His soulmate’s handwriting is sharp and spidery, chickenscratch cursive wrapping around Marco’s wrist like a bracelet. He studies it often, craning his head to trace the letters with his eyes. He’s had them since his sixteenth birthday, which wasn’t unusual. People got them a few days earlier or later, and some never got them at all. The lines around his wrist were always a pale grey instead of his parents’ bold black, an indicator of distance. His soulmate lived far away and sometimes the lines paled even further, to indicate they were traveling.
Oh, and the lettering is always in French. That's the infuriating part.
Marco knows his parents worry. They whisper where they think he won’t hear, about how his soulmate might come and take him away, to foreign places with foreign languages. Privately, Marco thinks that’s pretty stupid. He’s going to be a professional footballer; chances are that he’s going to be traveling anyway.
So Marco takes French in school, slogs through the frankly stupid tenses and awkward verb conjugations, all in order to better decipher the words on his wrist. He isn’t good at academics, with practice and football occupying all his thoughts full time, but his grade in French is good and he does his homework diligently.
The first time he recognizes the French word for football in the mass of words on his wrist, he breathes a sigh of relief. And then warms up to his soulmate considerably when he realizes how often it appears. He daydreams, briefly, about his soulmate being as passionate about football as he is, about the two of them being professional footballers together.
Then he tells himself to focus and practice more free kicks.
What are the odds of that anyway?
He learns enough French to realize that some of the words on his wrist are actually Italian and feels almost resentful. He learns French for his soulmate and now they expect him to learn another language on top of that? How demanding, honestly.
Sometimes, the letters stay the same for days, and sometimes the flick into each other, tumbling and racing around Marco’s wrist fast enough to make him dizzy. It’s a startling contradiction, and, bizarrely, it makes him miss the person behind those stray thoughts, even though they’ve never met. He wants to be close to them, close enough to be the one who makes those thoughts race.
Being a part of a professional football team is harder than he could have ever imagined. His body aches from the drills and he keeps slipping in the mud and there’s sweat running down his face, into his eyes and then he gets tackled again, the sound of the stadium rushing in his ears as he lies there, on his back in the mud and thinks about quitting. He reaches up in a daze, to wipe the sweat from his face, to do something, and then catches sight of his wrist, his dark cloth wristband slipping down to reveal the words.
It’s impossible to think that his soulmate is taking to him, separated by the distance written in the grey lines and yet.
Marco takes a deep breath.
He stands up. It can’t have been more than a second since he’d fallen, but it feels like forever.
Eleven minutes later, he scores. The joy burns through his veins like liquid fire and he slips his fingers under the wristband to trace over the words.
Marc brings him into a hug after the whistle blows and Marco closes his eyes, familiar arms around him, and imagines he’s with someone else. He lingers maybe a little too long, but Marc doesn’t push him away and when he steps back, his eyes are understanding.
The lines around Marc’s wrist run pale grey too, and flicker from Portuguese to Spanish quicker than Marc can follow most of the time. They room together for away games at Gladbach and sometimes they kiss softly, shyly and talk about the words on their wrists, and the enduring crush of distance.
The first time he kisses Mario, he asks him, completely serious, if he speaks any French.
Mario laughs at him and slips his fingers under Marco’s shirt.
Mario leaves five months later and that’s all there is to it in the end.
(the letters on Mario’s wrist are in German, the lettering a deep bright black)
Marco can’t be blamed for not noticing, really. He’s kept busy, with training and games and sponsorships, running himself ragged trying to patch up the hole after Mario leaves. He knows it’s not his responsibility, Kloppo told him so, squeezed him in a hug that made something in Marco’s chest splinter like it always does. Kloppo had said things would be alright and Marco believed him. He always does.
Still, he can’t shake the feeling of being on the edge of something, a breath away from a nosedive, except he’s not sure what he’s diving towards.
So he can’t be blamed for not noticing when the thin pale grey across his wrist thickens and expands, darkens into lines starker than he’s ever seen them.
He catches sight of them over morning coffee and drops the mug in surprise, barely notices when the scalding liquid soaks through his battered sweatpants.
His soulmate is near. In the same country, maybe even in the same city. Marco looks around, reflexively, as if expecting them to appear in the middle of his kitchen, then deflates, when they ultimately don’t. He runs his hand through his hair and checks his wrist.
He mouths the words to himself, lets the syllables drip into the silence of his kitchen. As if on cue, rain starts tapping against his windows.
He meets Auba two days later. Somehow stupidly, he doesn’t think to connect the two.
In his defense, Auba is wearing really cool shoes.
Marco’s knowledge of French comes in unexpectedly handy. Auba understands enough English to communicate and they have a translator, but the first time he hears familiar syllables pass Marco’s lips, something breaks open in his expression and, if possible, his already bright smile just gets brighter.
Marco knows his accent must be atrocious, but Auba never laughs at him, just listens patiently and slows down when he’s speaking so Marco can follow. In a few hours, it feels like they’ve been friends forever.
