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Tuchel always tells them that if they want to win the league, or any cup, all matches are equally important. You need to give your all every match, he says, treat every single one of them as if it’s a cup final. He’s right, Marco supposes. They hadn’t lost track of Bayern away against Schalke. That had happened long before. They’d given it away in Hamburg, Cologne and Berlin, at home against Darmstadt, and there must’ve been a couple of other games but Marco doesn’t quite remember, because those games weren’t that important, or so it had seemed.

Marco doesn’t dare to question Tuchel’s theory, not in front of him anyway, but some matches have that certain edge to it, some matches make you want to give just that little bit extra, and when the singing at Anfield had started, sending shivers all the way down his spine, Marco’d known for sure that this was one of those games.

He’s not going to argue, but he could definitely come up with a more accurate theory in which how bad a loss hurts indicates the importance of the match instead.

The hotel room is dark when Marco enters it, although Auba’s already there. He’s sitting on the bed, propped up against the headboard, scrolling on his phone. He looks up as Marco shuts the door and Marco sees a hint of a smile there, nothing like his usual bright, wide smile, but more than Marco can manage as a greeting right now anyway. Marco doesn’t bother to switch on the lights either. By now he knows that reality is harder to face when you can see everything clearly.

The street lights falling through the window illuminate the room just enough for him to see where he’s walking. The air in the room feels heavy and muggy, as if it’s clouded with sadness and defeat. He feels too hot in his clothes, his tight nylon track pants and the thick fabric of his hoodie making his skin itch. He walks over to the window and opens it, the sounds of the buzzing city rushing in. Leaning onto the window sill, he stares out into the darkness scattered with lights.

Only a couple of hours ago they’d been two-nil up. Auba had just finished off his pass perfectly after Marco’d sent him running into space.

It seemed surreal then and it seems surreal now.

He only vaguely recalls Origi’s goal, remembers not being too bothered. He grits his teeth, tightens his grip onto the window sill. It had been in their own hands and they’d let it slip away. How could they have let a two-nil lead slip away?

Everything had seemed perfect when he’d slotted the ball past Mignolet into the far corner, extending their lead. He can still hear the crowd roar right in front of him, can still feel Auba jumping on his back, thighs digging into his sides, his hands clutching Marco’s shoulders. He’d felt on top of the world. It could only go downwards from there.

The air in the room still feels thick but he can’t stand the sound of the cars rushing by, the sounds of people singing and shouting and laughing in the distance. He slams the window closed and leans forward, resting his forehead against the cool glass. He feels restless, tense, his muscles strained and aching from the match, skin still hot and prickling underneath his clothes. His fists are clenched tight, the anger and frustration still in every fibre of his body.

He pulls his hoodie off, smooths the shirt he’s wearing underneath back down. As he fumbles his phone from his pocket and throws it on the bed, Auba looks up at him. Marco can’t meet his eyes, doesn’t want to see the sadness, the pity there. He turns his head away, feeling Auba’s eyes on him as he hooks his thumbs into the waistband of his track pants and slides it down his legs.

Marco knows he’s hard to deal with after losses. He knows it’s something he needs to learn to deal with, that it’s supposed to get better with the years, but with each big loss it only gets a little bit harder. He kicks his track pants off, then grabs his clothes and drops them on the chair closest to his side of the bed. He lies down on his belly next to Auba and reaches for his phone. He scrolls through the messages quickly. Most of them are kind and encouraging words, meant to cheer him up. There’s one from Mario, sent about two hours ago, which must have been before the referee had blown the final whistle. What a game it says, followed by a bunch of screaming emojis. There’s nothing after that.

Marco’s stomach turns, another wave of failure and defeat washing over him. He’s got nothing to say to that, got nothing to say to Mario. Mario had had an exciting game to watch on his free Thursday night. He’s also got a Champions League semi-final to look forward to, another cup to lift after the last Bundesliga game, a World Cup title and the winning goal to his name and someone to spend the rest of his life with, someone who loves him unconditionally.

