|Waiting for Something
Author: Guede Mazaka
“Does Raúl know you look this bad?” Lionel asked, leaning over to put a hand on Cesc’s forehead. He snatched it away when Cesc smacked at him, then swooped his hand beneath Cesc’s arm and got it on Cesc’s head anyway. His eyes widened almost comically. “You’re burning up!”
“It’s another twenty minutes before the aspirin kicks in.” Cesc pushed his chair far enough back so that Lionel couldn’t reach him. His vision briefly blurred and he irritably willed his eyes to focus again. Considering the afternoon of sorting documents he had ahead of him, that was the last thing he needed. “It’s not as bad as it feels, really. I was running around a lot this morning and I got all warmed up from that.”
Lionel rolled his eyes, but let Cesc be in favor of putting his headset back on. He left the right earphone off so he could still have a conversation. “Fàbregas, the easiest way to tell when you’re sick is when you stop lying well. You should go home. Ruud did fine for two years without an official assistant, so can’t he do without you for a day?”
“You haven’t seen him lately, have you?” Cesc snorted. A throb was starting up behind his right eye. He put his elbow up on the counter beside him and rested his head—just for a second—on his hand. And lost track of his train of thought for a moment in the middle of all the weird fuzzy things that were beating around inside his skull. “Hey, when was the last time you went home? Weren’t you wearing that shirt yesterday?”
“Maybe.” The other man looked a tad defensive as he hunched over the soundboards. His fingers danced across the knobs and toggles. “Lampard called and said something’s up, they can’t come in for a while. So I’m working my way through the backlog of rough cuts till somebody gets back to me with the story on what’s up with that.”
It took a moment for Cesc to get that that had been aimed at him, and then he felt a little crappier. “Oh…oh, damn it, sorry. I meant to tell you yesterday, but I think I forgot to come by…”
Lionel shot him another motherly look. Weird how a little mop-headed dork like him could manage that sort of expression.
“It’s their manager. He’s not happy for some reason and he’s been kind of pressuring the band, and…well, I think they’re happy so they don’t know what’s wrong with him. But he’s like a boyhood friend so they’re trying to work things out with him,” Cesc said. He rubbed at his eyes, then grimaced as his fingers came away with some kind of sticky gunk. Not much, but still enough to be worth wiping his hand off with a tissue. “It’s gone to Legal now so I should be getting more details. I’m sitting down with Ricky later about Deco’s stuff, so I’ll bug him then.”
“You call him Ricky?” Lionel asked.
Cesc wrinkled his nose. “Cmon, Kaká? That’s just an embarrassing nickname. I can’t believe he doesn’t blush when people call him that—he blushes at just about everything else. And…I really wish you’d been with us the other day. We were going down the hall and went past a studio, and the door was half-open. And he accidentally got an eyeful of Lahm getting all over Hildebrand.”
“Oh, poor Kaká.” With a shrug, Lionel pushed away from the boards. He put his arms over his head in a quick stretch, then leaned down to rustle up some bottles of juice. “He’s really just a nice guy.”
“He’s like those things you hear about, that they say exist somewhere around here? You know, virgins?” Cesc snorted. When offered one, he took a bottle and cracked it open, but he only took a couple sips before he put the top back on. His throat was kind of sore, but it hurt to swallow.
Lionel paused in a funny way.
Cesc stared. “Oh, my God. Really?”
“He’ll tell you so, too. I told you I hadn’t done him,” Lionel said, a touch of reproof in his tone. He shrugged again and swigged down half his bottle. “Kind of happy I never tried, come to think about it. He’s really cute, but I wouldn’t want all of that on me.”
“Yeah…so how’s the Ronaldinho-Màrquez thing?” Something else was niggling at Cesc’s mind, too. He picked at the bottle label, trying to pin it down, but that aspirin really was taking forever to work.
Lionel bobbled his bottle as he set it down. He turned a little pink in the cheeks. “Ronnie’s fine. I…um, kind of never called Rafa back. But he didn’t call me either, so I guess that’s…it? But anyway, you should go home.”
“I think if I did, Ruud would fatally insult somebody and then I’d have a Portuguese shit on my doorstep again, demanding I figure out a way to bring Ruud back from the dead,” Cesc muttered. Oh…oh, shit. That was it: he needed to call that realtor back so Ruud had an appointment to find a place for Ronaldo. “Crap, I need to go. See you later, Leo.”
He gave Lionel a quick ruffle of the hair; Lionel made a protesting noise and slapped his wrist and then looked up with seriously worried eyes. “I can take you home again, okay? Just call me when you need the ride.”
“’kay,” Cesc said. He flipped a hand over his shoulder as he walked out.
* * *
Apparently, Cesc’s hearing was going along with everything else. Ruud was having a pretty loud argument with Ljungberg and still Cesc didn’t hear him till those two were almost at the door to Ruud’s office. Cesc barely had the time to finish dumping the pills he’d found out the window and shove Ruud’s desk drawer shut before Ruud opened the door.
“They can’t do that. They’ve already outlaid for the performance and their event insurance isn’t going to cover that kind of cancellation,” Ruud said. He’d finally shaved and he looked a lot more together than he had in the last few days, but his eyes were still bloodshot and he kept pausing, like he couldn’t always keep track of what he was saying. “The publicity’s already gone all-out. The concert has to happen.”
“It does, but you’d better start looking for a different venue. That’s from Jens.” Ljungberg started to walk on, but turned back for a last comment. “And keep in touch, damn it. You have to sign off on things and you’ve been missing deadlines.”
Ruud stiffened. “Sorry. I’ll keep my phone on.”
He stood back to shut the door, but stopped to glower at the wall. Then he shook his head and turned around.
“Thinks he’s Lehmann’s own damn assist…Cesc,” Ruud said, finally seeing him.
