"Come over for dinner tonight?" Cristiano asks before practice, pushing his knuckles gently into Kaká's hip. "I went food shopping. Bought fish."
Kaká laughs, nudges him back. "Are you making espada? I hate espada."
"Shut up, you love espada."
He's twenty-two the first time he wonders why so many football players go by their nicknames, because in his head and on the back of his shirt he is just C. Ronaldo, with a name so high up the ground he doesn't know if he'll ever be able to live up to it.
He meets Chicharito, once, in the small window of time before Chicharito signs for United and after Cristiano's already left, and he wants to call him Javier.
"Hola," Chicharito greets him. "Or, no, wait—Oi."
Cristiano laughs, and it is easy to talk to Chicharito even though his Spanish isn't what it will become and the Portuguese slips through in "u"s instead of "o"s and "j"s that sound too hard.
They start calling Chicharito the next Cristiano a few months later, and in the Madrid locker room one day when Cristiano mentions him and transfer rumors, Kaká claps him on the shoulder. "There won't be a next Cristiano," Kaká says, "because there will always be the first."
"I wasn't worried about that," Cristiano says, but it's comforting to hear nonetheless.
If he ever has a nickname, he wants it to be something like "San Iker," one that has his name and what he means to the club and the sport and speaks volumes, not some stupid diminutive.
It's strange to be considered a galactico right after the age of the galacticos ended and the age of tiki-taka began, and Cristiano drinks too much the night he's signed to Madrid because on the one hand, this makes the two best clubs in the world, but on the other, it is like carrying a country.
He starts to think they won't ever win anything, but then Kaká hurts himself, and then there's a Portuguese coach who refuses to speak the language even when it's just him and Cristiano and Marcelo and Kaká and Pepe, and then Mourinho signs this new kid from Germany, and then they're winning all the time.
Mesut Özil is like Zidane, only faster, like Gutí, only calmer, like Kaká, only cleverer. He sees passes before they've had a chance to develop and completes more of them than anyone Cristiano's ever heard of.
Barcelona beat them 5-0, and Cristiano hits a wall, and Gonzalo is injured, and still they do not win.
It takes Kaká forever to get better, and when he does, he is not the same.
He meets Kun Aguero on a trip to Manchester with Gonzalo, who says, "We have to see Sergio, come on, we can't come all the way here and not go and see him."
"It's like sleeping with the enemy," Cristiano says, but they go to dinner all the same, and Cristiano can't help but wonder why the hell a grown man with a perfectly decent name would go by "El Kun." It doesn't even sound like Sergio. Cristiano hates him irrationally, maybe because he plays for City, maybe because he plays for Argentina but not Madrid, maybe because of his stupid haircut.
In any case, he stays mostly silent through dinner, poking at his steak and making it a point not to mention it.
The recovery seems slower than it is, Cristiano thinks, because he is living it.
He's not sure whether he's thinking about Kaká (who barely ever starts and only comes on at the end of matches when Özil gets tired, and Cristiano cannot help feeling a little resentful at the German for it, the German who could be his friend, Mesut Özil who is absolutely fucking spectacular and who is replacing Kaká and so Cristiano cannot let himself love him) or Madrid (who are winning games, and even when he gets injured and Gonzalo and Karim and Mesut and, yes, Kaká, have to take his place, they fucking annihilate, and it is like magic).
Kaká has a stupid nickname too, Cristiano realizes when they're driving home from practice together later, Kaká's hair still damp from the shower, both hands positioned perfectly on the steering wheel.
"Ricardo," Cristiano says. "Ricky."
Kaká snorts. "No one calls me that." He is speaking Spanish, Cristiano notices, and Kaká's Spanish is better than his. His accent's barely there, except that his last syllable always sounds too strong, the way it is in Portuguese, and sometimes when there's an e at the end of the word, he makes it sound too much like the Portuguese e, like the Spanish i. "Soy Kaká."
"¿Eres mierda?" Cristiano jokes, feeling very clever.
"Wow, really? I thought those jokes were over when I left primary school." But he laughs anyway, and when he parks the car they're at Cristiano's place, and Cristiano doesn't even have to invite him up for dinner anymore.
They eat salad and espada and bread, and Kaká complains, "Why not pork?" but bites into the fish anyway and Cristiano laughs and stops making fun of his name.
It's Barcelona who spoil it again.
There are too many games in too few days and there is not enough time to recover or recuperate and Cristiano finds himself angry not at himself this time, because he came through, his fucking team came through—it was the refs and UEFA that fucked them, and when they win the Copa it is like a healing spell and Cristiano thinks he will never stop smiling.
They recover. Madrid and Kaká, they recover.
"He will never be like he was for Milan," Cristiano hears people say. "He will never be that amazing again."
"He is the best," he insists stubbornly. "The best."
He knows it's not true, but Kaká thanks him with his mouth later and the tensed up muscles in Cristiano's shoulders start to relax like he, too, is in recovery.
And he's since forgotten because he was drunk and they fell against each other and woke up spooning contentedly and never discussed it, but the first time they kissed, Kaká hissed like he was being burned.
"What's wrong?" Cristiano said.
"I don't know how this can be right," Kaká said, but his leg was still hurt and he was not the same Kaká and he tried not to lose hope but even Christ could not come down and fix him and Kaká had to settle for Cristiano instead.
"If it feels right, it is," Cristiano said, and when Kaká's fingernails scratched into his back, it did.
They only ever sleep together when Cristiano has had a particularly shitty practice, or when Kaká has encountered another setback in his recovery, or when Madrid lose, never when Caroline is too sweet or Irina too demanding.
"It cannot be about them," Kaká says. "It won't feel right."
That's the only thing they ever say about it.
They are sky high until they lose to Barcelona in December. This time it is no one's fault but Madrid's.
"Good game," Xavi tells him after, and Cristiano thinks at least his nickname comes from his first name.
They win the league and it is like having Kaká beneath his fingers a thousand times all compounded into a split second, and it is like every birthday and every Christmas, and it is like little Cris's smile, and it is like playing football for the very first time all over again, the way the ball against his feet was like magic and the movements like flying.
It's not, Cristiano supposes, after they've had espada and salad and bread, all that strange that Kaká got his nickname.
They all call him Kaká, all the commentators and journalists and coaches, and maybe that's because he is. He's Kaká when he's scoring goals and Kaká when he's not, Kaká in FIFA commercials and Kaká in the transfer rumors section of goal.com. Kaká on the field, hair all flying behind him in the wind, face twisted with what looks like worry but which Cristiano knows is really just intensity, Kaká when he's shrugging at interviewers who ask him if he feels threatened by Mesut and Kaká when Mourinho has them play 11 v 11 in practice.
But like this: pressed up against Cristiano's skin, smelling—paradoxically—like sweat and shampoo, fingers digging into Cristiano's hips, hair curled in Cristiano's fingers, here he is Ricardo, and Cristiano babbles his name as Kaká blows him later, first: "Ricardoricardoricardo" and then "Cardocardocardo" and then "Ricaricarica," until, finally, it (and he) comes: "Kakakakaka."