Marco shoves his phone under the pillow. He puts an arm under his head and glances sideways at Auba. His hair is unstyled and he’s wearing black BVB sweatpants and a  yellow hoodie. He’s again scrolling through whatever feed on his phone, his lips slightly parted. Marco stares at Auba’s other hand resting between his parted thighs. Auba’s only a couple of inches taller than he is, but his hands seem much bigger than Marco’s, his arms stronger, his thighs so much firmer. It’s after games like these that he wishes he was more like Auba, tougher, stronger, both physically and mentally, because Auba’s always there for Marco after a bad loss in a way that Marco could never be there for him, always too caught up in his own feelings.

Auba glances down at him. Marco feels his gaze on him, swallows hard, but doesn’t tear his eyes away from Auba’s hand resting between his thighs. From the corner of his eyes he sees Auba putting his phone on the nightstand. Then he shifts his hips, legs sprawling wider.

“What you looking at?” he says, sliding a hand up his thigh. He lets it rest on his crotch and gives Marco a lazy grin. 

Something stirs low in Marco’s stomach. He can’t ever get enough of Auba’s hands on his skin, wishes he could forever hold onto the feeling of the Gabonese holding him after he’s scored a goal. He loves the way Auba’s hands fit around his waist, loves how he sometimes laces their fingers together before he lets go of Marco, how he clutches his hands in Marco’s hair as Marco sucks him off in the showers afterwards.

Auba’s still watching him staring at his hand resting on his crotch. “You want to...” Auba starts, then trails off. Need sparks in Marco’s chest, then sizzles low in his stomach. He does want to. He craves the feeling of Auba’s hands on him, wants him to soothe the ache, to have his hands fisted in his hair and his dick in his mouth, wants all that and more.

He’d gone down on his knees so easily the first time, in the showers of the Allianz Arena last season after Bayern had fucked up their penalties, putting them through to the cup final. It had been messy and sloppy because Marco’d been way too worked up but it had felt great, tasting and feeling nothing but Auba, and the thought of Mario on his mind, sulking and dejected in the opposite dressing room while Marco’d felt more alive than ever.

He could just suck Auba off, desperately clinging onto the feeling of Auba’s hands running through his hair, cupping his cheek as he comes, the way Auba drags his thumb over the line of his throat as Marco swallows it all, but it’d be nowhere near enough. He wants to tell Auba that he wants more than that, clears his throat and takes a deep breath, but when he looks up at him, Auba’s eyes are dark, his gaze piercing through him and Marco’s lost for words.

He’d felt paralysed when Lovren had gotten the header in.

The floodlights had suddenly seemed too bright, the roar of the crowd too loud. He’d felt numb, shackled to the bench, just like his own desire mixed with the fear of Auba’s rejection are pinning him down now.

The referee had blown the final whistle and he’d wanted to get off the pitch, but when he’d gotten up from the bench his legs had been trembling, knees shaking uncontrollably and he’d sunken down on his haunches before they would’ve given way. He’d slowly breathed in the cold night air, trying get a hold of himself. Every nerve ending in his body had felt wide open, his skin on fire. Teammates and opponents had passed him by, ruffling his hair and clapping his shoulders, their touches like oxygen to the flames, and when he couldn’t bear it anymore he’d even swatted some of their hands away. Then Auba’d been there, arms strong and steady around him, chest solid against his back. “Come on, we go,” he’d said, pulling him up and guiding him off the pitch.

“Marco,” Auba says quietly, almost hesitantly.

His eyes melt, pity takes over again.

He reaches for Marco’s hips, his warm fingers touching the bare skin where Marco’s shirt creeps up. “Come here,” he murmurs, rough palms pulling Marco closer until he’s sitting on Auba’s lap, naked thighs on either side of him, so close he can see Auba's pulse beating in his neck. He tries to focus on the beating of Auba’s heart, counts along in an attempt to calm himself. Auba is slowly stroking up and down his thighs,  dark hands on his pale, bare skin. Marco doesn’t quite know where to put his own hands. He clutches them in the yellow hoodie clumsily, resting them just above the other man's hips. He feels shy and vulnerable, sitting on Auba’s lap, stripped of most of his clothes and yet another dream.

