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Some people could jump from sleep to full consciousness in the time it took for them to blink their eyes open, but Leo wasn't one of them. He woke up vaguely aware that he was warm, upright, and had a crick in his neck; after a moment he registered a strangely familiar presence next to him. Then he thought about that. Then he opened his eyes. "What are you doing here? Where's Geri?"

Cesc's face was too close to see his eyes or mouth, but Leo could feel his chest vibrate under his cheek when he laughed. "You sure know how to crush a guy's ego, little bro."

"I didn't mean - " Leo said, mortified. "I just - "

"Joking, joking!" Cesc pressed a kiss to the top of Leo's head, and for a moment it was like he'd never left. "Geri's in your shower. He said you were asking for me."

Leo didn't remember that, but that didn't necessarily mean it hadn't happened. There were large chunks of the previous day missing from his memory. Mind-blanking panic probably wasn't the most admirable way he could have reacted to finding out he might be about to go insane and die, but Leo was just a footballer; he'd never claimed to be brave. "Don't you need to be in London for training, though?" he asked.

"Well, I'm injured anyway," Cesc said. His voice went cold, but only for a moment. "Might as well come back here for a little. At least long enough to beat some lessons on how to be a proper bondmate into Guaje if he's going to go stealing mine, eh?"

"I'm still your bondmate," Leo said, suddenly and inexplicably furious. "I'm always going to be your bondmate. Yours and Geri's. I chose you. Villa was just - it was an accident, I didn't - "

"Baby, you know you can't fight it," Cesc said. Leo shut his eyes. "If you try to reject it - "

"I know," Leo muttered. "I'm not stupid. I won't." He settled back against Cesc's chest and let him card his fingers through his hair while they waited for Geri to come back. "But I chose you," Leo added, a little mutinously. Cesc pretended not to have heard.

*

For all Cesc's bravado about Villa, he didn't try to come to training with them. Leo was distantly aware that the tabloids would make a fuss about him coming back in the middle of the season, that it was only sensible to avoid that if they could, but he couldn't help the stab of disappointment. He didn't need Cesc, not usually. Usually he didn't think about missing him either. But now -

"I'll be here when you get home from practice," Cesc said, hovering by the door with an anxious look on his face, and Leo swallowed any thought of protest. Geri's hand on his elbow kept him anchored in place in more ways than one, but he managed to wave a little before leaving.

"Into the car," Geri said gruffly, and then stopped, still holding onto Leo's arm. Leo didn't need to push to guess what he was thinking: he couldn't get into the car himself without letting go.

"You shouldn't block for me while you're driving," he said. "I'll be fine."

"I can do it, just - "

"I'm too young and talented to die in a car crash," Leo interrupted. He pulled away and waited for a burst of blinding pain that never came. A low-grade headache started to build in his temples, but that was all; the horrible feedback loop from Guaje had almost completely stopped. "It's fine," he added. "It's better. Xavi must have explained to him."

Geri stared at him for a long moment, his mouth set in a thin line. "If you're sure," he said at last, before rounding the car to get into the driver's seat. Leo slid into the passenger's side and leaned back against the headrest, eyes shut to keep out the sunlight that was aggravating his headache. "Sunglasses in the glove compartment," Geri said. When Leo didn't move, he leaned across him to get the glasses out himself and set them carefully on Leo's face. Leo reached up to catch one of his hands before he could settle back in his seat. Geri squeezed his fingers gently and pulled his hand down to rest on his thigh before he let go. He didn't try to shield Leo from Villa again, but just the physical contact was reassuring enough to keep him calm during the drive to training.

He could feel Guaje waiting for them from a few blocks away, and that was strange and new. He tried to reach out and brush the edge of his thoughts, just to say that he would be there soon, but he didn't get a response; he wasn't sure Villa could hear him.

"I can stay with you," Geri said, unprompted. Once they were inside the garage it was too dark to see his face with the sunglasses on, but by the time Leo had taken them off he just looked focused on finding a place to park. "If you want."

It was tempting. "I think I need to work it out with Guaje," Leo said quietly. "Alone. But thank you. And - you know."

"You don't have to thank me." Gerard took his keys out of the ignition, and before Leo knew what was happening he was trapped in a painfully tight hug. "I promised I'd make anybody who fucked with you sorry when we were fourteen," Gerard whispered in his ear, half-joking, half-deadly serious. "I'm not going to let anyone hurt you now."

"I know." Leo took a deep breath and went still, letting Geri fit against him and into him, in all the spaces where they'd grown together and all the edges where they'd worn each other's rough parts down. "I'm glad you chose me," he said at last, hopelessly inarticulate as always, and knew that it was all right: Geri would know what he meant.

"I'm glad you said yes." Geri kissed his forehead and let him go, and Leo got out of the car. His bondmate was waiting for him.