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Punditry was never a career choice Jamie envisioned for himself. For one, he got so much stick for his Scouser and how indecipherable it was that he figured that no one would bother asking. But then, Sky Sports came calling and he did say he wanted to do something that was still connected to football after he retired. So he took the job.

 

 

The only problem was that the position came with the unfortunate proximity to Gary Neville, which Carra barely tolerated twice a season for ninety minutes, much less every weekend. The stupid, snivelly rat faced bastard was trying to ruin another good thing for him, but Carra wouldn’t let him.

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

“That’s the ugliest tie I’ve ever seen in my life, Neville.”

 

 

“It’s the exact same shade as yours!”

 

 

“It most definitely isn’t, yours is an uglier red.”

 

 

“I hate to break it to you, Carra, but they’re the same kind of red.” Ed leans into the conversation, wearing the confused expression of someone that doesn’t know if they’re listening to a joke or the beginning of a bar fight.

 

 

“He’s wearing the Man United crest under his blazer, don’t think I can’t tell. I can smell all the rotten from here.”

 

 

“You probably smell all the shit you walked through while we were on top of the league all those years.”

 

 

And that’s when they go live, Carra with his hands clenched into fists under the table and Gary with a smug smile on his face. It disappears after a moment and he hides a grimace, subtly rubbing at his shin where Carra kicked him under the table.

 

 

Later on, when they’re all changing in their shared dressing room, Gary opens up two buttons on his blazer, flashes Carra the Manchester United crests when he walks by.

 

 

“I knew it! Just as ugly as I remember, all the better to match with your ugly mug.”

 

 

“Eight Premier League titles, asshole.”

 

 

“Wanker.”

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

Carra has been through worse things than Gary Neville (enunciation lessons, losing the PL, Stevie’s dirty socks) and he’s enjoying his job immensely. It’s not playing football, but it’s the next best thing and he’s pleased when he manages to surprise people with his knowledge.

 

 

But that isn’t the biggest surprise; somewhere between studio hours and after-work pints, he learns to tolerate Neville, the ugly stupid buffon. His braying laugh goes from hated to familiar, their habitual banter more comfortable than confrontational.

 

 

Somewhere between asshole and wanker they end up being almost friends.

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

“Did you and Scholes ever…you know.”

 

 

 “What?”

 

 

“You know…fondue.”

 

 

“You’re Scouser how do you even know that word?”

 

 

“I saw it in a movie, now tell me.”

 

 

“Paul doesn’t even like cheese.”

 

 

“Oh, he’s Paul now, is he?”

 

 

“We’ve played together for years. You call Stevie, Stevie!”

 

 

“…that’s totally different. We’re best mates. And I never made out with him on national TV”

 

 

“Is that what this is about? We didn’t make out!”

 

 

“From the angle, it looks like you slipped him a bit of tongue.”

 

 

“You’re an ass, Carra.”

 

 

“Wanker.”

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

It’s a testament to how hard he’s fallen that Carra doesn’t even notice until that particular Monday.

 

 

The reason the Monday is peculiar is that there’s not just he and Neville and Ed in the studio chairs. No, the producers wanted something special this time, to commemorate the Manchester Derby they’re covering, as well as the Champions League match Manchester United is playing against Real Madrid later on in the week.

 

 

Something special  shaped like a hundred pound haircut, an expensive suit and cheekbones that earned the title of Sexiest Man a couple dozen times.

 

 

Carra walks into the studio (his studio goddamn it) to see David Beckham beaming innocuously from a chair and feels his stomach drop. He doesn’t hate Beckham, not really, he’s always been alright for a Manc (just a bit too wide-eyed, just a bit too golden sharp, breezing past everyone on the field – too bright to hate). It’s the way Neville is looking at him, with dark eyes full of adoration Carra has never seen in them, has never imagined he was even capable of. He’d known that they were close, Gazza and Becks, everyone knew that, but he’d never been brutally confronted with what that actually meant, and  now that he sees them, heads bent together and their hands close enough to touch, he wishes he hadn’t known at all.