“You’re seeing the realtor at five-thirty. I forwarded the message to Cristiano, but didn’t get a reply back yet.” Cesc paused to blink as the world momentarily swam before him. He had to point at some files on the desk anyway, so he just put his hand down on them for extra support. “These are the revised copies of Deco’s contract. And…and the bottom ones are on Victoria Beckham.”
Ruud nodded, hopefully following all of that for once. He came over to the desk and started flipping files while Cesc was halfway through his spiel. “Thanks. Did you catch much of what Freddie and I were talking about?”
“Cancelled event? The…uh…” Cesc beat at his brain till a guess popped out “…one in a week that’s the breast cancer benefit? Get exact details from Legal for you?”
“Right,” Ruud said, looking oddly at Cesc. He glanced at the files, then went back to staring at Cesc like there was something wrong with Cesc’s face. “You don’t look that well. Are you feeling all right?”
The last person on earth…well, almost. Things hadn’t gotten to the point where Cesc wanted to deal with Cristiano today just so he could be around one person who wouldn’t ask him how he was feeling. “I’ve got a cold. Which probably means I should find somebody else to pick up Cristiano from the hairdresser’s, right?”
“Cesc—just go home today and don’t worry about chauffeuring Cristiano around,” Ruud told him. Then Ruud turned back to the files, rubbing at his nose. “He’s supposed to know how to drive. Might as well make him use those skills before they rust away…oh, I don’t have anything else.”
“Okay. I’ll forward what I get from Ricardo to your PDA.” Cesc carefully took his hand off the desk and carefully walked out the door.
Well, that was really nice of Ruud. And it probably meant that he was over whatever Cristiano had done to him this time, or at least dealing with it to the point where he could function like a normal human being. Good, since Cesc had been running out of excuses for why Ruud wasn’t in the office or answering his phone.
He passed Ballack talking with Podolski and Odonkor on the way to his office. Ballack had his back to Cesc, but Podolski spotted Cesc and leaned over to whisper something into David’s ear. David nodded towards Ruud’s office and put his fingers against his arm, miming an injection.
Also Cesc was really, really tired of hearing all the rumors that Ruud was an addict. He liked gossip and made a specialty out of handling it, coming or going, but damage control definitely wasn’t his thing. It was just a pain in the ass. God, he couldn’t wait to go home.
But he’d barely sat down when somebody knocked. Cesc looked up with a sigh, then waved Kaká in. “Hi. Is there another problem or something?”
“Oh…no, I just was around and had some free time,” Ricky said. He’d been poking and prodding at Cesc ever since this stupid cold-fever-whatever had started, and he lost no time in bending over to peer into Cesc’s face. “You really, really need to see a doctor.”
“It’s getting better,” Cesc lied. He pinched at the bridge of his nose, then flopped out his arm to drag over his PDA. He couldn’t actually remember what he was supposed to do next. “I went to medical school, remember? I know what I’m doing.”
Ricky obviously wasn’t convinced, but thankfully, he was too polite to push. Though apparently hovering with his fingers waving around just above Cesc’s forehead wasn’t considered bad manners. “I guess you would, but you really don’t look well. Are you sure you still want to go through all that material this afternoon?”
The PDA said that Cesc was supposed to be squeezing in lunch right now. To be honest, food was about the last thing he felt like having; his stomach seemed to have shriveled up and disappeared. “Well, if you’re free now, we could start on it. You know, you can sit down. I know the chair’s not the big cushy leather ones you guys in the Legal department have, but—”
“It’s fine,” Ricky said, flashing a smile. He really should’ve gone in for modeling. Then again, probably all they had to do was put him up by the defendant and any judge, man or woman, would melt.
Cesc stared at his fingers lying on the black plastic case of his PDA and suddenly wondered why they looked all blurry. They weren’t melting, were they? “Oh, sorry, what?”
“We can do this some other time. Honestly, if you feel sick—”
“I’m not sick,” Cesc snapped.
Cue awkward silence. Ricky fiddled with his half-open briefcase and Cesc pressed his hands against his forehead. Actually, it felt really cold to him: he pressed harder to transfer some warm, then put his hands down and tried to smile.
“Sorry. It’s just everyone’s been asking me that, and okay, I do feel a little bad but I can’t go home right now. I’m planning to take off early, but the more people waste time bugging me, the later I have to make that,” he said. He spread his hands and pressed their palms into the desk. They felt a little sticky and cold.
“I’m sorry for adding to that.” Ricky ducked his head and shot Cesc a sheepish look at the same time, and somehow did that without breaking his neck. He opened his briefcase all the way and began shuffling through it. “I was just asking if Ruud’s had that lunch with Deco yet.”
Cesc dug through his memory again, but didn’t come up with anything. He waited for a few seconds, then reluctantly asked, “What lunch?”
“Oh. I…thought Ruud would’ve told you. During the meeting the other day, he invited Deco to do lunch with him so they could get to know each other better. Which I think would be a good thing,” Ricky said. He cut himself off a little quickly.
“I guess those two didn’t get any friendlier? I wasn’t in there for very long, but I noticed the kill-you looks.” Come to think of it, Cesc did need to follow up on that, and on whatever Ruud had been doing for the past two days. He slid the stylus for his PDA out of its holder and nearly scribbled a note to himself before catching on and giving himself a mental smack. Stupid idea to write down anything he was going to talk to Robin about. “I didn’t know you went back in there.”
Ricky neatly fanned out a handful of folders on Cesc’s desk, then dove back into his briefcase for a yellow legal pad filled with precisely straight lines of writing. He wrote like a dream secretary. “I ended up staying for the last hour because there was so much to go through. Bobby had me sorting on the spot for him.” He glanced uncertainly up. “Did…is there…something between Ruud and Deco?”
