When Rafa retires Roger is the second person to find out. It's not a surprise, not with his knees worn down paper thin for years now, and Rafa is a little sad but not surprised either. Roger is home in Switzerland when Rafa calls, and says, "How are you?" when Rafa tells him. He hears Rafa shrugging through the phone, and then he says, "Sad. Tired. Happy. Is strange, no?"
"It's very strange," says Roger.
"Is boring too," says Rafa, and Roger laughs.
"You need to adjust," he says. "It takes some time."
Rafa says, "You remember Hamburg?"
"Sure," says Roger. "I beat you."
Rafa rolls his eyes very loudly. Roger toys with the seam of his trousers and thinks maybe he knows Rafa a little too well, if there is even such a thing. "Was nice city," says Rafa.
"I'm sure it still is," says Roger.
"Si," says Rafa. "Exactly."
"Rafa," says Roger. "Are you saying you want to go to Hamburg?"
"Hamburg first," says Rafa. "You speak German, no?"
"...Yeah," says Roger.
"Good," says Rafa, and that's that.
The thing about it is, there is a whole unexplored world outside of all their tennis courts, and Rafa wants to see it.
Roger goes with him because Rafa is still as beautiful and convincing as he was at seventeen, because his laugh lines and warm eyes are just as easy to imagine through the phone as they are to see when they're in the same room. And because maybe seeing the world through Rafa's eyes will be nice, a nice change.
They meet up at the hotel in Hamburg. Rafa is already there, talking in Spanish on his phone when Roger clicks into the room with his own keycard. Rafa smiles and waves and rolls his eyes all in one seamless movement. Roger ducks a smile down at his suitcase and lines it up against the wall, dropping onto the unrumpled bed closest to the door and folding his hands behind his head, watching Rafa. From the way he's talking with a well worn-in, half-amused kind of patience, rolling his eyes several more times, Roger guesses he's talking to his Uncle Toni. He looks very young, in the morning light spilling through the windows, awake and golden and childish. Happy. Roger's glad he decided to come. Not that it was much of a decision.
"Uncle Toni?" he says, when Rafa hangs up.
"Si." Rafa laughs. "He telling me to be careful. I remind him I have no more tennis to play."
"He's your uncle, of course he'll tell you to be careful," says Roger.
Rafa shrugs. "Is hard for him too, no? Having to retire like me."
"I'm sure he'll be happy to have a break from you," says Roger, biting back a grin.
Rafa throws a pillow from his own bed at Roger's face. Then he swings himself up onto Roger's bed, stretching his legs and sighing.
"Is nice to see you," he says, rolling a smile against the headboard.
"Yeah," says Roger. He blinks up at Rafa. "It's really nice to see you too, Rafa."
Roger is all in favour of sleeping through the day. He weighs his age up against practical sense and age comes out on top, because he's on holiday and self-indulgence is kind of fun. There's no point in being retired if you can't actually let jetlag fuck you up once in a while. But then there's Rafa, who by virtue of being (slightly) younger and newly retired and generally proclaiming of the trip as his manages with worryingly little effort to drag Roger out in search of brunch.
"I remember a nice place near the Am Rothenbaum," says Roger.
"No," says Rafa. "Nowhere we know already."
"Okay," says Roger. "But if the food is terrible, I'm blaming you."
"And if food is not terrible, you thank me," says Rafa, grinning.
Roger elbows him in the side. "Whatever you say," he says.
They eat bratkartoffeln in a quaint little restaurant near St. Nicholas'.
Roger says, "So not terrible then. Just fattening."
Rafa grins around a mouthful of food. "Is no problem for me now," he says, chewing happily. "No problem for you for long time."
"Rafa," says Roger, leaning forward a little over the table, "Are you calling me fat?"
"No," says Rafa, giggling into another forkful of food.
"I go to the gym a lot, you know," says Roger. He pats the still-taut line of his stomach. "Maybe a little more fat, now that there's no pressure."
Rafa throws a napkin at him. "You stupid," he says. "Is no fat."
"I know." Roger laughs.
"Ah." Rafa nods knowingly. "So no stupid, just, how you say-- "
"Handsome?" says Roger. "Nice? Greatest of all time?"
Rafa throws another napkin. "Dork," he says, grinning triumphantly.
