Dramatic music plays in the background, getting louder when the good luck fairy comes onto the stage. Agger whistles approvingly, the boys laugh. The pressure declines for a moment. The UEFA-president steps forth, says some introduction words, the pot is being brought forward. The last eight teams.
Everyone is quiet as a church mouse.
In the last round they eliminated Porto, not too hard an exercise, but now the tough nuts await them. Arsenal, Juventus, Milan. With their luck of the draw they will definitely meet one of the really tough teams, Stevie ponders, the phone in his hand. But Liverpool always performed best as the underdog anyway.
The first lot is drawn. The floodlights centre on the young woman on the telly. “Liverpool.”
Suddenly all of them are sitting very upright, even Daniele doesn’t lounge on his chair as usual. Alvaro seems to be praying, his hands cramped, his lips moving soundlessly. Maybe a bit of support from above can really help them.
The second lot. A drum roll. “Barcelona.”
On the faces around him, Stevie notices relief. Barcelona are good, but not the best. Agger is grinning, most likely recalling their win in the Nou Camp, back then. This is what Stevie is currently doing as well, but he feels everything but fine doing so.
They are drunk, not from alcohol, something which Rafa has looked after strictly, but from joy. Winning against Barcelona in the Nou Camp despite trailing for a while is something special, and everyone feels it, even those who only were on the sidelines or in the stands. Carra is grinning happily, Agger has turned up his favourite music so loudly that Stevie is astonished that the defender hasn’t busted his ears yet. He sits two rows in front of him and can still hear the bass.
Bellamy is obviously on cloud nine, beating Kuyt and Crouchy in skat nonstop, and is apparently unable to keep his voice down tonight. This doesn’t seem to disturb Riise, however, who is already asleep, his i-pod’s earphones blocking the noise.
And next to Stevie sits Xabi, who squirms uncomfortably in his seat, always anxious not to get too close to the captain. His hair is a complete mess, sticking out higgledy-piggledy from his head, so that it itches Stevie to simply run his hands through it.
But he isn’t allowed to, will never be allowed to do it again, because of the wedding ring on his finger, his family, and it simply couldn’t go on. Wasn’t allowed to go on.
Xabi and he have ignored each other as well as possible during the last weeks, Stevie has kept apart from him, which is difficult, because the Spaniard still exerts a damn pull on him. He misses his touches, the small, private moments they used to share. Misses the usual kiss after a win, in a dark corner where no one is able to see them. Misses sitting next to him on the way back, Xabi’s head resting on his shoulder, holding him, feeling his warmth. Misses celebrating together with him later on, a far better celebration than it would ever be possible to have on the pitch.
Though today, he mustn’t, he has to hold back. Even though he notices, how Xabi agonises, how much he struggles to keep the distance.
A short look up the plane – the staff up front are in deep talk, most likely analyzing the match, while the others are occupied with themselves. Alvaro in the seat next to Stevie is fast asleep, breathing calmly and steadily.
And Xabi looks so tempting today, so inviting. Once won’t hurt, they say. One last time…
When the Spaniard turns around the next time, Stevie’s already half way there. Twines his left arm around the other one’s shoulders, runs his thumb over Xabi’s nape affectionately, over his neck’s tender skin. Plays with a streak of his messy hair for a moment.
“What?” Xabi hisses, trying to wriggle out of his arms without attracting anyone’s attention, jostling his hand away.
“Shush.” Stevie places a finger on Xabi’s lips. Bends down, leaves a trace of kisses on Xabi’s neck, feathery and tender, that make the other one shiver.
“Stevie… please.” His voice sounds almost entreating, but there swings too little opposition, too much desire in it for Stevie to stop now. Entirely aside from the fact that he definitely desires the other one, alone these short touches cause a painful tension inside his trousers.
When did they last sleep with each other? Four weeks ago, six? Far too long ago by all means, Stevie decides, as his hand runs slowly over Xabi’s chest, the other getting entangled in his hair, and suddenly the other one’s opposition disintegrates.
Their kiss is lingering, nearly shy at first, like their very first one. Their hands find each other, their fingers entwine, caress each other gently. But the waves of arousal that run through Stevie now don’t want any foreplay, any flirting. They want Xabi, namely now.
The kiss becomes harder, more intense, more demanding. Stevie bites lightly on Xabi’s lower lip, enjoys how the other one sighs lowly into his mouth. Lets his hand slip into Xabi’s lap, he is already hard, caresses him through the trousers, boldly, provokingly, knows exactly where the Spaniard’s weak points are. Enjoys watching the other one, how his hips arch up into his hand, how they follow him when he moves it away.
