|Fool for You
Author: Guede Mazaka
Iker hadn’t actually gone home yet. The film festival had been four days long, so he’d had that much clothing with him and he’d driven in late anyway, so he’d just used the first twenty-four-hour coin laundry he’d seen. Then he’d gone to his apartment building and parked his car, but he’d spent so long sitting there and wondering what had happened and whether somebody was waiting for him and if he had to talk to them and if he wanted to talk to them that he’d fallen asleep there.
The next morning he’d had a horrible crick in his neck and legs, and it’d taken about twenty minutes of painful stretching by the side of the car before he was capable of walking. His mouth had tasted awful and he’d still been tired—one night’s sleep didn’t make up for skipping three days’ worth—but he’d had a bunch of nice-smelling laundry in the trunk of his car. And a notepad full of notes on about fifteen different movies.
After a couple minutes of trying to remember what he’d been doing, Iker concluded that it hadn’t involved getting drunk but that he also wasn’t going to fully recall anything while standing in a chilly parking garage. He collected his clothes and his notes and went on up to his apartment. The light was off, and so was his oven, which was one worry off his—
“Iker!” Something blurred out of the hallway to the right.
A second later, a punishing weight smashed into Iker’s side and sent him over, with only the laundry keeping his knees from being dislocated on impact. He felt all the air in his chest be squeezed out, only to have the clothes trap it so it came back on him almost as hard as a slap. At least it gave him time to get his arm up and keep his nose from being smashed.
“Where have you been? You were supposed to come back last night and your hotel said you’d checked out and driven out and everything. I was up all night waiting—” yawn and stretch against Iker’s hip “—for you, and I’ve got work in an hour.”
Iker folded his arms and got his elbows against the floor. Using them for leverage, he twisted round till he could finally see what was clamped to his waist. It had a peaked scruff of thick black hair, bright black eyes, and a wide, welcoming smile.
He put his head back down. He wasn’t lying completely on his side or on his back, so that was awkward and painful, but that was okay. Since he didn’t have a hang-over, the ache to make him think properly had to come from somewhere.
Cesc finally loosened his grip, but only to crawl up Iker via handfuls of Iker’s sweater. “Iker?”
“I met you in a bar, right? Is this the day after?” Iker asked.
Pause. Then Cesc scrambled the rest of the way up and grabbed Iker’s chin, turning it back and forth. He squinted his right eye, then his left. “You’re not concussed.”
“Okay, it’s not. Did I imagine the part about sleeping with your uncle?” Iker jerked his head to get his chin away from Cesc, then hitched himself out from under the other man. He got to his feet and surveyed his laundry bag—luckily, it hadn’t burst open—before swinging that up onto his shoulder. “I didn’t…I have enough trouble trying to follow up on one person, why on earth would I…and why would anybody…”
He turned around and Raúl walked out of the hallway, so apparently it’d all been real and not one of Iker’s bizarre extended dreams. Or some movie he was half-remembering.
“I need to talk to you,” Raúl said.
Iker looked at him for a second, then glanced away at the kitchen. His stomach growled a bit, reminding him that he’d skipped dinner in favor of driving home sooner. He wasn’t really sure why he’d done that, since getting back quicker wasn’t exactly going to make things better.
Cesc waved a hand in front of Iker’s face; Iker blinked, turned to look at him, and then slowly started to walk down the hall. He swerved when it looked like Raúl was going to reach towards him. “I need a shower. I’ll be a couple minutes.”
Behind him, Cesc instantly slid across the hall and was whispering urgently to Raúl, and whatever they were saying…well, Iker wasn’t going to think about it. He went into the bathroom and locked the door, then dug through his laundry bag till he had a fresh set of clothes. Then he showered. He thought a lot about the movies he’d taken in over the past few days, and how he was going to start his reviews of them, and then he happened to remember that there was a new film premiering today that he also needed to see. He’d been planning to do it later in the week, thinking that the film festival would wear him out, but he actually didn’t feel that bad. The cramps were going away the more he scrubbed at himself.
They were still talking in the hall when Iker got out and toweled himself off. He just ran the towel over his hair before getting dressed. He did give his cheeks a feel, but they weren’t that stubbly yet. Anyway, he’d just remembered he’d left his shaving kit in the car.
Iker put one hand lightly on the door and listened closely, then pushed off and pulled aside the window-blinds when he was sure Cesc was too busy yelling at Raúl—why would Raúl need help with first impressions? He did fine—to get at the latch.
The window creaked a little when Iker pushed it up, but he didn’t hear any change in the voices outside of his door. He twisted himself out and onto the fire-escape, then pushed the window back down. For a moment, he squatted there and wondered if it’d be safe just leaving it like that…but then, the bathroom door was also locked and he didn’t really have much in the bathroom. So it was fine.
When he was on the sidewalk, he realized he’d forgotten his car keys. But he did have his wallet, so he just hailed a cab. It’d be nice to get this one movie over and done with; he wasn’t really looking forward to it and now he’d be able to see something he actually wanted to see in its old time slot.
* * *
“You’re not listening to me, are you?” Ricardo sighed.
“Hmmmm?” Paolo absently shoved his sleeve up to his elbow, but didn’t turn up the cuff so as soon as he let it, it started to slide down again. The pen in his mouth spun, then stopped with a slight click as he bit down on the cap, a little bit of tooth showing beneath his lip.
