BBFC rating: PG for mild sex references and mild sexual innuendo
Author's disclaimer: I don't know De Bruyne or Grealish. This story is totally made up.
Catch up on Chapter 4, Red Light, Green Light, here.
Kevin De Bruyne’s 10-day spell in isolation was coming to an end, and for him, it couldn’t come soon enough.
It wasn’t just the monotony and tedium of being by himself all day, training by himself, and binging on boxsets in the evening for entertainment.
It wasn’t just the homesickness and pain of how much he was missing his wife, kids and friends. How he was craving human interaction of any kind.
The ten days being by himself had given De Bruyne a lot of time to think. Time to sit back and chew on events that, normally, in the fast-paced hubbub of premier league football, would pass him by. Usually, before he’d had time to reflect and process what had happened, something new and dramatic would have occurred straight after, displacing the memory of the previous thing, no matter how significant it was.
And with nothing to do in quarantine but kill time, there was one event in particular that De Bruyne kept going back to.
It was an exchange that had taken place just before KDB had departed for the international break, during which he had picked up coronavirus, meaning he was subjected to 10 days of bougie Shawshank, stuck by himself in a 5-star hotel with nothing to keep him company but his thoughts.
It was after the Manchester derby at Old Trafford. City had disposed of their local rivals with ease, and Kevin was pleased that, amidst a sluggish start to the season, he’d played a game that was approaching what he knew he was capable of.
De Bruyne had felt a tap on his shoulder as he was getting changed out of his sweaty football strip. As he turned around, he saw the tap had come from the long fingers of Jack Grealish.
‘Hey Kev,’ Grealish had begun. ‘Great result!’
‘Yeah it was,’ De Bruyne agreed carefully. He wasn’t sure if he should broach the topic of Jack not playing, and reassure him that getting dropped for big games happened to the best of them. Or if it was prudent to just avoid the topic completely.
‘So I was thinking’, Grealish said.
‘Uhoh’, KDB thought. That didn’t bode well.
‘You know how I wear number 10 for City?’
‘Yeah’, De Bruyne replied, wondering where this was going.
‘And how I wore 7 for England during the Euros?’
A wave of comprehension fell over KDB just as Grealish announced gleefully, ‘We wear the same number for our countries! And… 10 plus 7 is 17, your shirt number for City!’
The arbitrariness of that announcement, and the expectant way Grealish was watching De Bruyne after uttering it, left KDB momentarily confounded. He averted his gaze from the Englishman’s, looking downwards.
In doing so, he noticed that Jack was wearing the same boots as him. They were purple Nike Phantom Elites, which Nike was currently encouraging all footballers who they sponsored, to transition into wearing. As the effect of inertia was strong, most Nike-sponsored players were sticking with the boots they were currently wearing, which were the fluorescent yellow and orange Phantoms that were prolific among premier league players.
Indeed, those fluoro Nike Phantoms had been Kevin’s choice of footwear to date, until Nike had rolled out these purple ones. And as De Bruyne liked to be somewhat of a trendsetter when it came to football, he had modelled said purple boots for the Manchester derby. A cursory glance around the pitch before the game started told him that he was one of the few that had actually heeded Nike’s request.
But looking down at Jack’s feet, he saw that someone else had followed Nike’s instructions.
De Bruyne’s thoughts drifted from the bizarre numerical announcement Grealish had made, to wondering if Jack had switched trainers because he was complying with Nike’s request. Or if it was because he himself was wearing them?
De Bruyne realised he still hadn’t replied to Grealish’s comment. He quickly looked back up. As he met his teammate’s eyes, he saw that Jack’s eyes were fixed on his lips.
Kevin’s sense of uncertainty was graduating into full-on discomfort. Lately, he’d noticed that Grealish was being more and more brazen about looking at his lips.
It had started after that night they’d spent watching YouTube videos in Kev’s hotel room, after the game in Bruges. Jack had touched Kevin’s lip then, and, unsure about how he felt about it, Kevin had written it off as a drunken bit of experimentation, and tried to erase it from his mind.
But following that night, Grealish kept staring at De Bruyne’s lips, and it didn’t seem as if he was remotely trying to hide it. The hungry way in which his expressive brown eyes zoned in on Kevin’s full lips, made KDB think that Jack wanted him to know he was appreciating his lips. It was a non-verbal way of putting the ball in Kevin’s court, to see how he would respond.
De Bruyne didn’t know if he ought to feel flattered or insulted by such a test. These cheap little games might work for getting girls in bars to sleep with you, he thought contemptuously, but this isn’t my first time at the rodeo.
