Chapter 1: A Monday in September
Manuel’s world comes crashing down on a warm Monday in September.
He’s in a good mood. Being back in training, back with the team; back to playing makes him feel like a person again and he soaks in the smell of the freshly cut grass, the warm air surrounding him and the laughter of his teammates. Despite feeling a small bout of nausea right at the start of training, like so often these days, being back on the pitch comes to him naturally, easily, and he doesn’t give the uncomfortable feeling more than a fleeting thought that disappears quickly when the first ball comes flying his way.
He wipes away the sweat that has been trickling down his forehead and falling from his brow in tiny beads and quirks a private smile when he sees the field players making their rounds a few meters ahead of them. He’s missed all of it terribly, has been craving being back ever since he’d obtained that godforsaken foot injury during the game against Madrid back in April. Missed it so badly that it almost made him feel sick at times – and now that he’s back, he’s positively buzzing.
Just that morning in bed, just after they’d woken up, Thomas remarked how much happier he’d looked recently. “It’s as if you’re glowing,” he said with a fond smile while he petted Manu’s hair, chuckling. Manu blushed and rolled his eyes as usual when his boyfriend showered him in compliments as Thomas leaned down to kiss his temple.
Now that memory ignites a fond smile and a short tug in his stomach.
Out of the corner of his eye, he sneaks a look at where the field players are now engaged in pair exercises. It only takes him mere seconds to take locate Thomas’ mop of mousy brown curls among the sea of red jerseys. His hair has been getting quite long again lately, just the way Manu prefers it. A small sigh escapes his lips when he recalls how Thomas looks in the mornings or right after a shower, some of the curls dangling over his forehead, making him look much younger, even more carefree than usual and especially dashing when paired with a cheeky smirk.
He startles a bit when Toni snaps his fingers in front of his face, demanding his attention.
“Hey! Don’t get too distracted, loverboy.” He sounds amused, but his eyes tell him that Manuel should probably focus back on his work again nevertheless.
“Sure, boss,” he mumbles, grinning a bit when Toni rolls his eyes at him. They’re not too far apart in age, and because they’ve been friends and colleagues for quite a long time, way before they were coach and protegee, the older man always objects to being addressed in such a way.
He’s one of the only people at Bayern who know about him and Thomas, and even if Toni often teases him mercilessly for his ‘perpetual heart eyes’, as he calls it, Manu is glad that he managed to open up to him – it makes his life so much easier not having to hide from his coach when he already has to hide from the rest of the world, even if it means he has to endure Toni’s quips and winks again and again.
The older man returns his grin openly as he shoos Manu back between his posts.
Sadly, their mirth is short-lived.
After he’s stopped another few shots Toni aimed at him, the coach ushers Manu, Sven and the younglings over to the others to practise free kicks and corners. It’s Arjen who takes the first kick, and jumping off the ground is as much of a routine as it should be – Manuel catches the ball with practised ease – but it’s the landing that changes everything.
The first thing Manu feels when his foot gives out underneath him is surprise. ‘Oh,’ he thinks, ‘that’s not supposed to feel like that.’ Then, the pain flares up, and he hears his own cry as if it’s coming from far away.
He doesn’t even realize that he’s going down before he’s already laying on the turf. The pain is surging through him like a tidal wave, and it’s with horror that he realizes that it’s the same damn foot, the same damn feeling he knows all too well.
Toni is talking to him, but he can’t understand a word over the obscenely loud hammering of his own heart and his pounding head. He clenches his teeth together, flinching when someone else rushes to his side. He recognizes the hand that comes up to brush against his arm by its gentleness, though its owner’s face blurs in front of his eyes. For a desperate second, he wants to call out Thomas’ name, reach for him, but his throat feels clogged, and the only thing that comes out is a painful mewl that, to his ears, sounds like the noise of a wounded animal.
He wants to smile when Thomas clutches his hand in between his own, rubbing circles into his palm, but he barely manages to perceive any of his teammates huddling around him; their voices indistinct, blurry, though he can hear someone call for a stretcher. He throws up as soon as they try to sit him up, groaning when his ankle twists a bit, making the bones in his foot shift, the piercing pain making it so abundantly clear that something is well and truly awry. Thomas is still holding on to his hand, but Manu is pretty sure that in all the ruckus, no one is paying that particular detail any attention. Manu retches, but this time, nothing comes out, and as soon as his body stops convulsing, he feels his consciousness slip away from him.
Thomas is gone when he comes to again.
Manu knows the infirmary well – all too well – especially after last April’s debacle, and the second thing he notices is how the pain is still there. Possibly, it’s even worse than before. He winces, and the doc shoots him a sympathetic look. It’s enough to make Manuel know it’s exactly as bad as he thinks it is.
They take him to the clinic, and the x-rays only show what everyone has already feared. He clenches his fist as he stares vacantly at the black and white image of his damn middle foot, that damn bone that snapped right through the middle yet again, and has a hard time biting back tears of frustration as the nurse takes some blood samples and injects some pain meds straight into his veins. They wrap his foot like a Christmas present and hand him some crutches.
Manuel grinds his teeth. He gets informed that he will be transferred to Thübingen for the upcoming surgery the next day, but they allow him to go home to pick up a few necessities at least, trusting him to know his limits after he already sustained the same injury mere months ago.
Thomas is home sitting on the couch when he unlocks the door, jumping up as soon has he hears the key being turned. He rushes to Manu’s side, wrapping an arm around his waist in such a protective way that Manu could genuinely cry.
“It’s the midfoot again,” Manu says, and hates how his voice sounds devoid of anything but resignation, hates how he sounds so deflated, turning his head away when Thomas reaches to cup his face in his hands, the lines on his forehead harsher, deeper than usual. “I need to pack; my surgery is tomorrow.”
“I’ll come with you.”
He won’t. He can’t, there is a game the next day (auf Schalke, and the fact that he’ll have to miss it stings Manu more than he would like to admit) – but still, Manu appreciates the sentiment and wishes for it to be true for just a single stupid second, almost smiling knowing that Thomas would willingly abandon everything in a second just to be by his side. Instead, he shakes his head.
“They need you here. You’re the captain now.”
Thomas manages a half-smile and surges to kiss him. It tastes bitter, just like the upcoming separation, but his hands rest warm and comforting on Manuel’s hips. They don’t pull away immediately after the kiss ends. Instead they linger in a close embrace, and when Thomas brings Manu to the door five minutes later, Manu doesn’t dare to turn around again, fearing that he would be unable to leave once he’s cast a look upon his boyfriend’s concerned expression.
On top of everything, the morning’s nausea returns the moment he gets into the car. His driver isn’t the talkative sort, and Manuel is grateful for it. Upon his request, they make a pit stop halfway as the sky is slowly turning orange and purple, and his driver buys him a bottle of coke that he downs in the next half an hour. It’s sugary, and he can feel his athlete’s body rebelling, but it eases his motion sickness to the point where he doesn’t feel like throwing up anymore.
His foot hurts worse again, and Manu hates his life.
He never sleeps well in hospitals, and this night is no exception. By the time the surgery comes the next morning, he feels fatigued and grumpy as well as slightly anxious. No matter how many times you go under the knife, no matter how good the surgeon is, it’s always a risk. Sure, his feet are only an afterthought, his hands the real moneymakers, but still, he can’t get rid of the tiny, irrational fear that he will wake up and won’t be able to walk on his own two feet ever again. It doesn’t help that the medical assistance as well as his nurses keep whispering and looking at his files, and even the doctor frowns when he first skims over them. No one is telling him anything, and in the end he’s glad when he gets sidetracked by his phone.
Thomas has been sending him a string of concerned messages ever since he left, and Manu smiles at the clearly concerned tone that Thomas tries to cover up with his dry sense of humor and a rather lengthy retelling of how Niklas almost managed to fall asleep in his bowl of cereal this morning. Chatting with his boyfriend is enough to distract him from what’s to come for the next hour or so, keeping him busy until the nurses come to prepare him for surgery, still smiling when they roll him into the operating theater.
Despite his worries, it all goes well.
It’s a standard procedure, but it’s still a relief when his surgeon smiles at him, albeit a small one, as he knows that this time the recovery period will be longer, much more arduous than the last one. He knows that they need to be more careful or his career could potentially be over, but so far, everything is looking good. He’s happy for now – or well, he would be, if the door to his room didn’t suddenly open again several hours later, revealing a doctor he’s never seen before clutching an old-fashioned clipboard, her lips pressed into a tight line as she enters besides two nurses Manuel already knows.
“Herr Neuer, there is something else we need to discuss,” she says after an awkward silence, and Manu’s heart drops at least five stories deep.
She introduces herself as Dr. Anna Braun, is probably in her early forties, and looks quite nervous to be here, which isn’t common for doctors. That, in turn, is making Manu’s stomach churn, painfully reminding him that he really doesn’t enjoy hospital lunch that much, either.
“We need to talk about your blood test results.”
Chapter 2: Diagnosis
Up until that moment, Manu has never understood people who live with the constant fear of being diagnosed with a deadly disease – cancer or something equally gruesome – every time they go for a routine checkup, but in that moment, as Dr. Braun talks in medical jargon about his hormone levels and some other increased components in his blood, his mind starts racing. He doesn’t understand what she’s saying, only numbly nods along when they roll him out to another room, faltering only when he realizes that it’s one where they do ultrasound scans.
He has no idea why he just makes the connection to what the doctor said when the medical assistant starts spreading cold gel on his stomach.
Being A2-negative always has felt natural to him, not really being bothered either way that he was infertile in one of two ways.
He was checked as a kid, of course, just like all the other boys, even though back then, at age four, he had no idea what that meant. He remembers the slightly relieved look his mother shot him after the doctor announced his test result though, a fragile smile tugging at her mouth, as if she was afraid of fully letting it show.
Once he’d learned what the term meant, at the beginning of secondary school, in their first awkward sex ed lesson, it became a medical term like any other, and most of his peers didn’t pay much attention to it, rather starting to giggle whenever the teacher said ‘penis’ or ‘vagina’. He was normal, his twelve-year old brain concluded, part of the majority of men who weren’t able to conceive children, even if they ended up being – and most of his male classmates had either laughed or fake-gagged at the term – homosexual.
His adult self knows better, of course, knows that being both A2-positive and A2-negative are perfectly normal – the former by now making up about a fourth of the male popularity of the world and as such form small percentage of men who are able to bear children – but he has still been glad for being the way he is, especially when through the grapevine he heard about yet another young promising football talent who was rejected by a first league club officially because of some transfer issues, but unofficially because no one wanted to risk having to go through the trouble and media nightmare of a pregnant, male player – and they never even cared about if the player involved was actually interested in men or not.
You’re advised to go in for a second test as an adult, Manu knows – because a toddler’s sexual organs aren’t fully developed yet – as soon as you realize you are interested in your own sex.
Of course, Manu never did.
Sure, doctors have medical confidentiality, but in football business, nothing stays private for long, especially not dicey information like that. Of course, it wouldn’t reach the outside, the media, the public; but the bosses would catch wind of it in no time, and Manu doesn’t want to – can’t – imagine what would happen if they knew about his and Thomas’ more intimate relationship that goes so much deeper than being teammates and captain and vice-captain.
And after all, false first diagnoses are one in a thousand.
Now, he slowly, very slowly, realizes this might have been a mistake.
“Dr. Müller-Wohlfahrt and his team already observed the unusually high human chorionic gonadotropin levels in your blood yesterday, and they asked us to run the tests again,” Dr. Braun says, and Manuel’s stomach twists. “And now we’re just looking if –”
“There,” the specialist operating the ultrasound interrupts, “there it is.”
Manuel turns his head so fast that his neck pinches in a really uncomfortable way. The image on the screen is blurry, and he can’t really make out anything until … sure enough, there’s a little head, a pair of little arms, two tiny, crunched up legs.
He feels dizzy, and his nausea returns with a sudden vengeance.
“I’m,” he croaks, and Dr. Braun gives him a tight-lipped smile.
“You’re pregnant, yes. Congratulations.”
After that, it takes no time at all even for Manuel and his amateur gaze to realize how big the fetus already looks. Men don’t get periods like women do, so he has no way to pin down when exactly he conceived. He gulps at the thought, feverishly wondering if he’s just dreaming, if this is all not real, if he still hasn’t woken up from surgery yet, but the ultrasound assistant estimates that he’s in his sixteenth week.
Manuel’s mind reels when the doc reveals that that means he legally can’t get an abortion anymore.
“I understand this must come to you as a shock,” Dr. Braun says after they’ve rolled him back to his room. “Since your medical file claims you’re A2-negative … and you never came in for a second test for your A2 either, is that correct?”
Manu nods numbly. What is Thomas going to think, he wonders with a slightly hysteric edge. What will Hoeneß and Rummenigge say? Will he be kicked out of the club? Surely they won’t keep him like this, out for the next few months not only because of a broken foot but a child growing in his stomach.
He tugs at his hospital gown and rests his hand on his flat tummy, wondering how he didn’t notice that it feels tighter in a different way. (He isn’t sure if he imagines it bowing out just ever so slightly underneath his palm already.)
Dr. Braun asks him a few more questions and ends with inquiring when he last had intercourse with a male – three days ago, Manu admits with burning ears, but at least the doctor seems relieved when he reveals that he is in a steady partnership with the father of the baby. Sure, she might not be involved with the PR nightmare that this is going to be, but her smile is genuine when she says that it will help him having someone to support him through all of this, especially with his already hindered mobility and the difficult environment of his profession.
They transfer the data and his newly updated medical file back to Bayern, and he feels the panic rushing back through him when he realizes that it means they will already know when he comes back. He pinches his arm once he’s alone in the room, wincing when it stings, and then numbly wonders how this could, how it is inevitably going to turn his life upside down. He has no doubt that it will, but for now, he hasn’t fully processed the situation yet and it feels like it’s someone else’s problem, like he’s just a casual observer to this entire debacle.
His phone dings, and his smile feels forced when he sees that it’s Thomas, asking how the surgery went. For a moment, his thumb hovers over the keys, then he settles for great :) It’s not even half the truth, but his churning stomach refuses to deal with that particular minefield.
He makes his way out of the hospital on crutches, a shoulder bag filled with dozens of pamphlets about pregnancy, childbirth and everything it entails weighing him down. As he waits for his car, leaning against the wall with his crutches next to him, he catches himself placing his hand on his stomach again and again. Unconsciously, Manu lets it roam over its expanse, pulling the t-shirt up, letting his fingers graze over the tight skin.
Strange to think there is a little person in there. He doesn’t feel like the idea of a baby is a part of him, still desperately wants to cling to the belief that this is all a mistake and everything is as it should be–
It doesn’t help. He’s pregnant, that’s a fact, and in a very strange way, it suddenly feels like a part of his body is not his own anymore.
The car pulls up in front of him and yesterday’s driver shoots him a polite smile and asks if everything went well. Manu only nods, too lost in his own mind to form proper words. He doesn’t check his phone a single time the whole way back, doesn’t even let Thomas or anyone else know when he will return. Instead, he vacantly stares out of the tinted windows as his thoughts race through his mind at light speed while the truth – his new reality – slowly starts to sink in.
It’s already getting darker when the car finally comes to a half in front of their house. The windows are dark; Thomas isn’t home yet – won’t be for another few hours – and suddenly and fiercely, Manu is glad for that. The forward has always had the ability to effortlessly see through Manu’s carefully crafted walls, even long before they became a couple. He’d probably notice that something is plaguing Manu the second he sees his face – and then? What would Manu tell him? The truth?
He shivers at the thought. Sure, he wants to believe that Thomas will react to it in a positive way – and why shouldn’t he? He’s Thomas Müller after all, perpetual joker, happy-go-lucky, as pragmatic as you can get and the most supportive and loving boyfriend Manu could have ever wished for. But this, this is an earthquake of unforeseen consequences, something that could shake their relationship to the ground, if not shatter it entirely.
Somehow, Manu makes it to the kitchen, and when that realization washes over him like an avalanche, he has to support himself on one of the counters.
He wasn’t supposed to be able to get pregnant; they’d never even talked about kids, never thought about it, not when their careers and being in the public eye would keep them from parenthood for another few years anyway. And now, here he is, carrying their offspring. This baby is a happy accident that shouldn’t even be possible, and he has no idea how the man he loves will react to it.
It’s enough to make his whole body rebel, a cold shudder running down his spine as his stomach convulses, especially considering that – he gulps – no one else will receive the news well. For a short moment, Manu wonders if he should even bother showing up for his first scheduled physio session in three days time or if he’d rather return right now to pack his things and leave forever.
He feels tears welling up in his eyes and he angrily wipes them away, pressing his eyes close as he weeps, suddenly unable to stop crying.
He doesn’t know how long he stands in the middle of the dark kitchen.
He doesn’t think he’s ever felt this alone in his entire life. His head is spinning and he desperately clutches onto the counter in order not to tumble to the ground and break down completely, the anxiety, fear and panic washing over him in waves all at once. By now, hot tears have started and stopped flowing, leaving salty tracks on his cheeks that he doesn’t bother to brush away.
In the end, strangely enough, it’s the hand that’s already found it’s way underneath his t-shirt yet again that manages to calm him down enough to pick up his crutches from the ground again, making his way upstairs. The skin feels warm under his fingers, and when he prods gently, he realizes than it does feel different than he’s used to, different than only a couple weeks ago. You can’t see anything yet, but suddenly, a smile tugs at Manuel’s lips.
There’s a baby in there, a living being that’s half him and half Thomas, a tiny creature that needs his protection to survive. Manu’s grin is small and crooked as he gently brushes over it, shaking his head to himself.
‘Oh,’ he catches himself thinking, ‘maybe this isn’t all bad.’
He makes himself comfortable on the bed but finds it difficult to fall asleep. Now that he’s calmed down a bit, he starts wondering where his child’s father is, and finally, after a surge of panic that someone might have informed him about Manu’s situation already, he picks up his phone. Luckily, the only thing he finds are a few concerned texts from assorted teammates and his mother, asking how the surgery went. He doesn’t bother to answer – by now, he’s sure the tabloids have already informed them that it has been successful, and he’s sure they’ll understand that he needs his rest.
Thomas’ texts are pinned to the top of his app, and after quickly checking the game’s result (a solid 3:0 win) it’s the last one of his messages that catches his eyes.
Got stuck in traffic on the way to the airport. Guess we’ll be home even later than expected. Sorry :/
Manuel manages a smile. No worries, he writes back, I’m already in bed. Tired from the surgery and the pain meds.
It’s not technically a lie – now that his mind has settled to a quiet buzz instead of a roaring storm, he feels the fatigue seeping through his bones, registering the pain flaring from his foot for the first time in hours. For a second he wonders if he should add that he misses Thomas, but then he recalls what he’s keeping from him and with a last sigh, he shuts the screen off, placing it on the bedside table.
Still, he can’t sleep.
It’s still the same thoughts that chase themselves in circles, the same worries, the same fears. What if the public found out; how would the fans react, the media? Terribly, he’s sure; they’d say that he has no place in this sport, no future. Surely, all his past accomplishments would pale compared to what he is, what he’s done. He doesn’t even want to think about his parents’ reactions – Christ, he’s not even out to them yet – what will Bayern do and what, yes what will Thomas think?
It’s driving him nuts, resulting in him balling the sheets in his fists and pressing his eyes close as tightly as he can, but for a long time, it doesn’t help. When he finally does fall asleep he’s plagued by nightmares: entire stands laughing at him, whistling and booing, his body swollen with child, doctors with bloody knives trying to cut the baby out of him, its face ashen, gray and emotionless. But it’s Thomas looking at him with a disgusted sneer, backing away from him that breaks him in the end.
He wakes up with a hoarse cry, and only after a few seconds does he realize that there’s hands cupping his face, beloved eyes gazing at him intently, fingers thumbing over his cheeks, the worry so visible in Thomas’ expression, looking so starkly different from the nightmare version of him that Manu feels like crying in relief.
He looks tired, but nevertheless, when Thomas cradles him in his arms, pressing his body close to Manu’s, it’s all Manu can do to wrap his arms around him too, burying his face in the soft nape of his neck, choking down a sob.
Thomas pulls away and looks at him intently.
“Nightmare?” he asks, and Manu only nods.
“Oh sweetheart.” His boyfriend leans forward and presses a gentle kiss on his forehead. “I know it’s frustrating. But you’ll only come back stronger, just like you always do. And in the end we’ll go to Russia together – you’ll see! – and everything will be fine.”
Considering Manu knows his estimated due date is somewhere towards the end of February, he really fucking doubts it.
He blames it on the darkness that Thomas doesn’t realize it’s more than frustration and anger about his injury that’s troubling him. Still, he doesn’t, can’t tell him. Not yet. And for the first time ever, he feels guilty falling asleep in Thomas’ skinny arms.
Chapter 3: Advice
Manu feels surprisingly well-rested when he wakes up, and for a blissful second, he has forgotten about what the previous day uncovered. But as soon as the events come rushing back to him, his hand flies to his stomach again.
Thomas’ arm is loosely draped over it and that doesn’t feel any different, but then the nausea makes an appearance again, stronger this time, as if his body only waited for him to know so that it could openly exhibit the symptoms of pregnancy.
Manu barely manages to detangle himself from his boyfriend’s octopus grasp before he almost falls over his feet as he scrambles for his crutches and rushes to the bathroom just in time, emptying his gullet right into the toilet.
He flushes with a disgusted frown once he’s done. Thomas hasn’t woken up yet, so he limps downstairs, leaving a note on the table, as he craves fresh air that will cleanse his stuffy lungs.
The air outside is crisp but comfortably warm. Luckily, most of his neighbours are very much used to the sight of him, so the few people that are out with their dogs or on their way to work don’t pay him any attention as he hobbles down the street. He draws his hood over his face when he gets to the more crowded areas, and makes the one, two, three turns as if on autopilot.
The little park is his favourite. It’s small but relatively abandoned, home to densely growing bushes and trees, the ground covered in wildflowers. He likes to take Momo here for a walk whenever the sun is out – and for a moment he regrets not bringing her now, but then he remembers how cute she’d looked sleeping in her little dog bed, even if he yearns for the soothing quality of running his fingers through her short, shaggy coat.
His favourite bench is luckily still empty, hidden away well enough from the public’s eye, but with a decent view on the little lawn in the middle of the park.
As he soaks in the comfortably warm but not yet hot sunlight, Manu notices a woman entering the gate. She’s very clearly with child, and even if he’s managed to suppress it quite nicely for the past hour or so, the sight of her ambling down the pathway bump-first makes his cheeks burn. He can’t help but touch his stomach again, and it’s the already familiar fears and worries that abruptly start to pound through his head yet again.
He gnaws on his lips, observing the woman as she carefully lowers herself down on one of the benches, wincing as she rubs her back, smiling gratefully when the older lady who’s previously occupied the bench skirts to the side, giving her a knowing, comforting look.
‘That’s going to be you in a couple months’, a voice at the back of Manu’s mind whispers, and he shakes his head as if that could get rid of the intrusive thoughts regarding what is soon to become his reality.
After a few minutes of observing her as she rests her hand on her bump in an already so familiar motion, rubbing gentle circles into the skin, he finds that he can’t look at her anymore without feeling slightly sick to his stomach. He fumbles with his phone and almost pushes over one of his crutches that he’s leant against the bench, not even managing a smile when he sees a notice from Thomas wishing him a nice day and a sad comment on how he had to wake up to an empty bed.
(His boyfriend doesn’t seem to have noticed the stench of vomit in the bathroom though, which is a plus.)
Already, Manu is thinking again about how to tell him.
On a baseline level, he knows that Thomas won’t leave him. Not for this, not when it takes two and not when he knows Thomas loves him more than anyone else ever could. But they’ve never talked about kids, and Manu is aware that it had never really been something Thomas and Lisa considered either, so he feels he’s rightfully scared of his reaction.
He spins his phone in his fingers, and for a moment he wants to simply shoot Thomas a text, explain it all at once, but then he thinks better of it. Thomas is in the middle of a training session and if Manu tells him something of this importance, no matter how hard it will be for him, he wants to do it in person. Still, he feels like he needs to talk to someone or he’ll likely go batshit crazy. Already, he has to suppress the urge to yell and shout out loud, to get rid of all that frustration and the anger building up in him – how could they have been this stupid, never using a condom just because it was clear that they were in an exclusive relationship?!
Deep down, he knows it’s his fault entirely, too – sure, Thomas probably should have asked about his A2 status at some point or another, but then again, he has seen Manu’s medical files, he knew he had nothing to fear in that aspect. No, it’s Manu’s own damn fault for not having the guts to go in for another test, for just assuming …
He groans, burying his face in his hands. For a moment, he just feels like sobbing again, but then he pulls himself together, rubbing his hands over his face, lifting the phone up, twisting it around once more.
And then, he calls Kevin.
“Neuer! Have you missed me that much?”
Most people probably wouldn’t call them friends. Back in the day, you could have even called them arch-nemeses, before they then, in 2014, finally buried the hatchet when they realized how similar they actually are, how they somehow work the exact same way.
Still, Kevin Großkreutz isn’t the person Manu calls on a casual boring Tuesday afternoon.
Normally, they meet up for a beer roughly four times a year just to gossip about everything and the world and mostly their hometown clubs (the thing that brought them together and apart in the first place) – but then, Kevin is also the first person Manu ever came out to.
– right after the World Cup win, drunk off his ass, when pouring out your heart and your darkest secret to your former rival turned reluctant friend seems like an exceptionally good idea all of a sudden.
And despite everything you hear about him, Kevin hadn’t laughed. Instead, he’d pulled Manu aside, listening to him clumsily spreading out his life story, hearing him weep about this wretched thing he couldn’t change about himself, how it was suppressing his sexuality and his newly uncovered attraction to men was that made him throw himself into football like a madman which resulted in receiving a Golden Glove from the FIFA president himself.
So, despite everything, Kevin has become his confidante, and thus, hearing his voice and seeing his grinning face on facetime almost feels like a relief. (Also, Kevin is a dad himself. Sure, it was his girlfriend who actually bore their daughter, but he must know a thing or two about parenthood too, right?)
“Manu? Did you swallow your tongue? You look horrible.”
That makes Manuel let out a surprised cackle. Großkreutz, straight to the point as usual. He rubs his nose, doesn’t note how to start at first. But then – ‘oh hell,’ he thinks, ‘let’s just get this over with,’ glancing over his shoulder to check if he’s alone one last time before he speaks.
Kevin blinks. His expression is completely blank, but Manuel can see the gears behind his forehead turning.
It takes a few minutes until Kevin speaks again. Manu shuffles around on his bench, waiting for his friend to react. Already, he’s happy that he isn’t being yelled or laughed at.
“Say that again?”
Manu takes a deep breath. “Um ... I might have let Thomas knock me up?”
Kevin blinks again.
Then, “You are joking, right?”
Manu fiddles with the zipper of his hoodie.
“I might actually not be, no?”
For a second, Kevin’s face is unreadable. Then, he rubs a hand over his face with his eyes pressed shut before he opens them again, staring at Manuel, gaping like a fish.
“I don’t think I need to explain how.”
Kevin groans. “Oh my god, I need a drink.” He actually scrambles offscreen, and Manu can’t help but grin when he hears the signature croak of a fridge opening and closing and a beer can being popped open.
When he returns, Kevin still looks pretty flabbergasted.
“How the fuck did you get knocked up?! You’re A2-negative! All footballers are.”
Now Manu is the one hiding his face, feeling the blood rush to his cheeks in record time. “Turns out I’m not,” he mumbles, “and now I’m pregnant.”
“Christ.” Kevin takes a sip of his beer and shakes his head, resting the cold can against his temple as if to stifle an impending migraine. Then, he puts the can down. “How long have you known – or wait, actually. Does Thomas know?”
Manu’s silence is probably answer enough.
Kevin shakes his head. “Jesus, Manu,” he says, “that’s a right mess you’ve managed to get yourself into … How’s the foot, anyway?”
“Tolerable,” Manu huffs, “I just don’t know what to think. What if Thomas doesn’t want to have a baby? What if I don’t?? And no, I can’t get an abortion, I’m too far along already.”
His friend raises an eyebrow. Then he sighs.
“Do you love Thomas?”
To that, Manuel has an immediate answer. “Yeah, I do.” His throat feels a little bit clogged up.
“Then you’re gonna love the heck out of that kid.” Kevin’s smile grows softer, and he casts a look over his shoulder where Manu can barely make out his daughter sleeping in a crib. “If you love the person you’re having a baby with, you’ll love the baby too.”
It’s a consolation, true – but there’s something else, as well.
“I don’t know how to tell Thommy,” Manu says, burying his hand in his hair, tugging at it. “What if he reacts badly? I mean, I already fear I’ll be kicked out by the club, and if he doesn’t stand by my side, I can’t, I don’t …”
Kevin tuts. “First of all, this is Müller we’re talking about. He wouldn’t leave your side if you tried to get rid of him. Second of all – dude, you get that you’re having a child, right? Someone to care for for the rest of your life. I get that you fear how this will impact your relationship, but maybe you should consider how it is going to change everything else, too.”
Manu hates when he’s being this wise. Because no, actually, he hasn’t been thinking about that, and now, quite suddenly, a whole other treasure trove of fears has opened itself. He thinks of how this means that he now hasn’t only gotten a relationship to hide away, but a whole other person. How the kid would be mocked and exploited if the media found out who its parents are. That it won't go away after those months, it'll stay there for the rest of their lives, that this makes it impossible for him to hide who he is, that …
He feels his nausea flare up again, and he has to bite back the bile in his throat. It’s only now, it seems, that he grasps the full extent of his situation, and it’s enough to make his whole body tremble. He almost drops his phone, and he barely hears Kevin’s concerned “Hey, Manu … Neuer! Are you okay?!” through the blood roaring in his eardrums.
After a few minutes, he manages to pick up up his phone again and croak out a meager “I’m fine.” It’s a lie; he very clearly isn’t, and they both know it. Kevin puts his empty can of beer to the side, running his hand through his hair.
“I feel like I’m really shitty at this whole life advice thing, right now.”
Manu laughs weakly, shrugging.
“Promise me. Promise me you’ll talk to Thomas soon. Knowing him, he’ll know something is awry right away anyway. And honestly? You look like you need all the emotional support you can get.”
Then, he hears his daughter crying in the background, and with a last apologetic crooked smile, and an awkward wave, he hangs up.
Chapter 4: Thomas
The way home passes like a fever dream. Upon fully realizing how this will turn his entire life upside down for at least the next two decades, Manu feels as restless as a caged animal. He paces up and down their driveway four times before actually going inside – quite the feat, considering he’s walking on crutches – fearing that Thomas will be home already.
When he looks at himself in the hallway mirror, he sees someone with wild eyes, crazy hair and a desperate edge that makes him laugh at the pitiful image he presents. Gone is the confident, proud goalkeeper or even the more quiet, reserved and gentle person he knows he is in private.
Instead, he just looks like a whole mess.
He realizes that he needs something to busy his hands and his thoughts until Thomas comes home, so he drags himself from room to room, cleaning, tidying, even if his brace hinders him from bending down or even standing on the same spot for too long. Afterwards, he collapses on the couch and realizes that now he can do nothing but wait.
After a while of just letting his thoughts circle in his head relentlessly, he gets up again with a groan, emptying out his overnight bag from the hospital stay, but it feels like a hassle to drag his body around. Everything hurts and he still feels slightly nauseous. He hasn’t felt fully himself these past few weeks, hasn’t been able to give 100% at training – he’d blamed it on coming back after a longer injury as he wasn’t sick or anything, worried that he was slacking, getting too old … it’s almost comforting when he realizes that it’s because his body has been dealing with his first trimester even before he knew himself.
He’s not dealing with this well, he has to admit with a huff, but then again, how could he? He isn’t even sure if he wants this baby – not like he has a choice in that matter – never mind if he’s remotely ready for it. No, he was just dumped headfirst into this situation; he’s in pain all the time due to his foot and he can’t take all the pain meds he normally would because there is a chance it could be harmful to the baby.
As he empties the last compartment, he finds the envelope a nurse handed him right before he left, and when he pulls out the ultrasound picture he can’t help but trace his fingers over it, almost as if in awe, catching himself smiling again. Despite everything, by now, a full day later, he can’t deny that he feels a connection. He runs a jittery hand through his hair and forces himself to take a few deep breaths.
He can do this. For the baby.
Thomas looks disgustingly cheerful when he arrives. Granted, that’s his standard setting when there isn’t an actual reason to feel down, but considering things at the club are going not much better than ‘meh’ and with Manu’s injury (and the whole other internal storm that has been brewing inside of him ever since he got his results the day before) it just seems a bit out of place and manages to make Manu even more nervous.
Of course, Thomas’ face drops immediately when he notices him standing in the middle of their living room, stone-faced and fiddling with his crutches. Manu’s foot still hurts, and looking him in the eyes is hard.
Thomas raises both his eyebrows. They’re basically invisible on his tanned skin, but Manu knows they’re coarse to the touch, gently sloped like tiny little crescents.