For a moment, Cesc thought he meant sexually, and that would’ve been a disaster. He tapped on his desk just to warn it off and shrugged. “Besides the incredible blimp that is Cristiano Ronaldo’s ego?”
“Don’t say that,” Ricky said, laughing. He sounded a little amused beneath the nervous shock, and a little surprised at being amused. “He’s part of the label. And his singing is quite good.”
“If you like that kind of stuff.” Cesc started flipping the cover of his PDA between his fingers.
“You don’t?” Ricky absently twirled a pen around. It looked like he was all ready, but he wasn’t jumping right into work like he usually did. “What kind of music do you like?”
Something suddenly lurched in Cesc’s stomach, which reappeared just in time to make him feel dizzy and nauseated. He hastily covered by sitting up and spinning to face his computer. After a second, he reached over and jiggled the mouse to bring up the password box. “Oh, lots. I don’t like Cristiano, but otherwise I’m pretty broadminded—if you really want to know, you should hit Premier on an open call night and then you can hear it. I’m required to be at those anyway.”
A weird look crossed Ricky’s face. He ducked his head again, and suddenly Cesc remembered Lionel’s revelation.
“You have been there, right? You work here,” Cesc said, incredulous.
“I…I don’t really like nightclubs.” Ricky lifted and dropped one shoulder. “I don’t drink, so it’s a little difficult.”
“Well, okay.” There wasn’t much Cesc could say to that. Though for a moment, it looked like Ricky wanted him to, but Cesc had no idea why the other man would be disappointed with not getting laughed at or pestered, which probably was the usual reaction he got. “So what do we have?”
Blink. Then Ricky shook himself and lifted the legal pad. “Yes, sorry. So there’s clause thirteen in section five…”
* * *
Even though they did get through work a half-hour faster than Cesc had originally expected, it still took forever to get rid of Kaká. He kept asking if he could get anything for Cesc for lunch, and saying it wouldn’t be a problem and apologizing for continuing to ask how Cesc was feeling, and it was all just too much like when Cesc’s aunts visited. But finally Bobby and Thierry happened by and they collected Ricky, and then Cesc was left in his office alone. Door locked. Headache killing him.
He put the back of his chair down and just laid in place for a few minutes, but whenever he closed his eyes, the spots behind them started to throb and kept him from napping. He finally sat back up and pulled out the file he’d gotten the last time he and Robin had met up, which he hadn’t had time to look at till now.
Like Robin had said, it wasn’t very interesting reading. Casillas came from an unremarkable family, had gotten a degree in journalism, slid into movie reviewing and somehow managed to become one of the most respected reviewers around without doing anything more scandalous than occasionally picking up a lay in a bar. Even then, Cesc and Raúl were probably the most well-connected ones he’d ever had. It really seemed too good to be true.
Cesc checked the clock, then said to hell with the rest of the day. He’d gotten most of his work done, made sure Ruud had a career tomorrow yet again, and all the stuff he had left was expense reports. Which Frings was going to get on him about, but Frings could damn well do that, then.
He did make sure to run the file through the shredder before he left, though. After he dropped in on Iker, he was going straight home and didn’t want to have to get up for any drama from anyone.
* * *
Iker didn’t blink a lot like most people when he was nervous. He just kind of stared with his eyebrows angled as if they were the first line of defense if anything nasty happened. “…Cesc?”
“Hi.” Cesc…could not remember the goddamn excuse he’d come up with to explain why he was here. He jiggled on his foot, then somehow lost his balance and had to make a wild grab for the side of the door.
God knew what Iker thought Cesc was doing, but it wasn’t good: the other man leaped back, throwing his arms up. “I’m sorry! Whatever it is, I’m sorry!”
“I…that’s not what I…look, can I come in for a moment?” Cesc asked. The doorframe wasn’t being very supportive. He could feel it trying to wriggle away from him even as he tightened his grip. “I just wanted to talk to you.”
Iker slowly got himself back into an upright position. He edged in a half-circle around the door, gradually closing the distance till he could put a hand on the door-edge. “I…told your uncle it really wasn’t necessary.”
“Oh…oh, right. I’m sorry about running away from you like that. I was kind of drunk. And kind of on-duty and it was a bad time for me—never mind. Sorry about that,” Cesc muttered. He vaguely remembered several messages on his answering machine threatening to tell his mother he needed a long holiday at home with lots of girl-cousins milling around if he didn’t finally get around to apologizing to Iker. Which he’d just done. One thing off his to-do list. “But actually, I…” All right, Cesc gave up on trying to find a cover-story. “I wanted to talk to you about Raúl.”
After a moment, Iker did a swivel on his toes and pulled himself and the door out of the way. He pushed his hand over the top of his hair, letting it sit on his neck once it’d gotten there. “I…um, it’s a mess in here. Sorry.”
It wasn’t that bad—there just were lots and lots of blank white DVD cases scattered all over the place. Especially under Cesc’s feet. He tried not to crunch over too many, but they just kept popping up there and finally he lunged for an overstuffed armchair in an attempt to get out of their way. Though he had to pull out one from beneath his ass when he sat down.
“Awards season,” Iker shrugged. He gathered up an armful of cases from the sofa and piled them on his coffee-table as he took a seat across from Cesc. He put his elbows on his knees, then took them off and leaned back, then sat forward again. After a moment, he seemed to get that Cesc was confused. “I have to rewatch all the movies released in the past year before I can fill out my ballots.”
“Right.” Cesc rubbed at the side of his face. “I just found out you were a reviewer.”
Iker shifted his arms around, awkwardly rubbing his hands past each other. He stared at the floor. “I told you that when we met.”
So…maybe he had a little bit of a spine, though he’d seemed to have said that more in confusion than in bitterness. It still made Cesc wince, anyway. “Okay…okay, I was really drunk and don’t remember a thing you told me. I’m—well, that’s the truth. Pretend we’re meeting again.”
