Tangible Schizophrenia



Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: Henry/Pirès, unrequited Kaká/Fàbregas, Fàbregas/Raúl/Casillas. Implied Lehmann/Van Persie and Messi/Ronaldinho.
Feedback: Good lines, bad ones, etc.
Disclaimer: This is absolutely fiction and not real and I don’t know these people at all. Any resemblance to any real-life record company is completely accidental.
Notes: Title references the Garbage song.
Summary: Kaká’s heart is an open book. Thierry’s in the middle of revising his.


“And Robin?” Thierry poked at his crème brulée. The restaurant at which he and Jens were having lunch was famous for cutting-edge cuisine and the menu had warned that this was a reconceptualized dessert, but crème brulée simply shouldn’t be blue. It just wasn’t…crème brulée in that color.

Jens didn’t look up from the email he was typing on his PDA. He’d worked through lunch as long as Thierry had known him, so there wasn’t any point in taking offense. “Complains I don’t come home enough. I’m starting to think I should gag him, except I’d ruin more ties that way.”

Then again, concentrating on blue crème brulée made it much easier to edit out certain mental images that Thierry did not need to have about Jens. “Ah, well…besides that?”

“What do you think? He’s got sociopathic tendencies, wants sex all the time, and he never makes the damn bed.”

“The refreshing nature of the young,” Thierry said, straight-faced. Except for his lower lip, which no matter how hard he tried always quivered. He just hoped he didn’t break out laughing until after the waiter heading for their table had refilled their glasses. “Granted, even I haven’t seen you since last week, you’ve been so busy, but you seem much more relaxed.”

Jens did glance up at that. “He is cheaper than hiring a therapist.”

Thierry had to put up his hand to cover his snicker. By then the waiter had gotten to their table and he was looking at them a bit oddly, so Thierry pressed his lips together and quickly pulled down his hand. “Jens.”

“So far.” After his water-glass had been topped up, Jens picked it up and took a long drink from it. His thumb rolled slightly on the side of his PDA, then paused. He frowned at whatever he was reading, and the expression lingered when he looked back up at Thierry. “What do you want me to say? I spend years learning how to have no-strings relationships and now I’ve got a walking time bomb living with me. For months now. And instead of cutting him off, I buy him a museum-quality Christmas gift. Am I supposed to be happy about that?”

“Yes,” Thierry said. He put his arms up and folded his fingers together, then rested his chin on top of them. His dessert basically was a lost cause, and anyway the conversation was more interesting.

Mouth quirked, Jens looked towards the center of the room and watched the other diners for several moments. He curled his fingers around his water-glass, then uncurled them. Then he finally met Thierry’s eyes again. “Honestly, I’m worried about this week. I’m going to be in Italy and this happy thing means I can’t do any of the things I’d normally do to make sure Robin doesn’t do something stupid while I’m gone.”

“I can stop in on him and make sure he’s not just getting take-out food all the time. You should teach him how to cook.” Thierry raised his eyebrows right back at Jens. “It’d cut down on the number of take-out boxes he can scatter around.”

“Thierry, he knows how to cook. He just does that to annoy me,” Jens snorted. His PDA beeped again and he glanced down. It must not have looked important, since he barely had time to skim the message before he clicked off the PDA and tucked it back in its holder. “Anyway, are you all set for the week? I left instructions with David, and I spoke to Fàbregas about Ruud’s work—”

If Thierry looked a bit surprised at that, it was because he was doing a good job of covering up shock. “Cesc?”

“He’s the only reason nobody at the office has noticed Ruud’s in the middle of a meltdown, and all that while he’s been out sick.” Jens’ eyes briefly unfocused as he made a mental note about that. He nodded and his mouth twitched in grudging acknowledgment, and then he looked back at Thierry. “Raúl will go on a rampage if he figures out that Cesc’s still been working as much as he has, but he’s too effective to not call on right now. I think he’s coming back in on Tuesday.”

Well…people would never cease to surprise Thierry, who’d pegged Cesc for charming, but one of those who were more interested in the side-benefits of the job than in actually taking it seriously. But he wasn’t going to linger over that. If Cesc had decided to change, or had all along been more than Thierry had taken him for, then Thierry wasn’t going to hold him to his first impression. “Tuesday. Okay. I think that’s when Deco is officially starting work…are we giving him an office in the building?”

“Yes, though he said he didn’t need one. Let me know what you think of him. Oh, and keep me updated on the Hargreaves situation. Does Pirès have an assessment of that yet?” Jens asked.

Thierry blinked. “Oh. Oh, he does. Just about what you expected, but I’ll ask him to forward a formal note along or something to that effect.”

“Robert seems to be managing very well, so I was considering asking Legal to make our arrangement with him permanent.” Jens picked up his fork and took a last bite of his dessert before signaling for the bill. He made a face and took a long swallow of water, thoroughly rinsing his mouth. Then he put his glass down and looked closely at Thierry. “Is there something you want to say about that?”

“What? Oh, no, no, no. I think it’s a wonderful idea,” Thierry hastily said, suddenly aware that he’d rather frozen in place.

He liked Robert. The first impression he’d gotten of the man was quiet and efficient with good humor, and that impression had only been strengthened and deepened by all the time they’d been spending together. Working together. Of course, there had been that misunderstanding at the beginning, but since then Robert had behaved impeccably. He was wonderful.

And Jens wasn’t buying into Thierry’s act. “What?”

“It’s not about his work. He’s perfectly fine there.” It was too nice a red to be treated so, but Thierry took a big, fast gulp of his wine. He couldn’t hold his glass forever, so he put it down, but then he caught himself tapping his fingers on the table.

Jens was patiently watching him, head tilted slightly to one side. The other man didn’t have any particular expression on his face, but traces of amusement and suspicion lingered in the air around him.

“I…ah…Jens, I’m…I like women. Only,” Thierry eventually mumbled.

“I didn’t need you to remind me of that,” Jens said. He turned to take up the bill that a discreet waiter had just deposited by his arm and opened up the small leather folder to examine it. His right eyebrow jumped a little, and a few grumbles could be heard as he reached for his wallet.

Thierry sighed and pressed his hand against the side of his face. “I know. And believe me, it still has nothing to do with you and why you and I…but…well, Bobby…confuses me.”

