Author: Guede Mazaka
Something hit Raúl like a sack of bricks. Actually, that was what he thought it was at first, but then he realized that one, it was moving and two, it was whining. “Cesc.”
“Sleepy.” Cesc burrowed harder, his knee soundly thumping Raúl’s thigh and his arms banging just about everything between Raúl’s chin and top of the head. He seemed to have his eyes tightly shut, since he couldn’t figure out how to get under the blankets and eventually just gave up, slumping down with his bony joints expertly inserted in the most uncomfortable places. His head sank into the pillow so only a little of his slack-open mouth could be seen.
On the other side, Iker was just realizing they’d been invaded and was lifting his head. Then Cesc moved and Iker put that back down fast, grimacing and jerking. “Ow.”
“Sorry.” Black squiff of hair moving down, then suddenly pushing forward to get up into Raúl’s hair. When he shoved at Cesc’s shoulder, the other man rolled right over Raúl’s other arm and proceeded to insert his head into Raúl’s neck as far as it could go. “Actually, not. Jerks. You phone-sexed me. At work.”
“Francesc, get off.” Raúl tugged at his arm. Then he grabbed the bicep with his free hand and yanked at it.
Cesc gave. A little. But like those stretchy gooey glops they sold in toy-stores now, he’d snapped back in the next moment. And then some: he grumbled and grabbed at Raúl through the sheets, randomly pulling and pushing at them in such a way as to get quite a bit of contact with Raúl’s groin. Some of said contact was—well, could have been good, if Raúl wasn’t in desperate need of rest himself, and some of it was just painful.
“Ow, ow, ow…” drifted over from Iker’s side. His arm flopped over once as he tried to get hold of Cesc, but somehow Cesc always twisted so he missed. “Fuck, ow…and not ow, but…okay, Cesc, don’t…fuck…not there…”
This was doing a lot to confirm Raúl’s suspicion that there was a bit of snake in Cesc’s side of the family. “Cesc.”
“Sleepy,” Cesc insistently replied. He pivoted his hips from Iker’s latest grab and his hands got hold of Raúl’s arm, which he pulled towards him and did his best to wind around.
“At least get under the sheets.” Raúl levered hard with one elbow and finally slipped his other arm free, but just as he was about to roll the annoying pest, his phone rang. He paused.
Of course, Cesc took the opportunity to snuggle closer, one arm dropping around Raúl’s waist and the other one trying to squeeze past Raúl’s hip and…and it seemed like he’d sprouted a few more while Raúl wasn’t looking. Their hands were still pushing and petting and it was getting distracting. “Uncle, tired.”
“Phone,” was Iker’s contribution. His head briefly appeared again as he sat up, yawning and rubbing at his eyes. He squinted at Raúl, then dropped back. Thankfully, he’d somehow gotten hold of Cesc and took the other man with him, much to Cesc’s yelping irritation.
Raúl just went for the phone while he could. Cesc still had a grip on his arm, but he just barely made it before the ringing got to the point where he wanted to throw the receiver cradle against the wall. “What.”
“Under. No, in—mmph—there. Mmph.” Iker’s side of the bed momentarily went still. Then it started shaking in a series of short sideways jerks. “Mmm…”
*It’s Freddie. The labels fell off my pill bottles and I can’t tell which is the painkiller for my stitches and which is for my migraines.*
The sheets had humped up to mostly hide the other two, so Raúl knew when Iker had shoved Cesc underneath them when he suddenly had a squirming, groping thing shoved up against him. Again. Without so many layers in between. He put out an arm, but Cesc just wound around it again, not breaking a beat in his attempts to suck out Iker’s tongue. At least Iker seemed to be holding his own there.
“How the hell do they fall off? They’re taped on. They’d only come off if you peeled them, and—never mind, I don’t want to know.” A hand bumped into Raúl’s hip, then pushed up till it was wandering around under his shirt. He reached around and tugged at it, only to have Iker move it to his shoulder for some reason.
He looked over just in time to see Cesc stiffen, then drop his head back. The other man used the arm he had around Iker’s neck to keep Iker off as he frowned. “Wait. Why is it damp here?”
“Um…oh. Must’ve soaked through the top sheets,” Iker muttered, so tired he wasn’t embarrassed.
Embarrassment would’ve meant more tact, though. Cesc’s eyes narrowed and he yanked hard on Raúl’s arm. “I’m on the wet spot? I don’t want to be on the wet spot! Ew! I can’t sleep on it!”
“I don’t know,” Raúl muttered, sliding out the elbow he’d been using to prop himself up. He figured mumbling into the pillow was the appropriate tone for the situation. “I write the prescription. I’m not the pharmacist. I don’t see the pills.”
*Oh, c’mon. Look, the faster you answer, the quicker you can get back to…whatever the other people with you are doing.*
Iker opened his mouth. Shut it. Narrowed his own eyes, which made Cesc shut up and warily look at him.
“I’m tired,” Iker said after a moment. He sounded very calm. And he very calmly darted down before Cesc could stop him, and kissed Cesc so hard that Raúl could hear their teeth click against each other. Cesc moaned and thankfully let go of Raúl’s arm so the blood could go back into it, and then the two of them rolled off so it was somewhat easier to carry on a professional conversation.
Not that it, or Ljungberg, improved Raúl’s temper. “Get a pen and a pad of paper. I’m going to give you the number of the pharmacist, and you’re going to call and ask yourself. Ready? I’m only repeating this once.”
