Coach was always telling them to leave things outside the dressing room. Differences in wages and playing time. Worries about parents and wives. Trouble with landlords and girlfriends. Attitude. Jealousies. Homesickness.
"Leave it son, just drop it," he'd say when Bors walked in with a thunderous face.
"You're not in your mother's kitchen," he'd snap at a moping Gareth. "You'll get no tea and sympathy here."
Coach didn't mind them channelling their egos and emotions into their work on the pitch, as long as they didn't get carried away, but here, in the dressing room, they were expected to put the team first.
Arthur had no problem with this. He liked this sort of discipline, respected Coach for insisting on it. He'd played on teams before that were the exact opposite—the coach demanding perfect cohesion on the pitch whilst turning a blind eye to the chaos that went on once they were off it. It worked for local, pub league sides, lads who had grown up together and most of whom still lived with their mothers, but it was disaster at this level. There was too much ego, too much money at stake, too many intersections of difference.
Myror's mum could have fit Elyan's entire village inside her back garden. Gwaine serially dated models in full view of the media, while Bors privately struggled to keep his five-year-old marriage to a sous chef from disintegrating like so much overcooked pasta.
Arthur was willing to bet that Lemmie and Geraint's cousins still threw rocks at one another's parades, armistice or no, and the lads Percy had grown up with would have kicked Arthur's teeth in if he'd strayed into their North Camelot neighbourhood—for more than one reason, as it happened.
For Arthur did have a problem, and it wasn't something he'd neglected to leave outside the dressing room. Hell, he couldn't leave it outside, even if he wanted to. (He'd tried, he really had, but apparently there was only so much denial a man was allowed, and he'd had his extra time and then some.)
And maybe he could have gone on like that, smilingly keeping his own secrets, telling himself that work and mates were everything, smothering the part of himself that wanted something more. Smothering that part of himself that wanted.
But sod's law was sod's law for a reason. So, of course, when the smothering failed and the embers ignited, it had happened not somewhere secluded and dimly-lit and conveniently far far away, but within the Citadel's painted cinderblock walls under the glare of fluorescent lighting.
Arthur now felt like he was burning from the inside out from the effort of keeping himself in check. The emotions that threatened him were so overwhelming, so potentially disruptive. He lived every day in the fear that he would lose control of them out on the pitch—that he would run until his muscles seized up and yell until his lungs burst. That he would jump and slash and lunge, kick and twist and dive, commit a career-ending act of violence or an equally career-ending act of love.
He could see it, had imagined it many times.
He'd disentangle himself from the post-goal manpile and sprint to the touchline, seeking out the one bright face that eclipsed all the others in a sea of Camelot red. He'd grab him by the horrid floppy collar of his tracksuit top and haul him in 'til they were pressed together, top to toe. Then he would kiss him—kiss him with tongue and teeth and all—while the stands rocked with the sounds of victory. He would dare the fuckers to stop cheering.