“Hey,” Auba says, resting his hands on Marco’s spread thighs. He’s looking at Marco with such pity, Marco can’t meet his gaze, stares at his mouth instead.

There have been a couple of other times after that first time in Munich, mostly after losses he’d wanted to forget as quickly as possible, the thought of Mario barely there, brushed away by Auba. It would be easy, sucking Auba off and then pretending to fall asleep, but he doesn’t want to lie awake and think of everything he could’ve said and done but hadn’t because he’d been too scared of how Auba might react.

Marco shifts forward a little. He feels Auba’s firm thighs through the fabric of his sweatpants against his bare skin. Auba’s hands slide up, settling just above the swell of Marco’s ass. Marco fists his hands tighter into the soft fabric of his hoodie.

He’s pretty sure that to Auba, fooling around with guys and falling in love with them are two separate things, the one not naturally leading to the other. He isn’t sure, however, whether Auba’s aware that to him, fucking around with guys and falling in love with them are mostly connected.

He thinks of Mario then, briefly, flushed and writhing beneath him as Marco would fuck him from behind, the younger boy hiding his face in his arms, trying to smother his moans. He’d turn his head away as Marco would try to kiss him, cheeks burning red, and Marco doesn’t want to be like that, to be so scared and ashamed of what he wants.

Fucking around with guys might mean next to nothing to Auba, but it does mean something to Marco, and he doesn't want to be ashamed of it, so he leans in and kisses Auba.

Auba’s lips are plump but firm. Marco’s close enough to hear his thumping pulse and it takes a few seconds, three, four, five heartbeats, but then Auba parts his lips and Marco licks into his mouth, tongue flicking against the gap between his front teeth. Marco desperately grinds down on Auba’s lap and then Auba’s hips stutter up against Marco’s ass and he kisses Marco back. It feels like a small victory, like being one-nil up after ten minutes, still eighty to play. Marco’s unable to hold back his moans as Auba pulls him closer, fingers digging into his butt. He feels Auba’s lips forming a smile against his mouth, feels Auba’s dick half-hard against his ass and desire rises in his chest, hardly leaving any space for him to breathe.

Marco’s hard in his pants already. He’s still grinding down on Auba’s lap, frantic and feverish, skin hot and prickling with need. Auba puts his hands under Marco’s shirt and settles them on his hips. It’s a little reassuring, having Auba’s hands guiding his hips against his crotch, keeping him steady on his lap. He keeps kissing Marco and Marco’s lightheaded with it, the feeling of Auba’s mouth against his, the push of his tongue into his mouth.

Auba slowly pulls back and tugs Marco’s shirt up with one hand, placing the other on Marco’s flat stomach. His abs contract at the contact, dick straining against the fabric of his boxers, his whole body so, so responsive to Auba’s touch. Auba laughs, soft but low, then tugs the shirt further up and pulls it over Marco’s head.

Auba’s looking at him, dark, hazy eyes roaming over his body. He’s still on edge, feels raw and bare like he’d felt back in the stadium, blinded by the light and deafened by the crowd. It’s dark and quiet now and Auba’s the only one looking at him, the only one touching him, but he feels just as exposed as he’d felt on the pitch, now that he's sitting on Auba’s lap in nothing except his briefs while Auba’s still fully dressed.

He can’t stand Auba’s gaze, hides his face in the crook of Auba’s neck, his cheek scraping against the stubble of Auba’s beard. The feeling of the other man’s pulse against his lips steadies him a little. Marco puts his hands under the yellow hoodie, feeling the hard muscles underneath. He pushes the fabric up and shifts forward. He rolls his hips, rubbing his dick against Auba’s abs. Auba’s head falls back against the headboard and he swears in French quietly. Marco can’t make out anything except the putains falling from his lips. Auba’s dick is pressed tight against his ass through all the layers of clothing, hot and fully hard, making Marco ache with need.