He rattled off the prescription names, just in case that had fallen out of Ljungberg’s skull as well, and then the number. Then he slammed down the phone while Ljungberg was still cursing and turned over, only to get another body dropped on him. “Francesc!”
“Um, no, not him,” Iker grunted. His knee thumped down rather high on Raúl’s thigh and he muttered an apology, and now Raúl was awake enough to still feel guilty over all the trouble Iker had had, from lack of sleep to the ‘Nando thing, and well, Iker happily took Raúl’s return apology for a few minutes. Then he slid off, saying something about his back, and half-turned.
Iker paused that way. After a moment, Raúl mustered up the effort to lean over the other man and look for himself.
At first all he saw was a bunch of humped sheets where Iker had been lying before. Then his eyes slowly traced out the form of a body wrapped in them, going from the suggested curve of an ass sticking towards them up to a little bit of black hair sticking out from the top. The lump slowly moved up and down in the middle, and as they watched, even emitted a soft contented sigh. “Mmm…’night,” Cesc mumbled.
“He’s…” Iker cocked his head “…that was good. Really good.”
Raúl looked at him. Then Raúl sighed and pushed himself off the bed. “Go to sleep. I’ll get another sheet to put over the middle.”
* * *
“If you smirk at me again, I’ll suffocate you with the throw-pillow.” Jens picked up his plate to keep the food from being shaken off by the impact of Robin flopping onto the other half of the couch. On the TV, the news anchor was just sending it to some beat reporter standing near the scene of a drive-by shooting, which had happened near a popular club. It looked like the war to succeed Moggi was escalating.
Robin didn’t say anything. Instead he stretched out, got his head on Jens’ lap before Jens could put the plate back, and made a disturbingly coo-like contented noise. When Jens shoved at his shoulder, he grabbed Jens’ knee and twisted to rub his cheek along Jens’ thigh. Then he arched, but almost immediately winced, his other hand drifting down between his legs.
He’d been acting like that all day, lazily limping around with a sometimes absentminded, sometimes acute-minded but always smug look on his face. “I almost don’t want to fuck you again if you’re going to act like this.”
“Yeah, right. You enjoy watching that just as much as you enjoy tossing me up against things,” Robin mumbled to Jens’ knee. He poked it, then patted it somewhat like a playful kitten. “Why the hell do you have throw-pillows around, anyway? Just so you can threaten to stifle people?”
Jens finally balanced his plate on the sofa-arm and resumed eating. “I don’t threaten, I do.”
A couple moments of blissful silence. The TV got through its report on the shooting—no fatalities—and offered its spin on events, which was fairly cockeyed. Still, it did raise enough concerns that Jens made a note to ask Freddie to redirect all that brawling energy towards getting the nightclub rackets in some sort of order. They couldn’t farm out prospects to perform in those venues if people didn’t think it was safe to come.
“I can see that,” Robin said. He thoughtlessly started to knead the far sofa-arm with his feet. At least he wasn’t wearing shoes, but right now the fabric was white and God knew what was on the bottoms of his feet. “They’re also handy for hiding stains.”
His tone wasn’t particularly clear. After swallowing his current mouthful, Jens looked down at the other man. Robin turned to look up, eyebrows arched up.
“You know, you’ve never told me to not to look up your private life. Just not to interfere with it.” Now the eyebrows came down, but Robin’s eyes remained slightly widened as he watched Jens very closely.
Shrugging, Jens picked up the remote and changed the channel to get the entertainment news. The first thing he saw was a teaser for something about Cristiano and it didn’t look too complimentary, and he had to work to swallow his irritation. “What would be the point? You’d look it up anyway. If you didn’t, I know you’d get quite a bit anyway just because people would make a point to tell you.”
“Hey, it’s not like I go around blabbing that I’m getting it from you on a daily basis.” Brief return of that wide, supremely satisfied grin. “More often, actually. Nobody ever does complain about that, by the way.”
“That’s wonderful. It makes me feel so much better about myself,” Jens deadpanned.
Robin made a face, then a weak attempt at headbutting Jens’ stomach. He mostly lost interest when Jens curled his hand around Robin’s neck and started rubbing his thumb in circles along the line of it and the shoulder. “Asshole. People do go out of their way to mouth off about you, though. I wonder wh—”
“If you’ve got a question, ask already. Stop pulling the smart-mouth routine and interrupting my dinner.” Jens didn’t want to chance getting his dinner all over the floor or himself, so he stopped massaging Robin’s shoulders and returned his hand to securing his plate. The entertainment show on the TV was doing some review of Cristiano’s more dubious fashion choices, which didn’t particularly go well with the food, but which at least didn’t mean Jens would be on the phone with Deco later. The man had already sworn up and down that Ronaldo’s wardrobe wouldn’t ever be a problem again.
“That whole thing you had with Ruud,” Robin finally said. He was looking at Jens again. His eyes were doing their best to burn holes into the underside of Jens’ chin. “Was it really just business? You never thought—”
That? That…seemed like it’d happened ages ago, to be honest. Dragging that out and holding it up to the fact that Jens wasn’t using the throw-pillows for the reason he kept them around…he put down his fork and looked at the man in his lap. “If I didn’t know, from the moment I met him, what a mental mess he is? He’d be somebody to fantasize about during boring board meetings.”
Robin blinked. Pursed his lips. Did a half-reasonable job of not looking piqued. He did put some effort into it.
