the reluctant lobotomist (fourfreedoms) wrote,
the reluctant lobotomist
fourfreedoms

Fic: High and Dangerous, Part 2

Title: High and Dangerous
Author: fourfreedoms
Fandom: X-Men: First Class
Pairing: Erik/Charles
Wordcount: 17271
Rating: NC-17
Summary: Erik's always dreamed of playing football for Bayern, but it's Arsenal who comes calling. A soccer AU.

Part 1

The gunners narrowly eke out a victory, so nobody is loudly lambasting Erik for ruining their streak in the press, even though he feels like they should be. When he shows up for practice, energy up, the players and coaching staff seem content to let it go. He plays well, running through the paces that Primorac puts him through with alacrity.

Towards the end of the day, he catches up with Charles, who’s been practicing on a different field for the most part, trying to gain back what a week’s worth of no exercise cost him. Charles smiles when he sees him, no sign of the frustration all over his face when they were in the locker room.

“Are you busy later?” Erik asks.

“I am actually,” Charles says apologetically. “I agreed to help Alex practice.”

“Alex?” Erik asks, not recognizing the name.

“Alex Summers. He’s on the reserve squad,” Charles explains. “He’s an up-and-coming striker.” Charles audibly pauses and then looks at Erik for a long moment. “Actually, if you’d be willing, I’m sure he could learn a lot from you too.”

Erik shrugs. “I don’t know if I’m any good at teaching.”

Charles rolls his eyes. “You’ll be fine.”

Alex is green, but good. He’s on the reserves at seventeen with a possibility to move up to the first team probably next season. Erik is more than a little impressed. He’s very aggressive even though he hasn’t quite grown into his shoulders yet, but Charles frequently manages to use that against him.

“Alex, trying to muscle me out of the way isn’t always a practical strategy,” Charles says, after he’s stolen the ball away.

Erik laughs at Alex’s rolled eyes. “Employ the fake to good use,” he says, accepting a pass from Charles. He rolls the ball onto his cleat and pops it up, juggling it one footed. “I know you know how.”

“Show off,” Alex says. Erik lets the ball drop and sends it over to him with a back heel pass.

Alex demonstrates his not inconsiderable skill in footwork for the rest of the hour. Finally after they’ve run both him and Charles into the ground, they decide to call it quits. Erik has never laughed so hard in his life.

They go to the pub and order Alex a pint, and fish and chips for all.

“Do you still have that wanker staying over at yours?” Alex asks, taking a liberal sip of his Carling and then licking off the foam. Erik is surprised by the familiarity. He’d assumed Alex was just somebody Charles had run into on the fields one day and struck up a conversation. Charles can talk to anyone, even bitter old grannies on the tube. He never assumed that they had a relationship off the pitch. Raven was right. Charles really does take in strays. He wonders if he could be considered another one.

“Whoever can you possibly mean?” Charles asks, voice falsely innocent.

The mockery’s patently obvious to Erik, but it Alex misses it entirely and rolls his eyes, grunting, “Hank!”

“Yes I know, love,” Charles replies. “I see sarcasm is lost on you. He’s still there. I don’t know why you dislike him so much.”

“It’s the way he’s always looking at Raven,” Alex says and shudders, like the mere thought of it is physically repugnant.

Erik eyes him. “Aren’t you a bit young for Raven?”

“What?” Alex goes bright red. “I don’t like Raven!”

Erik and Charles share a private glance of amusement, and then Charles deftly turns the subject to music, something Alex clearly knows a lot about. They listen to him wax lyrical about festival season, chins on their fists. Despite his obvious boredom with the subject, Charles seems loath to stop him. Vermaelen is right. He really is like an old man, or maybe a proud father.

He snorts into his fist, and they both turn to look at him.

“You’re very strange, you know that?” Alex says when Erik refuses to volunteer an explanation.

He shrugs back and accepts when Alex offers to make them both mix CDs since, according to him, they don’t have any taste.

*

After a particularly grueling practice, when the thought of dragging himself onto the tube all the way to Holborn is far too much to bear, Erik decides he needs a new bike. His previous bike had a been a sleek little Suzuki he bought used off a friend of a friend, but Erik has more money now, and while it might be the largest purchase he’s ever made, he’s going for a Ducati.

When he rolls up to practice the next day Charles whistles at him. “That is a sexy piece of machinery,” he says. Erik pushes his aviators down his nose and Charles grins. “You’re not bad either.”

Something about the way he says it makes Erik’s stomach drop out, but Charles is already turning away, heading into the lockers to suit up.

They go out that night, about half the team, to celebrate the fact that they keep making it despite the press prophesying their constant wrack and ruin. Erik finds himself in an argument about motorcycles with Bendtner, who Erik contends doesn’t know shit. When he looks up, Charles is being chatted up by one of the most beautiful women Erik’s ever seen.

Theo follows his gaze. “Oh, here we go.”

“What?” Erik asks, sparing him a quick glance. Theo nods his head back at Charles.

The beautiful girl makes Charles laugh, and she leans in, putting her hand on his arm.

“The dance has started,” Wilshere says with a laugh from Erik’s other side.

Erik doesn’t see anything particularly spectacular happening. Charles is flirting with a girl, and the girl is flirting with him. If Charles was a notorious rake, he’d certainly hid it well up to now.

Erik blinks when Charles carefully worms out from under the girl’s touch.

“Tragic,” Theo says.

The girl leans into Charles space a second time, pushing up against him, and Charles extricates himself yet again all without losing his smile. Erik watches, thunderstruck. Charles gives her a very friendly pat on the shoulder and then turns around and makes his way back to them.

“What was that?” Erik asks.

Wilshere snorts with laughter. “Charles always does that.”

