Thomas had laughed, fondly stroking over his arm before launching into a story of how he’d once managed to lose his pet turtle back when he’d been eleven.

“Tell me something I don’t know about you,” Manu would ask, and Thomas would pull him into his arms and recount something of his childhood, his earlier days at Bayern, his family, his experience back in school.

Sometimes he even talked of what could have been, had he not become a footballer. Or he reminisced their earlier days together, back when they’d only been national teammates, a Bayer and a Schalker who previously only met on the pitch.

Today, they’re laying on the couch in a small apartment they’d rented for the holidays, eager to explore a new city without all eyes on them like there would be back in Germany.

Manu has made himself comfortable in between Thomas’ legs, his back leaning against the younger man’s chest as Thomas pensively strokes his chin, one arm slung protectively around Manuel’s broad torso.

He grins when he finally manages to catch hold of an idea, turning his head down to look Manu dead in the eye, who’s tilted his head slightly upwards to meet his gaze.

“Did you know that when we first met, I thought you were the most beautiful man I’d ever seen?”

Manuel’s mouth forms a small o-shape, having expected everything but that.

“Of course, I only got a fleeting look at you when we clasped hands. And of course, I’d heard of you before, Manuel Neuer, Schalke’s record-breaking young goalkeeper, but the first thing that came to my mind is how absurdly pretty were. And then, half an hour later, of course I gloated at the incredulous look on your face when I managed to chip a ball over your head straight into the net.”

Manu huffs, crossing his arms in front of his chest. Thomas only laughs before placing a kiss on his hair.

“I was with Lisa back then, and I usually didn’t even notice the attractiveness of other people. You really threw me out of a loop for a second, I admit, even if I quickly forgot about it again. Well, until I was single once more, and suddenly, there you were, still as beautiful as six years before.”

The look in his eyes is so fond that it makes Manuel’ insides twist so much it’s almost uncomfortable. Even after more than a year together, he’s still unused to receiving this much love from someone.

“I’m not pretty,” he grumbles, unable to deny Thomas the kiss he wants to steal from his lips. “Girls are pretty.”

The forward’s laugh is delighted as he leans down for another peck.

He chuckles against Manuel’s mouth as he gives his biceps a squeeze. He doesn’t even manage to wrap his hand halfway around it.

“You certainly are no girl. But you should stop thinking in gendered categories, my dear. It’s a compliment, not an insult.”

And Manu can’t suppress the blush rising up to his cheeks.

 

Chapter Text

The first thing that Mats did when he entered the door was letting out a big sneeze. 

Upon further inspection, he looked downright pathetic; his usually voluminous hair flattened was against his head, dripping on his coat which was then dripping on the carpet, his shoes squeaking, leaving behind little puddles with every step he made.

Bene raised an eyebrow, pausing what he’d been doing (doing the washing-up), depositing a half-cleaned frying pan in the sink.

Mats sneezed again, shedding his coat as quickly as possible – a task not that easy, considering how sticky and heavy it must be, drenched with water like that.

“Damn rain,” he cursed. With quickly growing concern, Bene noticed that already, his voice sounded a bit congested. 

“Better take the rest of your clothes off as well, you’re soaked to the skin.”

Mats cackled drily. “If you wanted me to strip, you could have asked nicer.”

Bene only shot him a ‘Mats-Hummels-this-isn’t-the-time’ glare as an answer. Mats’ smile was playful, but as soon as he managed to get out of his shirt, he immediately started to shiver. Bene sighed, walking up to him, quickly wrapping his arms around the taller man. He felt like a very wet icicle, but when he checked his forehead, he frowned.

“You’re burning up, honey.”

“Sorry,” Mats croaked, rubbing his cold nose against Bene’s collarbone. He flinched a bit when Bene gently nudged him towards their couch.

“Lie down. Here,” he threw a blanket over the still-shivering frame of his fiancé.

Mats stared up at him with shining eyes, blinking slowly. He looked a bit dazed, the fever taking hold of him. Bene leant down to kiss his nose, running his hands through damp, dark curls.

“You really should stop driving your bike to work when there’s a forecast like this, Mats.”

“There was a forecast?,” Mats sheepishly admitted, biting his lower lip. Combined with his cheeks reddened from his hightened body temperature, it managed to make him look a lot more innocent than usual.

Bene softly shook his head. “Oh baby.” He smiled fondly, which was quickly returned by Mats just before the brunet lashed into another bout of sneezing. He accepted the tissue that Bene offered him with a shaky grin.

“I’ll make you some tea, and maybe a chicken soup later, if you can stomach it, alright?” Bene asked quietly, still stroking Mats’ hair, gently thumbing over his cheek.

“What did I do to deserve you again?” Mats asked, his voice teasing; but Bene knew him well enough to pick up on the honest wonderment in between his words. He smiled.

“Get some rest.”

When he got up, Mats caught hold of his hand, his fingers cold against Bene’s palm, the warmth dripping out of him and into Mats’ skin.

“Bene? Thanks.”

Bene nodded at him, gently lowering Mats’ hand back down, tucking it underneath the blanket, even if it seemed that neither of them wanted to let go.

And when he finally made his way back to the kitchen, looking back to Mats’ too tall frame curled up on their tiny couch, looking so much younger than he usually did, the warmth pooling in his belly reminded him once more that this was what love felt like.

 

Chapter Text

Bernd was the first one to jump up from the bench when Marc went down.

He’d been deflecting a ball as it was his job when the opposing striker’s foot had hit his head. The blood instantly started flooding. From afar, it looked like a mess. The whole bench had gotten up, everyone on the field already rushing towards the injured goalkeeper.

Bernd took a few hasty steps towards him before he got a hold of himself. He couldn’t let his worry show.

He had to hide his hands in his pockets before someone noticed how much they were shaking. (He couldn’t tell if it was caused by anger or the blind worry that overtook him every time Marc was in trouble.)

Jogi was already walking towards him as the paramedics rushed to Marc’s side. Despite knowing that he was in no condition to play, that he would be too distracted by the concern for his partner, Bernd mentally prepared himself for the substitution.

It was Andi who stopped Jogi halfway, quickly pulling him aside, his words too quiet to understand but insistent nevertheless.

Bernd let out a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding when Jogi turned to the other side instead, indicating to Kevin that he should warm up quickly. He gave Andi a thankful nod when his coach turned to look at him, a small smile on his lips that Bernd gladly returned.

It vanished immediately when Marc and the paramedics finally made it to the sideline.

His forehead was still bleeding, one of the paramedics had offered him some gauze to press against it. There were two lines of blood running down the side of his face. He looked pale, a bit shaken, and Bernd had to stop himself from running towards him, wrapping his arms around him.

Instead, he deliberately slowed his pace, making it look like the casual concern of a teammate and fellow keeper instead of the sickening worry of a boyfriend he was actually feeling.

The smile Marc showed him way shaky at best, as was his voice. “It’s just a cut.”

Bernd raised an eyebrow, huffing. The paramedic apparently agreed with him.

“He’ll have to get stitches. We have to check for a concussion later, he was feeling dizzy before.”

“It’s nothing!” Marc protested as Bernd gently pried his hand off his forehead, inspecting the cut himself while the paramedic prepared a bandage. It looked pretty deep, but the blood was already drying.

“Really, ba- … Bernd, I’m alright.”

Bernd had to grin at the almost-slip up. Marc returned the grin, even if he winced at it apparently tugged at his wound.

They walked back to the bench together, Bernd reaching to support Marc as the other swayed a bit, uncaring what people might think. 

“I’m injured, not an invalid,” Marc grumbled, even if Bernd could feel him leaning into his touch. 

Jule, who had been sitting next to him, shot them a strange look, when Bernd offered his place to Marc, staying standing, but out of the corner of his eye, he could see Andi smiling.

 

Chapter Text

The air is crisp but contains a hint of warmth, they sky is clear and there’s some blackbirds singing on the roof. It’s spring in the City of Love, and for the first time, Julian feels like he’s a part of it.

They’re sitting on his balcony on the two wonky but artsy-looking lawn chairs he bought from one of his neighbours – a kind old lady with two cats who didn’t speak a lick of English – a few months ago when she moved out. Matze is resting his legs in Julian’s lap, his eyes closed, basking in the warm April sun. He might be asleep, though Julian is unable to tell.

He has been trying to catch up with some of his twitter feed, but he quickly put his phone aside on behalf of watching his boyfriend. It’s great to see him so at ease, comfortable with himself, in a good place with his professional situation.

It took them a while until they could share this kind of silence, warm, grounded, being able to recharge with the other around instead of being anxious, worrying what would become of them.

Julian sighs, reaching out, brushing his fingers against Matze’s hand. Apparently he hasn’t been asleep, he thinks when the blond lets out a yawn, squinting his eyes together before taking Julian’s hand.

“Hey there. Slept well?” Julian asks.

Matze returns his smile. “Didn’t sleep. But now that you mention it,” he yawns again, “I actually feel pretty tired. Didn’t get all that much sleep last night.”