He can be incredibly straight to the point. Most people wouldn’t give it to him, but Manu has known him for long enough, has seen him in all sorts of different situations and is well aware that beneath his jokester persona, there is someone a lot quicker, with a sharp wit and carefully honed observation skills that manages to see right through all of Manuel’s facades.
Manu tugs at the cord of his hood and glances up tentatively.
“I think we should sit down, Thommy.”
Suddenly, it feels weird, discussing this in the hallway as if it were a simple decision over who should take care of dinner. The sofa feels safer, comforting, and even though he still feels restless, Manu is glad for the momentary release it gives at least to his physical pain.
Meanwhile, Thomas’ expression looks like someone died. Surely, he’s already made the connection to last night and the nightmares and his stay at the hospital, and he’s probably already assuming the worst. Manuel isn’t the best at tactics when they aren’t applied to football; but he figured that when he found out that Manu wasn’t dying, Thomas would maybe be a bit more open in quickly accepting this new life they created.
Or maybe, he’s just overthinking this and working himself into a panic attack once again.
“Um,” he says, and Thomas grabs his hand with such insistence that Manu winces at the sudden pressure.
Still, his boyfriend stays unusually quiet.
Manu takes a deep, rattling breath.
“I,” he starts, curling his free hand into the soft fabric of his hoodie, “I need to tell you something.”
The lines on Thomas’ face deepen, making him look so much worry-ridden and older than his years. Nonetheless he doesn’t speak, doesn’t interrupt. It’s an uncomfortable silence, and Manu starts to wonder if this tactic really was the right one.
“They found something else at the hospital.”
Now, Thomas can’t hold it in anymore. “Oh my god. Manu, don’t tell me you’re ill. Please don’t.”
His voice is as thin as a thread, breathless as if he just played an entire ninety minute game.
Manu wants to chuckle, but it dies on his tongue.
Thomas’ grip grows more insistent.
“Then? What is it?! Tell me!”
“I’m.” Manu groans. ‘I can’t do this’, he thinks, rubbing the hand that isn’t clutched in between Thomas’ over his face, ‘I just can’t.’ But he knows he has to. For them.
“You never asked me about my A2 status.”
Thomas nods carefully, but his frown has deepened already.
Manuel’s chuckle is laced with an edge of desperation.
“I never did a second test, I thought I was safe.” He runs a hand through his hair again; it must look like a veritable bird’s nest by now. “And now … I’m– I’m pregnant.”
It’s glaringly obvious that Thomas is in shock after this announcement. In fact, he just sits there gaping at Manu for at least two minutes – usually, he couldn’t shut up for that long if he tried – and Manu grows more anxious by the second. Suddenly, all his fears are back; never mind that Kevin said that Thomas would stick with him no matter what, never mind what his own common sense tells him – his heart drops deeper and deeper until his fingers feel ice-cold and he barely dares to breathe.
And then, Thomas nods slowly, emotions passing over his face in such a quick succession that Manu doesn’t even attempt to read them. He leans forward, pressing a kiss on Manu’s temple.
And then, with a soft caress of his cheek, he gets up.
“I think – I need some fresh air. Don’t worry, I’ll be back. Everything’s okay, I promise.”
Except that of course, Manu does worry, and nothing is okay at all.
In fact, as soon as he hears the front door close, he breaks down into the tears he has been holding back ever since last night. They taste salty, and he buries his face in his hands, feeling his palms grow wetter with the second. For a moment, he catches himself wondering why he’s reacting so strongly, if it’s only hormones and the fact that he’s still in physical pain because of his foot …
He flinches when he hears the door open again and quickly he wonders how long his breakdown lasted, and then, Thomas is there again, right by his side.
He’s clutching a cup of hot coffee from their favourite place in each hand, and he passes one to Manu with the most gentle look. Upon tasting a sip, Manu realizes that it’s not coffee but in fact hot chocolate. He shoots his partner a questioning looking and Thomas is smiling widely, but somehow differently than the usual grin that so often seems perpetually plastered onto his face.
It’s softer, more private.
Then, he leans forwards, cupping Manu’s face in his hands, peppering as many kisses on his tear-stained cheeks as he can.
“I read that chocolate is good for pregnant people,” he murmurs upon pulling away, softly shaking his head. “Oh my love, you’re such a strange wonder,” he chuckles wetly and presses one last kiss on Manu’s lips.
The noise Manu makes resembles a sob, and the relief that’s flooding through his bones feels like liquified sunshine. He doesn’t even fully register it when Thomas wraps his arm around him, pulling him into a more comfortable position; Manu’s surprised when he sees tears brimming in his eyes too.
“Jesus Manu, we’re gonna be parents.” Thomas is shaking his head, laughing, smiling, wiping his wet eyes before he suddenly surges forwards, pushing Manuel’s t-shirt aside, his palms hot against the skin of his stomach, caressing it with wide-eyed astonishment.
“So you’re … alright with this?” Manu’s voice sounds a bit squeaky, still rough from his tears, like gears that haven’t been oiled in a while. Thomas is grinning, wickedly and wildly, looking as handsome as ever, and happiness is radiating from him in such strong waves that Manu can’t help but smile too.
God, he loves him so much.
Thomas chuckles again, shaking his head in disbelief. “Am I alright? I’m elated!! I never really specifically wanted kids, but I love them. I just thought that this would be a discussion for after our careers, you know, to decide if we should adopt or ... But now – Manu, you’re pregnant! That’s wonderful!!”
He seems so genuinely happy about it that for the first time maybe since he got his results, Manu starts to forget about the hardships this will bring into their lives. For the first time, with Thomas’ hands laying where the baby is growing inside of him, he realizes they’re going to be a real family.
For the first time, he allows himself to be happy about it.
And suddenly, he realizes that he needs to kiss him.
(Thomas is already grinning against his lips as he pulls him in.)
Chapter 5: An Unpleasant Morning
TRIGGER WARNING for this chapter: mentioned homophobia
After their impromptu making out session, it takes Manu quite a while to come down from his previous anxiety attack, even now when he’s filled with endrophines. The hot chocolate helps, and Thomas’ touch also has a soothing quality to it, the forward looking very apologetic when he realized that it was him leaving so suddenly that caused Manu’s tears.
“I’m so sorry, love,” he says, pulling a face. “I wasn’t thinking straight. You have to understand, I really expected a lot of things, but certainly not that. I just needed some space to think, to process it. I didn’t see how it would make it all worse for you.”
Soon, Manu is breathing normally again, his eyes drooping of their own accord, as if the reveal sucked the last remaining energy out of his overtaxed body. He wasn’t supposed to move this much the day after surgery, he knows, and he’s getting the receipt for it now.
Thomas is stroking his hair in regular motions, and in the little utopia of their living room, everything seems perfect. Until Thomas decides to break the moment, that is.
“You know that you have to talk to Kalle and Uli, right?”
Manu winces. There it is, there is what he’s almost been dreading the most. He fears they already know; of course, medical records are as private as they can get, but when you’re an athlete, they’re part of your job, so he’d only assume that the team doctor would have already informed them that their award-winning goalkeeper is – despite the fact that according to the records, it should have been impossible – with child.
He sighs. “Can’t that wait?”
Thomas noses at his hair. “Can it? You know they’ll only be more pissed the longer we wait to set up a game plan. Surely, you won’t be able to hide this forever, even though now it’s convenient that you’re already out with an injury.”
There’s a lot to process there, but there’s one word that makes Manu sit up. “We?”
Thomas huffs. “If you think that I’d ever let you go through this alone, you’re an idiot. You might be the birthparent, but I’m this baby’s father too, and I will be by your side for the entire thing, alright?”
“But we never wanted to–”
“Out ourselves to our superiors? It’s not the best situation, no, but I’m not gonna just sit there and watch them judging you and pretend I have nothing to do with it at all.”
He grabs Manu’s chin, gently turning his head to look him in the eyes. “I love you, you doofus, and I love this kiddo. And I would do anything for the both of you.”
He nudges his nose against Manu’s and his eyes sparkle like a thousand suns before he brings their lips together for another kiss. And that’s the only thing they think about for the next few hours as the sun sets behind the horizon.
In the end, it’s Thomas who makes the call as Manu sits apathetically by his side, his hands clenched together, fingernails digging into his palms in a desperate attempt to distract himself.
Thomas doesn’t reveal much, he simply announces that him and Manuel have something to discuss with them. If Rummenigge already knows the reason behind his call, he doesn’t let on. Then again, Manu ponders as he tries to be as quiet as possible since Thomas has turned the speaker on, they might actually not suspect anything yet. After all, they don’t know that Manu told anyone, or that him and Thomas are close friends outside of work, never mind lovers.
There isn’t really much evidence of it online, both of them took care of that. Sure, it means that they have to spend holidays apart more often that not, but it also means that no one suspects anything. Though some of their friends and teammates may have noticed how much time they actually do spend together behind closed doors and turned off cameras by now, none of them seem to have realized that they hardly part from each other’s side at all – and apart from a small handful of people they have let in on their secret, that’s exactly how they intended to keep it.
Now, that carefully constructed veil will fall soon, as Thomas is determined to stand with him through the entire pregnancy, even if it then might become obvious to quite a lot of people that he’s Manu’s baby’s father.
But surely enough, Kalle probably thinks Thomas’ call is for a meeting to discuss the growing tension within the team, the issues they have with Ancelotti or something of the sort. They decided to call him because he’s generally the more agreeable out of the two of them; Hoeneß has the tendency to start making a ruckus whenever something or someone mildly disagrees with him.
Now, their chief executive officer still sounds relatively calm and collected, but Manu digs his fingers into the fabric of his sweatpants nevertheless, and he only relaxes when Thomas reaches over to touch his shoulder, massaging it gently through the thin material of his t-shirt as he talks.
He schedules a meeting for the next day already, and Manu grinds his teeth at the thought.
He hasn’t really heard anything from Bayern at all, not apart from the notice that they’re glad that his surgery has gone well and a schedule with his first dates of physiotherapy, and he isn’t sure if he likes the silence a whole lot.
The next morning, Thomas tries everything to calm down, but Manu still ends up pacing in circles as well as he can considering his limited mobility. His foot feels the strain, and he ends up making a trip to the bathroom once again. As he retches into the bowl, he hears quiet footsteps approaching behind him, feeling the warmth of another body next to his own as Thomas crouches down beside to him. His palm feels cold on Manu’s back, but the circles he rubs into his skin are familiar, comforting.
“Morning sickness?” Thomas asks, and with a disgusted frown, Manu flushes, groaning when he realizes immediately afterwards that his stomach apparently hasn’t finished torturing him yet. Once he’s done, he wipes his mouth with his sleeve, wincing at the taste.
“That, or maybe the fact that I have to tell our bosses that I let you knock me up in two hours.”
Thomas pulls a face and protectively curls an arm around his shoulders. “Yeah, it’s likely a combination of both. C’mon, up you go.”
He almost stumbles over the crutches as he tries to pull Manu up, snickering at his own clumsiness when they wobble dangerously. Already, Manu knows that the crutches and the brace that feels like a lump of lead around his foot are going to be a pain in the ass over the next few months. If he’s lucky, he’ll be able to walk without the brace by November, at a point where he will be in his sixth month already – the crutches will have to stay even longer than that. He scoffs, and Thomas sends him a strange look, but he isn’t in the mood to elaborate.
Thomas drives, and with every meter they come closer to Säbener, Manuel tenses up even more.
They don’t usually arrive in the same car – or together at all – as that usually would be too on-the-nose, but this time, it’s hard not to reach for Thomas’ hand as he helps him get out but he manages to stop himself, instead having to settle with smile that hangs crooked on his lips.
Thomas winks at Manu in a way that makes him seem like the only bright thing on this bleak day; Manu’s stomach jumps like it has done so often ever since he fell in love with the gangly brunet and his witty cheek and sharp smiles. Thomas brushes the back of his hand against Manu’s as they walk down familiar hallways, and out of the corner of his eyes, Manu can see him smile softly, privately. There’s a strain there too, a nervousness to the stiffness of his shoulders that Thomas hardly ever carries, but in the end, Manu is so incredibly grateful to have him here – a lesser man would have no doubt left him alone in this, saved his own career instead, but for Thomas, that wasn’t even worth considering.
Kalle looks mildly curious when he leads them into his office, Uli on the other hand is clearly displeased that he had to get out of bed this early, and Manu winces when he realizes their president is dissatisfied already with not even the full truth out there yet.
They shake hands, and Manu is reminded of how uncomfortably sweaty his palm is. He starts bouncing his healthy leg up and down as soon as he’s sat down, and when he glances over at Thomas, the forward is staring straight ahead at the two most important members of the board with that unreadable look of his that is a tell-tale sign that he’s mentally preparing himself for what’s to come.
Rummenigge turns his brand name pen in his fingers before fixing his gaze on Thomas. “Well then, Müller. What was so urgent that it couldn’t wait even until the afternoon?”
Thomas gulps, and Manu clenches his fist so much it hurts.
“We wanted to talk about Manuel’s predicament.” Thomas lifts his chin, almost defiantly.
If Rummenigge is surprised, he doesn’t let it show on his face, instead he nods slowly, calculatingly, leaning forward just a tiny bit.
“I see. So he already told you. Are you here as mental support then, as his mouthpiece? Or did he simply involve you because you are acting captain?”
Uli, on his right, scoffs, and Manuel flinches as he sends him a derogatory glance. There’s a cold fire in his beady, pale eyes, burning right through Manu’s skin.
Thomas clears his throat. “Not quite. I called you as Manuel’s partner and the baby’s other father.”
If he weren’t so tense and quite literally dying inside, watching Kalle’s jaw drop and Hoeneß’ head grow as red as humanly possible without exploding would almost be funny. As it is, Manu grips the armrests of his chair so tightly that he can feel the pattern of the fabric being etched into his palms.
Rummenigge narrows his eyes. “Is this a joke?”
But Thomas only lifts his eyebrows, shaking his head, reaching over to place his hand on Manu’s, squeezing it. “Nothing could be further from my mind.”
And that’s all it needs for their president to erupt. Like a volcano of rage, the words only keep on spilling out of him, each as sharp as a knife, as roaring as thunder. Uli isn’t a storm that blows over quickly, and with every sentence, Manu feels himself growing smaller.
He’s shouting a string of profanities, accuses them of throwing their careers away, demands to know if this ‘stupid infatuation’ is worth that. Manu flinches hard when he calls them faggots, feeling his own anger rising but dying in his throat as he curls a protective arm around his stomach, as if it could protect this child from all the hate. Next to him, Thomas isn’t faring much better. Surely, he’s always been the one out of the two of them who carried his emotions on his sleeve, uncaring of what anyone thinks about him, and it hurts to see his stubborn defiance being torn brick by brick.
Thomas has always been able to read Manu like an open book, but over the course of their relationship, Manu learned to read his emotions, too. Right now, he can see how much he wants to dig his fingernails into Manu’s arms, how much this is affecting him, too. Manu wants to reach for his hand, but then he hesitates, letting his finger hover just a few centimeters from Thomas’ arm before he pulls his hand back with a huff as Hoeneß rages on.
Kalle just watches the whole scene with an unreadable expression, and when Uli finally calms down, Thomas is trembling and Manu feels like everything but a tiny spark of will has been sucked out of him. They didn’t expect this to go well – but he’s pretty sure neither of them anticipated how bad it would actually turn out to be.
Their president runs a jittery hand over his bald head, eyes still shooting daggers in their direction.
In the end, it’s Rummenigge who picks the conversation up again. “Well, this surely is a bit unexpected,” he says, just as if the previous ten minutes didn’t happen. “And it changes quite a lot of things. I admit, at first, I wasn’t pleased when I understood that Manuel has already informed you about his condition, but I realize now that it was inevitable.” He exchanges a quick glance with Hoeneß. “I think I speak for everyone in the room when I say we need to keep this pregnancy under wraps as well as we can.”
Manu nods, carefully, tangling his fingers with Thomas’, sighing quietly. He already expected this. And for once, the fact that he’s already injured will definitely be an advantage.
“And,” Rummenigge continues, sending them a pointed look, “that we’ll keep the fact that Thomas is the baby’s father even more covered. It’s probably easier for everyone when you keep your public interactions as minimal as possible. It would be more than suspicious if you hung about the rehab center all the time. Also, as captain and acting captain, you’ve got a duty to this team as well. Manuel, we’ll take care that your physiotherapy and your rehab is well adjusted to your predicament.”
“But,” Hoeneß interrupts, “we still expect you to work on your comeback as well and as effectively as you can.”
Kalle sighs, nodding, tapping his pen against his notebook. “Actually, I think we should probably hire someone specifically trained to work with pregnant athletes to oversee your pregnancy, as we don’t want it impacting your recovery or vice-versa.”
Even out of the corner of his eyes, Manu can tell that Thomas is sending them a death glare, and he almost grins, even if the thought of not seeing Thomas for what feels like days at a time already makes his stomach churn.
“Thomas. Your focus lies on training and the matches. These are trying times, and the boys need someone to lead them, and you have yet to prove that you can be that person. Everything else,” he sighs – Thomas nods carefully – “we will discuss at a later date. Manu, you’ll have to sit down with Kathleen and Hasan to construct an emergency plan and figure out how to best hide your situation from the public and your teammates.”
“We’ll have to keep it from the team as well?” Thomas blurts out. He’s frowning and gaping at the same time, and Manu silently agrees – he was never convinced that coming out to the whole team would benefit their situation before; but this is different. This isn’t not telling, this is actively hiding something that would be visible in plain sight.
Uli sends them another glare. “Of course. We can’t know how they’ll react, it might damage the team dynamics in a way that it may be impossible to fix.”
‘They can’t react worse than you’, Manu thinks, even if he’s aware that he probably has some deity to thank for the fact that he still has a job.
The goodbyes are stiff, and he’s hyper-aware of Thomas’ hand on his hip as he guides him to the door. Thomas likes resting it there, has done so ever since they became friends, even when they were just close and not in love yet. Now, Manu can feel their president staring at it, at him with his still-burning but now more quiet rage, and the disapproving interest that Kalle seems to have in them like cross hairs pinned on his back.
Still, Thomas only lets go once he opens the door, gifting Manu a small, crooked smile. It feels like a ray of sunlight in the middle of a rainstorm.
Chapter 6: First Adjustments
It takes Manu no time at all to realize that he isn’t adjusting to his new situation as well as he’s tried to make himself believe he is. Every morning, as if on autopilot, the first thing he does is get up and looks at his stomach in the mirror. When he leans closer to the reflective surface, it already seems slightly more raised than before, but he isn’t sure if he’s only imagining it.
It seems like every time they kiss, Thomas places a hand on the soft plane of skin now, pushing it under the fabric of Manu’s sleepshirts, his t-shirts, his hoodies with a careful tenderness, as if Manu was suddenly made out of glass. It feels strange, and after a week or so, he’s grown unmistakably aware that he hasn’t fully settled into his new condition yet.
That things on the football front aren’t all fine and dandy doesn’t help either. Manu hates it, suddenly being propelled out of it, out of the team, out of the loop, unable to do anything, unable to help. Unable to even participate. Saying that things are going well at Bayern would be a slight exaggeration, and he sees the stress on Thomas’ face as it’s so clearly visible in his features. He doesn’t grin as often, even if the smiles he directs at Manu are just as fond, and maybe even softer than before.
Manu doesn’t go to watch the game against Wolfsburg at the Allianz, and instead retreats to the Tegernsee on his own, his only company being his crutches and Momo for the next few days. It feels like bitterness, like giving up, and he doesn’t really want to do either but stays there anyway.
After two days of his silent wallowing, Thomas joins him on Saturday after the regeneration, but reluctantly leaves back for the city when Manu tells him, quietly, his voice wavering but not enough to sound unsure, that he’d rather take a while to himself. On Sunday morning, Manu limps along the shore with Momo panting and smiling up at him, running in front of him, barking when he isn’t as quick to catch up as usual.
As he sits down on one of the benches with a groan, he thinks that maybe it’s the similarity to the situation back then that makes him fumble for his phone, thumb hovering over Kevin’s open contact.
I told him, he writes, and Kevin’s answer arrives immediately.
He’s happy :)
It’s the truth. In all honesty, Thomas has almost been more excited about this than him, who feels the dread seep back into his bones. For a second, he considers writing something else, but then he sighs, pressing the heel of his hand against his eyes. Kevin is his friend, but he’s not his therapist. He’s had to deal with too much of his shit already, especially considering they hardly talk on a regular day. In a regular month.
So he just meets Kevin’s awesome! with another pained smiley.
For a moment, he considers texting someone else. Just to vent a bit, to tidy up his feelings. His mother, maybe, but he rejects that thought as quickly as it came, scoffing. Benedikt, his heart says, and years ago, maybe that would have been the right choice. But now, Bene is in Italy, is dealing with a long distance relationship, that fucking horrible thing their old club did to him and Manu – Manu knows that they’ve fixed their friendship as well as they could, but the days were he’d tell the younger blond everything, those are long gone.
He startles when Momo rubs her shaggy little body against his good leg. It’s a hassle to lean down to pet her, but then he does and she smiles that doggy smile at him, one that Manu can’t help but return.
The next day, he has someone at Bayern pick up some pregnancy magazines for him in addition to the ones he grabbed at the hospital, and with every one of them he reads, every pamphlet he goes through, every parent he watches ambling along by the water as he stares out of his kitchen window, their children running ahead in front of them, wrapped up in blankets in a stroller or strapped to their chests, he feels his heart rate slowing down from its intense high, feels his breaths growing lighter until he almost feels normal again.
Suddenly, he can actually imagine himself with a baby strapped to his chest, fondly stroking the little head, and the thought isn’t terrible. ‘I’m going to be a father,’ he repeats like a mantra at least ten times every hour, feels himself growing into the concept of his new role more and more, and somehow, as if he was speaking it into existence, by the time Tuesday comes around, it doesn’t feel that wrong anymore.
He settles on the couch after finally making some phone calls that he avoided ever since coming back from the clinic, as well as a frankly exhausting Skype meeting with Kathleen and Hasan, flipping through the magazines as he sips some orange juice, Momo sleeping on his feet. He lifts his head when he hears the entrance door open, smiling a bit when he notices who it is.
“Hey,” Thomas says, walking up to him with quick steps, wrapping his shoulders in a hug from behind, burying his face into Manu’s freshly washed, product-free hair.
“I missed you,” he mumbles, words muffled to the point that they’re hard to understand. Manu cranes his neck to kiss him, and he can’t help but smile against Thomas’ lips.
Thomas walks around the couch, groaning when he drops down on it like a heavy bag of potatoes before leaning over, gently caressing Manu’s stomach. “How’s the little one doing?”
“We’re doing well,” Manu admits with slightly flushed cheeks, slapping Thomas’ hand away like a fly when he taps his shoulder a few too many times, grinning widely as he realizes that it’s not untrue. Not anymore. His boyfriend grins, kissing the smile off his lips, squeezing his waist.
It’s strange, how Manu realizes only now, all of a sudden, how much he much missed having Thomas around those past few days. Suddenly, he’s flooded by regret about the fact that he sent him away, but it doesn’t matter, doesn’t help. Thomas is here now, he came to see him before the team leaves for Paris, so Manu just nestles himself deeper into his arms and mourns the fact that he won’t get to have this for the next few dozen hours but is glad to have him back.
Later, they drive to Säbener together and after a long goodbye hug, Manu takes a taxi back into the Munich house. It’s the place they picked out together, and even if it’s smaller than the lakehouse, it feels emptier without Thomas there. That night, he cuddles up with a few blankets and turns on the TV. He’s curious to see how the game goes – but he quickly regrets even tuning in.
It’s a trainwreck, and he physically flinches when Neymar nets the third hit of the night as Ulle can do barely more than watch on. He wants to turn it off, but then the camera catches Thomas’ face for just a second, and he looks so stunned and baffled and lost that Manu wishes he could be there if only to hug him, to return the comfort Thomas so often offers him, too.
It doesn’t get better after that; the last fifteen minutes or so are almost painful to watch. After Manu turns off the TV as soon as the whistle blows – he doesn’t want to see his teammates’ disappointment, the crushed looks in their eyes – he buries his face in his hands with a groan. He feels a bit nauseous again, but suppresses the urge to make yet another trip to the bathroom. Instead, he hoists his injured foot inclusive of brace up on the couch and shuffles around until he finds a comfortable position, staring up at the ceiling.
This loss is gonna have consequences, he knows, and not small ones. They have been struggling since the start of the season, if it can even be called that when they’re currently third on the table and other clubs would likely give both their arms and legs to be that far up top – but for Bayern, this is a crisis, and Manu would be surprised if Ancelotti lasted another day with them–
Especially with the way the dressing room has been talking.
He’s never been one to involve himself in such kinds of stirring up trouble, but in some ways you are never able to stay out of it, can’t turn a blind eye and a deaf ear when you are the captain of the bunch; it still annoys him, that he isn’t there, among them, in Paris which means he can’t do a damn thing to release the tension.
He sighs, rubbing his hand over his face again. He needs to talk to Thomas about this, he knows that. His boyfriend is the captain now, and Manu is sure he’s doing a good job of it, but he needs to make sure they act in the same interest. Also, he freely admits that now after spending almost four days without his boyfriend minus that little cuddling session, he misses him like a phantom limb.
He catches himself stroking over his stomach again, pushing it out a bit to imagine what it’d look like in a couple weeks time, shaking his head at his own silliness, but unable to resist the temptation of murmuring the next few words.
“Your dad is gonna be home soon,” he speaks into the silence of the room and then guiltily ducks his head, blushing, even if there is no one around to hear him.
With a groan, he makes the journey to the bedroom in what feels like five minutes later, bumping into a little shelf on the way, and as soon as his head hits the pillow, he doesn’t even notice that he’s falling asleep.
When he wakes up again, the room is drenched in light, the first rays of sunlight tickling his nose, and Manu groans as his back pops when he stretches his arms over his head. Turns out that spending the night on a too-narrow, almost-too-short couch when you both have your foot in a brace and are pregnant is in fact a terrible idea – all his bones hurt when he gets up, and that’s on top of the actual, still omnipresent pain from his injury.
(He almost falls over his own feet as he tries to pick up his crutches from the floor. Some days, he really curses being so damn tall.)
He takes his time with getting to Säbener, knowing that the team won’t be back too early, especially not if talks were already had back in Paris. He’s leaning against the wall when the bus pulls into its regular spot, and when Joshua is the first to emerge from it, frowning, he realizes that he needs to do everything he can to support his team, even if it’s only emotional support he can offer. He gives most of them a hug, and even though some of the boys can’t manage more than a pained, small smile, he can tell that they appreciate him being there.
With a sigh, Manu wonders how many times he will be able to do this still until someone will would inevitably notice the tight belly bulging underneath his sweaters, or the way he’ll carry himself differently, even more carefully than now, crutches or not.
Thomas is one of the last ones to get out of the bus, and his face visibly perks up when he spots his partner waiting for him. Manu lets this hug linger a bit longer than the rest, resisting the urge to purr quietly when Thomas quickly lifts his hand to ruffle his hair, gently scratching the back of his head.
It feels too good to have him back, even when Manu can tell that this whole thing is dragging him down too, that Thomas maybe even feels responsible in a way – Manu can tell that it helps him having him back in his arms, too.
“Are you okay?” he asks when they separate, the concern all but tangible in his voice.
Thomas’ nod is distracted as he lowers his eyes.
“How are my two miracles?” he asks quietly, and his eyes sparkle even if Manu can tell he’s still chewing at this loss.
Manu shushes him, quickly throwing a look over his shoulder check if someone could have heard, but then he adds a quietly whispered “good”, and a half-smile to go with it. A gentle grin blossoms on Thomas’ face, even if there is still an ache in his features, and he lets his hand brush against Manu’s arm again.
“I’m glad. I’m really happy to see you, Manu.”
And with that, he hurries after the rest of the team before the bosses emerge from the bus as well.
(Ancelotti isn’t with them, Manu notices. He lifts his eyebrows but doesn’t comment on it. Instead, he just moves to the side as Hoeneß passes by him and shoots him a spiteful glance.
Manu barely resists the urge to roll his eyes at him.)
Chapter 7: Small Bump
Manuel looks beautiful in Thomas’ arms. He always has, of course, but ever since this summer – ever since he conceived, come to think of it – there has been a radiance to him that surpasses it all.
Pregnancy suits him, even if the only thing Thomas would get for voicing that out loud would be a sassy eyeroll (and possibly a pillow aimed at his head). Manu is famous for those, and sometimes Thomas really wonders how almost no one seems to pick up on the fact that Manu isn’t exactly the epitome of heterosexuality; of course, that in itself is not telling nor even a real stereotype … With a sigh, Thomas gives up on that train of thought and instead focuses on the perfect human being in his arms again.
They’re sitting outside in the garden, on one of the big deck chairs that they bought not too long ago, sturdy enough to support their combined weight. Manu’s back is resting against Thomas’ chest as he’s sitting between his legs. He feels heavier than usual, and when Thomas ghosts his hands over his boyfriend’s previously flat stomach, he grins as he notices why.
When Manu came to him with the surprise announcement they’re gonna be parents, that little shock wave that rocked their life from the core upwards, there was barely more than a hint. Now, he looks the part of a pregnant person – well, either that, or he’s downed four Mass of beer in one hour. Either way, the little bump looks lovely on him, and Thomas can’t help himself. He has to lean forward, pressing an upside down kiss on Manu’s forehead.
Manu grumbles and squints up at him, one eye closed because of the the awfully bright sky.
Thomas snickers, stealing himself another kiss.
“Is it interesting?” He nods towards the crumpled newspaper that the blond is still holding in his right hand. Half an hour ago, he started reading an article on male pregnancy that, unsurprisingly, caught his eye, and by now, Manu seems to have drifted to the Bavarian politics section, which he’s been perusing with a clear lack of interest as Thomas was busy with just looking at him.
Manu rolls his eyes as he throws the paper to the side. There’s sunlight reflecting in his hair and Thomas loves him fiercely. He leans down for another peck. Manu’s lips taste like the caramel chocolate he just ate and Thomas can feel him smile against his lips and he can’t believe this fairytale is his actual life.
They get interrupted when, inside, Manu’s phone rings in its signature Ed Sheeran ringtone, and the goalkeeper swings his legs over the edge of the chair with a groan. His brace looks heavy – Thomas luckily has never had to wear one himself, but early this summer he weighed Manu’s previous one in his hand after Manu’d taken the outer layer off for the night, astonished by how weighty it was. It must be a hassle, hauling that thing around when your body is already changing faster than you can adjust to it.
So just as Manu wants to pick up his crutches in order to stand up, Thomas scrambles to his feet, beating him to it, gentle pressing him back down on the chair.
“I’ll go get it for you.”
He ignores the way Manu frowns at that, already slipping through the sliding glass door.
It’s incredible, he muses as he’s twirling the phone in his hands five minutes later, how everyone seems so genuinely overtaxed with the fact that their record-keeping Number One is more than that now.
Kathleen, who does not even sound surprised when Thomas picks up instead of Manu, has called to tell him about the girl they’d hired to work with his boyfriend. She sounds quite resigned, even when Thomas can hear the smile in her voice when he tells her that Manu started showing. There’s exhaustion in her voice, and admittedly, Thomas feels guilty when he realizes that dealing with the giant public debacle that this could cause if it came to light must be causing her several sleepless nights.
He’s close to apologizing, but then he sees Manu awkwardly hobbling towards the house with only one crutch, his other hand on his stomach, so clearly unconsciously trying to protect their baby from being hurt. And he realizes that even with their profession and the already stressful current situation at the club, they have nothing at all to be sorry for. This is their private little miracle, and Thomas will do hell and enjoy it.
Manu almost stumbles through the door and Thomas is just barely there to catch him before he falls, huffing and puffing when his boyfriend’s full weight makes all his joints ache for the five seconds it takes to get him back to his feet.
Manu just nods with a distracted smile.
Later, as Manu heads to his first rehab session, Thomas goes to visit Lisa. He hasn’t been able to come to the stables as often, now that they’re not together anymore, both of them tied up in new relationships, but he still tries to be there as much as he can.
He finds his ex grooming one of their mares, a beautiful grey whom Thomas has known since she was a little foal. She snorts when she spots him, pushing her big head against his chest. Thomas smiles, scratching her neck in the way horses like.
“Hi beautiful, how are you? You’re a good girl, aren’t you?”
“Well, aren’t you in a good mood.” He hears Lisa’s grin before he can see it.
Thomas shrugs light-heartedly, turning to face her. “Yes, hi. Yeah, I am.”
Lisa pats the mare’s side, putting down the coarse brush before leaning over to wrap Thomas in a hug.
“Any special occasion?”
Dammit. She has always been too good when it comes to reading him, the way she could tell if there was something else going on. She’s always had that ability, from the day they first met, and even now, when they’re not nearly as involved in each other’s lives anymore as when they were together, she can still easily tell.
Thomas cannot hide his smile any further. He takes a deep breath, unable to stop a wide grin from overtaking his face, shaking his head, almost incredulously.
He’s not usually someone who has to grapple with his words, but here he is, cheeks hot, smiling like a lunatic, so, so happy that it makes him speechless, almost helpless, caught in the excitement that burns him from the inside out.