Jens handed the bill and his credit card back to the waiter. “In other words, you’re attracted to our lawyer?”

He drank some more of his wine, then glanced over his shoulder as some underdressed and over-made-up woman whinnied by the front door. His fingers drummed across the table, then slid back to smooth down the tablecloth.

“Robin really is good for you. I thought you might be…ah, a little offended,” Thierry finally said. The temperature of the air around his cheeks seemed to have risen quite a few degrees.

“Well, I wouldn’t credit Robin that much, considering I haven’t gotten home long enough for even a blowjob in four days,” Jens calmly replied. Sometimes he could be a one-man thunderstorm, and sometimes he could make oral sex sound like a suitable tea-party conversation topic. “Why would I be offended? It’d be stupid to carry a grudge over you turning me down, and anyway, since I’m somehow letting Robin live with me rent-free, you were right to do that.”

Later, when Thierry wasn’t so embarrassed at himself, he needed to start making fun of Jens’ defensiveness. The more Jens tried to insult his and Robin’s relationship, the more obvious it was how much that meant to him. It was strangely adorable to see him act like that, actually. “Sorry. I don’t know why I thought…because you’re right. Well, except I don’t know if I’m actually interested in Bobby that way. He just…”

“…confuses you, right.” The waiter came back with Jens’ credit card and Jens took it, then waited till the waiter reluctantly slunk away before he started figuring out the tip. He put his pen to paper and Thierry, trained by long experience, pointedly coughed; Jens glanced up, glared, and then wrote a tip that obviously was bigger than the one he’d been planning to give. “Thierry? Do whatever you think is best, but please keep it lowkey. There are only so many in-office scandals I can take at a time, and the Ruud-Cristiano disaster’s filled my quota for this year.”

That…wasn’t helpful advice, but it was support that Thierry could use, so he smiled and thanked Jens. And he meant it, but he couldn’t help wishing that Jens had also said something about what he should actually do.

* * *

Iker put his hand over his face and groaned. “No. No more. I have actual dramas to watch. My editor called this morning and threatened to mince me and feed me to geese if I didn’t get in my review of George Clooney’s new film.”

“Hey! Desperate Housewives is so drama!” Cesc protested. He threw himself over Iker’s legs and then rested his chin on Iker’s chest, widening his eyes as much as he could when Iker took his hand off his nose. “Pleeeeeeese? There’s only one more episode before we finish season one…and geese don’t eat meat anyway. They’re vegetarian.”

The other man blinked, then stared straight ahead at the TV, thoughtfully working his lip. He suddenly bit down hard and winced. Maybe it was because Cesc’s hand had dropped into Iker’s lap. It was nice down there, all warm and Iker was wearing a really soft cotton shirt, and mmm, that felt really good when Cesc rubbed his cheek on it. He murmured when Iker’s hand tentatively settled on his back, nuzzling higher till he got onto bare skin. The pulse at the bottom of Iker’s throat trembled against Cesc’s tongue, and—

--something latched onto Cesc’s neck, then yanked him back and twisted him around at the same time. He was still yelping when a hard plastic thing poked into his ear. It beeped really loudly and he ducked his head away from it, only to have somebody grab his chin and force it up. A bright light blinded both of his eyes. Somewhere behind it, he heard Raúl clinically say, “You’re getting better. Good. Stop mauling Iker and finish getting well. And stop whining like a baby already.”


The light jiggled. Then it clicked off, and while Cesc was blinking, his soul got tongued out of his mouth. Or something like that. His spine kind of melted and while he wasn’t all that ashamed of that, given the circumstances, he did wish he’d had a good grip on something first. He ended up draped over the back of the couch, breathing hard and looking dazedly up at Raúl. A little flash of something hungry went through Raúl’s eyes, but he’d snapped down a grouchy look before Cesc was in a state to comment. “I thought you said you were going to stop calling me that.”

“Sorry. Old habit,” Cesc panted. He twisted around as Raúl moved over to give Iker a bit more than a peck on the mouth, then straightened back up. “You going now?”

“Yes. Remember, no work till Tuesday, and Iker, don’t have sex with him. Even if he tries to play choirboy and tells you he’s dying.” Raúl…had really weird ways of getting his meaning across sometimes. They were effective, but they just sounded bizarre. Probably because he looked dead serious when he was saying them.

He gave Iker a ruffle on the head that skewed that tuft Iker had in front, then whisked himself out the door. Iker blinked rapidly and took a deep breath, then slowly started to lower himself back down. He stiffened, opened his mouth, and then suddenly leaped up and lunged for the DVD player, swapping discs so fast that Cesc couldn’t even see his hands. “Clooney first, Housewives after lunch.”

Cesc started to object, then gave it up and slouched back into the couch. His fever had gone down a lot and he was feeling much better, but it was like once he’d gotten a taste of rest, his body had decided to completely break down. Just struggling from bed to the toilet in the middle of the night left him exhausted. “Fine. If next time, you and Raúl could take it to the kitchen? I know, I know, there’s a good reason why I don’t get to have sex yet, but that doesn’t make it any easier to listen to you two.”

Iker went from normal to toasty red in a mere second. He coughed and poked the wrong button on the DVD player and had to fix that before he sidled back to the couch. By then he’d started to pale, but his face flamed up again when Cesc curled up against his side. “Sorry. We…thought you were asleep.”

“I was,” Cesc muttered. He waited a moment, then shifted so he could rub the top of his head against Iker’s jaw. A little contented mumble slipped out of him when Iker finally put an arm around him. “What was he doing to make you scream like that?”

“I…um…he…” Iker set his jaw and determinedly aimed the remote at the TV to start the movie “…sorry if you’re jealous. I don’t want to take him away from you. Again. Um. Right.”

Cesc wriggled, but Iker’s arm wasn’t giving him enough free room. He pulled at Iker’s hand and finally managed to turn around to face the other man; he got one hand up and put it on Iker’s cheek, watching Iker’s eyes darken. Iker had dropped his hand to Cesc’s waist and his fingers curled tight, making Cesc bite at his lip a little. Cesc bent down and just grazed Iker’s lips, just aiming for reassurance, but Iker’s hand suddenly pushed hard up his back and he slipped so the kiss went harder. Deeper. He opened his mouth and felt Iker’s tongue slide inside it, running along the roof of his mouth so his knees wobbled. And he was sitting down.