Julian’s grin spreads further. “Yeah, I know.” He ducks away with a snicker when Matze slaps his arm.

“That’s not what I meant! Dickhead,” he huffs in feigned exasperation.

“Well, that, too.”

Matze doesn’t even grace his immaturity with a reply, instead just fondly shakes his head, stroking his thumb over the back of Julian’s hand. The look in his eyes is incredibly soft, and it’s all Julian needs to lean in and pepper his face with tiny kisses.

He’s delighted when he sees Matze’s cheeks flushing pink in response.

They lazily make out for a few minutes, and once again, Julian is glad for living on the top floor, where no one could observe them unless they had a telescope pointed at them.

They’re a bit out of breath when they separate again, and Julian chuckles when Matze lets out another yawn.

“Sorry, I,” and another one, “I’m very sleepy.”

It’s the ideal moment to return inside, Julian decides, as the sun is also slowly disappearing behind some feathery clouds. 

They make it into the living room, where Matze makes a beeline for the couch – it’s a plush, light blue monstrosity that came with the apartment. Initially, Julian wanted to get rid of it, but was swayed when he found out how comfortable it was. Something Matze apparently only just discovered as well, sighing happily as he spreads out his legs.

He scoots over when Julian sits down as well, placing his head on Julian’s thigh. His short hair feels stiff between his fingers, and Matze almost starts to purr when Julian gives him a little head massage.

“God, I missed you,” he murmurs.

Julian startles.

They don’t usually talk about it, about the time in between their few visits and stolen days. They’re content with their daily lives, have two beautiful women by their sides, successful careers – it almost feels wrong, admitting that something, someone, is missing to complete their happiness.

But as unexpected as they were, Matze’s words make something bloom in Julian’s stomach. Something new, fragile and maybe rooted even deeper than he could have ever assumed. It almost scares him a bit, but Matze’s content smile is beautiful, so he leans down, brushing their lips together.

“Oh baby. I missed you too.”

And deep down, he knows that they way Matze beams up at him isn’t something he ever wants to miss again.

 

Chapter Text

Joshua doesn’t even register the pain when he goes down. It’s only seconds later, when he’s already on the ground, trying to get up again, when it flares up. It sits in his hip like an angry heat, making him clench his teeth in order to suppress a groan.

Thomas is the first to reach him, immediately forcing him to sit down again as soon as he notices him balancing all his weight only on his left leg.

He doesn’t say anything, and just keeps a heavy hand on Joshua’s shoulder as waves the paramedics over with a kind of urgency that’s uncommon for him. Suddenly, the armband wrapped around his bicep bears a different kind of weight.

Joshua looks up when out of the corner of his eyes, he sees a bit of yellow pushing through the red mass of his teammates.

The look on Julian’s face is filled with so much consternation that one might think Joshua was fatally injured. He pushes Franck to the side with a determination that makes a lot of his boyfriend’s teammates blink and raise an eyebrow or two.

Julian kneels down next to him, already reaching out to take Joshua’s hand before flinching back, remembering where they were.

“Are you okay?”

Joshua clenches his teeth. “I’m fine, Jule.”

The paramedics turn him to the side, and Julian moves so that he’s still in his field of view, and suddenly he is glad for Thomas who cast one look at them before distracting the referee and all the other players by starting a heated argument. Glad that he told someone, no matter how hard it was.

Julian tilts his head, and if the situation weren’t what it was, Joshua thinks he would have been smiling.

“You don’t look fine.”

Joshua manages a weak grin.

“You have looked better yourself, Weigl.”

“Hey!” Julian’s outcry is indignant, but his eyes speak of relief. As if he knew that if he’s already joking again, it might not be that bad.

Alas, the game has to go on, and after a quick check by the sidelines, it is determined that Joshua shouldn’t return to the pitch.

He takes his place on the bench next to Mats who raises an eyebrow at him before he offers him the blanket that previously rested on his legs. It’s already warm when he drapes it over Joshua, which, in the dire, biting cold of a surprisingly chilly March evening, is greatly appreciated.

Joshua doesn’t really pay attention to anything that happens on the pitch afterwards, his mind focused on the pain still biting at his hip, his eyes pinned to Julian’s slender back.

He startles a bit when the whistle sounds, and he doesn’t even notice when Mats gets up. Though his head does snap up as soon as someone drops back down in his stead. A soft smile spreads on his lip when he sees it’s Jule.

“Hey,” he whispers, leaning in for a hug, uncaring if any cameras are pointed at them, sighing as he melts into the familiar hands.

They linger in each other’s arms for a bit longer than what might be socially acceptable for friends, but it’s as if each one of Julian’s breaths against his next soothes him like the best of pain relievers.

He almost feels a bit of loss when he sees Jupp motioning for him to get up, making Julian untangle from him.

He winces a bit when he gets on his feet, but still manages a fond eyeroll at Jule when he rushes to give him a hand.

“What?” Julian asks, “You’re hurt, let me help.”

And when Joshua lets him wrap an arm around his shoulders, his sigh isn’t genuine; but the love that roots itself even deeper in his chest is.

 

Chapter Text

From where he’s been standing, Marcel can’t quite see who it was that knocked Nuri down. 

For a second, anger flares up in him, but as soon as he starts rushing towards where a lot of their teammates are already forming a circle around their number eight, it doesn’t matter anymore.

He pushes Julian and André aside with a carelessness that earns him a couple strange looks, but he doesn’t find it in himself to care. Not when Nuri is still laying on the ground, his legs bent in an unnatural way, his eyes closed, completely unmoving. 

His face is so pale that the skin looks like it’s made out of paper.

The sight makes Marcel’s blood run cold, and he can’t stop a small whimper from escaping his lips when he drops to his knees next to his lifeless body. ‘He looks dead’, is what he thinks, and he’s extremely glad that when he grips Nuri’s hand, it’s still warm, a pulse beating underneath his fingertips.

Someone is yelling for the team doctor. Marcel doesn’t react when someone asks him to step aside.

Nuri is still out cold.

“Herr Schmelzer? Marcel?” He doesn’t move, instead he feels his eyes watering in frustration, everything in him screaming in agony, as if every ounce of pain that Nuri will be feeling once he’s awake has been transferred to him.

“Schmelle!” That’s Lukasz, his voice as firm as his grips on Marcel’s shoulder, pulling him away.

Marcel’s hand trembles; he’s unable to tear his eyes from where Nuri’s hand falls to the ground as soon as he lets it go. Lukasz’ arm is steady around his shoulder as he guides him away.

Of course, the rest of the training is cancelled, the coach knows none of them would be able to focus anymore. 

Marcel gets his shower over with as quickly as possible, rushing to the medical rooms while he’s still pulling on his sweater.

Nuri’s still unconscious, half of the team already hovering by the door. Marcel feels the bile rise in his throat as he pushes his way through them, approaching the sickbed.

It’s a horrible thing, seeing the one person you love most like this. It prepares him for something he doesn’t want to be prepared for; he doesn’t want to ever, ever have to think about losing Nuri again.

He hears a chorus of gasps when he leans down to kiss him on his cold, sweaty cheek – he doesn’t even bother to turn around to see the shock in their faces. (Maybe there’s a tiny part of him that doesn’t want to see it.)

“Wake up, please,” he whispers instead, his voice unsteady, as if could snap.

Of course, this is not a Disney movie and Nuri isn’t Sleeping Beauty – even if even in this state, he still looks as gorgeous as he always does – so he doesn’t wake up.

Marcel feels the despair tying more knots into his insides.

“Be patient,” the doctor says. Marcel didn’t even register him standing on the other side of the bed before. “It’s not uncommon to be out for a longer time when you took such a hit. His pulse is stable. Likely it won’t take much longer for him to regain consciousness.”

The words, though meant well, don’t help much.

Just as he’s about to open his mouth, not even knowing what he’s gonna reply, if he’s just gonna burst out crying or yell at everyone in earshot, he hears a soft gasp coming from his left.

Marcel whirls around. He almost starts crying out of relief when Nuri’s dark eyes stare back at him, wide-open and somewhat in shock; but he’s awake and breathing, and at the moment, that’s everything that counts.

The doctor quickly ushers Marcel away; a few moment he even asks him and everyone else to leave the room.

As soon as he closes the door behind him, Marcel can feel everyone staring at him, but he ducks his head instead of facing them, fiddling with the sleeves of his sweater.

His head shoots up when someone awkwardly clears his throat. Surprisingly it’s Christian, the youngster looking surprisingly determined.

“You know it’s alright, right, captain? We don’t care. Right?” he lets his eyes wander over all their teammates, searching for confirmation of his statement. 

A fair amount of them nod firmly. Some look unsure, some confused, but no one seems appalled. It lifts a weight of Marcel’s shoulders that he didn’t know he’s been carrying.

He stands there, frozen while tentative smile forms on his lips. One after another, the others start back at him; some even look downright delighted. He flinches a bit when someone claps his shoulder, giving it a few supportive pats, but he acts immediately when the door to the doctor’s office opens again.

