Rafa almost never drinks alcohol. The only times Roger has seen him do so were a private Christmas dinner of the Nadal family he had attended a few years ago, the night after his parent’s official break-up and that time after the Davis Cup final in Sevilla when the video of Rafa dancing to “Ai Se Eu Te Pego” had gone viral.
So when he arrives at the US Open champion dinner, it comes as a bit of a shock to him.
There are about 150 people in the room, 200 maybe, the atmosphere is relaxed as always after a big tournament.
The lights are already dimmed, some sort of lightning scheme switches colour and makes it seem like the white tablecloths of the round tables are actually changing shades.
Roger hasn’t won, so he’s seated a few tables away from the Spaniard and his team which is why he was to get on his tiptoes to catch a glimpse of the Majorcan.
He sees it in the way Rafa holds himself, spots it in his laugh that is just a little bit more at ease than it usually is in public. Roger knows it the moment Rafa accidently spills a glass of water on Toni who is giving his nephew dark looks, his discontent clearly showing on his face.
And Roger tries to ignore it, keeping himself busy by chatting with some other players and officials but Stan isn’t here and so aren’t Novak and Andy so who could really keep him distracted? He had hoped that the Scot would show up once Jamie won the final but apparently, his recovery did not make that possible.
So Roger even finds himself missing Nole who is spectacularly bad at keeping secrets, but he just really needs someone he can talk to and who would keep him from constantly glancing over to the Spaniard.
And it becomes harder with every minute passing by because there’s another fresh glass of wine in Rafa’s hand and his smile has become tipsy, his eyes sparkly and his hips more relaxed, gently swinging to the soft music that is playing in the background.
Roger knows that he is not the only one watching the Spaniard. He catches one after the other staring at the US Open winner, at the way his body moves to the music whilst everyone else is still sitting tightly, looking at his smile that seems to brighten up the whole room.
And he probably isn’t the only one who cannot tear his gaze away from that bit of delicate looking skin the two popped open buttons of Rafa’s dark blue button-down shirt are revealing or the way it compliments his waistline and the curve of his butt.
However, he still feels his cheeks heating up and a sick feeling forming in his stomach because he really should not think of Rafa like that.
He shouldn’t think about how the soft material of the Majorcan’s shirt would feel against his palms, their hips pressed together. He should not imagine slipping his fingers into the back pockets of Rafa’s dark jeans to pull the younger man closer.
And he sure as hell should not constantly be thinking of those dark letters on his wrist, those that he usually hides under his sweatbands to not let the press get a glimpse of it. Because surely, they would draw the same conclusion as he did, wouldn’t they?
The broken mixture of English and Spanish, the misspelling that indicated a heavy accent…
Roger shakes his head.
Why is Rafa even wearing those ridiculously tight trousers? Roger lets out a huff and takes another sip of his drink. Maybe he should have taken the chance and get drunk as well but then again, he knows that he cannot even be trusted around the Spaniard in a sober state.
It is when Rafa eventually turns around causing their gazes to meet that Roger feels like he should go over and finally congratulate the Spaniard on his 16th Grand Slam title.
Rafa beams at him while he makes his way through groups of people and greets him with a tight hug that ends all too soon.
And Roger feels the familiar pain in his chest, the itch between his ribs that hasn’t faded since that day in 2009 when he had first come to the realization that it must be Rafa’s words on his skin – and then the constant fear that they are not.
“You did an amazing job!” Roger says – or rather screams – into Rafa’s ear because the sound level is immense.
“Thanks! Why you no come sooner?”
Roger doesn’t know what to answer to that because he does not want to explain that he has been here for quite a while but busy craning his neck for the Spaniard.
So he pretends to not have heard what Rafa has been saying and claps the Majorcan’s shoulder instead, “You’re drinking?”
Rafa grins and nods, “I come close to your record, no? I just need celebrate.”
His accent is even heavier than usual, the alcohol flooding his veins and clouding his mind.
The rolling “R”-sounds are sending shivers down Roger’s spine and he feels his neck growing hot once again.
The thought that Rafa might be drunk while saying the words that are burned into Roger’s skin first came to his mind after the Spaniard’s parent’s break up when he had offered Rafa to stay for the night.
A few bottles of wine later, the way the Majorcan spoke and the melody of his words sounded so much like the tone Roger had always imagined when he had read his soulmark out loud that he had basically hung on Rafa’s lips. The short sentence that would have given him relief never dropped from his pretty mouth.
“Well, then,” Roger says after a few seconds of silence between them, “I have to go back, they’re waiting for me.”
“Who wait?” Rafa asks, the suspicion evident.
Roger is caught off guard for a second, “Someone?”
“More important than winner of tournament?” Rafa asks, a grin once again extending from one ear to the other.
At that moment, Roger is glad that he’s decided against the alcohol for the evening because if he hadn’t, he probably would have told Rafa that there wasn’t anything he’d consider as more important than the Spaniard.
