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When they step off the plane Jurgen turns around and grins at him. “Home,” he says, and the word leaves an ache in Zeljko's chest. It makes him take several deeper breaths than normal, and maybe it's only his imagination, but he sees Jurgen do the same. Hungrily drawing deep lungfuls of the crisp night air into his body, as though it contained something tangible. Long missed.  

 

It wasn’t true anymore, but it was only not true recently, and that fact somehow makes a difference, against all odds.

 

They don’t win in Dortmund. They don’t lose either, and the wall is Jurgen’s for a brief moment again ( Welcome Home Kloppo) all yellow and black even when Jurgen isn’t. Liverpool’s wearing white for Europe. It makes Jurgen stand out against the colors, and Zeljko thinks he should look washed out, maybe. Paper-like. But Jurgen only looks thoughtful, and solid. He is Liverpool’s, not a hair out of place.

 

“We can win this,” Jurgen says quietly, later.

Zeljko isn’t asleep. The tv flickers, soundless, and Zeljko’s propped on an elbow between his fluffy hotel pillows. He looks across at Jurgen, who isn’t looking at him, but staring off into space like he can see the quarter final place, and maybe even further beyond that.

Zeljko doesn’t say anything.

“Are you angry with me?” Jurgen says, and that surprises Zeljko to the point where he sits up.

“Why do you think that?”

“I saw you looking at me, earlier. I don’t know.”

Zeljko looks at Jurgen’s face in the dim blueish light from the tv screen, that tiny frown and the tuft of hair that sticks up on the side of his head. He’s taken off his glasses already. Zeljko keeps his hands to himself. He can ache quietly; it comes with practice.  

 

“I’m not angry. Don’t be stupid.”

 

His loyalties were Jurgen’s loyalties, which were straightforward and complex at the same time. His life was Jurgen’s, half buried in shadow and still there for all to see.

 

“Goodnight, Zeljko.”

 

Zeljko closes his eyes, not thinking of the distance between their beds or the city that surrounded them.

 

-





They don’t just win, they win in Liverpool style. It’s the purest type of miracle in football, the kind that people only hope for in their wildest dreams or in the frenzying countdown of extra time. It happens. Sometimes they do. Anfield turns to a sea of red, and Zeljko remembers why he loves this and-

Jurgen on the sideline, punching the air in victory, crowding over to lift Zeljko off his feet

-And why he loves Jurgen.

 

(And they were the same reason, of course, the impossible ideal in the face of reality, the unending hope, the love and sorrow in the face of a man waving to the Dortmund fans on the night of their defeat, on the night of his victory.)


“We won,” Jurgen says later, at the ceiling, arms behind his head. Zeljko turns his head sideways. Last night had been a blur of celebratory drinks and the giddy relief of qualifying against all odds, Jurgen heavy in his arms in the car back from the bars. They’d fallen asleep fully dressed, and the smell of stale alcohol still clings to their shirts. Jurgen nuzzles closer to his shoulder, shifting. His back cracks.

 

It makes them both laugh, one after the other, half rueful and half genuine amusement. They’re both too old for this now, along with other things. But.

 

Jurgen sighs, and he says, “We won.” Again, this time as though he was trying to convince himself. Zeljko stops laughing.

 

You don't get out of this game without some scars, and Jurgen has them, and Zeljko has them, and there is not much anyone can do about that. They get up and Jurgen takes the first shower while Zeljko goes to rummage in the cupboards for something decent to eat, so maybe this hangover will disappear faster. How does a win feel so much like a loss? Even acknowledged, the contradiction sits between them, saturated in the breakfast bowls, soaking into their coffee, weaving tendrils in the still air like steam rising from their cups. The newspaper on the table is the only thing that’s loud in the room; the bold headlines ( Klopp’s Kop ), the endless red on the front page. Zeljko moves very carefully, only knowing that the silence calls for it. Jurgen doesn’t move at all.

Zeljko touches him on the elbow, gently.

‘We won.’

Jurgen looks at him, questions he would never ask in his eyes, like who are we? Did we win? What have we won?

 

You can't look too closely at things or they fall apart. This Zeljko knows.

 

Jurgen is sitting still, looking at the front page. Not a man whose team had just qualified for the semifinals of the Europa League. A man torn in half, as clean as a sheet of paper. Zeljko stands up, shakily.

 

He reaches across the table to drag their faces together, too messy for a kiss, just a mash of their noses and mouths, the angle all wrong. When he pulls back Zeljko notices, absently, that his sleeves are wet, but he doesn't care. Jurgen moves an arm, half flailing, and knocks over the basket of bread. Zeljko starts laughing, and Jurgen’s looking at him.

 

His face is something Zeljko won't forget, and to avoid looking too close he kisses Jurgen, wraps his arms around him and kisses him because he knows how Jurgen likes it, how to pull those moans out of him. This too, came with practice.

 

“You’re too heavy to lift,” Jurgen says, arms already looped around his waist, muffled because his face is buried in Zeljko’s neck.

Zeljko grunts. So they walk to the bedroom, and Jurgen pushes him against the door and kisses him again, hands sliding under his shirt. They don't end up getting undressed at all, impatience coloring everything until Zeljko has a hand on Jurgen’s cock.

Jurgen shudders, pushes against Zeljko’s palm involuntarily. It’s not even close to the first time, but it’s been -

Some time.

Zeljko moves his hand slow, just to see the way Jurgen’s eyelids slide shut. He runs his free hand over the curve of Jurgen’s ass, over his thigh. Jurgen’s laughing, breathless, his palm against Zeljko’s cheek. He doesn’t last long at all, fucking into Zeljko’s hand steadily until he comes with a quiet sigh against Zeljko’s ear.

 

“Zeljko,” Jurgen says, wrapping his hand around Zeljko’s cock. Zeljko’s still achingly hard, but he could come just from the way Jurgen says his name, and some things don’t change even after a decade. This doesn’t change, and it hits him deep in the middle of his stomach that some things about Jurgen remain just the way they’d been.

 

“My heart,” Jurgen tells him, and that was wrong, wasn’t it. He was never the heart. That was Jurgen. But he wasn’t Jurgen’s assistant coach, not then, coming with Jurgen’s name on his lips. Afterwards Jurgen kisses him square on the chest, and pats his waist.

 

“Didn’t pull something, I hope?” Jurgen says. Zeljko wants to laugh, but all he can really muster is an eyebrow raise.

 

Jurgen flops down next to him, tugs a curl of his hair around his finger. Zeljko opens one eye to look at him, lazy.


‘We won,’ Jurgen says, grinning. It's a small grin by his standards. But the words finally sound right, and they fit, like Jurgen’s shoulder against his.