Author: Guede Mazaka
Sergio’s building didn’t come with parking so Cesc had to spend a good ten minutes circling around, and then another couple of minutes setting the car locks that he’d gotten out of Robin in exchange for some info on Ljungberg’s internal disciplinary record. Then he had to hike two blocks back to the building, through a student neighborhood while still wearing most of his suit, on top of an unexpectedly long night. So when he finally got there, he was tired, fussing over a beer stain on his left sleeve, and ready to be annoyed at the drop of a hat.
Instead he got Sergio going wide-eyed and having to grab onto the rail so he didn’t pitch head-first down the steps. Sergio. Was outside. Looking kind of in an hurry. “What the hell did you do?”
“I don’t know! Miguel was still around and it took me ten minutes to get him out because he wanted to wash his face and his legs and all this shit, and—look, Cesc, can you scream at me later? First we need to find José,” Sergio said, going from spastically defensive to intently scanning the street in one second. He pulled himself to his feet and hopped the rail, then scrambled past Cesc to nearly slam into a car parked at the curb, which he barely noticed because he was so busy looking around. “He fucking left again, that fucking…”
Wait. Cesc slapped his hands to either side of his head; the aching in it got worse but he could think better. “What? You lost José? How could you lose José?”
“I didn’t lose him, he walked out. His stuff’s still all upstairs but he was upset earlier ‘cause Ruud and then Raúl was being kind of cranky, and…and shit, where would he go?” Sergio shoved his hands into his hair, pushing it into a rather lank crest. “He drank a beer before he left. Does that mean anything?”
“How should I know? I haven’t seen him in—wait, is that him?” Squinting, Cesc started to point but then something blurred in front of him. He started to curse the jerk out and turn towards Sergio at the same time, only to find that that’d been his cousin jumping a car hood.
A sigh and a growl choked each other to death in Cesc’s throat, but family was family; he ran around the car and across the street, getting there only a few seconds before Sergio did. When José tried to dodge Sergio, Cesc was there and made José lurch back. The other man blinked, swaying slightly, before shaking his head and attempting to put a hand to his forehead. It hit his ear instead. “Oh…Cesc. You were coming later.”
“This is later,” Cesc said.
“Really? I didn’t think I went that far. The guy in the lobby swore the store was just around…” José frowned in the way of a child, brow crinkling but eyes lacking the frustration of knowing he should be doing better. He’d tanned a lot so only his uncovered ear was obviously red, but the alcohol-breath and the unfocused eyes said enough.
Cesc shot a glare at Sergio, who hunched up and lifted his palms. Then he swore and dove to catch José as the other man tried to walk up a staircase that wasn’t there. A brown bag dropped from José’s hand and hit the sidewalk with a loud crack, then rolled off a bit. After helping it further along with his foot, Cesc ducked under José’s flailing arm and attempted to straighten him up so Sergio, struggling with José’s lolling head and jabbing knee, could get a better grip on him. It was a little like moving a bunch of spaghetti from the pot to the dish, only without the anticipation of a good meal.
“Jesus. He’s tanked,” Sergio muttered. He grunted and grabbed for something, then fluently abused their ancestors as José somehow turned that into a near-meeting between his nose and the pavement. “Shit, Cesc. No, get his waist. Waist. What, do I need to draw a diagram?”
“Of course I’m fucking drunk.” José got his feet flat against the sidewalk and feebly clung to Sergio’s right arm, which stabilized him but didn’t really help in trying to get him into a mobile position. “If I wasn’t drunk I’d be depressed and I am so, so sick of that. I make myself sick when I’m like that—oh, and Cesc? You were right about Ruud. Completely.”
Please, Virgin Mary, don’t let him mean that literally, Cesc prayed as he shoved his shoulder up into José’s stomach. He managed to lift José enough for Sergio to shift around and get his hands under José’s arms. “Huh?”
“Though honestly, I knew that. I knew he was always going back, and you know, it was fine when I didn’t really care. It was really convenient,” José mumbled. As Cesc and Sergio started dragging him across the street, he alternated between pressing his head to Sergio’s chest and stomach. “I didn’t give a shit about him. I liked the fact that he had something that was going to get him out of the way eventually.”
“Um. Okay. But wait, you argued so much about him and you didn’t even like him?” Not the most thoughtful reply Cesc could’ve provided, but he had a lot to deal with at the moment.
Some asshole in a dented-grille convertible flashed them with his high-beams, then honked his horn. Sergio briefly shoved José’s weight onto Cesc so he could give the bastard the finger, which both made Cesc snicker and want to kick Sergio in the ankle because José was goddamn heavy. And he kept shifting, too—trying to gesture as if he wasn’t almost hanging his head between his legs. “Well, okay, I liked him. But I mean, in the beginning it could’ve been anybody, you know? I just wanted to fuck somebody who’d piss you off.”
“Christ, what did Cesc do to you?” Sergio asked, startled.
“Huh? Wait, no, it was…no, I knew Cesc would be mad but it…you know, I didn’t want to care what he thought. I wanted somebody who wouldn’t give a shit what the family thinks…everybody I meet. Met. It’s inbred, you know, the whole restaurant thing. Everybody knows each other and people just expected I was going to do this and that and Ruud was completely…not in that.” A couple times during his ramble José’s voice got thick and a bit pained, making Cesc and Sergio shoot alarmed glances at each other, but thankfully it never turned into anything. José just swallowed and kept talking. “That’s what he meant to me. He was a way out.”
“Except for like, working where Cesc and Raúl work? You call that unconnected?” Sergio said. Oddly enough, he actually sounded mad. “Jesus Christ, José. You know how much you fucked up the whole family with this? I mean, Raúl was kinda lightening up and Cesc was happy at work and convincing his parents quitting med school was a good thing and ‘Nando was—was talking to us—”
By then they were at the steps so Cesc could lean on the rail and kick around José into Sergio’s calf. The angle made him almost fall on a knee, but he managed to shut the idiot up. “Get the door, Sergio. C’mon, José. Let’s get you up and um, get you some coffee…”
“But I didn’t know all that was going to happen. I didn’t!” José suddenly roused, his head coming up. He looked at Sergio so Cesc couldn’t see his expression, but Cesc definitely felt José’s wild attempt to lunge at Sergio’s shoulder. “I mean, I know I should have and I…I’m really sorry.”