A couple seconds later, Iker roughly pulled them apart and set Cesc aside, then flopped back to take several deep breaths. His eyes were wide. “Okay, no. Not—”

“Yet,” Cesc sighed. “I’m not jealous now, you know. I’m just fucking frustrated.”

Iker half-smiled, looking a bit uncomfortable himself. Eventually he just rubbed at Cesc’s head and picked up his notepad from the side-table, and they settled down to watch the movie.

In spite of himself, Cesc did get really into the film. Clooney did good stuff. And he was cute into the bargain, and…a sharp rapping sound went through the room and Cesc nearly jumped off the sofa. As it was, Iker had to show off unexpected skills in pulling Cesc back and juggling the remote and getting off the couch to answer the front door all at once.

He came back a moment later, looking a little uncertain. “Cesc, it’s for you…but he says he’s from work, and Raúl said…”

“I know what he said, but I left in the middle of a lot of stuff. I think it’s okay as long as I’m just talking to people and not actually doing any—Ricky?” Cesc paused, staring at the man who was hovering awkwardly behind Iker. “Wow. How’d you know to look here?”

“I—well, I was talking to Bobby in front of Jens and Jens mentioned it,” Ricky said, looking hesitantly between Cesc and Iker.

After a moment, Iker shrugged and sighed and went back to the door. There were some clicks as he shut it, and then he came back long enough to ask if Ricky wanted anything to drink. Ricky turned that down, so Iker took his legal pad and told them he’d be in the kitchen. Then he left.

Lehmann had phoned earlier, and God knew how he’d found Cesc. He probably hadn’t name-dropped on purpose, though. Probably.

Cesc settled back on the couch and waved Ricky towards the armchair. He happened to get a look at himself as he did and frowned, the contrast between the understated elegance of Ricky’s suit and his trashed old sweats glaring. While Ricky sat down, Cesc dug the blanket he had been using out of the cushions and threw it over his legs. His shirt wasn’t so bad, aside from being borrowed from Iker and therefore a tad big.

“You look a lot better.” Ricky positioned himself on the edge of the seat with his hands clasped together and hanging between his knees. He looked relieved. “I was worried. Before you looked like you were going to fall into a coma anytime, and then you disappeared and Ruud came back, but…”

“How is he, anyway?” He was texting and emailing Cesc quite a bit, even after Raúl’s threats. And Raúl didn’t threaten often because he usually only had to do it once.

Saying bad things about people wasn’t Ricky’s forte, but even he couldn’t keep himself from grimacing. He rocked his hand in the air. “Ruud seems…distracted. He gets things done, but he doesn’t…it seems like he isn’t quite sure about everything that is happening.”

“Yeah…I was hoping he’d get better. Cristiano should’ve moved into a hotel room for now, if he hasn’t found an apartment yet,” Cesc muttered, picking at some strings hanging from the blanket’s hem. He detected an increase in unease from Ricky’s direction. “C’mon, don’t get all disapproving on me. I’m Ruud’s assistant. I’m supposed to help him work, and Cristiano definitely has a negative effect on that. I mean, Ruud practically had a small drugstore in his desk drawer…”

Ricky rubbed at his lips and ducked his head, and in the end, couldn’t help himself. “Excuse me?”

“Oh…oh. Oh, listen, could you do me a huge favor? I think Ruud’s out of the office this afternoon, so could you go in there and check around? I only had time to do his desk, but I don’t know if I got everything.” If Lahm could’ve been more specific about what he’d found instead of going on about that bottle of vodka, Cesc might’ve been able to check specific places instead of having to go through everything…but that was people for you.

Now Ricky was staring at Cesc as if he couldn’t quite understand. “Are…are you asking me to break into Ruud’s things? And possibly steal some of them?”

“Oh—look, if you don’t want to, fine. But I’m really worried about Ruud. They’ve already had to take him home once because he took the wrong pills, and after that I tried to dump what I found in his office. It’s all I can do—I know he doesn’t have a prescription for any of them, and he’s not going to listen to me about them,” Cesc said, helplessly spreading his hands. He put on his best pleading face. “I can’t tell anyone else because right now, he’s on Lehmann’s bad side and it might just get him fired. And then he’ll just get worse.”

Which wasn’t exactly true: Lehmann might demote or transfer Ruud, but there was no way he’d fire the man. Ruud was too big of a red cape for waving in front of the stupid bull that was Alex Ferguson. But Cesc was betting that Ricky wasn’t that knowledgeable about office politics. Really betting, since he did want to keep this out of the rumor mill and he was hoping Ricky really was one of the few people who’d keep their mouths shut.

Ricky just kept staring at Cesc. He had a pretty good stricken face himself. Though he really meant his; Ricardo was ridiculously transparent for somebody who wanted to be a corporate lawyer. Sure, he had a great smile, but if he couldn’t bring it out on command, it still wasn’t going to be much help to him.

“Never mind. Forget I asked,” Cesc said, deciding the silence had gone on too long. He shrugged and twisted around because he’d been sitting on his foot and that had been going numb. “So sorry, why did you—”

“What—what am I supposed to do with it? If I find anything, I mean,” Ricky said. He spoke so quietly that at first Cesc thought he’d imagined it, and he couldn’t quite look at Cesc.

Once Cesc had decided his fever-hallucinations hadn’t suddenly come back, he bounced and clapped his hands together. That got Ricky’s head to come up, and the other man shyly smiled in response to Cesc’s grin. “Thank you, thank you, thank you! Really, I mean it. So—oh, um, bring it back here. I didn’t have time to hide the ones I found last time, but I wanted to ask Raúl, my—um, he’s…uh…well, you’ve heard of him, right? I wanted to show him the drugs and get his opinion, since he’s a doctor.”

“All right.” Ricky kept smiling at Cesc. Then he coughed and briefly turned his head away. When he looked back, he was starting to get up. “I just was on my way to the courthouse to get something for Bobby, and this was on the way so I wanted to see how you were.”

Cesc managed to keep himself from showing any weird reactions to that. Oh, man. Oh, man, this was…complicated. “Well…thanks. I’m okay now, I guess. I get to come back to work Tuesday.”

“Great,” Ricky said, flashing another smile. He shuffled around, then looked at his watch. “I need to…”

“Let me get Iker,” Cesc replied. “I’m feeling better, but I keep falling over at really inconvenient times and I wouldn’t want to make you catch me.”

