They met by chance, in a street in Manchester. Bovver was the one to notice the other man and called him from the opposite sidewalk.
The American crossed the street and reached him. They stood there stock-still, not sure about how to greet each other. Finally Matt went for a short and dry hug.
"God, Bovver... I wouldn't have recognized you if you didn't call me!
Bovver had his hair shaved off. He nodded. "That was the aim, more or less" he said with a painful smile.
"Why you here in Manchester?"
"I moved away. Could no longer live there". Even with short hair, he hadn't given up the habit of nervously running his hand over his head. "You?"
"Business trip. I'm leaving tomorrow."
"What do you do now?"
"I'm a journalist"
He said that with carelessness, but his look meant everything. Bovver sighed. He seemed to be about to say something, instead he swallowed, distorting his lips.
"How are you?" Matt said after a brief silence. It wasn't a question which required a great answer. Bovver's face seemed to be made in wax. His cheeks, once already sunken, were even leaner.
Bovver shrugged his shoulders. "What can I say..." and he truly didn't know what to say, 'cause he remained silent for quite a moment. "I go on. Sometimes I wonder why, but I try to".
Matt nodded knowingly. "And you, how are you?" Bovver asked.
It seemed to him that there was nothing else left to say. "Well, it's been nice to see you" he said, about to leave.
"How about we go take a beer?" Bovver said with a strange flush. "If you're not busy" he went on, more uncertainly.
Matt was caught off guard. "Sure, why not".
Bovver raised a smile with resembled very much a guilty smile.
Five minutes later they were sitting face to face at a table in the nearest pub, with two jugs between them.
"Like the old times" Matt ventured. The sentence sounded sadder than he would've wanted.
Bovver didn't reply. Again he seemed to swallow something that was impossible to say out loud.
Short on conversation topics, Matt started drinking and so did the other man.
"Matt..." Bovver said at once. His glass was almost empty. He inhaled deeply to take heart. "I'm sorry. No single breath I take goes without me thinking of what I've done. I wish I could do something to make it up, to you, to everybody, but there's nothing I can do. I'm sorry."
Only when he was done speaking he raised his eyes to look at Matt. He looked at him as if he was imploring him to say something. Like a defendant waiting for his verdict. Absolution or conviction.
Matt remained silent. He struggled to think something to say, but found nothing. He only wanted to scream, and to cry. Bovver preceded him and started crying silently.
Matt could stand no more. "None of us can do anything" he said. It was not much of a phrase, it wasn't even comforting, but it was the only thing he could think of.
Bovver seemed to content himself. "You deserve a lot, Matt, and I wish you to get all the best from life" he said with the steadier voice he could find. He stood up and dried his tears with his sleeve. "I... now I have to go".
There was something more than despair in him, now Matt could see it clearly, it was something that went much further. The waiting of the end. A calm, longing waiting of the end. It hurt him, for some reason. "Bovver" he stopped him. The other stood there, looking almost frightened of listening to what he had to say. "You know, Pete would've said... stand your ground and fight".
Bovver shivered hearing that name. He looked down. "He would've said many things. When I watch a good game, I think that he won't watch it. When I drink a beer I think, he will drink no other beers anymore. Every single morning I wake up thinking that he won't wake up. Every time I hear our anthem I seem to hear his voice... yes, Pete surely would've said that. You don't know what I'd give to hear him say that even just one fucking time. I'd give everything, I'd give my life." He said all of this in a low, empty voice, looking at the floor. Matt couldn't stop the tears from sliding down his eyelashes. Every word Bovver said spoke about him too.
"Fuck..." he cursed to himself, drying his eyes in anger. Anger towards Bovver, towards himself, towards life that fucked them both.
"I'm sorry, I didn't... I'm sorry" Bovver said. He stood looking at him for a second, then turned and went away, almost in a hurry.
Matt didn't feel like finishing his beer any more. He didn't feel like doing anything any more. "Stand your ground and fight" he repeated to himself. He tried to recall how it felt to be brave. He tried to find again that strength Pete had taught him. He barely could find the strength to stand up and leave the pub, and he thought it was the best achievement he could hope to get.