“Don’t fuck up,” is what Olli tells Jens before every match. “Don’t fucking fuck up.”
It would be friendly banter coming from anyone else. It would be well-meant, encouraging.
Coming from Oliver Kahn, it’s deadly serious. Dont. Fuck. Up.
Olli sits on the bench and Jens can feel him there, fuming. Clenching and unclenching his fists. Probably grinding his teeth.
Jens isn’t bothered by it. He knows it’s only directed at him as a matter of course.
Don’t fuck up. Olli, hissing in his ear. Jens likes it. That coiling anger spinning out to twist his arms behind his back. Doesn’t matter. Jens likes it. Likes being on the receiving end of that blistering heat. Don’t fuck up. It fits in well with his personal philosophy of the beautiful game: his inner chant of fuck off fuck off fuck off whenever he sees movement nearing his box. There’s a violence in Olli that complements Jens. Dark clouds and a drum of thunder.
Jens keeps a clean sheet against Poland, then again against Ecuador. In the dressing room afterwards Jens glances up from untying his laces to find Olli looking at him dead in the eye. He doesn’t nod or in anyway indicate that he’s pleased with the way things have been going. Just stares. Jens meets his gaze. He’s not afraid of the evil eye of Oliver Kahn. He’s Jens Lehmann. Curses bounce off him. Melt on his back like snowflakes.
Neither break eye contact and in the end it’s Micha and Torsten who end the staring contest by walking in between them, too engrossed in whatever they’re jabbering on about to notice the charged atmosphere that they’re slicing through. And when they’ve passed Olli has started putting his things away, no longer looking at Jens.
His clean sheet against Sweden seems at first to have gone without Olli acknowledging it whatsoever. They file off the pitch and after Jens has been sufficiently hugged and kissed and is finally released from the enthusiastic arms of his team mates to change into clothes that are less sweaty and grass-stained, Olli is already gone.
That evening he’s in his room flicking through channels on the television when there’s a knock on the door. Just a single knock, loud and demanding, and Jens knows who it is in his gut before he’s even crossed the floor to open up and see.
Olli is standing in the hallway like some kind of bad omen.
Jens meets his eyes calmly. He wonders absently in the back of his mind if this –whatever it was- was going to require some punches being thrown. He doesn’t particularly want to fight Olli, mostly because he thinks Klinsi and Jogi will both come to the room and fix him with twin ‘we’re not angry just disappointed’ looks that, when beamed simultaneously at him, are terribly effective at making Jens squirm. But whatever, he’ll risk it if he has to. Wenger has a good ‘why must you be such a difficult child after all I’ve done for you’ look as well, but that’s never stopped him from nudging a few vertebrae out of place with well-aimed elbows whenever opposing strikers get a bit too close for comfort.
Olli doesn’t say anything but throws a pointed glance over Jens’ shoulder, asking to come in. Jens steps to the side and gives a mock bow, swooping low as though he’s an old-fashioned butler. Olli narrows his eyes slightly but steps through the door with a purposeful tread.
Jens closes the door and turns to find the atmosphere of the room changed.
They don’t fight.
They fuck instead.
It’s not a lot more than that.
Olli isn’t overly-rough on Jens but nor does he touch him more than necessary. He has Jens on his back and doesn’t turn away whenever their gazes meet. It’s a strange contradiction of intimacy and Jens would wonder on it if he wasn’t, well, fairly distracted by the fact that despite everything, Olli knows what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing.
Jens curls his ankles around the backs of Olli’s thighs and tries to level his breathing, letting the air in and out the same way he does before a set piece near the goal. Olli pushes into him, hands wide and sure on Jens’ waist, thumbs moving almost unconsciously in small circles as if to reassure him. He moves, centimetre by torturous centimetre until he’s fully inside, their bodies pressed flush together.
“Okay?” Olli asks.
Jens nods, breathing coming fast and slightly ragged despite his efforts. The feeling of Olli inside him is foreign and strange but still not entirely wrong, a welcome intrusion. He’s never done this before and he knows that Olli can tell. Is perhaps moving with more care than he would if Jens was experienced. The thought is oddly touching.
“Okay.” Olli affirms, almost to himself. “Good.”
He pulls back and then pushes in again, beginning to set a rhythm. Not too fast but steady, a constant. Jens bites at his lip, a soft whine escaping. The movement hurts but in a good way. He wonders if this is how it’s supposed to feel or if it’s some bizarre quirk of his own psyche that the near-pain is sparking something deep and hot in his stomach.