The colour has returned to Nuri’s cheeks, a light blush that makes his previously so frail features look that much more beautiful.

He tilts his head as Marcel approaches. His smile is crooked, making flowers bloom in Marcel’s stomach.

“Schmelle! Were you worried about me?” As boisterous as his voice sounds, Marcel can hear the exhaustion in it, how it trembles slightly, but it doesn’t compare to the string of swears he lets out as he grips his boyfriend’s hand.

“Don’t ever scare me like that again, I swear to god. Idiot!”

Nuri’s laugh still sounds a bit shaky, but he positively beams when Marcel leans down to press a desperate kiss in his dark strands of hair.

Marcel rewards him with slotting their lips together. He doesn’t remember a kiss having ever tasted sweeter.

 

Chapter Text

It’s Leon’s mother who brings it up. Well, technically, it all starts when his oldest sister starts lamenting about how her youngest has been keeping her from getting a quiet night’s sleep for these past few weeks.

She does indeed, Max notices, look quite bedridden, but her smile is radiant and happy nevertheless. Thoughtfully, he lifts his fork to his mouth, taking another bite of the delicious Sunday roast. He instantly regrets it when Leon’s mother turns to him them.

“And what about you two? Have you got any plans as far as children goes?”

Max chokes on his food. Next to him, he can hear Leon groan.

“Mum, honestly!” he exclaims, slapping Max on the back several times, probably saving him from suffocating.

“What?” She feigns innocence, but the mischievous sparkle in her eyes belies her. “Aren’t you roughly around the age that young people start thinking about these kind of things?”

Leon sighs, a smile teasing at his lips. “Have you missed the part where no one knows we’re a couple, mother?” he plays along.

“Doesn’t mean you can’t think about what might happen in a few years, dear. There is still a life after your careers.”

Leon shrugs. “Well, who knows. Maybe someday.”

Max gapes at him.

They never talked about this. And as sweet as it is that Leon apparently believes they are still going to be together when they both stop playing football – and Max craves it honestly, craves laying in the sun, Leon by his side, no one caring when they hold hands, when he leans over to kiss him – children have never been a part of the equation.

Luckily, his future mother-in-law seems satisfied with her son’s answer, focusing her attention back on ensuring that all of her children eat enough of her cooking; all the while all of Leon’s sisters glance at him and Max with knowing grins.

Leon flushes, rearranging the foot on his plate, ducking his head, whereas Max is still trying to process this new bit of information.

It’s not that he dislikes kids, not at all. And he admits he’s smiled every time when Leon carried one of his nephews around on his hips, cooing at them

But it’s just that he’s never envisioned that for himself, especially not since he started settling down with another man.

“Hey, you okay?” Leon asks him when they leave two hours later, their walk back to Max’s car filled with a somewhat uncomfortable silence, the air as crisp as ice.

Max shrugs, shuddering slightly because of the cold. “Why shouldn’t I be?”

Leon shoots him a Look. “Because you’ve been acting weird ever since my mum brought up the possibility of more grandchildren. I know you, Maximilian, I can tell when you feel uncomfortable,” he adds when Max scowls at him.

“Would it be that horrible, having kids with me?” The hurt in his voice makes Max pause.

He sighs, shoving his hands in the warm pockets of his coat, avoiding Leon’s eyes. “It’s just. I didn’t know you’ve been thinking about it.”

“I haven’t. Not actively or something. But that doesn’t mean I never entertained the thought. And to be honest, I think we would make pretty awesome dads.”

Max’s doubt must show on his face because Leon laughs softly, draping an arm around his shoulder, bringing them closer together, his body’s warmth interweaving with Max’s.

“Yes, you too. You’re kinda great with kids.”

That’s new information to Max. “Am I?”

Leon hums affirmatively. “You should have seen yourself with Naldo’s kids, you know, when he brought them to training last week? You were adorable. And they seemed really smitten with you too.”

Despite Max’s urge to protest at being called adorable, he can feel himself blush a bit.

“I guess,” he admits, offering a Leon a half-smile that’s returned with obvious enthusiasm, “co-parenting some kids with you wouldn’t be the worst.”

Leon’s laugh is delighted. “You’re the worst. But anyway, we are going to have the cutest babies ever!”

Max snorts. “You do know we’re both guys, right?”

He just barely manages to duck away from Leon’s retaliating slap.

 

Chapter Text

Philipp frowns when Bastian closes the door behind himself.

“You really shouldn’t do this,” he says, closing his newspaper with a sigh.

Bastian only grins. “What, interrupting your reading?”

“Coming to see me at this time. Someone could have seen you. You know that,” Philip remarks drily. Bastian rolls his eyes before joining him on the bed.

“As if we’re the only ones doing this. Scoot over.”

His grin is spread so wide that it might as well fall off his face. It annoys Philipp to no end that he seems to know exactly that he isn’t actually bothered by his late visit; even if one day, he’s probably actually going to blow their cover, as careless as the blond sometimes is.

Philipp huffs, laying the newspaper to the side. Part of him is itching to finish the article, but most of him (unfortunately) cares more about Basti.

“That some couples,” he deliberately doesn’t name names, “are so obvious that everyone who has spent more than fifteen minutes in their company can figure out they’re together, doesn’t make it acceptable.”

“In all honesty, captain, I couldn’t give two fucks about what people think about me. And if they do they are probably convinced that I’m fucking Poldi,” Bastian says, taking Philipp’s hand in his, pressing a kiss on the back of his hand.

“Must you be so crude?” A smile tugs at Philipp’s lips.

Bastian lifts an eyebrow. “Crude? I’m cute,” he says, putting on his best pout while cuddling up to him.

Philipp chuckles. “Sure you are.” Contradicting his own words, he leans forward to swiftly peck him on the lips. He grins when Bastian groans quietly when he pulls away immediately afterwards.

He softly shakes his head. “Not today. We need to be up early tomorrow.”

“Really?” Basti looks scandalized.

“Yes, really.”

Philipp expected him to mope, then complain and then give in after a while, so he’s surprised when instead, Bastian gets up, tugging off the bed.

“What are you doing?”

“You’re a way too stuck up when it comes to rules. Fact,” he states before Philipp has the chance to interrupt him, never letting go of his hand “so we’re breaking some. Come on!”

It’s warm outside, the air still loaded with the day’s heat even if the sun went down a few hours ago. The pool area is officially closed at this time of the night, but with the lights out and most people already asleep, there’s no one there to check. Apart from a few security guys at the gates, the hotel staff usually leave them alone at night. Above them, the stars twinkle like a billion lights.

Bastian smiles at him. “Isn’t it beautiful? We never see that many stars back at home.”

Philipp hums in agreement, staring up at the sky. He almost forgets that they’re here for – well, something – until Bastian gently shoves him in the direction of the pool.

He doesn’t even have to wonder about what exactly the idiot is planning when he’s already falling into the dark water. In all his clothes, of course.

The water is warm, engulfing him, and for a second he forgets about his immediate exasperation. But then he comes up again, spluttering, and hears Bastian laugh so hard that he’s almost doubling over.

“Didn’t expect that, did you?” he manages between hiccups.

Philipp rolls his eyes, swimming up to the edge. He doesn’t give him the satisfaction of answering that question. He holds out his hand, expecting for Bastian to pull him out. Instead, the blond pulls off his shirt and slips out of the flip-flops he’s been wearing.

With a jubilant cheer, he cannonballs into the water. It’s a miracle that no one has woken up yet, Philipp thinks, quickly checking if all the windows are still dark as the younger one starts swimming a lap around the pool.

It’s a struggle to get out of his t-shirt, the fabric soaked and heavy, sticking to his body but in the end, he manages to get it off. He grins a bit when he deliberately drops it on Basti’s so far still dry one.

Bastian smiles when he swims up to him again, coming up to hug him immediately. Philipp grins back, is unable not to, even if the responsible part of him still screams that this is not something any of them should be doing, especially not him, the one the younger players looked up to as a leader and a role model.

He softly shakes his head. “How did you talk me into this?”

Bastian smirks. “I didn’t have to, that’s the whole point.” And then he joins their lips in a soft kiss.

And even if it somewhat still irks him, Philipp knows that he’s right. He would follow Basti anywhere, do anything with him, no matter how stupid or reckless it might be.

(When Mats loudly complains about someone keeping him awake last night the next morning – “and isn’t it forbidden to use the pool after 11 pm anyway?!” – he only exchanges a grin with Bastian, keeping his lips sealed.

It doesn’t mean that when the same thing happens again the following night, he doesn’t go straight to Jogi.

The pout on the dark-haired defender’s face is positively hilarious, whereas Benedikt has a hard time concealing his bubbling laughter.)

 

Chapter Text

“Hey love, are you asleep?”

Manuel let out a soft protesting noise, burying his nose further in Thomas’ soft shirt.

Thomas chuckled, searching for his hand with his own. The grass was tickling at his palms and when their fingers found each other, he once more marveled at how well Manu's fit in between his own.

