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the only heaven I’ll be sent to is when I’m alone with you

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There’s always a fuss in the corridors of a stadium before a game. Everyone chats, walks back and forth, prays; there is even who quietly sings along with whatever he’s listening from his earbuds to defuse the tension.

Tension you could actually cut with a knife in the dressing room. Juventus’ situation is pretty bad right now: this is really one of the worst times for the team over the past several years.

They are eighth in the Championship ladder, far from the top they used to occupy until just two years ago. And mostly, far from the Europe Zone which is the best they can even hope this year, or at least for now.

Manuel knew that choosing Juventus during one of its toughest era ever - preferring it over other offers he received after that extraordinary European Championship - wasn’t the easiest decision.

Of course, Juventus is a great team: surely one of the best between Italian’s clubs and probably the one his family had no doubt choosing because bianconero is always been their colour.

But playing for a big team - especially when it is in a bad condition like Juventus is right now - carries a lot of responsibilities to a young player like Manuel: responsibilities he is trying to keep always in his mind, proving himself to be the good man with the head straight he actually is.

And now here he is: a few minutes before going out into the field, doing little jumps on the spot while he tries in vain to focus on the game they are going to play.

The lucky song he regularly listens to from years to relax before every match didn’t do any good for him now: his unsettled stomach and the shake of his legs showed no sign to stop.

On very few occasions he had been so anxious before the kick off - apart from his debut match in Serie A when he was still a teenager boy, then he was just so agitated that he could barely breathing. And this isn’t even a game in a important competition such as the European Championship or the Champions League.

It is a regular Championship game: a tough one, of course, but certainly nothing so special or out of the ordinary.

Playing against Atalanta is supposed to be hard, it’s always been: they are strong and tactical, with a long squad of players one better than the other. But the great team is not the real problem right now, at least not his. Manuel’s problem in this moment is the beautiful opponent mildfielder he’s absolutely in love with and who is also his boyfriend.

They hadn’t see each other in eleven days, since that bloody goalless match against Northern Ireland which had costed Italy the direct qualification for the World Championship.

Anyway to Manuel it feels like months or years passed since he had him in his arms, like every time they are far away from each other and can’t be together like they want to.

Despite the bitter end, that International break has been like a sort of blessing to them: they weren’t even supposed to meet during it due to Matteo’s earlier injury which already made him miss the previous month’s retreat. Although fate had played his own game and had wanted that many of their national team partners got injured as well during the training camp so the coach had to call up Matteo to replace them.

Manuel couldn’t have been more happier than that.

As a matter of fact, even starting the game together today it’s a miracle. Matteo wasn’t supposed to play this match either: the recovery time estimated by the doctors when he just got hurt were at least two months. Instead it had been just one month and Matteo is here again after working really hard for it, ready to show the best of himself today.

With his head down kept down, Manuel hears the visiting team joining them in the tunnel while he rubs together his cold hands: he is still having really hard time getting used to the dull and frozen sky of Turin in late November.

“Manu!” he hears his name called out and, recognising the voice of his boyfriend, turns himself immediately, already with a spontaneous smile plastered on his face.

Matteo doesn’t want to distract him, he knows firsthand how important is to concentrate before such a difficult game. But he also knows Manuel and can tell just from the look on his face and from the way he is behaving that he isn’t actually feeling good right now. He noticed his nervousness from across the room just when he entered the tunnel.

Manuel is definitely an emotional type: it’s not like him to not worrying before playing this game, the first game against Matteo since they got together last June, there is no doubt about it.

Surely his head is full of fears and concerns at this very moment: what if one of the two get hurt because of the other? Or maybe they are not going to be so discreet on the pitch and people will start suspecting something about them, more than they already do.

These are just some thoughts he had the courage to admit to Matteo a couple days ago, who knows how many more are in there.

He can see how Manuel is anxiously chewing his bottom lip with his teeth, pulling off some dry skin on his already chapped mouth.

“Try to fouling me and I’ll make you pay for it, Locatelli”, Matteo winks and gives him a sweet smile.

It’s just a joke: obviously he doesn’t mean it. There’s an unspoken agreement between them when it comes to games they are against each other: when on the pitch, all is fair and, most importantly, the loser mustn’t get angry or resentful towards the winner.

Manuel knows what Matteo is trying to do, he understands he just said the first bullshit that came to his mind in that split second only to calm him down. Of course he did, all it took was one look at his lover’s face and he knew Manuel was not doing good.

Just like he always does when they are far from each other and just a few seconds into their call, Matteo understands that Manuel is upset just from the tone of his voice or the frown on his face.

Matteo takes so much care of him, he always showers him with his pure and unconditional love. This is just one of the many reasons why Manuel loves him so much.

He really wants to kiss him, right there in the middle of both their teams and watched by thousands of people through the tunnel cam, but he can’t. So all he does is smile and answer him: “You know, I can’t take you seriously when you are wearing that bright coral kit”.