“Manu and I are having a baby.”
Lisa’s eyebrows rise up all the way to her hairline.
“Well, better him than me!” She’s grinning, but he can see the underlying layer of scepticism there. “Don’t mind me asking though, but isn’t it a bit early to adopt? It’s gonna be all over the papers in a matter of hours. I assumed you were only planning on doing so after your careers.”
Thomas shakes his head, then nods. He coughs, clearing his throat. “Not. Not like that. Manu, he’s. He’s A2-positive, you know? We found out because, well – he’s pregnant.”
“Holy fuck! Are you serious?”
Thomas grins. “Very much so. God I’m–” He covers his mouth with his hands, unable to hide his smile. “I know it’s all a bit of a mess, but I’m so fucking happy.”
Lisa snorts. “Sure hope you are, buddy. I would be concerned if you weren’t.” Her eyes grow softer, then. “You’ve always loved kids – even when you can hardly take care of yourself. I’m really happy for you. The both of you.”
She puts the brush back in the box with the others, petting the mare’s side once more before shooing Thomas out of the box, closing and locking it behind them. She doesn’t say anything else, and suddenly, Thomas starts to worry.
“Are you pissed off? We never even really thought about having kids in all the years of being married – and here I am, just over a year into a new relationship and with a baby already on the way.”
She doesn’t look at him, so he fears that he’s right, but then she speaks and her words prove him wrong.
“It’s not like you and Manu planned it, Thomas. If I remember correctly, Manu was supposed to be unable to conceive, so how could either of you have known? And if I’m being honest, I can see the two of you being better parents than the two of us could have been together.”
Thomas frowns. “Why would you say that?”
A small smile graces her lips. “Well, first of all, you balance each other out. Where you are upbeat, Manu is calm, where Manu is emotional, you are rational and down to earth. You’re a good team, the two of you. Maybe better than we ever were. Also, well, have you seen him with kids?”
Thomas has. He’s only accompanied him to his foundation once, on an undocumented, spontaneous visit. Seeing Manu’s smile that day, the way the children flocked around him, how he’d lifted them up one by one, playing with them, talking to them so gently and quietly that you could hardly believe this was the same man who becomes a raging fire on the pitch whenever they fight a losing game – thinking of it now assures him that whatever the future holds for them, it will fulfill their lives to the fullest.
He nods, and Lisa smiles.
“Let’s be real, with all the horses and our animals, our family was more than full already. We were both busy, and the truth is, we wouldn’t really have had the time for a kid.”
She’s right. It doesn’t stop him from feeling guilty though, that he’s never even seriously considered this with her, but Lisa stops him right in tracks by putting her hand on his arm.
“And if we had a family, maybe I would have never found Georg. Maybe you and Manu would be just teammates to this day. And if I’m being fully honest, I’m glad that didn’t happen. I loved you. I still do.” Her lips twist into a smile. “But in the end we were just teenagers who held onto their first love. With Georg it’s different. And you? Heck, I’m pretty sure everyone can tell just by the way you look at each other when you don’t try to hide it – Manu is the love of your life. This kid will be so loved. Even though,” she chuckles, “Jesus, I can’t believe Thomas Müller of all people will be a dad. Good luck to Manu, really.”
Thomas slaps her arm, but he can’t help but grin too.
Three days later, Manu gets up before Thomas. Usually, that’s a rarity, as Thomas loves to savour every hour of the morning, whereas Manu often prefers to sleep in – but now, Thomas just barely blinks his eyes open before he sees Manu shuffling out of the bedroom door, dressed only in his worn-out faded sleepshirt and boxers. With a grumble, Thomas swings his legs out of the bed, almost tangling them in the blankets and falling over in the process. After a bit of rummaging, he can only find one sock, so he leaves his feet bare.
He finds Manu in front of the full-sized mirror in the hallway, his hands on his stomach, gaping slightly an incredulous smile on his lips.
Thomas fondly shakes his head. Oh, Manu. Of course he’d only notice now.
It’s overdue, him showing, Thomas knows that. Manu might not have realized, but he’s done his own fair share of reading, too – on late nights in hotels, in a bed that felt too big without Manu in it, or on the bus, careful that Mats or Niklas or whoever was sitting next to him wasn’t able to read over his shoulder, asking questions he couldn’t answer.
Thomas has been trying to serve Manu’s every need as well as he could, and he feels a bit guilty, leaving him alone again and again, even when he knows that Manu would never want to keep him, would never ask for it – in fact, he’d likely kick Thomas’ ass if he prioritized him over football. Still, Thomas feels like he’s missing out, so he tries to make up to him by being as accommodating, as supportive as he possibly can, even though he knows Manu doesn’t like being babied.
Stubbornly, he shakes his head to get rid of the conflicting thoughts before taking the last few steps to approach his lover, wrapping his arms around him from behind, placing his chin on Manu’s shoulder, glancing into the mirror. He’s the perfect height to do that, and it feels so right to hold him like this, and the way Manu sighs contentedly when Thomas noses at the nape of his neck makes him feel like his stomach is filled with warm, liquid honey.
Manu is still staring at his small bump in strange wonder, and Thomas can’t help it, snickering quietly.
“I’ve noticed it three days ago already, you know. But I didn’t want to spook you.”
Everything in their relationship has happened at Manu’s pace. Sure, it was the first relationship with a man for either of them, but Thomas loved Lisa, cherished her the best he could, whereas Manu has seen relationships as an obligation before, something that was expected from him by society rather than appreciating it for the beautiful, wondrous thing being truly in love actually is.
He hadn’t known what it felt like to be loved by someone he loved just as much in return before Thomas.
Thomas still feels incredibly lucky that he gets to be that man, the first person that Manuel Neuer fell in love with, and he’s trying to make it as good for him as possible, and so, at the beginning, he waited. Waited with their real first kiss until Manu bowed his head and pressed their lips together after weeks if not months of dancing around each other; waited for Manu to come to him afterwards, for as long as the older man needed to realize that Thomas wanted a relationship just as much as Thomas hoped he wanted it, too; waited with their first time until Manu was ready.
But some things in life you can’t plan, and here they are, skipping several steps, expecting their first child, with the first visible signs now in plain sight.
“It looks cute,” Thomas says when Manu shoots him an unsure glance in the mirror after he’s caressed his stomach, Thomas ducking away just quickly enough before Manu tries to slap him when Thomas pinches his side, crouching down to pick up the crutches, handing them to his boyfriend who fondly rolls his eyes, adjusting his shirt as it falls differently over his slightly rounded tummy.
Chapter 8: Tension
The weight comes on quicker after that, making a tiny but visible difference every day, and while the team slowly starts pulling themselves together and Thomas misses Manu more fiercely with every day that he doesn’t sense his calm presence on the training grounds, Manu’s body changes and his foot doesn’t. It’s not hard to see how much it frustrates him that he can’t help them in those trying times, so Thomas tries to steer the topic away from football as well as he possibly can.
Being captain is more than wearing the armband, he realizes during those days. Suddenly, the younger players look up to him, and the older ones seem to judge his mistakes more harshly, when they just used to see him as the class clown, the prankster, Radio Müller. Suddenly, he’s got a reputation to uphold, a role to fulfill not only on the pitch but also in the dressing room – everyone expects him to know what they should do, and slowly but surely, he can feel the pressure. He feels himself growing more serious, just a slight more taciturn, and he isn’t sure if he likes it.
Manu has never seemed bothered by the weight of captainship. Sure, everyone could tell he wasn’t born for it like Philipp had been, but he’d never acted any different since accepting the title, staying the same player, the same teammate he’s always been; even if he might not be the best captain there is in the world, he is a damn good one. It seems to work out for him, whereas Thomas just feels his grins getting more tight, his quips growing sharper, even snapping occasionally when he doesn’t intend to.
He’s never realized how much he relies on Manu to take the edge off him, to hold him back with a gentle, strong hand when his temper overcomes him, and wonders if he’s always been like this before he loved the man he loves now. He doesn’t find an answer to it.
It’s frustrating, and even though things with the team are looking up, they aren’t looking up fast enough for his or anyone else’s taste. To make matters worse, the whole thing takes a toll on his performance too, and even more so now than after the Euros, he hears about people doubting him at every corner, and at some point, he can feel himself starting to believe them, too.
So, things at work aren’t going ideally.
And then of course, there’s also Manu. Manu, who should be the constant happy factor in his life – he is, of course, always, even more so now that he’s having Thomas’ baby, glowing with it - but. But.
Manu is frustrated himself. Not with the pregnancy, even, but with the fact that he will be out for what feels like forever. He hasn’t actually said anything, but Thomas can see the way he grits his teeth, the way his expression clouds over whenever Thomas mentions anything that happens in training.
One morning, Manu is at breakfast with them before quietly disappearing to his physio appointment. He has taken to hiding his starter bump under baggy sweaters and hoodies that luckily, no one questions – after all, their goalkeeper has always had a thing for oversized tops – and him and Thomas still usually sit at the same table, especially when none of their superiors are around. As usual, they’re holding hands under the table; now more so than ever before Thomas fears that someone might see, fears that his hand will wander to Manu’s stomach and one of their colleagues might notice, but he can’t let go, he just can’t. So, he ignores the pointed look Manu sends him when he entwines their fingers, focusing on his fancy oatmeal so much he forgets to talk. Eventually, Manu sighs, almost yanking his hand away before he gets up, fishing his crutches from underneath the wooden bench, almost glaring at Thomas when he immediately springs up, trying to get them for him.
Once he’s gone, Joshua sends Thomas a strange look.
“Everything alright with you two?”
Thomas shrugs. Yeah, he wishes he knew.
At first, he’d ignored the rules the bosses set for them and went to see Manu during his physical therapy, was there for every appointment with the specialist they hired, but then Manu had frowned, and Thomas had remembered this whole thing dangling over their heads like a sword tied to a string, as if one wrong move, one touch too many would be enough to put them out of a job or even worse, to expose their secret in a time when Manu was at his most vulnerable and Thomas not on top of his game.
It had taken a readjustment period, getting used to not being around each other as much as they normally were. They’re used to always working at the same time, sleeping in the same bed almost every night. Sure, since Manu’s first injury last spring they’d already had a taste of what it means to be separated from each other, to get used to the away games where Thomas is hundreds of kilometers away from home and Manu tosses and turns in his bed until he finally finds sleep.
Not that Thomas has been faring much better, mind you. Heck, after a month or two of them starting to date he had already gotten used to wrapping his arms around Manu’s broad frame as well as he could, cradling him, holding him tight as Manu snuggled up to him in Thomas’ octopus grasp.
But this is different, and they can both feel it. Children grow faster than bones, and even if it’s not even been two weeks, already Thomas feels like he’s missing out on too much, and he knows Manu can pick up on it, can sense how on edge he is, and that his worries can’t just be attributed to the struggles at Bayern and the uncertainty of who their new coach will be.
So they keep bouncing their bad moods off of each other, and it’s making things worse. And Thomas. Thomas knows he’s overcompensating.
By the time he’s ready to leave for International Break at the beginning of October, he’s painfully aware of the fact that he’s doting on Manu at every possible moment. Every time the blond has to bend down to pick something up for the floor, Thomas is there to do it for him, even when it earns him a roll of Manu’s eyes each time. Thomas helps him get into his hoodies and jackets, he insists on making them breakfast every morning, as good as banning Manu from his own kitchen in the process – because really, neither he nor the baby should be close to all those sharp appliances – even though he can hardly produce something more than scrambled eggs, burnt bacon and soggy cereal.n general, Thomas acts like Manu is made out of glass, hushing him whenever he tries to do something just a bit more straining, even if it’s only to go out to grab some more milk.
Every moment that could only slightly inconvenience his partner or their baby, Thomas senses almost instinctively, interrupting Manu’s actions before something could actually happen, even if it only adds to the mental strain he’s already feeling. This responsibility on top of the professional one he bears at the moment is simply too much. Yet even though he’s aware of it, he can’t help it; it’s almost obsessive. He needs to take care of them.
And worst of all, he knows that Manu is annoyed by it.
At first, the times he rolled his eyes were fond, slightly exasperated but laced with genuine affection, but by now, he’s frowning or scowling whenever Thomas figuratively rolls out a golden carpet in front of him. Usually, Manu loves Thomas taking care of him, loves being able to lean back for a while, having his boyfriend spoil him and fulfill his every wish. He’s a bit of a control freak when it comes to his profession, Thomas knows – for a goalkeeper, that’s almost a mandatory character trait – so he expressed it feels nice to just let go, having someone else take the lead for once.
They’ve talked talked about this before (or rather, Thomas did, a happy smile gracing his lips when he could feel Manu sigh in relief from where he was leaning against his chest, as if Thomas acknowledging those needs was all he needed to truly unwind) and usually, it works out perfectly for them. And it’s not like Thomas doesn’t know where the problem lies – this is not about him being caring and loving, this is about him being overprotective to a degree that it borders on overbearing. But still, he can’t help it. Not when Thomas knows that Manu is under severe mental stress, re-aligning his own role in society and in the business of football with the fact that he’s now pregnant and going to be a father, when Thomas knows how bad the turmoil raging inside Manu must be upon realizing that he’ll have to go through coming out, one of the things he fears the most, again and again over the next few weeks, just to assure safety for their child.
Not when Thomas knows what an unwelcoming place the football world is for the likes of them.
Not when the stress Manu is so clearly under could cause harm to the baby and the father, both to the man he loves more than anyone or anything else in this world (and that includes football) and the child Thomas grew to love the very first second he learned of its existence.
Because god, does he love their baby. He’s taken to the idea faster than Manu, and now that he pictures little feet running around their house every single day, delighted at the idea, he can’t stop. Can’t stop wanting the best for them at all times.
He’s pretty sure that Manu knows that he only means well, but he can see him biting his tongue every time, turning his head way before his expression grows genuinely pissed off, trying to avoid conflict but still causing a sharp twinge in Thomas’ stomach, igniting an apprehension that at first is so tiny it’s barely there, but that then grows and grows. Somehow, they manage to stay in this weird limbo of neither of them addressing the issues, both of them growing more and more strained, clearly upset by how the other is acting but not doing anything about it, both so clearly crap at dealing with this new situation. It makes Thomas wonder and almost fear thinking about how it will be once there’s a third person in their family to think of, to incorporate into their day when already now, they’re struggling.
And when he’s leaving for the National Team, asking Manu for the hundredth time if he will be okay, knowing he’s fretting but genuinely worrying at the same time, Manu finally snaps at him.
“I’m not made of porcelain, Müller! I can handle this!”
Thomas flinches as if it had been a real strike instead of a verbal one. They don’t use last names with each other, never have – Manu usually doesn’t even address him by Mull, like their teammates are so fond of – and Thomas can feel the corners of his mouth tugging downwards, his heart clenching.
Manu looks at him with sad, wide eyes, as if he can’t quite believe his own outburst, guiltily gnawing on his bottom lip. Suddenly, he looks so lost in the middle of their hallway, and even if it feels wrong in this situation, Thomas leans forward and tries to peck him on the cheek, but Manu turns his head away before Thomas’ lips can meet his stubble, sending a cold flash through the younger one’s heart.
Deflated, Thomas takes a step back. “Alright. See you in a week.”
And then he leaves, not looking back.
Chapter 9: Making Up
Manu’s heart aches when he denies Thomas his last kiss and sees him closing the door without another word. He watches him drive away from the kitchen window and it feels wrong, wrong, wrong.
He makes the trek to the living room as if he was walking through a dream, groaning when he finally collapses on one of the plush armchairs, his hand automatically settling over his tummy. He still can’t fully believe how different it looks from two weeks ago – already, when not wearing a baggy jumper, he’s visibly pregnant. Now, only in a pair of regular sweatpants and a t-shirt that used to be somewhere in between loose and form-fitting, it’s glaringly obvious.
He throws his head back, closing his eyes as he leans against the headrest. He’s tired, both mentally and physically, and he’s insecure about what’s happening to him. He’s still adjusting, and even if it all comes to him a lot easier now, dealing with the alien feeling of his stomach growing softer and firmer at the same time as he watches on while it’s slowly bowing outwards–
It’s a shitty, strange feeling, especially not being able to talk about it with anyone. Sure, he’s got the staff at Bayern, Kathleen, his physios, doctors, and Thomas, of course … but suddenly, despite the fear that held him captive for longer than having new life growing in his stomach, he has the urge to call some of his hometown friends, people who have known him since his childhood years and might not know him at all anymore, wants to call his mum and ask her for advice even knowing it’d be a shock for her.
But he knows, he knows that everyone else he tells is a liability. He shudders. Without Thomas around, without him doting, fussing, he feels alone, he realizes. Not just lonely, but truly alone.
In fact, he realizes that he’s been feeling that way for quite a while. Thomas has helped, of course, to pull him out of the dark hole he’d lived in ever since he admitted to himself that he doesn’t like girls, not at all, but only now is he able to grasp the full extent of how much he’s isolated himself, how alone he is.
With tears brimming in his eyes, he curses the world, his own fate, furiously wiping the hot droplets away. There is no point to wanting to change football, he knows that better than anyone.
(It was him who talked about it, back when he was younger, young and so oblivious. “Gay footballers should just out themselves.” He scoffs at his own juvenile naivety. If it only were that easy.
Maybe, one day, the football world will change, but now is not that day.)
As it is, it’s daunting, and Manu realizes with a fierce protectiveness blubbering in his insides that he wants to keep his baby away from the shark tank that is the toxic mix of the media, problematic sponsors, greedy clubs and intolerant fans at all cost.
And suddenly, he misses Thomas more than he ever thought he could, regrets his harsh words, just wants to feel those surprisingly strong gangly arms around his waist and his skinny legs tangled with his own at night.
The week that follows is maybe one of the worst he’s ever had.
On Tuesday, he goes for the last post-surgery check-up and promptly receives a scare when it first looks as if something is not healing correctly. He feels his heart beating in his throat, and curls his fingers into the sleeve of his sweater as the doctor lets out a relieved chuckle.
He still feels alienated in his own body as he looks down, smoothing his hand over the gentle curve. Thomas doesn’t call, and Manu knows he has to be the one to apologize first, but he can’t bring himself to go through with it, thumb hovering over the unsent message, afraid of having to explain himself, explain something he doesn’t really understand himself. He doesn’t, though, and deletes the text again with a sigh before twisting the phone in his hand and throwing it on his bed as he gets up.
He forgets it there when he leaves for Säbener, and when he comes home, there’s still no call.
That night, Germany wins against Northern Ireland, and Manu and Thomas keep avoiding talking to each other. Thomas has never given him the cold shoulder before, and it stings, and finally, Manu realizes that he needs to be there the moment when the boys return to Munich, that they need to do this in person and not over the phone. Maybe it’s the coward’s way out, but nevertheless, it’s the best solution.
And with that, Manu prepares for a few more sleepless nights without the man he loves.
(When he lies on the sheets, feeling too hot and too cold all at once, small in the endless darkness of the room, one hand on his stomach as always, feeling a soft thump against his palm for the first time, he can barely suppress a sob, grinding his teeth when he realizes it’s his own fault that Thomas missed it.)
Bayern appoints Jupp the day after the boys win against Azerbaijan. Hoeneß calls Manu a few hours before they make it public to keep him up to date, and to Manu’s surprise, he casually asks him about how he and the baby are doing before they hang up. Manu is so baffled that he barely manages to stutter out a response. Their president hangs up on him with a chuckle, and Manu stares at his phone in bewilderment.
He almost drops it when another notification pops up right after.
I think we need to talk.
Manu blinks at the screen. Then he blinks again, his heart dropping down to his knees.
I’m not breaking up with you, silly. Just making that clear cause I know you’re already overthinking and fearing for the worst. But I think we’ve avoided talking to each other for long enough. I can’t go on like this. And I’m pretty sure neither can you
Manu can feel the weight drop from his shoulders as if it has been physically resting on them.
When he puts his hand on his tummy as he gets up, his thoughts and heart full of Thomas – his smiles, his cackling laugh, the crinkles by his eyes and the way they shine whenever he looks at Manu with adoration; the way he misses him – he can feel the baby kick again.
‘Yeah’, he thinks with a soft smile, ‘I miss him too.’
And when he writes Thomas that exact same message, the tiny red heart he gets sent in return is enough to make his stomach flutter.
It feels like relief, holding Manu in his arms again. Thomas is trembling a bit – or actually, that might be Manu, it’s really hard to tell with how closely they’re standing to each other.
They haven’t resolved things, not yet, but already, he can feel some of the anxiety easing off both their shoulders, can see by Manu’s exhausted but happy, small but genuine smile that he’s just as relieved to have him back as Thomas is to hug him, have him.
He brushes through the blond’s hair, gently scratching his head.
“I’m glad to see you’re alright. I worry, you know?”
He doesn’t say that Manu should have called, or that he should have himself; they both know it, anyway.
Manu huffs. Of course, he doesn’t admit that he should have apologized first – he’s one stubborn idiot, something Thomas has learned long before they became a couple. But it’s the way Manu leans into his hand that makes him know things are alright, that they are alright even after everything. They still have to talk about stuff, of course, but first, Thomas raises onto his tiptoes, angling his head just perfectly to quickly press his lips against Manu’s, savouring the familiar taste, the familiar feeling, smiling when a soft sigh escapes his partner’s lips.
They relocate to the kitchen. It’s raining outside, the drops heavy against the windows, drenching the dry ground with direly needed nourishment. Thomas keeps his arm around Manu’s shoulder as they walk. It’s not the same as holding his hand or even onto his waist, but almost the only thing possible with the crutches in the way.
Manu leans against the counter with a groan as Thomas fishes two sodas out of the fridge, tossing him one – even with his foot in ruins and his torso out of its usual sculpted shape, the goalkeeper’s hands and reflexes are as quick as always.
It’s incredible, the way his body seems to have softened over the past week alone, Thomas muses. It wasn’t as noticeable when he was there for it, but now, the changes Manu is going through are obvious.
“How have you been doing?” Thomas asks.
Manu sighs. “Not that great, to be honest.”
He doesn’t elaborate, so Thomas prods further. “Just because of the thing with us? Or is your foot giving you grief? Or the baby?” He really hopes it’s neither of the latter two, and relaxes a bit when Manu is quick to shake his head.
“I’m just.” He gnaws at his lips. “I hate how it feels like you’ve started to patronize me ever since, um … I know my mobility is limited at the moment, and that you want to be as supportive as you can, but it’s just …”
Thomas is sure that Manu wants to say annoying but he can see him bite his tongue before he does. He knows that Thomas hates being called that, that so many people have used it as an insult whenever they wanted to make fun of him – and it ignites a warm, happy feeling in Thomas’ stomach when he realizes Manu remembers that bit of information, is considerate enough not to.
With a fond little shake of his head, he extends his free hand, brushing his fingers over Manu’s before the blond turns his around, weaving their fingers together as Thomas lets him continue.
“And everything is just so different. This whole situation, it’s a lot, and I …” Manu shrugs.
“But that’s exactly why I want to be there for you. I don’t want you to have to go through this alone.”
Thomas knows how concerned he sounds, and it’s a bit ridiculous. Despite not being exactly how he might seem on the pitch, despite being more emotional and emotionally vulnerable than most people give Manu credit for, despite all that, he’s still one of the strongest people Thomas knows. But be it just the concern of a lover or the worry of a father-to-be; Thomas just can’t help himself. He brushes his thumb over the back of Manu’s hand as Manu looks up with a crooked grin.
“But I’m not. I have you.”
Thomas huffs, frowning. He knows what Manu means, but–. “I hate being away from you so much.”
Manu sighs. “Me too.”
“I will try to not fuss as much, I promise, but.” Thomas puts his drink down, running his hand through his hair. “I just want to be there for you at all times. Who knows when something will happen, if I’ll miss an important moment … And – I miss you.” He lowers his eyes. “Both of you.”
A smile tugs at his mouth when Manu leans forward to peck him on the cheek.
“I know. But as it is, you have a duty to our team. Teams. And as your captain I’ll personally kick your ass if you don’t fulfill it.”
Thomas scoffs quietly, smile softening when his eyes meet Manu’s. “I also have a duty to said captain, though. Because I love him.”
It feels good to say it. He hasn’t, he realizes, not since the moment when he learned about the pregnancy.
This, time, Manu’s smile reaches his eyes, making them shine and twinkle like an early evening summer sky. He ducks his head, just enough so that he can slot their lips together comfortably. When he pulls away after a gentle, soft press of their mouths against each other, he looks more vulnerable, more honest than Thomas has ever seen him.
“I love you, too.”
For a moment, they get lost in each other’s eyes, until Manu suddenly perks up, grabbing Thomas’ hands and placing them on his stomach.
Thomas raises his eyebrows.
“Wait for it!” Manu says, and he looks as excited as a kid in a candy store.
“Wait for – oh.”
It’s just the tiniest thud against his palm, soft enough to be missed if it wasn’t for the way Manu is grinning so broadly, or the fact that seconds later, Thomas feels the exact same sensation again. He looks up at his boyfriend with wide eyes.
“Is that …?!”
Manu nods, beaming, looking so incredibly proud that Thomas just has to grin back, his lips spreading so widely that he can feel the strain on his cheeks. He blinks when he realizes that there are tears gathering in his eyes.
He wipes them away with a quiet laugh, shaking his head at his own silliness. “Christ, look at me getting all emotional.” He shakes his head in fondness. “Goddamn, Manuel Neuer. I love you.”
It takes Thomas no time at all to realize that even now, with things between them resolved, Manu is not really dealing with the changes in his body all that well. It’s the way he frowns whenever he risks a glance in the mirror, the way he avoids being around the house with a naked torso, the way he puts on the baggiest sweaters he can find. It’s almost painful to watch, really, so Thomas does whatever he can to make him feel good.
One morning Thomas finds him in front of the hallway mirror again, or rather, hurrying past it as fast as well as he can, when he used to check if his hair is sitting right every time, or just to give himself a fleeting, encouraging smile.
But now, there's nothing, and so it’s Thomas who calls out for him, stopping him in his tracks.
“Schatz?” Manu looks at him questioningly. “Have a good day, beautiful.”
Manu blushes, nodding awkwardly before turning around, rushing out the door.
And so it continues. A bit of flattery here, a compliment there. And while his boyfriend usually just rolls his eyes at it, Thomas means every word of it. There's something so special to it, now that Manu carries their child. Gosh, he's gorgeous. Maybe even more so than ever before. And Thomas will make him see it, if it’s the last thing he does.
They’re at Säbener when Manu calls him out on it. Thomas came up to visit him, Manu's physio welcoming him with half a smile as Thomas takes his boyfriend’s hand.
“Hello gorgeous. Everything alright?”
Manu frowns. "Why are you saying that?"
Thomas blinks innocently. “What do you mean?”
Manu sighs, shuffling around on the daybed he’s laying on. “I'm not gorgeous. I look like a beached whale.”
To be fair, considering his broken foot makes him not entirely but almost helpless when it comes to moving around on his own, he isn't all that wrong – but not in the way that Manu means.
Thomas squeezes his hand. Manu is perched on his side – usually, he would lie on this stomach for this particular type of therapy, but considering the baby as well as the thin mattress he’s laying on, that isn’t the best idea.
Manu doesn’t say anything else, stubbornly ignoring Thomas’ presence, and after five minutes, the physio exchanges a worried glance with his co-workers who is typing something into the computer on the other side of the room. Thomas isn’t even surprised when ten minutes later, when Manu’s thigh has been thoroughly kneaded, they make an excuse and leave them alone.
With a groan, Manu sits up, crossing his arms over his chest. It’s the first time Thomas has seen his torso naked in way too long, and it draws his gaze to his big biceps, his strong chest, his stomach rounding out adorably beneath it.
For a moment, it almost seems like he wants to hide it.
Thomas sighs, crouching down in front of him. “You're carrying our child, Manu. You've never been more beautiful to me.”
Judging by the way Manu huffs, Thomas figures that he managed to hit the core of the matter really fast. Manu bites his bottom lip. When he releases it from his teeth, it’s pink, slightly swollen.
“I know. And I – I really really love this kid. I’m excited. But …” he trails off, only looking up when Thomas puts a hand on his knee.
“Words, Manu. Please, tell me.”
Another exasperated sigh.
“It’s just. I’m not supposed to – I’m not supposed to look like this. To even be able to do this. I'm a footballer! I mean, I don’t even look like an athlete anymore.”
Thomas huffs. “Bullshit. You’re still a footballer. One of the best ones I’ve ever seen, matter of fact. That you’re pregnant now changes nothing about that. In fact, what you’re doing is extraordinary. And in the new year, next summer, you just wait – you’ll be back to your old form in no time.”
Manu huffs. “You can't promise that.”
“Of course I can’t. But I know you. And I know you'll do everything to make it happen.”
And that, finally teases a smile onto Manu’s lips.
Thomas smirks, standing up straight before putting his hands on Manu’s shoulders, leaning down for a quick peck. “And for the record – pregnancy suits you. You really do look stunning.” His smile grows softer as he recalls something. “Do you remember that I told you that you were glowing? Just before you broke your foot and we found out?”
“It's about tenfold now.”
“It’s just becoming more and more real, somehow,” Manu says later that day, when they’re at home in their own office, their toes touching under the table. “It’s weird. We’re gonna have a kid, Thommy.”
Thomas has been going over some sponsorship contracts his agent sent him, and is happy to be distracted from the boring work. He grins. “Heck yeah we are! I can’t wait.”
Manu shakes his head, pulling out another printed out report page that the people from his kids' foundation sent him.
“I mean neither can I, but. You know,” – he pauses, seeming almost unsure if he wants to continue at all – “I never thought I would have kids. Not really.”
Thomas frowns. This is new. “Really?”
“Yeah. I mean. With Karthin I didn't want to. Couldn’t imagine it.”
Wonder why, Thomas thinks and barely resist snorting.
“And then I didn’t think I would ever find a man I would trust enough to –” Manu sighs. “Back then, before we got together, I couldn’t imagine I would ever be so lucky to meet someone I would be able to have a family with.”
He sounds a bit choked, and Thomas wants to do nothing more than to reach over, hold his shoulder, hug him, squeeze those past worries out of him at once.
“These kids,” – Manu nods towards his files – “I really do want to help them, do something for my community. But I also thought they’d be the closest to my own family I’d ever have.”
Now, Thomas does get up, walking around their desks to come up behind Manu, wrapping his arms around his shoulders as tightly as he can, burying his face in Manu’s soft hoodie. He moves his hand further down, settling over Manu’s heartbeat, his own guts clenching even more when he realizes how fast it's pounding.
“And then we happened. But we never talked about it, and you’ve never mentioned if you and Lisa ever did. And it made me so fucking sad, the thought that I would never be able to give you what she could have. That we wouldn’t be able to adopt without it potentially getting all over the media.”
He takes, a deep, rattling breath, and Thomas lifts his head, leaning his cheek against Manu’s, holding him closer. Manu’s stubble scratches his cheek, and it's a reminder of who Thomas is holding in his arms.
He wants to say something – anything – desperately, but Manu isn’t finished.
“And here I am, somehow able to do the impossible. To give us the kid I always thought I’d never have. Give you the family you’re so excited for. And I’m scared shitless. God, what is wrong with me?”
“Nothing.” Thomas voice is sharp, harsher than he intended it to be, but he has never felt so sure about anything before. “Nothing is wrong with you at all. You were thrust into a completely new situation that neither of us were prepared for or know how to deal with. You didn’t even know you could get pregnant. And you’re injured too! If you weren’t overwhelmed and had doubts, it would be very strange. God, I have no idea if I could deal with all of this if it were me. I’m pretty sure I would have gone insane quite a while ago.”
His tone grows softer, then, and he leans in, pressing his lips against Manu’s temple. “You’re doing great, love. And all of this,” – he makes a vague hand gesture – “just tells me even more how great of a person you really are. And how great of a father you’re going to be.”
Manu sniffles, frowning at his own tears but wiping them away with a smile, and Thomas holds him close and loves him. So fricking much.
A few days later on a lazy Monday evening, they’re relaxing on their bed in sweatpants and soft t-shirts. Thomas has his head resting on Manu’s thigh and is scrolling through his twitter feed as Manu is watching something on YouTube while eating some cake that he produced from god-knows-where. It’s not on their regular diet, of course, but when Thomas pointed that out, his boyfriend only shut him up with a dirty look and justified his sudden taste for sweets with pregnancy cravings.
His munching is a bit distracting, and so Thomas puts down his phone, reaching up to stroke his boyfriend’s side, effectively shutting it up when it makes Manu pause, the fork raised halfway to his mouth, looking at him questioningly.
“Do we know if you’re having a boy or a girl?”
Manu blinks at him as if he just asked him if he knows if they’re gonna win the Champions League that year. Thomas squeezes his hip, feeling a grin tug at his lips.
“I guess that’s a no, then.”
Manu shrugs. “I didn’t think to ask. Had other things on my mind, you know.” He rolls his eyes.
Thomas hums, smiling when Manu puts down his plate, lifting his head so he can look at him properly, turning around until he’s faced with Manu’s sloped stomach, starting to trace patterns over the tight skin that’s covered only by a thin layer of cotton. He presses a kiss on it, soft and gentle.