The two of them were laying next to each other, the sky above them the same colors as Manu’s eyes, even if those were hidden underneath his eyelids at that moment. It was rare that they could enjoy themselves like this; relaxing days only few and far between when you’re a professional footballer.

They had been out for an early morning walk, watching the sun rise behind the mountains, when they’d passed by a lush green lawn just by the shore or the lake. It was mostly hidden from sight behind a few trees, so they hadn’t hesitated to lie down for a moment. The air had still been a bit chilly, so they’d laid down flush against each other, their sides pressed together, Manuel tucking his head into the crook of Thomas’ neck.

It was no wonder that after a few moments, Manu – who was no morning person by a far stretch – got tangled up on his sleepiness again, only seconds from fully drifting away.

Thomas turned his head to look at him and couldn’t help thinking how beautiful he was.

“You’re beautiful,” he said, because his brain-to-mouth filter has never been known to working well.

Manuel squinted one eye open. “I’d rather be fully healed and able to play again, thanks.”

Another kiss got placed on his temple, Thomas’ fingers now in his hair.

“Soon you can be both again.”

Manu groaned, rolling away before propping himself up on his arms. It was a painful groan, one that spoke of an ache he’d carried around ever since last April, last September. It wasn’t physical, but even if from the first minute, he’d been filled with determination, he’d only been a mere shadow of himself ever since. For Thomas, it had been nothing but painful to watch.

He didn’t look at Thomas when he spoke again. “It’s not like you need me anymore.”

That felt like a punch in the stomach. Thomas blinked, then he sat up quickly. “What the hell are you even on about?”

Manuel plucked a few blades of grass, throwing them in the lake. They slowly drifted away on the mirror-like surface, distorting the perfect likeness of the sky.

“You’ve won the Meisterschaft, you’re in the semifinals of both the Champion’s League and the Pokal, you completed a record-breaking World Cup qualification. All without me. You don’t need me anymore,” he repeated bitterly.

With a jolt, he tried to to remove his hand from Thomas’ grip, but it only made Thomas hold on even tighter.

“Bullshit.”

Manu scoffed, his eyebrows drawn together, rolling his eyes.

“Bullshit,” Thomas said again, more softly this time, knowing that arguing was of no use once Manu started to get angry. “Manu, you’re … Sven and Marc are replacing you just fine, of course they are, but they’re not you. Neither of them have that same slightly terrifying charisma on the pitch that you have, this complete coolness you have mastered; the style of play you not only perfected but defined in the first place.”

“We all watched you train these past few weeks – it’s been over 200 days, and nevertheless whenever I watch you, it’s still obvious that you, my love, got that special something; that you’re still entirely a category of your own.”

He framed that beloved face with his hands, tracing the arch of his brows with his fingertips.

“I know you well enough to know that you’ll only roll your eyes at it, but you truly are one of the best of our generation. And I know that deep down, even you know that. And,” he stole a quick peck from those inviting lips, “I also know that you’re way too ambitious to throw your gift away like that.”

Manu sighed exasperatedly, but already, he was looking at Thomas again, his lips were twitching, forming a tiny smile.

“So get your head out of your ass and stop your stubborn wallowing – if you don’t, I will have to do it myself!”

Manu coughed awkwardly. “Have I really been …?” he trailed off.

Thomas laughed, throwing an arm around his shoulder. “Yes, you’ve been in quite a mood these past few weeks. And to be honest, at first I didn’t get it, what with your comeback approaching and all.” 

He turns to him, locking their eyes together. “Don’t ever fear being not good enough again. And if you do, you come straight me, so that I can talk you out of it!”

By now, Manu was grinning bashfully, flattered although slightly embarrassed by all the praise. He softly shook his head before leaning forward, chasing for Thomas’ lips with his own.

Thomas chuckled when they finally came up for air.

Manu sighed, and already, he looked happier, more relaxed than he had in weeks. “What have I done to deserve you?”

Thomas’ laugh was delighted. “It’s my job as a boyfriend to support you unconditionally – I happen to take it very seriously. And now,” he let his hands come up to Manu’s sides, stroking over the clothed muscles with slow intent, “don’t you think we’ve talked about football enough?”

 

Chapter Text

The first telltale sign is the smell. It smells slightly burned, not of burnt food but rather of burnt plastic. It is not the best smell to come home to. Manuel wrinkles his nose.

“Thomas?” he yells as he’s hanging up his jacket.

Thomas doesn’t answer, which in itself is worrying already. Instead, there’s some suspicious noises coming from the kitchen. 

Upon further inspection, that’s where Thomas is too. He’s standing by the stove, desperately stirring in a pot. It’s not actually smoking – instead, the smoke is coming from one of the currently unused hotplates, where something burnt and black is sizzling away.

“Um. Everything alright?”

Thomas turns around so quickly as if he was struck by lightning. “Manu, hey!” he exclaims, leaning against the counter, his slender torso blocking Manu’s view on whatever was happening on the stovetop.

Manu raises an eyebrow.

Thomas coughs awkwardly, crossing his arms in front of his chest. Then, he yelps as his back touches the hot pan, jumping away from the stove. He curses as he turns it off, turning up his nose.

“Oh well,” he sighs, “nothing to be done about it now.” Unceremoniously, he dumps the pan into the sink.

Manu is still observing him silently, trying to wrap his mind around what’s happening.

Thomas runs a slightly trembling hand through his curls. They’re sticking out at all angles. His grin is more crooked than usual.

“Um. I tried to cook for us?”

Manu tilts his head. “I can see that?”

“Yeah, I really should have stuck to pasta.” He turns around, taking in the mess he made. There’s dirty dishes all over the counters, and the something on the hotplate is still smoking to itself.

He shrugs, looking crestfallen. There’s a slump to his shoulders that looks just plain wrong; he usually exudes energy like no one else Manu knows.

It feels like the right thing to do, so Manu walks up to him, wrapping the bulk of his body around Thomas’ thinner one.

Thomas’ chuckle is bitter. “God, this really isn’t how I wanted this to go,” he mumbles against Manu’s shirt.

Gently, Manu pries him away from himself, giving him a questioning look.

Thomas sighs, but his smile is terribly soft. “Our anniversary, love.”

“Thommy, our anniversary is in July; it’s November,” Manu points out.

The smile he gets in response is knowing, fond. “The 9th of November 2008. Schalke vs. Bayern in the Veltins Arena … the first time we met in person.”

“Oh.” Manu didn’t know that. Or well, he didn’t realized it. He startles a bit when he feels Thomas’ lips against his on his own.

“Happy anniversary, mein Herz. Ten years ago now … who would have thought that the two of us would one day be a package deal?”

As Manuel wraps his arms around him once more, sighing happily when Thomas lets his hands stroke over his sides, he thinks that he, for one, had no idea.

But he’s elated that it turned out this way.

 

Chapter Text

Thomas grinned to himself when he felt the bench next to him dip while he was lacing up his boots.

Had they been at home, he would have leaned over for a quick peck, but as it was, he was content with flashing Manu a quick smile that was enthusiastically returned by the tall blond.

Their lockers weren’t actually next to each other, but since Coco wasn’t joining them for the team training that day, the spot on his right was currently abandoned.

When he was finished with his boots, Thomas put his hands on his knees, grinning at Manu. “So, captain, are you ready?”

He wasn’t, of course, having only taken his boots out of his bag, but by the smile on his face Thomas could tell that he knew they weren’t talking about that.

It had been a struggle for Manuel, getting back to the point where he now was, both physically and mentally. 

Apart from him, Thomas was probably the one who knew that best, having been there for all of it – the heartbreak when he obtained the injury, the anger, Manu’s unwavering determination – metaphorically and often physically holding his hand. It had almost brought them apart, several times. Manuel had been full of pent-up frustration, spilling over every fibre of his being, and with no one else there, it had often been Thomas who he had lashed out at.

There had been the bad times and there had been the good, but never before had their relationship been as strained, on as much of a tightrope as it’d been during these couple months.

Now, finally, with their first joint training session approaching after more than half a year, it felt like a journey and a half for both of them.

Manuel smiled to himself, bending to lace up his boots. He knocked his knee against’ Thomas, too slowly to be accidental, and Thomas just barely resisted the urge to put a hand on his back, stroking over the defined muscles underneath his thin undershirt, instead pressing closer so that their thighs were flush against each other.

Mats quirked an eyebrow at them as he passed by, but Thomas only graced him with a small wave of his hand, causing the dark-haired centre back to fondly roll his eyes at him.

He felt his smile grow smaller, more loving, caring than mirthful when Manu sat up again, the relief on his face so blatantly obvious that it left a physical hurt in Thomas’ stomach.

Manu had never said anything, and he had never wanted to push him, but Thomas knew, that he’d been fearing not making it. Not making it to the World Cup, maybe not even for the next season, maybe not returning at all. He usually was a heavy sleeper, who savoured every hour of rest he could get, and all those times Thomas had found him standing in the kitchen clutching a glass of water in the middle of the night spoke for themselves.

