A/N: This isn't beta'ed, sorry if I didn't catch mistakes. Sorry this took so long to get up. Last quarter was a bitch.

Feeling Off-Sides

- Or-

The Five Times Charlie Brushed Mike Away and the One Time He Didn't

The One Time He Didn't

Some time later

The season was over. United had finished in the top half, but without having Mike able to play a whole game eventually took a toll on their chances of winning the league. Charlie and Mike's chemistry was off- gone was more like it. They lost in penalty kicks in the quarter finals; a shitty way to exit.

Charlie hadn't talked to Mike beyond what was necessary since the hospital. The American had been discharged from the hospital after two days, arm encased in a league approved cast. Federico called him a fool for not listening to Mike when an attempt was made to explain. Charlie didn't need an explanation; the winner takes it all and he didn't want to hear the consolation speech. Especially since MacAlister had shown up twice after their practices to pick up Mike. If any of the other guys on the team thought the two were together, they weren't making any comments on the matter. The media was also being surprisingly mum about the whole thing.

"Charlie, are you here?"

"Where else would I be? Can you grab me a beer?"

"Why are there reporters outside?" Federico tossed him a beer as he entered the room, gracefully falling onto a couch, paper in his hand. "They were asking me awkward questions."

"I didn't realize they were out there," Charlie frowned, standing from his chair and lifting the blinds to look outside. Sure enough, the vultures were circling. "Bloody hell, I guess I should ask them what they want so they'll leave. What did they ask you?"

"The normal," Federico laughed, rolling his eyes. "Oh, and apparently our trip to Granada is so we can get married."

"Really? I didn't know we were getting married. I should get a suit."

"Don't worry- we'll have the ceremony on a nude beach."

Chortling, Charlie stuck his tongue out at his best friend, glanced at a mirror to make sure he looked presentable, and opened the door. He wasn't expecting the explosion of light and he blinked, temporarily blinded. Then came the onslaught of questions.

"Mr. Reed, can you-"

"Trade being made-"

"Opinion on-"

"Were you notified-?"

"Wait a second!" He nearly bellowed, trying to figure out why a crowd of reporters had shown up at his flat, "You!" He pointed to a random reporter. "Why are you all here?"

"Barcelona has made a bid on Michael Cooper and he stated he is considering the move. As his Captain, what are your views on the matter?"

What?

"I support my teammate in any decision he makes. Mike must do what is best for him. If he chooses to go to Barcelona, he will be missed." Charlie automatically spouted off the standard PR drivel. "Now, if you could please leave, you're ruining my lawn." He slammed the door.

Mike was leaving? The news didn't surprise him. While the kid got on with most of the team, the tumultuous relationship Mike shared with Charlie was probably enough to make him want to move. Besides, the kid said it himself- he had wanted to learn from Charlie but was disappointed in what he found. There was nothing for him in England. Perhaps the star studded Barcelona was a better match for him. Charlie felt a morsel of regret as he realized whatever possible spark there was between them was long gone due to their shyness to broach the topic and his own inability to properly control his emotions.

Trudging back into his living room, he threw himself into a chair, scowl on his face. Federico lifted an eyebrow; Charlie rolled his eyes and took a swig of his beer. Perhaps he would have more friends, or relationships, if he wasn't such a moody, ego-centric bastard. Oh well- at least he wasn't a pouty baby like that Portuguese player.

"Were they asking about Mike?" Federico drawled laying flat on his back, head propped up on his arms, legs thrown over the armrest.

"Did you know?" Charlie tried not to let disappointment show in his voice.

"For three days- but if it's any consolation, he said he isn't sure."

"Doesn't matter to me what he chooses." He said nonchalantly.

"I'm sure it doesn't."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Charlie, don't lie to me, or yourself, when you say you don't have pent up feelings about our young friend."

"Maybe I did at one point, but it's gone now." He told his friend curtly, lips set in a thin line.

"I don't believe you." Federico sat up and stared at him, knowing look in his eyes.

"Well it doesn't matter, does it? Apparently I'm not his type."