He started when Ricardo reached over and pushed up his sleeve for him, gazing bemusedly as if he’d forgotten Ricardo was still there. Then a spark of understanding came into his eyes and he nodded. “Oh…no, I’m not. I’m sorry, Kaká—I thought you were done when you told me you weren’t coming down for lunch.”
Then to Ricardo’s dismay, he went back to the crossword. Riquelme swore by them, but Paolo had never seemed very interested in that or anything like that…if he wanted to waste time, he usually went to find somebody to talk to. But right now he seemed perfectly content, leaning back in one chair with his long legs propped up on a second.
“I’m not going to be in the office much at all this week,” Ricardo added. He wasn’t quite sure why, since obviously Paolo had heard him say they’d have to cancel lunch.
Paolo flicked his eyes over the top of the paper, and for a moment it looked like disappointment was flashing through them. But it was too quick for Ricardo to be sure, and anyway Paolo instantly put on a sympathetic face and took the pen out of his mouth. “Another contract issue? Bobby keeping you that busy?”
“No, he’s—we’re fine. I’m going to sit in on a couple libel suits downtown to get some courtroom experience.” The newspaper had flopped down so Ricardo could see part of it, but he tried very hard not to stare at it and figure out what had Paolo so interested.
“Well, that’s good. You always hope it never gets that far, but sometimes it does. And then you hope the judge likes your voice, since they’ll end up hearing it for weeks,” Paolo said in a light tone. He glanced down at the paper, frowned, and then snapped it straight and wrote something down on it.
He didn’t say anything—he didn’t say anything about missing their lunches and that did seem a little selfish for Ricardo to want that, but it wasn’t only him. Before, Paolo had always been talking about wanting to eat together more often, and now that Ricardo was trying to, the other man didn’t seem to care. “All right.”
The pen paused, then lifted, and so did Paolo’s head. He looked calmly at Ricardo, but so deeply that Ricardo instinctively tried to duck his head. Then he sighed, the right side of his mouth ruefully quirking. “This is why they never give me young hopefuls for my assistants. I’m trying to work out something here…I think somebody from Virgin Records is trying to unsettle a singer of ours and it seems they’re passing secret messages in the newspaper crossword. Haven’t figured out what the latest one is yet, though.”
“Oh. Oh.” Now Ricardo wanted to duck his head out of embarrassment. He knew well enough that a working Paolo never looked like he was doing much, and so that was why a lot of people called him overrated. “I…if you’d told me, I wouldn’t have stayed to bother you.”
“Well, I’m not really getting anywhere,” Paolo muttered, shooting the newspaper an annoyed look. He reached to the side and pulled a file towards him, then flipped it open to show a stack of crossword clippings, each mounted on a sheet of paper with dates and place names neatly typed beneath them. “It’s a good thing you’ve got something to do, since this’ll be on my mind till it’s settled.” His fingers slowed, papers riffled between them. “Look, I’m still not sure about this.”
Ricardo blinked, then shrugged at the sudden topic change. “I know. We talked about this. I’m fine with—”
“Taking it one step at a time’s only easier for me. I’m trying to do something to make it easier for you. You have…ridiculously high expectations, Kaká, and I already know I’m going to fail most of them.” Paolo carefully picked through the file till he’d come to the sheet for which he was looking. He pulled it out and held it up next to the current crossword, then put it aside to write down another clue.
“I don’t know why you talk so negatively about yourself. Just the fact that you’re thinking of ways to be nice to me—even though that’s not necessary—should tell you something,” Ricardo said. He watched Paolo’s fingers press against the newspaper, the tips picking up blackish smudges from the print. “And I don’t have high expectations. All I want is you, however you are.”
Paolo grimaced, then flipped his wrist to check his watch. “Please don’t say that includes copying my bad habits. You’re not established yet so you can’t afford to be late to things.”
“I know what time it is,” Ricardo retorted sharply. More sharply than he’d meant; he winced and as he did, glimpsed Paolo’s unconcerned façade develop a crack.
He immediately looked up and caught the other man in the act, those wonderful green eyes widening and those long fingers going flat and stiff against the newspaper. Lips tightening, Paolo watched like a wary, wounded animal as Ricardo started out of his chair.
He looked so threatened that Ricardo changed direction and just brushed his lips against the other man’s cheek instead of against the mouth. Kissing Paolo was beautiful and overwhelming and enough for the rest of Ricardo’s life, but in order to get the other man to that point, it seemed like Ricardo had to trap him into it. And afterwards Paolo always turned withdrawn—not even bothering to put a polite face on it—and moody, and Ricardo wanted to see him happy. Even if inside Ricardo wanted to slide his mouth over and down that little space so badly that it hurt like a knife in the belly.
“If you want me to leave, you can always say so,” Ricardo said as he backed off.
He was nearly far enough away to see Paolo’s expression when fingers wrapped tightly around his arm and made him stop. A moment, and then Paolo jerked him back so roughly that he gasped and stumbled a little, his hand hitting the edge of the desk. He grabbed onto that while Paolo took possession of his mouth, bruising and hard, hand pushing down on the back of Ricardo’s neck even as he bent. His nails screamed as he dug them into the unyielding desk.