“He’s waiting for ‘true love,’” Theo says with air quotes and all.

Charles pulls out a chair and straddles it backwards. “Are you maligning me?”

“Just explaining how you’re a complete pussy about women.”

“They’re not scary!” Theo adds. “Lovely, you know.”

“Did the first time go very poorly, Charles?” Wilshere teases. “It’s okay, I’m sure we can find another lady who likes ‘em short.”

“Leave it,” he says, shortly, “My sex life is no concern of yours.”

“We were just taking the piss, mate,” Theo says, eyes wide.

Charles snorts and gets to his feet, going to the bar. It’s only the second time Erik’s seen him annoyed, and the first time was because Erik had punched a metal locker.

“I don’t understand,” Wilshere says, pitching his voice low, “we’ve been teasing him about it for years.”

Erik looks back and forth between them.

“I’ve known Charles since I was fifteen, yeah?” he explains. “He used to be a big lady’s man, constantly going home with girls, but then it just stopped. For all we know, he’s been bloody celibate for the last three years.”

“Did you ever think something happened?” Erik asked.

“What like, like rape?” Theo asks. “Can you rape a man?”

Wilshere cuffs him on the back of the head. “Idiot, I think he means Charles got burned by someone. Maybe that Moira girl or something.”

“Really? I thought she was a total lezzer!”

Erik rolls his eyes heavenward and gets up to let them argue. He feels an unexplicably desperate need for a smoke. He goes out to bum one off somebody and is surprised to find Charles already out there. Heedless of the passersby, he exhales a diaphanous cloud of smoke and watches it dissipate.

“Erik?”

Erik starts, he’d been completely unaware that Charles knew he was there. “I was just coming out to bum a kippe, a...” he snaps his fingers, searching for the right word, “a cigarette.”

Charles’s bottom lip quirks. “I had to do the same, not much of a smoker I’m afraid.”

“Ah,” Erik says, “Give it here, I need a drag.”

Charles does with a laugh.

Erik watches the cars driving by on the street, the late night pedestrians laughing with their friends. When he glances at Charles, he’s fidgeting, rubbing at his eyebrow. When he catches Erik’s eyes, he blows out a breath.

“Listen, Erik, I think...I think there’s something you need to know.”

“My god! You were raped! Theo was right.”

“What? No!” Charles bursts out laughing. “You shouldn’t joke about that.”

Erik shrugs and Charles laughter subsides. With a sigh that makes Erik’s gaze sharpen on him, he says, “I’m gay.”

Erik chokes on the smoke he’s inhaled, coughing desperately. “Sorry?”

“I like men.”

“Yes, Charles, I know what gay means!” He says, voice rough from hacking. He shakes his head. “I don’t—what?”

Charles purses his lips. “I’m not sure what part of that’s difficult to understand.”

“But Wilshere just said you were out with women all the time!”

Charles bites his lip, turning his head away. “It took me rather a long time to figure it out.”

“Gay?”

Charles looks at him like he’s a little boy proving slow at his lessons. He exhales through his nose and shakes his head with the bitterest smile Erik has ever seen on him. “Keep it,” he says of the cigarette still clenched in Erik’s fingers, before turning to walk off.

“Charles, wait, I’m not—I don’t have a problem with it. I was just...surprised?” he says, calling after him.

Charles doesn’t look back as he gives Erik the two-fingered salute. He rounds a corner and disappears while Erik wrestles with himself.

He doesn’t mind. He’s known gay men before, and even gay players. When Bayern captain Phillip Lahm had brought up the hypocrisy of homosexuality in the sport, much akin to don’t ask, don’t tell, a few weeks ago, some of the other players had looked at him like he could explain Lahm’s weird German notions. When it happened Erik had stared back, “What? It’s true, isn’t it?”

Looking back on it now, remembers Charles leaning against his locker, watching Erik intently, like his answer was very important. Suddenly he feels like shit.

“Fuck,” he says, the English swearword coming easily to his tongue. “Fuck fuck fuck.”

He’s only known Charles a couple of months, and obviously Charles had trusted him and considered him a good friend, because obviously the other boys don’t know, and he just shit all over it by acting like such an arsehole. And Erik doesn’t even know why it disquieted him so much to hear Charles was gay. He throws the cigarette aside and shuts his eyes. But that’s not true. He does know. It’s because of how he feels about Charles himself.

*

He wakes up the next morning in the bathtub of some unknown bathroom. His head is screaming and his stomach feels like somebody’s trying to shove the entire organ back up his throat. He groans and drags himself to his feet. He has to pause, grasping at the sink. Aside from a few missteps when he was barely sixteen, he’s never felt this ill in his entire life. Finally he manages to turn the tap for cold water with trembling fingers. It rushes out cool and mesmerizing over his hand and he stares at it running over his knuckles, rapt. It takes a minute to remember why he turned the tap on in the first place. Bending down to drink straight from the tap costs him an unfathomable amount of energy. With a groan, he plunges his head under the spray. Thoughts finally crystalize in his brain and he remembers he has to get on with his day.

Feeling like he does, just the thought of practice nearly makes him vomit. He pointedly doesn’t look at himself in the mirror. Somewhere, he managed to lose his shirt and one of his shoes. Outside the bathroom, he has to shield his eyes from the light pouring in the windows. There are people passed out all over the place and Chamakh is picking up trash and tossing it into a black bin bag. He nods at Erik when he sees him and Erik groans back. He dimly remembers coming back here after the bar closed to drink some more with the other guys. Ramsey steps out of the kitchen, in just his boxers, drinking what looks to be orange juice.

“Morning,” he says, grinning at Erik’s sorry state.

“What the hell happened,” he croaks weakly.