“Don’t you want to know?”
After another shrug and a short moment of consideration, Manu slowly shakes his head. “I think I’d like it to be a surprise.”
“A surprise.” Thomas traces his name on Manuel’s tummy, smiling when it makes Manu bite back a giggle. He isn’t that ticklish, but Thomas’ feather-light touch is enough tingle his senses. “Yeah, why not.”
He rolls to the side, scrambling into a sitting position before he leans in for a kiss, and he can feel Manu smile against his lips as he quickly pushes his tongue further, tenderly demanding access.
They lazily make out for a few minutes, and it feels so so good; so good to be close to him like this again after all those weeks were they barely exchanged more than goodbye pecks and quick hugs. Thomas wraps an arm around Manu’s shoulders – broad and thick, and he’s always loved the way Manuel felt in his arms, as if he was made for being cuddled – and pulls him closer.
He draws away again when something else pushes itself to the forefront of his mind.
“What about names?”
Manu chases after his lips like a drowning man, and Thomas grins when he notices that his eyes are already a bit dazed, unfocused, and he’s licking over his lips. Always so easy to wind up, his captain, Thomas thinks, grinning lazily as he runs one hand through Manu’s hair, something that’s bound to get him melting under his touch.
It takes Manu a while to answer, too, but then he rolls on his back, resting his hand on his stomach. “I don’t know. Maybe Sophie if it’s a girl?”
Thomas ponders that for a while – it’s a pretty name, but it doesn’t really feel quite right, either – then shrugs. Or well, he attempts to, which isn’t that easy when you’re laying on your side, watching your partner. Manu’s eyelashes are pretty long, especially considering that his hair is dark blonde. Thomas loves his eyes, that deep, stormy blue-gray that’s so easy to drown in, and the lashes just make them look more beautiful – just like the birthmarks that make them stand out just that much more.
He touches Manu’s neck with his fingertips, watching the corners of boyfriend’s mouth twitch.
“What about Anna?”
Manu firmly shakes his head. “No, that’s too simple.”
“And if it’s a boy?” Thomas prods further, playing with Manu’s hair.
Another shrug, then Manu shuffles around, careful not to move his foot too much. He’s sitting up again, and after glancing down a couple times, he sighs before picking up the plate and his fork again.
“Maybe … I would like to just wait, I think. I think we’ll know once we meet them. And maybe just a nickname until then. Like peanut or something.”
That’s a sweet idea, and Thomas likes it a surprising lot – everything else in their lives has been carefully planned, dictated by the wish to play professionally and putting their careers above everything else. It seems right, exciting even, to leave something like that up to fate and a spontaneous choice, for once.
Manu is munching on his cake again, staring wistfully out of the window where the colours are slowly fading from the world.
Thomas moves closer to him, placing his head on his shoulder, smiling when he can feel Manu pause, probably glancing down at him.
“I like that. Good thinking, love. But,” – he brushes a few crumbs aside from where they’re dusted all over the sheets – “cravings or not, you really shouldn’t eat in bed. Du verkrümelst mir hier noch alles!” ¹
And suddenly, Manu stills, looking down at him with wide eyes as a grin slowly starts to spread on his lips. “What?”
“I think I just figured out our kid’s nickname.”
Thomas raises his eyebrows. “Yeah?”
“Krümel …” Thomas sounds it out, and he can feel himself smile. With a jolt, he pulls away, leaning down again, pushing Manu’s shirt up. His skin is tight and it looks so different to the abs Thomas is used to seeing there, but when their baby kicks against his touch again, as if it could feel him waiting, he grins and leans down to peck it.
“Hello there little Krümel. Your papa and I can’t wait to meet you.”
And he doesn’t even pay attention to Manu rolling his eyes at him being cheesy yet again.
¹ roughly: 'you're covering everything in crumbs!'
Chapter 11: A Walk in the Woods
They have a few moments like that over the next few weeks, soft and slow, as if to compensate for the stress that ruled over them before. To Manu, it almost feels like a bubble, like his own private sanctuary that he has the good fortune of being able to live in.
The bubble gets burst on a quiet, foggy day in November.
They’re out for a walk, if you can even call it that when Manu huffs and puffs after fifteen minutes already, inconvenienced both by his brace and the crutches as well as all the new weight of the baby added to his body; his center of gravity shifted in two ways.
Thomas walks next to him with his hands stuffed into the pockets of his leather jacket, staring out into the forest with a quiet tranquility that he only rarely possesses. The pale sunlight, just so pressing through the thick fog, makes his features seem harsher, more distinct, casting shadows where there are usually none. Nevertheless, the smiles he directs at Manu are soft, fond, able to make Manu feel warm even if he regrets passing up on his winter coat for a thinner, shorter jacket.
A few meters ahead, Momo bustles about in the leaves. By now, the trees are bare of them, and they all pile up on the ground, rotting in the most beautiful colours.
Thomas has just come back from International Break earlier that morning, and while Manu is happy to see him again, has missed his touch, his smile, his laugh and the way he can fill every room, every space with words, he coped better being without him this time. In fact, apart from the obvious falling asleep issues, what stayed, what still stings the most is the nagging voice in the back of his mind that whispers that he should be there with the team, wearing the armband of a captain, not Thomas.
(No matter how incredible his boyfriend looks with it stretched around the biceps that comes seemingly out of nowhere – confident, authoritative.)
He knows that the chance that he’ll return to the National Team in time for the World Cup, hell, even at all, is already minimal and getting slimmer with every friendly that he misses.
Manu sighs, and it's apparently enough to pull Thomas out of his deep thoughts.
He reaches out for Manu, and Manu stops. A few steps ahead, they find a bench. The wood is wet and creaks under their combined weight, but Manu is glad for the break. It’s almost embarrassing, how little it takes for him to get out of breath these days.
“My mum called,” Thomas says, rubbing his chin. “She wanted to know if you’re coming over for Christmas, like last year, if we would come together. I didn't really know what to tell her, because, well.”
He doesn't even need to glance down at the bump for it to be clear what he means.
The year before, it had been the first time Thomas took him to meet his parents as his boyfriend instead of just a teammate. In retrospect, choosing Christmas Day for such a meeting maybe wasn’t the best idea, but in the end, everything worked out perfectly.
Manu had been nervous, of course, but Klaudia Müller had pulled him into a tight hug the second her son let the cat out of the bag.
“I have been wondering if my Thomas has been able to find love again. I’m very happy he found it in you, Manuel.”
And despite fearing that he would feel like an intruder, the opposite happened – Manu almost immediately felt at home in Pähl and his boyfriend’s parents’ house.
“See, nothing to worry about,” Thomas said afterwards, and Manu smiled and had to agree.
But things are different now.
“Do you think they’d mind?”
Thomas looks at him as if he just said that he wanted to transfer to Dortmund.
“Are you crazy? Of course not! But,” – his smile is crooked, almost apologetic, “it’s a bit much, isn't it.”
Manu guesses that is true. After all, it seems like they only just became a couple. For them to turn up with the news of a future grandchild only a year later … it’s a lot.
He frowns when Thomas snorts.
“I meant for you, doofus. I just wanna know if you’re ready. It’s all up to you.”
Manu rolls his eyes. Of course he’s ready. He really has no doubts at all when it comes to Thomas’ parents. They raised both their sons to be very open-minded – so much that Thomas’ realization that he was bisexual had been barely more than a fleeting thought he didn’t spare much attention to at all – something Manu is, admittedly, quite jealous of.
But now that Thomas bought it up, there’s something else nagging at him. He sucks his bottom lip between his teeth, focusing his gaze on the slippery gravel path underneath his feet.
“Mam expects me to spend Christmas Eve with her and Marcel.”
She hasn’t called yet, but it’s only a matter of time. They hardly talk these days, and actually, Manu knows he is the one who should dial her number, give her an update on his injury, on his life, anything that isn’t just a curt text message. But what should he even talk about when he has to leave out all the most important parts? Yeah, occasionally, being in the closet really sucks. He really wonders if he’ll be able to hide the baby bump from her, if he even should – but no, dumping everything on her all at once is hardly the way to go. Especially considering–
Especially because he cannot be sure, doesn’t know if she shares his father’s views, whose derogatory remarks about gay men over the years of his childhood and teen years have played a big part in why Manu only was comfortable admitting that he is interested in men and in men exclusively when he was in his late twenties. He hopes she doesn’t, but you can never be safe enough.
Even when – especially when family is concerned. After all, you can’t fix something that is already broken.
Manu only now notices how Thomas is carefully observing him, his mismatched eyes mirroring his own concern.
“You okay, sweetheart? You went awfully quiet there. And for you, that’s saying something.”
Manu sighs, too troubled even to respond to Thomas’ light teasing, before pulling himself together and giving his boyfriend a crooked smile. “Sure.”
They quickly agree that Manu should spend Christmas Eve with his mother and brother, and then join Thomas and his family on the 26th. Manu hasn’t called his mother yet, but considering he already bailed the year before, mumbling something about a couple’s retreat (which wasn’t technichnically a lie, at least) she probably expects him to visit either way.
He fiddles with his phone, finding himself delaying the call again and again. It’s been a week since their walk, and he knows he should just get this over with. He rubs his eyes. They hurt from staring at the screen for too long, too used to the healing light of the sun from spending so much of his life outside. In the end, it’s almost accidental when he presses the call button, and he startles when he suddenly hears his mother’s voice.
Manu takes a deep breath. “Um. Hi, Mam.”
She has a bad habit of not usually checking the caller ID before picking up, so it’s no wonder that he can hear her gasp quietly. It really has been too long since he called.
“Manu! Oh it’s so nice to hear from you, honey, how are you?”
He can feel a smile tugging at his lips. Despite everything, it’s good to hear her voice. “I'm fine, yeah.”
The smalltalk goes on for about five minutes. In that short span of time, Manu learns what all of his mother's neighbours are up to, how Marcel's students are behaving, that their aunt’s cat has died … He interrupts her when she starts talking about the new mall in the suburbs, picking at a thread that has come loose from the seam of his shirt.
“Can I come over for Christmas?”
He can almost hear her wide smile.
“Oh, honey, of course! I hoped you would, anyway. Will it be just you again?”
Manu hums affirmatively. His mother sighs.
“Are you sure you want to come alone? Family includes significant others, too, you know that!”
Except that she has no idea who his actual significant other is.
Manu rests his free hand on his stomach, smiling faintly when he feels Krümel kick, then sighing.
“It’s not what it looks like, Mam.”
“Well, if you're sure.”
After that, the conversation stays stiff, awkward, and if it initially evoked memories of a childhood that was, despite everything and especially after his father left, filled with warmth, now it only reminds him how he and his mother are basically strangers to each other now.
After saying their goodbyes, and Manu has put down his phone, he groans, letting his tired body fall back against the soft cushions of the couch. There’s a queasy feeling in his stomach that doesn’t want to pass, and he’s sure it’s not pregnancy-induced nausea this time.
Later, Thomas comes home and upon seeing his wide smile, how he quickly rushes towards Manu, hugging him as if they haven’t seen each other in weeks, smiling and talking a mile an hour, Manu soon forgets about his sorrows.
It’s only late at night, when the shadows are heavy and Thomas long asleep that his guts begin to twist and turn again, keeping him from drifting away. And after turning again and again, Manu falls asleep with the knowledge that, in three weeks’ time, he will be faced with the ghosts of his past.
Whether he wants to or not.
December passes in a rush of seeing Christmas related everything for sale at every corner, the first snow and Manu attending as many of Bayern’s home games as he can – which works fairly well, thanks to big winter coats and even bigger scarves. Winter break arrives faster than he wants it to, and before he even knows, he has to take the plane to get to Düsseldorf.
Thomas drives him to the airport and leaves him with sad eyes and a short peck on his cheek when no one is looking. Manu really wishes he would have been able to take him up on his offer to spend the entire Christmas with his family in Pähl, even when it would mean they’d have to tell them about the pregnancy a bit earlier than they intended to. As it is, they’re planning to do it when he joins them in a few days anyway but –
No, he can’t wiggle out of his mum’s plans yet again. He’s seen neither her or his brother Marcel since he found out that he’s pregnant – for obvious reasons. Heck, he didn’t even talk to either of them for weeks before he finally made that call.
It’s not like he doesn’t want to see her, but seeing that there’s a significant part of his life that he’s been keeping from her, one that is now so clearly obvious … he smooths his hand over his sweater and hopes no one except for the people checking his ticket and passport will recognize him. Because if he’s being honest, the fact that he’s pregnant is maybe not obvious but at least an easy guess by now.
He gets lucky, and so he spends the twenty minutes on the plane dozing comfortably. He isn’t too fond of flying, but when you’re a footballer, you’re forced to get used to it within the first few steps of your career, so his head lolling to the side and closing his eyes almost feels like a routine. Luckily, there’s no one sitting next to him, so he just draws his hood over his face and falls asleep immediately.
His legs feel cramped when wakes up again, protesting about the tight space. He yawns, stretching his arms over his head, realizing with a content glance out of the window that they’ve already landed. He flashes the stewardess a tight smile as he hobbles out. She returns it kindly, and Manuel’s stomach twists itself into knots.
He takes a taxi to his brother’s place.
Marcel lives only a stone’s throw away from where they grew up, in an apartment that’s almost certainly bigger than their house had been back then. He’s the only one of their family still living in Gelsenkirchen, and the familiarity of the grey streets stings a lot more than he dares to admit. Luckily, his driver hasn’t recognized him, and if he did, he is kind enough not to mention it. Manu leaves him a big tip when they arrive to ensure that it stays that way, too.
It’s only five o’clock in the afternoon, but already, the sky is pitch-black and Marcel’s smile is almost hidden by shadows when he greets him with a quick hug and a pat on the back.
“Hey there, little brother. How have you been? It’s been awfully quiet around you lately.”
Manu shrugs awkwardly and tries to avoid his eyes, but of course, Marcel isn’t having any of it. Instead, he pokes his stomach, grinning widely as Manu flinches.
“You’ve been enjoying yourself, huh? Well, I can’t exactly fault you. It really sucks that you broke your foot again. Do you think it could be done and over with before the second leg of the season is over or would that be hoping for a miracle?”
Between the two of them, Marcel had always been the talker. It’s almost comical, Manu muses, how he used to hang onto his brother’s coattails so much, relying on him to defend him, to talk when he was too shy too. He’d trusted him with his life, and Marcel had taken his role as big brother very seriously, even when the age gap between them was only just a bit over one year.
God, how things have changed. Now, Marcel doesn’t even know about some of the biggest and most important parts of Manu’s life. But still, his brother’s chatter makes him forget all that for a second, and for a second it feels as if they were teenagers again, finding their ways into life, living day to day.
Manu sighs. And as happy as he admits to himself that he is to see him, as much does the lie he lives weigh him down – fully knowing it will only become worse once he is forced to face their mother.
Chapter 12: Christmas Eve
now is a good time as any for an additional disclaimer: Any family member of the boys or their relationship with them is purely a product of my imagination. They do not represent the actual people who carry these names in any shape or form.
Marita’s two sons arrive in the same car. They're alone, and once more she wonders what has gone wrong that two lovely boys like hers have been denied a fulfilling love life.
Marcel, her older, just went through a painful breakup a few months ago. And her younger one – well, when asked about his relationship, he only ever answers with a shrug and an evasive “it’s not what it looks like, Mam”. Sure, she’s always wondered why he’s never made an effort to introduce them properly, but after he’s avoided the topic again and again, at one point, she’d stopped asking, even if it stung that he somehow, for some reason, deemed it inappropriate that she was a part of that side of his life.
So, for this Christmas Eve, it would just be the three of them. The last time that happened, the boys' father leaving had still been an open wound in all of their hearts.
Walking up the driveway side-by-side, her two boys look starkly different. Marcel's hair is as dark as a raven's feathers, Manuel's fair and golden whenever it’s hit by light. Where her older is soft, the younger is all broad muscle, but – no, for once, he seems different from his usual self, too. When she squints, she finds that she can’t credit that to the fact that he’s walking on crutches, even if she’s unable to make out why he seems changed.
Nevertheless, she’s elated to have them both here again. Marcel is kept busy with his work at the university, and Manuel, well. Manuel is married to his job, these past few years even more so than usual. And now, with his injuries, she understands how it’s become even harder for him to visit, even when she’s still apprehensive about the fact that his visits seem to have become less and less in general.
Marcel gifts her a warm smile as he accepts her hug, but when it’s Manuel's turn she hesitates. Somehow, there has been this tension between them, and she can’t understand where it’s coming from. As it is, Manuel is clearly shying away from her touch, his eyes not meeting hers as he mumbles “hi Mam” into her shoulder.
He looks older, more tired, even if his cheeks have a healthy rosy glow, and she wonders when seeing her son’s face started to happen more often through a newspaper or a twitter update than by actually talking to him. She has to admit that she has her part in the distance between them too – when he’s stopped calling back all the time, at some point, she gave up trying. The contact between them has been dwindling for the past few years, but it has visibly gotten worse these past few months.
Still, spending Christmas Eve together is a tradition, and when she looks at him, in her heart she still sees the small, fair-haired boy with a big, timid smile that she raised and loves. So, she greets him with open arms, pulling him close, sighing with relief when she wraps him in a hug, her motherly instincts kicking in the second she realizes how uncomfortable he looks.
“Hallo mein Kleiner. How have you been? It’s been too long.”
Her hug is tight, her voice warm, but already, he starts to pull away again, but it's not quickly enough for her to miss a slight, unfamiliar pressure against her front where there should be empty space.
He's wearing a big hoodie, largely oversized even on his frankly huge frame, pushing the hands in the front pocket the second she lets go, pulling away from his body as if to hide–
“Yeah, looks like someone has been enjoying his not-so-strict diet lately!”
Marcel sounds jovial as he catches her staring, but his brother flinches, ducking his head, and that already tells Marita knows there must be more to it than that. But as with anything with him lately, she fails to put a finger on it.
He still seems cagey as he hobbles inside, leaning the crutches against the wall to untie his single shoe on the foot that isn’t wrapped in a brace, but when he stands up upright on front of her, his grin is crooked but genuine, and for a second he’s the son she remembers, not the one that seems to do everything in his power to put distance between them.
It’s healing to her soul, to see her boys banter like when they were younger as they make dinner together. Manuel is the quickest at chopping vegetables, his hands schooled in the ever so slightest motions, and he’s smiling and grinning, even if he still carries himself differently, paying attention that he doesn’t put any pressure on his foot, but also carrying himself more carefully in general.
For a second, everything seems painfully normal, up until the moment when she takes out the wine glasses out of the cupboard, and finds Manuel refusing a drink.
“I shouldn’t be drinking, Mam.”
She raises an eyebrow, but he just fidgets and carefully lowers himself down on one of the dining chairs.
Dinner is a quiet ordeal.
Manuel is pushing around his food on his plate – even when the meal has been one of his favourites ever since he was a little boy – and Marita still desperately tries to figure out what is different about him, different than even when he was the most evasive, as Marcel tries to fill the awkward silence with stories of his students and the toddlers’ football team he’s coaching in his free time.
It’s when she’s washing the dishes after the meal and Manuel leaning in the door frame with a hand on his lower back, wincing slightly as he rubs it, that a thought comes to her.
It’s a crazy thought.
Impossible, even, but when she takes in his body language again, the way he carries himself, the different-ness of him this night, his elusiveness … it’s crazy, but as strange as it is, it would make sense and Marita’s mind latches onto it.
Her breath catches in her throat when he lifts his gaze and their eyes meet and he quickly looks down again.
It’s absurd, beyond the bounds of possibility and surely she’s just imagining the signs, but.
Originally, she wants to wait until later to prove that suspicion wrong, when it’s shortly before midnight, time is slow and they will all be drowsy with sleep, and Manuel will hopefully just laugh it off instead of getting offended, but it’s when she finds him crouching down, placing some packages under the Christmas tree as his brother is still busy in the kitchen, looking like a deer caught in the headlights when he finds her observing him, as if he was scared of her, that she decides to get it out of the way.
She laughs awkwardly, and it feels silly, sounds fake. Suddenly, she doesn’t know what to say, but then finds it easiest just to be honest.
“I know we haven’t been talking much lately. But honey, you know that you can always come to me with everything. You do know that, right?”
He winces, gnawing on his bottom lip. It’s a familiar gesture, he’s always done it when he’s been caught in a lie or feeling guilty about something. Still, after all those years, she knows his tells by heart. The panicked look in his eyes tells her it’s even worse than that.
“Mam,” he interrupts, “god I– I’m …” Suddenly he shakes his head, violently. “I’m fine.”
She sighs, reaching out, but finding herself stupidly afraid to touch him.
“Are you? Your brother mentioned you gained some weight. And normally that wouldn’t concern me but – you’re going to laugh – somehow, you remind me of –”
She realizes stuttering isn’t going to get them further. Best to get this silly suspicion out of the way so they can talk about their actual issues.
“Well, if I didn’t know any better, I’d think I was becoming a grandmother soon.”
And then, it’s the way his expression goes completely blank, the way all colour drains from his face that makes her pause as a cold sensation creeps up her spine.
Manuel is gaping at her, completely frozen, as if he’s terrified to move, and suddenly, blindingly, she realizes that she might have accidentally hit the bullseye.
The “oh” that escapes her mouth is breathless, and she hates herself for it when her son flinches at it as if she’s struck him.
“Oh honey. I was right?” It’s not possible, is it?
But then, her youngest bites his lip, ducks his head and nods carefully.
He’s curling an arm around his stomach as if he could protect it. Marita realizes he's trembling, so despite her own conflicting feelings, she steps up to him, sitting on her heels, firmly putting a hand on his shoulder where he's sitting on the carpet, looking so lost that it breaks her heart but fills her with anger at the same time.
“Jesus Christ, I’m going to be a grandmother.” Her words are barely more than a whisper, but Manuel chuckles wetly, rubbing his nose.
They both flinch when there's a shattering noise coming from the kitchen. Marcel stands in the doorway, staring at them and slowly connecting the dots, paying no attention to the mess at his feet as Manuel looks close to crying.
“Oh Marcel. Those were my best plates." Now, they're laying on the floor in pieces, and Marita heaves another sigh as she gets up again, only reluctantly letting of Manuel, not after what she’s just learned. He stirs, too, but freezes again when she taxes him with a look. "You go sit on the couch, Manuel. I can't have you hurting yourself, certainly not with your condition."
Manuel's head hangs low as he hobbles through the living room, clearly unable to look either of them in the eyes. Marcel hisses at her in agitation as she passes by him to find something to clean up the mess, but his words never quite reach her.
No, she can only think about how her son – her sweet, World-Cup winning son who, up until seconds ago, she’d believed to be perfectly straight and A2-negative – is pregnant.
Minutes later, the awkward silence is still very much in place.
Marcel still looks thoroughly confused, and Manuel refuses to meet either of their eyes. Instead he kneads his hands into the fabric of his sleeves, staring at where their Christmas presents are sitting sadly underneath the tree, still untouched by a family that seems anything but ready for a feast of love and giving.
Neither of the boys seem keen to talk, so in the end, it’s Marita herself who speaks up again, addressing her younger son.
“Manu? Do you want to talk to us?” The way he curls up in himself even more makes it abundantly clear that he doesn't and it breaks her heart.
The noise that escapes his mouth sounds all too much like a whimper. But then he pulls himself together, sitting up straighter–
“I'm not straight, Mam. I'm," – he clenches his fist into the fabric of his jeans, breathing out heavily, raising his chin, almost defiantly – "pretty damn gay, actually.”
And in that moment, she can't ignore the tears brimming in his eyes and the way he sounds so choked, and not the first time that night does she wonder how bad of a mother she must have been to not see the signs.
He heaves a sigh, fiddling with the hem of his hoodie. His voice is quieter now, more defeated. “I swear I had no idea that I could get pregnant and it’s all such a mess and– I’m so sorry. God, I’m so sorry I disappointed you.”
His voice cracks at the last few words, his cheeks and ears are burning. Marita wants to hug him, but she doesn’t know if he wants her to, doesn’t know if she dares – but then he sobs, and she closes her arms around him, pulling him close as if he was a little boy again.
It’s Marcel who pulls them out of their daze, who has so far only been staring at them but is now openly gaping.
“Hold up – you’re pregnant?”
Manuel huffs, then chuckles drily.
“Yeah, looks like it.” He hesitates, “Are you, um, are you mad, Mam?”
Marita, who had still been petting his hair, stills. She considers it for a second, considers the quiet rage she has felt since the reveal – “I’m mad you didn’t tell me. I’m angry that you thought you couldn’t come to me. To us.”
Her son doesn’t say anything, so she continues. “I can’t say I’m not surprised though. I’m,” she laughs, and it sounds eerie in the quiet of the room, hysterical “I’m pretty shocked to be frank, but I’m your mother. I will always be there for you.”
“I thought …” Manuel’s voice trails off into nothing, and there is genuine fear in his eyes as he lets them roam over the pictures on the fireplace, and suddenly she knows exactly what he is thinking.
“I am not like your father. And neither is Marcel.” Her voice is firm, and Marcel cracks a smile, wrapping an arm around his little brother too as he sits in between them, squeezing his shoulder.
For a while, none of them say anything, but then Marcel huffs, shaking his head.
“My baby brother is having a baby – Lord, I can’t believe it.” Then he turns to Manuel, smirking. “So. Tell us about the lucky guy, then. There is a guy, right?”
And as Manuel starts to smile, slowly but so softly that it tugs at Marita’s heartstrings, she realizes that, behind all those walls he’s built between them to keep himself safe, her son is happy.
And really, even if she hasn’t fully processed it yet, even though she knows this must be hell for him, to be what he is in the life he leads, constantly hiding parts of himself – upon realizing that it was only this that has stood in between them, that there will be another baby in their family soon –
Yes, so is she.
Chapter 13: United
this is where the M rating comes in!
Thomas’ mother is just preparing breakfast on Christmas Day, trying her hardest to keep her two sons out of the kitchen as they try to sneak bits and bites before they’ve even started eating, when the doorbell rings. Thomas grins when she ushers him to go open it, but he doesn’t expect what he finds once he opens it.
“Hey Thommy,” Manu breathes, leaning forward to kiss Thomas’ cheek, wobbling dangerously on his crutches.
“Um, hi, sweetheart. Don’t take this the wrong way,” – he scratches his chin – “but what the hell are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be at your mother’s?”
Manu is grinning, broadly, and only now does Thomas notice that the sweater he’s wearing is not nearly as huge as the one he wore when he left for NRW the morning before. Sure, it’s loose enough to hide what needs to be hidden, but definitely not enough to hide it from the assertive eyes of a mother.
“I told them.” Manu’s grin grows even wider.
“You what now?!”
Well, that’s certainly something. Carefully, Thomas takes one of the crutches from Manu’s hands, wrapping an around his waist instead and guiding him inside, sighing contently when he feels the familiar weight of Manu’s arm settling around his shoulders.
“I assume it went well then?” He desperately wishes for it – after all, Manuel’s family has been a sore topic for him ever since he came to terms with his sexuality and he deserves this.
Manu nods, then shakes his head, then sighs. “They were pretty shocked. But in the end, they took it way better than I expected them too. Stupid of me to think I would be able to hide it. Mam noticed that something was off the second I stepped through the door.”
“Oh Manu.” Thomas shakes his head, smiling and pulling him closer until their sides are pressed against each other, tilting his head to press a kiss to his partner’s cheek. “But still, why did you end up here then, if everything went well?”
Manu shrugs, pulling his head between his shoulders. “They both insisted that I should spend Christmas with my baby’s dad, too.” Upon Thomas looking at him questioningly again, he grins, leaning in for a quick peck. “I told them it’s you. Mam made me promise that we’ll invite her over soon. She wants to get to know you.”
Thomas snorts. “I’ve met your mother four times.”
“Not as my boyfriend.”
And well, Thomas can’t argue with that. He turns to the side, pulling Manu with him until they’re face to face. He nudges his nose against Manu’s before raising on his heels just a tiny bit to slot their mouths together, grinning against his captain’s lips.
They get pulled out of their bubble by Thomas’ mother.
“Spatzl, who was at the door – oh! Well hello, Manuel. That certainly is a surprise! Thomas said you’d only come tomorrow!”
Thomas snickers when he sees Manu blush, and then chuckles at himself when he realizes that once again, his left hand has wandered to rest automatically on Manu’s bump. The hallway is a bit dim, so his mother doesn’t pick up on it just yet, and as she ushers them into the big kitchen, Thomas keeps a steady hand on his waist. But already, when they step through the door frame, he can feel his mother’s eyes growing wide while Simon and his father sport an equally curious expression.
Thomas glances up, and exchanges one look with Manuel, who only smiles and shrugs. Then, he takes a deep breath.
“We need to tell you something.”
It’s only when they’re back in the comfort of their own home, with a half-assembled cradle in a room that used to be a spare office, that Thomas realizes how important this was.
God, his parents were so excited. His mother had almost burst into tears, chuckling when she realized that his eyes had grown just as wet, then turning to find Manuel, still highly emotional from his own home visit, weep quietly into his palms, before wiping his eyes, smiling so widely it threatened to fall off his face.
Thomas’ father had huddled them all in a big hug, and Simon’s girlfriend had looked thoroughly shocked, but right at that moment, when Thomas had felt his family’s full, unconditional support and the love they’ve directed towards his partner’s troubled soul, had been maybe one of the happiest moments of his life.
They’d both been exhausted but happy when they returned home on the 27th, ready to spend a few days apart for appearances before they’ll return home shortly before New Year’s Eve to spend that occasion together before Thomas leaves for Doha.
Now, they’re laying on their bed in the darkness of their room. Manu is already asleep, his head heavy and comforting on Thomas’ chest, his rounded stomach gently bumping against Thomas’ hip.
He looks peaceful like this, and Thomas realizes that only now, with the acceptance of the part of his family that truly counts, he’s finally managed to accept himself. Already, there is such a stark difference between the Manu who would hide his growing tummy behind huge sweaters and hunched shoulders even in his presence. Just this evening, he’d lounged on the couch only in one of his old t-shirts - a bit too snug and not at all hiding his figure - he’d called Thomas over to feel another one of Krümel’s kicks, beaming up at him when he grabbed Thomas’ hand to place it on his stomach.
“Krümel has been kicking a lot these days. The footballing genes, huh,” he said with a soft grin, before hoisting himself up with a groan, stealing a kiss from a perplexed Thomas’ lips.
It’s as if suddenly, he’s fully accepted his role as a father-to be – basks in it, even, hobbling around the house belly-first, drawing patterns on the bump with his fingers absentmindedly whenever he’s reading or watching the TV, and Thomas can’t help but stare, completely entranced by it.
Manu grinned when he led Thomas’ hands to his stomach, rubbing over the tight skin, letting his head loll to the side as Thomas pressed kisses on his neck, letting his hands roam before things had taken their course. They haven’t had a night as passionate as the one that followed ever since learning of the pregnancy, and well, Thomas has to admit, he quickly learned that there are quite a few advantages to how heightened Manu’s sensations seem to be in his condition, his hormones running rampant.
Now, he simply grins at the memory, stroking his lover’s cheek, careful not to wake him up. Then, he sighs when he remembers the next few days – sure, he’s excited for proper holidays, and he very much enjoys spending time with Lisa, still, but the fact that he’ll have to go without Manu, without Krümel …
Well, he guesses that’s one way to feel excited for New Year’s, at least.
It’s only been four days, but Manu’s skin is visibly tanner than it was, even if Thomas is the one who spent time at the beach while his boyfriend stayed in Bavaria and apparently enjoyed a healthy dose of winter sun.
As always these days, they almost fall over when they reunite, Manu’s crutches falling to the floor with a loud clatter, their kisses desperate in their necessity. Thomas has no idea yet on how to deal with the fact that in two and a half days, he has to leave again.
It’s the middle of the day, but they can barely make it to the bedroom quickly enough; in fact they don’t, and Thomas presses Manu against the wall while they kiss each other senseless, ready to strip him of his clothes and have his way with him right then and there – and by the way Manu is panting and shivering, barely suppressing louder moans from slipping through his lips, his boyfriend isn’t opposed either.
But then, when Thomas reaches downward, he finds his hand brushing against Manu’s bump, realizing his partner is barely standing on his own two feet, and reluctantly pulls away.
With a soft smile, he brushes Manu’s hair out of his forehead, thumbing at his cheek.
“I think we should take this upstairs,” he says, and Manu nods his agreement so quickly that it makes Thomas grin grow even wider.
Manu’s t-shirt, socks and sweatpants are stripped easily, and as Thomas steps out of his jeans, he keenly observes him spreading out on their bed, gazing up at him with hooded eyes and a lazy, lustful smile. It’s the first time in seemingly forever that Thomas has the time to look at him in all his glory, heart-stoppingly pretty, his pregnant tummy rising beautifully from his otherwise so buff body. He looks opulent, his skin shimmering with a small layer of sweat that makes it seem like he is covered it in glitter.