The other man quirked an eyebrow at that. He was still rubbing his hands, and suddenly the pace of that really accelerated till it was like he was going for fire-starting, but then he flushed and yanked his hands apart. He glanced at Cesc as he shoved his hands beneath his arms. “I…well, I’ve had a couple conversations with your uncle about this, and I’m not quite sure about everything he said but I really am sorry about how things turned out, and my part in it. And I think it’s really important for you to get that.”
“To…get what?” Cesc finally said. The world was going funny colors again; he blinked hard, and then again, but it wouldn’t go back to normal.
“That—um, I probably shouldn’t have been drunk and in that bar either. Not that you aren’t—” Iker put his head down and coughed into his hand “—somebody I’d…when I’m sober…”
Cesc dragged his arm up onto the arm-rest and pressed the heel of his hand into his temple, grimacing so one eye was almost completely closed. It seemed to help with the nauseating color-shifts. “Look, Iker? Are you and Raúl still dating?”
Iker raised his head and dropped his hands between his knees, looking extremely puzzled. He chewed on his lip a bit before answering. “Do you have a problem with that?”
Yeah, Cesc thought. Probably the most coherent thought he’d had all day. “Why? Don’t you think it’s a little weird?”
“I think…” Iker’s shoulders shook a little bit. He put his hand up again to rub at his mouth and nose, turning his head so he looked away from Cesc. But the flash of teeth from his incredulous smile wasn’t completely hidden. Then he faced Cesc again, eyebrows up and expression serious. “It’s very, very weird. I’m not quite sure if it’s disrespectful or not, but I disagree with your uncle about whether it’s still your business. But—I didn’t sleep with him because he was related, I didn’t sleep with him because I thought it’d bother you, I didn’t say yes to dinner tomorrow with him because I thought it’d get me closer to you. Um…does that cover them all?”
He’d been ticking off his fingers like he had a mental list. Granted, he seemed to have thought a lot about this, but…wow, he was kind of weird. Maybe when he got drunk, he acted more normally. It’d been a lot of drinks, but Cesc thought he still would’ve remembered something like this. “Cover what?”
“Oh, wait. There’s also ‘sleeping with him because it’d destroy your relationship with him.’ Which wasn’t one for me either, I swear,” Iker said, tweaking his own pinkie finger. He let go of it and looked at Cesc again, then kind of gazed meaningfully around the room. “I spend a lot of time watching movies?”
“Well, it’s your job, right?” Cesc completely wasn’t following whether Iker was right now. A spike of pain went through his head and he couldn’t help flinching at it. “Look—why?”
Iker stared dead seriously at him. Clear water had nothing on the transparency of the other man’s face. “It wasn’t because of you. I…well, he fixed up my lip after he punched me and we talked and I like him. He’s the kind of guy I wish I hadn’t met while I’d been drinking somewhere. And he still wants me to come over for dinner for some reason.”
For a couple moments, Cesc sat and thought about that and rethought about it because his head was killing him. And then he finally gave in to the sense of inevitability that was surrounded him, muffling all the noise and blocking off parts of what he saw so there was only the really, really obvious conclusion: there was nothing wrong with Iker. Actually, he might be good for Raúl. He was really cute, and he probably was easy to shut up when his nervous tics got too annoying, and at the very least he’d do something about how uptight Raúl had been for the past year and a half, since the last time Cesc knew Raúl had been seeing someone.
“Thanks,” Cesc said. “I appreciate this,” he said.
And he really meant it. He didn’t like it, and it wasn’t going to send him home with anything to make him feel better, but well, it wasn’t always about him, was it? Point of the whole mess.
“I’m going to go now.” Cesc pushed himself out of the chair, lifted his foot to take a step, and then somehow missed the floor entirely when he tried to put his foot down.
* * *
“…don’t have any of that. I’ve got bell peppers. Will those work? Well, I can’t go out to the market now because—hang on, I think he’s awake.”
Stupid fucking band in Cesc’s skull needed to lose its drum set. He threw up his arm and wrapped it around his head, but the dull booms beating at his temples only got worse. And just moving his arm really ached all over; he could feel sore twinges going through his ankles, and that made no sense. “Iker?”
“Cesc! Oh, good, you’re not in a coma.” Iker was a little fuzzy, but his expression looked a lot less melodramatic than his statement had been. He gingerly touched Cesc’s forehead, then apologized for nearly a minute when Cesc groaned and jerked away. “I called your uncle, but he seems to be out so I left a message. Are you taking any medicine I should know about? Have you eaten today? I’m making chicken soup.”
Iker’s couch. It had its lumpy spots, but currently Cesc wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else. Mostly because he couldn’t move. “No, only had time to pop pills this morning…I had a bagel for lunch…what? Was that a question?”
“You need fluids. I’ll get you something for the fever, too,” Iker said, nodding. His hand hovered over Cesc’s hair, then withdrew. “I’ll be back in a second.”
“Mmmph.” Cesc rolled over, hoping that his head would stop hurting so much, but instead the drumming only got louder. He flopped back to how he’d been and buried his face in the cushions.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew this was incredibly awkward and he needed to go home. Call Leo or something. Something. He was really, really tired.
* * *
Things got a little spacy for a while. Cesc had the impression that Iker was carrying on a long, involved phone call with somebody who had philosophical objections to putting red pepper in chicken soup. And stuff about the scientific meaning of temperature and if Salma Hayek was all real.
He was doing other things too, because occasionally Cesc got with it enough to notice little details like the way the fever pills managed to turn his throat dry and bitter-tasting on the way down, and that he was way, way more comfortable without his tie and coat and belt on. Oh, and water was amazing. Best tasting drink ever. Iker had a nice couch. Cesc didn’t remember that, either.