Despite the sense that Olli is holding back, the sex isn’t particularly tender. Jens thinks that there’s something perversely masturbatory about the whole thing, as though Olli is trying to fuck an idea, a concept that he both despises and desires. When Jens comes, he comes hard and riding high, Olli right behind him but somehow apart.
Olli doesn’t leave immediately afterwards. Jens is oddly pleased about it. Olli doesn’t hate him, he understands, not exactly. It’s more complicated than that. So they lay there side-by-side, both still breathing slightly rough, sticky and horrible, tangled in the sheets which will definitely have to be changed before Jens can go to sleep.
Jens rolls over on his side to look at Olli. “You look like someone squashed you when you were a baby.” he tells him, mindless antagonism to pass the time. He reaches out to poke Olli’s forehead. “How did that happen.”
Olli scowls and kicks Jens in the shin. He kicks hard. It hurts. Jens only laughs.
“Are you doing alright?” Philipp asks him seriously before Argentina. Philipp alternates between hanging off of Timo’s arm giggling absurdly and peering at the world out from underneath his eyebrows as though he alone has the sacred duty to ensure the continued smooth function of society at large. It’s slightly disconcerting. Jens likes him a lot.
He looks down at Philipp. “Yeah, I’m fine.” A frown. “How come?”
“You seem tense.” Philipp says, looking at him with narrowed eyes. “You’re usually fine but today you seem tense.”
“Is it Olli?”
“What?” Jesus, Jens thinks, is this team really such a pack of old gossips that somehow people already know-
But Philipp is still talking. “I know you two don’t get along. He’s not- I don’t know, being terrible? More terrible?”
Oh. Just the usual about Olli then. Jens grins wryly. “We’re goalkeepers on the same team. We’re not supposed to like each other. It’d be unnatural.”
Olli has said it before Costa Rica, and Poland, Ecuador, Sweden. Don’t fuck up. And then, before Argentina, don’t fuck up.
When the ball slips into the net in the forty-ninth minute, Jens nearly bites through his tongue with the effort not to scream. It’s the quarter finals. He can’t do this now. He isn’t doing this now. He can’t. He can’t fuck up.
He thinks Olli is probably trying to burn a hole in his skull from the bench with the force of his gaze alone. He doesn’t give him the satisfaction of looking over to confirm the suspicion.
Miro saves them half an hour later. They’re all coming to realise that’s just what he does. A beautiful diving header from inside the box, sending the ball curling into the corner of the net with a sigh. Toooorrrrr Mirrroslav Klooose! From the other end of the field, Jens watches Miro disappear under a pile of team mates. Gifted a second chance. Don’t fuck up.
Forty gruelling but goalless minutes later and it’s Jens’ turn to work some magic. He’s known instinctively since the second half of extra time that they were going to go into penalties, but it doesn’t make it seem any more real when it finally happens. The whistle has blown for the end of play and the roar of the crowd has taken on a strange quality, a low narrow stinging at the back of the yells and chants. The sound of fear.
Jens can feel it up and down his spine. The sense of weightlessness in his fingers and toes at hearing the word, Elfmeterschießen. Rationally he knows that a full half of the penalty shootout depends on his team mates who will be lining up to take shots, but he’s still overcome with the sensation that everything is down to him. The match is in his hands now. His hands.
Perhaps it is a conceit common to goalkeepers. Perhaps it is narcissism unique to Jens. He doesn’t know and he doesn’t care.
A few feet away he sees Jogi talking in a low, rapid voice to Micha who’s sitting on the ground, sprawled out as if at rest but his face a storm cloud, deadly serious as he nods along to whatever Jogi is telling him. Micha will take a penalty. Micha will be partly responsible for bringing Germany through this. Micha and the others, the ball at their feet.
But it’s in Jens’ hands.
He thinks about his save ratios in training. He thinks about all the times they’ve practiced penalty shootouts and how many times he’s managed to dive the right way and collect the ball. The numbers aren’t terribly reassuring.
Eleven metres is an awfully short distance.
He’s sitting in the tactical area, staring down at the scuffed grass when he becomes aware of Olli standing next to him. Looming. As per usual.
Jens doesn’t look up. He knows what Olli’s going to say and Jens hasn’t been bothered by it and Jens isn’t bothered by it. He’s been dealing with both the weight of Germany’s number one on his back and the accusing, ever-constant stare of his predecessor since day one. He doesn’t give a shit. It makes no difference that he knows what Olli’s hands feel like against his bare skin, and the way his straw-thatch hair falls across his eyes when he lays in bed. Jens has been building himself into this moment for months, years maybe. And right now? Right now he doesn’t need Oliver Kahn to tell him how to do his job.