“You’re so gorgeous,” Thomas whispers in awe, and he can see Manu’s breath stuttering at the praise as he leans down, his hands wandering to his lover’s side, over his stomach, chest and shoulders, nipping at his neck, the soft skin under his chin. “So beautiful for me, Manu.”
He reaches his lips and kisses him until his own head is spinning, intoxicated by Manu’s scent, the noises that escape his lips and the way he looks spread out on their sheets.
He’s absolutely sinful, his cheeks pink, the blush spreading down his neck and bleeding onto his shoulders and the chest that’s dusted with short, fluffy hairs. He’s already got his own hand between his legs, probing at his entrance, gasping and whimpering until Thomas gently pries it away, pinning his arm to the side and taking care of Manu himself. Manu doesn’t need much preparation, and he gasps loudly, burying his face in the crook of Thomas’ neck when Thomas finally pushes into him with a groan.
“Steady, sweetheart,” Thomas pants, but he can feel his own restraint slipping, and it’s not long before he increases his pace, just barely able to hold himself up so he doesn’t collapse right onto his lover and their unborn baby.
Manu cries out when Thomas hits his sweet spot, clinging onto Thomas’ back as if the devil was chasing him, and Thomas isn’t sure if the liquid dripping down his back is sweat or droplets of blood, but he couldn't care less. Manu throws his head back with a loud moan, shuddering and dissolving into little whimpers what seems like only seconds later.
Casting one last look at him, beautiful like he’s never been before, Thomas feels his eyes fluttering shut only seconds later as he follows him over the cliff.
It would be easy to succumb to temptation and give into the sleepiness that washes over him right after, but just before slipping away, Thomas turns around, cleaning them up with a warm towel that he mindfully fetched out of the bathroom earlier, careful when he places his head on Manu’s shoulder, slinging an arm around his boyfriend’s torso as Manu stares up at the ceiling with a tired but satisfied smile.
Contently, Thomas closes his eyes. Then, he chuckles. “I’m pretty sure that was the fastest you’ve come ever since that one night in London.”
He doesn’t need to open his eyes to know that Manu is rolling his. He places a kiss on his chest, grinning to himself when that makes Manu whimper again, appreciating how much more sensitive his pecs are starting to become before snuggling right up to him.
It’s tempting to just stay in bed after that, to spend the afternoon sleeping and cuddling and kissing and getting lost in each other again and again, celebrating their union until they get tired, but then Manu’s stomach rumbles and Thomas laughs, carefully rolling off him before getting up, his back creaking, offering Manu a hand.
It’s quite a bit of work, pulling him up – he’s never been light in anyone’s standards, and with the added baby weight he’s even heavier. Thomas huffs and puffs, but then, finally, Manu stands on his own two feet.
It’s been a while since he wore a brace, but usually, he still wears just something for light support that looks like a thick sock with the toes and heel cut out. Thomas can’t help but ogle him as he pulls on his sweatpants - they’re growing a bit tight, as are his sweaters, and Thomas winces a bit when he can see how much the waistband digs into his skin. At the same time, he knows that Manu will only roll his eyes if he tells him that he should probably buy some proper paternity clothing.
They make their way downstairs, and Manu starts chopping vegetables for some quick fried rice as Thomas hops on the counter, filling the room with words as he recounts everything he did on his vacation in Greece.
“Lisa asks how you’re doing, by the way. She claims she hasn’t seen you in forever – which is probably true.”
Manu hums and stirs the food. Thomas fiddles with his sweatshirt (Manu’s, technically, but inside of their home, they have never taken clothes ownership that seriously anyway.)
“I wondered if –” Thomas hesitates, “you know, I sorta want her to become Krümel’s godmother. Is that weird?”
Manu stops mid-motion, the spatula hanging in the air like a strange wand, tilting his head. “Why would it be weird?”
“... she’s my ex-wife. Don’t you think that would seem strange?”
Manu frowns. “Since when do you care about what other people think? And no, I don’t think so. She’s your best friend, and a good friend of mine, too. In fact,” – he dumps the veggies into the pot. It smells delicious – “I think that’s a great idea.”
Thomas can feel a smile tugging at his lips. “Yeah?”
Manu distributes the rice onto two plates before turning to him again. “Yup. As long as Marcel can be the godfather.”
Thomas grins, leaning in to peck him on the lips. “Deal.”
They spend most of the meal in comfortable silence, only their feet touching underneath the table. Later, as they put the dishes in the dishwasher and as Thomas stands behind Manu, Manu leans backwards, just enough that his back is flush against Thomas’ chest. He purrs when Thomas lifts his hand to tousle his hair, sighing contently, pushing his hips back just a little bit more until his ass meets Thomas’ crotch.
Thomas chuckles lowly, letting his hands drop onto his waist instead. “Ready to go again already?”
Manu’s smile is as wicked as it comes. “Always.”
Chapter 14: The Captains
Somehow, it gets harder to hide after that.
Of course, in reality, it becomes easier.
At the start of the new year, Manu is back in Germany, pretty much hiding away from the public eye while Thomas and the team sizzle away in the hot Doha sun. Whenever Thomas finds one of the boys on the phone with the wife or the girlfriend, giving everyone at the table a quick update on her and the kids – as soon as they hang up, he feels a twinge in his stomach knowing he’ll have to wait until the dead of the night to call Manu, to check up on the man he loves and their baby, that he can’t excitedly show them the cute picture Manu sent him this morning, sitting on the bench in their garden, out in the sun, wearing a thick sweater, cradling his bump with a wide smile.
Yeah, it bothers him.
Of course, he tries not to mention that to the man himself. Manu is positively glowing when they facetime that evening, so he really doesn’t wanna dampen his mood.
Thomas has his laptop open, and his entire room is lit up brightly by his boyfriend sitting cross-legged on their bed, munching cereal out of a bowl in the middle of the night; when Thomas reminds him of the incident that gave little Krümel their name, Manu only rolls his eyes. On his phone screen, Thomas has the new ultrasound pic Manu sent him right before they started the call.
“... so yeah, everything went well. In fact, the ultrasound assistant even said that everything looked perfect! And she also asked again if I didn’t want to know Krümel’s gender, can you believe it!”
It’s terribly endearing, how excited he is – normally, it takes a lot to get Manu Neuer to talk a mile per hour. But he’s right, it’s incredible how much bigger the baby looks on the newest ultrasound picture compared to the first one Thomas saw, back when he was so surprised and taken aback by the fact that he was going to be a father. Sure, he’s aware of how much the baby has grown simply by the change he’s been able to observe in Manu, but this, looking at the actual image of a little person that is theirs , that they created? God, it’s indescribable.
Manu yawns, stretching his right arm over his head, almost spilling the milk in the process.
Thomas chuckles. “Tired?”
“Hmm? Yeah, just a bit. It’s late.” Manu frowns. “How about you, don’t you have training in the morning? Isn’t it the middle of the night over there?”
Thomas waves him off with a lazy grin. He can see how Manu is ready to go into full captain mode and lecture him, but before either of them can start, there’s a knock on his door.
Thomas scrambles to sit up, suddenly panicking – he locked the door properly, didn’t he? Sure the person wouldn’t be able to … he’s ready to slam the laptop shut and scramble to his feet, exchanging one last one mortified glance with Manu, who stares at him with wide-eyes, but then, before he can do anything, the door opens.
He is ready to scream.
Joshua pokes his head into the room with a frown just as Thomas actually does slam the laptop shut, clearly taking note of his wild and panicked eyes.
“Everything, alright, Cap?” Even Joshua’s voice is tentative, as if he’s approaching a wild animal. If he wasn’t so terrified, Thomas would likely have laughed at how apprehensive he seems to be.
Thomas scrambles to reach his phone just as Joshua steps forward, wanting to turn off the screen as quickly as he can manage – instead, he turns up the volume. Thomas curses. Of course, it works at the second try, but it’s way too late.
Joshua is gaping, and Thomas knows exactly what he saw.
“Was that an ultrasound picture?”
Thomas knows there is no use in stalling “…yes.”
Well, yeah, that’s one way to put it.
“I thought you and Lisa were getting a divorce?!”
Thomas clears his throat. “Well yeah, we are.”
“But?” Joshua frowns.
Thomas heaves a sigh. “No but. My partner and I are having a baby, but it’s not Lisa I’m dating.”
He deserves the truth, Thomas figures. Jo is a good kid, a very talented player and certainly a future leader of this team. For a second, he thinks about how he shouldn’t, how he’s contractually obligated to keep Manu’s pregnancy a secret from their teammates – but then he thinks about how relieved Manu is to have Toni knowing, how Thomas himself would love to disclose it to someone whenever he worries about Manu or their Krümel, or just being able to ramble about it when he feels happy or misses them.
He considers how Jo is their friend.
“Holy shit,” Joshua says again, and it takes Thomas a second to realize he’s still processing that he’s dating someone that’s not his ex-wife, never mind having a baby with them. He clears his throat.
“Do you want to talk to them? We were in the middle of a call.”
Jo fiddles with his shirt. “Um, sure. If your significant other doesn’t mind?” He’s hardly ever this cautious, and it’s quite a bit endearing. Thomas cracks a half-grin, beckoning him over before flipping his laptop open again, reactivating the call.
“Schatz? Are you still there?”
The broadcasting window is pitch-black, and something rattles. Then, everything is bright again, as if someone had suddenly turned on the light.
“Sweetheart, you okay?” Thomas asks, unable to help concern from bleeding into his voice.
Manu is panting. “Sorry, I shoved the computer under the duvet.”
Thomas snorts. “What did you do that for?”
Manu gestures wildly before pointing at Joshua, a desperate look in his eyes. For a moment, Thomas has almost forgotten that he was there too.
But then Jo breathes “Manu?!” and suddenly they’re all painfully aware of this horribly awkward situation they’ve managed to maneuver themselves in.
Just in time, Thomas realizes that Jo hasn’t properly closed the door yet again, and almost faceplants onto the floor as his feet get tangled in a blanket as he tries to scramble over to the door, slamming it shut.
He lets out a breath of relief, leaning against it before addressing Joshua again.
“Yeah – Manu. Surprise?”
Jo is still gaping.
Manu, at the other end of the call, groans, burying his face in his hands. “I’m pretty sure this is why Kalle didn’t want us to tell any of them,” he mumbles. “Hey, Kimmich, say something.”
“You two?!” Joshua splutters, then his eyes grow even wider when he notices Manu’s stomach. In only a t-shirt, the eight-month bump is not concealed at all. “Is that-?!”
“Yes and yes,” Thomas says, sighing. “Sorry we didn’t tell you, but pretty much no one knows. And for fucks sake, don’t you dare to tell anyone either. Uli and Kalle would skin us alive if they realized we told someone.”
Manu snorts, and Jo just stares at him some more.
It takes around twenty minutes and a lot of explaining on both Manu and Thomas’ accounts to convince Joshua that they aren’t just playing an elaborate prank on him. Once they’re finally done with their story, the young shooting star is only shaking his head.
“Jesus, my captains are having a baby,” Joshua repeats for about the third time in a row. He’s smiling, though, so Thomas assesses that it really can’t be that bad, so he grins, patting Joshua’s shoulder.
“Yeah, you’re going to be a big brother! Are you excited?” he smirks, remembering those jokes the fans made back when Jo first arrived at Bayern, how he looked like both him and Manu, about how he was under their tutelage as if they were his dads. They’d joked about it too, back then. It’s strange to imagine that soon, they will have their own child to raise.
Jo rolls his eyes as Manu laughs, and the awkwardness slips away to a dark corner of the room as if it was never there in the first place.
Not long after that, Manu orders them both to go to bed immediately; even with dark circles under his eyes himself – “yeah, how about you two wake up with false contractions three times every night, we’ll see how fresh and proper you look” (Thomas immediately feels guilty, but Manu’s smile is teasing and not accusatory at all) – he’s perfectly ready to unleash his inner captain on them.
Thomas blows him a kiss before ending the call and shooing a still slight flabbergasted but smiling Jo out of his room.
And lo and behold, actually having someone on the team who knows actually does make quite a difference. Now, he can grin at Jo whenever Mats gets off the phone with Cathy, moaning about how it’s so hard to keep up with her and her moods already, remarking that he doesn’t wanna know what it would be like if they had kids or she was pregnant. Then, Thomas licks off his spoon of vegan pudding, turning in his mouth before remarking that well, he’s pretty sure being with someone pregnant can be decent and even lovely.
Mats looks at him as if he’s grown a second head.
It becomes a bit of an inside joke after that. Each time anyone mentions their kids, he’d turn his head to look at Joshua and wiggle his eyebrows or even better, Jo would nudge his shoulder, grinning at him.
The way it irritates Mats, who has been keeping a close eye on them, to no end is funny as fuck, and Thomas is almost sad when they finally have to pack their bags to go back home. But then he reads a text from Manu that he’s gonna wait for them at the airport, and he almost doesn’t care at all and that he over-excitedly flings himself into his boyfriend’s arms for all the team to see – after all, he’s always been known as quite affectionate – but then he manages to hold himself back at the last minute and settles for a quick hug and patting his back – after all, Manu’s smile is blindingly bright either way.
As it is, the team is happy to see their captain too, even if Thomas (and Joshua) are probably the only ones who notices how quick and fleeting his hugs are, careful to not let his torso brush at theirs. He’s relatively big by now, and even if the two jackets and the big scarf he’s wearing make up for it, it could be seen in his posture if you paid enough attention.
At least he’s always got the excuse that while he’s been able to get rid of his crutches, his foot is still a thing, Thomas thinks, but he holds his breath while everyone greets Manu nevertheless.
In the end, they’re the last of the team still there, so no one notices them leaving together. Well, no one apart from Kathleen – who gives Manu a longer hug, resting her palm on his stomach and quietly whispering how he’s doing – as well as Jupp, who sends them a pointed glance, but there’s a glint in his eyes that suggests that he approves.
Manu grins down at him after Kathleen lets go of him, biting his bottom lip, and Thomas feels his smile turning sharp, intentional.
They barely make it to the car before their lips finally meet in a desperate attempt for closeness, making up for lost time.
… yeah, they’ve made it surprisingly long without getting found out. And with Jo, they’ve got someone they can trust, someone to fall back on. And it won’t happen again anytime soon, right? Thomas thinks when they lay in bed together that night, and his hand stills in a sleeping Manu’s hair.
But all that changes on Thursday. That all changes with Mats.
Cathy sent him shopping.
Mats, while having a distinct liking for fashion himself, hates shopping with a passion. As usual when he's out in public, it seems to be an open invitation for people to gawk at him unashamedly, some asking for a selfie after a while and some who – even more annoyingly – don't and instead follow him around, trying to hide whenever he glances at them.
The fact that he isn't shopping for himself but for Cathy who is too lazy to do it on her own doesn't make it any better really, especially when he knows that she will complain when the clothes end up slightly too small but will be angry at him when he buys them too big, accusing him of calling her fat. With a deep sigh, Mats wants to look for the home decor section first, as Cathy asked him to bring a few nice pink pillow-cases too. Of course, he doesn’t manage to find any, and he huffs in annoyance.
He'd decided to visit the store shortly before closing – it's a big, high-end department store, so it's mostly empty at this time of the day, not even a sales assistant has come to bother him yet – except that the baby section, that he has inexplicably ended up in, isn't.
Mats blinks. “Thomas?”
His teammate looks at him like a deer caught in the headlights, then focuses back on the two baby onesies in his hand with a deep sigh.
“Why are you buying baby stuff?”
It is curious, all things considering. Especially when Thomas had recently reacted very strange every time anyone talked about baby stuff or pregnancies.
Somehow, he expected a grander answer, so it’s almost disappointing when Thomas only shrugs. “Same reason as everyone does, I reckon.” But then, it clicks.
“YOU KNOCKED UP YOUR EX-WIFE?!?”
“SHHHHH!” Thomas shushes him aggressively, frowning deeply. “Are you crazy? Of course I didn't, how was that your first assumption?!”
He doesn't elaborate any further, so Mats simply assumes he's buying stuff for a family friend or a cousin or something.
In the end Thomas picks out a light blue onesie and a really fluffy teddy bear, then wanders over to the maternity section. Mats follows him out of sheer curiosity and observes him closely as his friend eyes a knitted gray sweater with some subtle leaf embroidery like it's done something to personally offend him.
“While this is pretty nice, I'm pretty sure it is never going to fit.”
It's an XL. Mats tilts his head in confusion.
Thomas shrugs. “Sadly they don't have many patterns in the paternity section, so I guess regular flowy navy sweater it is. I just hope for the sake of me they have some high quality ones. If not, I fear I'm gonna get skinned alive. I’m just glad he got rid of the crutches. Honestly,” he turns to Mats, “mood swings are terrible.”
The ball starts rolling, but it doesn't drop. Not yet.
Thomas is now smiling to himself, seemingly infuriatingly unwilling to share any further explanation as Mats' gears run hot while he watches his friend wander a bit further until Thomas finds what he's been looking for – an indeed navy sweater that the gangly forward could fit in twice.
Mats only blinks at him when Thomas beckons him over, holding the sweater up to Mats' torso.
“Yes, that could work,” he mumbles, grinning when Mats still gapes at him. “Oh, close your mouth! You and my other half are roughly the same size, that's all.”
“Your ... other half.”
“Yes – my boyfriend, who is currently very pregnant and very moody and slowly but surely outgrowing even his roomiest sweaters.”
And with that, he turns around on his heels, leaving a gaping Mats in his wake.
For a second, Mats stands there frozen, before he finally rushes after him. In the end, they end up in Mats' car. Thomas is fiddling with the shopping bag he's holding, sighing.
“Sorry I never told you. We just wanted to keep it to the two of us, really, it just made a lot of things simpler. And now with the pregnancy and all we've got the official order from above that we can't tell anyone.” He cracks a smile. “So really I'm glad I ran into you today.”
Mats drives him home, and for the first time, he realizes there's two bikes chained in the garden, two parking lots occupied by big, black cars.
The dog that greets Thomas barking quietly as he unlocks the door is familiar too, but still, Mats finds himself unable to piece the picture together.
Except that then Thomas walks through the hallway and into the living room, smiling as he climbs over a hoodie and a thick scarf thrown haphazardly on the floor, crouching down and kissing the figure laying on the couch on the forehead, carding his fingers through short hair.
“Hey there. I brought you and our Krümel some stuff.”
And it's only when Thomas' partner muffles a sigh, sitting up with a groan and stretching strong arms over his head, turning around to Mats, revealing a clearly pregnant tummy to the defender's eyes in the process, that it all clicks.
Slowly, Mats grins. “Well hello, Captain. I didn't know you were expecting.”
And the stupefied look on Manuel's face almost makes up for the fact that both of his colleagues, both of his friends, kept him in the dark with this and their relationship for so long.
Chapter 15: Fathers and Sons
TRIGGER WARNINGS: homophobia, abuse (please take care!)
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Of course, Mats doesn’t let Thomas live it down. He’s genuinely offended in his position as a best friend, and he follows Thomas around like a lost puppy the next few days, complaining that they could have talked pregnancy stuff together and not even faltering when Thomas mentions that neither has Mats been pregnant himself, nor had a partner who had a child.
It’s a bit ridiculous, but after a while, he starts appreciating that having his best friend and Joshua in on their secret is a true relief to his occasionally worry-ridden soul. They’re getting awfully close to the due date now, and with it only being a mere five weeks away, Thomas feels a bit uneasy about being away from Manu again. He doesn’t imagine what it would be like, being in Paderborn, Wolfsburg or Freiburg, and getting the message that his boyfriend is in labour. To be too far away to return in time, not able to support him during the birth – in a worst case scenario, to miss the moment their Krümel will be brought into life.
Curiously, Manu is surprisingly at ease with that.
“They said late February, Thommy. You only have home games during that time, and the doc said everything is looking perfect at the moment.”
Thomas wishes he could have his optimism. Instead, he already has a hard time leaving him every morning, even if, like today, they’ll be able to meet up during the day.
Right now, they’re enjoying a very early breakfast in Bayern’s cafeteria and Manu is positively glowing. Thomas got up at half past five to go for a run, having left Manu still snuggled into their sheets. Securely walking on his own two feet again by now, with the pregnancy glow sticking to him even more insistently these days, he maybe looks the healthiest he ever has.
The only person who’s joined them is Andrea, Manu’s personal trainer for his recovery who specializes in pregnancies and a training regime suitable for it, as well as Josh, who for some reason has been putting in extra hours in the gym recently, so it doesn’t really matter that Manu is sitting there only in a thin sweater, all-too-close to Thomas’ side for it to be entirely platonic.
None of them pay it much attention at first when Manu’s phone starts ringing. It’s only after the third attempt that Manu sighs, pulling it out.
“It’s Mam,” he says when Thomas sends him a questioning look, “I have to take this.”
Thomas takes his hand and squeezes it with a gentle nod, sighing when Manu lets go and walks over to the other end of the big room, pressing the phone close to his ear.
“You’re really that smitten, huh,” Joshua remarks, still a bit incredulously.
Thomas chuckles. “Yeah, well. I just love him.”
Somehow, in a matter of seconds, he manages to turn the topic to some new, slightly questionable marketing techniques that have been suggested by the board after that, so neither he nor the two other occupants of the table pay much attention to what Manu is doing anymore.
Thomas flinches when suddenly, there’s a hand on his shoulder. Then, his heart drops when he notices how chalk-white Manu’s complexion is.
“Schatz, is everything alright? Is the baby okay?!”
Manu nods, then shrugs, then runs a jittery hand through his hair. The smile he manages is very crooked, but then, instead of bolting or having a breakdown – which honestly, judging by the way he looks, might have been a real possibility – he sits down again, clearing his throat.
“No I’m – I’m fine, I promise. Mam had some not so great news, but it’s okay, don’t worry.”
He then leans in to kiss him, and Andrea whistles as Joshua coos at them.
In retrospect, Thomas hates himself for letting Manu distract him that easily.
That evening, when he comes home, Manu isn’t there.
He left Säbener early according to Andrea, and initially, Thomas didn’t worry about it. At almost nine months pregnant, Manu is easily tired, and it’s no surprise that he needs more rest than the average person, especially considering the added baby weight has put him at just over 100kg, which is definitely a strain on his still fragile foot.
But when Thomas comes home and finds the house empty, his stomach twists. There’s a note pinned to the fridge, right next to the latest ultrasound picture. ‘Baby Neuer’ it says there on the border, in tiny little script, next to a few numbers and stats.
Thomas, the note says, I want you not to worry, but I had to drive up to NRW. I’ll be back by tomorrow. Text me whenever you want. Love, Manu.
Of course, that does nothing to ease Thomas’ anxiety. The thought of Manu driving several hundred kilometers on his own–
No, Thomas scolds himself. Manu is an adult. An extremely pregnant adult, maybe, but very much capable of taking care of himself and their baby. They will be fine, and they’ve already seen where Thomas babying him had led them. In fact, Thomas is happy that Manu and his mother have been on better terms ever since Christmas, that their calls are more frequent and Manu always smiling when he hangs up. He deserves that. Deserves to have a family who loves him, because even though Thomas’ parents had readily accepted him into theirs when Thomas had first brought him home over a year ago, even then – they couldn’t make up for the people Manu had grown up with, his own flesh and blood, his mother, his brother.
And only the two of them – the fact that Manu has always spoken of his dad with a mix of childlike adoration and the dry tone of a disillusioned adult told Thomas everything he didn’t need to know already back then, and a bit later, Manu mentioned why he was almost glad they had close to no contact anymore.
Both of them had been raised Catholic, but Manu’s father was the only one out of all their parents who had repeatedly voiced a dislike towards sodomites, as he called them. The fact that he’d left the family back when Manu was fourteen maybe made it a bit easier for Manu to finally accept his sexuality at twenty-seven, but still, it was quite easy for Thomas to tell that he has a hard time aligning the father he knew with the man he knows would despise Manu if he knew who he really was. What he was.
To learn that his mother didn’t share that view must have been a tremendous relief to Manu. The fact that she only wants the best for him and her future grandchild doesn’t stop Thomas from chewing on his nails as he waits for a reply to his rushed everything okay? though. It’s already half past nine when Manu answers.
I’m fine. Krümel too. Arrived ten minutes ago. Sleep, okay? You’ve got a game tomorrow.
And after tossing and turning in bed for an hour, Thomas finally does.
It’s still pitch-black outside when he wakes again. At first, he has no idea what exactly woke him up, but then, there’s a damp bang, and Thomas unsuccessfully tries to rub the sleep out of his eyes. He squints when he picks up his phone from the bedside table, the light from the screen achingly bright,groaning a bit when he realizes it’s only half past five in the morning. He’s ready to go back to sleep when there’s a second, quieter bang, but this time it’s clearly coming from downstairs.
Now fully awake, Thomas scrambles to sit up in bed, heart racing. Did someone break in? Impossible, their alarm would have gone off. He doesn’t move a muscle as he tries to pick up anything else. There’s a clatter, followed by something that sounds suspiciously sob.
Thomas voice wavers, and he doubts it’s even loud enough to reach the person downstairs who he assumes to be his boyfriend. There’s no reply, and after a few seconds of irrational fear and hesitation, Thomas slips into his house shoes and tiptoes downstairs.
He can feel his heart shatter into a million pieces when he spots the figure sitting on the naked floor in the hallway, legs drawn to his body, face hidden in the knees, shoulders shaking from the sobs that seem to wreck him.
“Manu?” Thomas asks again, hesitant to approach him, as if he were walking up to a wounded animal. “Sweetheart?”
Manu doesn’t reply, but he doesn’t flinch away when Thomas puts his hand on his shoulder, caressing it with feather-light touches before sliding down the wall next to him, wrapping both arms around his trembling body, burying his nose in Manu’s hair.
His heart is beating fast, and he wants to, needs to know what has upset the love of his life so tremendously – god, he doesn’t think he’s ever seen him so shattered – but as it is, he knows he needs to allow Manu to calm down first, so he offers comfort in the form of hushed words, consoles him with gentle caresses and the helpless love of someone who has no idea what’s going on.
When Manu finally lifts his head, his features are almost completely hidden by the darkness, but there’s something irregular to them, as if the right side of his face was darker in colour than it should be. He’s still hiccuping and crying, and when Thomas places his hands on his cheeks, they’re wet from all the tears that have been spilled. He doesn’t look Thomas in the eyes, instead lowers them to the ground, his arms still drawn around his legs as if he were a little boy. The clock is tick-tocking quietly, and it’s the only thing to be heart apart from the heart-wrenching noises coming from his boyfriend.
Thomas’ concern grows indefinitely. God, what is going on.
“Schatz?” – his voice is meek, barely there – “What happened?”
Manu just starts sobbing again.
Thomas is almost taken aback when he hears his boyfriend’s voice, rough and broken, just a few moments later.
“My dad …”
Manu hiccups, rubbing a hand over his face, winching when his fingers brush over the right side. Is that–
“He called Mam yesterday. Wanted to know how we were doing, apparently. All that bullshit. Asked how I was doing, too. Mam …” he sniffles, “didn’t tell him about the pregnancy, of course. But then – he was such an asshole about it, asking if I was being a pussy about this injury, that I should long be back to training,” – he heaves a sigh, rattling, breathless – “asking what I’m even worth, when I can’t even do the only thing I am good at. When I can’t help my teams, likely won’t make it to the World Cup.”
He starts crying again, hiding his face, and Thomas holds him close and just wishes for everything to be better. He wants to say something - anything – but for once, he doesn’t know what, so he lets his hands speak of the love he has for his man, his lips that he presses against Manu’s temple and the hug that couldn’t be tighter if he tried, and waits for him to continue.
“I don’t know why I thought driving up would solve anything. I knew it wouldn’t.” A whimper escapes his throat, pained, full with agony.
“He realized I was pregnant the second I walked through the door, and even as it was still opening, I realized it was a mistake.” Manu laughs, cynically, broken. “Guess it just added to the disappointment I already was. At first he thought the baby was a product of rape, can you believe it? That I would never sleep with a man willingly.” He brushes his fingers over his cheek again. “Guess he didn’t like it when I told him that I would never ever sleep with a woman again if I had my way.”
Thomas feels everything leave him that exact moment. “He hit you?!”
Manu doesn’t need to nod to confirm it; the bruise, now that Thomas’ eyes are better adjusted to the darkness, speaks for itself.
Another dry, sarcastic chuckle. “That was a long time coming. He could never stand me, always thought I wasn’t enough. The fact that I am a faggot on top of everything … And I know I should have defended myself, I know I could have knocked him out in one punch, but I just –” he sighs, finally lowering his legs, revealing his bump in the process. “I was so scared he’d hurt Krümel. I was so, so scared, Thommy.”
Now, Thomas isn’t able to hold it in anymore. “How dare he hurt his own son?! How dare he hurt you?!! God, I want to drive up there myself and crush his skull with my own two hands.”
It’s only the shock in Manu’s eyes at his sudden explosion that makes him come down from his rage, focusing on the warm skin underneath his hands again.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have yelled. I’m glad you’re alright. Or, as alright as you can be. I’m so, so sorry, sweetheart.” Thomas kisses him, carefully, gently, noticing that Manu’s lips taste salty. “I’m sorry you had to go through that, you don’t deserve any of this. And if that bastard ever tries to contact you again, or hurt you or our son, I will personally kick his ass.”
Manu sighs, pressing himself as close into Thomas’ side as he physically can. For a while, neither of them say anything. Then–
“Thanks, Thommy. I love you.”
Thomas chuckles. “I love you too. But if you drive through the night ever again, pregnant and upset or not, I’m just – god, do you have any idea how dangerous that was? But – it’s fine. You’re fine, Krümel is fine. And I’m glad you made it out of there. Even if driving up was a stupid idea in the first place. You should have told me – I would have talked you out of it.”
Manu sighs. “Sorry. I just had to – I had to come home, after that.”
And that, well that is enough to make Thomas’ insides feel tingly and warm and his heart melt. God, he’s so, so in love with this man.
It’s only when they’ve made it upstairs again, and Thomas mercifully realized that they’re only supposed to be at Säbener at noon, the two of them tangled up in each other and Thomas feeling Krümel kicking through Manu’s stomach against his side, that Manu perks up again.
“You said ‘our son’.”
Thomas tilts his head, then shrugs fondly when he realizes that yeah, he did.
“Guess I just got carried away. Could be a girl for all we know.”
Manu yawns adorably snuggling into his chest, and even if his eyes are still puffy from all the crying, his cheek is discoloured from where his father struck him, he looks as if he’s alright.
“You know, I have a feeling you might be right.” He squints up at Thomas with one eye open, resting one hand on his bump. “Just saying.”
Congrats if you survived that! Also fair warning, as I am invited to a birthday party tomorrow, the next chapter will probably be posted on Monday!
Chapter 16: Heartbeat
TRIGGER WARNING for ... idk. Pain?? Probably pain. Like, terrible, gut-wrenching pain that I'll probably make you feel by reading this.
Thomas is running late. Of course he is – even after Manu fell asleep, drop dead exhausted from a night with no sleep and driving a total of eleven hours, Thomas stayed awake, just holding him close, wondering if the universe would ever stop putting stones in Manu’s way. He gnaws on his thumb as he drives, way too distracted. He runs a red light and only notices when the people behind him start to honk. Coming to a halt at the next light, Thomas runs a hand through his hair.
Manu’s reply was dry when Thomas had asked him about the entire situation when he’d crawled out of bed.
“Always knew he was a bastard, right? It did nothing but to prove it once and for all. It’s nothing new. I’m okay.”
Then he’d yawned, and Thomas ran a hand through his soft hair, making Manu purr contently.
“If you say so. Bye, sweetheart, see you tonight.”
Manu had been asleep again as soon as he closed the bedroom door behind him.
The win against Hoffenheim isn’t an easy one, even if the 5-2 final score is balm for the team’s strained souls, and when Thomas glances up at the cameras pointed at them, he wonders if Manu is watching.
They spend the night on the couch, cuddling, and Thomas isn’t concerned when Manu is already gone when he gets up the next day – after all, he majorly messed with his sleep pattern with his impromptu visit to his father. No, for the next few days, Thomas doesn’t realize that anything is wrong.
Manu still seems perfectly balanced, even if he does seem a bit more focused on his rehab than before, spending hours outside as well, going for walks with the dog or just soaking in the early February sun. He smiles when Thomas kisses him, doesn’t avoid his touch – but at the same time, he suddenly seems more aloof to Thomas than he has ever since they started dating, despite nothing actually seeming off.
– Thomas hates how Manu’s walls suddenly work on him again. It takes him until the end of he next week to realize that that alone is a bad sign.
At first, the talk with his dad – if you could even call it that – feels like a relief. Like a clean slate, a cut that was necessary and that has been announcing itself ever since he left Manu’s life back when Manu was a teen.
He goes to Lisa to borrow some makeup to cover up his bruise without telling Thomas. She looks at him with concern, but gives him what he asks for without asking any questions. Instead, she offers him a warm smile and a cup of coffee and some freshly baked brownies. As they sit on the terrace in the garden, Lisa smiling at him, talking about her horses in an effort to distract him from whatever she thinks happened to him, he wonders when his boyfriend’s ex became one of the people he trusted the most.