Well, till somebody lifted his head and poked at his mouth with a blunt metal thing. He didn’t open his mouth in time, so whatever was in the spoon spilled on his lip. He absently stuck out his tongue to swipe it off and it was warm and velvety and…well, it didn’t taste like much, which was good. His stomach was feeling a little…Cesc tried to reach out, but felt his arm fall short. He humped over his other arm, which was folded beneath him, and flailed harder.
This time he grazed Iker’s leg, but then the other man moved. “What’s wrong?”
By then Cesc was getting a little desperate. He summoned up the little energy he had and lunged, grabbing at Iker’s knee. “I—toilet—”
“Oh.” Iker cursed and fumbled with something above Cesc’s head, then leaned down to get his hands beneath Cesc’s arm. “Wait a moment—”
“Don’t have—” Cesc started.
He finished in the bathroom. He wasn’t quite sure how he got there before the bile in his throat spewed up and out, but when it did, he was hanging over a toilet bowl. His fingers didn’t feel that strong and it really looked gross in the water and he just wanted to go home.
“Um, I’d…I think somebody needs to stay with you, and this is a little selfish but I have a lot of work to do. Plus I told your uncle to come pick you up here,” Iker said. He brushed at Cesc’s forehead, curling his fingers around to pull back Cesc’s hair from his face. The strands were beginning to mat up with sweat. “How long have you been like this?”
Cesc spat up a last mouthful of vomit before sagging backward. He practically sat on Iker, and probably not in a very convenient way since the other man suddenly staggered, then nearly fell. Though Iker managed to keep Cesc up, which was good because otherwise Cesc’s hand might’ve fallen in the toilet.
The other man maneuvered Cesc through washing his face and rinsing out his mouth, then for some reason put Cesc up against the wall so he could unbutton Cesc’s shirt. “When was the last time you changed your clothes?”
“I bet I smell,” Cesc muttered. He just held onto whatever the hell body part of Iker’s was nearest. “Um…honestly, probably started sick two days again. But Ruud was off having a nervous breakdown or something and I had to cover for him, so I couldn’t go home. I…look, I feel better now. I can take a shower if it’s that bad.”
“Ruud’s the one you’re assistant to? Raúl told me a little about him.” Iker stood back to look at Cesc at arm’s length, then shook his head. “I don’t think—”
The phone rang. Cesc took advantage of Iker’s momentary distraction to push away from the wall. He concentrated and told himself he needed to work for a moment, and he thought he managed to look pretty steady. “No, really. If you don’t mind me borrowing your shower…and this is weird. This is like what should’ve happened last time I was here. I don’t think I even was in here. Was I?”
Lucky guess: Iker went all twitchy and blushing at the reminder and hastily stumbled out of the room, saying that Cesc could help himself to the soap. That damned phone was still going off like crazy, and while whatever medicine Iker had given him was kicking in, it wasn’t doing that fast enough.
Cesc gritted his teeth and pushed aside the shower curtain. Soap. The world was turning funny colors again, so he just hoped he was lucky again and stuck his hand out to the left.
* * *
Little water droplets flew off Cesc’s eyelashes when he blinked, and he could hear them crash into the porcelain bottom of the tub. He winced. “I’m wet.”
“I hope you don’t get pneumonia now,” Iker sighed, lifting him out. “You are clean, though.”
“Didn’t you have a phone call?” The moment Cesc was over the tub-edge, he was freezing cold. It was like all the drafts in the place had decided to swirl around him and he was so, so grateful for the towel and he was just going to roll up in it, thank you, and lean on Iker’s shoulder.
Iker scrubbed at Cesc’s hair with yet another towel. A hairdryer made a brief appearance, which made Cesc rasp his way through a couple giggles because Iker’s hair was so short and what did he need that for? Okay, maybe some delirium was working in here, too. Maybe that was why he felt all hot again.
“Oh, it was just my editor calling to yell at me not to miss my deadline,” Iker said, sounding a little amused himself. “I could’ve just let my answering machine take it. It’s not like I get a chance to talk anyway.”
“I try never to miss phone calls. It’s really bad—you don’t take one and next thing you know, you’re running down to the police station to bail out your boss’ whacked-out boyfriend. You can’t miss calls. Or messages. It’s—oh, fuck, my cell, my PDA, the realtor’s supposed to—” Cesc pushed at Iker, then kicked at him when the other man wouldn’t let him go. The sweat on Cesc’s forehead turned clammy and he was really cold again, stupid room temperature couldn’t make up its mind and he was going to be late--“Goddamn it!”
Iker wrestled Cesc around till Cesc was locked up against him, facing out so kicking was no longer a possibility. Then he just held on, not doing anything except being an immovable prick and sometimes grunting and, and, and.
And Cesc ran out of energy and slumped to a stop. His eyes stung. “I hate you. Damn it, I need to go to work.”
“If you go, you’re going to end up in the hospital. What would you need to do that’s that important?” Iker asked.
“Oh, shut up. You don’t know anyway. I’m not here just for the sex—I’m really serious about it. I want my job and I didn’t quit medical school just to annoy you, uncle,” Cesc muttered.
Long pause. Eventually Iker seemed to get that Cesc wasn’t going anywhere and loosened up enough to push a shirt and sweat-pants at Cesc. He tried to help a little, but he kept his head angled oddly so he couldn’t really see what he was doing, and his fingers kept poking Cesc.
“Haven’t you seen this all before? Iker?” Cesc finally said.
Iker flushed from hairline to collar. He tugged a little too hard at the strings at Cesc’s waistband. “I—did I mention I was drunk?”
“Oh, right.” Cesc hesitantly stepped away from the wall, then grabbed for Iker’s arm. He gratefully let the other man put an arm around him. “Too bad. Bet I looked better then than I do now.”