“We already had the discussion about whether or not I’m actually interested beyond his physical appearance, so I hope to God you don’t want me to repeat it,” Jens said. “Especially since it was clear enough that you wouldn’t have minded having this arrangement with him.”
“I wouldn’t—just—” The rare flustered moment ended with Robin huffing and hauling himself around to face the TV. He stabbed a finger into Jens’ knee. “Just till I really got to know him.”
Jens felt his mouth quirk. “Aside from the part where that would’ve turned you into every other two-faced son of a bitch I’ve let into my bed, you and Ruud going at it isn’t a bad mental image.”
Robin stiffened. Then he rolled over so fast he had to dig his elbow into the sofa back to keep from smushing his face into Jens’ belly. Frowning and slit-eyed, he stared up at Jens for a long moment.
Then he suddenly relaxing, grinning broadly and tipping back his head in languid amusement. “Jens, this isn’t the office and I’m not the enemy. Don’t try pulling that mind-game shit on me. That just makes me want to rub my face into your crotch, and if you don’t want me interrupting your dinner…”
“He’s too rigid about the concept of fidelity anyway,” Jens snorted. He smiled a little himself and put another forkful into his mouth. While he chewed, he dropped his arm down to lie over Robin’s chest.
“Yeah. Him and Cristiano both…Jesus.” Shaking his head, Robin pushed himself up so his shoulders were also in Jens’ lap and Jens’ hand slid down to rest on his belly. “What about Thierry?”
Jens glanced sharply at him, but Robin’s expression seemed to be just curiosity, eyes wide open and looking at Jens without any guardedness or angry anticipation. It was a bit weird, and definitely unfamiliar. It took a moment for Jens to absorb, and even then he was…he answered while still distracted. “He’s the one person I’ve met who I thought ahead of time I’d want to live with me. But he was straight. Then, anyway. Not that that matters now—I prefer having him as a friend.”
“Thought so.” Murmuring a little, Robin pressed his cheek into Jens’ leg. Then he let up and idly picked at Jens’ trousers. “His boyfriend’s pretty delicious, though. Ever wish you could catch them making out?”
This time, Jens looked longer at him. “Why are we talking about this?”
“Because you’re eating dinner and not running around yelling at people, and I’m waiting for my programs to run,” Robin said. His shoulder twitched. “And I just want to know. What about Cesc? I mean, he’s annoying and I think he must snort sugar to be as hyper as he is, but he’s got a great ass.”
“If you don’t mind Raúl choking you to death with a tongue depressor,” Jens slowly replied.
Robin chuckled, bowing out to press his stomach into Jens’ hand. “You ever want to fuck him? He’s not bad himself, aside from that stick up his ass. I bet that growling thing he does when he’s irritated with you sounds great in bed.”
“I’ve walked in on him getting laid.” Jens made a point of filling his mouth with food right after that and chewing slowly. He finally went on just before Robin’s curiosity had him twitching badly enough to shake him off the couch. “Has a tattoo on his ankle. He actually used to smile a lot. Check out Fernando Morientes if you want to know about that. But I think I’d take Michael over him.”
“Raúl’s too short for me. Same for Fàbregas. I have enough pains in the neck as is.”
“Very funny. The German can make puns…stop looking at me like that. Kaká would be tall enough.”
“…him? Only if I wanted to commit career-suicide, with his parents. And anyway, I think he’d be the type to freeze up and I don’t have the time to hand-hold somebody through that. And Robin, don’t even—”
“Cristiano,” Robin said, nuzzling at Jens’ stomach. As if that made the thought of it any more palatable. “C’mon. You’ve never, ever wanted to just tie him down and see if whacking him with a belt a couple times would do anything?”
Jens looked at his plate and at the portion still left on it. Then he sighed and leaned forward to set it on the coffeetable. The movement forced Robin to roll with him to avoid being smothered and while Robin’s head was still on Jens’ knees, Jens got his hands behind the other man and grabbed him by the waist. “You’re thinking about this too much.”
“Well, God, if you need assurance about things then all you have to do is—”
Another thought occurred to Jens and he paused in the middle of shoving Robin between his legs. “I think I’d have you suck him off in between blows. He’d take a lot longer to crack than most people would think.”
Robin thumped down on his knees on the floor and clutched at Jens’ thighs for balance. He turned up a mock-hurt expression. “You’re a prick.”
“So everybody tells me,” Jens drawled. “Or you.”
“Yeah.” Smirk again. “Yeah, and I do enjoy that,” Robin grinned, reaching for Jens’ fly.
* * *
“Thanks, but really, I need to catch my flight.” Morten slung the strap over his bag and put his hand on the doorknob. He looked serious. He was acting serious. When Robbie pulled at the sheet he’d wrapped around himself, Morten actually didn’t glance down.
The man’s chin jerked a bit, but his eyes didn’t drop. Robbie squinted at the wall-clock again. “Jesus Christ, it’s four-thirty in the bloody morning. Even if it takes an age and a day to get through airport security now, since when did you book flights that early?”
Mouth opened. Mouth closed. Then Morten sighed and leaned back to rest his shoulders against the door. “Look, Robbie, I already pushed it to a later one. If I don’t go then I’ll never get back at this rate.”
“And…how’s that necessarily a bad thing?” Robbie asked, slipping forward. His foot caught a little on the trailing edge of the sheet, which half-ruined his attempt at a predatory stalk, but the end result was him falling on Morten for balance so it wasn’t all bad.
