It's cute. It's fluffy. There are kisses.
I love these two.
What's going on with you, mate?"
The striker's voice is filled with worry, and Joey Barton immediately feels guilty for everything he's done in the past twenty-four hours to make his teammate worry so much about him. He's been doing better, and he ruins it in the course of only one day. He's facing so much trouble with the club, and with his career, and with his mates, and now the guilt is killing him. He cost his team the game. He ruined everything. That's what's going on.
"Nothing," Joey says a bit too quickly, and his best friend sees right through it.
"Yeah, and Carlos Tevez isn't an arsehole," he says. "You were doing better, Joey. What happened today? You fell apart."
Damn that Jamie Mackie. Damn that idiot. Damn the way he always sees through Joey's cover-ups, damn the way he always manages to talk Joey into confessing things. It's absolutely infuriating, and the captain can't help but always listen to Jamie and his strange speeches about exercise and keeping calm or whatever it is that annoying little strikers do.
"I used to play for them, you know that," Joey says. "They got under my skin."
Jamie raises an eyebrow. "You didn't do your morning exercise routine, did you? I told you, if you keep that up then you'll-"
"Oh, shut up, Mackie," Joey says, slapping a hand to his forehead. "You know I didn't do that stuff. Judo or whatever it is."
"It's yoga," Jamie says defensively. "It's just calming, that's all."
"Do you do that stuff?" Joey looks up at his mate and gives him an exasperated look.
"Well, I don't have to," the younger man says. "If I was upset, I'd do it."
Joey clinches his fist in irritation. "Liar, you don't do it so why should I?"
"Because I said so."
"And why should I, Joseph bloody Barton, take advice from you, Mackie?"
"Because I'm not the one with anger issues."
Something in Joey snaps. "I do not have anger issues!" he shouts, slamming his fist against the wall. As soon as he does it, he flinches and pulls his hand towards his chest, the knuckles aching. He immediately bites his lip, thinking he's broken something.
Jamie walks over calmly and lifts up his captain's hand by the wrist, gingerly investigating each of his fingers.
"It doesn't look broken," he says, "but I'm no doctor, so we should go talk to someone."
"I'll fix it," Joey says, not wanting to see any of the staff of his club because it'd be too painful. "Don't take me near the staff."
"If you don't want to be near any of the staff, then why are you here?" Jamie says, spreading his arms out to indicate the training facility they were in.
"Because it's two in the bloody morning."
Jamie rolls his eyes. "Are you serious?"
"Never been more serious." Joey walks across the room and, with his free hand, retrieves a first aid kit. Jamie is right behind him, opening the box and helping him with the items inside.
"You shouldn't have punched a wall, idiot."
"Well, it isn't the first stupid thing I've done in the last few hours."
Jamie tends to Joey's hand as the midfielder broods over the events of the past day. "No one hates you, Joey."
"That's a load of shit," Joey says. "Did you see all the hate mail?"
"I don't care about the hate mail, Joey. I'm talking about your friends."
Joey makes a face as Jamie wipes some sort of antiseptic on a cut he'd managed to sustain from punching the wall. "If we'd been relegated, you'd have cared."
"But we weren't relegated."
"But we almost were, and it would've been my fault."
Jamie finishes wrapping Joey's hand, and shrugs. "Don't blame yourself. Those City players were being arseholes, too, so we'd blame them as well."
Joey smiles weakly. "You could say that, I suppose. It doesn't seem like Jamie Mackie to play the blame game, what's gotten into you?"
"Losing, I suppose." Jamie sighs and sits down in an empty chair, prompting Joey to sit down next to him. "It's all about winning these days."
"It's always been about winning, but not just winning, it's about not letting yourself get relegated."
"Relegation," Jamie whispers. "We were so close..."
Joey looks at his teammate. "Well, like you said, we didn't get relegated, so it doesn't matter."
Jamie only shrugs. "Suppose so. Just be good from now on, okay?"
Joey can't help but agree, because he's talking to Jamie Mackie, and it's impossible to say no to someone that amicable.
"Sure," he says. "What about if I get banned? What happens now?"
"You serve your suspension, and then you come back." Jamie's answer is simple.
"What if they sell me?"
"What if they do?"
"Who would they sell you to? Chelsea?" A smile spreads across Jamie's face, and the expression is immediately mirrored on Joey's.
"Chelsea, you say?" Joey says. "What would I do at Chelsea? Kick John Terry in the face?"
Jamie laughs. "You could do that. It probably wouldn't be the best idea, though."
"What would they do?" Joey asks. "Ban me for ten more games? It'd be worth it to show those scummy Chelsea players a thing or two."
"Now you sound like the Joey Barton I know and love."
"You love me, Jamie?" Joey taunts. "How cute."
Jamie makes a face and ducks his head, and Joey immediately notices the blush on the younger man's cheeks.