Olli crouches down on his haunches besides Jens and Jens turns to look at him, to tell him to fuck off and let him take care of things but before he can open his mouth Olli rests a hand at the back of his neck. Not an aggressive hand but just- a hand.
“You’ve got this. It’s all yours.” Olli says, quietly, voice level and calm. A confident voice. He gives Jens’ shoulder a gentle squeeze, just a moment of reassuring pressure, and then releases him.
Olli looks him in the eye just as he has before every match this tournament, just as he had looked Jens in the eye one hundred and twenty-odd minutes before, but for once the gaze isn’t challenging or baiting. Olli looks Jens in the eye. “Good luck.”
He reaches out and Jens takes the proffered handshake. Olli grips his hand and smiles his small, close-lipped smile. “All yours.” He repeats and stands, letting his fingers drag through Jens’ hair as he rises, ruffling the sweat-slicked curls.
It’s the first time that Jens has felt anything like close to Olli. Even when they’d slept together the facts of their situation had been hanging about them like plastic curtains around a hospital bed. Isolating. Quarantining.
There is a slip of illegibly-scrawled upon paper in his sock and the eyes of the world are watching him. His team mates take care of things with their feet. Jens takes care of things with his hands. He does his job. He does his job just enough.
Germany slides into the semi-finals with the dull sound of Jens punching Argentina’s third penalty away, the shudder through his arms as he makes contact, the roar of the crowd.
He is aware of standing up and being suddenly swamped by his team mates, a screaming mass of joy, and in the moment everything is perfect. Everything is perfect. Everything is perfect.
Nobody talks much after Italy. A silence has descended upon the hotel that just hours before had been ringing with shouts and laughter, Poldi shoving people into the pool and Torsten challenging everyone to ping-pong despite being terrible at it: all the little things that have made up their lives for the past month.
Somewhere else, people are celebrating. Somewhere else, a fairy tale is still being lived out. But Germany’s role in it is over.
Jens watches from the bench. He watches Olli in net, breathing fire at both the opposing strike and his own defence, flinging himself this way and that with masterful, controlled abandon. He watches the crowd, screaming and yelling and waving as if it’s the final and not the consolation. He watches Germany –this Germany, his Germany, the last time this team will be together in this exact way, in this exact perfection- play one final game. He watches from the bench and when Olli passes by him at half-time Jens leans forward, grins. Tells him, “Don’t fuck up.”
After Portugal, Jens half-waits for Olli to show up even though he knows honestly in his heart that he won’t come. He sits cross-legged on the hotel bed and drinks slowly, steadily, leafing absently through a newspaper. Downstairs he can hear the sounds of celebration, the irrepressible spirit that has buoyed the team up and up quickly taking over the already faded hurt of the semi-finals, bolstered by the third-place win and the adoring crowds that seem curiously unable to distinguish between their medals and those sported by the Italians.
Olli won’t show up and he’s not upset about it, just mildly disappointed. He wonders if that’s the beer or the residual numbness of Italy or just the nature of his relationship with Olli, maybe something twisted inside that they both share and that they both have shown to each other in secret. He’s not upset that Olli doesn’t knock on his door. More evidence that there was always something else there with them, the ghost of Olli standing between the posts, a ghost that has been made flesh and now Olli doesn’t need to steal from Jens anymore.
Torsten wrangles the team out for one last night out together because as he puts it, ‘you’re all fucking getting me down, staying inside like a pack of pensioners’.
Klinsi gives them his blessing. Go forth, oh courageous ones, and get royally smashed.
They’ve made it to the third bar of the night and Jens is sitting to the side watching an extremely drunk Bastian attempt to seduce a particularly shapely bar stool while Lukas and Arne egg him on when Olli walks up to sit beside him.
“Third place. Not bad.” Jens grins. “And they love us out there, so.”
Olli shrugs. “We can do better.”
“And who says we won’t?”
They fall silent for a few moments, before Olli says, “You had a good tournament. A really good tournament.” He sounds honest but strained, the end syllables of each word gritting out from his back teeth. But honest.
Jens laughs, unable to help himself. Bronze laughter, third place laughter, but laughter still. “Hey,” he tells Olli reassuringly, “Thanks. But we’re goalkeepers. We’re not supposed to like each other.”
Olli lets out a bark that could be construed as a representation of humour. “Of course not,” he says. “It’d be unnatural.”
Jens is too drunk to be surprised or even amused by the coincidence. In that moment it all makes perfect sense that Olli would be able to complete his sentence like that. After all, they are goalkeepers.