“No, you look fine.” Said with chin stiffly up, like how Cesc used to try and be nice to his irritating aunts when he was younger and his parents could make him. “Do you want to try eating anything? Or just lie down till Raúl comes?”
Neither option sounded that appealing. “Right, you want me out of the way to do work now. Can’t blame you…you know, Raúl’s going to be so annoyed. He lectured me about taking care of myself and he’s just going to think I’m still an idiot. I wish he liked me.”
“I’m—I think he likes you,” Iker stammered.
“No, ‘cause he turned me down. He likes you. He said so.” Cesc shifted his head, moving it up so he wasn’t getting prodded by the bony part of Iker’s shoulder. He misstepped and gasped, but Iker hauled him back. “You’re really nice, you know. I wish I remembered what you looked like.”
Iker awkwardly patted at Cesc’s back and sides. “Um.”
“I’m thirsty,” Cesc said. “You know, this is the first time in a week I’ve really talked about non-work stuff.”
* * *
The bowl was really heavy, and Cesc’s hands weren’t working properly anyway so he kept almost dropping it or the spoon or both. Finally Iker threaded an arm behind him and curved it to help Cesc hold up the bowl. He let Cesc have most of the couch, stretching out one leg to prop up on the coffee-table and bending the other one to balance his legal pad on his knee.
“What are you writing?” Cesc asked in between sips.
“Notes so I don’t forget what this movie is about,” Iker mumbled. He took the end of the pen out of his mouth and scribbled down something, then stuck it back in as he stared at the TV. He didn’t look that pleased. “Right now it’s holiday season, so I sometimes have to watch ten or twelve a day and so many of them are the same plot with the same actors and actresses.”
Cesc put his head back down on Iker’s shoulder. The bowl was mostly empty, so he let it sit on his lap. “Why don’t you just write one review for them all and then change the names?”
Iker grinned after a second. “I’m really tempted to sometimes. See that red-haired guy? He’s going to find out he has AIDS or cancer in ten minutes. And I think the murderer is the doctor.”
“It should be the kid.”
“So nobody would suspect him,” Cesc said. He pulled up the bowl for another mouthful of soup; Iker wrapped his fingers over Cesc’s to help him balance it while taking more notes. “Besides, eight-year-olds can be that bad. Just ask Raúl about some of the screwed-up stars’ kids he’s had to treat.”
Iker glanced at him, then went back to staring at the screen. “He always seems angry over something at work. Does he not like his job? I…well, I’m still not really sure what he does.”
“Takes care of everybody that works for Jens Lehmann at FC. And a couple that kind of don’t really work there, but they’re like dating Jens or whatever. They’re all crazy and they sleep around and do drugs and everything.” Cesc shrugged and licked at his lips to get off all the soup. He managed to get the bowl up by himself to finish off the last mouthfuls. “But that’s not it…Raúl was okay with it till he broke up with his longtime boyfriend like two years ago. He’s been grumpy ever since.”
“Good riddance to him. I didn’t like him. Not that him leaving helped me any,” Cesc muttered. “Hey, the soup’s gone.”
After pausing the movie, Iker carefully got himself untangled from Cesc and got up. “Here, I’ll get another bowl for you.”
* * *
“…was out on a stupid goddamn house visit, and the patient thought that three platinum records meant she could demand I turn off all electronic devices and do a whole bunch of other…God, I hate divas. No, turn him the other way.”
“…hmmm?” That actually had been a really nice nap Cesc had been having. He frowned and moved his head around, not liking the fingers prodding him. Then they eased off and just pressed lightly against his neck, moving in slow circles up towards his ears, and that was okay. “…Iker? Did she forgive him for killing her father who was really her kidnapper?”
Weird-sounding cough near his left ear. “Oh…yes. And they got married and honeymooned in Paris. I was trying to catch up on my work.”
“Mother of God. I swear, the next time I go into the office it’ll be to ask Jens if I can shove Ronaldo’s hypodermics down Van Nistelrooy’s skinny throat. I can’t believe he was making Cesc work like this. Did you feed him anything? He looks thin…I saw him last week, I can’t believe how he looks now…”
“Ten bowls of chicken soup. He threw up earlier so I didn’t think solid food was good…well, he said he wasn’t hungry but I thought I’d just refill the bowl and he just kept eating it…”
Cesc flinched as someone tugged at his arms, pulling him away from Iker. He jerked away and dug his hands behind Iker till he could hook them together. “Fuck off. Don’t wanna go back to work.”
“I’m not taking you back to work, Francesc,” Raúl said. “I’m taking you to bed.”
“Are not. You said no.” Cesc hugged Iker harder. He couldn’t really count, but definitely more than one pair of hands was pushing at him now so he tucked his head down, trying to minimize what they could get hold of. “You said I didn’t really want it, but I do. I didn’t work in medical school but I’m working now and I practically was Ruud for the last two days and I really love you and I really want you to be happy and Iker’s great. Watch movies with him.”
“…I only gave him some over-the-counter pills to get the fever down,” Iker said after a couple minutes had passed in silence. He shifted and put his hands on Cesc’s arms, but pulled them away when Cesc tightened his grip. His voice got a little breathless. “Cesc, listen, I need a nap. And you do, too, so can we go to the bed where my back won’t get cramped?”
Cesc thought about it. Got a better grip on Iker. “Okay.”
* * *
Some phone was ringing. Habit had Cesc’s arm out and flailing around on the bedside table, and experience meant he got his hand on the phone after only two slaps. He fumbled it under the covers with him, trying not to lose any of the warmth, and put it up against his ear. “It’s Cesc.”