"You're blushing, Mackie!" he says, looking at Jamie with an amused look on his face.
"Oh, shut up," he says. "It's your hair."
This makes the midfielder's interest rise. "My hair?" he asks. "What about my hair?"
Joey laughs, not noticing the seriousness in his mate's voice and the deepening blush.
"My hair, you say. Well, I guess it is nice hair. After all, I'm Joey bloody Barton."
Jamie chooses that moment to look up and make eye contact with his captain, sending a jolt down Joey's spine that leaves him breathless for a moment. Jamie's cheeks are still tinted pink, and he's looking at Joey with these big puppy-like eyes, and Joey feels all his resolve dissolve at once, and he doesn't know what to think.
"How long have your eyes been that color?"
Jamie cocks his head to the side. "Since I was born," he says, confused. "Why does that matter?"
"Because they're..." Joey searches for the right word for a moment, "nice."
"It's not like you to compliment people, Barton," Jamie says.
"Well, accept it before I become a wanker again."
Jamie smiles, sending tingles up Joey's spine again. "I never said you were a wanker."
"You don't think I act like a wanker sometimes?"
"I never said that. I just said you weren't a wanker all the time."
Joey grins. "You sound like yourself."
"How else would I act, Mackie?" Joey reaches over to playfully punch Jamie in the shoulder with his uninjured hand, but Jamie reaches up and grabs his hand out of the air before he can. Jamie's fingers linger around the other man's hand for a moment before he pulls away.
Joey flexes his fingers for a moment, a strange feeling spreading up his arm from the spot Jamie touched him. He thinks it's weird, and stares at his arm as if that would help him figure it out.
"Oh, uh, sorry," Jamie says. "I don't know why I did that."
"Don't mind it," he says, and Jamie smiles gently back at him. Joey watches him for a moment, seeing the blush in his cheeks and the smile on his lips, and he feels the urge to protect him. He feels the need to take Jamie in his arms and protect him from the wankers and arseholes out there--people like himself. But he and Jamie, they were best friends. That was normal wasn't it? He and Jamie weren't those kind of mates, were they?
"What time is it?" Jamie asks suddenly.
Joey glances at his watch. "Two fifteen."
"What will we do about sleep?" He laughs, a sound that leaves Joey reeling. He is not feeling that way about his best mate, that is an absolutely ridiculous concept. Absolutely ridiculous, he thinks to himself, but saying it to himself even once makes him realize he's lying.
"You could come back to my place," Joey suggests, mentally kicking himself for saying something so stupid. He's about to take it back when he sees Jamie's face light up.
"It'd be like when I was a little kid."
Joey finds himself smiling at Jamie's antics.
"Wanna leave now, then? We won't have much time to sleep if we don't leave soon."
Jamie nods. "Let's go, then."
Joey turns the lights off as they depart, making their way towards Joey's car. Joey puts his arm around Jamie, making a joke about his goal in the game earlier and congratulating him for it. Jamie laughs and elbows him, and Joey hides his blush.
Damn Jamie Mackie. Damn that adorable striker and his adorable laugh.
Joey stays relatively quiet on the drive back to his apartment, letting Jamie have most of the conversation. The bright-eyed forward is absolutely thrilled about getting to sleep over at a friend's house, just like when he was a child, and the way he talks about it makes him smile like an absolute maniac.
"You left Manchester before the game even ended, though, so you missed Adel talking about lemons, all about bloody citrus fruits, it was a brilliant conversation!"
Joey shook his head amusedly. "Whatever you say, Mackie. I bet Taraabt is perfectly happy with you repeating all of his stories to me."
"He wouldn't mind!"
Joey pulls into his driveway, Jamie still going on about the day's events.
"I offer you my arm," Joey says jokingly, holding out his hand to the talkative footballer he'd brought home.
"Whatever," Jamie retorts, grabbing Joey's hand and allowing their fingers to intertwine.
"What are you doing?" Joey blurts, shocked, but he doesn't let go of Jamie's hand.
Jamie looks up at his captain and opens his mouth to speak, but loses the words and drops his head in shame. "Sorry," he whispers, trying to pull his hand away from Joey's, but the other man doesn't let go.
"You don't have to let go," Joey says. "I mean, if you don't want to."
"You're here alone," Jamie suddenly points out. "They're...everyone's still in Manchester."
Joey nods. "Everyone but you."
"We should go inside, I guess. It's cold."
Joey, still holding Jamie's hand, leads his teammate inside, immediately making his way to the couch, where he offers Jamie a seat.
"It's a comfortable sofa," he says. "You can sleep wherever you want, though. There's no one else here, and I don't mind, as long as you don't sleep in the baby's bed."
Jamie laughs and sits on the couch, pulling Joey down to sit next to him.