Ramsey laughs. “You challenged Andrei to a drinking game.”

Erik groans and drops his head. Never a good idea to challenge a Russian when there’s alcohol involved.

“It was brilliant,” Ramsey says, taking another long gulp of orange juice, “After you passed out, he got up all normal like and said ‘night, boys,’ and walked out. He’s a fucking robot, that one.” He laughs and disappears back into Chamakh’s kitchen.

Erik eventually makes it to practice after two showers, nearly a gallon of water, and eight different kinds of vitamins. It’s not nearly enough, but he feels like a semi-normal person. The rest of the team has not fared so well. They’re very lucky it’s a light practice today. Primorac and Wenger seem more interested in figuring out which players on the reserve team they’re going to bring up for the next game. Erik is glad. What he is not glad about is that Charles is acting like nothing ever happened. It’s as if their conversation never happened and it only makes Erik feel that much worse.

Erik decides to talk to him after practice, offer another apology, but when it’s time to shower Erik doesn’t see him in the locker room at all. “Hey, anyone know where Charles is?” he addresses the team while tugging up his pants.

A player shrugs and points at the doors for the steam room. Erik hesitates, fingers clenched into fists. Don’t be a coward, he tells himself and blows out a breath. Another player looks at him strangely, but he doesn’t acknowledge him.

He pushes through the doors and hears the low susurrus of two voices and starts walking in their direction.

"I don't think this is working."

Charles’ firm statement stops him in his tracks.

"Charles…"

Erik swallows.

"Thomas," Charles enunciates, cutting him off. "I know I shouldn't have said anything."

"I don't think that. Don't put words in my mouth."

"I'm not a mental incompetent. You didn't manage to hide that expression from me as quick as you thought."

Erik leans back against the door. Is Charles in love with Vermaelen? Had he just confessed to him or had Vermaelen found out somehow? Jesus. He can’t explain the sinking feeling in his gut or the way his hand trembles as it hovered over the door. He looks over his shoulder guiltily. He shouldn't be eavesdropping on Charles like this, especially when he so desperately wants to apologize.

The door yanks open under his palm, startling him. Song stares at him blankly, towel wrapped around his waist.

Erik clears his throat. "Er, sorry, spaced out."

Song nods, side-eying him before pushing past him for the steam room. Erik hears his murmured greetings as he passes Charles and Vermaelen and winces, going back into the locker room.

He thinks about it the entire time he's chopping vegetables for dinner. Charles was in love with Vermaelen. He feels horribly guilty all of a sudden. It must be hell. Complete and utter hell to be in love with somebody you saw every day, who would never, could never, return your feelings. Almost worse because everybody knows Vermaelen does care for Charles. Just not in the way he wants.

*

The press seems surprised when they make it into the fourth round of the Carling cup, even though they were playing a League 2 team, Shrewsbury. Frankly, Erik would’ve been more upset if they’d lost than that horrible defeat they suffered against Man U back in August. Erik hadn’t been playing that game, and both Charles and Vermaelen had been on the disability list, so at least that loss was justifiable and reflected in no way upon him.

They’re doing well, coming into their own as a team, filling in the holes where they suffered the most damage during the summer transfer window.

He is glad of their tie with BVB earlier in September. Losing would’ve been a blow to his ego, especially when his father had managed to convince his mother to attend with him. Winning, though, would’ve felt abruptly like betrayal. At the end of the match, he trades jerseys with Mario Götze, one of his oldest friends. They came up together through BVB’s youth academy. It’s the one moment in his entire professional career that he’s played up for the press.

He and Charles haven’t been spending as much time together, and when the invitation comes to go out with the boys to all his old haunts, he doesn’t hesitate. When Mario talks about what he was up to over beers, Erik realizes how long it’s really been since he’s spent time with him, nearly three years. He’s not good at keeping in touch with the people he cares about. In a rare moment of sentiment, Erik apologizes for it. Mario punches him in the shoulder.

“I worried it was because I signed professional terms before you did,” Mario says quietly.

“Oh no, it’s because you were called up to the German national team before me, bastard!”

Mario laughs, reading the joke for what it is, and clinks their glasses together. “I think you can expect to be called up soon.”

“Is that word from up on high?” Erik jokes.

Mario meets his eyes, voice even. “Yes.”

Erik doesn’t know why, but knowing that soothes some deeply buried ache inside of him. “I hear Sven isn’t doing so well.”

“Yeah, no, after that loss to Australia, I don’t hold out much hope for his chances with Jogi,” he says, mentioning the head coach of the team.

“Where is Sven by the way? For that matter, where is everybody?” Erik asks, looking around the bar.

“Oh I told them I needed some alone time with you!” Mario says, voice drippingly sweet.

Erik swats at him. It shows a real change in his life that he’s comparing his oldest friends to his Arsenal teammates, rather than the other way around.

Mario laughs. “Actually, I think they have tickets for some Burlesque show. Löwe is slavering after one of the dancers.”

“What, and he needs moral support?”

“Not everybody can be as self-assured as you,” Mario points out.

Erik grins into his beer.

“We’ll see them later, Julian says you still owe him a drink from like five years ago.”

“I owe him a drink from when I was fifteen?”

“Ugh, god, I remember you then, you owe all of us for drinks for tolerating your moody ass.”

It was not a good time in his life. Schmidt was coaching them and running them all ragged, but he’d saved an extra special sort of nastiness for Erik—making him do extra conditioning in the rain, suspending him from play when he was having a good game, forcing him to work through injuries. The whole time he’d kept a constant litany of vicious sarcastic barbs that had nearly driven Erik to violence on a number of occasions.

He clears his throat. “I’ll buy you all a round to settle my debt.”