Then Paolo softened, his lips sliding over and under Ricardo’s lower lip and then gently pulling, and Ricardo abruptly tipped to the side as his knee gave out. He caught himself on the chair arm, but not before he’d broken the join of their mouths. He moved back as soon as he was able, only to be stopped this time by two hands slipping around to cup either side of his jaw.
Paolo ran his thumbs over Ricardo’s lower lip, teasing an ache into it, then stroked his fingers down to settle against Ricardo’s throat. He looked up, the emotion in his eyes so raw and intense that Ricardo had to look down before even identifying it, then turned his head to kiss Ricardo on the cheek. His lips came down gently and lingered, burning their outline into Ricardo’s skin and if that was what it was like for Paolo…
“Come to dinner,” Paolo murmured.
Ricardo’s eyes had fluttered shut. He realized that now because they flew open as his throat clenched shut. He swallowed hard, trying to open it, but in the end had to simply nod. Then he turned his head, but Paolo was already pulling away. He put up a hand and Paolo seized it, then tipped it back and forth while looking at it as if not quite sure what to—Paolo abruptly put Ricardo’s hand to his mouth. At first Ricardo thought the other man was going to kiss it, but then Ricardo’s whole finger disappeared past Paolo’s lips and landed in a furnace that sent Ricardo half-melted and gasping against the desk again.
The heat suddenly vanished, leaving him bitten with the cold that swept in. He started to say something, but Paolo was already standing. The other man put his hands very correctly on Ricardo’s waist and helped him stand, then gave him a quick, impersonal dusting before sitting back down. Paolo didn’t look ruffled at all. “What time is it, Kaká?” he asked in a pleasant tone.
Time…time for Ricardo to be on the late side if he didn’t hurry. He snatched up his briefcase from the floor and rushed to the door. Though once in the hall, he had to stop; he was still too out of breath and his collar felt too tight and sweat was starting up beneath his shirt so he wished he could just pull out the tails and flap them to get some cool air between his clothes and his skin.
A sharp, quick bark came from within the office. A curse, Ricardo thought…he eased back and looked inside, but Paolo was sitting quietly with the crossword spread out before him again. The other man’s hair was a little rumpled on one side compared to a moment ago.
He knew Ricardo was there. Ricardo didn’t know how he knew, since it didn’t look like it, but he did and he was as certain about it as he was about the existence of God. And…and he quietly edged out of the way and started off again, thinking hard.
* * *
Luckily Iker was sitting on his phone, or else the women sitting behind him who’d already snapped at him not to block their view would’ve had something else to yell about. He hastily fumbled it out, meaning to press the ‘silence’ button, but when he looked down at the screen he saw that he’d pressed to answer instead. He—he slouched down in his seat and put it to his ear. “Hello?”
*Iker, please don’t hang up because first I want to say I know you’re mad—hey, are you mad at me? Because I’m sorry I didn’t call, but well, I walked in on Raúl and El Moro and I was really upset afterward, but anyway, sorry, and I’m not mad at you, by the way. If you’re thinking that. I’m not sure, but just so you know, because I really miss you and I want you to come back.*
“Um…damn it…” Crunched into the seat like this was making something in the cushion stab Iker in the ass, but he couldn’t move any more without making his notepad fall off. “No…I’m not mad at you.”
Cesc blew out such a loud sigh of relief that the phone popped in Iker’s ear; he winced, then hastily glanced back to see if those women were glaring at him. His knee unconsciously went up to balance and he felt his notepad starting to slip. He made a grab at it and kicked at the floor. Not that loud, but he still thought he heard an annoyed snort from above and sank lower down.
*Oh, good. Because, you know, when you sneak out of the bathroom window like that? That makes me worry. I mean, I didn’t kiss anybody I wasn’t supposed to,* Cesc said, a touch of accusation creeping into his voice.
“Sorry about that. I just didn’t—really know what to do. And there’s this other movie I have to watch, and…” Well, work had been about the only thing left in Iker’s mind that had still made sense. “But no, I wasn’t…I didn’t think you were dumping me.”
*Okay. Good. Because I’m not. I’ve got tons of work today and I get about four hours to shower and sleep, but I’m doing it at your place ‘cause I haven’t seen you in a week, okay? And I miss snuggling on the couch.* From relieved to harried to flirtatious in about twenty seconds. Possibly a new record for Cesc. Though Iker was starting to smile as he listened; he’d missed having company in bed more than he’d thought he would, given what he was normally used to. And even if Cesc’s idea of snuggling deserved its own content rating. *Raúl refuses to do it with me. Something about couches being meant for one purpose and beds for another.*
Iker stopped smiling. He noticed he’d lost track of the movie as well when he looked up and didn’t know who two of the characters in the scene were.
Cesc picked up on it. The next time he spoke, his voice had dropped and lost its bubbling quality. *The second thing is that he turned Morientes down. El Moro came back because of some business thing and then went to see if he could get Raúl to come with him, and Raúl turned him down again. This time—*
“It was you, right? You were there,” Iker muttered. It was the logical thing and considering how much longer they’d known each other, not really something he could object to. Though he wanted to.