Instead, he settles for a, “Don’t overestimate yourself, Rafa.”
The Spaniard lets out a chuckle and covers his mouth with the back of his hand.
“Your hair look nice today.”
Roger rolls his eyes and grins, “Sure. Your eyebrows look great.”
Rafa giggles, “No, is true! Your hair colour is very nice.”
“Your ass is very nice,” says Roger and his breath gets caught the second Rafa draws in a breath sharply because this isn’t something he should say, it’s something he should never speak out loud.
But then the shock in Rafa’s eyes fades and he stables himself by grabbing Roger’s upper arm.
“Graci-as,” Rafa whispers and wiggles his eyebrows, a hiccup shaking his chest.
“See, I really should go back now…” Roger starts but there’s the way Rafa smiles, a grin spreading from one ear to the other, one eyebrow cocked slightly and he loses every motivation to move even a millimetre.
“You want dancing?” Rafa says and it sounds so simple, as if they could actually do that, as if the Spaniard actually wanted to do that with him.
Roger coughs, “You sure?”
Rafa beams and nods, “I win tournament, no? If I not allowed to ha-“, once again a hiccup shakes his body, “-ave fun today, then never, no?”
Roger knows that logic is twisted but he has never been good at saying no to Rafa, especially not if he is like this: careless, hopeful and so so beautiful in the dim light of the chandeliers, shadows highlighting his prominent cheekbones and sparkles dancing through his eyes.
And then it hits Roger again; that voice deep down inside that asks questions like what if it’s not Rafa’s words on your skin? What if they are but yours are not on his?
And he asks himself how likely it actually is that they could be Rafa’s. There are millions of people with a Spanish accent after all. Dozens of them on the tour. It could be López or Ferrer. Or even Muguruza. Hell, those words could even be from Carlos Moyá. Or from someone outside of the tennis bubble, who knows?
But then again, how likely is that it’s not Rafa?
Rafa, who sets his insides on fire with just a small smile, who makes him lost for words, who has been on his mind since that Australian Open Final in 2009 when Roger had cried in front of thousands on court and millions watching live on TV?
His train of thoughts is stopped when he feels Rafa’s fingers against his, softly pulling him to where a small area in front of a jukebox is supposed to be a dancefloor.
It is not crowded; there are some of the female tennis players dancing with each other, a few male players moving off rhythm with drinks in their hands and Roger feels strangely exposed when he follows Rafa. He knows that there are heads turning their direction and he feels a great number of eyes following them.
“Rrrrelax?” Rafa mumbles and it sounds more like a soft roar, spreading goose bumps across Roger’s skin.
And then there are Rafa’s fingers curling around the fabric of his shirt, gently pulling him a little closer and the other arm of the Spaniard wraps around Roger’s neck, bringing their foreheads together. The Majorcan is so close that Roger can smell the alcohol with every breath Rafa exhales and he feels guilt washing over him.
The younger man is clearly too drunk to realize what he is doing and only because Roger wishes so hard for Rafa to actually want this, he should not forget his responsibility as a friend.
“Rafa…” he whispers, softly, unsteady words against the Spaniard’s skin.
“Relax” the Majorcan says once again and Roger can feel him starting to move to the rhythm. He knows that Rafa is probably the worst dancer in the whole world and presumably the only Spaniard that cannot dance salsa but he doesn’t care because for once, Rafa has seemed to let go of all the doubt that usually covers his pretty face, the frown that has almost become part of his face easing away.
And Roger tries to bring some distance between them, he really does, but his efforts are half-hearted and Rafa’s skin is far too warm against his to actually want to let go.
“How much did you drink?” he asks instead and the reply he gets isn’t much more than a low giggle that shakes Rafa’s body and therefore spreads through Roger’s.
“Too much, no?” the Spaniard eventually answers and God, Roger thinks, he sounds like the carefree teenager Rafa has never allowed himself to be.
But suddenly, there is a change in Rafa’s body language and he stares at Roger in shock.
“Come!” he calls and a second later, he sprints across the room and escapes through a side door. Roger follows perplexed.
When the door falls close behind them, the music is only a soft bass humming in the background and the sudden silence makes Roger hyperaware of his own heartbeat that is beating in his ears.
Rafa is still running and Roger has to hurry to not lose him in the corridors.
“Where are you even going?” he calls after the Spaniard but then Rafa stops abruptly and Roger almost collides with him.
“Wh-“ he starts but the Majorcan pulls open a door and the Swiss finds himself in a large bathroom with huge mirrors on the wall across from them.
“I feel sick,” Rafa says and the shock is still in his eyes, “why it happen?”
Roger almost lets out a chuckle at that because Rafa looks so innocent the way he is leaning against the marble on the walls, warm lights barely illuminating the room.
“You drank too much,” Roger answers and cannot suppress amusement from showing in his tone.
“Is shit,” Rafa says and closes his eyes, slowly sliding down the wall and wrapping his arms around his knees.
