When Roger gets up from his seat in the pre-match press conference, he can only wonder whose idea it was to introduce a boxing-like stare down at Grand Slams. Possibly the youngsters around Zverev and Kyrgios. Or Boris.
Probably some Americans, though.
He doesn’t have to wonder whose idea it was to test that new system on him and Rafa because it has been the Spaniard himself.
And the day Roger would say no to Rafael Nadal is the day hell freezes close.
Which is exactly the reason why he is getting up now and trying hard to suppress the urge to roll his eyes.
Rafa, on the other hand, seems to be concentrating on their task, his eyes focused on the Swiss and his face nearly blank, except for the deep frown on his forehead that always appears when he is dedicated.
He also has his bottom lip drawn in in such a typical way that makes it seem as if he was biting his lip (which is clearly a bonus, Roger thinks).
And he knows he is supposed to make a few steps forward to actually face the Majorcan but something deep inside of him prevents him from doing so. It’s the same something that more often than not keeps him up at night when he’s off to training in Dubai or New York and Rafa stays in Manacor.
Or worse; when he’s back in Switzerland after a few weeks of touring the world with Rafa and does not feel like coming home at all. But even though he does not think much of this staredown battle, he knows that the media does and he is not keen on losing this match in the eye of the public before it has even started.
(As if he’d actually have a chance to beat Rafa with the way the Spaniard is playing at the moment, his shots full of confidence, Roger’s full of distraction.)
So he eventually tells the voice in his chest to just shut up and sets foot in Rafael’s direction, avoiding the Majorcan’s intense gaze all the way.
The second he stands still in front of the Spaniard, all the noises in the press conference die down and he can basically feel all the tension.
He feels sorry already for all these that have their money on him.
You can do this, he tells himself and takes a deep breath.
One thing at a time. You can do this.
Finally, he raises his gaze and his eyes meet Rafa’s for the first time. For the split of a second, he sees something in the Spaniard’s dark eyes that could only be described as amusement.
But it is gone rapidly and while he sees Rafa’s lips moving, he does not catch a single word of what he’s saying.
Until Rafa lifts a hand to cover his mouth like a player on a goddamn football pitch and whispers, “I not think is close enough, no?”
He is staring at Roger expectantly and the Swiss blinks, eying the gap between them that makes up about ¾ of a meter.
He clears his throat, still not moving for even a millimetre.
Rafa lets out a sigh so soft that Roger is probably the only one to hear it and comes closer. So close that their chests are almost touching.
Rafa’s scent hits him like a truck.
And he knows this is not the time nor the place to get lost in his thoughts but hell, he’s overwhelmed and his breath comes way too fast, providing his brain too much oxygen to think properly.
And every time he tries to take a deep and calm breath, Rafa fills all his senses and he cannot help but realize how much the things have changed and how the tables have turned for both of them
His eyes meet Rafa’s once again and a bell is ringing somewhere, apparently setting off the start of their staring-battle.
But Rafa is still so close, too close, and his scent is of something fresh and clean, like mint or citrus.
But there is more to it, something so utterly Rafa that it nearly blows Roger’s mind.
And he is reminded of those times when the Spaniard had smelled of his favourite sand court, when his skin had been damp from sweat and his hair longer, dark curls framing his young but already so determined face. For a second, Roger can almost see that Rafa in front of him; his gaze reserved and his facial expressions unreadable, his gestures guarded and his smile shy.
That is until his field of vision shifts a little and he is back in the reality with the present-Rafa only a few inches away.
And so much has changed since their early days because now the look in Rafa’s dark eyes is no longer unreadable for Roger. Quite the reverse, it is probably what he knows best.
And that difference in the Spaniard’s behaviour towards him, his relaxed posture and the warm look in his eyes, is all that it takes until the penny finally drops.
Roger knows that this is probably the worst moment anyone could have thought of for this to happen but there is this tiny voice in the back of his head that just goes Oh.
Because how had he not seen this before?
He remembers it still so well, how there has been a time when Rafa would flinch whenever he or anyone else accidently touched him.
It makes him think of yesterday, when his and Rafa’s team had shared dinner and the Spaniard was seated next to him, subconsciously constantly leaning into Roger, the outsides of their thighs touching.
And Roger feels like he just cannot wait any longer, feels as if his heart would implode if he would spend another second without knowing the truth.
He would lose the match anyway, so who even cared about this stare down?
So he leans in a little closer until their chests are actually touching, Rafa’s eyes widening in surprise.
But Roger has waited for so long, has waited an eternity without ever letting himself hope.
It is not him that slowly extends a hand and hesitantly cups Rafa’s cheek; it is all the pain, all the lonely nights and all the guilt that causes him to do so.
And while he can see a trace of shock in the younger man’s eyes, Rafa instinctively leans into the touch, as he always does.
“May I?” Roger whispers to make sure that Rafa is on board with this and he can feel him nodding slightly, his thumb still caressing the Spaniard’s prominent cheekbones.
Rafa is the first one to close his eyes, long lashes resting on tanned skin feathery-like, but when Roger’s lips brush against his, the Swiss thinks that it is a win-win situation anyway.