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i didn't mean for it to feel this way

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John’s always been flattered, if a bit disbelieving, at the reverence he sometimes gets from younger players coming into the club. Objectively, he realizes that they grew up watching him play some of his best football, that they maybe even have a jersey of his tucked away somewhere or a poster on their wall, but it still feels strange.

 

It’s a heady feeling at times, the awe, especially when all he sees of himself is the creak of his knees, the slowness of his pace and the slow crippling ache in his Achilles tendon.

 

Still, when they turn to him hopefully after making a run he hasn’t been able to do since the late 80ties, all he can do is smile and fold them into a hug, feeling their young undamaged bodies tremble when he whispers congratulations into their necks.

 

He doesn’t quite know what to do with them when they smile at him in the locker room after, their eyes sparkling. Mostly he just pats their shoulders and praises their game, then takes a bath that’s just a shade or two too cold.

 

Rushie calls it ‘not taking what he wants’, but John just thinks it makes team management easier.



*



The club changes before his eyes, new players, new management, new injuries, and he grits his teeth and keeps running. He doesn’t consider leaving, won’t let himself, pulls on the red jersey instead and let it fuse to his skin like armor. John endures, because he’s waiting, he just doesn’t know what for.

 

And slowly, oh so slowly, it happens.

 

New boys trickle in; Steve and Robbie, who soon become Steve-and-Robbie, united in all; then David and Jason and Martin and others, young and inexperienced, but filled with so much potential.

 

And then there’s Jamie. Jamie, who’s the first, who’s tall and wide-eyed, and looks at John like he’s walked straight off his wall. Jamie, perfect and precise, his presence on John’s left bizarrely reassuring. Jamie, who follows John everywhere, like an excited puppy, and blushes fire red when they get paired for stretches. But also Jamie, who’s funny and sarcastic, and beautiful, with big chocolate eyes and dainty wrists.

 

“He’s over the moon for you, that one,” Rushie tells him, grinning like he’s sharing a secret, like he thinks John’s an idiot.

 

John shakes his head and pretends he hasn’t heard.



*



The first time Jamie climbs into a bath with him, it’s before a home game against United. Everyone is keyed up about it, tempers are high in the dressing room, and it’s all Rushie can do to keep things level. John takes the easy way out and retreats to the bath to warm up.

 

He opens his eyes lazily when the door makes a sound, half worried that it’s Souness, coming to yell at him again, but it’s not the manager at the door. It’s Jamie, clutching a towel in front of his privates, like the rest haven’t seen them half a dozen times before. He flushes when their eyes meet, but it could as well be the steam.

 

“Hullo, John,” he says, giving him a nervous grin.

 

“Hey, Redders,” John says, the nickname slipping easily from his lips. “Looking to take a bath?”

 

He almost winces at himself. Why else would anyone be in the bathing room if not for a bath?  

 

He watches Jamie move about the room from under his eyelashes. Watches him place his clothes carefully in a chair. Watches as he takes a deep breath and drops his towel, catching a look at his arse before he averts his eyes.

 

It’s not like he’s never seen Jamie naked before, but this feels different, more intimate, just them and the quiet, steamy bathing room. He’s so distracted that he doesn’t notice Jamie’s right next to him, until he reaches to touch his hand to get his attention.

 

“Can I…” Jamie starts, “...uh...it’d be a pain to fill up the other tub...is it okay if I climb in with you?”

 

The last part is said in a rush, but John’s nodding, before he even puzzles it out fully.

 

“Sure,” he says, and his voice doesn't shake. “There’s plenty of room.”

 

He doesn’t watch Jamie get into the opposite end of the bath, not even when he slips a little and catches himself on the edge, not even when he settles in with a breathy sigh.

 

Their calves brush together under the water.



*



Rushie laughs for a full 15 minutes after John gets drunk and spills the beans.



*



Jamie continues joining him in the bath for the better half of the season.

 

For the most part, John remembers it in snapshots.

 

Jamie’s hair, flat and flopping over his forehead from the stream. His arms, still stick thin but filling with corded muscle, spread out carelessly on the rim of the bath. The gooseflesh on his chest when the water starts getting colder, the column of his throat with trailing droplets of water.

 

The way John sometimes catches Jamie’s gaze in the steam, dark eyes half-lidded and indecipherable.

 

And it’s fine. Really, it’s fine. He’s a grown man, exactly ten years Jamie’s senior and he prides himself on his self-control. If that means staying in the water just a bit longer after it’s gone cool, well then, that’s what he’ll do.

 

It holds up until they win some cup game, and Jamie backs him up against his car and kisses him.

 

“Please,” he moans against John’s lips, “ please.

 

John feels his resolve break into pieces. He kisses back.



*



They end up in the backseat of John’s car, sprawled against the seats.

 

Jamie can’t seem to stay still, moving everywhere at once, licking into John’s mouth, trying to get his hand under his shirt and open his belt, dizzying and clumsy. Like a teenager.

 

Jamie’s barely twenty and John should stop this, be responsible, but he can’t, winds his arm around Jamie’s waist instead, pinning him closer, keeping him still while he sucks bruises into the thin pale skin of Jamie’s neck, as they sink deeper into the creaking seat.

 

Jamie comes just like that, grinding into John’s thigh, his hands digging into John’s sides and “John, John, John” whispered breathlessly into the space between them.

