|Mano a Mano
Author: Guede Mazaka
“I said after the final! After!” Deco manages to knee Cristiano dangerously high up on the left thigh and stick his tongue in Cristiano’s ear at the same time. His right hand is clawing up Cristiano’s shoulder and his left’s somewhere…to the left…banging on stuff, like it hadn’t been tricky enough sneaking off from the others. “I did not come to get fucked in a fucking utility closet! I came to support the team!”
Cristiano would roll his eyes, but it’s actually really hard to do that and get his hands down Deco’s khakis at the same time. And he’s almost past whatever the other man’s wearing beneath that, so he’s kind of opting to concentrate his attention there. “Who said I was going to fuck you?”
“Brat.” The lack of exercise must really be getting to Deco, since he’s had to take a breather and just hang off Cristiano’s shoulders for a moment. He hisses when Cristiano finally gets around the briefs, then bites Cristiano’s ear just beneath the stud. “Sex before a match isn’t good for you.”
“That’s an old wives’ tale, honestly. Twenty minutes of fucking tires you out less than ten minutes of timed sprints,” Cristiano mutters, nuzzling down under Deco’s chin. It has the nice double effect of making the other man shiver and getting his fucking sharp teeth away from tender bits. “I looked up the calorie comparisons.”
Deco’s starting to moan now, his hips riding up into Cristiano’s hands, and half his cursing’s been redirected towards the heavy cast keeping him from getting into like, a helpful position. With the height difference and the tight space, there’s not really a way for Cristiano to get his cock into Deco’s ass even if he wanted to. Well, which he does, but he’s okay with having that for a Champions League post-final celebration. You know, with a huge hotel bed and champagne sides and stuff like that. “Cris—damn it, I didn’t even come down here to see you.”
Okay, Cristiano does roll his eyes now. His hands have a good hold on Deco’s balls and a better one on Deco’s cock, so he’s got the attention to spare. “Yeah, I know. Asshole.”
“Not till the end of May. And you’d better win, too.” That’s so a breathy little whimper from Deco. “You thoughtless little fuck, I’m supposed to be in the stands in two minutes.”
Cristiano decides Deco sounds and feels far gone enough, so he pops his head up for a quick kiss. And almost gets away with it, just a little bit of a chew at the side of his lower lip. “I brought a towel.”
“Cris, you fucking shit of a—shit.” Deco hitches up and sucks in his breath, his hands raking down Cristiano’s back. It’s enough of a warning to get the towel down, but not for getting out of the way.
Bang. The door’s not done rattling from that hefty blow before a familiar voice calmly addresses them from the outside. “Cristiano, get your hands clean and get in the line-up before I have to report you out with a groin strain. Oh, and tell Deco I’m pissed off.”
Deco, for some reason Cristiano’s going to have to exasperate out of him later, starts giggling. He hasn’t really gotten the breath for it back yet and so there’s this kind of hysterical edge to it. “Fuck.”
Cristiano does a quick rub-over of his hands with one corner of the towel before shoving it at Deco; they’re in their white home strip, so it’s not like he’s got to worry about stains. Convenient, that. “You kidding? If you’d just come down here, he would’ve said hi and then told you to get out of the way till the game’s over and forgotten about you. Now he’s going to track you down for sure afterward.”
Well, Deco’s recovered enough to hit properly, but Cristiano can actually plan things out ahead, hence why he’s the one with the crutches shoved behind his back. And why he’s right, too.
He grins in the dark and grabs Deco by the cheeks for a fast, hard kiss. “Thanks for wishing me good luck, jerk. I’m gonna go and win us the Copa del Rey now.”
* * *
Cristiano’s dead-tired and stupidly happy about a silly little league cup that took about fifteen minutes’ real effort to win, and covered in sticky gross drying champagne and kind of okay about it even though it mixes terribly with his hair gel and well, hah, they won. They won and his legs and arms feel like spaghetti but he got to shake half-a-bottle of champagne over Mourinho and the other half over Raúl, and Raúl actually kissed him on the cheek for it which was so weird but just proves even that stuffy old stick knows who’s tops at his club. And he’s still grinning even though he’s not driving home with bubbly in his hair so he’s got to try and wash it out in the stupid sink, which at this point of the night feels like trying to move his arms through an ocean of molasses.
The others are still in the other room, half-heartedly working on getting into street clothes so they can get to the after-party. When somebody scuffs into the room, Cristiano figures it’s Ramos come to ask if he’s done primping yet. “Oh, fuck off. You take twice as long to straighten your hair, so—”
Ramos might need advice on hair product, but his skull isn’t filled with the stuff. At least, he wouldn’t whack Cristiano on the shoulder, and especially not when Cristiano’s head is under the faucet so suddenly Cristiano’s got a noseful of water.
Cristiano jerks himself up, snorting and sputtering, and has a very blurry look at Deco’s white teeth just before they vanish. He blinks, clearing the water from his eyes, and his shorts get ripped down his legs and he doesn’t even have time to get shocked at the chilly air hitting his nether regions because, ah, they’re being pretty enthusiastically heated by Deco’s mouth. There’s water all over the fucking floor thanks to that first scare Deco gave him; Cristiano unsurprisingly skids his foot through one puddle and frankly, it’s a fucking miracle his ass hits the sink instead of the floor in like, a pelvis-fracturing fall. Not being somebody to turn down any blessing, Cristiano flings his arms back and grabs onto both sides of the sink for dear life.
“Everybody’s next door!” he hisses.
Deco’s reply is a kind of hissing snuffle, which sounds bizarre but feels like somebody wrapped heaven around Cristiano’s cock. Cristiano slips a scary two centimeters and a couple clumps of sticky bubbles fall on Deco’s head, but he doesn’t seem to notice. He just shoves his mouth further down Cristiano’s cock and Cristiano swears and breaks nails on the sink porcelain trying to stay on his feet.
Mourinho’s voice is just rising above the babble in the other room when Deco awkwardly hikes himself to his feet, using a now-really-limp Cristiano as a ladder, and sticks his salty, gummy-coated tongue in Cristiano’s mouth. He tastes fucking fantastic.
“Congratulations, Cristiano,” he says, panting, his eyes glittery-gleaming and huge this close up. “If you’d lost, I would’ve broken your leg for earlier.”