He leaves her with a hug and a smile.
“You’re gonna be a great godmother for Krümel,” he says, and Lisa gapes at him with perplexed glee.
No, at first, everything seems to resolve itself. But then, after a few days of the happy-go-lucky game, Manu realizes that bad thoughts, bad memories, don’t just resolve themselves like that. Instead they linger, make themselves a home in your heart until they tear you apart inside-out.
In the middle of the night, when he’s plagued by Braxton Hicks contractions, his father’s face is etched into his memory, disappointed, frowning. Disgusted. Manu shakes his head, as if that would be enough to wipe it away, but the memory stays, sharp and painful like the hot tears pooling in his eyes again and keeping him awake. Underneath his ear, he can feel Thomas breathing, but these days, not even that is enough to lull him into sleep.
He loved his father, he realizes, up until that moment in his hallway, when he struck his cheek with his palm, his face unremorseful, distant, as if they were strangers on different sides of a political debate. Up until that moment, Manu got to pretend that every bad feeling he had about possible outcomes of him coming out to his dad were nothing but a fragment of imagination, and that somehow, he would instead be the smiling man who taught him how to ride a bike, who’d first taken him to the Veltins Arena, who taught him how to love football.
It’s a shock to realize that he isn't. That maybe, he never was.
Manu turns around, smiling a tiny smile when his hand brushes over his stomach in the process. Another fake contraction shoots through him, but then there’s this other sensation, the one Manu can now so readily associate with Krümel’s little kicks.
“Hey there little one,” he whispers, “I know I’m not being the best papa at the moment. I’m going through quite a tough time, but I really don’t want your dad to worry. I hope I’ll be able to give you everything you deserve.” He chuckles wetly. “It really sucks having a parent who doesn’t care about you. Who puts his narrow-minded opinions above loving his son. I’ll always love you, I promise. No matter what.”
He gently pets his tight skin, smiling when Krümel kicks again right in that moment. No, he’ll never be able to forget the love he already feels for his baby. He’ll never end up like his father. He couldn’t.
Somehow, foolishly, he thinks things would get better after that. Spoiler alert: they don’t. Instead, his back pain gets worse, so do his feet, and it doesn’t help that his chest has started to feel really sensitive, to the point where he winces when someone brushes against it by accident and wearing a shirt becomes uncomfortable. On top of that, his thoughts are still spiralling down and down but somehow never hitting rock-bottom.
Every now and then, Manu catches Thomas sending him concerned looks, but no, he can’t bother him. Not with this, not when it should have been closure, when he should feel better now, now that it’s finally done.
So he grits his teeth together and throws himself into rehab instead. Being able to walk again, to run again, to start lifting weights … it feels amazing. It’s still painful to stare out of the window and see the team train without him, but the fact that he can feel his body getting stronger again – despite the restrictions placed upon him by Andrea, who insists he takes it easy as to not endanger himself or the baby – god, it’s a relief, as if dozens of kilograms of weight dropped from his shoulders.
He’s been so focused on his role as a birthfather that he almost forgot how to be a footballer in the process, and it feels good to be back. It’s good enough, distracting enough that he pushes in extra exercises when he’s at home before Thomas, puts in hours in the pool … it makes him feel alive, and makes his pregnancy-induced pains lessen – so could it be anything else but good for him?
It doesn’t help that suddenly, the bosses are after him again as well. They’d left him alone for most of the pregnancy, but with the due date approaching quickly, it doesn’t last. One day, Rummenigge is waiting at the door to the gym, asking him how he’s doing. It’s obvious he’s not asking about the baby. It becomes crystal clear pretty quickly what is asked of Manu: To get back to his old form as fast as possible.
Sure, they want to observe him as well, and it will be a guessing game if he’ll get any playtime before Russia. But as it is, he won’t get a paternity leave to speak of, apart from a week or two to recover from the c-section.
Heck, now, Manu realizes that he has to start looking for a babysitter, and the thought alone of trusting a complete stranger with his child, his secret – it terrifies him.
He doesn’t tell Thomas any of this.
Instead, whenever his boyfriend asks, he distracts him with a kiss or two. “I’m fine,” he’d say, put on a half-smile that he’s sure doesn’t reach his eyes, and lets himself be ravished by Thomas and his own hormones.
It’s two and a half weeks before the estimated due date that the physical and mental stress finally gets to him.
He’s on the treadmill when it happens.
At first, he just thinks the sting is another fake contraction. Then, it the pain shoots through him again, sharper, clearer, not any more painful but different. At first, even more terrifyingly, Manu thinks it’s a real contraction. But it’s too early, way too early, this can’t be happening, and even though he’s never been through it before, it feels wrong, too. He can feel his body starting to tremble, and he barely manages to hold himself up on the treadmill and turn it off before he feels his consciousness starting to slip.
He finds himself surrounded by all the physios and fitness coaches and Andrea steadying his head when he comes back too. He’s laying on the carpeted floor of the gym, a scrunched up towel underneath his neck. There is a red wetness between his legs and as if far away, he hears someone call for an ambulance, and someone else for Thomas.
Manu feels stick to his stomach as his hands fly to his bump, wanting to feel the baby kick, move, anything. Instead, there’s just a whole bunch of nothing.
Everything shifts into focus when he hears Thomas’ voice, loud and demanding and strained.
“Manu!” he yells, “Manu!!”
Manu can imagine his knees scraping as he falls down on them, sliding over the rough carpet, clutching Manu’s hand in his own.
He only sees him through a veil of tears.
“Thomas – Krümel.” Manu’s voice cracks on the second name. So does his heart.
He doesn’t think he’s ever seen Thomas weep the way he does the next few minutes as they wait for the ambulance. Not after they lost against France in the Euros, not after any loss, not ever.
Somehow, his own tears don’t want to run. Instead, they dry up in his eyes, and he feels strangely numb, still holding Thomas’ hand, laying there on the ground and wondering if he’s destroyed it all. Their happiness, their relationship. Krümel’s life.
The drive to the hospital is quiet, unnaturally so. Thomas doesn’t look at him, and Manu doesn’t dare to look at him. He’s not in any pain, but he’s still feeling a whole amount of nothing, mixed with a good portion of dread. It scares him. Scares him to know that once he’s under the ultrasound, he’ll know for sure.
He barely dares to look at the screen when the doctor spreads the gel on his stomach. Instead, he just closes his eyes, pressing them so close together he can feel the blood rushing through his ears.
But then, suddenly, Thomas is there again, by his side, clutching his hand, talking to him, so rapidly that Manu couldn’t make out a word if he tried.
At first, he doesn’t dare to open his eyes. But then he does, and–
Thomas is smiling. Beaming, even, so widely his lips almost threaten to split his cheeks. There’s tears running down old tracks, but this time, they’re tears of joy. Manu looks over to the ultrasound assistant and she’s smiling, too.
And then, he hears it. Faint and gentle, but there.
And right then and there, Manu starts to bawl his eyes out as Thomas wraps his arms so tightly around his shoulders that it almost hurts.
“There he is.” The doctor says, stopping in her tracks when both Manu and Thomas gape at her, fingers still entwined.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I assume you didn’t know that yet?”
Thomas shakes his head just as Manu nods before they look at each other and laugh, awkward and loud and inappropriate. Thomas wipes away the remainder of his tears, laughing and shaking his head.
“It’s fine. After this scare, it really, really is. Christ, Manu. We’re having a son. He’s well. He’s alive.”
Manu chuckles wetly, pressing his eyes shut. “Yeah, he is.”
And he feels Thomas’ hand squeeze his shoulder and his son move under his hands, and everything is alright – no, it’s so much more than that.
Chapter 17: Due Date
( this is it omg )
Somehow, Manu expects things to return to normal after that, to days filled with rehab, resting, fake contractions and no Thomas – but suddenly he realizes that there is not even three weeks left until his due date.
Two weeks until everything has to be ready – they have yet to finish building the crib, god, there are more clothes to buy, bottles, carriers, blankets. They haven’t even started looking for a babysitter. Two weeks until their family will suddenly consist of three people.
Two weeks until he will get to hold their son.
It’s all a bit much, and Manu, still partially shaken by the events of the past weeks, can feel himself working into a stressed-out panic as he tries to get everything done. His ankles are permanently swollen, his chest has started feeling puffy and sensitive, and any kind of exercise exhausts him, so naturally, he only experiences setbacks with rehab. He avoids anyone seeing him because he really is huge by now, so he comes to Säbener early in the morning and leaves when the boys are training and the fans and tourists haven’t started pouring in yet.
It’s Wednesday when Thomas has to return from training earlier because Manu had a panic attack. Two times that week, he falsely thought he was going into labour.
Six days before the actual due date, they lay in bed side by side, holding hands and Manu sighs.
He can feel Thomas’ eyes on him, squeezing his hand, but he has to focus on his words alone in order to actually be able to say them.
“I’m afraid something is gonna go wrong during the birth. I’m afraid ... I’m afraid I'm gonna be a shit dad. I know you will be great, but me …”
He stops and startles when he feels Thomas’ hand at his cheek, caressing it so lightly it feels like barely a touch.
“You’re not your father, Manu. You’re a kind, generous, gentle human being. You already love the shit out of this kid, I see how concerned and caring and careful you are. Did you ever experience that sort of love from him?”
Manu shakes his head. As much as it pains him to admit it – Thomas is right.
“See? And well, as for the rest … thousands of people have done this before, and so can you. After all, you are the strongest person I know – and heck, our Krümel seems really determined to come out, too. I’m sure he will be fine.”
A grin tugs at Manu's lips, but something in his stomach still flutters anxiously.
“I’m just so scared. But I’m excited, too, you know? I am.”
Thomas kisses him on the forehead, petting his hair. “I think that’s normal. Do you think I’m not? I’m scared shitless something will happen to either of you – but god, Manu. We’re gonna be dads. Somehow, that makes up for all that worries me. And as long as there is no actually reason to worry, I’ll try not to.”
His smile is wicked and wild and beautiful. Manu can’t help but return it. He puts his hands on his exposed bump – all his shirts he owns are too small to be comfortable enough for sleeping right now – his heart stuttering just the tiniest bit when Thomas places his own on them, too.
“I love you, Manu Neuer,” Thomas whispers, and it’s the last thing Manu hears before drifting into a deep, dreamless slumber.
The next morning brings an unexpectedly warm day for a normal Tuesday in late February. For once, Manu stays back in the morning, crookedly smiling at Thomas when they eat breakfast at home, who is demolishing his avocado toast in record time.
Krümel is kicking a lot these days, and once again, Manu feels some braxton hicks tugging at his insides – by now he's almost gotten used to the feeling, so it’s hardly noticeable.
Thomas insists they take the same car to Säbener, and after a ten minute drive, they pull up in front of the garage.
Now that he sees how many people are here already, Manu almost regrets turning up at all. Luckily, no one pays them much attention as they sneak upstairs – but as soon as they step into the main hallway, they’re faced with Mats and Joshua.
“Holy shit,” Mats says.
Joshua whistles. “Damn, Captain, you’ve gotten big.”
Thomas has his hand resting on the small of Manu’s back, right where most of the ache sits, and rubs comforting circles into his skin.
Manu feels his cheeks reddening as he rubs his nose. “Yeah, well. Only a few days to go now, so.”
“Must be a relief after the scare a while ago.” Obviously they’ve heard about it. Manu wouldn’t even be surprised if Thomas himself texted them out of worry when he was in the hospital. Joshua sounds genuinely concerned, and Manu blames it on the hormones that it almost makes him tear up a bit.
Mats is smirking. “Can’t believe we’ll have a mini Capitano running around here soon. That will be quite the experience, huh?”
Thomas grins, still gently massaging Manu’s back, but staying stubbornly silent.
Mats claps his hand together. “Well then, Mull. You should savour the rest of your days of not being a father yet – trust me, you'll need it. Are you coming?”
Thomas hums, cackles, making a snide remark about how Mats would even know, considering he’s not a father himself, before casting Manu one last glance.
“Are you gonna be okay, Schatz?”
Manu nods. “Sure.” His smile widens when Thomas rises on his toes to press a wet kiss to his cheek.
“Love you,” he murmurs, and Mats and Manu roll their eyes at the same time as Joshua grins. And then, with a last squeeze of his hip, Thomas reluctantly lets go of Manu, walking towards the dressing room with the others.
The next few hours pass by very quietly. Manu’s actual exercise is minimal and very limited by now, and he spends most of the time just walking on the treadmill while watching the boys train outside.
His stomach is weighing him down, and he has to admit that he’s looking forward to not hauling the few extra kilograms of baby around for much longer. Krümel is kicking against his skin and Manu groans.
“You really just had to inherit your dad’s hyperactivity, huh?” he mumbles as he massages the tight skin. “How about you give your poor papa a little break, for once.”
As if the baby understood him, the kicking stops, and a tiny smile creeps onto Manu’s lips.
“Thanks,” he whispers, only for a flash of pain to shoot through him just seconds later. He winces. Not again.
At first, he tries to ignore it, but then the fake contractions grow stronger, and when his personal trainer shoots him a concerned look, Manu puts on a pained, lopsided smile.
“I think I should head home early today.”
Andrea frowns. “Are you sure? Maybe it’s better when you stay here where we could assist you if necessary.”
Manu shakes his head. “I’m fine. I just need some rest, I think.”
He’s ready revoke that statement when he is on the stairs down to the garage, and the next flash of pain almost forces him to his knees, and he has to steady himself on the wall so that he doesn't fall. He curses under his breath, only annoyed at first, but then, after another contraction wrecks his entire body, slowly and terrifyingly, the realisation starts to dawn.
These aren’t fake contractions.
He’s going into labour.
He barely makes it upstairs again before he finally succumbs to the pain, sliding down the wall and hiding his face in his knees just meters before the gym. Suddenly, everything is too much, and he barely feels one of the physios’ hand at his shoulder as more and more people rush towards him. For a second, he’s reminded of the day of his almost-miscarriage in the most horrifying way, but this is a different kind of pain. Where that other was faint, cold and deadly, this one is burning hot and very much alive.
He only lifts his head when two of the physios haul him up, groaning under his weight, and suddenly, there’s two familiar hands resting at his neck, lifting his chin, forcing him to look up.
“Steady, sweetheart,” Thomas murmurs under his breath, still wearing his training gear, smelling of sweat and laughter and freshly cut grass. “You can do this. They already called for a car, we’re going to the clinic right now.”
Manu hisses when the next contraction rips through him. He pants, throwing his head back before sending Thomas a glare. “You did this to me in the first place!” he grits out through clenched teeth.
Thomas only grins back at him, almost gleefully. His cleats clack loudly against the laminated floors, and he shoos one of the physios away to take the spot on Manu’s left, wrapping an arm tightly around his waist.
Downstair, the car is already waiting for them. Manu recognizes the driver – it’s the same one who drove him to his surgery back in September. The man’s eyes go wide when he realizes the predicament the team captain is in, but Kathleen – and when did she join them? – pulls him to the side quickly, insistently talking to him while Thomas carefully maneuvers Manu into the car.
The drive feels like a small eternity. They get stuck in the midday rush hour, and by the time they’re halfway there, Manu’s whimpers have turned into screams that he has to muffle in the shoulder of Thomas' training hoodie.
His boyfriend has offered him his hand to hold on to, but by the way Manu is gripping it and the way Thomas is clenching his teeth, Manu is pretty sure he’s already regretting that, but he doesn’t find it in himself to care that it will surely be bruised tomorrow, not when he’s in more pain that he has ever felt before.
He feels barely conscious when they finally make it to the private clinic. Thomas and the driver have to guide him inside, and as soon as they walk through the door, a nurse greets them with a wheelchair. Before Manu knows it he’s whisked away to an operating room and someone has inserted an IV into his arm.
During all of it, Thomas never lets go of his hand.
Somehow, the pain of the contractions has become secondary next to the fear, the anticipation, the excitement – all of it mixed and running through Manu’s veins like a very potent cocktail of emotions that is intoxicating him from head to toe. He’s not sure if because the pains have actually gotten less bad or because the realization that this is actually happening is slowly making its way into his thoughts.
When he turns his head, Thomas looks as pale as a ghost, clutching Manu’s fingers with reckless abandon, rubbing over his face with his free hand again and again.
“Thommy?” Manu feels his voice slurring before he can hear it, his tongue tired and heavy. “It’s gonna be fine.”
Thomas cackles hollowly, and Manu is sure it’s at the irony of him saying that when Manu is the one who’s gonna have his stomach cut up in mere minutes. The thought of it already makes him feel nauseous, which probably isn’t the best thing in this case. He’s never been too squeamish about blood, you really can’t be as a footballer, having to watch ugly injuries happen right in front you several times during every career, but this is different.
Thomas heaves a rattling sigh before giving Manu a tense grin.
“Yeah, you will be.”
It’s the last sentence either of them speaks before the surgeons and their assistants enter the room. They explain to Manu that something called a spinal block will be inserted into his back, giving him an anaesthesia for the lower part of his body, and he just dumbly nods along. He really should have read up on this, he thinks, before dismissing the thought immediately – knowing everything about the procedure and its risks would only have increased his worries.
As Manu gets lowered down onto the operating table, Thomas gets seated next to his head. His smile has grown tighter, to the point where it almost looks fake. By now, it’s his grip that is so strong that Manu winces when he squeezes his hand even tighter. They’re asked to let go of each only minutes after, and as they drape a clean, white curtain just below Manu’s chest so that neither him nor Thomas will be able to actually watch the surgery, he finally, truly realizes what’s about to happen.
They’re going to meet their son.
It’s strange, having your stomach cut up while you’re still awake. It doesn’t really feel like anything. Manu feels cold, tense. His nausea has only increased slightly, and he feels almost high because of the medication and the current of his own emotions running through him. It’s extremely uncomfortable, laying flat on his back without a pillow, and the fact that he can’t feel anything from the middle of his chest downwards doesn’t really help. There is no pain anymore, just a weird tugging in his numb stomach every now and then when the surgeons must be rearranging his inner organs.
When it gets too weird, Manu turns his head and observes Thomas instead. He looks ready to throw up, and honestly Manu does feel like it too, which makes him glad that he isn’t really able to move.
It’s strangely quiet for a room full of people, so he starts focusing on the little things. The curiously orange curtains draped in front of the entrance door. The fan whirling above their heads. That one stubborn curl on the back of Thomas’ head that sticks out oddly from the rest of them.
Time passes slowly, thick like syrup, and Manu watches it tick by on the big clock on the wall. Five minutes, ten, twenty – when he finally gets pulled out of his daze, it’s by a noise he’s never really heard before. Not like this. Not in a way that shakes him down to his core, that rearranges all his priorities in life. Not in the way that it is something to shape him, to change him.
A baby’s cry.
At first it’s a faint noise, little, then growing louder until it fills the entire room, and Manu watches as a smile overtakes Thomas’ entire face and he’s beaming, overjoyed and Manu can feel his heart speeding up, faster and faster as if it wants to jump out of his chest, while an extreme exhaustion starts to overtake him at the same time.
Manu blinks. He’s so entranced by the sound, even though he can’t seen anything yet, the doctors working behind the curtain to quickly clean up the infant and get him checked, that he almost misses when one of the midwives steps up to him, asking him if he wants skin-to-skin time before they start stitching him up.
He can only nod, and she turns around, disappearing behind the curtain before re-emerging with a small bundle wrapped in a baby blue blanket. The cries haven’t stopped just yet, and when she opens the blanket and lowers it down in Manu’s arms, he is sure he can feel his heart hitch in that very second.
That moment, when he first sees his son, first gets to hold him, is unlike anything he’s ever felt or experienced before.
He’s tiny, his eyes shut closely, his teeny tiny hands balled into pink, fresh little fists. There’s still some blood stuck in some of his folds, and his head is covered in sparse, light blond fluff that is still stuck to his scalp. He’s absolutely beautiful, and despite feeling tired like never before in his life, Manu genuinely feels like he will start to weep any second.
The crying stops as soon as he is placed in Manu’s arms, and now the baby wiggles around until he is facing Manu’s chest, nuzzling his little face against Manu’s shoulder.
“Congratulations, it’s a healthy baby boy,” the midwife says, and Manu nods numbly, not taking his eyes off his son as they are brimming with tears, biting his lip as he presses him close, his little body so warm and soft. Soon, Manu feels his eyelids growing tired and his limbs heavier, startling a bit when he hears a sob to his right.
Thomas is crying, his joy etched into each and every line on his face, his whole expression overtaken with relief as he gets up from his chair so hastily that it almost tumbles over, getting to Manu with one single step, touching his shoulder as his tears continue to fall, hitting Manu’s skin where it’s exposed by the neckline of his hospital gown.
“My … Krümel,” Manu mumbles as his eyes flutter close, feeling his lips twist into a weak smile. Then, as the midwife picks up the baby from his arms, slowly, comfortably everything grows dark around him as he gives in to his body’s request to fall into a deep, deep sleep.
Chapter 18: Fabian
When Manu comes to again, it’s to a big, single room with giant windows letting in the dim sunlight and Thomas’ beaming face. His eyes are still slightly reddened, his hair is an even bigger mess and testimony to how many times he must have ran his hands through it in the meantime. He’s not wearing his training gear anymore, though, and instead is in a wrinkled, short-sleeved dress shirt with boats printed on it, and, unfittingly, a pair of sweatpants.
Manu squints. Thomas shrugs, then leans down to quickly peck Manu before he speaks.
“Mama brought and packed our overnight bags. She called me irresponsible for not doing it before and not having them with us.”
Then, his smile grows even wider, and only now does Manu notice the bundle in his arms and his heartbeat picks up speed again.
“Is that …?” he croaks, and Thomas nods softly, looking down, caressing the tiny little head before lifting his eyes again. They sparkle like a thousand stars.
“Wanna meet our son?”
Manu immediately regrets his enthusiastic nod, as he feels his entire body groaning and aching only from that small movement already. His legs still feel slightly numb – luckily his stomach is just as numb – but when he tries he manages to wiggle his toes, which is good enough for the moment. He wants to ask for how long he slept, but then gets sidetracked when Thomas gets up cautiously, placing Krümel – real life, actual tiny human being Krümel – in Manu’s arms.
“Careful,” Thomas chuckles, “he’s heavier than he looks.”
When Manu looks down, he’s met with a pair of clear blue eyes. It’s already enough to almost make him cry again.
Thomas’ laugh is wet as he reaches down, gently brushing over their son's chubby cheek, who squints adorably at the touch, making Manu’s heart flutter and grow to an impossible degree. “He’s got your eyes.”
Except, well, not quite. While their little boy’s right eye is in fact very close in colour to what Manu sees in the mirror every morning, the left one has just a tinge of green and – yes, a little fleck of hazel right at the bottom. Manu lifts his hand, almost afraid to touch him, exhaling slowly when his finger brush over the soft, pink skin. “No. He’s got yours.”
Thomas sniffles, wiping yet another tear from the corner of his eye. “Christ, look at me being a sap. He’s so beautiful though, isn’t he?”
Yes, he truly is, Manu thinks, caressing the little head, the now fluffy, slightly curly dusting of hair. He stares down at this miracle that they created, and Thomas stands there with his arm slung around Manu’s shoulders, looking at the both of them. It’s only when he taps his fingers against Manu’s arm that Manu lifts his head again, tilting it questioningly.
Thomas fidgets with the fabric of Manu's hospital gown, twisting it between the index finger and thumb. “I really don’t wanna rush you, but the midwife has asked what name we decided on – for the birth certificate.”
Manu gnaws on his lip. He looks down at the small boy, who makes little grabby hands at him, his odd eyes, blond hair. The tiny little noise, his pink lips that are spread in something that looks adorably like a toothless smile. He exhales.
“Fabian,” he says. Truly, it was the first name that came to mind, but as soon as he says it out loud, Manu is sure that it’s the right one.
Thomas’ smile softens, and he’s even more reassured in his choice.
“How about Tobias as a middle name, then?” he suggests, and Manu nods. Thomas returns it, barely able to contain his glee at all of this, licking over his lips. “Fabian Tobias Neuer. It’s a good name.”
“– Müller.” Manu just blurts it out, and Thomas stares at him with wide eyes. Manu fights the blush taking over his cheeks, awkwardly clearing his throat. “Fabian Tobias Müller.”
Thomas is gaping like a fish, and Manu feels his cheeks burn as he lowers his eyes, pressing Fabian closer to his chest.
“I just. It’s your name and it’s a good name and I love you and I want it to be his too. And well, you know, maybe, sorta, one day it will be mine, too.”
He doesn’t dare to look up. He’s never really considered this before, not really. Not in relation to their son. But Thomas is a good man, a great man, and Manu would lie if he claimed he's never daydreamed about becoming a Müller – officially, legally.
(Also the mere idea of Fabian carrying his grandfather’s name, of the man who hates his own son for his mere existence is gut-wrenchingly horrible, enough for ten sleepless nights filled with anxiety. It’s a dark road to go down on, so Manu would rather not take the first step.)
Thomas is still not saying anything, which is not usually a good sign with him. But then, suddenly and insistently, he takes Manu’s right hand, stealing it from where it was tickling Fabian’s little feet, keeping it between both his palms. “Manu, you have to believe me, I didn’t plan this. Not at all – and if I did, I certainly wouldn’t be doing it here, right now. But.”
He takes a deep breath. For a second, Manu fears for what’s to come, but before a panic can overcome him, Thomas smiles. Stupidly and broadly and with that look in his eyes that Manu knows is usually followed by at least one ‘I love you.’ “Manu. Do you, by any chance – would you wanna marry me?”
Manu blinks. “Is this a proposal?”
“Yes.” Thomas looks on edge. “Do you?”
Manu frowns. “But why? Why now? I mean – I look like a mess. I haven’t showered since yesterday. I’m sweaty and dirty and my stomach was just cut open and sewn close again and there is still a few flecks of blood on my gown. I must look terrible.”
Thomas sighs, and it’s a sigh of clear, honest relief. “Jesus, Manuel, don’t scare me like that! Sweetheart, you just gave birth to our son.” He frames Manu’s face in his hands. “You have never been more beautiful to me.”
He brings their lips together for a kiss, and for a while they just stay like that – until Fabian starts crying between them, that is. Manu chuckles wetly and starts rocking him in his arms until he quiets down again, incredulously shaking his head.
“So I guess we’re engaged now, too, huh.”
Thomas’ grin is lopsided, and he reaches out to push Manu’ hair out of his forehead. “Looks like it, yeah. A real little family.”
He leans down to kiss him – and then they get interrupted by the midwife.
Chapter 19: Visiting Hours
Manu is breastfeeding Fabi when there’s a knock on his door.
It’s only his third time since yesterday, and it’s a bit of a strange feeling. At first, he found it almost uncomfortable, but by now, he cherishes the way it makes him feel close to Fabian. It feels weird, being alone in his body again. When he woke up, he found that he almost missed the way Fabian used to kick the inside of his stomach. But then, the nurse had placed Fabi in his arms, and he realized that this was just a hundred times better.
The feeling of suction and pulling at his chest is still not something he is used to, though. Luckily, lactation didn’t make his pecs look much different than before pregnancy; maybe a bit puffier, but no one should be able to tell just by looking at him.
It doesn’t mean he feels comfortable with anyone watching him while doing it, though. The midwife reassured him that being embarrassed about it was perfectly normal, but still, Manu scrambles to pull Fabi off, cradling him in his arms and hastily pulling the hospital gown up again until he's decently covered.
He clears his throat. “Enter!” he says, and his breath hitches when the door opens.
Marcel’s expression is one of sheer wonder, looking almost incredulous when he enters, and Manu is gaping. He can feel tears in his eyes when his mother enters behind him.
“We came as fast as we could,” his brother explains, while his mam has her hands raised to cover her mouth, gasping.
“Oh, my baby,” she exclaims, her voice choked as she rushes to his bedside, clutching Manu’s hand. "Look at you! Look at him! Are you alright?!”
Marcel chuckles. “Breathe, Mam,” – but his eyes don’t leave Fabi, perfectly still in Manu's arms, blinking the newcomers with wide, innocent eyes.
Manu smiles. “I’m fine, Mam. Here, look.” He lifts Fabi up, offering him to her. He’s found that he's quite reluctant to let the little boy go, to trust anyone but Thomas with him, but she’s his mother – she held him exactly like this, almost 32 years ago.
“Hey Fabi, this is your Grandma and your Uncle Marcel.”
Fabi gurgles, reaching out clumsily, trying to grab his grandma’s jacket.
Marcel laughs. “He looks a lot like you.”
“Yeah, Thomas says so too.”
His mother raises her gaze, and Manu can see how wet her eyes are when she reaches out, touching his chin, leaning over to kiss his forehead. “You did so well, darling. He’s beautiful. I’m so, so proud of you.”
And well, that's enough to finally break Manu’s defences. He accepts Fabi back from her as he chuckles and the tears pool in his eyes, his nose growing runny until Marcel offers him a tissue.
Before any of them can say anything else, the door opens again. Normally, the doctors and the nurses are the only ones who can enter without knocking, but Thomas has already forgotten several times. He’s talking to his own mother over his shoulder, stopping in his tracks when he realizes that more people than expected occupy Manu's room.
He blinks, and Manu’s mother stares back.
Then, a smile blossoms on Thomas' face.
They've met each other before, the two of them, but the last time was several years ago, long before Manu and Thomas had started dating. She’d been almost a bit dumbfounded when he disclosed that he is seeing a teammate, albeit admitting that it was almost logical, considering how close they were and how much time they spent together on a daily basis.
“Hallo Frau Neuer,” Thomas says, and Manu grins at how charming he can be, “servus Marcel.”
His mother returns the smile more reluctantly, but nevertheless she seems sure of it.
“Considering you're my grandson’s father, it’s only appropriate you call me Marita.”
“Well then,” Thomas leans forward, politely kissing her cheek. “I’m Thomas. Hey, Schatz,” he then says to Manu, waving a little brown paper bag. “I bought food!”
Manu is famished. He’s spent most of the past fifteen hours sleeping, holding and nurturing his son, or answering the congratulation messages coming in from all the people he’s sent a picture of Fabian. Last night, only shortly after the birth, he didn’t have an appetite, and now, he really is craving that second breakfast, sending Thomas a grateful look.
As his fiancé spreads out croissants, fresh avocado and strawberries on Manu's small side table, Thomas' mother steps up to Manu’s.
Klaudia eyes his mam carefully. She really is a lot like Thomas, Manu has found – and maybe even more protective of her family than her son, if that's even possible. Manu knows that by now, she thinks of him as kin too, has accepted him with open arms the second Thomas first brought him home as his boyfriend. And Klaudia knows of his turbulent relationship with his own family, and she worries about him.
Now, she studies Manu’s mother, takes in her fidgeting that she passed on to both him and Marcel, the way she keeps glancing at her grandson – their grandson – and she smiles, then extends her hand. “I’m Klaudia.”
Manu’s mam looks perplexed for a second. Then she takes it. “Marita. Nice to meet you.”
They exchange a smile as Thomas and Marcel start a debate about Bayern’s current situation and Manu chews down his breakfast. He does so happily, knowing everyone in the room knows that they're family now.
Then, between a bit of croissant and avocado, he clears his throat.
“Mam? We have something else to tell you.”
The two women have just left to grab a coffee on their own when there’s a knock on the door again. Marcel is holding Fabi while Thomas has all but migrated to Manu’s side by sitting on the edge of his bed, an arm slung around his shoulders.
Everyone reacted favourably to their recent engagement, Thomas’ mother smothering both of them with kisses. But when she'd asked about when they were planning on getting married, Thomas only shrugged.
“We’ve not even been engaged for a day. Also it’s safer for us and Krümel to wait until we’re retired from football, I think.”
It has been pretty clear pretty quickly that the nickname would stick. Fabian would gurgle happily no matter which name his parents addressed him with, but both of them have realized they’re fond of calling him either Krümel or shortening his name to Fabi.
Marcel seems pretty happy with his role as an uncle, and Manu is fully focused on Thomas’ hand in his hair, gently massaging his scalp in a way that makes his body go lax.
So it’s Thomas who in the end calls for their latest visitor to enter, and they are all surprised when Joshua slips through the door, holding a big bouquet of assorted tulips.
“Hi,” he says, and Thomas gives him a cheerful wave.
“Herr Kimmich! What an honour! Did Kathleen send you?”
Jo shakes his head, almost a bit offendedly. “No, no. I wanted to congratulate you on my own.” He puts down the flowers, blushing when Thomas lifts his eyebrows. “My girlfriend picked them,” he mumbles, before grinning and turning to Marcel and Fabi. “Oh my god, look at that!”
“His name is Fabian,” Manu says fondly, already missing the way he’s son's fluffy hair would feel, longing to hold him again, “and that's my brother Marcel.”
“You don’t look alike,” Jo blurts out, and Thomas lets out a short cackle.
“The hair throws you off, doesn’t it. But actually, they sorta do – even though I admit I believe I ended up with the prettier one. No offense, Marcel.”