“Yeah, you’re sorry. I’m really trying to understand here, because you definitely weren’t happy and that’s bad, but…I’m confused, okay? And you’re not helping,” Sergio snapped, fumbling around. He almost dropped José twice before Cesc finally took José by the waist and held him so Sergio could get out his keys. “Stop fucking glaring, Cesc. It’s nice that you’re not always the bratty one now, but your mom could tell you just leaving people alone doesn’t always fix things. José got a whole bunch of slack cut when he went to South America and now he’s back and—no, look. He fucking—you came back, man. That makes it different. If you wanted to keep fucking up you should’ve stayed away.”
“Sergio!” Cesc gasped. “Excuse me? You’re drunk every fucking—”
The hand hit his cheek first, then flopped at his chin when he jerked his head away. It finally dropped to his shoulder as José pulled himself up, shaking his head. “No. No, no, no…he’s right. I came back because I’d figured things out, I’d figured out how to get away, be myself without everyone else interfering, and I was going to do that. I was going to grow up, really. But…but I think Ruud just told me we’re quits over the phone and he wasn’t even talking to me.” José’s voice cracked, then drew out into a shaky sob. His fingers dug into Cesc’s shoulder. “I…shit, I’m sorry, but I thought he was going to be there for longer. I wanted him to be—I just figured that out and fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck. I hate myself so much for falling for that, I’m such an idiot, you can’t even imagine…”
His head fell onto Cesc’s other shoulder, and then José suddenly stumbled up a step, almost shoving Cesc into the door Sergio had half-opened. Cesc staggered and nearly lost his grip on José before Sergio caught José under the elbow. Then they started to lift him, but they weren’t even through the door before José’s nose was pressing into Cesc’s neck and José had clawed his fingers into Cesc’s back. Sergio licked his lip, about to say something, but the first stifled sob killed that.
“And this is the most ridiculous part! I’m okay without the family, I can live while having them around because I want them and not because I’m just used to it being that way, but I’m getting drunk, falling apart because he gets in a stupid fight with stupid fucking Cristiano Ronaldo!” The cry was in a small, high, choking voice, like some nightmare from Cesc’s childhood. Except it was now and that voice had come from the mouth smushed into Cesc’s collar, which belonged to a grown man who’d weathered all sorts of crises fine, and so it was that much more painful to watch.
Sergio grimaced, squeezing his eyes shut. “Shit. José, I was just talking shit a moment ago. I didn’t…c’mon, c’mon. It’ll be…okay.”
“Just shut up and help me get him inside,” Cesc hissed. “If you’re going to be a jerk to him, do it where he’s got some privacy.”
* * *
From the timbre of his snarling, Jens had been staying up waiting for Fredrik to call and hadn’t appreciated the long wait. Fredrik got off the phone almost thankful that Jens had decided to let him put the proposal to Giuly instead of coming back in and doing it himself.
Henrik wasn’t back yet, but Fredrik grudgingly admitted that twenty minutes probably wasn’t long enough to track down Reyes, let Ruud talk to him, drop him off and bring Ruud back. Even if Henrik was really taking to his new career with frightening speed—faster than even Fàbregas, and at least he’d been…well, he still was a kid. His judgment of character wasn’t all there yet and his tact had a long way to go.
Well, it worked out, since even if Fredrik was a little intimidated, he definitely didn’t have the patience for training up some intern—even a bright one—on the run. And that was what he was right now, running around the office because goddamn it, was no one in at this hour that he could shanghai into helping? Usually there was at least a sound tech or a producer, or…
…an angry Cristiano Ronaldo being coaxed into the elevator by one Gabriel Heinze. Fredrik’s hands hurt till he noticed he’d curled them into fists out of old habit. He forced them open, took a deep breath, and then went up to the pair. “Leaving?”
“Yes. We walked here so I called for a car—” Heinze started.
“No, I want to work. That’s the only reason why I’m here, isn’t it?” Cristiano jerked his arm free of the other man, then tried to twist around him to get to the hallway. When Fredrik slid into his way, Cristiano jerked up his head and lifted his hand. He held the pose for a tempting second before dropping back a step, still glowering. “Fall’s coming up and I need a sound that fits the season. Something harsher, don’t you think?”
Actually, Fredrik agreed, but this sadly was not the time to give Cristiano his opinion on summer bubblegum singles. “You didn’t try to call in Lahmi, did you? Because he does get mandated days off.”
“No, I didn’t. I know my way around the boards fine,” Cristiano snapped. He shrugged off another attempt by Heinze to maneuver him into the elevator.
Fredrik clasped his hands behind his back and slipped in between Cristiano and the doors. “Ronaldo, go home. I’ve seen your billing statements and you’ve got enough equipment in your apartment to do what you, ah, need to do there.”
“I do not. I need—” Cristiano paused and reviewed the conversation. Then his eyes widened and he snarled. “How did you get those? That’s private expenses, you prying son of a bitch! You think just because you got me into that contract with Deco—”
If Heinze hadn’t grabbed him just then, his jerk would’ve carried him all the way onto…Fredrik silently cursed and tightened his hands around each other. He had to take a breath before he could make himself back up a step as well, just so he didn’t give in to the urge to throttle their resident diva. “No, I think that we’re trying to provide the best security we can for your music and yourself, and so we check recording equipment to make sure it won’t leave you open to pirating. I’ve got your signature on the work order, if you want to see it.”
Judging by the way his nostrils flared, all Cristiano was interested in seeing was Fredrik’s guts pulled out and displayed on some godawful glittery retro-80s sculpture. He stared down his nose at Fredrik, ignoring whatever Heinze was trying to whisper in his ear. Fredrik stared back, just daring the pouty little shit. He’d done all he reasonably could do to avoid punching Ronaldo, so anything that happened now could be written off as self-defense.
But either Heinze got through to the tiny clump of hairgel that was Cristiano’s brain or Cristiano realized even he wouldn’t be able to get emergency plastic surgery at this hour, since he suddenly rocked back on his heels. He half-turned, snorting like a wobbly little calf, and then got Heinze off his arm with a sharp roll of the shoulder. As Heinze warily backed off, Cristiano began jabbing at the elevator button.
“You know, when the button is lit, that means that the little fairies that make the lift move up and down have gotten the message,” Fredrik drawled. “But if you push it too much, they might get irritated and not come.”
“Shut the fuck up, Ljungberg. I’m leaving. You happy now?” Cristiano didn’t even turn around to say it to Fredrik’s face.
Fredrik opened his mouth, only to forgo the sarcastic remark in favor of watching Heinze slot himself in between Fredrik and Cristiano while glowering like a pitbull. The other man walked backwards into the elevator barely in time to avoid the closing doors; as soon as Cristiano had gotten inside, he’d transferred his compulsive finger-jabbing to the elevator panel. “I’ll be seeing that he gets home fine,” Heinze said, tone marginally polite.