 

John watches his face in the half light of the one streetlight outside, watches the bliss spill over his features, eyes closed and mouth slack. He looks beautiful and every bit his age.



*



They don’t kiss for months after. The season ends, another trophy slipped from between their fingertips. John takes a break, a quick flight down to Jamaica to see the family and enjoy the sun.

 

Jamie calls him once, on the landline in the middle of the night, drunk off his tits and giggling.

 

“John,” he says, “John, why won’t you touch me? I want you to touch me, I want you to take me apart.”

 

“Redders…”

 

“Jamie! Call me Jamie, please.”

 

“Jamie...go to sleep, we’ll talk when I get back.”

 

Jamie huffs impatiently on the other side, but murmurs a quiet “Okay”, before disconnecting.

 

John stands in the hallway for a long moment, phone cradled to his cheek, before gently setting it down and heading into the bathroom for a midnight shower. And a wank. He’s only human, and Jamie’s voice had been low and raspy, full of need.



*



It all comes to a head one evening early in the new season. John’s been held behind by journalists after an excellent on-pitch performance and the dressing room is half abandoned when he walks in, just a few stragglers left, pulling on their kits. Rushie claps his shoulder on the way out, but doesn’t grin like he usually does.

 

He looks older. John wonders if he looks like that too.

 

He picks up his kit and his towel from his locker and heads into the bathing room, running a hot bath in practiced motions. He’s just settled in with a relieved sigh, feeling his muscles unwind, when he hears the door squeaking.

 

Jamie walks in, already fully dressed, which is strange because John could have sworn he’d seen him walk out with the lads a bit earlier. But, now he’s here, twisting the key in the lock and walking to a free chair to pull off his clothes.

 

He doesn’t say anything, so John doesn’t either. But he lets himself watch Jamie pull off his tracksuit and T-shirt and then his underwear, until he’s standing in front of John completely nude, meeting his gaze with a defiant jut of his chin.

 

He closes the last few meters to the bath in a few quick strides and takes a deep breath, before climbing in, not on the opposite side, but to settle between John’s legs.

 

John doesn’t do anything to stop him, just props up his knee to make more room. Once Jamie settles, letting out a breath, he moves his hand from the rim of the bath to settle low on Jamie’s belly, listening to his breath hitch. Jamie melts against John’s front with another quiet sigh, setting his head on his shoulder, and John instinctively presses a soft kiss to the side of his neck.

 

They’re both breathing hard, almost panting in the stillness of the room.

 

They sit like that for a few quiet moments as John lets himself catalogue the sensations. The water is gently lapping against his skin, slowly cooling, but Jamie is warm against his front, trembling faintly. His abdominal muscles contract under John’s hand and he moves his hand in a circle, aiming for reassuring. Jamie moans softly, turns his head to the side to nuzzle against John’s cheek.

 

John kisses him, softly, chastely, deliberately ignoring Jamie’s attempts to deepen the kiss, until he lets out a inpatient noise and he gives in with a smirk, letting out a started moan when Jamie bites at his bottom lip in retaliation.

 

Jamie’s hand comes up to cover John’s on his belly and it stays there for a moment, warm, before Jamie pushes their hands deliberately downwards. He breaks off the kiss when John touches him, letting out a choked off moan.

 

“You’re sure?” John whispers against his cheek, his voice loud in the silence.

 

“Please,” Jamie says, moving his hips to rub shamelessly against John’s hand. “Please, John.”

 

John takes him in hand, pins his hips with the other and works him over, nice and slow, even when Jamie’s begging for him to go faster, cussing him out between high-pitched moans. Finally, John bites gently at his shoulder and Jamie spills with a shout, slumps back onto John’s chest, panting.

 

John doesn’t let him rest, pulling him out of the rapidly cooling bath and helping him step out on wobbly legs. The cold air brings some awareness into Jamie’s foggy eyes and he reaches out to take John’s towel out of his hands.

 

“Let me take care of you,” he says, glares when John opens his mouth to argue. It’s about as threatening as a puppy dog barking at a tree, but it shuts him up and makes him let go.

 

Jamie runs the towel carefully down John’s body, drying his arms and down his chest and back to his thighs and carefully around his dick, hanging rock hard between his legs. John lets him, strangely struck by someone else handling his body so carefully.

 

He watches Jamie’s face, bottom lip stuck between his teeth, completely focused as he works his way down, as he drops to kneel on the towel after he’s done, his eyes fluttering shut as he takes John in his mouth.

 

It’s over much too quickly and John would be embarrassed if he hadn’t basically spent the last few months nursing a semi over Jamie Redknapp, who’s looking up at him on his knees, dark-eyed and flushed.

 

John takes the other towel and sinks to his knees in front of Jamie to wrap it around him. Jamie’s shivering, from the cold or something else that John doesn’t want to guess at. His skin is cold and John crawls a bit closer to pull him against his chest, smiling when he feels Jamie relax and hug back.

 

Everything is quiet in the room, except for the muted sound of the heater turning on and Jamie’s steady breathing against his chest.

 

John presses a kiss against his damp hair and lets his mind stay quiet.

 

“Jamie,” he says softly, and the rest of the words escape him, but Jamie presses a kiss against his chest, over the badge, like he gets it anyway.



*



Rushie calls later that evening for details.

 

John hangs up on him.