Charlie didn't expect the sad smile on his friend's face as he lay back down. He wasn't really sure what Federico was aiming for with trying to get a confession out of him. What was the point of fancying Mike when the kid already had someone? Not to mention the ramifications to his career if anyone ever found out. Perhaps he could find a WAG worthy lesbian who needed a husband, and their marriage could be a front while they kept lovers on the side. He snorted- how the hell would he find one, Craigslist? Sooner or later even Federico would find someone to love and Charlie would be all alone.

Charlie almost dropped his beer in surprise as his cell phone began to ring. Glancing at his caller ID, he saw it was Mike and quickly silenced it- he wasn't in the mood to deal with the object of his tortured affection. Federico gave Charlie another of his patented knowing looks, to which Charlie rolled his eyes. Thankfully, Mike didn't leave a voicemail. He sighed in relief until Federico's phone rang. The smile that lit up the Spaniard's face was nearly as mad as the Cheshire cat's.

"Hola Americanito," he chirped in the phone. "Como estas?... Si!" Charlie made violent neck cutting and strangling gestures towards his supposed best friend. "Claro! Of course you can talk to him. His phone must be off or something." Federico handed his phone to Charlie, who stared murderously back.
"Uh, hello?"

"Uh… hey Charlie, it's Mike. Umm…" there was a few seconds pause; an awkward silence. "Uh, I was wondering if I could talk to you, in person."

"Okay." Charlie instantly regretted agreeing, but it wasn't really like he could say no. "When? Where?"

"Today if possible. Umm… I could go to your place or you could meet me here?"

"I'll meet you at your place." That way he could escape if things got awkward.

"Whenever you have the time then, I don't have anything planned."

"Okay."

"Thank you."

Charlie hung up and immediately rounded on his friend, who was standing there with an innocent look on his face.

"I should kill you right now."

"But who would be the Keeper?"

"We have a reserve for a reason."

"But, without me, you won't have someone watching out for you." Federico held out the piece of paper he had in his hand for Charlie to take. "Y tu, mi amigo, need your gypsy."

Charlie took the paper from Federico and unfolded it. It was a picture and caption from the newspaper and looking closer, he realized he knew the people in it. It was Ellie, Mike's sister, and her now husband William, with their wedding party in front of the church where the wedding had occurred. In an instant, Charlie knew why William had looked familiar and he cursed himself as he read the blurb:

William MacAlister married Eleanor Cooper at the All Saints Church in St. Andrews on Wednesday. Both are PhD candidates at the University of St. Andrews. The couple met coincidentally through their brothers, both professional footballers, at a match in the United States this previous year. Both Footballers were amongst the groomsmen...

Charlie didn't need to finish reading to know that yet again, he had been a terrible fool. Mike had been trying to tell him all along and Charlie had been to damn stubborn to listen. But now it was almost too late, what with Barcelona's offer.

"How long have you known?"

"Mike told me when we were at the hospital when they thought my ribs were broken."

"Why didn't you tell me?" There was hint of hurt and betrayal in Charlie's voice; he couldn't believe Federico kept something this important from him.

"It wasn't for me to tell. How many times did Mike try to tell you, only to have you push him away?"

"What the hell does that matter? You're my friend; you're supposed to tell me these things."

"Everyone must make their own mistakes. But ask yourself: will you let this one go or will you try to fix it?"

"Fix it? I can't, it's too late."

"He has not said yes to Barcelona yet. Go to him, tell him the truth."

"Tell him that I was angry because I thought he was dating MacAlister, who is actually his brother-in-law? Tell him I've been mooning over him since I met him?"

"Si."

"You're insane."

"Well, if it were me, I would walk up to him, pull him close, whisper a sweet anecdote in his ear, and then kiss him. He has nice, kissable lips, no?"

"Hey! Keep your eyes to yourself. You already got to feel him up while I had to watch."

"Don't pretend you didn't enjoy it." Federico winked at him with a laugh. "Tell him his eyes breathe fire into your soul and you need a kiss to quench your insatiable thirst for his lips."

Charlie just stared as if his friend lounging on his couch had grown a second head. "Uh yeah, I don't think that would sound right coming from me. It's nice and poetic, but-" he burst out into nearly hysterical giggles. "I am so fucked."