He probably means it, too, and he’s actually a little bit terrifying right now. Not that Cristiano like, does anything but grin and tip their foreheads together and kiss Deco back, toothy and messy, before the other man can figure out how the hell he’s getting away with a wet floor and no crutches in sight…and Cristiano blinks, having wrapped his arm around Deco without thinking and not exactly expecting a flinch in return. He moves his head and looks down.
“Hey, did I make all those scratches on your cast?” he asks.
Deco winces again. Then he whacks Cristiano on the back of the head when Cristiano drops his hand to feel Deco’s ass. “No, you diva. You aren’t responsible for everything.”
“Whatever, I’m pretty sure I helped with that, at least.” Cristiano props Deco up on the wall and ducks into the next room before he can get hit again. “Gonna go find your cane, oldie.”
The first person he sees is Mourinho, and Cristiano’s favored with the rare sight of catching the other man in mid-expression change: silly-ecstatic to glowering. “Cristiano?”
Something about the way he says that makes the whole locker room go quiet, eyes all on them, and normally Cristiano’s all about that but this is a creepy kind of staring, hushed and ominously expectant. But Cristiano knows what he did, and what came from it, and he’s in no way ashamed of it, so he bucks up his chin. “Yeah, coach?”
Mourinho stares. Mourinho takes a couple steps forward, till he’s just about on Cristiano’s toes. Then a huge grin suddenly cracks across his face and he lets out a whoop and jumps so Cristiano’s got him hanging off his neck and you know what? This actually is creepier.
Everybody else has been yelling for an hour already, but it’s Happy Mourinho so the shock makes them think they’ve started all over again. The victory cries and bad singing starts up again so just Cristiano notices how hard Mourinho shoves Deco’s crutches into his stomach as Mourinho smacks his mouth against Cristiano’s cheek so the flesh there is left stinging. “Good job. Now stop fucking around with Deco so we can all go eat.”
“Whatever you say, coach,” Cristiano says. He accidentally kind of helps Mourinho down by way of grabbing the other man’s ass. It’s kind of an accident. It’s kind of a nice handful. What? Mourinho put himself there in the first place. And keeps in shape.
Mourinho doesn’t seem to buy Cristiano’s innocent smile, but for the sake of team unity, he contents himself with an affectionate cuff to the head that’s a lot harder than it looks. Cristiano ducks with it and his head swings so close to Mourinho’s face that he can feel a sharp nasal inhale, sucking chilly air past Cristiano’s face, and a hot curt exhale. He’s celebrating, he’s a little tipsy already, he just got a damn good blowjob, for fuck’s sake. Of course he’s swaying around, maybe staying too close too long.
“Good,” Mourinho breathes, and it’s too bad he’s brusque about it because it would’ve been really interesting to know what that little hesitation would’ve developed into. But they’re in public and anyway, Mourinho’s a past master at both quick thinking and deflection. His nails drag over the back of Cristiano’s neck, his mouth presses roughly against Cristiano’s temple, and then he’s halfway across the room, sliding through a Higuaín-Iker-Gago sandwich like a knife. One of those stainless steel ones that don’t pick up anything from the food.
Something flaps at Cristiano’s arm: Deco’s hanging off the doorway and looking a little less irritated than he really should be. “Give me those.”
“Cristiano!” Miguel’s head and part of a hand briefly rise above the crowd in the dressing-room. Somehow he’s found what looks like a full champagne bottle.
Cristiano does better than give Deco the crutches. He gives Deco an arm, and then yanks him over just as Torres plunges free of the rest of the team with a wild splash of foam. It gets everywhere: up in Cristiano’s eyes, down his collar…he swears and nearly trips backward, but is stopped by a hard pull on his arm. Right, Deco did kind of block off most of Cristiano’s chest from the splash. And now his hair is soaked and he’s got champagne dripping off his face and when Cristiano cranes around to look, bubbles hanging off his eyelashes. They don’t really hide the growing fury in his face.
“Oh…” Now Torres looks apologetic. Ever since the broken leg, everyone seems okay with the idea that Deco’s playing for Madrid now, but they’re still not all that comfortable around him. Like they’re still thinking he might turn around and…
…well, he does bite. Though Cristiano’s still holding onto Deco, and really not about to let go now even though Deco’s twisting and trying to get an arm free. But they’re both wet and that means slippery, and so Cristiano wraps his arms around Deco’s waist to fix that just as oops, Deco jerks his arm up and out. He whips it out before Cristiano can do anything, Torres eeps like the drag-queen he secretly is and—forgets to take the bottle with him when he backpeddles. Deco gets it. The back of his head slams into Cristiano’s chin when he sloshes back a good bit more bubbly than his mouth can hold.
Cristiano starts laughing, locking his fingers together over Deco’s belly, ducking his head so he ends up snorting foam from the side of Deco’s face. He glimpses Mourinho’s face, a darker spot floating amid all the white grins, and snickers harder. Fuck it, if Mourinho’s going to leave himself wide open like that, leave Deco open like that, of course Cristiano’s going to run into the space. It’s what he does.
“Stop wasting good champagne, you morons. Now where did my crutches go?” Deco asks, low and amused.
“Ah, fuck. Hey, Miguel—” Cristiano regretfully shifts to just drape an arm over Deco’s shoulders so he can take back the bottle “—get ‘em and I’ll give you this back.”
* * *
The afternoon sunlight slanting over the floor strokes one golden finger across the tattoo sweeping down from Deco’s shirt-sleeve. Cristiano adds another, and goes one better by tracing higher up till he’s tickling hairs on the back of Deco’s neck that are so tiny he can’t even see them, can only feel.
Deco half-heartedly raises his head from his arms, twisting away. “Stop that. It was hard enough explaining what happened to my last cast to the doctors.”
“Hey, I had nothing to do with that,” Cristiano snorts.
Which is mostly true, and that’s good enough for him when Deco’s exposing his throat like that. He ducks and shoves his face into the curve of Deco’s neck before the other man can roll back, licking at the tendons as they tense up under the skin and stand out, then sink back as Deco breathes. He’s expecting the hand that smacks him in the forehead and already has his eyes closed, but Deco manages to catch his eyelid a little with a nail and that hurts, fucker. Cristiano grabs the offending fingers and shoves them down, pushing himself up so he’s lying half-on the other man. He bends down and sucks hard at a spot just beneath Deco’s jaw, hard enough so that Deco starts trying to push him off in earnest.