*Didn’t you get his messages?*
Iker hiked his notepad back into place and tried to get his head into the movie, but then he noticed he’d lost his clip-light. Without it, it was too dark to see what he was writing, and…and he’d probably just wasted a ticket. On a movie he hadn’t even wanted to watch. He didn’t want a lot of things but he always seemed to end up swallowing their cost anyway. “I didn’t want to listen to them. I’m tired of listening to people break up with me.”
Some weird gaspy noises from Cesc. *Iker! He’s not doing that!* he screeched.
“Shhh!” came from the rows behind Iker.
He winced, then hesitantly waved his hand. “Sorry!” he said over his shoulder. Then he scooted back down, stuffing his notepad down by the side of his seat. “Look, it’s fine. I don’t know how three people would’ve worked anyway, and I’m okay with just…I don’t know, seeing you while you’re seeing him. This is getting so complicated, with exes and—”
*I thought you liked him better,* Cesc plaintively said. Exactly with who or what he was disappointed wasn’t too clear.
“I d—um.” Iker rubbed at his face. He was beginning to think he was too tired for any of this, and maybe he should’ve just gone to his editor’s office and crashed on the couch again. “I did meet you first.”
Cesc laughed a little. *Thanks, but you don’t have to be that polite. I’m okay with it; I was pretty nasty to you at first and he wasn’t. Just listen to me for a second: Raúl wasn’t just staying for me. He doesn’t want you to leave. I…I was just closer, so he made up with me first. And, um, okay, I was flipping out a little too. But come on. Just hear him out.*
“Cesc, while I appreciate what you’re doing, you don’t need to break things to me gently. I can—wait, what? What was that last part?” Iker hissed, twisting about. But his foot got caught in the seats in front of him, and by the time he’d wrenched it free…well, he nearly fell out into the aisle head-first.
“Hey, can you be quiet? Some of us want to watch the movie here.”
“Yeah, take your stupid phone out. I thought you weren’t allowed to have those in here.”
“Asshole. Hope you broke something just now.”
Feet. Iker had frantically stuck out his arm to break his fall and it’d landed on feet, and while he couldn’t see them very well, he just had a feeling. It made sense plotwise.
“It’s dark in here, but I can already tell your plastic surgeon messed up the nose, yours did your breasts lop-sided and you…you just need one,” Raúl said. He had a really good delivery in English, deadpan sarcastic even with the softening effects of his accent.
Then he reached down and tried to help Iker up, and it went somewhat downhill, as Iker couldn’t help jerking away and Raúl kept pushing at him, and finally Iker was back in his seat but Raúl had planted himself in the seat next to him. And up above, the American girls were talking loudly to each other about what a bastard Raúl was and down below, some other people were beginning to make annoyed sounds.
*That was him, wasn’t it? Ooooooh…tell me later who he was making fun of, okay?* Cesc said. Somehow Iker still had his phone to his ear. *And…and do what’ll make you happy. Don’t worry about what I want or Raúl wants…um…well, yeah, exactly. I mean, we’ll be fine. Even though I’m hoping you’ll—*
Raúl reached over and pulled the cell from Iker’s hand. He said a curt thank-you to Cesc before snapping the phone shut and trying to give it back to Iker.
“This is talking?” Iker blurted out, mind clicking back to Spanish. And yes, he did sound a bit mad. Surprised him to no end.
“I—” And definitely took Raúl aback. The other man held out the phone for a couple more seconds, looking increasingly uncomfortable, before finally sticking it in a pocket. He turned around and stared at the screen. “I’m sorry.”
To tell the truth, Iker had listened to all those voicemails. His car radio had cut out halfway through the drive home, as if something out there wanted to make sure, so he’d just set his cell on the front passenger seat and let it repeat over and over again. Great time for him to finally remember that.
“Why?” he muttered. He shifted down till his head was resting on the back of the seat. “I mean, of course you’re going to have dated people before me or Cesc, and sometimes they come back and there’s all…that.” Not that Iker knew from first-hand experience, but he’d heard enough rants about it. “You can’t control them. And you didn’t just leave a note on the fridge and the keys in a pair of my shoes and run off, so you didn’t really do much wrong.”
“I…don’t have any keys of yours,” Raúl slowly, confusedly said. He was glancing over at Iker, but Iker didn’t turn to look back. “If you don’t want an apology, then why did you sleep in the car?”
Iker frowned, not quite sure where that had come in. He could guess that Cesc had tracked him down to the theater—Cesc was so good at that that Iker just didn’t ask—but the car…
“Everything except your clothes was still in it,” Raúl clarified. “Why’d you climb out the window? What is it that you’d rather go down the fire escape than talk to me? Am I apologizing for the wrong thing here? I don’t know.”
“I listened to your messages. They were…that was nice of you. But look, I don’t need that. I’m not—I know what comes out of my mouth usually made better sense in my head, but I’m not dumb. The only reason I met Cesc was because he was trying to get over you. The only reason I met you was because you were chasing him.” It wasn’t coming out right, and Iker could feel the strain of trying to make the next few words both connect to what he’d already said and be more understandable like a steel band tightening around his head. He rubbed at his temple and slouched even more, till his knees were jammed against the seat in front of him.
Those girls up top were bitching to each other again, and Iker had a sudden, irrational urge to throw his notepad at them. Then the seat next to him creaked and he hurriedly returned to staring hard at the movie, which was making absolutely no sense to him now.