With a few sharp hand movements he pulls the track suit top from his shoulders, placing it on both their laps, before he sets to work on opening the zipper of Xabi’s trousers. Jerks at the fastening, that jams today of all days, impatiently. Feels the warmth the other one emanates, sucks at his neck, while Xabi apparently needs to summon up all his self-composure in order not to groan loudly.
But then, just when Stevie has advanced to Xabi’s boxers, massaging his inner thighs provokingly, he is being distracted. By a hand on his trousers, that grasps him, rubbing him hard, finding the way to him within seconds.
And damn, this feels fucking good, Xabi’s hand around him, how he strokes the tip, presses at the exactly right places, simply fantastic, he would love to take him now, right here on the plane, regardless of the others, or at least feel Xabi’s mouth around him. Xabi’s hand moves faster, Stevie’s hips adjust to the rhythm automatically, he breaths faster and harder, and then there is suddenly a second hand which massages him, it is simply hot, Xabi’s mouth on his swallows his groans and whatever noises he makes, while his right hand cramps into the track suit top.
And the left one closes around Xabi, who flinches for a moment, though then lets his tongue slide across Stevie’s lips provocatively. The captain closes his eyes, enjoying every second, he is nearly at that point, no one manages to arouse him like Xabi. The Spaniard rubs against him, and right now Stevie would give everything to be alone with him, not to sit in this seat, but to grab the other one, to rip the clothes from his body, to take him, fast and hard, again and again, all night…
”Stevie? You still awake?” The captain is startled by a loud voice, looks around confused – where has the plane gone? – until he recognizes his team-mates who nearly piss themselves laughing.
“Had a nice daydream?” Agger grins meaningfully, gazing at Stevie’s lap.
Is there any possibility this day could be any worse?
Normally, Stevie doesn’t do this, why should he, he has Alex, after all, but when he returns from training, he locks himself in the toilet and starts caressing himself. Imagines that it is Xabi’s hands roaming his body, that it is Xabi’s hand that grabs him and strokes him, that lingers on his tip.
He comes fiercely, shivering, sweating.
And has a bad conscience only seconds later.
During training, they watch seemingly endless DVDs of Barcelona’s moves and goals and Stevie has enormous difficulty in concentrating on the tactics instead of watching Barca’s dark-haired captain. Something about him makes his heart beat faster even though they haven’t seen each other for three years, even though he loves Alex. Has four children with her by now.
Rafa even has the cruelness to stop the DVD just when there is a close-up on Xabi, and Stevie simply has to stare at his neck, simply has to imagine what it would be like, kissing the tender skin there again, running his hand through the other one’s hair once again.
He is very glad that he wears roomy trousers.
The reunion renders Stevie nearly to a nervous wreck, his hand shakes when Xabi approaches him. The other one smiles politely, but the smile doesn’t reach his eyes that look over Stevie coldly. The handshake turns out so strong that he almost hears the bones creak, like a silent test of strength. Their eyes meet for a moment, so that Stevie gets the creeps.
Actually, he wanted to say something, at least welcome him curtly, congratulate him on becoming captain, on Barcelona doing quite well during the last months despite some problems with their manager and various transfers and injuries. But Xabi has already stepped towards the refs, exchanging a few words with them before the coin is being tossed.
A symbol that Stevie loses?
Throughout the first half, Xabi is literally glued to him, doesn’t let him get the ball, doesn’t let him play any good passes. And if Stevie manages to break free once in a while, there’s a hard tackle, a straddle knocks him down and while he is still sorting out his legs, the Spaniard is already miles away, the ball with him. Soon he gets angry, kicks back at him, but Xabi is too fast for him, escapes him again and again.
His blood starts boiling. If there’s one thing that Steven Gerrard hates more than everything else, it is being outplayed. Being separated from the ball and having to leave the fight to his team without being able to actually do anything. And the fact that Xabi always grins so smugly when he lies on the turf and Barcelona fly past him with the ball only adds more fuel to the flames.
If Xabi wants a fight, he will get it. The well-known red mist takes over his brains, switches off those brain cells that advise him to stay calm and reasonable, not to risk anything. Stevie dives into the tackles like into his very first games, with both legs and fiery eyes, wanting to finally beat the other one.
Inside the game a private fight develops every time the two midfielders meet each other, the ref tells them off but Stevie simply shrugs it off. He, captain of Liverpool FC, won’t be outplayed by a Xabi Alonso! And off he is, pushing his competitor aside, while his feet are searching for the ball.