“You thoughtless prick, I’ve got a wife to go back to.”
“Mmm,” mumbles Cristiano, mouth still full of flesh. He gets his arm over Deco for better support and moves up and back, teasing his way behind Deco’s ear. The next time Deco hits him, he snakes a hand between them and into the loose shorts Deco’s wearing, wriggling it around till Deco’s pulling at him instead and moaning, his knees bumping Cristiano’s legs as they hitch up.
Just out of curiosity, Cristiano takes his hand out of Deco’s shorts and then further down till he’s touching cool plaster, the surface rough in a strangely regular way. He drags his finger around the top of the cast, feeling smooth skin plus the ragged, more cottony bits where the plaster’s chipped off the gauze, and Deco hauls off and cracks his head into Cristiano’s. Hard. For a moment Cristiano actually has black spots in his vision.
When Cristiano’s sight clears, he’s in the middle of rolling off Deco and onto his back. He doesn’t stay there long, goaded by the lingering pain of his head and just not getting it and all that fucking sunlight stinging his eyes. He’s not injured and he’s not going to be sympathetic if Deco’s going to be a dick about things.
“Get me some,” Deco says, half-over on his belly and braced on a forearm. Cristiano pivots over the pitcher of juice in the corner as he refills his glass so he can’t see Deco, but that of course doesn’t stop the long sigh from getting to him. “Jesus, Cris. I’m over thirty and it’s a World Cup year and my leg’s—”
“Fuck off,” Cristiano mutters. The juice has little bits of pulp in it that travel in funny lopsided ovals when he swirls the glass, like mishit crosses. He grimaces and tosses back his head for a long swallow, knowing the sun’s gliding over his skin like dripping honey.
Deco sighs again. “I let you molest me left and right. The least you could do is pour me a glass.”
“Yeah, whatever. Like I’m really getting what I pay for with you.” Cristiano sneers over the top of his cup, taking it from his mouth just long enough to talk.
“Like you’re fucking paying for me anyway,” Deco snarls. He slams his palms flat against the floor, like he’s seriously about to launch off at Cristiano or something, and—but then he just flops over again, one arm over his eyes to block the light. His cast sticks out awkward and ugly like a dead elephant from the rest of his sprawled body. “Fuck.”
And they call Cristiano a drama queen. He rolls his eyes at it, knowing all about the angle of the elbow and the limpness of the hand, and works on his drink. And finishes his drink and Deco’s still lying there. And yeah, he’s fucking young and impatient and he crawls back over to have a look.
He’s half-expecting Deco to suddenly spring to life with a box to Cristiano’s ears, but instead all the other man does is drop his hand a bit so it’s hiding his mouth. His eyes stare up at Cristiano, strangely drained and sober, and actually, the slap might’ve been better.
Deco pulls his hand off his face. “You know, this fucking leg is the only reason he will fuck me right now. The moment I’m better, I go back to being part of the team.”
“Like everybody doesn’t know who his favorites are anyway,” Cristiano says, and no, he can’t really help that little twist to his voice or that sideways glance he gives Deco.
The eye-roll was always coming, of course, but the hand cupping Cristiano’s face isn’t. He starts, then goes still, frowning down at Deco, and gets a strained, agreeing smile in return.
“Being his favorite doesn’t mean anything. To anybody else, or to him,” Deco says quietly. “You can’t rely on that.”
Cristiano bends a bit, presses his mouth wetly to the hard curve of muscle at the base of Deco’s thumb. He watches Deco’s pupils widen, tighten to pinpoints, then slowly grow back to normal. “Then how about a fuck?”
Deco’s hand twitches against Cristiano’s cheek. Then it slides back and hooks Cristiano’s head down by the hair, and lower down Deco’s belly is riding up into the hand Cristiano’s stroking down it. “You’re fucking hopeless, you know—and that’s a no. Not till I see that Champions League trophy…Cris, Jaciera knows what a love-bite looks like.”
His fingers haven’t loosened in Cristiano’s hair, and anyway Cristiano wasn’t waiting for that to happen. He keeps his mouth working down Deco’s neck, his hands down Deco’s shorts. “Whatever, she likes me. She says I should come over for dinner more.”
Deco makes some noise that might be a no and might not. Not that it really makes a difference either way, since he’s pushing the shirt up Cristiano’s sides now.
* * *
Mourinho looked at Cristiano like he’d turned into cheese when Cristiano asked if he’d ever like to come over for dinner, but how that’s any more suspicious than him backing Cristiano up between the laundry bins right in front of the team is…well, it’d be a pretty interesting explanation. Not that Cristiano’s ever going to get it from him.
“Stop writing the headlines for the press. They get paid already to do their jobs, so—”
Ramos comes down the way bundling up a towel in his hands at about eye-level, like he’s going to pitch a basketball. He grins and Cristiano glares him down, daring him to toss a stinking gross rag with that smelly straightening pomade smeared all over it at the team’s—still—leading scorer. For a moment it looks like Sergio’s gonna—but he’s no fool, even if he in fact happens to be the leader in proving Madrid deserves its off-pitch rep. The towel soars neatly over Cristiano’s head and Cristiano rolls his eyes; Ramos pretends to die of a broken heart before galloping off after a bare-chested Higuaín.
“—concentrate on what happens during the game. On the pitch. With the players. And the ball. And your feet.”
“There’s nothing wrong with them! The medics swore it was just a bruise and honestly, I haven’t felt anything in a couple days,” Cristiano absently says. He watches Higuaín turn, spot Ramos far too late and try to dive behind a vastly less amused Ruud.
This weird noise comes from Mourinho’s direction, a kind of cross between a sigh and a broken carburetor. It doesn’t even sound human and when Cristiano looks he almost expects Torres there about to scream about somebody knocking his mp3 player into a tub again, but no, all he sees is Mourinho, hands over his face. His head’s down so the top of it is right in Cristiano’s face and it’s hard not to notice the sprinkle of white hairs around the part. He was dull gray for Chelsea; maybe now he’s going stark white for los blancos.