 

 

So maybe his remarks are a little bit too cutting that day, as he dodges Ed’s concerned looks and glares at increasing intensity at Neville, blissfully unaware of anything other than ‘Becks’, sitting next to him and smiling.

 

 

It’s infuriating, even more because Carra doesn’t know why.

 

 

It all comes to a head later on, when he and Gary are left alone in the dressing room, Carra stripping off his tie in furious motions, and Gary smiling at the walls, at the coffee table, at Carra. His dreamy expression makes him want to punch him in the face.

 

 

“Are you coming for pints after?” he asks and Carra sneers silently, even though it’s a legitimate suggestion, almost a habit at this point, for them to go out to the pub after the show.

 

 

“I wouldn’t want to interrupt your time with Becks,” Carra spits out the name like a curse, turning round to look at the other man, who actually takes back at the venom in his tone.

 

 

“I thought you liked Becks?”

 

 

“I like him fine,” Carra turns away, blood boiling, reaching fever pitch when Gary’s phone buzzes with a text that results in a now familiar dreamy expression. “You should go. Wouldn’t want to keep you from your boyfriend.”

 

 

“…boyfriend? What?” Gary looks confused, his phone lax in his fingers and collar half unbuttoned, and Carra wants to punch him in his stupidpudgy  face so badly it makes his knuckles itch with the strain.

 

 

“Beckham probably requires your full attention after all. Wouldn’t want to distract you to see him running off with someone else,” he’s getting into dangerous territory here, this he knows from the way Gary’s expression suddenly hardens, his eyes narrowing, flint black and burning.

 

 

“Fuck you.”

 

 

“…you know I’d always wondered. Have you always been in love with him, or is it just something you did for the rest of the Manc wankers as well? I suppose there must have been a reason Fergie kept you around as long as he did. Lord knows it wasn’t your football skills.”

 

 

He’s gone too far this time, he knows, but he can’t help it, feels the boiling in his gut spilling over into acid at the tip of his tongue. He watches Gary’s face pale, except for two small red splotches at the apples of his cheeks, watches the way his fists clench, knuckles white from the strain. Carra braces himself for a punch but it never comes. He wishes it had.

 

 

The door slamming shut behind Gary’s fleeing form is a lot more final.

 

 

It’s in the ensuing silence that things finally start to make sense.

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

When he comes home, Carra does what he always does when things go balls up - he calls Stevie, doesn’t even bother to calculate the time zones, just opens up a bottle of whiskey and lays down on the couch, a perfect picture of misery.

 

 

"Carra? What's up?" Stevie’s voice is familiar as always, if distorted by miles and phone lines, and it makes something in Carra’s chest give way, turning his answer halfway into a sob.

 

 

"I think I'm in love with Gary Neville."

 

 

Stevie chokes on the other end, and Carra waits impatiently for his coughing fit to subside.

 

 

"YOU WHAT?"

 

 

"Gary Neville."

 

 

"Are you out of your mind?? Where are you, I'm calling Redders to pick you up and take you to the fucking hospital."

 

 

 

"I'm at home and I'm not crazy, Stevie. I'm in love with Gary, that stupid fucking Manchester cunt."

 

 

"I'm pretty sure that's a symptom of a psychiatric disorder, Carra."

 

 

 "Will you be serious? I need advice."

 

 

"Advice on how to do what? Woo Gary Neville? We've been through a lot of shit, Carra, but this one takes the cake. Put on your Liverpool shirt and rewatch some games. For god’s sake man, put yourself together!”

 

 

"I've tried Stevie, believe me, I have. But it's just, he challenges me and he's so damn smart and smug, but sometimes I'll make him listen or he'll say something witty and I just-"

 

 

"Oh god, I need a drink. ALEX! I NEED A DRINK."