“Of course you will. From what I hear, you can afford it.”

“Now, now, that kind of talk about money is uncouth.”

They go clubbing. It’s glorious: gorgeous women, alcohol, and good friends everywhere. Erik hasn’t been in such a good mood in forever. If he’s honest with himself, not since that night where Charles came out to him. After two hours of dancing to club standards, Erik finally has to sit down.

“You’re getting old,” Julian teases, collapsing next to him.

“Nah, I’m just not used to this anymore.”

“Oh lord, do you spend all your time going to tea parties and smoking cigars over inedible food?”

Erik laughs uproariously, more than is necessary, the image isn’t that funny. Yet, he can totally imagine Charles doing all of that.

“You are completely wasted!” Julian observes. “Wenger must keep you on a tight leash.”

“Mmm,” Erik replies, rolling around in his seat to get comfortable.

“What’s up with him?” Mario asks, coming over with a girl on his arm.

“I think it’s time for him to go back to his hotel.”

“Nooo,” Erik tells him, shifting again. His jeans are constricting his movement. He wants them off. “I hate trousers.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen him like this,” a new voice says.

Erik growls and squints. “Who is that? I ca-I can’t see! Soooo drunk.”

Mats Hummels walks into his line of sight.

“Oh you, I didn’t know you were here,” Erik says. “That was a really nice header today. Beautiful actually.”

“Excuse me while I die of coronary arrest,” Mario says, “Did Erik just compliment someone? You really are drunk.”

Julian snorts. “Erik, where is your hotel?”

“I don’t knowww,” he says. Somehow he finds himself slumped into the corner of his chair. His head is too heavy for his neck and he’s tired of holding it up anyway.

“Oh Christ,” Mario says. “Erik, give me your mobile phone.”

“No, dirty thief. Get your own,” He protests, batting Mario away from him. Julian sneaks it out of his pocket while he’s distracted.

“If you wanted my dick so badly, you could’ve asked,” Erik says sweetly.

“You?” Julian snorts. “You have an unnatural kinship to a great white shark.”

He pages through Erik’s contacts, randomly trying numbers. “Don’t call—don’t call my parents!”

“Wasn’t gonna. I remember your mother. All that Slavic rage!”

The first couple of numbers don’t pick up, but finally he dials somebody who answers. “Sind Sie Erik Kamerad?” he asks. The person on the other end of the line must answer in German, because Julian says, “Your accent is atrocious. Do you mind coming to get him? He doesn’t remember where his hotel is.”

“Who is it?” Erik asks, loudly, trying to use Mario’s arm to lever himself up.

Julian pulls the phone away from his ear and looks at the contact on the screen. “Charles.”

“Noooo, don’t make him get out of bed. He’s suffered enough.”

“Can you come quickly?” Julian asks Charles, shaking his head at Erik’s pitiful attempts to right himself.

Erik might be imagining it, but he’s pretty sure he hears laughter on the other end of the line.

When Charles arrives at the club, wrapped up in a coat and scarf like it’s the dead of winter, he takes one look at Erik and says, “Good lord, what did you give him? Grain alcohol?”

Mario holds him up with one arm and pats him on the chest with the other. “He just can’t keep up anymore.”

“Lies!” Erik shouts in German, brain not quite up to the switch between languages.

Charles accepts Erik’s weight and says a very polite thanks.

He waves a sloppy goodbye at the boys, and pointedly ignores the way they’re shaking their heads in amused disbelief at him. The cab ride back to the hotel is miserable. It’s too hot in the car and Erik is finally starting to the feel the negative effects of the vast quantity of alcohol he drank.

“If he’s going to puke, it’s extra,” the cabby says and when Erik starts cursing at him, it takes all of Charles’ powers of persuasion to keep the guy from dumping them on a random street corner and leaving.

Erik opens his mouth to say something and Charles covers his mouth with his hand. “Just shut up will you?”

“I’m sorry you’re in love with Vermaelen,” Erik says into the skin of Charles’ palm.

“What?” Charles asks and pulls his hand away.

“I’m sorry you’re in love with Vermaelen,” Erik repeats, head listing to Charles shoulder. “That must be very hard, since you get to see him naked every day. Very hard. I couldn’t do it.”

Charles looks at him like he’s crazy. Erik tries to comfort him some more and Charles shushes him. “Don’t worry about it,” he says softly. “I’m not unhappy.”

“This is good news,” Erik says, suddenly laughing uncontrollably. “I don’t like you unhappy.”

*

The hangover from that escapade is enough to put him off alcohol for life. He doesn’t make it to two practices while he’s in recovery. The only reason Wenger doesn’t suspend him is that he’s still riding high from all of Erik’s contributions to the team. Although he strongly suspects Charles intercedes on his behalf.

And that’s another thing. Erik and Charles seem to be on an even footing again after that night. Erik doesn’t remember much besides puking up half his organs in his bathroom and insisting that he wants Charles to be happy, but something about it eased the tension between them.

They start October off with a loss against the Hotspurs. The only thing that makes it bearable is that it’s not on their home turf. The fans take it very badly. The press keeps calling them an emotional team, unable to bear up against outside pressures. The mood in the locker room is at an all time low.

“Well, boys,” Charles announces, clearly fed up with the long faces and slammed locker doors, “better luck next time, eh?”

It occurs to Erik that Charles is going to make a great coach some day. Just that one statement, completely lacking in sentiment, seems to have turned the attitude of the entire dressing room around. It’s remarkable.

“You still working with Alex?” Erik asks after practice, walking Charles to his car.

“Hmm? Oh yes,” Charles replies. He gives Erik a look out of the corner of his eye. “But I think he’d really rather it were you.”