It’s a shameless lie: he may be biased by his love for him, but perhaps Matteo is really the only one who can actually rock that awful colour. Manuel finds him so handsome and sexy, even with that red lipstick smudge on his cheek. He really doesn’t know how he is supposed to play ninety minutes of this game without jumping on him.

Matteo feigns offence, staring at him in outrage and dramatically gasping for air. “How dare you?!” he mouths, but starts giggling a moment later, his nose wrinkled up like it always does after hearing one of Manuel’s stupid jokes which usually aren’t even that funny.

What began like a nice little attempt to make him feel better soon turned into a cheeky flirt. It’s always like this with them, whenever they meet again after being apart for a long time, they can’t stop teasing, touching or loving each other.

At the moment they have to confine themselves to the first one mentioned, trying to don’t get too carried away. But the surprise Matteo has in store for him won’t let Manuel feel disappointed and let down.

•••

The game ends with a 0-1 win for Atalanta, another loss to add at the long list of the recent failures of Juventus.

It has been a well balanced match after all, with scoring opportunities from both sides. And the team has played good, there were moments they had even deserved the win. But Manuel can’t help but feel bitter: the result is all that matters and they, for the umpteenth time, lost, letting down all their fans who despite everything still believed in them.

And above all he can’t help but feeling a little bit responsible for it: of course, he is aware that the defeat is not only his fault - there are eleven players on the field after all - and that fate had its part in it. But he also knows that if he hadn’t been so distracted by Matteo’s proximity, he wouldn’t have lost so many ball and misplaced too many passes.

It’s not use lying; something stronger than his self control couldn’t bring himself to focus on the game and playing well when he had Matteo always cling on his body to press him. Several times Manuel found himself grabbing him by his hips with the excuse of intercept the ball.

Even Bonucci - who was one of the very few who knows about their relationship because they are in the National Team together - realised how much Manuel’s mind was all over the place and he gave him a good lecture in the dressing room at half time telling him, literally, Get your head on the game and don’t let your cock control you.

Manuel is a little disappointed from himself, but he can’t undo what he did, he can just learn from his own mistakes.

After a few minutes of sitting there on the grass with his hands running into his hair, he feels someone getting close to him. He raises his eyes from the ground and is immediately meet with Matteo’s caring gaze.

Matteo walked straight to him as soon as the referee blew the final whistle, not even joining his teammates for the post game celebration. All he needed was a look at his boyfriend’s heartbroken face and he ran towards him.

“So what? Do you want to switch our shirts?” Matteo tries to joke, even managing to get a laugh out of Manuel.

Manuel licks his lips and shakes his head. “Seriously Teo? Any excuse to get me naked?” he bites back smiling.

He has to honour the promise they made to each other: he can’t bear a grudge after having lost, Matteo doesn’t have to feel bad for doing his job right and winning.

Besides, pretty soon they are going to say goodbye to each other because Matteo has to go back to Bergamo with his team after the game: he doesn’t want to spend these short moments they can be together - even if not in the way they’d like to - frowning.

He gets up, helped by Matteo who offers him a hand. Manuel immediately hugs him, holding him in his arms and filling his nose with Matteo's distinct scent mixed with sweat from the game. “Hi amore mio”, he fills his lungs with his smell, greedy as if Matteo would disappear from his hold in a matter of seconds.

“Hi baby, I missed you so much”, Matteo leaves a few rapid kisses on his head, burying his nose into Manuel’s wet curls. He just hopes no one is paying attention to them at the moment.

PDA is not something they have talked about, because neither of them really care that much about it. They know they can go too far with their cuddles, even though they are not being so subtle over it right now. And they know many people may be against their relationship and that making it official may be the end for their football careers.

But they just can’t not indulge in exaggerated display of affection even when they are in public, maybe this is exactly why there are so many rumours spread about them.

They just feel a constant need to always be glued together and touch each other’s body, they really can’t help it.

However hugging is as far as they can go right now, so Manuel has to take the best out of it. “You played so good, babe”, he says while curls his arm around Matteo’s torso, hiding his face in the crook of his neck.

They let go reluctantly, much sooner than they would have liked. “You too. I’m sorry you lost”, Matteo says, trying to not let his pride come out from his voice but having trouble keeping a straight face.

Manuel knows him like the back of his hand, he is acquainted with Matteo’s enjoyment in playing with him and winning, in other contexts different from the football pitch: he can see in his eyes just the same sparkle they have when he manages to tease him and arouse in Manuel the reactions he exactly wanted.

“Liar. You’re not really sorry”, narrowing his eyes, Manuel leans towards Matteo and gives him a little pat on his chest to scold him, even though he is amused and delighted by his boyfriend’s sly grin.

Matteo snorts and rolls his eyes, “Okay I’m not. But I can’t be really completely happy if you are sad”. He lovingly strokes his face, thumbing his cheekbone not really caring about people watching them now. His top priority at the moment is Manuel, he wants to comfort him to make him feel a little better and he’d do anything to brighten his mood.