*…Cesc? What are you doing answering…never mind, I needed to talk to you too,* Ruud said. *Are you at Raúl’s house?*
Things in the bed shifted, and Cesc slowly realized it was actually really crowded. He was feeling better, but his joints were still kind of achy and his head was fuzzy, and the body he was half-draped over was slowly turning towards him. He shifted to get his head and the phone further away from the other person’s head, which was now pushed up against his collarbone, then settled back as they grabbed him into a clumsy snuggle. The person on the other side of him snorted once and started to stir too.
“I don’t think so. I came down sick yesterday…I think I went to get that seen to,” Cesc muttered. He did remember that much. “What is it?”
*Oh…how bad is it? I need the contact number of the place we used to store all the extra boxes from when Cristiano sold his house. If you could just--*
The mattress dipped behind Cesc. That was the only warning Cesc got before Raúl came out of absolutely nowhere to snatch the phone from him. The sheets ripped off of Cesc and practically flipped him around and up onto his elbows as he stared at the other man. He opened his mouth, but Raúl put up one forefinger, and considering the look on Raúl’s face, it seemed like a good idea to obey.
“Ruud?” Raúl said in a calm tone. Then he suddenly dropped to a snarl that could’ve brought rampaging bulls to a cowering stop. “If you ask Cesc even how the weather looks like tomorrow before I give him a clean bill of health, I’m going to come over, emasculate you and pickle your balls as a medical exhibit. Okay?”
On Cesc’s other side, the blankets moved around and eventually rustled up Iker’s tousled head. He started to say something and Cesc smacked a hand over his mouth.
“Okay,” Raúl said, back to calm again. He flipped his phone shut, then tossed it back onto the end-table. His legs were under the blankets. His hair was all rumpled. His eyes were bloodshot and had dark bags under them, and he was staring at Cesc as if he had to announce somebody’s death.
Iker moved to get his mouth away from Cesc’s hand. The bed suddenly shook as he flopped off its edge. “I think I’ll go and make breakfast,” he said, sidling towards the door.
Cesc almost looked at the other man but didn’t. More pieces of the last day were coming back to him—enough so that he really wished he was still delirious. Sure, it came with serious aches and fatigue, but his face was already burning anyway.
“Why didn’t you call me?” Raúl finally asked. A little furrow appeared between his drawn brows when Cesc’s jaw dropped. “Do you have any idea how badly off you were—are?”
Well, it wasn’t bad enough to keep Cesc from jerking his jaw back to where it should be, or from getting angry enough to make the sheets groan with the strain when he clenched his fists in them. He started to talk, then shook his head and instead shifted to get off the bed. “You know, I’m not doing this. I’m going—I’ll call Leo, he’ll take me to a doctor and then I’ll go home. Get better, go back to work, and—don’t touch me! Don’t you goddamn—”
He jerked away, but his dizziness made him feel like he was trying to move through molasses. Whereas apparently time and space were working right for Raúl, since he just got a better grip on Cesc’s arm and dragged Cesc back. Cesc tried to elbow him, but somehow ended up pinned on his back instead. He cursed and pushed at Raúl’s chest a couple times, but the other man didn’t budge at all, and finally Cesc just had to collapse.
“Francesc—” Raúl started, voice low and dangerous.
Whatever. He could threaten Ruud that way but he didn’t have anything left to use against Cesc. “Don’t lecture me, you hypocritical—um—jerk.” Fever was taking the best insults out of Cesc’s head. “Look, I remember all the things I said yesterday. I wasn’t drunk, I wasn’t kidding around and I wish I hadn’t said them but—I stand by them. But you’re pretending I didn’t say anything. You’ve got your pride? Well, so do I.”
Cesc got that all out in one breath. He stopped to breathe and forgot if he’d had anything coming after that. He needed to say something, if only to keep things up between him and Raúl who was just sitting there, but he inhaled again and couldn’t think of anything. And again, and he was just panting and watching Raúl stare at him.
“You know, if you just don’t like me now, you could’ve said so. I’m all grown up. I can take a couple insults,” Cesc finally said.
Something funny happened to Raúl’s eyes: their pupils went dark and tight, and it was almost like they’d sucked the air from the room into them. But then he shook his head and sat up, mumbling to himself, and Cesc just looked at the shadows on the ceiling. Cooking smells started to drift in; eventually Cesc’s stomach paid attention and he absently thought he might as well go for some of that.
He got up on one elbow and Raúl turned right back around, swearing beneath his breath, and Raúl put his hands on Cesc’s shoulders and shoved Cesc back down. And kissed him till the world fluttered dark and he had to put up his arms and hands to feel out the shape of it, follow gentle slopes down to strong bunched biceps and then across to map out the shifting muscles of the back.
At the same time that Raúl pulled back, he ran his hand feather-light down the side of Cesc’s face so Cesc sighed and tried to rise after him. But Cesc didn’t really have the energy, and his head hitting the bed was like—never mind, it was a nasty wake-up call. He winced and pulled his arms off the other man. “…thanks. But I…I really like Iker, actually. And I think he likes you a lot. I don’t—want to mess things up for you. Really, I don’t.”
“Right,” Raúl muttered, glancing down. Then he looked away, and he didn’t look back as he got up off the bed and walked out of the room.
Cesc laid on his back and wanted to hit his forehead a zillion times, and maybe cry like a little kid, too. But in the end he just thought being sick right now really fit with everything else. He felt like shit.
A noise came from the hall. He didn’t pay attention to it at first, but the third time it came, it was loud enough and annoying enough for him to roll over. He blinked hard.
Iker didn’t go away. He didn’t look any less puzzled, either; he wandered over to the bed and sat on it as an afterthought to whatever had his forehead all wrinkled and his eyes unfocused. After a moment, he turned to stare at Cesc. “I—your uncle just came in and talked to me. I already knew, a little, that this wasn’t going to be what it looked like. I can take apart a movie sixty different ways, but I never know what to say at the right time so I’m always losing people. That’s why I end up in bars—people aren’t so touchy when you’re drunk.”