 

 

"FIX YOUR OWN DRINK, I'M NOT YOUR HOUSEWIFE."  Carra hears Alex reply in the background of the call and takes another drink from the bottle.

 

 

"ALEX, IT'S AN EMERGENCY. CARRA IS IN LOVE WITH GARY NEVILLE."

 

 

"...he's what? Never mind, I'll go find the vodka, I'm taking a shot glass for myself too."

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

Thanks largely to Alex’s participation, Carra has a tentative plan on how to proceed (it’s good that she was there and drunk enough to be amiable, because while Carra loves Stevie and trusts his judgment, neither of them have been anything in the way of smooth). Still, now that he’s sobered up and isn’t prone to going into random romantic fits over Gary Neville’s eyes (Stevie had him promise never to mention them again), some flaws in his plan are beginning to show.

 

 

Mainly, the fact that Gary is avoiding him. And also, that it’ll involve a lot of lost pride on Carra’s part which is somewhat uncomfortable, but he’s trying his best do ignore that in favor of tracking down the slippery cunt.

 

 

It’s like Gary has a supernatural sense of where Carra will be at a given moment and goes in the absolute opposite direction. It’s infuriating, or it would be, if Carra didn’t know he absolutely deserved it. He finally manages to see Gary in the studio, but then the recording starts and there’s no time to talk, not that Carra would try anything in front of so many people.

 

 

Still, when the show starts it becomes apparent to everyone that something’s wrong.

 

 

Gary does his very best to ignore anything Carra says and when their eyes meet across the table, Carra almost shudders by how void of emotion they are. Gary doesn’t offer any veiled insults or barb, and doesn’t interact at all unless he has to. Their fingers brush on the computer once and Gary flinches away like he’s been struck.

 

 

It’s funny how, the whole time he’d been on the phone with Stevie and after, he’d never considered the fact that it might be too late, that there might be no coming back from what he said. Right now, staring at Gary’s stony expression, that’s how it begins to feel.

 

 

Still, Carra’s been many things, but he’s never been a quitter.

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

He does what any self respecting Scouser would do – he chases off the make-up people and corners Gary in the dressing room.

 

 

Gary’s blank countenance slips for a moment when he realizes they’re alone, and he looks angry and helpless, and absolutely ravishing.

 

 

How did this even become Carra’s life?

 

 

Something must show on his face, because Gary just scowls angrily, and picks up his bag, trying to shove past Carra, who’s blocking the doorway. Carra captures his wrist in a strong grip and watches in fascination as Gary wrenches it away, eyes blazing. Again, Carra prepares for a punch, welcoming the anger, but again, Gary moves away, to stand at the other side of the room.

 

 

“What do you want?” he hisses out and Carra notices he’s trembling faintly. It’s an unusually vulnerable expression on someone as put together as Gary Neville is usually, and under any other circumstance, he’d relish the sight.

 

 

“I wanted to talk. I know you’ve been avoiding me.”

 

 

“I think you’ve said more than enough shit to me. I’m not interested in hearing it.” Gary takes out his phone, dialing something, possibly security, possibly Ryan Giggs, but Carra cuts him off.

 

 

“I’m…sorry. I shouldn’t have said what I did. I didn’t mean it.” Carra looks away, only to hear a choking noise. Gary looks faint and utterly shocked, almost as if he’d been suddenly confronted with the image of Van Gaal pole dancing, or other such monstrosities.

 

 

"Did you...just say you were sorry?"

 

 

"I am."

 

 

"Oh my god."

 

 

"Wait...Gary, what are you doing?" Gary presses a few buttons on his phone before pointing it in Carra’s direction.

 

 

"Let me just turn on my phone recorder thing and you can say it again. Then I'll send a mass text to anyone that has ever played for United. I bet Sir Alex will get a kick out of it."

 

 

"I'm trying to seriously apologize here and you're taking the piss!"

 

 

"Oh, right, carry on."

 

 

"That's all I got."