He sits back a little so he can get his hands on Auba’s crotch. He presses his palm against Auba’s dick through his sweatpants. Auba moans, low and guttural, his hips bucking up against Marco’s hand. Marco tugs on the waistband with sweaty, clumsy hands, trying to get it past his hips. Auba snorts at his eagerness, but shifts and tilts his hips anyway so Marco’s able to pull the sweatpants halfway down his thighs. He gets his hands on Auba’s boxers and tugs them down just low enough to get his dick out.

It’s thick and hot in his hand, leaking with precome already. Auba throws his head back as Marco strokes up and down. Marco studies Auba’s face carefully as he jerks his dick with slow, measured strokes. He can see the sweat glistening on Auba’s forehead in the dim light. He’s breathing hard, his eyes closed, lush lips parted. Marco leans in to lick across his lower lip. Auba pulls him closer and kisses him again, so deep and eager Marco can’t breathe. He thrusts up in Marco’s fist as they kiss, soft panting sounds spilling from his lips and it fills Marco with pride to see him fall apart at his touch.

Marco shifts off of Auba’s lap and pulls off his own briefs hastily. When he’s back on Auba’s lap, Auba grips his thighs with slippery hands, holding onto Marco as if to steady himself. He’s still wearing his hoodie. Marco clutches his hands back in the fabric and pushes it up, pressing his palms against Auba’s chest to hold it up. His dick is pressed against Auba’s abs again, now without all the layers of clothing in between. He ruts up against the hard muscles. It’s good, so good to be this close to Auba, feeling his calming hands on his burning thighs, the soft panting sounds he makes filling Marco’s ears, his heart pounding against Marco’s palm. Marco buries his face in Auba’s neck again, breathing in the smell of his skin. Auba’s dick is hot and throbbing against the crack of his ass, sliding between his cheeks as Marco rubs his dick against Auba’s abs. It’s so good but he wants more, wants to take everything Auba’ll give him.

“Auba,” he mumbles against his collarbone, hips still moving on his lap, “Auba, fuck me.”

Auba tightens his grip on Marco’s thighs, stilling him. Marco sees the slightest hint of fear and insecurity rising in his eyes. “Marco,” he says breathlessly, grasping his thighs hard, “Marco,” and Marco waits for him to continue but he seems lost for words.

Marco knows there are things Auba doesn’t allow himself, knows it’s a thin line between what Auba does for him to comfort him and what he considers going too far, but Marco’s determined to see how far he can push Auba, to make him cross that line.

“Please,” Marco murmurs against his throat, clamping onto Auba’s hoodie, “Please, Auba, fuck me.” He pushes his ass back against Auba’s dick, wiggling a little. Auba’s so hard for him, cock leaking with precome, hips stuttering up against his ass and Marco’s pretty sure Auba’s not just doing this to comfort him, pretty sure he wants it at least half as much as Marco does, which still is an awful lot. Auba’s grip on his thighs loosens. He drags his hands up, spreads his fingers over Marco’s ass and pulls his cheeks slightly apart. He fucks up against Marco’s crack, his dick rock hard between his cheeks, slick with sweat and precome.

Auba,” Marco says, voice cracking, “Auba, fuck me, please.” He realises how pathetic he must sound, how completely and utterly gone, but he’s lost all control, the words slipping from his lips. He’s offering himself to Auba and Auba’s so close to taking, but what he wants from Auba more than anything has never felt so out of reach.

“Marco,” Auba says, “Marco, just--” and then he turns them over so Marco’s on his stomach beneath him, facing the headboard. Auba pulls him up on his elbows and knees, then pulls off his hoodie. He runs his hands over Marco’s ass and Marco squirms, hiding his face in his arms. Auba drags his hands down the back of Marco's thighs, over his flanks, and pushes his thighs together. “Comme ça,” Auba says, his voice low and rough, “like that.” Marco trembles as he hears him spit. Then Auba slides a hand between his quivering thighs, his fingers slick and sweaty between the soft skin.

“Fuck me,” Marco whines again, “Auba, please,” but he knows that this is it, this is as far as Auba’ll let him take it, giving Marco what he wants as much as he can without crossing his own boundaries. It’s not enough. It’s like beating Bayern in the semi-finals but ending up with empty hands nevertheless. It’s like leading two-nil after ten minutes and then lose it four-three in extra time. It’s not enough and Marco doubts if it ever will be.