How can someone of Rafa’s physical appearance look this tiny and vulnerable?
Roger lowers himself next to the Spaniard, the cold stone cooling him down.
“Is it getting better?”
Rafa shakes his head rapidly and dark locks frame his face. Roger has to suppress the urge to reach out and place a strand back behind Rafa’s ear.
“Can I do anything for you?”
Rafa breathes in and out audibly.
And Roger wonders when it has been like this the last time. Their calendars usually never allow casual meet-ups and during tournaments, Rafa is normally focused on his play. It has been ages since they were just two friends, not rivals, not the greatest of all time.
He wishes he could capture this moment but he knows that it’s impossible. It will become a memory just like any time that he spends time with the Spaniard. In a few days, he will lie awake at night and miss Rafa terribly, not quite believing that he was this close to the younger man at this very moment.
Rafa lets out a whine and even though his skin is sun-kissed, the Swiss believes it has grown an unhealthy colour.
“Roger! Roger! I think I… tengo que vomitar!”
The Swiss freezes.
His Spanish is actually shit but those words, dropping from Rafa’s lips thoughtlessly, he could translate in his sleep because he has done it a thousand times before, thinking about the Hows and Whens.
But there isn’t much time to think for the next second, Rafa gets up and almost collapses over a toilet seat.
It is rather an instinct than anything else when Roger places an arm around Rafa’s chest to stable him, carefully making sure that the Spaniard’s tie doesn’t get dirty while the younger man throws up.
His whole body is shaking by the time his stomach has emptied and Roger helps Rafa to sit down again, handing him a fresh towel, not letting go of the Spaniard’s body.
And Roger isn’t able to think, cannot even breath anymore, because the words have finally escaped from Rafa’s lips and he can feel his wrist almost burning painfully, the ink darkening against into his skin.
Rafa is still trembling and Roger runs his hands up and down the Spaniard’s arms to warm him up a little but when Rafa eventually looks up at him, he feels all the pain, all the unspoken words rushing over him, knocking the breath out of his lungs.
“It’s you,” he finally whispers and Rafa’s gaze shoots up again, the surprise in his eyes telling Roger that the Majorcan knows exactly what he is talking about.
“It’s you,” Roger says once again and there is something lighting up in the younger man’s eyes that the Swiss can only identify as relief.
“Has always been me, no?” Rafa breathes out, a triumphant smile playing on his lips.
“Rafa…” Roger says, quietly, intimately and he can see that it makes the Spaniard shiver, “For how long have you known?”
The Majorcan fiddles with his pants and lowers the fabric a little, revealing dark words just below his hipbone. They are the wrong way around and so he tilts his head, sees what Rafa sees when he looks down on himself.
I don’t wanna have the last word, this guy deserves it.
Roger knows that these are his words because he remembers every breath he took on that day, can still feel the hard court under his fingertips from that moment when he had lost the match, the same second Rafa had defeated him once again in a Grand Slam Final. It had also been the day he had realized that the Spaniard was stuck in his head and his heart on top, all the emotions rushing over him at the same time and making it impossible for him to give an interview after the match.
Roger stares at the Majorcan, “God damnit, why haven’t you said anything?”
Rafa smiles shyly and Roger just really wants to kiss him at that moment.
“I not know you feel same, no? Having soulmark is not 100% guaranty.”
Roger shakes his head in disbelief and just goes for it; presses a kiss to Rafa’s lips that still taste terrible but the Spaniard leans into the touch, sighing softly against Roger’s lips.
“How could you even think that? It’s been you, always you, since that Australian Open Final in 2009.”
“Now we know, sí?” Rafa whispers against his skin, his voice still weak but full of so many things that Roger knows he’d like to say.
“I…” Roger starts and takes in the sight in front of him.
Rafa’s face that still has an unhealthy colour but is flushed at the same time. His dark eyes that are full of so many emotions that Roger wants to slap himself for not seeing this through sooner.
“Can I see?” Rafa asks and interrupts his thoughts. Roger nods and slowly opens the two buttons on his sleeve, rolling up the fabric.
Rafa reaches out a hand and takes Roger’s in his, turning it over in a way that makes it possible for him to read the dark words on the Swiss’ wrist.
Roger! Roger! I think I… tengo que vomitar.
Rafa chuckles, catching Roger’s gaze, “Very romantic.”
“It actually is,” Roger says and holds Rafa’s gaze, “and I want you to know that this is not just about our marks, right? I am so very in love with you, Rafa.”
The Spaniard nods, leaning his forehead against Roger’s and placing a soft kiss against the Swiss’ cheek.
“I know, Rogelio. Not just because soulmarks. I always know is you, no? Don’t need stupid mark to tell me.”
“It’s what it took for us in the end, though.”
Rafa grins, mumbling something in Spanish.
“Because we cowards, no? Could be easy if we just talk.”
Roger shakes his head slightly and smiles against Rafa’s skin, breathing in the scent of the Spaniard.
“I wouldn’t trade this for the world.”