But now, he beamed when he looked at Thomas’, his eyes filled with a spark of elated joy that burned so brightly that it was almost blinding.

“Yeah, I’m ready.”

And if they quickly held hands as they walked out into the hallway, well, then everyone was considerate enough to look away for a couple of seconds.

 

Chapter Text

It was windy outside, the air chilly, the surface of the lake rippling – which sadly enough meant a raincheck for their afternoon plans. They’d wanted to go swimming together at their favourite spot, enjoy there rare free time to wind down and relax together.

Manuel sighed. He was just about ready to flop down on the couch and spend the rest of the day watching TV, when out of the corner of his eyes, he noticed Thomas shrugging on his jacket.

“Are you going somewhere?”

Thomas grinned his trademark crooked grin as he walked over, catching Manuel’s hands in his own, pulling him close, pecking him on the cheek.

“No, we are going somewhere.”

Manuel cast a critical look out of the window. “We’ll catch a cold.”

“Not to swim, idiot,” Thomas huffed, rolling his eyes. “There’s other things you can do at a lake, you know? Even when the weather isn’t as perfect as we’d hoped it to be.”

Other things which, Manuel realized once they’d arrived at their destination after a comfortable, fifteen minute walk, hand in hand, apparently included ducks. 

Or well, feeding ducks, to be more precise.

He had no idea where Thomas produced the small paper bag from once he let go of his hand, but he only watched in slightly confused astonishment as his boyfriend began to eagerly toss the ducks some seeds and grains, thinking that this certainly wasn’t the kind of date he’d been expecting.

The ducks began to quack quite quickly, their initial hesitation disappearing as soon as they realized they were being given food. They gathered around Thomas’ feet, picking around in the grass.

Manuel still stood there like a lost sheep when Thomas looked up at him again.

“Aren’t they cute?”

Manu refrained from commenting, but let himself be tugged along when Thomas grabbed his hand. He almost stepped on a duck in the process that in turn indignantly quacked at him.

“You alright little buddy?” Thomas asked.

“Why are you talking to ducks?”

Thomas shrugged. “People talk to their pets all the time.”

“…. they’re ducks.”

“Maybe you haven’t noticed, but I have a tendency to kinda like those.”

Manuel tilted his head. Thomas cackled.

“I can’t believe you’ve forgotten.” He tossed the docks the final few grains before stuffing the brown paper bag back into his pockets, his arms circling around Manu’s waist. His eyes were sparkling, and Manu couldn’t help leaning down for a swift kiss.

Thomas’ smile had grown softer when they pulled away a few moments later.

“Of course I’m fond of ducks, Ducky. Considering I’m in love with one.”

And since it was Thomas, Manuel didn’t even roll his eyes at the silly nickname someone or another had once dubbed him with. Instead, he only leaned in again, stealing another kiss from those cheeky lips.

 

Chapter Text

The door creaked as he closed it behind him as quietly as possible. Sneaking up through the halls had been a challenge and a half, and he’d been glad when he’d actually found the door just a smidge open, not enough to notice if you didn’t knew, with a sock holding it from falling shut, just like they’d discussed.

The room was drenched in darkness. “Babe?” he whispered, but he wasn’t surprised when there was no answer. Instead, a tiny sniffle came from the bed.

Loris was curled up in himself, his face buried in his knees, covered with only a thin blanket. When he walked around the bed, he could see that his face was puffy, even if the cheeks were dry, almost as if he had no tears left to cry. He didn’t look up, so he wasn’t sure if he’d even noticed him enter or if he was too lost in the dark spiral his mind must be.

The bed creaked as he sat down on it’s edge, and Loris flinched a bit as he gently placed his hand on his shoulder, caressing it before leaning down to kiss the guilt off his salty cheeks.

The eyes that blinked up at him were glassy, as if they didn’t quite belong in this world, and his heart clenched when he could see Loris tremble as he slowly got up. He looked so small, so lost sitting on the giant bed.

“Hey, baby.” He couldn’t remember his voice ever sounding that soft. Loris didn’t budge, so he simply toed off his shoes before climbing over him, shuffling up to him until Loris’ back was flush against his chest with only the blanket between them and he could press a few gentle kisses on the back of his neck.

It was astonishing how well Loris fit into his arms, considering that out of the two of them, he was the taller one, but it hadn’t ever felt more right than now to just hold him close until all the sadness was gone.

“This wasn’t your fault, sweetheart.”

Loris let out a bitter chuckle. A cruel noise that made him wonder if there would ever be a comeback from this, if Loris would ever be able to forgive himself.

“Have you even watched the game?” His voice was coarse, rough from the crying, as if he hadn’t used it to speak in hours.

He let his lips rest behind his ear, pressing down another kiss before sighing. “There are eleven men on that pitch. I know you made mistakes, but you are not responsible for scoring goals.”

Loris only huffed, but it sounded less harsh and more resigned than anything else.

“We’ll talk more in the morning, okay?”

It felt weird, laying on the bed fully clothed, but at the moment, he didn’t have the energy to get up and get undressed; not even to slip under the covers. He almost thought that Loris had already fallen asleep, his breath growing quieter, more even, when he spoke up again.

“Babe?”

“Hmm?”

“I’m glad you’re here.”

With a smile, small, but genuine, his eyes falling shut, he pulled him closer, leaning into his warmth.

“Me too.”

 

Chapter Text

For the third time in the past ten minutes, Thomas checked his phone.

It wasn’t like Manu to be late.

If anything, between the two of them, Thomas was more likely to get distracted by something or another and forget time. Manuel, in his rigid goalkeeper-ness, was precise and punctual to a fault; so him being twenty minutes late to their scheduled brunch was enough room for concern.

Especially when just twenty-five minutes before, he had texted him how he was on his way and how much he was looking forward to it. (The feeling was very much mutual. They hadn’t seen each other in a week. To Thomas, who desperately missed having Manuel’s body to hold at night, his plush lips to kiss, his clear laughter in his ear, it felt like an eternity.)

With a sigh, Thomas fumbled his phone out of his pocket. The sigh grew more exasperated when he only reached Manuel’s mailbox.

After a monotone, computer-generated woman’s voice declared the number’s owner unavailable, Thomas’ annoyance slowly grew into concern.

“Babe? Hey, it’s me. I’ve been just wondering where you are. Hopefully you only got caught signing autographs or something. Getting a little worried.”

When he hung up again, he run his hand through his curls. They were becoming a veritable bird’s nest lately - he really should go see a barber.

He startled when his phone suddenly buzzed in his hand, delighted when he saw that the notification was indeed from Manu.

The text itself almost made him stumble over his own feet. ‘So I might be at the clinic right now …..’

For a second, Thomas felt his blood freeze in his veins, remembering the last time the goalkeeper had sent him such a message - that time, when he’d been rendered out of action for almost a year.

And so, he almost let out a breath of relief when he read Manuel’s next text.

‘No worries, only hit my head tho.’

 

It took Thomas ten minutes to arrive at the private clinic all Bayern players went to with their health issues. Manu was sitting upright on a slightly too small hospital bed, pressing ice against his forehead.

He hadn’t noticed Thomas yet, so he startled a bit when he gently knocked against the open door.

“Hey there sunshine,” Thomas said with a lopsided grin, walking up to his bedside. Manu answered with a tired smile. “Are you alright?”

Manu huffed, then winced. “Mostly just a bruised ego, to be honest.”

Thomas’ grin grew softer as he took his left hand in his own, softly squeezing it.

“Yeah, hitting your head on a low-hanging tree branch and subsequently giving yourself a slight concussion because you were texting is maybe not the most noble injury to receive, but he should be fine in a couple days.”

Neither of them had heard the doc enter, but Thomas couldn’t help but cackle a bit, while Manu just pulled a face.

He lowered his hand, and only now did Thomas notice the bruise on his forehead. Manu winced as he gently brushed his fingers over it.

It took the doctor a couple minutes to instruct Manuel on how he should be a bit more careful over the next couple days, but then, he let him go.

Thomas couldn’t help but grin when Manu quickly pulled out his phone to check how bad the bruise was, so he quickly wrapped an arm around his waist, planting a peck on his cheek.

“You’re still pretty, princess, don’t worry.”

He barely avoided Manuel’s retaliating smack, laughing. But even if he rolled his eyes, Manuel couldn’t help but smile either. He cleared his throat.

“Alright, so. How about breakfast now?”

Chapter Text

Mats has been sitting in front of the computers for hours. Four o’clock, Benni said, and now it was half past four and still, his partner's official arrival in Moscow and at his new team hasn’t been announced yet.

It doesn't help that the last time they saw each other, they had been fighting.

Originally, Mats planned to see him off at the airport, or at least visit him the evening before Benni left. But because he had no brain-to-mouth filter, Mats had, once again, as he'd so often done ever since Benni had told him about his decision, complained about the fact that Benni could have picked a club that was, well, closer to Munich. Closer to Mats.