The other man automatically grabbed at him, so Robbie let go of the sheet and grabbed back. He got one hand on Morten’s waist and the other one on the back of the man’s head, pulling them together so he could watch Morten’s eyes go all dark and hungry. It didn’t take much nudging before that strap slid off Morten’s shoulder and down his arm, and something a bit below his waist started to poke at Robbie’s thigh.
“You did say you were on vacation, and I’ve hardly shown you the place. C’mon, Gamst…I haven’t seen you or any of the lads in ages,” Robbie murmured, letting his lips graze Morten’s ear. He felt the other man shiver and flicked out his tongue, then curled it around back behind the ear to press into the flesh there.
Morten sagged against the door and let out a low, harsh breath, his fingers flexing against Robbie’s back. But then he dragged them round and pushed at Robbie, and maybe it wasn’t all that strong but it was still definitely a refusal. “Why the hell didn’t you ever do this back in Blackburn?” he said, voice ragged. “God, I would’ve—Robbie, I’ve got to go. Please.”
After a second, Robbie moved to prop his forearms on the door and leaned back. He had a good look at the other man: good enough to make the sour taste of disappointment rise in the back of his throat. And here he’d been thinking that for once, he was going to get to start the day off without spitting bile. “Why?”
“Because I didn’t leave.” That had a queer bite to it, and so did the flash that went through Morten’s eyes. He grimaced and glanced to the side, then pushed at Robbie again, more forcefully so Robbie had to stand off. “Look, I don’t know how it’s going for you here, but I can’t do anything about it. I don’t live here, I don’t want to live here, and…I’m sorry, Robbie.”
Morten ducked his head again, rubbing at his face and then at his hair so its spikes went every which way, the gold tips splaying to reveal the earth-dark roots. He’d always been too bashful for his own good. Young, yeah, but he was old enough now to have grown out of it if he was going to lose it, and it looked like that wasn’t going to be how it went.
“Ah, I’m sorry,” Robbie finally said, ruffling Morten’s hair. Then he reached down and hiked up the sheet, which had slipped almost completely off his hips, and rewound it around himself. “It’s just been nice to have somebody around here who’s not gone nuts over the business and remembers that music’s there for you to listen to. Rio’s been a real pain in the arse lately, and since I’m still up on those assault charges, he’s being even more annoying about what I can and can’t do.”
That earned him an odd little look from Morten. “He’s…not really your type. I didn’t…you never let somebody boss you around before.”
Well, Morten hadn’t seemed to mind that or Rio, but come to think of it, the only time over the past day and a half that Robbie had seen the two together was in bed. Otherwise it was just one or the other. “Don’t like him, do you.”
“You don’t sound like you do either,” Morten shot back, eyebrow raised. He hooked up his bag-strap back onto his shoulder, then idly ran his fingers up and down it. “If you don’t like it here, why don’t you come back? You know you love it there, and with the résumé you have now the money can’t be a problem…”
“Rio’s not all bad…at least he pulls his head out of his arse and gets that this is a job, not a crusade. And well, the bossy thing’s got its good points. I noticed you caught on to that pretty quick,” Robbie shrugged. He turned to lean one shoulder against the wall, then slumped hard as a yawn took him by—well, not really a surprise. It was a fucking ungodly hour. “It’s not really that I hate it here. I just don’t get a real kick out of it, but I’ve taken a few from people that I haven’t gotten a chance to return yet. And you know me—”
Rolling his eyes, Morten reached out and lightly socked Robbie in the arm. “You and your bad habits. What happens when you realize you can’t ever give enough kicks to get even, and you’re just getting bruised all the time?”
“And I thought you had more faith in me.” Robbie shook his head in half-hearted disappointment. Then he laughed to himself, shaking his head a bit more meaningfully. “Can’t change how I am, Gamst. I’m old enough to know that by now.” He looked up at the other man. “Do wish I’d looked you up before you left. You took your time getting over the skinny young kid stage.”
Morten smiled like it hurt him a bit, his gaze flicking to Robbie’s chin and then slowly rising back up to eye-level. “Still getting over it, everyone says. Well, so I’ll still be young enough to be waiting whenever you do get fed up with things.”
Then he leaned over and gave Robbie a hard, heartfelt kiss. It trailed on a bit as he reluctantly pulled back to turn the door-knob; still dazed, Robbie moved mechanically out of the way.
“Remember you’ve got somewhere to come back to, yeah?” Morten said, butchering his attempt at Robbie’s accent. He smiled again and gave Robbie a little wave as he moved into the hall. “Good luck here, too.”
“Thanks.” There wasn’t really anything to say after that, so Robbie didn’t try to blather on like some starry-eyed girl. He shut the door and absently looked at the clock again—bloody Christ, it was early--then wandered back towards the bedroom.
It was dark and quiet, and the shuffling of his feet had odd echoes in the empty rooms. He probably had a good couple of hours before Rio showed up—twat better not kick in his door—to go drag him to meet with the solicitors. After that…well, he couldn’t do his usual work. He probably should start thinking about ways to get back at that fucking Dutch-boy of Lehmann’s.
“Too early,” Robbie muttered, staring at the bed. Then he flopped down onto it and went back to sleep.
* * *
As Ricardo stepped out of the church, the bright sun dazzled his eyes and made him duck to shield them. He blinked a few times, then dropped his hand and looked across the parking lot. Then he blinked again, almost positive that he still had to be seeing things.