Afterwards they wander over to stand beneath the dry-looking husk of old St. Nicholas'.
Rafa looks up quietly with his hands in his pockets. Roger watches him watching, the uneven line of his throat and his overnight stubble.
"It's sad," he says, turning his eyes upwards.
"Si," says Rafa quietly. "They gonna fix it?"
"I don't know," says Roger. "I hope so."
Rafa presses into his side, just a little. "We go back to hotel," he says. "You need sleep, so we can go out later."
Roger snorts. "First you call me fat, then old." He shakes his head. "Terrible abuse."
"You forget I no call you fat," says Rafa, smirking. "You getting old, si?"
"Shut up," says Roger mildly.
"I know somewhere we should go," says Roger when Rafa wakes him around seven. "Don't worry," he adds, when Rafa raises an eyebrow, "I've never been. I just heard it's pretty."
Rafa tilts his head, considering. "Okay," he says at last. Roger smiles.
"Is ugly," says Rafa as Roger leads them onto the Kennedybrücke, tucking the fold-up map he'd grabbed from the hotel into his pocket. "Just cars, I see cars at home."
"You can't be retiring," says Roger. "You're too much of a baby to be retiring."
Rafa throws him a glare. It's ruined by the telltale dimples creasing his cheeks.
"Look," says Roger. He slides a hand in a long-since perfected movement over the small of Rafa's back and pushes him further ahead on the footpath. "Over the river, see?"
He stops when they hit the apex of the bridge.
"Oh," says Rafa. He pauses for a very long time, resting his elbows on the railing and leaning forward like a child wanting to dip his nose, the tip of his tongue into the sweeping vista of cathedral spires and lights reflected in the binnenalster. "Okay, you are right, is pretty."
"You know Hamburg has more bridges than Venice or Amsterdam?" says Roger absently.
"We gonna climb them all?" says Rafa, grinning. It's very white, very startling and lovely in the lit-up night.
"Sure," says Roger. "We can climb them all."
Rafa uncurls from where he's bent over the railing and leans up to press his smile, quick and dry, to Roger's cheek. Roger blinks.
By the time he looks over at Rafa he's standing placidly, hands in pockets, by Roger's side, expressionless and soaked in shadow.
Rafa's kissed Roger once before. It was so long ago it bears no connection in Roger's mind to Rafa now, or himself and Rafa now.
It was in Australia, and Rafa was still a kid, and Roger knows Rafa's always been a little in awe of him, moreso then, and not for any reason other than he's sweet and shy and unassuming, and young, always young in Roger's eyes, something about his ready grin and constant incessant movement. Anyway, it was just seventeen year-old Rafa pressing up damp and pink-cheeked on his toes and kissing Roger clumsily on the mouth, soft and easy. Roger had been too surprised to respond much in any capacity, and Rafa had pulled away and licked his lips and said, "Lo siento, sorry, is-- I know you having girlfriend, is no problem," blushing, his accent much heavier than it is now.
Roger had wondered, it was hard not to, but Rafa was so young and it was strange enough to chalk up as an anomaly, and then they'd ended up friends and Rafa never brought it up again.
Roger thinks about it now though, with the echo of Rafa's smile against his cheek, scrubbing his knuckles restlessly over the spot as they walk slowly back to the hotel, bathed in rectangles of light lined up like dominos along the footpath, reflecting the yellow glow and silhouettes like the city in the river.
"Do you remember Australia?" says Roger, back at the hotel.
"Si, of course," says Rafa. "I beat you."
Roger rolls his eyes. "Don't remind me, please," he says. "Not that time."
"Is many times in Australia," says Rafa quietly. Roger's pretty sure he knows which time he means.
"It was your first time," says Roger. "I think."
Rafa's silent for a moment. "Si, I remember," he says at last.
"You kissed me," says Roger.
Rafa doesn't answer.
"I. I don't mind," says Roger. "I just want to know, why did you kiss me?"
Rafa shrugs. "I like you," he says. "Was stupid. Was very young."
"What, it was stupid to like me?" says Roger, smiling.
"I think you maybe gonna be angry," says Rafa.
"I'm not angry," says Roger. "I wasn't angry then either."
"Okay," says Rafa.
"Rafa," says Roger. "I like you too, you know. I'm glad you kissed me. I'm glad we're friends."