Ricky flat-out blushed. Oh, man. He wasn’t…oh, great.

* * *

The blowtorch spit out a delicate little blue flame that licked once at the board before snapping back up into the tip. Frowning, Robin put up a scope to his eye and peered through it, then put that aside and clicked the blowtorch back on. “So he got on the plane and everything?”

“Right after lunch. He said to tell you—”

“Not to send anybody to jail without letting him know first. I know, he spent half the night lecturing me instead of…” A bit of a mischievous smile curled Robin’s mouth. Then he went back to looking sour.

Thierry continued scrolling through his text messages. “No, actually what he said was don’t call him if it’s just for, ah, gratification.”

The blowtorch clicked off. Robin stared blankly at the pieces scattered around him, then shook his head. “I don’t know why he complains about the sex. I mean, first of all, most men would kill to get as much as he does. Secondly, most of the time it’s the only damn time I see him lately. I know he’s a goddamn music exec and all that, but…never mind.”

“Once he gets the second assistant, it should help a lot. David’s been around long enough and Jens trusts him enough to start sending him on some of these business trips in his place,” Thierry said, carefully choosing his tone. He wanted to express his sympathies, but not trigger Robin’s tendency to retreat into sarcasm. “I’m running preliminary interviews, actually. Did…you have any concerns about them that you wanted to mention?”

Blowtorch back on so Robin could solder another connection. He paused to grin affectionately at Thierry before picking up the next piece of hair-fine wire with a pair of tweezers. “I ran checks on all of them and none of them really stand out right now to me, bad or good. You probably know what I’d…somebody like that lawyer wouldn’t be too bad. Jens doesn’t seem to go for that type, and Pirès comes off as really knowing what to do.”

Thierry accidentally pushed a button twice, then cursed as he watched a ‘Deleted’ come up for a message he hadn’t even read yet. He hurriedly texted its sender for a resend, then glanced up.

Robin’s eyebrows twitched in the upwards direction as he looked back at his work, moving in no particular hurry. “Thierry, you’re supposed to be straight. Odonkor’s going to have no company now.”

“I am straight. I like women. I like their breasts and their curves and…it’s just Bobby doesn’t seem like a man.” That…Thierry winced. He almost smacked his phone into his forehead while he was at it, and quickly put that aside so he could knuckle at his brow. “I don’t mean like how that sounded, all right? I meant that I don’t react to him like I do other men. I…I don’t notice his gender. Somehow. I’m confusing myself.”

“No kidding,” Robin muttered. He turned off the blowtorch and put it down, then propped himself up on his elbows, watching the connections he’d just made cool. “Why don’t you just go out with him once and see? You don’t even have to tell him it’s a date since he thinks you’re not interested.”

Thierry flicked at one of the many plastic pieces scattered around the table. “What if I end up interested? It could get very complex very quickly.”

“Well, in that case, I’m not the person you should be asking for advice. I’m fucking the man who’s paying me to commit corporate espionage on a daily basis.” Robin had the scope up to his eye a last time, then quickly reassembled the cell-phone and handed it over to Thierry. “Get that to Hargreaves when you get a chance. It’ll make tracking his calls a lot easier.”

Thierry silently took it.

* * *

After they’d watched the last Desperate Housewives episode, Iker somehow resisted all pleas to start season two and locked himself in the bathroom to type up his reviews. He could’ve had the living room, but he said the bathroom was better creatively and he’d been starting to get that flustered look so Cesc refrained from asking why. For now, anyway.

It ended up working out since Ruud called, sounding harried. *Cesc, I—is your uncle around?*

Okay, maybe Raúl had freaked Ruud out a little. “No. What’s up? Did you find everything okay? Did all the files make sense?”

*Oh…yes, they did. Thank you.* Ruud paused. *I’m sincere about that. I know the past week has put more work than you’re really responsible for on you, and that that’s mainly my fault.*

Cesc blinked, then flopped down on the couch and sniffed at the blanket. It was starting to smell a little stale, so he pulled it off and hauled himself off the couch. He had to use the wall for a support, but he did manage to get to the bedroom under his own power. “Well, that’s what I get paid for, isn’t it?”

*I’m…not sure why you’ve stuck with me, but you’re a much better assistant than I deserve,* Ruud slowly said. It sounded like he might be having one of those odd guilt-stricken moments, though usually he had them with Cristiano. It was a bit unnerving to be the focus of one. *Thanks.*

“You’re welcome.” Awkward, Cesc thought, and wished he had lasted long enough in med school to have gotten in some psychology courses. “So…what are you calling about? Did anything happen?”

It took a moment for Ruud to answer, like he had to remember. *I had lunch with Deco today. I’ll tell you the details later—the important part is that he mentioned he could use someone to take him down to Premier, since Cristiano is busy gearing up for his tour, and I had the distinct impression that he meant socially. He doesn’t want an assistant since he’s just handling Cristiano.*

Cesc sat down cross-legged on the bed, frowning. He hadn’t found much on Deco since the man had moved to Portugal, but what he did…and he’d heard that Jens was more unhappy with how Cristiano had brought Deco in than with Deco himself, and Lehmann was crazy, but he wasn’t bad at judging people. If he approved of Deco…interesting. “So he asked you to get him a date, or a guide, and…”

*I said I’d look around. It’s obviously not what it looks like, but if he’s going to test us, we might as well test him. Can you think of anyone?* Ruud asked.

“I need to do some checking. I’ll call you back…sometime tonight. Probably after dinner, but I don’t know for sure. Is that okay?”

When Ruud said yes, Cesc told him bye and ended the call. Then he dialed Lionel’s cell. Which went for fifteen rings before it went to voicemail, so he was probably at home. If he’d been sleeping in the studios, somebody would’ve come in to shake him awake and bitch about his annoying ringtone. Cesc dialed Lionel’s apartment number.