But when he’d crossed the lot, Paolo was still there, elegantly arranged against a gleaming car that had a few small children staring agog at it from the street. He pulled his hands out of his pockets as Ricardo came up; one of them started to rise further before Paolo seemed to realize he didn’t have on a tie. It dropped back, then crooked so Paolo could check his watch. “Shorter service than the Masses I remember.”
“I’m not that kind of Catholic,” Ricardo blurted. He grimaced—of course Paolo already knew that—then turned as somebody hailed him. He returned the wave, hoping his smile didn’t look too strained. “I…good morning.”
“Not really. I woke up and discovered my espresso machine decided to give up the ghost last night.” Paolo shrugged and offered up a mildly embarrassed smile as he gazed across the way. “I thought I’d come and offer you a ride, but it seems I’m disrupting your day.”
“Oh—oh, no, you’re not. You’re…thank you.” Ricardo tried to take a few deep breaths without being too obvious about it. This was ridiculous, he told himself. Being surprised was perfectly normal, but being uneasy and nervous was going too far. It was Paolo, and it was Sunday, and they were merely talking by the car.
Though since it was Paolo, he immediately picked up on everything Ricardo was thinking about, and probably a few things besides that. “Of course, the absence of my morning coffee meant that I wasn’t practical enough to check directions before I drove out here. Otherwise I would have realized you only live two blocks away.”
“I do…usually walk,” Ricardo admitted, turning towards the other man. He absently loosened his tie, then started to pick at his shirt-cuffs before he caught himself. “Not that the offer’s not very welcome.”
Paolo regarded him steadily and calmly for a few moments, looking himself as if a storm would hardly ruffle his hair. Then he chuckled to himself and pushed off the side of his car, shaking his head. “All right, I’m making you uncomfortable. I’ll go—”
And Ricardo almost let him: Paolo’s hand was pulling the door lever when Ricardo grabbed his wrist. “No! No, you’re not, I’m—I was just startled. I didn’t even know you knew which church I go to.”
One of Paolo’s eyebrows flew up. His wrist crooked in Ricardo’s grip, then twisted as he curled his fingers around to wrap over Ricardo’s. He pulled downwards so Ricardo had to take a half-step towards him, his hand sliding up Ricardo’s wrist and two of his fingertips slipping along the tendons under the sleeve. “Well, you’ve tried to get me to come a few times.”
“I—” Ricardo glanced down, then quickly back up “—if you don’t want to come, you don’t have to. You’ve told me what you think about churches a few times.”
“You’re sharper when you’re surprised,” Paolo said after a moment, sounding faintly bemused. His hold gradually loosened, his fingers shifting out till his thumb was resting on Ricardo’s inner wrist instead of on them. He started to rub it in small, overlapping circles alternating with long horizontal strokes along the pulse. “The car’s in the way, Kaká. The children can’t see what we’re doing.”
Ricardo felt his face heat up a little, but managed to resist the urge to look over his shoulder. Or at the church door. “Paolo, not here.”
A flash passed through Paolo’s eyes, knowing and hard and amused without being particularly mirthful. His thumb-pad rolled down to press into the hollow of Ricardo’s palm, and then he abruptly dropped Ricardo’s hand. “When they ask next week, just tell them I’m an old family friend come to visit.”
Paolo gave Ricardo one of his wide, thoughtless smiles and reached for the car door again, and if Ricardo had been simmering before, he suddenly was absolutely boiling. Today’s sermon might have been all about the sin of wrath, but—there had only been one Jesus, and sometimes the things Paolo could do told Ricardo exactly why that was. Only the son of God could have been tolerant enough to turn the other cheek all the time.
“Don’t do this,” Ricardo began to hiss. But that wasn’t enough to express everything he felt, and so he interrupted himself by grabbing Paolo again. This time at the elbow, and as soon as he had hold of the other man, he jerked forward.
Their lips brushed together just long enough for that to be unmistakable before Ricardo forced himself back. His body would’ve liked to have continued it, and a perverse part of his mind wanted to in order to prove to Paolo—but he didn’t need to embarrass himself in public to prove his faith. And he didn’t want to kiss Paolo when he was angry. He didn’t get to very often anyway, and he didn’t want that kind of association attached to the rare moments he did have.
Paolo seemed more than a little stunned, just standing there and gazing at Ricardo as if he didn’t quite know with whom he was. Then he started to say something, but Ricardo pushed him aside and yanked open the front passenger door. Ricardo got it, shut the door, and then struggled for a moment with his lingering anger before that suddenly gave way. Drained and caught off-guard by it, he just slumped in the seat and looked out the windshield at nothing in particular.
He jerked his head when the door on the other side opened, but didn’t look at Paolo. The door shut, and Ricardo heard the clinking of keys, but instead of the revving of an engine, a sigh came. “And now what are you going to say to them next Sunday?”
“That I have my someone. If they’re as I’ve known them, none of them will have a problem with it, and if someone does, then I can switch churches. I believe in God and the Lord Jesus Our Savior, not in any given organization,” Ricardo snapped. He hated the way he sounded when he was upset and lifted his hand to cover his mouth, to try and muffle it a little. “Paolo, my faith isn’t a problem for me. I don’t want it to be a problem for you either—but that doesn’t seem to be what you think anyway. You act as if it is a problem for me, but if there is a problem, it’s—”
“Then why were you so nervous?”
