“Hey, Pat, have you seen Paul? Is he in?” Antoine asks, leaning on the doorway to the players lounge and watching a group of his teammates play cards. They look up when he speaks, and Dimitri even kicks out a chair for him, but Antoine shakes his head, looking at Patrice instead.
“He came in about half an hour ago. Should be in his room, did you check there?” Patrice says, frowning.
“Not yet,” Antoine says, carefully letting his weight back on his feet fully, making sure that the others won’t see him wobble when he takes a step. He’s so tired. “Thanks.”
“You could just call him, you know,” Patrice says and Antoine shrugs.
“I like surprising him,” he says, crossing the lounge to the staircase leading up to the rooms. “It keeps him on his toes.”
“Are you afraid he might run away from you?” Blaise asks, waggling his eyebrows, only to have at least four of their teammates immediately protest, defending Paul’s honor. Antoine grins to himself and walks out of the room. They don’t even notice, except for Patrice who offers him an encouraging nod.
There’s faint music playing when he reaches Paul’s room at the end of the corridor, which means that Patrice’s suggestion was correct. The door is propped open just a sliver, but Antoine knocks anyway, before popping his head in.
Paul’s face clears into a smile when he sees him, and Antoine feels a knot in his back unwind.
“Grizou!” Paul greets, waving him in from where he’s spread out on his bed with his laptop. The sheets are rumpled and half the pillows are on the floor, the others behind Paul to prop him up against the headboard. “Come in, don’t let the heat in!”
“I’m pretty sure the air conditioning is on the same temperature everywhere,” Antoine says, but obediently steps into the room, toeing his shoes off next to Paul’s sneakers. He lets the door shut full, the lock clicking. When he looks up, Paul’s already busy with something on his laptop, but his arm is raised up a bit, presumably waiting for Antoine to snuggle under it.
Antoine doesn’t have to be asked twice, crossing the room, grinning, to drop onto the bed at Paul’s side, scooting to put his head on his chest and throwing an arm and a leg over his side. Paul’s arm comes down to settle across his shoulders, and Antoine sighs, letting his eyes drift closed.
“Long day?” Paul says softly, and Antoine nods against the warm cotton of his T-shirt.
“Lots of press. I swear I answered all these questions already, couldn’t they have just copied them off each other?” he says and Paul laughs.
“You’re in high demand these days,” Paul says, “it’s only right.” Antoine flushes at the pride in his voice.
“Score some goals in the next one so they’ll leave me alone,” he says, pressing his ear against Paul’s shirt to search for his heartbeat. “What are you doing?”
“Hm? Oh, just some paperwork,” Antoine looks over at the screen and raises an eyebrow at where Paul’s got Facebook open. Then he looks up at Paul, who rolls his eyes. “Oh, shut up.”
Antoine grins, going back to smushing his face into Paul’s collarbone.
“I’ll probably Skype with my mom later,” Paul says.
“Oh. Should I leave you alone?” Antoine asks, making an effort to raise his head. It’s a difficult task. Paul’s warmth and his proximity, as well as the fingers he’s got stroking against Antoine’s neck, have all combined into a lethal combination that’s got Antoine losing the fight against his drowsiness.
“No, stay. She asked about you the last time. You being here might save me from having to describe every single detail of your day. Or at least you can be the one to do it.”
Antoine hums in acknowledgement and tucks his head against Paul’s neck. He smells clean, like the expensive body wash he uses, and that’s the last thing Antoine remembers before he falls asleep.
He wakes up some time later, disoriented and over-warm, to be confronted directly with Yeo Pogba’s big smile on the computer screen. It’s as warm and beautiful as her son’s, and he tells her that. She throws her head back and laughs, and Paul mutters “You’re a kiss ass,” in his ear, but Antoine can tell he’s smiling.
They Skype with Paul’s mom for about an hour. Antoine doesn’t contribute to the conversation much, sleepily listening to them talk about relatives and family friends, until the names and places blurr. It’s nice though, watching Yao talk and seeing Paul in the way she pursues her lips when she’s thinking, or reaches up to fix her hair.