He had to do that twice before Lionel actually answered, sounding groggy and grumpy. *What.*


*Oh, hey, you’re okay! Oh, my God, don’t make me worry like that again! I didn’t know where you were till your uncle called, and you should’ve asked me to take you home if you were feeling so—oh, crap, sorry.* Lionel went from overjoyed to furiously scolding to apologetically whispering in about a minute. In the background, somebody else muttered and sheets rustled. Then the sound of feet walking. *Sorry, I had to move to the bathroom so Ronnie wouldn’t wake up. So what’s up?*

Cesc grinned. “I have the flu, it sucks, but I woke up between Iker and Raúl this morning and it was great. Except for the part where neither of them will actually sleep with me till I’m all healthy again, but--Leo. Raúl stopped turning me down. He kissed me.”

*Yay! Even if it makes you sound like a girl—*

“Messi, shut up before I bring up Robinho and Juninho.”

Leo pouted in a way that managed to transmit itself over the phone line. *Jerk. Lucky jerk. Are you saying you get both of them?*

“Yeah—but I’ll tell you about that later, okay? I need to ask you about something else…oh, and my thing with Raúl and Iker doesn’t get gossiped about, okay? I just…I don’t want to hear about it,” Cesc said. He still wasn’t quite sure it was real, and wouldn’t disappear if he looked too closely at it. “Actually, don’t talk about what we’re about to talk about either.”

*I won’t, swear on my heart,* Lionel said very seriously. And he wouldn’t. He liked to talk but he’d keep friends’ secrets once asked. *But now I’m really curious.*

Cesc…had to fight a sudden wave of embarrassment. Which he shouldn’t be feeling, honestly. “Well…so I need to get a date for Deco, Cristiano’s new agent. But we think he’s just asking to see what we’re like, and we’re getting him the date to see what he’s like, so it can’t be just anybody. I was thinking maybe one of my cousins.”

*Not Sergio. ‘less you just want to see how fast Deco can get into bed.*

“Are you calling my cousin a dumb slut?”

Lionel snorted. *Cesc, just last week you were complaining about the umpteenth STD scare Sergio had just had.*

“Point. ‘Nando?”

*He’s definitely smart and clever enough—oh, no, not him. I ran into him yesterday at a club, actually, and he’s shaved his head. It looks kinda…well, okay, but I don’t know if this Deco’s gonna go for it…*

Cesc stared at the far wall. “Fernando shaved his head? Is he—I mean, we were all begging him to get a haircut because he was looking like an American hillbilly, but…that’s really overreacting.”

*What about José?*

“José? As in, José Antonio Reyes? Are you kidding me? This is like double-agent territory we’re talking about and José couldn’t lie convincingly with a paper bag over his head,” Cesc said. Then he flopped over onto his back and threw one arm over his face, sighing. “My God, I have zillions of cousins and we can’t think of one? Stupid Torres. He would’ve been perfect.”

Lionel started to ask something, but turned it into a mutter about checking on Ronnie as bedsprings creaked in the background. He must’ve put the phone down, because Cesc heard his voice retreat to talk with Ronnie. Then he came back. *Why does it have to be a cousin of yours?*

“Because I need whoever it is to do exactly as we say, and cousins are easy to blackmail.” All those annoying family dinners sitting next to boring talky aunts and trying to eat while wearing a tie and a stiff collar had been good for something. Well, if Cesc figured out a way to use it.

*I…well, I’m out. I can’t think of anybody…hey, maybe you should talk to Raúl about this. Especially if you use a cousin, ‘cause you know he’ll find out about it anyway,* Lionel said. He seemed a little distracted.

That was explained in the next moment when Cesc overheard Ronaldinho asking Lionel where their clothes had gone. The guy wasn’t the prettiest Brazilian Lionel had ever managed to dig up, but he was built like an underwear ad. “Oh…oh, right. I keep forgetting I have to think about that now…”

*Cesc! You’re—well, you’re going to sleep with him!* Lionel screeched. *This is important!*

“I know, I know, I…listen, I have to go. I hear somebody at the door and Iker locked himself in the bathroom to work. See you later, Leo.” Cesc hung up and then slid his cell beneath his butt just as Raúl walked into the room.

The other man stopped and looked at Cesc. Then he looked heavenward, lips silently moving.

“Well, it’s not like I can completely go into quarantine. I’m just making phone calls; I promise I’m not really working, okay? I just—” Cesc absentmindedly clawed at the blankets. Then he frowned and messed them up with his hand, not really wanting an eerily lifelike Lehmann-face in Iker’s sheets. He’d be back on Tuesday, and anyway, if Lehmann needed him so much he should get a pay raise. “I’m worried about Ruud. Did I tell you about the pills I found in his desk?”

Raúl opened his mouth, then shut it and came over to sit on the edge of the bed. He reached up to pet Cesc’s neck, which Cesc was all for till he realized Raúl was just checking for swollen lymph glands. “I didn’t realize you liked Ruud so much.”

“Well, I—” Annoyed, Cesc jerked his head, and then smacked away Raúl’s hands. He sat back on his heels, thinking a moment, and then looked at the other man. “Raúl…when Ruud isn’t losing it over Ronaldo, he’s a nice guy, but that’s beside the point. I don’t think anybody else would take me on if he lost his job, and I…” he scratched the back of his head in mild embarrassment “…I really care about it. I’m getting good at it, and now that Cristiano’s almost out of the picture…”

He stopped because Raúl had moved one hand to cup his chin, thumb occasionally rolling back so it stroked along his jaw, and Cesc’s breath had gotten stuck somewhere in his throat. He’d used to hate how Raúl could do that; the other man probably had never noticed all the times when he’d smile and ruffle Cesc’s hair and Cesc would end up staring after him like a concussed cow. But right now Raúl was looking at him and doing it and Cesc just…just…

…squalled and leaped at Raúl when something suddenly burred against his butt to the tune of the hit single of the ‘latest Madonna.’ A second later, Cesc got that that’d just been his cell phone, but by then he’d already elbowed Raúl in the stomach and Raúl was cursing in his ear.

Blushing furiously, Cesc did his best to scramble off without inflicting any more damage. “Sorry, sorry, I just—”

He got to Raúl’s knees, maybe. Then Raúl had enough room to get hold of Cesc’s arms and he used that hold to make Cesc sit still while he carefully, agonizingly eased his mouth over Cesc’s lower lip. Cesc started to say it was his head that was fevered, not his…a tongue slipped between his lips and swirled silky-hot against the roof of his mouth and his eyes fluttered, he felt his shoulders dropping as his body turned heavy, molten. He tilted his chin as he felt fingers press up the sides of his face, cupping it, and he put out his own hands to run over Raúl’s chest.