Mourinho presses his hands in for a second, then rubs them around and finally drags them back over the top of his head. His eyes flutter like he’s just waking up before snapping wide open, unleashing a gaze like a pair of steel darts. “Cristiano. You’re naturally good. You feed on pressure, and that’s good, too—that makes sure hard times don’t bother you much. But just because you can get through the hard times doesn’t mean you know how to get through everything else, and if you don’t listen to me, I can’t help you.”
Raúl walks by, absently scrubbing at his head so his hair’s already a horrible rats’ nest. He glances at them, and then slowly turns as he goes on so he’s outright watching them. He doesn’t even bother to hide it, like being the captain still, and that’s totally all politics because the guy who keeps the water bottles filled has done more than him this season, gives him the right to pry into every fucking thing that happens around here.
“He’s looking because everybody’s been wondering if I was going to speak to you about your attitude,” Mourinho says.
Cristiano blinks, shaken out of his daydreams of cocking Raúl one in the nose and seeing yet another king in the dust. “Like it’s any of their business.”
Something hard and pointy stabs into Cristiano’s shoulder. Then Mourinho lifts his finger and smacks it against Cristiano’s cheek. Same one he’d kissed just last week, looking like he might finally give in and admit his fucking summer-war record-smashing signing had ended up worth every penny. Why he keeps turning down this chance to crow over his superior judgment is completely beyond Cristiano.
“It is their business. It’s the team’s business.” And Mourinho looks like he’s about to add more, but a vein’s starting to bulge in his forehead and there are way too many people walking through here. “If you listen to what the press says, you might think otherwise, but you’d be wrong,” he says, voice suddenly so low Cristiano has to duck to hear him. “You think about who’s left after they get done taking photos of you.”
“Okay, okay.” That nosy shit Raúl is watching, as if the other Spaniards are any better right now, what with all the whooping and towel-whipping and outright groping. Like Cristiano’s gotten caught stumbling drunkenly out of popular nightclubs. Like he’s gotten the sight of his bare ass shoved up against a car window splashed over the tabloids. Like he went and said on nation-wide radio that Ronaldinho’s a whiny queen who needs a good kicking to remember what football’s all about—though okay, that’s the one time he didn’t grimace at Calderón the whole last month. “Anything about the match?”
Mourinho opens his mouth. Then he closes it. Ramos has come stumbling back, an outraged Higuaín on his back throwing him enough to swing them into Mourinho, but that’s not it. It’s something else going through Mourinho’s face, some weird sort of grimace flitting by so quick that Cristiano’s almost not sure what he saw since Mourinho was turning at the same time.
“Careful! Enough!” Mourinho barks. He jerks up his hand and keeps it there a moment, fingers all curled to different degrees. Then he drops it, whirls and is off to huddle with the assistants again.
Behind him the dressing-room’s gone…well, not pin-drop quiet, but it’s definitely lost volume. Raúl has a good glower at a guilty-faced Ramos—Higuaín’s off trying to stuff himself in his locker again, he’s so embarrassed—and Guti steps in from the showers, only the way the towel wrapped around his waist accentuates his skinniness keeping him from looking utterly pissed off, too. Everyone’s moving softly, deliberately around, gone from raucously playful to pensive efficiency in about five seconds.
“Guess not,” Cristiano mutters to himself. He pushes the laundry bin to his right over to make it easier for him to get out and saunters over to his place, wondering just why this all bugs him. Nah, Mourinho’s still the same, still getting complaints about sacrificing style points for wins, but hell, it’s not like Ferguson was that different. They’d both take ugly wins over losses, and they both didn’t cut slack just for success. Don’t.
Copa del Rey in the bag. League title only a win away. Champions League finals coming up. The papers’ been screaming the word ‘treble’ for months now, but still Mourinho won’t even breathe it within the club. Cristiano won’t say that he’s not superstitious too, but c’mon, he’s not going to pretend they don’t even want it. Of course they do. They all want everything.
* * *
“Just lie down,” says the doctor.
Like hell. Like Cristiano’s going to lie around when he’s got an icebag the size of his head eating his left foot and another one bundled up to his ribs, and for the past ten minutes this room has been crawling with long-faced medics standing around whispering. He stays up, and smacks away whoever’s hand touches his shoulder. “What’s the verdict?”
“I’ve—I don’t know. I really don’t. I’ve got to go in the next room and call ahead to get them ready to scan you as soon as we get back to Madrid.” The doctor’s Madrid all the way through, and obviously knows a thing or two about putting off injured players—injured fucking stars. He sounds and looks like he’s telling the truth.
Maybe he is. Not that that makes Cristiano thank him or anything besides grunt in irritation and flop back on the examining table. Fucking medics. “Well, tell me when you do. And…what the hell is that for? Do I need that?”
The idiot holding the spray bottle blinks a lot and backs off, which is probably the smartest thing he’s done all the day. What the hell, does he think they’re still out on the pitch? And anyway, even out there that spray’s about as useful as a shovel to the head for anything past a br—fuck. Cristiano puts his hand over his face and pinches his nose, squeezing his eyes shut. He blows through his nose, breathes in, then puffs out his cheeks. He’ll look like a nutcase to all the fucking circling doctors but right now he couldn’t care less if they paid him for that.
“Not like any of you’d have the balls to certify me, would you,” he mumbles. Beneath his hand.
And okay, in Portuguese, but still, how the hell Mourinho makes that out from across the room and through a bunch of loud Spanish chattering is…is…well, Cristiano hears there’s a website somewhere around there that tries to prove Mourinho’s really Satan. That would probably make a good entry for their fact-list.
“Okay…what…ah…and this…when?...okay…” Couple of curt words, couple of minutes, and by the time Mourinho makes his way through to the table, the room’s emptied out besides them. Dead silence. Nothing to block Mourinho’s eyebag-enhanced glower or his double-frown—he really gets wrinkly nowadays when he’s unhappy—or the scolding that’s so very obviously coming.
He stops by Cristiano’s head so Cristiano has to look up at him. Cristiano snorts and levers himself up onto an arm; Mourinho moves back slightly so he can sit the rest of the way up. Which makes Cristiano snort again. “Huh, I don’t get the ‘sit down, you’ll hurt yourself’ treatment then.”
Mourinho doesn’t so much as flinch. “I was angry when Deco did it, but if you’re trying to make this out to be the same thing, I can’t even be angry. I can just be disgusted.”
