He doesn’t take up the offer ‘graciously’ given by David and Jerome to pick out a new wardrobe. In part because Manu was frankly terrified of giving them that sort of power over him and he could only imagine what it would cost him, his dignity being the worst of it. So he settles on a polite but firm, no and let’s them pick out another victim–err, friend to follow around and make judging noises at. Clearly, they had missed their callings as fashion consultants, and as much as Manu took GQ’s word about Jerome, he was not ready to enter the world of maintaining appearances for approval.
But that was before Andreas Wolff fell into the picture. Manu wasn’t sure what sort of serendipitous chain of events led to the handball champion being in the same space as him, but he was a goner from the start.
“It’s…tight?” Manu tries to put up a feeble protest but he had asked for this.
Jerome snorts, eyeing him critically. “Uncomfortable tight? Because the risk is worth the reward. You look good. He won’t know what hit him, and bonus, you didn’t have to spend money. Of course, desperation the morning of doesn’t give me any time to work with–”
“Can I eat this? Just kidding, I already am. Is this your mom’s recipe? When did you go visit her?” Thomas rounds the corner and interrupts Jerome with a forkful of his leftovers in hand. Manu is caught between being grateful and wondering if his mother’s bolognese was worth the sacrifice, but ends up turning red and pulling at his collar as he digests Jerome’s words. With Thomas here, it would be hours before the rest of his teammates found out.
“I still don’t get what you’re so worked up about. Just be natural. He’s a Bayern fan, so I approve, but Lisa told me to give you this.” Thomas hands him a condom. Fire erupts under his cheeks. His best friend smiles like there’s nothing strange about his wife (buying?) aiding him in this situation.
“You should always be safe,” Jerome adds sagely.
Manu shoots him a dirty look but slips the foil packet in his pocket. He mentally revises the timetable in his head. Thomas had probably already group messaged the others in time to pilfer the contents of his fridge and cause rampant rumors. He doesn’t let himself groan until he’s in his car, banging his head against the window.
The interview is dissected as soon as it goes up and Manu gets no less than four messages with increasingly disturbing amounts of innuendo concerning hands and balls. The whatsapp group is filled with kissy face emojis and strangely enough, disney movie gifs. (Why is he Lady? Why even go with the spaghetti reference if they didn’t even have dinner–oh, meatballs.)
Basti texts: So, Weltmeister meets Europameister eh? Has a good ring to it. He sends back a ‘shut up and don’t you have enough gossip to listen to in England?’ while worrying about how far Thomas’ big mouth would go. Surely Miro wouldn’t call him about his crush, right?
An hour later, he demands Thomas’ phone and a promise from Lisa.
Mario and Marco are the next ones to offer their help, which isn’t exactly comforting because that means it had probably reached Klinsi by now.
“He’s an ass man right? I saw the video and he was definitely looking.” Marco nods along like a bobble head and Manu wonders if Jogi would buy mortification as a reason not to get called up. He was sure one of the kids could take on England. Marc probably had a grudge against someone on that team.
“Guys, I appreciate–” He gets drowned out by Mario’s advice on underwear choices and Marco giving him tips on what exercise regimen to follow so he can quote “bounce a quarter off his ass.” Manu closes his eyes and prays for it to be over soon.
In the end, Benni rescues him, but only after Mario demonstrates the bend and snap and the duo start throwing pop culture references at each other in rapid-fire pace. His savior doesn’t comment on his harried look but does offer a suggestion with the mysteriously acquired beer bottle to sooth his nerves.
“You could invite him to see us play in the euro? See if he rubs off any European Champion luck.” Manu eyes one of his oldest friends suspiciously but Benni smiles serenely. Getting married had been a terrible influence, Manu decided. Lisa was always the craftier one.
He hums noncommittally, but the idea latches onto some small part of his brain that wants to throw caution to the wind. Besides, Benni was a reasonably person and friends could invite other friends to a game without it meaning anything important. No one would even have to know it was Manu who invited Andi. He was a football fan and it was the national team. Of course he would go to support Germany in the Eurocup. It wouldn’t have to do anything about Manu.