Rafa blinks at him, slow in the dimmed light. "Si," he says finally.
"Good," says Roger. "I'm sorry I-- I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable. I didn't mean to."
"Is okay," says Rafa quietly.
Roger's not tired enough to sleep. They spend the night mostly in companionable, half-drowsy silence, the TV on low but loud enough to hear. Rafa's curled up under his covers with his eyes half-shut, cheek pillowed on the ball of his shoulder. Somewhere in the early hours of the morning Roger finally drifts off, and he wakes again just as dawn is starting to creep through the windows. Rafa's already awake, pulling on a sweater. Roger shivers a little as the covers slide down his arms.
"We should put the heating on," he says.
"Later," says Rafa. "We go to river for morning, yes?"
Roger yawns. "Okay," he says.
They end up down at the Hamburger Hafen, carrying coffees to the end of one of the jetties. Rafa sits down without hesitating, legs dangling over the side, forearms resting on one of the old beams. Roger sits when Rafa tilts his head back and looks at him with wide, waiting eyes.
"Is nice bridges," says Rafa, blowing into his steaming coffee.
"Landungsbrücken," says Roger.
"Landing bridges," Roger translates.
"Ah." Rafa nods. "Embarcadero, si."
"Embarcadero," says Roger, rolling the word on his tongue. Rafa smiles.
"You know," he says, "Here somewhere is the ah, how you say-- "
Roger waits, eyebrows raised.
Rafa clicks his tongue. "Where they have the putas, the-- "
"The red light district?" Roger laughs. "Really? And how do you know that?"
"I visit many times," says Rafa seriously.
Roger laughs again. "It's probably a really nice area," he says. "Nice old buildings, beautiful girls..."
"Ah," says Rafa. "We go see old buildings today, yes? For you. Old buildings for old-- "
"Don't finish that sentence," says Roger. "Or it's going to be a disaster. I'm going to have no confidence anymore."
Rafa snorts, digging an elbow into Roger's side. "But we go, si?" he says.
"I'm going to need a lot more coffee to stay awake," says Roger. "Sure."
Rafa buys Roger another coffee when they wander away from the Hafen, passing it to him with a smirk and unscrewing the cap on the juice he buys for himself because, "I am young, not needing so much coffee."
"You're not that young, Mr. Just Retired," says Roger.
Rafa shakes his head. "Is no good, you always retired longer than me."
Roger sighs. "Why do I bother?" he says to the sky. "I'm so nice always, and you're horrible to me."
"You want some juice?" says Rafa, holding out the bottle.
Roger bursts out laughing.
By the time they make it to the Rathaus Rafa is itching for food. Roger buys them breakfast and they eat it in the Rathausmarkt in front of the building, sitting to the side and watching the slow morning crowds navigating the terrace, the brightening sky behind the peaks of the roof.
"Is pretty," says Rafa. "You have camera?"
Roger shakes his head.
Rafa clicks his tongue and pulls his phone from his pocket, leaning back to snap a photo of Roger's profile against the backdrop of the Rathaus and the white clouds.
"I'll look very lonely," says Roger, and Rafa leans in immediately to take a photo of his cheek pressed to Roger's, grinning up at the phone.
"There," he says. "Not lonely."
"Of course not," says Roger. His breath catches a little, oddly, unexpectedly. He pulls the tourist pamphlet that came with the map from the hotel out of his pocket. "You know St. Peter's is close to here," he says. "Their door handles are the oldest art in Hamburg."
"Like you," says Rafa, nodding and failing utterly to suppress his giggles.
Roger swats at Rafa's arm with the pamphlet. "That's very nice Rafa, thank you." He smiles out at the plaza. "Do you think people realise how boring our conversations are? Just you being mean to me all the time? I think maybe they'd like you less if they knew."
"Never," says Rafa, grinning.
"Yeah," says Roger. "Probably not."
Rafa smiles at him, softer, happy. "We go see old church, come on."
Afterwards it's well enough into the afternoon that Roger can't stop yawning despite the now three coffees he's finished.
Rafa laughs at him and says, "We have room service for lunch, so I no have to carry you if you fall asleep." Then he yawns.
Roger tries valiantly and fails miserably at not laughing, and then finally says, wiping at his eyes, "That's perfect, that doesn't even need a response."