After all, De Bruyne knew he had nice lips. His wife had commented that they were her favourite part of his body, and, in the bedroom as on the football pitch, KDB knew how to play to his strengths.
His lips, and the way he used them, were largely to thank for the fact that he’d gotten his wife pregnant three times in just a few years.
De Bruyne decided that he didn’t really want to do this dance with Grealish. The far too on-the-nose shirt number maths, the mimicking him in wearing the purple studs, and the pointed way Grealish kept eyeing his lips… De Bruyne wasn’t sure if Grealish wanted to be him, or be with him.
‘Jack,’ Kevin said, placing his hand in front of his mouth self-consciously, ‘You need to stop this’.
‘Stop what?’ Grealish enquired, a little too coquettishly.
‘This... everything,’ spluttered Kevin, and for a second, he worried that he’d constructed it all in his head. But he quickly regained his sense of self, and continued. ‘The staring at my lips for one. It’s making me uncomfortable.’
‘Oh sorry, I didn’t realise I was doing that,’ Grealish replied, but he was fooling no-one, because his eyes shot up to meet Kevin’s eyes as he said it.
‘And what you just said now about the numbers. And you’re even wearing the same boots as me,’ De Bruyne went on, although he realised that he probably sounded a bit hysterical.
‘Nike told us to wear these boots,’ Grealish said reasonably, and De Bruyne was almost impressed at how quick he was on his feet.
‘Yeah, but no-one’s changed their boots, apart from me,’ De Bruyne said. Oh God, he thought. He really was starting to sound deranged now. Like he wanted to act as a gatekeeper over who got to wear the purple Nike Phantoms.
But he knew he wasn’t imagining things. The issue was so much bigger than just matching boots, and he suspected Jack knew it.
Before Grealish could argue his case further, De Bruyne said, ‘Jack, I think you’re a nice guy and everything, but I think we should just, you know, cool it, for a while? I just find your attention a bit… overwhelming right now. Can you just give me some space?’
Jack Grealish’s usually smiling eyes looked devastated. As Kevin watched his teammate to observe the impact of his words, he thought it was like someone had shot a deer.
‘If that’s what you want, Kevin,’ Grealish muttered, and slouched off.
That was the last thing they’d said to each before they’d departed for the international break, and De Bruyne hadn’t been able to stop thinking about it.
On one hand, he knew he was in the right, to a degree. If a colleague, in any capacity, football, or otherwise, makes you feel uncomfortable, you should call them out on it. Grealish’s staring was increasing in frequency and intensity, and the longer KDB went without telling Jack to stop, the more emboldened the Englishman got with his suggestive looks.
But being in isolation had forced Kevin De Bruyne to carry out a full audit of his feelings. And the more he thought about it, the more he realised that he had been too harsh to Grealish. As he tried to unpack why, De Bruyne realised, with horror, that this had been for a few reasons, one of which had nothing to do with the player himself.
During Kevin De Bruyne’s ill-fated stint at Chelsea, there had a heavily-publicised, and extremely unfortunate incident, wherein his clubmate and fellow countryman Thibaut Courtois, had slept with De Bruyne’s then-girlfriend.
Not that Chelsea had been desperate to keep KDB on their books anyway, but that indiscretion on Courtois’ part made it even easier for the club’s board to decide to sell De Bruyne, as it was simply bad vibes to have them both on the same team.
Ostensibly, Courtois had ‘won’, and De Bruyne had felt extremely aggrieved at how the club, Courtois, and his ex had treated him.
Since then, KDB had landed on his feet. He’d met a woman who was far better match for him than the flighty ex. He played really well at Wolfsburg, so much so, that City were clamouring to have him, and with renewed confidence in a Man City shirt, De Bruyne knew that he’d accrued more than enough impressive performances, to fully expunge the moniker of being a ‘Chelsea reject’.
De Bruyne had, on the surface, forgiven Courtois for his transgression. It was the pragmatic thing to do, mainly for the harmony of the Belgium national team, where both men were starters. But deep down, it wasn’t the sort of thing you let go, and Kevin was fuming.
There was nothing courteous about sleeping with a teammate’s girlfriend, De Bruyne thought, making an ironic play on the translation of ‘Courtois’.
And of course, the goals that KDB had scored against Courtois, when he’d faced Chelsea or Real Madrid, had given him extra satisfaction.
But Kevin was realising that, whilst he was in a good place now, professionally as a footballer, and in his personal life with his wife and three kids he adored, the Courtois incident had burnt him more than he’d care to admit.