Then the doors shut. For a moment, Fredrik was tempted to stand around and see if the elevator stopped at every single floor, but he’d already wasted enough time with Cristiano. If Heinze liked being the prima donna’s bitch so much, then he could deal with that kind of childish trick. He’d certainly looked eager enough about getting into a small enclosed space with a Cristiano on the verge of a temper tantrum.
So Fredrik turned on his heel and went back to his office to call Deco. Who frankly should’ve been hot on Cristiano’s heels—he’d been warned Ruud was expected back tonight and that FC didn’t want any big scenes—but who…was not even answering his phone. Gritting his teeth, Fredrik dialed again. When he got the voicemail for a second time, he indulged in a little kicking at the nearest chair before he tried paging the asshole.
That finally got Deco on the line. *What?*
“What? What do you think? I’m fucking calling you—for the third time—after midnight,” Fredrik snapped. “You—never mind, we don’t have time for that. Whatever was keeping you from the phone, drop it. Ruud flew in and Cristiano—”
*I lost him,* Deco said in a tight, smoldering voice. *He overrode the security system so he could sneak out of his apartment without anybody knowing.*
For a second, Fredrik thought he could at least get Van Persie for that fuck-up, but then he remembered that Cristiano had categorically refused to let Van Persie or even Ballack oversee that installation. Of course Jens had told Robin to check into it anyway, but doing it without Cristiano’s consent took longer and Robin had been bitching about having to put off finishing that up till after he and Jens had gotten back from Germany. So no, it was still just Fredrik who had to be running around all night. “Because he showed up here and ran into Ruud.”
*Shit.* The word was spat out with such heartfelt venom that it had to have been an instinctive reaction. Normally Deco wasn’t that unrestrained around Fredrik. *Is he still there?*
“No, and neither is Ruud.” Fredrik waited a beat and was rewarded with a not-quite stifled hiss from the other end of the line. “They left separately. And Heinze at least managed to stick to Cristiano, so he’s taking him home. Or so he said.”
Deco muttered something in Portuguese that didn’t sound very nice. Then some jingling noise started up in the background. *Heinze just texted me to say the same thing. I need to go meet them—is there any reason why we’re talking about this and you didn’t just send me an email?*
He actually sounded offended that Fredrik hadn’t taken his usual route of avoiding direct contact as much as possible. Well, he could suck on it, Fredrik thought. He deserved everything he had coming to him tonight for being too lazy to track Cristiano in person. “Yeah. I need to speak with Giuly as soon as possible. Set up a meeting for me.”
There was a long silence. Then, rather diffidently: *Is this coming from Lehmann?*
“It’s coming from me. Because Jens is going to Germany in two—” Fredrik checked his watch; too late to still be saying that “—one day, and I’m running the office right now. Set up the damn meeting before I have to head over to Monaco myself. And then we don’t really need you, do we?”
*You would think so,* Deco dryly replied. He was speed-walking somewhere, his voice bouncing in and out, but that didn’t quite cover the hostility in his sarcasm. *He’s out of town and can’t get back in tonight even if…what kind of emergency is this? Another bomb?*
Fredrik didn’t realize he’d kicked the chair again till the chip of drywall fell into the seat. And then his foot began to hurt, and so much that he had to bite his lip to not make any sounds while he hopped around. He finally fell into the chair hip-first and had to grab the back to keep from falling out; his hand grazed the fresh crack in the wall and for a moment he was mentally cursing Frings for the fit he was going to throw when Fredrik submitted a repair bill for that. But then he was back to thinking about all the ways he could get rid of Deco’s body—actually, he could have Henrik help with that. And it’d also be good for apologizing for being such a hypocritical idiot about the whole hitman thing.
“No,” he said. “It’s about Van Nistelrooy, and it’s something that has to be discussed tonight. If Giuly can’t get in town then I’ll go to Monaco and call him on their phone.”
*I’ll try and repeat that in a way that doesn’t sound like you think he’s some footservant to be ordered around.* Some voices were beginning to intrude in the background, but Deco hung up right before Fredrik could tell to whom they belonged.
He checked the time. It was still a little early for that to be Cristiano, but then, the diva had been in a royal snit and Fredrik didn’t think Heinze was so good as to have talked Ronaldo into not driving. Not that it mattered, since that was no longer his problem. Now it was…
…Fredrik stood there for a couple minutes, desperately thinking, but still came up with the same conclusion: he couldn’t do any more till people came back or called him back. But he couldn’t leave the office either, and so he…wondered if anyone would notice if he snitched a few potted plants and smashed them up in a back room. God, he hated waiting.
* * *
“Fuck off!” Cristiano screamed at the door.
The pounding stopped, but that didn’t make him think for a moment that Deco had left. And he was proved right when a muffled beeping started up outside. He ignored it till he’d thrown his shoes across the room, knocked over a chair, and banged his way through the kitchen.
When he came back into the entryway, he had a bottle of rum one of his relatives had brought him as a gift after a Caribbean vacation and the beeping had been replaced with Deco’s cursing. Cristiano rolled his eyes as he unscrewed the bottle-top. “I set it so you can’t get in. I don’t want to talk right now.”
“Fine. Talking’s useless anyway when you’re being like this,” Deco snarled. The door rattled one last time under a heavy blow before Cristiano finally heard the other man walking away.
Before he poured himself a drink, Cristiano booted up the desktop computer and checked the hallway videofeed just to make sure that Deco was gone. Then he flopped down on the couch with his notebook and a glass of rum, which he tossed back before he flipped to the song draft that had sent him running to the studios in the first place.
For the first five minutes, Cristiano made a genuine effort to do some work, but the lyrics were just too—too damn emo, when he wanted to toss something off his balcony and laugh when it splattered on the sidewalk. Or maybe someone. Goddamn it, no one had even bothered to tell him that Ruud was coming back tonight.
Well, no, that had to be on purpose, and so all of them weren’t stupid but downright suicidal. They should have told him, given him some time to think about it and maybe make sure he was busy on the other side of town. He could manage that kind of prep himself these days, and…and when he got a chance to, then he didn’t revert to the idiot lovesick kid he apparently still sort of was. Shit. Cristiano grimaced and filled up his glass again.
After a moment, Cristiano did not waste his drink by tossing the glass in the direction of the call. Instead he drained it, and then got up and wandered into the next room. “Gaby?”
The bedroom was empty, but the balcony light was—Cristiano turned and blinked. Then he blinked again and Gabriel started to look annoyed. The other man tapped pointedly on the door. “You want to let me in? It’s pretty breezy out here and I almost lost my cell over the side just now.”