In the next few weeks, Marco accompanies him on errands. First to the estate agent, to find him an apartment that isn’t on the club’s pay roll (conveniently located a ten minute’s walk from Marco and he doesn’t bother to hide how pleased he is by that). Then to furniture shops, where they flop onto the display mattresses side by side and grin at each other like loons, and chase each other around displays of ornamental pillows. The sales assistant assumes they’re a couple and Marco corrects her with only slight hesitation. They go grocery shopping and Marco subtly stuffs Auba’s cart with all of his preferred brands, and the two of them get into an argument about the differences in German and Italian Nutella.
“You know, you don’t have to do this,” Auba says to him once, in the car. “I can do it on my own or ask someone from the club to translate. You don’t have to give up your free time for me, I’m sure your friends are missing you.”
He’s probably right. Marco should check on Marcel and Robin, keep them from causing havoc. Or he could clean his apartment again or do anything he’s done before Auba came to the club.
Auba watches him across the clutch shift, anxious and visibly contrite, and all Marco really wants to do is reach out and push the fringe from where it’s falling into his eyes, run his fingers through the strands and to the side, to trace the star symbols that Auba’s got etched into the short hairs there.
“I’m exactly where I want to be,” he answers, and maybe it’s too earnest, judging by the way Auba’s eyes widen, but he’s hoping that Auba might think it comes from his limited vocabulary instead of the warm feeling growing up inside his chest, pressing against bone and sinew, making it harder to take a breath.
Auba starts the car and Marco sees him rubbing at his wrist absent-mindedly, the letters hidden beneath a dark blue wristband.
He suddenly feels colder, hunching into his seat. Auba shots him a concerned look and turns down the air condition.
The first game they play together is against Bayern. Marco’s got a split second to aim the pass and it doesn’t give him any chance to think, but he knows Auba will be there to receive it before it even leaves his feet.
Auba doesn’t disappoint.
Marco isn’t even aware he’s crossing the distance till he flies full tilt into Auba’s arms. He’s happy, buoyed by the high scoreline and the bodies that pile on top of them. He’s close enough to hear Auba’s soft huffs of laughter against his temple and it makes him shiver.
His wrist burns. Not enough to hurt, but enough to feel.
His joy feels like it’s burning through his veins, caught in a backwards loop and multiplied. Auba’s hands tighten on his shoulders and Marco giggles into his neck in response.
He can’t stop the grin on his face even when they get out of the group hug, and he reaches out to snag Auba’s wrist for a moment, feeling soft cotton turned damp by sweat. Auba grins at him and Marco lets go.
Suddenly, inexplicably, he wonders what his soulmate is thinking. His wrist still burns, almost itches, but then the whistle blows and he has to run back to defend the goal they just scored.
Marco decides to wear a different wristband for a while, thinner and made of softer cotton, since it obviously must be some kind of allergy if it’s burning. It’s not advisable for famous footballers to bare their wrists under any circumstances. Too many people who’d try to take advantage. He decides to take his chances anyway.
As a result, he’s a lot more aware of his wrist than usual.
For example, he walks into the locker rooms, calling out a hello and catches sight of his wrist, where the band has slipped down for the third time this hour.
He settles his bag in his locker, frowning quietly at the words and wondering whose hair his soulmate is admiring, when Auba’s familiar warmth appears by his side.
Marco’s distracted and so doesn’t see the hand drawing closer, until there are fingers curling around a flyaway blonde strand. He glares at a grinning Auba, almost bewildered. Everyone knows that Marco doesn’t like his hair touched, that he’ll duck away and sometimes kick, if he’s really mad and spent a lot of time on it.
Auba carefully smoothes the hair back, so it’s lying perfectly in line with the others. His expression slips into something focused and sharp and Marco wonders, briefly, if this is what he looks right before he’s about to score a goal.
“There,” Auba says, and the expression melts into another smile, quieter but still brilliant, “now you’re perfect.”
Marco can’t help it. He blushes. “Thanks.”
“Is it naturally blonde? Or do you dye it?”
“It’s blonde, but I lighten it. Naturally, it’s not this bright.”
“Hm,” Auba nods to himself, as if making a decision, “it suits you.”
One of the staff chooses this moment to walk in and call them to training, so Marco has to race to get his kit on and doesn’t notice the writing on his wrist change.
At this point, they spend most of their time hanging out at Auba’s place, since Marco’d helped with all the furnishings anyway. Somehow they still manage to look more stylish and more comfortable than his, which he figures is Auba’s magic at work. He sometimes worries about overstaying his welcome, but Auba never tells him to go and actually seems a little upset every time Marco has to leave, not that he has that far to walk.
So in the grand scheme of things, it’s just an evening of many similar evenings. They’d ordered take-out and tried their best to be healthy about it, after Marco threatened to cook and Auba complained about how much he hated German food.