“Oh?” Cristiano says. His side twinges and he winces, wedging his hand beneath the wraps. He manages to poke something that sends a trickle of freezing water down his stomach, making him hiss and shift around more, making his foot move.
That gets his foot a look, but otherwise Mourinho’s perfectly still. Mourinho’s a statue. Mourinho’s a fucking block of lead, shaped to look like a faintly exhausted old man with his hand coolly slanted into his pocket.
“I hate it when people have gifts and don’t use them like they could. It’s so hard for others and for a few it’s so easy, and maybe they don’t know personally how hard it could be, but they can see. There’s plenty of ways they could find out.” Mourinho blows out a breath and rubs at his nose, his eyes briefly wandering off to the side. “Cristiano, you’re amazing.”
Cristiano blinks. Then he rolls his eyes. “You didn’t mean that.”
The other man’s eyes snap back to him and they’re blazing, and it’s not till the table creaks that Cristiano realizes he’s jerked back a bit. Forget the flappy coats and the pricy suits—Mourinho seems about as tall as the ceiling now, and that’s probably only because breaking the ceiling would bring other people back into the room.
“No, I didn’t. Because you’re not. You’re very good on the field and you’ve been all right off it, and so now that you’re an essential part of this team, how does it feel to have fucked it up for everybody?” Mourinho says. His voice is flat and low and every word it shapes is like a perfectly-delivered kick to Cristiano’s stomach. “Is that enough for you? Is your ego finally full, now that it’s fed on the knowledge that we’ll fail without you? Is it? Is that what’ll make you happy?”
And every kick knocks the breath out of Cristiano, and even when he inhales to get it back, it’s returned icy and he can’t live on that kind of stuff. It’s…he hisses through his teeth, staring at Mourinho. “If my foot was that bad, then—”
“—it’s barely about your foot.” Pause because the fire in Mourinho’s eyes speaks well enough by itself. “You arrogant little shit, you think I went to Deco because I wanted him to break a leg? You think I wanted to lose him with the CL final breathing down our necks, with so many games left?”
“We’ve got five matches to play. Tomorrow I’m only going to have thirteen senior players show up to training, and three of them are maybes for getting through the whole thing,” Mourinho tells him, grinding on. Relentless and unforgiving, and looking at him Cristiano just should give up hope on ever getting anything from that stone, let alone—it’d be the sensible thing to do. “You’ve been spying for so long and you haven’t learned a damn thing: I went to him because he’d finally decided to start playing again. Because when he went out there, he went out there with a purpose, and that’s why his leg was broken and that’s why I changed my mind about being mad.”
There’s a little stutter in the end, not even Mourinho able to carry off the past so coolly, and it gives Cristiano a chance to catch his breath. “At him? He has to get your forgiveness even for Gattuso’s crazy tackle and he still can’t get past you. I don’t know whether he’s worse or you are.”
Mourinho raises his eyebrows, rocking back on his feet. He puts his other hand in his pocket so his elbows go out, good as questioning spread hands.
“You think I don’t want to play in the Champions League final?” Cristiano hisses. “You think I want to skip that? You think after that shit ref in Russia and AC Milan again in the semis, I don’t want to be there? You think I want to worry about whether I’ll be fine for the fucking World Cup this summer? You think I’m not just as fucking mad at you are that all those doctors with their degrees can’t tell me if my foot’s going to be okay?”
“You—” Mourinho starts, and then he exhales. He pulls at his nose again, pushes his knuckle up into the corner of his right eye, which is getting more bloodshot by the second. When he speaks again, it’s so quiet Cristiano almost misses it. “If you’d not been playing to the stands, you would’ve seen him coming a half-second earlier and you would’ve drawn the foul without getting smashed.”
Cristiano’s mouth is open because he means to say something. He does. He just had it, all perfect and sharp in his head, and now it’s gone and Mourinho is just looking at him. Not even glaring, but just watching him, steady and calm.
“You lied when you said you were listening. You’re not. You’re too busy listening to the people shouting in the stands…maybe the people shouting in your mind, in your daydreams.” And it’s funny, how such little things can be such big changes. All Mourinho does is move his shoulders this time when he sighs, once up and down, but it brings him down, makes him shrink back to ordinary. Maybe even deepens the shadows beneath his eyes, and it just…sits wrong with Cristiano. This is not how it should be. “We’re not done yet. The greatest crime in the world is to pretend that it is, and that’s to both you and to the others you’re making guesses about.”
“Is that…” and Cristiano’s still shocked, still a bit numbed and beneath that still a bit wary, but he goes on regardless “…that what happened with Chelsea? I mean, you’re not just talking about the rest of the team anymore, are you?”
The flicker in Mourinho’s eyes is just about all that Cristiano needed, but surprise—and actually, not really—he gets a verbal as well. “It’s a terrible thing to give up, whether you think you’re ahead or if you know you’re behind.” Mourinho blinks once. His mouth pulls slightly out of its flattened thin line. “Don’t try to play games with me. I know you care what people think, even if you don’t deal with it like everybody else.”
Cristiano chances a grin, small and fast and close-lipped. “I want to win. I want to be tops of everything. And I know you do, and let me tell you—I know we’re going to do it.”
And Mourinho’s mouth goes straight in disapproval again, but not just that. Maybe Cristiano’s side hurts beneath the icepack and he’s currently not allowed to walk, but his instincts and his brain haven’t stopped working. And he hasn’t gone blind.
“I know. Look, I heard—I hear what you’re saying, I know I got a little distracted today. I’m sorry. I, well, I won’t do that again. Next time I’ll use my teammates more. But what’s with this thinking about maybe it’s not going to happen?” Cristiano asks. “It’s going to. Believe me, I know.”
Mourinho looks at him like he’s crazy, and Cristiano doesn’t give a shit as he smiles back, wide and careless because no, it’s not sensible and no, it’s not exactly what Mourinho wants. But it’s what Cristiano wants and believes and it’s what he’ll get. It’s what he’ll make sure he gets.
* * *
Deco, predictably, takes Mourinho’s side. “You’re so young sometimes I seriously think about flipping you over my knee and giving your ass a couple good whacks. What happened to the window?”
“Oh, the last time Nani and Nuno were over we were fooling around in the yard and Nuno hit it with the ball.” Cristiano squats down and draws his finger around the crack in the glass, looking at how the fractured edges glint in rainbow shades. “It happened in my Manchester house too, so I figured I’d let it be. It’s symmetrical, and…whatever, I like it. If I let you do that, would it take as long to get your clothes off?”