“Not really,” Cristiano sighed, but he went over anyway and opened the doors. Then he stepped back to watch bemusedly—ah, the rum was kicking in—as Gabriel unhooked himself from some kind of spy-movie rappelling belt, then jiggled the line a bit so the other end fell from the roof. “Is that how you get my coffee?”
“Well, it helps. I got this off a stuntman when Alan was filming his ‘Red Attack’ video.” Gabriel grinned boyishly as he quickly coiled up the cable and then stuffed the belt somewhere inside his coat. But then he came in and saw the glass in Cristiano’s hand.
Cristiano irritably spun on his heel and went back into the other room, not wanting to see what Gabriel’s expression changed to. He heard the balcony door sliding, and then footsteps following along, but he didn’t hesitate to refill his glass. Such a fucking—why had he done that anyway? If Ruud wanted to be a dipshit then he didn’t deserve to be run after. And anyway, that was just such a stupid thing to do.
“Gaby, I already locked Deco out. I want to get very, very drunk before it gets bright enough outside for…for…never mind. The important thing for you to know is that I’m getting drunk.” The third drink didn’t go down so easily; Cristiano hadn’t really touched alcohol since Ruud had given him up to Deco and he was out of practice. “But I have a sense of responsibility and so I’m going to do it in here, in private. A one-time thing. Just tell everybody I came down with a cold till the hangover’s gone, all right? Then I’ll go back to being the superstar.”
It was quiet for a while, with just the sound of the rum sloshing around in the glass. Bingeing wasn’t the only way to get drunk—even if it would’ve made Cristiano stop thinking faster—so for the moment he just sipped at his drink and stared around the room. He’d finally finished furnishing it and doing all the decorating so it looked exactly like he’d pictured in his mind. Exactly, except for one thing.
Cristiano swore at himself and turned around, then fell back on the couch. The jolt splashed some of the rum up and out over his hand; he looked at his dripping fingers, then snorted and shifted his glass to his other hand. Then he started searching around for something to wipe his fingers off on and his eyes fell on his open notebook. The first line popped into his head, clear and perfect, and in his hurry to get it down he forgot about the rum and just grabbed the book.
He didn’t have a pen. Cursing, he scrambled about till suddenly something jabbed into his side: a cheap ballpoint. It’d do. After grabbing it, Cristiano sat down where he was and started frantically writing.
He got all the lyrics down in three minutes and was looking around for a tape recorder or something to get the melody when he realized Gabriel had left the room. Which did startle Cristiano even if he’d all but told Gaby to fuck off as well, and he wasn’t sure why. He wanted to be alone. He wanted to be a selfish whiny baby without anyone around to tell him how embarrassing that was, wanted to just be able to miss Ruud without somebody reminding him how much of a disaster it’d been when they had been together.
Honestly, he wanted somebody to sit there with him and tell him it was okay to do that, because as much as he wanted to do those things, he hated himself for them.
Some noise attracted Cristiano’s attention and he glanced up. Then he looked again as Gabriel came out of the kitchen with a wad of paper towels. The other man walked around Cristiano to mop up the spilled rum without saying a word.
Cristiano looked down at his notebook again and saw that his damp fingers had made the ink start to run. He started to curse, but then caught himself and just sighed. After carefully blotting the paper as best he could with his sleeve, he got up and went over to the computer so he could type out the lyrics, just for safety’s sake. And then he remembered he’d just installed recording software on it, but to use it he needed a microphone and he…didn’t remember where that was.
Gabriel had already finished cleaning up, but for several minutes he just watched Cristiano rummage through his desk in increasing frustration. Then he finally put up a hand, but looked as if he hadn’t when Cristiano whirled on him, snarling. “What are you looking for?”
“The microphone. I do have a song idea I want to work on and hey, the drunken karaoke audience is one I haven’t written for yet, right?” Cristiano muttered. He booted up the software anyway, vaguely remembering that there was an option to…to just kind of build the chords, like typing them in and then having the computer play them back. He’d seen Lahm do it, anyway.
Cristiano fooled around a bit with it, but rapidly discovered that yes, Lahm did earn his paycheck and no, he didn’t know how to write a melody via mouse-clicks. He needed to sing it, or at least fiddle with a guitar…maybe he should’ve gotten the optional piano keyboard after all. Even if he wasn’t all that great on that, he still could’ve gotten the notes by ear. Sort of. Fuck. He needed another drink.
But when he reached for his glass, something else got dropped into his hand. He frowned and looked over to see first that it was the microphone, and then second that Gaby was standing next to him. With the bottle of rum in his hand. The pivot of Cristiano’s jaw began to ache from the effort of keeping his snarl to a minimum. “I am getting drunk.”
“I wasn’t going to stop you.” From somewhere Gaby produced Cristiano’s glass and topped it up before setting it down by the computer. Then he took the microphone back and plugged it in while Cristiano warily sipped his rum. “It’s just, um, you mind if I stick around and make you don’t fry any electronics this time? I’ll pour as much as you want, I just don’t want to be calling the fire department in the middle of the night.”
It took a second for Cristiano to realize Gaby was talking about an old mess from the MU days, and then another one for him to remember which. And then…and then he had to snicker; he couldn’t help it. “Oh, my God. That was just…well, wow. I haven’t changed a whole hell of a lot, have I? Still turning myself inside-out over that jerk.”
Gaby shrugged and passed the microphone back without looking at Cristiano. “Sometimes you just need to get smashed, you know. Get that out of the way.”
“Yeah, maybe.” Cristiano abruptly remembered the song and had a brief moment of terror as he tried to recall the fragment of melody. But then he thought again about Ruud and that fucking—that—and it came back fine. He hummed a couple bars, took a long swallow of rum, and then sang the first line into the microphone.
* * *
They made it as far as the living room of Sergio’s apartment before José threw up, which in Cesc’s experience was pretty good. At least the kitchenette was right there so they just had to twist his head towards the linoleum for easy clean-up. Of course Sergio whined about it, but if he was scrubbing the floor, he wasn’t saying stupid shit to make José even more upset.
“I think I’m done,” José rasped. He tried to push himself up on his elbows and knees, but just ended up sagging into Cesc’s lap, head twisted so—so he wouldn’t get Cesc’s trousers dirty.
Oh, man. That came as close as anything to covering it, Cesc thought. “Hey, Gitano, gimme a towel and some water for—Sergio! Towel! Water!”
“Here, here! Jesus,” Sergio said, sounding so put-upon that Cesc almost smacked him. “Still got some of that I’m-a-doctor! Stat! training?”