It’s about halfway through that Antoine realizes how they must look to her, pressed together like this, Paul’s arm around his shoulder and Antoine’s around his middle. They look like lovers and the thought makes his mouth go dry.
He tries to pull away, subtly, but Paul’s hand on his shoulder tightens instinctively, and then it suddenly seems too much effort, so he stays put.
They go down to dinner together, after. They’re almost late, but there’s two seats waiting for them, between Andre and Pat, and they slot into the table conversation seamlessly. Paul accidentally drinks from Antoine’s glass once, but Antoine is the only one who notices.
Antoine never reads his own press, but he sometimes reads his teammates. Paul is no exception, so when there’s an article from a site he trusts about Paul moving to Real Madrid that makes it sound like it’s a done deal, he maybe gets a little bit too excited. He knows that it isn’t done, because Paul would definitely tell him, but he’s not above trying to push things in the right direction.
“You know,” he says, looking at Paul, who’s sprawled out at the foot of Antoine’s bed, reading a magazine, “if you move to Madrid, you can come stay with me. There’s plenty of room at my house and you won’t have to stay at a hotel. I’m sure nobody will mind. Isco used to live at Fernando’s house and that was okay with everyone. Cholo lives nearby though, and sometimes he drops in to check on me unexpectedly, but he’s really not as scary as the media makes him out to be. He’s a stress baker, so sometimes he also brings pie!”
“Grizou,” Paul says softly, concentrating on his magazine, “I don’t want to talk about this.”
Antoine’s mom always said he had the bad habit of fixating on things. Sometimes it was a person, or a place or a piece of clothing, but usually it was an idea. And when he fixated on an idea, he would get the prenatural ability to ignore what everyone else around him actually said.
“I could show you around the city! Madrid has so many great restaurants, we could eat out every day of the week. And go to my favorite beach and to-”
“Stop, please,” Paul says, standing up abruptly, and Antoine shuts his mouth with a click, feeling the first stirrings of guilt at the look on his face. “My agent is talking to a lot of people, but no one is making any deals. How about you focus on me right now, since we’re actually on the same team for once? If anything happens, I’ll tell you about it, you know this, Antoine!”
“I’m sorry,” Antoine says quietly, when Paul pauses to take a breath, visibly upset. “I got carried away. I know you’re under pressure, I didn’t mean to add to it.”
Paul deflates at that, taking in a shaky breath.
“I didn’t mean to snap at you either. At least when we’re together, I don’t want to be reminded of those other things. I get enough of it from the press,” he says, and Antoine nods.
“I should have realized. I’m sorry,” he says.
“It’s okay,” Paul says, even though it’s obvious that it’s not, at least not entirely. “I’m going to go back to my room, okay? I’ll see you tomorrow.”
It’s the first time since they came back to France that they wouldn’t spend their evening together, playing video games or talking or listening to music, until curfew comes and one of them has to go back to theirs.
Sometimes, they’d fall asleep before that, propped against each other, and Antoine would wake up in the middle of the night with Paul’s breath soft and even against the nape of his neck.
“You could still stay, if you wanted,” Antoine offers, tentatively, the vice around his heart clenching tighter when Paul shakes his head.
“I better go to bed. I’m feeling kind of tired today,” he says, turning away. “Goodnight.”
Antoine echoes it, watching the door slam itself shut behind Paul with a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach.
Paul doesn’t avoid him the next morning, not exactly. He still sits next to him at breakfast and includes him in conversation, but he doesn’t touch Antoine’s arm to grab his attention, doesn’t lean into his space when they wait in line for the eggs. Antoine feels the absence of it like a missing limb.
This goes on all through warm-ups and training, and Antoine gets through it, focuses, because he’s a professional and in the middle of one of the biggest competitions of his life, but it all feels less charged than usual, more empty. Paul warms up next to him, focused on his stretches, and he doesn’t look his way once.