As if he’d been burnt, Benni removed his hand from Mats’ shoulder, taxing him with an icy look.

“So you’d rather I gave up the chance to play in the Champion’s League?”

By the time Mats shook his head, wanting to reassure him that no, that's not at all what he wanted, it was already too late. Benni might be a calm ocean most of the time, but sometimes, a storm starts to rage. And then, even Mats isn't able to stop his fury.

In the end, Mats went home with his head bowed, without having even managing to steal himself a good-bye kiss.

He still regrets it. Of course he does. And it certainly doesn’t help that Thomas has called him an idiot for it about a dozen times ever since. Benni usually calms down quite quickly, but by then he was already on his plane to Moscow. And Mats, scolding himself for being such an idiot, missed out on saying goodbye to the love of his life, who he wouldn’t get to hold in his arms for weeks if not months.

They have exchanged a couple texts since, but Benni hasn’t written much more than his arrival time and when he’s scheduled to be presented at the club. And Mats, Mats has only been longingly staring at his phone.

He groans. His back hurts, and his desk chair has never been all too comfortable. Just as he’s ready to give up and retreat to the bedroom with only his phone, his computer plings. The notification spans over the entire screen, and Mats’ stomach does an excited little somersault.

Benni, there he is. Still tanned from his days in Italy. Mats’ breath hitches. After all these years, his partner still manages to make his heart stutter. His smile is wide, and Mats hangs his head, realizing that he can never be unhappy with Benni’s choices. Not when he’s as happy as this. Not when he hasn’t looked this happy ever since he left Schalke.

There are only a couple pictures, but it’s enough.

Mats taps his finger on the desk, once, twice, impatiently bobbing his foot. It takes about twelve more minutes, then the official announcement is made.

He’s not ready for the near heart attack that washes over him as soon as he sees Benni holding up his new jersey (red, like Mats’) – for the number that’s splayed across his back isn’t Benni’s favourite number four, nor the 21 he carried at Juve.

No, the number he’s chosen is Mats’.

And in that second, he knows that Benni’s smile is there only for him.

 

Chapter Text

For once, it’s Mats who rolls out of bed first. Literally, as he has just woken up, turned around to grasp for Bene who has once more managed to escape his hold, and only realized too late that he’d turned onto the wrong side.

With a loud thump, he hits the old wooden floor of Bene’s apartment. It’s cold, and Mats quickly and fiercely misses the comfortable warmth of the bed. That he’s only wearing his boxers really doesn’t help.

Bene, bless him, is still fast asleep, apparently unbothered by the terrible cold that has taken hold of the room. Of course, he had several months to get used to Russia’s rough climate, while Mats arrived from the in retrospect quite mild Munich winter only the day before.

It’s pitch black outside – only a single latern illuminates the small square where Bene lives, casting a soft warm glow over snow-covered cobblestones. 

Mats read somewhere that around 5am is usually the coldest time of the day, and now when he checks the hour on his phone, it does make a lot of sense. For a second he considers slipping back under the covers, seeking for warmth in Bene’s arms, but then he sighs and starts looking for his jumper and his sweatpants instead, knowing that he’d be unable to fall asleep again anyway.

He almost hits his head on the doorway to the kitchen. It’s an old house, and the frame is made for someone just about 2cm shorter than him. He curses, still grumbling when he reaches the coffee machine. It’s the one from Bene’s old house and brings a direly needed piece of familiarity into the new environment.

It’s the first time Mats visits him, rather on a whim actually. His winter break started a couple days earlier than Bene’s, so he’d packed his bag and booked the next flight to Moscow.

Bene had been surprised but happy, looking incredibly cute when he greeted him at the airport, with a nose red nose and rosy cheeks, bundled up in a giant coat and a huge scarf.

Mats smiles as he recalls it. It’s been way too long since they last saw each other, so holding his love in his arms again as he buried his nose in his soft, sparse hair felt like nothing short of relief.

Back at home, Mats was usually the one getting up last, already finding his coffee and breakfast ready when he finally wandered into the kitchen. Mats tilts his head, getting an idea.

Finding his way around a new kitchen is certainly not his forte, and it takes him about fifteen minutes to prepare some oatmeal with hot cherries, but when he’s finally setting the two bowls down on the small table together with a second coffee for himself and a steaming hot one for Bene, he’s quite satisfied with the result.

“What are you doing?”

Mats jumps, quickly turning around. 

Bene yawns, covering his mouth with his hand. He’s wearing a soft, oversized sweatshirt but no pants, the sleeves pulled over his hands, his feet covered by fluffy red socks. He looks to die for. Mats really considers melting into a puddle for a second before awkwardly clearing his throat. Bene has always been the only one managing to render him speechless.

“Um, I made breakfast.”

Bene tilts his head. “It’s 6am.”

“Early breakfast?”

That teases a chuckle out of the blond, then he yawns again before walking up to Mats, wrapping his arms around his torso before laying his head down on his chest, just to look up again only seconds later.

“You’re cold.”

Mats rolls his eyes. “Well yeah dipshit, why do you think I’m awake at the asscrack of dawn?”

Bene laughs quietly, making Mats look at him with mock offence before pulling him closer again, sighing happily when he realizes that Bene radiates warmth like his own personal heater.

He has his eyes closed, his hair is a mess. With his sweaterpaws and giant oversized sweatshirt falling over his naked thighs, Mats can’t help but lifting his hand to caress his cheek, the side of his neck, his shoulder.

He chuckles.

“Stop being so cute.”

Bene huffs, then grins into Mats’ chest. “I can’t. I’m always cute.”

“Cheeky bugger,” Mats mumbles. And somehow, even if he knows that he’ll spend the most of it sitting here alone, he looks forward to the next couple days.

 

Chapter Text

Marc is the first one who Bernd tells that he hasn’t been called up. Again.

“I could punch you right now,” is the first thing he says when Marc accepts his call. A year back, back when they were truly, happily in love, it would have been said with a teasing tone, but by now his tone is cold, biting.

Marc’s sigh is empty. “I’m sorry babe.” He doesn’t know what else to say.

“I’m not sure if you mean that. And even if you did, it’s not like it’d matter.”

He flinches at how harsh his boyfriend’s words are, and he curses the DFB, curses the World Cup, Jogi, and even Manuel for forcing them apart again. Bernd runs his hand through his curls. They’re damp, the ringlets more pronounced than usual. Marc likes this look, but he doesn’t dare to tell him so.

Bernd clenches his fingers into a fist. He doesn’t look at Marc, eyes trained on the ground instead, as if Marc couldn’t tell even through the blurriness of the screen how hurt he is. He huffs and turns his head to the side.

“Sorry,” he mutters. Marc shrugs awkwardly before he realizes that Bernd can’t see him. “It’s just that … I’d really hoped that since I’m here and Kevin is back in Frankfurt …”

Yeah, as much as Marc doesn’t like to admit it, he’d really hoped for that too. 

It was him who first snapped at Bernd when Bernd had teased him about how with each day, Manuel being number one in Russia became more of a reality; Marc who started that particular argument just cause he felt like he was treated unfairly, even if it was actually something between their captain and him, not him and Bernd. Marc, who had to admit that in the end, it was his fault that Löw had sent Bernd back home. His fault they'd started sniping at each other again, first verbally, and somehow, at some point, also physically. A shove here, a push there ...

He heaves a sigh. He’s never admitted it in front of Bernd, but they both know that the last summer hangs over their heads like the sword of Damocles. Ever since then, things haven’t been the same. And then, Bernd wasn’t called up in September. And now, he isn’t on the list again, and with every International Break, the possibility to train together, to play for the same team even if they in reality only play benchwarmers waiting for one Manuel Peter Neuer to get either injured again or too old, becomes more improbable.

Marc fiddles with his t-shirt. Bernd is wearing a thick sweater – it’s cold in London, the sky outside his window overcast, dreary. He still doesn’t look at Marc, and Marc’s heart clenches a little more.

“Bernd?”

“Hmm.”

“Are you actually pissed at me?”

Another sigh, a huff, and then a shrug with with Bernd’s skinny shoulders that can barely be interpreted as such. “Honestly? I don’t really know. It – it feels like back then. When I hated you for having what I haven't. It feels like that.”

Marc hesitates. He’s been thinking about his next words for a while. Ever since Bernd leaned down to hungrily press their lips together back in Evian during the Euros, when everything was easier, where Manu was just the guy they looked up to and somehow, not yet Marc’s direct competition, back when they were just lucky they got this shot.

He’s never said them out loud. Neither has Bernd.

“Leno?”

Bernd’s head snaps up, his eyes narrowing. Marc can't help but smile to himself, just a little bit; yes, now he has his full attention.

“I love you, you know that, right?”

And slowly, a true smile blooms on Bernd’s face.

 

A few days later Kevin pulls his thigh during the warm-up. Nine hours later, Bernd Leno and his suitcase arrive at the team hotel. He pulls Marc into his arms as soon as he spots him, buries his face in his neck in a bout of intimacy that somehow, no one comments on.