Cesc moaned in disappointment when Raúl abruptly stopped, breathing hard. “Why can’t we?”

“Because I want you completely well before you go back. Since you are going back into that…” The rest of it wasn’t audible, but the derisive curl of Raúl’s upper lip was eloquent enough. Then he sighed, running his hands up and down Cesc’s arms a few times, and grimaced to himself. “No, it’s not that bad. It doesn’t have to be.”

That, Cesc filed away in his head to ask about later. “Well, can I stay and watch you and Iker next time then?”

Raúl blinked, then jerked his head back to glower at Cesc. “You’re hopeless.”

“C’mon, you’d like it. I bet Iker wouldn’t mind being talked into it,” Cesc said, putting on his nicest smile. He scooted over and draped one arm around Raúl, who wasn’t completely unbending, before he remembered. “Argh. Iker?”

After a moment, a bang and a kind of shuffle came from the direction of the bathroom. Iker called through the door, “Still writing. I’m pretending I have a French psychosexual thriller on in the bedroom.”

“Iker—” Raúl started.

“No! I have two hundred more words to go! I can’t come out yet!” It wasn’t clear whether Iker was trying to persuade Raúl or himself, but he certainly sounded determined either way.

Cesc grinned into Raúl’s shoulder. He wasn’t overjoyed to be settling for Raúl petting his back, but there were worse results. “So are you…okay with me working at FC? I just…you know, it matters to me what you think.”

“I…well, if it makes you happy.” Raúl shrugged. He immediately looked annoyed with himself, but spent a while rubbing at his nose before he explained. “Look, Cesc, I have issues with the…the atmosphere of the industry, but those are my problems. I’ll try not to make them yours. So if you want any help—”

“There’s one thing right now,” Cesc said. Of course he believed Raúl was being sincere, but he knew from experience that Raúl could only make himself go so far if he didn’t really believe in what he was doing. It was a kind of honesty, and Cesc loved it and was irked by it on occasion. And currently needed to know right away if it’d be a problem. “I…well, Ruud needs to set Deco up with a date, only we think Deco asked because he wants to get our measure, and so we’re going to try and get his measure at the same time. I was trying to think of a cousin—”

Raúl pinched Cesc’s arm, then pushed Cesc back down by the head when Cesc protested. “You need to break this habit of blackmailing relatives. Or I’ll start making you explain things to their mothers. Besides, if you send in some random person then Deco will assume that either one, they’re a whore and you’re no better than a pimp, or two, that you’re trying to catch him out.”

Cesc…just sort of stared at Raúl for a moment.

The other man rolled his eyes while also looking a tad ashamed of himself. “I have been around for a while. Anyway, you should just send somebody he’s already met. Preferably somebody who’d have a business reason for meeting with him that they can fall back on if things turn awkward.”

“Oh.” Cesc wrapped his arm around Raúl’s waist and snuggled closer. He didn’t miss the way Raúl shifted to get his hips turned away from Cesc. “Thanks, un-Raúl. Really.”

“You’re welcome.” Raúl smoothed his hand down to the small of Cesc’s back and just let it rest there. He briefly pressed his cheek to the top of Cesc’s head, but otherwise looked thoughtfully out into space.

It was nice like that, with the only noise being a faint stream of frustrated cursing from the bathroom. But eventually Cesc remembered and reached around to grope for his cell to see about that call. “Thank you. And…I’m really sorry you don’t like your job anymore. I remember you used to love it.”

“I—it’s not my job that’s the problem, Cesc. It’s the people. Who I guess are the job, much as I hate thinking that way,” Raúl muttered, half to Cesc and half to himself. He shrugged again. “Just make sure of something. Make sure you’re sticking with your job because of it and you, and not because of any one person, all right?”

“I will,” Cesc said after a moment. He didn’t hesitate because he wasn’t sure, because he was. He hesitated because all right, he was fed up with trying to get info on Raúl’s ex through his connections. Asking Robin to do it was going to make Robin curious as hell, and especially with it coming on top of asking about Iker, but if it got it done, then it got it done.

Then Cesc checked his phone: Ricky’s number flashed at him. Oh, crap, that.

* * *

The knock on Thierry’s office door was shortly followed by Bobby’s face. Thierry reflexively smiled in greeting, but wavered in getting up when he noticed how the other man was hovering in the doorway.

“This…will sound a little odd, but I don’t suppose I could borrow your iron?” Bobby asked after a moment.

Thierry sat back down. Then he shook his head at himself and stood back up, pushing away his chair so he could get out from behind his desk. “Of course. Though now my curiosity is piqued.”

Bobby nudged the door further open. He was holding a plastic-covered set of clothes on a hanger, and as he stepped inside, he swung it up onto his shoulder to keep it from dragging. His own suit-jacket was missing, and the tie he was swinging from his hand wasn’t the same one he’d been wearing earlier.

“So is mine, actually,” Bobby said. He hung the clothes up on the back of Thierry’s door, then walked around to watch Thierry pull the iron and the ironing board out of the closet. “I think I just promised Ruud that I’d show Deco around Premier in his place.”

He didn’t seem to think too much of it, judging by the way he took his suit out of the plastic and spread it over the board, but Thierry’s mind was racing. Thierry slowly sat back down; his chair had rolled out so he could’ve kicked his feet up against the wall if he’d wanted to, but he didn’t feel quite so relaxed.

“It’s been a while since I’ve gone there. I take it the dress code is still the same?” Bobby asked. After another moment, he glanced over his shoulder. He seemed concerned about Thierry, of all people. “Are you all right? Being the deputy wearing on you again?”

“I—do you realize that usually if someone asked that, we’d get one of the interns or assistants to do it?” This was utterly ridiculous, Thierry thought. He needed to stop it. He needed a good draft of macchiato and a few steps back. This was not why Jens preferred to leave him in charge whenever the other man needed to go out of town for more than a day.

This possibly was jealousy. It’d been a while since Thierry had made an effort at a relationship, so he was a little rusty with the signs.

Bobby paused. Then he stood the warming iron on its side and unbuttoned his shirt. Once it was off, he smoothed it over the board; beneath he was wearing a simple cotton t-shirt that shifted subtly with each movement of the muscles in his back. “I know, but common opinion seems to be that this situation is special, and I did not spend the last few weeks overhauling our contract protocols just to see it go down the drain. And…well, I have to admit, I’m a little interested in how Deco functions outside of business. He’s not the kind of person I thought Cristiano would choose, at least according to Cristiano’s reputation.”