The pair of thuds is Deco’s crutches hitting the floor. That rattle is probably him giving one of the chairs a hard shove, and then the poof is his ass hitting a cushion. “Oh, my God.”
He’s got his head back and is staring at the ceiling, and Cristiano doesn’t even have to look to know this. All he has to do is listen for the rasp of Deco grinding his teeth, the click that’s the cast hitting a chair-leg, and then the stream of Spanish-Portuguese curses that always follows. “Hey, stop staring at my ass. I was kidding.”
Deco snorts. “I was not staring at your ass, and you weren’t.”
Cristiano deliberately throws back his hips as he gets up. It helps keep the weight off his sore foot, which is not broken or sprained or anything terrifying like that, thank God, but which still does hurt enough to make him watch out for it. “You were. I heard the chair creak.”
“You’re a whore, you know that? You’re solely responsible for every single streaker we’ve gotten this season,” Deco says. He breathes loudly in exaggerated irritation a couple times before he suddenly goes silent. Talking-wise, anyway; his cast makes a distinctive scraping noise when he pulls it over the tiles, like he is now, and the nylon of his track-pants rustles a bit as he moves.
He’s the one who showed up on Cristiano’s doorstep, without even a call or a text ahead of time. For all he knew, Cristiano might’ve been out and instead of thanking his luck, here Deco is hanging about on the opposite side of the room, like some limping thundercloud. If Cristiano had liked that kind of crap weather, he would’ve stayed in Manchester.
The heat’s making the air go wavy and ripply above the long gravel path that snakes out from the back of the house, and through it the icy blue of the swimming pool looks almost white, like bleached bone. It makes Cristiano up without thinking and check the back of his neck for sweat; he snorts irritably at himself and drops his hand when he realizes what he’s doing. He nearly laughs, hardly believing that the idea of him running dry is even possible, but can’t quite. Suddenly it’s like the heat’s managed to get inside after all, despite the state-of-the-art AC and a childhood growing up in this kind of climate, and the air is heavy on Cristiano’s shoulders, doing its damnedest to make them turn soft and yielding, too weak to bear up under the rising temperatures.
“Like I’ve got a chance to worry about that stuff, anyway. In between you and him and—” Cristiano cuts off that savage tone before he can find out whether its extreme curve is enough to send it back to him, after all. He’s not melted, not gone to water beneath the pressure, and when he smacks his hand against the cool glass, he feels its solidity. “Fuck, like I want to. You two, you do that—you’re good at it, and…and you know, just keep me out of it. I wasn’t there when you started. Anyway, it’s not like either of you make it look like it wasn’t worth missing.”
The chair groans and Deco echoes that with his half-stifled grunt. He knocks another chair over the tiles, then curses as his foot or the crutch-tip taps a random flower-pot Cristiano’s sister brought in for a house-warming present. “You think you can crawl into my bed and work in his dressing-room, and not be in it? I can’t—I don’t believe you, anyway. You practically put up signs before you stuck your nose into it.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not getting stuck in it like you. I’ve got tons to do myself, I’ve got to go win, thank you.” Cristiano picks his hand off the glass and looks at the smudges his fingers have left behind. They mostly fade after a few seconds so the window practically looks clean. If he looked really closely, he’d still see something, but you know what? He’s got better things to do with his life than peer real close at every single dirty window. “I’m sorry, but I’m not going to stand around moping about what you fucked up when you were my age, or what he said wrong so many fucking years ago.”
He turns on one foot and Deco’s there leaning on one crutch, having gotten across the floor without so much as a scuffle to give warning. Deco looks startled, looks sad, looks hurt and pissed off and a thousand other things, and his hand coming up gets stuck in all that confusion and just sort of floats there, a couple centimeters from Cristiano’s face.
It’s so close that if Cristiano stares at the fingers, the rest of the world starts to go blurry and his head starts to hurt so instead he looks past it at Deco. “You both do that way better than me, anyway. I don’t know why everybody calls me arrogant—I don’t pretend I’m perfect at everything. I just stick to what I am good at, and that’s not thinking about how we’re going to fuck up like we did before.”
That floating hand drifts towards Cristiano, then goes back to slowly run over the top of Deco’s head and then down the side of his face. Then he shakes his head, making some snuffly noise, and after a moment Cristiano figures out it’s laughter.
“I’m not going down on my knees for you again.” Deco rubs at his nose, then at his eyes. “God, and that was just the Copa del Rey.”
“‘Just’? Excuse me? I worked my ass off in that game—” Cristiano stutters a little when Deco grabs him by the front of the shirt and drops the crutch so immediately all the other man’s weight is hanging from that point. He scrambles to grab Deco and gets an arm, a hip just as they back up against a counter-top, just out of view of the windows. “Hey…”
Deco’s hand drags down Cristiano’s front, stretching the fabric out so it turns translucent for a moment. His palm’s sweaty-hot, not quite comfortable in the soaring temperatures but instead of crushing it raises a curvy line of prickles as it goes. “No. You’re so good at winning, you win the damn final first.”
“I’m going to, God,” Cristiano says, looking up and right. It’d been the beginning of rolling his eyes, but he doesn’t quite get it in before Deco hooks his other arm over Cristiano’s neck.
* * *
“How’s your foot?” Deco eventually asks. His cast’s heavy and dry, weighting down Cristiano’s left shin.
Their clothes, what’s left still on them, are all twisted up but the wringing hasn’t done anything to squeeze the sweat out of them. When Cristiano moves his arm he can feel a trail of dampness follow it on the floor, and if he listens closely enough, he can hear the odd drip hit the tile. “Fine. I’m out for the next match, but we’ll cinch the title with the one after and I’m back for the Champions League.”
Deco coughs, then rolls over so Cristiano’s got a good view of his laughing face. “You know, Real Madrid has a very strong team. It’s entirely possible that we’ll win this week without you.”
Cristiano screws up his face, and isn’t much placated when Deco hikes over and kisses him. Bastard means it about as much as Mourinho did with that comment, but at least Deco’s being less grumpy now. “Tell it to Mourinho. For all his ‘team, team’ talk, he’s still got this habit of getting stuck on certain people. Doesn’t he?” He feels Deco pause, then start to fall back and reaches out to hold the other man’s head in place. “So why didn’t you go to Chelsea?”