Only Marc can here the four words he whispers into his skin, but it’s more than enough.

It’s everything.

 

Chapter Text

Sometimes, being a dad of two four year olds can be quite hard of a job. Especially when your other half is currently away for the evening to attend a business dinner and you really can’t handle yourself when you only get like, five hours of sleep the last night. (Which, to be fair, is as much Bene’s fault as it is his own. Ehem.)

The food shouldn’t be a problem, Mats thought. Both he and Bene are good at cooking, and Mats knows exactly what the kids love.

Except that now it’s already three hours after a successful dinner, he should be putting the boys to bed, and Mats finds Bas sitting on the kitchen floor clutching a packet of cookies that he didn’t even know they had, the blonde boy staring him dead in the eye when Mats groans and says “I didn’t say you could have dessert, Maus!”

When Bas only looks at him like he’s a bit dumb and says, “That’s why I didn’t ask for your opinion,” – in a way that’s clearly too articulate for a toddler but with a voice that’s still terribly adorable – Mats feels like crying.

When he turns around, he sees Ludwig hovering in the doorframe, whose eyes immediately light up when he spots his brother unapologetically shoving a cookie into his mouth, sending crumbs all over the floor.

He can see tears welling in Bas’ eyes as he pries the packaging from his hands, sighing when he hears the little boy let out a small whine.

“I’m sorry Mäuschen, but you really shouldn’t be having that. You know your dad would be cross with you, do you want him to be cross with you?”

His heart melts a little when Bas shakes his head cause it makes him look a bit like Bene when he was younger, so he picks him up. Bas giggles when he shakes him playfully. His pyjamas showcase a big chocolate streak on the front, but with a sigh, Mats figures that they’d needed to put the bedding in the wash tomorrow anyway. Then he gets distracted when he can feel Ludwig tugging at his sweatpants.

“Papa?”

“Yeah Bärchen?”

“Can I get a cookie too?”

And apart from the fact that Mats has never been able to say no to his son’s chocolate brown puppy dog eyes anyway, it seems only fair to allow him to have what his brother had.

In the end, he sneaks two of the delicious sweets too and even allows the boys to share a second one. They’re big and chunky, and Mats only hopes that Bene won’t –

That thought trails off into thin air when he hears the key being turned in the lock. From the front door, his husband can’t directly view into the kitchen, but it’s not far enough that Mats has enough time to scoop Ludwig up in his other arm before remembering that he should probably hide the cookies first then panicking before freezing like a deer in the headlights when Bene turns around the corner.

At first, he doesn’t say anything, but then he only sighs before picking the packaging up from the floor, storing it in one of the cupboard with a stern look directed at Mats.

“Didn’t I tell you that they already had some cake in the afternoon?”

Mats frantically tries to come up with a far-fetched excuse, but before he can even open his mouth, Bene fondly shakes his head before leaning forward and pecking him on the lips.

Mats blinks at him, but his husband only grins and places two short kisses on each of their sons’ foreheads.

“You two should really stop giving your father trouble. Even if,” he lifts a cheeky eyebrow in Mats’ direction, “you did inherit his sweet tooth.”

Bas and Ludwig only giggle, the little traitors.

 

Chapter Text

The first thing Benedikt spots when he gets off the bus is a mop of dark curls. They’re messy, the way hair looks when you get out of bed and actually don’t do anything to it, but somehow, it makes their owner look even more endearing.

Bene remembers him well. They met over a year ago, at the A-Junioren-Meisterschaft when they played Bayern. After the game, the boy had asked him for his jersey with a smile so sweet that it wormed its way into Bene’s chest right in that very moment. 

Now, on this bright October day, he doesn’t remember his name, but he feels his heart beating faster when the boy turns to him and his face lights up, waving at him.

Manuel, next to Bene, frowns. “Mats has been flirting with the idea of transferring to Dortmund,” he quips when his friend shoots him a questioning glance.

Bene grins. Manuel and his prejudices against their so-called arch-nemeses. Well, he acknowledges with a fond shake of his head – his friend will always be a Schalker down to the bones after all.

He takes a deep breath. So Mats is the boy’s name. It oddly fits him. Only now does he realize how often he’s been thinking about him. He blushes when he realizes how he once dreamt of those chocolate brown eyes hovering above him, waking up with his cheeks burning and his heart beating in his throat.

And now, suddenly, he’s standing here in front of him. What are the odds. (Okay, they’re aspirational footballers who were born in the same year – it was bound to happen sooner or later.)

Mats looks timid when he extends his hand for Bene to shake, something which seems quite out of character for him, especially with the mischievous glint still hiding in his eyes.

“Hey. Do you still remember me?”

Bene answers with pulling him into a hug.

Their friendship comes as easy as sunshine after a dash of summer rain, leaving Benedikt’s heart reeling when the International Break is over and his mind full with new thoughts. 

Mats gave him his number, and luckily Manuel doesn’t start pestering him when he pulls out his phone the second they sit down on the bus, writing text after text after text. Mats is funny, eloquent and very well-spoken for their age, even if, as he freely admitted, he doesn’t have his Abitur. He’s charming and beautiful but endearingly clumsy at the same time, and it has taken no time at all for a fondness to nest under Benedikt’s skin. 

Combined with the obvious attraction between them, Bene knows that he’s lost already.

Back home, he talks about him so much that his mother sits him down to ask if there is something between them, and Bene, his hand already on his phone ready to text Mats back, flustered, doesn’t really know what to answer.

It’s Mats who rushes to hug him when they meet again next March, and even if he doesn’t wait to remind him – and Manuel, hovering over his shoulder with the disagreeing scowl of an older brother – that he’s playing in black and yellow now, it doesn’t make Bene press him any less close.

It’s only when they have to separate again a week later, clinging to each other with the promise to meet up more often now that they live so much closer to each other, that Bene realizes it.

“I like you so much,” he whispers into Mats’ ear, and Mats looks at him with strange wonder and a tenders smile on his lips.

He comes knocking on Bene’s parents’ door only a week later, introducing himself with a cheeky grin. Bene is hesitant to greet him in their normal, tightly clung ways, but his mother only winks at them and asks if he doesn’t want to show his boyfriend his room. Surprisingly enough it’s Mats who blushes scarlet at the remark, but he doesn’t flinch when Bene tentatively takes his hand, locking their fingers together instead.

Bene rolls his eyes when Mats fake-gags as he takes in the Schalke-crested walls, the trophies and the team photos, and then they somehow the end up face to face, smiling – softly, tentatively – before leaning in for the kiss at the exact same time.

Their noses bump into each other and Mats giggles and the sound makes Bene’s stomach flutter as he desperately grasps for the tall brunet’s lips with his own.

Their kisses grow passionate quickly and only clam down when they find their way onto the too-small bed, making out lazily til they out of breath before separating, sides pressed closely together, Bene’s head on Mats’ shoulder, their hands entangled between their bodies.

Bene plays with Mats’ fingers before he suddenly remembers something, making him sit up.

“Mats?”

“Hmm?”

“Remember when we met for the first time again, last October?”

Mats turns his head to him, his eyelids drooping. It’s like a tingle in Bene’s insides, how attractive he is. How gorgeous.

“You asked me if I remembered you.”

Mats tilts his head. Bene caresses his cheek.

“How could I ever forget about you? When you’ve entranced me from the moment you asked me to swap shirts.”

Mats, surprisingly, only laughs. “Entranced? Benni-Maus, I was head over heels the first time you smiled at me.” He snuggles closer to him with a content sigh. “I’m glad you finally caught up.”

 

Chapter Text

It’s the first time that Manu is appointed captain of a capture the flag team. Sure, as the new Head Counselor of Aphrodite cabin (the first male one they had in over a decade) and one of the most senior residents at Camp Half-Blood, his necklace adorned with five beads already, it has only been a matter of time. Nevertheless, he stares at his flock with slightly wide eyes as they wait for him to speak up, realizing that he probably should have come up with an actual plan before the actual game.

“Um.”

His sword feels too light in his hand – always has, ever since last summer’s growth spurt, and sometimes he wonders if he should switch to a heavier weapon, one more suited to his suddenly bulky, taller frame, but he’s too much a creature of habit to just ditch something that has stood with him through countless battles.

He takes a deep breath.

“Alright, okay, so.”

In the corner, he can already see Mats, the lone resident of Cabin Thirteen, roll his eyes so hard they threaten to disappear into his skull. Thankfully, it’s balanced by the encouraging smile given to Manu by the lanky boy next to the son of Hades’ side. Thomas winks at him, and it’s enough to feel his blood rush to his cheeks – nevertheless, it gives him just the confidence he needs.

“Marco, you take Apollo cabin up to the ridge for the lookout; Cabins Four and Nine, secure the perimeter; Jo, you and the rest of Ares cabin and as well as the others go in for the attack. Mats,” he turns to the dark-haired boy who still only looks mildly interested, “you’ll be using your shadow traveling skills to find out where they keep their flag as well as keeping an eye on their tactics, but be sure to report to Marco or Jo immediately once you’ve found it.”