“That’s nonsense!” Erik protests.

Charles shrugs, throwing his stuff into the backseat. “Just reporting the facts.”

Erik pauses, thrown. It hadn’t occurred to him that Alex would want to learn anything from him, or even that he had anything to teach.

Charles looks at him like he’s waiting for something, waiting for Erik to say something. When nothing is forthcoming, he clears his throat. “Would you like to run the dogs with me? I’ve been neglecting them lately.”

Poor Hero and Hippo. “Doesn’t Hank take care of them when you’re away?” he asks, even as he climbs into the passenger seat of Charles’ car.

“He walks them, but it’s hard to tear him away from his work for long.” Charles smiles ruefully. Erik snorts. “And…they miss me.” He says it simply without arrogance. It’s truth. Charles has that effect on everybody. Erik is not excluded from that group. If Vermaelen could love Charles, Erik thinks, he would.

Charles drives them back to his place to pick up the dogs. Hank gives Erik a nod when he steps inside and then goes back to frantically flipping through textbooks, like he was when they walked in. As he passes behind Hank’s chair, Charles ruffles his hair, like they aren’t close in age. Hank goes cross-eyed with annoyance and bats at his hand.

The dogs are happy to see Erik and it warms him. He has made a place here, in Charles’ life, intended or not.

“C’mon, before it gets cold out,” Charles says, herding them back towards the door.

The Maserati is too small for two adult men and two large dogs, but Charles walks in the opposite direction of where it’s parked and unlocks the door to a clunky and aged Renault.

“Classy,” Erik says, dryly.

“Hey, hey, how many Retrievers can claim a car just for themselves?” Charles protests. He bends down to chuck Hero under the chin.

By the time Charles has judged Hero and Hippo sufficiently exhausted, the sun has gone down. The Heath is quiet, mostly empty except for a few evening strollers. Erik pets a shameless Hero absent-mindedly. Charles has his back to him, eyes on the lit houses at the edge of the park.

“What are you thinking about?”

Charles turns his head. “Family.”

He shakes himself and then blows out a breath. “Let’s get the dogs home so we can eat.” He ignores Erik’s eyes on him.

It’s cold enough that Erik’s ears hurt, piercing and uncomfortable. “What are you doing for the holidays?”

“Raven has break, so she’ll be home. Alex and his brother usually join us, but Scott’s got a girlfriend now, so I think it might just be Alex.” At the look on Erik’s face he adds, “More orphans.”

“Ah, his brother doesn’t play?”

Charles snorts. “Scott? He’s an RAF pilot.” He shoos the dogs into the car. “What are you doing?”

“Sorry?” Erik asks, blinking.

“For the holidays,” Charles laughs. He pushes Hero back when he tries to nose at Charles’ shoulder over the seat.

“My mother’s Jewish, but after living under communism for so long, only in the barest sense of the word.” He shrugs and twists to pet the begging Hero, sufficiently ensuring his expression is hidden. “She’s been hinting that she wants to go to Rio for Christmas, because my father’s family makes her crazy. I think I might send them.”

“You wouldn’t go with them?”

Erik shrugs again. He loves his parents. For years they were the only world outside of football, and now Erik is done with that and has some space from them, he’s realizing how suffocated he was.

“You know you’re welcome to join us?” Charles revs the engine when Erik sputters and tries to say he wasn’t fishing for an invitation. He does it again when Erik opens his mouth a second time. “Sorry, can’t hear you! This old jalopy, you know?”

Erik rolls his eyes, but smiles. “Yes, Charles, I would love to join you and your strays for the holidays.”

“Excellent!” Charles says, clapping the steering wheel. “Onward.”

*

“Who do you think you were in the last life?” Wilshere asks in practice, while they’re on their warm-up run.

It’s so cold it’s making his nose run and he swipes at it before answering. “I have never wasted thought on it.”

“I bet you were Ivan the Terrible,” Wilshere replies. Spinning to jog backwards, he says, “Well, Theo?”

“Denzel Washington.”

“He’s still alive!” Everybody around them laughs.

“Maybe I have always been Denzel Washington.”

“My mum wants a shag then,” Arshaving chimes in.

“If your mum looks as much like a donkey’s arse as you, she’ll have to wear a paper bag,” Theo replies and then takes off running, laughing uproariously, when Arshavin goes after him, chasing him in circles around the pitch.

When they break for stretching, Charles asks Wilshere what made him bring it up. “Who do you think you are, Jack?”

“I don’t know, Sir Francis Drake?”

“Have you ever been on a boat in your life?” Charles asks.

“Yes, I have!”

“Don’t worry, Jack, Charles is just upset because as we all know, he was Queen Victoria,” Erik says and jabs Charles in the side.

The other players snigger and nod.

“Not so,” Charles protests, jabbing back at him. “I was obviously Elizabeth I.”

“Keep dreaming!” Erik cries, not dodging fast enough when Charles lunges for him. They roll over the grass, scuffling, Erik laughing. Charles can’t win. Erik probably has two stone on him and a longer reach, but he’s surprisingly scrappy. The others egg them on, distracted from stretches and the drills they’re supposed to start.

“You’ve got him, Victoria, you bloody great trollop, just a little more now!” Theo calls. It throws Charles, he squawks in outrage, and Erik is able to roll them over so he can land a couple of pulled blows to Charles’ stomach.

“All right, all right,” Charles cries, breathless, cheeks full of color, warding Erik off with his hands. Erik stops and collapses against him, arm thrown across Charles’ sternum to hold him down. He rests his chin on it, pretending to settle himself comfortably when Charles lets out a loud ‘oomph.’

“What in the hells is going on here?” Boro Primorac calls, breaking off to swear in Croatian at his disarrayed players. “What is this? Secondary school PE?”