"No, so fucked is where you want to be," Federico told him with another wink and Charlie scoffed. "Fine, be English about it. Go up to him and say "'ello Mike, you like tea? I'd fancy a spot of it right now- I fancy you too'."

"Bloody wanker, you are."

"Well, what are you going to say?"

That was an excellent question. Fuck. Charlie had no clue what he would say. Not something as wretched as Federico's attempt to sound British, but there was no way he would be able to pull off anything about fire in souls- not without sounding drunk or highly delusional anyway.

"Just write something down for me to say," Charlie conceded, "but nothing too fancy or namby-pamby."

"I wouldn't dream of it." The Cheshire Cat grin was back.

Grinning like a loony, Federico rose and sauntered over to Charlie's desk in the corner, and pulling a paper from a tray, began to compose what Charlie hoped was a convincing speech. God, he was so pathetic he couldn't even tell Mike he was sorry in his own words. Of course, it was more than possible Mike wouldn't give a damn about what he had to say. There was no reason for Mike to stay in England for Charlie when Charlie had been cold and indifferent. It was a fool's errand and Charlie found it disconcerting that he was playing the part of the fool for the first time in a long time.

"Don't ruin this," Federico handed him a folded letter and gave him a wink. "If he goes to Barcelona, he will be helpless against the good looks and charms of my countrymen. We are a good looking bunch."

"And the most reliable of friends," Charlie told him sincerely. "Thank you."

"Claro!" Federico beamed. "Now, about what you're wearing…"

* * *

Fucking media. Fucking clothing. Fucking lack of good parking. Fuck fuckity fuck fuck fuck!

Charlie's scowling abilities had grown exponentially since receiving Mike's phone call. Federico had forced him into a horribly metro looking green shirt and a pair of jeans that were tighter than Charlie would have preferred. Despite knowing resistance was futile, he voiced his opinion to his friend, who simply told him the jeans made his backside irresistible. Then, to make matters worse, he nearly ran over a nosy reporter while pulling out of his garage only to discover the mother ship of reporters had descended in front of Mike's flat and he had no where to park. Parking a few blocks away at a church, he walked as quickly as possible to avoid people. Unfortunately the vultures saw him as soon as he rounded the corner and he had to push his way through the microphone bearers to ring the bell. The door opened just wide enough for him to slide in and he left the incessant blabbering for a quiet, albeit tension stuffed, hallway.

"Sorry about that," Mike said in his soft way. "They've been out there all day."

"Its fine," Charlie forced out; tongue feeling like lead."

"Well, come on into the living room. Can I get you anything to drink? Tea, coffee, pop, beer?"

"Tea would be nice."

"Okay. I'll be right back."

Charlie took a seat in one of the comfy chairs in the living room. Mike's home was exactly what Charlie had expected. It was comforting, a pale blue painted on the walls and surrounded by a multitude of pictures. The largest picture, hanging over the fireplace, looked like a family portrait that was a few years old. Mike looked exactly like his mother, only sharing his father's dirty blond hair. Ellie was the oldest, followed by another sister and brother, and then Mike. After Mike was another sister, just starting college, as well as twin brother's in high school. A large and loving family; Charlie hadn't had either growing up. The walls were littered with pictures of them as well as pictures of former teammates and friends.

"What do you want in it?" Mike called from the kitchen. "I don't have a tea service."

"Just a bit milk."

Charlie's eyes returned to the photographs. The most recent was a family picture taken during the wedding. The Cooper family, plus William, looked large, loud, and happy. It was clear that Mike was deeply loved by his family.

"Here."

Charlie was so caught up in his musings that he failed to notice Mike re-enter the room with a cup of tea for Charlie and water for himself. Mike's eyes followed Charlie's and he smiled at the picture of his family.

"Yeah, there are a lot of us," he said bashfully. "Never got a moment to myself growing up."

"I always wanted a brother or sister," Charlie told him, a tinge of jealousy in his voice. "It was very lonely." Neither of them said anything for a long minute. "Er, what did you want to talk to me about?"

"Barcelona," Mike quietly told him and Charlie felt the pit of his stomach drop. "I didn't want to decide without talking to you first." Mike took a deep breath before plowing on. "Look, I know things between us haven't been great since our fight. I thought it wouldn't affect the game, but it has. We don't play well together; the connection is gone."