"Ay de mí," mutters Rafa. "Shut up."
Roger laughs some more.
They eat cross-legged on their beds like children or invalids and then Roger says, dumping his room service tray unceremoniously onto the floor, "Okay, I have to sleep now."
Rafa says, "Si, me too," half-slurred, and that's the last thing Roger remembers. He stirs sometime during the night; the afternoon's turned into dark and he registers half-coherently that he's warm and comfortable and content, and he hears the rustle as Rafa moves in his own bed, mumbles, "Roger?" probably still asleep.
Roger says, "Hmm," anyway, not really awake himself, and drifts off again, Rafa's quiet breaths and gentle movements oddly prominent in his ears.
Next time when he wakes properly Rafa's still sleeping, curled up pink-cheeked and open-mouthed, facing Roger and breathing softly. His hair is messy, feathery-looking over his eyes. The sun is creeping through the curtains behind him and Roger wants very much to both wake him and keep watching him sleep, but he errs on the side of less creepy and stretches out one arm, rubbing at his eyes with the other as he tugs on the corner of Rafa's quilt and says, "Hey."
Rafa bats at his hand and rolls over. Roger grins at the ceiling and drags himself out of bed, pausing for a moment before dropping himself heavily and unceremoniously onto the space Rafa's left vacant. Rafa grunts and rolls onto his back, blinking blearily up at Roger. "Culo," he says throatily, frowning and palming a hand over his face.
Roger chuckles. "I'm going to pretend that means 'Thank you for waking me up Roger, it's very nice to see you, good morning,' even though I know enough Spanish that I know it doesn't."
"Shut up," says Rafa, trying to hide his smile behind his hand.
"Ah, English," says Roger. "You're waking up."
"Roger," says Rafa seriously, peering earnestly up at him. "Breakfast."
Roger rolls his eyes. "You're maybe not as old as me, but I'm pretty sure you're old enough to order your own breakfast."
"Roger," says Rafa, pulling the covers over his head. "You not as funny as you think. Breakfast."
"Fine," says Roger, reaching for the phone. Rafa's spine is tucked against his thigh. "But I get to choose where we go first today."
Roger decides on the Deutsches Schauspielhaus. It's less of a decision, more a quick flick through the tourist brochure he still has on his bedside table, and also maybe an acquiescence to the smile waiting in the corners of his mouth. Rafa rolls his eyes and Roger smiles, is not disappointed.
They stand quietly outside. The day is overcast but not too cold.
Rafa says after a moment, pulling his hands from his pockets to fold across his chest and glancing over at Roger, "We could go see a play?"
"No," says Roger. "No, let's go see a movie instead."
Rafa shrugs. "Okay," he says easily.
It's a while before they find a cinema. Roger doesn't mind. He's in that particular soft state of mind where wandering aimlessly without schedule is as enjoyable as the prospect of a warm dark cinema with cushioned seats. When they do stumble across one Roger buys a ridiculous-sized popcorn and over-sweet soda and hands them to an amused-looking Rafa.
"What," says Roger defensively. "I'm retired."
Rafa snorts, grinning.
Roger looks over at him during the movie, his eyes fixed on the screen while his hand hovers absently over the popcorn. He looks tired in the washed-out light from the projection, the skin about his eyes a little like creased paper, thin and pale. Roger lifts a hand mostly without meaning to and lays it on Rafa's arm just below his crooked elbow. Rafa looks over at him enquiringly. After a moment Roger drops his hand and shakes his head, turning back to the movie. He wonders vaguely what the hell he's doing.
"You know what's really weird, Rafa?" says Roger thoughtfully over dinner.
Rafa looks at him questioningly.
"We've been here what, three days? It feels like a lot longer, like forever. Crazy." He shakes his head.
"Not crazy," says Rafa slowly. He tilts his head. "Good forever or bad forever?"
"Of course good forever," says Roger. "Just weird to think about, you know?"
"Si." Rafa nods. He bites his lip for a moment, then leans forward. "Good weird."
Roger flicks a crumb from his side plate at Rafa. "I'm being serious, man," he says, but laughs.
"I know," says Rafa. He waves a hand. "Is good, is serious, is long. This is true."