Ricardo pushed his hand up over his eyes. He let it rest there for a moment before pushing it farther into his hair. His forehead felt a little warm to him. “Because I was so happy to see you, but—that always makes you nervous. I didn’t know what you’d let me do.”
After a moment, Paolo spat out something in Italian. It was too fast for Ricardo to catch, but from the sound of it, vulgarities were masking some other emotion. The engine started, and when Ricardo looked up, the other man was checking over his shoulder as he backed the car out.
“Why did you come?” Ricardo asked.
Paolo shot him a half-startled, half-hunted look that was shocking compared to the other man’s usual confident demeanor. Then he spun the wheel and slung the car into the street; Ricardo wasn’t expecting it and the momentum threw him forward. He hastily put out a hand, but Paolo had already grabbed his arm and pushed him back. Then Paolo leaned over and hooked Ricardo’s seat-belt, pulling it across him. As he did, the back of his hand brushed over Ricardo’s shoulder and chest and Ricardo had to bite his lip.
“Where are we going?” When he didn’t get an immediate answer, Ricardo reached over to tap the other man on the shoulder. But before he could, they’d pulled up in front of…they were at his apartment building. “Paolo, please, would you just—”
“I wanted to see what you did on Sundays.” Staring straight ahead, Paolo spoke so quietly that at first Ricardo didn’t even hear. When Paolo noticed, he repeated himself with the same touch of disbelief in his voice. He stretched his arms, pushing his hands into the wheel and his back into the seat, then abruptly went slack. He blinked a few times before slowly turning towards Ricardo. “I had this idea in my head…and I wanted to go see how you really were.”
His mouth was in an almost sheepish twist, but his eyes were far more defensive. And revealing, but only for a moment. Then they shuttered and he turned back. Ricardo suddenly was seized by viciously competing urges to cup his cheek and to slap him. “I hope you didn’t think I had a halo and wings.”
The side of Paolo’s mouth that Ricardo could see quirked into a generous upward curve. “Kaká, that was practically sarcasm. Do I call you angel that often?”
Answering that question wouldn’t have a point, so Ricardo didn’t. He pressed his hand to the side of his face, then dropped it beside the window. It was still relatively early so the streets weren’t too busy, but they couldn’t stay sitting here for much longer. “What do you do on Sundays?”
Paolo didn’t reply. Instead he looked out the window, his moment of levity long since having sunk into moody silence.
“Do…you want to come up? I didn’t have any other plans,” Ricardo tentatively added. He waited, watching hard for even a twitch of the shoulder, but it was as if Paolo had turned to stone.
Finally even his patience was exhausted and Ricardo had to get out, get away from the tension and into the sunshine. It might barely be warm enough for him to feel it on his skin, but at least outside he had air.
He did loiter a few more seconds by the car, but Paolo didn’t turn and so Ricardo left. Usually the ten minutes it took for him to walk back from church were the most peaceful and relaxing of his week, but today that wasn’t the case and when confronted with his door, he almost wanted to go back down. But then he shook his head, put the key into the lock, and turned it. He put one hand on the door.
Then he stopped, hearing something. Ricardo turned just as Paolo, flushed and disheveled, lunged into view. Startled, he backed up and his shoulder hit the—Paolo’s hand curved around it first, cushioning him from the door, and then long fingers twisted his head back by the hair, and Paolo was drinking the air from his lungs.
Paolo needed it badly, his gasps breaking up the kisses, and showed no mercy about taking it. Ricardo’s head spun till it fell against Paolo’s cradling hand, and then his knees went just as he grabbed the other man’s shoulders, and then Paolo was dragging him backwards through the doorway. As if coming through a mass of water, Ricardo heard the sound of the door shut. He shivered, then attempted to regain control of his feet. But something hit him in the back of his thighs, and then he swung dizzyingly through the air with only fingertip holds on Paolo’s arms to anchor himself.
His back came down on a hard surface, the jolt strong enough to make him lose hold of Paolo’s right shoulder. His arm dropped back and he badly jarred his elbow; he jerked it back to get his forearm down and pushed up, meaning to try and—but Paolo was there, flat against him from shoulders to waist, and pressing hard, mouth ruthless against Ricardo’s, and it was almost impossible to think. Ricardo was forced back on his arm, more than dizzy now, and then all the way down. Too hard—a frisson of alarm went through him and he stiffened, then tried to speak, but Paolo’s lips were forcing his to be still. He yanked at the shoulder he still held, but Paolo refused to let up, and the frisson turned into a real moment of panic. Somehow Ricardo got the strength to drag his mouth out from under Paolo’s, and when the other man attempted to follow, he yanked his head to the side.
Paolo went still and rigid, the heat of his mouth scorching the air a hair away from Ricardo’s jaw. Ricardo couldn’t hear the other man’s breathing because he was panting so hard; he stared to the side because he didn’t want to know what Paolo’s expression was like. He should have, if only so he could respond to it, try to understand…but he didn’t want to. He was afraid, and…
Something feathered over his cheek, and then Paolo laid his forehead completely against Ricardo’s jaw. The fingers in Ricardo’s hair and around his arm loosened, then slowly, regretfully stroked at the aches that immediately sprang up. “I keep wanting to think I can’t hurt you. That you might be the forgiving one after all.”
“I’m not—” Ricardo closed his eyes and swallowed “—I’m a man, Paolo. I do my best, but I have flaws and commit sins and need salvation like anyone else. And you can hurt me.” He took a deep breath, then carefully slid his arms around Paolo and turned to face the other man. “But I can forgive that. I just can’t…not feel pain.”
