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never be that tough

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Everything still feels unreal, like a fog you just need to wade through, and on the other side it will all turn out to be a bad dream. Like somebody will step up and explain how they can still make it.


It’s almost an achievement in itself that they managed to fuck it up this bad, Leon bitterly thinks.

There’s a self-righteous part of Leon that’s distancing itself from the matches, even the one he started in.

He wasn’t one of the world champions, not more than any of the other eighty-something million Germans who’ve never kicked a ball for a living, so how was he supposed to defend a title that was never his?

Of course, hypocritically, when you win, you do it as a nation. When you lose, you do it as eleven men.

Leon knows he’s part of the problem, thinking like that.


One more night here, then back to Frankfurt and then as far away from this mess as he can get. Vacation, hah. There’s TVs everywhere and the beautiful, brutal thing about the World Cup is that there’s no escaping.

The hotel is eerily quiet after everyone crawled into their rooms, heads low and without a word.

Leon is lying on his back in his bed and tries his best to succumb to the silence, but he can’t manage to fall asleep. He wearily reaches for his phone on the nightable and unlocks it, ignoring the notifications piling up on his lockscreen. He navigates to his music folders, randomly chooses a song and turns the volume up as far as he can endure it to drown out his thoughts.


He can’t tell for how long he lies on his bed like that, numbing himself, but he goes through at least a dozen of songs until something else stirs him up.

Leon feels a knock against the bedframe and then Julian’s face appears in his line of vision without warning.

Leon tugs one of his earbuds out of his ear and pushes himself up so he’s resting on his elbows.

“What?” he asks. Rude, maybe. He doesn’t care.

“I knocked,” Julian says. “You didn’t hear.”

Unprompted, he sits down on one corner of the bed. His face looks pale, his mouth is a thin line.

He doesn’t immediately give a reason for his appearance, instead he seems to take his time to settle, and Leon realises that Julian is not here for a quick chat.

He sighs and takes out the other earbud as well, waiting for whatever it is that lead Julian here.

“I don’t feel like sleeping,” Julian says.

“Join the club.”

“I need to stare at something other than the grey walls of my room.”

“So you came to me?” Leon asks. “The sky is free.”

Julian shows his teeth in a grimace, not a smile.

Leon slumps back on his back, but he can’t deny that there is something soothing about not being alone.

Julian lifts his legs on the bed and bends his knees so he can embrace them. Leon notices he’s not wearing any shoes. It sets off gears in his mind, because Julian’s room is all way down the hall and Leon’s room is nowhere near the closest to it.

“A year ago all of this seemed easier,” Julian says, like Leon isn’t replaying his goals against Mexico from last summer in a loop in his head.

But it seems ages ago, the times when Leon teased Julian by addressing him as captain.

“Or four years ago,” Leon remarks.

Julian is quiet for a moment and Leon can see him turn that thought over in his head, because Leon is right: Other than Leon, Julian already is a world champion. However, time moves violently fast in football.

2014. They were both still at Schalke then.

“I-- it doesn’t count the same way.”

As Leon leaves that statement without reply, Julian slowly turns to lie down on his side next to Leon, as if he was too tired to keep himself upright.

He is close now, not uncomfortably, but unusually so.

Leon closes his eyes for a second and still encounters that foggy, unreal feeling of a dream. That’s why he thinks he’s imagining it at first, but no, he really notices a touch on his arm then, fingers gently ghosting over his skin.

Leon turns his head and finds Julian is already facing him with intent eyes.

It’s like Julian is waiting for a reply to a question he never asked, like he can somehow read a secret language written on Leon’s face.

Leon swallows dryly as the touch on his arm grows bolder. In fear of breaking the moment, he doesn’t dare look down, so he keeps staring back at Julian instead and can only feel how Julian’s hand climbs from his arm to his shoulder and stops just before the hem of Leon’s shirt collar.

So there it is, Leon guesses.

That’s the question Julian isn’t asking.

Leon hesitates. He had never planned to wind up in bed with Julian, but the past days absolutely nothing had gone as planned.

Perhaps it would have fit better a year ago with the golden trophy as a voyeur. Perhaps Leon had been too drunk and happy to read into the touches they gave each other back then. He didn’t need it a year ago.

“Keep going,” Leon says and Julian lets out a breath. His hand crosses the line to Leon’s uncovered skin and his fingers brush the short hair on the back of Leon’s neck.

Leon lets Julian explore, lets him brush his thumb over Leon’s lips and lets him slowly move his other hand under Leon’s shirt where his fingertips find Leon’s hipbone.

Leon is aware that this is Julian’s way of fixing things, not for Leon, but for himself. Maybe it hurts more when you’ve stood there with the World Cup trophy in your hands in Brazil - Leon sincerely doubts it.

Julian’s touches are aimless, but his breaths are getting deeper as he leans his head into the curve of Leon’s neck. The smell of Julian’s perfume wafts to Leon’s nose, french and flowery.

It wakes Leon from his unmoving and uninvolved position, asking himself what the fuck else he’s waiting for.

“Hey, Jule”, Leon says and nudges Julian to face him. Julian’s eyes are glassy when he looks up, and Leon shifts his weight to kiss him.

Julian’s hand on Leon’s hip curls and Leon can feel fingernails grazing his skin when Julian fully pulls Leon on top of him without breaking the kiss.

Leon deepens the kiss and only moves away when he feels Julian moving one hand between them. He props himself up on his forearms to give Julian the space to reach under the elastic of his sweatpants.

It’s quick and sloppy and it’s as good as nothing else has been in the past days. Leon wishes he could say that out loud, but he swallows the words, entangles Julian in another kiss and returns the favour instead.

Julian is still lying on his back with closed eyes when Leon takes off his shirt and uses it to roughly clean them both.

“Thanks,” Julian says in a hoarse voice, and Leon laughs dryly. He lies on his back next to Julian, staring at the ceiling.

Nothing has changed. They’re still out of the World Cup, last of their group, and there’s no consolation for that, nowhere in the world.

Julian moves his hand to rest it on top of Leon’s and gently squeezes it, as if in reassurance.

Without looking, Leon interlaces their fingers and squeezes back.