Antoine feels like he hasn’t seen him smile for so long, he’s got withdrawal symptoms, which is plainly ridiculous, because it’s not like he sees Paul every day during the regular season.
(Except for how he does; wakes up to Paul’s selfie on his snapchat, his grin half tucked into a pillow and the Turin sunlight spilling across his shoulders. Paul judges his outfit for the day and Antoine sends him pictures of his breakfast. They snapchat periodically through the day, and least half of those pictures are selfies.)
Halfway through the day, Antoine catches their teammates sending worried looks in their way.
His best bet is catching Paul after dinner, but he gets waylaid by Dimitri and Rami at the dinner table and by the time he manages to make his excuses, Paul and a few of the others had already left, so he goes up the stairs to Paul’s floor on his own.
Paul’s door is closed, but Pat’s is wide open and Antoine can hear them talking as he comes closer, only to freeze when he hears his name in the conversation.
“Hey, did you and Grizou have a fight? You haven’t been all over each other as usual today,” Patrice asks.
“No, we’re fine,” Paul says, and Antoine can hear the flatness in his tone from the hallway and winces.
“Sure you are. You know, when my wife gets mad at me, I buy her some flowers or very nice chocolates, and then we talk it out at the kitchen table like adults. That’s good relationship advice, and you should be lucky I’m giving it to you for free.”
“Good for you,” Paul says, snorting, “but me and Grizou aren’t married.”
“Well, you practically are,” Patrice says. “You’ve been dating for a while, right?”
Antoine’s brain comes to an abrupt stop.
“What?!” Paul says, as if reading his mind.
“I didn’t want to say anything, but I’m pretty sure all the guys know already, so if you wanted to come out officially, no one would react badly,” Patrice says, and Antoine listens, but he’s pretty sure only half of the words are sinking in.
He’s thinking about all the times he’s woken up next to Paul or fallen asleep near him, all the gentle touches, and how sometimes they can talk for hours and never ever run out of topics.
“We aren’t together,” Paul says and that hurts more than Antoine would have imagined it would, even though it’s the truth. “I doubt Antoine is interested.”
Which is frankly stupid. Paul is Paul, how could someone not be interested in him? He’s funny and caring and cool and stylish and, maybe Antoine has a problem.
It’s not as if he hasn’t been aware of Paul being a problem for him, he’s just never thought Paul might feel the same way.
“Are you kidding?” Patrice says, laughing incredulously. “Have you seen the way he looks at you? Or actually, have you seen the way you look at him? Just ask him out!”
“What am I supposed to say?” Paul asks and Antoine finally remembers to move. “‘Hey, Antoine, everyone thinks we’re together, so we should try to date’?”
“Telling me you might want to date me might be a good start, yeah,” Antoine says from the doorway and Paul jumps, whirling around to look at him.
“I...how much did you hear?” Paul says, and there’s something tight and pinched in the corners of his mouth, his eyes wide and almost frightened.
“Enough to know we should probably talk this over somewhere that isn’t Pat’s room,” Antoine says, as gently as he can.
“That sounds like an excellent idea,” Patrice says, reaching out to give Paul a little push towards the door. “Go on. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
Paul goes. They don’t touch when he passes Antoine in the hallway, but Antoine can feel the warmth of him in close proximity and it makes him shiver. He watches as Paul struggles with the key card. His hands are shaking and Antoine almost reaches out to steady them, but then the little light on the door turns green and they spill inside the room.
The door slams shut behind them and in a matter of seconds, Antoine’s got Paul pressed up against it. Paul is taller and bigger than him, but he lets himself be moved around, watching Antoine with something like hunger, or like desperation.
Antoine reaches out to trace the shape of his jaw with his fingers, watching with wonder when Paul leans into it; the long column of his throat, the movement when he swallows.
“What are we doing?” Paul asks, hushed and Antoine takes a breath he hadn’t even been aware he was holding. Paul’s hands come up to rest on his waist, warm through the cotton of his T-shirt.