A long, ragged inhale, and then Paolo raised his head. He pulled his hands around to lightly curve about Ricardo’s face, staring down with glittering eyes so green that they seemed to stain the whole world that color. He pressed his lips brutally together, almost till they whitened, but his fingertips were soft as down as they moved from Ricardo’s temples to cheekbones to lips. His thumbs passed over the lines of Ricardo’s jaw, and then he bent down again.
His mouth barely was there before he lifted up, leaving a faint impression of soft warmth behind. Ricardo inhaled slightly and tilted his head back till their lips were touching again, and then when he felt Paolo move, he opened his mouth a little. Paolo eased back down, his tongue slipping almost timidly into Ricardo’s mouth—though Ricardo was hard-pressed not to give up right then and there. He sank back, now grateful for the support of the table beneath him, and Paolo abruptly turned aggressive, pushing down and taking Ricardo’s mouth instead of meeting it. But Paolo wanted it this time, and Ricardo gladly let him.
Paolo could do so many…his tongue would slide across the top of Ricardo’s mouth, and it would be like a nail running over the taut strings of his nerves. And he’d barely start to recover when a hand would stroke up beneath his suit-jacket to draw out a shiver for each of his ribs, or it’d trace damp circles from the sweat beading at his hairline into the soft flesh behind his ear. He groaned and clumsily pushed his hands down Paolo’s back, then sucked at Paolo’s lip without really knowing…but Paolo seemed to like it well enough, even if Ricardo knew he wasn’t keeping his teeth away and he was tracking unappealing spit down the other man’s chin.
Then Paolo put his hand on Ricardo’s hip, pinning it down, and Ricardo couldn’t help but jerk again. His breath vanished and he felt every muscle in his body individually tense. This time it wasn’t Paolo at all, but—Ricardo tried to relax, but by the time he had, Paolo was already pushing up and away. “Wait. I’m sorry—”
“Don’t apologize,” Paolo said, almost snapping. Then he grimaced and shook himself, eyes squeezed shut. He raked one hand through the wavy strands that’d fallen into his face, then opened his eyes and looked down at Ricardo. “Well, all right. So we’ll stick with anything above the waist for now.”
Ricardo wanted to duck his head, but that wouldn’t work when he was lying down. He felt his flush change to a different kind of heat and wished he could anyway. “I meant what I said about…we could…”
“I could. The ‘we’ is still a work-in-progress, I think.” Paolo shrugged and did a very good job of not seeming disappointed. Then he looked more closely at Ricardo and for some reason, found whatever he saw funny enough to smile. He stood all the way up and moved back so an embarrassed, annoyed and struggling for calm Ricardo could sit up, and then he dipped back in to drop an arm around Ricardo’s waist. “It’s fine, Ricardo. I have to ask you to forgive me for enough without having to ask you to for butchering that for you.”
“I’m sorry,” Ricardo said again.
Paolo looked at him. Then he reached up and took Ricardo’s chin between two fingers before soundly kissing him. The world spun a little and Ricardo blindly lifted his arm; he realized after it’d swung around Paolo’s neck that the other man had shifted to accommodate that.
“I usually call my parents in Milan, but other than that, I don’t really have any Sunday routines,” Paolo said. He tightened his arm around Ricardo so his palm flattened against Ricardo’s belly. Very casual, a safe distance above the belt-buckle, but something about the gesture made Ricardo’s breath catch. Paolo’s eyes darkened a little, then dropped as he idly picked up Ricardo’s hand. “I suppose today I could make a nuisance of myself on your couch.”
Ricardo twisted his hand around, much like Paolo had done in the church parking lot, and once he had Paolo’s hand, he pulled it to just before his mouth. “You could do that every Sunday if you wanted,” he quietly told Paolo.
Then he kissed the side of Paolo’s thumb. The other fingers suddenly flexed down and Ricardo heard Paolo inhale sharply; he almost wanted to himself, but instead turned Paolo’s hand to press his mouth to each knuckle. At the smallest, he left his lips there while pulling Paolo’s hand around till Paolo’s little finger slipped into his mouth. Then he hesitated, not really sure what to do now.
After a moment, Paolo slowly tugged his finger out of Ricardo’s mouth. He stroked the tip of his ring finger along Ricardo’s lower lip, then turned it and Ricardo parted his lips to take it in. This time, Paolo crooked his finger as he withdrew it so its tip ran along Ricardo’s tongue; with the third finger, Ricardo tentatively curled his tongue around it, tasting the salt trapped in the creases of the skin around the joint.
Paolo didn’t let him get to the index finger. The other man suddenly yanked his hand away, then just as suddenly spun Ricardo towards him and feverishly kissed him. “God,” Paolo said. And “angel” and then harsh and rough, “love you.”
Then he pulled back again, his hands moving to Ricardo’s arms and then around Ricardo’s back as he buried his face in Ricardo’s neck. A violent tremble went through him, and immediately afterward he went still as the grave. Ricardo rubbed at his shoulders and back till the muscles slowly began to unknot, letting his own head rest on Paolo’s shoulder. He looked briefly heavenward before settling thankfully into the embrace.
* * *
“…Titi, what are you doing with those?”
“You have fuzzy bunny slippers.”
“My niece gave them to me two Christmases ago. They look absurd but they’re actually quite comfortable and warm…and not really meant for puppeteering. I can’t promise that my feet were always clean when I put them on.”