“Shut up and tell Gago you’re going steady with Torres already so he stops being a twit.” Cesc watched with great satisfaction as Sergio beat a blushing retreat to the bedroom—something about getting the bed made up. But then on his knees José made this huge wet snortling noise and with a sigh, Cesc bent down to help his cousin wipe off his face and rinse out his mouth. “So what happened?”
After a couple failed attempts that left wet patches in the carpet, José finally got his hands around the water-glass. But instead of just swishing a mouthful around, he drained the whole thing. Then he tried to hand the glass back, but his hand was shaky and it fell, then rolled away to disappear under a pile of duffel bags in the corner. “I—didn’t I just sob the whole damn thing out to you? God, I’m pathetic.”
“Well, you said Ruud kinda broke up with you…and something about Cristiano…but Cristiano doesn’t even know Ruud’s in town. Or he shouldn’t. There was a memo,” Cesc carefully said. He tried to help José sit up, but the other man kept shrugging him off so in the end he just kept one arm around José’s waist to make sure he wouldn’t slide to the floor.
“Memo. Ruud told me about those…” José scrubbed at his face, then pulled at his nose while making a horrible stuffy nasal snort “…do they really have to come with formal headers and everything? Does Lehmann send them back with nasty editing comments if you don’t use the right format?”
Cesc blinked a couple times, not really sure what to say. As long as José had been gone, it’d just…been easier to think about how he was getting better, in a nicely vague way, and not about what he and Ruud were really doing. “Ahh…”
“Oh, fuck, never mind. Like I need to know. I don’t work there anyway.” It sounded like José was crying again, but he was trying so hard to hold it back that his shoulders were shuddering. He pushed his hips up, then twisted so Cesc had to let go of him. Then he kept rolling till he was sort of sitting, his back up against the sofa and his legs sprawled at really awkward-looking angles. His eyes were red and puffy, and he’d rubbed at his nose so much that around the nostrils the skin was starting to look raw. “I really meant the apology, by the way. And I should probably say sorry to Uncle later…”
As tempted as Cesc was to ask about that, he made himself not poke. “Thanks, but honestly? Ruud’s an asshole when it comes to the brat. He’s a pretty decent human being otherwise—I mean, for what he does for a living—but I don’t know, Cristiano messes him up. You know…you were always saying this was a temporary thing, but I was kinda starting to hope it wouldn’t be. I think you’d be better for him than that—stupid Portuguese shit. I’m not in love with Ruud or anything, but I wanted to see him get better, too.”
José stared a bit, then snorted himself into a weak smile. He wiped at his eyes again, then pressed his hand to his mouth. “Cesc, I’m still really, really drunk and really, really depressed, but I really like you right now. Why weren’t you ever this nice when we were kids?”
Cesc blinked again.
“Never mind, don’t answer that. You got better, anyway. I was thinking back and wondering, you know, when this all started. If I was just, I don’t know, born with something wrong with me where I can’t just be happy because really, things aren’t lousy for me, or if I grew into it or something,” José muttered, letting his head fall back. He absently pulled at his collar, not noticing when the tugging popped off a button. His fingers hooked down into his shirt and hung there so Cesc could see that the skin of his neck and chest was brightly flushed. “I mean, God. I finally did something about that, and then it was all good because I was with Ruud but I—we—it wasn’t all baggage, you know? He was just doing his thing and everything around me was new, and we were fucking because it was fun and we liked each other—”
Despite his best efforts, a squeaky noise managed to pass Cesc’s lips. The moment José looked down, Cesc ducked his head and rubbed at the side of his head.
But all the other man did was snort a laugh, in the loose harsh way only the drunk could do. “Sorry. If you don’t want to hear about that, I won’t talk about it.”
“If it’d help—”
“Oh, God, Cesc. I like you now because you’re nice but you’re still you. I couldn’t stand you when you were the fucking prodigy and I don’t think it’d be a lot better if you turned into a saint,” José said. For a moment there his voice was warm and full with good humor, but then he shifted and sighed. When he spoke again, he’d gone back to the toneless rambling. “I was just trying to say—it didn’t have any extra meaning, what we were doing. We just did it. And I thought—this was the bit I’ve been missing. But then we come back and I hear him telling Cristiano he still…he can only do this when Cristiano’s not around, you know? Otherwise I’m not—anything to him and well, fuck, now I want that, too. Stupid, isn’t it?”
Cesc still had no idea what to say so he looked around and saw Sergio peering over them from the other side of the couch, eyes wide and mouth half-open. He quickly looked down before José noticed. “You talk a lot when you’re drunk.”
Well, that definitely had been stupidity in its essence, but José just rolled his eyes. “Because I never could get drunk before, remember? I always was the one who had to stay sober and drive people home, clean up the vomit, close up the restaurant…I didn’t get really, really drunk till Ruud. I couldn’t. Not even with ‘Nando.”
That…was the truth, much as Cesc hated to admit it. He pulled at his hair and moved around, then almost blurted out that José could get drunk whenever he felt like. But while also true, that wasn’t exactly going to help any. “I…José, um, you know. This is lame, but nobody’s supposed to be perfect. I mean, okay, maybe I’m really smart but I’m also really selfish and bratty sometimes. And I still screw up, and sometimes so bad that I just have to get totally wasted. It’s not like, a problem in you that you’ve got to fix. It’s just…how people are.”
José looked at him. Then he started to grin, but in the middle of it got hijacked by a shuddering breath. “Thanks, Cesc. But I know that. I never wanted to be perfect—or you, by the way. I just—wanted to be what I wanted, and for the longest time I didn’t know what that was. But now I do, and it includes being in love with a man who’s totally hung up on somebody else. And maybe you lucked out with the threesome, but I don’t think that’s gonna work here.”
Cesc opened his mouth. Closed his mouth. And then he shook his head and stuck out his hand. After a long, wary moment, José took it, and Cesc barely got them to their feet. “I’m…sorry, really. But um, you’re still coherent. Except you were drinking what, vodka? So beer on top of that’s a bad idea…”
When José got it, he started laughing. It was a nasty, half-hysterical, grating sound, and the effort cost him so much that it was all he could do to just hold onto Cesc. Thankfully, Sergio also caught on and came around to help, and together he and Cesc got José propped up against the fridge while Sergio rooted around in the cabinets, muttering something about last week’s party and leftovers and gin.
But before he found anything, the doorbell rang. Cesc instinctively turned to get it, but José was closer and still deep in the grips of his grim humor. He swung himself off the fridge and just caught himself on the doorknob, then fumbled the locks off and pulled open the door while falling hard against the frame. “Hi, come back later. We’re in the middle of—”
He was blocking Cesc’s view of whoever it was, but the way his whole body seized up made Cesc think it was Raúl, come back to deliver some lecture. Cesc took a step forward, bracing himself to tell Raúl to basically fuck off.
