Off-season is a bubble of sorts, and it bursts as soon as Antoine presses kisses to both of Paul's cheeks and rushes off to catch his plane for Madrid.
Paul returns to Turin with a new contract and boxes to pack. His apartment feels dusty and too-hot, because he’d had the bright idea to turn off his air-condition while he was gone. In hindsight, it was weird to worry about the electricity bill after a 101 million transfer fee.
He turns on the air condition and he spends a few minutes standing in front of the cool breeze with his eyes closed. It’s windy in Manchester sometimes, he remembers that much.
He opens a cupboard to take down a glass and gets stuck thinking about the amount of paper it’ll take to wrap them all up, and also by the feeling of wanting to curl up on his couch and not having to deal with any of this.
The doorbell rings, interrupting his musings.
He doesn’t bother listening to Pat’s “It’s me,” over the intercom, just buzzes him in, spends the time on nervous pacing instead.
Patrice looks the same as usual, a small frown playing around his mouth as he steps through the door and looks around.
“How was your little vacation with Antoine?”
“You should have invited me along.”
“You’re too old, Pat.”
“How dare you, I’m younger than Gigi!”
“Almost everyone is. He’s been around forever.”
A pregnant pause. Paul grips tight to his glass of water, and the surface of it trembles and spills over.
“So...you’re leaving.” Patrice says, calmly. “Have you packed yet?”
“No,” Paul says softly, reaching over to put the glass on the coffee table, “I just got home.”
“Alright,” Patrice nods, “where are your boxes? I’ll help you, but I draw the line at folding your underwear. God knows I’ve seen your bare ass enough over the years.”
Paul looks up from where he’s been staring at his shoes for the past five minutes and stares at him. “Are you angry at me?” he asks, wincing at how juvenile it sounds falling in the space between them.
“What? Why?” Patrice tilts his head to the side, studying Paul for a moment before his face softens. “I’ve been in this business for a long time, kid. Do you think you’re the first friend I’ve helped pack? Sure, most of them are smart enough to hire services for this kind of thing, but I know you, and I know for a fact that this hasn’t even occurred to you until this moment.”
“They have packing services?” Paul asks, a little dumbly. “People come and look at your stuff? And touch it?” he makes a face at that and Patrice starts laughing, which brings him back on topic. “Wait, so you’re not mad?”
“More like I think anyone willing to pay 101 million for your sorry ass is mad,” Patrice says, shaking his head. “But I’m not mad at you for going, no.”
“Oh,” Paul says softly.
Patrice sighs and opens up his arms for a hug. Paul closes the distance between them, leaning down to press his forehead against Patrice’s shoulder, arms wrapping around his torso.
“I’ll miss you,” he mutters against Patrice’s T-shirt.
“Oh, you will,” Patrice laughs. “You’ll call me every day. I’ll get sick of you.”
“Not every day!”
Paul had in fact been planning to call him every day, but Patrice doesn’t need to know that.
They’re still in the process of reclaiming their respective limbs when the doorbell rings. Paul frowns at the door suspiciously.
“That’s weird,” he says, “I’m not expecting anyone.”
“Oh, that. I’ve invited some of the others over,” Patrice says, already halfway to the kitchen, “I hope you have some snacks in stock.”
“What,” Paul says, and goes to the door. No one answers when he calls over the intercom, but there’s a knock on the door. Paul opens it and Gigi breezes past him with three bottles of fancy wine.
“Where is your refrigerator?” he says, standing in the middle of Paul's living room like he's lived there forever. Paul doesn't even think of asking how he got through the lobby. He's Gigi Buffon - the doorman probably called him the elevator personally. "White wine needs to be cooled to the right temperature before it can be served, not that you kids care anything about that. This is quality wine, very old."
Patrice, sensing his moment, yells, "But not as old as you!" from the kitchen. Gigi frowns.
"You're only four years younger than me, you ass."
Bonnucci steps in right after, smiling apologetically like he usually does after Gigi does something particularly brusque.
"Ciao," he says, clapping Paul on the shoulder, "where can I put this?" he indicates the six-pack hanging off his fingers.
Paul waves him numbly to the kitchen, then shakes his head, mutters "What the hell?" to nobody in particular.
"We came to help you pack," he hears behind him and turns to see Claudio walking through the door on his crutches. "Mostly, it's an excuse to get drunk and gorge on excellent pizza before the season starts."
He reaches out to hug Paul and he walks into it on autopilot, his knees going a little weak at the kisses Claudio presses to both his cheeks. Even on crutches and in obvious pain, Claudio has that effect on people.
“Wait, who’s we?” Paul asks after Claudio has been safely settled on the couch.
“Everyone,” Claudio shrugs, before turning on the TV.
It does seem like over the next few hours, his apartment becomes the gathering place for the full Juventus roster. Some are still on vacation and send their well wishes through their friends, but by the end of it, Paul’s apartment is definitely bursting at the seams.
Paulo comes and clutches at Paul so tightly he almost cuts off his circulation. “I can’t believe you’re leaving me here with all these old men,” he says, but his trembling betrays how upset he is.
Even Alvaro comes, flying in from Madrid especially. “I made the move already,” he explains to Paul, “but nobody was in Turin then, so this is my going away party too.”
Mario shows up at some point, driving up to Turin from Brescia, smiling shyly like he’s unsure of his welcome.
“I came to offer you some advice on living in Manchester,” he says, pulling Paul into a full body hug. He smells like woodchips and, bizarrely, wildflowers.
“Oh, thanks,” Paul says, a little dazed. “What is it?”
“Score a lot of goals,” Mario says solemnly, “and don’t buy any fireworks.”
Then he turns, seemingly satisfied to settle on the couch, curled into Claudio’s side. He’s very careful of his leg, Paul notices, glaring at Giorgio until he gives up his pillow so Mario can prop Claudio up into a more comfortable position.
They all get royally drunk and eat the best delivery pizza that Paul’s ever eaten. In the morning when his mom comes over, she finds approximately zero packed boxes and football players sacked out on every available surface.
All things considered, it's not such a bad way to go.