 

 

"Really? All that shit and you think I'll let you go with a lousy sorry?"

 

 

The animosity in his expression is gone, replaced with familiar teasing. Carra feels the knot in his stomach unwind. Somehow, against all odds, he’s been forgiven.

 

 

"Oh, I see how it is, my apologies aren't good enough to fill the standards of Mister Gary Neville. Come off it, you've never apologized for anything in your life and now you're criticizing mine?"

 

 

"Well, I've never implied to anyone that they slept with their manager to retain their position in the starting line-up, Carra." He does look hurt by it and Carra grimaces. He’s aware that it wasn’t exactly his most shining moment.

 

 

"...that was really shitty of me, I'm really sorry."

 

 

"What even came over you?"

 

 

“…” Carra looks away and mumbles something over his breath. Apologies are fine, but there are certain things he’s not ready to disclose.

 

 

"What was that?" Gary isn’t letting it go and Carra just sighs in response.

 

 

"I was jealous."

 

 

"Jealous? Of what?"

 

 

"Of you making doe eyes at Beckham, what do you think?"

 

 

"I did not make doe eyes at Becks!"

 

 

"Well you gave of a good impression of being in love with him!"

 

 

"...well, I'm not." Gary looks…sad. Somewhat like Stevie looks every time someone reminds him of Alonso, and Carra knows that look, of lost love or partnership or whatever.

 

 

"But something happened between you two?"

 

 

"...yes. But that was a long time ago. Why are you even asking me this?" Carra lets himself imagine it, briefly, now that the acrid sting of jealousy had softened. A younger Gary, sharp and soft at the same time, with Beckham, golden and gangly and so bright. It’s a clear image, but that was then and this is now. Gary is wearing a suit instead of an England jersey and his middle is rounder than it used to be, and Carra knows for a fact that he’s losing some of his hair.

 

 

"You know, me and Stevie used to fool around back where we were teenagers."

 

 

"I knew it! Redders owes me 50 quid!”

 

 

But that’s fine. The young Gary was just a Manc cunt that existed to be in his way. This Gary was still a cunt and he put way too much sugar in his tea and he wore ugly ties, but this Gary was his Gary. And that made a hell of a difference. He moves closer, making his way through the chairs and bags towards where Gary is still standing, entirely involved in the argument.

 

 

"You bet on this? You bet on this with Jamie Redknapp? He's the one who used to take baths with John Barnes! In fact, I'm pretty sure he and Stevie made out this one time. He took that bet?"

 

 

"...you've been making fun of me and Paul all this time, and now you tell me that Liverpool in the olden days used to be some sort of orgy room!"

 

 

"Well, at least we got some, unlike you Manchester wankers."

 

 

"I got plenty!"

 

 

"Oh, yeah?"

 

 

Carra stops in front of him, tracking the line of his throat, their faces inches apart. Gary is red-faced and sweating, but his eyes keep flicking over to Carra’s lips.

 

 

"You want a test drive or something? Of this Manchester wanker?" he says, and Carra’s never been that good at resisting those.

 

 

"Maybe."

 

 

 "Maybe, huh. What's that in Scouser?"

 

 

"You're a Manchester cunt and I can tolerate you. That's practically a love confession."

 

 

"...love, Carra?"

 

 

 "If there's room for any in your cold dead snake heart."

 

 

Carra grimaces at him and Gary lets out a soft disbelieving laugh.

 

 

 "Well, aren't you a charming fucker." And that’s a tone Carra can understand, especially when Gary’s hands come up to grip at the lapels of his suit.

 

 

"I've been told I fuck even better than I charm."

 

 

"No doubt, considering you obtained your skillset with the legendary Steven Gerrard."

 

 

"Can we not talk about Stevie when I'm about to put my hand down your pants? You'll start talking about probing passes next."

 

 

"Just shut the fuck up and kiss me, you absolute asswipe."

 

 

And Carra does.