“We hide the flag in the mist in the moor; me and my cabin will stay here to defend it.” Lastly, he turns to Thomas, giving the sun on Poseidon a quick nod. “Thomas, you stay here too. Safety first – we really don’t need a repeat of what happened last time at the river.”

Someone giggles, but Manu is sure to shut them up with a glare. His fellow campers don’t look very convinced, but at least, no one is actually complaining, and they just quietly disperse before Chiron can signal the start of the game.

Manu lets out a sigh of relief. It’s not exactly the best plan, but it is a plan. He grips the flag tightly in his left hand, his armor feeling tight around his chest.

It’s only when Thomas catches up with him, matching his pace to his own, that his heart stops racing.

It’s not the fighting, it has never been. From his first day at camp he was told that he probably wouldn’t be the most skilled fighter, that children of Aphrodite often weren’t, but he’d proved them all wrong the moment he’d picked up a shield and a sword and proved to be a natural. More so at defense than offense, but able to withstand the attacks of some of the most seasoned campers.

No, it's the responsibility of leadership that weighs down on his shoulders, that he isn't used to.

As usual, Thomas knows almost exactly what is going on in his head by simply studying his face.

„You did well.“

Manu huffs, knowing that Thomas is likely only humoring him because he loves him.

„No really! With time, you’ll grow into a formidable captain of your own right, I’m sure. But,“ Thomas tilts his head, his crooked grin growing wider by the second, „safety first? What are you? FIVE?“

He cackles when Manu lightly shoves his elbow into his side. His laughter is contagious, it always has that effect on almost everybody, and so, the captain can’t help but letting out a chuckle himself, grinning at his boyfriend, momentarily forgetting about his sorrows.

Thomas rubs his nose. „Just because I made the river explode last time doesn’t mean it was a bad idea, you know. We did win, after all.“

He doesn’t even waver under the disbelieving look Manu shoots him, instead just pulls out his daggers out of their sheaths with a cheeky grin as he runs ahead. A grin tugs at Manu’s lips as he watches his lean figure hurry towards the moor.

And just before he disappears between the trees, Thomas turns around and offers him a tender smile, waiting for him.

Manu’s heart leaps.

 

Chapter Text

“I’m not wearing a tie, Jule.”

Matze sighs when his boyfriend only pouts up at him. To be fair, Julian is in fact wearing one, and it’s terribly obvious that he wants them to match, but it’s also terribly hot outside and already, the dress shirt and the suit jacket scratch at Matze’s neck, and he really isn’t keen on adding to the uncomfortableness any further, no matter how fancy the restaurant is.

It has been Julian’s idea, of course, to actually go out for a date for once.

“It’s not like it will be a specifically romantic setup. We could totally pass as two friends just going for dinner,” he’d said.

A completely platonic dinner on a Paris rooftop terrace with a view of the Eiffel Tower. Sure, Julian, like that’s normal for two bros to do. But it’s not like Matze is going to complain. He remembers the first time he came to visit Julian here, that magical day they shared, finished with a kiss overlooking the city. He smiles at the memory, and then sighs again when Julian pushes the soft fabric into his hands again.

Julian tilts his head. It makes him look way too cute, even if the brunet himself would never admit that – but he knows that it works, this wide-eyed puppy look that Julian and his chocolate brown eyes pull off so perfectly.

Matze huffs, takes the tie and wraps it around his head. He ties the knot with the expertise of someone who has done it hundred of times – getting dressed up for special games, events and charity galas is part of his daily life – and can’t help but grin a little at the way it makes Julian beam up at him.

He offers him his hand when Matze’s finished, and they keep holding hands all the way until they’re downstairs, where Matze gently untangles their fingers before Julian pushes open the door and they step into daylight.

 

It’s night when they return, the sky dark, them slightly tipsy and drunk on love, a bit giggly, clinging to each other.

Julian crowds him against the door as soon as they’re back inside the apartment, smiling against his lips with closed eyes and rosy cheeks. Matze pants as his boyfriend presses his hand against his bulge, humming appreciatively at the noises he gets in return. He tastes like the crème brûlée they had for desert, like the warm summer air and like the summer two years ago when they first fell in love.

Matze sighs as Julian massages him through his pants, throwing his head back, eyes blissfully closed, a breathless, silent moan escaping his lips. He stops Julian as the brunet reaches to unbutton his pants. His boyfriend smiles knowingly, and tugs him along to the bedroom.

It’s never truly dark in a city like Paris, where the stars that twinkle live in the old houses and down on the streets. Julian always keeps his blinds open at night, so the room is flooded with a warm, low light that is just enough to make out the contour of Julian’s smile as he hovers above him, stealing another kiss from Matze’s lips.

They already lost their pants, shoes and sucks, and Julian is currently unbuttoning his shirt with flimsy fingers. Matze bites his lips as he slides his hand underneath the fabric, stroking over his chest in gentle motions as he ruts against him with a lot more insistence.

He makes quick work on Julian’s shirt as well, but then he gets stopped when he reaches for the tie, the brunet’s grip firm around his wrist.

Julian’s smirk grows wicked.

“Leave it on.”

And then he leans down for another kiss as he pushes down Matze’s underwear, and Matze falls deeper and deeper.

 

Chapter Text

Love letters are terribly overrated. Also, they’re not something that actually exists outside the realm of novels and romance movies – sure, sappy texts exist and so do apologetic, heartfelt emails or the occasionally slightly cringey love confession on facebook or instagram.

But handwritten, laboured letters written from your core of your heart that take hours to write, get rewritten again and again only to be thrown into a bin dramatically when you finish? Yeah, Julian doesn’t believe those actually exist.

Which is why he’s slightly baffled when he finds himself sitting on his hotel bed, clutching a pen he stole from one of their coach’s assistants and a writing pad with advertisement for the hotel on it. Writing a love letter. To Kai Havertz.

It’s not like this crush came out of the blue. They’ve been playing together for over two years now, and Julian has seen Kai grow, mature, find himself. Has seen him blossom from a young talent into someone so incredibly proficient – especially at his age – into someone he is proud and happy to call his friend, his mate. Into the man he fell in in love with.

Julian sighs. 

The letter is probably a stupid idea, he thinks, scratching a last few, slightly crooked words onto the paper before signing with his name. He adds a little heart and regrets it the second after.

He sighs and runs a jittery hand through his hair.

He’s tried talking to Kai about it. They’re best friends, so of course he has. Has hinted at that he might have crush. Kai only smiled at him brightly, telling him to go for it and then letting out a giggle. Which you know, doesn’t help. Not when he’s so clearly okay with Julian pursuing someone that isn’t him. That he looks really nice when he’s laughing doesn’t help either. No, it just makes the butterflies in Julian’s stomach flutter their wings with more intensity than usual, and he curses himself for playing the whole situation off with a cool smirk and a wave of his hand.

And now they’re here. At the National Team, together, for the first time. Sharing a room, which is uncommon – usually, they have single rooms here, but somehow, there was a mix-up with the hotel, so about half of the team had to share. Kai had been the first one to volunteer himself and Julian, followed by Leon and Joshua, Draxler and Matze and, surprisingly, Thomas and Manuel.

Julian sighs again. He feels like it’s the only noise he’s capable of by now – he’s managed to turn into himself into a sad, lovesick, fool. He lets his eyes skim over the letter. It’s a pile of garbage, honestly, and he just wants to crumple it in his hand when someone presses down the door-handle.

He scrambles for the bin, but doesn’t manage to reach it in time before Kai enters their room. So instead, with a single bead of sweat dripping down his temple, he hides the undesired document behind his back.

“Jule, hey, do you know if–” Kai breaks off when he notices how awkwardly Julian is standing in the middle of the room.

He leans against the door and it makes him look a lot more great than it should be allowed. His smile is wide, and he’s grinning with that shiteating grin that always manages to make Julian’s heart jump.

“Is something the matter.”

Julian clears his throat.

“Um. No, nothing.”

Kai quirks an eyebrow. “Really. Well then, how about you show me what’s behind your back?”

Jule can feel the blood rush to his cheeks and curses pale complexion.

“Behind my back, there’s nothing–” but Kai has already taken a few quick strides towards him, pulling at his hand. The letter has gotten all crumpled anyway, and Julian is suddenly glad that he folded it in the middle, if only to postpone the inevitable for another few seconds.

“What’s this?” Kai looks genuinely curious, and Julian really hates knowing that in a few minutes, he won’t have this anymore. That nothing will be like it has been.

With horror, Julian watches his expression morph from curiosity to blank to shock to – a small smile?

“Oh,” Kai says softly, and Julian’s stomach churns as his heart leaps. Kai looks up, and Julian blinks back at him.

He can’t even properly react when he suddenly has his arms full of his friend and his lips against his own; it takes him a full twenty-nine seconds to kiss him back. 

But he knows well enough what this means. What it has to mean.

Kai Havertz is in love with him too.