“Kissing, hopefully,” Antoine says, more boldly than he’s feeling, but it startles a laugh out of Paul, which makes something in his chest loosen.
“How do you wanna-” Paul starts, but Antoine’s already leaning forward, into his space. The first kiss if off base, landing on the corner of Paul’s mouth. They bump noses on the second, descending into giggles. Then finally, Antoine directs Paul where he wants him and Paul lets himself be guided, and their lips slot together.
It’s a good kiss. Paul’s lips are soft and tentative, and he sighs when Antoine bites gently on his bottom lip. He smells familiar and comforting, and he’s so warm and responsive under Antoine’s hands. They kiss and kiss, until Antoine feels like he’s drowning in it, shaky and elated, feeling bubbling under his skin like champagne.
At some point, Paul untucks the shirt from his pants, worming his hands under Antoine’s shirt, heavy and hot against his back, and Antoine shivers, sways further into him, until they’re pressed together with hardly a sliver of space left.
Paul keeps making these sounds, bitten off groans and giggles when Antoine kisses his cheek and his jaw and his rapidly beating pulse. It’s too warm, almost too intense, their clothes catching on each other, Paul’s gentle fingers dancing over his skin. They’re already as close as they can get, but Antoine wants even closer, wants to climb into Paul’s chest and stay there.
They kiss for a while, until Antoine’s mouth feels used and raw, and he’s glad he’s wearing sweatpants instead of jeans. Paul’s fingers are still warm against the base of his spine, and Antoine fits perfectly under his chin, panting damply against the skin of his throat.
“I can’t believe everyone thought we were dating,” Paul finally breaks the silence. “You’d think they’d realize that we’d be a lot more obvious about it if we were. I want to kiss you all the time now.”
“Every time we snuck off they probably thought we were doing something else,” Antoine laughs, shifting so his stomach brushes against Paul’s front, grinning at the choked off moan that gets him. “We could have been doing this all this time.”
Paul shrugs. “I liked what we did before too.”
He’s suddenly tense underneath Antoine’s cheek, so he pulls back, tilting his head to look up at him.
“Me too. Let’s keep doing it. And all those other things too,” he says, and Paul’s face breaks into a smile.
“Starting with a nap?” he asks.
“That sounds good,” Antoine says, finally stepping away. He notes with satisfaction that Paul seems to be as unwilling to let him go as he feels.
Things still feel a little tense as they get ready for bed. They keep catching the other looking and exchanging vaguely embarrassed, but beaming smiles, giggling at each other in the mirror as they brush their teeth. The act of borrowing a pair of Paul’s sweatpants to sleep in is new; usually when they fell asleep together it was by accident and wearing all their clothes. This is deliberate.
Antoine ducks into the bathroom for a moment to throw some water on his face and take a couple of deep breaths. By the time he comes back, Paul is already under the covers, the blankets turned over on Antoine’s side. It’s so endearing, especially when Paul catches sight of him and immediately smiles.
“You know,” Antoine pauses, tilting his head to one side, “I think Pat was expecting us to do something else.”
Paul looks at him, then gazes at the wall dividing his room from Pat’s speculatively. After a second, he starts grinning and looks back at Antoine still standing in the middle of the room.
“Maybe we should,” he says, laughing when Antoine takes a running leap onto the bed.
The first moan startles Patrice from where he’s peacefully reading through his magazine. It’s immediately followed by another, higher moan, followed by muffled giggling.
“What the hell?” Patrice mutters, looking over at the far wall where all the noise is coming from.
The moans come with increasing frequency, accompanied with the rhythmic banging of the bed frame against the wall.
“Oh, you have got to be kidding me,” Patrice says, before raising his voice. “You boys better not be jumping on the bed! You’re professional athletes! If you break it, the FA is going to be very upset!”
The moaning and banging dissolves into muffled giggling and Patrice rolls his eyes.
“Go to sleep!” he yells again, for good measure. Then, under his breath, “I’m pretty sure I liked you better when you were pining.”