“Oh, I can wash my hands later.” Hippity-hops slippers across the table. “Yes, this one definitely has more.”
“More va-va-voom, since it won. See, I was having this debate with Freddie the other day when we were watching this ridiculous car commercial that had a rabbit and a greyhound in it, and…Bobby, I’m still sane. You don’t have to put the knives in the cabinet.”
“I see you get rather silly when there are lawsuits to be discussed.”
“It was over a dart game. If I didn’t get silly, I’d be down in the hospital trying to strangle John Terry. I—aw, Bobby. I wasn’t hurting the slippers, I prom—”
Virgin bunny-slipper eyes are discreetly shielded with a hand while its partner deftly manipulates Thierry’s shirt out of the way.
“And I see the knives had nothing to do with the bunny slippers.”
“I know it looks very dramatic in the movies, but if I’m pushing someone against the counter so I can have my way with them, I’d rather not have to worry about falling kitchen implements. Titi, if you could just--yes.”
* * *
Deco gradually became aware that somebody else was in the room. He soundlessly pushed one hand beneath his pillow and waited till his fingers had run into something hard before he turned around. He’d made sure to give his eyes plenty of time to adjust to the dark, but even so, it took a moment for him to process the silhouette. “Cristiano?”
“This doesn’t count as violating curfew, does it? It’s not like I left the suite,” Cristiano said. He was still dressed like he’d been when he’d went to bed several hours ago.
“No, but you just woke me up at one-fifty in the morning.” It was tempting, but Deco pulled his hand off his knife and pushed himself into a sitting position. His shirt rode up as he did and he absently pushed it back down, then yanked at the sheets till he was comfortable. “What?”
Cristiano looked at him for a couple seconds. The light was mostly from the hallway so Cristiano’s expression wasn’t easily visible, but enough city glare was coming in through the window for Deco to know it wasn’t the usual sullen face. “If I behave, would you really let me see Ruud again? At least talk to him on the phone?”
This probably meant that in the morning, Cristiano would be back to his usual over-dramatic, uncooperative self. Now Deco really wanted to go back to sleep. “What do you think?”
“I think it doesn’t matter what I do. I won’t be good enough because I’m not some brainless, spineless kid,” Cristiano replied. His voice had an edge to it, but he mostly sounded pensive.
“No, you definitely have brains and backbone.” Unfortunately, that meant that they were beyond a doubt having this conversation now, and Deco could kiss his good night’s sleep goodbye. He covertly rubbed his eyes while brushing the hair out of his face and began mentally rearranging his schedule to include a couple catnaps on the plane. “Look, if I have to tell you to behave, then you’re never going to win me over because I’ll be too busy giving orders. Now go back to sleep. I’m tired of hearing the make-up girl bitch about covering up the dark circles under your eyes.”
He laid back down without thinking for a moment that Cristiano actually would do that, but Deco had to admit he wasn’t expecting Cristiano to suddenly throw himself over and straddle Deco’s waist. Deco grabbed the headboard and yanked himself back up, only to have Cristiano attempt to force him down using sheer weight.
A shove at the other man’s groin did wonders, and while he was at it, Deco also got Cristiano’s wrist and twisted it hard. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? Is this your idea of a seduction?”
“Wouldn’t I have to like you for that?” Cristiano snapped, yanking at his wrist. He swore, but when it was clear that Deco would break the damn thing if he had to, Cristiano grudgingly settled down. “I just wanted to get your attention, because I wanted to check something and it’s important and I want a straight answer.”
“No wonder there are so many tabloids calling you a man-whore,” Deco muttered. And they had two big interviews scheduled for tomorrow—the headache was already starting just thinking about it.
Cristiano flinched hard, but impressively enough, managed not to react to that. “You’ll respect me if you don’t have to give me orders, and if you’re not telling me what to do, then…that just leaves me as the one to give orders.”
“Congratulations. You’ve finally figured out how singers and agents are supposed to work.” Deco irritably dropped Cristiano’s hand and used the headboard to start scooting out from under the other man.
Which Cristiano let happen, but not because he was sitting around slack-jawed and stunned. He cocked his head, then put his hands down and lifted himself to help Deco out. “Do you like doing this?”
“Doing what?” Deco grunted. He bent around and got his left knee and foot out from under Cristiano. Then he twisted to get his right leg out.
“Barking at people, acting like an asshole…I never was interested in that stuff. I was happy to let Ruud and Lehmann take care of it—Lehmann seems to live on it, anyway,” Cristiano said, sounding thoughtful. He shifted to put his weight off his legs. “I don’t think I really know whether I’d like it or not.”
Deco almost missed it, but at the last moment his instincts told him to listen and look more carefully. He tried to move so he could see Cristiano’s expression better, but stopped when Cristiano apparently noticed and tilted to make it easier. “I’m very good at it. I like being good at something. I don’t like to fail.”
Cristiano pursed his lips a few times, taking that in. Then he silently turned and crawled to the other side of the bed. He paused there as if he were going to ask something, but seemed to change his mind and just got off.
Once he’d walked out of the room, Deco laid back down, but not because he was going to fall asleep any time soon. First of all, he thought, he was going to have another talk with security, and another call to Fàbregas to tell him to pay more attention. And second, he was going to have to start thinking about if Cristiano started doing the smart thing. Because while that would be wonderful for him, and was actually Deco’s idea of maturation for Cristiano, Deco had no intention of getting stuck as somebody’s gofer again.