Eric sat in the dressing room of the Kaliningrad stadium, he could hear the roars of the English crowds and the chanting from the Belgian section. He could feel the pain in his heart in his throat and he wanted to get sick. It hurt a lot and he knew the others around him could tell. He felt Dele’s bony fingers grip his shoulder.
“It’ll be all right mate, it’s ninety minutes, just pretend it’s not him, it’s not Toby standing out there, it’s just another guy, another teammate that you’ll be playing against. Are you worried about facing Jan or Mousa? I didn’t think so”, Dele said as he pulled Eric up.
“We haven’t exactly been on good terms, Del. That contract thing nearly broke us, and it’s still not looking great like”, Eric whined.
“Alright, you look at me Dier, forget the contract, remember why you are here. He’ll hate you if we top the group, but he’ll get over it. Who knows, maybe you two might reconcile, because right now, you’re the epitome of fucking love sick. So, get your ass up and get out to that tunnel”, Harry muttered as he rolled his eyes. His tooth sunk deep into his lip.
“You look more anxious than I do”, Eric pointed out.
“Well, that armband is fairly tight. Come on, let’s say our hellos and then crush them”.
“Maybe not ‘crush them’, Harry. We need to make sure they aren’t broken for the rest of the tournament. Can we go? I just wasn’t to say hello”, Dele announced, they were the only three left in the dressing room.
They walked out into the tunnel and their cleats clacked against the hard floor as they joined the two teams. Harry headed to the front of the line and he led his team out to the green synthetic grass. The stadium was packed, nearly all thirty-five thousand seats were filled by screaming fans.
“Alright Eric?”, Jan asked as they hugged.
“Nope”, Eric whispered as he eyed Toby. Who completely ignored him, he walked right by, not even a handshake.
Alright then, Eric thought to himself.
The blonde never wanted to think about that match again, they were picked apart, their backline was crap and with both Joe and Jack out, Jordan was in goal, and he may have had the support of Gareth, but he still had a long way to go to prove himself to Eric. Slowly but surely the back four got into rhythm and started to pick of on the Belgian channels of play. They were slowly but surely working themselves back into the game, even with the one goal deficit. In the table they were currently tied on points, but Belgium had a superior goal difference. But half time came, after the line minute of extra time and Eric walked back to the changing room, he was gasping for water. His throat was as dry as the Sahara, the water was warm but it would do, it smelled the thirst inside of him.
That was he realised it wasn’t water he needed so badly, he stopped outside of the changing room, he was the last one in as usual, but he caught sight of Toby's thick back, all hard muscle and taut skin. And Eric realised how much he missed lying next to that, he missed being wrapped in those warm arms and cuddles into the next life, he missed the little behind the ear kisses that he had grown accustomed to over the last few years. But that had all changed in the last three months. That stupid contract.
“Eric, have you listened to a word that’s been said?”, Harry wondered as the blonde finally sat down in the wooden bench.
“Yeah", Eric shrugged, his voice nothing but an expulsion of air. He was deflated. He was defeated.
The second half went much better, Raheem rolled the ball into the back if the net after an error from his city teammate, and Eric couldn’t help but feel relived that it wasn’t Toby. But for the rest of his match he tried to push it out of his mind, he needed to concentrate.
But how can I concentrate when he's the closest he’s been in weeks?
Eric’s mind had a point. Thus was the best chance he would get to talk to Toby for the rest of the tournament, it could even be the last time he spoke to him full stop. That made the claw like cage around Eric’s heart seize and tense. That was painful. A reflection of that pain was painted in Eric s face as the final whistle blew. Second in the group was better than nothing, at least they were through. That eased the cage around his heart but it didn’t deflate the knot in his stomach.
“Can you please go talk to him? He’s been moping around for days”, Mousa whispered as he wrapped an arm around Eric in the tunnel.
“Some things can’t be fixed no matter how much you hope they can be. He can come to me if he wants to make an effort, I’m fine chasing him", Eric muttered, the pain was evident in his voice.
“Should I tell him that?”. Mousa grinned.
“You stir the pot too much, do you know that? Go back to your team, you topped the group, celebrate". Eric smiled sincerely as he clapped a hand on Mousa's shoulder.
Once they were showered and changed, they eased back to the hotel, which they happened to be sharing with the Belgians. Funny how that worked, Eric was sure Poch had something to do with it. But Eric and Dele but slid into their room and Eric flopped on the bed, he started up at the ceiling for a few minutes.
“I really don’t know what to do, Dele", Eric admitted.
“A blind person could see that Eric. You’re lovesick and you miss him. Admit it. It’s obvious you both love each other", Dele reminded.
“Thanks?”, Eric asked, uncertainty made his voice waver.
“Whatever, I’m leaving you to wallow, see you later, mate”, Dele shrugged before he left.
So Eric stayed there with his own thoughts, he pulled the red fabric chair from the dark mahogany table and set it so he could stare out at the beautiful orange rooftops of the historic city. Kaliningrad was beautiful. He didn’t know how long he sat there and stared out the large window, but loud knocking broke him from his fixation. Eric rolled his eyes, he believed it was Dele coming back, that bot never brought a room key with him. Eric was surprised when be opened the door, he was not expecting who he saw: Toby.
“Can I come in?”, The Belgian wondered as he shifted awkwardly on his feet.
Eric moved to the side to let the older man slide past him into the room. Toby made himself comfortable on the bed, he patted the crisp white sheet beside him. Eric took the offer.
“Do you want me to say sorry?”, Toby asked.
Eric snorted. Typical Toby.
“What do you think?”, Eric snapped back.
“I’m sorry. Not about the contract, but for what I’ve out you through over the last few months. I didn’t realise I could miss you're constant clambering, but I have. I know if the deal goes through in the near future, because believe me Eric, I’m as fucking clueless as you are. I’m not keeping you in the dark, I don’t know anything. I just want to focus on the tournament”.
Eric stayed silent as his head wrapped itself around Toby’s words. He simply sighed and slid his hand over Toby's, he gave it a slight squeeze.
“ We have a lot of shit to work though with regards to your attempt to try and leave. But that can wait. Can we just-?”. Eric smiled before he dropped his head to the older man’s shoulder.
Toby smiled before he bowed through the thick hair in the tot of Eric’s head. They manoeuvred themselves so that Eric’s back was flush against Toby's front, the Belgian’s arm was slid over the younger man's waist, his fingers drawing nonsense onto Eric's pale skin. Eric sighed when Toby kissed the shell of his ear.