Marcel chuckles. “None taken. Also,” he sighs, getting up, carefully handing Fabi to Manu again, who can feel his body perking up the second he closes his arms around his son again, smiling when Fabi wiggles in his sleep, pressing against his chest – “I really should get going. I have to be back at university tomorrow, and well, I can hardly tell them that my little brother had a baby, can I. Take care, Kleiner. You too, Mull.” Then he turns to Joshua. “Nice to meet you.”
Jo gives him a smile, and Manu waves his brother goodbye. Jo stays for longer, asking them questions about their relationship. It becomes obvious that he’s been curious about them ever since he walked in on their skype call, but has never dared to ask, all the while entranced by the baby, staring at him in awe, occasionally reaching down to brush his fingers against his little head.
When he finally leaves, it’s only an hour ‘til scheduled hospital dinner time, and shortly after that, Thomas will have to leave for the night. Just about when Manu wants to turn to him, asking him if everything is baby-ready at home, there’s yet another knock.
“I swear to god, that better be Kimmich saying he forgot something, or else …” Manu mutters, and Thomas laughs, petting his hair before getting up and heading to the door. (But really, Manu feels exhausted. It’s been nice, seeing his family and even Jo, but he’s extremely tired, his whole body is aching, and really, he just wants to sleep.)
Thomas freezes for a second when he opens the door, before pulling the person in front of it in a tight hug. At first, Manu doesn’t recognize the visitor, and just spots the small pot with blue forget-me-nots in the person’s hands, the red sweater, stylishly acid-washed jeans and expensive sneakers. But then he hears a familiar chuckle, and he cranes his neck to catch a glimpse but then Thomas finally lets go.
“Benni,” Manu breathes, and his former and maybe current best friend greets him with a warm smile.
“Hey, Manu. Congratulations.”
Manu just gapes at him. Truly, he’s considered telling Benni about the pregnancy many times, especially considering how supportive he’s always been of him and Thomas, considering how close they used to be and try to be again. But then, Benni has been in Turin, has been injured, has been fighting his own demons and for his own relationships, dealing with being out of his comfort zone … it just hadn’t felt right to trouble him with something that Manu wasn’t supposed to be telling people anyway.
But god, he’s so happy to see him.
Thomas, clearly in on it, rushes to take a sleeping Fabi from Manu’s arms, holding him close as Benni walks up to Manu’s bedside before pulling him into a big hug.
“Mats told me,” he says, and Manu rolls his eyes. Of course Mats did – you really couldn’t trust that man with any sensitive information. Luckily for the dark-haired defender, this time Manu is happy about the chattiness. “You’re literally glowing. Gosh, my captain had a baby.”
Manu nods, rubbing his nose, trying to hide how touched he is that Benni flew in just for him. (Okay, probably for Mats too, but fair enough, really.)
“Yeah, um. This is Fabi. Fabian.”
Benni turns to Thomas, and Thomas beams. Fabi wakes up, blinking slowly, first at his dad and then at the new person in the room.
“God Manu, he’s adorable. Who knew you two could make such a cute kid, huh?”
Thomas snickers, and Manu rolls his eyes again, feeling his cheeks heating up either way. He gnaws on his lip. “Are you mad I didn’t tell you?”
Benni sits down, groaning. He’s still not playing, Manu knows, and the flight must have tired him out as well.
“Don’t be silly. I don’t even wanna know what Hoeneß and Rummenigge threatened you with should anyone find out about this. Mats made it clear that even he shouldn’t know – which is bullshit, by the way, I mean hell, he’s Thomas’ best friend – so yeah, not mad.”
Manu fidgets with his duvet. “Kevin knows, though.”
“Großkreutz?!” Thomas squawks. Manu winces when he realizes he never told him that particular detail, either.
He nods, biting his lip, remembering the short but heartfelt congratulations text Kevin sent him just about an hour ago. “I just needed to talk to someone after… after I found out. You both know how he is – brutally honest. I needed that.”
Thomas still looks vaguely offended, but then he sighs, running his head through his curls before leaning down and kissing Manu on the head. “It’s alright, Schatz. I’m glad you talked to someone. Even though I wished that it could have been me.”
They both know that in that moment, it couldn’t have been him. Then Manu turns to Benni, but his best friend just chuckles.
“Honestly, it’s fine. I’m just really happy that my best bud had a baby. I wish you all the best with him. I’m positive you two will be great parents.”
And then he winks at them, and the world feels a little bit brighter.
Chapter 20: Home
After two nights and almost three days, Manu is more than ready to get out of the hospital. Unfortunately, Thomas isn’t able to pick him up as it’s a normal Thursday and the team is busy preparing for the game in Freiburg. So, Manu is alone when he steps outside of the clinic for the first time since the birth of his son shifted his entire worldview.
Fabi is strapped to his chest with one of those scarf-like baby sling carriers, his little body radiating a surprising amount of heat through the fabric of Manu’s t-shirt. The thing was quite a hassle to put on, and despite the nurse trying to teach him for almost half an hour, it took him seven attempts to finally get it right. They’re waiting for the taxi the hospital called for him and he has his winter jacket closed around Fabi, a beanie pulled over his ears and has put big sunglasses on to avoid being spotted. Of course, he had the opportunity to call a car and driver from the club, too, but Manu prefers having his truly private time for a bit longer, even if it means he’ll have to leave the driver a generous tip.
At first, Manu fears that the movement of the car would upset Fabi, but instead, whereas he's seemed close to crying before, now his small features start to relax quickly as Manu rests a hand on his tiny body, smiling down at him.
“We’re going home, Krümel,” he murmurs, gently caressing his son’s tiny, almost bald head that’s covered with an equally small hat that Manu's future mother-in-law knitted for him, “I hope you like it there.”
Fabi is dead asleep. It still feels like a miracle, to feel him breathing against Manu's chest.
The taxi driver – a woman, something you only see rarely – sends them a warm look through the rearview mirror and for a second, panic pools in Manu’s stomach; but her warm smiles tells him that she even if she has recognized him, she is just seeing a father and a son and not judging him for it.
Tentatively, he smiles back.
He pays her double when they arrive at their place, and there is a bounce in Manu’s steps when he gets out of the car, even when his fresh scar is itching and the pain meds he got prescribed for his abdomen still make him feel drowsy. Entering the house, everything looks exactly the same as on Tuesday morning, but still, something feels different, changed.
It takes Manu a solid two minutes to realize it’s him that’s different, but then he shakes his head to himself, grinning, as he carefully unwraps the fabric from around his torso, letting Fabi slip gently into his arms.
‘I’m a father now,’ he thinks, and it feels as it should be, completely right. Already, he can’t imagine being something else anymore.
He’s so fucking lucky, he realizes, rocking Fabi in his arms. Six months ago he still thought this wasn’t even a possibility – and if you’d asked him if he would want it if he had the ability to, he likely would have denied. But now, with his son in his arms, he realizes that this is a goddamn miracle. And even if pregnancy was anything but easy, even if his scar itches like crazy and it will always be there to remind him that he’s different than his peers – he’s been incredibly lucky.
Except that life goes on, and the role he’s supposed to play is not exactly that of a new father. Bayern gave him two weeks to recover from the birth and the surgery before he has to return to a very slimmed-down rehab. Two weeks off from work that Manu intends to savour in every way he can.
He spends the rest of the afternoon on the couch with a pot of herbal tea in front of him, watching nature documentaries with the volume turned down, cradling Fabi against his chest and breastfeeding him every few hours.
Thomas comes home just when he’s into his third session.
Manu is dazed by then, his eyes threatening to fall shut if it wasn’t for Fabi sucking at his chest and the quiet noise of the TV. As it is, he doesn’t manage to cover himself up quickly enough, blinking at Thomas like a deer in the headlights. Thomas stares back for a second, then a smile curls at his lips. He drops his training bag to the floor, rushing over to where Manu is still sitting frozen, unable to speak when Thomas starts to pepper kisses all over his face before leaning down, placing one careful peck on Fabi’s head.
“Hey boys. I missed you.”
His voice his warm, and Manu realizes that Thomas doesn’t care – doesn’t care that his role is now different than it was before the pregnancy or even during it. Thomas’ voice engulfs him, and Manu feels so fucking loved, he almost has to bite back a sob but then just manages not to.
“Was training okay?”
Thomas shrugs. “Still miss you, of course, but nothing new there. The boys do, too, by the way. You’re still our captain, you know? You leave a hole when you aren’t there.”
Manu grumbles, trying to hide how touched he is. “Well, they’ll have to wait just for a bit longer.” A smile tugs at his lips when Fabi pulls away from his nipple and he grapples to pull up his shirt again one-handed.
Thomas sits down next to him, carefully, smiling so widely when Fabi extends his little hands for him that it almost falls off his face. “Hey there Krümel. Did you behave for your papa?” He raises an eyebrow at Manu, and Manu smiles back, nodding.
“He didn’t even cry when we were in the taxi. Are you,” – he hesitates – “are you not weirded out by me breastfeeding him?”
Thomas’ look is one of confusion. “Why the hell would I be? It’s natural. And he needs to eat, doesn’t he?” He gently brushes his hand over Manu’s pecs, and Manu feels a shiver run down his spine at it. “It’s a great bonus how sensitive it means you are here.”
Manu giggles, and Fabi squeals. Thomas tilts his head.
“I think we should put him to bed. It’s getting late.”
In fact, it’s only 8pm, but Thomas is right. Babies should sleep a lot, and after three days in the hospital, constantly surrounded by other people, just being able to curl up in Thomas arms on their own for a while, without anyone walking in on them, sounds … wonderful.
Fabi has other plans, though.
He looks around curiously when they place him in his crib and Manu pulls the soft little blanket around him before leaning down, kissing his little head, but quickly closes his eyes as soon as he feels comfortable and his parents leave him alone just after Thomas brushed his thumbs over his cheek once more.
They’ve just about settled back on the couch, Manu sighing happily when he slips under Thomas’ arm, snuggling into his side, trying to ignore how uncomfortable his lower midsection still feels and relishing in Thomas’ lips pressed against his temple – flinching when the crying starts. Manu groans, and Thomas mutters something incomprehensible. Then, the forward sighs.
“No no, you stay here, I’ll take care of him. He’s just eaten, so he doesn’t specifically need your help. You must be exhausted, Schatz.” Thomas caresses his hair before getting up, “Rest.”
It takes Thomas about twenty minutes to calm Fabi down. It’s quicker, Manu acknowledges fondly, than the nurses at the clinic told him they took, and when he finally drags himself off the couch and upstairs, he finds both of them asleep on the big armchair in the nursery, Fabi sleeping happily on Thomas’ chest.
He’s almost sorry to wake him up, and luckily, Fabi stays asleep this time. Long enough, at least, so Manu can whip up a quick, simple pasta dinner for the two of them. But just as they want to go to bed, Fabi starts crying again.
They take turns that night, first Manu, then Thomas, and when they finally do get up in the morning to find their son peacefully asleep in his crib, they’ve gotten about five hours of sleep each.
Thomas looks like a wreck, but his smile is small and honest. He kisses Manu on the cheek before flopping down in the armchair again. “Can you take care of breakfast? I’ll stay up here if he wakes up again.” His grin is crooked and charming but Manu knows exactly what his intention is. He rolls his eyes.
“Lazy asshole,” he mutters, but then happily leans down to accept their first kiss on the day, not even caring that Thomas tastes of morning breath.
Fabi is still asleep when they eat, and after, Manu wakes him up with a gentle poke to his tiny shoulder to feed him for the first time that day.
Thomas leaves around noon, and the house feels quiet and a bit lonely so that Manu is honestly glad to have Fabi with him, entertaining himself by taking in all his features: the short, chubby legs, his hair that already seems a bit less sparse than three days ago (though he must be imagining that), his tiny fingers with the even tinier pink fingernails, his eyes that are so much like Thomas’–
He almost jumps off the couch when the doorbell rings, swearing under his breath. He’s still wearing nothing but sweatpants and a random paternity t-shirt that is now too big for him, sliding off his shoulders, but luckily, his guests do not mind.
The first thing that happens when he opens the door is that he’s greeted by a familiar, excited bark. Momo shoots through his legs three times before jumping up at them, panting and smiling her cutest dog smile, adorably happy to see him. Manu grins, crouching down do pet her head, still carefully holding on to his son, cooing at his dog so that he doesn’t even really pay attention to his other visitor at first. He only lifts his head again when Lisa clears her throat, looking down at him with an amusedly lifted eyebrow.
“She really missed you, huh? No worries, the boys accepted her into their pack pretty quickly, but I’m still glad I’ll only have to take care of two dogs again.”
Manu smiles at her, getting up, rubbing his palm on his pants as he clears his throat.
“Thanks again, for the dogsitting.” Then, he coughs, looking down at where Fabi is wiggling in his arms. “And yeah, this is your future godson.”
Lisa is still grinning. “I figured. Are you gonna let me in?” Manu steps aside, and Lisa leans down, eyeing Fabi curiously. “Hi little man. I’m Lisa. You’re probably gonna be seeing a lot of me.”
Fabi gurgles happily.
It’s amazing, how she and Momo bring life into the house. She decides to prepare lunch for them – “I know Thomas can’t cook for shit, I was married to the guy for almost ten years in case you’ve forgotten, and you really deserve a break. Sit your ass down, Neuer.” – and while she’s chopping peppers for a big mixed salad, she is just talking about this and that.
Sometimes, Manu wonders how she and Thomas ever managed to live together. Neither seem to ever shut up, and he imagines they must have just been talking over each other constantly. It’s a funny thing to imagine, and it makes him snort, making Lisa send him a funny luck.
Manu still hasn’t let go of Fabi, but when she places the overly full edible bouquet in front of Manu, complete with fresh cheeses, tomato, peppers, green salad, tuna and olives, he reluctantly places him on the little nest they’ve made for him in his baby bouncer.
Momo is sitting only a few feet away, curiously eyeing their household’s newest member. Fabi is staring at her as well, and after a while, Momo lays her head down on her paws, never taking her eyes of him.
Lisa smiles as she chews on her salad. “She’s protecting him.”
Manu nods, feeling a bit overwhelmed. “Yeah,” he croaks, rubbing his nose. God, those post-pregnancy hormones are really getting to him.
Momo is still sitting in her spot by Fabi’s feet – who has by now fallen asleep – when Lisa leaves an hour later. She eyes Manu carefully as he goes to pick Fabi up again, settling back on the couch. She is still watching him when he pulls the shoulder of his shirt down, letting Fabi latch onto his chest, attentively.
After a few minutes, she jumps on the couch as well, but instead of making a ruckus, she just places her head on Manu’s thigh.
Manu sniffles, reaching over to scratch her ears. “Good girl.”
Yeah, he’s missed her too.
Chapter 21: First Steps
They quickly learn that life with a baby never grows boring. Thomas doesn’t think he’s ever been so sleep deprived in his life, and on top of that, they need to change his diapers regularly, Manu needs to feed him and both of them quickly realize that they have to entertain him, as well.
Fabi is a curious little man, looking around constantly (even if Thomas knows he mostly follows the sounds), trying to take in everything around him. He isn’t able to crawl yet, obviously, but whenever he’s overly excited he starts to wiggle in the arms of whichever parent he is placed in at the moment, trying to escape his bouncer or just grab on to something (and adorably, not really succeeding yet.)
It’s a lot of work, but of course, it’s still the exact opposite of horrible.
There’s no denying that it leaves both of them exhausted, though. Several times, when Thomas comes home from an early training session while Manu is still at Säbener, discussing stuff with Kathleen or starting to do very light work with the physios, he falls asleep with Fabi right on his chest. Manu always wakes him up with a gentle nudge of his shoulder, his smile so terribly fond and soft that Thomas falls in love with him again and again. It happens the other way around, too, and so, occasionally, he finds Manu sleeping with Fabi in his arms on the couch, in the garden, upstairs on the floor of their office or in the big armchair of their bedroom with the unmade bed only a few feet away.
It’s incredibly endearing, and god, it’s amazing, having seen their son grow and learn over the past few weeks, and occasionally it baffles Thomas, how quickly he changes. All of it is accompanied by his happy gurgling that sounds more and more like an actual giggle with each passing day, or his cries of dissatisfaction whenever he doesn’t feel well – usually, it’s to indicate a necessary diaper change or because he hasn’t eaten in a while.
Thomas has found that rocking him in your arm helps a lot during the day. Fabi usually immediately calms down when either of his dads quietly whisper to him – he’s even tried singing a while ago, happily registering that it seems to have an almost perplexing quality on their son, as if he’s so enchanted by the low, deep tones so that he forgets that he was upset just a short while ago.
It’s maybe one of his favourite things about Fabi, they way he looks at him with innocent wonder in those moments.
Well, apart from how he looks nestled into Manu’s arms, of course. Because truly, it does strange things to Thomas’ insides to see his boyfriend – no, his fiancé! – with their son in his arms. Manu looks absolutely wonderful holding a child, Thomas has known that for a long time, but god, it’s even better when it’s Fabi that he’s holding. Each time he looks at the two of them together, warmth pools in his stomach, such an incredible, all-encompassing fondness that it’s almost unbearable. Those two are the center of his universe, he knows it, and at this point, Thomas would do anything to protect them.
Fittingly, snapping pictures of the two of them has quickly become his favourite hobby. He knows he’s maybe not the best photographer, so many of them are wonky and objectively shitty, but he is still excited about all the heartfelt moments he manages to capture – the first time Fabi laughs at Manu pulling faces at him, Momo caringly licking his face and their little boy giggling, Manu, the spatula in one hand and the other arm wrapped around Fabi as he cooks, Lisa at the baptism, next to her Marcel, clutching a smiling Fabi in her arms, surrounded by their families. Manu’s eyes, wide and incredulous, when Fabi babbles something that actually resembles human language, even if the sounds are still and will be for months – completely incomprehensible.
Maybe his favourite in his collection is one Manu took of him and their Krümel for once, though. It has taken them some time to learn how to properly burp him, and well, although it happened more than Thomas would admit, one time when their son had just thrown up on him Manu had been there ready with his phone raised, snapping a picture with a shit-eating grin.
So yes, all in all, their first few weeks as parents have been anything but perfect – but in a way, they still have been that and so much more.
But wherever there is light, there’s also shadow. Parenting is hard, they have to learn that quickly when Manu is expected back at Säbener every day to get back on track with his rehab and training as soon as he can, separated from Fabi, and separated from Thomas too, who is busy with training of his own.
For the first two weeks after Manu starts working again, Thomas’ mother offers to take him in during the day, but after a few days, Thomas can see how the driving back into the city every day tries her, and how Fabi, in all his curiosity, all his liveliness, must be too. His mother not an old woman just yet, but she’s too old to take care of a baby the way she took care of her own sons. Lisa, on the other hand, has her hands full with her own training and the horses, so Thomas knows he doesn’t even need to think about asking her.
They have yet to find a nanny, and as the only solution left, Manu starts taking Fabi with him when he leaves in the morning. Often, he places him in Kathleen’s care – who sighs disapprovingly but is disarmed by Fabi’s toothless charm and his golden curls – or whenever she isn’t in her office, he takes him with him to the gym as Thomas and the others train outside.
It takes just one disapproving look from Hoeneß, who ‘randomly’ walks by the training center a few days later, for them to realize that that wasn’t a good idea.
All in all, their boss was surprisingly forthcoming shortly before and after Fabi was born. Bayern had sent Manu a gift basket in his name, including some items for Fabi, and a video message that seemed strangely genuine. Every now and then, Thomas realized, he still sees the man shining through who used to care about all his players as if they were his own sons.
But then, Manu cam back to Säbener, and now it’s disapproving glances whenever he says he isn’t able to perform an exercise yet due to abdominal or back pain, when he requires more rest than someone who’d just returned from a regular injury. It’s steady enquiries about Manu’s progress from Andrea, it’s whisking Thomas away to meetings whenever he plans to slip away to check on his partner and their child.
It tugs on both their nerves, though Thomas is sure Manu must feel even more uneasy about it than himself. And truly, stress is the last thing their captain and his body need in this situation.
On top of that, it doesn’t help that Fabi still keeps them up at night. He’s a rather quiet child during the day, all things considering, but at night, it’s all different. It takes Manu a while to recall that first time he brought him home, the way Fabi had immediately quieted down when he’d brought him outside to the garden that first afternoon and Thomas knows that he must stare at him as if he’s grown a second head when Manu suggests it.
“You want to try – what?!” It’s two in the morning, and they’re cross-legged sitting on the floor of Fabi’s nursery, Manu rocking their crying son in his arms.
Manu chuckles awkwardly.
“Just take him for a walk? I tried driving him around in the car, the other day when you were in Frankfurt, but it didn’t help at all, so.”
Thomas gapes. Then, he groans before getting up, extending a hand to pull Manu up. Manu takes it, grinning softly.
It feels strange, to walk the streets at night. Manu is carrying Fabi in the sling, and Thomas has an arm wrapped around his waist. Already, Fabi has quieted down significantly, only quietly sniffling as Manu keeps petting his head. He finally goes completely quiet when they turn the corner to the nearest park. Dumbfoundedly, Manu stares at the lock in front of the big gate. Of course they close it at night. Of course. Thomas knew that, and so did Manu – the fact that they completely forgot about it can probably be accounted to their general state of exhaustion.
“Do you think walking around a few more blocks would do?” he asks, sounding dead serious.
It’s not even funny, but as tired as he is, Manu can’t help it, he throws back his head and barks out a laugh. When he’s finally quieted down, he wipes his eyes with a giggle and a small little hiccup.
“Gosh, Thommy. Never change, yeah?”
After a while, Thomas starts to chuckle to, rising on his tiptoes and pecking Manu on the lips. It feels daring, to do this out in the open, where technically, everyone could see them. At the same time, it feels like breaking free. They’re alone on the dark street, and the spring air surrounding them is surprisingly warm, and they’re kissing shily, like a couple on their first date.
When they pull away they glance down at Fabi only to realize he’s dead asleep.
So are they, almost, when they finally walk through their front door again fifteen minutes later. They’ve walked the entire way back with their pinkies linked between them, and it felt forbidden, treasured, perfect. Thomas feels his eyes fluttering shut every few minutes too, and he’s blinking rapidly to make them stay open. Manu’s eyes are drooping too, and one time, he almost falls over his own feet – Thomas barely manages to catch him before he tumbles to the ground with Fabi still strapped to his chest.
It’s a hassle, to drag themselves upstairs in this state, and despite his tiredness, Manu manages to unwrap the sling carefully, placing Fabi in the middle of their bed. Thomas, already in his sleep clothes, sits down next to their son, staring at him.
He startles when Manu clears his throat.
“Can’t he just share a bed with us? I mean,” he fiddles with the t-shirt in his hands, his torso exposed, “it always calms him down, to be with us, so why leave him over there.” He nods to where they can see the nursery through the open door that connects the two rooms, and Thomas sighs.
“Manu. That’s … not a good idea.”
Manu pushes his bottom lip forward stubbornly. Thomas knows this look.
“Because …!” Yeah, he can’t remember. There probably is a scientific reason or another, but Thomas is so tired, he can’t really think of anything. He sighs again.
“Yeah, okay. Come here, sweetheart.”
Manu grins a tired grin and Thomas feels himself returning it. Manu shuffles around a bit before placing his head on Thomas’ chest as usual – but this time, with Fabi nestled in between them.
Thomas tilts his head downwards as well as be can, letting his finger brush against Fabi’s shoulder.
“Sleep well, Krümel. You too, Schatz.”
But when he turns to look at Manu, he finds that he’s already closed his eyes as well, his breath even.
And when he wakes up the next morning his entire world in his arms, Thomas admits that it’s the best sleep he’s ever had. Without, surprisingly, any interruptions at all.
Manu corners Hoeneß the next day.
Thomas learns about that only at dinner in the evening, when Manu sits him down with an excited grin, gently patting Fabi’s back to burp him.
“I requested that we write some new clauses into my contract. I mean, by now hardly the same stuff applies to me now that does for you and the the others, and it should reflect that.” He fidgets with his shirt. “His condition was that we find a nanny for during the day, ‘cause he really doesn’t want me to get distracted from my goal any more or that Kathleen is kept from doing her work.”
He’s not happy about it, Thomas can see that – any idiot could – but it’s a small price to pay for more humane working hours for someone who just gave birth three weeks ago, so he reaches out, squeezing Manu’s hand with his own.
“That’s great, sweetheart,” he says, and he means it.
At the same time, they both know that this might mean that Manu’s recovery could take longer that it already would have in the first place. Thomas thinks about the upcoming National Team nominations, about Russia – and he worries. When he looks into Manu’s clear blue eyes, he can see the same concern, the same apprehension reflected in them, too, but he knows there’s nothing either of them can do about that.
And then, two days later, Jogi calls.
It’s Manu’s phone that starts ringing, not Thomas’, and the younger feels the blood in his veins freeze as he watches all of Manu’s features freeze, his expression suddenly emotionless, hollow.
It’s safe to assume that they probably both fear for the worst in that moment.
Manu stands up, walking out of the room slowly, as if on autopilot, and Thomas presses Fabi closer, who blinks up at him with a confused look in his round eyes, his cheeks puffed up adorably.
“It’s gonna be okay, Krümel,” Thomas whispers, and desperately hopes that he will be right. The National Team – a World Cup – without Manu is not something he ever wants to picture.
Manu doesn’t emerge from the office for a long, long time.
After twenty minutes, Thomas starts to pace, only stopping when Fabi grows restless in his arms, eyes flickering around in a clear sign that he could start to cry any moment. He checks his diaper, almost relieved when he finds it empty, and when he returns to the living room, Manu stands in the doorway to his office as if he were made out of stone, phone clutched tightly in his hand.
Thomas stares at him.
“He asked me to come.” Manu’s voice is thin, disbelieving, barely loud enough for Thomas to understand.
“Jogi. He said I should come to Düsseldorf, to visit the team. It would be good for them, he said, to see that their captain is recovering well.” He puts his hand over his mouth, rubbing his nose–
Thomas exhales loudly. “Oh my god. Oh my god, he didn’t kick you out! You’re coming to Russia!!” He doesn’t even care the way his voice cracks halfway through the sentence, that’s how excited he is.
Manu chuckles awkwardly, hiding his hands in his pockets. He looks at the ground but Thomas can hear the tears in his eyes.
“Jesus, calm down, Thommy. We don’t know that.”
Thomas shrugs. “Sure we don’t. But it’s a start. It’s one hell of a start.”
And he knows he’s right. Usually, no players that don’t actually belong to the squad are officially allowed in the team hotel, extended squad or not. The fact that Manu just got that impossible permission, is invited to join them for an entire afternoon and the team dinner … Thomas shakes his head incredulously, carefully placing Fabi in his bouncer before walking up to Manu, wrapping his arms around his waist, pulling him closer so hastily that Manu winces. (His stomach is still sensitive, even if everything is healing well.)
He kisses him, and everything feels right.
Chapter 22: Desire
again, this chapter is rated M!
It’s that healthy, highly enjoyable makeout session that makes Manu realize how much he missed being intimate with Thomas in this way.
He finds they haven’t properly had sex in ages – before the birth both of them had been too busy, and ever since, taking care of Fabi has taken up all of their free time, and Manu really fucking misses it.
Now, he reluctantly pulls away from Thomas when Fabi starts crying again, clearly displeased with the lack of attention he’s receiving. Also hungry, Manu realizes when he picks him up and their little boy starts nozzling at his chest immediately. Despite feeling on edge, it makes Manu chuckle. He really is adorable. And that, for the moment, is enough to distract him from his other urges.
But then, it’s evening and for once, Fabi is actually sleeping in his own crib with Momo standing watch. He's been asleep for two hours and it’s almost too good to be true.
Manu eyes the door carefully, but when there’s no noise at all, he turns onto his back, blinking up at Thomas who is reading some biography about a guy Manu never heard about. He’s looking very concentrated, and it only elevates that strange handsomeness that he has to him and that makes Manu remember how he was thirsting for him only hours before, yearning for his touch and well – for him to make short work of Manu’s ass.
If Manu were anyone else, he would have probably just flat out asked if they could have sex. But he’s never been that good with words, always more capable of showing than telling, and so, he lifts his head, placing it on Thomas’ hip, letting his hand slip under his fiancé’s t-shirt, resting it on the warm skin as he sucks his lip between his teeth.
Thomas looks down at him amusedly, a smirk tugging at the corner of his mouth. “You wanna do stuff?”
Manu blinks up at him.
Thomas’ grin grows wider. “We’ve been dating long enough for me being able to tell when you’re horny as hell, sweetheart.”
Manu feels his own mouth twist into a smile, shrugging before hoisting himself up, pressing his lips against Thomas’ without hiding how satisfying it is, groaning when he feels Thomas’ hand gripping his hip, pulling him closer.
Thomas is right; they’ve been together for almost two years, but heck, kissing him still feels like the best thing in the world. It makes Manu’s toes curl, his insides twist with desire. The way Thomas’ stubble feels against his skin, the way he holds him almost possessively, his rough gasps, his firm chest under Manu’s hand, the way he groans when Manu reaches down, letting his hands brush over Thomas’ crotch before slipping it in between his own thighs–
He feels disoriented when Thomas suddenly pulls away.
The short wave of panic that floods over Manu couldn’t be described as rational, his thoughts a mess. What if Thomas doesn’t want him anymore? What if he’s appalled by his reconstructed stomach, his softer tummy? It’s completely unreasonable, he knows that, but nevertheless he feels paralyzed, flinching when Thomas places a hand onto his cheek, caressing it.
“Schatz. Breathe. You’re fine. We’re fine.” He chuckles, almost incredulously. “It’s just, I just realized – we don’t have a contraception plan. I don’t think we even have condoms in the house!” He pets Manu’s hair, making Manu feel instantly more relaxed, leaning in and kissing him again – sweetly this time, carefully, as if he were made out of glass.
“I’ll try to organize something tomorrow, okay? Would you be okay with taking pills?”
Manu nods, slowly. Jesus, he hadn’t even thought about that. Thomas chuckles, continuing his tender head scratches, pulling Manu closer, positioning his head on his shoulder.
“Considering everything, it’s really a miracle you only got pregnant when you did, huh.”
He’s not wrong. And with Fabi keeping them very busy, they really shouldn’t risk it happening again at the moment. Especially when – Manu gnaws on his bottom lip – it would mean another almost year-long break from football. No, he couldn’t stomach that, not again. But at the same time–
He turns his head up to look at Thomas. “I can still blow you, though.”
Thomas’ answering cackle and the way he seems very eager to shrug off his sweatpants is enough for the grin to return to Manu's lips, before shuffling down, licking his lips in anticipation. He pulls off Thomas’ briefs, and Thomas’ hand is still in his hair, gripping it tighter, making Manu’s own underwear feel pretty tight–
But then, the exact same moment he wants to wrap his lips around Thomas’ dick, Fabi starts crying.
Manu wants to fucking die.
There are now only two days left before International Break and Manu feels like his blue balls are pretty close to actually killing him. Luckily (or unluckily), Thomas doesn’t seem to be much better, though. Every time they hug, both their lower parts twitch, every time they cuddle, it turns into a heated make out session that they begrudgingly break up whenever their son starts demanding their attention – usually by wailing and only stopping once either of his fathers has changed his nappy, Manu fed him or either of them rocked him in their arms until Fabi finally would fall asleep. It’s exhausting and frustrating at the same time.
In the end, they end up having a quickie in the garden just once as he takes his mid-day nap, and it’s enough to take the edge off for the moment – but they both realize that they need a solution for this. The solution comes in the form of Hannah.
She’s 28 years old, pregnant herself and a future single mother, working from home and in dire need of some pocket money. She found Manu and Thomas over the small anonymous ad they’d put in the local paper; after some initial reservations, she’d been the only one they had dared to ask to come over for a talk after reviewing her application, and luckily, she was a hit. Sure, she’d been surprised at who exactly she was faced with, as well as the fact that they were engaged and had a child, but she had quickly managed to get over her initial shock and all three of them had quickly warmed up to each other.
As a test, Manu reluctantly and carefully handed her Fabi, who stopped crying the second his future nanny cooed at him, tickling his belly. She grew up with three younger siblings, Hannah explained, having picked up some tricks in the process, before looking up at Manu again.
“He’s a cute one. He looks a lot like you, Herr Neuer.”
“Manuel,” Manu said, offering her a crooked smile that she returned warmly.
And after the mandatory signing of a thorough non-disclosure agreement as well as her employment contract, both Manu and Thomas agreed unanimously that they would hire her as Fabi’s nanny.
They travel to the National Team separately – after all, Manu is still only a guest – but that doesn’t stop Thomas from engulfing him in a big hug when he finally does join them.
“Hey, sweetheart,” he whispers, winking.
Manu rolls his eyes. They’ve seen each other only four hours ago, but still, it feels different. It feels good to be back. Out of the corners of his eyes he sees Mats snorting at their overly emotional reunion, and most of the others eyeing him curiously. As soon as Thomas lets go of him, Manu offers them an awkward smile.
It’s weird to be here but not actually be a part of the team. Marc offers him a hug as soon as they come face to face. He’s a nice guy and an extremely talented goalkeeper, but Manu doesn’t doubt he appreciates the playtime he got this past season, so his smile is a bit forced.
He flinches a bit when Niklas pats him on the back.