“Are you drunk?” Ruud’s shocked voice said.
“Who the hell’s that?” Sergio hissed. He jerked forward, but Cesc beat him to grabbing José’s shoulder.
And holy Mary, mother of God, but it was Ruud standing there. Suit a little rumpled and, but otherwise looking…pretty good, actually. He was really tanned, and—Cesc shook himself, then pulled at José’s shoulder, but José had suddenly turned into a statue.
“Yes,” he replied. Well, a statue who could talk. “Why not? I heard your conversation with Cristiano.”
Ruud winced and started to put a hand to his forehead. Then he dropped it, and José made a little jerk into Cesc that made Cesc think Ruud might’ve tried to touch him. “Shit. I’m sorry you had to—he just came into the office and I didn’t know he…he didn’t know either, I think. But look, what you heard…”
“He’s still it. You still love him,” José said, blank and curt.
That made Ruud flinch, but he just rocked back with it and then straightened up again. He still didn’t seem to have noticed Cesc or Sergio was there. “José, I love my mother too, but I didn’t go running to see how she’s doing after turning my back on Cris.”
“That’s not the same thing anyway.” A statue that could be sarcastic, and wow, Cesc had never wanted to hug José before. “Look, I’ll be fine. I got a place to stay. I can manage by my—”
“I know, but I—look, I came because I wanted to see if I could explain, and if you would still come stay with me. Not because I think you need it, but because…” Ruud shifted uneasily on his feet, but didn’t break eye-contact with José; his voice dropped in volume but somehow got more intense “…I’d like it. I don’t want Cris there now. I want you.”
Something—something about that didn’t quite sound right to Cesc. It wasn’t that Ruud didn’t mean it all, because he hadn’t changed so much that Cesc couldn’t read him and the man clearly did. But it still wasn’t all there, and Cesc wanted to say something, wanted to pull José and Ruud inside so he could figure it out.
But before he could, José let out this funny hiss and jerked free of Cesc’s hand. He sort of staggered forward, head back so he could look up at Ruud, wavered a second, and then fell into Ruud’s arms. José buried his head in Ruud’s neck and to Ruud’s credit, his arms immediately came up around the other man. And then he looked at Cesc.
“I convinced Raúl to tell me where he was,” he said. “Cesc…I swear I don’t have any intention of hurting your cousin. There’s a problem—I have to go back to FC now, but I’ll be back as soon as possible for José.”
“I hope you mean that,” Cesc finally said. He looked at José again, then reluctantly backed off. “Because he’s happy right now.”
And that, frankly, was the only reason Cesc was about to tell Sergio to get back as well. Because he still had a bad feeling about this.
* * *
There were things in the world Fredrik hated more, but talking to that crazy slick Frenchman was right up near the top. When he finally put down the phone, he almost asked Thuram if he could wash his hands. But that would’ve meant spending more time in Monaco, and frankly, Fredrik had had enough of anything remotely connected to Giuly for the night. For that matter, he’d just plain had enough.
He stomped back into the FC building ready to kill the first thing he saw. And even if it was ridiculously early in the morning, there should’ve been janitors or security guards around, but Fredrik ran into nobody on his way up to the offices. Once he got there, he meticulously searched for some evidence that Van Nistelrooy and Henrik were back, but found nothing. Which he couldn’t get upset about because it hadn’t been three hours yet, and goddamn it, he needed to do something. It’d been such a lousy night that—
Fredrik whirled around. Whatever expression he was wearing made Van Nistelrooy step back and even Henrik lift a protesting hand. Henrik then started to say something, but stopped when Fredrik began to stalk towards them.
“Ruud. You can go home. Giuly’s interceded with Vieira and so no more contract on your head, but you’d damn well better have found another moneymaker because it wasn’t cheap,” Fredrik said, very slowly and distinctly. When he was close enough, he got Henrik by the arm and then kept on going so the other man had to come along with him. For the first few seconds Henrik didn’t seem to know who to look at, but he finally settled for twisting around so he wasn’t walking backwards. “Stop staring at my back and get the hell out of here.”
He didn’t stop to see if Van Nistelrooy took the advice, but instead marched straight into his office, pushing Henrik in ahead of him. Then he turned to shut and lock the door, and Henrik said, “So what—”
Fredrik spun on his heel, yanked Henrik forward by that tie the man couldn’t stop fingering, and smashed their mouths together. For some reason Henrik was still trying to talk, but then Fredrik grabbed the back of his head and the improved leverage meant Fredrik could grind down hard enough to make Henrik hold his lips still. Made it a tad more awkward to get off Henrik’s belt and yank at his shirt, but then the buttons started to rip off and Fredrik could get his hand on skin.
Right about then Henrik finally did something with his hands. What that was, Fredrik didn’t really know because he was busy feeling up the man’s chest and abs and back, but he had the vague impression of little pushes at his shoulders and then a couple tugs in the vicinity of his coat lapels. They went away when he stuck his tongue in Henrik’s mouth, but then came back as ten claws dragging through the back of his suit-jacket. He had the funny feeling Henrik was trying to make them stop, but that was a stupid thing to do so he ignored it and played around with a nipple instead. Henrik sagged and finally made a groaning sound. The gouging at Fredrik’s right shoulderblade stopped and a scrabbling at his waist started.
After a lot of grunting and yanking without actually looking at what he was doing, he thought he’d gotten Henrik’s shirt down around the man’s elbows, but he couldn’t get it any further because Henrik’s arms were bent. Which was annoying, even if Henrik was now sucking at Fredrik’s lower lip and had some part of his leg pressed hard into Fredrik’s growing erection. Fredrik pulled harder, but only ended up making Henrik move away--really stupid move, Fredrik thought, and insistently pushed forward before he realized that that was because the other man had lost his balance.
Unfortunately, they didn’t fall in a way that let Fredrik get rid of any more clothes: in fact, he actually ended up eating Henrik’s tie for a moment. Somehow. He irritably spit it out while pulling his arm out from Henrik. Then he looked down, and glazed eyes and a reddened, swollen mouth stared back up.
“Freddie—” Henrik started.
“I have so fucking had it tonight,” Fredrik snarled. He dove back down, but then jerked away at the last moment when he realized he was about to bite into the tie again. After slapping that out of the way, he shoved his face into Henrik’s throat and his hands down the other man’s trousers. “Fucking—French—Dutch—fuck it, Van Persie can watch if he’s got that much—not sleeping—”
Henrik wasn’t wearing anything under his trousers, which was the first helpful thing that’d happened to Fredrik tonight even if it meant the other man started twisting and bucking around like someone was electrocuting him. Fredrik just bit his neck and felt around till he got his hand fully around Henrik’s balls and then Henrik stopped moving, except for bumping his hands into Fredrik’s nose and forehead. So Fredrik bit him again, and then looked up to see that oh, Henrik had just been trying to get off his tie before it strangled him. Then again, that little moan and wriggle hadn’t exactly been protesting, so Fredrik shrugged and just stripped down Henrik’s trousers. And while he was at it, he got his own down as well.