Everybody scrambles into motion. Charles shoves Erik off, thrusting a judicious elbow into Erik’s side as he goes. “ ‘We are not amused,’” Charles says lowly, before taking off at a run for Vermaelen. Erik laughs, rubbing a palm over his ribs.

*

They played a beautiful game against Chelsea. Van Persie was on fire. The defense could’ve been a little tighter, but Vermaelen was saved as a substitute, after ligament damage in his ankle. It was no surprise that John Terry and Frank Lampard got some goals through. None of that mattered—it was football as it was meant to be played. When they went up against WBA a week later they didn’t allow a single goal. The press finally stopped writing up each match like it was a wonder they’d won.

Erik starts against Fulham and when Vermaelen mystifyingly scores on their own goal, he immediately scores an equalizer on Schwarzer. “You owe me one,” Erik mouths at him after passing around high-fives to all the other forwards. He doesn’t know when exactly, but at some point Vermaelen started driving him nuts. Maybe it’s just the fact that Charles is in love with him and he knows it, but Thomas is still all over him, like he isn’t getting Charles’ hopes up. And worse, Charles doesn’t seem to mind. It’s as if he’s willing to accept whatever scraps fall off the table. It makes Erik sick.

In the eighty-second minute Vermaelen scores again. This time on the correct goal. When Charles jumps on Thomas’s back, and Vermaelen runs him around the pitch piggy-back style, Erik has to look away.

“What’s eating you, mate?” Theo asks as they head back to the half for the kickoff. “Eight minutes left and we’ve got this one in the can.”

Erik summons up a smile. “Yeah, of course. I know.”

It’s very tense leading up to the match against Manchester City. Erik understands it’s very important for Wenger to pull out a win, after he lost three players in one transfer window to the team. For the rest it’s personal after the way their teammates abandoned them and left the squad full of holes. Erik knows what it means when he’s starting again alongside Theo and Van Persie. They trust him to do this.

Manchester City has a good squad, and well can they afford it with the Arab oil money that’s poured into the roster. They’ve been racking up huge leads, ones that their opponents only just manage to summon up the will to score against one or two times. They even beat Manchester United 6 to 1 only weeks after Manchester United slaughtered Arsenal.

It’s the first time Erik’s ever seen Charles more than mildly perturbed. Erik cooks him dinner the night before and nearly considers putting sedatives in his food. At some point, Charles notices the way Erik is dancing around him and puts his fork down with a sigh.

“I want to win this one,” he says evenly.

“Alright,” Erik offers, and leaves it alone.

Džeko scores for City in the first fifteen minutes. And then they start pounding on the goal, forcing nearly the entire team back over the line. It’s a mess. Erik’s just waiting for the Guardian headline: “Nervous Arsenal Falls Like Dominos.” Ten minutes later, and he’s earned his first yellow card of the season.

But then something changes. Samir Nasri makes a run on goal that looks like it’s going to blow right by everybody. And Charles just comes out of nowhere, slide tackling the ball out from under his former teammate’s feet. He gets the ball to Ramsey, who gets it to Erik. With City’s entire team pushed up to the half line, if he gives it everything he’s got to beat them back to the penalty box, it’s a clean shot on goal.

The ball tips off Erik’s foot and looks like it’s going just slightly too high, but then slams into the corner of the net just under the bar. Erik sinks to his knees as Theo and Ramsey leap on him in celebration.

After that it gets fierce, but they’re no longer shoved back onto their own half playing stand and block while Man City fires at will. Arteta, Ramsey, and Song do their best to hold the line, but Balotelli scores again off of a throw in.

Returning from the half, Van Persie ties it up, but goes down under a defender, and of all things, manages to dislocate an elbow.

“I swear he’s made of glass,” Charles says to Erik as they watch him get escorted off the field. When Erik turns to reply he finds Charles watching him seriously, blue eyes dark. Erik’s tired. They’re only sixty-six minutes in, but he feels ragged. Charles, if anything, looks worse, with mud streaked across his kit and a cut still bleeding on his thigh.

Chamakh takes Van Persie’s place and the free kick he was owed. Unfortunately, it bounces right off of Clichy’s shoulder, nowhere near the goal. But Arteta is on it, dribbling the ball up on the rebound. Chamakh and Erik have to run so that they’re back onside, but when Arteta passes it off to Theo, he makes a beautiful ground pass straight into the net that slides right past Hart’s fingertips.

And they have the lead. Nobody can believe it. The stands have exploded. Mancini paces back and forth in front of his players in high dudgeon, brows knit in a deep scowl. His benched players are all on their feet.

Predictably, it gets dirty after that. Not that it matters to Arsenal. They have their lead and they don’t need another goal. The defense soldiers on like the tackles and the diving aren’t happening to them. Charles gets to his feet after a particularly nasty fall with a grin and a shaken head. Erik knows he must be feeling the same heady exuberance that he is right now. They might just have this one, against all odds.

In the last three minutes, Silva makes a desperate attempt on goal that Vermaelen blasts up the field. Erik, idling at the line, picks up the ball. In a split second of indecision, he sees Balotelli bearing down on him. It would be easy to simply pass the ball off, run down the clock comfortable. But that’s not in his nature. There are only moments left on the clock and Erik is tired, but if Schmidt taught him anything, it was determination. He turns and drives down the center. They might not need the goal, but he’ll be damned if he lets the world think they only won this through sheer luck. Savić tries to take him from behind, but Erik stays on his feet. Hart comes too far out of the goal trying to stop him, giving him an open shot. It will be incredibly embarrassing if he misses, he thinks, foot millimeters away from connecting with the ball one last time.

He doesn’t miss.