“I didn’t want to,” Deco finally says. His lips move less when he’s talking than when he was kissing Cristiano a moment ago. He’s too close for Cristiano to see his expression. “And I don’t think he thought I’d fit in England, either.”
“I bet that was the only time Abramovich bothered to pay attention about that, huh,” Cristiano snorts. “He did want you, though. He still does.”
Deco looks at Cristiano for a while, blinking occasionally so it’s not totally creepy but still too steady and unreadable for comfort. Then he turns his head towards the ceiling and pushes himself up on an elbow, sucking in air through his teeth. “It doesn’t really matter to you, does it? José goes with what he needs, not what he wants. And right now what he needs is you, because you do win.”
“Huh.” Cristiano wonders sometimes what they do, where they go when Mourinho’s laying down the groundwork for those grimaces, the limp, that look like a bruise that flicks through Deco’s eyes. He doesn’t dwell on them, but the thoughts do keep coming back. “You ever going to come and watch us again? I’m not the only one who’s noticed.”
Deco stares at the ceiling. Then he turns and stares at Cristiano. “You want me to?”
Blink. “You going to act like some stupid little kid and end up limping off again?”
“No!...hey, you’ve been watching.”
“…I’ll go. Now shut up about it.”
* * *
The next match is on the road and Cristiano watches it on the TV at home, first as background noise while he does some much-needed weeding-out of his fridge, and then, as the crackle gradually turns into voices and words and scorelines, wide-eyed and hanging onto the back of his couch as—oh, no, no, no, he thinks he’s good but part of that’s playing with the best. He doesn’t want his team to be total shite without him, and he especially doesn’t want them to lose to fucking Levante, just this year back up in the top tier. He digs his nails into the couch and screams at the faces that appear on the screen, and at the end when the whistle’s blown on a two-two draw, he sags to the floor feeling as wrung-out as Mourinho, stubbly-cheeked and gaunt-eyed, looks.
His phone rings, sound muffled because he left it half-stuffed in the sofa cushions. Cristiano hauls himself one-armed over the sofa top and digs it out because he’s holding onto his injured foot with the other, feeling with his thumb through the bandages. “Hello?”
*How’s your foot?* Mourinho? He just walked down the stairs on the TV, what the hell’s he doing, aren’t there interviewers waiting or refs to yell at, or Raúl to—what? *I said, next week—*
“Barcelona,” Cristiano says. He presses down on his foot, where the soreness should be, and doesn’t feel a damn thing. And his joy at that’s hot and fierce and he’s just surprised the phone hasn’t started to melt. “We’re going to win and wrap up the title right there.”
For a couple seconds Mourinho doesn’t say anything, just letting the background noise filter through: echoing footsteps, shouts, metallic rattles. *You’re saying ‘we.’ That’s good. But I need you to be perfect.*
And you aren’t yet goes unsaid but not unheard.
“Trust me, I will,” Cristiano says. But just you wait.
* * *
Fulltime at the second half of the Clàsico and they’ve done that double like Beckham’s done Hollywood. Andandandtitle is in the bag. League-fucking-champions. Miguel glommed onto Raúl’s waist the moment the whistle blew and hasn’t let go since, and not only is Raúl letting him, but he’s also grinning like a loon as he drags Torres all over the dressing-room. Cristiano jumps up onto the bench and shakes his fists at the ceiling and whoops, and all he sees in the eyes turned up to him is impatience to follow him. Even—he grins, so that’s something of a warning, and leaps down into Mourinho’s arms.
The other man doesn’t dodge, but instead takes him on full force, arms slapping round Cristiano to nearly knock the breath from him. His fingers gouge terribly at the back of Cristiano’s head and his mouth is hard and almost edged like a razor as he presses it to Cristiano’s cheek, temple, ear, and it’s better than the deafening screams outside, better than Laporta shamefacedly saluting them, better than that great big fucking trophy that’s now headed their way. Because Mourinho’s hissing in Cristiano’s ear and he’s saying we won, we won, you did it and fucking yes to all of that.
“Hey,” Sergio says, and it’s in such a weird flat, curt tone that it slices through the celebrations.
But they’re all so ecstatic that their excitement spills in after it, closes up the cut and so it takes stupid fucking Miguel, who right now probably could’ve gotten that handjob from Raúl he’s been panting after all year, with his stupid fucking loud voice to finally make the point. “Hey, so it’s our dressing-room, after all.”
Cristiano’s facing the wrong way, staring straight into Miguel’s arched brow, but he’s got an idea from the way Mourinho suddenly drops his hands to Cristiano’s shoulders. He drapes his arm over Mourinho and half-turns to see Deco’s lifted chin and sarcastic eyes, and he would’ve turned the rest of the way if this blur hadn’t caught his attention.
“Ow!” Torres says, ducking and grabbing at his head.
Raúl’s facing Deco as he puts his arm down. Deco looks at him, at Mourinho, and then shrugs. “I did stop to hug Leo in the hall.”
“Messi’s getting better every year,” Raúl says slowly, eyebrows slightly up. Then he turns and gives Torres another cuff. Idiot really deserves a good sock in the eye, but he came up through the Madrid ranks so…well, so now Raúl checks with Mourinho to see how it’s been taken. Madrid, honestly.
“You have anything else to say? It’s the best time for it—we have the league but we still have two more crucial games and we have to have a united team. I have to have a united team. If there’s something wrong, well, I want to know now.” Mourinho ducks out from under Cristiano’s arm and spins to face the whole room. He lifts his hands and twitches his fingers towards himself in further invitation. “Hmm? Come on. We’re league champions, I’m happy—no, I’m overjoyed and I’m awed at what you’ve done. Best time to tell me.”
Everybody kind of looks at each other—except for Torres, who tries to merge with a bench—and then Iker gives a nod. He doesn’t exactly meet Mourinho’s eyes as he nervously grinds one fist into the other hand. “Uh, boss? You know, it’s really warm in Spain, so…we’re not sure why you need the long coat.”
Mourinho stares at him. Iker does that dorky-sincere thing where people end up wanting him to baby-sit their children, and then they both crack their faces laughing at the same time. And they’re going to grab each other in a moment and as relieved as Cristiano is, he’s just…he’s just going to turn now. That’s kind of too weird for him.
