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Kakà will call it La Città Rossa: The Red City, and he'll write to Sheva and say, try to say

'It was like the sky was bleeding,
and it scared me
Scared me like—'

Like you.


Stevie will say it, and he'll say it again, a year later, and another after that.

It's ours. Ours.


Xabi will believe him because Steven doesn't lay claim to anything that isn't his. He doesn't believe in that, he fucking hates it in fact; people thinking they have control of something when they don't. Which is why Xabi looks at him, after every loss, twisting his armband between his fingers, and staring at the wall of the dressing room as if searching for answers there.

Which is why when Steven looks at him in July and says, I'm yours, he believes him.


Sheva, he remembers them. More than he'd like to. He plays against them, this time in blue, and Steven smiles at him, acknowledging something (for when you play in that kind of match, the ones that determine everything, the ones that you judge your career, your life, the people around you by, there's this strange form of attachment, with everyone involved; Steven feels it, Sheva does too), something intimate, and Sheva wishes he could remove it, block it out. Wishes everyone can just be opponents. Opponents and nothing else. Nothing else. (Maybe this applies to his team-mates as well.) But that inevitably is not football, and somewhere in Italy there's someone who agrees with him, and will say God created football to be a representation of life, the closest one you can get.

He remembers. He has his shirt. And he has what he felt when he saw them together.



He didn't mean it to happen. But Sheva's always been more perceptive, aware of things when no one else was (he remembers waking up in a fit of panic, sheets wrapped like a cocoon around his small frame, breath hitching, when he was a boy to little things like the wind rustling leaves outside or tiny coughs in the room next door; and maybe he was grateful for them, they stopped the nightmares from coming); just a strange shift in the way the air settles around him, just a feeling.

They kiss against a locker door, everyone else gone, and he sees, and it's troubling because these two lads from the North - they aren't only playing for a shiny thing.

They aren't playing for glory.

Sheva's always been too fond of glory.


and after

This is the one the world will see, but not nearly as lackluster as some things that are put on show, that are meant for the world to see.

It isn't.

It's a private moment; one that may inadvertently be asking the world for the right, the right to love (and the right to have this, because it's still unfathomable, it doesn't seem like it's theirs, and won't for days, weeks to come). Sheva's never thought of that, about grabbing something with both hands and refusing to let go.

Steven pats him on the back and tells him what a game, and Sheva can only nod and offer him his jersey and Steven smiles and, and it's the smile of someone who doesn't unless he truly means it. Steven, Steven doesn't say things unless it's with conviction, doesn't express things he doesn't feel. He walks away, an arm finding its way around his waist and he buries his face against his neck.

Sheva wonders if can ever smile and mean it again.

Kakà comes up behind him, says something too softly to decipher.

Doesn't even know which language it is in.


It's scary.


Football is scary, unpredictable by nature and tied into every emotion, every bone in your body; the outcome of matches, trophies, goals. A frightening grip on your life; it's never just a job, never has been. That something so fundamental and impactful to so many lives can exist is unnerving to say the least.


Xabi, Xabi thinks the same of Liverpool. Liverpool is football in the most basic and rawest of terms. Maybe he's generalizing (or a bit biased; or both) but he thinks of it like wearing the badge on your shirt, and wearing it on your heart too. Like something emblazoned on every player to pass through Anfield.

It's overwhelming sometimes, the history, the tradition. The sense of breathing in something that is huger than anything, anyone around you; like it could engulf you into nothingness if it wanted. Intimidating.

(Maybe it's like the way some people think of religion, of God.

Xabi's found all he needs to believe in.)

But it's more tangible than that most of the time. Like a buzzing in your heart and pleasant chills up your spine. It can flood your senses, and you can taste it (he remembers kissing Steven somewhere, half-way between intoxication and insanity, between a state of semi-consciousness and complete unawareness and grinning and saying, "you taste like Liverpool," and he'd giggled right back and said, "you, you taste like—" and Xabi doesn't remember because it's then that he chooses that most untimely moment to submit to the self-inflicted assault on his brain). You can make it yours, you can take it as your own. And that's what he does.