“And this whole…see, I don’t care too much about Morientes,” he said. He blinked, letting the words sit there for a moment. “I don’t, really. I just cared because he seemed to upset Cesc a lot, and because maybe he’s why you seem not to like your work when Cesc says you used to, though I don’t know a lot about that…but anyway, you called so much and sounded like you thought I was mortally offended, and…I’m not. I think there’s something wrong with that. Cesc did, and—I don’t know what I’m doing in the middle of you two. I’m just complicating things.”
“You are not.” Raúl snapped that out loudly enough for even Iker to wince. “There’s nothing wrong with that, and it’s total bullshit that I’m just trying to be nice to you. I didn’t sit up all night wondering what the hell had happened to you because I was just being polite, and I’m not sitting here watching this movie with…with frog-men and bad music because—”
“Take it outside!”
Wincing, Iker twisted around and grabbed at Raúl’s arm in an attempt to get the other man to lower his voice. He was meaning to say something too, but the arm was about as far as he got before his foot slipped. His knees were suddenly rammed up tight against the row in front, barely keeping his ass from sliding off the seat, and he reached up and Raúl reached down and for a second, Iker actually did think Raúl was helping him up. But then the other man’s fingers curled around the back of Iker’s head and yanked him forward, and something was digging into Iker’s back. Which was probably painful, but he currently couldn’t feel anything beyond Raúl’s mouth crushing down on his own.
Raúl stiffened, then levered himself up with an annoyed grunt. His hand had slipped to Iker’s shoulder and didn’t loosen up a bit as both of them squinted at the shadowy figure in the aisle.
“Sirs, I’m afraid I have to ask you to step out of the theater. Now. We’ve received too many complaints from the other patrons,” the usher said.
* * *
“Thanks for the lunch,” Cesc said, shaking his head. He pulled a pen from behind his ear and plunged one hand into the bag Ricardo had just set down. The other one was busy moving around little slips of paper with names on them, ordering and reordering them. “Sorry, I’m kind of…well, how was the courtroom? You’re out early.”
“Just for another hour. Something came up with a witness and the defense got a temporary recession.” It always surprised Ricardo how close the courtroom was to Premier. Only four blocks away, but walking those blocks was like crossing through three or four different towns. “Ah…Cesc, I think the pen would work better if you—”
Cesc stopped trying to write with the cap, looked at it, and then flipped the pen around with an irritated snort. “God, and I don’t get off till eleven tonight, and I don’t even get a nap before dinner because that stupid Italian band got held up at customs and…today sucks.”
Ricardo patted him on the shoulder and Cesc promptly turned around and fell on him, arms going round Ricardo before he quite knew what was going on. Or before he could take an extra breath, and he could’ve used it.
“And I’m too busy to know what Raúl and Iker are doing!” Cesc lamented, clinging to Ricardo’s shoulders. He rubbed his head hard into Ricardo’s chest, sounding genuinely distressed. “It’s been nearly half an hour and I want to know! But if I call them and they’re not through it, then Iker might run again and it took me long enough to track him down the first time!”
As that made no sense whatsoever to Ricardo but still seemed to be really bothering Cesc, Ricardo…made the same kind of soothing noises his mother had always made to his little brother and petted the other man’s head. It worked enough for Cesc to loosen his grip; Ricardo tried not to make his gasp for air too obvious.
Something crackled. Ricardo looked down just in time to see Cesc wince and stick a finger in his ear. The other man dug out an earbud, then let go of Ricardo to poke around for the mouth-piece. “Huh? No, it was the Milan one that already checked in. The one from Rome’s the one with all the problems,” Cesc muttered. “Okay…got it, Ruud.”
“Was there a fight?” Ricardo politely asked once Cesc had put down the earbud.
“Oh…oh, right, you weren’t there. Seems like everybody else was…” Cesc’s cell rang and he snatched it up, only to toss it back down with an annoyed look once he saw who it was “…man, José can’t keep his mouth shut. One guess why my mom’s…never mind. Raúl’s stupid ex showed up and caused a whole bunch of drama before Raúl told him to take a hike. Only Iker was out of town and didn’t get the whole story, so now Raúl’s in some art-house theater trying to tell Iker we’re not dumping him. How are things with you?”
As he talked, Cesc tackled the paper slips again and this time, seemed to get them in the order that he wanted. He grabbed a nearby whiteboard and started to transcribe the list, which come to think of it, only made sense if those were the band names for tonight. “I, well, I—”
“How’s, um, Paolo?” After that run-in in the men’s toilet, Cesc had never really asked for an explanation. He didn’t seem too comfortable with pretending he’d already gotten one, but he doggedly kept on trying anyway, like a good friend would, which Ricardo appreciated.
Though not quite so much when Ricardo was a little bit piqued and confused about why he was and really thought he just needed a couple moments to himself to work it out. But he couldn’t really put Cesc off without being rude. “He asked me over for dinner.”
“Oh, cool. Didn’t have to argue him into it this time, huh?”