And then Mike was silent, looking down at the cup in his hands. Charlie felt like he had been punched in the gut. Yes, everything Mike said was true; Charlie just never thought he'd hear such bold words from the shy boy.

"So you've made up your mind to leave then?" Charlie prayed his voice wasn't as pitiful as he thought it sounded. "I don't blame you, I've been an ass and Barcelona's paying a lot more."

"It's not about money. I play my favorite sport and it's my favorite thing to do. The fact that I get paid for doing what I love is a bonus."

"Come on, you can't tell me you didn't come here because we offered you double what the MLS was paying you."

"I came here to meet you Charlie," Mike confessed rather boldly, all shyness gone. "I told you the first day we met that you were my favorite player. I came to England to learn from you because in my eyes, you are the best striker in the world."

"What have you learned aside from what an ass I am?" Charlie glumly put forth, ready for a verbal lashing.

"That people aren't always how I imagine." Ouch. "That being in the limelight is very isolating and lonely." Preaching to the choir. "But that I've come to realize is that despite the last few months, I'm the happiest I've ever been when I play with you."

"Huh?" Charlie blinked stupidly; he hadn't been expecting that. "Happy? But you think I'm an arrogant ass."

"You are," Mike affirmed with a twitch of a smile. "But that's who you are on the outside, when you close yourself off." He set his water down. "I want to know if the Charlie I like to play with will come back. I would like to stay here in England if he comes back."

Mike smiled at him with such forgiveness and kindness that Charlie felt his built up walls begin to crack.

"I'm sorry Mike," he blurted out, looking into his teacup like the ashamed little boy he was. "I've been a jerk to you and it's my fault. I was jea-" He couldn't bring himself to admit he was jealous of MacAlister. His walls were breaking, but they hadn't completely crumbled yet. "Look, I'm not good with words."

"I know," Mike's eyes were twinkling as if he was laughing at some unknown joke. "Why don't you just read me whatever Federico wrote?" Charlie looked confused, how did Mike know? "He rung me and told me he wrote what you were trying to say."

"Backstabber," Charlie muttered, pulling the letter from his pocket.

"Or a good enough friend to know what you mean to say," Mike laughed. "You know what they say: England and America are two countries separated by a common language. Apparently we need a Spaniard to translate."

"Did he say what was in the note?"

As Mike shook his head, Charlie felt panic begin to build in the pit of his stomach. Mike was going to stay here and Charlie did not want to jeopardize that with an ill timed love confession. Charlie would most likely be reading a sickly romantic Federico creation that would leave him likely embarrassed and have Mike laughing in his face. Charlie did not want to be laughed at or pitied. Why didn't he read the damn letter before he got here?

"You're not going to read it, are you?"

Charlie Reed was no coward. He could do this, and he would do it in his own clumsy words.

"I thought you were seeing MacAlister," Charlie mumbled, anything closely resembling grace gone from his voice- he sounded rather like a petulant child. "I didn't know he was William's brother."

"You thought… David and me?" Mike burst out into laughter, clutching his sides. "Oh god no, he's too full of himself. I'll admit he's good looking but not my type." His laughing slowed as a frown came over his face. "Wait, were you angry because you don't like David or because you thought I was with another man?"

"Because it was him," Charlie's voice was barely audible now in his apprehension of revealing his attraction to Mike. "If I had to lose you to another man, I didn't want it to be him. Anyone but him."

"Lose me? Why would you think you're…" a light lit up behind Mike's eyes. "Oh." He flushed red. "Oh! Charlie, were you jealous of David because you like me?"

"Yes."

There was a pregnant paused where neither spoke. Charlie was too embarrassed to look up from his staring match with the top of his shoes. After a few more seconds slipped by, he sighed. This had been a mistake.

"I shouldn't have said anything- I'll leave." He placed his untouched tea down on the side table and stood up, eyes trained on the floor as he brushed by Mike.

He hadn't taken more than two steps before Mike caught his shoulder and spun him around.

"You're so self centered that you can't see the obvious, you twat."

"Huh?"

"I mean, if you don't let me kiss you right now, I'll run off to Barcelona and console myself with Spanish men." Mike told him matter of factly before closing the gap between them.