He knows how much Manuel takes every single game to heart and how much he always blames himself after a failure, even when he is completely blameless.

That’s way he wants to do everything he can to stop him from self deprecating.

Speaking of which, “By the way, what are your plans for tonight?”

“I got no plans, actually. Why?” Manuel furrows his brows and shrugs. His only plan is to go back home and hopefully stay awake long enough to be able to watch some new episodes of that tv show he likes but hadn’t had time to catch up with: he just wants to curl up in bed and don’t think about that start of the season so disappointing.

“Nothing”, Matteo blows the question off but has a mischievous look on his face, “I just wanted to ask you… do you have any extra room for me in your bed tonight?”

Manuel’s heart skips a beat hearing that.“What? You’re staying? You aren’t going away tonight?” he starts shooting too many questions in a row, hoping he didn’t misplaced anything Matteo just said.

“If you are okay with that. Coach gave us a free day tomorrow. I would have told you before, but I wanted it to be a surprise”, Matteo apologies a bit sheepishly, he didn’t want to invite himself over, he just wanted to surprise him.

It’s not really a regular thing for them to spend time together in Manuel’s home here in Turin.

The majority of the time it was Manuel who visited him at Bergamo: at the beginning because Manuel had just moved to Turin and was still staying in a hotel not having an house yet.

Then, when he actually found it - and Matteo has been deeply involved in the choice of the apartment, complete with a tour of the houses room by room via Facetime and Matteo’s advices for furnishing he gave to him given his passion for design - he was busy with the move and the renovations, so meeting up at Matteo’s home always made more sense, it was more convenient.

But by now Matteo had already been here a pair of times, he even spent here a week this past October during the International break after the Nation League games, when he joined Manuel to Turin.

Soon Manuel wipes out all his embarrassment, “Of course I’m okay with it! It’s your home too, amore. I’ve told you the day I got it… remember?”

How could he even forget it? When Manuel had told him that in the middle of a videocall, all excited after showing him the signed contract, Matteo almost bursted into tears of happiness. Never in his life he had felt loved and had loved in turn so much as he had with Manuel.

They’ve been together for five months but he is sure Manuel is the love of his life. The men with whom he wants to grow old, celebrate together all their successes and start a family one day. The person he had always desired and sometimes he still wonders why on the earth he had the fortune to meet.

They are still onto the field when they get interrupted by Federico Bernardeschi who walks towards them. “When Romeo and Juliet are done, I’d say it’s time to get moving”, he points his thumb first to the right towards the group of their team and then to the left towards Matteo’s.

Manuel notices just then that all his teammates have gone under the curve to greet the fans and clap for them, thanking them for coming to the game despite the disappointment for their defeat.

That was something he didn’t quite put together till just now, too caught up in the happiness of seeing Matteo again and being able to feel those arms wrapped around him.

“I guess I have to go”, Manuel says nodding his head towards Berna who is still watching them with a bemused face.

“Yeah, go. Don’t worry amore mio, we’ll going home together tonight, remember?” Matteo whispers in his hear when he get closer to hug him one last time before letting him go back to his team.

Manuel breathes a sigh of relief, “I’m looking forward to it!” he murmurs holding him in a tighter embrace and then, when he let him go, heads back to the rest of his team, already pathetically counting down the minutes until he can be back into his lover’s arms.

•••

“Didn’t you come with the team bus? What did you make up to not going back to Bergamo with them?”

They are in the parking lot now and are walking side to side towards Manuel’s car. Their bodies so close that the backs of their hands are brushing up against each other every step they take.

The buzzing tension between the two of them is so heavy but they keep smiling to each other, already looking forward to the rest of their evening, even though they are impatient to get back home.

When Matteo came out of the dressing room he was surprised to see Manuel waiting for him, already changed up and with his duffel bag on his shoulder, ready to leave.

Usually he was always the last one to get out, because of his never ending showers for which Matteo always makes fun of him even when they are at home. Instead that time he had been extremely rapid, with the aid of the craving for going back to Matteo and the urge to run away from his teammates who were arguing due to the emotions still raw after the game.

“Only that I have something to do in Turin”, Matteo answers him when they finally reach the car.

“Or perhaps you should have said that you have someone to do here in Turin”, he teases him with his beautiful rosy lips curled in a grin.

Shaking his head, Matteo grins getting his innuendo. “You’re such a naughty boy”, he takes a look around to make sure no one is anywhere near to them and smack him on the ass when Manuel passes in front of him to open the back hood of the car and put their bags in there.

They still hadn’t kissed during all the time and Manuel just wants to tug him closer, tangling his fingers in his hair and kissing his lips. But they can’t right now and Manuel is dying to do it.

Matteo must have seen it on his face because he leans his head towards Manuel and gives him a quick peck on his lips. Only a promise for what is yet to come.

A long night is ahead of them and they can’t wait to enjoy every single instant of it, eager to give pleasure to each other’s body as only they can. Who knows who’s going to fall apart first, but this is a game neither of them is willing to lose.