Deco’s chin hits his chest and then the rest of the other man follows; this has been a habit lately, this leaning instead of using crutches whenever possible. And frankly, Cristiano thinks it’s an overdue one. “Congratulations. You weren’t a waste of time to watch,” Deco says.
Cristiano would hit him, except his arms…and ah, that’s why Deco leans so much now. Sneaky bastard. “Thanks…and Messi?”
“He deserved it. He’s good,” Deco says, a touch snappish. He looks smug when Gago and Higuaín take time out of their Guti-mash-sandwich to chime in with amens. “And I’m still friends with him, and get over it, Cristiano. I like watching him but I came out and got a sore ass and tons of shit from the crowd instead of staying home on my nice couch for you, okay? Happy now?”
“No.” Cristiano grins smugly when Deco frowns. “Champions League…we’re not done yet. I’m not done yet. You’re not done yet.”
* * *
Cristiano looks up, breathing through his mouth because it burns slightly less than breathing through his nose. He can’t hear anything past a dim roaring, like the ocean in a seashell. He can’t see a damn thing—hasn’t been able to for at least the past five minutes, and hell if he knows exactly where those five minutes fit in the timeline of this match. All he knows is he’s been running for a long time, and he’s stopped feeling his legs because he can’t feel them: if he did, he’d fall down screaming in agony. All he knows is that this is a freekick and it’s a fucking important free-kick and the goal is about forty yards away and fifteen to his right.
All he knows is: this is the Champions League final and this one counts.
It’s not like there aren’t others on the pitch who could do it. Guti’s still around, and in fact Cristiano vaguely remembers talking to him a moment ago so he might even be the other one Cristiano can’t see but knows is lining up beside him. A couple of the South Americans have good feet, and have been around long enough for their balls to be that big. They could take it, too. Deco in the stands, with a healed leg, could and has done it. Mourinho couldn’t but he could definitely—
A bead of sweat traces its way down Cristiano’s forehead and along his nose, feeling like it’s made completely of acid. He grimaces and wipes it off with a finger, and from a long distance off he hears the ref’s whistle. And everything, everything goes away and it should be terrifying but actually it’s not, actually it’s perfectly fine because he’s still here and he’s not leaving, not scared, not backing down just because what’s going on is happening beyond where he can see and nobody’s telling him so he has to figure it out all by his damn self. He’s had plenty of practice at that.
He’s going to make this free-kick.
* * *
“We wooooon! We won we won we won!”
They’re screaming in the next room. A zillion champagne corks have thudded into the ceiling already and through the cracked door Cristiano can see a whole rack of bottles lined up and waiting. Real went nuts over the Copa del Rey because they’ve gone so long without it and then getting it twice in a row says this is no fucking fluke, but winning the Champions League? Finishing out the treble? Holy God, Madrid must be flooded with bubbly right now.
Somewhere in all that racket is a TV so Cristiano technically could check, if he were somehow that fucked in the head, but he’s not and anyway it’s in the other room where Mourinho is not jumping around getting soaked with Dom Perignon and Cristal. Nope, he’s in this room, right here with Cristiano, and he’s got both hands on Cristiano’s cheeks and he is sucking the knees out of Cristiano. Seriously. The whole match, all the breakneck running and fucking asshole defenders trying to chop him up, and Cristiano’s knees were fine. Now? Now they’re knuckling under to the one power of Mourinho’s mouth that hasn’t been showcased in an interview yet and Cristiano’ll be lucky if he just loses some cartilage when he finally falls.
Mourinho finally lets up with a wet pop that everybody outside had better take for another cork. His fingers press hard into the sides of Cristiano’s face and he stares up with his eyes glittering and—and what did he say? He’s shaking Cristiano’s head so damn much the sound is blurring.
“—love you, you were the absolute best tonight,” comes out of Mourinho’s mouth, and right now he means every word. Every word, every possible meaning of them and his eyes might actually be tearing up. “You were perfect.”
He gives Cristiano a hard press of mouth to mouth, and then he’s slapping open the door, his other arm raised and his face blazing with joy. It’s enough to keep Cristiano plastered to the wall till the other man’s through the doorway, and it sure as hell is going to make sure nobody takes time out from celebrating to ask any stupid questions.
Cristiano’s lips are still stinging when he stumbles after Mourinho, his eyes instantly assaulted by the light reflected off so many raised bottles. But he’s a footballer, after all, and it’s his job to be aware of who’s around him. He’s already got his arm crooked when Deco falls onto him.
Okay, he’s not expecting that one hand to go diving into the back of his shorts, when there’s somebody gabbing in Brazilian Portuguese behind him and the flash of Guti’s hair just a little to his left, but otherwise he’s good. “I can’t fuck you if you’re in the fucking hospital again!” he hisses. “Watch the cast!”
Deco bangs a fizzing champagne bottle into Cristiano’s chest and drags his mouth across the left side of Cristiano’s jaw. “You single-minded little shit, is that—”
“Hell, no.” Cristiano skids a little in a puddle, then catches his shoulder against Ruud’s back and rights himself. He twists Deco around so he can get at the champagne foam with his mouth, and doesn’t mind at all when he gets Deco’s fingers along the way. “Are you kidding me? That trophy’s mine.”
He says that pretty loudly but it fits with the occasion so nobody bats an eye. Except Mourinho, maybe, who might have nodded approvingly before Raúl hugged him—God, it’s getting crazy now—and Deco, who gives Cristiano a long, hard look. Then he snorts, ducking his head, and his hand lightly smacks the back of Cristiano’s head before settling on the nape. “Good. That’s how you should do it.”
Cristiano grabs the bottle and half-swigs it because he’s grinning and that means he can’t shut his mouth all the way. “Not that I’m gonna let you off the hook or anything, though.”
“Asshole,” Deco says. He leans his head on Cristiano’s shoulder and smiles when Mourinho reaches over about three shoulders to slap hands with him, and hey, they’re here for another night at least. The way Mourinho looks at them, open and hungry, it’s going to be busy in Cristiano’s hotel room tonight. “Next year, when I’m back? You’re fucked. I guarantee it.”
“Good,” Cristiano says, and laughs. “Good. That’s exactly how I want it.”