Steven Gerrard/Xabi Alonso; five years of watching him leave.
|Nothing happens in Istanbul. Behind closed doors, that is. Well, one thing happens. But that's all.|
Stevie kisses him again.
It doesn't last much longer than the first one, but it is infinitely different. It's gentler, unrushed, deliberate. Stevie's hand curls around his shoulder as if every movement has been considered, calculated in his mind. Like he's thought about the least intrusive place that he could touch him (not his waist, not his back, not like lovers do - not his chest, not right over the red, not over his heart). But he's kissing him. It doesn't last long though. Xabi exhales, lips parting slightly, and then the pressure is gone. He's moved away.
Xabi just looks at him. He looks like he doesn't know what to do with his hands, suddenly. Maybe the plan only went up to there. His mouth opens a little, like he's about to say something, but then it closes again. He looks almost calm. Again.
Maybe he was thinking of apologising, but he doesn't. He won't. Because that's the opposite of what he meant to do. It's just a thank you. That's all. It's just an emphasis, a reiteration, of what happened before. It's just 'thank you.' Because he doesn't know how to say it, doesn't have the words. And he doesn't think Xabi would understand anyway. Because they speak different languages, infinitely different (like the kisses are, were - the first was entirely Stevie's; the second is a translation). Off the pitch, that is. On it, something unexpected and amazing happens.
He's right though. It's hard for Xabi to understand him. Like it's hard for him to understand what happened that night. Stevie can though, and he understands it like he's done it before. (Like the crowds were singing right in his ear, urging him on and then whispering to him afterwards that it was his, that he could take it for his own.) Like he was there in '77 or '84, like his soul was there even if his body wasn't, like he's tasted it before, like he's felt it before. And he has. He has. Xabi's always kept a cautious distance. He doesn't know what it's like to belong to a place, a culture, a legacy so intensely that it would break you to pieces if you ever left it. It's scary to think about, absolutely terrifying. And tonight, tonight, he saw it everywhere he looked.
Stevie's keeping a cautious distance now. From what he really feels. From Xabi himself. And Xabi's grateful (he thinks if he didn't, if anything else had happened, he might not have been able to stop it - he can only be so smart, so rational, so much of the time).
"I should go. You know. Nagore's probably waiting for me," Xabi says, finally breaking the silence.
"You have much better company anyway," he says looking at the Cup sitting on Stevie's bed. He even risks a smile, then, and Stevie smiles back, a little relieved.
"Yeah. Yeah. Now get out of here and go be with your missus."
Stevie wonders if he only imagines the wistful look on Xabi's face before he shuts the door.
He sits on Xabi's bed for a moment, stares at the silver Cup. Then he gets up and places it on the dresser.
Maybe it's not a night to be lonely. But he isn't. Not really. He can still hear them singing in the streets. That's enough. That's everything. As long as he can remember that, as long as he can remember this night, he'll never be lonely again.
He turns off the lights.
So, nothing happens in Istanbul. Nothing happens for a while after. Nothing happens until they're in Japan.
Elevators in Japan are smaller. Or they just feel smaller. Everything is either too small or too big and after a couple days, it's disorienting. It's disorienting like Xabi's arm brushing against his in the very enclosed space as they make their way back up to their room one morning.
(He'd woken up and it was too early, far too early. The hotel was practically deserted as he made his way down to the lobby and found Xabi there, reading, looking absolutely content, like he didn't have another care in the world at that moment. He'd looked up and seen him and smiled a little.
"I don't know. Maybe. It's just weird." And Xabi knew he meant to finish that sentence with, being so far away.
"What about you?" he asked instead.
"Sometimes I just like being awake when no one else is. I feel like maybe things could be happening out there and no one's around to see it. That's kind of a sad thought."
"But you're just sitting in the lobby though."
Xabi laughed at that. Trust Stevie to have something potentially profound go right over his silly head.
"Do you want to go for coffee or something?"
"Yeah. Okay, I guess. Since we're both awake."
He figures he wouldn't have to move his fingers more than an inch for them to be touching Xabi's— and it's just. Well. He shouldn't be aware of these things. He shouldn't be thinking about them in such a tangible way. He shouldn't be thinking about them at all.
But he has been thinking. And he can't stop, really.
He can't stop.
He has to stop.
The doors open on their floor. And he takes a step forward, but before he can exit, he feels Xabi's hand close around his wrist, pulling him back, while his other hand presses the button for the lobby again.
He looks down at the hand still on his wrist, slightly confused, still disoriented (maybe he's dreaming), and then up at his face. Xabi looks a bit scared, but he's looking at him like he's never looked at him before. It's tender but filled with so much longing at the same time.
And then he kisses him. And it's their first real kiss, actually.
Stevie responds immediately, pressing him up against the wall of the elevator, hands on his face, his neck, his chest, everywhere he could touch, so unlike the last time.
Xabi slides his arms under Stevie's shirt, nails running across his bare skin, and Stevie moans into his mouth. And then those same hands, somehow, are unbuttoning his pants with so much purpose. He pulls away slightly, but only to breathe hard against Xabi's neck, breathe him in, while he gets rid of layers of jeans and underwear from between them—
The elevator doors ping open at the lobby. And they stand stock-still for a second until they realise no one's around. Then Stevie presses the button back up to their floor. The doors shut.
When they open again, Stevie's still zipping up his pants. Xabi looks both ways down the corridor but no one's there.
Stevie thinks maybe he was right; maybe there are things to appreciate in the world before the world wakes up. Things that are unseen and unfelt and lonely. Things that are beautiful.
Stevie takes his hand before he walks back to his room, just for a second. And it's like a, don't forget. It's like a, this meant something and I'm not sure what but my blood moves faster when I'm around you. I think you feel that too, don't you?
Xabi gives him a tiny nod, and pulls away. He just stares at his back, at him leaving, for a while.
He thinks he's always going to hate that.
It happens a lot though. They leave each other a lot. It's just how it goes. There's no other way.
Stevie thinks he falls in love with him the day he says, whispers, I wish I didn't have to go, before pressing a kiss to his cheek, fingers still working on his shirt buttons.
It's not what he thought though.
A week later, he signs for Madrid.
"So, what was I then? Some kind of fling?" He's not being entirely serious, Xabi knows. But he knows that it hurts, that he's hurting, that I hurt him.
"I did come to Liverpool looking for an adventure," he says, and it's the truth.
"And did you find it?"
"No. No, I didn't. I found a home."
"So what now?"
"I think it's time to find that adventure. Better late than never."
"You know, I always regret telling you to go when we were in Istanbul."
"Me too. Sometimes. That definitely would've been an adventure."
"I'm glad, though. How it turned out. You and me," he finishes, uncertainly.
Xabi kisses him then, hands cupping his neck. Stevie's own trail up Xabi's back, feeling muscle through his shirt. Like lovers would. It's not a thank you this time. Or it's not just that. It's Stevie trying to make him understand everything, every feeling and memory, he's shared with him and everything he hasn't and Xabi saying that he knew all of it all along, he felt all of it too, even the things Stevie never gave away.