“Oh.” Thierry got up out of the chair and started to walk before he realized he’d only be pacing about, and that would give away more than he cared to right now. “He doesn’t seem your type either.”

“Well, I wasn’t planning an actual liaison,” Bobby laughed. He flipped his shirt over and ran the iron over a few wrinkles around the hem, then shook out his shirt a few times. He put it back on right afterward, though the fabric still had to be quite warm. “That would make me an intern, wouldn’t it? No, just some talk and probably one of us will offer to pay for the drinks, and then I’m going home to watch a Mamet film and wonder if I’m turning into one of his characters.”

Bobby checked the suit-jacket he’d brought, then threw it on when he was satisfied it didn’t need a pass of the iron as well. He looped his tie around his neck and began to knot it, then turned around.

“A little more left,” Thierry finally said. He raised his hand and moved his fingers in front of his throat to further indicate. It felt like he was moving a red-hot rod before himself, because he could feel the heat run over him like a shadow. He swallowed a few times. “But why you?”

“Because I’m not the obvious choice, as you pointed out.” Knot straightened, Bobby raised his head and regarded Thierry with somber eyes. He hadn’t been so nonchalant as he’d sounded in the past few seconds. “Thierry, you would be the overall authority here. I thought the tactics were sound enough and I’m fine with my participation, but if you think this is a mistake…”

The thing was, it wasn’t. In fact, it was the most forward thinking Ruud had had in the past week, and about time if Ruud was going to salvage his career and preserve Cristiano’s future at FC. And Bobby wasn’t an innocent. He knew what he was doing and why.

“Well, I can’t object on those grounds.” Thierry absently stepped backward, needing somewhere to put his hands. But his right hand struck something sharp instead of the flat desk; he swore and jerked his hand around, then sucked his finger into his mouth. The taste of blood cut over his tongue like a razor.

“Thierry?” Bobby stepped forward with his hand out, expression worried and suit perfect and everything just boiled over.

His newly-ironed shirt crumpled like tissue in Thierry’s hand. Thierry’s free hand—he nearly forgot to pull his finger out of his mouth and when he did, they were so close together that his knuckle glanced off Robert’s jaw on the way down. He felt Robert inhale sharply, the air sucking past his mouth hard enough to feel like a finger-stroke, and then he’d crushed his mouth to the other man’s. Robert’s lips were still parted to speak and his teeth smashed into Thierry’s upper lip.

It hurt. Thierry hissed and willed himself through it, opening his mouth when he felt Robert move against him. Something wet and warm slipped over his lower lip, then swept out the taste of blood, and Robert’s hand snaked up to cover the one Thierry had knotted in his shirt—

--and pulled it away. A moment later, they were both stumbling back, Bobby belatedly lifting his hand to avoid putting it against the hot iron. Bobby was panting and pushing at his shirt, trying to smooth it back down, and Thierry had one hand pressed so hard to his mouth that he could feel his teeth imprinting their shape on the backs of his lips.

“Thierry,” Bobby said, and had to stop. He took a deep breath, then looked up and he looked so…wistful. Wistful and resigned. “Thierry, listen. I…God, I wish that meant what I’d like it to mean. But you…told me…”

“I know. I mean, I don’t know.” Heart in his throat, Thierry stared at the other man, willing him to say something…certain. Concrete. Something that’d tell Thierry exactly where they were so he could figure out where he was going.

Bobby watched him for a couple seconds, then suddenly glanced away. He smiled as he did, but it was regretful. “Well, I’m flattered. And I’d like…but I’m sorry, Thierry. I’m too old—I can’t handhold for people anymore while they try to understand…and maybe end up changing their minds back.” Some old romance threw up its withered fragments into his eyes. “It’s exhausting, you know…and I’m tired when it comes to that.”

“I…well, I can understand. And I’m sorry, too,” Thierry said. “I—can you put away the iron? I’m running late for something, I just noticed.”

He barely managed to wait till Bobby assented before he was out the door. At this hour, plenty of conference rooms were empty and it didn’t take long for Thierry to find himself one. He took a seat at the head of the table and stared down its long, polished length. And then he put his head down and covered it with his hands. He could understand, and he was sorry, but that didn’t stop him from wanting, damn it all.

* * *

Iker came back from the front door with Ricky just as Raúl was cursing out a shrimp whose shell had caught him beneath a fingernail as he was peeling it. He had ordered Cesc to stay out of the kitchen—honestly, that fire had been ages ago and Cesc could cook like a chef if he wanted to now—so Cesc happened to be sitting at the dinner table.

Ricky smiled widely enough when he saw Cesc, but otherwise he seemed a little uneasy. He had a brown paper bag with him and he got jumpy whenever Iker got near it; luckily, Iker was busy talking to somebody on the phone and disappeared into the next room before he noticed anything.

“You found something,” Cesc said, stomach sinking a little. Either Ruud had to get better soon or Cesc would have to talk to somebody about him, because he definitely couldn’t hide this much for too much longer. As it was, Raúl had sworn to talk to Lehmann the next time Ruud came in to him with so much as an out-of-place hang-over.

“I…yes. I think somebody should be notified,” Ricky awkwardly replied. He took a seat, then pushed the bag over to Cesc. “I don’t know what half of that is, but…he shouldn’t have it, should he?”

Shrugging, Cesc unrolled the bag’s top and peeked inside. He let out a low whistle, then started pulling bottles out. “Well, we’ll see. And thanks again. I really appreciate this…you didn’t have to go through too much trouble to get these, did you?”

“I hope I never have to do it again. I mean…I didn’t get in trouble, but I didn’t like doing it.” Ricky sat back and pushed his hand up over his face, then through his hair. Then he dropped his hand on the table and let his head fall back on the chair-back, sighing. “I don’t—”

Sandy-brown hair suddenly whizzed through the room into the kitchen, then skidded back out a second later while Raúl was still calling out something. Iker scooped up pens and paper pads and dumped them into a bag, then slung that over his shoulder while whirling so fast that it was amazing he didn’t twist a bone into breaking. He grabbed Cesc’s shoulder and pecked him on the mouth, saying something about last-minute interview of some movie star, and then whooshed off.