At the break, Rafa exhorts him to stay calm. Carra only looks at him in a weird way, like an old, wise owl who knows a lot of things it shouldn’t know. Until now, it is mainly thanks to the vice-captain that there hasn’t been a goal against them yet. None for them either, though, but as soon as Stevie gets rid of Xabi, he’ll show these Spaniards.
Xabi, however, isn’t easy to get rid of he finds out, he sticks to Stevie like chewing gum, always gets between him and the ball or at least between him and the one Stevie wanted to pass to. There are hardly five minutes played into the second half when Stevie meets the grass again, a new bruise on his thigh. This time, though, he somehow manages to twine his legs around Xabi and to pull the Spaniard down with him, so that the other player lands on top of him.
“Serves you right, you wretched bastard,” he hisses furiously when Xabi grimaces painfully. Finally he has shown him.
“Well, you’re the bigger bastard here”, the other one answers back promptly. “Already found a new lover?”
And now Stevie sees ultimately red, he pushes off and strikes hard. Hits only the shoulder but the Spaniard’s surprised cry of pain satisfies him temporarily. One moment later, they are at each other’s throats, they kick, scratch, roll around on the pitch, throw insults at each other, swearwords, yell, shout.
Half a dozen arms pack Stevie, draw him away, he notices Carra screaming something while he fights against the hard grip, wants back to Xabi, wants to break his great nose so that the blood spills all over his face.
The ref shows red. Twice.
Xabi moves first, taking off his armband and leaving the pitch to a shrill hail of catcalls from the stands, his head upraised. The Spaniard got his revenge, for this was it, Stevie realizes suddenly. But his own payback is still outstanding. With a flick of the wrist, he tears off the armband, pressing it into Carra’s hand, before he sprints off, chasing the other one who has already disappeared into the tunnel.
At the sidelines, Pako tries to stop him, though Stevie shakes the hand off, doesn’t stop, only wants to lay his hands on Xabi Alonso right now, wants to show him which cloth he is cut of.
The Spaniard is already in the away team’s changing room, but this doesn’t disturb Stevie, he storms through the door, throws himself on him with all his force, so that the two of them land on the floor again. They are fighting doggedly, like just on the pitch, rolling through the room, swearing, kicking, throwing punches. Until Stevie finally gets the upper hand, nailing Xabi to the cold floor, keeping his arms down with a skilful grasp.
For a few seconds, silence rules while Stevie is looking down onto his former friend, studying his still beautiful face. Thinking about how to use his win now.
“Come on, strike,” Xabi utters through gritted teeth, his gaze provoking, brave and direct. “Shouldn’t be a problem for an asshole like you.”
“After all I have gone on with my life, while you obviously paused three years ago. Do you at least enjoy your private revenge?” It is really handy to know each other, Stevie decides, since that is how he knows which words can hurt the Spaniard far more than any blows could.
“Well, it wasn’t too hard for you to go on, was it?” Xabi’s voice sounds bitter. “It wasn’t you who got left behind.”
“And you think that it was hence easier for me? Alex wanted the wedding, categorically, I would have lost the girls otherwise, and…”
“It wasn’t any problem for you to cheat on her while you were still engaged.”
“But marriage is something different, I simply can’t…” Stevie stops.
“Did you know how I was doing?” Xabi’s voice is hardly audible. “I couldn’t sleep. Couldn’t play. Couldn’t do anything except leaving this place. It made me ill to see you every day and not being able to touch you. I wouldn’t have been able to continue that.”
For a short moment, Stevie feels actually sorry for the other one, but all this hasn’t been easy for him, either. He isn’t the bad one, he only had to meet a decision, didn’t want to lose Xabi, either. “You always knew that it couldn’t have gone on forever,” he says hoarsely. “It was… it is…” Frantically, he searches for the right words to describe what he felt when he had to tell Xabi his decision. What he is still feeling.
“I still dream about you.”
Taken aback, Xabi looks at him and God, Stevie has forgotten how intense his gaze can be, how many feelings he can get across without opening his mouth once. How these eyes still captivate him, how they still evoke feelings in him which he didn’t know he had before he met Xabi.
Stevie is a married man, but wife and children are forgotten right now, as he looks at Xabi, losing himself in his brown eyes, and it is like in the past again.
Xabi is asleep, his arm resting on his blanket, his face peaceful. He breathes deep and quietly, smiling in his sleep. Is he dreaming about them?