He mails him the passes after talking to Oliver, who only smiled knowingly which was his default setting anyway. Manu used his brother as an excuse (which in retrospect was a mistake because Thomas had gleefully invited himself to a family dinner and let the cat out of the bag too easily for it not to be intentional.)
Mats comes into their room with a pensive face and Manu feels dread pool in the pit of his stomach, either for a round of esoteric questions from the team’s part-time philosopher or another jab at his non-love life.
He braces himself for the worst.
“Would Andi be considered a WAG or would you be his? Is the male version of WAG, Husbands and Boyfriends, HAB maybe?”
He smothers himself with a pillow. Dammit, Benni.
Manu hates tuxes. Beyond the problem of being too tall and too broad, he was always uncomfortable in the formal wear. Sure, he could afford and regularly gets made to measure suits from team sponsors but he would rather commit a fashion faux pas than be in the constricting garment any day of the week, especially during these type of functions.
He tried not to read too much into the request when his agent told him about it, because he had enough trouble regulating his body temperature when Andi came up. So what if they had been spotted eating lunch once or twice and if the papers still ran with the goalkeepers united gimmick, it only meant they were a popular subject in their respected sports.
Presenting an award was hardly nothing, a voice that suspiciously sounded like Mario argued with his thoughts. He shook his head. It was the nerves, stages and him hardly got along unless there was a trophy in his hand. That didn’t require words or microphones in his face.
He flexed his hands, shaking out his arms to release some tension. David had texted him a thumbs up and Thomas, Holger and a couple of others were having a viewing party because they were ridiculous (and invested) looking for more things to tease him about. Jerome had signed off on the tux that was still too tight for Manu to entertain the thought of eating, much less drink anything for fear of pulling something.
Someone backstage had pinched him which Manu guessed was a favorable sign.
Taking some deep breaths, he waits for his cue. The lights had dimmed for a short video on the “Badboys” and the crowd had clapped as loudly as he expected, considering the rest of the year in German sports. His fight to stay calm and collected ramps up as the lights shine and he introduces Andi. His brain goes completely offline as he sees the handball player in his suit.
Manu goes for a handshake but Andi manages to turn in into a half-hug that isn’t awkward or too out of place. He goggles throughout the short speech, still feeling the warmth of Andi’s arm around his shoulder.
Oh no, I’m in big trouble, He thinks to himself. Suddenly realizing his crush had grown into planet-sized levels with its own gravitational pull and no hope in hell of getting pushed aside into being exceptionally friendly with a side of healthy admiration. He manages not to have a meltdown on national television and definitely doesn’t check his phone during a break.
“When are you going to confess your true love before the sea-witch turns you into foam?” Thomas asks glibly. Manu groans from the couch Lisa had made sure could fit him length-wise when they moved in.
“Why am I always the damsel in these scenarios?” He whines, sitting up for emphasis. Thiago and Xabi had taken great pains to procure a cape in Bayern red because they were juvenile at best in mental age combined. Lisa tutted in her reading nook by the window and Manu feels suitably chastised even though he didn’t mean it in a disparaging against women way. She should have a talk with the rest of the team about the harm of that point of view in fairy tales, goodness knows Thomas was never the rescuing knight in their relationship.
He debated whether unleashing Lisa on his teammates now or later would be better for him. If anything, it would get them to leave him alone.
“I call them like I see them. I think you’d look good in mermaid tail, merman tail? Is the term unisex, honey?” Thomas looks to Lisa who shrugs, still focused on her book. Manu isn’t sure if she’s actually reading, but she keeps turning pages at even intervals.
“Right. As for your other question, no way. I’m not confessing anything because there’s nothing–” A sharp look from Lisa deters him from his original thought. “I can say that will make this situation better. I’m perfectly happy letting it die down on its own.” He doesn’t trip on his tongue and feels infinitely better for it. Lisa still looks displeased and Thomas stops rocking his chair precariously to level him a rare look, one that strips away the goofball and leaves only the calculating mind that the Raumdeuter is known for.