“I don’t argue—” Ricardo started. Then he blew out the rest of his breath and sat down on the counter, kicking at the floor. He was doing it rather hard and his toes were beginning to hurt, but there was something satisfying about the thwack sound he could make. “I don’t want to argue him into it. And this isn’t any good because I think by the time dinner comes around, he’ll have gone back to trying to pretend we’re like we used to be, and Paolo has lovely manners but sometimes I just want to—”
His hands came up, fingers stiffened into curves, and made a sharp, jerky gesture. Then he realized what he’d done and stared at his hands.
“…you know, he is being a cocktease. Even if it’s really weird for me to say that about a guy who’s almost forty—” Cesc ducked at the look Ricardo gave him, which Ricardo suspected was overly nasty “—so anyway, it’s okay to be frustrated. It’d be scary if you weren’t, actually.”
“It may be okay, but I don’t…” Ricardo exhaled, long and dragging. Then he put his fingers into his hair and pulled a little before rubbing the heels of his hands against his forehead. “I said I wasn’t going to pressure him. I said I was going to respect his decision. I can’t—I meant all of that.”
Cesc glanced at him, then shrugged. “Yeah, I know. It’s you—you definitely meant it. But Ricky, he hasn’t made a decision yet. Right? So he’s dangling you along and you never said you were going to wait forever just for him to make up his mind. You shouldn’t anyway, because that’s just having your cake and eating it too.”
“So what am I supposed to do? I can’t—can’t shove him down and ask him to decide then and there,” Ricardo said. He tried to keep the irritation out of his voice, but it didn’t really work and then there was what popped into his mind once he’d really heard himself. He flushed and dropped his hand to rub at his cheek, trying to hide it.
Who rolled his eyes as he picked up the finished whiteboard and hung it up on the wall. “Hey, you can’t have it both ways either. Either you’re officially trying to make it work or you aren’t. That’s why they call it work: you can’t just sit there all the time. Sometimes you have to get down into it, and sometimes it’s kind of nasty in there, but if you didn’t, it’d never get done.”
Somebody came in from the hall to hand Cesc a series of clipboards, which he studied and signed with increasing exasperation. Once he was done, he pulled out a thick packet of paper and started fiddling with the soundboards while consulting it. Occasionally he bit his lip, but otherwise he went at it with an air of efficient certainty.
Ricardo opened his mouth to say thank-you for the good advice.
“Man, I hope Iker listens,” Cesc suddenly said, shoulders slumping. “I don’t really want to think about if he doesn’t.”
“He will,” Ricardo said instead. “If he’s like you say, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about, right?”
* * *
“You. Got. Us. Kicked. Out.” Iker was…Iker was…
…he was really, really angry right now, was what he was. Professional movie critic, just had Rolling Stone asking him if he wanted to cover the Sundance film festival, and he was standing in a goddamn lobby with tacky carpet and a weird rancid-butter smell, and without his clip-light or pen because the usher had insisted they leave right away.
Raúl looked uncomfortable and fidgety. “I’m sorry. Look, I’ll talk to the manager—”
“And what? And tell him how his complexion says he’s in imminent danger of a heart-attack? You got us thrown out! Goddamn it, I watch movies for a living and I was supposed to watch that one, and you got us booted,” Iker snarled. He would’ve added more if the need for air hadn’t inconveniently interrupted. So instead he threw up his arms and turned around, stalking off…somewhere. “Holy mother of God. The one thing that’s always made sense in my life is my work and here you go messing it up—”
“—what the hell am I supposed to do if I can’t work? It’s what gets me out of the house, and I need groceries. I need new laundry detergent. I can’t buy that if I stay inside all the time, but whenever I do go out and try to do normal things, something always goes wrong. The first couple were those idiots wanting introductions to film industry people—”
“—and then there was that love…love polygon, or whatever, and a bunch of bad blind dates because my editor thinks I’m lonely, and that psycho jogging nut Zidane, and now you—”
“Iker!” Grab, spin, and then slam as Raúl dragged them into the recessed arcade, pinning Iker up against the side of a pinball machine. The other man stared wide-eyed at Iker for a moment, then shook his head. “I’m sorry! But you—you—you just said a lot.”
Iker rolled his eyes. He tried to throw up his arms again as well, but Raúl’s were in the way. “Because I repress a lot! I’m tired of losing but I never--ow.”
The pinball machine was very hard. And Iker’s skull not so much. He flinched, then slowly wormed his arms around Raúl’s to reach back and gingerly touch his aching head. He flinched again when Raúl’s fingers overlapped his own and tried to pull his hands away, but Raúl had interlaced their fingers too tightly.
“Iker, I’m sorry I got us thrown out. I’m sorry I left a stupid voicemail that gave you the wrong idea. Wait—I mean all those voicemails, since I guess they didn’t explain that when ‘Nando came by I realized that you aren’t a placeholder for him and Cesc isn’t, and actually I really want to stay here and see what happens with me and you. Both of you,” Raúl said, urgency in both voice and eyes. He leaned most of his weight on Iker, anxiously scanning Iker’s face. “I know we met in a…a suspect way, but I was hoping to get past that.”
“…you mean that?” Even taking the head-blow into account, Iker sounded very soft and shaky and raw.
Raúl’s mouth twitched, but he didn’t smile yet and his eyes were still dead serious. He did shift his hands so Iker could put his arms, which were getting sore, down and so he could cradle Iker’s skull better with his fingers. “I’d start showing you again, but I don’t know if we’ll get thrown out of the building for it.”