“I…um…” Cesc at least tried to sit up. He didn’t know quite where this was going, but he suddenly didn’t want to be lying down.
“I was thinking Raúl might be different, because he acts like he’s already been disappointed so he’s prepared to be realistic. But I really wanted to hit him just now—I’m sorry, but it’s true. I don’t know,” Iker said, lifting his hands. He spread them, looked at them like he didn’t know what they were doing, and put them back down. “I don’t remember why we ended up together the first time, though now that I know what you’re like, I do like you.”
And Cesc really didn’t know where this was going, and he didn’t think it was all the fever. “What? What did he tell you?”
“I mean, did you even think about attractiveness when you hooked up with me? Or was it all just the alcohol?” Iker was waving his hands around again. If he didn’t watch it, he was going to hit himself in the head.
Cesc waited very patiently, concentrated till his head throbbed, and then grabbed the nearest of Iker’s wrists. “I—no, you’re really good-looking. Even when I’m drunk, I don’t go for just anybody. But what does that have to do with—”
Iker suddenly turned around, grabbed Cesc by the face, and kissed him. Considering that it hadn’t been even ten minutes since Raúl had been turning the world upside-down that way, Cesc thought he was doing pretty well to not pass out, let alone…well, this was Raúl’s boyfriend, Cesc had decided to be the good person, and…wow, why did Iker have problems relating to people? He related wonderfully with his mouth.
A couple seconds later, Cesc finally did manage to start pushing at Iker’s shoulders and make muffled sounds instead of letting Iker make him moan. He’d already ended up on his back again, though. “Wait…what the hell is going on?”
“I think I’m being really stupid. This is going to be so complicated—I’m already getting a headache.” Somewhere along the line, Raúl had shown up and was now sitting on the edge of the bed next to Iker.
Who clearly hadn’t been expecting him, because the moment Iker saw Raúl, he yelped and flailed backwards, nearly putting an elbow onto Cesc’s head. He twisted at the last moment, then wrapped his arm around Cesc’s head and nervously patted all over Cesc’s hair. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. I’m…did you just watch us make out?” Cesc asked, looking at Raúl. “What if I’m contagious?”
“I’m pretty sure it’s a bad case of flu, which you almost left to the point of complications.” Reprimanding glare, which actually reassured Cesc since at least that was par for the course. “I already had my shot and I made Iker get one. And we already ended up sleeping together anyway, since you wouldn’t let go of Iker.”
Cesc grinned a little when he remembered that, but his smile faded as he looked at the serious expression on Raúl’s face. He looked at the far wall and started to get up on his elbows, thinking about how to get around the other two men. “Look…I was trying not to be so much trouble for you. And I think I was doing really well.”
“Till you got sick,” Raúl sighed. He reached over and touched Cesc’s arm, then tentatively curled his fingers around it. He shifted his weight so he could push his other hand along the mattress till it was almost touching Iker’s hand. Raúl looked at Iker for a few moments, then leaned over and since the other man seemed pretty happy to reciprocate, it looked like Iker had made up his mind.
It looked…Cesc swallowed hard and got a nasty reminder his throat still was sore. He tugged at his arm, but Raúl wouldn’t let go and he and Iker were getting really into their kiss now, and—“Uncle…”
Raúl’s shoulders twitched. Then he pried himself off a dazed-looking Iker and twisted around so he was hanging more over Cesc. “Why do you keep calling me that? You get some kick out of it, don’t you?”
“You don’t like that?” Cesc did, but he didn’t think it was a great idea to admit to that now. “I’ll stop. I…this isn’t a crush anymore.”
“No, and it’s not going to be easy and you’re going to have to work at it or it’ll blow up in your face, and then you’ll have to put up with it at every damn family reunion for the rest of your life,” Raúl said. It sounded a little like some old nerve had gotten struck there. He seemed to get that, because he gave himself a shake.
Then he bent down and gave Cesc the same treatment Iker had been getting a moment ago, and Cesc was just lost. He groaned and gave up his mouth, clutching at the wildly-spinning bed and at Raúl’s back. Iker threaded fingers into his hair and that helped, but only till Iker tentatively licked at Cesc’s ear, and then Cesc let go of the bed and reached up to hang onto dear life to Iker’s head.
And then Raúl stopped. And made Iker stop, too. “Also, neither of us are having sex with you till you’re better,” he said. His eyes and tone said not to argue or else. “Okay?”
Cesc wriggled uncomfortably and tried to get out all the sheets that were lumped between his legs and shifting around every time he moved to make things worse. He made a face and told himself really firmly about everything he’d just gotten that he never, ever thought he’d get and not to be stupid. “Okay. So when should I be better? And if I have to stay away from work, can I hang out with Iker here? I wanna see the movie with the blind assassin and the talking cat.”
“You know, right now I keep thinking of Almodóvar films,” Iker muttered. “There’s this one you really should see, Cesc.”
Raúl’s face did a couple contortions before it finally settled into wary resignation. “Fine. Holy Mary, Mother of God, don’t let me regret this…”
Cesc smiled and tightened his arms around Raúl; the other man stiffened and put up his hands, but relaxed when he realized Cesc was just hugging him. “Thanks, Raúl.”
After a moment, Raúl petted Cesc’s back. “You’re welcome. I have to go pick up your prescription now…make sure Iker eats something of the breakfast he’s making, all right? He never remembers to.”
Iker flushed and made a weak protest. He shut up when Cesc crawled over and curled up on top of him, which gave Raúl a chance to go. Though he lingered almost to the point where Cesc’s whole effort at distraction was wasted, but Cesc couldn’t really get annoyed at that. He was just too happy. Sick, but happy.