“Can’t—fucking punch anybody—nose would look better with half of it broken off,” Fredrik mumbled, chewing his way up to Henrik’s jaw. He pressed his teeth into the flesh behind the ear, then sucked at the spot while jabbing his knees at Henrik’s thighs till those lifted and he could get behind the man’s balls. “Or—Ronaldo—should take a flying leap into—”
Henrik’s hand batted and scratched annoyingly at Fredrik’s left hip. While running a thumbnail across the head of the man’s prick made him stop, he started right up again when Fredrik moved his hands back between his legs. So Fredrik finally got up on one elbow and started to ask what the hell was the matter now, only to nearly get his nose cracked into the top of Henrik’s head. Luckily for Henrik, he laid back down in a hurry after slapping the little tube he’d gotten from…somewhere…into Fredrik’s hand. Oh. Oh, well, that was…useful.
A couple seconds later, Fredrik had his tongue scraping the roof of Henrik’s mouth and had smeared about half of the tube’s contents up Henrik’s ass, and the leftovers over his cock. Henrik was hooking his fingers into Fredrik’s shoulders and pushing his hips up, so Fredrik assumed that was enough. He braced his knee, pushed Henrik’s left hip over a bit, and then shoved himself into the other man. Hard, fast, balls-deep and God, then Henrik clenched up around him and perfect timing. Fredrik’s vision went a little white and when he stopped to breathe, it went in and out as a wheeze. This was better, he thought.
And then Henrik relaxed so he could move, and it was damn good but he was off-balance and couldn’t slide back in right away. He shifted forward, waited for Henrik to stop twisting around, and then got his elbows down on the floor beside the other man’s head and then he had it right. Forward onto his arms, and then backward onto knees and fingers already trying to pull him back, and forward and back and again till it was just a rocking blur and between Henrik’s ass and mouth Fredrik couldn’t string two thoughts together, let alone complain about them. No, he was just gasping and maybe biting again, and pressing their flesh together and getting dizzy and finally, finally, finally.
All right, he blearily thought…sometime later. He couldn’t see either of their watches when his face was smashed into Henrik’s shoulder, and he didn’t really feel like making the effort to move to where he could. “I think I’m calm now.”
Fredrik tried to blink, but right, shoulder in the way. He grudgingly lifted his head and was promptly rewarded with the confirmation that yes, that confused grunt had come from the man beneath him. Henrik Larsson, longtime professional assassin and newest rising star in Lehmann’s team, appeared to be totally out of it. His eyes weren’t even focused, though he tried hard for about five seconds to fix that.
And he still looked good like that. If Fredrik hadn’t been so utterly boneless and free of tension, he might’ve been annoyed, but since he was like that, he just enjoyed the sight. “And I didn’t end up in Raúl’s waiting room this time, unless…Henke? You don’t need a doctor, do you?”
“What?” Henrik’s eyelashes fluttered. Then he gave up and let his head fall back, eyes closed and breathing on the wheezing side. After a few moments, he did try and move his hips, but Fredrik jerked himself down and forward on instinct, and Henrik stiffened up and sort of whined a little. He let out a couple pants before he spoke again. “I don’t think…I think I can deal with it myself. Ah. Freddie?”
“Oh, good,” Fredrik muttered, not really listening. It wasn’t very considerate of him, but come to think of it, it’d been a really, really long time since he’d been in anything like this position and he had forgotten how good it felt to just lie around with his cock in somebody’s ass. Even if it was softened up…though hmmm, that might change in a moment. “I wonder if this is why Jens tends to go home for lunch now. He’s always a lot more relaxed in the afternoon.”
“Fredrik, why on earth are you talking about Lehmann right now?” Henrik asked rather plaintively.
Fredrik thought about it and was about to reply when he noticed Henrik’s eyes had rolled back into his head. And then he realized he’d been absently rolling his hips. He stopped, but that only seemed to puzzle the other man more. “I have no idea. Except he did tell me a couple days ago to do just this, actually, and as usual he was right. But it’d probably be a bad idea to thank him for that, wouldn’t it?”
A couple minutes passed. Then Henrik raised his head. His eyes drifted a bit before they found Fredrik. “Freddie, are you getting off me any time soon?”
“Well, I don’t really want to. Do I need to?” Fredrik mused, hitching up his hips a bit. He heard Henrik’s head thump against the floor again and grinned, then bent over.
* * *
The dark hunched form in the bathroom doorway paused. “Are you going to throw up again?”
Cristiano squeezed his stomach muscles and held his breath. Then he slowly exhaled, letting his head loll on the bed. He had the feeling that he was lying the wrong way on it, but he was at that nice, uncaring stage where if the apartment had been on fire, he probably would’ve just flopped around thinking the flames were pretty colors. Which he sort of remembered he’d been aiming for so okay, no reason to go messing around with it. “No.”
After a moment, Gabriel bent back over and returned to whatever he’d been doing on the floor. He was humming, oddly enough. Some tuneless nonsense that normally would’ve offended Cristiano’s artistic sensibilities, but that right now was kind of soothing.
“Gaby?” Cristiano said again. He closed his eyes. “I saved everything, right? I didn’t write down a bunch and then—”
“Yeah, you saved it, and I already burned it to a CD for you. Do you need something?” Gaby banged something, hissed, and muttered an apology.
For a long, long moment, Cristiano didn’t hear anything. It got a little weird so he opened his eyes, and then he heard Gaby moving towards him so he turned his head. The other man stopped when he saw that Cristiano was…sort of with it, still too far away for Cristiano to see his expression.
“Cris, you were just going to get drunk, remember?” Gaby finally said. “You weren’t going to go and…do all that again.”
“Oh. Right.” Cristiano wasn’t actually, completely sure what Gaby was talking about, but the sad, kind of disappointed way Gaby said it did get through to him. And made him feel depressed, which was not what he was trying to do and…and he just really didn’t want to think about it. “Gaby, I’m going to sleep now.”
The bathroom door shut so only a little sliver of light came past it. “Okay,” Gaby called back. “I already started rearranging your schedule for tomorrow.”
Schedule? Oh, whatever. In the morning…later…Cristiano would think about that, and about everything else. Right now, he was just rolling over on his side so he was completely in the dark.