Kakà, Kakà wonders where Milan, where football, truly fits into his live. There's a pattern, a code and there's always been. He'll try to remember how things happened, try to put the pieces together. But memory isn't easy.

There's a part of his life that is gone; left behind.

There's another part of his life that is gone; taken away.

He'll look in the mirror and wonder if he really is twenty-four years old and why he feels like he's growing a year older every day.

Football makes him think of when he was a boy. Maybe it's simply because when he looks around, everyone looks younger than him. He feels it sometimes, what he used to. It comes it small, short spurts; inexplicable joy, joy that hurts. Like what he remembers of Sheva.

He reads the scriptures, says his prayers; it's his code and in his mind he has never broken it.


It happens like this:

A hotel room. It's almost by default. (Home is too personal. Football pitches and stadiums are too sacred; what happens there means too much, you can't erase it. Hotel rooms are sterile, the absence of comfort is tangible, the fake hominess instantly recognizable, and you can wash the memories off the walls and sheets; it's easier this way. Easier to forget.) Kakà stares into the mirror above the sink in the bathroom and remembers.

(But where do we go when we die?

It is your choice, meu filho.

But can you choose when you want to die?

If you choose when then you won't have a choice about where.)

He emerges and there's a thin streak of red flowing down the slope of his jaw. And Sheva, Sheva looks more startled than he's ever in his life. He helps him get cleaned up and puts a plaster over the cut. His hands shake uncontrollably. He thinks that there was so much blood, so much blood for such a tiny nip. And Kakà's still, and quiet, and calm.

He touches his face and they kiss; teeth getting in the way, and Sheva maneuvers carefully around the fragility (it's a difficult, difficult task), runs a hand along the bare skin on Kakà's back and he thinks something so soft wasn't meant to hurt, or bleed.

(But it's always been that, always will be. Innocence, naivety leads to early, untimely demise. Tragedy. This is, alas, their fate.)

He'll look at him when he's sleeping, harsh, synthetic white against the natural brown of his skin and it'll remind him of plastic scrubs, and latex gloves, and stainless steel. Cold, and clinical.

He'll find a razor left abandoned on the counter, and blood-stains on the white ceramic of the sink, and he'll wash it away. Washes it away, and thinks that it comes off so easily. So, so easily. And you need not all the perfumes of Arabia after all.


Their story is different:

It happens in an elevator. It's early, far too early to be up; especially the day after a loss, because facing the morning, and consciousness, and the bitterness after one of those is much better delayed. Or at least on general preference. Xabi has to be the exception, of course. Steven often thinks that Liverpool would be a pretty normal, decent football club if he wasn't around. If he wasn't around to discuss the importance of proper English grammar and pronunciation or analyse exactly why some people felt the need to spend a quarter of their lives in a bar or when he's staring at you too softly to be intrusive.

But he can't bring himself to be bitter when Xabi wakes him and they take a walk to a little cafe down the street from the hotel and they just sip their coffee and don't say anything.

The next time he does, the next time he tries, Steven kisses him before he can begin and presses him against the inner wall of the small compartment.

And this, he's never pictured, never imagined, never started to think about. He'd thought that Steven's breakdown would be a knock on the door at three in the morning and tears and things spilling through them, defenses all gone, like I can't take it anymore, it's too fucking hard and not this; Steven holding on for dear life as if he wouldn't be able to breathe if the air didn't pass through Xabi's lungs first.

So he kisses back, eyes open and searching, waiting for Steven to realise, truly realise what's happening and—


He doesn't. (A stumble along a corridor, a fumble for keys, and the removal of clothing, and Xabi almost forgets to know what everyone else is thinking. Almost.)

He'll remember again, when Steven rolls over and presses a kiss against his cheek and whispers something against his neck. He'll know that he has realised.




Kakà, he was always the kind of boy, the kind of Christian boy, who was far too curious. The one who had to be shushed in church or reprimanded when demanding things of guests. The kind who sat with his priest for hours on end until the old man grew weary, either from the tedious unanswerability of the questions or amazement, awe, (shock sometimes).

Football answered some of his questions. Caroline answered the rest. Sheva—

(Kakà's always appreciated irony, God's way of testing us, and Sheva provided him with a lot of it.)