A bit of embarrassment flicked across Raúl’s face, temporarily dimming the breath-taking heat that’d filled it a moment ago. “Sorry, that wasn’t that appropriate. I…you’re very hot when you’re angry, I just realized.”
“I, um, that wasn’t…that wasn’t an objection, and…fuck,” Iker muttered, jumbling up everything in his head. He finally just ended his misery by awkwardly ducking and hoping that—Raúl got the message and met him more than halfway, and inside of a minute Iker’s knees were going. He scrabbled till he found one of Raúl’s shoulders, then hooked his arm over it just as Raúl pressed an urgent hand down his belly. He moaned and accidentally let Raúl’s tongue slip out of his mouth, but he did kind of need to talk. “You owe me a movie.”
“I think I owe you a lot of dates.” Raúl might have been…purring. Though that totally contradicted the grim sarcasm and reluctant smile with which Iker was more familiar, and he wasn’t going to object to that when the other man was leaning into him like that.
His back hurt, though. It didn’t usually…right. “Cesc?”
“Oh…promised to call him and say how it went,” Raúl muttered, pulling away. Then he turned as he caught sight of…that usher again, who didn’t look too happy. “Well, you need to go home and get to bed anyway. You look exhausted, and Cesc’s probably going crazy wondering what’s going on…”
“We could take care of both at once?” Iker said. He took out his phone and opened his mouth, but then he realized his proposal might be a little…much.
On the other hand, Raúl had just bitten his lip and yanked at Iker’s arm so hard that when Iker regained his balance, they were halfway out the door. So maybe not. And he didn’t have to explain. Good. He had the feeling that his ability to speak was going to disappear on him in a couple minutes.
* * *
“Raúl! How’d it go? Did Iker—”
Cesc paused and listened more closely. Then he…he…he didn’t know whether to jump around in glee or collapse into the nearest chair and pout. Because it sounded like Iker had forgiven Raúl and then some, but Cesc didn’t get off work for hours.
“I can’t believe you two,” he finally said. “This isn’t fair. I totally found Iker and stalled him, and now you’re…oh, my God, what just—what are you doing to him? Raúl…”
On the other end, the phone was briefly picked up. *Stop whining, Cesc. You’ll hear better.*
“Raaaaaaaaa~úl…man. I just—work sucks.”
* * *
Ricardo shoved his hands in his pockets. Then he took them out. Then he put them back in. Then the door opened and he took them out and grabbed for Paolo before his nerves could give out on him.
He kissed the other man and he put everything into it, even the parts he wasn’t sure about and the parts that still had him confused, and then he somehow managed to drag himself back. For part of that he used the doorframe, but in the end he still was on his own two feet. “Thanks—” he did have to swallow “—thank you for the invitation, Paolo, but I can’t come back here again unless I know what I’m coming as. I—sorry.”
Paolo looked as stunned as if someone had hit him with a shovel. He blinked once, his hand still on the side of the door—he hadn’t even gotten it all the way open. His tie was loosened and the usually-crisp folds of his collar had softened to fall away from his throat, letting the ends of his collarbones peek out.
Ricardo inhaled sharply, then turned away while he still could. He took a step and lifted his hand from the door, only to have fingers curl tightly around his wrist and roughly pull him back. He didn’t move his feet quickly enough and twisted his ankle, making him stumble; Paolo dropped a hand under his arm and lifted him over the threshold before he’d regained his balance. Then his back was to the wall and Paolo was leaning forward, and how Ricardo ever got his palms up to push at Paolo’s shoulders till the other man stopped, he’d never know. “No. Wait. I…”
A fingertip touched the top of his cheekbone near his left eye. It rested there a moment, then slowly drifted downwards, turning so the nail lightly, dangerously grazed just below his bottom lashes and the whole length of the finger gradually laid itself against his cheek. He gripped Paolo’s shoulders and bit his lip, watching the green in the other man’s eyes go dark and glittering. For once Paolo didn’t have even a hint of a smile around his lips, and without the veneer of good humor, he had the face of a statue in a hall of judgment, harsh and angular and ominous.
He let his finger rest lengthwise next to Ricardo’s nose, then dragged it down over Ricardo’s lip, flicking the nail against the teeth jammed in it so Ricardo took them out to hiss in a breath. Paolo twisted his finger and crooked it so the tip slipped in and out of the corner of Ricardo’s mouth so quickly that he thought he’d almost imagined it. Then his fingertip moved on, trailing a streak of dampness along Ricardo’s jaw and down his throat, where the other fingers of that hand joined in curling a trap around Ricardo’s neck. A small, ragged noise escaped Ricardo and something uncertain went through Paolo’s eyes.
Shutters slammed on it right away, Paolo arching languidly forward as his thumb slid up the underside of Ricardo’s jaw, hoisting his chin towards the other man. “I want you,” he said, and then…but he turned his head at the last minute so Ricardo’s lips touched air warmed by his lungs. His mouth went back and fixed on the soft lobe of Ricardo’s ear, sucking hard and demanding so half-formed yearnings stirred in Ricardo’s belly, then turned heavy and sank fast. “Now. I don’t want to wait.”