“Good to see you, Captain.”
Manu shakes his head, grinning. “Nikki, you saw me two days ago.”
The tall defender shrugs. “Still.”
Soon, all Bayern players have flocked around their captain; most of them, Manu still sees on a daily basis now that he doesn’t actively have to hide from them, but it somehow feels different to have them here, to be reminded of what they’re working for. Soon, the rest of the team follows, and Manu feels touched by all of them asking about his well-being and if he will be able to join them in two months. Russia seems daunting not only for him because he still fears he might miss it, but also for most of these youngsters who haven’t played a World Cup before.
He doesn’t have to be asked twice when Bierhoff encourages him to give a little motivational speech to the boys after the shared dinner, and even if, as usual, he just stumbles his way through an improvised short few sentences, the boys applaud him when he sits down, Thomas squeezing his arm.
“Well done, Schatz,” he murmurs quietly, his smile bright and Manu’s heart hitches.
For a second, he feels as wide-eyed as he did two years ago, when things between him and Thomas first started to get serious, when he realized that maybe this crush wasn’t one-sided, when Thomas treated him with such genuinity that it made him feel, for lack of a better word, special. When the world seemed to be made out of just the two of them and the crowds in the stands screaming their names.
Now, Manu feels weird without having Fabi here.
He sighs, and Thomas sends him a quizzical glance.
It is loud in the big dinner hall of the hotel, the noise resonating off the high ceiling, so Manu doesn’t really care that they’re speaking about this in plain sight. “I miss Krümel.”
He hasn’t really been separated from him for longer than a few hours ever since Fabi was born, and it’s strange to not having to check up on him every now and then, strange that his chest aches because he hasn’t been able to breastfeed in eight hours, worried because what if something happens and he isn’t there? Sure, Hannah has his number and he’s got his phone in his pocket, but what if?
Thomas’ smile is crooked. “He will be okay.” Manu can see how tempted he is to lean in, to quickly peck his cheek, and they exchange a regretful grin when instead, the forward just squeezes his biceps. “And so will we. God, but I really don’t wanna think about what will be when we have to leave him alone for months this summer, huh.”
Manu sends him a glare. Yes, that’s exactly what his thoughts have been circling around too, what he’s been trying to avoid thinking about too much, and damn Thomas for bringing up that up again.
The look in his fiancé’s eyes is regretful, so Manu sighs, letting his hand brush against Thomas’.
Still, he jumps when his phone vibrates in his pocket, nerves suddenly on edge, sending Jogi an apologizing smile as he gets up from his chair under Thomas’ worried, watchful eyes, rushing out to the hallway. It’s a text that he’s gotten, and at first he feels relieved when he sees that it isn’t from Hannah.
Then, the blood freezes in his veins.
Congrats on still being relevant in Löw’s eyes. How is the baby doing, it must be a few months old now
He must have seen the posts on Instagram. Despite the actual meaning of the two sentences, the words feel cold, and Manu clutches the device so tightly he fears he might break it. He hasn’t heard from his father ever since he finally left his house back in January, has tried to not think about him ever since he almost had a miscarriage because of the stress he caused him. He didn’t even know that he had his mobile phone number, that’s how rarely they used to communicate even before Manu started seeing Thomas.
At first, his fingers hover over the delete button, but then, slowly, with fingers that feel as if they were made out of clay, he starts to type an answer. It’s cold in the hallway, and it’s scarcely lit; apart from a security guard that he sees pacing in the lobby, there is no one in sight. Manu tugs his hoodie closer around himself.
Do you even care?
It’s an accusation more so than a question. He regrets sending it the second he does. At first, the bright white of the messenger seems to taunt him, but then, three little dots appear, and Manu feels nauseous the way he last did when he was still battling morning sickness.
Suddenly, he realizes that he doesn’t want to hear another one of his father’s lies. Not after what happened earlier that year. Not after what he did to him. Not after what he inadvertently did to Fabian. Furiously wiping the tears away that have been pooling in his eyes, he presses the three dots at the upper right corner. He doesn’t hesitate when his phone asks him if he really wants to block this number.
For five minutes, Manu just stands there, back resting against the cold wall, eyes closed. The surface of the wallpaper feels rough under his fingertips, the taste in his mouth is weird.
He startles when someone touches his arm.
He sounds scared, almost, and his eyes are wide, seeming almost terrifyingly big in the low light of the hallway. “Is Fabi okay?”
His voice wavers, and Manu gives him a tight smile. “Yeah. Just a spam message.”
They both know that he’s lying as they make the trek back to dinner, Thomas’ hand curling around Manu’s biceps, but for now, Thomas seems satisfied knowing that it is not anything happening to their son that has shaken him to his core. Still, later, his eyes seem to say when they finally push open the big double door, and Manu nods tightly.
Manu wasn’t supposed to be staying overnight, but it turns out the DFB booked a room for him either way. Manu thanks Oliver with a tight smile, but still, the room stays mostly untouched as he enters it only to deposit his luggage, fishing out his neatly folded sleep clothes before hurrying down the hallway in the dead of the night, knocking on his co-captain’s door.
Thomas’ smile is lopsided, and he greets Manu with a kiss. It doesn’t take them any time at all to find their way into bed, eager to make the most of the night. And it’s only in the morning, when Manu’s alarm rudely awakes them and he buries his face in Thomas’ chest with a groan, making Thomas chuckle, his rough morning voice sending shivers down Manu’s spine, that he finally tells him.
“My dad texted me yesterday.”
He feels Thomas still under his ear, the hand in his hair stopping its motions, Thomas’ breath hitch. “Oh?”
Manu hums. “Wanted to know how Fabi is doing. I think. At least he said so, but it didn’t sound genuine.”
Thomas stays uncharacteristically quiet, but Manu can feel how tense he is.
He sighs. “I blocked him. After all that happened, he doesn’t deserve to be involved in Fabi’s life. Or in mine. Not unless he comes forward and apologizes in person. For everything.”
He can feel Thomas’ breath of relief, and it resonates in his bones.
It’s scary, the thought of not having a father anymore. Not really, at least. But then, he thinks of the way Thomas’ dad greeted him with open arms the second he walked through the Müller’s door, offered him a beer and talked to him about tennis. Thinks of how genuinely happy Andi seemed to see him yesterday, how closely he’d hugged him, asked about how he was – and he didn’t care about the progress he made with rehab, but about how he was doing in general, how he felt–
And he realizes that he’s long been closer to other father figures than he’s been to his biological father for years, and that likely, nothing will change much at all.
Manu sits up, and so does Thomas’. The younger grips his hands, squeezing then, before leaning in and gently kissing the soft skin underneath Manu’s chin, making him giggle.
“Good,” Thomas whispers, and he’s right.
It does feel good. It feels like a burden being lifted.
And when Manu packs his things, saying goodbye to the man he loves with an extended hug, a deep kiss and a promise for a belated celebration of Manu’s birthday the second Thomas comes home, before shuffling back to his own, unused room, taking one look out of the window overlooking the lush, green hotel park and feeling lighter than he has in forever.
Chapter 23: An Interlude
It’s May, and Manu’s cutting his comeback awfully close.
Already, there’s only two games of Bundesliga left to play and Bayern already won the league a month ago and lost the Champions League just recently without him, and the only thing Manu now has left to pray for is playtime. He just returned to real goalkeeper training a few days ago, and he can feel the frustration building in his back, his muscles, and the way he snaps at everyone even when he doesn’t want to.
It doesn’t help that he has to leave to breastfeed Fabi every few hours – usually, Hannah spends the day on the training grounds with him, so it’s only a short walk, but even though holding his son and talking to their nanny, who is a very calm, down-to-earth person, usually helps him relax, the disruption seems strange to the rest of the team and it makes everyone send him strange looks that he can feel as if they were drilling holes in the back of his head.
Of course, Toni realizes how tense he is and tries to calm him down, but even with one of his oldest friends, Manu isn’t really able to get back to his normal, focused self.
“Is it the baby?” Toni asks, and Manu glares at him. Fabi is fine, really, being the little sunshine he is and currently one of the only positive things in Manu’s life – the issue is that he hasn’t played a game in nine months and that the chance of even being able to travel to Russia, never mind play a single game, is getting slimmer by the day.
His chest feels puffy, his back aches, and he still has to be careful with his stomach so as to not risk a tearing of his c-section scar. He’s annoyed, and not even Thomas can help him shed the restless feeling that has captured his entire body and soul.
“It’s fine,” he grunts, before jumping off the ground to catch another ball, sweat dripping down his forehead.
The sky is clouding over with dark rain clouds when he finally packs his bags to go home. He had to stay back for yet another meeting with the doctors, insisting that he should be careful and that maybe sitting out the rest of the season – ‘rest’, god, it’s three games – as well would be best.
He doesn’t expect Thomas to still be waiting for him, as his training finished two hours ago, but when Manu steps outside, he finds him sitting in one of the small lounge areas, with Fabi asleep in his arms. He looks concerned.
“What did they say?”
Of course Thomas knows what is troubling him.
Manu sighs, dropping down next to him, letting his head fall onto his fiancé’s shoulder, not even caring who could see. “I guess you’ll have to finish the season without me.”
Thomas frowns. “For real?” The look in his eyes softens when Manu nods tightly. “God, Schatz, I’m so sorry.”
“They’ll put me in the squad for the Pokal, probably, but Sven will get to play.” He hiccups, knotting his hands together, his voice small, tired. “I just want to play.”
Thomas leans over, kissing his head. “Oh sweetheart. Of course you do. I see how hard you work, everyone does. Even Jogi. If anyone can do it, it’s you. You’re Manuel Neuer, for fuck’s sake. You’re so stubborn. You never give up. And you’re still one of the greats.” He smiles, grabbing Manu’s chin, forcing him to look in his eyes. “And I love you. Hell will have to freeze over for me to play a World Cup without you. We need you, Captain. And everyone in a right mind knows that.”
Manu feels his mouth twist into a tiny, honest smile. “Thanks,” he breathes, and Thomas squeezes his shoulder.
They both startle when Fabi starts making happy noises between them.
Thomas chuckles. “There we go again, huh. We still need to figure out what to do with you, little man, when both of us travel to South Tirol.”
Fabi’s only answer is a delighted giggle when his dad gently pokes him in the stomach.
In the end, it’s Thomas who Manu hands the Bundesliga trophy to when they get to celebrate their win on the last matchday. ‘You were the captain this time’ his eyes say, and Thomas’ smile is pained but it’s clear he agrees. Now, it is becoming clear more than ever before that the captainhood is something they share, something they’ve maybe shared from the beginning.
Thomas looks glorious when he lifts the trophy, and Manu is just glad he is able to stand by his side, without crutches this time.
Soon, all his negative thoughts get drowned out by the glee he gets every time from pouring beer over unsuspecting victims’ heads – this year, he really manages to get Sven which he counts as a personal victory, as well as going head-to-head with an equally sneaky Kathleen – and of course tasting quite a bit of the good brew himself as well. He’s comfortably tipsy when Thomas finds his side again, wrapping his arms around his waist as Manu slings his around his shoulders, exchanging a quick grin as Joshua walks ahead with the salad bowl, as the trophy is so fondly nicknamed.
‘We did well’, Thomas’ eyes seem to say, and Manu has to agree, even though it still pains him he almost had no part in this victory.
The celebrations last well into the night and Thomas never parts from Manu’s side the entire time. At their table, he entertains everyone with his stories, Manu sitting on his right, Lisa, who of course, for the public is still presented as his partner, on his left. They’re both smiling, and Manu gleefully finds that he’s completely free of jealousy when he sees the two of them banter.
Later, they’re asked to present the trophy again, this time side by side, and Manu feels his lips pulling so wide into a smile that it almost hurts. Thomas holds a speech, followed by Hoeneß and Rummenigge, who both suddenly seem to not care anymore about the illicit relationship between their captains, not now when they’ve fulfilled their duty and everything is good.
Minutes later, the two of them sneak outside, and Manu feels dizzy in the most perfect way possible, just enough dazed by the alcohol, intoxicated by his future husband’s lips against his own. They burst out into giggles when they have to hide behind a corner when someone else enters the hallway, exchanging a grin when they realize it’s only Mats. His facial expression when they jump on him almost makes Manu piss himself with laughing, and you can see the fume rising from the defenders’ head as he promises to kill them as they run away laughing, laughing even more when they hear Mats stumble over his own feet, faceplanting right onto the carpeted floor.
The next morning comes with a hangover and with it a notable headache, but when Manu snuggles deeper into the comfortable sheets, Thomas’ arm heavy around his shoulders, and Fabi’s excited awake noises coming from the other room, stumbling over to the nursery doesn’t feel like a burden, it feels like a gift.
“Hey Krümel,” Manu mumbles, “I’m pretty damn tired today, so you’re gonna need to forgive me if I’m being a bit sloppy.”
“Sloppy, huh,” Thomas murmurs from behind Manu’s shoulder, wrapping his arms around his waist, placing his chin on Manu’s shoulder so that Manu has to really crane his neck to look at him. But then Thomas’ eyes are so adoring, and Manu is weak, so weak for that look because it makes him feel so damn loved, so damn happy–
Thomas kisses the spot behind this ear. “You look really cute when you’re this sleepy, babe.”
Manu doesn’t even try to protest being called cute anymore, and instead he just laughs, picking Fabi up and bouncing in his arms. He feels Thomas’ grin wider against his skin.
“And our Krümel definitely is the cutest.”
Fabi burps, and Thomas cackles. And just like that, everything is right in the world.
Of course, it doesn’t mean that Manu stops fearing for his nomination for the day. God, it really doesn’t. They’ve got the day off, so they take Fabi for a walk in the stroller with the sheer hopes that no one will recognize them due to the weather being sort of foggy and moist and gross, but they take care not to seem too coupley anyway.
Momo enjoys the time outside as always, and so does Fabi who starts wiggling around in his buggy seat as soon as he spots the birds in the hedges, the wind in the trees, and Momo running ahead, tongue hanging out of her mouth, ears flapping. It feels like they’re just a normal family going for a walk, instead of the state secret they actually are.
Manu breathes in the clean air, relishing in the way it partially releases the throbbing pain in his head, and just tries to forget about anything for the moment. He sits down on a bench by the lake, placing Fabi on his legs and rocking him as Thomas and Momo romp around to a degree that it’s a miracle Thomas doesn’t slip and fall right into the water. It makes him laugh, and for once, it’s him who draws his phone, snapping blurry pictures first of his partner and dog, then of the baby in his arms before switching to selfies which Fabi really doesn’t seem to like, as he always twists his head away the second Manu is satisfied with his own angle.
Everything feels perfect, but he still knows that he’s got only two days to go until Jogi will announce the preliminary squad, and his stomach twists and turns still as Thomas lets himself drop on the bench next to him, hair a mess, breathing heavily. Momo is still wagging her tail, eager to go again, but Thomas shakes his head.
“No, no young lady, this old man is tired. Here,” he picks up a twig from the ground. “Fetch!”
She does so eagerly, and Thomas gifts Manu a slanted grin.
“How there’s this much energy in this small dog, I still have no idea.”
Manu snorts. “Have you ever seen Joshua? Or Philipp?! The tinier they are …”
Thomas cackles. “You’re not wrong there.” Then, he grows more serious. “Are you worried about Tuesday?”
Manu rubs his nose. “I don’t know. I have done the best I can. I already have the privilege of being the captain, if I was anyone else I know I’d be out already. But I haven’t had any playtime, and I just don’t know if he – if he can take responsibility for that if he did pick me and things would go south.”
It feels good, to finally voice the truth, articulate those words.
Thomas doesn’t deny it. Instead, he just sighs. “I meant what I said a few weeks ago. I don’t know if I can do it without you. I’m not sure if any of us can.”
“Marc is a good ‘keeper.”
Thomas’ lips twist into a small, cynical smile. “That’s not the main issue here and you know that as well as me.”
There’s a loose thread on Manu’s sweatshirt and he twists it between thumb and index finger, the other arm still locked tightly around Fabi who is blinking up at his parents with wide eyes, clearly noting that something is different than just minutes before.
“I’m afraid,” he says, and the truth of it hurts a lot. “I’m afraid that if I don’t go this year, I won’t get to play in an international tournament ever again.”
“Would it be so bad then, to go out as a World Cup winner and holding a Golden Glove? Who knows what’s gonna happen this year; maybe you’d even regret it afterwards that you did come.”
He’s just teasing, trying to lighten the mood, but Manu looks out on the lake, the water glistening when the few rays of sun that make it through the mist hit the surface and considers Thomas’ words.
“I don’t think I could. No matter what, I’d always regret not being able to go more.”
Thomas places his head on Manu’s shoulder, and sighs. “Then, I guess all we can do is wait.”
Chapter 24: Südtirol
Manu’s name stands out painstakingly against the white of the background, the second one listed out of Germany’s four goalkeepers, right under Bernd Leno’s.
Thomas is currently in the living room, sitting at their big dining table, bobbing Fabi on his leg, his phone on the table, in one hand a spoon hovering in the air as if it had been frozen, the other wrapped around their son’s middle to keep him from falling.
“MANU!” he yells, so loudly that Fabi immediately starts crying.
There’s a crashing noise coming from upstairs, and then, Manu almost comes flying down the stairs. His eyes are wild, his hair an unstyled mess, sweatpants almost slipping from his hips. He’s not wearing any socks, and he looks so stressed in a way that makes him seem almost adorable.
Back before they were dating, Thomas likely would have held out on him, made him guess to keep him on edge, but now he’s just so, so relieved, so he just thrusts the phone at Manu, who has to squint at the screen for a few seconds before being able to make sense of it.
And then, his whole face blossoms into a smile; wide, relieved, ecstatic – all at the same time.
“Oh my god. That motherfucker! He couldn’t have, like, called?!”
Thomas laughs, wrapping an arm around him, pressing him close, close and then closer as Manu joins his laughter and his tone sounds like bells chiming on a clear Sunday morning.
“We’re going to Russia!”
Or, well, first, they’re going to South Tirol.
In the meantime, they’ve managed to lose the Pokal to Eintracht Frankfurt – to their future coach Niko Kovač, none the least – but somehow, even though all of them felt angry and disappointed in that moment, that is soon forgotten.
Thomas arrives at training camp two days late because he both did play in the Pokal and had a few things left to sort out with Lisa and the stables before disappearing for months on end. Manu of course joined them from the start, and as far as Thomas is informed, Fabi is currently staying at Hannah’s for the moment. It’s not an ideal arrangement, but in the end, it’s what they came up with – she would take him for the first few days, get them acquainted to spending longer amounts of time together, before she’d rent a room in a hotel close to team’s and then come over for a visit every few days before then bringing him to Thomas’ parents where he’d stay for most of the World Cup itself, with occasional check-ins from Hannah and Lisa.
Already, Thomas is fearing the conversation they would have to have with Jogi and Oliver to arrange the visits.
But then, when he steps out of the taxi and into the humid, hot air, Mats is waiting for him with a wide grin the second he enters the lobby, jovially slapping him on the back, incredulously shaking his head. “Mate, you have no idea what happened – we really missed out here! Everyone’s up in arms! Your other half doesn’t ever do things half-assed, does he!”
Thomas narrows his eyes. It takes a lot for Mats to get excited about something Manu, of all people, did, so he’s become immediately suspicious. “What did he do?”
Mats eagerly rubs his hands together with that annoying, wicked grin of his. “Oh you, have no idea.”
Apparently, Manu randomly decided that well, hardly seeing Fabi for over a month was bullshit – which, sidenote, Thomas of course agrees with – and decided to, well. Bring him to training camp. Just like that.
“I only know what Marco told me, but apparently he just showed up in the bus carrying Fabi!”
Thomas breathes out. “Holy shit.”
So apparently, he learns over the next few minutes, Manu made the spontaneous decision to pick up Fabi from Hannah’s home just hours before they left, deciding that he’d be better off bringing Fabi along after all. Likely, Thomas thinks, Manu hasn't told him because Manu knew he’d try to be the voice of reason. And of course, Manu didn’t warn the DFB either.
Mats cackles. “So yeah, Marco says that he just waltzed in with a ‘random infant’ strapped to his chest, fixing Jogi with a death glare before he even had a chance to say anything.”
(‘What is that’, Jogi had asked, and Manu had just stared him down.
‘My son,’ Thomas’ fiancé had answered, and boarded the bus without any other comment.)
“All hell broke loose, of course,” Mats grins, “Jogi was PISSED, demanded to know what the fuck happened, and Oliver didn’t even know what to say. I think I’ve never seen either of them so shocked, to be honest – and that was this morning, when I arrived a day later.”
Thomas shakes his head. Christ, Manu, what are you doing? But at the same time, he’s grinning. God, Manu, you wonderful creature.
Now, Mats is gnawing on his bottom lips. “They know about you, too. Bierhoff got it out of Manu, I think. They didn’t sound particularly amused.”
In some ways, Thomas is glad about that. The thought that they would put all that pressure on Manu alone …
In the end, he finds his fiancé in the lobby, pressing a sleeping Fabi against his chest, frowning at his phone as some of the younger players eye him – and the baby in his arms – curiously. Thomas takes a few moments just to observe him, the two of them, illuminated by the morning light, before walks up to tap Manu’s shoulder, leaning down for a hello kiss – because why even care to hide, when Manu already outed them? He can feel the goalkeeper’s smile against his lips after a short moment of confusion, and even though it’s been only two days since they’ve last seen each other, it felt like an eternity and Thomas is so so glad to be able kiss him again. There’s a tingle to it, to doing in front of people, a strange excitement. They’ve never been perceived as a couple by anyone, have never even had a chance to present as such, apart from in front of their families and a very small handful of friends – refrained from acting even remotely like it whenever they were in public or at Säbener whenever possible. So this? It feels just – right. Like relief. Like it should be.
Thomas leans down to hug Manu, wrapping his arms tightly around him. This is who I am, he thinks, this is who I love. And hell, is he proud of it.
Maybe what Manu did was reckless, yes, and rash too; maybe he has slightly lost his mind, but Thomas can’t deny that he’s extremely happy, almost relieved to have Fabi here with them after all.
They only pull apart when someone clears their throat behind their backs. Bierhoff has his arms crossed in front of his chest while Jogi hovers awkwardly beside him, cleary not knowing what to do with himself or his hands, nervously busying them by toying with the buttons of his shirt before finally pushing them into his pockets, fixing two of his most accomplished, senior players with an unreadable glare.
Then, Bierhoff clears his throat. “We need to talk.”
You would think the past few days have given them some time to think about this, but their coach still looks shell-shocked when he watches Thomas weave their fingers together, and Bierhoff sighs as he leans against the desk in the small office, rubbing his brow.
“Did you really have to do this, Neuer?” Manu stays stubbornly quiet, holding on to both Fabi and Thomas’ hand. “Don’t you think we have enough on our plate already, what with Mesut and Ilkay and everything that’s happening with them?”
Thomas winces. Yeah, that’s not gonna be easy to deal with, they all know that, even if as players themselves try to push matters as such to the side as well as possible. Still, he doesn’t want to be in Oliver’s skin right now. At least they’re not throwing a tantrum like Uli did, he thinks, scoffing at the memory of his boss, red-faced and raging. Bierhoff sends him a sharp look. Thomas coughs and looks at Manu.
Manu pushes his chin lip forward ever so slightly, the lines on his forehead deepening. “Yeah, I did. This is my son, and also Thomas’ son. Did you really expect me to leave him alone, without either of his parents, for two weeks, when we’re already unable to bring him to Russia? He should be here with us.”
Oliver sighs. “Well yes, that part is not ideal either. But what I expected, really, what I expected is that if something like this should occur, we would be informed.”
Now Jogi is nodding along too, frantically, pushing Bierhoff to the side. “Exactly! Two of my players had a baby – months ago! – and I’m just now finding out about it! That’s unacceptable.”
Thomas frowns. “Is it? Don’t you think that’s a private matter first? And so far, it hasn’t interfered with any of your plans, or did it.”
“Well, it’s interfering with them now.”
Thomas doesn’t think he’s ever heard Löw sounding so furious. Usually, the man’s comical but stoic behaviour stayed in place even after important losses, and you could only pick up on a bad mood by the way his words sounded more insistent.
Manu scoffs. “Well, what are you gonna do? Are you gonna kick me, Manuel Neuer, out of the team because I had a baby? ‘Cause, not gonna lie, people would probably think that to be pretty strange, when you went out of your way to nominate me even without having played any games last year.”
Thomas is barely able to hide a grin at that. Yes, Manu isn’t exactly the easiest person to work with, and he knows how to stand his ground. He might be an introvert, and usually rather reserved, but he’s very single-minded as well; once he’s decided he’ll do something, he’ll do it. And nobody is able to talk him out of anything once he’s set his mind to it, not even his own partner.
He wanted to bring Fabi and then he brought Fabi, and that's that.
Jogi then turns to Thomas, raising an eyebrow at him. “Care to explain, Müller?”
His tone is quite accusatory. His voice is calm, but you can tell he’s fuming on the inside.
Thomas, for once, is at a loss for words, so he just shrugs. “Surprise?”
Bierhoff groans. “Is this the issue you only started full training recently, Manuel? Was everything else a lie?”
This time, Manu actually falters a bit under his stare, shaking his head. “No, no, my foot was really fucked up. But yeah, I guess it was a bit of both.”
Thomas winces when he thinks of the telling-off Müller-Wohlfahrt is going to receive as soon as him and Manu will be excused. Profession confidentiality or not, considering he’s both Bayern’s and the DFB’s team doctor, and of course as such had full access to Manu’s case and was closely involved during Manu’s pregnancy, it’s likely they’re gonna be quite angry with him. But in the end, the pregnancy happened parallel to Manu’s foot injury, so it’s not like he wouldn’t have been out otherwise.
In the end, Bierhoff sends them off with a last exasperated sigh, but not before having them sign some forms that nothing about this, under any circumstances, is allowed to reach the public or the media. Thomas barely refrains from asking what he thinks they have been doing these past seven months and manages to bite his tongue just in time.
Manu exhales slowly when they exit the room, a small smile creeping onto his face when Fabi starts waking up, blinking up at him. “That went better than I thought.”
Thomas snorts. “Better than you thought? Yeah, probably. What the hell were you thinking!?”
Manu shrugs, biting his lip. “I just couldn’t bear it, being without him for that long.” He looks down at Fabi, caressing his cheek. He looks so much younger whenever he looks at their son, entranced by Fabi in a way that’s so beautiful that it almost makes Thomas’ heart skip.
Thomas sighs. “You’re right. And you know, I’m glad to have you both here. Krümel will just be our little good luck charm, eh?”
Chapter 25: Losses and Wins
In the end, of course, even Fabi doesn’t help.
But first, in the course of a single day, their little boy gains 25 uncles. Most of their teammates are completely taken with their baby, and after getting over the fact that the captain and his second shoe-in are engaged to be married, their Krümel has all of them wrapped around his tiny little finger in a matter of hours. It makes organizing it all a bit easier – there’s always someone volunteering to look after him when either of both of them are ordered to a meeting, someone that’s not training with the rest of the team. The younger ones especially adore Fabi, with all of the Bayern boys flocking around their captain at most times, asking him questions about his pregnancy and how the fuck he managed to hide it from them.
Niklas is known for carrying Fabi around for hours on end, talking to him in a weird baby language that no one understands – probably not even Fabi himself – Leon lets him play with his cleats, although frowning when he tries to tug at his curls instead, Joshua has taken it upon himself to keep a watchful eye on whoever Fabi has been entrusted to for the hour, and Mats often keeps him on his lap during breakfast and lunch.
After a only short while, Manu feels very safe with leaving Fabi with any of them at least for a short period of time, and somehow, all of them together, like a family of their own, develop a routine that makes Fabi a part of their team but also makes it possible for all of them, including Manu and Thomas, to focus only on football during the day. (Which luckily, leaves Jogi and Bierhoff satisfied.)
On the day of their friendly against Austria, Manuel is nervous like he hasn’t felt about a game ever since he played his first few professional matches. Somehow, he fears that the people will be able to tell that he’s a changed man, doesn’t even relax when Thomas comes up to massage his neck before they get on the bus. They get shooed inside quickly after warming up, as the rain that follows is strong and heavy. It’s pouring down as if the sky intended to drown the stadium with its tears, and soon the heavy drops turn into hail, and the game gets postponed. They wait, and wait, and just as they’re supposed to go out, it gets postponed again. Manu pushes through the tunnel all the same, even when someone tries to stop him, stretching again as it pours down on him, the hail seeds feeling like individual pricks of a hundred needles, and he realizes only then what this means to him – how much he wants this.
He’s been waiting for this day for nine months.
Considering the gravity of his foot injury, the fact that it was already the second time in a year, as well as the fact that he went through with an unplanned, not exactly low-risk pregnancy could have very well meant that he could have never returned to the pitch at all. He’s never dared to acknowledge it, not until now, and the realization rips through him like cold lightning. He closes his eyes, drowning in the droning of the masses, the roar of the thunder above, pulling it all into him until it seeps into silence, and the only thing he hears is his own heartbeat.
He’s been yearning for this comeback more than anything, especially knowing it’s a sheer miracle he gets to have it at all. And he’s not gonna let a bit of rain take that from him.
So, he grits his teeth and continues his warm-up.
In the end, kick-off ends up being over one and a half hours after the game should have begun. Thomas hasn’t travelled with them, so their good-luck ritual is omitted from his routine, and he finds he misses the way Thomas’ pinky would curl around his own. The captain’s armband itches, he’s not used to it anymore, and he readjusts the straps for one last time. And then, taking one last deep breath, he leads his team onto the pitch.
The loss against Austria is not exactly the end of the world, but comes close. In the end, Manu should probably have seen it as a sign.
When they’re ready to board the plane to Russia, as he and Thomas say goodbye to Fabi, Thomas crying when their son paws at his stubbly cheek, his eyes wide and innocent, Manu has a queasy feeling in his stomach. He hands the little boy to Hannah with a tight smile, and the feeling doesn’t leave when they settle in their seats shortly after and Thomas’ head lulls onto Manu’s shoulder when he falls asleep the second the engines start rattling, snoring slightly and Manu’s smile grows soft. It doesn’t leave him when they get welcomed, assigned their hotel rooms, and it gets worse after they lose their first game against Mexico.
From then on, the rest of the tournament passes in a blur, and it ends up being not exactly a long rest, either. Manu can only watch on as if in a daze, the bitter disappointment pooling in his stomach only disrupted once by the intoxicating relief he feels when Toni scores his last-minute winner against Sweden, but even that feeling of joy is short-lived.
Soon, he can only remember Thomas’ hand on his hip, Fabi’s laugh on the voice message Thomas’ mother sent them, and the way it feels to catch a ball with his gloves.
Later, the papers should call him, the guy who didn’t play a game in months and fucked up in the game against South Korea, the best player in a team that was, at best, a massive let-down. It’s almost ironic, in a way, Thomas states the night before they are being sent home – crushed, humiliated, embarrassed.
His eyes look glossy, and Manu pulls him close, pressing a kiss on his head. Sometimes, Manu tends to forget how fragile he can seem too, his lean, thin frame hidden by his loud personality, but now, holding him in his arms, Thomas feels so small.
Thomas looks up quizzically when Manu chuckles wetly. “What?”
“We’re gonna see Krümel soon.”
And truly, when they spot Thomas’ parents and Lisa expecting them at the airport, Fabian in Klaudia’s arms, his eyes growing wide as he spots his parents, clearly so excited, is maybe all the catharsis Manu needs.
It’s as if someone lifted a heavy blanket from his shoulders, one that’s made out of steel and all the sorrows in the world, and while he’s sure that the media now has pictures of him looking as devastated as he’s never felt before, for the first time in a week, he’s truly able to smile. It was a small smile, barely there, Thomas would tell him later, but still he almost stumbles over his own feet trying to get to Fabi. He feels like he can finally breathe again when he presses his lips against his son’s forehead and Fabi giggles without a care in the world.
Thomas steps up to them too, hugging Manu tight, gently poking Fabi’s nose, who immediately tries to grab his finger.
“Glad to have your papa back, aren’t you,” he says, and Manu feels the tears pooling in is eyes, tears that he’s held back ever since they were kicked out of the competition in the least dignifying way possible, and soon he’s weeping, only stopping when he finds a little hand resting on his cheeks.
It’s still uncanny, the way Fabi’s eyes so closely resemble Thomas’. They seem much older than his age, and if Manu didn’t know better, he’d think that his son wanted to offer him comfort. He chuckles, nuzzling Fabi before pulling away, turning to look at Thomas who’s wiping away his tears too, picking Fabi up from Klaudia and handing him to her son.
“He missed his dad, too.”
And as Fabi blinks up at Thomas, making grabby hands for him, Manu thinks that, fuck trophies and World Cups – maybe his family is all he needs. The way Thomas’ eyes brighten up in a way they haven't ever since the Mexico game, Fabi’s light laugh and the little ray of sun he lets shine upon them.
And as the sky clears up when they exit the airport, ready to go home, the sun hitting them, warming their cold bones, it’s enough.
But their wounds will be bleeding for a long time nevertheless.