Roger pauses, toying with the alignment of his knife and fork across his plate. "Are you okay?" he says at last, looking up.
Rafa looks surprised at the question. There's something strangely warming about the way he takes his time over answering, looking off over Roger's shoulder. His smile is slow but real when he refocuses his eyes and says, "Si, okay. Very okay."
In the morning Rafa says, "We stay inside today." And then, glancing over at Roger with his lip between his teeth, shrugs and amends, "I stay inside today, if you wanting to go."
Roger shakes his head. "No. I mean, I might go down to the hotel gym later, but a day inside would be nice."
It is. Roger lies back on his bed with half an eye on a magazine and half on Rafa and the TV, entertained as much by Rafa's part-fascination, part-confusion at the TV as he is by what's actually on it. He slips out around noon to buy them lunch. "Room service is boring," he says. "You came here because you don't want to be bored."
Rafa narrows his eyes suspiciously.
Roger throws a sock at him. "I know what you like. A bunch of bananas, yeah?"
Rafa retaliates with a stray sneaker. "Is not funny," he calls, echoing after Roger into the corridor. "You come with bananas for lunch, I no letting you back in."
He comes back with pizza. "I don't know if German pizza is any good," he says, "But I thought I'd be adventurous today."
Rafa nods. "For you, this is very adventurous," he says.
"Are you calling me boring?" says Roger, settling on his bed with both pizza boxes. It feels kind of fantastically like something he shouldn't do. "I thought we agreed you'd stop being mean."
"We never agree this," says Rafa. He holds out his hand for pizza.
"I paid, I get the pizzas," says Roger, grinning. "Also because you're being horrible."
Rafa sighs heavily, put-upon, and drags himself across to Roger's bed. "Roger," he says, eyes wide, "You know I like you." He settles cross-legged across from Roger.
Roger grins around his triangle and swivels the boxes to face Rafa.
"Thank you," says Rafa.
Rafa enjoys it because it's his favourite; Roger's shared pizza with him enough times, gourmet stuff in Michelin Star restaurants and shitty Dominoes at three in the morning in New York, to know he likes pepperoni, lots of cheese, interspersed with onions and olives and capsicum. There's something gratifying in the way Rafa huffs an appreciative laugh when he notices and smiles at Roger over the boxes, over his bed in this hotel room they're sharing in Hamburg all because Rafa remembered that Roger beat him here years ago and it's a nice place and he wanted to do something with his newfound retirement. Roger thinks back to their conversation over dinner last night and disagrees; it is crazy, in that swooping, kind of scary way Roger's come to associate with Rafa and never thought twice about because it's Rafa, and these things transcend the tennis court even if that's where they start.
When they're finished Roger groans and leans down to stack the boxes on the floor. "I'm so full," he says.
"Roger," says Rafa suddenly. "You having girlfriend now?"
Roger blinks. "You know I don't," he says quietly, straightening.
Rafa nods and ducks forward on all fours. Roger gets a brief glimpse of the curls dropping over his eyes and the hesitant, shadowed lull of his mouth before it's pressed to his, just as clumsy and soft as it was that other time, all those years ago. The difference here is that Rafa doesn't pull away, presses closer instead, and after a quick suspended heartbeat Roger reaches up to curl his hands in the collar of Rafa's shirt, tugging him forward until his legs are bracketing Roger's and his fingers are sliding over his hips, tongue dipping sweet into his mouth.
"What," he says, when Rafa finally pulls away. His mouth is bruised, wet. Roger stares.
"I like you," says Rafa simply.
"I," says Roger.
"I think we see Hamburg now," says Rafa thoughtfully. "We go somewhere else, si?"
Roger shakes his head stupidly, like that's going to clear it. "We haven't been inside any museums," he points out.
"No," says Rafa. "But is time to go somewhere else, no?"
"Sure," says Roger. "Okay."
"Good," says Rafa. "Where we gonna go?"
Roger looks up at him. Rafa's watching him carefully, some scrutinising tightness Roger remembers seeing so many times from across the court about his eyes. His mouth is very soft.
Roger breathes out, reaching up to thumb at Rafa's lower lip, and says, a smile beginning to tug at the corners of his mouth, because he gets it now, it's no less crazy but suddenly it is that easy, easy as this has always been, he realises, "I think Australia. Where else?"