Auba’s taken off his sweatpants as well. He has one hand spread over the swell of Marco’s ass now, stroking his dick with the other. Marco can hear the wet sounds of his dick sliding through his slick palm. He arches his back, pushes into the touch of Auba’s hand splayed over his ass.

“Please,” he whines, one last pathetic attempt, “please, Auba--” but Auba leans over him, clamps a damp hand over his mouth and pushes his dick between Marco’s thighs.

“Marco,” he pants, Marco’s soft, slick thighs enclosing his dick, “fuck, Marco.” He’s gripping onto Marco’s hips with his other hand, fingers digging into Marco’s skin as he fucks him between his shaking thighs. Marco tries to tense his muscles, needs to feel more, wants to make it better for Auba, but his thighs are still aching from the game, muscles quivering uncontrollably. Marco tries to swallow back the wretched sounds he’s making, so turned by Auba fucking his thighs it’s ridiculous, pathetic, but they keep spilling out of him, even with Auba’s hand still clamped over his mouth.

Auba wraps an arm around his waist and pulls him closer. Marco’s rock hard, precome leaking down the shaft, balls drawn tight to his body. He wants to reach down, to seek some relief, but his arms are trembling with the effort of keeping himself up already. His dick brushes against Auba’s arm with every thrust, throbbing with need, and Marco’d probably beg Auba to touch him if Auba’s hand wasn’t still covering his mouth. One finger has slipped between Marco’s lips and it’s overwhelming, dizzying, the taste of Auba on his tongue, the moans that slip from Auba’s lips and fill his ears, his dick sliding between his over-sensitive thighs. Tears are burning in the corner of his eyes. He tries to bite them back. He doesn’t know if he’s one-nil up anymore, isn’t sure if he ever even was one-nil up to begin with, might as well be five-nil down now, he can’t even tell.

Auba pulls back his hand from Marco’s mouth and Marco gasps at the loss of it. Auba drags his hands down his shoulders to the small of his back, his thumbs rubbing soothing circles into Marco’s skin as he keeps fucking him. He’s been so fucking careful the whole time, as if Marco’s something fragile and delicate, something breakable, which he’s not, Marco would always argue, but the truth is that he hasn’t only been pushing Auba to the limit, he’s also pushed himself so far he can hardly take it anymore. It’s too much, too much and not enough all at once, his throbbing cock hot and heavy between his legs, his aching muscles, the raw, tender skin of his thighs and the slide of Auba’s dick in between. He feels feverish, delirious. His skin feels too tight and his head is spinning but he doesn’t want Auba to stop, doesn’t want it to be over so Auba can once again pretend that nothing’s ever happened between them and Marco can’t fathom it, the way Auba can be just like Mario, how he can’t seem to justify what they’ve been doing so he chooses to ignore it all instead, and Marco doesn’t know what he’s ever done to deserve that.

He wants to scream out, his feelings too big for him to contain, but then Auba wraps a hand around his aching dick, jerking him with tight, rough strokes and Marco’s coming, his whole body shaking as he spills over Auba’s fist. Auba strokes him through it, gets his hand sticky with Marco’s come, and it’s good to still have Auba’s hand on him, until it’s just too much. The tears he’s been trying to hold back start to roll down his cheeks. He doesn’t ask Auba to stop, bites back the words. He doesn’t want Auba to let go of him, doesn’t want to feel so alone, so miserable again, but then Auba comes as well, dick pulsing hot and wet between his thighs. He draws his hand away from Marco’s cock and places it between his shoulder blades, riding his orgasm out with a couple of uncontrolled thrusts. He slumps down right beside Marco and pulls him to his chest. Marco squirms, wants to bury his face in the sheets, his cheeks wet from tears, but Auba won’t let him, strong arms keeping him in place. He hides his face against Auba’s chest instead, keeping his eyes firmly closed. Auba grips his wrist tight. He doesn’t say anything, but he keeps holding on to Marco, as if, maybe, he needs the reassurance too.