There’s a moment, where Marco says something that makes Auba laugh so hard he chokes on his mouthful of water and is spills from his glass onto the cloth on his wrist. They’re still laughing when Auba takes it off, the soft wristband with 17 embroidered on it that Marco’s never seen him without. It’s the first time he’s seen the writing on his wrist.
Writing that happens to be very very familiar.
It’s like all the air gets sucked out of his lungs for a moment and Marco can’t breathe, tracing familiar spiky cursive, his handwriting, winding its way around Auba’s wrist like a brand. Like it belongs there.
Like there’s a part of Auba where Marco belongs.
“Auba,” he says, and there must be something of what he’s feeling that shows in his voice, because Auba’s head snaps up to look at him, then tracks Marco’s gaze to his exposed wrist, still marked with Marco’s last stray thought.
Then Marco is moving, almost ripping off the band on his wrist, holding it up to the light so Auba can see.
He has a front row seat to the look on Auba’s face when it sinks in, gets to watch concern shift into confusion then to surprise and wonder. Then their eyes meet across the room and Marco doesn’t know what he sees in Auba’s expression in that moment, but he knows he never ever wants to stop looking.
Suddenly, they’re laughing and Auba reaches out to cup Marco’s cheeks in his hands, peppering his face with kisses, as if he can’t quite decide which part he wants to kiss first, and Marco reaches up to grip his wrists, running his thumb over the familiar lettering, before he catches Auba’s lips with his own.
They’re kissing and he feels hot, like he’ll burn from the inside, burn right through his skin and then they’re touching, Auba’s soft jumper through Marco’s thin cotton T-shirt, the warmth of his skin underneath.
Auba is whispering in soft French against his lips, endearments and insults all in one and Marco’s dizzy with it, dizzy with him, and he wants to know if they match the writing on his wrist, but is too busy kissing to check.
Their fingers lace together and they just fit, simple like anything, simple like fate.
Somehow, with many detours against walls and couches and inconveniently closed doors, they make it up to Auba’s bed, and Marco falls back on the bedsheets, howling with laughter, because Auba’s discovered he’s ticklish and absolutely had to take advantage, making Marco an incoherent laughing mess.
Auba follows him onto the bed, straddles his waist and waits as Marco’s laughter turns into soft chuckles, then into silence. And Marco knows Auba doesn’t like silence, that he always has to fill it with some sort of chatter, but he’s quiet now, watching. Marco takes advantage of the moment to look at him in turn, in the glow of the streetlight outside, wishing he’d had the presence of mind to flip on the light switch as they’d tumbled past the doorway.
As his eyes adjust to the half-darkness around them, he sees Auba in snapshots; the heave of his chest as he breathes, the dark smattering of his chest hair, the bright slash of his smile in the light. The way his mouth opens in a quiet moan when Marco raises his hips experimentally.
They’ve lost all their clothes in their trek to the bedroom and Auba’s skin is warm and soft as he lowers himself down to kiss Marco again, covering him like a blanket. His fingers skate against Marco’s chest softly, carefully, like he can’t quite believe he’s real, like he thinks Marco might disappear just like that. Marco runs his hands down his back in turn, deepens the kiss, and he’s not sure which one of them he’s reassuring. Maybe both.
A little later, when Auba is twisting against him, all choked off moans and open pleading and s'te plait, s'te plait, s'te plaît and he doesn’t have to wonder if his words are reflected on Marco’s wrist.
He knows they are.
Marco’s woken up by the grey light of Dortmund mornings shining in his eyes. It seems to desaturate all the colors in the room, turning them dab and somewhat unreal. Auba is warm against his side, warm like spring, their legs tangled together under the sheets and their fingers entwined. He’s also most probably drooling into Marco’s shoulder.
Marco’s chest hurts when he looks at him, the slope of his nose, the soft slackness of his mouth, the splay of his fingers against Marco’s side. His face is both familiar and entirely new at the same time. There’s beard burn on his lower stomach and his inner thighs, and that part is definitely new. Not unwelcome though. He’s having a hard time imagining that any part of Auba could be unwelcome.
It’s early, early enough that Marco feels it in heaviness of his limbs, so he twists himself sideways into a more comfortable position, grinning when Auba has no discernible reaction to the movement, except to pull him closer and bury his forehead into Marco’s chest instead of his arm.
The rain drums on the windows outside and Marco smothers a snort, knowing that Auba’ll be insufferable about it later, that he’ll probably forget his umbrella again, but still turn up to training, grinning like the absent sun.
Marco turns his attention to their hands, pressed close together, and squints to read the writing in the dim light. He smiles to himself when he sees that the words match, in French and German, side by side.
He then settles in deeper into the covers, determined to catch a bit more sleep before their phone alarms wake them up. He only pauses to drop a kiss on top of Auba’s head and to squeeze their fingers once, grinning into the pillow when Auba presses back.