* * *
When the bed dipped José woke up, and then he really wished he hadn’t. He squeezed his eyes shut against the ache in his head and was in the process of shoving himself beneath the pillow when a sharp, stunning pain suddenly cut through his gut. It left him breathless and fearful that he’d—he’d ruptured something, or God knew what.
“José?” Fingers lightly touched his shoulder. When he groaned, they closed over his upper arm and pulled, gently but insistently. “You need to drink something. You’re dehydrated, and I don’t want to have to call your uncle again—”
“Is that why my stomach feels like it’s getting ripped in half?” José finally inched his way out, trying to keep his eyes shut as much as possible. He glimpsed something gleaming in front of him and reached out with a hand to pat it.
It turned out to be the rim of a glass, so he stretched out his head and Ruud moved his hand so between them, José managed to tip about half of it into his mouth. The water helped ease his gut-cramping, but the pounding in his head got even worse. He buried his head in the mattress.
Ruud laughed a little, doing something near the bed. Then his weight settled down beside José and his hip rolled up against the top of José’s head. “I guess you want to wait for the aspirin?”
“I’d just throw it back up right now,” José muttered. He ran his tongue around the inside of his mouth to try and get rid of its sour cotton taste, then slowly scooted over so he could press more of his face to Ruud’s leg. He was kind of cold, come to think of it, and he didn’t know where the blankets were. “Ruud? I’m almost sober now, and…I did hear you tell Cristiano you weren’t over him.”
The thigh up by José’s cheek tensed. Then Ruud sighed, the sound wafting across José’s back as the other man bent over him. A sheet rustled up over José’s hip, then was smoothed down over his back by a careful hand. “No, I’m not, and to be honest I don’t know if that…that sore is ever going to heal. But I’m not with him right now, and I shouldn’t be. I should be here. This is where I need to be.”
“I need you,” José mumbled. Ruud had started carding his fingers through José’s hair and the repetitive motions were slowly smoothing off the hard edges of José’s headache. “I know you said you can’t do that for me, but I need you to.”
“I know you do.” The headboard creaked as Ruud leaned against it. He breathed in once, very low and deep. “I got that wrong, back then. I think I can do it for you, and if I can, then I should. So I’m staying. I’m not leaving you like this, José.”
José mostly heard the last part of that because he was falling asleep again, but he clutched desperately at it. Ruud wasn’t going. That was what he needed to hear.
* * *
Alessandro paused, the rest of his blistering comment on Buffon’s diagnostic skills teetering on the tip of his tongue. Then he put his good hand down on the edge of the examining table and twisted around. “Sir? I hope I didn’t hear that right.”
“Oh, of course you did. Don’t start trying to pull that look now—if you were going to try and puppy your way out of this, you should’ve kept Gila around instead of sending him and Rino off,” Lippi snarled. He stalked forward so he could jab his finger at some point just in front of Alessandro’s right eye. “Do you know how much you, and you alone, have cost the department this week? Sandro, for the love of God, you are supposed to preserve order! You’re not supposed to wreck downtown traffic for hours and then try and arrest a senator!”
“Yes, he’s guilty and in the end you’ve probably gotten what we need for an iron-clad indictment.” Lippi leaned back, his scowl pulling itself into an expression of supreme exasperation. He yanked at his hair, adjusted his glasses, and then whirled on his heel. “Which is why you’re going on paid vacation. As of now. Dr. Buffon, please submit whatever medical restrictions you think are applicable along with the bill.”
Buffon, annoyingly enough, didn’t look stunned at all. Instead he put his hands together in front of him and made a little mock-prayer of thanks to heaven. “Finally, somebody with sense.”
“Mar—sir, you can’t…” Alessandro started. But Lippi wasn’t even turning around, and for the first time in a couple years, the beginnings of panic stirred in Alessandro. He tried to hop off the table, but Buffon’s goddamn shoulder planted itself in the middle of his chest and shoved him back. Then the fucking doctor started feeling him over again, like he hadn’t all but shoved in a rectal thermometer when Alessandro had first come in. “Sir! I don’t need a vacation! It’s just a broken wrist! It’s not even my right hand!”
“Go home and clean out your attic or something, Sandro.” Lippi did pause at the door, but when he turned around, the hardness in his eyes and around his mouth made Alessandro’s heart sink. It must have shown, since Lippi did sigh. But didn’t soften. “Look, trust me. You need one. And just to make sure you do take one—if you even call in a traffic violation to a beat cop, I’m suspending you for a month. If you get some sense and decide to go out of the country, and you see some kid stealing a bike and report it to the local police? I’ll suspend you. If you do anything remotely related to law enforcement—”
Alessandro still didn’t agree in the slightest with the man, but he knew when he was looking at a lost battle. He sagged back on the table. “—you’ll suspend me.”
“You can come back in two weeks and have all your cases back. I’ll let Gila and Rino keep working on them instead of letting Totti borrow them,” Lippi said a little more kindly. Then he glowered again. “But till then, I don’t want to hear from you.”
With the sound of Lippi’s retreating footsteps as counterpoint, Alessandro dropped backwards onto the table and groaned. He closed his eyes.
“Good. Stay like that while I see about that sprained elbow and I’ll let you walk out instead of drugging you and throwing you in the first car I see,” Buffon muttered.
Alessandro opened his eyes. “Why the hell are you always my doctor? You’re an asshole.”
“Because for some stupid reason, everybody else is terrified of you. Dealing with you lets me trade off the worst cases for the next week.” Buffon’s hands wrapped around Alessandro’s bicep and forearm, and then he pulled--
--when Alessandro’s vision came back, the other man had intelligently moved to the other side of the room. He’d already bandaged Alessandro’s elbow; Buffon was fast, if nothing else. “…light activity only, and no stress on that arm till I see him again. Okay, you can have him now. Though God knows why anyone would…”
“Gila?” Alessandro said, taking a wild guess. The startled cough he got in response sounded right, but then nothing followed so he painfully sat up. “Alberto?”
“Oh, sorry.” Alberto rushed over and then skidded to a stop in front of Alessandro, looking anxious. “Sorry about that. It’s just Buffon just said he liked my tie, and that was confusing. But anyway, what are we doing now?”
For a long, long moment, Alessandro looked at him. Then he laid back down on the table, cursing Lippi and Buffon and that goddamn red light that hadn’t changed fast enough. “Just call me a taxi, Gila. I’m going home.” He waited. Nothing. “Gila, now.”
A belated ‘yes, sir’ and then skittering feet. And then Alessandro was completely alone, and completely, utterly without any idea what he was supposed to do now.