Because Jack Grealish had done nothing but show his admiration for Kevin, yet KDB had constantly kept him at arm’s length, questioning the authenticity of Jack’s affection for him.
True, he occasionally indulged Jack’s crush on him, such as by tickling him or sharing a few beers with him, but that had mainly been out of curiosity, or sport. Kevin was intrigued as to just how much Jack liked him, and it had fuelled his ego to see Jack’s cheeks flush with pleasure whenever he was in his presence.
De Bruyne knew that Grealish was one of the most fancied men in England, right now. So to be the object of Grealish’s fanboying, axiomatically, made him feel pretty special, too.
But, even when the two had shared a moment, such as the aftermath of the tickling incident, or the way Jack had caressed his lips that night in the hotel, De Bruyne hadn’t allowed himself to moon over what happened, and savour the memory too much.
In not letting himself get carried away, De Bruyne realised that he’d been keeping a margin of prudence around his heart. Past painful memories were now affecting his present relationships, even if the perpetrator in the past and the person in the present were completely independent.
He was keeping his heart shielded, as a form of self-preservation. Once bitten, twice shy, and all that. But in being so careful, he was only living half a life.
Just as KDB unlocked this realisation, he reached another.
Yes, the way Grealish kept feasting his eyes on De Bruyne’s lips was making him feel uncomfortable. But it wasn’t because KDB didn’t like the way his teammate kept looking at his lips.
It was because he did like it.
And, if Kevin was being totally candid with himself, he had to admit that his telling Jack off for looking at his mouth so much, rendered him a bit of a hypocrite. For, as much as Grealish liked staring at KDB’s lips, KDB equally liked looking at Jack’s pretty eyes.
The only difference was, Kevin was much shrewder at being able to steal glances at said eyes, when Jack didn’t realise.
Or, if the two were talking, Kevin could disguise it as ‘making eye contact’.
Sighing as he packed his suitcase to return to England, De Bruyne wondered how he could have so much perception on the pitch, but be so muddled when it came to matters of his own heart.
KDB couldn’t believe that it took him getting covid to finally confront himself about his latent feelings towards Jack Grealish. Now that he admitted them to himself, he was somewhat terrified. But he also felt more liberated than he had felt for a very long time, being able to finally admit the truth.
But first thing’s first. He owed that poor boy an apology.
On returning to Manchester, KDB was delighted to train with his teammates again. After a few drills in the morning, he found an opportune moment, while he and Jack Grealish were alone.
Grealish, honouring De Bruyne’s brusque command before the international break, was studiously silent, although his eyes gave away his sense of hope.
‘So, Jack….’ Kevin began, suddenly feeling rather awkward. He wasn’t used to being the one trying too hard to make conversation. ‘I heard 10 plus 7 makes 17, no?’
Grealish nodded, confused. Why was Kevin parroting back the words that had gotten him trouble over three weeks ago?
‘Nice boots, by the way’, De Bruyne smiled. ‘I see some of our other teammates have started wearing them now. But I know we were the first’.
Jack Grealish started to understand what Kevin De Bruyne was doing. This was the closest he was going to get in terms of a mea culpa from Kevin, for how short he’d been with him, before the internationals.
'Yeah,’ Grealish said tentatively. Then, before he could stop himself, he asked ‘Are you okay Kev? I heard Pep say you couldn’t taste anything’.
‘Yeah, having coronavirus was pretty rubbish,’ De Bruyne said, with cheery resilience. ‘I had all the symptoms, which I didn’t enjoy, I was really bored and lonely. I missed my teammates as well. I missed… you.’
KDB said that last word so quietly, it was barely perceptible. Fortunately, Jack Grealish had been watching his teammate’s lips, so he didn’t miss the crucial word. His face broke into a big grin.
‘I missed you as well Kev,’ he admitted.
As the two players hugged, De Bruyne knew it was time to break down that barrier around his heart. Something about the eager, affectionate way Grealish was nuzzling his face against him and embracing him tightly, told him that there was no need to doubt the legitimacy of the Englishman’s feelings toward him.
Kevin could sense Jack’s love for him, emulating from his body. The way Jack was touching him, the smile on his face. Even the studied silence from Grealish, when they had first been re-acquainted that morning, as he was trying to refrain from talking to Kevin, yet KDB could intuit that Jack was dying to ask him how he was, told him, that it was time to put the unsavoury Courtois memories to bed.
Nothing of that sort was going to happen from Jack Grealish.
The margin of prudence was no longer required.