Marco’s breathing hard against Auba’s chest, trying to regain some control over his body. He’s sore and aching everywhere, but it’s a dull ache now, the prickling, burning feeling and all the sharp edges gone. He hears Auba breathing just as heavily, feels the rise and fall of his chest against his cheek. He wants to fall asleep like this, surrounded by Auba, but Auba lets go of his wrist and pulls slightly away from him. As Marco blinks his eyes open, Auba looks rather upset.

“Marco,” he says quietly as he sits up, “I'm sorry, I didn’t--” He touches Marco’s face with his fingertips. Marco winces at the touch, eyes fluttering. Auba brushes his thumbs over his cheekbones, wiping his tears away.

“I wanted to make you feel better,” he murmurs as he cups Marco’s cheek with his hand. There’s no need for him to apologize. Marco knows how fucking hard he is to deal with, but Auba’s still there with him, which is, after how far he’s pushed him, all Marco could ask for.

“I’m fine,” he mutters, but it comes out hoarse and broken. He turns his face into Auba’s palm, chasing the comforting warmth of his hand. Auba lets him for a moment, then draws his hand back. He strokes Marco’s cheek with his index finger once more, then gets up from the bed and disappears into the bathroom, leaving the door ajar. Tiredness suddenly washes over Marco. He closes his eyes briefly, listens to Auba rummaging around in the bathroom. He’s still lying on his side, his thighs feeling as if they’re glued together, sticky with dried sweat, spit and come. He’s cold, wants to pull the blanket he’s lying on top of over himself, but every muscle in his body is aching and it seems too much effort.

Auba comes back out of the bathroom with a washcloth in his hand. He kneels down next to him on the bed. “Just let me--” he says, tapping Marco’s upper thigh lightly. Marco rolls onto his back, his thighs falling open. Auba presses the cloth to his groin, lets him get used to the temperature, then slowly wipes it across Marco's inner thigh. There’s something ridiculously satisfying in the way Auba’s taking care of him, the warmth of the soft cloth and the press of Auba’s hand against his skin. The Gabonese brushes the clean side of the cloth along the inside of Marco’s other thigh with measured, careful strokes, then throws it back into the bathroom. He pulls the blankets from underneath Marco and drapes them over his body. Marco rolls onto his side, watching with heavy eyes how Auba gets under the covers and makes himself comfortable. He turns onto his side, facing Marco. His dark eyes flicker over his face, eyebrows slightly furrowed, as if he’s looking for the last traces of discomfort showing in Marco’s face.

“You good?” he asks, fixing his eyes on Marco’s. He’s still looking slightly concerned. Marco doesn’t flinch under his gaze this time. It’s hard to see in the dim light, but there might also be something fond in his eyes, some kind of affection. He is good, he really is, not hundred percent but better than he’s been all night. It’s just that he wants it to last, the way Auba’s staring at him, afraid he’ll wake up to Auba not being able to look him in the eyes as the darkness is gone and reality hits him.

“Are we good?” he asks, trying to sound as bold as he can, holding Auba’s gaze. He sees the panic rising in Auba’s eyes before he looks away. Marco’s stomach tightens. He didn’t mean to push Auba any further than he’s already done, knows he should’ve left this for him to deal with, and yet Marco can’t ever seem to leave well enough alone when it comes to Auba.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers in a tiny voice. Auba keeps staring past him and remains silent. Marco curses himself for always taking things too far, trying too hard, always pushing for a fourth goal when they’re already three goals up, never sparing himself one bit. “I didn’t-- I don’t--” he tries, desperation sounding through his voice. He’s struggling to find the words, way too tired to have this kind of conversation, a conversation that Auba doesn’t want to have anyway.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers again, searching for the smallest signs of forgiveness in Auba’s eyes. He hears Auba inhale and exhale deeply. Then he looks back at Marco, a hint of his usual confidence in his eyes and Marco hates it, the way his awkwardness, his insecurity makes Auba regain his confidence, except when it saves him.

“Don’t be,” Auba says, his voice warm and reassuring. He puts a finger to Marco’s lips and smiles, sincere and bright as ever.