His other hand suddenly announced its presence, pressing brutally against Ricardo’s side. Ricardo unconsciously backed up and Paolo came with him, that second hand sliding inside his suit-jacket and seeming to burn through the thin linen of his shirt even before the first long finger touched any of the buttons. And when it did, it teased round the small plastic circle before digging in just above Ricardo’s belly-button, hard enough to make him grimace before he gasped, shocked at the direct touch of skin on skin. Paolo kept those three fingers slipped inside as he worked his way up the shirt, twisting out button after button. His mouth caressed Ricardo’s ear with disarming gentleness that suddenly went away when Ricardo attempted to push at Paolo, ask him for—the bite was unexpected and hurt, and Ricardo sagged back, staring at the other man.
Paolo pulled back enough for his raised eyebrow to be seen. He stroked the front of Ricardo’s throat, movements seeming to pull hotter and hotter blood into Ricardo’s face, while his other hand abruptly flattened against Ricardo’s chest, one finger hooked over the knot of his tie while the rest shoved the sides of his shirt apart. Then that finger carefully needled in and twisted and pulled till his tie-knot came loose as well, and he was shivering as Paolo ran one hand from his throat to his belt-buckle.
“You know why everybody likes to compare virgins to fruit?” Paolo suddenly said, mouth twisted. His eyes were flickering again, his composure turning shaky. “Because if you pick your moment right, they’re just like ripe fruit falling from the tree into your hand. Perfect timing. Doesn’t matter who it is…I think all those virgin saints, they just let their moment get away from them.”
Ricardo blinked, thrown by the odd rasp in Paolo’s voice. As if the other man was angry—and the thing he’d just said, that wasn’t…him. It hurt to hear it said by him and Ricardo almost—
--he felt Paolo’s shoulders shift beneath his fingers, pulling back, and he yanked against them. “Please. Paolo, please.”
“What? Don’t bite?” Paolo savagely replied. The shutters on his eyes cracked, then fell into pieces.
He pivoted hard, but Ricardo had a good grip on his shoulders and stopped him. Then Ricardo pulled him down, and Paolo of course bit him, but Ricardo could see now and kissed him anyway. Blood came up between them and Ricardo was wincing, but he kept hold of the other man, slinging his arm up over Paolo’s neck for good measure, and made sure his mouth was still there and soft and accepting till he finally felt Paolo yielding. A little at first, and then Paolo jerked his hand around Ricardo’s neck and up to fist in Ricardo’s hair, and he kissed Ricardo back like a drowning man reaching air, moaning deep so his body trembled against Ricardo.
When they finally needed to separate for breath’s sake, Paolo’s mouth skidded sideways down Ricardo’s jaw before stopping just before Ricardo’s ear. Ragged pants brushed up against its stinging earlobe.
Ricardo got in first. “Do you still want me?”
“I—” Paolo stiffened, then slumped. “Yes. But I don’t know…I don’t know how to do this.”
“Neither—neither do I,” Ricardo said, a little bit of hysterical laughter leaking into his voice. He struggled to compose himself, but after so many reverses, he wasn’t quite sure where he even was. “But I love you.”
“And that’s going to solve everything,” Paolo sighed, pulling back. He looked at Ricardo with a strange kind of resigned expression, like he had just accepted a gift and wanted to be happy about it, but wasn’t sure if that was allowed. Then he lifted a hand and brushed it first against Ricardo’s aching earlobe and then against Ricardo’s lip, rubbing that till it stopped bleeding. His eyes drifted downwards and Ricardo reflexively flushed, twitching his shoulders so the sides of his shirt fell towards each other. Paolo snorted and dropped his hands to button it back up. “Dinner probably is a good place to start.”
Ricardo looked closely at him. “Are you going to put me three meters away at the other end again? Why do you have such a large table anyway?”
“Because I never eat at it. It’s just to make an awe-inspiring first impression.” Paolo redid Ricardo’s tie as carefully as he would that of a nephew’s, then lightly stroked his fingers down Ricardo’s front.
And his touch still was devastating and Ricardo wanted—but Paolo shifted back, and Ricardo remembered what Cesc had said about sometimes it wasn’t fun to do. But it had to be done, with no steps skipped along the way.
“I usually eat on the couch. If you don’t think that’s too informal, you’re free to join me there,” Paolo added. A bit of his usual light humor was coming back into his face. Then it dampened as he lifted his hand to brush the hair out of Ricardo’s eyes. “I’m sorry about just now. You understand a lot more than I give you credit for.”
Ricardo tried out a smile. His lip hurt when it stretched, but it wasn’t too bad. He reached for Paolo’s hand, and when the other man’s fingers slowly curled around his, it hurt even less. “I didn’t need the table.”
“You need the apology, no matter what you think.” Paolo pressed his lips together, cutting himself short. He looked around a few times, then finally turned and pulled them towards the kitchen. “And I think we’ll need the microwave. The food’s been sitting a while.”
Ricardo just squeezed the other man’s hand. He didn’t wait for Paolo to squeeze back and slid his hand up to Paolo’s wrist, tugging at him to walk faster. “I’m sure it’s fine. I know how good your taste is.”
Paolo snorted, but didn’t say anything as he twisted his hand around to get Ricardo’s fingers back down and twined with his. Which said enough anyway.