Zlatan is faintly disgusted when Allegri insists he room in turn with the younger midfielders and forwards in turn to serve as a good example. He still twitches when he thinks of Clarence asking if Zlatan objected more to the implication that he was responsible or old. Sandro has fewer responsibilities as the defenders are considered stable enough to sort out their own arrangements. If pressed, Sandro demurs that he expects his young teammates will behave like the responsible adults they are. Privately, the rest of the defenders claim he’s threatened to rip their balls off and feed them to their owners if they don’t.
Sandro usually rooms with Andrea or Thiago and, in their absence, Ignazio with whom he shares a love of Playstation. Zlatan joins them when the youthful high spirits grab on to his last nerve. With Andrea and Thiago they have quiet evenings over cards or books, knees or feet touching as they sit on Sandro’s bed. With Ignazio he has the bed to himself while Sandro sits on the carpet. Sooner or later he sprawls on his stomach, legs apart and bent at the knee with his narrow, high arched feet in the air. The sound Sandro makes when Zlatan leans over and trails fingernails lightly over his instep is well worth the risk of a heel to the thigh.
Zlatan dozes off when the weather delays them away an extra night. It’s been a bitterly cold day, a tough match and he aches to his toes; he can feel the defender set his book aside and draw the blanket round him but it’s too hard to open his eyes. There’s a moment of confusion in the morning when Sandro returns from bunking with Pato and Thiago abandons them for the bathroom. Allegri wants them fed and watered and ready to go as soon as possible. Zlatan pushes up on an elbow and blinks at the Roman, “Coulda’ woken me up.”
“Didn’t want to,” Sandro kneels at the bedside. “You were quiet and peaceful and how often does that happen?” Zlatan reins in a snort and the Roman goes in for a kiss: it’s a chaste, sweet brush of lips, probably just how Sandro kissed a girl for the first time. Zlatan had pictured sensuality and a fight for dominance but Thiago won’t be in the bathroom forever and timing and caution are second nature to any good defender. Suddenly Sandro rubs his cheekbone against Zlatan’s and nuzzles into his hair as though he’s been aching to do it for ages.
“Bloody hell, Sasha!” Zlatan isn’t sure if he thinks it or speaks aloud. The Roman’s tongue flicks against his earlobe and Zlatan’s hands find his shoulders. They’re drinking in the bed warmed, faintly soap spiced morning scent of each other and it’s intimate and more erotic than being naked in the dressing room showers together.
“Thiago,” Zlatan’s hands tighten on the Roman’s shoulders when he realises he can’t hear water any more.
Sandro’s bent over his suitcase when Thiago opens the bathroom door and sidles in while the Brazilian’s back is still turned. He’s flushed and his hair isn’t long enough to shake over his face. Zlatan’s smugness at growing his own hair out is soon smacked down by Thiago’s next words.
“Fix your face, Ibra.”
“What?” The defender didn’t seem impressed by the Swede’s growl.
“You look goofy…Try thinking of Galliani eating a plate of linguini.”
There’s nothing faked about Zlatan’s disgust, “Better?”
“How did you know?”
“I’m not blind. What?” Thiago continues as the forward seems to be waiting for more.
“No warnings or threats?” Zlatan queried. The Brazilian’s brow wrinkles, “You two are close, yeah? If Sandro yelled ‘This is Sparta’ you’d be one of the guys waving your spear and yelling.”
The wrinkle becomes a full-fledged furrow, announcing that Thiago clearly hasn’t seen the film. “Never mind,” Zlatan isn’t sure if he’s lost the goofy look entirely but things feel safe below the waist.
“Ibra?” Thiago calls as he’s halfway out the door. “If he wanted to break your knees I wouldn’t try very hard to talk him out of it.”
Zlatan’s snort can be heard over the closing door, “Hah, you’d probably give him an alibi!”