"I won't sleep in the baby's bed, Joey, are you nuts?" he says. He leans his head onto Joey's shoulder and gently squeezes the midfielder's hand.
"Jamie," Joey says, glad that no one can see how red his face is. "Thank you for helping me fix my hand. I shouldn't have punched that wall."
"I still think you should go see a doctor about that," he replies with a yawn. "I mean, what if there's something wrong with it?"
"There's nothing wrong with my hand now that you fixed it."
Jamie yawns again. "Go see a doctor."
"You're already tired, Mackie?"
"It's been a long day. Unlike you, I played ninety-five minutes today. Well, yesterday."
Oh, yeah. The game. Manchester City.
"I forgot about that."
"You would manage to forget about such a huge game, wouldn't you?"
"We can do that tomorrow, I'm too tired now."
"Okay, as long as you--wait, what?" Joey says. He's suddenly a bit more alert and about three times more flustered than he had been. Jamie doesn't seem to notice.
"Never mind," he says slowly, yawning again.
"We should go to bed if you're that tired. Where do you want to sleep?"
There's no response but the sound of Jamie's breathing. Damn Jamie Mackie. Damn his ability to fall asleep at moments like this. Damn his ability to fall asleep so quickly.
"I'm gonna have to carry you upstairs, aren't I? Damn you, damn me for doing this."
Joey takes the striker in his arms and carries him upstairs, lying him in his own bed and climbing in next to him. It doesn't take him long to fall asleep, even with one Jamie Mackie sharing his bed. He doesn't really dream, he just thinks. It's almost a nightmare, because all he can think about is his team and how much he feels he's betrayed them...
He wakes up the next morning and realizes he has his arms around something, something warm and muscular that feels just like his teammate. He can't bring himself to move, or stir, because he feels absurdly comfortable with the striker secured in his arms. He drifts back into half-sleep, taking advantage of the time he's spending cuddling with Jamie Mackie.
He refuses to admit it, because his pride won't allow for it, but deep inside he knows he's falling for Jamie and would continue to work on not losing his temper just to please the adorable man in his arms.
He doesn't realize it when Jamie awakens until Jamie runs a hand through the other man's hair, a half-asleep smile spreading across his face.
"Good morning," he says.
"Well, morning," Joey replies, pulling Jamie closer to him until their noses touched. Might as well take a risk with this, he thinks.
"I'm okay with this," Jamie whispers. He has one hand tangled in Joey's hair, playing with it. The risk is worth it. Definitely worth it.
"Jamie, you're perfect," he says, moving to kiss Jamie's forehead. "Sometimes I don't get why you're so perfect."
"I'm not perfect, no one's perfect."
"Well, you're pretty damn close."
"You don't mean that," Jamie says.
"Shit, Jamie," Joey replies. "Of course I mean it."
"You're lying to me."
Jamie moves his hand from Joey's hair to rest his palm against his mate's warm cheek.
"You don't mean it," Jamie says. "You're joking with me. Either that or I'm dreaming."
"You aren't dreaming. And I'm not joking with you, I mean every word of this. You're damn near perfect, as close to perfect as anyone has ever been." He shifts his head and presses his lips gently against Jamie's for a moment. "Now do you believe me?" Is the risk still worth it now?
"I guess I do," Jamie replies, kissing him back. Joey returns the kiss, losing himself in the moment. Jamie's lips fit perfectly against his, and his arms seem to belong around the younger man's muscular torso. Yes, it's worth it, anything's worth kissing Jamie Mackie.
"I'm not dreaming, am I?" Jamie says after a minute, breaking the kiss. "Tell me I'm not dreaming."
"You're not dreaming, I promise." Joey kisses his cheek. "I promise, you're not dreaming."
"That's good." Jamie's face flushes and he looks into Joey's eyes with his signature goofy smile. "I'm glad I'm not dreaming." Oh, that smile.
"Jamie..." the midfielder whispers. "I think I love you." He freezes when the words slip out of his mouth, hoping he hasn't seriously messed things up. Jamie just keeps smiling at him.
"You mean it?"
Joey nods. "I wouldn't lie to you. I mean it."
"I think I love you too." That same strange feeling from the previous night spreads through Joey's body, immobilizing him with the words that escaped his lover's mouth. He pulls Jamie against him, pressing their lips together.
"It doesn't matter what happens from here on out," Joey tells the striker between kisses. "We'll be okay."
"I love you."
"I love you too." The captain pulls his teammate into his arms and starts kissing him again. He smiles against the striker's lips, letting Jamie's fingers run through his hair, and deepens the kiss, realizing in that moment that he'd met the person of his dreams. This would be the person he'd love forever.
Damn that footballer. Damn his ability to make Joey fall in love with him. Damn his eyes, damn his soft skin, damn his oh-so-kissable lips.
Damn that Jamie Mackie.