“I think,” he starts slowly, measuring the words. “You owe yourself a little more happiness than that.” He folds his hands like he just concluded a business proposal instead of slapping his friend upside the head with only a sentence.
Manu helplessly stares at the wall for a moment. He knows their hearts are in the right place, but Thomas and Lisa were a defying example in the norm of reality. He’d been burned enough times to learn when to stop trying and expect burn salve in the future.
Andi definitely required a hearty dose of caution and ointment.
He looks between Thomas and Lisa and their gentle expectation. Manu sighs, maybe there is a little bit of heroine in him after all.
“Even if I were to say something, how would I go about it?” Lisa squeals, clapping her hands and throwing her book down to go over to hug him. Thomas grins toothily whilst his hand is busy with his phone, the ringing easy to hear.
“Czesc,” Manu blanches, recognizing the voice.
“Lewy! Operation Beefcake needs your help. I’m calling in a favor. If you could come by around…four? Mmmhmm, yep, the more the merrier. Not a problem. Of course, I can just tell him–oh okay, gotcha.” Thomas winks terribly at Manu and he genuinely fears for his soul. “See you soon.”
He ends up wearing the jeans because he might as well look good when going along with this half-baked plan that involved way too many of his teammates in a think tank than he felt comfortable with. Xabi wrangles up the dinner reservation and the hotel with a side of too much information he would never ask for about Steven Gerrard.
“All your friends are married, Manuel. They do not know how to, hmm, wear a man down. With Stevie, you see, it took patience and many bending over in the locker room.” Manu politely freezes his smile on his face, trying not point out that Xabi was also married and unsure if he was trolling him, hoping quietly that he was by the gleam in the spaniard’s eye.
Whatever Xabi’s aim, it did make Manu feel marginally better that he was not touting destiny and fate in his epic gay romance. He was on solid footing and he didn’t believe half of what came out of Xabi’s mouth anyway. (David on the other hand, was after the truth but that is another story.)
“Good luck, amigo.” He slapped his back with strength that always surprised him from the older man.
“Thanks Xabi,” warm affection suffused him until Xabi reminded him that he should definitely use that trick he showed him with the popsicle and Manu couldn’t get away fast enough. There was not enough brain bleach in the world to get rid of the image of the 30 year old sucking down the cold treat.
He picks Andi up from his hotel, nervously drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. Manu regrets his indecision with the radio being on or off when a heavy silence reigns at a long light.
“You know-” “I’m really-” They both start and stop, look at one another and laugh. It breaks the tension and Manu gestures for Andi to go first as he concentrates on driving instead of the stretch of Andi’s shirt across his chest.
“Some of my friends, actually my teammates too, they were, well, they were convinced this was a date?” Manu thought crashing was less likely to happen if he wasn’t looking at Andi, but his words have the same almost disastrous effect on him and was the last word a bit hopeful?
He doesn’t looks at him, courage failing him but also deeply concerned about handling a vehicle in this state of disconnect and panic.
“Um,” is his eloquent answer. His brain and mouth were not working in tandem.
“Manuel?” The insane urge to laugh or cry passes and he brakes none-too-gently at the next light and perhaps curses the traffic gods or Xabi Alonso for picking a restaurant so out of the way for this.
He turns to peek at the object of his affections. Andreas is scratching at his head. Manu quickly shut down all Mario-esque reactions about gun shows to really focus. There’s worry on his face and a crease between his brows that Manu wants to reach over and smooth out with his hand.
“Would you–I mean, if I said it was, would that be okay?” It is quiet for the span of a heartbeat before Andi smiles broadly and nods.
“Yeah, more than okay. I would love it.” A rush of air leaves him and a honk gets him moving.
“Great, because I definitely didn’t have anything prepared for the car ride to dinner and if it was a no, well there went all my speeches for the night.” Andi took his hand and squeezed once before letting go, which was also good since Manu swerved slightly with the giddiness of the sensation.
“You had a speech prepared?” He prompts, faintly amused and very flattered.
“Yeah, it’s a bit of a story actually…” Manu launches into the explanation and the mental torture led by their very own striker in league with the devil, making Andi laugh well into the night.