Erik lands at the center of a dog pile. Their bench is on their feet, running at the field. He catches Theo pointing at Nasri and then deliberately brushing off his shoulders. Erik grins so hard, his face could crack. And through it all there’s Charles, looking at him like he’s the only man in the stadium.

Erik swallows. “I think I love you,” he says without thinking when Charles turns his head.

“I know I love you!” Ramsey jokes, shoving at his shoulder.

*

There is much arguing about which pub to go to that nearly requires a coin-toss to settle. Erik doesn’t care where they go as long as he can get a beer that doesn’t have the familiar red and black of the Carling logo.

Wilshere ends up buying a bottle of the best whiskey they have in the place and forcing two fingers worth on everybody. Erik’s not the biggest fan of whiskey, but it goes down smooth and it brings a terrible flush to Charles’ cheeks.

“I’ve had more than you!” he protests when Erik points out. “Y’know, since I actually enjoy a good Scotch.”

“It’s quite all right if you can’t hold your drink,” Erik replies blithely, amused.

Charles swipes at him and Erik sloshes beer down his front when he tries to dodge. Maybe he’s a little more drunk than he realizes.

“Those knobs just couldn’t believe they’d lost!” Jack shouts, waving a pint around. He totters unsteadily on his feet. “Un-bloody-believable.”

Charles bites his lip to keep from cracking up. When Erik meets his gaze he loses it, guffawing into his tumbler.

“Acting like a win was their right!” Keiran chimes in. “Bloody poofs, the lot of them.”

Everybody cheers and raises their glasses. Charles flinches nearly imperceptibly, but Erik still catches it. And suddenly he’s fed up with it—this Anglo obsession with masculinity. That Erik was asked to explain why Philip Lahm thought gay men were treated reprehensibly in the sport. He’s done with it.

The confused way Charles watches his face go from amusement to Category 3 storm just makes him angrier.

“Cut it out,” he says, slamming his glass to the table. Erik is, at most times, quiet, and the sudden outburst astonishes the rest of the team.

“Cut…what out?” Kieran blinks blearily at him.

“Stop using homosexuals to insult City!”

Andrei laughs uproariously. “He’s right. It’s an insult to ass bandits!”

Erik nearly kicks Andrei’s chair out from under him. Across the table, Vermaelen stares at him speculatively, chin on his fist. He seems almost amused by Erik’s outburst.

“You’re a bunch of scared little boys who are so afraid of being called less than a man by nearly everybody.” He shakes his head and pulls his coat off the back of his chair. “Your insecurity’s pathetic.”

Getting to the door is not as easy as he would like, but he keeps his head high and doesn’t look back when they call after him.

“You saying you like the cock then?” Kieran shouts, dissolving into giggles when Erik doesn’t answer.

*

Erik is roused from sleep by a heavy pounding on his door. He solidly considers pulling the pillow over his ears and waiting until whoever it is goes away, but it proves possible to ignore.

“All right, all right, I’m coming,” he breaks off and starts cursing in German.

The door proves tricky for his sleep-addled state and it takes him a couple of tries to get the locks undone. When he finally pulls the door open he is honestly surprised to see Charles staring back at him, bright eyed and rosy-cheeked.

“Jesus, what are you doing here?”

“You didn’t have to do that,” Charles says, pushing past him into the apartment. He shrugs off his jacket and throws it over the back of a chair.

“What? Open the door?” Erik says blearily, wiping at his eyes.

“No,” Charles says, surprised into a laugh. “You didn’t have to…you didn’t have to defend me.”

Erik doesn’t answer. The pantry is empty, but he’s convinced he must have coffee somewhere. “Do you want coffee?”

“Yes, sure, whatever,” Charles says, following him into the kitchen. Erik is weirdly conscious of how undressed he is in his boxers and bare feet compared to Charles. The easiest way to avoid thinking about it is to busy himself over making his antiquated second hand coffee maker sputter to life. He keeps his back turned to Charles’ penetrating blue eyes.

“You know, I have a question,” Erik says, peering into the top of the machine. “How do I make the lime scale go away?”

“Erik,” Charles says in the same voice he uses on Alex when he’s getting rambunctious. His fingertips are cold on Erik’s shoulder. “I just know what a difficult position you put yourself in by doing that, and I…I just wanted you to know that you didn’t have to do that for my sake.”

Erik pauses, hands on the counter top, and simply breathes for a moment. There’s a resolve that’s been steadily building in his stomach for weeks now, maybe even months, and he can’t ignore it any longer. He turns, coffee forgotten, and kisses Charles.

Charles doesn’t kiss back for a long fraught second, but then he hooks a finger into the waistband of Erik’s shorts and tugs him closer. The frigid fingers on Erik’s bed-warmed skin make him hiss. Charles smiles against his mouth, and it inspires Erik to back him into the counter. His lips are soft and practiced, but he kisses with a single-minded intensity that Erik has learned to expect of Charles in all aspects of his life.

When Erik pushes a bare thigh between his legs he groans and tugs at the hair at the nape of Erik’s neck. “Bed,” he says and punctuates it with a nip to Erik’s earlobe.

The growing hardness against his thigh is distracting though and it takes a firm push to remind him to Charles’ purpose. When Erik sits at the foot of his bed, he remembers, with no little amusement, how Charles helped him to pick him out. It reminds him of other more pressing things.

“Listen…” he starts and breaks off. “I know you’re in love with Vermaelen…”

Charles looks at him underneath his bangs and then unceremoniously drops to his knees. The veins leading to his cock are distended underneath his skin, belying the hardness his boxers hardly hide.

“What?” Erik stutters when Charles shoulders his thighs open and extricates him from the shorts without even pushing them down.