Cesc blinked a couple times as the speed marks slowly faded from his vision. Then he winced, ducking his head. He even almost covered his eyes with his hands, but at the last moment, made his hands stay down.

Ricky…well, Ricky didn’t look as bad as Cesc had feared. He did look like somebody had smacked him good, but he also looked as if he wasn’t quite sure why they had.

“Iker’s a movie reviewer,” Cesc finally said. He dug his toes into the floor tiles, corkscrewing them around. “He…um…I just started seeing him.” Something made Cesc think he owed Ricky a full explanation. “And, um, Raúl. It…people at work don’t know. They’d read it all the wrong way.”

The other man paled a little and stared. “Both of them?”

“What? You think it’s sick or something? Have you seen half the stuff that people get up to in this industry? And when they don’t even care about each other.” Ruud was a mess, but Cesc was willing to count most of that against Cristiano. The orgies and shit Cristiano had pulled—and half of it had never made the tabloids—and he claimed Ruud was the love of his life. Yeah, right. “And…okay, look, if you’re heard that Raúl’s my uncle, he’s not. He’s like a fifth cousin, but he’s older and he kind of acted like a brother to my mother, so…”

“I…no, no, I’m not going to call you sick. Why would you think that?” Ricky stammered.

It took a second for Cesc to pull out of full-on rant mode and think about that. “They say you’re really religious. You don’t drink, you don’t…you haven’t had sex yet…and you do wear a cross.”

“Oh, right…” A faint shadow of irritation passed over Ricky’s face. He pulled at his collar and took out the cross, fingering it carefully, then tucked it back in. “Well, I believe in God and I believe He takes an active part in this world, but I also believe He didn’t create love to have…to have bad sides to it. If it hurts people…that’s not love. Otherwise, it’s from His hands and it’s good and holy. I mean…you do…”

Cesc pressed his hands to his cheeks. Didn’t stop them from flaming up. “I’ve been in love with Raúl since I was sixteen. And…I like Iker a lot. I don’t know him that well yet, but he makes Raúl happier than he’s…so I’m willing to try and go that way.”

“And the whole sex thing—that’s my personal vow because it means something special to me. I know other people put more value on other things besides virginity…” Ricky was staring straight ahead and starting to mumble now, not really talking to Cesc. Then he shook himself and looked at Cesc. “Sorry. I just—people assume a lot that having faith in God just means hatred and rules. It gets on my nerves.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I can see that,” Cesc said. He rubbed at his face, wondering if he needed to apologize now or something. “If people heard about this, most of them would just figure I’m greedy. It…there aren’t a lot of people at work that I think I could talk to about this, and trust that they wouldn’t gossip afterward.”

He looked up at Ricky, and after a moment, Ricky smiled. Small and a little restrained. “Thanks. I…I’m grateful that you think you can trust me.”

He didn’t really understand what he was doing or feeling. If he’d been a cousin, Cesc would’ve let him have it and known that Ricky would get over it, and maybe even thank Cesc later for the tip about the lube. But somehow Cesc didn’t feel real qualified to clear up Ricky’s confusion in a non-harmful way. And he was starting to like him now—Lionel was busier these days and wasn’t always free to talk.

“Thanks.” Cesc absently prodded the line of bottles he’d made at the table. “My God, how has Ruud not OD’d yet?”

“What?” Raúl stepped out of the kitchen and glanced over them, then frowned and came over to look more closely at the bottles. He dropped his hand to squeeze Cesc’s fingers as he did, which pretty much told Cesc that their voices had carried. And that Raúl approved, which was rare and which made Cesc have to hide a grin when Raúl suddenly looked at him. “These are all Ruud’s? These…goddamn it, he’s been doubling my prescriptions. Some of these I gave him months ago…he shouldn’t still have them.”

Cesc groaned. “Oh, great. Now what?”

“Now…dinner. We’ll talk later, but you need to eat first. You still have a slight fever.” With one sweep of his hand, Raúl raked all the bottles back into the bag. He picked it up and then glanced at Ricky, who’d begun to get up. “And I think if I calculated your BMI, it’d be worrying. Sit down—Iker ran out, so you can have his share of the paella. Do you like spicy food?”

By then, Raúl was already halfway back to the kitchen. Cesc winced and gestured helplessly with his hand. “Um…he can be a little cranky. But he meant that—do you want to stay for dinner? I mean, I do owe you for the favor.”

“Oh, it wasn’t a favor…” Ricky dismissively said. He started to get up. “Actually, I really…I should go home. I don’t want to—”

“No, I feel bad about how you had to put up with me when I was running a high fever, and besides, I kind of want to get to know you without the hallucinations in the way.” Maybe Cesc couldn’t get to know Ricky the way that, deep down, Ricky might want him to, but he could…feed him Raúl’s paella. It was the best Cesc could do.

Ricky paused and seemed to be wavering…but then he shook his head. The regret that went through his eyes was tinged with a little more emotion than was really necessary for the situation. “No, it’s all right. I have a lot of work to do, actually. But…well, if the leftovers are any good, I wouldn’t mind some tomorrow. I’d like…I’d like to hear what you’re going to do about Ruud.”

And maybe that was the best Ricky could do, considering he didn’t seem to have the whole picture together but he certainly seemed to be feeling it. “Okay,” Cesc finally said. “See you tomorrow. Promise?”

“Promise.” Ricky reached out his hand, then dropped it at the last moment to shake Cesc’s hand. It’d been aiming to go somewhere around Cesc’s jaw. “I’ll come for lunch.”

He left. Raúl came in a few moments later. “So what is he about?”

“Nothing bad, I swear,” Cesc said, glowering up at the other man. He knew that tone of Raúl’s way too well. “I’m just trying to make friends. You know…it’s kind of hard.”

“I know. I think you’re doing well so far, though.” Then Raúl sighed and looked back towards the kitchen. “I hope your bottomless stomach shows up tonight.”

“Oh, it has. Though I’m going to try and leave some for Iker. If he comes in like he did last night…he’s worse than I am.” Cesc poked Raúl’s side.

And got poked back. “Which is what we’re working on, yes?” Raúl said, eyebrow arched. “Come on, up. You’re well enough to start helping with setting the table now.”


More ::: Home