Cautiously, Stevie gets up, taking care not to wake anyone up, and steps up to the window. The moonlight covers the training ground with an enchanting glow, lets his team-mates’ faces appear soft. Riise is snoring lightly, kicking with his right foot over and over. Probably dreaming of his goal right now.
All of them are dreaming, sleeping, but Stevie doesn’t find his rest. He made love to Xabi, for a last time, in the bathroom, while everyone else was already lying in their beds. Cheated on Alex, once again. On his future wife. On his children’s mother. Has betrayed her. Deceived her.
What an asshole he is, putting his fantasies, his lust ahead of his family. A miserable scumbag, who acts like he has the perfect family on the one side, and, on the other side, uses every undisturbed minute to get into his team-mate’s pants. Pathetic.
He expects more of himself, doesn’t only want to be exemplary on the pitch but also off it. Wants to live a Liverpool captain’s ideal. Wants to be fair, even-tempered, encouraging, strong.
Not someone who leads a double life, which no one who is important to him, apart from Xabi, knows about. Which no one can know about, which no one is allowed to know about. Not a pig, that gives in to his most primitive drives again and again, only to sneak into bed next to Alex, to read a good-night-story to Lilly and Lexie later.
He hates himself for this life he leads, his two lives which exclude each other, which he will never be able to reconcile. He gets sick alone from imagining Alex’ face if she heard about Xabi and him. She would leave him, would take the girls with her, would pillory both of them, would throw them to the English yellow press.
Good-bye Lilly and Lexie, good-bye family, good-bye the world’s best midfielder, good-bye captain’s armband.
And it is impossible to go on like that now, Stevie simply can’t do it, period, end, finish. Over.
Carefully, he tiptoes around his sleeping colleagues before kneeing down next to Xabi. The moon illuminates the other one’s face, lets it gleam in a cold light, lets him appear surreally beautiful. Tenderly, Stevie runs his hand over the Spaniard’s cheek, enjoys being so close to him for a last time.
Aspirates a kiss onto his lips. For a last time.
Slowly, he bends down, drawing in the other one’s smell, feeling his arms wrap around his neck, rubbing his nose against Xabi’s. Frames his face with his hands, brushes the brown hair off his forehead. Closes his eyes when he feels the other one’s breath on his lips.
Their kiss feels as if they have never been separated, as if someone has turned back the clock, it is hungry and gentle the same, demanding and amorous, making Stevie incredibly hard. He wants more, wants to feel the other one, wants to continue where they stopped three years ago.
Impatiently, he rips at Xabi’s jersey, trying to pull it over his head, while he presses the lower part of his body against the Spaniard’s leg, rubbing against him. Feels Xabi’s arousal which only urges him on.
Suddenly, though, he is pushed aside, their kiss is disrupted, he lands on the floor while Xabi is sitting up. Confused, Stevie stares at the other one, feeling a blush creeping slowly onto his face. What does that mean, please, for fuck’s sake?
“What do you want?” the Spaniard asks in a low voice.
Embarrassed, Stevie laughs. „Well, I mean…“ Confused, he searches for the right words but nothing comes to his mind that could anyhow express what he feels like. “You and me, well, we…”
“What we?” Xabi interrupts him. “What do you want, Stevie? Do you only want to use me and then show me the cold shoulder, like then?” He appears upset, vulnerable, different from the cool, always a bit reserved Xabi Stevie remembers. “Only a bit of fun?”
And here, on the cold floor, still in his sweaty shirt from the match, his legs bruised, a painful throbbing lump on his head, it suddenly dawns on Stevie. He realizes that Xabi is more than a bit of fun, more than some hidden kisses after training, hot sex during a training camp. More than someone to use – to take advantage of – and then to let fall like a hot potato. Much more.
“Well?” The Spaniard crosses his arms in front of his chest.
“Excuse me?” Bewildered, the other one looks at him, and Stevie concludes that he has most likely mumbled again, has spoken too lightly or in the wrong direction, or everything combined.
Fixing his gaze onto a stain on the wall, he works up all his courage. “I want you.”
It is silent in the white tiled room. Stevie hears the fans’ chant in the stadium like a far-off boom.
“Steven…” Xabi’s voice sounds hesitating. “I don’t know if…”
Though he doesn’t get any further, as Stevie has recognized that there is no reluctance in his voice, no hatred, and covers his words with a kiss. And this time, Xabi doesn’t break it, but engages in their tongue’s play.
Slowly, Stevie closes his eyes, letting simply the feeling of Xabi’s lips on his, Xabi’s hands on his back, sink in. It feels like then, warm, lovingly, amazing – and simply right.
And he knows that they won’t see each other for a last time today.