Charles smiles and takes the head into his mouth, thumb pressing unerringly over the circumcision scar. Erik doesn’t know what to do with his hands and they flutter uselessly at his sides. Charles pulls off, swirling his tongue around the crown in a way that makes him groan. “Hands on the bed,” he says, voice gravelly, and then sucks him back down.

Erik does as he’s told, watching lips parted as Charles fists him and licks over the vein at the same time. Lips moving up and down over him in a rhythm that seems to change every time Erik gets the hang of it. His fingers are protesting with how hard he’s got them dug into the mattress, but Charles doesn’t stop and he doesn’t let go. He can’t breathe. It’s extreme and unmeasurable and Erik’s sure he’s going to embarrass himself by spilling far, far too early. Charles other hand comes down over his abdomen, holding his hips down.

His extraordinary eyes are lit with mischief and satisfaction at the state he’s reduced Erik too. In anybody else he’d find it galling.

“Fuck,” he says, head dropping back on his neck. Charles underlines the statement with a sharp kittenish lick to head, before pulling off to run his thumb over the sensitized skin. Erik shudders and when Charles blows a stream of cold air, he cries out.

“You’re going to kill me,” he says between harsh breaths. Charles merely hums, mouth tightening with suction around him. “I’m gonna…”

He comes so hard it hurts. The choked noises that usher past his lips are unavoidable, nor are the full body shivers that wrack his body.

When he finally can see again he finds his hand clenched over Charles’ on his belly. It takes him a moment to relax his death grip, and another moment before Charles slides his hand away. He smiles with his eyes as he wipes at his swollen mouth with the back of his hand. Erik swallows hard.

He bites his lip and it makes Erik’s cock give a limp twitch. “Charles…”

“I know,” Charles says, rolling to his feet. “I’m not in love with Vermaelen, you daft twat.”

“Charles…” Erik tries again, but Charles hushes him.

He strips off his t-shirt and unzips his jeans, pushing them down along with his boxers. Erik can’t help staring dry mouthed at Charles improbably huge cock as Charles runs a lazy fist over it, inflamed head disappearing through the circle of his fingers.

Charles says, hissing as the edge of a nail catches at the underside of the glans. Erik hooks a foot around his ankle, tripping Charles forward so that he falls on top of Erik.

“Oof,” he says as Erik rolls him over. “Everything always has to be done your way!”

Erik laughs and brushes a kiss over the swell of Charles’ cheek bone. “How does this work,” he whispers in Charles ear, shifting against him.

Charles’ breath catches. “That’s—that’s pretty good.”

“Like this?” Erik asks, thrusting his thigh deliberately against Charles’ erection. Charles arches his neck, teeth sunk into his lip. Erik takes that for the answer he needs and brings his mouth down over Charles’ pulse, nibbling and licking along the stressed columns of muscle in his throat. Charles doesn’t make a sound beyond his faltering breaths, but the way his fingers tighten over Erik’s shoulders says it all. Erik smiles and continues to drive his thigh against Charles’ cock, precome creating a slick trail as the sticky head slides over the muscle.

Charles comes with a muttered word that sounds suspiciously like Erik’s name and accepts the deep kiss that Erik gives him with a boneless muted grace that only orgasm grants. Erik rolls off of him and Charles makes a content sound in the back of his throat.

“Practice tomorrow…” he says softly.

“Mm, wanna ride bitch on the bike?”

Charles snorts. “Not on your life.”

Erik yawns. “Pussy.”

At the amused smile and raised brows, Erik groans. “Shut up and go to sleep.”

Charles, in typical fashion, doesn’t listen to a word he says.

*

It’s tied one to one in double overtime. Everybody is exhausted. Erik’s leg is cramping something fierce, players are getting subbed off left and right, but the Spurs aren’t giving an inch. The ball bounces back and forth over the half, neither side keeping control for long.

They lost the Carling Cup and the FA Cup and they’re only just managing to stay afloat for the UEFA Cup. But they’ll be damned if they let their longstanding rivals win this one on home turf. The ball ricochets out and Erik takes a second to breathe deep. He nearly misses it when Charles darts in to intercept the throw-in from Van Der Vaart. Erik has to summon up every last reserve to put on the burst of speed he needs to get back across the line. Charles’ passes it off to Song, who leaps over a slide-tackle, some how managing to keep dribbling up the pitch. Walcott drops square to accept the pass. He dodges around Livermore and then comes within striking distance. Erik keeps pace with him.

They both see at the same moment that there are too many people on D to score and so Theo feints and then taps it off to Erik. Erik doesn’t even think, the motion of his running becomes the step for his kick. He fires it off and prays. It drifts right over Friedel’s head and hits the net so hard it bounces out of the goal again. Erik yells himself hoarse.

When he turns around, arms to the sky, Charles is running at him, grin huge on his face. And this, Erik decides, is why he will never need Bayern. Charles jumps, hands on Erik’s shoulders, laughing and joyous. The fans are singing. When he comes back down to his feet, Erik can’t say what comes over him, but he leans in and plants one right on Charles’ mouth.

Charles pulls back, hands on Erik’s biceps, keeping it chaste. It’s nothing different than what the Italian and Spanish players get up to. But, as the entire team descends on top of them, they both know better.

*
FIN

OMG. This fic killed me. It’s over. Omigod. It’s over. What will I live for now?

The title comes from an Andy Gray quote, where he was protesting that a slide-tackle did not deserve a card.

Also, Pele said this hilarious gem on losing his virginity:
"It was with a homosexual, I was barely 14 years old. But let's be fair, I wasn't the only one who did it. He was a man in Bauru that all our team visited."

*cough cough*

Yes, I leave you with that.
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