Right then, those horribly drippy words about breathing fire in souls and lips that quenched the thirst for perfection made sense. Charlie let out a small sigh of contentment as he felt Mike's smooth lips on his. Mike tasted citrus, as if he had just eaten an orange. Charlie was pretty sure he was going to get a raging hard on every time he had orange juice in the foreseeable future.

"I'm an idiot," was the first thing Charlie said when Mike pulled back.

"Yes," Mike nodded with a smile.

"And self centered." More vigorous nodding from Mike. "You're okay with that?"

"I balance you out."

"Oh, like that's humble."

"Charlie, you wouldn't know humble if it bit you in the ass." Mike's eyes shone with coy amusement. "Your very fine and distracting ass I might mention."

Charlie chuckled and put his hands on Mike's hips, pulling them together. He nipped at Mike's lower lip and placed small kisses down the American's jaw line and neck. Mike's skin flushed and Charlie brought a hand to run through Mike's dirty blond hair. A particularly hard bite to Mike's neck elicited a moan and Charlie smiled to himself, knowing it would leave a mark. Mike brought up a hand to brush over the spot and their eyes met.

"Marking your claim?"

"No, just telling others to bugger off." Charlie kissed him firmly. "I don't have the right to claim you." Another kiss. "You're not a possession."

"Not even if I want to be?" Mike looked up at him with those same trusting and adoring eyes that had doomed him from day one; if Charlie wasn't hard after that first kiss, he definitely was now.

"You're killing me, kid."

Mike just smiled brightly and pulled Charlie from the room. They went upstairs, to Mike's bedroom, where Mike pushed Charlie onto his bed. This was a sharp contrast- bedroom Mike was bold like on the field Mike, as opposed to the normally shy Mike. Charlie liked the difference. What was that old saying? Lambs in the kitchen, tigers in the bedroom?

"Are you sure? I don't want you to-"

"If I'm going to kill you, you might as well be comfortable," Mike quickly divested them of their shirts and crawled on top of Charlie. Leaning down to kiss him, Mike murmured, "And if this is some hallucination, I'd rather pass out on my bed."

Charlie's laugh was quickly cut short as one of Mike's hands teasingly dipped low. Growling, Charlie flipped Mike over and switched their positions so he was kneeling between the younger player's open legs. A smirk came onto his lips and he took in the sight of Mike sprawled beneath him, the messy hair flying over the pillows as brown eyes burned into his. This was definitely worth the waiting and the angst.

"Charlie?" Mike whispered as their snog session began to take the next step a few minutes or perhaps hours later.

"Hm?" Charlie pulled up from where he had been licking Mike's inner thigh. Mike looked practically pornographic: naked body flushed, lips swollen from kisses, eyes seductively dark. "Am I going to fast?"

"Oh, no," Mike pulled Charlie back up to him, gently kissing him before nibbling on the Brit's ear and whispering, "I'm just getting impatient with how gentle you're being; I want you to make me beg and scream your name."

Charlie nearly whimpered as Mike pulled back and gave him an innocent smile. That smile, combined with the freckles and pouty lip almost had Charlie coming then and there. He would have never guessed that Mike could be like this in the bedroom.

"You're going to be the death of me."

"Not until after sex."

Mike had a good point. Well, Charlie wasn't going to disappoint and he certainly wasn't planning on dying until Mike came crying his name and he got to see those lovely eyes clouded by orgasm.

* * *

Later, much later, after they were sated from house of 'reconnecting their bond'; Mike looked up at Charlie from where he was pressed against his side. The American had returned to his normal shyness- Mike thought it was endearing… and the biggest cocktease he had ever experienced.

"So what do you think Federico wrote in that letter?" Mike asked him, shaggy hair falling into his eyes.

"I don't know, probably something horribly tacky about the fire of passion and your lips being the fountain of redemption." Charlie quipped as Mike snickered. Reaching for his pants, he pulled out the letter. "Let's see what this says. Although, I'm burning it if it's too embarrassing."

Charlie slowly ripped the envelope open and removed the letter. Unfolding it, he read what it contained before a smile broke out onto his face and he shook his head:

One should never doubt the power of a gypsy curse

FIN