The lifelong mystery.


Stevie, he reminds Xabi of tears, the uncontrollable type, the happiest and the bitterest, and long, long, too long Sundays that were just hot enough to be unbearable but ended just a moment off target and were left unfinished in his mind. Too much is still too little. (Or they cold ones, the Liverpool ones. He's started to categorize his days by where they're spent.)

In simplicity, he reminds him of excess, of superlatives. Too exaggerated against Xabi's meager offerings. (When Xabi feels, it's like he's only getting the corners of a blanket of emotion; when Stevie does, it's like he feels the sorrow, the joy of a thousand civilizations, both past and present. And maybe, it's his greatest weakness. His greatest. The greatest.)

He's Captain Fantastic, and he's not. Xabi thinks if he was, he wouldn't need the balance, he'd live in the world of superlatives. (He wouldn't need him.)


Xabi, Xabi reminds Stevie of the time when football wasn't so scary. When it was like walking down a beach at sunrise holding someone's hand that seemed like it was made especially to fit into yours.


It's summer and they're in Spain, and Xabi's quiet, too quiet, and usually they can find something to talk about. Something, anything. Because that comes before this, and this, this doesn't have a definition just yet. Stevie, he starts stringing words together in his mind; it's always good to find a connection. Dark, Xabi's Doorstep, and—something's missing.

"What are we doing, Stevie?"

Stevie, not Steven, and Stevie almost tumbles off the step, because fuck, he wouldnt have thought in a million years he'd ever know him this well, that it'd get like this.

"I— mate, we're on vacation. We're here to act like idiots and get drunk. (Ah, that's what's missing.) Not that you'd ever do something like that."

Xabi, he wants to ask, Why'd you need to spend every other night with me in Liverpool, and why's here different?

Stevie says, "We're here, we're not there." (Here, you are everywhere, and everything, the sun, and the sand, and the ocean. There, you're too little, too, too little; it's like you don't even exist in that world, and it shouldn't be like that.)

And well, it's as much as he can give, as much as Xabi can expect.

And when Stevie takes his hand five seconds after, or when he kisses him (properly, for the first time) the next morning, it sounds vaguely like, I want to stay this way forever.

(He'll say I love you two weeks after, and it's stretched, and weary, and fractured and he'll know that he means it, this time around.)


Summer in Italy is strangely the same, with sweat, and salt, and long days. Sunset is a terrific thing, and Sheva, he sits on a balcony with a bottle of wine. Kakà looks down at the road below, and only looks up when Sheva hands him a glass. He sits, awkwardly, mutters Grazie, and Sheva simply nods.

(Sheva, he reminds Kakà too much of authority, and sternness, and that feeling of wanting to prove himself.

He wants to be young again, he wants to ask questions without fear of consequence, but he can't, he doesn't.

For he is afraid.)

He'll start to say something. Ends up distorting his words. Stops, and tries again. (Maybe it's some form of damnation, or of condonation. Sheva will never know. What he knows is Kakà, he's scared to ask, but he isn't scared to admit.)

"It isn't that easy," he'll interrupt. (You can say love, and hell, maybe I can say it too, but in the end, it comes to nothing.)


Kakà reminds Sheva of the dreams he used to have.




It's the beginning of a new year, and it's been two years, two whole years, and. And Stevie remembers 2006 like it's so, so far away, when he used to think, when it was fact, and fundamental, that we won the European Cup a year ago. When it was close. Now it isn't so, and he wishes that time would stop so he could have it forever. (There's another part of him, the part that's steadily gaining momentum, the part that thinks, we'll have it again. We'll make it today's reality and we'll keep it close. He doesn't know if he's strong enough though.)


Sheva sees the new year as a reminder. May approaches, and he wonders if he has the ability to face the past that is quickly catching up to him.


Kakà wonders if he can leave it behind. Ever.




(Istanbul is the pivot, and everything deviates from that, into the past or into the future.)

In the end, Stevie stays.

Sheva stays a year more, and then he leaves. (Sheva, he's always been the kind of person to see the end of things before they begin.)

Xabi, in Liverpool, wonders when, if, how he'd ever leave.

Kakà, in Italy, wonders the same.